In 2009 Jayson Lee, a fellow runner and all-round sportsman, collapsed and died. The following year his family organised a 10k race in his memory. More than 200 runners took part – I finished in 49.24. That year, 2010, was my best running year.
Last Sunday was the 13th running of the Jayson Lee Memorial 10k which again attracted an entry in excess of 200. I finished in 49.18.
And just a couple of minutes behind me was my daughter Emma with her 5-month old son Dawson.
At the end of the race I exchanged mutual congratulations with a few runners I’d brushed shoulders with out on the course, took a bottle of water and walked back around the track to encourage those who were approaching the finish. I know full well how a clap, a shout, a few encouraging words can give you a lift as you dig deep through the physical pain, having given everything. I’m in a good place with my running right now but there have been many times when I’ve struggled way back towards the end of the field.
There were many familiar faces there, young and old. Those I have run with socially, a pleasing number I recognised having coached them in the past. Most managed a smile and a word or two, others merely grimaced all the more – believe me I understand that! But for a few minutes I reflected on how lucky I’ve been to be able to stay healthy and continue to take part in the sport. And how many good people I’ve met along the way.
I have mentioned before my slight obsession with a 20-year-old au pair from Finland, Tuula Hoeoek, battered to death here in Jersey in the final hours of 1966. Yes, I still pass by the field entrance where she was found dead, 2-3 times a week. I say, “Hi”, remind her of the date, give her a weather update. I move on, never expecting or receiving a reply
Edit 10th August, eight days later. The sunflower has gone, no trace remains. Another life snuffed out too early.
The scene is Hamptonne Country Life Museum, Jersey
Visitor at front desk: “We thought you should know, one of your chickens is inside one of the houses, down there.” Visitor Services Assistant (VSA): “A big white cockerel?” Visitor: “Yes! It’s upstairs, in a cupboard.” VSA: “Upstairs in Syvret House? OK, that’s normal. I’ll get the gardien to shoo it out. Thanks.” *Phones gardien* “When you have a minute could you shoo the white cockerel out of Syvret House please?” Gardien: *Sighs* “OK, on my way.”
Cockerel: “Okay, okay I’m going. But I’ll go at my own pace if you please. And if I seem indignant then I have a right to. Yes, I know that I’m a cockerel and, by the customs and protocols of the world, us birds rank below humans and are governed by them. We are subject to the whims and fancies of our human masters. I don’t wish to lodge a formal complaint though, or to appear difficult. It might not end well. Anyway, I am fortunate enough here at Hamptonne. I know only too well that the majority of the world’s chickens never see the light of day. They lead a (fortunately short) life of misery until their throats are cut. Here I can wander more or less where I wish, food and water for nothing and my chicks for free.
“But, you see, I wasn’t always a bird. I was Jack Syvret and that was my family home right there. I was born in 1899, the oldest of seven children, and I was brought up there. It was a working farm then. My father was the farmer and he kept cows and sheep, grew a little grain. Mother kept house and us children did what we could. I went to the new St Lawrence School down the road, next to the church. We knew everyone in the village. Then when the war came, off I went to serve with the Jersey Pals. I didn’t last long. I was shot dead on the second day of the Battle of the Somme. I’ve come back a few times, but never before as a cockerel. See, if I’d have lived, I’d have inherited the property.”
Gardien: “OK, all done.” VSA: “Good. That cockerel thinks he owns the place.”
I’m reading what is turning out to be an intriguing and quietly powerful book right now – The Phone Box at the Edge of the World. And, unusually, I’m bookmarking certain passages. Here’s one:
Takeshi was convinced that it was the survivors, the people left behind, who gave death a face. That without them, death would be nothing more than an ugly word. Ugly but, deep down, harmless.
What a myriad of thoughts, reactions, little side roads of consideration that quote has set off. And how true – we all tend to contemplate our own deaths with apprehension, but with nothing like the alarm we feel when thinking of when our own nearest and dearest will depart and exist only in the past tense. Do we have the capacity to look upon death dispassionately and therefore take the power out of the word? Probably not.
And for some reason I recall Anthony Trollope’s 1882 novel The Fixed Period. This concerns a country whose rulers decide that it would be good for the ongoing health and vitality of the nation that its inhabitants should be gently euthanised with honour at a certain fixed age. Like pruning a bush or deadheading flowers. The logic is embraced and the law unanimously approved. Inevitably doubts creep in as the first of the citizens approach the age decided on. Should there not perhaps be exceptions if, say, the person in question is in perfect health and his continued existence and acquired experience is in fact of benefit to the country? Inevitably the whole thing falls apart. I wonder if Trollope meant it to come across as humorously as it actually did?
