Exorcising and exercising

I wasn’t supposed to run last night as I’m doing a cross-country at the weekend. But I wanted to exorcise that horrible run. I didn’t want to think about miles or timing or splits or pavements. So I went running with my club. The route was one of our duller winter road runs: Kirkstall Road, city centre, Meanwood Road. I wore my socks:


and my club-mates laughed at them and that’s the point of them (as well as keeping my legs tight and supposedly more injury-free), and we ran. And I bored poor Niamh with the tale of my horrible run for about two miles, and although she is much faster than me, she sociably kept at my pace and listened to my probably overlong tale of trauma. Then through the city centre, to the bemusement of shoppers and going-homers, so that we run to a faint acoustic trail behind us of “it must be a club” or “why are they all in yellow?”


Then dull and boring Meanwood Road, Grove Road, Headingley, & back. I’ve done the route dozens of times and finally paid enough attention that I could find it on my own. The weather was warm, I ran in a t-shirt, I didn’t use my watch. I just enjoyed running with friends on a dark pre-spring evening, and it was great.

It was just, simply, great.




I can’t remember ever hating running before. I have hated it while running, but that doesn’t count. But I have never thought back on a run and shuddered. Now I can do that. Now I am thinking back on last night’s run and shuddering.

Last week’s long run was meant to have been 17 miles but I hadn’t done them. I was supposed to run them on Sunday and didn’t because I didn’t get up early enough, I was tired, and I was at a family lunch that was also family tea and family evening drink in the local. There was no running. But I really want to stick to my marathon plan so I thought I could sneak in the 17 miles on Monday and then do another long run much later in the week, so I could be on track for running the East Hull 20, a 20 mile race (obviously) in East Hull (obviously). I had a deadline to finish and told myself I would get to my studio early and the run would be my reward for finishing it. That did happen. I sent it to my editor at 3.30pm, and by 4.30 I was standing outside my house holding my watch hopefully to the sky as usual, trying for a satellite. I had procrastinated during the deadline by planning a route with my usual gb.mapometer.com, which is brilliant because it automatically follows roads. A small pleasure. I also checked what time sunset was going to be, here. I spent ages trying to devise a perfect 17km loop, and finally decided to run up Harrogate Road, down to the reservoir, along Eccup Moor Road, then up Eccup Lane. Then I would run along Otley Road, and down Harrogate Road from Harewood. I checked with Google Maps whether Eccup Lane had pavements as I haven’t been up it before. It didn’t, but I didn’t think it would be too busy and it would still be light. I assumed Otley Road and Harrogate Road, as they are two major roads, would have pavements, and I knew that I would hit Otley Road as it was getting dark so could then safely run down on major roads all the way home.

It was a good plan. What an idiot.

For the first 8 miles, the run was great. It wasn’t raining, it was getting dusk and I love twilight. There were a few walkers around the reservoir. I was listening to the New Yorker’s fiction podcast and a story by Joyce Carol Oates lasted several miles, and it was wonderful. By Eccup Lane I was listening to Jonathan Safran Foer reading Amos Oz’s The King of Norway, and I was content. There were a few cars, but I was in my neon orange hi-vis jacket, I ran into the direction of oncoming traffic, the darkening light was beautiful and even though there were no other runners around I felt safe and happy.

I reached the end of Eccup Lane.


No pavements.

I thought, it’s Otley Road, there must be pavements soon. I started walking on the verge. I didn’t want to run because it was tussocky and I was worried about going over on my ankle. I was nervous, because by now it was properly dark and the road seemed narrow, and the cars were fast. I thought, maybe I should run back up Eccup Lane, but by now it was too dark and I’d rather not run along a country lane on my own at night. Or, I calculated, I can keep walking to the junction with Harrogate Road and from there run back on pavements, a long straight run home. I knew from runs I’ve done along the Leeds Country Way nearby that there was a pavement on Harrogate Road up towards Harewood House’s main gate. I managed to cross the insanely busy rush hour traffic on Harrogate Road, by now listening to Italo Calvino, who I have always loved but will now always associate with a shitty terrifying run, and ran up to Harewood House.


The pavement disappeared.

Normally at Harewood House we would cut inside the grounds and run along the perimeter path down to Wike Lane, where we usually park. But no way was I going to run along a woodland path in the pitch black on my own with no torch. I decided to set off walking. I knew there was a pavement from the road off Harrogate Road towards Eccup reservoir and I didn’t think it was too far.

I was wrong. It’s actually making me shudder and faintly sick to write this because it was so horrible, and although Otley Road was bad, it was about get a lot worse. I couldn’t run because I couldn’t see. The verge was wide enough but it had branches and dips and ditches and clods. All I could do was keep walking. And walking. And walking. I don’t actually want to look up how far it was because I’d be too upset, but I think I walked for an hour. In the pitch black, into cars rushing past at 60 miles an hour, and it was endless. On and on and on. I was scared of the traffic. I was actually scared for my life. I was scared that I was walking along the perimeter wall of Harewood and what if someone came over from the woods on the other side? I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see my feet in front of me. I was spooked. It honestly felt like a nightmare, or a scenario that someone has written. I didn’t know what to do.

