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’

The Running Man – Bangers

My life is to a large extent ruled by music.  I listen to music all the time.  As I write this piece I am listening to music (currently Phaedra by Tangerine Dream, as you ask, with Rush’s Clockwork Angels to follow).  Music is in the background of everything I do.  Music accompanies me every time I run.  My tastes are eclectic – there is little I do not like* – but my choices are limited for my running playlists as the tracks have to accommodate my need to plod**.  Never-the-less I change the songs on the playlist every couple of weeks – I always forget that I have done it and I am subsequently taken by surprise each time I run – although I have noticed there are a handful of songs that never seem to drop off the phone.  I don’t know why; it is not a conscious thing and, undoubtedly, of no interest whatsoever to anyone else – which is why I intend to tell you about it…

Many years ago on a family holiday to Fuerteventura we encountered a guitarist/singer who inhabited a ‘pitch’ every evening in the local village square.  This man (I want to call him Kevin Wilson, but I have no idea why) was simply superb: he played Pink Floyd, he played a version of Still Got the Blues for You which could well have been better than Gary Moore’s own version and he played Cocaine with the kind of protracted solo that Mr Clapton can only have dreamt of.  My daughters loved him and, consequently, we had to go to see him every night, except one evening, when he was not there.  We had a subdued dinner with much in the way of bottom lip quivering and had began to walk back ‘home’ when we heard a familiar voice in the distance, which we tracked down to a nearby restaurant, where Kevin was playing what I can only describe as ‘wedding songs’ to togged-up holidaymakers.  Before we could stop her my daughter charged in, her T-shirt bedecked with the requisite amount of dinner for a six-year old, shouting ‘Kevin, Kevin, I want Cocaine!’ to the consternation of all present, except for Kevin, who just chuckled, said ‘I think you might be a little young for that’ and played it anyway.  What a man!  Cocaine by Eric Clapton never leaves my running playlist.

Even more years ago than that holiday, my wife and I went to see Roxy Music who were in their full early pomp at, I think, the De Montfort Hall in Leicester.  It was an all-standing affair and we were late.  I am not tall (five foot eight’ish most of the time unless somebody bothers to measure me, when it is five foot seven) but my wife is substantially below five feet even on tip-toes.  Roxy Music were great, but my wife saw nothing other than, she thinks, a glimpse of Bryan Ferry’s foot during Do the Strand – and very happy she was with the whole experience.  Roxy Music and, latterly, Mr Ferry have been one of my very guiltiest pleasures since their first appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test way, way back in the day.  Avonmore is the title track of a 2014 Ferry album which proves that despite the occasional detours into As Time Goes By and a peculiar interregnum during which he attempted to be the lead singer in some kind of a Bob Dylan cover’s band, Ferry is still very good at being Ferry when he chooses to be.  It never leaves the list.

Bowie has been the musical love of my life and, if I was forced to make a choice, Heroes may well be my favourite song of all time.  The song has an incredible habit of bursting out of my headphones at the moments when I think I might just have to give in – but you really can’t stop when that song is playing, can you?  I have a particular aversion to the butchered and truncated ‘single’ version of the song and so it is the full album version that has become a fixture on my running playlist.  Definitely the most uplifting song on there.

Most surprising song is probably Check Out Time 11am by Sparks which was recorded in 2017 (long after even people of my age thought they no longer existed) for a 7” vinyl single-only release and tucked away at the end of their three-album ‘Best Of’ set.  A great song, perfect for running; it always makes me smile – although if I’m passing by, it might look like a grimace.

The rest of my unshakeable running ‘bangers’ are I Feel Free by Cream, which is just a wonderful song that buries into your head fifty five years (yup, 55 years!) after its release; Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult which is my ‘funeral song’ – so I thought it would be handy to have it playing if the paramedics have to come and find me;  Freedom Calling by Colin Hay – a perfect running beat for me and the only ‘cool’ song to my knowledge to feature bagpipes; Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode, which again has the right beat for me and is, despite the fact that it really should not be, a great song; Shout by Tears For Fears, again a brilliant tempo for my limping running gait with a drum line that you only ever seem to pick up on headphones and finally the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all time, aptly called Rock and Roll*** by Led Zeppelin which just means that wherever I am on my run, I have to summon up just that little bit of extra energy required for air guitar.

