Running into my Fourth Age… or maybe not at all

I nearly closed this blog at the turn of the year. Not because I don’t have things to say, but rather because I don’t have the bandwidth these days to set it down. In the end I renewed the fee just before midnight; maybe one more year. I am typing this on London Marathon morning, the race on the tv in the background as I repeatedly click the refresh button on the tracker.

Annus horibilis

Last year – 2016 – was generally recognised as a bad year, full of deaths of special people from David Bowie onwards, and sad, troubled world events. For me too. In 2015 I had run strongly and was even tempted to look at an autumn marathon, but in the end took the prudent decision not to risk it. But I entered 2016 very positive and primed for a big year. I ran a strong Harewood House Half (trails, tough) in February and then just a couple of weeks later the complete contrast of the flat fast Silverstone Half on the F1 circuit. I was entered for a repeat of my home Leeds Half in May followed immediately by the Liverpool Rock & Roll Half which promised to be fun, and by then I would be just a couple of runs short of my 50th Half. I had also begun to seriously consider an autumn marathon and ponder whether to repeat my favourite Robin Hood, or enter Chester as a first. And I even pondered whether it might be feasible to run two back-to-back. That’s how positive I was feeling. In March; a year ago.

Then Mum became ill. Actually she had been ill for some time but there had been no visible sign of her ovarian cancer; and by mid-April after an incredibly intense and draining few weeks, she passed away in a care home close to us, her funeral finally taking place on our wedding anniversary at the end of April. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. (There is a positive – and life-changing – aspect to this, but I will write of that separately.)

So I lined up for Leeds Half having had only a few 20-30 minute runs in weeks. But I needed to run; I needed to cling on.

Leeds Half, and a ‘muscle strain’

I have enough base fitness, and started ok. But at about 6 miles or so I first felt it. A dull ache in my upper-left chest. And then a sharper pain down the inside of my left arm.

Yes, that; and you don’t need to be a paramedic to know what it means. In any case I have felt this before. I had a small heart-attack four years ago: it wasn’t serious, but that’s what it was. Ever since, I have had my cornflakes sprinkled with beta-blockers, aspirin, statins and blood-pressure meds; but the doctors have encouraged me to continue running, safely, including the York full marathon in September 2014, eighteen months after my episode. And, allowing for an adjustment to my pace and an acceptance that I can no longer race, I have continued to run reasonably well.

So, back at Leeds, I eased off and the pain went. I processed what I was feeling and continued to run. We do that, don’t we, we runners: we continue to run though we know we are hurting ourselves. As I continued to run and felt ok my pace picked back up… and so did the pains. So I eased off, and repeated that cycle a few times to the finish. Ironically the official race pic of me is my best ever: taken from low down with Leeds Town Hall in bright spring sunshine behind, both feet off the floor and great form. But inside I was distraught, as I collected my medal in my own gathering darkness.

Not dealing with it

I fully understood the implications well enough. It’s not just the immediate risk to me (and my family) of running too hard on any given day, there’s a wider issue: running isn’t something I ‘do’ it is a fundamental component of who I am. It is my escape, and a lifeline where I am ‘ok’, where I am ‘good enough’, amidst so much other chaos and failure. And was I about to be told to stop? For good? This thought filled me with dread, with a shattering loss which hadn’t even happened, yet.

I told myself it was because of the circumstances and would not be a permanent problem; all I needed to do was train properly, build up again gently, and get back to normal. It was a one-off, I would be fine. I ran gently in the week, and then again the following weekend and after. And whenever I pushed, I felt it again. I gave up on Liverpool.

Summer, Autumn, Winter

We moved house in July which ruined any structured training during the summer, and whenever I ran and tried to pick up in advance of the autumn, the same pains returned. At a slower pace I began to build the mileage for Robin Hood in September until ironically I was an out-of-the-blue Achilles injury which made me miss only my second run there in twenty years. And there was my year, over.

