Keith Rooney reflects on Saturday’s cross-country affair.
Rooney, you’re a right nutter!” The words exploded in my left ear, jerking me out of my painful introspection and kicking me right back into the raw, unrelenting meat grinder that is the Sherman Cup. And I was, all at once, suddenly aware, also, of the jumbo sized shadow looming over my left shoulder. “You know, you’re a nutter, Rooney……But, we’re all nutters, really….”
What? Who?! Befuddled and somewhat at a loss as how to respond in the presence of this omniscient giant, who had been so unkind as to blot out my sun, I strained my neck to catch a glimpse, maybe I could identify the chin…….Ah, but of course, it could only be the larger than life Magnus Mcgillvery. You know, I always feel like one of Gulliver’s Lilliputians in the presence of this chap. I mean, I’m tall but he’s gigantuan and not gangly or rangy like a Kenny Mac or as bony as a haddock like a John Goldsborough, but, well, whacking, whopping, all bulges and awkward curves. Hardly the stuff of athletes, I pondered ruefully, as he surged ahead, dragging a gaggle of runners behind him in his sizeable slipstream around that infernal footie pitch. I mean, the guy’s got a beer belly and can run 5k in nigh on 17 mins! How’s that possible?
“C’mon Loon, chop, chop!” His voice resounded once more in my eardrum. But it was no good, I couldn’t manage much against that pitiless westerly, which seem to whither all in its path – except Magnus, of course; his words fading to an indescipherable clang as he loped out of view.
But that incongrous encounter go me thinking: it’s true, of course, athletes come in all shapes and sizes.
“Stick with it Rooney…..” Once again cogent words cutting through my reverie, I had company. I recognised at once, however,, this time, the characteristically thick mop of raven hair and had to concede: Steady Eddy [Wong] had reeled me in once more. It was on the second lap, I think, on the gentle downhill to that mud choked brook. I hated the sharp bank afterwards. It was too dry for mud claw,so I’d opted for trails and yet seemed to slither and skitter about on the smooth grass like a puppet on broken strings, whilst Edwin forged ahead. He took that hill in his stride, bustling on like some busy little locomotive, not too fast, not too slow, metronomic to the last.
Yes, they do come in all shapes and sizes, don’t they, I mused disconsolately: me with my long shanks left floundering as Edwin scampered ahead, determined to round the day off with an oriental flourish. But, then, he is young, I know he’s a vet, but 35, I mean, I’ve got, well, more than 10 years on him. Ah, that’s it: he’s young and I’m, well, past the point of no return.
I was just consoling myself with such comforting reflections, when the ensemble of runners hit the tarmac. Now, here was where the trails would have the edge, and I was momentarily surrounded by a cacophony of scraping and scratching, noting with some satisfaction the assemblage scattering to the grass fringes – fell runners and spikes no good here! There was a good 200 yards of splendidly hard surface ahead, and I cleaved as direct a path as possible. To judge by the racket from behind, however, there was at least one combatant, who wasn’t in the least put off by a bit of tarmac – spikes or no. Racket! Bloody hell, he was making a hell of a din. Christ, he must have an elephantine step…….Oh wait, was I just pondering the degradations of age? Age, what’s that? Nothing where this guy’s concerned. He caught me up, relishing the moment as he swept past, revelling in the sheer pleasure of running at the top of his game, when others of his vintage are reaching for the pipe and slippers.
We’ve had many a head to head now, Mr Young and myself and I’ve learnt, just when you think you’ve got him beat, up he pops and gives you a sharp kick in the backside to teach you better. Today was one of those days. The wiley old fox certainly had the bit between his teeth. I should’ve pulled ahead, what with me in my trails and he in his spikes, but he’s a grafter and NEVER folds. As we skimmed onto the grass again, he’d opened a lead, and so it remained.
So, just what does it take to make a good athlete? I was wrestling with the question even before my final, thankful lurch over the line. 3 very different individuals: one tall, one small, and one seemingly ever green; yet all in their own right accomplished athletes, all animated by that same indomitable spirit to progress, to challenge and grow beyond the confines of that which they are. Perhaps that’s it, that spark of aspiration, without which, we wouldn’t set out on a wind-scoured autumn day, leaving behind the comforts of home, to submit ourselves to the rigours and rivalries of a hard fought xc dual.