Blog in Haste, Repost at Leisure

Another late, stream of consciousness blog post. I’m opening up my skull and having a rummage around in there to see what my hand can grab. When I was wee, we kept our Lego in an octagonal brown plastic bin. I don’t know what it had originally contained but at that time it never quite contained the bit I needed. There were all the Red Sixes you could ever want but if you wanted a Blue Four or a Flat Eight then you were probably going to be out of luck. Looking for a Clear Blue Flat One in a bucket of Lego could be a new version of looking for a needle in a haystack.

That means there is something unpleasant lying in icky water in the bottom of the machine. Bollocks.

Of course I’m doing this when I should be fixing the dishwasher. I’m going to have to go guddling in its gizzards in the morning because I just can’t face it before I go to bed. There is going to be something horrible in there somewhere and I would rather just have my hot chocolate and deal with it tomorrow. The process to clear all the filters and stuff is too nasty to contemplate at this time of night. It’s at times like this that I wish I had a lot more money ora much less vociferous conscience so that I could either call in a repair bloke or blokette or just go and get a new dishwasher. This sort of thing happens about once a month. At least it does it so often now that I can pull it apart and put it together again like a squaddie can strip, clean and rebuild his weapon.

Doesn’t mean I can enjoy it.

So, time to find that hot choc and try not to think about soggy ickiness until the morning.

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Free The Folksworth 15!

The Folksworth 15 could be a group fitted up and wrongly imprisoned in the 1970s for a crime against tractors. “Free The Folksworth 15!” chanted no righteous crowd ever. You know that in a better reality, that would absolutely have happened.

A brief race review. The race is excellent as long as you arrive in plenty of time and don’t have to park at the bottom of that hill at 14 miles. To be fair, the organisers lay on cars to get runners to the race HQ and back to the distant car parks after the race. I thought I would be able to get closer than that given that I arrived in Folksworth just after 10:00am. I got to race HQ to pick up my number 40 minutes later. I left the HQ with eight minutes to get to the start three quarters of a mile away. Thank God it was downhill all the way.

My own performance was poor. I was ticking along at just over 8:15 a mile for the first lap. My lungs were a little affected by the cold air so I wasn’t going to go much faster. My calf began to cramp after a couple of miles but that didn’t slow me down much. It got worse as I went round the first lap. I was wearing my inov-8 racing flats. I love them but they don’t half take it out of your legs. They’re zero-drop and now have no cushioning in them at all. I don’t think I have worn them since last spring and it was definitely a bit ambitious wearing them today.

My calf got tighter and tighter and I pulled up just before leaving Folksworth on the second lap. I stretched it out a bit as a marshal checked I was okay. I walked back up the hill to the HQ and saw chums running down past me, gathered my bag from the drop and got changed into warm clothing before heading back to my car. I saw more chums looking strong heading for the finish in their final mile. Congratulations to all of them for a lot of proper performances.

I don’t think my heart was really in it today. That my calf was sore gave me an excuse to stop. Sometimes races are like that. It was a glorious day for a long run on some soft trails. I just had something else to do instead.

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People Just Love To Play With Words

I love words. You can probably tell. So many of them spill over the screen after all. I try to ensure that I arrange them well enough that they make some kind of sense but I can’t always guarantee that. I’ll apologise now for anything more than usually obtuse.

I spend less time philosophising than I used to now I get sweaty so frequently. Unlike a Victorian Hearty, it’s not because I have no use for the aesthetic just that I don’t have the energy. When I did wonder about things, one of the things I wondered about was whether it’s possible to think about something if you didn’t have the language to describe it. It’s the notion behind Newspeak in 1984, after all. The Party was reforming language in its own image, to make deviation from the party’s imperative literally unthinkable and therefore impossible.

In spite of this there are things, emotions mostly, which we cannot always name and yet are real. I think the idea of emotional intelligence is to help us identify these emotions when we have them and therefore have more control over their expression. If you can identify the basic emotions of fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise and then control how the more complex social emotions such as jealousy emerge from them then you might not need to use so much time and so many words in dealing with the aftermath of a shitty situation.

I was listening to a podcast this week which was talking about gender differences in identifying emotions. I’ve forgotten which one so I can’t check the citations and I may be misremembering what was said. With those caveats… Young girls were capable of identifying a wider range of emotions in themselves than young boys. Young boys could only reliably identify anger as an emotion. Girls became better at identifying emotions as they became older but boys didn’t. However, both girls and boys were able to recognise the same range of emotions in their mothers. It would seem that boys were not willing to allow themselves to feel or admit to feeling the same range of emotions as girls but few boys displayed signs of sociopathy.

