A swim in the Irish Sea

 

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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..

 

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Me NOT going in the sea when I was a lass

 

 

 

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….

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.

Rubbing the dockleaf

Country

Race routes are often like a little present for me, handing out surprise hills, cheeky little corners, the odd river crossing. But most of the time, it’s all there on a map, should I choose to consult one and if it’s the right way up and if I have my glasses. Anyway on the day there are friendly marshals on every corner assuring us that we’re ‘nearly there’, even when we’ve just set off. I suppose that there’s some truth in that, every step from the start is a step nearer the finish.

Usually, I just turn up and run, following everyone else because I know that chances of everyone following me are next to zero unless, of course, the are lost, and then we’re all doomed!

But the rather excellent Country Trail Series of self-guided races throws in a bit of jeopardy. You just turn up, get your instructions and run. No chip timing, no mass start, just pay your fiver in the pub where the organisers give you your number and instructions and off you go.

There is no map, which I’m quite relieved about, I can’t see the damned thing without my glasses anyway and I can’t run in my glasses, so that whole glasses on/glasses off thing is just too much of a faff. Instead, the instructions are written in a code, with the cipher at the start,. Fortunately it’s also on 14pt so even I can read it.

It’s a bit like one of those Magic Eye things popular in the 90s, look at it long enough and it makes sense. So TL out of the car park, go SA to the FPS now makes total sense, and as did turn left, go straight ahead and found the footpath sign. Personally, I’d navigate by coloured doors, pretty gardens, pubs and even fields with bulls, but that’s just me.

Our Japanese friend Maika was initially perplexed by the instructions, she confessed she could never follow those instructions. She wasn’t on her own, we did come across a couple of speedy runners twice, they pretended they’d taken the scenic route, but we know better, don’t we?

Our race last night was over in the east of Leeds, somewhere I’d never been before, so it was a pleasure to see new sights and even more so to point them out to Maika who is well on her way to becoming a true Yorkshire woman. She learned about dung heaps, we passed a steaming one, local crops, including wheat, barley and potatoes, noted the livestock and the very obvious difference between a bull and a cow and picked up the handy tip about rubbing nettle stings with a dockleaf.

We ran in a group of six, stopping to take photos and admire the view, then ambled to the finish where, best of all, we swapped our race numbers for a £2 beer (or soft drink) voucher and ordered chips. Definitely my kind of race!

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

 

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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.

Through the eyes of others

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I can say without fear of any contradiction that I know every stone, tree root, puddle, muddy rut and pothole on my training run through the woods. I can tell you where the jay and her family live, the woodpecker’s favourite tree, the exact place where the rainwater will gush out from down the slope after a downpour. And where I’ll trip up. Every time.

I’ve lost count of the kilometres I’ve notched up running through my local woods. They are very familiar old friends, so familiar in fact that they have become ordinary. Maybe even a little dull.

So when my lovely friend Jaz said she needed to do a short Sunday morning run, four miles or so, as part of her training for a half marathon, I suggested she join us. It was just the woods, I told her, nothing special.

As we passed Mud Ridge #1, as I affectionately know it, Jaz marvelled at the view. Yes, I reflected, managing to avoid tripping up in the usual place, but stumbling a little further on, this is rather lovely, beautiful, maybe.

The rest of the run I saw through Jaz’s eyes. It was all new to her, she was drinking in the woodland, the flowers, the beautiful light, the smell of the wild garlic and the last of the bluebells.

“You are so lucky to live near all this and run here whenever you want,” she said, and she meant it.

Our Japanese friend Maika says the more she sees of this country, particularly Yorkshire, the more she loves it, she’s amazed by its beauty, whether it’s the local woods, the moors or the coast. To me, they were ordinary, but now I’ve seen them again through the eyes of my friends, they are most certainly extraordinary, today and every day.

Too good a goodie bag

 

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Heading for the goodie bag – thanks to Maika for the photo

 

Once the race is finished, it’s free calories all around for about 20 minutes. While the muscles and other internal bits and pieces are doing their ‘what the heck?’ thing and screaming for calories, it’s safe to eat rubbish. Well, that’s my interpretation of the empirical evidence anyway. I like to have a scientific foundation for my gluttony.

So grabbing the goodie bag as I crossed the finishing line and guzzling the entire contents seemed like a sensible thing to do. I’d worked hard, ten miles of Yorkshire hills starting and finishing in Ripon and taking in the beautiful Studley Royal, where the hill was so long and steep there were two ambulances parked at the top. I waved as I staggered past, they waved back, something like pity showing in their eyes.

We weren’t meant to be doing this race. There was a half marathon down in Nottinghamshire that had our name on it. The inaugural Sherwood Pines Half promised a trail race in a lovely place with the bonus of just about ten metres of total ascent. But five days beforehand the organisers announced its postponement, saying there weren’t enough volunteers. Now at £28 each to enter, I wouldn’t expect them to rely on volunteers, alarm bells were ringing. Training had been done and my trainers were ready to run, so another race had to be found. Thank goodness for the Ripon Runners!

It was a good start- bacon butties and sausage sandwiches were on sale beforehand, I resisted, I’d a pocket full of marzipan balls and the promise of jelly babies on the way. There were about 400 runners and a fair number of marshals and the day was warm and sunny.

I built up a fair hunger on the way round, and was positively gagging for the contents of the goodie bag as I staggered over the line. I may not have been the quickest runner, but I must have been in the top ten for making the contents of the bag disappear. It’s surprising how quickly  a banana, then a Mars Bar, then another banana went down, followed by a bottle of water and chew on the Yorkshire teabags. There may have been another Mars Bar somewhere in there. The Ripon 10 Buff was looking tasty, but I resisted that.

Without going into any further detail, I concluded that the reason those post-run calories were seen as free was because they didn’t stay around long enough to be …errrr…processed. I blame the teabags. Lesson learned!