Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Wet Med Half

If it all started badly it was completely my fault. Not finding the photocopy of my passport until later, I put it in the scanner to make a copy – and left it there. I only came to realize this at 5:26 am after we’d picked up Bob and were almost to the airport. After I’d ransacked my purse to be certain, Bob pointed out we still had 30 minutes to get home and return to the airport. Don’t you know we all silently watched the numbers on the clock and the speedometer, cursed every slow car and damned the red lights. I did my mad dash up and down the stairs, house keys in hand, and Bill pulled into an airport car parking slot at 6:01. As we had checked in online and had no luggage, we just joined the security queue with our carry-on bags. By the time we sat down on the plane 30 minutes later we were all very awake, wide-eyed with adrenalin.

We were on our way to do a half-marathon race in Europe. I won’t say where because I try to be anonymous here and race results are published on the internet, but it was on the Mediterranean and when Bob had done it a few years ago it was in sunny, 60 F./ 16 C degree weather. It was a fateful run for him as he took a bad fall that eventually required surgery to correct the damage done to his neck. Not one to be put off, he was going back and it would be his 69th half-marathon proper, i.e., races 13.1 miles / 21 kilometres long. It was Bill’s and my first half for over 3 years.

Over the years the three of us have traveled to many races together and we fell into the companionable pattern I find quite comfortable. If Bill spaces out, Bob is still focused. If Bob gets uptight, Bill knows how to make him relax.
On the odd occasion when they both panic, that’s when I remain calm. They follow me picking up what I drop and carrying what I can’t. I find three brains carry the travel burden more easily than two and guarding the luggage whilst others visit the shops or the loo becomes that much simpler. We often share a family room to make the travel cheaper. It may sound very odd, and the occasional hotel staff has eyed me suspiciously it is true, but my first year with the running club was a real eye-opener.

I wouldn’t say the bus that took us to races was quite like the women’s changing room at the gym where most disrobe more or less in plain sight. It’s more like a co-ed changing room where everyone strips off under a towel or a t-shirt or behind a bench. I suppose if you wanted to look there would be plenty to see, but everyone seems to avert their eyes and get on with changing from wet and sweaty to dry, warm clothes with a quick semi-wash in between. Any long (2-3 hour) Sunday morning training run invariably involved jogging in circles while some member of the group or other dashed into the bushes for a moment, coming out hurriedly tucking and tugging at clothes. One just gets used to these things and as long as everyone is courteous it works just fine. At least in hotel rooms Bob and I can take turns changing clothes in the bathroom, infinitely more civilized, not to mention comfortable. I suspect other odd groups of runners in the club are similar. When we travel with single men and woman Bill and I have split and shared rooms to save them single supplement charges (ie, a couple pay say £50 for a room; a single would pay £25 plus maybe £15 single supplement. It's not exactly fair, but that’s how it is over here).

Anyhow, the next hiccup was at our destination when the battery in the tour operator’s bus was dead.

Everyone got out and the guys gave it a push start. The hotel lobby was lovely, decorated with loads

of poinsettias for Christmas. Our room was at the far end of the first floor and it was glacial. The heater seemed to only heat itself and not much more.

We walked the half mile or so to the location of the start/finish as Bob remembered it, but as a new stadium had been built in the interim we weren’t sure about this being the same. I had a burning pain in the front of my left shin that worried me. Shin splints only improve with rest and I was upset that the dash up the stairs, the long sit on the plane or some other unknown factor would prevent me from doing the race for which I’d done up to 2¾ hour training sessions in the dark, wet evenings.

That night the tour rep seemed more intent on standing in front of an audience with his mic and visiting with old chums and clients than on giving out our race numbers. We were consequently late to dinner and having been up since 4 am I was so irritable I could hardly stand myself. We did our usual preparations before bed, pinning race numbers on shirts and lacing electronic chips onto our shoes, laying out clothes, etc. In spite of the fact that the room was still freezing and I put the blanket and my coat over the bedspread for warmth, it was a relief to be horizontal and finally drop off to sleep.

