The Run Don’t Run Guide to Pedestrians

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In which I try to deal with my increasing levels of pre-marathon anxiety by being unreasonably harsh on my fellow pavement sharers

It was during my last longish long run that I spent maybe a bit too much time thinking about pedestrians and how much they upset me after three minor incidents in the space of three miles. So many seemed to want to insist on grabbing my attention in so many different ways:

1. The “we’re joined at the hip, three abreast” pedestrian

These are probably the ones I meet most often and bug me the most. They travel in groups of three and like to take up the full width of the pavement. If a fellow pedestrian is walking towards them, one will drop behind leaving a handy gap for him or her to get by. If the pedestrian is wearing running shoes, they will suddenly become a single, unbreakable unit, oblivious to the world around them, forcing the runner into the road, at the mercy of juggernauts.

2. The “right lads, watch me bring this runner down a peg or two” pedestrian

The we’re joined at the hip pedestrian blocks my way in a passive aggressive way. This type of pedestrian is a bit more “in your face” and wants to interact. My last confrontation of this type was on the same longish run when I thought I was going to have to deal with three teenage boys who were joined at the hip. Instead, one of them put his hand up ready to make contact with my face, a bit like how a police officer would get oncoming traffic to stop. This caused a very sudden change of pace on my part, jarring my up-til-then perfectly conditioned body, and much hilarity for my new pedestrian “friend”. If I have any pains during next week’s marathon, my use of Cockney rhyming slang for “banker” in response to the hand in my face will have been entirely justified.

3.The “pssst, I’m actually an undercover runner” pedestrian

I shouldn’t really complain about these because they mean well, and, if I’m honest, I often fall into this bracket. At the slightest sign of someone breaking into a trot, maybe if they see someone quickening their pace to catch a bus, your undercover runner will adopt a knowing smile, nod and cross to the other side of the road to make sure the runner has ample space to continue his or her noble art without obstruction. More extreme proponents will run into the nearest shop to buy a bottle of water, shout “good running” and offer the water to their newly acquired hero. It’s also handy to carry a large placard with the words “You’re Awesome” scribbled on it to guarantee any passing runner will be reassured you’re not a category 1 or 2 pedestrian.

4.The over-tolerant pedestrian

These pedestrians wrack me with guilt as I run away from them. If they were dogs, on a spying a runner they would drop down onto their bellies and wag their tails sheepishly as the runner passes by. They are not worthy (or so they think). I once slammed into one of these as both of us appeared for different directions on the same corner at about 6 o’clock one morning. He looked like he was on his way to one of those early-start, relentless, on your feet all day kind of jobs. I, meanwhile I was feeling smug for simply having got up early and wasn’t watching where I was going. And of course he apologised. I think I did too, but was wearing headphones so who knows how the words came out.

The “pesky kid” pedestrian

Actually, it’s not so much the pesky kid pedestrians that irritate, it’s the parents of pesky kids who stand by, oblivious to the chaos they leave in their wake, who need to up their game. These are the kind of parents who, when not letting their children ride their scooters or even bikes around supermarkets, let them run riot on canal-side footpaths amongst walkers, cyclists, dogs….and runners. The result is not unlike the opening scenes from a particularly uninspired episode of Casualty. During my almost fateful run there were occasions when I nearly ended up face-down in duck poo or even in the canal as small children, being children, suddenly changed direction by ninety degrees, did pirouettes or hurled themselves onto the place I’d next planned to place my foot. Meanwhile their parents looked the other way, missing the chaos unfolding behind them.

So that’s pedestrians neatly categorised (or is it?). If you’re a pedestrian (and we’ve all been there, even me), maybe sometimes you could try to be a bit more pedestrian*?

* pe-des-tri-an (adjective): not imaginative or unusual;

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Are you a Run-Faffer?

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Cap/image from zazzle.co.uk

I lay in bed early this morning, trying to sleep through Mrs Run Don’t Run making heavy weather about whether to go on her usual Sunday morning bike ride or not. It involved a lot of text messages, peaking outside to check on the iciness of the roads, and then, once the decision had been made to get the bike out, a lot of careful weighing up and mind changing about food, drink and the most ideal kit selection. As soon as she returns, I’m planning on immediately heading out on my long run, but you can be fairly certain that it won’t be the smooth handover of a carefully drilled triathlon relay team. For I am a run faffer. To faff is “to muck about, wasting time doing something not necessary.” It’s a real word and a genuine affliction- it must be because it’s in the Urban Dictionary!

