Rip it up and start again

Do you think I should have a haircut?

And there was times I’d take my pen
And feel obliged to start again
I do profess
That there are things in life
That one can’t quite express

Edwyn Collins

And his favourite song’s entitled…..Boredom. Which is my problem with this blog. It’s intended to be a record of how running lights up my life, but there’s nothing more tedious than other people’s training diaries, but also nothing more interesting to write about than oneself. Bit conflicted. So, while I continue to ponder ways of ripping up this blog and starting again (which would fit the whole ‘new year, new me’ urges that come over us as we survey the seasonal wreckage), here’s a quick appreciation of 2021’s most enjoyable run, the one I’d like to measure all others by. In 2022, there’ll be more out-of-London running.

On 20 November we were at last able to participate in Roly’s Run, one of the friendliest, most moving community events I’ve taken part in. It’s organised by the friends and family of one adventurous runner and triathlete, Richard Walklate, who died in 2018, and dedicated to his memory. Runners choose to cover 15, 20 or 40 miles of the Hampshire Downs around the village of Swanmore, starting cosily in the village hall, where amiable folk wielding big teapots and plates of home-made cakes set you on your way, assuring you there’ll be plenty to eat and drink around the course. We had opted for the 15 miler: I certainly had little faith in my ability to run any further across country, but I found myself thinking seriously about one day training up for the big 4-0. That’s mostly because one of my running companions is not only an impressive ultra runner, but also a nutritionist, and she was happy to dispense advice as we ran through meadows, over stubble, up muddy inclines, over stiles, through woods, down grassy banks.

It felt like a privilege to have access to such landscape. Who owned it? Was it a national park, or someone’s farmland? We certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed our freedom to run it if we hadn’t been part of Roly’s Gang (nor would we have had friendly volunteers presiding over laden tables of baked good, fruits, isotonic drinks and our favourite – Twiglets – every five miles or so).

We came away, full of cake and good cheer, clutching goody bags containing a commemorative engraved pebble (Rich used to like picking up interesting stones on his travels), a sew-on patch for our Kent AC Bigbobble Hats (sexy! See below). The largesse of the organisers (while Rich’s friends and family are the prime movers behind the event, and the whole village gets behind them). It was humbling, to be so well looked after for such a piddling entry fee, when the sheer joy of being out and about in the rolling hills was reward enough. The run had been postponed twice owing to the pandemic, and the staggered start times meant it felt like we were running more or less independently, not part of some stampeding, sweating crowd.

This is the season of mud. Roly’s was great training for the inevitable bog-trotting, puddle-plunging earthiness of the cross country season. A week before Christmas I hauled my mulled-wine-pickled carcass around a seven-mile course in Beckenham. Not exactly the bucolic home-county weald and down, but a country seat within suburban London and a mere 15-minute bike ride from my garden. The undulating, wooded park does a fair impression of rural splendour and certainly felt rugged enough for my goose-pimpled legs.

This weekend the cross-country course at Brands Hatch pitched us into ankle-deep mud in a biting wind accompanied by incessant rain. Perfect conditions in which to run round in your vest and pants for several miles.

This is the year to get out more. Perhaps this is the time to finally work out how to follow a route on the chunky Garmin watch that dwarfs my skinny old wrist and accuses me of being ’unproductive’. The thing about training for a marathon is that you fall into the same old groove, running to an optimistic schedule for 12-odd weeks, then suffering the same fatigue at predictable stages and learning absolutely nothing from the experience. Older, but not wiser.

In the year I turn sixty I’ll be looking for variation in my running. With every passing year I love running even more, even while I get slower, but if I am going to persist in framing this little late-life memoir around this passion for repetitive activity, I need to have more stimulating insights, as well as interesting places to describe. Confessions of a Catford pavement pounder just won’t cut it.

When people talk to me about running they cite boredom as the main reason they gave it up, or they don’t much like it but force themselves to do it, like a penance. I’m never bored when I’m running; in facts the thoughts and revelations that come to me are highly entertaining. I just need the language to express them.

I checked the lyrics to Boredom, by the Buzzcocks (Pete Shelley was the focus of my passion in my less than wholesome youth):

So its seems to me
I’ve taken this extravagant journey
To arrive from nowhere
And to go straight back there


Rings a few bells. The trick is not to be on the road to nowhere. Next weekend I’ll be running in Cornwall. Meanwhile, check out my hat:

And, yes, I had a haircut
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