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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Ten miles, or why and how I love my running club

Since the Pudsey 10K I’ve kept running. No more than three times a week. But I did break my golden rule of not running two days in a row. Last week I went to club training. It was the beginning of the week’s heatwave. There weren’t many of us there; under 20, and the route was not the best: along the canal, but then a big dose of ugly industrial Holbeck, before going up to Armley Park. I found it hard. Partly that was because most people around my pace left after five miles. I thought, nonetheless, I’m going to try the full seven. Half a mile later, I was deeply regretting that. I ran with a clubmate I don’t know very well, and we chatted, but god it was hard. The scenery was horrible, the rest of the group were all speedy blokes, and the hills never stopped. I arrived back at the club somewhat battered. The next day, it was the Danefield Relay, a three mile team relay around Otley Chevin. I did it last year and loved it. Even so, this would break my Golden Rule. I am trying to push my tendon to see what it will tolerate; I’ve increased distance, changed terrain, run slightly faster. This was the first test of frequency. I ran and I was slow – 31 minutes for 3 miles, though with hills – but it was OK. The route was through fields and woods, and was what fell-runners call “technical,” i.e. lots of rocks and roots, in not very good visibility. The next day I paid for it. My tendon was sore. I couldn’t do a deep squat without the soreness kicking in. So, ice and rest.

On Sunday I was meant to run the Eccup 10. I love this race. It’s on mostly closed roads and lanes around Adel and Eccup, with a tour around Eccup reservoir, which I love. But then I did something a bit daft. I installed a treadmill desk. I’ve been thinking of doing it for ages, and finally did, with the help of a friend, a powerdrill and a Jigsaw. I wrote about it, and how I built it, on my serious blog. Walking while working makes all sorts of sense, particularly to a runner. But installing it a) during the hottest temperatures for years and b) with a still slightly dodgy tendon: maybe not the most sensible idea. I didn’t overdo it: I didn’t walk for more than 90 minutes each of the three days I used it. I couldn’t anyway as my studio was so baking hot, I was melting (I’m walking while writing this, at 2mph, with the assistance of a desktop fan). But my right foot and ankle niggled. It was a different niggle: more towards my Achilles than my post tib tendon. On Saturday, it was enough of a niggle that I iced it and worried. I think I was stupid to walk barefoot for the first day, and soon switched to my running shoes and orthotics. On Saturday, I said to FRB, I don’t think I’d better run. Ten miles is too much of a stretch in distance, my Achilles is niggling, and I won’t run.

Then we went to do some allotment work, my mood lifted, and I started saying, I’m going to run, only with a really annoying Forrest Gump impression.

And I did. The next morning, race mode: A bagel with marmalade, as usual. Too much tea, as usual. I wanted the tea to get alert, but I’ve fallen behind with my pelvic floor exercises and knew there was a big risk of peeing my pants. Then again, I had a great and illuminating chat with a few women runners at a party on Friday, which began with one of them saying, “I totally pee my pants all the time!” Her reason, I think, is because she’s super fast. Mine is because my pelvic floor has got as out of condition as the rest of me. Anyway before that there was another slight problem: I’d left my running shoes and orthotics in my office. Oh dear. This was not the best thing to do when FRB gets quite race tense. But to his enormous credit he said, “OK, let’s go,” internalised his anxiety and we called in at the office, and got to race HQ with plenty of time. It took five minutes to pick up my number and then I had no choice but to join the toilet queue, which had about 100 people in it. I thought, oh. It’s going to be a pee and sprint to the start line. It wasn’t, but I only had about five minutes to spare. We gathered and milled, and then we were off. I was so busy trying not to set off too fast that I didn’t even notice Jonny Brownlee waving the flag to start us off. My friend Gemma did though:

GemmaRathbone_2015-Jul-05I set off steadily, at about 9.30 minute/miles, and I kept that going throughout. The first mile, though, was awful, because my bladder lost it. I was embarrassed, and desperately looking for a bush where I could pee without 800 runners watching me, but there was nothing for about a mile, until finally the route went off to the right and to the left was a coppice of trees. What a bloody relief. After that, I was fine, but I lost a couple of minutes. That shouldn’t have mattered: no way was I going to be anywhere near my ten mile PB, which is 1:23. So I stuck my ego in the box and concentrated on running properly: head up, torso straight, slight lean, arms going strongly backwards, shoulders relaxed. I’ve been examining race photos of me, not for vanity, but to check where my feet are going. A splayed right foot means my hip and pelvis need strengthening. I noticed that my pace was similar to a woman who was 50 or 60, so I stuck with her for a few miles. The roads were nice, the temperature, I thought, was perfect: cool, and cloud cover. And I just enjoyed it. There were water stations at miles 3, 5 and 8. I took a gel at the second and third, and I felt fine. I felt good, and strong. I overtook a few of my clubmates, and they all encouraged me, and I stayed steady.

