Mine’s a half

It’s nearly summer. Never mind that I had the heating on three times last week, and one night I nearly put the gas fire on too. Never mind that I got drenched while walking to the bus station on Saturday. I know it’s nearly summer for a few reasons: the menopause, the gift that keeps on giving, has now seen fit to give me hay fever, so I arrive at my studio after a two mile cycle ride streaming and itching and cursing nature even more than stupid drivers who cut me up at least once a commute. Another reason is evening fell races. Or evening races. I love a warm fair-weather evening, to set off after a day’s work (or procrastination), to gather with friends and club-mates in some beautiful part of the world, then to run for a while at your utmost, across moorland, along trails, up hills, and to know at the end that you have put your evening to the best possible use and would rather have been doing that than anything else. Last week four days after doing the Three Peaks I did the Dick Hudson’s race, named in fine fell-running tradition for a pub. I loved it. Here’s my report.

But I also know it’s summer when we drive to Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales national park and do the Charlesworth Chase. I’ve done it three years in a row, I think, and associate it with glorious sunshine because that’s what it seems to bring on in the weather. Saturday in Leeds was cold and rainy. Sunday in the Dales was as good as Sunday in the Dales can be. The Charlesworth Chase started when Nick Charlesworth and Sarah Martin, both Wharfedale Harriers, decided to celebrate their wedding day, by running a race where Sarah set off 20 minutes ahead of the race field, and the challenge was to catch her up. Yes. A bride hunt, without hounds. They then went off to get married, on the same day. Look, the Daily Mail even wrote about it. The race is still run by Wharfedale Harriers, and last year Sam Watson and his fiancée were the bridal couple. Sarah and Nick are still involved and Sarah usually hands out the — copious — prizes. Last year I got an age category prize and wisely chose a box of licorice allsorts. This year: who knew.

It’s an out and back race and in a way a simple one: you run up to Simon’s Seat from Appletreewick, and then you run back. It’s “only” just over five miles long. But those five miles pack a lot in: grazing fields, a stunning riverside run, steep climbs through rooty woods, rocky narrow paths then rocky wider paths, then a steep scramble up to Simon’s Seat, then do it all in reverse. But there is an unusual requirement. You have to stop and drink something then run 20 metres to the finish. This is a mandatory requirement. The choice is limited: a pint of beer, half a pint of beer, or a pint of fizzy water or Coke. Last year I chose fizzy water as I don’t much like beer. This year I almost chose the same as I’ve gone teetotal again, but I remembered how hard it was to drink a pint of bubbles, and so on my race form I selected half a beer on the grounds that it would be flatter.

The race HQ is outside the extremely beautiful Craven’s Inn pub. This a sixteenth-century pub with a rare Cruck Barn:

It also has “inspirational Ladies Toilets”. Not just because they are amazingly nice toilets in any situation but particularly just before a fell race (as they are not windy smelly portaloos). But because there is a series of pictures on the wall of inspirational women, which my fellow fell-running women were trying to guess when I got there. “I think that’s Queen Mary.” (It was Queen Elizabeth I). “That’s definitely Florence Nightingale.” And we all recognised Margaret bloody Thatcher.

Inspired, toileted, warmed-up, we gathered at the start. The kit requirements had been, “no kit requirements but apply suncream.” Even so, I took a jacket and 500ml of water. FRB took full kit because he always takes full kit. We were definitely in the minority: hardly anyone had any kit.

The race briefing included the usual instructions, and also “if you see an injured runner, then stop and help them. The race doesn’t matter.” It ended with “right, off you go then.” And off we went. I’d had race tactical advice from FRB, which was “there’s a fast descent, then it’ll be quite fast along the river, then you get to a kissing gate and then take your foot off the pedal or you’ll be knackered for the climb.” I must have done it right because I wasn’t knackered for the climb, and I even took places. I never take places on a climb. Upwards, and the path got rockier and narrower, and then the leaders came back, which required even more tactics as I tried to give them room, and they did the same. It was trod-dancing.

Scrambling now, and then actual climbing up the slabs: finding footholds, hauling myself up. There is a loop: runners going up to the left to get to the trig, then descending to the right. On the right there was an injured runner, and another runner asking him if he was alright. I heard him say that he was, that he hadn’t been knocked out. I got to the trig and descended, and saw the man’s head was bleeding. He said he was going to walk back to the finish, which was 2.5 miles away. A cyclist — perhaps the marshal — was taking off his jacket to give to him, but I said no, he could have mine. I didn’t think I’d need it on the way back as I wasn’t planning on falling. I also gave the man my water. He had an hour or so’s walk ahead of him whereas I hoped I would be back in under 25 minutes, and I’d drunk enough on the way up.

He said again that he was fine to walk back and he wasn’t concussed, so I left him and set off. Of course within five minutes I’d caught my right foot on a rock and face-planted, yet again. As usual, it was both in slow motion and so quick that I knew I could do nothing about it. I bounced, as usual, and got myself upright and assessed the damage. My right knee was throbbing, and I’d abraded most of it, along with my left palm and right thumb, weirdly. There was plenty of blood, but the cuts weren’t deep. Two runners who passed both asked me if I needed help and I said no, thank you, “I’m just walking off the knock.” Walking off the knock is a technical term* (*I just made it up) which means listening to your injured part, and realising your injured part is saying, “no, I can’t take impact yet, have pity.”

The throbbing wore off pretty quickly and I could run again. I was more cautious though now: there was still half a mile of seriously technical terrain. But I survived it, and once the terrain got less testing, I could get some pace. Down through the woods, down a track which was more technical than it looked. I was trying to lift my knees and lift my feet, and it must have worked because I stayed upright. Through the woods, along the gorgeous river, through grazing fields, and then there was the pub in sight up on a short hill. I felt like I was trudging, but I was doing alright. Back up the road to the pub, and just as I got to its garden, a woman overtook me who I remembered from last year. We both got to the drinks station — a tray of drinks on a table outside — and I drank my half and by god, it was delicious, even with a fly in it. She had chosen a pint of fizzy water. So I finished more quickly (and though I’d only had a half, I think I would have drunk a pint of beer more quickly than the water too) and beat her to the line. It sounds petty but it’s in the spirit of Charlesworth Chase, where places are won and lost on the pint. If you don’t understand how or why, try to run five miles as hard as you can and drink a beer while your digestion is still running at a 7-minute-per-mile pace and the last thing it wants is carbonated anything.

