Sunday, 30 March 2014

A week to go

This time next week we'll be running around Paris. Who knows; Andy might even carry that banana.

But bloody hell, eh? Next week. I'd say 'who knows where the time goes' but I know exactly where it's gone - it's gone into all the usual places; work, and with friends, and with stalled trains and all the typical day-to-day stuff. It's been used up by rain-sodden freezing runs around a wintry South London that became gradually more enjoyable as the mornings got brighter. It's been used up with discovering parts of the city I've never been to, even after living here for 18 years. It's been used up with listening to more podcasts and radio shows than I've listened to in years (and of finding the time to go from discovering This American Life to liking it to completely hating it. Shut up about your boring concerns! I don't care if your jazz-afficionado two year old is struggling with vegetarianism! Don't tell me about it in your whiny voice! Shut up!). And its been used up with half-hours and hours at the physio's office, trying to de-injure my bloody knee. And it's also been used up with those 'months where we gave up drinking to focus on the running' but where we actually didn't do that at all, and went to the pub anyway.

Bizarrely, all of this has been fun (apart from the time, maybe, where I read up on the history of marathons and about how Pheidippides, who ran the first one from Marathon to Athens, collapsed and died at the finish line.
That's not the kind of story you're after is it. Not if you're looking for the inspiration to get out of bed and go running, first thing in the morning).

Not that I've been out recently of course. I haven't run a mile since a couple of Saturdays ago. The time we did just over 21 miles. That's because my knee tightened up again and - on the morning that I did try to run properly, last Tuesday or Wednesday (I forget which) - something still wasn't quite right. It didn't hurt or anything but I was limping, if only a little. So instead I've been to the gym and on the cross-trainers and on the cycling machines. In fact, the other day I 'cycled' 30 miles while watching 'Allo Allo' on the gym telly. This is the Paris Marathon we're preparing for after all - and how much more French can you get? That's right mate. None more French.

As for my knee. It's alright really. And it'll be fine next weekend, I'm sure. 

But yes. Paris. Next weekend. 26 miles and 385 yards to run. God knows what my finishing time will be for all of this of course. I'd originally, laughably, put myself down for 'four hours' and I reckon it'll be miles more now with all of the knee problems I've had, but to hell with the finishing time. It was never my reason for running in the first place, was it. All that really matters at this stage is that I'm looking forward to it and am determined to enjoy it.

So. Before I head off to the gym for one last time* before the big race (*my membership runs out today) I'd just like to say cheers to everyone who's sponsored me to do this. It means a lot. Thank you.

Monday, 17 March 2014

God, has it been good to get out.

After nearly three weeks of swallowing ibuprofen and applying frozen peas, I tried running again last Monday. Actual running, I mean. Out-on-the-pavement-and-not-in-a-gym running. And to be quite honest, I was a bit scared that my knee would pop apart after twenty or thirty steps and all of this training would come to nothing. 

So I took it slowly and steadily, and headed out at around six -on Monday morning; running a five mile loop from my flat through Dulwich Village and into what remains of the Great North Wood. Six in the morning sounds dedicated, I know, but it was much more to do with insomnia and a night of lying awake, feeling like a bag of blood and meat and staring at the ceiling worrying about any old nonsense. You know; the kind of thing that running helps with enormously. Half an hour later I was feeling a million times better - standing in the woods, watching the sun rise over the trees and listening to the woodpeckers rat-a-tat-tat in the branches.

I followed the same route the next day; this time with Andy, and this time feeling a bit less trepidatious about taking my wonky legs out for a spin. My ankle hurt, yes. I had some kind of splint on my right shin. And my left knee didn't hurt, exactly, but it certainly let me know it was there - and that it needed me to be careful. Again, I got round. Five miles. And I apologise if I'm making all of this sound like a scene from 'The Champ' but it felt like a big deal.

And then on the weekend we went for it - Andy, me, and my knee - and we ran 21.5 miles. I am thrilled to fucking bits with that. It's the longest we've ever done. And it could well mean that, in just twenty days, I'll be able to run this Marathon after all. It's only another five miles, isn't it? That's - er - nothing. Piece of piss.

