Life, Travel

A Week in Norfolk

Sea Palling, a small village on the north Norfolk coast, used to just be called Palling. But a little re-branding took place in the Victorian era, to entice the growing number of tourists looking for coastal escapes from the big industrial smoggy cities. Like Staithes, on the Yorkshire coast, where we visited last weekend, this place also has a history of being a smuggler’s cove, with tea and other, more intoxicating, beverages being particularly popular.

We took a dip in its waters on Monday, this week, during our own little sojourn by the sea. When I say ‘we’, it was mainly me, although my brother’s wife, did venture quite close to the breaking foam. And when I say ‘dip’, I meant only my feet as it was the North Sea after all. I did manage to submerge my ankles for a few seconds, but had to channel my inner Wim Hof, to breathe through the freeze. What Sea Palling also had was a clean sandy beach where I could build sandcastles with my two year old niece. We never quite got to fortress level as, after each castle was built, it was summarily demolished so that she could enjoy the squish of the sand in her hands. And who could blame her, as this was her first ever experience of a warm sunny seaside.

We’re back home now and our garden has grown wild in the week we’ve been away, so Anne’s been pulling up some of the weeds while I’ve done a little mowing. We’ve left some of the grass long, but just cut paths through it, to encourage a few more insects and things. Actually, that was one thing we noticed when driving around Norfolk. There were definitely more splats on our windscreen than we’ve seen in a while. I rarely have to fill up the squirty water thing in the car any more, as the rate of windscreen kill has gone down, even in the last ten years.

However, I digress. I should not be writing this blog at all really, as my final assignment of the year is due this Thursday and I’ve still got tons to do on it.  But we had such a lovely time in Norfolk that I need to get it down somehow, in order to retain the memories.

We were there in a cottage with my brother and his family. It was more of a town house than a cottage but really well furnished, and sat with a small group of similar houses on a farm near Great Yarmouth. On-site facilities include an indoor pool, a huge play and games room, two BBQ areas, swings and slides and a generally massive field. So with a two-year-old and a nearly five-month-old there was little need or desire to go out and about too often.

So we didn’t. We only ventured out twice. To Sea Palling and later, to Cromer.

Cromer is a much larger seaside resort and, evidently, has a history of Victorian gentility, given the architecture. It has been going as a small town since at least the mediaeval times but really came into its own in the nineteenth century, even getting a mention in Jane Austen’s Emma, as desirable for ‘sea-bathing’. I do like a nice pier to watch the deeper waves crashing around from a safe closeness, and it has one of those. Not as long as Brighton’s but much calmer, as it has no crazy fairground rides.

Norfolk has many coastal resorts, and, of course, the Broads, for landlubbers like me to get excited about. I think we found two, contrasting but excellent examples, that certainly worked for us. The rest of the time, we relaxed at the cottage, had some friends come round who were local, played with the kids, and ate and drank very well. Anne got her pencils and paints out to do a little more sketching and I had brought my coursework. But most of all we were just enjoying spending time and getting to know our little niece and nephew, and their parents were just enjoying having a bit of a rest. The pool was a regular activity as it was warm, so we could even take the little one in.

On the way back, the two of us popped into Norwich, to have a little stroll around the Cathedral. There was an interesting art installation based on the life of Edith Cavell, a local woman and a hero of World War I. I had not really known her story before, but it is definitely worth looking up. Although I found the cartoonesque art work a little strange, her life sounded inspiring. She was executed by a German firing squad, and the night before her death she was quoted as saying,

Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.

The last four paintings in the series about Edith Cavell’s life

Those words just seem to cut through all the propaganda and jingoism that whip up countries into war time and time again. A fascinating woman.

Life, Travel, Walking

What I’ve Done (Lately)

As I lift my legs higher on a cushion after today’s long run, I realise that it has been two weeks since my last blog. Well that sounds like the beginning of a confession, so I had better get it all off my chest (fully recovered since the chaffing incident, in case you’re wondering).