Playing with words in a political context is dangerous. Liberty and equality are enormous and enormously contested concepts. Individual liberty can infringe on communal rights after all and we need structures in place to guarantee some form of peace where the two are in conflict. Our own societies know what happens when lies become truth and truth is in turn contested.

And is there any objective truth anyway?

And now I’m doing it.

I was lying in bed one Saturday morning, years ago. My former partner and I were reading the papers and trying not to get toast crumbs on the clean sheets, bickering a bit, but amicably I thought, back and forth over some piece of nonsense in the Weekend Guardian. I can’t remember what triggered the real argument when it happened but it was over something that some other clever clogs had written that she read out and quite liked. I disagreed, probably with a disagreeable pun and she said said to me “You think you’re so clever, with all your words.” The thing is, I did. I do. The thing also is, she was more clever than me in practically every possible way that I was struggling to keep up. I thought her cleverness was as obvious to her as it was to me, to her family and her friends. She never played with her words so she never got to see how clever she was too. And I never told her how clever I thought she was in spite of that cleverness and shining bright intelligence being one of the things that attracted me in the first place.

You need to play with words, to find the joy in them just like you did when you were four or five or six and played in puddles, splashing around in your wellies. Were your wellies too big because you had inherited them or just got a new pair, or too small because your feet had grown two sizes since the last time you went out in proper mud and rain? Words are messy and have multiple meanings depending on who says them and when.

“I love you”

Saying that to your partner of many years is different from saying it for the first time. All the times you’ve said it before roll together creating a sea of emotion with waves of meaning and meanings.

Saying it when it isn’t true and your heart has almost stopped from the sadness of it all. Or saying it with a lack of care, or side-spun with sarcasm just to hurt.

Saying that drunk to someone, not necessarily your best mate. Cliche. Sorry. I should avoid them like the… Like an ague.

The same words, different contexts, different meanings. All a bit messy.

You can try to pin words down but even the simplest of words have become messy. I’m thinking here about she and her and trans and non-binary folk and nothing I say will improve the situation for anyone so I will say no more. Whereof I know nothing and all that.

Perhaps pinning down words like beetles in the Natural History Museum is a bad idea. Better to trap them in the leaves of poetry books, or let them skitter through children’s minds as they grow, telling them stories or reading to them.

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It’s Friday night. All those gnawing feelings about things I needed to do have begun to fall away. I’ve even done almost some of the things I really needed to do this week. Almost some of them. I had a list on Monday. It got longer as the week went on but I’ve finally managed to get almost some of them scored off the list.

Except it’s an electronic list and scribbling on the screen with a biro is frowned upon.

Forgot to mention that.

One of the things I really need to add to my list every day is have some sodding lunch. Then I need to put it on one of those timer things so it pops up on my screen to remind me to have some sodding lunch. An afflete deep in training, such as me, needs to have more than a coffee at breakfast time and one of those service station sausage baps, three Creme Eggs at lunchtime and an apple spotted on the floor as it rolled out from under the passenger seat of the car. Healthy.

That was yesterday. I was working from home today so of course I had time to eat properly at breakfast, have a sensible, nutritious lunch and go shopping after my swim in the evening. I had time for all that but I didn’t even do nearly some of it. In fact I did almost none of it. Breakfast was fine but I didn’t do a #porridgereport. (Ideal creamy consistency, topped with an entire, sliced banana, a little maple syrup and some flaked almonds, if you really want to know.) Then nothing all day because the emails and additions to the to-do list just kept coming and suddenly it was half past five and my eyes were rolling around and that noise wasn’t Tilly snoring adorably, it was my stomach rumbling.

So one emergency fish supper later while Anne got stuck into some steamed vegetables and brown rice, it would seem that Anne is on the athlete’s diet. I’ll aim for better over the weekend. I’m running around Therfield Heath in the morning before having breakfast in the cafe. Proper food later in the day too because I’m racing at Folksworth on Sunday morning.

So, TFIF. Saturday Night’s All Right For Eating.

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Delusions- and why they are useful

The following is a response Mel sent to my post on delusions the other day. I’ve asked her if it’s okay to post here.

Delusions are defined as… an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument.

