Number 261

I have taken many things for granted in my life.  I have been lucky – I have been able to vote, to run – when and where I want.  I went to University – the first woman in my family to do so.  And I have trained and worked in a job where I received equal pay to others (men or women) doing the same job – although very few women actually reached the most senior jobs if they chose to work part time to accommodate the demands of a family.

One of the things that I have always loved about running and the running community is its friendliness and inclusivity.  In how many sports is it possible, for novices and amateurs, to line up and compete in the same race as elite athletes? I can say that I have run with Kelly Holmes – on more than one occasion.  And those taking part in the London Marathon last week (they may have started in a slightly different place) ran with Mo Farrah.  However it is worth reflecting that this has not always been the case.  Last week in London the marathon was started by Katherine Switzer (who also ran the race herself) – the first woman to ever to run the Boston Marathon as a registered entrant 50 years ago.  So – well within my lifetime – women were not allowed to compete in the world’s oldest annual marathon.  There was nothing in the rule book about it being a men only race – but it was certainly a tradition – and the entry form did not ask a person’s gender.  So K. Switzer signed her form and ran.  The rest is history………………..  Four miles into the race she was tackled by an official shouting “get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers”.  Despite this she completed the race – but was then disqualified and expelled from the athletics federation – for a number of reasons – running more than a mile and a half – fraudulently entering the race (although she hadn’t) and – worst of all – running without a chaperone!

But there was no going back!  There ensued a clamour for equality and 5 years later women were admitted to the Boston Marathon.  So when I ran my first ever race – the Pendle Half Marathon in 1984 aged 26 – I had no idea what a relatively new experience this was.  Looking back I have no idea why I did it – I did not belong to a running club, had no advice about training or nutrition and had never run more than 6 miles – but I just wanted to run.  I was the 8th woman to finish in 2 hours and 8 mins – out of a field of about 20 women and a few hundred men.


When Katherine was interviewed about running London she reflected on being delighted to be here to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote.  This one is not in my lifetime although the anniversary of universal suffrage for women in 1928 – was within my mother’s.  And this week saw the unveiling of the first female statue in Parliament square – Millicent Fawcett – the suffragist.  Her movement sought to obtain votes for women by logical argument, challenge and debate whilst Emmeline Pankhurt’s suffragettes used a more strident approach.  We have a great deal to thank these women for and I for one, however disillusioned with politics I might feel at times, will always be there – casting my vote with gratitude to the women who have gone before and fought for my rights.

And so back to running to finish.  The London Marathon was one of the hottest on record and the running community has been moved by the sudden death of one of its own – Matt Campbell aged 29 – running in memory of his father.  He collapsed and died at 22.5 miles and since this tragedy the whole of the running community has been running his final 3.7 miles and donating £5 to his charity page to #finishformatt.  Runners form a real community – when I last looked at the page it was showing a total of over £300,000.  Both men and women want to run – and to run together.  In Heathfield our couch to 5k programme attracts men and women – but for some reason the women out number the men about 7 to 1.  Anecdotally I hear of friendships formed and cemented through these groups and the support people find from running together.  There is some competition – but usually to do better than their last run rather than better than other people.

Last year – a half century on from Katherine’s historic race – Boston retired bib number 261 as a mark of respect to her.  She wore the number again this year in London.  “It’s about equality, it’s about inclusion and it’s also about peace” she says.

In Praise of Independent Book Shops

I have mentioned this place before when I had a visit to St Andrews in May last year – but I cannot come to this town without several visits to Topping & Company Booksellers – to revel in the atmosphere.  And to reflect – with some sadness on the fact that there are so few of these places left –  with the dominance of Waterstones, cheap books and of course global giants such as Amazon.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m as guilty of buying cheap books as the next person – and I do like my kindle so I can travel with my whole bookcase in my pocket – but it doesn’t stop my worrying about what we might be losing…………………………

I want to say it’s like stepping back in time to come here – but actually it’s a comfortable mixture of old and modern.  There is usually music playing – Bach Cello Suites today – and the bookshelves are stacked – floor to ceiling – with little notes to pull out the books and look behind if you can’t find what you want.  The books are loved.  Many are wrapped to keep them pristine – but there is always a copy to browse or flick thorough – and this is welcomed.  So much so that there are little corners – with shabby chairs where you can curl up with a good book.  And if you do – someone will bring you a tray of tea or coffee – so stay – linger – enjoy!

