The last race, medals and beer

27 November 2016

Our long day didn’t quite end with the sunset in Paphos yesterday. Although Commando’s legs were weary after three back to back events and my temperamental Achilles tendon was grumbling at a week of almost non stop walking, we still had to eat. There was one last walk up the hill in the dark to the Coral King for a leisurely dinner. As we sipped our after dinner coffee I noticed we’d been sitting beneath a fresco of the Greek warrior Achilles.  It seemed quite an irony in the circumstances.

Achilles was the son of the nymph Thetis and Peleus, the king of Myrmidons, a mortal. His mother, wishing to make him immortal like herself, dipped him in the river Styx. This might have done the trick, had she not been holding him by his heel. That heel proved to be his downfall. During the Trojan War, Paris shot him in it with an arrow and he died. Ever since, the term Achilles Heel has come to mean a weak point and the tendon at the back of the heel, right where he was shot, is the Achilles tendon. Mine is certainly not a happy bunny at the moment.

This morning we had yet another early start. The Paphos City run began at eight o’clock. We sat beside Eddie and Sue for our rather rushed breakfast. Sue had another fall during yesterday’s race and now has a bandage on her wrist and her knee but was undaunted and hadn’t even considered pulling out of today’s race. She is one tough lady for sure. Despite the jovial  breakfast mood the day was tinged with sadness. This would be the last race of the Cyprus 4 Day Event and our last full day in Cyprus. The days and the races have flown by so fast it feels as if we’ve barely arrived and it’s almost time to leave again.

The sun we’d watched sinking into the sea last night was just beginning to rise above it again when we arrived in Paphos. The little harbour was buzzing with activity, marshals and officials setting out water bottles and fruit, runners warming up, stretching or standing around in little knots chatting. The shadows were long and the light was tinged with gold.

While Commando queued for the portaloos I wandered off to take a few photos of the scenery. A Marine Police boat was moored close to where we stood and, across the water, I could see the spot where we’d sat for coffee, the odd looking Nautilus and the large pirate ship, Jolly Roger. A row of little white sailboats sat waiting by the jetty. Apart from all the runners behind me most of Paphos seemed to be asleep.

There was just time for pre race photo of Commando standing under the finish arch with the castle in the background before everyone began gathering at the start for the pre race briefing. While Commando joined them I scuttled off to find a good spot to take photos.

Then they were off. With so many runners galloping towards me I couldn’t see Commando at first, although I did spot Sue with her bandages. Hoping I’d catch him in at least one photo I shot blindly, taking hundreds of photos of the stream of Lycra flowing past. Looking at them later I realised he’d been there all along, just in front of Sue so I’d captured him in all but the first few shots.

Finally the stream turned to a trickle as the back markers came past. Like me,  Yolanda stood watching, her eyes shaded against the low sun. When Eddie and Dennis, an octogenarian and the oldest runner there, came past, a strange silence descended on the harbour.

It always seems quite odd to me how quiet a race start becomes once the runners have all departed. All the hustle and bustle has ended and, for spectators like me, there’s nothing left to do but wait. As this was only a 10k, I didn’t have much time for exploring. To be honest I was at a bit of a loss. At just after eight on a Sunday morning the shops and cafes were all closed and time was too short for any real sightseeing. For a while I hung around taking photos of the arches of the castle drawbridge reflected in the mirror smooth moat and the almost empty start finish area. Then I went in search of coffee. Luckily there was one small coffee shop open on Poseidonos Avenue so I got a take away latte and wandered slowly back to the harbour.

The first finishers began to arrive not long after I got there so I took up a position beside the castle and watched for Commando. I didn’t have long to wait. He was sandwiched between a woman in pink and a man in orange, looking quite fresh considering this was his fourth race in as many days.

He was gaining on the man in front as he passed me and I shouted and cheered wildly, wondering if he’d manage to pass him before he reached the finish line. With just yards to go he caught him and flew past, crossing the line a yard or two ahead. In all my photos both his feet are off the ground, as if he really was flying.

Although there have been four races, there is only one medal. To make up for this there is also a certificate and beer at the end of this race. While I went off to pick up his race bag Commando collected of his medal, his certificate and his beer. He even picked up a spare beer for me. It may have been a little early on a Sunday morning for beer but I think he’d earned it. I, on the other hand, had not, so he ended up giving it to another runner waiting in the beer queue.

Now all that was left to do was cheer the last runners across the line. We’d missed Sue finishing while we were getting medals and beer but we spotted her in the crowd, looking as chirpy as ever. Together we all went to watch out for Eddie and Dennis. They were the last two finishers in the last race and they crossed the line together, holding hands. It was a fitting end to an amazing competition and the crowd cheered them wildly.

In the end, races like these are not about medals, beer or coming first. They’re about the challenge of competing against the mountains, trails, roads and all the obstacles along the way. The real champions are the runners like Sue, Eddie and Dennis who keep going when many others would give up. Long may they continue.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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