Director’s Fitness Diary no 4: In Which We Run Some of The Way, And Are Told Off By A Dear (Old) Friend

Friends, harriers, supporters, lend me your heels!

Thanks to everyone who sponsored, especially Guthlac and Ecgfrith : but are you real? Or are you those two heroes in one of the Anglo Saxon travel-writing tales I read in my first year at University – you went on a round-the-world trip (well, a round-the-world-as-the-Anglo-Saxons-knew-it-mainly-Denmark-and-Frisia trip) and discovered strange tribes drinking fermented mare’s milk and racing out of the village for the remnant when a man died – the remnant was his widow, if my memory serves (it may not).

Guthlac and Ecfrith, you may be related to my colleague Patrick Fisher, who certainly resembles some kind of Norseman, especially in his pink headband. Be that as it may: you kindly sponsored the TRO team for twenty-five English pounds, whether you are real or merely historical, many thanks to you. And to everyone who has sponsored, helping us raise 102% of our £1500 target.  Many thanks to all.

So – race day: what happened?

Put it this way, I was in the Walk In Centre by 7.00am on the Wednesday after the race.

Was it a variation on that mysterious pain in the shoulder blade I’ve had on and off since my dear old friend Angie told me she’d had one, about 17 years ago?

Was it, as the Walk In Doctor with a paperback third volume of Winston Churchill’s autobiography flat down on his desk, said, ‘Oesophagitis’?  … ‘The patient may demur,’ he mused, clearly remembering his third year diagnostics course, ‘And insist the pain is muscular…’ I didn’t. I was fascinated and horrified at the thought of stomach acid burning my oesophagus and thus causing a yowling pain under my shoulder blade whenever I turned over in bed. Churchill reading doctor prescribed very expensive stomach-lining pills.  But when I told my GP cousin that I had a terrible oesophagal pain in the back only days after completing the 5k she snorted down the phone and said ‘You’ve got a pulled muscle! Put a hot water bottle on it and save those stomach lining pills for when you want to go out and do heavy drinking!’

The hot water bottle worked.  I still have the pills and rarely do heavy drinking. Please contact me if you need them.

So – race day: what happened?

Put it this way, it all started going wrong the day before race day when I did my final training run.  I had a new route, avoiding the hill (see Director’s Fitness diary no 2), and bringing me back along the beach.

Ah, dear novice 5k attemptees, avoid the beach.

But I didn’t know that then. I have walked on this beach at a moderate pace for 14 years and I have seen people running – I have seen Stan Van Den Berg (are you Guthlac and Ecfrith, Stan? You are a Norseman? Or perhaps Dutch?) running on the beach. So it didn’t even occur to me that my fast-walking-odd-seconds-of-running routine transposed to the beach might be dangerous.  But so it turned out.

The dangerous beach

It was raining. There had been a very high tide. The beach was unpleasantly hard and ridgy. My trousers were sodden and flapping. It was so wet that I began to feel sorry for myself again and gave up counting and stopped to gather photographic evidence of how wetly difficult it all was…

my wet trouser leg

I staggered on, moaning now – what else could I do? I had to get home somehow. And the injury? I didn’t feel anything at the time  – which was about 8.00am. But by 8.00pm my Achilles tendon was gently throbbing and I knew I would suffer during the Event.

So – race day: what happened?  Lovely day, sunshine, no rain, very gentle breeze: conditions I would imagine as near as perfect as could be. Everyone turned up and we were off! Chris was the only visible chicken and for while I could see his chicken head and shoulders above the mass of runners as they all sped away from me.

But then by 1k it was just me and the road. And a few other people, who seemed to be going very slowly indeed, yet faster than me.

I remembered all the good advice you’d all given me and just set myself to enjoy it, which I did, apart from the very small twinge in the Achilles tendon on my right foot.  I met up with the lovely Clare Williams and we enjoyed a fast walk together until first she and then I set off at a gentle jog trot.  We stayed together most of the way – not talking, not even in sync but occasionally passing each other and rolling our eyes in desperate greeting.  In the first 1k, Damian waved us off on the north face of the Liver Building, and as we entered 3k it was wonderful to see Grace Farrington (here she is dressed as Queen Elizabeth I during our training course at Burton Manor – do ask!)

Grace F as Queen Elizabeth I at Burton Manor

on the river side of the road waving and smiling – we both stopped for a hug and walked, ran, on.

Now our supporters, fresh from their refreshment (!) really hove into view, Dominic and Phil and Ben and Tina, all cheering us on and using what seemed to me violently exhortatory language. It reminded me of being in labour. You think in advance that you will want supporters, but when they speak to you, from somewhere so very far from your present place of pain, you just want to punch them.

