“Welcome to the PHOENIX CLUB!” The Askern 10 mile race, 14th August 2016
‘Are you sure this is right, Gav? I really don’t trust your navigational skills,’ I said as we were just about to turn into Askern Miner’s Welfare Club car park a good hour early. He didn’t need to reply, as some of the more heavily afflicted OCD club runners were already milling around the car park.
The stench of beer-stained bar stools from 1982 hit us as we walked into the Phoenix Club. It was a heady combination of foists-meets-mothball, as yellow stained ceilings told of a time when the mere suggestion of a ‘smoke-free-zone’ would have got you laughed out of town. No, really – it would.
A couple of kind looking, unhurried ladies were seated behind a heavy-looking wooden table, rifling through a collection of race numbers in slow motion. They weren’t in a rush. Meanwhile, a queue was already forming outside the Phoenix Club door. ‘What’s going on here?’ a couple of disgruntled murmurs began to spread down the early makings of the South Yorkshire snake formation.
‘I’ve done this race for the past 25 years,’ a wiry looking man with troublesome teeth felt keen to share with us, ‘and we’ve never had delays like this before. In 25 years! It’s that bloomin’ new chip timing system,’ he advised us wisely, clearly keen to hang on to The Golden Years of 1982.
We really had nothing to do other than flit between the days of Crackerjack, and then back to the present, as the snaking line grew ever longer and meandered out into the fresh air of the South Yorkshire club car park.
Once numbers were pinned and gels consumed, it was a painfully slow warm-up trot before the race itself. I felt nervous. ‘I know I’ve done this one before, Gav. I think it was 2011 or 2012, but I can’t remember a thing about it,’ I said, making conversation to detract from the apprehension swirling and swooping around my head like a bird of prey over a wounded hare.
Before we knew it, we were off. I’d left Gav to run his own race, and I wouldn’t see him again until the end.
I set off pretty fast, but it felt comfortable: sub-7s for the first few miles. And then the first ‘hill’ hit, and I felt my pace fall off. ‘Ohhh shit. Here we go,’ I heard my inner chimp pipe up. ‘What you gonna do now? The pace is falling away, and you can’t handle it, can you?’ I willed it to fuck off and leave me alone to work out a way through the tough bit, as I struggled to cling on to the back of a very comfortable club runner as she trotted past me without effort. Fucking hell, Rachel. Why can’t you keep up with her? Maybe you’re still just shit – perhaps that’s it.
I could hear a couple of fellas running just behind me. They gave me some temporary reprieve from the unhelpful mantra of my inner-chimp.
‘Yeah, I –gasp – did 64 mins here last – gasp – year’, one of them said to the other, in-between hyperventilated gulps of air. ‘I’ll – gasp – just be happy to – gasp – finish today,’ he continued. I wondered what had happened in the subsequent year, to in effect reduce him to the mere running mortal we saw before us today. Or did he embellish the ’64 minutes’ he proudly shared with his friend? Perhaps it was more like 74 mins? Or 84? I gave myself a wry smile as I continued on my way.
Thoughts floated into and out of my mind.
Ten miles is a long way.
But it’s not a half marathon.
Yeah, but it’s still a bloody long way.
Break it down into 3 x 3 mile chunks and one mile at the end.
You’ve already done one chunk, Rach. Only two to go.
Where’s Gav? Is he behind me? Can he see me slowing down?
Can I pull this back around? Is this drop in pace just a blip whilst I’m dragging myself up this bloody hill?
Within the space of a few miles, a couple of really comfortable-looking female club runners ran past me. ‘Ahh shit. I must be having a bad day,’ my fragile ego joined in the party, as I gave up any hope of coming away with a personal victory today.
Fucking hell. Damage limitation then.
I dug in, and I kept running. Me and some bloke called Pat had been to-ing and fro-ing for a good few miles, until I found a sudden last ounce of energy to keep me motoring through the final painful mile.
‘GO on, lass,’ he said as I eventually inched my way past him.
‘Come on, stay with me,’ I replied, half hoping he would – I needed him to push me on.
‘Nah, I’m knackered!’ he said. ‘You go on. I’m spent!’ And so I did.
With one final lap of the field, I crossed the finish line in 71:12. Bloody hell! That’s not too bad, considering! I boasted to my bastard inner chimp, who was all on for hanging me out to dry by mile five.
Gav came in a couple of minutes after me, and we did our usual slow trudge back to the car. ‘You did well today, Rach,’ he said, with his usual look of sheer relief mixed with pride.
‘I may have got a PB there, you know, Gav,’ I said whilst racking my brains for my recent 10-mile results. ‘Oh, and I know I’ve done this race before. It may have been 2011 or 2012 but I’ve definitely done it before. I’d love to know what time I got,’ I said, thinking out loud.
Once back home and on the comfort of our sofa, we did a bit of web searching. It turns out that:
1) Today’s Askern 10 miler was a South Yorkshire Club Championship Race. Shit! That explains the plethora of really good club runners, then! Phew! My ego was relieved.
2) I DID get a PB today (71:12) only by about 20 seconds, but it’s a PB nonetheless;
3) I was 3rd F35 today. Bless Gav – he phoned up to ask about the prize. I’m guessing they won’t send a cheap bottle of wine through the post, but I was touched that he bothered to ask anyway;
4) It turns out that I HAD run the Askern 10 miler before, back in 2011, in a time of 87:35 minutes. So, that’s an improvement of 16:23 minutes! Boy, have we come a long way since then (or was I running backwards?)
So, it could be worse. We could be stuck in 1982, lighting up a post-race Slik Cut in the delights of the Phoenix Club…