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 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 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 Not Running

I didn’t run at all last week: the snow carpeted the whole village and for a full seven days diminishing only in very small patches.  Some hardy souls did still run, I saw them from my window.  Mostly young, they sped past gazelle-like, apparently oblivious to the white stuff beneath their feet: unperturbed and unaffected, whilst I dare not walk the few steps to my car for fear of ending up on my arse.  I could happily make a living out of suing the maker’s of non-slip soles, if it were not for the want of serious injury rather than a grazed backside and a bruised ego.  So I walk around the block now and again in boots that sport soles like tractor treads and are of a size that requires me to wear three pairs of woollen socks inside, stepping deliberately along like Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon.  Other than that, I do not venture further than the garden bin.

As I could not run, I took my exercise where I could.  I pedalled away on the exercise bike in the garage and I played about with the weights in the spare bedroom.  The garage is full of clutter – it hasn’t seen a car in years – and somehow manages to be colder than it is outside.  I perch myself between the tumble-dryer, pots of paint, the deep freeze and the vegetable, rack and I pedal whilst watching music videos or old sit-coms.  Anything to avoid thinking about what I’m doing.  It’s a difficult thing for which to motivate yourself and an exhausting way of getting absolutely nowhere.  It doesn’t matter how fast I pedal, I remain where I am.  I finish exactly where I started, only bathed in sweat and wishing that I’d worn gloves.  As a means of getting exercise, it fills a gap, but it’s pretty much like painting your whole house beige: you’re never sure of where it begins and where it ends, but in the end, you realise that it doesn’t really matter – it’s still beige.  This sad, uni-paced spin leaves me ‘jelly-legged’ for a couple of minutes, but not challenged in the way that I am by a run.  There is no jeopardy.  It doesn’t matter if I stop only half way there, I won’t have to phone for somebody to come and pick me up; there is little risk of falling off and bruising something vital; there is no crossbar.

Twice a week I also thump about with the weights.  I have a forty minute ‘circuit’ that uses barbells and bands.  I do my circuits upstairs in a spare bedroom because there is insufficient room for my prone self amongst the junk in the garage.  The bedroom is considerably warmer than the garage which, initially at least, feels like a good thing.  Some thirty minutes later, it no longer feels like a good thing.  It feels like I am lunging in a sauna.  I cannot open a window without the possibility of drawing attention to myself – I have only just started to leave the curtains open a crack – so I boil.  After my forty minutes I really feel ‘worked out’.  I can see and feel the results, and it is a good way of expending energy when I cannot run.  Except it is not the same kind of energy.  I have just discovered this.

Whilst unable to run for this last week I have cycled three times and completed my circuit twice, so no problem in setting straight back into my running routine today.  Well, just the one.  It nearly killed me.  I felt as though I had never run before.  Whatever muscles the weights and cycle exercised, they were clearly not the ones I needed for running.  Those little fellas had obviously put their feet up for the week.  Whilst the new muscle-sets were stretching their legs, my running muscles were having a fag and a couple of pints.  They felt like they had put a few stones on when I rattled them out of bed this morning.  By the time I plodded back up the street thirty minutes after setting off, they were all deeply ruing the error of their ways.  They are complaining about it loudly now.  They need to watch themselves: if they make too much noise, I may well be taking them out in the snow next time – I will be covered in many layers of whatever it takes to break my fall – and we’ll see how much they like that…

The next episode of the Running Man, ‘…Plodding On’ is here
The Previous episode of the Running Man, ‘The Running Man on Running’ is here.
The whole running malarkey started here with ‘Couch to 5k’.

The Running Man on Running

I am trapped at home.  I cannot – dare not – venture out into the white-over world that surrounds me.  I have to don the wellies just to put stuff in the bin which is six feet from the back door.  Even then I require at least one spare hand with which to grip the wall.  (I originally wrote ‘grip the world’ there – a Freudian slip I would like to think, but more likely a subconscious recognition of reality.  I am currently having one of those mornings when I mis-type everything.  I use only two fingers and the keys are fairly big; how can my aim be so flippin’ awful?  I will tend to all of the bits underlined in red later – but not the British idioms to which the autocorrect is particularly averse.)  I like the look of snow.  It looks great, but why is it so bloody cold?  Why is it so slippery?  I realise that there are plenty of people who would be very unhappy to discover that it had ceased to be so – skiers, ice hockey players, kids on sledges, the makers of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ – but those of us with low-level, frost-generated stability issues would be more than happy to find that it had acquired a little more traction.  I wonder if Velcro soles would work?

