More Random Running Thoughts – Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens…

…Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens…

Don’t ask me why, because I don’t have the answer, but yesterday as I ran, this song kept looping around in my head.  Not, in case you should wonder, because I was happy, but because, I think, I had just heard it in a radio advert and I was in a state of bewilderment.  You see, I know that Maria (in The Sound of Music) is a nun, but come on: bright copper kettles?  Really?  What is so exciting about a bright copper kettle?  At least with a brown paper package tied up with string there is intrigue, jeopardy even: what is in there – a bomb, or an unexpected bottle of Scotch?  A bomb would definitely not be in my list of favourite things, but I get the uncertainty, the anticipation thing.  I just don’t understand why anybody would consider a copper kettle, bright or otherwise, to be a favourite thing?  Surely, even in a convent, there must be more alluring objects of desire.  ‘I tell you what, Sister Maria, why don’t you just pop along and make me a nice cup of tea?  The kettle is ever so bright – and copper too, by the way.’  How dull does a life have to be?

Anyway, as I know very little about the desirability of apple strudel (crisp or otherwise) and even less about Schnitzel with noodles, I devoted the rest of the run to devising my own lyrics (I didn’t mess with the chorus, which seems perfectly serviceable to me – nobody cares for dog bites or bee stings, do they?)  I hope Rogers and Hammerstein will forgive me (or at least not sue…)

A fresh gin and tonic with ice and a slice in,
A hot veggie chilli with plenty of spice in,
A huge bar of Galaxy (chocolate of kings),
These are a few of my favourite things.

Bright yellow pimples on other folk’s noses,
Those who fall over while striking their poses,
Drunken hen-parties with pink angel wings,
These are a few of my favourite things.

The smell in the kitchen when pizza is cooking
The mess you can make when there’s nobody looking,
Bananas and custard and conkers on strings
These are a few of my favourite things.

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
And I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad…

The feeling you get when the guests have departed,
The smile on the face of a baby that’s farted,
The news that the old folk can play on the swings,
These are a few of my favourite things.
Repeat chorus etc etc etc.

There, that’s better.  Now I don’t feel so bad…

For clarity’s sake, I think I probably should point out (for the aficionados amongst you) that I am aware I have added an extra verse at the end.  It was a long run.  Lord knows what will stick in my head the next time I venture out, but if it’s anything to do with lonely goatherds, I may have to reappraise my entire life…

Some Immutable Laws of Life – 5k and Beyond

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash – Still not my own legs, but almost tatty enough.

Well, the strange thing is that I am still running and that I do now appear to have worked my way up to 5k, whilst still finding that 30 minutes marks the exact limit of my endurance.  Now I am not listening to the nagging insistence of the Couch to 5k app, time actually does seem to pass a little easier.  I am able to clear my head a little.  Unfortunately, as with all voids, it is always on the look-out for something to fill it.  This is the sort of stuff that floods into my brain as I run.  It does at least take my mind off the running. 

  • Despite what is said in the eulogies, nobody that is both bright and beautiful has friends.
  • You will always feel stupid at an interview.
  • You will always feel fat at a Spa.
  • Nothing that was funny in the pub will ever be funny anywhere else.
  • Bathroom accidents only ever happen at somebody else’s house.
  • A standard shopping bag doubles in weight for every one hundred yards you carry it.
  • Beyond the age of sixty it is impossible to experience any kind of pain without fearing death.
  • If you only want half of a Buy One Get One Free offer, no-one will ever offer you the free half.
  • According to aerodynamicists, the bumble bee cannot fly – these people design aeroplanes!
  • It is not cool to wear sunglasses indoors – especially if you walk into the hat stand.
  • She almost certainly is too good for you.
  • There are no recorded instances of anyone ever eating a jam doughnut without getting it down their crotch.
  • You do not get better as you get older, you simply become less discerning.
  • The only person that ever loves a loser is the winner.
  • A picture is never worth a thousand words – unless it is a picture of a thousand words.
  • Breakfast meets Brunch where the price goes up.
  • Vertical stripes do not make you look taller – although they do make the ground look further away.
  • If you have just won at Monopoly, you can be sure that nobody likes you.
  • Toast is always hot until you eat it.
  • No Man is an island – unless you count the Isle of Man.
  • There is only one Willy Wonka and that Willy Wonka is Gene Wilder.