Life, despite my best intentions, has been a little hectic of late, and I’ve barely had time to think, let alone sit and think about blogging. I have had the laptop open, but only to hammer out a few more words for the final essay on my OU course. It’s due in a couple of weeks and then I am done and dusted. Until next academic year that is, because I’ve decided to definitely do the second year and turn my Post Graduate Certificate into a Masters. I’m not sure whether it will translate to any writing jobs in the big wide world, but I’m enjoying the learning process, so I will carry on for a bit longer.

Also the WIFI went down for several days last week, which is, in this day and age, a bit of a catastrophe, and wasted half a day for Anne when she was passed from pillar to post on the phone, as they took an age to agree that it wasn’t just a case of switching it off and on again. We actually had to watch real time TV occasionally, which consisted of a random episode of NCIS and The One Show. The only good thing about this infringement of our human rights, was that I was able to work on my essay without getting distracted, but finally, the day came when a tall young man from Openreach with the most amazing long blond ringlets, sorted it out for us, by correctly reconnecting a cable on the outside of the house, that had been badly set up in the first place, only three weeks earlier. But at least we’re now back in the land of the living.

We also celebrated our grandson’s 3rd birthday last week. Anne made him a dinosaur and volcano cake as the boy is a walking dinosaur encyclopaedia. And earlier in the week, we took him to his happy place at Chester Zoo, where, in between watching the animals, he ran the legs off himself, and me. He had his first experience of the Bat house, and was not freaked out by the darkness at all, but was gutted that he couldn’t see the bats faces as they were too far away!

We had a glorious time away, this weekend just gone, with old work colleagues and most of the folk who walked the Coast to Coast with me back in 2015. Only John was missing from the original Six Pack. The weather, near the village of Appleton-le-Moors where we stayed, had promised to be dry but overcast. In the end, the sun came out in such a way that we could enjoy a very pleasant eight+ mile walk on Saturday including two pit stops at the beer gardens of some very fine public houses. On Sunday, Anne, Helen and I left the others doing another walk, and we ventured into the tiny but picturesque town of Staithes, on the east coast above Whitby. The previous day Helen had given Anne her first art lesson, and as we sat on a bench with our teas and coffees, there was another impromptu lesson. Watching the two of them, I got inspired and attempted to draw what I saw in words. It was just a basic description but it was nice to record the families on the sand, the two dogs gleefully gambolling in the waves as their humans threw them a ball, and the boats bobbing lazily up and down. I feel I need to do this kind of thing now more often, whereas before I would have enjoyed the day and then promptly forgotten about it.

That same Sunday morning, which also happened to be Mother’s Day for most of the rest of the world, my grandma, who last year had celebrated getting a telegram from the Queen, peacefully died, just two weeks short of her 101st birthday. I wrote a small piece about her last year, and, of course we’ll miss her, but she has led such a long and remarkable life that we won’t feel sad for her, just for ourselves. That evening though, we raised a glass to her.

So in amongst that whirlwind, I’ll bet you’re wondering how my running is going? Even if you’re not I’m going to tell you anyway. Not all that brilliantly, unsurprisingly. I’m still trying to get one long run each week, and then I’ve managed about two more quickies in the week. The length of the long run is getting harder, and I think it will take a few weeks to stop my legs getting bushed. I can’t even say it’s going to pick up again next week, as we’re currently in the middle of packing to go on holiday. Again. This time with my brother and his family, for a week on the Norfolk coast. That was the reason I got this week’s big one completed today: a slog of a twelve miler. Tough but it’s in the bank.

Life is hard, but although I’m not getting out and about in my trainers all that much, my final piece of course work is actually about my marathon running experience, so I will get my fix one way or another.


Henry, Henry and Henry

I’m sitting on the sofa, with my legs raised up higher than my bum, and making a mental note not to use a crop top as a sports bra for a long run again.

Chafing is not pleasant, and I would always recommend getting good kit for anything longer than an hour, but I was too lazy to dig my normal long-run sports bra out of the unsorted, clean washing pile. I was actually not going to talk about running at all today but I needed to get that off my chest. Literally.

