Tag Archives: London Midnight Runners

Say You Do, Barcelona

A steady rhythm of our steps pounded to the loud beat from the speakers we were carrying. To the curious onlookers, we must have seemed like we’d escaped from a video game as we ran through the streets of Barcelona. As we reached Placa de les Drassanes by the port before 9 pm, there was a brief moment when we held our breaths: “Now what?”. Seeming just as (un)likely, we were equally nervous about whether all or none of the 10,000 people who’d indicated interest in the Barcelona Midnight Run would actually turn up. The latter fear was soon dispelled, as the first interested party appeared. The police car.

The guardia civil soon found better things to do on a Friday night, and one by one small tribes of people started filling the plaza with a cacophony of neon. When I looked around, there were TV cameras. Despite MRs seeming to have some of the coolest gadgets, Greg turned into a human microphone welcoming (or ‘yellcoming’) the crowd. Our salute to each other that night became ‘THIS. IS. FUCKING CRAZY!!’ The doubts I had entertained in my mind, were swept away by the Mediterranean breeze, as I leapt over the benches at the beach as if I had three lives.  When one of the MR captains yelled whether I had seen the back and that we should spread out, I turned around. For the first time that night I was breathless –  not because I’d been running and samba dancing at the same time – and counted, as if I was watching the world’s longest freight train disappearing into the night.

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By Tanya Raab http://tanyaraab.uk

Three days later I was waiting for a train to take me to work. Above me, there was a billboard where two men embrace under the caption “He said ‘yes’”. While fighting back the tears of joy for the men having Lloyds bank accounts, I was thinking that saying ‘yes’ when this society wants us to, tends to come with a life time of compromises and monogamy or eight years of David Cameron. At the same time, when it comes to lots of other things, sensible adults say ‘no’. If you’re female, there are even more denials, and nowhere is it packaged so beautifully as in the cult of motherhood. 

I’ve never been a very good member.

As a single parent, any adventure – well, anything – is about weighing the reasonability of lugging the offspring along versus the (financial and social) cost of leaving them home, while maximising the fun (or minimising the misery) for both. I call it finding your opti-Mum. Sometimes – like earlier this month – my whole family comes to rescue, but as the closest member lives a three hour flight away, it’s not the default childcare option unless I’m in hospital or at the risk of missing a marathon.

But let’s not overplay external constraints. Logistics are easier to fix than attitude. I’ve been thrilled about discovering Midnight Runners, the biggest threat to the gym dressed as just really nice individuals, but the idea of doing one of their trademark high steroid 10k runs 36 hours before the Marathon when other runners get sports massages and eat pasta, filled me with hesitation. A week before the trip, I was sitting at Serpentine Cafe in Hyde Park listening possibly to the vaguest event brief in my life. Greg, one of the founders, was telling us how the Facebook event had gone viral and attracted 10,000 joiners and a million visitors. We had no idea what the average bail rate was in Spain. We knew we were twenty people, had three Beatbringers, six speakers and zero permissions with the local authorities. Fuck it, I’m in!

I was excited about going to Barcelona. It’s hard to explain to Brits, to whom Spain is either party in Ibiza or a pensioner resort in Malaga, that for me, Spain was the context of self-discovery and spiritual growth. When many of the Midnight Runners were still having midnight feedings, I travelled to Spain on my own, and walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage (self-discovery); met my father for the first time and asked him why (self-discovery); and tongue kissed an unknown Italian guy at an unknown tube station in Barcelona (spiritual growth). Flying back was like opening an epilogue to my teenage diary.

Our base camp in Poblenou would have probably sent my mum into a mild hysteria and motherly guilt had that been my accommodation fifteen years ago. The building rising opposite one of the biggest clubs in Barcelona, also housed an African pentecostal church and despite its windowless front, it boasted a concrete step that was enjoyed as a break-out area by local crackheads, who we skipped over on our way out for early breakfast before pre-inspection of the night’s route.

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The HQ

It was colder than what our choice of fashion and Norah Jones playlist suggested. The Midnight Runners do exercise stops every couple of kilometres, so what might have been mistaken for a leisurely stroll along the beach on sunny day, was actually really hard work to confirm and memorise their locations. I can confess that I couldn’t remember any of them. I could hardly remember that I was going to run the marathon hours later or that I had an inflamed tendon. The experience has already been remembered in a confetti of photographs shared by hundreds of people of the 3,000 who turned up. What those pictures don’t tell, is what we reminded ourselves over a dinner at our arrival: none of us knew each other a year ago. Let alone any of the hundreds of wonderful people who we were high-fiving later. Cheers for that.

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Tough day in the office. By Daniel Varga. From the London Midnight Runners FB page.

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Just before I knocked off the cyclist with my enthusiastic high five. Vamos, Barcelona! By Daniel Varga. From London MR FB page.

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I (at the back) may not look like it, but that’s how I felt too. By Daniel Varga. From London MR FB page.

It was hard to beat Friday night, but Sunday’s Marathon was what most of us were there for, and while some chose to run it together, to me it was a return to introspection. I read a lot of running blogs and admire the authors’ ability to recall each kilometre. As established, details are not my forte. I felt strong and chose to ignore what I had thought my pace should be. Underestimating myself had put me in with a later start, which resulted wasting a lot of time trying to get past people, like it was a Monday morning at London Bridge and the world had come for a visit. Ten kilometres in I tripped over on the asphalt, which could have ended much worse than in a few scrapes. I was pulled up by a stranger and was able to maintain 5:00/km pace. I decided I wouldn’t worry about going too fast but accept positive splits (slow down) when I got tired, and still be able to achieve my goal of sub-4 time. I did eventually get tired and started to die – but not before the 40th kilometre (which, by the way is when they always take the official race photos. WHY?)