I may collect these thoughts together and publish a book, like Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, but with fewer jokes.  If you want to add any thoughts of your own, please feel free.

They Think It’s All Over – Couch to 5k The End of the Long Run

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

Well, it actually is all over.  I would love to be able to tell you that it all ended in a blaze of glory, but I cannot.  It was more a splutter of indifference.  My knees hurt, my ankles hurt, my hip ached, my calf is sporting something that looks like a huge swollen bruise, and my bladder has still not learned to cope with the amount of water I have to drink in order to deal with thirty minutes of mouth breathing.  This morning I can hardly walk.  Getting fit has reduced me to a physical wreck.  I don’t think that I am well enough to be fit.  I am at least thirty years older than when I started this, ten weeks ago.

My big question now is, will I continue running?  I don’t know, there are a number of factors to consider:

  1. Do I enjoy it?  –  No, I don’t.  I can honestly say that not for a single moment whilst running have I ever thought to myself, ‘What good fun I am having’.  Running is torture, so why would I want to continue?
  2. Do I feel fitter?  –  No, I don’t.  Currently I would struggle to locate a non-aching bone in my body.  I can run for thirty minutes where ten weeks ago I would not have managed thirty seconds – but I’m still struggling to understand why I would really want to.  This country no longer has sabre-toothed tigers, so there’s little point.  If push comes to pull there is little of danger that I can’t stroll away from.
  3. Do I feel thinner? – Yes I do.
  4. Do I feel better for it? – No, I feel thinner.

So will I continue? – Almost certainly yes, unless I can find some way to stop without losing face.

I clocked my final ‘Couch to 5k’ thirty minute run at 4.85 kilometres, which is far enough away from 5k to make getting there a further challenge for me, but close enough to make in achievable.  This week, step by painful step, I begin eeking out my misery towards that goal.  An extra 150 metres (is that correct?) – I should get there in a matter of weeks – and then, I suppose, I will have to try and speed up a bit. 

My last run was in the rain and I found it so much more comfortable than my plods in the sun.  I have been considering taking water with me – but I think the extra weight will involve extra training, so I will stick with the chewing gum which I always regret after about five minutes.  Spitting it out is not acceptable – I work in the High Street, I have to contend with an ice-rink of the stuff in wet weather – and, although I run past a couple of bins, my eyesight is by then so bleary that I could not trust my aim at all, so I chew until my jaw aches (I wouldn’t want to leave my face out of its share of pain) and drop the tasteless little bud into my bin a few minutes after I get home – just as soon as the palpitations stop.

One thing that the Couch to 5k regime has taught me is that when I publish three blogs a week, I do not get adequate time to read those of other bloggers, so, although I do intend to keep you aware of my progress – to 5k and beyond – I probably will not do so with quite the regularity or verbosity of the last few weeks.  I hope that it means I can get to read a little more of what you all have to say and, therefore, bore you to death on the comments boards instead.

Anyway, this week ten post is really just to thank you for sticking with me through this – I’m guessing it was probably more painful for you than I – never forget, They also serve who stand and allow the little ginger bloke to whinge interminably. 

This post will be the last outing for the unknown runner’s legs at the head of the page, but they will not be replaced by my own legs at any future point.  Outraging Public Decency still, I think, carries a prison sentence and I would not be good in prison: I am allergic to woollen blankets, porridge, communal showers and dungarees with arrows on.  Mind you, if I ever managed to escape, I would at least know exactly how far away I could be in thirty minutes…

Devon Loch*, that’s all I’m saying – Couch to 5k week 9

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

It’s not much of a hill, but my house is at the top of it.  It means that wherever I run, the second half of that run is always uphill – or else I don’t get home.  It is of no relevance, I just wanted you to know.

