My moods have been low recently. I don’t know why but I suspect it’s do with my hormone levels, which are perturbed and unbalanced by endometriosis. At least, that’s my guess, from reading about how overloaded oestrogen (which endometriosis is probably a result of) can depress dopamine and happy hormones. I’m trying all sorts to heal them: taking magnesium, taking a horrid but I think effective potion that a herbalist prescribes (which is supposed to balance my oestrogen), using my Lumie alarm clock to wake up more gently and give me some Vitamin D. But the fail-safe method is running. Endorphins versus oestrogen. Yesterday I had my usual personal training session at 7.30am, and the good mood lasted until the afternoon. Today although it’s my club training night, I thought it was safer to start the day with a run and coast on the endorphins for the rest of the day, hopefully. My cat woke me at 5, my alarm woke me at 7, and I got up at 8. The blinds were drawn, but I could hear a howling wind. But I looked outside and it wasn’t raining, and the trees were still upright, and I needed to run, so I fed the cat, got dressed, packed a small rucksack with a change of clothes (but did not wrap everything in a plastic bag, which will be relevant), and set off.

It wasn’t cold. It was light. It seemed OK. Everyone I saw walking their dogs had hoods up, and clearly they had read the weather forecast because after half a mile, by the time I got to end of Gledhow woods, and up the steep hill into Little Switzerland, the rain began. It was gentle at first, though cold. But I was warm, and had stripped off my top in the woods so I was only wearing my light running jacket. I kept running, and the rain got harder, and the wind got up. I’d planned a 7 mile run that included a run around Roundhay Lake then down into the city centre to my studio. But I got to Roundhay Park and up to the top of the hill that leads down to the lake, and I swore. There was a fierce headwind, and the rain was coming sideways, and it was biting. I hadn’t had any food, and my legs were leaden. I could either run 2 miles home again, or 3 miles into town. I told myself that I’d tolerate this weather on a fell, and I would, but it was vile, so I cut out the lake, and headed into town. I imagine that a hundred or so commuters into Leeds this morning thought me a lunatic, and I was beginning to agree with them, as I got colder and wetter, and my legs got heavier. Down Roundhay Road, along Harehills Lane, which I usually avoid because so many young predatory men seem to be hanging around. This time there was hardly anybody on the streets because they all had more sense. I ran, and I trudged and I ran, and I didn’t enjoy it, but I kept going, past Jimmy’s hospital, down into Burmantofts, and to my studio. I got to the front door just as the postman arrived, and we looked at each other. I said, “that was horrible.” He said, “yes. I was going to go out on my bike but changed my mind.”

Do I regret it? No. Not entirely. I was soaking wet and chilled to the bone. I am writing this in a heated studio, while wearing a cashmere jumper, down puffer jacket and wrapped in a cashmere shawl and after an hour or so, I’ve just about warmed up. My clothes did stay dry, just about. My pace was pathetic, and I ran 4.5 miles instead of 7. But I got out of the house, and I went running in a rainy gale, and I’m proud of that.



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From Monaco to the moors

I travel to odd places frequently to research odd things and am known for it. But last week’s travel to an odd place for an odd thing was actually not really my doing. One of my mother’s friends, John, who lives in Australia, is on the board of the World Circus Federation. He has been fascinated with circuses since I’ve known him, as has the rest of his family. I visited them when I was 18 and remember his stepdaughter had a juggler for a boyfriend even back then. When my mother was visiting them in Australia this year, and John said, why don’t you come to the World Circus Festival in Monaco? and my mother said, “er…” and ten minutes later he had booked the hotel, that was that. My mother asked me to go and who would refuse to go to the circus?

I packed my suitcase for all eventualities: warm clothes for a Big Top, glamorous clothes in case we had to drink with Grimaldis (Princess Stephanie is the director of the festival), and of course running kit. We stayed overnight first in Manchester, and though I had no time to run in the morning, I still salute Crowne Plaza for this:


I looked as usual on walk jog run and such for good routes, and as usual they were little use as they have no elevation. Once our plane pilot had decided not to land in the stunning blue Mediterranean, as it seemed like she was going to, and once we had got through the airport, past the machine-gun-carrying French soldiers who were ostentatiously standing around looking threatening, although their rather bonkers berets gave a different impression, and once we had paid €20 for a short bus trip from Nice to Monaco, and once we had left Nice and I saw the height of the cliffs and the narrowness of the roads and the beauty of the dramatic coast, but also the limited flat land to run on: after all that, I thought, I’m not running up these cliffs. We got to our hotel, checked into our room, a lovely spacious one with a view of superyachts in the harbour (that was only the beginning), and settled in.