We set off early on a beautiful Saturday morning that was more August than March, and ran through Peckham, into Camberwell, around the Oval Cricket Ground, down to the river at Vauxhall, over to Battersea Park and then onto Putney. And from there, we took a route through Richmond Park, then Ham, and then over to Richmond itself. It took about four hours and then some. But we did it and it felt exactly as every running magazine and blog had promised it would - elating. And I was so, so grateful that my knee didn't throw me into some awkward limp. Nice one, knee.

Andy on Putney Heath.

This old feller sprinted past me, head down, in Richmond Park.

A resident-funded tribute to the Queen in Petersham, near Ham. Near the Polo club. It's posh around there.


PS: Something was different this time: Usually, on long runs, Andy and I stick our headphones in and listen to music or podcasts or what have you. This time we hardly bothered. Maybe it's because it was Spring, but it was great to listen to the birds and the woods and - well - the day-to-day life of the places we were running through (yes. Even that shriekingly posh woman in Richmond Park). That said, there was one point  - I forget where - where Andy stuck his headphones in saying 'You can only have so much fucking nature, can't you'.

PPS: We're probably supposed to be on the wagon. But there's no way you can run that far and end up in Richmond on the most beautiful day of the year so far, and not have a pint. Two pints each, I mean. So thanks to the Roebuck, on Richmond Hill for letting us take our glasses to the park over the road for a celebratory drink, and as our cooling legs set like clay.

Distance: 5 + 5 + 21.5 miles - so 31.5 miles/ 50.7 km
Time: Half an hour, another half hour, and then about four and a half hours.
Total distance (Andy): 167.8 miles/ 257.1 km*
Total distance (Elliot): 181.6 miles/ 291.3 km

*You know something? Andy's done LOADS more than this. He even did a half marathon in Scotland the other weekend. But he hasn't blogged owt for months, has he? The lazy get.

Monday, 3 March 2014


The Saturday before last was beautiful, and Andy and I wandered over to Peckham Rye Park to begin a long (or at least long-ish) bit of training. 'Do you reckon you'll be alright?' he asked and I repeatedly said 'yes. Yes. I reckon I'll be fine'.

I honestly though this strap would work.

And after about what? A minute? I had to stop. My knee had stiffened up and I was limping terribly. 'You go' I said to Andy, 'and I'll call you later'. As I hobbled back to the flat I googled a local physiotherapist on my phone and called them before I got indoors. 'We can fit you in on Monday' they said, and when I asked if I could swim or cycle they said 'yes. But the minute it hurts, stop'. Good, I thought, as I was determined to get out and about there and then. Once home, I pumped up the tires on my bike and set off straight away.

Luckily, cycling didn't hurt at all. I called Andy en route and arranged to meet up with him down by the Thames Barrier. 'Go up through Blackheath, and that way' he said. 'And turn right onto the Thames Path. I'm up by the 02'. Overall, this had taken him a couple of hours and it took me forty minutes, which is scientific proof that cycling is an absolute piece of piss compared to running. I have friends who cycle loads and tell me how tiring it is and how demanding, but you lot can shut your mouths. It's nothing. You get to freewheel when you go downhill, for God's sake. 

The Thames Path, up by the 02 Arena.

But cycling is fun. I'll give you that. And although I missed the 'zoning out' you get with long runs (the almost mediative feeling that comes as you listen to your feet thump, thump, thump, thump) I did enjoy the zippiness of it - and cycling along the Thames on what could have almost been a Spring day, with the sun turning the surface of river to glistening tin foil, was great.

The Thames.

Ghost sign.

Anyroad. My sodding knee. The physio said that it wasn't the patello-femoral pain syndrome (or 'runner's knee') I'd suspected after all, and he proved his point by pushing my kneecap with his fingers and asking if it hurt. No, I said. 'And how about here'? he asked, this time touching a spot an inch to the left. I gripped onto the chair and replied in 80-point type. 'That screaming means it's your hamstring', he said. 'The good news is that you'll be able to run the marathon. The bad news is that you won't be able to run at all, for what feels like ages'.

It turns out that all the physio's had at the surgery this past couple of weeks has been marathon runners, all training for London. He'd told about half of them that they wouldn't be able to take part in the thing they'd been training for all year, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn't getting that kind of news. And I tried not to feel awkward as I lay there, in my pants, as he rubbed gel all over my knee and then massaged it with one of those ultrasound things that looks like a Remington Fuzz-Away.

