Bloggy Hell

A couple of weeks ago, I took part in my usual Parkrun event in Congleton, and I would like to share with you what happened.

For those unaware, Parkrun is a charity which organises 5k running events all over the world every Saturday. From humble beginnings in 2004, there are now nearly five hundred events around Britain, a similar number elsewhere across the globe, and more than four million runners registered worldwide.

If you are getting somewhat weary of me writing about running, then fear not – this entry is less about running, and more about one man’s struggle against adversity, the elements, his own ineptitude, and an elderly man in a red bandana.

In truth, I am very, very proud of myself for even going to Parkrun the Saturday before last, because – those of you in the North of England may recall – the weather was apocalyptically bad. When I woke up around 7:00am, and cast a cautious glimpse through the curtains, the scene which greeted me was not dissimilar to something from The Day After Tomorrow.

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Sandbach – 25/11/2017

The conditions, together with my crippling indecisiveness, caused me to change my mind at least ten times about whether I was going or not.

Whilst weighing up my decision, I reminded myself that I always feel a sense of achievement when I’ve finished, and I certainly need to keep my competitive running going, if I hope to complete the 10 x 10k challenge I’ve set myself for 2018. Plus, I still need to shed some paunch, so a failure to go to Parkrun, would mean a longer run the following day to compensate.

On the other hand, I had to consider my health, because I needed to spend three nights in Newcastle for a trial the following week, and didn’t want to jeopardise that by making myself unwell running in Arctic conditions. In fact, the more I glanced out of our living room window, the more it dawned on me that there was every chance this Parkrun could fucking kill me.

Such is my inability to make decisions, I got into my running gear and as far as the front door, before a blast of icy air caught me right up the shorts, and I sheepishly headed back upstairs to my family. I couldn’t bear the thought of our boys growing up without a father. I had to stay at home for them.

Of course, my wife then gave her very finest ‘it’s up to you, dear, whatever you think is best, no one is making you go’ performance, which might as well have been ‘get out there, and stop whining like a bitch’, so my final decision to remain home was immediately reversed, and I found myself leaping from the house to the safety of our car (a distance of roughly six feet), then sitting on the drive and wondering what the hell I was doing.

The short drive from Sandbach to Congleton was horrendous, with rain and sleet lashing against the windscreen (so much so, I had to increase the wipers from ‘constant’ to ‘fuckinell’), and there were cars passing me with an inch of snow covering them.

Even once I had parked up at Astbury Mere in Congleton, it took every ounce of my strength to not turn around again and go home. As I put my running shoes on, and opened the car door, I seriously questioned my sanity.

I was apparently not alone, because once I had jogged the half lap around the lake to the start line (partly to warm up, but also because my indecisiveness had made me a little late), the general conversation was that this was all a terrible idea. Not one person was looking forward to running – even though, by this point, the sleet had mercifully stopped.

My mood was not improved by the fact my arch nemesis, ‘Bandana Man’ (not to be mistaken with 1980’s cartoon, Banana Man), then arrived, looking all smug and confident. For the record, not only is he probably a nice guy – we’ve never actually spoken – but I have no reason for disliking him, other than the fact he constantly finishes just ahead of me (which is not really a reason to treat someone as your mortal enemy). Still, he was grinning, and in that weather no sane person should have been grinning, so for once my hatred was justified. Plus, he always wears a bandana, for fuck’s sake.

Following the usual introduction from the ‘Race Director’ – which involves a description of the route for any first-timers (‘three laps around the lake, keep the water on your left…’), a round of applause for the volunteer marshals, and an instruction to let faster runners overtake – we were counted down from 3, 2…. and, at that precise moment, what I can only describe as ‘end of the world hailstones’ began striking us with a vengeance…..1.

I have never had so little motivation to run in my life, except for perhaps the half lap around the lake back to my lovely warm car so I could drive home.

My mood was not improved when, shortly after setting off, one of my fellow runners refused to keep to the left (despite the firm instructions less than a minute earlier), and because there was no space to her right, I was forced to undertake – straight through a huge puddle, which completely submerged my left foot.