On my last twenty-eight minute run of week 8, I kept going by convincing myself that when I reached ‘the end’, I would continue to run for another two minutes, in order to prove that I would be ok this week.  When I got there, I couldn’t do it.  The problem is that I currently run until the bell rings to tell me that I am half way home, at which point I turn around and retrace my steps: I know exactly where I should be when I finish and my entire focus over those final minutes is on getting there.  When I cross that line, everything collapses around me – including me.  At that point, I am no more likely to run a further thirty seconds than another thirty days.  I am done.  It’s like asking a man who has just climbed Everest to shimmy up a step-ladder from the summit and fit a new light bulb.  If you aim to make the perfect apple crumble, does anybody actually expect you to put crushed nuts on top?

I ended last week in a bit of a panic.  Circumstances beyond my control pushed me from a Wednesday run to a Thursday run.  This meant that in order to maintain the regime, my final run of the week had to be on Saturday.  On Saturday I work all day, I have a long walk to and from, and I was due to see one of my daughters and two of my grandchildren an hour after getting home.  Could I fit a thirty eight minute session (including warm up and warm down) into that gap (particularly as my getting ready/psyching myself up/drinking lots of water/going for a last minute toilet break routine takes at least thirty minutes)?

Well, I did it.  The stress of the situation took my mind off the normal certainty of failure and – other than the failure to tag an extra two minutes on – I managed ok.  It was earlier than I normally run and the weather was very warm.  In my panic to get on with it, I forgot my knee supports, my chewing gum and my water, but I reached the end without any hint of stopping along the way.  It was the work of seconds to cleave my tongue from the roof of my mouth with a screwdriver after I had staggered home.  This week, I have discovered that the entire duration of a run is spent in an internal discussion with myself over the advisability of ‘just stopping for a few seconds’ and I fear that at least half of it is argued out loud.  People with dogs cross the road when they see me coming.  People without dogs hide behind trees…

I have now completed two of my thirty minute runs.  Tomorrow I will have finished ‘the course’ and a smugger person you will not be able to find.  It remains to be seen whether I will be able to gather together the motivation to keep going now.  I will keep you informed.

For my run, my musical ‘soundtrack’ consists largely of tracks that are five minutes long or more: during a thirty minute run I know that I should get through six songs.  There are, though, one or two shorter ones lurking therein and I cannot articulate the pain I feel when one of them starts to play.  It boots my meticulous planning right out of the window.  I cannot adjust the timings in my head and breathe at the same time.  After a short track has played, there is no way of calculating when I will enter the last five minutes of my personal hell – other than the voice of Jo Whiley telling me that I am just entering the last five minutes, of course – but the fury drives me on, so the shorter songs stay on the playlist.  I haven’t yet had a run without at least one shorter track puncturing my schedule.  When I do, it will surely infuriate me further.

One further thing I discovered this week.  I really should not have tracks with quiet intros on the playlist.  When they play, I can hear myself breathe – and that is very bad indeed.  Nobody should sound like that unless they are wearing an aqualung.

Today I met some old friends whom I have not seen since before lockdown and they commented on my loss of weight.  Like an idiot I told them that I have been running (I have previously told no-one outside of my family and my tiny roster of WP readers).  They were utterly appalled.  They could not have disapproved more if I had wee’d in their cocoa.  After we parted, I kept checking over my shoulder, in case they had reported me to the police.  I anticipated disinterest; disapproval on such a grand scale left me wondering whether I really was being reckless beyond the point of criminal culpability.  At least I won’t be so easy to catch in a chase now.

*Devon Loch jumped the last fence of the Grand National in 1956 comfortably in front of the rest of the field.  Inexplicably, it then fell attempting to jump a fence that did not exist in the finishing straight and did not finish.

.

The Look – Couch to 5k week 8

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

Week 8 and I’ve just realised that the photo I have been using at the top of this thread is of a female runner.  I feel it necessary in these days of litigation to make it clear, they are not my legs, please do not consider approaching the person they rightfully belong to in order to discuss the content of this blog.  I cannot be held responsible for any pepper-spray defence-actions should you ignore this advice.  I don’t have legs like that: mine are short, very muscular and not at all something that you would wish to see in anything tight, but with only a week or two to go, I think there is little point in searching for a new image.  Besides, to date, nobody has commented (meaning, I think, that they haven’t noticed or they really do think that I shimmy around on those pins) so we’ll leave well alone for now… 

Well, I’m now running for twenty-eight minutes at a go, three times a week and James is right – it doesn’t hurt any more than twenty five minutes did.  I don’t find it any easier but, all the same, when I set out today, it was with the quiet confidence of completing it, by hook or by crook.

