Saturday, 29 October 2011
Dawn comes after darkness.
All this talk of PB's was troubling me. For weeks the atmosphere at the Club had been buoyant - everyone was running well. Forum posts would outline new best times for 10k's, half-marathons. Talk on a Monday would be of tempo runs, interval sessions, efforts along the promenade. And whilst genuinely pleased for everyone involved, proud to be a part of such a special group, I couldn't help but feel left out.
My goal wasn't a PB. My running wasn't geared towards it, but I missed the instant hit that a great performance brings. I guess I was jealous.
I'd try and explain my goals for next year - 'I'm going to run every Long Distance Path that starts, finishes or passes through Lincolnshire. No-one's done it before' - and I'd be greeted by a bemused look.
'Oh right,' would come the inevitable reply, 'but what races are you doing? What are you training towards?'
My faith was waning.
Where were these empty miles taking me? Anywhere? Nowhere? Had I got all of this wrong? Tired of racing the weather, darkness had descended.
Dawn comes after darkness.
Every run was a chore. I began seeking company, unable to envisage another long run by myself, listening to that inner voice that had started prodding me and sneering, 'You don't know what you're doing!'
My moods weren't helped by a constant trial of physical set-backs. My feet hurt - really hurt - so bad that the usually painful first steps across the landing in the morning went from a stagger to a hobble. After taking it easy during September to avoid the chest infections that had knocked me down last winter, no sooner was I upping the miles again then that 'not great' feeling reappeared for the first time in months. No steps forward, two steps back.
So, coming into Alford on a run back from work on a Friday evening, I came up with an idea. Maybe I'll squeeze in a half-marathon before Christmas. Cross-country season was almost on us - plenty of shorter, faster races to get me ready for a big effort. I'd done a 1.20 two or three years back before the London. Hopefully get somewhere near that.
Passing the chemists, I ran straight into the memory of someone I knew years back - an odd kid, but a good runner. I'm sure his PB for a half was 1.12 something. I'd helped him move once - must be a decade or more ago - and stored all his stuff in the garage at the house in Chapel. He'd never bothered to collect it, and, although I often thought about him, I'd made no effort to keep in touch. After I'd met Tam and we'd bought our own place together, most of his stuff went down the tip - I was glad to see the back of it. I'd kept his training diaries though - they were in a blue plastic box in the loft somewhere.
I'd got the house to myself till Sunday - Tam and the kids were down at Jo's for a couple of days. I'll dig it out tomorrow, I resolved, do a bit of research, get a plan together.
Dawn comes after darkness.
I'm lying on the bed. It's early - light through the window where the curtains can't quite reach. I'm lying on the bed, but the tiredness won't translate to sleep. I miss Tam and the superheroes - not used to being here without them. It feels like someone else's house.
Eventually I get up, hobble across the landing, then down to the kitchen, make a cup of tea. I sit at the table in the back room and stare out the patio doors.
I can't face the BBC News, and suddenly remember my plan. Grabbing a chair, I cart it up the stairs with me and position it under the loft hatch outside our bedroom. Lifting the hatch up and aside, I pull myself up into the loft and, by the light of my headtorch, try to find that blue box. It doesn't take much doing, and, a few minutes later, I'm back at the table, fresh cup of tea, ready to start.
I take a big slurp and step into the tardis.
The box is full of blue, hardbacked books. Each book is crammed with concise, immaculately neat handwriting, chronicling not just miles but a whole life. The inside cover of each book bears a label with the period the writing covers.
I pull one out at random, check the date. 'September 1985- November 1986.' Too early. One afternoon, years earlier, I'd looked through some of these. Throughout the 80's, the writing mostly detailed sessions, times and race reports, self-analysis and training schedules. As the years passed, the writing became more personal. Often, running would only be mentioned in passing or simply not at all. I'd felt ashamed bach then, aware that reading someone's diaries - their deepest thoughts - was a crime I should not be party to. I'd read a few anyway, before the guilt got the better of me.
