Sunday

Learning to Run

This was at the end of November 2014: 

30 day challenge complete: after a programme of walking/jogging/gasping on the treadmill for 30 minutes, every day for the last 30 days, this morning I managed to run 4.8km/3 miles...  but in 33 mins not the 'promised' 30. If I'd thought about the maths at the beginning of the 30 days I'd have set speed goals. But never mind, I'm fitter! Now to keep it going and reach a 6.5 mile goal (no time goal though) in the next 6 months

Spent Turkeys
I did. And I kept on running throughout 2015, taking part in three officially timed races, two 10km and one 5km, the 7.5 mile Beast of Bryn mountainous challenge in South Wales, and the Maidstone Harriers Turkey Run. The inspirations for the latter were the prize of a Christmas Pudding, hot chocolate and all the mince pies you could eat at the end, and bacon baps and mulled wine at the home of Leah Ripley, fellow runner and member of Meopham & Malling Ladies Joggers. The Hungry Writer morphed into The Hungry Running Writer.

In 2016 I set myself a different goal: MapMyRun's 'You V the Year' challenge to run 1000km by the end of December. I managed 1,065 by the end of the year. 2017's goal is to run two half marathons because then I can at least say I've run a marathon, if not A marathon!

All this, of course, is nowhere near Eddie Izzard territory. And there are ordinary people out there who've also taken up running later in life and achieved more distance, better fitness and greater rewards for their charities. And I am inspired by them and admire their achievements. But I am also proud of myself. We should all be proud of ourselves when we set our minds to something and see it through, despite setbacks and doubts, and feel that our own lives, and maybe, in some small way, the bigger world, are better for it. So take a bow, accept the applause, wave to the crowd, any of you who've done just that. You are great. 

Running isn't something we learn during childhood. We just do it. Some of us carry on running. I didn't. Apart from around secondary school badminton courts, the 2.5 miles downhill from the Baglan Social Club disco on Saturday nights, desperate to meet my midnight curfew, and the occasional game of squash and tennis in my twenties and thirties after I left home. So it's been a learning curve. And here are some of my insights into accelerated forward movement!

1. Old muscles are more hard rubber than stretchy elastic. The temporary injuries I've sustained over the last couple of years have mostly been down to not stretching enough after a run. And there are muscles in my butt I had no idea were there! Muscles that sitting on a tennis ball can reach that nothing else will. So stretch warmed up muscles. More than you think you need to. And more again. Invest in a foam roller too for glutes and quads. But be prepared to yell the first time you use it!

My kicks: Asics Gel Kayanos 22
2. Shoes and clothes: no, you can't just slip on any pair of daps and be okay. You need good running shoes. And they should be really comfy from the moment you put them on in the shop and have a practice run on the treadmill. If they don't feel great immediately try another pair: any talk of 'breaking them in' is junk. And if there's no treadmill in your shop, go elsewhere. Clothes, too, have to be comfy from the get-go. And girls: always buy running tights with a gusset. You really don't want to be tugging a seam out of your noonie in front of race spectators, or in front of anyone.

3. Experts can help you with fitness and training. Absolutely. But there are people out there whose self-proclaimed expertise may be doubtful. I took advice about changing my supportive running shoes to neutral ones and badly strained my achilles tendons. Turned out he wasn't a qualified physio at all. Check professional registers for all therapists and the qualifications of all personal trainers. 

4. Serious runners. I turned up alone for my first 10km race in a running skort (complete with gusset!) and t-shirt with my car-key and a tissue in my pocket and the first people I bumped into were a group of women wearing identical running club strip, their knees clad in elastic supports, running belts around their waist holding energy gels and carrying water bottles. I felt worryingly ill-prepared but I needn't have. You shouldn't need gels or water for anything under 8 miles, unless it's a scorching summer day, but I guess we're all different. Create your own 'seriousness' which doesn't have to be 'solemn'. 

5. Motivation. I still get mornings when I really don't feel like getting out there. Belonging to a running group gets me over that hump: company = encouragement. And on days when I'm planning to run alone I replace lack of motivation with music. Jack Savoretti's 'Written in Scars, Pharrell Williams' 'Happy', or Heather Small's 'Proud', and a bunch of other lovelies on my headphones click me out of negativity and into a positive frame of mind. 


