Tonight I made my third attempt to take part in a race organised by my workplace and it was almost the third time I Did Not Start.
Two years ago, I’d signed up to do a 5K somewhere near Wormwood Scrubs, befriended a group of previously unknown work colleagues waiting at the bus stop in running gear and then proceeded to get hopelessly lost after a very long ride on one of London’s more scenic bus routes. We arrived 30 minutes after the Mayor had handed out prizes to the winners. Two of us were so desperate to get our hands on the worst designed race t-shirt I’ve ever seen that we just had to complete the two lap course anyway.
Last year I signed up for the same event and had to pull out after getting the dates mixed up and deciding I’d rather not upset my piano teacher by cancelling yet another lesson (yes I do have piano lessons. Yes, at my age).
This year I signed up for 5K Your Way, a race designed to get local authority employees up and active while fostering a bit of friendly competition between London’s boroughs. The race took place on Hackney Marshes in East London. I work in West London. Determined to get there with a bit of time to spare, I had to slope off from a meeting and get changed in the toilets. It was then that I noticed a huge red gash in my left thigh. Amazingly there was no pain, probably because it was the result of a red biro which had emptied it’s ink in my pocket. I never use red pens. I think it could have been an omen.
I then got the Underground train across London, all was going swimmingly. Until the train came to a halt about a quarter of the way into my journey. There were ” signal problems” and we sat in complete silence for about 15 minutes. Complete silence apart from my exaggerated sighing every time I checked my watch. At times like this my sighs tend to start with an “F” rather than an “H” and have three syllables.
Eventually we set off again and trundled across London on what has to be its slowest Underground Line. Just as I thought I might make it in the nick of time, we stopped at a station for what felt like a couple of days. The driver told us they were “regulating the service” (it’s a given that whenever you’re running late in London, the tube service will be “regulated”. I have no idea what it means).
Again we set off. My heart rate was sky high, I was sweating. It was the perfect warm up without even needing to stand up. At one stage I think I had 20 minutes to go through two more stations, negotiate the two mile walk to Hackney Marshes, find my t-shirt and chip timing, safety pin my race number on (this is already a time consuming challenge for me when I’m not trembling with anxiety and adrenaline). I knew I’d have to get a taxi which was the one part of the journey that went without glitch. The driver even claimed to be related to Mo Farah, although unfortunately I don’t think any of the Farah family magic rubbed off on me.
When I slammed the taxi door, a few hundred runners were on the start line, all in coordinated t-shirts denoting their teams. I located my “team table” only to be told the rather fetching fuchsia t-shirts had run out. After a PB time for attaching a race number (achieved while listening to a man shout “On your marks, get set go!” over the PA), I jogged over to join the back of the queue of people who had decided it would best if they walked the route.
And I ran a 5K. It took a while to get going, negotiating my way past the big groups of people who were taking it easy and chatting with their colleagues. But I think the non-stop hassle of my third-time-“lucky” attempt to take part in a work-related running event contributed to what might have been my fastest 5K in 2013. Thank you Bic Biros. Thank you Transport for London. Thank you the person who invented chip-timing.