I kept walking. I walked past two bus stops but they were on the other side of the road and it seemed extremely difficult to cross: the commuter traffic was constant. I made the decision not to try and cross and wait for a bus because I thought, it won’t be too long and then I can run and I can do my 17 miles. That was the wrong decision. It was long, and terrifying. And horrifying. I don’t use any of those words lightly. I felt trapped. By now there was no point going back because I had walked so far. It seemed like going forward, however scared I was, was the only option. So I did. I thought, it can’t be much further. It can’t get much worse.

And then it did get worse. After about 45 minutes which felt like 45 hours, the verge disappeared too. Suddenly I was on Harrogate Road with no pavement and no verge to walk on, in darkness, with no torch. I’d been using the torch on my iPhone, but the iPhone had died. Where the verge stopped, there were barriers. I stepped over them and had no idea what I was stepping into. I couldn’t see anything. I had to duck under road-signs. I fell a couple of times, I stumbled a lot. I remember getting tangled in some fence but by now I was so scared and so profoundly upset, I didn’t take any notice. I had no idea whether I was walking through junk or dead bodies or broken glass. By this point I was so distressed I could imagine anything. And it wasn’t over. I remember looking ahead at the road stretching uphill and thinking, oh god, oh god, when will I get to safety? All I could see was more dark terrifying road. I even thought of calling the police, but my phone was dead so I couldn’t phone anyone. I couldn’t see how to escape. I just kept saying to myself, it can’t last forever. It has to end.

The grounds of Harewood stopped and then there were fields. There was a farmhouse and I thought, shall I go and knock on the door and ask for help? But I knew I couldn’t be more than two miles from safety, and I felt stupid. I also didn’t think they’d answer the door. So I didn’t.

I decided to walk in the fields instead. I couldn’t see anything in the field I climbed into because I couldn’t see anything at all. There could have been bulls but at that point I barely cared. I had to climb through a vast pile of cattle shit to climb over the wall to get out and by that point I was almost crying with distress. And there, finally, was some pavement. I had reached the road to Eccup reservoir. And I ran home, as fast as I bloody could. Only when I got home did I realise that my leg was extremely sore, and saw this:


I’m guessing barbed wire. I put on some soft trousers and limped round to the corner shop. I’m off alcohol, mostly, while I’m marathon training but sod that. I bought a bottle of red wine and drank half of it. Fast.

I must have been passed by 300 or so cars on my long scared walk. No-one stopped to ask if I needed help. I suppose I can be thankful no kidnapper or rapist stopped either. I’ve travelled to many dangerous places: Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo. I am not known for exaggerating or overblowing things. So when I say that I’ve not feared for my life like last night for a very very long time (not since Serb soldiers in Kosovo swung their machine guns in our direction) I mean it. It takes a lot for me to express emotion, but I almost cried with relief when I saw the Shell garage.

Today I got up and went to the gym for my session with Jenny. My leg was sore but could still jump and lunge. Well done, leg. I confessed to Jenny that I hadn’t done my 17 mile run, and normally she’d express concern that I wouldn’t be able to do the East Hull 20 or that I was diverging from her carefully thought out plan but she must have seen my face. I was still upset. I still am. What kind of main road doesn’t have a pavement? Why are cars prized over people so that pedestrians don’t even get a safe pavement and are bewildered and frightened by mad rushing vehicles?

Yes. I know why.

I decided to work from home today. I wanted the comfort of my cats. And I still feel drained. When I got home from the gym I gently bathed my barbed wire wounds with rosewater, recommended by a triathlete who runs in minimal clothing on moorland and gets spiked, scored and cut a lot by thorns and wires. I added some lavender oil, recommended by my friend Martha who knows about these things. The woman in the chemist said her mother swears by rosewater oil as a healer of skin. And I got some post: technicolour compression socks. So I put them on so that when I look at my legs I don’t see them trudging endlessly through a long night, but I see this instead:





Today was the Saucony National XC, known by runners as the Nationals (along with the Northerns and the Yorkshires), but by the organisers as The National, like a horse-race.


I checked the weather report and thought something must be wrong: the sun was due to shine. The temperature was balmy. That’s all wrong for a cross-country. I learned my lesson at the Northerns when I forgot gloves and had to buy a hat, and despite the unusual yellow thing in the sky, I took coat, hoodies, gloves, hot tea. The venue was Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire and the usual conveyance was Bal driving the Fun Bus, also known as the minibus she borrows from work and is allowed to do so as long as we don’t get one speck of mud in it. We all take bin bags and watch our feet.

