Posts Tagged ‘Running’

I read on someone’s blog once that most people read race reports to see how long it took.

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If that was all you came for, then job done. But just in case anyone came for more detail I’m going to plough on with things.

To begin with, I got lucky number 7! I’ve lived in a few houses that were number 7, never on purpose, but it does seem to follow me around a bit. It was’t number 1, which is good – I had number 1 at the very first Trail Outlaws event, the Pieces of Eight at Penshaw Monument, and it felt like a lot to live up to*.

I got my t-shirt, which was pretty exciting – if you read my last post then you know that I doodled the doodle on the front, and to see it in actual real life on actual people was fantastic.


It really was ‘a dark and stormy night’. That much is true. Storm Kate kicked off about half an hour before the race started and tried new and interesting combinations of ‘wet’, ‘extra wet’, ‘windy’ and ‘chilly’ all the way round.

Last year’s Dark Skies was lovely and clear, with sunset, stars and all the stuff you’d have come to a dark skies park for. No so last night. I could have stood in the shower with the lights off in my running gear to fairly accurately experience it**.

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I managed to impress myself by running the first half or thereabouts without resorting to a sneaky walk – good going for me at Kielder, where the only bits that aren’t uphill or downhill are the bits that separate one from the other.

I’ve got a decent idea of the route as far as the dam in my head now, so I kind of knew where I was, I was’t caught out by the hidden one-mile-inlet where you can see the route to the dam in front of you, turn a corner and realise there’s another two miles to go before you get there.

The bit from the dam back to Hawkhirst was a hurt-fest of tired legs, tired brain and cold winds – it’s the second time I’ve ever thought I might be getting hypothermia while out running. I think it was because I walked a little to long on one bit, and my core must have cooled down – breaking into a shuffle-trot seemed to do the trick.

I had gone a bit tech-crazy, and as well as my Fitbit heart monitor I also had my Garmin on the other wrist, but I resisted the urge to look at either. I started playing ‘how many miles is this’ and irritated myself at my inability to figure it out. My phone alarm went off at 9pm, and I apologised to the people around me at that point – no-one wants to be shocked by Big Ben when they’re part way round a reservoir in Northumberland.

I made it through to Leaplish and then the final mile and a bit to Hawkhirst saw me summon up a slightly swifter*** stumble along to the finish line. I could hear someone behind me trying for a sprint finish, and briefly wished they’d explode in flames – after 26.5 miles it’s a bit rich to try and pick up a position or two in the final straight**** – they never quite caught up and I doddered into the finish hut, had my picture taken (I think) just as my glasses steamed up and I lost all vision. I found the finish desk, then a cup of coffee and then a bit of a sit down*****.

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All in all a fabulous run – the marshals should get an award for standing around in the rain. The organisation was grand, the people were cool. The medal was a cracking black number with the Plough picked out in tiny crystals – they go right through, so I reckon you can shine a light through. Genius.

To top it all off, five minutes after I got in the car and started heading home the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the moon came out. Really beautiful, and a few hours later than would have been nice.

I GOT MY PICTURE ON A RACE T-SHIRT – DID I MENTION THAT?

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*I managed to fight that urge and come nowhere near the front.

**I would have also needed someone pointing a wind machine in through the door, but that would be silly, right?

***It’s relative, OK, I think I was clocking 14 minute miles just before and got a 13 minute final mile.

****Other views on sprint finishes at the end of trail marathons in storms are available. But they are wrong.

*****An inherently dangerous thing to do after a long run – there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to get back up.

 

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That’s the fella.

It’s a while since I bought much new kit – I’ve got shoes, socks, tights, shorts, tops, wind-proof tops, waterproof tops, a hat, a torch, bags and so on, and to be honest I’m kind of used to it, so don’t feel the need to go out replacing stuff.

However, for a while now, I’ve wanted an insulated best of gilet – partly for running, but also to bolster the warmth of my not-quite-four-season jacket when I’m out and about.

I’ve hummed and hahed, and not found one that was right, but kept running across the OMM Rotor Vest. I tried on the smock (same thing but with arms) a while ago, but it had an odd cut and there seemed to be too much body and not enough arm length for me.

