Running Through History

Today’s run was an out and back along the Roman Road from Wandlebury. There is quite a lot of history on display in a small area. The Roman Road itself is known as Worsted Street now. Well, to be fair it’s not widely known as Worsted Street. There are suggestions that the name is something to do with the wool trade which in turn suggests that the name is medieval but nobody really knows. The Friends of Fleam Dyke and the Roman Road website also suggests that if could be called Wolves Street. That’s cool; wolves ranging out between Abington and Linton.

Wherever possible, I like to run along the surface of the road and not in the ditch.

Diagram courtesy of The Friends of Fleam Dyke and the Roman Road

The surface is visible for a long stretch north from Worsted lodge and it’s still very well drained. Even on horribly wet days, there is little mud on the surface along that stretch and it’s easy to run or walk along there. South and east of the A11, the surface is less visible and you’re running along the ditch. In past, more violent times that ditch could have had bodies in it. I always feel queasy when I think about that.

Wandlebury Country Park contains a ring ditch. It’s about 900m in circumference and pleasantly up-and-down as you run round it. I don’t feel as odd running through that, which is strange. It’s an Iron Age thing and frankly, I think it’s full of of faeries when it’s not full of sweaty runners.

A good place for 900m reps.

Okay, maybe not faeries, or even fairies, but it’s certainly a fantastic place for runners. I am very aware of how long this feature has been in the landscape, of the thousands of people who have seen it, crossed it, been through it. The same is true for all sorts of places. Imagine the millions who have passed through Kings Cross Station, for example. As fond of Kings Cross as I am, I don’t find it very special. Wandlebury, the Roman Road, Fleam Dyke and Mutlow Hill are different. I don’t know why. They just are. Sometimes, you just have to accept that.

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Coaching is a Joy

I was too knackered to run tonight. Seven and a bit hours in the car and three early starts after three late nights will do that to a chap. I got back from Halifax in plenty of time to get changed and have a warm up to loosen off my legs and stretch before the session of K Reps and Kettlebells I had planned for the half marathon training group. However, I sat in the car fighting the weight in my eyelids and thought “Fuck it.” Luckily, my training partner and chum asked for a hill session in the morning so I thought I would give my limited energies to the athletes tonight and coach properly.

Coaching is a joy and a refuge for the tired athlete. Instead of a wasted evening jogging round a track for the sake of it, I can help other athletes achieve their goals. I set them off for a warm up and laid out a speed ladder, a couple of kettlebells, some resistance bands and a med ball while they ran and loosened up a bit. We ran through a warm up routine including some dynamic whole-body stretching and squats just to wake up the glutes and then I sent them off to the other side of the track to start their first 1k rep.

The track was busy with fizzing speedsters this evening. Another group was down doing 400m reps and they were flying, all of them. The youngsters have the Cambridgeshire Schools Cross Country Championships on Saturday so their session was shorter and slightly less intense than the multiple reps the adults were running.

My group was not moving as quickly but they were still working hard. I watched them pass the finish line on each lap, giving a cue here and there or just encouraging as best I could. “Keep working! Close that gap! Arms!” I noticed one of the athletes wasn’t moving well. I thought she might be having a problem or carrying an injury but when I asked her, she said she was fine. I asked her if she knew that she wasn’t moving equally on each side and she didn’t.

I have found that it’s difficult to think about what your legs do. It’s easy to look down and watch them instead of just running. Instead, I suggested she think about positive arm drive and getting her legs so follow the arm movement and balance out that way. When she came past on her next rep, she was moving much more freely. I asked her at the end of the rep and she said her shoulders were aching a bit but otherwise, nothing was untoward. Small intervention, big result. We’ll watch again next and keep on until her shoulders no longer ache and her stride is balanced on each side. It might take a few weeks but it should work over time.

