Running through my childhood… and a lesson in perspective

Something pulled me up there, like a homing pigeon running a bit late following a 35 year-long detour. But I knew what had prompted my Return to Base.

I’d taken Tills to run Junior Parkrun earlier this morning, following a couple of weeks’ absence – she’s been unashamedly grateful for the reprieve, by virtue of ‘Mummy’s races.’

The conditions were perfect – beautiful crystal blue sky, a whisper of a breeze, and yet she battled with it. ‘I’ve got a stitch, Mummy,’ she said, clasping at her mini abdomen before we’d got much further than the first corner. And so the negotiations began: ‘Just do what you can, Tills. It’s fine – turning up and trying is what matters…blah blah blah.’ I’d long since run out of original lines – she’s heard them all before.

And then, on the second lap, the tears came. In truth, she just wasn’t feeling it today. Package it up however you like, it just felt like a slog for her little body. She crossed the finish line, and we wrote it off as ‘just one of those days.’ God knows, I’ve had plenty of them myself.

Once she was back home and happily playing hairdressers with her Grandma, I headed off for my own run. LEGS! WHY WON’T YOU WORK? Having apparently come out in sympathy with Tills – my limbs had turned all Tin Man on me, and begrudgingly trudged their way up a normally inconsequential incline with the same kind of enthusiasm one would give an over-zealous parking attendant in a town centre car park.

I knew where I was heading. I was off to retrace the footsteps of those days when my vast, yet tiny world existed entirely within a one-mile radius; where my half-mile walk to school felt like a trek across an endless plane; and when my little limbs would have also protested at the mere mention of chugging 2km around a local park, just because my mum told me it was the only way I’d get to eat that giant chocolate coin which was waiting for me in the car.

I wanted to remind myself how big and utterly overwhelming my world seemed to be at the time when it was actually – like Tilly’s is now – so small.

And so I headed up to the first scheduled stop on my Childhood Tour.

Stop one: Norton Tower, and the home we lived in until I was 4 years old. With only vague, blurry memories of living there, it came back to me – THE FENCE! That’s what I remember – the enormous, towering fence that guarded us from next door’s demented Alsatian which it continually hurled itself against in a demonic bid to eat us alive. I would hear it’s frustrated, maddening barks and the THUD as its body collided with the wooden panel fencing. IT’S GOING TO EAT US, MUMMY! I would look up to the sky and wait for it’s salivary chops to hang loosely over the barrier. Today, I can barely see the once imposing fence as it hides, inconspicuously, behind a modest, grey family saloon.

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Barking Dog Fence

I run on.

Stop two: The top of the world. There was nowhere higher on earth – at the grand old age of four, I was utterly convinced. This was the summit that offered a dazzling, panoramic view of whatever else the entire world had to offer. I looked out over the valley, and saw the very edge of the earth as I knew it back then (it was flat too, I’m pretty sure.) Today, I look out and see all the places I’ve run. I see the lego-size tiny formation of Stoodley Pike, and endless routes I’ve woven in amongst the hillsides. Even now, I wonder how that was ever possible for me. I imagine showing Tilly, and telling her, ‘I’ve run all across this valley, Tills. Do those hills seem a long way away? I used to think they did, too.’

I run on.

Stop three: Warley Village, and the house we moved to when I was four. The 1970s turd brown swirly patterned carpets stunk of cat piss when we first moved in, and our shoes stuck to the cheap kitchen lino floor. That was soon replaced by Mum’s bleach, which ruined endless pairs of jeans for the subsequent 15 years. They’ve got a fancy old conservatory stuck on to our old lounge now. I remember my Dad ‘installing’ double glazing there circa 1983. ‘There’s this stuff you can get, Kay. It’s like cling film and you heat it up with a hairdryer. It’s the next best thing to ACTUAL double glazing!” Days later, he stood endlessly heating the corners of the windows with Mum’s hairdryer. I think she was crying in a corner somewhere, letting her hair dry naturally. I can’t imagine why they divorced.