We just got back, yesterday evening, from three days in Stratford, enjoying back-to-back Shakespeare evenings. The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) were putting on a slightly squashed down version of Henry VI. There are three parts to this play normally, but they’ve squeezed it into two three-hour episodes called Rebellion and War of the Roses.

My knowledge of this section of English history is really hazy. I get the gist of how Henry V wins most of France after his odds-defying victory at Agincourt, and my history A-level comes back to me after Henry VII battles his way to the throne, but the stuff in between is all a bit complicated. Which kind of explains why Shakespeare needed to write three full plays just to explain one king’s reign.

What I should have done was try and dig out the Spark notes and figure out who all these dukes of Somerset and Warwick and Gloucester, etc. were and what their beefs were with each other. What I actually did was get out and about the lovely town with Anne to enjoy the multitude of swans a-swimming down the river Avon, and the fine food and wine that could be savoured.

The days were chilly but dry, and because we were there mid-week and out of season, the place wasn’t crawling with other tourists. We had a nose around what was left of the house that Shakespeare had built after he made it. There was nothing left of ‘New Place’ as he called it, rather uninventively, apart from the footprint and the gardens, but they were nice gardens and there were an interesting set of sculptures displayed about the place.

The small town of Stratford-upon-Avon is brimming with all things Shakespeare, as you might expect, but it is very pretty as well, and worth a trip if you’re kicking about the Cotswolds or the Midlands area.

There are lots of places to eat and drink, including a wonderful, not-for-profit Portuguese cafe, that we visited twice, and a Michelin-starred restaurant, Salt. We were lucky to get a lunch at Salt on our final day as they’d just reopened after a refurbishment. I recommend the 4-course tasting menu because, not only are there some really beautifully arranged and sumptuous plates, they also generously add some divine amuse-bouche and an extra sweet if you finish off with teas and coffees.

So, as you see, revising Henry VI was not up there on my to-do list, and although I did ask Anne, every now and then, as to which lord was which, I managed to follow the proceedings pretty well. We made it a bit difficult for ourselves by watching the two plays back to front, but still, I got the story. The acting was terrific, particularly the guy playing Richard, who will later become Richard III. He’s the bloke that is shockingly denigrated by Shakespeare, because his patrons needed to justify their positions on the throne. So Elizabeth I’s grandad, Henry VII, needed to look like a hero to Richard’s demon. We are coming back in July to watch Richard III and the same man is playing him, so I’m really looking forward to it.

As to these plays, the basic plot is this:

Henry 6 was a baby when his dad, Henry 5 died, so the country’s been ruled by some dukes until he came of age. However, because Henry’s grandad, Henry 4, came to the throne a bit dubiously, and because Henry 6 isn’t all that capable of being King even though he’s now old enough, and because his arranged marriage to Margaret of Anjou has lost a big chunk of France, there is some jockeying for power amongst all these dukes, several of whom have pretty decent claims to the thrones themselves, owing to being part of large families and a bit of in-breeding.

The strongest of these claims is with the Duke of York, Richard (Richard III’s dad), and many of the nobles want him to be Regent and then King in his own right when Henry 6 pops it. However, Henry’s got a son, Edward, and Margaret is rather unhappy that Edward’s been kicked off the podium. So she raises an army to reinstate him. There are a whole bunch of battles, one of which kills off Richard, but his sons then get stuck in, eventually win the day, and another Edward (Richard III’s elder brother), is crowned King. Easy really!

These are not plays that you can easily fall asleep in with the amount of warring going on. But besides the action, there is an interesting exploration of power and kingship, and what it means to be a good ruler. We thoroughly enjoyed it all, and it’s made me want to go and read up on this section of history a little more.

I’m going to start by reading ‘Cecily’, a novel by Annie Garthwaite. It looks at all the events above, from the perspective of the wife of the Duke of York. Anne’s read it and loved it, so I’ll crack on with that, perhaps while I’m waiting for these sore bits to calm down.


