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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Things I Do All Wrong

I have been cocking up all week and I thought a brief list might prove helpful in reducing cock ups in the future. It would probably help if I were to refer to the list from time to time. Feel free to remind me of it or add to it yourselves.

1 Not Taking Rest Days Seriously

Monday was a rest day after a hard race but Mary posted about her circuits starting up again and I wanted to take part because I really need to do some strength and conditioning and she is such a strong motivator. Maybe next time, take a moment to reflect that turning up to a high intensity session with a tired body is not the best move and say “Yes please, but not today.” That really tanked my week.

2 Sleep Is Beautiful

Sleep is indeed beautiful and I need not admire its beauty from a distance. I can get up close and personal, all snugly and warm under the duvet with sleep. I can spoon sleep for a few minutes and then feel everything ebb gently away in the dark. I cannot do this if I’m sat on the sofa watching YouTube films even if they are very interesting.

3 Alarm Clocks are Horrible

Related to point 2 above, if the alarm clock rings too soon after you’ve gone to sleep then you’re going to feel abysmally shite all day. Early starts need early nights and even if you really want to blog every day and do your Italian practice every day and eat properly and get to training then you’re going to have to stop farting around and some point and Go To Bed. There is a minimum time between your light going out and the your alarm going off. It’s different for everyone but it’s probably longer than you think.

4 Driving Is Bad for your Bendiness

If you spend five, six or seven hours folded into a car seat then you really need to spend some time mobilising yourself thoroughly before you set off on your next run, especially if it’s a hard session.

Not that I managed a hard session this week.

5 Recovery Runs Needn’t Be Gentle

I ran quite hard this morning and feel better this evening than I have all week. I’ve stretched and eaten properly today. I haven’t spent all day at 70mph. That probably helps too. I don’t know whether the vigorous run or the lack of driving was more important but whichever, it worked.

6 Don’t Fuck Too Much With The Plan

While plans are malleable and ought to change from time to time especially if you’re feeling tired, adding sessions because you’re not as knackered as you thought you might be is seldom a good idea. See point 1.

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Coaching is a Joy

I was too knackered to run tonight. Seven and a bit hours in the car and three early starts after three late nights will do that to a chap. I got back from Halifax in plenty of time to get changed and have a warm up to loosen off my legs and stretch before the session of K Reps and Kettlebells I had planned for the half marathon training group. However, I sat in the car fighting the weight in my eyelids and thought “Fuck it.” Luckily, my training partner and chum asked for a hill session in the morning so I thought I would give my limited energies to the athletes tonight and coach properly.

Coaching is a joy and a refuge for the tired athlete. Instead of a wasted evening jogging round a track for the sake of it, I can help other athletes achieve their goals. I set them off for a warm up and laid out a speed ladder, a couple of kettlebells, some resistance bands and a med ball while they ran and loosened up a bit. We ran through a warm up routine including some dynamic whole-body stretching and squats just to wake up the glutes and then I sent them off to the other side of the track to start their first 1k rep.

The track was busy with fizzing speedsters this evening. Another group was down doing 400m reps and they were flying, all of them. The youngsters have the Cambridgeshire Schools Cross Country Championships on Saturday so their session was shorter and slightly less intense than the multiple reps the adults were running.

My group was not moving as quickly but they were still working hard. I watched them pass the finish line on each lap, giving a cue here and there or just encouraging as best I could. “Keep working! Close that gap! Arms!” I noticed one of the athletes wasn’t moving well. I thought she might be having a problem or carrying an injury but when I asked her, she said she was fine. I asked her if she knew that she wasn’t moving equally on each side and she didn’t.

I have found that it’s difficult to think about what your legs do. It’s easy to look down and watch them instead of just running. Instead, I suggested she think about positive arm drive and getting her legs so follow the arm movement and balance out that way. When she came past on her next rep, she was moving much more freely. I asked her at the end of the rep and she said her shoulders were aching a bit but otherwise, nothing was untoward. Small intervention, big result. We’ll watch again next and keep on until her shoulders no longer ache and her stride is balanced on each side. It might take a few weeks but it should work over time.

I get a lot of satisfaction from coaching. It’s not just writing training plans and shouting. It’s a collaboration and exploration with an athlete or group of athletes. There have been weeks and months sometimes when I have lacked all motivation to run but I have seldom not wanted to coach. It’s almost always been a source of joy for me. The athletes I coach each week work hard. I want to give them my best because that’s what they give me and I want to thank them publicly for that.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re brilliant. Thank you.

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Add A New Post

Add a new post, it says. The cursor is sitting there, flashing like a displeased cat flicking its tail while I try to think of something to write. I’m ever more drawn to the flick-flash of the cursor and ever less inclined to write anything until my phone beeps at me and breaks the spell. The first time I have ever been pleased to have a phone interrupt my train of thought.

Not that my train was going anywhere. It was stuck in a siding while expresses passed a short distance away taking passengers on their way to big adventures in exotic places. Rick’s Cafe Americain in Casablanca. Rick will give up Ilsa for Victor again and go off to have a beautiful friendship with Louis and the cursor will still flash and flash and flash. Robin Hood will fight Little John on that bridge and Marion will love him in spite of everything and together they will foil the Sheriff of Nottingham while the cursor flashes on. Luke will become a Jedi and find his real father. Queen Katherine will lose her husband, the philandering King Henry. There will be car chases and boats and gun fights, passion and love while the cursor flashes away, never faster, never slower, and my despair grows.

