I'm happy to say that I pointed my bins at a bird today. I was just up the road when a Twitter message alerted me to the presence of a White-fronted Goose on the Axe Estuary. Although it was too distant for me to worry about a sub-specific label, I could see it was an adult. Nice. And thanks for the gen, Martin/Stevie.
While I was at it I had a scan through the gulls for anything big and obvious (white-wingers, Cranes, etc) but drew a blank. So I'm delighted to hear that Steve has just had a brief 1st-winter Caspian Gull at Coronation Corner this afternoon, and he kindly sent a lust-worthy BOC* shot for me to squint at. Very nice. Even though I'm phasing.
So anyway, on to what I intended this post to be about. I have a feeling that I've written about some of this before, but I can't find it in this incarnation of NQS. So...
Right, let's get this out of the way: I am 58 years old, and will be 59 in May. I mention this for the sake of context, as you will see.
At school I enjoyed athletics. I was quite a sporty kid I suppose, but not particularly gifted at anything. In athletics though, I discovered I was slightly better than average in umpteen disciplines, both track and field. Running, jumping, throwing, the lot. The exception was distance running, which I detested. Mainly because it hurt. So anything over 400m was out. I looked forward to summer term sports with relish, and have pleasant memories of balmy afternoons at Harrow School's running track, to which my school had privileged access.
Post-school there was very little sport for years, and by the early '80s I was pretty unfit. The jogging boom was in full swing, and at work one night the conversation turned to this very topic. Lamenting the dire state of our flabby carcasses, my colleagues and I resolved to do something about it. I got home that morning, donned shorts, t-shirt and trainers, and headed out the door. We lived on a busy road at the time, so I hared along to the nearest side turning, aiming for quieter, less public streets. Within a few short minutes I was utterly spent. Gasping and retching I ducked down a little alley and doubled over, wheezing pitifully. My chest was on fire. And my legs. Everything.
I slunk home as unobtrusively as possible. Never again.
A couple of years later I spotted a gaggle of runners jogging past our house, chatting and laughing. I recognised one of them, a friend I hadn't seen in a while, and got in touch. And so, slowly and gently, I was introduced to jogging/running, via the Serpentine Running Club. And yes, when you first start it is hard, but eventually, with patience, you find one day that you too can run along and chat. And laugh.
I'm guessing this was about 1984 or '85, and over the next few years running and I had the sort of on/off relationship which I now recognise as characteristic of all my recreational activities. I swapped the Serpentine RC for one based more locally, the Metros, and over time gradually ran a bit further, got a bit faster. I entered several races, from 10k to half-marathon, and took pleasure in my mediocre placings...
The absolute peak of my athletic prowess was marked in October 1992 by a stellar run in the Oxford Half Marathon. I had been preparing for my first full marathon, which was coming up in a month's time, and this was a final tester after a good, steady period of training over several months. I was quicker than I had ever been, and aiming for a sub-90min time. I set off conservatively, and spent the first couple of miles being overtaken by everyone, it seemed. Gradually this stopped, and I remember a long, uphill slog on some ugly, bypass-type road where I began to overhaul a few runners. The tide was turning, and from then on I steadily gained places. At about 11 miles I overtook the leading female runner - a first for me - and finished in just under an hour and 26 minutes. 13.1 miles at a pace of around 6'33" per mile was the pinnacle of my achievements as a mediocre athlete. I took it as a very good omen for my upcoming marathon debut.
In November I got a bit of a sniffle, and toed the Harrow Marathon start line feeling very under par. Caught up in the excitement I started too fast, and at half way began to fade a tiny bit. At 16 miles a steadily increasing pain in my right knee made me slow to a jog. I should have read the signs and stopped completely, but I didn't. My target of 3 hours was slipping away fast, but I pressed on. The pain in my knee moved relentlessy through 'bad' to 'horrible' and then 'agony'. For the first time I was forced to walk. Basically I limped/jogged the final 8 or 9 miles of the 26.2 mile course and finished in something like 3 hours and forty-odd minutes. I was gutted. And in serious pain. Disaster.
Over the next few months I tried several times to start running again and on each occasion I would manage a mile or two before the knee pain became unbearable. Eventually I got the message and stopped trying and came to the conclusion that my running days were over.
And for 25 years they were...
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