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The Craziness of the (very) Long Distance Runner

21 November 2011

Sent to me by a running friend on Friday 18th November:

“I was already starting to worry even before I saw the flashing lights of the police car.  It pulled up alongside me and the window opened.  “What the hell are you doing?  You can’t run along a motorway!”

To explain why I was stopped by the police this morning running along the hard shoulder of the A1M, I must first rewind to the Barcelona marathon in March 2010.  This was my final major training run before attempting the Marathon de Sables in April 2010 – six marathons in seven days, in the scorching heat of the Sahara, carrying all your own gear and food.  The Barcelona marathon went well – I finished in a respectable time – but the nagging pain in my foot which had been there all week was starting to throb by the time I crossed the finishing line.  And by the time I disembarked from my overnight train to Paris and headed to the Eurostar for London, I was in agony.  Two days later a scan confirmed a severely inflamed tendon and six months of training was for nothing – there was no way I’d be making it to the start in the Sahara.

The Marathon de Sables is always fully booked more than 12 months ahead, so I had to defer my 2010 place to 2012.  Except now my life is very different – we have a wonderful 18-month-old son, and my wife was understandably not thrilled at the prospect of me disappearing to the desert.  So we struck a deal – I could attempt the desert run, provided my training did not dominate our weekends.

So I’ve got creative during the week.  Running in from home (Kings Cross) to the office (Charing Cross) is easy but fairly pointless since it’s only 2 miles.  But a client meeting in Chiswick? Now you’re talking – suit in a bag, run 12 miles along the Thames, and hope they have a shower room.  Ditto for Shepherds Bush, White City, and even Watford.  The more you run around and across London, the smaller it seems.  And so this morning I set off at 5am, suit in backpack and Google directions in hand, to cover the 30 miles to Luton Airport to catch an 11am flight to Inverness for a friend’s wedding tomorrow.

The start is fairly easy to navigate – Holloway Road, Archway, Highgate, East Finchley – but once past Totteridge it became more challenging.  After High Barnet the pavement became a dirt track; then that disappeared too; and now I was approaching the junction between the A1M and M25.  At this point, both Google’s directions and the motorway signs failed me – or perhaps I failed them – and rather than the intended B556 I found myself on the hard shoulder of the A1M.  This clearly wasn’t good.  I wasn’t sure whether to be worried or relieved when the police car pullled up alongside me.

The policeman shook his head in bemusement and pointed to a bridge crossing the motorway about 50 yards ahead. “You want to be up there mate.  Just scramble up the bank and get on the bridge and you’ll be fine.”  

So scramble I did, and after that the directions were easy even if the run was not.  I bailed out at St Albans after 20 miles to take the train to the airport – partly from tiredness, partly from concern not to miss my flight – and as I now sit at Luton Airport I am chuckling at my morning and reflecting that this is why I love running.  Not for the buzz, or achievement, or runner’s high; but for a sense of adventure.  How many other of tomorrow’s guests will have been stopped by the police en route to the wedding?”

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