Wardrobe Errors

We all have them, all the time. More often than our partners and spouses will admit certainly, even when they are asked a direct question about it. I had a pair of blue suede Doc Marten’s boots which I sincerely believed were the dog’s bollocks, the horse’s dong and the aardvark’s fallopian tubes. Yellow cords? Yup, had them. Purple silk shirt? Two of those because the first one was so very… advisable.

Sports gear has even greater potential for ridicule and humiliation. I was thinking about this after last week’s post about how comfortable it is. I have a pair of Craft running tights which I absolutely love because they show off my manly calves. (Don’t laugh.) My new BRJ trisuit is brilliant because the black panels hide the unseemly bulges. That’s it below.

Photo credit: Nicetri Events, St Neots
Photo credit: Nicetri Events, St Neots

My other tri-suit is the one in the header. This one makes me look like a sperm whale’s sex toy. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Sperm whales are famously reluctant to use lube for a start. What’s more, they really like it rough. I mean, if you’re a sperm whale in search of a good time, it’s a good thing. If you’re a bearded Scotsman with poor swimming skills and limited breath capacity because of COPD then it’s not quite so brilliant.

While I’m on the subject of swimming, I have a pair of Zogg’s trunks which I call my Action Man Pants. I wish it were because I became even more manly and rugged when I pull them on. I’d be moderately pleased if it were because I suddenly had Eagle Eyes, gripping hands a little plastic six-pack. Sadly, it’s because my balls disappear everytime I wear them. That’s right, my little grey racing trunks render my tackle invisible. And no, you’re not getting that picture.

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I’m An Athlete In Training. Really.

I didn’t have any milk for my porridge this morning. To be out of milk early – well, early-ish if I’m honest – on a Sunday morning is not usually a disaster. You just toddle off to the nearest Emergency Tesco and hand over your quid for your couple of pints of semi-skimmed. The Emergency Tesco and its analogue, the Sudden-Death Sainsbury’s are to be found just about everywhere, next to Paddy Power and over the road from Cash Convertors and the charity shop.

I wanted to go out on my bike after breakfast so I pulled on a pair of trackie bottoms, an old cotton race t-shirt and a long-retired pair of road shoes and headed out the door. The ET or SDS is open from seven in the morning until ten at night every day the week, closed only for Christmas Day and refits. I didn’t see any tasteless ads, tinsel or pissed-up parties so I assumed it would be open right up until I saw the scaffolding round the front door.

Oh.

Back to Nisa. Good old Nisa. Always there, always forgotten. I used to to there to buy fags and lottery tickets. I’ve never bought anything else there so I haven’t been in for years. I didn’t know whether they even sold milk. In I went in my comfortable clothes and the first thing I saw was a short, fat bloke dressed more or less identically to me: sweats, t-shirt and trainers. He was wandering around with a packet of bacon in his hand. In the next aisle was another old man also wearing tracksuit trousers, a hoodie and trainers. He was carrying his breakfast pastie and orange juice in his basket. Over by the till, a very hungover couple in (you guessed it) the trinity of trackies, trainers and tees were buying fags and rolls.

I was horrified. I wanted to say “I’m an athlete in training! I run marathons! I’m not a slob! I just wanted to buy some milk before I go out on my bike for the rest of the morning.” The trouble is that only some of that is true. I like to think of myself as an athlete but training isn’t going well. I tell all my athletes to treat themselves like athletes and respect their bodies, get lots of rest and eat properly bit I don’t really do the same myself. I haven’t completed a marathon since London in 2012. I definitely have slobbish tendencies. The rest is true. More or less.

I don’t think anyone else in Nisa this morning was bothered about the way everyone else looked. I just wanted something comfy to wear while I had my breakfast and so did everyone else. The truth is that the Lycra Life is a comfortable one when you’re not actually coming to the end of a three minute effort. It’s what makes sports clothing so attractive to people who wouldn’t normally run unless they were being chased by a bear. Bears are few and far between on Cherry Hinton High Street.

Man at Sports Direct doesn’t really have to worry too much about. He’s relaxed, laid-back, in need only of a pint of milk, some rolls and a packet of bacon for complete happiness. He certainly doesn’t need to run a sodding marathon. Lesson learned.

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Community Spirit

I often see people talking about the running community, usually when something awful has happened and the running community pulls together. Or something. Is there such a thing as a community of runners, though? Let’s see. If you look at any ethnic community, they share a number of characteristics between themselves and others which differentiate them from an outgroup. Careful, there may be other misapplied sociological terms to follow. It doesn’t really matter though, because it’s only sociology. It’s not as if it’s anything important.

