A Ball Of String

“Knowledge equals power, power equals energy, energy equals matter, and matter equals mass. And mass distorts space. It distorts a library into polyfractal L-space. So, while the Dewey system has its fine points, when you’re setting out to look something up in the multidimensional folds of L-space what you really need is a ball of string.”

Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

I have a ball of string. I have several of them. They’re not actually mine, in as much as I went to a shop, asked the nice assistant for a ball of string, took the ball of string from the nice assistant and handed over money in exchange for it. No, my dearly beloved wife did that at least twice to my certain knowledge because there is a ball of string on the bookcase in the hall and another in the conservatory and that dearly beloved wife of mine is no string thief. No, she would have paid for any string in the house.

It’s just about possible that Kick the Cat would have stolen the string and brought it back like she once did with a chicken carcass and a sausage still warm from someone else’s barbeque but she showed no real interest in balls of string when they weren’t being dangled in front of her. Then, she would playfully eviscerate anyone foolish enough to toy with her in such an obvious way and leave the string unravelled over their twitching corpse.

So this ball of string, what is it for and why am I writing about it when I really should be describing great deeds of heroic heroism at the county champs this afternoon? Really, it’s displacement activity. I had yet another DNF today. The calf injury which I picked up over Christmas and which has stopped me running since the Ely New Year’s Eve 10k last week had subsided to the point I could contemplate racing today. I thought that I would start gently, see how I felt at the end of the first lap and push on if I could. It turned out that I couldn’t even get to the end of the second lap and pulled out.

I shouldn’t have started, really. I was certain that I had entered via our C&C website but I didn’t feature on the list of runners which Ric circulated. He got me in when it really shouldn’t have been possible (for which many, many thanks) so I felt obliged to turn up and give it a go. I was right at the back of the field when I dropped out. There were maybe half a dozen runners behind me. That didn’t bother me in the slightest. Today was about getting round and having a play on the course while the the young, the beautiful and the speedy mixed it up at the front.

C&C runners took all three places in the Senior Men’s race. Well done to Jeppers, Sullivan and Chris for that. I was the last of the C&C team on the course at the point I stopped. The pain was too great and I didn’t think it was worth hobbling round for another half hour just to give Richard or Megan more work to do. My stupidity and ambition has already given them quite enough to do.

The ball of string also gives me licence to talk about the quotation from Guards! Guards! above. There is another one along the lines of a bookshop being a cultured black hole which has learned to read. Something like that, anyway.

Words are important. Pratchett knew that. We all know that. You don’t need to be one of the modern world’s wittier writers to know that words have power. What you say, when you say it, to whom you say it and how you say it are all really important. It’s probably the subject for another blog post because I’m thinking now about John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word… and no good will come of that in the context of a race report on a DNF and a really sore Achilles.

I want to talk about the power of words to help and heal and to pull down and destroy but that’s definitely a different post for another day. I’ve already touched on it several times in other posts here and on Farcebollocks. I think I’ll close for now because I’m eagerly anticipating whatever Anne is conjuring in the kitchen from the mince she’s defrosted. Mince is Scottish soul food. It has healing properties greater even than porridge. Neil and Katie will be pleased to hear that the #porridgereport is back on Twitter and who knows, there may even be a #mincereport on occasion too.


(For those unfamiliar with the #porridgereport, today it was blueberries, flaked almonds and maple syrup. Good creamy consistency. Satisfying quantity.)

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‘Morning!

I get confused when I’m running. I can only really concentrate on one or two things at a time. Today it was all about running to a pace, keeping a nice upright posture and only if I had sufficient extra mental capacity would I worry about bits of me hurting. I saw Megan for some advice and massage on Tuesday a year to the day after my last trip to Fit Again Sports Therapy and she said I could train as long as I cut back on my mileage while I was still doing the physio on my Achilles. I did a very easy parkrun at Milton yesterday and nothing pinged or went twang so I thought that a longer run today would be a good check on whether I could restart training with a light week next week. I think I’m good to go. I have an odd wee twinge from my ankle but both Achilles are fine. There was a momentary flare from the right one just at the end of the session a couple of hundred yards from home but it was so fleeting it might not have happened at all. It might have been in my head. Runhausen’s Syndrome, perhaps.

