Author Archives: Ronnie Haydon

About Ronnie Haydon

I run, guide, teach and write, and I often write about running. I am red haired, left handed, blood group B-, born in a caul. I have three children, two grandchildren and I am based in south London.

Marathon training week 8: the week in pictures

I found my thrill in Alice Holt Forest

The forest has a Gruffalo Trail, a GoApe, a Visitor Centre, a parkrun on Saturdays, and, being the property of the Forestry Commission, is not exactly remote countryside. Nonetheless, it felt good to do the session away from south London, for a change.

Snowdrops on 1 February

I was staying with my sister in Hampshire, and we met our older sister here in Wisley RHS garden and admired all the spring flora with about a million pensioners and numerous middle class families in charge of school-age children whose teachers were striking. It should not have been a rest day, but it was. Wandered around the garden with all the other mature horticulturalists. In the evening I attended another online nutrition discussion, in which we talked about runners’ gut. I resolved to stay on track with nutrition and carry food and water on the long run (see below).

Sunday’s long run sponsored by Tracksmith

We joined the Tracksmith running bus at Heron Quays and ran some of the marathon route with many other spring marathon hopefuls. Having run a couple of miles before we all met, I clocked up 18.5 on Sunday. Nearly fainting with hunger and a lot grumpier than this mile 3 picture, by the end.

The second Beckenham cross country race. Much better

Last Saturday’s race (I *was* there, just in the portaloo when this pre-race shot was taken) was so much more enjoyable. I ran better, relieved at not being up to my shins in mud. The turf felt springy, the hills were tough but manageable. I kept Sarah in my sights.

Garmin says I ran 44.5 miles this week. It is also accusing me of being unproductive again. There’s no pleasing some technology.

Advertisement

Marathon training week 7: breaking in, please pass

Brrrrrum

Setting down the highs and lows of the running week after the Thursday track session means writing from a position of extreme fatigue, which brings with it a measure of despair. It is the culmination of three days’ solid training: Tuesday track being speed intervals (this week’s treat was 6x800m off 200m recoveries, topped and tailed by two miles of warm up and a mile warm down). Wednesday’s so-called recovery run was a nine miler. Today, I sit here slightly broken having run six miles after work, three of them at threshold pace. Work in the cinema is most certainly not sedentary. I am exhausted.

I started the week exhausted, too. It kicked off optimistically enough. On Friday I travelled up to Birmingham, where I had a date with the Running Show. As well as seeing my friend Zuzana, the Ontrack Nutritionist, take part in a Fit After 40 panel hosted by Jo Pavey, I attended a presentation by the impressively muscular Anita Bean, the aptly-named nutritionist and author who’s also evangelical about eating well, eating enough and banishing fad diets from your healthy, active life.

The theory of fuelling, then, is foremost in my mind. The practice is oftentimes (have you noticed how this adverb has come back into modern parlance? I rather like it) derailed by real life. My real life became increasingly messy over the weekend. I spent far too much time wandering around central Birmingham on Friday evening on a mission to find cheap reading glasses (I’d forgotten mine), then seeking out something enjoyable, nutritious and vegan to eat for supper. Somehow I ended up buying a ch*kn supreme sandwich from Burger King, a bag of nuts and raisins from Holland & Barrett and an Innocent smoothie. Not sure how nutritionally valuable that little hotel-room banquet was.

After a rather disturbed night in a Travelodge (a lot of building work going on outside), I ran two miles to the delightful Cannon Hill Park, the nearest parkrun. There were more that 600 runners, which was pretty impressive, given the frosty, foggy conditions. My brows and lashes were beaded with icy droplets by the time I’d arrived and persuaded some other runners to record my bleary-eyed attendance:

It wasn’t a great run – 25:14 – but I was pleased to add another venue to my parkrun tally, and gratified to see I was first in the V60s (could’ve sworn another elderly woman overtook me).

From parkrun to Running Show at the National Exhibition Centre and a good deal more time spent on feet (and buying all kinds of race-fuelling delicacies, from beetroot energy bars to Kendal Mint cake, which seems to has rebranded itself into a perfect long-run pick-me-up. Hope it picks me up.) before catching my train to Euston.

Sunday long run day was compromised by a 4.30am start to enjoy a last breakfast with son Bruce, who is taking up a six-month teaching contract in the Cayman Islands, before moving on to Peru, hopefully). After he’d driven to Heathrow I drove his car back, then wearily squeezed into running gear for the Sunday long one. Sixteen miles on the plan. A shambling eleven achieved, before I tottered home, defeated.

The fatigue has threatened to engulf me, then, over the past seven days. Yesterday I tuned into the first instalment of ‘Fuel Your Marathon Training’ with Zuzana OnTrack Nutritionist and realised all the errors I have committed over the past week. My diet needs addressing, for sure. Leucine is something I am lacking, it seems. And yet…I cannot help stubbornly sticking to the theory I’ve always subscribed to: that at some point during the middle weeks of marathon training block you cross a rubicon from bone-grinding mileage fatigue into persuading your body this is a normal routine – breaking it in, if you will. I hope this will be the case. Meanwhile, the thought of tomorrow, a rest day with absolutely no running at all (and only working 10am-3pm) is so attractive I am almost swooning with relief.

There’s another cross country race on Saturday, but that will be discussed this time next week, when perhaps my body will feel not broken, but broken in.

38 miles run, then, and a month away from peak mileage.

But should mileage be the priority? It should be quality, not quantity, say my wiser advisors. And my Achilles tendons would agree.

Marathon Training Week 6: Snot bubbles

Where’s Wally Ronnie

Quite why I should stick out my arse like a duck in this post-cross-country race picture is a mystery, but the image illustrates the extremely mucky business of running at this time of year. This race was last Saturday, and my mistake was not to pay attention to the memo regarding distance. I set out for a pacy five km (as pacy as you can be up to your ankles in thick, smelly marshland) and realised once we’d lapped the park twice that we were not going to head back to the Kent AC tent until five miles had passed. By which time I was borderline passing out. Needless to say my sorry time did not count towards the team’s triumphant medal haul that day.

Big news this week has been the cooling techniques of the Australian Echidna, which is possibly the cutest-looking quill-covered monotreme ever. They have long pointy noses and blow out snot bubbles that pop and release cool liquid over the snout. I can vouch for that: my wet pointy nose has been a feature of my running this past few days.

The weather is cold and beautiful. My house is colder inside than the park outside, so I have bumped up the mileage. After half a mile I am pleasantly warm and my nose is running as smoothly as my legs. Very cooling.

Alle reden vom Wetter (aber keiner unternimmt dagegen)

Could be a quote for our times (everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it). Still, I talk about the weather because it is often inside my house, which gives me priority insight, you could say.

The estate agent who came round yesterday stopped short in his excited appraisal of the elaborate cornicing and original fireplaces to look somewhat dismayed at the descended study ceiling, the dripping rainwater slowly soaking the new carpet in my daughter’s bedroom (cf The Great Indoor Flood of 2018) and the impressive mould garden stretching over the whole dining room wall. He agreed that any growing young family that may be charmed by this crumbling pile may need a few quid in their back pocket to make it habitable.

I ran my Wednesday five miles easy while looking at recently refurbed houses in my area. I do not want to get involved in DIY of any sort. Am thinking about living out my days in a Premier Inn.

On Tuesday, my speed work was achieved with Sarah in the chilly dawn in Ladywell Fields, two miles warm up, then running one minute at 5k pace (currently about 7:45m/m) followed by one minute easy, 15 reps. Then a mile or so warm down owing to needing to get to work. A new member of staff at Catford Mews is studying Mandarin like my daughter. I should get them together. The daughter rang today from Taipei, she’s doing ok. Her running coach is a tough taskmaster and she’s doing two sessions a day. She’s inclined to RED-S and is very hard on herself. She promises me she’s eating well.

Monday was a rest day, although I was probably ill-advised in choosing to do vinyasa first thing at YogaHouse, with a 90-minute hot yoga session in the evening. I felt like chewed gum by the end of the day.

Sunday’s long run took us to the river via Kennington. We managed to jog out 15 miles in the sunshine, with a drink and banana break in the Royal Festival Hall. This was weird, because I was back there in the evening, to see the finalists in the TS Eliot poetry prize read their work. Ian McMillan hosted. I rested my trashed legs (but stayed fully awake, interestingly) and let the verse wash over me. My favourites of the ten were Mark Pajak and Anthony Joseph, so was pleased to find out the following day that Joseph had won the £25,000. That would buy him a couple of days’ work from a London builder. If he could find one willing to take his money (I can’t).

Which takes me back to Saturday’s cross country race. I was not overly cheered by my fitness for this adventure. I could not keep up with Sarah, and my legs turned to jelly on the hills. I’m generally exhausted and am nowhere near peak mileage.

38 miles on the cards this week. I will need a month of 50 miles/week by mid February. Have resolved to pack in more veg and vegan proteins into three square daily meals. I’m looking forward to attending my marathon fuelling course with the OnTrack nutritionist next week.

I’m going to see her speak at the Running Show in Birmingham this weekend, will run the city’s parkrun while I’m up there. And try not to think about the house prices.

The running week 5: going mad in Dorset

Taking the weather with me

Every time I have ventured out this past week it has been blowing a hoolie, flinging rain into my face and creating ponds on roadsides, ready for white van folk to enact their highway version of the Great Wave of Kanagawa to soak the rest of me.

A challenging seven days, then, but the biggest challenge I had scheduled this week I managed to swerve, owing to latest Malady That’s Going Round (a bit of a cold and cough).

Tonight I am in warm Christmas pyjamas, freshly bathed, herbal tea and chocolate next to me, belly full of slow-cooker black bean stew. Earlier this evening I did a hill session with the club and didn’t cough once.

I am eating well. Possibly too well. The aforementioned waist measurement took place this evening and I Whatsapped the figure and photographic evidence (a tape measure straining around porridgey midriff) to my training buddy, Sarah. She has also shown me hers, as it were. Her waist looks smaller and browner I cannot bring myself to type the measurement here. Suffice to say I am a couple of inches wider than I’d like to be.

You cannot restrict fuel when you’re marathon training. That is the absolute gospel according to Zuzana, our club’s On Track Nutritionist, to whose marathon fuelling programme I have just signed up. I am looking forward to hearing from her about banishing the midriff blubber. Her’s is tight and washboard flat.

It’s not just the waistline emergency that has dampened my spirits. Pathetic fallacy has truly kicked in round here. With every grey, mucky day I wake up with a heavier heart and have to run through all the pleasurable diversions I have in the diary for the next two months to cheer myself up. The main reason for this millstone of low mood is the prospect of trying to sell this dilapidated house and find a new one that’s affordable and not depressing. Husband couldn’t be less interested: he’s working all hours and really loving it and cannot fill his pretty little head with stupid niggles like black mould, rotten window frames and descending ceilings. His desk is under one that came down recently: he reckons he’s safe because the rest of it is several feet away from his work station.

So, I run. After work on Monday I ran away to sister number 2 in Surrey, and spent the night in her sumptuous spare room with its own mould-free bathroom. In the morning I ran from her house to train (in wind and rain) in Alice Holt Forest to. We then took her car to the Dorset coast to stay with sister number 1. She cooked a delightful vegan dinner, opened the wine, and we all sat down cheerily with diaries to plan a February Cornish break, a trip to an RHS garden, a nostalgia trip to Farnham ( a happy place in our childhood, although the Redgrave Theatre has been razed to the ground, whatever does Vanessa think about this?). Optimism rekindled.

Wednesday’s recovery run took place in wind and rain and sand and sea. Winter storms have whipped tons of sand from the beach and completely covered the Branksome promenade, with its beaches and bins and cycleways. I prefer this beach in the winter. The promenade is rammed in fine summer weather (although running at sunrise is magical: hell is other holidaymakers).

Last weekend’s Sunday long run was solitary, as I languished in bed longer than the rest of my group and had to face the lonely consequences. In fact, the sun was out, and the rain held off until I’d completed 13 slow miles. That mileage came as a surprise, as the day before I’d had to bow out of a much-anticipated cross country meeting at Brands Hatch.

After an only very slightly drunken book club meeting the night before, culminating in a night bus, I had woken up on Saturday morning with a closed-up throat, a pounding head and aching limbs. There was no way this feverish body was going for a run of any description. In any case, the team didn’t need my help to snag gold, silver and bronze medals (we have some seriously good women in all age groups in our club). I wasn’t sorry to miss struggling through five kilometres of sodden ground in gale-force winds, dressed in vest and shorts.

Sometimes you have to admit defeat.

Our next cross country race is this Saturday. I’ll be there, in a better frame of mind and body.

My week’s running: 4 – This is going to hurt

Once more unto the breach

Thanks to my best running pal Sarah Young for taking this picture on New Year’s Day. It sort of sums everything up about my mood, and, possibly, that of the world in general.

It was a strangely warm, depressing wet first day of the year. Sarah and I walked for ages in the dark, muddy wastes of Hampstead Heath, trying to find Kenwood House, whose twinkly winter lights trail was somewhat compromised by incessant rain and resultant mud.

Our culture doggedly encourages us to expect frost and snow, all deep, crisp and even, for the yuletide season, but instead, as noted before, it just keeps on raining and we all wring our hands about 2022 being the hottest year ever, everywhere. The upside is that household gas consumption is lower than predicted, but my downside is that the broken guttering and porous brickwork of my old dilapidated house has created a terrifying mould garden on the inside of my dining room wall. I feel like Shakin’ Stevens.

Another caption for this pic could have been ‘time to reflect’ because that’s why we were there, under the pretty, soggy, lights; drinking our last mulled wine of the festive season. We’d selected this location to stage our New Year’s Day Marathon Summit.

To that end, I furnished us both with a wittily captioned notebook (mine bears the legend: ENDLESS LISTS OF SHIT TO DO), with a motivational photo of the two of us on the inside front cover. The list we compiled together was a pledge to do better times over all distances; stay good for age, eat sensibly, forgo booze etc etc.

We also lay out our training weeks, and promise to report on each session. Today’s evening track session with our training group was 12x300m with 100m recoveries, with a mile warm up and warm down either side. This I achieved, feeling pretty chipper afterwards. I ate a healthy cauliflower and chickpea dish afterwards, but may have also just eaten quite a few Christmas chocolates and a biscuit or two.

Over the past weekend I ran two parkruns (one the usual Saturday one, in Mountsfield park – a disappointing 25:30), the Sunday NYD special I ran in Hillyfields with quite a hangover in a shockingly leisurely (in fact I was breathing out of my arse) 26.01.

Monday was a day of rest, and a bank holiday to boot, and I followed my husband around on a highly entertaining tour of London all about Nell Gwynne, finishing in the delightful Nell Gwynne pub for a singsong around the old Joanna.

Tuesday’s track session came after a day spent on my feet (loved the Winslow Homer exhibition), so my fatigue following the pyramid speed session (200, 400, 600, 800, 600, 400, 200) was soul destroying.

Wednesday’s recovery runs are going to prove a sticky point in the marathon training week. Trying to get 8miles done before work was a massive fail this week. I did five, in very bad grace, then gloomily ate ill-advised Crunchy Nut cornflakes, which are not part of my Eat A Rainbow pledge. They may be orange….

It’s my fifth vegan year, and I’m more committed than ever, but my training diet still needs work. Two much peanut butter and toast does not a flat tummy make. Neither do birthing three biggish babies and being 60, but let’s pretend I can remedy this. Sarah suggests we do before and after waist measurements. Cue Edvard Munch Scream emoji.

Tomorrow a worryingly elderly neighbour is bringing round a very tall ladder so he can take a closer look at the offending gutter. I feel perhaps I should offer to scale the ladder in his stead. It’s very important to to stop the constant flow of water down a wall in desperate need of repointing, but I’m not gonna need this house no longer, it’s going on the market. Moving into a less needy, smaller house is one of this year’s resolutions. It’s the biggest, most time-consuming shit to do on the endless lists, but somehow a lot less interesting than trying to snag a marathon PB. Which, let’s face it, is never going to happen, but if I write it down, it seems like a possibility. Impossible is nothing, after all.

My running week: 3. Dog days

The Mountsfield Oak and my shadow

‘When you stop to consider

The days spent dreaming of a future

And say then, that was my life.’

For the days are long –

From the first milk van

To the last shout in the night,

An eternity. But the weeks go by

Like birds; and the years, the years

Fly past anti-clockwise

Like clock hands in a bar mirror.

Derek Mahon

These stretchy, in-between days between Christmas and New Year I used to think of as dog days: to be spent mourning the end of Christmas after all that build-up and preparation. These days, however, I don’t stress much over Christmas, or overspend on presents, or even cook much. This year, most of the decorations stayed in their boxes in the cellar.

These dog days indeed last a pleasant eternity. Today I did my seven-mile tempo run with friends early in the winter sunshine, then stretched my achey body in a hot yoga class. Time at my desk was all about making plans for January’s training block, interspersed with forays into the garden to enjoy the winter sunshine while tidying the greenhouse a bit. This evening was another trip to Yogahouse for candlelit yin and crystal singing bowls. Om.

But how can it possibly be that a whole month has flown past – widdershins – since my beloved daughter left for Taiwan and my cat was helped to the rainbow bridge via the veterinary surgery? And a whole year since I was agonising (rather pointlessly, as it turned out) over a training plan for the Manchester Marathon?

Still, the past week I can recap with some clarity. Since last post I have run enough to stop my Garmin branding me ‘unproductive’ or, worse ‘detraining’.

On the Christmas weekend I ran two parkruns. One, in Mountsfield park on Christmas Eve, was completed in a disappointing 25.01. The second was in Islington, a special Christmas Day bonus (and 30 seconds slower). I’d spent the night with Rick in the Strand Continental Hotel, not for any romantic reason (it is the most basic of hotels; only the location sounds posh) but Rick had to be working at 6.30am on Christmas Day, and there was no public transport. I thought it would be fun to keep him company, then run back home to Catford, taking in the most central parkrun on my way. The mileage ended up being 17 miles long, with a break at a true smart hotel in Blackfriars for coffee, and ending in a miserable, uncomfortable walk owing to runner’s trots from Peckham onward. Everything shuts on Christmas Day.

Boxing Day was a work day for me, with just a recovery jog up to the park and my oak, before my shift at the cinema.

Tuesday brought another long run, with friends, at a decent pace, 14 miles in total. My hips ached.

Wednesday, I took hips to Forrest yoga, where they were stretched into submission. Now my adductors ache.

Next weekend will see another double parkrun whammy, but since my Garmin has now informed me, approvingly, that I am running a more productive fashion, I am hoping to finish both rather more briskly, provided New Year festivities don’t see my propping up the bar, watching clock hands fly round in a whisky haze.

Blue to grey

Hamworthy beach

This evening I am feeling pleased with myself. After a hiatus following Richmond Marathon, giving blood and celebrating birthday, I finally returned to the running track and completed the prescribed session, namely warm up for a mile, dynamics, then 12x300m at 1500m pace, with 100m recoveries, a mile warm down. My blood is still singing and my mood upturned. Proper training starts here. I have not waited until January to be new year new me. Go me.

Otherwise, this was the week that saw the shortest day and the most dramatic temperature rise.

Last Thursday, the country was still in the grip of The Big Freeze, and icy roads made running a little risky. I did a brief two-mile jog, followed by hot Bikram yoga, then took a train (between national strike days) down to my sister’s house in Poole. The beaches and bay are pleasingly empty, and the seabirds are enjoying the peace.

The next day, I didn’t run, but walked with sister to Hamworthy beach to spot turnstones, spoonbills, terns and a very present kingfisher, swooping over the bright water.

On Saturday, I jogged to Poole park for Parkrun, but frozen paths had prompted a very late cancellation, so I ran my own 5k, then added a couple of miles to get my lazy body used to mileage again.

