Those that know me well, or have read this blog over the years, will be aware that I do enjoy a spot of running. Oh yes, such a simple sport, just pop on your kicks and out the door you go. That’s how it normally is anyway…….
Right now I’m injured. It’s a foot thing. Luckily it only seems to really hurt when I, er, run. Hmmm. It hurts a bit when I walk, not at all when I’m doing nothing. I still haven’t really got any further with it being diagnosed, despite it originally happening on March 15th.
It’s not all about me.
While I’ve been keeping fit on the turbo trainer, swimming lots and doing my circuit training, Nicky is hard in training for some rather epic events over the summer. I (alongside our faithful Border Terrier Charlie) have been offering enthusiastic support over the last few weeks as Nicky has been out doing events.
We went to Parke Parkrun in Bovey Tracey last weekend and Nicky had a great run. It really is a stunning location to visit and the run route explores the beautiful woodlands, including a couple of naughty hills. It can be a mud fest in winter, but after a dry spell it was more dusty than anything.
Nicky skipped around with her usual determination, hidden by her ever present, gorgeous smile. Me and Charlie stumbled around to offer support. Excellent coffee and vegan cake in the grounds of the house rounded off a marvellous morning.
Just two days later and we find ourselves in Yeovil, 5 years since we’d gone there and both ran close to our fastest 10k’s (which I wrote about here). A very different preparation this year – me hobbling with a support under my foot (so obviously not running!) and Nicky in the middle of heavy training for her epic upcoming events.
Having hinted that she’d be happy with 1h10m, she proceeded to skip over the line alongside the 1 hour pacer! Bloody ace my wife is!
She’s following, as best she can with the time available, a plan to get her to her much postponed Ironman in August. On the way though, she’s also got some pretty epic swims planned. If I thought I was heroic knocking out 100 lengths in the pool, she has done as many as 200……… and then gone back in the evening for another 80.
Not forgetting her casually knocking out long rides of 50 – 80 miles every week on the bike. She’s also done unmpteen half marathons this year! Absolutely inspirational.
The latest of these was The Sid Valley Ring, hosted by Climb Southwest. And there was plenty of climbing on the route I’m reliably informed. It is this type of event where I get jealous of those running. Lots of trails, gorgeous scenery, a bit of coastline, yeah, as an old friend who we bumped into on the day said, “You’d have hated it Kevin!”
But it was great for me and Charlie to have a morning out exploring East Devon trying to catch Nicky at a couple of places. We succeeded and Nicky, and all the other runners too, seemed to be having a ball. Finishing on the sea front in Sidmouth made for a spectacular backdrop to end a fabulous event.
So I’m, as ever, in awe of Nicky, and will be using the example of her determination to keep as fit as I can while I’m injured and to come back stronger and build my running back up to where it was waaaaay back in January when Covid struck.
Nicky, my better half, announced on our first date.
This suited me fine as I love cooking.
I moved in with Nicky once that became easier than trying to get me to remove all of my belongings. I’d accidently left things each time I visited. From that day on, I have probably cooked about three quarters of our meals. And we’ve always eaten well I think.
And then we became vegans, and our kitchen dynamic changed.
But before we get on to that, let’s back track….. We’ve talked about become vegan for a few years now. Many of the endurance athletes we look up to have a vegan lifestyle. Not only are these guys and girls at the pointy end of their sports, they always look so flippin well.
We talk about becoming vegans, then it stalls. Again. We just couldn’t imagine ourselves without a roast, or cheese, or without chicken in our curry………
It was a cycle we were stuck in. But each time it came around, the subject was getting more and more agenda time at our house meetings. We needed something, we knew not what, to push us over the line.
We did genuinely asked ourselves the protein question (chick peas, tofu, oats, nuts, lentils….. pretty much every ingredient as it turns out). We also worried the food would be boring and predictable, although we knew our regular go-to dishes had become boring and predictable anyway.
Change was coming.
The decider for me happened about six months before we actually made the leap. I was running in a 100k event, The Ham And Lyme. It is an out-and-back course starting and finishing in Lyme Regis and turning at Ham Hill in Somerset. Out-and-back that is, unless you get lost (twice!) during the ‘out’ section! If, like me, you are that getting lost type runner, you will only experience some of the actual course on the way back (I added about 5 bloomin’ kilometres to my day!)
One of the sights I didn’t see until I was on my way back was a massive, I mean MASSIVE, factory dairy farm. I will not describe it here, but all I could think was, I want no further part in this.
I’m not that strong though am I? Six months later, still eating animal products, and I get wiped out by Covid. On the couple of days during which I was genuinely fearful for my health with the virus, I started really questioning some of my life choices. I’d trained so feckin’ hard all winter to be ready for The Arc 50 and here I was, a week before the event, unable to climb the stairs. I know the virus was the cause, but I felt, at that low point, it was time to make some changes.
My two favourite podcasts are Running Commentary and Other PPL. One of the presenters of Running Commentary, Rob Deering and Other PPL host, Brad Listi happen to be vegans. Neither have ever come across as preachy in anyway but if it ever comes up, they are both proud, happy and feel good on their plant based diet. In one interview on Other PPL, Listi made the comment I’ve used myself, he wanted no further part in the violence of it all. That has stayed with me, always will I think. On a lighter note, I also remember Deering recounting a trip abroad (I want to say Dubai but I might be wrong), after asking the waiting staff at a restaurant for their vegan options, he was offered a chicken salad!
I knew, Nicky knew, we both knew, that our snacking habits contributed to us always exhibiting a bit more ‘love handle’ than we would ideally like to. But more than that, our conversations about becoming vegans had become so frequent, so serious that we were both ready for that final trigger.
The trigger arrived in Cornwall. Enjoying the trip whilst convalescing from Covid, I sauntered into The Bookseller in St Ives and purchased (along with a few other titles, I mean it would be rude not to) Ed Winter’s new book, Vegan Propaganda. I absolutely promised not to become ‘preachy’, although, 65 days in to our vegan journey, I get it, so if you fancy reading Ed Winter’s remarkable book then the link is there. It had a massive impact on me. It brought me to tears, reaffirmed much of what I already knew or believed and the book definitely gave us that final push.