I’d noticed a young lass in front of my Accidental Pacer, who was also going at a really steady pace. I couldn’t catch her for a long time, then with about two miles to go I did. We got chatting. She was running unattached, and said she’d only been running since January. This was the longest distance she’d ever done. She has just moved to Lancashire so I said, there must be some good fell-running clubs there and she said, yes, but clubs are so intimidating. Everyone in them is so fast. I had my usual response: ours is so friendly, everyone is encouraged, no-one is left behind. But I remember when I was unattached – a horrible word – and had entered the Kirkstall 7. I felt completely excluded by all the cliques of club runners in their same colour vests, and they were all talking about PBs and sub this and that. I told myself I would never be like that. But of course I am. Anyway, all that chat got us to the bottom of the last hill. Eccup 10 is a lovely race, but it ends on a hill, which is not lovely. The route has changed this year, in fact, and now there are two climbs at the finish instead of one. But the gels must have been working, because I didn’t walk any of the hills, and I still felt strong with half a mile to go. As we climbed the last hill, the young lass was slowing, and I chivvied her along. Slow steps, stand tall, don’t lean into the hill, it’s easier. And she did. And as we climbed, I heard a faint “ROSE!” then louder and louder, “GO ROSE! WELL DONE ROSE! STRONG FINISH ROSE! GO ROSE GEORGE” and there were a dozen of my team-mates waiting to cheer us in. Some had not run but come along to support anyway, some had finished but come back to support us.
At Danefield Relay, when most teams had finished and gone home, we still had a runner due back. A few of my club-mates went to the finish to cheer her in, because the hill that Danefield finishes on is even worse than Eccup. I thought it was weird that no-one else was about, but assumed they had just gone home. Then, suddenly coming round the corner was not one runner in a purple vest but a dozen. And they were singing. They had all long since finished, but run down the course to escort Bethan up the horrible hill, singing “rolling down the river.” I actually choked. It was a really lovely sight.

KHarriers_2015-Jul-01And so were the Eccup cheerers. So I said to the young lass, whose name was Steph, “See?’ and she said yes, with a look of surprise on her face, and then I said, “come on, sprint finish” and we did, and I beat her.

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From Monaco to the moors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And on the next day, I rested. Really.

MILES RUN THIS WEEK: 32
BOTOX BOOKED: NONE
INJURIES/NIGGLES: Sore toes; black toe-nails; slightly aching right ankle

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Lost

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

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

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

I was going in completely the opposite direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I know where Shadwell is now.

ShadwellWelcome

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

Tribes

It’s back. The love is back. I had to leave to catch a London train at 1pm today, and I also had to run 14 miles. I looked at my awful time from the Gipping 12 miles (gipping meaning vomiting, not a place in the Yorkshire Dales), and thought, it’s going to be tight. So I woke at 7, ate crumpets and drank tea, and intended to set off at 8. It was a bit later than that: a kitten sitting on my chest, warm and purring, was a bit hard to leave. And I was a bit nervous. My last long run had been so bad. But I had been careful to eat better; the sun was shining and the forecast was good, and I planned a loop up to Eccup, along to Roundhay Park, round the lake a bit and back. Reservoir and lakes.

I didn’t want any mud. I’m on a mud-break. So it was roads all the way, except for a short cut through the golf course. There was gawping to be done all along Alwoodley Lane, which is the millionaire’s row of Leeds, although it looks more occupied than Billionaire’s Row in London. No-one was about, but the sun was shining and my energy levels were good. Jenny has advised me to run for as long as I can without eating a gel, so that my body gets used to running while using its fat stores. I had some electrolyte drink, and I made sure to drink more and vomit less.

There was no nausea and no vomiting. It was just a lovely, lovely run. Even the bit down King Lane where there was no pavement and road puddles. No-one splashed me, and I arrived at Five Lanes corner thinking, how lucky I am to live a couple of miles from rolling fields, sheep, and Eccup.

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There were a few runners out by now. Eccup is where you start to see them, particularly on a weekend morning. I read this very clever story yesterday, about how to write about the UK like Africa is written about, and so tribes were on my mind. And I realised, as I did the runner’s nod to yet another passing runner, and as I followed a solitary runner 300 metres in front of me, and even though I was pleased when he turned off so I didn’t have to catch him up and then speed up to keep ahead, I realised, runners are my tribe. We understand each other. We wear extraordinary clothes.

