χαιρέτε νικὠμεν χαιρέτε νικὠμεν means "Greetings, we've won" and are the words attributed by Plutarch and Lucian to the runner who brought news of victory at the battle of Marathon to the people of Athens. They both wrote some six hundred years after the battle and the story is unlikely. Herodotus, who was closer to events, writes of a runner called Pheidippides who ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for help before the battle, but says nothing of a run to tell the Athenians of the victory.
"So, when Persia was dust, all cried, 'To Akropolis!
Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!
"Athens is saved, thank Pan," go shout!' He flung down his shield
Ran like fire once more: and the space 'twixt the Fennel-field
And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,
Till in he broke: 'Rejoice, we conquer!' Like wine through clay,
Joy in his blood bursting his heart, he died--the bliss!"
Yesterday I ran to High and Over and back, a short run of just over an hour, as prescribed by the training programme. Since I'd held last Sunday's long run over to Monday, I have a better weekly total mileage than usual, 23.83 miles.
I don’t have a great deal to report; a gentle #parkrun yesterday though unrecorded, as I forgot my barcode — I was 141st, so therefore somewhere between 27:05 and 27:12. I thought, though, that I should itemise my planned races for the rest of the year.
On Wednesday, with several other Seaford Striders and a new pair of running shoes attached to my feet, I went to Bexhill for the Bexhill 5K, the last in their series of three summer evening races, and, unlike the other two, part of the Sussex Grand Prix. We could see Eastbourne Pier burning across the bay as we ran the westward sections of this two-lap race, much as the inhabitants of Naples must have looked across the bay at the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. I was pleased to record a time of 27:33.
By way of contrast, this morning I ran the Friston Forest 5 mile, a small event near my home. As I arrived at the forest mist was rising from the trees, and I found the race headquarters in a small glade off the Litlington road. I had originally entered the Adder, a ten mile event, but traded down to the five miler, in view of my lack of training. The organisers were genial and relaxed, and there cannot have been more than fifty runners milling around, though they all looked faster than me. At 9 the Adder runners set off, and we followed them five minutes later. Possibly the hardest part of the race was the first hill; after that taxing ascent, I settled into a rhythm and followed paths, some known to me, some unknown, through the forest. The sun shone on us, the hills were agreeably taxing and, to my surprise, in spite of their appearance at the start, I was not the very last runner. Indeed, as I fell down the hill to the finish in 52:51, I began to regret my decision to change from the longer distance. I shall be back.
Last night I ran the Phoenix 10k, Spanish plumes notwithstanding, in my fastest time for nearly eighteen months. I hope this may represent a return to form. It’c certainly better than the 60+ minutes I’ve been recording since over the distance more recently, though those were nearly all on hillier courses.
The Phoenix 10k is flat, flat as Norfolk. My Garmin recorded 9m of elevations, but I think that’s not a true reading. Unsurprisingly last night the winner was Benjamin Tickner of Phoenix, recording 30:05, which I believe is a new course record, and my fellow Seaford Striders recoded some impressive times. See the results at Sport Systems.
The race is an out and back, heading west from Hove Lawns to Shoreham and back, and taking in some of the route of the Brighton Marathon, known as the road to hell. That much is clear from the race description; what they don’t tell say is the olfactory nightmare the sensitive runner will have to endure. It starts with the gents loo at Hove Lawns, which smells as only a seaside public convenience can on a warm day when there have been plenty of visitors. Then there’s the ubiquitous stench of barbecues, burnt burger with top notes of lighter fluid, and, in the background, the heady smell of the sweet scented cheroots that so many of the residents of Brighton and Hove favour. As the route nears Shoreham other, more industrial themes emerge, fish, rubber, solvents...
I found myself running at the same pace as a raucous group from one of these new-fangled runners collectives, who yelled encouragement to each other and celebrated in a decidedly un-British manner whenever they passed a kilometre mark. It can be alienating to find oneself in the middle of what is essentially a cross between a club run and a hen night. From time to time I would try to break clear of them, but each time they caught me again. Still, I should be grateful to them, as they kept me going at a good pace.
For once, I had absolutely nothing left at the finish. I managed a sort of sprint for the line, but after that….this means I judged things more or less correctly.
Litotes, λιτότης, understatement, is the prevailing rhetorical mode among race organisers. Every runner will recognise the cheery marshal’s cry of ‘only one more hill’, when what he means is either that that hill is a huge beast of an incline, or that there are in fact countless hills ahead.
So when the organisers of the Heathfield 10k describe their route as undulating, what they mean the reader to understand is that it contains hills on an Alpine, if not Himalayan, scale. Therefore I feel quite pleased with myself for having completed it in 1:05:03, 217th out of 237 finishers, on a very hot day. The hills were exacting, but I still had strength at the end to overtake a few as we at the slow end of the field approached the finish with a circuit of a rugby pitch.
