Aliveandrunning Janathon January 6

Day 6. The weather in Cambridge today was almost Spring-like. Periods of sun in a hazy blue sky alternated with heavy downpours and the temperature was a mild 10C. I feel so much better running when the sun’s out as I’m sure most people do but it’s the degree of enjoyment compared to a cold, drizzly, overcast day that always surprises me. After yesterday’s debacle (see blog dated Jan 5) I ran over to the next village, avoiding their roadblocks and vigilante patrols (they have their own issues in this community) and used their recreation ground to do a few strides/sprints. I felt very happy to be able to sprint for short distances at full speed. I may not be fast but it feels fast and I recover quickly. I had a heart attack four years ago and I was able to recover my full fitness subsequently. I feel extremely lucky to be running at a reasonable level and now be part of a running community. I started doing Cambridge parkrun on their fifth event in February 2010 and now I’ve completed 159. I also joined a running club after 30 years of running alone and found it conducive to my exacting requirements of a good balance between sociability and just running without frills.

The Guardian ran an article on a research findings  link between cancer and inactivity today giving shocking figures concerning cases that (theoretically) could have been prevented  if people were more physically active. Apathy and a closed mindset can be lethal.

Aliveandrunning Janathon January 4

Day 4. I marshaled at Cambridge parkrun today and stood at a fork in the path where all 280 runners passed me 3 times. The 5K course in Milton Country Park was very muddy and they took the opportunity to splatter me as they went past. Repeat offenders were reported to the Community Support Officers and I expect they will be spirited away to  a gulag near the  Watford Gap for running etiquette rehabilitation.

I’m constantly fascinated by everyone’s different running styles and my perception that the fastest runners don’t seem all that speedy when you are passively watching them from the sidelines. I surely must be able to keep up or pass them if there is any justice in the world. Of course, these notions are in my head and the reality is very different. Afterwards we had  tasty coffees with our pals and I continued to learn to be more sociable. I found it’s worthwhile making an effort rather than rushing away home. The great majority of runners are very friendly, even those who you initially judge to be a bit aloof (like me).

Continuing in this vein, I had the option of going for an individual run in the afternoon or joining a social run with an informal club, 5 or 6 members being  already known to me. I opted for the latter and it was very enjoyable. It was a mixed ability group and we ran about 5.5 miles through puddles and more mud. Everyone behaved themselves, no-one was competitive and I didn’t have to make any citizen’s arrests.

My eldest son Dan did parkrun in Valentine’s Park near Ilford, Essex and came in at 21 minutes 57 seconds, a whole 1 minute and 22 seconds faster than my personable best. I am eclipsed as this family’s premier running god. I have been toppled from my pedestal. I am yesterday’s runner, an ex legend consigned to history. I could carry on dissing myself but I will stop there. Instead I will rise from the ashes like the phoenix, regenerated and stronger than ever. Another notion in my head. Note to self : make it reality.

Aliveandrunning Janathon January 2

Day 2. I’m still recovering from yesterday’s mud festival at the Hinchingbrooke 5K. They should have billed it as a swamp challenge. In retrospect, I think Indiana Jones had less dangerous near misses even where he’s actually trapped in a swamp up to his neck. My body is unscathed but my mind is in bits. It didn’t help that my nice Ron Hill tracksters were still drying and I was compelled to wear running tights in broad daylight. I looked like Max Wall!

max wall image

Whereas, I normally look like this


No matter, I pulled myself together and went off for a 2 mile run just to keep things ticking over. The weather was sunny and mild today and if one was inclined, one could fantasise that Spring was around the corner. This one started to fantasise. I saw daffodils poking through everywhere and I’m sure I glimpsed lambs gambling in the fields.

Why run? You feel physically better – more alive, alert and fitter. Your mood improves, you feel more positive and you meet a whole new society of good people. You reduce the risk of developing a raft of diseases and disorders, you focus more sensibly on the food you eat. You feel younger (this is age related : you don’t feel 14 when you are actually 22) and it can be exciting and result in a sense of well being. Why wouldn’t you?

