Saturday 14 October 2017


The Oxford Half Marathon was last Sunday. A year ago, I had run this relatively new event for the first time and was very excited beforehand at the prospect of running through streets and along roads so very familiar. I remember the run itself did not disappoint - although I was sad to find that my legs faded at around eight and a half miles and I had speed-walked/run the last four and a half miles finishing in 02:36:21. I had squeezed in some long runs before the race after returning from three weeks in Greece with no running but the preparation was not the best.

Paying the price of lack of preparation in 2016 - but heh! this is the Radcliffe Camera and Oxford where I was an undergraduate from 1967-70.

This year, the training was even worse. True, I had clocked up a month of long runs in August but the combination of no running in Greece and only two short runs on our return meant I was very ill-prepared. The evening before, I started jogging to the bus-stop and pulled up short with a twinge in the right knee. Later, I walked back the mile and a half from the centre of Oxford - where I had been

meeting Merlin Porter and his wife, Bethany, for a meal and chat - to the excellent B& B (Cotswold House, 363, Banbury Road) where I was staying. Wonderfully, the twinge was walked off and did not return when I started jogging - so at least I could start the 2017 Oxford Half.

Going strong with some of the other 8,371 starters

All seemed to be going quite well at 10K (around 6 miles). Unfortunately, the post-race website is not the best and I can't find the record of my time at that point. I even think I was still running past nine miles. But I was by then increasingly aware of a hip discomfort on my left-side and suddenly the legs stopped running and I was reduced to speed-walking/running the last four miles. Only now the zest for walking at speed had faded. Even the familiar Oxford urban landscape that means so much to me started to feel stale and repetitive. The route had been changed from the previous year and there seemed to be even more loops and turns than before. And as the end approached - having determinedly run all the way round the Radcliffe Camera - unlike my faltering last steps in 2016 - my heart sank. The organisers had moved the finishing line. It was no longer in Broad Street. Where had it gone?

Still going strong in run/walk mode - through Summertown on the return home along the Banbury Road

One last painful walk/run in the direction of Blackwell's - more on that bookstore in tomorrow's blog that will bring you the latest post-Oxford update on the Jago story - and then it became clear the route turned to the left in the direction of the Parks. And there a hundred yards ahead I could see the Finish. I started running seriously and realised there were four runners ahead of me. Bloody-minded determination - the source of all my limited athleticism - kicked in and I sprinted for the line, passing first one, then another , and then another before just failing to overtake the last guy in my sights.

Just flying - at 69 - sprinting to the Finish

I knew it would be a slow time. I don't carry timers but I reckoned between 2 hours 40 and 2 hours 45. Later that day, Louise told me from Cornwall that the website had recorded my time as 02:45:06. Can do better. Will do better.

Relaxing the evening after - Monday night in Mama Mia in Jericho, sharing a meal with Merlin Porter, the Oxford artist and son of Jago Stone (1928-88). Merlin has just painted this water-colour and is about to trade it for a chocolate fudge pudding.

On Friday, yesterday, back in Cornwall, I had a half-hour physiotherapy session with Ben Donaldson (see his website here) who has treated me and kept me in good shape for four years now. That treatment felt good and so did his congratulations and pointing out that it wasn't that much slower than before. True - but as recently as April this year I had reached the half-way mark in the London Marathon in 2 hours 38 minutes, still running - just, and then completed another half marathon in 2 hours 59 minutes to finish with a PB of 5 hours 37 minutes 29 seconds.

It all goes to show that if you don't use those running muscles you'll lose them. I shall be out on the Marazion to Mousehole stretch as soon as possible!

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