The fog was thick and made the view from my window seem eerie when I awoke this morning. A few bright yellow leaves were visible, and the dark green trees were cloaked in pale grey. On the 210 bus to Finsbury park, I pinned on my race number and watched the familiar streets flicker past, disguised in the low mist. The early sun flashed bright through the bare branches of trees lining the roads, giving the effect of an old film reel, making the morning seem special, recordable.
At Finsbury park the air was cold and still and the mist was thicker here, drawn by the dew-laden grass, coveting the trees, deadening joggers’ footsteps and hiding everything from view: lampposts and trees veiled, dogs and their walkers materialising from paths leading nowhere.
There was a quick but necessary warm up. A man in a plush reindeer costume was the only one who didn’t look cold. 100 people or so gathered by the start line and counted down from ten. A horn heralded the beginning of the 5k race and a crowd of bobbing felt reindeer antlers and flashing red plastic noses spread across the race path.
Runners from the 10k race, who had started 30 minutes earlier, began lapping me straight away, and continued to do so all over the course. Wardens in bright yellow lifeguard jackets pointed us in the right direction. I passed the 1k mark on a slight uphill section and tried to force myself to keep going, but hills and I have never been friends, and I slowed to a walk until I reached the top of the rise.
Downhill and round the corner, I passed a peaceful-looking pond, appearing as a still life draped in the mist, white birds only half visible, ripples standing still in time. I breathed heavily and tried not to let a woman in day-glo and pigtails pass me. We wove around each other, each taking turns in the lead until she caught up with a friend and they disappeared into the fog ahead of me. At the 2k mark I felt good. Not hot or cold. No sore muscles. A piece of grit had found its way into my right shoe where it was rubbing against the blister I achieved yesterday by walking around town.
About half way, we ran on a path parallel to the start/finish line, and I saw two men in running shorts with rippling legs, and iPods strapped to their arms, race for the end.
At 3k, I thought “all I have to do is 2 more km” and tried to not to think about how hard the first two had seemed at the time. I scuffed through piles of orange and brown leaves at the side of the path. I realised most people around me had removed their reindeer antlers and were carrying them. Only one or two had their red noses. I was never going to win the race, and I haven’t raised the most money. I had already walked, so couldn’t claim to have run the whole way, but I could wear my antlers and nose all the way around. New target. I will succeed.
There’s another incline. I push myself on, knowing there’s no other option. Once you start, you can’t just stop. Head down, I try to power up the hill, but my lungs are empty and my legs won’t move any faster.
I’m approaching the 4km mark sooner than expected, and two canadian-accented runners overtake me, saying “6 more minutes” to each other. I say that sounds good to me, although I know I’ll never make it in that time. I don’t think they made the 30 minute mark either. Not if they were only passing me at 4km.
The last k is the longest. I look up and see the sun trying to break the fog. It looks like a full moon through the mist; it doesn’t hurt to look at it. I wonder if the temperature has warmed up or if it just seems that way to me because I’ve been running for the last half hour. Will it be a nice day after this?
I feel like I’m the last runner, there can’t be anyone behind me, but in the last few minutes before the final corner, I’m passed by 4 more women. The lady at the corner says “You’re still wearing your ears!” I grimace – it’s supposed to be a smile.
The final straight. Ever so slightly uphill. I stare at the backs of the women who have passed me. Their t-shirts say “Come on Keep up!” and Rookie the Reindeer lifeguard waves at me from the green fabric. I wish my muscles weren’t saying “nonononono!” I try harder. It’s not a sprint, but you could say it was no longer a jog. I watch the timer counting up from 37 minutes. I am determined to make it before 38. I can’t run any longer. My breath is rattly and I can’t keep my head up as I force my legs to walk a few paces. I see a man standing by the path. He’s already finished the race and has come to wait to watch his girlfriend finish. I have to run again. I almost pass someone, but she reaches the end 2 seconds before me. I cross the line at exactly 38 minutes.
A man with a camera gets very close and takes a couple of photos. I don’t have the energy to even look at the lens. A girl hands me a medal on a green ribbon.I want to stop but my legs keep walking. I’m able to take big deep breaths; each one becomes easier. I remember the water bottle that was pushed into my hand 30 seconds after the race began, and I empty it. It tastes good. I’m told the free hot chocolate they’re giving out doesn’t taste very nice, and I never liked Christmas mince pies anyway, so I skip the crowd and stand alone, sure I’ll be able to breathe normally soon. One day soon.
A few stretches make me feel calmer, and I notice the cold. On go the layers. People are leaving. I wander back towards the bus stop. I pass one girl still 200m or so from the finish line. She is breathing hard, red in the face, and looks miserable. I smile at her but her eyes are trained on the ground ahead of her. I wish I’d brought a hot chocolate to the warden standing at the corner. She says, “Well done,” I say, “Thanks” and, “I hope you’re warm enough.” “I’ll get there.” She smiles.
On the bus an old man with an Indian accent who looks very cold asks me why I’m wearing antlers. I explain the charity run concept to him. He is interested, understands, forgets for a moment how cold he is.
At home, I knock on Paulo and Sergio’s door. They are still in bed but tell me I look cute with the antlers and nose on. I ask Danie and Nicky to take some photos.
I turn the shower on just too hot and it feels luxurious.
I now have three medals from charity runs in London. This one was my slowest time, but I haven’t run except to play
foo soccer twice since the Superhero run in May. I know that running 5k every 6 months or so is not going to help my fitness, but I feel better.
Now it’s 4pm, getting dark already. The sun never did make it through the fog.
One week until I’m homeward bound.