I would be lying if I said this was anything close to a list of my favourite songs – although that list would be very long and would contain some of these – but clearly they share something that makes them indispensable to me when I run.  At any one time, my running playlist contains about 40 songs, which I update fortnightly and, as far as I can see, these are the only songs that have never left it.  I have no idea why.  Perhaps it is a comfort thing.

N.B. I have made no attempt to provide links to any of these songs as it would certainly end in tears.  You will all be far more proficient than I at finding them should you choose to.  If I might suggest anything, try I Feel Free by Cream, in order to experience what the world could sound like in 1966.

*I always say that I struggle with Reggae, but I love Bob Marley; I do not understand Rap, but I can always listen to Eminem; Grime has come along 50 years too late for me, but Stormzy is phenomenal.  Perhaps the only genre I truly can’t listen to is Country & Western – except, of course, for Johnny Cash…

**As a fan of many ‘Prog’ rock ensembles, I could not envision running to any of them without the risk of dislocating something.

***Although forever known as Been A Long Time by my eldest daughter.

My first ‘running’ post, ‘Couch to 5k’ is here.
Last week’s running post, ‘Twelve Months of Becoming Er…’ is here.
Next week’s little outing, ‘A Very Hot Business’ is here
There are many ‘running’ post in between the two which are all linked, should they be your own particular cup of tea.

The Running Man – Twelve Months of Becoming Er…

A year has now passed since I first downloaded the Couch to 5k app, chose to be accompanied by the dulcet tones of Jo Whiley and launched myself on the village roads, a lumbering, perspiring, gasping mess.  I have no doubt that not even the effervescent Ms Whiley, soothingly urging me on through my headphones, had any idea quite what she was taking on at that (or any other) stage.  If I’m honest, I am quite proud of myself for persevering through the program, and not a little surprised that I managed to find the determination to do so.  I’m sure that the circumstances of Lockdown must have helped in that respect: the streets were largely empty even though, I seem to recall, the sun shone a lot.  I seldom ‘bumped into’ anyone that I knew and Lockdown restrictions meant that, when I did, they could legitimately move as far away as possible from me without embarrassment.  This was a period when we were all too scared to share a pavement with anyone – especially if their breathing came in the kind of wheeze normally associated with the elephant’s graveyard – and crossing the road to avoid your neighbour became the norm.  This was the time when the whole country’s social calendar revolved about banging saucepan lids at 8pm every Thursday.  Like Global Conflict, we just referred to it as The Lockdown at the time, not realising that it would too soon become The First Lockdown when the second one started.

In the past twelve months I can definitely claim to have become more ‘er’: I am definitely not quick, but I am quicker; I am not fit, but I am fitter; I am by no means thin, but I am thinner.  Ask me why I still do it and I most certainly will say, ‘Er…’.  I can’t actually remember what prompted me to do it at the time, but I was one of many.  The streets were full of people following the run/walk/run regime.  We began to recognise one another, to wave, but most of the Lockdown Runners appear to have stopped now.  Far more people are running these days, but I don’t seem to recognise any of them.  Nobody appears to be quite as past it as I: they are all younger, fitter and altogether better dressed for the occasion.  Some of them even chat as they run.  I have to devote my entire attention to breathing without inhaling wildlife.  There is nothing less conducive to a steady pace than trying to cough up a wasp.

What I most recall about the early runs is the sense of dread that hung about me as I prepared to set off; particularly on the final run of each week when I stupidly allowed myself to look at what the following week’s stepped-up regime was to demand of me.  The joyous sensation of hearing the half way bell ring, meaning that I could turn around, was spoiled only by the knowledge that I now had to try and get back home without attracting the attention of a Coroner’s vehicle.  I have kept myself going by setting targets.  My early thirty minute runs were nowhere near 5km in length (they still are not) but I set myself a 5k course and I started to run it, trying to speed up week on week until I realised that I had peaked at a speed which would have shamed an end-of-round electric milk float, so instead I started to go further.  These days I do not set goals – reaching them is such a disappointment when you realise that all you can then do is to set a new one – so I rely solely on the grim determination I have to keep going.  The determination comes from the knowledge that someday, sooner or later, my body, the doctor or friendly paramedic will tell me that I have to stop and I will be able to say that the decision to stop was not my own.  I will never be a good runner, but I am dogged and, for good or bad, it is now twelve months since I first found I had something to be dogged about.  My anniversary run was the same as all of the others: breathless, hot and plodding, but I did it and, in a year’s time I will… er… do it all again.

