Chat

When I began to run, on the treadmill in the gym of Maersk Kendal, it was a solitary activity. There was hardly ever anyone else in the gym, and I worked out when there was likely to be no-one in the gym anyway, though that was tricky as the crew had different working shifts; officers on four hours on, four hours off, but the non-officers on other hours. Only three of us used the gym regularly: me, Julius the Filipino AB with very good muscles, and the quieter of the two cadets, who was training to run a half marathon with his dad. Actually it may have been a marathon. Whatever it was it sounded like an impossible distance to me, but when I started running, two miles of uninterrupted running seemed like an impossible distance to me.

Even if there was someone in the gym, I made sure to insulate myself anyway, wearing headphones because I couldn’t run without music or watching a film, because treadmills are so boring, even treadmills on ships. When I started running outside, I did that alone too, until I got the nerve to do my first 10K, where I ran alone in company, knowing no-one. In fact the first time I ran in company was when I joined Kirkstall Harriers, after running the Kirkstall 7, our club-hosted race from Kirkstall Abbey. In the goody-bag was a banana, some chocolate and a bottle of beer. I thought, that’s a good club, and joined.

Sometimes I love running alone. Sometimes I love company. I definitely love doing both.

This weekend I have been in Cardiff visiting very old friends who I met in my second year at Oxford in 1989. Kat is married to Barry, who works in law, and who is training for a marathon that happens on the same day as London but is in Llanelli (did I say that right?). I knew he had become a runner, because he posts his runs on Facebook sometimes. We were meant to go running when he came to Leeds on work recently, but I was sick and couldn’t. So this, finally, was our companionable run. My program said 16 miles, but Barry looked so shocked when I said this. “16 miles? On a taper week?” that I immediately looked up every marathon training programme I could find. None of them had long runs more than 12 miles in the penultimate week. Barry didn’t want to do 16, and although I have complete faith in Jenny, I saw enough 12 mile options in the training plans to be happy with less. Perhaps that’s just part of my odd serenity about the fact that it’s less than two weeks to the marathon.

But there was a problem.

Barry never runs in company. Never. I think he was a bit nervous. I suppose sociable running is a daunting prospect if you’ve never done it. How will I be able to breathe and talk? Won’t it slow me down? What will we talk about?

I knew it would be fine. But I told him to bring his headphones if he wanted. I told him we didn’t need to talk. I told him it would be fine.

A decent time after a lovely lunch at Barry and Kat’s house opposite a huge park, we set off. Barry didn’t take headphones or anything beyond his iPhone to listen to the mapmyrun woman (which would drive me nuts: I prefer my silent Garmin), and a bottle of Lucozade, which I drank most of because I was as usual dehydrated. I had carefully packed energy gels and electrolyte drink and carefully forgotten to bring any of it. The route was not particularly scenic for the first couple of miles, but then we got to the River Ely and ran along that, eventually quietly and scenically after a mile or so alongside a noisy main road. There were housing estates, then marinas, then a house called Chez Baz, which Barry had to take a detour to show me and I’m very glad he did. Then, the barrage over Cardiff Bay, which is beautiful. And Barry talked easily and I learned about employment law and Liverpool dockers and all sorts, and it was great. The scenery at the barrage was wonderful: water and clever engineering works, which I like. And we set off the speed alerts for running more than 5 miles an hour. Ace! Barry stopped to show me this. It’s called Three circles for three locks and is quite amazing, considering how much engineering and science it must involve. It only all lines up on one spot, I think.

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We ran through the marina bit on Cardiff Bay – it’s probably not called “the marina bit” – where Torchwood was filmed, past Ianto’s shrine, which is pleasingly daft:

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(it is daft, foreign readers or people who never watched Torchwood, because Ianto was a fictional character) then behind Techniquest, one or other of the stadia – cricket? Millennium? – and back into the extremely large Bute Park, kindly given by the extremely rich and land-rich Marquess of Bute. We ran along the beautiful River Taff, through Saturday afternoon walkers and early evening going-outers, as it was 6.30 by now, and back. I don’t know if Barry found it difficult to talk, but I didn’t. And look, we ran over the sea.

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ACTIVITY
RUN: 12.6 MILES
TIME: NO IDEA
TIME TO MARATHON: 13 DAYS

Slump

It has been a tricky week. Not for physical, running-related reasons – I’m feeling happy and confident about the marathon, and ready – but for mental ones. Moods, moods, moods. I have written before about why I run and how it can lift my mood like nothing else. It works so well, my friend Tom wrote recently to warn me not to rely only on running, because what if I get injured and can’t run? Abyss of despair? It’s a good point.

