The Running Man on ‘Jogging from Memory’

Way, way back in 1980 I bought a book entitled ‘Jogging from Memory’ by Dr Rob Buckman1 who had the rare gift of reducing me to tears of laughter with his prose.  ‘Jogging from Memory’ is a collection of articles he wrote for various publications and it contains the article, also titled ‘Jogging from Memory’, which I now realise is the 1,000 word distillation of everything I have spent the last three years trying to crowbar into my own paean to misplaced youth  – only funnier.  Much, much funnier…

Dr Buckman was twenty-nine years old when he wrote about agreeing to take part in a charity ‘jog’.  Thirty minutes – how hard could that be for a fit young man, finely tuned on bagels and coffee and primed for action – as long as it wasn’t too early?   Sadly the realisation confronted him with a nerve-shredding ‘clang’ as he was ‘lapped by a fell-walker and two marathon runners’ within eleven yards of the start: he was not as young nor as fit as he used to be (nor, he suspected, had ever been).  I could quote a hundred different brilliant lines to you – although not without being sued – but I will not because, frankly, I am not up to that sort of comparison.  I can only urge you to buy the book (I’ve checked, you can still find it) and for goodness sake, sit down before you read it.

I am sixty-two years old as I write this (I think, it’s so hard to remember) and the ‘ageing, crumbling frame’ to which the erstwhile, barely out of his teenage years, Dr Buckman refers has been clinging to my bones for a number of decades now.  Delaying the decline, which was taking me from man to jellyfish, was the main reason I started to run – I love my time with the grandkids and I want it to last as long as possible: they will put up with me smelling faintly of wee and boring them to death with stories from the past only as long as I can still kick a ball and climb a tree.  I have rarely enjoyed running2 but I do enjoy the fact that my physical well-being is much better since I started.  I still feel like an old man – god dammit, I still am an old man – but I am now an old man who can run (in a fashion) without retching before I reach the garden gate; who can keep up with the grandkids when those, much younger, around me falter; who can pull up his own socks without the need for a chiropractor; who can wear a T-shirt without looking like a hippo in a sports bra; who can breathe in deeply without attracting dogs…  I have found that, though running makes me, for the most part, somewhat more miserable than my normal curmudgeonly demeanour would have you believe, overall it makes me happier by allowing me to do more of what I want to do and – who knows – might just buy me a little more time in which to do it.  It also means that I don’t feel quite so bad about the fact that I drink too much, eat too much and, given the option, do far too little – I remain a human slug, but definitely fitter than the slug I used to be.

In fact, what Dr Buckman’s little piece has done is to remind me that, although at certain times in my life I have been very fit, I have never been very fit at everything and most tellingly, when I played football regularly, cycled and circuit-trained (much to the dismay of my fellow work-out’ees, one of whom memorably asked me if I was on some kind of mental welfare scheme3) I was always useless at running, but now it doesn’t matter because I’m better at running than almost everything else I do4.  At my age, it’s the memory that’s the problem: ask me what I was doing in 1965 and I’ll have a pretty good idea.  Ask me what I was doing twenty minutes ago and I’ll have to sit down whilst my head stops spinning.  My problem is not with jogging from memory as much as remembering why – and, in fact if – I was jogging in the first place.  Mind you, if you’d asked me in 1980…

1.  I previously mentioned this book, Dr Buckman and my very tenuous connection to him in a 2020 post entitled ‘Odds & Sods – One of My Socks is Missing’.  (You can read it here if you feel so inclined.)  Dr Buckman died, although possibly to his own surprise, not whilst jogging, in 2011(I include a link to his Wiki page here).  In my post I also mentioned Des O’Connor who has also since sadly passed away.  I would have included a link to his Wiki page, but since it does not mention ‘Dick-A-Dum-Dum’ I have not bothered.

2.  I do actually remember feeling almost deliriously happy running one bright, sunny and warm spring morning during lockdown (I forget which lockdown) but it didn’t last long and I put it down to dodgy ceps.

3.  I am slightly prone to the ‘hyper’ and my mouth can run-on several feet ahead of my brain.

4.  I do, of course, pretty much nothing else.

My Running thoughts diary started with ‘Couch to 5k’ here.
Last week’s entry ‘Listening to my Body’ is here.

The Running Man on a Return to Couch to 5k

I went for a slightly ‘troubled’ run at the end of last week whence I discovered that my lungs have not yet quite worked themselves back up to absorbing oxygen in the required manner and my hips are in desperate need of WD40, so it was decided that I need to reintroduce myself to the thrice weekly slog a little more gently.  Consequently I reset ‘Couch to 5k’ and I intend to ‘redo’ the last few weeks of the regime until I get back up to speed.  I have removed the ever-soothing tones of Jo Whiley and replaced them with the slightly more chiding contributions of Sarah Millican.  The short ‘walking’ interludes (I have started at week 5 which sees me ending the week with a twenty minute run) are a little embarrassing, and always coincide with encounters with other runners, but do give me the opportunity to whip my ailing alveoli into accepting some suitable level of oxygen exchange before I lurch on again.