I was nervous. I’ve done plenty of races since I joined Kirkstall Harriers, and I’m less nervous than I was when I ran my first race, the Bradford 10K (a very boring and more boring road race along the road to Shipley and back). I still however stand at the start line of any race and feel like I have no idea how to run, and that running is an impossibility. And then the whistle goes and we go, and I remember. But the Nationals were going to be huge. They expected 7,000 entrants. We got to Wollaton and someone said, this is Wayne Manor. And so it is: some of Dark Knight Rises was filmed here, understandably:


The grass that rolled down from the house was covered with marquees and tents and the feather flags of clubs. It looked like a mediaeval field of battle with Portaloos. We arrived, we put our feather flag next to Leeds City Club, who are very fast and do things like check the terrain and then decide what millimetre length of spikes they need. We faffed, we got our numbers and swore an oath not to mutilate them:


We queued for toilets (they had mirrors! and toilet rolls! and hand sanitiser!). I dragged my club-mates out for a dynamic warm-up, and it really was dragging: I’m going to make dynamic warm-ups popular in my club if I have to die of overdosing on lunges. Then we stripped off and went to wait in the start marquee. At first it looked like a cattle tent, and we were only a few cattle. Then as 780 women arrived to race, it began to sound like a demented aviary with the sound turned up. A mass of women in a confined space is LOUD.

Then out to the “pens”, then 10 metres forward to the line, then fingers poised to start hundreds of watches, then off. And suddenly I remembered how to run again. Except it was too fast. The first mile was 6.30 miles and that, for a 5-mile race, would send my lungs running for shelter and claiming asylum somewhere. I slowed down. And I noticed immediately that this was a fast, fast race. The field was very good. I knew that because I’m normally in the middle of races, but here I was in the last third and not even at the start of it. I was overtaken a lot, but I also overtook enough not to give up and start running backwards. The course was extremely nice: only one hill and one tolerable ascent. It was mostly undulating and on green grass, except for one tree they’d laid across the course, and a trench of water, and 200m of mud. It all seemed random. I pictured the race organisers doing a last-minute check of the course and thinking, shit, we’d better stick in some mud and a ditch and oh, let’s just lay a whole tree in their path too. I jumped over the tree, and ran straight through the water, and did whatever I could to get through the mud, which was more than ankle-deep. I wanted to keep my shoes. It was the easiest cross-country course I’ve ever done, though I won’t tell England XC that. Anyway next year the Nationals are at Parliament Hill. That is to say, A HILL.

I did alright. I could have been faster, but these were good runners. I was as usual overtaken by women 20 years older than me, and that pleased me as usual. As we got up to the final ascent on our second lap, the men’s race started and suddenly every head of every spectator snapped in their direction. Thanks. I finished with a sprint and overtook some nemeses. That’s the wrong word: in the ranks where I run, there is no hostility and no elbows out, as I bet there is at the elite end. If you bash someone, you say sorry. There is warmth in adversity amongst the slower.

Still, I sprinted and beat some women I’d been running nearby for a while, and one of them, as I sprinted past her up to the finish line, said “well done!”. Now that is why I love my running tribe. I came 547th out of 708. Then we waited for the men to finish, although the sun went in and suddenly we were standing around, with no means of getting back to our bags (as the thoroughfare was over the race course), dressed in shorts and vests in winter. The women’s race – 8km – was won by Gemma Steel in 27:42. The men’s race, which was 12km, was won by Steven Vernon, who crossed the line with his fists in the air and for a small fraction of time, I thought, that must feel great. I wonder what it’s like to win a race. But I will never know, and that’s fine. We didn’t see Batman but we did see Jonny Brownlee again. He looked happier than he’d done at the Northerns, but still didn’t win.

Then we encountered a man with a large chain of silver badges. I said, are you a mayor? No, he said, I’m the president of the English Cross Country Association. So we praised the race, and praised the website, and praised it some more, and then I said, why can’t you have drink stations? I was desperately thirsty and couldn’t get to my kit and hadn’t taken money with me to pay for refreshments. He said, it would be extremely difficult to provide drink stations for 7,000 runners. But the paying refreshment tent managed it, and so does every marathon.

Still, it was sunny and fun and with enough mud to keep me happy. And I was lucky. Last year, there was snow and ice:

One of the men crossed the line shouting “I’M 46!”. Good for him. I also love that I am 44 and only started running at 41, and now find running through mud one of my favourite ways to pass my time on earth.

TIME: 43:10

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It’s Friday so of course today is the day I finally did the 10 mile run I was supposed to do on Monday. I am usually more disciplined, but I have been procrastinating about all sorts this week, from marathon plans to not writing something I should have written weeks ago. So it’s Friday and although last night I fell off my marathon no-alcohol wagon, with two gin and tonics and half a bottle of white wine, I still got up from my desk chair at 12.30 and headed out. It had been a beautiful morning. There was something called “the sun” in the sky, last seen in October. But there is a weathervane in my body which works against me. Yesterday I set off to my studio on my bike in clear weather, and five minutes later there was a cloudburst. My jeans needed wringing. Five minutes after I arrived at the studio, the sun came out.

