Wednesday, November 24, 2010
I should be grateful it was last weekend, we had sunshine, snow showers and mostly rain, unlike now when its bloody freezing cold too!
Up onto the fells south of Dock Tarn, down into Watendlath, past Walla Crag and back via the Lake shore, Grange and below Castle Crag back to Rosthwaite.
The food wasn't as good as the above mentioned chips, consisting of two small bags of Co-Op (a blatant advertisement) Cheese n Onion crisps and some jelly babies, washed down with some increasingly cold blackcurrant juice....
It was about 15 miles all told, in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world (probably), and being low level, even my navigationally challenged companion could manage ' going, keep the Lake on your left, and coming back keep it on your right!
The only bummer to the whole day (and yes, as with most things that hack off this Yorkshireman, it has to do with money) was the blunder I made with the parking. We parked in the National Trust car park, and paid £6 for all day parking.
Only when we returned to the car and were about to leave did I glance at the sign on the wall of the adjoining (as in right next door!) village Hall '' PARKING ALL DAY £2:50''!
You can only imagine how long I sat in the car fuming to myself on the journey home.....................
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Due to chip related 'difficulties' with the pub at Dufton in the past we convened at the New Inn, having agreed beforehand that we'd phone in the chip order (13 portions for those with a nose for detail) we were served by a Heston Blumenthal lookalike chef who provided three trays of the best chips we have ever had! Plus, as much mayo and tomato sauce as we could wish for.
The chips were hot, fresh from the pan, beautifully brown, crisp, firm, yet soft and moist in all the right places, and enough for everyone to have about three bowlfuls each (bad move of the night from 'big' Miles who ordered two portions and had to pay for two, but got no more than the rest of us!). Price: a very reasonable indeed £2:00 per person.
We will certainly be back!
Oh, and the run, which is, after all, the reason for our night out - beautiful clear views from the top of Dufton Pike round the whole county, a thunderous run down the ridge and back in time for a luxurious 'one flask' shower in the public toilets!
Breaking news: The proposed new Eden runners based rock band project continues apace - planning and auditions continued in the New Inn -Wacker is to be tour manager/ post gig party organiser; new additions to the line up continue with the discoveries that (a) Miles is a multi talented instrumentalist, (b) Tony and Martin are Eden Runners answer to Renee and Renata/Peters and Lee/Roger Whittaker and Des O'Connor/ two of the four Temptations - the list of options goes on, the door of opportunity opens for these two, (c) Mary, Sally and Mrs DSD to be backing (note to Mrs DSD, backing singers means just that- you stay in the background, letting the main men take centre stage) singers, also with options to provide musical pottery/musical bakery 'live' on stage at the 'gigs'. We can also announce a new lead vocalist - 'Big' Paul who wowed us with his Vic Reeves pub singer routines last night. The existing line up - Alan 'the Modster' Marshall: Lead guitar; 'Deadly' Dave Peacock: Vocals/guitar and Andy 'Bloody Finger' Sharples: rhythm guitar, can rest assured that the plan slowly comes together -look out for the 'debut gig' announcements in a local comic near you!
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Northumberland Coastal Run, Sunday 18th July 2010
Driving home, I said to Paul & Tony that I hadn’t yet found an angle to use for the blog. Tony came up with the good points/bad points idea. Of course, I rejected it immediately.
Things to remember…..
Beadnell, being paced by a kite-surfer skimming the waves a few yards to the left.
Beadnell, running past the roped-off tern colony and having to jump the rope at the end.
Beadnell, having to decide whether to cut some distance by running/wading through the sea or staying right to ford the river. Choosing the longer route, still having the water above knee height.
Dunstanburgh, the trail/path section. And kittiwakes.
Craster, running down the dip. Lindy Lou!
The cliff-top trail section after Craster. I love trail running….
The next road bit because you could find a rhythm. Not a particularly quick rhythm, but a rhythm nevertheless.
The drinks stations. Isn’t water fantastic stuff?
Reaching the finish.
Taking off my socks & shoes & going for a ‘plodge’ afterwards. Like being 7 again.
Julia appearing at last. Her hilarious explanation of her (late) arrival at the start on her bike. I’m still laughing now.
Watching each Eden Runner home, in particular…
- Fantastic finish by Gill DSD.
- Kevin trying to sneak in on an alternative finish route.
- Matt’s battle to the line, injured.
- Sally, eventually.
Paul’s home–made granola bar. Magic.
Discovering that Tony doesn’t really like scones. Or dried apricots. Or most tv adverts.
Things to forget…..
Too much headwind.
Losing 20 places from Dunstanburgh onwards, only gaining 6 places back
Having nothing left to work with on the last beach section. For info, 1.65miles of it.