I get a lot of satisfaction from coaching. It’s not just writing training plans and shouting. It’s a collaboration and exploration with an athlete or group of athletes. There have been weeks and months sometimes when I have lacked all motivation to run but I have seldom not wanted to coach. It’s almost always been a source of joy for me. The athletes I coach each week work hard. I want to give them my best because that’s what they give me and I want to thank them publicly for that.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re brilliant. Thank you.

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Richard’s Big Book of Excuses

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

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

In at Number 5 – The Wrong Kind of Weather.

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

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

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

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

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

Number 3 is of course The Wheels Fell Off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More Than One Way To…

I was going to say skin a cat but that’s a very unpleasant image. English idioms can be horrid at times.

For an avowed technophobe, I’m fond of the few toys I have and understand. I use my Garmin watch to record all my training and even my yoga practice, such as it is. I enjoy following science and engineering and probably know a surprising amount about current genetics, particle physics, medical science and chemistry for a retired art historian. I’m still quite shite at maths, though. Of course, I’m particularly interested in how research in physiology might be applied to sport. I really should do that sports science degree.

Anyway, I spotted a link on Twitter (thanks Kate Bevan) to an article on WIRED about something called a DNA boot camp. Spit in a cup, send off your gob to a testing service, wait for a bit then take the results with you to sunny Ibiza where kindly instructors and coaches will tailor a week of workouts and dietary advice to your genotype.

It might be that there is sound, peer-reviewed science underpinning this operation. I haven’t done enough reading of my own to be able to tell whether it’s bollocks. There is quite a lot of dietary advice in particular which is distinctly testicular. I never want to hear another mention of superfoods or the prophylactic effect of consuming chocolate, red wine, sprouts or anything else.

Everything We Eat Both Causes and Prevents Cancer

This article on is an interesting exploration of why medical studies in particular are problematic for the layperson to understand. We rely on our experts to sift and assess the morass of often conflicting results from single studies. Doctors and other scientists get training in epidemiology and  statistics to help them understand what makes a good study and a significant result and this is what the rational person relies on for advice.

A less rational person might follow what passes for health advice in newspaper or magazine where the time-pressed journalist has to go with information in press releases from university public relations departments and follow ups with whichever expert will return a phone call or email.

Some might even look at the table above and conclude that they should just give up eating altogether if they want to avoid cancer, or eat everything on the list three times a day to prevent it.

It’s worse again when someone is trying to sell something on the back of “science.” For obvious, male-gaze reasons, I tend to think of Jennifer Aniston and “Here comes the science” when someone tries to use flannel and hand-waving to flog a new thing.

Sorry about that. Dated, isn’t it?

Anyway, the science bit in this thing about DNA bootcamps is beyond my ability to assess, as I said. It might be that the dietary and exercise advice is sound but I would have to rely on Christof Schwiening or Andy Matson for advice on that. I will note however that the cost of a week at this DNA bootcamp is from a fulsome and effusive £2,295. That’s whole-hearted pricing in a time of austerity. It’s one more reason to be sceptical about the whole thing. Someone wants to make money from all this sciencing.

I have no problem with paying for expert advice and coaching. I do just that for my yoga classes and kettlebells when I have the time to go. I get a lot from both of them. I would love to go and do some warm weather triathlon training too and that isn’t exactly cheap but the coaching at the ones I’ve seen is excellent.

What worries me most about the DNA boot camp is that it doesn’t seem much fun. As we discussed earlier this week, in order for an exercise regime to stick it has to be fun and as it happens I have something to share which is just that.

Carrie Bedingfield set up Run For Your Life as a means to get people out running and having fun in a supportive, low-stress, joyful way. The group she established has been meeting on Monday evenings on Coleridge Road for some time now and is thriving. She wants to expand the programme to make it more widely available across the city and its environs. The idea is to make running less of a chore. It shouldn’t have to be hard work, pounding pavements on your own. So, Run For Your Life will have small groups of up to eight runners with an experienced run leader or coach along for advice and encouragement. You will have support whether you’re starting an exercise programme from scratch or returning to running after a break.

