running blog

Clive Whaley


The End or The Beginning?

2 Days after the Marathon - Walk to West Bay

"At any point in our lives we find ourselves somewhere between the beginning and the end … the charm of the game of life is that we never know where we are along that voyage."*

The whole body is stiff and sore. My legs are particularly bad but it did help to walk and the further I walked the more they freed up. I walked down to West Bay, one of my favourite training grounds and, although dressed in my 'civvies' this time, recreated 'that pose' for one last photograph. And I also spent time reflecting on the marathon experience.
I got round in 3 hours 33 minutes. I managed to hold roughly 8 minute mile pace for the whole course until about 20 miles but I just couldn't maintain it right to the finish. I was slipping to 8 and a half minute miles and, although I was working much much harder and digging in all that I could, it wasn't having much effect. Of course it is in those last few miles that you find out what the marathon is all about. I DID find out what it is all about and, although it hurt, I'm sort of glad that I did. I was tested like never before and yet… I got through it and I'm SO proud of how hard I was able to run right to the end. With so much unfinished business at stake, it put a lot of pressure on me but I was able to handle it … just. (End of "I'm so proud" section.)

I experienced very little euphoria or joy on crossing the finish line - just a minor wave of relief that it was over and then major waves of pain - pain that somehow I had held back for the previous 3 hours or so. I staggered through a group of well meaning officials and volunteers who gently steered me in the right direction and one of them smiled and put a medal round my neck. I think some of them said, "Well done".

And then I headed for the medical tent.

The tent ran for what seemed like half a mile and was staffed by vast numbers of young men and women in green uniforms. The environment was not far off what I imagine a field hospital in a war zone to look like. I was led past other suffering runners, either laid out on stretchers or vomiting into bags. I then spent the next 20 minutes or so having two extremely painful toenails patched up. The fourth toe on each foot was a funny mix of red, purple and black colouring and the toenails were excruciating to the touch. They padded and patched them up so that I could hobble away to find my family.

I didn't think that my surname would add in any way to the pain of taking part in the marathon but it did. Having a name beginning with 'W' meant that I had the maximum distance to stagger and limp towards the family and friends meet and greet area in St James' Park. I had agreed to meet my wife Maia, and youngest daughter, Hannah by the letter 'W' but it felt like a letter too far. After leaving the medical tent, my feet were so sore I was not able to pull the laces tight on my trainers. This meant that amongst the throng of runners shuffling towards their loved ones, someone inadvertently stepped on the back of my right running shoe and flipped it off. I couldn't bend in any normal way to put it back on and I half collapsed onto the tarmac path, with people stepping over me, while I struggled on the ground to get it back on again. I honestly don't know how I got back up again without any help, but I do know that the effort involved set off the worst cramps I have ever experienced all down one side of my abdominal muscles - the weirdest and most intense pain. I just stood there in agony, breathing deeply and bending in different ways until eventually it subsided. This whole performance took place only centimetres away from a large crowd of anonymous (to me) friend and family supporters who were the other side of a temporary barrier. I didn't get any offers of support, thank god … I was embarrassed by my agony and just wanted to get away.

I wanted, more than anything, to see Maia, Rebecca and Hannah - to put my arms around them, to gain their approval and then I could allow myself to say I had finished.

And at that point I started to get emotional, very emotional. I knew that I wanted to share it with them. The whole stupid venture is absolutely pointless if you have no-one to share it with. What if I had crossed that line after ALL that training and ALL that hard work during the run itself and I was on my own. I would have felt suddenly very lonely and thought 'What the **** was all that about?'.
"Once we have built our secure egos, we have to learn to dissolve them and live from deeper selves"*

I think I have deluded myself for months now that this is a little story of personal pride and unfinished business and it is … but crossing the line just put the whole thing into perspective. The pointlessness and selfishness of it all came home to me in the recognition that all I really wanted was to have the respect and love of those closest to me and then to lie down and somebody say, "Rest now … it's all over."

I hugged them both and had a small sob. Maia had even bought me a present of a specially wrapped Mars Bar - something I had been denied by the sponsors in 1986 when I failed to cross the finish line. And now, 31 years later - a finisher's medal and a Mars Bar - life doesn't get much better than that!
Later that evening we met up with Rebecca too (my eldest daughter) and enjoyed a lovely family meal and the most amazing cold beer I have ever tasted. I ran a long way for that one.

Marathon Pace
Nobody but me cares about this stuff. My dream target of 3 hours 30 minutes would have meant eight successive 5K splits of 25 minutes plus a final 10 minutes of running. (A marathon is 42K). My actual 5K splits were:

The last tick on the 'To Do' list
I have put the final tick of 'Done' on my Training Plan but contrary to my blog entry of 6 Feb, I did not savour the moment at all. In fact I had to make a real effort to go back to the damn thing and do it. My 16 week spreadsheet suddenly had no meaning to me and I just opened it up and put in the last tick, simply because I said I would. It really worked for me while I was training; It was interesting and motivational but now … now I don't care.
Having studied the Guinness World Records that were set on the day, I feel somewhat ashamed that Mr Potato Head was nearly 10 minutes ahead of me. Although I am mightily relieved that Ben Blowes (great name) who broke the record for "Fastest Marathon carrying a Household Appliance" - was over 2 hours behind me. It did set me thinking, if I was anywhere near him as he approached the finish on The Mall and his legs started to give way - would I have been noble and selfless enough to help him carry his Tumble Dryer across the line? I hope I would do the right thing but until you are actually at that moment - faced with an exhausted man and his appliance, I don't think any of us can honestly answer what we would do.

*Quotes above from Anthony Seldon, "Beyond Happiness" published by Yellow Kite.

Finished Business

Day 111 - THE LONDON MARATHON - 26.2 miles

3 hours 33 minutes 41 seconds



My Home Town

Day 108 Marathon Training - 15 mins 'easy' - THE LAST TRAINING RUN

I was born in Stockton-on-Tees in the North East of England and I am proud of those roots. However, for the last 26 years I have lived in or near Bridport in Dorset. That is actually much longer than I lived in Stockton and is nearly half my lifetime. So I am equally proud to call Bridport my home and to wear the vest of the town running club on London Marathon day.
It seemed appropriate on my final training run to do a celebratory lap of the town - a 'goodbye' Bridport and wish me luck you quirky, crazy, funny, lovely little old town. I also did it first thing in the morning to allow me the luxury of having South Street to myself.

It's funny that this should be a relatively 'urban' run compared to the fields, coastal paths and deserted valley roads that have been the 'training avenues' for most of my marathon preparation. But in comparison to London it is not remotely urban and I think there will be something like five times my home town population taking part in the run!
It felt odd to go running for only 15 minutes or approximately 2 miles and this last run was one of the shortest of my whole training programme. But I have stuck to my plan for the whole 16 weeks, so I might as well fit in this final little jog. Everything is feeling fine - apart from my left shoulder. I've got some annoying pain and discomfort in what they call the rotator cuff. It's not going to stop me running but it might hurt a bit and restrict my running style. It's just so frustrating to have this 'eleventh hour' problem, just when I thought I was going to arrive at the start line injury free. Another couple of days for it to heal up - we'll see.

I'lll end this last blog entry before the main event with a few summary stats from the training:

481 miles run
68 runs
22 speed or interval sessions
15 gym sessions
22 miles - longest run
1.2 miles - shortest run (stopped with knee pain)
3 injuries (lower back, right knee, left shoulder)
7 runs missed through injury
111 days from the first day of training to the London Marathon.

Here's to Day 111 being the best one of the lot …

Costume Ready

Day 107 - Marathon Training - Rest & Kit Preparation

Laid out my marathon race kit, double checked accommodation and train times and half packed a bag of stuff I need for Sunday.

My kit looks quite comical when laid out on the floor like this. It's very light and minimal - you would think a really tough challenge would require something more. When our ancestors took on their most demanding physical tests they probably wore half a ton of armour and carried a large sword and a heavy bottle of dragon poison. I am hoping to get by with:
  • Faded Bridport Runner's vest - to be worn with pride;
  • Ron Hill shorts - light as tissue paper;
  • Hilly Socks - labelled with Left and Right of course, so that I know which foot to put them on;
  • Saucony running shoes - a size bigger than they used to be.

Regarding the latter, I was most excited to discover the real reason why I needed to purchase shoes that were half a size bigger than I have done before. In Runners World (April 2017) I found this, "If you're over 40 and feel like your running shoes don't fit like they used to, it's not your mind playing tricks - they don't. Your feet widen with age … some runners will need shoes two sizes bigger at 60 than they did at 40."

This information is both reassuring and worrying in equal measure. It's good to know that my mind is not playing tricks and this 'growth spurt' happens to many older runners. However, what happens if the rate of growth is such that I need a larger pair of shoes at the end of the marathon than at the start? My minimal kit approach goes out the window if I have to carry an extra pair of running shoes to change into at mile 14!

If I had considered running in more elaborate kit i.e. a superhero costume, gigantic pair of nappies or rhino suit (as you do) I could have gained the additional motivation of going for a world record. Inside the booklet supplied to all marathon competitors, one of the most informative sections is the article which outlines the Guiness World Record breakers in the marathon. Apparently 32 world records were set last year in London, in some truly breathtaking 'costume' and 'speed' combinations. I am full of admiration for Greg Trevelyan who holds the record for Fastest Marathon dressed as a Crustacean - he finished in a very tidy 3 hours and 17 minutes. I am equally impressed with Dave Cooke (although he finished nearly 2 and a half hours after Greg) who crossed the line in 5 hours 45 minutes and is the World's Fastest Marathon runner wearing Chainmail. I would be delighted to finish in a time that would have been somewhere between the two of them in 2016. I have to say one of the best ways to help me speed up in the later stages of the 2017 event, would be to respond to the sound of rapidly approaching chainmail from behind me.

No, I'm going to keep the costume simple. Guinness World Record adjudicators please note, I am going for …

World Record for 56 year old male from Bridport, who gets round the course on his second attempt (31 years after the first), with ever growing feet - wearing faded club vest, 'left' and 'right' labelled socks and an expression of hope.

Fit for a Marathon?

Day 102 - Marathon Training - mixed 'tempo' intervals and 'marathon pace' session
Fitness Assessment on Boditrax Machine

Before I did my training run this evening, I walked back to the gym at the Leisure Centre in order to stand barefoot on the mystical Boditrax machine. Under Dan's guidance again, I wanted to see if there had been any noticeable or interesting changes since I first did this way back on 30 December 2016 - before I had started my marathon training programme.