My original post about starting to run, ‘Couch to 5k’ is here.
Last week’s running post, ‘Getting on with It’ is here

The next ‘Running Man’ installment, ‘Bangers’ is here.
And there are many branch-line stops on the uneven path between then and now that you can visit if you choose – just follow the links.

The Running Man – Getting On With It

I started to run during the first Lockdown because I was getting fat, I was getting creaky and, because of the restrictions, I needed an excuse to get out of the house.  I continue to run, but unfortunately, I also continue to be fat and creaky.  I get out of the house, but I am surrounded by a cocoon of music and perspiration which ensures that I interact with no-one, save those kindly souls who enquire about my wellbeing.  I cannot speed up somehow and I cannot run further.  Not even a cycle-borne outrider carrying chocolate could spur me on.  I am at ‘Max’.  It’s not much of a max, but I dare not creep into the red band now.

I am of an age when there is precious little to do other than to worry about the age I am: when I see news stories about amazing, ‘with it’ centurions and think ‘Wow!  That’s incredible,’ before realising that it is only just around the corner for me, and my marbles are already slipping from my enfeebled grasp and rolling under the sofa, just out of reach; when every malady from which I suffer (or believe I suffer) is associated with old age; when my back tightens in direct inverse ratio to my bladder and my feet ache permanently, on the simple basis that they have to prop up the rest of me.  I find myself constantly excusing my inadequacies by saying, ‘Well, I am sixty-two you know.’  I can still do everything I did twenty years ago – only not as well.  My mind remains open to new experiences – it’s just that I forget what they are before I get the chance to try them.

I am fortunate – although I would never admit it: it does not pay to give Fate a target – that my brain still works relatively quickly and my humour is, broadly speaking, still in nappies.  Occasionally I think that I might be developing a mature, sophisticated sense of humour, but then I realise that such a thing does not exist: nobody laughs at ‘clever’.  Sophistication is just an excuse for jokes that fail to make people laugh, despite mentioning Kant.  I can ‘turn a phrase’ from time to time, but I still laugh at the skirt inadvertently tucked into the knickers.

Perhaps if growing older serves any purpose whatsoever it is in allowing you to give yourself a break every now and then.  My expectations have not been lowered, but I realise that I can no longer reach them without a ladder.  My chances of attaining fame, fortune and an illicit liaison with Sandra Bullock are exactly as far away as they have always been, but my ability to cross the divide is now hampered by knees, bladder and a recently developed ‘What the fuck’ attitude which means that I am reappraising the desirability of everything from money to chocolate, love to whisky, and sex on the beach to nine holes on the putting green.  There remains a tiny piece of me that believes I may still be ‘discovered’, but a much larger piece that questions ‘For what?’

What age does bring is the realisation that, outside of a very small number of family members, nobody actually believes that you are in any way ‘special’, nor that the world in general will be in any particular way poorer for your absence from it (although, in my case, there may be a distiller or two in Scotland willing to disagree).  In short, age tells you that what is gone is gone and what is left doesn’t really add up to much, so make the most of it while you can and if that means you have to run about a bit every now and then, well, you might as well just get on with it.

My last ‘Running’ post, ‘…on the Running Man’ is here.
My first ‘Running’ post ‘Couch to 5k’ is here.
The next ‘Running’ post ‘Twelve Months to Become Er…’ is here.

The Running Man on the Running Man

I have still not returned to running.  I will soon, but currently sloth-life pulls too hard on me.  Somehow, since the Lockdown has started to ease and I have returned to employment, my current two days per week appear to leave me less free time than my previous five.  I have neither time nor energy to press the clutch far enough to allow me to get my arse into gear.  In order to address my problems, or at least understand them, I decided that a ‘Why I am not running’ list was in order:

  1. I am a lazy git.  OK, I’ll get this out of the way first.  It is, after all, the ‘Big One’.  I try very hard not to be lazy – well, as hard as being very lazy allows – but God knows it is tempting: it’s blowing a gale outside, scything down with icy rain, turning just dark enough for me to stumble through a heap of freshly deposited horse doo-doo and wind up on my arse on somebody’s front lawn, but just think how much better I will feel if I just get out and do it.  Mind you, just think how much better I will feel if I simply stay exactly where I am, with Columbo on the telly, a giant-squirrel sized bag of dry-roasted peanuts in one hand and a tumbler full of Scotland’s finest in the other.  Also warm and dry.  I may be lazy, but I am not entirely stupid.  If I concentrate hard enough, I can imagine the aches and pains.  Pour a gallon of water over myself and block my airways with a furry doorstop and no-one need ever know that I have not actually ventured outside of the house.
  2. I am not entirely stupid*.  I realise that, at my age, it is imperative that I get exercise.  I just wish that it wasn’t all quite so tiring.  I realise that looking as godawful as I do mid-run is good for the soul.  I realise that thirty minutes a day is not too much to ask of me.  Thirty minutes to exercise heart and limbs, to clear my mind and to put my life into some kind of perspective before diving under the shower and wishing that I had remembered to put the head back on it after clearing the limescale from the tiny little nozzle bits.  Then I think ice cream and coffee, and the world no longer seems so monochrome…
  3. I have many reasons to keep myself well, but…  I am the King of ‘but’.  Everything makes perfect sense, ‘but’…  I know exactly what I need to do ‘but’…  I am also prince of ‘if’ and archduke of ‘except’.  If ever there was a Nobel Prize for dithering, my ‘if only’ would be a shoe-in for the big one.
  4. My age.  The balancing act that inhabits the space between what will enable me to and what will prevent me from reaching my next birthday: another doughnut might just kill me, but if you stand between me and it, death may still occur, although it won’t be mine.  Each action requires balance between its capacity to point me either towards, or away from, death.  A life without risk may not actually be any longer, but it will certainly feel it.  Think of anything you love (I don’t know why I decided to allow free-choice there, as we are all, in fact, thinking of chocolate and wine) and consider the choice: you can live ninety years with it, or ninety one without it.  Maybe if you continue to run, you could push your sinful lifespan up to ninety one as well, but if you don’t, you will be able to fit in so much more chocolate.  How much time is a small pleasure worth?  Put a Mars Bar in the fridge overnight and then eat it carefully layer by layer.  Now tell me that wasn’t worth losing a couple of days for.
  5. My aching limbs.  Even I have started to struggle with this justification for indolence as everything now aches just as much, if not more, when I do not run, although somehow, if I haven’t run then I can’t help but feel that I am not to blame for it: my knees feel as though they have been bent along a plane in which they were never intended to operate, but I haven’t been running, therefore it is not my fault – I can live with that.
  6. D.I.Y.  The jobs I have to do.  The jobs that running prevents me from doing.  ‘No, I haven’t finished the painting, but I have put several centimetres between myself and death.’  ‘No, I haven’t stopped that socket from fusing out the whole neighbourhood each time you attempt to make coffee, but on the other hand, my caffeine intake is well down.’  ‘Yes, I do realise that it is only a thirty minute run and it really shouldn’t absorb half of the day, but just think of how much more healthy I will be for a couple of hours.’  ‘Fix the shelf?  Tomorrow maybe – I’m knackered.’
  7. Lassitude.  A wonderful word that I learned some fifty years ago through the wonderful ‘The Ascent of the Rum-Doodle’** and which has fizzed about whichever part of my brain is responsible for improbable excuses ever since.  I will never admit to being a lazy git***, but suffering from lassitude, I can’t do anything about that, now can I?

In reality, like an errant monk evicted from the monastery on the grounds of uneven tonsure and the failure to adequately decorate the first letter of every diary entry, I will emerge into the real world next week, blinking in the unaccustomed glare of sunshine on May frost and, DIY tasks left firmly behind me – whilst I ponder how I am going to afford somebody to come in and put it all right – I will without doubt, almost certainly, probably, possibly start to run again and you will be able to look forward to settling down to five hundred finely-honed words on ill-fitting trainers or the advisability of supportive undergarments with loose-fitting shorts – unless, of course, you have something – anything – more invigorating to do…

*I am
*‘The Ascent of the Rum Doodle’ by W.E.Bowman.  If you have never read it, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
***Of course I will, and did at the start of this piece – denying it is just too much like hard work.

The running diary started here with ‘Couch to 5k’.
Last week’s Running Man, ‘…on Reasons Why Not’ is here.
Next week’s ‘Getting On With it’ is here.

