Respectable is enough

I learned a few things as a result of my 10k experience at the weekend. I learned that I enjoy running. I learned that while I’m not particularly fast, my speed is respectable, especially since I seem able to maintain the same speed over longer distances. And I learned that despite not feeling that I’m making much progress, in fact I am fitter and faster than I was a year ago.

So I’m doing something I gain pleasure from, I’m gradually improving, and I’m not too disastrously bad at it. Three good reasons to keep going.

I guess now I need to apply all three of those to my writing. Because I enjoy writing, I may not be producing best sellers but what I produce is readable, and the more I write, the more my writing will improve. With nanowrimo fast approaching, that’s something I really, really need to take on board.

I love the way that my writing and running link with each other, and whatever I learn in one area I can apply to the other.



Faversham 10k – second year

A year on, I found myself this morning facing again the course that was my first ever 10k race. Last year I’d missed training thanks to an injury, I’d never run further than around 6k and I was very nervous. I managed to run up both hills, in fact the only walk breaks I took were to avoid throwing water all over myself or choking on it at the two water stations, but by halfway through I had the distinct feeling that I was all alone at the back. There was a point at 8k, just at the top of a steep hill, where I joked that although the country lane gained a pavement, I had to keep running on the road for a few yards until there was a dropped kerb because I didn’t have the energy to jump up. I finished last but one, and felt happy that I’d finished but a little worried about my time.

This year felt far better from the start. Despite major pre-race jitters – I was about ready to give up all idea of running – I managed to keep fairly positive as I waited for the start. In fact, I did read about pre-race jitters being caused by withdrawal symptoms from lack of exercise in the period just before a race, and that does make sense to me.

Nerves got the better of me at the start line, where we had a 10 minute delay announced and I decided that I did need another trip to the loo, but the jog over there and back got me going and reminded me how much I enjoy running. A chat with friends in the crowd reminded me that others feel nerves too and worry about their speed. Then Off!

I felt much more part of the pack this time, and was surprised at how many people I passed on the first uphill, as several were walking it. I maintained my place throughout, with very little change – in fact most of the changes of position were where I managed to overtake a runner in front. Not that I’m particularly speedy, but I have one comfortable pace and don’t like running slower to stay behind if I catch up to someone!

By the time I reached the downhill section just after the halfway mark, I could see the runner in front of me and a pack in ahead in the distance, and knew that there were quite a few still behind me – I think this was the point where I first felt completely on my own last year – and although I lost speed on the downhill because in the end it was just too steep to keep up a fast pace safely, it did mean I had enough breath to drink properly at the water station at the bottom.

Then it was a straightforward route back in, including the other hill – this time short and sharp rather than long and deadly – even overtaking another runner on the way up. Found that pavement appearing at the top, and deliberately skipped up it, proving to myself just how much fitter I am this year than last year. A final overtake within the last 400 metres, as the guy in front was slow and steady and I still felt comfortable enough to keep going faster, and then we turned the corner and down the final stretch to the finish line. There my garmin decided that I was just slightly short, so I had to keep it going and keep moving for it to tick over to the 10k mark, which meant I lost the time I’d marked on it. However, hubby reports the clock time as around 1:13:15, which sounds about right, and hopefully the chip time should be shorter than that. My PB is 1:12:35, on the Ashford run earlier this year, but that was in the middle of intensive training for the Jantastic challenge. My time on this course last year was 1:17:49, so I definitely beat that thoroughly.

So an anxious wait now for the official times to see if I did set a PB (unlikely but just possible), but generally I’m left with a real buzz, a feeling that all the training this year has really made a difference, and maybe I am gaining ground on fitness and not just slowing the loss of condition.

So, when’s the next 10k? And do I dare start thinking towards doubling again and heading towards a half marathon next year?


Pre race jitters

Tomorrow I’m running a 10k race. It’s my first in months, and also marks one year on from my first 10k race, as I revisit my first ever 10k course. I’m hoping it’s easier than last year. I’m hoping I do better, and run faster.

But actually, I’m just hoping I finish. It’s a while since I’ve run the distance, and I’ve barely run at all this week. Combining my previous training routine with a new puppy and a currently heavy workload is proving tricky, and I’ve struggled to feel motivated.

But it doesn’t get any easier. Missing a run or a swim doesn’t make me feel any fitter, and makes it harder to get going again. I need to push through and keep going.

