Thursday 26 March 2015

I've Bingoing round in circles all day, and all I got was a saggy ball bag

The other day, one of my work colleagues asked me for an example of an innuendo. So I gave her one.

True story (hi Cicik!).

The Bingo Race is rife for naughty punnage. Race Director (and possible psycopath) James Adams and his wife spent the week before the race gently fondling the runners' balls, making sure that their ball bags were nigh on full to bursting. And so followed a week of testicularly-focussed Twitter posts from the man himself, and much giggling from all of the immature children present on the day (i.e. me).

Ball bags swinging in the breeze. C/O James Adams

Scrotums-aside (which incidentally is a good tip for endurance running...), the concept of the race was another psychological mind-fuck from the same deviant mind that brought us the Piece of String Fun Run. Billed as the World's Most Unfair Race (TM), the concept is to put your race finish into the hands of fate. Each runner was given a race bib with three numbers written on it, which were randomly selected from our own personal ball bags the night before. I was reliably informed that said three numbers had been replaced for the race itself, but I did wonder... 

Runners would set off on a loop of about 2.2 miles, return back to the ball-bagging area, where we would be assisted in groping our balls (alright, I'll stop now), picking one out of the bag at random. If it was one of the three, it would be ticked off and we would head back out again. If not, the runner would be ticked off instead, and would head back out for another lap with nought to show for their hard work. Runners would keep running until they had crossed off all three numbers. So we could get lucky but have a disappointingly short innings, or we might have to empty our ball bag for the happy ending (seriously, that was the last one). 

The night before the race, I spent a little time looking at the stats of what was likely to happen. I didn't really care about my chances of finishing ("never tell me the odds!"), but I was still interested to see what was likely to happen (stats are my livelihood after all). I was a little surprised at quite how many laps people were likely to be running, as it looked as if (statistically speaking of course) half of the runners would be running more than 23 laps, which given the 10 hour cutoff was going to mean a pretty hefty DNF rate.

Percentage of finishers after each lap, estimated over 1 million randomised runners

It was also pretty unlikely that anybody was going to finish in the first 5 laps. A 1 in 406 chance in fact. Now can you imagine if 2 people managed it?! I mean, of course that didn't happen. That would be ridiculous.

Nope. 3 people managed it. 

I make that a 1 in 66,923,416 shot. Winning the lottery is only a 1 in 14 million chance...

Human beings aren't very good at dealing with statistics, and the way our brains work (particularly being susceptible to apophenia, our tendency to see patterns where none exist) makes us fall for a number of statistical fallacies. For instance, I wonder how many people were genuinely worried that their 3 numbers had already been selected to be put onto their bib? I mean, what are the chances that they'll be picked again, right?! And that sort of thinking is exactly what James was going for. He wanted us to be guessing how many laps we'd be doing. He wanted us to have picked out 2 numbers then spend the next 20 laps thinking, "this is it, this is definitely the last lap". I can only imagine how annoyed he was when 3 people rocked up to the finish line in under 2 hours. Fuck you statistics! I want those guys with me the next time I head to the casino.

I was just happy to be there, out for a day with nothing to do but run and chat to other people about running. It was good to see some familiar faces, and catch up with some of the amazing people I've met through the years. The Centurion Running boys and girls were all on hand to help out with crewing, ultrarunning legend Mimi Anderson was there to try her hand, Rich Cranswick is ever present at these events (never one to pass up an opportunity for stupidity), and didn't disappoint by starting in a Santa outfit, and disappearing later to "slip into something more comfortable".

Pictured: Something more comfortable. C/O Rich Cranswick

I turned up with my good friend Dan Park, who is also taking part in the Centurion Grand Slam this year. We were both possibly cheating a little, as we were quite happy to run all day and get a nice long run in.

My first few laps were very relaxed, and I spent them chatting with people and generally enjoying myself. A couple of runners had different ideas and went off at breakneck speed. Stephen McAllister wanted to add a Bingo finish on top of his Piece of String finish last year, and had figured that bagging as many laps as possible early on was the way forward. His natural competitiveness did the rest as he saw someone else doing the same. Of course, nobody told him that the other guy was part of a team, so had the benefit of resting between 2 mile sprints...

I spent some time running with Mimi and Paul Rowlinson, reminiscing about Sparta and discussing Big Data (I'm a barrel of laughs, me). I ran a lap with Dan, discussing the Grand Slam, I ran with Rich for a bit discussing how one goes about cleaning 100 miles of sweat and dirt out of a chicken costume, and I chatted to everyone else I met along the way.

