Running does many things to my body. It makes it strong and fit. It has made my lungs more powerful so that I am baffled when people are out of breath having climbed one hill, and I’m not. I loved having my pulse taken and being told it was steady and slow. “That’s an athlete’s pulse.” I wouldn’t call myself an athlete but I won’t stop someone else calling me one. But running has also done and can also do other things: give me blackened and thickened toenails; make me sick; give me the runs. So this Runners World story, oddly headlined “weird science” – there’s nothing weird about it – is illuminating. It explains why I get overtaken by overweight people, with ease; why I need to pee when I’ve already been to the toilet several times; why I felt sick the other night; and why my right knee sometimes sounds like Rice Krispies.



After yesterday, I need some inspiration. So this is what my next run is going to look like:




I was determined to do 12 miles today. But I left leaving until 5pm, and that was a mistake. I had planned a route on a map that looked great: a big loop up north, a little bit on the ring road, north up Adel Lane, then dropping back down and to Roundhay, then south and home. This was my carefully planned route:

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 18.47.22It looks so clean and nice on that map. I wanted to do roads after all the mud of the weekend. But it all went a bit wrong. I found myself on a very dark night in the hour in which darkness has fallen but the evening runners have not yet gone out onto the streets. So I fwas running alone along dark roads with barely any pedestrians, then along a stretch of the Ring Road where the path diverted into Meanwood woods, not an option. Instead I had to run on the verge of the busiest road in Leeds for a mile. Of course there was traffic but there were also dark woods to the side of me, and although Adel Lane is bucolic and nice in daylight, in darkness it becomes something else. I began to think: this is not smart. I do think about my safety when I run. I don’t run on the canal alone because there are stretches where there is no escape except into the water, and because there have been sexual assaults including a couple of weeks ago. I always take my phone and money with me in case, but I hadn’t told anyone where I was going. That was stupid. I think I’m going to try out this safety app, which tracks you and checks you are back safe.

But I was alone in the dark with no safety app so I diverted onto Otley Road, where I thought there would be more pedestrians, but it soon became a road bordered by nothing but fields. And though the runners by now had started to appear, I was just a bit spooked. So back down Otley Road to Headingley where I knew there would be enough people for me to feel comfortable, and there I checked my watch.

Oh god. Still not even halfway.

I am very bad at judging my pace. I have a Garmin, and I was checking it, but I still can’t get my pace right. It was only important because I was supposed to run slowly. Slower than marathon pace, slower than I ever normally run. That turned out not to be a problem, as for eleven of the twelve miles I ran, I felt like vomiting. Nausea, stomach-churning, gas. At one point I stopped by a petrol station behind a skip and tried to throw up. I was trying to gip behind a skip. It didn’t work. I have no idea why I felt sick: I’d eaten nothing weird, nor tried a new energy gel. (Update: Jenny my trainer thinks I didn’t eat enough protein that day: I’d had toast for breakfast and a chickpea and sweet potato stew at 2pm but nothing since. I should have had a protein snack an hour before setting out.) I think I was probably dehydrated. It was unpleasant.

My running luck needs to turn. I’d like to love a run. But twelve miles of puking insecurity does not qualify for love, even though it’s the longest I’ve run since the Bridlington half marathon, and I did run all of it. Next time: there will be love.

The route I actually took. Slightly more loopy than the clean loop:

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TIME: 2:09.41



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.



Nothing much stops me running. I will run in rain, cold, sun, dark, light, city, country. I will not run on black ice or snow. And I will not run when I am crumpled with period pain. Today I wasn’t crumpled, but I was drained and cramping. I skived.



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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