Aliveandrunning2013 December 16

They say parkrun is a social run not a race. 5K of friendly jogging and enjoying the company of like minded buddies. WRONG !! It’s a matter of life and death. Probably more important than life and death. Survival and glory are the only objectives. I see myself as Charlton Heston in the final chariot race in Ben Hur forcing my way through a course of spilled  blood and guts and bodies. I am the good guy but it’s my chariot with the protruding metal spindles that wreck the wheels of competitors causing them to crash spectacularly. 283 runners took part last Saturday. Only the fittest survived and I don’t mind admitting I had blood on my hands when it was all over. How did I do ? A massive 2 seconds faster than last week. I regard that as a huge margin when you compare it to the Big Bang which created the Universe in less than 1 second about 13.7 billion years ago. My arch rival Mike beat me by a minute. I’m fairly sure he takes a short cut when I’m distracted pushing obstructive children out of my way and into the nettles. Perhaps I should request an urgent steward’s inquiry or contact the media. Another 3 seconds faster and I would have dropped below 24 minutes. I can’t seem to do this at the moment. I note that a man in the 60 to 64 age range ran it in 21 minutes 10 seconds. What sorcery is this ? That’s obviously too fast for a social run and he should have been disqualified. My only consolation was that I beat another arch rival, Diane, by 3 seconds (Big Bang times 3) who complained of “tiredness.”

Am I taking it too seriously? Is it unrealistic to harbour a hope that I will, one day,beat the hundred or so runners in front of me and cross the line first ? Should I join the Flat Earth Society ? Am I just an “amiable loafer” as Lorna has described me ? Sounds like a good domain name!

Aliveandrunning2013 December 7

I’m struggling to regain my running form after my calf strain in October/November. I haven’t been doing longish training runs and my running week seems to have lost its rhythm. The barometer of success is parkrun. Not only have I failed to beat my arch rival Mike but I am being outpaced by runners who are usually behind me. Woe is me! I am at least 30 SECONDS off my normal pace for a 5K race. That’s a very long time compared with the Big Bang and the creation of the Universe 13.7 billion years ago. On the other hand it’s no time at all if you believe God did the hard work in 6 days. Time to employ a cunning plan to return to form and mop up those superfluous seconds.

The miracle of Nelson Mandela and his associates. White South Africans escaped the retribution they might have expected after decades of cruelty, murder, destruction of human rights, extreme inequality and poor health care for the black majority.

Went to hear Raymond Tallis and Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury discuss the issues concerning Science and Religion. It took place at Heffers bookshop in central Cambridge after the shop had closed. Heffers is a large general and academic bookshop and puts on regular literary events. This was the first event we had attended. There was a strong sense of being in a wonderful environment where you only had to reach out to touch a book, even when you were sitting down listening to the speakers. All manner of naughty thoughts ran through my mind. I fancied I co-owned the entire shop (I don’t mind sharing books with others), I considered moving in and I pondered Lorna’s reaction if I bought thousands of pounds of books (helpfully the shop was still open for purchases following the talk (which we enjoyed). Being a disciplined sort of chap, I pulled myself together and left quietly without causing a scene.

Into Cambridge again this afternoon. We meant to go to the “bohemian” Mill Road Winter Fayre today but didn’t get any further than a clutch of charity shops 15 minutes walk away. The large Oxfam shop has an excellent book section but their staff have a serious attitude problem. Because I have more than enough books at home I selflessly decided to browse rather than make a purchase. As I made my way out, empty handed, a sales assistant barred my way and declared I wasn’t permitted  to leave without buying several books. I looked at him incredulously and laughed in his face. Attempting to push past him at least six of his colleagues suddenly appeared out of nowhere and I instinctively knew that my high minded decision not buy anything was doomed. I finally capitulated when someone flicked my earlobe and suggested I was “frightened of books.” I chose four items, resentfully, paid up quickly and stormed out, my dignity in tatters. I won’t be going back there, thank you very much. at least until next week. I really hope their attitude improves but I suspect not.

