|Southend .v. Colchester last weekend - no quarter given!|
AS I write this, many miles away Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey are cosying up on a sofa in the disgraced cyclist’s expensive home in Austin, Texas. TV cameras are recording their conversation for broadcast later this week. The world outside is holding its breath, excited to find out what was said in the 150-minute interview.
Did Lance apologise for being a cheat, a liar, and a bounder of the first order? Has he finally confessed to systematic doping over a period of years? Did he tearfully beg forgiveness? Did he get a sympathetic hug from his friend Oprah or did she attack him in fierce Paxman-style?
It is widely believed that Armstrong is coming clean after years of denial because at the age of 41 he now wants to pave the way for a return to competitive sport. Not in cycling, but in marathons and triathlons.
Not quite sure how that will work out, but he’ll need to have put up one hell of a performance on Oprah’s show if he wants the distance-running world to welcome him with open arms. We runners have long memories.
Of course, here in the humble world of the Clapped-Out Runner, cheating is a rare and abhorrent thing. As far as I know, anyway.
Many people would say the stuff I take before a race is more likely to hinder than help. For example, the only stimulants that passed my lips last weekend were a pre-race cocktail of instant coffee, Trebor Extra Strong mints and a banana. All three were ingested (separately) in the 60 minutes before Sunday morning’s 53-12 Cross-Country League meeting on Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich. I quite fancied a Jaffa Cake or a Fig Roll too, but sadly those delicacies were not available due to a shopping malfunction earlier in the week.
A week or so earlier I was reduced to necking a couple of sachets of Lemsip and the odd Strepsil, but I’m fairly sure those are not on the IAAF’s banned list, so I think I was running clean at Martlesham. There was a peculiar smell pervading the race, but this was probably something to do with the heaps of manure near the finish-line rather than any illegal substances being bandied about.
Down here at sport’s grass roots level the only cheating that goes on is usually accidental. Like runners who cut corners very slightly by going the wrong side of the red-and-white plastic tape. Or the bloke who barged clumsily into a runner from the home club, Ipswich JAFFA, and spiked him in very painful fashion.
Now, I ask you, is that any way to treat your hosts? Apparently the spiking incident tore the guy’s shoe open and caused a foot injury bad enough to put him out of the race. We assume it was all accidental, but who knows? Perhaps the perpetrator was unhappy with the 5.37-mile course that JAFFA had devised and was expressing his discontent with violence? Or perhaps the fumes from the manure heaps were affecting his balance and powers of navigation?
Whatever the reasons, the victim was certainly very angry and felt there was no need for what had happened, reacting with some very fruity language. I know exactly how he felt: I recall a 10k road race in Peterborough a while back during which a small but well-built fellow came barrelling past me with such force and disregard for personal space that I nearly ended up in the River Nene.
This was not one of those commonplace brushes from a stray elbow, but more like being run over from behind by a small tank. It led to one of those confrontations which in football they call ‘handbags at 10 paces’. Most collisions in running are probably caused by somebody’s clumsiness or carelessness, but to the victim it doesn’t always feel like that. An apology is usually enough to smooth things over, but strangely that is not always forthcoming in the heat of the action. Road-racing is hard enough as it is, without it becoming a contact sport!
But we runners are nothing if not resilient and positive people, and the bruised Ipswich man from Sunday was soon treating his misfortune as a blessing in disguise. Less than 24 hours later he was announcing how he was looking forward with glee to going shopping for a lovely brand new pair of shoes to replace the damaged ones! Any excuse.
My own club also emerged from Sunday’s race wreathed in smiles. For Tiptree Road Runners, small but perfectly formed, have very nearly clinched top place in Pool ‘B’ of the 53-12 Cross-Country League. OK, it’s not a development that will sweep Lance Armstrong off the sports pages, but it’s big news in jam-making country.
We can now begin to look forward to next season and the chance to compete with the big boys and girls in Pool ‘A’! It will be rather like Swansea City’s arrival in football’s Premier League last year: Everyone will expect instant relegation for such small fry, but Tiptree will attempt to emulate Swansea by using our limited budget sensibly and producing some attractive displays out on the grass. The only problem might be finding a new signing like Michu to win us the necessary points to stay up.
* Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each. Use this link: Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon or, alternatively: www.robhadgraft.com