I also run because I have endometriosis, and the severest version of it. It gives me very little pain these days, because I’ve had surgery to remove some (though it quickly grows back), but also, I think, because I am so fit. But endometriosis, I am certain, is also related to mood swings that, I am certain, are related to swinging hormone levels. I try hard to keep everything balanced, not just by running and training, but by eating well, taking magnesium, and consulting a herbalist, Kath Antonis, who I think is brilliant. Her goal is to balance my oestrogen levels. Endometriosis is oestrogen-related, and I probably have too much of it. So Kath made up a remedy that included black cohosh, nettle, ginger and other stuff. It was working really well, but I’ve run out.

The other context is that I’m heading rapidly to an early menopause. I’ve had a drug-induced menopause before, and I recognise now the faint hot flushes (nothing like they were last time, but they are definitely hot flushes), the sleeping difficulties (very uncharacteristic except when I am taking hideous drugs like Prostap). And the black black moods. So very black. The kind of black moods where I have to hold on to the railing when I cross bridges because otherwise some instinct might overpower my logical brain. I’m not suicidal (HONEST. NOT AT ALL) but in the blackest of moods, jumping off a bridge sometimes doesn’t seem as totally impossible as it should.

It’s usually only that bad with PMT, but last week it has been relentless. I fight PMT with running, so even though this week has been hard, to the point where doing the washing-up seems impossible, and one day I even retreated to bed because it was easier than being awake. But I have still gone running. I still went to club run and chatted about marathon training, and people’s new and impending babies, and the reason I know that I’m fighting my hormones is that even after a lovely sociable club run, afterwards I had none of the usual run-rush that I get usually without fail.

The next day I ran again. I hadn’t done 10 miles on Monday, because I was still tired from 20 miles on Saturday, so I set off up to Eccup to get in 8 miles. Better than nothing, and I am tapering now. I am “only” running 16 miles this weekend. Hilarious, when I remember being unable to run two miles, that I now think it normal that 16 miles is considered a short run. Hilarious, and brilliant.

It was stupidly cold. Stupidly, because I planted carrots and beetroot last week, and then the temperature dropped back to Baltic. I had gloves and jacket again, though a few weeks ago I was running in vest and shorts at the East Hull 20. I ran up to Eccup, but not fast and not brilliantly. Maybe it was my shoes: I’ve been trying to vary my shoes a bit, so I put my trail shoes on, even though about five of the eight miles would be road. But I don’t think it was the shoes. By Alwoodley, it was raining too. On the track to the reservoir there were two women walking dogs, and as usual I wasn’t sure whether to shout to alert them, or try to make as much noise, or just try to make my way round them. I think shouts can make people jump; I don’t slap my feet down hard enough and coughing sounds daft; and sometimes making my way round them can make people jump too. I ran past them then one said, oh, sorry! So I stopped and said, I’m sorry too, I never know how best to get past people without scaring them. I’m working on my technique.

I usually encounter at least a dozen people walking dogs or just walking at Eccup, but today was quiet because it was cold and wet and getting dark. There was just one man walking alone. One man walking alone is not what you like to see, though I feel less suspicious of men with dogs, which is just daft. Nefarious men are capable of having dogs. I wonder what it feels like to be a man on your own walking and know that women will probably regard you with suspicion. It must be worse, if you are young.

Eccup was as beautiful as ever, though it looked like winter in almost-April. But my legs were leaden. I think I was dehydrated, but I hadn’t brought water for such a short run. I had no gels. I could do nothing but keep running but it was one of those runs that felt like trudging. I headed back, back through the golf course, hoping no-one would aim a small white ball at my head. Back up Primley Park Avenue, looking at the warm light in some windows – it was home time, and raining hard now – and thinking how lovely it looked, and remembering coming home from school when I was young, and it was winter and dark at 4pm, and walking up Oxford Road and feeling scared until I got home, to the light and the warmth.

I ran up to Harrogate Road and the home strait. Back to my cats, back to a massage and stretch and a bath, but not back to the usual endorphin rush. Whichever hormones are battling in my brain, the bad ones were winning.

Still.

Today is better. Tomorrow will be better too.

ACTIVITY
TUESDAY: STRENGTH TRAINING SESSION
WEDNESDAY: CLUB RUN, 7 MILES, ONE BIG HILL
THURSDAY: 8 MILES, ECCUP RESERVOIR

America

I have been running a lot and training a lot and writing not much, but also travelling. I was in Stamford, Connecticut, at a shipping conference which is largely made up of 2,000 men in suits, many of whom have more money than God. I had a day in New York en route, and was supposed to do 15 miles. But New York means seeing New York friends, and I’d had dinner with Adam, Vanessa and their gorgeous daughter Isla – not yet five, and she understands the solar system – along with too much wine. Alcohol, dehydration and jet-lag: I woke up wide awake at 4am with my head feeling like the inside of a ship’s engine: NOISE and PAIN. I was supposed to be running with Roger of ISWAN, the charity that has brought me to the US to do some talks and events. But at 4:01am I began formulating excuses not to run, namely that I was pretty sure my head would fall off. I took some painkillers and dozed, and at 5am I was still in pain, and at 6am too. When I finally awoke properly at 7, my headache was gone, the sun had risen over Manhattan, and I decided to run.