Talk about an anti-climax. Hardly anything had changed. Now there are two ways of looking at this - I have just slogged my guts out for 15 weeks with no noticeable improvement in my health, fitness or physique - in other words it was a complete waste of time … OR (and you can sense which I might prefer here), I was already such a supremely fit human being and let's face it, it is difficult to add anything to perfection …

OK I will highlight the tiny changes and find some significance there. My weight fell from the giddy heights of 69.4 kilos to 69.1 kilos. It certainly wasn't any goal of mine to lose weight so that doesn't matter either way, although my fat mass has also dropped from 11.1kg to 10.9kg. So you could say I have lost a tiny bit of weight and that has all been fat.

It also records my 'degree of obesity' as falling from 1.9% to 1.5%, so I won't be graduating with that 'degree' anytime soon. In similar territory it says that my BMR 'score' has risen from 15 out of 24 to 17 out of 24. Apparently the higher the BMR score, the higher the body's ability to burn any calories or 'fuel' consumed. And finally my Impedance score has risen from 472.1 to 484.2. I think this is good but, as I've no idea what it means, it might be better kept to myself. I was thinking of having it printed on my running shirt for the marathon "HEY my Impedance is 484 and rising - WATCH OUT YOU LOSERS!" but if I later discover it is to do with reduced control over bowel movements, it may not be so wise to advertise it to fellow runners - especially if it was printed on the back of my shirt.

Overall, I just have to have faith that all the training I have done over the last three and a half months has been worthwhile and I am sure it has. Even though I ran regularly before, I am much more capable of running stronger and further than I was at the tail end of last year. Only in the last four to six miles next Sunday will I know if it has been enough.

How Far I've Travelled

Day 100 - Marathon Training - Mixed intervals & Marathon Pace session
Plus Beard Removal and Haircut

YES - you read it correctly - DAY ONE HUNDRED of training so I thought it should be marked by a more significant event than just another training run. The beard has gone and the hair has been scalped. For athletes like myself - where the results are measured in 100th's of a second - the more streamlined contents of my head may make all the difference on the marathon course.
I don't normally have a beard. It somehow seemed the 'right look' for the training programme and now it's nearly over I've had enough of it.

The milestone of 100 days since I started training for the marathon has also got me thinking about how far I've come, not so much in miles of training over the last few months but in terms of mood, outlook, attitude to life and my place in the world since 2010. I may have run over 450 miles in training since 3 January this year but in recent years I have travelled thousands upon thousands of miles along the road from utter despair to the dawning of hope and have reached a slightly unnerving place called contentment every now and then.

Weds 24 November 2010:
"I sort of knew. I just knew that I was going to wallow in it today. That I was going to have a broken moment. That I was going to cry. But at this stage in the depression, when you have more awareness of what’s going on, you can almost plan for it. You can hold it off, almost schedule it, like an appointment or an exercise session - 'I’ll go for a run between 9 and 10' - 'I’ll have a mini breakdown between 9 and 10'.

And that makes it seem fraudulent. As though it’s on tap and you’re not experiencing it as some uncontrollable and awful condition. It’s a bit of play acting isn’t it? Something to make yourself feel a level of ‘controlled miserableness’ and to discretely let others know around you, just how bad things are. Like a child seeking attention, only because you’re an adult you do it in a slightly more subtle way.

It does feel a bit like this. But I don’t think it is fraudulent or contrived. I think in my case it’s due to ‘bottling up’ and ‘hiding’. For days and weeks I ‘bottle up’ an almost constant but nagging sense of shame and unhappiness and of life not being good – not being how it should be (Hah! I wear a t-shirt occasionally with the slogan ‘Life is good’). And the hiding is still mainly about keeping it from my daughters and to some extent my wife but the level of hiding to the outside world is almost total.

You can only bottle up and hide for so long before the low shaking and lurking in dark corners causes the cork to pop. I can hold the cork on the top while there is some fizzing and leaking until the girls have gone to school and I can sneak up to the bedroom and lie on the bed and then let it go.

I lie on the bed with my arms folded tightly across my chest. I feel shivery but I will not get under the covers. I have NEVER EVER got back into bed this whole time and it is a barrier that I do not want to cross. Laid out as though I’ve crawled into my own coffin I begin to silently cry. A trickle out of each eye. Two tiny streams competing to drip onto the duvet. I never actually fall fully asleep but partially doze my way through almost an hour before forcing myself to get up.

I would pay a lot of money for a Pull Myself Together switch. A little device that, with one press of a simple button, sends you out into a brave new world of opportunity where everyone is just waiting for you to walk by ‘Clive come here … you are just the man we need to take us in exciting new directions. We’ll pay you ridiculous amounts of money just to be yourself and to lead us to the promised land. No more worries for you my friend, come on down today’.

I knew I hadn’t had the full works. I hadn’t had the full wallow. I came down to the garden office. As soon as I had closed the door behind me it started. I sat on the office sofa with obligatory head in hands. Elbows resting on knees. I sobbed and sobbed. I wrenched it out. I not only need to cry. I need to make a sound. I need to produce a sort of rhythmic blub ‘huh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh… Huh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh …’ It is not at all therapeutic at the time but I think perhaps there is just a tiny smidgeon of help in the process a bit later. (I am writing this barely an hour after the event. Perhaps the small feeling of therapy is coming from this writing rather than the completion of the event.)

I have a desperate need to blow my nose. The ‘Mansize’ (Hah!) tissue in my pocket is already dirty and sodden so I pick up a bit of paper towel that was used yesterday as a ‘plate’ for a piece of cake. I tip nostril rivers of dribble and snot into the paper towel, scrunch it up and throw it in the bin. I sit back on the sofa. Silent now. Not better. Just blank. Or almost blank. I can feel the crusty dry stains of tears around my eyes on every slight movement of my face. Then I make exaggerated movements just to feel it again. To try and judge whether I can risk anyone seeing me without washing my face.

I almost feel nothing. But feeling nothing would be quite nice. There’s always a feeling of something. Something that you wish would go away."

I haven't over analysed it or over thought it but I guess running the London Marathon this year will be about so much more than completing 26 miles and 385 yards.

There will be the physical satisfaction, as a runner, in completing the ultimate challenge. There will be the banishing of demons that have been with me for more than 30 years - having started, but not finished, the race in 1986. There will be the pride that comes from representing my club (Bridport Runners) and from raising money to tackle the stigma attached to mental illness (for the charity Heads Together). There will be the even bigger pride of running for my family (my wife and both daughters are going to be there). But more than anything it feels like I am closing a chapter in my life in order to move on to a new and more deeply satisfying one - maybe several new chapters!

So the finish line in London, will be the start line of my new life - older, wiser, more accepting, more content, more optimistic, more hopeful, more loving … with knackered legs, a raging thirst and a medal round my neck.

Tough 10K Test

Day 96 - Marathon Training - 10K Race - Exmoor - Coastal Trail Series

I drove 80 miles today to take part in a gruelling 10K race - in fact probably the toughest 10K I have ever done. To start with it was actually 7.3 miles long (not 6.2 which it should be!) and it included a mere 1,200 feet of climbing. It was part of what's called the Coastal Trail Series run by Endurance Life. I've done a few of their events and I 'enjoy' the challenges they put on. They are always well organised and in the most remote and rugged and vertical places you can find along the UK coastline.

I was reasonably pleased to finish 12th out of about 150 competitors and to win my age group (male vet 55+) - to be honest there were hardly any other old geezers like me taking part! The photo here was taken about 4 miles into the race and you can see on my face how hard it was. Nearly all of those first 4 miles involved climbing up and along incredibly steep and narrow coastal paths and then the remaining 3 miles were a scramble downwards over rocks, branches and through wooded paths back to the finish. There wasn't a level patch on the whole course and there wasn't a bruise free part of my body by the time I had pummelled it to bits over the complete circuit.

The start and finish were near a pub called The Hunters Inn - part of the Heddon Valley - a lovely spot and the course itself was rugged and spectacular and wild. The trouble is, when you do an event like this, it is so punishing that you fail to really take in the beauty of it all. I would love to come back sometime and maybe just walk the same route and then 'see it' properly for the first time.

The event is full of young, trendy types wearing the latest running and adventure sports kit, usually in the brightest of colours and just before I left the event, I spotted this guy, Mr P Cock, wearing one of the most lurid outfits of all.

Exe Rated

Day 91 - Marathon Training - 19 miles

My best decision yet! For a complete change of scene and a flat course, I drove over 40 miles, parked at Exeter Quay and ran for 9.5 miles along the western edge of the Exe Estuary, turned around and ran back. It was wonderful!

Here are my photo postcards from the run.
1 - The start point - Swans at Exeter Quay
There are a lot of swans at the Quay. They look so pretty but they seem so bad tempered. Anytime I went near one, it hissed at me - maybe they don't like runners.
2 - Along the Canal
Within a mile or so of leaving the centre of Exeter, everything changes and it is so refreshing to run along a pancake flat path by the tree lined canal.
3 - Bye Bye M5
The real change in environment came when I ran under the M5 Motorway and left the urban world behind. The motorway emits a consistent roar which made me appreciate the relative peace on 'the other side'. Once I could no longer hear the traffic, I tuned in to purity of the birdsong and the wind in my ears and most things were right in the world.
4 - Hugging the Estuary
It was not long before I was then running tight alongside the Estuary proper - a pretty wide expanse of water and I assume it was close to high tide as I ran south.
5 - The Railway Bridge
A rather striking footbridge takes you over the railway and then along a roadway by the estate of Powderham Castle. This is interesting but it seems a shame that you lose sight of the water for the first time since leaving Exeter. The trains get the best view along this section of the Estuary.
6 - Cockwood - the Turning Point
Hey, what a pose! Smiling for a pic at a little place called Cockwood (no comments please) before turning to run back. The task on my training plan today was to run 80 mins in one direction and then return quicker. I did do that and got back about 2 mins quicker than on the way out, although I did forget to stop my watch when I was messing about taking the next picture! (It felt like I ran back a lot quicker than that!)
7 - Headless Swans
I spent a fair amount of time taking pictures on the way out and I wasn't going to stop on the way back but I couldn't resist this moment. I have to say that it was a great day and a really refreshing environment but also strange in places. This picture showing the Estuary as home to old warships and headless swans is for interest and discussion. Please begin. In your own time.

I enjoyed exploring this new territory and I will be back. I would like to run the full 16 miles from Exeter to Teignmouth and then catch the train back. One day, after the Marathon, maybe.

Left Sock Right Sock

Day 89 Marathon Training - Gym session

Just a gym session today, no running. I have increased most of the weights I use now and it seems like I've come a long way since it felt like my gym sessions were injuring me rather than helping me. Now that they've become a bit more routine and I've adapted to them, I think they are doing what they are supposed to i.e. building up my strength (especially in my legs) and developing my core. I think I'm a stronger and more balanced runner as a result - Hey, there's a boast!