Running up that hill

I’m sitting on the bed, propping my legs up on pillows in the vain hope that that will help them recover faster. To be fair it’s a wonder that I can walk at all given what I’ve put them through this morning.

On this anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death day ( I wonder how many people actually do die on their birthdays?) I decided that I hadn’t had enough hills last week in the Calder Vale 10 miler. I decided I wanted to triple the climb and run a few miles further.

Actually, I didn’t decide any of those things, but when Jeff posted on our club page, that he was running the route of the Excalibur Half Marathon, and wondered if anybody wanted to join him, I stupidly said yes.

Jeff, inspecting another probable casualty of the winds at the beginning of the year. Still alive enough to blossom though.

I was planning to go around 13 miles this weekend anyway, in my (making it up as I go along) training plan so it seemed like a good idea. I knew it would be a bit hilly, but I hadn’t really looked at the route before I volunteered. The final hill was Moel Famau which is about 1820 ft high.

Stats for route: 3.45 hrs; 13.36 miles; 2794 ft ascent
Map for route including slow and fast sections - mainly slow
Not many fast sections!

My stats have been borrowed from Jeff as my Runkeeper app threw a wobbler. Granted it looks like almost walking pace but that could only be achieved with some running thrown in, and I did do a fair bit of running, albeit steadily.

We were in two groups, as Becky, who drove us down, and Mark, set off at a faster pace with two other guys who had met us there. They’re all good runners and I was glad not to hold them back. Jeff, who knows these hills like the back of his hands (although we did go off track for just a hundred yards or so) was happy to do a little light coaching for me and have time on his feet.

It was a lovely, although slightly hardcore, introduction to fell running, and I really appreciated Jeff taking the time to patiently run with me, and give me a few pointers. I didn’t have a rucksack, but learned that it’s pretty essential kit, to hold your food and water, and the layers that you may take off and put on again over the course of a run. Today it remained dry, but the sunshine we had on the Wirral didn’t quite appear on the Welsh hills, and the easterly winds, as we rose higher, nearly took my legs out once or twice. Jeff carried a spare waterproof jacket for me, as well as a whistle, map, and compass, even though he knew where he was going. He also had some solid nut and choc bars, which I normally wouldn’t have while running. But on a steep uphill that I could barely walk up, I scoffed one of them down happily.

For every up, there were downs, and some of them were grassy strips of heaven where I felt like a gambolling goat. I did my best Phoebe (from Friends) impression, flailing my arms around wildly, feeling the exhilaration of the descent. Some stretches, however, were so steep, it was all I could do to stay upright and keep from falling. By the end of them my calves were burning and I was longing for an uphill again!

All in all it was a pretty amazing, and knackering Saturday adventure, and I think that I’d like to do it all again. Not yet, but perhaps in a couple of months, just to see how my fitness levels compare, and take in the same terrain in summer. I’ll have to see if Jeff’s available.


Calder Vale Good Friday 10 Miler

Well I didn’t want to do this.

Not when I realised there were less than 200 people running it, and it was hilly, and it was an hour and a half’s drive away, and no other Pensby Runner was doing such a crazy thing on a Good Friday Bank Holiday.

Did I mention it was hilly?

A view of part of the village across the river and the hills around it.
Rolling green hills everywhere you look

You’d think I would have been wise to that fact with the word ‘Vale’ in the place name. A nice poetic name for a valley. I was actually scrabbling around, earlier in the week, trying to find a way to contact the race organisers in order to see if there was a cut-off time to complete it in, and whether the marshals would hang around long enough for me.

This morning finally came around and I spent a lovely early hour, sitting in the back garden with Anne, drinking tea and listening to birdsong. It would have been nice to sit there just a little bit longer but my kit was laid out and my porridge was cooking. Whatever happens, I thought, I am just going to enjoy it.

The journey up was happily uneventful, except that I saw an increasing number of cars and lorries on the Southbound side, coming to a standstill. I later found out that a big section of the motorway was closed while an overturned lorry was being retrieved. Luckily no-one was badly hurt but it’s not what you want when you set off for a long weekend break.

