May – The Weald Challenge

So here we are – the end of May (beginning of June by the time this goes out) – and number 5 in the 12 half marathons in 12 months challenge!

This one is a bit different – a trail half marathon.  And I have a bit of a ghost to lay here.  I ran this race 2 years ago and was fit enough for a road race but unprepared for the demands that running off-road would bring.  I remember it was hot, and hilly (of course).  I got lost – in my defence someone had removed some of the signage – and it is the only race I have entered where I would have succumbed to the dreaded DNF if only I could have found a marshall to put me out of my misery.  In the end it was easier to finish (well you have to get to the end somehow) than to stop – I ran nearly 14 miles (I told you I got lost) when I was barely half marathon fit and spent the rest of the day being somewhat “under the weather” – on bed rest!

So Sunday 28th May sees Gill and I off to the start of the 2017 Weald Challenge.  Trail half marathons seem to have their own rules – where did that extra half mile come from? – 13.6 miles (rather than 13.1 – maybe I didn’t get as lost as I thought I did last time!) – is sold to us as a bonus – a treat – another glorious half mile of Sussex countryside (hills)!  But looking back to January and HM1 – what a contrast – an 8.15am start (a lie in!) in the light – it is warm and only a 15 minute drive required to our start in Chiddingly – East Sussex.  Everyone is friendly here (well they are runners) and it is a relaxed lead up to the start – Gill meets Olivia – an old friend and ex- Heathfield Road Runner – who is looking forward to the 13.6 miles in contrast to the 30 mile ultra that she usually runs (they were off at 8 am so are long gone by now).


Our route is about 75% off-road – following the Weald Way and the Vanguard Way.  There has been some rain over the last few days so I am wearing my trusty trail shoes – although it is dry underfoot and road shoes would have coped.  I remember that 2 years ago the stiles were hard work – there are lots of them!  This year I seem to take them in my stride – I have got used to the climbing up and down again – but they do slow me down.  And that is probably the biggest change from 2015 – I just don’t expect to run this like a road race – it’s totally different – and just takes longer.  Tractor tracks, rutted ground, rabbit holes, foot wide paths through shoulder high crops, cows, stiles (have I mentioned them before?) and tree roots.  Not to mention the sun (it is blazing down) nettles, brambles and the odd Sunday school rambling group (three year olds just don’t get “excuse me” when they are on a hike and have found the most beautiful wild flower that they are desperate to share with someone……………………….).

I am pleased that I made the decision to wear a back pack with water reservoir – not so pleased to find that it has sprung a leak – as there are only 2 drink stations on the half – at 6 and 10 miles.  Again there is the contrast to the road race.  No grabbing your water on the run here………….. water stations are a chance for a stop and a chat – coke, jelly babies and a chocolate digestive if you fancy – “how’s it going?” – “you look great” – “well done!” and we’re off again.

weald challenge
That’s me in the background – and one of the stiles!

It’s hard work and it is hilly – but I’m feeling good – somehow I have managed to take the pressure off myself and just enjoy it.

Eight and a half miles in – I stumble – catch my foot on a tree root but recover and right myself – “pay attention – look where you’re going” – deep breath – concentrate!  And that’s it – as I’m steadying my stride I hit another tree root and don’t even have time to defend myself before I hit the ground.  Thoughts………………..


“Am I okay? – yes – I think so!”

“S**T – that’s going to hurt when the endorphins wear off”

“Can I stand up? – probably – in a minute…………….”

I look up to see the kindly face of a man in a white shirt (Mr 425) – “are you okay?” “can I give you a hand up?” and he does – Thank you!!!!

“I’ll be okay in a minute – I’ll just take a breather – blimey it’s a bit different falling over at 58 – I can remember when I used to bounce!”     Plan…………………….

“I’ll carry on to the next water station (10 miles) and see how I’m doing.”

“I’m bleeding – where from? Not sure…………..”

So – off I go again – one foot in front of the other – actually fine.  I have one or two moments in the next mile or so that probably all runners can identify with – I’m lighter than air – bouncing on my feet – relaxed – running free – why doesn’t everyone run?  (double endorphins?)

