Monthly Archives: August 2017

Nothing like the Dame

Refuelling Gravesend Pier

Half a beer, by the pier. My body being a temple and all


We have this land of plenty to blame for the fact that disordered eating is taking on ever more bizarre and exotic guises. From the now much vilified ‘clean eating’ craze to the sort of food fetishising that has people going into orgasms over a cheese board, the idea of a ‘balanced diet’ seems ever more difficult to pin down.

The running community does not always help matters when it comes to being rational about food. The whole ‘run for cake’ business sweeps away all the joy runners derive from their sport and replaces it with a need for greed, rather than speed.

It may well be that the thickening of girth that occurs after the age of 40 has led many a midlifer (myself included) to try jogging before breakfast. But it takes more than spare-tyre loathing to lead you to join a club, revel in parkrun, exalt in cross country and go all starry eyed wondering if maybe, just maybe, you could run a marathon one day. That’s true love, and has nothing to do with cake.

Cake was an option after last Sunday’s long run, but it wasn’t my choice when it came to the brunch.

For a few weeks now, a few members of our club’s What’s App group have been discussing either cycling or running to Dame Kelly Holmes’s Café 1809 in Gravesend, Kent. Actually that’s what I was discussing. It turns out the other two that agreed to cycle over to join me there were talking about the one in Tonbridge.

And so it was that I ran a surprisingly scenic 19.5 miles from my house to Cyclopark, which takes up 43 hectares of Kentish greensward not far from the thundering A2. There’s a BMX track, mountain biking trails, a road track and all kinds of fitness related activities.

Then there’s the café. Perusing the menu as I waited for the cyclists to arrive (hang on a minute, isn’t a bike supposed to get you there quicker than Shanks’s Pony?) I decided that this was the day to get serious about my blameless runner’s diet, and plumped for the Dame’s Healthy Breakfast.

A few WhatsApp exchanges later, when it transpired I’d be eating alone, I settled down to my healthy option.

The Dame’s Healthy Breakfast (no, I did not photograph it. The reason why is in first paragraph) consists of four egg whites, scrambled with spring onions and chilli, served with griddled field mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Toast is optional (I opted in). It sounds virtuous, and tastes delicious.

Would Dame Kelly, double Olympic gold medal winner over 800m and 2500m (2004) and 3hours 11 minutes marathoner (2016), have chosen toast? Please let her have chosen toast. I’ve met her on a couple of occasions: she’s radiant, slight and sinewy and looks like a sportswear model. It’s not a body you’d associate with the sort of toast-and-peanut-butter habit I swear I need for fuel.

In any case, it’s not the body shape but the marathon time I’m really interested in. Kelly trained properly for her race, and probably had access to all the physiotherapists and nutritionists she needed, but in the run up to that impressive marathon result she was typically self-deprecating ‘I’m not a marathon runner’ and certainly sends out the message that, yes, she would have chosen toast.

That piece she wrote for The Guardian was a joy to read, and the woman, in the flesh, is a joy to meet. She turns out in all weathers to support runners, particularly charity runners. She gives motivational addresses before firing the starter klaxon at races all over her manor (Kent, Sussex) and is always generous with her time.

After my Dame-inspired brunch there was a walk of a mile or so to the town to catch a train home (no ultra runner, me) so I indulged in a couple of hours’ sightseeing in downtown Gravesend. I had a butcher’s at the pier, the art gallery and the Pocahontas statue, and a beer in the town’s oldest pub, The Three Daws, which, according to the Daily Telegraph ‘conforms to all the requirements of a Proper Pub’. The delighted reviewer goes on in praise of the ‘belly busting Sunday lunch’ served here.

I witnessed the good burghers of Gravesend busting out their bellies and was struck by the contrast between Kelly’s sportive café and this gravy-scented hostelry. It wasn’t just the menu. At both ends of the town on this sweltering late summer Sunday, sweaty folk were refuelling, but almost every pub luncher in the Three Daws was at least twice the size of the handful of lean brunchers I saw in Café 1809. Strolling through the town, it was all too easy to conclude that the default body shape in this land of plenty is, increasingly, obese.

‘Inspirational’ is an adjective often applied to Dame Kelly Holmes, and for good reason, but it seems to me that The Dame is going to have to muster every drop of that famous, infectious enthusiasm to get Gravesend cycling for its supper.


Weekend Worrier

Berlin 2013

Berlin Marathon 2013. Happy days.

Various members of my wider family are fond of yoga and pretty good at it. I sometimes go to a class at the local leisure centre on a rest day, like today. After the weekend’s running it’s all my legs can face. Today, the left one complained bitterly, as it was in a bad way after the long slow run, just like last week. The swelling at the Achilles insertion on the heel makes walking around and down the stairs painful, and that yogi way of sitting down on your heels with the toes curled under you can only be described as excruciating.

While striking a powerful pose in today’s class, trying to free my brain of the shrieking protests of my left ankle and calf I thought about the card I’d sent my yogaphile niece for her last birthday. It pictured a frowning woman in active wear, striking the same pose, with thought bubbles all around her head: ‘did I leave the gas on?’; ‘what did she mean when she said I looked well?’; ‘can I afford to go part time?’…words to that effect.