Here’s where the story gets fun.
Nicky absolutely went for it. We both did. But Nicky was in charge of the kitchen before I could say ‘black bean burrito’! She was now definitely happy to have someone to cook for!
We have acquired several amazing vegan cook books, the best of which is BOSH! and Nicky set to equipping and stocking our kitchen to accommodate our new way of eating.
I’ve been keeping a diary of how we feel and what we are eating. We are just over two months along as I write and I can honestly say, I have never eaten so well. “We’re eating like kings!” I tell anyone who will listen. And I mean it, we are enjoying food like never before. In the 60+ days since we’ve been vegan, we’ve only eaten one meat substitute meal – that was some sausages which were actually rather splendid.
Our stomachs took some adjusting to our new routine, we definitely live on the windy South West peninsula! During the first week we both felt odd somehow, very hard to explain. By the very nature of the foods we cook with, our fibre intake has increased. This is healthy of course, but takes a bit of adjusting to. Oat milk has been introduced to the fridge which is great in coffee and we’ve both stopped having breakfast cereal.
We bought one of those Nutribullet thingies and have a smoothie to start every day. This has really helped with cutting down food waste, it is amazing how a bit of overly soft cucumber can get mixed in unnoticed.
“But what are you going to EAT?”
a very close family member asked
They were genuinely concerned. Well, I’ve littered this post with pictures of our meals and my dear mother needn’t have worried. In fact, she’s now enjoying finding out how we’re doing and devoured the vegan roast loaf dinner we cooked for them.
The positives so far?
We are certainly sleeping better, we’ve both lost a healthy amount of weight without even thinking about it and we feel we are taking steps which are vital for our long term health as well as the health of the world we live in.
A quarter of the year has now gone. I can’t think of anything in which I’ve achieved anywhere near a quarter of my aims.
Which sounds rather negative when I say it outloud.
To discover what’s been going on, let’s unpack my 2022 manifesto.
At least my first pledge is going well! I said I’d write in my journal every single day, and I’m pleased to say that I always, always do. Winning eh? One nil up and we’ve only just kicked off. (Spoiler alert, this isn’t going to be a goal fest!)
Ah. Well, er, well, you see, hhmmm. I’ve submitted a couple of times to Paragraph Planet (with one success!) but, alas, I am yet to enter the Friday Flash Fiction Face Off at Writers HQ. It just hasn’t happened. Read on to find out why?
I don’t even need to look back to remind myself of this pledge! I know it was to work for two hours every single week. And I know I haven’t. And I’m disgusted with myself. Disgusted I am. What’s going on? Read on to find out.
I don’t need to look back for these pledges either! I know I’ve not contributed a single post since the turn of the year. Not one. To think there was a time when I hoped to review every book I’ve read, never mind any other posts I fancied writing. It’s not going very well is it, this manifesto. Imagine if you’d voted for me and it turned out I couldn’t keep a single promise I’d made….
Well, at least some success here to report. I pledged I’d buy from independent publishers and book shops and I’m pleased to say I’ve been good with that. Looking at my to-be-read–pile alongside books I’ve read waiting for Nicky to enjoy, there’s a few there which have come direct from indies as well as a couple bought in independent book shops.
I haven’t one poem a day (another of my pledges) but I have acquired a few fine volumes and do enjoy a few poems each week.
I also pledged to read at least 6 books (over the course of 2022) which were published at least 10 years ago. The idea being that I don’t simply follow the current fads and trends (although I hope I never have) and browsed the shelves more. Reading is happening a lot more slowly this year, for the reasons you’ll discover if you can bear to read on. I have been buying a few older books though, and have added to the backlog with some excellent charity shop hauls. So far in 2022 I’ve read these books, check out my lists from 2021 and 2020 too.
Running, Health and Fitness
I never made any pledges for my running, other than to run as much as I can and/or want to. The events I listed in my manifesto are either long gone or fast approaching and I’m not looking like toeing the start line of any of them. Read on to discover why.
As for my health, well quite a lot has happened to impact my hopes for 2022. I’ve had some serious down time and have not been hitting my strength and conditioning targets. But, I don’t feel I’ve let myself down as there has been a dramatic hit to my health this year. As I keep saying, read on……
Why Oh Why And Why Again
The Good Stuff
Nanny & Grandad Daycare: We look after our latest grandson, Charlie, 3 days a week. He is an absolute delight, a bubbly baby with a zest for life. But maybe we didn’t quite acknowledge just how tiring this might be! It is an absolute joy to spend the time with him and watch him grow and develop.
This simply shuffles other things down the league table of priorities. And sometimes we just want to eat (ah, eating…. read on my friend, read on) and chill. Picking up a pen and notebook, or sitting at my desk typing gives way to a binge of Drive To Survive or something similar.
As we become more accustomed to our roles, I’m sure we’ll find more of our other leisure pursuits fitting in to the time available (hence this blog post happening now). None of our challenges have disappeared they’ve simply been moved around to suit our lifestyle.
Talking Of Lifestyle: We have Become Vegans: And what a bloomin’ transformation this has been. We’ve both made difficult decisions before in our lives. We’ve both found better tracks to follow over the years and feel blessed that we ended up on the same track as each other. But this lifestyle change has been such a shift in thinking and everything about it has been positive. Neither of us are interested in becoming preachy about veganism, we just know it is exactly right for us. This was the moment when everything aligned for us to make the change.
And don’t worry, we’re getting plenty of protein!
In fact, as I keep telling people, we are eating like a king and queen. The final push to make the change was probably as a result of something far less positive.
