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Run Fatboy Run

Last Sunday, I (stupidly) took part in the annual ‘Sandbach 10k’, despite the fact that, not only had I never run a 10k race before, but I had never run 10k before.

When I first signed up for the event a few months ago (following a nudge from my darling wife), the furthest I had managed to run was around three miles. Nevertheless, in a moment of bold impetuousness one morning, I suddenly found myself forking out £16, for the privilege of attempting to run more than twice that distance (10k = 6.2 miles), without embarrassing myself.

So, over the last few months, I have tried to run at least twice a week, gradually increasing my distance on each occasion, whilst honing my physical fitness (from ‘very out of shape’ to ‘mildly out of shape’).

I’d love to paint the picture of a Rocky-esque montage, culminating in me running up some steps and celebrating at the top, but the truth is I spluttered my way through four miles, then four-and-a-half, and finally five miles, before eventually running out of time (excuse the pun).

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Still, I kept telling myself that it was ‘only another mile’, and I slowly began to believe that I could at least complete the distance – the problem was, I had no idea whether I would also achieve a respectable time.

I therefore decided to grade my expectations of the race, by creating a list of possible outcomes – ranging from most pleasing, to most disappointing (whilst all remaining realistic, since there was no point expecting to finish anywhere near the front):

Level Outcome Satisfaction
1 Run it all – under 45 minutes Ecstatic
2 Run it all – under 50 minutes Delighted
3 Run it all – under 55 minutes Pleased
4 Run it all – under an hour Relieved
5 Run it all – over an hour Acceptable
6 Have to stop and walk for a bit Disappointed
7 Get a stitch, walk majority Gutted
8 Fail to finish Devastated
9 Fail to finish and require paramedic Embarrassed
10 Develop stomach cramps, have to ‘Paula Radcliffe’ it by the side of the road, end up stretchered past crowds, crying, covered in own shit Mortified

Before I knew it, race day had arrived.

Feeling incredibly sick with nerves, I collected my running number, delicately attached it to my top (the last thing I needed at this stage, was to reveal my 10k virginity by lancing my nipple with a safety pin), then joined the other three hundred runners at the start.

I decided that, if I (optimistically) wanted to finish in the top one hundred, I should place myself about a third of the way back in the crowd, and then make sure I stayed in roughly the same position throughout the race.

However, as I stood there, two lithe gentlemen to my right began discussing their own personal targets, and when one said he was hoping to finish under forty minutes, and in the top twenty, I realised I was out of my depth. So, whistling under my breath, I took several steps backwards through the crowd, until I overheard a couple of middle-aged ladies discussing how they hoped they wouldn’t throw up. Ah, these were more my people.

When the race started (somewhat haphazardly, because the Mayor couldn’t get the sodding airhorn to work), I set off at what I hoped was a decent pace. After all, I didn’t want to be immediately left behind, but I also didn’t want to exhaust myself, by trying to keep up with the leaders.

Thankfully, the organisers had marked each kilometre with a bright orange sign, so when I got to the ‘1km’ post, I quickly checked my trusty Casio (look, it’s a classic, and a steal at £7) – it was showing a little over four minutes. Shit. I mean, I was pleased with that time, but I was aiming to do each kilometre in around five minutes, and felt pretty certain I couldn’t keep that sort of pace going for another nine kilometres.

Sure enough, by the time I reached 2km, my legs were already hurting, and I was breathing hard. I had fully prepared myself to ‘hit a wall’ at some point (metaphorically speaking), but didn’t expect it to be so pathetically soon. I’d screwed up, and was worried I would have to drop out before I’d even reached half-way.

I slowed down, got my breathing under control, and told myself it was just the initial nerves which were causing me to struggle. Then, shortly before the 3km marker, I was faced with this railway bridge:

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It doesn’t look much now, but when I was already struggling to comprehend running more than three times the distance that had damn-near killed me so far, it looked like bloody Kilimanjaro.

Sure enough, once I had completed it, my breathing was again laboured, and I had to persuade myself to just focus on the music I was listening to, and take it one marker at a time.

When I passed ‘4km’ in around 19 minutes, then ‘5km’ – or half way – in 24 minutes, I started to wonder whether I could possibly keep that pace going after all, particularly since I was beginning to feel slightly better and, at that rate, I could still finish in under 50 minutes. Plus, the route had just taken a long turn to the right, so I knew I was on my way back, and this was a huge psychological boost.

