It had been strongly billed as something Special but would it live up to its name - and let’s be honest about it, those e-mails out tend to over sell it anyway. He doesn’t know his 'hill from his elbow', if you ask me. "slightly longer run than normal, with dappled sunlight, gently undulating through the historic villages of Kent" (we may analyse this later).
I was reflecting a news article about it being 100 years since WW1 as I drove over for the 7.40 am meet at Westerham car park. I could hardly see the road for the rain and spray on the windscreen Like all leaders before the battle to come, there comes a feeling that is mixture of nervous excitement from within (not that, only a couple of beers last night but no curry) - actually it was more of a thought that, in this weather, I might be the only one at the car park and have to drive all the way back on my own. So imagine the pride to see 20 blokes (sorry 19, Jonty had not arrived yet as it was only 7.40) standing in the full rain, in the middle of the car park.
“People sleep peaceably in their beds this morning only because rough men stand ready to do running on their behalf.”
(George Orwell / Winston Churchill’ish)
I knew that a suitable quote was needed at this point but that was the one that came to mind and clear was not right. What is that Henry V one I could not remember …
From this day to the end of the world,
We in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood sweat and tears with me
Shall be my brother;
And others shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That ran with us upon this Half Term Special run day.”
Sadly, thinking on great military events and operations, quotes failed me and the best description I could find was;
You look more like the old balls out of Kelly’s Heros.
(Oaks Blokes coach - and motivational speaker)
All now suitably emboldened we made to our clearly defined operational coordinates with precise start times for ‘Operation Westerham’. At 0800 hrs precisely, we set off with 18 men and headed for the first RVP. Trouble was already potentially on the cards with Tim P opting for the longer 8ish mile run despite only recently recovering from the injury sustained kicking his car. He had lost the e-mail containing the shorter run, start points. In his spy business, he has one of those ‘Mission Impossible’…“this email will self delete within 5 seconds of reading”, security systems.
We approach RVP2 almost 4 minutes behind schedule, but the brave band of brothers with me looked strong and determined to make that time up. It did mean that Bob and Mark had already left with Isabel and Jane - the SLJ coaches and two other SLJ runners. Isabel had planned this version of the Westerham run, so I knew they were in safe hands - she actually knew the route! So it was a bit of a surprise to get the phone call a couple of minutes later “Broad Sword, Broad Sword calling Danny Boy”, it was Bob - ‘I have left the girls behind (as I am not convinced they knew where they are going) and am forging on to RVP3’. However, he was now a little unsure of the route and was awaiting our arrival. I would like to make the obvious sexist comment about women and directions, sadly the facts this day, did not support this hypothesis. Still ..
‘No run plan survives contact with the hills’
German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke WW1
We did not catch up with Bob’s advanced party until we reached RVP3. Mark was looking pleased with himself having been in his first ever break away group. We were now 25 minutes behind Sam, Lars and Andy in the Special Needs Group with Sue, Elspeth and Carrie. David F had been pushing hard to this point and was keen to move on, the rest of us were more focused on eating Jane’s jelly babies. It then transpired that Elspeth was Dave’s daughter. He was a little concerned about her, but I reassured him. She was with Sam, who unlike me had been out mid week to make sure she knew the route and who better to be with, than our very own famous Nordic Navigator - the man who can find his way in a white-out on a flat landscape!!
“Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered Lars with an Ordinance Survey map.”
― Douglas MacArthur
Now sugar loaded, it was on..on..on my friends. We made Toys Hill car park with only one, errr..m response to, ‘which way do we go’. The far side of Toys Hill it got a bit worse, we had a stop and have a map check. Cracks started to appear in the group. Gerry was confident it was, back that way. Greg, who knew the area like the back of his hand, pointed at 90 degrees in another, whilst, I myself pointed in a third. I realised my mistake too late, never get the map out and show weakness, after all …
“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die”
― Alfred Tennyson
I went with my gut instincts and made the call. Leadership is such a lonely place !!!
To hold the rank of responsibility, requires you to make decisions that will not only hurt the enemy…but also your own. And there will come a time when the situation will be absolutely so bleak that every eye will turn to you out of fear and desperation. In that moment, you’ll have to become like the steel of your ship…and make the hardest choices of your life. And you will always be alone in this.”
― Commander Paladin Martian Fleet
As luck would have it, I was right. This gave me an opportunity to regain some trust and confidence of the group - but there was no way back, from getting that map out. We got through French Street without problem, then came the next errrrr…m. Suddenly everyone had an opinion. But my confidence was up and I went with the gut again. Sadly on this occasion the feeling related to the beers drunk the night before and not the right direction. We hit the road 500 meters too far up from Westerham and had another long map moment combined with a Iphone google maps moment and 20 odd blokes giving directions. It was mayhem, I was never going to hold them together and Colin Powells quote came to pass
“The day the runner stops bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
― Colin Powell
They were off down another path we me running at the back sulking and seriously concerned we were running in the wrong direction. I managed to stop us, to double check with David S and his smart phone to confirm they were right (don’t you just hate modern technology). Still one last chance to get the group back under control …
“Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.”
― George S. Patton Jr.,
We moved off again, the woods opened and suddenly we were in open fields running down to Westerham, with the sun shining on our backs and despite the 9.7 miles (that was the special bit) everything in the world was good again. Well apart from meeting Jane and Isabel who were already stretching in Westerham, when we got there - there is probably a lesson there for us blokes, but lets just ignore it shall we!!!
I went over expecting to see the Special Needs Group downing their 3rd coffee, only to get the call from Sam. They were still running, had already covered 6.5 miles and were back at Chartwell. I thought is best not to mention it to David F at this point. I went off in the car to rescue 3 of them - leaving Sam, Carrie and Elspeth to complete the final mile of the 4.5 mile route (now 7.5miles). The way it has been told to me was, it was all going fine until Sam gave Andy the map. Then he was off like a rocket in the wrong direction and it was hard to keep up with him. I have not been able to verify these facts, but what is impressive is, at 6.5 miles this was Andy’s longest every run - well done.
There was nothing left to do but hit the café for a full English Breakfast and too much coffee. I leave you this week with two thought on this …
I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: 'I served in Oaks Blokes.”
― John F. Kennedy
And as you read this today or speak of you exploits in the office on Tuesday and casually mention the distance you all ran…
The only easy day was yesterday!”
― D.J. Molles,