For all the positive things I write about putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes running can be a bloody nightmare. Yesterday at the Red Bull Wings for Life that was certainly the case.
I shouldn’t be surprised, after all I’ve just had twenty days of the best running I’m ever likely to experience cramming the Marathon des Sables, the Boston Marathon and the London Marathon into a three week, three continent, eight marathon mega mission. It’s important to fess up here that every single one of those runs went better than I could have ever hoped.
So I knew before I even set foot on the vast grey tarmac of the famous Silverstone race track, that to expect another good run wasn’t just greedy, it was foolish.
The Wings for Life World Run is a race with a difference. Runners at venues around the globe all set off simultaneously. So far so normal. But where this race is unique is that half an hour later the finish line, in the form of a Catcher Car (I can’t help thinking of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang every time I write that), starts to hunt them down. The finish line comes to you, not the other way around.
I have to confess that stood on that start line, rather than doing calculations on how fast I’d have to run to escape Silverstone’s Catcher Car – incidentally being driven by F1 speedster of jockular Scot David Coulthard – I was working out how slow I needed to go to get my bum on the first bus home.
I figured I’d at least run a 1okm. That would be respectable. I could go home free of shame, I thought to myself. I didn’t expect what happened next.
For about 45 minutes I hobbled around the soulless, joyless Silverstone race circuit. I’ve run here once before at the Silverstone Half Marathon and I swore back then that I’d never come back. Running around a big racing circuit might sound cool but it’s not. It’s dull beyond belief. A vast expanse of windy dreariness where the only thing to see for miles around are the switchbacks and bends that take you onto another piece of asphalt that looks just like the piece you’ve just run.
Unfortunately for me, this went on for almost five miles. By the time we left the circuit and headed into the green lanes and quaint villages, I knew my race was done.
From the first step my body refused to play nice. A grumbling ankle and twitchy calves teamed up with my angry achilles, a mass rebellion under the banner ‘No More Miles’. To make matters worse, the Reebok Pump running shoes I was testing out for a review joined in, cutting off the circulation in my feet.
However, as much as my body whinged at me, it was really my mind that threw in the towel early. By 5km I was mentally already on the bus back to the start. At 10km that was literally the case.
As we passed the 10km sign my eyes were already darting for the shuttle bus. At about 10.5km I found them. Unfortunately for me, these buses were parked in the middle of the first village we came to on the course, guarded by the locals who had gathered to watch the runners come through their small quaint English backwater.
As I headed towards the first double decker a confused set of stewards tried to usher me on, thinking I was about to make a wrong turn.
“You’re going the wrong way mate!” they shouted, gesticulating in the direction of what I can only describe as more misery. I held my course for the bus and then the locals realised what was actually happening.
“He’s had enough already! Bit tired mate! You’ve only just started!” Just some of the friendly jeers that started to fly my way from the assembled local old men nursing their local pints from the local pub.
“But I’ve just run eigh….” I started back, attempting to explain what I’d just done a week ago but it was impossible to make myself heard over the laughter. So I gave up, sucked up my fate and shuffled onto the bus.
It was only when I got onto the bus that I realised just how much I deserved their piss-taking. Mine were the very first weary buttocks to be plonked onto the back seat of the very first bus at the very first opportunity to bail out. I wasn’t first to be caught, even that would have had some small silver lining. Oh no, I was the first person in the entire race to quit before David Coulthard in his Catcher Car had even shown up.
And my punishment? I ended up sitting in silence on my own on the lower deck of that bus for about 20 minutes before Coulthard eventually crept past, killing off the backmarkers and sending them to join me. For the entire time I could feel the grins of the locals beaming through the bus windows at the man who bottled it.
But you know what, even with amid my humiliation, as I slipped off my shoes and put my feet on the seats I was the happiest runner alive. I always say you need to find a way to win on every run and my victory at the Wings for Life World Run was finally being able to admit when I’m beaten.
Disclaimer: This tale of misery is entirely self inflicted. All the other people who ran the Wings for Life World Run seemed to be having a bloody good time!