Training for the Cambridge Half Marathon

I have a somewhat odd relationship with this half marathon. It’s going to be my first and emotionally it keeps doing the roller coaster thing to me.

A year ago I stood on the street, cheering folks on for the 2014 Cambridge Half Marathon. I joined a bunch of friends in the pub afterwards to congratulate them on their run. I was greatly impressed with their feats of speed and endurance but couldn’t imagine that I would be able to run that kind of distance. However, as the year progressed I ran a few more 10K runs and thought well, maybe it might be possible. I just need to run 10K twice and then a bit more. That doesn’t sound too much does it? Well of course it does and I vacillated endlessly between a whiff of hopefulness and oceans of despair.

The pendulum swung back toward the positive just before Christmas (2014) when I went out one day, felt good and so just kept on running. By some miracle I had managed the 21K so knew that the half marathon couldn’t frighten me anymore. The dark despair would be vanquished and I could skip happily on my way to a triumphant finish in the Cambridge Half Marathon. A couple of weeks later the pendulum has swung back and so I set off out once more to see if I could repeat the feat. Sure enough I did manage it (as detailed in this blog post ) but suffered for several hours afterwards from what must have been either water or nutrient deficiency. I’d done the distance twice but still wasn’t sure I could do it again so had to strap on the running shoes and prove that it wasn’t just a couple of flashes in the pan.

I prepared myself for the cold (running tights, long sleeved top, jacket and hat) and ventured out. There was a bitter cold wind and occasional flurries of rain. It was anything but a cheery day but I was a man with a plan. I had my map of the Cambridge Half Marathon route so intended to run down to the city centre, once around the route and then back again. It felt rough at first but it always does. I went over the cycle bridge cursing the biting wind and preponderance of grey and dismal clouds. I was also cursing the nagging pain from the hamstring injury at Parkrun yesterday and hoping that it didn’t get any worse. I trotted down the other side down the road and turned left toward Chesterton. I was trying to decide whether to cross the river at the Green Dragon bridge or the new bridge further down. I decided on the one further down and then looked up and found myself by the Green Dragon pub about to cross the bridge. Oh well. Down the side of the river there are lots of people running even now at 08:30 on a  dismal Sunday. They are all going much faster than me. I try to kid myself that maybe they are not running as far as I am but with the Cambridge Half Marathon only a few weeks away it’s a good bet that most of the people I see are also training for the same run.

I run on to Cambridge and stumble across what will be the start of the half marathon at Victoria Avenue. The route stays quite close to Cambridge City centre. It’s 6 miles long and we’ll be doing it twice on the day with an extra twiddly bit at the end to get the extra mile. I’m feeling good and eating up the miles. I hesitate as I run up Kings Parade. Do I turn right at the Senate Building. I pull out the map. It looks like I do. Running toward Jesusgel pic Green I decide to try out the gel. Richard has given me a gel to try. These are the ones that they will be handing out at the drinks stations during the half marathon. I rip off the top and suck down the contents. It tastes incredibly sweet, sticky and fairly unpleasant. I know there needs to be a lot of sugar in these things but surely there’s some way of disguising it a little. Ah well – I’m pretty sure it’ll provide the energy I need but during this run I’m wishing that I’d brought along some water with which to wash it down.

I finish the 6 mile section around Cambridge and head for home. I’m flagging a little now and I know my pace has dropped quite considerably. I’m still confident I can get home.

Several kilometres later I arrive home and it’s much less of a drama than last time I did over 21 kilometres. I ran 22 and a half kilometres but I’m still standing and have enough energy to do my stretches and then go to soak in the bath. For now I’m happy and confident as regards finishing the half marathon but I strongly suspect that those doubts will creep back in once more.

Footnote – The hamstring injury didn’t bother me much at all during this run. I kept my stride short and the pace was fairly gentle. I must do a little searching on the net to find out how to look after this injury and hopefully strengthen it to stop it happening again.

