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Closing the gap – the full running circle

Seventy years ago I lined up for my first running race, untrained and unaware of what it involved. Tomorrow, almost to the day of that step into the unknown, I will be on the start line yet again.

Significantly – at least to me – this will be an anniversary not only in terms of time, but also of place. By pure coincidence, the venue is almost the exact location of that first run.

Thus the circle will be complete – seventy years of athletic endeavour ending where it all began. And if by chance I happen to win,

there could be no more fitting finale for I will have finished as I began all those years ago.

This celebratory event happened totally by chance when I decided to have a crack at the British Masters Athletics Federations’ national 10km title. Only when submitting my entry did I discover the venue was in my old stamping ground of Gravesend, and a mere sprint away from where I ran my first race.

I had come full circle.

Way back in 1947, I was a pupil at Gravesend Grammar School and a member (a patrol leader no less) of the school’s scout troop. Somehow I was selected for the troop’s cross-country team that was expected to plod through muddy fields against scouts from the rest of the county.

We did as ordered and I was placed equal first with teammates Paul Brazier and Yob Yates, mainly because I waited for my stouter, heavier fellows to catch up so that we could cross the line in triumph together, holding hands even.

Ah, such quaint and non-competitive times!

We finished soaked and mud-spattered after tackling a true cross-country course through fields and farms on a day of constant drizzle.

Incredibly, the 10km course the BMAF has set for its national road race title is in almost the same location. A mere jog away, is my old school, surprisingly having survived all the upheavals the education system has incurred.

It is now much larger, some 1400 pupils, and has achieved the highest ranking from Ofsted – and its sports’ field includes a much-used running track, albeit on grass.

The venue for the BMAF 10km is the impressive and extensive Cyclopark, which bills itself as a venue for cycling, running and extreme sports. In its own words, it offers “world class facilities including BMX track, road track, mountain bike trails, skate park, group fitness activities and much more”.

It sits conveniently alongside the A2, otherwise known as Watling Street – the road along which the Roman legions once marched into Londinium. Its neighbour is a Morrisons supermarket.

The main cycling track, which is the course for the 10km, is a six-metre wide smooth, tarmac circuit 2.9 km in length, so it looks as if we’ll be doing three and a bit treeless and somewhat boring laps with no protection from the promised 20 deg or more sun.

On video, it looks undulating (but totally flat in Cornish terms) with numerous sharp bends between the long straights – a bit like an F1 course.

It is a far cry from my first venture into running through those nearby muddy fields that long ago disappeared beneath a maze of residential streets.

Now, as the countdown begins, I wonder if tomorrow I will be able justify a celebratory post-race Laphroiag for matching that performance of seventy years ago and completing the circle of a running life.

Watch this space.

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