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.

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 …

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.

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!

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.]


Day 50 - Marathon Training - 40 mins easy

I jogged for 40 minutes or so on some soft ground to try and recover from the 17 mile epic of yesterday. But that is not what I'm here to talk about.

I am going to explain how I produce the photos for this blog because I think it is pretty damn interesting even if no-one else does. Half of me wants to propagate the idea that I am so famous and interesting that I am followed on most of my training runs by a professional photographer or even a little group of paparazzi who snap my every move. I could try to do that … but on the other hand, it might be better in the long run (see what I did there?) to tell the truth.
The picture here gives it all away. From left to right - 1) an iPhone 6s, 2) a Manfrotto mini tripod with smartphone clamp, 3) an iPhone sports armband by Anker (no W in that).

Yes, all the lovely pictures you see in this blog are taken by an iPhone*. How do I carry this little lot? Well the phone goes into the armband - the armband gets velcro strapped onto my bicep (massive amount of velcro required) - and I carry the little tripod in my hand. Yes, I carry the tripod because it's less irritating than having it stuck down my running tights and avoids difficult to explain injuries at the GP surgery. I tend to regularly switch the carrying hand whilst running because we all know the importance of balance in running don't we? If I carried it in one hand all the time, I could end up with plantar tripoditis - a common condition amongst vain runners who insist on carrying photography equipment and keep bending down to look for good angles.

The mini tripod, with legs splayed, mounts the iPhone camera only about 18 cm or 7 inches off the ground - which explains why you see a lot of dramatic low angle photos in this blog. I do like low angle shots but they are mainly there because I've got no other choice! (Note to self: a bit more experimentation required on future runs … put it up on a wall or the back of a cow or something.)

By the way, I don't take this 3 part kit with me everytime I run, in fact most times I don't. It's annoying to run holding the tripod so I ration it to once or twice a week, maybe when the weather is good or I am going to be passing something particularly new or visually interesting. The other thing is, I know that if I have the ability to take pictures on the run, I will see photo opportunities every hundred metres or so and will spend more time stopping to take pictures than actually running. I suppose I have to 'lock away' the phone camera to avoid my addiction to using it.

I have explained the kit but how do I actually take the photos of myself running along in perfect natural pose? (Ha, ha!) Not always easy but here goes:
  1. Mount the iPhone in the tripod clamp - landscape format with the lens at the top and facing the potential subject
  2. Get down on the ground to look at the screen and compose the shot - creating a 'space in the frame' where I imagine myself running
  3. Set the self timer to 10 secs
  4. Set HDR to 'on' (if you don't you get a burst of 10 shots - you might want this, I don't)
  5. Lightly press the on screen shutter button
  6. Get off the ground and RUN into position!
  7. Come back and review the picture
  8. Repeat actions 5 to 7 until you get a decent shot with yourself in the frame in the right place!
I try to get the composition right in the first place and to be honest if a picture doesn't work after 3 or 4 attempts I don't bother. The one above is one of my favourites from the training programme so far and I will admit I had about six goes at this before I got one that I liked i.e. bang in the middle of the digger arm. What surprised me on the attempted shots before this, was that I kept running too far. It's amazing how far you can get in 10 seconds after pressing the shutter. In this case I had to scramble off and get behind the digger, jump onto a shingle bank and then run across the frame. I am honestly not that fast but the wide angle of the iPhone lens seems to expand the distances involved.

I guess the final point to make is about editing the photos. I use Adobe Lightroom and spend no more than a few minutes per picture doing some or all of the following in this order;
  • cropping the frame
  • adjusting exposure & contrast
  • adjusting highlights (usually reducing) & shadows (usually increasing)
  • adding a bit on the clarity and vibrance sliders
So there you have it. Sorry to disappoint anyone who thought I really did have another photographer following my every step. It really is just my own sham vanity exercise but I do enjoy trying to produce a good photo and everyone of these shots is really me, really running on the route I did that day. It's just that sometimes I had to do it all over again … as if the training wasn't hard enough, without also having to please the photographer.