What with all that going on, concentrating on my pace and form – don’t go so quickly that you break or so slowly that your form collapses – what with all that, I didn’t really have a lot of brain-room left for other things. We were told during our CiRF course that most athletes can only cope with one or two coaching points during a session and I’m definitely one of those athletes. So, I’m moving along, glancing at my watch every minute or so but running on feel for the most part and my pace is fine. I think about a balloon coming out the top of my head to keep everything nice and upright and I find that everything else follows from there. I’m relaxed, my arms are moving easily, my knees are coming up and it’s all good. As usual, I occasionally feel my left shoe brush my right calf as it comes through but once I concentrate on keeping everything in line then that stops too. It’s all going marvellously.

Then I spot some people on the path ahead. Now, I know some of you will find this hard to believe but I was brought up to be polite. It wasn’t all “Fuck you, you fucking humpbadger!” from the age of six. I still feel the need to greet people with a smile and a nod and to say something as I glide athletically past. I don’t want to be one of those runners, the wordless ones who avoid eye contact in case they have to deviate momentarily from their course, the ones plugged into some iPod-driven hell of introspection and sweat-sodden self-loathing. You know the ones. I saw one like that this afternoon coming the other way. I smiled. I nodded. I said “Hi!” Nothing. Not a thing. The fucker wasn’t even going so quickly that he couldn’t get a word out. Headphones will do that to a man.

So, these people coming the other way. There was a family of two adults and two children occupying the width of the path. Not a problem for the considerate runner. No traffic in the road so I run along it for a bit, do the smile and nod thing as I go past and get a smile and nod in return. The positive exchange, as the Naked Runners used to call it. Next is a little old lady walking along at little old lady pace with what is almost certain to be a badly buggered hip from the way she is limping. She smiles. I smile back, nod and say “‘Morning!” It’s almost five in the afternoon. I’m an idiot. I almost run back to her and say “Sorry, I meant to say ‘Good afternoon,’ because it’s afternoon after all, isn’t it? But I’m a runner, you see. I can only concentrate on my pace and my form and I don’t have time to think about the time of day too. Terrible, isn’t it? I’m quite bright, really. Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen you today. The first time I’ve ever seen you so for some reason my brain says that I should wish you a good morning and not a good afternoon. Brains, eh? Who’d have one? Anyway, sorry to startle you coming back like this. I’m not a mugger, ha, ha. No, not me. I’m a runner. Nice talking to you. Bye!'” What would you have done?

Onwards again. My route takes me through the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall and then out along the babbling brook where the path is very narrow. I pass a couple heading in the same direction as me by running on some grass where the path goes past some houses. I give them a wide berth. I’ve caused screams before as I’ve gone by because people can’t always hear me coming. I take that as a compliment to my form but I don’t like to cause anxiety. I wave thanks to them as I go by and wish them a pleasant evening. There are a couple of cyclists coming the other way down the narrowest stretch of the path. We each slow down to allow the other to pass. Smile. Nod. Onwards. Finally, I have to come to a stop to allow a couple of families with pushchairs past. Of the four adults, only one man returns my nod and smile. The rest avoid eye contact. I know I’m a bit sweaty by now, a bit snottery and slightly breathless but I was being polite and all I get in return was one hurried and embarrassed nod.

I can’t be the only one who’d like to build a community one exchange at a time. It’s not just about the runners or the cyclists or the swimmers. I tell my athletes on a Tuesday night to be careful when they encounter pedestrians. A group of athletes moving at pace can be a very intimidating thing for someone to encounter. They’d be alright, speeding up and buggering off round a corner. It’s me that’d be in the shite. I have the club’s name and badge emblazoned on my chest and Coach Rich on my back. I’d get the letters. So I tell them to slow down or to give other pedestrians room and acknowledge them as they pass. It’s only polite after all. I don’t want us to be one of those clubs after all. I’d like to include those of a less athletic disposition in the community even if it’s just by nodding sweatily as I go past whether they want to be included or not. I might get fewer screams that way and fewer of those fuckers with headphones instead of social consciences would irritate me.