Google Maps took me along some scenic country lanes before I landed in the village. Plenty of runners were milling around, or getting ready for the 4 mile ‘fun’ run, and I was able to ask some people what the race was like.

            It’s great. You’ll love it.
Is it hilly?
Err, yes, very.
Will the marshals wait for me.
Absolutely! No need to worry about the marshals – Just worry about the hills.

To be fair, everyone I chatted to seemed really friendly and welcoming, or it could have just been the Lancashire accent, which always sounds friendly. There was no cut-off time, and there was an enormous variety of cakes at the village hall. I just hoped they’d still be there when I got back.

As I was milling around at the start, some guy, who looked very serious, started talking about a 4.5. I think it was an indication of difficulty, and from his animation I think that meant this run was very difficult, but I actually had no idea what he was talking about. Having consulted Google, I still don’t!

It was an understated beginning. Even though I’d ensconced myself at the back, there were not that many people between me and the start line; no gun or hooter. Just a quiet ‘GO’ and we were off. The small huddle of people quickly stretched away into a long snake in front of me, and then within a few minutes, that snake disappeared. There were a handful of people behind me and I could sometimes see a few people out in front, but for long stretches I was by myself, which I didn’t mind. I used that time to enjoy the views and try to get my breathing to a regular level. Even though I wasn’t pushing it, the constant undulations made it difficult to get into a rhythm.

I kept running though, all the way to around mile 6 where there was an incline that seemed to go on forever, and I had to walk for a bit. That was close to when I started chatting to Denise. I’d caught her, and a few other people, up at this point but I was no match for her on this hill. She wasn’t fast but she kept going all the way without walking, which was amazing. We kept each other company most of the rest of the way, which I appreciated because I was starting to feel it by then. That is a lovely thing about running, especially running toward the back, you meet nice people who are happy to chat. Turns out Denise and her two friends all work in the NHS, so it was doubly lovely to have kept them company.

The final mile or two were good downhills with only a few tiny bumps. Everything felt like a bump after having got up mile 6. I managed it all in just under 2 hours according to my Runkeeper. That’s quite reasonable considering I do that time in training on a much flatter route, so I’m pleased. I managed to secure one of the last slices of scrummy chocolate brownie too, a nice icing on the cake. I was the last Pensby across the finishing line, but also the first, and as I’m a glass half full kind of person, that will do.


Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

The front cover of the original book

I first read this book years ago when I lived in Liverpool and was in a book group. It was a great group, and most of the people actually read the books beforehand so the discussions were always interesting. This one got a general thumbs up, as I recall, because who doesn’t like a post-apocalyptic dystopian drama?

The author’s name came up in a recent article I was reading because she has a new book out, and in there, I found out that Station Eleven had climbed back up the book charts during the Pandemic, and now it’s a TV series too, so I couldn’t help but re-read it.

When something huge and life-altering happens to me, that’s a little bit scary and unknown, I don’t think I go out of my way to find books or films etc., that give me some more scary stuff to try and deal with it. But there are people who find films like Contagion or books like Station Eleven and ‘enjoy’ them. Maybe it’s a case of finding something that’s like real life but worse, so that what is happening to us doesn’t feel that bad after all? I’ve only picked it up now because I think (I hope) that the worst is past us. And the book does have a little possibility of hope at the end.

It opens with a play. A performance of King Lear where the leading man, Arthur Leander, keels over and dies on the stage with a heart attack. In a separate part of town, patient zero, infected with a virus that will spread and kill almost all the people in the country, has flown in. The whole continent and probably the whole world have been similarly affected.

We fast-forward twenty years, when the few remaining people are living an almost mediaeval lifestyle. A group of performers, The Travelling Symphony, whose motto is ‘Because survival is insufficient’, move from settlement to settlement with a musical and theatrical repertoire to lift and entertain the residents. It’s a precarious existence as there are bandits and other nefarious characters around, and the troupe has to be on its guard. One of them, Kirsten, has two inked daggers on her arm to denote the number of times she’s had to kill someone. It’s a different life from her former world, where she was a child-actor playing opposite Leander on the stage that night.