Rich, Mimi and me - let the fun begin! C/O Fiona McNelis

The weather was cloudy and dry, but pretty chilly. In all honesty I didn't notice while I was running, but the looks on the faces of the volunteers was pretty clear. In a race, you have to be really careful at checkpoints. Spending a couple of minutes at each checkpoint can have drastic consequences to your finishing time, particularly when they're every 2 miles. Since this wasn't really a race I wasn't too bothered, so hung around yammering away at anyone who would listen after every lap. One girl who I kept passing commented on how fast I was as I kept lapping her. I wasn't really lapping her though - I was just spending so long talking bollocks in the aid station that she kept going past me.

After a few chilled out laps I decided to pick it up a little bit. Due to a very annoying redesign, the headphones I usually use are now useless (they're too short to reach my shorts - thanks Philips), so I ended up running au natural. Also, given that we were back to HQ every 2ish miles I didn't bother taking anything onto the trail with me - just a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and some shoes. I do like keeping things simple! I picked up the pace and got into a nice rhythm, making sure to run the whole lap and take advantage of a bit of undulating terrain for training. This was kind of a benchmark race as I wanted to see how I was looking for the upcoming Thames Path 100. Overall I was pretty happy with my endurance, my fuelling, and generally how I was holding up. The breaks after every lap obviously didn't hurt, but I felt very comfortable and was turning out some relatively good lap times. I hadn't run more than about 20 miles since the Piece of String last year, so it was good to see that my endurance was getting back on track. I've got 5 weeks of training left now, but with our house move all sorted, my garage gym now accessible, and having settled back into a decent training routine I feel pretty happy about things. Plenty of work to do of course (as there always is), but I feel like I should be able to put in a pretty good performance. We'll see what happens though.

Me picking it up a bit. C/O Noel Jones

I thought that the route was going to get a bit tedious after a few repetitions. I cope well with the mental aspect of running (being an idiot helps), but I thought that even I might get a bit bored going round and round the same track. For everybody's sake I wanted to avoid resorting to singing to amuse myself. But it was a little more interesting than I had expected, was hillier than I would have thought (being on The River Ouse, whose pancake flat paths I know very well indeed), and it was great to regularly see all the other people on the course.

I was kind of hoping to get to 10 laps without a single ball, but my plans went awry with a successful draw on lap 8. Damn. I thought that I was going to be running like Hitler for a while, but in pretty quick succession I ended up with another one. Legs 11! Or were they sideburns? Bollocks, I was getting dangerously close to finishing with a good 5 hours left. Luckily my good luck held out for a while and I managed to avoid pulling out the final ball for a while. Every time I came into the aid station, Lindley Chambers would tell me, "this is the last lap!" And I'd tell him, "I bloody hope not!"

I was doing well with fuelling myself, and was coping quite happily on water, coke and chocolate biscuits. As I got to lap 17 or so I started to feel hungry, so told myself that I would treat myself to a few extra biscuits and maybe a pork pie at lap 20. I wasn't expecting to pull the last number out before then. Darn! 

What a waste. I had 11 more laps to go! Nice medal though.

Number 28. Two and eight, in a state. I kind of wish I was, but with 19 laps and just over 40 miles under my belt I was feeling good and wanted to carry on. But after sitting down, stuffing my face with food, and chatting to Alex and Mark Cockbain who had brought their baby boy to cheer everybody on, I let myself get comfortable - and bloody cold! So instead of heading out for a few bonus laps, I went off for a bloody fantastic shower and got dressed into something a little more suitable for the dropping temperatures. 

Dan, Paul, Rich and plenty of other people were still running as the 10 hour time limit approached. Most had just one ball left to pull out, but Dan was lagging with only 1 ball. To be honest, nobody seemed too stressed about things, and continued cracking out the laps right up to the wire. Dan unfortunately DNFd at 10 hours with 1 ball, but with 40 miles under his belt he was happy with a good training run ahead of Thames Path. When he went home, he carried on pulling numbers out only to find that the last two numbers he needed came out as the final two that he picked. Fate can be a cruel mistress! So it helps if you just ignore the bitch.

So there we go. My first race of the year was a success, and not just because I finished in spite of the odds. I'm hoping to have some good results this year, and this was a good benchmark. I'm still not as fit as I have been in the past, but I'm back on track now so hopefully should be able to hit the start line in good shape. I have a couple of 10Ks coming up as well so will be working on some speed over the next few weeks. A PB would be nice, but again we'll see what happens. 5 weeks to go - loads of time!

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