I think it’s a brilliant idea so I will be hosting one of the groups in Cherry Hinton on Thursday evenings. I have committed to four sessions to see what the response is like and if there is a demand then I’ll continue. It won’t cost anything. You won’t need to spit into a cup, change your diet, run all the time, or do anything other than turn up in high-viz and ideally say “Thank you” at the end of the session. Please tell your friends. Carrie would like to expand beyond Cambridge so contact her via the Run For Your Life website if you’d like to know more. She’s lovely.

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What I Swear About When I Swear About Running

My legs fucking ache. I mean they’re sore, sorry, tired, wee twigs of nothing much at all other than embarrassment. This morning’s Wimpole 10k Hoohaah was hard work on a warm and breezy morning. The climbs took whatever little oomph I had in my wet rag legs and put squeezed it out as thoroughly as one of those old fashioned mangles. My get up and go got up and fucked off after about 3k and now I’m sitting here on my sofa watching re-runs of NCIS with a cat flaked out beside me. She has spent quite lot of time this afternoon with her nose in my smelly ‘pits with no sign whatsoever of distress. She’s a strange creature.

As I was dying on my arse towards the end of the final climb of the morning I had a particularly virulent swearolog running through my head. “Please end. Please fucking end. I don’t mind if I die as long as I die in front of this fucker but please end.” I usually feel more supportive of my fellow runners but today it was all about me and my woefully shagged legs. I wanted to stay in front of every bugger I overtook and cursed my legs and lungs when I couldn’t.

I took a walk break to sip some water at the halfway mark and found that I couldn’t breathe when I started to run again. Running with COPD is always a bit of a challenge. My lungs just don’t function as well as they would have had I not given them a nice tarry coating over twenty-odd years of smoking. I have nobody to blame but myself so that means I reserve a particular vitriol for my own stupidity.

Sometimes I wish that the first thing to fall to hand in my language toolbox weren’t the fuckhammer but it’s just so satisfying to give things a thorough twatting with it. I don’t think things actually improve when you use the fuckhammer. I didn’t run any faster because of it today for example. I couldn’t have; some complete tosser had taken the fuckhammer to my legs already. You just feel better for the emotional release.

I’d like to know whether different people get the same amount of relief from using different words. For some people “Dash it all” would have the same degree of intensity as “Bugger it all to fuck” does for me. Someone should do that experiment. I would but I don’t know anyone who would want to be really sweary for science. Also, I’m a fuckwit who wouldn’t be able to design such a research study.

In addition to the fuckhammer, the linguistic toolbox contains the cuntdriver, the bastardrill, the twat chisel and the plane speaking. Everyone has their own range of descriptors and emotional intensifiers which they use when they’re communicating. Some can do it wordlessly. If you know what you’re doing you can give your opinion of someone as a cockgobbling twatbasket with only a raised eyebrow.

Swearing can carry the same degree of linguistic invention and innovation as other speech. I love playing with words and swearing is a bit like playing in the mud. Who doesn’t love splashing through mud? Making mud pies? Mudtastic fun! And you can do the same with words for fucktastic fun! So remember that when you have your linguistic wellies on.

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Ship, ship, ship, ship…

It’s sensory overload, really.

There’s a sound which stands out in every season. Sounds are muffled by snow in winter so that all you hear is your own breath entering and leaving your body. If there’s no snow, the muffled sound comes courtesy of your hat pulled down over your ears so again you’re left with your breathing and the sound of your feet splashing through puddles and over pavements. The colours of winter are muted greys and blues with dazzling white for a handful of days if you’re very, very lucky and live away from polluting city traffic.