I have always ‘suffered with my chest’ but this is the first time I have really noticed how long it takes to build back up to normal function after it has divested itself of whatever it is it stores in there – although to be honest I have never been one to push my ability to breathe further than has seemed natural.  In forty years of playing football, I seldom moved beyond canter, even at my fittest.  I always managed to position myself alongside ‘willing runners’, affording myself the maximum opportunity to kick the opposition without having to chase them around too much first.  I figured that, as breathing was the only thing actually keeping me alive, being out of breath was unlikely to ever be a good thing.

My legs, I have mentioned before, have something of the ‘tree trunk’ about them.  They are ‘sturdy’ in the extreme and, I fear, not ideally suited to running – probably more designed for holding up a motorway bridge.  My calf muscles alone must consume about fifty percent of the oxygen that I do manage to take on board.  Moreover, when given the opportunity to utilise an amount of oxygen, they generally seem to enjoy it to such an extent that they continue to flap around all night.  It is incredibly annoying (possibly more for my wife than myself) when my legs are still pounding the streets whilst the rest of me searches for sleep.  I have tried so many ways of combating this: hot baths, cold baths, super-hydration (leading to super-micturition), standing, sitting, heating, cooling, beating with birch twigs, giving a stern talking-to, but to little avail.  My legs have no speed control and whilst they are unhappy to lumber up to a pace that is anything in excess of brisk stroll, they are, having done so, generally unwilling to return to anything resembling inertia.  If I do manage to tie the damn things down overnight, they repay me by aching and, occasionally, cramping up in such a manner that a blacksmith could use them as an anvil.

My hips are relative newcomers to this circle of pain, but boy are they making up for it now.  I have developed a hip-flexing and stretching exercise routine which fits between my runs and my hips have been much better, but whilst I was not running, I was also not doing the in-between stuff.  Hence my hips have become like rusted gate hinges and they make a similar noise when I walk.  I desperately need to get them back into some kind of order so that I can get out of the car without groaning; so that I can bend over without next door’s cat thinking that somebody is shooting at it.

I’m hoping that my second lope through the latter stages of Couch to 5k will be somewhat easier than my first: I am somewhat more adjusted to the levels of discomfort and boredom, having developed the distraction techniques needed to cancel out both.  I may stumble on through the schedule, to the end of week nine, or I may find that I am back up to speed (relative term*) before then and decide to drop back into the old routine.  Either way, I am actually feeling keen to get back to my established routine of runs and exercise before winter descends.

Who’d have thought it?

*VERY relative term.

‘Couch to 5k’, started my running saga here.
Last week’s running diary ‘on Being Grandad’ is here.

The Running Man on What to Remember

The most important thing I have to remember when I run is that I have to think about something – anything – else.  Absolutely the worst thing I can do is to think about running.  If I do, it takes only a couple of hundred yards before I become conscious of my knees – was that a twinge?  Are they getting ready to collapse? – and by the time I reach the top corner my mind has moved onto my breathing – is it laboured?  Is that my chest or has somebody just driven past me in a van with no exhaust? – half a kilometre thinking about running and I can feel my heart pounding in my chest like a clog dancer with no sense of rhythm.

Now, I am of an age – my body has been ravaged more often than Moll Flanders – and I see myself as the kind of bike that I used to ride as a youth: held together with string and sticky tape, and I am never certain which part is going to let me down first.  It is only if I allow myself to become confident that a wheel falls off.  The more I think about it, the closer disaster moves.

My mind tells me that I will not fall to pieces as long as I don’t think about falling to pieces, so I think about something else: how big are Bruce Banner’s pants that he can still wear them after he has become The Hulk?  And why are they so tatty?  The last time my pants looked like that I was sixteen and had just spent two weeks camping in the Lake District with all my worldly possessions in a plastic carrier bag.  I used them for a bonfire on my last night and they burned for three weeks.  It is not a good train of thought because it always leads to my current under-trolley arrangements and I become aware of the current direction of travel.  Thinking about underwear is never a good idea whilst running and will always lead to discomfort.  (And, by the way, as you get older you will begin to realise that shorts with ‘built in support’ are never up to the job*.)  Far better to concentrate on the outer attire of other runners: those who have only recently decided to start running and have consequently thrown the cheque book at the local sports outfitters and those who have been running for years and realise that the tatty green number is by far the most comfortable top they have, that nothing chafes quite like an embroidered trade mark.  There are those who perpetually run in sunglasses (I have worn sunglasses myself and it is only when the sun disappears that you realise that you have nowhere to put the bloody things) those who wear a cap to fasten down unruly hair and those who wear a cap to disguise the fact that the days of unruly hair are long behind them.  Those who, like me, trudge along, elastic dressing on every conceivable joint, carrying the weight of the world on emaciated shoulders, and those who bound along like a youthful Bambi, full of the joys of Spring, unburdened by a care in the world but, I am sure, fully aware of my loathing as they wave a cheery greeting.  There are those who acknowledge me and those who fear it might be catching.  I think of them all and, before I know it, the run is over and I haven’t even noticed I’ve done it.  All I have to work out then is how come I have arrived home such a breathless, sweating wreck…