The Courtyard Café being closed…..
I have thought of far more good points than bad points. Feel free to add your own..
Thanks to all our brilliant Eden Runners ….erm, runners. What a club we have here.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I am leaving the scenic Lake District and driving towards the land of the chemical plant, Teesside. Worse, it’s pouring with rain, one of those days when you can’t see where land meets sky. Everything is grey, grey, grey. Worse still, I know that when I reach Redcar, I will have to race 13.1 miles, in the rain. And, I had thought I’d be travelling with fellow ER Mike, but he’d had to withdraw at the last minute, not feeling well. On top of all that, England had kicked off their 2010 World Cup campaign last night in rather miserable fashion, failing to beat the USA. Surely, things would have to get better……
I know that the race start and finish (and the route, come to that) have been changed since the 2009 race, which was in April. This time, we're here in the middle of June, so the Redcar Half Marathon is undergoing an almost total transformation.
So, somewhat downcast and with expectations hovering just above the ground, I drive into Redcar and follow the race park & ride signage, eventually reaching the racecourse carpark in still-torrential rain. Two bedraggled marshals in yellow binliners direct me to park next to another 7 or 8 cars huddled in the vast emptiness of the puddly tarmac. I sit there for several moments, seriously considering whether to drive straight back home. No. I get out, get my bag, and walk as briskly as I can towards the waiting bus.
There are 4 of us on the bus. And that includes the driver. The wheels on the bus go round and round, splashing through the streets of Redcar, until at journey’s end we are all told to get off. Basically, we’re in a housing estate in the pouring rain, with no indication whatsoever of where the race start may be. Until someone thoughtfully asks the driver just as he speeds off, and it transpires we just have to go round that corner. We do that, and here we are on a large field extending across to the coast road and the sand-dunes. Behind that is a huge grey expanse. It’s either the sky or the sea, or both.
A large white marquee houses the baggage area. It’s so early that it’s virtually empty, so I find a seat and sit huddled in my coat and sulk, looking at the rainwater teeming off the roof onto the sodden grass. In this way, I while away half an hour or so, watching sandmartins skimming the turf, dodging the increasing numbers of runners frowning their way across the field. Why do we all frown when we have to go out in the rain? What purpose does the frown serve? I conclude, after extensive testing, that it is to lower our eyebrows so as to reduce the likelihood of water ingress to the eyes. See, every day’s a school day, kids.
Anyway, it’s time to warm up now. I get onto the tarmac and find that the race announcer is singling anyone with a visible race number out for special treatment. I quickly try to cover mine up but too late. ‘Number 472 is Alan Marshall from Eden Runners, welcome Alan from the people of Redcar!’ A surprisingly loud cheer goes up from the crowd. Eh? He soon picks on someone else but my attention shifts as I notice the rain has stopped and the clouds are beginning to break. It’s suddenly become perfect weather for running - cool, damp underfoot, a light crosswind. After the usual pre-race formalities (sponsors mentioned, organisers thanked, stupid running-related metaphor-based attempts at humour, etc) we are underway to the sound of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band and ‘Jungleland’ – possibly the best piece of music ever, bar none.
We head south towards Marske, and mile one is reached with minimal effort and at a good pace, whereupon we turn round and head north up the coast back towards Redcar. To my right the sun glints off the deep blue of the North Sea as a flotilla of colourful yachts race south. Swallows and sandmartins swoop and dive across the grass and dunes. Mile 2 and I continue to steadily move up through the field, feeling really comfortable. I go through the start/finish gantry again where music is still playing, this time it’s the impeccable ‘Higher Ground’ by Stevie Wonder. This really is a first - a race with musical taste. Mile 3, into Redcar where the interesting seafront streets are festooned with flowers and packed with enthusiastic spectators. To my right, a beach volleyball match is in full swing. As I run past, the Brazilian Ladies Team lead Coatham Cruisers 6-5 in the 3rd. What a sight.
The first drinks station is themed (each one has a different ambience) around Raiders of The Lost Ark. The idea here is that you don’t have to stop, but you point to a particular person (all in character) as you approach, who then breaks off and runs alongside you with a range of refreshments for you to choose from. I ask Indiana Jones (sorry, Harrison Ford)
for a water, please, which is instantly given to me in a small bottle with the top already removed. It’s the little things that count. I take three or four mouthfuls and then Indy takes the bottle, offers me a white towel to wipe my face and asks if I want anything else. He has energy gels, jelly cubes, squares of chocolate (dairy milk and dark), a full Victoria Cream Sponge on a tray, and a bullwhip. I decline, and press on.
