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.


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.



They are the Northern Cross Country Championships, run by Northern Athletics, but they are known as the Northerns. They form part of a series of three cross country championships: I missed the Yorkshires, but I’ll do the Nationals next month. The Northerns were held this year at Knowsley Safari Park, where we used to go on school trips. It has now, according to its website, upgraded to a Knowsley Safari Experience, but it looks pretty much the same as it did in 1976. We had two teams running from Kirkstall, but the men’s was depleted by two by the time we reached Knowsley, so they only had five runners and thus wouldn’t be counted (a team has to have six). That was frustrating. But not as frustrating as the weather.

I love mud. I say often how much I love mud. I wasn’t bothered by the thought of mud. But I didn’t want cold or rain to go with it. And I thought, as I packed my bag this morning, and looked at the sunny day outside, I won’t need my gloves. I nearly left my coat behind. As we arrived near Knowsley, the sky got blacker and blacker. We parked the bus on a field of mud, and then the rains let us have it. Driving, horizontal, freezing rains. It was the first time I have ever arrived at a race and thought, I’m not doing this. I’ve arrived at a race and not done it, because I took too much magnesium and didn’t realise it is used to relieve constipation, but I still wanted to do the race. I did not want to do this race in powerful rain, impressive cold, and mud. The rain stopped, the cold remained, and I ran.

We had an hour to wait. The women run a shorter course (something I once objected to as it was sexist. I will never object to it again) of 8K, starting at 2:15. The men begin at 3:15 and run 12K. This means that the slowest women runners risk being overtaken by a thundering mass of male runners, which did happen to Jill last year. She said it was terrifying. So we were invited to go and watch the sea lion show while we waited. I was cynical about it, but goodness, sea lions are clever. If you have never seen a sea lion impersonate a seal or a killer whale, you should. Throughout the show I was doing my usual pre-race calculations of: do I need the toilet again should I risk it no I’ll be fine no I’d better go. Such is the pleasure of running at speed with a 44-year-old bladder. I suppose it’s not as bad as one Harrier who on a recent race ended up in a field doing open defecation. She used her gloves. She did not bring her gloves out of the field. I’ll be writing about running and incontinence for the Guardian running blog at some point. Well, I would.

It was very very cold. I borrowed a spare pair of gloves. I relinquished my newly bought hat with regret. We were in pens for the race, and off we went. Fast. Far too fast. I did the first 500 metres and wondered why I felt like all my body had been disassembled and put back together wrong, and I looked at my watch. A six minute mile. I slowed down. And I didn’t speed up again until the finish. It felt hard. Brutal. Difficult. Long. Hard. There was so much mud, because the juniors had already churned up the field. The course was nice enough: undulating but with no steep inclines. Two laps with nice scenery. But the mud made five miles feel like ten. There are races where I overtake people and there are races where I am overtaken. This was an overtaken one. Of course, the field was much better than I’m used to at PECOs or local Yorkshire vets races. There were runners from the umbrias of Northumbria and Cumbria. They had club names like Border and Low Fell, and they were excellent. They have probably been fell-running since primary school. But I got round, and I didn’t stop, and at one point, on the last incline, I invented a new running mantra.


But my legs felt heavy and dreadful, and I couldn’t even overtake the woman who was only 20 metres in front of me, although I normally manage a decent sprint finish. No chance today. So it’s bizarre that my time is almost exactly what it was when I ran a PECO cross country recently. It was the same distance, but I loved it. I felt like I had loads of energy. It felt like I was zipping around. This time was like running in porridge. I have no idea how I managed to get the same time.

We thought about changing clothes, but our shoes were so sodden with mud, there was no point ruining clean clothes by dragging them over the mud, and there was no point taking them off because our socks were sodden with mud, and our feet. So we went back to the field and cheered the men on for most of their race. Obviously we were cheering for our men’s team, but we also cheered for everyone whose club name we could read. Sometimes that meant we shouted “WELL DONE PENSBY WHERE’S THAT?” but still, we were good cheerers. And it really really helps. Just someone saying, come on Kirkstall, when you feel like giving up: it helps. The thing I liked least about this race, apart from the weather and the mud, was that most supporters only shouted for one runner or one club. I think that’s rotten. We are all slogging round, and it is easy enough to clap or just shout some encouragement. If you ever go to a race to support someone, please think of that.