The remaining two-and-three-quarter laps were spent with my face being lashed by freezing rain, while my foot squelched, and my chest pounded as I struggled to breathe the icy morning air.  Such was my agony and misery, the only way I could get through the final lap was to count my own breathing as a distraction.

When I finished, I stopped my trusty Casio, and was pretty delighted that I had achieved my second fastest Parkrun ever, despite the terrible weather conditions, and the fact I had consumed an entire bottle of red wine the night before.

My glory was, however, fleeting.

Firstly, having passed through the finish, I immediately headed for my usual wooden post, which I like to lean/collapse on, as I try not to vomit or cough up a lung. Essentially, it keeps me upright just long enough to compose myself, thereby avoiding an embarrassing fall into a bush.

Except, on this occasion, some utter bastard had beaten me to it, and because I needed to lean on something quickly (before I fell down), I made a snap decision and clung to a nearby bin instead. It wasn’t until, a few seconds later, when I noticed a few runners looking at me, and the sudden stench of dog shit burning my nostrils, that I realised I was hugging no ordinary bin.

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Sadly, my embarrassment didn’t end there.

If you have never taken part in (or attended) Parkrun before, let me explain how the timing works. Everyone sets off together, and once you have finished the 5k, you collect a small plastic tag with your position and a barcode on.

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You then take this, along with your own personal barcode (which is sent to you when you first register), to one of the volunteers behind the finish line, who scans them both to register your time.

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NB: This is an example I found online. I do not run under an Indian pseudonym

Until two weeks ago, it had never dawned on me that a paper barcode would not mix particularly well with rain, but as I prized myself away from the dog bin, and put my hand into my soaking shorts (it was raining heavily, remember, I hadn’t pissed myself), I slowly pulled out clumps of murky pulp, and realised I had been rather foolish.

To make matters worse, I did this in front of one of the volunteers, who looked at me and said “I don’t think I can scan that.”

Gee, ya fucking think?!

Utterly despondent, I squelched over to the Race Director to explain what had happened, and he unhelpfully suggested I should have laminated it. In response, I wanted to explain that I had contemplated doing this when I first registered with Parkrun, but thought it was better to simply print lots of copies, and then replace them when they became worn; naively forgetting – to my embarrassment – that rain would completely destroy them within minutes.

Sadly, in my exhausted state, all I could manage was a pitiful wail, like a wounded animal (I’d intended to at least say ‘I know’, or ‘I will’, but even that proved too articulate for my current oxygen levels). Afterwards, I wished I’d quipped something vitriolic, like ‘go laminate yourself’, but you always think of these things when it’s too late, don’t you?

I did, however, manage to explain – via a mixture of grunts and hand signals – that I had a spare barcode in the car, and would go fetch it. So, having squelched the half-lap back to my car, collected a replacement barcode, and returned to hand it to the Race Director so he could record my time, I finally headed home.

I have never longed for a hot shower so much in my life, and as I stood there, the water slowly reviving me, I couldn’t help but notice that my body was ruined. My legs and feet were dark brown, yet the rest of me was ghostly white. It was like I was a character from that board game, Misfits, and had been created my mixing the legs of 1980’s Michael Jackson, with the torso and head of 1990’s Michael Jackson.

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That is, all except for my belly, which was inexplicably red raw. As I stared down, all I could think of was the scene towards the end of E.T., where everyone thinks the little fella has sadly passed away, and then his stomach starts to glow with life.

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And, speaking of little fellas, as I stared at my belly, something infinitely more worrying struck me. Such was the impact of the freezing weather on my body, my penis had gone from an ‘outy’ to an ‘inny’.

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Fear not, ladies, normal service has since very much resumed.

And, with that…..

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Run, FatBlog, Run

Run Fatboy Run

You may recall that, a few months ago, I took up running again (https://middlerageddad.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/light-blogging/).

