On Your Marks, Get Set, Blog!

Run Fatboy Run

Last Sunday, I (stupidly) took part in the annual ‘Sandbach 10k’, despite the fact that, not only had I never run a 10k race before, but I had never run 10k before.

When I first signed up for the event a few months ago (following a nudge from my darling wife), the furthest I had managed to run was around three miles. Nevertheless, in a moment of bold impetuousness one morning, I suddenly found myself forking out £16, for the privilege of attempting to run more than twice that distance (10k = 6.2 miles), without embarrassing myself.

So, over the last few months, I have tried to run at least twice a week, gradually increasing my distance on each occasion, whilst honing my physical fitness (from ‘very out of shape’ to ‘mildly out of shape’).

I’d love to paint the picture of a Rocky-esque montage, culminating in me running up some steps and celebrating at the top, but the truth is I spluttered my way through four miles, then four-and-a-half, and finally five miles, before eventually running out of time (excuse the pun).

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Still, I kept telling myself that it was ‘only another mile’, and I slowly began to believe that I could at least complete the distance – the problem was, I had no idea whether I would also achieve a respectable time.

I therefore decided to grade my expectations of the race, by creating a list of possible outcomes – ranging from most pleasing, to most disappointing (whilst all remaining realistic, since there was no point expecting to finish anywhere near the front):

Level Outcome Satisfaction
1 Run it all – under 45 minutes Ecstatic
2 Run it all – under 50 minutes Delighted
3 Run it all – under 55 minutes Pleased
4 Run it all – under an hour Relieved
5 Run it all – over an hour Acceptable
6 Have to stop and walk for a bit Disappointed
7 Get a stitch, walk majority Gutted
8 Fail to finish Devastated
9 Fail to finish and require paramedic Embarrassed
10 Develop stomach cramps, have to ‘Paula Radcliffe’ it by the side of the road, end up stretchered past crowds, crying, covered in own shit Mortified

Before I knew it, race day had arrived.

Feeling incredibly sick with nerves, I collected my running number, delicately attached it to my top (the last thing I needed at this stage, was to reveal my 10k virginity by lancing my nipple with a safety pin), then joined the other three hundred runners at the start.

I decided that, if I (optimistically) wanted to finish in the top one hundred, I should place myself about a third of the way back in the crowd, and then make sure I stayed in roughly the same position throughout the race.

However, as I stood there, two lithe gentlemen to my right began discussing their own personal targets, and when one said he was hoping to finish under forty minutes, and in the top twenty, I realised I was out of my depth. So, whistling under my breath, I took several steps backwards through the crowd, until I overheard a couple of middle-aged ladies discussing how they hoped they wouldn’t throw up. Ah, these were more my people.

When the race started (somewhat haphazardly, because the Mayor couldn’t get the sodding airhorn to work), I set off at what I hoped was a decent pace. After all, I didn’t want to be immediately left behind, but I also didn’t want to exhaust myself, by trying to keep up with the leaders.

Thankfully, the organisers had marked each kilometre with a bright orange sign, so when I got to the ‘1km’ post, I quickly checked my trusty Casio (look, it’s a classic, and a steal at £7) – it was showing a little over four minutes. Shit. I mean, I was pleased with that time, but I was aiming to do each kilometre in around five minutes, and felt pretty certain I couldn’t keep that sort of pace going for another nine kilometres.

Sure enough, by the time I reached 2km, my legs were already hurting, and I was breathing hard. I had fully prepared myself to ‘hit a wall’ at some point (metaphorically speaking), but didn’t expect it to be so pathetically soon. I’d screwed up, and was worried I would have to drop out before I’d even reached half-way.

I slowed down, got my breathing under control, and told myself it was just the initial nerves which were causing me to struggle. Then, shortly before the 3km marker, I was faced with this railway bridge:

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It doesn’t look much now, but when I was already struggling to comprehend running more than three times the distance that had damn-near killed me so far, it looked like bloody Kilimanjaro.

Sure enough, once I had completed it, my breathing was again laboured, and I had to persuade myself to just focus on the music I was listening to, and take it one marker at a time.