The final k was a blighter. Lungs not working, no air, bollard thighs, the usual problems, plus the tendon was by then actually hurting.  I saw Max Alder on the Southside side of the Liver Building (he’s given up smoking and done a marathon! What more could a human being do for health! ) and his waving  smiling quite surprising presence really spurred me on – he’d come here, unrelated, no blood between us, to wish me well! Thank you, Max.

On limpily, lumpily I went. In the home straight I started to feel disorientated: like Captain Oates or some other South Pole hero, it had all been too, too much, really, and then my son appeared and ran alongside me.

‘Is it this way?’ I asked him, on the pleasurable edge of giving myself over to be looked after by someone more capable in charge of me (this is what very old age will be like I suppose?) and why he found that funny I do not know.  And then the others were all there, all done, all panting, drinking their water and waving and cheering…. and then that was it.  ‘She’s smashed her own PB’ I heard one of young men shout (they didn’t realise my previous times were 6K times, so even with a sore tendon, I was likely to…and I let it pass, as I wanted to have smashed my own PB, for by now vainglory and smug self-aggrandisement seemed somehow my right.

‘My heel’s hurting’ I told them (putting a brave face on as if it wasn’t really hurting) was guided gently but patronisingly towards what looked very like ambulance manned by paramedics with stretchers and defibrillators.

‘I’m not going in that!’ I protested. ‘It’s for massage,’ they said, ‘You can have physio.’ But I refused, which was just as well, as we saw the physio/massage tent later, flapping breezily on a lawn, not looking at all like an ambulance.

All the same the physio-lady took one look and refused to massage me, advising sternly ‘Go home and put ice on it.’

Which I did. Fine, no probs, went to bed with a packet of peas and by Monday morning all was well. And all remained well until at 2.00pm on Monday afternoon when the Oesophagitis/pulled muscle came on as I sat at my desk. Chance?  Random? Self-inflicted? You decide.

My dear old friend Angie certainly thought there was no chance in it.  ‘You can’t just run,’ she said, ‘At your age.’ (We have known each other a very long time).

‘I was mainly walking’ I countered with dignity. I didn’t tell her about smashing my PB.

‘You said in that blog that you’d run!’ she retorted, eyebrow raised.  ‘No wonder you’ve got that mysterious pain in your shoulder that I had seventeen years ago.’

What next, I hear you ask. Well, when I was at the baths I saw there’s this thing you can do where you swim the channel – in the baths, over several weeks, but still 23 miles…with goggles. Can’t wait.

Director’s Fitness Diary no 3

Thanks for all your comments, suggestions, support and donations!

Did another walk with some running and actually enjoyed some of it. Taking the inhaler before I leave is a good idea, and trying to do as Louise said and let deep thought happen is good too. Have realised that starting with a steep hill is not psychologically good for me so next time I am going to  go in the opposite direction, and start on the flat, at the Marina….

There’s a very nice part on Caldy Hill,  where the path goes downhill through a wood ( ah, life!) and I run quite fast there, and it feels lovely and  reminds me a little of childhood – scared of falling  but enjoying the abandonment of it.


I’ve swum again, too – 30 lengths at WK baths on Sunday morning : that is a genuine pleasure and something I’ll try to continue when this  5k is over…


Some of my colleagues are now running in fancy dress, so Lou’s advice about not talking to Bears, Chickens etc seems as if it will be needed.

To keep Jane walking or to keep Chris squawking (photos and soundbites will be posted) please sponsor us at:

Director’s Fitness Diary no 2

Thighs minus oxygen equal concrete bollards

How have small squat people survived? Surely when the prehistoric clan ran away from whatever new danger presented itself people like me, grumbling along at the back muttering ‘ I can’t, I can’t, I can’t go any faster!’ got eaten by tigers or pterodactyls?

So how come I am here, labouring up Caldy Hill at 7.00 am, 10 minutes into my training session, scowling at car drivers who are probably laughing at me, and muttering to myself ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t go any faster…’ What kind of natural selection malfunction do I represent?

People like me can’t run, and that’s an end of it. We can’t even walk very fast.

My legs hurt down the front outside edge of my shins, and my thighs, despite Angie’s steel spring optimism (see our pledge page: seem to be made of concrete bollards. But it is the lungs which are the real problem.  This bodes ill, and not just for the event.

Note I’m not calling it a race as for me there’s no race in it: the event is simply a painful occurrence in universal space-time like the Black Hole at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the shipwreck at the beginning of The Tempest: something to be got through without dignity but with as little disgrace as possible. The ill boding, however, stretches far beyond the Our Read 5k on 12th September and throws a grim shadow over the rest of my slow squat life:  for the truth is – damn my early devotion to tobacco – my lungs don’t work.