The Bad Stuff: Covid
As anyone who was willing to listen, or to read this blog, would know, Nicky and I have a real love affair with Cornwall (Nicky was born at Long Rock for a start) and particularly the many coastal running events we’ve enjoyed down there. This year I was finally going to toe the line of the iconic Arc Of Attrition 50 and I had trained well throughout the autumn and winter, I was ready. About 10 days before The Arc I started to feel a bit ill, and a couple of days later I was testing positive, coughing relentlessly and felt truly awful. Luckily, Nicky got off pretty lightly, but I took to the box room and curled up in a ball of self pity. I was testing negative by race day but was getting breathless so quickly I couldn’t have contemplated 12 hours on the remotest, most challenging coastline in the far southwest of Cornwall.
Covid seemed to impact everything for those couple of weeks, and certainly sucked the energy and zest out of me, and to a certain extent Nicky. I don’t want to be dramatic but I couldn’t even be bothered to read my book and certainly didn’t write anything.
Recovery from Covid is ongoing and I’m nursing a niggly foot after standing on a rock. DOH!
We’ve got so much to be thankful for though and I will never take for granted that I have been blessed with sharing my life with such a wonderful, funny, clever, inspiring, encouraging and quite beautiful lady wife Nicky. Not only that, our amazing family , our returning health and living in such a gorgeous part of the world.
As for my personal challenges, let’s just see where it all goes.
Well, here we are a year on from my last manifesto. It’s true it seems, there is no ‘normal’. No ‘new normal’. I can’t even remember the ‘old normal’. I think I’ll just pat myself on the back for getting through as best I could.
I started well with my pledges and some of the momentum was maintained throughout the year. But not all of it. Far from it!
In 2022, I shall do better.
I was pretty good at keeping a journal this year, even if for simply scribbling down a random sentence or reminder, this will continue in 2022.
I pledge to write in my journal, every single day. Maybe only to report that I have nothing to report, but reminding myself to keep my head in the game. Whenever I remember, and have the time, I will carry out ‘stream of consciousness’ writing exercises in the journal. A 10 or 15 minute alarm on my phone always helps and this is a perfect way to spend some of my break at work. Prompt books like the 242 Tiny Things To Write About are great too. Whatever I’m doing, I’ll make room for the pen.
I’m trying not to make any ambiguous commitments. And so for a writing challenge, I’m going to use the energy of Paragraph Planet and Writers HQ to get my creative mind actually creating. This will help my writing craft with any luck, but also sow seeds of greater stories to grow from the ideas.
Writers HQ is a great writing community and course library offering motivation, prompts and prods by the pint pot. They also run a weekly Friday Flash Face off where members simply enter their flash fiction (very short pieces of writing) for mutual critique. ‘Tis a fine thing. As is Paragraph Planet who publish one 75 word paragraph every single day. Both are free to get involved with and are great ways to prompt writing. Like I say, many larger ideas for pieces start with a word or 75.
Still sounds ambiguous, I hear you cry. Well:
I pledge to, at the minimum, submit one piece to either the Writers HQ Friday Flash Face Off, or Paragraph Planet, every single week.
And while I’m at it, I’ll make sure I keep up with my poetry. I’ve had small successes – online journals published a few pieces and I’ll take confidence from that. Working on a draft of a poem idea for 30 minutes in my break at work is so much more rewarding than 30 minutes of the scroll of doom on my phone. I pledge to submit at least one poem per month to a literary publication or competition.
See, I’m getting into this now!
Ahhhh, the Novel. Working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners. I’ve been chipping away at this for over 3 years now and I’m nowhere near a first draft. I think about the book a lot, I talk to the main characters, I scribble ideas in my journal. I’m very much writing the thing. I just need to, er, actually write the thing. Harping back to Writers HQ, they are exponents of the ‘timed writing’ idea – sit at a desk (or stand, or lie in a field with a notebook, whatever is available to me) and set a timer for 10, 20 or 30 minutes, phone out of reach, and just write. This definitely works for me. So, with that in mind…..
I pledge to write for a minimum of two hours (using the timed method) soley on my novel, every week during 2022.
What about The Blog? This here blog. I get ideas for a blog post come to me all the time. Particularly when I’m driving around in my job. I need to make sure I keep my notebook handy and every time I stop, jot these random thoughts down. I heard the great author David Keenan say that if he has an idea, he knows it is a good one if he can immediately recall it when he picks up his notebook. If I don’t use the notebook, a Booker Prize winning idea may well slip away!
I pledge to post at least one book review per month to the blog. I also pledge to add at least one other post, on any subject, per month as well. If I commit to any more it will only lead to disappointing myself and then slipping down the all to familiar ‘What’s the feckin’ point?’ hole! If I write more, then great. If not, at least I’ve set a reasonable target to hold myself to account.
So that’s writing. Why am I going to do all of that? Because I bloomin’ well love writing. I may or may not be any good at it. I’m certainly not going to make any money from it. People either will or won’t read my words. But even the occasional comment I receive about a piece, telling me that what I’ve written resonates, that’s enough to know I belong.
I won’t be setting a target for number of books to read this year, as with my running, it only leads to creating tension instead of the positivity I should be getting from my two favourite hobbies, but I will make a series of pledges similar to last year.
I pledge to readat least one poem every single day. Every single podcast I listen to about writing, or books on writing, every interview with authors, they all say “READ WIDELY” when asked to give aspiring writers a tip. I find poetry helps me pick apart language, it challenges the way we express ideas. Poetry also feeds the soul, nourishing emotional dark spots as well as pushing my creativity.
I also pledge to buy one book a month from an independent publisher, by an author I haven’t read before. I did this in 2021 and it’s great to rummage beyond the headline and heavily promoted books in the literary world. Not that I don’t enjoy the writing of our most famous authors, but I also know there’s a wealth of talent out there waiting to be discovered. Where possible, I will buy these books from independent bookshops too.
Not only that, I pledge to read a minimum of 6 books during 2022 which were published at least ten years ago. This is another way of avoiding the trap of simply reading off the 3 for 2 table in Waterstones. Not that there aren’t great books on the first table you come to in our flagship bookseller, but there is so, so much more to discover.