I have to say that the atmosphere on the course is tremendous. I have apparently been assigned a support team who move silently along beside me in a kind of milk float/golf buggy-type thing, offering encouragement, humorous asides and good conversation. It’s like running with Paul Saager, only faster. I am pushing my physical limits here but I barely notice, so much am I enjoying myself. I request some fitting music, and I am given ‘Tick Tick Boom’ by The Hives to speed me on my way. Perfect.
Mile 6 to 10 are along dual carriageway tarmac running towards and then alongside British Steel, formerly Corus, previously British Steel. It seems the place has been rejuvenated, now employing 27,000 people and exporting to 36 different countries since the recent takeover by a workers cooperative, led by former PM Gordon Brown and Juninho, the diminutive former Brazil and Middlesboro midfield maestro. In this spirit of rejuvenation and renewal I glide effortlessly along, passing Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe joining in a game of 5-a-side at the turn-round point. Perhaps unexpectedly, Coe fires a spectacular volley in from long distance just after Ovett has belted one in from close range. Those boys, eh?
I am offered a change of footwear and, although I have misgivings about losing time, I opt for a pair of New Bollocks AirHead racers. Apparently I have chosen well, although expensively. But my support crew advise that Steve Cram is paying – one of the perks of being entered for the upcoming Kielder Marathon. Cheers Steve, nice one.
A thin line of pink & red out on the foreshore tells me that the Teesside flamingo population is thriving, and I begin to wonder if I’m hallucinating. However I am immediately jolted back to reality as a slice of M&S lemon swiss roll proffered by Michelle Pfieffer on roller skates helps me into the final three mile stretch to the finish. The yachts out on the azure waters have been replaced by schools of dolphin, and a pod of Orca cruelly taunting what looks like Ben Fogle in a kayak. That raises a smile, although the Killers have the upper hand from what I can see as I run past. Ben is vainly attempting to posh-charm his way out of this rather tight spot. Put it this way – I don’t think that match was heading for extra time. Meanwhile, the film crew on the big boat are all taking bets with James Cracknell on how many bites it will take until Ben can't emote to camera any longer. You couldn't make it up....
The finish funnel is a riot of colour and music and wild applause as I approach...
The announcer spots and namechecks every runner at the run-in, and gives a quick opinion, based on the finish time, of each runner’s performance. I have to admit that hearing the words ‘Don’t give up the day job Alan’ at 140 decibels is not what I want to hear as I approach, but I have to admire the brutal honesty. The clock on the finish line is a specially-built recreation of Big Ben, only digital, and as I fly through the tape – yes, they put a finish tape up for everyone to break through – I am handed a small bouquet of flowers and directed into a large marquee. The post-race massage is very welcome, as is the cup of tea and portion of freshly-fried chips (vinegar, no salt) which is placed in my hand as I leave the finish area. There are no commemorative t-shirts (I am told that they have been mislaid by someone at the Club - as if that could happen), but we are presented with a choice of non-chafing base-layer running gear, available in every club colour combination you could think of, and all in either natural or man-made fibre. And some socks. And a massive yellow shoulderbag to put all of this stuff in. Overwhelmed doesn’t get near it.
So, as I stepped blinking out into the warm afternoon air, acknowledging in passing the legendary Eric ‘Slowhand’ Clapton sat on a stool playing the Blind Faith classic ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ ( I actually threw a couple of quid into his guitar case, and he said ‘cheers Alan - good finish by the way’) very quietly so only I could hear), I paused to reflect. I sat on the comfy seat on the bus back to the car-park, gazing at the sunlit streets of Redcar and drinking my complimentary iced tea, and remembered how negative I’d felt upon arrival. Sometimes we expect the worst, but, if we persevere, good things can unexpectedly occur.
My car is still there, looking clean after the morning rain. What a pity that no-one else from the Club had got across for this one. I’m fairly sure I’ll be back next year, but can’t guarantee that the experience will be the same. All I can do is relate the facts to my clubmates, and hope that one or two may be enticed to join in the fun.
But let’s see.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Ootside Balmbra’s in The Cloth Market, aa siz ter Stew thut this yooster be a music haal way back when leyk. He juss sorta shrugged a bit and lucked up inter the rain cumin doon in eez face leyk. ‘Where does it start, round the corner?’ Not sure aa siz, must be hereaboots leyk. Thuz, leyk, lerdzer people stannin aboot trying ter gerroot the rain. Aa’m waitin for the music – ther aal sing ‘Blaydon Races’ before ther start leyk, burrin this rain? I divven knaa, mebbe ther’ll not bother the neet.
