Thursday, 25 December 2008

Fenland brine

The Hereward Relay came around again, on Sunday 23rd November. The weather, unusually mild for the season, suddenly turned, and the ground froze as hard as a psychiatrist's smile, and the air bit cold as a Texan republican's heart. Snow was promised, though little came. Cold rain drifted in and out. The fens rested in total indifference to anything that might happen, with nothing to lose.

Things had not gone well since Istanbul. First had been the invasive amoeba ... I'll spare you the liquid details ... then a cold. Then a dampness of the spirit. All deterred me from running. Instead the children needed to be parented, and a book needed to be finished. That's sometimes how it takes you: and if there's no joy, what's the point in doing it?

At least the diarrhea had gone by the time I was waiting at Welney for the handover. Welney is the starting point for the fourth and final 9.6 mile stage in the Hereward Relay, which extends from Peterborough to Ely. It is the glory stage. Already long gaps extended between the teams. I stared into the unbleached-wool air.

My handover came, and I ran off across the fenland. Nothing happened. No one came, no one left.

Sixty minutes later (an hour in which I had cause to regret the ancient off-road shoes I was wearing, inflexible, hard, and fitted to the less-efficient style with which I ran a couple of years ago) I found myself slipping off a narrow path with a ditch on either side heading up a steep incline. There was nothing for my feet to hold on to. This is not a metaphor: it was just the most memorable moment, in all the dull homogeneity of the fens.

Ten minutes later the race ended in a sports field near Ely. I was handed another horse brass, to match the two I already have. Alas I missed the first race in 2005, so I don't have a full set. I enjoyed lunch by the river in Ely. This time I remembered to visit the toilets before lunch so I could wash the sweat and spittle from my face, and not immediately repel my beautiful lunch date. An old dog can learn new tricks.


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