The Sound of Running

Today I was sitting at my computer, working away, when the sound of seagulls distracted me and I remembered some of the  wonderful runs I had enjoyed where that was the sound track. I thought that I must have blogged about it in the past so had a little rummage in the archives and here it is:

Running to me is not abDSC_0035out exercise, muscle and sinews; it is a sensuous thing involving all the senses. My auditory senses were the main beneficiary on Sunday. I ran from home and had to pass through a small housing estate, along a footpath to the local primary school and then out into the fields and woods. As I passed through the estate there was the sound of children playing outside, how wonderful to hear children enjoying the open air and being sociable. Along the footpath I caught up with a woman pushing a child in a buggy. She was chatting away to the child, pointing out all the things to look at; primroses, a starling, a dog. There can be no more heart-warming sound than a mother talking lovingly to her child.

As I neared the fields I could hear sheep making quite a din and as I got closer the noise got more frenetic. Then I saw why, the farmer had just arrived with a sack of feed. I stopped and chatted with her for a while then ran on. As I got further away the noise die down and for a moment all I could hear was my breathing and the sound off my feet of the tarmac drive. That soften as I turned on to the muddy track, however my breathing got louder as it was uphill.

Then came the sound of the church bells from the nearby village, which got louder as I approached. I love churches and I love the sound of bells. I’m not religious at all, but I think churches are a great link with the community and the past; a constant thread stretching back hundreds of years. The bells fell silent and I stayed a while enjoying the peace and looking out over the cemetery. It is well maintained and many of the graves have fresh flowers on them. I don’t see it as a place of death, but a remembrance of lives once lived.

My route took me towards the sea and the evocative cries of seagulls. For me that sound conjures up memories of holidays on the coast; sunshine, paddling in the sea, sand between your toes, ice-cream and drifting off to sleep tired and contented. Then I turned inland across a stream and into the woods. I find the sound of running water relaxing, unless it’s a raging torrent, then I find it invigorating. In the woods small birds were calling out, either to mark their territory or to attract a mate. All too soon I was out of the woods and back into the fields where the only sound was my breathing. When I passed them again the sheep were silent, presumably their hunger was satisfied.

It was then back through the estate where my contemplative mood was rudely interrupted by the strident beeping of a lorry reversing. My magic running world was gone, but I’ll be back there again soon.


The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – Myth

After 20 years of being a long-distance runner I have Lonliness of the long distamce runnereventually got around to reading “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” by Alan Sillitoe. I was surprised to find that it was a short story not a novel, was about cross-country rather than distance running (the race is only 5 miles) and is not about loneliness. I didn’t think much of it, but that may be because I don’t think enough. There seems to be more written about the story than there are words in the story itself. Here is a short extract from Wikipedia.

‘Sillitoe uses running in his story as a means of isolation. Running is a solitary action and therefore allows Smith to begin to understand and become aware of the class divisions in Britain. Smith, the narrator of the story, is also a writer and he is an allegoric version of Sillitoe and the isolation that all authors suffer from. Smith is a solitary runner who gets political clarity through running and isolation, just as an author writes alone and thinks alone. The long distance runner and the writer are both individualistic and isolated so that they are able to produce their commodities. The metaphor used to compare both the author and the runner is similar to the author losing his purity when he publishes a work just as Smith loses his purity when he enters the race.
During the time period that Sillitoe wrote “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” the idea of the runner was changing dramatically. The purity of running was taken away when Smith entered the race because the race dehumanised him. The race made Smith a commodity for nationalisation that he was uncomfortable with. When the sport of running became professional it lost its sense of purity and became a commodity. Sillitoe rejects the commoditisation of running in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. This is why Smith chooses to forfeit the race. Helen Small states, “…the weight of literary attention seems to be focused on a ‘pre-professional era’—either written at that time or looking back at it for inspiration”. The professional runner becomes commercialised and loses the clarity of thought that comes with running for pure passion and pleasure. Sillitoe was an author who believed in the unadulterated sport of running.’

Wow I’m glad I’m not a professional runner who has been dehumanised and commoditised, although I do think there are some worrying developments in our sport driven by clever marketing people. I certainly experience the pure passion and pleasure that comes from running. Perhaps that is because I don’t own any running technology and until recently thought Strava was a Greek pastry.

I think a lot of runners get a great deal of clarity from long distance running, but I would not describe it as a lonely sport. Yes, there are long runs alone, but there is also the camaraderie of races, clubs, training groups etc. In the UK the long Sunday run is often done in isolation, but in South Africa, where many runners are preparing for Comrades, the Sunday run is a social, early morning affair followed by brunch at a cafe (they start very early). And nowadays there is all the friendly banter on social media. It is only a lonely sport if you want it to be.