You can view the details of this run on Strava

Happy Birthday Cambridge Parkrun

There were many balloons, lots of fancy dress and, of course, cake.
This was January 31st 2015 and the 5th birthday for Cambridpic birthday number 5ge Parkrun.
I had completely forgotten about it so that my state of dress was far from fancy.
The large number 5 balloon strapped to a speaker amplifier combo alerted me to the fact that there were goings on going on. We all sang happy 5th birthday to the Cambridge Parkrun. Weirdly, we were asked to sing it in the style of Marilyn Munroe singing to the US president. Various chaps had dressed up in sequinned dresses and blonde wigs to lead us in the singing. Strange as it was, it kinda made sense somehow.
It was an icy day and the course was muddy, mucky and downright treacherous. Undeterred we surged on and skidded our way around the park. I was feeling good and making great time when I landed awkwardly in the middle of a puddle. I yelped and then hopped and hobbled out of the way. ‘Orrrible pains were stabbing away at the back of my leg. It was about half way between the back of my knee and my bum. I strongly suspect it was a hamstring thing. It was certainly jolly painful. I limped disconsolately all the way back to the start and took a few photos of the excellent costumes and  other parkrunners who had managed to make it all the way to the end without straining/spraining/breaking anything.

For your delight and delectation, I offer you a few of those pictures here.

Parkrunners parkrunners01 parkrunnersparkrunners

Trying out Saucony running shoes at Up and Running

On Wednesday nights at 1800 the Shop, Up and Running puts on a social run. My friend Richard goes along regularly and occasionally I like to run with them too. Truth be told it’s often a little fast for me but it’s quite good to push myself a little bit now and again.Up and running shop front

This evening Saucony are there and they have some fancy new shoes for us to try. These are the new Saucony Triumph ISO. I happily strap some on to give them a go. The lacing is the first thing I notice. There are long tags on each of the lace up points. This allows them to flex and brace all along the foot in different ways. The human foot is an infinitely variable thing and this design allows the shoes to be strapped to any and all shapes of foot and still mould itself to the shape. I take them out onto the streets of Cambridge and feel how they hit the ground. They are a completely foam sole and flex and shift every time you hit the ground. The chap that brought them along suggested that we might like to try a little bit of hitting the ground hard to see what the feedback was like. The theory is that this design will not just absorb and dissipate your impact in the way that gel does but give you some kickback so you feel a little bounce when you hit the ground.

They felt strange at first. There was a kind of squidge in the middle of the shoe when I hit the ground as if I’d stood on a particularly well fed mouse and then a crunch slightly forward of that point as if I was spreading his tiny bones around a little. It took only around 2 minutes before I’d become accustomed to this rather unusual sensation and accepted it as part of what the shoes did. The shoes felt light and gave quite a bit of bounce. I really enjoyed running in them. I asked how much they might be and was told around 125 pounds or so. This is a lot of money. I paid only 48 pounds for the running shoes I currently use but would admit that these seem a heck of a lot better. However – the only way I could convince myself to pay so much for running shoes would be if I knew for sure that they would cut down the number of injuries I receive from running. This is a very difficult thing to prove.

We followed a little of the upcoming Cambridge Half Marathon route and I relished the delicious bounce and sheer lightness of these shoes. Apparently Saucony have gone all out to get them under 300 grammes and I can definitely feel the benefit. They feel good and if I earned about twice the amount that I do then I reckon I would now be the owner of some shiny new shoes.

As for the run – I didn’t enjoy the environment all that much. The streets of Cambridge were very crowded indeed. There were people weaving about in front of us and I felt that I was forever checking my stride to weave in and out of the fantastically erratic movements of the Cambridge Wednesday evening visitors. I quit after the first circuit and left the rest of the gang to explore a little more of the route. I stripped myself of the fancy running shoes and went home.

