Here follows a salutary lesson in what can happen when you allow the Olympic spirit to inspire your generation to actually do some sport. In July I ran the British 10k through central London. Much of my tale is told through the social media I used to keep me going through the race. By way of background, I was in training for a London themed baking competition.
Text (me to spouse) 8:06 am “Am on Tube. Most of the train fellow runners.” (I could tell because we were all wearing the preprinted t-shirts with the British 10k logo and our numbers on, and our running chips, laced through our trainer laces).
Text spouse to me: “Well done. Am very proud of you my wonderful running baker! Take it easy.”
Me to spouse: “For being on a tube? Am about to wrestle with timing chip. Debating whether to ditch jacket.” (The business with the running jacket occupied my thoughts for much of the race. Sometimes it rained, sometimes it didn’t, throughout it was grey. You would think these were perfect conditions for a running jacket, but NO-ONE ELSE had one. When I go to my running club, even for little practice jogs around the park, they tell me not to wear one. So I wrestled with this thorny issue throughout).
Text from me to spouse, 8:33. “Still on Tube. Is like secret society on here. We all nod/eyebrow raise in recognition of fact we are all plainly going to same event, but no conversation. We are Londoners, after all.”
Text from spouse to me: “(Running) tight club.”
Text from me to spouse: “LOL in both David Cameron/ normal sense of the word.”
At this point, I went properly underground, and had a period of reflection on the tube. Because of the baking competition, I had been cooking intensively for some days, and had eaten what was in the house, namely cake. This seemed insufficient for the magnitude of the event before me. Thus, when I left the Tube, I went into pret for some sort of oaty goodness. I think I was the only one not in there for the loo: the queue for the toilets filled the shop.
Text from me to spouse: “Eaten my first Pret bar by accident – felt should not be powered exclusively by sponge. Sticking with Love Bar from now on. Yuck.”
Text from spouse to me: “Love bar?”
Text from me to spouse: “Love bar. Pret creation featuring luxury nuts, chocolate lumps and caramel on top of oats. Am addicted.”
8:59 Text from me to spouse: “In queue for loo. Longtime.”
9:10 text from me to spouse: “I miss plumbing. Now walking to start. There’s some sort of protest.”
Text from spouse to me: “Protest?”
Text from me to spouse: “Lots of organised shouting: can’t work out about what. Inoffensive, I think.”
Text spouse to me: “Gosh. Surprised anyone would be against you running.”
Me to spouse: “Think protest about war, not fear my jogging may cause structural damage to London. Not like Lex Luthor and San Andreas fault.”
Me to spouse (on long walk to the starting line) “I’m being overtaken left right and centre and we’re not even running yet. Prepares self for British position…”
Spouse to me: “Have confidence. Slow and steady wins the day! Except for Terry Wogan.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ux6lmeNqXwA
Me to spouse: “Obviously. Now next to protesters. They seem very nice.”
Me to spouse: “Now being shown inspirational video. Nike think I can do it. Nike had better weather. Free Syria protesters going for it.”
Me to spouse: “Crowds going crazy.”
9:34 Me to spouse: “Ah. Have found girls wearing pumps and a hoodie. At last I’ve found my sporting posse.”
Me to spouse: “Heather Smalls asking us what we’ve done today to make us feel proud. Not that much tbh.”
Me to spouse: “Heather has just answered her own question. We’re going to run a 10k. She gets my second big laugh of the day: hilarious she felt the need to clarify.”
Me to spouse: (as DJ tries to rally crowds to frenzy in drizzle) “Ah we ready!?!? Meh, not really.”
Spouse to me: “Have a good run.”
Me to spouse: “Deputy lord mayor has pointed out we’re raising lots of money for charity… Shuffles feet. She says we’re going to be running some of the main route as the Olympians. Ooh, national anthem.”
Me to spouse: “Ooops, second verse. La la la.”
Me to spouse: 9:55 “Still waiting to start. Thank God there’s a DJ with middling tastes for me to jig about to…”
Me to spouse: “Oh God, I actually am at the back.”
Me to spouse: “Oh God: someone’s peeing on Hyde Park! Whilst wearing a Prince Phillip mask!!!”
