I signed up for the Henley Half Marathon a month ago. The event is in mid-October. I regret the entry, because besides the occasional twenty minute jog, I find running quite tedious. Pounding feet. Mile after mile after mile. Little nags in the body. Here and there. Give me ninety minutes of yoga in the hot room. Any day.
At the time of the registration, I must have envisioned something completely different. A leisurely participation by virtue of the implementation of a disciplined training programme. Pure bliss of appreciating the picturesque route through Henley, over the famous bridge and along the Thames valley. I was only kidding the friend who I will be running with. Or we were probably fooling ourselves. Together. Although I have to admit, perhaps a little unenthusiastically on his part.
So, I decide on a change of scenery for our weekly run. To get some new insipration. I update our recurring calendar invite and at 8:30pm, we meet up in Bushy Park. For the hubby and me, it’s a 15-minute jog from home. This fantastic mixture of woods, gardens, ponds and grassland practically on our backyard. The friend arrives by car. No warm-up, we just get cracking. It’s a beautiful evening. Chattering away, running feels easy. Incredibly easy. The grassy surface is lenient on the old feet and the 445-hectare park presents us with quite a wildlife tour. Even a non-ecologist like me cannot but admire the incredible range of flora and fauna within the park’s walls. So many Horse Chestnut trees. I would certainly not have recognised the tree, but some of the plants have name tags. And what a striking sunset. All welcome distractions from the evening’s actual activity.
When we get back to the car park, it’s almost empty. We round off our session with some complementary exercises. Dips, press-ups, abs. As it’s getting dark, our friend agrees to drive us home. Ample exercise for the day. Also, I want to avoid any unwanted encounters with the herds of deer roaming freely throughout the park. We saw many baby deer during our run. I can just imagine how their mothers would defend the young ones, if they sensed any commotion. There were also several Red stags and Fallow bucks with huge sets of antlers. In the dusk, they seem to be just waiting behind the trees to roar, bark and clash them at us.
There is no traffic in the roundabout around the centerpiece of the park, Diana fountain. Just a few people walking, some dogs. And yes, large herds of deer taking over the park, assuming their nightly sovereignty, strutting regally on the streets. But there are no other cars. It all adds up, when we get to the gate. It is closed, locked and chained. We drive to the main gate at the Hampton Court end. The same thing. One more car emerges. Faced with the same problem. We’re locked in with the cars. The park is open 24 hours. Only if you’re a pedestrian.
The pre-historic emergency phone is out of order. The laminated sign next to it confirms that one has to have a mobile phone to contact anybody. We dial 101 for non-emergency police response. They tell us to stay put for an hour before the fire brigade arrives. Fire brigade? Surely they wouldn’t have the keys? I can visualise the headlines in the Metro the next morning “Five runners trapped in Bushy Park”. Ten minutes later, a local police officer calls us back and instructs us to leave the cars in the car park and use the pedestrian exit to get out. We get another call from a Royal Parks representative and a proper telling off to mind the opening hours. We call my friend’s wife to inform her of our whereabouts. She thinks we’re at the pub.