Rich Talks Shit

That’s not a surprise to anyone. I do talk a monstrous amount of shit. I know hardly anything about lots and lots of different and mostly very tedious subjects. I can combine that with a pointlessly in-depth knowledge on a very narrow range of stuff. Now, that makes me God’s own gift to an under-achieving pub quiz team – just don’t ask me about pop culture after about 1985 or any sport, especially athletics – but a stream of bemused women from the Grauniad’s Soul Mates pages in the early years of this century will almost certainly roll their eyes and say “Oh him, yeah. No.”

I know that names come and go in popularity but were there an especially large number of Catherines or Alisons born between say, 1965 and 1975? I met several Kates, one Kat, a Kaz and memorably but very briefly “Call me Catherine, please.” A story for another blog if I can cope with reliving that one. Over the years I’ve had crushes on several wonderful Alisons too. Sorry, an aside.

Back on topic, let’s talk shit.

A screenshot taken from Word of the entry for "talking shit"
Fun with Word Hippo.

I think this misses one of the most basic senses of talking shit. There’s talking nonsense, making up stuff, like writing speeches for Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. I’m a fan of Horrible Histories which does a most excellent job of talking shit about history. It’s proof of another form of talking shit, where you just riff off an idea. You take an idea like exploring past lives in the form of a chat show where Death mocks people for dying in a particularly stupid way and calling the whole thing Stupid Deaths. You probably know that when a singer riffs on a musical theme it is called scat and scat is another word for shit and I am in love, deeply in love, with the notion of Cleo Laine shit singing.

There is something a little more vivid and visceral about shite when you compare it to shit. Compare “ya wee shite” with “you little shit” and there are worlds to explore and possibly PhD theses to be done between them. Differences of class and geography are laid bare. Think about the voices saying those words and the circumstances where they say them. You can go and do some role-play now if you like. You might find it cathartic.

As an example of my wide but shallow pool of knowledge, I found out about mining fossil shit in Cambridge recently. They did it on Coldham’s Common and down between Trumpington and Hauxton. These rather pleasant spots was once mined for Cambridge green sands, coprolites that were ground to sand and mixed with acid to produce a kind of fertilizer. Of course, you can use turds laid down much more recently to make fertiliser. Stinking fortunes were made importing and processing guano to make fertiliser or explosives. The USA had something called the Guano Islands Act which empowered US citizens to take over uninhabited islands unclaimed by other states if they contained guano. More recently, and dealing with even fresher shite, my dad was a mounted policeman in Edinburgh. He would occasionally drop by to see his mum if he was passing her house in the Colonies in Stockbridge. He’d tie the horse up by the front gate, pop in for a quick cup of tea and before very long one or another of the neighbours would be out with a shovel to pick up the very fresh manure the horse would leave behind.

I was looking for a word for talking shit. I thought of kakaglossia. Kaka, caka, or cack are common enough. I think cack-handed is a euphonous word, better than butter-fingered. Does it mean inept rather than clumsy, do you think? Oddly, English gets cake from the Norse or Swedish kaka which almost uniquely doesn’t mean shit. Kakaglossia means shit-tongued so it’s a nice new word for getting a bit sweary. I used to have “erudite fuckmouth” on my Twitter profile as a warning for those of an unsweary disposition. Not everyone enjoys my use of language. Should I have put a content warning on this post?

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Can’t Wait To Get Into My Pants

Do you have trouble getting into your pants in the morning? Assuming, that is, you get into your pants in the morning. I’m not being pervy, or anything, you might have problems standing up and keeping your balance, or with bending your arms so you t-shirt or vest doesn’t go on as smoothly as it really should. Basically, are you getting old?

My wheelchair racing friends will no doubt just say “Dude, really?” and get on with getting on. Me, I’ve had about six weeks of reduced flexibility, an ongoing problem with cellulitis on my shin which finally seems to be clearing up, an extra bout of falling down when I stand up, and a bit more forgetfulness than is normal, even for me. Basically, I’m getting old.

Typically, at least until recently, I have been a bit of a dressing gymnast. Nobody likes a show-off in the morning, but I had been able to stand on one leg while I pulled my boxers on and then one morning, round the start of December, I couldn’t.

Do you ever just blank in the middle of a really routine action so that you couldn’t, on pain of cattle-prod, remember what you were supposed to do next? PINs and passwords are like that. If you remember the first digit or character, then muscle memory takes over and everything flows nicely. I remember guitar chord progressions being the same. If ever I had to stop, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to pick up again where I left off, I would have to start again al capo. On the odd occasion when I come across one of those upside down number pads at a petrol station, I am completely buggered. I don’t remember the PIN, I remember how my fingers move.

So, one morning, around the beginning of December, I was standing in my usual spot between bed and wardrobe, left leg in my favourite blue-striped boxers and when I went to lift my right leg into them I couldn’t remember how exactly to do it. My arm seemed to be in the way and when I tried to lift my knee high enough, there was a pain in my hip and groin. Now, I’ve never exactly been Stretch Armstrong when it comes to my flexibility, but I hadn’t until then had a problem getting into my pants in the morning. I managed after a couple of confusing seconds to sit down on the edge of the bed and cover my embarrassment.

Now my normal degree of gymnasticism is not exactly Olympian. I’m not going to impress or intimidate Louis Smith or indeed the Russian judges with my Getting Dressed routine in the mornings. However, it’s not supposed to hurt or be difficult, is it? Of all the things I do with and to my body, covering it so the rude bits don’t dangle offensively has been relatively straightforward to date. Getting dressed is a low-tariff event, after all.

