I've been carrying around a manila envelope for a few days, avoiding postboxes. On Thursday evening I carried it around London, when I went to an Esquire party. Yesterday morning I knew I had to post it, so I decided to cycle the 200 metres to the postbox. Of course that involved fixing my bike, because last weekend in the middle of an 80 mile ride I lost the use of the top two gears (necessary of course on those 200 metres), and the chain kept slipping. So I eased the chain off and cleaned the cogs and the derailleur, tightened the cables, washed the rest of the bike. And then I had to do some work. Eventually by mid afternoon I was still holding that manila envelope, and I knew that if I didn't post it before the end of the day I would be putting next year's marathon schedule in jeopardy.
The envelope contained, of course, my withdrawal from this year's Virgin London Marathon. By withdrawing this year I would be guaranteed a place next year, and a place, importantly, in the special fancy pen for fast people. Alternatively I could jog around, abandoning all notion of being a real runner, and try to enjoy myself. It couldn't be so bad, could it, a nice jog around London on a sunny day with lots of cheering people ... while my alter ego was an hour in front. I tried to think: 'What would Milton do?' No answer came, but then Deuteronomy spoke: 'neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind'. Dismissing all thoughts that I might never run a decent race again, I resolved that next year I will hold my head high.
So today they descend on London, the mad multitudes in their brightly coloured thoughts. Sean will not be among them: he's in Kuala Lumpur, stranded without a flight. Sophie will be there, albeit not at the peak of her fitness, disguised as a small furry mammal or something. And some of the C&C crowd will be there, while others, like me, are nursing niggles and full-blown injuries. Don't despair: one of the thieves was saved. Don't presume: one of the thieves was damned. They're fair odds, I suppose.
Nicky pushed my hand into the mailbox, and the manila envelope started its journey. I will be among those travelling to London, but only to eat and drink at Polpo, enjoy a night in a hotel, and watch the race on Sunday morning. And out of the bitterly clenched teeth of dejection and envy I say: good luck, start easy, run strong, remember your vaseline, and run a good time, because this year the odds are with you.