All About The Breath

Breathe in.

For me, it’s all about the breath. Everything is always all about the breath. From the moment it starts with a midwife slapping your arse to the moment it slips out with a final rattle, life is driven by a constant cycle of breath through your lungs. It’s not so much about the blood and the heart. Blood is just a means to carry air around the body and the heart is just a pump for the blood. No, breath is the real thing, as real as it gets.

Breathe out.

Blood is so obvious. Its red colour comes from the oxygen-rich haemoglobin it carries. We’re hyper-aware of the colour red as a result. We shouldn’t see red stuff leaking from our bodies. That’s our liquid breath oozing away. It’s a sign of danger. You see it and you have to act or you’re in deep, deep trouble.

Breathe in.

There’s also the sex thing, the vampire thing. I’ll never really understand the sexual attraction of vampires. Okay, there was Evil Leather Willow but that wasn’t about wanting her to drain me of my life’s blood: definitely not my blood. The twentieth century vampire iconography and mythology are completely bound up with sexuality and to be honest, I think it’s just to sell the films and books. Also, the trope is who wouldn’t want eternal youth and eternal beauty and health?

Breathe out

Your breath though? That gets ignored in most mythologies. God formed Adam from the dust of the ground. Adam only came alive when God breathed into his nostrils. There was none of that messing around with seminal fluid you get in some foundation mythologies in the Bible. I’m not aware of many stories about stealers of breath in the same way as I am about stealers of blood. The iconography just isn’t there in the same way as it is for those glamorous vampires and their blood-fixation.

Breathe in.

It started on the beach, late one night under clear St Andrews skies. Just one wee breath in, laden with cigarette smoke. I crashed the fag from her and the fag crashed into me. The smoke blessed my lungs and my head span and my heart sang and those far stars twinkled just out of reach. Their starlight had left them hundreds or thousands of years ago when nobody at all was walking along the West Sands. Nobody to breathe in the air coming off the sea. Nobody wanting to kiss those parted lips. Nobody watching the smoke slide from them and mix, dispersing out into the cold air and getting lost in the enormity of just one small narrow beach in one small narrow town stuck onto the side of Scotland. In the dark I couldn’t quite see the quizzical crinkle which would rumple the bridge of her nose when she didn’t understand what I was saying.

Breathe out.

Beer and fags. Life with beer and cigarettes is amazing. I miss the camaraderie of booze. Off for a drink after work, lighting up a cigarette as soon as I got out the door. Breathing in the fug of the pub at the entrance, that mix of hops and yeast, malt and barley, smoke and hope and then as the night wears on and the vision blurs, smoke and hopelessness. You can replace a fuckton of love with enough alcohol and nicotine until you can’t and you stumble off into the night and off down Spring Bank or Garratt Lane, racing your full bladder home and pretending to regret only that last pint.

Breathe in.

The cold days, when you huddle in groups round a Zippo, the cough is just one of those things. It’s so cold that you can’t light up from a match because your hands are shaking and you don’t know whether it’s really just the cold or because you need another drink. Head’s not that bad so it’s probably just the cold. Probably.

Breathe out.

One day, you breathe out and the next breath in won’t come. The air staggers into your lungs like a comedy drunk falling down a stairwell. It comes in fits and starts and it rattles and wheezes. It comes back up and out quick as a cough and a cough and cough. Your face is the same colour as the ash overflowing the tray on the broad arm of your single red armchair and enough still isn’t yet enough. The smoke rises silently from the end of the cigarette. It’s constant and changing at the same time, the patterns it makes in the still air of the quiet room a distraction from the book in your hand, the one that isn’t quite good enough to hold your attention.

Breathe in.

The doctor has prescribed you an inhaler for asthma and told you to stop smoking. You smell the cigarettes and mints on his breath and think “Aye, right.” He doesn’t quite meet your eye. Two puffs, twice a day and you’re sorted. The wee blue tube digs into your groin from its place in your pocket every time you sit down, as sharp a reminder as the wheeze it’s supposed to prevent. You’ve started on the jokes. You can’t afford a pension so you’re on the Marlboro plan: twenty a day for the next twenty years and you won’t fucking need a pension. And don’t tell me about the man-maths involved. I know, I know.

Breathe out.

