During the decade of my forties I was to run eighteen marathons and several shorter races, such as
the Windsor Great Park half marathon of 1983. In all, including the training runs, I covered 25,000 miles on the roads.
I must have been the only person in Southern England who slept through the great storm of 1987. Our neighbour across the road enjoyed no such luxury. He was having a new roof put on, and spent the whole night hanging on to the ropes and stays which were keeping the tarpaulin covers over his otherwise unprotected upper storey.
I always ran to work in Queens Park in those days. This was a nine mile journey which I covered daily carrying a back pack containing my clothes and other necessities for the day. My Area Office was the former Paddington Town Hall where there was a shower room which had been installed for the council members. I would take a shower, get dressed, go to a greasy spoon for a fry-up, and start working sometime before 9 a.m. On this particular day, completely oblivious of the night’s destruction, I set off as usual. I vaguely wondered why a tree I hadn’t noticed before had been felled on Tooting Bec Common, and why there seemed to be rather more traffic jams than usual. Since much of my journey followed treeless routes or public parks I had no idea that the tree I had seen was not the only arboreal casualty. Many others were blocking main roads into London. When I arrived at my building in Harrow Road, I followed my usual routine and then began to wonder why no-one else had arrived. Had I gone by car I may have learned the news on the radio. On the other hand, I too would not have arrived on time.
This storm changed the landscape of Southern England. 70% of the trees in the wooded valley in which Chartwell (see post of 19th. May) is set were lost. Those you see today are in fact their replacements. Sevenoaks in Kent is no longer appropriately named.
When running a marathon it is essential to drink water at regular intervals. If you wait until you are thirsty it is too late. This refreshment is taken in brief sips on the run. You become accustomed to this by carrying water in training. On one of our shared holidays with Sam and Louisa and our late wives Ann and Jessica, Don decided to help me out. Meeting me at regular intervals on a two hour run, he provided the drink stations. Driving to agreed points on the route, he brought me wonderfully cool, fresh, water. We called this service ‘Le wagon d’eau’.
That is why, in properly organised races, there are regular drink stations. In the Paris marathon, some time in the ’80s, there were refreshment stands like no others. The first was the only one at which I saw any water. From it were distributed large plastic containers of Evian. Those, like me, who managed to grasp one drank slowly and passed it on. Big mistake. Other tables contained nuts, bananas, and chocolate, none of which I could bear to think about. Only at the last oasis did I see anything resembling liquid. Huge containers of yoghurt. I grabbed one and guzzled the lot. Second big mistake.
I was quite used to congestion at the start of capital marathons. In the London one it would take me ten minutes walking to reach the start line and a futher ten to take up anything like my normal pace. Paris, however, just had to provide a blockage at the finish. Ten minutes in a situation that reminded me of the drain featured in https://derrickjknight.com/2021/09/24/a-knights-tale-39-down-the-drain-to-the-dome/
Marshalling during the race was equally chaotic. There are cobblestones around The Tower in one small stretch of the London event. These always need careful negotiation by the runners, who are left in peace to get on with it. Not so in Paris, which had far more cobbled areas. Any spectators wishing to do so seemed welcome to try their luck pacing alongside the contestants. Cyclists were granted similar freedom.
A French friend, Arnoux, claiming to be there to meet a famous English runner; which, I hasten to add, I am not; smoothed my final passage through the drain. As I was taking a welcome bath in our friends’ home, up came the yoghurt. It supplemented the bath water. I then had to explain why my ablutions had taken such a long time. It was with considerable relief that, on the ferry home, I learned that even the elite runners had suffered similar embarrassment. I never ran Paris again.