Shine Night Walk 2017 – Emotions

ShineIf you want an account of the event then read these excellent blogs from:

Action PR, Miranda, & Martin or watch the awesome video by Richard.

I am going to write about my thoughts and emotions.


I didn’t give much thought to the event beforehand; I’d entered as a result of my yes/no principle (see blog post 19th June 2017). Say yes more to different, challenging and exciting things; say no more to boring stuff and people stealing my time. Charlotte from the National Running Show contacted the ambassadors asking for bloggers to join the Action PR team to take on the challenge of walking the Shine Night Walk. I have never walked a marathon (I have walked parts of some tough hilly ones) and the thought of doing so at night in London appealed, so I signed up. I didn’t give it another thought after that until the day before, when I sorted out the logistics of getting there.

The last part of the trip was easy, I just had to follow the thousands of people making their way to Southwark Park, this was when I realised that the event was going to be something special. We were isolated from most of the excitement at the start as we were shown to a VIP/Media area behind the stage. A fancy name for a small gazebo with some white plastic chairs, but it still felt special. We were lead out just before the official start so that we would be at the front on the start line.  A first for me – being in the front of an event.

The emotions came when the first walkers started passing us, they were there for a much more poignant reason than I was; remembering, honouring and celebrating the life of someone who had died of cancer. Many walkers had messages pinned to the backs of their tops mentioning loved ones, some had the date of when the person had died. Some had died long ago, but their memories were still deeply cherished. Others had passed away more recently. I was particularly touched by one message “For Mary my sister 19/7/17”. My father died of liver cancer when I was a teenager so I  have an understanding of  how much pain and turmoil is involved when there is a death in the family. For that walker the pain must have still been very raw, I admired her strength and courage.

For some, with the support of friends, the night was a celebration to remember a loved one, for others it was a very painful ordeal and they needed the support of friends to get through the experience. Towards the end of the event, as energy supplies were depleted, it became even harder for some, but they kept battling on. I have the utmost respect for them. I run marathons regularly so for me to walk one was not difficult, although I think it is easier to run than walk, but for most people it was a totally new experience and they rose to the challenge only allowing tiredness and grief to overcome them when they had finished what they set out to do; remember and honour a missing loved one.

My father died over 40 years ago and I thought I had sorted out how I felt about that, but I obviously hadn’t because, as I walked, emotions swirled around in my head and memories came back that I had long forgotten, or perhaps suppressed. Being with so many people who had lost someone in a way gave me permission and a safe environment to examine my feelings. I am very grateful for that opportunity and feel that I have now sorted out what was a little bit of unfinished business.

Shine walkers I feel very humble to have been part of that amazing event.



Create a will list (nothing to do with dying)

imageMany people have a bucket list of things that they would like to do. Very often they are things they would like to do when they win the lottery, or when the children leave home or when they retire, which means they will never actually do them.

If you are serious about doing stuff you need to put a few of those things on a ‘will list’ i.e. they are things you will do. The language we use and the words we chose say a lot about our intentions. ‘I hope to’, ‘I’d like’ to give us an excuse not to. Close that door so there is no way out and say I will.

Commitment is scary, but without it achievement and fulfilment are unlikely.

Fitness guru, Julia Buckley has a great video about commitment .

Advice – how do you know if it is any good?

adviceAlanis Morissette – Ironic

“It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take”

Not following good advice is annoying, but listening to bad advice is even worse and can be disastrous. How can you tell the difference between the good, the bad and the indifferent? Fortunately there are some simple questions you can ask yourself to judge how good the advice you are being offered is likely to be.

  • Do you know the person? Can they be trusted. If you don’t know them do some research to see if they have the relevant knowledge and experience.
  • Are they just displaying their knowledge or are they applying it to your circumstances?
  • Are they similar in nature to you or at least sympathetic to your goals? If they always want to win and you just want to complete then their advice may not be appropriate.
  • Is the advice supported by other people’s opinions. But remember Copernicus and later Galileo were lone voices and they were right.
  • Does it feel right. Sometimes we instinctively know when something is wrong because we have unconsciously processed  important information.

As a general rule the more emphatic someone is that you should do something the more likely it is that you shouldn’t.

