It’s been a horrible week. I have two cats who I got from Leeds Cat Rescue in January. Mother and daughter, Tamcat and Dora. I love them both very much. They are funny, affectionate, curious. On Friday Tamcat was killed by a car a nearby road, which she was crossing to get to the park. I was out, but my neighbours recognised her body and phoned me. They had very carefully wrapped her in a towel, placed her in a box and sellotaped the box so that foxes couldn’t get in. But I had to bury her: it was 10pm on a Friday night and I didn’t know what else to do and didn’t want to leave her out for foxes. I unwrapped her and saw that she had a massive head injury and her legs were broken. There was blood coming out of both her ears and her eyes were open. I really hope that means that she died instantly, and I think she did because my neighbour Natasha had been stroking her only five minutes before some other neighbours told me they thought the dead cat on the road came from our terrace.

So I buried her, and cried a lot. Her daughter Dora seemed OK. She is eating and sleeping, though also sniffing and miaowing. And the reason I’ve put this in a running blog is because I wanted to write about grief. I really loved my cat, and I am grieving for her. And I would have thought that meant that I immediately went off and tried to get rid of my grief by running. But I didn’t want to run. Not at all. It seemed inconceivable. I was supposed to run a 15 mile race on Saturday and I’d been really looking forward to it. On the phone on that Friday night, my mother – whose usual reaction to my running is “don’t overdo it” – said, “I think you should run,” and I snapped NO. It was a violent reaction but I couldn’t think of anything worse than driving an hour to a race and then running. So I withdrew from the race and spent the day quietly, hanging out with Dora, seeing friends, drinking too much. And I still didn’t want to run.

On Sunday though I did. I ran with Norrie and Dean around Harewood again, and it helped, even though we cleverly waited for the hottest time of the day to do it and even though we had planned to do two laps and only just managed one. It helped enough that even after doing a hard training session on Monday morning at the gym, I ran five miles in the evening with Veggie Runners.

I wish I could think of something more profound to write about exercise and grieving, but I can’t. I’ve encountered too much death in my life and I don’t think I’m getting any better at grieving. But I’m sad, but I’m running.


Post Hill

Ten days. Quite a lot of running. Not a lot of writing. First, an adjustment: I was actually running at the right pace for the intervals, as I saw when I uploaded the Garmin data. Damn.

But first. Nothing on Saturday as I went down and back to Oxford for a commemorative service for departed members of my old college, Somerville, which included Louise. I must salute here the deputy principal, who read short obituaries of 45 people, in ascending order of their age, and managed to make each one sound interesting. (“Somervillians are known for their great achievements. After graduating, X became a librarian in Norwich.”) (Oh, that sounds like I don’t rate librarians. I do! I do.) It was an endurance race for the audience – I started to get dizzy by the time we got to the 90 year olds, and a lot of Somervillians reached 90 – but a triumph for her.

Sunday: A text from Andrew. “Do you want to run 20K up to Bramham park on Sunday?”
A text from me. “No.”

Andrew has been injured and off running, but he gets his fitness back quickly and then he goes ambitious. I managed to restrain his Scott Jurek tendencies, and we arranged to meet at 8 to run around the Leeds Country Way. The last time I did that route was with Janey in horizontal driving rain. This time it was raining, but also warm. For the first few miles all was well. Nobody was about, the rain stopped, the view was serene. Then we ran through East Keswick, up the hill (which I walked: more later on why), and got on to the path that leads down to the River Wharfe.

A jungle. Everything had grown lusciously and insistently. It looked like my allotment mixed with the Amazonian forest, only there were nettles instead of tropical plants. We got to the river OK, ran along it, then switched to running in a field. I stayed in the field, Andrew ran on the path, as they were parallel, and then suddenly they weren’t, and I had gone too far to get back to the path. I carried on going. Andrew’s shouts got fainter. I found myself like Dante Alighieri:

Nel mezzo del cammino di nostra vita
Per una selva oscura
Che la dritta via era smarrita

Ie. In the middle of dark wood in the middle of my life, lost. I am in the middle of my life, probably, but the wood wasn’t dark, it was just a forest of nettles. There were banks and banks of them, and I was in my usual summer running outfit of vest and shorts. Eventually though as I had no idea where to go, and it seemed going through the wood was the only option, I had to push through a bank of nettles, walk through a wood, climb over a barbed wire fence and lo! There was Andrew running up to meet me.