Well, I call it running, but most serious runners would probably refer to it as ‘moderately quick walking’, because my average speed is around 7.5 miles an hour – which isn’t even twice as fast as my normal walking pace. To be honest, I feel a bit embarrassed saying I have been for a run, when there were mobility scooters overtaking me.

That said, if I could run a marathon at that pace (or at all), I would be extremely pleased, as I am currently more concerned with working on my distances and stamina, rather than my speed. The problem is, my distances and stamina are crap too.

When I first started running again, I had a nice little two-mile circuit mapped out, to ease me back into the metaphorical saddle after a decade’s absence. The plan was to increase this gradually, to the point where I was firstly winning half-marathons, then full marathons, and ultimately taking Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

These were perhaps unrealistic ambitions, particularly for a 37-year-old man with the spine and knees of an arthritic pensioner, but I had hoped to reach the stage where I could at least run a half-marathon without embarrassing myself (and, for what it’s worth, I would define ‘embarrassing’ as collapsing in the street, sobbing, and then alternating between vomiting and shitting myself). Alas, after four months of ‘training’, I am now prepared to admit that there is more chance of me doing a skydive than a half marathon – and there is zero fucking chance of me ever doing a skydive.

The fact is, having run twice a week since March, I am now able to (just about) complete a four-and-a-half-mile circuit, before my body completely shuts down, and it takes all my remaining focus and energy not to revisit every meal from the previous 48 hours. This isn’t an exaggeration. I ran four-and-a-half miles for the first time a few weeks ago, and after a shower – where I spent most of the time wishing we had installed a panic button/emergency cord in the downstairs loo – it took me fourteen minutes to put my pants and socks on (my stopwatch was still running).

I do accept that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, and these things take time, commitment and perseverance, but that also fails to acknowledge just how truly terrible I am at this. Also, I don’t have a great deal of time, even less commitment, and absolutely no perseverance whatsoever.

To be honest, it saddens me to think I am never going to be a good long-distance runner. At 6’3″, with the sort of legs an Ethiopian marathon runner can only dream of (except for the utterly knackered knees, and the fact that my pasty white skin would look ridiculous on an Ethiopian – like he’d been dipped to his waist in Dulux Emulsion), I genuinely thought I might be suited to long distance running. This was supposed to be my sport.

Unfortunately, unless I am going to break through a physical barrier sometime soon, whereupon everything will suddenly click into place, then running half-marathons (let alone full marathons), will forever elude me. In fact, the only chance I have of anything clicking into place right now, is my hip clicking into my spinal cord.

A few weeks ago, when I bravely/naively/stupidly chose to add a ‘bonus’ section onto my three-mile circuit, turning it into four and a half miles, I suddenly became quite upbeat about running, and wondered whether I had perhaps underestimated my capabilities. Sure, I felt like dying afterwards, but four and a half miles felt like the sort of distance where you transform from merely a casual jogger, into a more serious runner. However, I now realise that this is complete bullshit. Serious runners would see four and a half miles, as something they do in their jeans when they nip to the shops to pick up milk.

I briefly toyed with the idea of joining my local running group (‘Sandbach Striders’), for some moral support, to meet new people, and with the incentive of making myself a better runner. However, once I checked out their website, and saw that they start at five mile runs and work from there, I just knew I would be out of my depth.

No matter how much I am sure they would try to make me feel welcome, and would almost certainly not ridicule me for my dreadful fitness levels and stamina, if they consider running five miles as ‘beginner-level’, then I would feel like I was struggling (and a failure) from the word go. Imagine if I joined them, and then looked like this:

After all, it’s only a matter of weeks since I was ritually humiliated by a group of badminton playing pensioners, so if I were to now find myself struggling to keep up with an 80-year-old jogger, I think the final shred of my sporting self-confidence would desert me.