At the next water station I’m offered first aid – but I’m fine.  My white shirted rescuer checks up on me – thankyou again!  I’m fine to go on….. I’m going to finish!  So from then onwards its one mile at a time – Mile 11 (I’m overtaken by a couple of ultra-runners – travelling at high speed 28 miles into their runs), Mile 12 (got lost here last time), Mile 13 – just half a mile to go and the finish line!  And the best bit – a medal and a handmade mug that you can take to the kiosk and get filled with tea – and unlimited homemade cakes!!  What a race – why doesn’t everyone do it?IMG_1403

David and Rosie and Sam and Sam (yes there are 2) turn up to see me home and we cheer Olivia and Gill (delighted to have seen a barn owl) over the finish.  How have I done?  Okay I think – 2 hours 39 mins (15 minutes faster than 2 years ago).  14th in my age group – mid table mediocracy – but then a Bolton Wanderer’s supporter is used to that!  But the most important thing is that I enjoyed the run – accepted it’s demands and my limits – it was the best I could do………………..

I’m sore but not exhausted – my ribs are badly bruised (deep breathing, sneezing and rolling over in bed are a challenge) 5 days later I can just about manage to jog – but nothing that requires deep breathing.  Trying to follow Sarah Russell’s advice – “strap it up – take loads of drugs and keep your breathing shallow”.  Other cuts, bruises and stings are superficial – nothing a hot bath and a large glass of dry white wine won’t improve………………………………  Let’s hope I can breathe again soon – June’s half marathon is three weeks on Sunday……………………..

Walking in Scotland – Angus in May

Monday 8th May sees us leaving St. Andrews after a last run down to the beach, past the Old Course and a final browse of the bookshop to get the OS map for our next destination. We head north and west through Dundee to Kilry in Angus – a part of Scotland that I have only ever driven through before.  Kilry is so tiny it barely even gets a mention on our OS map – only 18 miles from Dundee and 34 miles from St. Andrews – it is like stepSquirrel_(17026400639)ping back in time and entering a different world the contrast with the towns is so great.  Our destination is Culdee Cottage a lovely holiday home in the grounds of the owners’ house.  The Jacksons are welcoming and generous in sharing their beautifully tended garden.  Away from the coast the sun is still shining but we are out of the wind and it is warm enough to sit in the garden drinking tea and watching the wildlife.  Birds – siskins, chaffinches and pied and grey wagtails.  And red squirrels – it is so long since I have seen one I had forgotten what our native squirrel looks like and I was startled to see their long ears and cheeky faces.

Our cottage is lovely – full of all the things that make somewhere feel a real “home from home” – a well equipped kitchen, comfortable chairs and beds, teddy bears and rubber ducks.   And little touches that help you really enjoy a holiday – a map with suggested local walks and a bird identification book………… (well they helped to make MY holiday anyway).

Our time here is mainly about walking and some gentle running.  On Tuesday we walk from the Den of Aylth – a steep sided, wooded valley with the Aylth Burn running through it.  Up onto the moor and on to Aylth hill and then picking up the local long distance trail – the Cateran train to bring us back down into the metropolis!


Wednesday is a visit to Pitlochry – and a rather disappointing lunch followed by a lovely walk up through waterfalls out of the town to the smallest distillery in Scotland – EdIMG_1323radour.  We were expecting to see a few Orcs along the way and for it to be run by hobbits…………………….  We missed the tour – and decided not to wait for the next – but picked up a wee dram to have after dinner.  Our return to Pitlochry is beautiful and we see and hear many birds – including cuckoo and woodpecker and several deer leaping across our path or standing still like statues.