Three inhalers now. Three different ones. The blue one and the brown one and the one with the disc thing to dispense it. Your morning wheezes have the same musical quality as a saw blade. Getting going in the morning with all the medication is like waking up a steam engine and takes barely less time. The day comes and you stub out the last cigarette, empty the ashtray into the bin and drop the empty fag packet on top. You keep the box of matches. It’s just opened, one or two strikes scarring the sandpaper side with black stripes.

Breathe in.

A month later there’s a note on the noticeboard in the gym for a beginners’ running group. You sign up. You miss the first week because you forget it’s happening but rock up on week 2 ahead of meeting your wife for a concert in town. You run around the edge of a football pitch for a bit, from corner flag to halfway line, walk from there to the next corner flag then sprint as hard as you can down behind the goal posts to the next corner and then repeating the process for three or four laps. Stretch, shower, change, into the car for the drive into town. It’s a bit difficult getting out of the car after 15 minutes but you totter off down Trinity Street to the concert in St John’s Chapel where the only seats left are in the boys’ choir stalls. You spend an hour folded into one with your knees round your ears and then cannot get up at the interval. You’re there for a while, wedged in by the pain in your legs. Physical exercise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be but you’re back the next week and at least there isn’t a concert afterwards.

Breathe out.

Running on Coldham’s Common again. You find a rhythm between stride and breath and suddenly everything clicks and you want to go faster, go further, run for longer. There are people out there with you, the rest of the group. Breathe in for two strides, out for two. Stride out a bit more, pick up the pace, the grass goes past underfoot, and you feel the air as it begins to move more quickly past your face. Just for a few seconds, you’re running like you did when you were in the playground and you had to run because you had to be everywhere else, all at once and the world was so full of things you had to see and do!

Breathe in.

It’s race day. Gulp down your inhalers, your breakfast, pull on your running shoes and your new socks, bought special, and out the door. On the start line, your stomach a butterfly farm, you take deep breaths to calm yourself and then everybody goes off. Try to find your pace, hit that magic rhythm. The crowd around you thins as the race goes on. Some gasp and drop away and you overtake the ones who have overcooked the start. Two strides for every breath in and two for every breath out, up the hills and down again. Just concentrate on the next breath, on the next stride, on the next runner or landmark ahead and then forget about it as you pass. The next one is just there.

Breathe out.

Swimming is a thing now too. Proper face down in the water front crawl and everything. You can see your breath as you push it out, bubbling away with the blue tiles of the pool bottom gliding oh so slowly by beneath you. Your lungs burn with the effort and that panicky feeling comes when you can’t quite get the timing right and you try to hold your breath instead. That really doesn’t work but you can’t force your body to do what you know it must to get to the next breath. Swimming is a thing now too, but it’s an infuriating thing that just doesn’t flow like you think it should.

Breathe in.

There’s a spot on Therfield Heath. I think there’s a trig point there but there’s certainly a board giving you distances to the various landmarks you can see from there. So many miles to Wimpole Hall, for example, which you can just about make out at the end of its avenue in the distance on a clear, still day. I also think it’s optimistic when it gives the distance to Ely Cathedral. At that distance it’s going to be little more than a couple of dabs from Bob Ross’ brush. It’s a good spot to stop and catch your breath on a run around the heath. If you start in the car park you’ve been going for four or five minutes, mostly straight up a steep hill. It’s steep for our part of the world anyway. I stop to catch my breath, adjust my laces and then carry on. I can pretend to myself that I don’t need to, sometimes but I am always grateful for the excuse of the view.

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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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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.

*zizz*

Bugger.

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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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And Panic Starts In…

Do you have a place in the Cambridge Half for next March? Are you panicking just a bit because you had a place last year and you don’t know how you’re going to improve on how you did then? Panic no more, because Coach Rich is here to simultaneously save the day and beast your legs until they bleed. Sort of. 

I’ve put together a training plan for runners with a bit of experience who want to get better. This is not a beginner’s plan. I can do one for you if you want, but this one is for improvers. I’ll be following it myself and we’re going to start on Monday next week, 5 November with the traditional rest day after a Sunday long run. Those of us who are members of C&C will be doing the Tuesday night training sessions and I’ve copied them out below each week so you can see what they are if you’re not a member and you want to follow along at home. 