The circus show wasn’t until the next night, so the following morning at 7.30, I took the map that the hotel receptionist had given me, left the hotel, turned right and just kept going. This is what I was running on:


I ran all the way along, up into Cap d’Ail, down some steep steps into a cove which was the end of the path. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t t-shirt weather either, so I paddled, then ran back. Along the way I saw women in fancy kit doing very little exercise with very tiny dogs. I saw some runners, none of whom returned my greeting or smile. I saw a woman – I swear this is true – doing a morning walk in white designer jeans and a fur cape. I laughed and ran on. It was only about 4 miles in the end, not nearly long enough according to my training plan, but I don’t have the discipline to get to the end of a route and turn and run back, so I didn’t. Instead, I went for a chilly swim in the bay near the hotel, in my running kit, then walked past dripping. I ate a mountain of eggs for breakfast, then persuaded my mother to come all the way back on the walk with me. Which she did.

The circus was that evening. It was clearly a huge Monte Carlo event. I’ve never seen so much fur or Botox in one place. Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie were both there; not only is she director of the Festival, but she once ran away with an elephant trainer before marrying an acrobat. I think it’s safe to say she likes circuses. So do I. It was exciting to walk into the big top – le chapiteau, in French – past a brass band of clowns.


Not before I had a balanced and nutritious meal though. Now I know that a toffee apple in French is une pomme d’amour.


Some of the circus acts were extraordinary. The athletic ability and strength of some performers was dazzling. At one point, a two-man act were 30 feet up hanging only on ribbons, and one of them was holding both their body weights only on his wrist. The trapezists on both nights were amazing.

But I hated to see the animal acts. I hated, hated, hated it. I do not understand why we must watch elephants standing on stools, or lions sitting on a trailer on the back of a motorbike. I don’t understand why this is presented as a form of human achievement. I couldn’t walk out, as we had been invited there as guests of my mother’s friends, but I sat in my seat seething. The use of wild animals has been banned in many countries, though not in mine, and I wish it were. Of course people who support the use of wild animal acts go on about the wonderful bond between the animal trainers and their captives. But they also talked in one newspaper article about the “parc” which the elephants had to roam around in while they waited. I saw that parc. It was a tiny yard near Monaco’s heliport. Disgraceful.

The following night, there was a fancy cocktail party in the hotel lobby, and Prince Albert was meant to attend. I decided to go a do a strength session in the tiny shabby gym instead. I finished just as the party was in full swing, and there was no access to the lifts except through the lobby, so I walked through the hotel entrance in my gym vest and shorts, and every head turned, and the crowd parted for me as if it was the Red Sea.

Ah, Monaco. Absurd tax-dodging toy-town in a beautiful landscape. Despite the ocean and the view, I won’t be hurrying back.


I was glad to come home. And I was glad that the next day I was going to be running for four miles over Yorkshire moorland. It was the perfect antidote to the ugly wealth and Botox brigades of Monte Carlo. I’d been meant to run the Four Villages Half in Helsby, in Cheshire. But after a long trip home from Monte Carlo via Munich, then a three hour drive, I wasn’t going to get in a car for another few hours just to run a half. And it was a good decision, as the half marathon was cancelled because of ice. Instead, I chose to do the Stanbury Splash, a Woodentops race up at Haworth. But the Splash became the Stoop, another Woodentops route (and the same as Auld Lang Syne), because the rivers were too frozen. I was given a lift in a 4×4, so we could park up on the tops. The snow was plentiful and then it started snowing again. So base layer and vest, but I still ran in shorts. I was nervous again, as I’m still not too sure about my fell running technique. Also I’d forgotten my watch, but my expert fell-running boyfriend lent me his, as he knows the route – and any route – backwards. I wish I had his astonishing ability to photographically recall routes even if he’s just driven or run or walked them once. But I don’t.