It wasn’t just my pump which was hurting, but also the real heart, the big red one which is often too deep and passionate for its own good. (Like Dr Who, me, with my two hearts.) I hadn’t told anyone about Leeds. I internalise this kind of thing, turn it over and over and over in thought and emotion; I often keep things below the surface, where they grow and spread and weigh me down. There is no-one I can talk it out with, because there is no-one who understands, and it can become very lonely, and exhausting, living with a dark weight inside which no-one else sees.

There was the recognition that my heart (the pump) was in distress and a deep sense of the possible consequences. But also the loss of the year’s hopes and an even more profound dread that I was about to be told I could no longer run, or at best be reduced to a Saturday-morning park jogger. I began to wonder how I would replace it – for either exercise or the emotional/spiritual aspects (the deep red one) – and realised that nothing adequately could. Yes I could cycle, or swim, or join a gym or all of the above, and I could determine to get to the mountains more often. But nothing could replace the practicality and simplicity and exhilaration of a muddy run in the woods in the brittle sunshine of autumn. Over the weeks, and with the reminder-pains of every run, I was painting myself into something like bereavement.

Needle in the red

I continued to run, once or twice a week; always short, always slow, barely a jog or trot; but always devoid of any energy and labouring. And with the permanent but very real sensation that I was running with the needle hovering just below the red on the dial… or into it, and then the pain inevitably came.

Other things were happening elsewhere in life and by Christmas/New Year I wasn’t in a good place at all, and the loneliness and loss were becoming overwhelming. In the end I resolved to confront it and booked an appointment for the new year with the doctor. I also told my daughter, and she persuaded me to admit the problem to my wife so that when the eventual answer came, it would be less of a shock.

To my surprise (and by now confusion, for I had already persuaded myself of the worst) the doctor was fairly relaxed and didn’t confiscate my trainers straight away. It seems the pain isn’t my pump itself but the rest of my body complaining at the oxygen-deficit (and my moderate heart-rate not a sign of good fitness but of the beta-blockers doing their job). The doc said that surgery might be an option but couldn’t be guaranteed to work, and different medication was the first option: we agreed the goal was to keep me running but with enough protection to keep me safe. We even agreed that once I had adapted to the new meds I could try to build up for another Half – endurance if not pace at least. So long as I stuck to the rule of keeping the needle below the red, and pain-free.

The meds were awful to begin with, and at first didn’t solve the problem… so back to the docs for an increase in dosage. But I was running, and in the period between February and Easter I gradually picked up, in the sense that it very gradually became less labourious, and I have eventually found an adjusted pace, even adapted my form.

A year ago my (already slower-paced) Half-marathon plan would be something like 3 miles at 9-min/mile pace followed by 3 at 8:45, maybe 8:30s to 12 miles and then let the finish take care of itself (and sometimes on a good day I would be cruising at 8:15 or even less). Now though, I am struggling to keep to 10-10:30 min/mile pace. All of my runs now take 20% longer than before. And I can’t reach that state where the pump and lungs and legs are all cruising at an elevated rate and the adrenaline and endorphins are flowing… and you find you are running with your deep red heart glowing. I still plod, trudge. But I am running, and as long as I keep the needle below the red, I am safe.

Spring, and running into my fourth age

So. I have booked my place at Leeds Half. This will be my 48th Half Marathon. And it will come a year after my last: a year of doubt, fear and darkness, dominated amongst other things by the fear of the loss of running. For good. Losing some of the essence of me, for good.

As I type here on London Marathon day I am still not sure I will make the start-line. I haven’t even reached the longest-run distance I need and am running out of weekends to reach it; plus, last September’s achilles is snarling again. But I do believe now that – albeit much slower – if I can complete the training and arrive healthy at the startline – I can run the distance. I am running, and building up: for the first time in a year I have crossed that line from running to ‘training’.

I have no goal, no target time. Just to reach the startline safely; and to run it, safely.

Not for the first time I am investing a run with a huge weight of significance. This feels like a deeply important moment, a milestone in my running-as-life.