His Bloody ProjectLast year I was inspired to read around my visit to Scotland and so was tempted by some Scottish Poetry as well as by as by a little literary trickery – a novel – a psychological thriller masquerading as a piece of true crime.  His Bloody Project – by Graeme Macrae Burnet is set in a remote Highland crofting community in the 19th Century – and we are left in no doubt from the start about who has committed the murders.  We begin by reading Roderick’s (a 17-year-old crofter) memoir, written while awaiting trial in Inverness in 1869.  The story is constructed around “found” documents relating to a brutal triple murder – Roddy’s memoir, witness statements, medical reports and a journalistic account of the trial – as well as the psychological report on Roddy by the prison doctor.  The book conjures up the brutality of the crofter’s life – at the mercy of poor soil, the weather, the laird and the church.  The account of labouriously gathering seaweed from the shoreline – to fertilise the land – only to be forced to replace it as permission had not been grated by the Laird – remains printed in my memory.  And the brutality of Roddy’s family life – the death of his mother and life with a mourning, withdrawn and angry father.  It is hard not to invoke modern day psychological theories about mental health and criminal behaviour.  A great read and I would highly recommend it.  front-cover-ten-poems-of-kindness

My December visit – and I am thinking about Christmas cards.  Toppings carries a wide selection of little booklets of poetry – with envelopes – to be used “Instead of a Card”.  Ten poems about Christmas, or brothers, or Scotalnd, or cricket – even 10 poems about knitting.  But 10 poems about kindness is seasonal – and contains a collection of varied poetry – held together by a dedication to Felix Alexander – another 17 year old boy.  This time one who took his own life after years of online bullying.  The anthology contains an open letter written by his mother appealing for kindness……………………….

This year I have come away without my bird book – and I can’t keep texting Gill and Colin everytime I want a bird identified.  I am still very much a novice in this area and although Gill tries to educate me on our runs together – I’m honestly not getting much better.  So I invest in a bird book (the RSPB Everyday Guide to British Birds).  And a book to straddle ornithology, psychology, poetry and literature – Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.   A beautiful little book (signed by the author) about loss an bereavement.  I still have to read and think about it – but is is a lovely book just to hold and look through.


So we leave St Andrews and there are many more books I want to buy so I will just have to plan a return visit to see Sam later this year.

On my list as “still want to read” are the new novel by Graeme Macrae Burnet –  The Accident on the A35 – and a book about Mindful Running – which promises to improve my life and my running………………………

If you are ever up there – then do pay them a visit………………………..

Eastbourne Parkrun Report 24th and 31st March 2018

What a wonderful thing Parkrun is!  Literally a 5K run – or walk in the park – free to everyone who wants to take part – bring your buggy or you dog (although you may need to start at the back to avoid tripping others up!).  So it seemed a fitting way for our couch to 5K runners to mark their success on completing their 9 week programme that started back on those cold, dark nights in January.  We actually took 10 weeks in the end – due to a snow and ice break in the middle – but who’s counting?

Couch to 5K has been a true running club enterprise.  We ran a relatively small and successful course last summer and some great new runners have joined the club.  So when I posted on the Heathfield Community Facebook page that we were running another course starting in January – all welcome – it was with the expectation that another 10 – 15 people would turn up and – with a few falling by the wayside – we would get a few more people up and running.  I was not prepared for the 30+ people who braved the cold and turned up at the co-op ready to get going……………….  Fortunately the club is supportive and welcoming and experienced runners and leaders turned up in numbers to support me and help all the new people.  And last summer’s newbies were there too – remembering their own experience and running alongside.  I’m not going to name names here – as so many people helped and I would be fearful of missing someone out – but THANK YOU to everyone that helped – even if you were only there for one session!  This would literally not have been possible without you……………

And what a great programme the NHS Couch to 5k is…………….  It starts slow – just 60 seconds of running and builds so that after a few weeks running continuously for 30 mins is possible.  It builds strength and confidence.  I can still see the look on some people’s faces when I told them we would be running for 10 mins – walking for 5 and then running for another 10.  Yes – some people have fallen away – for some people this was not the right group, the right programme or they got sick or injured and coudn’t finish – but many people did.

