Monday, 20 February 2012

'Why is That Man Running So Slow?'

A STEADY four miles through Writtle Agricultural College grounds, one brief stop for stretching, another to take a closer look at a strange quadruped in a field. 

Nothing special or overly-strenuous about that, you might think. But in the Clapped-Out Runner’s household this modest excursion was cause for celebration at the weekend.

It was the first time in SIX weeks I’ve successfully tackled a run of this duration, so hopefully the signs are emerging that this ridiculous mystery virus of mine is on the way out.  I’ve referred to it on this blogsite as ‘man flu’, but I’m sure you understand that was really just for comic effect. It’s a fully-qualified and proper virus, actually. Honest!

Anyway, as I managed the four miles without undue distress and am now sat here sinking a can of Stella, there does seem to be genuine light at the end of the long winter virus tunnel.

So that is the good news. Now for the bad. About two-thirds of the way through the run towards Cow Watering Lane (yes, it really is called that!), I passed somebody carrying a small child on his shoulders.  The tiny tot taking the ride stared intently as I swept by, announcing to his dad just as I drew level: “Dad, why is that man running so slow?”

Thanks a lot. The dad muttered an embarrassed reply to the youngster, who, in my opinion, should have received a damn good ticking off instead. It seems to me he needs to learn it’s very bad form to question the speed of a runner just coming back from illness or injury. We’re hyper-sensitive during this recovery period, and being called ‘slow’ could set  rehab back by weeks, not to mention the emotional distress it might cause. If he’d been 15 years older, I’d have considered legal action.

Before running into this little scamp and his careless tongue, I’d been thinking to myself how well this ‘comeback run’ was going. At the time I was even feeling tempted to phone our club chairman Malcolm to volunteer for the weekend’s cross-country relays at Chingford.  Then I remembered the race clashed with the mighty Luton Town’s latest home game, so common sense prevailed (or not, as the case may be).

My slow return to ‘normal’ running was accompanied at the weekend by an unexpected discovery on the internet. It was on the website of Run Britain, an organisation who know more about us than we think!  All club runners are centrally registered these days and many of our race results are apparently fed into the system, where boffins evidently analyse them and come up with all sorts of calculations and rankings as a result.  I have now been informed I have an official Run Britain ‘handicap’ of 14.6. Quite what this means, and what I should do about it, is still rather unclear, but it’s quite nice to know somebody, somewhere, cares about my running performances!

In golf, I suspect a handicap of 14.6 wouldn’t rank me very highly, so I am guessing there is room for improvement when I finally work out what it all means.

A bit of digging uncovered Run Britain’s explanation for their handicap system.  The handicaps go from 30 down to zero, and are worked out from a combination of recent performances in races that have a UKA License (i.e. most road races). Importantly, the figures are adjusted in relation to ‘course difficulty’ and ‘weather conditions’. This is good news, of course, because results and rankings don’t normally reflect the toughness of a course, or the weather on that particular day. But it’s bad news for runners who only enter races that are fast and flat, or those who only venture out when the weather is good!

If you are a club runner and want to find out your own official handicap, go to and simply enter your name and club. I keyed a few Tiptree Road Runners colleagues into the site, and we’re all there!  Have a go, and you might be pleasantly surprised . . . .    

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