So, we registered, we got our three mini Soreens (malt loaf is what the race is famous for). I queued for the only toilet (the portaloos hadn’t made it up the icy road). I found my fellow Harriers, we did a team photo:


then, because fell running is not like road running, we all sang happy birthday to someone, and we were off.


I didn’t learn my lesson. I set off too far back, and I got stuck behind walkers, a lot. It was a lovely run, and the moors were beautiful, but I wish I could have run more. Because there was so much snow, it was extremely difficult to know what was on either side of the path, so it was hard to overtake. At one point, a woman in front of me, walking very slowly, was taking her jacket off and adjusting all her kit. If you’re going to do that, and there’s a huge gap in front of you, and a long line behind you, then surely you step aside?

But I’m still learning fell etiquette. What I do know is that I need to have more confidence. The finish was on a hill back up to the car-park, and I overtook two or three people and still felt at ease. I shouldn’t have felt at ease; I should have been busting a gut. So, room for improvement.

The next week, I actually did all the runs I was supposed to, though I sneaked in a cross country at the Northern cross-country championships. It was 5 miles around Pontefract racecourse, a nice flat course on grass, except the Senior Women ran after 5 or so junior races, and the juniors had nicely churned up the course for us. Also, it was fast. I was hungover and not in the best form, having stupidly had curry the night before, so I just stuck to my team-mate Marion. I mean, I really stuck to her. I was on her shoulder. She must have found me very annoying, but I knew she was going to be going at the right pace, and I didn’t have the energy to overtake her and stay in front of her. Sorry, Marion. She tolerated this until the last half mile then kicked and off she went. She finished five places ahead of me. I still managed to overtake someone near the line, so I’m pleased. Not bad with a hangover. Then the next day I got up and ran 14 miles from Bingley to Leeds. Back to the canal.


And on the next day, I rested. Really.

INJURIES/NIGGLES: Sore toes; black toe-nails; slightly aching right ankle

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I have thirteen weeks or so to go before the Manchester marathon. That came as a bit of a shock when Jenny handed me my plan. I’m not worried. I think I’m half-marathon fit (I hope so, as I’m doing one the week after next), but even so, the thought that Marathon Training is back is odd. One of my New Year resolutions is to dance more, but the other is to learn the difference between “could” and “should”. Marathon training has a lot of “shoulds.” But they are shoulds and not coulds because I want to do what I want to do, which is run a marathon in 3:50. I can do it, as long as I train and as long as I don’t get injured. Oddly, for the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that I’m running naturally on my forefoot/midfoot much more. I’ve no idea why. My shoes are quite minimalist, but I am not actively trying to run forefoot. Anyway my feet like it but my calves don’t.

So, last night, after I’d been on deadline all day, I thought: I’ll have a dark city streets run. I haven’t done that for a while. It seems that these days I mostly run in company. But I do like evening winter runs on streets, as long as I get choose the right streets (not Harrogate Road, for example). Pavements are obligatory. At 6pm, as I told myself it was now or never, as the wind was starting to get up, I got my kit on and got myself out of the door. I put my housekey in my jacket pocket, and set off. I had a route planned, up Harrogate Road (the bit with pavements and civilization) to the Alwoodley Lane junction, then right along Wigton Lane, back down Shadwell Lane and back home. A nice 7 mile loop, as my plan required. I enjoyed it. I like running past people who are walking home, and wondering what they’re thinking. I like running past the huge posh houses on Wigton Lane and wondering what on earth possessed them to build something so expensive yet so banal and with quite so many ugly columns. I wonder at whether the families inside these big houses are happy, or whether the husband has seen his mistress at lunch-time, or the wife has got close to her massage therapist or colleague (horrible and presumptuous of me, but Wigton Lane does seem a stay-at-home mother kind of lane). Those imaginings keep me going for a couple of miles, until the end of the lane. Then right-turn past the pub and the convenience shop, and I got to the junction where I knew I had to take Shadwell Lane. So I did.