My knee was a mess, but the race first aid kit had been sent up to the injured runner, so I headed to the Inspirational Ladies’ Toilets and got busy with warm water and paper towels. The injured runner came up and gave me my jacket and water bottle back. His head looked sore and he had caked blood in his hair, but he seemed fine, and was very thankful. He said he had caught his foot between two boulders on the way off the summit, and actually somersaulted.

A quick change at the car park, which is the rather lovely garden belonging to Ted Mason, a Yorkshire farmer who is an exceptionally good fell runner. Then back to the Craven Arms garden for soup and prize giving. The winner, a young lad from Ilkley, had done it in 37 minutes, a minute off the record but astonishingly quick. First woman was Monica Lindsay, who had run the Intercounties race the day before for Scotland North. Then there were other prizes, and our friend Elaine Allen from Pudsey Pacers, who was doing her second ever fell race, was delighted to get first in the vet 50 category. She’d done Dick Hudson’s last week and got very lost, and her confidence had been dented, so this was an excellent cure.

After all the conventional prizes — including a prize for the quickest downing of a pint, for male and female — Sarah announced a Calamity Prize for Martin, the injured runner from Todmorden. And then, “and a special prize for Rose George from North Leeds Fell Runners, who helped Martin out.” A 9-pack of Toffee Crisps! If that doesn’t encourage Good Samaritanism, what will?

I was really touched, by the prize and by the fact that Martin had clearly passed on what I had done, when he had no need to. Fell running is a great sport, and fell runners are always stopping and helping the injured, even if that ruins their own race prospects. At Tour of Pendle, our P&B friend Charlie Mac was one of several very fast runners who stopped to help someone who had sliced his foot open. Charlie was up for winning his category but that didn’t stop him from stopping to help.

So I wish at the Chase that there had been more people carrying at least a jacket, despite the weather, despite the fact it was only five miles. I understand why they didn’t: it’s only ever going to be two miles away from habitation, what’s the risk? But I carry kit because of exactly the situation that happened. Kit is caution.

I didn’t have my watch, and though I dedicated a couple of minutes to helping Martin and then deciding to fall over, I think I still managed a four-minute PB. Charlesworth Chase is such a great race: I highly recommend it. Friendly, beautiful, excellent toilets, and many prizes. Thank you Wharfedale Harriers and see you next year for more chocolate.

The shock of the fall

For a while now, I’ve been part of an informal group of women. We are called Women with Torches, and every couple of weeks we go out with head torches and run several miles off-road. Nothing more complicated than that. The group began because we were talking at a race about how we dislike road running, even in winter, and how there are men in our clubs who go off and do head-torch runs, but they are fast, and we didn’t feel like having to keep up with them or guilty about slowing them down. Nor did we feel comfortable about going off into woods and moors in darkness on our own. Though as the only time I’ve felt unsafe was in the very posh suburb of Alwoodley in Leeds, I think woods and moors are probably much more secure. So the solution was: numbers. There are about a dozen of Women with Torches now, from several Leeds clubs, and it’s great.

But that’s not what I’m writing about. Or perhaps it is, as I want to write about fell running and danger. Several of our Women with Torches will be attempting the Three Peaks in April, including me. I don’t need to qualify as I ran it last year, but some women need to do two qualifying races to enter (as the Three Peaks organisers demand a certain level of competence). The qualifying races are AM, AL or BL, in FRA terms. Translated, that means, shortish and steep, longer and steep, longer and less steep.

One of the good local-ish qualifying races is the Mickleden Straddle, in the Dark Peak of the Peak District. It’s a 14-mile route that starts and finishes at Langsett Reservoir near Penistone. Sara, my Yorkshireman running partner, and Caroline both decided to do the race, and wanted to recce the route, and invited other Women With Torches, and other fell-running women, along too. I thought 14 miles of running around the Peak District sounded like a very good way to spend a Saturday, and it would be my long run of the week and would beat running around the roads of Leeds. FRB decided to come too, though he was a little wary about being the only man in a women-only group. We told him it would be fine. That was until we turned up at the car park at Langsett Reservoir early on Saturday morning, and met our fellow runners. They had come in a camper van that was actually a Tardis, because more and more women poured out of it, and FRB looked more and more disconcerted. In the end, we were ten women and one man. FRB dealt with this by being FRB.

The route is relatively straightforward. You follow a footpath south towards Howden reservoir, and then do a lollipop across country before joining the path to head back north to Langsett. Namely, this:

I was keen to do the route because I want to run more in the Peak District. We usually go north, to the moors, or the Dales or the Lakes. The only time I’ve run in the south Pennines was during my club weekend away, when I did a ten mile ridge run that took in Mam Tor, in an attempt to run off a horrible cold. It didn’t work, and I was in bed for days, but the scenery was gorgeous. Out of Langsett, we ran on a track for a while (this will become important later), then a footpath. The nearer to the carpark, the easier the footpath. The further we ran, the rockier it got. I know that when I run I can have a tendency to swipe my right leg around instead of lifting it, though that’s usually when I’m tired. I don’t know what happened this time, as we’d only run for a mile and half or so, and I felt fine. Probably it was karma, because I had just said to Sara, “make sure you’re not running on automatic pilot,” meaning that she should take in the route rather than rely on other people, which is really easy to do when there’s a group of you, when some of you know the route, and when you’re at the back, as me and Sara were. As soon as I’d said that, my foot clipped a rock, and I fell. I wasn’t going fast, but add speed and my body weight, and by the time my kneecap made contact with a rock, there was enough force for it to hurt, a lot. I think I yelled, because Sara turned back and came to me. I sat there in shock for a while because I couldn’t think beyond the immediate pain. I tried to stand on it, but my knee wouldn’t bear weight. I’ve had problems with my right knee for a while, though I think the actual problem is my right hip. Whatever the cause, if I don’t stretch properly after running – by that I mean doing half an hour of hip-specific yoga – the next day my knee gives way when I’m climbing or descending stairs. The weakness passes, and there’s no pain, but there’s clearly something I need to work on. It makes sense that I fell on what FRB calls “your duff leg,” because that’s the one that doesn’t run properly. I sat on the ground for a few minutes, then managed to stand up, then leaned on Sara and walked. FRB had run on ahead, but I knew he’d figure out that we were missing, and soon enough, he came running over the hill, and it was a very welcome sight. I said, I can try to run now, as the pain had abated, but he told me to walk until we were over the brow of the hill. I did, and found the rest of the group down below waiting on a footbridge. FRB suggested that we took Sara’s car-key in case I or we needed to cut short the run and get back to the car, but I was stubborn. “No. I’m carrying on. We don’t need a key.”

Stupid me. But I did carry on, and my leg ached and ached and ached more. FRB gave me paracetamol which worked magically (and later Hilary gave me ibuprofen too). And the scenery helped:

By now the group had split and wouldn’t be a full group again until sat around cafe tables with warm drinks and soup. So we were half a dozen running together. Sometimes we had time to take pictures:



The “path” was rocks, rocks and more rocks. It was one of the most technical routes I’ve run in a long while. Someone asked me last night whether “technical” was a fell running term. I said, I suppose it is, and translated it. It means terrain that means you can’t take your eyes off your feet. You can’t look up, or sideways, or anywhere but at what your feet are on. It’s too risky. CORRECTION: As I’ve been rightly corrected, you should look at your line, not your feet. This means looking a couple of feet ahead of you, so you know what’s coming and where you should place your feet. This, along with other things, is why fell running is as good for mental agility as it is for physical agility. You always have to think ahead, process, plan, be alert.

So we went on and on, along the rocky path, through beautiful gullies and valleys, towards Howden reservoir. It was cold, particularly on the heights, and the bracken and grass was frosty and beautiful. There is a stretch of running which makes the word “path” laughable, as it’s bogs and big boulders and more bogs. This may be where there is a checkpoint called Slippery Stones. But then there are flagstones, then at some point we turned up into woods, then began the lollipop back towards the main footpath. We’d run about eight miles by now and I wasn’t in good spirits. I was regretting my stoicism, my “I’ll run on” confidence. The painkillers had worn off, but as I’d taken maximum paracetamol and maximum ibuprofen I couldn’t yet take any more. And my leg was a mass of dull ache. The last thing it wanted was several miles of a sheep trod through tussocks and bogs, but that’s what it got.

I tried to feel better. I tried to put a smile on my face. I was running, and the scenery was amazing and beautiful. Sweeping hills and valleys, bleak and magnificent, with no sign of human civilisation except the odd stile, walker and us. It was the kind of situation and landscape in which I am usually happiest. But I wasn’t enjoying it. I wanted it to be over, but keeping on and running back was the quickest way to achieve that. By now, Sara and I were running at the back. Hilary and Caroline were a short distance ahead, and FRB was around, but he was getting cold, having decided to wear shorts, but not realising he’d be back-of-the-pack running with us, at a pace that made shorts a very cold wardrobe option. He needed to get some pace on and run on, and he did, saying he would loop back. I was wearing a thermal and t-shirt but not a jacket, and I knew I was cold but thought it was tolerable. But then I got to the point where I thought it wise to put a jacket on, and it was the right decision. This blog post, by a lad who ran Trigger the other week, is a reminder of how difficult it is to judge when you are safely cold or dangerously cold. The trouble with hypothermia is that once you have it you can’t think straight enough to know you have it.

I wasn’t hypothermic. But I was tired, and grumpy, and my leg hurt, and that was also a risky state to be in, because I probably wasn’t lifting my right leg up enough. I knew that was a risk, and the last thing I wanted was to fall again, so I tried to pay attention to it. But after ten miles, my self-awareness was diminishing, and I was just focused on getting to the end of the run. We got back onto the rocky track/path/series of boulders that passed for a path. Sara was running ahead of me, and I knew we only had a couple of miles to go. And it happened again. I fell.

I can’t remember what happened except for this: I fell forward. I think I yelled something, either “NOT AGAIN” or “FUUUUUUCK”, but it didn’t stop me, because I fell with my full body weight, and my face hit a rock. I can remember my nose hitting a rock and thinking nothing verbal but being aghast and horrified. And then there was just shock and pain. I burst into tears. When I say I burst into tears, I mean I was sobbing like a child. It was pure shock, and the shock of hitting the most vulnerable part of you against a hard immovable object. A 47-year-old woman lying on the ground bawling. Sara of course ran back and crouched down next to me and held me, and I couldn’t stop crying. There was so much blood and I didn’t know where it was coming from. I didn’t know if I’d broken my nose or if I had smashed my teeth. I had no awareness of my face at all, because it was all pain. My hands were covered with blood, I was dripping blood onto the rocks, and it didn’t seem to be stopping. After a while, I managed to say, “I’ll stop crying soon, it’s the shock,” but I kept crying. I had no control over it, though it was partly fury at my own stupidity at having fallen again, and even more seriously. Sara was amazing and I will be grateful to her for all time to come.