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I think they may have REAL double glazing, now.

I run on.

Stop four: The ginnel. (Note: this word doesn’t look right on paper (or virtual paper), but it’s how we referred to it, back then. It’s a Northern English, old fashioned word. Which makes perfect sense because this was Northern England in 1982.) This was the (*quote definition of ‘ginnel’) narrow passage between buildings which I walked THOUSANDS of times throughout my childhood. For all of the reasons below (in order of priorities):
1) to the Post Office for my penny sweets
2) to the park
3) to the bus stop
4) to get to school
5) to get to… anywhere at all, really (NOT by car.)
6) to come home from the Post Office with my penny sweets
7) to come home from the park
8) to come home from the bus stop
9) to come home from school
10) to come home from… anywhere at all, really (NOT by car.)

I look at the ginnel today, right here in 2016. And it is TINY! Minute. Teeny-weeny. Tiddly. Has it shrunk like Mars bars and Cadbury’s Creme Eggs (not to mention Curly Wurly’s) have done over time? Surely it was longer, steeper, and more impressive than this? I thought back to Tilly’s Parkrun. It must have felt like a half-marathon for her, today.

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The ginnel. [Why does that word look so wrong?!]

I run on.

Stop five: Paradise Lane. Paradise Lane? That was my bloody walk to school. It was NOT Paradise Lane. I also fell in dog shit along there once when I was seven. Paradise it was not. In honesty, I never even knew throughout my entire time living in this rural utopia, that this lane was in fact called ‘Paradise Lane’. Never even knew. (and for info, I had to walk PAST said Paradise Lane for all of the destinations listed above, at Step 4.) I now feel ignorant, self-absorbed and stupid. But I will give myself a break, because I was too busy dodging dog-shit when I was very small, and too busy checking my insecure teenage reflection out in the cottage lounge windows en route to any/all of the destinations in later years. That, and I am inherently lacking in any kind of geographical awareness whatsoever.

I run on.

Stop six: The playground. Ahhhh, the playground. It looks all serene and safe here now, as H&S inspectors have been and padded the potentially troublesome areas of concrete (how did they not know to do this back in 1982 when countless kids must have taken up space in A&E with cracked heads from climbing frame calamities? What took them so long?) The slide has changed, too. The bench has been removed from underneath where I spent many disappointing / frustrating teenage hours realising the utter futility of smoking menthol cigarettes. The inner geek won (as it thankfully always does) and spared me from yellow-fingered, wrinkled-mouth, bad-breathed hell. Not to mention the ‘C’ word.

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The Playground (or my teenage smoking hangout)

I run on.

Now I’m at school: my very first school, Warley Town School. It seems ironically far more ‘child-friendly’ now. Perhaps they didn’t really like kids, back then? We had no funky-coloured train in the playground, or a wooden wobbly climbing-frame with adjoining foot bridge. We had the faint markings of hop-scotch, largely erased by an overuse of child-size polyvelts. And what looked like an archery target board painted on to the inside wall of one of the (what looked like) cow sheds. I ran towards it too fast on a slight decline once, and smashed my head on the bullseye.

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My First School. Where Dale O’Connor used to chase me round the playground saying I had poo in my sandwiches. The bastard.

I run home.

Tilly is still playing hairdressers with her Grandma. She’s long since inhaled the post-Parkrun giant chocolate coin which was waiting for her in the car.

The run through my childhood has given me some perspective on how 2km might have felt more like 20km for her, today.

Falling out of love…

It happens, and it feels shit.

Eyes lose their sparkle; words stop flowing. The iridescent glow from soul-filled happy cheeks is absent, replaced by a poor over-the-counter imitation. You’re fooling nobody. We know the ‘glow’ is painted on. We’ve seen the Fake Radiance bronzer on sale at Harvey’s (the box is funky and exquisite – and it should be at that price.)

