Running, it’s good for your mental health

 

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Thank you to Lizzie Coombes for the photo

 

Today is World Mental Health Day.  It’s a day to focus on what’s making us tick, and whether that ticking is working properly, or maybe it needs a bit of adjustment. It’s a powerful thing, the mind, great when it’s working well, debilitating when it’s not.

I love the NHS, I’ve worked in it for many years, I’ve been a patient all my life, it serves us well, particularly in emergencies and when there’s serious physical illness. But, and you know what they say, ignore everything before the ‘but’, when it comes to mental health services, the NHS is playing catch-up.

According to the Kings Fund, an excellent heath and social care think tank, three in four people with a mental health problem receive little or no treatment for their problem. If they are severely affected, they die up to 20 years before their time. Its report says mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the burden of disease in the UK, yet spending on mental health services is just 11 per cent of the NHS budget. Now there’s lots of caveats to those statements, the NHS, its funding and commissioning is complex, more layers than a very large onion, and peeling it can definitely bring tears to your eyes. I know I have worked in commissioning for many years and shed many a tear. But it is a fact that NHS support for mental well-being is severely under-resourced and under-funded.

The onus is therefore on individuals, where they are able, to help themselves as much as they can and for others to be in a position to provide that help. It’s what we do as humans, we try and look out for each other.

Top of my list for mental wellbeing is exercise, whether it’s running, skiing, climbing, hiking, yoga, circuit training or whatever else gets me a sweat on and the endorphins going. Then there’s talking, I have a lovely husband and friends who give me a good listening to.

But if I was to name just one activity that has made me smile when I felt like crying, held my hand when I felt lonely, opened up a whole new world of friendship and given me the chance to help others when they are going through bad times, its parkrun. The weekend just gone was International parkrun Day and at Woodhouse Moor,  we celebrated our tenth birthday, there were more than 600 runners and volunteers enjoying a 5km run, jog or walk. If I could capture and bottle the joy and camaraderie of that day, or indeed any Saturday morning, I would give it to the NHS to distribute free to everyone. Wouldn’t that be great?

One potato, two potato, three potato, four – million!

Potato

It seems like an age ago that the little, wizened seed potatoes with their weird white sprouts and spooky rootlets were carried down to the allotment in their cosy egg-box homes and planted in the cold, dark soil.

That couple of dozen of the ugly little lumps were left to their own devices and the Calverley elements. Though after last year’s potato paucity, I was taking no chances and offered a prayer to the weather gods and made a ceremonial sacrifice of one of their number to Blighty, the Blight Destroyer, which involved robes, candles, chanting and a sharp spade.

It’s year three of our allotment, and it’s fair to say lessons continue to be learned. Who knew that dwarf beans weren’t just small beans, but small plants and didn’t need a splendid wigwam of two-metre-high canes with artistically-arranged strings? And what were the odds of pigeons pecking the tops of everything that wasn’t covered? And just how much damage could a badger do to a seed bed?

With my artist’s head on, I’m telling anyone who’s prepared to listen without bursting into hysterical laughter that the wigwam is a feature in the allotment, adding balance, depth and sound, with the breeze making gentle hissing sound through the string. The pecked leaves are fractals, each unique, yet ephemeral. The neat rows of seedlings re-distributed by the digging badger are a metaphor for the world of 2017, unpredictability and chaos, yet still with hope that something will grow somewhere……No-one has believed me so far.

As the potatoes sent up their stalk, leaves, flowers and faux tomatoes, yes, potato fruits are like tomatoes, though not to be eaten, the rest of the allotment burst into life. The broad beans just keep on giving, the strawberries were fantastic fresh and live on as jam, and the second harvest of golden raspberries is nearly ready. Broccoli, sprouts and cabbage are on their way, beetroot and onions keep on giving. The dwarf beans are disappointingly small.

Fun though the rest are to harvest, the most rewarding of all is definitely the humble potato. In the intervening months, those wizened seed potatoes had cast off their scruffy jackets and transformed into not just one, but dozens, possibly millions, of potatoes. I claim a little artistic licence here. It’s not like onions, where you plant a little mini onion and it grows to be a bigger onion, potatoes multiply like Hydra’s heads. In goes the fork, our come the potatoes, it’s so fantastic that I have to exclaim and chuckle with every potato I unearth. Noel tends to wear noise-cancelling headphones at potato harvest time.