It feels like a lifetime since I was able to enjoy a mid-run amble.  I have quite forgotten how quickly the brain clears during those inter-lope intermissions.  All that lies between warm-up and warm-down now is pain and misery: an addled brain that can think of nothing else but how much longer does this go on?  My runs have settled into an unvarying routine:

  • Minute 1 – I’m feeling ok today
  • Minute 2 – I’m feeling really tired today
  • Minute 3 – I don’t think I can do this today
  • Minute 4 – I really don’t think I can do this today
  • Minute 5 – I can’t do this, I’ll have to stop (repeat for next twenty minutes)
  • Minute 26 – Three minutes left.  I can do this
  • Minute 27 – Actually, I’m not sure that I can
  • Minute 28 – Don’t be so bloody stupid!  (This is my reply to Jo Whiley who has just suggested that I might like to speed up for the last minute)

Next week, the last week, moves me up to thirty minute runs.  It should move me up to 5k per run, but I am certain that, at my speed, it will not, so perhaps that might give me the spur to go on: to run 5k.  Of course, that depends on how close to 5k I am, by then, running.  If it is a long way adrift, then I clearly don’t have it in me.  The question is, will I be able to motivate myself to keep running from then on?  The last eight weeks have been a personal challenge, but when next week is done…  I am not a runner.  I don’t enjoy running, but I do enjoy proving myself wrong.  At the end of next week, I hope I will have done that.  What then?

Ah, but that is for next week, or possibly the week after.  For this week I still have one further twenty-eight minute run to tackle before I can set about the whisky, stilton and oatcakes with a conscience so clear that not even my window cleaner could smear it.

I am still the hot and sweaty vision staggering along the village roads that I was eight weeks ago.  I still do not own proper training shoes or shorts.  I still set off thinking that I am going to be cold and find that I am running in the heat of Mercury by minute two.  I continue to run in a ‘T’ shirt that I use for holiday snorkelling; a very old pair of tracksuit bottoms or, on warmer days, a long pair of swimming shorts, and my rescued slip-on trainers which now have one sole that has started to flap alarmingly as I run.  I must do something about it.

I will buy myself some proper running garb when the present regime has finished, it may give me the incentive to continue, but it is not without risk.  If I am dressed like somebody who can run, then people who see me may believe that I am, in reality, somebody who can run.  They may well look at the sweating heap that approaches them at a limping lope and think, ‘Well, he’s got the garb.  He obviously runs.  Looking at him now, he must be in trouble.  I’d better call the paramedics.’  They might be right.  I am quite happy for passer’s-by to see me and think, ‘Bless, him.  He looks close to death, but at least he is trying.’  Less so for them to think ‘Well look at him, stupid old fool obviously thinks that buying all the running kit is going to turn him into a runner.  By the look of him he’d have done better to have bought himself a nice shroud.’  At least as I am now, it looks as if I might have set out on a whim.  Nobody could guess that I have been doing this for two months without perceptible improvement.

If I do buy new trainers, I’ll just have to change my route, I guess…

Incremental Gains – Couch to 5k week 7

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

James, if you are reading this, please tell me that it gets easier.  I have no ducks to distract me on my run (or geese) and I have discovered what a very long time twenty five minutes is.  I realise that when I started this, twenty five seconds would have found me, hands on knees, hawking into the gutter – but if I’m honest, I still feel like that after twenty five seconds, it’s just that I now grit my teeth and plod on for a further twenty four and a half minutes, hating every second and feeling like John Hurt must have done just before the Alien exploded out of his chest.  Today I swallowed a fly after about three minutes and spent the next twenty two coughing.  People were giving me so much space.