* Truth alert … one exception so far to all the pictures having been taken on an iPhone - the pics taken on 27 January in the blog piece called "Mist Clearing" were taken by an Olympus Pen-F - a 'proper' camera.

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.

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 …

Real News

Marathon Training - Day 39 - (8 min 'tempo' runs/ 3 min jog x 3)

At the very last minute, before I set out the door, I decided to take my iPhone with me - that translates as 'take my camera' with me (one day I'll make a phone call with it). Glad I did because you never know what you are going to encounter and just wish that you had the opportunity to provide the visual evidence for the story you are about to tell.

In the mainstream media this last week or so there seems to have been a focus on the phenomenum of 'Fake News', which is somewhat ironic. Anyway I've got no time for it and what follows is TRUE, honestly mum.
Photo 1 - Nutrition for runners
Half way round my run today, I found this thoughtfully placed bowl of runners 'high energy soup'. In later weeks of my marathon plan it refers to 'practice your nutrition and hydration strategies today'. Well this has come a bit early but it was welcome nevertheless. It was clearly labeled EXTRA HIGH ENERGY. I had set off early without any breakfast, so I needed no extra prompting - I was in there - two generous 'scoops' with my hands cupped together - YUM YUM!

No problem that on the side of the bucket, some joker had added a sticker that said, "This is a complementary feed ideal for pregnant ewes, growing lambs and tups". This stuff really worked wonders. Later on in my run my speed and energy levels were on a scale I had not experienced before. The desperate need to crap my pants was largely responsible for the speed burst but I still think there was something special in that bucket.

Photo 2 - Runners Burning
The furthest point of my run was Thorncombe Beacon, always a great place to visit. At the top of this prominent cliff on the Dorset Coast is a large metal basket mounted on a pole, some ten or twelve feet high. It's called a Beacon and it was installed several hundred years ago by an early group of runners in this area. Each month they would set a running challenge of anything from 10 to 20 miles and the losing runner was burned alive in the beacon, whilst the rest of the 'club' would dance around below shouting "Loser, loser, pants on fire". (The concept of rhyme had not yet been invented.) The prominent yellow arrow in the photo above is to show which way up to insert the runner.

I am proud to say that we continue the tradition to this day via the local running club - except we reserve burnings for runners who 'heel strike' or who wear pink lycra.

Photo 3 - On the level
All of my running is done on smooth, level surfaces. This is to avoid injury and keep me looking good. It also helps with my blistering speed. Or is it that it helps with the speed of my blistering? I can never remember which.

Photo 4 - Turning heads
The area is full of exotic wild animals. Most species enjoy watching runners go by, as shown by the shot of this "Dorset Shaggy Flump" which turned to admire my speed and technique as I passed. Flumps are becoming much more common since it was discovered they are the perfect pack animals for Ultra Runners and Triathletes who own more than £10,000 of sport and leisure kit. Not only can these beasts carry enormous amounts of gear, they are also able to navigate, without the aid of Google, towards food and drink stations at any Ultra Endurance event on the planet. However what really endears them to their owners is their ability to memorise and deliver motivational banter in clear English with just a hint of Dorset bleat. Favourite Shaggy Flump phrases include - "pain is only temporary but compression tights are for life" and "when the going gets tough, follow your heart but listen to your bowels" and "never, never, never give up unless you can negotiate a refund of the exorbitant entry fee". My favourite is the cryptic, "You might be able to run 20 miles continuously, but in the morning I'll still be a Flump."

So glad I had that phone camera with me today, otherwise you would not have believed me.

Gray Skies Green Shirt

Marathon Training - Day 28 - 8 miles easy

Ran east along the Jurassic Coast as far as Hive Beach and back again. Took my iPhone and here are a couple of shots. With my new found strength from my gym work, after taking the picture of this JCB digger, I picked it up by the 'bucket end' swung it around my head three times and then threw it out to sea. Not very good for the environment but great for my Popeye credentials.

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.)

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.