Jingle Mile 8: A Sequel Too Far

Jingle Mile Round 1

1Julie McGreal 8:15
2Sue Brentnall 8:24
3Claire Bacchus Mrs Jubbly8:48
4Robert BaileyBobbyboy9:14
5Wendy Caton 9:36
6Helen JohnsonHellsBells9:39
7Chris Baron 9:40
8Greg PottsGregP9:48
9Pamela Abbott 10:04
DNFRos BodiRosehipDNF

Jingle Mile Round 2

1Colin West 7:43
2Rachel Morgan 7:47
3Caroline Zakrzewski 8:01
4Vicky Pike 8:19
5Pauline Blake 8:47
6Cheryl Boswell 9:02
7Lesley Lawrence 9:32

Jingle Mile Round 3

1Sam Johnson 6:33
2Tom Gibson 6:46
3Colm Crowley 6:56
4Dave MailFlatlander7:02
5Lucas Zakrzewski 7:09
6James BarrottPeregrinator7:18
7Tracy Crowley 7:19
8MikeEynsham the Red7:57
9Julie Matte 8:04

Jingle Mile Round 4

1Jon Anderson 5:29
2Charlie Wartaby 5:30
3Alex Murkett 5:37
4Maria Buczak 5:45
5Claire Connon 5:46
6Peter Benet 6:00
7Suzy Tautz 6:09
8Chris WaltonFenland Flier6:20
9Eilidh Nicol 6:26
10Rachael Leah 6:26
11Ben Chamberlain 6:30
12Richard Caton 6:33
13Jon MarshCerrertonia6:35
14Seb Benet 6:36
15Rafik Jallad 6:36
16Graham Boswell 6:37
17Daniel Caton 6:46
18Dom McIntyre 6:49

400m Hurtbox of Crackers Round 1

1Dan Caton 1:06
2Rafik Jallad 1:08
3Tom Gibson 1:13
4Colin West 1:17
5Colm Crowley 1:20
6Tracy Crowley 1:32
7Julie Matte 1:33
8Lucas Zakrzewski 1:34
9Ben Chamberlain 1:38
10Cheryl Boswell 2:03

400m Hurtbox of Crackers Round 2

1Maria Buczak 1:09
2Chris Walton 1:17
3Eilidh Nicol 1:17
4Suzy Tautz 1:18
5Rachael Leah 1:19
6Claire Connon 1:20
7James Barrott 1:23
8Dom McIntyre 1:28
9Rachel Morgan 1:32
10Vicky Pike 1:36
11Lesley Lawrence 1:49
12Julie McGreal1:51

4x100m Mince Pie Relay

1Thursday 01:04.6
3Knackered 01:10.9
4Colm’s Crackers 01:12.4
5Not A Clue 01:15.6
6Jingle Wheels 01:15.9
7Dangerous Dynamos 01:23.0
8Royston Robins 01:29.7
9Glory Pies 01:30.5

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Pissing In The Chips

This has been one of the biggest weekends in the history of the marathon. Eliud Kipchoge ran the marathon distance in 1:59:40 yesterday in Vienna and today Brigid Kosgei ran 2:14:04 at the Chicago Marathon and demolished Paula Radcliffe’s record for the fastest time recorded for a woman in a marathon. Woo. And also, hoo. Genuinely, I’m in awe of these performances.

I missed the live stream from Vienna yesterday because I was pace-making much less professionally in the rain on Coldham’s Common for parkrun. It’s really hard to run in an inverted arrow formation all on your own. I crossed the line in 25:10 against a target time of 25:00 but there were few runners around me. I had been talking to one chap on my way round whose PB had been 25:46 so he was gunning for it. He got his new PB but missed out on 24:XX because I thought the course would measure short on my Garmin. By the time I worked it out, there was not enough time left for him to unleash his big finish.

Anyway, pacing is hard. Getting even a small thing like running even splits on a flat, grassy course over 5k on a Saturday morning is difficult. Getting it right over 42.2km when millions of pounds have been spent to remove or reduce every single negative factor is a task beyond my comprehension. Suffice it to say that I’d quite like to hand the Ineos people a set of parkrun pacer bibs and set them to work. I don’t think we can afford them.