We carried on, running through a field of sweetcorn, then broad beans (these are facts I know now, having an allotment). Neither of us could recognise the path any more, because the views had all become greenery. Everything seemed to attack us. Spiky comfrey, sticky sticky weed, ever-stinging nettles. The best thing to do is persevere, so we did, and then at the end of the field, after I had spent half an hour wishing my crops looked like those crops, there was the track up to Harrogate Road. I walked it, because once again my legs were knackered. I’ve been trying to adjust my diet because I’m eating too many processed carbohydrates and not enough protein, so maybe that’s why. Or I’ve not been drinking enough and am dehydrated. Or it was just one of those days.

On Harrogate Road, there was a huge amount of traffic, but most of it was beautiful classic cars. We ran past some Downton Abbey ones, ducked into the permissive path through the magic garden gate. “Shall we do a lap of Harewood?” asked Andrew.


The nettle stings still hurt today. Andrew’s legs were red and covered in angry bumps. I got home, covered my stings with anti-histamine cream, ate, slouched, then went to my allotment and dug for hours.

Monday. My artist mates Norrie and Dean, fellow-studio-holders at East Street Arts, and seriously talented artists both, are supposedly my team and I am supposedly their coach, an arrangement that grew from me nagging them about running. (Amazing. Really? I nag about running?) I’ve been running with Dean once, up around Eccup, but although Norrie talks about running a lot, I’ve never seen him do it. I know he plays football once a week, but he also eats and drinks a lot of crap. So when he said on Monday morning that he felt like doing a run later, I didn’t take him seriously. But then, at 7pm, there we were in the car driving up to Harewood. The route was their idea: I’ve run around bits of Harewood but never the whole route. That’s fine, I thought. I have to do intervals, and it’s quite flat.

No. It’s not.

That was the first surprise. Hills. The second was that of all three of us, Norrie was the fastest and most fluid. I was astonished and impressed. Dean also did well considering that – as he’d been intently sculpting all day – he hadn’t eaten anything except for a couple of biscuits. I looked at him aghast when he said that, being obsessed with my food these days, and how it can fuel me better. But he still did seven out of the eight intervals. It was a stunningly gorgeous evening and the grounds of Harewood Estate in evening sunshine are so magnificent I almost can’t run through them because I want to stop and gape. I will be back to run around it again, but not to do intervals.

Harewood Estate View

So, well done team. We did eight half-mile intervals at 7.20 minute mile pace, ish. Except for the hills. I told Jenny and she said, “you’re taking too long to rest.”


About my food obsession: I have never been on a diet. I have never wanted to be someone who counts calories. But now I do count calories. I look at what’s in Twixes and then I put the Twix down, sometimes. This makes me unusual in my running club, where blithe eat-anything, drink-anything is the prevailing attitude. And I wish it were my attitude, because I don’t want to count calories. And I shouldn’t have to, right? I train five times a week.

But I’ve put on half a stone since the marathon, and I don’t like how that feels. Apparently it’s common: your marathon appetite, which is huge, doesn’t change even when your training drastically diminishes. Also, I developed a bad habit of eating Greggs’ chocolate eclairs. Result: the scales are going up and up. I liked how I felt when I was lighter. I liked how it felt when I ran. But it’s taking me a while to get rid of my new bad habits. So today I have ordered a copy of No Meat Athlete, by Matt Frazier. Not just because of my calorie-counting and the eclairs, but because I want to fuel myself properly. When I gave Jenny my food diary, after failing to do so for ages, she pointed out that most of my meals were heavily carbohydrate, and that I was getting hardly any protein. Oh. So I made a big effort to eat protein, but now I think I’ve gone in the other direction. I ran a fast – for me – ten mile race around Otley last Wednesday, in which I got a PB despite it having three miles of hills. And generally I’ve been feeling tired and even with all my training, lethargic.

So something’s not working. Or perhaps it’s just in my head. As Andrew said when I complained of feeling a bit weak on the run: what can you blame now? Your glutes, your piriformis, your food, your sleep, your hour of squash. Just get on with it. He’s a scientist. He’s straightforward. When I asked him why I was coughing after running, he said, it’s from the bug you had, your airways are irritated, it’ll clear up in three months, that’s my diagnosis. It did. Not bad for a microbiologist.

On the other hand, this weekend I’m running a 15 mile race, and I’ve barely thought about it. That’s probably arrogant. I’ll be blithely doing marathons next.


Then at my club run on Wednesday, I finally encountered the dreaded Post Hill. In our club, this is talked about with the reverence according to a Kraken or Minotaur. It was a beautiful evening, but hot, and we ran up through delightful Armley to Pudsey, then into some woods, and along a bit, and there it was. It’s named Post Hill after the Yorkshire Post, and even motorbikes have difficulty getting up it. So did I.

