Life, Running, Walking

Marathons – never say never again…

During the walk on Sunday, I managed to first convince myself to run another marathon, and then convince myself not to.

The walk took just over 3 hours and gave me ample time for vacillating. Just over 7.5 miles (12.25 km), so it was leisurely, with a couple of stops for using the facilities, or opening a coffee flask. Our group gets together periodically, and there is often a little venture out sometime around the New Year.

I actually got into this walking for pleasure lark with these very people, or some of them, when they decided to embark upon the challenge of doing the Coast to Coast walk in 2015. We did about 200 miles (as we got lost a couple of times) over two weeks, from St Bees in the North West to Robin Hood’s Bay in the North East. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, when I wasn’t knackered, but it’s still something that I don’t do much of, except when someone asks ‘shall we do a walk?’. More often than not, it’s these guys.

This Sunday, we took in a chunk of West Wirral, starting at Thurstaston, along the beach towards West Kirby, and then back along the Wirral Way taking in the Dungeon (not actually a prison cell). The weather was cool but brilliantly sunny and dry; a perfect walking day.

Some of the group are runners, so I wasn’t fully boring them with my contemplations. I think Brian was the main recipient. He has done a number of marathons in the past, and, having required the assistance of a medical tent at the end of his last two, he has knocked it on the head, at least for a while. I have no idea why I suddenly felt like I wanted to try one again, given that my only previous two attempts were back in 2015 (they sandwiched the walk – it was a busy year).

Reflecting on the good second experience in Athens (November), as opposed to the bad first one in London (April), I know that I enjoyed it because I was, for me, extremely fit. I had bagged a Half Marathon that September in just under 2 hours. So with all my London training, and with all that walking under my belt, Athens felt like fun. I ended up doing them both in about five and a half hours, but I was running with a friend for the second one, and we ran at her pace.

Perhaps there is a part of me that wants to get under five hours, because I know I could have done in Athens. Perhaps the pain of training is so far away that I’ve forgotten that I hated it (not at all like childbirth – but you get my drift). At a couple points, during our perambulations, I was seriously close to going home and signing up for something this September.

But, as the walk progressed, and we climbed up a hill, and my right hip started to twinge a bit, I realised that, before I even start contemplating crazy things like that, I need to get myself to a level of fitness that hasn’t been in my body in over six years. It’s not unachievable, but I’m going to give it more than a few months.

Still, September 2023 in Berlin, around my 50th birthday, may be calling to me?

Life

Week 1

And whoosh! A whole week of the year has gone in the blink of an eye!

Not quite; I did have my eyes open but, after all the festivities and anticipations of the new year, it does seem to have come to this point very fast.

I think it has something to do with the previous 10 day isolation. That long ago time of glorious relaxation. Nobody to see, nowhere to go, and, luckily, no real symptoms to manage. Plenty of nice food and wine. For an anti-social sod like me it was heaven!

Although, to be fair, we were completely and totally ready to leave the house on New Year’s Eve  to spend a delayed Christmas/New Year with Anne’s eldest in London. But, after a couple of days there, a night in Leicester at my big sister’s, two days babysitting of our grandson, who, despite my fitness, can run the legs off me, and a trek into the wilds of Sheffield today, to see our new nephew, I’m ready for a warm flannel and a lie down again.

There was one day at home in that list above, but it was spent getting a bit of running done and batch cooking a chili for my brother’s freezer, as they will be busy enough over the next few weeks without having to cook.

It was so lovely to see them all, but getting there was a tad hair-raising, given the snowfall en route in the Peak District. Anne tells me it was quite breath taking. I had no idea as I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road ahead!

Snowy hills on the way to Sheffield.
Travelling to Sheffield, or is it the Alps?!

I know that I hadn’t set any official resolutions this year, but I need to pull myself out of the December lard, so I thought the two challenges I completed in January last year feel like good place to start. Adriene, my personal YouTube yoga teacher, does a new 30 day challenge each year and very kindly she begins it on the 2nd of the month for those who may have imbibed too much. I’ve managed to get on the mat every day so far, and already my lower back twinges less and my calves feel less tight. The other challenge is running 100 miles. Currently, I’m quite behind where I’d like to be, but hopefully, I can build it up as the month continues. And what better motivation to get out early doors when I can see skies like this as dawn comes in.