Initially I couldn’t stand up, as I’d obviously whacked the palm of my left hand when I fell and couldn’t put weight on it, so Sara lifted me up, and looked at my face, and told me my nose didn’t look broken and my teeth were all OK. I’m still not sure where all that blood came from, but I’d cut my lip, my eyebrow and my knuckles, all good bleeders. We started to walk, and I’d finally stopped crying, and felt foolish and terrible. Hilary and Caroline were waiting for us. They’d been a few hundred metres ahead of us and realised we should have been in sight and weren’t, so they tried to phone, but reception was bad (and anyway, I’d cleverly left my phone in my jacket pocket in Sara’s car), so they waited. They, too, were lovely: they offered layers and warmth and wet wipes. I didn’t think I needed layers, my torso felt OK, but my hands were freezing, and I’d just spent several minutes lying on cold rocks, a few of them in a foetal position bawling my eyes out, and now my temperature was suffering. This of course was the point where I realised I’d lost one of my super-warm mittens. But I had spare gloves, so I put them on and was still cold. Caroline offered me some woollen gloves, and Hilary found a wet-wipe to wipe the worst of the blood. I didn’t want to touch my face until I could get to warm water and a sink. I had no idea what I looked like. FRB had tried to phone first me, then Caroline, but I wasn’t too worried as I knew he’d be running back.

My leg had been bashed again as well and was cut in several places. Even so, I thought I should run, but only because I felt awful that I was holding back Caroline and Hilary and Sara, and there were still two miles to go. But they insisted they would walk with me, and we walked for a while and then there was FRB, looking concerned. He put his arm round me and I nearly started blubbing again, but he sternly told me to keep moving, to stay warm. I didn’t mind the sternness as I knew why he was doing it, and it worked. I didn’t start howling again. He and I told the others to run on, because everyone was cold. At least I think we did. It’s a bit of a blur. I just know that I began to shuffle, then run a bit, and somehow we all got back to the reservoir path, which is shale and flat and which has NO ROCKS. Hilary said we could do a short-cut through the woods, and I heard the word “short-cut” and nearly embraced her with gratitude, and we made our way back to the car park, past walkers who looked at me a bit funny. They must have thought I was a right state. “Or,” said someone later, “that you were a hard as nails fell runner.” Or, that anyone in shorts and covered in blood and mud is a bit weird.

I went to the toilets to wash my face, then we went to the cafe to minister ourselves with warm food and drink. The others were there, and everyone enquired after me, and I was grateful for everyone’s kindness but I felt stupid, like I was the clumsy idiot at the back. I know the falls were connected: my aching leg meant I was tired and annoyed and not paying attention, and that’s why I fell again.

But I wanted to talk about danger. You might think this would put me off fell-running. I have a theory which is not at all borne out by evidence, that road runners have chronic injuries, but fell runners get injured by incidents and accidents. This theory relies on the fact that off-road running is usually a variety of terrain, so the chronic injuries which – again, on little evidence – caused by the constant repetition of road running don’t generally happen. The trouble is, fell running injuries can hurt. Today I am battered, and bruised, and I can read on my body what I did when I fell, because the right side of my face took the impact: my nose is grazed, my eyebrow cut and bruised, my lip opened. Obviously I turned so that my right side hit the rocks. I know there was more than one rock because my right leg has track marks of bruises, and half a dozen cuts and abrasions. But my nose wasn’t broken, and neither were my teeth. I’m lucky. Though I do look like this:

(Quote from FRB as he took this picture: “You’re writing a book on blood. Consider this hands-on book research.”)

What is the outcome? I don’t want to run on any rocks this week. I don’t know if my confidence has been battered like my body, but I hope not. The joy of running on moors and hills, for me, is the exhilaration of descending, and if I’m scared of falling, the exhilaration will be muted and pale, and I don’t want that. I will return to running soon, as soon as my leg is healed and my face stops aching, and when I can bend my leg without wincing. And I will get back to rocky paths, and lift my legs up.

The moral of this long-winded post, and the answer to my mother, who is too polite to ask but who wonders constantly why I choose to do this “dangerous” activity, especially when I fall, is that fell running is risky but not. There is risk but it is worthwhile, and the very slight chance of injury is outweighed, hugely, by the benefits. Not just the opportunity to run freely amongst beautiful landscapes. But also the kindness of my fellow runners, who would never have left me alone, who offered me painkillers and layers and warmth, but also patience and generosity and care. And this is not unusual behaviour on the hills, which makes it more wonderful still. I’m not going to relate this to politics but perhaps we forget, at the moment, how kind people are. They are, though, and more often than not. I’m very very grateful to FRB, Sara, Caroline and Hilary: Thank you.

And now I’ll try to stop falling over.


I’ve started writing a post for this many times, and stopped many times. I couldn’t really work out what to say that I hadn’t said already: that I was struggling with the after-effects of giving blood, and that I was taking iron and trying to run through it, and that I was running and racing. That’s all true. I’ve done some nice races, and I finally feel like I’m back to normal. Running never feels easy, but now it feels less appallingly hard than it has done for the last month or so. I even managed to beat my speedy team-mate Sheila in the last race, by one second. I’m still rather terrified of the Three Peaks, but I have other things to think about first, like running 22 miles over the moors around Ilkley next weekend. I haven’t run more than 15 miles, and it’s too late to do much about that. But my paces are getting better, and it no longer feels like I’m running at altitude or through treacle.

I’m enjoying running again. I enjoy outside, rain, weather, wind, mud. I bought some lovely new shoes from Inov-8 and was sent two pairs of lovely new shoes from Brooks:IMG_6919

And I headed off to do the Stanbury Splash, a 6 mile or so fell race over Haworth moors. It’s organized by Woodentops, who did Auld Lang Syne. I did it last year, and the route was diverted because of snow and ice. The normal route goes through a few becks, one with a steep drop. This year was exactly the same: snow and ice. So the route was changed to that of the Stoop, another Woodentops race. It’s all immaterial to me because I never remember routes. No matter how many times FRB looks at me in bafflement with his perfect topographical memory because I don’t remember that the route turns left at the farm after the second copse of trees, I don’t remember. FRB wasn’t running as he’d done the 22 mile Hebden fell race the day before. Though he was tempted.