Aliveandrunning2013 November 14

Out running with the club based at Cambridge and Coleridge AC on November 12. We meet up on Tuesdays around 6.35 pm, have a jog around the athletics track, do a series of warm up exercises and then split into two groups, one to use the track and the other to run on the road. I usually go out on the road. This time of year we run in the dark. The street lights give a reasonable light on most routes but there are plenty of spots where the light is obscured by trees or the street lamps are spaced too far apart to illuminate the path in its entirety. That means you can’t always see where you are placing your feet and thus each of these strides can produce EXISTENTIAL ANXIETY. Each step forward is a leap of faith (if a step can be a leap) into the unknown. You could be putting your rapidly moving foot down on wet leaves, pot holes, dog poo and very uneven surfaces. The name of the game is survival ! Survival of the fittest. The weak or unlucky fall by the wayside. Leave them there. You must succeed at all costs and pass your winning gene pool to the next generation. Running in the dark is so Darwinian. We become an elite, unstoppable force, disregarding the poor visibility and triumphantly overcoming any impediment ( including those irritating pedestrians who persistently dawdle and get in my way). Don’t they recognize a group of Greek gods and goddesses when they see them ?

I like running in the dark. I don’t worry about falling over and therefore my body is not tensing up. It can be exhilarating  running past shoppers, ancient Cambridge buildings, alongside the river and along the old, short roads and open space paths. We numbered about 25. Nobody met with an accident. We enjoyed it.

Last night we went to the Cambridge Union debating hall and listened to an interview with Donna Tartt, the author of The Secret History. My Little Friend and The Goldfinch. Despite her stylized Gothic appearance, which I presume she maintains each and every day because I have never seen a photo where she has deviated from this dress code, I found her warm,responsive and smiley in conversation. There was a long queue for book signing which I joined and was eventually rewarded with a few friendly words and her signature. Thank you Ms Tartt.

Aliveandrunning2013 November 9

I haven’t run for a full week. I’m not injured but the weather does interfere with my motivation. Autumn, I have accepted, is really here. More rain, less sunshine and lower temperatures. Rain’s OK but cold and grey skies certainly do have a negative impact on my mood. I’m probably a very mild case of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It doesn’t help that I’m more susceptible to cold now compared with  much greater tolerance of it prior to my heart attack four years ago. I think it’s due to the effects of the medication I take. The same medication that regulates my heart beat, keeps me well and STOPS ME RUNNING FASTER. Today, I ran Cambridge parkrun which featured plenty of mud and large puddles. I felt good running but the time was inevitably slower than usual because of the conditions under foot. Poor traction always makes for greater effort and slower times. I was around 20 seconds slower than last week’s slow time but overall I was happy with my performance. Last week I was still coming back from injury so my displeasure is on the meagre side. My arch rival Mike easily beat me again. I need to choose some less fast arch rivals and install them into my mind. Then I can relegate Mike to ordinary running dude and friend rather than evil competitor.There’s clear need to get some trail shoes to negotiate muddy and  wet conditions which are a regular autumn/winter feature of both Cambridge and Wimpole Estate parkruns. At Cambridge, in particular, there are lots of tight muddy corners and it’s easy to come a cropper.

Interesting article in New Scientist November 9 2013 concerning the benefits of exercising. Current research is suggesting a correlation between consistent exercise and maintaining cognitive health including a lesser risk of developing severe cognitive impairment through dementia. Research also points to the importance of physical activity in the development of a range of cognitive abilities from childhood. Increasingly, exercise is linked with a number of health benefits including lowering the risk of heart disease and certain cancers and preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes. I did have a heart attack but my general level of fitness, as a result of running, has greatly helped in my recovery with no real loss of running ability. It’s left me with few obvious deficits in my overall health (except the medication STOPS ME RUNNING FAST).

