“Surfing’s the source. Can change your life. Swear to god.” – so says the kid in the surfing shop in Point Break. Is he right? I don’t know. I can’t surf. And I’m too old to understand what ‘the source’ is, other than presuming that it’s something agreeable. So what’s the point of this opening paragraph? I forget. No! Wait! I’ve remembered – longstanding physical activity can be a good thing. It can change your life. I can’t surf, but I can run! And running is good. Is running the source? I don’t know, remember? Lets move on…
I’ve been trying to find an apt time to introduce this weekly* running blog for a while now. Which is code for ‘procrastinating and putting off writing this running blog for a while now’. As I’ve been running for a few years (‘you really should stop for a while and have a lie down’) and have discovered that running, like so many of life’s casual pursuits, is home to bizarre array of traditions, idiosyncrasies and mentalisms, its time I committed to writing some of this stuff down. It’ll be like therapy. After all, the aforementioned idiosyncrasies and mentalisms are my idiosyncrasies and mentalisms.
So, where to start week 1 of the blog? Well, there can be only one place. Like Kevin Keegan once famously said of Manchester United during his infamous ‘I’d love it’ rant, “They still have to go to Middlesbrough and get something”, and so did I. I went for a finishers medal. And a t-shirt. And 3 boxes of breakfast cereal. That will make sense later. Kind of. Yes, Middlesbrough is home to two runs that contribute to my annual running calendar, and the first of these is the Riverside 5k. Starting and finishing at Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium and taking in the multisensory experience that is a jaunt through Middlehaven, this would be the third time I’d participated in this particular event.
The Riverside 5k has a lot going for it. Firstly, and most importantly, that finishers medal. I do like a medal. A ribbon-threaded lump of metal that says I DID THIS THING HERE.
Secondly, ample toilet facilities. Experience – bitter, bitter experience – has taught me that a key component in the organisation of any running event is to assume that a vast proportion of the participants are going to want to ‘release the chocolate hostage’ and/or ‘take a trip to the lemonade factory’, and they’re all going to want to do it at the same time. Now I’ve become distracted by looking up toilet-related slang online. ‘Build a log cabin’? ‘Torque a wicked cable?’ ‘Take the Browns to the Superbowl?’ There are some inventive people out there… Anyway, facilities are ample.
Thirdly, that ‘event’ feel. I can, and frequently do, go running on my own for free. If I’m having to cough up a tenner (or more), I want to feel I’m getting something for my money. Beyond the precious, precious medal and finishers t-shirt of course. I’m a hard man to please, clearly. But you do get that event feel here. For example, on the start line, local radio legend Ali Brownlee squeezes the commencement hooter. And with the finish line being situated in the stadium itself and Vangelis’s Chariots of Fire being blasted as I enter, I’m free to imagine myself as some sort of hybrid footballer-runner, coming on in the last minute to score the winner in the cup and then break the world 400m record – all in front of 34,000 several hundred people.
Most normal people would of course cite ‘the route’ as the most important factor. And now that we have the medal, the bogs and the capacity to enflame my infantile fantasies out of the way, I’ll give that a mention too. There’s no denying that Middlehaven, currently undergoing a renovation, is still steeped in industrial decline. But I quite like that. And taking in the mighty Transporter Bridge, the imposing Temenos, the nostalgic Dock Clock, the shiny Middlesbrough College and the (rusty and heavily listing) former floating nightclub The Tuxedo Royale, there’s certainly plenty to look at on this particular running route.
So, with the above all taken into account, how did it go? Well, conditions were like a flatulent penguin – cool and windy. This allowed for the traditional muttered ‘nurghghhghh…God…stupid running’ when turning head-on into a force 10 gale** at one point, but at least the rain held off. I completed the run in 21 minutes and 30 seconds, which was around what I was hoping for, and well exceeding the minimal requirement of ‘at least beat that chap dressed as Spongebob Squarepants’. And, with the medal and t-shirt safely acquired at the finish, imagine my delight/confusion when it became apparent that huge boxes of breakfast cereal were also being given to all participants. On receipt, I couldn’t resist the temptation to hold it aloft as if it were the FA Cup and declare ‘you beauty’.
Other runners may now have been hobbling back to the car in agony, but I would have to put that aside for a few more minutes as following the 5k junket comes the 2k fun run, around which I would be accompanying my daughter. This went well, with minimal whinging and a decent amount of running, including an unannounced sprint finish that I found both impressive and hilarious. And as she went to collect her finisher’s goodies I spied an opportunity. To acquire more cereal. After all, they had loads. Loads. And I wanted more. Now, I’m not very good at being casual when I’m doing something I know I shouldn’t be. After all, I could be depriving someone of his or her box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes by taking a second. In my mind, this was crime of the century. But with my nervous sweat hidden beneath my runners’ sheen, I went for it. I’ve never felt so alive.
Overall, a good time was had. I struggle to find anything to criticise about this event, with its abundant toilets and Rice Crispies. I look forward to going back next year. Next on the running calendar is the Harrogate 10k in a few weeks. Until then it’s a gradual increase in training ahead of the York Marathon in October. The event I said I’d never do again. Owing to the crushing rigours of the training and the run itself. But, like the agony of childbirth, I’m prepared to go though it again for the sake of…well, something. I’m not really sure why I’m doing it again. And I’ve never given birth. Being a man and all. Stupid running.
* – surely…
** – estimated