“Seen this Rooney?” I turned, and there was Calum, squatting on the ground, scrutinising something quite minuscule.
“Eh?” “There, see it?”
So, I, too, bent and examined. Something was indeed moving imperceptibly.
“It’s a frog!” He exclaimed, almost lovingly scooping it up and depositing it in the whispering, roadside grass.
Yes, Weetslade, home of the relays, really did seem an Eden for wildlife; the bristling hedgerows concealing all manner of creation, the landscape a verdant green. And on this oh so sticky, sultry night, everything seemed to smoulder in silence, the leaden sky lending only to the muggy calm, the new brick-red blotches of habitation, despite their rectangular monotony, barely disrupting the serenity. And so with the young Attenborough in tow, I headed off to find the relays.
Yet, all this tranquillity seemed quite at odds with the harsh arena soon to unfold, as a hundred strong runners gambolled along the labyrinth of lanes, straining every sinew, bursting every fibre, to bust it up, to beat the Garmin, and at the excruciating end to blow one’s own trumpet.
A rustic arena crowned by a hill…. That hill. Beaming smiles and cow bells marked the ascent and amidst the discordant jangle, one picked out the usual refrains “never mind, nearly at the top”, “just keep going” “dig in and enjoy the downhill”. All well meant, of course, but a tad irritating to the enfeebled, hunched figures, blind to the sweat, stooping under the weight of stern expectation, toiling to the top.
The Vista was a blur, no time to drink in the scenery, as I crashed down the promised path. I was the first leg and was launched with “get us a good start, Rooney” ringing in my ears. “Good start?!” At this point the words seemed a mockery, as I tumbled down that hill, skitting and stumbling on the gravel path, skirted right and with concrete legs and Colin Mentee’s exhortations, marched on through the midges.
It seems a depressingly lonely existence, at times, that of the runner, nobody around to share one’s exertions, to break the monotony of one’s painful introspection, no one to spark off. The cluster of runners in front had pulled away, their club colours now barely discernible, merging into a shimmering blob, and there was silence from behind. I scarcely finished with a flourish, no sprint finale, and perhaps that’s why: it’s always nice to take somebody out on the line, to hear the gasp of anguish, the utterance of surprise, the smothered expletive as you squeeze them out at the death. But, I stumbled over the line, solo.
Weetslade is tough, it’s hard, the best of the relays. 2 and a half minutes quicker than my last outing. But that was 5 years ago, I had only just started to run. One thing, however, has never changed, the timeless necessity post race, of sharing one’s thoughts and feelings, delights and disappointments with one’s club mates and that necessary ritual was duly conducted, the various clubs huddled together in their colourful homogeneity, sharing their opinions in time-honoured fashion. It’s cathartic, therapeutic, even, I certainly felt better for it, as I’m sure did the rest of the Heaton crew; it confirms we are all there for each other, confirms progression is a shared thing, and affirms, that as a club runner, you never really are alone.
So, onwards and upwards, looking forward to the next time I pull on a Heaton vest.”