Thursday we visit Kirriemuir to see J.M. Barrie’s birthplace – owned by the National Trust for Scotland.  For future reference – it is always worth checking opening times as – unfortunately it is shut until the weekend.  However, we discover that there is more to this tiny town than meets the eye – and it has spawned more than one famous son.  Born in Forfar – Bon Scott – front man for AC/DC was raised here until he was six and we arrive at a time when there is a major (well one room) exhibition of his memorabilia in the Tourist Information centre.  Best summarised as “lived fast and died young” – but clearly the town still holds him close to their hearts.  Tourist Information turns out to be very friendly and full of helpful guides and walk leaflets and we head north into the glens.

So Thursday’s walk sees us starting from Cortachy and heading to Dykehead.  A picnic and a pleasant walk along the river is unfortunately cut short as a bridge has been washed away and we are unable to cross into Dykehead.  One sad fact is the amount of plastic rubbish littering this part of the world and we see at least a dozen plastic bottles waiting to be washed downstream in the mile or so we walk.  I am reminded to bring a bag with me in future to collect this – and of my lovely niece Beth’s aspiration to cut down on the devastation that this waste is having on our planet Plastic Free Hobbit.   So we return to the car and drive to the other side of the river to continue our walk uphill though the forest to the Airlie Monument – an impressive stone tower built in 1901 and back to the car past the unexpected and interesting Scott-Wilson memorial sculpture.

Friday is our last day in Angus and we do not stray far from Culdee Cottage.  We do a circular walk from the cottage and take in the nearby waterfall at Reekie Linn.  After lunch we drive out to Blackwater Reservoir and call in a Peel Farm for some excellent cakes.

Saturday is our flight home – but not until early evening so we drive to the airport and Park and Ride the tram into Edinburgh.  We don’t have a lot of time here today so limit ourselves to one gallery  – the National Gallery of Modern Art – a bit of a walk but we are used to that by now!  A small exhibition – Music from the Balconies – Ed Ruscha in Los Angeles made the walk worthwhile – but the highlight was a room filled by a work by Scottish artist Nathan Coley, 286 Places of Worship, Edinburgh 2004, detailed cardboard copies of the said places……………..


It’s a while since I’ve had a running track on one of these blogs – so here we go in great Scottish Style – but maybe this time its a walking track – The Proclaimers with 500 miles!

This is the Place – Manchester 2017

Growing up in Bolton – Manchester was always my “Big City”.  I rode on my first ever train to Manchester holding my mum’s hand and so excited to hear that trains really do make that “clickety-clack, clickety-clack” noise.  We were going to see Father Christmas and buy new winter coats at Lewis’s department store (the northern chain – nothing to do with John….).  The 17 miles was a long way back then so we looked forward to our annual trip.  My parent’s lived in Manchester before I was born and my brothers were born there.  Manchester University was where my dad did his dental training after the war – an opportunity that a boy from Barrow could never have dreamed of.

Manchester was always just down the road.  Our football teams were great rivals (hard to believe now in these days of the Premier League) – back then many of the players were local lads………….

As I grew up Manchester was the portal that brought me home from University – a train from Bristol Temple Meads to Manchester Piccadilly and then transfer to Manchester Deansgate to travel onto Bolton (unless I could talk mum – who could now drive into picking me up in Manchester).

I returned to the North West to complete my Clinical Psychology Training in the early 1980s at the Lancashire In-Service Training Scheme.  Manchester was once again my city and we shared placements with trainees from the Manchester University course.  I learned my trade with child and family therapy placements at the Pendlebury Children’s Hospital (now the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital).  By now visits to Manchester were easy – the distance shrunk by cars and motorways.  So it was easy to see bands – and what bands!  The Smiths were my favourite at the time – and later Oasis and The Verve (never got into the Stone Roses).  But the Manchester music scene was second to non.  And no trip to Manchester was complete without a visit to “Grassroots” – a bookstore for the time, full of radical literature and periodicals – no problem getting your Spare Rib here……………………..

It is now many years since I have lived in the North West of England but it still forms part of my soul.  My heart is with everyone there now.  Tony Walsh’s poem says it brilliantly – finding words where no words seem enough  ………..

 This is the place

In the north-west of England. It’s ace, it’s the best

And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands

Set the whole planet shaking.