Saying that, I came across the vest version at the same time, and thought it looked canny. So when I found I could get one at a discount when my local running/outdoor shop was looking to reduce stock ahead of refurbishment, I parted with my pounds to find out it would work out.

The first thing to note is that the extra-long zip on the front is not an extra-long zip, it’s a split zip. The top is a fairly normal zip, the bottom is the entry to a tiny pocket, which doubles as a stuff sack. The join looks to be a thick line of stitching, and I ended up getting the XL rather than the L simply because it was a tight fit over my head on the L and I figured that line wouldn’t last long. On the XL, the zip opening was just longer enough to fit without getting taut.

I could have got away with the body fit on the L, though it was pretty snug, the XL had a bit of room to move. I can’t imagine I’ll be wearing more than a base layer below, so I don’t know I’ll need much more space.

This afternoon, I headed out for a check – it was cold, windy and I had a long sleeve base, tights and the Rotor on for. Bit of warmth and wind protection. The outer material is Point Zero, which feels silky to the touch and which is wind proof. The fill is Primaloft Gold.

The little lower zip opens providing venting if needed – pretty good for me as I get hot around the exact spot. I had it open some of the time closed other and with a it of judicious top-zip action I never overheated. The bottom of the vest has an elastic aged draw cord, which would be pretty useful in colder conditions, though I didn’t feel the need – there were a couple of times in the gusto we parts of the run where I got a blast of chilly air up the back or through the arms, but they were few and far between and I didn’t stay cold for more than a second. Overall, the Point Zero did the job and I didn’t feel the wind penetrating the material at all.

I tend to find my forearms are like radiators – they need to be kept able to breath or they just sweat the heat away, and for me the vest is a great design, and teamed with a waterproof for rain I think it would work well in anything up to a proper freeze. The Primaloft Gold gave just the right level of heat retention for a run on a chilly, gusty February afternoon.

One run in and I’m impressed, it fills a hole between a wind-proof top and a long-sleeve insulated top like my Inov-8 insulated top. Once I’ve had more of a play with it I’ll try and update this capsule review, but so far it’s a nice piece of kit.

I passed another milestone at the start of November. Four bloomin’ years of running. Whoever would have thought?

It’s been a funny time since July, when I had a spot of digestive bother that left me feeling constantly tired, lethargic and a bit trippy (I felt like I was going to trip over a lot, not like I was on drugs, though that’s not a bad metaphor either). Cut through a few months of trips to the doctor, enough blood tests to make Hancock complain, a consultation with a gut-doctor and then finally it brought me to the men’s changing room of the Endoscopy Unit in a hospital gown, waiting to get the bottom-paparazzi in.

I had a notebook and a pen, and despite shaky hands (this was pre-investigation, so I was a bit nervous about what it would the like), I thought I’d capture the memory…

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Looks spiffy, eh?

Some interesting chats with the other chaps in hospital gowns, most of which focussed on food as we’d all been fasting and cleaning our pipework ready for today. It didn’t help that flipping Jamie Oliver was on the telly in the room cooking all manner of Christmas food.

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that to all my other unique qualities you can add ‘difficult bowel’. That’s proper medical terminology – it says so on my notes.

In effect what it means is that they got 2/3 or the way around, but got stuck in a corner. Another exciting note for the CV is an ‘overactive vagus nerve’, which seems to mean that in circumstances of stress and discomfort*, I have a tendency to try to faint. Or, as I now know it is called, ‘pre-syncope’. I know, I’m a medical marvel. It just means that I almost fainted, and before you get judge-y about that, you’d have to give it a go**.

Anyway, today’s bit of fun marks, for me, the end of the poorly-journey. I’ve barely run (OK, so I did a bit of running – including the Jedburgh Ultra, which was it’s usual marvellous self) and part of that has been the feeling that there’s something to finish up in terms of sorting my health. Now that I’ve got the ‘looks clear’ report I reckon there’s no reason why I’m not back on with a spot of running.

Next year I’ve got a couple of things lined up – the Dark Skies Marathon around Kielder with the fab Trail Outlaws, and my third-time-lucky attempt at the Kintyre Way Ultra. I’ve been entered the last couple of years and never quite made it to the start line. The organiser has very kindly allowed me to carry it over both times, and I reckon this is the year.