Here’s a pic of the shoe alongside the foam sole.Saucony Triumph ISO soles

Route and Shoe Trial in Cambridge

Christmas has been and gone and sometime during the festivities my wife handed me money and says buy some running shoes. I’d been fairly happy with the Asics I’d been wearing so tried to find something similar but maybe slightly better. I tried Sports Direct. My original shoes (Asic Gel Blackhawk) had been bought there. They had two pair of Asics and both were well beyond my price range. I was very tempted to buy from a proper running shop such as ‘Up and Running’  but looking around there I couldn’t find anything under a hundred pounds and my budget was 50, that could possibly stretch to 60 if I saw something absolutely amazing. I decided to go to the

running shoes picInternet and found Gel-Hyper33 for only just under 48 pounds. They looked to be just my type of shoe. They had a gel cushion to try and absorb some of the impact of my 14 stone crashing down on them and that cushioning was in the middle which is where I tend to land. When I received them I tried them on in the house and ran up and down the stairs in them. Not the most conclusive test in the world but they felt quite good and seemed to fit. Today I decided I would give them a proper test trial outside in the big wide world. I also wanted to try out a new running route. We’ve been having the showers refurbished at my place of work so I’ve been wondering about running there and back to work so that I can try to fit in some extra runs.

Today, both the shoes and the route would be under test.

My route is one I’ve cycled many times but I was interested to see if I would enjoy running it. I go over the cycle bridge from Milton and then cross the road near the entrance to the Science Park, then to the busway and turn right down there. I go to the second bus stop and then cross over Kings Hedges Road and follow Kirkwood Road to the recreation ground. I’m finding it fairly easy going and the shoes feel good. They’re very light and let air pass through them. In fact at this moment my feet are feeling quite cold.  The route is not exciting me though. It may be that I’ve cycled this route so often that I now feel jaded by it. I very rarely take headphones with me, preferring the sound of my own thoughts and allowing myself to soak up the sights and sounds of the places I’m passing through. I wonder if I start to run this route regularly whether I should bring along my Ipod and a few podcasts for the purposes of Jim entertainment.

I continued along Cameron Road, Northfield Avenue and did a bit of a wiggle onto Mere Way. This leads onto Carlton Way and then it’s just straight on to Shire Hall. So, hello workplace, pleased to see you. I’ve run 5 and a half kilometres and am feeling nicely warmed up. I trot around the front lawn for a while. I’m thinking of running back along the route I’ve just done but it isn’t really calling to me. I then look down the hill and see Cambridge spread out in all its glory. It’s just too enticing.  I should run around there for a bit. I have no plan now. I’m just running and I’ll decide where to go as things progress.

The Backs are my first target. There is a row of colleges along the river and the backs of all these colleges display their beautiful lawns here and some River Cam picof them provide convenient bridges so that we are able to cross over into the centre of Cambridge.

I cross over and turn left onto Trinity Street. The sun is out now and it’s absolutely glorious. I’m really revelling in the run now. The sights are beautiful. There are people nodding and smiling as I pass by and the sun is being ever so beatific. I realise that I’m now almost certainly on part of the Cambridge Half Marathon Route. This will be my next big run. I’ve never taken part in a half marathon before so it’s going to be a fascinating challenge. I managed to run the 13.1 mile distance a few weeks ago for the very first time so that has reduced the fear of it a little bit.  I got so excited when I did manage the half marathon distance that I didn’t just sign up for the Cambridge Half Marathon. I signed  up for the Blenheim half and the Histon and Impington Flaming June run. A complete half marathon beginner signing up for 3 of them. That’s not too many is it.