On Sunday, the weather changed in Dorset, and I took a train (bizarrely, one whose eventual destination was Manchester Piccadilly), to Basingstoke, thence to Waterloo and home, where snow still covered the garden and the World Cup final was on the telly (Argentine beat France).

I dug out a frozen Christmas tree from celebrations past to decorate in the sitting room. It’s a little bald but hands enough in its trimming of fairy lights and venerable baubles. I did not do a Sunday long run.

Neither did I run on Monday, which was son 2’s 30th birthday. He’s living here until he goes abroad to work mid January. We celebrated with Cremant, beer, Chinatown meal after I’d returned from work. Distended stomach did not an easy night’s sleep make. Learning of Terry Hall’s death just before I turned off phone for the night churned up a few emotions, too. The Specials were special to me as a teenager, and I fancied Terry.

Missed Tuesday training, but ran a couple of morning miles and did pilates. Will Self agreed to deliver a lecture at St George’s German Lutheran Church in Whitechapel (husband runs the events programme there). The subject was WG Sebald, a writer close to husband’s, and Will’s, heart. He’s good looking, Mr Self. He likes to walk. I would like to go for a walk with him.

Wednesday, after an early morning greeting the sun for the winter solstice, with my likeminded friend and running buddy, Sarah, became very domestic: involving the baking of mincepies and a vegan rainbow tart and eating too many pastry-based goods, as well as painting Christmas cards, enjoying Forrest yoga, drinking of much mulled wine at a carol-singing party and, sadly, no running.

That’s why I am delighted to be back on track today. Stress relief was in order anyway, after a builder came to see our house wreckage and told us that the refurb would cost us more than £100,000, and that’s without the new windows.

It’s warm and rainy now. Typically for Christmas. As Emersen, Lake and Palmer pointed out all those years ago.

Instead it just kept on raining/A veil of tears for the virgin birth

Garmin, incidentally, tells me I am de-training. Can’t argue with that, but daily yoga and pilates has done wonders for my back muscles. Shame no-one can see them, but they give me pleasure. Shallow, as always.

V60

Hit refresh

It was just before the Manchester Marathon when I last mused on this site. April 2022, and I was fully confident that I would run an easy sub-4 and reclaim my Good For Age place, all would be well, demons would be vanquished and I would hit my seventh decade at full strength.

None of the above come to pass, I walked at least two miles of the northern 26.2 before pulling myself together and crossing the line in 4 hours and 19 minutes. This was the exact same time as a club mate who happened to be three months pregnant. Her delight was in inverse proportion to my self disgust. In fact, everyone in Kent AC, bar me, was delighted with their race that grey Sunday. I studiously avoided the celebration drinks in some cavernous, noisy annoying warehouse of a bar and ate noodles gloomily in Manchester station’s branch of Itsu while waiting for the train home.

Then I sulked for a few weeks.

For many months since I have circled round this blog, not knowing quite what to do with it. My first impulse was to start a ‘New decade, new me’ blog-writing habit, starting on my 60th birthday, which was November 1, 2022. The picture above, me gambolling in the Scarborough briny on the morning of this significant birthday, was taken for this very purpose. Since the Scarborough trip (for which we managed to assemble all children and the grandchildren in this country for nearly a whole week, unheard of since 2012), life has become more trying, training more taxing, mood more gloomy and events more depressing.

No-one has died (except the Queen, which wasn’t exactly a tragedy for me, and my beloved cat Rufus, which was: bitter tears were shed), but a malaise I struggle to shake settles on me most days. Running really helps, but my times are pretty shocking, and life outside of running feels grey.

One bright spot was that on 9 October this year, I managed to run Richmond in 4:03 (not quick, but brisk enough to count as Good For Age at the age of 59). This was 16 minutes quicker than the Manchester debacle, and shows that training with some discipline and honesty does pay.

I have now started a new training block. Dates are in the diary. Brighton Marathon on 2 April is my first shot at getting back to sub-four. Edinburgh Marathon on 28 May is my second chance.