Some items may require explanation, others are optional, such as the Wednesday easy run. I like that as a way to shake Tuesday out of my legs and get ready for Thursday. You might find it too much and need to rest. That’s fine. 

We’ll get together on a Thursday night at the track most weeks and head out onto the West Site for that session. The Thursday hills will be done either off Chesterton Road or between Cherry Hinton and Fulbourn depending on the size of the group.

Friday evenings swimming, cycling or easy spinning are entirely optional too. Again, I find them useful but you can rest, or do some yoga or stretching and rolling.

I’ve given Saturdays as rest days but you can do a parkrun if you want. The Sunday long run is not an option though and we’ll be meeting up to run together if you want. I’ve given it in time instead of distance because we’ll mostly be doing out and back along the Roman Road, Fleam Dyke or other quiet and off-road parts of the world. You might want to give yourself a set distance and I’m happy to discuss that with you if you want.

We’re going to meet for the long run at the end of the first week in the Gogs car park at 9:00am. I’ll set up a Facebook group and a weekly email if you want encouragement or support. Running a good half marathon is not an easy thing to but it can be easier with some support. We can support one another. 

Cambridge Half Training Plan

WC 5 November2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Wheel of Fartlek

Track: Long WU; 5-7x 800m w 3 minutes recovery

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 6:00 (2:00 cruising at race pace, 4:00 harder)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 60 minutes long run, preferably off-road and a bit hilly

WC 12 November 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Indian Running – Jesus Green
Track: Long WU; 4-5x 1k hold and kick (800m, 200m) w slow jog

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday Hill Session (venue TBA)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 60-70 minutes long run, preferably off-road and a bit hilly (or St Neots HM)

WC 19 November 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Parlauf – Parker’s Piece
Track: Long WU; 3-4x 4 x 400m, w 90 secs and 3:00

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 6:00 (1:30 cruising at race pace, 4:30 harder)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 70 minutes long run, preferably off-road and a bit hilly

WC 26 November 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: City Fartlek
Track: Long WU; 5-7x 800m w 3:00

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday Hills (venue TBA)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday Jingle Mile!

Sunday 70 minutes long run, preferably off-road and a bit hilly

WC 3 December 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: 5 x 1k West Site
Track: Long WU; 3-4x 1k hollow (400m, 200m, 400m) w 200m slow jog

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday K Reps and Kettlebells

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 75 minutes long run or Frostbite

WC 10 December 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Storey’s Way 700m hills
Track: Long WU; 6-9x 600m, w 200m slow jog

Wednesday 40-45minutes easy run

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 6:00 (1:00 cruising at race pace, 5:00 harder)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 80 minutes long run

WC 17 December 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: 5 x 1k Jesus Green
Track: Christmas special (or Long WU; 7 x 800m w 3:00)

Wednesday 45 minutes easy run

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 6:00 (30s cruising at race pace, 5:30 harder)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 85 minutes long run

WC 24 December 2018

Christmas Eve Optional Roman Road Social Run

Christmas Day REST

Boxing Day C&C 4 or 30 minutes easy

Thursday REST

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST or parkrun

Sunday Buntingford 10 or 70 minutes easy run

WC 31 December 2018

New Years Eve Ely 10k or REST

New Years Day Optional Roman Road Social Run

Wednesday 30 minutes easy run

Thursday Hills

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST or parkrun

Sunday 70-75 minutes long run

WC 7 January 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Paarlauf, West Site

Track: Long WU; 7 x 800m w 3:00

Wednesday 35 minutes easy run

Thursday K Reps and Kettlebells

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 75-80 minutes long run

WC 14 January 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Wheel of Fartlek, West Site
Track: Long WU; 2-3 x cut downs (1k, 600m, 200m) w 200m slow jog & 200m walk

Wednesday 35 minutes easy

Thursday 30:00 tempo

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 80-85 minutes long run (or Folksworth 15 if you’re marathon training as well)

WC 21 January 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 40 minutes easy

Thursday 40:00 tempo

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 75-80 minutes long run

WC 28 January 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 35 minutes easy

Thursday 3 x 12:00 tempo

Friday swim or spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 80-85 minutes long run

