August Canterbury – The Runners’ Tale

Pilgrimage noun – 

an important assignment given to a person or group of persons typically involving travel. A strongly felt aim, ambition or calling.

When that April with his sweet showers has pierced the drought of March unto the root and bathed every vein in such liquor that engenders the flowers, and when the West Wind Zephyrus with his sweet breath has inspired the tender crops in every grove and heath, and when the young Sun has run half his course in the sign of Aries the Ram, and small birds that sleep all the night with open eye do make melody (so does Nature prick them in their hearts); then do folk long to go on pilgrimages, and pilgrims for to seek strange strands, the shrines of distant saints in sundry lands; and specially from every shire’s end of England to Canterbury they wend, the holy blissful Martyr Saint Thomas à Beckett for to seek, he who has helped them when that they were sick.

By chance did they fall into fellowship, and pilgrims were they all, and toward Canterbury would they ride. 

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales: The New Translation by Gerald J. Davis (Kindle Locations 105-115). Insignia Publishing. Kindle Edition.

So Chaucer’s Pilgrims set off for Canterbury from Southwark in April – very sensible – a beautiful time of year to be leaving London and walking through the Kent countryside! Their aim – to worship at the shrine of Thomas a Beckett – murdered by supporters of the King on 29th December 1170 (my birthday by coincidence a few years later).  I wonder how long the journey (roughly 55 miles by my calculation) took them – rather longer than our 13.1 mile run on 28th August 2017.  But Gill and I head off for half marathon number 8 and so by the end of this day we will have run just over 105 miles – not a bad effort – further than the length of the South Downs Way (Winchester to Eastbourne).  A pilgrimage of sorts  And we are joined this fine day by Julie – journeying from Hythe to accompany us on this path…… lap eight in our twelve month mission…………..

In retrospect (and isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing) this is probably the half marathon that we were – in some unspoken way – dreading…………….  There had to be one – the one that was the toughest – that we were tempted to stop somewhere around the 8 or 9 mile mark – the one that makes you shake and wobble and hyperventilate.  If you’d asked me beforehand I’d probably have said it would be the Weald Challenge.  I was expecting that one to be hard.  But not Canterbury.  Although it was described as “challenging” – I’ve come to see that description (similar to undulating) as a bit of runner’s bravado.  Almost all the halves we have signed up for this year has attracted one or other of the labels along the way and we managed those alright.  So is this going to be any different?

As I’ve said before – there are not that many half marathons to sign up for in June, July and August (I now understand why not….) so Canterbury seemed a good option.  My thoughts were:

It’s local (reality – still 90 minutes away)

Canterbury is a nice city – with a Cathedral – we’ll see a few sights (reality – wasn’t really in Canterbury – we saw the Cathedral in the distance in our last mile or two)

August Bank Holiday Monday – its bound to be chilly and probably raining (reality – baking sunshine and 28 degrees C)

Kent – the Garden of England it must be flat (reality – don’t even go there)

IMG_1766

It was actually quite a relaxed start – 7.45am in the daylight compares favourably with some of those 6.15am (and dark and freezing) starts.  Slight panic when the satnav said it was going to take almost 2 hours to get there – but a re-route took half an hour off the time (phew!).  We arrive at the start and see Julie almost immediately – she’s a couple of minutes ahead of us – parking is somewhat chaotic and we are pleased to have arrived with 45 minutes to spare.  Momentary panic when we mislay Gill briefly (she’s behind a hedge removing certain items of clothing) and we are off to the portaloos before the start.  It’s hot.  I have brought my Paddock Wood sponge – which I position and fill with water.  Julie has followed suit.  And before we know it we are through the start and climbing…………………….

It’s funny – what goes up – must come down – but this race honestly didn’t feel like that.  It felt like it went up. And up. And up……..  And it got hot. and hotter. AND HOTTER!!  it was a very pretty race and the finish (which I confess did run back down one of the hills) did have lovely views over the city and the Cathedral.  It was my hardest, and slowest half marathon ever (trail half marathons excepted).  I started to walk at about 9 miles – something I don’t usually do – and then ran and faded – ran and faded……………  Something of a light moment along the way was the lady – stood outside her home with a bucket of water and a measuring jug – who caught Julie full in the face with a jug full.  Not quite what she was expecting…………………..

The water stations had plastic cups rather than bottles – I hope they were recycled – and at the end of the race they were running out of cups so filling up runner’s own bottles – surely a much more ecologically sound alternative.  There must be an answer to the plastic problem somewhere………………..

And we are done!  Number 8 out of 12 complete – the endorphins kick in and we sing our way home…………………..  Its a great medal – the closest we got to the cathedral……………………

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So here we are – two thirds of our way through this pilgrimage.  Thank you to Julie for joining us on this one – it is great to have fellow travellers along the way.  How are we feeling?  Well still going strong…………….. I think!  No longer racing – but pacing ourselves through the challenges.  A half marathon holds no real fears anymore – although I do wonder how I ever ran one 25 minutes faster – and only last year at that.  These regular long distances do take a different toll.

And the summer is definitely not the time to be covering this distance – so beginning to think about the autumn is exciting.  Come and join us at one of the following:

September – Barns Green

October – Tonbridge

November – Bedgebury – Trail half marathon

December – promises to be a bit of a treat………………………………………

Not really a running track this time but a lovely piece of music which is very much in keeping with the theme of a pilgrimage.  The Mission – film music by Ennio Morricone- enjoy!

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