Small Pleasures

Small pleasures are those little things which mean a lot to oneself and which probably mean nothing at all to anyone else. Some have disappeared. Kit-Kats in foil wrappers, for example, the four-fingered ones. I used to slip the red paper part off and then rub the foil smooth over the fingers so that the logo stood out. Then I’d slide my fingernail down between the fingers. I had to get the tension exactly right or the foil would tear and that would have been dreadful. They’ve changed the packaging and the four-fingered Kit-Kats come in this nasty wrapper which is doubtless more robust and keeps those little slivers of wafer and chocolate fresher for longer.

Small pleasures shouldn’t be the great big things in life. Kissing is never a small pleasure. If it is, you’re probably doing it poorly or kissing the wrong person. My advice would be to find the right person so that every kiss becomes a comma in the sentence of your life together. Who says you can’t combine romance and punctuation? Sexy times shouldn’t really be on the list of your small pleasures either. There’s a reason they call it the Big O. If you’re screaming, it’s not a small thing.

I really liked the smell of Kick the Cat’s head. Other cats don’t have the same smell. Kick the Cat was not a personable creature. She was distinctly grumpy, in fact. She hated practically everyone apart from me. Me, she barely tolerated. She was a serial sausage thief and inveterate bin diver but in her passing few adorable moments she had a sweetly-smelling bonce. When it wasn’t covered in week-old curry sauce. Tilly has even hairier ears than I do. That’s no reason to dislike her, of course, and the space between them doesn’t appear to be filled with anything more substantial than fluff and nonsense. Even though she shares none of Kick’s delinquent tendencies, Tilly just doesn’t smell as good. Bertie of blessed memory would gently chew on on of my fingers which was lovely. Mouse is an instant purrer. You just need to rub her ear and off she goes.

My last post was about the sound of leaves make as you run through them, that ship-ship-ship sound. Getting your cadence and form just right as you run through a drift of fallen leaves is definitely a small pleasure. Even better is running through a puddle. Today’s parkrun at Milton was beautiful. There were puddles the width of the path in places and you could mince round the edges or go straight through the middle. Who ever took pleasure from going round the edges?

New books smell even better than small cats. A magazine which nobody has opened before is a special thing indeed. Lighting the gas on the first click does odd things to the corners of my mouth. A man shouldn’t smile at that. A sane man shouldn’t smile at that. Then there’s the crunch on a good creme brulee when you put the first spoon in. (I can’t do the accent things on this keyboard. Pretend they’re there.) Or what about the texture of extra thick double cream? Mmmm… A spoonful of that and I’m a happy man.

Life should be full of pleasures of all sizes. If your life is like a jar – bear with me on this – if your life is a jar or a vase and pleasures are rocks then you can have two or three big rocks and an awful lot of emptiness or you can pack in more, smaller pleasures – or pebbles in this analogy – even ones as small as a grain of sand. Oooh, that reminds me, running on wet sand on a beach is marvellous, just marvellous.

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PB Saturday

I hadn’t really planned it. I seldom do. I thought it likely that I’d be needed at Wimpole Estate parkrun on Saturday morning so when Paul said he had a full roster and that I wasn’t needed, I thought I’d have a trot round Cambridge instead. I’d planned to have a real go at my Mile PB at the Fetch Summer Mile which was on Saturday lunchtime at the university track. It’s traditional to have a bit of a blow at a parkrun first, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a pop at my parkrun PB while I had a decent set of legs. Training’s been going very well and I haven’t had an injury for a few months so I knew I was in good nick. I’ve been running at the back of the quick groups at C&C’s Tuesday night training sessions and not being too far off the back of the group.

I thought I’d be able to hold the pace I needed. My previous 5k PB, set in March 2012 was 21:03 and I’ve been running 800m repeats in around three minutes. I knew that pace was unsustainable over 5k but I should have been capable of running much more quickly than seven minute miles for the distance. I asked on Facebook for pacing help and Peter Stephens and Neil Tween both volunteered. I thought I’d need to be kept in check a bit at the start. I have a tendency to go off like a teenager at a porn party. There was a chance I’d blow up at 3k if I went off at my usual harum-scarum pace.