I also pledge to buy at least one literary magazine, journal or chapbook every month too. I enjoy the marvellous creative non-fiction journal, Hinterland and enjoy a subscription from them, my pledge will be in addition to that. Bring on 2022, the year of reading not scrolling I hope.
So my reading should look after itself if I carry out all of the above pledges.
I bloomin’ love reading and books!
Running And Fitness And Health
This time last year, we were facing another round of cancelations due to the ongoing Covid 19 situation and all the training I had done for The Arc 50 looked like being in vain. The situation didn’t improve and the event was sadly postponed until 2022. In precisely four weeks time I am hoping to line up on the stage of The Minack Theatre in Cornwall and tackle the 50 miles along the coast path to Porthtowan. Fingers crossed eh!?
As for Nicky, she is going to attempt to get to Copenhagen at the third time of asking for her Ironman. Add to this the Outlaw triathlon she started in 2019 only for the organisers being forced to abandon the event after the swim leg due to the biblical weather conditions. They were right to, deep flooding and fallen trees littered the bike course. So this is the 4th year of her pinning her 42 week training plan to the kitchen door.
I’ll never be as organised as Nicky…….. she has every session pencilled in for the next 8 months. Then again, she is attempting something HUGE which involves swimming, cycling and running a very, very long way! She needs to be balancing her training. Whereas I am naturally more chaotic. I will make sure I get my long runs done out there on the trails. Other than that, I’ll run when I feel like it, wherever the the mood takes me. If I’m tired from work, I’ve found there’s no point in forcing myself. I just want to carry on enjoying every step.
So, as in 2021, in 2022 I pledge to NOT attempt to follow a training plan.
My goal for ALL of these events is to do as much as I can to give myself the best chance of completing them. I will not train if I’m over tired from the combination of working, training and any other aspect of life, I will rest if rest is what’s required.
I also pledge this, as I did in 2021: I will, every single day, do either some conditioning work, strength exercises, stretches or other body maintenance. Even if that is something as simple as a few stretches, I’ll be treating my body right. My job if anything, more than the running, tends to give me aches and pains.
This will hopefully give me the best chance of keeping healthy as my aging body builds towards these challenges. As would eliminating the absolute crap I’m guilty of guzzling! So, time for another food pledge (last year’s lasted 6 weeks before I caved in to a hamper of chocolate!).
I pledge to not snack at work. I’m going to only snack during evenings after big (as in 2 hours plus) training days. Puddings will still be the law after roast dinners of course. Let’s see if we can break the pattern this year.
We’re all just living the life we’ve got, making decisions as best we can. I think I just need to decide the person I really want to be and let that drive every decision I make.
If anyone has got to the end of this, I’ll be mightily impressed. With that sort of grit and resolve, you should definitely be the type of character who will stick to their New Years resolutions.
Well, well, well, a running race review. There hasn’t been one of them since we ran the gorgeous Big Pilgrimage Marathon back in August. Normally these blogs are reserved for those big away day adventures or marathons, but we had such a good time at The Cockington Christmas Caper that I thought I should share the story.
The event starts and finishes probably less than two miles from our house, the route takes in a selection of trails, most of which I run a couple of times a week, and the distance is 7.5ish miles. Yet I have the urge to tell you ALLLL about it. The day started with a leisurely breakfast as the event didn’t get under way until 10.30. We didn’t even need to warm the car up as our good friend, and regular star of running stories on this blog, Martin (a.k.a. The Silver Fox), was kind enough to pick us up on the way.
Parking in the beautiful village of Cockington, we made our way, wrapped in hoodies and coats – it was feckin’ freezing – to race HQ outside the cricket pavilion at what must be the quaintest cricket club in the land. Numbers pinned, we kept our hoodies on until very nearly kick-off time before handing them to the friendly young chaps manning the baggage tent. A word here for the event organisers, volunteers, marshals, registration staff and everybody else involved in the event – they were quite frankly awesome.
The Cockington Christmas Caper is in its (I believe) 17th year (having missed 2020 because of you-know-what) and is a truly local event. Organised by The Barnabas Sport Trust and helping to fund their great work with those less able to access education, training or sporting activities, they manage to keep the price at £14. A rather pleasant surprise to receive a tote bag, mug and medal at the finish considering the entry fee.
The 220 (sold out every year) runners set off for a brief 200 meter of downhill charge on slippery grass before starting the first of umpteen climbs. This pretty much set the tone for the run, if you like running on flat, predictable surfaces, this definitely isn’t for you. Martin set off chasing the youngsters while me and Nicky settled nicely into the pack.
The grounds in front of Cockington Court are beautiful and seeing a line of colourful running tops snaking through them as the freezing rain gave way to winter sunshine gave an added brightness to the scene. I ran most of these trails the day before The Caper and there wasn’t a hint of where the course might go – all of the signs and tape must have been put in place early on race day. I’m quite confident (and I do have history with this) that it would be a near impossibility to miss a turn, or veer off the route, the markings were so comprehensive.
Add to that the marshals, at every pinch point and major turn a high-viz hero was there to cheerfully point us in the right direction. What is there to say about the course? Probably 70% is on gnarly or muddy trails and fields and the rest on more made up trails like compacted gravel and about 100m on tarmac! I bloomin’ loved every step. There are so many ups and downs, totalling about 1600 feet of elevation. Some of the muddy downhill sections were bordering on ski slopes by the time half the pack had charged down them. Martin is as generous a friend as you could ever wish for, both with his time, energy and support and he is always happy to get the coffees in. He is also known for being as tight as a you-know-what’s-wotsit when he thinks he’s being done over by marketeers……. “How was the mud in those old road shoes Martin?” “Terrible, I was sliding everywhere…….” I’m saying nothing!
The finish is naughty, back up the same 200m hill we started on and with everybody watching and cheering, we felt the need to offer something in the way of a ‘sprint’ finish.