The thing is, you might be one too, especially at this time of year. Check out the tell-tale signs:

1. Over-careful route planning – you want a route with no hills, which you’re not bored of, which needs to be familiar enough to avoid getting lost, with no likely puddles to mess up your box fresh new trainers, and it has to end outside your house after exactly 9.5 miles because that’s what your programme says. Cue consulting of maps, cutting bits of thread to measure distances.
Potential Faff-Factor: 60 minutes

2. Deciding the kit you wear has to match, or at the very least, doesn’t clash. This informs the perfect choice of socks. However, you can only find one.
Potential Faff-Factor: 20 minutes

3. Taking extra care over your hydration needs, especially before a 3 mile recovery run. Insisting on filtered water, from the fridge, in your favourite “lucky” bottle which is nowhere to be found, although other vessels are available.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

4. Killing the time waiting for your breakfast to go down by snacking.
Potential Faff-Factor: 180 minutes

5. Easily locating your iPod, but then having a last minute wish for a new playlist (cue switching on of creaky old computer, loading up of massive music library, hand-picking of new tunes, sorting into gradually increasing BPMs with a nice bit of slowing down towards the end for your warm-down)
Potential Faff-Factor: 60 minutes

6. Announcing every run, no matter how trivial, on a range of social media.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

7. Last minute clothing shuffle when the promised “mild conditions” turn out to be permafrost.
Potential Faff-Factor: 15 minutes

8. Watch-fiddling – entering a new work-out, switching from imperial to metric “for a bit of variety” then spending 10 minutes stood outside, losing the benefits of tell-tale sign 9.
Potential Faff-Factor: 20 minutes

9. Doing a thorough warm-up (the most beneficial faff, and naturally the one I’m least guilty of).
Potential Faff-Factor: 15 minutes

10. Reading running blogs about faffing, thinking “Yes, I do some of those, but he’s missed out the most important faff which is…..” then not being able to remember your log on name or password to add it as a comment under said blog.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

So are you a run-faffer? Can you suggest even more ways I can take even longer to get out of the house?

Running Slow (on purpose)

imageToday I went running slowly on purpose. By slowly I don’t mean at a pace that many of us might call “easy”. This was on the borderline between “jogging” and “walking”. I was inspired by an article in this month’s Runner’s World, which can also be found at fetcheveryone.com, about training in different heart rate zones and had been planning to give this a try for the past week.

Part One

This took place on Saturday morning when I planned to measure my resting heart rate by firing up the Garmin as soon as I woke up. I’d toyed with putting my heart rate monitor on before going to bed, but decided that despite 16 years of marriage, wearing an elastic strap around my chest under the duvet would take just a little too much explaining.

I think the lowest I managed to get my heart rate down to was about 39bpm but that took some doing after the excitement of the alarm clock going off mixed with the anxiety caused by the prospect of the morning’s Parkrun. I hadn’t worn the HRM for some time and doing it up and adjusting it suddenly put me in mind of Pat Wright and Dave Arrowsmith:

Once I’d finished amusing myself by talking in a poor Middlesborough accent about my “bra”, the next stage was to find out my maximum heart rate. With my 5K complete, as I clung on to a tree trunk until I was able to stand without support (that’s how we all recover from Parkruns right? Right?), I discovered that today’s effort had led to a maximum heart rate of 189bpm. Later on I programmed the Garmin with my personal heart rate zones in anticipation of the fun-packed geeky running activities that lay ahead.

Part Two

Various domestic and work related stresses got in the way of trying my Slow Run until six days later, when working from home gave me the opportunity to do a cheeky lunchtime run in the style of Leonard from Butterflies. Despite the fact it was nearly dark at 2pm and pouring with November rain, I made it out of the door and set out to do about 4 miles in “Zone 2”, which in my case was 110-130 BPM. The point of running at this speed is that apparently you will be fuelling your muscles with fat and oxygen. Therefore you’re tuning up your aerobic system, it improves endurance and uses very little glycogen. Whatever that means.

The kind of speed I think I go when recovering from fast intervals turned out to be too fast. The Garmin kept shrieking at me: “Heart Rate Too High”, making the blood pump around my veins even faster with irritation. I started to run almost as if in slow motion. After about a mile I finally got into the Zone 2 Groove, possibly because I was now more relaxed and breathing more efficiently in classic, slow running style.

However this was soon undermined by a very gentle hill which got the heart rate up and my Garmin wailing again. Crossing the road, being close to lots of traffic, the sight of other human beings, wiping the rain drops off the end of my nose all seemed to increase the BPMs. Runners of various speeds overtook me, probably wondering why someone going so slowly could be so interested in his Garmin. Every time this happened I unconsciously sped up to try and catch them, only to be chastised by the “Heart Rate Too High” alarm.

I felt like I could have kept going all day but it all felt a bit pointless and the scenery wasn’t changing fast enough. I’d run at my slowest speed ever and it hadn’t been slow enough. My average BPM was 10 beats above target. What a failure!

After 3.5 miles I’d had enough. I pressed “Stop” and ran the mile or so back home at a “normal” speed, oblivious to what my heart was up to. A “junk mile” that felt so much better.

