It didn’t start off well. I was sitting back enjoying the traffic jam on the M1 when I received a text asking if I wanted the postcode for the running club. Postcode? No of course not. I’ve run parkrun around the Coventry War Memorial Park loads of times I said. Thank goodness for the traffic jam. The run wasn’t at the park at all. It was a tiny village in a corner of Coventry. I’d never have found it in a million years of circling the ring road.
I finally arrived and after parking in the frosty car park I looked around. A complete lack of runners.
Right. Can’t just sit in car hoping a club member will spot my neon and drag me out for a run. Walking into the social club, I bumped into a couple of middle aged chaps. Now I’m not one to assume about runners – we come in ALL shapes and sizes, but we aren’t usually dressed in leather and holding pints of beer. Well not before the club runs anyway.
Backing out of the club, I caught sight of a flash of neon pink and Sarah materialised in the car park. She was chatty and welcoming and even more importantly knew where the loos were. The toilet was found and tested. Working. And as we waited in the foyer of the club, the room began to fill up with neon. Many different shapes and sizes but all in eye burning colours.
I was told I was going to be in group 4 today and was introduced to my group leader who seemed strangely familiar. After a brief chat she said “Are you on Twitter? Do you like brightly coloured socks?” It wasn’t a strange ‘will you fit in’ initiation rite into Northbrook Running Club but was @LizPharaoh and we’d chatted several times about running on Twitter, never knowing we lived so close.
We had a short gentle run and stopped after about half a mile and did some dynamic warm ups under the orange glow of the streetlights. The warm up included skipping, high knees and kicks and was watched closely by a suspicious looking man through his kitchen window. He appeared to be doing the washing up, but he was actually keeping a close eye on the neon-clad lunatics bouncing around in front of his house in case we should develop a sudden longing for spiky plants and make off with his roses.
Liz explained that our run for tonight was a fartlek session and would probably be about 5 – 6 miles long with several faster intervals. The first interval was “up a hill and stop at the traffic lights.” This didn’t sound too bad so I sprinted up the hill and when I got to the top the expected traffic lights were nowhere to be seen. Then I spotted a green glow about half a mile in the distance. Bloody hell. Carried on sprinting. Can’t give up now otherwise they’ll think I’m a right idiot and I won't get invited back next week.
Finally got to the traffic lights and stopped. Attempted to look nonchalant but my ‘panting like a Springer Spaniel’ meant I didn’t get away with it. “A nice long gentle interval now” said Liz. Oh good. A chance for me to get my lungs back to where they belonged. It felt as though they were hanging out of my mouth.
Had a chat with the other runners as we went. One of them is training for Brighton Marathon next year, another has just run in Snowdonia. Another member had only been running for a year but was pacing us all effortlessly. It was lovely to run in a group. I was used to running my night time runs in the dark with a headtorch strapped on. Like a lone miner with a penchant for lycra. Here I had 6 or 7 others running with me. We all flowed as a pack on the pavements and around obstacles. The light tread of their feet echoing mine.
“Next interval!” called Liz . And she confirmed where to stop as we all ran towards a parked car that marked our end point. “There’s a road halfway” she bellowed. “No getting mown down”. I made it to the car and the huffing and panting at my right shoulder meant that either another runner was about to overtake me or the local amateur dramatics society was practising their ‘dirty phonecalls’ breathing and pacing me. Luckily it was a runner. It would have been embarrassing having our arses kicked in the local cross country by an AmDram group.
We ran a nice route around Allesley and Coventry, past parks and winding stone steps and old houses. Pretty but I didn’t have a clue where I was. It didn’t matter how far or fast the group ran – I had to stick with them as there was no way I’d ever find my way back to my car on my own. Fear is a great motivator if you think you’re going to be stuck in Coventry.
Far too soon the session was over and we were running back towards the clubhouse where we started. We stopped and as other runners trickled in we gathered for a group stretch. We would have looked like crazy people to anyone watching as we hopped around on one leg and wobbled, our breath misty in the cold air. At one point a dangerous wobble seemed in danger of taking down the entire group in a domino effect but we escaped unscathed.
Stopping at a petrol station on the way home, I felt I had to explain to the attendant about my bright lycra. “I’ve just been on a run,” I said as I browsed the aisles for just the right chocolate bar.
“It was with new people. Fun but I’m starving now.” He watched me from his kiosk, craning to see over the counters. I placed 3 chocolate bars on the counter. He eyed me suspiciously. “Fun?” I nodded. He started bleeping the snacks and I paid him. He took the note and examined it distrustfully and gave me my change. I was just leaving the shop when he asked, “So what have you done? Why are you on the run?”