Eliud Kipchoge is an amazing athlete. He was already the world record holder and Olympic champion. He narrowly failed to break two hours at Monza in 2017 as part of Nike’s Breaking Two programme. He is probably the best prepared marathon runner in history. His official world record from Berlin last year took 1:20 off the previous best when previously only a handful of seconds at a time had been taken from the record. He could spend the rest of his life feet up on the sofa eating crisps and still be the greatest marathon runner of our time.

There are nay-sayers. Of course there are. He was wearing fancy and freakishly expensive shoes. He ran behind five pacers who were in turn guided by a laser beam projected from a car. That reduced the drag on him from air resistance. He had to run faster than 13.1mph after all and even a skinny wee thing like Eliud must have a considerable CdA. I don’t know how he compares to an Audi 100 or Ford Sierra from my youth but I’d like to find out one day. He had two more pacers running just behind him to reduce the drag from the wash of the air as it broke behind him, like a mobile and impressively athletic Kamm tail. He even had someone riding along passing him his drinks so he didn’t have to slow down to pick them up from a table. He was the only person in the race which meant that it wasn’t a race at all. It was a piece of performance theatre.

I still loved it.

I laughed and cheered as I watched him over the final couple of hundred metres. It was amazing. He was the sole focus of the efforts of all those pacers, all the support staff who helped him train, all the scouts who found the perfect course and the people who resurfaced it and swept it clean, all the supporters who travelled to Vienna to watch and cheer, all the people of Kenya who almost certainly went completely mental as I was laughing quietly at home. All of that was on him. All of it and more. All those millions of pounds of money. All of those hours of time. All of the keen brainpower exerted in setting up the attempt. It was all on him. He took all of it and it was as if it didn’t matter at all.

It wasn’t a race. It won’t be a record. I don’t think that matters to him. it doesn’t really matter much to me and this is my blog. Instead it was a demonstration that while there are limits, they are further away than we thought. The two hour marathon was supposed to be impossible, not something that we will see in our lifetimes. Well, that was wrong. Okay, it took a very special and tightly controlled set of circumstances and an equally special athlete for us to see it yesterday but see it we did. Having seen that it’s possible, there are no doubt athletes thinking, if Eliud Kipchoge can do it, so can I. And that’s why it matters.

And then there was today.

Brigid Kosgei utterly dominated the Chicago Marathon. All through the race, Steve Cram and Aly Dixon were saying that she couldn’t maintain her pace, that she’d have to slow down at some point, that she’d explode. She didn’t. She went out hard and kept going. She was four minutes faster than last year and almost seven minutes ahead of the second-placed woman. When she crossed the line, she looked like a woman who’d run 2:14 and a bit. Those pins were more than a little wobbly. Again, Kenya must have erupted.

Brigid Kosgei’s management team was under investigation for doping offences. Federico Rosa managed Rita Jeptoo, a former Chicago marathon champion and Jemima Sumgong a former Olympic champion both of whom received bans and disqualifications for EPO violations. This doesn’t mean that Brigid Kosgei is a drugs cheat but she is managed by someone who managed drugs cheats. Federico Rosa must be an incredibly unlucky man to have two such high-profile champions fail doping tests…

Alberto Salazar’s ban for doping offences was announced at the same time as the start of the IAAF World Championships in Doha a couple of weeks ago, There were some of his athletes running there, most notably double gold medallist Sifan Hassan who was memorably emotional during her post race interview. Konstanze Klosterhalfen is another of the Nike Oregon Project athletes running in Doha. Here in the UK, we know about Alberto Salazar because he was Mo Farah’s coach. We don’t have evidence that any of these athletes took part in doping but their coach carried out experiments in doping to see where the limits of detection were.

As fans of our sport, every time we see an exceptional performance like the ones this weekend, we can’t now take it on face value. Lance Armstrong never failed a drugs test. Famously. Yet he cheated for years. One of the greatest stories of sporting heroism of all time was debased by cheating. We can’t watch an Olympic or World final in athletics without that nagging wee worry about who will turn out to be doping. We want our heroes to be heroes, not grubby wee nyaffs running off the back of a spot of extra juice and often we have been let down.

I want these performances to stand. I’m not bothered about shoes and pacers and drinks waiters on bikes. I want to know that when someone crosses the line first in a final or breaks a new record that their bloodstream isn’t artificially awash with dodgy stuff. I want the sport to disassociate itself from the cheats, not just the athletes who sometimes might not have full consent in the matter, but the managers, agents, coaches, team doctors, race organisers, sponsors and manufacturers and everyone else who has created or been complicit in a less than trustworthy system. This is our sport too.