Most of the new runners could make Saturday 24th March for their 5K debut – so Heathfield Road Runners turned up in numbers to support, run with, run alongside and cheer our new runners home.


That first week 12 new runners completed their first timed run – well done to Rebecca, Bella, Louise, Trish, Emily, Claire, Lucy, Laura, Catherine, Emma, Karina and Sophia the results and here!  The second run – Saturday 31st March – was Easter Saturday – the Easter Bunny was officiating and many runners sported ears and even the odd bunny tail.  It had rained heavily all of Good Friday and we were warned of puddles on the course….. “they’re only water – just run through them” – we did although I was not convinced by the smell……………….  And another successful run with some repeat runners getting PBs – Gill, Trish, Sharon, Donna – and me! And a further 3 new runners – well done to Jane, Eden and Kat – your results are here!


That is not everyone – there are still runners wanting to complete a Parkrun – but a further 3 people have already done a 5K run – well done to Samantha, Mark and Debbie.  I make that 18 new runners all together – a great result!





Race Report – 18th March 2018

The Hastings half marathon has always been a bit of a favourite for Heathfield Road runners.  It’s a well-supported, local race, a challenging route and a Sussex Grand Prix race – early in the year – so many runners are putting away the cross country trainers and dusting off the road shoes.  This year was no exception with no fewer than 14 club members heading down to the coast.  We had all been monitoring the weather for the preceding 2-3 days with a (mini) Beast from the East due to hit us – and – as predicted snow fell on Saturday 17th March and there was a bit of a nip in the air.  By Sunday morning the snow had (mostly) gone and the race was on.  But it was cold!  Most people agreed about -2 degrees –  with a brisk easterly wind giving a wind chill that made it feel more like  -7.

But we’re a hardy lot in Heathfield and we headed down to the 10.30am start on the seafront in St. Leonards.  The temperature rather limited the pre-race fun and chats with most people just trying to keep warm enough to start – but once we are off – running straight into the headwind – it all settles down.  There are a couple of short sharp climbs in the first couple of miles which warm everyone up and gloves and hats start to come off.  Then the long two and a half mile climb up Queensway – good to see Tony’s familiar face at the top cheering on the red vests and taking photos.  The route then “undulates” for another three miles or so – reaching a low point (for me at least) with a run uphill into the eye-watering wind and cold before the U-turn at the Sports Centre.  As soon as we turn the wind drops (or is at least behind and assisting us) and so begins the long descent to Hastings Old Town and the final 2 mile flat run in to the finish along the front and past the award winning pier.  Good to save a bit of energy for the end as the terrain gets easier.

As always there are some good results at the end.  Special mention to David in his marathon preparation coming home in under 1 hour 30 mins – with another 6 runners (Rowan, Roy, Graham, Ivan, Will and our newly elected chair Niki) breaking the 2 hour barrier.  Brilliant runs by Eddie and Alex – just seconds over the two hours – that must hurt – but great runs anyway!  Gill and I made it home after a two month break from the distance.  And fantastic to see three runners who completed our couch to 5K programme last summer – finishing their first half marathon in fine style.  Well done to Ely, Sharon and Caroline who ran together!


Bad luck to Fleur (injury) and Matt (work) – who had planned to be there but did not start – we missed you!  Maybe next year………………………

1:28:09 David Woollard

1:35:11 Rowan Baker

1:39:24 Roy Cooper

1:42:09 Graham Chapman

1:42:35 Will Blanford

1:42:36 Ivan Horsefall-Turner

1:52:05 Niki Marr

2:00:09 Alex Huddard

2:00:48 Eddie Diplock

2:08:45 Gwyn Carter

2:22:59 Gill Boorman

2:33:08 Sharon Nicoll

2:33:08 Eleanor Nivan

2:33:08 Caroline Short

13.1 x 12 Postscript

If you followed the trials and tribulations of our 2017 challenge to run 12 half marathons in 12 months – here is a little update………………  We have had a bit of a rest from the half marathons – January and February off – and I have to confess to rather missing them.  So tomorrow (weather permitting – it promises to be freezing) we return to the starting pen – this time for the Hastings Half Marathon (hard and hilly).