At the beginning of this year, I was running with someone else; we were meeting up regularly, regardless of weather, tiredness, aches and pains or anything else, and I learned that pushing past the excuses and running anyway brought plenty of reward.

At the end of last year, it was nanowrimo, and I wanted to write regularly because I wanted to be part of the local nano crowd. Not wanting to be left behind, I would keep pushing on with my story, and learned to enjoy the writing experience and ignore excuses.

In both these cases, I found motivation to push on past the excuses and do it anyway, and I gained my rightful reward.

I’ve signed up for this race tomorrow, so I’ll go out and run it. I need to remember that I can do it, and that there will come a point in the run when I settle down and enjoy the process. That each time I push on to that point it’s a little easier, and I gain a little more reward, and that if I wait until it’s easier to do then I’ll be waiting for a long time, so might as well get on with it.

The same with my writing; it’s a question of doing it anyway, and trusting that the rewards will come my way in due course.

So while I don’t expect to break any records or write a blockbuster novel (well, not quite yet, anyway!), I’ll go out there and do it anyway, regardless of any excuses I might find. And I fully expect to end up by enjoying it – or at least enjoy having done it. Because I’ll never regret having given it a go, but I would regret giving up.

In running and in writing.


The Motorbike

photo of the story in my rough bookWhen I was at school, we were encouraged to use rough books – any piece of work would be planned out in this first, before being written up neatly in the correct subject book. Any notes were taken in this book. And it usually became an expression of its owner, whether through carefully designed covers – at one point I used to divide my cover into squares, allowing me to create a different image/pattern in each square – or through sketches and stories written in spare moments, not always following the normal page order.

I recently found a rough book that I used in what was then fifth form – nowadays it would be called year 11; the year students turn 16, the year of external exams. I reproduce a story from it here, word for word. It might show you where my mind was in those days.

Mike gazed into the water, wondering what would happen to him. He thought about Sophie, then hurriedly blinked back the tears that came to his eyes. Big boys don’t cry, he thought.

Children shouted as they ran about on the grass, and his mind wandered back to that day when Sophie…

This was no good. He must forget about her. It would do no good, all this remembering. But as long as he could hear a motorbike roaring– He slowly straightened, and wandered over to where a crowd of boys gathered round a motorbike. He recognised the owner as Paul, and seeing how proud Paul was of his new bike was like looking in a mirror and seeing himself a few months ago, so proud and important, and he saw Sophie’s face; he remembered how reluctant she had been to ride on the bike, and how he’d persuaded her.

As if in a dream he saw Paul slip his arm round his girlfriend’s waist and lead his friends towards the cafe, leaving the bike behind. As he stared at it suddenly fury welled up inside him and jumping on the bike he kicked the stand away. As the engine roared into life he heard shouts behind him, but suddenly he didn’t care. There was a wall in front of him and no room to turn, but he didn’t care about that either. All he could see was Sophie’s face, Sophie laughing, Sophie having a good time, then suddenly he saw her lying on the ground, with the motorbike on top of her. The picture melted and he came to his senses — too late.

With all this focus on loose worksheets and fun activities in the classroom, I mourn the loss of the rough book. I think it’s time I got back to using a creative notebook.



Running in wellies

I had a strange dream a few nights ago, where I was running parkrun wearing wellington boots. I found they slowed me down considerably, but made life easier going through the very muddy section – although as I normally enjoy running through the sticky mud I’m not entirely sure why I felt this was good!

I joined Saturday’s parkun this week having not run for two weeks, and having run very little the week before that. I had a headache, I was tired… and as I listed my excuses to myself on the way there, I realised that was me putting on my wellies. Armed with so many excuses, I was setting myself up for a slower, easier run.

In fact, I’ve felt before that I do this a lot; that I set myself up for failure in some way, such as not training enough during the week, or not eating as healthily as I should, or not stretching my muscles out properly, so that while I complain about how badly I’m doing I have good excuses. The end result is that I grow frustrated and feel justified in slacking off – after all, I’m trying hard, so it must be that I just can’t do it. Never thinking to just take the virtual wellie boots off and prepare properly.

Now I just need to figure out the second half of my dream – why the pack of other runners turned into zombies grasping for me as I came out of the toilet block! Surely the other runners represent what I should be aiming for, not what waits for me if I don’t run?

