I got up to run a half marathon this morning.
By 6.45am I was in the fens, surrounded by a glorious morning. The wind had dropped – sometimes it takes the tail of a hurricane to make you appreciate stillness – and the air had the definite bite of Autumn. Not long now before a T shirt will replace my vest, but I didn’t mind because I knew that once the sun got its act together and got over the horizon, like it was threatening to do, I’d be warm enough. I think it does the body good to adjust to different temperatures rather than pamper it with constancy. The sky was blue and surrounded me like only a fen sky can, even the moon had stayed out to cheer me on.
The first part of the run is a long concrete road about 2 miles long that cuts deep towards Wicken Fen. The only reason for its existence that I can think of is that it served one of the scores of airbases during WWII, and as I run I often imagine jeeps with aircrews bombing towards the village for a pint of warm beer. The fens feel so timeless that it’s easy to feel them passing you.
This morning it was like nature was escorting me. Out of a tree a marsh harrier swooped ahead and flew with me in its wake for about a hundred yards. I thought I’d spooked it until a deer jumped across the road in front no more than thirty feet from me. I wondered what kind of omen that would be if their were gods to send them. I decided a good one. Later a mother and her bambi stopped to watch me pass. I waved. I might have got a nod in return, I can’t be sure. Squadrons of partridges scrambled from cover, rabbits ran for it, even a charm of goldfinches hopped along the fence ahead of me for a while. It was absolutely glorious.
One of the things I’ve learned from running is to get the boring things in life over with first. When I’ve reversed my route and done this road at the end it’s been a real struggle. I’ve also found that predictable routes, where you can see the future uninterrupted, is similarly boring. Seeking variety and uncertainty in your run is as important as it is in your life, it’s the twists and turns that add interest – as much as your brain may prefer the increased ability to switch off when ahead of you you only have more and more of the same thing.
Along the way I tend to do a blog in my head, or work on whatever else i’m writing, or just talk to my Grandad. He’s been dead, blimey, thirty years, but he remains one of the most important people I’ve had in my life. I tell him all the good things that are going on, what our plans are, what I’m look forward to. I think it helps to savour the positives in your life, and telling him of them works as a happy way of doing that. I even remembered a lovely memory of him. He taught me how to play chess, and we had many great evenings hunched over the board. As I got older we played less. I was competing in leagues by then and, with the stupidity of youth, didn’t find him much of a challenge any more – as if that’s what the games were ever about. But I remember when I was about 15 I played him one evening. I was beating him hollow and brim full of arrogance. And then he moved his rook from his back row to mine, and checkmated me. It punctured my hubris and he was cock a hoop. I treasure the look on his face. I hope he knew how much I loved him, because I didn’t know the value of saying it back then.
I know it’s probably strange for someone who doesn’t belief in life after death to talk to someone who’s gone, but I think the mistake is to think that as individuals we’re consistent. Psychology shows time and again that we’re a mass of contradictions, and that we work hard to delude ourselves otherwise. I’m happy to hold opposite views about things and wheel them out according to which one works best for me in whatever situation I’m in. They’re only beliefs, and beliefs just feel true rather than are true, so why not use them any way that improves your life?
Because I set off before breakfast ( a Freddie Frog doesn’t count) at the halfway stage I had a couple of Quality Street to keep my blood sugar up. I need to experiment with my in-run refuelling, but I have to say they worked pretty well, I was feeling great. I’m getting back towards civilisation by then. Out on the fens every rare driver who passes me slows and gives me a wave or a thumbs up. Towards the village not so much. Most are still courteous, but some will make you stop when crossing a side street rather than them have to make the effort of pushing on a pedal, or slow their progress by a few seconds. Similarly the people walking their dogs nearly always give me a sympathetic hello, while those getting their kids to school just tend to ignore me. The moral seems to me, don’t have a child, get a puppy. It’s at times whenIi see the village, head down, going off to work that I bless the day we became self-employed, and I bless the work that Bex and Jan do that gives me the flexibility to organise my day the way I do.
The last mile is hard because I’m pushing for a personal best. I do it. Only my second run at this distance and my watch tells me I did it in 2 hours 5 minutes. I’m pretty chuffed, that’s five minutes faster than last time. I begin to wonder just how fast I can do the marathon, which is a lot better than when I wondered if I could do it at all.
A half marathon before breakfast. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, but what a gift to be able to do it at all.
A magical start to the day.