The period leading up to departure on a long run is for me, and I’m sure others, something of a battle with the self. I’ve done enough miles now to feel confident enough about knocking out double figure distances from time to time. I know how to prepare, what to wear to balance temperature and what to anticipate in the way of after-effects. But yet there’s just a little piece of me that says in a quiet, behind-the-hand whisper “…are you really going to enjoy this? Will you get too warm? What sort of time are you expecting? Will you even make it?”. The voice of the inner challenger….it’s what makes us do it in the first place.
So it was last Saturday morning, with less to do than Oscar Pistorius’ event manager, that I strapped on a Camelbak with a litre of Nuun inside, donned winter leggings, shoved a fistful of jelly babies in my pocket, abandoned the car in Rickmansworth town centre and headed out for the first long-ish run I’ve done for a while.
My warm-up consisted of a gentle stretch past the “Aquadrome” – two quarry lakes which attract a considerable amount of wildlife; monitored by twitchers and ignored by walkers in equal measure. Water-skiers lift sheets of green water as they plough through what must be more swan poo than H2O. Over the canal then down to work: a 1-mile long, 56-metre ascent to the top of Batchworth Hill. Here it’s left at the Prince of Wales pub (popular less for its beer than for its “Exotic Dancers from 2pm”). I rest my legs down Batchworth Lane but only for a mile before another sharp 25 metre climb takes me to the apex of the run.
The following 2 miles alongside the main road (A4125) is a smoggy sweep of pavement which, being downward the whole way is a good time to stretch the legs again but a challenge to the precious lungs.
The reward is that I can then join the Ebury Way, an old disused railway track and now a well-used cycle/running track, bullet-straight and flatter than Kansas. White Egrets patrol the passing marshes and snowdrops fight through frost in their efforts to dismiss the retreating winter. I pass under the Metropolitan line where a local Banksy has seen fit to smother the walls in stencilled flies. It won’t end up in an auction but I decide I like it.
Three miles west on the Ebury Way takes me back into Ricky town centre and not far off the nine miles I set out to achieve. Me: 1, Inner Challenger: nil. It’s a great feeling to have confidence in your running however slow you are and had I pushed it at planning stage I might’ve made it a lot longer. Next time I will.
Flushed with success, I finish the run like an Olympic marathoner, down the middle of the high street, threading past Saturday shoppers in a sweaty but mile-conquering little fantasy all of my own. I hope no-one recognises me, fashion terminator that I am in my worn-out Inov8 trail shoes, mud-spattered leggings, Ashmei jacket and bright yellow backpack. But as Jos from Louvere, the Barber’s shop raises a wave and cracks something between a smile and a look of disbelief I know it’s too late…