The blissful sheen that had adorned all things in a bright, hopeful hue is replaced by a duller shade of beige. Grey and beige and varying degrees of other muddy, earthy shades.

Laughter is there, but it’s forced. Things are still funny, but it takes a while to register the comedy value and make the effort to concur. What was once a raucous belly laugh is now a muted gong: someone is holding the triangle in precisely the wrong place, compromising the purity of the ‘ping’.

It becomes harder to drag yourself around the supermarket. The blissful sheen that had once made the cattle shed purchasing factory at least tolerable has worn away to reveal the reality: gormless, aimless others weaving an uncontrollable trolley around with at least one tired, irritated child in tow, piling unnecessary crap into a corner whilst trying not to squash the bread (the child threw the bottle of juice on it three aisles away – it went flat a good while back, but the mother is too jaded to care.)

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Tilly’s first outing to supermarket aged 5 months. The look of utter contempt on her face an exact mirror of my own at that precise moment.

You’re not bouncing anymore. The legs are like hams dangling from a hook in a continental charcuterie window: large and swingy, heavy and dead.

The Carpenters songs no longer hold any water either: birds do suddenly appear, but the incessant squawking right next to the bedroom window is unwelcome at that ungodly hour. And they’re no doubt shitting all over the car. Again.

And so here’s where I’m at. I’m falling out of love.

With running.

And it’s really, really sad.

But, surely there’s hope. There’s logic, common sense, and hope for the flames to be reignited. That HAS to be the case. Where real, soul-filled love once existed in its truest, rawest form, it MUST be possible for that to come back.

So, what are our options here?

  • Accept it’s happening. Yep. This is actually happening right here, right now. All of the above symptoms tell me so. At the very least, we must look each other square in the eyes and be honest about the muted triangle ping / charcuterie ham legs reality we are both experiencing.
  • Give each other some space: leave each other alone for a while. Let us go off and meander and do our own thing. Let’s not enter the silent-dinners-across-the-table arena. We’re worth more than that.
  • Think of a possible trigger / cause of our fallout: has something happened? What changed? Did I forget his mums birthday? This is where logic is allowed to step in and deliver a rationed, sane response – if indeed there is one. “Well, you did run a marathon less than two weeks ago, Rach. Could that have any bearing, do you think?” Yes. Yes it could. I fucking railroaded myself through that marathon. I actually ran it ON charcuterie ham legs. I finished broken, deflated, and tired. I slept on the proverbial couch that night.
  • Find the joy in other things. Once there was just him: me and him (or me and IT in this case.) Now, I’m back to just ME again. Just me – for a while, at least. What ELSE do I enjoy? Where else can I find joy? Walks in the autumn, Friday morning yoga, and Percy Pig sweets? That’s a start, at least. Go, venture forth and do those things. I feel like it’s a sign. (and walking? Who knew, I could actually ENJOY ‘just’ walking?)
  • Don’t overthink it. It never helped anyone – least of all, me. I simply cannot ‘think’ myself back to a place of joy and wonderment in this relationship, right now. That is a fact, and it remains so no matter how much angst, self-berating and unqualified blurts of ‘…but WHY??? Why US? Why NOW?’ I make myself endure. Is it that I don’t need running anymore, or that I simply don’t want it? Is there a difference? No answers come, and therefore the questioning must stop.

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  • Recovery. This is painful. It hurts. It’s a loss, and it feels real. It IS real. It saps energy, and feels like rolling along with a slow puncture. You know it’s there: progress is pitiful and laboured, whilst waiting for the time when you can stop. Stop the car, and spare any further damage. But you know you must.

And so, I am experiencing the muted triangle ping, the charcuterie ham legs, and the slow puncture. I can’t face more than 15 minutes in Asda (at non-peak times), and I can’t listen to the purest, haunting voice of Karen Carpenter telling me about love and loss and all things in between.