But last night was Heathfield Road Runners AGM and awards night.  And Gill and I are now living proof that running awards are not all about youth (well not in my case anyway) or speed.  I think it is fair to say that we were both absolutely delighted to share the club’s award for Female Performance of the year.

We didn’t run the half marathons for an award – we ran them for fun (yes Gill we did!!)  – but the award was the icing on the cake.  And the reason?  Because it confirmed for me what I have always believed about running and runners.  That anyone can do it.  And the running community is just the best – you are welcomed and your achievements celebrated whoever you are and however you run…………….

So if there is anyone out there still on the couch…………………


Hastings half marathon – bring it on!!


Couch to 5K (Mark 2)

And so our second Heathfield Road Runners Couch to 5k programme is up and running.  Around 30 new runners turned up to the first session on 15th January 2018 – so many I couldn’t count them all – but I certainly hadn’t purchased enough reflective bibs as the 20 I had with me were quickly snapped up!  Fortunately, I had excellent help and support from some of the other run leaders in the club as well as other runners there to help and run with the group to make sure they were all okay.

It was June 2017 when we organised our first Couch to 5K programme that was a great success and we are now hoping to run this course twice a year to encourage people to get started and to build their confidence to the point where they can join the club if they wish.

The course is run and supported by UK Athletics Run Leaders and aims to guide people through the NHS 9 week programme to help new runners get up and moving and running 5K by the end of the course.  In our first course we had 16 new runners  – 14 of whom managed to get to 5k by the end of the course.  Those who did not manage 5k had a range of health and life problems that made progress more challenging but we hope they may join us again in the future.

The course is very gentle to start with and really just gets people moving and used to jogging for a minute or two.  Almost all people expressed disbelief that they could move from this slow start to running 5K – but we think it is the slow start that really helps.  It builds confidence (more than 50% of the difficulty for most people) and helps to “injury proof” new runners by giving their muscles the time to get used to a new activity.  Many of the graduates of the course have gone on to join the HRR Club and some have run 10K and even a half marathon!!  Others have struggled with illness and/or injury and kept running at a lower level – although they tell us they are still glad they did it!  So much so that some are repeating the course this time – and helping some of the newcomers along the way!

Caroline, Sharon and Donna after their first 10k race

So what do people who completed the course last time really think?  Caroline, Sharon, Donna and Ely – all completed a questionnaire for me and I have had the chance to chat to other “graduates”.  These are some of the comments we have had:

“I enjoyed meeting new people and the support network – and doing something I never thought I would be able to do!”

“go for it – don’t be scared – if you can afford it invest in some new trainers”

“I’ve inspired my 11 year old daughter who is very proud of me!”

“I had been suffering from Post Natal Depression – running has really helped me keep a clear head and focus on something good”

“running on your own can be daunting at first – so running with others really helps keep the momentum going”

Ely looking very pleased with herself at the Tonbridge 10k

“running has really made me feel better about myself mentally and physically”.

“Once you get running and talking the time will fly by and you won’t even feel like running is a chore”

“I enjoyed doing something for me, escapism, making friends, improving my fitness, the challenge – I feel the course was perfect for everyone”

“I can run 10K now!”

“go for it!  Don’t be scared – and if you want to progress invest in decent trainers”

“always try and get to the group once a week and try and do the other sessions in between – run with someone different each time to get to know them (and the chat keeps your mind off the running)”

“I absolutely loved having a goal each week and for us as a group achieving it together”

“Running for 20 mins without stopping – we just could not believe we did it”

“I did not expect all the help and support from all the HRRs that came along every week – There was always someone making sure we were okay and offering advice and encouragement”

“Running has been life changing for me – something that is just for me.  I sleep really well and legs are toning up nicely!”

I think these comments say it all!  I hope that our new runners enjoy it as much – so watch this space to see how everybody gets on!

