28 December 2012


Exactly how I feel after the Christmas break. Not that I was inactive: there was a great deal to do, but it didn't include any running. Every time I thought there might be a chance to fit in a few miles, I looked outside and rain was beating against the windows, or darkness was falling (which happened just after 2 o'clock this afternoon). I was itching to give my new VivoBarefoot Breatho trail shoes an outing, but not in driving rain and wind. That's what January is all about: Christmas is the time for staying indoors, isn't it? And I don't want to get my trail shoes muddy, do I?

On the basis of the newly-minted idiom, "those who can run, run: those who can't run, read about running", and having exhausted (for the time being) all the running blogs I usually read, I turned to an extended piece of work by one of my favourite running bloggers (by which I mean the author of one of my favourite running blogs), Laura Fountain aka Lazy Girl of Lazy Girl Running blog fame. She's written a book with the oxymoronic title "The Lazy Runner", available as an e-book for the Kindle from the Amazon website for £4.99.

So of course I could not resist getting it onto my Kindle, where I am currently 78 per cent of the way through "Bleak House" and almost completely baffled about what is going on. Kindle e-book readers are fine devices but they certainly have their limitations. I am sure I could jump backwards and forwards to remind myself of who the characters are and where they fit into the story (or stories) but I fear I would become lost, and that 78 per cent has been won at great cost.

But, just like a conventional book with a bookmark in it, "Bleak House" will wait for me, open (as it were) where I left off, so I could read Laura's book without losing my place. (I also fitted in an ink-smeared-on-dead-trees copy of "Gentleman Captain" by JD Davies, an intriguing story about an interesting era on which the author is very knowledgeable, though perhaps the book shows signs of being a historian's first venture into fiction - but I digress.) And I have done. Not all of it yet, but enough to write a review. OK, I have written plenty of reviews in my life after reading little more than the title and the name of the author, and actually that's often all one needs to know: but of course I wouldn't do that to a fellow running blogger.

If I say I didn't need to read it, that might be seen as a put-down, which it isn't. But Laura has written about her transition from novice to Marathon runner, and I did that starting about 20 years ago - though it took me longer to step up to Marathon distance than it took Laura. So I didn't need to read it: I have made every possible mistake entirely of my own volition - it's too late for her to warn me what not to do.

However, I didn't need to read Murakami either - once, twice, three times, four times or five times, which is where I stand at the moment. I had run several Marathons before "What I talk about ..." came out, though what he had to say about ultra-Marathoning was interesting - off-putting at first, but enough to pique my interest ... The point is, there's always something to get out of a running book, and if all you get out of it is inspiration from reading about someone else's journey, that's reason enough to read it.

Laura is an entertaining writer, although I do feel that a bit more re-writing would have benefited the finished product. I wish I had been able 20 years ago to call on the advice she offers: the stages of her journey are horribly familiar, although I think I made some big mistakes with shoes which she seems to have avoided. I guess when I started, running shoes were primitive compared to what they have become - or perhaps what they became, before evolution started to go backwards and we arrived at my current choices of footwear. Each chapter (of which there are 17) has a "What I wish I had known then" section, which brought a wry smile to my lips a few times: been there, done that, and of course as runners we have all got the tee-shirt. The only part of the book which did not resonate with me so far has been the discussion about running bras ...

Everybody's running experiences are different, yet at some level they are all the same. Take away the incident, and most runners' stories would look pretty much the same: but put the incident into a book and you have something that every runner will enjoy reading.

16 December 2012

Paper Sun

It's never easy to choose what to wear for a run. Of course, some elements select themselves - compression tights, for one thing, without which I wouldn't go further than about 5K nowadays. But singlet or tee shirt? Base layer underneath? This is December - and the other day the temperature reminded me of Moscow. Which coincidentally is the only place I can remember being cold on a run. But then it was -25° centigrade, and that day this week it might have been 2 or 3 degrees below in Didcot, so it reminded me of Moscow partly because my memory is not as good as it might be.

Often, the club's Pud Run takes place on icy roads. The downhill stretch at about 2 miles can tempt one to slide all the way down (I think it would be a bad idea), and one year I was still slithering all over the place at mile 12, where the sun had not reached some patches. This year, it was positively balmy: the sun shone, my shades remained in place for most of the course, and in a short-sleeved tee-shirt I overheated. Just slightly, but overheated just the same.
Courtesy of John Harvey
Arriving in the nick of time to pay my entry fee (£4) but needing to pin on my number on the run, I had to use the shoes I had worn from home: no time to change into Luna sandals as planned. I quickly - too quickly - passed a few others on the climb up Boar's Hill, and enjoyed the effort I felt I was making. I was conservative on the downhills, and one or two passed me again, but through Bayworth towards Lodge Hill (where John took the photo) I was turning out consistent though not very fast miles, between 8:30 and 9:00. I was also enjoying a meditative experience: my mind was even emptier than usual, and I was concentrating exclusively on my running, with nothing to distract me - does that look like good form in the picture? Working hard with my arms, listening to the rhythm of my breathing, hearing the gentle sound of my own footfalls, keeping tall, not bending from my waist, feeling the work my core was doing. The miles rolled by.

At about mile 4 there was the sound of a fast runner behind me, and PF came steaming past - either he was on a second lap, or had missed the start. A small group of us swapped places, then along the Abingdon ring road I caught Trish and another guy - passing him easily, but ending up alongside Trish for quite a distance, chatting about injuries, and together passing Cliff, until eventually, about mile 11, Trish came past for the last time and disappeared from view as my pace dipped towards 10 minutes per mile. But those miles passed almost unnoticed, especially during the faster first 9 miles - which I had a feeling were going to cause trouble for e later in the run.

Under 2 hours was a very satisfying time on which to end a disastrous running year. Plenty to aim for in 2013!