Fifty Weeks Running

John Self    Drakkar Press

Fifty Weeks Running is a sort of on-line diary reflecting on running (and other things) based on experiences of running around the region and elsewhere for thirty years, on and off.

A pdf version of Fifty Weeks Running was placed on-line in 2011 but is being replaced by this html version (which I will add to, chapter-by-chapter, when I have the time).

Note for late-comers to this document: It was created and put on the web, week-by-week, through 2011. As promised in ‘the run-up’, I resisted the temptation to go back and tamper with any of the weekly entries, except to correct slips.


old salt road   The Run-Up
  1.      Take Up the Running
  2.      Running Commentary
  3.      Hitting the Ground Running
  4.      Do a Runner
  5.      Running Like Clockwork
  6.      The School Run
  7.      Running Down the Clock
  8.      Run Amuck
  9.      Should Find A Running Banquet Ere They Rested
  10.    In the Long Run
  11.    Runner-Up
  12.    Run Short
  13.    Running It Fine
  14.    Sorry, I’ve Got To Run
  15.    Home Run
  16.    Out Run
  17.    Running Rife
  18.    Running Gear
  19.    On the Run
  20.    Can I Just Run Over That Again?
  21.    Running the Gauntlet
  22.    A Run For Your Money
  23.    It’s Running A Little Funny
  24.    Running Sore
  25.    Run the Good Race
  26.    Run For Your Life
  27.    Running Away From Home
  28.    Running Away From Home (continued)
  29.    Running Away From Home (continued)
  30.    Having A Clear Run At It
  31.    System Failure, Run Recovery
  32.    A Close-Run Thing
  33.    Drug Running
  34.    Running on Empty
  35.    Run To A Standstill
  36.    Running Sacred
  37.    Up and Running
  38.    Giving Me the Run Around
  39.    Runs in the Family
  40.    The Running of the Bulls
  41.    I’d Run a Mile
  42.    Run Across
  43.    Run to Seed
  44.    Run Aground
  45.    Running a Risk
  46.    Run Your Eyes Over These
  47.    Don’t Run Away With the Idea
  48.    Running Wild
  49.    Running a Book On
  50.    Running Out of Time

The Run-Up

Why? Why do we ask ‘Why?’? Arctic terns fly over 40,000 miles a year; the Dracunculus vulgaris plant smells of rotting flesh; North American cicadas have a life cycle of 13 or 17 years. But they do not ask ‘Why?’. We ask ‘Why?’ of them.
      We also ask ‘Why?’ of each other, if we come across some apparently strange behaviour: Why does he wear a bow-tie every day? Why does she sing arias while gardening? Why does he collect Bulgarian stamps? If we feel bold, we might even ask the person directly. Rather more puzzlingly, we also ask ‘Why?’ of ourselves. Why do I continue to support Norwich City Football Club, despite decades of little achievement (that is, the football club, not me)? You would think that, if someone did something of their own volition, they would know why they did so.
      Nobody asks me why I run every day (well, almost every day ... well, ok, some days). But I ask myself, in a subconscious way, every time I reach for the running shoes. After all, there must be a reason why, at my age (65), I reduce myself to sweaty exhaustion.
      I have read quite a bit about running but I have read very little that relates to the way that I feel about running. I may not know why I run but I don’t think that it is really for any of the reasons that I read about. Maybe my reasons will become clearer as a result of writing this diary. If so, they will only be my reasons. I have no idea if they’ll be anybody else’s.
      One thing that I do know about running is that no runners run all day, every day. Even for the most fanatical runner, running can occupy only a small fraction of a runner’s time. For the large majority of runners, their non-running activities are much more important than their running. The answer to my conundrum lies, perhaps, in the relationship between running and the rest of life. We shall see, perhaps.
      I plan to write a thousand words or so each week about my running, with no doubt a few detours and perhaps hiatuses along the way, as there are with my running. In the past I have always found it better to write an introduction such as this after I have written what needs to be introduced (I have a slightly better idea what it’s about by then). A draft introduction is useful as a guide but I expected to throw it away later. That won’t do for a diary. It is against the spirit of a diary to come back and change the entries later. So, whatever thoughts are expressed one week will stay expressed forever.
      To write at all one needs to have some image in mind of the potential reader. I don’t know who, if anyone, will actually read these words other than me, perhaps, in twenty years’ time. Perhaps they will be of interest to someone who runs or who thinks about running or, since running is a ‘metaphor for life’ according to some, to someone who lives or who thinks about living. That about covers it.

1.  Take Up the Running
January 8th 2011

A wise proverb tells us not to run before we can jog (or something like that). Muscles and joints that have been dormant for a while do not take kindly to sudden excessive exertion. Last summer, for example, I did some energetic wheel-barrowing for the first time for years and for a month afterwards my arms wouldn’t let me pick up a cup or turn a door handle without complaining.
      This problem gets worse over the years. In our younger days our bodies forgive us after a day or two but I have learned to treat mine gently nowadays. I don’t suddenly surprise it; I creep up on it carefully. I do very little at first, and then a tiny bit more, and then a bit more, and eventually, before the muscles have noticed, I have them performing prodigious feats of strength and endurance (I can but wish).
      So I have this week restrained my natural enthusiasm. Like everyone, I can’t wait to put my New Year’s resolutions into action but my commitment to get back to running needs to be delicately nurtured. In this first week of the year, I have run a steady 14 miles in four short runs (to the Waterworks Bridge, around the bridleway, up to the little bridge over Tarn Beck, and to the fishermen’s hut).

lune valley Right: Part of my running arena: Brookhouse, Caton, Halton and the Lune valley from Quarry Road. A standard short run is from Brookhouse to the Waterworks Bridge visible to the right. Quarry Road is the road up to the windmills, to which I usually run across fields rather than up the road (when I am fit enough).

      I don’t know what anyone reading this epistle will think of 14 miles, and so I probably need to put it into perspective. A couple of years ago I started running again after not running for a few years. Last year, for the first time, I kept a record of how much I ran. I am sure that you would like me to share it with you. According to my spreadsheet, which is a stickler for precision, I ran 813 miles in 6488 minutes on 167 days of the year. That is an average of 16 miles a week (or about 20 miles a week if you ignore those weeks when I didn’t run at all). You may think that is good or bad or, more likely, ‘so what?’. I am just reporting the fact so that you know where I am starting from.
      Over the Christmas period I didn’t run at all. It is a time for the family, not to run away from the family. Ruth and Martin and Pamela and partners, plus other relatives and friends, have a break from their commitments, so I should have a break from running. However, we are not entirely idle. Most days there is a walk of some sort, sometimes up a mountain.
      Knowing that I wouldn’t run for the two weeks around Christmas it seemed pointless to run for the two weeks before, especially as we had early snow and ice. Extrapolating this argument, I would never have run at all last year, but I did, as I have just said. Nevertheless, these first runs of January have been much like starting afresh.
      Even when, decades ago, I used to run ‘seriously’ (and I realise that I am going to have to say something about my serious running later, as it’s all part of the reason why I am trying to run now) I never ran much in December. It was always a struggle getting going again in January. And yet an enjoyable struggle, for the process of gradually getting fitter is more satisfying, in a way, than actually being fit.
      And so, I am on my way. I have put 14 miles on the clock. I will do my best to put on a few more during the year, and also to add more words to this diary. But if I should not run for a day or a week or a month, either through injury, illness or idleness, then so be it. That is what running is like for me nowadays.
      Re-starting running is not the same as starting running. The metaphysical question of why I continue to try to run is deeper than the question of why I started running. I have an answer to the latter question, if not the former (although, funnily enough, I suspect it is almost the opposite).
      In 1977 I took up a new job at Lancaster University, a green-field campus. Well, the campus was a green field until they built on it but it remained surrounded by fields that were still green. For months, I was perplexed about what staff did during the lunch period. There were eight bars on campus but nothing like a ‘senior common room’, which most universities have in order for staff to eat, drink and chat. The intention, perhaps, was to encourage staff and students to mingle. I didn’t see much mingling. Some staff brought sandwiches to eat in their offices, perhaps with colleagues. Others escaped to those green fields. They would grab their sports bag, walk to the gym, and be on the fields within a few minutes.
      I sometimes saw these strange people as I drove around the university - bronzed (or weather-beaten) Olympians pounding along the lanes, arms like pistons and with a glazed look in their eyes. I then noticed the seedy complexions of those with whom I was eating sandwiches. I became increasingly depressed by conversations invariably about the problems of life, the university, and everything. Gradually I developed the thought that I’d rather join those out in the sunshine (or rain or wind or snow, as the case may be).
      But not at first. I couldn’t expect to breeze into the gym along with proper athletes. It would be too embarrassing when they powered away. First, I thought, I should get my body used to running and, in the absence of any better idea, I decided to run home. Home was about seven miles away. I hadn’t done anything sporty since I gave up playing football about ten years before. But I didn’t lead an unhealthy life and the family and the job kept me active enough. I wasn’t in a hurry. Surely, I thought, anyone reasonably fit can jog a few miles. Well, they can, but, notwithstanding my comments about muscle recovery above, not if they want to run again in the following week.
      I took things more gradually. Eventually, I got into the habit of, at 1 o’clock, joining the exodus to the gym, and then running out, sometimes with others but more often alone, as I didn’t wish to detain them. By December 1978 I was prepared to be persuaded to join the Stepping Stones race, the annual staff versus students race of about three miles, a loop over the eponymous stepping stones. It was, thankfully, not an altogether serious affair, partly because the students always won. I came half-way, 26th out of 52.
      I began then, in 1978, to be accepted as a member of a running group. Today, however, I always run alone. While I would never have started running in 1978 without the group to join, today all my motivation, such as it is, comes from within. We’ll see where it leads me in 2011.

2.  Running Commentary
January 15th 2011

Last week I reflected on why I started running but I did not say anything about why I’ve started this diary. To be straightforward about it, it’s a direct result of reading two books on running that I was given last year - books written by Haruki Murakami1 [1] and Christopher McDougall [2].
      No doubt it was meant well. I imagine that it was thought that the books would inspire me in my efforts to run again. Unfortunately, I found almost nothing in them that corresponded to my own feelings about running, either now or as I remember them from long ago. This diary is an attempt to draw out those feelings so that I am better aware of them. I have no idea if they will be more typical of the ordinary runner than those of Murakami and McDougall.
      Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I could not relate to the evangelical obsession of the Japanese and American authors. There is, of course, a paradox here. Anyone who sets out to write about running is bound, you would think, to be somewhat obsessed by running.
      I fear that it will be difficult for me to convey, through my half-hearted commitment to write a thousand words or so a week about the topic, that I am only half-heartedly committed to running. It is quite likely that at times during the year I will lapse from one or both. That’s the way it is and should be. I am not a robot.
      Actually, the word ‘lapse’ that I just used is the wrong one. It implies some failure. It suggests that I have some duty to run and to write and that by not doing so I am being neglectful. That is part of what I am reacting against. When I run it’s because I want to, and when I don’t run it’s because I want not to. That’s all there is to it. Perhaps ‘half-hearted’ is the wrong word, too. Maybe ‘balanced’ or ‘realistic’ is better.
      Murakami’s book explores his thoughts about running, particularly concerning its parallels with his primary occupation, writing novels. He reflects on the role that running has played in his life, with thoughts on the deleterious effect of aging. He shows a long-term commitment to serious running, which is manifest in his determination over 23 years to run at least one marathon a year.
      McDougall develops his ideas about natural running through a search for a tribe with legendary long-distance running prowess that lives hidden in the Mexican canyons. The Tarahumara Indians run extraordinary distances without any of the advantages that modern society is supposed to provide runners. I appreciate that the book is classified as nonfiction but I found that I could only read it as a fantasy novel.
      Both books reach a narrative climax with an exceedingly long run, of 62 miles (100 kilometres) in Murakami’s case and 50 miles over rough country in McDougall’s case. They say that they took 11 hours 34 minutes and over 12 hours, respectively. I believe them. The important thing, as they make clear, is not the time, although they are proud to tell us it, but that they completed the course.

lakes in snow Left: Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man to the Langdale Pikes, across the Lune valley, from near the windmills.

      I do not know what will unfold in the following pages but I think I can safely guarantee that there will be no such climax. I have no targets in mind. Indeed, I think it would be foolish to set any, at my age. I will be content with whatever transpires. I expect that I will return to the thoughts of Murakami and McDougall (and possibly others) but in the meantime I am sure that you are agog to hear about this week’s running.
      The weather has turned mild (wet and windy) after a few very cold weeks but on Tuesday, in the interlude between the two, it was sunny and clear. I ran up the hill in order to see the snow-capped Lake District hills over the Lune valley, before the predicted rain came to wash the snow away. On crystal-clear days like this Black Combe, 30 miles away, seems very close across Morecambe Bay, with the peaks from Coniston Old Man to High Street arrayed to its right. A bonus was the sight, some eighty miles away, of the Isle of Man, which is visible from my hill (Caton Moor) on only a few days of the year.
      On Sunday I ran up to the windmills, in cloud, but on the other days I sheltered from the wind by running in the valley, giving me a total of 18 miles for the week. The natural world seems quiescent at the moment. Nothing much moves down by the river, apart from the flocks of greylag and barnacle geese that gather in the winter, the former in the fields and the latter by and in the river. Otherwise, it is as if nature took such a battering from the record low temperatures of December, with its snow and ice, that it is waiting to be sure that it is safe to venture out. This is no doubt wise, as the ‘real winter’ normally begins about now.
      I am not moving much myself either. My running is intended mainly to gently exercise the legs, to try to ensure that they don’t forget about the concept of running. I am trying not to stress the lungs and upset the breathing channels. I am running as slowly as I can manage. I hardly think of it as running really. It is a sort of down payment, necessary if there is to be any real running later. It is difficult to tell the difference between the beginnings of a muscle strain and the slight soreness that inevitably follows the first runs after a few weeks off running. When one is fit it is easier: any soreness is a strain and needs a rest. At the moment I am proceeding cautiously, expecting (or, at least, hoping) that the soreness will gradually disappear as the muscles toughen up.
      This may seem a rather hesitant start to the year’s running but it is not as hesitant as my starting this diary. I am fearful that the fates will consider themselves tempted and will contrive to limit or even curtail my running altogether, because of my audacity in thinking that I might be able to run and write about running for a whole year.

[1].  Murakami, Haruki (2008), What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, London: Harvill Secker.
[2].  McDougall, Christopher (2009), Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, New York: Random House.

3.  Hitting the Ground Running
January 22nd 2011

lune flood lune flood 2 Unfortunately, the weather has played its part in limiting my running. It rained all day Saturday and Sunday. The left photograph shows my riverside path to the Waterworks Bridge (the little island is normally on my path, with the river beyond it). The right photograph shows my path to the fishermen’s hut (this is normally a green field, with the river beyond the nearly submerged fence). I later discovered that the footbridge I (used to) cross to reach the hut has been washed away. I doubt that the Angling Club will be in hurry to replace it, as we are outside the fishing season. This is a pity, as the run up-river, now out of commission, is serenely peaceful in winter, when the frisky bullocks of summer are no longer there. I liked to run a little further up the river - to the hut, then to Claughton Beck, then to the River Wenning - as I became fitter.

According to McDougall (p9), “up to eight out of every ten runners are hurt every year”. I am led this week to reflect on that statement for two reasons.
      First, I have eased back a little in my running. I think it wise not to over-stress my calf muscles. This is not fate intervening, as I feared it might last week. Actually, I don’t think I believe in fate. Actions have outcomes, intended or otherwise, but I am sure that the action of writing this diary will not cause problems for my running, through the malign interference of some agent called fate. It was the action of running two days in a row on the road that my calves did not like. The fields were waterlogged but it would have been better to run there.
      I am wondering if I count as one of McDougall’s eight out of ten hurt runners. I wouldn’t say I’m ‘hurt’. I can still run: I managed 15 miles in the week. I am just not running as far or as fast as I would like. If I were in training for the Olympics marathon then it might be more of a concern. Would McDougall consider me ‘hurt’? He believes that running often leads to injuries and that this is mainly because of poorly designed running shoes. If true, this would be a serious matter for millions of runners and for the billion-dollar running shoe industry. We need therefore to know precisely what he means by his statement. He doesn’t say where he plucked his figure from, if not the air, as he gives no references. But it certainly raises many questions in my mind:
  *   If you stopped ten people in the street at random and asked them “Have you been hurt in the last year?”, how many would answer “yes”? That, after all, is all that McDougall is saying about runners.
  *   If his statement is true, is it so astonishing? How many footballers, for example, are hurt every year? If you take a squad of 25 players, as for Premiership teams, and assume that one of them gets hurt every week, in training or in matches, then, on average, 20 players will be hurt in a 40-week season, that is, 8 out of 10. That seems about right: most players miss one or more games through injury during the season.
  *   Isn’t being ‘hurt’ the likely outcome of the macho, masochistic running culture encouraged by many (including McDougall himself), in which, for example, to be a real runner you have to run for twelve hours up and down mountains? The ‘no pain, no gain’ motto is familiar to all runners. It forces those of us not wanting to be thought wimps to run until it hurts, because otherwise there will be no improvement. Of course, some effort is necessary. Soreness and discomfort are normal, but pain means that there is a problem. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell the difference.
  *   Why does he say “up to eight”? The figure is presumably less than eight. Two is less than eight but I assume he doesn’t mean two. Later (p170) he says “65% to 80% of runners are injured each year”, again, without references. So, let’s settle for 75%.
  *   Does this 75% apply to all kinds of runner? Is it true for: new runners who perhaps push themselves too hard?; for old runners who just run too much for their own good?; for long-distance runners?; for short-distance runners?; for great runners?; for ordinary runners?; for fast runners?; for slow runners?; for runners who run once a fortnight?; for runners who run twice a day?; for heavy runners?; for light runners?; for male runners?; for female runners? ...
  *   What does he mean by ‘hurt’? Ask any runner if he is fit and he will respond with a list of ailments, sprains and tweaks. This is because runners know that they are often teetering on the brink of their limits. They have to be on the lookout for potential problems (and it helps to have an excuse if running is not as successful as it is hoped). They know that the slightest problem with any part of the body can make running difficult. But they are not really hurt, by normal standards.
  *   If a runner says on one day in the year “I’m a bit stiff from yesterday’s run. I’ll give it a miss today” does that count as ‘hurt’? It sounds more like commonsense to me. If I feel a tweak one day, I’ll have a brisk walk, not run, the next. I don’t consider myself ‘hurt’ but McDougall probably would. But then he probably wouldn’t consider me a runner if I couldn’t put up with a tweak.
  *   Is there any evidence that those who ran a lot in the 1980s (like me) have more leg problems in old age than those who did not? McDougall says (p173) that “the impact on your legs from running can be up to twelve times your body weight”, implying that that cannot fail to do damage. Murakami (p127) says each footstep when you run is “a shock equivalent to three times your weight”. Which is it: twelve or three (perhaps it’s that “up to” again, in “up to twelve”)? Surely, if running were bad for your legs, there would be evidence of infirm elderly ex-runners by now.
      Without answers to all these questions, it is hard to judge the significance of McDougall’s ‘statistic’, although that hasn’t stopped those looking for a pathway to painless running from throwing away their running shoes.
      My second reason for reflecting on McDougall’s statement is that I noticed from last year’s records that on January 24th 2010 I began running again after a few weeks rest to allow a calf strain to recover - and that since that day I have not missed a day’s running because of a leg injury (although I have, of course, given the legs the more-than-occasional day off and I have found many other reasons not to run).
      Last year my three longest breaks from running (apart from a holiday) were (1) after I tripped over a tree root in Aughton Woods and tumbled heavily, hurting my arm, (2) after I fell off a ladder while pruning the Escallonia, hurting my back, and (3) after I slipped on ice, bruising my ribs. Would they count as ‘hurt’ by McDougall? I was certainly hurt - and I was running on two of those occasions, so does that make them running injuries?
      It is impossible to reach general conclusions from one’s personal experience or from anecdotes. For what it’s worth, I have, in over thirty years (on and off), missed only a few days of running because of leg injuries. I have missed fewer days from leg injuries than I have from other injuries and from minor illnesses (colds and coughs). Perhaps I have been lucky. At all events, tomorrow I will celebrate having my legs in running order for a year. I certainly do not take this for granted. I might injure them the day after, who knows?

4.  Do a Runner
January 29th 2011

There was a news item this week about a 73-year-old man who was aiming to run ten marathons in ten days. The report showed him setting off on a training run. My first reaction to his running style was that it lacked style and was hardly running. He shuffled along, feet barely leaving the ground, with no more forward momentum than if he were walking. My second reaction was to realise that this man, though older than me, was aiming to run distances far further than I could contemplate and that if I imagined that my own running style was more athletic than his then I was probably deluding myself.
      Perhaps I need to re-think what being a ‘runner’ means. Murakami and McDougall do not define what they mean by a runner. They just assume that they themselves are runners, on the basis, I suppose, that anyone who runs is, by definition, a runner. I expect that they would agree that anyone who writes is a writer.
      Murakami includes a discussion of the three most important factors in achieving success as a novelist and, by implication, as a runner or anything else. He identifies talent, focus and endurance. Talent is one’s innate ability at whatever it is. Being innate, there is not much one can do to improve it. Focus is the ability to concentrate on the activity, ignoring any distractions. Endurance is the ability to persevere over long periods.
      I have not read any of Murakami’s novels but many people have and he clearly has talent, focus and endurance as a novelist. What about as a runner? He describes himself as an ordinary or mediocre runner. To appreciate fully what Murakami and McDougall tell us about running we should have an idea what sorts of runner they are.
      Usain Bolt runs the 100 metres in 9.58 seconds [1]. Haile Gebrselassie runs the marathon in 2:04 (that is, 2 hours 4 minutes) [2]. Both are undeniably runners. Gebrselassie’s time works out at an average of 17.6 seconds per 100 metres. Or, to put it another way, when Bolt breasts the tape, Gebrselassie would be only 54 metres down the track. The difference, of course, is that while Bolt wheels away, arms aloft, in triumph, Gebrselassie would continue for another 42,141 metres at the same pace.
      Bolt is a sprinter, Gebrselassie is not. How fast would an adult male have to be to reasonably be called a sprinter? Say, ¾ as fast as Bolt? That is, 12.8 seconds for the 100 metres. Then if you run slower than that, you may run 100 metres but you are not really a sprinter.
      McDougall says (p221) that “there are two kinds of great runners: sprinters and marathoners”. So Gebrselassie, who is clearly a great runner, must be a marathoner, although I know he doesn’t just run marathons. Murakami and McDougall’s best times for the marathon are 3:30 and 3:48, respectively. When Gebrselassie reaches his 54 metres, they would be 32 and 29 metres down the track. Murakami and McDougall are not ¾ as fast as Gebrselassie. So, similarly, I don’t think that Murakami and McDougall can reasonably be described as marathoners just because they run marathons. Let’s not beat about the bush: they are too slow to be called marathoners. They have the focus and endurance but not the talent to be called a marathoner.
      That’s fine: after all, McDougall said that a marathoner was a great runner and Murakami considers himself only ordinary and McDougall is still slower. But am I missing the point? The crucial thing is perhaps not the speed at which the marathon is run but the distance (26.2 miles) that is covered. And Murakami and McDougall run even further than marathons. They are ‘ultra-runners’. Perhaps, by running further and further, if slower and slower, they will somehow become great runners in their own right.
      Do they have talent as ultra-runners? Their times for their 62 and 50 mile epics are about twice that of the world records for those distances (worse, then, proportionally, than their marathon times). At their ultra-running speed they would have covered 23 and 18 metres respectively in the time that Bolt has run 100 metres.
      It’s worth pausing to picture that. It’s hardly ‘running’ at all, is it? You could walk it! Roughly speaking, it’s like walking the length of a cricket pitch in 10 seconds. Or, for American readers, walking from the pitcher to the catcher on a baseball field in 10 seconds. That is not my idea of running at all. Just because you can keep plodding along for hour after hour doesn’t make it running, in my eyes. I can’t help feeling that the motion needs to have some zip to it to count as running.

icy lune Right: The fishermen’s hut by the Lune, with Whernside and Ingleborough some 15 miles beyond.