BUT I have a plan. It is my favourite time of the year – beautiful autumn, and it’s Friday morning. I am going to walk to my yoga class. I will stand and stretch and reach and breathe. From there, I will walk home again, whilst tucking into my little bag of Percy Pig sweets.

My plan doesn’t go much further than that for now, but maybe it doesn’t have to.

I won’t give up on ‘us’, but more importantly, I won’t give up on me.

The Yorkshire Marathon 2016

The Yorkshire Marathon 2016

It’s Wednesday 12th October 2016 – three whole days after this year’s Yorkshire Marathon… and it almost broke me.

I’ve already blogged about the preamble to my second marathon this year (the first being Dubai back in January), and all the mini bird crap splatterings that came along to mucky my windscreen at precisely the wrong time, turning my planned weeks of rest and tapering into weeks of riding the waves of my (very mini) life traumas instead.

I had to manage my anxiety whilst being pelted by the relentless, shit splattering flying rats (pigeons for the bemused.) In truth, I was terrified of even standing on the start line this time around. MY BODY DOESN’T WANT TO DO THIS. HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS? I AM TIRED. NO – I’M EXHAUSTED. I CAN’T BE ARSED. WITH ANYTHING. I HAVE NO APPETITE FOR A MARATHON. WRONG TIME; WRONG MARATHON. ABORT. ABORT. EJECTOR SEAT EMERGENCY REQUIRED.

But, as I said in my last blog – this one wasn’t about me. It was WAYYYY bigger than my fragile little ego. This one was for Edie. It was for Cheryl, Tom, Annie and Edie. There was no ejector seat – there would be no way out, other than to run the required 26.2 miles from the start right through to the finish line. I couldn’t – and I wouldn’t – let them down. No. Way.

A strange, ethereal calm came over me on the Saturday. All those weeks of anxiety, of overanalysis and pent up, melodramatic “what if’s” had gone. Evaporated into thin air. Maybe they’d run their course. Maybe I’d just run out of steam. Either way, I knew that in one sleep, and with a few hours of seriously hard graft (coupled with a bit of good fortune) it would all be done and I’d be through the enormous brick wall I’d built this marathon up to be in my mind.

Saturday night was race prep, and even then the nerves hadn’t really kicked in. This was about turning up, trying hard, and getting through. Nothing more; nothing less. Cheryl and Tom would turn up and have an infinitely tougher day at the office than me: my flying rat shit-storm was at best mild irritation next to the weight of their grief. I forced more stone-baked pizza down my neck Bruce Bogtrotter style (Mrs Trunchbull’s enormous sticky chocolate cake is only desirable up to a point, from which it turns into an endurance challenge of epic proportions. The same can be said for carb-loading.)

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Eat ALL of it Bruce. Every. Last. Bit.

Sunday morning we were up and off early, and almost robotic with timing and general efficiency. The distinct lack of “buzz” about the challege ahead left me wondering if a complete adrenaline bypass were possible. Would it kick in on the start line? I wasn’t convinced. Jesus! I’ve turned into a Volvo of the running world! No emotion, just efficiency.

The kind and lovely people at Plusnet Run Yorkshire had offered Cheryl and Tom VIP access for the day (too bloody right!) and, as part of their entourage (more like cling-ons), me and Gav flashed our gold (yes – gold) paper-chain wristbands to access the VIP area. What would it be like inside? Leather couches? Chris Evans cavorting with Vassos Alexander and some ridiculously hot up-and-coming female artist? Maybe chill out zones with individual massage chairs and oversized headsets playing motivational running mantra? Erm, nope. In reality, we walked past the gate-keeping square-jawed Security Man (who looked like he ate marathon runners for breakfast) and into a… grey university canteen with a few sparsely scattered round tables. To be fair, they also provided child-size bottles of supermarket own-brand water and cheap energy drinks – and I think (although I can’t be sure) there were occasional balloons rising from a small paperweight as centrepiece.

