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Dennis the Menace

Storm Dennis, closely following storm Ciara, has wiped out many parkruns and races this weekend, but our choices have been lucky ones. Wimbledon parkrun was muddy but not impossibly so, and the Chessington Valentine's 10k is definitely on.

Over the years we've had pretty much every kind of weather that February can offer for this race, from snow to rain to brilliant (if cold) sunshine. The forecast says it shouldn't be too bad until later in the day, but we shall see.

The weather, really, is one of the few things about this race that changes from year to year, although the exact start point has varied a bit in the past. If it wasn't for sentimental value - in 2008 this was Amanda's first ever proper race! - she might be inclined to give it a miss, as the streets of Chessington aren't really that exciting.

But it does have that personal significance, and so apart from 2015 when we were in New Zealand, Amanda has run every Valentine's 10k since then.

And it's Merilyn's birthday, so it's an extra special day!

Unlike most more recent years, we don't think twice about cycling over taking the car: it's a bit cold and wet now, but it's forecast to get a lot worse later. Of course, I need my bike to get around the course, so we bring it too. Actually, that's something else that's changed: me and the pictures I take.

The first few years, I just took a few at the start and finish, and didn't even try to get to anywhere on the course. In 2008, in fact, I took just over 30 pictures in total, some of which were only generic scene-setting anyway. Obviously we didn't know anybody then, but even so it was a bit pathetic by today's standard!

[I really ought to do some sort of historical write-up, because thinking about it, this is pretty much a distillation of Amanda's running career. I only started writing race blogs in 2014, and didn't include Chessington that year anyway, so there's potentially some interesting material there.]

Onward, then!

Ah, there they are!

As well as Merilyn, we're expecting possibly Bernie (who has entered but isn't sure of his fitness now) and several members of Team TFT, but none of them are to be seen.

Ceara, Chessington photo-bomber extraordinaire [and obviously not to be confused with Ciara], wasn't on the entry list, so we keep half an eye out in case she's done an on-the-day entry, but it seems not. And we're starting to get to know some of the Stragglers now, but otherwise we're a bit low on usual suspects.

We do spot Steve Winder at a distance, but don't get a chance to say hello before the race.

Lining up for the start. As I said, the exact start point has varied a bit over the years, quite why we don't know, but it now seems to have settled.

First and last sight of Steve W!

He's not actually in the lead, but he's fast enough that he will now disappear off into the distance.

The Race Director briefed everyone beforehand that there were a few completely unavoidable puddles. But 'unavoidable' seems to be a somewhat flexible term. Some of the runners are indeed going straight through, but some are sticking to the dry line in the middle of the road and just taking their chances with the cars.

Our girls are among the avoiders! Given the kind of races they more normally choose - "Ankle-deep mud?! Hah! We spit on anything less than thigh-deep!" - this may surprise you.

"We are not Eeyore. We do not wish to live in Eeyore's Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad."

Merilyn is just starting to pull slightly ahead.

Altogether now:

"Oh, we're halfway there, Oh-oh, livin' on a prayer!"

This spot isn't particularly attractive, but it's easily accessible from the race HQ, and for some years it was basically the place I went that wasn't the start or finish lines. Now when there is no cloud, this shot is pretty much right into the sun and essentially impossible technically, which has been the case in several years but not this one.

From a human point of view, it's actually starting to get a bit yucky, but it does make life easier for the camera. I remember seeing a studio lighting accessory described in a catalogue as being like "a cloudy day in a box", which fairly obviously was meant as a good thing in context.

Now, for the first time ever, I am continuing to follow the race route rather than heading straight back to the finish. This is partly out of curiosity, but also because Merilyn and Amanda are close enough that I am fairly sure I can get them both along here and still be back to the finish in time. Previous years, either I was still learning about the logistics, or we've had more of the crew spread out over more of a distance and I've needed to get to the finish line sooner.

In all honesty, I may not do it again, though. It's not exactly what you'd call scenic.

So here's Merilyn finishing. She's on the cusp of a PW, but isn't sure because she presssed 'start' on her watch before crossing the timing mat, and therefore doesn't really know her true chip time.

The maybe-PW is not because she hasn't been trying: she will now proceed to dry-retch in a way that has a marshal very concerned, but that's our Merilyn: why push to your limit when you can push a bit further?!

Amanda's also on for a potential PW, but reckons she's just beat it.

Incidentally: to the right, you see the official photographer. Remember I said that in the early days when I didn't know anyone or anything, I'd just take a few shots at the start and the finish? Well that, I'm afraid, is what this guy is doing. AIUI, he's a volunteer, not a professional, but even so, he's got some serious (ie, expensive) kit and you'd think he wouldn't have bought it if he didn't want to use it.

We can't speak for anyone else, obviously, but neither of us think Amanda's official photos are must-have, even though they're free.

Amanda lent a spare inhaler to Merilyn's asthmatic friend, whose name I must apologise for forgetting. As you can deduce from the fact that she's not just finished but got changed as well, she's <expletive deleted> fast despite the asthma. Our local Paula Radcliffe it would seem!

So these two are Lindsay Rice and Jenny Cooney (assuming I've looked up their numbers correctly) who obviously have mistaken me for somebody official and asked me to take their picture. I explain that I am actually that woman over there's husband, but I will post a link on the Stragglers' Facebook page.

More strange women... WIth Love Hearts, no less!

But what's this?

Oh, it's the Stragglers team photo!

Amanda rushes to join them just in time.

There's a lot of them! It looks like a good chance they'll have won the mob match, and so it will turn out to be.

Remember it's Merilyn's birthday?

I have made some little cakes.

Not that we would wish to stereotype our Merilyn in any way, but if the cap cake fits...?

Love to all,


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