6. Getting better. It's impossible to measure our improvement over weeks, or even over the first few months. We get good and bad running days too, days when every step feels like a gargantuan effort and we're wheezing on a small hill that just wasn't this difficult last week, was it? But we are improving with every run we make; it's just that small gains are almost impossible to identify. And our minds seem to wallow in negative responses far more readily too. Sometimes we need to knock those critical voices off our shoulder and kick them into the side of the road. And then, run a route we struggled with this time last year and delight in the difference: we reach the top of the hill without stopping, or we run 4 miles and don't feel out of breath. Feel good. Feel proud. 

And finally... 

7. Rewards are good. We deserve rewards for making an effort. Being fitter and healthier hasn't meant that I've stopped eating chocolate or ice-cream or Kettle Crisps. It does mean I can eat them without going all 'guilt-trip' about calories. But I've also noticed that I really do enjoy snacks that are better for me: so maybe there's a lot of truth in the healthy body/healthy mind maxim! One of my latest discoveries are these lemon, nut and coconut balls - and oh my days, they are good. And they look like those coconut Ferrero Rochers too! Enjoy. 

And if you have a story about how you've changed your life in the last couple of years, not just through running or sport, but in any way, please let me know. 

Tuesday

Read Me

The Number 1 song in the UK on the day I was born, 3rd June 1958, was Who's Sorry Now by Connie Francis. In my desperation for something even slightly more celebratory I try the USA: Sheb Wooley's The Purple People Eater. Okay, one last shot, Canada: All I Have To Do Is Dream by the Everly Brothers, which also happens to be the Number 1 Country Song on that day. I'll take that.

I found myself on the This Day in Music website because of Paul Cuddihy, author of Read All About It: My Year Of Falling In Love With Literature, who proudly boasts Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks as his birth date song (some of us are luckier than others) during his year long account of reading his books rather than just buying them as literary insulation for his dining room wall.

Are writers more likely to do this than non-writers? I don't know - you tell me. I'm not as bad as I used to be: my move to France in 2006 forced me into a surgical cull rather than pay almost as much to move my books as it would cost to move the furniture I owned. I now read most novels on Kindle and no longer keep any paperbacks I buy. The same for a lot of memoir and autobiography. Although Hemingway's A Moveable Feast will live on my bookshelves as long as I breathe. Poetry and non fiction are trickier to let go of: you never know when you might need them. 

Cuddihy's book is so enjoyable because I don't feel he's trying to educate me or philosophise about how certain books might change my life. He's reading for his own pleasure and purpose and is disarmingly open about not finishing a book he isn't enjoying and about his selections: Joanne Harris's Chocolat nestles (there's a very subtle joke in that verb...) up against The Sportswriter by Richard Ford. And the best thing about the book is I'm only halfway through and already inspired to begin my own reading project. Isn't that what we all want good books to do? Affect us in some way: how we feel, how we think, how we act, however small? 


Following the aforementioned cull, and having to leave a few dozen metres of shelving in the French house, my books (almost) fit into the new shelf unit I bought when I came back in 2011. They are mostly books about writing, memoir, food and a non-fiction smattering of philosophy and history. And poetry. A lot of poetry, many of which I've only glanced through.

I started my writing life as a poet and although my first book was a novel I always thought of myself as an accidental novelist and much more of a poet. In the last four years I've published two books of prose and hardly written any poetry. And the poetry books are gathering dust. Not just literally, as the whole of my house does, but metaphorically: poetry has become something I used to read. 

So my reading project will be to reacquaint myself with poetry, reading some every day. It doesn't sound that difficult does it but poetry asks us to pay attention in a different way than a short story or novel does. It asks for a mind of concentration yet at the same time a mind that's open to the power of language, of its capacity for suggestiveness and layering of meaning. It asks us to slow down, to be still. I have lost that art and I'd like to rediscover it. 

So I've just walked over to the shelf and taken out one poetry book that caught my eye: Velocities by American poet, Stephen Dobyns. I remember using a couple of his poems when I used to teach poetry at the University of Kent. I remember being moved to thought and feeling by them. So it's a good place to start. 

By coincidence I put the book down on my desk next to a slate coaster my sister bought me. It reads, 'To be born Welsh is to be born privileged, not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but music in your blood and poetry in your soul.' 

I'm settling for 'poetry in my hand' for now.