A postscript
I realise I use names of running friends and others in here without always identifying them. Here is a cast of characters:
Andrew: fellow Kirkstall Harrier
Janey: co-founder of Veggie Runners along with Bibi, & my marathon training partner to be
Norrie, Dean: artists & studio-holders at East Street Arts, where I have a studio, & my team
Jenny: my personal trainer & director of Motiv8 North

Wednesday: Otley 10 mile race
Thursday: rest
Friday: a.m. one hour squash, p.m. 3 x 0.5 mile intervals, 3 mile tempo run
Sunday: 8 mile run
Monday: 8 x 0.5 intervals
Tuesday: Personal training session
Wednesday: 8 mile club run including Post Hill & other hills. Too many other hills.


Yesterday I was meant to run and didn’t. My excuse: my periods came back after four months absence. I assumed I was hurtling into my second menopause (for details on the other one, read my other blog) but apparently they had just been terrified into disappearing by my marathon training. So they came back, and they came back hard, to chain-ingesting co-codamol levels. And I didn’t run.

Today then I was supposed to do intervals but still hadn’t done my tempo run from yesterday and decided to do that. I decided to do it in the morning, then didn’t. Then I decided to do it after lunch, but didn’t. At 5pm, I got up from my desk, put my shorts on, and suddenly felt uncomfortable. I was wearing short shorts and a vest, and I was planning on heading down the canal. But I thought, these shorts are too short. And I am suspicious of canals anyway. If I want to run somewhere, then I want it to be somewhere I can run away from. I could swim away from an attacker on the canal, but maybe he would swim too. When I realised I’d also left my Garmin at home, and didn’t have an iPhone holder, that decided me: I cycled home, put on some running tights, and set off. It had rained hard all day, but the rain had had enough, and the sun was out. It was such a beautiful evening. I ran towards Gledhow Valley woods, for my usual route to Roundhay Park, but I took a different road to make it seem slightly more interesting. How stupid: Gledhow Valley woods are lush and green and always interesting. There were evening runners all about. I was supposed to run at 8 minute mile pace, and I did, but with more walking breaks than usual, because it was HOT.

At Roundhay, there were several groups of people doing military fitness, i.e. being shouted at by men in camouflage trousers. I didn’t even run to the lake, but circled back up to the house, then home. It was a mundane run, I suppose, except it wasn’t. I genuinely don’t understand why people run with music. Even on this short, apparently mundane run, there were things to listen to, like the shouts of the military fitness instructors, and a man singing and yelling loudly over the hill out of sight at the little lake. And there are always things to see. Tonight these are some things I saw:

A couple sitting in the middle of a huge green field, as if it was theirs
A group of military fitness people in blue bibs, coming down a steep hill, like an invading alien force
A girl sitting on a bench who was there when I went one way and there when I went the other, still swinging her brown Ugg boots
Sunlight shafts coming through the trees in the woods: God rays
Three children running through the stream in the woods, as if they were in the middle of the country, not inner-city Leeds. And no adult in sight. Free fun.
Four pictures in their frames, floating in the stream, looking far more poetic and alluring than fly-tipping should

I didn’t take my phone, so I didn’t take pictures. But I can see those things in my head.

4 mile tempo run, 8 minute mile pace
TIME: 32:46

The Bridge

I love bridges. I LOVE bridges. I love to walk across them. I love to write about them. I love to watch documentary series about them (such as a trilogy on the bridges of Mostar, Brooklyn and the Millennium that I wrote about in 2001 and which I’ll post at some point). I salute engineers who build extraordinary bridges that are solid and enduring but still sinuous and beautiful.

I especially love the Humber Bridge. It’s huge; it’s magnificent, and it crosses a huge and magnificent river. Of course I love it.


And of course, when I discovered that there was a 10K race that involved running across it, I signed up. The Humber Bridge 10K was one of the first races I ever did, two years ago. I drove over to Hessle on my own, in my Kirkstall Harriers vest, and got thoroughly confused by all the purple vests until I realised that City of Hull AC also run in purple. I ran a mile up to the bridge, two miles across it, two miles back, and a mile back to the rugby club. I remember a few things about the race: that I deliberately ran on the inside of the path when we were running over the bridge, because I felt a powerful temptation to jump. Not because I was suicidal, but because the water was there. That urge is apparently a recognizable psychological one. I also remember coming into the final mile and running alongside an older man, and we pushed each other on to get sub-50, and both got 48 minutes. My time was 48:07 and I’ve yet to beat it.