The first age of my running was in my teens and twenties: I just ran, no structure or plan, just ran.

My second age was in my thirties to mid-forties: late, I know, but serious running built on planning, pace, training and split times, and measured in races and PBs.

In my late forties and early fifties came my third age: an acceptance that as I was ageing I couldn’t keep pushing my body to extremes and chase times, but by easing off I could liberate myself, avoid (or limit) injury, run for its own joy and extend my time. The Art of Running Slowly.

We will find out over the next few weeks whether my Fourth Age is going to be slower and even more measured but – critically – still running. Or the end of running; the end of part of me.

This has been a year coming; and may be the most significant run of my life.

Update 13-05-17: Well I made it to the startline. I have run enough, with a couple of 12-milers (back round Eccup reservoir, which made me happy after a long absence), and some circuits including the first hills of the course. I have found a new pace and rhythm, and can (generally) keep that at the level where the pains don’t come.

So tomorrow morning I will line up for my first race in a year, knowing that I will record a lifetime personal-worst, by close to half an hour probably. But for this one, the time doesn’t matter.

My 48th half-marathon. And I am as nervous as if it were my first. Which, in a way, it is.

 

 

Posted in Injury, Running | Leave a comment

“They think it’s all over…!?”

We’ve all done it. That is, had an injury and carried on running despite it, through it. We tell ourselves we will loosen it, or burn it off, or that the exercise will help it repair. On occasion we keep on going and carry an injury so long that it never actually repairs, instead becoming  a permanent scar or weakness to accompany us on all future runs (and play with our minds in the run up to important events).

But this time it’s different. I fear this one may be terminal. I fear I may have to stop running. And I mean stop, for good.

Last year I was going well: a couple of half marathons and a strong summer and I was that close to being able to run the full marathon at Robin Hood. But prudently I decided not to push it, to hold it over for this year… and by spring I wasn’t just planning an autumn marathon – I was contemplating Nottingham and Chester full marathons back-to-back.

It started fine, the fantastic (tough, beautiful and highly recommended) Harewood Half Marathon in February, and then in March the complete contrast of the half-marathon on Silverstone race circuit. The plan was to run my home-course Leeds Half at the beginning of May and then finish the month with the Liverpool Rock&Run Half – a new one for me, following a lovely family break there last year. That would have been my 48th Half and left me plotting my 50th, depending on what distance I chose for Robin Hood.

But the plan never happened. Mum became ill before Easter and after an intense spell passed away in April. This left me exhausted but I pressed on with Leeds in early May on almost zero training. I shouldn’t have. An earlier and deep-rooted injury rang its alarm bells and I knew Liverpool was off. I tried to pick up but never fully got going and the demands of work and moving house in July left me precious little time to rebuild. Giving up on 26.2 I was looking on-track for September’s Half at Robin Hood, when a totally unheralded Achilles rose up from nowhere and stopped me, dead. And that was pretty-much my year gone.

We have all had them. Those injuries where we are forced to acknowledge that our bodies have had enough, and rather than just easing off we have to take a proper break – six or eight weeks, typically. We then re-start from scratch, tentatively walk-jogging 20 metres, then 50, to see how it feels, and gradually having the confidence to build up the distance and frequency. At first it seems that the heart and lungs have shrunk to nothing, and it feels just awful; but soon they respond, the fitness and endurance build up and the form returns, and we are off, in awe of our body’s power to repair, and making plans again.

But not this time, it seems.

I have done the steps, I have done the building… but no response. Although with perseverance I can extend the duration, I am weeks in and rather than feeling the running return I can still barely jog. And rather than feeling the strength build, I can feel the injury stalking me. Whatever the length, and however I feel, I am stuck in second gear, and rather than celebrating how my body can respond, it seems I am throttled, permanently limited. Every time I run, I am acutely conscious that I am simultaneously barely plodding yet also holding the needle precariously close to the red zone.