On Saturday morning, I had my perfomance porridge (not at all Scottish – made with honey, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries) and a coffee. I remembered to finish my orange juice but not my banana. All done before 7:30am. I need to have my breakfast to run properly but I can’t have it too late or I park my porridge on the finishing line and that’s just not pretty. I met Neil and Peter at Milton. Peter was in a very nice Tweed jacket. He intended to wear it on his run. Chris Darling has a reputation for dressing up on his pacing days so Peter thought that the least he could do was look smart. He looked very smart.

I warmed up. I don’t bother when I’m just jogging round but I needed to be on it from the start. I did the shorter first lap of the course and ran up the finishing straight to check conditions and to visualise crossing the line. I like to say that I don’t have a ritual before a race, that I just rock up and run but that’s not quite true. I need to get my heart rate up before I start or I spend the first half mile running through treacle. I do the same warm up and stretches each time I run hard. I suppose that counts as a ritual.

I ran just behind Neil and Peter for the first lap, It felt really easy. I nearly tripped on another runner and then nearly tripped her. The first lap can be really congested at Milton. I moved past the pace group just past the 1k board. I thought I’d cruise along just ahead of them for a bit in case Peter came in a little behind his target. I gradually pulled out a bit of a lead. I wasn’t wearing my watch so I had no idea how quickly I was running. I ran up behind a junior in a C&C vest at the far side of the lakes. I pushed out a few words of encouragement as I went to pass him and he kicked on a bit. Each time I caught him he would speed up a bit and I nearly fell over him a couple of times. I was a little frustrated but impressed that a boy who couldn’t be in his teens yet was easily keeping pace. He was right there for almost the entire lap. I finally got past at about 3k, I think. Martyn Brearley had overtaken us just before the long straight going back down to the Slippery Bridge at 3.5 and I set about trying to keep him in sight.

As we went through the final lap, I gradually began to close the gap to Martyn. I try very hard not to slow down on Milton’s many corners and each time I ran round one, the gap would come down a little bit. I finally came onto Martyn’s shoulder with a huge effort going past the cafe for the last time and kicked hard to overtake him on the straight just after the final left-handed corner onto the starting straight with 400m to go. I was sure that not only Martyn but Neil and Peter were right up my chuff and I gave the finish everything to stay ahead of them. That finishing straight goes on for fucking ever. There is nothing but pain in your legs, nothing but fire in your lungs, the very hounds of hell in the form of a very gentle, kind and tall man are chasing you down and you can’t look back. You. Can’t. Look. Back. Look back and you risk falling. Worse than that, you give those chasing you heart. They think you’re worried about them. I was.

I crossed the line, collected my finisher’s token – number 45 – and then glanced back. Martyn was there. I had no idea of my time. Neil and Peter came across the line a few seconds later, Peter’s watch stopped on 21:00 so I had a new PB. I didn’t know what my time was then. I waited at the finish funnel for some more friends to come through and then wandered off for a coffee with Julia, Martyn and Alex. It was a happy, happy and completely exhausted time. James gave me my time before I left. 20:38 – a PB by 25 seconds. Job done on PB Saturday, part 1.

And then I had my Mile.

Once again I had a pacer. John Oakes is a legend. He consistently runs at the front of races up to Half Marathon distance and regularly wins his age group. He is another quietly driven, self-effacing, personable and very generous athlete. I had asked for a 5:50 pacer, once again more to stop me going off too quickly. Ours was the fourth of five rounds and it was the busiest. I settled in just behind John after the off and concentrated on moving as efficiently as possible round the track, hugging the inside of lane 1 on the bends. I had Martyn there again. He moved just ahead of me and sat on John’s shoulder at the end of the first lap. We cruised up behind Stacy Wheat, the only woman ahead of us at the 1k mark and this is where I came unstuck. John and Martyn overtook her on the straight before the bend but I was still on the inside of lane 1 and had to move round the outside of her to overtake her because I was losing ground on them. I took the entire length of the bend to do it and then had to work hard to close the five or six strides which had opened up between us.