Aa gan roond the corner tryner gerroot the rain. Whey thuz hunnerds more heor. Lucker - Waalsend vests, Heaton vests, Blyth vests....thuz even sumbody from ower the watta, aal the way from Low Fell. That’s Gatesheed yer knaa. Taak aboot brave. He muster cum reet ower the bridge leyk! An therz a reet racket cummin from the cathedral an aal, bells aal the teym, can ther not shurrup? Aa cannit hear the singin man. Ah well. It’s nairly qwaata past sivven noo, aa berra gerrin among the crowd oot on the road. Meynd aa’m a bit squeshed burritz aalreet, it’s waamer in heor than oot theor.
Champion. The bells’ve stopped at last. Even berra, aa can heor sumbody shootin up aheed. Aah think it meyt be the Mair, burra cannit see owt. Ee’s ment to start the race by ringin Geordie Ridley’s original bell from 1862! Fat chance of me hearin that leyk! Der ther not knaa how much noise fower thoosand runners can maik when thah waitin on the start? Aye – fower thoosand, that’s worra said. The roads are clersed an aal. At least aa herp ser – aa’m stannin in the middle of the road on Mosley Street. If ther wern’t, aa’d luck leyk a pizza by noo. It’s a great occasion here in the Toon. Aal the lads an lasses theor, aal wi smiling faces....
Had on, was that Go? Aye it was man, werroff. Reet, let’s get gannin. Aa just gan canny at forst leyk, aa divvent wanna be knackad before wer even gerroot the toon. Wer gan runnin alang Collingwood Street, then wer gan past the central station –yer knaa, where yer get the train from – and keep gannin west through the stair rods and puddles.
Shortly wer gerron the Scotswood Road, gannin past the massive lang Vickers factry, that yooster be caaled Armstrong’s years ago. Yer probably knew that aalreddy but aa’m tryner educate yiz aal , yer knaa. The Scotty Road’s aal changed noo leyk. It wiz aal horrible terrissed hooziz an ootside netties when aa wiz a lad. Ther wiz lerds of bars an aal, one aa remember wiz caaled the ‘Hydraulic Crane’. Noo what lass wudden gan weak it the kneez if yer invited her oot for a swift half at the aad ‘Hydraulic’? Aye lad, teymziz not what ther was, notny more. Anyway, where was aa?
Aye, wa feytin wa way west through the rain, an aa’m runnin aalreet aa think. Some gadgie dances past me, an ee’s got them daft ‘Vibram Five Fingers’ shoes (well, aa yooz the term keynda loosely yer knaa) on is feet. ‘How man, waaron tarmac man yer daft ninny’. Ackshly aa divven’t shoot that, aa just thowt it, but...yer knaa, wer aal dee that divven wer? Yer think summick, but yer say summick tertally different, divvent deny it. Anyway, worreva, ee’s just run away from me leyk, an aa’m gaanin as fastiz aa can! Knaaworrameenleyk?
Noo, here wer gan. Wer gannin owa the Tyne noo. On the Scotswood Bridge. It’s still rainin, aa can tell yer that lad. Noo ther’s a kind of owtenback loop on the otha seyd, so that’s a bit daft but so what, aa’m enjoyin mesel here. Noo wer gannin towards the gleamin metropolis caaled Blaydon. Aa’ve nivvor run this before leyk, so aa divven knaa where aa’m gannin. That’s how cum aa didden serroff in front yer knaa, cos aa wozzen queyt shoowa of the root. So aa’ve been hanging back a bit, leyk, keepin me powda dry (iz ther say). So aa think aa can see the finish noo, aa’l put the eftabornahs on an see what happens. Here ganz......
Yer bugger man, it’s fortha thun aa thort. Meynd yee, thiz a canny crowd oot considrin the inclement atmospheric conditions, as aa think ther say roond these exotic parts. Yer gan alang this road reet, torn left an doon inter a kinder carpark izzit? Aye, then yer turn left an dee a kinder loop, an then yer can see the finish gantry an ....
.....Gerrin. Aa’m finished. Still rainin an aal. Burra divvent care by noo, aa’m happy with me run an ah’ve got me race teeshort and guddybag. It’s a guddun an aal, ham an peasepuddin stotty cyek, watta, a bottle of beer...wey man, wot’s not ter leyk? An aa neely forgot, ther had black pudden, and tripe. Aye, tripe. Aa didden see anyone ackshly eat any, but ther had pickled unyuns an aal. Aaal gud healthy re-fuellin as ye’ll agree aa’m shoowa.
Anyway aa’m yem ageyn noo, as yer meyt guess. Burrit was great yer knaa? Aa luvved the atmosphere man, aall the way alang. Ther was music an aal, aboot three or fower live bands with propa gittars an drums an aal that. Singin in the rain, just for us runners.