It was the usual procedure: try to park as close as possible without having a four wheel drive car. Get to the cricket club hut and pick up your number. The Stanbury Splash is sponsored by Soreen so you also get a couple of snack-sized Soreen. But this year’s sponsorship consisted of banana flavour which, frankly, I’m not surprised Soreen wanted rid of. Then, back to the car to sit in the warmth and put off getting out into the cold as much as possible. The usual “how many layers” sartorial discussion. It was too cold for vest only, so I went for this:



Yes, those shorts do not make a legs apart pose the most flattering, I know. I’m working on it. I had my new gorgeous Montane mittens on, my new Inov-8s and my usual race calf sleeves. I was ready. We started in the quarry as usual, and then it was up and up and up, and through bogs, up to the ridge line. We apparently passed the standing stone of the Stoop, but I didn’t see it. Then, a hurtle down a boggy hillside. There was no path. Everyone was just doing their best to go as fast as possible while perfectly judging how deep the next bog would be. I got it wrong.



I put my foot into a bog and it went deeper than I expected. I lost my footing. That’s pretty normal in fell running and I didn’t mind at all. But the trouble with icy bogs is they bite you. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but somehow my legs were cut and bruised. The next day they looked like this:



I have no idea what caused that parallel line bruising. I presume the long scrape is an ice scrape. I posted this picture to the FRA facebook page and someone suggested that “it is something to do with the flesh being compressed at the point of impact and the blood gets pushed hard through the capillaries on either side so lots of them burst but the ones at the point of impact are ok…or something.” That makes sense. Oddly, it didn’t hurt. And I felt oddly proud to be finishing with proper bloody legs, which is daft. But what I never felt was fear. The only thing that scares me on fell races is how badly I will do and whether I will come last. Yet people still have an image of fell running as macho and terrifying and dangerous. They think that anyone who runs in the fells or mountains sprints up the steepest of inclines without bother, like a goat. That’s not true. Fell running is whatever you want it to be. Walk the inclines if you want. Crawl them if you want. The point is to be outside in nature and to love the fells, whether they attack you or not. I’ve only ever had one negative experience fell-running, when someone was ruder than she needed to be. Of course at the front of the pack there are devastatingly fit people – men and women – who do sprint up inclines like goats. But I don’t feel any pressure to do that. I walk inclines if I need to. So do much faster people. If running an incline will drain you so you can’t run at the top, there’s little point running it. In many fell racers, you finish in the last quarter of finishers, as I do, and men and women who finished way way ahead of you will loop back to support and clap you home. Even people like Ben Mounsey, an amazing runner and one of the nicest men in sport.

Injuries heal. The mental soothing you get by running outside in snow and ice and air and weather makes all the blood worth it.


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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Setback and back and back

It’s been a godawful few weeks. First, the fall down the stairs and the burned hand, which led me to wearing a Michael Jackson glove at Widdop. But Widdop was wonderful and it felt so good to be back exercising. The next day, I was cycling home on my usual commute, a 2.5 mile uphill from the centre of Leeds. Some of it has a bike path but only about a third. In Chapeltown, there is a stretch of road which narrows. I’ve had a problem there before, when my bike hit a deep drain and the tyre punctured. It happened again, only this time was worse. My tyre punctured, but it was a violent jerk, and I was thrown into the road, into the path of oncoming traffic. I don’t remember much about it, apart from lying in the road, somewhat stunned, and seeing cars had stopped behind me, and thinking, I’d better get out of the road, quick. I did. A young woman had been walking past and stopped to ask if I was alright. Then another man, in a smart suit, came running up. I began to think that the accident must have been dramatic. I was very shocked and shaken, but thought that nothing was broken. I had no idea if I’d hit my head, but later checked my helmet and there was no sign of damage so I don’t think I did. I stayed there for a few minutes, telling my helpers that I was OK, and another man came up, looking as shaken as I felt. He had been driving the car immediately behind me, the one that had stopped, and had pulled in further up the road to see if I was OK. What a lovely man. He said, “you just went flying into the road.” He offered me a lift home, but I thought that as everything seemed to be working, I could walk the mile home. This, in retrospect, was probably stupid, as I was very shocked and trying not to cry all the way. I thought it was best to keep busy, so I went to Tesco to get doughnuts, because I thought I deserved them, and to the pharmacist to get more burn plasters, then I went home and made myself some hot, sweet tea. The next morning, my knee gave way when I put weight on it, and I had a huge bruise on the leg, but otherwise I thought I’d got off lightly. I could so very easily be dead, as my head could easily have gone under the wheels of a car, or I could have hit the bonnet. I just happened to be extremely lucky that no car was passing at that exact point.

I was wrong about getting off lightly though. After 24 hours my ribs started to hurt. Then they started to be agonizing. And they didn’t stop being agonizing for two weeks. I’ve never bruised or cracked my ribs before but oh my god, they hurt. I now have a deep appreciation of what the rib cage does, because it hurt to do ANYTHING. Twisting, turning, lying, sitting, breathing: anything. I spent two weeks taking strong painkillers. The thought of running, again, was horrifying. I couldn’t even walk without pain. Meanwhile, as I’ve just started taking citalopram for depression, I was nauseous and drowsy from the medication. Then last week my eyeballs started itching and I got infections in both eyes.

I began to forget what it feels like to be well. I felt exhausted and ill. And I’d forgotten about being an ill person, when you can’t remember how you were ever healthy.

But slowly things have got better. I’m writing this post today because it’s the first day I’ve felt well in about three weeks. I’m not nauseous. My ribs don’t hurt to do everything. Sometimes, I even forget they hurt. They were so pain-free yesterday, I did a little run to the chip shop. They are slightly sore again today but nothing serious. My eyes are clearing up too, and it’s not a sudden onset allergy to my cat, which would have been devastating. I’m not going to start running again yet. And I’m going to try to stop having accidents. But soon I will start marathon training, gingerly.

