This week’s strikes on the London underground happily coincided with the day that applicants for the 2011 Virgin London Marathon started to hear whether they had been successful or not. Ten years ago, when the number of runners was closer to 30,000, the chances of a first timer getting a place was about 1 in 3. Today, even though there are nearly 40,000 runners each year, and the emphasis is still very much on getting as many people who have never run a marathon onto the start line as possible, the chances are now roughly 1 in 4.
With the strikes, the roads became jammed with parents huffing and puffing from the driver’s seat of their 4x4s. The roads were also suddenly filled with people going to work who had clearly not ridden their bikes in a number of years. They wobbled, braked too hard at the traffic lights and then slide unceremoniously off saddles, their helmet too loosely fastened coming crashing down over the noses. The lights would then go green as they tried to fix themselves us, those in cars would then huff and puff even more, blast their horns, sending the cyclists into a downward spiral as they wondered why they didn’t just phone the office to say they were working from home.
And then there were the runners. The pavements were heaving. And these guys were serious. Their rucksacks were full of their office wear, they were plugged into iPods, caps pulled down over their eyes, even though there was no sun as they fixed their stares at the horizon. One runner though clearly thought he needed to cut corners as he was running in black leather shoes, the ankle socks peeking out. We all pitied the state of his feet at the end of the day – after all he would be running home that evening too.
Since I have run the London Marathon a number of times, the chances of getting a place through the general ballot for 2011 was miniscule, so I am waiting to hear back from the Mind mental health charity to see whether I can run for them.
I too should have been running that day. However, I had become so engrossed in a book on the history of the Ordnance Survey Map, called The Map of a Nation by Rachel Hewitt, that I took the opportunity to read it while I walked to work. 4.5 miles took nearly 2 hours – the audio version is not available yet – but it was the best journey into work for a long time. The irony, of course, of reading about this great enlightenment project – the desire to bring order to the chaos of the land – is that I should have had my nose out of the book. Instead I should have been looking at the world at street level, all of which has now been meticulously mapped out, most recently by Google, rather than admiring the beautiful 18th century illustrations of the south of England, where the story begins.
Still, I am now out running again every day, and having finished the book feel a deeper understanding of the paths along which my runs take me. Now I am just waiting for the next tube strike.