The next day the weather was almost as forecasted: 9 degrees C / 48 F and breezy winds but not quite what I’d call heavy rain, just very persistent. We were all given green bin bags with holes for head and arms to wear down to the start. I always find being in a sea of adults so dressed a bit surreal, but I suppose that is part of the fun of participating. I had thankfully brought winter running kit and was reasonably comfortable, which obviously marks me as less than competitive. I’d rather pull off layers when too warm and tie the arms around my waist than shiver miserably at the start. The front runners seem to insist on bra tops and bikini bottoms with gloves and blue skin. It’s enough to make a person grateful to be slow.

I felt pretty good for the first half, no injury niggled at all. The second half was hard work as I knew it would be and the last few kilometers a struggle. I did manage a finishing sprint of sorts around the race track to the finish line. I was well pleased with my time, 2:18. Bill and Bob had a good race between them, with Bob finishing just in front of Bill. Bill has always been the faster runner, but as Bob has consistently done the endurance training, it is never certain who will finish first. They both finished within seconds at around 1:52, just under my best ever half marathon time of 1:53. Though they were both relatively pleased with their race times, that information gave them both pause to consider how much slower they have become.

We all walked back to the hotel and took turns showering. Then down to the bar for a bit of anesthetic and then an afternoon nap to rest the weary legs. We enjoyed our buffet dinner, eating far more than was wise,

but skipped the post-race party which was due to start at 10pm, our bedtime. All in all, I can’t say that the tour group we used added much value for us. The race was organized by the local town council to promote off season tourism and I would consider doing it again, as it was a reasonably good course. I wouldn’t bother with the tour rep, however, as we could do our own race entry and hotel booking and get a taxi from the airport.

That afternoon Bob discovered that a patio door hidden behind a curtain by his bed out in the hallway was not latched. The small draft being shut off aided the heater enormously; enough so that during the night I was able to remove the two layers of clothing I’d added to my PJs. It wasn’t the first time we’ve traveled off season to the Med and I’ve slept in my clothes. I started to type ‘to stay warm’ but there was a whole week in the Algarve where I never did get warm; I still can’t laugh about that experience.

Our return journey was more complicated because of Easy Jet having cancelled the direct flight after we’d committed to do the race. Instead we flew into London’s Stansted, took a train into London, another train back up to Newcastle, and the metro back to the airport to our car. I was enchanted by the London Liverpool train

station, having never seen it before. Bill uses it often for work trips by train and we would have spent time there admiring the architecture but Bob was keen to be at Kings Cross, ready for the next train. I love Kings Cross as well, but didn’t take pictures as it was all bundled up in scaffolding and plastic. You’ll know just what it looks like however, if you are familiar with Platform 9¾ from Harry Potter films. Carrying my bag up and down stairs at the train stations was rather challenging, but doable. We’d spotted the marathon runners at the first airport by their weary limps. We had about a 9 hour journey all told, but were still home sooner than if we’d waited for the connecting flight.

As I said, I’m pleased with my time – I’d have settled for 2½ hours, so 2:18 is great. The last time I attempted a half marathon 3 years ago, I didn’t finish. The first mile was uphill and did me in just trying to keep anyone in sight. Half way around a lovely man jogged along with me explaining that he had just turned something like 76 and didn’t mind being last, so I didn’t have to be. I could bear to be last, but not to take 3 hours and not to have this nice old man wait for me. I caught the sweeper bus back to the start, rather than keep everyone waiting another hour to go home.

Half-marathons were once my favourite racing distance and I would like to remain fit enough to finish as well as I did this weekend. I don’t want running to take over my life again, but I may be tempted to see if I can whittle down that 18 minutes a bit…

1 comment:

Pauline Wiles said...

Wow, I'm behind on my reading. Congrats on your 2:18 and thank you for the amusing account of runners changing on buses!
I love the half marathon distance (it's a stretch, but not impossible) and this may well be the level that I settle at, once I've checked this crazy marathon idea off my list :)