WC 4 February 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 35 minutes easy

Thursday 4 x 13:00 tempo

Friday swim or spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 90-95 minutes long run

WC 11 February 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 40 minutes easy

Thursday Hills (venue TBA)

Friday swim or spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 95-100 minutes long run

WC 18 February 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 35 minutes easy

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 7:00 (1:00 race pace, 6:00 harder)

Friday swim or spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 90 minutes long run (30 minutes easy, 30 minutes harder, 30 minutes race pace)

WC 25 February 2019 (Race Week)

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday REST

Thursday 30 minutes easy, with 6-8 x 50m strides

Friday swim or spin

Saturday Bike Ride recce round the course

Sunday RACE DAY

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Jingle Mile VI – The Return of the Fetchi

Cambridge University Sports Ground

Wilberforce Road

2 December 2017

Huge thanks to the timekeepers, judges, volunteers and unofficials: Diane Potter, Chris Hurcomb, Rachel Leah, Ian Williams, Kate Williams, Charlie Ritchie and anyone else who stood and cheered and yelled “Ding, ding, ding” because I forgot to get a bell again.

Results below.

Jingle Mile Round 1

Position Name Time
1 Lucas Zakrzewski 07:55
2 Amos Roney 07:56
3 Graham Boswell 07:58
4 Caroline Zakrzewski 08:11
5 Diane Card 08:15
6 Terri Sains 08:25
7 Dave Mail (Pacer) 08:27
8 Glenn Richer 08:31
9 Cheryl Boswell 08:38
10 Laura Coates 08:40
11 Ros Bodi 08:58
12 Louise Pryor 09:00
13 Bernie Shannon 09:00
DNS Sue Potts
DNS Helen Gardner
DNS Helen Johnson
DNS Pauline Blake
DNS Greg Potts

Jingle Mile Round 2

Position Name Time
1 Lucy Johnson 06:50
2 Colm Crowley 06:50
3 Anna Duch 06:55
4 Tracy Crowley 07:12
5 Rachel Morgan 07:19
6 Wayne Hargreaves 07:20
7 Andy Unsworth 07:27
8 Graham Boswell 07:31
9 Bernie Shannon 07:50
DNS Julia Sudbury

Jingle Mile Round 3

Position Name Time
1 Maria Buczak 05:53
2 Chris Poole 06:00
3 Neil Coates 06:02
4 Chris Walton 06:03
5 Cliff Weatherup 06:03
6 Ben Chamberlain 06:12
7 Isabelle Lemasson 06:17
8 Dave Mail 06:38
DNS Rachel Leah
DNS Lee Radley
DNS David Mould
DNS Scott White

Jingle Mile Round 4

Position Name Time
1 Istvan Jacso 05:00
2 Charlie Wartnaby 05:13
3 Alex Murkett 05:20
4 Ben Capper 05:29
5 Rob Moir 05:30
6 William Howling 05:36

The Turkeys’ Escape and Evasion 800m

Position Name Time
1 Ben Capper 02:39
2 Chris Poole 02:48
3 Ben Chamberlain 02:48
4 Neil Coates 02:53
5 Chris Walton 02:53
6 Cliff Wetherup 02:53
7 Isabelle Lemasson 03:04
8 Anna Duch 03:14
9 Bernie Shannon 03:19
10 Wayne Hargreaves 03:19
11 Rachel Morgan 03:21
12 Graham Boswell 03:28
13 Diane Card 03:50
14 Glenn Richer 04:00
15 Cheryl Boswell 04:14

The Hurtbox of Crackers 400m

Position Name Time
1 Alex Murkett 00:59
2 Ben Capper 01:06
3 Lucy Johnson 01:12
4 Chris Poole 01:13
5 Chris Walton 01:18
6 Ben Chamberlain 01:19
7  Isabelle Lemasson 01:20
8 Neil Coates 01:21
9 Colm Crowley 01:22
10 Anna Duch 01:24
11 Rachel Morgan 01:26
12 Bernie Shannon 01:32
13 Tracy Crowley 01:34
14 Andy Unsworth 01:39
15 Lucas Zakrzewski 01:41
16 Diane Card 01:46