Our inventions are legends. There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music

We make brilliant bands

We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands

And we make things from steel

And we make things from cotton

And we make people laugh, take the mick summat rotten

And we make you at home

And we make you feel welcome and we make summat happen

And we can’t seem to help it

And if you’re looking from history, then yeah we’ve a wealth

But the Manchester way is to make it yourself.

And make us a record, a new number one

And make us a brew while you’re up, love, go on

And make us feel proud that you’re winning the league

And make us sing louder and make us believe that this is the place that has helped shape the world

And this is the place where a Manchester girl named Emmeline Pankhurst from the streets of Moss Side led a suffragette city with sisterhood pride

And this is the place with appliance of science, we’re on it, atomic, we struck with defiance, and in the face of a challenge, we always stand tall, Mancunians, in union, delivered it all

Such as housing and libraries and health, education and unions and co-ops and first railway stations

So we’re sorry, bear with us, we invented commuters. But we hope you forgive us, we invented computers.

And this is the place Henry Rice strolled with rolls, and we’ve rocked and we’ve rolled with our own northern soul

And so this is the place to do business then dance, where go-getters and goal-setters know they’ve a chance

And this is the place where we first played as kids. And me mum, lived and died here, she loved it, she did.

And this is the place where our folks came to work, where they struggled in puddles, they hurt in the dirt and they built us a city, they built us these towns and they coughed on the cobbles to the deafening sound to the steaming machines and the screaming of slaves, they were scheming for greatness, they dreamed to their graves.

And they left us a spirit. They left us a vibe. That Mancunian way to survive and to thrive and to work and to build, to connect, and create and Greater Manchester’s greatness is keeping it great.

And so this is the place now with kids of our own. Some are born here, some drawn here, but they all call it home.

And they’ve covered the cobbles, but they’ll never defeat, all the dreamers and schemers who still teem through these streets.

Because this is a place that has been through some hard times: oppressions, recessions, depressions, and dark times.

But we keep fighting back with Greater Manchester spirit. Northern grit, Northern wit, and Greater Manchester’s lyrics.

And these hard times again, in these streets of our city, but we won’t take defeat and we don’t want your pity.

Because this is a place where we stand strong together, with a smile on our face, greater Manchester forever.

And we’ve got this place where a team with a dream can get funding and something to help with a scheme.

Because this is a place that understands your grand plans. We don’t do “no can do” we just stress “yes we can”

Forever Manchester’s a charity for people round here, you can fundraise, donate, you can be a volunteer. You can live local, give local, we can honestly say, we do charity different, that Mancunian way.

And we fund local kids, and we fund local teams. We support local dreamers to work for their dreams. We support local groups and the great work they do. So can you help us. help local people like you?

Because this is the place in our hearts, in our homes, because this is the place that’s a part of our bones.

Because Greater Manchester gives us such strength from the fact that this is the place, we should give something back.

Always remember, never forget, forever Manchester.

Tony Walsh 

Mind Over Marathon – Part 2

It’s mental health awareness week – or have I just missed it?

How I hate these “awareness” days/weeks/months.  I know that we need to think about people and the issues that they face but these weeks just irritate me – “if I think about it this week then can I forget about it for the rest of the year…………….?”  International women’s day? – I know! – I know! – and I’m partly so irritated by them because they make me cross and make me look at uncomfortable issues like unfairness and discrimination ……… But really what is it this week?  One legged, blind teddy bear week?  I know I will just have offended someone – and I don’t mean to – some of my best friends are blind teddy bears – but really………..?

Mental health is just too important to take out and look at for a week and then put away.  If one in four of us will have mental health issues as some point in our lives it needs to part of the way that we think about ourselves and our lifestyles EVERY week.