Deep down, I know that if I try to push on, it will be dangerous. In truth I think I have known that for a couple of months, but I have put my fingers in my ears and screwed up my eyes and gone “blah-de blah-de blah blah…. not listening!!!” But now, also deep down, I have admitted it to myself.

I know the time has come to take advice. I know what the advice will be: enough, stop! I know that I may be allowed to carry on, to jog a little, at a slow pace, Saturday afternoons round the park.

But that’s not why I run. I run for those moments when, an hour into a 12-mile run, I actually forget that I’m running. My body is flowing all of its own accord and without me because I am somewhere else, my mind meandering wherever and my spirit soaring somewhere… well…, spiritual.

I’m not ready to become a middle-aged jogger in the park. In theory any run is something, and better than no run at all. But those are not my runs. And if I can’t run, nor can I see a substitute.  Sure, I can go to the mountains more; and I could swim, go to a gym, use my bike more. All good exercise, but they have the fundamental limitation that you can’t just put your trainers on and go, and you can’t easily do them wherever your travels take you. And good though they may be, apart from when I’m in the mountains I don’t escape to those special places, the places of the mind and spirit.

Running isn’t something I do, it’s part of me, it’s what I am. And if I can’t run my runs, where does that leave me? Where can I go, if I can’t go to those places? I have no answer to that; and it feels bleak.

Time will tell, and very soon I think. Within the next couple of months I will either run Harewood again, or I will be sat with a specialist. And I think I already know which it will be, and what they will tell me. In my heart.

 

+++

In parallel news, this may well be the last blogpost here.

One of the aspects of my running has always been the way my mind goes on its own runs when I am out. Trouble is, I had no-one to share it with, no-one to talk to, no-one who would understand, no-one with whom I could empty my head and heart and emotions. I started to write it down, and found I enjoyed doing that.

So I started T-A-R-S a couple of years ago. At first I had a lot to say, mind and feelings spilling out. And I had some nice feedback, which was nice. But by last year I was barely touching it. Even so I renewed anyway. This year I have hardly written anything except to update the Harewood review. So now the renewal reminders are arriving from WordPress, and I have decided to let it go. I am not sure I have anything worth saying, and certainly nothing new. So you have until mid-January to have a rummage around and see if there’s anything you want.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Race Review: Harewood House Half Marathon (No 2)

You know that feeling when something is SO GOOD you feel sure that doing it again may be a disappointment? Well, the British Heart Foundation Harewood Half Marathon was every bit as good on its second running as first time round.

I won’t repeat everything from Harewood Half 2015 but it absolutely delivered again, in every respect. Following are just a couple of additional thoughts.

It struck me that one of the things which is just right is the size of the field. I don’t know

Start

Credit: Yorkshire Evening Post

how many run but it must be in the hundreds: this – and the fantastic organisation – make it feel like a big event, but not so much that you are lost in a sea of runners. You may find yourself on your own for stretches of the course, but with a runner 20m or so in front not so much as to feel alone.

Also the nature of the terrain makes it feels like an event for real runners. You hear people puffing and blowing, and there are comments between people about how tough it is… but they all keep going.

For me personally it was another one of those special runs: tough enough to have to find

Harewood16 Time

I wasn’t actually THIS quick!

something deep inside yourself but joyful at the same time. I didn’t push my heart as hard as last year but I did keep a good strong steady pace, right on plan. Steady. The kind of steady where you let people stretch away, content that you know how hard it is further up, and then overhaul them later. I think the expression is “Boom!”

I ran the whole way keeping in mind that there was the bastard hill at 12.75 miles to come: along the lakeside then up the vicious steep bank to the left corner of the house and across to the other corner only to drop back down again before the final climb. Then as I ran the long grassy stretch after 12 miles (“It’s 12milescoming….Breathe; it’s coming”) I saw ahead that the course had changed and went straight up the lane to pass the house and finish. Half of me was relieved; but the part of the runner’s brain which enjoys pain was actually disappointed.