Blue and purple skies in the morning during my run
Morning Glory

Happy New Year!

Life

A Time of Reckoning

Well! What a year that nearly has been.

I’m sitting in the liminal space between Christmas and 2022, eating chocolate. Not just any chocolate. Not even M&S Chocolate. But home-crafted orange chocolate fudge courtesy of my wife.

Dreaded double line

To be fair there’s not a lot else to do given that we’re in the back end of isolation. Having finally been caught by Covid a few days before Christmas after it has ebbed and flowed in this country all year, our festive plans had to be radically changed, and instead of taking a sizeable section of a pig down to London to carve with Anne’s eldest and his family, we had to plead mitigating circumstances with the butcher and stay put.

Luckily, with our boosters, we’ve had not much more than light colds and Christmas was not fully cancelled. The two of us were well-stocked and once we had broken the bad news and other peoples plans were re-made, we have settled ourselves to a bit of a chilled out ten days, with fine food and liberal libations. Our trip to London is only postponed as we’ll be allowed out by New Year’s Eve so all is good.

A scrummy Christmas lunch even if it is just the two of us.

But while I have this time I’ve been pondering on the roller-coaster that has been 2021.

It began with mighty fine intentions and a resolution list that actually got publicly declared, so we’ll see how I did on that below.

January also gave us the very sad and all too sudden news that one of Anne’s brothers had passed away. Mark had Motor Neurone Disease but none of us were expecting him to go so soon.

At the end of March and into April, there were the beginnings of an inkling that my dad was poorly, and then several crazy months as things developed unbelievably quickly, culminating in his death, at the beginning of July. Intense times, but in the midst of those months, I spent a lot of time with my siblings. We always knew we had each other’s backs but it was good to know we got on so well during the stressful times, able to laugh together and cry.

Plus somewhere along the way, while my dad was sick, that little nervous Pomeranian, Rocco, who was spending his retirement with us, got suddenly ill and had to shuffle off this mortal coil too!

On a happier and momentous note, my amazing grandma turned 100 this year in May. We managed to pop down to see her for lunch at the beginning of this month, and as I asked her about her youth, she told me, with a glint in her eye, that she did go to school but she didn’t learn anything!

At the back end of July, I managed to stay in the tail-wind of two of my brothers-in-law as we cycled, over four days, from Lincoln to Liverpool to raise money for an MND charity.

In September we had a family holiday, a smaller version of the one we’d all planned at the beginning of the year, where we released our dad’s ashes to the sea, and toasted his life.

I also began a part-time Post Graduate course in September with the Open University, on Creative Writing. It will be for one or, if I do well and carry it on to a Masters, two years, and I’m very excited by it so far. I’ve no idea what it will do to me, or what it will open up for me, if anything. For a long time, I’ve thought that I liked the idea of writing, but was too much of a lazy sod to do anything about it. My regular blogging this year gave me that opportunity to begin practising the craft, perhaps developing a bit of a voice, and this course is my reward to myself. It’s a little bit very scary, because I’ll be putting myself out there to be judged by other people and I don’t know if I will pass muster. I also don’t know if I’ll give up, because it’s really hard work, and I know I can be a shirker. But for the moment, despite it being tough, I’m enjoying it immensely, and that will do for now.

Finally, this year has ended with a birth, to balance out some of the deaths. My brother and his wife (but mainly his wife) have just had another little addition to their family, and when we’re fully better, we are hotfooting it to Sheffield, to meet the little tot! Cannot wait!

So how did I do with my list.

Yoga
Well, I’ve done pretty well on the Yoga front although it still comes and goes in waves of effort. I can say that there has hardly been a week where I’ve done nowt of it, and quite a few weeks where I’ve practised four times or more. It is still a habit I’m trying to form and with the extra sitting on my buttocks that I’m doing for my course, I will need to try and keep the attempt going. Adriene will be doing another 30 day bobbins in January, and I’ve signed up for it yet again!

Running
I have run nearly 200 more miles this year than last year (842 miles), and actually, looking at my stats for all the years I’ve been running since 2013, it’s my second best mileage ever, so I’m fairly pleased. But given that’s included some busy off-months over the spring and summer, and a lazy arse December, I know I can do better. So I’m going to kick into the new year with another 100 miles attempt and work it from there.