My next challenge (although I felt sure none of my fellow runners would see it as such), was the ‘water stop’ shortly before 6km.

As I approached, I could see a number of volunteers handing out plastic cups, but couldn’t decide whether to take one. I didn’t want to be carrying an empty cup for the remainder of the race, but equally hate littering. More importantly, I wasn’t sure that having water sloshing around inside my already turbulent gut was the best move.

Nevertheless, I was extremely dry-mouthed, so I decided to risk it. After all, what was the worst that could happen?

I therefore approached the volunteer who was also a paramedic (I figured there was no harm in acquainting myself with the medical team now, to save time-consuming introductions later), and went to grab the cup she was holding out.

Unfortunately, I must have grabbed a little too hard (through fear of dropping it), because, well, I crushed it – and soaked her. I tried to apologise as I ran away, and think I heard her shout that she was fine, but I still felt bad. I made a mental note to try and collapse in front of a different paramedic later on.

In the build-up to the race, I had gathered as much advice as I could, and one tip which had stuck with me throughout, was that it can often help to focus on something, to take your mind off the pain.

I don’t think the lady with the nice bottom, who overtook me between 6k and 7k, will perhaps ever know how inspiring (and timely) her derrière was, but by focusing all my attention on its glorious pertness, I managed to struggle my way past the 7k and 8k markers, and by that point I felt confident of at least finishing.

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Bottom watching

In fact, when I reached the 9k milestone, and a cursory glance at my watch informed me that I was still – just about – on course for a sub-50 finish, I suddenly became all (uncharacteristically) confident.

No sooner had I thought this, however, it dawned on me that I still had to go back over the massive bloody railway bridge from earlier (the route having looped around Bradwall, to finish almost back where we started). If I thought the bridge had been daunting from the other direction, now it was positively terrifying:

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Look, it seemed steeper at the time.

All I could think of, as I approached it with my gangly legs of sponge, was the ‘Travelator’ from popular ’90’s show Gladiators, and I just prayed that I wouldn’t face-plant mid-climb, then slide my way back down – as so many contestants had done. When I had compiled my ten-stage list, I had never factored ‘facial road rash’ as a potential hazard. Damn.

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Thankfully, there were some marshals stationed on the bridge, offering words of encouragement, and once I had plodded over the crest, I knew it was a straight run to the finish line – where my family were hopefully waiting to greet me. I didn’t dare risk another glance at my watch, so I just gathered together what little energy I had left, and went for it.

Then, continuing my delirious ‘90s flashback, I started thinking of the film Memphis Belle, and that final scene where John Lithgow (and some other actors I don’t remember), are waiting for the heroes to return, but the longer that time passes with no sign of the plane, the more their hopes dwindle. Would my wife and boys be at the finish line, with binoculars, wondering if I had enough fuel to get me home, slowly accepting with each passing second, that Daddy might never return?

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Then, there I was. There it was. The gloriously camp inflatable finish line (sadly, not the only squidgy yellow monstrosity on display that day), and a crowd of people cheering me home. I couldn’t make out any of my family, but to be honest I was too busy concentrating on not tripping up and making a complete tit of myself in front of a few hundred people.

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I am delighted to confirm (for those who don’t already know), that I finished the race in 81st place, and with a time of 49:16, which puts me very firmly in the ‘Delighted’ category.

I wearily – but gratefully – collected my medal and goodie bag (which bizarrely included a drinks bottle, bandana, and a loaf of bread – no, me neither) and posed for a celebratory photograph with my beaming boys.

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I know many ‘serious’ runners may well scoff at my achievement, and perhaps rightly so, but I am incredibly proud of completing a 10k without any major incident, and in a respectable time to boot. It was exhausting, painful, gruelling, horrible, and I hated every damn second of it.

Which makes it all the more confusing/frustrating, that I quite fancy doing it again.

 

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Blogman’s Holiday

Welcome to ‘Blogman’s Holiday’, a new series of travel guides from around the world.

In this first edition, renowned travel writer, Sandbach Hatter, hopes to persuade you to consider The Democratic Republic of Sandbach for your next holiday destination, by giving you a flavour of what you can expect if you visit his home nation….