And there we have it, two piles of potatoes, one perfect, the other with feature holes and other insect nibblings. But never fear, the perfect ones go into our magic black keeping bin for consumption right through the winter, which if the current weather is anything to go by, starts next week. The holey ones become chips for freezing, slices for Lyonnaise, little cubes for roasting, or just mash. Happy, happy days.

The Great De-Cluttering

 

Wardrobe
The massive middle section

The house has been in chaos for what seems like months now. First the old windows were ripped out and replaced, then the kitchen was ripped out and replaced. There was a lot of ripping out and replacing going on. Nothing was where it should be, boxes of who-knows-what were piled up randomly, dust was everywhere and the cats were so stressed out, they needed counselling.

Noel must have been affected by the solvent fumes because as he stepped over all the leftover plinths, flooring and architraves stacked in the spare bedroom because he announced that we should prolong the chaos and have built-in wardrobes the full four-metre length of the wall. That would be some storage space, Noel could even sleep in there if he misbehaved, not that that happens very often.

On the plus side, 17 years’ worth of clutter could be cunningly hidden behind floor to ceiling sliding doors, on the minus side, all the clutter would have to be sorted, moved and moved back. Plus we were looking after the contents of a friend’s flat as he took a cycling sabbatical and that too was stacked up in the spare room.

He argued that another month or so of not being able to find anything would be worth it, we’d be de-cluttered. The cats weren’t so sure and I had my doubts, especially as we seemed to have so much stuff. Good grief, where did it all come from and why did we keep it? Do I really need every birthday card I ever had (that’s a lot of card) and every newspaper cutting I’ve ever written, hell, yes, that’s proper history, that is!

We got to be on first name terms with the guys at the tip, our trips there were frequent. Leeds City Council has a superb re-cycling set-up ensuring the minimum goes into landfill, we are now experts on what goes into which skips. The local charity shops also welcome us with open arms and a cup of tea, though heaven knows what they make of our eclectic tastes.

Our personal joiner (as we now like to think of him) did a superb job, though it was touch and go getting the three huge doors up the stairs and manoeuvring them around the corner into the room. At one point I thought we’d have to move the wardrobe to the landing which would have been a bit of a squeeze. But then it was done. The clutter decanted and the doors closed.

Now, about the wardrobes in our room, they’re looking as if they’ve passed their sell-by date. I feel more chaos approaching….

 

Pumps. That’s what we ran in. Pumps.

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Pumps. That’s what we ran in when I was a lass. Pumps. Thin white canvas glued to a cardboard last and a thin rubber sole with a fancy bit of border to hide the seal, unless they came from the cheap stall on Dewsbury Market. Mine came from the cheap stall so I’d to be careful not to break them, which was zero chance really.

The only way to keep them in their pristine white condition was a thin, white paint. It was the forerunner of the new-fangled non-drip sponge applicators and unlike them, applied as much of the stuff to hands, face, legs and best kitchen lino. I was permanently white, except for the tide mark around my neck and the bits behind my ears. If you didn’t get dirty playing out, then you weren’t having enough fun in my book.

They looked magnificent in their white whiteiness, but as soon as the laces were pulled through the eyelets, the whole lot cracked and fell to the ground like a giant shell. Still, it didn’t affect their performance, I was a slow runner then and I am now. But in their favour, they only cost half a crown, or 12.5p in new money. Yes, it was a long time ago.

Sadly now, there’s not a pair of pumps to be seen, unless you count the Dunlop Green Flash, which is sold as ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’. I saw a posting on a runners’ forum by a guy who said he’d done a 100-mile ultra in a pair and had to have his feet cut out at the end.  Well, that was a waste of good money, that was!

My beloved Salomon Scream trail shoes, which were not cheap, have finally given up the ghost. They’ve seen me through many a mile of mud, streams, forest floors, canal towpaths and, of course, poo. I have three pairs of Salomon trail shoes, ranging from Speedcross, which scythe through mud and peat, bounce off rocks and help form a very special kind of blister, S-Labs, which were eye-wateringly expensive but are comfortable and great for long runs (plus, they are red) and the not-very-off-road-but-too-rough-for-road-shoes Screams which serve me for the training treks through the local woods. Sadly the Screams have screamed their last.

