Monthly Archives: March 2016

The only way to stay sane


Blog pic Staying Sane

Never mind hitting the wall, last Saturday it felt like the wall was coming up to hit me

Malcolm Gladwell, the thinking athlete’s intellectual,  writes long, long essays in The New Yorker and runs superbly brisk mile repeats with the New York Harriers. As a gawky teen he ran 1500m in 3 minutes and 55 seconds. Last time I read about him, he was still capable of covering a mile in five minutes. He’s in his 50s. He travels a great deal, and said he has his favourite running routes in most major cities, because running is ‘the only way to stay sane.’

Gladwell is the kind of chap that pushes himself to the limit. He’s certainly keen on raising a rumpus with his writing. He posited a spirited defence of Lance Armstrong and doping in general. I don’t expect he’s all that restful to spend time indoors with, which may be why he remains resolutely single, despite various fruity chunks of gossip about his lovelife, but I’d love to go for a run with him. He never does much more than six miles, he says, so perhaps if I ran my hardest, and he took it easy, we’d find common ground. He could fulminate and I could nod and wheeze. It would be educational.

Last Saturday I joined three men from my running club on their weekend long run. They were planning 24 miles, from Greenwich, then under the foot tunnel and along the Regent’s Canal, to Victoria Park, in Hackney, and back, making up the miles with a few loops of Greenwich Park. As I jogged over to the meeting point, I thought of another Gladwell theory (beside the most famous one about needing 10,000 hours of practice to become expert at something – I clearly need to spend more hours at the track), about running with better runners. He said, in at interview with Runners’ World magazine

‘If I had a group of people slightly faster than me, who lived within three blocks of me and wanted to go run five days a week, I would be twice the runner I am.’

The blokes I was meeting are all training for much faster marathon times than I am, but assured me they’d be taking the miles easy, and I wouldn’t feel under pressure.

I managed the first six miles, hanging on to their coat tails, as it were, but when we reached Victoria Park I let them go on without me. Overheated, thirsty and dispirited, I felt half the runner I should be. I finished my 20 miler at a moderate pace, battling a stiff wind that was the precursor to Storm Katie. My faster companions were sorry to let me go, but at this stage of the marathon training game, sticking fiercely to your schedule seems like the most important task in your life. You don’t want to jinx your training for friendship’s sake. We remain friends.

Gladwell, I know, would have hung on for dear life, and that is perhaps why he is such a successful writer and thinker, as well as a fearsomely fleet runner. Still. I’d rather be Marathon Gran. I took a couple of days off this week to go to Berlin to wish my splendid grandson happy birthday. Scoffing cake, with him on my knee and a glass of Champagne at my side, I felt as Good for Age as it’s possible to be, which is all that matters, in the long run.

Schedule this week

Monday: rest

Tuesday: five miles easy

Wednesday: a couple of miles to show willing

Thursday: 12 miles various pace

Friday: a couple of miles recovery

Saturday: rest

Sunday: Paddock Wood half marathon (pray for a bit of Gladwellesque staying power)


The smell of the liniment, the roar of the crowd

Marathon Gran with Josphat and Barnaba

Josphat Kemei and Barnaba Kipkoech were 1st  and second, I was 1497th


Yesterday was the Vitality North London Half Marathon, which makes much of its dibs on Wembley Stadium – the race begins and ends there – hence the proud strapline ‘The greatest finish line…in the world’

Confident words. I’d take issue with them, citing The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin as a truly great finish line. Nonetheless, yesterday’s finishing flourish was a fantastic experience. It’s not often you get to run your final 200m inside a world-famous sports arena.

I liked the little detour we took at mile six, too. It felt terrific to come off the ‘ard ‘igh road onto the beautifully springy athletics track inside Saracens’ Allianz Park Stadium. Like the runners around me, I picked up the pace here and completed the remaining seven miles pleasingly briskly.

Running the second half of a race feels like a very grown-up thing to do. It has taken me a while to learn not to go off too fast, in the mistaken belief I will be able to save up those first swift miles to earn me the luxury of going a little slower as I tire. The fact is runners tire much more spectacularly, and irretrievably, if they’ve expended more energy in the first half than their fitness will allow.

If you’ve worked out, through training runs, speed sessions and past races, what your optimum pace is for a given distance, running at a much faster pace than that from the outset will result in a tottering, depleted gait at the finish. We’ve all seen the runners trying to get over the line while completely conked. It’s not pretty. A well-timed sprint finish is the order of the day. Especially in front of a stadium crowd noisily supporting the impressive 6797 taking part in this relatively new, and incredibly popular, urban half.

