A view inside a runner’s head:

11pm: I will get up at 6.30am, drive to Harewood and run twice around the loop. Definitely. Yes, I’ll definitely do that.

Midnight: Shit, I’m still not asleep.

06:30 No. No. No. I cannot get up yet and run 10 miles around Harewood.

06:40 No. No. No. I still can’t get up.

06:50 Shut up, James Naughtie and no, I won’t run 10 miles around Harewood. Maybe I’ll run to Roundhay instead so I don’t have to drive. But not yet.

07:00 Oh hello, cat. Now I’m really not getting up now that I’ve a furball cuddling me. I’m so warm and cosy, and the last thing I want to do is get up and run. I’m tired. I’m so tired. I won’t do 10 miles. I may do 9.

07:10 I suppose I’ll get up in a bit. But not yet. Maybe 8 miles will be enough.

07:20 OK. I’m getting up.

07:30 I’m up. Where is my kit?

07:40 I’m up. Where is my smoothie?

07:45 I’m actually leaving the house in running kit. I may as well run.

07:50 I’m running.

08:15 I’m running. There aren’t many people, but I’m going to say good morning to all of them. Positive thinking. This lake is so beautiful. This park is so beautiful. I’m very lucky.

08:50 I’m still running. God, I’m slow today. 35 minutes to do 3.4 miles? That’s pathetic. Never mind. Keep going. Can I be bothered to do another loop of the woods? No. But I will.

09:00 I haven’t done enough. I’ll have to loop around these woods too. God, everything hurts. My calf muscle hurts. My tendon has started to niggle. And what the hell is that? My ITB? No bloody way. Keep going. Keep going.

09:15 Eight miles. I’m exhausted. I’ll make oat pancakes and scoff them.

10:00 I’m more exhausted. I think I need a lie-down. Who’s going to know?

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Marathon, finally

My friend Gemma looked at me, puzzled. “You’re doing the Yorkshire marathon, again? Why?” I thought for a bit. “Because I’ve got a free place and it’s half an hour up the road.” Also, last year it was so foggy, this year I’m hoping to see the scenery. Also, unless I can run through safari parks in Uganda or raise thousands for Sierra Leone, a road marathon is a road marathon, up to a point. I ran the London marathon but was most delighted by my achievement, not the scenery. Perhaps that’s cynical. But I don’t see anything odd in running Yorkshire again, though I’ve no desire to do London again for a long time. We were talking about marathons because we have a friend who does foreign ones frequently. But they are so expensive. New York: probably £1000, once you’ve paid for flights and a week’s accommodation. I’m paying the petrol up to York and back. I’m so delighted to be in shape to run a marathon – potentially – that I don’t really care where it is.

On Thursday I got a missed-you card from the postie. I dashed down to the post office hoping it was my replacement orthotics and it was. I left the post office with a big grin on my face. FRB and I were planning a long run the next day so they had arrived with perfect timing. And Brooks had extremely generously sent me some replacement Pure Flows, my chosen marathon shoe, so despite Brussels Airlines still being unable to locate my bag, I’m ready. Or at least my equipment is ready.

FRB is training for Loch Ness marathon in a couple of weeks. But after running Ben Nevis last week, he wanted something flat. He turned down my suggested route of Eccup, Harewood and round about: too many hills. His quads and calves would go on strike. Instead, we decided on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, me to do 15 miles and him 15 or more, and after various logistical possibilities – two cars, one left at Kirkstall; or a car left in central Leeds then a train to Bingley – we separately made our way to Bingley and set off north towards Skipton. FRB bombed off, with a plan to do 7.5, turn back, do more on the way back then join me for the last four. I didn’t understand that even before running 15 miles so I just let him go and assumed I’d see him again at some point. The canal was lovely. It had rained heavily all morning, but now the skies cleared and turned blue, and the sun shone. I’d dug out my earphones and intended to listen to some podcasts. I haven’t listened to podcasts or music for ages, and usually I like to run without. But this, I expected, would feel long, and it would feel difficult, so I needed the help. First, Ruth Rogers on Desert Island Discs but I didn’t like her, so she was soon switched off. Then the New Yorker fiction podcast, which I love. I chose this Patricia Highsmith story and it was captivating. But it was still a shock when I looked at my watch, thinking I’d done about five miles, and I’d only done three. What do you do then? You sigh, pull yourself together, and keep going.