It is all very well ordering replacements over the internet, but there’s nothing like shopping locally and getting the benefit of a good piece of Yorkshire advice, whether you want it or not. Plus, the internet doesn’t know your feet and you never know quite what you’re going to get.  I’d learned this the hard way earlier this year when I ordered replacements for my favourite Asics road shoes. The model had changed and they didn’t fit, yes I could return them, but I’d run in them already, deluding myself they fitted. Thankfully the Complete Runner at Ilkley had the answer, free Yorkshire advice, I’ve loved them ever since.

The choice of running shoes is overwhelming and the prices that go with them unbelievable, none of your half-crown Dewsbury Market pumps there. It turned out that Asics did some rather nice purple shoes, which go well with my hair and club colours. Oh and yes, they fitted very well and were nearly half the price of the Screams, which the unassuming footwear-fitter said he’d only wear in the car going to and from a race. You don’t get that kind of advice from your internet supplier. He offered me a Gore-Tex version but then said he’d only wear them for faffing around in the garden, pointing out that once the water was in, it couldn’t easily get out. I agreed.

So now we’ve had torrential rain, the mud will be nicely sticky, just right to try these beauties out….

I got myself a new guitar strap

Guitar

So, I got myself a new guitar strap. About time, really, the old one must have perished in the case as my guitar sat unplayed and neglected in the spare bedroom, waiting to be picked up and strummed, maybe even serenaded.

When I took up the guitar as a teenager, I couldn’t afford a real instrument, I needed to save up my pocket money and the cash from my Saturday job at the corner shop to buy one.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a fret board, when I’ve made up my mind, that’s it, I need to get on with it, and smartish. So I summoned all my creativity and initiative and made a cardoard fretboard,  sellotaping six lengths of cotton to it so I could practice the chord shapes, I had to make the sound myself, I’m not sure how in tune that was.

I bought my guitar from Dewsbury’s only music shop, paying £2 a week, which was recorded on a little pink card. The guitar waited 20 weeks for me, I had a peek of it each time I went, it was still in the window with a little ‘sold’ sticker. Personally I’d have liked them to say ‘keep off, it’s Anne’s, she’s worked hard for this!’

The day I took it home, on the bus, in its box (a case for it was extra and I wasn’t about to start another pink card for that), was a day of supreme happiness. I’m not sure the neighbours agreed, especially when I started singing along with my strumming. I didn’t care, I had a guitar and I could make tunes, some of them were even recognisable.

With my friends Julie, Frank and Andrew we started a band, it was a very clean-living band, a bit like the Osmonds but without the teeth and the talent. We played in our local church and went on tour, getting as far as Dewsbury where we won the Methodist Circuit’s version of The X Factor with a rather catchy version of the Van der Valk theme Eye Level. It’s not worn well.

There were no artistic differences, but we split up when we all left home for careers and university. I pursued a solo career, even winning the same Methodist X Factor with a wacky version of Killing Me Softly, it was the pinnacle of my singing career, I knew I could reach no higher, so changed direction, choosing to write words rather than singing them, it had more prospects, showbusiness is a cut-throat world, unlike the media…

Over all the years, I’ve kept that guitar, though for various reasons, some of them a little too serious for a light-hearted blog, I’ve not played it. Then the choir I’m in, which usually sings a capella, had a number which needed a guitar and I found myself blurting out that I’d bring mine. What was I thinking? It needed re-stringing, my fingers would be cut to ribbons, I’d never be able to tune it, plus, it didn’t have a strap. Excuses, excuses. Just get on with it, Noel said. So I did, and it feels good, very good indeed, apart from the numb fingertips. There won’t be any come-back concerts, but my guitar and I are back together again. Fortunately for the neighbours, our walls are very thick!

Smile like you mean it….

 

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The lovely Christine

 

There are some races I’d much rather photograph than run, especially when, as we say in Yorkshire, it’s cracking the flags. Give me the cold and wet any day, especially when there’s mud, you can’t go wrong with a bit of mud.

The popular Leeds 10k was set up by Superwoman Jane Tomlinson, who fought a massive and brave battle against cancer, raising £1.85m before she died ten years ago. Each year thousands pound the pavements and roads between the city centre and Kirkstall. It’s a magnificent sight, which Noel and I like to support.

I take my camera, little wooden Ikea step to stand on, a good supply of water and a couple of Yorkshire flags. And my shouting voice, actually, I take that everywhere.