pic of Jesus GreenAnyway, enough of me displaying my stupidity here. There’s more running and more stupidity later. I continue onwards onto Jesus Green and straight across that onto Midsummer Common. It’s starting to get a little busier here now and there’s quite a bit of dodging bicycles and other runners going on. One of the downsides of living somewhere so downright beautiful is that everyone else wants to be out enjoying it too. I keep moving on to Stourbridge Common and hear a yell. Squinting into the sun I’m no wiser so I trot over to see. It’s Lloyd, one of the people I meet up with when I do Parkruns. We shake hands and  he says what a shame it was that Parkrun had been cancelled the previous day. The wind was quite ferocious and had brought down a number of trees. It was felt that we probably shouldn’t risk having 400 parkrunners rampaging through the country park while the wind was so determined to drop heavy duty foliage upon our heads. Apparently Lloyd went across to Bury St Edmunds and did the Parkrun there. That should help his rehabilitation.  Lloyd is yet another of our crowd who is recovering from an injury. It is unfortunately all too common. I’m keen to carry on my run so we wave goodbye and go about our business. I cut back down to the river. There seems to be a boat race there today so I decide to stay this side of the river rather than cross over at The Green Dragon Inn. I dip under the bridge and then plod off into the muddy mess that is Ditton Meadows. It’s hard going here and it’s here I find out something else about my new running shoes. They seem to be designed to let lots of air get to your feet but that also means that they are quite happy to let all the water there is slosh straight through the uppers to give your feet a bit of close up watery goodness. It was quite a shock. I squelched into the puddle and it got rather more access to my feet than I was expecting. Maybe these are designed to be specifically summer shoes. I slosh and squelch a little more until I emerge from the mud into the quaint little village of Fen Ditton itself. I’m just about to turn left around the church when around 20 cyclists all adorned in high footpathviewvisibility jackets emerge from a footpath to my right. I’ve never noticed this before so decided to take a look. It was a delightful path running alongside a dream Georgian mansion and then taking me on a detour around Fen Ditton. Then I wound back into the village to approach the church from the other direction. A nod of acknowledgement to the church and down the street to the public footpath across the playing fields. It was about now I started to think I must have run for quite some considerable distance. I’d run 13K and was beginning to wander whether today might be a good day to test whether I could run half-marathon distance again. I’d only need to do 3K to get to 16K and after that it’s only 5K and 5K is easy. I tend to think in terms of chunks of 5K if I’m trying to talk myself into something. Doing a 5K run itself is quite hard as you’re usually running quite fast but 5K as part of a longer run doesn’t seem like a huge challenge. I figured that I’d run to Baits Bite Lock and then up toward Milton Village and see how far I’d gone then. If I was within sight of a half marathon distance then I’d loop around the village a couple of times to add the extra kilometres.

Upon re-entering Milton Village I see I’ve done 16 and a half kilometres. Now I’m definitely within sight of a half marathon distance. There are less than 5 kilometres to go. Surely that should be easy. Unfortunately my world has just fallen in on my head. I can’t seem to lift my legs. My stomach feels incredibly queasy and I feel decidedly groggy. At this point I should have stopped and made my way home but I kept thinking, “No, no no, I’m so close. I can just stagger the last 5 kilometres.”  So, staggering is exactly what I did. I went into the country park and ran around the edge but then I found that the juniors were doing their Sunday Parkrun so I felt it best to get out of their way. I retraced my steps and then plunged into the village, winding back and around and across and over. All the time I felt sick and completely without energy. Eventually I tottered  home with a time of about 2 hours and 20 minutes. I know – it may sound slow to you folks but for me it was a 10 minute improvement on the last time I’d managed to run this distance.

I’m sat outside the house with my head in my hands and my darling wife opens the door. She smiles at me and tells me not to take my shoes off. “I need you to go to the supermarket.” I nod meekly, do a few stretches then smile and totter off to the shop. I’m limping now. The shoes have given me blisters on my right foot. The left one fits absolutely perfectly. The right one, not so much. I may have to wear extra socks in that one or maybe I can fit an extra insole.

I’m feeling ill when I return to the house. I can’t even eat the smoked salmon on tiger bread that is waiting for me. I bathe and then crawl into bed feeling sorry for myself. An hour later or so I manage a coffee and eat the salmon. I’m still feeling slightly dodgy but a good deal better than before. I must have suffered some kind of deficiency that caused my body to suffer so at 17 or 18 kilometres. Maybe there’s something I should have been eating or drinking. I didn’t take any water but with the temperature hovering around 3 or 4 degrees Celsius then I’m not losing massive amounts in sweat. It was a very odd feeling indeed. However, I’m feeling much better now and am glad I did the run. It’s a frightfully long distance so I’m pleased to have been able to prove to myself that I can still do it.

This route available to view on Strava

2 Parkruns In One Day

It’s New Year and I’m staying in Leeds with my mum and brother. Leeds is well blessed with Parkruns currently boasting 4 parkruns with several others quite close by. On New Year’s Day there are 2 runs. One is at Woodhouse Moor (near Leeds University) and the other is at Temple Newsam in the grounds of the glorious Elizabethan manor house. They have realised that there will be a bunch of complete maniacs that will want to do both runs and so instead of starting them both at 9 am as they would usually do, they are running the Woodhouse Moor Parkrun at 9 and Temple Newsam at 10. It’ll be tight but with them being only 4.5 miles apart then it is eminently possible to do both.