And celebs? Kind of. On my walk out of said VIP area I happened across the maturing blonde one from Calendar News as she was floating past with a Minion. A thought flashed through my mind: “Crikey – the TV make up artists must REALLY know their craft; and perhaps the studio lights are much softer than these ones? Plus, don’t people look much shorter in real life? Does she stand on a box when shooting on location?” I continued on my way (an autograph felt a little unnecessary.)

So, the marathon. Eventually after chilling out at the ‘glamorous’ tables, and swigging our Asda Price bottled water, a PR/Marketing girl came to escort all of us VIPs to the starting area. This consisted of her wearing an offensively bright pink jacket, and walking whilst waving a clipboard high above her head. It was unlikely we’d miss her even without the clipboard, but maybe that’s just part of her job description.

The start line was pure comedy. A generously proportioned young girl was dutifully warming up the marathon crowd, who showed a distinct lack of interest in her semi-squats and high reaches. I jiggled up and down a bit on the spot, more out of embarrassment than anything else.

Following some understated preamble from the Lady with the Mic, we were off. Stick to 7:30s, Rach. Don’t fly off too fast. 7:30s and you might stand a chance. Don’t get caught up in an early race. Just 7:30s. One mile then another. That’s the plan. And that WAS my plan. It had worked perfectly two years earlier when I’d cruised through all 26.2 miles without ever feeling like any effort was required. No, seriously. I FLOATED around the course that day. I remember getting to mile 14 and thinking, “Take it steady, Rach. This is likely to get pretty tough, before long.” But, it didn’t. Mile 20 came and again, my head prepared itself for the worst: “We’ll be hitting a shit storm shortly, so just prepare yourself and batten down the hatches!” But the shit storm never came. I cruised in to the finish in 3:16, and part of me even felt a little sad that it was over. WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?!

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October 2014: My Marathon PB of 3:16. Something I never dreamed possible.

This year, I felt heaviness in my legs right from the first few miles. I kept to my pace up until around mile 14, and then it began to fall apart. The bouncy lightness I’d experienced back in 2014 was replaced by a leaden, deliberate trudge this time around. Fucking hell. This is going to be a long old day. That was the reality: this would be a battle of wills. The only question would be: how far off my target pace and expected marathon time would I fall? Ego, prepare yourself for a crash landing. This one won’t be pretty.

If it were possible for a runner’s legs to dictate a race entirely, then quite simply, mine would have remained in bed on Sunday morning, like a sullen teenager refusing to take his dirty plates down to the kitchen. However, at least they did begrudgingly turn up and made some attempts to join the party when in reality they wanted to bugger off back to bed. I thought of Cheryl and Tom. I wondered how they were. I wondered WHERE they were. How could I grumble knowing how hard this would be for them? That alone spurred me on. Legs (aka little bastard sulky teenagers) you WILL do this. You WILL complete this marathon. If not for me, then do it for them. Do it for Cheryl and Tom and Edie. Do it because you can, and because this matters.

Finally, finally, the end came into sight and I caught sight of the clock: 3:27:00 Disappointment combined with exhaustion and sheer relief. All of the emotions engulfed me in that moment. I saw Gav, and I cried. I found a patch of grass, curled up, and I wept. Because of all that I’ve asked of myself and my body over the past few months; because of the sheer effort it took to even put myself on the start line; and because I’d done it for Cheryl and for Tom, whose strength had pulled me through when I felt to have lost all of my own.

Gav looked knackered. “It’s harder watching a bloody marathon than it is running one!” he jibed. He wasn’t joking – not when I’m his partner.

Back in the VIP room, we were now able to take advantage of some of the other luxuries on offer.

“Gav, you know this soup? Well it’s cold.”

“Yeah, well that’s Christine Talbot over there.”

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The Trauma of Marathon Taper…

The Trauma of Marathon Taper…

What a few weeks it’s been. I’m not altogether sure whether NOT running has been a blessing (in that my body literally couldn’t be bothered to shuffle itself from the sofa to the loo when required) or a curse – in that minimal running for me is like a crack addict going Cold Turkey: my mind doesn’t know which way is up, or what to do. And so it runs around in circles making animal noises instead.