People, with best intentions, will tell you how fast you should go, where and how often. Sometimes they’re right. But most of the time they’re not me. Passing the 3:45 pacers felt unreal. My Barcelona room mate, a tall blonde woman in her 50s, said she didn’t really think about pace at all. Or bother with a watch for that matter.  She’d just run. And did she run – finishing third in her overall category in three hours and ten minutes.  I still have a lot to learn.

I’d been quietly hoping for a sub-4 time, but with 3:42 at 34 I got a ‘good for age’ for London! It will automatically guarantee me a place in one of the most popular and difficult to get to city marathons in the world. No ballot bullshit! No stressful fundraising targets! I had hardly collected my medal and before I had changed into a dry top, I turned on data roaming just to check that I missed the qualifying time for Boston by a couple of minutes. If I need to beat myself about something, I’ll go with that. 

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The medics not even feigning an interest in my life-threatening injury.

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Four times sub-four time

As to my first love, Spain, I won’t let another fifteen years pass before my next visit. In fact, I’ll be back in late August to walk the Camino de Santiago again, but this time I’ll be taking my daughter with me. I can’t safely say how many miles of ‘I spy with my little eye’ I can put up with, but that’s why we’re going to walk one of the busier routes. Sorry, pilgrims.

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My best photo from the trip. Welcome back.

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We Ran the City

 

Last Saturday was one of those rare nights I was getting ready to go out. I’d tried on the outfits, and then just before the closing time, dashed to buy a new pair of tights after deciding against wearing shorts in November. I packed a couple of tops in my bag in case I’d change my mind.  At least the shoes were comfortable. At their price, they should be.

My feet were sore when I limped home at 3am, my new pair of tights covered in vomit.  A standard Saturday night out. Well, not exactly.

My neighbours – who are also my landlords and live upstairs – had offered to babysit for a night to return an old favour. If you have any idea of the humiliation a single mother experiences in the London rental market, this is nothing short of a miracle. The only issue with the kind offer was that anyone who knows me knows there’s only one thing I like more than sleeping on a Saturday night and that is sleeping on a Monday morning.

This was until I found out about the Midnight2Midnight event on Facebook. Organised by a group called London Midnight Runners  it was based around a simple but well organised idea of having a 24 hour non-stop relay run in central London to raise money for the Syrian refugees.

I always feel a bit conflicted about charity running events, which is the standard format for the most popular road races in the UK. After your first couple of times it starts feeling like you’re asking your friends to subsidise your hobby. If the idea was that I subject myself to weeks of suffering, tediousness and loneliness that culminates in a painful and inhumane effort, where I lie to myself in order to complete it, I should be asking for sponsorship for doing my ‘annual performance review’, not for running 26.2 miles along beautiful city routes.

Anyway, there was no ‘minimum fundraising’ required, and I had long felt that when my daughter one day asks me what I did in 2015 during the Syria crisis, I don’t want to be saying that I changed the background of my Facebook profile picture. Ok, it’s not the peace troupes, but I signed up  for the last three 10k loops of Midnight2Midnight.

I convinced a friend from work to come along and drag his dinner date to the last slot. Otherwise, I didn’t know anyone in the group, which didn’t bother me. I’m conversational on one or two running related topics, and in any case, unlike at a dinner party, it’s perfectly acceptable to put your headphones on and speed off (or tail behind) when you don’t feel like talking. I was more worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up, not just for having a cold but also a very sore knee. I resolved to a double doses of prescription pain killers I had stocked in the hospital last year. Whether it was this or my erratic training or my new high-energy companions, I might have still ran my fastest 20k at 4:50/km, which made me quite excited about next year’s races.

Each loop, which alternated between Southbank, Battersea Park and Hyde Park, was joined by fresh runners and a sound system duct taped to a bike, which helped keep the pace up. There  were also some veterans who had had very little sleep, including a guy with a haunted look completing twelve loops in sets of 30k.

In the athletics, the longest official Olympic relay distance is run over (4 x) 400m. Yet the human evolution (and Christopher McDougall) suggests that we have been designed for running much longer stretches and as a pack – not 400 metres or 10kms but ultra-marathons! It is this rather than Deliveroo that has enabled our carnivorous existence over thousands of years. Running is about achieving a balance of individual freedom and group solidarity and killing antelopes, and it is in this, not in the suffering, where I find the connection with the people who are crossing Europe in flee of the war.

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Picture from London Midnight Runners FB page.

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Picture from London Midnight Runners FB page.

I was limping my last kilometres in the middle of the pack now, no longer dodging but high-fiving the tourists and party goers on Southbank. Running on the streets of the city has a funny effect: it fills me with love for my city.  Even if its political and economic profile would never normally invite me to use the possessive pronoun, in these kinds of moments you are filled with an irrational feeling of ownership and belonging, exponentially multiplied by the number of people you are sharing the route with.

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Picture from London Midnight Runners FB page.

Still, I bailed the after party.  After finishing on a high, I was shivering cold and a sudden wave of nausea swept over me. I departed to walk towards the night buses on Trafalgar Square. Dozens of colourful sleeping bags lined the road at the other end of which decisions are being made about bombs and human lives by people who actually run this city, and this country for that matter. I got on a bus. That’s where the exhaustion, cold, pain killers, protein bars, energy drinks and I’d like to think my general disgust for the European politics infused with the smell of alcohol breaths, and my body gave up. Judging by the state of the street, this was the standard part of a Saturday night.

I got off and guessing I hadn’t increased my slim chances of getting into a cab, I started the three mile walk to North London all the while thinking about how free and fortunate I was.

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Photo by Daniel Varga. From London Midnight Runners FB page.

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Photo by Daniel Varga. From London Midnight Runners FB page.

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