But, as usual, there is something more important to talk about today …
I LOVE the fact that you can now buy running socks that have 'Left' and 'Right' markers on them, to ensure that you put them on the correct foot. I even have some that have "Running" written on them. Believe me, when you reach your 50s this is so useful. When I get to that moment when I've gone out the door and think, as I often do, "what the hell did I come out here for?" - it's great, I can take my shoes off, read the word 'running' on my socks and I instantly know what I'm meant to be doing.

I have been doing some research into this whole 'left sock/ right sock' thing and I have discovered the fascinating origins of this labelling. I highly recommend the book, "Born to Move Forwards (most of the time): How Humans discovered that hopping on one leg and crawling backwards were ineffective hunting strategies", by Heinrich Manhoover. He explains how our earliest ancestors were in danger of extinction until they discovered running forwards using both legs was the best way to survive.

But the most amazing part of the study was his discovery of some ancient cave paintings which prove once and for all, that early human beings had detachable feet. They could literally swap one foot for another. It wasn't long after they had discovered that two feet were better than one, that they also learned that there was a 'best foot' with 'best leg' combination and if they got this wrong it spelled disaster.

If they emerged from the cave with the natural 'left foot' attached to the right leg and vice versa, then it was only a matter of time before they provided the local tyrannosaurus rex with a very tasty meal. But on the other hand (that expression seems out of place) if they got the 'foot/leg' combo correct, they could run for 30 days and 30 nights without stopping. Many of them did and got hopelessly lost. But the ones that turned round and found their way home emerged to provide the vital ancestral link from that time to the elite marathon runners and parkrun volunteers of today.

It is of course sad, but inevitable, that the commercial marketing types have exploited this natural feature of the human body for their own gain. We can't resist buying these 'L' and 'R' socks because it's in our DNA. I know that when I put them on, I feel like I'm back in the cave, just about to pounce out, dodge a dinosaur and catch a fleet footed antelope before breakfast. We're suckers for anything that reminds us of our glorious natural history.

At times I feel like wearing nothing but my L & R socks and running around the local town, making a hunting cry and trying to catch whatever animals I find there. It is annoying that my attempts to recapture the spirit of what it was like all those years ago, has resulted in an anti-social behaviour order and I've been banned from most shops and pubs. However, they do still let me into the sports shop, to buy running socks.

The Long Run

Day 84 - Marathon Training - 22 miles 'easy'
Without a doubt this is the most significant milestone in my marathon training plan. I have completed week 12 of the 16 week programme. I have completed my longest run. And I was able to do it without any flare up of previous injuries - either back or knee related. It is a very satisfying feeling.

Don't get me wrong, it was no stroll in the park, and I finished feeling completely exhausted and with aches, pains, soreness and a slightly worrying light headedness. I think if I'd gone much further, I would have become a wobbly puppet-like creature that would not know what day it was; exactly the sort of creature I turned into in the latter stages of the 1986 London Marathon.

But I didn't. I did enough and got through what I planned to do. I even did a bit of macho 'pushing the pace' in the late stages. I did mile 20 in approx 7 mins 50. And that was after feeling completely weary and 'out of it' by about mile 13. In fact this long run was unusual in that the weariness did not just come on and stay there. After feeling bad at the half marathon stage, I actually felt a mini boost between about 15 and 17 miles and then again in the last mile or two. This is really encouraging. Although I couldn't have run much further or faster today, there are signs of strength in me old legs; and signs that the cumulative effect of the training is working.

What I have to remind myself is that this long run has come on the back of a pretty hard training week - so I went into it with tired legs. Also the terrain is much more difficult than the London course. Today I ran along shingle beaches, across uneven fields and then through a valley road that is rarely flat and has a few taxing climbs in it.

Yes, I ran again into the Bride Valley - what has become my favourite 'on the road' training ground. My beautiful 'streamlined' valley is a pleasure to run through but it can hardly compete with the 'flatness' of London. Another strength of this training ground - its devoid of people a lot of the time - is clearly a weakness when it comes to encouragement and motivation to 'cheer you on' to the finish. So if you take today's run - subtract the tired legs, subtract the hills and shingle - and then add fast, flat, firm surfaces and huge cheering crowds - and suddenly you have something that might turn out to be easy in comparison. That's what I'm hoping anyway.

It's a bit like saying that today's run was harder than the marathon itself, even though it was 4 miles shorter. But there is a plausible argument that doing today's epic on my own, when I already felt tired and sore, was a tougher ask than flowing with the mass human river of 40,000 souls in London on April 23rd.

Consumed on the run today: 1 litre of water, 3 energy gels, 1 crunchy peanut butter protein bar - Yum!
Weather - 14C, light/mod SE winds.
Wore sunglasses for first time in 2017.

Unfinished Business Part 4

Day 83 - Marathon Training - 50 mins with progressive pace increase

The clocks went forward last night and this was the first proper Sunday Spring run with fellow club members. A lovely day but …

Back to the story about my ill-fated involvement in the 1986 London Marathon, that resulted in this undignified posture somewhere around mile 21 …
The words are from a diary account written soon after the day. "They took me from the wheelchair into another ambulance. It was an effort for me to turn over onto my side, so that they could pull my shorts down and push a thermometer up me bum - it gave a reading of 103F. An hour and three readings later and after several moppings down with a tepid sponge by Pat (St John's Ambulance worker) it was still 103. A doctor spoke to me and reckoned that I must have been running with a fever "Did you have a sore thoat or a cold in the last week?" (Well, sort of … could it really have done this to me?) The doctor said if the temperature didn't come down soon I would have to go to casualty.

It seems odd to say it but, for a while in that ambulance, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was so relaxed and still a bit crazy in the head. I felt really happy and I think I may have even said so. I mentioned that all praise for the St John's Ambulance service was thoroughly deserved. In fact they were the best organisation in the world.

Eventually, as I started to cool down and It became clear that I was going to be stuck there for some time and that I may not be able to stagger into the Founders Arms as the wounded hero, my mood dropped. The only thing that kept me going was Pat - my large, jolly ambulance volunteer - who kept up a running commentary on the race outside, "Oh look there's Emu … that must be Roy Hudd …. Ooooo there's a crocodile, Oh my goodness! No! … there's six of them … there's a doctor friend of mine running, I must have missed him."

They brought another guy into the ambulance who was shivering - at times it was confusing for Pat because she couldn't remember which of us to heat up and which to cool down. He had a rich Welsh accent and didn't want to be there, "How far are we from the finish?… How far! … Oh God! I so wanted a medal … I really wanted a medal… I think I'll carry on … How far are we from the finish?"

I think it was a couple of hours before my temperature came down to levels where they felt it was safe to let me go. At first they suggested I catch a tube to Westminster and then walk across the bridge (where the finish was in those days). There was no way I was going to do that. They wrapped me in a silver Mars space blanket and pointed me in the direction of Monument underground station. I hobbled very very slowly and some cheeky kid shouted "I bet your legs are tired!" A few steps further on a well-meaning young woman said "Well done!" It was cruel and painful going down the steps onto the platform and once I'd slumped into a seat on the carriage I noticed that it was full of tourists, most of whom seemed to be taking photos of me. I closed my eyes and leant against the window.

In a thousand to one coincidence of timing and circumstance, as I stepped off the train at Embankment, I was staring Maia* in the face. I leaned on her wearily and rested my head on her shoulders. There was someone to lead me out of hell and take me home."

*Maia was my girlfriend of about one month's standing at the time. She helped me find the finish area and the bus containing my bag of clothes. I got changed on an almost empty bus with a guy that had taken 6 hours to finish. Three years later Maia and I got married. It still bugs me that, because I didn't finish, I didn't get a Mars Bar.

West Bay Morning

Day 78 Marathon Training - 40 mins 'easy'

It was one of those 'recovery run' days and I decided to make it slightly more exciting by getting up early and re-creating the photo that I took way back on Day One of my marathon plan.
There you go, except that the sun hadn't risen when I took the first photo back on 3 January. Today it was well on its way to finding its place in the sky. This goes to show that the sun is only slightly bigger than my head … ha, ha! Not possible you say! It also shows that I could probably leap over the whole bulk of the East Cliffs in one bound - worth a new episode of Broadchurch surely?

As it was only a 40 minute or so run and as I was taking it at an easy pace, I think I almost spent more time taking me pictures than I did running but I do have to indulge myself every now and then. It was good to run along the old promenade right to the end and enjoy the combination of cold air but early spring sunshine. It won't be long before the legs are exposed and the top layers get reduced to one. When that happens, of course the sun will decide to go back in again.

I had to make the most of this gentle run today because I've got pretty hard training to come for the rest of the week. Can't wait!

Half Pace

Day 76 - 'Race' a Half Marathon

The training plan called for practising race day preparation by entering a Half Marathon. Well I didn't actually enter one but ran my own race! I ran for 13.1 miles on undulating roads through the Bride Valley.

I had contacted other running club members to see if they wanted to join me in this venture and that I planned to run it as a 'pacing exercise' at 8 minute per mile pace the whole way if I could manage it. It didn't prove to be a very popular suggestion and only my good friend Hagen joined me on this blustery Sunday morning challenge.

Hagen stuck with me for the first 3 miles and then did his own thing, which is not surprising given that he was still tired from an 18 mile run only a couple of days ago. For the remaining 10 miles I was on my own.

I ran really strongly and was so pleased to keep at, or just under, 8 min/mile pace for the first 9 miles and then I actually pushed it even harder over the last few. My average pace over the last 4 miles was about 7:30. My average pace over the whole run was approx 7:50 - completing the Half Marathon in around 1 hour 42:30.

The knee held together, I felt fairly strong and the miles seemed to tick away quite quickly. I do think I am using a slightly quicker cadence than I used to do on a run like this and I consciously worked on pumping my arms a little harder and bringing those 'zippy feet' into play over the last few miles.

Tired and stiff as soon as I stopped but I expected that. All in all a very good and reassuring test at this stage in the training. I am proud of myself.


Day - 75 - Gym

[Just a Gym session today, although it was my 3rd gym session in one week - partly in a rearguard attempt to strengthen my knees and quads. Hope I haven't overdone it.]

I have come a long way since I was last in the grip of depression and I don't want to go back to that place. There is a chance that I will but at least I know that running will not be one of the reasons to take me there. In fact quite the opposite …

Antidepressants I have taken …
1 - Fluoxetine - (also known as Prozac)
2 - Citalopram
3 - Sertraline
I kept the packets as evidence! Not one of the above worked for me. I took them because I felt so bad that I needed to do something. Testimonials from other people and stuff that I had read had given me faith that they might help. I know that they work for many people and in some cases they are 'life savers' but I can honestly say that on 3 separate occasions and with 3 different types of antidepressant, I never noticed any lift in my mood or mental health that came from the taking of pills. On the other hand, turning to my 4th antidepressant …
4 - Running

Beach Running from Clive Whaley on Vimeo.