Thank goodness.

The night before, Vanessa had told me that it was the New York City half marathon in the morning. My reaction was not, great, I can see Mo Farah running, but, shit, now I can’t run up to Central Park because there will be 20,000 people there. The half marathon start was at 7am. My club mates on Facebook were asking me if I was going to watch, as Mo Farah was racing, but I had no intention of going to Central Park to deal with 20,000 people. So Roger and I gathered downstairs, with hats and gloves – it was about zero degrees, with a wind-chill of minus 10 – and headed west to Riverside Parkway. We got there, ran up a few blocks. It was icy but beautiful and sunny. And then the day got better still, because we had inadvertently run into the route of the half marathon, as all the tents and police cars and cheer-leaders made obvious, and within five minutes of us realising that, there was Geoffrey Mutai, then Stephen Sambu, and then Mo Farah. He didn’t look happy, maybe because we were yelling “COME ON MO GO GB” at him. Later I discovered he had fallen near the start. And he collapsed at the end, though he overtook Sambu. That’s not good news. I don’t assume that he’ll win the marathon, and he says he’s the underdog, but passing out for three minutes, as he apparently did, is an ominous sign.

Mo Farah

We carried on up the Riverside Parkway. It was a bit odd to be running in the opposite direction to 20,000 people, but at least the running and cycling path was pretty empty. And we got the cheerleaders and bands and DJs, though they all had their backs to us. After Central Park, the half marathon disappeared, and we carried on. Roger needed the toilet and lo and behold, a rare sight: an open, heated, clean public toilet in Riverside Park. Well done, New York City. I was still wearing hat and gloves but my hands were getting colder and colder. We could see the George Washington Bridge by now, where I’d intended to run to, but by now my right hand’s fingers were disturbingly solid, so I asked Roger if he’d mind us turning round and doing our own half marathon instead of 17 miles. He didn’t. He’s also marathon training, but for Stockholm, at the end of May.

The other way was warmer. The wind was on our backs. My hat came off. And we ran alongside the marathon runners trying to figure out how our paces matched up. It was all very Big Running, as Richard Askwith would say. I reviewed his book Running Free for the Guardian, and liked most of it very much. But I didn’t much like his oppositional stance: pure, natural running versus Big Running. I object to inflated race fees, but if someone – i.e. me – wants to spend money on kit, then why not? He’s right though about being imprisoned by paces and GPS watches, and once the marathon is done, I plan on putting my watch away for a while.

When we got back to the hotel in Tribeca, and after I had gobbled a bagel with cream cheese, I found two paracetamol tablets by my bed. I hadn’t taken any painkillers. Placebos are great.

The shipping conference was at the Hilton hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. The city is supposed to have many rich residents, as it’s on the Gold Coast next to Greenwich. But the Hilton was in an odd industrial park next to the turnpike (I love that Americans use that word for a motorway, and expect always to see horses and carriages). It didn’t look like promising running land. Nonetheless I asked a receptionist to recommend a good place to go running. He was the wrong person to ask. Not because he looked unfit and overweight, but because he said, “I recommend you use the hotel gym.”

I said, “No,” and he looked shocked. But there was no way I was going to spend three days at a conference, stuck inside, and run 15 miles on a treadmill. Anyway I don’t think I can. The most I’ve run on a treadmill is 5 miles, when I was on a cruise, and that was hard going even when I had the ocean to look at. So I gave up on the receptionist and turned to Google. I usually use walk jog run or map my run, but the problem with those is that you have no way of judging whether your peers like running through Blade Runner hell-holes or whether they think carefully about their routes. Finally, though I’m not sure how, I found a route down to something called Greenwich Point Park.

The next morning I got up and set off. It wasn’t promising: storage warehouses, chain-link fences, somewhat grim streets. But then it began to change, and the houses got bigger and bigger, and suddenly it felt like I was running through old money: huge painted clapboard houses, US mailboxes, green lawns. There were no pavements on much of the route down but that didn’t matter. There were no runners either, but that could be because it was freezing cold. After 4 miles, I reached the park, and a beach, and the ocean, and it was beautiful.

