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