The Running Man on Extending

Our back garden as viewed from my office window.  Note our own extension in the bottom left, the clothes dryer that would have had to have been moved if my wife knew that I was taking the photo, and the pink shell sandpit that the kids carefully emptied out onto the patio during their last visit.

As I run around the village these days I find that almost every other house is clad in scaffolding.  The whole place looks like a series of giant Meccano sets, constructed and curated by a strutting illustrated man clad in denim overalls talking like he’s permanently attached to an invisible megaphone, somehow managing to laugh and snarl at the same time.  Half the world is extending whilst the other half is winter frog-like – in a state of stasis, like a jelly fish in the freezer.  Unmodified homes are betrayed by their lack of gunmetal grey windows and buff-coloured rendering; naked housebrick standing out like the uncouth uncle at a family gathering: the man in the green checked shirt, blue striped suit and purple nylon wig.   It can only be a matter of time until the children are warned to keep away.

I am a creature of habit and my running routes seldom vary, so I see these changes taking place.  I witness the houses evolve in my own cataractal time-lapse eye and although it is very rare to lope past a finished job thinking that it shouldn’t have been done at all, I could obviously point you at one or two that look like they’ve had a shed velcroed onto the side of the kitchen.  I never dreamt that this volume of builders even existed – the breaker’s yards by now must be completely devoid of all decrepit white vans.  Where will they all go when the lockdown finishes and people no longer want to re-sculpt the homes in which they have been trapped?  Does Brigadoon require knocking through?  Most of the houses – presumably no longer homes – are put up for sale the moment the work stops.  There must be a psychological explanation for this, but I’m buggered if I can find it – unless people find that they just cannot live without dust and noise, Absolute 90’s on the radio, a Portaloo on the front lawn and tea stains on every conceivable surface.  The houses, when finished, look great – except that they all have the forlorn appearance of ‘property for sale’ hanging, shroud-like over them.  I picture a kind of merry-go-round of upsizing and downsizing in progress with the clockwise half of the local population constantly tripping over the anti-clockwise balance.

Such homes that are not having internal walls removed and external walls skimmed are having the gardens done.  Landscape gardeners have proliferated like Cane Toads in the Australian Outback.  No garden is finished until it has been designed on a computer.  ‘Hard Landscaping’ is the horticultural mode: remove as much green as possible and cover it with shingle, bricks and the kind of wooden structures that, around here, will succumb to woodworm before the autumn.  Monty Don must be spinning in his cold-frame.  The garden has become an ersatz house extension and the flowers have paid the price.  My lawns are not great, but they are two of very few left in the village.  Most of the green oases that pepper the streets now are of the ‘astro’ variety – lawns that are swept rather than cut – but do at least add a varied palette of green shades to the surroundings that would never be seen in nature. 

I am no gardener, but I know that gardens are important, both for nature and for human well-being.  Each spring I watch the green shoots begin to forge their way through my own small patch of winter-wizened soil and debate long and hard over which to leave and which to dig up, in the certain knowledge that I will get it wrong.  Each summer I spend one of the two balmy evenings we are apt to get per year, sitting out amongst the flowers, cradling something warming in a glass.  Each autumn I chop it all down and ram it into the compost bin, whence it forms a foul-smelling brown slime that I have to sluice away in the summer.  This is the circle of life and I am sad to see it broken by grey slate and plastic lawns.  My run is becoming more monochrome by the day as the town is moved into the country – a vista of white van and black Range Rover – and my glimpses of nature (outside of strategically placed dog-turds in bio-degradable bags) rarer. 

Oh well, I’m sure that when the summer comes it will all look better.  Who knows, I might just have an extension built to watch it from…

In England we can now have up to six people, or two households, meeting in the garden.  Guests can even use the toilet!  (I must tell next-door’s cats.)  Accordingly, this week’s running diary is brought to you courtesy of a very elderly gazebo and a newly purchased patio heater.

This whole running shenanigans started here with ‘Couch to 5k’.
Last week’s Running Man ‘…on Setting Off’ is here.
You can find the next Running Man ‘…on Reasons Why Not’ here.