Running as an antidepressant? Yes, I've come to realise that it is, although not as part of some conscious medication or prescription plan.

I have been running at least a couple of times a week for more than 35 years. For the first 30 or so of those years I had not met the Black Dog or experienced anything that could truly be described as depression.

However, in the last 5 or 6 years, having suffered from bouts of depression several times, it has made me realise that running has been an incredibly important booster to my mental health. I have never felt any lift in mood from pills but everytime I go running, I feel better for it. It works on so many different levels.

Obviously it keeps me physically fit. Despite continual injury niggles, I know that my heart, lungs, blood vessels, muscles, joints, bones, skin and even my brain are in much better shape than they would be without running. I do have to admit that there is an egotistical aspect to it, where I secretly think "I'm pretty fit for my age … I'll show 'em!".

Just getting outdoors, whatever the weather, especially in these beautiful coastal surroundings, and being a tiny moving part of the landscape provides, at the same time, an intimate connection with the planet and a freedom from everything else that was troubling me before I went out the door. You could get similar benefits from walking of course, but the greater effort, rhythm and flow that comes from the running action just adds something for me.

There is much talk of the release of 'endorphins' or the 'runner's high'. I find that a bit clichéd because I think it is both more subtle and more powerful than that. I find a deep and solitary pleasure from the mix of - physical mastery over the environment; a contented warmth in my muscles and in my heart; and a gentle flow of benevolence into my brain which reaches out and soothes adverse thoughts and feelings. So, in the end, I become a moving vessel of wellbeing.

And when I get back, after a shower, or especially after a soak in a hot bath, there is a contented glow in and around me of a quality that I cannot find from any other source than a long run back to my own front door. As T S Eliot wrote in a much re-quoted set of lines
"And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
I've just finished reading an interesting book by Anthony Seldon, called "Beyond Happiness" within which he espouses the idea of life being a journey from narcissism to wholeness. There are several passages which I can relate to and these words sum up the feelings of all the best long runs I have ever done …
"The epic journey … is a common theme in world literature.The hero returns to the point from which he began, having gained in wisdom and self knowledge. The hero/traveller will have experienced much but is purified by the process and becomes aware of a much deeper self."

It works for me.

As I write this I am thinking, you know what, you are not currently experiencing a great deal of this sort of feeling during your marathon training. The 'tick box' mentality of my training plan, the injury problems and the 'striving ego' part of me are conspiring to knock a bit of joy out of my running. I shouldn't let that happen but I am the architect of my own displeasure. A change of attitude would help a bit but mainly I tell myself that when the London Marathon is over I will return to real running; running for the sake of it; running not for plans, targets and times but for sheer pleasure, for sheer joy. I need little persuasion to write myself a free prescription for the most effective antidepressant I know.

Stick to the Plan

Day 73 - Gym

I have continued with my gym sessions and I am sure they are helping with my overall fitness and more specifically with my leg strength and my core strength. Because of the knee problems it has become even more important and I'm hoping that some carefully controlled strengthening of the legs and quad muscles will reduce the chances of things flaring up again.

Click Link to Marathon Plan

I have included a link here to my full 16 week training plan. I must give credit as to where it has come from. This is Martin Yelling's 'Advanced Training Plan' from the London Marathon website. Thanks Martin - it has served me well, apart from when I've been injured, which is clearly not your fault!

Apart from injury breaks I have stuck to it quite rigidly. I have found it quite hard - just about at my limit but not beyond, which is exactly what I needed. I do like the variety in it - the fact that every little interval session or speed session is slightly different. It prevents any sense of boredom and I guess it works on your body slightly differently everytime.

Each time I've been injured it has really bugged me that I have missed out runs and training sessions because it is all part of one carefully designed 'whole' and you can't go back and make up for the bits you've missed. But I'm back on track this week and maybe I'm better off thinking that some of that enforced rest has been good for me.

Unfinished Business Part 3

Day 70 - Marathon Training - Rest
Just resting today, so time to continue with the story …

I started but didn't finish the 1986 London Marathon. In earlier blog extracts I have explained the lead up to the moment in this photo - Yes, that's me looking completely spaced out, being helped along by a thoughtful fellow runner near the Tower of London. The extracts which follow are from a diary I wrote a few days after the event …
"I can remember feeling tired, VERY tired and feeling as though I was leaning forwards, as if I was perpetually running uphill. I was aware that a lot of runners were passing me and was vaguely aware of some people walking and thinking how nice that looked - what a comforting thought, to be walking rather than running. I remember at one point seeing things blurred at the side of my vision. But I feel as though I went on for some time after that …

I have a vision of running in blackness with a runner either side helping me and trying to kindly persuade them to carry on without me, "I'll be alright". I remember going down twice - once on hands and knees and desperately groping onwards and another time just sitting down like a baby with reassuring voices around me telling me to stay as I was for a while. I thought that sounded like a good idea and I nodded. I don't think I'd given up at that point. It wouldn't be long before I'd be off again. I had to be sensible and take a breather, although I hadn't wanted to stop…

I came round in an ambulance. I was home. For a few moments there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be - reassuring words were floating towards me, I was resting flat on my back unable to move but it was over.

With vague consciousness, my first worries were for those who wouldn't now meet me at The Founders Arms - could these people get a message to them? - Oh and also to my parents who must have seen me collapse on TV - could they ring them? I started reeling out names and phone numbers - I think I was going under again because I couldn't get more than one digit out at a time without a rest. I think they only humoured me anyway.

A doctor gave me a couple of glucose tablets and I was nearly sick - I tried to take them out. They lifted my head and gave me cool, sweet water. There was someone else in the ambulance - she was complaining about mud splattered on her tights.

Three people (I think) lifted me into a wheelchair, wrapped a blanket around me and transferred me to another ambulance. I was conscious enough to quip, 'Isn't there a rule against this … if you start on foot, you're not allowed to finish in a wheelchair'.

Grizzly Baby

Day 69 - Marathon Training - Raced 9 miles of beach, hills and mud!
(The 'baby' version of The Grizzly - called The Cub)

Great day today. I did enter that most wonderful event called The Grizzly. Reluctantly but sensibly I did the 'cut down' or 'baby' version of the main event - otherwise known as The Cub. In other words I only went for 9 miles of shingle beach, vertical coastal climbs and muddy fields, instead of the full 20 mile version.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think the official finish photo shows it. The fun and pleasure came from, not only getting round with the knee intact, but also from the great weather and the fantastic spirit associated with the event. I was also pleased to be on the first page of results - or 35th out of about 500 finishers (approx 85 mins 'chip time').

The Grizzly is held at Seaton in East Devon and this was its 30th anniversary. Somewhere in the region of 2,000 runners take part in the two races. It seems to be extremely well organised and has an army of hundreds of cheery volunteer marshalls, musicians and performers lining the route. At the bottom of one of the steeper climbs you find a makeshift sign labelled 'Stairway to Heaven' and as you start to climb you encounter a guy dressed as some sort of manic wizard. He was spouting dire warnings and flinging out spells and incantations. It was hilarious. The whole thing is just a smiley, feelgood event that gently warms you with it's positive mood. Mind you, that view might have been helped by the fact that I only did the shorter route. If I had done the 'full works' I suspect I wouldn't have been in a fit state to appreciate the generous welcome from spectators at the finish line.

Mindful of the problems I've had with my knee leading up to today, I decided to take advantage of a £5 charity massage from the East Devon Sports Injuries team. It was torture - far more painful than running the event - my quad muscles are so unbelievably tight - but I am sure it did me the world of good.

Knees in the Mist

Day 67 - Marathon Training - 40 mins steady

Back running today, just to test the knee. I did a 40 minute fairly steady run, mainly off road. It was wet and misty, not the most delightful of conditions but that didn't matter. The main thing was to see if my right knee was healed after the best part of 4 days rest - for me that's an eternity - but for the Captain Sensible Squad, that's nowhere near enough rest.

As a test it was a bit inconclusive. I wanted to fly round with no pain or discomfort whatsoever and get a much needed psychological boost from it but Hey … we all know life is never that simple. I have to admit that my knee is not healed. It was uncomfortable pretty much the whole way round. But, on the other hand, it was not in pain and it didn't get significantly worse whilst I was running.

The optimistic side of my brain is telling me that "I actually freed up my knee a bit by going out for a run. It's on the mend, no great harm done and in the next few days I will wonder what all the fuss was about."

The pessimistic side is saying, "it's still not good, you haven't rested it enough, you've probably set it back further and if you run that Grizzly event on Sunday, you will put yourself out of the London Marathon and might do some permanent damage."

Which one is true? I wish I knew.

I did see my old friend the Dorset Shaggy Flump again today. He had just had an argument with a sheep but still found time to impart some wisdom to me. I tried to pretend I was fit as a fiddle but he noticed a slight imbalance in my running style and said "I grant you the serenity to accept that your kneecap will always be at the front of your leg, the courage to bend it whenever you wish and the wisdom to know that when the sun goes down, it gets dark,"

Unfinished Business Part 2

Day 65 - Marathon Training - NO RUNNING - KNEE STILL INJURED

As I am on enforced rest, I will continue with my story of Unfinished Business …
So how did I come to be 'dazed and confused', sitting on the cobbles by the Tower of London on Marathon Day in 1986?

It all started with a bet.

I was working in my first permanent full time job as an Executive Officer for The Sports Council at their head office in London. We were offered complimentary places each year in the London Marathon and I took up one of the places, alongside my colleague and friend Nick, who worked in the Research Unit. Nick and I were good friends but we were also both very competitive. One night in the pub we had a very public bet, witnessed by a number of colleagues, as to who would run fastest in the Marathon. Five pounds was a reasonable amount at the time but it wasn't the money so much as the pride and competitive spirit that was attached to the bet that mattered most.

The following extracts are from a diary I kept at the time:

"I was a little worried towards the end of the week - I had a sore throat and headaches - nothing really bad, but not exactly how I wanted to feel a few days before the Big Day. Nick had a bit of a cold too - at least we were both suffering. I put it down as a mild cold, pre race nerves and a couple of bad days at work - and, as I was feeling fine on Saturday, I thought - NO Problem!

The day of the marathon dawned wet, windy and cool but not cold. Blackheath was fairly wet and miserable. The coffee tent was bursting at the seams - a few drinking coffee - but most were sheltering from the rain and the wind. With 5 minutes to go the old track suits, t-shirts and bin liners were flung off. A minute to go and we were released and allowed to walk/jog towards the line. Then crunch … a gun went, everyone cheered and then started shouting "Charlie" (the starter was Prince Charles). I looked to the right and saw him in his raincoat - he looked rather bewildered by it all. He could have been a spitting image puppet - I could swear his ears were flapping.