A proper north-east event on a rainy neet in Joon. Felt more leyk October yer knaa, but what can yer dee? That’s reet – ther’s precisely nowt yer can dee aboot that. Another thort – yer nivvor knaa what’s roond the corna, so berra ter enjoy these things while yer can. That’s worraa say, anyhow.
Aa had a reet bonny neet. An aa bet you wudder to, if yer’d been theor. Next yeor, ladsanlasses?
Sunday, February 28, 2010
English National Cross Country Championships - 27 February 2010
Oh no - here they come
We were here. And here, on this day, was Roundhay Park on the northern outskirts of the City of Leeds, in West Yorkshire. Several thousand other people were here too. The occasion was the English National Cross Country Championships 2010.
This event is held at a different location each year, and each runner represents his or her club in a battle for supremacy over their rivals. Although of course each runner hopes for a good personal performance, there is intense but (mostly) good-natured rivalry between competing club teams.
We arrived in good time – first race was to be 11am - parked and set off through Roundhay to see what lay in store for our race at 3pm. At these events, having made the effort to get here, it is always entertaining, not to say daunting, to watch as many of the races as you can. This helps the apprehensive runner to understand the nuances of the course. It also reminds you how very, very fast a lot of these people are....
There were only three of us on the day to compete in the Senior Men’s race. That is Dave Sargent, Mark Bissell, and myself. Plus our team support Holly of course, who met up with other Penrith-based peeps representing Border Harriers today. Derek Hurton, who had instigated our attendance in the first place, was unrepresented on the day, due to injury. Or so he said....he has yet to produce a doctor's note.
And then of course we were also there to watch Megan Bates, running in the U13 girls race at 12.10, and Matilda Lowther in the U15 girls at 12.55, both representing Eden Runners junior section.
So under leaden grey skies, with snow flurries on the freezing north wind, we watched, clapped, waited, and tried to keep warm by running from point to point on the course. That’s when we weren’t queuing at the increasingly over-used portaloos.
Ignore that bloke - just look how steep the hill is!
The course was a challenging creation of rolling hills, with many twists and turns, hideously clarty in several places, through the parkland and round the lakeshore. Almost all of the races were run over different courses, ranging from 3k for the U13 girls through to 12k for the Senior Men. All races contained at least one steep, fast descent and the payback, an even steeper, longer climb. The courses were all taped off and closed to spectators except at the numerous marshalled crossing-points.
The event timetable was adhered to rigorously. Each runner wore a timing chip, and there was a penned starting system in operation.
In the U13 girls race, Megan managed a top-10 finish, a mere 17 seconds away from first in a field of 417 finishers. As for Matilda, she finished 20th from 360 finishers in the U15 girls. I don’t know if they were satisfied with their races, but they looked impressive from where we were stood.
The Senior Women’s race started while at least 10 of the runners were still going through the quagmire in the pre-start tent. This provided some amusement, with several ladies trying to chase the fast-disappearing race while trying to put on spikes and pin numbers on etc. That was to be the last time I would laugh for at least 90 minutes.....
Dave was able to levitate right across the road...
The penned start system proved to be a bit chaotic once you were in there, but it made no difference to me. I loitered near the back, relaxed, knowing I would do well to finish in the top 1000 in this race. No pressure. My plan was to let the racers get away and just run how I felt. We had to run 3 laps, with the added benefit/pressure of thousands of spectators lining the course. The gun went, and like a herd of wildebeest sweeping across the Serengeti, we set off.
Mark had to concentrate really hard in the 'Standing on One Leg' section
And within less than an hour, it was over. The third climb up Massive Hill proved fairly hard – think top-part of Graham Street covered in mud taken as a sprint – but then that’s exactly what you’d expect.
I think we enjoyed it – Dave finished in 601st place in 50:20, Mark in 721st in 51:56, and myself in 855th in 53:48. There were 1428 finishers.
In all, 4301 finishers across 10 different races. A proper Day at The Races.
Monday, February 15, 2010
It starts here...
