Clare, or ‘fast Clare’ as she is properly known, is a runner. When I first met her I knew several women runners called Clare, but only this one was shockingly, race winningly fast. The other Clares ran at normal pace, but ‘Normal Clare’ or worse ‘ Slow Clare’ never seemed like much of an option, so it was Fast Clare who got stuck with the nickname.
Clare and I met on the internet but quickly became friends in real life. The Runners’ World website at the time hosted a large number of very lively forums – if you had an injury, needed training advice or wanted more information on a particular race, someone would know about it on Runners’ World. One of the forums, set up to discuss a local race, had become an informal chat room for West Walian runners and it was here that Clare came for information when she moved back home after a long sojourn abroad.
Some of the participants on that forum were very good runners but the internet is a great leveller – elite athletes, who in real life would start their races on a different part of the course and be in the shower before the rest of us had finished, socialised with us mortals on equal terms. As it turns out, elite athletes are just normal people with the same injuries, questions and doubts as everyone else. They also have to deal with the same dull questions from non-runners, some of which can be quite wearing after a time. People ask how long a particular marathon is (they are all 26.2 miles), if you aren’t cold ( try running yourself and you’ll quickly see how warm you get) and worst of all, why you bother. This is different for everyone and is often deeply personal – “because it’s the only way I can control my unbearable anxiety” would be a legitimate answer but not one which many people would like to share with strangers. “Because it means I can eat more pies” became the stock answer for everyone on our forum and we decided to legitimise this by holding a “Pie Fest” after local races. We would each bake or buy a pie of some kind and would assemble at one of our houses to share them. As Clare is a great cook, lives very near the start of one of our regular races and is an excellent host, we would often meet at her house.
Clare didn’t seem keen to choose a specific venue but stipulated that we go somewhere with a sea view. As we both live in Swansea, that isn’t too difficult to arrange and I chose The Langland Bay Brasserie. As you might imagine, this is a restaurant overlooking Langland Bay, the first of a series of the spectacularly beautiful beaches that make up the South Gower coast. There is a restaurant section which I don’t know and a cafe which sells good coffee and excellent bacon sandwiches. Italian immigrants brought good coffee to Swansea many years before Starbucks and Costa so the good coffee is no surprise, but the bacon sandwiches, discovered after a cold, windy walk along the beach, were a delightful find and one which I was happy to share with Clare.
15 December 2014
Langland Bay Brasserie
As usual, conversation flowed unceasingly. Clare is an accountant but thankfully doesn’t talk about her work much. She says she became an accountant because she ‘likes adding up’, that’s about as detailed as she gets. We talked about our families and friends, but more than anything, about running. I recently met up with Clare while out for a run with some friends. She caught up with us and slowed down to chat as it was a long time since we had seen each other. After the chat and already exhausted by trying to run at her ‘slowed down’ pace, I tried to run at her normal pace for a few minutes, just to see what it’s like. The answer came very quickly – it’s impossible. She’s very casual about it and has an unusual, ungainly running style, but she is very, very fast.
I find Clare’s attitude to running intriguing. She doesn’t make a fuss about it at all, she has been injured and unable to run for a long time but forgot to mention during lunch that she was not only better but had been selected to run for Wales. A few years ago, she was scheduled to run in the London marathon but was refused the necessary time off by the organisers of the MBA she was doing at the time. Instead of the monumental sulk which I would have indulged in, she entered a local race, the first running of our nearest marathon, the Great Welsh Marathon in Llanelli. This was a much smaller race which meant that I was able to cycle alongside her at some points and was on the finishing line at the end. She won of course, beating her nearest rival by about ten minutes. Cycling alongside her was amazing. I was able to tell her that the second and third ladies in the race were miles behind her and to experience something of how it feels to be so far ahead. We were only half way through the race but when I suggested that she was going to win, Clare replied with a quiet smile and said “yeah, probably”. It’s very lonely out there though. You have to know the course really well because there’s no one in front of you to follow, the crowd isn’t expecting anyone yet and so give you a belated and surprised cheer after you’ve passed, and you have no way of knowing how far away from your nearest rival you are.