The first 6 miles at the very least were fine. Although the first mile had taken about 8 and a half minutes, by the 6 mile marker we were on 6 and a half minute mile pace, so we must have 'shifted up a gear' and we were still on that pace at 9 miles. Just after crossing Tower Bridge I had to stop to re-do a shoelace (I got an 'Aah' from the crowd!) and then had to work really hard to catch up again with Nick. We went through half way at 1 hour 26 minutes.

I think the lace incident might have been the starting point. A little after that I think I knew I was slowing. At about the 14 mile stage I started to drop back from Nick. I don't remember anything being severely wrong. I just felt strangely tired. I even thought 'come on! you're on form today and there's only one London Marathon, so you can afford to push it a bit' - but I was probably already losing my marbles at this point.

Looking back it is one of the strangest experiences of my life. I've tried to piece it together from my own recollections and from people who actually saw me over those last few awful miles but I don't think I'll ever know exactly what happened or indeed why."

It's Not Good

Day 63 - Marathon Training - stopped after 1 mile (meant to be 13 miles steady)

It's not good. I am really p*ssed off. Set off in good weather and optimistic spirit but after less than a mile I could feel soreness and discomfort in my right knee. Yesterday's recovery was too good to be true. I shouldn't have run on Sunday; the knee wasn't properly healed and now I have probably set it back further.

The only good thing is that I have been very cautious today. I stopped as soon as it started to feel bad and I came back and had a hot bath. Since then I have been on the phone to 2 different physiotherapy practices to try and get an appointment. The one that is just around the corner does not have an appointment for at least 2 weeks so I called another place in Dorchester and I am waiting for them to ring me back.

I am trying not to let this get me down. But it is. I'm going to end up missing at least another week's training and even then I will have to come back into it slowly, setting back a lot of the hard work I've done already. I am almost certainly going to have to drop out of The Grizzly - a tough 20 mile off road classic run this Sunday. I was really looking forward to running it and it would fit in well, being 6 weeks before London.

I just have to hope that a few more days rest and some physio treatment and advice will have me back in action soon.

Runner's Knee

Day 62 - Marathon Training - 50 mins (testing the knee)

Ever since Monday's 20 mile run until today, I have had pain in my right knee cap. It felt like I had walked into the sharp corner of a door and it was badly bruised. Going up and down stairs was particularly bad. I've been looking up references to "Runner's Knee" on the internet. (This from "Undoubtedly one of the most common running ailments, runner's knee or patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), can hamper your training or leave you completely sidelined."

I carried on running, sticking blindly to my training programme for Tuesday and Wednesday - convincing myself that it wasn't that bad and also, once I got running, it did seem to feel a bit better. But Thursday and Friday it was really bad. On those days I was in London, visiting my eldest daughter, so it was easy to avoid any running (although I had been looking forward to the idea of a pre-marathon London run). However, I did a lot of walking in the capital and it didn't seem as though I was getting much rest. To be honest, I find several hours walking way more tiring than running.

In the end I tried to be partially sensible by taking 3 days off running and only getting back into it today. If I was REALLY sensible, given how bad my knee felt, I should probably have given it at least a week's complete rest. But there is this incredible compulsion to keep up the training programme, a fear of missing individual sessions - of falling behind with the whole thing.

Before going out for today's 'test run', I looked up material on the NHS Choices site, where it gives a set of useful knee strengthening exercises, so I did a few squats and leg raises - cautiously and gently - just to give myself a bit of confidence before setting off. I also want to learn a routine of these 'knee workouts' to incorporate on most running days from now on. I guess I'm hoping that this has been a warning to me to pay more attention to my ageing kneecaps and that with a bit more preventative work, I will actually emerge with much stronger knees.

I suppose it is no great surprise that, having run the best part of 20 miles on a hard road surface, for the first time in many years, my knees had something to say about it. I'm not entirely sure why it's only the right knee that's complaining but there you go.*

Anyway, the good news is, after 50 minutes or so of running on mainly soft surfaces today, it felt fine. That's great … but I can't help feeling cautious about it, suspicious almost. How come it was so bad a couple of days ago and now it seems almost completely healed? The real test will be tomorrow. If I wake and it has not become sore again and if I fit in a 13 mile road run, as scheduled, that will confirm that the panic is over and I'm back on track.

I've learnt a lesson though. I really do need to take care of my precious knobbly knees.

[* Since writing that, I've come across a potential explanation for the 'one sided' effect - from '' - "Runner's knee is … frequently caused by a thigh muscle imbalance, which can pull the kneecap out of alignment - and this imbalance can occasionally be caused by running on the side of a road where the camber can affect gait." This is a highly probable cause for what I've done.]

Unfinished Business Part 1

Day 57 - Marathon Training - 40 mins 'easy'

I have described my entry into this year's London Marathon as 'unfinished business'. This photograph explains why.
For the avoidance of doubt - this is me in the 1986 London Marathon. I didn't expect to get a finisher's photo. In fact I didn't expect to get any photo and yet, a few weeks after it was all over, I got a promo leaflet from Road Runner Photographic Services with a tiny thumbnail proof of this image attached. I bought a printed copy and it has stayed hidden in a drawer ever since.

For the further avoidance of doubt - NO, I didn't finish the 1986 London Marathon. By the time this photo was taken, I don't even remembering entering the 1986 race, let alone starting it. I got to the finish via - a wheelchair, an ambulance and the London Underground - in that order.

I never went near the London Marathon again. That is … until now.

[Did my much needed 'recovery run' today - 40 minutes on soft surfaces. I'm a bit worried that my right knee is hurting quite a bit - a legacy from yesterday's 20 miles. In a day or two I will know whether it is anything serious or not.]

Half Way There

Day 56 - Marathon Training - 20 miles steady (last 4 at marathon pace)
End of Week 8

Quite a milestone today and the sheer exhaustion in the photo says it all. The completion of 8 weeks of training as part of a 16 week programme - so I'm half way there. It was also the longest and toughest run so far. 20 miles, with the aim of running the last 4 at 'marathon pace'.
It's debateable what 'marathon pace' is for me but I know I'm aiming for somewhere between 8 minute miles (the dream) and 8 and a half minute miles (the realistic target). So, when it got to the end of mile 16, I went for it and pushed my legs to do things they really didn't want to do.

I ran the next 3 miles (miles 17, 18 and 19) at a pace of 7 mins 50 seconds per mile and then part hobbled and part winced my way over the last mile back to the car. Most of the miles were run on the road in the good old Bride Valley, the same venue as last Monday's long run. It was much colder, wetter and windier than last Monday, so I had to contend with running long stretches into the wind, where even the flat sections felt like a tough climb. I was even more tired this week than last and after only about 6 miles it felt like really hard work. It was so much more about mind over matter but I guess I'm quite pleased that I was able to keep going, and as an exercise in mental toughness for the marathon, it was probably more useful than the physical effort involved.

In order to ration my time on the hard road surface, I did run the first 4 miles or so off road on the coast path and, although this is always much slower per mile, it's far more enjoyable and provides better views and photo opportunities. However, by the time I got to the end of the run, these scenes of soft ground, wind swept beaches and dramatic grey skies were completely forgotten.

I find it amazing that I can run constantly for 3 hours and then seconds after I have said 'stop, you've done the distance' - I am struggling even to walk. It's like a sudden injection of lead into the lower half of my body. It's heavy, unbending and painful. I sometimes laugh out loud with a sort of mixture of pain and hysterical laughter. Although I'm unbelievably stiff and sore, I'm sufficiently objective to see the comedy in the situation. While running, I am imitating someone 20 years younger and then I stop, and in the space of 20 seconds or so, I experience the feeling of someone 20 years older. It's the laughter of wisdom over foolish youth.

Still that's 8 weeks of hard training complete. I'm half way there. Half way to madness? Probably.

Happy Valley

Day 49 - Marathon Training - 17 miles steady

It was a trip down memory lane today. I completed 17 miles running through the beautiful, and mostly deserted, Bride Valley. I used to live here and most of my runs, when I first moved to West Dorset, were completed along these relatively wide rural lanes.

The main reason for choosing this route was to get some miles in on the road, without having to jump out of the way of traffic and without having to climb ridiculously steep hills. There are hills in the Bride Valley but they are fairly modest and rolling and … well, you can forgive them and accept them when you are running in such glorious surroundings. Not only that, but it was unseasonably warm for late February (about 14C) and the sun shone for most of the time. I wore only a single layer on top and donned my shorts for the first time in 2017!

The whole day and the whole surroundings were doing a cheeky imitation of spring - from the sparkling, babbling streams by the village roadsides, to the snowdrops on the verge. I guess I was running so fast I was causing the space/time continuum to warp and the whole valley had leapt a month or more into the future. The little streams which tumble along the roadside in most of the villages in the valley are a real treat - you could call it a 'streamlined valley' and I tried to capture them on camera with my dynamic shape racing along. It's an interesting training concept - matching your running pace to a village stream.

Slap Slap Slap - Squish Squish Squish - Slap Squish, Slap Squish, - Slap Slap Slap. The sound of my new running shoes on the valley roads was accompanied by the sound of my backpack full of water. At times it provided a comforting rhythm, at others it was driving me mad but for the most part I forgot about it. Mind you, I did need the water today because it was pretty warm. I only wear the 'bladder' on my back on longer runs (more than 90 mins) and/or when it is fairly hot. It was sensible to take it today, despite the annoying sound effects - and my training plan specifically stated "practice your fuelling and hydration strategies". I hadn't thought about the little valley streams - maybe I could have just cupped my hands and gulped down water from the roadside?

Much like last Monday's 'long run' I felt really light and strong in the first half (or say up to about 10 miles) and then significantly weaker in the leg department towards the end. This time the hamstrings were complaining. The back of the legs were competing for attention with the tiredness in the front. If there was just ONE thing that would make me a better runner I am sure a 'hamstring transplant' would be it. And if I couldn't get them both done, I'd settle for having the one done at the back of my right leg. It's ALWAYS stiff and inflexible and noticeably more so than my left. Can anyone explain that? I do try stretching them out after most runs and I give more attention to the right than the left in a vain attempt to balance them out a bit. I think it is the curse of the runner, and especially middle aged male runners, to have tight hamstrings.

Maybe after the London Marathon I will take up 'extreme yoga' and develop the ability to leap out of bed in the morning and touch my toes with my nose, whilst keeping my legs straight. This also opens up possibilities of a new job in a travelling circus and freak show as 'the amazing rubber man'. One thing at a time. In the meantime I will settle for a training programme that allows me to have a beautiful Dorset Valley to myself on a day when it starts to wake from winter.