What a bunch of shits comprise this coalition government and principally, the Tories. They are very skilled in creating an atmosphere of public loathing and condemnation of certain groups of people whom it is in their interest to demonise, those they would describe as  benefits scroungers or work refusers, and highlighting people taking  benefits on medical grounds which are supposedly insubstantial or non existent. The non working mentally ill, NHS “tourists”, housing benefit claimants and anyone who isn’t a hard working tax payer, all come in for a drubbing. There is a cruelty and a lack of humanity about their policies which is more obvious when you understand how they are implemented. See Polly Toynbee article

More dusting yesterday including cobweb removal. Dusting is not particularly interesting but dust itself is ! There’s so much of it and each, occasionally visible individual speck makes its own individual journey before its final resting place (unless you blow it elsewhere). What tales dust could tell (or not), what lessons could be learnt from history if dust had a voice. What a noble substance ! Don’t mess with it.

Aliveandrunning2013 October 2

No available car to drive to Cambridge and Coleridge AC, so no road running for me with the club yesterday evening. Instead I went for a routine 47 minute run which took me to the banks of the River Cam at which point I turn around and run back. Calf feels normal but will it hold up for 2 hours when I do the Hoo Haar half marathon on Sunday, October 6 ? Should I do an hour’s run  tomorrow ? And what about parkrun on Saturday ? Good sense suggests I should cut out at least one of them. I’ll definitely do parkrun, however.

The media is reporting a meta analysis finding in the British Medical Journal which looked at 304 research papers concerning the role of exercise and medication in heart disease and stroke. The conclusion identified exercise as on a par  with medication in terms of continuing good health outcomes. It identifies diuretic drugs as most important for heart failure and exercise as important , or most important, in stroke recovery. It looked at trials involving nearly 340,000 patients to assess the merits of exercise and drugs in preventing death. Such was the extent of exercise in reducing death rates, the findings suggested that exercise should be added to prescriptions. This is good news and will encourage people to take some responsibility for their own continuing health. Unfortunately so many of us seem determined to sleepwalk into substantial health problems by willfully ignoring sensible eating patterns, not sleeping sufficiently, drinking too much alcohol and not taking any regard for the nature and quality of the food we consume, particularly the refined stuff.

At Birmingham Crown Court, a 23 year old man pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of a 16 year old girl on a bus by stabbing her, He has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a severe and enduring mental illness which when appropriately treated and care supported, can be well managed. He was previously assessed by a psychiatric service in prison where he was serving a short sentence for threatening his mother with a knife. On discharge there was no treatment or care plan presumably because they didn’t identify a treatable mental illness (although prison staff had identified a number of problem behaviours). That’s the most charitable explanation. Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust have Assertive Outreach teams, a medium secure forensic service and a contract to provide a psychiatric service to the prison system. I find it difficult to accept that the assessing personnel didn’t identify an illness that their services could successfully treat. Paranoid schizophrenia was apparently diagnosed after the fatal stabbing which occurred about 3 months after his discharge from prison. Are their specialist Assertive Outreach teams working at full capacity? Have there been cuts in the provision of such services ? How could he not meet the criteria ?