The title was ‘The worrier position’.

There was plenty to worry about this week: from the sucking of teeth by the sports massage therapist who poked my Haglund’s Deformity (see blogs passim) and advised a few weeks off running, only to be informed I’d no intention of doing any such thing until AFTER 24 September. She also said, interestingly, that the fascia under my foot were very tight and needed kneading with a tennis ball. That very tightness was confirmed when trying to make feet bend in yoga today.

So that was a worry, and then there was Sunday’s long run: 6 miles in the park, slowly. Then six miles on the elliptical cross trainer (I defy anyone to get anywhere near marathon pace on that). Then six miles back in the park, also slowly. So that’s 18 long, slow miles. Better than sitting around weeping over my deformity, but only just.

They felt like the dreaded junk miles, the jogging, slogging nod to training that beginners, who ‘just want to get round’ do. I fear that will be my fate, too. Just getting round, when my heart is set to sub 3:40.

My coach says I should be practising marathon pace on tired legs. So those last six should have been 8:22 m/m, but I could hardly haul my carcass around. It has been thus every time I try to practise that pace. I can just about last through the Tuesday track sessions (fast intervals). I can box and cox the long slow run, but those midweek tempo runs? Too much.

And with just five weeks to go, there’s not much I can do to remedy the situation.

On the bright side, I found kinesiology tape in Aldi for just £2.49, so I’ve been having fun adorning my ankle and calf with vivid blue tape and convincing myself that the injury feels better.

And, I keep reminding myself, although my main purpose for the September Berlin trip is the 26.2 mile run on the Sunday, there’s also the little matter of the two-year-old grandson who’s looking forward to cheering on his ‘Londomi’, personlicher Rekord oder keine personlicher Rekord.

So there’s really no need to worry. Is there?

Deformed and belligerent

Poole promenade

Promenade performance

Today seems as good a day as any to reflect on a rather chequered weekend’s running. Outside, there’s a typically British August deluge. Inside, the atmosphere is studious, if vaguely morose.

I’ve been studying my marathon training schedule. Last weekend I did the mileage it dictated, but have been suffering for it ever since. I did not manage the dictated speed.

The good news is that at Hillyfields parkrun I managed to improve on my time (by a measly 20 seconds), but, psychologically, it does me good to see 23 instead of 24. I am still way off my 2015 PB, but I am heading in the right direction.

On Sunday I donned new trainers, convincing myself that brand new cushioning would banish all pain from niggling Achilles and bulgy heel, or what I can now refer to as Haglund’s Deformity, having done a bit of swotting up on the subject. (I think I prefer bulgy heel, and who was Haglund?). I jogged the couple of miles from my sister’s home to the promenade at Sandbanks, and ran a further eight all along the promenade to Christchurch and beyond. Then I ran back.

This neck of the woods is perfect for the long low run. It’s a flat, long, car-free thoroughfare populated only by runners, cyclists and dogwalkers at this time of the morning. There’s the sea for dipping inflamed bulgy deformities (ooer missus) and drinking water taps and loos all the way along for the many tourists and beach-hut tenants.

Runners training for a big race can keep an even pace, and check, nervily, on just how comfortable one’s chosen speed feels (ok, it’s easy to run 8:22 for a few miles, but can I really imagine running a perfect set of 26?)

The answer, as things stand, is big, bleak, NO. The bulgy deformity of which I have spoken made its presence felt big time, necessitating weepy stops at miles 5, 10 and 15 and a face contorted with pain and misery until mile 20. After that, I spend a lot of time with various items from the freezer tied to my heel, swallow some ibuprofen, elevate the offending foot and, in the afternoon, brave the wind-whipped briny with my rather hardier sister.

Bulgy deformity then proceeded to preclude speed session yesterday, so I spent some time on the cross trainer, sweatily.

And today I did pool running.

But hey! It’s ok, because guess what “Researchers have shown” (as they frequently do) that just a teeny tiny minute of exerting yourself is indeed the elixir of life.

Sigh. This turned up on my Twitter feed:

‘Scientists found that women who did “brief bursts” of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity – like a medium-paced run for pre-menopausal women, or a slow jog for post-menopausal women – had better bone health. Good bone health has a number of important health perks, including a reduced risk of osteoporosis and fractures in older age.

Using the national and international health resource, UK Biobank, the University of Exeter and University of Leicester researchers looked at data on more than 2,500 women. They concluded that women who did 60 to 120 seconds of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity per day had 4 percent better bone health than those who did less than a minute.’

[it’s from Treehugger daily news]

Well that’s just dandy. However, a minute a day is hardly going to help this old bird in thrall to her sub 3:40 schedule. And another reason it makes me so cross is the implicit suggestion that a woman no longer in need of her monthly box of Tampax must needs only jog, and slowly at that. As I have written with some warmth before, there is no need to imply that post menopausal means feeble.

I know that I will get slower with age, and this current injury is not helping my speed, but my days of only needing a minute of slow jogging are, I hope, I some way away.