Race starts are always heart-pumpingly exciting. We’re all penned in, ready to be released like a coiled spring, the pungent smell of Deep Heat, mingled with last night’s vindaloo and a whiff of my Chloe Eau de Parfum strong in the air, well one does have standards.
When it’s the inter-club cross country races, like Sunday’s Peco, I make a point of staying well back, there are serious runners in the pack who will have finished, washed and changed and eaten their pie and peas by the time I cross the line. I know them all, well I know what they look like from behind, I’ve never seen their fronts. As far as I’m concerned, they could have three noses to help them get deeper breaths, or an extra couple of arms to drive back as they up the pace, because all they ever do is disappear into the distance. But that’s OK, I’m not competing against them, I’m just joining in and getting a few points for the club. I also like to think I bring a little je ne sais quoi with my artistic interpretation and style as I splash through mud, poo and water though not usually in that order.
So as we stood there waiting to start, I realised I was facing the wrong way, not unusual, it’s always a clamour, and I’m never quite sure which direction we set off anyway, so I turned. Strange, I thought, I can’t usually hear the announcements and warnings of high peril they make, it’s usually drowned out by the murmurs and farting of the runners in front. But there were no runners in front, because I was there, at the front, with the lithe, spindly, vest-clad bodies of the proper runners. Shit, I thought, shit I’m in the company of greatness, an imposter, I’m going to be in trouble with the Running Police who’ll haul me out as and charge me with Not Running Fast Enough. Shit, shit, S-H-I-T! There was nowhere to go, the horn was about to blow and we’d be off. There was nothing for it but to set my face to ‘serious’ and do that half-bending foot-forward stance that Mo Farrah does. For a split second, I was Mo, then we were off and I had to watch out I wasn’t mown down.
Of course they all streamed past me, but I got to see their faces before they disappeared into the distance, everyone had just the one nose and two arms. They charged ahead, churning up the mud and making it into the kind of brown, lumpy soup served at motorway service stations in the 60s, for those of us at the back of the pack. I personally believe we tail-enders should get extra points for running through everyone else’s left-over mud, but I may be in a minority on that.
Still, I felt a pang of competitiveness as I stood with the best runners at the start, I may just have to do some more of that training stuff.