Spouse to me: “Focus on your running. No falling over.”
Me to spouse: “Hasn’t started yet, still walking to start.”
Now at about this point the crowds started moving, and my attention shifted to taking a couple of photos of my fellow competitors, some dressed as super heroes, some as royals, some celebrating the charities they were running for, most of us in the black and green standard shirt, denoting we were just running for ourselves. I felt a bit guilty about that, to be honest.
I reminded myself firmly that the point of the exercise was a training event for my half marathon in October. My mission there would be simple:
- to raise £500 for the British Heart Foundation;
- get around in less than three hours;
- jog it with a shred of dignity.
I’d started my training back in February, as we all do – running one minute on run minute off until I had built up to being able to run for half an hour at a time. By July I could comfortably run for an hour and a half. Not fast, but at all was an amazing achievement for someone who has always been deeply rubbish at sport.
So as I approached the starting line, some 45 full minutes after I’d approached it, I suddenly had to fiddle about with my running watch and app. My app was supposed to update me with applause from facebook friends. Tragically, the records of what they said are now lost to history, but they included genuine enthusiasm, concern that the IT was’t working, and most exciting of all, encouragement to go to Greggs and pick up a pastie.
The thing about a 10k is that it really is quite a long way. I had set my Garmin to encourage me to do the first 5k reasonably slowly, so I could go full throttle for the second half. I found with genuine surprise, that I couldn’t go slowly for the first half, and so pootled along down Piccaddilly, down Pall Mall, past Trafalgar Square, down Embankment as far as St Paul’s before going all the way back to Embankment to Big Ben, run over Westminster Bridge and back around Parliament Square, past Westminster Abbey and up Victoria Street before running back through Parliament Square up through Whitehall to finish. This is quite a long way. As I went from the first half to the second half, my watch went from moaning that I was going too quickly to moaning that I was going far too slowly, but truthfully I had nothing more to give than my bog standard shuffle. So shuffle I did.
I shuffled past the picture of waving Royals, I shuffled past Big Ben, making careful mental design notes for the baking competition where I was making Big Ben Biscuits. I shuffled over Westminster Bridge, which that day had a brass band playing on it.
I wasn’t in the mood for brass band music and put ‘Empire State of Mind’ on instead. For one blissful moment I was in London and Manhattan at the same time, and I shifted from shuffle to jog. I jogged past the various Whitehall offices I have worked in, and in one last push I ran towards the finish line, high fiving the DJ who was plainly supposed to be keeping our spirits up at this point. He “woo-d” enthusiastically, this plainly being the most enthusiasm he’d had all day.
The problem with being in a race of 25,000 people is that nobody notices when you finish. I rang my spouse to tell him I had done. He was down the plot, and said “Well done,” but ground to a halt as he quickly realised that there was very little else to be said. Mildly peevish, I went in search of my goodie bag. I tracked one down, but they had run out of medals and T-shirts, and sent me to walk back to where I had started. It was cold and wet by then. It took me 30 minutes or so to walk back, and then saw a truly epic queue. I debated whether to hang about, and decided the shirt wasnt good enough to wait that long for. Muttering darkly that it was a swizz, and that I had been decidedly short changed given the entry fee was £50, I went home to do the baking for the baking competition.
The more observant and persistent readers among you will have noticed two things:
- I have said my first critical thing of the entire blog,
- I have confessed to paying more than £10 for something.
All of this is true. It is entirely possible to run the same route for free of course (I’d advise you do it first thing when it is as traffic free as possible). But there won’t be the free toilets, M People, brass bands and baying crowds to keep your spirits up. While the cheering crowds do help (I assure you there is not a soul who cheered me on who I didn’t applaud right back), I actually think you might be better off without the rest of it. It was the rest of it that overexcited me and encouraged me to run too fast when I was cold which led to tremendous problems the following morning. But of that, more next time. In the meantime, lets take a moment to celebrate that I dragged my fat bottom around glorious London town in an hour and seven minutes without losing a lung.
Full details of the British 10k can be found from here, including both the route and details of how to sign up for next years is given here: http://www.thebritish10klondon.co.uk/
It turns out they will send me my t-shirt and medal if I ask them nicely – hurrah!