Running with the mingles

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Thanks to Eileen Woodhead for the photo

It started as an itchy patch on my back, but soon turned into a painful rash. I pointed the finger of blame at my rucksack which had rubbed in all the wrong places as I tested it out on a recce for my favourite run, the Yorkshireman Half Marathon.

I couldn’t see it, so I asked Noel to carry out an inspection. ‘Eww, it’s gross,’ he announced unhelpfully as he backed away from me and headed for the spare bedroom to make up the bed, spraying disinfectant on the way.

Resorting to mirrors, spotlights and contortion, I confirmed Noel’s assessment, it was gross and probably wouldn’t respond to my usual treatment of ignoring something in the hope that it would go away. The GP confirmed what I suspected. Shingles. Shingles, I ask you, isn’t that something old folk get? Obviously not, though it’s fair to say I’m no longer in the first flush of youth. I’d read things about shingles, particularly its impact on taking exercise like, for example, an off-road half marathon that at 24km is more than a half marathon, with 650m of ascent and navigational challenges to boot.

“But I’ve a race to run in ten days, will be be able to do it?’ I asked the GP. Well, it’s important, I’d paid my entry fee and done a fair bit of (though not enough) training. Plus I’d heard that the tee-shirt this year was red. You can never have too many red garments.

There was no reason why I couldn’t run it, he said. Clearly he’s never seen me run, still, I’d take that, along with a course of anti-virals. Then the migraine came, I don’t ignore those any more either. So there I was with a migraine and shingles. Mingles. Sounds like striped potato crisps. Boy was I grumpy.

I had a choice, sit this one out, forfeit the entry fee and red tee-shirt and miss out on getting muddy in Bronte country, or give it my best shot in the certainty that I’d come in last, but hey, that’s not a first.

The picture says it all. I did it, I wasn’t daft, I’d promised Noel and friends who were touchingly concerned that I’d not do it if I felt ill. I wasn’t 100 per cent, but definitely over 50 per cent, so mingles or no mingles, I was there. It was a glorious day, I know the course so well and enjoyed the ups and downs, the mud and the peat, and the lovely people I met on the way.

Not my best result, but I did it, I loved it and amazingly, I wasn’t last, not quite. Take that, mingles.

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Mo’s help with the Yorkshireman

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What would Mo do?

“The critical bit of information that you need to know is that when Mo stands on the start line, he believes he can run faster than anyone else in that race. He believes he can run the last 400m faster than anyone in that race. He believes he could run the last kilometre faster than anyone in that race. He believes he could lift any weight in the gym that anyone wanted to – as a comparison with anyone on the start line – better, faster and heavier. He believes that if he had to fight anyone there he could kick the shit out of them. That’s what owning the start line is.” Neil Black, British Athletics’ Performance Director.

Here in the country that beat the mighty China to second place in the Olympic medal table, we’re all feeling pretty chuffed. Our girls, boys and horses did us proud, and of course they did themselves proud in Rio.

The magnificent Mo Farah took a tumble in the 10000m, but got up and went on to win, and then he took gold in the 5000m. Watching him is a real education in winning. He starts at the back, he makes his move, then regulates his pace. And as the bell for the final lap goes, so does he, his opponents don’t see him for dust. That kick, that stride, that speed, on my goodness, he’s an inspiration.

Come September 11, I’ll be lining up with 200 others at the start line, ready to run the tough and over-long half marathon that is the Yorkshireman. I won’t be owning the start line, or believing I can run it any faster than anyone else, and I’m certainly not planning on sprinting to the finish, dammit, it’s uphill! As usual, I’ll be aiming not to be last, but by gum, I’ll have such a spring in my stride as I relive those magical Mo moments in my head.

Endorphins and a three-stop strategy

Thanks to Philip Bland for the photo. He's ace!
Thanks to Philip Bland for the photo. He’s ace!

After a leg-numbing 15 miles of Yorkshire hills and mud, with slippery stones, nettles and barking dogs thrown in, here I am eating lukewarm stew with a plastic spoon declaring it to be the best in the world. Even though it contains sweetcorn and I hate sweetcorn. But this is the best, the best ever.

It occurs to me that the mud-spattered runners sharing this banquet fit for royalty are the most wonderful people in the world and I’m filled with love for them all. Noel brings me cake, which I conclude cannot be bettered, even by Mary Berry and an entire tent full of Bake-Off contestants. In a flash of inspiration, I decide that the cake could be eaten after stew, then followed by stew and that would be the most sublime food combination on this earth. I try it. I’m right.

Recoiling in horror after watching the stew follow the cake, Noel decided he had to do something about this wave of euphoria. While he’s partial to mild excitement, he doesn’t do euphoria.

“It’s the endorphins talking,” he declared to one of my new best friends and then to me.