When I passed ‘4km’ in around 19 minutes, then ‘5km’ – or half way – in 24 minutes, I started to wonder whether I could possibly keep that pace going after all, particularly since I was beginning to feel slightly better and, at that rate, I could still finish in under 50 minutes. Plus, the route had just taken a long turn to the right, so I knew I was on my way back, and this was a huge psychological boost.

My next challenge (although I felt sure none of my fellow runners would see it as such), was the ‘water stop’ shortly before 6km.

As I approached, I could see a number of volunteers handing out plastic cups, but couldn’t decide whether to take one. I didn’t want to be carrying an empty cup for the remainder of the race, but equally hate littering. More importantly, I wasn’t sure that having water sloshing around inside my already turbulent gut was the best move.

Nevertheless, I was extremely dry-mouthed, so I decided to risk it. After all, what was the worst that could happen?

I therefore approached the volunteer who was also a paramedic (I figured there was no harm in acquainting myself with the medical team now, to save time-consuming introductions later), and went to grab the cup she was holding out.

Unfortunately, I must have grabbed a little too hard (through fear of dropping it), because, well, I crushed it – and soaked her. I tried to apologise as I ran away, and think I heard her shout that she was fine, but I still felt bad. I made a mental note to try and collapse in front of a different paramedic later on.

In the build-up to the race, I had gathered as much advice as I could, and one tip which had stuck with me throughout, was that it can often help to focus on something, to take your mind off the pain.

I don’t think the lady with the nice bottom, who overtook me between 6k and 7k, will perhaps ever know how inspiring (and timely) her derrière was, but by focusing all my attention on its glorious pertness, I managed to struggle my way past the 7k and 8k markers, and by that point I felt confident of at least finishing.

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Bottom watching

In fact, when I reached the 9k milestone, and a cursory glance at my watch informed me that I was still – just about – on course for a sub-50 finish, I suddenly became all (uncharacteristically) confident.

No sooner had I thought this, however, it dawned on me that I still had to go back over the massive bloody railway bridge from earlier (the route having looped around Bradwall, to finish almost back where we started). If I thought the bridge had been daunting from the other direction, now it was positively terrifying:

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Look, it seemed steeper at the time.

All I could think of, as I approached it with my gangly legs of sponge, was the ‘Travelator’ from popular ’90’s show Gladiators, and I just prayed that I wouldn’t face-plant mid-climb, then slide my way back down – as so many contestants had done. When I had compiled my ten-stage list, I had never factored ‘facial road rash’ as a potential hazard. Damn.

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Thankfully, there were some marshals stationed on the bridge, offering words of encouragement, and once I had plodded over the crest, I knew it was a straight run to the finish line – where my family were hopefully waiting to greet me. I didn’t dare risk another glance at my watch, so I just gathered together what little energy I had left, and went for it.

Then, continuing my delirious ‘90s flashback, I started thinking of the film Memphis Belle, and that final scene where John Lithgow (and some other actors I don’t remember), are waiting for the heroes to return, but the longer that time passes with no sign of the plane, the more their hopes dwindle. Would my wife and boys be at the finish line, with binoculars, wondering if I had enough fuel to get me home, slowly accepting with each passing second, that Daddy might never return?

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Then, there I was. There it was. The gloriously camp inflatable finish line (sadly, not the only squidgy yellow monstrosity on display that day), and a crowd of people cheering me home. I couldn’t make out any of my family, but to be honest I was too busy concentrating on not tripping up and making a complete tit of myself in front of a few hundred people.

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I am delighted to confirm (for those who don’t already know), that I finished the race in 81st place, and with a time of 49:16, which puts me very firmly in the ‘Delighted’ category.

I wearily – but gratefully – collected my medal and goodie bag (which bizarrely included a drinks bottle, bandana, and a loaf of bread – no, me neither) and posed for a celebratory photograph with my beaming boys.

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I know many ‘serious’ runners may well scoff at my achievement, and perhaps rightly so, but I am incredibly proud of completing a 10k without any major incident, and in a respectable time to boot. It was exhausting, painful, gruelling, horrible, and I hated every damn second of it.