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An Idiot Abroad

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I have a thing about new clothes. I won’t buy any. I will buy bundles of boxers and party-packs of socks from time to time but that’s about it. I haven’t bought a t-shirt since I started running because I get all the tees I need from races. I have very occasionally bought a shirt in an emergency, usually after I’ve dribbled my lunchtime soup down the one I’m wearing or I’ve been caught in one of those rainstorms which soak me so completely that complete strangers are transfixed by the sight of my nipples and chest hair through the now-transparent fabric. Generally, however, I won’t buy new clothes.

I will buy second-hand clothes. My ex introduced me to the delights of the charity shop. (Hello Jane, if you’re lurking. Hope it’s all going well.) I thought it was weird at the time but she bought me what became my favourite blue shirt in a charity shop in Oxford. I’ve worn it so much that the collar is threadbare and becoming detached and yet I can’t bring myself to throw it out. It’s just such a beautiful colour and the fabric is softer than a kitten’s kiss. I have bought a few things from charity shops myself since then but now that I’m not a fat man any more, there is little on the rails my size.

That’s the basic problem I have now. I need skinny clothes but I don’t want to shell out for them. I’m stuck with shirts I bought five or six years ago because there is lots of wear left in them. It’s a waste for me. I could take them down to charity shops and make space in my wardrobes for clothes which fit but I never quite get round to doing it. Twice in the past week, I’ve gone into shops to buy a new pair of trousers and a couple of shirts, spent half an hour carefully selecting the items I want, taken them to the till and then bottled at the last minute and left the shop empty-handed. Partly it’s the cost. Clothes are expensive. Nice clothes are really expensive. The clothes I like are really very nice indeed. I tried again at Tesco. Tesco clothing is not particularly nice but it’s not that expensive. It’s like new charity shop stuff but even thirty quid for two shirts which don’t billow like spinnakers and a pair of decent trolleys which won’t fall down is too much for me to pay. I’m too tight to pay for snugly fitting clothes.

There is a proviso to that last statement. I’m not too tight to pay for snugly fitting clothes made from Lycra. If you can run wearing it, I’m more than happy to fork out for it. I wouldn’t buy those things for thirty quid on Friday but I paid £40 for my lovely new, too sexy for slow, track spikes yesterday. I didn’t even buy them from the interwebz. I went into a real shop and talked to real people and really bought a real pair or really quick shoes. Shame I’m too broken to use them right now.

Yup, I’m on the injury bench again. I broke at mile four of the Wimpole Half Marathon Hoohaah. In truth, I shouldn’t have even started but it’s my favourite race in my favourite place. Who wouldn’t want to run around Wimpole for a couple of hours and get a medal at the end? There was the additional delicious prospect of hugs from various marshals round the course but I never got as far as seeing any of my mates who were out there. They were perhaps a little relieved not to have to deal with a sweating, slobbery, wheezing mess of a man clinging onto them in an attempt not to fall over. Social runs can sometimes be so detrimental to social relationships.

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Bloody Things

I’ve been bitten to buggery this week. I have lumps on my legs where I’ve been the unwitting provider of din-dins for various bitey-bastard things. If they’d asked nicely, I would have given them enough blood for them to fill all six of their little boots several times over. Did they ask? Did they fuck. They’re insects, parasites. Vile, nasty, silent, flying, biting, bloody wee things with the “see, want, take” attitude that the Daily Mail ascribes to migrant workers. In fact, the only thing worse than one of these sodding awful creatures is a Daily Mail columnist who doesn’t understand what a parasite really is.