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This is Sandbach. With a population of just under 18,000, it is far smaller than some of its neighbouring countries, but is home to a diverse population, and holds many wonderful sights and experiences for the adventurous traveller.

I first moved to Sandbach in 2007, when my wife secured work at one of its schools, teaching English as a foreign language, and we have no intention of leaving. It is an excellent country in which to raise a family, and once you have grown used to some of its more unusual customs and characters, you are sure to fall in love with it, as we once did on our first visit many years ago.

Location

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Sandbach is a small, landlocked nation, within the Continent of Cheshire. As you can see from the map, it looks a little like a lady’s head on a stamp.

Sandwiched between four other nations – Middlewich to the north, Congleton to the east, Stoke to the south and Crewe to the west – Sandbach is a more popular tourist destination than its neighbours, partly due to the fact two of them – Crewe and Stoke – are currently being torn apart by civil war. Stoke, in particular, is famous for the hotly-disputed ‘Burslem Strait’, which has been largely decimated over the past decade, as a result of constant shelling and landmines.

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Burslem – August 2016

The apprehensive traveller should rest easy, however, as the capital of Sandbach is a sufficiently safe distance from each of these nations, and can be accessed without having to travel through any of them. Congleton, in particular, offers safe passage into and out of the country, as the border controls between the two nations (known as ‘Checkpoint Arclid’) are far more relaxed than those of the other three.

Getting Here

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Sandbach has excellent transport links.

Whilst we don’t currently have an international airport, flights to Manchester, which is only around an hour north of Sandbach, or to Liverpool – which is a slightly longer journey to the west – are frequent and convenient. The journey from Liverpool does mean travelling on the infamous ‘Route 56’, however, which is strewn with potential hazards and can get very busy, so my recommendation would be to fly into Manchester, and then access Sandbach from there.

From Manchester, the easiest way of reaching Sandbach would be on one of the continent’s famous ‘trains’, and whilst you will need to have your passport ready for when you pass through Holmes Chapel, this is certainly the most favoured and direct way of getting here.

For the more adventurous traveller, it is possible to rent a car and enter Sandbach by road, but be warned: some satellite navigation systems will try to direct you through Stretford, a derelict wasteland to the south of Manchester, where gun crime is rife. Should you find yourself accidentally in Stretford, keep your car doors locked at all times, and watch out for the local militia – who can be easily identified by their red uniforms, with the ‘Chevrolet’ insignia emblazed across the chest.

These vigilantes, along with their rival gang (who wear light blue, but pose less of a threat, on account of the fact most of them only joined the gang in the last ten years, and they tend to gather in neighbouring Stockport anyway) are of low intelligence, and see all outsiders as either a threat or food. Avoid this area at all costs.

Once safely outside Manchester, Route 6 connects Manchester directly to Sandbach, but you will need to travel through the Knutsford Blockade, and along the famously treacherous ‘J19 to J17 stretch’. This notoriously straight piece of road has been the downfall of many a traveller, and traffic can often be brought to a standstill for no apparent reason, so you must have your wits about you.

Don’t let the comparatively difficult journey put you off, though – I’m sure you will agree that Sandbach is worth the trip!

Accommodation

I would recommend having accommodation booked well in advance of your arrival in Sandbach, because those expecting to check in to a hotel or guesthouse without prior arrangements are often left disappointed. Whilst we do boast the rather fine ‘Chimney House Hotel’, on the outskirts of the capital, sleeping arrangements within the centre of the country can be sparse.

Those on a budget may wish to consider ‘The Wheatsheaf’, which usually has availability (read into that what you will), but for a similar cost you could just as easily – and far more comfortably – purchase a tent and sleep in the open. You will certainly be guaranteed a better night’s rest (as, indeed, you will if you can locate an empty wheelie-bin or skip).

Food and Drink

Sandbach is renowned for its diverse cuisine, which ranges from popular Indian and Chinese restaurants, to the more traditional ‘pub grub’ fayre. The Old Hall, supposedly one of the most haunted buildings in the country, offers high-end dishes, and the Glasshouse is also popular with the locals.

If money is tight, Sandbach has recently acquired a Wetherspoons, which offers basic food for those who don’t mind sticky tables, and cutlery that looks like it has probably been licked by a tramp. Alternatively, if you’re really desperate, we also have a McDonalds.