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It was so beautiful, I ran back there every day to cleanse hotel-life from me. The conference was interesting, but it was a conference, and there were suits everywhere, and I needed to run. The next day was the Run with Rose event, somewhat publicised to link up with my marathon fund-raising for Seafarers UK. Roger had promised to do the run, and Jason Zuidema of the North American Maritime Ministries Association, who had also been instrumental in getting me to Stamford, had apparently been training especially, having last done a 10K a year earlier. Some other maritime chaplains had said they would come too but that morning was even colder, and the chaplains, from their table in the warm breakfast hall, said they had, oddly, changed their mind.

So it was me, Roger and Jason, and our escorts: Noah and another guy in a car who were filming us for NAMMA. I don’t know what purpose me running down a road will have for North American maritime matters, but I hope it has some. By now I had new shoes and new compression sleeves, bright orange to match my jacket and hat, so I looked like a Belisha beacon, without the stripes.

Roger and I had come with full cold-weather gear. Jason was in a t-shirt and shorts. No gloves, no hat. He lives in Montreal. It was twenty degrees colder there. His car was filthy and when I asked him what he had driven through, he said, “Canada.”

We took a more direct route, and we made it. This time there was time to hang out on the beach and photograph iced sand:

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On my penultimate day, I was woken at 7am by a phone call. “Oh no, have I woken you?” It was Phil Parry of Spinnaker, who I’ve met a couple of times now. And suddenly I remembered suggesting we go run together at 7am. I had forgotten, entirely, and I hadn’t even been drinking. But I was down and ready by 7:05, and off we went again, up to Selleck Street, along Fairfield Avenue, down to Shore Road, and all the way to the shore. Like Roger, Phil is a tippy-toe forefoot runner and they both make me feel quite clod-hopper. I intend to lighten my shoes, but not until the marathon. Like me, Phil was astonished at the beauty of the beach, which seems a thousand miles away from the stuffy hotel. On the way back we decided to stop for breakfast in a scruffy sandwich shop on a scruffy street. It looked like nothing much, but it said “hot coffee” in the window, so we went in. The man behind the counter wasn’t particularly effusive, but I said something about us being hungry runners, and suddenly woop: it all changed. He’s done four marathons, and one day he decided to do a marathon in Iceland, just like that. He gave us training tips, and told us about Icelandic marathons, and made me the best toasted bagel with cream-cheese I’ve had for years. A great running encounter with the man behind the counter.

I flew back to the UK and had no sleep on the flight. The next day I was minimally functional and with no thought of exercise. But yesterday I ran 20 miles with Janey along the canal. Same plan as before: I ran from Keighley, she met me at Saltaire. It was a changeable day of weather, and I got wet but it didn’t matter. I felt OK. Not as good as at the Hull 20, but not bad. My legs were tired, my hip began to ache, but I could run through all of it. Poor Janey was feeling “bleeurgh” when she set off, and stayed feeling vaguely nauseous, but still not only managed to run 13 miles but looked like she was as perky and sprightly after 13 miles as she had been when we set off.

So that’s it for long runs. I think it’s hilarious that only two years ago I was still stuck on treadmills and not running more than 5K, and now although I have a 16 mile run to do this weekend, I don’t think it’s a long run.

I found two magazines and two race numbers from London Marathon when I got home. I don’t know why. But I read the magazine, and considered the state of my hip (tolerable), and thought: I’m ready. And I’m excited.

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ACTIVITY
WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH: 7 MILE CLUB RUN
SUNDAY 16 MARCH: 12:62 MILES, NEW YORK CITY, 1:59:08
MONDAY 17 MARCH: ABOUT 7 MILES, STAMFORD, CT ABOUT AN HOUR
TUESDAY 18 MARCH: 5K RUN WITH ROSE
WEDNESDAY 19 MARCH: ABOUT 7 MILES, ABOUT AN HOUR
SATURDAY 22 MARCH: ABOUT 20 MILES (GPS SAYS 20, GB.MAPOMETER SAYS MORE; MY WATCH STOPPED WORKING IN THE DARK ARCHES)

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Hip, hip, hip

It worked. The preparation worked. And the god of weather intervened to help matters. So, here is my race report of the East Hull 20. I was the driver. I picked up Richard “Titch” Joyce at LPSA, our de facto clubhouse, at 7.30am, then Gemma and her Hyde Park Harrier friend Ben. Gemma had texted at 5:55am to ask if we could take Ben as his lift had vanished when his club-mate, the driver, fell off her bike, and although my kitten alarm-clock had been banished from the bedroom, I was awake with faint nerves. A rendez-vous at the Shell garage was arranged and off we went to Hull. The sun was already out, there were some runners on the roads, and I still wasn’t scared. Not like I had been scared at the Bridlington Half, when my club-mates kept asking if I was alright and told me afterwards I’d looked terrified. Yesterday I wasn’t terrified. I’d packed my smoothie, some coffee, gels, water, my recovery quiche. I had slept properly. Everything felt good.