WordPress
I still only know the basics, but that will suffice for now. I do need to try and push my ‘followers’ numbers up by remembering to advertise the fact that people can follow me.
Work in Progress.

Short Story Writing
That went out the window from dot, but I realised that I’m a bit pants at making stuff up. No. That’s not completely true. I find it really, really hard to do fiction and I’m much better at real life. This section of my course is fiction writing, and I have had a go at three first drafts just in this month alone. So I know it’s possible, if I give myself brain-ache.

Growing Vegetables
I grew nothing but Anne managed a pretty good crop in her first year. The Good Life beckons!

Learning Italian
I kept this up for three months. Which was quite good for me. Forgotten it all now.

Finally, as the small tips of muscles, I’d started to excavate, slide back into the folds of my skin while I demolish the chocolate, I won’t set up another list for next year as it feels like I’ve got a lot on my plate as it is. I’m pleased to have kept up the blogging though, as a mini record of this year, and that will definitely continue.

Fingers crossed it’s a calmer and more joyful year!



So, dear reader, I hope you enjoy my musings. If you wish not to miss any future instalments, just pop your email address into the box below and hit the subscribe button. It will mean my blog goes into your inbox just as soon as it’s published, and I get to look popular. A win-win!

 

Life, Running

Deck the Halls

Candle table dressing with holly, pine cones surrounding the candle.
Anne’s table dressing

Today is the first Saturday of December and every year that means only one thing. Wine in the fridge, fire laid for the evening, free Spotify playing random Christmas tunes in between the adverts, and finally, the boxes of assorted, accumulated decorations down from the attic.

This year, in a rare departure from tradition, we are not having a tree! I know, shocking, right? Normally, the two of us can be seen half carrying, half dragging a suitable specimen from the grocers at the top of the road. Then we have a cup of tea and a little lie down before dressing it with a cornucopia of baubles, bells and fairies. But this year, because we are spending Christmas down in London with Anne’s eldest, we thought we’d just decorate the house and splash some lights around the window and job’s a goodun.

Oh, if only life were so simple. How can a set of lights that we only bought last year, just stop working? And then, where are the ribbons that tied the long faux evergreen branch to the banisters? Plus, how on earth can Baby Jesus just disappear from the Nativity set when it’s all been wrapped carefully and put away so well?? Hmmm, not the kind of miracle I was hoping for.

The day has turned cold, rainy and really rather windy. Perfect for justifying an indoor fire, and a little glass of Christmas Baileys maybe sooner rather than later at this rate. At least I can feel smug about getting my run done this morning.

In between the rain showers, I got out for a rather nice 10K, but I ran it a good two minutes slower than my previous run, a couple of days ago. I spotted quite a few arboreal casualties of last weekend’s Storm Arwen on my canter out. As we were in London, we didn’t realise how strong it was here. My last run felt tough and I was exhausted all day after. This time my legs felt very comfortable and I didn’t feel tired at all by the end, a brilliant feeling and a good reminder to me that going slow and building up the mileage is the key. If I do just a little one tomorrow, I’ll get easily over twenty miles this week which will be a mental boost.

But back to the decorations. Neither of us is now going to venture out on this squally afternoon just to buy lights, so that will have to wait a while. In the meantime maybe we’ll put up some good old fashioned candles. We’ve found all the other bits and Anne has done a fine job of tastefully bedecking our downstairs.

I don’t know how much of it will remain so tasteful, given that we have the grandson on Monday and Tuesday but for now it’s all looking lovely and festive. The wind can holler outside as much as Maria Carey is hollering inside, but it really is starting to feel a lot like Christmas now.

Running

Don’t Look Ethel

Yesterday and today I ran naked.

Cows in the field, waiting by the gate

No, I wasn’t taking the idea of a run streak literally, and there were no acts of public indecency. I did keep my clothes on, and really, would you, given how the temperature has taken a sudden plummet? What I mean is, that I didn’t keep a track of any running metrics while I ran.

From appalling to anodyne in two short paragraphs, but for a runner who likes to keep a eye of their miles and pace as they go along (that is most of us), it’s quite a big deal to not be able to see a smart watch, or listen to a voice in your headphones periodically giving you your details.

I don’t have a sports watch. Yet. So normally I rely on the lady from the Runkeeper app telling me what’s happening every ten minutes. How many miles I’ve accumulated, what my average pace is etc. All very interesting stuff if you like that sort of thing. And sadly, I do.