I didn’t do it. Martyn was flying and I couldn’t close the gap. I took maybe two strides out of him in the final lap. I crossed the line in 6:06, three seconds outside my PB and 16 seconds outside my target time. It was silly to expect two huge PBs in a day but I had so much fun trying. I then ate far too much cake.

I would like to publically thank Peter and Neil for their time and generosity at Cambridge parkrun and John for his pacing at the track. Chris Hurcomb did a grand job organising everything at the track. My thanks to him as well.

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It Was All A Bit Runny

One day, not so long ago, a writer went off to do writerly, authorial things with her writerly authorial friends and left her runny husband behind to attempt athleticism for the weekend. They both had a marvellous time. She was witty and erudite, met lots of friends, networked subtly, drank very nice whisky in a dark bar with an illustrious new chum and all in all had the sort of weekends writers can only dream about. Meanwhile, her husband ran so much and so hard he was sick. Twice. He loved it. Not the puking, that would be weird.

They say that’s it’s good for couples to have shared interests and it’s true. It’s also good for them to have things they can do on their own. I had a completely brilliant weekend of running fun and Anne did her thing in peace and quiet. We do have a shared interest in books and history. I love wandering around museums with her, even if I spend far too much time reading the labels on the exhibits and she’d rather take in the objects and do more research at home later.

This weekend, Anne was doing her own thing again. I ran my 50th parkrun at Milton Country Park on Saturday morning, had a wee jog round the course at our new parkrun at the Wimpole Estate and then today gave my ugly, weak legs a complete thrashing at the Cambridgeshire Cross Country Championships where I came 100th in a time of 53:13. I didn’t really have time to enjoy my 50th at Milton because I was in too much of a hurry to get out to Wimpole and get set up for our test event. I posted a respectable 23:30, had a brief struggle with the Chunder Monkey on the finishing line – which I won, by the way – grabbed a very good mocha from Cafe Diem and escaped from Milton only 20 minutes behind schedule because I was too chatty with my mates there.

When I got to Milton, I dropped the Great Big Box of Stuff off and went for a jog round the course to check conditions for the briefing. They were damp in some places and downright muddy as all fuck in others. I even lost a shoe at one point. It’s a challenging course with one major climb finishing at the 2k point with my favourite view of Cambridgeshire. During the summer, it’s going to be a quick one but it’s too boggy just now for outright speed. There are a couple of places where it’s actually ankle-deep in water but you soon thrash and splash your way through those.

The test event went well, everyone had a good time, nobody got lost and the marshals and volunteers were top notch. Our first official run is next Saturday morning at 9:00am. Please come and join us.

I was only slightly broken after a brisk 5k followed an hour later by a challenging one so I wasn’t too worried about the Counties this morning. I had a complete shocker at this race last year. I was 103rd out 109 in 53:02 and felt dreadful all the way round. I was 11 seconds slower this year but felt quicker. I probably paced it much better. I started from the back and cruised up the first hill. I enjoy hills and mud. Anne said to me this evening that she doesn’t understand a definition of fun which includes running up and down a muddy, slippery park. Once I got into the rhythm and began to take the brakes off on the downhills, I really began to enjoy myself.

I managed not to come last. I was 100th out 121 this year. It’s just possible that three of the men ahead of me last year died in the interim because I had my arse handed to me in grand style by some fairly elderly gentlemen. I hope not. Everyone behind me today was either older than me or carrying more weight than me. So were quite a lot of men ahead of me.

We were all out in our club vests. My vest means a lot to me. When it goes over my head, I feel part of the team and our team did very well today. I was never in a school sports team. I lacked both the raw talent and the will to train and improve so I didn’t deserve a place ahead of boys who have both talent and a work ethic in training. I work at training now because I want to give as much to the team as they have given to me.

I have had such a splendid weekend of running with my friends during the day and coming home to fine dinners in the evening. I’m a very lucky man. Weekends like this happen so infrequently and unexpectedly. I’d like to thank everyone who has made mine so good. You all know who you are.

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