The weathervane worked again today, because as I reached the bridge over the Leeds-Liverpool canal, the rain began to fall. It was cold, and now it was wet too. I kept going, and the rain stopped, and then it started, and then it went horizontal, and then the sun came out, and then I dried a bit, and then it rained again.


I am ambivalent about running on the canal alone, but I did it and it was fine. I saw about half a dozen people, some lone walkers, some cycling, some fishing, and although I intended only to do five miles (as I’m doing a five mile cross country race tomorrow so that would make up for the 10), I carried on, and on, until I reached Fishpond Lock near Rothwell. Rothwell! That’s a WHOLE OTHER TOWN. I impressed myself. The canal and river – at some points I was running between them – were beautiful, and the feeling of running alone and there being no-one else was soothing rather than sinister. So I ran for five miles, and then I ran back, and it was good. My hip was sore – oddly, as it was such a flat run – but I loved it. And then I went to Kirkgate market and ate my body weight in falafel.

The M1

Swimming spot? Or inspection ladder.

TIME: 1:32:12


I have not been writing but I have been training. I’m slightly diverting from my marathon plan but only in when I run: so my Monday 10 miles has been put off until this morning and then at 7am I knew I was going to put it off again until tomorrow, which means running Friday, Saturday (at the English Cross-Country championships), then getting 17 miles done somehow on Sunday. I realised at club training last night, where I bored poor Marion with my running clinic and injury geekery for about five miles, that although I’m only running three times a week, I’m still doing 35 miles.

So, I need to look after my feet. I currently have two black toenails and two thickened toenails, but other than that, my feet are fine. They are fine because my shoes are great, and my shoes are great because they are Brooks.

I got my first pair of Brooks a few years ago at Up and Running. I went in there with no preference. I think I wasn’t even running 5Ks at that point. They felt the most immediately comfortable. And though I’ve had injuries, I don’t think my shoes had anything to do with them, and I’ve never seen a reason to run in anything but Brooks. (Except for cross-country mud and bogs, for which the tractor treads of Inov8 are unsurpassable.) I run in Brooks Ghost 6, and I have a pair of Brooks Ravenna which I bought when I was misdiagnosed with a tendon problem and thought I needed support shoes (and to their credit, the Sweatshop staff tried to persuade me not to buy them), and my trail shoes are Brooks Cascadia. I also have a pair of Brooks racing flats but haven’t run in them for a while. Why do I like Brooks? Because they fit. Because they are comfortable and giving but supportive. Because I’ve never had a reason to switch.

So when I heard about the scheme that Brooks was running called Try it On, I signed up. They were lending a pair of shoes from their Pure range, for a week. I can’t remember my thought process when I chose which shoe, but I can’t have been thinking straight, because I chose the Pure Drift. I am scared of minimalist shoes, since my hip injury happened when I ran in more minimalist racing flats. So when I got them out of the box, I was puzzled. They looked a) gorgeous


but b) extremely low to the ground (it’s called a heel drop in shoe geekery) and flat. I looked them up and saw they were the most minimalist shoe in the whole range. That worried me. Minimalist shoes require months of transition. They’re fine for tippy-toe ninjas who run lightly with a forefoot strike, like Gemma or Alan “Bambi” Brydon, one of our fastest club runners. But I heel strike. And I have an ongoing ankle problem. I need some cushioning between my feet and hard ground.

Still, I ran in them. I put in my orthotic inserts, and I ran in them for 8 miles, mostly on road, but with some trail too. I got them very muddy.

And I didn’t hate them. But I didn’t love them. I didn’t get injured, and they got me round 8 miles, but I didn’t like the impact on my feet. It felt like my feet were slapping against the ground. And afterwards, all sorts of muscles I don’t normally use ached, and I was very tired. That’s a good thing and not a complaint but it all added up to me not loving them.

I didn’t run in them again, because I was doing a cross-country and then my long run, and I didn’t want to risk them on a 15 mile run. So I took them back to the shop and waited my turn for a while, as a man had arrived just before me, also returning his borrowed Brooks. The Brooks rep, a young man called Chris, apologised when he got to me, but I didn’t mind: it had taken time because he was extremely assiduous and thorough, which was fine by me. He was also impressively calm when I opened the box to show the state of the shoes. I apologised. I should have rinsed them, at least, but I hoped to use them again and then didn’t. I told him the truth: I didn’t get on with them. And he said he understood, and that other people had also mistakenly chosen the Drift without realising quite how minimalist it was. He asked if they should put an alert on the website when people pick the Pure Drift, asking, “are you sure you want a shoe this minimalist?”

