I haven’t always liked running (indeed, most of you know this, as I’ve only been doing it for about 3 years), and my attitude to exercise was very different. When I was out the other day, I remembered my first go at a competitive race over 100m. At school, there was an annual house cross country competition, one for seniors, and one for juniors.
At assembly one morning, Mr Cluff announced that all the third years had to take part in the junior race. Being exceptionally unfit at the time, the idea of this terrified me, mostly because I knew that I was going to finish last (this in of itself was not a bad thing, but I knew that it was going to be another piece of ammunition for those who sadly wanted to make the school experience into a psychological game). I tried every trick in the book to get out of doing it, even going as far as telling Mr Cluff about my fear. He understood, but he wouldn’t let me out of it.
The school grounds lend themselves very well to running, as they’re both extensive and picturesque, stray lockers and fag ends in Netherleigh Lake aside- if I lived nearby and they hadn’t banned trespassing I’d totally consider running this route again!
I’m not sure how long the route was, but it did feel like forever at the time. You started at one end of one of a rugby pitch and ran to the other end, then the route took you round the art buildings, round the front of the school, past where the junior school is now, round the lake, in front of the Ormiston building, and back on to the rugby pitch on which you started.
I was wearing my orange rugby top (which was fairly heavy), thus disadvantaging myself before I’d even started. It wasn’t raining, but it was cold and the grass was wet underfoot. We all lined up on the start line and waited for the gun.
Apart from the few boys that had cried off (successfully, unlike myself) or been given stewarding duties, this may have been the only time the whole year competed in the same sporting event, and while this didn’t strike me at the time when I was looking up and down the line, there was a certain poignancy about it. Some of those boys (David Hill springs to mind) were wanting to win the race, while others just wanted to say they finished it- but they were all waiting in the same place for the same gun before they could get going.
The gun went off, and immediately I knew I was out of my depth. I was last by some way and exhausted even by the time I’d cleared the first rugby pitch. By the time I got round to the art school, I was already down to walking pace.
Near Mr Funston’s house, while on this slow pace, one of the stewards, an older boy, approached me and said “Bean” (my older brother used to look like Mr Bean and apparently nicknames are hereditary) “would you like some advice?” I stopped to hear what he had to say, at which point he got behind me and pushed me. “RUN!”. I had no doubt my lack of fitness was being mocked, but I took his advice anyway and took off while they laughed at me.
To my surprise, a number of the other boys had slowed down (it later emerged some of them had stopped for a smoke), and I was on my sprint phase, which wasn’t far from the end, I overtook them. They were horrified. I heard some of them say “I’m not finishing behind Stothers” and so they sped up. About six or seven boys passed me before I saw the line, by which point I was exhausted again.
One of the teachers was counting out the finishing positions as the boys crossed the line, one by one. I saw Robert Rea cross the line ahead of me.
I wasn’t expecting a top 100 finish, I just wanted not to be last. David “Twiggy” Clarke was next, not far ahead of me.
One hundred and one.
Adam Stewart, a big rugby type, was right on my tail, and, as far as I could tell, no one else. With all my strength I pushed for the line and finished slightly ahead of him, but he pushed me out of the way so he got counted ahead of me.
One hundred and two. One hundred and three.
Resigned to being 103 out of 103, I trudged off. I didn’t see the point of fighting over 102nd place, especially with someone who could beat me up, even if it meant I “officially” finished last.
One hundred and four.
I was taken aback, and turned round. Andrew Given, in his maroon Bowen’s shirt, raised his arms aloft and yelled “ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR” in mock triumph. The other boys around applauded him. I wish I’d shaken his hand, because his humour at the situation was great. I doubt I’d have taken finishing last so well, but he seemed happy (and he wasn’t going to be made fun of), and I was happy, so everyone slept well that night. I think Darren McWilliams (now a pro golfer) won the race, but I can’t be certain.
I like to think I got the bus home that day really happy that I didn’t end up crying off. But it does make me kind of sad that I didn’t look at it positively, and that my motivations were far more stick than carrot. Still, God has been gracious since then and given me a positive attitude toward it, and so I am thankful.