Rational people do not get up at 3.30am to go running. Not unless there is a bear that has chosen that round-numbered moment of the night to come crashing through your bedroom wall. And even then, you’d want to weigh up whether being ripped to shreds by a grizzly was really that much worse than all the running it would take to possibly not die.
But there I was at the start line of two races in one. My running buddies Nick, Pete and Jude were legs 2, 3 and 4 respectively of our ‘Marathon-relay’ – about a quarter marathon for each guy, handing over the timing chip at appropriate intervals. Once I handed my chip over to Nick I carried on with my remaining chip to complete the second part of the Half.
There were about 800 people at the start line, and I tried to find a position behind the line that was mildly optimistic (I didn’t want to get stuck behind a load of much slower people), but not so far forward that I risked being killed in the stampede of people who can actually run.
So 7 seconds after the gun…or the whistle, or the “off you go folks”, or whatever it was, I crossed the start line, and as I got swept along at a slightly too-fast pace by the hundreds of other adrenalised non-athletes around me, I wondered what the next couple of hours would be like. Would I even be able to finish? After all, my pork rope had continued to bother me throughout training. Sometimes it hurt a little, sometimes it hurt a lot. But it always hurt. So although I’d started to do some “speed work” (HA…”speed”?? hardly…), I could never push really hard because I was afraid of something in the back of my thigh going TWANG.
My second though, assuming that didn’t happen, was what was my time going to be? I had done a training run at the full
distance in about 2:05, and I felt like I’d pretty much left it all out there, so although breaking two hours wasn’t an outrageous though, it wasn’t one I was putting a lot of hope into. I figured until 10 mins/mile for the distance (i.e. just over 2:10) would be acceptable for me, 2:05 would be what should happen, and I’d try not to think too much about breaking two hours.
What complicated that slightly was a conversation I’d had with Marius Acker in Fosters supermarket a few days before the race. I’d been doing speed work in a group that included him…let me rephrase that…I had been doing speed work in the same postal district as him at the same time…so had gotten to know him a little through that. When he asked me what time I expected to do, I said that I had no idea but that having run a 2:05 in training I was hoping not to go any slower.
“No”, he said.
“No, you should be aiming for a 1:50”.
At this point I did a remarkable job of neither laughing in his face nor telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Partly because when it comes to running Marius definitely DOES know what he’s talking about – a native of South Africa, he’s been Cayman’s premier distance runner for about the last 9 years. So I just smiled at him.
“You always run quicker in a race”, he continued, “and the crowd and the other runners will just carry you through”.
Now there you go again you see, that’s just silly. The crowd won’t be carrying me, the other runners won’t be carrying me. Instead, I’ll be hauling my hefty carcass around that course with no help from anybody. But whatever, I was grateful he was taking the time to talk to me about it, and it at least made me think that 2 hours might be in the realms of the possible.
So I chugged along behind the mad guy in a cape who kept running ahead to take pictures of his teammates from Canada, raising funds for a Diabetes charity, and a little behind Derek Haynes, a local running legend, 60-something, and about to embark on an epic fund-raising attempt to run 6 marathons in the following year. I passed him after a few miles, and felt good about it – never mind that he has 25 years on me and was running twice my distance.
The changeover point – 6.4 miles into the 13.1 mile race, was organised chaos. A row of chairs, on the return side of a loop, several people calling numbers so their relay teammates could get on the chairs at the appropriate time, lots of shouting, and – it being still before 6am – precious little light. As I arrived a man was sitting where I was supposed to be; a steward was screaming at him but he was adamant the guy should just chill out and he was going to stay there, thanks very much. When the relay timing chip was finally taken from my ankle I almost leapt out of the chair, and proceeded to set my fastest mile time of the whole race. I had been nervous about losing time on the changeover and thanks to the incredibly unhelpful guy who wouldn’t move, I’d lost more time than necessary – that it was only seconds and I wasn’t in the running for any prizes didn’t occur to me – as far as I knew he might cost me my shot at 2 hours.
Through all of this, I’d been keeping up a pace well under the 9-ish minutes/mile needed to crack 2 hours, but was still waiting for the wheels to fall off, when at about 9 miles everything became much harder. However it was during that period that I realised I would get the time I wanted. In fact, as I headed to 10 miles and started overtaking more people, I realised that I could pretty much stink it up from there on in and still finish in 1-hour and something.
That was when I first got the strangest feeling that I would be gutted when the run was over. The water stations had been manned by creative and enthusiastic people all around the course, my pace had been better than expected, and my pork rope, while sore, didn’t feel like it was about to give out.
As we came into central George Town with about a mile and a half to go I was positively relaxed, enjoying myself, and wishing it could go on longer. I didn’t want to run any further, I just wanted this feeling of impending accomplishment to go on for a bit.
All this calmness was then shattered less than half a mile from the line by a screaming man at the Auditor’s Office water
stand. What threw me off was that I knew this guy, and he is – or I thought he was – to screaming what reality television is to reality. But there he was: “COME ON, PAUL!” with a look of disconcerting ferocity. With a mixture of a little adrenaline, encouragement and perhaps even fear, I broke into what could loosely be described as a sprint, which probably took about half a minute off my time by the end. Thank you, Garnet.
Turning the last corner into the home straight I heard my name being announced to the hundreds of waiting people at the finish line, so there was no question at that point of slowing down from my Garnet-induced sprint. Crossing the line was a mixture of relief at finishing it at all, a burden of hopeless unfitness being lifted off my shoulders, and near-delirium at my time: 1:55:36. Marius hadn’t quite nailed it, but he was a whole lot closer than I was.
The medal was heavy – gratifyingly so – and then there was Rachael, Jude and Alice waiting for me. I was basically high at this point, and collapsed crying into Rachael’s arms.
Fat bloke had done it. Thank you God.