Then, last week, I came across an article discussing top tips for marathon running. I would normally treat such an article with (wholly uncharacteristic) scorn, but when I noticed it was written by Amy Hughes – no, me neither, but she apparently holds the world record for running 53 marathons in 53 days, so she’s clearly very experienced in distance running, as well as being a fucking lunatic – I decided to give it a read. After all, I have no intention of running a marathon any time soon (well, ever), but felt the tips might help with long-distance running in general, and I regard four miles as long-distance running.

Unfortunately, her ten tips turned out to be largely useless to me….

1. Vaseline your boobs and balls

Good start. I assume that men and women are generally expected to grease only one of these body parts (although, I am rapidly acquiring a delightful pair of man-breasts), but even taking that into account, if I am applying copious amounts of Vaseline to my danglies, the last thing I want to do is then leave the house and go for a run.

2. Don’t eat everything you’re given

Frankly, this is far better advice for my life in general, than for any long-distance running, but I anticipate she means the food which marshals hand out during marathons. No problem there, because the closest I will ever get to a race marshal handing out food, is the chippy near Sandbach train station (which I sometimes run past). Plus, I don’t like bananas anyway.

3. Create a mantra

Give me strength (that’s not mine, by the way).

Her suggestion? ‘You are strong. You are fearless. Don’t stop.’

Now, let’s be honest, if you ran past someone uttering that to themselves during a marathon, you would have to sacrifice your race time by a few extra seconds, in order to stop and laugh at them.

That said, I do have a sort of mantra when I run, but it’s more stick than carrot, and generally involves something like ‘if you don’t get to that next lamppost, you’re a fucking disgrace.’

4. You’re not doing this alone

I bloody am. It’s not a three-legged race, is it?

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5. Head to the loo early

Apparently, this is to combat nerves before a marathon, and because the portable toilets only deteriorate in queue-length (and stench), the nearer you get to the start of the race. Not a problem, as I have no intention of entering any marathons. Besides, my current circuit is pretty deserted, so if I do reach critical bowel mass whilst running, I’ll just have to Paula Radcliffe it by the side of the road.

6. The crowds carry you through

Again, not much help to non-competitive runners. The only crowds I encounter on my route, are families and groups of teenagers, who insist on walking four abreast along the pavement – even once they have seen me – and then appear upset when I shout at them.

7. Get used to dodging bottles

I thought bottle throwing was something morons did at gigs (having usually filled them with urine), but apparently it is common for marathon runners to get hit by discarded bottles too, especially just after a fuelling station. So, as if the twenty-six miles weren’t incentive enough to avoid running marathons, we can now add ‘dodging plastic missiles’ and ‘leaping over someone taking a shit by the side of the road’ into the equation. Are all marathon runners complete sadists?

8. Don’t be embarrassed to flaunt your medal

Fear not, Amy. If I ever completed a marathon and got given a medal, I’d be dining out on that personal achievement for the next decade.

9. The runner’s high is real

Give it a rest, love. That’s delirium and dehydration setting in, not euphoria at running a long way (it might also be the side-effects of potassium poisoning, from all the bananas you scoffed en route).

10. You will walk like John Wayne for about a week

Well, I currently do that after just three miles, so I think I can handle it.

And people do this for fun?

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Addendum:

All joking aside, I am in awe of anyone who can run a marathon, let alone what this (admittedly insane) lady has achieved. Sadly, no matter how many people claim it is purely mind over matter, and anyone can run a marathon if they train hard, they haven’t seen me run.

Nevertheless, since writing this week’s entry, I have rather impulsively (and foolishly) registered to take part in a local 5k ‘park run’ tomorrow morning. Most of my brain is now telling me this is a terrible idea, and I will embarrass myself, but there is a tiny neglected section, hidden somewhere at the back (my confidence), which keeps whispering that I can run 3 miles, I’m not that slow, and above all else…

I am strong. I am fearless. I won’t stop.

Now, where did I leave that Vaseline?

(Credit: Many thanks to my good friend Ant Longson, for mocking up the film poster at the start of this week’s entry for me. The fact that he accepts my strange requests, without even flinching, is testament to what a strange man he is. Which is undoubtedly why we get along so well).

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