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