Still, I’ve nearly finished my second course of antibiotics in an attempt to clear up some cellulitis. I’ve reached the stage now where taking the pills, two of them, twice a day, has become routine and that’s a problem. A bit like adding salt to my porridge, I can’t always remember whether I’ve taken them and a couple of mornings I thought I had when of course I hadn’t. Sometimes I end up with very salty porridge and sometimes I might as well eat gently boiled mud. Similarly, a 10-day course of antibiotics has so far taken 12 days. I should finish it tomorrow, as long as I remember to take the last three doses between now and then. That’s not a given.

Now, what about standing up? My balance problems have so far been a source of comedy rather than frustration or worry, but there’s been a bit of deterioration over the past few months. Most mornings, unless I’m very careful about how I get out of bed, I immediately sit down again on my first attempt to rise. I need to make sure my feet are closer to the edge of the bed to make it on my first attempt. My memory for names and things has never been great but I haven’t until now forgotten events. I noticed my first example of that last week and of course I’ve now forgotten what it was. D’oh. I even had a wee tremor at the weekend which resulted in my ground coffee spraying irritatingly over the counter instead of going into the holder thingie in my vesuvio.

All of this is just me getting old. I can do things to work on my flexibility. I’ve dug out my yoga mat and subscribed to Yoga With Adrienne on YouTube. I’ll get started on a training plan with the aim of running a marathon in June, if it goes ahead. I should have done the first run on that plan today but I’m wiped after a truly bad night of sleep. Starting tomorrow isn’t going to make much difference. I can still walk and run and it’s all going to be fine, I’m sure. If it were bad, I would go and see my lovely doctors who all assure me that the surgery is open for business.

I’ll finish with an old news piece from the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Ford Motor Company has been carrying out research for years now to ensure that its vehicles are as accessible as possible. To give its engineers some insight into how people with limited mobility, or flexibility, interact with their cars, they developed what’s become known as the Third Age Suit. Very much the opposite of one of those robotised exoskeletons that in sci-fi or liberal nightmares turn wimps into supersoldiers or robocops, this suit stiffens and limits mobility in all the limb joints, has a neck brace so that the wearer can’t fully turn their head, a wee spasm generator so they can experience the joy of not being able to fill their coffee pot, glasses that mimic glaucoma or cateracts, and ear muffs to limit hearing. Basically, think Bibendum with a bit of malice aforethought.

All of this is intended to make driving or operating the passenger controls in one of their cars easier for those with movement or mobility issues compared to the general population. It’s one thing to ask users what they need but experiencing problems for yourself can give you better insight into possible solutions.

Of course employing more disabled engineers would also help but that’s a different blog post. So would waiting a few years until things don’t bend, shake, collapse or go blurry all on their own.

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A Certain Jane Austen Thing Going On

Most of us lead small lives. Our consequence rarely extends much beyond our acquaintance. It’s easy to forget that. We’re the centres of our own universes, most of us anyway, the protagonists in our own narratives. What we say and do goes only as far as the people closest to us, even now that what Jane Austen called our connexion can be world-wide.

That’s not to say that we’re unimportant, or what we do lacks value and worth. Nor does it mean that our actions have no impact. What we say and we what we do has consequences in the lives of everyone we touch. It’s especially important now. Nerves are raw for all sorts of reasons and it’s really easy to make things worse, not better.

To limit the spread of Covid, we need to wear a face covering, keep apart, wash hands and open up enclosed spaces where we meet other people to winter. Not easy in this weather. All I want to do is huddle with chums by a roaring fire, glugging hot chocolate and eating slices of Victoria sponge wider than my face. That’s not something we can do under Tier 4 restrictions. I had a look at the data on both the BBC and Project Zoe’s websites and infections are rising round here really quite markedly so all the public health messages are not getting through.

Some of us lead more public lives and I really do wonder at how the people with the most influence over our lives are using that influence. I stopped watching the news years ago because when I wasn’t depressed after a broadcast, I was deeply, gammonly angry. Anne barred me first from listening to Any Questions and Any Answers on a Saturday lunchtime and then I stopped listening to live news broadcasts altogether. The stupid, it burns, dude. Anyway, as a result, I don’t really have much idea of an overall news narrative. I take my news in bites from various newspapers’ websites, the BBC and from NGOs and other organizations which interest me. I haven’t watched any of the government’s briefings live because I don’t need that stress in my life.

I don’t want to get all political because infectious disease doesn’t really give a stuff about radical approaches to societal problems. Between Brexshittery and Remoaning, or between Maomentum and Bliarites, whether you fell for a slogan on the side of a big, red bus or you keep your star safe, none of that matters to wee strands of RNA that only exist to replicate. Don’t even get me started on Bill Gates and injectable tracking devices. Nobody really wants to take unpopular decisions because who wants to be unpopular when your job security depends on your popularity?

(Sometimes I think we should replace our elected Parliament with a big jury that gets selected every couple of years. Once you’ve served, you can’t serve again. No more elections, just jury service.)

So, I wish that some people who have a big stage and fill it with amplified sound would either shut the fuck up, or tone down the nonsense when they do speak. I’d rather that notions of self-sacrifice and service were more evident in the behaviour of our leadership. I would be much more inclined to believe them if their actions matched their words more closely. Duty is a bit of a Jane Austen concept these days. Only the queen mentions the word with a straight face, I think. For everyone else who does so, it’s rather something to be encouraged in others than undertaken themselves.

Another rambling post. Sorry. I’ll end here with Mr Knightley in Emma. “There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty; not by maneuvering and finessing, but by vigour and resolution.”

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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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