running races

Standing, stretching, waiting on that familiar city centre stretch of tarmac along with thousands of other people – though completely alone – I reassessed my motives.  Just curiosity to see what time I could run 10 kilometres in?

Notwithstanding the only recently eased head complaint, I was confident I could do it in a reasonable time.  But I wanted to really go at it, attack it, give everything I had and test myself.  It was a while since I’d been able to do that, not playing football any more.

Or did I just want to semi-legitimately stare at the lycra-clad bottoms of lots of girls?

No, that was merely a bonus.

An ageing local legend thanked and encouraged us over the tannoy as we shuffled over the starting line and began to jog like jostling sardines.  He was probably a singer, I couldn’t really remember.  Most famous, revered Welsh people of that age are singers.

Overtaking is the most basic forms of one-upmanship, getting ahead, surpassing.  There’s a frisson of excitement about it, the superiority achieved.  In the early stages of a race that’s forgettable because you’re moving within a tight space, zigzagging across lines, manoeuvring around clusters of people.

The cameras, photographers and clapping crowds were mildly unsettling at first, but gradually blended into the scenery, becoming just more people.  I concentrated on my music and the playlist which I’d put together the night before.

I overtook another cluster of heavy looking sloggers and mentally poked again at that possibly vaguely arrogant idea that many runners do running because they can’t do any other sport: a sport which requires some degree of skill or ability.  You don’t need much to be able to run.  Not even much coordination or guile.  And people will always encourage and tell you you’ve done well, whatever time you’ve done and however crap you are.  Because unless you’re an elite athlete you’re only ever really racing yourself.

In team sports you have direct competitors and you have to trust and be trusted by others.  There’s more judgement and transparency when you do something good and when you screw up – whether you’re credited or slated for it.  There’s something freeing in not having that dependency and accountability, though it makes for fundamentally less interesting sport.

But I guess it could suit me given that team-working doesn’t traditionally appear to have been much of a strength.  I’m well acclimatised to the company of me and me alone, for tediously considerable spells.  Conditioned to be the perfect distance runner, perhaps.

Stamina can feel like it’s as much to do with the mind stubbornly refusing the body; overriding any aches, channelling adrenalin above pain.  As I turned into the long final straight, I went to kick out again and eat up the ground.  In the pit of my stomach my small breakfast tipped me a nod.  Irritated, I eased off a little, not enticed by the idea of vomiting my way over the finish line.  The man ahead tried to whip the clapping tunnel into louder cheers, loving his moment as if he was a goalscoring footballer.  Cock.

I finished in around 42 minutes, two-thirds of my playlist untouched.

I took a proffered plastic bag of advertising fliers and a bottle of water, unpinned and binned my running number.  I could have stayed to sample the atmosphere, the good spirit, but it all felt limp, like it’d just underline my lack of a team.  Instead I paced back through town stopping to sit under a big screen showing the opening Wales match of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

A clutch of two dozen Sunday morning shoppers – most middle aged to older aged gentlemen – sat on benches and leaned against trees and street decorations, fixated by the muted screen, willing Wales to cling on to an unexpected winning position over South Africa.  But they were pegged back, unable to withstand the South African pressure.

On the other side of the planet a full-time whistle was sounded, not that we could hear it.  It was greeted with deflation, disgruntled mutters, shaken heads, shrugs and dispersal.


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