Aliveandrunning2013 September 29

Cambridge parkrun went well. No problems with my right calf muscle and I was only 22 seconds away from a personal best. My arch rival, Mike, beat me by 17 seconds but ” vengeance is mine, sayeth the runner” and we go head to head next week in the Wimpole Hall Estate Hoo Haar half marathon. Lovely, sunny weather for the 5K parkrun. Lorna volunteered, scanning finishers’ barcodes and, after the race,  we had coffee, with friends, outside in the warm sun. Why wouldn’t you do parkrun at 9 am on Saturday morning? Staying in bed often results in feeling lethargic during the day and susceptible people are at risk from Krispey Kremes or other dangerous sugar and fat confections if they don’t take active steps to wake themselves up. If you are feeling down in mood, running and particularly social runs can help you to manage your mood or positively alter your mindset. Runners readily form communities and everyone can belong. There are so many more available races these days and it can work out fairly expensive in terms of entry fees. Soon, people will be turning to crime to fund their running habit. But parkrun is free! They only ask you to volunteer occasionally (and this is fun rather than a chore). It gives an insight into the amount of organisation required to stage a run and allows you to contribute to its success. Parkrun is very inclusive ; parents frequently run with babies in buggies, carry toddlers or run with older children. You don’t have to be a “serious runner” or particularly fit but it will motivate you to think about what you would like to do regarding levels of fitness and how you could realistically achieve those goals.

At the moment, I think I will be sufficiently fit to do the Wimpole half marathon. I have done very little training, due to injury, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be able to complete the course without calf pains. If I feel uncomfortable, I will stop running. After more than 30 years, the penny has finally dropped. DON’T RUN ON AN INJURY ! It’s so tempting. How easily we can delude ourselves and become  unrealistically optimistic. We find we can run the race and the pain hasn’t been so bad. Then we discover, at our leisure, that we have compounded the injury which might have cleared up in a third  of the time  it will now take. Anyway, that’s the theory. But if I’m just ahead of Mike and my calf starts to twang, no way am I going to pull up and let my arch rival beat me so easily. In fact I will redouble my effort and push on, even if I need to be stretchered off at the finish line.

Today, we spectated at the Bourn to Run 10K where Mike and Sue were running. Both ran well over an undulating trail course and their young daughter, Emily, did the 3K race. A second excellent day of weather with unbroken sunshine and early Autumn warmth. We met loads of running friends of all abilities and it was an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning. Again, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? If you experience problems with your mood, here’s a gold standard activity (running or volunteering or spectating) to mitigate and manage those difficulties.

Chief Constable Mike Barton of Durham Police has called for the decriminalisation of Class A drugs and advocates the care and treatment of addicts rather than criminalising them. He argues that the  disappearance of the criminal element of drugs removes the income stream of criminal groups, erodes their power and influence and allows for a “controlled environment” for the dissemination of addicts’ drugs, possibly administered under the auspices of the NHS. This approach has been implemented, or part implemented, in a few other countries. I don’t know what the outcomes have been but it is a dramatic change of tack that is increasingly being discussed. Unfortunately these kinds of controversial measures are laden with political risk for the party bringing in the appropriate legislation. The government would be denounced and pilloried by the right wing media whose demographic comprise the frightened middle classes, unthinking people, bigots and the mindset that requires all transgressions to be punished. I presume the coalition, or rather the Tories, won’t genuinely address the issue or will dismiss it.

Lorna pointed out a statistic in yesterday’s Guardian. “For 36% of Britons , a tidy home is a greater pleasure than a holiday, a night out or sex But the study showed that woman still do most of the tidying).” Source : survey of householder appliance manufacturer Beko. Ye Gods! What inferior kind of holiday, night out or sex are these people having?

Random pictures of books in our home. Reading a book, of course, is a greater pleasure than keeping a tidy house.

photo (4) photo books12photo5

Aliveandrunning2013 September 25

I ran 2 miles to test my injured calf. I had intended to rest it for longer but gave in because I miss running. I think I’m more tired and have less energy when I’m not running and this alone makes me highly motivated to get back into a routine. My calf felt fine and I will rest it until Cambridge parkrun on September 28 when I will do 5K as fast as possible. I then have a week before the Wimpole Estate Hoo Haah  half marathon. I may do a long run next week to push my calf further and hopefully it will hold up.

Tomorrow I hope to register for the Cambridge half marathon in March 2014. There’re about 4,600 places and around 8000 people have previously shown interest by email which will give some priority over those who register, or try to register later.