Now there is a curious thing about Leeds. I grew up 9 miles away in Dewsbury. I have lived here now for nearly six years. But I still don’t think I know it well. I know bits of it. I know bits I live in, and bits I work in and bits I run through. But there are villages and parts of it that, unless I’ve had cause to go there, I know not at all. I ran along Shadwell Lane, thinking, this is great, I get to know Shadwell Lane, which is a road I’ve only taken about once, and that was in a car. I carried on, past fields, and more fields, then some cottages, then a pub, then a bus terminus (as in the bus got there, turned around in a turning circle and then set off again), then to the other end of the village. At this point, after running for two miles down the lane, I thought, I should have reached the ring-road by now. Suddenly my vague running brain thoughts – such as “I didn’t realise there were so many fields so near the city centre” and “it looks very rural round here, or it would if it weren’t pitch dark” and “oh I’d better run on the side of the road with houses on rather than dark fields and footpaths except there’s no pavement on that side” – all came together to the shocking realisation that I was going the wrong way.

I was going in completely the opposite direction.

I know that my geographical and spatial orientation and understanding is very poor. My brain just doesn’t retain it. There are people who can immediately tell me that we are facing a north-east direction, but I am not one of them. (I’ve just bought Tristan Gooley’s book “A Walker’s guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs” to try to improve.) But standing at the far edge of Shadwell Lane, peering at a road sign that said Wetherby in one direction and the A58 to Leeds in another, in darkness, with no-one around, I thought:

1. Why on earth didn’t I bring my phone?
2. Why on earth didn’t I bring any money?

I know why. I’m out of the habit of solo running and just forgot. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I had a few choices: I could run down the A58 to Leeds, but being geographically and navigationally challenged, I couldn’t remember where that would take me.

Did I mention that by now it was 7pm and I had an important meeting with someone (ie actually a work meeting) in Chapel Allerton at 8pm?

I thought: I can ask someone where I am. But there was no-one about. So I did the only thing possible: I set off back in the same direction. This is never fun for a runner, especially when you have carefully planned a loop in your head. Never mind. I ran up to the bus stop, saw that the bus only came to Shadwell and turned back to Leeds, and that it set off in the direction I’d come from. So there was only one thing to do, and that was add a four mile detour to my six mile run, put my head down and just bloody run.

I just bloody ran. My calves were yelling at me. I was warm, then cold. I was extremely thirsty because I’d drunk only one glass of water all day (another resolution: HYDRATE MORE), and I was trying desperately to get home in time to shower and have some food before the 8pm meeting. So as I ran back, this time the right way down Shadwell Lane, my thoughts were:

1. How quickly can I make spaghetti?
2. How quickly can I eat spaghetti?
3. But I’m trying to cut out processed food, is there anything else I can eat apart from spaghetti?
4. Sod that. How quickly can I make spaghetti?

I ran, and I ran, and I ran. I got home at 7.45pm. I ate Weetabix. I didn’t wash. I went to my meeting, an important one, and I yawned all the way through it. Today, my head and my legs are tired, and although there is a should on my plan, it’s turned into a “could,” because tomorrow is the West Yorkshire cross country championships, and my legs will get battered enough.

At least I know where Shadwell is now.


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DISTANCE: 10.55 miles (I meant to do 7)
TIME: Quite a bloody while


I’ve been saying it for so long, I began to bore myself: I’m going to start fell-running. I’m going
to start fell-running. Why? Because the fells are there, and they are magnificent, and I love mud. And because one day I want to look like Victoria Wilkinson:


But it’s not just that. I love all sorts about fell-running, or what I’d heard about it. I liked the fact you can turn up and pay £4 and get infinite tea and biscuits when you’ve finished. I like that
sometimes the registration takes place in someone’s car. I like the camaraderie. I like the mud. I like Inov8s. But mostly I like the scenery.


I do love road-racing, and I’m proud that this year I’ve done many firsts, including my first
marathon (which I followed with another one), and my first sprint triathlon. And, finally, my first fell
race. The Burley Moor Run is part of Burley’s summer festival, but in November, obviously. I didn’t sign up, because another great thing about fell races (though not the big important ones) is how many you can enter on the day, but I wrote the date in my calendar, and then got more and more nervous. This is what I do with new things: the London marathon terrified me, as did the triathlon, which gave me nightmares the night before of endless bloody swimming pools (yes, I WILL go to our club swimming coaching sessions soon). But it was also because I’d been reading Richard Askwith’s Feet in the Clouds, about fell-running, and my reaction was a) my mild-mannered editor Richard at the Independent was a proper fell runner and he’d never even given a hint of it and b)oh God. It’s steep and terrifying and I’ll be last. I’ll definitely be last.

