My subconscious is attempting all possible methods of preventing me from running. Not satisfied with locking me out of my car on a couple of occasions, it’s now taken to getting me to leave behind essential items of equipment. Last weekend this included race entry details, running numbers and – most importantly – a route description and map. Since I’d left them behind in London at the start of a circuitous seven-day journey to Stoke that went via the LDWA 100, several days in north Devon and a seven-hour drive from hell up a storm-battered M5, I didn’t have the option of going back to get them.
This turned out not to matter too much for my home-town Potters ‘Arf marathon on Sunday. The organisers (many thanks Ken) fusslessly provided me with a replacement number (1234 – that’s got to mean something), so I was able to join the rest of the runners puffing and panting up ‘heartbreak hill’. Eleven miles into an already hilly half marathon, this must be one of the very few one-in-four gradients you can encounter on a UK road race. The Potters ‘Arf winner Andi Jones, who was running it in preparation for next month’s Snowdon Race, which he has won a record five times, admitted he’d been taken by surprise by how tough it was. ‘I knew there were some hills around Stoke, but this is a city centre race, surely it would be quite mild,’ he told the local paper.
The hills on the Baslow Bootbash, a 26-mile jaunt around the Derbyshire White Peak the day before, were no steeper. I turned up to this one without an OS map, which was a bit of a problem since it’s a self-navigation event with only grid references for a route description. I’d done it before, though, and I know the area reasonably well, so there was no danger of me getting hopelessly lost. I thought I could tag along with other people on the stretches that I wasn’t certain about and take things at my own pace when I knew where I was going.
I covered the first ten miles by keeping up with a group of runners who were going a fair bit faster than I was capable of matching for the full distance. Then I made the mistake of heading off down a track that looked familiar from a previous year – but turned out to have been part of the route of a different event. No great problem. I was resigned to the fact that by going around mapless I would be retracing my steps on a number of occasions.
What I hadn’t bargained for was that my seeming confidence in tackling the route without a map had encouraged various other people to follow me in the belief that I knew where I was going. Now it’s one thing getting lost yourself. But it’s quite another being responsible for other people getting lost as well, even if you didn’t ask them to follow you. One of my followers hurried off in a huff when he discovered that I’d been leading him in the wrong direction. ‘I should have stayed with them,’ he complained, gesturing towards the group of pacier runners who’d long since disappeared over the fields in the opposite direction. ‘They knew where they were going!’
Fortunately I got in with a more amenable group of people for the latter part of the run. I only took one (well maybe two) wrong turns and we all got back to the village hall in good time for pie and peas. I’ve now done 648 miles in events this year – only 1,524 to go . . .