My Greatest Story: First Place

Day 4

Let me get started by saying that today is rest day. That means, no running, no swimming, no gym, no cycling – just out and out rest (I do usually go on a nice walk though). 6 out of 7 days a week I train, as you might have read in my “daily schedule” post, this means that on the 7th day I take a rest day to let my body recover from the beating its taken on the previous 6. 

Sounds like the dream right? 

Whilst I definitely notice the physical benefits (there’s been periods of time where I didn’t take regular rest days and it only resulted in injury, overtraining syndrome and an unhealthy cycle of not recovering), its the mental aspect of training that I find hard to deal with on rest days. Exercise for me is more about the mental attributes than the physical, whilst I’m proud of the body I have built to function the way it does (and even look the way it does), it is my mind that reaps the full benefit of those lovely morning runs, intense workouts and endurance swims. In other words, I struggle to not be an absolute mess on rest days. That said though, it’s great to use the time and energy to channel into other activities, such as writing this blog. 

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In light of all this, I thought I’d use today to write about one of my greatest stories. One of the most profound and memorable 2 weeks of my life is the first time the band toured America. I can recall each day of those two weeks almost to the finest details. Funny how you go through long periods of time and have no recollection of what happened from day to day, but do something slightly out of your ordinary routine and you can remember it like it was yesterday. 

So it’s 2016, Ghouls have somehow managed to book a tour of the East Coast of the USA. Boarding the plane was surreal, all the memories of driving for hours in my Astra estate to play to nobody and get £10 petrol were whirring around my head – how on earth had it all led to us boarding a plane to America? The pilot announced our departure to JFK and Maz (fellow band member) turned around and gave me the exact look to that thought. 

Us being us, we’d managed to book our first show the night we arrived meaning by the time we were onstage we had been awake for about 27 straight hours. Me being me, being that I’m a runner who had yet to race on US soil, had decided to enter the Brooklynite Half Marathon, which took place the following morning – 8:30am start time. This meaning a 6:30am rise in order to eat and arrive in time for the race start. Muss (fellow band member) had also decided he’d run it too. 

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We played our first ever US show in a sleep deprived, delirious state. The venue was in central Manhattan, although I don’t recall seeing much other than the grotty inside of the bar and an audience made up of the other bands on the line up. I didn’t really mind the lack of crowd, I was just glad to be heading to bed once we’d played. Upon leaving the venue, it suddenly dawned on Muss and me that we had a half marathon to run in about 7 hours from then. It also occurred to us that we’d hardly eaten anything, the plane food had been a good 6-7 hours before and we hadn’t had much else since. Far to tired to do anything about it then, we resided to leaving the fuel up to the morning, praying that the Air B’n’B would have something we could use to adequately nourish our bodies for 13.1 miles – hardly “carb loading”. 

We headed back to our Brooklyn pad, which I should mention was in the middle of the ghetto. When I say ghetto, I mean terrifying. Safe to say we did survive the ghetto in the end, but bare it in mind for the next part of the story. 

My alarm rings about 6 hours later and a sorry-looking, exhausted Muss was waiting for me in the front room. We started looking about our hosts apartment for something that might constitute as pre-workout nutrition but all we could find in the cupboards was condiments and questionable food gadgets. We were about to give up hope and revert to necking tomato ketchup when we stumbled on an old box of Honey O’s. As I went to pour the cereal into the bowl, instead of a satisfying stream nuggets running out of the bag, the knock-off honey Cherrios fell out in one huge glued-together-lump. We broke the lump of stale O’s in half and proceeded to eat our lumps in the same manner that you’d crunch an apple. It’s at this point that we started to giggle. 

Our Uber pulled up outside and both of us entered the ghetto in our luminous Lycra running gear. In a place where I wanted to draw as little attention to myself as possible, the classic running gear outfit wasn’t ideal to say the least. Our Uber driver was a big Rastafarian dude with a car that was barely an inch from the ground, who sat as far back as the car seat would allow. To save money, we’d chosen to take an Uber Pull. For those unfamiliar with Uber, this is where you share your ride with a stranger who is headed in a similar direction to you. Our fellow rider in question looked like he fitted into the area rather well. Muss being from the north of England got in the car with a resounding ‘Hiya guys, y’alright?!”, to which he received no reply. Silence, for the rest of the journey. 

The race itself was along the bank of the Hudson river, starting at the American Veterans Memorial pier, going along the bank of the river, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, looping round and then repeating again to end back at the pier. As we walked over to registration we were greeted with this incredible view of Manhattan. My jet-lagged, sleep deprived, under-nourished state was suddenly forgotten and my mind was filled with magic; that iconic concrete jungle view. I think it was at this moment that my obsession with the city started. 

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Pre-race adrenaline started to kick in and the race organiser, behind the registration desk, mentioned something about us being the British guys and that he was stoked that there some international runners in his race. 

