Up and down like the Assyrian empire…

I think we’re at the end of week seven. It’s hard to tell. I’ve lost count already. I certainly can’t count to six. I have committed to six runs a week for Jantastic and I’ve only made it on one of the three weeks of January. I was injured a couple of weeks ago and I just haven’t been arsed this week.

I did have a good run at the Folksworth 15 last Sunday. I ran the first 13 miles nice and steadily, digging in a little when I had to and ticking off eight-minute miles. I ran the last two miles at a quicker pace and finished in 1:58:48. Those last two miles really fucked my legs. They had that horrible jiggly feeling all night which kept me awake. The bloody things were still running.

The positives to come from the race were all about just how easy it felt until I got carried away with myself. I picked off some runners in those last two miles who had overtaken me early in the race and were fading. Mile 14 starts at the bottom of the last climb on the course. I ran past one man who was walking, slapped his arm saying “Come on, you can walk at the end.” He said that he would catch me up. He never did.

I know that if some bugger had done that to me, trying to get me to run when I was completely spent, I would be hugely pissed off. So, if that was you, I’m sorry. I’ll probably do it again but I’m sorry anyway.

Lack of sleep has been a feature of the week. It was jiggly legs on Sunday night but just stupidity the rest of the week which meant I didn’t get to bed terribly early on two or three occasions and my itinerary which had me swearing at the alarm most mornings. I need a lot of sleep and it’s something I always forget when there’s an old NCIS or Castle on the telly late at night.

I was out at a Burns’ Night ceilidh last night with Anne. We didn’t get back until gone one. I’d been running round the Ashridge Estate, out along the Ridgeway and up onto Ivinghoe Beacon in the afternoon. 10 hilly and claggy miles. I would probably much rather have gone to bed. We seldom have a night out and this one had been planned for a few weeks.

My tiredness has meant that my mood is all over the place. I was completely trashed this morning and couldn’t face going out with the others for a run after breakfast. I haven’t been able to summon up the energy all day so I’ve canned the run. I’ll be one run short again on Jantastic but I want to start next week properly.

Next week is a new week. Let’s view that as a positive. I can acknowledge the negatives of not hitting targets over the last few weeks and work on those too. That’s a positive too. In the meantime, I’ll have a reasonable dinner and an early night.

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My Government is Oppressing Me.

Bastards! Yeah, bunch of bastards! That’s what they are.

I had a close encounter with bureaucracy last week and I didn’t enjoy it at all. I need to renew my passport and it wasn’t a straightforward process. It’s not a long or complex form which is just as well because I’m not a complex man.

I got a form from the Post Office, followed the instructions in the little booklet thing that came in the envelope with the form because I can read and used a black pen. I even used my neatest block capital handwriting so that the nice people in the Passport Office wouldn’t have to struggle to decipher my usual illegible scrawl. It took 20 minutes and then I signed the form. That was my mistake.

I broke the margins of the little box. You are not allowed to do this. Now, I’m quite an expansive man. I have an expansive signature. It sprawls but it has a certain style, a bit like a Brazilian slum. I took the form back to the Post Office to use their Check & Send service. They took the form, advised me it would cost £8.75, checked it and then didn’t send it. The Passport Office wouldn’t accept my form with the straying signature. They gave me another form.

So, I filled in a second form. It took 20 minutes again. Neat handwriting takes time. I may have stuck my tongue out a little while I was doing it. I got to the end of the form, dated it, signed it and broke the margins of the signature box again. Shitsticks.

The third form took 15 minutes to complete. I signed it first. It was a cramped, crabby wee signature but it didn’t break the margins of the box. I turned to the first page and wrote my first name in the surname box. Turd junkies.

I signed the fourth form, sighed in relief, completed the front page and got my date of birth wrong. Who gets their date of birth wrong? A man who is sitting in a Post Office getting increasingly distressed by his own stupidity and the obduracy of people who process passport applications, that’s who.

I completed the fifth form in a bit of a rush. It took five minutes. Some of the block capitals had a certain angry feel to them by now. There was rage on that page. And then the signature broke the box.

I took a deep breath and a sixth form. By now I’d seen three different counter clerks. “You know it will cost £8.75 for Check & Send?” Yes, yes, yes, I’m only too fucking aware of how much it’s costing me. It’s costing my soul, I tell you. It’s only my whole fucking soul… I got to the end, signed the form and got the date wrong. I checked the notes, saw nothing against the rules, scored through the incorrect date and redated it correctly.

“The Passport Office is funny about dates,” said the fourth counter clerk. What, like Tommy Cooper was funny? Or maybe Franz Kafka? I took a seventh form and left the Post Office in search of sanity and sanctuary. I found it at The Afternoon Tease where I had a very nice coffee and some of their gorgeous cake. Seventh time lucky. The cake gets the credit.