Fabulous run in a glorious location and I can’t believe that, despite it being so close to home, I’ve never run it before!
Nicky and I do get so, so much joy from trail running together and today was bliss, we ran well, the woods and countryside looked just splendid with leaves of all colours carpeting the floor and I feel like weve added to the bank of precious memories of our adventures together. And we were home for lunch!
I’m starting to really enjoy avocado by the way. We were having our first meal out since, well, since who knows when (Feb 2020?) and I elected to have a dish where avocado is listed as an ingredient.
The world might have paused on its axis during the last eighteen months, but my palette has become bang up to date, those recipes in the Saturday Guardian are looking almost accessible!
Why were we eating out? The same reason we were having our first night away from home in eighteen months too – we had gone to run an event. The Big Pilgrimage Marathon, the first appearance on the running calendar of this quirky looking offering from Big Feat Events.
I wore a shirt too. With buttons and everything. We felt so grown up as we ordered our chicken and avocado.
Our Premier Inn sat on an identikit retail and industry park which could have been in any number of towns around the UK. Bloomin’ convenient though – as well as our meal next door in The Beefeater, we visited Decathlon and the MASSIVE Tesco without needing to use the car.. We’re from sleepy Devon see, “ooo shiny things” our gaping, gawping mouths dribbled as we hunted for a pint of milk in a supermarket the size of Paignton.
For our first ‘away’ fixture for 18 months we had been tempted by the promise of historic trails, epic skylines, farmland, beaches and boardwalks, not to mention, woods, forests, an abbey, several churches and a cheeky boat ride. Yes, The Big Pilgrimage sounded right up our street.
The route follows the first 27/28 ish miles of a recently discovered Pilgrim Trail called The Old Way. Our section started at the site from The Pilgrim Fathers left our shores on The Mayflower (in Southampton) and finished at Fort Nelson, home of The Nelson Monument and The Royal Armouries Museum. Which was handily only ten minutes from the aforementioned Premier Inn. Which was where we were to leave our car. It’s almost as if they’ve planned this stuff.
Nothing wrong with the Premier Inn, but we didn’t have the best night’s sleep……
“WE’VE OVERSLEPT!….. Oh no, it’s 11.30pm”
“THERE’S SOMEBODY IN THE ROOM! WHAT ROOM? WHERE AM I? WE’VE OVERSLEPT…….”
That sort of thing. All feckin’ night.
It was quite a relief when the 4.15 alarm went off.
That’s early! I hear you exclaim. Well, yes it is, but the rather snazzy, leather interiored National Express coach charged with delivering us to Southampton was leaving at 6.15am. And we wanted time for showers, coffee and Weetabix complete with lukewarm milk.
We gathered our kit. A VERY straight forward process for Nicky as she meticulously laid it out the previous night….. I think I ‘put’ mine out and so, as usual, I left the kit gods to decide whether I had everything I needed.
As the coach pulled away from Fort Nelson (nr Portsmouth) in the gloomy half light, we hadn’t yet appreciated the panoramic view from here. After finishing some hours later in the sunshine, we were astonished by the vistas on offer. The very bright and cheery Big Feat crew member had ticked our name off the coach list and counted us all aboard. The welcoming and friendly driver hadn’t quite grasped the brief as he asked “What time is your return journey?”. “We’re running back.” His face seemed to ask “Why?”
“Visit The Isle Of Wight Festival” screamed the huge posters as we pulled in near the Red Funnel ferry terminal. In the spirit of Rob Deering’s Running Tracks (see my review here), this immediately evoked memories of visiting the festival in 2006. What a weekend – The Prodigy, Foo Fighters, The Kooks, Primal Scream, Lou Read, Maximo Park…..
Registration was a jolly and good humoured affair at the water’s edge. We collected our race numbers complete with our first sticker of the day. Yes, we collected stickers which we then attached to our race numbers. What a great and individual touch – a volunteer in Pilgrim hat, naturally, handed us a bespoke sticker at seven of the notable points along the route. Nice.
The race briefing delivered to the 70 or so marathon runners captured the mood perfectly. Nothing to fear. Keep the water on your right. Look after each other. Don’t fret the ferry crossing………
And we were off, a watery sun soon dispensing with the slightly autumnal chill.
3 miles of Southampton’s waterside suburbs gave way to greenery at Westwood as we started on the trails proper. Not before we had crossed the impressive bridge over the River Itchen and received a sticker from a young Pilgrim dressed head to toe in Southampton FC gear (getting ready to host Manchester United later in the day I believe).
From there we tackled all sorts of shore line – paths, shingle beaches, compacted mud – and weaved in and out of the industry and piers lining Southampton Water. Before long (7 ½ ish miles) we had reached the beautiful village of Hamble and its much anticipated ferry ride. Three of the Hamble Pink Ferries were shuttling runners over the short crossing and we waited a couple of minutes before enjoying our mini cruise.
Nicky and I are quite used to trail events having quirky sections and approximate distances and so, as advised in the race briefing, we didn’t fret about the boat ride. A couple of runners were in a quandary about whether to pause their running watches. We just enjoyed the ride and were soon having to propel ourselves using our feet again as we disembarked.
The Warsash Nature Reserve on the shoreline came next, lush and green and picturesque and still very, very flat! Through miles 9 to 12 we were still following the shore as it again became quite industrial. Nicky and I are used to running relentlessly up-and-down trails at home and the lack of elevation seemed to be tiring our legs in different ways.
As we approached the halfway point the course turned and headed inland. With the beautiful marshes of Titchfield Haven to our right, the runners in the 14 (ish) mile half marathon race were crossing their finishing line as we passed. Always looking to raise a smile, I drew on my footballing glory years and shaped to swerve left into the finishing funnel before side stepping and running straight past – this raised a smile or too and we exchanged some laughs with a couple of spectators enjoying the chilled out atmosphere in the sunshine. We then headed off through the beautiful village of Titchfield itself.