It’s a strange contrivance to have a central figure of a book die in the first chapter, but the irony is that he dies of something tragic but completely normal, at the same time as people are starting to die of the virus. The story flips back and forth in time, giving Arthur’s back story, and the patchwork of people linked to him, to this future, where an encounter with a gun-wielding prophet in a small outpost, leads the Symphony to make a perilous escape.

You have to suspend your disbelief a little to accommodate the fact that, given the poor odds of the rest of humanity, just how many of this patchwork of people survive. However, reading some of the comments on Goodreads about the technical implausibility of some of the plot, it appears I’m good at that.

I really enjoyed the book. The geek in me loved the references to Star Trek. Along with the motto for the Symphony (a quote from Voyager), there is that sense of them being a lonely star-ship travelling from planet to planet. The book’s title comes from a graphic novel created by Leander’s first wife, of a space station that looks like a broken world, floating in the cosmos, so giving us another internal metaphor.

There is a nice bit of drama that leads to an exciting denouement and the characters are well drawn out. So now that most of us have survived this Pandemic, it might be a good time to check this one out.


Down Time

I’ve just come back from a shorter long run this morning, a steady eight miles. Because last week I finally got over the ten-mile barrier that had seemed so elusive, it gave me an easy mathematical calculation to dial back to 80% for my ‘down’ week.

Magnolia tree with half the petals on the ground
Already the magnolia is losing its petals

If you have pored over as many training plans as I have, you’ll know they recommend one of those every three or four weeks. It apparently reduces injuries and lets your body rest and consolidate the previous weeks’ work before you push on to the next section. Think of it like climbing a very high mountain. You do a chunk, rest up, and then climb higher.

When I occasionally do get into a regular habit of training, I look forward to these weeks, as firstly, I’m naturally lazy, and secondly, it’s kind of good for the ego to know that, whereas a few weeks ago, eight miles felt like hard work, it now feels quite comfortable. I usually time it around when I have my period, which currently seems to have sped up to a 25 day cycle for some reason. My energy levels naturally take a dive then so it works out well.

This week I’m also starting to feel the sad loss of my usual masseur, which is ironic as when I did use to visit her once a month, she’d normally leave me crying. But she has magic hands that sorted out all the tight spots before they built up too much. My last appointment with her was back in January, and then she left to give birth. I may have to explore other options while she’s on Mat. leave but it’s a difficult thing to allow yourself to be prodded and pummelled by a complete stranger. Perhaps, what I actually need is to double-down on the yoga and the foam rolling until she comes back. We’ll see.

Logo for Wirral Seaside Runs
Last Wednesday of the month for the next 5 months, at 7pm

My down week also coincided with a downturn in the weather which was fortunate. As instead of getting spray-gunned by hailstones and pushed back by a driving wind during the first of this year’s (fully live and non-virtual) Wirral Seaside Runs, I put on a woolly hat, two layers of gloves, four layers of clothing plus a big fat winter coat and marshalled.

I’ve written about these runs before in a blog, but as I’m part of the ‘putting-it-together’ squad now, this first one was a learning curve. Nigel had a big carload of gear, like signs, fold up tables, gazebos etc, that needed setting up, at the beginning, along the course and at the end. 

Then, of course, there were the people required to dish out the numbers and pins, register late-comers (although to be fair, I don’t think anybody had any last minute thoughts along that line with this weather) and get them started. There were marshals to keep them on track, the people making sure they all pass the blue mats that register the chips, the person dishing out water and the first-aid person.

And before all of that, you need someone to drum up the interest by getting all the advertising done in the weeks before hand.

All this for a 5K run! 

I was just there to help get the equipment up at the start and finish, so I still don’t know the full extent of the effort required, but what I do know is, that these races, however small, need people. To organise, to help out, to be part of the team that makes it happen. And if there are no volunteers, the runs just won’t run.