We got to the club-house of East Hull Harriers early enough to leave us an hour of Faffing Time. This is essential because there is so much to do: pick up your number, go back to the car to pin it to your vest, faff, go back to the clubhouse to use the toilet again, faff, go back to the car again, faff, go back to the clubhouse to use the toilet again. By the final toilet visit it was 9:56 and the race started at 10. We still didn’t know exactly where the start was but headed out of the clubhouse onto the main road. Further down the road the runners were massing on both sides of the road, as if they were about to dive into the middle and swim down it. The traffic was still passing, we still didn’t understand how the start would work, but we only had a couple of minutes to get nervous, then suddenly everyone moved into the road and a gun went off.

Oh. That must be the start. Or a calamity.

Off we went. For 20 miles. I started quite quickly but wanted to stick to my marathon pace, which is 9:10 per minute mile. Ben and I had debated in the car park for a while about whether we should vest it or not. I thought that “to vest it” was my neologism and was about to be proud of it, but he said Hyde Park Harriers use it all the time. Anyway, we vested it and after a mile of running I knew it was the right decision. It was sunny and warm and beautiful and I warmed up quickly but not too much. There was bunching for the first couple of miles, then space appeared between groups of runners, then more space. There were a dozen or so of us obviously aiming for a nine-minute mile pace. Two of them were right behind me and talking in an uninteresting fashion about football, then DVDs, then more football and I thought, oh well, it’s one reason to run faster, to get away from them. So I did.

It was a beautiful course, once we’d done a mile or so of road: paths, country lanes, fields and nice houses to look at. It was FLAT. After a few miles I ended up running with a man in bright orange top and shoes, who said he was going to run the Rotterdam marathon, that that would be his kit and he was going “full Dutch.” On the other side of me was a woman from Sleaford, a place I had never heard of but which I now know is near Lincoln, in the flat bit but near the hilly bit of Lincoln. For a while we played “who lives in the hilliest town?”

I do.

We stayed together for about 15 miles, and it was companionable. We didn’t talk if we didn’t feel like it. Every so often Full Dutch Man would say something encouraging, and he managed to do it without being annoying. I told him he should put his mantras on t-shirts. He told me he had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and that that morning he had suffered for it, but that now he was fine. I told him about my post on running incontinence for the Guardian, and a woman who had been running near us suddenly sped up and left us. I can’t imagine why.

There were plentiful water stations. There were endlessly cheering marshals, on bikes, at water stations, at corners. I think the sunshine lifted everyone, and there was a cool coastal breeze to go with it which was lovely. Full Dutch Man told me that the East Hull 20 had been voted the windiest course in Britain in Runner’s World, and that last year had been cold and with a gale in his face all the way round. He hadn’t seen the scenery because his head had been down into the wind for 20 miles.

I must have got my fuelling right because for many many miles I felt great. I felt STRONG. I realised how often I’m usually giving myself trouble in my head about running, that I feel tired, or my leg aches, or my shoes are a problem. I didn’t do that yesterday. I just ran, and I enjoyed it. After mile 10, I could start counting downwards and that’s always a delight. At mile 13, I suddenly felt tired, but an all-over tiredness, not the leaden legs I’d had on my 18-mile run. After the first water station, when I chucked my unfinished water bottle immediately, I kept hold of the bottle for the next two stations, because after I’d chucked the bottle at mile 5 or so, I got so thirsty I started hallucinating water stations. That was my only mistake and I’ll correct that somehow, with a hydration pack or a bottle belt.

At just after mile 10, we saw the faster runners coming back the other way. There was only the shortest of crossovers, which meant it was impressive rather than dispiriting to see the leaders sprint past us. We ran through villages where some people cheered us. We ran down lanes where cars were driving, and some drivers were generous and thoughtful, and some drivers were contemptible. The woman in the Range Rover who had her window down and shouted “SINGLE FILE”: I mean you. You can tell who does sport and who doesn’t by how much respect they showed us. (We were, by the way, mostly running in single file when she yelled at us.) We passed lots of cyclists and they passed us and although I wish they would use their damn bells, they mostly treated us respectfully and us them. Some drivers though drove at 40 miles an hour past us and I had some moments of runners’ rage at such heedlessness. Full Dutch Man said three runners had been killed around Rotherham in the last year, and most had been wearing headphones and listening to music. One though had been killed by a lorry driver who was being prosecuted for manslaughter, because he had been driving like a dickhead on country lanes with poor visibility.