Anyway, the fact is that I currently cannot run and so, like some Guru that The Beatles revered, unaware that he was only riding them to fame, I have decided to impart onto you, dear reader, all that I have so far learned about running.  The first thing that I have learned about running is that, after six months, I still don’t like it very much.  I never wake in the morning looking forward to a run: I never set off with anything other on my mind than finishing it.  However, whilst acknowledging that running offers me no enjoyment of whatsoever, I have grown to understand that it is essential to my wellbeing: mental as well as physical.  It is my thrice weekly ‘reset’.  Don the trainers and hit ‘Control-Alt-Delete’.  Nothing occupies my mind whilst running other than the immediate issues associated with doing so: not falling over; not running into anything/anyone; not passing out outside the chip shop.  It is a necessary evil – like a belt: you really don’t need it until your trousers fall down. 

So, the second thing I have learned about running is that I miss it when I don’t do it.  When I find an excuse not to run – and I have many: I can be very creative – I regret it almost at once.  I have two choices:

  1. Ignore myself.  Perfectly feasible.  Everybody else does it perfectly well.
  2. Clean the drains.

I feel slightly ashamed of myself when I have made an excuse not to run.  Especially since my usual antidote to shame is chocolate and whisky.  I schedule a run for the following day which, short of thinking of another excuse, I take.  Missing a run always makes the subsequent excursion more difficult: I am out of breath sooner, in fear of death earlier.  I regret having missed my run the day before.  I vow never to make an excuse again.  I marvel at my own weak-will.  I guess it could be my superpower.  (These are the thoughts that actually occupy my mind.)

The third – and I promise, last – thing I have learned about running is that it has a totally unpredictable effect on me.  Some days I breeze around my little course.  I feel so good that I pop in an extra kilometre.  I smile at people for goodness sake!  Other days, I set off in the same state of mind, in the same state of physical disintegration, and find myself running through treacle.  Every step is an effort and I have to resolutely battle against the urge to just give in and walk – which, sadly, could be quicker.  Nobody appears able to offer an explanation for this.  Is it a cosmic phenomenon, or the slice of cake I ate at midnight?  It must have something to do with my metabolism I guess (literally, as I have no idea what a metabolism is) but, if that is the case, my metabolism is frighteningly unreliable.  Perhaps the external white-out offers me the perfect excuse to find out why: a profitable way to spend the hours which, in less skiddy times, would be used tramping the streets.

Or I could just drink hot chocolate and move the bin closer to the door…

The next entry in my running diary, ‘The Running Man on Not Running’ is here
The previous entry in my running diary, ‘The Running Man and the Hip’ is here.
The first time I donned the trainers is chronicled here in ‘Couch to 5k’. You’re welcome.

The Running Man and the Hip

This post is not about being fashionable, it is about wearing out.  Something is going on with my hip with which I am not altogether comfortable.  I fear ironmongery is just around the corner.  I am currently teetering, arse just millimetres above the sharpened tip of the horn of a dilemma.  I cannot deny that my hip aches after I run, but it aches more when I don’t run.  Do I keep on running, bearing in mind that I just might be doing more harm than good, or do I stop running and just let the bloody thing seize up?  (Time to point out, this is a rhetorical question.  I am as stubborn as a very very stubborn thing.  I will continue to run as long as I am capable.  In my mind, keeping all of my failing joints moving can only be a good thing.  Sooner or later, something will stop me – probably an ill-judged bus – but until then, I jog on.)

I get no pain whatsoever from my hip whilst I am running.  It is one of the few smug joints that does not give me gyp during exercise.  It waits until three A.M. and then begins its toothache throb.  I am very stubborn about painkillers as well.  I do not take them.  I remember my grandma telling her doctor that she did not want to take painkillers because, if she did, she would have no way of knowing that the pain had stopped.  I kind of get that: you will almost certainly still be taking them when you don’t need to.  Occasionally my knees demand that they remain encased in supports throughout the day, but generally they are much more robust than they were six months ago.  My ankles are almost strong enough to support the rest of me unaided these days.  Also, I think that it might help all of my movable lower bits and bobs that there is quite a lot less of me for them to support now – and running is the only way, that I can actually think of, to maintain that.  I eat crap, I drink too much and in all other respects I am a total sloth; running is my only vice.