I wore this t-shirt today to celebrate my first day of health. Nothing bad can happen to me if I’m wearing this:



It was such a simple thing to do. Leave my office, drive half an hour north to Otley, get lost for about ten minutes, phone FRB, who is also known as Navigator General for his uncannily perfect memory for routes run and driven only once, get re-directed, get slightly lost again via the car-park of a posh Otley hotel, finally arrive at Surprise View car park about five minutes late (not bad for me, whose timekeeping is poor enough for FRB to factor in an extra fifteen minutes to any departure), strip off sweater, detach car key from bunch of keys, drink some water very inadvisably, and




I am a writer who is supposed to be good at conveying things with words. But it’s hard, actually, to convey how wonderful it was, to simply move at speed – not too fast – through gorgeous nature, on a stunningly beautiful sunny evening. It’s such a simple activity, running, despite all that we complicate it with (though not at high level and particularly not in certain training camps, as we learned later that evening from the BBC Panorama documentary on doping and Alberto Salazar).

But it is simple. And over Otley Chevin, a beautiful dollop of hills, rocks, trees and trails that overlooks Otley and nods to Ilkley, on a sunny evening, it was beautiful. It’s not often that we feel a certain emotion these days, amongst the noise and clutter and chaos and stress of life. I did feel it last night. I felt joy. I was joyful, just to be running. How I had missed it.

FRB was a great companion. He told me if I was going too fast. He advised me about rocky sections. He had planned a route that wouldn’t tax my tendon too much: some uphill but not on rocky sections, but mostly flattish trails through the woods. But then we glimpsed the view, which in yesterday’s light was magnificent, and we decided to change the route, to see more of the open and not stay in the dark of the trees. There would be more climbing and more rocks but I said I’d walk if necessary, and I watched where my feet were going.

I was wearing my new Brooks PureGrit this time. I think they may even be more comfortable than the PureFlow. Here they are during the five mile Harewood march at the weekend:


They are light, flexible and cushioned, but with none of the heft from shoes that are usually advertised as cushioned, but which seem to get most of their cushioning from weight. I had my orthotics in, of course, and my tendon was fine. I twisted my ankle a bit on some rocks, but it settled down. I keep expecting to wake up and for it to be sore and angry, but so far it hasn’t. And as long as it doesn’t, I’ll keep doing my cautious programme. A little further each time. Maybe a hill or two. I intend to keep up the swimming, but haven’t been all week, though I think a swim after a run is probably the perfect combination, as although the kicking aches at first, it loosens everything beautifully by the end of a good half hour session.

At the end of the run, I wasn’t too tired. I’d done the longest run in two months, a whole three miles, but I felt fine. And I deserved an ice-cream, so I got one. E-numbers, wafer cone and strawberry syrup that had never seen a strawberry: it tasted amazing.

I didn’t take any pictures as I was too busy enjoying the run. But we stayed afterwards to watch the Otley Chevin Fell Race, FRB banging his wok with a spaghetti server, me with some borrowed jingle bells, and Dave and Eileen Woodhead were there, as they are at most local and further-off fell races, with their cameras.



Three runs. I have done three runs. I’m not judging them by pace or distance but by time. So after that first fifteen minute run, I did another one 48 hours later. I did the same route: through the park, down the steps, over the road, past the wild garlic and cow parsley and into Gledhow Valley Woods. I love these woods. They are not big, the path is not long (about half a mile from end to end), and they run alongside a fairly trafficked road. But they have many trees, and a brook, and a boardwalk, and they are well cared for by the Friends of Gledhow Valley Woods, and they are oddly calm and serene considering that cars are travelling past about 30 metres from the path. Also, there is a lake, constructed in 1956:


At the top of the hill, above the woods, is Gledhow Hall, which has, it seems, a very beautiful bathroom made from Burmantofts tiles.


(all pictures from Friends of Gledhow Valley Woods)

I think it’s a beautiful wood. I hear plenty of birds singing in it. Though apparently the council doesn’t agree, thinking that it is “impoverished” and that 85 mature trees should be cut down. This campaign group says some of the beech trees are 100 years old and could last another 100 years. I don’t know what’s happened to the plans to fell it.

But back to the run. I’d asked the lovely people at Brooks on Twitter whether I should try a more cushioned shoe than the Pure Connects I run in. They said, yes, you might prefer the Pure Flow, which are still lightweight but more cushioned, and then said they would send me a pair. They also sent me a pair of Pure Grit “in case your physio lets you play in the dirt.” I am deeply grateful. Not least because the shoes are gorgeous:


My second run was my first attempt in the Pure Flow. I put in my orthotics, with the help of a shoe horn. My feet are definitely a bizarre shape; all shoes feel loose on the heel, and I have difficulty getting them on and off. Shoe horns are a revelation. Like all Brooks shoes, the Pure Flow felt great out of the box. Brooks haven’t paid me to say this: I genuinely think they are good shoes. The tongue of the shoe was the only thing that I found a little stiff, but the stiffness wore off.

The shoes were great. But the run was hard. It felt much harder than the first one. I felt tired, and I stopped four or five times, on a flat run that was only 15 minutes long. I felt old and unfit. But I still did it. Afterwards my tendon didn’t react too badly: it was slightly sore but not noticeably swollen. Ibuprofen gel and a massage, and fingers crossed. After that, I took it easy, with a ceilidh in flat shoes, a day of hangover recovery, then a five mile march around beautiful Harewood estate in the Pure Grits. Which are also comfortable. And which a young girl passing us looked at with envy.

I’ve never had running shoes that make eight-year-old girls jealous. Well done Brooks. You are down with the kids.