Now, I’ll make a small diversion here to talk about Parkruns. The vast majority of you will know about these but for those who don’t I shall fill in a bit of background information.

Parkrun is a measured 5 kilometre run organised entirely by volunteers and starting at 9am every Saturday morning. It began in 2004, founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt as the UK Time Trials and then morphed into Parkrun in 2010. I usually run in the Cambridge Parkrun although I’m pleased to say that I can usually find Parkruns wherever I stay. I did note that there were none in the USA when I was there last year. I’m hoping this phenomenon will spread across the ocean soon. The event relies upon volunteers as it costs nothing to enter. There are usually a starter, several marshals to make sure you stay on route, a finishing funnel team to click your finishing time on the stop watches and people to hand out your bar code finish tags. There are also people to scan your finish tags as well as your athlete bar codes that you sign up for online before you attend the event. It’s a minimum team of around 8 or 9 for every run and often with fields of 3 or 400 people running at every event then you can need much more. Therefore it’s very important that everyone who takes part volunteers to help out at some time. I have very much enjoyed the experience every time I’ve volunteered so would heartily recommend it to anyone reading this who hasn’t yet experienced the fun of being a Parkrun volunteer.

I rise early on New Year’s Day and set off for Woodhouse Moor. My partner, Carrie is coming with me. She doesn’t usually run nor does she usually attend Parkruns with me, being of the very sensible opinion that Saturday mornings are for sleeping in a little and recovery from the trials and tribulations of the working week. This time it feels like a special occasion and she accompanies me to Woodhouse Moor. Carrie has also brought along some running shoes. She’s going to attempt her very first Parkrun. We’ve decided it should be the second one so that we won’t risk missing getting to that one if Carrie is still running the first.

There are huge amounts of folk milling about even though it’s only 08:45. Woodhouse Moore Parkrun seems to have a really strong community feel to it. Many people asking each other whether they’ve had a good Christmas and all that kind of thing. It’s all very jolly. I even hear quite a number of people talking about going on to the other Parkrun at Temple Newsam. One mad fool is going to run in between the two as well as taking part in both. Just incredible.

At about 08:55 the shouting begins and we are all cajoled back down the course to gather at the start. There we are given our instructions and the latest news. The latest news is that the Leeds Parkrun is going to change its name to the Woodhouse Moor Parkrun. The instructions are to run around the course, look out for other folks using the park, keep dogs on short leads and keep any under 11’s close by because they are inherently evil and could break loose and destroy everyone. We nod sagely and are sent on our way around the Moor. Unfortunately it’s not a very big moor and so we have to go around 3 times to make 5K. This gets a bit confusing with the distance markers. The first one I saw was 3 kilometres but I managed to figure that one was probably a marker to savour for later.

It’s a nice easy course with a little uphill but nothing too taxing. It’s pathway all the way around so ideal for a wet and cold winter’s day. It is very crowded but we soon spread out and are able to find our own pace.

I finish the race, am funnelled down to the barcode scanning folks and then Carrie and I are bustling over to the car to head out for Parkrun number two.

We travel in a mighty convoy with many other folks on their way to Temple Newsam run. We park and then circle around the glorious house to the mini farm beyond. We talk to nice chap as we walk to the start who extols the glories of this Parkrun. He refers to the course as ‘interesting’. This sets off all my alarm bells. When I hear people call courses ‘interesting’ they often mean bloody difficult. Hmmm, we shall see. We set off up the hill toward the house and then turn off to run alongside the formal garden.