      My point is that Murakami and McDougall are ordinary runners who have done some extra-ordinary running. We, as readers, need to be aware that this influences what they talk about when they talk about running. As for the extra-ordinary running of our 73-year-old friend, I wish him well but whatever I am looking for from my running nowadays it is not to be able to shuffle through ten marathons in ten days.
      I’d much rather run for a few miles by the river. The photograph to the right was taken in December, when the Lune iced over, but this week it has been more benign, dry with sunny spells - sufficiently so, in fact, to lure hundreds of lapwing, curlew and oystercatcher back to flock on the Lune floodplain. These are their first forays of the year as they contemplate their spring migration up the valley to their breeding grounds. The return of the curlew is particularly welcome as the first (perhaps premature) sign that the cold, dark days of winter are over.
      The birds are back but they are strangely quiet. The lapwings fly in dignified ‘clouds’ with none of the erratic diving and turning that characterises their summer displays. The curlews, too, are all but silent, without their distinctive bubbling call so redolent of the high moors in summer.
      I have found a way to run up-river despite the footbridge having been washed away. I run in-land, a little off the public footpath but close enough, I hope, because this is my favourite winter run. On Thursday, for the first time since last March, I ran to Claughton Beck and back, as part of my 24 miles for the week.
      The path by the river is far from any road. Walkers are so rare that the bullocks get over-excited if they see one (even more so, a runner). Thankfully, the bullocks are in the sheds over winter. There is little sound except for the birds, muted as they are. As I run up-river, I have wide views of Whernside and Ingleborough beyond Hornby Castle, with the Caton Moor windmills high on my right. Turning back, I am always impressed by how far I’ve run, when I see Brookhouse far distant on the southern slopes. I am even more impressed if I am able to run back.

[1].  I apologise for all the numbers in this text. Running tends to be about numbers but less so than, say, cricket or baseball.
[2].  Hours and minutes and seconds are separated with a : and . is a decimal point as usual. So 2:04:9.58 means 2 hours 4 minutes 9.58 seconds. 2:04 means 2 hours 4 minutes or 2 minutes 4 seconds depending on the context.

5.  Running Like Clockwork
February 5th 2011

Re-reading last week’s words I realise that I must come out and admit it: I am, or rather was, quite good at running and that is part of the reason that I keep doing it. I hope that doesn’t sound boastful. Whatever talent we have at anything - and ‘quite good’ is nothing special - is given to us. It is something to be grateful for but not proud of.
      It is a weakness of mine that I prefer to do things for which I have a modest competence. This has limited my life experiences considerably. I would rather stay in what is nowadays called the comfort zone rather than make a fool of myself by attempting new activities for which I expect that I have little talent. There is an enormous list of activities that I could embarrass myself at: hang-gliding, camel-racing, playing the flute, yodelling, learning Yiddish, spitting prune stones into cups (I knew someone who was dead good at that: you’d be sitting quietly eating your pudding and, plop, something dropped into your coffee cup from somewhere), ...
      Most people would, in my position, have long ago accepted that they had gained all that they would ever gain from running and would have moved on to explore new experiences. They would say that life is too short to keep on repeating the same old things. Certainly, there are no more ‘personal bests’ (PBs), beloved of runners, to be had at the age of 65. There are, however, PBs aplenty if I were to try completely new activities. I could, for example, time how long it takes me to spit 100 prune stones into a cup.
      But, forgetting all about PBs, I do gain satisfaction from running well, relative to my age, of course. There is, for example, a physical exhilaration to be gained from running at speed down the fields from the windmills. I am just beginning to feel, after a month or so of tentative struggle, that I can push the body on, and, yes, I am sure that the sense of competence does add to my physical and mental well-being.
      My body is better designed for running than it is for, say, weight-lifting or basketball. I am 5 feet 8 (1.73 metres) and 140 pounds (63.5 kilograms). McDougall is 6 feet 4 (1.93 metres) and 230 pounds (104.3 kilograms). I don’t know about Murakami. Running comes relatively naturally to me, although, of course, as I get older, the smoothness of my running has gradually disappeared.
      Nonetheless, the memory of it, and the hope that a vestige of it may return, is part of the reason that I continue to try to run. I run because I enjoy running - that is, the process of running. That may seem self-evident but many people say that they run in order to lose weight, to raise money for charity, to have time to escape from life’s problems, and so on. These, to me, are indirect, secondary benefits. To those for whom they are the main reason, running must seem like a medicine to take for the good it will do.
      Whenever I start trying to run again, as I did on January 1st, I reach a stage, usually after about three weeks, when I begin to doubt that I will ever run comfortably again. I begin to fear that my body is a clapped-out engine that, however tenderly I treat it, just cannot manage any more. The legs seem uncoordinated, the lungs are afire, breathing is laboured, energy is lacking. But I feel that I have, for one more time at least, crossed this threshold. It no longer seems inconceivable that I will run smoothly again.
      As I get fitter, I can extend my range to places that I haven’t run to for a while. It’s like seeing old friends. On Sunday I ran up to the Caton Moor trig point, for the first time since last June. In fact, it was the first time for six months that I have run for an hour, and, a little to my surprise, I felt quite comfortable. It was silent on the moor. No birds were to be seen, but I don’t blame them: it was very cold up there.

near windmills Left: The track down from the Caton Moor trig point past the windmills. (It is supposed to be a bridleway but I have never seen a horse here. I have never seen a runner either, but there is the occasional walker to spoil my solitude.)

      The run up to the trig point is the most straightforward of all my runs. From my doorstep it is uphill every step of the way, apart from two small dips, for an ascent of a bit over 300 metres (1000 feet), and then back down again. It is satisfying to take the challenge head-on and run up non-stop: it gives a sense of mastery over my local hill. I do think of it as ‘my’ hill, as I have, in over 30 years of running there, never seen anyone at my trig point, apart from the one day of the year when they run up from the other side of the moor for the Wray Gala race. I do think of it as ‘my’ trig point, too. Some years ago, the Ordnance Survey said that, as they didn’t need their trig points anymore, volunteers could look after them. I bid for the Caton Moor one. I never heard back from the Ordnance Survey. If anyone is looking after it now, they are not doing a good job: I will have to take a paint pot and brush next time I run up.
      Another reason for running there is that I might soon not be allowed to. There are proposals to cover the moor with a further 13 or 20 wind turbines, to supplement the 8 already there. If approved, the turbines will effectively eliminate the main virtue that Caton Moor has - the view it affords of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District peaks.
      I said last week that I thought that to count as running the motion needs to have some zip, a technical term which I carefully didn’t define. If anyone were to say that my current plod hardly has zip then I wouldn’t argue too much. But I like to think that I run at a respectable speed for a pensioner. My average speed last year was about 8 minutes per mile, which is roughly the speed at which Murakami and McDougall ran their fastest marathons (but, of course, I am not running marathons!).
      To tell the truth, I am bemused by those runners, like Murakami and McDougall, who invest so much time and effort on an activity for which they have little natural aptitude and for whom running must always be a struggle rather than a pleasing physical endeavour. I could understand it if, similar to me nowadays, they just went for the occasional jog around the park, to keep generally fit, but they chug along for hour after hour, day after day, month after month, as you must to run marathons and beyond.
      Does it happen to the same degree with other activities? Are there people who swim, or skate, or trampoline, for 12 hours at a time without being particularly good at it? Is there perverse pleasure to be gained in persevering to extreme lengths despite some inadequacy? Do we actually admire those who persist in the face of adversity more than those for whom it comes easily? Do slow but persistent runners revel in the respect gained from good runners? McDougall reports the following exchange with Scott Jurek, one of the world’s best ultra-runners, after his 50-mile race:
    “You were amazing” Scott said.
    “Yeah,” I said. “Amazingly slow”.
    “That’s what I’m saying,” Scott insisted. “I’ve been there, man ... It takes more guts than going fast”.
This, remember, is McDougall writing about himself. He is saying that a supreme ultra-runner, a man who has run over 165 miles in 24 hours, thinks that he (McDougall) is ‘amazing’ and has more guts than he (Jurek) has. I am not amazed that McDougall can run 50 miles in 12 hours but I am amazed that he should want to. I hope now that you will excuse my apparent boastfulness above. It is, it seems, much more commendable to run far and slow than it is to run well.

6.  The School Run
February 12th 2011

In the spirit of candour that has infiltrated these pages I now confess that I was a little disingenuous in my first diary entry. I did not start running in 1978. I had, like most people, run at school and had, unlike most people, enjoyed it. I am sure that the memory of those school-days was part of the reason I took running up (again) in 1978 rather than, say, swimming, of which the only school-day memory I have is of being pushed into the water to test the ‘sink or swim’ theory. I sank.
      Murakami says that running suits his personality because he doesn’t enjoy team sports and is not competitive. Neither applied to me at school. I don’t believe one’s personality fundamentally changes through life, although one’s physical state, environment and social context certainly do. If I am now more individualistic and less competitive, as my running indicates, it is not, I believe, because my personality has changed. If it has then running has been a cause rather than a consequence.
      At school I preferred football to athletics. Football is, of course, a team game. Any personal success or failure is secondary to that of the team. It is impossible to win anything at football unless the team does so. I realised in the first year at grammar school that there were several footballers more talented than me. As a result, I was only on the fringes of the school team. But talent is not always a blessing. Football came too easily to some boys. Often, they did not apply their individual abilities to the best advantage of the team, to the frustration of the teachers in charge. Consequently, over the years, they faded from football. In the end, I played four full years in the school first team and became captain. I learned that, as Murakami would put it, focus and endurance can compensate for a relative lack of talent.
      I would have played football all year if it were possible but the summer term was for cricket. I saw little point in standing in a field all afternoon so, along with a handful of others, opted for athletics, that is, running, in my case. I don’t recall any coaching. We were just left to run around the track as we wished. We couldn’t run all afternoon so we developed a form of interval training, with rather more intervals than training, I suspect.
      The training, such as it was, was more than the cricketers got and when the school sports day came around I was comparatively fit. I usually won one or more of the 440 yards, 880 yards and 1 mile, which were regarded as long-distance races for us. I was excessively competitive, to the mystification, I expect, of most boys. I am sure my head-to-head battle with Whitehouse up the home straight in the 1960 440 yards is talked about to this day. It ranks alongside the Coe-Ovett tussles in the Olympics. I was judged to have come second, by the way. I still hope that a photograph will turn up to prove the judges wrong.

young lad Right: Some young fellow winning some race in about 1960.

      According to the Athletics Association the athletics year started in June, whereas the school year started in September. This meant that I, being born in July, was racing against boys most of whom were in the school year below me. One year I adopted a strategy intended to emphasise my literally superior class. In the longer races, I sprinted off from the gun, leaving the others all far behind (the conventional thing was to jog round until the last bend and then sprint for the tape). Sometimes I ran the first lap of the 880 yards faster than the 440 yards winning time. After the first lap, I just hung on as best I could. It always worked: the others just ignored me and had a race between themselves.
      I never set any school records. My best time for the 880 yards was a shade over 2 minutes. At that time, the world record was about 1:45. So, 2 minutes was quite nippy. Enough to enable me to run for Norfolk a couple of times but then Norfolk is not renowned for its athletes.
      Athletics is not a team game. There may be an ‘athletics team’ and one may be inspired by a team-mate’s performance but ultimately individuals compete as individuals. Success or failure is largely down to the individual. It wasn’t because I am inherently self-centred that I enjoyed running. I appreciated the contrast with football. I felt the two sports complemented one another. In one it is essential to cultivate the team ethic; in the other it is individual determination that counts.

bridleway Left: The bridleway up to the little bridge and the windmills.

      I mention these school-day experiences not because I wallow in the half-century-ago past but because I realise now that they colour my attitude to running today. It is not something that I have ever talked about. Now that I think about it, I can recall some of those summer running activities. I used to run a lap of the track in, say, 75 seconds, then jog a lap and then see how many times I could repeat it. Nobody told me to do it; nobody cared that I did it. It was entirely a personal challenge. I just wanted to see what my body could manage.
      Even now, I have something of that attitude. I know that, if I’m reasonably fit, I can run from the windmills by the bridleway down to the road in 14 minutes. Sometimes, I try to run it faster, again, simply as a personal challenge. I do feel a little self-conscious, but there is never anyone on the bridleway to see me puffing along.
      Running is part of who I am and I am reluctant to lose it, as we inevitably lose so much of ourselves as we get older. I wouldn’t be trying to run now if I hadn’t run in the 1980s; and I probably wouldn’t have run in the 1980s if I hadn’t run in the 1960s. I run now because I can and because I am reasonably good at it (or was). I don’t run because my personality prefers non-competitive, non-team sports. If it were possible, I’d rather play football but I haven’t found a team with a vacancy for a 65-year-old midfield general who mainly gesticulates from the centre circle.
      Perhaps that’s it: running is for those who are not able to do anything else while running.
      Now, in case you are wondering why I’ve said nothing about this week’s running, that’s because I haven’t done any. We’ve had some wild, wet and windy weather that demanded more commitment and determination to run than I have. In any case, I have some sort of bug. A fast pulse, runny nose, aching legs, and generally feeling rough has removed all thought of running. This is a pity as my running this year had, up to this point, gone swimmingly (if that’s possible). It would have followed my schedule, if I dared to have one, for I had not missed a single run through lethargy, as happened many times last year. I was looking forward to getting fitter. One cannot, however, defy the body.

7.  Running Down the Clock
February 19th 2011

The English language does not have a tense suitable for writing about my running. It would be an amalgamation of the past continuous, the present imperfect, and the future implausible. When I write “I am” it often seems necessary to add an “(or was)”. What was so, is no longer so, and may never become so again, but I don’t want to concede this by writing “I was”. Of course, I am not trying to return to the past. I am, however, hoping that whatever I can regain of the running experience will help me to provide a perspective on the nature of running from a vantage point of antiquity.
      This thought was brought into sharp focus this week when I was pleased to pass 100 miles for the year, that is, in the first seven weeks of the year. Once upon a time I ran 100 miles in a week. To be precise, twice upon a time.
      It is odd how we runners go on about our mileages. Murakami, for example, considers 36 miles a week to be his standard for ‘serious running’ but there is no mention of speed. As in so many cases, length isn’t everything - it’s the quality that counts. 36 miles at 6 minutes per mile is very different to 36 miles at 10 minutes per mile. 36 miles up and down hills is very different to 36 miles around a running track.
      Runners’ handbooks always advise runners to keep a detailed log of their running. The idea (or hope) is that runners can analyse their logs to determine reasons for their success or failure and so adapt their training. Until last year, I never bothered, even when I was running with commitment. I guess it seemed too obsessional to me. Perhaps if we had spreadsheets in those days I would have done so, as it is mildly motivating to see the mileage total mount up.
      However, I do have records in an old notebook of my training runs in the three months before the second, third and fourth marathons that I ran. I must have wanted to ensure that I maintained the required mileages in those build-up periods. The records are too brief to count as a log. There are only five words written - “windy”, “snow” and “ice cream bug” - as explanations of missing runs. The last was for three days missed because of eating contaminated ice cream. It smelt vile, through meat leaking into it. We all, except Pamela, who took one sniff and refused it, were very ill.
      A typical entry, for 30 years ago today, is “9/58”, meaning 9 miles in 58 minutes. Of course, I have no idea now where the 9 miles were and whether it was a hard, easy, good or bad run. At least, I can sit here now and read with some incredulity how much I ran in those three sets of 13 weeks. Before my second marathon it was: 49, 54, 57, 50, 54, 45, 66, 70, 58, 74, 79, 47 and 40 miles (an average of 57 miles a week). And I didn’t just accumulate the miles - I went at a fair speed, an average of about 6:30 per mile. Of course, this is still puny by the standards of top marathon runners like Haile Gebrselassie, who run at least twice as far each week and much faster.
      For my third marathon I ran somewhat further in those 13 weeks: an average of 63 miles a week, also at 6:30 per mile. And yet further for the fourth marathon: 63, 66, 75, 76, 79, 52, 80, 100, 72, 75, 64, 72, 46 miles (an average of 71 miles a week). I ran the 100 miles just to see what it was like. I sense that my enthusiasm for keeping a record was waning at this stage, as the entries become even briefer, with the minutes missing.
      Now, they are just numbers on the page. It is hard to remember exactly what running 60 or 70 miles a week for month after month was like. I know it wasn’t easy. I recall that I used to say that I woke up tired and went to bed tireder. And that’s it. I kept no record of my later running, until last year. I suppose I saw no point in it.
      Nowadays, I run, if I’m lucky, about a third as far as in those distant days, and much slower. My spreadsheet tells me that since I started keeping the log in January 2010 the most that I have run in any week is 35 miles, which is proof that I am not up to Murakami’s standard of serious running.

hut lawson's wood Left: The River Lune and fishermen’s hut (a different hut to that shown in week 4), below Lawson’s Wood. Ingleborough is in the distance. This hut is 400 yards upstream of the Waterworks Bridge. I ran here after the heavy rain of a few weeks ago, when the river was full to the brim and lapping over the green fields, which was a scary experience. It is near here that Ruth has seen one of the otters that have recently returned to the Lune. I haven’t seen one yet: they can hear my wheezing a mile off.

      It is easy to see why runners get fixated on their mileages. They are something concrete to focus on. They give a measure of progress and provide a challenge to improve. But it’s like keeping a log of how long you spend gardening: it rather misses the point. From now on, I’ll stop trying to squeeze a mention of mileages into this text unless there is a good reason to do so (but, just in case any reader should feel bereft, I’ll tuck the mileages, for the week and the year, unobtrusively at the bottom left of these pages). There is, in any case, something irrational about focussing on mileages rather than minuteages. It is the minuteage that is the more precise measure, unless you use a GPS device, which is an unnecessary extravagance for me.
      A couple of weeks ago I said that I ran up to the Caton Moor trig point and back in an hour. I don’t know the mileage precisely. It is irrelevant, really. The route is an idiosyncratic one, up and down the hill, wiggling about on road, track, grassy field and rough moor. I can estimate the effective distance better by the time it takes me to run it than by what the map says. In fact, I know my runs better by the times they usually take me rather than whatever distances they might be. I select a run on the basis of how much time I want to run, not on how far.
      This week, mileage has been the least of my concerns. It is tempting, as the body begins to recover from illness, to set out to make up for lost time but, after an eight-day layoff, much of what fitness I had has evaporated. I still feel too feeble to contemplate anything like a run up to the trig point. I don’t have the energy for any hills at all, and have therefore just run along the riverside or the old railway line, which have the welcome virtue of being flat.
      I’ve settled for regularity rather than boldness. I’ve run every day since Sunday, but slowly and not far. I consider the runs, such as they are, to be part of my rehabilitation programme. I want my body to expect to run every day (before my bug, my running had been rather irregular and the body had always seemed to take offence when asked to run).
      While I’ve not been paying attention, nature has moved on a little. The dawn chorus has begun. The daffodils have shot up. The afternoons are brighter longer, enabling a run after tea-time. But it is still quiet by the river. The flocks of a few weeks ago seem to have been blown away by the gales of last week. Everything, including me, is in a state of uncertainty, unsure whether the winter is in the past or the present.

8.  Run Amuck
February 26th 2011

Focus and endurance are not enough. They only apply once an activity is underway. Something more is needed to get started. For runners perhaps this is the attribute of defiance, a sort of bloody-mindedness that relishes overcoming whatever challenges there may be. Or maybe it’s a lack of imagination, an inability to perceive that the challenges should be postponed for a while.
      I used to run with a runner who always accelerated when he came to a small hill. He seemed to take the hill as a personal affront: “this hill thinks it’s going to slow me down - well, I’ll show it”. McDougall seemed determined to defy the advice that his body wasn’t suited to running. My attempts at running today may be interpreted as trying to defy the effects of aging.
      Similarly with the weather. Sensible people regard bad weather as an excuse to stay indoors. Keen runners almost welcome bad weather. They defy it: “rain as hard as you like, be as cold as you like, but you won’t stop me - in fact, I’ll enjoy it even more”. Running, after all, is one of the few outdoor activities that need not be stopped by bad weather. Extreme weather adds a frisson to the challenge. There was always an extra buzz in the university gym when we gathered to run in a storm outside.
      This attitude begins, I think, with cross-country runs at school. The large majority of people do not enjoy such runs but I rather liked the paradoxical foolhardiness of cross-country running. Cross-country is what you do when the sports pitches are unusable because of the weather (at least, it was at my school). The worse the conditions, the more cross-country made sense. The games teachers seemed to think so because they took pleasure in making us run unnecessarily through muddy ditches and over hedges, when a convenient gate was often available.
      My very first competitive runs were not on the school athletics track but at cross-country. It was from the cross-country runs that I first realised that I had some ability at running. When the first-year cross-country race was to take place we all trekked out to the starting place and I eagerly positioned myself at the front. It turned out to be the back, for the race set off in the opposite direction. I had to weave my way through the majority of boys who were walking and jogging, with no enthusiasm for the race.
      By the time the finishing line came in sight I was fourth. A teacher urged me on: “He’s tiring, you can catch him”. The boy ahead did indeed seem to be tiring, with his head lolling from side to side. So, with a ferocious sprint, I managed to pip him to take third place. I overheard some spectators wondering why it mattered so much. I recall thinking that it was because I knew that the names of the first three boys were read out at the next morning’s assembly. All that effort for a little bit of fame! Motivation does not always have a commendable derivation.
      In the eight school cross-country races that I ran I always came 2nd, 3rd or 4th. I never won - but it was good enough to make me a regular in the school cross-country team. Every year we would travel to somewhere in Norfolk to race against the other Norfolk schools. It seemed to be a tradition in these races for the runners to run astray. Only the local runners knew the course and if they weren’t in the lead nobody knew where to go. Once, I recall, we ran around the Great Yarmouth horse-racing course and along the beach. I’m not sure if we were supposed to: it certainly didn’t seem much like a cross-country race. Somewhat miraculously, the runners usually finished up where they should, but not necessarily in the right order (as Eric Morecambe once said).

lune flood Right: The Lune floodplain, flooded, as is its wont.

      There was an element of this mayhem in the University Stepping Stones race. We all knew the course but the weather conditions were usually bad in December. In 1980 the stepping stones were far under water and a safety rope across the river was provided. Even so, I was washed away. It is not often that part of a race is run under water. That year I was 6th - but all the sensible runners did not run.
      I did run in one adult cross-country race, in some kind of Lancashire league competition, in about 1981 but, frankly, I thought it too foolish. It is one thing to splash about in mud when you’re young and told to but for grown men (and women) voluntarily to submit themselves to this indignity was incomprehensible to me. Apart from that, it is mainly the really good cross-country runners who continue into adulthood and I finished much too far back in the field for my liking.
      Nowadays I have become a little soft. I rarely run in bad weather, because, being retired, I can just wait until it passes and run then. It doesn’t rain all day very often. In the 1980s, when running had to be fitted in when it could, I ran whatever the weather. I do sometimes come back from my runs covered in mud, from running about on the boggy moors or on the flooded floodplain, but that is my choice. That makes all the difference.
      This is the hardest time of the year to run. In the cold, dark days of winter, runners don’t complain about the conditions. They are what you expect in winter. But now, as we approach March, we begin to think that we deserve some reward. We want the sun to warm us up a little on our runs. We want to discard some of the layers of winter clothing. We want running to become a more rational activity.
      But no, the cold winds continue to blow, the rain falls, and the cloud stays low on the hills. As a result, the fields stay waterlogged. The only comfortable run is along the sheltered railway line and back. But who wants comfort? If I wanted comfort, I could stay in bed or sit reading the paper or watching day-time television. Well, maybe, perhaps, just today, I could ... Runners like to imagine that they are engaged in a perpetual battle between the attractions of idleness and the compulsion to run. Sometimes they feel virtuous in repulsing the attractions; sometimes their free will triumphs over the compulsion.
      However, idleness is not the only alternative to running. I have many other, more or less useful, ways to pass my time. But none is really an alternative to my running. I am never so busy that I cannot find the time to run. The question is simple: do I want to run or not? Usually, I do. Even this week, I have continued to put on the wet running shoes and the mud-spattered gear, to get out onto the fields again, defying these unappealing conditions.
      On Sunday I ran up the moor to the windmills. The cold wind blew hard against me. The low cloud prevented me seeing the fresh snow on Ward’s Stone, the highest point (561 metres) of the Forest of Bowland. The bogs almost sucked my shoes off. But I am sure that I was the only person to defeat the moor that day.
      To my general breathlessness and tiredness, I have added stiffness of the thighs and shoulders, as a result of carrying skis up and down Raise, near Helvellyn, on Tuesday. This was so that Ruth could ski there for the first, and probably last, time this season (I have no wish to ski myself). Consequently, since Tuesday I have only been able to plod along the riverside. I’ve had it to myself because the fields are too muddy for all but the keenest walkers and, of course, there are no runners other than me.
      I don’t think that ‘run’ is the right word for my motion. There is a lot of slipping and sloshing about. I feel like a toddler splashing in the puddles. I really must try to grow up.