My mantra: I take only photographs and leave behind just the faintest Slap and Squish.

Sunday Hills

Day 48 - Marathon Training - 10 x 45 seconds on hills (90 sec jog recovery)

I don't think I've ever done a hill session on a Sunday. It just doesn't feel like a Sunday thing. It's also a bit strange that this Marathon Plan, that I am religiously following, only has ONE hill session and that was today! It seems a bit random but I'm sure it has been thought through and this training slot does have a purpose.

I discovered it's purpose - it was to knacker me out and, by the 9th hill rep, I was staggering around, dizzy and with a bit of a headache. I don't think those are very good signs! I'm not exaggerating about my reaction - I was gasping and stumbling in the pretty warm February weather, but I do think it was within my limits - I just pushed myself a bit that's all.
10 hill reps_Feb19
This little picture is a copy of the run elevation profile from my GPS watch. The 10 neat little hill reps are shown like the teeth of a saw. Of course seeing it like this makes it look so small and pathetic. It certainly didn't feel like that. The location was one of the steepest streets in town - Elizabeth Avenue - and I had set my watch to bleep after 45 seconds of charging uphill and then it bleeped again after another 90 seconds recovery. When you do a session like this, time on the recovery periods speeds up - you think 'that can't possibly have been 90 seconds already!' - I'm not ready to go again.

One of the key things about hill repetitions is to build strength and I really did feel it working hard on my legs - it's the fact that you have to lift them higher and harder in a very intense way. It does a bit of controlled damage that makes you strong and able to fight another day. Well that's the theory and it better be right. Otherwise what was the point in me suffering like that? On the other hand, I am sure it caused great Sunday entertainment for the mainly elderly residents of this bungalow lined avenue. Turn off the TV and watch this guy repeatedly failing to get to the top of the street. He didn't even deliver any unwanted leaflets, so what the hell was he doing?

Run Steady

Day 46 - Marathon Training - 65 mins 'steady'

Today my training plan called for a 65 minute run at 'steady' pace. What does 'steady' mean? Well in the pacing jargon it falls between 'easy' and 'tempo' - or another way of putting it, in effort scores - Easy is classed as 5 out of 10, steady is 6 and tempo is 7. (It carries on upwards to 'threshold' being 8 out of 10 and 'hard' being a 9.)

If there is such a thing, I classify 'steady' as your 'normal' running pace, the one you can sustain for a long time and long distance, whilst genuinely putting in the effort to run. I'm not sure whether it also corresponds with what should be my 'target marathon pace' but I guess it has to be there or thereabouts. Well my target marathon pace is somewhere between 8 minute miles (probably optimistic) and 8:30 minute miles, which I'm pretty sure I'm capable of. That means finishing somewhere between 3 and a half hours and 3 hours 45 minutes. To be sensible I should probably be aiming for the latter or I risk going too hard and really suffering and slowing down in the second half … even dropping out altogether … now we don't want that again do we?

I did this ordinary training run today in almost exactly 8 minute mile pace and it felt fairly comfortable so that's encouraging. At about mile 3, I could see I was running quite a bit faster than this, so I actually consciously slowed down a bit so that I didn't overdo it. In the hour I covered almost exactly 7.5 miles (8 min/mile pace or 5 min/km pace) and then slowed down a little at the end. Of course there's a big difference in doing that for an hour or for about 8 miles, as opposed to doing it for 3 or 4 hours and covering 26 miles, but I'll take it as a good sign for now.

I'm not a very fast runner and I'm not technically brilliant but if there's one thing I'm quite good at, it's pace judgement. I can shift between say 7 minute mile pace and 9 minute mile pace, probably without the aid of a watch, and my actual speed would be within a few seconds of my perceived speed. I guess this is a skill that is important in marathon running. Although technology can now assist pacing to quite a sophisticated level (with GPS watches on most runner's wrists) the best way to do it is still by instinctive feel.

If you can run for miles and miles and miles at the same steady pace and feel comfortable and in control, that's a pretty good feeling. And it's a pretty good way of getting you to the marathon finish line with body and mind still intact.

The Effort

Day 42 - Marathon Training - 15 miles 'easy'

"Victory isn't defined by wins or losses. It is defined by effort. If you can say, 'I did the best I could, I gave everything I had,' you're a winner." (Wolfgang Schadler)*

To roll out a quote like that might seem a bit dramatic at this stage. I'm only 6 weeks into my programme and I ran 15 miles … so what! Well it felt like I had to put just about everything into it to finish. I could have made it shorter and I could have given up but I didn't.

I quite enjoyed the first half. Although I was running into quite a stiff easterly breeze, there was sunshine, there were deep blue skies and it was quite warm. I amused myself taking photos to try and convey just how huge and deserted the beach is between Burton and West Bexington. It is quite breathtaking, liberating, humbling, to have such an enormous stretch of nature to yourself. Maybe it was an especially low tide but I can't remember seeing such a wide vista of sand and shingle and I mildly chastised myself for not running along the actual beach more often. I don't come along this far east that often but when I do, I normally take the slightly more inland path which runs inside the reed beds.

That was another thing I noticed today, the reed beds - they just looked spectacular - randomly swishing and waving in the late afternoon sun.

So all was looking good until I turned and made my way home. It could have been even better, with the wind behind me now and the setting sun painting glorious patterns in the sky ahead of me. But within a mile or two of the return journey I started to feel tired - very tired. My back was stiff and I could feel worrying twinges in it down one side (nothing new there). I had started the day thinking I would not be able to run at all because of my bloody useless back but it freed up during the day and I had decided to risk it - the weather was just too good to ignore.

However, a general exhaustion took over me and it was my legs, rather than my back, that started to fail. When you are running, your legs are quite important (school of the bleeding obvious alert) so when they are protesting over every stride, it becomes difficult - mentally and physically. It was like they were saying "Don't lift me, don't lift me" on every step. It felt like any ounce of strength and flexility in them had gone. I think it was my hip flexors that were mainly to blame - the muscle area at the front of the leg between your hip and your thigh. They were saying "No" but my mind was forcing them to keep going.

It's a feeling that will be recognised by anyone who has taken part in any sort of endurance running event - where you have run past your 'normal' energy reserves. It is remarkable that many of us continue on, sometimes for many miles, past the point when the body has told us to stop. For me today, there was really only about 2 or 3 miles past the place called 'sensible'. But somewhere along the line, it is this experience and this mental ability that months later gets us to the finish line. Every bit of effort counts in the end.
And it was a beautiful winter's day. And the sky was leading me home.

* By the way, the quote comes from a fella who was an Olympic athlete who competed in Luge for Lichenstein. So similar to my own experience …

Perfect Fit

Marathon Training - Day 33 - 5K at tempo pace

Got my replacement running shoes some time ago but it has taken me a while to try them out. This is because:
  1. I've been injured
  2. I've been running 'off-road' a lot and these are road shoes
  3. I wanted my first test of the new shoes to be a relatively short run, on the road, in daylight
It took a while for all these conditions to be granted but today was the day.

Just to recap - I had ordered a new pair of road running shoes but they were too small. This was despite the fact that I had always worn UK size 7.5 in Saucony Shoes. The suppliers did not have any size 8s left in that model and I struggled to find them anywhere else at a reasonable price. I ended up going with a different supplier and a different shoe. For the shoe geeks, I went from a Saucony Kinvara 7 to a Saucony Zealot ISO 2 - the latter being a bit more expensive at £90.

My theory for why I needed bigger shoes was that my feet had got fatter (!), particularly at the front. And my preferred explanation for this, is that I now have such perfect running technique - always zipping along on the balls of my feet, that they have actually splayed out a bit at the front - hence the need for a bigger shoe. Anyway, enough of this rubbish. The new size eights were tried on. They immediately felt comfortable and a good fit - so far so good, but what about running in them?

Well they were great! First time out in a new pair of shoes and half way through I completely forgot I had them on, which I guess is the ultimate test. The weather was great (sunny and dry) and I chose a flat route on the pavement down to West Bay and back. Specifically my programme called for 12 minutes easy, followed by a 3 mile 'tempo run' (I made it 5K) and warming down with another 12 minutes at easy pace. I don't think I'm in great shape at the moment but I ran the 5K in 21:33 which is pretty good by my standards, especially for just a training run on my own.

One thing about the shoes was a subtle but noticeable sound as I pattered along the streets - a sort of Slap, Slap, Slap, Slap. They do have quite a wide forefoot (is that what you call it?) in a tasty shade of blue and my feet were enjoying this accompanying rhythm. I think this is a good thing. I only hope it doesn't drive me mad in the coming weeks. After all, these may well be the shoes I actually run the marathon in. Indeed I hope they are, because I don't want to have to shell out for another pair before London.

A really good first test - light and comfortable, assisting my 'zippy feet' to forget I even had them on. What adventures lie ahead for these brave blue laced warriors as they pound away the many miles between here and The Mall? Slap, Slap, Slap, Slap …

Mist Clearing

On Monday the mist lay thick around Bridport and West Bay and I walked … Yes, walked! … down to the coast and took a few photos of the mist soaked harbour.
The misty weather lingered a little on Tuesday but it's now Friday and the mist has gone. It's a bit like that with my back as well - the pain was still there in the early part of the week but it has gradually cleared and now feels so much better. And the misty, murky, mood that was fogging my brain has more or less gone too.

I walked on Monday, simply because I couldn't yet risk running, but I hoped the walk would free me up a bit and get the spinal joints and the muscles in the lower back moving in a productive way. It really seemed to help and although the weather was photographically dismal, I was starting to enjoy the exercise and the gradually increasing freedom of movement I seemed to be getting 'back there'. The photography became a challenge and the walk became a liberation. It was one of those days that proves the power of positive thinking.

When I got back from the walk, I dumped the camera at home and immediately went for a gentle run of 20 minutes or so on grass. I managed to do it without collapsing and without anything that could be called 'real pain to a real man', in my back. And so it has continued. Four miles the next day, mainly off-road and with a bit of climbing. On Wednesday I actually completed a gentle six miles, combining a pre-run on my own, with leading what we call the 'wellbeing group' at our club. It was good for me not just to be running again but coaching and encouraging others always injects an extra boost of motivation and confidence building. It's often quite a selfish process really, disguised as helping others.

The training programme this week deliberately calls for 'easing off' the effort and it has no 'speed work' or 'interval sessions', which is perfect for recovery from injury if I stick to it. But I can't help feeling that I have lost the best part of 2 weeks training effort now. (Actually weeks 3 and 4 of my 16 week programme.) I lost last week where I was supposed to be putting in 2 or 3 harder sessions and now this week is a 'recovery week' but I didn't do the hard week before it to recover from!

