18 April 2018
The beginning of April was less April showers and more April downpours. The world seemed to be all about huge puddles, gloopy mud and perpetual dampness. It was also cold, so, just when we should all have been thinking about light spring jackets and losing the layers, we were wrapping up in big coats, scarves and hats instead. None of this made me relish the thought of the first RR10 of the season at Victoria Country Park but, as it was the Spitfires marshalling event, at least I wouldn’t be standing still in the cold and rain.
As it happened today was one of the few days when it didn’t rain, at least not all day. The morning drizzle gave way to weak sunshine but it was anyone’s guess if it would stay that way. Commando went out for a run in the afternoon to recce the course and pronounced it muddy in places and very cold along the shore but otherwise ok. With this in mind I chose to wear my big, waterproof boots, a warm coat over several layers and, of course, my special Itchen Spitfires Official Photographer high vis jacket. I also had a hat, partly to keep my ears warm and partly in case it began to rain. Looking at me you’d have thought it was December not April.
As no one is allowed to run in the RR10’s unless they have marshalled, an unprecedented number of Spitfires turned up to don their High vis jackets and stand around on the course directing runners and cheering. The new team captains had their work cut out taking down all the names and finding suitable marshalling spots. At least Alana had her work to cut out, Adam seemed very laid back about the whole thing and spent most of the pre race time stretching out and chatting to John. In fairness, he did lead all the marshals out to their spots on the course before the start.
After a swift team photo or six, which entailed walking across the soggy grass for ages in order to fit everyone in, it was time to head for the start line. My plan, such as it was, was to set off with the tail walkers, Amanda and Amelia, and walk the course, stopping off to take photos of all the marshals. Usually I’d be more interested in the runners but, as none of them were Spitfires and all the marshals were, it seemed like an easier job than normal.
At most RR10’s the slowest runner is the wonderful Annie, who is in her eighties and runs at more or less the same speed I walk. This made me fairly confident I’d be able to keep up with the tail runners, more or less. This plan worked for all of a quarter of a mile. For some reason Annie had decided to skip this race and, pretty soon the tail runners were disappearing into the distance. As the runners would be doing two laps and I would only be doing one I still wasn’t too worried.
The first part of the course took me along the shore. This should have been the coldest section. In actual fact is was surprisingly warm. It wasn’t long before I’d dispensed with my hat and was rather wishing I’d worn less layers. Dave, who was filming the event with his drone, was only wearing a t-shirt. He made me feel decidedly overdressed.
By the time I reached the end of the shore the last runners had already disappeared into the woods and the sun was getting low in the sky. The chill was about to set in and I’d soon be glad of my coat, or so I thought. The Spitfire marshals might soon regret wearing nothing more than a hoodie against the evening air but they were all smiling as I passed them. In fact, one couple were sitting in a bench canoodling in the lull between runners. Perhaps they were just trying to keep warm?
At this point things seemed to be going fairly well and I was enjoying marching through the woods taking photos of marshals. Then things began to unravel. The first speedy runners began to lap me and I had to keep one eye on where I was going and the other on who was running up behind me.
Marching forwards while looking backwards at regular intervals and keeping to the edge of the path worked well for a while. Then the trail got narrower and more and more runners began to pass me. There wasn’t much room to move to the side of the trail, especially when several runners were coming through together. There was also a fair bit of mud to negotiate. This was when I realised the only way I could get around the course was to run. Every time there was a gap in the runners I ran as fast as I could to the next marshal. Once I’d snapped their photo I checked if the coast was clear and carried on running until the next group of runners came up behind me.
The sight of me running caused a few raised eyebrows amongst the Spitfire marshals. Most of them think I can’t run. The fact is I can (although very slowly and not very far) but I choose not to. Obviously big boots and many layers of clothing, including a warm coat, is not the best running gear and I was soon very, very hot.
To their credit no one actually laughed at the sight of my red face or my odd, big boot running. In fact a few even cheered as I passed. When I got to a paved section that was wide enough for the runners to easily pass me I could have slowed to a walk but I knew I needed to gain as much ground as I could. Soon I was back on the woodland trails again. This section was, if anything, even narrower than the last, with overhanging branches, roots, boggy mud under the leaf litter and, worst of all, hills. It was around about then that I realised I was actually the only Spitfire running this race, albeit very slowly and in an ungainly, sweaty, red faced manner.
Through the trees I could see the hint of a beautiful sunset. It made me wish I could just stop and enjoy it rather than having to run. Maybe if I’d been dressed for the occasion I’d have enjoyed it more but, somehow, I doubt it.
The woodland trails seemed to go on forever and, without the marshals to direct me, I’d probably never have found my way but, eventually, I made it back to the open park where Commando was marshalling. Thankfully, I spotted him before he saw me and slowed to a walk. If he caught me running I’d never hear the end of it. Although he didn’t actually catch me in the act my red face may have given the game way. Besides, I was fairly sure some of the Spitfires who’d seen me running would spill the beans.
The sunset was truly beautiful as I made my way back along the shore to the finish line. It was a great relief to be able to walk again rather than run. I may have been the only Spitfire running this race and therefore the first across the finish line but it is not an experience I wish to repeat any time soon. I prefer my exercise at a more sedate pace with less chance of spontaneous combustion or broken ankles.
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