9.  Should Find A Running Banquet Ere They Rested [1]
March 5th 2011

Maybe the answer lies in spinach - the question being “Where can I get more energy from?” Popeye used to swallow the contents of a can of spinach and his muscles were bulging instantly. At least, his arm muscles were. I can’t picture his leg muscles but surely they must have been bulging too.
      I am struggling with my running at the moment. I am doing my best, I swear. It is not that I am so overcome with ennui that I cannot be bothered to run. I run, or try to, most days, but I have little energy. I am so listless that I am wondering if I will ever have any list again. I am in that state I mentioned in Week 5, of doubting that my body will be able to run comfortably again. My running seems laboured and ungainly. So much for the ‘zip’ I boasted about a few weeks ago. I also said then that I enjoyed the process of running. That was then: I am getting little enjoyment from running as badly as I am at the moment.
      If I didn’t know that I’d run up to the trig point just a few weeks ago then I’d scarcely believe such a thing were possible. When I reach any sort of slope now I can hardly keep moving. I am therefore avoiding slopes and continuing to jog along the railway line and river bank, which, through repetition, is getting a little uninspiring, picturesque though it may be.

lune at crook Right: The River Lune from the old railway line at the Crook o’ Lune.

      Perhaps I will have to accept that my body needs a nap, not a half-hour run, in the afternoon. No, no, not yet. I will persevere. I am just temporarily (I hope) run-down from my illness of a couple of weeks ago. I just need a little pick-me-up. Now, where’s that spinach? I don’t mean that spinach itself is the answer. That would be silly. Popeye was only a cartoon character. I mean that perhaps if I had a better diet then I would have more energy. Let’s see what the greatest athletes eat.
      Perhaps the Tarahumaras, the “greatest runners of all time” (McDougall, p4), can teach me something about diet. McDougall reports the case of an exhausted explorer who was handed “a gourd full of murky liquid. He swallowed a few gulps, and was amazed to feel new energy pulsing through his veins. He got to his feet and scaled the peak like an overcaffeinated Sherpa”. Sounds just like Popeye and his spinach. They also have a “special energy food ... a few mouthfuls of which packed enough nutritional punch to let them run all day without rest”.
      I don’t know if the “murky liquid” is the same thing as lechuguilla (McDougall, p15). This is a homemade tequila made from cactus sap and rattlesnake corpses. After partying on lechuguilla all night, the Tarahumaras could run as far as 435 miles. Why they needed to run 435 miles I have no idea. That would take them way out of their canyon, as far as the United States border and back. (Would live rattlesnakes provide even more oomph?)
      I have ordered fifty crates of lechuguilla. I am looking forward to partying all Friday night and then spending the weekends running to places like Cardiff, Middlesborough and Dundee and back. I don’t need to go to Cardiff, Middlesborough or Dundee but I will save a fortune in rail fares or petrol by running there.
      Perhaps the “murky liquid” is iskiate, which is described as a “gooey slime” (McDougall, p43). McDougall tried this and “within minutes, [he] felt fantastic ... the low-throbbing headache [he]’d had all morning ... had vanished”. He doesn’t say that he dashed up any peaks though.
      Iskiate is made by dissolving chia seeds in water with sugar and lime. According to McDougall, “you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease”. Well, who isn’t? I’ve ordered fifty boxes of chia, too. With McDougall’s assurance that “Aztec runners used to chomp chia seeds as they went into battle”, I should be well equipped to take on my trig point again.
      The Tarahumaras must eat more than chia, so I have searched McDougall’s book from cover to cover to see what else is in their diet. All I could find was that they live on “little more than ground corn spiced up by their favourite delicacy, barbecued mouse”. I don’t need to order these because I can buy corn locally and I can catch mice in the garden. I wonder how many mice I’ll need to make a meal. Do you think it would be ok if I topped them up with the occasional shrew, vole or mole?
      On reflection, perhaps I shouldn’t believe everything I read. It is said that the creator of Popeye had him eating spinach because he thought that spinach had ten times more iron than it actually did (through an academic misplacing a decimal point in some paper). As a result, generations of United States children were given extra spinach to eat. This is often held up as an example of how faulty policy decisions can be made if data is not carefully checked.
      Actually, although the misplaced decimal point story is often told, no paper about spinach and iron has ever been found with a misplaced decimal point. The story was made up, apparently. So those writers who continue to repeat it (and many do, as a Google search will show) are themselves guilty of not carefully checking their data. Anyway, we all know that Popeye wasn’t eating spinach for the iron. It was the vitamins he was after: “Spinach is full of vitamin A an’ tha’s what makes hoomans strong an’ helty” (Popeye, July 3rd 1932).
      Anybody want any lechuguilla or chia?
      Do you know that Alan Sherman ditty “Hello muddah, hello fadduh” to the tune of Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours? In it, a boy writes home to his parents describing the woes of summer camp - rain, poison ivy, ptomaine poisoning, alligators, malaria, bears. And then the sun comes out and he ends “... that’s better ... kindly disregard this letter”.
      I feel like that boy. The sun is shining at last. There is a touch of green on the hedges. The first lambs are in the fields. A few daffodils are out. One or two skylarks are singing. Some of the curlews are curlewing. Yes, that’s better. There is a touch of spring in the air - but sadly not in my step.
lune from wenning

The River Lune near where the River Wenning joins (I usually run along the left bank)

[1].  Shakespeare, William, Henry VIII, Act 1, Scene 4.

10.  In the Long Run
March 12th 2011

gate Right: My run up [1] to the windmills this week was halted at this gate when I saw four hares running around in the field beyond. In Britain the hare has declined more than any other mammal except the water vole but they seem content enough on Caton Moor. I stopped and watched them for several minutes. Of all the animals that I see on my runs, I feel the most affinity with the hare (if I may so presume). The others run, but usually in alarm; hares seem to run just because they want to.
      These four ran around the moor aimlessly, sometimes alone, sometimes together, occasionally pausing to box one another’s ears. They weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere particular. They just liked to run. And it all seemed so effortless, loping in graceful loops up and down the hummocks on the moor. Just like me, or so I imagine, although I don’t have any co-runners to box the ears of. Incidentally, it used to be assumed that the boxing was an inter-male challenge but it is now thought to be initiated by female hares rebuffing the males’ advances. I will leave you to work out any analogy to human behaviour.
      I left the hares to it and ran off in another direction.

Runners cannot stand still. They must always be on the lookout for the latest advances that might add that all-important edge to their running. New running shoe technologies, dietary supplements, psychological techniques, medical treatments, and so on, must all be thoroughly investigated or the runner risks being left behind.
      I have found fresh inspiration this week from news of the first robot marathon. The race in Osaka was won by Robovie-PC in a time of nearly 55 hours. So, Robovie-PC ‘runs’ about 2 metres in the time that Usain Bolt runs 100 metres. Of course, these are only the first steps. We need to extrapolate from this performance to foresee the implications for human running.
      The race rules insisted that robots must get up themselves after a fall. Quite right, too: human racers aren’t supposed to be helped if they collapse. Support teams could, however, replace robot batteries when they ran low. This is an excellent innovation. The rules for human races do not prohibit the carrying out of surgical operations during a race. This, I am sure, is the future. If I could replace my battery - and other failing body components - I might be able to complete another marathon after all, although there may not be much of the real me left by the end.
      I needed no such assistance during my first marathon. Before it, I had, after two years of running around the lanes near the university, been cajoled into taking part in a road-race. This was a momentous, life-changing step. To pin a number on one’s vest and compete on the public streets was a statement of commitment that I was not sure that I wanted to make. All road-racers then were serious: the concept of a ‘fun-runner’ was then unknown in Britain.
      Road-races were organised by local athletic clubs and contested by intense runners. My first road-race was the Windermere-to-Kendal 10-mile in March 1980. I thought that would at least provide a good day out for the family. I came 127th out of 335 in 58 minutes. Fourth was a 19-year-old Steve Cram who, five years later, was to break the 1500 metres world record.

lune at crook Left: The end of the 1980 Preston-to-Morecambe Marathon. The lady with the bag was disqualified for not running the whole course.

      My modest performance in the Windermere-to-Kendal race was enough for me to enter the local marathon, the Preston-to-Morecambe, to be held in July. No messing about, then. It is often said, mainly to alarm virgin marathon runners, that at the 20-mile point of a marathon you are only halfway, because of all the calamities that are likely to occur after that point. So, on that basis, a marathon was four times further than I’d raced before. The course was from Preston, north along the A6, through the centre of Lancaster, and on the B5321 to Morecambe. That route could not possibly be a ‘fun run’. I am sure that the police would not allow it today. They more or less ignored it then.
      It was, of course, a daunting prospect and I had little idea how to prepare for it, other than to run as much as I could. I thought that I should at least join the local club. When I rang the secretary to join and mentioned that I’d entered the marathon he wondered if that was wise, which was hardly encouraging. I reassured him by saying that I was ‘running with’ two long-standing members, Tony and Mike. Tony was ten years old than me and an experienced marathon runner, always winning prizes and medals in his age group. Mike was also a proper athlete with a smooth running style, more suited perhaps to a shorter distance and a faster pace than Tony’s short, pattering steps. I thought that the safest thing to do was to follow them, as far as I could!
      The only other idea I had was to try to forget that I was supposed to run 26 miles. I intended to ignore the race for 20 miles. I thought that looking at the other runners bobbing along in front of me for hours would make me dizzy, so I intended to keep my head up, look around, and take in the surroundings. I recall seeing the skyline of the Bowland hills, barely visible through the murky cloud, evolve on my right as the miles passed.
      Athletic clubs took great pride in organising these events. A few days after the race we were sent details of the race results, with 5-mile split times for all the runners, all carefully recorded by hand (no computer timing in those days). Studying them closely now, I see that I ran with Mike for 20 miles, always about 6 seconds behind Tony. At 20 miles, Mike began to flag. He dropped behind as we ran through the Lancaster Saturday afternoon shoppers. Beyond Lancaster, I came onto the shoulder of Tony, with the intention of saying “Let’s go get the guy in front”. But Tony was flagging a little too. So I finished first local runner (19th overall) in 2:37.
      Afterwards, it seemed that I’d just run on the others’ shoulders and then sprinted away at the end, a tactic which is somewhat suspect among friends, if acceptable to win an Olympic medal. However, looking at those 5-mile split times, I see that I ran 28½, 30½, 28½, 30½, 31 minutes for each 5 miles and that Mike took 35 minutes and Tony 32 minutes for the fifth 5 miles. I didn’t accelerate: they slowed more than me. I ran behind them for 20 miles because I didn’t know what else to do. It would have been foolishly presumptuous of me to try to run ahead of them!
      A few weeks ago I argued that Murakami and McDougall were not marathoners (that is, one of McDougall’s two kinds of great runner) because they were too slow. I didn’t mean to be critical. To help put their marathon times in perspective, if they had run their best times in the 1980 Preston-to-Morecambe Marathon they would have finished 98th and 110th out of 112. 88% of the runners finished inside 3:30. And the Preston-to-Morecambe was by no means a top-class marathon.
      Robovie-PC would have finished two days later. Or, more likely, would have been squashed on the A6.

[1].  Yes, up. I have found a little more energy this week but not enough to write home (or here) about.

11.  Runner-Up
March 19th 2011

A strange thing happened on my Sunday run. I set off intending to run up the road to the windmills and down through the hares’ playground. After 5 minutes I felt so tired that I nearly stopped and walked back home, but I struggled on slowly. As I did so I realised that it must have rained heavily overnight because water was pouring off the moor. I didn’t fancy the morass that the hares’ playground would be, so I continued instead on the track (shown in week 5) that runs below the Caton Moor trig point.
      After at last reaching the highest point of the track I thought that I might as well run along the flat top to have a view of Ingleborough. It was in cloud but Pen-y-Ghent was clear. Having come this far, I thought that I might as well continue to Roeburndale Road and return on the other side of the windmills, rather than retrace my steps. After 50 minutes running I reached a point from which I know that, when I’m fit, I can get back home in 15 minutes. I thought that I might as well try to do so then - and I did. It was a novel experience to run much further than intended (I often run less!). It was even more novel to feel better after 65 minutes running than after 5.
      Caton Moor is a dull pudding of a hill, without any rocks, crags or cliffs to appeal to the energetic scrambler, but it is a different matter across the Roeburndale Road. Here, on Haylot Fell, Blanch Fell and Black Fell, below Ward’s Stone, there are great jumbles of millstone grit boulders, covered in tough heather. It is impossible to run smoothly over this. There are, however, some rough tracks for rough running and a few smooth ones for grouse-shooters’ vehicles (and smooth running).
      Some people enjoy racing over such terrain. The ‘fell-race’ is the locally favoured form of cross-country race. It involves getting up some peak, or several of them, and down again as fast as possible. The courses are generally longer and always steeper than cross-country ones, and they are usually unmarked between checkpoints, so that the fell-racer needs mountain navigational skills as well.
      Back in the 1980s, when I was game for any kind of running, I felt that I should join in with the local customs, so I had a go. Three goes, in fact. I soon found that fell-racing was not for me. It did not suit me, physically or mentally. I do not have the upper-body strength to force my body up such steep slopes or the ankles to withstand the twisting and battering provided by rough, uneven rocks. More importantly, I am not mentally tough enough for fell-races. It is very difficult to keep running uphill when the thighs and lungs feel like bursting. Often, it is not possible, even for the best fell-racers. The run becomes a hands-on-knees scramble. Downhill is even worse. It is necessary to be recklessly brave to hurtle down craggy slopes at the speeds of the best fell-racers.
      I like to get into a rhythm when I run, with a steady stride gliding over the ground (I like to imagine). This is just not possible in fell-racing. You have to have the agility to adjust all the limbs as the terrain rushes by. The organisers of fell-races are not entirely sadistic, as racers are not expected to run over precipitous cliffs, but even so, there is a real risk of accident and exhaustion. It is not unknown for fell-racers to die of exposure after becoming injured or lost in bad weather.
      Most people, when they reach the top of a peak, are glad of the chance to rest and savour the panorama that they have earned. Fell-racers don’t have the time for that. They head straight back down, with not a glance about them. Indeed, there is no chance to appreciate the scenery on the way up or down: up, your head is between your knees and up the backside of the fell-racer ahead; down, you need to keep your eyes on the rocks ahead.
      And I felt sorry for the fells. They deserve more respect than this. Many of them are being eroded away by relatively gentle walkers. A few hundred fell-racers do them no good at all. A YouTube video of the descent from Scafell Pike during the Borrowdale fell-race shows the demolition that is caused.

skiddaw Left: Skiddaw on April 2nd last year. The fell-race route is up to the left of the gully at the right, past the tops of Jenkin Hill and Little Man, and on to the top of Skiddaw, and back the same way.

      My three fell-races were up Pendle, Skiddaw and Wansfell. I was totally unprepared for the first, Pendle. At the start, the racers sprinted across the field at a speed that seemed unwarranted, considering the total distance to be run. I soon understood why. Once onto the fell, there was only a narrow path, where over-taking was virtually impossible. I also soon found out that my footwear was quite unsuitable for the wet, slippery, grassy slopes. I came a chastened 140th out of 263.
      I did rather better at Skiddaw, coming 50th out of 193, taking 74 minutes, but I did not enjoy the race at all. The descent was headlong scariness. Wansfell was a traditional day-after-Boxing-Day outing rather than a serious fell-race. However, I did learn that ice and snow don’t make fell-racing any more enjoyable.
      It is only when you have tried and failed at something that you fully appreciate those skilled at it. I am in awe of the best fell-racers. The Wasdale course, up classic Lakeland peaks such as Great Gable and Scafell Pike (21 miles, 9000 feet ascent), in 3:25! How is that possible? The races are not all endurance ones. In some ways, the straight dash up and down Wansfell (2½ miles, 1500 feet ascent) in under 19 minutes is even more impressive.
      I feel I understand the great marathon runners. I have an idea of how they can run a marathon in 2:04. In fact, I’d be surprised if they couldn’t. But fell-racing is a mystery to me. I can’t conceive how they do it. The nearest equivalent in sport is perhaps the Tour de France cyclists who can pedal non-stop up huge mountains and then zoom down the other side.
      Fell-racers are an insular breed of runner. A walker might come across them and wonder what they are up to, but otherwise their exploits are unknown to the general public. Fell-races are never mentioned on television or in newspapers. Fell-racers like it that way. Recent British champions are Simon Booth, Rob Jebb and Rob Hope - good solid names but not exactly household ones, are they? The best fell-racers are clearly great runners but they are neither kind of great runner (sprinter and marathoner) identified by McDougall. Some of them run for longer than marathon runners but, obviously, road-racing is not their scene. And, I am content to admit, fell-racing is not mine.

12.  Run Short
March 26th 2011

cragg Right: Littledale and Ward’s Stone (above the barn) from the Cragg.

This week I ran a new personal best (PB). I ran up to the Cragg and back in 44½ minutes, which is my fastest time since records began. But hold the champagne! My records began only last January, and my PBs are very personal. So personal that I am sure that all my PBs are world bests. Nobody else runs the same courses as me.
      I blame my running shorts. My long running trousers for the winter months are quite content to let me merge in with the winter walkers but my shorts mean business. If I wear them, then I’ve really got to run. On Tuesday I woke up my shorts from their hibernation in the cupboard and they whisked me up and down the hill in no time. I exaggerate: in 44½ minutes, as I’ve said.
      Closer scrutiny of my spreadsheet showed that I had run up to the Cragg only twice before since January 2010. It is not my favourite run. The steep road down is hard on leg muscles not used to it but at least there is a fine view from the top - of Littledale and Ward’s Stone to the east and of the Lake District hills over Morecambe Bay to the west. My 44½ minutes was the best of the three times: a magnificent achievement, I’m sure you’ll agree. I need encouragement from wherever I can find it.
      The relationship between a runner and his PBs is one of the most emotionally intense in sport. It creeps up on a runner. He runs a ‘fun 10k’ in 50 minutes; someone says “not bad”; he thinks “it was only a jog, I can do better than that”; he runs another 10k in 48 minutes; and, before he knows it, he is elbowing to the front at the starting line in order to save a couple of seconds that might make all the difference to that elusive PB.
      There is an element of PB-chasing in all sports based on numbers. All batsmen know their highest innings; all snooker players know their biggest break; all golfers know their lowest round. Only in running does the PB become, for some people, the main motivator. Murakami writes that “Most ordinary runners are motivated by an individual goal, more than anything: namely, a time they want to beat”.
      The trouble with chasing PBs is that they take more and more effort to achieve. After a while, as fit as you may be, it takes a fortuitous combination of ideal conditions (weather, course, competition, and so on) to deliver a PB. Eventually, the PB becomes, not a motivator, but a de-motivator, as the reality of diminishing returns sets in. Why invest three months of hard effort for a marathon when you expect that it will show that you have run faster in the past?
      Murakami says, as he realised that PBs were no longer forthcoming, that “a sense of disappointment set in that all my hard work wasn’t paying off”. At least he kept running his marathons: I gave up road-racing in the mid-1980s after, but not because, I realised that there would be no more proper PBs.
      Running times are rather brutal in revealing the effects of aging. The best marathon times for different ages become steadily slower after the age of 35. Well, not quite steadily, as there are fluctuations but if you average over a five year period the trend is clear. To estimate the decline through aging we may compare, say, the present 60-year-old best (2:36) with the world best 25 years ago, that is, the 2:07 of Carlos Lopez. In this way, we can calculate the percentage decline:
   40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 65-69 70-74 75-79
    6%    9%    13%   19%   27%   30%   38%   59%
The women’s figures are similar but distorted because the modern breed of women marathon runner has not yet worked its way through the age groups and because very few women ran marathons forty years ago.
      These figures do not accord with those quoted by McDougall (p240). He says that marathon runners peak at 27 and that 64-year-olds run as fast as 19-year-olds. In fact, the world’s best times for all ages from 18 to 36 are in the range 2:04 to 2:06, with Gebrselassie’s record set at the age of 35, and the 64-year-old best is 2:44. This rather disputes his argument that “we’re not only really good at endurance running, we’re really good at it for a remarkably long time”.
      Assuming that the ordinary runner declines at the same rate as the best runner, then a marathon PB of 3:30 would equate to an ‘age-adjusted PB’ for a 60- 64-year old of 4:27 (that is, 27% slower than 3:30). If Murakami, now 62, aimed for that then he might be less disappointed. Actually, Murakami says that he peaked in his late forties, when he should, according to the above figures, have been 9% slower than his best. Perhaps if he had run seriously earlier he would have achieved a PB 9% faster, that is, 3:11. Then his age-adjusted PB would be 4:03. If I were Murakami, I’d forget about this refinement.
      It is not difficult, then, if you are a runner driven by PBs, to include an ‘aging factor’. It would, I imagine, be quite motivating to show that, although you are inevitably getter slower, you are getting slower slower than you should.
      For myself, I didn’t worry about PBs after the experience of the 1984 Great North-Western Half-Marathon. It was a very hot day. Runners were collapsing all around with heat exhaustion. It was the only race I ran where the medical staff at the finish leapt up to my assistance: I clearly looked exhausted (and I was). I don’t blame the organisers for the weather but I do blame them for arranging that a fun run, which set off after the half-marathon runners were on their way, should share the last mile or two with the racers. There is little worse for a runner than, when exhaustion is setting in and the legs are beginning to wobble, to have to weave through prams and pantomime horses spread out across the road. However, all was forgiven when I saw my time - a PB by a good 3 minutes! My training had really paid off this time.
      A few days later a letter arrived. The organisers apologised for the fact that, owing to roadworks, the course had been changed at the last moment and, on re-measuring, had been found to be more than half-a-mile short. I was somewhat deflated.
      Then, I thought, how accurate are these course measurements? Every race organiser knows that a reputation as ‘a fast course’ will boost the number of entries. If a course is short that will certainly make it fast. Excluding my first and last marathons, all my marathon times were within 1% of their average. I wonder, now, if the courses were measured to 99% accuracy. Nowadays no subterfuge is possible because rich runners are able to use GPSs to track themselves to two decimal places. In the 1980s courses were probably measured by a man on a bicycle.
      Then, the seconds mattered a lot. Today, they don’t matter at all. My so-called PBs now are just to add a bit of interest. Now, I never set out to run a PB. If I find that I am going well and a glance at the watch suggests that a bit of effort might bring a good time, then I might make that effort. But I just run steadily home. I don’t sprint down the street, eyeballs out, as runners say, collapsing on the doorstep. I don’t want to alarm the neighbours.

