by Pete Fotheringham
Sometimes being wrong is OK – misreading a map, ignorance, and not doing a recce can sometimes be blessings in disguise. But more of that later…
The Whitehall Wiggle is my first real race in this year’s club championship: Lyme Parkrun and the Pavilion Gardens 5k are timed runs rather than races (and being a road event, the latter has no place in any civilised club championship 🙂 At least it’s the only one I have to do this year). It’s the first time this year that my running mantra – “You’re doing this to enjoy yourself, no need to rush, it’s not a race!” – doesn’t quite work. Still, it’s only a mantra – I don’t think there’s any legal requirement for running mantras to be strictly correct, so we’ll let it go.
There’s a good turnout of Striders, and fifty-odd other runners, milling about in the centre, pinning on numbers, chatting about race tactics and split times, and eyeing up the impressive display of cakes waiting to be consumed after the race. As the clock nears 11:00, we head away from the cakes, outside for the start. The race starts at the back of the Whitehall Centre, runs along Old Road for a while until it heads off-road for an anti-clockwise lap of Ladder Hill, taking in the track of Long Lane and a bit more of Old Road, then a lovely long down hill into Combs village, before heading back up to the finish at Whitehall (and the cakes).
Soon after the start, I’m in my customary position, getting on first name terms with the tail runner – hello Nigel – and plodding along happily. There’s a friendly Strider face in sight though, and Melanie Watts and I swap places a few times, with me slightly faster on the downhills, but Mel faster on the flat and the uphills. The running is grand on the tour of Ladder Hill, with not too much walking on the uphills. And the downhill into Combs is great, except for the big dark cloud on the horizon (a metaphorical one, the actual weather is lovely).
As most Striders will know, looking across to Combs and Chapel from Ladder Hill, the view is dominated by the sight of Combs Edge, looming intimidatingly from Castle Naze all the way round to somewhere above the Whitehall Centre. I didn’t do a recce for the Wiggle, because I know the area quite well, from running, and from staying with friends who lived just down the road from Whitehall when we moved up from London many years ago. I did spend some time studying the route map though, working out where the race went as it lapped Ladder Hill, and noting the long descent into Combs. I didn’t look too closely at the rest of the route – obviously it’s going to be uphill, because we’ve got to get back to Whitehall, but I don’t want to know the details. I’ll probably be walking, and with luck the marshals won’t have given up and gone home by the time I get there. Mostly though, I didn’t want to think about it because – for no good reason that I can think of looking back on it – I’ve convinced myself that the route must go up onto Combs Edge, and that does look like a horribly long climb, and I hope all the cake won’t have gone by the time I finish.
So as I’m flying (poetic licence) down the road into Combs, I’m trying – and failing – to stop myself looking over at the
Alpine Himalayan-scale climb to Combs Edge, thinking (and swearing to myself) about how hard and unpleasant it’s going to be, wondering how long it’s going to take to get all the way up there, and whether there will be any cakes left if I do.
Imagine my surprise and delight when a friendly marshal (is there any other kind?) smilingly directs me up a track that leads away from Combs Edge, and climbs at a pleasantly runnable – even for me – gradient, through a couple of farms to a flattish stretch, and possibly even some downhill, before the final steep – not runnable – pull up the hill back to the centre. It’s a long enough uphill for Mel to overtake me again, and build a lead too big for me to pull back on the last short downhill to the finish (and the cakes), but nowhere near as tough as the climb to Combs Edge would have been. Sometimes being wrong is OK…
The cakes were worth the effort too, especially that flapjack which contained just enough oats to hold the huge amounts of syrup and sugar into a vaguely solid cuboid: my best sugar buzz of the year so far!
There were some great performances by the participating Striders, with Nathan Porter in 11th place, beating Aidan Grant in 12th by just 2 seconds. That would have been fun to watch, but I was a little too far back to have a good view. Special mentions for Rebecca Sullivan – 1st Lady Of A Certain Age – and Mike Hudson – 1st Gent Significantly Older Than The Ladies Of A Certain Age. I hope they both enjoyed the bottles of wine they won (although as Mike had to leave before prize giving and Helen Parry offered to take Mike’s bottle for him, he may not have seen it). Due to an oversight, there was again no prize for 1st Gent With A Coronary Stent And A Couple Of Screws In His Leg, so I went away happy, but empty-handed (apart from another piece of that flapjack).
Thanks to the Thomas Theyer Foundation and the Whitehall Centre for putting on a great race. Thanks too to all the volunteers and marshals who made the event run so smoothly. And special thanks to whoever made that flapjack. Whether or not the race is in next year’s championship (I’m sure it will be), I’d recommend everyone to turn up. If you don’t fancy running, I’m sure they’d welcome some help marshalling. Or just turn up to support and cheer the runners on. Did I mention that the cakes are very good? See you there next year.