Monday, 31 January 2011

Running with the whisky demons

‘I’m ready whenever you are, mate.’

I am not ready. The time is 7.55 on a Saturday morning, my head is pounding, I have been asleep for a little over four hours. Last night I put away the best part of a bottle of wine, four or five beers and quite a lot of excellent cask-strength whisky. I slept fitfully on a sofa that was exactly the wrong size. I am not ready.

Unfortunately, the mate in question is bright-eyed and bushy tailed, dressed in his running gear and poking his head round the door with a look of expectation. Ben has rediscovered running and is training for his first half-marathon. He wants to run nine miles this morning, and I would quite like to stop existing.

Fifteen minutes later, motivated by outrageous competitiveness and a tiny amount of shame, I am ‘ready’. I am dressed as a runner, but it may as well be a fancy-dress costume given my utter lack of preparation for the task ahead. Ben baulks at my shorts and long-sleeved baselayer – he is wearing tracksuit bottoms and a hoody. It can’t be that cold, I insist. I run in Scotland, usually at night, on top of a small mountain.

It is that cold.

Somehow we are shuffling along the north bank of the Thames heading towards Westminster, working against a biting headwind and maintaining a mournful conversation. Our pace is dictated by two things – Ben’s current training tempo and my proximity to death, which conveniently happen to demand roughly the same speed, somewhere around 9:30/mile. I am very, very cold.

Arduously we cover the miles, Ben providing 90% of the conversation as I fight the whisky demons. He points out certain sights along the river, which are welcome distractions for a few precious seconds before the various new and interesting pains resurge with a vengeance. I should add here that Ben’s alcohol intake last night was no minor accomplishment either, though he did make it to bed an hour or two before me. He still looks sprightly as I start to perspire pure ethanol. The bastard.

After we reach the blessed turnaround at the Houses of Parliament, Ben asks if I would mind a quick walking break in Battersea Park, around the 6 mile mark. Impressed by the maturity of his training plan and entirely keen for a bit of a break, I agree wholeheartedly. It is the best news I’ve had all morning. However, as we slow down I realise that the running is doing two things – keeping me a tiny bit warm and distracting me from my hangover. The walk freezes my muscles and the thin layer of warm sweat quickly cools and sits on my skin. A tortuous headache comes to the fore. The hangover demons start a game of badminton in my stomach. I have literally no idea why I allowed my life to reach this point. I glance at Ben in his warm layers and tracksuit bottoms and think murderous, hoody-stealing thoughts.

When I ask Ben if we can run again, I fear that he thinks it’s because I am impatient or bored. This is far from the case; in fact I very literally have to run right now. I’m slightly frightened of what might happen if I don’t. With non-committal grunts I try to make Ben believe that I need to go faster due to some sort of innate athletic urge, and, with difficulty and heavy legs, we resume our pavement pounding.

Lifted ever so slightly by a tailwind, we pick up speed as the landmarks from early on in the run call us home. I am reminded of something I was told by a very good runner when I asked him why he always ran so fast in training, never far from his threshold. He smiled and said ‘if I run faster, it’s over quicker’. We run faster.

Half a mile from home I agree to a ‘cool-down’ walk with a wry smile and the resignation of one who is getting everything he deserves. We make it back to Ben’s house and the warmth makes me think that perhaps I could live another day. Ben is delighted with our run – it is his 9-mile PB.

The longest miles in London
Ben offers me breakfast, coffee, water, a shower. I want them all but I don’t know in what order. I collapse on the sofa, hoping someone else will decide. Eventually the antisocial reek of cold sweat pushes me towards the shower first, and later we wander over to a local greasy spoon for our brunch.

A few hours later Ben hands me another beer. We are not going running tomorrow.

Happy drinking.


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