Titchfield Abbey is really quite spectacular and worth the very brief detour to enjoy in its full glory. The trails from this point on were glorious, old railway lines, farmland and woods. At some point during all of this I managed to take a tumble. “No lazy steps” is one of my trail running mantras – a few years ago I did go through a phase of hurling myself to the floor at random times.
Anyway, on some particularly firm and even ground, I caught my feet in a trailing bramble and down I went.
“Are you ok?”
“Are you sure?”
“Can we talk about something else!”
“Have you hurt your pride……..?”
That might have been as we went through Wickham (around mile 21) now I think about it!
Then The Meon Valley Trail which was busy ish with families enjoying the gorgeous and accessible countryside. This was followed by The Forest Of Bere which preceded the two longest climbs of the day as we began to sense the finish line within our grasp. From mile 23, still in the forest, we had caught a few fellow runners and felt we were really in our stride. Running well and taking walk breaks for difficult terrain or to eat and drink, combined with being in the company of my partner in adventure, my beautiful and inspiring soul mate Nicky, the miles and time simply slid by.
This really is our happy place – running together on the trails, either talking dribble, solving our quandaries from ‘real’ life, or just enjoying each others company in silence as we let the peace of the surroundings seep into us. Before we knew it we were at the ‘200m to go’ sign. A lovely short downhill section on the grass and we held each others hand aloft to celebrate another challenge completed. Of Nicky’s 38 marathons and my 45, 27 have been completed side by side. It is the best feeling.
This route is a belter. The work that has happened, in advance and on the day, in creating it, marking it and marshalling it shines through. The finished product is superb, take a bow Big Feat Events.
Some books speak to me, speak of truth. Some have me nodding along with a wry smile, like I’ve been found out. Some books find the words which have previously failed me, expressing how I feel. Some have me laughing out loud when an ironic, or comedic moment lurches from the page. Some have me needing to take a quiet moment.
This book does all of that.
So. Why should YOU read this book? Read on and you will discover……
Firstly, you don’t need to be a fan of running and/or passionate about music to enjoy Running Tracks?
Not as much as you’d think.
The years since Rob Deering discovered running are richly documented here, along with the soundtrack to those years. So, if you had absolutely zero interest in either running or music, it could potentially pass you by. But, I promise you it won’t.
Running Tracks is about so much more than that.
This book is about how we progress in life, about what makes us, what develops within us. Rob Deering has music in his blood – as a musician and as a listener. Running appeared later in his life. But it has become just as much a part of his DNA. The book goes far deeper than merely chronicling that progression. The author beautifully shows us how a new hobby or passion gets moulded into our soul, our personality, our very way of life, whilst still maintaining the truth of our self. It’s a neat, clever and humbly delivered trick which worked to get me thinking about how I personally have evolved into the person I am now.
Rob Deering is a comedian, musician, director, radio host, podcaster, and now author. He is also a runner. Through his running, and the platform of his other work, he is a prolific fundraiser for Parkinson’s UK, a cause which isn’t just close to his heart, it is in his heart.
He delivers his debut foray into the publishing world with a refreshing and poised pen. Using the parallel of music and running to coincide with moments of his life, he has given us a unique take on ‘memoir’.
From his personally curated, but randomly delivered playlist, there’s a tune for 26 (point two, naturally) of these occasions and each paints a vivid picture of an unforgettable moment in time for Rob.
The book feels rich and warm. His passion for the combination of music and running radiates from every page. There is nothing dictatorial about the musical choices, the author doesn’t impose his listening preferences upon us, he simply says why each piece of music so perfectly fitted each moment of the run in question, and how that reflects equally perfectly on a point in his life.
The details he adds about the structure of each tune only serves to immerse us deeper into why a rhythm, bass line, chord structure or sample hit the spot for him.
Similarly with running, Deering has a refreshing honesty to his writing – I have no doubt that even non-runners will have no trouble relating to him. He employs an accessible style of narration and there is no attempt to mystify the act of running. The author, like most of us, has learned as he has progressed, often (again like most of us) by getting things wrong! This journey plays out through the book – putting routes together, pacing himself, finding the types of runs which bring him the most pleasure – his writing celebrates all of this and shows how available exercise can be.
Why did I enjoy this book so much?
Running Tracks feels personal to me in many ways. Not least because (full disclosure), my name features in the back of the book alongside the many hundreds of others who supported the book at its inception.
My to-be-read pile was always likely to feature a book about running and music. This is especially the case when it is written by half of the duo behind my favourite podcast (Running Commentary, alongside Paul Tonkinson). The fact that it is a fine work of writing is icing on the cake.
Music and running feature so heavily in my own life and even though we might often be on quite different pages in our choices of runs or tunes, it is most definitely the same love. We both put on a pair of trainers and get out of the door, and we’re always glad that we did.
Rob Deering loves the big (and not so big) city marathons, the book visits London and both New and old York, whilst I’m more likely to be found at a low key event in a field somewhere. Also, some of the random and inconsistent distances of my events might play with his head, the crowds of runners and spectators at his favourites would play with mine. BUT, it is still the same love.
And here’s the biggie, I simply don’t like running with headphones. Rob Deering feels that so much of the running experience ties into the playlist accompanying him. It is STILL the same love, we all find our rhythm when we set out on our running journeys and how we access that rhythm is a personal thing.
All of which still doesn’t mean that music doesn’t feature in, nor evoke memories of, my own running. I admit to being slightly jealous as my running and music associations will never have the immediacy of Deering’s, but it is still, I reckon, the same love.
Take chapter 20 where he talks about the incredible band, Rush. I won’t spoil any of his stories by expanding on where and how Rush’s The Camera Eye sound-tracked a run for Rob (go and buy the book and find out!). BUT I can tell you that every time I hear Rush it transports me back to Toronto Beaches Jazz Festival Half Marathon on a trip as a guest of their long time producer, Terry Brown. A story for another day……
There are many other moments and references in this fabulous tome which speak directly to me, but the book is Rob Deering’s story to tell, not mine. I simply whole heartily recommend that you grab yourself a copy and find out for your selves.