So, let’s begin with some things we share with one another as runners. We tend to have a shared set of values which boil down to how you answer the question “Are you a runner?” Runners tend to answer “Yes, of course I’m a bloody runner! Didn’t you see that last rep? It was fucking awesome! Now bugger off and get me a bucket, I need to be sick.” Non-runners say “No.” Runners run. That’s about it. If you run then you’re accepted into the sweaty, heaving, ill-smelling and slightly queasy bosom of the community, no questions asked. Well, not once everyone else has found out about your PBs and whether you’re in the ballot for London this year. We’re an accepting lot.

Any ethnic community worth its place on the Equalities Commission has its own food. Runners are no different. Cyclists may claim to share some of the bounty from our table and generally speaking we let them. Don’t forget however that cycling is basically cheating and you can’t trust a cyclist further than you can spit one. So, we allow them to share our gels, that beetroot juice stuff that makes your wee look like you have a urinary tract infection, and cake. However, you should note that cyclists will stop for tea and buns mid work-out and because cycling is basically cheating (see above) and they don’t feel as sick as dogs as soon as they get going again. It’s so unfair. We have protein shakes for after the run none of which contain anything remotely hookey and none of which work better than a glass of milk straight from the cow. It’s usually less effort to open the fridge and have a glass of semi-skimmed, pasteurised than to head off to the cow-shed and persuade Ermintrude to oblige so that’s what we do.

We have a common language of reps and efforts, fartleks and parlaufs, the Wall and the Half, the Ultra, spikes and tempos and it’s mutually intelligible with the language of other closely related sports. If you speak Spanish, you could probably understand some Portuguese. German speakers might be able to cope with Dutch. So, cyclists don’t hit the Wall – unless they don’t watch where they’re going – they bonk. Runners bonk too, of course, but we have the decency to bonk in the privacy of our own homes not outdoors like some filthy, tiring dogger. The further you go from running, the less intelligible the termimology. A runner would wear a tee, for example and not think about putting a ball on it. That, ladies and gentlemen is proof that golf isn’t really a sport and is more of a blight on society. And fashion.

Any community has splits and schisms and these can result in Holy Wars where the disagreements are serious enough. Some of us who run around in bare feet like our African ancestors feel all smug and self-righteous whenever anyone in a pair of Hoka One-Ones falls over or has a pain in the bollocks. We’re runners but we’re only human. That vague but meaningful feeling of spiritual connection with the earth is only slightly spoiled by thistles, sharp rocks and turds hidden in long grass. Meanwhile, some runners in shoes insist on pointing out the thistles, sharp rocks and turds hidden in the long grass. Then there’s Chi Runners, POSE runners, happy heel-strikers, joggers, plodders, Slow Runners (think Slow Foodies but sweatier), track queens, hard men of the road and those bloody weirdos up north who do fell running. Still we’re just one big, mostly happy and highly dysfunctional family.

Every minority community faces abuse of one kind or another from the majority, usually the drunk and stupid portions of the majority. Which runner hasn’t had some pissed-up twat fall out of a pub and shout “Run, Forrest, run!” after them? Or someone chase them down the street, heaving chips and yells at them between drags on their fags. That last one is probably only me. Some of my female friends have it much worse but that’s a whole other and much more serious post. This is Sunday night silliness, after all.

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Heavy Breath

I woke up one morning and couldn’t breathe so I decided I’d stop smoking. I mean, what sort of fucking idiot kippers his lungs so completely that he spends a good quarter of an hour every single morning choking and wheezing before he can even sit up straight? So, I woke up one morning and couldn’t breathe and that’s why I decided to stop smoking.

Except that’s not quite true. I woke up every morning with air squealing out of me as if I were a damp accordion. I don’t know why this particular morning my resolution not to buy a packet of fags held. I smoked my last cigarette that morning and haven’t lit up since. I’d tried almost every day not to smoke but the habit was so ingrained the words “And ten Superkings” would fall out of my mouth at the kiosk almost without me noticing. The ten little ciggies would disappear in several puffs of carcinogenic smoke quite quickly, sometimes one after another in a chain so I’d need to get more a couple of hours later.

This little ciggie was smoked in the car, this little ciggie was smoked alone. This little ciggie made me cough like a dog, but this little ciggie did not. And this little ciggie made me wheeze, wheeze, wheeze all the way home.