So back to running and mental health – the London marathon is over and our 10 volunteers from BBC 1’s “Mind over Marathon” have finished their training…………….. and those that could, ran the gruelling 26.2 miles.  Watch the Programme here.  I watched the second part of this programme with rapt attention – alternating between total admiration and tears.  Seven of the 10 finished the race – but all ten were at the finishing line.  Injury meant the 3 of the participants did not start the race – but they remained involved and supported the runners through to the end.  Obviously, I think that running is good for our mental health – but I was also struck by the camaraderie between those who took part and how connected the people concerned felt to each other.  Jake and Poppy ran the whole distance together – whilst others – running at their own pace were all held in mind and greeted over the line at the end.  Everyone waited the 7 and a half hours it took one of the ten to finish (hats off to her!).  Those who couldn’t run seemed to be just as important and as included – as those who did.  I will come back to this!

By the end of the programme I was seriously impressed by all who took part – obviously the 10 runners – but the coaches – the presenters and even the Royals – who approached the topic with a down to earth “there but for the grace of god go I” attitude that has got to impact on the issue of stigma in mental health.  I was rather saddened to hear the Queen believes that Harry, Will and Kate should be more involved in traditional Royal duties – rather than pursuing their own projects such as Heads Together.  Not a massive Royalist myself – these youngsters have really won me round with their apparent honesty and passion.

My only quibble with the programme was it’s emphasis on illness (rather than health and the human condition) as I fear that this disempowers people who may feel that the only way of overcoming their difficulties is through “treatment”, doctors and “medical intervention”.  Far be it from me to put anyone off seeking help and support – and from a professional if necessary – but there is so much more that everyone can do to build resilience and help when things seem overwhelming.

I don’t want to lecture – or pretend that everything can be solved by a blog post – clearly it can’t!  There is lots of good advice out there on the internet and Mind’s Five Ways to Wellbeing is as good as any – Five Ways to Wellbeing

All I want to do is get people thinking a bit – and maybe making tiny changes so I am going to limit myself to just two…………………

The first one is Talk – about anything – your life, your family, your pets, your hobbies, running (of course).  But most of all about what has happened to you and about your feelings.  Do it again, and again and again………….  And if people get bored with you – talk to someone else.  Your family, your friends, your cats and your teddy bear……………..  When my garage burned down earlier this year I told everyone about it – at length – again and again and again.  13.1 x 12 and all that!

I gained new insights into what it is to be traumatised and the length of time it takes to recover (even if you look okay on the surface) – but I have absolutely no doubt that it was the talking and the connection to other people that helped.  And actually people rarely get bored – most were willing to listen – and almost all offered help – both practical and emotional.  So talk my friends, talk!  Stay connected to other people and ask for help.  Honestly – most people are not only willing to help but like to do so………………………..

And the second?  No prizes here…………… get active – run, walk, cycle, turn cartwheels, try yoga – do them all and – if possible – talk at the same time.  Run with a buddy, or a group.  The brilliant thing about running is that if you are running too hard to talk you are probably running too hard – especially when you are starting out – so you can cover both of my points in one go.  If you don’t have anyone to run with – or can’t find a group – try the Run Together website.  Many groups and running clubs will have a mental health ambassador – a volunteer who is committed to helping people start running, get back into running or to keep running – especially if they are experiencing mental health difficulties (that’s me if you are in Heathfield).  Run Together – find a group

And what next for me?  Well I have been inspired by Mind Over Marathon – my name is in the ballot for next year………………………………….

A Visit to Saint Andrews

As a change from my usual holiday scrap book…………………

Last Friday we headed up to St. Andrews for a visit to see Sam and then on to a few days in Angus.  One of the things that always strikes me on arriving in Scotland is the light.  David and I flew to Edinburgh and pick up a hire car to head over to the coast and the light is wonderful. We have always been lucky with the weather at this time of year and this time is no exception – with an endless blue sky and that bright Scottish light.  The days are long here – even in May.

St. Andrews is a unique place – bustling and alive – but it feels remote and is approached by quiet roads.  It takes a lot of its life and energy from the University and at this time of the year its coffee shops are full of young people on lap tops revising for their exams which start on Monday.  Sam’s second year exams start on Thursday – so he is hard at work – but able to take some time off to join us for the odd coffee and dinner each night.  Friday night at Forgan’s for fish and chips – delicious!