At mile 15, it felt like running five more miles was impossible. At mile 17, it felt possible. At mile 18, it felt harder than ever before. At that point, a lot of people were walking. Full Dutch Man, who has run dozens of marathons, and who was clearly faster than me but staying with me out of kindness, said the last two miles was when most people began to struggle. I was struggling a bit, but Full Dutch Man kept me going. We lost our Sleaford companion. She was doing a training plan that sounded insane to me, and which had had her running 24 miles the week before. That didn’t help, and nor did her having a stitch at mile 12. She said she wasn’t enjoying it at all, and she fell back and we carried on. Full Dutch Man had warned me of a hill at mile 19, and we got there and it was, to anyone who runs in Leeds, just a short sharp incline. Then it was downhill to the finish, and Full Dutch Man never faltered in his cheery encouragement, not even then. “See the banners? That’s the finish. You can do it!”

I thought at one point that I might manage to do it in under three hours. That would have been great, because my paces have been somewhat haphazard and seemingly heading to a 4:30 marathon time. But a three hour time might mean I can do four hours after all and although that doesn’t matter, it does. I didn’t do three hours, but I only missed it by six minutes and six seconds. We got near the finish line, and Full Dutch Man’s wife was waiting with his Labrador. Full Dutch Man started calling to his dog, who began to jump and pull and look doggy-delighted. His wife called, “well done, lady!” at me as we passed, and then as we approached the funnel, Full Dutch Man said, no, you go first. And he let me go ahead. What a thoroughly charming man. Afterwards, we hugged, and I thanked him, and then today I looked at the results and found that his name was Malcolm.

Malcolm of Kimberworth Striders, thank you.

Afterwards, I collapsed onto the grass outside East Hull Harriers club-house. Titch and Ben had already finished: Titch did it in 2 hours 15, as he would, being a speedy little dynamo. The finishing prizes were a bottle of water, a towel embroidered with East Hull 20 – much better than a baggy, saggy, ugly race t-shirt – and a lavish buffet. I managed to stand up, with some difficulty, and although I don’t get hungry immediately after running (it usually hits an hour later, suddenly, so that I am so urgently famished I could eat a tree), I made myself eat quiche (protein = recovery), chocolate cornflakes (sugar = recovery), cheese sandwiches (protein = recovery) and an orange (sweet, liquid = delicious). On the way back from the car to the clubhouse, I met a woman who had been in the race, still running though she had passed the finish line, looking at her watch. She saw me looking at her with bewilderment and said, “It’s not quite 20!”

Crikey. At that point, who cares?

I’m not sure how I drove home but I managed it, though seeing signs for “Leeds 28” made my exhausted brain think I was still racing.

It was great though. It was hard but not as hard as it could have been. I mostly felt strong and fit, and when I didn’t, my race slogan of “look what you can do, look what you can do” helped. I thought of lots on the way, as there was silence to think in despite me running in company. I remembered Gemma’s race slogan, written on her hand: Legs, Mind, Heart. Those are the three things that control you during a long race, in that order. I like that.

A race on a sunny but cool enough day, with kind and encouraging marshals and good company and scenery along the way, and afterwards showers equipped with shampoo and countless hair products, and tons of food: I might do it again next year even if I’m not marathon training. It was my first ever 20 miles so I did my jump for joy at 18:20, and Gemma and I tried to recreate the jump afterwards but we couldn’t deal with the iPhone’s second delay and after two jumps I had nothing left in my legs.

My hip was fine during the run. I got other niggles, but they’re just for entertainment, I think, like a foot niggle at mile 14, and a brand new knee pain at mile 18. Today, though, my hip hates me.

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ACTIVITY
EAST HULL 20
Distance: 20 miles
Time: 3:06:06

Preparing

I signed up to run the East Hull 20 last November or so. It made sense, in a way that the fact that I may one day be able to run 26.2 miles made sense, in a dreamy, hysterical, impossible kind of way.

It’s tomorrow.

And, oddly, I’m not too nervous. I wonder why. I had leaden legs on my 18 mile run, but I wasn’t knackered apart from in my legs. Perhaps I’m confident, but that’s not like me. Perhaps I’m denying the fact that I will wake up tomorrow morning at 6am, pick up my club-mates Gemma and Richard, drive to East Hull, and then

FREAK OUT

and run 20 miles. I didn’t really think of this as anything but the next step in my training runs, rather than the longest run I will ever do before the marathon. Then someone said to me last week, you should treat it as your marathon. You should wear what you’re going to wear, eat what you’re going to eat, prepare how you are going to prepare.

Oh. Then it became more alarming. And yet. I don’t have my race vest from Seafarers UK. I’m still not sure about which socks I’ll run in: the comedy rainbow compression socks are great, but today on Parkrun they were making my toes tingle, and that was over only three miles. Also they didn’t enable me to beat the dog who was faster than me by miles. (Comforting thought: dogs are four times as fast as humans. I have no idea where I read that.) I did however beat the ten-year-old girl who was running alongside me for a while with her dad. We were passed (i.e. coming in the other direction) by a group of power walkers, and the next few hundred metres were spent, entertainingly for me, listening to her dad try to answer her question of “what’s the point of power walking?”