Even Jonny Brownlee looked glum when he finished. And I don’t think it was because he didn’t finish first.

Discovery of the day: Twix mix. Spherical mini Twixes!

Achievement of the day, apart from slogging 5 miles through mud: Not stopping at Nash’s fish shop for chips and mushy peas, but carefully making a chick-pea and sweet potato stew with brown rice, even though I was starving. (I know my trainer reads this: Ignore the Twix comment, Jenny, and concentrate on the main course.)

TIME: 0:45.13


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Seven minutes

I did my cardio. I did my strength session. But I didn’t need to go to the gym on a rainy and cold Friday to do it. Instead, I did the bodyweight seven minute workout. It works on the high intensity interval principle (HIT), which has been around since the 1970s. The Ancient Greeks probably did it. You do cardio every so often to increase your heart rate, and then the exercises are supposed to be more effective. The New York Times famously wrote about it and claimed it was a seven minute workout. Since then apparently you can do four minutes, or a minute. I’m staying with seven minutes, three times. Then Pilates exercises from the Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute (my physio likes them; that’s good enough for me). Then roast potatoes to prepare for five miles of cross country tomorrow.




Today according to my marathon plan I am supposed to do a strength session and some cardio. Instead, after a day of not working as hard as I should, I wanted to run. I wanted to road run. This is not a feeling that I get often. But tonight I wanted to run five miles, quite fast, along the urban streets of northish Leeds, along Lidgett Lane and Street Lane (a name which until Elliot took a picture of it I didn’t notice was quite so undecided about itself), and back along the dark Gledhow Valley Road, up the steps, skirting the park and back home. I have described that so carefully but I just opened the door and it’s pouring down, and cold. And I am in two minds. I am supposed to do a strength session to prevent my hip problems getting worse. I have hip problems because my biomechnical movement when I run is inefficient. I don’t use my glute muscles enough. I know this because I have been video analysed and coached by the marvellous Teri at Pure Running in Harrogate, as well as been winced over by Simon the physio at Chapel Allerton hospital, who regularly exclaims at the tightness and knots of my piriformis and other important big muscles which should not be tight but smooth and efficient. Hardly anyone these days uses their glute muscles enough, because we sit on them and keep them static for hours upon hours. That’s not just bad for biomechanics. Be very scared by this graphic.

When I was at TED, Nilofer Merchant gave a great two minute talk on how sitting is the new smoking, and how excess sitting is cutting short our lifespan. I keep meaning to look into getting a treadmill desk, or making one. Instead I’ve adopted two cats. Treadmill next.

So I must do strength sessions and Pilates to ensure that my hip does not tighten into deep and agonising freeze over a 26.2 mile road race. This means that although my brain is shouting, “RUN,” I will not. I will stay inside and do the 7-minute body weight workout, three times, and my Pilates exercises, three times, and my hip muscles will thank me. Especially when I fling them around the Northern cross-country championships tomorrow. It’s at Knowsley Safari Park and hopefully not in the lion enclosure, although presumably that would encourage a sprint finish.



No. Not that kind of record. Not the “I have run at record pace,” or – unlike Eleanor of Kirkstall Harriers – “I hold the Guinness World Record for running in a wedding dress”. (Her Twitter name was @briderunning.)

No. The other kind of record, with the stress on a different syllable. The kind whereby this blog is where I record what I have done for me as well as for anyone reading. So look away. Nothing of interest here except to me and Jenny, and she doesn’t need to read this because she was there.

There was no running today. Today was a strength and cardio session with boxing. I love boxing. I’ve always liked it, but I never wanted to take up boxing because I don’t want to hit anybody. But I really began to like boxing with pads when my relationship ended horribly and I needed something to punch. For months, I visualised my ex’s face on the pads. I don’t do that any more: I consider that progress. Relationship breakdowns are horrible, but I did do some good fast runs when I had anger to burn off. Heartbreak, but speed.