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A Rant for a Wednesday

I came across this post on the Ladies Who Run website last Friday via Sandra McDougall’s Facebook page. I promise I wasn’t being all weird and lechery, hanging around with the running ladies, Not this time, anyway.

I agree wholeheartedly with Helen’s post. She right about thigh gaps and bikini bridges, although the latter seems to have been a hoax. Women do face huge social pressures to conform to a look or to a way of behaving. I’d have thought that we’d gone beyond that now it’s 2014 and not 1914. Or 1314 come to that.

I have little enough control over my own body. It aches like a bastard all the time. I have a hernia, bits of my legs would much rather I fucked off all this running nonsense, my lungs hate me because I abused them with tar and carcinogens for twenty-odd years and now make me suffer when I ask them and my heart to put in some effort on race day. Given all of that, how can I be expected to take part in the patriarchy’s millenia-old war on women by controlling their bodies too?

I hate that someone, anyone, is expected to conform to a way of looking or a way of behaving. In particular, I hate that someone is led to believe that they are somehow not quite good enough. It’s corrosive to self-belief. It’s usually because someone, somewhere wants to sell you something. There are potions and pills, soaps and powders made for pennies in some chemical plant, sold for pounds in pretty packages on High Streets and in shopping centres because you’re worth it.

Of course you’re fucking worth it. You don’t need that shit and you’re worth it anyway.

The thing Helen mentions in her post about strong being the new skinny is interesting and depressing in equal measure. I like running around and I enjoy the company of people who run around too. We come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Nobody is really fat, nor even all that plump but some of us are carrying a few pounds around that we’d rather weren’t there. Athletes are subject to all the same pressures as everyone else.

Jessica Ennis, of all people, was told by some bufty in a blazer that she could do with losing a few pounds during the run up to the London Olympics. Jessica Ennis. She has abs you could grate cheese with and yet some anonymous twat thought that she was too fat to compete. And if Jess is too porky, what chance do mere mortals have?

Images of athleticism have become as pervasive in the media as skinny porn partly because of Jessica’s success during London 2012. It’s one more way in which we’re made to feel that we’re less than we are. it’s worse for women, much worse. Nobody asks Mo Farah for his diet tips or how to get great abs. Well, really obsessive coaches might and I might too but I’m interested in his training regime. Nobody is all that interested in publishing photos of Mo in his budgie smugglers on a holiday beach. Dual standards. Mo has his own problems with some sections of the British press and public but they’re not about how he looks, how much he weighs or what he’s wearing when he’s not on the track.

Men are not objectified in the same way as women are. It’s not fair and I know I’m guilty of it and I’m really, really sorry.

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The Sixth Week Biteback

I don’t have a left calf muscle any more. I have a tight wee ball of pain and spite. I’ve given it love and care. Well, I’ve thrashed it to bits running a hundred miles so far this year and then tried to make amends by rolling it and stretching it. My calf and I are in a mutually abusive relationship. I took it out for a few miles on a cold night at the beginning of the week without socks or calf guards and it’s been moaning and sniping at me ever since.

My Monday night group started again this week so I ran into town for some extra miles. Coach B and I split coaching the session between us and I ended up running 1k reps far more quickly than I’d intended then ran home afterwards.

Tuesday’s session turned into a bit of an ordeal. I ran to the track just in time to take the session. That was a bit of an effort, leaving home just a few minutes too late for an easy run. The session was long hills on Storey’s Way. I did the first rep up the hill, 600m of lung-racking, heart-tormenting, snot-churning nonsense. It was stupid. It was also good fun. I was coaching with Neil who started the athletes off in groups of four or five at the bottom of the hill. I was waiting at halfway to offer words of advice and encouragement. I ran in with the last group and while the very quickest of them scorched past before I could get going, I was able to chase in the last two or three in the group. I was pleased to be able to do it but more pleased that the athletes responded when I asked them to kick on. They just dug in, found a bit more and caned that bloody hill.

I got cocky. I did another rep towards the end and went off with the second quickest group and ended up getting spat out the back quite quickly. They opened a gap of about 15m but I held it at that and then began to close it down over the second half. I hadn’t done all the hill reps but I had done quite a long run on the way to the track. I still had tired legs and sore lungs but I wasn’t completely destroyed by the group. I paid for it on the way home.

I still had to run home and I had no gels or water. I did 14 miles in total on Tuesday night without a safety net and it really, really hurt. Runner’s pride got me through the worst of it and I found some more pace over the last couple of miles.

Wednesday was my first rest day for ages, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t go to the gym. I didn’t run. I didn’t swim or cycle. I sat on my arse and vegetated. I massaged my calf and tried to pretend it wasn’t that sore, really. I did five easy miles on Thursday night and the calf was fine when I was moving quickly. I had to move a lot more quickly towards the end of the run when my need for a serious loo visit became quite urgent. I did more stretching and rolling when I got home and then again in the steam room at the gym.