My Garmin measured the course a little short which may have been it failing to track the twists and turns of the wooded areas, or maybe that last missing hill, or possibly the unintentional shaving of a corner here and there on an open grass trail. (I think maybe BHF need to consider a line of tape on the inside of a turn: eg at the 12-mile point the runners made a curve some distance in from a marshall who stood on his own presumably at the intended turning point.) It didn’t matter though, I wasn’t chasing a PB or a championship. In any case, on this course, you really would have to be an olympic-class curmudgeon to feel short-changed in any way.

Oh, and just in case you think I’m biased because this run is practically in my back garden (not in the same way as the Earl of Harewood, obvs!) have a peek at @VeggieRunnersUK race review.

Well done, BHF, very well done. See you again next year; and you’re on a hat-trick. No pressure then 🙂

Posted in Race Reviews, Running | Leave a comment

Half-Marathon No 45: me and my body going for a run…

It’s the night before a race; and once more I have that delicious mix of uncertainty and excitement. A half-marathon, this will be my 45th so I’m not exactly a novice; but this will be the first time I have run tomorrow’s race, so that excitement burns just as intensely.

The event is the BHF Harewood House Half Marathon, only the second year it has been run (here is my write-up of last year’s). So I know what I’m going to – in fact I ran a circuit of the estate last weekend as my final training run. I finished cold and ‘running-on-empty’, but then I had made it a 17-miler. Just to be on the safe side. And I finished pain-free, and no ill-effects the following day.

45 times out; ageing and slowing; but hey, I’m still going out in the cold early tomorrow to run 13.1 miles in a very beautiful setting. I know this circuit is hard and hilly and demanding; I won’t ‘race’ as such, I will run my own pace (or, rather, the pace my body tells me) but I will run, and I will love it.

When I started this blog I called it T-A-R-S because I had had so many years of pushing my body, and hurting it, driven by targets and split-times and PBs. But in the end I had a Damascene realisation that I could not forever keep getting quicker, and once I accepted that, it was liberating. I slowed down, I enjoyed the runs more, I felt the runs more in their own right, and (Rule No 1) I listened to my body more. And I stopped hurting it. I used to accept that the longstanding pain in my right calf, or my left knee, or my right bumcheek, or even my shoulder, were all a normal part of the work I was putting in. But now they are gone.

I found that my body is capable of amazing things, if I respect it. In the last few years I have learnt to allow the pace of my runs to be set not by targets or the stopwatch, but how I feel, by what my body is telling me. I am slower overall, yes: but often I can cruise along with almost no effort, heart and legs and lungs all in perfect balance, harmony. And some days I swear I can fly. Pain free and uninjured. I still record the times and splits, but out of interest rather than dictated to or judged by them. If I’m quick I smile; if I’m slow I shrug but enjoy the running nevertheless. Pain free and uninjured.

I have re-engineered my form in the last two years, more upright and keeping my arms lower and – most important of all – with a shorter stride which now has me fore- or mid-foot striking instead of overextending. If I hit an incline or want to go quicker I just put in more back-chopping strides. But at the mile-12 marker of a Half when I have been holding my pace back (I call it “Split-12”) I ask my body how it feels, and if we are both ok then I can let myself rip, just for the last mile (which now is a glorious celebration rather than a gasping tunnel of pain) … then I can let my knees come up, and I touch the ground less, and I leave them all behind…  and I finish strong, and unhurt, and safe, and high.

Also I have experimented with yoga, and while I have never been taught or learnt to meditate, I know without a shadow of doubt that it has made me better balanced, better aligned, made me stronger, improved my form, and made me run in a more harmonious way. I have also become leaner; which is a nice side-effect.

And I have finally come to terms with the fact that three years ago I had a small heart attack. It was just a small one, but as an injury it was (is) rather more impactful than a hamstring or achilles or calf niggle. It means that I now have to put a red ‘X’ on my race-number and details of my meds on the back; and I have to fight the beta-blockers for the first 15 minutes of every run. And while I resent it, I can still record my admiration and gratitude for all the amazing scientists and medics who have cared for and continue to protect me. So I have adapted, survived; and I think I am better for it.