Jo Whiley’s voice in my ear keeps telling me that I must be finding it easier now, that I am probably running faster.  No.  No, twenty five minutes of running does not feel easier than the sixty second bursts I was doing seven weeks ago.  In fact it seems about twenty five times as hard.  No Jo, I am not running faster.  I could not slow down if I tried.  I would need a reverse gear and my knees would not cope with it.  If I’m honest, I am beginning to regret choosing to be accompanied by Ms. Whiley.  She is just too bloody cheerful.  I really should have chosen Sarah Millican, but I feared that she might make me laugh – and I cannot afford to squander perfectly good oxygen on that malarkey, thank you very much.

I have developed a blind and sullen bloody-mindedness that propels me through each run, even though the attitude of ‘I’ll do it, even if it kills me,’ does not provide quite the same level of motivation now as it once did.  Although I remain to be persuaded that it won’t actually kill me.   At my age, death is certainly closer to being within my grasp than fitness. 

In addition to the silken tones of Ms Whiley, I am accompanied on each run by the nagging little voice of my own devilish antonym-ish Jiminy Cricket repeating the words, ‘Why on earth are you doing this?  Nobody gets credit for being a fit-looking corpse.’  I have always hated grasshoppers.  They pretend to jump, but I think that really they fly.  I find it hard to trust anything that rubs its legs together to get a girlfriend.  Locusts are in no way lovable.  Even with a top hat and cane.  I do not need a supernumerary orthopteral conscience.  I have more than enough trouble with the one I’ve got, thank you very much.  Anyway, despite its chiding voice of caeliferan common sense, I will not give in.  Who wants to be a real boy when the puppet gets all the laughs?

I have my Bluetooth headphones back in operation and, working on the policy of incremental gains as employed so successfully by British Cycling for many years, I figure that the loss of the weight attached to dispensing with almost a metre of copper wire must be worth at least a couple of dozen yards on my clock at the end of the run.  As I explained earlier, when I am struggling, I cannot actually help myself by running slower, but there are a few things that I have learned on my thrice weekly lopes around the village that help me breathe (albeit painfully).  I have learned that, if it is at all possible, it is better to run on the road than the undulating path/driveway/path route offered by the pavement.  It doesn’t sound much, but the unevenness of the path is somehow incredibly draining.  Besides, there’s always the chance that I might get knocked-over on the road and not have to finish the run.  Driveways, however, must always be utilised when crossing the road – lifting the foot high enough to tackle a kerb is a totally unjustifiable expenditure of energy. I have discovered that whenever I think that it might be a good idea to speed up just a little bit, I am unerringly wrong.  It is always a bad idea for me to speed up.  I have discovered that pretending that I am not at death’s door fools nobody, but simply uses up energy: I will finish much quicker if I just give myself up to exhaustion and shame.  If I can just shift this monkey from my back I should be flying…

I realise that you are in no way interested, but I have discovered that the tracks that give me a little ‘pep’ when they play during my run are:

  • Cocaine – Eric Clapton
  • Ribcage – Kasabian
  • Everlong – Foo Fighters
  • I Feel Free – Cream
  • Trampled Underfoot – Led Zeppelin
  • Survival – Muse
  • Fool’s Gold – Stone Roses
  • Sowing the Seeds of Love – Tears for Fears
  • Check Out Time 11 AM – Sparks (I’m fully aware of what you might be thinking. Just check it out – it’s on YouTube!)

If I’m honest, the list probably says more about the speed I run than the music I like to run to.

If you would like to suggest anything else I should try, please feel free. 

The Extreme Elasticity of the Pain Threshold – Couch to 5k week 6

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

One thing that running does give you is the time you need to really torture yourself mentally.  To reprimand yourself for things you might have done – or might not have done; for the things you should have done, but didn’t; for saying the things that you surely could have found a better way of saying.  It also gives you more than ample time to consider what on earth you think you are doing with your life – and why, from the feel of things, you are making a determined attempt to shorten it?  Can it possibly be healthy for a man of your age to feel so very close to Death’s door?  Who’d have possibly guessed that that particular threshold was barely a kilometre from your own?  If Death was your neighbour, would you invite him round for tea?  Hope that he is a little more lenient with the man who let him have the last HobNob?  Or would you try to ignore him, keep your head down and hope that he doesn’t notice you?  How would you cope with his overhanging branches breaking the panels in your greenhouse roof, or the fact that bits of his fence keep falling on your begonias?  It’s not easy to strike the right balance with a man who spends the whole day sharpening his scythe, but never cuts the lawn…  Running is intended to put some distance between the two of you, but somehow, it just brings you closer.