Yes. Good idea. Chris was knowledgeable, charming and introduced me to new terms in shoe design that even I, with my vast geekery, didn’t know: a caterpillar? Shoe DNA? He said I was right not to take them on my long run, and he wouldn’t do long mileage in them. We both agreed I should have picked the Pure Connect instead, as it has more cushioning. I wish I had. Chris gave me my voucher for £25 on the Pure range, and suggested I consider using Pure Connect for my shorter faster runs and stick with my Ghost for long runs and the marathon, as that’s what he does.

Agreed. Except I can’t thoil another pair of shoes at the moment. And I’m going to the US where they are cheaper. And I think I need to replace the Ghost if I’m doing 35 miles a week and going to be up to 40. But if I do buy another pair of shoes, even though I didn’t get on with the Try it On, they will still be Brooks.

I asked what would happen to my muddy shoes. Would they end up being sold at races, as Sweatshop does with their returned shoes? No, said Chris. They will be distributed to the community. He was looking into donating them to a young people’s beginners’ group. Lucky them.



I wrote in my feet post about graduating from Teri’s Pure Running sessions. Here are screenshots, with her handy yellow lines, showing how I used to run and how I run now.

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When I can figure out how to upload a 16MB video when the limit is 6MB, I’ll upload that too. But for now: proof. My legs kick back higher and closer to 90 degrees. My right foot wiggles less and less catastrophically. My torso sinks less. My legs don’t sink into each other like before. The angle at which my heel strikes the ground is less acute and less brutal.

I run better.


This morning I ran nearly five miles through mud and bogs. So, a usual weekend activity for me. And I thought, I’m delighted that this has become a usual weekend activity for me. And I’m delighted that my legs can manage to move, after my 15 mile long run yesterday. The long run was easy, then hard, then endurance. It was lunch-time, but I hadn’t eaten lunch. I know I thought I had learned my lesson from my gipping 12 miles, but even so, I wasn’t hungry, and I had to go out at lunchtime because I had to be in town by 4.30, and I didn’t have time to eat and digest. So I drank a chia, banana and almond milk smoothie, ate a fistful of peanuts, filled my pockets with gel, jelly-babies, hat, gloves, phone, headphones, key and water bottle, told myself that I really should stop being so dim and just run with a bloody backpack, and travelled 200 metres to the Edinburgh Bike Co-op, bought some electrolyte powder, then set off. And although I had not eaten properly, and although – an inevitability to most people who live in Leeds – my first two miles were uphill, I felt fine. It was raining, but only slightly. I wore my bright orange hat to match my bright orange jacket and looked like a Belisha beacon, but one that was moving at a 8.50 minute/mile pace so that was OK.

I’d thought when I planned the route that I would run to Eccup then up to Harewood, around the estate, then back. But I don’t know the paths around Harewood too well, and though I’ve run from Eccup to Harewood with my orienteering club-mate Andrew, I cannot remember or visualise the sneaky path we took to get from one to the other. So I played safe, and ran the same route I did for 14 miles, except I carried on around the reservoir all the way. My legs worked well. The sun came out. And once I’d got round the reservoir, my iPhone died, and thank goodness, because then I could think and see more. And I saw this:

  • Two cows sticking their muzzles (snouts?) over the fence to say hello, or “FOOD”
  • Some red kites flying above, hunting
  • Some birds, and more birds, and more birds
  • Sheep, grubby from muck, doing nothing much
  • A couple of lone men, striding, making sure to smile at me in a non-threatening way
  • At Eccup, a young man who lifted his girlfriend over the puddles
  • Dogs. Many dogs. All of them nice. None of them runner-baiters

And along the way I thought of a wonderful woman who was my second mother, who died on Friday, on Valentine’s Day, and I wished she hadn’t, and I wished the world still had her in it, and her warmth and snorting laughter and wit and beauty and sparkle and kindness and grace. So I ran for miles thinking of her and learned that actually you can cry and run. And you can have daft thoughts, when you see a red kite soaring, and think, I hope that’s what her spirit is doing somewhere. I hope it is somewhere, soaring.

Halfway round it started to feel hard. I started to realise I was running on empty. I ate gels, I drank electrolytes and I kept going. I changed my route when I realised I would have five miles of headwind, and I ran up and down to Alwoodley, to posh Leeds, where houses are shamelessly grand and good running eye candy. I ran down Roundhay Park Road towards Roundhay Park, a magnificent and lovely place that makes you thank, forcefully, Victorian engineers and landscapers. I didn’t go in the park because I didn’t want mud and I was so tired by this point, I didn’t want to have to think about avoiding pushchairs and walkers. Head up, one foot in front of t’other, one foot in front of t’other. I kept going. I did my little hop when I got to the longest distance I’ve ever run, 14.2 miles, and I kept on. And that is what I would say to anyone who wonders how to endure. Keep on. One foot, another foot. Keep on.

