Friday, 20 June 2014

I drink, therefore I run . . .

Buster Martin, the 'film star' who was a  great
advert for running and drinking beer!
AS we runners know, an interval session is a tough but beneficial form of training. Well, usually.

This weekend in Essex I know of an 'interval session' that will involve running for approximately four kilometres, repeated five times, and your recovery in between is the consumption of a glass of foaming ale. There’s a time bonus for downing a half, and an even bigger time bonus for downing a pint!

The Ridley Round 13-mile trail race (10.30am Saturday from The Compasses, Littley Green) is the brainchild of runner and radio presenter Howard Jardine. He has designed a largely off-road route that has checkpoints at five different pubs. One of them closed down recently, I understand, but Howard wasn’t fazed and will be transporting beer to the site anyway!
If you thought this sort of eccentric behaviour was the preserve of only the English, think again. Your Clapped-Out Runner came across something equally odd in Brazil a few years ago. This was a trip when my running activities showed the Brazilians how we English sportsmen are good at performing like heroic failures – a trait emphasised in the past few days by the England World Cup team.

While in Porto Seguro, I heard about a marathon taking place the following day in which runners were expected to stop at every bar along a 26-mile route, swallow a drink and then move on. And this was in an area absolutely full of bars. Instead of paying an entry fee for the race you were asked to donate a quantity of food to a local orphanage. It was all in a good cause, but being a sensible English runner, I naturally backed off and opted for a completely different road race that I thought would be far safer and more appropriate. However, things didn’t quite pan out that way.

My race of choice was in the city of Salvador da Bahia and involved rising at an ungodly hour around dawn to catch a bus to a shopping cente. Here I assembled with 500 others for the inaugural 'Corrida Rustica da Justica 10k'. I was in a tiny minority of foreign participants and alongside my precious and now defunct Nike Air Sock racers, I couldn’t help but notice a vast amount of bare feet on show. It was hard to tell if these people were too poor to afford shoes, or whether they simply preferred the Zola Budd approach.

The course proved hot, humid and hilly so I didn’t push too hard, aiming to nip inside the 40-minute mark at worst. When we reached the latter stages and were still going uphill out of town, it began to dawn that this must be a point-to-point race and at the end I’d be a long way out of town without transport back.

We duly finished at a council administrative centre in Salvador’s remote hinterlands, and lapped up the water melons and oranges that were handed out instead of the usual medals or T-shirts. Several of my fellow runners keeled over in the intense heat, one needing oxygen and a saline drip in the back of an ambulance. If the locals were going down, what were my chances of surviving this ordeal unscathed?
Stuffed in the pocket of my shorts was a tatty little street map which I showed to a policeman in the hope of some directions home. I attempted some Portuguese at him, but in my exhausted state it probably translated to ‘What is the weather like?’ or ‘A glass of caiparinha please.’ Whatever, he looked at the map, scratched his head, thought long and hard and then simply shrugged.  

I attempted to walk and jog back the way we’d come but the course was not marked and every street looked the same. It was searingly hot and I had no fluids, no sunscreen, no mobile phone, nada. Now and again a direction sign saying ‘Centro’ provided encouragement and I soon found myself strolling down a dual carriageway. I passed through some rough districts, but my skimpy running gear clearly concealed very little worth mugging me for (ooh-er, matron!). It took an hour or so, but eventually I got back, convinced no other 40-minute 10k in history had ever involved quite that much blood, sweat and effort.
Tiredness made me forget to take the daily malaria tablet that night. I swallowed it the following morning, but having missed the hotel breakfast, my empty stomach decided enough was enough and began to rebel violently. I kept calling for 'Hughie and Ruth', but was persuaded out by my spouse to go for a suco and fruit salad to try and settle things down. However, my Portuguese failed again and the waiter instead brought a greasy ham and cheese sandwich.  

Still feeling very unwell, my recovery programme rather bizarrely continued at a live-music bar, but not the type where you can just chill out. This choice of sanctuary meant we attracted attention simply by sitting still. Well-meaning Ronalt and Gracy nearby were overflowing with Brazilian friendliness and insisted we sat with them and piled beers our way. We were evidently the first English couple they’d met and my enforced immobility and lack of fluency fascinated them. I’m afraid I may have reinforced the stereotype of the reserved Englishman abroad, for via translation I was told Gracy had me down as: “Robert, the man who doesn’t drink, dance or speak.”  I think she liked me really, though.
She and Ronalt later transported us and our bags to a local terminus for a 12-hour bus trip to Porto Seguro. It was here I was told in great detail about the forthcoming marathon/drinking race mentioned above. The bringer of this news was a well-travelled woman who said she’d been born in Portugal, had German parents and a French husband, was raised in England and had lived in Holland, Spain and Italy.

I wonder who she’s supporting in this summer’s World Cup?

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