Also, I must report that spring is definitely just around the corner.  I ventured out today in nothing more than shorts (over leggings) and a T-shirt (over a sleeveless vest and under a long sleeved ‘T’).  I have shed the fleece joggers and the fluorescent jacket – although not yet the hat and gloves.  Snowdrops stand in clumps around the base of trees, peeking out from winter-long grass, trembling in the breeze; daffodil buds are pushing through the soil; all around me the birds are doing whatever it is that birds do in the spring.  Doubtless, somewhere, the bees are at it like knives.  Spring always seems to me to bring about the fastest transformation in the planet.  Suddenly everything that is not turning green, is mating.  The world renewed.  Except this year it all seems somehow wasted.  All of this wonder to witness and nobody to witness it, unless it is happening within whatever is perceived as a suitable distance from your front door step.

My run today took me over the swollen village beck, bereft of kids with nets; across the village sports field (technically known, in these covid times, as the village field); through the empty pub garden and finally the village churchyard – suddenly ablaze with the colour of dozens of new bouquets in vases – and although my heart sank at the emptiness of it all, my hip did not complain at all. 

In keeping with my pledge at the start of the year, I changed my avatar yesterday to a slightly more hairy Lockdown version of me and it made me think that it is time for a new photo to accompany the Running Man.  I think that I probably should make it clear, in order to forestall any threat of litigation, that the legs in the photo are not mine (that’s never going to happen) but they do, at least, appear to be running…

The next Running Man episode ‘The Running Man on Running’ is here.
The last Running Man episode, ‘The Running Man and the Weather’ is here.
The whole sorry saga started with ‘Couch to 5k’ here, whilst we were still coping with Lockdown 1.

The Running Man and Lockdown (the Third)

So, here we go again, locked away until things improve, even as government advisors tell us that we may well still be under some form of Covid restriction as we stagger into 2022.  It is impossible not to be depressed by it.  The vaccine is our salvation, we are told – except that it just might not be effective against the potential new strains of an ever-mutating enemy: Godzilla, Swamp thing, Piers Morgan…  In the UK, we have all become friendless hermits, locked away in pristine homes with the ever-present smell of fresh paint and Lynx Africa; staring out of the window through metaphorical net curtains (real net curtains having been removed from all glazed units except those in ‘greasy spoon’ cafes and once-trendy French Bistros, now Pizza Takeaways) and making note of any over-sized social gatherings marching by – especially if they appear to have strayed rather further from their own homes to exercise than the law permits (eg you don’t recognize their faces and their walking boots are far too sturdy for a gentle tramp around the block).  The village has become like a Moscow suburb in the 1980’s: everybody is boiling up leftover beetroot and onion roots; we are all suspicious of the actions of others; everybody is prepared to turn in their neighbours for the promise of a supermarket delivery slot.  Every curtain in the street twitches when the Amazon delivery van arrives. 

We have a car that parks outside our house every day.  The driver walks around the corner and down the road to visit whomever it is that he does not want to be seen parking outside the house of.  I cannot tell you which house that might be; it is far too cold for me to follow him in a Homburg and a raincoat and, by the time I have dressed suitably for the weather – at least five cosy layers, plus hat, scarf and coat – and packed my flask of soup in case of unforeseen circumstance, he will be long gone.  Whether he fears the Lockdown Police, or whether he chooses to park so far from the house he intends to visit for more nefarious reasons, I cannot say.  I know only that the annoyance it causes my wife is on a par with that caused by me hanging my coat on the coat rack – it covers the radiator apparently.  I’m sure that, in these times of grocerial drought, if she thought we could spare a potato, she would ram it up his exhaust, or – if he was lucky – that of his car.

We are allowed to leave the house only to shop, to go to work (which I no longer have) and to exercise (which I do daily, as it is free, it gets me out in the fresh air and it gives me space to think – although I still have no idea of where I should hang my coat).  Now, those of you who have stoically stayed by my side since The First Lot, will know that in May of the first Lockdown I began to run and I published the first part of my Couch to 5k Diaries, which ran weekly for ten weeks and thence more sporadically through to the last entry, ‘The Running Man in the Dark’, in November; providing material for twenty two posts in all (I think – I am certainly prepared to be corrected on that or, indeed, anything else that doesn’t cost me money).  Although the running posts have appeared more intermittently since the initial ten weeks of the ‘course’ my running has continued, predictably metronomically.  Whilst the world around me has changed, I have trundled myself out onto the village streets three times a week, without fail or enthusiasm, in order to lug this ageing frame into a position on the BMI chart that does not automatically alert paramedics across three counties.  The UK emerged from the first Lockdown in June and I finished the Couch to 5k regime in August – behind the curve as always.  As a nation we staggered on through various levels of restriction – from the brief window of hope in the summer to the drifting fatalism of doom in the autumn – and into Lockdown (Episode 2) in November when my running thoughts became, once again, a more regular feature: it pays to have something to hang your ‘coat’ on.  This mini-lockdown ended in early December – although the world in general didn’t get any better for it and my own part of it spiralled down like a tumble dryer tipped from the top of K2.