We'd had a good scene in Boston during the early 90's - a group of us had fallen together and a fierce competitiveness had nurtured an ethic of hard work and gruelling endurance sessions, resulting in some reasonable road times. '93- '94 would be where to look.
Hours seem to pass before I find what I'm looking for:
SUNDAY 26th SEPTEMBER 1993 20.23pm
Robin Hood Half - a really good day. During the run I had the same ups and downs as last year - felt terrible along Castle Boulevard and up to Wollaton Park. I thought I'd got my laces tied too tight - both my feet were aching and heavy - people were passing me. I hit a good spell through the Park - getting it together - and things really started to click once we got up the hill and back to Queens Med at 9 miles.
I was cruising after that. I'd no watch, but I knew there was a clock at 10, and I knew I was moving. I went through when it was ticking through the 55's. I pushed the last 3, and as I came down the finishing funnel, I could see 1.12 something. Out of my dreams - a true breakthrough. I was smiling my head off, punching the air like Steve Ovett. Through the tape in 1.12.36.
It's a sign - this breakthrough - this huge chunk off anything I've run before. I'm being taken care of. Everything will be alright.
I read it through a couple of times, ponder the last sentence, and then flick through the preceeding pages for some training tips. He'd been trying to break 1.15 for the best part of a year, always close but never really there. And then suddenly, this massive chunk off the PB. I search for clues as to the training that led to this race, but there's nothing there. Endless talk of arguments - the breakdown of a relationship - some girl from Australia - but no running whatsoever.
I scan the pages that follow the race, but the writing becomes increasingly inward-looking, self-defeating. Although there's the occasional mention of a club run or a road race, it's only in passing. The words are punk, angry, or cloyingly self-pitying and pathetic. It's uncomfortable reading, but I can't help myself. I shouldn't be here - an intruder into someone else's life - but I can't stop myself.
I spend the afternoon on the couch, one page turning another, volume after volume. There's mentions of big running trips - John o'Groats to Land's End, St Bee's to Robin Hood's Bay - but by now I'm more interested in everything else. All these words. Every emotion. Clouds full of teardrops. And all I can think of is why wasn't there anyone for this kid to talk to? Why is it all here in words? Surely no-one can be that alone?
I make cheese on toast before I open the last volume. The day's disappeared.
There's detailed talk of another adventure - a run across Africa - and running once again dominates each page. Months and months of preparation, 210 mile weeks, the hope of a new beginning. And then, no entries for more than six months.
When the writing begins again, the tone has changed. Something happened in those six months, but there's no talk of it. Not one word.
The running, it's also apparent, has stopped.
The last volume - the final blue book - ends with four entries:
JUNE 9th 1998 02.31am
'Get off!' I told Russ.
'No,' he said, and he was smirking slightly, 'All true.'
I had to think for a while about the story he'd just told me, and I couldn't help but laugh. 'Is there anything you haven't done?' I asked him.
He took a step forward, looked at me, serious all of a sudden. 'I sit in the caravan some nights when there's nothing on the tele, and I think I've done everything. That I've done everything and I might as well kill myself.'
His face was straight. He nodded his head. 'All true,' he said.
I looked away - couldn't look at him.
'I'm alone. We all are.' That's what he said before he walked off.
27th JUNE 1998
I've demons tonight
Waiting...to pull me aside
pull me down
pull my hair out in chunks
Waiting...to make lovers leave
brothers go away
mothers loose belief in me
Waiting...to carve their name with razor blades
on skin made raw from punches
And I wait for their arrival
Curled up tight
Eyes closed, head closed, heart closed
Just too tired to fight.
29th JULY 1998
I'm lying on the bed. It's early - light through the window where the curtains can't quite reach. I'm lying on the bed, desperate to sleep - fall asleep, disappear.
And I think of her - that girl I've never met - that girl who'll save me. And I think if I think hard enough, she'll call. She'll know how much I need her.
