It’s 7 am and Durham’s massive Cathedral is rising through the mist as I head for the station to join a ragged assembly of runners awaiting the early train.
There’s a wonderful view of the city as we pull away, and I have to quash the spontaneously rising bars of Roger Whittaker’s ‘I’m leaving old Durham town‘ resolutely from my brain. That’s one song I don’t relish reverberating round my mind on the long run later today.
A quick glimpse of the sculpture of the Angel of the North atop a frosty field, and then we’re into the southern outskirts of Newcastle, passing Billy Elliot back-to-back terraces, desolate factories and empty parks, before the view opens up to reveal the fog lifting under sunshine over the lined bridges of the River Tyne. A metro train scurries just below us into Central Station like some cheekily overgrown Lego set.
After squeezing in a slow ten-miler on Monday in preparation for next week’s Great North Run, I hailed a taxi to Heathrow and spent the remainder of the week in Ghana.
It was a fascinating and thought-provoking visit.
Memorable certainly for the speciality roadside coffin shop in Teshie, where they will make you up a sarcophagus in any shape you order, including lion, fish, eagle, elephant, aeroplane, outboard motor, or even beer bottle. And yes, running shoe can be arranged.
From there to Tema, ‘Planned City at the Centre of the World’, recently celebrating its Golden Jubilee in its setting just north of the Equator and astride the Greenwich Meridian.
Running has taken a back seat lately. After Stratford, I took a week off before starting to explore the lanes and footpaths from my new office near Gatwick.
There are some good routes, particularly if you are interested in observing commercial aviation – no, actually some pleasant runs towards Charlwood once you get out of the Gregory’s Girl filmsets of the Crawley housing estates.
Nevertheless, I felt more than a bit sore and a good deal more jaded for a solid six weeks. With Chicago last autumn and Stratford this spring, I had been in almost continuous marathon training for 11 months, so it shouldn’t have surprised me. It was only really when work got hectic for a couple of weeks just recently that it forced me to back right off enough to make it comfortable and enjoyable again now.
Sadly, I never did satisfactorily crack the back-to-back weekend runs from Hal Higdon’s Intermediate I programme. Hal says that if you can run a 20 miler when tired, the race itself will be easy. He’s obviously right, but I just wasn’t up to it, so instead I ran one of my mid-week runs as a tempo run. That worked brilliantly, for getting half marathon PBs at least, and to get me into the form for giving the marathon a good crack.
Along the way, I learned a couple of lessons. Firstly, to minimise racing whilst training, because whilst enormous fun and great for confidence, each time it cost me 2-3 weeks of mental and physical recovery. And to get more rest and have more fun when I run. It is great to be in shape, (some of the time) and I probably run faster than I could have even 20 years ago, but there is so much more going on now and I need to refresh more mentally and physically. That’s me, anyway.
“O, how this spring of love resembleth the uncertain glory of an April day” – Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 1, Sc. 3
Picture a fine and blustery English spring day in Stratford-upon- Avon. I’ve returned from Guildford to my home town for this weekend of processions marking the Shakespeare Birthday celebrations.
An East End boy, I moved to Warwickshire at the age of 9, and these streets I know so well are today lined with flags from over a hundred nations, flying briskly in the breeze.
“Now go we in content…” – As You Like It, Act 1, Sc. 3
Lining up outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in warm sunshine, reflecting on London and Chicago behind me, I am instantly humbled when my neighbour tells me this is his 126th marathon. Just the third for me and the day’s long road is frankly unimaginable at this moment, but soon we start and it all begins.
“I’m not interested in football, I just support West Ham”.
That’s the saying of my lifetime.
Today saw a very pleasant four miles along the River Wey towpath on a sunny Spring afternoon. That’s more or less how I started running, almost six years ago, and the perfect final outing before my third (and reputedly last) marathon.
London, Chicago… and er, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Well, it’s my home town, where I grew up, and I know those lanes like the back of my hand. It’s the perfect place for my farewell from international athletics.