I decided that Thursday night would be the first time I officially represented my running club (Serpentine RC) at a road race. The Assembly League is made up of numerous London running clubs who get together during the summer months over a variety of distances, and tonight we’d be racing over 3 miles. I say ‘racing’, and by that I mean some of the seriously fast guys will sprint off at the front and leave the likes of myself trying to find someone who seems to have a similar level of ability as me and just try and keep up with them for as long as possible.
The venue for the race was Beckenham, a corner of South-East London that I hadn’t had the pleasure of visiting before. Having heard a few stories that led me to believe that it wasn’t one of the finer areas of London, I was pleasantly surprised when the train pulled in to a quiet suburban town with actually some rather nice avenues of large houses. I removed my stab-proof vest which I’d been wearing on advice from my house-mate, Dave, and proceeded towards Beckenham Cricket and Tennis club, the venue for the start of the race.
Registering was extremely straight-forward (just write your name on a slip of paper and grab a number), and after changing I mingled with some other ‘Serpies’ who would be running that evening. I tried to get the low-down on what the course would be like from those who had been here before, and then, seeing that everyone else was warming up, I thought I should probably look like I knew what I was doing. I haven’t really mastered the art of the ‘warm up’ yet, Mine usually consists of running to the end of the field, turning around, and then running at a slighter quicker pace back the other way. Once back where I started, I’ll stretch one of my two quads and both hamstrings and before you known it, job done – ‘warmed up’. I’ll work on it.
Everyone started moving towards the start so I followed suit, having absolutely no idea what would be in store over the next 3 miles. It’s safe to say it was one of the strangest events I’ve ever taken part in. The first thing I found bizarre was the starting location. We had moved from a perfectly good large field to the top of a residential road. It turns out this would actually be the starting line. All 200ish runners congregated in the middle of the road waiting for the race to commence. Not before long a rather elderly gentleman appeared with a footstall. Now I’m not one to judge but I’m 90% certain he was fairly hammered and it was safe to say I had little to no faith in him. Everyone suddenly fell silent and I knew from the off that it was going to be absolute carnage.
The old guy set us on our way and within a second there was a massive pile-up. Some guy had gone down at the front and taken 3 or 4 others down with him. They looked fine so I decided to go for a little hop over them and crack on with the race. If you could have seen some of the looks on the locals faces you’d be cracking up as much as I was. Their quiet little streets had suddenly been invaded by some 200 runners, taking up pavement, road, front garden, and any other surface they could use to get an advantage. It was carnage wherever you looked, with residents running for cover to avoid being mowed down by the pace setters at the front. Some poor sod then ran straight into a wire fence, tangling his feet and hitting the ground hard. I slowed to check if he was ok, but he quickly got up and before long had run off out of sight into the distance. The first mile contained a rather long, nasty hill which seemed to last forever. This painful time was made worse when I noticed I was currently being beaten by a 13 year old girl. Realising that I’d never be able to live that down, I decided to put my foot down on the way down and left her for dust. A proud moment in the history of my road running career so far.
From then on it was just a case of digging in and making your way around the course without being hit by a car or abused by a rather irate local. Apparently there was one unhappy chap following the race round for the entire 3 miles shouting abuse at these runners ‘invading his turf.’ I felt fairly strong in the last mile and started moving past a few of the runners (although annoyingly the guy in orange surfer shorts managed to run away from me at the finish – didn’t enjoy that). The finishing straight had a slight incline which seemed to go on forever, but I came over the line in 18:10 for the 3 mile (or 4800m) distance, placing me 61st out of the 212 runners. Not bad considering most of the people competing were of a club standard.
After a brief cool down we headed back to the club house to change and I hopped on a train back to Brixton. All in all, it was an enjoyable evening representing Serpentine for the first time, even if the structure of the run was nothing like I expected. In fact, the obstacle dodging nature of it all made this running lark slightly more entertaining. Ironically, my first Assembly league race was actually the last of the season this summer, but I’m sure I’ll be back for more next year..