*No matter how unpalatable, facts are facts: you may not wish to know them, but they are still facts…

The first running diary ‘Couch to 5k’ is here.
The last running diary ‘A Very Hot Business’ is here.
The next running diary ‘On Being Grandad’ is here

The Running Man – A Very Hot Business…

Summer has arrived in the UK and running has suddenly become a very hot business: it may last for days. I currently tend to skulk out early in the morning – that is earlier than usual early, not crack of dawn early: man is slave to the universe, I have no intention of getting my butt out of bed until the cosmos says it is ready for me – or early in the evening in order to miss the hottest part of the day.  Both options are fraught for me.  If I set out too early in the morning, I plunge headlong into hundreds of teenagers making their way to school.  I do not hear laughter as I pass, but that is only because I turn the music up.  There is nothing quite so irksome for an ageing man as incredulity: I can almost sense the little buggers nudging one another and mouthing, ‘Did you see that?’ 

If, however, I leave it until half an hour later when they are all safely locked away in their sock-smelling classrooms, I encounter the parents who, having taken the kids to school – or more likely having waited for them to get out of the house before taking breakfast in peace – then take the opportunity to walk the dog before settling down to the day’s ‘working from home’.  The streets suddenly fill with dog walkers of all types:

  • The fully suited who have to attend a Zoom meeting which the boss might just possibly be attending.  He is a sly old bugger and will almost certainly ask them to do something that will reveal whether or not the men are wearing trousers.  He does not do the same thing to the female staff as the restraining order remains in place.
  • The semi-formally dressed, who wear shirt and tie, or smart business blouse over jogging pants and furry mules.  They also have a Zoom meeting to attend, but they are confident that they can keep their legs under the desk and the wine glass out of sight.
  • The informally dressed, who also have a Zoom meeting to attend, but who have stuck blue-tack over the laptop’s camera and an old crisp packet over the microphone.  They will blame the rubbish internet connection for their intermittent involvement and will almost certainly be downstairs with a doughnut and ‘Loose Women’ whilst Derek from Finance is giving them the lowdown on last week’s figures.
  • The even more informally dressed (pyjamas under a raincoat) who do not have a Zoom meeting to attend and plan to spend the morning ‘catching up on their emails’ eg watching surfing cats on Youtube.

So many dogs!  I have no idea where all these dogs have come from, nor who dreams up all of the new breeds that are currently being paraded around.  I spoke to someone who had a Toy Poodle mated with a Shih Tzu and wound up with a Toyihtzu, which, to the best of my knowledge, is a cheap Korean hatchback.  I wonder what will become of all of these mutts when these people are able to start going on holiday again?  Two weeks in a kennels whilst the owner changes his phone number and bank account details?  As soon as the UK sorts out its Traffic Light Holiday Destination system (Red – you cannot travel to these countries: Amber – you cannot travel to these countries, but if you choose to ignore government ‘guidance’ and travel anyway, you must quarantine in Stalag conditions for two weeks on your return, for little more than twice the cost of your original holiday: Green – you can travel to these countries, but they won’t let you in) there will be many canine bargains to be had through the Classified Ads in The Exchange & Mart.

If, however, I choose to run in the early evening I find myself in the tiresome, lycra-clad company of the rest of the running world.  The whole world is running.  I do not mind; it is a free country, I just wish that they didn’t all look so much better than me whilst they were doing it.  They are better equipped, they are ruddy-faced and fresh complexioned, they do not sweat like a horse in a duvet and they do not spend most of their time coughing up flies.  I have grown immune to the humiliation of being overtaken by the old lady with the West Highland Terrier, but I still find myself automatically changing route every time I see an approaching runner, with the net effect that I spend an awful lot of time running round in circles, occasionally never leaving my own driveway.  By the time I get home, showered and changed, the whole point of the run, e.g. to earn the right to eat cream cakes and drink whisky, becomes lost in the urgent need to moan, very loudly, about the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harriet is out there running these days.  (I have been running for over a year now and I am a seasoned athlete: I can often put my own trainers on without being out of breath.)  Eventually, aware that nobody is listening to me, I retire to bed in order to spend the whole night bemoaning the fact that it is far too hot to sleep. How long can this go on?* 

Sleeping has suddenly become a very hot business…

*This is the UK: my prediction – summer will last until next Tuesday when it will collapse into biblical rainfall and a cold blast from The Urals…

My Running Diary began with ‘Couch to 5k’ here.
Last week’s Running Diary ‘Bangers’ is here.
Next week’s Diary is here with ‘An abject apology‘ and here with ‘Acute Coryza’