February – The Long and the Short of it. A not quite race report

By Mary Jones (This article was originally posted in Mary’s Blog)

February is too short.

Our running club has set a championship challenge (in lieu of races) to run a fast 5k during February. The route choice is your own. Hence lots of Goyt Valley Striders have been throwing themselves off the top of big hills and hurtling down in an attempt to break the land speed record.

My first attempt was misjudged. I found a big hill, ran down it: I won’t bore you with the details but I still had a lot of 5km left when I got to the bottom. I ended up running back through the village at 6pm on a Friday night, dodging the socially distanced chippy queue, which must have cost valuable seconds. It was still my fastest ever 5k but I thought I could do better.

The shortness of February meant that I didn’t have time to recover properly before having to do another attempt.

Attempting a route tried and tested by my better (at least at running) half, I took myself up another hill on a fine early spring day. I stood for a moment at the top of the hill and looked across the valley. The sun glinted on the reservoir. My other option for this morning was to go for a swim – why didn’t I choose the swim?

I started to run down hill. I tried to increase both my stride and my cadence until it felt like I was flying – I remember this feeling as a child – running down hill without a care in the world. Running faster and faster. Leaning in to the descent like superman.

I tried to keep up the momentum, even when the road took a slight upwards trajectory briefly, but my legs and lungs were burning. My breath was noisy in my throat. I know the next descent is shorter and soon my route will turn flat and I will no longer be able to rely on gravity to keep me going.

I turn on to the trail. The second half of my 5k will be flat. Now it’s my legs, not the gradient of the path that must keep up the momentum. There are no runners ahead of me, no runners behind me, and no-one waiting to cheer me over the finish line, but this is still a race. This is the club championship, lockdown style.

One mile to go. My body wants to give up but I have come this far and I am not doing this again! The pace no longer feels free and easy. I come to the end of the trail and drop down on the the canal. A moment of descent but it is not enough to gain any more momentum. Nearly there… and stop. My legs shake and I cough as my lungs try to recover. The coughing attracts stares from the families walking along the canal. I start to walk, I can’t run any more, my heart rate needs to return to normal. My legs need to stop shaking.

I walk along the canal in the spring sunshine. A man walking in front of me in green wellies sings along to Frank Sinatra playing in his headphones: “Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars”. I don’t want to start running again and break the reverie of this moment. I listen a minute and then I start to jog again and overtake him as he sings along to ‘The Girl from Ipenema: “She stares ahead but not at me”

I get home, download my run to Strava and run it through this website which will calculate the fastest 5k in the route. I was 7 seconds slower than last week’s run.

February has also been too long.

We have been in lockdown for what seems like years. This is lockdown number 2 or 3, depending on how you count – and I don’t count the not-lockdown before Christmas because I was still going to work and my children were still going to school.

The government have finally released the long awaited road map out of lockdown. Now anyone who knows me will know that I am not good with maps but even I have noticed the ominous words ‘no sooner than…’ before every date where things might get released. ‘No sooner than’, which means that if it all goes tits up after any of the previous dates, and the dreaded R rate starts to climb, then it ain’t going to happen.

England Athletics' roadmap back to normality
England Athletics’ roadmap back to normality

England Athletics have kindly translated the roadmap for the running community:

I dream of summer fell races. The ‘turn up – pay a fiver – run up a big hill – run down a big hill – pray you don’t come last’ kind of races. I hope they can go ahead. I have entered the Manchester Marathon in October. The atmosphere at the first few big events will be amazing. I am looking forward to a summer of parkrun, gigs, music festivals, theatre. I am trying to remain optimistic but I am glad I am not the organiser of a summer event (any more).

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This account is for the editor of the Strider. Currently that is Pete Fotheringham.

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