In my last post I described the Close as looking 'like a running track'. And on Saturday 17th July, that's what it became for the Lichfield Cathedral Dash 2010. The Cathedral Close has hosted this ‘Chariots of Fire’ style race for 13 years now. You may remember from the film how Abrahams was the first athlete to complete the Trinity College Great Court Run successfully, getting round the quad and beating the noonday chimes. This was the inspiration behind the Cathedral Dash.
The Dash itself, at 12 noon, is entered by elite athletes, all trying to get round the 430m lap in under the 58 seconds it takes the cathedral clock to chime midday. Before this event there is a range of other races. I probably should have said that the Close looks 'a bit like a running track'. The first few yards are uphill. Then comes a long gentle straight stretch slightly down hill, a sharp steep downhill bend round the Lady Chapel, and then a long 'gentle' uphill straight into the strong wind that whistles round Kilcanon Corner (as it's known), before the final lung-bursting sprint uphill again to the finish line. The race is also run clockwise, which for professional 400m runners must feel like wearing your running spikes on the wrong feet. But maybe there's some old superstition about it being bad luck to run widdershins round a church?
This year I and a team of other Catherines entered the ‘Fun’ relay. ‘Catherines for the Choir’—raising funds, as you will have surmised, for the cathedral choir. The inspiration for this came from the very common sight of our cathedral assistant organist, Cathy Lamb, running around the Close, late for meetings. You will see from the photo of Team Catherine--from left to right: Kathy Coombs, Cathy Lamb, me and Catherine Day--that we decided to run in surplices. (Thanks to the Lichfield Blog http://thelichfieldblog.co.uk/for the pic) A surplice is a church-related garment. It goes over a cassock, and is probably best described as a long white nightie. Imagine a double bed-sheet with hole cut out for your head. Perfect for running in high winds. Simply take a reef in the side and tack.
The canon precentor (in charge of things choral) was not pleased by our choice of running strip. It was 'Bad'. Whether he meant bad as in 'sinful', or bad as in 'a poor choice aerodynamically', he didn't say. He did, however, graciously lend his trainers to Catherine Day who doesn't own a pair of her own.
Our training for the event consisted of intending vaguely to have a trot round the Close to see what it felt like. That would be organised enough for a Fun Relay, surely? But on the day, pressure of time meant that the ‘Fun’ relay was hideously merged with the Club Relay event. This meant we ended up racing against a team from Birchfield Harriers and other hard-core nutters. I mean athletes. Quite what they made of it, I don't know. Maybe they have never been so insulted in their professional lives. Still, we gave it our best shot, cheered on by the crowds that filled the Close. Early on in my lap I came over all strange, and experienced a blur in my peripheral vision. This turned out to be a Birchfield Harrier scorching past me. It was tempting to nip down the steps to the north door and take a short cut through the cathedral. But I pictured the headlines: 'Canon's Wife in Dash Disqualification Shame.'
And of course, we didn't need to cheat. I’m proud to say that of the teams composed entirely of women called Catherine wearing surplices, we came first. In all other respects we came last. But as the Bible says, ‘The first shall be last, and the last first.’ So maybe when Gabriel is dishing out prizes in the heavenly Olympics, Team Catherine will be on the gold medal podium.