I got home at ten to 4 and had a wet-wipe wash (runners know what that is), and headed into town and ate with the appetite of a famished person who has run 15 miles on fumes and gel, and came back and slept the sleep of a sated person who has run 15 miles on grit and stubbornness. And 9 hours later, I got up, and I ate toast, and I met my team-mates and we travelled a mile uphill from our clubhouse to race number 4 in the PECO cross-country league series. I love PECOs: you pay £3, you run through mud and afterwards they give you hot food. Nothing has yet compared to a PECO – or it may have been a Yorkshire veterans race – at Pudsey, where we sat after a punishing hill finish, and looked over the valley, and they served us chip butties, and  you could have seconds. What could compare to that?

But that was to come. First I had to run nearly five miles through such mud and bog, sometimes I wondered if my legs were being sucked down to Australia.



I was overtaken, and I overtook. And I remembered what it is important to remember at cross country races: that the person overtaking you can be 20 years older or fatter but that doesn’t matter because they’re just better at cross country than you, today, and one day you’ll be better than them.

That makes me sound uncompetitive, and I am, mostly. It’s why I was better at college hockey and netball than at tennis. I didn’t have the competitive individualism you need to be successful at tennis. But actually I am more competitive than I think. Today there was a woman and we pendulum-ed for half the last lap: she overtook me on clearer surfaces, I overtook her in the mud. Back and forth, back and forth. Her then me then her then me. She said, “you run well in mud,” and I said, while stopping my legs from being sucked down to the dells and grottos of the lands beneath the mud, “you have to love it. Pretend you’re seven years old again.” But she didn’t pretend hard enough because I beat her (there was a lot of mud). And I beat the other two people I wanted to beat (and to be honest, I wanted to beat one of them because he was about 60 which shows that my noble uncompetitiveness earlier is so much bog and nonsense). Then we came into the final field, and there were cheers, and suddenly a woman started sprinting past me, and although I preferred team sports to tennis, and although I genuinely don’t mind being beaten by older runners (except for that one Roundhay Runner today), I thought:

I’m not having that.

I found power in my legs, and they remembered me being a sprinter at school, and I sprinted fast, and my club mates cheered me, louder and louder, and I went faster, and I beat her.

And then – and this is why I love running – we both immediately turned to each other, put an arm around each other and said, “well done.” I don’t know who she was; she didn’t know who I was, but we meant it.

A runner before we started said, “How did I end up at the age of 51 doing this on a Sunday morning?” And that is why.


DISTANCE: 15 miles
TIME 2:24:31

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DISTANCE: 4.7 miles (forgot to stop my watch again)
TIME: 50 something (forgot to stop my watch again)
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I love my feet

I do. I love them. I love their 52 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and various tendons. I love that they have been working perfectly for 44 years and are still going, although by running I subject them to constant and huge pressure. I haven’t measured my cadence, but it should be between 160 to 200 steps a minute. Each of those steps is forcing the 9 stone 3 lb weight of my body into my feet, and that force is being met often by hard tarmac. It can’t be absorbed by tarmac, so it is absorbed by my feet. And still they run.


There have been problems. I’ve only been running since 2010, and since then have had a few injuries. The problems are always on my right side. It started with my right foot. It began during a seven mile run with Jayne around Roundhay. It hurt, but I ran on it. It hurt more, but I continued to run. It hurt more, and I stopped. Thus began a year of appointments. Physio, first, where my pain (up the inner ankle) was diagnosed as a tendon problem. I was advised to rest, and did, even when I went to Long Beach, California, to do this TED talk, and, expelled from my bed by jet-lag, would go to the hotel gym and gaze longingly from the cross-trainer at people running along the beach-front running path outside, as the sun came up. I did my exercises – single leg squats and more single leg squats – I rested from running for three weeks, and nothing got better.

Next, a podiatrist. He examined me, sitting, standing, walking and running. He said, “you have quite frozen feet.” Oh? He said, I think you probably have some small bones fused together that wouldn’t normally be. He said that my foot flexing action when I run is also somewhat frozen, or not as flexible as it should be. He said, it’s not a tendon issue. It is anything but a tendon issue. He guessed I might have the beginnings of arthritis, and advised me to ask for an MRI. That was more than a year ago, but my first MRI appointment got lost, and I’ve not yet had the results from the second. But I haven’t felt any great urgency because a) he made me orthotic inserts for my shoes and suddenly I didn’t get much pain in my foot any more while running, only while doing squats and b) I started getting pain in my hip instead. I ran a Parkrun at Hyde Park in Leeds, and I ran it for the first time in racing flats, shoes that are more minimalist and less cushioned and therefore supposedly speedier. My clubmate Adam swore by them and they worked, despite being hideous: I got a PB, I think. And I got a sore, sore, right hip. I remember a few years ago my mother thought it hilarious that I had never encountered the words “pantechnicon” or “camber.” I haven’t had much cause to use pantechnicon since but I have used camber, because I run on it, and it can be difficult. The camber in Hyde Park in Leeds is severe, and it didn’t help matters when I was already making my feet take all that weight, pressure and force, without the usual cushioning they were accustomed to.