It was because I’ve (temporarily I hope) lost my headphones, and I decided to mute my phone volume to avoid passers-by hearing the slightly pathetic information coming through. So I wasn’t completely naked. I did capture my data, but I only looked at the end of the run.

There are very few runners that I know who don’t care about these things. I can only think of one. A man I used to run with some lunchtimes when I worked for a company, a few years back. His name has completely passed me by, but he used to just have a normal watch, that could just tell the time. He looked at it when we started, and then maybe, at the end, if he remembered. He was so zen. I think his preference was trail running and hills, and he was so chilled that he even ran during Ramadan, in the summer, while observing the no water rule, and didn’t seem to break a sweat. Amazing!

But apart from this guy, I can’t think of anybody who doesn’t record their runs. I’m not sure I like it. I feel bereft. Normally I listen to a podcast in between the ten minute time checks, or I’m chatting to other people if I’m going out with a group, but these last couple of days I’ve got nothing.

Well, apart from the sound of the traffic, the birds, and the occasional mooing cow I suppose.

In my OU Creative Writing course, I am encouraged to observe the world around me a little more closely. To use all the senses and describe what I notice with a little, well, creativity.

What did I notice?

The constant background whirring hum of the nearby motorway: white noise, it fades into the subconscious. The birds twittering in the trees, squeezing behind the last few leaves that have managed to cling on to the bitter end. Squirrels, scarpering silently well ahead of me, when they feel the earthquake of my clodhopper tread. Farmyard aromas wafting on the chilly breeze as I reach the winding country lanes. The cows lining up at the gate, waiting impatiently, to be moved to the greener grass field.

You see! The sooner I can find my headphones the better.

Running

Base Training 101

I was hoping to run 10 miles yesterday morning, for no other reason than to see if I still could, since my half in September. I managed 8. This was adequate, but disappointing but it is hard to motivate yourself to keep going for just under two hours (that’s how long 10 miles currently takes me) when there is no race on the horizon.

Although I’ve put my name down for the Helsby Half in January, I’m on the waiting list as they’ve reduced their numbers. I’m 77th in the queue so it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting the call up any time soon, but then again, there could be a flurry of withdrawals in December when people have realised they’ve larded up too much over a festive period that feels like a long time coming.

This makes for a difficult limbo land. Do I carry on training as if I will be running, or do I assume it’s a non-starter and give myself over to the gluttony that is to come?

Of course, if I did have an ounce of my dad’s self-discipline, I would be able to take everything in moderation and maintain a balance between the hard work and the play. In the absence of that, however, I need to reshape my thinking. Instead of worrying about the length of an individual run at the minute I should just work on increasing my weekly mileage. I’m hovering around the 17 miles per week mark and I’d like to get it up to a comfortable 25 by the middle of December. That should be very doable if I just remind myself that, most days, I just need to pop out for a quickie, as it were.

Base training can come in different shapes and sizes, but what it basically means is maintaining, or getting to, a decent level of stamina for what you want to achieve in the long run. If you have a race in six months’ time, you don’t want to push too hard from now as you’re more likely to get tired, or injured, or miserable, or all of the above. But, you also don’t want to start from zero, so the first few months will be getting to a nice level of fitness, where you feel healthy but still energetic. It is a hard balance to strike

If I don’t do Helsby, then my next big run is in June, so how do I resist my natural inclination to stay in my pyjamas and crack open an early box of mint chocolate matchmakers?

Well, it’s not easy, but this is a list that (most of the time) works for me.


Number 1 – Get other people to kick you up the proverbial

In my experience running buddies do help. Either, friends who regularly run with me (get better soon Bev!) or being part of a running club. Especially a running club where several of the members are decades older and still wipe the floor with me.

Actually I think that is an important point that I made without realising it: if all the people you hang out with are quite sedentary and you’re the fittest of them all, then it’s easy to get a little laissez-faire about exercise. But if you add a few people who are regularly active, then that starts becoming your new normal.

Number 2 – Break down the time frame

If you’ve got oodles of blank squares in your calendar between now and the big run, then you will probably do what I did for most of my undergraduate degree. Not start until it’s way too late and then cram like crazy to produce a mediocre offering.