Quite.

So as I don’t know about socks, and I have forgotten to buy isotonic stuff to put in drinks and anyway I don’t want to run 20 miles carrying a bottle of water, and my hydration backpack hasn’t yet arrived, I concentrated today on eating and baking. I made power chia flapjack, a version of Veggie Runners’ spicy flapjack, with a large dollop of chia seeds added, along with some preserved plums I bought in Singapore. Then I made a power chia banana and almond milk smoothie for tomorrow morning when I will be stumbling around at 6am. Then a beetroot, feta cheese and kale recovery quiche (eggs = protein = good). Then a carb-loading onion and broccoli pizza, to stop me from heading out to Nash’s fish and chip shop for a large amount of chips, mushy peas and gravy. I had them once, and felt strong when I ran the next day, so in my head they are now i) magic and ii) justifiable. But the Brownlees swear by pizza, so it was pizza.

I have laid out my race outfit, and searched for my race number with some desperation, before searching then for the booking email that told me we would pick up race numbers on the day. I have looked at the East Hull Harriers website and at the course, which has an alarming number of small and large numbers on the main road, which means the loop of doom, when faster runners come back and you know you are several miles behind them. I have checked that I have enough energy gels for throughout the race, and I have charged my watch. I have prepared my post-race clothing of clean t-shirt, clean pants, clean long trousers, clean socks, other shoes. I will probably take jelly beans or jelly babies but will get them on the way, and anyway I’m not sure about them as my throat does not swallow them properly and once you’ve run a mile with half a swallowed jelly baby in your throat, you tend to look at colourful sugary confectionary with darkness in your heart.

I will barricade my door tonight so that my furry alarm known as my kitten – who arrived to lick my neck last night at 3am, 4am, 5am, 6am and 7am – can’t disturb my sleep. I have not had alcohol since Thursday. I paid £25 for an excellent sports massage in which Ward, the man with terrifying hands, poked at my knee where my ITB arrives at it and made me squeal. Yes, he said. That explains why your knee has been aching.

There is petrol in my car. The race location postcode is in my phone for Google maps.

And that is all the preparation I can do. Now my feet just have to run 5280 feet.

ACTIVITY

TUESDAY: TRAINING SESSION, JENNY

WEDNESDAY: CLUB RUN + EXTRA
DISTANCE: 10 MILES
TIME: I DON’T KNOW BECAUSE MY WATCH STOPPED BUT 8 MILES WAS 1: 14
PACE: FAST. 8.30 MILE ON AVERAGE

SATURDAY: PARKRUN
DISTANCE: 3 MILES
TIME: 25:04

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Lists

Some exorcism was required, still, after last Monday. I planned my long run carefully this week. Unlike last week, I would:

1. run in daylight
2. run in a straight line
3. run with somebody
4. run on a path
5. did I mention run in daylight?

My plan called for 17 miles but I wanted to do 18, because I’ve signed up for East Hull 20, a 20-mile race in East Hull, next week, and I want to do it. Jenny’s plan is carefully thought out and cautious, because she doesn’t want me to get injured, and we both know that I’m prone to injury on my right side. So she didn’t want me to increase my mileage by more than 10% a week, which is as it should be. But I wanted to see if I could do it. Yorkshire stubbornness.

I got the train to Keighley, after looking on this useful site at how far 18 miles away on the Leeds-Liverpool canal was. Janey of Veggie Runners offered to keep me company for some of the miles. She didn’t want to do the whole run because

1) her marathon isn’t until October
2) she’s not insane

We arranged to meet at Shipley, six miles from Keighley, then run the “last” 12 miles together. I got up in time, I ate toast and peanut butter, I drove to the train station. I could have cycled or got the bus but had enough forward thinking to realise that I would not want a three mile uphill cycle ride after running 18 miles, and that I would be too tired to get a bus either, and that I may be in a peed-my-pants state which sometimes happens with a 44-year-old bladder and weak pelvic floor muscles. Really! Women pee while running! I was carrying a backpack with a sweatshirt, gels, water, but I didn’t have space for spare clothing too or my usual race kit of a large packet of wet-wipes I didn’t want to sit on a bus worrying about smelling So, the car, with something to sit on.

Nobody on the train looked twice at my rainbow running socks. Maybe it was too early. At the station, I asked for directions to the canal. Turn right, get to the roundabout, take your third right. I did – going via Asda’s toilets first to avoid the peeing-my-pants situation (it didn’t work: 18 miles requires a lot of hydration) – but got past the roundabout and thought: this road is going uphill. Canals are on the flat. This can’t be right.

