I won a race yesterday. A running race. I was the fastest. The victor. On one day, in one place, no-one could beat me. This isn’t gloating; it is savouring a moment that may not happen again. I’ve said it before on this blog, but while there is pleasure to be gained by running, the far greater pleasure is to run strong and well, and, ultimately, as fast as you can. The running race was the Broadway Tower Marathon, a 28.5-mile slog up (2900ft in all) and down the drenched and muddy Cotswolds.
The marathon course – essentially, Broadway Tower to Stanway to Winchcombe to Stanway and back – was a tough one on a good day, a grim one on a bad day. And this was a very bad day. The ground was saturated. I can’t remember running in such muddy conditions, and the marathon hadn’t been billed as a cross-country. It was a day for toughness. The bravery of a fell runner was needed to descend on slippery, steep surfaces. The strength and leg speed of a cross-country runner was needed to churn through the mud. The speed of a road runner was needed to take advantage of the firmer surfaces. The grit and doggedness of an endurance athlete was needed to cope with the ultra-distance. And, finally, the qualities of a hill runner were again required to scale the final, relentless slope to the flat finish.
I led from about mile two, running the entire race thereafter alone apart from the dozen or so half-marathon competitors I passed en route. At times, it felt like I wasn’t in a race; I was merely running as fast as I could between two points. Never judge your form on an uphill, is the motto I employ when struggling on an ascent. It’s a hill; it’s bound to hurt a bit. When the flat and downhill bits start to hurt, that’s the time to worry. By mile 24, my legs were beginning to cramp. I was wobbling a bit too; I needed to eat something other than the tablet and jelly babies on offer. The climb through Snowshill was hard and followed by a long downhill during which I had two thoughts: one, I haven’t seen a course marker for a while, so this better be the right way; and two, why are we going downhill? I knew for every metre of descent, I’d have to make the same re-ascent to Broadway Tower. Mercifully, I was going the right direction and the route lurched right, straight up a long-anticipated hill. I struggled up, stumbling a bit, walking a bit, forcing myself to run, before eventually the track flattened. Now at least I only had mud to contend with, rather than slope and mud.
The show wasn’t over, however. After pounding along the road for a short time, a sign indicated there was still a mile to go. There is no excuse to walk or take it easy on the road, so I motored on, arriving back at the finish line three hours and 52 minutes after I’d left. The organisers strung up a piece of red and white tape for me to run through. Folk applauded and said appropriate things. A medal was put round my neck. People shook my hand, a hand encrusted with mud and sugar. A hero for a few minutes. The winner – by some 25 minutes. And – in a world where I’ll never amount to the likes of Mo Farah in running terms – that’s a good feeling.