As we were doing all out pre-race warm ups, I noticed that this race wasn’t particularly busy. A standard race usually has about 1000 runners, the bigger city races going well into the thousands. It was about 10 minutes until start time and I could only see about 100 runners with numbers on. It also occurred to me that nobody looked that good. When I say that, I’m not being rude, its just that typically you go to a race and you can tell who will be a top 5 finisher just by looking at them; distance running definitely comes with a distinct look. 

The other thing to mention is the fact that the start line only had one toilet. Anyone who has participated in a running race will know what a pre-race toilet experience is like, and despite the lower numbers, one toilet made for a well-used port-a-loo. (I hope he doesn’t mind me telling this part) Muss was last in the queue for the toilet. As he entered it, the organiser called everyone to the start line. The countdown started and I shot a look back towards the port-a-loo, in which Muss was still doing his business. 3, 2, 1… As the air horn blew, the toilet door shot open and a striding Muss ran forth in a haste of panic. We both started giggling again. 

I didn’t have a time in mind, I wasn’t bothered about a PB or anything, our race lead up had been less than ideal – for me, this race was for pure enjoyment and to receive my first race medal from the USA. However, I found myself immediately in the lead. There have been several races in my lifetime where I’ve finished towards the front, I’d actually managed a 5th place in the Kingston 16 mile the week before this very race but I don’t really consider myself a podium finisher. I decided I’d proceed to run at a comfortable but race-worthy pace and see what happened. A quick glance back, just to make sure I wasn’t making a silly mistake and that a false start had been called or something, only to find I was already somewhat ahead of the rabble – the person nearest me – Muss. He called out in his grimsby twang, “Mate! I think you might win this!”. 

What the f*ck was going on? Here I am, in New York, because I play in a band, running a half marathon and I’m currently in first place. Okay, don’t get cocky, just ride it out. Around 90 minutes until it’s over, so I decided to take the mindset of just enjoying myself, keep my stride and taking in the sights. As I turned a bend along the river, a spectacular view of Lady Liberty caught my periphery and again, I was consumed by that magic fairytale feeling. New York baby. 

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I turned the first 4 mile corner, which lead back up to the pier to then loop back around again. This meant the other runners were coming the opposite way to me, so I was able to see how far in front I was. I ran for a good 3-4 minutes and there was nobody. I started to wonder whether everything was alright again? I checked my watch and I’d completed the distance, it was a very straight forward route so there was no way I’d made a wrong turn. 3 runners then came striding past, one of them being Muss. Oh man, I got a bit excited, I was about a mile ahead – a good place to be but it was still relatively early in the race and one of the guys might have a fast finish in his legs so I decided to stay grounded and enjoy myself, but I did like the idea that I was most likely going to be in the top 3. 

The race continued and I was as high as a kite on endorphins. I was jet lagged, I’d had hardly any sleep, it hadn’t exactly been a restful week leading up to the trip, but I was consumed by the moment. This is what living life feels like. I could tell this was going to be a significant life moment, a story I’ll tell for the rest of my life. 

In half marathon running, its usually about the 10th/11th mile that you know you’ve got the race in the bag. If you’re routing for a PB and you’re nailing your splits at this point in the race, it’s typical that you achieve it because you can sense the finish is near. 11th mile passed, I glanced around – no sign of anyone. 12th mile passed, again I can’t see anybody running who is close by. Then, there on the pier, the race finish – with a ribbon across it and everything. 

First place. I ran across the line, took the ribbon, shook the race organiser’s hand. He even asked if I was a professional athlete! “You were out so far ahead, you gotta be a pro or something?!” My first ever US race and my first ever 1st place finish, and what a time for it to happen. One of those moments where you can’t describe the feeling. The following 3 runners came in about 7 minutes later, Muss taking 4th place – not bad at all. 

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The post-race goodies were provided by the Brooklyn Bagel Company, they had a giant table full of all different types of bagels and spreads. Muss and me looked at each other, trying to take in everything that had happened in the last 48 hours. It suddenly dawned on me that all we’d had to eat in the last 24 hour period was a lump of stale Cherrios. We proceeded to chow down in our ravenous post-race state, I think we must have eaten at least 4 bagels each, full of PB&J, of course.

One of the fellow competitors shook my hand and congratulated me by saying “thanks for kicking our asses, man!”. All the formalities happened: we had to take a top 3 finishers photo on the podium that had been set up on the pier. Muss and me, went into fits of laughter, full of disbelief as to what had just happened. USA tour, day 2. The rest of those two weeks have some equally profound moments but winning that race definitely put a cherry on top the cake. 

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One of my top 3 life moments to date. A lengthy post today but I guess that rest day energy has manifested itself into words. Thanks for reading this and let me know if you want any other stories – I have a few that are good. 

Peace & love.
BG

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