Add a post, it says.

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Whole Body DOMS

As a running coach, I think it’s really important for athletes to undertake a regular, moderate programme of strength and conditioning and to improve their agility, balance and co-ordination and their flexibility alongside their sessions for running speed and endurance. I would write sessions for all of these into plans for athletes if they were not already doing regular gym work, yoga, pilates and stretching.

As an athlete, I’m a lazy arsehole who will do the absolute bare minimum I can get away with. In spite of that, when Mary Twitchett mentioned her Monday circuits session I thought I would add it to my weekly plan. I had to do something, having not done anything since Andy Matson’s circuits last winter.

Those were brilliant, by the way. Have a look on Facebook for AM Active. The next set of sessions is due to start soon and if you are close to Huntingdon, I can thoroughly recommend them. Andy’s coaching is affirming and his group of athletes work very hard indeed and have the results to show it works.

So, if you haven’t done any S&C for almost a year and – this is the important bit – you’re a bit of an idiot, of course you’re going to throw yourself into the first session back with some gusto. Especially if it’s on your rest day the day after the County Cross Country Championships. Mary ran through the 20 stations, gave us a brief but thorough warm up and set us to work.

Fifty seconds per station. I can’t remember them all. I could barely remember what each of them was when I was doing them. Some of that is down to the emotional and physical pain I was going through at the time. The mind is after all merciful and will not let us relive memories which are too painful. However there are some highlights.

Leg press. It was one of those inclined plane jobs. I have no idea how much weight was on there. Probably not that much because I could move the plate well but I was feeling the effort. Mary had me adjust my foot position and keep my knees about a fist-width apart. That one went quite well.

Leg lifts. Straight legs until that became impossible, then bent legs.

Press ups and dips. One press up, then walk the legs forward and dip. Resting on a couple of kettlebells. Now, I am useless, truly useless at press-ups. I don’t think any instructor or coach would say I have done more than three proper press ups in the past 52 years. However, I grabbed onto the kettlebells, bent my arms a bit so my chest just about visibly dropped towards the floor then managed to straighten my arms again. One. I’m calling that one One. Then walk my legs forward until they’re out in front and dip. One. For some reason, I’m better at dips. That definitely counted. Walk back. Two almost certainly wouldn’t have counted for anyone else and if I were honest with myself, I would say it didn’t count for me either. If I were honest with myself. I’m not honest with myself. Two. Walk the legs through. Dip. Two. And so on.

Shotguns. On my back on the bench, med ball held out behind my head with straight arms then pulled over to my waist and sit up keeping my back straight. Once I’m upright, hold the ball out in front of myself and stretch out as far as my back and hips allow. That’s not very far but I’m a bloke and I’m a runner and all of that is tight.

Burpees. Oh God, burpees. Once, a few years ago, Ben did a fuck-ton of burpees for his birthday after parkrun. He asked for people to keep him company and I did a couple of sets with him. Not well and not for long but I did them. They are the worst form of self-inflicted pain I know. The combination of controlled explosive power and agility, balance and co-ordination you need to do them well and efficiently escapes me. They’re also a huge drain on your cardio reserves. I think I managed three last night before it all went a bit Pete Tong.

Side plank. This one had a couple of variations to wake up the glutes properly, neither of which I really had the strength to do properly.

An easy plank thing, hands on a box. Left knee to left elbow at walking pace, then the other side. Ten reps. Left knee to right elbow at walking pace then right knee to left elbow. Ten reps. Repeat all four but faster for 10 more reps each, then faster again. I thought that went quite well. It’s similar to a sprint drill I do to feel fast feet but with a bit of mobilisation built in. As long as you keep your core as still as possible and drive your legs you’re fine.

A couple of TRX tortures – a plank and a hip raise. The hardest part of those was getting into the stirrups, to be honest. Plank to pike would be a hideous progression and one I remember from Rachel’s TRX Yoga sessions a couple of years ago. They weren’t really yoga but they were excellent supported mobilisation exercises.

Deadlift. I felt manly doing this. No idea how much weight was on the frame but my technique was good and I was able to hit a rhythm and keep going.

Bouncing on my toes. Small explosive movements, keeping my feet together. Again it’s a sprint drill. If you’re an endurance runner, you think that sprint drills aren’t worth bothering about but they can help some of us when we’re tired towards the end of a race focus on staying light on our feet, balanced and poised, if only for the cameras in the finishing area.

Short rest, drink of water then round again. for 2×20 seconds.

The other athletes were a mix of runners, rowers and triathletes. They were all amazing. Everyone was good at something and some were good at nearly everything so they could concentrate on really working hard.

I now hurt everywhere. I am hearing complaints from those small interior abdominal muscles which have had to do little more than compress a belch for the past year. Those complaints are loud and they are long and they contain an impressive amount of fanciful invective. My shoulders and chest hurt from the bench press and press ups. My quads are more tender than my heart was after Il Postino. I even, for no discernable reason, have a painful hairline. Yup, horripilation results in DOMS.

Okay, I exaggerate a little but not as much as you might think. I had to can tonight’s track session in favour of a couple of steadier runs. I’ve done just over five miles in total this evening and my legs are mashed. Tomorrow really is a rest day. I’m coaching a Run For Your Life session in Sawston in the evening and I hope I won’t have to do much running around. It’s a Couch to 5k session so it shouldn’t be too strenuous for me.

I really shouldn’t leave nine months between circuits sessions. It’s really not good for me.

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