I must have smelled at times like a working man’s club on a Sunday morning: stale beer and mucky ashtrays with tangs of sweat and desperation. All the Trebor in the world couldn’t have fooled anyone into thinking I was living a minty-fresh life. I kidded myself that they would. Smoking gave me other health problems. Acid reflux ate my insides. I was downing antacids like Shane McGowan went through Martini. All the time I was telling myself that I could stop smoking any time but I was enjoying it so much.

Really.

Really?

Waking up in the night because stomach acid was wandering round my body getting into places it really shouldn’t. Getting my morning workout from a coughing fit. Spending money I couldn’t really afford on things I knew would kill me.

Really. I enjoyed it all.

The iconography of the cigarette is so strong and I bought into it all. Think about Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart. Now, imagine Bette heaving her guts up every morning or Bogie downing a Gaviscon slammer. Doesn’t really work does it? What about the Marlboro cowboy searching his chaps for his inhaler?

I’ve been thinking about all of this today because I died on my arse last night. A pyramid session will do that do you. 1 x 6:00, 2 x 3:00, 3 x 1:00, 2 x 3:00, 1 x 6:00; it’s a bit of a killer. You need to bring your fast legs and your best lungs and I had neither. I had my usual kippered lungs and well-fucked legs. I raced twice last week, once over 5k and once over a half marathon and I am battered to bits.

So, I’m still abusing my body but nobody is telling me not to any more. That has to be progress.

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Everything Hurts. Nothing Works.

The following was my submission for Monoblogues at the Drayton Theatre, London on 2 August. My thanks to Neil and Katie Tween and to Anne for coming down to support me. Also to Liz and Laura for the chance to get up in front of everyone and to the other contributors for being so generous with their time.

There may be pics to follow.

Everything hurts. If you’re a runner, you’ll know this. At some stage, everything is going to hurt. Your knees will hurt. Runner’s Knee is as famous as Tennis Elbow, Parson’s Nose or Politician’s Penis and it’s going to hurt at some point. Your Achilles’ tendons will hurt, one at a time or both together, whatever is going to cause you most embarrassment or inconvenience. Pains in the bum will cease to be a figure of speech and will become instead a symptom you can discuss with doctors, nurses, physios, coaches, other runners, friends, family, partners, strangers in pubs and that mad man on the train who looks at you funnily and once called you Judas. That this in turn will make you into a pain in the bum will be an irony entirely lost on you because your arse will be too sore to appreciate it.

Everything hurts. Your back is going to hurt with every step you make, every breath you take, every smile you fake and every Sting track that pops up, unwanted, onto your iPod in the middle of a long run. Your shoulders will really ache after a sprint session and when you tell a runner they’ll say “Really? Good. You must have been doing something right.” Your coach will say you need to relax your shoulders more and that if you did you would go faster. Should you mention it to anyone else, they’ll just mutter something about thinking that running was supposed to be good for you and try to get on with whatever it is they were doing. Writing your parking ticket for example. Or brain surgery. Or calling you names as you run past the pub.

Everything hurts. It hurts all day but it hurts most first thing in the morning when everything is stiff. Not like that. Above the waist, people. Runners must all go through the same waking process as everybody else. You know, that whole “Who am I? Where am I? What was I doing last night?” thing everybody does first thing in the morning. But we have an additional question and it’s “How the fuck did I hurt that?” because I can guarantee most mornings you will have an ache you didn’t have when you went to bed the night before.

Everything hurts. When you wake up in the morning and you do that odd stretching thing to check whether the bits that were hurting last night are still hurting this morning – and they are, and when you want to find out what new aches the running fairy has brought you in the night. It starts before you even swing your tired, tired legs over the side of the bed. You are off to a good start if you can do that without wincing. I can’t actually remember the last time I got out of bed without a sharp intake of breath.
How many attempts do you make to stand up? Me? At least two, most mornings. The first one is more of a grunt and a grimace followed by a collapse back onto my arse. Heaurrrrrgh. For some reason, the soles of my feet are really tender first thing in the morning. I plant each one gingerly straight down like a baby taking his first steps and no toddler ever looked quite as ridiculous heading to the potty as I do going to the loo first thing in the morning.

Everything hurts. On a wet day, or a sweaty day, your t-shirt or vest can take the top level of skin off your nipples with the same exquisite delicacy that some people pay quite a lot of money for in certain of the more esoteric dungeons under our quiet backstreets. Now, I love my club vest. I feel proud every time I pull it on because so many other fine athletes have worn the colours but… There is a seam just at nipple-destroying height. We athletes suffer for our sport in so many different ways and slightly bizarre ways.