On Saturday Sam is busy until late afternoon so David and I are entertaining ourselves – starting the day with a run down to the beach and the golf courses.  The weather is still beautiful – but cold with a brisk wind blowing…………………

Breakfast and then we head out – a few miles up the coast to Kinshaldy beach for a walk along the sands and back through the forest and nature reserve.  The car park is busy with families – but walking out – north along the sand – it is only minutes before was are on our own on a beautiful, clean, sandy beach – littered with shells.  We have made the mistake in the past of walking along the hard sand by the sea and found ourselves rather too far down a sandbar – having to track back to re-find our path – so this time we stay further up the beach which makes the walking harder in the soft sand.  The sun is shining – but it is still chilly and the wind blowing us along keeps us cool.  Our return path takes us through Tentsmuir forest – more sheltered from the wind and warm where the sun penetrates the trees.  The forest is a quiet, shady place – with dappled sunlight. We hear lots of birdsong and woodpeckers going about their business!

Back in St. Andrews there are still hours of daylight to go – so a chance to meet up with Sam and head down to the New Course – where he can show off some of the golfing skills he has been working on since studying here.  The links course runs alongside the beach and we see rabbits and hares running along between the bright yellow gorse bushes in full flower.  You can see all the way over to the mountains where we will be heading next week.  It is peaceful – with just a few other people finishing their rounds at this time in the evening.

St. Andrews is famous for its golf and golf courses.  The Old Course at St Andrews is one of the oldest courses in the world and golfers from all over the world travel here for a “once in a lifetime” chance to play the course.  The British Open has been played here more times than on every other course – HOWEVER – the Old Course at St Andrews remains a public course – so anyone can play it (okay – you do need to be able to play golf) – on common land.  And whilst it might cost a small fortune to play golf here – if you are a resident or student of St. Andrews you can play here (and any of the other 6 courses held in Trust at St. Andrews) as many times as you want – all year round – for less than the cost of one round for a visitor (or for free if you are a child).  It feels a long way from the elitist and patriarchal game played in England.  And because it is common land – the course is “rested” every Sunday and townspeople and many of their dogs walk across the “Home of Golf” taking in the scenery and admiring the ground seen so many times on the TV.  So that is what David and I do this weekend – strolling the 18 holes – out and back and getting some idea of the challenge of playing here in this wind – with these bunkers.  Walking out it seems still and benign – but turning back towards the town – suddenly it is chilled and even hard to stay on your feet in places.  The sand traps are so deep you can step in and not see out! Great fun!  And a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

Sunday afternoon is a chance to see Sam again and to wander around some of the shops in the town.  A special favourite is the Topping and Company Bookshop – where you genuinely feel welcome to stay and browse for as long as you like – the booksellers even offer you a seat and a cup of tea or coffee if you hang around for a while! I always find something I want here (usually many things) – but this time I settle for a little booklet of 10 poems from Scotland.  So it is with one of these that I sign off from St. Andrews as tomorrow we will be heading inland and north of Dundee.  I thought this might be appropriate for this visit………………

The Graduates

If I chose children they’d know stories of the old country, the place we never left. I swear

I remember no ship slipping from the dock, no cluster of hurt, proud family

waving till they were wee as china milkmaids on a mantelpiece,

but we have surely gone, and must knock with brass kilted pipers

the doors to the old land:we emigrants of no farewell who keep our bit language

in jokes and quotes; our working knowledge of coal-pits, fevers, lost

like the silver bangle I lost at the shows one Saturday, tried to conceal, denied

but they’re not daft. And my bright, monoglot bairns will discover, misplaced

among the bookshelves, proof, rolled in a red tube: my degrees, a furled sail, my visa.

Kathleen Jamie

(with apologies about the formatting – can’t get WordPress to do what I want!)


Training for May

Four of the twelve half marathons are done. So what next?

