Two Things Tuesday – 16th April

1 – H.O.N.C. (Hell of the North Cotswolds)

Sunday was a day on the mountain bike, riding what will probably be the least enjoyable event of the year. The HONC is an annual tradition amongst me and my friends. We’ve ridden it together for years, although rarely do we all get official entry as the places usually go inside an hour of being made available, such is its popularity. If we can’t get entry we turn up to ride anyway, which I know is naughty but I know we aren’t alone, we try entering every year and we always make generous donations for the halfway tea and cake. This year was the first time all three of us had managed to get a place on the 50km cycle ride so with a trio of medals on the table we should have been fully prepared and on good form.

Come ride day, we weren’t. Angus turned up drunk, which is perfectly acceptable as we’ve all done it before, but you know that starting a ride drunk means a hangover isn’t far away. Russ pulled a singlespeed out of his car, that’s a bike with 1 gear, for riding over the Cotswolds, which are hills. I questioned the sanity of his bike choice but he was quick to point out that he now had a solid excuse for getting off and walking every hill we encountered and was close to convincing me he’d played a stroke of genius. I was the only one turning up on a suitable bike, sober and with more than three rides under my belt this year…not that it helped at all. The event is billed as a “reliability ride” not a race, for legal reasons as much as anything, but we all mocked the ridiculous idea of a reliability ride around our home hills for 35 miles. So it was with beautifully ironic karma that my bottom bracket bearings failed somewhere in the first ten miles, which meant I was nursing the bike home from there and waiting for a catastrophic failure that would leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere. So now we were drunk, daft and defective which would normally have added to the enjoyment of riding! (We’ve a strange mentality when we get together on bikes. The more you can take the piss out of someone the better the ride gets).

However, the HONC this year was utterly dull, the least inspiring course I’ve ridden and so boring we discussed bailing out and finding our own route several times. The cross-country ride was at least 70% road and when we finally did get on to the trails they were the muddiest, slowest, most horrific highways to hell you can imagine. Valiant efforts were made to ride most of them, but all our ready made excuses were unnecessary as every rider was forced to wade ankle deep pushing a heavy bike coated in thick mud for mile after mile anyway. Coming away from a mountain bike event grateful that is was mostly road based is not a good thing. I appreciate the organisers can’t control weather, but with 1500+ bikes the choice of route would have been bad even in the dry and there were many better options available.

Still, we did it (90 minutes slower than last year), we each got a medal, my bike didn’t explode, Angus didn’t throw up and Russ didn’t pass out with exhaustion although he did get lots of cramp resulting in dubious trailside stretching sessions, but I guess you’d call the day a success. We all agreed we probably wouldn’t ever do it again, we agree that every year, so I’ll see you at the start line in 2014.

2 – Boston Marathon

There are many writers far better than me who will cover this subject, but being a part of the running community I couldn’t let it go without mention. Trying to craft some words to encapsulate the emotions involved in such events is futile. Already we’ve read professional reporter’s news of the explosions, the aftermath and the tales of courage as runners and supporters ran towards the scene to assist the injured. We’re starting to get eyewitness accounts that will paint a far more vivid picture than me, journalists, novelists or inevitably script writers will manage. What happens next will play out on the world stage, the search for justice and meaning to the violence, the recovery of those who lost limbs and the history of those who lost life will be laid bare for us all to read. Anything I try and add to the canon of words would be trite by comparison.

Suffice to say that thoughts are with all those affected. I had a little run this morning, that’s my thinking place or my source of relaxation depending on what I’m trying to achieve. Today I achieved neither. Selfishly I wasn’t thinking about the people of Boston whilst I ran, I couldn’t stop thinking about going for a run then two hours later having my legs blown off and never running again. This morning’s run bought me no comfort, I’ll try again tomorrow.

In the meantime I’m so proud of the response of the running community, and how it will continue to support the people of Boston and each other in the future. There is a lot of talk about Virgin London Marathon, about minutes of silence at the start, hands on hearts at the finish or countless other gestures of solidarity. My hope for Sunday is that the crowd this year will be the biggest, loudest and most supportive London has ever seen. I’ll be amongst them and although it will be impossible to keep thoughts of Boston from our minds I won’t let it shape my day or lessen my love of running and runners, every one.

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