The best advice will come from you with the benefit of experience. Don’t let it be the good advice that you just didn’t take. The second time you get kicked by a donkey you don’t learn anything (Old Spanish proverb).





imageLast weekend I found myself with time on my hands and infront of a TV, a very rare occurrence. I took away some great running lessons from that lazy time. It took a while to master the two remote controls and the settings on the devices (massive flatscreen TV and Sky+ box), but I eventually got it all working. Out of the 100s of channels available there was only one that interested me; the BBCs coverage of the Great North City Games.

Wow! What a great event, bringing sport to the people by holding the events on the quayside of Newcastle and Gateshead. I loved the coverage, especially as several of my heroes (Denise Lewis, Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram) were among the presenters. For many of the competitors it was their last event of the season and they were enjoying a last outing without the usual pressure; they were enjoying themselves and that came through in the interviews, as did their love of the sport.

Some of the events were a little unusual, the 150 metre sprint, a 500 metre race and the mile along the street rather than on the track. This presented some difficulties to the runners. In the women’s 500 metre event the runner in a strong lead tired dramatically just after 400 metres and it was like she was running through treacle as the rest of the field caught her up. Presumably she had run too close to her 400 metre pace and had little left for the last 100 metres. Some of the mile runners found judging pace difficult without the usual markers they would see on a track. The winner in the men’s race judged his pace perfectly. I was not surprised to learn that he had been out on the course several times before the event to identify key places on the course.

I took away two big lessons from my TV sessions. One, top athletes have an off-season when they rest. Unfortunately for road and trail runners it is possible to find a race every weekend, and sometimes mid- week ones, throughout the year. Some people run too much. This impacts their performance and can lead to injury, burn-out and possibly a loss of love for the sport. I cannot hope to match Kilian Jornet’s running achievements, but I can make my racing schedule similar to his and have suffiecient rest periods. Take a look at his race calendars for the last few years.

Two: I learnt that some people do not do well when something changes (e.g. The distance or the terrain) so getting used to variety will serve you well. If you always race at 10am what happens when a race starts at 1pm? I got caught out by this once at the Shakespeare Marathon when it started at 1 pm. I think it has now reverted to a more normal time. If you judge race pace by the mile markers what will happen in a race where there aren’t any or the markers are every kilometre?

Consistency in training is good, but it pays to mix it up a bit. Variety is the spice of life and it will help when life delivers a curve ball.




The importance of being a runner

imageI was on Twitter and noticed that someone’s bio described them as “A runner (not a jogger)” and wondered why the avoidance of doubt was so important to him. Neither term is well defined so, although the description tells us something about his character, it tells us nothing about his attributes as a runner. It was obviously a slow day because I kept coming back to those two terms.

I think most people have a fairly clear idea of what a jogger is, especially joggers, who would probably be flattered to be called a runner. On the other hand most runners would be a little miffed to be called a jogger, some would be deeply offended. But what is a runner? Is it defined in reaching a certain standard in terms of speed or distance run or, perhaps how often you train?

Looking at the Olympic events where athletes are self-propelled on two legs might help. It would seem that distance, with a few exceptions, isn’t important. 100 metre and 200 metre athletes are described as sprinters not runners. At 400, 800, 1,500, 5,000, 10,000 metres and the marathon they are described as runners. There is no race distance in the Olympics above marathon where the athletes are described as runners (there is a strange breed called ultramarathon runners, but not in the Olympics). There is a 50k event, but that is a race walk. The rules state that one foot must be on the ground at all times, so this does gives us some sort of definition of being a runner (not having one foot on the ground at all times), but that would also apply to joggers and hopping. Joggers also cover distances up to about 5k. That would suggest a definition of a runner as someone covering a distance of over 5k, self-propelled on foot and not having one foot on the floor at all times. That would be a bit daft as it would exclude guys like Steve Cram, a 1,500 metre runner who was a bit quick, however, I did beat him once: Comrades Marathon 1999, this is a 56-mile event so he is definitely an ultramarathon runner.

So perhaps it is speed that is the defining attribute; slow = jogger, fast = runner, lightening = sprinter. However, that has it’s problems, I think a slow runner could be overtaken by a jogger, especially if it was Steve Cram doing the jogging. When I was in my 40’s I could knock out a marathon in just over 3 and a half hours, now in my 60’s sub 5 is a good goal. The now me is no less a runner than the then me, just as the then me was no less a runner than the now me.

I don’t think external physical metrics can define being a runner. Someone rushing for the bus or a miscreant fleeing from the law  will conform to those metrics, without being a runner, although the later is doing a runner.  I believe the answer lies within us. If you think you are a runner, you are a runner. I hope my Twitter friend finds the confidence to allow him to drop the “not a jogger” epithet.

P.s Steve Cram commented on my running once; he called me a donkey.