Other than that, I’m aiming for the Blaydon Race (obviously, it’s the only road race you have to come home for***) and probably the North Tyneside 10k (who doesn’t love a finish at a lighthouse) and I dare say I’ll pick up the odd other event on the way through the months, but I think what I really want to do is to get in more quality running around and about, up and down the hills round here.

Right, here we go into year 5, let’s hope it’s a jolly one!

Also, a huge, and I mean HUGE thank you to the NHS folk who looked after me today. From start to end they couldn’t have been nicer, better or more caring or kept me better informed. In fact, my GP and the consultant and the people who’ve tested one thing and another have all grand.

*Like someone trying to push a camera around a corner in your gut, that’ll be ‘stress and discomfort’.

**Seriously though, if you’re told you should have one of these, you really should do it – it’s not half as traumatic as I imagined, and while it wasn’t exactly fun, you should get checked. If you’re of a mind for such things, you can even watch it on the telly.

***Y’know, it’s like the old McEwan’s Export advert…

 

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I don’t want to waffle on for hours about this, as it might stop you from reading all the way to the end, but it could be difficult not to, so bear with me a little. That’s me at the start, by the way, looking like the rainbow love child of Ron Hill and Pan’s People. I quite like this picture of me, it looks like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards and then kidnapped by hippies. That’s the look I aim for on a really long run, I find it scares off any leopards and bears – I have a clean slate in the leopard and bear department. The photo was taken by the remarkably fine Lee Nixon, the Outlaw Photographer.

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That’s the map, well, that’s my map, or drawing I guess, it’s a pretty poor map as maps go, so let’s call it an infographic of the route? That chap in the middle is St Cuthbert, the first British ultra-runner, and some say the person who started the whole ultra-running movement. In-between being pious and fighting vikings, he liked to get out for a bit of a jog. However, he was also a bit of a Forrest Gump character, and found it difficult to stop once he’d found his running mojo. I think we’ve all been there, right?

He set off from his house in Melrose, over the Eildon Hills, hung a left just before reaching Jedburgh and then passed through Kirk Yetholm before heading over the Cheviot Hills (he liked a bit of hill training) to Wooler to re-supply on jelly babies before continuing on to the beach. As luck would have it, he came out at Lindisfarne and skipped over the causeway, discovering that someone had built an abbey there, so he decided to stay for a bit.

Virtually none of that is true, but it’s a grand story that I made up while running St Cuthbert’s Way in the wrong direction. You might ask why the wrong way? Well the thing about causeways is they get a bit damp at times, and the 60-odd people starting would all be finishing hours apart, so better to get the time-critical bit out of the way first and avoid wading.

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And that’s me heading over said causeway – the boxy thing is a refuge in case you get caught out trying to finish an ultra marathon in the right direction and the tide comes in…

As photos are cool, here’s one more, of everyone at the start on Lindisfarne:

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Grand bunch of folk too. I got to see the back of most of them heading off as I headed into my familiar almost-last-tending-to-last place early on.

As far as runs go, this one was a doozy – it really has it all, even a volcano! I don’t think James Bond could come up with finer plot.

You start with a causeway off the island, head across gentle meadows and some fun minor hills on the way to Wooler. The last hill into Wooler is a cracker, just to get you in the mood.

So, that’s me to the first main checkpoint at Wooler Bowls Club, and I’ve already overlooked the fantastic marshalling at the checkpoints on the way to Wooler. The organisation was ace, everything I’ve come to expect from a Trail Outlaws event – seriously, I’d say they’re doing a cracking job of single-handledly turning the North East into an even more stunning venue for some mighty fine running. St Cuthberts Way, the Kielder Dark Skies Marathon and I’m sure the upcoming Sandstone Way Ultra are all immense, even the Penshaw Pieces of Eight half marathon turned out to be a gem of a run in a location I’d never realised was quite so well stocked with trail.

A not-so-quick turnaround at Wooler, and my first chance to try my novel refuel choice, sushi! If you’ve read the last few posts running up to St Cuthbert’s Way, you’ll know I tried a thing or two out, and my key strategy was built around cucumber maki (cucumber rolled in rice and surrounded with seaweed – I hold onto a hope of getting sponsorship from Yo! Sushi one day – when I was buying a shed-load of cucumber maki to take away and explained it was to fuel me through a 100km run they seemed bemused), gluten-free vegan chocolate oaty biscuits and diluted Irn-Bru. First pack of sushi and it felt like a good choice with a spot of soy sauce, they shook hands with my tummy and agreed to all get on.