But that novel, and one or two others since, imply that death – planned or unplanned – might be accepted as merely an extension of life and thus become merely a harmless word, though perhaps an ugly one.
A new course, out and back from Les Quennevais heading away to the north-west of the island and returning by the coastal route. Yes it looked a promising course but the rather nasty final two miles were to come home to roost.
An 8am start, a good innovation which gives clear roads for the first hour at least. After that time the whole of Jersey becomes awash with Sunday drivers going nowhere in particular. About 400 entries including a notable mainland contingent with a lively bunch from Watford Joggers. Conditions splendid as we set off with a lap of the cycle track to spread the field out before we venture out onto the roads.
As for me, I feel in good shape, hoping to get inside 1:55, so averaging kms of 5.30 mins. We take the lanes which snake around the airport’s west runway and dive down the steep escarpment towards St Ouen’s Bay – here I protect my ageing knees and the younger ones fly by me. Down onto Chemin du Moulin which winds northwards through the rather wild landscape of St Ouen.
I’m way inside my target time, running smoothly, exchanging banter with my fellow runners in the mid pack. It’s a feature of the longer races these days that the gals are as plentiful as the guys which adds to the race day experience. It’s odd to recall the times when women were only grudgingly accepted into road racing with some of the guys being affronted if they were “beaten by a girl”. Those “girls” are plenty tough and not afraid to beat anyone.
So onto darkest L’Etacq, as far from civilised St Helier as is possible, and we turn for home, heading south via the Five Mile Road. There are fewer groups now, most running solo. It is easy to fall into the mindset of accepting everyone else’s pace as fatigue sets in. A few, me included, make little breaks, overtaking other runners, trying to keep the tempo up. As we approach the south end of the Five Mile Road, at La Pulente, my pace is holding up, assisted now by regular intake of fruit pastilles. But I’m flagging and the hard work is only just starting. There’s an off-road section around the Petit Port headland which slows us considerably – it’s rocky and dangerous. Out on to the roads again and then the long, mean climb at Corbière – a lot of walking going on though I manage to run it, though at much the same pace as the walkers 🙂 Finally, on to the Railway Walk which leads to the finish, just over a mile away. But now I’m bushed, I’ve lost all track of time, only aware that my 1:55 has probably gone. As I drag towards the finish, two legendary oldies – Bernie Arthur and Sue Le Ruez – glide by me. Sparked into whatever life I have left, as we hit the cycle track, finish line in sight, I manage to edge by them both again to finish in 1:57.45.
A great morning, well-organised race, excellent company. A tough old race but running is termed an endurance sport for a reason.
Upon a dreary Sunday morning May be June but hard to tell A chilly wind blows in the drizzle The hour tolled by the mournful bell But we know the skies will brighten If not today tomorrow sure We can allow our hearts to lighten Expectation is the cure
Day 4 at Lords the people gather An England win they hope to cheer But this England team is fragile Talented but plagued by fear Too many times our expectations Turn to dust leave us forlorn The previous night our hopes assemble Resignation come the morn
The farmyard pig is loved by children Playing in its muddy hole The next day they will gaily chatter Eating up their bacon roll And when too soon the van approaches Unsmiling men with kicks and blows Transport the animal to the chamber And as that animal goes it knows
The young man’s sure to get there early Wait at the bus stop as arranged For his date agreed to meet him At eight o’clock and nothing’s changed The eight o’clock bus isn’t stopping The lad’s dismayed but not for long For sure nine was the time agreed on And so he waits his hopes still strong
Us Blues fans sing a merry ditty Of lots of joys and sorrows too For many years we’ve seen the sorrows The joys are very far and few The ghosts of previous generations Sit on the roof and watch the games Though we in turn grow old and weary Our optimism never wanes
The wife stays with her drunkard husband The more he hits the more she stays You have to leave him say the neighbours He’ll go too far one of these days But she remembers those sweet evenings When he was loving full of care She prays that soon he too will recall And things will become as they were
And as the years march quickly forward It seems that they accelerate We turn to thinking of our passing For hopes and dreams it is too late Will it come easy in the night time Or will our end of days come hard There’s only doubts as to the timing The fact we cannot disregard
But in our world of war and famine Of climate change catastrophe Can our children halt the passage Of things which we have failed to see Or at least have failed to conquer We’ve given up without a fight Our selfish hopes inconsequential The knowing clock soon strikes midnight