Put in some mini challenges between now and then. Parkrun is a great go-to for that, as it’s free and it’s in the same place every Saturday at 9am. Yes it’s only a 5k but if you’re going hell for leather on that one run, then following the 80/20 rule, that’s your 20% done. And the rest of the week can consist of some longer runs that are nice and slow. Plus you get to see an indication of your progression, if you do the same run every few weeks, and if it goes in the right direction, that can be very motivating.

Number 3 – Mix it up

Do other stuff: like cycling, or dancing. Even taking your two year old grandson for a big splash in the baths counts as an add on, as semi-permanently squatting in the shallow end so my shoulders didn’t get cold and keeping hold of him as he didn’t have armbands, was definitely a workout. I have also been doing yoga, a little more regularly at the moment, alongside my running, and from personal experience I think that, or any other big stretchy workout, should be a crucial extra when you run long distances.

Number 4 – Enjoy it

A path with autumn leaves covering the pavement and several trees looming behind the wall running along the edge.

What is not to love about the carpet of autumnal colour ahead of me as I lope along the pathways. The crunch underfoot (well I hope it’s crunchy!), as the brittle leaves break apart beneath me. If you can convince yourself that you’re going out for a bit of fresh air, to clear your head, to explore, to be one with nature, or any other reason that is different from ‘to train’ then it feels a whole lot less onerous to get out.


So those are my tuppence worth of thoughts on keeping motivated between races and I’ll attempt to put them into practise between now and June, or if I’m lucky/unlucky, between now and January!

Books, Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

The book, scribbled notes and all

I’ve just finished reading, or should I say re-reading, this book.

Because my writing course will focus on creative non-fiction, I’m trying to pick up a few more of that kind of book to learn how the professionals do it. Normally Murakami writes novels and I’ve enjoyed many of them, but this book title naturally drew me in.

Even though I’ve read it before, I was still thrown by the start of chapter eight. I had completely forgotten what he does, but then that is often what I do with books. Read them, sometimes enjoy them and then promptly forget most of them. I’ve been known to get well over halfway through a book before I realise that I’ve read it before! Nothing major happens here, and normal people might wonder what am I even going on about with this particular chapter, but the start of it got to me.

My course is making me look more closely at the craft of construction, so this time around I’ve made scribbled notes on scraps of paper and slotted them in at the pertaining pages. Not sure how useful they might be when I read them back again, but I feel as if I’m paying a bit more attention by doing this.

The book is set out in the form of mini essays, with a date and location at the top of each section. That makes it sound like a diary but it has so much more fluidity of time and space than a regular diary does. It is a memoir of sorts and there really is a large amount of talking about running (just in case you thought the title was just a metaphor). And even though his running is at a seriously more advanced level than mine, I could relate to it a lot.

In amongst the descriptions of his running methods and progress, he weaves in key moments of his life in a way that feels very natural, and still relating to the point. You get to learn about him as a person, and how he is shaped, metaphorically, and physically, but you don’t get the usual yawn about where he was born or what school he went to etc.

The biggest take I got, is that Murakami is a singularly focused man, to the point, sometimes, of obsession. But this focus propels him in his running/triathlon efforts in the same way that it does his writing. He can sit, every morning, for three or four hours and carve away at his writing, without any deviation. I came away in awe of that focus, a little afraid of not being able to gain it myself. And then again, if I did, wondering what kind of a person I would then become.

I have used a quote from this book which I love, on my home page, as although I’m never going to be that good a runner, I love getting out there. And if I do get more serious about this writing lark, it looks like I’m going to need that running even more.

Running

Running, or was it wallowing (?), in Beacon Park

I’m squatting by a bucket of muddy water outside my house with rubber gloves on and a toothbrush in my hand, wondering if this is what normal people do on a Sunday.

To clarify, the toothbrush has long been demoted from the task of cleaning teeth, and used to have a happy, later life getting around the taps with a dab of Cif. Now, it’s taken a further step down the ladder, and been relegated to scrubbing the mud off the grips in my shoes, as today was my first attempt at cross-country running since my school days.

Although I had taken my new trail shoes for a small, initial spin around Storeton Woods last Sunday, this was their real christening. I can now say that they were worth it, as they were really comfy and they kept me upright.

The day turned out to be a bright, sunny one, albeit with some hefty gusts. Some of our team found that out, when they tried putting the club gazebo up on the grass. By the time we arrived, they were busy taking it down again before it flew away to Oz.