Before I begin, I do want to outline the times when I believe that delusions (and I am talking grandiose delusions here) are completely unhelpful in running. It is often unhelpful in a race (particularly a marathon) to have a delusion that you can on this day hold your 5k pace for 42 k. It is also unhelpful (but perhaps easier to recover from) if you think that you can run at you 200m pace for 5 x 1k. Perhaps the worst time to hold a delusion is when there are signs that an injury is emerging. How many times have we ignored that niggle as nothing, believed it is possible to run it off or ignored pain that seems to dissipate during a run but hurts like hell after? Deluding oneself that this will go away without changing something is pretty dangerous. So when are delusions useful and important?

Firstly, there are those times when privately you have imagined or fantasised about achieving a particular time, despite there being no evidence in your training, or previous race performance that you can achieve it, but you hold it anyway. You ignore those calculators that are based on carefully researched formulas and you believe that enthusiasm and spirit will get that goal anyway- and sometimes it does. There are just those days when your delusion come true.. those days where everything goes right. Believing in the delusion helps you to run with it.. and not freak out.

I agree with you Richard that there is a grey area where delusion/ positive thinking/ambition and visualisation may overlap, but ultimately it started out as a delusion in the strictest sense of the definition. Because some visualisations/ positive thoughts have no evidence to support them. Really, when I said the line “ we need delusions..” what I was really referring to were the times I tell myself in the morning, when it is dark, windy and wet that “There is no other option, you must get up” (because this is of course not true, I am choosing to get up, I could stay in bed). Or “This will be wonderfully refreshing” (when actually it’s fucking miserable), or when I pretend that I am not really tired or that it is not really dark. Or I tell myself that running every day, doing this session will make me a better runner. Yes I know there is some evidence for this, but only when it is followed properly with a proper programme. I make mine up, taking random bits from other people’s, then lie and tell myself that this will help. If I began to look at the evidence I would realise I am doing lots of things wrong, not enough of one thing too much of another. Thinking about what I should be doing may inspire me, or make me feel a bit sad and frustrated at myself, for not being sensible…Ultimately, all these logical thoughts would stop me from getting up and just running.

I also invent stories for myself so that I run my long runs no matter how hungover. I lie deliberately and tell myself that this is really good for me. It probably isn’t. Again this is a belief I held that has no evidence base. Not that I have really looked it up, I just create the belief to do it.

Then there are the bigger delusions like “Spending my time running and devoting all this time to running is the best way to spend my life or going running training 7 times a week is more important than…”sleeping/ working/ relaxing/ calling my mother/ learning something/ seeing friends/ spending time with a partner. ” Not necessarily a true delusion but more a tendency to only see the confirmatory evidence and ignore evidence that contradicts this. I need to do this or I end up stuck and confused about how to spend my time. The complicating factor here is that human beings including myself rarely appraise our beliefs, particularly those we are invested in, in a systematic way. Instead, we engage in heuristics/ biases. The most common bias in runners like me who are delusional is the “confirmation bias”. Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.

Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.

Take my belief that I if I need to run every day and do a certain amount of miles I will be a better marathon runner. Or my belief that my legs feeling heavy is just a sign that I am just doing the necessary hard training. Or my belief that getting up each day and training in the dark makes me a mentally tougher runner, capable of more grit in a marathon. What signs do I look for that prove my theory? I am certainly going to ignore any times where I feel slow, in fact I will deliberately not look at my watch at these times. I will take notice of the times I place in the top five, but ignore the time, and the number of people in this race compared to other races where I placed this high. Sometimes I plan to deliberately avoid any information that disproves my theory, particularly in longer races where staring at splits that are slower than the year before is not going to inspire me for 42k. So instead I race by heartrate, this is a kind of conscious delusion, and avoidance of disconfirmation.

Then there is the self serving attribution bias… In situations with definite outcomes (ie win/lose), our perceptions of why we either won or lost have important consequences for our affective states (eg feelings of pride, anger or shame), self-esteem, future motivations and behaviours (eg persistence).

It is evident that different people can have widely varying perceptions about the same event or situation.

I like to really take advantage and maximise my ability for “self-serving bias’ – a tendency to attribute success to internal factors, such as ability and effort, and failures to uncontrollable external causes such as luck or weather conditions. In simple terms: when I win it’s all down to me and my efforts (good for confidence), but when I lose it wasn’t my fault (a form of ego-protection and a way to maintain self-esteem. I have a lot of these, usually with some kernel of truth. For example, if I hadn’t been injured or if I had chosen the other shoes. All these delusions have some basis in reality. I know a lot of people who attribute a slower training session to a hard session the night before, to protect their self belief. Often people deliberately defend their self belief by sabotaging their performance in some way e.g. drinking the night before and using the hangover as an excuse.

