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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Of Punishment Beatings, Kettlebells and Magic Rubber Pants. With Additional Christopher Biggins.

I ache this week. I’m also bone tired. I haven’t felt this tired since… Let me think. Oh, that’s right. I haven’t felt this tired since last January when I was in marathon training. I’m not doing a marathon this year and I’m certainly not doing one in April or May.

So why do my legs feel as if they’ve been used as practice pieces for apprentices on the Provisional IRA’s Introduction to Punishment Beatings course?

“Declan, Declan! You’re doin’ it wrong again, ye feckin’ eejit. Knees first, then ankles.”

“Sorry, sir. He just won’t lie still, like. An’ he keeps goin’ on about refuellin’ strategies for a half marathon being completely feckin’ useless. I think he’s a bit mad.”

Now there’s a City and Guilds course specification I’d like to see.


One of the reasons everything hurts quite as badly as it does is probably the kettlebells class I had with Will of Cambridge Kettlebells on Wednesday night. A little bit of history here. Well, I say history, but I’m going to make most of it up. History isn’t just the story of the past, it’s the stories we tell each other to learn from the past. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the Russian army was a brutal place for its young recruits. One of the punishments meted out to to these poor sods was carrying cannonballs around the place. When cannonballs became scarce because of the introduction of newer forms of artillery which used different ammunition, one of the brighter NCOs started to hoard the old ones at his dacha just outside Yaroslavl. He welded handles to them because he thought he would be able to abuse recruits more efficiently if more of them could hold onto 20-kilo pieces of shot without dropping them onto their own feet or lobbing them at the back of the head of the poor sod in front of them and the kettlebell was born.

One day, he defected from the Russian army to a fitness studio in New York where he found that he no longer received complaints from people when he tried to punish them with his little cannonballs. Instead, they called him a fitness guru. His classes were filled for months ahead of time with people eager to be given the sort of punishment he used to dole out to someone found molesting the regimental horse. He was confused and slightly saddened but soon perked up when he was given a large pile of cash for his stash of ratty cannonballs.

Will isn’t a Russian army NCO. I could detect no sociopathic tendencies. I was surprised to be the only other bloke there. Kettlebells seem a little macho but I was as wrong in this as I am in my historical research. Will warmed us up, showed us how to lift a kettlebell safely then started to run through some basic exercises. We did double-handed swings. If you do it right, all the power you need to move the kettlebell comes from what Will called a “hip snap.” I thought immediately about the hip thrust in Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of course you can’t get the swing right if you bring your knees in tight.

We did some squats and sumo squats and single-arm swings and changed from one single-arm swing to the other and at the end of the hour I was completely wiped. I did love it and I can’t wait to go back next week but it was harder work than I’d expected.

Anne Christmas present for me arrived this week. It’s not every day that a man is happy to receive rubber pants from his wife. Mine are made by Zone3 and they’re buoyancy shorts, made from wetsuit neoprene and intended to give swimmers a little extra help to float nice and flat in the water. Aside from feeling slightly kinky wearing black rubber in public for the first time, I enjoyed using them. I took them to the pool after the kettlebell session. They’re not as buoyant as a pull-buoy so I’m slower in them over 50m than I am with the pull-buoy but much quicker than I am with no aids at all so they do work. I was too knackered to do more than a handful of lengths on Wednesday but I’ll use them again when I go to the pool later today and for tomorrow’s swim.

What I’m not going to do under any circumstances ever is wear them while doing the Time Warp. Oh no. Not me.

NB There’s a gratuitous Christopher Biggins sausage appreciation shot in that clip. You have been warned.


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We inaugurated Wimpole Estate parkrun this morning. An astonishing 292 runners completed the challenging 5k course and we’ve had rave reviews so far. I couldn’t be more pleased for the team who have worked so hard for the past few months to make sure that we get off the ground. I’m the event director but I’m a bit like the Roman centurion in the Bible story who says “Do this” and someone does it. It’s been a team effort. All I’ve done is wonder for example whether someone might want to pull a volunteer roster together and lo! Paul pulled a volunteer roster together.

