Late Training Notes from the Bristol Downs.
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Since I first wrote to you the grass has not grown beneath my feet. A certain amount of tinea has, but this is inevitable: I have been training hard. The Boston Marathon will be run on Monday 15 April and investors in my little Scheme are helping the Michael Lisson Memorial Respite Centre.
Michael’s mother, who created the Centre, wrote one week ago, reminding me that Michael died on the day of the 100th running. I ran that day, unknowing. Now I know and marathon running feels like a small matter.
They ought to call the Downs the Ups, these vast, everlasting, uptwisting hills. Or the Steeps. From one end of the Downs you can’t see the other for distance. And even if you could, you couldn’t – because of the mists. In spring, season of mists and frosts.
My father, not a lewd man nor crude, told few risqué jokes. However this semi-liquid air brings to mind one of Dad’s one-liners: Did you hear about the man who took his girlfriend out into the night air and mist?
Enough complaining. Hilly Bristol, like coastal Israel, is terrific training ground for Monday’s Boston Marathon. We’ll run up the Newton Hills between miles 18 and 21, hills famous for breaking hearts, but the Bristol Ups, like the long, high dunes of Herzliyah, have toughened mine.
This is my race preview. I have trained long and hard, six days a week, resting only on the Sabbath. Each run feels easier than the last. Gone is the sense of labour in a run of a mere hour’s duration. My legs feel wonderful, muscular and light. There is the little matter of the creaking discomfort in the left knee – my good knee – a new sensation. The knee hurts only when it bears weight. Best ignored.
With the exception of a 3.5 hour run in the Jerusalem Forest all my training runs have been solitary. This is not of my choosing: running with a friend is four times easier than running alone. This is true for all runs, over all distances. I know: I have done the maths. However all my friends have stopped running; they have heard the call and they have gone inside for dinner or for breakfast or to their homework or to dull duty. So I run alone.
In Bristol Alfred Lord Tennyson has kept me company. Some fluke or inadvertence has selected the poems of Tennyson on my i-phone. Useless here in the UK for telephony, my i-phone has become the perfect companion. Deaf and mute to the world outside my earbuds, my Apple sings the songs of my choosing, or in this case, the poems of my non-choosing.
He was keen on death, was Lord Alfred. From ‘Ulysses’, where he found romantic allure in Death, the Adventure; to the dying of King Arthur; to the demise of the Lady of Shallott; through lyric after lyric, the Laureate spoke to me, morning after morning, of death. Last Sunday he spoke to me at great length of the loss of his friend Arthur Hallam.
Endless his grieving, dark his spirits, Tennyson’s mood finds its echoes on these misty Downs.
That day found me running near the railing that kept me from stepping out into air and falling hundreds of feet in near-dark to the river, tirra lira, below. A blaze of red in the gloom, patches of white at shoulder height; what are these? A brief breather is permitted. The patches of white turn out to be cards, handwritten by members of a local junior cricket team and a junior football team, in memoriam to a teammate. The blaze of red is a football club scarf inscribed in black marking pen: Russell Simmons # 14.
Fresh posies of daffodil and another, paler flower, bloom from the railings.
No-one else in sight. No-one to ask or tell. No-one else to lament. My head bends, defeated. A sudden roar, a cry of raw sorrow bursts from my throat. My voice thickens, my eyes are wet.
Running is an easy thing, marathon training now trivial.
Shaking my head, shaking it to shed reality, I look up once more. There are more words to be read on that blood-red scarf: You’ll never walk alone.
Postscript: Afterwards I Googled Russell Simmons, deceased Bristol sportsman, and felt still sadder.
Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 10 April, 2013