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Three Fetes
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The next morning, the alarm went off at 6:30. Time to get up. And what had seemed like a good idea the night before, rapidly became less so as the thought of an early morning run penetrated the warm covers of the bed. Perhaps tomorrow. Or in an hour or so.

It was only the greater fear - that of making a complete fool of myself at the village fete - that propelled me downstairs. If I didn't start today it would be worse tomorrow. And if the thought of running in the early morning was bad, it was nothing compared to that of running in the strength-sapping, heat of the day.

A few minutes later I was decked out in shorts and tennis shoes and blinking into the early morning sun. A loosening jog to the top of the hill, I thought.

It started out well. The first forty yards were downhill, I lengthened my stride and the years fell away. Only to snap back with a vengeance as soon as I turned out of our drive and hit the uphill section of road. A few yards later, I heard something thudding in my chest. I think my heart had just woken up and wanted out.

A few yards more and my pace was just on the forward side of reverse, Lungs had joined forces with Heart, and Stomach was wondering what had happened to breakfast. Only Legs were holding out, but a few heavy-legged strides more and even they started passing notes to Head - notes with 'How about stopping now?' and 'We could always try again later' written in large shaky letters.

Which seemed like a good idea. After all, you don't want to overdo things on the first day … and three weeks can be a longer time than you think … and wasn’t that a muscle twinge I felt just then?

A unanimous Body turned and walked home. I'd barely jogged a hundred yards.

Walking back, I was reminded of a similar experience ten years earlier when I was in training for the works annual Sport's Day. That had seemed like a good idea at the time too - a pleasant day out and the chance to see if I still had the old speed.

But I hadn't run or played any sport for about a year and neither had my colleagues. So, four of us decided to try out a running track we'd noticed on the way to work. Nothing strenuous, we thought, a few laps of the track and a sprint or two - just to settle us in.

We decided to start with a gentle 400 metres. I slotted in at the back, brimming with confidence, knowing I had the speed to kick for home whenever I wanted. I'd run the 100, 200 and 400 metres for my school and, in my head, I was still as fit as I'd been when I was fifteen. After all, people like me didn't need to train - we were naturally fit.

I dropped out on the first bend. By the back straight there were only two left. A minute later bodies were lying at various intervals along the track, chests heaving and lungs complaining. No one had managed to finish.

And now I was ten years older.

As the day of the match neared, I gradually increased my training regime. Very gradually. On the second day, I managed an extra fifty yards before giving up. The third day, another fifty and I jogged back instead of walking.

I started slipping in the occasional sit-up during the day and bought a football and started a few simple routines to drag back my ball skills from distant memory.

By the third week I was managing to walk and run over an undulating seven kilometres of road and track. A very undulating seven kilometres with fast downhill stretches and lung-killing steep climbs that sapped my calves and knotted my long-dormant muscles. But I was getting there.

Practising my ball skills, however, was another problem. There was no flat piece of ground I could use or a decent wall to bounce the ball off. And worse - the heat. Between eight in the morning and nine at night it was like an oven. Walk out the door and the heat hit you, a few minutes exercise and all your energy was drained.

And I had to play football in this heat? A competitive match in mid-afternoon in mid-July? I could barely walk in the heat, let alone run.

I started praying for rain. Perhaps a polar ice cap could melt for the day and set up some vast climatic shift. An Ice Age would be good - just for the day - no need for woolly mammoths.

When the day of the match came I couldn't believe it.

It was cloudy.

And cool.

After three weeks of nothing but cloudless skies and perpetual heat, the sun had taken a day off. Surely there was a God.

At three thirty we pulled up outside the Racing Club stadium. It was an impressive sight. There were even turnstiles and the occasional advertising hoarding. And although there was no grandstand there was a sloping grass bank that formed a natural seating area, ten feet high and bordering two sides of the pitch.

And it was already covered in spectators. About three hundred of them.