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Slippery When Wet

So that thing where you’re just walking along, casual as, minding your own chuff, and the next thing you know you’re on your arse or your side and all of a sudden your arm, leg or if you’re lucky, just your finger is at a funny angle? It’s time for that again.

There is a particular noise air makes as it leaves your lungs on impact with the pavement. A kind of dull whump. We’re really poorly designed for moving around in winter. We need little spikes on the bottom of our feet to give us traction on the ice. I thought about not cutting my toe nails but I’m spending quite enough on socks as it is. Our lungs would make excellent airbags if they were on the outside. They probably wouldn’t work as lungs if that were the case and they would look all horrible and weird. Thinking about it, I would probably hate that quite a lot. Little bags of bloody air hanging round the place, testing the gag reflexes of passers-by. Lovely.

No, we’re not supposed to move around in the snow and the ice. If we were, we’d do so more quickly, efficiently and easily than polar bears and wolves and other things with more pointy teeth and a keener appetite than us. We tamed fire so that we could have somewhere pleasant to sit when it’s cold and invented marshmallows so that we could have something pleasant to do while we were sitting. We found sharp things to stick into polar bears and wolves just about anything else that moved so that we might use bits of them to stay fed and warm in weather worse than we’re having now.

On the other hand, if you can stay on your feet, there is little better than a run across a snowy landscape. There is good traction on fresh snow. Pull on a pair of waterproof socks under your trail shoes, make sure you’re dressed warmly enough for going slowly and take your time to enjoy the views. All the usual dirt of the world is hidden by fresh snow. Everything seems new and unusual. You can’t take anything for granted. Sounds are muffled, partly by the snow itself and perhaps partly by that hat you need to pull down over your ears. Your footfalls crump in the snowy surface as you run along. If you turn around you can check to see how your feet are landing. I was horrified last winter when I saw that my feet land quite so “toe-out” and I’m actually splay-footed as I run. I thought I was much more in line than that.

I will leave you with The Commodores and Slippery When Wet because taking care of business seems like a much better idea than falling on your arse on the first icy day of winter.

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Pie And Chips

I know that as an athlete I really need to have a nutritious diet. It’s important to have the correct balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, salts and micronutrients to fuel performance during and sustain recovery between sessions. That’s all well and good but I am an afflete sometimes what I really, really want is a pie and chips.

The previous post about chocolate really should have been a clue to my attitude to food. Food isn’t just fuel. I’ve written before about the complex relationships some of us have with food. I enjoy it – cooking, thinking about it, preparing it, even peeling potatoes. Food for me is a celebration and how do you celebrate something as mundane as getting to the end of a Monday? Pie and chips.

It wasn’t even a good pie and chips. It was a dodgy chip shop pie and really ordinary chips but it hasn’t really been a very good Monday, as far as Mondays go. A better day would have meant I might have been more inclined to make some pastry, blind bake the bottom while I stewed some beef and onion before assembling the pie. Double- or even triple-cooking the chips so that the insides are fluffy and the outsides are crispy? A task for another day when I’m not knackered from work and then training.

And there’s the thing. If you’re serious about your training and performance (or you’re just not fit enough for what’s on the plan) then you’re going to be completely spannered at the end of the session. The last thing you can really cope with is putting together much at all. I had planned some grilled chicken accompanied by puy lentils and spinach tonight but leaving circuits with Mary I knew I was too tired to cook even that much. The chip shop would be open and they would sell me a sad pie and reasonable chips and I could at least fill my stomach with cheering food if not exactly good food. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

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Chocolate Is Life

I’m not going to dwell on another disastrous race for that way lies only misery and negativity. Instead, I’m going to reflect on the glory of chocolate because chocolate is happiness, chocolate is life.

Chocolate is dark and it is milk and it is white and it is hot. It is bitter and it is sea salt and it is chilli.

You can have it on its own or in cakes and cookies. You can have it as a spread on bread. You can have it as a mousse out of a champagne saucer or if you’re very, very lucky, licked from the nipple of an intimate friend.

You can plunge strawberries into a bowl of it. You can drown raspberries in it. You could have a good solid go at drowning yourself in there if you have a big enough vat of it.

It serves as an accessory in cute baby pictures where the baby has smeared it all around its mouth. You can’t do that with kale. You can do that with pea puree but that then it looks like something unpleasant has burst.