As a work of standalone creative non fiction, Running Tracks is a joy to me. It is a refreshing departure from those generic and formulaic memoirs of the famous. I was thrilled to read a book full of tricks and surprises which deals emotions in spades. I rolled easily from chapter to chapter, eager to peer through another window into the author’s world.
You know what, go and buy it, find out for yourself!
I made myself a manifesto at the end of 2020 – I didn’t feel the need to make ‘resolutions’, I just wanted to hold myself to account and move through 2021 as proud of myself as possible. It went pretty well in January and February…….
March is always a strange one. So many dates. Anniversaries. Memories. Those that know me, and any of you who are long term followers of the blog will know that my sister died far, far too young. She was a mere 44 when her battle with illness ended on March 26th 2009. Five years she lived with cancer. Of course that date always hangs heavy over me during March, as does her birthday, which is earlier in the month. This year I’ve not fought it at all – grief is shite, but grieving is so important. My niece (my sister’s eldest) celebrates her birthday in March, and her youngest, my great nephew, celebrates his birthday too. And Mothers’ Day, which is always hard for my own mum of course. There’s always somebody missing. And so it goes on……..
So, I allow myself to drift through March a bit. This month there are no updates on my pledges – how many words I’ve written, how often I go running, how many articles, poems or stories I’ve submitted…. Nope, I’m just going to share with you all the positivity I’ve been lucky enough to find in the month.
Despite getting down towards the end of the month, I’ve ran a whole lot more than I’m giving myself credit for, nearly 130 miles in fact. And I started and ended the month really enjoying myself out there too. It helps that I get to run with my wonderful, gorgeous and supportive wife too – she’s a bit more focussed than me on training and I enjoy joining her for some structured sessions as well as our adventures on the trails.
Reading & Writing
I’m still ticking over, in fact I’ve published 7 book reviews in March as well as featuring on my first ever Blog Tour (a publicity tool used by publishers – a series of enthusiastic book bloggers post reviews on set dates to support a book’s launch). I still haven’t got the hang of Instagram. It strikes me that many of the posters of #bookstagram posts are more concerned with creating arty pictures of books than they are with actually reading them. I’d rather 10 people read a book review of mine on here, and actually enjoy it, than a hundred people be impressed by my picture of a coffee cup or candle next to a book!
Have a look at the reviews of these ⏬⏬⏬ and more here.
While I’m on the subject of writing, a year ago one of my favourite authors, AL Kennedy, released a collection of short stories called We Are Attempting To Survive Our Time. A clever, sometimes dark, often mysterious, always gripping bunch of tales. I discovered this week that the hardback (a copy of which is one of my most treasure possessions) has sold a mere 85 (yup, eighty five) copies. I was stunned. It just shows that apart from at the very, very top there is hardly a living to be earned by authors – writing is a passion. And I’m glad I’ve been blessed to have that passion.
Al Kennedy has won the Costa Novel Award and has been long listed for the Booker Prize. Her collection of essays On Writing is one of my most read books. Read my review of an earlier award winning Kennedy novel, Serious Sweet here.
My review of David Baddiel’sJews Don’t Countcame to the attention of the author himself, which resulted in it becoming one of my most read blog posts ever (he shared it with his 3/4 million followers) It also, sadly, led to me being ‘trolled’ for the first time ever (I won’t be repeating what was said!).
The Beach Hut
We were offered a spot on Preston sea front last year and have this year taken it up. Our new hut arrived and we have worked bloomin’ hard to get several coats of paint on it and kit it out. Nicky has always wanted one and it’s great to know we now have a little ‘holiday home’ regardless of what else we get to do this year. It is a game changer for sea swimming. Nicky has been getting in for most of the winter, bbbrrrrrr, and I shall be joining her, er, soonish! Having the hut to get out of the wind and have a hot cuppa after a dip is brilliant. The grandchildren have already tried out the deckchairs of course.
Things Are Coming Back
We’re off to do an actual event later in the month, hosted by Badger Events (see my article about them from last year here). Not only that, I’ll be making my triathlon debut(!) and Nicky competing in her third Half-Ironman when we travel to Stafford in July. I’ve also got a rather daunting ultra marathon booked later in July. Sadly, it’ll be a while before any decision is made on Nicky’s full Ironman for August, with much depending on travel restrictions. Nicky attempted the full distance in 2019 when the Outlaw had to be abandoned after the swim in horrendous weather and last year her Ironman was of course cancelled due to Covid. Third time lucky?
I don’t really talk about work on here. Work is the thing I do because of the need to eat etc! Luckily I enjoy my job, but I’d been finding myself not enjoying my work surroundings over the last six months or so. So I did something about it…. I still work for the same supermarket, I’m still a home delivery driver, but I’ve moved stores. It took a bit of toing and froing, but I’m really, really happy now. This isn’t the place to discuss details, but it was another ‘March’ scenario which was draining my resolve. Rather proud that I did something about it rather than just grumble along unnecessarily unhappy.
So, I’ve excused myself my manifesto pledges for a month and now I’m back in the groove. Expect a far more productive report in April………..
Look around and you’ll spot something which has become a virtual version of its former self.
Fitness classes performed at home. A screen full of fellow Zumba or Yoga enthusiasts has become common place. In fact, Nicky signing up for a Pilates class has meant that, 10 months after everybody else, we started to do battle with Zoom! Has it been a success? The jury is out! On week two we managed to work out how to enable the instructor to see Nicky as she contorted herself into the unlikely poses. Week three seems to have slipped by without it being mentioned!
Schooling, of course, is now delivered in multiple ways, and, in my humble opinion, teachers and school staff need bloomin’ medals for the work they’ve done these last ten months or so. Us grown ups too can be schooled via WhatsApp or tested online – Nicky has had dozens of video call piano lessons on her ‘phone and even passed her virtual performance Grade I. That was featured in one of my blogs trying to find the positives from 2020. The rate she’s already progressing, she may well be troubling the scorers for Grade II before you know it.