This first Wirral Seaside Run did happen, even though the weather was shocking, and we spent half the time pushing the final 10-metre funnel posts back in, that the wind flung out. The winner rocked up in 18:13, and the final person clocked 40:14. Both of those, and all the nearly two hundred people in between, braved the elements to help make a local race successful. 

Five more to go this year, and fingers crossed, the weather will be kinder. I’m hoping to run in at least one or two of them myself, but I was happy this week to clap them in, just so I could get the feeling back into my fingers.


Feelin’ Good

It was a new day and I was out for a short five miler this morning. I can call it short because my long runs are at nearly double that now. I can’t quite get past the 10 yet and I did feel a bit frustrated with my 9.75 on Friday, my legs just felt like jelly towards the end, but I’m nearly there.

The road sign, Rest Hill Road, at the corner of the road.
The top of my most dreaded hill

I suddenly realised on this run that, for the past few weeks, my regular hilly bits have been surmountable with less of the huffing and puffing than I had been doing before. That stretch up to the top of Rest Hill Road, where previously I have often slowed to a walk, is still very tough, but doesn’t fill me with the same dread. The only time in the last month that I had to walk it was when my head was a bit fuzzy with a hangover. I am starting to feel stronger, not always faster, but stronger again, and hopefully, I’ll keep this momentum going at least until my next Half in June.

I blame the Heswall hills that I’ve been forced to do with the club runs. It’s virtually impossible to create a route without any inclines there, and very easy to include some steep ones, which they do, quite often. Tuesday night’s harder one was dubbed ‘The Long and Winding Road’ for its many twists and turns. Because most people of my ability usually shun the harder routes, I was, of course, at the back and not by choice on this occasion. It was a bit strange at times, because it was dark and there are some stretches of roads are very countryside like and don’t have houses. I had my head torch but it was a tad spooky and I think I’ll stick to the other routes next time until it gets lighter. Despite that, or maybe because, I put a good turn of speed in (for me) that I seemed to be able to maintain most of the way, which was very pleasing.

The sun in the sky was glorious today, still a little chill when it goes in, but I don’t mind that once I get going. The gorgeously transient magnolias are almost fully open, and the blossom on the tree is vibrant. Countryside roads seem a different prospect in the day time and have the added bonus of allowing you to inhale some nice ripe farmyard aromas. To be honest, I actually don’t mind them as much as people overloading on bottled scents. That can sometimes knock me sideways. Sadly I didn’t spot any dragonflies or butterflies but the birds flying high were twittering away.

It is nice to get that strength back. It takes a hell of a long time to get there, and I berate myself when (and it’s always been ‘when’ not ‘if’) I fall off the running wagon for any length of time, because, despite what they say about it staying in your legs, it never seems to in mine. 

However, I’ll not think about it now. After a busy few days, I’m about to sit down with a nice glass of wine with Anne, and put my feet up. I’ve got next week’s runs planned though so they won’t stay up for long. Not when they’re feelin’ this good.


Do You Remember The First Time?

The other night I was doing a club run, and found myself comfortably at the back of the six-mile group. Sometimes, if you’re not quite feeling the energy surging, taking it easy and just getting time on your feet is the way to go.

A bunch of snowdrops on the side of my running path.
Random picture of snowdrops from my run

I cantered alongside Jim, who was the official tail runner (so no-one’s left behind), and we started chatting about life, the universe and marathons. It was a steered conversation because I am thinking about my final bit of course work for this year. It’s about completing your first marathon, so naturally I asked him a) if he’d run any, b) why, and c) how it felt.

I assumed that all seasoned club runners would at least have bagged one, because, as Jim told me, it’s what every non-runner asked him. ‘Have you done a marathon?’ Or, even more strangely specific, ‘have you done London yet?’. 

London was actually my first marathon, so I’m nothing if not predictable. I felt that I’d finally be able to call myself a runner if I did complete one, because I used to suffer from terrible ‘imposter syndrome’.