Yes. Sometimes I’m thick. I googled to check a map and of course the server decided not to work. By now I was getting a bit nervous. I was supposed to meet Janey at 10 and it was already 9. I can usually run six miles in an hour but not at long run pace. But it was a beautiful sunny morning so at least she wouldn’t have to wait in the rain. Anyway I still hadn’t found the canal. I got to a bridge over the River Aire and thought shit, is everyone directing me to the river? A canal can’t be on a hill. I asked an old gentleman – I call him that because he was dressed properly in coat and hat, elegant in the way that old people are when they leave their house – where the canal was. He directed me uphill. There, at the end of that street. And there was a sign, and then there was the canal, on a hill. What a thing to behold. I love engineers already, but engineers who put canals on hills: brilliant.

I set off running. Then I stopped to get my earphones right. Then I stopped to get my New Yorker podcast right. Then it was hot so I had to take my jacket off and then I had no pocket, so I ran with my iPhone in my hand but that made it skip so I stopped and put that away. I already needed to pee but the only options were people’s canal-front gardens, and it was late enough in the morning for walkers and dogs to be about and empty stretches to be impossible. The sun shone, the water glistened, the ducks swam. It was lovely. But Shipley was still six miles away. I saw a sign saying Liverpool 115 miles and thought, shit, I’m going in the wrong direction. If I’m stupid enough not to realise canals can be cut into hillsides, perhaps I’m daft enough to run to Liverpool when I want to go to Leeds. But the Leeds distance was on the other side.

I ran past the Bingley Five-Rise Locks. I’ve seen them before, but not passing them quite this fast. I would have stopped to gawp, as they are beautiful, but there was no time.

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Later I encountered a police officer talking to three men by another lock, and a path that seemed fenced off. I asked the police officer, can I run this way? Aye love, or you can swim it.

It was six miles of beautiful canal, peaceful water, nice soft path. No roaring rush-hour traffic, no fear, no panic, no running-loathing.

I was 15 minutes late to meet Janey. She greeted me by offering a banana, we both drank and set off. I’m trying not to have gels before 10 miles so my body gets used to using energy without extra carbohydrates, but after 8 miles I started to feel oddly weary. I kept going, but then stopped for a gel. My legs started to feel heavy, and by mile 12 or so, I felt wooden and they felt leaden. Janey has a lovely light-footed running style and also manages to make running look natural and easy. But by now I was feeling like a clod-hopper, like my feet were thudding too heavily on the ground. I tried to adjust my cadence to Janey’s, as hers is fast and efficient. But I am taller and my legs are longer, and I don’t have her tippy-toe forefoot strike so it was hard. Though once I did attempt to adjust my running style, by standing taller, kicking a bit higher and trying to increase my footfall, it felt easier, but the problem was that all that took a bit of effort and that was increasingly hard to find.

I kept apologising to Janey. She knows loads about nutrition and vegetarians (you may have guessed that) so we talked about that for a while, and I realised that because I’ve been so careful at getting enough protein, I’ve been neglecting eating enough carbohydrates. That probably explained my leaden legs. There was no other reason I could think of: I was well-rested, I was hydrated, I’d had a good breakfast.

Even so, it was a beautiful run. I forgot to do my celebratory jump when I got to 15.1 miles, my longest ever distance, but remembered at about 16, so Janey took this great picture. That, however, was the fifth take: Well done, tired legs.

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At Rodley the walkers multiplied. We met a little girl who looked in wonder at my socks, and at Janey, and at me. She was with her dad, then her mum and a friend ran past – as in, they were running for sport, not just running past – and she burst into tears at seeing her mum run off. We ran off in the other direction with the sound of her committed inconsolation getting fainter as we ran.

My mileage calculations were slightly off, or that site is slightly off, because we got to 18 miles with a mile to go to Leeds city centre. But I stopped. I’d pushed things enough. We walked the last mile, I drove home, and then followed Jayne’s strict instructions: Eat something as soon as you walk through the door, before you even stretch. Peanut butter and oatcakes, preferably. So I walked through the door and did this:

1. Feed the cats
2. Eat a Ryvita with peanut butter
3. Stretch.
4. Stretch more.
5. Stretch more.
6. Foam roller.
7. Spiky massage ball.
8. Run a bath.
9.Lie in the bath.
10. Try to stay awake
11. Go to bed.
12. Sleep the sleep of the righteously exhausted.

And the next day I got up and ran five miles, cross-country, for the last of the PECO XC league. We didn’t win the league, but we came second, the highest ever. And somehow my legs got round the course even when it seemed impossible. And I applauded them, and me, and there some flowers at myself, and in my head, I did this again.

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ACTIVITY
SATURDAY: 18.03 MILES
TIME: 2:56:31

SUNDAY: 4.81 MILES, WITH MUD, ROOTS, AND MORE MUD
TIME: 48:09

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