September 1994. That was when we first met. And we have had a deep and meaningful relationship ever since: not always smooth, admittedly, but as the years have passed rather than become wearisome it has actually deepened.
That was the year I ran my first Robin Hood Half-Marathon in Nottingham, my home town. I had run the London Marathon (my first race event) that spring, and assumed that I would cruise a Half. And you can guess how that worked out.
So 17 Halfs, two full Marathons, and only two absences through injury, and here I am preparing to make my 20th appearance at the event.
That either makes me a dull unadventurous bore, or maybe a loyal ‘keeper’ with an appreciation of the best of things. I like to think it’s the latter, given that I have not been exclusively faithful to Robin Hood; this will also be my 44th Half overall.
I love the distance of a Half: even if a regular runner it still demands some work and commitment, and is certainly demanding on the day (the 9-11 mile stretch never fails to be physically and mentally tough, and more than once I have paid for disrespecting the distance). But it is also a serious outing without the all-consuming disruption to body and family life which a full 26.2 demands.
And I would recommend Robin Hood unreservedly. It is a very big event, well-supported, in a fine and interesting city, and very well organised with excellent facilities on the day. Forced by tram-works in recent years, they messed with the course for a spell and even removed the city-centre sights and hills in a vain attempt to reposition as a speed course. But I’m glad to say the hills and heart of the course have now been restored: Nottingham was founded on the twin hills of St Mary’s and the Castle and it simply wasn’t right without them.
So I’m a repeater. Someone once said to me: “That’s a waste, why not try new courses?” Well, that’s like saying “Ive played that piece of music before and know what it’s like, so no need to hear it again.” Some pieces, whether Mozart, Bowie or Ellie Goulding just touch you and become more deeply intense the more you play them; so too, for me, with special runs.
Robin Hood, actually, is now far more than just the run itself. It is one of the fixtures in my year and this weekend in September – complete with the chill feel of an autumn morning and turning leaves – is as prominent in my year as my birthday or Christmas. So this weekend I will enjoy my rituals again. The early start and drive down an empty M1, until the sudden funnels of traffic approaching the carparks, my running mix playing loudly (as if I needed any more winding up!). The crowds and tannoy and arrival-cuppa from a stall while I look in the gear-tent. The changing and depositing of the kit-bag, and the warmups in the parking field. And especially the final strides away from the crowds along the Embankment, bursts of speed next to the misty Trent, glasslike apart from the silent graceful cut of the rowers. Now I’m ready to run.
And all of that simply cements Robin Hood more deeply into its special status.
So I have a special anticipation for “RH XX”. Not to the extent that I am putting any pressure on myself and I will simply enjoy the occasion. I am past racing and PBs these days, though I am in as good a shape as I have ever been: I have a timing plan and I will manage it for 12 miles… and then let myself go with whatever I have left.
And next year? Well I fancy some new races: the Rock-&-Run in Liverpool, Silverstone simply because it’s on the track, maybe another new Half somewhere else, maybe even 26.2 in the Autumn. Maybe, that would be Robin Hood. Or somewhere else, and I will be back for the Half again.
Whatever, I will be back.