Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Confessions of an Accidental Running Bandit.

First of all a dictionary definition: ‘Running Bandit’ noun (plural running bandits or banditti /banˈdiːti/) One who runs a race without paying an entry fee or wearing a number.” – Runners World 1998
Now the story:
Before I started running seriously or entering races I still used to run regularly. One of my favourite running routes was in North West London around the Hampstead Heath Extension.
One Sunday morning a couple of years ago I laced up my running shoes and set off on my usual two circuits. About 2 minutes into the run a group of about 8 men sprinted past me, I thought nothing of it and kept going. Then a few seconds later another group of runners passed me, again the penny didn’t quite drop. It wasn’t until I got to the corner (the bottom of a hill climb) and saw a sign posted to a lamp post with “10k race” on it with an arrow that I finally realised what was going on. I had inadvertently stumbled into a race.
At this point I don’t think I was a “running bandit”. If anything I felt indignant that these runners had somehow “muscled in” on my run and so I decided to just keep on going how I would normally.
Then I got to the top of the hill and everything changed.
At the top of the hill was a group of people handing out water along with friends and relatives of the competitors cheering everyone on. To this day I don’t know what possessed me - maybe it was the fact I was tired after running up the hill, maybe it was because it was a warm summer’s day, maybe I subconsciously wanted to be in the race – but I reached out and took one of the cups of water being offered to me. With that cup I was in the race.
The cup of water was a turning point. Psychologically I had stopped being a Sunday runner and had become a racer. The handful of friends and relatives (none of them my friends or relatives I should remind you) were cheering for me. I became a bandit!
I kept running, following the other runners and occasionally being overtaken. I accepted the water being handed out and even high fived some of the kids standing by watching. I was in the zone and loving it.
Reality came crashing in as the finishing line suddenly loomed into view and people with clip boards were taking down numbers. At that point the problems of being a “bandit” came into sharp focus. I slowed down and had to pretend I had never been part of the race and jogged past the finish line. There were no friends or relatives greeting me at the end and none of the cheers were for me.
I’ve never turned “bandit” since that fateful day but occasionally when I am in a race I see runners without numbers pinned to their chest and I wonder; have their race numbers just fallen off or are they secrets bandits just like me?
(The picture today is of runners on Hampstead Heath -the scene of the crime - which I still love to run)

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