The beauty of not being any kind of official photographer is that I can take any photo I like, I’m not bound to snap snap snap. I do like to take arty shots, shapes and shadows, taking advantage of the angle of the sun and all that. Sunday was particularly good for sunshine and shadow, the runners looked like they had a golden outline, their shadows a mini version, joined at the feet.

By the time they reached us just beyond the 4km mark, the sun was high and the heat was rising from the black tarmac. Not many of the runners looked as if they were enjoying themselves, I didn’t blame them.

I do have a golden rule when photographing runners, I won’t upload any shot that will make anyone look terrible. It was a bit of a challenge with everyone looking so hot and bothered, so I had to resort to my secret weapon, shout something silly, make people smile. Actually, it’s not too secret a weapon, silliness would be my middle name, if I had one.

There’s always the added advantage that I know quite a few runners in the city, so calling their name and cheering them on usually brings a smile and I’m pretty certain they mean it. Then there are the folk who recognise me, there was more than one ‘Hello Mrs parkrun!’.

At one point my steps came in handy for a couple who needed a rest, and I did come to the rescue of a superhero who was rapidly dehydrating in his rubber suit. Well, they don’t get any sun in Gotham City, Batman should have known better.

I posted the best photos to Facebook, the others, I just deleted! Have a look and see what you think.

When it’s too hot to run…but you do it anyway

 

Pudsey10k2017
Nearly there – thank you to the wonderful Simon Cullingworth whose photo makes me look like I’m actually enjoying myself!

 

You know it’s going to be a hot one when you’re only on the start line and the sweat is already trickling down your back and gushing into your butt crack. Gross, I know, but sometimes you just have to tell it as it is.

The heat was no surprise, with a forecast of 27C, but I’d paid and I was bloomin’ well going to run, or shuffle at the very least, I’m from Yorkshire, me, I like to get my money’s worth.

The midnight migraine hadn’t helped, though the drugs had, unfortunately they are performance-diminishing and add lead to my legs and that general feeling of fuzziness to my head. Thank goodness there were no random drug tests, though they may have taken pity and upped me a few places.

The Pudsey 10K isn’t for wimps, mainly off-road, just short of 200m altitude gain and lots of hills, including a sneaky one at the end, just when you don’t want it. But I’d run it before and I knew what I was in for. Noel’s ITB was playing up so he didn’t want to risk further injury and gallantly offered to take photos. I considered running it twice, so as not to waste his place, but the marshals couldn’t stay there until midnight, they’d much better things to do.

I made sure I took precautions, hat, sunglasses, factor 50 liberally applied and, for good measure, a pack with a litre of water. There was only one official water stop on the run and that was at the highest point, I was certain I would have expired by then if I didn’t carry my own. I even considered making a batch of marzipan balls for extra energy but in that heat, they’d have been liquid before the first hill, I’m not sure the world is ready for marzipan drinks yet. It seemed over the top when most of the runners around me were bare-headed and pack-free, but fair Irish skin (Irish since the Brexit debacle!), a complete aversion to heat and a migraine-induced fuzziness made it a necessity.

It’s never a good sign when a paramedic comes hurtling past you on a quadbike just three kilometres into the race.  When I got to the water stop, I found him helping my lovely friend Karen, who had twisted her ankle. Her race was over, though she was there at the finish cheering folk in after getting a lift back, and she’d claimed her tee-shirt (she’s from Yorkshire too!)

There were a couple of ambulances near the finish which were unfortunately occupied by runners who looked like they’d succumbed to the heat, I understand they were OK – I hope they got their tee-shirts!

As always, the support for this local race organised by the Pudsey Pacers was amazing. I was thrilled to be squirted with Supersoakers – after being politely asked if I’d like to be soaked. Oh yes, that did very nicely. As did the water from a hosepipe aimed at us (thanks, guys!) and all the extra water to pour over my head.

Even so, it was brutal, I walked where I should have run, if it hadn’t have been for the encouragement of the marshals, supporters and photographers pointing their lenses at me so I had to run, I would have given up and I don’t give up easily.

The best bit, though, was to turn the final corner and eyeball the finish line. Two of my team mates ran beside me, oh my goodness, that gave me such a boost. The rest stood there cheering, I felt like I’d won the race rather than brought up the rear, it was fabulous. I’ll be back next year, whatever the temperature.