Now, while the unsightly lumps and scars on my legs are a problem for people looking at them I’m not worried about that. My misanthropy will not allow me to give enough of a toss about you lot. Sorry, and all that. Actually, I’m not at all sorry. Sod you. These are my lumpy, hairy wee legs and if I want to expose them to the air and passing peckish Blandford flies then that’s my concern. No, my problem is that the bites are itching and itching and itching and itching.

I don’t seem to be able to do anything to stop the sensation of my flesh wanting to crawl away from my body. It’s really unpleasant. What’s worse even than that is that bits of me which haven’t been bitten are itching too and it’s driving me up the wall, across the ceiling and back down the other wall on the opposite site of the room. Think Lionel Ritchie in Dancing on the Ceiling but with a middle-aged man swearing at his legs.

Itchy bits really should not be scratched. It only prolongs the agony. There is also the possibility of having one of the bites carry an infection so that you end up with bits of you turning green and dropping off. Thank God I’m not a naturist runner. Oddly enough, I get no relief at all when my itchy bits or the hands and nails I use to scratch them are wet. No idea why that should be the case. Maybe there’s a tame scientist out there who will be able to tell me.

I never used to have this problem. I only started to get a reaction to insect bites a few years ago. I was out running around Coldham’s Common and picked up six or seven bites close together on my ankle. My ankle in turn swelled up so much it looked like I’d sprained it badly. Ever since, I’ve had a strong histamine reaction to the bites I get each summer. There is another possible explanation. I never used to spend much time outdoors with flesh exposed to atmosphere, sun and biting bastards. It’s possible I would always have had this reaction, it’s just that until I started running I never gave the sodding things the chance to give me the welts.

So, just one more thing I can justifiably blame on running when I’m feeling shit about it.

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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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I’m Not A Nazi, I’m Temporarily Disabled

It’s been a sod of a week. I’ve done a lot less running than I should have done. I’ve done a lot more swearing than is strictly necessary, even for me. I’ve accidentally done a Nazi salute. Tony Benn and Bob Crow died. Not a good week at all.

On the other hand, I’ve spent time with lovely people, had the best heart attack on a plate I’d had in ages on Thursday morning only to have it beaten this afternoon, spent quality time with my beautiful wife, run on the Roman Road for the first time this year and made a start on clearing out the jungle in my back garden. Gytha the Chicken is pleased with me, at least.

This was supposed to be my peak week of mileage on my marathon plan. Rest on Monday, 9 miles on Tuesday with some strides slipped in, 13 miles on Wednesday, 5 miles recovery on Thursday, 14 on Friday, 6 on Saturday and 22 today.

I had a problem nearly all week with limited mobility in my right shoulder. I must have slept awkwardly on it on Sunday night because it was sore on Monday morning. There wasn’t a problem with my arms but moving the shoulder led to stabbing pains down the front or the back of the arm depending on whether I wanted to move it backwards or forwards. It became worse each day. Typing on Tuesday was particularly comedic. I couldn’t reach the Y key on the keyboard without moving my right arm with my left hand.

I was coaching on Monday. Mile reps. I still had Sunday’s half marathon PB in my legs so I wasn’t going to be nailing every rep myself. Instead, I ran with the quickest group and paced them round. My Monday group isn’t as quick as Tuesday’s club sessions so I can keep up easily with all of them nearly all the time. What was a brisk pace for me was quite a hard rep for them. It was a really good recovery session for me.

Tuesday was 4 x 6:00 with 3:00 recoveries. Go out in one direction for the first rep and back the way you’ve come on the second. Try to push a little faster so you go beyond your start point. Same again on each successive rep. I found running hard quite difficult because I couldn’t swing both arms freely. I was well off the pace of the quickest group. Only on the final rep did I give it a proper go. I paid for it afterwards.

I had to drive to Lancaster on Wednesday morning after two nights of very poor sleep. I had meetings all day with academics in the Management School. I had to suppress a little yelp of pain very time I shook someone’s hand. I didn’t always succeed. “Hi! I’m Richard from Compass. It’s nice to meet you. Thaaaaaaaaaaarghaaank you for seeing me.”