Job interviews, whole work places even, house viewings, trips to the zoo, literary festivals, so many of us have found, and enjoyed, innovative ways of still experiencing as much of life as possible via the internet.
We’ve already looked at the virtual world of books and book shops, so let’s have a dig into my other hobby and passion, running.
You’d think running was something which really can’t be replicated at home, well that isn’t necessarily so…..
Aside from people running marathons in their gardens, climbing Everest on the stairs or completing half marathons on their balconies, there is an (admittedly expensive) way of replicating running challenges without leaving the building. You’ll need a swanky treadmill and a computer and then you can run in the virtual world of Zwift.
We do have the cycling version here ourselves, as Nicky tries to keep her mileage up. Obviously it’s a bit easier with cycling as you can put your actual bike in a turbo trainer, far less cumbersome, and certainly more portable than a treadmill.
And then there are virtual events. Using apps, links to training programs and websites, smart watches or just good old honesty, we have been able to take part in events with others whilst running alone. As I put together my series of features onrunning events companies, I’ve been learning just what lengths some have gone to in creating virtual challenges.
Running clubs too are hosting virtual relays and time trial challenges. It not only gives members something to focus their training on, but also keeps people communicating in these anxious and sometimes lonely times.
I listen to a podcast, Running Commentary, presented by two stand up comedians, Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson. Deering went all in and did the Great North Run virtual event and also the London Marathon. These events had the added technical challenge of everybody running at the same time! His reports on the two events were great episodes. Particularly the marathon, a huge achievement at any time, never mind without the usual London crowds or fellow competitors.
I’ve found myself clicking the enter now button for distance and elevation challenges. Mostly, it has to be said, from the quirky and quite excellent Bys Vyken. The Cornish event organiser has created a series of challenges during the pandemic, each with a back story related to the region. I’m currently about a third of the way through their GOAT 2 challenge (and three quarters of the way through Lamps On Lockdown too). The combination of these two virtual events means I’m often out running the local hills during the hours of darkness.
Do I miss doing events in the flesh. Oh my yes. Our road trips with our ‘team mate’ Martin are such adventures. The middle aged banter in the car, some coffee and more giggles waiting for the start are so much part of the experience. Bumping into regular faces at the types of trail events we tend to prefer give them a real community feel. Yes, yes, yes, we miss those days.
I’ve avoided any ‘see how fast you can go’ type of virtual event, but I can see the attraction for those who still enjoy training to better their previous times or win the bragging rights over a running nemesis. I’d rather ignore the watch and just keep enjoying my running on the trails we’re lucky enough to have on our doorstep.
First they tell me my entire record collection is in my telephone, now it seems there are maps inside my watch.
I know I’m old school, but surely there is witchcraft at play here!
Weeks spent exercising close to home, months spent shielding, avoiding contact with everyone, events cancelled, holidays postponed, shocking and anxiety inducing news day after day. We were ready for some adventure.
We are lucky that we get so, so much pleasure from simply being outdoors. Walking the dog, running and once the weather and regulations allowed, swimming and cycling.
One thing we found helped us massively was to have an adventure once a week. On my day off work, we would create a route and drive to somewhere relatively local. After a longish run exploring some new trails we would treat ourselves to a snack of Double Deckers and cold Diet Coke (we take our sports nutrition very seriously!)
A city boy by birth, I am not a natural map reader. It hasn’t been unheard of for us to not actually be where my finger is pointing to on a map! In fact I’ve made a few navigation errors since I’ve been attempting these longer trail ultra marathons. I remember coming up behind some runners I’d already overtaken once in the Gower 50!
What a boon then, when I upgraded my running watch to one which can tell me which way to go! It felt like an extravagance. But not being into cars, flashy clothes etc, I reckoned I should use the extra pennies I’ve earned this year to invest in something which I would actually use.
And with it we’ve been on so many adventures………….
Nicky said it feels like being on holiday. After weeks of confining herself to very short trips from home, what a joy to go somewhere else and explore.
Here’s how we do it – we find the trails and lanes on the paper map in the comfort of home, then create a route on the app which accompanies the watch, following the trails we’ve found. Then we sent it to the watch. I shit you not!
So Nicky and I get to joyfully skip around the countryside knowing that my watch will vibrate (honestly, I’m not making this up!) to warn me if we’ve gone off route. We’ve been caught out a couple of times: once we ended up wandering across somebody’s lawn. On another occasion, a landowner had build an ugly block wall across the entrance to a right of way!
Mostly, it’s been a succession of joyous adventures washed down with increasingly elaborate post run nutrition. What started as a drink and snack started to become a full on picnic as autumn arrived!
As we make our plans for 2021 (with the obvious caveats), it would be too easy to stop our adventure runs, particularly as Nicky starts to build towards her Ironman triathlon near the end of the summer. The running in most triathlons is on flat and even surfaces and so 15 miles of rocky, muddy and hilly coast path is hardly specific training. BUT, it really is good for the soul and so we will be substituting some of her longer runs with a few trips out into the countryside.
I heard a great phrase on my favourite running podcast, Running Commentary as the festive season approached. Rob Deering, when asked about whether he might have new year’s resolutions, said he was going further and more in depth with his plans for 2021. He is creating a manifesto for the year. I really like the idea of this. There is no ‘new normal’, no going back to ‘the way things used to be’, there is only what we have. Right here. Right now. It’s the only place we can live. So I’m thinking about what I’d like to achieve as ‘me’ in 2021 and setting out just how I’m going to go about that.
As I said, everything comes with caveats as the world tries to juggle ways to keep us all safe but keep us all moving too.
But that is all for another day, another blog………
We really are thankful for our health and the health of our loved ones. We are also grateful and aware that we are lucky enough not to have to worry about jobs being safe. With this in mind, we know that we can keep planning to be outside, taking every opportunity to enjoy the wonderful coast and countryside we are blessed with being surrounded by.