So my body and I are fine now. In fact more than just ‘fine’: I respect it, and I let it decide how far and how fast we are going to go. I have found that if I do this, it will take me to the most wonderful places. And even at my age it can still learn and change and adapt and get better. We run longer, easier, yogafied and with better form; finishing strongly, pain-free and uninjured. I am in awe of my body, and respect it. I feel privileged that it continues to take me out. And I realise now that I am still learning; my body is still responding. Of course I am not changing my body: it has always been capable of these things, I have been slow and now I’m just catching up. Not for the first time, I feel humbled and in awe that it continues to carry me, and put up with me.

It’s late. I need to pack up my bag. My pre-race stuff, my race kit, my warm after-kit; I need to pin my race-number (with its ‘X’ and meds) on my vest.

Because tomorrow my body is taking me for a run. Some days when my body takes me for a run, my heart soars. Let’s see how tomorrow is, in the British Heart Foundation Harewood House Half Marathon. We might finish under two hours or it might be a little more; who knows, we’re not particularly fussed. But I know – we know, my body and I – that tomorrow we will enjoy our run. We will simply enjoy the running.

Posted in Running | 1 Comment

Robin Hood Half-Marathon – Review

EVENT: ROBIN HOOD HALF MARATHON, NOTTINGHAM

Sunday 27th September 2015 (Start 9:30)

RECOMMENDED? Definitely

WHERE IS IT? Starts by the River Trent close to the cricket and Forest and County football grounds, leaves the city past the Castle, takes in both universities and Wollaton Park before returning to the river to finish.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This is a big event: as well as the Half there are other races, it’s a big field, and well-supported. The race village is large and has lots of catering and sponsors stalls and a substantial kit-tent by Sweatshop. The course is undulating with one major hill and shows the city off well.

It’s always this last weekend in September and more often than not is usually blessed with perfect autumn conditions, chilly to start but the Trent and parks looking glorious in the glittering sunshine.

Big event

Big event

HOW BIG IS IT?

Big. Over 7,000 people finished the Half this year, plus 1,200 in the full marathon and a mini-marathon for kids and families.

THE COURSE

The race starts on the banks of the Trent at Victoria Embankment and after passing the station in the city centre turns at 1.5 miles to climb steeply up at the side of the Castle, and after a brief dip climbs steadily again for another mile until levelling out. After this you RH XXpass through the impressive Jubilee Campus of Nottingham Trent University before heading out past the ring road to Wollaton Park, with another climb (the park is beautiful at this time of year with huge golden trees just beginning to shed their leaves) and a chance to run on the grass at the side of the track if the throng of spectators leaves space.

Emerging from the park after 6 miles it’s back to the urban streets of Lenton before turning back out (and passing runners a couple of miles ahead of you already on their return) with a bit of a climb before dropping to run on gravel along the lakeside below the elegant buildings of the University of Nottingham. Exiting the park before 9 miles you are now passing the runners behind you heading out, back on a smooth long road to eventually pass below the Castle again for the run-in back to the Trent. Just before the final turn into the finish-stretch, the full-marathon people are directed off to the left to start their second half, and you wonder “maybe…. Maybe next year?”

Click here to see the route on my Garmin

ORGANISATION & FACILITIES

Excellent. You get good bulletins by email in the runup to the event, including training and preparation tips and encouragement if you are fundraising.

On the day there is a changing space (too small this year) and the baggage deposit is well-staffed and efficient. The start is colour-coded according to your predicted finish times. The start often doesn’t go off very quickly and there can be a spell of hanging around, most likely because people are still arriving. This is the only main glitch: the site itself is very large with lots of parking, but access roads to it is limited to the two main approaches so there is usually a big tail-back in the hour and more before the start.

There are plenty of toilets although as always there are queues in the half-hour before the start: one good thing here is that for the gents there is a pen of temporary urinals. More practically, with a short jog away from the crowds, there is also a huge river and a couple of rows of large trees to serve as a last-minute facility (and in recent years it’s become quite normal for ladies to have a discreet squat before lining up – and why shouldn’t they, too!)