You can mould it into fruit shapes and pretend it’s an orange. You can flavour it with mint and delude yourself that it’s toothpaste.

It melts round about body temperature but good chocolate can still snap with a click like a tiger’s dentures when it’s cold.

Choccie isn’t chalky.

Just don’t overdo it and brush your teeth with proper toothpaste afterwards, not just melted After Eights.

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Desert Island Discs

What’s the soundtrack of your life?

At school it was metal like Iron Maiden and AC/DC. There was quite a lot of hell invoked for a religious boy. It was probably part of the appeal for some of the people but not for me because first of all I didn’t really notice the lyrics so much, not when the guitar sounds and rhythms were far more exciting. Secondly, if you’ve hung around Christian people much, you soon realise that hell gets a lot more attention than heaven does. So, Hell’s Bells is my first track.

Afterwards, Leo introduced me to Talking Heads, especially Stop Making Sense. There is something that will always feel comforting about sitting in the near dark listening to that album over a pair of warmed headphones. Other people’s heads can be very warming.

I discovered The Grateful Dead at university. I would work through the night on a Thursday writing an essay due at 10:00am on a Friday morning with American Beauty playing quietly on a cassette radio so as not to disturb my flatmates. I had the room at the end of a corridor on the upper storey of our student house. Darren downstairs would either be sleeping the sleep of the dead or awake himself. The room next to mine was empty, I think. I would keep myself going by stopping every hour to light a menthol More and wait for the sun to come up before I headed in to town to hand the essay in. They weren’t good essays.

I bought two CDs before I ever bought a CD player. One was the soundtrack to Ally McBeal because… Well, I don’t really remember why except perhaps I really fancied her. The other was First of a Million Kisses. I mentioned this to Eddi Reader on Twitter once and she was kind enough to Tweet me back. She said that they’d explicitly intended it to be released on vinyl. I think she said that anyway. I was so astonished to have her reply to me at all that I may be misremembering what she’s said. Perfect is still one of my absolutely favourite songs.

I bought a CD of Kind of Blue not long after I moved in with Jane. I listened to it first one night over headphones like I did with Stop Making Sense in Leo’s bedroom 15 years before. It was late evening, dark outside and I was sitting at the dining table while my partner was watching television with her sister. I think my life changed because nothing else sounded the same after that. Nearly everything sounded too simple and not quite good enough. Thrust was all the right kind of funky though.

In order to find something interesting enough, I started to dig through J S Bach because that’s what you do. Once you’ve done the whole Toccata and Fugue in D Minor thing and got that out of your system, pretty quickly you fall into the Matthew Passion and you will never, ever climb out. You could be quite happy there for ever as well as long as someone tosses Thomas Tallis’ 40 part motet Spem in Alium in there after you.

I heard the Tallis Scholars sing that in Beverley Minster one night and I don’t think I have ever quite recovered. The moment all forty voices come in together hit me like an old girlfriend’s slap. The choristers were all around us hidden in galleries and spaces above our heads. If nobody tells you what to expect, if nobody’s there to nudge you and say, “Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it… NOW!” then you’re going to leave a changed person.

That’s a little out of sequence. It should have come after Perfect. 

My friend Alison threw parties in Oxford where as part of the evening’s entertainment she would sing Tom Lehrer’s Poisoning Pigeons in the Park with piano accompaniment by Ian. Some of the best fun I have ever had.

Last track is My Baby Just Cares For Me. Nina Simone’s song was what we played as we left the Registrar’s Office when Anne and I got married. It wasn’t strictly true that I didn’t care about cars and races but compared to Anne, even McLaren in their pomp were as mud to be scraped from the bottom of an icky, sticky shoe.

That’s nine but I’m having Nina Simone as my luxury only to play that one song and Anne’s Night’s Masque trilogy as my book. Another cheat because they are three single volumes but I’m getting a special single volume binding just for these cheating purposes. If that’s not allowed then I’ll have Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy so I can live with those characters for as long as I’m on the island.

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It’s About Nothing

How do you talk about nothing with nothing but words? A spot of floccinaucinihilipilification. I’m not talking about zero. That’s just a number in an integer series between -1 and 1. I’m talking about nothing. The noise of no hands clapping. A tree standing in the woods and not falling down. A bear not shitting in the woods. Theresa May’s chance of getting a Brexit bill passed. You know. Nothing.