4x100m Mince Pie Relay

Position Team Name Members Time
1 Chris Poole, Bernie Shannon, Maria Buczak, Rafik Jallad 01:02.6
2 Ben Capper, Alex Murkett, Amos Roney, Rob Moir 01:03.0
3 Laura Coates, Neil Coates, Chris Walton, Lucy Johnson 01:03.9
4 Tracy Crowley, Colm Crowley, Diane Card, Caroline Zakrzewski 01:12.6
5 Ben Chamberlain, Istvan Jacso, Anna Duch, Isabelle Lemasson 01:13.0
6 Graham Boswell, Cheryl Boswell, Wayne Hargreaves, Rachel Morgan 01:16.7

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Richard’s Big Book of Excuses

I haven’t been out for my long run today. It was such a lovely day too; unseasonably warm thanks to Hurricane Ophelia and little wind and no rain in spite of Hurricane Ophelia and still I didn’t go out for my long run. I do have an excuse though. Sort of. My right Achilles is a little twangy after my parkrun yesterday. I felt a wee stabby pain in the side of my foot on my cool down and the aforementioned twang started as I walked back to my car. I’d planned a run along the Roman Road this afternoon but decided to rest again because it just didn’t feel right but now I think it was an excuse to park my arse on the sofa and fart around Doing Things With Excel as I processed the results from this morning’s Cambourne 5k.

I think all athletes have excuses for when things go wrong. It’s usually best to be honest and own up to cock-ups. A period of self-reflection after a race or a training session is always a good thing and helps make the next one go better if you make the necessary changes. That is all well and good and worthy and necessary but it’s not very funny. (Nor is this, but I’m doing my best.) So with that in mind and because I feel the need here are the Top Five from Richard’s Big Book of Excuses.

In at Number 5 – The Wrong Kind of Weather.

You’ve trained for cool conditions and suddenly it’s twenty-five degrees centigrade. The sun is bouncing off the pavements just like the rain isn’t and the bastard spectators have all gone to have ice cream for breakfast. That black plastic bag you brought with you for warmth is mocking you. You want to put the fucking thing down but it keeps sticking to your hand. It. Won’t. Come. Off.

Or it’s pissing it down with rain and you have your favourite racing flats on, the really light ones with no tread whatsoever and the concrete surface you’re running on means that you’re suddenly Bambi on the iced-over pond. You want to run through the corners but you end up looking like Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served? on a boys’ night out with Dick Emery and Larry Grayson: more mince than is seen anywhere outside of a butcher’s slab.

Which brings us somewhat tangentially to Number 4: I Really Needed My Trail Shoes.

Following on from the wrong sort of weather is the wrong sort of surface. You find out just after you arrive to register that it’s rained all night and that hard-packed trail you reccied last month now has the consistency, colour and smell of nervous cow poo. Your trail shoes are at home, still drying out because you fell off the river trail and into the actual river a couple of days ago.

Or you misread the race instructions, skipping over the bit about the bog at 11 miles into Race The Train and end up leaving both shoes in said bog. I did this and the marshal wanted to know why I went back for my shoes instead of just going on. They were my fucking shoes! I liked them. I wanted them and I needed them to run the last three miles of the race. I realise that marshals are volunteers and do great things from the goodness of their hearts but sometimes you just want to give someone a good hard nipple grip.

Number 3 is of course The Wheels Fell Off.

This is usually down to neglecting the Six Pees. Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. Actually none of the the excuses would be necessary if we paid closer attention to the Six Pees.

So you’re cruising along on a 10k at what feels like a strong but maintainable pace. Up comes a hill and everyone just runs away from you. Everyone. You’re left breathless and buggered by the scenery, retching into the gutter and begging passing strangers for a jelly baby. “Please give me a jelly baby. I just need one miserable sugar hit to get going again.” You have nothing left to give. You have emptied the tank too quickly, over-estimating your fitness and under-estimating the conditions. You feel miserable. You will never run again. You will go back to that bog in Wales and throw all your shoes into it. Of course, you are a complete drama queen.