13.  Running It Fine
April 2nd 2011

In his preface Murakami quotes the slogan “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional”. According to Murakami, “the most important aspect of marathon running” is that “the [pain] is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself”.
      There are two aspects to all sporting activities: the physical and the mental. It may suit some marathon runners to present their achievement as an entirely mental one, as a heroic battle to overcome pain that shows their bravery and fortitude. Long-distance running should not require bravery, however. It is not an activity that has to skirt on the edge of danger, like downhill skiing, motor-bike racing or mountaineering, where a moment of inattention or incompetence can have body-shattering consequences.
      It is possible, as with all activities, to have accidents, by, for example, tripping over a kerb and twisting an ankle, but with running they are relatively rare and minor. Provided that there has been thorough preparation in the preceding months, a runner should not set off on a marathon expecting pain. The worst that should be anticipated is periods of weariness or struggle that have to be overcome by resilience and determination. Of course, it may turn out worse than this but that is no reason to depress or worry oneself by expecting it to.
      A marathon should not be a battle against pain, and nor should any other running. Not all runners agree with me: Clarence DeMar, who won the Boston Marathon seven times between 1911 and 1928 and who therefore should have known what he was talking about, said we should “run like hell and get the agony over with”.
      The answer to the question “How long does it take you to run a marathon?” is “About 100 days”. That’s assuming you are reasonably fit to start with. The final day is only the visible tip of the iceberg. It is the final day that gets all the attention, naturally, but the previous 99 days are the more important. An honest appraisal of the 99 days makes the final day entirely predictable, barring any misfortune. For this reason, I never felt elated at the end of a marathon. The race itself was always more or less what might have been anticipated. Satisfied and relieved, yes; but surprised and elated, no.
      Looking back, it was the whole 100 days, not the final day, that was the achievement. In today’s hectic life we don’t often have the opportunity to commit to a long-term project, involving hardship and effort, and to see it through. In previous centuries it was the norm. A farmer might look at a field and decide he needed a stone wall around it - he might work at it for an hour each morning, building a few feet of the wall, and after 100 days he’d have his wall. Or his wife might want a new rug for the bedroom, so she’d set aside an hour each evening to sew a few square inches.
      Marathon running is similar. You do a bit each day, gradually building up the reserves and strength, to deliver a product on the final day. The product is less tangible than a wall or a rug but the sense of achievement may be similar. For me, the most significant outcome was the realisation that I had the self-discipline to work at something for an extended period, often at some inconvenience, to deliver the best that I was capable of.
      I am a little disillusioned that Murakami considers that long-distance running is like novel writing. I would have predicted that he’d say that he welcomed the contrast between the repetitive commitment of running and the spasms of creative inspiration that illuminates the work of a novelist. I hadn’t pictured a novelist chaining himself to his desk every morning, forcing himself to write 750 words before lunch, much like a bricklayer might aim to lay 750 bricks in the morning (I know nothing about writing novels or laying bricks: 750 words or bricks in a morning may be wildly unrealistic). I thought that it was more like Mozart dashing off three symphonies in a month, when he was in the mood.

crook Left: The River Lune at the Crook o’Lune. I have three routes to the Crook, two by the river and one along the old railway line, giving six possible loops. I could have a different run there, 4 or 5 miles, every day of the week (with a rest day). I think I would be content if that was all that I could manage, for it is a fine stretch of river. In general, though, I prefer to mix in some runs up the hills (for the views), not that I have managed much of that this week. After the positive tone of the previous two weeks, this has been a steady week of consolidation: no real problems but not much progress either.

      After the 1980 Preston-to-Morecambe Marathon I knew that I was physically capable of running a marathon but not necessarily mentally capable. I had left all the mental stresses to my two pace-setting friends. I had deliberately avoided thinking about the race for 20 miles. So I felt an obligation to run a marathon ‘on my own’.
      I duly entered two marathons in 1981, at Huddersfield and Barnsley. Both were, like the Preston Marathon, organised by local running clubs for serious runners from clubs in the region, that is, the north of England. Unlike the Preston Marathon, they were out-and-back marathons, that is, starting and finishing in the same place. As with the Preston Marathon, the large majority of the runners (84% for the Huddersfield Marathon; I have lost the details for the Barnsley Marathon) finished inside 3:30. I came 8th in 2:33 and 23rd in 2:32 in the two races but, as I indicated above, the most important outcome was the knowledge that I had the discipline to run marathons.
      One thing that strikes me now, although it didn’t concern me much at the time, is how uneventful marathon races are. In 90 minutes of football you expect to be intrigued by the changing balances of play, to see the tactics evolve, to see moments of skill and calamity, and to be aware of the different qualities and contributions of the individual players. There’s enough to keep people talking and arguing until the next game.
      In a marathon nothing much happens. Runners set off at their different speeds, a handful go into the lead, one separates off to win. There are no incidents of interest (unless Paula Radcliffe sits down and cries). There is a subtle ebb and flow as runners have their spells of weariness and energy but this is hardly apparent to either participants or spectators. I have avoided the word ‘boring’ because, as a participant, I didn’t find the marathons so. But for spectators a marathon must surely be boring except for those brief moments when a relative or friend runs by. Perhaps it’s the sheer uneventfulness that appeals to some people.
      I can remember a fair amount about some football matches in the 1950s (such as Norwich City 3 Manchester United 0) but I can remember very little about the Huddersfield and Barnsley Marathons. This is not a failure of memory. There just isn’t much to remember. I recall being overtaken by an old guy (about 20 years younger than I am now) who was singing to himself, which seemed rather odd at the time, but that’s hardly of riveting interest.
      I do, however, recall being aware that this was probably as good as it would get, as far as marathon running was concerned. Maybe with a less undulating course I could have knocked a minute or two off. Maybe I could have got under 2:30 but that didn’t seem worth getting excited about when the distance itself (26 miles and 385 yards) is so idiosyncratic. Maybe I could have trained less to cause sufficient pain to make me feel more heroic.

14.  Sorry, I’ve Got To Run
April 9th 2011

On Monday, as I was trotting along the old railway line, one of man’s best friends bit my upper thigh. I thought it not unreasonable to remonstrate mildly with the owner, a smart, middle-aged lady. She replied “What can you expect if you come along here flapping your arms about? Piss off”. So I did, after kicking the dog and strangling the lady.
      When I’m running my difficulties with fellow humans are usually more subtle. Recently I’ve become more aware of a new problem, which hardly seems possible, after so many years of running. In the beginning, it was straightforward. Running became a routine, like shaving. Having decided that I would not be bearded, I did not have to go through the mental anguish every morning of deciding whether or not to shave. Similarly, having decided to take up running, I didn’t need to decide whether or not to go to the gym at 1 o’clock. Unless there was some insurmountable obstacle, such as a crucial meeting, I would be there. And so it went on, for month after month. If I met anyone while I was running, it was manifest to them what I was doing: I was on my middle-of-the-day run. Runner or not, known to me or not, they would have expected no more than a waved ‘hi’ from me.

flood Right: On Tuesday I saw my first sand-martins of the year. Their return to the Lune valley in April is always welcome because their whirling, twittering flight over the river is characteristic of the summer months. They come to nest in the tunnels they build into the steep river banks. Unfortunately, the Tuesday sand-martins had mistimed their return. The Lune was in flood. All their nests were underwater. The sand-martins, lots of them, were swooping over the turbulent river, puzzled. The river had subsided by Wednesday but no doubt their nests were somewhat soggy. The photograph shows the path to the Waterworks Bridge. The river is normally several metres lower in its bed to the right.

      When I began running around home it was a little different. I would meet local people, perhaps people I had not seen for a while, and people who, if I were out walking with Ruth, we would perhaps stop and chat with. Now I was running past, with a ‘hi’ but no time for a ‘how are you?’. Maybe I looked sufficiently committed to my running that no offence was taken. Over the years, I expect that they have all got used to me running by. I am as familiar a sight running along in my shorts as is the postman delivering letters.
      Today, things have changed. For one thing, I don’t have a routine. I want to decide for myself every day whether and when and where to run. I think I’m a rational person, capable of reaching decisions. If I decide for myself, every time that I go for a run, then I know that I am going because I want to, and not because I am set in some robotic routine. And when, some days, I decide not to run then I accept that to be a rational decision too.
      Making the decision is, for me, part of the process of running. It’s not something to get worked up about. I take into account what else there is to do during the day, what the weather forecast is, how energetic I feel, and so on. I then conclude that, say, I will run to the windmills at 12 o’clock. Even then, I feel free to change my mind, if, say, a blizzard starts blowing. In this way, I feel in control of my running, such as it is, rather than a slave to it.
      Also, my running is more casual. I am not training for anything. I am no longer able to speed past people. I am running slow enough that it is not unreasonable to expect me to stop for a chat (although I am not one for chatting and I know that if I stopped then I might have difficulty starting again). I probably look like I could do with a breather. So sometimes I stop but usually I continue with the ‘hi’ that people have become accustomed to.
      My new problem arises from the fact that the people I meet have changed. Hardly any of my contemporaries has been unaffected by the passage of time. They present a sad catalogue of illnesses and accidents. Some use walking-sticks; some are in wheel-chairs; some are too unwell to venture far. For some, the most exercise they can seek is a 50 yards struggle to a bench for a sit down. It is awkward to run past old acquaintances in such straits. It seems impolite not to stop and ask how they are. I doubt, however, that they want to discuss their problems with me, standing there in my running shorts. If I run by, or if I stop and then run off, it must seem to them that I am flaunting my fitness, although, heaven knows, I don’t feel that I have an abundance of it myself. I am sure that, if I were in their position, I would resent the unfairness of it all.
      It isn’t only walkers that cause me such angst. One day last summer, on the old railway line, I began to catch up a burly jogger ahead. My overtaking etiquette is to only do so if I am running much faster than the other runner, so that I can sail by with a brief ‘hi’. If I am only slightly faster then I risk being trapped like those motorway lorries that can’t quite complete the manoeuvre. I may then have to run alongside and even say more than ‘hi’, as though I were trying to strike up a friendship. This I try to avoid, especially if the other runner is a woman.
      On this occasion, there was no problem, as he was so slow, but as I ran by I heard a “Hi, John”. I slowed down and recognised him as one of those ‘Olympians’ I mentioned in Week 1, one of the original university running group. He gasped “Don’t run much now”. This was apparent but what could I say? It was sad to see but at least he was still trying to run. I found a side-path as soon as it was polite to do so.
      What can I do about this? Maybe I could avoid running where my contemporaries are likely to be, such as within a short distance of a car park. But why should I? It’s not my fault that they are much less fit than they were. For all I know, I may join them soon enough.
      The trouble is, I don’t like to dwell on our fragility and mortality. In the past when anyone asked “Have you heard about ...?” then I would anticipate good news: got a new job, moved, had twins, won the lottery, or whatever. Nowadays, it is invariably bad news: needs a knee operation, has cancer, fell and broke her hip, and so on. I can’t cope with it all. It is too depressing to think about. Perhaps I run to preserve the illusion that it won’t happen to me. There is, I admit, an escapist, enjoy-it-while-you-can element to my running.
      Fitness is relative. It is unreasonable, I know, but I feel a little dissatisfied to have reached a plateau with my running. I can comfortably run 5 miles or so 5 days a week. It fits into life almost without being noticed. I say “I’m just going for a run” much as I do “I’m just walking to the shop”. I don’t know if I could run 40 or 50 miles a week but I know that I don’t need to. When I think of other people’s problems it seems greedy to even contemplate it.
      I suppose I shouldn’t worry about all this too much. At least people don’t bite a lump out of my thigh. By the way, I didn’t really strangle that lady. Or kick her dog. But I will next time.

15.  Home Run
April 16th 2011

On Monday I had my first tip-out of the year. When Ruth drives off somewhere I sometimes jump into the car in order to be tipped out en route and left to run back home. I’m fond of tip-outs for several reasons. If a run has to finish at home (as almost all do nowadays), they increase the area within which I can run. Normally I run from and back to home. So, if I can run 6 miles then I’m limited to a circle of 3-mile radius. A tip-out widens this to a 6-mile radius, thereby quadrupling my running area.
      I was tipped out in the Quernmore valley 3 miles the other side of the Cragg (mentioned in Week 12). I had to run back up the Cragg, over it and down to home. Years ago I only ever used to run up to the Cragg from home in order to continue into Quernmore, but that is too far for me now.

cragg Left: Approaching the top of the Cragg from the other side.

      A tip-out is an implicit sign that I have confidence in my fitness. When I run from home I know that if I don’t feel as good as I hoped then I can just shorten the run (and, weak-willed person that I am, I often do). When I have a tip-out there is no choice: I have got to get home somehow. If I didn’t think I could manage it, I wouldn’t volunteer for the tip-out. Also, a tip-out involves Ruth in my running. Running is inherently an insular activity but having a tip-out and talking about it later makes it more of a joint activity. Another reason for liking tip-outs is that I have always preferred runs from A to B to runs from A back to A. It adds some, perhaps illusory, point to the exercise: I have transported myself somewhere entirely by my own effort.
      When I want to distinguish between the two, I’ll call A-A runs ‘loop-runs’ or ‘loops’ and A-B runs ‘line-runs’ or ‘lines’ (these lines are, of course, not straight). I might use the expressions ‘loop-running’ and ‘line-running’ (well, it’s not as ridiculous as line-dancing, is it?)
      All the great historical runs were line-runs. The legendary first marathon was run by Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens (about 26 miles) to warn of approaching Persian ships, Pheidippides dropping dead at the end of it, thereby providing a role model for subsequent marathon runners (although it is now doubted that it happened exactly as the legend says).
      And ... actually, I can’t think of any other historical runs right now but if I could I’m sure they’d be line-runs.
      The Preston-to-Morecambe Marathon was, obviously, a line-run. The Huddersfield and Barnsley Marathons were loop-runs. Most road-races are loop-runs, to avoid the problem of transporting runners or their belongings from one end to the other. Subjectively, it is a much more satisfying achievement to run somewhere, although some may doubt that the attractions of Morecambe warrant running to it. Preston to Morecambe certainly looks an impressive distance on the map but from Barnsley to, er, somewhere, and, er, back to Barnsley doesn’t sound such a big deal. I actually have no idea where the Barnsley Marathon route took us.
      Sometimes a line-run can be of practical use. We can, for example, abandon the car on the other side of the moor for a walk home and I will run back later to retrieve it. Or Ruth can take the car to a rehearsal, leaving me to run there later for the concert. Or I can take the car to the garage, leave it there, run home and then back to the garage. In these ways, my running is not always rather pointless loops from the house. Sometimes, it plays a useful role in our day-to-day life. Tip-outs, however, don’t normally have a practical purpose, other than to enable me to run through regions otherwise out of reach.
      Perhaps my favourite tip-out is one from the other side of the River Lune that provides me with a potted history of the region as well as exercise. After being tipped out on Bottomdale Road, I run south behind Beaumont Grange along Green Lane, an ancient track that was one of the main routes into Lancaster from the north. Nobody seems to use it now, apart from me. The Jacobites would have come along this track during their 1715 raid of Lancaster. Like me, they would see Lancaster Castle ahead of them, across the river. The old castle, built on the site of a Roman camp, was left relatively unscathed by the Jacobites, and appears today much as it would have then.
      At the bottom of Green Lane, I meet Lancaster Canal and run over the magnificent aqueduct over the Lune built in 1797. The canal was constructed to help get goods into and out of Lancaster, avoiding the Lune, which was too shallow to cope with the volume of trade during the golden period of the port of Lancaster. Dropping down by the aqueduct I join the so-called Millennium Park. This runs along the route of the old railway line that linked Lancaster with Leeds from 1849 to 1966. The railways, of course, made canals obsolete for the transport of goods. This particular branch of the railway was in its turn rendered obsolete by the growth of the road system, which I can appreciate as I run next under the fine single-span bridge of the M6 motorway, the noise and activity of the motorway above contrasting with the serenity of the old canal.
      Next, I pass Halton, the site of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle, one of a string of such castles up the Lune valley. At one time, Halton, rather than Lancaster, was the administrative centre of the region. On the north bank is the site of the old Halton Mills, now a symbol of modern problems, with its new ‘townhouses’, abandoned half-built because of the recession, and its ‘eco-houses’, planned but not yet built at all. So, there’s 2000 years of history to reflect upon as I run along.
      Ah, I’ve thought of another great historical run, which was indeed a line-run: the famous race between the tortoise and the hare, reported by the sports correspondent Aesop over 2500 years ago. Many runners have taken inspiration from this race, with its message that slow and steady will win in the end (although that has never been my experience). The message I take from the race, however, is: do not have a nap in the middle of a race. This is something I carefully refrained from doing, although I was tempted on occasions.
      Nowadays, as my running is no longer in races, the mid-run nap would be perfectly acceptable. Some days I am so lacking in energy that I feel that I could easily curl up into the hedgerow and have a doze. And why not? Well, if I overslept when on a tip-out run and was not back when Ruth returned home, she might be perplexed.

16.  Out Run
April 23rd 2011

roeburndale Right: Roeburndale, looking north, with Whernside to the right.

I don’t have to be driven somewhere for a run (as last week): I can drive myself. I normally only do this if I feel fit enough to justify it but after several months of running around home, I fancied a change. So on Wednesday I drove to the next valley east, Roeburndale. I ran south along the old track (the old salt road) for 45 minutes, and then turned and ran back. The distance did not matter. I was really there to enjoy the scenery.
      On the way up the dale, there are views of the wild, remote, empty expanses of upper Roeburndale. On the way back, the Lake District hills and the Three Peaks of the Yorkshire Dales (Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent) are arrayed ahead. The ancient track was used to transport salt and other commodities over the Bowland hills. In its southern part it merges with the Roman road that ran between Ribchester and Burrow. On Wednesday, there were only sheep, skylarks, grouse and lapwing - and me. It was remote enough for me to run with my top off, as I needed to, it being the hottest day of the year so far.
      This kind of run is a legacy of a decision I made, or, rather, of a conclusion I reached, in 1988. I realised then, after ten years of running around the lanes near the university and home, that my running had acquired a new purpose. I had come to appreciate that I lived within some of the most attractive landscapes of England. A circle of forty miles radius, centred on my home, encloses all of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, renowned for their rugged grandeur and limestone scenery. It also includes the extensive peat moors of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with further hills of the Lancashire Pennines, such as Pendle. To the north it includes the rounded hills of the Howgills and the northern Pennines of Cumbria, such as Mallerstang. All this lay on my doorstep - or within one hour of it.
      So one of the purposes of my running became to explore this region. I kept fit by running around locally but no longer with the intention to race along roads with many others. I would, from time to time, take off to run alone, as the whim took me, around the nearby hills and dales. If need be, I could manage this within a morning or afternoon - one hour there, two hour run, one hour back.
      In January 1988 I started to keep a record of these outings. It was not a ‘running log’ as recommended for serious runners. It did not include distances or times - they were irrelevant. It was not a pre-marathon training record, like my previous records. It was simply a note of where I ran on my outings and of anything interesting encountered on the way. I imagined that I might like to read the notes in my dotage when no longer able to run, a state that I have nearly reached.

dow crag Left: Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man. On September 9th 1988 I ran from the bottom right corner, to the basin (wherein lies Goats Water) between the two. Then up the Old Man, north to Brim Fell, and back behind Dow Crag, returning on the Walna Scar track. On May 15th 2005 I ran roughly the other way round, up Dow Crag to Brim Fell and back over the Old Man.

      In 1988 I made notes of 22 outings, distributed around the region as follows: 7 in the Lake District (Longsleddale, Scandale, High Street, Nan Bield Pass, Winster, Coniston Old Man, Swindale); 5 in the Forest of Bowland (River Dunsop, Salter Fell, Fair Snape, Roeburndale, Burn Moor); 4 in the Yorkshire Dales (Ingleborough, Baugh Fell, Crummockdale, Scales Moor); 2 in the Howgills (Cautley Spout, Bowderdale); 4 elsewhere in the region (Bretherdale, Barbondale, Hutton Roof, Upper Eden valley). How I wish I could manage similar now! But I am grateful to have managed it then.
      I am not sure what to call these outings. They were not, of course, fell-races (as I described in Week 11). I always ran alone and while I did run energetically I was in no hurry to get anywhere particular. I was allowed to stop whenever I wanted, to look at anything interesting or just to admire the scenery. When I reached the top of a hill there was no compulsion to dash straight back down again. On the contrary, once up there, I’d hope to be able to run about on ‘top of the world’ for some time.
      ‘Fell-running’ is a possible description but to most people a ‘fell’ is a rugged mountain of the Lakeland type and fell-running involves scrambling up and down such mountains. There was some of that but I much preferred running along the ridges (High Street, the Helvellyn ridge, and so on) to running up and down the slopes.
      Then I came to prefer the rather more gentle contours of the Dales and Howgills to the craggy Lake District fells. Maybe ‘hill-running’ is a better term - but then my outings did not necessarily involve running up and down hills. I was quite content to explore dales, valleys, lakes, indeed anything on the map that looked promising. If the clouds are low or the winds are high, then a low-level run is obviously to be preferred. I always had half-a-dozen potential routes of various sorts ready to select from.
      Americans use the term ‘trail-running’ for off-road running. But I was not averse to some road running. In fact, I liked to start with a mile or two on the road to loosen up and then to end with a mile or two on the road when the legs were tiring. I was not following a ‘trail’, although I had no objection to doing so if it helped. Part of the aim was to run away from any sort of trail in order to reach places normally inaccessible. I will admit now that I often trespassed (this was before the access land legislation of 2004).
      I suppose I could just continue to call them ‘outings’. But that suggests trips to the sea-side and the like. Perhaps ‘run-outings’, or ‘run-outs’, for short, is better. But that’s the wrong way round. I didn’t run to get out: I went out to run. So, I’ll settle on ‘out-runs’.
      From 1988, then, a main purpose of my running became to stay fit enough to be able to go on out-runs, or to go out-running, in order to explore the region near where I live. Since then, I have made notes of 131 out-runs. I’m not sure if my Roeburndale run should count as an out-run. It was less exploratory than my out-runs used to be. But, heck, I can lower my standards now. Nobody is counting, except me. So, that’s 132, then.

17.  Running Rife
April 30th 2011

This diary is supposed to be focussed upon running but from time to time it becomes obvious that my running only plays second fiddle to the rest of my life. This week it has been pushed right out of the orchestra. During the Easter holiday Martin and Sarah said that they had decided to get married. In the circumstances my running didn’t seem so important. I have only run a little this week and I haven’t given it my full attention. There isn’t much to say about it, so I will resort to my running of the distant past.

Waterworks Bridge Left: Waterworks Bridge below Aughton Woods.

      I have run less this week but I notice that others are running more, encouraged out by the fine spring weather. I find it strange that the majority of casual runners go for such uninspiring runs. I rarely see runners on the hilly roads up to the moor or even by the riverside. Most of them run along the old railway track, because, I suppose, it is flat and simple (just run along it, turn and run back). It is as though they have been told that running should be a dull activity, so they find the dullest run that they can. If they ran just a few yards off the railway track, down by the river, they might see a kingfisher, as I saw the other day. Or a sand-martin (certainly), lapwing (probably), plover (possibly), oystercatcher (perhaps) or heron (maybe). Or salmon leaping. They would, at least, have a better view, along the Lune valley.
      In general, though, I am glad to see other runners about because it makes my own running seem less in need of explanation. Nowadays there is nothing remarkable about the sight of runners, especially in fine weather. When I started running in 1978 it was thought to be a rather peculiar activity. The transformation of running from being a commitment of dedicated athletes to a pastime that almost everybody could take up occurred in the early 1980s in the UK (and somewhat earlier in the US). As it happens, it almost coincided with my own transition from serious to less-serious running.
      I ran one marathon in 1982 (the Norfolk Marathon) and one in 1983 (the Windermere Marathon). The former was a line-run, from Kelling to Norwich; the latter a loop-run, around Lake Windermere. Unlike the three earlier marathons, they were not organised by running clubs but by charitable agencies that had noticed the increasing numbers of runners and realised that they were a source of income for their worthy causes. The Norfolk Marathon was run in aid of the Kelling Hospital Appeal and the Windermere Marathon was organised by the Rotary Club.
      The latter marathon was completed by 1407 runners, about ten times more than for the Preston and Huddersfield Marathons. The different nature of the runners is indicated by the fact that only 40% of them finished within 3:30, compared to 88% and 84% for the Preston and Huddersfield Marathons.
      In keeping with their less serious character, the races were only a component of the gala events of the day, which is part of the reason for running them: it gives the rest of the family something to do while runners are occupied. The Norfolk Marathon was my home county marathon and could be combined with visits to relatives. The race was through country that I knew as a boy. Not coincidentally, I knew the course would be flat, providing the opportunity for a fast time. Unfortunately, this opportunity was not realised because a gale blew directly into our faces as we ran from Kelling to Norwich. Experienced runners have mastered the skill of spitting on the run, as I discovered as I ran behind some of them, as was my custom, to find the gale showering me with phlegm.

norfolk marathon Right: The end of the 1982 Norfolk Marathon, in the courtyard of Norwich Cathedral.

