Our Mercurial Member of the Year, Keith Rooney, dives straight into the muddy stuff at this year’s North Eastern X-Country Championships and his ‘feud’ with Group 3 leader Mal Gibson. But will the pupil overcome the master, at last?
Like black, gaunt fingers sticking into the moody sky, the trees marched along the skyline, and beneath toiled the runners, a miscellaneous mishmash of scurrying forms, leaving behind a dirty brown scar running over the otherwise unblemished and verdant grass. Yes, it was cutting up alright. The steward had warned me of this earlier, when I had strolled around the route. Trails or mud claw? Just what was it to be? As I heaved myself up the abrupt but slimy incline and felt the reassuring grip of the rubber fangs, I knew I made the right decision – with a little help from Mr Nemeth’s masking tape, of course.
It was a hard day. Not unduly cold, though we TBH-ers waiting for the start had preferred to remain huddled together in the tent until the final call to arms just before the off. A bitter wind screamed in from the west, ripping and scouring the tents, turning them into a seething, boiling, writhing mass of fabric and cord.
Ah! The wind, that great leveller: merciless to friend and foe alike, mocking all with equal contempt – I felt the full impact of that mockery this day. Running against the wind’s like being hit by a brick; it leaves you battered and bruised, and I must confess, I was fair torn to shreds when I crossed the line.
I knew something was afoot, of course. There had been hints, innuendo and whispers enough. But, here I was looking down upon the 150 or so assembled, upturned faces, expectation hanging heavy in the air. captain Hilton having made it plain, I couldn’t vacate the stage, until I said at least SOMETHING. A sideways glance at Kenny, produced a peculiar spasm of inspiration something along the lines of Bilbo’s birthday party speech in The Lord Of The Rings, something like: “I don’t know half of you half as well I should, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve…” The OldBoy would appreciate that.
Fortunately the thought was quickly banished, only for another equally bothersome one to pop up: how about the “feud”? Oh yes, that notorious rivalry between myself and Mal. Apparently the expectations around this long awaited clash between “master” and “pupil” had reached fever-pitch proportions and Facebook was rife with gossip: just who would prevail? Had the moment come when the pupil must step out of his instructor’s shadow?
I have to confess, I’d grown tired of hearing about it. Though, I must equally confess, it certainly informed my tactical approach to the race. I’d gone off fast, thankful to leave Mal behind in a muddy melee of runners; so fast Stevie Barker even found time to reproach me as he finally caught me up on that second lap. “Too fast Rooney!” he balled at me, scorning my lack of tactical judgement.
He was right of course, I couldn’t maintain 6.30 pace, not in those raw conditions and I soon became depressingly aware of the number of runners beginning to hustle past. I think, it was a third of the way through the final lap, just approaching the boggy drop down to the mud clogged stream frowned over by that unforgiving hillock, that I heard the trademark spluttering and snorting behind me and conceded the “master” had reeled in his upstart pupil. It was all good-natured stuff, of course: a clap on the back, a word of encouragement in passing.
Of that final mile, the least said the better, save to say I managed to keep him in site and finished half a minute behind. But, no, the “feud”, wasn’t appropriate material either for an Xmas party speech in recognition for being member of the year. I really came out with the only thing I could have, the only honest thing to say: without the rigour and rivalry of group 3, I couldn’t have gained this award; without the developing competition between myself and certain other members of the group, especially Mal, I could never have improved to the point, where I was considered a feasible candidate. To that extent, I was honest, as I said, being awarded Member of the Year is as much about group 3 as about me. So, here’s to a marvelous running year, and may next year be as equally profitable…
The game goes on.