I tried a sports massage instead of going back to the physio. The masseur is called Ward, he has magic hands, and he can inflict more pain than people who work in dungeons. He has a special way of doing an intake of breath to convey shock at the state of things. He did that a lot when he started to massage my right side. He undid knots in my iliotibial band, a procedure that made me clutch things. He said my hip muscles were impossibly tight and did his best to loosen them.

I realised something was fundamentally wrong with how I run. It must be. Although my right side is stronger than my left, everything was failing on the right. I knew the injuries must be related to my biomechanics, to my gait and to my movement. It was logical. My club mate Adam, who runs freely and beautifully and fast, told me he’d had his gait analysed and changed at a running clinic in Harrogate called Pure Running. I immediately made an appointment. Teri, an ever cheery running coach, had me run on the treadmill and videoed me from the side and the back. Then we sat down at her laptop and she showed me how I run.

Good lord. What a catastrophe.

She put yellow lines on the screen to show how my body’s alignment should be, if if were moving as efficiently as possible. On the left side, they weren’t too bad. On the right they were comically off. Every time I moved my feet, my pelvis sank on my right side; my whole torso twisted; my foot kicked back like a Dick Emery move. My gait was all wrong: my backwards kick stopped below 90 degrees, which meant my gait was making a long flat oval shape, which was making my heel hit the ground with brutal force. I have bad posture anyway, and I had bad posture when I ran. I was twisted, slumping, thumping. It was all wrong. No wonder my body was hurting.

Children run freely and beautifully. They don’t think about it. But then we start sitting. We sit at school. We sit at university. We go to work and sit at desks. Then we come and sit in front of the TV. We sit, sit and sit. We slump. We crouch. We twist. Our sedentary lifestyles are now thought to be as life-shortening as tobacco or alcohol or heart disease. And they make us run badly.

So I began to learn to run better. I learned to stand straighter, to have a stronger torso. I learned to move my arms in front of me, like a piston, not across my body. Not every elite runner does that – Mo’s arms aren’t straight – but when they can run 26 miles at a four minute mile pace, they can do whatever they like. I learned from my friends Jayne and Bibi to keep my hands relaxed by pretending I was holding baby birds and didn’t want to kill them. (Butterflies work too.) I started to strengthen my gluteal muscles in my backside with exercises (glute bridges, clam shells). They were hardly firing at all because they had been slumbering after decades of doing not much more than sitting for hours on end. But you need glutes to run. They are the most important locomotive muscles. I wasn’t using them enough, so was using my hamstring and thigh muscles to compensate, and together with the twisting from my weak pelvis, this was was putting immense pressure on my hip.

Meanwhile I went to my GP. She’s a marathon runner, and she is sympathetic to running injuries, even though they are, I suppose, self-inflicted. But running keeps me healthy. This is ironic in the context of a GP visit, but true. It keeps my cholestorol down, my heart-rate healthy, my lungs fit. So she said, right, more physio, and sent me to my local hospital at Chapel Allerton, where I got more exercises, and the most striking acupuncture I’ve ever had, that melted knots in my tight muscles and made me grip the bench with shock. But it’s worth it, and it’s on the NHS, and the service is brilliant.

I graduated from Teri’s sessions last week. She videoed me again. I stand straighter. I kick higher. My flat, brutal oval has shortened into a safer circle shape. My heel strikes the ground at a much less brutal angle. My pelvis does not sink. Now when I run, my backside aches, which means my gluteal muscles are firing properly. It’s not perfect, and sometimes I have to stop and do hip-opening exercises, such as yesterday, when I tried out a pair of Brooks Pure Drift which I had been loaned for a week because I signed up to their Try it On scheme. They are minimalist shoes, and since my hip and foot problems, minimalist shoes have scared me. But I put my inserts in them and ran eight miles. And honestly, I’m not sure my feet like them. I know about the great debates of barefoot or minimalist running versus us cushioned clod-hoppers in our big shoes. And I know that I am able to find all sorts of excuses to avoid progress (such as convincing myself that treadmill running was far better than going outside, because I didn’t dare get off the treadmill.) But I think that my beloved feet prefer my cushioned Brooks Ghost shoes. I’ve put them through so much, and I demand so much of them, they probably still need the assistance of cushioning. I’ll try the Pure Drift again, though not on my 15 miles tomorrow. I meant to keep them pristine, although there is no obligation to do that, but as I ran up Harrogate Road, my feet turned right into Primley Park Avenue and then started running up to Eccup Reservoir. They love Eccup reservoir and so do I. So the Pure Drifts have been tested, and mudded. And I am doing my daily Pilates exercises, and using my spiky massage ball to iron out my knotted muscles after running. And I make sure, unlike a surprising number of my club-mates, to do a dynamic warm-up before running, and to stretch properly and massage afterwards. And all in all, I am running better, more safely, and more kindly on my hips, my knees, my feet.