Sometimes I like to run alone. Sometimes I like to run in groups. Tonight I knew that I was tired from my pathetic efforts yesterday, and I thought if left to my own devices I would find reasons all day not to run until it was too late. So I told my friend Jayne, who is half of the wonderful Veggie Runners, that I’d like to come along to her weekly Monday social run. It’s called the Wharf Chambers run because it meets at Wharf Chambers, a members co-operative bar/cafe/venue that I love very much because it’s warm, cheap and – given yesterday’s resolution – it sells a non-alcoholic beer called Drive. Also it has a table football table. And it only costs £1 a year to be a member. And tonight it had about eight people in tight and highly visible running clothing. I was the first there, because my plan says 8 miles, so I did a first three-mile run up into Harehills, along a road that Jayne and I, having once run down it, call Vegetable Street (or maybe only I call it that) because it is ethnic grocery after grocery. It’s an ethnically mixed area, and I suspect it’s where a lot of young male immigrants end up being housed while they wait for their families to join them, because each grocery has at least one lingering outside doing not much. In daylight, some sometimes make comments, but in darkness they’re all just obstacles to get round, along with people walking home, cars who don’t see you, roadworks, and every other thing that an inner city pavement can throw at a running person.

For the Wharf Chambers runners run, we began on the canal, then went off-piste through car parks, then up the fiendish Clarendon Road hill, which I had only ever once before run up without stopping. Peer pressure and fear of embarrassment is great for endurance. Then along my old route down Servia Hill, through Little London, where I was once running when a man stopped dead in front of me and took my photograph, along past the Arena, down Briggate “for a bit of glamour” (I’m not sure why I said that, as it was not likely to be found on a cold Monday night), then back. It was fun. Running sociably is always fun. The map below isn’t accurate because I forgot to start my watch again. But it’s near enough.





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My fellow Kirkstall Harrier Andrew is two things. Well, he’s many things. But two things about him were relevant today. He is an exceptional pathfinder and – until he gets his John Lewis wifi (“why are you getting John Lewis wifi?” “because I believe in democracy”) – he sometimes spends his hours in the evening reading maps. He loves maps. And he loves finding new routes. So when he texted to ask if I wanted to run, saying “I’ve got a new route planned,” I knew to expect mud, and plenty of stops where Andrew looks at his map and peers at a landmark and then sets off with total confidence. Today’s run was eight miles near Harewood, along part of  the Leeds Country Way, a fabulous 62-mile route that skirts Leeds and is waymarked by owls:


We ran along the LCW, then through East Keswick, where a helpful man in a car saw us on one of our puzzled-map stops, and said, “can I help?” and then did help, so I ran up the next hill saying “aren’t people nice?”. Then through mud and bogs that came to our knees and made me a laugh a lot. Mud does that. It brings out the long suppressed five year old in me who used to laugh at things like mud until she fell headfirst out of a tree, and caught fire, within a year. Then, along the River Wharfe in dazzling sunshine, and then a little “push” as Andrew calls it (I call it him sprinting far into the distance and walkers looking at me with pity as I stumble along as best I can behind) along the Permissive Path that runs near Harewood’s perimeter wall on Harrogate Road. You get to it through a little gate that I’ve never noticed, and if I hadn’t been feeling so exhausted, I would have felt more delight at the Secret Garden sensation.

And this where the other fact about Andrew is relevant. He is a doctor. We first met on a club run through the city centre. It was running small talk at first: oh what do you do etc. This is how our conversation went:

Him: I’m a microbiologist

Me: Oh? I wrote a book about shit

Him: Did you? I think I’ve read that.

And he had. He even quoted from it. And now we go running with maps and optimism through places I have never been before, through stunningly beautiful countryside that is only a few miles from Leeds city centre, and usually I would bless my good fortune, again, at living here near such wonderful running country. But today I couldn’t, because it was a slog. A hard, hard, dark, punishing slog. I couldn’t understand it. On my long run on Friday, at 8 miles, I thought happily, oh, I’ll just do 11. There was nothing to it. And I could have done more. It felt great. My legs moved easily. I had energy. I had energy to spare. Today I slogged along behind Andrew as he slightly changed gear and zoomed off into the distance of the fields along the River Wharfe and thought, what the hell is wrong with me? I ate carbohydrates yesterday. I’d had a decent night’s sleep.

