Training day

Today I took place in a training run with my 2011 London Marathon team representing The Children's Trust. The Children's Trust is a non-profit group that provides care, education, therapy and rehabilitation to children with multiple disabilities, complex health needs and acquired brain injurys. It's main offices are in Tadworth which is about 20 miles due East of Woking, also in Surrey county. Tadworth, apparently, is well-known for being home to The Children's Trust: make a web search for Tadworth and the first result, at the time of this writing, isn't the Tadworth wiki or a real estate site or a tourism page, but rather the Children's Trust web site.

The Trust occupies some 24 acres of land variously interspersed with buildings including rehab centers, medical treatments wards, school/education buildings, lodging and others. They form a circumference around a red brick 17th century mansion that sports a proud front lawn and venerable shady trees. Inside is a grand two story atrium lined with refined (but not ostentatious) wood paneling. The white ceiling is artfully decorated with raised floral patterns. The administrative arm of the Trust is housed there and that is where we, the marathon team, were warmly welcomed to tune of tea, biscuits, fruit, juice and other goodies. We received our jerseys and our fundraising materials and got a bit of history about our role in this year's fundraising. After the run we would have a full tour of the grounds, and maybe I'll come back to that later, but for now, more about the group itself and the jog...

Our training group consisted of about 25 twenty to fifty-somethings. Apparently we represented about half of those who expressed interest in doing today's training run (a 50% success rate is probably not all that bad considering that the signup was a simple tick of a box completed over 2 months ago during the first registration). I recon that the overall team for the Trust numbers around 100 (to be confirmed) -- on this point, too, I may expound and wax lyrical, for the whole deal of awarding a certain number of runner slots to declared charities on particular days by the London Marathon organizers is quite interesting in it's own right. Suffice it to say here that the London Marathon is the premier fundraising event in the UK and is, by some reports, "the largest annual fundraising event on the planet" [source]. Wow. Thus, if we each strive to raise at least £2000 (~$3200) then that nets the Trust with (well, you do the simple math - I'm sure there are many other numbers to add and subtract from this figure, but we'll just use it for illustrative purposes) £200,000. Anyway you slice it, not bad. And not that this post is a pitch, but please do support my fundraising effort if you feel the spirit move you.

Back to our training plan. We were given the option to set off for either a six or twelve mile jog. The route (pronounced in the UK as "root" - yes it's taken me this long to finally remember which variation to use for what expression. For instance, in the UK the only use for that other thing the goes by same spelling is pronounced as "rowt"; as in the person who directs parcels or referring to the electronic thing you connect to your cable modem.) made a full loop, so you could run it either once or twice depending upon your goal. Now, at this point I have to mention that I had bicycled from my home in Woking in the wee hours of the morning over to Tadworth because on a Sunday morning there aren't as many trains running, fewer still that travel between two suburbs equidistant from London city center - that is, one can easily travel, as with a hub and spoke, in and out of London, but between spokes take considerably longer. I don't have a UK drivers license (aka "driver licence") so I reasoned that it would be a great excuse for a "nice tour of Surrey county up close". Indeed the bucolic hills sported many horse stables, hazy glens, and a look at some new town centers I hadn't seen before. I found the route between Leatherhead (What a name! Don't you agree?) and Tadworth to be particularly windy and hilly. So anyway, when I finally arrived to the Trust at 8:26 for the 8:30 jog, I was breathing pretty hard and having second thoughts about the twelve miler.

Never fear! Peer pressure is here! Straightaway we gathered outside in the parking lot where we received the obligatory pep talk. I heard announced: "Everyone who wants to run 12 miles go to this (-->) side of the lot, and everyone who wants to run 6 miles go to that (<--) side". Whoosh. In an instant there were 20 people on "this" side. It's sorted then. I guess I'll have just have a greater opportunity to meet and chat with folks while (whilst) running. We made our way through some adjoining neighborhoods, under a train arch, up a few small hills and then, into the crown jewel of the run, Epsom Downs Racecourse. What a fantastic place to jog/walk/stroll! We galumphed through the moist ground past the grandstands generally making our way around the course. There were plenty of other joggers, walkers, and, oh yes, a few horses calmly chewing their cud. Probably thinking to themselves "Silly humans. Why are they all walking in different directions on our gorgeous course? Don't they know they should be following the white railing all the way around the nice oval?" After Epsom we engaged a fairly long (+1 mile?) and steady hill that would eventually crest and allow us to coast at an even pace back down to the Trust. A right nice route indeed and one that certainly contributed to my fondness for jogging in Surrey.

But back to Epsom Downs for a moment. There are two overriding observations to share about this historic track. First, it's big. Among the biggest at 1.5 miles, or 12 furlongs. Second, it's not ... flat. Huh? Who ever heard of a non flat oval racetrack that wasn't obviously some kind of steeplechase? Indeed this track undulated and banked - and it wasn't even a complete oval but rather, perhaps as a pun only appreciated by those flying overhead, horseshoe shaped. To make mattes worse, both the start and the finish are uphill. Doesn't it make you fatigued just thinking about it? For this reason, I suspected, and my hunch appears to be right, that Epsom Downs is among the tougher courses of this distance anywhere. Finally, I'll note that Epsom is the second race among the British Triple Crown.

At the conclusion of the jog, and after having wound down by chatting with some folks about the Trust and fundraising and "I prefer my glucosamine with a little aloe but only after drinking cherry juice on the morning of a sub 1500 calorie day", I decided it was time to shove off. I stuffed a couple bagels and bananas down my gullet, hopped on my trusty Brompton and made my way back to Woking feeling downright optimistic that the forthcoming marathon would be a memorable and rewarding experience. In the interest of full disclosure, I can't say that I rode all the way back. I picked up a train about halfway back because the weather just wasn't warming up.

Now where to run next...