I went out again with Julia on Friday for my long run. I’d intended to do 21 miles but I had to stop at 17. The calf had cramped completely. The run was bitty. Mostly, it was lovely but I had to stop for a loo break and to take on gels and water in places. The pain in my calf was there all the time because I never really got going quickly enough to move easily. Maybe I never really moved easily enough to go quickly. Once I’d decided to stop at Julia’s I found enough energy to have a bit of a sprint finish. When I was pushing on, the pain in my lungs overcame the pain in my legs.

I did 4k yesterday and 4k again today. Today’s run was truly horrible. I was too late getting to March to run in the Frostbite round there this morning but I was wearing my C&C vest, a pair of arm warmers and my new ashmei gloves, racing shorts and compression socks. I went for a run round Milton Country Park, using the long loop from the parkrun course. I wanted to do about 5 miles at marathon pace and managed less than two and a half before my calves, hips and determination gave out. I thought I felt some stabby groin pains as well but that might well have been my imagination.

So, I’m not completely happy at the end of Week 6. I’m going to take it easier this week. I need to give my calf a rest and I’m due to race in the Folksworth 15 next Sunday. I enjoyed this race last year but it was just a jog round. I want to give it a good, solid go this time. i ought to be able to break two hours. It’s slightly quicker than my proposed marathon pace and slower than my half marathon PB pace. I’m in decent nick so it’s eminently doable as long as I’m in one piece.

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Week 5 Already

Photo credit,  Metropolitan Museum of Art

I was in the steam room at the gym this afternoon. I like stretching in there. The warmth helps relax tight muscles and I feel a lot better for a bit of an extra stretch before I leave the facilities. The steam room and sauna are both newly installed. I really like the sauna; it still smells more like a Norwegian timber yard than a Turkish wrestler’s jockstrap. The wooden benches and wall panels are pale birch or beech and have not yet absorbed the sweat of a hundred thousand hairy arses. It’s all very lovely in there.

The new steam room has little twinkly lights in the ceiling, two prodigiously powerful kettles producing steam enough to fill the long, narrow room and flood lights at ankle-level beneath the tiled seating. The shadows my feet and legs cast against the walls reminded me of images like the one above. I seem to have teeny-tiny feet and ankles below the calves and thighs of a Greek god.

Running form must have changed in the 2,500 years since the unknown artist painted the athletes on the vase in this picture. I don’t think I’d like to see any of my athletes allow their shoulders to counter-rotate quite as much as that and while I like to do a few barefoot drills on a kind surface on a summer’s evening, bare-arse drills would get me arrested.

Week five of marathon training has gone well. Shocker, I know. I had a rest day on Monday then raced on Tuesday in the Ely New Year’s Eve 10k, battling nasty winds to log 46:10 which is a minute and three quarters outside my PB and slightly slower than last year. I had a gentle 14 miles on New Year’s Day, 5 miles of recovery run on Thursday, a very tiring 18 miles on Friday after work and a blessedly regenerative 5 miles yesterday evening. The last few miles on Friday evening were hard but I couldn’t slow down to the comfortable shuffle I wanted because I was running through the city. Suppose someone I know had seen me? I wasn’t going to let that happen so I kept running at a nice even pace and tried to look good even if I wasn’t going very quickly. Runner’s pride is a terrible thing. I did nine of the eighteen miles in Julia DeCesare’s very welcome company. She kept me at a nice, even pace and helped me keep my head straight. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do the extra 6 miles on the plan for today after racing hard this morning but that’s still my biggest ever week of training.

I never enjoy racing in the County Cross-Country Champs. It always comes too soon. I haven’t done any really hard, fast running in what feels like weeks. Tuesday’s race was just a slog in the wind and couldn’t really be counted as a proper session. It was just survival. Christmas gets in the way and obsessing with logging marathon miles gets in the way and what should be an A race turns into an OMG, Already? race. It’s supposed to be 10k but I logged it at 10.7k this afternoon and while that last half mile or so is all downhill, it’s downhill when you’re dying on your arse because your fitness isn’t what it should be and the guys behind are getting closer and the only thing getting further away from you than the guys in front is the fucking finishing line. It just never seems to come until you need another 50m to take another place in which case it’s right there and you cross it in a confusion of relief and despair. Funny thing, racing.

I had someone called Paul from – I think – Riverside Runners up my chuff for the best part of half the race. We each had support on different parts of the course. The race is held in Priory Park in St Neots so it was home turf for Paul and a lot of the marshals come from his club. It’s a good, supportive club because he got a lot of “Go on, Paul, get after him!” or “You’ll catch him, Paul. Keep it going!” I yelled “No, he won’t!” at that one. I’m a lucky man. Because of parkrun, lots of people from different clubs know me so I had lots of support round the course too. It makes such a huge difference. I have friends in clubs and towns all over the county now and just like on Friday night, my runner’s pride wasn’t going to let me look bad.

