Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Minority Report

I have long held an interest in Minority Sports. I don't mean swimming in a Burkha, or stoning your wife; I mean sports that tend not to appeal to a wide audience and have little or no prize money. As a result they do not require hugely expensive high tech equipment and have tended to preserve values of sportsmanship that have utterly disappeared from many more popular ones. (OK, with the possible exception of Rugby)

Anyway, last weekend I was talked into supporting my friend, Jimmy who was doing an event called the Thames Path Ultra. This, believe it or not; is a 50 mile running race from Reading along the Thames towpath.

My job was arduous indeed; I had to drive between the checkpoints and meet Jim at pre-arranged locations where I was to be ready with both refreshments and encouragement.

That was the theory anyway. What actually happened was that the whole area was deluged with rain the week before, so much of the path was actually under water. The runners therefore had to navigate around the flooding, risk life and limb; or do both. It didn't make my task any easier, driving around with my TomTom urging me to 'Turn left now!' down what appeared to be a boat launching ramp into a lake.

What amazed me (apart from the fact that 200 people had chosen to attempt it on a rainy January day) was the sheer camaraderie and good will between the runners and also between their supporters. All the competitors, many of them soaking wet and covered in mud; received a rousing cheer as they passed and I got so caught up with the whole thing that I gave away most of the food and drink that I had brought for my good friend. Fortunately Jim felt too rough to eat anything, so I managed to escape his wrath.

What on Earth persuades anyone to do something like this? I spoke to several runners at the start and was very surprised not to see anyone howling like a wolf, muttering to themselves or sticking pencils in their ears. They all seemed very happy and excited and couldn't wait to be off. Many were obviously veterans of this type of event, with their miniature backpacks (there was a minimum emergency kit list that had to be carried) patched with duct tape, torn Ron Hills and shoes that had clearly seen some serious mileage. (One man was laughing at anothers tale of getting hopelessly lost on a recent training run that had started and finished in the dark) Others with cleaner and newer looking kit, seemed rather more worried about what they had got themselves into and were shuffling towards the back of the starting lineup.

When I spoke to a few more at the end, I was struck by their modesty-despite having achieved something few of us can even contemplate (virtually a double marathon over pretty awful terrain) there was none of the hysterics that you see when a footballer scores a goal, instead I heard comments along the lines of 'Yeah, I had a few bad patches' (This from a man who had blood oozing from his shoe and appeared to be wearing the remains of his last meal on the front of his top.) Nobody moaned that the checkpoints were 10 miles apart and only gave out water. The race organiser was clearly one of those rare people who put tedious 'Health and Safety Regulations' secondary to the idea of 'You're an adult- take responsibility for your own actions.'

The whole thing was a very refreshing glimpse of a side of humanity that often goes unnoticed. (Especially on my blog.) ie acts of simple generosity, kind words and the sharing of limited resources. I think part of it is moving out of your comfort zone, which we never ever have to do in the modern centrally heated World. Even when I helpfully said: 'Keep going. You're looking good!' to a man who was on his hands and knees in the mud, retching; I received nothing more than a wry smile.

Anyway, well done to Jim and all the others who took part in something which I can honestly say; quite moved me.

ps Those of you who have suggested that my titles are shameless attempts to misdirect people looking for other topics; are of course correct.


Anonymous said...

You need to look into "Chess boxing". Great example.

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