Out of Wooler and into the second big chunk, and it’s time to introduce some hills. The Cheviots to be exact, and they manage to pack a lot of hill into what looks like a short space on the map. But beautiful, really, really beautiful. Eventually you reach the border between England and Scotland, which looks a bit like this:


Still looking jolly at this point. From the border you get the first view of the Eildon Hills, the volcano you have to scale to get to Melrose on the other side and the finish. From here it looks both small and not that far away. Neither of these facts turn out to be true…

More hills, more hills and then a few more hills just for good measure. There was a bit of woodland in there, with a confusingly vague track through it, but we made it through.

Eventually you reach Scottish civilisation in the form of Kirk Yetholm (or maybe Town Yetholm, I can never remember which is which) the starting point for the Pennine Way.

Along to Morebattle, the next main checkpoint and more sushi. Sushi was still good, as was the Irn-Bru.

There’s a hill, called Wideopen Hill that hides just outside of Morebattle. It’s the mid-point of St Cuthbert’s Way, apparently and also the highest point (there’s a sign to tell you this, I’m not full of St Cuthbert’s Way trivia). The top of it looks like this (complete with sign)…


However, as it’s the highest point, it’s also a crazy long climb, and it’s one of those hills that just looks to keep going. You’ve just congratulating yourself for having reached the summit when another summit appears, and you’ll never guess what’s behind that? Uhuh…

Onwards we go, and we’re half way now, so there’s no point in turning back – on to Bonjedward, and the first hand-powered car-wash in Scotland (as far as I know). We picked up the sweepers here, or maybe they picked us up, that’s probably more like it. You cross the road here and drop down to follow the river then we’re on the back half of the Jedburgh Ultra, the wee church at Maxton, St Boswells, then on to the Eildons.

I haven’t mentioned the time yet – this caper kicked off at 8am in the morning on Saturday. By now it was getting dark, so head torches were the order of the day.

Up, up, up the slope of the Eildons – luckily it was over the saddle – the Jed Ultra goes right up the side of the biggest one, so I was pretty thankful that wasn’t called for. It still felt like quite a climb.

Eventually, and it felt like forever, but the top of the saddle was reached and the first view of Melrose. Just a mega-muddy downhill and a slight direction malfunction and into Melrose itself, and a lone figure in a car which turned out to be Phil Turton, one of the Outlaws-In-Chief and probably the most welcome sight of the day. A stagger to Melrose Abbey to mark our cards (literally) and then the extra mile or so through town to the finish at the village hall.

The light was starting to leak back into the day, the birds were getting their act together and the most amazing 68 mile (that’ll be 100km) adventure was at a close. I reckon I looked OK, all things considered…


Still. Bloody. Smiling.

I think I thanked everyone in the room fairly indiscriminantly and often, I babbled about how fantastic the run was (quite rightly too), then headed back to my tent back on the edge of town to try and get some sleep. I went to sleep wearing my finisher’s medal on, some things are important and should be held on to.

Time? Well, the time at the finish was 4:30am on Sunday, so that’s 20.5 hours on the hoof. There was a lot walking in the second half. A lot of good chat with other runners along the way, which surprised me as I always think I’m a solitary runner, but I honestly think the people was what got me through – the other runners, the marshalls the whole bloomin’ lot – Phil, Tim, Lee, Flip, Tony, just a grand family of people. The Munros too – Helen and John, who I know more from the Scottish ultra scene, so a lovely surprise to see here – Helen seemed to be at every checkpoint in her role as the Angel of Chivvying to try and make sure there was a minimum of Messing On. John, along with Dave Hetherington as the Grim Sweepers from Bonjedward onwards to the end, always with a subtle suggestion of “mebbes run a bit, it’s downhill after all”.

