My friends often complain that I like to get to events, particularly running events, far too early. My general rule is to catch the train before the train I would catch to arrive on time. Next time anyone complains about this, I am going to cut and paste this post at them and explain THIS IS WHY.
The first train to Woking gets you to the Surrey Half on time and the second just about gets you there by the skin of your teeth. This meant I had no option but to arrive merely on time. Still, I thought, this is what everyone else does, it’ll be fine just this once. I arrived at Vauxhall vaguely needing the toilet, but found them closed due to flooding. (It’s either flooding or coronavirus). Never mind, I thought, I’d go on the train. Train arrived. No toilet. No option but to hang on all the way to Woking! Thank goodness my physio taught me how to activate my glutes.
We were just approaching Esher when there was a sudden loud noise, followed a rattle, followed by silence. The train came to a halt. Various runners on the train laughed nervously and awaited an announcement that never came. Talk turned to taxis and “how long does it take to run from Esher to Woking?” Eventually the train chugged feebly into Esher station. People got on and off the train and looked up and down the platform for no apparent reason. Eventually a grown up appeared and told us that the train had hit a rock and was going out of service, but that the next train (the one that would get us there by the skin of our teeth was ten minutes behind).
My first move was to bolt to Esher station’s toilet, which I found cruelly locked. I suggested a tree. Rob did not think it was appropriate for me to use a tree as a toilet. I said that it was better than using a train.
However I momentarily forgot my toilet crisis as the rock-hitting train slunk out of the station (taking anyone who actually worked for the train company with it) and the indicator board changed from “next train in ten minutes” to “next train, cancelled. Train after that, cancelled.” Right on cue, the next train sped through the station without stopping.
No one really knew what to do. Rob suggested going straight to the pub but I said 8:30am was a bit early to start drinking, even for us. Some people started ringing people for lifts and others defeatedly trudged over the platform to return to London. I checked Uber, but of course they were on “Surge Pricing” and a taxi to Woking was £62. The local cab firm unhelpfully offered us a place in a cab with two women who were going somewhere else and would be dropped off first for £35. Time was ticking away. The race started in half an hour and Woking was twenty minutes away. Suddenly I really really wanted to run the Surrey Half and was prepared to flag down a passing motorist and hold them at gunpoint and insist they drive us there…
But it didn’t come to that as I checked Uber one last time and Surge Pricing was off and a taxi was a mere £26 quid. We grabbed two other marooned runners, got in and told the drive to drive as fast as he could to Woking Leisure Centre. Twenty minutes to make a twenty minute journey. Could anything else go wrong?
The taxi pulled up at Woking Leisure Centre just as the runners were setting off. I sprinted to the toilet (probably the fastest I was to run that day) and found every single cubicle was devoid of toilet paper (fucking coronavirus) but that one had a Starbucks cup with one of those cardboard thingies round it. Yes, I did. What would you have done?! Then it was down some stairs in the leisure centre to the bag drop and it started to turn into one of those recurring dreams where you are late for a race and get lost indoors and have to run through a netball court and a car park except it wasn’t a dream and thank god unlike my dreams I wasn’t wearing a latex dress or New Rocks.
I finally reached the start line eight minutes late, with the tail end of the runners disappearing into the distance. I had visions of doing the whole race alone and never catching the last person so I set off much too fast, at more of a 5k pace than a half marathon pace, and only realised when I inadvertently caught up with the 2:30 pacer. I promptly slowed right down and attempted to take stock and recall what I was actually doing here and what my plan was. Oh, that’s right:
- Get round 21.1km
- Time doesn’t matter, remember ten days ago you were in an MRI scanner praying for the continued existence of your posterial tibial tendon.
- Jeffing will get you round in one piece
- But don’t get caught by the sweep up coach, it will be embarrassing and it won’t even be the first time
So I plodded along happily. Even plodding seemed quite an effort because I’ve done so little running lately but it was a decent plodding pace. The course is described as flat but it’s not pancake flat and I decided to walk the uphills, however gentle they were. I would describe the scenery as pleasant but not breathtaking and I think I was right in my assessment that it would have been a PB course had I brought my PB legs with me. (Breathtaking scenery is distracting and tends to come with big hills, rough terrain and/or coastal breezes). At 10 I was feeling quite tired and decided to stick the run/walk timer on (2 mins run, 30 seconds walk). This worked well right up until the end, except for about five minutes round the 10 mile mark when I had a sudden feeling of “everything hurts but nothing in particular hurts, I am just done and don’t want to do any more running”. This was possibly brought on by being overtaken by a man wheeling a little litter trolley behind him. However I managed to pull myself together and reprise the run/walk strategy and keep it going right until the very end.
I got to the finish straight with the realisation that I’d actually been a lot faster than I expected. I wouldn’t have been surprised to go over the three hour mark, but my actual finish time was 2:50:05 – only four and a half minutes slower than London Landmarks last year, when I was uninjured and had trained perfectly. Of course I was irritated that I hadn’t been six seconds faster, but I was still pleased. It was Rob who earned the Tequila of Shame this week, but actually neither of us had been that pathetic this week as we had both got round without calamity or injury. Now if I can just make my ankle function correctly again and pick the right half marathon maybe the magic 2:35 is in sight after all…