Sunday, 14 October 2007

It's not about the watch

Peterborough. Again. So named because the "Slough of Despond" had already been taken. Ah, but that was an allegory, you'll say: well, so is Peterborough. Imagine the place where you queue for your passport, fretting that you've failed one of the 146 numbered requirements for the photograph; Peterborough is the town that surrounds such a place. It's what Kafka would have encountered if he'd have left the castle or the courtroom and decided to look for an expresso.

Still, it's a fine pace for a race, because there's no chance you'll want to slow down to look at anything interesting. Also because the good citizens want you to have a good time -- they really do -- and they put on an excellent race. The said race was the Great Eastern Run, a half marathon, where I scored a still-standing PB of 1:24:39 last year. There was plenty of parking. There were enough toilets (read that again). The baggage lorry was straightforward. Finding the start line was straightforward. Getting into the start pens was a little tricky. My ankle was already gushing blood before I started. But once there it wasn't too crowded, nor full of obese civil servants on their first race. It was really very easy.

Did I mention that my watch wasn't working? Completely dead. I have used it most days this week, but this morning it just wouldn't start up. No watch again. As dedicated readers will know, this is the third time my watch has died, though the first occasion on which I wasn't running a marathon. And on both previous occasions, I'd set new PBs, going under three hours in NYC and Berlin. No pressure then. Just run it according to how you feel. Which was, of course, not very good, since I had reduced myself to near-retching at a tempo run with the club on Thursday (why I don't know, as I was setting the pace from the front), and then had spent Friday limping because of a stabbing pain in my left upper inside thigh that left me staring with bloodshot eyes even after the ibuprofen and contemplating amputation.

It all went just fine. I had no conversations. There was a little bit of racing. At 7.5 miles I thought about giving up but decided to hold on because I needed to get home, and an ambulance was going to take a long time. Peterborough is flat. Everyone who'd done it before -- including myself -- was telling neophytes that at the start. Yet miles 5 through 10 seemed pretty constantly uphill to me this time. Nonetheless, it was very straight. And quite green. Wide verges, rather than parks, but just fine. There's a really very annoying bit when you see the cathedral at about 10 miles, and it seems terribly close. After all, when you see the Brandenburg gate or the duomo at Milan or Buckingham Palace you know everything is going to end soon. Yet there's another three miles of desperation to go. My true moment of darkness was when I began to push things after ten miles, and my heart race passed into the heart-rate zone known in technical circles as the time-and-space-and-numbers-no-longer-make-sense zone; in a frenzied delusion I began my final surge at about 12 miles, and was near-catatonic when I saw the 13-mile marker. Still, I held on and managed a real sprint for the last few metres. And then it was all over. A goody bag with -- wait for it -- a real bag that you can use, a towel, a t-shirt, a key fob, and a medal??? And a huge table of organic bananas. After my new-born children I honestly think that a table of organic bananas is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I ate a bunch, spoke to some runners from the club, who'd put in excellent, PB times, and then drove home.

My time? I don't know. No watch, you see. The clock above the gantry said 1:23 plus a handful of seconds as I passed under, but I don't know how many seconds, or at what point I crossed the start line. Small change either side of 83 minutes. Which is fair compensation for having to go to Peterborough. And I would recommend to anyone that the next time they renew their passport in person they time their visit to coincide with the Great Eastern Run.

So, new PB of unspecified proportions. I would ask Garmin to sponsor me, and supply me a new watch. But recent form suggests that racing with watches only slows you down. We need to run with the ashen resources of the heart, and with visions of mounds of bananas.


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