Athletics: Day I discovered De Coubertin was wrong

EVEN BEFORE I lined up, I realised I had made a bad mistake. The Watford and District schools athletics meeting had attracted a large number of attractive girls to the Woodside Stadium, and as they chattered in the main stand or glanced towards the track on which I stood, I thought to myself how interesting girls from schools other than your own always were.

Some of them looked just like girls in your own school, but you knew that if you went up and talked to them, these creatures in different coloured uniform, or at least got talking to someone who knew them, and got to speak to them that way, they would be different and more interesting. At least, you thought you knew. And it was always interesting to find out.

But there was no chance of finding anything out about the assembled females at this time. And there would not be a chance, because I knew with a sick feeling that by the end of the first proper track race I had ever contested I was going to slink away as a loser.

From where I stood, or rather loitered, there were three insuperable problems. And they were all my opponents.

Two of them were wearing the full running kit and spikes. Spikes! For God's sake...

One of the well-kitted out pair, I gathered, was a county champion. Both were already running up and down the track in little bursts, apparently unworried about the possibility of getting puffed out before the race started.

Even though I knew it would not do me much good, I decided there was no way I was wasting my energy like that. Besides, I hadn't got the nerve to do it anyway. I didn't want to raise any false expectations.

The competitor who completed the line-up - four runners! Where were the duffers when I needed them? - was my friend, Kidder. He wasn't really called Kidder, but he called me Kidder and I called him Kidder. It was The Return of the Likely Lads that made us do it.

Kidder was one of those people who applied himself to goals and achieved them. That's him Kidder, not me Kidder. He approached running with the same determination as he did Latin verbs or chemical equations. And I knew that in preparation for this race, for the previous month at least, he had been paced around the country lanes near his house by our mutual friend Pete, who was equipped with a bike and a stopwatch.

So Kidder was definitely going to beat me. And the two characters in the fancy kit were going to beat him. There was nowhere to run - except, of course, around this strange, bouncy track. For 3,000 metres.

As the race took shape - over the first 100 metres or so - I decided the only thing to do was to adopt the stoic attitude. This was something I had got into without thinking - "What about you, Rowbottom? You like athletics, don't you?" "Yes sir." "Right then. We'll put you down as well." - and now I had to accept my lot.

After a couple of laps I began to pick up some sympathetic applause when it became clear that my lagging 50 or so metres behind the leading pair was not a tactical ploy. By the halfway mark I had come to value my adidas Rom trainers, because, I believed, they announced to the watching nubiles: "I am not a serious runner. I am just here for a laugh." The difficulty here was that, as Kidder disappeared, I wasn't laughing. I had never knowingly run 3,000 metres before, and the experience was not pleasant.

The key, I decided, was to focus on the words of my old games master, Mr Chester-Hall. With his crinkly ginger hair, bowed legs and gaunt cheeks, Chiggy Hall - as we wittily called him - would accompany us on Wednesday morning runs through the suburban highways and byeways of Croxley Green. Before we set off, our leader - who was, as it happened, unable to pronounce the letter R - would seek to modify our behaviour with a standard message.

"Wemember," he would say, "this is a cwoss-countwy...wun, and NOT a cwoss- countwy...wace." I think what Chiggy Hall was trying to say was that the important thing was to enjoy the experience of running, of exercising, rather than trying to beat your neighbour. It was a homespun version of de Coubertin's timeless advice - that it is the taking part, and not the winning, that counts.

And, do you know, he was absolutely wrong. I crossed the line at Woodside Stadium a distant last - exhausted, humiliated. I went home and decided to concentrate on football for the rest of my life.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Liverpool - up to £28,000

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: This is a large multi-site operation...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a lead...

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - £32,000 OTE

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss