Sunday, May 27, 2012

Here comes the sun

I don’t know when it happened but I am now officially old. Given the choice between sitting in the sun or the shade, I realised the other day, I now prefer the shade almost every time. I don’t care about getting an uneven tan. Runner’s stripes, farmer’s arms and a baldy’s burn – who cares what you look like with your clothes off any more? And while everyone else is celebrating the belated arrival of summer (just in time for the double bank holiday, they think – when will they ever learn?), I’m praying for cloud and the occasional light drizzle because it’s better for the garden and for running.

I’ve done three events this week when it was far too hot: the Serpentine RC ‘last Friday’ 5k, when the temperature was raised even higher with a nattily gratuitous sprint finish; the Trent Park handicap 5k, which was mitigated by the fact that most of it takes place in woodland; and the Go Beyond Northants 35 on Saturday. It is an established fact that Northamptonshire farmers don’t believe in trees because they get in the way of their oilseed rape harvesters. So shade was at a premium for this one. My personal water intake on the day has extended the hosepipe ban into next winter. The ground was so baked that I did the whole course in trainers without them seeing so much as a hint of mud.

Next week is the Long Distance Walkers Association 100, from the Olympic Park to Windsor. I’ve sent a note to the organisers asking them to turn the heating down.

Around the lake and back

One of the advantages of a forced layoff from running, as long as it’s only a short one, is that you come back rested and with a little extra bounce. And so it was that I did the Windermere marathon on 20 May with an extra spring in my step, even though my ankle was still complaining. You should give it three weeks after an injury of this sort, not three days, I think I heard it saying. But I didn’t lock the car key in the boot for a third time, so off I set on a sunny Sunday morning to join around 800 others for a lap around the lake. These included the 18 hardy souls for whom Sunday’s marathon would be their tenth in ten days around the same circuit, the culmination of the fourth year of the formidable ’10 in 10’ challenge to raise funds for the Brathay Trust.

I’d originally planned to run Windermere at an ‘easy’ jog after a week on the Lakeland fells and the day after the 26-mile Settle Saunter. My ankle and car key escapades put paid to that but after gingerly seeing how the ankle would hold up for the first few miles, I felt good enough to step up the pace for a 3hr 42.55 finish. I had to work extra hard to find those five seconds because of a vicious little hill that I didn’t know about immediately before the finish after you enter the Brathay grounds. That was good enough to get me third in my age group (and yes there were more than three in it) and 132nd overall, so it was some compensation for seeing the 2012 miles target slipping further from my reach.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Locking your key in the boot (twice)

To lock your car key in the boot once is unfortunate. To do it twice, on consecutive days, is just plain stupid. Or fate, depending on how you look at it.

The day after going over on my ankle I was meant to be doing a 12k trail run, part of the Keswick Mountain Festival. The run started at 4pm and I’d been trying to convince myself all day that I could still do it. Hobble, hobble, no I can’t. Limp, hobble, perhaps I can.

I was pondering the possibilities when I came back to the car with a bag of chips a couple of hours before the run. I was feeling, well, chippy. The rain had just stopped, my ankle had unstiffened enough to tackle the walk out of town, I zapped the electronic locking mechanism with my ray gun key. (I still get a buzz from seeing how far away from the car I can do it, and I still aim the key like I used to aim an imaginary finger gun when I was five.)

The lights flashed, the locks released. I opened the boot, chucked my bag and key inside, and pushed it shut again as I walked round to the driver’s door ready to sit down and enjoy my chips.

Now I’m an old-fashioned sort when it comes to cars. Anything mechanical, I used to be the man. I could whip an engine in and out of a Hillman Imp between breakfast and lunch. I could improvise a cooling system out of plastic bags and lederhosen. But electronics are another dimension. No one told me that a car once unlocked could lock itself again without you doing anything – apart from shutting the boot, that is.

Anyway, that took the decision for me. No running today, regardless of how my ankle was feeling. All I had access to was what I was standing up in: jeans, t-shirt, waterproof top, 60p and a bag of chips. It would take me the rest of the afternoon to get back into the car: ten minutes to eat the chips, ten minutes to find a garage, several hours to try every trick known to car mechanics to subvert the locking mechanism, and ten minutes to smash a window, extract my key and curse my carelessness.

The fact that, having never locked a key in the boot before in my life, I repeated this entire experience barely 24 hours later and missed another race as a result, must have been telling me something – either about my own stupidity or about fate, which clearly didn’t intend me to run on an injured ankle until I’d rested it for at least a couple of days.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My ankle hurts

It had to happen sometime this year. Getting injured, that is. But it was a sickening feeling as my foot first slid from under me and then twisted sideways on the slippery descent to Boot after coming over Sail Pass from Coniston.

This is the first section of the Lakeland 100 and it had already taken me three hours to cover about 12 miles of rocky trails, rain-soaked bog and indistinct paths by the time my ankle gave way on me. That left another 20 to complete the circuit I’d planned back to Coniston. At the time I wasn’t sure I could make the final mile down to Boot, my ankle was hurting so much and swelling so fast. But by the time I’d got to the road at the bottom and rested and refuelled at the village shop, it felt like it might stand up to a mix of gentle jogging and careful walking over Hardknott and Wrynose Passes. Then there would be just a five-mile off-road journey with only one really steep climb to get me back to where I started.

I managed it without any major mishaps, although the one-in-four (or steeper) downhill stretches over the passes made me wonder if I wasn’t risking serious damage to the ankle. It certainly complained a lot.

The injury obviously put in doubt the 12k trail run at Keswick, the 26-mile Settle Saunter and the Windermere marathon, which I’d planned to do over the next few days. As it turned out, though, it was something else altogether that put the kibosh on my plans. More of that when I find time to write some more.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Up on the fells

I followed up the seven miles with diarrhoea the other day with eight miles without it a day later. Bliss. Then came a weekend I’d not felt very confident about, not least because both days would see me up on the fells and, well, the weather has been a bit wet and windy lately. I needn’t have worried – about the weather anyway. The rain stayed away and the wind eased off a little.

First was the 23-mile Malhamdale Meander, which took me five and three-quarter hours, a quarter-hour of which was spent walking around in a small circle looking for a checkpoint that wasn’t there – it had been moved from the grid reference supplied. Pie and mushy peas and mince sauce at the finish more than made up for no one telling me – although I was still a little disappointed that the intended climb up the waterfall at Goredale Scar had to be re-routed because of the heavy rainfall.

Then on Sunday, a 32-mile recce run along what is supposed to be the ‘easiest’ section of the Lakeland 100, from Buttermere to Dalemain. ‘Easiest’ is relative, of course, and my southern softie calves, out of the habit of proper hills, would beg to differ. That I did it in seven and a half hours, on the back of 38 miles in the previous three days, would have been enormously encouraging – except for the fact that even 70 miles in four days is still 30-odd short of what I’ve got to do inside 40 hours in less than 11 weeks time.

With that thought in mind, I’ve decided to count Sunday’s recce run as an ‘event’ since it was an official run put on by the race organisers. So I’m now up to 433 miles, more than a fifth of the way there with, er, almost two fifths of the year gone.

Running with diarrhoea

The first time I can remember running with diarrhoea was when I was about seven. The teacher wouldn’t let me go to the toilet that afternoon (there were some real sadists in the profession in the Sixties), so when school finished I did a buttocks-clenched, Penguin sprint all the way back to my grandma’s house, where we were living at the time. I’d got back so quickly that no one was in when I arrived, so I had to leg it over the wall into the backyard to get some desperate relief (having an outside toilet did have at least one advantage).

My great aunt Gertie (after whom my granddaughter is named –see here) lived a few houses up the terrace. She saw me, face contorted, running down the road and asked me ‘whatever is the matter?’ I was in far too much of a hurry – and far too embarrassed – to tell her, so I dashed on without answering. An awful act of rudeness for which I could offer no reasonable explanation later since it didn’t seem nice to talk to maiden aunts about shitting your pants. 

In fact, it didn’t seem nice to talk to anyone about shitting your pants. So I stuffed them at the back of the hot water boiler, a big old copper thing, where as far as I know they remained until it was pulled out for renovation work many years later.

I was reminded of this the other day when I ran seven miles down the canal towpath to my sister’s in urgent need of a toilet stop. There is nothing better for ‘moving your bowels’, as my grandma used to put it, than bouncing them up and down running on an uneven surface.

Not that an even surface is much better. My hopes of getting a ‘good for age’ time in a track marathon a few years ago were dashed at the halfway mark when I had to take a detour to the toilet block, where the only functioning sit-down lavatory was already occupied.I just couldn't do a Paula Radcliffe.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rice pudding and bluebells

The longest run of the year so far, the Long Distance Walkers Association's Oxon 40, felt like it at times today. But bluebell woods in the Chilterns, valleys so quiet it's hard to believe they're barely 30 miles from London and a final checkpoint offering hot tea and rice pudding all helped me along.

Actually I was only just outside the 5mph pace that I regard as very respectable on these self-navigating, off-road events with their usual extra challenges of mud, stiles and missed turnings. That's pretty good given the temptation to linger at the well-stocked checkpoints at LDWA events, particularly when the sun comes out - as it did today for the first time in a very long time for the final few miles back to Henley.

My second challenge of the day was to avoid the cup final score so that I could watch the recording when I got home. I managed that one too - though I got very little pleasure from watching Chelsea win it again.

378 miles down; 1,634 to go.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A run, an anniversary and a death

It’s 86 days to the Lakeland 100 and the South Cheshire 20 in cold, wind and rain on Sunday took me to 338 miles in the first four months of the year. I’ve got to do 1,674 more.

I was in the area, just across the county border in Stoke-on-Trent, for the anniversary of my dad’s death. Florence Bowls Club, where he was an active member for the best part of 20 years, had organised the Florence Classic Ken Platt trophy in his memory. The competition attracted some of the best bowlers in the midlands and north west and herculean efforts to clear the greens of water meant the final could go ahead despite the floods. The day started with a moving speech by a club organiser and 30 seconds applause for my dad and finished with another moving speech by my brother and the presentation of the trophy and cash award to the winner. We raised £201.20 in a raffle and collection for Whizz-Kidz.

The day after, still tired from Sunday’s 20-miler, which I’d done on the back of a 13-mile training run and 5k handicap race on the Saturday, I stayed at my mum’s so that she wouldn’t be on her own after all the emotion of the bowls competition. At 1am the phone rang. It was my cousin Dianne, saying her mum – my aunt – had taken a turn for the worse in hospital following a stroke. Dianne was coming straight up to Stoke from London but meanwhile her dad – my dad’s brother – was on his own. I rushed over to the hospital to be with him but arrived just after my aunt had died. You don’t get many brothers closer than my dad and uncle, and you don’t get many couples happier than my uncle and my aunt. For him to lose them both within a year of each other is especially cruel.