      The Norfolk event was unusual in having both a marathon and a half-marathon, obviously with the aim of raising more money. We all started off together but at my halfway point the half-marathon runners peeled off to their finish. There was no way of knowing until they did so who was in which race. Maybe some runners aborted the marathon because of the gale. I suddenly found myself with only a handful of runners ahead and duly finished 4th in 2:35.
      I was probably fitter for this marathon than for any other and perhaps, without the gale, I could have run my fastest time. But I realised that some things (such as the weather) are beyond my control and that it isn’t sensible to set out hoping for a PB.
      I entered the Windermere Marathon because it had become our local marathon (the Preston Marathon would be too dangerous for such multitudes of runners and, in any case, would not appeal to the new breed of runner). It was undoubtedly the most pleasant marathon that I have run, if any marathon can be considered pleasant, with the autumn colours and the changing panoramas across the lake. It was, however, rather too undulating for really fast times, although that mattered little. I came 7th, also in 2:35.
      The character of marathon running had changed. No longer did only serious club runners run the races. They were now far outnumbered by newcomers most of whom had no intention of joining a running club. The new runners wanted to tackle what was considered to be the ultimate running challenge, in a noncompetitive fashion, possibly raising money for charity along the way.
      Human nature being what it is, serious club runners began to lose interest in racing marathons, once their reputation as a superhuman elite was shattered by the demonstration that almost anyone could run a marathon if they put their mind to it. The newcomers were so fixated upon the marathon that, to begin with, it seemed hardly to occur to them to run anything else. I suppose a 10-mile race doesn’t provide the same sense of bravado and achievement - and is less impressive to potential sponsors.
      As a serious club runner myself by that stage, I too began to lose interest in marathons. Serious runners had, of course, always run races of different lengths - and could continue to do so without much interference from the newcomers. I began to run more such races myself, not least because they are less disruptive of family life. Training for, say, 10-mile races, could be fitted into a relatively normal lifestyle. With, at that time, two young children (Martin and Pamela), it was hard to find the time for the hours of running necessary for marathon training. I didn’t want to find it, anyway: the children were more interesting and important. But even second fiddlers can be serious, at least about their running.

18.  Running Gear
May 7th 2011

On Friday I took part in an emotional ceremony. I bought my last pair of running shoes. I always assume nowadays that they will be my last pair, anyway. The shop assistants probably think that I am beyond my last pair, although they are too polite to say so.
      The young woman who came to help me immediately scuttled off for help herself when I caused trouble by asking a question. The young man who returned gave me a thorough eulogy of the virtues of the modern running shoe as though it were the newest electronic gadgetry the like of which an old duffer could never have seen before and certainly could not comprehend. I stalled him briefly by commenting that some of the New Balance shoes, which for the last thirty years had sold themselves as British-made, were now made in Vietnam, which he had not noticed. He did, however, stumble upon my Achilles heel when, towards the end of his peroration, he emphasised the importance of cushioning when running down steep roads. I am nursing a slightly sore calf from running down from the Cragg (as I had predicted might happen in Week 12) but I didn’t admit that to him.
      The need for running shoes has been increasingly questioned recently. The debate seems to boil down to an argument about whether the human foot has evolved to be suited for running in the 21st century. The answer depends to some extent on the kind of running you have in mind. Clearly, it would be remarkably fortuitous if the foot was ideally suited for running on the kinds of surface that big city marathons use, that is, hard roads.
      The answer also depends on your view of the conditions under which the human foot did evolve. If, as some believe, the foot evolved while humans were running long distances hunting down animals then perhaps it is ideal for running far over rough ground. If it evolved for hunting over short distances or for quick escape from predators then perhaps it is more attuned to sprinting. These are questions for anthropologists to answer, but they don’t seem to be able to answer them at the moment.
      If I thought my feet were ideal for the running that I do nowadays then, rationally, I should run in my feet, that is, barefoot. However, there are irrational considerations. I already feel self-conscious, as a 65-year-old running about showing off my legs. I don’t want the neighbours to think me completely odd, as they would if I ran along the road barefoot.
      There is a fashion, particularly in the United States, for running barefoot. We are biassed towards hoping that ‘nature is best’. The long-distance runners of the Mexican canyons run barefoot, or nearly so. In the western world, we picture the best runners today, who are usually African, running about barefoot as children. And yet none of them compete barefoot. The well-known barefoot champions of the past, Zola Budd and Abebe Bikila, hardly support the case. The former took to wearing shoes to protect herself from injuries. The latter only ran barefoot in the 1960 Olympics marathon because, as a late addition to the team, there were no shoes to fit him. He wore shoes when he won the 1964 marathon.
      If, however, I thought that my feet were not ideal then I would hope that running shoes would help. It is, after all, the case that many components of our bodies have evolved inadequately for modern life. For example, our eyes seem unable to cope with the amount of reading we do nowadays. I see nothing wrong, in principle, therefore with hoping that my shoes will offer protection, support and correction for any foot inadequacies.
      Runners run differently with and without running shoes [1]. With shoes, runners tend to strike the ground with the heel. Without shoes, they tend to strike more midfoot or forefoot. As a result, barefoot runners are not subjected to as high an impact force. The inference that some draw from this is that running shoes are more likely, not less likely, to cause injuries. This is, of course, a controversial conclusion, disputed by shoe manufacturers who have vested commercial interests in promoting new shoes with extra features intended to help the runner.
      Because barefoot running involves a different style to running with shoes, it is not easy to switch from one to the other, even if one were convinced by the argument. Myself, I have always run in running shoes. I prefer light shoes with thin soles, through which I can ‘feel’ the ground, which I understand is one of the objectives of barefoot running, that is, to strengthen foot muscles rather than to cause them to weaken through lack of use. In fact, most barefoot advocates do not themselves run barefoot. They run with ‘minimalist shoes’ (mimicking the sandals of the Mexican runners) that are supposed to correspond to barefoot running.
      I imagine that I would quite like the subjective feeling of being more naturally connected with the environment through running barefoot, as I do at the moment only on rare runs on a beach. However, where I usually run there are stones, rocks, thistles and nettles that would make me more aware of the environment than I would wish. It would take a hardy sole to run barefoot where I went to out-run on Tuesday.

wolfhole crag Right: The trig point on Wolfhole Crag (at 527 metres) in the Forest of Bowland, with millstone grit boulders and heather. (This photograph was taken on an earlier occasion: I wouldn’t want you to think that I ignored the ‘moor closed’ signs.) This moor is home to England’s largest inland colony of lesser black-backed gulls. I was looking forward to running amidst the cacophony of 25,000 nesting gulls. I would not have felt guilty at disturbing them, as I’m sure the land-owners would prefer grouse to nest instead and, in addition, all these gulls pollute Lancaster’s water supply.

      I headed for the Forest of Bowland, aiming to run from Tower Lodge, up by Tarnbrook Wyre to the watershed, along the ridge to Wolfhole Crag, and back across Brennand Fell. This is not a route to tackle after wet weather but I anticipated that the hottest April ever recorded, with strong winds and very little rain, would have dried out the peat bogs nicely. Unfortunately, they were too dry: the moor was closed because of ‘extreme fire risk’. The local news has been reporting extensive fires on the moors just south and I was foolish not to foresee this closure.
      But not to worry: I ran along the road, fairly empty of traffic, through the Trough of Bowland as far as Dunsop Bridge and back (about 90 minutes). Dunsop Bridge claims to be the centre of gravity of Britain, which does perhaps add a point of interest to the run. In any case, it was a very pleasant run, for Bowland changes little over the decades. The old boundary stone, Sykes Farm, the picnic spot at Langden Brook, Smelt Mill Cottages (now a Mountain Rescue centre) and Dunsop Bridge itself were all much as I remembered them.
      The real Bowland, however, is away from the road. It is up on the many acres of wilderness, millstone grit, peat bogs, crags and cloughs, with moor birds such as curlew, lapwing, grouse and especially hen harrier, for which it is England’s best breeding area. Perhaps the closure of the moor was for the best. My old running shoes are beginning to disintegrate as it is, rotting away after many miles in the winter mud. The millstone grit and tough heather might have made them even more minimalist than they have already become.

[1].  Lieberman, Daniel et al (2010), Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners, Nature, 463, 531-535.

19.  On the Run
May 14th 2011

Sometimes I just sit still for 90 minutes, with a break in the middle, doing absolutely nothing. Nobody has ever asked me “What on earth do you think about all that time?”. Instead I’m asked, for example, “What did you think of the Sibelius?” because it is assumed that I am thinking about the music that is being played for me.
      Long-distance runners are plagued by people asking “What on earth do you think about all that time?”. At least that is the impression you get from those who write about running, who labour at length to provide an answer. I suspect that they are just puzzled themselves, for nobody has ever asked me that question. I will answer it anyway: I think about running. If I spend a lot of time on anything then it seems sensible to me to think about it.
      I differ from Murakami in this respect. He says (p17) “... as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning. I just run. I run in a void”. I don’t know how he manages that. My mind doesn’t have an off switch. Whether I like it or not, it thinks all the time, if not as profoundly as Murakami’s. Since it insists on thinking, I’d rather that it thinks about something relevant. Even if I could switch off my mind I’m not sure why I should. Murakami himself emphasises the importance of ‘focus’ - and yet he chooses not to focus at all on running when actually engaged in the activity of it. If I wished to achieve a trance-like void, there is surely a less arduous way to do so.
      Perhaps I need to explain what there is to think about with running. There is an inner and outer aspect to it. Before I set off on a run I have an expectation of what sort of run it will be. This depends on various things, such as how I feel generally, how much running I’ve done recently, the weather conditions, what else I plan for the rest of the day, and so on. As I run I monitor how I’m running compared to my expectations. I don’t, of course, monitor in an overt, medical sense. It’s just a general awareness of how I’m running.
      I always run with a watch. Usually I ignore it because I know that it will only confirm what my body tells me (that I am too slow). Sometimes, however, it helps to add some precision to the monitoring process. I know, for example, that on an average day it takes me 13 minutes to reach the Crook o’ Lune along the old railway line. If I’m expecting a fast-ish run but it takes me 14 minutes then I know that I’m more sluggish than I anticipated. So, to go on to Halton Bridge, normally another 11 minutes, might take 12, that is, 26 minutes in total. This kind of minor mental arithmetic as I go along helps me to keep focussed on the running.
      Sometimes, especially when I am trying to get fit again, I time myself in order to make a note of how slowly I am running. This is in the hope that when I run the same route two weeks later I can be encouraged by the evidence that I have somehow become a minute or so faster.
      I try not to focus on any specific anticipated problem because I have learned that this may exacerbate it, by causing unnatural running. It’s better, I find, to try to forget it so that it merges with all the other aches and niggles that emerge. If it doesn’t then it is better to abort the run and jog gently back.
      In general - and this may be Murakami’s point - anything becomes more of a struggle if you think about the struggle. If you think only of the pain when in the dentist’s chair it will be more painful. If you think your breathing is laboured while running then it will become more laboured. If, somehow, you can focus on something else then a mile or two can pass without you even being aware of it. I suppose it depends on whether you think of running fundamentally as a penance or a pleasure. Personally, I don’t want miles to pass without me being aware of it.
      The outer aspect concerns my focus on the surroundings as I run. I always set off with some expectations about what I might see and hear. On the run over Halton Bridge I will want to see the progress, if any, on the eco-houses that are planned. If I run up to the moor in February I will listen out for the first skylarks of the year and glance in the ditches for the first frog-spawn (they are hardy frogs up there). If I run around the windmills I will be sure to appreciate the long-distance views of the Forest of Bowland, the Yorkshire Dales and over Morecambe Bay to the Lake District. And so on - and, of course, I will try to stay alert for anything unexpected en route. In this way I am always reminding myself how privileged I am to be able to run in such a region.
      bluebells As it happens, I have not managed a 90-minute run this week, unlike a couple of previous weeks. It is good to know that I am capable of it but ... I hesitate to regale you with a litany of my woes but I cannot give the full and fair picture of my running that you deserve without mentioning that I have been somewhat discommoded this week by bruises gained by falling in the beck. After a dry spell, as we’ve had, I work on the bank of the beck at the bottom of our garden to protect it against erosion during a very wet spell, as we will surely have. Anyhow, somehow, I fell in. Afterwards, if I tried to run I would wince at every step. I kept telling myself that “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional” but I kept answering back “pain is optional; running is not compulsory - walk instead”.

Right: Bluebells in Aughton Woods.

      Alas and alack: I am bereft, without running. The lump on my head has subsided but a sharp pain in the side of the chest remains. I don’t think it’s a cracked rib but even if it were there’s nothing I can do about it. So I have taken a few gentle strolls. One day I went across to the other side of the River Lune in order to see the spectacular displays of bluebells in Aughton Woods. I think it was a week or two late to see them at their very best but on this walk I was pleased to see another sure sign of the change of season, the return of another of the species that I keep my eye out for: the angler. I spotted one standing in the river below the woods.
      This strange species disappears over the winter. It discards its drab browny-green outer surface and semi-hibernates. Its reappearance in the spring and its disappearance in the autumn is, by some mechanism unknown to science, remarkably punctual, always occurring within a day or two of the same date each year.
      Anglers stand for hours on the river bank with a stick to dangle a wire in the water. Sometimes they stand for hours right in the river, not like a heron gracefully on a rock but half (or more) submerged in the water. Every so often they twirl the stick above their head. This is believed to be an attempt to mesmerise fish so that they may be scooped from the water. However, in thirty years of careful observation I have never seen an angler on the Lune entrap a fish in this way or indeed in any other way.
      Some experts believe the stick-twirling to be part of a mating ritual. If it is then it is sadly unsuccessful for the simple reason that there are no female anglers. As a consequence, there are no young anglers. This presents a conundrum for biologists. My own theory is that the angler is not a species in itself but merely a stage in the life cycle of some other species, like a chrysalis or a maggot, perhaps.
      Anglers are silent and solitary. They have no song or alarm call (unless they fall in the river). They communicate solely with their arms, which they stretch ahead and gradually widen. An angler’s territory is claimed afresh each day but once claimed it is never breached by other anglers. The range of their territory is determined by the size of their stick.
      I am fond of anglers because their peculiar behaviour makes my own seem relatively rational. The one I spotted was still there, in exactly the same position, when I walked back some 45 minutes later. What on earth does an angler think about while standing in the river for hours on end?

20.  Can I Just Run Over That Again?
May 21st 2011

Our outing on Saturday to the Howgills, where we went so that Ruth could rehearse for and then play in the Ravenstonedale Prom, had a certain poignancy. On the day of the Prom last year (which was in July) I had my longest run of recent years: this year I could only go for a walk.
      Last year’s run was a ‘tip-out-run’, which is a combination, naturally, of a ‘tip-out’ (Week 15) and an ‘out-run’ (Week 16). In a normal tip-out I am left to run back home from wherever I am tipped out. In a tip-out-run I have to run, usually over some mountains, to an agreed rendez-vous point, to meet up again with car and Ruth. These tip-out-runs don’t happen often because they take careful planning and require a high level of fitness on my part. When they do, however, they provide memorable runs that cannot be tackled in any other way.
      One tip-out-run that I recall well (on 24th July 1990, according to my records) was along the High Street ridge. I was tipped out at the Kirkstone Inn, from where I ran over Stony Cove Pike and Thornthwaite Crag to High Street, with a detour out to Kidsty Pike for the view, and then along the ridge - excellent running all the way - over Rampsgill Head, High Raise, Wether Hill, Loadpot Hill, Arthur’s Pike, and down to Pooley Bridge, where I was met by Ruth and Pamela walking up the track. They had had a leisurely drive alongside Ullswater. It was a hot, sunny day, with good views in all directions, but between Rampsgill Head and Pooley Bridge I did not see another person. That’s eight miles or so of one of the most scenic ridges in England all to myself, which is worth running for!
      Last year I was tipped out in Sedbergh to run over the Howgills to Ravenstonedale. When I’m running up hills I try to keep running as long as I can, albeit slowly. Once, as a challenge to myself, I ran non-stop to the top of Whernside, the highest peak of the Yorkshire Dales. If the intention is to keep on running then it is wise to tackle the longest, gentlest ascent rather than a direct frontal assault. So, I began in Kingsdale by Raven Ray, ran along the track to Twisleton Hall, and then along the West Fell ridge, climbing 480m without a pause.

winder Left: Winder, Arant Haw and Calders, the ridge along which I ran.

      Unfortunately, on the slopes of Winder, the hill behind Sedbergh, I soon found that I was not able to run up it. The first few yards were too steep. I feared that I might have been over-ambitious in aiming to run to Ravenstonedale, 10 miles away in a direct line (not that a direct line is possible). Eventually, I managed a slow trot skirting below Winder, to join the broad and, eventually, flattish, track that passes Arant Haw and on to Calders.
      I had to walk again up the slopes of Calders, where I met a couple of walkers on their way down. “That is The Calf, isn’t it?” they asked, waving to Calders. They clearly thought, or hoped, that they had conquered the highest point of the Howgills (which is The Calf) and were disappointed when I said “No, The Calf is another mile further on. You can see its trig point from the top there (Calders)”. They reluctantly turned to re-climb Calders.
      When I reached The Calf, I looked back and I could see them still at Calders, gesticulating with other walkers. I gave them a wave but I doubt that they ever believed that they were not at The Calf (it is only two metres higher than Calders). At the trig point a small group of walkers was already gathered. Normally I pause at the highest point to have a good look around and perhaps have a brief word with anyone else there. But this group seemed to find me a subject of amusement. Maybe the sight of an old guy puffing up to the trig point is amusing to walkers. Maybe they were taking bets on whether I was about to peg out. Maybe I imagined it.

bowderdale Right: Bowderdale in the Howgills, showing the eastern ridge that I ran along. Randygill Top is the rounded peak (all peaks are rounded in the Howgills!) to the right, with part of Yarlside to its right. The slope of Yarlside is one of the ones that I could not run up.

      I left them to it and jogged off on the path to Bowderdale Head. From here, I expected to be on my own. The Saturday walkers tackle the path from Winder to the Calf but very few of them walk on the eastern slopes of Bowderdale. I had to, as I was again reduced to walking, on the slopes of Yarlside. Actually, I am sure that even in my prime I would have had to walk up Yarlside. It is too steep and the grassy slopes too uneven to run on.
      After another scramble up Kensgriff left me feeling exhausted, I was relieved that it should be all running, and mainly downhill, from here to Ravenstonedale. I picked up the path below Randygill Top and ran on to Green Bell, where, as I reached the top, I was surprised to meet a party of walkers arriving from the northern slope. I did not linger in the cold wind. On over Knoutberry and Snowfell End and at last I could see Ravenstonedale ahead. After a wash and some food in the van, I was refreshed sufficiently to join the Ravenstonedale Prommers.
      I reached the van some 2 hours 20 minutes after I had been tipped out of it. As I’ve indicated, I cannot honestly say that I ran across the Howgills. There were several walking/scrambling episodes. Even so, I managed the whole distance in reasonable shape, which was not too bad, just a few days before my 65th birthday.
      The probably increasing rarity of such days makes them even more valued and memorable. As with marathons, the run itself is only part of the achievement. It is the knowledge that one is fit enough to contemplate even tackling such a run that gives greater satisfaction. One of the reasons that I continue to try to run is the hope that I may become fit enough to have further days like the traverse of the Howgills.
      Unfortunately, that seems some way away right now. The most frustrating aspect of running as you get older is the body’s decreasing ability to recover. Decades ago, minor problems would evaporate in a day or two but now they seem to linger forever. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned my “slightly sore calf” (no relation to The Calf). I could run for 90 minutes with it so it wasn’t much to worry about.
      I thought that a week’s rest, after my fall in the beck, would do the calf good. In fact, it is worse. How is that possible? It is as though my battle-hardened muscles of two weeks ago, when I was fit, protected their ailing comrade, the sore muscle, but have relaxed during their holiday and are now leaving it to fend for itself, which it is unable to do.
      I am on the horns of a dilemma. If I run to toughen up the relaxed muscles, the calf may be made worse. If I rest the calf, the muscles may become even more relaxed - and the calf may not recover for some time.

21.  Running the Gauntlet
May 28th 2011

To run or not to run? That is the runner’s question: whether it is better to run - to maintain general fitness at the risk of aggravating a minor injury - or to rest - to sacrifice general fitness in order to allow time for an injury to recover.
      In hindsight the answer ‘to run’ is always a mistake, because we never apply hindsight if it turns out not to be a mistake. The wrong decision here is the main cause of all those injuries mentioned in Week 3. On the other hand, if we rested whenever there was a possibility of making a suspected minor injury worse then we would hardly run at all.
      Whilst I am grappling with this problem, teetering on the tightrope of indecision, let us divert ourselves by turning for inspiration to the London Marathon, the zenith of so many runners’ ambition and achievement. I can postpone it no longer.
      The first London Marathon was in 1981. It is often assumed that the London Marathon caused the great growth in long-distance running in the 1980s. In fact, it was the other way around. Nobody would have gone to the considerable trouble of organising a marathon in London if they weren’t sure that many thousands of people would want to run it. Participation in long-distance road races was already increasing and the New York Marathon, which had started in 1970, had shown the popularity of mass-participation big city marathons.
      The London Marathon instantly became the largest British marathon: indeed, for the general public it was the only marathon. If you said that you’d run a marathon it was assumed to be the London Marathon. It was, and still is, the only British marathon televised live and featured on news broadcasts. Its theme tune became known to everyone as the marathon tune (it’s actually Ron Goodwin’s ‘The Trap’, written to accompany Oliver Reed canoeing down a Canadian river).
      The London Marathon initiated a new style of marathon for Britain, in which members of a vast sea of humanity provide mutual support as they strive towards a communal goal. The sight of such a mass of be-numbered runners proved inspirational to thousands. It showed, according to Chris Brasher, one of the initiators, that “the human race [is] one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible”.
      The new marathon ethos was perfectly symbolised by the two winners of the first race, who came to the finishing line hand-in-hand. Can you imagine the negotiation between the two leaders in the final mile? This gesture has not been repeated in any later marathon but in 1981 it was the taking part, not the winning, that mattered.
      I resisted the London Marathon until 1983. Then we set off for a weekend in London, along with many thousands of others. On the Saturday we joined the throngs registering for the race and getting swept up in the media hype. Early Sunday morning I made my way to Greenwich. The organisers had skilfully fixed the date of the marathon to coincide with the change of the clocks, so the 9.30 start was really 8.30. Despite this, I had ample time to enjoy the exciting facilities provided on Greenwich Park: black coffee stalls (to keep awake), running shoe stalls (bit late for that, I thought), portable loos (well, I hope they were portable) and back to black coffee.
      The London Marathon is neither a loop-run nor a line-run. It is a line-loop-line-run. You run from Greenwich to Tower Bridge, go on a loop through the Isle of Dogs back to Tower Bridge, and then on to Westminster. Its odd shape helps to create the unique experience of running it.
      I did, of course, expect to have plenty of company on this run, unlike the other marathons I’d run. I had not, however, fully anticipated the crowds of people lining the course, who, along with the TV helicopters whirring overhead, created a perpetual din. I was not used to this. Normally, on my runs, I hear only the sounds of nature - the occasional sheep or skylark, perhaps.

littledale Left: Littledale, from the footpath between Cragg Farm and Belhill Farm, is the kind of place where I prefer to run. The grassy ridge on the left, up to High Stephen’s Head, is a fine run; the rocky ridge on the right, up to Ward’s Stone, less so. I can be certain that there will be no other runners and no spectators. (I dare but whisper that I eventually decided to run, not rest, this week. The best that I can say is that I haven’t made matters worse but it feels as though my body is still re-assembling itself into working order.)