I was listening to the podcast of In Our Time about Samuel Beckett on the way home tonight and one of Beckett’s concerns was to reduce the role of language to nothing. Apparently. Maybe I misunderstood that. I should probably go back and listen again and do more reading but I had a blog post to write and it was either going to be about this or about fantasy and I think we’re all much happier that it’s about this tonight.

I have tried that form of meditation called mindfulness recently. Sitting quietly, listening to my breath entering and leaving my body. It’s not an easy thing to do especially if you are used to having thoughts zipping around your head like flies round a summer lampshade. When I try to meditate and focus on my breathing I might begin to hear the high-frequency zizzle of a dried-up bogie about to fall free inside my nostril. It’s distracting. No wonder my thoughts begin to wander.

A good Catholic boy like me would have meditated many a time on the Five Joyful Mysteries, the Five Sorrowful Mysteries and the Five Glorious Mysteries. Maybe he would have just made the attempt anyway. A middle-aged former altar boy can’t remember what they all are and hasn’t even thought about them for more than 30 years.

Nothing is a pretty good description of how much I understand any of this as well as how much I remember from my religious education. I’m not afraid of nothing in the same way I am of infinity. When I was very young I could give myself wasp-terrors by simultaneously counting quickly and slowly. It’s easy to say “don’t do that then” but once you’ve done it you can’t stop doing it, like thinking about pink elephants when you’re supposed to be thinking about nothing.

I should go and find some time to rest now. Is the dark unconsciousness of sleep before dreams the closest thing we have to nothing? I’d think about that but I’m going to have to try not to think about anything at all.

And breathe.



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The Internet Is Full Of Trouble

Yet another statement of the bleedin’ obvious, I know but bear with me. Way back then, in the long ago, when the internet was all static pages of text about particle physics and Terry Pratchett, it seemed to be that it was all about having new and interesting experiences at 56 kilobytes per second, or thereabouts. One of the happiest sounds I knew was a modem handshaking with the world. I remember getting my first email account at St Andrews in about 1988 before the internet was even a thing. I know that I didn’t use it much. I saw everyone else I knew with an email account every day anyway.

I used to read stories in the Grauniad about how the internet – now it was invented – was going to change everything. We would all be able to talk to one another, there would be no more barriers to communication and it would all be simply marvellous. Well then, that turned out to be one of those wishes about which we really should have thought twice. We can now all talk at one another, there seem to be no barriers to any fucking communication and wouldn’t it be simply marvellous if some people just fucked the fuck off?

I don’t think anybody imagined that neo-Nazis would get an internet connection too. It was unanticipated as the superabundance cat pictures. Controlling the media is a basic totalitarian tactic. Our political masters would love to be able to do the same but they lack the commitment to do it in a thoroughgoing fashion. A cynic or conspiracy theorist would say either that they already do control both the media and the messages on it, or that the owners of the media already control the politicians to a greater or lesser extent.

We all know how important the internet has become. Our body politic is a cyborg now and we can’t be sure where some of the signals controlling it originate.

What prompted all of this wasn’t politics but personal relationships. I remember having an absolutely wonderful time when I was single on the internet. Looking back, I was using my privilege as a middle-class, white man but I hope I was always respectful when I went out on a date. My wife and I met on a dating site well over a decade ago, on the forums first and then in person. I don’t think we matched with one another but we got on very well when we met up so sometimes those algorithms must have been talking mince.

I don’t think things are as easy now for people. I hear horror stories from my friends on dating sites of shitty behaviour from shitty people. When I were a lad and Shep were a pup and it was all fields round here we used to view internet dating forums and the like as just an extension of the social sphere and the usual social norms would apply. There were always arseholes of course but they were small in number, easily identified and isolated and we could look after one another. No real man would ever have identified himself as “involuntarily celibate” for example. The most we would admit would be a bit of a dry spell but it was all going to be fine. We were on a dating site after all.

Now we have toxic masculinity. The things which were once private – the domestic violence, the gaslighting, the belittling, the objectification, the denigration, dehumanising – now have a public outlet. The small men doing huge damage to wives, sisters, mothers and children can share what they do with other small men.

I’m not sure what I wanted to achieve this evening. I seem to have spent the last hour or so remembering how wonderful things were in the good old days and how fucking awful things are now. The best thing about the internet now is that like minds can now connect across the world much more easily than they ever have in the past. The trouble is that that is also the worst thing about the internet.

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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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