“Endorphins can make me like this?” I asked, spooning in another mouthful of delicious sweetcorn and battenburg.

Noel shrugged. He was unaffected by the endorphins, the feel-good chemicals released by the brain after strenuous exercise.

“So how come you’re not high as a kite?” I asked, wondering how well my tea would mix with the gravy.

It turned out his energies had been diverted to figuring out al-fresco toiletage, with runners’ tummy kicking in three times. This required something a little more practical than endorphins, it’s no good feeling joyous about the need to go, you just haveto GO!  Still, his three-stop strategy worked and he fairly roared home a few kilos lighter!

My high lasted well into the evening, everyone and everything were given a massive dollop of love and and considered to be the best EVER. I even agreed to sign up for next year’s Half Yorkshireman, hey, what the hell, let’s do the full marathon. Now, where’s the sweetcorn?

Feeling good about running

There comes a point in a race, usually half an hour after it’s finished, when I’m overwhelmed by a wave of contentment and satisfaction and just want to go out and give the world a great big hug.

Yesterday, despite steep hills, random scattered boulders, slippery peat and a finish up the cobbled streets of Haworth, past bewildered tourists eating Mr Whippy 99s with sprinkles, that wave of wellbeing hit me almost from the start. I say almost, for to be honest (and this is a technical term) I was parping myself at the prospect of setting off on the Half Yorkshireman. This race is just short of 15 miles, so where the ‘half’ comes in, I have no idea, maybe it’s something to do with losing half your bodyweight on the way round. Technically speaking, and I’m all for technical, it’s harder than the full marathon held at the same time, as all the hills are at the start, it’s just shorter. I think the marathoneers would say the jury’s definitely out on that.

But as soon as we were off and up the first of many hills, emerging into the open moorland, I felt incredibly happy. The fine weather helped, but it was more to do with the camaraderie of off-road runners. I exchanged pleasantries, stories and even debated the social policy underpinning health and social care reforms with fellow runners as we progressed upwards and onwards.

Running on the moors. What's not to like, eh?
Running on the moors. What’s not to like, eh?

Of course it was hard and of course I was far from speedy, but with such fabulous surroundings, why hurry? It will be winter soon enough. Noel had been injured and hadn’t been able to put in the miles, so opted to be photographer for the day, popping up at various points on the route to snap anyone who passed, another reason to be cheerful. He commented that everyone looked as though they were enjoying themselves.

But the biggest boost of all was just near the end. The Half Yorkshireman has a sting in the tail and there’s a steep ascent up a cobbled road to the finish, which is not what you want on wobbly legs and insides that feel like they’re making their way outside. As soon as I rounded the corner I could hear my name being called and loud cheers, it was my lovely buddies from Eccleshill Road Runners, Julie and Martin Steele. Immediately, my head went up, my tired legs lifted and I was off, followed by the Steeles who saw me into the finish.

There was some suggestion that I might try the full marathon next year. Now that’s just plain daft.  Though if it’s easier……maybe……..Naw…….!

A half marathon for the gnarly

We ran up that. Eee it was steep!
We ran up that. Eee it was steep!

Just think, five years ago the furthest I had ever run was about 100 metres, and even that was a challenge. I’d never tried it, didn’t believe I could do it and thought I was just too old to take up this sort of thing when I should be taking it easy and ordering my Shackleton’s high seat chair.

Today I put on my trail shoes, as opposed to my road running shoes, runners need different shoes for different terrains, you know, jammed my running pack with liquid, jelly babies and waterproof, picked up the map and set off to recce the Half Yorkshireman. This half marathon so rugged, so gnarly, it’s nearly two miles longer that an ordinary wussy southern or Lancashire half marathon.

It’s long, it’s hilly and it’s tough, so what the HELL was I thinking of when I entered it? I could have stuck with shorter, flat runs, not that there are many of those in our part of the world. But no, once I got going with this running lark, I realised that while I’d never be hot on the heels of Mo Farrah, I rather liked taking part in races, the more difficult the better. And mud, I liked that too, though there’s been a disappointing lack of it during our long, hot summer. So when a friend said he’d like to take part in this little jaunt around Bronte country, I did my usual and said I’d do it before actually thinking about what it meant. Same old same old, eh?

Being Yorkshire, there’s none of this namby pamby signposting or cheering crowds lining the route. You’re expected to carry a map and compass and know how to use them, so a crash course on map reading was followed swiftly by Noel volunteering to do the navigation, as I wasn’t making any sense of all those squiggly lines.

With just two weeks to go, we’ve navigated most of the route now, thanks in equal parts to luck and good judgement, along with a helpful You Tube video, ah thank goodness for You Tube! It was a close call, though, when we realised we couldn’t find the starting point, but we’ll gloss over that, knowing we can just follow everyone else. Now all we need to do is make sure we can find our way to Haworth again.