There were lots of stops for gels, and fruit, and to adjust things. I saw FRB running back; he checked I was OK, I checked he was OK, then we headed off northwards and southwards. He said, “I ran to the bridge with the stop sign on it.” At least I think he said that. But all the bridges I saw had stop signs on them. I think my Garmin dropped out for a bit, but I had nothing else to rely on to guess my distance – the mile markers saying Liverpool was 115 miles away weren’t much help – so I kept going. I saw beautiful gardens dropping down to the canal, with terraces filled with plants; I saw lovely weeping willows inclining themselves into the water from the bank; and people having an outdoor party behind a huge England flag. I saw many canal boats sailing along, and people inside reading books in narrow cabins. I saw people walking, now the rain had gone: families, and friends, and a group of Asian women in glorious bright salwar kameez, just as I was thinking, “why don’t I see more Asians walking on the canal?”. I ran on, and on, past swans and geese and ducks, all in abundance, past the still, green water and the humans and animals who were enjoying it. At a bridge with a stop sign, past Silsden, my watch said 7.5 miles, so I stopped and ate dried fruit, and a family walked past, coming from the farm behind and heading for the footpath, carrying fishing nets and I didn’t know where I was but it didn’t matter. I set off back, and the day was so beautiful, and the scenery so lovely – green canal, green fields, sheep – I put my earphones away and just listened to the world.

My shoes were great and the orthotics were definitely helping. I could tell I was getting another blister but I think that’s because I was running through puddles and my socks had got wet. A word about my relationship with Brooks here: they have sent me a few pairs of free shoes, but never with any obligation. If I didn’t like them, I’d say so. I’ve abandoned my Brooks Pure Connect, despite having three pairs, for example, because they’re not for me (though I bought those). I love the Pure Grit, though they are slippery in mud. I genuinely think Brooks make great shoes, and the overwhelming reason I think that is that I can put on a pair straight out of the box, run fifteen miles in them and feel like I’ve been running in them for months. They feel like slippers – airy slippers – from the first minute, and that has yet to change. So I’ll trumpet about Brooks shoes because I think they’re a bloody good product. That said, Brooks, I wish you’d design women’s shorts with better pockets, along with nearly every other sportswear/shoes company. My running skirt has three pockets, including one that fits an iPhone, but none of my shorts have anything but small ones that hold a gel, maybe, but not much more.

The only trouble on this run was my lungs. I’ve had a cough for four weeks now. It began as a sore throat, then became a dry, tickling cough that kept me awake, and now my lungs are full of phlegm. So the pastoral peace of the canal was often interrupted by me stopping and hacking my lungs up, then spitting like a person who has smoked for forty years. I think it’s getting better, and I know it’s not a good idea to run when there’s trouble in your lungs, but I’m so delighted to be fit again, unless it gets worse, I’m going to run through it and phlegm be damned. FRB caught me up again, looking a bit worried. “Did you go further than you thought?” No, I just took longer to do it. Actually, I probably had gone further because when my watch got to 15 miles, we were still a mile short of where the cars were parked. Still, I did it, though I was too tired to do my habitual “this is the longest I’ve run” jump.

I do have a marathon training plan, but it has long since been abandoned. So now I’m winging it. I’m running when I want to, never two days in a row, and getting in a long run every week. This weekend I’ll be running the Vale of York half, and plan to get there early and add an extra five miles. My tendon was sore after the 15 miles, but we stopped for a drink in the pub – after we’d changed soggy, muddy clothes – and I asked for a glass of ice, put it in a carrier bag and iced my foot for the duration of a lager shandy, and that helped. FRB said that when he first crossed me on the canal, my hips had been noticeably rotating, which isn’t good, and means I need to stabilise my pelvis and get back to my glute exercises. But he said that later my form was much better, and I was clearly focusing on moving my arms properly, which seemed to align me.