The drive from Lancaster to Leeds that evening was properly miserable. I couldn’t reach the top of the steering wheel with my right hand until I adjusted the steering column downwards. The wheel was almost between my knees. I still couldn’t use my right arm to turn the wheel but at least I could rest my hand easily on it. Occasionally, I’d forget and drop my right hand from the wheel and whimper or yell or call Christ a cunt.

The thing about an injury like this is that it’s easy to forget you have it. It was seldom painful when I kept the shoulder still or moved it gently so when I was just walking around it was fine. More or less. The problems came when I moved it quickly or further than it wanted to go. When a cheery wave to a friend across the street turns into a Nazi salute and a yell of “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” problems can arise. That’s all I’m saying.

Wednesday night was quite unpleasant. I struggled to eat dinner. I couldn’t quite raise my fork to my mouth. It got to just below my chin before I’d have to dip my head towards the delicious morsel of red snapper with a zesty lemon risotto. My glass of lime and soda was too heavy to lift. I had to leave it on the table and use a long straw.

Bob Crow died. I’m a supporter of strong trades unions playing a part in the running of successful enterprises. I’m really a 70s socialist. I remember learning about mixed economies and free collective bargaining. I don’t much like the class war but I have a soft spot for some class warriors. Bob Crow was one.

I don’t think Tony Benn would ever have taken part in anything so ungentle as class war. He was still an effective and passionate advocate for Labour without ever mounting a personal attack. I heard him speak on several occasions and had a taxi ride with him once. He spent almost the entire journey asking questions about me and what I did and who I was and where I came from and my parents and my family. I said at one point how moved I was by what he’d written when his wife had died and how much it had helped me when I was having some trouble with grieving. I wanted to hear him talk about challenging Roy Hattersley for the deputy leadership or about life in the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet but he just wanted to hear about my life and interests. I’ll miss him but his family and his friends will miss him much, much more.

Good things started to happen on Thursday. Breakfast in the hotel was exceptional. Poached egg, bacon, sausage, black pudding, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, all very tasty. Piss-poor coffee as usual. I have yet to have a good cup of coffee in a hotel in Britain. Slightly odd orange juice. It made getting going after another night of poor sleep that much easier. I’d spent chunks of the awkward hours of Thursday morning really, really wanting to be at home in my own bed with my wife. My heart ached as much as my shoulder. I was using ibuprofen gel to relieve the pain and it didn’t really work. I was hoping for codeine gel. Or heroin gel. Fuck it, I’d have mugged a junkie for a fix at one point shortly after two on Thursday morning.

Thursday’s meetings passed with barely a whimper. “Hi, I’m Richard from Compass. Thank you for see – aargh – seeing me.” The drive home from Leeds took too long and I couldn’t go for my run when I got back but I had an early night without the ibuprofen gel smearing itself onto the bedsheets and pillow cases. I woke on Friday having slept for six uninterrupted hours. I had too much work to do to get out for a run that day.

Saturday marked Heidi and John’s leaving do from Cambridge parkrun. Not that they’re leaving. Heidi is stepping down as event director after four years. There were red wigs for her and fake mohicans and tattoos for John and it was fun. There was running and cake and a visit from PSH and the whole thing was simply marvellous. I had a nice run on heavy legs to log 22:36 for my first parkrun of the year.

In the afternoon, I did the Cambridge University Hare & Hounds’ Roman Road Run. Nine and a half miles from Horseheath to the Beechwoods at the end of Wort’s Causeway in Cambridge. I took it fairly steadily and logged 1:14:46. I was aiming for 1:16:30 so I was pleased. I was 8th home. It’s a handicap run. I was only overtaken by one guy who started 10 minutes behind me and he was flying. He came past on the final downhill stretch on the road once we left the Roman Road itself. I was beaten home by him, two people from my group and four from the group who set off five minutes ahead of me.

