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I remember a moment when I stood barefoot on firm dry sand by the sea. The air had a special quality as if it had a life of its own. The sound of breakers on the shore shut out all others. I looked up at the great clouds, like white-sailed galleons, chasing proudly inland. I looked down at the regular ripples on the sand, and could not absorb so much beauty. I was taken aback—each of the myriad particles of sand was as perfect in its way. I looked more closely, hoping perhaps that my eyes might detect some flaw. But for once there was nothing to detract from all this beauty.
In this supreme moment I leapt in sheer joy. I was startled and frightened by the tremendous excitement that so few steps could create. I glanced round uneasily to see if anyone was watching. A few more steps—more self-consciously and now firmly gripping the original excitement. The earth seemed almost to move with me.
I was almost running now, and a fresh rhythm entered my body. No longer conscious of my movement, I discovered a new unity with nature. I had found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never dreamt existed. From intense moments like this, love of running can grow.
As a boy I had no clear understanding of why I wanted to run. I just ran anywhere and everywhere—never because it was an end in itself, but because it was easier for me to run than to walk. My walk was ungainly, as though I had springs in my knees. I always felt impatient to see or do something new, and running saved time.
I wonder how much part sheer fright plays in running. There was a long passage near my home patrolled by a gang of boys bigger and tougher than I. I was about 8 at the time, shy, timid and easily frightened. This gang used to capture other boys and hold them in their "den," submitting them, I imagined, to torture, the very thought of which kept me awake at night. The threat snowballed in my mind and I would walk miles to avoid this particular passage. One day I was halfway through before I thought of the danger. Then I saw the gang in a huddle. At first I tried to go on, keeping my eyes fixed on them. I felt sick with fright as I knew they were waiting for me. My steps grew more leaden, my temples pounded, my body seemed about to burst as I drew closer. I knew I ought to walk through, but fright won before I reached them. I turned and ran, with my head tucked down, my arms and legs flailing along. I tore round the first corner, round the second, and down the road to the safety of my own house. Then a sense of shame overtook me. But I had learned the value of fright as an aid to speed.
I ran for it when I heard my first air-raid siren. I imagined bombs and machine gun bullets raining on me if I didn't go my fastest. Was this a little of the feeling I have now when I shoot into the lead before the last bend and am afraid of a challenge down the finishing straight? To move into the lead means making an attack requiring fierceness and confidence, but fear must play some part in the last stage, when no relaxation is possible and all discretion is thrown to the winds.
The City of Bath was the background to my first competitive running, my family having moved there at the outbreak of war. The years I spent there are too close for me to be entirely dispassionate about them. I am too young to be able to smile benignly and say what a thoroughly happy life I had at school. I remember only too well what it was actually like. I lived very much in a world of my own. Having started in a new school nearly a term late I felt out of step for a while. It was an unusual mixed atmosphere, half the boys being local residents and the rest like myself evacuees from London. I was more at home with my group of boys from London and even with the masters than with the local boys.
This was the background to my first junior cross-country race. It was an annual event, and the whole school turned out except, I remember, the fat boys who wobbled too much. In my first year, when I was about 11, I did no training and came in about 18th. The sheer exertion was extremely painful. I went off very fast, with the fixed notion that despite my age I was going to win.
Next year my House Captain told me to train. My training consisted of running round the two-and-a-half-mile course twice a week as fast as I could, then limping off home and taking two days to recover. One result was that I developed pains in my heels, and was told it was my Achilles tendon. This sounded a most professional injury to have so I told my friends about it—"Yes, Achilles tendon trouble. Most runners get it at some time or other."
A THIRD-FORM GIANT