Once on the course there are lots of marshalls, and plentiful drink stations – crushable water pouches with the tabs already pulled by the staff and just needing a firm squeeze to drink or dribble over your head – clever! And at the end there are lots of helpers giving out goody bags as well as medals.

Traffic jams aside, this is a very efficient event.

FEEBling

£33.75 for non-affiliated runners; £29.75 for club runners. Not cheap, but on the whole the scale of the event and facilities it’s not out of step with others these days.

BLING

This is good. A large heavy good-quality medal; and (for an additional payment, not included in the race fee) good quality tech tee in short or long sleeves.

Shirt aShirt b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORE INFO & ENTRIES

http://robinhoodhalfmarathon.co.uk/ and @RobinHoodHalf

JOHN’s two-penn’orth

Disclaimer. I can’t really be truly objective about this one: it was my first Half, it’s my home town, and this year was my 20th appearance at the event (including two Full 26.2). Even so, for the scale of the event, the challenging and interesting course, and the overall quality of the event, I would definitely recommend it.

This year I had had a good summer and was very well-trained with long-runs in the last weeks up to 16, 18 miles. I paced it conservatively to 9 miles (averaging 8:20/mile and cruising the hills; at 6 miles I had a proper chat with my body, and we agreed that if I still felt good at 9, I could let myself run. So I did: two miles under 8:00mins, and the last two under 7:20. I finished quick, breathing easily through mile 12 at 7:19 min/mile pace, and still on my toes through 13 at 7:17 pace. This was a special run for me, and those last four miles were just pure joy.

And another nice touch was that after the hill at 2.5 miles, I heard a call and had a tap on my shoulder, and there was McBreezy who I had finished with last year: how lovely of her to pick me out and say hello!

Best bitsTime

The new course; the scale of the event – a big field but clear enough to run your own pace after the first mile.

Worst bits

There were some moans about the hills… but not from me, I run hills all the time where I live, so I love that change in the rhythm of the run.

Could be improved by

Nothing really: the carpark queues are a pain but there’s not a lot they can do about that, and this big space by the river is a perfect setting for the start/finish.

 

Posted in Race Reviews, Running | Leave a comment

If a run is worth doing it’s worth repeating

September 1994. That was when we first met. And we have had a deep and meaningful relationship ever since: not always smooth, admittedly, but as the years have passed rather than become wearisome it has actually deepened.

That was the year I ran my first Robin Hood Half-Marathon in Nottingham, my home town. I had run the London Marathon (my first race event) that spring, and assumed that I would cruise a Half. And you can guess how that worked out.

So 17 Halfs, two full Marathons, and only two absences through injury, and here I am preparing to make my 20th appearance at the event.

Bling (Nottingham lace in the old days)

Bling

That either makes me a dull unadventurous bore, or maybe a loyal ‘keeper’ with an appreciation of the best of things. I like to think it’s the latter, given that I have not been exclusively faithful to Robin Hood; this will also be my 44th Half overall.

I love the distance of a Half: even if a regular runner it still demands some work and commitment, and is certainly demanding on the day (the 9-11 mile stretch never fails to be physically and mentally tough, and more than once I have paid for disrespecting the distance). But it is also a serious outing without the all-consuming disruption to body and family life which a full 26.2 demands.

And I would recommend Robin Hood unreservedly. It is a very big event, well-supported, in a fine and interesting city, and very well organised with excellent facilities on the day. Forced by tram-works in recent years, they messed with the course for a spell and even removed the city-centre sights and hills in a vain attempt to reposition as a speed course. But I’m glad to say the hills and heart of the course have now been restored: Nottingham was founded on the twin hills of St Mary’s and the Castle and it simply wasn’t right without them.

