Running, it’s good for your mental health


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?

Losty McLostface #3


Thanks to Dave Woodhead for the photo


There were definitely no footprints other than those left by sheep. And poo, the sheep had left that too. The few dozen runners racing ahead had either gone another way or floated above the sticky mud. Clearly someone was lost, I strongly suspected that someone was me.

Fortunately, I was bringing up the rear true to form, embarrassingly sporting the number one on my vest, I should have married Mr Zephyr and changed my first name to Zondra. A few hundred metres behind me was the final runner, plus the sweeper. Thank goodness, I thought, we can’t possibly go wrong with the sweeper, if all else failed, he could even carry me, at a pinch.

“Are we going the right way?” I called to the sweeper, the wind whipping my words.

“Oooo,” he pondered, looking at the featureless moorland around us, “I don’t know”, said the sweeper, let’s call him Ron, short for Wrong. So it was official, we were lost up on Ilkley Moor and only one of us had a hat. Catching a death of cold was in the offing.

We were just 2km into the 11km Rombolds Romp multiple choice race. You could do the trails, fells, or just get lost, the third was a destiny rather than a choice. The difference between trails and fells is the accessibility of the route. Trails are supposed to be easier to run on, almost kissing your feet, while fells are more technical and tricky. We’d set off on the trail but were now definitely on the fells, if not the wilderness. There were no markings, no stripey tape and no marshals in sight.

Fortunately I have an inbuilt compass and keen sense of direction, neither function, but it’s good to know they are there. The race briefing described a newly-demolished forest which I could see in the distance, beyond the heather, tussocks, bogs, shooting butts and something that looked like the Slough of Despond. I suggested we made a bee-line for that, as it was a certain landmark, but I was over-ruled. Ron, whose route-finding skills wouldn’t have got him his Scouts’ map-reading badge said we should head for the wall over to the right. It’s not a good idea to be alone on Ilkley Moor wearing nothing more than a tee-shirt and shorts, even if I did have a hat, so the three of us slowly made our way towards the wall. A marshal appeared and looked a little surprised to see we’d taken the scenic route.

I have to confess to being somewhat grumpy at this stage, I can get lost for free, I don’t need to pay for it, even if I do get a bottle of beer at the end. So back on course I put as much distance as I could between me and Ron to prevent the exchange of a few choice words. There was light relief when I hit a very steep stretch of road where the laconic Dave ‘Woodentops’ Woodhead was lying in wait with his camera. ‘Oh it’s you!’ I exclaimed, genuinely happy to see him. ”Tha’d better look as if tha’s running for t’photo’ he said, so I did. Dave and his wife Eileen give so much to the Yorkshire fell-running community and will be crowned monarchs of our fair county come the revolution of devolution.

Noel, who had done the fell race, or rather someone who looked like him, but painted shades of black and brown, greeted me at the end. It turns out he’d fallen full-length four times, probably showing off as usual.

The last runner and Ron followed some time later. I think Ron was presented with a framed map of the route and told never to tail run ever again.

Running a rainbow, being a rainbow



I laughed so much, I really thought I was going to crack a rib. It was one of those deep, long, belly laughs punctuated with hyperventilation, snorting and streams of mascara-tinted tears only stopping short of hysteria by a handful of purple powder which got me slap bang in the smacker.

All around, it was like someone had melted a rainbow. The usually peaceful and modest setting of Oakwell Hall was exploding with shrieks, shouts and colour as more than a thousand men, women, children and dogs, went mad with powder paint.

I usually end my runs sporting of a palette of off-white, mud, sweat and the obligatory dash of poo. But today was going to be different, today was the day I was going to be a rainbow, or as near to it as I could get.

The Colour Rush, in aid of Kirkwood Hospice, is an invitation for extroverts, and those dragged along by extroverts, to strut their stuff around the 5km parkrun course to be showered with coloured powder by volunteers who, I have to say, were getting rather carried away. Noel the introvert volunteered to remain monochrome and take photos, so everyone was happy!

On arrival, all clean in our pristine tee-shirts supplied for the occasion, we registered and picked up our packets of colour.  As two senior managers and one international academic, we were clearly not going to get too carried away. Not like the group of middle-aged women and their now multi-coloured pet poodle emerging from a cloud of green and blue. No, not us, nooooo.

But then, possessed by some kind of colour demon, one of our trio (not mentioning any names…JAZ!)  ripped open one of her packets and emptied it on the other two. It would have been rude not to reciprocate. Before we knew it, we too were engulfed in a colour cloud – and there was still an hour before the start of the run.

The course was punctuated with colour stations where we got a top-up, just in case we were losing our colour. We weren’t. Though we did take the opportunity to scatter the contents of our packets on fellow runners, they reciprocated. We even ran through a bit of mud, just to complement the rainbow explosion we were wearing.