Easy, it ain’t. But then we never thought it would be. In the back of our transport going East over the Queensborough Bridge from Manhattan, it’s 5.35 am, dark, and wet outside. As we go south through Brooklyn we notice police in several places towing parked cars off the street – this is the race route on race day and nothing is allowed to get in the way. Traffic begins to build up as we get close to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which will close to traffic at 7am. It’s still raining, and still dark as we reach the other side. There is already a massive line of coaches on our right, pulling in to allow the runners onboard to disembark into the start villages at Fort Wadsworth, a former military base just off the bridge on Staten Island. We are relieved to see a car drop-off point signposted, and so suddenly we are out into the damp early morning air. Don, who has travelled with us from Manhattan, disappears into the crowd. I don’t know much about him, except he’s from Miami, has run several half-marathons before, but is a first-time NYC marathoner, like Julia, John & me. Karen, our other fellow traveller, has been here before, around 5 years ago. Then, she started with the elite women, as befits her ability. This time, the pressure is off to some extent, since she runs with the masses. We hang around for a while – it’s only 6am – hoping to find Kevin, who is coming by coach. Only after waiting around a while do we realise that his coach will take him to the Staten Island Ferry, and ferry –transported runners come in on the other side of the village. So, in the style of people looking for a tiny bearded needle in a massive haystack, we move out into the village proper. The start villages are split into three colours - blue, green & orange. 7am arrives and as it’s breakfast time, the porridge in a flask routine begins. As the spoon I had selected from the apartment does not fit into the flask, I use the handle to lever the porridge-flavoured plasticine out, with help from John. Yes, breakfast out here is a two-man job. Before long we are waving our goodbyes to John – he’s on the green start whereas the rest of us have blue numbers.
Some came prepared for a long wait
Grey daylight spreads quietly as we wander around, and it’s still raining. We look for somewhere to sit/stand while we quietly fret about what’s to come. But there are people sitting, lying in sleeping bags, zipped into one-man tents, huddled under blankets and duvets, or just standing around in small groups. Julia says it’s like Sangatte. I’ve never been there so can’t disagree, but there is a quiet purpose to the whole gathering. Karen & Julia have both run marathons more regularly & recently than I have. We have all trained as well as we could, only Julia is saying she could have perhaps completed a few more long training runs. In my own mind, I wonder whether I should have tried at least one 20+ miler at closer to race pace. But I’ve been wondering that for weeks. Karen knows far better than I do, and I’ve been happy to follow her & John’s advice these recent weeks. Too late for any change now of course. Bagels, coffee, tea & hot water on demand, the scale of this place is something else. We’re sure there must be a portaloo for each runner. I then remember reading somewhere that there are more than 1500 on site. I don’t think the UK has that many altogether. Where do they all get used before & afterwards? Eventually, close to 8.15 am and after several hot drinks, we decide it’s time to find the baggage trucks. We put our extra clothing & belongings into our special bags and load them onto the numbered UPS trucks. Each one is staffed by two smiling volunteers. Every helper so far has been unremittingly cheerful. I should have counted how many trucks. There must be nearly 50 of them. So, stripped down to our race gear with added ‘throwaway’ clothes to keep us warm until the race is almost due to start, we wander off for a further, final portaloo visit
Next time, I'm bringing a chair...
As Karen goes off into her corral, we wish her good luck and stand for a moment gazing North up to the bridge where the race starts. The huge suspension structure dominates the horizon in that direction. I discover later on that it has two decks – John’s green start actually ran across on the lower deck. Julia is starting in the next wave, so it’s me who leaves next. I wish her good luck and so now we’re all on our own and left to our own devices. I step into corral B where we are held until we can move forward to the start proper. Even here, there is still plenty of room to move around, and even more portaloos, with no queues at all. Moving forward I eventually find the front of the pen, and move back a few paces. I don’t want to appear too keen. Looking around, there are very few female athletes here, and nearly everyone in here is younger than me. Again I begin to worry that I’m not in the right place – some Mexican boys next to me are talking about 2:40 or 2:45 and making bets with each other, laughing. A Swedish bloke asks me what the time is by pointing at his wrist. I note that he has a watch on, but tell him anyway. 9.10 I tell him. He gives me the international thumbs up sign. Almost imperceptibly, runners are gathering and standing facing the direction of travel. Suddenly we can walk forward and are taken out of the pen and between lines of buses and out onto yer actual tarmac. I had thrown away my ancient adidas tracksuit bottoms earlier, quite an emotional wrench as I think I’d had them since about 1995. Still, not as bad as the bloke who threw his tracksuit away only to remember that his car keys were still in the pocket. Luckily for him they were easily retrieved from the roof of the portaloos. Better to remember now.....
Somehow, Frank always makes it to the start line
I have tied my shoelaces a million times. We are treated to a live rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. I have pulled my socks up and folded the tops just so. The elite men are introduced to the crowd. The biggest cheer is reserved for Ryan Hall, the ‘Great White Hope’ of USA marathon running. I have set and re-set my watch and gps many times. The Mayor of NYC gives a short but sincere welcome speech. I have readjusted the pins on my number. The Race Director, Mary Wittenberg, says a few words, and before I can think about it there is a massive cannon blast, followed immediately by Frank Sinatra at 400 decibels, and this massive sea of energy in human form begins to surge forward.