Our April half – in Paddock Wood was right at the beginning of the month.  Our May half is not until the very end of the month.  Which means that we have an eight week gap between the two.  How do we keep the momentum going and balance this with some rest and recovery?  And – in addition – our May half marathon is going to demand something rather different of us to our first four road races.  So Sunday 28th May will see us running the Weald Challenge Trail Half Marathon which follows the long distance paths of the Wealdway and the Vanguard Way  starting and finishing in the village of Chiddingly and taking in the beauty of the Sussex countryside. The route is about three quarters off-road, and is described undulating (a runner’s euphemism for hilly and hard routes).

I have done a few trail races in the past – having taken part in the South Downs marathon relay and run three of the four legs.  Although I have not done anything different to prepare in the past – I do remember how hard these runs were and the feeling that I could have prepared better.  I need to be able to get up some of those hills – and it would be good to get used to running on that uneven ground – so much for beautiful views – I need to keep my eye on the path to avoid any unexpected thrills and spills!


At this time of the year it is possible to run off-road in road shoes – but I find that having a bit of extra tread underfoot adds to my confidence.  As always a visit to see Alan (Cheeky) Cheek at the Running Hub in Southborough has set me up with a pair of trail shoes that are also comfortable to run on road for the bits in between.  And as everyone knows it is not possible to have too many pairs of running shoes!  Gill has some good routes around Heathfield to get us out there – strengthening and building the stability that we will need.  We even get to practice a bit of yoga along the way – what better than focusing on our balance and stability amongst the bluebells? And as if to remind us how important the practise is – Gill manages to go completely A over T whilst heading downhill on a woodland path.  Horrible to watch (and I suspect even worse to do!) – but nothing worse in the end than bruises and a bit of skin left en route!  Gill has even got the relaxed group of Heathfield Road Runners training off-road on our Monday evening runs – she has promised us that she DOES now know the route and that we will not be the last group back in future……………..

Julie and I don’t live as near to each other as we used to – so from time to time we get to meet up somewhere between Hythe and Heathfield to get a run in and put the world to rights.  This time we searched the internet and found a lovely walk in Tenterden that we turned into a trail run.

Neither Julie nor I are great at following walk instructions – and this one proved no different although we did make it in the end.  Honestly! – “walk to the corner of the field” is just not good enough – which corner?  Especially when field in question has at least seven corners……….  And instructions such as “keeping the gardens to your left” and “walk to the right of the pond” are just plain confusing to simple folk, without their reading glasses – trying to read instructions at a steady 10.5 minute mile pace……..   But the bluebells and wild garlic are spectacular and if only the instructions had mentioned the field of baby lambs (turn right here) or the meadow that was being mowed (keep straight ahead to the stile on the other side) we would have been round in half the time (haha!).

At least pausing to climb over the stiles lets you get your breath back…….  And as a special reward there is the cream tea at the Lemon Tree Restaurant on the High Street – it looks rather old fashioned as you walk in – but the scones are delicious.  All-in-all this trail running training has a lot to recommend it!IMG_1255

Which is more than can be said for the hill training!  But I’m doing it – or trying to – at least once a week.  No excuse really – we have plenty of hills in Heathfield and I even live on one of the hills that HRRs use to train on! So a gentle 15 minute warm up and then 20 mins of hill repeats (30 second up – 1 minute down) – good to know that I can still get my heart rate up to 175 without dying………………… I know it will help………………….. really it will……………….

Keeping up with the yoga – for strength and stability – and walking and the gym – Weald Challenge?  Bring it on!!


Mind Over (half) Marathon

In many ways – this is where this blog started – running makes you feel better!

So I was very interested to see a number of things this week – starting with the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest – which summarises the current state of research on the impact of running on our brains and emotions.  Then there has been Prince Harry – talking about his own mental health difficulties and – of course – the Royals’ involvement with the London Marathon and their charity Heads Together – aimed at dispelling the stigma around mental health.  And finally, the BBC 1 two part series “Mind Over Marathon” which follows 10 people with their own stories of mental health difficulties all aiming to run the London Marathon.