The Running Man on Setting Off

I was very pin-toed as a child and my mother was told that it was very unlikely that I would ever walk properly, let alone run.  (They were wrong, of course.  I realise that you know I wouldn’t have mentioned it otherwise.)  I do have a slightly unusual gait to my walk – picture a slightly camp giraffe on ice – but, although not quickly, I do run and I have played sport all of my life, even if most of my ‘upright’ time is spent in a stance that can best described as ‘a teeter’.  (I caught sight of myself in a mirror once whilst playing squash and it reminded me of ‘modern ballet’ – the kind of dance that is accompanied by music that exists only in the notes that never quite made it into formal notation; where you witness a move and wonder whether it could possibly have been intentional.  The image was so shocking that I paused for a second and wound up with a bruise the size of a fried egg on my forehead.)  At any speed above ‘dawdle’ I always give the impression of a man on a tightrope.

Since I began to run, a year ago, I have never done so without wearing supports on both knees.  It is likely that my pin-toes are to blame for the weakness in my knees, although I always blame a lifetime of playing sport, because it sounds so much more glamorous.  In fact I have a distinct memory of inadvertently attempting to fly as a child, across a space where a stone staircase should have been and crash-landing on my knees, leading to what the doctor described as ‘water on the knees’, which he treated with crepe bandages wound so tightly that my feet turned blue and my eyes bulged in my head like balloons in a microwave.  Whatever the cause, my knees operate on a basis of more or less permanent ache which, against all expectations, is lessened by running.  Early on in ‘my running journey’ I was troubled by hip pain, but I learned some stretching exercises and now the only time I get pain in my hips is after a couple of days without running.  It is my body’s way of telling me to get my arse into gear.

The start is always the hardest.  If I get up in the night – ‘if’?  who do I think I am kidding? – my stagger along the landing is a joy to behold as neither hips nor knees are prepared to bend without a substantial period of notice.  The imperative to reach the bathroom combined with the intransigence of my joints means that the midnight walk is more of a controlled fall forward.  In fact, that is the only way that I can set off on a run.  I slowly tip forward until I reach a point where the gyroscope in my head (obviously sub-standard since fitting) tells me that either I start to move my feet or ditch on my snitch.  The state of the paths around here means that either result is equally plausible.  In my head I am a cool runner, but in the eyes of the world I am an old man fighting a futile battle against gravity; I am a pin-toed Rowan Atkinson attempting to catch a crowded train as it pulls out of the station.  In reality, of course, the train has long-since left and I’ve no chance of ever getting back on board.  Just as well really, it would almost certainly be heading for the wrong station…

As always, I would refer you to the start of this running around business in ‘Couch to 5k’, here.
Should you want to know what happened last week, you can join me running ‘…on a Bicycle’, here.

N.B. At the end of a recent Running Man, I included a little footnote about my coloured pen ‘editing’ process which drew a little comment.  I think I should clarify that this is not some kind of ‘professional’ methodical process, but a desolate routine that almost invariably follows the same pattern:
1. Write piece in pen on paper.
2. Transpose onto computer and print.
3. Read through and despair.
4. Take red pen and add jokes.
5. Read through and despair.
6. Take green pen and attempt to make some sense of it.
7. Read through and despair.
8. Take black pen and correct grammar, syntax and opinion.
9. Read through and despair.
10. Feed into shredder and revert to original.

So now you know…

My running diary started with ‘Couch to 5k’ here.
Last week’s little tarradiddle ‘The Running Man on a Bicycle’ is here.
Next week’s run out ‘The Running Man on Extending’ is here.

The Running Man on a Bicycle

I was dragged out of my running routine by the head-cold that dictates that every step I take is accompanied by a bass drum between the ears.  I anticipated problems with breathing as I prepared to run, but not with percussion.  I could not return to the weights, as a recent snot-fuelled attempt had me sounding like a hedgehog trapped beneath the shed, so I went for the exercise bike.  However, by the time I had decided to lug it from its current resting place – in the arctic garage, between the deep freeze and the tumble dryer – the bass drum in my head had been accompanied by a hi-hat in each ear and any attempt at forward perambulation exceeding the speed of a geriatric sloth resulted in some kind of trans-cranial military tattoo.  Imagine – if you can – Cozy Powell’s ‘Dance with the Devil*’ slowed down and piped directly into the cerebral cortex**

Another dose of synchronicity: the lateness of the hour can no longer be relied upon to bring on the night – days are getting longer although, alas, no warmer – and there, just behind the exercise bike, I spotted my actual bike bike.  It seemed a whole lot more sensible to haul myself aboard that.  So, I wheeled it out, donned my helmet*** and rode away into the distance****.

