The Torments of Sisyphus

By Rick Ansell

Last summer Simon Barnett offered us all a challenge that sensible members of the club will have carefully forgotten.  It was to run up and down Incombe Hole for ten hours to see what happened to you.  Simon did 99 laps.  He did offer a more accessible challenge which was to run up and down Incombe Hole for 100 minutes.  There are rumors that Nigel K attempted the full ten hours (most unlikely to be true) and that Andy C also attempted and got to about seven hours before retiring injured (likely to be true).  In these days of being mindful it takes a certain sort of person to do something so utterly mindless for so long. There are a few in the Club, Andy C being one of them: the brain numb.  Peter Hamson gets my prize for club’s most brain numb.  He will tell you stories of doing a 24 hour race round a shopping mall in Milton Keynes.  (I think he did well over 100  miles….).  Some people have it and some people don’t.

I don’t, so 100 mins was my challenge.  A few had gone before me.  Simon himself chalked (pun intended) up 25, Celine and Lynda chatted their way into the teens and John Manning almost got through the teens.  This was a fine effort by John who doesn’t do hills.  If you ever get taken on a run by John you will find yourself running at great speed round and round reservoirs or along the tow path or possibly through featureless muddy fields somewhere out in the Vale.  Last time I went out with him he had discovered a new reservoir out beyond Aston Clinton somewhere…(it was dark).  John runs much faster than me (round and round reservoirs) but surely I could get more hills in than him…??

I choose a bitter grey day with the ground frozen but just beginning to thaw.  Drizzle was in the air and the grass got dampened making the descent a little slippery.  I regretted not wearing shoes with a more substantial grip.  I reckon they cost me about 8 seconds a descent. Counting the laps is cause for consideration.  I knew I would be able to count to three but probably not beyond.  Initially I thought I would take 25 jelly babies and eat one each time I got to the top.  I could count the remaining babies at the end and do some computational jiggery pokery to see how many laps I had done.  Then it occurred to me that by the time I had done a dozen or so I might not want another jelly baby and I could hardly throw them on the ground or we would have obese foxes or red kites or something.  In the end I dug out 25 obsolete coins and decided to drop one each time I passed Go.  Simon spent some time looking at the coins trying to decide if they were from 25 different countries.

I had told Simon about my attempt and he said he would come out to support.  This made it feel a bit like Joss Naylor coming out to meet you at the end of the JNLC or Fred Rogerson in the old days greeting and meeting BG contenders.  I set off enthusiastically (it was cold and I needed to get warm).  After a couple I looked at my watch.  Under 9 mins.  The aim was to keep each lap under five minutes.  After five I was warm(ish) and there was less need to be enthusiastic so I was very pleased to see Simon at the bottom as I came back down.  “That was 4.40” he said and joined me, effortlessly levitating up the hill (him, not me). 

With the company I soon lost count and got into the rhythm: jog the first bit, walk, break into a jog as soon as possible at the top and try to keep the footing coming back down.  I noticed that I was beginning to start the walk earlier and end it at the top later.  The minutes ticked by.  By about 15 the lactic flooded through by half way up.  It began to feel like a gym session, the sort where you do bench presses till failure.  As I entered the last phase of the torment, failure got perilously close before I reached the top.  Nine minutes left.  Last one?  I wobbled up and made it back down.  Thank God, only three minutes left.  No time for another.  I counted the coins.  I had just squeezed out of the teens.

Next morning coming downstairs to make coffee was, shall we say, uncomfortable.  I was rediscovering muscles I had forgotten I had.  Simon reckons it is about 55m of climb so I had done over 1,000m.  Probably as much climb in one afternoon as the last four weeks. I probably covered about four miles in the 100 minutes…

Of course, as always, afterwards you think: What if…With a bit of practice and the correct shoes I reckon I’m good for another couple but not 25.  It was great to hear that Henry went out the next week and did 25.  I’m thinking a round dozen in an hour would make a good session once a week…Then maybe over ten weeks I could challenge the 100.

With apologies to John, Andy, Peter and the Brain Dead (but definitely not to Simon who really ought to be the one saying sorry).