Tonk Talk

Tonky is back in the club

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents - PAUL TONKINSON Paul and fel­low co­me­dian Rob Deer­ing’s run­ning pod­cast, Run­ning Com­men­tary is avail­able on itunes and Acast. @Run­com­pod

When I was a kid, in my first

in­car­na­tion as a run­ner I was a mem­ber of Scarborough Har­ri­ers AC. I would don the blue vest with pride in races up and down the coast. It felt great to be in a club. Now, aged 47 and well into my run­ning re­birth, I find my­self in a club again, pay­ing the fees, wear­ing the vest – and lov­ing it.

Upon googling, it seemed the club of­fered ev­ery­thing a run­ner could pos­si­bly want: fell run­ning, ul­tras, mid­week slow runs, hill ses­sions, long week­end runs for var­i­ous abil­i­ties, track races and, of course, the com­pany of like-minded souls.

For me, sign­ing up is pri­mar­ily an op­por­tu­nity for im­prove­ment. The first thing to say about join­ing a run­ning club is there’s a de­cent chance it will make you faster. The sim­ple fact is that you run harder in com­pany. I’ve al­ways found lone intervals a dispir­it­ing busi­ness, of­ten de­scend­ing into a vague fartlek. But club track ses­sions are in­escapably bru­tal. On a re­cent Tues­day night I turned up to min­gle and stretch as the coach read out the sched­uled ses­sion: 8 x 400m, with short re­cov­er­ies; 3 min­utes’ rest, then an­other 8 x 400m. All at 5K pace. There’s no way on God’s green earth I’d even con­ceive of this on my own. But on club night, with that heady mix of res­ig­na­tion and for­ti­tude, I launch into the first rep. An early les­son I learned in my new club life is to not set off too fast, to pace my­self through­out the ses­sion. But the group dy­namic is such that I sus­pect ev­ery­one is run­ning faster than their 5K pace. I cer­tainly am, but I’m just about hold­ing up in the mid­dle of the B group. There’s a glo­ri­ous sim­plic­ity to it, lap­ping away un­der the flood­lights, fix­ing my eyes on the vest in front. It hurts, but there’s a feel­ing of drama ev­ery time you flow into the home straight for the last 100m, fin­ish­ing those mini races that spring up within reps. By the last of the first set my pace is fad­ing, my legs are heavy and my breath­ing laboured as we be­gin the re­cov­ery lap be­tween sets.

Ev­ery­one is fairly chatty, talk­ing about the dan­gers of start­ing too fast, laugh­ing at the fact that ev­ery­one is run­ning harder than their 5K pace. Most of my group are gnarly vet­eran blokes, but there are some younger women, too. I con­fess to fan­ta­sis­ing that I’m in Oslo’s Bislett Sta­dium, un­der the lights, as the crowd slaps the hoard­ings. Like me, a lot of the peo­ple here are train­ing for an au­tumn marathon. They all agree these ses­sions are like gold dust. I am of­ten hum­bled by how hard other peo­ple work – one lad with a lovely, smooth style tells me he ini­tially found ses­sions so hard he used to get phys­i­cally sick with nerves be­fore them. On an­other evening, a run­ner in the group pulled up mid­way through a tough ses­sion; he de­cided this was nec­es­sary be­cause he was los­ing his vi­sion mid-rep!

The sec­ond set is a strug­gle through cu­mu­la­tive fa­tigue. This is the real work right here. I’m fad­ing, slip­ping to the back of the group. Run­ners I spent the first set motoring past are dis­ap­pear­ing into the dis­tance. I reckon it’s the years of long intervals and hills and cross-coun­try they have in their legs. To me, any ses­sion like this is still a nov­elty. My laps, en­dured in 100m seg­ments in my mind, are slow­ing. Af­ter each rep I ca­reer into the in­field, my breath­ing short, sharp and greedy.

There’s an air of giggly an­tic­i­pa­tion be­fore the last lap and ev­ery­one sprints off into an unashamed tearup. I’m near the back and amazed how quickly some of the older fel­las are go­ing. It’s in­spir­ing, fun and tough. By the end I’ve cov­ered around four miles at ap­prox­i­mately 5:40min/mile pace and the pain has rinsed my psy­che clean. I feel light, fan­tas­tic. I even join the Pi­lates warm-down. Un­prece­dented be­hav­iour. Fur­ther proof that join­ing a club will stretch you in ways you never thought pos­si­ble.

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