A fortnight before the London Marathon and calves are tight and hamstrings drawn thin. Runners fall into two categories at this time of year: either as fit as they will be all year, bounding with energy as they anticipate the deep taper; or at breaking point, trained to the point of collapse, longing for the rest that will capitalise on the suffering that has brought them to this point. One of the thieves was saved; one of the thieves was damned. It's a fair percentage. Don't despair or presume: get on with it, and sleep with your feet in the air.
So I found myself nesting the night with Sean in Long Eaton, home of great runs and ignominy, preparing for the Belvoir Half Marathon on 12 April. As you will see from the photographs, we decided to treat the event as a training run, which means we weren't going to push it hard, and were therefore entitled to drink the preceding evening. We cooked camembert and cannelini bean risotto. When Sean was warming the stock he said: "make some dessert while I do this ... no we have to have desert ... why don't you make a meringue or something." So Sean stirred the risotto while I whisked the egg whites and made a pavlova. Meika played with Janni. You can see them smile.
Deep in the evening, Meika took a photograph.
You can see us here, with Sean's running number. He unburied that when we realised that neither of us knew at what time the race started. Then Meika went to bed. And then everything took a turn for the worse. Somehow I tried to describe the argument of the last chapter of my book, and Sean and I set about making some fine distinctions between narratives of transition, multiplications of ways of talking about things, discourse, and practices ...
This is not ideal preparation for a half marathon, especially when it takes place over a couple of bottles of wine. And if you look closely at the pavlova - blueberries and sour cherries soaked in cherry brandy, with my apologies for the lack of whipping or double cream: what you see is a stream of Jersey single cream - you'll see a large carton of very good sake behind it.
The next morning we drove in my new convertible (sic.) to Belvoir without much gusto, though with the roof down, and much complaining about headaches and wondering whether there was any ibuprofen in the boot, parked in a big field, and greeted Sean's clubmates, including John Crannage (he ran Cardiff and London in former entries, though some of the photos seem to have disappeared). After 90 seconds of warm up we lined up and started.
It's a very nice course, a PB course they say, though that's probably in part because of the time of year. What counts as flat in Derbyshire is positively alpine in Cambridgeshire terms. It's picturesque, straightforward, flat for Derbyshire (a bit like "normal for Norfolk", I suppose). The single lap is well marshalled, and there are four water stops. We've agreed to run at about 6:40 a mile for the first couple, and then perhaps pick up the pace. Nothing that will risk injury. The first mile we run on target. And then two things happen. I forget myself, and accidentally run a 6:15. And Sean disappears. These two things look as if they're connected -- but this is one of those stories when there's another story underneath the one on top. I slow down, and run for 85 minutes, taking it fairly easy. It's not a jog, mind you, but it doesn't hurt. I pick it up for the last mile, which I run in about 6 minutes. And I am very surprised when I see Sean, not out of breath, at the finish line.
And then the story goes horribly wrong. Sean pulled a hamstring a couple of miles into the race, and had to walk back. He thinks he's put himself out of action for London. He's the model of gloom. I give him a fiver to pay the physiotherapist. There's John Crannage too, having set a new PB with 1:24 something. I'm given a crystal cuboid trophy, with a lazer engraving of two runners. I'm delighted. I needed a paperweight.
Sean and I head off to Langar Hall, this time with the roof up. It's raining now. Easter rain.
At Langar hall we shower and meet up with Meika and Janni and Malcolm, Sean's dad. We have a great meal: in my case a poached duck egg on salad with bacon; braised shoulder of lamb with roast veg; and sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream.
Even with the single glass of wine I can feel my weight increasing. Sean is fretful. He describes the sound of a hamstring popping. "Pop", and the etiolation of muscle, as the runner slows to a walk, bends over, and breaths the crystal air. I think, and say, that he may recover in time, if he rests hard enough. He remains fretful.
We take turns with the baby. And lunch ends with, as you can see ...
Malcolm racing Janni across the floor of Langar Hall. It's in the genes.
I drove home through Melton, Rutland Water, and a pentameter of places I'd like to live in or near. It rained intermittently. Running is a solitary business, and I like it for that settled loneliness, the temperate glimpse into the woods. But it's not always so lonely.