Most eateries close well before midnight, but for those with a stronger stomach, you may be able to dine into the early hours at either ‘Flames’ or ‘The Hot Spot’, both of which cater for the highly-intoxicated. Why not sample one of our traditional ‘unidentified meat kebabs’ – just make sure the toilet in your accommodation is free for the next few days!

The national drink of Sandbach is beer, although we also enjoy our wines and spirits. Prosecco is becoming very popular with the female population of Sandbach, who can often be seen dancing in the streets, in various stages of undress, having sampled its delights.

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Shopping

Sandbach has three main exports – overpriced ladies fashion, charity shops, and electronic cigarettes – but for those who enjoy a bargain, there is a weekly market in the capital, and many of the shops offer a wide range of ‘tat’, sure to please any grandparents back home who may be anticipating a souvenir of your trip.

For those selecting a self-catering package, food shopping can either be done at Waitrose or, if you require food for more than a few days without necessitating a bank loan, Iceland affords a cheaper alternative so long as you don’t mind unusual – and not particularly pleasant – smells. The food is generally edible for a day or two, so long as it is placed into a freezer within fifteen minutes of leaving the store.

And, if you’re keen to send a postcard of Sandbach to your loved ones back home, if only to let them know you haven’t been kidnapped or taken hostage in Middlewich, the ladies who run the International Post Office can sometimes be persuaded to sell you a stamp. Recent statistics show that over 62% of the post left with them eventually reaches its destination – an achievement we’re especially proud of! Just be sure to keep your fingers well away from the partition when you pass your letter or postcard through, as they have been known on occasion to bite.

Day trips

Sandbach has many attractions to offer, and if you’re a fan of Saxon Crosses (who isn’t?!) we have two of the very finest specimens on the continent, right there within the capital.

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And, speaking of ancient erections, the capital also boasts a swimming baths, which is very popular with the retired members of the community.

Then, for fans of Star Wars, why not have a drink in the Swan & Chequers, where the locals like to dress as, and impersonate, characters from the Cantina scene? “You just watch yourself. We’re wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systems…. and Nantwich.”

But you don’t have to restrict yourself to Sandbach. Whilst not advisable, the more adventurous traveller may wish to consider a day trip to one of our neighbouring countries. Stoke is best avoided, due to the bitter civil war currently raging throughout the nation, but Crewe, whilst also in the midst of diplomatic unrest, is a marginally safer option. Twinned with Shitol in Serbia, Crewe is home to not only a rail museum, but also the largest Tescolian Bazaar on the continent, where astute shoppers can unearth various ‘value’ products – identifiable by their blue and white stripes – at a fraction of the cost of normal outlets.

However, if you truly wish to experience the finest that the content of Cheshire has to offer, you need to travel further afield, and my personal recommendation would be Alderley Edge, around 30-45 minutes from Sandbach, and therefore easily doable as a day trip. Popular with the rich and famous, Alderley Edge is home to the largest collection of land yachts in the northern hemisphere, and these can be found strewn – and seemingly abandoned – across pavements and walkways throughout the nation.

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Often captained by overly-tanned blonde females, the land yachts are generally moored between the hours of 8.45 – 9.15am, and 2.45 – 3.30pm, commonly referred to by the locals as ‘the school run’, so you need to time your visit to make sure you don’t miss them. Be warned though, they may not miss you, as they are notoriously difficult to navigate and dock safely!

The same can be said of the BMW land yacht, which is common on the continent, especially in Sandbach.

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Some may see this as an inconsiderate mooring, but before you jump to conclusions, please bear in mind that BMW land yachts are commonly owned by the disabled, hence the fact they can often be found parked in (or across) disabled bays throughout the nation. This is because the BMW affords the disabled driver a larger space between their legs when in the captain’s seat, to accommodate their larger-than-normal genitals. As a handy reminder, so you don’t offend any locals, just remember: BMW driver = massive penis.

I hope you have found this guide to Sandbach useful, and I assure you that if you do visit, you will find our humble little nation welcoming and surprising in equal measure.

Next week, Sandbach Hatter will be giving us his guide to Burnley, where he recently had the pleasure of staying with a newly-married brother and sister, and got to experience the many joys that this third-world country has to offer. Home to the famous ‘six finger province’, and the world’s oldest known community of bearded females, he even got to meet the newly-crowned ‘Miss Burnley 2016’ – this really is one you won’t want to miss!

8Miss Burnley 2016

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