Thus encouraged, I worked out with the aid of fellow club members that I in fact could still run enough of the remaining Sussex Grand Prix races to satisfy the SGP requirement to run at least eight of them, including one of ten miles or more, and my club Grand Prix competition, which requires just six; I might even throw in a couple of off road races like the Firle Half Marathon.
Ten years ago, newly arrived in the town, I ran my first Seaford Half. Since then I have run this demanding but beautiful race another six times. In 2006 I cracked, for the first and only time, the two-hour barrier with a time of 1:58:03.
Today I merely marshalled, where runners, half a mile in, cross the A259. Fortunately the drivers we stopped were courteous and patient, at least at my end. Then I went to the finish to watch the lead runners return. There was high drama as the fourth runner home approached. As he was about 50 metres away I remarked to a fellow Strider that his gait was unusual. It became clear why, for his legs gave way and he fell to the ground. Calls for first aid fell on deaf ears until one of the Seaford Lifeguards came to help. The runner was escorted over the line, to applause, but relinquished his fourth place to Vanaka Graham of the Seaford Striders. It was a hot and demanding day.
For myself, I went out in the late afternoon. The Heathfield 10k is now two weeks away.
I may have given the impression in my last post that I was going to run a park run last weekend? I thought it best not to say anything, in the hope no one would notice. However Mid Life Crisis Marathon Man, MLCMM to his intimates, assumed the rôle of conscience and asked innocently how it went. It didn’t. I’d been building up slowly but found, for the past fortnight, that I had lost both the will and energy to run. I managed a mere six runs in the whole of April. See the horrid truth on my Garmin Connect profile. I felt exhausted, fit only to retreat to a Proustian cork-lined room, there to dab my temples with a scented handkerchief.
So today, disgusted with myself, and with my ever-growing embonpoint, I forced myself out for both a swim and a run. The run was lovely, if damp. The flora have changed completely—now there’s cow-parsley, hawthorn, nettles, in place of the blackthorn. The sea boiled in the bay below. The distances are small, but I can build.
Last Saturday I took a phone call. It was Mo Farah. He'd heard I wouldn't be running this year's London marathon. In a voice cracking with emotion, he pleaded with me to reconsider. Gently but firmly, I refused. 'No, Mo', I explained, 'I've had my day. It's time to hand over to a younger generation'. So while Mo ran his extraordinary debut, I contented myself with a little over four miles on Seaford Head, the longest distance I've run since 9 February. Watching the London Marathon on the television, and the Channel 4 programme on the Brighton Marathon shown the day before, I felt myself falling under the spell of the distance once more.
Today the fifth Brighton Marathon took place, and I marshalled, which is possibly not worth a blog post, in itself—except that it is such an extraordinary experience to witness, and play a small part in, such an event. An early start, out on the course, erecting barriers and directing runners to the start. I was given a fine marshalling place, on the Level, at a point the runners pass three times in the early miles.
A fine barrier. Thos. Roper fecit MMXIV
Congratulations to all who took part, in particular to the sixteen (we think) Seaford Striders who took part, and to two of my librarian colleagues, James Mullan, aka the Running Librarian, and Jo Wood, who both achieved personal bests. I only spotted a couple of Striders but it is hard. Looking at the times, my own of 4:46:52 in 2011 and the remarkably similar 4:46:12 in 2012 look rather poor.
Then home, and, in spite of some tiredness consequent on getting up at four in the morning, about the time my daughter returns from the night club, I went out for a brief run. Knees hurt, but I begin to see this in perspective. Perhaps I’m a little cowardly with pain. Could more marathons be possible?
I have structured my return to running thus: in six weeks a 5k, six weeks after that a 10k, then another six weeks to a 10 miler and a half-marathon six weeks after that. Given the availability of races within a reasonable travelling distance, my future races look like this:
Like every true-born Englishman, I love dogs, though I have to admit that, when it comes to some of the larger breeds, I can’t eat a whole one. I’m running again, after six weeks of abstinence, and today took myself up Seaford Head across the golf course. This is a favourite spot for dog walkers, and it was not long before a huge beast, its fangs dripping with slobber and gore from its last victim, began to pursue me, growling hideously the while. Its owners called it back half-heartedly, but made no attempt to speak to me. At least they did not blame me for provoking their hound by running in the style of its prey.
As for the running, it hurts a little, but it is such a pleasure to be out. I avoid road-running if I can, and even the well-known paths over Seaford head are a joy, with blackthorn flowering beside some of them. I have now undertaken three runs. I intend to build slowly—a 5K, perhaps a ParkRun in six weeks, a 10k six weeks after that, and, who knows, maybe a half marathon six weeks after that. Might a marathon be thinkable after that? I don’t know, though my GP, examining my knees, remarked that they had marathons in them. So there are, but are there any more?