Run on lines

I think there must be a line similar to the one, ‘how do you know if someone’s a vegan?’ (Answer: ‘They’ll tell you) about running . How do you know if someone’s a runner?  Not only will they tell you but they’ll also snore on about their injuries, split times and personal bests.

Guilty as charged.

I wasn’t even going to blog about running this week, but the running stories just keep coming after two weekends of half marathons (not good advice to book these races back-to-back people, but Ms Smuggy is still smiling).  They have offered running observations too good to pass.

I love running a new race.  Cheltenham Half offered not only a chance to see a beautiful spa town with surprisingly few hills,  but also an opportunity to see a very special friend bank a superb run after returning from injury.  I’ve only visited a race course as a punter before, but this race allowed us to ride the last two miles around the race course itself,  no fences to jump but a brass band on the last furlong. The combination of proper toilets (don’t start me on porta potties), an indoor runners’ village and some brass oompah seem to have been the perfect star alignment for a couple of PB’s.  Thank you Cheltenham; thank you friend.

Another weekend, and another good friend to travel with .  This time the venue is a bigger half marathon in Oxford.  No pressure – I tell myself that a PB the week before gives me a get out of jail card and that a ‘bimble’ is justified. It’s a great opportunity for a catch up.  We start with 13,000 other runners  – the roar of Ralgex kicks in and we blag our way into a starting pen than punches above our weight.  Both weather and my legs feel spritely.  I bag another PB, but that’s not the story… although, now I come to think about it, how do you know whether a runner has just got a PB?

To look after 13,000 numbered  clothing bags while runners of all shapes and sizes go off for a jog is no mean feat. It’s an even bigger achievement to return all the bags to the correct owner 2+ hours later at the end of the race.  It’s a military operation and we’re well drilled in pulling the necessary numbers from the runner’s pack – one bib number for your t shirt and a separate identical number which is attached to the runner bag.  Last toilet stop, last banana, bag drop. Off.

Two hours later I meet my friend as arranged back in the runners’ village so that we can wend our way back to the Park and Ride.  Not so fast, he’s been to the bag drop off but they can’t find his bag.  They tell us it will be there somewhere,  they just need other runners to come and collect their bags and then it will stand out.   We stay calm, go off for coffee and sit on the grass listening to a live band.  Thanks Oxford Half.

Still calm, we keep returning to the tent, and calmly observe the huge time span that runners achieve across a half marathon.  There are still many, many bags that haven’t been collected. Although all transparent, they look pretty identical apart from the number.  I guess if you’ve been dressed as a centipede or superman for the last 13.1 miles, your first thought on finishing is probably not to go and reclaim your belongings.

Calmly we reflect that friend’s wallet, phone and car keys are in his lost bag.  We drove in his car to the Park and Ride that morning and it will be a 1.5 hour drive back home from there, if we ever see his car again.  We try to locate his phone by using mine.  Calmly we reflect that he must have switched his phone off before running.

We try Lost Property just in case the bag has made a run from the drop off tent.  Oxford Half staff are lovely and really upset as it’s apparently the first time a bag has gone missing. You can tell it’s a university city because the young man in this tent is reading Proust between enquiries.  He even takes my phone number to keep us updated.

We go back to sit on the grass and I work on my calm as we pick our way around discarded banana skins water bottles.  I ponder whether post-race lactic acid accumulation renders it impossible to crawl to one of the many, many MASSIVE recycling bins.  I realise friend has a much calmer temperament than I do.

There are still a few bags in the tent, but we walk back over to check anyway and our composure (or my acting) is rewarded; Chief Bag Man just happens to be holding up a bag that my friend recognises as having his belongings in it.  The bag has a totally different number on it.  Word to the wise, count the safety pins in a your runner pack certainly, but also check that the bib number and the bag number are identical.

The staff are delighted. Proust Person calls me to apologise and check that we have indeed got the bag.

We amble back to the bus stop and see runners still grimacing through the last yards of the course – most in agony now, but all finishing because that’s why we do it.  We congratulate ourselves on our serenity and a great day out and get on a bus full of walking wounded runners.  We smugly take to the top deck, thankful that unlike some of the travellers, we can still do stairs – and still dispose of our banana skins (let it go). Great goody bag Oxford Half and we’ve eaten our way through it by the time we’re back at the car.  Naturally we take our rubbish with us (I clearly can’t).

Official times are texted through later.  Turns out I netted a new PB (can’t stop myself).  Friend is not quite so calm now; his official time is 10 minutes slower than his running watch has recorded.  Turns out that his bib number matchs with a slower runner – a runner who has literally bagged a faster time thanks to my friend’s efforts.

During the week I have exaggerated the story every time I tell it.  I tell people we waited for over three hours, that I twisted my ankle on an errant banana skin and that the buses had stopped running by the time we were able to return to the Park and Ride.  Thank goodness my friend is truthful and calm.

PS.  How do you know if someone has a London Marathon place?




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