A virtual race, what a good idea: a way to feel we are running together when time and logistics would otherwise prevent such a weekly event. I would surely not be out here giving my best had I not a deadline to meet. My 2-mile time must be submitted by the end of the day if it is to be pooled amongst the times of others in the British Isles. A wish to be a part of something bigger brought me to the start alone; a little pride too at the thought of my name being absent from the list of results when they are read out at Wednesday Centre Meeting.
It’s my first of the season. I remember the fun we had last summer trying to better our own times through all weather and the challenges of marathon training. I remember the funny stories, excuses, and qualifications so often appended to the results. I remember each stretch of that course and the ways I finely tuned my pace to get an ever-faster time. The quick places, the bleak places, the "Is it nearly over?" places, and the victorious finishing stretch when it’s all finally worthwhile.
I’m out of practice now, without the edge of competition against my slower time, for there is no time to beat. I’m most taken by the array of spring scenes, which clutch at summer glimpses. Two men murmur in allotments: a drone beneath the birdsong. Two little ones, still in red school jumpers, scrabble and giggle in clouds of blown dandelions. I breathe the sweet, green smells of tree blossom, as I say a silent prayer and launch into the open.
You could not show me a dearer sight than my beloved Britain then: the bristling sun calling to the plains, dancing on the whites of cricketers, singing from the straight sentries of new trees in Constable greens; the river muscling over the weir with gusto; the dogs all skittish, half crazed at their sudden freedom in a field of new smells and potential acquaintances.
Runners are out then in number: the rowing team at sprint intervals between the speed bumps on the road; the self-conscious teenager jogging stiffly on the grass; the businessman with slow determination. I must be a funny sight: the happy girl in elite kit, yet barely holding a ten-minute pace flat out on flat ground, earnestly urging a sprint finish amongst invisible peers.
Stretching then beneath the horse chestnuts, amidst the flies burnished dusky gold in the mellow mist. Who knows why they scribble in the air, as nibs of pens invisible. Who knows why a run augments the beauty in it all.