My point it that sometimes we need to believe in things that don’t seem at that time possible, and ignore the evidence around us that may discourage us from training that day, or continuing to train in order to keep doing it, because sometimes training is quite hard within a busy life. Doing this to the extreme is a problem. Perhaps a more important learning outcome from this whole exercise is my realisation that I should never give a flippant, badly thought out comment to Richard Lyle…

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Whereof Thou Knowest Naught…

…thereof thou shouldst keep schtum.

I have kept this a Brexit-free zone of late. It’s all so shitty and unnecessary. If ever I met David Cameron and I got to the front of the queue of people wanting to give him a piece of their mind I’m not entirely sure I’d know where to start. Maybe he’d give me that look, you know the one that says, “Oh fuck, not again, not one more dead pig comment. Not one more of you fuckers. I’ve only just built up the courage to go for a pint of milk and a copy of The Beano. I just want my Beano. Please.” Well now, David, I just want my EU citizenship.

Had he been able to tell his back benchers to sod off and sell their constituents on the idea that the Conservative Party was a better bet for the future than the shit-stirring, shit-spraying, swivel-eyed loons of UKIP then we’d all now be able to tell funny stories about pig fucking instead of wondering at the destruction of a polity.

The trouble is that the lunatic fringe of the Tories had a comb-over and became the hair apparent.

That needs work. Sorry.

So David fucked off to his really nice shed and Teresa was given the impossible job of taking the country out of the EU while keeping our businesses, trading and security partners, froth-job politicians from all parties, the 33 or 34 million voters who actually bothered to vote on the subject, and half a dozen newspaper owners happy. It was never going to happen.

While the Conservative government has been doing whatever it’s been doing – screaming into bins, I don’t know – the Labour opposition has been screaming into different bins, some of them containing Jewish people. They haven’t actually done anything to change the course of events. I know that they would like to think of themselves as kings and queens of the political surf, hanging No 10 off the front of the board. The reality is that they’ve gone through one wipeout after another. They can’t maintain a significant poll lead against arguably the most inept government in post-war history.

So, the day after the government lost its Brexit vote catastrophically, Jeremy couldn’t get a majority in the Commons to agree that they have no confidence in the government. Labour supporters keep telling me that I don’t understand the overall strategy. I don’t think there is one. There certainly isn’t a sense of anyone reaching out to build the alliances they need to overturn the government’s policies. They can’t reach out to other strands in their own party.

We have the two biggest parties in Parliament more concerned about internal party matters than the good of the country and it’s all bollocks.

In the meantime, 29th March is getting closer. We don’t have a plan to leave we can even get close to agreeing amongst ourselves never mind put before our new partners in Europe and elsewhere. Arseholes are making money out of this. You know they are. While they are, they don’t give a fuck about the rest of us. That’s the real Brexit dividend.

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Twenty Minutes To Post Something

This is not going to meaningful. It’s going to be nasty, brutish and short. Like a wee nyaff of a man on a bender. I have 20 minutes to write something and post it before tomorrow arrives and I break my post a day run after only two weeks.

So, I’m knackered after training and working and not eating properly. The Wheel of Fartlek gpx track looks a bit like a swastika for those times and occasions where you’re not allowed to have a swastika but you need to suggest it strongly. It does usually, anyway. We had to change the route tonight because the usual one for the long leg was partially closed off. So I’m tired from training.

I’m tired from not sleeping because I can’t always sleep after a hard training session. My jiggly legs won’t let me go to sleep. Two of those in a row now. I’m nodding at the keyboard and my eyes keep losing focus. Off to bed momentarily to try the sleepy thing lying down next.

Finally, not eating properly. Up early and out the door so I missed breakfast. Back at a daft time and didn’t really have any lunch. Dinner after training was a very “nutritious” doner kebab. I’m going to regret that in the morning. Fuck, I regret it now. Doners are the ultimate drunk food. They taste brilliant after a skinful but awful when you’re sober. At least I ate nearly all the salad so I’ve had some greens.

Ignore the telly bloke talking about the Plantagenets. I’m off to bed.

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Delusions Are Important

“Delusions are important,” says Mel. “If we didn’t lie to ourselves, we wouldn’t do anything.” I’m not sure that’s true. I think ambition is important. I think that striving is important. I think stretch goals are important if you want to improve. I know that chasing someone you think is quicker than you around a track is a good way to get faster yourself. That’s not deluding yourself; it’s giving yourself a target.