A couple of days later Andy and I tried the gym and later still, I even joined the bloody thing, as using the cross-trainers has been a great way of keeping my legs moving without knacking them with the impact of running. I chanced my feet on the treadmills at one point but it wasn't long before my left my knee throbbing again, so I stopped. 

The kind of views you get in the gym.

And that's all it's been since, for more than two weeks: using cross-trainers in a hot room, feeling bored and missing running (and idly looking at the kind of people who go to a council gym regularly - from old dears to Muscle Marys). And I've been taking so much ibuprofen on an empty stomach (you know, like you shouldn't) that dry-heaving has become 'my thing'.

Distance: Nowt.
Virtual distance: I haven't been keeping track.

Friday, 21 February 2014

A whole week of nothing

At the end of last weekend's run, my knee had started to hurt. And then it started to hurt some more. I think what had happened was this; my right ankle had been off, so I ran to accommodate it. And by doing that my left knee took a hammering.

By Monday I was both limping and googling NHS and sports websites before finding out that, yep, I'd finally got runner's knee. Patello-femoral pain syndrome to say it properly. It serves me right, really. I'd not been stretching before I went out or cross-training or any of that stuff. And my weekly training plans had gone from a 'studied, stick-with-it routine' to nothing from Monday to Friday and then a long run on the Saturday. As I say; it serves me right. My legs just haven't been strong enough.

I'm just glad it's happened now and not a week before the Marathon. Or even during the Marathon itself - can you imagine? Having to limp out at the 15 mile mark? Oh man. That'd be crushing.

Anyway. I hope to be back on track tomorrow, or in a day or two at least. And I bought a strap (as you can see in the photo above). Already it's elicited comments, my favourite being 'why's your leg come dressed as Pussy Riot'?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Painfully dull

I always wondered about those people you'd see in gyms. The ones who'd be on treadmills watching telly as they ran. Why bother? I'd think. Why pay to do that when you can go for a run outside? This was before I even ran myself, and yet I still managed to be supercilious. Amazing, eh. But what I didn't know then is that running can be really boring and that the TV is a gift. 

And when I say boring, I mean really boring. Proper 'slack-jawed yet anger-inducing' boring. Like today.

We got the train over to Sevenoaks earlier because, when you look at the map, you'll see loads of woods and bridleways and muddy paths to run along. And that kind of running had been great only a fortnight ago - the kind of genuine, unalloyed fun that can take your mind of a busy week or, as with my week, stop you worrying spots into your skin about 'life decisions'. 

So we figured that tracks like that would be fun again. But what we hadn't bargained for was that days of rain had turned some of them into the kind of mud that can steal your shoes, and it took about 40 minutes to cover a mile. Also; earlier in the week I'd seen a guy about my ankle and he's said to keep an eye on it. The mud wasn't helping that any. In fact it was twisting my ankle about like a kite in the wind.

The best of the mud. The Best Of Mud.

'Let's get back to the roads or we're going to get nowhere', said Andy, picking his way over a fallen tree (and sliding about so much that, thinking about it now, it's amazing neither of us fell face first into the muck and emerged closer to God). So we found the road at the top of the woods, and ran. And from then on it was the dullest day out I've had in ages.

I know, I know; it's easy to knock the commuter belt. But this was something else. Endless dual carriageways detailed with the occasional 'pub experience' or a Frankie & Benny's. And endless parades of mock Tudor homes that require a keypad to get in, and which are indistinguishable from any golf course club house. Real Corbett-Country, you understand. 

And of course, Kent is beautiful - but you wouldn't know it from these tree-lined drags. No views. No breaks. Nothing. Just a relentless slog up vaguely inclined A-roads where your only company was the zip of 50mph traffic and the occasional rabbit that had come apart like a loose knot under somebody's wheels.

I realised while taking this photo that, if you add these two distances up, you still don't have a marathon.

We stopped a couple of times and walked a bit, too. Well - I walked a lot. Not through exhaustion necessarily (although it was exhausting in places) or not because my left knee decided to rust itself shut all of a sudden, making me run like an injured puppet. Instead, it was because there was no inspiration to keep going - no turn to look out for; no farm to run past; not even any dramatic weather as it was, perhaps, the best day we've had this year. I'm sure the side roads led to more exciting territory but by this point, I just wanted to get home and had started chastising the pavement itself, out loud, for being such a bellend.