Today, another run. I increased it to 20 minutes, but it was all downhill. It was great, not least because I’ve been feeling increasingly flabby and unfit. Then, having watched the World Triathlon at the weekend, I must have been inspired, because I followed the run a few hours later with a half hour swim. And once again was baffled by how people’s minds work. I was in a lane, and one other person was in the lane. There was no sign that required us to loop, though I would have if there had been, so we were swimming parallel. The other person was a slow woman, and I am not Olympic, but I’m faster than that and I was doing front crawl. I got to the far side of the pool, looked round and saw another woman had joined us. That’s fine, except that she was swimming up my side of the lane, at exactly the same speed as the other woman, leaving me nowhere to swim. Annoying. Very annoying. Deep breath, a duck under the lane rope and into the fast lane, which had only one swimmer in it, who soon got out. When the next swimmer arrived, I asked him, do you want to loop or shall we swim parallel? He agreed to swim parallel, and off we went.

That’s how you swim in lanes when there are very few of you and there’s no sign telling you what to do. You communicate. I realise that makes me sound like an awful grump. Don’t get me started then on why the clock is on the wall halfway down the length of the pool. How is anyone doing front crawl supposed to see it?

I’m really not in a grump. I’ve been running. I’ve been swimming. It was all wonderful, lane-hoggers or not. And I’m going to get fit again. You’ll see.


I didn’t run during the bank holiday. Nor the day after. Partly that was because I was going to a funeral, but as I was only supposed to do a 15 minute run, I could have fit it in. The truth is, I was scared. I have been so hopeful that I will be able to run again soon, that I’m scared about the slump I’ll get if it turns out I can’t. So I let the days go past and I didn’t run. My tendon has been making itself known: a niggle here, a bit of soreness and tenderness there. My right inner ankle is significantly more swollen than my left but I’m wondering if that’s just how it’s going to be from now on. But I know that there is still damage, or at least problems, because when I press on the nerve, it screams at me, and that’s why I was scared to run. Lucy the phsyio was, admittedly, very pleased with my progress. She kept grinning. Even so, when I compare my inner ankles by touch, I’m worried.

Still, I ran.

I had a day of no pain yesterday, and so I decided to run. I’d talked to FRB about The First Run Back. I’d decided it would be in early morning sunshine, at about 6.30am, and it would be around Roundhay Lake. He offered to run it with me. But in the end, I didn’t tell him I’d decided to run. Nor did I go to Roundhay Lake. In the end, I decided to get up, run out of the door, and keep going. On my own. No fanfare, no planned First Run Back. I laid out my running kit the night before, and even that felt odd. I dusted off my Garmin, which has had barely any use for two months. I put my orthotics into my Ghost shoes, as they are the most cushioned, set the alarm for 6.30, and set off at 8 (because of a) a snuggling cat and b) being asleep). I was nervous. I did my hip-opening exercises, I warmed up a bit. The sun was shining, people were walking dogs in the park, and off I ran. Down to Gledhow Valley woods, through the wild garlic and nettle patches, along the walkway beside the brook. There was hardly anyone about beyond a couple of dog-walkers. Good morning, I said, to all, because there was sunlight in the trees, and the smell of green, and because of the simple joy of being outside in fresh air and moving along at a pace.

It wasn’t much of a pace. Lucy’s instructions had been: try a fifteen minute jog. And she meant a jog. Then wait for a day and see how your tendon feels, then try another one. So I jogged at 9.30 minute mile pace. It still felt like a sprint. I’ve not done as perfectly as I wanted to in my rehab fitness: I should have done much more swimming and aqua-running and yoga and Pilates, and I’ve had more rest days than I should have. But I’ve done some strength training and yoga and swimming, and that’s better than nothing. Even so, my fitness has diminished. If I do get to start running properly again, it’s going to hurt. I ran to the lake, a seven-minute run, and it was tiring. I sat down on a bench for a bit, feeling unfit, and then I ran back. My ankle was fine, except for one tiny needling alert, but I said out loud “NO YOU DON’T” and it went away. Rose’s Patented Rehab Therapy: shout at your injury, like a lunatic.

Up to Chapel Allerton park, where I stretched, though I’d only run 1.5 miles, then did my glute rehab exercises, which were made more entertaining by the odd dog running up and sticking a nose in my face.

It felt wonderful. But now, I wait.

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My orthotics arrived. I was told they would take up to a month, but if I paid £20, I could get them in four days. Weird. I paid £20. Here they are:


The important bit is carbon fibre; not sure about the upper but as Karen said I could trim it with scissors, I guess it’s not expensive. They have a lifetime guarantee. I was given strict instructions about wearing them in: one hour on the first day, then two and so on. But they were so comfortable I wore them for a couple of hours yesterday, had a break, then walked home – two miles uphill – in them. No problems. The only time my tendon complained yesterday was when I lugged four big sacks of horse-manure home from the allotment for my neighbour. As I was hefting them into my car boot, I had a few thoughts:

1. my car is going to stink
2. my trousers are going to stink
3. my ankle doesn’t like this
4. I’m a bloody nice neighbour

My other instructions from Lucy the physio are to wear them in properly before trying to run. The orthotics leaflet I was given has dark warnings about ruining everything by being too hasty. So I am not going to run today. I may not run tomorrow. But by the end of the bank holiday I will.

I posted a picture of the orthotics on Facebook, and on Twitter. Both times, someone said, oh I don’t agree with orthotics. Both times I thought: then keep it to yourself. I am aware of the debate around orthotics. Anyone who believes in barefoot, chi or minimalist running thinks they are the devil’s spawn, in sole form. Christopher McDougall doesn’t like them. Someone who is my Facebook friend but who I don’t know in person, said, “as a physio, I don’t like them.” To which FRB responded, “as a physio he should know that what works for him doesn’t work for everyone.” I get that the ideal state would be to get my body into a biomechanical state of nirvana where everything works smoothly. I understand that a crutch is only a crutch: your leg still needs to get better. And that is how I am going to use my orthotics, as a crutch until my feet get stronger. The Facebook friend said, changing your biomechanics and your neural programming is how to overcome injury. No shit. I responded very sharply to him because I was annoyed: I am doing everything I can: rest, rehab, physio, neural reprogramming, glute exercises, calf stretches everywhere (including in any queue or wherever I have to wait for more than a minute, which means many car drivers look at me oddly). Orthotics are not a solution, but they will take me towards a solution.