December – Merry Christmas Virtual Half Marathon

Happy New Year everyone – and as we say goodbye to 2017 – Gill and I wave farewell to our 13.1 x 12 challenge!  With some sadness (Gill may say differently) as it has been a great experience!  Our December challenge was a virtual – Christmas themed – half marathon from Heathfield to Eastbourne ending up with roast dinner at the Toby Carvery!  It was a relaxed and jolly affair – leaving Heathfield on the morning of Saturday 16th December at roughly 9.30am.


There is no starter’s siren today – so there are unlimited opportunities for trips across the road to use Waitrose’s facilities and stock up on jelly babies before we head south.  We have quite a few people waving us off and Nicola and Matthew (from HRR) run with us for some of the way.  Julie (who has actually run a quarter of the 12 with us) and Ely (one of our couch to 5k graduates running her first half marathon distance) run the whole way with us and join us for lunch.  Olivia sets off from the Toby Carvery and meets us at about 10 miles and runs back with us.  It is a relaxed run – rather than race – with a comfort stop at Tesco in Hailsham.  We are greeted and waved along the way – sometimes by people we know and some we don’t – perhaps encouraged by our Santa hats, dresses and the Christmas playlist we have with us.  Its fair to say we didn’t break any records but we had a good time and a lovely way to finish the challenge – in great company and with surprisingly good food.  Rosie meets us in Eastbourne to join us for lunch and drive us home!

So this is how it went……………………………….


January:  Farnborough half marathon – certainly the coldest – with a dark and early start.  Still traumatised by the garage fire.  Cobbles on the roads and some off road stretches – but a great start to the challenge – we are excited and enthusiastic.  2 hours 11 mins.




February:  Tunbridge Wells half marathon – I’m injured – sore hip that I never fully understood – but probably related to falling off a (breakfast) bar stool!  One of the best half marathons – I’ve done it 5 times – with Spring Hill in the middle to kill all conversation.  Had to take it easy and nurse the hip round. 2 hours 24 mins


March:  Hampton Court Half Marathon.  Certainly the most flamboyant medal – a big field which was fun – fairly flat but a headwind for the last 2-3 miles.  2 hours 10 mins – my best time of the 12!





April:  Paddock Wood Half Marathon – flat and fairly warm – but Gill is injured this time – her back is hurting – probably not fully recovered from March.  We ran together. 2 hours and 24 mins.



IMG_2249May:  The Weald Challenge Half Marathon.  Actually 13.6 miles – mainly off road.  A lovely run – tripped on a tree route at 10 miles and broke a rib but didn’t really notice until I was finished. 2 hours 39 min – the slowest of the 12 but very different to a road race and still 10 mins faster that the last time I did this race.



IMG_2250June:  A virtual run this time as we struggled to find a run that was local and that we could both do.  Very hot today – so we started early and ran 7 miles and then joined the Heathfield 10k to make up our 13.1 miles.  2 hours 24 mins




July:  Richmond Park Half Marathon – laps – need I say more?  The first 2 were okay and then began to become repetetive and hard work as I began to anticipate the hard stretches.  But a lovely setting.  2 hours 13 mins.




August:  Canterbury Half Marathon.  The hardest, hottest and hilliest………………….  on August bank holiday Monday with soaring temperatures when we were expecting an English Bank Holiday of rain and chills.  The one I will NEVER do again! 2 hours 29 mins.



September:  Barns Green Half Marathon.  Local (ish) so we ran with other HRRs – a nice route – just made the start – getting a bit complacent…………………… 2 hours 25 mins





October:  Tonbridge Half Marathon.  Another familiar one – really enjoyed this one – met some old friends and felt strong.  Only a week after the last one 2 hours 15 mins.




November:  Bedgebury Forest Half Marathon.  Another off-roader and very muddy indeed.  But a lovely, frosty winter’s day in bright sunshine with good company.  Another favourite – possibly number 1………………………… No pressure because of the conditions – and actually a bit short on the distance (12.77 miles).  2 hours 28 mins.



December:  Well you know this story……………….. 2 hours 26 mins.

My reflections on the whole experience are still to come.  And I’m going to have to find something else to blog about.  But if any of you out there are tempted to do the same then……. Just do it!  You won’t regret it and we have a great pile of bling to show for our efforts!

So farewell 2017!  You’ve been great!  Loved the running and all the support along the way.  Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey.  And I’ll sign off with my favourite running Christmas song!!