A is for Abingdon

Photo courtesy of Dylan Bevan (Brother). Diolch Dyl

Lloyd returns to running after 30 years, and finds a larger narrative as one thing builds on another to lead to the Abingdon Marathon.

A Serpentimes A-Z

A is for Abingdon (written at the beginning of 2017)

For the younger of you all, here’s just one veteran runner’s tale. Please don’t let it deter or influence you… too much.

OK, let’s get one thing very straight from the start. You’re at the start of a 100-metre race (unlikely in my case but, whatever…), it’s straight, there are no bends to deviate on, it’s just A-to-J in 10-metre chunks; runners ‘get’ this.

But when you’ve spent the last 30 years of your life as an artist bum – the stereotypical barfly consuming copious amounts of amber whilst dreaming up the next conceptual wow – it’s just not the ideal preparation for running your first marathon; runners ‘get’ this.

Combine this with an individual who for as long as he can remember is an acute social phobic – it is therefore ideal preparation for having a complete and utter breakdown, both mentally as well as physically. There is nothing straight about that.

Your brain and body are connected; runners ‘get’ this. To work and run efficiently, runners listen to the wiring. I on the other hand, was just wired.

Over those 30 years I had a few attempts at rekindling the runner of my youth. The boy that once won a city cross country championship (wow!); who could peddle the legs over five miles in just under 27 minutes (double wow!). Every so often the boy would decide from the bar’s edge to get those legs spinning again (another pint please bartender). And the man would do so for a few months, before the hangovers caught up and left him for dead, again.

But at 16 stone, rising blood pressure, early 50s, he determined to start running again. It became a last resort, there was no more room at the inn.

The boy set no expectations on the man, nothing. Just, let’s get a bit fitter, breathe in a bit of fresher air; t’otherwise it will be a life on the statins and the GP dictating the pace of the man, not the pacer dictating the boy.

And so, he did. And within three months the man did his first parkrun. That was a real wow because the greatest continual hurdle for this acute social phobic is being in the company of others. If you’re anything like him you’ll know that running is great for us ‘loneliness of the long distance’ types – so join a running club? You must be joking!

But six months in, he did. He joined this rather fabulous organisation called Serpentine. Tentative steps followed – both socially and runningly – and he was getting going again, so much so, another conceptual dream came to his life – the Abingdon Marathon.

The club slowly developed a better runner in him, encouraged and distantly allowed him socially, to feel more at ease, he was grateful. But the week of Abingdon he caught a stinker of a cold, and after ‘should he or shouldn’t he?’ – he did. He started with a few other Serpies and after mile six his right knee informed him not all was well – ironic because for months now it’s been on his left side on and off. But this was different.

As the miles crept by it worsened. By mile 13 and 95 minutes in, he knew that full of cold and painful knee, it was time to step aside. But he didn’t. The man told himself that whatever happened, this marathon would be completed (sorry coaches) and it was.

The following week he ran in the Liddiard Trophy, uncomfortable but doable. The next week he did Loughton for the Veterans Athletic Club, very painfully and very slowly, and he creaked to a halt, the knee in tatters.

And so, to the important bit: No running = no running; fairy tales = fairy tales; hangovers = hangovers; time out = a very difficult, hard and valuable lesson to be learnt.

Yet after all this, and still not knowing at the time of writing if he will start up again, would he change that decision at mile six of Abingdon to keep going? The short answer is ‘No’.

But there is a larger narrative. Being injured, he learns, is a good thing for a runner. A discipline in acceptance, listening and of patience. With 30 years out your body deserves respect, it doesn’t matter what once was, or indeed what is, we evolve, we are, we just are. This club has given this lost soul, running in a fish bowl, hope.

A lot of us struggle in one degree or another and we are not alone. As a running club Serpentine is a unique organisation given its size and varied demographic. Joining in can be very difficult even at what appears to be the simpler end for those who JUST DON’T. From training sessions to socials, I have learnt and am grateful for the softly softly approach of so many of its members.

I have just returned from marshalling at the NY10K with what I hope is my last hangover for some time. I spent a fabulous morning in the company of another Serpie veteran and the inspiration of all the good running can return. I may not be able to run just now but socially I am making the leap.

Enjoy the run in running and enjoy the runner from within that we all are!

I thank you all.


Coda (April 2017)

And now..
shortly prior to publication
its at moments like these when you ask
did i really write this
how then, will it be received…?
well, yes i did
and, of course, i don’t really know
but, why do i ask
because since this article was written, i have got to know a few of you, increasingly so
and this year has not only shown i’m back in the run (thank you Neath)
but exploring new relationships
that once upon a time
i could only imagine

so again, thank you all

Lloyd Bevan is a proud, Cardiff (Welsh) born Sheffield (South Yorkshire) raised of NHS nurse (Mother) and artist (Father) stock who now concedes to his mothers wisdom (of course) ‘listen to what your coaches tell you’. Well yes...