Waiting for the phone to ring, willing it to ring. Praying, giving everything. And when she rings, she'll just say, 'You ok?'
But the phone never rings, and I get tired of waiting.
Later, in the darkness, I sit on the edge of the bed. I scatter the pills on the carpet and count them. Twenty. Not enough. I don't want to cry for help.
My heart's being squeezed. I have to stand. I wander around the chalet, lights off, a dull moon, and end up in the bathroom. I need a razor blade, some comfort in all this. I take a disposable razor and pull it apart, prise out the blade
I'll run a long way tonight. I've not run a step since I got back.
Looking forward to it.
And that's that. Nothing else. I rest my head against the cushion, close my eyes, think of the last time I saw him.
I go to close the book, but the pages come to rest with the front cover still open. There's no dates on the label in this volume. All that's written there in small, neat handwriting is the name of its owner. 'Chris Rainbow.'
I put the book down. Step out of the tardis.
It's always darkest before the dawn.
The last time I saw him, we were sitting together on the beach at Mablethorpe's North End Pullover. We watched the sun rise, and he took off his shoes and cried a little. He looked so tired. An elderly man was walking his dog on the beach with his grandson. He came over and talked to us. And he said something that I can still remember. He said, 'Keep it up son.'
I left Chris sitting on the beach. Without even a goodbye, I jogged back to Anderby Creek and just left him there. And I've not seen him since.
It's getting dark outside. I'm just looking at the phone, and it starts ringing. The sudden noise makes me jump. I pick up the handset and say, 'Hello?'
'Hi Babe,' says the girl I always knew was waiting. Even all those years ago. 'You ok?'
'Yeah,' I say, 'I'm ok.'
'What you been up to?' she asks.
'I've been travelling back in time,' I tell her.
'Oh right,' she says, unfazed, 'Anywhere nice?'
'No. Not really. I won't be going back.'
'Listen Babe,' she goes on, 'I'm in a hurry, but don't foget to record Doctor Who for the kids, will you?'
'No, I won't,' I say, smiling.
She's just about to go. 'Ok. Love you,' I say. I never say that first, say it too little full-stop, but I can't help it.
'Love you too,' she replies, 'We'll see you tomorrow.'
After Doctor Who, I make more tea and go into the back room. I'm about to embark on a wonderful running adventure. For some reason, a half-marathon doesn't seem important anymore. I pull out maps, plan routes, mark in dates on my calendar. It's all coming together.
It's empty miles that took me from that beach. Endless empty miles that got me here from there. I've a lifetime's still to run.
The odd kid I was can keep the PB's. I don't want them anymore.
Dawn comes after darkness.
I'm lying on the bed. It's late, but there's light through the window where the curtains can't quite reach. I'm lying on the bed, and soon contentment translates to sleep.
In my dream, I'm running along the beach. Above me, on the promenade, stand a procession of athletes, Easter Island statues, looking out to sea, immobile. Each wears a medal and a smile. Each one looks through me.
Ahead, by the North End Pullover, I see a figure get up from the sand and start walking towards the water. I run up to him and call his name.
He turns and looks at me, genuinely surprised, pleased to see me.
'Chris! Didn't expect this. You ok?' he says.
'I'm good,' I reply.
'What you up to?' he says, 'Still racing?'
'Only against the weather,' I reply.
'I'm going to run every Long Distance Path that starts, finishes or passes through Lincolnshire,' I tell him, 'No-one's done it before.'
I'm greeted by a bemused look. Then he smiles. 'That's just you,' he says. He understands.
'Come with me,' I plead.
'No thanks,' he says, 'Too tired.'
I nod slowly.
'I've got to go,' he says.
I step towards him and we hug for a long time. This is goodbye.
I'm further up the beach when I stop running. I stand for a while and then glance back, desperate for one last look.
But, as wave after wave breaks against the shore, I realise he's no longer there.
There's only me on the beach.
Over the water, dawn is breaking.