Through December, I began to appreciate the joys of running in the dark.  My pace slowed as I strained to ensure that I did not trip on kerb and unlit pothole, but the streets were generally empty, save for other runners and dog-walkers.  Even burglars did not venture out, as there were so few empty houses and the streets were full of people who looked as if they just might be able to chase them.  I began to ladle on layers: hat, gloves, snood, running tights, and I filled in on an exercise bike when the weather was too bad for me to venture out (I am notoriously unstable on the ice).  Running became a refuge from fear.

And then?  Well the gentle slide into worsening fortunes turned into a breakneck plunge into the abyss.  New, more infectious Covid strains, a hastily abandoned Christmas, the NHS in crisis, lead to the inevitable Lockdown#3 and the weakening of spirits more usually associated with an unscrupulous seaside landlord, a funnel and a bottle of water.  I have run through it all.  The reality of these thrice weekly ambles is seldom of interest to me, let alone anybody else, but then in times of crisis… 

Through both previous lockdowns, my running has provided the peg on which I have hung my coat of pain and – well, I think you can guess what I am going to say…

Thursdays may well become the day of the Running Man once again.  I’m sorry.  I realise that things are bad enough already.

Remember – Hands, Face, Space and Open the Windows.  Good times are just around the corner!

The next instalment of my running diary, ‘The Running Man and Beats per Minute’ is here.
The last instalment of my running diary, ‘The Running Man in the Dark’ is here.
This whole sorry, loping saga started in May, last year, with ‘Couch to 5k’.

The Running Man in the Dark

So here we are, approaching the end of Lockdown#2 with no real idea of what the short term future holds.  5 days of Christmas cheer (although for two of those, I personally will be at work) followed by many weeks of tightened restrictions until the vaccines, should they work, become widely available, after which we can all return to our pre-covid anti-social norm.  I think.  There seems to be plenty of doubt even on that score.  If you’re protected, apparently, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t spread the disease to those that have chosen not to be vaccinated.  Well, as long as it is chosen not to, it will be hard to lose too much sleep over that.  But how long will the protection last?  It appears that nobody can say.  Maybe Lockdown will become an annual affair – straight after Christmas.  I hope not, I don’t think I can take any more DIY projects.  My current list has been satisfactorily completed: nothing has yet fallen off or over.  Corrective repairs on the previous Lockdown calamities have been completed (the author would like to extend his personal thanks to Messrs No-Nails and Hammered-In-Screw) and all areas of bodily damage taped.  I’m not sure that I could do it all again.

I have enjoyed my running over the last few weeks; it has got me out of the house and away from the paint brush whilst the sky was still relatively light, whilst the weather was reasonably benign.  When I return to work I will no longer have that opportunity.   I will have to run in the evening, bedecked in something specifically designed to startle.  My months of running to date have been characterised by my desire to not be seen.  I set off with a dozen alternative routes in my head so that I can change at a second’s notice when I see somebody I might conceivably know ahead of me.  I have worn black (although, from what I understand from the comments to my Zebra rhyme – here – I may have been better in stripes) in order to blend in; to be as inconspicuous as possible.  Only the tell-tale rattle of almost terminal shortness of breath letting people know that I was stumbling by.  That can no longer be the case.  I must strive for visibility.  I need people to see me coming.

I have to buy some new gear that will announce my presence to the evening world.  I have to look like somebody who runs.  Also, I have to focus my mind to the plod of my feet and not to the constantly evolving world of ‘For Sale’ boards that I will no longer be able to see.  I will no longer be au fait with whose lawn is better than mine, who is extending at the back, who has just had the drive done.  I’m not certain how effectively I will be able to martial the will to run without the distraction of inconsequentialities.  Three quarters of an hour can be a very long time with only myself for company.  I may not come out of it well.

