An ordinary woman's fascination with an extraordinary sport ... and the extraordinary people who take part

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

I am a (very slow) runner

I'm sure it's no surprise that I think ultra runners are great.  As a group, they have to be the most open-hearted, friendly and welcoming community I've ever encountered.  They're also invariably mad, with a total disregard of the accepted maxims of physical limitations and a general belief that anything is possible. 

And therein lies my problem.

That sort of thinking is contagious.

That sort of thinking is why, in the pub last Wednesday, I found myself nodding in agreement when Sandra suggested I should take part in the mile relays in the Meadows the next week.  And it was early on in the evening so I can't even blame the alcohol.  (There were a few intoxicating beverages consumed later; it was my birthday after all!).  And I was definitely sober the following night when I confirmed on fb...

This was all before I made the mistake of looking at the Sri Chinmoy website and seeing the times from last year.  Five, six, seven minutes for the mile ... fecking hell there's loads that are four minutes something!  This might be just a bit of fun, but these are serious runners.  I have no idea how fast I can run a mile - I've never tried - but I know it's going to take rather longer than that!

Whilst I'm clearly going to be the slowest person on the night, I'm less embarrassed by this than by the fact that a couple of Sandra's Fetch pals have agreed to team up with a complete stranger who can only guarantee them last place on this year's results.  Lanterne Rouge anyone....?

And so, on what feels like the hottest evening of the year, I find myself heading for the Meadows in my running gear.  Never mind that when I woke up this morning, every inch of my legs was howling in psychosomatic pain, and I've spent the entire day alternating between a desire to throw up and empty my bladder.

When I get there, I spot the Fetch vests and am warmly welcomed by Sandra.  "How are you feeling?" she asks.

"Fucking terrified!"

I really didn't see the two small children.  Sorry!

Sandra is on my team but the third runner isn't able to make it and we have a vacancy.  Sandra spots Keith talking to the HBTs and ropes him in.  Eeek!  There are three people on the field that I know, and two of them are going to be running with me.  Nobody I know has ever seen me run ....  It's going to be a night of firsts!

A mile.

It doesn't sound very far really.  I spend too much time watching and reading about runs of 40, 50, 100 miles.  When somebody points out the route and that it's basically the full way around the meadows, it looks like infinity.  The only place I want to run now is the opposite direction.  The place is full of people with beer and barbecues and footballs ... why am I not doing that instead of doing stupid things like running???

We have agreed that I am running the first leg, with Sandra second and Keith, our "fast" runner in the final circuit when he can pass others.  I am soundly expecting to get lapped by second leg runners and I think my sole objective is to not get lapped by any of the thirds!

All too soon, Adrian calls us to the start.  I try to find my appropriate place at the back and find myself between a immaculately turned out grey haired woman, and a younger woman in a brown HBT vest pushing a buggy.  Ok, this is going to be even more embarrassing than I realised.  Too late now....

As we set off, the last thing I hear is Keith yelling "run like fuck" at me.  And I do.  For about a hundred yards.  By which time, the front runners are already two hundred yards ahead of me.  And I'm already gasping for breath like I never quit smoking.

A group of young men are holding out bottles of beer by the side of the course.  "Don't tempt me" I say, which is a further waste of breath that I don't really have.  The smart answer would have been "I'll be back in ten, keep it cold for me" but that only occurs to me half way around.

I'm consoled initially by the fact that a man in red is only a few yards ahead of me, but at the first turn he carries straight on and I realise he's not in the relay.  Fortunately the older woman is still behind me jogging at a steady pace which makes me feel better.  Until she overtakes me about two thirds of the way around and pulls away.

By this point, the fast second leg runners are coming past.  By god are they fast.  Even with screaming legs and lungs I can still appreciate their speed and elegance.  What on earth am I doing this for?  I'm never going to able to do that, or anything like.

But I am going to finish this blasted mile.  If it kills me.  And it probably will judging by how much the last few hundred yards hurt.

The cheers from the Fetch gang (and the other runners around) help.  They also make me even redder than I am already.  I'm embarrassed to be so slow in this company but at the same time I know I absolutely could not have gone any faster.  So, I'm slow.  But I did it.  That's more than several hundred other people on the Meadows did tonight.

Sandra sets off and I lean against a tree, trying to pull some oxygen into my lungs.  Keith jokes that my face is the same colour as my hair.  This is not a pretty thought and I'm not looking forward to seeing the race photos....

I'd left a drink bottle with a Fetch non-runner but I can't find her and Zuzana offers me water.  My brain is so fried at this point I can't even open the bottle.  It doesn't ease my burning lungs but it tastes great.

Sandra manages to overtake a few bodies and Keith seems to produce a spectacular sprint finish with the end result that we're not last.  There is some debate around differences between garmin times and race times but I think they were 7:20 and 6:06 respectively.

My leg is recorded as 12:46.  It's slow.  But it's a PB.  And I'm actually very happy with it.

Afterwards, there is a Fetch picnic with fizzy stuff and strawberries and chocolate peanuts.  And gossip and chat and laughter...

Can't think of a better way to have spent a summer evening.

... After

Thanks to everyone who got me there, got me round and made me smile afterwards.  Some of you know who you are ... some of you don't ... but thanks anyway.

Now if I could just find a new pair of lungs, it would be great.


  1. very brave of you to take on a crazy lung busting mile race as your first race, after that anything is possible.... :) Glad you had good time, was good to see you

  2. Brilliant effort Julie, what a lovely night for it too. My first mile was 19 minutes and my lungs tried to escape, well that's what I thought with all the coughing and heaving I was doing :-)

  3. "Crazy lung busting mile" ... now she tells me! I could have sworn you said "fun" ....

    Karen, you have no idea how good you've just made me feel (my lungs are still trying to escape). Remind me I owe you a massive hug at the Devils. :)