Everything hurts so much sometimes. It’s particularly horrible standing at the top of the stairs. You have to know, you have to find out just how much it’s going to hurt to get down the stairs. You’re standing on the top step, looking down and you know that your Achilles in particular are so stiff you can’t actually bend your ankles. Every step down comes with its own little yelp of pain. “Ow. Fuck. Ow. Ow. Fuuuck. Ow. Fuck, fuck. Ow.” At some point, after going down one step at a time for a few strides, leading on one leg you try the other and it hurts even more. “Oooooooh shit. Ow. Fuck. Shit. Ow, ow, shit. Fuck.”
So, everything hurts and sometimes you have a new ache. You usually have some form of guilty memory of how you got that new twinge: one last hill rep, just one more lap of the track, the running equivalent of “a wafer-thin mint” and just like Mr Creosote, there are disastrous consequences.

But sometimes you have absolutely no idea of how the injury gremlins nobbled you. I woke one morning with a shoulder I could barely move. It got worse and worse as time passed. It was so bad after a couple of days that I couldn’t raise my arm above shoulder height. Now, that’s fine as long as you remember that you have a sore shoulder but I’m an athlete and I only have a 400m memory. That is can’t remember at the end of a 400m rep why I thought I could hold the pace I set off with at the start of it. Like a goldfish going round and round its bowl but with more sweating and heaving. Anyway, I forget that I can’t actually move my shoulder properly because it doesn’t hurt all the time. Rather awkwardly, I only remember when I’m screaming in pain. You never remember these things until a cheery wave to a friend across the street turns into a Nazi salute and a scream of “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”
Everything hurts and nothing works. Your legs don’t work well enough to get you up and down stairs. Your arms aren’t up to struggling with your weekly shopping so you have to choose: give up your choice of food to a loved one or buy one ready meal at a time. Incidentally, why do supermarkets stop making the nice tasty stuff you really, really like but you can still see Spam and Fray Bentos pies when nobody has bought either of them since 1983? Is it old stock? Are they just keeping it around like the most boring museum display in the world?

Sorry, nothing works. You’ve heard the evidence tonight that my attention span is completely screwed. It’s a symptom of Runner’s Brain. We can’t really concentrate for longer than it takes to complete a rep. It’s why I prefer nice simple sessions like six times three minutes or four times six minutes. I programme anything more complicated into my Garmin and then run or rest until the next bleep. That works.

So, some things work. Legs don’t. Arms don’t. Brains certainly don’t but Garmins do. There’s some kind of lesson there, I think but I’m too knackered to understand it.

You could always try cross training to reduce your chances of injury. A bit of a swim in a pool or a lake, or a spin through the countryside on your bike is lovely. The trouble with that is that you end up doing triathlons and training three times as hard as you did before. And the trouble with that is that road rash really, really hurts. Coming off your bike on a downhill gravelly bend, you can end up with more of your skin on the tarmac than on your body. I came off my bike when I was fourteen and ended up scraping my face off on the road. There is a photo of me deep in the archives of the East Lothian Courier with scabs all over my face. I was photographed playing crazy golf at a church fete. I made the front page of the paper that week but it had been a very quiet week.
Then there is the risk of drowning when you’re out in the middle of the lake and you get tangled up in weed and fishing line. I punched a buoy and hurt my knuckle a couple of weeks ago. Not that kind of boy. A B. U. O. Y. Why? I have no idea. I was swimming along and suddenly there was a buoy in the way and I punched it. It wasn’t a tiny lake and there weren’t that many obstacles in it but I managed to hit one. I hit another in my first river swim. I know I have a reputation for a certain kind of camp but I’m bloody mad about the buoys now.

Still, I don’t want anyone to think that it’s just runners that fuck themselves up. I found a story on the interwebs – so it must be true – about a man who was brought naked and unconscious into an American emergency room. This bloke had a lump on his head and scratches on his scrotum. The bump was probably the result of a fall or a blow to his head but his tortured testicles were more of a mystery. He explained what had happened when he woke up later. He had been cleaning his bath in the buff, because of course that’s what you do. He was kneeling over beside the bath when his cat saw his balls swinging in the breeze and decided to play the attack the gonads game. Your man must have screamed loudly, jerked his head with some force into the frame of the shower door and knocked himself out. One can only hope that his cat lost interest in playing with his bollocks when they stopped moving.

Everything hurts and nothing works but at least my man parts are intact. I suppose that’s got to be enough.

Thank you. Try not to fall over anything on your way out the door.

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