By the time we reached the finish, there wasn’t any part of us that wasn’t covered in colour, and we were aching so much from laughing. But the best was yet to come. Before we could claim our medals and goodie bags, we had to grapple with a mini assault course, one of those inflatable bouncy-castle-style efforts with no sharp edges. The children were straight over, I was bounced around all over the place but managed to finish the right way up on the slide, with my dignity intact. OK, one out of two isn’t bad.

Colour runs should be available on prescription for everyone, as this was pure joy and family fun, making everyone smile and laugh out loud. I’m still chuckling, this will continue for some time, about the same amount of time as it will take to get all the colour from my hair, skin and clothes, ready for the next one!




When 運 means poo and luck


Do you feel lucky?


It’s a well-known fact that if a bird poos on you, it’s a sign of luck. Many a time, as the snot-green gloop fresh from a bird’s bottom worked its way from the roots to the ends of my hair, or wobbled on my shoulder like a raw egg, I’ve contemplated my good fortune. Really.

We set off as a foursome on the last of the Country Trail Races with the usual aim of enjoying the fabulous Yorkshire countryside as we bimbled around taking photos and generally having fun.

These races are different from others in that they are self-guided. No lining up at the start sporting a bin liner to keep warm until the off. Just sign up, pay your £5, get a sheet of complicated instructions and off you go. Noel the Navigator was unavailable and I was elected Deputy Navigator, hey, I was the best of the bunch, but even my three fellow runners would admit the bar was set quite low.

Actually we did rather well, just veering off course the once, I prefer to think of it as an exploratory foray. We crossed a couple of poo-pocked fields so it was hardly a surprise when I found myself similarly spattered with the stuff, with a great big smear across the back of my leg.

‘Oooo,’ said Maika, my Japanese friend. ‘You must be very lucky.’ She explained that in Japanese the word for poo was like the word for luck, 運. It’s good to know that some memes are truly international.

As we headed across another lucky field, I spotted stones, or trip hazards as I prefer to think of them, I was just about to turn round and shout a warning when I heard a thud and a splat. Maika had struck lucky, it was all over her hands.

Now all we need is for our luck to actually bring us something more than a large collection of cleaning products!

A swim in the Irish Sea


More than a toe in the Irish Sea


According to Maika, in Japan if the sea temperature plunges below 23C, competitive swimming is called off. Oh dear, I told her, if that were the case here in the north of England, we’d never go near the sea.

We were on our way to the Wrong Side of the Pennines for ridiculously inexpensive Blackpool Airshow 10km (£1 a mile, that’s my kind of entry fee) and had promised our Japanese friend that we’d swim in the sea afterwards. Not competitively, just for fun, so her 23C rule didn’t apply.

I wasn’t sure how wise a promise that was as I well remembered childhood holidays to Blackpool when the Irish Sea was so cold it was like grabbing hands squeezing the life out of my skinny little legs. I couldn’t wait to get out and resume my futile quest to build a sandcastle that would withstand the advancing tide, I don’t need to tell you how that panned out. Remembering the cold, I did wonder about purchasing a wet suit or maybe a dry suit for this little swim, but was pretty sure that would be seen as being over the top.

Maika is earning her Yorkshire stripes, having eaten mucky fat and Fat Rascals, supped real ale and gained her certificate in Intermediate Tyke, mastering weather-related phrases including ‘it’s coming down like stair rods’ when it’s raining hard and ‘I’m nithered’, meaning it’s rather cold. We’d warned her that the water may not be near 23C, in fact a nithering 13C was a more realistic temperature. She confesses she’s nesh (soft), or certainly was before her stay in God’s Own County, there has been a certain amount of acclimatisation to our soggy, cool climate.

With the run done, we picked up our swimming costumes and skipped down to the sea, the tide was on its way in so we made sure our dry clothes were on the sea wall, I didn’t fancy seeing my underwear bobbing up and down on the waves as they made their way across the Irish Sea.

Maika and Noel were straight in, none of this splashy-splashy toe-in, toe-out faffing. In fact I was a little worried that they’d set off to swim all the way to Ireland, Maika is a seriously good swimmer and I wouldn’t put it past her to have a go, if only to rescue our clothes if they were washed away.  I watched, I had an excuse, I had the camera. But being a gentleman, Noel came back and offered to hold the camera so that I didn’t miss out. Gee, thanks…

But as it turned out, the water was rather warm and the swimming was lovely. Unfortunately the advancing tide had its eye on our dry clothes and we had to head back pretty sharp. I could have stayed in for hours, well, several minutes at least, but it certainly made me want to swim in the sea again, which is just as well, because we’ve promised to take Maika to swim in as much of the water around the UK as we can – plus the inland lakes. Maybe that wetsuit isn’t such a bad idea after all..


Me NOT going in the sea when I was a lass




Pumps. That’s what we ran in. Pumps.


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….

Smile like you mean it….


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.