When I try to breathe through my nose, as the delightful Sophie Povey instructed me at lunch yesterday, nothing happens. Yes, there are nostrils, and some kind space in my throat where I can feel air passing but after that… nothing, or at least nothing bigger than a pair of ancient leather tobacco pouches. If I open my mouth and really suck in air these foul pouches expand to resemble the two shrivelled balloons I found down the back of the couch three years after the party. Which tells you something about my housekeeping and the infrequency of Davisite parties, as well as my lungs.

My rudimentary grasp of human biology tells me that is why the thighs don’t work: how can they, with no oxygen in them?

All of which is very negative and so I appeal, dear supporters, for psychological tools or even a loan of will power. What do you do when, like the spirit of anti-Nike,  you just don’t want to do it?

When I did my training on (I think) last Monday I couldn’t post a blog because  I was very downhearted. Exactly the same route took longer than the first time. I had expected continuous improvement!! For a woman with shrivelled balloons for lungs who started out  heaving two concrete bollards up a steep hill and then staggering after them as they rolled down the other side, I thought things could only get better. But no, they got worse.

I can’t post the picture of my stopwatch or my sad self as haven’t worked out how to add pictures to blog – perhaps that will come. But:

52.10 !

Grrrrr: 19 seconds longer!!!

And the fact that those 19 seconds had tipped my time into 52 minutes was horrible. So I didn’t try again all week. Or rather I tried easier, shorter routes and didn’t time them, not merely from disappointed petulance, but also because of poor organisation. And you know what Toddy Hockeymaster used to say ‘He who fails for prepare, prepares to fail.’ Well it’s true, damn his eyes.

On a happier note, wonderful encourager as she is, my colleague Clare Williams got me to go for a swim with her on Thursday night after work. That was rather nice – my first time in the University baths for possibly 20 years. I was very surprised, and a little frightened, as we passed through the new gym extension, to see how hard everyone was working on treadmills and steps and huge silver balls and the like. For the swimming I wore my goggles, and Clare refrained from comparing me to Ali G, which was typically kind of her. The water is warmer than it used to be, and at 5.15p.m., it wasn’t full of fitness fanatics. And the thighs, the thighs turned from concrete to cork! We forgot to count but think we might have done about 20 lengths – a gentle doddle. I will certainly do this again.

Perhaps my DNA missed out prehistoric two-legged-human being, and really I am something naturally anti-deluvian, made for splashing about in the sea?

Thanks to everyone who posted encouragement and suggestions.  As you can see, nothing has helped. Keep ’em coming. And please, sponsor me, readers.

To that family member who offered  more cash  if I ran all the way I can only say, ‘Are you trying to turn a good fun Sunday 5k into some sort of Greek Tragedy? Son kills mother by turning her own desire for Reader gold against her?’ Come off it, boy. Just give me an extra quid for every second I knock off my hoped-for time (not yet decided).

Director’s Fitness Diary

Having signed up for the team challenge 5k in aid of Our Read I’ve been extending my usual 15 minute dog walks (it’s not just my laziness/busyness : he’s old) with the aid of an app called Couch to 5K and other fitness equipment (pictured).

I’m planning to walk the 5k but throwing in hopeless, small, breathless intermittent bouts of running. Years of utterly committed youthful smoking (Samson Rollies – yurgh. If only I’d been so devoted to other things – tennis, swimming!) mean I have no lung capacity. And besides that I am three stone overweight. So I’m not willing or able to go flat out.

But I did my first full 5 k on Monday in about 59 mins (it’s approx because I forget to check the time before I set off).

You can see my full route here (it’s actually 6k, as I thought that would make it seem easier on the day. Is that bad psychology? It’s how I trained for my finals, PhD and giving birth, the only other strenuous things I’ve ever done).

I’m going to post my training times here  for all to see in order to shame myself into keeping going.

Would you encourage me by sponsoring Our Read 5k here, and by sending me ideas for great training tunes for my iPod? And something to read when I wake up at 4.30 am feeling I want to run now.

Jane’s training playlist:

Setting off:
The Wailers – Stir It Up
Patti Smith – Redondo
Pretenders – Brass in Pocket

Speeding up:
Stevie Wonder – Superstition
David Lindley – Mercury Blues

Breaking a sweat:
Chuck Berry – Johhny B Goode,
Bruce with Born To Run

Keeping going:
Vince Clarke Club Mix – Issues

Cooling down:
Mavis Staples – Turn Me Round
The Wailers – No Woman No Cry

But I need more things good to keep going with please – answers, tips, and recommended reading for people in training to the blog please.

Keep me going!