Several hundred people were milling around in the sun in various states of preparation, We had a fifteen strong running group for Pensby, plus some kind volunteers to help look after us all, but I didn’t realise that so many people did this kind of thing for fun on a Sunday morning. Maybe it was the lack of runs in 2020, and the dry day today, but the first race of the North West Cross Country season  was very well attended.

I had triple-knotted my laces, and Claudia had shown me a handy loop on the top of my shoes to shove the bows in, but I was still thinking I should have tightened the laces a little more, and wondering if I had time to readjust, when the horn sounded. The hordes around me stormed ahead and I was swept up in it for a short while, until I was a little out of breath and slowed to a more manageable pace.

At the start, the ground felt quite nice. The grass didn’t feel like it had too many hidden dips and was actually quite springy and enjoyable, once I could breathe again. That didn’t last.

I often worry that, when I get left behind as I invariably do, I may be liable to take a wrong turning somewhere, if there aren’t enough marshals. I didn’t need to worry this time, as even if the marshals and well laid out sign posts hadn’t been there, I had only to follow the heavily churned ground to find my way. At Storeton Woods I did my best to skip over or go around the muddy patches. Here there was zero option to circumvent, and as I ventured to find some non-existent edge, a fellow competitor said: sometimes the easiest way is straight through the middle.

Sage words, and by the middle of the first loop I was heeding them, although I was nearly left shoeless on several occasions, and wished I had tightened up those laces at the beginning. Towards the end of the first loop I was being lapped by some of the front-runners, including Ben, the first Pensby in, who’d been feeding his new-born girl at 4am this morning. I think he just came out for the run to have a rest!

The marshal optimistically asked me if I’d done my two loops, just after Ben sailed passed me, but no, I had to do it all again before I could take that right turn to the finish. For the first loop, there had been two steepish hills and a few undulations. For the second, it all felt like hills, but, remarkably, I was really starting to enjoy myself. The sun was out, the endorphins were kicking in and I hadn’t fallen or twisted my ankle. What a great day!

Even more lovely, as I was getting to the end and pushing up a crazy final hill to that finish line, I had the biggest cheer from the rest of the Pensby Runners team. I was the last Pensby in but, surprisingly, not the last runner to finish the course. It actually wouldn’t have mattered to me if I was, as someone will always be last. Getting out there to begin with was the win for me today.

The trainers are cleaner than they were five minutes ago but probably not as pristine as they were first thing this morning, which is alright. They feel like they belong on my feet a bit more now that I’ve doused them in the mud. Though I have to remember to tie my shoe laces up tighter next time!

Running

Trails…of destruction?

I’ve decided to take up trail running.

Well I haven’t really, not for definite. But I have now bought some (expensive for me but still the cheapest ones in the shop) shoes for trail runs.

New trail shoe in foot with purple socks
One of my new clodhoppers

I know you can get much cheaper ones online, but I do have a thing about trying to support a real, local, running shop because they’re so useful about giving you proper advice on what type of shoe you should go for. Also the online sites didn’t have my size.

Actually the shoes I’ve bought are several sizes bigger than my foot size which is 3.5. In running shoes I regularly get between a 4.5 and a 5 because there is so much internal padding and you need to allow space for ‘spread’. These ones are a 6 (!) and a very dark pink so in my head I look like a circus clown (Anne assures me that I don’t).

So why have I spent all this crazy money? It’s in the hope that I actually do some trail running. Even though I’m not mad keen on getting down and dirty, especially in the winter months, I’ve read, and been told, about the many wonderful things about trail running and I feel like I should dip a muddy toe in.

Wonderful thing No 1 – It’s very mindful

I had a go at breaking in these deep magenta bad boys on Sunday in Storeton Woods and I could kind of see what they mean. Because you’re busy trying not to twist your ankles on the tree roots and hidden dips that plague your way, you are definitely not thinking about anything else. Plus, as I’m still averse to dirt, I’m trying to skip over or around the many bogs and mud patches that have developed with the unceasing rain. So, if mindfulness means paying attention then, yes, most definitely, I was that.

Wonderful thing No 2 – It slows you down

This is apparently wonderful because we’re all just too busy trying to be faster and we should just chill with nature – or something like that.