I’m writing this while I’m walking on my office treadmill. 3.3 miles so far today. I’m hoping that’s helping. Meanwhile I’m extremely happy to have run so far – the furthest I’ve run since I abandoned marathon training in March – and for my tendon to be coping. Onwards.

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A run

It was nothing special, I suppose. I got up early in the morning, I got in my car, I drove to Harewood House and I ran. But it was special, because it was essential. The day before had been a black day. I am feeling overwhelmed with work and the more overwhelmed I get, the less efficient I become. So the day had turned into a self-loathing black pit. I also felt lousy with a cough and thick head. I went home, shut the door, made green bean and potato curry with my own green beans and my own potatoes, then sat on the sofa with my lovely cat and watched trash TV. I could have gone running, I suppose, but I didn’t have the heart for it. Instead, I laid out my kit for the morning, set one alarm for 6.30 and the other for 6.45. For some reason I had decided to do ten miles. Possibly this was frustration after the weekend, when I’d taken part in the Leeds Country Way relay, a self-navigated race around the whole 60 miles, done in teams of two over six legs.

Both my partner and I probably shouldn’t have run. My cough is getting no better, and she had a hamstring injury that a sports medicine consultation told her meant she should rest for eight weeks with absolutely no running. But there was only one reserve for the three teams so we both turned up to run. I didn’t want to bug L. with continually asking her how her leg was, but I could tell she was in discomfort. It wasn’t her hamstring but her knees. I’m pretty sure it was where the ITB inserts into the knees. She soldiered on but she was clearly in pain. With five miles to go, we stopped running and walked the rest. At one point, she froze on a stile because she didn’t want to bend her leg, at any cost, but couldn’t figure out how to get over the stile without doing it. At another, we were on the top of a steep descent and she stood there, again dreading having to bend her legs. I offered her a piggy-back. She was a brilliant navigator, though she’d recce-ed it only once, and I hadn’t at all, and we only went wrong twice and not by much. Some teams ran miles out of their way.

Then, in a woods somewhere, she suddenly said, Oh, Rose and looked horrified. What? What now? She said, “I’ve left my key in your car.” We’d taken two cars, dropped hers at the finish then driven mine to the start. We were supposed to then drive back in her car to the start to fetch mine. But this was a disaster. We had no money to get a bus. We were so slow that we didn’t think anyone would be even there at the finish to give us a lift. And my phone was rapidly running out of battery. Oh dear.

Luckily, as we walked to the finish, there were a dozen people there. We weren’t even the last team: four more came in behind us (though no-one applauded us, and they all got applause. Hmmm.) A lovely woman from St. Theresa’s was taking her partner back to Stanley, so she gave us a lift. Phew.

Anyway I’d been hoping for a good long run – the leg was 11 miles long – and was a bit frustrated that we hadn’t run more. Not that I’m blaming L.: she was in serious pain. But I just wished I’d had a longer run (even though I was still knackered that night after 6 miles of running and 5 of walking).

All in all, this morning I wanted to run, and quite a long way. My Lumie clock woke me up gently, as did my cat licking my neck as usual. I got up, got dressed, grabbed a banana and some squash, and drove four miles up to Harewood. I haven’t been there for ages and it was so nice to be back, and to be running. There were no humans to be seen for most of the way around. Just me and a lot of noisy sheep. I ran the five mile loop, past the deer park, past the estate offices, up over the tops, down the permissive path through the secret gate in the wall (it’s not secret but I love gates in walls and always think them wonderfully Midnight Garden-ish). I ran up to the gates at the Wike Lane entrance where I’d started, still not sure whether I would run more than five, or do another loop the same way. Then something in my head made me turn round and run back the other way. It wasn’t really a rational thought, but more like a propulsion.

I wasn’t fast. I walked quite a few times. But there were hills that I ran up, and long stretches where I kept going, steadily. It took me longer than I’d expected, but it was lovely.

Brussels Airlines has still lost my bag containing my Brooks Pure Flow and, more importantly, my orthotics. I’ve been running without them. Today I ran in my Ghosts, which are heavier but more cushioned, and I hoped the cushioning would help. IMG_6724But my tendon has begun to niggle, and today was the first day it gave me some shooting pains again. That is not good news. I’ve express-ordered new orthotics and will be billing Brussels Airlines for them (£170!), but I suppose until they arrive I’ll have to be more sensible than running ten miles. Though there is the slight problem of me supposedly running a marathon in just over a month.

