Monthly Archives: March 2017

Why the long face?

Greenwich horses

Horses from Woolwich Barracks are quite an uplifting sight on a March morning in Greenwich Park

Sometimes the relentless cheeriness of my twitter feed, especially the happy bunnies I tend to follow (parkrun buddies, running club comrades, nature writers, gardeners, treehuggers and vegans) can catch me on the raw. I’m sure I’m not the only one who excuses herself from the twitter party when life isn’t going so well.

A series of half-arsed attempts at training runs, in the mistaken belief that a lack of pain when jogging along with clients or taking part in a spinning class means that I can pick up my pace and distance, have ended in (near) tears. Unmistakeable Achilles/calf pain kicks in after a few miles, and is now accompanied by non-specific knee crunching and glute pain. I am just one big pain.

So I volunteer at parkrun (instead of running) and to be a bag lady at the London Marathon (checking in runners’ belongings on the baggage trucks). I excuse myself from pacer duties at one half marathon and wonder if I can race another (one of my favourites, the Paddock Wood Half, it’s on 2 April).

I try to keep cheerful, but found myself wobbly lipped as a bade my excited and deliriously happy daughter farewell as she shoulders her rucksack en route to Ho Chi Minh City to stay with friends. And I clench my jaw as I read on twitter that today is the International Day of Happiness.

Not if you’re an injured empty nester who relies on running endorphins to get to her happy place, it isn’t.


Exclusion zone


These women can (photo by Horst von Bohlen)

Last week I wrote for  The Guardian running blog about the inaugural 261 Fearless marathon on 28 May 2017, in Tipton St John, a beautiful corner of Devon. In it, the connection between the second all-women marathon to take place in this country, and the woman who changed the face of distance running for women, Kathrine Switzer, is explained.

The illustration that always accompanies any piece of writing about the great Ms Switzer (marathon PB, 2 hours 51 minutes) is a three-part black and white sequence of the then 20-year old, wearing a delightfully baggy grey tracksuit with the number 261 pinned to it. The year was 1967. At that time women were not allowed to run further than 1500 metres because they were considered too delicate for the task. Kathrine and her indomitable coach, Arnie the postman, both decided to enter the all-male Boston Marathon (the most prestigious road marathon, then and now). Registered as K Switzer, and with no question asked on her form about her gender, Kathrine got to the starting line on time, but was almost manhandled off the course a few miles in. Fortunately, she was also running with her husky young hammer-thrower of a boyfriend, who barged harder into the official barging Kathrine, resulting in his exclusion from the Amateur Athletic Union.

Researching the piece was a perfect excuse to re-read one of my favourite books about running – Marathon Woman – by Kathrine Switzer. I love the description of her training regimes, workload, and her honest, if disappointing in these enlightened times, recollection of the way she needed to seek approval from men, or at least work along the line of least resistance, to make things happen. Sometimes it’s hilarious, such as her brilliant description of putting together running outfits for her marathon appearances (she lost about 10 minutes during one hot Boston, having to perform urgent costume changes in some public lavatories, but she still ran the race in around three hours).

Another reason I am still reading inspiring books about running, when I should be out there running, is because I am still grounded by Achilles/shin inflammation and unable to run three miles without pain.

So that’s my 2017 London Marathon dream over. I am reading my fellow runners’ social media posts about their long runs, intervals, training race triumphs and disasters, massages and mileage and unable to join in. Soon I will pull mysef together, but not until I’ve re-read Kathrine’s 6-month training plan that constituted her campaign for a sub- three-hour in Boston, 1975.

I have six months to heal, rehab and prepare for my putative sub 3.40 Berlin Marathon.