I had the title for this blog all sorted a few days ago, it was to be ‘Running away from age’ & would focus on my predictably annual birthday run. However I am never too old to learn (despite admittedly failing to frequently) & upon completing the reading of a 2nd memorable book last night, in the space of less than a fortnight, the blog & it’s title just re-wrote itself instantly, so here goes, draft 2:-
Book 1 – East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Having been mesmerized a couple of months ago by Steinbeck’s writing in ‘The Grapes of Wraith’ I was back for more & wasn’t disappointed, despite feeling that the book lost it’s way just a little in the second half another clever & un-expected ending brought it to a fitting conclusion (but he was always going to struggle to match the ending of The Grapes which in my humble opinion was the best I can remember reading). However East of Eden hit me personally like a thunderbolt. The introduction & building of the main female character (at around about page 50 to 100) had me turning over page after page & soon I was convinced that I was reading a ‘there by the grace of god went I’. My thoughts simply put were ‘I was there & I came through it, somehow’. It made me look at the puzzle in a different way, I’d just found the missing bits after so many years. I’d deliberately avoided reading the books introduction as they often reveal too much of the plot before the read commences but upon completion I went back to the introduction & read it to find a similar mirror of circumstances & feelings be they right or wrong.
I quickly moved on to getting another year older as Saturday dawned to muddled thoughts. Having put my back out seriously the previous Monday ‘Paul you really should know better’ my planned long birthday run was in serious doubt. Each day it would loosen up (on Thursday an easy 4 miler went comparatively O.K.) before re-seizing overnight, once again rising gingerly on Saturday I was very apprehensive. Dorina, up even earlier than usual, cooked me the tried & tested, 3 poached eggs, beans & two pieces of toast as I prepared my kit & cleared my thoughts to ‘this is going to hurt, you will probably have to bail but think of how you will be feeling (with knawing back pain) if you don’t even try!!
The run was simply a re-match of my failure on my 51st birthday ‘The Coed y Brenin Grand Slam’. For those not in the know this involves the 5 marked running routes in my local woodland back to back. The stats are not massive but for me mentally it is arguably 2nd to none in toughness. No support, too much knowledge of the hills to come & a bail out option at the CyB centre not just once but 4 enticing times! In 2017 I turned up cocky, ‘I’ll do it the hard way, shortest first & leave the longest to last’, idiot, I duly bailed the final Half Marathon & went home to cook a birthday meal with my tail between my legs & a sympathetic Angel by my side. But with age I have learnt, give it respect, ‘start long, end short’.
So at 7:45 I pulled up at the centre next to a sole van put on my running bag & set off on the Half Marathon in splendid isolation & at a very steady pace. The early long hill inevitably played on my mind ‘got to come back & do this 4 more times Paul’ as did the pain in my back. 1K bleeped my watch, mind calculates that about 2% done, mind says ‘you know this is about 6 hours, just run the clock down it’s the only way there is to get through this.
At about 15K having not seen a soul I realised my thoughts were changed, no longer was the back a focus it was now the pain above my right ankle (a hangover from Wrexham), was it going to get through another 35K or so? Despite this new doubt the mind games began to go my way I was soon back at the car, yoghurt, banana, go again, The Goldrush (my favourite of the 5) was next. By now I was respecting the tougher hills & walking a bit here & there but despite this I seemed to be putting them behind me at increasing speed, ‘Paul you’ve got a chance’. On the final hill I caught a friendly female mountain biker & stupidly ran it to avoid the humility of walking, how could I say ‘you know I’ve already done 34K’, thankfully no lasting damage done by my egotism.
Toilet break, Banana, Yoghurt, here we go again, The Long Sarn Helen. Two long hills in the middle of this, first partly run, great, second totally walked, no problem, it’s behind you, then it got really good. I overtook a friend & his wife on the long descent & then passed another runner as I made my way back to the centre, 3 down 2 to go.
If memory serves me right I’d had enough of banana’s by now but Yoghurt was still hitting the spot, The Short Sarn Helen. By now I knew that barring disaster I was going to do it, for the first time I walked a part of the first hill (thankfully no one to see me & think look at that cripple he’s walking after a few hundred metres). In truth my splits per K were quickening as with confidence running through my veins I was picking up speed on the flats & downs. Here comes the car again, don’t stop, Shoe Test Trail here I come.
Early on I passed Matt Ward & some runners coming the other way. I had passed Matt at the centre after the Goldrush & panted to him ‘I’m knackered I’m trying to do the 5’, ‘the Grand Slam’ came his reply. At this meeting he stepped to the side ‘this is the guy who’s running 50K’, they clapped & cheered me on, out of sight moments later & on that hill I broke into a walk filled with pride. This was to be a bit of a mistake.
Thinking that this final route actually descended to the river I was convinced that my estimated total time of 6 Hours was going to be missed by up to 10 minutes, ‘who cares, only an estimate anyway’. However after the lovely initial descent (going well now Paul) I was surprised to see the trail marker pointing straight back to the centre. Immediately I looked at the watch, shit Paul should have run more of that hill, ahh well, the damage is done, just enjoy the finish. My time was 6:00:35 a mildly annoying 35 seconds were soon forgotten, 51.8K, 3,900 calories & 5,350′ of ascent were now all behind me, Monkey of my back, Long to Short made the difference for me.
At the running shop a few of ‘Matt’s runners were there to congratulate me as was Richard in the shop itself. I’ve no idea how my time stacks up to others who have done this, not really important but of course one day I will ask Matt that question, I’m a runner after all.
From there it was up to the café to get a few Happy Birthday’s before an early retreat home for a belated re-fuel supper with Beth & my Father who’d just driven up from Bristol in little over half the time I’d been running.
Book 2 – Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado
I knew a fair bit about this true life disaster having watched the film about it ‘Alive’ many years ago but the book sheds far more light on the relentless trauma the survivors of the air crash went through. Nando who had initially been comatose for 3 days became arguably the strongest member of those fighting for survival & portrays all the characters with deep & sincere sympathies. I am not going to go into detail but the ordeal lasted 72 days (it states that on the books cover so I’m not giving anything away), it is riveting throughout but it was the concluding chapter that stood out for me. In this Nando sets out, with the help of a comforting word from his Father shortly after their reunion, how he managed to use his experiences positively to shape his life thereafter & this is hugely uplifting in again a ‘there for the grace of god’ kind of way.
Well that blog became longer than I’d intended for Draft 2 but there again I’ve actually written two blogs in one, just couldn’t help myself, sorry.