Warning! Long post alert!
Well, running is "other sport..."
On Wednesday, I went to the Silverstone circuit to run a 10 km (2 laps) race around it. It was a great outing.
My journey to the track involved two coaches and a bus. The coach journeys were unremarkable, but people on the #88 Northampton-Silverstone bus tend to be a bit more aware of motorsport matters. I had a bit of a chat with one passenger about Baku before they got off at Towcester, then I double-checked with another passenger which side of Silverstone the track was on (I'd temporarily forgotten because my sense of direction is bad). She said she lived in Silverstone... ...and then spotted my outfit.
At this point, I was wearing a (red) Special Olympics hat, bright yellow sunglasses, a big blue rucksack and a Monaco 2014 T-shirt with Jules Bianchi's (red) Marussia and Kamui Kobayashi's (green) Caterham on it. What did this particular passenger ask? "Are you a Ferrari fan?"
The explanation that I was a Force India fan was a bit awkward as the driver wanted to know if I was getting off the bus or not. Though I had a bit of a delayed painful moment as I was walking to the other end of the village five minutes later. In a fairer universe, Jules would in fact be in a Ferrari and the question would have made perfect sense without appealing to motorsport ignorance...
I had just got off the bus when I heard the passenger exclaim "Oh no - I live in Silverstone and I don't know where the track is!" To put this into perspective, Silverstone village is only a mile long, and apart from the track, its only landmarks are a few small hotels that mostly only get custom at the weekends, the local church, a butcher, a primary school, a pub and a shop. There are brown signs in several parts of the village pointing out which direction the track is in. Many, many things are track-related, and let's face it, most weekends you only need to point in the direction of the noise to locate the circuit. This may be the only adult in Silverstone who cannot locate the track. Trust me to ask that adult for directions!
Fortunately, the bypass has a really gentle slope, so I still felt good when I reached my hotel. The two-room suite (which I'd booked because it was cheaper than trying to get to the nearest town at 9:30 pm and then renting a room) was beautiful. I was in a two-room wooden cabin with big windows overlooking a garden. There was a huge double bed, a good-sized bathroom and a little self-catering area so I could cook food. Silverstone has only one shop, and it's small and shuts at 6:30 pm midweek, so this was very helpful for things like making porridge to eat after the race. (It's called Homeside B&B, but don't bother trying to book it for this year's British GP, Classic, WEC or MotoGP; they're already full on all 4 weekends...)
After spending an hour relaxing, covering myself with suncream, changing into a technical racing T-shirt, dampening my Bianchi/Kobayashi T-shirt and putting that over it to keep cool and then putting a Force India T-shirt over this (to keep off the wind), I set off. Opposite the track is the Force India factory. I'd brought them a parcel (with some Pink Panther wafers, a raspberry cake roll, some fruit-flavoured chewy sweets, biscuits and a little card with drawings of their Baku podium) for them and called ahead to drop it at reception. The team staff looked so happy to receive it
I signed Force India's sign-in sheet, the receptionist took my photo in front of last year's F1 car, and said she remembered me from last time I sent them a parcel.
To explain: I have sent a few parcels to Force India over the last few years. During the winter, I saw some Pink Panther wafers and thought of them (they've adopted "Pink Panthers" as a nickname after some fans on Twitter kept calling them that). They got about 10 packs of wafers, which apparently took about a fortnight for the factory staff to eat - and were appreciated during the car building "season". The receptionist and I discussed Baku (obviously!), the upcoming need for a bigger trophy cabinet, figuring out how many signing cards need to be kept back from each pre-signing for factory visitors (I got given a pair) and how shift patterns work at Force India (I happened to get there just as the main "day shift" was leaving - we exchanged greetings with quite a few, and none seemed surprised to have a visitor in their midst). That little detour took about 15 minutes, it made my day and the receptionist said it made hers. It was absolutely amazing...
(Side note: they have a lot of Auto Hebdos on reception. You'd think these were for Esteban Ocon's benefit, but I recognised one of them as being from mid-2015...)
Despite all that, I got to the track in plenty of time for the race (the track opens to runners at 5:30 pm but the pit lane only closes at 7:15 pm). I picked up my race number (#740), ate a chocolate banana slice from the local running club's tuck shop to give me energy, then went to the pit gantry area.
I like to talk with other people before races and there were plenty here; children who were volunteering for the "Bend of Noise" (a "band" of percussionists and noisemakers who cheer on the runners from Becketts and also help with the water station), teenagers getting training instructions before going to marshalling stations, experienced runners comparing notes on PBs (personal bests) and recent races, rookies nervous about their first time. I was particularly keen to talk to the latter because I remember being that nervous rookie (Silverstone 2016 had been my first "serious" race after a bunch of semi-formal 5 km races and a 6-mile Comic Relief race in my hometown). Several of them were reassured that they were not likely to be last in any race that featured me in it!
At 7:05, I moved onto the grid. There were 1666 people running in the race, so there were a lot of people on the grid. I continued to talk with people, but was just looking for my likely starting space when I overheard someone behind me say "Force India..."
I turned and said excitedly, "Ooh, Force India?"
The looks were priceless. Whatever had been said was probably not a compliment! The runner that had been listening said, "Umm... ...err... ...I like Force India, actually..."
We did have a good chat about recent F1 races and how it was good that some of the smaller teams were getting decent results.
There were some runners in brightly-coloured T-shirts with balloons attached to them; these were the pace runners, new for this year. I placed myself just ahead of the last one (the 90-minute pace) and sat down at the edge of the track to keep my legs rested. (I'd walked nearly a mile to get to the track from my hotel, that seemed warm-up enough.) I got comfortable...
...And missed the starting hooter.
