BE­ING A RACE-DAY VOL­UN­TEER IS ALL IN A DAIS WORK

Runner's World (UK) - - Human Race - BY PAUL TONK­IN­SON

Ten days af­ter my sub-three-hour marathon I mo­seyed down to my run­ning club’s track cham­pi­onships to vol­un­teer. The or­gan­is­ers iden­ti­fied me as an id­iot and, ac­cord­ingly, gave me a very sim­ple task – to get the an­nouncer’s dais out of the club­house and leave it by the side of the track. This in­struc­tion led me down a twisted path of first iden­ti­fy­ing the ob­ject it­self, fol­lowed by searches for var­i­ous keys and, fi­nally, a long and ill-fated at­tempt to squeeze the dais through an im­pos­si­bly small space. Af­ter 45 min­utes the man who gave me the task ap­peared. ‘The event’s start­ing soon,’ he said. ‘They’re mi­nus a dais.’ ‘ It’s a bit of a tight squeeze,’ I ex­plained. ‘ In fact, I think it’s stuck.’ The man pointed out the now ob­vi­ous wide side door they use to move the dais. I wheeled it sheep­ishly through. There ended my con­tri­bu­tion to the Lon­don Heath­side AC Cham­pi­onships. I watched with pride as the an­nouncer as­cended the steps to the dais and the evening be­gan.

It was the first time I’d at­tended a club cham­pi­onships and the at­mos­phere was one of giddy ex­cite­ment. On the track there was a pro­gramme of 200m, 400m and the big event – the 1500m. Most of the guys who ran the marathon weren’t com­pet­ing, it was too soon. Cer­tainly, my legs were still ten­der af­ter the event. But Gavin, a tough, over-55 vet, was do­ing the 200m. He did a sub-three in Lon­don but can turn them out seem­ingly at will. He trot­ted off to the start like a teenager. An­other mate was try­ing the javelin for the first time. She was in­jured, couldn’t do Lon­don and had turned her eyes to the Snow­do­nia Marathon. Oth­ers drifted around. We took the op­por­tu­nity to share run­ning war sto­ries.

I fell into a chat with Mario, a gen­tle-na­tured but fiercely com­pet­i­tive New Yorker. He was com­ing off a 2:45 PB in Lon­don, and I chided him for his lazi­ness and gen­eral slap­dash at­ti­tude to­wards run­ning. It was a joke, of course – he’s on a fiercely steep tra­jec­tory. He’s get­ting faster all the time, but he’s get­ting older as well. He’s wrestling with the how much faster can I get/ how much more can I give it? co­nun­drum. For Lon­don he reg­u­larly ran 80-90 -mile weeks and com­bined this huge mileage with a strict di­etary regime of no booze and no cof­fee. We con­fessed to feel­ing slightly un­teth­ered af­ter Lon­don. When the fo­cus falls away, what’s left?

I have vague plans to do some track races, try to get faster. Maybe an Au­tumn marathon. It’s all a bit blah. Every marathon, we de­cided, is wip­ing the slate clean – it’s the end of one ex­pe­ri­ence and the start of a new one. We con­cluded there was some­thing in all of us who com­mit to th­ese races that en­joys the hard­ship, the long runs, the pain, the sim­ple pat­tern of life that it en­tails. We were al­ready miss­ing it.

It also changes you. Lon­don left me want­ing to be per­ma­nently health­ier. My long-an­tic­i­pated col­lapse into a vat of wine and bis­cuits af­ter achiev­ing my goal didn’t re­ally ma­te­ri­alise. I did try, but my heart wasn’t re­ally in it. The fact is, I like be­ing fit and trim­mer.

In front of me, Gavin sprinted to the line. It’s all ages and gen­ders rac­ing to­gether. I re­mem­bered school sports day and its ideals that were now play­ing out again be­fore me: ath­leti­cism, play and the sim­ple joy of run­ning as fast as pos­si­ble. Sarah re­turned from the javelin – she threw it 18 me­tres and it felt amaz­ing. The ath­letes were milling around at the start of the 1500m. Sum­mer opens out be­fore us. I want to be out there, bet­ter­ing my­self.

‘On your marks,’ the an­nouncer in­toned, gun aloft, on my dais. ‘Set.’

Bang! Check out Paul and fel­low co­me­dian Rob Deer­ing’s run­ning pod­cast, Run­ning Com­men­tary – avail­able on itunes and Acast. @ Run­com­pod

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