In the spring, there’s the smell of new leaves and the vivid, virid new growth. Life returns with enough punch and power to drive roots downwards through the earth and branches up and out through the sky. You can feel that power, if you’re enough of a hippy. The rest of us just feel better because we’re getting more daylight. Late in spring, the yellow of rape screams across field after field like Young Farmers pissed up on cider.

In summer, you hear skylarks but seldom see them. They’re little disembodied piping voices coming out of a blue, blue sky. That green of spring gets bleached out eventually even in the dampest of dismal British summers so that by late August greens are pallid and the cereals in the fields are burnished golden by the sun. Hot tar in cities has its smell. Damp earth after rainfall is a special smell.

Autumn is my favourite time of year. I was running through the woodland belts round Wimpole yesterday. In the place of the pad, pad, pad noise my feet make on the same trails during winter they were making a ship, ship, ship noise as I ran through drifts of fallen leaves. I remember Seonaid talking about going shoof-shoof through the piles of leaves as she walked around when she was a child. I may have misremembered exactly what she was talking about but that sound is so evocative of the life lived outside at this time of year. There is also the smell of all those leaves and their beautiful colours.

I’m not sure why I like autumn so much. There are quite a lot of anniversaries marking the deaths of family, friends and even pets at this time of year. Those beautiful leaves are filled with waste products and toxins before they drop. The new academic year has always brought some kind of hope of change and renewal even as the days shorten and the calendar year draws to a close. That hope and the shoof-shoof of an autumnal walk or a brisker ship-ship-ship are what make life seem just a little lighter in the gathering dark.

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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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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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Heavy Breath

I woke up one morning and couldn’t breathe so I decided I’d stop smoking. I mean, what sort of fucking idiot kippers his lungs so completely that he spends a good quarter of an hour every single morning choking and wheezing before he can even sit up straight? So, I woke up one morning and couldn’t breathe and that’s why I decided to stop smoking.

Except that’s not quite true. I woke up every morning with air squealing out of me as if I were a damp accordion. I don’t know why this particular morning my resolution not to buy a packet of fags held. I smoked my last cigarette that morning and haven’t lit up since. I’d tried almost every day not to smoke but the habit was so ingrained the words “And ten Superkings” would fall out of my mouth at the kiosk almost without me noticing. The ten little ciggies would disappear in several puffs of carcinogenic smoke quite quickly, sometimes one after another in a chain so I’d need to get more a couple of hours later.

This little ciggie was smoked in the car, this little ciggie was smoked alone. This little ciggie made me cough like a dog, but this little ciggie did not. And this little ciggie made me wheeze, wheeze, wheeze all the way home.

I must have smelled at times like a working man’s club on a Sunday morning: stale beer and mucky ashtrays with tangs of sweat and desperation. All the Trebor in the world couldn’t have fooled anyone into thinking I was living a minty-fresh life. I kidded myself that they would. Smoking gave me other health problems. Acid reflux ate my insides. I was downing antacids like Shane McGowan went through Martini. All the time I was telling myself that I could stop smoking any time but I was enjoying it so much.



Waking up in the night because stomach acid was wandering round my body getting into places it really shouldn’t. Getting my morning workout from a coughing fit. Spending money I couldn’t really afford on things I knew would kill me.

Really. I enjoyed it all.

The iconography of the cigarette is so strong and I bought into it all. Think about Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart. Now, imagine Bette heaving her guts up every morning or Bogie downing a Gaviscon slammer. Doesn’t really work does it? What about the Marlboro cowboy searching his chaps for his inhaler?

I’ve been thinking about all of this today because I died on my arse last night. A pyramid session will do that do you. 1 x 6:00, 2 x 3:00, 3 x 1:00, 2 x 3:00, 1 x 6:00; it’s a bit of a killer. You need to bring your fast legs and your best lungs and I had neither. I had my usual kippered lungs and well-fucked legs. I raced twice last week, once over 5k and once over a half marathon and I am battered to bits.

So, I’m still abusing my body but nobody is telling me not to any more. That has to be progress.

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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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