Anyway, as I return to work post lockdown (again) you will be spared these semiweekly updates, at least until the post-Christmas Lockdown#3 kicks in.  I will, in the meantime, plod on, looming out of the dark, pretending to be somebody else entirely; somebody who almost certainly never runs in a bright yellow jacket and a pair of leggings that have sufficient room in the crotch to hold the Strictly Come Dancing finals.  If anything changes, I’ll let you know.  Meantime, I will return to my old schedule of posting, and we’ll all be the better for it.

Today’s new plodding playlist:

  • The Seer – Big Country
  • Angela’s Eyes – Guy Garvey
  • Pulling Punches – David Sylvian
  • Bridges Burning – The Mission
  • Far Cry – Rush
  • Sowelu – Willy Porter
  • Scumbag Blues – Them Crooked Vultures
  • Cornflake Girl – Tori Amos
  • Big Love – Fleetwood Mac (abruptly halted by an inadvertent prod on the side of the earbud – with absolutely no idea whatsoever of how to get it going again).

The next instalment of the Running diary, The Running Man and Lockdown (the Third) is here.
The previous instalment of the running diary ‘The Running Man and Dentistry’ is here.
The first part of the running diary ‘Couch to 5k’ is here.

The Running Man and Dentistry

A single inadvertent chomp on a Curly Wurly and I was waving goodbye to my two week old filling.  Just a little nibble, on the other side of my mouth; what could possibly go wrong?  A second’s distraction.  Should soft caramel make a crunching noise?  No, clearly not.  Obviously my own fault, but it saddens me to know that once my tooth has been repaired, Curly Wurlys must be removed from my diet forever and onward.  Likewise the two mini Chomps I had hidden for future use.  If I’m honest, I do recall that the tooth made a very strange noise two days previously whilst I was eating a roast potato – yes, a roast potato; surely not the greatest of challenges for a newly refurbed gnasher.  Anyway, for now, here I am, running along with every intake of cool air twanging across my recently emasculated molar like a soft pick on a detuned ukulele.  It’s depressing.  Of the many things I expected old age to bring to me, I did not consider talcum powder teeth.

Running does somehow attune your head to the body, meaning that you become ever more conscious of the corrosive effects that time has upon mortal flesh.  I run in my contact lenses because glasses steam up, get rained on, fall off, and I dare not go ocularly commando because I cannot see beyond the end of my nose without something to enhance focus.  I would not recognise a familiar face until I had fallen over the owner; would not see the bus until I had caused it to stop in the most inopportune of fashions.  I am limited, even in lenses.  I have to make myself stop before crossing roads as all traffic becomes invisible to me if I am moving.  Joint-wise I am okey-dokey except for the hips, the knees and the ankles.  Everything below the waist aches after a run but, crucially, everything aches even more if I do not exercise.  Knees and ankles have long been a problem, but the hip, although late to the party, has now joined in with a vengeance.  It is the only joint that keeps me awake at night these days, although calf muscles have started to ache in the wee hours in a manner that suggests that they have heretofore been somewhat left behind in the atrophy stakes, but they are making every effort to come up on the rails now.

Anyway, my dentist informs me that I cannot be fitted in for another two weeks because I need an extended appointment that is not available until that point. What a lovely, relaxing thought, that re-fixing my recently fixed tooth will require an even more extended period of horizontal panic. I would have liked to have got this all sorted whilst I was on furlough, but unfortunately I am neither bleeding to death nor unable to eat, so there is no rush in these Covid-ruled times. I am well down the pecking order and, if I’m honest, I’m not in great pain so that’s ok. Until I cannot successfully gum on a gently wilting banana, I will live. And until the body finally decides that the downward trend of bodily vigour reaches terminal velocity, I will run – and if that doesn’t prove that the brain is going, nothing does…

Today’s top plodders:

  • Silly Love – 10cc
  • It’s a Beautiful World – Noel Gallagher
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Supremacy – Muse
  • Avonmore – Bryan Ferry
  • All my Life – Foo Fighters
  • Steel Town – Big Country
  • Cocaine – Eric Clapton (again – time for a new playlist)

The previous instalment of the running diary ‘The Running Man and Birthdays’ is here.
The next instalment of the running diary ‘The Running Man in the Dark’ is here.
The first part of the running diary ‘Couch to 5k’ is here.