The last Assembly League race of the year is always a marker of change – the end of the summer, a bit like the last Test at the Oval used to be. For me though, this week’s race was a different sort of milestone – my first race post almost life-ending accident.
Not only was it my first race back, it was my first trip back to the Beckenham Cricket Club, the home of my running club, a place I had avoided quite deliberately. I knew that I staying positive and focussing on the things I was able to do was key to my recovery and the running club would just make me remember the things I couldn’t do.
It all got a bit emotional as I picked up my number, so I escaped to the outfield and warmed up in the gloom for a lot longer than I needed, trying not to be spotted by people I knew. My HRM knew something was amiss – my heart was pounding at a rate that I would expect when doing 400 metre ‘intervals’; it took an age to calm down – I jogged nearly as far on laps around the boundary as I was about to race.
The three miles of the race skirt around the eastern edge of Beckenham Place Park, with a tough hill to start with, and then ends in front of the decaying ‘Place’ at the top of the same ridge.
I wasn’t sure how my body would react to racing, so I deliberately started at the back of the pack, right at the back, but within a few metres I was in race mode, albeit rather slower than 9 months ago, and gradually passing a few runners.
By the time I was over the first hill and crossing the prime meridian into the eastern hemisphere I was into a rhythm, although I was a little wary as I bisected it again as I was crossing Calmont Road (I am still very circumspect traversing tarmac).
I had left something in the tank for the final mile from the former Garden Gate pub, now a McDonalds Drive-Thru’, and was able to pass a few runners although that last hill seemed to go on for ever as a gloomy dusk descended.
I was exhausted; the time, pace and position weren’t great (23:18, 7:52, 205/238) but that didn’t matter at all, I was elated – I was racing again and my body coped with what I had put it through. A fellow club member joked that I would be running a sub 40 minute 10k by Christmas, I somehow doubt that, I haven’t run one of those since 2007, but maybe I will be at least able to race that far by then.
I jogged back to the cricket club with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while – we shared our 2015s – neither had been great, her partner is seriously ill. We hugged by the clubhouse, my life is getting much better, her’s really isn’t.
I stayed under the dark Satanic skies and warmed down with some more laps of the cricket pitch outfield, I needed to get my emotions under control before I headed home. I called it a day as the rain that had been threatening for three hours finally started.