The embiggening of the rubber litter ball

Embiggen

The runner who squelched into the sports centre after me was slightly soggier than I was, her glasses steamed up, muck flaking from her hands. But she had a massive smile on her face. ‘I picked up 15 pieces of litter on my way here!’ she announced. I’d managed a couple of crisp packets and a squashed drinks can in my dash across the car park, but every little helps!

The number of runners who return with a handful of litter we’ve picked up on our excursions is growing all the time. I started my own personal campaign in February, picking up anything I could reasonably carry, particularly if it may be a danger to wildlife. Rubber bands, usually dropped by posties and those strong polythene hoopy things that hold cans together (what ARE they called?) are the main offenders in my eyes. The rubber bands are growing into quite a sizeable ball, I’m looking forward to bouncing it off the wall of Royal Mail’s HQ in Leeds, it bounces very well, if a little erratically. That’ll learn ’em.

I did plan to hold a litter pick in the village as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean, but the Great Snows of ’18 brought the country to a halt and life as we know it was on hold as it took a few days for the snow to disappear. Sadly the litter is still there, wetter and muddier.

There is a name for running and litter-picking, coined by the Swedes. Plogging seems to have been officially named in 2016 by those environmentally-conscious Scandinavians. Since then, plogging groups have started all over the world as unfortunately litter is a universal language.

I still can’t get the image of a plastic-filled ocean from St David of Attenborough’s final episode of Blue Planet out of my head. It made me cry, what the hell are we doing to our beautiful planet? And then I got angry when the yobs in the car in front just chucked their fast food packaging out of the window. WTF? Do they do that at home? Probably.

Of course picking up a few bits of litter when out running, or walking, or even going to a job interview (yes, seriously!) isn’t enough. But if we all did it, and got cross about it, and got the government to do more then we might, just might, save our planet. In the meantime, I’m off plogging.

Litter, what a load of rubbish!

band
One run’s worth of rubber bands and plastic can holders. Grrrr.

I hate litter, it’s rubbish, lots and lots of rubbish dropped or deliberately thrown by careless, thoughtless people. At best, if that’s an appropriate word to use, it’s untidy. At worst, it can kill, strangling animals and birds, leeching into the oceans, starting fires or poisoning us. Oh bloody hell, I hate litter.

Each Saturday before our parkrun, we clear up cans, bottles, glasses, cardboard and even carrier bags from the entrance to the park, all dumped under a bench which is within staggering distance of a bin. On runs or walks through our local woods there’s wrappers and papers, plus bags  of something brown and smelly hanging from trees, what’s that all about?

I don’t run on roads very often, not enough mud for my liking, plus there’s bloody litter everywhere. What possesses people to throw stuff out of their car windows? If I wasn’t such a terrible thrower, I’d scoop it up and throw it back in, let’s see how they like it them, in their neat and tidy cars, eh?

Last week was the last straw. With Noel on the point of death from a rare and virulent form of cold virus that left him bedbound and incapable of anything other than updating his social media and calling out feebly for ‘tea’, ‘coffee’ and occasionally ‘chocolate’, I had to run on my own. It can be lonely in the woods, so I broke with tradition and headed towards Pudsey on the road.

Within a few steps, I spotted a rubber band on the pavement. Picturing a hedgehog or other creature coming to a nasty end if they crawled through it and got caught up, I did what I thought was a stylish swoop, gathering and pulling it over my hand with one move. Hey, it was so stylish, I’m thinking of incorporating it into my cross training.

Over the next 11km, I had the chance to practice this time and again and I spotted more, presumably dropped by posties or other delivery people along with those horrid can-holder-togetherers, the joined circles made from tough plastic so four hedgehogs can be stuck at a time, ooo I was so cross! Fortunately for my training regime, fury fuelled my running and I kept up a reasonable pace when I was swooping.

By the end of my run, I had ten rubber bands and two can-holder-togetherers. I’ve started making a ball out of the bands and intend to bounce it off the walls of Royal Mail’s Leeds HQ when it’s big enough. That’ll show ’em. I’ll catch it of course and make sure it’s properly disposed of.

Next month Keep Britain Tidy will launch the Great British Spring Clean , encouraging people to get outside and tidy up. Why wait until then, I say! Personally, I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll pick up as much litter as I can carry home when I’m on a run. Added to that is the general picking-up when I’m out and about, and of course each Saturday before parkrun. What about you? #GBSpringClean #CleanLeeds

Running…because I can

PecoRoundhay
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.

Mates, mindfulness and mud!

 

Robincake
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

 

tenthnn
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?

Pumps. That’s what we ran in. Pumps.

newshoes

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….

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!