For reasons that needn’t concern us here, I’m spending a fair amount of my time in Newcastle. Newcastle has lots and lots going for it, but unfortunately for me, none of that lots and lots include it being particularly close to home, nor boasting a particularly tropical climate.
But, as our favourite cross dressing soul star would say, ‘wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home’. Or as the even more wonderful John Cooper-Clark would say, ‘wherever I lay my hat, that’s my hat’. Anyway, that’s where I am, hat wise, during the week. As I make a point of never, ever wearing a hat, as my family and friends make hilarious jibes about getting back onto the sunshine coach as soon as I put anything on my head, we’ll substitute running kit for hat. So, wherever I lay my running kit, that’s my running kit. Ok so far? Let me know if I go off on a tangent at any point, won’t you?
So I find myself running on some interesting new routes which, as many of them are taken on at night, can be, in their own way, pretty challenging. When im in Newcastle, I stay in a hotel next to St James Park. (By the way, if you want to really wind a taxi driver up in Newcastle, ask them to take you to the Sports Direct Arena. Hilarious. If you want to do the same in Edinburgh, ask your taxi driver how the tram construction is going, and whether it’s been value for money. Sit back, and the miles just fly by…) Anyway, next to St James Park is a proper park. And next to that is an absolutely massive park. And on that park are…cattle. In the middle of the city. Apparently you can track the seasons in Newcastle by when the cattle are allowed to graze on this common land. And, more excitingly, you are allowed to graze cattle if you’re a Freeman of the city. Really. Now I don’t know who is currently a Freeman of the city, but I do like to think that each year, there’s a back room of a pub somewhere, with Newcastle’s finest arguing the toss over grazing rights. Sting and Cheryl Cole are at a table deciding whether to put salt licks up this year. Eric Burdon and Alan Shearer are having a robust discussion about artificial insemination. Jimmy Nail barges in out of the cold…’it’s Freisian out there’, he quips…hilarity ensues… Honestly, the sitcom’s pretty much writing itself.
Anyway, the top and bottom of all of this is that where you run, at night, there are cows. All quite big cows, for that. A fully grown cow is, after all, well, the size of a cow. The paths through the park are quite well lit, but sometimes there’s a street light out and you have to be quite wary. I found myself shouting ‘COW’ to a fellow runner last night as she was coming towards me, I didn’t even think about it and it was supposed to be a warning, and I really, really hope it was taken as such.
Consequently, the gates in and out of the park, have to be, well, cow-proof. And I found this to my cost a few weeks back when doing an effort session through the park. I was running the last of four one-mile efforts, and in that sort of eyeballs out state that makes you think you’re Mo Farah on his last Olympic lap, whereas in fact you probably look more like Big Mo Harris ambling out of the Queen Vic on a Friday night. Anyway, at about 800 metres, I noticed another runner in front of me. This isn’t always good news when you do efforts, as you run the danger of running past someone who doesn’t want to be run past, if you see what I mean. And, to my horror, I realised that, if we both kept at this sort of pace, that we’d hit an upcoming gate at about the same time. And this was an effort, you know. Efforts have to be completed. The last one needs to be the same pace as the first. These are the rules of running.
To my surprise, the runner in front, having heard the panting of Big Mo Harris behind him, looked around and immediately sped up. And got to the gate first. And grabbed the gate and held it open. Honestly, I couldn’t have been happier. Here was a fellow sportsman, realising what I was trying to do, making my effort session work for me. In a tiny moment, we were bonding as runners. I did my best to smile as I swept past, and thanked him as much as my lactic-filled body would allow.
Unfortunately, at least one of us had misjudged my pace, and just as I passed my New Best Friend, he let go of the gate. I mentioned before that these gates are designed to stop cattle from wandering out onto the road, and in order to do so, they have springs in them that are best described as industrial. So there wasn’t much time between ‘let go of the gate’ and ‘get out of the way of the gate’. Consequently, as I burst into my final 400 metres of the night, the stupidly heavy gate smashed against my arm like a steam hammer. I wasn’t really sure what to do at this point. I honestly thought I’d broken my arm, but it wasn’t really something I wanted to complain about. My NBF, after all, had just done me a favour, so I decided to try to ignore it, and keep our relationship on a positive footing. And, to my delight, about a minute’s run away were some trees and bushes.
With tears welling in my eyes, I finished the effort, turned right and stopped. The noise that came out of me at that point was something along the lines of “nggggghhhhhhhhhhuuuuhhhh”. I hoped that it was at a low enough volume for my partner in athletics not to worry too much.
I mentioned this tale to a running friend who suggested that there might have been something vindictive in a runner letting a gate spring back, along the lines of ‘that’s what you get when you try to overtake me’, but I’d like to think it was a genuine mistake. But if you’re running at night in Newcastle and someone holds a gate open for you, you might want to speed up just in case.