Saturday evening was spent at La Mimosa with Andy for his birthday. I’m not usually very sociable. I’m becoming a little more deaf and find it stressful to hear what people are saying in a crowded, noisy room. However, the company was lovely and nobody seemed to mind having to repeat what they were saying when we were trying to have a conversation. It was a late night though and I was very tired this morning. I haven’t run today but I have made a start on clearing out the back garden.

Good stuff and bad this week. It’ll all be over three weeks today. I just want to get it done now. I’m running well when I run. I don’t think missing my long run today is going to matter in the overall scheme of things. I’ve entered the Oakley 20 next Sunday. I’m not going to race it, especially as Becca says it’s a lumpy one which ruined her London Marathon a couple of years ago. I have some clubmates running and I can run around with them chatting all the way and pick up my hoodie to take to Manchester. Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it?

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The Moaniness of the Long Distance Runner

I’m injured again. Again, I’m injured and I tell you what, it’s a complete pain in the arse. Except that it’s in my right foot, and up the outside of my right leg and ultimately in my groinal bits. A physio would probably say – has in fact said – that it’s because of weak gluteals but that’s by the by. It’s a pain in the arse foot. I should probably try to have Anne massage my intimate areas. It wouldn’t be any sort of cure but it would definitely cheer me up because there’s nothing quite as mardy as an injured runner.

I’ve had a couple of weeks off now ever since having to stop at 8 miles in the Wimpole Hoohaah Half Marathon. I shouldn’t really have run there, just as I shouldn’t really have run at the Bourn to Run 10k the previous week but having got away with it once, I thought I’d get away with it again and I really, really didn’t. Coming downhill at speed resulted in stupefying pain and I ended up gingerly walking down the hills and caning it up them. I was climbing at better than 8:00 per mile and descending more slowly than 10:00 per mile and the whole thing was a mess so I’m moaning about it now. I finished, by the way, in a PW of 1:55 something, jogging in while people frothed and foamed and sped and sprinted past me. Well done, them.

I’ve been moaning about it quite a lot to anyone who’ll listen and it’s a testament to my friends and clubmates that they will listen to me. Endurance runners all know what it’s like to be on the bench. They will lend an ear to one of their own in pain because they know, know in their super-stressed ligaments and bones that they will hurt too soon. Perhaps “moaning” is the wrong word, at least for what everyone else does. We swap stories of our aches and pains. We get help and advice and support from one another. Positivity comes but first there’s the grouchiness and ouchiness and just the faintest tangs of whine. “Oh, it’s nothing really but I’m slightly fed up…”

The thing about not being able to run is that nothing else is really the same. I wanted to take my bike out today but it rained off and on all day. Running in the rain is a joy. Cycling in the rain is misery cubed. I hummed and hawed and bumbled round the house not doing any chores until I dragged my weak glutes to the gym for a stint on a rowing machine. I lasted all of fifteen minutes. Fifteen miserable minutes or miserable misery. Chris said on Facebook that I should have taken my bike out in the rain. He was probably right. I’m going to try again tomorrow. I’ll take my headphones and listen to some music or a podcast and maybe I’ll last longer or maybe I’ll just break down.

I have another week of Not Running. I’m being good. My foot feels okay with just a hint of tighness across the top when I dorsiflex my toes. I’d like that to be gone before I try again. Patience is a virtue, quite an old fashioned name for a girl and something with which I am usually completely unacquainted. It’s so tempting to join in with tomorrow’s session running the triangles on Parker’s Piece or the mile time trial on Tuesday night at C&C. I need to be sure that I’m back properly before I start training again so the idea is to have a bimble round a parkrun on Saturday and if that goes okay to do five or six miles on Sunday. Please God, let it go well. I can’t cope with being this grumpy for much longer.

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Less Than Handy

I am a complete plonker. Everybody who knows me knows this. Most are kind enough not to mention it, at least in my presence. I’m a clumsy plonker at the best of times and during the winter things only get worse. I can guarantee falling over at least a couple of times when it gets slippery in spite of wearing grippy shoes and trying really hard not to. I usually fall over in full view of attractive women or men with a physical sense of humour.