TIME 1:13.58 average pace 9:14 min/mile

Why I run

A rainy, cold Monday. 4pm. This is what I am thinking:
I can’t do it I can’t think of anything to write but I have a deadline and it’s late and why am I always late and why can’t I be better and more organized and do my book proposal and why can’t I think straight and why do I feel so black and I can’t do it and people don’t like my book and just to prove it I’ll go to goodreads and amazon and read people’s reviews and look I knew it here’s one that says it’s “scrappy” and here’s another that says it’s wrong and here’s one that prefers a similar book by a young man and they say I have errors in my book but I don’t or not the ones they say but maybe I do and shit people hate it and why are reviewers so sodding mean and I feel crap and a failure and look it’s 4pm and I’ve done nothing today but waste time and I’m supposed to have made an important call but I don’t have the energy to do it it’s like something black and viscous, like tar, is pulling my soul down into my boots and when the tar is pulling me down I can’t pick up a phone, picking up a phone seems like an impossible thing to do and really all I want to do is weep and shit here’s another reviewer who says the book is awful and all over the place and you see I know that’s actually true because I found giving the book some narrative logic so difficult that I probably didn’t manage it and even though my publisher has sent though the images of a new edition of The Big Necessity and even though there is a quote on the cover from the New York Times calling it one of the best non-fiction books of the new millenium that has no effect on the black tar because I feel sad and gloomy and awful and I’m going to go home and see my cats and when I do all they want is food and to play with string and though they are lovely they don’t help because the blackness is so so black and I know I have to go running and I’m supposed to do eight miles but I also know I’m supposed to make that phone call and I haven’t and oh shit what can I do to feel better I’ll sit on the floor by my radiator and read this new running magazine and that’s soothing for a few minutes and now it’s 6pm and it’s dark and the black tar is not letting me find the energy to get up and get running clothes on and get out of the door and run because I feel drained and tired like my soul is tired and everything is wrong everything the world is awful and I’m alone and will never be otherwise and people hate my book and they think it has mistakes in it and now it’s 6.15 and I think I’ll go to club training instead but no I don’t want to run for 7 miles doing sociable run chat with people because the club is full of new January members and I can’t be bothered to be curious or it’s worse than that, I do not have any curiosity, I only have blankness, but then again if I don’t go I won’t run and maybe running will dissolve the tar it’s the only thing I know that can and it’s that or a sleeping pill and somehow at 6.20pm I stand up and I move upstairs and I get my running kit on and I feed the cats and I leave the house and I drive and I know my mood is awful because when it’s awful I can’t bear the radio and now I switch off the radio because it’s Just a Minute and I don’t like that even when I have the strength of a good mood but I keep driving and I keep going and I get to the leisure centre and I go inside and I go into the lounge/pool viewing area where we meet and I still feel black but I say hello and I sit and I wait for us to set off and I find some social veneer that lets me be jollier than I feel and I wait to run and we set off to run and we get up the hill and I keep going and it’s black and cold and a bit wet but there are 20 or so of us, just running through dark streets on a miserable Monday night and then something happens and

I feel better.

Only the night is black now.

Everything is fine.



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I don’t like being ill. I don’t see it as time off. I see it as time when I can’t exercise. On the other hand, over the past few days I know I wasn’t well because the thought of running was horrifying. I would pass runners on the street and think, ugh. So I have been taking it easy, forcing myself to eat though something has gone wrong with my hungry signals. I feel like I have no appetite, but when I eat, I realise I want to. Weird. This week is taper week but as the taper is not supposed to be zero, and as my mood yesterday descended to unable-to-exercise depths, I wanted to run today. My training plan called for 12 miles, so Jayne and I had planned to get the train to Saltaire, run to Shipley then get a train back to Leeds. It would have been nice and flat and different canal views to the usual city centre-Kirkstall-Rodley that I do quite often. On Friday I thought I could run 12 miles on Sunday, on Saturday I realised I couldn’t. So Jayne suggested running with the staff from Asics Leeds instead. Like Sweatshop, Asics now do free club runs, 5K on Wednesday and 10K on Sunday. I think this is great: that running has become so popular that shops are putting on runs, and supermarket chains and big high street shops are doing decent running gear (well done, H&M and Asda).

We ran 10K up to Kirkstall and back, and the pace was, er, brisk. At one point it was 8 minute miles. It’s odd for me to feel that I was the slowest in the group, but I was. But people ran at my pace to keep me company, and I was never left behind. Possibly it was because the pace was faster than I’m used to now I’ve slowed a bit with marathon training. Possibly it was my recovery energy levels which thought, what on earth are you doing? It felt hard. And then, afterwards, it felt great.

And so I meant to write a post about how wonderful it is to be able to run again, and exercise, and feel healthy, and I went upstairs to fetch my laptop, and then fell down the stairs. I banged my back on the stairs and my head on the door. Tomorrow my back will be black. But as long it’s mobile, I’ll still run with it.

TIME: 55:06

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