Jim’s first was in Stoke, which sounded much harder with all those hills. But apparently it was just in training for London, as who has ever heard of the Potteries Marathon? (Not many people it seems, as it no longer runs due to falling participant numbers). The hills of Stoke should have helped him wipe the floor with the big one, or so Jim thought. He told me, he was looking for a sub 3 hour finish, and right up to mile 22 he was on track and felt brilliant. Just as he waved happily to some family in the crowd, his legs suddenly lost their mojo, and those last 4 and a bit miles were torture.

I know now, that going through that ordeal was not necessary for me to get my ‘runner’ badge. In fact, one of the best runners in the club that I know, Ali, has never run one. Because she didn’t want to knock the fun out of running.

I recognise that feeling. My training for London felt arduous in the extreme and I think I hit a genuine point of delirium from mile 21 onwards for the actual day. The aftermath too was like a deflated balloon. But still, with hindsight, I am proud to have crossed that finishing line, even if I was muttering ‘10 In The Bed’ by the end to myself to distract my brain from the pain.

It has got me wondering though, about how other people view their marathon experiences (if indeed there was one). 

So drop me a line in the comments below, or wherever you see this post, about your first time. 

Did you love it? 

Did you hate it? 

Do you want to stay a marathon virgin?

Books, Walking

The Salt Path – Raynor Winn

For one of my pieces of coursework I was trying to find examples of travel writing when Anne handed me this book. And then I started underlining passages within it before she told me she’d borrowed it from a friend. Oops, sorry!

Front Cover of The Salt Path - Raynor Winn
A slightly bent cover – sorry about that too

I was going to just read the first chapter or two to get a feel for the style, but it was difficult to put down. There is a vivacity and gentle humour about it that keeps you interested, despite the slightly traumatic beginnings. I realised why when I found out that the book had originally been written by Raynor for just her husband, Moth, as a way of helping him to remember their journey. Sometimes it feels like a love letter, and is warm, intimate and poetic.

I went on a walk, with some friends, back in 2015, that took two weeks and was well planned with solid walls, hot food and showers to meet us each night. I thought that was a difficult trek. Ray and Moth spent months wild camping, walking nearly all of the 630 mile South West Coast Path because they had suddenly become homeless and Moth had been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative disease that would affect his body and mind. If I’d had this book on my travels, it would have put my own privations into context.

Before their life on the road, Ray and Moth Winn had owned a house and farm in Wales and had lived there for thirty odd years, renovating the land and buildings while raising two children. But an investment in a friend’s business had turned sour, leading to a very costly court battle that saw them lose everything. The children, luckily, had accommodation as university students, but while the bailiffs were knocking on the door to take possession and the two adults was hiding underneath the stairs, Ray’s idea to walk began to form.

A very strange idea when her husband had just been told he had corticobasal degeneration (CBD), and was already starting to be unsteady on his feet. But as Ray says, she 

desperately needed a map, something to show me the way.’

Her descriptions of this deceptively long stretch of land are lyrical and she packs a lot of really interesting information in, about various spots along the route. If anybody is considering doing any part of that walk, then this book would be a great accompaniment. As is the book they used, Paddy Dillon’s ‘The South West Coast Path’. Even for me, who has no plans for any more long-distance hikes, it was alluring and made me want to take a teeny tiny trip down there.

There are also some very interesting reactions, when they divulge to people they meet along the way that they are literally homeless. Sadly a lot of it is negative so they don’t do so often. Raynor occasionally weaves in stories of other homeless people they encounter, as well as certain ‘statistics’, that bear no semblance to the very hard reality on the ground.

It’s a story about a journey, but as all stories about journeys end up being, it is so much more. Was their trek just delaying the inevitable social housing wait? Did Moth’s condition get worse with the arduous task of walking with his life on his back? Could they deal with the grief of the loss of their home and their livelihood? Did they always find a private place to squat?

I’ll give a little spoiler, there is hope at the end, and in the end, it’s a love story. For her husband, and for the incredible beauty of the natural world around them.