(Images Flickr.com — The Horror, owlhere)
Amongst all of the race distances I run, 10 miles is always my favourite. The Great South Run in Portsmouth is the definitive version, which today I’m sampling for the fourth time.
A ten mile race is a less brutally breathless affair than the 10k, whilst posing none of the recovery problems or tough training demands of a marathon. And whilst the half marathon is fun, there’s nearly always somewhere in that race, around 11 miles or so, when I’m less certain that I’m enjoying it right there.
This, then, is the beauty of a 10 mile race. It’s effectively a half marathon, just without those last 3 miles. And if you’re running regularly, you could run one tomorrow, and still walk again the day after, too.
He’d been walking thoughtfully behind, but now his playing partners parted deferentially as he joined them. A brief flash of a film-star smile, a swish of a copper bracelet, and the ball soared into a blue Alpine sky. The finest player of a generation turned modestly to this lone spectator, nodding acknowledgement of the necessarily thin applause as another drive split the fairway.
The 16th hole in the last round, watching the defending champion come down the stretch at the Swiss Open and European Masters. And even though the double US Masters and triple British Open winner was only one stroke off the lead, and a smallish crowd was waiting in the single grandstand around the final green, with three holes left it still seemed there were only a handful of us actually out there on the course.
The European Tour has changed since then. By the time Luke Donald celebrated his Ryder Cup place with a victory in the same tournament at Crans-sur-Sierre in 2004, the crowds were massive. Just one event was responsible for raising the profile of the sport across the continent, and that was the Ryder Cup. And the one man who made it happen undoubtedly was that same Severiano Ballesteros.
The famous Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was truly one of the Great Britons, always undaunted by a challenge.
It’s just a couple of hours from London to Bristol now, and the train journey is even faster. But before Brunel, the journey could take several days.
Brunel’s dream was to build a railway between the two cities, whatever the obstacles. The Great Western Railway, as it came to be known, heads westwards out of London, making undistinguished progress most of the way to its destination. It is only near its goal, that the real engineering problem was to be faced. Just east of Bath, the route had to somehow traverse the steep escarpment, where the Jurassic Great Oolite defines the pretty escarpment of the Cotswold Hills.
A cold late summer evening, thirty two years ago now, the failing light still dim across the expanse of time. We’d just left our holiday in Northern Italy behind, and were driving homewards, out of the rush that is Torino into the deep and dark Aosta valley. Dusk found us atop the Grand Saint Bernard Pass, just inside France. Hannibal had passed the other way, with his elephants, from Carthage to Rome two thousand years ago. Another famous general had also clearly stayed here, as the hotel we found perched high in the cooling mountain air advertised itself as Napoleon’s Bivouac.
This young boy, bleary-eyed and assaulted by novel aromas of Alpine cheeses, pizza, and something else I can only now define as essence of mountain hut, sat hungrily down to dinner way past his bed-time. But the overriding impressions came not from the food, nor even the place, but from the scene playing out in front of a rough crowd of locals and tourists.
One and all, we stood or sat, transfixed around the television as a young Olga Korbut changed gymnastics, and the Olympics, for ever.
As a schoolboy, I was amazed and impressed to read that Henry VIII had died of ‘consumption’. Had he really eaten so much that it had actually killed him ?
Now, of course, I realise that the description actually refers to tuberculosis, but also that there was likely still an element of truth to my post-mortem interpretation.
Consumption is a life-long pastime, and in these more leisurely weeks after the Blackpool Marathon, it has once again made its presence felt.
Priorities shift like the tide, and this summer it seems high time to rediscover my golf game.
This is the real sport of my life, and the one where I can actually compete on a reasonable level. If I could run like I golf, maybe I’d even be a 2:30 marathoner.
I tried a gentle three miler a week after the Blackpool Marathon, but it was like running without shock absorbers. My teeth rattled all the way round.
So two more weeks went by before I laced up my shoes again. The longest break since I started running seven years ago. But then, I’d never run back-to-back marathons before. I may not be trying it again any time soon.
And yet, however much rest I really needed, I knew I’d do the Annual Hash Run.