Only when the wave of people ahead of me started to move did I notice, and get up off the tarmac. I was a minute late crossing the start/finish line, but caught up with the last few runners at that point. At least nobody attempted to do push-ups in front of me this race...
The race is run on the 1990s version of the Silverstone track layout, so we started by the old garages, on what is known as the "National" grid. If you're like me, you spend about 3 minutes lightly running in a completely straight line before running out of puff just before Copse. There is another straight before the Bend of Noise (er, Becketts), and every other corner is preceded by a straight. The only sharp corners are at the Abbey chicane, about 3/4 of the way through the lap. I enjoyed making silly "Nneyown" noises as I skirted as close to the apexes as I dared. Racing lines are generally encouraged as they are faster, but there is a rule that slower runners make way for faster runners lapping them, and everyone makes way for wheelchair racers (there's a wheelchair race that starts 5 minutes before the main start; it's exciting to watch, but racing wheelchairs can easily flatten an inattentive pedestrian). Also, for anyone wondering; one foot outside the white line is allowed but kerbs cannot be touched (so, the same rules as for national-level British racing).
I was walking for perhaps 75% of the race, though that is still an improvement on my usual performance. I think I also had good reasons to slow down some of the time - I high-fived the children who supported us at Becketts corner on both laps, spent some time encouraging other runners to keep going (which meant I had to keep going at their pace for a while) and stopped to help someone competing in a mobility scooter with an assistance dog (this is the only event all year that dogs are allowed in the Silverstone venue, because it's not safe for dogs to be near racing cars - and equality rules mean that assistance dogs are allowed entry into this race if entering in advance). The scooter athlete was in the wheelchair race, but everyone else was using a speedy racing wheelchair, and her mobility scooter was limited to a top speed of 4 mph (it was exactly the same sort as old people often use to get around their house), so she was having problems keeping up even before her dog decided to "go to the toilet" on the track surface. She was so tired out from running her scooter for 8 kilometres that she could not reach the bags she'd brought with her for cleaning up after the dog, so I got one for her (she said she could clear up the mess herself, and there were marshals around, so she'd have had help if need be). I'd rather get a slower time and be helpful than gain a couple of minutes by being inconsiderate. Maybe if I was at the sharp end of the field, I'd think differently, but I'm not!
Towards the end of the first lap, I was getting a bit jittery. There is a hard 45-minute maximum limit on the first lap, because the sunset was at 8:42 pm (light level after that is weather-dependent, but insurance doesn't cover anything after 9 pm; I learned that after they bent the rules to let me finish the 2016 event), and running a race in the dark without headlights is a bad idea. So anyone taking more than 45 minutes to reach the redirection point near the end of lap 1 would be barred from attempting lap 2, and settle for only doing 5 km, getting a malt loaf bar, a DNF - and no medal. This would have happened to me last year, had I not concluded for myself that a coughing fit at kilometre 3, plus a mouthful of coughed-up gunk, was not compatible with doing a second lap at any speed and thus withdrawn myself.
I wasn't sure of my time in 2018 at this point, having forgotten my racing watch, but knew it must be fairly close to the limit. Then I found a runner who was clearly struggling. I matched pace with her and found out she was attempting the 10 km with injuries to both knees. This was surprising to me, but not wishing to discourage her, I walked with her. There was a timing board at pit entry and it said...
Phew! I reassured my fellow runner that they couldn't pull her off the track if she kept up her current pace (since the redirection point is at pit entry) and she would get her 2nd lap. I crossed the 5 km mark at 44:17, gladly drunk two cups of water, passed the cups to a marshal who was cleaning up the 300 or so cups dumped at the side of the track (philistines! This is why I have a miniature racing bag... ...that I suddenly hoped Force India hadn't spotted because it is a Ferrari donkey design...) and carried on, leaving the much-happier injured runner to do the next 5 km at her own pace.
I finished the race in 1656th place (8 people did not finish the race or were disqualified - one, I think, for using earphones), 89 minutes and 12 seconds, which was 9 minutes faster than my previous-best time at Silverstone. 16 seconds behind me was the runner I'd been running with for the last 1500 m (and for the last bit of the , who'd injured their knee a few weeks earlier and wasn't sure they'd be able to finish. Then came the 90-minute pacer who had been my target (and claimed he couldn't see me after the first kilometre), and a couple of minutes after that, the mobility scooter user and her dog. A few of us applauded them all in, and then we joined the others for the prizegiving.
I got a really nice medal for finishing, and there were extra medals for the fastest overall runners, the best local runners and for people running to support nearby schools. Afterwards, I walked a mile back to the hotel - a really peaceful journey because the pavements are empty and there was virtually no traffic. (There was still enough light that I could see around me, and not really anywhere that anyone nefarious could hide).
Next day, I had a great breakfast, followed by a bus and two coaches back home (stopping to pick up an Autosport and some snacks in Silverstone village - the Ascension Day church service was audible from the shop...) The bus included two F1 fans (one current, one lapsed) and we talked about everything from Monaco to Michael Schumacher (the lapsed fan had a great story about how Michael once went to a NASCAR race and insisted that he be treated as a regular fan and not a VIP).
This is my third time doing the Silverstone 10 km, and I enjoy going back for several reasons:
1) When else am I going to get this close to a racing circuit? (As in, "I sat on it" close)
2) The organisers are friendly and encouraging, as are the spectators (enough to fill at least half of the lane gantry zone, the "Bend of Noise").
3) It's difficult for me to get lost, and the marshals are reliable if there are problems
4) There are F1 race team members participating (not as many this year as usual thanks to many of them being in a big race in Milton Keynes on Monday, but I saw Andrew McLaren from Force India there, and a couple of people from Red Bull's factory). And none of them lapped me this year...
5) The medal at the end is nice and substantial.