In fact, the only notable event was when two lads on scooters appeared, bibbing their horns and sticking their middle fingers up at me as they whined past. I returned the insult by holding up the V's until they noticed. Two of my fingers for each of theirs.

Luckily, it came to an end, all of this. Andy and I jumped onto the train at Bromley South and all in, we covered just under 17 miles. But it felt like eighty. As he'd been running, Andy's phone had mapped the bits where we actually ran - rather than walking, or stopping, and it came to about 15 miles, I think. Maybe a bit less. What I do know is that we're not going back to the A21 any time soon.

PS: These were good, however: Sam Lipyste reading Thomas McGuane's 'The Cowboy' and Colm Tobin reading Sylvia Townsend Warner. In fact, I think I'm developing a crush on the voice of the New Yorker's Fiction Editor, Deborah Treisman, who hosts these podcasts. Who knows - maybe one day I'll take her on a date to the Frankie & Benny's on Farnborough Way near Bromley. They do hot dogs now, said the sign.

Distance: 15 miles/ 24.1 km

Time: A century.
Runs in the week: 6 miles /9.7 km (Andy) 4 miles/ 6.5km (Elliot)
Total distance (Andy): 136.3 miles/ 216.4 km
Total distance (Elliot): 150.1 miles/ 240.6 km

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Old haunts

Typhoid Mary, I mean Andy, was feeling too poorly to come out today.

That meant going out for a long run alone. And a devil on my shoulder, saying 'forget it. Fuck it off. You don't have to go. Nobody will know'. But the guilt about not going won out in the end and that devil disappeared in a puff of red smoke. It still took a while for me to get psyched up, however - and I didn't leave the house til about midday (and when I did, I noticed how less bothered I am about wearing tights. Tights! I don't even flinch when people stare any more - and they do stare, some of them).

New shoes.

The route was dull. What cynics north of the river would call 'The Best Of South London' - with lots of boring residential streets and pavements littered with fried chicken boxes and old newspapers. So I was glad to see Nunhead Cemetery was open again, after the storms earlier in the year had damaged some of the gravestones and fetched the branches down from the trees.

By this point, I was listening to a podcast of Anne Enright reading John Cheever's 'The Swimmer' (you know it. They made a film of it with Burt Lancaster) - and as I lost myself in a story about time passing, and age, and things falling into ruin, it seemed fitting to be running past all of the old graves and memorials; some to old Music Hall artists who were once as famous as a person could be but who now (for most people anyway) are just names. Unrecognisable names at that.

I tried to run around the edge of the cemetery first, but the perimeter path was flooded after all of the terrible weather we've been having (and which London has escaped in comparison with the South West of the country). So I headed straight through the centre instead - and then over to the edge of New Cross.

A flooded path in the cemetery.

I'm not sure it's right to photograph a gravestone, but I liked the name on this one.

From there, things got dull again. Grey roads, grey pavements, grey cars. I was grateful to have downloaded so many podcasts the night before, and for something interesting to take my mind off the surroundings. I mean, it was so grey and boring that I began to wonder if the name of this takeaway near Lewisham was some kind of situationist prank.


But the good news was that I felt I was running well. My ankle wasn't whining away, and I seemed to be going quickly - not a sprint, but certainly a good pace. And soon enough I was over towards the Kidbrooke edge of Blackheath, running along the side of Morden College. My parents lived around this part of London back in the late sixties and early seventies, and I spent a couple of minutes running up and down the streets trying to remember what their old flat looked like. It was quite strange, really, imagining them walking up and down the exact same streets forty years ago, flapping around in their flares and with my Dad still smoking.

Mum with my older brother, Blackheath 1972.

Blackheath, 2014.

By now the clouds were turning an inky black and there were blobs of cold rain in the air. I didn't much fancy this turning into a drenching (as had happened a couple of weeks ago) so I ran back to Blackheath station to see if the train home was running. It wasn't, and instead I figured '
to hell with it' and carried on over towards Lewisham, then Catford and then finally onto a bus home. 

Good to see my Catford shop's still going strong.

When I got home I found I'd run 11 miles in an hour and three quarters which, even taking into account the getting lost and checking maps, or taking photos, worked out at just over nine-and-half minute miles. I was chuffed with that.

