Running…because I can

Thanks to Andy Wicks for the photo

I had a lovely running friend, sadly no longer with us, who was a great inspiration to all of us who enter races knowing we haven’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of bothering the prizewinners.

Arthur James a sprightly septuagenarian, ran as best he could then finished with a thundering sprint. ‘Run….because you can…’ he said. And I did.

It’s now ten years since I ran my first ever 10km through the dark satanic mills of Dewsbury and Batley, passing the HQ of an organisation that had treated me very badly and resisting the temptation to make a moon-related gesture. Never in my whole life did I think I would run that immense distance, especially in my late 40s without the need for supplementary oxygen and emergency chocolate. The very idea! But I did, and I didn’t collapse in a heap, in fact, I was euphoric. And I got a tee-shirt and what’s more it still fits!

Joining a club and taking part in races was a natural next step, that was after I bought suitable trainers and movement-limiting running gear. Did you know breasts have no muscles and left unrestrained, will make a figure of eight when running causing untold damage and massive chafeage? I discovered that very quickly and thank my lucky stars for Shock Absorber #4 which keeps everything in place, though does catapult across the room when unhooked. I once found it hanging lazily from the reading lamp after looking everywhere, that’s the power of elastic.

But it can be a bit disheartening when all the fast folk just breeze past on their second lap and I’m puffing and panting, hardly able to acknowledge their encouragement. My poor legs just plod away and I feel like I’m getting slower and slower!

Noel was quick to give advice, ‘If you want to run fast, then move your legs quicker…’ Excellent. You can imagine the response. He’s right, though, and I’m working on it, speed sessions, hill training, it’s hard work and sometimes it doesn’t feel it’s making a difference. But I’m motivated and encouraged by Arthur’s words, I can run, so what’s wrong with that? It’s not about racing or medals, though I confess I do like a bit of bling.

The best run I had recently was splashing through the fresh snowfall in the local woods, savouring the clean, crisp air, the winter sleepiness of the leafless trees, the glimpse of the occasional bird, the sound of my own unlaboured breathing, the total freedom of running, is there anything better, really?

So as I enter my second decade of  running, I do want to run freer and faster. But most of all, I want to run just because I can. Thank you Arthur.

Santas, stormtroopers and sushi


Leeds. Eight-thirty on a Sunday morning just before Christmas, two Santas, shivering in the sub-zero temperature, stride through the near-deserted streets. The only people they pass look straight ahead, pretending they aren’t there. Pretending we aren’t there, for I am one of those Santas.

Being good Yorkshire folk, careful with our hard-earned cash, we’d parked some distance from the city centre where it cost only half a crown for the whole day, so we were quite alone, Sue and I, the two Santas, with our trusty minder and photographer Noel. Noel wasn’t a Santa, he doesn’t do dressing up. No wonder the remains of the late-night revellers didn’t make eye contact.

But as we neared the centre, we joined a sea of red. Santas as far as the eye could see, big ones, small ones, fat ones, thin ones, big fat ones, small thin ones, several dogs and two festive Stormtroopers, we knew they were festive because they had snowy white beards and their weapons were set to ‘stun’ rather than the usual ‘completely obliterate’

This was the Santa Dash in aid of St Gemma’s Hospice, a surreal experience for those taking part and those watching, so many Santas, so little space. Sue and I had to do the obligatory tactical visit to the facilities, it’s a runners’ thing. Noel went ahead, then turned round, looking alarmed ‘How will I recognise you?’ How indeed with so many Santas around, he told me later he could tell my walk a mile off, I think that’s a good thing.

Our Japanese friend Maika, who is spending her first Christmas in the UK, is making sure she experiences as much of the festive spirit as she can. She too was a Santa, with Christmas pudding glasses, traditional eyewear Chez The Clauses somewhere in Lapland. Along with our Sikh friend Jaz, we made for a multi-cultural, multi-faith bunch of Santas. We laughed ourselves silly as we ran, walked, said hello to and high-fived fellow Santas and barracked the Stormtroopers.

The post-run refreshments were courtesy of the Japanese restaurant Little Tokyo. Instead of the usual mucky fat sandwiches and custard creams served up to hungry runners, there was sushi, tempura vegetables, dips and…….. chips. Chips? I asked the lovely Little Tokyo staff who were braving the cold to feed us. Yes, they responded, it’s what the crowds want! Maika was amazed, Santas, Stormtroopers and sushi, whatever next?

A pantomime, that’s what’s next for Maika’s Christmas  experience. Oh yes it is…I can’t wait to blog about that!

Mates, mindfulness and mud!


Robin, me and cake


I’m quite used to bringing up the rear at races, especially if there’s only a few dozen taking part. I always argue that I’d rather be at the back of a small event than in the middle of a large one.  Actually, I’d love to be at the front, we can all dream, can’t we?

I’d run Meltham AC’s Cop Hill Fell Race once before, coming last then, well, when I say last, I was next to the last, Simon the tailrunner was behind me, but I’m not sure that counts! It was such a lovely, well-supported race, with marshals giving great encouragement and only telling me I was nearly there when I actually was. That’s proper marshalling, that is.

This year I definitely wanted to do it again, but knew I would be slower than usual. A mix of missing mojo and general fed-upness that comes with unsuccessful job-hunting, along with a couple of sad events have made running even more challenging than usual. To be honest, I was feeling quite down. But there is nothing like a run with mates to lift the spirits and when I found out that the tailrunner was the lovely Robin, who I met last time, a great sense of relief swept over me, we could run and chat and then eat cake.

Thanks to my volunteering with parkrun and at other events, I’ve seen for myself the positive impact of running not only on physical health, but more importantly on mental wellbeing. I’ve just become a Mental Health Ambassador for Kirkstall Harriers, my running club, it’s an initiative from England Athletics in partnership with the mental health charity MIND. The idea is to support people who are experiencing mental health problems to start running, get back into running, or continue running as well as to improve the mental wellbeing of existing club members. One of the initiatives Ambassadors promote is #runandtalk, the eating cake is implicit.

Robin has been running courses in mindfulness so we had a right good run and chat, definitely a tonic for mental well-being. He did make me run through the deep mud, but that just added to the enjoyment of the race. So what that I came last, I had a great time – and I felt better too.  Let’s hear it for mates, mindfulness and mud!

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!