At V60 anything under four hours 30 minutes counts as Good For Age, but I know I am better than that. In my mid 50s I was capable of 3:43 (my PB), so even accounting for age’s inevitable withering (I think you lose 1% fitness per year) I should be capable of 3:57, which was the GFA marathon time I achieved when I turned 50. It is a question of training well, eating well, sleeping well and getting out from under the blanket of self pity.

My blog will become a ‘my week in running’ record. Observations made while out running, Parkrun times will be recorded. Discipline will be rewarded. The first discipline is visiting, and making my mark on, this little stage, every seven days.

Back soon.

Half cocked

Big Bobble Hat, (and Garmin!) weighing me down after Brighton Half
And Red Letter Day fast approaches

What kind of an airhead am I, to be stolidly blogging about my running adventures when the world is going to hell in a handcart?

A harmless airhead, I’d venture. Yes, it’s frivolous to be investing so much on training when I could be spending spare cash and energy on higher ideals, cleaning out a spare room to offer a refugee, volunteering more and generally making myself more useful, but at least all this running around keeps a body warm and healthy, at a time when pressures on domestic fuel and the NHS have reached tipping point.

As I taper and carbohydrate load for Manchester Marathon tomorrow, I have to admit to a quite preposterous amount of navel-gazing in the past few weeks. This has also involved gazing obsessively at my 2015 training blog (2015 was a red letter year for me, Marathon Gran was born when kleiner Enkelsohn Charlie Catford made his appearance, and a few weeks later I ran my fastest marathon ever, in London).

Pining for past fitness: addictive, but destructive. I am seven years older, healthy and strong, thank goodness, but much less focused. On the other hand it’s comforting to feel nostalgia for that online training record and to note that the programme – created by me – worked so well, much better than the official guidelines in the running tomes on my bookshelves.

I can see that the work I put in all those years ago yielded better results in the February Half Marathon stage of that 12-week training programme than this one. This year I ran the Brighton Half (see pictures above) and enjoyed it very much, not least because I stayed with an old friend the night before, and she cooked me a delightful pre-race meal and arranged for her neighbour, who was also running, to give me a lift to the start. It was a wonderful, sunny day to be running by the sea and enjoying a great pint and some chips afterwards.

Sadly, this year’s half marathon time was a full 14 minutes slower than the 13 miler I raced back in 2015, which was itself a prediction of marathon greatness (for age) to come.

All the more amusing, then, that the Garmin I wear on my wrist these days (a much posher model than in 2015, which actually navigates trail running routes and is subsequently practically the size and weight of a ship’s compass) thinks I am practically elite.

Today, it’s telling me I’m ‘peaking’, and in ideal race shape, my VO2 max is Superior, I would be capable of running a half marathon of 1:37 and a marathon of 3:23; all of which is hopelessly optimistic. Laughable. On the other hand, this hefty piece of wearable tech, (alongside a bevy of friends, family and colleagues, who all profess to be impressed by the fact that a woman in her 60th year can even contemplate running 26.2miles, let alone aiming for ‘a time’), boost my confidence, just a little.

At this point, I am unable to write down the time I’m aiming for, I’ll jinx it. Once again, alongside the maranoia (feel ill, head hurts, knee hurts, no energy, am I ill?) there’s the shame: why am I wasting my precious time and intellect fretting about this?

Years and years ago, Rick gave me a little book of meditations ‘for women who do too much’. That’s a joke, right there. While navel gazing about marathon training I have neglected the research I should be doing for possible freelance work, and, the more fascinating work involved in writing about my mother, ostensibly for the wider family. Patently not busy at all.

Today’s meditation tells me :

Don’t be afraid your life will end: be afraid that it will never begin

Grace Hansen

The accompanying blurb says that we spend too much time rushing around achieving things and not enough time ‘actually living’. I imagine it’s another call to Mindfulness, whose practices I have attempted and never really embraced.

I’m going to rush around preparing for my train to Manchester now, and once I’m on it, I will take out my bib number and mindfully repeat my favourite marathon mantra, courtesy of inspirational man of the mountains, Russell Bentley

‘Sometimes you feel like you are fucked, but when you say you are fucked you are only about 45% fucked’.

Fucking well believe that.

.

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