Even so, at the end of the run, my gloom lifted, because it always does. Also, the citalopram I’ve been taking for two months is not really working yet, so running is it.


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A French summer of running

In August, I go to France. I have a ramshackle house in a tiny village in the foothills, sort of, of the Pyrenées. I needed a few weeks of sun, drinking, eating and relaxing more than ever: after my catalogue of injuries, illnesses, infections, I was desperate for a break. So FRB and I drove for two days, stopping in Chartres on the way, and got to the very very south of France where my house is. The background: I’ve not really run much when I’m in France. I was marathon training the year before, and did a few runs, including a lovely run in the rain up the very steep hill that rises behind the village (which is in a valley), and a long 15K on the Voie Verte, a 30K-long converted railway line, from my village, down its Allée des Platanes, past sunflower fields, past La Camonette, the most stylish snack-bar around, to the beautiful mediaeval town of Mirepoix. IMG_4973  IMG_4969But this time round, France was going to be where I got back to running, after getting back to running then falling off again. Apart from that short run to the chip shop, I had deliberately done nothing. We would get to France, we would sleep, and we would get up and run. And we did, around the stunning Lac Montbel, a freshwater reservoir with a 16K track running around it. We set off together, but FRB said he would run ahead, go further and then presumably loop back and catch up with me. I wanted to do 10K, he wanted to do about 12. Off we went. Summer at the lake is busier than winter, but still not busy. It’s barely known. There are a few fishermen, a few families on the shore. But most people head for the two official beaches, and ignore the other 14km of shoreline. This is a mistake, when it looks like this: IMG_6480I did 5K, slowly. This got me to the nautical sports resort, where some young men in a canoe-rental shack decided it was hilarious to send me in the wrong direction. Abrutis. Then back, to a gathering storm. There was hardly anybody about, just a couple of fishermen in tents, then a small group of horses and riders. I never know what to do when coming up behind horses. I mean, at what point to alert them and at what point it’s safe and at what point it’s inflammatory. So I called out from way back, and walked slowly past them, and then picked up my slow pace a bit so I didn’t get caught up. They didn’t catch me up and nor did FRB even though I stopped a few times to take photos. I got back to the car, he got back five minutes later, and as we had planned, we headed back to the lake for a swim. The storm broke and the rain began while we were in the water. I don’t usually like wild swimming, as I’m scared of depths and currents. But this lake is green and calm and beautiful. But even I knew that you shouldn’t be in water when lightning is coming, so we got out quickly, and headed back through the trees, another place you shouldn’t be when lightning is coming. FRB knows about these things, and told me that the best thing to do in lightning is lie flat in an exposed place. If you still get hit, then it was your time and there’s nothing to be done about it.

We didn’t get hit, we got very wet.

A couple of days later we decided to do a run-explore. The map showed that we could get from a nearby village, through the forests, over the hills and down to my village. There were tracks galore, on the map. In reality, they were goat paths that had long since disappeared. Even the unerringly good navigational sense of FRB couldn’t get us up and over the forest. We walked and fought through brambles and thorns for a couple of miles, then gave up, went back the way we had come, and ran back to the safety of the Voie Verte.

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There is always one walk or run when I’m in France that leaves me scarred and scratched for the rest of the holiday, and this was it. IMG_6535

Next, we decided to run up and down a mountain. I never fully exploit the Pyrenées when I’m in my house, usually because my guests aren’t particularly sporty or active, or they have children who do not want to go trekking or running in mountains. But this time I was determined to get up the mountains, and to go camping. So we packed the car (or FRB did: he’s better at it than me) and headed for a campsite near Ax-les-Thermes run by Dutch people and full of Dutch people. Then we headed into Ax and got the cable car up to the first ski station, then a chair-lift up to the next level, about 2000. The plan then was to run the mile to the summit, then the 8 or so miles back down. But I couldn’t do it. I found the altitude draining, and I had no energy. We got to the summit, but mostly by walking. It was stunning. (So stunning I obviously couldn’t keep my eyes open.)

