The pinnacle of my athletic achievements came when I was 11 years old. I won the Ceres Primary School championship sprint race. This might seem like a fairly underwhelming high point, indeed it is in many respects – Ceres is a small village, and to be crowned the fastest boy means that you are a slightly swifter runner than about twelve other people of the same age (the majority of whom were farmer types, no doubt already knobbled from weekends spent picking turnips and drawing carts).
But there is something that makes this achievement standout. The second placed runner that day was a spindly fellow with a pony tail who accused me of making a false start (to this day I maintain that I went on the G of the go). Said sore-loser-stickman-with- questionable-hairstyle was Andrew Lemmoncello – Olympic steeplechaser and the first Briton home in last year’s London marathon.
That balmy summer’s afternoon in 1994 was the last time I would see anything other than the back of Andrew’s vest. He grew into a thoroughbred, a real natural runner, graceful and elegant – he could glide across a dung heap and emerge at the other side without smelling of shit. As the years went by I wasn’t even able to see the back of Andrew’s vest, he was just a distant blip in the horizon, coasting to victory.
Meanwhile I was, in my better years, plodding away in the middle of the pack, a halfway decent cross country runner. But as time went by, puberty fuzzed my upper lip and pockmarked my cheeks and I got slower and slower. I no longer wanted to spend my Tuesday and Thursday nights running up and down sand dunes. Running wasn’t cool. I mean, I was never going to lose my virginity from continuously running around the school playing fields.
But I still kept going for a while, not training much but trying to race. I’d see them up ahead, the good runners, dedicated guys who trained hard, and they were floating over hills and galloping across stubble fields. I felt like I was wearing wellington boots and plodding through treacle.
So I hung up my spikes, gave up running and took up drinking. Until now that is …