Monday, 11 May 2015

A monkey by any other name would smell as sweet

My Dear Readers, you may have read in my blog about HEROS, a group with no leader, no secretary, no run length limit (apart from what can be done in 2 hours max.). This concept has run for over 25 years and there has been a run from the same car park at 9.00am every Sunday come hail or sunshine running at the speed of the slowest person.

I first became aware of this group about 7 years ago when running with my then trail running partner, George, when we bumped into them on the North Downs Way. The group was full of people I had met before from club runs and races, this was a group with no affiliation....perfect.

Let's jump forward those 7 years and like time, the group has morphed with the chance of a new option of 8.00am which has been amusingly called Anti-Heros, not because it is in competition with the 9.00am group but it allows more options to runners who may have something on that day and want to go out earlier. Every week the group leader of choice is asked who their favourite anti-hero is and it forms the poster for the coming run, mine was Clint Eastwood's brilliant character "The Man with No Name"

The Planning

It is mad to think that I have trodden the paths leading off from our meeting point at the "Third car park on the left" on numerous occasions but now I have been asked to devise a run of about 6 miles at 10 to 10:30 min/mile pace   or 75 minutes for faster runners. This got me pouring over maps of the area and trying to find routes that took us to what I considered to be "interesting" but as I am a bit of a nerdy geek what I find interesting may not always sit well with other, more normal people.

The Run

The route was set and after picking Liz up from her house we drove to the "Third car park on the left" where I was pleased to meet four other runners and went off at 8.05am onto the trails. I was nervous that some of them would know the route, especially , Brian, who was my inspiration to run from London to Brighton but he would know the trails, like me, as he taught me a lot of them but the joy is that they can be put together in so many combinations that it is not always the route but the company you have.

Everyone was chatting, I made the pace gentle and enjoyed the company until , unbeknownst, to the others I took a turn too early and found I had cut off a section of woods so after a quick parlez with Brian we cut off towards the woods I wanted to go through and on entering it my jaw dropped, as did my fellow runners by their whoops of joy and admiration. The woods were awash with Bluebells and when I say awash, it was a beautiful like a carpet of blue sprinkled around the freshly leafed trees.

The run continued and I decided to make up the loss of my previous error and took us along a section of path where the local pet farm puts some of its animals to grass. I was a little concerned when I remembered that there was always a Highland bull in the field ahead and knew that Liz has a morbid fear of bulls but this guy was as docile as a teddy and as we passed I tweaked his horn surprised by its warmth leaving Liz to make friends with her camera.

The run came to an end too early for me as I really felt I wanted to do more but pleased that everyone went away happy

Friday, 8 May 2015

Monkey Catch Up

On Monday 27th April 2015 was the day I went to the doctor for a check up and the discussion went over to my general fitness and he expressed concern when I told him I had run a marathon the week before without any proper training. He was aware of my long distance running as we had bumped shoulders on the running track a few months before.

It was a few hours afterwards that realised that it was true that I was most happy when I was fit and out on the local trails so it became a red letter day, the day I started running and get training for a big event towards the end of the year. Now fully recovered from my marathon in Hanover the week before I planned my week ahead and in doing so I have run 70 km in 5 runs, the longest was 34 km running at night along the Thames Path, from Henley on Thames to Streatley as a sweeper at the Thames Path 100 mile race.

My fitness is not where it used to be but I know it is there and if I continue this way I hope to be upping the training and get some more long distance runs in. 

My last run of 13 km from my house to the Cutty Sark in Greenwich was a tough run for me especially with the Thames run still in my legs from the weekend but I did it, it wasn't pretty but I got there. Things are going to be tough over the next two months as I have to work 46 hours a week as well as keeping my training up.

One good thing from all this is my weight is dropping off me  and beginning to feel a little happier in myself possibly down to medication but it is a nice place to be for a change.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Monkey Sweeping Duties

It is 17th April 2015, the time 10:57 am and an email arrives:

Please see reassigned sections below :

Start Richmond to Dorney CP3 : Simon W

Dorney CP3 to Henley CP6 : Mark T
Henley CP6 to Whitchurch CP8 : Jerry Smallwood
Whitchurch CP8 to Clifton Hampden CP11 : Pip H
Clifton Hampden CP11 to Finish Oxford: Garfield J

New sweepers … welcome!  Please read the attached and the below and let myself or James know if you have any concerns

Jerry – can you confirm your phone number for me please :o).

Yes Dear Reader I have volunteered to be one of a team Sweepers helping out at the Thames Path 100 (TP100). This race has become part of me since I completed it which was my very first 100 mile race which seems so long ago in 2012. Since then I have completed the Winter 100 and run numerous ultras and marathons along it length. In 2013 I remember being a Sweeper for the same race and ran a 40 mile length!

I am really looking forward to doing my duties this weekend as I will be taking on a 16 mile (30 km) slot but hope to team up with Pip at Whitchurch to run the extra 4 miles together so that I can get some breakfast at a local hotel and then take the train back to London. Some of you will note I said "breakfast" and that is why I am excited, one of my  favourite forms of running is doing it at night with the added fun that it will be by Old Father Thames.

In true tradition for the TP100 looks bleak with the promise of some rain and social media groups chatting merrily but with a hint of nervousness about the comments. All I can say to this year's runners that they should not underestimate this event, it is mainly flat but is surprising hilly in places, there will be mud, lots of mud and there will be tarmac, lots of that. Foot bridges that whilst at 20 miles you will bound over in the latter stages of the race you will swear at the God of your choice as your aching muscles do the same to you.

I cannot wait for Saturday when I turn up early for my shift to kick the runners out on to the night section. Whitchurch will be the maker and breaker for runners as it is the halfway point and the mind does funny things at this point in a race especially with the night ahead.

No GUCR 2015 but a new start

And so with the completion of the Hanover Marathon last week I have to look to the future and what is on the cards for me.
A lot of my readers will probably have noticed the lack of posts on my blog over recent months caused for so many reasons but primarily because of my father passed away just before Christmas. Nothing prepares you for such a thing and it certainly hit me for six as did to my whole family and the last thing I wanted to do was run. A friend of the family told me "Life goes on Jeremy" and indeed it does, your mind in turmoil but you still have to put bread on the table.
I am feeling a little bit more confident now with my running, I trudged through the marathon last week with only a few aches and pains afterwards with my heel feeling OK but I still have a long way to go before my basic fitness is up to where I need it.
So the news....
You will have probably noticed that there has been no talk of the GUCR 2015 this year and that is because I dropped out a few weeks ago after I realised that for me to take that monster on I would have had to run throughout the Winter and into the Spring taking marathons and shorter ultras to build up the stamina and mental toughness for the event, I am saddened and a little jealous when I see other runners getting their numbers but it was the best decision in the circumstances, I wish them well.
I have however decided to do one last long ultramarathon later this year which I do not want to say too much about now but will do when I have confirmation that my entry has been accepted.
The Monkey Feet are back in town.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Hanover Marathon 2015 - Race Report

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and indeed it does so that is why this blog entry is very short today where you can sit back and watch a video of the Eskorte 2300 a rag tag bunch of runners who got together from 6 European countries to run in the Hanover Marathon together to celebrate Christian Hotta's 2300th marathon which is simply an amazing achievement by anybodies standards.

A lot of the runners are quite fast in the group but the run was not about winning or competing it was about the camaraderie and the spirit of being together and enjoying the day doing the sport we all adore.

I seem to appear in quite a lot of the film but you can now see my union flag shorts, monkey feet and my, now, very large beer gut caused by not running enough! There is also a lot of high jinx which made the day fun.


Sunday, 12 April 2015

Just us three lunatics

...and not a Monkey in sight.

The subject of this blog was coined by the great Che this evening, no Dear Readers, it is not the Che we know as Ernesto (Che) Guevara but the son of my running pal Duncan.

By some great prophecy the three of us arrived at the local nature reserve for a run of 3-5 miles, the reason for the large bandwidth was Che was unsure of his fitness levels and we were to see how we all felt. I was happy for the distraction because I was out to test my heel which seemed better in recent days but didn't want to push it.

I have a feeling that Che, like many sons, wanted to know what his Dad got up to when he went for a run. His briefing, if you call it that, was the conversation could go anywhere from the order of flowering in the white and black hawthorn to "Does red and white tape mean no entry or a route marker?" to Facebook comments. At one juncture Che was heard to exclaim in a horrified voice "Why am I talking about grammar?" His face a picture of shock and distaste, he was assured by Duncan that it was fine but I have to admit it was a bit weird (Che, I am joking)

We crossed the road and jumped into my local woods, Duncan and I pointing and commenting on trees, where you can find wild garlic, shapes in tress like elephants when we both stopped and Duncan looked upon high looking at the trees and commented "This is why I do it, nothing here, just us" to which Che commented in words older than his years "Just us three lunatics" we could but agree to his sage-like remark.

We went back into the nature reserve and plodding along the main path we spotted a pile of logs stacked up to form a camp,tee pee like and could not help but stop to investigate. Inside was a sawn stump perfect to sit on and to the side a shack made with right angles. I slipped back 42 years and looked on in complete jealousy that I never had a camp like this. I then noted the red and white chevron tape.

"Does red and white tape mean no entry or a route marker?"
Through my experience of races as a runner, marker or sweeper, my mind has been taught that chevron tape is a marker to follow but upon seeing the tape at "The Camp" it was being used as a warning to say foresting was taking place.

So it was no surprise to me when the three of us ran an extra 0.5 miles to make it 5 miles and whilst Che and I were working out how the human sundial worked we spotted Duncan walk through a gap in the trees marked with tape, I turned to Che and said "Please be like your Dad in the future and learn to explore like he does." so we followed him in to discover a copse that was being cut back. There the other two scavenged a 2 metre length branch and went about discussing the best way to make a Zulu stick and bark shaving, a wonderful thing to hear.

The heel is OK, I am unsure how well and what will be an interesting marathon next week.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Getting the heel sorted.

My priority at the moment is to get my heel better, it is one of those annoying injuries that come and go when you least expect it.

I thought I was fine last Thursday and padded out a warm up of 200 metres, stretch, 200 metres, stretch more, 400 metres, stretch. By the time I had go to the 400 metre section the pain in my heel was very unpleasant so I grabbed my jacket and went home, standing in the cold whilst listening to the local "know it all"* who was proud that he could say plantar fasciitis without spitting when in fact it was not that at all.

I have a new idea under my running hat at the moment which will be announced soon but my priority is to get this damn heel sorted. I am dutifully standing on my steps at home pushing down with my body weight to get a stretch in and then lifting my self up on one leg to stretch and strengthen my calf. I have to say that I am totally amazed by this stretch as it really felt like some of the scar tissue was releasing, a feeling like a bendy straw is is pulled. With that I am icing it and also using this wonderful microwaveable pad that warms the area.

I am not out of the woods yet but I do feel it is getting slightly better and then I can start training again. 

* this was the same expert that told me in the middle of a race that bananas contained salt!

Friday, 3 April 2015

The trials and tribulations of a [not so] long distance runner living in deepest, darkest Kent.

It is funny how, when going through life, we always think we are young we are, 

  1. "40? I feel like I am a 30 year old."
  2. "30? I feel like I am a 20 year old."
  3. "20? Shit, I feel like I am 40 this morning."
Age is all relative but I have to admit that as I approach my 50's I do feel that minor injuries and recovery from runs are just taking that little longer than they did a few years ago.

Regular readers will know that close friends call my healing powers as "Lazarushian" when I grumble of a pain that sounds like a show stopper and in a matter of days I am out running 10 miles, I feel like a fraud but I have been very luck for the past 8 years.

I am not going to harp on what has happened in my life over the past 6 months, regular readers will know and these life events have seen my running go from 50 miles a week to just 5 miles, sometimes no miles, for weeks at a time. Last weekend's run was horrible when it actually told me that I was really unfit and that I should take stock of my running.

This week I decided that I can no longer call myself an ultrarunner if I cannot even run 7 miles without stopping so for the time being my blog will have the header:

"The trials and tribulations of a [not so] long distance runner living in deepest, darkest Kent"

 Such that I am now starting from scratch and will start  
  1. Run very slowly in the Hanover marathon (more about that this weekend)
  2. A new marathon training program
  3. Make real attempts to work on getting my heel injury better
Maybe not in that order but sometimes you do have to take stock.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The half-hearted Monkey race report

So looking at the date of entry for the race tells a story in itself 9th December 2014 just eleven days after the death of my father. Secretly I knew this race entry was going to be very hard, after all I had not trained properly or got any mileage in the three months before then. Something in me said I needed a target, a direction and the lack of posts also told a story. In my [grief] madness I decided to enter all four races in the Dover Running Festival, after all, running a marathon and a half marathon in one day followed by a marathon and a 10 km the next day would be easy...wouldn't it? It was supposed to be a distraction to get my mind on other things but bereavement is an incredibly powerful thing which overwhelmed me such that running held no interest.

I could bore you here with bad race planning, injury, the weather or complete stupidity but I had looked forward to this weekend for some time even for the fun of meeting up with old friends and to "talk running" so in a was simply down to not  training.

So here is the breakdown:

Day 1
Marathon - dropped after 7 miles calling it a "tactical withdrawal" so I could concentrate on the half marathon

Half Marathon - Wearing my trusty old Monkey Feet ran 13.1 miles and finished

Day 2
Woke up and my heel, an old injury, had flared up and was now swollen so dropped the marathon and 10km. The weather was foul, such that they changed the route for the 10km as the wind was now up to 50mph so went home after a big breakfast and an extra hour in bed. 

Don't feel upset by any of the outcomes, I know I am unfit and overweight but I am going to do one more (slow) marathon in Hanover in three weeks as I have paid for it and made a commitment to my German friend Christian Hottas who will be running his 2300th marathon. After that, we will see.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The four stages of competence

There is always that moment in the life as a long distance runner when you have this dangerous thing called "Belief."

My Cat 2015

I was requested by my boss the other day to list out my vocational qualifications and skills as she wanted to utilise me more within the wider team and market them to the business. So as a guy still in his 40's (just) I started to write a list in a spreadsheet and then, I added a column so to break each of those skills/assets into more granular skills and then I listed my experience and then the qualification, then cost savings attached to each skill and subset. By the end I was actually amazed that I was in fact pretty skilled up but had taken it for granted, a point noted that a younger person will shout and show off that they can do this and that  whilst the older person takes it for granted and often seen in psychology as:
  1. Unconscious incompetence
  2. Conscious incompetence
  3. Conscious competence
  4. Unconscious competence
The younger, less experienced guy will be hanging on at around 2 and 3 whilst the older guy will be at 3 and 4 for skill related aspects of their work and because of it tend not to shout about it.

Bringing this back to my running world there was a time when I thought nothing of jumping out of the door for a quick 10 miles or being marathon ready at the drop of a hat and getting a PB and was definitely unconsciously competent. I have ground out 100+ miles non-stop whilst the four winds battered me but strode on confident that I would get to the end (not always). This attitude can either be your best friend or your worst enemy, a self belief that can either make you a finisher or a wounded non-finisher.

This weekend

So we come to this weekend when in a moment of madness before Christmas I saw that there was the Port of Dover Race Festival which is held over two days, thus:

Both days:
8am – marathons registration at the Clock Tower
9am – marathons start
1.30pm Half Marathon registration at the Clock Tower
2.30pm race start
1.30pm 10km registration at the Clock Tower
2.30pm race start
...and yes I entered all four of them! How I am going to manage it is another thing but looking at the times I think I have a chance if I am not stupid and just plod out the miles. I am going to give these runs a name:
Marathon (Day 1)              : Unconscious incompetence
Half Marathon (Day 1)       : Conscious incompetence
Marathon (Day 2)               :Conscious competence
10 kilometre (Day 2)          :Unconscious competence
I have no way of knowing if I will complete this set of tasks with such little training of late but I am going for it, to hell with it. This one is for me and if I have to drop at some stage, I will drop and reassess the set of runs each time.....wish me luck.

Friday, 13 March 2015

For Sh1ts and Giggles

"It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it." —from the foreword to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, by David Pringle

I saw this quote today which made me smile as it totally sums up the Delightful Mrs S views my long distance running, there is something quite nice about the total subversive nature of my escapades. My late father made no secret of his views but still wanted to hear some of the things that I saw and people I had met along the way.

I make no secret of it that recently I have not felt the "need" to run realising that it is easier to get in the habit of not running than actually running, this wasn't about that stupid saying you hear from people, "Mojo", which in its purest form means charm, influence or magical power.

Running to me had become a chore, for years I have been pitted against the training plan, goals, the next event or the endless cycle of up weeks and down weeks...I was emotionally worn out. I then found I was beating myself up about it and how I regretted the loss of my cherished fitness, the tales of daring do and the succession of blackened toenails.

There is a saying amongst some of my running buddies... "What is said on the trail, stays on the trail" It means that what you divulge whilst running, in confidence, remains unsaid, call it a therapy but because of this unwritten lore great trust is born.

I received an email from my buddy Duncan the other day, a beautifully crafted message, that was basically a summary of what I had talked about to him two weeks ago and it struck a chord. The result was training plans were deleted, a few things rescheduled and I went to the track with no other plan than to run with one foot always off the ground at all times and just to enjoy the moment.............just for shits and giggles I think the saying goes and absolutely loved it.

Monday, 9 March 2015

See the crowd and take your pick.

Many of my Dear Readers will remember the great comic Tommy Cooper and his wonderful clownery, one of my favourite jokes by him was:

Apparently, 1 in 5 people in the world are Chinese. And there are 5 people in my family, so it must be one of them. It's either my Mum or my Dad. Or my older brother Colin. Or my younger brother Ho-Cha-Chu. But I think it's Colin.

I laugh at the sheer stupidity of the humour and visualisation but now see it in a different way when said thus:

Apparently, 1 in 4 people in the world have suffered from a mental illness in the last year. And there are 4 people in my family, so it must be one of them. It's either my Mum or my Dad. Or my older brother Colin. Or Me.But I think it's Colin. But then again it could be me.

Now look around you, you may be on a train, in an open plan office or sitting in your armchair surrounded by your family. Now say to yourself "1 in 4 people I am looking at have or are suffering from a mental illness.....But then again it could be me"

It seems hard to contemplate that this could be a person you know, or work with, or bump into every day. You can be heard to say:
  • "Fred, no way was Fred depressed he was always a joker in the office, always smiling, no way could it be Fred!"
  • "Freda was always a miserable old cow, always said she would come out with us, never did."
  • "That Fred is a little bit weird, never smiles stay away from him is my advice"
Don't be ashamed, we have all said or made an excuse once but just heed the words that in every crowd 1 in 4 people will be suffering with a mental illness and that one person may be you. It sometimes takes a brave person to approach someone they care for and ask them if they are OK and listen to them, not judge, just listen.

In conclusion, It could Ho-Cha-Chu but I still think it is Colin.

I'll let you decide

Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Dichotomy

The word Dichotomy has appeared in my conversation much more of late as it is one of those words that can help describe so many things in my personal life but today it included the run Duncan I did along the Thames Path from Greenwich to the Thames Barrier at Woolwich the spiritual end of the Thames Path.

On this run there was a plan to run between the foot tunnels of Greenwich and Woolwich, run through it to the north side to return to Greenwich and had allotted it to be 11 miles. Never have I seen such activity along this section with large swathes of beautiful historical buildings being swamped by new multi-storey behemoths squeezing in on every patch of free land. The picture on the right hit me when I saw it this morning behind me was a block, all glass and steel, and there a pile of old flotsam and jetsom built on some whim but equally behind me was the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park that looked rotten to the hinges with a trolley poking out of the water, an irony not lost on the two of us.

The two of us ran along the path talking about what we saw, conversation drifted naturally to our respective Father's and my dichotomic emotions that I have during my bereavement (I wish he was still with us v I glad he didn't suffer long type of conflict) to the very personal one of running and depression, a dichotomy or a feedback loop creating the perfect storm.

We touched on funny stories in my classroom to Duncan's journey from the southern hemisphere to northern counterpart and that of apartheid and that of right and left wing politics.

It was really great to see what the buildings on the Thames Path from another perspective of the north shore to realise that it has become ugly with the approach of the high rises that are not always apparent when being close up and at ground level of the path.

It does sound like a very serious run but as usual we were howling with laughter at some stories and smiling when jumping over the cracks in the pavement.  

A lovely run which was not as serious as it seems but one of amusement, a dichotomy in its self.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Throwing Down the Monkey Gauntlet

To "throw down the gauntlet" is to issue a challenge. A gauntlet-wearing knight would challenge a fellow knight or enemy to a duel by throwing one of his gauntlets on the ground. The opponent would pick up the gauntlet to accept the challenge.

This evening I saw a picture posted on Duncan's Facebook page of his Vibram Spyridons with the caption "Again!" and then a subsidiary picture of his muddy finger socks. To Duncan it is a celebration and not a snub or gloat but to me he had thrown down the gauntlet for me to rise from the sofa and get out for a run.

The weather outside is best described as cool at 2°C and to make a point I posted back a picture of my gnarled feet to him and stepped out in the evening with my head torch tucked in my pocket and  my door keys jingling around my neck. I was in for a surprise when I discovered the pain in my lower back I had on Sunday was hardly there and so decided to drop off the pace and enjoy my run to the club. I stood around in the cold having arrived 10 minutes early and joined in, if only half-hearted, with the others and then started to run with a group and after about a mile realised I wasn't enjoying the company so waved good bye making some excuse.

In a strange way I felt relieved  that I was by myself and so grabbing my torch from my pocket I entered my favourite woods for a about half a mile and then ducked out into the park for a quick circuit and out to my home.

I am so pleased that the Monkey [sock] Gauntlet was thrown down tonight and let me do what I love doing, night running off road.

A two story run

...or what you read in a blog is not always what it appears

The Blog Story
I was looking forward to Sunday when Duncan, Liz and I were going to meet up for our first run together for over a year. Liz had a car crash early last year and has been suffering from the resulting back injury but today we were on fire.

After sprinting up the hill to the aptly named meeting point called Hangman's Corner when I saw Duncan coming in the opposite direction doing an impersonation of an airplane and without breaking step we carried on non-stop to Liz's house, I stopped at the corner to do up my shoelace while Duncan skipped ahead to announce our arrival.

Liz and Duncan came bounding up the road towards me and I leapt into action and with the words of Liz emblazoned in my mind that we were to run 6 miles had planned a route around the local nature reserve and woods. 

The three of us were in high spirits as we chatted, laughed and hooted as we jumped and squished through the multitude of muddy puddles that lay in front of us.

Running with Liz and Duncan is a real pleasure as we potter along at the pace of the nicest view or place of interest, conversation boiling over with silly stories of the week (or year before), the lampoonery that we call work or some ridiculous thing that happened recently.

Sadly we had to part our ways when I opted to run the river bank back home whilst the other two ran up the hill to their respective houses but not before Duncan with his two big Monkey Feet jumped full on into a deep puddle of brackish water causing it to cover me from head to foot down one side, and so with a cheer in my voice and a heavy heart parted our ways to hopefully run again together soon.

The true story
I was really looking forward to Sunday when Duncan, Liz and I were going to meet up for our first run together for over a year. Liz had a car crash early last year and has been suffering from the resulting back injury but today we were on fire.

After dragging myself out of my bed, my head still full of sleeping tablet, I dressed and was soon seen walking sprinting up the hill after giving up running after 400 metres to the aptly named meeting point called Hangman's Corner when I saw Duncan coming in the opposite direction who I imagine was getting fed up waiting for me to haul my sorry arse up the hill doing an impersonation of an airplane and without breaking step we carried on non-stop to Liz's house with a few walking stops to allow me to stretch my lower back, I stopped at the corner of Liz’s road to do up my shoelace while Duncan skipped ahead to announce our arrival whilst I stretched my back again and tried not to puke on the roadside.

Liz and Duncan came bounding up the road towards me and I leapt into action did my best to look athletic  and with the words of Liz emblazoned in my mind that we were to run 6 miles had planned a route around the local nature reserve and woods. 

The three Two of us were in high spirits, I however in a more introspective mood but happy to run along as we Liz and Duncan chatted, laughed and hooted as we jumped and squished through the multitude of muddy puddles that lay in front of us.

Running with Liz and Duncan is a real an absolute pleasure as we potter along at the pace of the nicest view or place of interest slowest person (read as me and my numerous requests to walk), conversation boiling over with silly stories of the week (or year before), the lampoonery that we call work or some ridiculous thing that happened recently.

Sadly we had to part our ways when I opted to run the river bank back home because my lower back fucking hurt whilst the other two ran up the hill to their respective houses but not before Duncan with his two big Monkey Feet jumped full on into a deep puddle of brackish water causing it to cover me from head to foot down one side, and so with a grateful cheer in my voice and a heavy heart parted our ways to hopefully run again together soon but not until my aches and pains go away.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Out of Africa and it is not a cock and ball story!

Today's plan was to get out onto the North Downs and run with an easy pace with Duncan  and like a well oiled machine he open his front gate at 7.30am whilst I (unusually) was on time to travel by car to Titsey Hill. This hill is a bit of a monster and only once in my running career have I actually run up the whole length and that was the first and last time I have done it.

Whilst plotting the route on Saturday night I couldn't help notice that it looked a bit like Africa, OK,OK, I hear descent from my readership...Africa? Since then it has been seen to be an hand drill or a hand gripping something and also a cock and balls! I care not a jot, to me it was Africa and Duncan and I were going to run around and this cool Winter's day.

Ever so often there would be an update from me:
  • "We are running along the coast of Libya now"
  • "Just turning south to visit Egypt"
  • "...South Africa"
  • "...Gabon..."
  • "Shit, I am not very good on the West Coast of Africa...eerr Gambia"
It was one of those runs that most of the conversation was held in the car on the way to and back from Titsey Hill but it was nice just to have a quiet run through some of my favourite paths with a beastly climb up the Vanguard Way to the car. 

Another Pointless Point 

I am sometimes amazed by Duncan's patience with me when I create a small diversion to see some pointless point of interest but if you look closely the picture above (click on it to enlarge it) that you can see a line coming out of the North West coast of Africa where we detoured to find the sign that tells the peregrinator that they are passing the spot where the Zero Meridian crosses both the North Downs Way and the Vanguard Way. I was also heard to tell Duncan that I have also passed it on the South Downs Way where there is a similar post....more Bragger's Right than anything else. 

The picture above is me at the same point in April 2012 at race weight and ready for the Grand Union Canal Race  

Friday, 6 February 2015

A Tale of the Missing Monkey Feet

Last night was an epiphany for me when I realised that I have been focusing on the past too much and it was time to pull myself up by the shoe laces and get going. It was then I told myself that instead of grumbling about not running to start running.

So I packed my holdall with my Monkey Feet (and socks as it is very cold here at the moment) and my Union Flag shorts for good measure, this, and all the other trappings that have been collected over the years that I call "My Running Kit."

So this morning I stumbled out of bed bleary eyed after a previous long day at work and an evening of lecturing. Grabbed a coffee whilst stuffing the last pieces of equipment into my work rucksack and left the house with the ruck sack and my bag of My Running Kit. 

In England, when there is a hint of snow and a single flake floats down the whole of the transport system slows down with cancellations or late running trains, this with the added extra problem of a London bus strike tends to cause a perfect storm. I stumbled up to the station to find that indeed there were delayed trains and I got on what was advertised as a "slow" train grabbing my seat and got ready for my standard 23 minute journey. That was until I got to the next station and an urgent voice called over the tannoy that the train had been converted to a "fast" train and everybody should get off as it was no longer a stopping train giving us about 20 seconds to get off before the doors closed. I got off and jumped on the next "slow" train and after two stops a horrid realisation swept over me that I only had my work bag and that my running kit was on the fast train ahead of me. I was miserable.

What Next?

I decided to stay on the train up to London, after all I was only 20 minutes behind it and I could grab a guard and see it had been found. Then the comedy began when asking a guard he got on his radio "Alpha 6 to all Alpha has anyone had a grey Nike bag handed in?" No response "Go ask Beta 4 at the barrier" was the instruction and on asking who was Beta 4 he pointed a lady guard. So approaching Beta 4 she pointed me to "The third door on the left" and going to said door found it to be the rear of a pastry shop situated on the concourse. So getting a bit panicky I asked another guard, I am not sure if he was an Alpha or a Beta and in his wonderful Anglo-Nigerian accent said with joy that he knew where it was and then took me to what actually was "The third door on the right" entered the door, looked around, I was getting excited and then he said "Naah, this is a blue one, go speak to the man in the booth" pointing to an assistant on the Customer Service Desk.

Through the barrier I went to speak to the man behind it who turned out to be Peter and with a voice that made Barry White sound like a soprano, his East London accent told me "What is wrong with you lot today you are all losing stuff" I smiled and he continued "Write down your number, description of the Lost Prop (sic) and name" He then grabbed his phone " Yo, Peter here at The Vic (sic) can you check the next 4 trains from here to you, some bloke here has lost a grey Nike bag"....[muffled chat from phone].."Nice, sweet as a nut, laters".....[more muffled chat from phone]..."Right Jerry their ain't more we can do, give the call centre a call."

The Next Few Hours

Over the next 2 hours I was miserable and felt that I had been pushed off the rails yet again and was thinking that some of this kit had been collected over a number of years and not easy to replace. I grumbled and mumbled about work when The Delightful Mrs S called "Who the hell is Peter? He says he has found your bag and it is at platform 5 of Orpington station."

I was elated and after taking the extra few stops to Orpington tonight I excitedly approached a guard (probably Charlie 2) who took me to the control room of the station with blinking lights, the buzzing of buzzers and the stale musk often found in male dominated changing rooms to point at my lovely old Nike kit bag and stapled to the handle was a hand written note:

To Be Possible Collected by Mr Jerry Smalled(sic)

I was over the moon, I look back at that moment now and it was almost like finding your missing family cat after it had run away. Silly really but it does show how important these sometimes abused pieces of kit are to me in my sporting life and reflecting on how it has become part of my running persona what with my shorts and my trusty Monkey Feet.

My run at the track tonight was wonderful with a scattering of snow on the lanes, the moon as high in the sky as I felt.

Monday, 2 February 2015

GUCR 2015 and other ramblings

So it is that time of year again when I have to make the final decision whether to run at the GUCR 2015 event and at 00:40hrs on 1st February 2015 I finally made my commitment by transferring the entry fee to Dick Kearne the Race Director.

It has not been a good time for me in general and running has not been of great importance to me preferring my other hobbies to distract my ever buzzing mind. The last 3 months of 2014 were not good ones for me having lost my Aunt in October and then my Father in late November which took the wind from my sails and make me turn inwards to my family.

All through this I battled with the change in my anti-depressant medication the original making me from an overly loud, high-spirited, sometimes annoying individual to a quiet introvert who felt his creativity return so blunted by the previous tablets. However, the ever present ogre of my depression paced behind my fore-brain and has popped out to see what was happening in the world..

There is no book written that can explain bereavement, how one minute you are fine and then a memory pops up of your loved one and the emotional agony returns like a wave trapping you for minutes to move away as though nothing had happened to cause the tears.

I want to talk more about running and depression some other time but bereavement is nothing like it, the two of them are poles apart but somehow interlinked.

GUCR 2015

Having entered the ballot and receiving a place I saw it as a break in the cloud and enjoyed the chance to do it again but in January I was filled with self-doubt, lethargy and head filled with confusion that only bereavement can show. My monthly mileage was less than when I first started running 8 years ago, the medication and lack of exercise was making me pile on the pounds.

I am in now and I really want to finish it this time, get the monkey off my back and chose to make the first day of February be the start but at 7.00 am I was awoken by my alarm, I hit it and rolled over not waking again until 11.00 am.

I need to get out and run again not for my mental health but for me.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, all the world, she walks into mine.

This was my first thought when the awesome Fiona McNelis shouted "Is that you Jerry?" in the middle of a field on the edge of Kent a stones throw from Ashurst.

As you know from my previous blog I was course checking a race last Saturday and Fiona was acting as a sweeper for the same race. If you click on the picture to the left you can see us posing for a race photographer who happened to be passing at the time. You will note that I look decidedly muddier and unkempt than Fiona who always seems to be fresh and full of life...actually she was 1 mile into the course running the reverse route to start her sweep as I was finishing off and gasping for a cup of coffee having been on the trail since 7.30 that morning.

Fiona and I have a strange relationship where we often meet in the middle of a field, checkpoint or finish line. Fiona, a frighteningly intelligent person with an amazing ability to make me howl with laughter when telling me of her escapades on the field of play that we call ultrarunning and we always leave the last conversation on hold to restart where we left off a month or so later.

And that, Dear Reader, sums up long distance running when you can meet a fellow runner in the middle of field in the middle of nowhere but know you can rely on the amazing camaraderie so prevalent in the sport I so love.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Running in Pooh Country

This weekend I had the opportunity to run as a Course Checker for a new group called Trailscape whom I know little about but I had volunteered my services via Facebook request on the Trail Running Group.

I arrived in Ashurst, Kent which lies on its border with Sussex  at 7.00am and stepped into a hive of activity announcing my arrival to the Race Director and from that moment I was whipped into shape, briefed, introduced to a driver and another Course Checker, Martin, who was doing the 10km route.

Looking at the weather I decided that it was two shirts, waterproof smock, leggings, my trusty Adidas Kanadias  and Injinji socks. I was ejected from the car along with Martin and were pointed to a disused railway track to find our way. I failed at the start when it wasn't explained to me that my section (the latter 13.1 miles) actually didn't cross over the track but UNDER so ran over the top of it for about 2km but was soon pointed to the correct place by the local dog walkers.

The course was a tough one taking me over the tops of hills with the wind howling through the trees such that I could lean into it, rain pelting my face like needles and mud that squelched over your ankles in places. I was pleased to be the trailblazer as the mud was undisturbed but know if you are the fiftieth pair of feet on the trail it can be hard going.  People were few and far between but those that did cross my path were friendly.

Pooh's Bridge

I knew I was in what we Brits quaintly call "Pooh Country" in recognition of A.A. Milne's childrens' book about the adventures of a toy bear called Winnie the Pooh. To my joy I saw a finger post stating "Pooh's Bridge" and pointing me down the path I was to take and there in front of me was the famous bridge. I stopped and grabbed a few twigs and dropped them on one side to jump across to the other side to see my stick pass under, a game not really made for one but I was happy I won both of my games.

Not much more I can say other than it was great to be out on the trails by myself again and to stand at tops of hills and take stock. As I came to the end of my section I saw the runners who were racing a 10km stretch (Organised by the same people) and to join them for the run to the finish line. I hadn't realised how dehydrated I was until I got to a check point and drank like a fish.

Very pleased with my 18 miles on a very tough and in poor conditions, I have a feeling my fitness will return quite quickly as long as I keep the long runs up. 

Eeyore: Tigger, I'd be happy to tell you my secret for winning at Poohsticks.
Tigger: [eagerly] Uh, you would?
Eeyore: It's very easy. You just have to let your stick drop in a twitchy sort of way.
Tigger: Oh yeah, I forgot to twitch. That was my problem.
[twitches, then bounces]
Tigger: Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!
[we hear a crash]
Eeyore: Bounced again.