What was wrong with me was that I was hungover. Lou’s husband Al came to visit last night, and Nat came up from London, and we stayed up late talking about Lou and plotting our half-marathon and all sorts. And we drank. This morning I felt fine. I felt fine until I started running and it was shockingly hard. I asked Andrew why my body wasn’t working as well. He said: you are dehydrated. Your body is depleted from dealing with the toxins. You didn’t sleep properly because alcohol impedes proper REM sleep. Your body has to work harder to do what it normally does.

When I got home, I looked up the physiological causes of hangovers and discovered that because I had drunk several glasses of white wine (and as most people lie about their alcohol consumption, take that statement and increase the number of “several”) my body was dealing with:

low blood sugar (causing fatigue)

widening blood vessels (headache)

dehydration and electrolyte imbalance

I could go into those more deeply but I’m too knackered. But I am not too knackered to realise this: My marathon plan requires me to have run 383 miles before April 13. If I drink alcohol, those 383 miles are going to feel like 600. So I want to not drink. This could be a hangover-induced-intention, and thus the fairweather/January kind but I will give up alcohol until April 13. And then I will have a very large beer. This entry is my witness.




TIME: 1.16.45

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Fresh air. I love it. It is the first thing I need to feel in a morning, which is why I loathed living in a flat with windows that only opened at the top and inadequately. If I stay in overheated houses, I have to fling the door open and breathe. If I am in my little house with my little garden but in cold winter weather, it can wait for a while. But if I have no run scheduled until later, then I pretend I’m a smoker only my cigarette is a cup of coffee, and I wrap up and sit outside. The Victorians called it taking the air. I take the air.

Today I took a lot of air. I needed to do an eight mile run from my training plan that I’d skipped on Monday. I had things to do today, such as clear out my office so I can think straight, but the run had to be done. I thought about driving to Meanwood Park and running up and down the Valley Trail, but there is something much more satisfying about opening the door and setting off. Except that that is never quite true. I open the door, I point my Garmin to the skies, I wait, and then I wait. And meanwhile I do a dynamic warm up so that people walking past wonder why I’m swinging my hips like a deranged ape. And then I set off. And I was happy, because I was heading for Eccup reservoir. I love this place. I took Elliot there last week, but he had run too much the week before and his legs were not behaving. It was stop-start. Still we got to Eccup and he liked it though I will never, sadly, forget his description of my mojito energy gel as tasting “like you’re eating a cold.” Getting to Eccup means running nearly two miles up Harrogate Road, which is not beautiful, but nor is it troublesome, because it is the road that leads to Eccup. Then through a couple of golf courses, waving hopefully at golfers about to swing in your direction, ducking if necessary, and there is Eccup Reservoir.


IMG_2272What a beautiful place to have as my near-back-yard. I’ve done early morning runs there, and the water is busy with birds, just sitting and gossiping. Sometimes they take off, still talking. Passing the time of day. Taking the air.

For a while I ran listening to music. My friend Andrew makes exceptionally good running mixes, and I don’t often dedicate time to listening to music as an end in itself, so a run can be a musical treat. And if a run gets hard, or my energy flags, music helps to distract me. Even the beats per minute help. But I never run with music in a group. I am baffled by people at races who run with music, or the girl who came to a club run and ran with an MP3 player. I thought the point of club runs was that they are sociable. Anyway my iPhone died and I’m glad it did, because I paid attention to everything. I saw:

Sheep in the field

Kestrels in the air

Cows in their pen

Walkers in mud


The colour of the sky

The sun (so dazzling that I nearly ran straight into an iron bar that I couldn’t see)

Mud. So much mud.

Of course there was more than that. I ran, and I looked, and I ran and I looked. The time didn’t pass slowly, and I didn’t need music, because I had the fresh air. It was so captivating, I ran 11 miles instead of 8. And now I can’t move.


