The Beasts of the Moor

Get Into Reading now has a presence in the South West. Yes, that beautiful part of the world that boasts amazing coastlines, moors, hills, picturesque villages, clotted cream teas! (It’s also where I grew up, so I’m bound to be a little biased…) However, as Zoe and I made our first visit down there to meet up with Project Manager Sarah Hopkins, little did we expect to come across these rather, ermmmm, unusual beasts on the edge of Dartmoor.

(Can anyone who can tell me what they were made of?)

Sponsor Our Reader Runners!

After a gruelling 5k around Liverpool’s city centre in September, who would have thought TRO staff would be so eager to get back into their running shoes?

Well, we are – and this time, we’ll all be dressed as Santa! Please sponsor us in the Liverpool 5K Santa Dash, in an attempt to raise money for the Penny Readings. Please follow this link to donate:

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.

The Reader Race

Posted on behalf of Sam Shipman, Young Person’s Project Manager for Get Into Reading

The Reader Organisation Team put on an amazing performance in the 5K challenge last weekend, 15 brave runners took part and all of them looked the part as well!

Still smiling, before the race kicks off
We were the only team to have a runner in fancy dress – Chris dressed as a chicken – and this got us a bit of publicity when the chicken was interviewed on the finish line.

Patrick also drew attention to us by sporting a pink t-shirt with matching pink headband and sweatband, and during an extremely out of breath interview (after beating me in a highly competitive sprint finish) he managed to drop in the sacred words ‘The Reader Organisation’. Clare Williams also got a turn on the mic, her voice could be heard loud and clear over the surrounding area, telling the crowds about ‘Our Read’ and the 50,000 books we are going to give away.

Jane crosses the finish line in 38 min 56 sec

And let’s not forget Sean, the fastest runner in The Reader team who ran so fast that none of us even saw him, he finished in 20 minutes and 45 seconds, and the bar has well and truly been set for next year.

The team with their medals

Well done to the whole team. And a HUGE thank you to all those who helped us raise money for Our Read: £1,377, and still going!

For those of you who didn’t think we could do it, and were waiting to find out, you can give us your donations now, it’s not too late! Visit the Charity Giving site.

See the rest of the pictures on flickr

Our Reader Runners

Just look at the lengths we’re prepared to go to for sponsorship!

It’s the Run Liverpool 5K Team Challenge this Sunday 12th September, and the Reader Runners (though not all of them – phew) are facing the task of running dressed as various (and ever so slightly scary) animals.

Please sponsor us for just £2 – not only will you be supporting Our Read,  you’ll make the bear, rabbit and chicken very happy!

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).

A Miracle

In the heated theological debate about whether a miracle is a temporary suspension of natural law, or whether Some Higher Power works within nature to create what we perceive as a miracle, The Reader Organisation takes no part. We’re too busy trying to get people reading. But today, during the making of lunch, the matter was unavoidably thrust upon us. Take a look at the picture above. Particularly at the strange, miniature-basketball-like object poised above the latest edition of The Reader magazine. 

Is it a sign? Very possibly. A symbol? Almost certainly. An egg? Oh yes. And it’s spherical. Perfectly spherical.

All good revolutions need their own mythology. The first Reader miracle has, Dickens knows, taken a while to arrive. Now it has, the hermeneutics can begin. Several things, however, are certain: Sonja Sohn’s visit will be an astounding success; England will win the World Cup; and all the peoples of the Earth will put their differences aside and work together to create a better, gentler, more spherical world.

Or we could eat it…