Yesterday’s race went well, in the circumstances. My preparation had gone horribly awry because of social commitments involving vast amounts of food and drink, and travel. Of course, no-one was holding a gun to my head as I quaffed the alcohol I’d forsworn during training. I just have no discipline, with the result that I lined up for the half marathon bleary from lack of sleep and over indulgence.

A conservative starting pace was called for, then, so I stuck to comfortable 8-8.15min miles for the first few. At mile six it was evident that I was indeed comfortable, so I finished the race running 7.30-7.45 m/m. This, sadly, was not enough to earn me a PB. I’d been far too slow at the start, but I gave it my best shot in the final miles.

For my next half, I a couple of weeks. I shall start more optimistically and try harder to hit the 1:40 time I’ve been craving. The results below show that other old birds can run the 13.1 about 10 minutes faster than me. If they can do it, I can do it. Next half marathon, I’ll be up there with the fittest.

Those results in full

Overall position 1497 out of 6797

194th woman out of 2637

9th V50 out of 101

On the agenda this week:

Monday: 7 miles easy recovery

Tuesday: 6 miles track, 4 of them speedy (good luck with that, as I’m pretty knackered

Wednesday: 5 miles recovery

Thur: 10 miles, a few of them tempo

Fri: rest day + eating own weight in hot cross buns

Saturday: 20 miles long slow

Sunday: chocolate for breakfast (Easter)


Spring time, the only pretty ring time

The view from my Friday office.jpg

The view from my ‘office’ on Friday

…when birds do sing hey ring a ding a ding…

Yes, it is all looking lovely, with early sharp mistiness burning off to reveal clear blue skies and enough breeze to shiver the carpets of daffodils adorning all the parks I trot through. And of course, as anyone who has trained for a spring marathon will know, when those early mornings and evenings are light again, and sunrises and sunsets make you feel glad to be alive, you bounce along so happily – however forbidding the mileage looks on the weekly schedule.

It’s not just the season I’m referring to in this title, though, but the bouncy art of plyometrics, or being able to jump high.

Yesterday I was treated to the most inspiring display of muscular people taking flight. The coach who had us interval training on Saturday (my backside is still achey from what felt like a hundred squats) led a plyometrics session. She jumps like a cat, springing upward from a standing start onto boxes, jumping backwards, or hopping onto things, leaping high and long, spending a while in the air and landing silently, on the balls of her feet, in a primed squat, ready to jump again, like a super bouncy power ball.

I was Benny the Ball to her Top Cat. My powers of elevation are pathetic. It feels as if all the muscles in my legs are like old knicker elastic – all springiness gone. Can this be down to age? Most certainly not, as this extraordinary display by the world’s oldest gymnast, the still very bouncy Johanna Quaas proves.

Of course I may have been more springy if I had not running 50 miles this week (I remained committed to last week’s schedule, but my miles were mostly slow, except for Tuesday’s track session). Fitness coaches despair of distance runners, doggedly logging miles and bashing their tendons in the process. Trainers of elite runners insist they do plyometric work: bounding, hopping, skipping to get some height on their workouts.

The PT I work with sometimes recommends squatting at least my body weight, and training my legs out of the endless running corridor – the forward plane of movement – so jumping sideways over low barriers, sideways skips, hopping east and west, lightly jumping on and off steps.

This week I must cut my mileage to run The Vitality North London half marathon on Sunday. I am in a mini taper, therefore.

I hope I will have regained a little bounce by Sunday morning, and the old knicker elastic muscles will have slightly more ping in them. It’ll be a hard old slog round the 13 miles-round trip to and from Wembley Stadium if not .

On the schedule this week

Monday: 7 miles easy

Tuesday: cross training

Wednesday: 5 miles easy

Thursday: 10 miles with a couple around half marathon pace (8m/m)

Friday: two miles to keep legs moving

Saturday: cross train gently/cycle

Sunday: half marathon



Let it all out


No, I’m not writing about stress incontinence again (although, if anyone of the female/mother persuasion needs help, may I recommend this ). It’s having a good rant while running. Did you know it makes you go faster?

oh deer

My 20 miler took me to Richmond Park

This week I had no-one to rant with on Sunday, as had to fit in my run around other duties, while my friends enjoyed a sociable run along the Thames. So I shouted in my head (at least, I hope it was in my head) at the system that allows footballers to be paid £60,000 per week to be mostly bored and getting into mischief. No, it’s more than mischief, belittling and abusing starry-eyed young girls, while other athletes struggle to make a living, despite inspiring millions of young girls.