Would I do it again? For sure, but I think it would only work if I could find the time to properly train for it, which is tricky. All the core work with Chris at NUCAS has paid off, but I hadn’t put the miles in to be honest, and I think it showed. One for the future perhaps, more shorter ultras first. I did feel bad about finishing after the official 18.5 hour cut-off, the marshalls and everyone involved have given up their time and I don’t like the idea I’m keeping them up.

Speaking of marshalls and the Trail Outlaws, I did have a thought as I was stumbling through Melrose that those hi-vis jackets would look minty with a logo on, something to continue the fab cowboy theme, sort of like this…


If you’re going to be an outlaw, best be a Trail Outlaw.

Best. Race. Ever.

Right, so there’s a few weeks to go until my next big run, and I figured it’s the right time for an honest-to-goodness appraisal of where I need to put in a bit of work to round off my planning.

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The raw material – one older, portlier-that-hoped-for runner with bad feet and a dreadful attitude to nutrition.

So, in no particular order, the bits I need to concentrate on are:

1. Uphill

Yes, it may be a bit of a cliche, but I’m not that good at going up hills. In fact, that’s not true, I’m dire at uphills. When I was running at Jedburgh I had to stop as the static-vision started in at the edges, and I realised I was about to faint. So I stopped had a bit of a worry while my heart calmed down and then on I went, plod, plod, plod. So, more uphill practise, I think.

2. Downhill

So, what goes up must go down. I thought I was canny at downhills, not fell-racing-mad good, but not that bad, either. Well, I’ve seen the person in front of me disappear from sight the last two times I’ve been to Parkrun, showing that I could definitely get a little better.

3. Flat

I don’t mind the flat, but it does rather go on, doesn’t it? The Glasgow to Edinburgh run was canny in its own way, but it took its toll on my feet – not sure they’ve ever recovered. I could certainly improve on my ability to run on long, flat stretches.

4. Undulating

While we’re on, that’s not so much fun, either, I mean, you can’t get yourself in a rhythm, can you? The run around Kielder Reservoir is one long undulation – it’s around 26 miles, not that much elevation change overall, but it just can’t make it’s mind up, one minute it’s up a bit, the next it’s flat, then it’s down a bit – after that, guess what, it’s up a bit again.

5. Walking

I never thought of walking as an important part of running. But it is, though, especially when you’re going a long way. I spent part of the Glasgow to Edinburgh run being leap-frogged by a couple of walkers – I ran past them, then walked, they walked past me at super-speed, I ran past them, and so on. I think (though I don’t know for sure) that my feet hurt more for walking than for running. If I tried to get better at walking then I might be more effective overall, you never know.

6. Standing still

I know, how could you be bad at standing still? Check points, drop bags, it’s all the fun of the fair – at Jedburgh I was 28 miles in and only a 10 mile stretch to go – got to the check point, bent over to get something out of my bag and CLURK! my back went a bit ouch. See, even inactivity can have it’s dangers…

7. Nutrition

You’d think if there was one thing I would have a god-given prodigious talent for, it would be eating. I mean, normally you’d have to hit me over the head with a brick to stop me from eating things, but when I’m running I kind of figure I’ll have something in a while, maybe another mile, maybe when I get to the top of that hill, eh, it’s always easier to eat going along the flat bit. Before you know it, I’m a bit hungry, but still struggling to sort myself out. I also can’t find good things to eat – as a funky vegan I’m already on a short list of things, and lo-and-behold most snack food joy is not vegan.

I managed samosas mid-way through Glasgow to Edinburgh, which were canny, and I’m in an experimental phase right now, with plans to try spring rolls (thank you Guy), pasties, sushi and maybe some kind of vest made out of knitted noodles so I can wear my dinner?

8. Navigation

Well, I can read a map well enough, from the comfort of my own living room, and imagine with excitement the majestic sweep of the landscape, that tarn up there, the funny way that fence dog-legs back onto itself  and forces you to run an extra mile if you’re not a fence-leaping-goat. But, I’m a bit pants when it comes to staying on the right course. Sometimes this is down to me, like at Jedburgh, where I ran an extra 1/2 mile, taking another three runners with me before we noticed no-one was following. Sometimes it’s because I blindly follow the fools in front of me – at the Dark Skies run at Kielder, I followed a confident-enough-looking group of runners along the wrong path then the scuttle back to the right path across the undergrowth.