I am incredibly fortunate to live in a place that means that I can be on quiet country roads within minutes of leaving my door.  Often I do not see another vehicle for miles around – although, when I do it is almost always a small hatchback (formerly mother’s and noisily driven to tears by the change of operator) piloted by someone who is clearly unfamiliar with the function of two of the three pedals, and for whom steering appears to be a pointless frivolity.  These cars, on any other day unused to the rev counter turning above vertical, are usually wheezing worse than me.  It is, though, because of this narrow country lane/automotive nutcase juxtaposition that cycling proceeds without a soundtrack and I am forced to contemplate the voices inside my head.  I fear that, especially in view of cold-constrained faculties, even the slightest diminution of my otic acumen could leave me vulnerable to ending my days as a grotesquely articulated hood ornament.

Cycle runs take me further afield – it is virtually impossible to stay upright on a bike travelling at my running pace – which does affect my ‘baggage’.  When I run, I feel that all I need to carry is some means of contacting the nearest paramedic; as a cyclist I am forced to consider the possibility of mechanical as well as physical breakdown.  I carry my little repair kit with me: ready to mend a puncture with the best of them – although not to any great advantage, I must admit, as I do not have a pump.  Back in the day, all bicycles had a pump attached to the frame and, like the strange squeaking noise from the back wheel, it accompanied you wherever you went.  In those days, I recall, the tyre could be inflated with little more than an angel’s fart; now, with tyre pressures three times greater than the car, it requires either biceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger or an electric generator.  When I head out for a trip on my cycle, my wife sits in the car with the engine running and the back seats down.

As my cold starts to lift, I will return to running, as I do not feel that cycling exercises me fully*****.  By next week I anticipate being back on my trainer-clad feet when cycling will return to the roster of recreational activities and running will, once again, become my king of pain.

*If age precludes you from doing so, you can at least view the original here.
**I have absolutely no idea of what that is.
***This is worn at my wife’s insistence.  There is an interesting psychology attached to bicycle helmets as, for some reason, motorists give you much more room when you are not wearing one.
****A very liberal use of the word ‘distance’ as I suspect that I seldom move beyond one that makes me invisible from an upstairs window of my house.
*****Naïve supposition that the worse I feel afterwards, the more ‘good’ the exercise has done me.

N.B. today I have fully surrendered to the vagaries of old-age and pressure-washed the bins!

My original ‘running’ blog ‘Couch to 5k’ can be found here.
Last week’s ‘Running Man on Being Antisocial’ is here.

The Running Man on Being Antisocial

An excess of alcohol and chocolate over the Easter break – please don’t ask me to define ‘excess’: suffice to say that my grandkids are wondering where the eggs have gone and my wife is sure that we had another bottle of gin somewhere – and the return of sub-arctic air have combined to make my first couple of post-holy week treks even more miserable than usual.  I drag myself to the door, thrust it open and shrivel away, like a plastic bag near a radiator, at the first blast of wind-borne sleet.  Who in their right mind would go out in that – particularly dressed like this?  The issue of my running attire presses on me once again after, what I assume must be a recently reconvened, post-covid running group, passed my house yesterday, all neatly ironed, in unstained hi-viz, unwrinkled running tights and not a hairband out of place.  They were chatting happily, smiling some of them, and not a single one gasping for breath.  They looked as if they had all been waiting for months for this moment: whilst you and I battled house-bound neuroses, they collected lycra.  There was a distinct lack of the secondhand about them.

I am reluctant to spend heavily on running gear because I am still unconvinced that I won’t just decide one day that running really is not for me.  (Interestingly, it really is not for me, I have decided, although I don’t know what to do about it now.)  The course and distance of my thrice-weekly lopes varies enormously, depending on how many other runners I have to avoid along the way.  I hate crossing paths with them, as I am so conscious of looking like a convict who has gone on the run without his asthma inhaler; I will not run in front of them because I dread them catching and passing me; I will not run behind them because I fear that passing motorists may think that we’re together and that I just can’t keep up.  I would love someone to offer me an explanation as to why, when I stumble into the wake of another runner, I always appear to be running comfortably faster than them, until the very point at which I move up to their shoulder, when I suffer the kind of coughing fit that tells me that I should have followed my first instinct and gone the other way, even if it meant trying to get past the elderly lady on the mobility scooter with the Chihuahua on a ten-foot lead.  I cannot run at ‘school time’: whilst I am much too long in the tooth to allow myself to be bullied by gangs of school kids, I am none-the-less haunted by the fear of silent laughter.