I think I came close in the Edinburgh half, although the official times – now publicly available on the website, after the race director wrote today that they realised they had made the wrong decision in not publishing results – gave me a 52 minute time at 10K. My Garmin splits work out at about 49-50 minutes but certainly not 52, so I’m not sure what happened there. Anyway at one point I thought I’d try and make this a proper race, though against myself. But then my brother, who has started running again after a couple of years off, said he’d like to do it; and then Janey said she’d do it too. So I decided to do a sociable run instead and sod the PB.

In the end my brother was in Birmingham the night before and quite reasonably didn’t want to drive for nearly four hours to do a one-hour race, however spectacular, so it was just Janey and I who set off to Hessle Rugby Club on Sunday morning. The race started at 11, and we had plenty of time. Except that I was sure I knew the way, and that certainty remained until it came to a turn-off and suddenly I wasn’t sure any more, and there was no time to check phones and my map was in the boot and then, oops, there we were driving onto the bridge with no escape route.

I don’t how the toll-booth operator guessed – the race numbers we were wearing, or the look of panic on my face? – but he looked at me and said, “did you mean to come onto the bridge?”

No, we didn’t.

“Not a problem.”

And he called into the radio that there was a “turnaround,” for us to check in with the other side when we got back, and waived the enormous £1.50 toll fee. What a lovely man. We drove over the bridge, then cleverly missed the next turn-off, so turned up 6 miles or so later at the toll-booth again, whereupon another lovely man also said, no problem, radioed in that “the turnaround is back safe” and off we went. This time we put the postcode for the rugby club into Google maps and got there with 30 minutes to spare. It’s a small race. My number was 800 and something, but there definitely weren’t 800 runners. I’d guess about 300. The weather was glorious for anyone who is not running: sunshine, heat, and no breeze. The lines for the portaloos weren’t too long, so we did our business, lined up outside along the road and then bang, we were off.

I like abrupt race starts. You don’t have time to get nervous. And I liked the fact that I was going to have company. I’m getting spoiled, after Mike’s pacing last week and Janey’s company this week. We’d agreed not to tank it, but still we were running nearly eight-minute miles, which to me is fast. Though when I worked it out, I must have run faster for my PB. But it was so hot. For the first mile, running up to the bridge, I thought, there’ll be wind on the bridge. There’s always wind on the bridge. And we got to the bridge and there was no wind. The bridge stood astride the Humber like a giant becalmed ship. Janey doesn’t like running in the heat, and it’s my least favourite weather too. I like running in the cold, the rain, drizzle, even some wind. But heat and sun are the most difficult. There was a water station at the far side of the bridge, and we stopped to have water. On the other side, Janey stopped to take pictures and I carried on, but slowly so she could catch up. I stopped a couple of times, but it was a while before we were together again, and she said that she’d been feeling the heat before but now that she’d stopped and started again, she felt bloody awful.

But on we went, past Scout groups dressed in pyjamas, and a man dressed as a fairy (these were walkers, not runners), and many patient walkers who moved to the side with seeming good grace. Towards the far side of the bridge, in the shadow of a pylon, an elderly man was cheering everyone on. I loved his cheer because he said, “well done! you should be proud of yourself!”

And I thought, yes, I should and then I was.

The last mile had more shade. Before that the only shade had been the shadows cast by the cables of the bridge, but they only lasted a couple of hundred metres before the shadow disappeared into the water. The final stretch is down the road to the rugby club. It’s fast and downhill so I tried to go faster. A man in front of me suddenly swayed on his feet and collapsed into the arms of a marshal, and I ran off – because he was being cared for – to the sound of another saying into his radio “there’s someone who’s not very well; send a paramedic.” I hope he’s OK.

I began to look at my watch and thought, maybe I’ll do a sub-50. But I didn’t. Then I thought, maybe sub-51. But that passed too. But I managed to get to the line as the clock was ticking towards 52 minutes and I think I got in at 51:59. That’s what my watch said. The official results though said 52:00.

I know. It’s daft to care about a second. I’d feel bad about that but as I’m only competing with myself, I don’t.

I drank about five cups of water and we lay on the grass for a while feeling exhausted. We’d run six miles in about 23 degrees C while spending most of our time training in cool and cold weather. The race required some digestion. Then we went off to the Humber Bridge country park and had a picnic. I’ve had Janey’s picnics before and they’re delicious so this time I felt some Veggie Runner pressure, and at 8:10 that morning I had decided to make a salad with whatever was in the house or in my vegetable bed. It became a spelt, spinach, feta, radish, pumpkin seed, mixed nut salad and it was delicious. Phew.

It’s a wonderful race. And if I weren’t busy on 29th June, I’d sign up for the Humber Bridge half marathon too.

(About the next photo: we’re much better at running than at taking selfies, apparently.)