Which makes it all the more confusing/frustrating, that I quite fancy doing it again.

 

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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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Light Blogging

This week’s entry is about running.

Look, I’m not delighted with the title either. It’s meant to be a reference to ‘light jogging’, and I am well aware readers may misinterpret the second word to be either ‘dogging’ or, heaven forbid, ‘flogging’, but when the only alternatives I could come up with were ‘Going for a Blog’, ‘Blogging In Public’, and ‘Blogging Bottoms’, you can appreciate my dilemma.

Anyway, I’ve decided to start running again.

Well, strictly speaking, I never gave up. I distinctly recall running for my train to Newcastle a couple of months ago, and have a vague recollection of running to my car the other day when it was raining, but I haven’t run for exercise, or pleasure, in some time (and, in the case of the latter, never, because no one actually enjoys running).

I used to run quite a bit. Only a few miles, around Sandbach, but I got relatively proficient at it. I mastered the whole ‘right, then left, then right again’ routine, to a point that I was moving at a pace faster than mere walking, and after a few months of repeating this exercise a couple of times a week, I even reached a stage where I didn’t have an overwhelming urge to vomit up a lung afterwards.

Then, partly because I was running on pavements, and partly because I had always bought relatively cheap trainers, I began to develop the crumbling spine of an eighty-year-old (at less than half the age). And, if I were to list the medical complaints which scare me the most, my top three – in no particular order – would be my back, anything to do with my gentleman’s equipment, and man-flu (many people would also include their eyesight, but mine went a long time ago, and I’ve given up hope).

Recently, however, I decided to give running another try. This is not a decision I particularly relished, but if I am to halt my ever-expanding waistline, before it gets ridiculous, playing an hour of badminton every Friday simply isn’t enough (particularly when I immediately recover any burnt calories in the pub afterwards).

I got on to the topic of jogging, whilst talking to a colleague at our Christmas party in December, and since she runs regularly, I decided that this made her suitably qualified to offer advice. Admittedly, I was that drunk at the time, I’d have accepted running advice from Jabba The Hutt, but you get the idea.

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Jabba The Hutt – not built for speed

She suggested that, if I was serious about running (I’m not), and I didn’t mind the expense (I do), I should think about going to a specialist shop, and she recommended a place in Alderley Edge. I was initially reluctant, but when she informed me that they film you running on a treadmill, then scientifically analyse your gait, to ensure you purchase the right shoes, this convinced me that they knew what they were doing.

Having mulled it over whilst at the bar, I returned to our table and announced that I was going to follow her advice. I had no great desire to have someone watch me running (I was worried they might laugh, and shout things like “is that how you run?”), but a few minutes of humiliation, seemed a fair price to pay for a (partially) functioning spine.

It was only then, that she (almost dismissively) revealed they make you run in your underwear. The subsequent conversation went a little like this:

“I beg your fucking pardon? They do what?!”

“You have to run in your underwear, so they can properly analyse your gait.”

“My gait is staying very firmly in my trousers, thank you very much.”

“No, seriously, it’s the only way they can assess you.”

“Was it a man who told you this by any chance? I bet he couldn’t believe his luck when someone finally fell for it.”

My decision was reversed. There was no way someone was filming me running in my pants. I would just buy a decent pair of trainers, and they would surely be fine.

However, following a particularly worrying spasm of lower back pain about a month ago (caused as a result of dancing in the shower – the truly embarrassing part being we don’t even have a shower radio, so fuck knows why I was dancing), I once again reconsidered my position, and decided to spend my birthday money on some proper running shoes, to prevent further damage to my back.

I still did not want to run, semi-naked, in front of people, but so long as the treadmill in question wasn’t placed in the shop window, and would remain – along with my underwear – entirely concealed from the public, then maybe I was going to have to accept what the experts would be telling me – and they would be telling me to run in my pants, apparently.

So, a couple of weekends ago, I mentally prepared myself to run on a treadmill for the very first time, selected a pair of particularly ‘secure’ boxers (without a button fly – the embarrassment levels would be high enough anyway, without my lolloping penis making an unwelcome appearance), and off I went. I also opted to wear shorts, rather than jeans, in a vain attempt to look the part (not that jeans would have immediately exposed me as a running novice, mind, and wearing shorts in freezing temperatures just made me look a twat).