An honest assessment of where you are in your training is important when you go out and run your race. There is no point in going out at a pace you can’t sustain unless you just want lungfuls of pain and sore and sorry legs to go with the humiliation of limping home stylelessly. Why go out at six minute miles when you’re going to cross the line shambling at half the pace. Go out steadily, pick up the pace as you go on and then finish like a train, picking up places all the time.

Maybe it’s not really delusions, maybe it’s dreams or visualisations. Sometimes we need to see ourselves doing things we haven’t yet done to believe we can do them. Does that make sense? There are all sorts of visualisation techniques athletes use to help them perform to the very best of their ability. I still don’t think that’s lying to ourselves although it is creating something which isn’t real.

There will always be times when ambition exceeds ability, sometimes to a heroically comic extent. The one time I almost ran a 200m PB chasing Group 1 home at the very end of a cut-down and then spent the next ten minutes throwing up into a bin by the side of the track. I was still off the back of the group and I hadn’t done the six and a half kilometers running up to that last effort. Or the Kevin Henry 5k at Impington where I had to stop with 800m to go for a tactical chunder. Those efforts were certainly delusional.

There is one context in which goals should not be easily attainable. If you always exceed your expectations, then your expectations are too low. Your sandbagging yourself. That’s as bad for you as never attaining your goals because they are unrealistically high. Perhaps there is a compromise to be made in which you reach your goals a little over half the time.

So, is setting a stretch goal the same as self-delusion, as lying to yourself? It’s an interesting question.

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Running Through History

Today’s run was an out and back along the Roman Road from Wandlebury. There is quite a lot of history on display in a small area. The Roman Road itself is known as Worsted Street now. Well, to be fair it’s not widely known as Worsted Street. There are suggestions that the name is something to do with the wool trade which in turn suggests that the name is medieval but nobody really knows. The Friends of Fleam Dyke and the Roman Road website also suggests that if could be called Wolves Street. That’s cool; wolves ranging out between Abington and Linton.

Wherever possible, I like to run along the surface of the road and not in the ditch.

Diagram courtesy of The Friends of Fleam Dyke and the Roman Road

The surface is visible for a long stretch north from Worsted lodge and it’s still very well drained. Even on horribly wet days, there is little mud on the surface along that stretch and it’s easy to run or walk along there. South and east of the A11, the surface is less visible and you’re running along the ditch. In past, more violent times that ditch could have had bodies in it. I always feel queasy when I think about that.

Wandlebury Country Park contains a ring ditch. It’s about 900m in circumference and pleasantly up-and-down as you run round it. I don’t feel as odd running through that, which is strange. It’s an Iron Age thing and frankly, I think it’s full of of faeries when it’s not full of sweaty runners.

A good place for 900m reps.

Okay, maybe not faeries, or even fairies, but it’s certainly a fantastic place for runners. I am very aware of how long this feature has been in the landscape, of the thousands of people who have seen it, crossed it, been through it. The same is true for all sorts of places. Imagine the millions who have passed through Kings Cross Station, for example. As fond of Kings Cross as I am, I don’t find it very special. Wandlebury, the Roman Road, Fleam Dyke and Mutlow Hill are different. I don’t know why. They just are. Sometimes, you just have to accept that.

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Saturday Night Before Sunday Morning

Blogging every day is leading me towards even more statements of the bleedin’ obvious. I’m really scraping around for subject matter today. Wimpole Estate parkrun’s 6th anniversary celebrations were this morning so that might be a good place to start.

I haven’t really had much to do with The Best parkrun in Cambridgeshire (as decided by me) for the last few months. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the birthday run though. In addition to the usual huge turnout of marshals and finish line volunteers, there were pacers running even times from 20 minutes up to 40 minutes plus me running for 1:00 and walking for 1:00. I had two runners with me right to the end, one of whom posted a nine minute PB while the other managed a course PB. We ran, or ran-walked or walked and then we had cake. What can I say? It was a parkrun but with a few people in fancy dress and a couple of silly hats. A special shout out to the father and daughter in camo gear, Bergens and big boots. That was a rather strong performance.

Now it’s Saturday evening and I’m contemplating tomorrow’s long run along the Roman Road. I need to fuel it with a good meal tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning. One of those early nights I was talking about yesterday will help. It all feels a bit odd, like I’m waiting to go back to school or something. I’m not going to do my sodding homework though.

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