Number 2: I Just Didn’t Get Enough Long Runs In

The excuse primarily of the lazy-arsed marathon runner who finds himself walking with seventeen miles still to go. Long runs are long. They are time-consuming. There are lots of things you would much rather do that may or may not involve alcohol, cake, sex, bragging on social media, cats, sofas or other soft furnishings, books, illuminated manuscripts, work (but only very occasionally), sex (again – how manly!), more alcohol, poor weather (see the above), twinges from assorted limbs and The Bad Back, and finally, rampant and terminal hypochondria. All of these get in the way of going for a long run so you can get to the start of a marathon having done quite a lot of fuck all and fretting but no actual running for more than about 90 minutes at all. That’s fine if you’ve done lots of marathons but the sort of person who needs this excuse hasn’t done lots of marathons. He’s made an awful lot of excuses.

The biggest and best excuse is Number 1: Injury And Illness Ruined My Life.

It’s entire possible to be both undertrained and over-injured. I am living, aching proof. In the last month I’ve had a week off because of man flu and the return of the twangy Achilles which plagued the start of my 2017 training. I’ve been as careful as possible about my training since March. I haven’t done too much, too quickly or too soon and I still ran a 90% effort at parkrun yesterday after a 32% warm up so now my Achilles tendons feel like one of John Cage’s prepared pianos.

On which happy note, I think I’ll leave you.

In spite of all of this, tomorrow is another day, the start of another week and maybe I’ll get through them all with no further recourse to the Big Book of Excuses. I doubt it though.

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Everything Hurts. Nothing Works.

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

There may be pics to follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why I Run

The inov8 8 Weeks to Natural campaign has started me thinking about why I run. It would be easier for me to say what I don’t run for. I don’t do it for the glory or the fame. I’m a middle-aged man who is never going to be quick enough for that.

I don’t do it for money, even though The Sore Legs Tour is raising small amounts of money for Macmillan Cancer Support. (All donations gratefully accepted.)

I don’t do it for the medals but I’m proud of the ones I’ve received for completing those races, especially my first one from Cambourne 10k last year and my two marathon medals from Moray 2011 and London this year. I prefer the t-shirts, in fact. I feel especially attached to the lovely, soft cotton one from the Moray Marathon which I wear after a hard race because it’s so comfortable. It’s yellow and cheap and feels like a duster in the making but I worked hard for it for months, not just the time I spent running around Morayshire.

I don’t do it for my friends even though most of my friends now are runners. I was a bit of a lonely soul before. I enjoyed reading most and that’s pretty much the definition of a solitary pleasure. I could share my other pastimes like old cars and older music but I felt better when I went to race meetings on my own or listened to music sat quietly in a church or concert. The shared experience of music is something I left behind somehow when I stopped going to gigs. I never played or sang well enough to make much music with friends either.

Now that I run, I share my time with runners who have become my friends and that’s pulled me out of my shell. I’ll now happily spend time with people as long as I can have my me time too. Some of my friends who weren’t runners before are runners now and a few of them have come out as runners. It used to be a shameful practice, done late at night or very early in the morning, in parks or public gardens or along ill-lit back streets where few went for other purposes. They’d hide the special clothes and shoes they bought in secret from specialist shops or over the internet. Now, because they see me at it they feel empowered themselves. They’re out and they’re proud.

I still don’t do it for them.

I don’t do it for my health. I have asthma and was on the border of COPD. I was smoking and being an arse about it. I’ve written before about my love affair with cigarettes. I don’t want to go through it all again. I’ll just say this: they were wonderful for a while and then they wanted me to die and I don’t want to remember that bit. I just want to remember the good times. Pubs after hours with a beer in one hand, a fag in the other, a buzz in my head and bonhomie in my breast. That’s all gone now and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it.

There are compensations. I’m now much less likely to contract lung cancer or heart disease. I’ve reduced the chances of stroke. My asthma has improved and I’m no longer in danger from COPD. I can come in and snog my wife and not worry about the smell of cigarette smoke on my breath. I no longer consume quite so many mints.

But that’s still not why I run.

I run because I feel the joy of movement. When I’m running and I feel the blood in my veins and the air in my lungs and my legs and arms drive me on. When it’s going well – and for the most part it’s been going very well since I started 8 Weeks to Natural – it feels brilliant to run. I feel very free and my movements are easy whether I’m sprinting hard up a hill or cruising along on a long run. It’s partly the training and the new techniques I’ve learned and partly it comes from my head being in a good place.

It just feels good to run.

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