I think there was a bit of stuttering on tiptoes until the fast lads got clear, then we were away – I took around 40secs to reach the start gantry, then we were off. The carriageway to the right suddenly became available and so I veered to the far right of the course, where there was plenty of space to run. I found myself running on the narrow pavement next to Highway 278, where the metal bridge railing swept past at waist height. All I was aware of was a huge view to my right, South-East to Coney Island and out into the Atlantic beyond. Someone had waited late to discard clothing and a long-sleeved top flew off in slow motion into the Hudson. Others had left it late to take fluid onboard and were now having to stop next to the bridge parapet for a natural break. None of them were women, I hasten to add. So with half an eye on the hazards on the pavement and the other one and a half on the view, off we went. The first mile took us halfway over the bridge, 225 feet above the river. I was trying just to run carefully, but when the adrenaline kicks in, it’s hard to rein back. Mile two was mostly downhill and we veered slightly left as we came down off the bridge on the Brooklyn side. The first photographers and then the first crowds appeared immediately, and we were into Bay Ridge, Brooklyn – 1.8 miles gone in a flash.
The spectators are already dictating my race. This sounds stupidly corny, but I feel like I’m running this for them. Of course I don’t know who any of these people are. But still, they all seem to want to be part of it. So why not? I will spend most of the next 14 or 15 miles high-fiving people. It’s just.....well it’s just great.
Mile 3 includes a sharp left then a sharp right onto 4th Avenue, whereafter we run in a virtual straight line for two miles until we bridge-cross another road and veer slightly right, still on 4th Avenue. I think in total we ran about 5.5miles on 4th Ave. It’s wide, with an island up the middle for at least some of the way, and there is music everywhere. Every mile on both sides of the road there is Gatorade being given out by dozens and dozens and dozens of people. At each station, the Gatorade gives way to water – Poland Spring – and there are signposted first aid and toilets at every mile. I try to take note of the street numbers as we cross each one. It’s all a blur. Everyone wants a high five – people of all shapes, sizes and nationalities. People I’ll never know or even see again, are spurring me on and I keep telling myself to slow down. I knew I needed to, but I was enjoying myself too much. There seem to be places of worship all along the road here. The miles seem to whizz past, until almost at the Mile 8 mark we turn left at last at the end of 4th Avenue onto Flatbush Avenue. Somewhere here I recall seeing the Brooklyn Academy of Music. How appropriate. Then it’s a sharp right onto Lafayette Avenue. All the way along, I am telling myself to remember this, that, this, that, another this....it’s impossible. Minnie Mouse overtakes on my left. I get slightly annoyed because there are people in the crowd shouting for Mickey. But that’s definitely Minnie. There is a gospel choir singing on the church steps on the left. It’s just magic. There are dozens of people ringing cowbells at particular places – I think these are at ING-sponsored ‘cheering zones’ - which sounds naff but ....to me, nothing about this day is naff. It just fits this day in this place.
This is where I find myself running beside Steve. Steve is a Brit – or at least he has the Union Flag on the back of his vest, just like me. I know nothing else about Steve – and I hope he enjoyed his day – but he sticks in my mind because, with STEVE emblazoned front and back, he got an incredible amount of namechecks from the crowd which must have given him a boost, especially in those final miles around Central Park. Note to self for next time – name on vest.
The Williamsburg Bridge passes over the race route just before the Mile 11 marker is reached and I’m still travelling too fast. I tell myself that this is time in the bank but I’m also fairly sure that you can’t, actually, put time in the bank. The first of three energy gels is taken between 11-12 miles. On the long reaches of Bedford Avenue, we have gradually swung round from NW to NE as we head through Williamsburg, formerly mostly German, towards the Polish Quarter from Nassau Avenue to Manhattan Avenue (I have wondered since – what was it like here in the late 1930s when Hitler annexed Poland??) and out of Brooklyn towards Queens, over the Pulaski Bridge.
The Pulaski Bridge – that’s halfway right? We’re out of Brooklyn, into Queens. Now I have to be alert. My support crew are probably somewhere in the borough, although nearer the 14 mile mark, as that’s where the race route passes near to our hotel. Still the race whizzes past – I use every single water station at every single mile. So, halfway in 1:28. Truthfully, if I’d run this as a half marathon I’d be pleased with that. My head is swimming with little details. Splits, pace, street names, when will it start to really hurt? Are Karen &/or John ahead of me? Where will the family be? Why didn’t we say a particular spot, even agree which side of the road for goodness’ sake?
Karen, flying in mile 14...
