“HERE COMES COMEY!” Writer Stan Trybulski represents the US in the Oxford Half-Marathon

Stan Trybulski is ready to run!

The special relationship between the US and the UK was never stronger then when I traveled to England recently to compete in the Oxford Half-Marathon. Arriving at the Inn at the Head of the River in a mild rainstorm that turned into a downpour overnight, I am limited to a mile-run the next morning along the very muddy and wet Christ Church Meadow. Still, suffering from jet lag, it must suffice.

Folly Bridge as seen from the Inn at the Head of the River.

After a hearty breakfast, with the rain only threatening, Fran and I set off walking about Oxford. The first stop is the Thames Valley Police Station just up the street, the “nick” familiar to all fans of Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis and Sgt. Hathaway.

 

Next, we try to visit some of Oxford University.  Sadly, most of the University’s constituent colleges had their dining halls and libraries closed to the public because of test-taking.  Happily, I’m able to view the cloisters and chapel of New College, with its magnificent organ, as well as the Bridge of Sighs.

The Bear Inn

This is followed by a stop at The Bear Inn, where I employ my special hydration method: a pint of HSB bitter ale, followed by a half-pint of Rocky Red 4.5.

Pre-race “hydrating” in The Bear

More rain the next day, Saturday, the day before the race.  When I arrive at the Race Village in University Parks to pick up race package, I’m somewhat taken aback by discovering that here they do things a bit different than in the rest of England, perhaps the rest of the world: Runners receive their shirts after they finish; competitors must supply their own for the race!

Stan “hydrates” some more with a Proper Job Cornish IPA at the King’s Arms.

On the rainy walk back to the hotel, we stop at the King’s Arms for some more pre-race hydrating, this time with a pint of Proper Job Cornish IPA, and mull over what to do about my racing shirt.  Well, I do have a Comey is my Homey t-shirt in my suitcase, a shirt I wear in honor of former FBI director James Comey.  After a second pint, I decide that it would be just the thing for this retired New York prosecutor to wear.

 

After a good night’s sleep and a glass of water, I “warm-up” with a mile-and-a-half walk through a chilly rain to the starting point in front of the Sheldonian, only to find my timing group will assemble on Saint Cross Road which involves wending my way through barricaded streets to reach the assembly point. More waiting in the rain.  Finally a whistle blows and for what seems like endless cold minutes we shuffle toward the starting line, thousands of other runners ahead of us.

Finally, we are in front of the Sheldonian Theatre on Broad Street and with lusty cheers, we run through the starting gate.  Soon, an official pacer, Oxford journalism student Jessica Daniels of Cheltenham zeroes in on my pace and we quickly become racing buddies., partners across The Pond.

Mile 4: Banbury Road. The rain is heavy.

As we run up Banbury Road, I hear shouts of “Go, Comey!” and “Keep it up, Comey!” I quickly realize they are cheering me on.  I pick up my pace but so does the rain.  Jessica and I keep a steady pace for the next few miles and then suddenly a salvo of heavy wind and rain slams into us.  I lean forward, more to keep the freezing drops from pelting my face and eyes, than to fight the wind.  Spectators are still lining the streets, umbrellas taught and angled against the storm. One shouts, “You can do it, Comey!”  We pass several runners.

 

I am no longer running for myself, my Comey is my Homey shirt was saying it all: I’m running for fidelity, bravey and integrity, the values that have made America’s law enorcement and justice system the marvel of the world.  Lashed by the bone-chilling rain, I pick up my pace, buoyed by a shout from a constable of “Keep it up, Comey!” and we pass another half-dozen runners.

Less then four miles to the finish and we enter University Parks.  Here, the wet fallen leaves that carpet the dirt running paths are even more treacherous than the rain-soaked streets.  I know all too well the dangers of wet leaves, having slipped on them while running two autumns ago, fracturing my right shoulder.  I immediately slow my pace.

When the path becomes pavement again, I pick up my pace, Jessica easily staying with me. Soon, we were passing more runners.  Ten, twenty, thirty, fifty.  But I’m tiring now, can I maintain this pace to the finish?  I ask myself, What would Andy McCabe do?  McCabe, the former acting director of the FBI, had twice been the Florida state prep school cross-country champion and sure knew how to grit out the tough miles.  Ironically, while I was a felony trial prosecutor with the NYC Special Prosecutor for Narcotics, McCabe was just starting his FBI career diagonally across the square from my office.  How many times had our paths crossed?

Radcliffe Square

We are now in the narrow streets of the central University and still passing runners.  Emerging onto Broad Street and the Sheldonian once again, there is a throaty reception from the throng of spectators who braved the storm.  Passing the Sheldonian with only a few hundred meters to go, I hear “Go for it, Comey”.  Turning onto Parks Road, we pass the sandy stone buildings of Wadham College.  My legs are leaden but my eyes see the large banner telling me there is only 100 metres to go.

A rain-drenched Stan and Jessica head for the finish line.

Jessica urges me to finish strong.  I pass the banner and the announcer’s voice booms out over loudspeakers: “Here come Comey!”  There is loud applause as I head for the finish and then I am over the line.  I don’t achieve my goal time but I’m fast enough to haul in a second-place award in my division.

Still pumped, endorphins surging, I am cold and wet and exhilarated.  Yet, while the race is over, we still must pick up our race shirts.  I introduce Jessica to my wife, Fran, and the three of us trudge through the rain to the Race Village in University Parks where we receive our shirts and cans of beer.

Stan and Jessica still pumped after the race.

Then a further two-mile rainy walk back to the hotel.  After a scalding 15-minute shower, I don my prized race shirt.  Fran and I head down to the bar for our finishers’ complimentary and well-needed pints.  The post-race “re-hydration” begins.

The Trybulski Team after the race and after a pint.

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The next morning, more rain. After a hearty breakfast, we go for a walk to keep my legs from stiffening up.  The colleges are closed out of respect for fallen police constable Andrew Harper, 28, whose funeral is being held in Christ Church Cathedral.  Fran and I join Constable Harper’s fellow officers and citizens lining St. Aldate’s in paying tribute.

Post-race “re-hydrating” at The Chequers.

In the afternoon, the rain turns heavy but we walk over to Oriel and Merton Colleges to see the quads and chapels.  Thoroughly chilled, we finish our tour and head for The Chequers for more “re-hydration” with pints of Black Sheep Milk Stout accompanied by chips topped with pulled pork and melted cheddar, and mac and cheese bites with chutney.  One helluva of a great final stop in Oxford.  The next day, we will leave this wonderful university city behind and head to London to visit as many historic pubs as we can.

 

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