Carrie at Temple NewsamI wonder at this point whether I should have run along with Carrie. It was her first Parkrun and maybe she would have wanted some company to run with. It never occurred to me at the time. I just took off and trotted around the course at my own pace but there was absolutely no reason why I couldn’t have run with Carrie and given her some encouragement. If our positions were reversed then I wouldn’t have wanted her to run with me. I would have just wanted to plod around and do my own thing in my own way but I have found through years of experience that I can’t always judge what other people would want from my own perception. I think, in this case, what I should have done was to ask her what she wanted. Asking won’t always get a response that reflects what the person actually wants but it has to be better than not asking at all.

We ran down by the formal gardens and then turned left ish toward the motorway in the distance. Then left again and eventually circled around so that we were coming back up the hill toward the farm and the house. There was a lot of mud and the uphill was steep and particularly gruelling. My suspicions about the word ‘interesting’ were definitely realised.

We went around the course twice and then it veered off to spend a little more time on that last hill that we all enjoyed so. Just as I was beginning to wonder if the 5K measurement wasn’t all it could be I finally spotted the final funnel. Fortunately the finish funnel was very long as they’d run out of tokens so were scanning people as they finished using just the one scanner. This would put all the results in one place so that they wouldn’t need to be collated later and would get over the lack of tokens problem. This was probably quick thinking by someone on the day, so much kudos for whoever sorted that problem out.

Carrie and Jim at Temple NewsamI went back down the track to find Carrie. She wasn’t enjoying herself and I was regretting that this was her introduction to the Parkruns. The Temple Newsam Run especially in all that mud was one of the toughest Parkruns I’ve ever done. Possibly not the best one for a first timer.

She was glad she did it though and I was thrilled that she now has a little knowledge of the sort of thing I get up to every Saturday morning.



It was early in the morning and all through the house.
Not a soul was stirring, not even a mouse.
So, of course I thought – a great time for a bit of running.

Running shoes on, shirt and shorts. Phone strapped to my arm and SPI belt around my waist and away I went.

It was a freezing Beach Sunrisecold morning after Christmas but before the New Year. I checked my phone and it told me that it was below freezing. It did look beautiful though. There was frost on the ground and the sun was just beginning to make an impression upon the day. I ran straight across Prestwick Road onto the bridge and then turned left along the promenade toward Ayr. The wind blew in from the sea and bit into my right side sharply. I wasn’t yet enjoying this run. It often feels pretty unpleasant when one begins a run, especially when the elements are conspiring against you. However I know that it gets much nicer as the run continues. The muscles warm up, breathing gets much easier and your body temperature increases to a point where the elements just cannot freeze you no matter how hard they try. Nevertheless the first 15 minutes can be pretty harsh. I was wishing I’d brought my long sleeved top. I bought one recently and it does offer much needed protection to my arms against the wind and rain but it’s made for superfit types who want their shirt to cling to their rippling muscles. It clings to me, but for lack of muscles it has to content itself with attaching firmly to my stomach and although I don’t consider myself vain I really don’t want my stomach to be quite such a prominent feature. It is for this reason I tend to wear my long sleeved top only rarely.
I’m running along the promenade gritting my teeth against the cold but simultaneously appreciating the glory of the sea rolling and tumbling about the Ayrshire coast for my delight and delectation. As if to counter this the less than beautiful sight of the docks manifests itself before my eyes. There are many and varied warning signs saying that this bit of the coast is certainly not for public consumption and if you are one of those public folks then you’d better be off with you to go play elsewhere. I take heed of these signs and turn inland.
There’s a bridge and then some twiddly bits through industrial units and around the back of Lidl. This brings me out at the side of the River Ayr which seems to have an urgent appointment with the sea and is surging past at a rate of knots.
wallI go inland a little more to cross the bridge and pass by the bottom of the Sandgate. I spot some bits of old wall that I haven’t seen before and follow them for a little. It looks like some kind of defensive structure from ye days of yore. I round the bend and there’s a cannon and a bit of writing about Oliver Cromwell. It’s odd that even though I know intellectually that there were many significant events that took place in Scotland during the time we know as the English Civil Wars emotionally I hadn’t really acknowledged it. There’s a little more about the citadel here I passed on by the cannon (truth to be told, it was rather a puny cannon) and soon found myself back beside the sea. I was now on something called The Lang Scots Mile. It took me along the seafront past the Ayr council building on toward Greenan Castle. I ran down onto the beach and was surprised to find just how hard Beachunderfoot it was. The ridges in the sand didn’t give at all and felt solid as concrete sheathed in their white frost. I took a couple of photos there (one of the many benefits of having my phone with me to record my distances is that it means I have the phone camera with me also) of the sand and seaweed and the sun peeping out across the sea wall. I felt the sand ridges were a little uncomfortable to run Beachon so I made my way back to the promenade. This was now filling up with dog walkers many of whom were terribly worried about my safety and at least 3 different people warned me of upcoming ice on the pavements. I wonder if it was from some kind of feeling of camaraderie Some feeling that it was tough out there and we all had to come together somehow to see it through. Whatever the motivation I thought it quite sweet and heart-warming. I turned back before Doonfoot and retraced my steps. I still felt good and would have liked to have gone further but my right hamstring which had been giving me trouble for the past couple of months began to hurt again. I felt I should try be careful with it, lest it tear again and put me out of action. I followed the path along the seeafront to the citadel and then over the bridge and behind Lidl. This time I turned inland from the port, up to the Prestwick Road and then back into the streets for a little while before making my way back to Seaforth Road.

