One last rummage through the car. No! They’re not there. Shite. No spikes. Twelve kilometers is a long way to run in bare feet when you’ve never done it before. No choice. It’ll have to be done.
It’s a beautiful day to be alive. At the starting line of one of the biggest races of the year and freezing cold muck squeezes up between my toes. This is going to be interesting. I can hear coaches and supporters on the sidelines shouting and screaming at the main contenders. “This is the big day boys! Leave nothing behind! No regrets now!” I’m skulking down the back when the gun goes off. One-hundred-and-twenty stick-thin runners fly away and I stumble after them. There’s a few behind me, but not that many.
There’s seven long laps from the top of the hill and so I settle in for survival. I have four club mates ahead and four will count. The objective here is damage limitation. I’m slipping around a bit and at the first sharp bend I almost go down. I flail and throw a weird shape, but stay up. Around the first big sweeping bend I can see the rest of the field disappearing ahead at a frightening rate. I look behind for the tail of the field and then realise that I am the tail.
I wonder should I plough straight through deep black clinging swampy bits or around them. Neither seems to work that well. I try to find a stride, a rhythm, a way to get by but there isn’t one and so I just run. My chest feels like it might crack open with the fright, the fear and the panic. I’m dodging sticks and stones and fiddling by as gingerly as I can over the few road crossings. When I pass over the timing mats I make no beep. It’s hard to tie a timing chip to bare feet. Occasionally, I pass someone and sometimes I am passed but it doesn’t seem to matter that much. I just run as hard as I can and settle for that. The middle laps are quiet. Supporting shouts come from a few who know my face and I accept the help – how could I not. I’m proud to be here, happy to be able to run, glad to be alive, but I want it all to be over.
With half a lap to go I close in on the guy ahead and edge slowly past him. I want to put a few yards on him because I know I have no finish. In the flash of an eye, I’m down in the muck. Shite. Back up and chase the fecker again. Close on him again. Pass him again. Try to make a gap on him again. Can’t make the gap. Here comes the finish. I sprint. He sprints. He passes and I start to re-catch. The line goes past and he’s still just ahead. My chest and stomach starts to heave, but there’s nothing to get rid of. The race officials make sure my challenger gets his rightful place ahead of me in the chute and we shake hands.
There’s easier ways to spend your Saturday afternoons.