The last six months have been like the worst marathon you can possibly imagine. Six laps of Shoreham Power Station. On the first lap everyone was stealing the toilet paper from the portaloos and stockpiling the finish water. On the second lap, loads of the runners died and you had dodge the dead bodies. On the fourth lap, Boris Johnson appeared with a megaphone and told everyone to go home, except key workers, who had to keep running. On the fifth lap, everyone came out and clapped, but you had a bit of a cough and had lost your sense of smell so you weren’t really interested. Finally, you reached the sixth lap and things started to seem better. There were flags leading up to the finish line… “EastEnders returns” “Enter your swimming race here” “Come to the gym”… but as I speak to you I am still a little cautious of the possibility that the marshals might come out with a giant yellow sign with hazard marking round the sides telling me I need to do another lap. With the return of races and the imminent return of parkrun, it feels like we’re finally over the pandemic – but there’s no guarantee we won’t find ourselves back where we were in a few weeks’ time.
My perspective on this is that we can’t wait until the risk is completely gone before we get on with our lives, because the risk may never be completely gone and even if it is there are still a billion other risks out there and we don’t just cancel everything because we might end up dying. I hardly ever see cases of coronavirus at work now, and I don’t personally know anyone who has been sick with it since May. To me this has relegated coronavirus into just another thing we need to be careful about, rather than something we need to devote our entire lives into avoiding. I was therefore over the fucking moon that the race at Battersea went ahead. I loved every minute of it, from greeting my friends by the bandstand, to finding the secret unofficial bag drop, to plucking my medal off a coronaproofed table. RunThrough have made a few changes – there’s now four separate races (10k whippets, 10k snails, 5k whippets, 5k snails) and instead of a mass start people are set off in groups of four in some kind of vague semblance of pace order. You pick up your own water at the water station, the marshals’ smiling faces are obscured by masks (but you can still tell they are smiling) and some of the inspiring quotes have been replaced with solemn instructions like “no spitting” “keep off the pavement” etc. I hate inspiring quotes anyway so I think this is all for the best.
I was too excited about being back to think about pace targets and PBs which was probably a good thing because my Garmin decided to go haywire and totally misreport my pace and distance, so I had absolutely no idea what pace I was actually going at. In the last 500 metres I realised that I was actually very close to a PB so sprinted as fast as my legs would carry me, but it was all too late and I finished 37 seconds short. Still, it bodes well for next time.
I found I’d forgotten a lot of the rigmarole of going to a race – when to turn up, what to bring (where the hell are my bib clips?), the smell of the portaloo, my race photo face, how to pace a 10k, how to run at full pelt for 71 minutes without feeling like I have been hit by a bus etc etc. But we are back now, and there will be plenty of opportunities to practice and maybe soon we will all be looking back at the horrors of the 2020 Marathon From Hell as if it were all a bad dream.