      Most people, I suppose, find encouragement from the cheering crowds. Like anyone, I appreciate hearing a friend or relative shouting out a “Looking good - keep it up”, which is all you hear during normal races. But why were complete strangers shouting at me? What were they shouting? How could I focus on my running in all this noise? Why were bands playing outside the pubs? Why were people gathered there, pints in hand, shouting at us? Was it really encouragement they were shouting? Did they know or care anything at all about running marathons or did they just like shouting at runners?
      It may not seem much to put up with but mile after mile of it overwhelmed me. Even the relative peace of the Isle of Dogs was disturbed every few yards by some well-meaning bystander shouting “Keep going - only twelve miles to go”, which is the last thing you want to hear. I stopped. I don’t think it was fatigue from running. I was mentally, rather more than physically, exhausted. There was just too much noise. Too much fuss all round. It was the opposite of what running meant for me: a chance to get out into the peaceful fields.
      I started running again and got back to Tower Bridge and the noisy spectators. I somehow caught a glimpse of Ruth and the children, and tried to indicate that all was not well. As I ran along the Embankment the packed crowds along the footpaths and on the bridges were shouting and waving. A runner ahead of me ran along with his arms aloft as though acknowledging the acclaim of people grateful to him for having won the Third World War single-handedly.
      “Sod it” I thought “I’ve had enough of this”. I stopped and walked over Hungerford Bridge to the finish on Westminster Bridge. A woman shouted at me “You can’t stop now - you’ve only a couple of miles to go”. I offered her my number to finish for me. As I look at the map now I am impressed by the rationality of my decision. It is much easier to reach the finish over Hungerford Bridge than it is to take the long detour along Pall Mall and Birdcage Walk.
      It is, however, very bad form to drop out of a race just because you are fed up with it. It is considered an insult to the organisers and the other runners. Even if, or especially if, you are not running as well as you’d like, you are expected to complete the course. There is a special appreciation for those runners who persevere although in obvious discomfit. For most runners, dropping out is a matter of shame and regret.
      But there we are. I ran 24 miles and then dropped out. Afterwards, it was hard to explain to people why. I wasn’t even injured. I wasn’t that tired. The family, all excited that I’d finished, eventually found me in the finishing area. But I hadn’t finished: I had dropped out.
      Everybody else seemed to relish all the hullabaloo. The cheering continued. Runners streamed over the finishing line, triumphant. It was a little hard to accept that I was the odd one out. I am perplexed that people can say that they like running because it provides an inner serenity - and then they run with thousands of others in a noisy bedlam. How can Murakami achieve his ‘mental void’ while running in the New York Marathon? I concluded that the London Marathon was not for me. I’d leave it for those who like that sort of thing.

22.  A Run For Your Money
June 4th 2011

At 9.29 on May 13th 1984 I was standing at the starting line for the 1984 London Marathon. Or very near the starting line, as my 2:34.59 in the 1983 Windermere Marathon had qualified me as a so-called ‘elite runner’ - by 1 second. I had unfinished business. This time there would be no distractions. I ignored all the hype. I ignored all the other runners. I ignored the crowd. I left the family at home. I was apparently spotted two or three times in the TV broadcast. Normally, it is impossible to spot anyone in that flood of runners but I ran apart from the rest, as far as possible. Around Cutty Sark I took a wide path, unlike everyone else. Along Birdcage Walk I kept myself separate. I was totally focussed on the race. I finished, in no distress, in 2:33 in 351st place. Job done. Now I really would leave the London Marathon to those who like that sort of thing.

london marathon Right: Proof that I completed the 1984 London Marathon. I expect the technology has improved by now but in those days a photographer snapped runners at the finish line and sent them a tiny photograph (which is what the above was - sorry for the quality), defaced in some way, in this case, with the ‘proof’ printed over it. You could then pay a large fee for a large photo as a memento of the occasion. I didn’t.

      For the only time in my life I ran for charity in one of the London Marathons, but I don’t remember which one. I don’t recall that my 1983 failure to finish caused any problem claiming the sponsorship money, so I think it must have been the 1984 one. In any case, I took no part in the money-raising effort. I agreed to be sponsored (to raise money for Ruth’s beleaguered orchestra) provided that others would arrange and collect the donations. It is hard enough, I thought, to run the marathon without having the stress of signing up sponsors and then feeling compelled to keep on running to earn all the money that is expected.
      The London Marathon is now the world’s largest annual fund raising event. It raises nearly £50m each year, with over 75% of its runners being sponsored. Not even I can be cynical about that. If that is what runners and their sponsors want to do, then it is wholly to be commended. If it provides extra incentive for many runners to know that they will raise money to help a charity that they want to support, then that is fine too.
      My motivation to run has never been to raise money. In view of my own deplorable efforts in this direction, I thought I’d find out what was involved and I found a helpful website that laid out five principles, which I summarise here:
   1.  Choose your charity with care. Find a personal link with one of them.
   2.  Be professional. Be precise and clear about the reasons for fund-raising.
   3.  Be persistent but not pushy.
   4.  Be proactive. Raise the profile of what you are doing. Use contacts shamelessly.
   5.  Use email and the internet to market yourself and to collect donations.
I particularly appreciated the comment that “It is a serious business and so you should approach sponsorship in the same way as your training, with dedication and effort”. This makes me feel relieved that, in the circumstances, I didn’t get involved with sponsorship as I had little dedication and effort to spare, after training.
      One of the problems with raising money by running is inflation - the rising demand for novelty. Sponsors become less and less enthused by such a mundane challenge as just running a marathon. So, year-by-year, runners for charity become more adventurous, with outlandish costumes, running backwards, playing a trombone, juggling, ... culminating (surely) in 2011 with the ludicrous ‘snail’, which completed the London Marathon course in 26 days. The snail claimed the slowest marathon time ever, as if that were an achievement. I don’t want to be pernickety but if you are allowed breaks, as the snail had, then I took a whole year to finish my 1983 marathon.
      I am consoled a little to read that the snail raised only a tenth of the money hoped for, suggesting that sponsors prefer to support an activity with some sense and some merit. But I am digressing from my brief because the snail clearly did not run: it inched along face down on a sled, nosing its way through dog mess, fag-ends, chewing gum, and so on.
      Returning to running, I am pleased to be able to report that the 73-year-old - whom I neglected to name in Week 4, John Dawson - duly completed his ten marathons in ten days, in aid of the Brathay Trust. After taking up running at 53, Dawson has completed about 300 marathons since he reached the age of 65. His average time for the ten marathons was about 7 hours, which is a speed of 16 minutes per mile.
      I don’t want to appear unappreciative of the inspiring achievement of an elderly man in covering 26 miles for ten days in a row, but I do wonder if 16 minutes per mile is ‘running’. In competitive walking they are very careful to define ‘walking’ to ensure that nobody breaks into a run. In walking, there is always one foot on the ground. If, at any time, both feet are off the ground it is running. Walkers are disqualified for running but runners are not disqualified for walking. It matters to nobody whether Dawson ran or walked according to the letter of the law (I expect it was a lot of both). However, the difference between walking and running matters to me, not for pedantic reasons but subjectively.
      When I go walking I wear and carry extra clothes, to combat all varieties of weather, and I also carry (as recommended for serious walkers) maps, compass, food, drink, camera, mobile, binoculars, and plasters, bandages, and so on in case of mishaps - mishaps that are in fact much more likely to occur when I go running, for which I discard all the above so that I may run unencumbered and uninhibited (well, not all my clothes - I am not that uninhibited). Walking is a trudge; running is a gambol. Subjectively, as I say.
      It had not occurred to me to include miles walked in my mileage figures below. If I did then it would be boosted considerably, as I’ve walked quite a lot recently, allowing my bruises to recover. Similarly, it did not occur to me to just walk the last two miles of the 1983 London Marathon, as I could easily have done. I wouldn’t have needed to make the 1984 expedition if I had.

23.  It’s Running A Little Funny
June 11th 2011

Perhaps I am a running snob. I used to take inner umbrage when people said “I saw you out jogging the other day”. I thought “Jogging is running slow enough to be able to chat, and I don’t think you could chat at the speed I go” but I never said it.
      On the other hand, some people object to being called a runner [1]:
      “I would never have guessed that you were a runner”.
      “This is jogging, Percy, not running. Running is sport. Jogging is punishment”.
      “You mean you don’t enjoy it?”
      “Enjoy it? Are you kidding? I only do this for my health. It makes me feel so terrible, I figure it must be doing me good”.
      I don’t mind being called a jogger nowadays. I am grateful to be even that. Nobody has ever called me a ‘fun-runner’. I enjoy running but ‘fun’ is not the word I’d use. I don’t think that I am alone in this. I doubt that Murakami and McDougall, for example, would welcome being called fun-runners. They don’t call themselves fun-runners, anyway. They have more commitment than the term suggests.
      The fun-runner was invented in the 1970s in the United States and was inevitably adopted in the UK. I am not sure that a ‘fun-run’ would exist if ‘fun’ didn’t rhyme with ‘run’. According to Google translate, a fun-runner is in Spanish a ‘divertido-corredor’, which doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, at least, not my tongue. The French don’t even have a word. Seriously, I think that linguistic accidents do have an influence. It is interesting that many nouns have become verbs and vice versa. ‘Run’, ‘sprint’, ‘steeplechase’, ‘jog’, ‘trot’, for example, are all noun-verbs. ‘Marathon’ is only a noun. You cannot marathon. But you can certainly fun-run. Anyone can.
      Are there ‘fun’ versions of other activities? I see that there is now a Great North Swim. The first was held in 2008, when 2250 swimmers swam over a mile in Lake Windermere. The 2010 swim was cancelled because of toxic algae, a hazard that I never encountered on the road. Are there fun-swimmers in these events? Do they dress up in enormous shark outfits? Or wear a mock paddle-ship? I suspect not as the organisers say that “costumes that restrict the swimmer or potentially cause any injury to other swimmers will not be allowed”.
      If the London Marathon applied such a rule then the field would be halved. But the sinking of a human paddle-ship in Lake Windermere could be a serious matter. In the London Marathon it could just berth by the road-side.
      The London Marathon has, over the years, come to be dominated by fun-runners. In 1984, when I completed it, 35% of the runners finished within 3:30; in 2011 the figure was 11%. (I am not implying that all slow runners are fun-runners; goodness, no, some of them insist on having no fun at all.) As I mentioned, the corresponding figures for the Preston-to-Morecambe and Huddersfield Marathons were 88% and 84%. In the 1980 Preston-to-Morecambe Marathon 8 out of 9 runners ran faster than 3:30; in the 2011 London Marathon 8 out of 9 runners ran slower than 3:30.
      In over thirty years on the roads I have never seen a fun-runner training. At least, not with his or her regalia on. Do they turn up on Greenwich Park and hurriedly try on the Houses of Parliament framework that they have knocked up overnight and say “OK, that’s fine. I can carry this for 26 miles”? I don’t know how they manage it sometimes. How can you wear a grizzly bear outfit for 26 miles and not collapse from dehydration? Do they not feel a teensy bit patronised to be called fun-runners, as if those 26 miles as a grizzly bear is a walk in the park?
      I think I dislike the term ‘fun-runner’ because of the presumption that ordinary running is not ‘fun’. How would musicians, say, feel if people began calling themselves ‘fun-musicians’, dressing up in fancy costumes, and playing, not particularly well, for money in town centres? I suspect that they would slightly resent the implication that they themselves were not having ‘fun’ playing music.
      Overall, though, I am happy with the concept of a ‘fun-runner’ as it reassures me that there are other people who regard running as a source of enjoyment. I was beginning to doubt it after feeling guilty about my comments in Week 13 about “pain is inevitable”.

waterworks br Left: Waterworks Bridge, across which I have run many times, after it was opened to the public in the 1990s. Clougha Pike is in the distance.

      My sore ribs (from my fall in Week 19) have just about recovered. For a while, they hurt when I sneezed, coughed, lie on them, or breathed, not all of which I could avoid doing when I ran. Running with gritted teeth, tense shoulders, and a determination to avoid any jarring movements rather sapped my enthusiasm. The cause of my difficulties was not apparent to anyone else. Pain itself is not visible, only the effects of pain. Short of poking me in the ribs to see if I winced, you’d just have to take my word for it that they hurt. Medically, there is no measure of pain other than what the person with pain says.
      I appreciate now that this applies to other runners too. If Murakami says that “pain is inevitable”, I accept that it is, for him. Who am I to deny it? I apologise and sympathise. (Whilst I am in apologetic mood, I must also say sorry to Norwich City Football Club for my gratuitous insult in The Run-Up. Its magnificent achievement of two successive promotions to reach the Premiership is only just sinking in.)
      Perhaps pain is the standard condition for all other runners. I have no way of knowing. Runners are only too willing to talk about their problems, but I tend not to believe them. Perhaps I am exceptionally lucky. Pain has not been something that I associate with running, normally. I doubt very much that I would have the courage to run if it were. It was only to prevent my legs becoming unfit that I tried to run in recent weeks.
      In evolutionary terms, pain exists, I suppose, to ensure that we remove ourselves from potentially damaging situations and to allow time for the cause of pain to recover. If so, it is probably a mistake to run with pain. My excuse for doing so is that this particular pain was not caused by running and was not, I think, made worse by running.
      After a month of just ticking over, with no run of more than half-an-hour, I am beginning to get back into it. Indeed, on Thursday this week, as I ran by the Waterworks Bridge, I felt that I was really running, flowing, gliding, with abandon, free as the wind. I know that it was only relative to the previous painful month but even so it was a feeling that I hadn’t experienced all year.
      Although I have run this year as much as I might have hoped, it has all been rather tentative, constrained by the foreboding that if I let my running off the leash then I would regret it. It is very different to the old days, when I could, on a whim, decide to ‘sprint’ the next mile, say. Now, if I were to be so reckless, parts of me would rattle, seize up, burst, or fall off.
      I was also mightily encouraged recently by the comment of a local woman, who is an occasional jogger and who we met while out walking. She said that my running “looks effortless”. Bless her! Of course, it neither is nor looks it, but her saying so cheered me up no end. Murakami emphasises his determination to keep on running despite all his pain and in the final sentence of his book says that he’d like his epitaph to read “At Least He Never Walked”. I think I’d prefer mine to be a more all-purpose one: “It Looked Effortless”.

[1].  Lodge, David (1984), Small World, London: Secker & Warburg.

24.  Running Sore
June 18th 2011

There is one thing that I am particularly grateful to the fun-runner movement for. And that is the medals! When race-organisers began to insist that taking part was more important than winning, they were duty-bound to provide medals for us all, not just the winners. There must have been a boom in the medal-making industry in the 1980s.
      I have just tipped on to my desk the contents of a small box that has lain undisturbed at the back of a cupboard for nearly 20 years. Let’s see ... 39 medals. All those years ... all those races ... all these medals. I am overcome with pride and emotion. A lump comes to my eyes and a tear to my throat.
      There are 4 round, engraved ones in neat boxes. These are old-fashioned medals, won in old-fashioned times (at school). The other 35 are all shapes and sizes and colours. Some are a little rusty, but then so am I. Most of the medals still have their ornate ribbons, for hanging around my neck at the finishing line.
      Some of the medals have no identifying words, the race-organisers being too miserly to order medals with engravings. But now is the precise moment that, with amazing foresight, I must have anticipated all those years ago, because I see that on the back of each medal is a little sticker, with date, race and time details. Here, for example, is the Blackpool Half-Marathon of 16th October 1983 (15th in 74:45). The memory of it is creeping back. A ferocious gale blew. Ruth and the children went for a walk along the prom and said that they nearly got blown off.
      I have now turned all the medals upside down and what a panorama of athletic endeavour is revealed! I am reminded of the jigsaw puzzles I used to do as a boy. When it was finished my father would turn it over and carefully number all the pieces. Thereafter it was somewhat easier to do the puzzle upside down. I may have missed the point of the activity but at least I became red-hot on the order of the numbers, which has stood me in good stead.
      Now, if you’ll excuse me for a few minutes I’d like to arrange the medals into chronological order, for I am sparing no effort to raise the enlightenment coefficient of this epistle ...
      So, here they all are, from 19th June 1983 (Preston Half-Marathon) to 17th April 1993 (Coniston 14-mile). As you can see, my earliest races, including the first three marathons, didn’t go in for the frivolity of medals. The array, as I see it before me, reveals the flow and ebb of my road-racing career, such as it was. The number of medals each year is: 1983 - 8; 1984 - 11; 1985 - 6; 1986 - 5; 1987 - 1; 1992 - 2; 1993 - 2. Apart from the unaccountable little flourish in 1992 and 1993, I stopped road-racing in 1987.
      I am distressed to see that the largest medal is for the race I’d most prefer to forget, the 1986 Windermere Marathon. I don’t know why I ran it, as my enthusiasm for marathons had evaporated by then. Perhaps it was because I’d entered the previous two years and then withdrawn and didn’t like to do so a third time: it was, after all, the local marathon and should be supported.

windermere mar Left: Pinning my number on before the Windermere Marathon.

      At the start of any race, runners are nervous about the twinges that they’ve felt in previous days. They hope that they won’t cause a problem, and usually they don’t. If, however, there is a weakness, then a marathon will find it. By halfway my groin was more sore than I had feared it would be. By 20 miles I was hobbling. Runners streamed past, including Tony, my pace-setter for the Preston-to-Morecambe Marathon and still ten years older than me. I finished, just, in 2:54.
      I think that I had known all along that this would be my last marathon. Marathons, I had come to feel, are too big a commitment for too uncertain a reward. For example, after training for the 1984 Manchester Marathon I hurt my back a week before the race while fooling about on Martin’s BMX bike. It seemed that months of dedicated effort, with the looming marathon dominating my (and the family’s) life, had all been wasted. In fact, of course, I should have just been grateful for the months of good running.

w mar 2 Right: The end of the Windermere Marathon.

      So that was it, as far as marathons were concerned. Seven completed (one in pain) and one aborted two miles short. I never experienced the notorious ‘wall’. This physiological barrier, which is due to the body exhausting its glycogen supply, halts many runners after the 20-mile mark. It causes overwhelming body fatigue and fuzzy thinking. That was not my condition at Windermere: I had an injury. I’m not sure about the 1983 London Marathon: if anything, my neat escape over Hungerford Bridge showed rather unfuzzy thinking.
      The 1986 Windermere Marathon was an interesting experience but not one that I needed to repeat. Since then, I’ve treated (potential) injuries with respect. My guideline is to try to run for x minutes only if I know that I can run for x-10 minutes.

lune Left: The River Lune at the Crook o’Lune.

      So I am building up slowly again after my recent troubles. Whilst my attention has been inward-looking, the outside world has moved on. Spring seems suddenly to be over. The trees, which were in different stages of fresh verdancy the last time I looked, are now all in their full, dull, monotone green. Over-growing branches and brambles brush into me as I run along my paths. The grass in fields without livestock is up to my hips, bringing my legs out in a swollen rash, reddening my eyes, and blocking my nose with hay fever. I run, with difficulty, gasping for air.
      All the spring arrivals are here and well-settled. All, that is, except one: I haven’t heard a single cuc or koo. On the moor, the lapwings and curlews clearly have young, as they bombard me aggressively, with fearsome screeches of alarm, if I should accidentally run near them. This is a little counter-productive: if they kept quiet I would not know the young were there. If the curlew young are some distance away, the adults position themselves between me and the young. Therefore, if I see a curlew or two standing furtively in a field, I look beyond them to spot the implausibly cute mottled chicks. These, of course, do not have the remarkable bill of their parents but an ordinary one that will grow by degrees. The lapwings have taken on some of the dignity of parenthood. The acrobatic displays of the spring birds, rising, tumbling, somersaulting over their territory, are no longer necessary.
      Likewise, my winter running dormancy burst into an enthusiastic spring and has now settled into a summer maturity. I must try to avoid the decay of autumn.

Late news: The snail (Week 22) has been sacked by its charity, Action for Kids, for (it is said) not raising enough money, which, much as I disliked the snail, seems rather uncharitable.

25.  Run the Good Race
June 25th 2011

Is a road-race a race? I was never sure. A running race is the most elemental contest there is. It is one of the first contests we learn, as a toddler: “Race you to that tree”. The adult version is much the same. I was not given a list of rules or told to wear special equipment for my first road-race. Even boxers have rules (the Queensberry Rules) and compulsory equipment (boxing gloves).
      In a road-race you are side-by-side with your opponent. You can sense his strengths and weaknesses. It is your power and will-power against his. There is a direct comparison, moment-to-moment, with your opponent. In other races, such as cycling and swimming, the equipment and/or medium lessen this sense of personal conflict. In some sports, such as tennis, the conflict is face-to-face. The personal comparison is indirect, by means of some scoring system. In other sports, such as skiing, competitors perform at different times, lessening further the direct competitive element. And of course team sports, by definition, eschew personal conflict altogether.
      A road-race is a public event. It takes place on public roads. All this personal conflict is played out in full view of the public, if they are interested. The only similar public event is the cycling road-race but cyclists are at least unrecognisable in their helmets and at the speed they whizz by. All other sporting events take place in special arenas.
      This public view of personal conflict mattered to a sensitive soul like me. I had no wish to display my apparently competitive nature in public. Umberto Eco wrote that “Races improve the race, contests develop and control the competitive spirit, they reduce innate aggression to a system” [1]. I resent the implication that I am innately aggressive and I will punch anyone who says that I am. I am, however, soothed to realise that my participation in road-races helped to improve the human race.
      It is more straightforward when you are young (say, 15) and when you are old (say, 65). At 15, the whole point of a race is to win, or, failing that, to beat as many others as possible. There is no embarrassment or stigma in striving your utmost to win: that is what you are supposed to do. At 65, there is no need to compete in road-races. There is nothing left to prove. It is unseemly for a 65-year-old to try to summon up a sort-of-sprint in order to overtake some other runner at the tape. At least, I think so.
      In middle age (say, 40) it is less clear-cut, except at the extremes - at the front and the back of the race. At the front, there are prizes, medals and reputations at stake. Serious competition is in order. Indeed, it is expected, especially by the race organisers and the spectators. At the back, it makes little difference whether you come 290th or 291st out of 300. Runners who sprint at the end as though it does just make a spectacle of themselves.
      But in the middle of a road-race? It didn’t matter much to me whether I came 48th or 49th. On balance, I’d rather be 48th, of course, because of the miniscule increase in the sense of personal satisfaction. But I had nothing against the 49th runner. In fact, I’d prefer not to know who he was. I was never comfortable racing against friends and it seemed unsporting to overtake them in the later stages of a race.
      Because of my natural diffidence and because I always felt myself a novice road-racer I tended to start races further back in the pack than I might have expected to finish. This meant that I was usually overtaking other runners rather than vice-versa. I found the races less stressful that way, as it can be dispiriting to have other runners coming past you all the time. I tried not to notice who I was overtaking. They were just anonymous runners who I was using to help me towards a good time and a higher finishing position.
      It being twenty years or so since I have taken part in a road-race, I have almost forgotten that unpleasant tension that overcomes the body in the hours and minutes before a race. No doubt, it is a natural and essential part of the preparation but it is one that I am content to forego nowadays.
      Given my ambivalence about the competitive element of road-racing, an obvious question is: Why did I take part in them? The honest answer is, I think, the same as the reason why I (re)started running: because others did so. The talk in the gym was often about races coming up or just completed. As I became fitter and faster and the “Why don’t you ...?” questions became more frequent, I could see less reason not to join in with the others.
      Perhaps Umberto Eco was making a deeper point: that competitiveness, even aggression, is in our genes and needs to be channelled or controlled. In certain contexts perhaps it will always come to the fore. In all but two of the races that I ran I tried to run as well as I could at that time, which to an observer is indistinguishable from being as competitive as possible against the other runners.
      In the two exceptions I tried to not run seriously but failed. One was a 5-mile race at Morecambe, which I was treating as the middle part of a long training run. I ran from Heysham (where we had gone for Martin to use the BMX track) to Morecambe for the race, and after it I ran home. However, during the race itself I could not restrain myself, especially when other runners who knew me wondered why I wasn’t trying.
      The other occasion was at the Ingleborough fell-race. A French visitor was bewildered by the concept of a fell-race, so we persuaded him to take part in one. We set off sedately enough but it is an odd feature of many fell-races, where you run up a hill and straight down again, that as you are labouring up you suddenly find the leading runners sweeping by you on their way down. I found it impossible to resist the example they set and began to make more of an effort, leaving my French friend behind, I am ashamed to say.
      I seem to be constitutionally incapable of running a race and not racing. But was I really racing? I was ‘competing’ against myself, to run as well as possible, not against the others. And yet I seemed to need the others to spur me to run as well as possible. Perhaps this attitude is not specific to running: maybe in any competitive context I will compete. If I were given boxing gloves and pushed into a ring perhaps I would be unable to resist trying to pummel the other guy to a pulp. So, in fairness to the other guy, I avoid boxing rings. And as I don’t particularly want to race, I now avoid road-races.
      It wasn’t only races that caused me problems: I had elements of the same feelings during training runs with friends. There was always an undercurrent of comparison if not exactly competition. They would be aware of how well you were running, as you would be of them. I felt, as the years went by, that I didn’t really want this inter-runner subliminal rivalry.
      So I arrive at the paradoxical conclusion that I stopped running races, or even running with others, because I am too competitive. I cannot run in those contexts without being competitive - and I no longer wanted competition. But perhaps it’s not a paradox. For Murakami it’s the other way around: he says he’s not competitive and yet he carried on running his races.
            I completed the pdf page with these words ...
      I was going to fill up this space with a bright photograph but instead I’ll confess that I haven’t run much this week. No excuses: I just haven’t felt like it.
      Perhaps all this thought of races and competition exhausted me. Or depressed me, by reminding me how past it I have become. Who am I trying to kid? Didn’t I really give up road-racing just because I was getting slower? It is hard to be motivated to run slower.
      Who am I trying to kid, by running now? I have been endeavouring for 18 months now to reach a level of fitness that I am happy with, but whenever I approach it some problem crops up to set me back. The weeks are slipping by and it is frustrating that I have not this year reached even the modest fitness levels I briefly managed last year.
      Footballers, swimmers, boxers, cyclists do not expect their bodies to be up to the job by their 30s or 40s. Why should runners be any different? My body seems unable to sustain a reasonable amount of running for long. It must be at its limits for it to keep relapsing so often.
      I have been feeling generally tired and queasy. By non-running standards I am fine but it doesn’t take much to make running, hard enough at the best of times, seem not worth the effort. The whole business seems pointless. I feel a fraud putting on my running gear as if I were a proper athlete. If I am to run, I need to run properly, not dodder along.
      I think I need to consider in detail the complex psychology of motivation but I seem to be running out of
            Here I contrived to reach the end of the pdf page. This little 'joke' doesn't work in html.

