Virtually there

I have some amazing running pals – thankfully they are really forgiving, tolerant and upbeat. One pal particularly deserves a shout out this weekend and I am posting early so that she gets some virtual support before her red letter day tomorrow.

Despite being more than ten years younger than me – and despite being able to run like a whippet – this running pal (RP) never moans about dropping down to my speed when we meet weekly to run (or bimble in my case) and, when we do manage to enter a race together although she will finish over an hour before me, instead of changing into dry things or eating her own body weight in post-run snacks, she will be found on the home straight cheering me through to the finish.

Once, after a particularly wet and cold Gloucester 20 miler (I had foolishly entered the race thinking it was a 20K – I blame Specsavers), she turned her back on the siren calling of the WI finishers’ refreshments kiosk located – with our dry clothes – in the village hall (a building that was masquerading as a runners’ village) and timed my slow finish so perfectly that she was able to stand in the wind and rain on the finish line holding a mug of builder’s bum tea – a beverage that was miraculously still piping hot.

She is incredibly modest, and I doubt that many people realise that this mother of three is also an Iron Woman (fitting her training for this around trips to ballet and football club – for the kids you understand, although I am sure she would also be great at both). We also should have been running the London Marathon 2019 together, she on account of her ‘good for age’ running speed and I because I lucked out in the ballot (it turns out that fifty-something women run incredibly fast). Despite completing all her training, the running gods were against her and she had to defer her entry because of injury.

Then – match-fit for 2020 – Covid and Boris aligned to defer RP’s marathon entry again. Not to be defeated, tomorrow morning my running pal will be Ralgexed and running with various running bubbles of 5 – each bubble aiming to act as pace maker so that RP can clock another ‘best for age time’ on the app that Virgin London Marathon has provided. If she can bank this time, she can secure a place in London next year – as long as Covid and her legs behave.

She must be exhausted, not only with the training, but also with the logistics of organising us jelly-like bubbles into a Covid-safe, Kipchogesque support crew – without I might add, the lovely pink Nike Alphafly trainers that graced Kipchoge’s 35-strong flock of rotating support crew. (It is not too late to sponsor us Nike).

Having been tasked with accompanying this super athlete through her last lap, I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. On the plus side, at least this time it is RP’s husband who has been tasked with bringing her cup of tea – hopefully still hot – to the finish line. On reflection, I am chuffed to think that RP has ‘given’ this last lap to myself and our other weekly running pal. We are all teachers, we have all run together for many years (well, me trailing behind the two of them) and we are all completer finishers although I always pride myself on finishing after they do. I am a tad concerned that I may prove a little too chatty for this last lap; RP has either selected me for the distraction of my witty rappartee over the last miles when she is running out of words, or she realises that she will have slowed and my tortoise pace may be a reliable metronome that will see her to 26.2 miles. Happy to oblige.

I don’t want to let RP down so I research Kipchoge’s support crew. This turns out to be less than reassuring but at least I know I have done my homework.

Firstly, apparently, Kipchoge ran behind an electric timing car with a second car on standby. I start wondering whether I could use Dora the Explorer (my new mini) for RP’s first three laps and then jump out for my supporting role in lap 4. I hesitate because parking in the area we are running is going to be particularly tight and Neighbourhood Watch are a bit feisty around RP’s house. I really don’t want to be the cause of RP running on the spot while I track down a space and avoid a parking ticket.

Secondly, apparently Kipochoge’s pacemakers wore, ‘black jerseys and stern expressions’ forming a protective, aerodynamic pocket around him. I am far too smiley to wear a ‘stern expression’ for any length of time, and, since these pink Vaporflys/Alphaflys/Dragonflys (worth a punt) have still not materialised (come on Nike), I feel head to toe blackness against a back drop of grey rain, may struggle to lift RP’s morale. I will message the ‘aerodynamic pocket’ and tell them to wear a rainbow

My research shows that Kipchoge’s running pack ran five in front of him in an open-V formation and two more in the back – this will be impossible in bubbles of six. If I had known this in advance I could at least have booked in some Red Arrow training. Instead, my fellow Lap 4 pacemaker goes out for a practice manoeuvre with me this morning; it doesn’t go well. In my defence I would say that although it was not a graceful fall that I made, it was a very steep and muddy gradient. At least my sponsorship talks with Persil are now going well and my fall demonstrated that we need to ditch any plans for a V-formation.

Thankfully RP has already mapped out the routes tomorrow, for unlike Kipchoge, she will not have a pattern of thick, green laser beams projected onto the street by the timing car. I ponder whether Dora could project the route for RP, but realise that although her mini logo hologram is quite impressive in the dark, it beams out from the driver’s door only and won’t show at all in daylight. We could leave a hash harrier trail of flour if we go out late tonight, but I fear that the current weather conditions will render this more a nudge in the direction of papier mache rather than a viable replacement for cutting edge technology.

My mind turns to nutrition. I read that for Kipchoge, a team member on a bicycle periodically pedalled into the pack to deliver a carbohydrate-heavy cocktail of gels and fluids. RP will have to make do with her kids running out between laps with an ad hoc banana.

At least we seem to have planned the finish correctly. Like Kipchoge, RP should be reunited with her children and partner on completion of 26 miles – well, that is if her husband can get them all back from ballet classes and football in time (heck, does this mean we could have a logistical problem with our banana couriers?). This is perhaps not the moment to remember her son’s high-five celebration of RP’s IronMan finish line. On this occasion, he ran across the line holding his mother and twin sister’s arm aloft, wearing only a brave smile and a pair of superman pants for sadly his waistband had snapped and his shorts were left shuffling down by his ankles. When he is a little older he will no doubt learn about the existence of this photo finish on social media, but knowing my friend, she’s probably biding her time until other parenting powers diminish during his difficult teenage years.

Anyway, I will post this a day early in the vain hope that RP will allow herself a cheeky taper and break with tradition by ditching all parenting responsibilities and lounge around on her sofa carb-loading and catching up on social media. We may not be able to surround RP with the world’s best long distance runners tomorrow (no offence, fellow runners) but since the world record for breaking the 2 hour barrier is still officially up for grabs, I think she has everything to play for. #nohumanislimited after all.

You’re virtually there RP. You’ve got this!

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