In other news, I tried to swim today. I tried three days ago and was told that our membership had run out. I tried yesterday but my bike got a puncture just as I was leaving the house, and I switched bags but didn’t transfer my swimming kit. But I’d done a couple of seven minute workouts in the morning so I was allowed not to, in my head. Today I tried again. I was late out of the house (because I am lazy in the mornings and because I had to check my inner tube for punctures again), and knew the pool was having school swimming lessons at 11. Great: I can get there for 10 and have a quiet hour. No-one will be there at 10: people who work are at work.

But in my rush to get to the pool in time, I had picked up my bike lock and not my goggles. Idiot. I’ve done that in the past and asked the pool attendants if there are any goggles in lost property I can borrow. It’s worked before. This time though: “No, we throw them away because they can cause eye infections.” Really? So I had a decision: no swim or hairdresser’s swim.

What is a hairdresser’s swim? It’s the breaststroke done by women who don’t want to get their hair wet. Head above water, duck legs below.

I decided on the hairdresser’s swim. It’s not ideal, because it’s much harder to keep your body from sagging down to the floor. But it would be better than nothing at all. Even though the pool was crowded. There were baby swimming lessons in half the pool, which was sweet and lovely to see. There’s not much more joyous than seeing a toddler laugh uproariously at a splash of water. The rest of the pool was divided into two lanes. The supposed fast lane was populated first by a couple of front crawlers, and a very slow breaststroker then by two men walking up and down it. I don’t know: don’t people know about lanes? I was clearly grumpy and needed to swim. The middle lane had some breast-strokers, so I joined that one. Then the slow woman in the fast lane moved over and started backstroking quite badly – ie. splashing arms going horizontally not vertically – in the middle lane. Oh dear. I know: I encourage anyone to be fit and swim. Just not when I’m already in a grump because I’ve forgotten my goggles.

But I’m supposed to have got over my dislike of crowded public pools. Even in crowded pools I can always get a workout. And it’s hard to be grouchy to the sound of giggling children. So I had a sharp word with myself, did a few lengths, then lurked in the deep end of the aqua-tots lane and did some aqua running. Which is bloody hard. Of course I’d forgotten my special aqua-running belt: why would I actually remember something I need? But it worked. I worked out, enough to get tired. The backstroking woman was still backstroking horizontally when I got out, and I thought, good for her. And I meant it.


Photo from My Vintage London


I’ve had enough of not running now. I’ve compensated with workouts and swimming, and I’ve come to love swimming, enough to get over my dislike of public pools, and to stop at a random leisure centre between one speaking engagement and another, and swim in a gloriously empty 25m pool for an hour. But still, I want to run. I really want to run.

But I had to wait. My physio still said no running, and I trust her. I also dread running and the pain coming back like it was before. I had an appointment with the Coach House Physio podiatrist so I waited for that as if it was going to be the velvet glove around a guillotine. That was on Monday. Karen, the podiatrist, comes down from Edinburgh every couple of weeks to work at Coach House. She’s soft-spoken, she inspires confidence and she carries a regular protractor. “There are fancy ones on podiatry websites,” she said, “but they only do what this does.” So armed with this:




she watched me walk, then some more. She looked pleased and said I was walking well. That is a big change. Last week, my physio Lucy, and the NHS physio I went to, both said my hip was dropping and my right leg was doing a weird rotation as I walked. But I have actually done the glute exercises I was supposed to, and apparently they work. The idea is to strengthen my pelvic region, hips and glutes, to lessen the impact on the posterior tibial tendon. I also need to relax my upper back, which has limited extension, because of my poor posture and years of sitting hunched over computers. I haven’t been doing my back exercises, but I have been swimming, which is perfect for improving arm rotation. Anyway, something is working. Karen took angles of my legs and feet, and pronounced my legs to be the same length, which they weren’t when I first went to see Lucy at Coach House, when my right leg had shortened because of all the stress on the ankle (I can’t remember the physics or physiology behind that but it made sense at the time).

But now, I am aligned. I am symmetrical. I am almost better.

My carbon fibre orthotics, the price of which made me wince as much as my ankle pain, will arrive in a few days. Yesterday I saw Lucy again, and arrived just as Jessica Ennis-Hill was leaving. I did the British thing of studiously not demonstrating that I knew who she was, which is a way of showing her that I am trying not to notice her and amounts to much the same thing as staring.

Lucy is also happy with me. She kept grinning. Everything is moving better. The nerves around my tendon are gliding better. I was still in pain when she manipulated them, but last time I was crying, and this time I just winced a lot. She told me something interesting and possibly alarming: that her mother has a ruptured posterior tibial tendon (physios call it the post tib), and her arch has disappeared for good. She said her mother is a keen cyclist, “but she’s menopausal.” Then she stopped, as if the connection between post tib rupture and the menopause was obvious. I said, “what’s that got to do with it?” and she said, in a tone of surprise, “collagen.”

This made sense. Already, as I am peri-menopausal, I notice my skin flaking and falling off once a month. Menopausal hormone changes damage collagen. Lucy said it’s really common for menopausal women to have post tib problems.

Great. So I’ve that to look forward to.

But in better news: she is so pleased with my progress, that once I have got my orthotics, and worn them in gradually and properly, over a week, I CAN RUN. Only for fifteen minutes, and then I must have a day’s rest to see how my foot reacts. But still, I can run! Already, I’d been planning my first run. I went walking with FRB around Roundhay Park on Saturday, and decided: it will be Roundhay Lake. In about a week.

Because I want to run now. I’m tired of being patient and stoic. I will not do anything daft. But I will run.