And the next day, I found I'd been successful in the ballot for the Great North Run, in September. This running lark really is taking over, isn't it.

Distance: 11 miles/ 17.5 km

Time: 1h45
Total distance (Andy): 115.3 miles/ 185.8km
Total distance (Elliot): 131.1 miles/ 210km

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Clapham to Richmond

These blogposts have become a bit sporadic, haven't they. Sorry about that. It's because of work, you see. Loads of bloody work that's been getting in the way of writing and also the actual running. It makes me wonder sometimes how we're going to fit all of this marathon training in. And it also makes me think about how, when you read a lot of 'training plans', they seem written for people with nothing else going on in their lives. Monday - Cross Training 2 hours. Tuesday - 8 miles followed by swim. Wednesday - sixteen hours of Fartleks. You know the kind of thing. As realistic as those diet plans that say Breakfast - a handful of blueberries and ambergris.

But anyway - last Saturday we did run; making a vague plan to head to Putney Heath and then on to wherever. We took an early-ish train to Clapham Junction, remarked on how it was a nice day (and also about how fucking cold it was), then set off. And ten minutes later I had to stop and buy some Nurofen because my right shin and ankle were yelping at me.

My ankle plays up a lot. The other day I was at Sweat Shop near Bank tube station buying some new trainers and I had a go on a running machine, so they could film me and analyse how I was going. 

As I ran the woman asked if I'd ever had an injury. No I said and then thought, actually, I have. A year or so ago I'd slipped so spectacularly on a thickly iced street that the heel came off my shoe. That was an injury, wasn't it. My newly-folded ankle had even made a noise like Bird's Trifle when you put a spoon in it.

Watching a film of my feet, and my feet.

'You've probably been running to accommodate some damage' the woman said, and she played back a video of my run. Sure enough, my right foot - the one with the gammy ankle that I don't talk about because I'm the strong and silent type - was landing differently to my left; slightly out of whack, and as if its bolts needed tightening. 'You should go and see someone about that', she said, 'so they can help you run differently'. And she suggested I book in with one of those sporty people who wear grey sweatpants all year round. I'm going to do this next week because, well, I should, shouldn't I.

The good news is that the Nurofen kicked in at the edge of Putney Heath and I could actually start moving properly. The sun came out, too. But the tracks and footpaths were sodden from the week's rain and, soon enough, we were all but fell running. 


And it was tremendous, tremendous fun. I ended up hopping and skipping down an old bridleway like a labrador at one point and it was the closest thing to 'playing out' I've ever done in my adult life. Halfway down, my phone rang and it was Andy (who had left me for dust) saying 'it's all gone a bit Blair Witch hasn't it. Where are you?'. Luckily we'd both followed the same tracks and he was only a couple of minute or so ahead, so we caught up, caught our breath and headed over towards Richmond Park.

The White Lodge, Richmond Park.

It's a given that the Capital drips with history but - to steal an analogy from Spalding Gray - if South London is soup then Richmond Park is purée. All kinds of English monarchs lived and hunted and drank and caroused there. Lord John Russell lived there. Even General Eisenhower lived there at one point. And there's an apocryphal story that Henry VIII stood on a mound in the park, watching and waiting for the fireworked signal that Anne Boleyn had been beheaded. Even though it's bollocks, there's a telescope on that mound now, Here's Andy having a razz on it and gazing out at some pretty spectacular views of the city.

...and the view itself (click for bigger).

It was around then that we decided to call it a day, because Andy had a mate down from Glasgow. So we walked/ ran into Richmond itself (tremendously posh, as if this is a surprise) and got the train home. We didn't know the distance at this point as Andy's 'mapping app' had packed in halfway around, and all we knew was that we'd done 'more than 4.7 miles'. 

When I got home, I measured it all out on Google Maps and was pretty encouraged to see we'd done just over a half marathon.

 Statue of Bernardo O'Higgins, 'liberator of Chile', in Richmond.


In the week afterwards, I ran once. Just over 5k. I should have gone out again and again but, you know, work.

Distance: 13.5 miles/ 22 km
Time: Two hours thirty, say? Taking into account the cup of tea?
Runs in the week: (Elliot) Just the one, and 5.7k/ 3.5m
Time for that: Half an hour.
Total distance (Andy): 115.3 miles/ 185.8km
Total distance (Elliot): 120.1 miles/ 192.5km