Racing through the working day. Meetings, emails, phone calls. And all the time counting down the minutes until it’s time to shut down and tuck away the day-to-day. For tonight is race night.
Changing in the ladies loos. Squashed in, swapping smart for sporty. Hair gripped back. Watch set. Bus ticket and emergency pound coins tucked in the back pocket. Then off into town.
Sauntering self consciously through the city centre to the place where the runners gather. Young, old, tall, short – all shapes and sizes and ages wait on the cobbles.
My friend is quiet. This time, I’m the one with experience. Not this race, but others. There’s a chill in the overcast skies and we just want to be off and moving.
Spotting friendly faces in the crowd, we chat about nothing, glancing at watches, ready for the off. Wishing each other luck.
Gradually, casually, we begin to move. Shuffling forward in the narrow space between the pubs and nightclubs until we hit the main road and the sound of the bell. And we’re running.
Tight packed, slow to start, my legs yearn to be stretching. Dodging elbows and curbstones I find a route through, trying to keep pace with a runner in black. I soon lose him in the crowds as we turn onto the Scotswood Road – a welcoming wideness where I can run my own race.
One by one I spot them. Choose my next target and move forward. Past the man in the green top, past the tall guy in the black shirt; past the doctors discussing heart valve replacements and the girl in her pyjamas. I smile as I go through, feeling fast and strong.
Remember to check myself. How’m I doing? Feeling good? What’s the pace? That’s good, stick with that. And on my shoulder a running veteran smiles at the daft girl talking to herself in the middle of a race. “Just coaching myself” I tell him. And we’re ‘gannin’ alang the Scotswood Road’ to the sound of a band playing.
There’s a bridge and a slope. At the side people stop and walk, but I push on up and through, my veteran buddy still at my side. Over the top and down, the route narrows to a walking pace and I want to be through the gap and moving on.
Along the Derwent the runners flow upriver and down again. Friends wave and shout as they pass each other and I scan the crowds for a familiar face, knowing he’ll be long gone. How far, how far before we turn and head back along the same stretch? I cannot see the end.
Another bridge, another slope and my pace has dropped a little. But I spot my unknown running buddy and spur myself on. Over the top and you can see the runners below, heading for the finish. Use the downhill slope to stretch out, pick up some speed and push on.
The crowds at the bus station surprise me. Kids reach out over the barriers, hands held out for high fives. And, I’m smiling, grinning, beaming at the joy of running. At the simple pleasure of moving one foot in front of the other, feeling easy, totally in the flow.
We wind round and down and I can feel it’s close now, stretch out. No longer focused on the next one to pass, just running for the sheer joy of it. The final straight and my anonymous pace maker is still there at my shoulder. I look across and say “Go for it”. We sprint for the finish and he lets me go in front like the gentleman he is.
I stop my watch and show him the time – 51 minutes. Shake his hand and say “It’s been a pleasure running with you”. I still don’t know who he was, but we shared this race.