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Race Report: Forest Five (Race 2)

July 7, 2013

‘Thish wash shuch a good –’ pause to drain the last of my fourth pint ‘– idea.’ The warmest Friday evening of the year by a country mile, and we’d decamped to the modest patch of grass at the back of The Fountain to drink cool glasses of lager in the evening sun.

A buzzing alarm clock. Mouth dry and tasting of stale beer. Eyes heavy. Head fuzzy. A half-hour battle with the velvety darkness of closing my eyes before finally swinging my legs out of bed in desperate search of caffeine and water. The morning’s so warm, I feel like I’m breaking a sweat descending the stairs, although that may also have something to do with the fact that my head is slightly too small for its contents.

Coffee; toast; clothing. Despite a late night, a restless night’s sleep, and similar head-contents issues, my girlfriend has agreed to come and watch the race (in exchange for cake and tea). We slowly gather ourselves, and leave the house for the short journey to Epping Forest.

The advantage of running a series of races is that you can see your progress over the weeks. Last month I’d run this race for the first time and found it challenging, but that was in cooler weather, and without a hangover. Best not expect great things.

I warmed up and joined the flanks of club runners by the narrow start/finish arch. The race director made some quiet announcements, we clapped. ‘Why are we clapping?’ Someone nearby asked, clapping. ‘Dunno,’ said another clapper.

And then we started moving and it was the start of the race. As the field laced out up the early incline, I stuck to the edges to weave past others who had been slowed by the hill. The early heat of this exposed section was much more intense than I was used to running in, so the shelter of the forest came as a relief.

Despite sub-optimal conditions, I made reasonable progress up the field as the predominantly downhill miles passed. I caught small groups of runners, stayed with them for a while, then pressed on until I reached a group who were about my speed. Taking advantage of gravity, I dropped them and we got into the more technical uphill sections.

A few twists and winds followed, and one of the guys behind caught me up and overtook. As we ran on, I managed to keep the other runner in touch, and could judge the gap between me and the next runner by the sound of their breath, and then, as I started to open up the gap, through the marshal’s shouts of support to him.

Finally, we emerged from the forest, hung a right and it was the final climb up the last hill before the short descent to the finish line. Digging deep to try to avoid letting the gap behind me close, I started to get an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Sometimes when you run hard, you end a race in deep breaths and dry retching (mm, hot). Given that my girlfriend was going to be on the finish line, I eased back to focus on finishing feeling comfortable.

Now, an aside: We’ve been watching the Tour de France. The drama and spectacle of the epic races across some of the most stunning parts of France is just as captivating this year as last. On Friday, as the winner of the stage crossed the finish line, the commentator dryly noted ‘He’s been riding for five hours, all that time to think of how he’s going to celebrate his win, and he just pulls at his jersey’.

Closing in on the finishing line, I spotted my girlfriend. In celebration of my imminent downing of water and sitting down, I tugged at my race number Tour de France-stylie. She smirked. Another spectator mouthed something that looked a lot like ‘Is he drunk?’

And it was done. I’d survived, and so had my breakfast. And with a time of 32:10, I’d made a respectable improvement on last month’s debut.

I managed some half-arsed stretches before flopping down on the ground to let my body work out how exactly it was going to cool down in the parching sunshine. After a while, we set off in the direction of the clubhouse for the promised tea and cake. And, sitting in the sunshine with my post-race reward, I realised that surely the best cure for a hangover is a tough run, tea and a hefty slice of apple cake.

Note to self: avoid running the final race in the series in August with a hangover.

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