[1].  Eco, Umberto (1987), Travels in Hyperreality, London: Picador (p161).

26.  Run For Your Life
July 2nd 2011

old tree Left: An ex-tree near Aughton, symbolising my physical and mental state at the beginning of the week.

After last week’s wobble, I have almost regained my equilibrium. I’ve been reading some wise words on the interplay between running and life. I noticed that those who write about running fairly soon begin to search for its deeper significance. It’s as though even running enthusiasts think that running is somewhat inexplicable and that underlying it there must be something profoundly philosophical, anthropological, psychological and metaphysical.
      Their first step is to draw analogies between running and other aspects of life. For example, when discussing competition in road-races (as I did last week), a real running-writer would go on to elaborate similarities with competition in business, work, love, and so on - and would then argue, ipso facto, that a good way to learn valuable life lessons, about perseverance, failure, planning, determination, and so on, is to run.
      It would be good to be able to learn so much from such a simple activity as running. In a book about cricket or golf one could fill chapters galore on the rules, techniques and equipment. There are few rules for running. There is little to say about techniques and equipment either, unless, like McDougall, you are campaigning against running shoes. Perhaps it is the simplicity itself that prompts deep meditation.
      The most inspirational and quasi-spiritual writer on running was George Sheehan, who is said to have been the first over-50 to run a 5-minute mile. His book Running and Being was a best-seller in 1978. He wrote that “When I run, I am a hunter, and the prey is my self, my own truth”. Likewise, Joseph Conrad’s Marlow said “I don’t like running - no man does - but I like what is in the running - the chance to find yourself. Your own reality - for yourself, not for others - what no other man can ever know” [1].
      Sorry, I have cheated there. Marlow actually said ‘work’ where I’ve put ‘running’. But you can say the same thing about anything onerous.
      The notion that running is a search for your inner self is a beguiling one. It is especially popular with champion runners, who like what they find there. For ordinary runners, it is probable that what the search reveals is not what is hoped for. Any failure to run as often, as far, or as fast as you think you should must, on this basis, be attributed to your inner weaknesses.
      The renowned runner Oprah Winfrey said that “Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it”. If you replace ‘running’ with ‘swimming’ or ‘gardening’ or ‘painting’ doesn’t the same apply? In general, don’t rewards reflect effort?
      Murakami, at least, agrees (p83) that running is a metaphor: “Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life”. Or, as the great runner David Bedford (former world 10k record holder and organiser of the London Marathon) put it, “Running is a lot like life. Only 10% of it is exciting. 90% of it is slog and drudge”. If I thought that my life was 90% slog and drudge I think I’d sort my life out, not waste time running.
      If you consider life to be full of desolation, wretchedness and despair then running may be just what you need, as it was for one of Garrison Keillor’s characters: “Despite the bum foot, I kept running four miles per day. I love the misery of running. I love the misery of feeling I should run more, hundreds of miles, and do it on my knees” [2].
      Running, however, is not like life or a metaphor for it. It is a part of life (my life, anyway). It is not somehow separate or external to life. If you think that running is to escape from life’s problems or that it is to be carried out in a mental ‘void’ then you might well conclude that running is not part of ‘real life’. But, for me, running is integrated with the rest of life. It is a part of that life, a small part, maybe, but an important one.

tree Left: A tree by the River Lune below Aughton Woods.

      For some people running is clearly an essential part of their life. The author Joyce Carol Oates wrote that “On days when I can’t run, I don’t feel ‘myself’; and whoever the ‘self’ is I feel, I don’t like [her] nearly so much as the other” [3]. The answer for people like Oates is obvious: run every day. There is a breed of runner who feels a compulsion to do exactly that - the ‘streak runner’ (not to be confused with the ‘streaker’, who has a different compulsion). The record is held by Ron Hill, former world 10 mile record holder, who is said to have run every day since 1964. There is even an association to join, if you are American, the United States Running Streak Association, Inc., with nearly 400 members.
      When running is taken to such extremes, it is necessary to be precise. According to the USRSA’s website, in a running streak one has “to run at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one’s own body power. Running cannot occur through the use of canes, crutches or banisters, or reliance on pools or aquatic devices to create artificial buoyancy”.
      Now we know what a ‘run’ is. It’s not far (just one mile) and it’s as slow as you like. Hill’s Wikipedia page says that he used crutches to hobble a mile after bunion surgery. I trust that the USRSA has disqualified him, although he is British and probably doesn’t count. The US record-holder, Mark Covert, started in 1968, over 15,000 days ago. If he stopped tomorrow, I’d have to run every day until 2054 to beat his record (I’ll then be 109). Assuming I start tomorrow.
      Looking from this angle, I gain a clearer perspective on my own running. I run free - free of routine, of obligation, of commitment. At least, I thought so, but I see that I ‘confessed’ last week, as if not running were a sin that needed to be absolved. This week I have, of my own free will, run care-free and rather far, for me. Having cleared my mind of the duty to run, I felt more like running. This mental clarity coincided with a new sense of physical well-being. For the first time this year I am running without the fear that my legs are on the verge of breakdown. Of course, they may break down at any moment but the point is that I am not fearing it.
      I have also added some variety to my running. On Monday, when it was very hot during the day, I had a run at sunset, that is, at around 10 o’clock. It always seems slightly decadent to slip into pyjamas after the post-run shower. On Thursday I had a tip-out at Nether Kellet, on the other side of the river, to run back through Aughton and over the Waterworks Bridge. Normally, running from home, by the time I reach a bridge it is time to begin turning back. It is good to run in rarely visited territory that is not far from home. There are fine views across the river to Ingleborough, Caton Moor and Ward’s Stone. The run took me past the two trees shown.

[1].  Conrad, Joseph (1902), Heart of Darkness.
[2].  Keillor, Garrison (1985), Lake Wobegon Days, New York: Viking Penguin.
[3].  Oates, Joyce Carol (July 18, 1999), To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet, New York Times.

27.  Running Away From Home
(as for) July 9th 2011

I apologise for disappearing for two weeks. I hope that you weren’t concerned. I thought it wisest not to announce to the world, or a small subset of it, that we would be away from home for a couple of weeks.
      My renewed enthusiasm for running continued up to Thursday when it had to be put on hold whilst we went off for a holiday in Ireland. Before then I managed a few good runs, revisiting places I haven’t seen for several months. On Sunday, I ran the Claughton Quarry loop, which used to be a standard run but has fallen out of favour because there is too much running along a road (the A683) that has become busier. Once up to the quarry there are good views to Ingleborough, to the Lake District hills, and over Morecambe Bay. Unfortunately, the quarry itself has closed recently, after over a hundred years of operation, because of the falling demand for bricks.
      On Wednesday I ran to Halton Bridge where I saw another sign of the problems within the building industry - the unfinished ‘townhouses’ by the river. This development always seemed out of place. It looks even more so now, with the few completed houses surrounded by boarded-up half-built constructions, abandoned when the builders went bust.

tree Left: The River Lune from Halton Bridge, looking west to the M6 bridge in the distance. I have not run across Halton Bridge so often recently because a bridge on the way to it has been closed for ‘safety reasons’. This necessitates a detour on the road. It is only a short one but it changes the character of the run. If it takes as long to repair the bridge as it did the adjacent similar one a few years ago then it is liable to be out of action for many months. This run also takes me past the site of the proposed eco-houses but I can see no sign of any work on them yet.

      I am running as comfortably - not as far or as fast, because I’m not that fit, but as comfortably - as I’ve been able to do for a year. I am reluctant to pause in my running but, halfway through the year, it’s perhaps a good time for a mental break.
      Running and holidays do not really go together for me although I see, from stumbling across them on the web, that there are such things as ‘running holidays’. It is possible to go to somewhere like Costa Blanca or Lanzarote and spend a whole week running with like-minded individuals - and talking, thinking and dreaming about running. What a prospect!
      For me, a holiday is usually a holiday from running too. There are different things to do on holiday. If I do take the running gear it often stays unused until I remember that I have it and think I’d better run once in order to justify bringing it.
      An exception to this was the holidays, many years ago, in the Cairngorms. It was Ruth’s parents’ custom to hire a large lodge at Kincraig, near Aviemore, as a base for a skiing week or two, it being one of their missions in life to introduce the joys of skiing to as many relations and friends as possible. It was also an opportunity to assess the mettle, calibre and fortitude of those relations and friends as they confronted the formidable challenge of skiing in Scotland.
      The rituals tested the strongest character. It was essential to get up to the slopes as early as possible in the morning, or even earlier. Therefore, breakfast ran with military precision. The evening before, the troops had all been organised to prepare for the following days skiing, making packed lunches, working out schedules, and maintaining the equipment. Fair enough: if you’re going skiing, it’s better to do it properly.
      The first couple of times I went the parents-in-law weren’t yet parents-in-law. I had no choice, therefore, but to demonstrate my merit by joining in with all this earnest endeavour. I could not ski at all but that didn’t matter. In fact, that was a good thing, because I was a candidate for indoctrination.
      After a few years, however, there were two young children to indoctrinate instead. They were more promising material than me. Children like sliding about on snow. They have more flexibility and less fear. I, however, did not enjoy skiing for the main reason that I was no good at it. It is an activity for flaunting your expertise. If you haven’t any, it is rather less fun. Apart from the skiing itself, I found all the associated palaver and paraphernalia tedious and unenjoyable.
      I knew a much simpler way of enjoying myself in the Scottish highlands. And so, with the excuse that I was in serious training for some marathon, I opted out of the skiing. The parents-in-laws didn’t mind: they had already found me a puzzle, through not playing a musical instrument, not going to church, not being interested in how cars work, and so on. I am sure that they could not conceive how I could prefer to run rather than to ski but I doubt that they were surprised.
      Those runs in Scotland are some of my most treasured running memories. They had a different character to my runs in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. The latter are sometimes described as wild regions but they are tame in comparison to the Scottish highlands. If I come across a deer locally then it feels as though the deer is intruding into the human domain. The land may be cultivated, the moors may be tended for grouse, there may be people living nearby and a deer is not what you expect to see. In the Scottish highlands, there was no doubt who was the intruder: me. The deer were in their domain. They did not expect to see me there, and reasonably so, because I ran miles away from any human habitation.
      I retain more of the general impression than the detail of those runs. Most of the time I must have pottered about near Kincraig but I do recall three very long routes, which perhaps I ran more than once. One was west from Kincraig along tracks past Coire Dhugain to the River Dulnain, north along the river, and back along a track past Alvie Lodge. Apart from the tracks themselves and the occasional bothy, there was no evidence of humanity throughout the 15 miles or so. It was silent wilderness, empty apart from the deer, as far as I could see. Another run was south along Glen Feshie. I ran along the glen to the edge of my map and then ran back, a good 15 miles again. There were several lodges along the glen but I don’t recall seeing any people. Some of the track was through woodland but otherwise there were fine views of the glen. On the way back I cut across wilderness to Baileguish and Inveruglass. The third run was the grandest of all tip-outs. I was deposited at the Cairngorm ski-lift car-park to run back to Kincraig. At least the skiers could see that I was really running and not idling my time away, heaven forbid. I made my way through the forests above Loch Morlich, across Rothiemurchus, crossing the Allt Druidh from Lairig Ghru, around the picturesque Loch an Eilein, and on to Kincraig. Despite the vast distance, I was back long before the skiers and could bask in a few hours peace before being engulfed by skiers anxious to prepare for the following day’s expedition.
      This rather idyllic arrangement was spoiled one year when the mother-in-law was inconsiderate enough to break her leg and require some care while abandoned at the lodge by the other skiers. I tried to persuade her to join me on my runs but she was reluctant. If only I had known then of Murakami’s slogan: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional”.
      The Ireland holiday was also an exception to my general practice of not running on holidays. Before we went, whenever we said to anyone that we were going to Ireland, they immediately mentioned the rain. So, I thought, if it rains that much, I’ll take the running gear: running is one thing that I can do in the rain. What I didn’t take on holiday was a means of continuing this diary, so I have a couple of weeks to catch up with, if you’ll bear with me.

28.  Running Away From Home (continued)
(as for) July 16th 2011

In order to re-synchronise this diary, to make the chapter number also the week-of-the-year number, I need to include a couple of chapters on our Irish holiday. I am reluctant to do this because if I eulogise about the sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, fuchsia hedges and white hills of Donegal then readers may beseech me to travel to more exotic locations and write more travelogues. That wouldn’t do at all because we are committed to a running diary. We can’t change tack in the middle. That would be like training for a marathon for a couple of months and then taking up ten-pin bowling instead. It would leave a sense of failure and a stain on our character that would linger forever.
      Instead, we must persist with this diary to see what unknown adventures lie ahead. Whatever they are, I’m sure they’ll be as engrossing as what has gone before. The best runs are the ones for which you don’t know what’s around the next bend. However, since rest and relaxation are an essential part of the running experience, let’s indulge in an Irish interlude.
      Our camper-van tour of Ulster included visits to four pairs of friends but I didn’t ask permission to name them here, so I won’t - but their hospitality and generosity was much appreciated, especially the loan of a cottage for our time in Donegal.
      We drove through Belfast to the young (50m year old) granite Mourne Mountains, where we walked up Slieve Donard without intending to. We were not sure of our walking fitness, so we set out with a ‘let’s walk there and see how we feel’ attitude. In this mood, setting off from Meelmore Lodge, we passed through the Hare’s Gap, walked along the Brandy Pad (an old smuggler’s route) to a spot within sight of Slieve Donard for lunch.

brandy pad Right: From Slieve Donard to the Brandy Pad and Hare’s Gap.

      As we sat there we could see many walkers toiling up its slope, almost all of them having approached from the shorter eastern side. We realised that our visit coincided with a holiday weekend associated with the Battle of the Boyne - and, we learned, the first good weekend weather for a while. The highest mountain (850m) in Northern Ireland beckoned irresistibly. The view was clear but not sufficiently so to see Scotland, England or Wales as is possible on the best days.
      On this walk we met the Mourne Wall, a substantial construction of 1904-1922. Some guidebooks say that it marks the watershed of the reservoirs built then. But a study of the map shows that it doesn’t. And why would a watershed need a wall? Those same books claim it to be unique, and I can believe them.
      We then drove west through Armagh and Fermanagh, crossing in and out of the Republic without being aware of it, apart from the miles and kilometres interchanging. Beyond the town of Donegal we walked up the Cliffs of Bunglass for the awe-inspiring view of Slieve League dropping 600m into the Atlantic.

slieve league Left: Slieve League from the Cliffs of Bunglass.

      From the cottage near Gortahork we had a fine view over Ballyness Bay, with its shades of blue ever-changing with the tides and the clouds. On Wednesday, while Ruth went for a ride on the sands of Sheep Haven I ran, in hot weather and accompanied by a cloud of flies, around Horn Head peninsula. After lunch we then drove to the head of the peninsula to leave our bikes, drove back to the foot, walked around the magnificent cliff edges to the head, with its 150m sheer cliffs, and then cycled back. I was quite exhausted by all these forms of motion.

ballyness bay Right: Ballyness Bay from the Donegal cottage.

      Nonetheless, the following morning we set out to climb Errigal, the highest mountain (752m) of Donegal, a distinctive pyramid of white quartzite scree. Unfortunately, as Errigal came into view we saw that its top was shrouded in cloud. We switched to Muckish (670m) but when we arrived there it too had acquired cloud on top. Optimistically, we set off but halfway up met the cloud coming down. It turned to rain.
      We retreated and settled for a drive around the rugged coastline of northwest Donegal, battered by Atlantic gales in winter. By late afternoon the rain had eased. The low cloud and patchy sunlight enabled us to appreciate why many artists find inspiration in this bleak landscape dotted with white cottages in fields divided by walls of large round stones.

marble arch donegal coast Left: Marble Arch, on the way to Horn Head.
Nearest left: The west Donegal coast from near Bloody Foreland.

      It was however a little depressing to see tourist blight encroaching into what are now the resorts of Bunbeg and Derrybeg. For example, the bay of Bunbeg is dominated by a large white hotel out of all sympathy with its surroundings. In a way, it is impressive that smart modern houses, presumably holiday homes, are reclaiming so much unpromising bog-land but it does mean that the landscapes are no longer pristine. Even the higher bogs, some of the largest blanket bogs in Europe, are not safe from humans, who scalp off the layer of peat.
      On Friday it was raining more heavily as we set off to Dunfanaghy to ride and run again, further this time, around Horn Head. It was a very different experience to Wednesday’s run! With some intrepidity I confronted the rain and wind. I could barely see the sea beyond the cliff edges. Muckish, a few miles south, was invisible. But at least there were no flies this time.
      At the furthermost point I met a lorry that had become wedged in the narrow lane. As I squeezed past, the lorry-driver shouted “Are you local?” with that rising tone that anticipates a “No” because no local would be silly enough to run in such conditions. Later, on reflection, I think it more likely that he was hoping for a local to help him out of the predicament into which his satnav had probably led him. For all I know, he’s still there.

29.  Running Away From Home (continued)
(as for) July 23rd 2011

On Saturday it rained. Again. All day, except for a few brief pauses when it clearly did not intend to stop. Our appreciation of the cloud effects dimmed. Now the sky varied only from dark grey to light grey.
      We cycled to Magheroarty for an invigorating walk along the Dooey Peninsula, a two-mile sand bar that almost encloses Ballyness Bay. Amongst the dunes we came across a group of artists setting up a sculpture trail for a late-evening exhibition. “A pity the weather isn’t better for you” we said to a man who smiled and replied “This is as good as it gets - soft weather”.

dooey penin Left: The end of the Dooey Peninsula, Horn Head dimly ahead.

      He had a point. It wasn’t raining hard. It was like living in a gentle cloud, quite pleasurable if you didn’t mind being a little damp. We were beginning to run out of clothes that were not a little damp. We retreated to the pub to dry out but there was no fire - and no food. There was, however, a crowd of people shouting at a large screen. We had stumbled upon some strange ritual, involving an alien language and a peculiar activity. Actually, of course, the language (Gaelic) and activity (Gaelic football) are not alien or peculiar to the locals.
      It is patronising to assume, as I did, that the influx of tourists and ‘modern development’ will sweep away the local culture. Perhaps all the smart new houses were not for wealthy in-comers. All these locals must live somewhere and I had seen no hovels for them. Perhaps they are wealthy too. In deference to the locals, especially those of Machaire Ui Robhartaigh, I’ll now use Gaelic place-names whilst in Dún na nGall.
      We had more soft weather on Sunday. An Earagail and An Mhucais were again shrouded in cloudy drizzle. We saw the sun three times for a total of 4½ minutes. For a suitably sombre experience we visited Caisleán Ghleann Bheatha (Glenveagh Castle). It is really just a large house with a castellated façade, built after the estate owner summarily evicted 244 farming tenants in 1861 in order to create a hunting forest. For nearly a century, the society élite came banqueting, deer-shooting, and promenading through the ornate gardens overlooking Loch Beagh. I doubt that they wasted time contemplating the fate of the 244.

glenveagh Right: Ghleann Bheatha with Loch Beagh.

      The Glenveagh Visitor Centre reminded me again of my ignorance of Ulster history. In Belfast we had driven through areas with familiar names and seen memorials to those who died in the recent conflicts, my attention to which had become numbed by powerlessness and incomprehension. The background to it all was vague to me, shamefully for an Englishman, as the English were the cause of much of it.
      While, for example, I had heard of the Battle of the Boyne (Cath na Bóinne), a pivotal event in European, not just Irish, history, I could not say a sentence about it. Regarding Dún na nGall I had not even heard of the Flight of the Earls, the Plantation, and the Sheep Wars. My understanding is still too shallow for me to demonstrate it here but my respect for those for whom it is all part of their personal history is deeper.
      At the pub in An Fál Carrach we found a larger crowd shouting even louder at a large screen. There was also a christening party going on (we were given some cake). The baby was as unaware as we were that Donegal were winning the Ulster Gaelic Football Championship for the first time since 1992.
      On Monday we saw the sun for 4½ minutes less than the day before. The low cloud, mist, drizzle and rain was all too familiar, as we began our journey back east. We stopped off at Droim na Creige, peering into the gloom to discern the shape of Cionn Dhún Damh across Loch Súilí.

droim na creige Left: The beach at Droim na Creige.

      On Tuesday we drove through rain to the Giant’s Causeway where the sun at last shone, if only briefly and too late to lift the depression that had settled over me. The Causeway was curiously underwhelming. Perhaps it is too familiar, from the countless photographs and films of it already seen.

The Giant’s Causeway. Right: The Giant’s Causeway.