There were some remarkable parkrun personalities there. I talked briefly to Andrew Lane, a parkrun pioneer, one of the thirteen people at the very first Bushy Park time trial. He said that two weeks later there were only eleven runners at Bushy. This morning there were 1,027 runners at Bushy parkrun and thousands of others at 200 different locations around the world, from New Zealand to the USA. Colin and Elaine Brassington have completed 144 and 131 parkruns respectively. I met them first at the St Neots Half Marathon in 2011. They’re enthusiastic Fetchies as well as parkrunners. Alice Holmes has 52 parkruns under her belt, two more than me and she is much, much younger than me. Our youngest finisher this morning is five years old and she is inspiring.

I find everyone who comes to parkrun inspirational in one way or another and that is one reason why I wanted to have a second parkrun near Cambridge. I wanted to have somewhere else for people to be one another’s inspiration. I’ve written before about finding my friends more heroic than my heroes, if that makes sense. I love seeing my friends succeed and when I struggle with my running, I need only chat to Chris or Paul or Carla or Al or Clare or Caz and things seem better. My friends are amazing and I want them to have somewhere else for them to be amazing in.

We will have more stories to tell one another in the weeks and months ahead. We’ll become fitter and quicker. We can’t possibly get our feet much wetter or colder. We’ll make friends and eat cake and race together and stand with one another because parkrun is a family. I quite like being the eccentric, forgetful uncle.

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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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It’s Always the Last Mile

I had a lovely run today, 13 miles of it. Well, it was lovely for the first 10 miles, quite hard for the the next two and just woeful for the final mile. It’s always like that for me on training runs. Today’s was special for me for two reasons: it was my first longish run for a while and I completed it with my friend JuliaD, who made sure I got to the end of it just when I was dying on my arse. For those of you who don’t know, Julia and I started our running career in the same running group two years ago and she’s the real source of a lot of my supposed thoughtful comments on running and life.

We set off at what felt like a very easy pace but was actually well under 5:45 per km. Julia was planning 33km so I thought that would be a bit quick for her. I was only planning to do about 12 or 13 miles so I thought the pace was fine for me. Julia and I were jogging along, step-for-step. I was trying to put Helen’s advice on efficient running into practice and it seemed to work, for the most part. I was concentrating on keeping my stride short, my cadence up, allowing my shoulders to counter-rotate and my legs to swing from the outside of my hips. My feet – not yet in my new inov8 shoes – were relaxing into the surface of the road and I was allowing them to feed energy back into the next stride. The entire concept of free energy is intriguing.

We paused after 50 minutes to take on a gel and some water. I had shot blocks with me but I forgot about them. I turn into such a burpy man for a few minutes after I’ve had a gel. I like the Gu ones but I find even they become unpalatable after 20 miles. It’s one of the reasons I tend to do my long runs on my own: I’d rather not inflict the product of my gastric tract on my friends. I like them too much.

We got to a foot tunnel under the A14 at about 10 miles which was flooded following yesterday’s thunderstorm. The thunderstorm was a stonker. Anne and I were shopping in Tesco when it hit. We waited for a few minutes but it showed not the least sign of abating. I decided to make a run for the car and bring it round to collect Anne. Now, I’m not the world’s best sprinter but running through the torrents was an intense experience. I felt as if I was flying, my feet only just kissing the ground, my knees lifting high and my heels coming as far up behind me as ever they have done. I covered less than a 100m and it was only a fleeting few seconds but they were some of the best seconds of my life.

Swings and roundabouts…

The roundabout to yesterday’s swinging time was that flooded foot tunnel under the main road. We couldn’t cross the A14. It would have been suicidal. We tried to find another way through the hotel but only found a succession of dead ends. Finally, we just got on with it and splashed through the ankle-deep water in the tunnel. It was a bit squelchy for a couple of hundred metres but the cold water soon drained away and our feet soon warmed the cold water still soaking our socks. We settled into the same rhythm again quite quickly but I was beginning to tire. I was trying to keep my steps light and quick and managed until the final mile when my form went completely. I was just clinging on by then. Julia got me home in the end but she effortlessly breezed away from me in the last 400m.

It’s always the last mile which gets me. I know that’s an obvious thing. I wouldn’t be much of an endurance runner if I died in the first mile. I always want to finish strongly but I think that today I was just too quick earlier in the run. I was carried away running with my friend. I just wanted to keep up and blew up instead. Next time, I’ll make sure the last mile isn’t a complete disaster.

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