So I’m a repeater. Someone once said to me: “That’s a waste, why not try new courses?” Well, that’s like saying “Ive played that piece of music before and know what it’s like, so no need to hear it again.” Some pieces, whether Mozart, Bowie or Ellie Goulding just touch you and become more deeply intense the more you play them; so too, for me, with special runs.

Embankment

Embankment

Robin Hood, actually, is now far more than just the run itself. It is one of the fixtures in my year and this weekend in September – complete with the chill feel of an autumn morning and turning leaves – is as prominent in my year as my birthday or Christmas. So this weekend I will enjoy my rituals again. The early start and drive down an empty M1, until the sudden funnels of traffic approaching the carparks, my running mix playing loudly (as if I needed any more winding up!). The crowds and tannoy and arrival-cuppa from a stall while I look in the gear-tent. The changing and depositing of the kit-bag, and the warmups in the parking field. And especially the final strides away from the crowds along the Embankment, bursts of speed next to the misty Trent, glasslike apart from the silent graceful cut of the rowers. Now I’m ready to run.

And all of that simply cements Robin Hood more deeply into its special status.

So I have a special anticipation for “RH XX”. Not to the extent that I am putting any RH XXpressure on myself and I will simply enjoy the occasion. I am past racing and PBs these days, though I am in as good a shape as I have ever been: I have a timing plan and I will manage it for 12 miles… and then let myself go with whatever I have left.

And next year? Well I fancy some new races: the Rock-&-Run in Liverpool, Silverstone simply because it’s on the track, maybe another new Half somewhere else, maybe even 26.2 in the Autumn. Maybe, that would be Robin Hood. Or somewhere else, and I will be back for the Half again.

Whatever, I will be back.

Posted in Race Reviews, Running | Leave a comment

20 ways you can tell you’re a PROPER runner

(Note: This piece first appeared on Run Leeds, slightly abridged, in August 2015.)

 

WashingThere are things in your washing which no-one else but you will touch.

LaneYou look at a section of road or bridleway and think to yourself “That’ll go!”

Certain songs will always be the headsong for a particular run, and whenever, wherever you hear them you are transported back, trancelike, to that day when…

You have a drawer full of tech shirts with place names, logos, dates… They go with the box of medals. And the collection of crumpled race-numbers. And pile of space-blankets.

Love-HateYou have a love-hate relationship with one of these.

Driving along the road you check out every runner you see: their kit, their form, their pace, how hard they are working (… and of course, whether she/he is pretty/fit)

Meals are a case of whatever goes with your carbs.Need shoes

You still *need* one more pair of trainers (especially if there’s a bargain).

You have a collection of race photos with “Copyright” and “Proof Copyrightonly” stamped across them because you refuse to be mugged for the clean image (or, you don’t think you look as cool and athletic as it seemed in your head at the time). [Copyright]

When an evening with friends or a family event is being arranged, you silently calculate what runs will have to be rescheduled to maintain your mileage and activity levels.Memories

Some places are forever associated with special, lifetime-memory runs (Yose
mite National Park, Derwent Water round, Pollenca to Formentor, cliffs of Malta… or insert yours here).

You are not put off by the weather. In fact, the worse it is the more it reinforces your status as an athlete. And if there is fresh snow…. All weathersSnow

If you don’t ache a little when you get up in the morning something simply isn’t right.

You notice the colour of your pee and resolve to rehydrate. Dulux

Canal

Birmingham

When you travel with work you take your kit and get up extra-early to try out the canal-path or nearby park you’ve spotted.

Your calendar isn’t the traditional “Day/Month” but “n-weeks until that race”.

When a family holiday is being booked, you are thinking about where you can run to.

BeforeWhen you get new shoes they have a handover from the old ones. And the first thing you do is go find some mud to make them respectable.After

 

LineYou see this and HAVE to run along it, because in your head it is the blue line in your marathon.

 

And of course: if someone uses the “J-word” (as in “You’re a bit of a jogger, aren’t you?” or “How was your jog?”) you smile politely while masking your fury as you struggle with the urge to punch them.

Posted in Running | Leave a comment