So running and mental health are truly on the agenda and it would be remiss of me not to comment here.  I have saved this picture of Gill and I running at Paddock Wood to illustrate this blog as it sort of speaks for itself – here we go – off to run another 13.1 miles and we look like we’re having a party (which of course we were!).  It’s an argument that doesn’t really need to be made if you already run as, chances are, you keep running as you have discovered one way or another that running does much more than keep you physically fit.

Probably the majority of people start running either to get fit, or lose weight, or both (I certainly did!).  Recent research indicates that even a 30 minute run can add 7 hours to your life – with runners living up to 3 years longer than non-runners.  But it is usually other things that keep people running with anecdotal accounts of improved concentration, better mood and a stiller or calmer mind.  You can read the research review yourself here:

10 Ways That Running Changes Your Mind and Brain

But if you don’t want to penetrate the research (it is rather dense) I can summarise it as follows:

Different sorts of running have slightly different impacts on our minds and bodies – whether you are a long slow plodder, a sprinter, an interval trainer or a runner of “ridiculously extreme long-distances”………………….  There is evidence of improved cognitive function in runners – with increased connectivity within the brain leading to improved working memory, self-control and executive function (planning and organisation) as well as cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks).  There is evidence that running changes the chemicals in the brain – leading to feelings of euphoria; running gives subjective feelings of relaxation and a “quiet mind” and helps people to regulate their emotions.  Running may lead to the growth of new neurons (neurogenesis – although this is only based on animal studies) and boost the ability to learn.  And finally, much like childbirth, running a marathon seems to wipe your memory of pain!

So increasingly there is evidence that actually backs up the belief that running is good for us.  And so I was also very interested to watch “Mind over Marathon” on Thursday evening.  Ten brave volunteers all with their own emotional challenges – hoping to run the London Marathon.  I am impressed to see men and women of all ages and from different backgrounds working together to support each other through this task.  Some people have desperately sad stories and it’s easy to empathise and understand how you might end up in the same position.  Like Rhian – who lost her baby son and then had to manage the loss of her husband a few days later by suicide.  There are those whose culture makes seeking help unacceptable.  And those where the “back story” is less obvious.  But I am struck by the number of young or old, attractive, apparently vibrant people who are crippled by sadness, emptiness and fear.  And by their courage in facing this down to take part – and deal with Nick Knowles – let alone run a marathon.  I will certainly be watching part 2 and wish them all well.  So good to give mental health issues a human face.

It is probably obvious what I think about running but here are the things that keep me going out there:

  • Friendship – running with a buddy – or with a group – is a chance to put one foot in front of another whilst feeling part of something and connected to others – relationships are what we all need to survive.
  • Being outside – and connected to the world we live in – feeling heat and cold – being dry or soaking wet – nothing better to help you feel alive!
  • Watching the turn of the seasons. Bluebells!
  • Running alone and listening to music – or even a talking book or catching up on “The Archers” – no one can “get at you” when you’re running and sometimes it provides the quiet to indulge the things that you enjoy. I love music of all sorts – but I am not sure when I would listen to it – just listen – hearing every note or every word – if I didn’t run.
  • Running kit and Sweaty Betty!
  • Yes! I completely get the brain chemistry – I never regret a run or come home feeling worse that when I set out.
  • Although I have only recently begun to see the benefits of meditation – I am struck by how I have probably been benefitting from it for most of my life as – at times when I run – my mind empties and stills and becomes quiet and peaceful (probably not when I’m listening to Meatloaf!).
  • Problem solving and generating new ideas. This may be related to the improved working of my brain.  However – as a therapist I have a special interest in EMDR – a therapeutic approach developed initially to help people process trauma.  At its simplest it asks people to focus on their traumatic experience whilst the two sides of the brain are stimulated in turn (by eye-movements or tapping their hands etc.)  It seems to me that putting one foot in front of the other is a simple form of bi-lateral stimulation and I think it helps me to process what happens in my life.

I have more to say………………….. But I’m going to watch Part 2 of “Mind over Marathon” first – so watch this space…………………  And I can’t resist a bit or Meatloaf to sign off!