I was supposed to be running the Folksworth 15 on Sunday. The race was canceled because the very sensible organisers thought that they would have lots of Richards on their hands had they gone ahead with it. Instead of flogging my sorry arse round fifteen miles of hills through wind and snow, I headed off with some mates for twelve gentle miles around the Gogs, the Roman Road and Wandlebury.

It was beautiful. There was snow on the ground and more falling as we set off. The car park was icy and treacherous but once we got onto the snowier surface of the dog park, it became much easier to move. The route Phil chose is one I know a bit since it uses the same trails as Alan B does for his 9 Miles of Hills. The surfaces on the trails were mostly snowy and grip was good in the Saucony Peregrine trail shoes I was wearing. Things were a little more difficult when we came off the Roman Road and headed down the road from Worsted Lodge towards Babraham. The tarmac surface was as icy as the car park had been,

I fell over. Of course I did. I fell over like I have dozens of times. I was jogging gently down a slippery part of the road and had just told Andrew to be careful around here when my legs were no longer where they should have been. When I was at school, I once had the chance to play a set of kettle drums. I liked the resonance when I beat the skin and held the side of the drum. Ever since then, I’ve thought of kettle drums when I fall over. There is a proper thump of stomach and lungs and bladder and bowels all the other cavities of the body when you go down in a oner. I didn’t notice putting my hand out but I must have done because my left middle finger wasn’t bending inside its glove. I gave Andrew – who was asking me if I was all right – a very crooked bird and said I probably wasn’t.

We’d been right at the back of the group and I tottered the rest of the way down the hill to meet up with the others who had crossed the main road. I showed off my very crooked bird, the sight of which was beginning to make me queasy. It wasn’t painful at that point but I thought it might become painful when the endorphins began to subside. I worked very gently from the knuckles and pulled the finger straight again. Some of the others wanted to head back with me to make sure I was okay but I didn’t want to spoil their run further so I set off on my own back up the side of the main Cambridge-Haverhill road. My hand felt funny from time to time but it wasn’t painful and I began to push the pace a bit. Because we’d been bimbling along and chatting my legs were fine in spite of having run five miles or so and I was able to push a bit back up the hill.

A&E at Addenbrookes dealt with me swiftly and competently. I was in and out of the hospital in less than an hour and a half and that included about half an hour of me wandering around a silent and empty, Sunday morning hospital. They checked out my finger, x-rayed it, spotted a teeny-tiny chip floating around in the joint, gave me advice about keeping it mobilised and icing it from time to time and sent me on my way.

I woke up during the night with pain in my wrist. I couldn’t move my hand much in the morning so I headed back to A&E. I explained what was going on and again I was seen very efficiently. I couldn’t have more x-rays immediately but I was given another assessment. I had a second round of x-rays which showed a chip from my triquetral. I may have damaged my scaphoid as well but it would require bone scans to be certain since the images from my x-rays aren’t clear. My wrist wasn’t hurting on Sunday morning which is why I didn’t mention it then.

I haven’t trained since then, not really. I had a kettlebells class booked for today which I couldn’t attend. I won’t be going for a while. To add slight insult to minor injury, the very nice cross-training gloves I ordered arrived this afternoon. I ran on a treadmill at Green’s this evening and it was horrible. I’d planned a 50 minute session but could no longer be arsed after five minutes. I stuck it out for a mile, the absolute minimum I could justify as a run for the purposes of Jantastic. I managed a few Russian Twists having assured myself that I could hold the medicine ball and some planks resting on my elbows and toes. I couldn’t do the rest of that workout because it all involves resting my weight on my hands – twisting planks and press-ups and all that torturous modern jazz.

I’ll be doing more running on that dreadmill, at least until the ice disappears. My joy is as palpable as dysentery. For the first time in my life, I really, really want the thaw to come. So come on, I’d like a nice calm westerly and mild weather for the rest of the winter. No more snow days. No more ice. Sorry, kids.

