Tonk Talk

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents - Talk Tonk PAUL TONKINSON

Tire­less Tonky v The Oc­to­pus: it’s on and it’s go­ing to be bru­tal!

There was a fa­mil­iar sorry start

to our hol­i­day in Croa­tia this year. Late ar­rival at des­ti­na­tion? Check. Plum­met­ing sugar lev­els com­bined with no open food out­lets in the vicin­ity. Check. Long queue to pick up the rental car. Check. The kids stared at me hun­grily, cir­cling like al­ley rats, bad­ger­ing me for change and hop­ing (in vain) they’d be able to re­vive the de­ceased snack ma­chine.

By the time I’d picked up the car the ten­sion had ratch­eted up yet an­other notch. No, I don’t need any more car in­sur­ance!

The first 30 min­utes in a hire car usu­ally fol­low a pat­tern as two im­pulses col­lide – the rush to get to the villa so the hol­i­day can be­gin ver­sus the manly de­ter­mi­na­tion to op­er­ate a car with which I am com­pletely un­fa­mil­iar. As we weaved down the mo­tor­way we no­ticed other driv­ers flash­ing their lights at us. I re­sponded by shout­ing ‘ WHAT?’ at the flash­ers and yelling abuse at my own ve­hi­cle. It turned out the head­lights weren’t on, so those driv­ers had a point.

Af­ter a quick stop at a ser­vice sta­tion, where a kindly chap showed us how the lights worked, I did a fren­zied carb-load. The mood lifted – laugh­ter bub­bled round the car as we took a left off the main road and headed into the moun­tains, twist­ing and turn­ing up the steep hill to the villa. This hill came to be known in the mythol­ogy of the hol­i­day as ‘El Pulpo’ – the Oc­to­pus. As I drove us up this beast I thought, I’ll be run­ning you to­mor­row.

In the morn­ing the beauty of the sur­round­ings be­came clear. Ahead of us, clear sea and glo­ri­ous beaches. Be­hind, the grandeur and grav­ity of the moun­tains. My idea was to loop around the back of the villa, into the moun­tains and find a way to get back on the main road and up El Pulpo.

I was go­ing to get very fit here: there was no way of avoid­ing very steep hills, cra­dled as we were by rub­bly, stony moun­tain paths. I val­ued the sim­ple joy of it. As oth­ers set­tled in to the first day of the hol­i­day, I found a par­al­lel world. Swoop­ing along the un­der­side of the moun­tain, I felt glo­ri­ously alone, in­domitable. The only per­son I saw was an old, ex­tremely thin shep­herd, who nod­ded at me as I scram­bled past him. The hope­d­for loop seemed to be ma­te­ri­al­is­ing. Af­ter fol­low­ing my nose and tak­ing ev­ery left turn I could, I joined the main road drenched in sweat, my quads burn­ing. Af­ter a mile dodg­ing traf­fic I found a path and turned left into El Pulpo’s sweet em­brace.

In the day­light the hill was even more mag­nif­i­cent – two kilo­me­tres of un­com­pro­mis­ing as­cent. At no point was there a straight sec­tion; the only respite was to weave from one side of the road to the other – still up, but at least side­ways up. There was only one thing for it – lean in, short steps, lift the feet up, pump the arms, not think­ing about it, just run­ning. Past the old Croa­t­ian fel­las play­ing boules, feel­ing the heat on my neck, splash­ing my legs with rem­nants of my bot­tle of wa­ter. Im­ages drifted past: swim­ming pools, sun-charred lo­cals hos­ing down their gar­dens, teth­ered scary dogs, chick­ens run­ning loose.

Then came the sting in the tail – the last 600 me­tres, a long, ab­surdly steep fin­ish. I could see the end but ev­ery time I lifted my gaze it seemed to get fur­ther away. In truth, at times the gap be­tween run­ning and non-run­ning be­came pretty neg­li­gi­ble. If you’d seen me you may well have thought, ‘ Why is that weird bloke jump­ing in and out of the gut­ter on his way up the hill?’

Over time I would get to know El Pulpo. I’d break it down into chunks and af­ter a cou­ple of weeks I’d surge that last 600 me­tres in tri­umph, but that first morn­ing I ground to a halt by the side of the villa, bro­ken, my face a puce hue. I gulped from a bot­tle of iced tea as sweat dripped from my brow and my legs trem­bled.

From her sun lounger, my wife glanced up from her book: ‘ You look a right mess, love! What was it like?’

‘Re­ally lovely. Slightly un­du­lat­ing.’

Run­ner­pe­dia Foot strike (n) You wake up and your feet have taken in­dus­trial ac­tion. You’re go­ing nowhere. Of­ten oc­curs if your feet are rep­re­sented by a pow­er­ful bunion

Paul and fel­low co­me­dian Rob Deer­ing’s run­ning pod­cast, Run­ning Com­men­tary is avail­able on itunes and Acast. @Run­com­pod

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