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We have blackened toe-nails and creaking bones, but we can still run great distances with blackened toe-nails and creaking bones. I love that. But I love that it is not a tribe of snobs. We want other people to start running. It is a generous tribe. I love that when I went to Kathmandu last year and wanted to go running, I googled for a local running group. I contacted Richard, who runs Kathmandu trail runners, and he had read The Big Necessity. He wasn’t around but put me in touch with his flatmate, Billi. I got a taxi over to her side of Kathmandu one morning, and she lent me a bike, and we cycled a mile, over the ringroad, to the edge of the cacophonous city, and then we ran. There were rice paddies and buffalos and old women who did not bat any eyelid when two western women in tight bright clothes ran past. It was brilliant. And it was because Billi saw nothing weird in a runner wanting to run with her, because she understood about needing to run, even in a strange city that was being dug up for road construction. Afterwards she made me the best coffee in Kathmandu, and we stayed in touch, now and then, and if I go back, I would love to run with her again. I have made friends by running, and not just in Kathmandu. I like being in this tribe.

And I like running alone, too. I like listening to the playlists that my running friend and music geek Andrew supplies, and sometimes I like listening to the air and the surroundings. Halfway down Eccup Moor Lane, I suddenly remembered Jenny Landreth, a Twitter friend who writes about swimming for the Guardian (and is in the swimming tribe), had posted her lyrics to the title song of The Bridge, and suddenly I became a runner laughing out loud at nothing, at air. I’ll remember that moment, and I’ll add Eccup Moor Lane, on a sunny Saturday morning, to my mental store of running memories that soothe me when I am stressed. It’s a good one.

Oh, and I ran 14 miles, which is the longest distance I have ever run in my life. The farthest I have run is a half marathon. When I got to 13.2 miles (a half marathon is 13.1), which was on Harrogate Road just past the Sainsbury’s, I did a little jump for joy. I am proud of myself. I don’t say or feel that very often.

TODAY’S SPORTING ACTIVITY
ACTIVITY: 14.03 MILES
TIME:2:22.18

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Sideways

I was so tired yesterday. My legs were tired, my brain was tired. I didn’t even have the energy to watch The Bridge. That is tiredness. I woke up tired too, but I had arranged to run 12 miles with Jayne & Bibi and Bibi’s partner Adam, also known as the awesome Veggie Runners + 1. I did my usual run preparation: eat crumpets and drink green tea, and read the paper. Then I opened the bedroom blinds.

Oh.

Driving rain. It looked awful and I hadn’t even been outside yet. I didn’t think Jayne or Bibi would want to do it, because I know Jayne doesn’t like running with wet feet, and I’d suggested we do the Leeds Country Way loop that I did last week, plus another four miles around Harewood. I didn’t much want to do it, and would have been happy with a boring road run after yesterday’s slog. But they did want to do it, so we met in a parking place near Harewood, and we began to run.

It was some of the worst weather I’ve ever run in. Perhaps not as bad as the time I ran 9 miles along the tops above Holmfirth and got indentations on my face from the hail, but it wasn’t far off. The first stretch is exposed, and it was bitterly cold. I had come prepared after yesterday: long tights, on the principle that they are easier to chuck in the wash and it took me ten minutes to scrub my legs of mud yesterday. Gloves. A hat. A map and some food and drink in a backpack. I was glad of my hat and gloves, until they got soaked too. But we were soaked immediately. It was either puddles or mud. Adam gave up quite quickly and went back to the car. We carried on. And Bibi forged ahead like a seasoned trail runner, although she’s only recently started doing trail runs. My legs felt like lead again, and it was cold. It was the closest I’ve come to not enjoying a run, although there were miles and miles that I did love, but miles that I didn’t. Jayne was so cold she couldn’t open the gates. She was so cold she thought she might be dangerously cold. Also because she’s much more sensible than me she was thinking about what would happen if one of us had an accident: we hadn’t brought a foil blanket or any dry clothing (daft, and I won’t set out without one again) and we would have been in difficulty. They decided to go back to the car after we got to Harewood after 8 miles. And by the time we had done the 8 mile loop and arrived at Harewood, another four miles seemed an impossibility.

So I flaked and we went back to the cars.

I was so cold it was hard to get my shoes off. I came home and had a hot shower and my cold legs itched like crazy. I managed not to scratch them raw, but only just. And then I sat almost on top of the gas fire for a while. And then the bloody sun came out.

TODAY’S SPORTING ACTIVITY
ACTIVITY: 8 MILE CROSS-COUNTRY
TIME: MAYBE 1:35.00 (NO GARMINS AND RUNKEEPER GOT UPSET)