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My Left Foot

I’m on the injury bench again. It’s quite comfy. We have hypoallergenic cushions and buckets of chocolate as big as your head. You’d love it. Or you would if you didn’t have a marathon in October and were facing the loss of three weeks to three months of training.

After last weekend’s Runstock (thank you, David Mould) I was on top of the world. I came through a big weekend of hard miles intact but slightly stiff. I couldn’t find my favourite post-run shoes – K-Swiss Blade Lights – and instead pulled on an old pair of sandals. I wore them for about half an hour and pulled them off when I noticed that a pad was folded over and digging into the instep of my left foot. I couldn’t really walk on my that foot the next day.

I had a couple of days of not running. I had Monday off completely but on Tuesday I went down to the track to catch up with friends at the C&C Tuesday night training session. I wasn’t intending to run at all and hadn’t dressed in running gear or taken a pair of road shoes. I was wearing the kit I’d intended to take to the gym for a core workout including my blue Hattori shoes. At best, I was going to run a stopwatch for the track session and hold some clothes. The road group were heading out for a fartlek in the country with Neil as leader. He asked me to come along with them because it’s the session I’m going to be taking on my own later in the month. I almost said no, but I love the fartlek so I went out in my silly slippers and long gym shorts.

Neil got lost. He took a wrong turning and took us on a small detour. It didn’t matter much in the end. It added about three quarters of a kilometer onto the usual route but everybody got the reps they needed and a little more jog recovery. More to the point, my foot was okay. It had been fine during the day and I’d been a little worried before I set out but I had no problems with it all evening.

I didn’t run again until Friday evening. I missed C&C’s round of the Kevin Henry partly because I was still tired but mostly because I was helping out at the water station at the end. I didn’t want to run another 22:30 5k which was all I thought I’d manage on tired legs. On Friday, I did two long reps of 5 miles each with four minutes recovery with Alan Baldock alongside me on his bike. I was quite tired at 9 miles but I’d been keeping a steady 8:35 to 8:40 per mile. I was comfortable at that pace and was cruising along easily enough. I had another four minutes before starting my final 5 mile rep. Two miles into it, I felt my foot begin to throb and just before the end of the third mile I felt a sharp pain and had to pull up.

My left instep is angrily inflammed now. I’ve been treating it with ibuprofen gel to reduce the pain and inflammation, rest and elevation. I’m going to rest it for the week I’m away in Scotland next week and see a physio when I get back if the current dull ache and reddened appearance hasn’t gone.I might need an x-ray or a scan so if you know a way to blag one of those, please let me know. I’d like to rule out a stress fracture or a serious soft tissue injury.

Whatever happens, I’m withdrawing from the Amsterdam marathon. Every time I try to increase the intensity or duration of my marathon training, I get injured. I don’t think that this is not a training injury but I’m fed up feeling like this. I just don’t think that my body can cope with high-intensity marathon training. All this to break four hours for the first time. It’s just not worth it. Instead, I’m going to transfer my entry to the half marathon and run it if I can. I can take a break from running now, continue my cross-training on the bike and in the pool to maintain my fitness then when I restart my running do a shortish programme on the run-up to Amsterdam in October. That way, I can have a holiday with my friends and enjoy the weekend with the prospect of 13.1 instead of 26.2.

There are other things I can do. I can concentrate on 5k and 10k road races with occasional half marathons just because I like running 13.1 miles and I’d like to see how quickly I can do it. There’s a series called the A1 which is made up of a lot of local races at a variety of distances from 15 miles to 5k. It would be fun to do the whole lot in 2013 and fit in my first triathlon as well at some point. The important thing is that I’m changing the focus of what I do. I just can’t do distance, not now. Maybe I’ll be able to go long again in the future but I just want to keep running, get quicker and enjoy myself. I can do all that much better without the pressure of 26.2 hanging over me all the time.

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