Most of my runs take place mid-morning or mid-afternoon, when the rest of the world is either in school, at work or on a Zoom call, in order to minimise my detours, but I continue to zig-zag my way around the empty paths and byways avoiding any kind of interaction the best I can.  It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s just that I’m… Actually, it probably is that I’m antisocial – although if they had a club, I certainly wouldn’t join it.

(First edit red biro, second edit green felt-tip, third edit black Sharpie – a particularly bleak moment – final edit a cross-shredder and a return to what I started with.)

If you want to join the beginning of this run, you can find ‘Couch to 5k’ here.
Last week’s ‘Running Man’ post ‘…on the Time to Run’ is here.
The next ‘Running Man…’ episode ‘…on a Bicycle’ is here.

The Running Man on the Time to Run

The actual ‘running part’ of my day takes about forty minutes; the rest of the run takes considerably longer.  Firstly, I have to convince myself that I am actually going to do it.  This involves first going through all of the reasons why I should not do it: a definite twinge in the middle toe; a parcel delivery expected any time in the next few days; the possibility that it might rain; the possibility that it might not rain; a recently discovered re-run of the Phil Silvers Show on some obscure channel that I may never find again, and the necessity to gauge the current bladder status.  It all takes time.

Eventually, decision made, I start to get ready: take a drink; empty bladder; bind up knees; don running tights, vest, shorts, ‘T’ shirt.  Empty bladder.  Put on running shoes – always double-bowed.  Empty bladder.  Pop in Bluetooth headphones, grumble on for ten minutes (approx) whilst sorting out ‘connection error’ and set up GPS tracking.  Empty bladder.  Open door in order to assess need for hat and gloves.  Put on hat and gloves in certain knowledge that I will regret it within five minutes.  Exit, closing door behind me.  Open door.  Empty bladder.  Exit again.  The routine is pretty much invariable, as is the realisation that despite the knowledge that it is all habit, I will regret not visiting the loo one last time at precisely the same time as I begin to regret the woolly head-covering.

I’m told that there is a close link between the pressing need for micturition and running.  Why?  Well, nobody’s ever told me that.  I suppose it is the same link as that which lurks behind the curtain coming up at the theatre or the first chord booming around the concert venue.  However recently I last went for a wee, it was always just too long ago.  Some years ago, some friends and I went to a concert in a small, ‘intimate’ venue which meant that, for most of the evening, the artist* could see the audience.  When the mid-session interval came around, one of my friends who was clearly almost as desperate for ‘the gents’ as he was to escape ridicule, leapt over two tiers of seats and ran down the corridor shouting, ‘Emergency.  Emergency.  Coming through!’  The already assembled ‘toilet queue’ parted like The Red Sea at the behest of Moses and deferentially let him through.  Back then, I collapsed into the kind of laughter that sends well-meaning souls rushing for the defibrillator.  Today I feel his pain.

On my eventual return from running I generally have a decision to make over whether it is worth retracing my steps in order to find the glove I have somehow contrived to drop at some point along my journey.  Generally I decide that I will find it dangling from somebody’s hedge when I repeat the journey in a couple of days time, so I leave it where it is and, pausing for nothing more than twenty minutes to remove the triple-knot from my trainer laces where the double-bow used to be, head straight to the shower before the flies have the chance to settle.  Thus the forty minutes of exercise generally eats about an hour and a half from my day – which is the perfect reason not to run if I’ve only got an hour in which to do it.

*Roy Harper, whose song ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease’ is one of my ‘funeral songs’.  This may, or may not be relevant.   

Today’s episode was brought to you by a break from procrastination and a red Wilco ballpoint pen. 
Today’s top running tune was ‘There’s No Way Out Of Here’ by David Gilmour.
Today’s Thought for the Day: If Einstein was correct, a stitch in time would require a very big bobbin indeed.

You can join me at the start of my Running Odyssey here, at ‘Couch to 5k’ or
You can join me in last week’s ‘Running Man’ post, ‘…on Stopping’ here.
The next Running Man post ‘…on Being Antisocial’ is here.