A delightful, if somewhat chilly run.

I mapped it on the app, MapMyRun

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

The Oatmeal has bookmanaged to summarise this beautifully for people such as myself in the book, ‘The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.’ It’s a delightful cartoon documentary of one man fighting all those demons that so many of us fight every time we don those running shoes and trot off down the street. There are the Krakens that we slay. There are all those whispering Bleurch things that tell us what a jolly good idea it would be to slob out in a comfy chair and consume vast quantities of salty snacks. However he also tells of that wonderful joy that the runner feels when he or she just runs and runs and all the voices in his head go quiet and there is just the joy of running.

My first 5K

I’m cheating a little here in that this occurred a couple of years ago but I reckon it would fit here quite nicely.

Running and the Tricksy Brain

I’ve been doing some running lately.
Oh no, I’ve just lost at least half my readership. I remember reading a quote about equations. It was something like, for every equation you use in a book then half of your readership will be scared away. I was convinced that this was something that Isaac Asimov had been told and he related in his autobiography. Google tells me otherwise. It seems Stephen Hawking produced this little gem, in his book, A Brief History of Time. However I have chosen a non mathematical way of chasing you all away. I know of very few fans who do any running but I have met quite a number who have struggled with the tricksiness of their own heads, so maybe we have some common ground there. I’ve found this running business to be a fascinating experience for what it does to the inside of my head and if there are any of you left still reading this I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.
Over the years I’ve often thought that this running lark might be a jolly fine thing to do. It’s easily accomplished, should be really good exercise and it’s absolutely free. So every now and again I would don shorts and training shoes and off I’d go. A couple of hundred yards later I would be huffing and puffing and aching and hurting in all sorts of places. My brain would be screaming at me to stop before I died. I knew those messages were ridiculous as I’ve seen vast numbers of people run more than two hundred metres so surely it couldn’t be fatal. I would push on a little further but the pain overwhelmed me and I would be found clutching a lampost, fighting for breath and feeling thoroughly useless and ridiculously unfit. I was sure that this reaction must be psychosomatic despite what seemed like so much physical evidence so would try again and again and just find myself clutching yet another lampost feeling pathetic. And so things continued until I discovered something callestartd Parkrun. Every Saturday morning for 09:00 large groups of volunteers mark out a 5 kilometre route, and runners turn up to run the course. You get a bar code by registering on the web site and the volunteers will time you and provide a finishing tag. You then take the barcode and finishing tag to the scanning team and the results are then published on the Parkrun website. A marvellous resource indeed and completely free but of course I worried and dithered for along time before I went along to give it a try. I mean this was 5 kilometres for goodness sake. That’s a long long way. Surely I could never run that kind of distance. Armed with this mighty multitude of negative thoughts I turned up to give it a try, confident that if I found it too difficult I could just give up and go home. This plan was immediately scuppered when I encountered a friend and work colleague there who assured me that after he finished he would wait by the finish line to cheer me in.
I started near the back of the field and was cheered to find that we set off quite slowly and the people around me were doing quite a gentle little trot. Excellent, thinks I. This pace will suit me nicely. Then after a kilometre the pain hits. I can’t breathe and I know my face is contorting madly as I strain desperately to try and get some air into my lungs. It seems that it doesn’t matter how wide I open my mouth I just can’t get any oxygen in there. I’m now swaying from side to side with my mouth agape doing a fine impersonation of a great galumphing hippopotamus.