I looked for advice on the Fell Runners Association website. I asked club-mates who run fells for some wisdom. One of them said this: Train for fells. “Even the entry-level races require a base level of fitness that is very diff erent from normal ‘social’ running. If you want to be a fell runner, you have to train properly. Go out and run hills. Not short sprints, but something that will take you 1-2 mins of hard effort. Run 5-8 ofthem, recovering inbetween. It will feel absolutely horrendous but that feeling should be embraced because it is you improving and becoming a fell runner!”

So of course I didn’t do any of that. Or at least, I didn’t do any special hill training beyond the ones that you have to do living and running in Leeds. I did have a good level of fitness, but still: these were fells. Or at least, Burley Moor, and 10K to run around it.

Then there was the question of kit. I had fell-shoes. I had my stripey socks. But what of all the compasses, whistles, taped seams and stuff that are listed on the FRA site? Luckily Burley isn’t an official FRA race, and I was assured that a kit check was unlikely, so I packed my waterproof (with taped seams) into a borrowed waist-pack and set off. The race was in Burley, somewhere, but I hadn’t written down the post-code, so I just followed my usual race orientation of following people I saw walking along in high-vis (not the ones who are running; they’re just out running). The weather was cold but not awful. No-one else seemed to be running with waist packs, but I kept mine anyway because I was going up onto the moor, and you never know whether the heights will turn wuthering. The route was kind at first; a fairly flat track, and then we started to climb. And here was my first surprise: nearly everyone around me was walking. It was a very narrow track, and it was a steep climb, but if I hadn’t been stuck behind so many walkers, I’d have tried to run it. I’d made the error of starting too far back, out of nervousness.

But at the top we could run again, and it was glorious. Wind, scenery, moor: it’s a visual and sensory treat. It’s like cross-country on drugs: you have all the stunning scenery, but you’re having to concentrate on your feet because the terrain is so varied. I learned that “technical” means “watch your feet even more closely.” I learned that fellow fell-runners, if you ask them if that’s the last hill, will lie to you. I learned that on that not-the-last-hill, to run with smaller steps and to think about breathing, and at the top to try to a) take in oxygen by breathing through my nose and b) take in the view. That’s what we’re there for, surely? But it’s surprising how many fell-runners, even if they’ve stopped to catch breath, didn’t have a quick gawp at the gorgeousness of the moors.


I loved it all. And as I was hurtling down the final descent back into Burley, I remembered the woman I ran near in one PECO or Vets race, who hesitated at every patch of mud and tried to run around it. Finally, as I nearly ran into her again, I said, “embrace the mud! Pretend you’re 7 again.” She didn’t but on Burley Moor, I did. I wasn’t a 45-year-old with an aching hip, but a kid on a hill, going down at top speed, careless of everything but the thrill of the descent. There was no chip timing, no crowds, no bands, no water stations. But it was captivating. I’m still going to do road races, but this is the year I’m getting up the fells, with bells (or Inov-8s)on.


Three tips for fell-running

1. If you see a photographer, i.e. the ones with zoom lenses, then look at the ground, not at the camera: He or she is probably at a spot where runners are likely to fall, as it makes a better picture.

2. On a vile day where the registration is in someone’s car, remember you can print out a blank entry form for FRA races and fill it in beforehand, so you’re not standing around outside someone’s car door for ages in howling rain and gales.

3. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to train and push you outside your comfort zone. Avoid people who constantly refer to the fells/fellrunners as mental, nutters, crazy, “you must be mad” etc. You’re not!

I’ve also been spectating a few fell-races recently. And one day, once I’ve managed to run like Victoria Wilkinson, I’ll have a go at running like Alistair Brownlee, Olympic triathlon champion.


Alistair with his brother Jonny run the Auld Lang Syne fell race in Haworth every year. This year they brought some Olympians along too. Where else but God’s own county could you run a 5 mile fell race alongside people dressed in the most extraordinary fancy dress (Baywatch and the shark was my favourite and, please remember, THEY RAN FIVE FREEZING MILES IN CROTCH-HIGH BOGS DRESSED LIKE THAT):


and then go to a pub for prize-giving where chocolates are lobbed at amateurs and Olympians alike, the Olympic gold medallist in triathlon gets a crown, and everyone has a right good laugh? Nowhere.