"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Bali Blast - 1 Mile Virtual Race - Patchway, Bristol - January 2021

2020 was finally over and 2021 had begun, with all the hope and promise that comes with the dawning of every new year. Among my many resolutions was one to stop hammering short races flat-out and instead start training for a March or April marathon. I still had some unfinished business with the Christmas Trip races though. I'd run a 10k flat out on New Year's Day and a 5k flat out on Christmas Day - and I was happy with both times. But my only attempt at a one-miler had been outside six minutes as a result of the icey  roads which had forced me to run on a very dodgy surface. Having raced on the Portway and the Bristol and Bath Cycle Path I was happy to revisit my old virtual race haunt at Horizon 38, a convenient mile and a half from home. It was just above freezing and a couple of days without rain had allowed the ice and frost to melt away, leaving a course that was dodgy on the pavement here and there but with a road surface that was grippy enough. National Lockdown was just resuming and while everyone agreed (including the statisticians) that the roads were twice as busy as they were in the March 2020 lockdown, it was still quiet enough in the business park for me to run wide on the turns and stick mostly to the road instead of the pavement.

As usual I jogged up there in an old (and therefore disposable) hoodie, just in case someone nicked my stuff while I was running, but as usual I was worrying unduly. I stashed my warmup gear behind some shrubs at the edge of the Selco unit and got myself ready to race solo - with the aim of at least getting under 6 minutes and maybe getting close to that 5.42 I had a run a few months before. With only a few minutes hard running ahead of me I didn't have to worry about overheating which is why the picture shows me in a windproof baselayer AND an ancient Sub-4 thermal. Two items with a good claim to be in the 90s/noughties Running Kit Museum.

My alarm was set to go off if I ran under 5.30 pace or over 6 minute pace, proof that optimism can always triumph over realism, at least before the race gets underway. I set off fast, taking short strides on the wet roadway, with the alarm going crazy telling me I was going too fast. I had gone off at something more like 800m pace. Things soon settled down and the watch kept quiet. I had only 7 sections of the perimeter road to run - the "square" is around 900m - but at that pace in those cold conditions each stretch seemed endless. When I did steal a glance at my watch I could see I was on around 5.50 pace and gradually slowing after the too-fast start. My pace was very up and down as I alternated between switching my mind off and going all-out and then finding thoughts kicking back in and reminding me I wasn't capable of keeping up that pace. I was reminded of Aldous Huxley's writing about the limiting and reductive nature of the mind. I was starting to feel the pain and emptiness of running harder than your body wants to run. Somehow I hung on to the pace and finished, with a stitch just starting and my whole body feeling tense and tired, in 5:51.

As soon as I was able to relax and start the slow and easy walk-jog home I felt very happy with the result. Not even close to what I know I would be capable of if I prepared properly, but better than the previous effort and good enough for top 10 in the race. In fact I think only around 5 of us went under 6 minutes so that was a good position and, much more importantly, I felt I had given all I'd got on the day. Racing solo is a strange affair - I jogged home wondering when things were going to change and let us race all together again. That thought has been floating around in my mind for months now as what I initially thought would be an emergency lasting a few weeks or months has turned into something approaching a year-long confinement. The rules have tightened and loosened but we've been living with a sense of limitation and restriction for 10 months or more now. It's still interesting, if you separate yourself from it and observe how you and everyone else is reacting. Lots of people are reporting a real sense of restriction-fatigue now.

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