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Diary of a Marathon Ape Man - 4th February 2004

Dawn. And as the grey, first light pinkened, it revealed a decidedly un-biblical scene. Traffic backed up on the M32 and a carpet of glistening sodium-vapour lights spread beneath the towering telecommunications tower that greets commuters to Bristol. Yes folks, I have finally joined the ranks of early morning joggers - at least until April. I awoke just before six - not sure why because I should be over the Jakarta jet lag (they reckon it takes a day for each time zone) and decided that I could procrastinate no longer - let the training begin.

Now, what to wear…? The wind was buffeting the roof and whistling between the cracks in the sash windows, so something warm seemed appropriate. I felt in the back of the drawer for an old tracksuit I used to use when I ran a trampolining class about ten years ago. It had split in some interesting places, but the repairs held as I pulled it on. The shiny pied trainers were still in their box, but felt promising as I laced them for their inaugural run.

Bouncing through the wet streets of Bishopston (the cushioned soles seem almost like cheating) I headed for Pur Down - the only sizeable bit of green within easy reach. It is, of course, a hill (this being Bristol, a seriously hilly city) stretching north, and mostly covered in playing fields, pasture and woodland, and crowned by the telecom tower and a disused army camp. Its about a mile from my house to the edge of the playing field bit, and apart from the last steep bit where I walked, the jogging didn't seem too bad.

I climbed over the iron fence and - joy - was running on grass. The going was soft to the point of soggy, but with the shoes was like double-bounce. The combination of mud and rhythmic breathing took me back to Beverley Grammar School, and cross-country running over Beverley Westwood. Unlike most of my school friends, I used to enjoy cross-country and once I had made it to Rwanda in '76, realised it was great preparation for anti-poacher patrols and gorilla tracking at 11,000 feet in the Afro-alpine zone of the Virunga Volcanoes (the common themes being mud, brambles and miles of pounding turf). Meanwhile back in Bristol nearly 30 years later, I'm realising that stamina is not something you can just store and pull out when you need it. I wasn't sure how far this first foray would take me, but once I reached the unimaginatively named 'Pond Field Wood' I circled back (OK, let's be honest, I walked up the steep bit again). Jogging through the Second World War anti-aircraft station, a third trainer seemed to shoot out from under my feet, but it was just a black and white cat alarmed by the sudden arrival of two large pied feet clumping by.

Back across the playing field, and past a bold jackdaw determined to be the early bird, I picked up a six-foot branch thinking, "That'll be a good bit of kindling when its dry." This leant purpose to my run, and again reminded me of Karisoke days, when we would pick up dead wood for the stoves when returning from contacts with the gorillas. By the time I was on the home stretch, I was seriously over-heating (the forecast said it would be mild) - vigorous exercise always has this effect, which is why I have said NO to all the helpful folk who suggest I should run the marathon in an ape-suit. I have a firm principle that when in an ape suit, one should behave only in species-appropriate ways (knuckle-walk 26 miles? No WAY!) and after half an hour of climbing lamp-posts and accosting passers by, I usually emerge soaked in sweat and bright red in the face. As it is, thermo-regulation required me to remove my Elefriends T-shirt for the last half-mile, which is why the milkman and a few early risers were surprised to see a half-naked bloke loping along carrying a six-foot branch and sweating profusely.

But for a first run - it worked out at just under four miles - it felt pretty good, and I tried not to be too insufferably self-righteous as the family came sleepily down to join me for breakfast

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Born Free is increasingly receiving donations from supporters who have run in other national races including the Great North Run, the Great South Run and the Flora Light Marathon for Women - all raising money for wildlife projects.

If you are taking part in any of these events or others no matter how big or small contact bornfree@caribzones.com if you would like to raise funds for Born Free.



 


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