Somewhere here I see the huge steel girdered structure of the Queensboro Bridge high on the skyline. We have to go over it, and it is a long way up in the air. Momentarily deflated, I succeed in forgetting about it almost instantly. I concentrate on my breathing, and on trying to work out where the family will be standing. Before I know it we are going sharp left and out over the bridge. They are not here. In fact there are no crowds here at all. Later, I am told that I ran within 10m of the family as they screamed and shouted at me. I was oblivious. How could I not have seen them? So looking rather too desperately for the mile 15 marker, I plough on up the incline on the lower deck of the bridge. No crowds, only the odd photographer. No drinks station, only discarded drink bottles thrown away by the elite runners. I look at each one, hoping to see some name I recognise or maybe a little flag affixed. If I see one with Paula on it, I’m carrying it home. But I don’t. This silly preoccupation (and aren’t there lots of those when we run?) gets me over the top of the climb and now we fall down the exit ramp towards Manhattan.
That would be Queensborough Bridge then
As we near the bottom there are two walls. One is made of straw bales, built on the outside of the left-hand hairpin. This made me laugh, then I thought it was probably more for the wheelchairs careering down the slope. The second was more impressive – a huge wall of noise made by the crowds stood several-deep. On both sides. A massive lift after the isolation on the bridge. Another 90deg lefthander takes us back under the bridge as we head up 1st Avenue, now well into Mile 17.
John in celebratory mood - and he's only just passed halfway
First Avenue is six lanes wide. I am now running in the middle of the right-hand side of the road. The noise here is literally breathtaking. We are in Manhattan, there are massive skyscrapers either side of us, and the cheering is mixed with whistles, cowbells, airhorns, music. I am still well under 3-hour pace but I strongly suspect I will not hold it. Now the crowd are telling me that I’m incredible, and in my slightly deranged state I wonder - why now? Then on my left, Mr Incredible eases alongside then glides away, waving to his fans as he goes. Feeling slightly miffed that I’m not as highly-regarded as I stupidly thought, I try to concentrate again on just running. Grete Waitz’s mantra – just keep going. Obvious, but simple and meaningful. We must have run 3 and a half miles on First Avenue.
Under a double road bridge and into Spanish Harlem, nearly at Mile 20, we get closer to the Willis Avenue Bridge that carries us from Manhattan and into The Bronx. For the first time, I start to feel weary. The bridge road surface seems to be constructed of steel lattice-work with no tarmac. Good for drainage, maybe, but not good on the feet. For today, there is an orange sort of foam carpet that leads over the river. And it feels like a climb. Running off the bridge, a bloke from Brizzle, England runs past me offering words of encouragement. I can’t remember what my reply was. It was probably fairly civil, but just as probably it was unintelligible.
Need wins. On we go. I would like to say that the last 3 miles were a dance through Central Park among the leaves of a calm & mild autumn afternoon. But I can’t. It was a battle with myself. I kept expecting Karen to fly past me – that’s when I wasn’t thinking she had already finished. I have very little recollection actually. A few overtook me – including a bloke from Hull (I think) – and I overtook a few too, although not too many. Never have three little miles seemed so long.
Mile 25 and we’re off 5th Ave at last and onto East Drive in Central Park, a gradual right-hander takes us round the edge of the Jackie Onassis Reservoir and then on down Cat Hill into mile 26. I had read about this earlier – there is a bronze panther entitled ‘Still Hunt’ perched on a rock somewhere here – but it failed to register with me today. There is so much noise.
Finished. Stopped both watches. I am walking, very slowly. Lots of smiling people are telling me I did a great job. That I am amazing. I am awarded with my finishers medal, and hugged like a returning explorer. I have my photo taken by a smiling lady who also gives me a hug. I keep walking. I find myself in tears, then laughing to myself. Drinks. A red Gatorade. A blue one too. This ‘keep walking’ strategy is a good one, although tortuous for those actually doing the walking. Stop, and a small team of official race support crew appear at your elbow and (in some cases) lift you to your feet and get you on your way. Again. For some, this is just too much. You’ve been up since stupid o’clock, on your feet for over three hours and run 26.2miles and, well, you’d just like little sit down. No chance. Walk.
There is a re-union zone off to the left somewhere, but I haven’t reached my own UPS truck with my baggage on it yet. The trucks are parked in a huge line in descending running number order. Eventually I get there. More hugs from the two people I had left my bag with on Staten Island several hours ago. Did they recognise me? Of course not, they’re just doing their job. And they’re really good at it. They are there to smile, congratulate and sympathise, and they seem to do it with pride. I remember the moment. Take pride in doing whatever it is you’re there to do. Let it show. It affects people, in a good way. Ok. Let’s move.
...and it ends here
It is over. I wish it wasn’t. It was that good.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Friday, January 1, 2010
A special mention must go to Tony, who not normally a fell runner, put in a sterling effort in extreme condtions to finish still with a smile on his face.
What a brilliant start to the New Year! Well done one & all.