Friday, February 28, 2014

View(s) from the Back of the Pack

by Dave Webb

By the time you read this you may well have completed your Christmas shopping. If, on the other hand, you have the organisational skills of the typical Maiden Newton Runner, then you won’t have started. In case it’s not too late, here are some Christmas present tips for the runner in your life. Like most men, my view is that you can’t go too far wrong with socks. Runners get through a lot of socks, through a Churchillian combination of mud, toil, sweat and untrimmed toenails. Food and drink are also safe bets. Running magazines normally carry esoteric recipes involving quinoa, soya mince and blueberries, but Maiden Newton Runners prefer chips and beer, and we are also very partial to cake.

A book at Christmas is always welcome, so here is this column’s first book review. Mo Farah’s autobiography, Twin Ambitions, gets a bit repetitive, ie I ran this race and then I ran that race, and then I did another race. But it also turns out that he has something in common with Maiden Newton Runners, namely a tendency to get lost. When Mo was a teenage athlete he lost several races through navigational errors. In his case the problem was that he was leading the race, so had no one to follow, and his English wasn’t good enough to understand the pre-race route description. In our case we are so far behind there is no runner in front to follow, and although our English is generally adequate, our concentration and memory for pre-race instructions are unreliable.

Something else I learned from Mo’s book is that he likes an espresso 20 minutes before a race. Coincidentally, Zoe Hayward took a similar strategy to the recent Street 5K evening race. After a tiring day at work she decided to pep herself up with a mixture of Pro-Plus, banana and apple. On the way to the race she didn’t stop talking, and before the race she spooked her clubmate Dave Carnell by fixing him with a manic stare and telling him she would beat him this time. Dave shot off so fast that he was in 2nd place at the 1st corner, which meant that by halfway he was worn out and there to be beaten. Unfortunately Zoe had mistimed her pre-race ingestions so that she ran out of steam soon after the start and took longer than usual. Behind her, the fastest hairdresser in the west, Charlie Spencer, won her age category and went home with a bottle of wine.

This month’s running question has a festive feel: is it a good idea to go for a run on Christmas Day? There are some running fanatics who insist on running every day. Ron Hill has not missed a day of running since 1964. For the rest of us, a short walk after lunch will be the most exercise we get on Christmas Day, though we might do something a bit more active on Boxing Day. My co-panellist Mr Les Knott-Bother surprised me by saying that he sometimes runs on Christmas Day….if he mistimes his comfort breaks during the Coronation Street Christmas Special.

Finally, we saw 2 instances this month of how one second can make all the difference. In the US, Martin Lascelles ran in the Thanksgiving Day ‘Turkey Trot’ and beat his previous best half-marathon time by 1 second, finishing in 1.25.39. Closer to home, Dave Butt set a new best time at the Weymouth Park Run, also by 1 second, when winning the race in 19.45. Not bad for 2 ‘old-timers’ who are approaching 60! The following weekend Dave set a new personal best for the 5K distance, 19.35, proving to the rest of us that it is possible to get quicker as you get older.

It has become a running club tradition to go for a long group run on New Year’s Day. With a weather forecast for heavy rain, flooding and gale force winds, some of us hesitated this year but our unstoppable chairman, Phil England, insisted that we would run and we would enjoy it. I think he might have been a PE teacher in a former life. 12 of us set off from Maiden Newton and were soon soaked through. We sheltered briefly in a barn at Wynford Eagle, where the unstoppable Phil decided to go home, citing a calf injury. The rest of us plodded on, debating at Higher Wynford whether the rain had now turned to hail, or if we were learning a new equation, rain + strong wind = pain to the face. When we crested the hill above West Compton the crosswinds blew us sideways, until we found another barn in which to shelter. Happily, Martin and Lin had visited earlier and stowed away a bag of goodies: Cava, cake and flapjacks. The wind whistled through the barn while we toasted in the New Year. Jim had brought a gizmo for measuring wind speed. Bravely, he stepped outside into the storm, and recorded a gust of 37.8mph. Lin’s baking, however, was equal to the challenge. She had followed a Nigella recipe, for chocolate and Guinness cake, which was delicious. Although Lin had decided to omit Nigella’s special patent ‘go faster’ icing sugar, we made it home in time for a hot shower, a good lunch and an afternoon of feeling exhilarated and then exhausted.

Not all of us take our running to such extremes. Some people stick to shorter distances, while Louise Goodman has admitted to driving her car alongside her younger daughter, shouting instructions out of the window while Bea runs alongside. My colleague, Mr Les Knott-Bother, was very taken by Louise’s approach and thinks there may be a place for him in the running club after all.

This being the season for New Year’s resolutions, our running question this month asks, ‘What is the best way to get started?’. The general advice is to build up slowly. For some people this means buying a pair of running shoes, looking at them for a while, and then putting them in a cupboard. Other people follow a more traditional ‘walk-run’ programme in which you gradually build up the ratio of running to walking. Mr Les Knott-Bother also favours the gradual approach. He says he is training to build up his mileage until he can walk from the paper shop to the pub without stopping.

There are fewer races at this time of year, and the weather is often miserable, so our club runs can be a good way to get us out running. They can also be unexpectedly eventful. Only 2 people, Dave B and Pete, turned out for a recent Wednesday night run in Dorchester (there was a third person, Neil, but in true club tradition he went to the wrong place and missed all the action). The two of them set off past Hangman’s Cottage, down to the riverbank, where they heard someone calling for help. By the dim light of their head torches they could see a man in the river. With no thought for their own safety they leapt into the raging torrent, with the water so deep that it was nearly coming over their socks. The truth of the situation gradually became clear. The man had been driving his brand new motorised disability scooter along the footpath when, in the dark, he had misjudged his line and plunged into the icy waters. Our runners helped him up on to the safety of the bank, then heaved the disability scooter out of the water. A neighbour looked after the man while Dave and Pete ran on, with soggy socks and shoes, proving that there is more than one way to get wet while running.