Nellibobs’ Friday Night #20: ‘Literature of Obstinacy and Stubbornness’

Mr Nellist continues his birthday celebration by considering the literature of obstinacy and stubborness: Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus come to mind.


The Nellibobs Returns: 75 Glorious Years!

Nellibobs returns to your screens for 2010 with a Birthday Special in which he tells us what he has learned – mainly how to be stubborn and the pleasures of Su Doku – and talks about chastened pleasures, including Women In Love.

(Don’t forget you can see him in person at next month’s Masterclass.)


Welcome to the Reading Revolution, Frank!

Frank Field’s suggestion in today’s Times that English literature might be used to help people learn to be good parents is typically radical, conservative, and zany. And he is quite right: huge swathes of literature are about parents, children, parenting, growing up, and getting over being brought up by whoever it was… they do tend to f***k you up, your Mum and Dad, as Larkin says. But let’s not forget the other side of the coin too – I love Adrian Mitchell’s rebuttal ‘They tuck you up, your Mum and Dad’.

A similar both sides  of the same feeling comes from reading William Blake’s poem ‘Infant joy’ alongside  his ‘Infant sorrow’.  Mr Field says in an interview in  the current issue of The Reader that mistakes, political, social, personal – come from not allowing complexity: ‘the heresies of all time are not the preaching of untruth; they are usually the preaching of a single truth without being buttressed by another truth.’  He’s right again, and I’m glad to say that  that buttressing one truth by another – sometimes diametrically opposed – is exactly what literature  does for us. No wonder reading, like breakfast, helps brain formation.

So we’re ready, Frank, when called to create reading for pleasure programmes for parents! Four years ago, Kerry Hughes, a young single parent who worked for The Reader Organisation put together a collection of readings for parents involved in our Get Into Reading project. Texts ranging from Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Before You Were Mine’ to Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son (one of the best books about parent child relationships ever written, connecting bad parenting to bad business practice, too: you’d like it, Frank) and it’s not just English literature, either: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart , Tolstoi’s Family Happiness , Theodore Roethke’s poem ‘My Papa’s Waltz’.

When are we going to realise that ‘literature’ is a technology for the  brain to brain, heart to heart transplant of useful human  information? Reading is an evolutionary tool, and great  books are there not for syllabi and exams, but for personal, human and social use. There are many great poems about parenthood/childhood. Coventry Patmore’s ‘The Toys’, is onesuch. You may need to translate  it out of  a Victorian Christian sensibility.  But it’s worth the effort involved in such translation.

The Toys

My little son, who looked from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quite grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobeyed,
I struck him and dismissed
With hard words and unkissed,
His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darkened eyelids, and their lashes yet.
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-veined stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach,
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells,
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I prayed
To God, I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with trancèd breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,
Thou’lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
“I will be sorry for their childishness.”

Coventry Patmore

One of my favourites, David Constantine’s poem ‘New Year Behind the Asylum’, featured in Kerry’s wonderful collection, and David Constantine won’t mind I’m sure that I’m going to reprint it here. He’s in the revolution, too.

New Year Behind the Asylum

There was the noise like when the men in droves
Are hurrying to the match only this noise was
Everybody hurrying to see the New Year in
In town under the clock but we, that once,

He said would I come our usual Saturday walk
And see it in out there in the open fields
Behind the asylum. Even on sunny days
How it troubled me more and more the nearer we got

And he went quiet and as if he was ashamed
For what he must always do, which was
Go and grip the bars of the iron gates and stand
Staring into the garden until they saw him.

They were like the animals, so glad and shy
Like overgrown children dressed in things
Handed down too big or small and they came in a crowd
And said hello with funny chunnering noises

And through the bars, looking so serious,
He put his empty hand out. But that night
We crept past quickly and only stopped
In the middle of the empty fields and there

While the clock in the square where the normal people stood
And all the clocks in England were striking twelve
We heard the rejoicings for the New Year
From works and churches and the big ships in the docks

So faint I wished we were hearing nothing at all
We were so far away in our black fields
I felt we might not ever get back again
Where the people were and it was warm, and then

Came up their sort of rejoicing out of the asylum,
Singing or sobbing I don’t know what it was
Like nothing on earth, their sort of welcoming in
Another New Year and it was only then

When the bells and the cheerful hooters couldn’t be heard
But only the inmates, only the poor mad people
Singing or sobbing their hearts out for the New Year
That he gripped me fast and kissed my hair

And held me in against him and clung on tight to me
Under a terrible number of bare stars
So far from town and the lights of house and home
And shut my ears against the big children crying

But listened himself, listened and listened
That one time. And I’ve thought since and now
He’s dead I’m sure that what he meant was this:
That I should know how much love would be needed.

David Constantine