My mind screams at me to stop before I die. I keep going. My heart starts thumping and I feel a pain there. See, says my brain. You wouldn’t listen to me and now you’re going to have a heart attack. I ignore the pain and carry on. Now the muscles in my legs are starting to do strange twanging things. I imagine tendons being stretched to breaking point and snapping abruptly leaving me with useless floppy limbs. I reject the floppy limbs scenario and keep going.The brain then realises that it needs to get more sneaky if it’s going to get me to stop. Maybe you could just rest for a bit Jim. Surely just a moments rest wouldn’t be too much of a problem. Possibly a rest might help and then you could run faster after you’ve recovered. Tempting indeed but I realise these are brain tricks. At that point one of the volunteers shouts out the time we’ve been running. I start doing calculations in my head trying to figure out what speed I’m going and extrapolating my finish time if I actually do finish. This keeps me occupied for some time and I pass the 2 kilometre marker. This is a revelation as I realise that I haven’t died yet and the pain hasn’t gotten worse. What’s even better is that I’m now breathing fairly evenly. There are still scary wheezing noises emanating from my mouth but I no longer feel like I’m fighting for every breath. This buoys me up a little and I push on to 3 kilometres with only muted screaming noises going on inside my head. Then the doubts come flooding back in. Three kilometres is only a little over halfway. That strange twanging feeling at the back of my knee has made itself known again. Maybe if I keep going it will just snap and I may never be able to walk again. I picture myself negotiating the rest of my life in a wheelchair. It all feels so vivid and I’m convinced that the reality will be realised in only a few seconds if I don’t stop now. I try distracting myself with numbers again but it isn’t working. I’ve slowed down from a trot to a totter and look close to falling over. A volunteer asks me if I’m OK and I try to look brave and assure them that I’m absolutely fine. They ask if I’m sure and I reply in the affirmative. I obviously don’t look OK. Then something magical happens. I encounter the 4 kilometre sign. This sign means there is just one kilometre left. I start counting down. These are manageable numbers now. The end is no longer an unobtainable goal. I count up to a hundred and that means there are only about 900 metres to go. I count to another hundred and think aargh, these numbers aren’t going down very much. It’s still a long way to the finish. However, thinks I. Maybe I haven’t been entirely accurate and possibly instead of 800 metres left there are only 750. In fact while I’ve been thinking about this I could have run another fifty metres so there could only be 700 metres left. No that’s silly you’re just kidding yourself. I argue back and forth about how much I’m deluding myself as regards the distance left to cover and then all doubt is vanquished as I see a sign telling me that there are only 300 metres to go. Hurrah thinks I surging forward and then rapidly running out of steam as I find that 300 metres is still quite a long way. Eventually I stagger across the finish line and collect my finishing tag. I lie down on the grass feeling totally exhausted but elated. My mind told me that it couldn’t be done. It was absolutely emphatic about it and yet it had lied. I had reached the end and although I ached and hurt, I was not injured and I was now a 5 kilometre runner (albeit a 5 kilometre runner who was walking like a drunken cowboy). This was a distance that I never thought I would attain. I’ve been out running quite a bit since then and the battle against my brain still happens every time. It was particularly prominent recently when I started to run 10 kilometres. My brain said this was a ridiculous notion and threw many obstacles into my path. I would say that I stepped deftly around these obstacles but I think it is probably more accurate to say I staggered and stumbled my way through until I reached my 10 kilometres. I’m more confident about my running now but the brain still occasionally wins through. If it can’t stop me it tries to suggest I should rest this week and run a little slower so that I can make an extra special attempt next week. It’s a tricksy little bunch of neurons that brain thing.

I wonder if I should have a bash at a half marathon?