The Loneliness of a Tunbridge Wells Park Runner
24 Feb 2018 at 16:00
I hate running. Absolutely loathe it. Cross country running at school was one of the most hated moments of my week. But running is healthy and at the age of 55 and living a very sendantry lifestyle, I know I need to get fitter. I’m a type 2 diabetic with out of control blood sugars. I like all the wrong things. Getting my diabetis under control is something that will only happen if I eat and drink more healthily and do more sport.
To be fair to myself, I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and my blood sugars are much better than they were. I was around 16 stone 7 for most of the second half of last year. I’ve lost five pounds since then.
Last week I decided to do the Tunbridge Wells park run at Dunorlan Park. I did it a couple of times at the beginning of last year but didn’t continue. It was, well, not much fun. The first time I went with our local MP Greg Clark, who is about as lean as you can get. He bounded off and if memory serves correctly he finished in about 23 minutes. Suffice to say, I did not. It was also wet and muddy and I just thought: “this is not for me”. After the second time, I never went back.
I love competitive sport. I used to be a half decent tennis player, but last year had another go at that, but the intervening twenty years had taken their toll. I kept going for balls which in 1998 I’d have easily got. Not now. Twice, I went arse over tit – the second time very painfully. I was playing a 25 year old friend, who luckily couldn’t serve very well, so I still ended up winning 6-0, but it was so frustrating not being able to move around the court like I used to. Maybe doubles is something I should try… Still, the serve was still there. I could always zing a good serve down the centre…
Anyway, last week, for reasons best known to myself, I thought I’d give the park run another go. I was going to bein Norfolk, and a friend in Norwich persuaded me to go to Blickling, but in the end we didn’t go. So I went to the Tunbridge Wells one instead. I didn’t really have the right kit, but who cares what you wear when you run. It was a bit cold so I put on two layers under my red fleece. At the age of 55, skimpy turquoise shorts weren’t perhaps the most fetching thing to wear down below, but needs must. I texted Greg Clark to see if he was going, but he was canvassing instead. Likely excuse.
Park runs start at 9am prompt and are 5 km long. I was held up a bit due to a lack of de-icer for the car window, but arrived in Dunorlan Park just in time for the start. “What AM I doing,” I thought as we headed off down the path. My main aim was to not finish last. Last year I remember managing to finish second from last, beating a rather porky ten year old!
There were 181 runners, most of them young and fit. I was overtaken by most of them within 500 yards of the start. Keep running, keep running, I kept thinking to myself. The moment you stop running and walk, it starts to go to pot. I kept running for about the first kilometre and overall I reckon I ran – ok, jogged – for around 75% of the time, maybe more. But it was an exercise in humiliation. It was quite clear that I would struggle to finish anything but last. I was lapped way before I’d even completed the first of the two circuits of the route. But on I went. As I passed the car park, I did for a moment think about veering off and driving home, but that would have been even more humiliating. No one need have know. But I would have known, and that would have been enough.
So it was half way. It was at that point I regretted wearing three layers. Somehow I managed to keep going. Yes, I walked a bit more of the second circuit that I did the first, but that was inevitable. I was in a group of four and was determined to beat at least one of them. In the end it because a race between me and a rather fit looking 35 year old woman. She ran out of puff right at the end and I managed to keep ahead of her at the finishing line. It gave me a peverse amount of pleasure. But it still meant I had finished second last, or so I had thought. In actual fact there were four more people being us so I finished sixth last. It was a terrible time, though. 44 mins 52 seconds. That was two minutes worse than I had done a year earlier. I just had to face the fact that I am ageing. Badly.
But ever the glutton for punishment, I decided to do it again today. When I got in the car it told me the temperature outside was minus two degrees centrigrade. I was half way there when I realised I had forgotten my woolly West Ham hat, which had kept me warm last week. Oh well, too late. I was determined to beat my time last week and try to finish a little further up the field. I managed to keep running for much longer and I think I probably ran for 85% of the time. I was lapped far further along the route than last week – well, maybe 200 yards, and by the end of the first lap only 8 people had lapped me. But I looked at my phone, and it had still taken 20 minutes. But on I went, determined to beat last week’s time. And I did. By one minute 25 seconds – 44.30. To be honest I was a bit disappointed, as I thought I had run much more and much faster. Next Saturday I’ll be in Norfolk so I’ll go to Blickling and see what I can do there.
Running in a park run is actually quite a lonely experience, especially when you don’t know anyone and are trailing most of the field. You’re only really competing against yourself, whereas I like competing against others. Golf is the only other sport I play much nowadays, but golf takes so long. I can’t play during the week, and can only really play when I’m in Norfolk. I hope I shall be able to play much more often this year, though.
Will I continue with the park running? I hope so, as I know I feel better for it. I really want to see the weight on the scales start with a 15 rather than a 16. That hasn’t happened for many years… And if it helps my blood sugars get down to where they should be, all to the good. My next aim is to go to a gym a couple of times a week, but I can’t do that on my own. My friend Dan, who I beat at Tennis has become a bit of a gym bunny, so hopefully we are going to start going to a gym in Tonbridge, which I can go to when I get home from work a couple of evenings a week. We will see.