As regular readers may know, I am not the fastest kid on the block, nor even anywhere near the middle. However, based on this little trip, my normal sloth speed was indeed further diminished by aforementioned obstacles and dodgy uneven ground so that I had to walk (or rather scramble) in places. Walking is apparently a crucial part of trail running, and while serious road runners would never dream of having one foot permanently on the ground during a run, trail runners embrace it as part of the experience of getting across the terrain – or something like that.

Wonderful thing No 3 – It works more of your muscles

Well, yes. To say I was ker-nackered after that short and slow three and a bit miler maybe gives credence to that idea. I felt that, because my feet were landing at different angles, my motion was sometimes side to side, and my arms were flailing about to keep my balance, parts of my body were definitely being woken up that otherwise wouldn’t have been active.

I am a bit clumsy with my running or any physical activity, and my right ankle has sometimes got nearly or, occasionally, fully twisted when I’ve fallen. So this whole idea of trail running feels a bit counter-intuitive. However, I’m thinking that, if I do it slowly (which has never been a problem) I could actually build up the tendons and muscles around my ankles a little bit more by having a go at these crazy runs.

There is a season of local trail races coming up this winter, and I’m bobbing along for at least the first one this Sunday. I have verified that my presence will not be detrimental to any team positions so I’ll give it a go and let you know.

Running

Run To The Hills

I was saying to Sue last night that …

Well I wasn’t so much saying, as gasping, barely able to get a syllable in, between the short and desperate inhalations.

Despite my wheezing, we managed to hold a conversation of sorts and I was explaining that I’d not done any hill training for two, maybe three years. And it showed.

I’m not talking about going for a run that has hills in it. These are the more repetitive, and therefore somewhat more challenging, efforts that I inexplicably volunteered for last night at the club.

I was at the back. At the back during the 1.4 mile ‘jog’ to Teals Way, and at the back during the repeats. However, it’s an exercise that I cannot do with the same amount of push by myself. I would have walked some of it. I would have gone slower. I would have given myself a million excuses not to do it in the first place because I wouldn’t have been accountable to anybody but myself and I am a rubbish taskmaster!

A small section of our hill – courtesy of Google Maps

Those excuses were obviously listened to as I’ve not done hill repeats for years and there are plenty of hills in my vicinity. Red Hill Road and Rest Hill Road are neither red nor restful but they are both several levels above ‘undulating’.

So here I was, slightly knackered before we’d even begun, at the bottom of Teals Way pulling off my extra layers on a dark but rather warm evening. Andy, our drill instructor, is a deceptively smiley chap. He looks on you kindly and gives you encouragement and then blows his whistle.

The first ten minutes was to go up and down at a steady pace to get ‘a feel’ for the hill. Up to the first bend it’s a gradual incline. Then you veer gently to the right and you can feel your lungs starting to work as it gets a bit steeper. A bend then to the left again and this is the ‘pinch’, the steepest section and your breathing has shallowed as you try and get oxygen in as quickly as possible. It levels out a little at the top as you go right, and around the green electrical box and finally down the hill again, you pull in deep breaths to recover. Then you do it all again!

I think I managed about three hills to everyone else’s six and this one was the easy exercise! However, as I explained, haltingly, to Sue, during the second ten minute drill (she had popped up here as she’d been late getting to the club and this was the only group she knew the location of – that’ll teach her to be late!), my participation, and my uber slow circuits should just be an encouragement to all the runners who think that hill running with the gazelles is too daunting! Someone will always be last, and sometimes, like yesterday, someone may be last by quite a distance. But absolutely nobody will mock you and you will get a nice sense of achievement for some hard work done.

The second and third drills involved sprint sections: the second before the ‘pinch’ and the third, actually on the steepest bit itself. I didn’t have the lungs to sprint but I did attempt to lengthen my stride and pump my arms more for those bits.

We could see the silhouette of a man looking at us all from his bedroom window: hard to imagine how normal people may view this merry crew? Sue stayed with me even though, given her ability to string a longer sentence together, she could have gone faster. We managed to do one round of the final drill before I suggested making an early exit. I knew that the 1.4 miles back to the club was mainly uphill and I figured that, for a first stint in ages, I’d done alright.

The one good thing about doing these hills on a dark night in October is that there is less likelihood of tripping on tree roots as Teals Way is a wide, quiet and well lit road.

Of course, the other good thing is that it will, eventually, make me stronger. If it doesn’t kill me first!