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Because we’d taken such a late chairlift up, all the mountain bikers had finished for the day.

IMG_6467 IMG_6470So although I wasn’t going to give my Brooks Pure Grit the altitude training I’d promised them, they were going to learn a lot about descent. We couldn’t find the hikers’ trail on the map, so we decided it was safe to set off down the VTT trails, of which there were many. Down, down, down. At one point we ran down ski pistes instead, to get some relief from the rocky, technical VTT trails. I had no idea how taxing running downhill could feel like. We stopped in the Bonsacres, the ski station, for an overpriced but totally worth it Coke, then carried on. It was another four miles or so. I went over on my ankle and had to walk for a bit, but we made it down, stuck our feet in the hot thermal pools that are freely available in Ax, and despite having no change of clothes, headed for urgent pizza, me dressed in a tiny running skirt, a waterproof, and looking like something the cat had dragged in, but only because it hadn’t found anything else.

The next day. Ow. Quads! God they hurt. We were both hobbling around, but we still did a six or seven mile walk up another mountain nearby. The next day we’d planned to run, but neither of us was yet in a fit state, so another walk, then back to the blessed flat.

Next, a race. I’d decided I wanted to do a race while I was in France, months ago. I looked and looked, but south-west France is cycling country, not running country, and the number of local races was very small. I found the Marathon de Montcalm and though it looked good, but FRB checked the ascent and said, no bloody way. He was training for Ben Nevis but he didn’t want to run another Ben Nevis as well. I found another one in L’Hospitalet pres d’Andorre, but that had a similar altitude problem. Then, I saw a sign for something called the Marathon des Oussaillès in St-Girons, about an hour’s drive away. We researched it. Not just flat, but a net descent. It offered relay options, so I wrote to ask if we could do a half marathon each. Bien sur, they replied. Never mind that it would be on the day before we left to drive back home, nor that I had to fly to Copenhagen a couple of days before it to give a talk. We signed up, sent in the required medical certificates, and I started to get a bit nervous. I always get race nervous, but I hadn’t run near 13 miles for a while (the last had been Eccup 10 in June) and I didn’t know if I could. FRB offered me the first half, which turned out to be less than a half. The weather forecast was clear skies and 33 degree temperature, which meant the FRB would get the worst of the sun.

Then, disaster. Brussels Airlines lost my luggage somewhere between Toulouse and Copenhagen, which contained my favourite Brooks Pure Flow and even more importantly, my orthotics. I really really didn’t want to run without them, but my tendon hasn’t niggled for a while now and I decided to risk it. I had some older Ghosts that I’d left in France, so I thought, the cushioning will help, and I’ll just have to take it easy.

The registration ended at 7.30am, so we set off at 6, when it was still night, through and beyond Foix, along winding roads to St-Girons. The race HQ was in the local athletics stadium; FRB would get to finish on the track. It was a low-key atmosphere and really nice. There were only 50 marathon runners and 75 doing relays. It would be smaller than even the smallest fell race I’ve done. We got our numbers, marked with my hastily-thought-up team name (yes, yes, I should have made it Tourists de Yorkshire):

IMG_6682A quick stop for me to eat two pieces of bread and jam, then we drove to the start at Aulus-les-Bains. I’d never heard of Aulus-les-Bains, but I’ll be back. It’s stunning.

village1By now I was getting very nervous. The usual: how do I run? I can’t remember how to run! FRB at one point said, “remember three rules,” and I said “DON’T GIVE ME ANY BLOODY RULES,” even if they were good ones:

  1. Hydrate
  2. Enjoy
  3. I can’t remember the third one

We met a couple of other runners, including one nice man from the huge print-works we’d driven through, who spoke extremely good English and turned to be extremely fast. We asked a couple of people to take pictures:

IMG_6688Then FRB set off to get to the first relay hand-over stage, to support me, then to drive to the next, in the town of Seix. The route was beautiful on the map: a meander through two “shady valleys,” through several villages. We gathered around the back of a Centre for Trail Running (noted! I’ll be back!), and set off. A couple of hundred metres later, as we turned the corner into a street, an escaped horse came galloping up past us.