      My knowledge of its geology was not increased at all by visiting it. Any guidebook will include a brief explanation that the polygonal columns were caused 60m years ago when molten basalt cooled rapidly. Perhaps that’s all a non-geologist can be expected to understand.
      Hundreds of visitors of many nationalities were clambering over the rocks and up the paths. Why do we feel the need to visit such sites in such numbers? Will there come a time when we will look back at the present ‘tourist period’ and consider it an emperor’s clothes phenomenon, in which vast numbers of people were deluded into travelling large distances for little benefit to themselves? I dare hardly say it but you can learn more, at much less cost, about the Giant’s Causeway in ten minutes on the web, through youtube videos and many documents, than by visiting it.
      Perhaps this will not be the case when the new £18.5m “world class visitor facilities” are completed. Nobody can complain of the problems of modern life when so many resources are spent to enable tourists to traipse dutifully about the world and when it’s only 150 years since the people of Donegal were being turfed out of their homes shortly after surviving the Potato Famine by eating seaweed.
      I did not run at all this week in Ireland. It didn’t seem to fit in. We had plenty of the promised rain but I didn’t feel in the mood to run about in it. Since getting back home I’ve had a couple of gentle runs. During the holiday I had a chance to reflect on what I hoped to achieve from my running in the rest of 2011. I said at the beginning that it would be unwise, at my age, to set myself targets. I have returned from holiday another year older but I am now more inclined to think of targets. I have been carefully recording my running now for 18 months and I have a better idea of what is feasible, barring major problems.
      I could set rather arbitrary targets, such as 40 or even 50 miles in a week or 1000 miles in the year, but mileages in themselves matter little to me. What I’d really like to achieve is a sustained level of fitness that enables me to manage half-a-dozen out-runs, as in the old days: two-hour runs exploring some new pathways within nearby dales and hills. If that seems rather imprecise to you, I’ll try to be more specific next week.

30.  Having A Clear Run At It
(as for) July 30th 2011

Runners! Are you short of vim? Do you find it hard to get out on the road? Do you wonder what the point of it all is? If so, I have the answer for you - my patented, copyrighted, trade-marked Fitnessometer. See the reward for every run! See the penalty for every run missed! No longer will you have no reason to run!
      It is the daily question for all runners: Why should I run today? Why not leave the run until tomorrow? If, like me, you are not committed to a training regime, the day-to-day incentive may be lacking. The reasons usually given for running concern long-term benefits: improve health, raise money, relieve stress, increase self-esteem, and so on. These benefits are not necessarily lost if you just miss today’s run. And, of course, you can argue the same thing tomorrow.
      It is up to each runner to find ways to get himself out running. Murakami (p178) describes how he lured himself out onto the road by anticipating seeing the smiling face of a “very attractive young woman” who, for several years, ran towards and past him. He says that he was too shy to speak to her - and a good thing too because young women need courage as it is to run without being pestered by middle-aged oglers.
      I have never had that particular inspiration. At the moment, one method that suits me, being a person who likes playing with numbers, is to refer to my Fitnessometer, which, as the name suggests, calculates my fitness. Right now I am 61% fit.
      How does my Fitnessometer work? I thought you’d never ask. It goes like this:
      First, I imagine how well I could run if I were as fit as possible (100% fit) - say, 7 miles in 49 minutes every day. This is in my imagination, I stress. If I actually average 2 miles in 16 minutes every day, then my fitness is some function of (2/7) and (7/8), the latter fraction being the ratio of the average speeds. The function is actually a weighted product of those fractions raised to some power tuned to provide a figure that seems about right. For 2 miles in 16 minutes it yields 44%.
      I don’t average, over, say, seven days because that generates too much fluctuation in the fitness figure. I use, or rather my spreadsheet uses, a ... [If I may just interrupt myself here. This is the point at which I say “if you don’t want to know the score look away now, or skip a paragraph”. I have included this formula to demonstrate that my Fitnessometer is at the forefront of technological sophistication.] ... weighted average (WA), calculated as follows: WA1 = 0.95 x WA0 + 0.05 x R1 where WA1 is today’s weighted average, WA0 is yesterday’s weighted average and R1 is today’s run. So if my previous weighted average mileage is 2 and I run 6 miles then it becomes 2.2. There’s a similar formula for the weighted average minuteage.
      If I don’t run then the averages will drop by 5% and my fitness figure will drop accordingly. This captures the sad fact that fitness is not like money in the bank. If left unattended it does not accumulate interest. On the contrary, it fades away.
      I add in some credit for my ‘walking fitness’, based on a similar calculation. If I’m not able to run but go for a walk instead then I feel I deserve some credit for that, although obviously less than if I’d run. If I were ever to cycle or swim instead then I would add them in too. My mileages are not as measured on the ground. It is 2½ miles to the Roeburndale Road cattle grid but I am slower running there than I am running 2½ miles along the old railway track. The cattle grid is 230 metres up the hill. I am faster running down the 2½ miles but not by as much as I am slower uphill. I therefore add in a compensating ‘altitude factor’. I also have an ‘aging factor’. I reckon that I have about 10,000 days to go, at which point my fitness will be 0%. So, I’m losing, on average, 1/10000 of my fitness every day, simply through getting older. That hardly seems fair, so I multiply my calculated fitness by square-root(10000/(10000-n)) where n is the number of days since I set the Fitnessometer off. That should do it.
      An important characteristic of my Fitnessometer is that the credit from a particular run is not fixed: it depends on how fit I already am. If I am averaging 2 miles in 16 minutes (44%) and I run 6 miles in 50 minutes then the averages become 2.2 miles and 17.7 minutes (46%). If, however, by some miracle, the averages are 6 miles and 50 minutes (81%) then the same run would leave the fitness level unchanged (but if I didn’t run it would drop to 79%).
      The outcome is that if I have a lengthy lay-off, as I am prone to do, and my fitness drops to, say, 30% then, as I begin to run again, it rises rapidly, which is just the encouragement I need. If I should become supremely fit, the Fitnessometer inspires me to keep fit. I also use it to provide private medium-term goals such as ‘get 60% fit before the Christmas break’. It is less stressful than a goal such as ‘run the Windermere Marathon in 3:40’.

fitnessometer Right: My fitness according to the Fitnessometer.

      My fitness, as assessed by my Fitnessometer, since the beginning of last year is shown to the right. You can’t argue with that! The subjective feeling that I expressed earlier, that whenever I approach fitness I have a problem that sets me back, is supported by the graph. My longest period of sustained fitness (above 65%, say) has been the two months from Week 9 to 18 this year. In the first half of last year my running was repeatedly brought to a halt. In the second half I never really got running consistently at all. The consoling thing, however, is that none of my problems were running injuries (they were other accidents or colds or bugs).
      I am therefore encouraged to hope that if I can steer clear of trouble, by avoiding falling in the beck and similar mishaps, then I may be able to drive my fitness up to unprecedented levels. So, rather than trundle on somewhat aimlessly for the rest of the year, shall we set a specific objective - say, to reach and sustain a fitness level of 75%, according to my Fitnessometer? I’m game, if you are. We do risk asking too much of my aging body and collapsing in an ignominious heap. I am, of course, not interested in 75% per se: it’s just that 75% fit means that I can do the running I want to.
      What does 75% mean in practice? It requires weighted averages of 4 miles in 28 minutes (too fast for me, I fear!), 5 miles in 42 minutes or 6 miles in 55 minutes (conceivable). The highest weighted average mileage that I have managed so far is 4.3.
      My Fitnessometer will, I’m sure, revolutionise sports science and enable the serious runner to get really serious. In the meantime, I need to get back to the business of running. My legs, I am relieved to find, are still in good working order after their holiday. I have eased them back into regular running, with five runs of 40 minutes or so.
      In my absence, my riverside paths have been transformed. Now, as I run along, I can imagine myself in the foothills of the Himalayas amongst swathes of sweet-smelling, head-high, purple-pink blossom - that of the Himalayan balsam, also known as the ‘policeman’s helmet’ and ‘kiss-me-in-the-mountains’, names that lead my imagination even further astray. In reality, the balsam, pretty as it looks, is an invasive weed, swamping indigenous plants and making river-banks vulnerable to erosion. I could pause on my runs to pull them up before they disperse their seeds but if I did I would, as there are so many of them, never reach my running Everest (of 75%).

31.  System Failure, Run Recovery
August 6th 2011

At last I have managed to pin down a cause of my discombobulation this year: I have been having a rest day before I’ve done any running to rest from. Because January 1st 2011 was a Saturday I have this year considered my running week to be Saturday-Friday. In the past I always had a Monday-Sunday running week. The usual pattern was to fit runs into the working week, have no run on Saturday, and then a long run on Sunday. Saturday was a ‘family day’ and although there is now less family around to appreciate it Saturday has remained a day without running. So this year I have begun my running week by not running, which is surprisingly disconcerting.
      The role of rest, relaxation and recovery in running is a complex topic. It seems that my recent holiday has revitalised my enthusiasm for running, as my holidays usually do. In fact, I had become revitalised just before the holiday and was a little concerned that it would intrude upon my running. In general, though, nobody (except streak runners (Week 26)) denies the need for the occasional rest period from running. All running guides insist upon them. The question is: why?
      The following, from the website, is typical: “These rest days are critical because ... the repetitive nature of running results in pounding on the joints of the ankles, knees and hips with each and every stride ... Without this rest the joints may regularly be sore or inflamed ... [and] the runner is at risk for injuries and issues which are commonly associated with overtraining. For example shin splints and stress fractures are very common overuse injuries which typically occur when a runner is ... not allowing regular rest days for recovery”. In other words, the rest period helps to avoid all those injuries that McDougall warned us about (Week 3).
      There is, however, a more positive reason for advocating rest periods - that is, that we improve when we are resting not when we are running. When we run we break down muscle fibres; when we rest the fibres repair and strengthen. For me, however, the benefit is more mental than physical. If you run conservatively, as I do nowadays, the body could probably run every day if you asked it to. But I welcome a day off because otherwise running becomes a stale routine. After the day off (or longer, if necessary) one returns to running mentally refreshed and keen to get on the road again.
      There have been many studies of the benefits of rest and recovery in a running programme. The overall conclusion seems to be that well-trained athletes can miss several days of running without losing endurance and that if they reduce the amount, but not the intensity, of running then their fitness is not affected. This, however, is not my experience, perhaps because I am not a ‘well-trained athlete’. I find that my fitness soon withers away if I do not run. In general, though, periods of recovery are recommended, not because we are like computers, which need to be recovered after failure, but in order to prevent failure and enable progress.
      A few paragraphs back I said ‘occasional rest period’. How occasional does a day off have to be to count as a ‘rest day’? I have looked back into my 1980s records (mentioned in Week 7) and I find that in those 39 weeks I had 37 days with no running - about one rest day a week. It would, of course, be remarkably fortunate and practically convenient if the ideal amount of rest corresponded to the normal week. Nowadays, I feel I need more rest days. It is not because I am running so hard that I am damaging so many muscle fibres that they need longer to recover: it is because the fibres are less good at recovering. At least, that is my subjective impression. So, my ‘standard week’ this year has included two days without running, usually the Saturday and Wednesday. Perhaps, if I can get to 75% on the Fitnessometer I won’t need two rest days; or conversely, and perhaps more likely, if I am to reach 75% I won’t be able to take two rest days.

abbeystead Left: Looking over Abbeystead from Hawthornthwaite Fell.

      A ‘rest day’ is in any case a misnomer. As Einstein showed, it is impossible for any body to be at absolute rest. All coaches are adamant that runners should not just do nothing. The important point is that rest days are for physical and mental recovery. This can perhaps be aided by some other activity, such as walking, swimming, cycling or digging the garden.
      So, where does this leave me in my quest for 75% fitness? At the moment, my body is comfortable with 40-minute runs. I need, I think, to change the 3-day 40-40-40-minute runs to 60-30-30 minute runs and then gradually to increase the 60-minutes. I need to distinguish between ‘long’ and ‘short’ runs and use the former to build endurance. Coaches distinguish between ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ runs. For me, it is a mistake to set out expecting an ‘easy’ run. I soon realise that there is no such thing for me now.
      Perhaps I can dream of evolving to 90-30-40-minute runs and dispensing with one of my days off. That would get the mileage up to the required levels. But first things first. This week I have managed two 60-minute runs, one a mini-out-run around Abbeystead in the Forest of Bowland.
      I was relieved that it was ‘mini’, as it was a murky, muggy day, so oppressive that the cows and sheep had given up all thought of motion. There was no breeze. Nothing moved apart from me, and I didn’t move so fast either. Sweat poured off me. The clouds blanketed the heat, only occasionally parting to reveal the sun. It was very peaceful, running along quiet lanes past idyllic-sounding homesteads such as Summer House Head, Meeting House Farm, Hawthornthwaite and Well Brook. It is hard to imagine it ever being different. But it was on May 23rd 1984, when an explosion killed 16 people. The ‘Lancaster Conjunctive Use Scheme’, intended to transfer water from the Lune to the Wyre, was considered of such importance that it had been opened by the Queen in 1980. The pipe exploded because of a build-up of methane while being visited by a group from St Michael’s-on-Wyre, a village affected by the scheme.
      Such events put my concerns into perspective. It doesn’t matter much but I will change my Saturdays. My new-found commitment is incompatible with starting the running week without running. I’ll move my rest day(s) towards the end of the week instead. But I won’t be dogmatic about it. All running should be a variable response to the body’s feedback.

32.  A Close-Run Thing
August 13th 2011

A recent report on otters in the region has shown that their return to the Lune and Roeburn valleys, on either side of Caton Moor, is now well-established. Moreover, there is a “multitude of otter runs going over the watershed” on the moor. It seems that the otters come up and over the moor, especially in spring, to feed on frogs and newts. It is possible that they have holts within the now-abandoned Claughton Quarry.
      The presence of the otter, a predator at the top of the food chain, is an important indicator of the health of the rivers and moor. As mentioned earlier, the brown hare also flourishes on the moor, as do the skylark and lapwing, whose numbers have in 30 years dropped by up to 90% in England. I understand that there are rare spiders on the moor too although I haven’t paused to investigate. It is a privilege to share the moor with such endangered species. Caton Moor is, to most eyes, empty of interest, which is why so few people go there, which, in turn, is why the wildlife goes there.
      As a runner, I do not feel endangered on the moor but I am certainly rare. On Sunday I ran up to the Caton Moor trig point for the first time since February, seeing nobody, as usual - and, as expected, seeing no otters, as they are largely nocturnal in England. As always, I paused to admire the long-distance view of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Howgills and the Lakes. The trig point was unchanged. The proposal for windmills to engulf it has been rejected locally but has now gone, on appeal, to higher authorities, who may overrule the rejection in the national interest, if not in the interests of otters, hares, skylarks, lapwings, spiders, and a runner.
      I came to appreciate the fragile robustness of nature even more on Tuesday when we went for a walk in Smardale in search of the Scotch Argus butterfly. The weather forecast for the rest of the week was bad so I graciously forewent running on what promised to be the one good day of the week. The Scotch Argus is seen for a short period in August in only two places in England. It was not hard to find. There were large numbers of them, almost black in flight and, when they alight, with orange bands and ringed spots. The mystery (to me, at least) is why there should be so many here and none elsewhere.

smardalegill Left: Smardalegill Viaduct.
Scotch Argus Right: Scotch Argus.

      The forecasters were correct. It was rainy and windy for the rest of week, with the River Lune flooding. With considerable fortitude I maintained my running momentum with some wet runs. My 75% target, even though it is meaningful only to myself, does at least provide an incentive, which in the old days came partly from the road races.
      Before I leave forever the topic of road-racing and competitiveness - which caused me such vexation a few weeks ago - I’d like to mention an experiment I carried out in the late-1980s. At the time I thought of it more as a divertissement, intended to add some light relief to the increasingly routine lunch-time run. On the first Wednesday of each month runners could take part in the Conder Handicap, a 5-mile race, with runners setting off at different times, calculated from their previous runs in the Handicap. If the handicaps were perfect then all the runners would, if they ran to form, finish equal first.
      The effect, of course, was to give all of us, who previously would have said that we didn’t care about winning, as much chance of winning as anyone. Did we care about winning now that we had the chance to do so? Well, yes. Sometimes half-a-dozen runners would be neck-and-neck down the home straight - a novel experience for us all.
      However, those runners more used to winning (or, at least, used to running competitively) largely ignored the Handicap. Not, I think, because they minded being ‘beaten’ by slower runners but because they did not want to run in such a competitive fashion against their friends in such a frivolous event. The weekend races were for competition but the midweek runs were for training and relative relaxation.
      As organiser, I felt obliged to run but I was usually starting last (because all the good runners didn’t run) and endeavouring to overtake slower runners. It might have seemed that I’d set up the event precisely in order to overtake people, which wasn’t a comfortable position. So after a year or so I stopped organising it. I had borrowed the idea of the Handicap from the Open University, where they held a successful similar event. The reason that the Lancaster version failed was that its gym had a different sociology. At the OU academic staff do not need to be on campus much, because there are no students there to teach. Therefore, OU runners rarely saw one another. Their monthly event was partly a social gathering. At Lancaster we saw the same people every day.
      Still, it was interesting to discover that, in the right circumstances, most runners will compete. Is competitiveness an innate biological trait? Are some individuals naturally more competitive than others? Is one’s degree of competitiveness independent of context? Is competition necessary for progress?
      These are profound questions that have been debated, to no agreed conclusion, by psychologists, philosophers, biologists and anthropologists. In a general sense, competition seems central to our society, being the basis for capitalism. It also plays a fundamental role in evolution, as reflected in the ‘survival of the fittest’ slogan, although this does not, of course, mean the most fit in the athletic sense, but the most fit to the environment.
      However, the central role of competition is challenged by studies of other societies where collaboration rather than competition is more appreciated by the culture. It is perhaps significant that the Latin origin of the word ‘compete’ indicates that it meant ‘to seek together’.
      As far as running is concerned, the competitive element is more subtle than is often assumed. If you watch children run then you will see that they naturally compete, to get somewhere first. It is the obvious impulse, otherwise they wouldn’t be running at all. However, once it is clear that they will not get there first, they may indicate that it doesn’t matter anyway. Moreover, the winner may indicate that winning doesn’t matter much to him or her either.
      Overt competitiveness is somewhat frowned upon in our society. It is fine to win but one should not make it too obvious that one wants to win. It is undignified and a little demeaning to the losers. Also, if there is little chance of winning it is only sensible to indicate that winning does not matter. All I can say is that the Conder Handicappers strived to win and were pleased to win when they did. However, the blatant ranking of the runners, with its explicit challenge to catch the supposedly slower guy ahead, was too tasteless for most, who just wanted a relaxing run in the lanes and fields. In this context at least, competition was not for them.
      Since the ‘com’ of ‘compete’ means ‘together’ and I haven’t run with or against anyone for many years (and do not intend to in the future), I can now safely, and with relief, forget all about competition.

33.  Drug Running
August 20th 2011

lune valley Right: Looking towards Ingleborough, up the Lune valley, from Halton Park on the other side of the river. I ran through Halton Park on Wednesday after being tipped-out at Netherby, near Gressingham. I began by running in the opposite direction, towards the Redwell Inn, and returned through Swarthdale and Addington. This was the second of two one-hour-plus runs this week. I dare hardly believe how comfortably (touch wood) I’m progressing towards our target.

When we went on our butterfly hunt last week we met a couple of friends who, when the topic turned to running, said “Our daughter runs every morning: it’s an addiction, isn’t it?” as though there were nothing more to say on the subject. I feel obliged to investigate this theory thoroughly in the hope that there is nothing more to write on it either.
      I’ve found a ‘running addiction self-help test’ [1]. I have to mark 20 statements on a scale from 1 to 10 to indicate the extent to which it applies to me and my running. If I score over 160 then I am “running addiction personified”. So, here goes: “If a shirt doesn’t boast a race logo, it isn’t one I want to wear.” Um ... I think I’ll mark that as 0. The statement seems preposterous. The only shirt with a race logo that I can recall wearing was a fine one given as a prize for the Heversham 10-mile (a race I ran twice and on both occasions the runners ran the wrong way, which may be why I won a prize).
      I need to take this more seriously. Addiction of any kind is not something to be flippant about. I need some precision but, inevitably perhaps, there is no universally agreed upon definition of addiction. This one will perhaps suffice: “addiction [is] a process whereby a behaviour, that can function both to produce pleasure and to provide escape from internal discomfort, is employed in a pattern characterized by recurrent failure to control the behaviour and continuation of the behaviour despite significant negative consequences” [2]. This highlights the two key features: the lack of control and the negative consequences.
      Addiction is usually considered to be of two forms, one concerned with the use of psychoactive substances, such as alcohol and heroin, and the other with a psychological dependency on certain activities, such as gambling and shopping, although some experts prefer not to regard the latter as an addiction. As far as running is concerned, any addiction would seem to belong to the second form.
      However, recently it has been found that after a 2-hour run runners had produced endorphins that had attached themselves to parts of the brain associated with emotions [3]. Endorphin is short for ‘endogeneous morphine’, that is, a morphine-like substance that originates within the body. Endorphins are released by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in response to various activities and produce analgesia (an inability to feel pain) and a feeling of well-being.
      The suggestion, then, is that runners may become addicted to their own endorphins. The activities that are listed as generating endorphins are: exercise, excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and orgasm. Even if I restricted myself to exercise for my endorphins (and why would anyone?), I don’t think that it has been demonstrated that running is the most effective method for producing them. It is also unclear whether it is essential to run for 2 hours to generate them. If I ran for 1 hour twice a day would I be safe from endorphin addiction?
      Maybe, but in that case I might be thought to have the second form of addiction, a psychological dependency. What are the signs of such a dependency? According to Michael Sachs [1], they are: fatigue, inability to concentrate, an overemphasis on running quantity, missing appointments, running with injuries, adopting runners for friends, spending more time at the local club, subscribing to many running publications, watching running movies, buying more running shoes and clothes, searching for longer and more distant races, spending more time and money on training and trips, and steering every conversation back to running. I am greatly relieved that writing a running diary is not on the list.
      Tarquin Cooper concedes that many ultra-runners have addictive personalities [4]. Some have taken up running precisely to escape from other addictions. However, not many runners accept that they have an addiction, because they do not acknowledge any negative consequences, which, according to the definition, a genuine addiction has. Cooper quotes a runner who had run 619 marathons in 15 years: “I’m somebody that needs exercise. I don’t intend ever to stop. But I’m not addicted to running. I’ve just made it a part of my life. And it’s a positive thing”.
      If it is possible to be addicted to running, is there any ‘cure’? Nobody seems to have much to say about this. Obviously, one must run less and reduce all the associated factors that Sachs lists. And then there are liable to be ‘withdrawal symptoms’, some physical, some psychological: muscle twitching, bloatedness, headaches, sluggishness, tension, depression, anxiety, guilt, restlessness and irritability.
      Do I suffer from running addiction, in the medical sense? I have been running, on and off, for over 50 years. When I am off, for a day, a month, or years, I may have some withdrawal symptoms. It depends why I am off. When, for example, I go on a holiday and leave the running gear behind (as I usually do) I have no difficulty at all in forgetting about running. In general, if I had not anticipated running in a certain period then there is no problem for me in not doing so.
      However, if I am off (through having flu, say) when I expected to be on, then, yes, I would be depressed and irritable. I would feel the same way if I had planned to go for a drive and the car had failed to start. It seems to me a normal reaction, not the sign of an addiction. And, yes, I would feel guilty if I were off when then is no good reason that I am not on. The guilt, however, is not directly to do with running: it is because of a failure to meet one’s commitments (to oneself, in this case). I am still running, so clearly all my off periods have ended with me returning to my ‘addiction’. I have not proved that I can do without running. I think I need to go back to that test.
      Here’s another statement for me to mark on a scale of 1 to 10: “It exhibits their inbred weakness if people don’t want to hear my step-by-step re-creations of races I’ve run”. Well, of course you want to hear them. You don’t? Oh. Anyway, I would never attribute anything to someone’s ‘inbred weakness’. So that’s another 0.
      Here’s a couple more statements that are so ridiculous that I’d give them 0: “All my friends are runners and I wouldn’t consider befriending a non-runner” and “A string of running days must remain unbroken”. The most I can score now is 160. That would make me “leaning towards running addiction; beware”. I am not sure if the ‘beware’ is directed towards me or you.

[1].  Sachs, Michael L. (1998), Too Much of a Good Thing?, Marathon & Beyond.
[2].  Goodman, Aviel (2006), Addiction: Definition and Implications, British Journal of Addiction, 85, 11, 1403-1408.
[3].  Boecker, Henning et al (2008), The Runner’s High: Opioidergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain, Cerebral cortex, 18 (11), 2523.
[4].  Cooper, Tarquin (2009), Confessions of a running addict, Daily Telegraph, August 24th.

The rest of Fifty Weeks Running will follow in due course.

    © John Self, Drakkar Press