'12:30... 12:30. DO NOT BE LATE', the stark text-message read in the morning.
Figuring that there weren't too many ambiguous words or shades of grey within the chilling correspondence, it was with more than a little trepidation that I joined my fellow runners for the start of this year's Bugatti 10k.
On a mellow but affecting September morning, the clock was ticking and I knew I had to get my skates on. It was my parents' Ruby Wedding and they were returning for a three course meal (with relatives invited) to the place of their wedding reception a mere forty years ago to the day.
My predicament was plain: having enjoyed the relaunched Bugatti 10k so much last year (plus already pre-entered this time around), would it be possible to do the race and arrive at The Upper Reaches Hotel, Abingdon, for the advertised time?
Mum and Dad had given me a friendly but solemn ultimatum that assorted members of family would be there and I would not be welcome arriving late/unshowered/smelly/flustered (delete as appropriate).
'Riiiight', thought I... could I complete this race, fulfil ablutions and thus arrive in Abingdon for the allotted cut-off time?
Several fellow Almost Athletes had very sagely advised me to let this race go and instead leisurely travel down (as Dad suggested) with the 'rents.
I tried to heed the (admittedly wise) counsel and tell myself my club-mates were right, but still that voice at the back of my head nagged incessantly at me: 'The race is an early one at 10am', 'It'll be good to see everyone', 'Come on, you can fit in it', 'The A40 will be quite quiet on a Sunday', 'It's only a 10k' etc. etc.
As the preceding week went on, I started to get more anxious and my guilty conscience kicked in. Was I just being selfish by even contemplating doing this race against an excruciatingly tight time schedule that allowed zero margin for error? Why risk incurring the wrath of family?
I needed an olive branch and that particular shrub was indeed to arrive on Tuesday night in the form of Di Kemple. Brrappp! Another text-message. Di knew the kind people who owned the Bed & Breakfast next door to Prescot Hill Climb and she was happy to ask if they would mind me leaving my car there and popping in for a shower.
Feeling as if Christmas, my birthday and a full doormat on Valentine's Day had all arrived simultaneously, I simply could not believe my luck. How jammy could a man be?
Cut to 9am Sunday morning. Thanking the kind family profusely who owned the establishment, I left my shower gel and towel strategically positioned in the bathroom and blithely skipped the few yards to the Race HQ.
Mercifully, the race started on time. As ever, the run itself was fab: lovely course, supportive marshals, top atmosphere, perfectly organised. Huffing and puffing my way through Gretton, a myriad of memories seemed to come alive upon each corner: the old bus-stop, cottages that once housed old friends, golden fields that once upon a time were played in, place of first alcoholic drink.
Forty-three and a half minutes later, I found myself crossing the finish-line, only to begin (as Alison Hume eloquently put it) the real race.
To spare you the sordid details dear reader, the next hour-and-a-half would qualify as what one might term 'stressful'. The nutshell version: I managed to dive in the shower, put on a change of clothes and complete the journey (via a quick pit-stop at the Tesco Express to buy the flowers I had forgotten to purchase). For the record, I pulled in to the car-park in Abingdon at 12:24. Ahhhh..... relief.
Very special thanks to all at Pardon Hill Farm, Di and of course Graham/Team for yet another fantastic event.