My first ever Run Commute

Last Friday I finally ran home from work. I’d been planning to do this for over a year, an interesting route from one side of London to the other. And with a week to go until the Birmingham Half Marathon, the 13 or so miles required formed the perfect, longest long run.

I got off to a bad start leaving work late with a massive chip on my shoulder about the person I’d last spoken to there and then hanging around in the early Autumn London chill and drizzle, waiting for a satellite to finally loom over Kensington and shake hands with my Garmin.

I then snuck into Hyde Park, at that point shrouded in darkness and got going. As well as the Serpentine, in the North West of the park there’s a round pond interestingly called Round Pond which on Friday night was decorated with the flashes of white wave tops as the wind howled around it. After semi-circling Round Pond I disappeared into the woods, where every now and then I’d see ghostly apparitions of people walking, running and cycling into focus.

I crossed into the back streets of Lancaster Gate, avoiding the gazes of the armed police outside the more sensitive embassies, inhaling the herby aroma of meat being grilled in the more upmarket Lebanese restaurants.

Over Edgware Road, the scene of my only and severely embarrassing bike accident (I’d crashed, in the main road, there was no one to blame but myself), I ran parallel to Oxford Street through one of those expensive but anonymous parts of London that I’ve only ever cycled through and never stopped (and after yesterday, run straight through) until I crossed Regent Street into Fitzrovia. There I dodged the obstacles caused by office workers stood outside pubs (and the temptation to go and join them).

It was then into Somers Town and Kings Cross’ borders to tackle my favourite Central London hill, LLoyd Baker Street. When I cycle up this I like to pretend it’s one of the more testing stages of the Tour de France where I “attack” other “riders” (and more often than not get overtaken by a really old man on a Brompton), but running up it was no great challenge. Maybe I’m a better runner than cyclist after all?

At this point I was increasingly in need of a toilet stop, which was strange because I’ve never needed such a thing during my marathon and half marathon exploits. The question was, where to go? I wasn’t exactly dressed for the various bijou Islington pubs that I’d just loved to have stopped at for a swift ale, and sneaking down an alley seems increasingly unacceptable these days. So I made the decision to drop down by the Regent Canal. It was seriously dark, there were no lights along the towpath so I assumed I’d have the place to myself. I felt my my way down, clutching onto a rail alongside some muddy steps to the water’s edge only to find that there was an endless stream of people who had no qualms taking a night-time stroll down an shady, slippy towpath. Eventually I found a suitably private place, next to a tunnel where the path ended, half expecting a man in a cloak and top hat to appear from the mist.

Relieved, I returned to my route through more nameless bits of Islington and Hackney, keeping the slow but steady pace going. The final section was the most challenging, the long unrelentingly dull stretch that is Lea Bridge Road. 3.5 miles and I’d be home and so I pushed on, even managing to speed up a little as home came into sight.

So I’d finally run what turned out to be 12.9 miles after a day at work, with a bad attitude, in the dark, in the rain though 7 London boroughs. The usual Friday night wine-lust was temporarily replaced with a thirst for water and more water. It was 9 p.m. The onset of muscle soreness was immediate. The weekend had finally begun.

Places I’ve been running which appear in songs #1

This post might be the first of a series of one, but I just had to tell the world where I’ve been running this evening. Little Ilford Park! I didn’t know such a place existed before my running club organised for me to pay a visit in the company of about 40 other runners. I also didn’t realise that Little Ilford Park in deepest East London was the inspiration for this song:

To be honest I always thought this was about an imaginary place that was conjured up in the minds of the Small Faces after they’d indulged in some of the practices that the late 1960s were infamous for. However it seems I was mistaken. There’s a whole Wikipedia page about the history of the song including a bit of controversy about exactly which East London park inspired it. There’s even disagreement about what put the “Itch” in “Itchycoo” – stinging nettles, wasps or the contents of rosehips?

It has to be said, Itchycoo Park doesn’t really live up to what was promised by the Small Faces in their tribute:

Over bridge of sighs
To rest my eyes in shades of green
Under dreamin’ spires
To Itchycoo Park, that’s where I’ve been

I think we entered the park through a rickety kissing gate, not exactly a “bridge of sighs”. There was greenery, well flat scrubland, but dreamin’ spires? There were a few tower blocks but Itchycoo Park was decidedly spire-free. At one stage a few of us were confronted by a group of local kids who spotted the panting bunch of grown-up wannabe runners and decided to show us we were no match for them. Amazingly, after a few metres of jogging alongside they ran out of puff, the wise old tortoises overcoming the younger hares.

Ulimately, it was a warm summer’s evening, we were in the middle of a 6 mile run and I guess we had “all come out to groove about, be nice and have fun in the sun”. Itchycoo Park wasn’t “too” beautiful but nobody left nursing any stings.