I finally got away from Paul with about 600m to go. I kicked really hard down the final hill and gradually the sound of his footsteps faded behind me. There were two runners ahead and I was blowing bubbles in a last desperate attempt to close them down. Maybe if I’d pushed harder on the final climb and closed the gap more then, I would have stood a better chance. Whatever, they held me off finishing about five or six yards ahead. It’s hard to tell because I was having blurry vision at the end. There may have only been one runner ahead but I think there were two different colours of vest. The only other time I’ve had blurred vision at the end of a race was the 400m in the Fetch Summer Mile Meeting in Southend when I was chasing Chris Hurcomb down. It’s a bit scary but sometimes you just have to run and trust you won’t actually black out until you cross the line. Besides, the first aiders are at the finishing line, not 200m out so that’s where you have to collapse for the most urgent attention.

I didn’t collapse. I didn’t feel dizzy. I did very badly want to puke and had to find a quiet corner away from everyone until I felt better. That’s how I finish nearly every race. If I haven’t run so hard I want to vom, I haven’t given it everything. When I felt better, I was talking to Christof Schwiening and his daughter, George. He was very generous in his praise. I was grateful to him for his kind words because I look up to him as a runner. George was second overall in her race and won the U20 Girls’ category. I was 95th. I’m happy with that.

Back to work and a normal routine next week. I need to move sessions around on the plan so tomorrow’s rest day becomes a session day, I’ll be coaching on Tuesday and Wednesday becomes a rest day, Thursday get a recovery run and I’ll do my long run on Friday again. I have another race on Sunday, you see. I feel much better today than I did last Sunday. I think I have 13 weeks to go. Bring it on. Bring. It. On.

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New Year, New Stuff

Young Neil Tween, for it was he, speculated on Twitter what a cheery blog from me would look like. Pay close attention, Mr Tween, because this is probably as close as you’re going to get to a cheery blog.

We have a new dishwasher. The old one gave up the ghost just before Christmas. I don’t think it could face another one of my tea mugs. They tend to get a little stained with whatever it is that makes tea brown. Tea, probably. Or tannins. Does that sound right? Tannins don’t have anything to do with tans but have something to do with wine and that’s always confused me. It’s one of the many reasons I never took up a Master of Wine qualification. More important at the time was the whole spit out the sample if you don’t want to get rat arsed at eleven in the morning on a work day thing.

So yes, we have a new dishwasher. Actually, can we go back to the tea mugs for a moment? I hate washing tea mugs. They never, ever get properly clean. I’ve often wanted to sit and sulk in a corner having failed to get all the brown gunk from the inside of my favourite tea mug. It doesn’t stop me using the mug because what you need after that sort of failure is a nice cup of tea. You don’t need to spit anything out when you have a nice cup of tea unless you are a tea taster. Imagine going to work as a tea taster and spending all day tasting tea and not getting even so much as a digestive with any of the dozens of cups of tea you have to spit out each day. I suppose you could chew the biccie and then spit it into a bin without swallowing it but that sounds like a waste of a McVitie’s to me. And then there’s the noise! The man from Dynorod made fewer slurping noises when his machines were clearing the drains last week.

So, this new dishwasher. I didn’t realise that you could get cups and glasses and plates and knives and forks and spoons and even pots and pans so clean. I take things out of it when it’s done its thing and I half expect to hear a ting, like in the adverts. I actually thought I heard a voiceover yesterday; “But everything sparkles!” it said, just a little too exuberantly. It’s only clean cutlery and glasswear after all. Consumerism, eh? It’s a sod. I need to salve my conscience a little so Water Aid is going to get a donation from me soon. I feel awkward about my shiny tablewear when there are people who still need to walk to a well and carry dirty water home with them.

And I have new shoes, New running shoes, anyway. They’re the same as my old running shoes, just half a size bigger because my feet are bigger now and you know what they say about men with bigger feet.

It’s true.

We do need bigger shoes and new socks. I’ve lost all my good running socks in the last couple of months. I need to break the new ones in because the chafing on my big toe on this morning’s run was a big of a bastard. Maybe fourteen miles in new shoes and socks was a bit of an error but I wanted to have a play in them. The shoes are good. They’re very light for a road shoe and I like them because of that. I spite of being light and exceptionally cheap, they’re very durable. These are in the Union Jack colours and I hope I’ll be able to do most of my road miles in them in the run up to Manchester. I might get another pair to race in on the day if they work well on the long runs.

So, there you go, Neil. One blog post from a cheery Rich. Will that do?

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