So there is that temptation, now that I'm feeling a touch better, to start pushing it a bit more, driven by a sense that I have 'dropped behind' on my programme. But you know what, I am sufficiently objective about it to realise that I've still got over 12 weeks to go and the risk of further pain and injury should override any feelings of 'Oh no, I've not done anywhere near enough training!'.

One of the biggest physical and psychological hurdles is the thought of going back in the Gym, as I more than half suspect that that was what caused my back problems in the first place. But I think I'm going to do it and just take it carefully. If I DO get back in the Gym and come out without any damage then that is going to do me the world of good. I will have put this back pain 'blip' behind me and will be feeling so much stronger in every sense of that word. I can see clearly now.

(Pic above: There was a cleat on the harbourside that reminded me so much of what my spinal joints felt like a few days ago.)

Back Breaking

Marathon Training Day 15 - 35 mins easy

It's great to be able to say that for the last 2 mornings in a row I have got up early and been running by 7.30 am or thereabouts. That is an achievement for me and a significant step towards conquering my psychological struggles to get out of bed. But what has really plagued me both mornings is a really stiff and uncomfortable back. It feels like I've got a huge solid plank - like a railway sleeper - shoved down the back of my running shirt. It eases up a bit by the end of the run but it's still a bit worrying.

It never helps when I go for a run first thing, because my aging body needs a bit of time to free up during the day but I think (and I'm hoping this is the case) it is mainly a result of the Gym work I've been doing. It was at it's worst on Monday morning and I had done my latest weekly strength session in the Gym the day before. I do these things called 'Russian Twists'. Although it sounds like it could be part of a plan to influence the US Presidential Elections, it is in fact an exercise done sitting on a mat with a medicine ball. You swish it from one side to the other whilst trying to stay balanced on your bum with your legs in the air … err … more Trump analogies are coming to me … Actually I don't think this exercise was the main culprit, it was probably the 'Plank' that had more effect - the one where you lie face down but propped up on your forearms and your toes, keeping your back and the whole of your core relatively straight. After 30 seconds of this my whole body starts shaking uncontrollably and the name says it all - the next day it turns my back into one hell of a plank.

It is early days for all of this stuff and I am hoping that my body will adjust and eventually benefit from these new punishments. Two early morning runs with an uncomfortable back at this stage in my training plan and only a day or two after new gym exercises is probably predictable. I really do hope that this sort of discomfort will fade and be replaced with a new spring in my step and a much more fluid and flexible body. I'm talking in 'relative' terms here - I don't think I'm ever going to be VERY fluid and flexible but just more so than I am now.

UFO in Dorset!

Marathon Training Day 12 - 50 mins (with 30 mins 'steady')

Although it was cold, it really was a lovely day with bright sunshine a lot of the time. Here in Dorset we seemed to have escaped the worst of the weather - in other parts of the country there have been extreme tidal surges and really hazardous wintry stuff blowing around.

As it was such a nice looking day and the run I had to do was not too taxing I decided to take my iPhone with me and take a few photos on the way. Really glad I did, otherwise no-one would believe me that I found a UFO near Symondsbury. Yep and here is the photo of me standing on top of it to prove it. You can see from the size of their spacecraft that the alien occupants were quite small and, although I suggested they come running with me, their tiny little legs just could not cope with my strength and speed - Ha Ha! I left them miles behind, they were useless.

I rather like the fact that the UFO also mimics the shape of the distant Colmers Hill - perhaps that famous local landmark was also the result of an alien landing several hundred years ago.

Some of the trees in the Symondsbury area were looking magnificent and it was also great to run through the mini forest around the base of Allington Hill.

What force of nature created trees? They are powerful and beautiful. They can also be quite intimidating but today, in a spirit of solidarity with nature, I had the feeling that they were looking down on me in a wise and kindly way. They are operating on a completely different timescale to me - not a sixteen week training plan - No, a few hundred years of patiently watching over the earth, whilst reaching for the sky. I am going to adopt a training plan like that for my next life.

The run called for a 'steady' paced section of 30 mins in the middle of an 'easy' start and an 'easy' finish. Well that 'steady' bit involved quite a bit of 'stop/start' for photos and 'slip/slide' for mud but the spirit of the session was captured I think. In other words, in between photographic opportunities and falling over, I was running quite hard.

I Got Up

Marathon Training Day 8 - 35 mins 'easy'

YESSS! I got up at 7am and was out the door by about 7.10 am and jogged an easy 3 or 4 miles.

After the mental trials and tribulations of yesterday it was satisfying to have done this but I don't feel so great about it. It was still a mental struggle to do the 'getting out of bed thing' - not that I spent ages over it, just that it needs such strength of will to do it. I am thinking more and more that it is some kind of addiction, some mental crutch that I need and I can't easily give away.

I am going to do more early morning runs, I promise. For one thing, on working days like today, I will be hard pressed to fit my runs in if I don't do them first thing in the morning and for another, once I actually get out everything seems to improve. Two drawbacks though: 1) my body feels really tight and inflexible at that hour of the day - my back in particular felt stiff and sore; and 2) it's a risky time for the bowels; I find it's too early for my body clock to have performed a 'number two' before I go out but 10 minutes into the jogging up and down motion and my bowels seem to urgently decide that motion of a different kind is required.

Running along with a stiff back and a pressing need to sit on the toilet do not make for an 'easy' run (what my training plan required today). But I DID get up early, I DID do my run, I DID experience the sunrise and I DIDN'T perform any undignified squats until I returned to the privacy of my own home. The latter, more than anything, is what I am most proud of.

Facing the Day

Marathon Training Day 7 - 6 miles easy (photo: back from a soaking)

I ran a touch over 7 miles, taking in the village of Burton Bradstock and back along the beach under the iconic East Cliffs at West Bay. It was raining pretty heftily most of the time and I took a soaking. I was feeling pretty low but it wasn't the weather that was getting me down but the mental struggle that had gone on earlier that morning.

I had set my alarm for 7.30. I woke at 7 and switched it off and was still in bed at 9.30. It was a return to the 'bad old days' albeit in just a mild way. I was putting off the day a little longer and I felt a little down but not in a full blown depression like way. Just enough to make it a bad start to the week and to feel the first hint of demotivation in my running programme.

I have spent the last 5 or 6 years battling with various episodes of depression. 'Battling' sounds a bit tabloid and dramatic but it will do for now. And one of the key features of it (and I suspect for a lot of people) is the inability to get out of bed. At times it has been a fight, a struggle, a game of mental torture wrapped up in guilt and conflicting pressures. Feeling bad about staying in bed and criticising myself for it but being totally unable to override this and have the courage to face the day.

I suppose it's hardly surprising that a lot of people feel this way. Two of the key symptoms of depression are an overwhelming fatigue and a loss of hope for the future. What better strategy for dealing with these two evils than to get into bed and stay there. You are going to minimise your tiredness and if the future's shit, you don't have to face it at all in bed. It's a pretty logical and sensible approach if you put it that way. The trouble is, if you're like me (and I'm sure a lot of people are) it's not a neutral or calming or satisfactory solution. At my worst, I used to lie there wide awake, sometimes shaking and sweating a bit and feeling SO guilty and useless. Having no earthly ability to climb out from under the duvet and yet finding no comfort there and beating myself up mentally for laziness, weakness and shame.

(It was nothing like that today. It was just the faintest echo of earlier times but just enough to make me nervous. No room for complacency here mate!)

Although it took me a year or so, I found a partial solution to the problem via something of a contradiction. The way to address the problem of not getting out of bed was … wait for it … to not get out of bed! BUT most importantly to not get out of bed but stop feeling BAD and GUILTY about it. I had come to associate being stuck in bed with depression and, to be honest, I think it also linked back to my childhood upbringing where 'lying in' was frowned upon and associated with laziness and lack of ambition.

As I started to get better, I found I could give myself permission to stay in bed a bit longer - I didn't have to rush off anywhere - I could treat myself to warmth and comfort - maybe read something and have some breakfast and a nice coffee. This is not a sign of illness or weakness, this is looking after myself and saying, 'What the Hell, there's no rush and I deserve it today!'

To be honest, I spent the best part of 2016 spending a good hour or more in bed after I'd woken up, before I properly started the day. I developed a routine that I became fond of and truth is, it has probably become a bit of a habit, maybe even an addiction. But I'm largely in control of it and there is a big BIG difference between this and the feeling I used to have when in the depths of depression.

I must admit, I used to get up early and go running before breakfast quite regularly and that's not something i've been able to force myself to do much for some time. I did do it on the first day of my Marathon Plan and I was going to do it today but just some faintest feeling of sadness floated in and settled on the duvet. I'm going to try again tomorrow.

I didn't actually get out running today until about 1130 and my punishment for the delay was to get soaked. If I had run when originally planned, I would have been completely dry. I hope my sins have been washed clean.

Zippy Feet

Marathon Training Day 4 - 30 mins steady

I rated this run as feeling 'Good' on my Marathon Plan. It was going 'sort of OK' and then I passed an older guy on the coast path who shouted after me, "Look there's an athlete! Fantastic!". There was no side to it. You could tell he was just joining me in spirit and wishing me well and it made me feel absolutely great. Aren't people wonderful when they share in each other's efforts, when they make you appreciate what you're doing even more than you were already? It did help that he was considerably older than me and I was also running down hill - both factors increased my 'athlete' rating I think but Hey! … he made me feel good and I think I made him feel good too.

I spent some of my time on this run experimenting a little with my cadence - that is how many steps my feet take in a minute. I spent more than 30 years running without anyone teaching me anything about how to do it. I knew nothing about technique, form, skill - I just did it in my own way, like most people do. But in the last couple of years, and particularly in this last year (when I qualified as a Running Coach myself) I have learnt so much about running styles and techniques. And one of the simplest and most obvious things I have learnt, is the significance of cadence.

Put more simply - the faster you move your feet, the faster you are likely to go. Although that seems like stating the bleeding obvious, there's a bit more to it than that. What happens, I think, is that most people settle into a cadence that feels natural to them and they never change it. And I think that most people would benefit from consciously working on increasing their cadence i.e. their steps per minute. Of course you can also increase your stride length and if you can increase both - cadence and stride length - in a big way, then watch out Mo Farah.

But of the two, I think cadence is more important and easier to work on for most people. And what's more, and I'm speaking from experience here, to be skipping along with what feels like lighter and faster feet is quite liberating. I think if anything I have probably slightly shortened my stride but increased the speed of my steps and it feels good. I encourage the people I coach to be 'lighter on their feet' all the time. It is partly physical and partly mental. Even though I am advancing through my 50s much quicker than I would like, since I discovered the principles of Zippy Feet, I feel like I am running younger and more freely than I did a few years ago.