  • MILEAGE: 11:09
  • TIME: 1:51:07
  • PACE: 10 minute miles

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Runner’s high. Any runner knows that this is a real thing. You go out in a grump. You come back on a cloud. That’s just what running does, even the runs in rain and wind and the shittier parts of Armley. I prefer to call it runner’s crack though because I think it’s that powerful (I have never tried crack and am basing that opinion on The Wire). But there are sceptics. There are always sceptics who don’t believe in runner’s high. There are scientists who think they have proven that there is no causal relationship between lowered rates of depression and running, research linked to in this silly article by Alice Azania Jarvis in the Daily Mail. The science: that endorphins can’t break the blood-brain barrier. But this post in the Guardian today, on five reasons to carry on running, says otherwise. Running stimulates the neurotransmitter anandamide to activate the endocannabinoid system, which bypasses the blood-brain barrier.

Runner’s high. Proven.

And the other four reasons to keep running are great too. Running:

  • makes you smarter
  • is not bad for your knees
  • enhances your memory
  • enhances your Attention Restoration

There are criticisms in the comments about these claims. But I believe them.


  • ACTIVITY: Very active Pilates
  • TIME: 1 hour
  • MILEAGE: to Cookridge and back (by car)




In 1988, I arrived at Somerville College, the University of Oxford, with great trepidation. I knew I wanted to be at Oxford. But I’d applied in my A-level year to St. Edmund’s Hall and been rejected (not surprising when I later learned that it was not particularly northern, very male, and very into rugby). I decided to re-apply on the strength of interview and my A-levels and got into Somerville. My first year hall of residence was called Vaughan, something that was astonishing, as it was a) my unusual third name which no-one can ever spell right and b) it was spelled right. I don’t have a wonderful memory so I don’t recall it exactly but I know that by the end of that first day, as a scared fresher, I had made three friends. Nathalie, a frank-speaking Geordie studying history; Charlotte, a posh (I thought) blonde doing zoology, and Louise, a tall and somewhat intimidatingly beautiful lass, from Yorkshire like me, also studying French, though I was doing French and Italian, and she had stuck with German. (I abandoned German after A-level because after four years of studying it, it sounded ugly to me, so I chose the prettiest language I could think of, however useless in diplomatic terms Italian is). We have been friends ever since. We shared a house together in our second year, on Marlborough Road. We lived next door to a group of American lads who were a) Catholic b) studying at an odd Catholic college for a year and c) hilarious. I fell in love with one of them, Ted. Lou became great friends with Brian, a loud Californian who was like no-one I’d met before. We spent the year shopping for affordable food, with Lou in charge of the budget: No, Rose, you can’t have the expensive cheese, and then eating it. I remember Lou’s veggie bakes and Brian’s gnocchi – pronounced gnowwwwki – and a lot of fun.

We all stayed in touch, though we moved all over the world. We didn’t always phone or write, but that didn’t seem to matter. Then Louise got sick. She had a benign tumour in her leg which was later diagnosed as cancerous. It was a rare tumour. Later – and inside that later are so many diagnoses, appointments, hope and disappointment as it kept coming back – it metastasised. She lost her leg, bit by bit. Throughout it all she was wonderful. She must have been in increasing pain, but she didn’t complain. She stayed out late when we visited, although she must have been exhausted. Still she didn’t complain. She protected her friends. After Lou received a terminal diagnosis, on 21 December 2012, she and her husband Al started a blog. Lou was asked to participate in a photographic project by Rankin, which became a show at the Walker Gallery called Alive in the Face of Death. She did, and she loved it. She made it to the opening of Rankin’s show, although her prognosis shouldn’t have allowed her to, because she was determined to do so, and she looked beautiful. But she was exhausted although once again she didn’t complain. She died three days later at her mother’s house, with Al by her side. She was 42.

Why is this on a running blog? Because a month after running the London marathon, I’ll run the Edinburgh half marathon for one of Lou’s chosen charities, the SCAT Bone Cancer Trust. Dodgy acronym, noble cause. There are about 15 of us running for TeamLOU already, including Lou’s husband Al (if he ever gets off his bike and starts running instead of thinking about it), friends from Edinburgh, Rugby, Leeds, people who knew her in person and people who came to know her through her blog. So please, if you can spare any money, donate on our fundraising page here.

Here is Lou, photographed by Rankin. I love this picture. Lou loved this picture. We miss her. We will run like the wind.