Just a run in the park

I was flying.

It wasn’t the first time.

I’d flown before.

Once.

Haring down though an autumnal National Trust wood, leaves a friendly carpet beneath me, I startled two walkers coming up the other way.

That’s when it happened.

A feeling of weightlessness I’d never experienced before as, seemingly airborne, I jetted past them smiling maniacally as I went.

This time though the flight was more sustained.

I am unremarkable runner and this was (and is) an unexceptional town in a non-descript county. On this particular Saturday however, sometime between 9am and 9.19:59am, (because that really is the point) it was magical.

At least to me.

It was probably a perfect day to run. I’m still not totally sure what that is supposed to feel like but I know it was pretty chilly, dry and completely still.

The only reason I was running at this particular course was because I had to be there for work later that morning so it made sense. Nothing more strategic than that.

The first 300m were going to be along a narrow nettle lined path so, while not confident about my pace relative to all those sporting university running vests, still I edged my way to the second row for the start.

As always seems to happen on these Saturday runs, I struck up a conversation with a complete stranger before the off, talking about the merits of the course (we were both newbies) and the times we were hoping for (we both politely sand-bagged).

And then we were off.

At first I wasn’t planning on going for a particular time. In truth I’m not capable on planning for anything much – ask HMRC – but after the first kilometre I snuck a look at my watch. 4 minutes dead.

In that moment I was Mercury, I was Hermes. I was any number of wing-footed courier companies and probably travelling about as fast as they do when desperately searching for a particularly troublesome address. But to me, I was soaring.

The air was rushing through where my hair once had been, as I sped past the buggy-pushers and under 10’s.

Even I could work out I was doing OK.

It couldn’t last.

As I ran I was constantly checking everything was working OK. The ankle which I had smashed in an horrendous badminton accident (no really) 20+ years before was doing OK. Unspecified aching bum muscle was there but not causing distress. All was going well.

Suddenly there were masses of runners ahead of me. On what I can only describe as a lollipop-with-two-licks shaped course I was starting to lap other runners. This was a new experience and I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy it, just a little.

It couldn’t last.

Into the final kilometre somehow my watch had been metronomically ticking off the 4 minute kms and I knew I was in with a shout of my personal holy grail. The sub 20 minute 5k.

For the whole year this had been my goal. True, I hadn’t really done much about it; just kind of hoping it would somehow arrive. OK so I’d been to a few track sessions with my club and even turned out for an interval session in the rain but – hand on heart – I hadn’t completely, or even partially, changed my routine to achieve this target.

All that lack of attention was bearing fruit. What I really needed now though was someone to pull me through the last few hundred metres. And there he was, my sand-bagging new best friend. The one who had answered, “ooh, I dunno 21 or 22 ish” to my polite questioning of his expected time. And he was ahead of me.

It couldn’t last

Soon I was on his shoulder. I would say stealthily but by now my breathing was a rasping, if not hypnotic, “HAY-YAH!” every few strides that all but the most ardent death-metal-iPod-wearer could hear.

Flying like a swallow had now disintegrated into bumbling, much like a bee. Not so much arrow straight and perfect form, more staggering around from nettle to nettle trying to keep to the path.

Around the final corner and up a slope to the finish we were neck and neck. I knew I was in a race now.

He had no idea. And cared even less

It couldn’t last.

In my mind I sprinted that final 30 metres to glory. In reality I’m sure I looked like I was wading through the water that apparently covers this course for much of the winter.

Stopping my watch on the line I did the only decent thing a victor could do. I sought out the vanquished, shook his hand and doubled up, a vision of pain and retching.

In fact I’d come in 5th in a run that isn’t a race (except to all who participate) but far more important was the reading on my Garmin -19.59.

Granted it was a much flatter course than my normal 5k and I’d got a tow along the last kilometre but I had done it and the feeling of elation followed me all the way back to the car. There I realised I was a sweaty sticky mass of something unpleasant and in 30 minutes needed to be a well groomed, fragrant professional capable of reassuring the people I was meeting that they were safe in my perspiration-free hands.

A good towelling down and ozone-busting amounts of deodorant later no-one but me would have known that, though my feet were now on the floor, a few minutes ago I had been reaching to the stars.

It couldn’t last.

The following week I pulled a calf muscle on a gentle run and I’ve hardly run a step in 4 weeks

As they tell pilots: you’re only as good as your last landing.

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