Either way, since the GNR on Sunday 11th September, I haven’t run much at all. Life has in fact swooped down on me like a peckish, circling vulture on a sleep-deprived injured vole. So, over the past 5 weeks I have:

  • Run (and won) a 20 mile race (Golden Balls, Lancaster race series results here);
  • Run (and not won) the Great North Run (I ran in place of my injured counterpart’Dodd’;
  • Moved house – it’s really nice, but still a complete ball ache;
  • Navigated my way through my daughter’s 6th birthday, complete with highly risky Junior Parkrun birthday party (see previous blog), and survived an exhausting 250 mile round trip to Cadbury World in Birmingham, where we FINALLY made good on our promise that the Golden Wonka Ticket she’d received for her 5th birthday wasn’t in fact a fake (although she was made aware that following the unfortunate passing of Mr Wonka (RIP), the factory has been handed down to Charlie and has undergone a major refurb together with re-branding and name change. She bought it… Just.
  • Been ill. Just bleugh. Run down, poorly, stay-in-bed-and-eat-white-buttered-toast in silence kind of ill. Missing work ill, which isn’t like me.
  • Work stuff (I know – bore off.) Nuff said.
  • Had a rather major issue crop up with a rental property, and a challenging tenant. It will be costly in time, mental resource, patience and – of course – cold, hard cash (again – where’s the duvet and white toast?)

So, I haven’t run. I haven’t WANTED to run. In fact, I’ve wanted to do nothing even vaguely resembling running. It’s like rolling over in bed and seeing a wart on the nose of your life partner that’s never been apparent before, and being repulsed by it. I can ONLY see the wart.

And this leaves me in a tricky position, because my mind is trying to convince me ‘You really don’t want to run this marathon on Sunday, Rach. You’re spent. Totally knackered. It hurts your pitiful, aching limbs to walk up the stairs. You’ve been (mildly) battered by life these past few weeks, and you’re just not up to this. Don’t do it.’

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But I’m not having it.

On Sunday morning, we will be meeting up with our friends Cheryl and Tom. They will also be running the Yorkshire Marathon. Cheryl has become my very own, Wonder Woman-caped Superhero. I admire her in a way that makes me question whether we are even derived from the same species.

She’s known about my eating-white-buttered-toast-whilst-hiding-under-the-duvet couple of weeks. On Wednesday morning, I woke up to a Twitter ‘ping.’ It was from Cheryl. She said:

7:15am “Hello lovely. Just checking in. Hope you’re OK and not stressing about Sunday…”

Cheryl woke up on that morning and thought about me. She wondered how I was getting on, whilst wading through the mire of small fry, irritating shite that had come along, plopped on the windscreen of my newly washed 4×4, and will – undoubtedly – fly off again. I looked over at my bedside table, and the empty plate with a few remnants of white toast crumbs on it.

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Cheryl wakes up every morning and has to face the day without her daughter, Edie. The mess that has been dropped from a great height won’t wash off her 4×4. Not ever.

And the Yorkshire Marathon? It’s not about me anymore. I can’t bring myself to wallow in the self-indulgent white-buttered-toast eating place where my time matters. It doesn’t. My selfish, pathetic, results-based, insecure ego tries to TELL me it does, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter. Not a fucking jot. Not when my 4×4 has the prospect of being clear of shite again, and Cheryl’s doesn’t.

And I wonder. Just how many rounds of white, buttered, toast would I need to get me through the days? How many hours would I spend underneath the duvet? How many metres could I run, let alone miles?

So Cheryl, although mildly splattered in bird crap, I will be there at the start line on Sunday. I will run the marathon for you and with you, and it will remind me that my ‘hard’ isn’t really that hard at all.

Now, get your Wonder Woman cape on and fly. *and don’t make me carry you over the finish line on Sunday, because if I have to, I bloody well will.