Monday, 30 March 2009


Saturday morning's run, the penultimate long run before London, was very different from last week's. Instead of a sunny river trail, it was mostly along pavements, through the cold, rain, and wind. It was miserable. I could barely bring myself to leave the house, and probably wouldn't have were it not for the fact that I was momentarily duped into thinking that the weather was going to clear up.

Fortunately I was not alone, but joined a group from the running club. As we ran we talked about training, and then about work, and this gave me time to think about what a distinctive sociology lies behind distance running. I don't think there's much overlap with football. I ran with a psychiatrist (still in training), a speech therapist and a teacher at a private sixth-form college. I regularly run with other professionals. In case you don't know, I'm an English professor (not "something to do with finance" as The Sunday Times averred) We don't talk about work much, and social background is never an issue, but it struck me that running marathons, and finding time on a sunday or saturday morning to run for three hours, was something that appealed to the extensively educated. I wonder if this has less to do with the economics pushing it than the psychology pulling it? Even running in company there's space for that calm, that loneliness, that seductive blankness that makes me want to run slowly around Cambridge.

It's slow, but we're all also teetering on the edge of breakdown. On Thursday night's training session I was running 1.35 mile loops with a number of men including Andrew. When I came back from my months off (see earlier postings) Andrew was a transformed runner. He was faster, much faster, and ran with his super high cadence (he's not the tallest man) very comfortably. He was doing long runs as early as January. He was targeting London and clearly had a chance to run a good time. Then he disappeared with a calf injury. He came back a couple of weeks ago. He came back slower, inevitably, but not much slower, and till determined. Then on Thursday, on the third of our five repeats, he uttered an animal grunt and pulled up in evident pain. He could barely walk and the coach had to drive him home. He had evidently returned from injury too soon. He may well be unable to run London, now only four weeks away, after months of training.

We are all on the brink of injury at this time of year. That's the narrow area, between comfort and breakdown, where you can significantly improve. But almost every morning you climb out of bed with stiff legs, and wonder if the pain in your knee or calf or ankle or groin means something. Everyone should send good thoughts out to Andrew and the hundreds who found themselves in similar positions this week. Even if we should know better than to put ourselves in harm's way.

After 23 wet miles, taking over three hours, I arrived home, late to take my son to his tennis lesson. Later the rain began to clear, and I was hungry all weekend.


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