The object of my wrath? Adam Johnson. He was the subject of The Guardian’s excellent Secret Footballer column last week. The writer explained in the piece how pampered Premiership dribblers are so lacking in resourcefulness that when they’re not chasing a ball they can’t even go to sleep in their baskets. Or read a book. Or play with their no-doubt glorious new babies. Or (dare I say) coach a bit of sport or catch up on the studies they missed out on at 15.

Instead these young men, seeking thrills, go online for porn, gambling, any kind of nonsense and bask in the limpid-eyed adoration of girls young enough to be excused for foolishness.

Meanwhile, in the same newspaper, there’s Jenny Meadows, otherwise known as the ‘pocket rocket’ (she’s quite tiny, and I don’t think she minds). Meadows is one of the best 800m runners we’ve had. She missed out on medals on three separate occasions because a drugs cheat pipped her at the finish line. This hiatus in her career meant she lost her funding because it was considered, by the Moneybags That Be she wasn’t garlanded with sufficient medals to be worth supporting.

Meanwhile the dribbler trousers £60 000 a week and can’t keep it in his trousers.

Meadows does all she can to keep going , she works at a proper job and trains hard. This is what she said about trying to afford to compete:

“The water and mortgage bills have just come in, and I’ve said to my husband Trevor ‘how are we going to pay for that one?’ Literally, we are living month to month. I often end up thinking, ‘Well, I hope I can get a result at this meet and it will sort that bill out,’ but it doesn’t always happen. I enjoy working part-time, mostly coaching and mentoring kids at local schools, but it can be difficult to fit in training too.”

All the woman wants to do is run for her country.

No wonder I rant as I run.



Last week I managed to fit in a slow 20 miler, my Tuesday track session, a couple of recovery runs and a run into town. It all added up to 50 miles and complete knackerdom. And it’s ages until I can taper.

On the schedule this week:

Mon: 8 miles hills

Tue: 6miles including a fast (!) track session

Wed: 4Miles recovery

Thur: 20 miles long slow run

Fri: a few recovery miles

Sun: run into town (8miles)

And try to eat protein with every meal.

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning

Jaquie and Jen

The challenge of the traditional Sunday long ‘un….

28.02.2016 Sunset

…quite forgotten as you stroll happily over Millennium Bridge and home in time for dinner


So, farewell February, you’ve been very good to us, with all these fine mornings and evenings. The dry, cold conditions have made it easier to turn out for sessions whose purpose has simply been to bank more miles. There have been a few too many of those steady-state runs, but they have their uses when you’re training for a full marathon.

The top picture is from Sunday’s long slow run. I say long, but could do only 13 miles before rushing back to shower and breakfast before catching my train. Weekends are problematic this year, because I have gone back to school for a few months, just when I should be running 50 miles a week, marathon training.

The younger women I run with (pictured) arrange their faces into polite concern when I bang on about lack of training time. It must seem to these women – both full-time working mothers of young children – that a 53-year-old, with her grown up children, home-based job as a writer and occasional gainful employ as a fitness coach can set out for a training run whenever she likes.  And they’d be right.

However, time-management is a fascinating thing. I think there is [Someone’s] Law, which states that however little you have to do, it fills the time you have (or, conversely, if you want something done, give it to a BUSY woman). Loosely translated into my own life, I am making a pig’s ear of studying for my course, not getting down to it, then feeling molten with shame by 10pm, when I realise how little I’ve achieved. So I try to make amends. Then I get tired, and my early morning run is compromised by weariness. What a twerp, as Michelle Hanson would say.

On Sunday morning, talking to these two running buddies, I learned that both had been out doing cultural, social stuff the evening before. Meanwhile I, who don’t have to hire a babysitter, had stayed in doing homework I could have done at any point in the previous three weeks. Perhaps it is the journalist in me; I can only work efficiently when a deadline is about to be missed.

Anyway, this week I have run, rushed, hurried and missed trains, but the miles were banked, even if a living wage was not.

The long run translated into two mediums – 14 miles and 13 miles respectively – so this week I have somehow got to fit in one 20 miler. This is what’s on the schedule:

Mon: 8 miles slowish, with a couple marathon pace

Tue: 6 miles, including speed session on track

Wed: 5 miles recovery run on Hillyfields

Thur: 20 miles in 2hours 50mins

Fri: 4 miles recovery

Sat: REST (cycle)

Sun: 8 miles into West End