I’d love to try a mountain marathon one day, but I’m scared I’d be found upside down in a ditch looking at the underside of my compass and wondering what had gone wrong.

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Maybe I just need to zoom in on the map a bit?

So, in conclusion, I think that if I can just nail uphill, downhill, flat, undulating, walking, standing still, nutrition and navigation then I think I might be in with a chance.

Did I mention choice of clothing? I’m not that good at that either…

My wayward path declineth soon,
But she shines not the less.

Henry David Thoreau – “The Moon”

Getting a bit arty, eh? Well, how about this then…

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See, that’s me being expressive and the rest. I’ve started doodling a bit recently, and while I’m going out of my way to point out that it’s not very good, I am quite enjoying myself.

Anyway, on with the running related nonsense, I suppose.

New Year’s Day is pretty much the most traditional day for a run I can think of. Whether you are building on a successful prior year, making up for a lax finish to the year gone by or starting out as a new runner, there must be more people out training on New Year’s Day than any other day of the year by my reckoning.

This year’s New Year’s Day was a good bit stormy, to say the least – my hat got blown off when I was walking the dog, and I had to chase it across the field. As it looked a bit drizzly, I stuck a waterproof on with the hood up in the hope it would stop my hat from making another trip across the night sky. There were branches on the paths and ominous creaking from the trees around me.

One plus side of the wind was the sky was pretty clear, and the moon was making its way towards being full (on the 5th, I think).

As I bumbled along, I realised my head torch was fading a bit, the batteries must be getting ready to run out, but that’s fine, I’ve got another small torch off my bike that I carry along for just this kind of thing, and also so I can make out the tree roots on the path on the wilder part of the track.

Coming out the back of the Secret Village (it’s a secret), and heading down the path where the trees have been cleared on one side I realised the moon was silvery-bright, and I could barely see my head-torch beam.

So I turned it off…

And the night opened up…

Seriously – I can’t really explain it, other than to enthuse that everyone should give it a go, but I can give an especially geeky comparison – if you’ve ever played the computer game Elder Scrolls: Oblivion on a big display, like a PS3 on a big TV, and been out in the woods when a clear night starts and the stars appear, then it’s like that, only less showy and infinitely better.

Stars, silver moonlight, a vague impression of what’s around and underfoot. A lot of it is the difference between the path, which is pretty dark, and the grass at the side, which reflects a bit of the moonlight back at you.

But you can’t run in it, can you, that would be daft.

Wouldn’t it?

Might as well find out.

No, it’s great, you just need to have a bit of wits about you and hope you don’t fall over. This is not necessarily a simple thing, but I pretty much managed it, using the other torch every now and then where the woods drew in overhead and I could barely see where I was going.

The view is fantastic, the stars above, moving above the dark branches, the faint silver light on the trees around you, it’s just the most atmospheric thing.

It’s slower than usual, and I did have that one incident where I thought I was going to be mobbed by a badger, but it all worked out and I reckon this is the start of a ridiculous new bit of night-time running.

Rock on, and welcome to 2015!

…Here comes 2015.

The last year has been a bit lacklustre, to be honest – I haven’t run that far, I haven’t run that fast, and bar a few stonkingly fantastic ultras I haven’t done anything that outlandishly different.

I guess the main thing is that I don’t feel like I really stretched myself over the last year, pretty much as I wrote at the end of October in my ‘running-year’ report. Last year was the year of consolidating the two years since I started running at the end of 2011.

Long story short, I’m aiming to be a better runner in 2015, a bit more committed to putting my shoes on regularly, a bit more thoughtful in how often I shovel chips down my neck at the canteen at work and perhaps to push myself a little more when I’ve actually got my shoes on.

On a less introspective, gloomy front, I have been running around the woods a bit more – I really like the woods, and while I haven’t seen the deer for a while, there are a remarkable number of plump grey squirrels bouncing about the place like furry bouncy-balls of nut-hunting mania. What I’d never realised was that they don’t just run up any tree, each squirrel has it’s own tree, and they’ll scurry off to get back to it.

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More than once I’ve ended up accidentally chasing a squirrel down the path as it heads back to it’s tree, slowing down so I don’t scare the life out of the poor thing. So far everyone’s got away safely.