The woods had done a good job of spreading the field out by the time we exited onto a one-mile section of road that took us through the village of Ash Vale, and it was a good opportunity for overtaking and making up time. I was content to sit in and gather myself, but the missus was having none of it, pushing us on, identifying ‘weak’ runners in the distance and haring off after them with me waddling disconsolately in her wake.
At the halfway point the sole fuel station offered us water before we turned left onto the Basingstoke Canal path for three miles. The pace slowed again – the ground was slippery underfoot, there were five low bridges to duck under and the canal bank had been eroded to such an extent that overtaking was all but impossible.
Still, the canal was like a millpond and the odd moored barge and occasional family of ducks were pleasing on the eye. If the poet William Blake had been a runner, this is where he would have come to train.
We tucked in behind two ladies in their sos and I listened with interest to the boasts of one about her fitness, her new colon cleanse weight loss plan and the imminence of her first Olympic-distance triathlon. Her buddy took it all in with silent stoicism, until eventually she had heard enough and surged away, ignoring the cries of ‘Wait!’ behind her.
Rule one of running: don’t big yourself up in front of your running partner. Rule two: if you must, ensure they are less fit than you.
At mile seven we rejoined the road by climbing 25 large concrete steps and, after chicaning through several sharp turns in quick succession, we settled into the gentle decline through the outskirts of Deepcut Village that would take us to the finish. I slowed to a jog, smug in the knowledge that my girlfriend’s sore hip meant an easy final mile. Just as I began to turn and continue the patronising patter I had maintained effortlessly through the past 7.5 miles, she barged past me, arms pumping, ponytail swinging and shouting: “Keep up!” “Watch out, you bumped me!” I cried pathetically.
“I didn’t bump you Kerry – I rubbed you. And rubbing’s racing,” she said.
Two things crossed my mind: i) Never forget rules one and two of running. z) Why in God’s name did I make her watch Days of Thunder the previous evening?
In the end we crossed the line together and it is testament to the calibre of this race that as we did so, my other half was already talking about ‘planning a race calendar’. She’d got the bug, and it was easy to see why: with an imaginative route and competent organisation, it ticked all the boxes.