“Is that normal?” I asked someone running near me.

“Well, you don’t get it in Paris.”

It was going to be hot, but most of our 18K was indeed in shady valleys. They were very beautiful, though I took no pictures, but I did a lot of gawping. After the first mile or two, the field spread out and I ran on my own for most of it. At the first change-over, I pulled one number off my vest to reveal the second one underneath. FRB was waiting further on, checked I was OK, then overtook me on a long straight road afterwards. I famously don’t remember routes, but of this one I can remember green fields, forests, hamlets of houses with very sloping roofs, an ancient and crumbling house with what looked like a pigeon loft. There weren’t many supporters, but there were a few, and anyway I was happy ambling along with my own company and the scenery. As for difficulty, I think it was probably the easiest run I’ve ever done. There were water stations every 5K. At the third one, the volunteer said, “would you like some Coke?” and I could have hugged him. Every water table had dried figs and apricots and dates. The French obviously don’t do jelly-babies. I’m not sure I’d want figs, given their bowel-moving capabilities, so I stuck with water and Coke and gels. The miles went past really fast, at least in my memory, and I got to about a mile outside Seix when something popped under my foot: my skin had cracked. Lovely. I handed over to FRB on a bridge, wished him luck (at least, I hope I did), and took as much Coke, water and dried fruit as was on offer. Then I asked in the tourist office where I could bathe my feet, and the woman pointed out a ramp I hadn’t seen. I bought lots of delicious local sheep and goat’s cheese from an épicerie nearby, the kind run by a man who takes total pride in finding the best produce to sell, fetched bread and coffee from the car, the location of which FRB had written down in a pouch he handed to me with the key before running off. I went to the river, and I sat in it, for a long time, drinking good coffee and eating amazing mountain cheese. Who wouldn’t?

IMG_6683Eventually I dragged myself away, back to the car and headed off to find FRB. My tendon and legs were fine the day after, so I’m planning to sit in cold river water whenever I can after a race. I missed FRB at the first changeover, but drove past him on a long stretch of road. It was baking hot and he had no shade. It looked very very tough. I was going to stop again but by the time I found a good place to stop, I was in St-Girons, so I headed for the stadium. It was HOT. I found some shade to sit in, and tried to figure out when he might arrive. I’d done my 11K in 1:44, which was OK. He had 24K to do, in heat. I knew he’d be at least 1.45, so at that point I walked over to the other side of the stadium to see him back in. He didn’t arrive for about 20 minutes. I didn’t realise that not only had he run 24K in mostly exposed heat, but that the second leg had him run into St-Girons, then up a big hill to a chateau, then back again.

I saw that most of the relay teams were running to the finish line together, so when he did arrive, I said, “are you OK?”


“I’m running the track to the finish with you.”


He claims he just grunted. I’m surprised he got anything out at all, given how heatstroked he looked. Anyway I ran alongside him, though I was barefoot, we crossed the line together, the MC doing the interviews asked me to stay to talk to him and I turned to look for FRB and he’d sprinted over to some shade. It took about 20 minutes for him to look human again. The MC asked me the usual: why are you doing this race, and I said, why not? Then he asked if we were staying for the group meal, but I said we had to go and pack. We showered, drank a beer, and instead of packing went into St-Girons and wandered around desperately seeking an open cafe. Finally we found one, and ate salad and chips, and it was blissful. We came pretty far down the list of relay teams, but they were mostly running in fours, so I didn’t feel too bad. Apparently Marathon des Oussaillès is the fastest in France, but not official because it has too much descent. Anyway, the organization was impeccable and much better than for some big races I’ve done (yes, Edinburgh Marathon, I mean you). I would definitely do it again.

I’ve still not been reunited with my orthotics, so I’ve ordered more. Brooks have very kindly offered to send me some new shoes for the Yorkshire marathon. Though my training has gone extremely awry, I’m still going to try to do it, as long as my tendon doesn’t object and as long as I can stop having stupid accidents. But for now, I’m back.

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