UPDATE: Turns out I wasn’t the only runner moved to blog about out trip to Itchycoo Park on Wednesday night – check out the Fatty Must Run version of events HERE

Itchycoo Park is the green space at the southernmost tip of the route

Itchycoo Park is the green space at the southernmost tip of the route

The Great Wall of Epping Forest

One mile in - the wall is 7 miles from here

One mile in – the wall is 7 miles from here

I know, there aren’t really any walls in Epping Forest, just a lot of magpies, a few rabbits and the odd deer, but today I think I found one, a small one, a wall-ette.

The omens didn’t look good as I left the house. No food for the past 4 hours, some kind of niggly virus making my throat hurt, but I’m half-heartedly preparing for a 12 mile race at the end of the month so something approaching a Sunday afternoon long run was required.

The weather was finally making an attempt at passing off as “summer”, sunshine and everything, but Epping Forest was determinedly clinging on to it’s “muddy” status. In my head I was planning on 11-12 miles and all was going swimmingly, I did about 5 and turned around to head back home.

About 40 minutes in I’d opened up a Torq gel (Strawberry Yoghurt since you’re asking) the taste giving me flashbacks from last year’s marathon and half-marathons. Despite my efforts to keep things under control, half of the sugary contents oozed over my fingers producing a sticky distraction for the rest of the run. Also, am I the only person who hates running and holding stuff? I watched the Eddie Izzard documentary last week and much as I am impressed by his multiple-marathons, I’m more amazed by the fact he manages to do them holding a little flag. That little flag would drive me to the edge of insanity. There are no bins in Epping Forest and it’s one of the few parts of West Essex that have been overlooked by the fly tippers so dropping it onto the floor is completely out if the the question. So I held onto the tiny but deeply irritating gel wrapper for what felt like a couple of ultra-marathons (probably half a mile), quickly losing my mid-run karma before realising I could tuck it away behind the elastic of my SPI belt (see, those people who say you can come up with all sorts of good ideas while out running are right).

There was also a comedy moment where I squelched through some mud, emerging from the other side wearing only one shoe. Therefore I had to hop back into the bog to pull out the mislaid footwear which took some serious tugging until it released itself with a satisfying mud-fart. About 8 miles in I was feeling very pleased with myself as my mud splattered legs proved themselves strong enough to ease past a middle aged couple on mountain bikes but then the little wall started to rear up in the distance…

The hill I was making my way up seemed to be going on for ever until I realised I wasn’t going up a hill. Lifting up one leg at a time became more and more of a challenge and I started to have flashbacks to mile 20 in Halstead last May. This time was different however. There were no crowds cheering me on, no sponsors to disappoint, no photographers to record the humiliation. Feeling dizzy and somehow managing to stay on my feet, I decided I would stop in a few minutes time when I’d reached the respectable point of mile 10, and walk home. I checked the Garmin – only to see that I would need to keep going for another 15 minutes or so to get that far so I stopped at the less obvious landmark of 9.26 miles and “warmed down” for something like half an hour.

So what caused this mini-wall? Had I learnt anything?

  • I need to eat something at least a couple of hours before embarking on a long run
  • Feeling under the weather and a rarely experienced trail run is not the best of combinations
  • Do gels actually do anything for me? Torq gels come in some nice flavours, don’t mess up my stomach and aren’t full of chemical nasties. But I took a belt-full of them during my first marathon and the effects had seemed negligible as I’d faced an even bigger wall
  • Running in muddy forests is challenging and makes a change. However, it’s much easier to give up and walk home when you don’t have cars passing you by every few seconds. All those trees make for a skiver’s paradise

So far so good (with a sting in the tail)

Muddy ShoesThese shoes have been living the life of Riley recently, nice and clean , sheltered indoors from the harsh winter. Well today they got a bit of an outing – two bursts of extremely slow running to be precise. Extremely slow because I was running so gingerly, anxiously waiting for some kind of snapping noise in my left shin after all that recuperation but also because the notorious mud of Epping Forest slows anybody down who’s initially trying not to dowse himself in ankle-deep murky water.

The good news is that the shoes and I survived. All I needed to do was a couple of 5 minute spells of running which proved not to be too much of a challenge and the slowly intensifying throb that would have sent me into despair and back home was nowhere to be seen. Also, all those tedious strengthening exercises seem to have made their contribution. When I’d had periods away from running in the past, returning felt like going back to Year Zero complete with wheezing and counting down the minutes until I could head back home but this time I would have been happy to have stayed out, tip-toeing through the sludge.

VLMThe sting in the tail? When I got home there was a big shrink-wrapped envelope waiting for me – the registration and joining instructions for Virgin London Marathon 2013. The irony! I have to admit I did spend about 30 seconds wondering whether I would have time to build up from two extremely slow 5 minute runs to 4 plus hours dragging myself around 26.2 miles of London street in exactly one month