I have now grown used to being overtaken by younger runners, usually in groups (What is, I wonder, the collective noun for a group of runners?  A Totter?  A Gasp?*) chatting lightly as they trip lightly by the heavy footed, wheezy old man checking his heart to make sure it is still going.  It does not worry me.  Other runners are usually polite.  They cross the road when they see me ahead and stoically refuse the opportunity to sing ‘Lip Up Fatty’ as they fly by.  Later in the run I may be overtaken by old ladies walking their dogs.  That bothers me.  Old ladies simply smile as they are reminded of their long-dead fathers and offer me their zimmer.  It is difficult to get cross with somebody who is sporting a blue rinse and walking a dog so small that it could possibly be bullied by a buffed-up vole – particularly when they are probably fitter than me – so I always do the same thing: I smile and, as much as breathlessness allows, pass the time of day in the friendliest way that I can muster, before I gather up my dignity and jog on.  I might not feel great, but at least I don’t feel like an arse.

Last week I felt as though I might be nearing the fullest extent of my pain and perseverance thresholds.  This week I appear to be exactly the same distance from them which, given the incremental rise in effort required in this programme, is I suppose, ok.  It doesn’t feel ok, but given that each successive day is currently accompanied by an extra twist on the rack, it’s probably as good as I can expect it to be. 

I am still running in a pair of trainers that I found at the back of the garden shed.  I can’t face going in to town to buy new ones.  The shops that sell trainers have staff and I can’t stand pity.  Besides, these are ok as long as I wear very thin socks and wrap my toes in Elastoplast.  When I was a boy, playing football in secondhand boots, my dad used to make me sit with the soles of my feet in surgical spirit to toughen them up.  Sometimes I watch the news and wish he’d done it to my soul…

*I have just looked it up and, disappointingly, it is ‘a Field’.  Exercise and lack of imagination do seem to go hand in hand sadly. 

To Dream of Couscous – Couch to 5k week 4

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

I have friends who claim to love running.  They are clearly deranged.

I take so long in ‘getting ready’ to undertake my thirty minutes of torture that often, with a little foresight, I could have been back before I started.  My overriding pre-run emotion is dread of what is to come.  During the run I am smugly satisfied that my dread has been justly vindicated.  Only during the post-run shower, in anticipation of the well-earned chocolate and red wine (it doesn’t do to lose weight too quickly at my age) do I feel any sense of achievement.  There is certainly never any sense of enjoyment about it.  At times I would sooner be water-boarded.

I have re-started work this week after furlough and consequently, after eight hours of miserable monotony (which encompasses ten thousand steps apparently) I return home to run before settling down for the much-truncated evening.  What kind of a life is that?  It is like being told that you are having quinoa for dinner, but not to worry, you won’t have time for seconds as you have to worm the cat.  What kind of person dreams of couscous?

And why do I desperately feel the need to wee within minutes of leaving the house to run?  It passes, but only because it cannot compete with the necessity to find oxygen from somewhere, nor the desire to separate my tongue from the roof of my mouth.  I have no idea whether men have a pelvic floor, but if they do, I fear that mine must be subterranean.

Despite all of this, my main concern is not of collapse, but of encountering somebody I know.  My route is an amorphous, constantly changing beast; adapting at a moment’s notice in order to avoid any kind of social interaction whilst gasping.   When forced into a salutary smile, I am aware that it emerges like rigor.  I can feel the whispered, ‘Should he really be doing that at his age?’  I would like to yell back, ‘No, he bloody well shouldn’t!’ but I don’t have the breath.  Anybody who claims to glean any kind of enjoyment from this torment should be certified.  It is not normal.

You may, by now, have begun to share my own amazement that I am still doing this.  I am doing it simply because nobody (including me) thought that I would and until I have proved everybody wrong, I cannot possibly stop.  Like a character in Eastenders I have weeks of misery in me yet – and I take absolutely no joy from saying so.