They say that the optimum cadence for good distance running is 180 steps per minute and that top Marathon Runners are zipping along at something like 184 - 188 steps a minute.* I counted as I was running today (30 seconds worth of steps then double it) and I think my cadence at the moment is somewhere between 166 - 168. Of course it's best to measure it on a firm level surface, which was in short supply today. If I consciously work on it, I can push it into the 170s without excessive effort but it's not there naturally yet.

It will be interesting to see, during the course of my Marathon Training, whether there is any significant change in my cadence. I am certainly going to work on it when I remember to, because I don't see it as a chore - I enjoy bringing out my Zippy Feet. I feel lighter, faster, happier when I run that way. And, after all, I am an Athlete.

* I owe this statistic to the Julian Goater book, "The Art of Running Faster" and I also owe Julian for playing a role in enthusing me to use my Zippy Feet.

Fat Feet?

It's official - my feet have got fatter! Well more specifically, the front of my feet. Look, I could have said my balls are expanding but that would have just been for comic effect and I don't intend to do that. This is too serious. It's actually quite a traumatic thing to discover in only the first week of my marathon programme and how I discovered it is so mundane. All I did was order a new pair of road running shoes.

I did what I have always done for about the last 20 years - ordered a pair of the running brand Saucony in UK size seven and a half. But when I tried them on it was a real struggle to get into them and they were really tight! They were especially tight around the toes, they felt really cramped.

I opened the laces out till they were really loose and paced about the floor in my living room but my toes couldn't breathe. (I know toes don't breathe but if toes did breathe, they would definitely have stopped breathing in these shoes and started to turn blue and … well, I don't want to talk about it.) This was simply shocking. What on earth has happened. This is the SAME brand of shoe at the SAME size I have been wearing since way back in the previous century and yet my toes were dying.

I hate having to re-package stuff and send it back for exchange but there was no alternative. The Luminous green "Kinvara Sevens" went back with a request for an exchange to UK size 8. I'm even beginning to wonder if the next size up will be big enough. If this is a trend, by the time I run in London in late April, the Cockney phrase "plates of meat" will not just be rhyming slang but an accurate description of my trotters.

It did get me thinking what could have caused this unnatural and very specific growth in my anatomy. The logical thing was to examine what had changed recently that may explain this phenomenon. And I have two highly plausible theories - one running related - and one diet related. In the running category, is the fact that, like all trendy runners these days I try to run much more on the front of my feet. The old days of 'heel striking' are frowned upon in fashionable running circles and although a hell of a lot of people still do it, to admit to it, is a bit like silencing everyone at a party to announce that you club baby seals.

So my first theory is that my persistent attempts to run on my balls (stop it … stop it …) - to run with my weight more on the front of my feet - has resulted in specific front foot expansion - they've squidged out like something out of a Wallace and Gromit animation. If this is true, I just hope the replacement shoes will hold it all in.

My second theory is that a recent short lived, but drastic change to my diet may have caused weird and specific toxic effects in my extremities. You see, I am in a minority of one in my family in being a meat eater and for a few, mostly relaxing days over the festive period, I joined the rest of the tribe in a Vegan inspired Christmas dinner. I have to say it was delicious and, as a runner, I am never knowingly underfed, so I really went for it. Although I am no stranger to large quantities of food, especially on the 25th of December, I did consume several ingredients that I don't often sample and some that I have NEVER tried before.

It's perhaps not that surprising that, after three generous plates of walnuts, chestnut puree, onions, parsnips, cabbage, broccoli (and a dozen other secret vegan potions) washed down with several glasses of alcoholic fizz - that, well … As delicately as I can put it, over the next 24 hours, I personally generated sufficient reverse thrust methane gas to propel me from rural Dorset to the London Marathon finishing line (4 months later) without any training WHATSOEVER.

However, that's not the point. The point is, could it be that this radical change in diet has all gone to my feet? The gaseous element has long since gone, but the rest of it had to go somewhere. We may never know but the new shoes have been 'returned to sender' and I hope the replacements arrive soon … and that they fit!

Oh, and I did my first Gym session today as part of my training plan. That went OK. It's my feet that are bugging me.

Marathon Training Day 1

Was up at 7am, out the door soon after and running in -2C. It was dark, very cold and frosty. I was wearing 3 layers, plus hat and gloves. It has to be very cold for me to wear gloves - I hardly EVER wear gloves.

So it was a real test of my resolve to start Day One of my 16 week London Marathon Training Plan at such an early hour and in such conditions but I did it! The programme says '30 mins easy' so I jogged down to West Bay and back and took a couple of photos as evidence and to symbolically mark the occasion.

It was still fairly dark when I got down to West Bay and I liked the way the flash on the iPhone caught the reflective strips on my running jacket as I posed manfully on the pier wall with the East Cliffs behind me.

There was a guy in fluorescent orange jacket on the pier sweeping and collecting litter - I was the only person in the world there to appreciate what he was doing. We exchanged cheery 'Happy New Years'. And then I saw a woman running in very short shorts … REALLY! It was minus two degrees and I was wearing gloves - I hardly ever wear gloves (I know I've already said that). What was she thinking? Maybe she does not feel the cold, maybe it is some fitness fad called 'frostbite challenge' or 'near death trotting' or maybe she was wearing the latest extremely realistic flesh looking lycra leggings. I tell you what, I'm not taking her on in any sort of physical challenge - she's psyched me out already.

I ran down via the main road but came back over the fields and it was curiously satisfying to experience the frosty crunch of the farm footpaths as the light improved and my muscles started to come alive. '30 minutes easy' is actually what you need to do as a bare minimum just to warm up and get ready to run on a day like this. But hey, there's a long way to go yet with this training plan … it's a marathon not a sprint …

What a joy!

What a joy. I ran from my place to Seatown and back today. An extremely tough run - about 9 miles in total along some of the most mountainous parts of the Jurassic Coast. I suppose for some people it would be their definition of torture. But for me, when I'm feeling good and when the weather is good, it is a life affirming experience. It's not as though I felt bad when I started but I still came back feeling a whole lot better.

I met a number of people on the coast path and there was always a smile and a cheery 'Hello' or the common - 'Ooo I wish I was as fit as you' or 'you make me feel tired just watching you'. And it always cheers me and I quip back 'It's all for show, I'm knackered on the inside'! I've learnt to 'hang on' to this positive interaction with my fellow humans. How nice … yes, nice … to smile and exchange a few words with strangers in an instant mutual appreciation of the landscape, the weather, the exercise and the passing camaraderie. It is by hanging on to these positive gems of human experience for a bit longer than they actually last, that we learn to enjoy life more - to appreciate the life we have - instead of dwelling on the life we don't have or the things that might go wrong. And so I make a point of savouring these moments for at least a few minutes after they have happened - a bit like sucking a tasty sweet as long as you can instead of biting and swallowing it straight away. And so, if you see me grinning as I trot across the Dorset coastline, you will know one of the reasons why.

Well over half way into the run, I stagger up to the top of Thorncombe Beacon. Apparently it is the second highest point on the South Coast of England. Sometimes I would believe it if I was told it was the second highest mountain in the Himalayas. As you are running up it has the ability to suck more breath out of you than you can take in and it turns the most flexible leg muscles into solid pieces of lead. The amazing thing is you can be fervently 'running' up it to the best of your ability - your little feet a blur as you tackle the ridiculous slope - while somebody walking with a decent stride can pass you and wave!

Anyway, until recently, I have always seen it as a badge of pride, to run up Thorncombe Beacon - from the foothills to the summit - EVERY time. No matter how bad I am feeling, no matter that it would probably be quicker to walk the top section, no matter that no-one can see me, I ALWAYS used to RUN it. It is part of my make up to strive, to push, even to punish myself to get to the top. And if I didn't it would be a sign of getting older, of weakness, of giving up. That would be terrible wouldn't it?

Oh dear! Today I didn't run the whole way. I ran two thirds of it and then WALKED the rest. What on earth has happened to me? And worse than this I have to confess that I have done this two or three times now. I have broken the unbroken record of running to the top - the record that was only known by me and only recorded in my brain. But you see, now I have come to the realisation that I am still physically fit enough to run it but I'm also mentally flexible enough to not have to.

For me, it is this innate striving behaviour that, unbeknown to me at the time, was sowing seeds that would grow one day into full blown depression. Like scattering a trail of poisonous breadcrumbs that was being followed and lapped up by an insidious monster. One day the monster caught up with me and it took over me and almost scared me to death. It made me desperately sad and fearful and trapped me a lot of the time, even from getting out of bed.

So maybe that's why I kept 'running up that hill' … to escape from the monster! The irony is, like many things in life, I have solved it by turning it on its head. By choosing not to run up that hill when I don't feel like it, I have left the monster behind. Why all that striving in the first place? Well that's another story. I have some theories but no firm answers and right now it doesn't really matter. It's still there but it's not as all consuming as it was, although I bet the next time I face that bloody hill, I'll run up it again!

There was something else I did differently on the run today. Like many of my regular running routes, I follow the same paths, even when there is a choice that will bring me out at the same destination. Even with something as free and liberating as going out on a solo run in beautiful coastal countryside, there is an element of habit. There is something reassuring and safe about the habitual but the one thing it doesn't include is change. It somehow makes a mockery of most political struggles and all the best dramatic movies where the hero bravely shouts, "I choose FREEDOM" - when many of us facing daily mundane choices actually choose repetition and habit ahead of freedom.

I am sure a movie will be made out of my struggle today … this morning, on the section of the path between the Beacon and Eype, where it splits into two sheep trails, one higher than the other but both meeting eventually by the same gate, I took the lower path. I thought I might die, or be hit by lightning or at least suffer severe muscle spasms but no … nothing happened. And this was despite the fact that I always used to take the higher path. (There is not meant to be some righteous metaphor there!)

And so, I came back from the run, along the riverbank back into town, feeling tired but good, really good. I don't want to spend too much time analysing why. Only the people who do this sort of thing really know why. But I do know that today it was something to do with the fact that I chose not to follow the same path that I always do, I chose not to keep pushing myself up that hill and I chose to absorb the spontaneous warmth of strangers. And if you travel on foot, along this section of the magnificent Dorset coast on a warm spring day, it takes some considerable effort to make yourself feel worse.

What a joy!

Photos - 1) Seatown - on this day there was a fleet of 6 large four-wheel drives from the Netherlands in attendance; 2) Me - running up to the top of the Beacon in the Jurassic Coast 10K (it was blisteringly hot); 3) I took the lower path and even the sheep were shocked.