Conspiracy theories

One of my first jobs on leaving school was in a small printshop, back in the days when home computers were very rare and no-one had their own printer, let alone photocopier. One task that I sometimes had to do for a particular customer was to take a booklet apart, photocopy all the pages and then bind each copy together. She often came in for two copies of this booklet or five copies of that or three copies of another.

I was the junior in the place, and was told by one of the older members of staff not to read the booklets, but they spoke in vain; I’m a compulsive reader, and couldn’t resist taking a peek as I worked.

I’ve no idea to this day who the person was, or what organisation they were part of, or why they needed all these booklets or where they came from, but I learned many interesting theories.

This was where I first learned about the mysterious Men in Black – those men who would turn up at someone’s house after they had seen something that could be extraterrestrial in origin, and would demand they keep quiet about it. Their visit, of course, would be somewhat counter-productive, since it served to prove that something really had happened. There were two or three different Men in Black books, and I would become fascinated by the stories of encounters.

I also learned about the hollow earth theory – the evidence was convincing to my eighteen-year-old self: in the sixties, when there were several nuclear blasts, there were also several UFOs seen. Since all the UFOs arrived at the same sort of time as the nuclear explosions, and travel from any other planet would take time, the UFOs must have all come from our own planet, where they live inside the earth and access their world via holes in the north and south pole; basically our world is doughnut-shaped.

I think this is where I was also exposed to the idea that we as a species came from another planet, that we travelled here on a ship and displaced the natives to become the dominant species.

It was a fun time, before the internet, where rumours and theories were much slower to travel, and communication generally was slower and more personal.  And my mind was irrevocably marked by those sneak reads.


Running to stand still

wet and muddy meThe title of this post is the same as the blog a friend writes. I think it’s a brilliant phrase, that really reflects how life is at times, so apologies for borrowing it for a bit.

I haven’t done much exercise lately, and by lately I mean the last couple of days. Transport issues have meant that I didn’t go swimming, and to be honest the weather, work and general hassle meant I allowed myself to slack off.

Today I did a Pretty Muddy Race for Life, and I really felt out of condition. Two days was all it took for me to lose fitness and almost get out of the habit. I’ve also been eating less healthily for the past week or two, which hasn’t helped.

I enjoyed my run today, but at the same time was a little disappointed in it. The day was well-organised, with plenty of parking, food and drink available onsite, plenty of loos brought in (no queues!) and a very pleasant route, which contained a couple of fairly challenging hills. We were sent off in 15 minute waves, which ensured maximum use of the course and management of runners. However, most of the people around me were walking, which made it difficult for me to keep motivated to run, and the obstacles were fairly tame for a mud run – when I say the cargo nets we crawled under were placed on warm, dry tarpaulin, does that show you what I mean? There were some wet obstacles, and by the end we were all thoroughly soaked in muddy water, but mud itself was not really in evidence – I’ve seen more mud on a winter parkrun. To add to the time taken, one obstacle even had a ten minute queue.

What I did learn today was that I need to keep up the exercise, and make it much higher priority. I need to keep up the healthy eating and not let things slide. I need to do regular stretching exercises (I went to buy a new pair of shoes while we were in the area, and the woman at the shop instantly identified that I have tight calves), and I need to push myself harder.

I also had a reminder that I do enjoy running. I enjoy moving under my own power, and I enjoy challenges, but I do need to be pushed to achieve them.

So now the intention is to keep pushing myself (10k in September is next, I do believe), and to look out for more challenges. We’re looking into getting a dog, which will mean plenty of walking when I’m not running, so that should help with general fitness.

And yes, stretching exercises.

Because today was a strong reminder that as frustrated as I get in running slowly, and not increasing my speed very much, it’s worse if I don’t exercise at all, because then I start moving backwards and losing ground far faster than I’d like.





Please note: this is rather different from my usual type of post…

In the news today is the story that Rolf Harris has been convicted on charges of sexual assault on young girls, with more cases possibly in the pipeline.

My reaction to that is to feel totally betrayed. I believed in the man. I loved his music, and his art, and thought he was an all-round good guy. All the way through I was thinking that it was a mistake; that the accusers were making things up, that they had misunderstood, exaggerated, were trying to cause trouble.

I mention my reaction because it’s exactly the reason why this sort of thing can happen; it’s so easy to make excuses, to turn a blind eye, to not believe it, to trust someone.