When I entered the shop, I was greeted by a pleasant lady, who asked if she could help. I briefly explained about my history of running, and recent back pain, to which she – as anticipated – suggested that they film me on their treadmill, in order to analyse my gait.

Once I had confirmed that there were no treadmills in the window, and I was reasonably confident that my semi-naked jogging would be suitably clandestine (although I made a mental note to ask for the original footage, as I didn’t want my partially-clad derriere appearing on www.gulliblerunnersinpants.com – don’t bother clicking, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist), I reluctantly agreed.

She gave me a pair of ‘neutral’ trainers to start with, and we disappeared down to her basement of jogging-porn, to make our little film together. For security, I took Ollie with me, as I felt certain she wouldn’t try to seduce me in front of my son (regardless of the fact she was at least ten years my senior, and no woman has ever tried to seduce me, child present or otherwise), and I sat him down on a chair, while she got the camera ready.

“Ok, pop yourself on the treadmill when you’re ready.”

“Shall I take my shorts off?”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t you want me in my pants?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Never mind.”

At this point, I made a mental note to give my colleague a severe bollocking, when I got back to work on the Monday.

She then passed me to her male assistant (presumably appalled by my offer of stripping), and he asked whether I was used to running on treadmills. Ah, time to embarrass myself further.

“No, I’m a virgin, sadly.”

“Say again?”

“I mean a treadmill virgin. Not an actual virgin. That’s my son over there. Oh, I’ve had sex before, don’t you worry…”

“Just start walking.”

Now, those of you familiar with treadmills, may not recall your first time on one, but if you do, hopefully you found it as awkward as I did. I have been walking for roughly 36 years now, and never have I felt so weird doing it. I’m not sure what went wrong, perhaps it was the fact I had just tried to strip off (in front of my son), but I forgot how to walk. The closest I have found online, is this:

After about thirty seconds, the assistant gradually increased the speed, until I was running at a fair pace. Not sprinting, but fast enough to make me nervous, because it suddenly struck me that I had no idea how to stop. I panicked, and visualised my face slamming into the controls, before the machine catapulted me into the camera behind me.

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I was also becoming increasingly conscious that I should perhaps have worn a sports bra. It was all rather distracting.

In the end, my fears were unwarranted, because the guy came back over, and despite making some quip about me being a better runner than I was a walker (smart-arse), he gradually slowed the machine, until I was back at walking pace, and then stationary. I had survived.

The lady then returned, and we all watched a thoroughly uninspiring movie of my legs in action. She reassured me that there was nothing unusual about my running style, nor my gait, and actually complemented me on having ‘excellent calf muscles’ (see, ladies, I do have something to offer), before suggesting three pairs of trainers which would be fine.

I was going to opt for the middle-priced pair, because the first ones I had tried on were above what I was happy to spend, and the cheapest were bright yellow (plus, I didn’t want to appear miserly, by immediately choosing the cheapest), but Ollie then pointed out that these would be good for my safety, when running in the dark, and he thought they were ‘cool’. Besides, although they were the cheapest pair of the three, they were still the most expensive trainers I have ever purchased, so the decision was made.

And here they are:

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I have not yet taken these bad boys for a spin (gone running), because my new MP3 player was faulty and had to be returned, but so long as their maiden voyage is more successful than that of the Titanic (and I rather feel that, if I do run headlong into an iceberg, I’m doing it wrong), the prospect no longer fills me with dread.

Oh, and as for my colleague’s lies – about running in underwear – I was determined to get to the bottom of it (excuse the pun), so I confronted her the following week, and told her what had happened.

She immediately started laughing, then explained that it was her podiatrist who had made her run in her underwear, not the shop in Alderley Edge. It transpires that, whilst I was at the bar, deciding to follow her advice, I had missed a change in conversation.

“Oh God, you didn’t try to take your clothes off, did you?”

Erm, no, of course not.

 

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