When someone you know is accused of something, it can be hard to accept. But it’s important that we do accept it. Sure, there are the odd cases where someone makes an accusation out of malice, but there are so many times when kids speak up and aren’t believed, because of all the reasons I’ve given, and that’s why it can continue. Because not believing the accusation means that we can carry on the way we are, without causing trouble, losing a friend/family, or experiencing major upheaval.

This is the reason, too, why I’m opposed to things like Sarah’s Law, the law allowing people to find out if people close to their children are on the sex offenders’ register. Because it lulls us into a false sense of security: they’re not on the list so they must be safe.

In reality, those known sex offenders are not the worst threat. An abuser is far more likely to be a family member or family friend, someone who is trusted and loved.

Not all people are abusers; of course not. But very few of those who are abusers are actually caught. Far more manage to continue their habits because of who they are.

This is why we need to empower children to know they’re allowed to say no where their bodies are concerned – yes, even to great aunt Aggie who insists on a kiss every time you see her – and allow cases like those we’ve seen lately to be discussed openly. Because only when the stigma is removed, awareness raised and when children expect to be believed is there any hope of stopping things. Children have very little power. Let’s at least grant them the right to be listened to, and believed, and protected. Otherwise they may struggle with these issues for the rest of their lives.



A final first draft

I’ve had attempts at this novel before: the first time I had the setting, and attempted the characters. The second time I had the setting and characters and attempted the story. This time I’m more confident that I have all three.

Each time I’ve started afresh, so it’s still really a first draft, but I intend this to be the final first draft, so to speak. I have some rules: I have come to a compromise with nano rules, in that I need to write every day, with a target of one scene/around 1000 words minimum per day, and the focus is on writing not editing, but at the same time I’m not allowed to add words for the sake of them, when I know I’m just going to have to remove them again later.

There are various challenges going on at the moment – there’s camp nano about to start, and another run of 100k in 100 days, and I see today that Della Galton has her own challenge going on via facebook, with the aim of 10k words by a week’s time. Regardless of those challenges, I have my own challenge, and that’s to finish this darn thing and get to the next stage before it drives me completely mad.

So main characters and main story arcs are sorted. I have a strong idea of where each scene fits in the overall arc, what has to be achieved and what has to be lost in each. The next thing I have to decide is the relationship between my two main characters; the idea is to have their lives run parallel throughout most of the book, touching together occasionally, until they collide at the end. But in order to do this, I have to decide how they touch, to what extent, and who knows what. Then there’s all the extra characters who have to be there, and the extent of the part each of them plays, and minor issues such as how to weave background information and scene descriptions into the main narrative.

So far, I’ve found that a scene a day gives me a good focus for planning out as I swim in the morning, and then writing up in the evening. I just have to keep that up and ensure that I have not only a collection of words on the topic, but something that is vaguely readable and coherent.

Then begins the editing stage…

Just follow the path and don’t look back

A dog and a direction postI borrowed a dog for a walk this afternoon. I took him somewhere I used to take my dog, but where I haven’t been for a few years: onto the nearby common and the adjoining woods.

As we walked through the woods, there were wooden posts with arrows marked on. Being well behaved, I tried my best to follow the arrows. At one point this resulted in a rather overgrown section – it got worse and worse, until we finally broke through to a clear area again. When I looked back, there was no sign of the path we’d come from, and had we been going the other way, there’s no way we would have tried to get through.

We continued on, back on a more well-defined path, and eventually broke out of the woods back onto the common, and continued our walk.

overgrown pathThen someone asked the question: “Would you want a do-over?” and that made me think of that path. We go the way life directs us, but sometimes when we look back we can see no path, and it’s hard to believe we came through that way. If we were heading the other way, there’s no way we would have picked that path, but as bad as it looks from this side, actually going through it wasn’t so bad at all, and it’s brought us to where we are now.

And having reached this point, we go on, because looking back is pointless. We can only go on from where we are, and find what’s on the other side.

So would I want a do-over? No, because I’m actually pretty happy with where I am now, whatever the path to get here looked like. If I started again, there’d probably still be unpleasantries, and even if there weren’t, if my childhood had been perfect, then I’d be a different person, because my experiences shaped me into the person I am.

I wouldn’t have chosen some aspects of my early life, I fully admit, but they are part of me now, and helped to bring me to where I am, and I can’t change the past without changing the present.

I think I’ll just focus on moving forward, and not looking back.