Windblown eyes

After running on Friday morning and the torrential rain of Saturday night, I didn’t feel a burning desire to go out running yesterday morning.  Which has made me feel slightly guilty, as part of the reason for running is so that I have something to write about.  No run: no blog.

But I had a cunning plan.  This morning I called up Cliff to see if he wanted to run… maybe do a re-run of the route we ran a week or so back.  Now, if you know Cliff you’ll probably be somewhat amazed at the fact that he wasn’t really keen to run today, no thank-you. 

Over the last ten or twelve years I have employed thousands of freelance staff and one of the things that you quickly get used to is the excuses as to why they cannot turn up on time.  Or at all.  Or even why it is that you can’t see them with your own eyes at the place where they say they are.  People often call me cynical, but I’m rarely surprised by excuses.

Which makes Cliff’s excuse of, and I quote, ‘windswept eyes’ all the more amazing: I’ve just not heard it before: it’s an original. 

Sadly, Cliff is not prone to exaggeration, so if he has windswept eyes, there are probably salt stains extending past his ears and onto to the expanse of his shoulders.  Saxo is probably considering sponsorship, or negotiating extraction rights.  As the reason for the windblown eyes begins to unfold in front of you, I should like you to ponder what Cliff, the man who has climbed the tallest mountains (yes, including Everest) on each of the seven continents, means when he says the weather was ‘so bad’.

The Jurassic Coast Challengeis held on the Dorset coast path and consists of a marathon on Friday, a marathon on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday.  I still remember how I felt after my one flat Berlin marathon, so you’ll excuse me if the prospect of running one the following day and one the day after that does not fill me with desire.  Let alone on a path that is as steep at the path across Beachy Head but twice the height and never-ending.

But for people like Cliff and Pete, numbers one and two on Daren’s fit list, there is no challenge in that.  Oh no!  Fortunately Votwo, the organisers, also cater for crazy people like this by holding a race called the Oner… essentially the opportunity to run all three marathons back to back, through Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

Cliff, Pete and their friend Kevin duly started the Oner at 7pm on Saturday night.  But they had only managed to reach the first checkpoint, some 8 or 9 miles, before the organisers pulled the race.  Cliff said that they were out in the worst part of the storm and that the weather was ‘so bad’ that they were just slipping everywhere in the mud while being inundated with sheets of water.  In the pitch dark. 

Not that that had daunted them.  This is a training run for a serious race (it has it’s own Wikipedia entry!) later in the year and I have no doubt whatsoever that they would have continued, given the chance.  But after a night in the backroom (beer cellar?) of a pub (beer seller?) the race was restarted at 5.30am.  In all, 20 of the original 35 starters decided to continue and whilst the race was shortened to make account for the missing hours, the day was still some 50 miles.

The race last year had 20 entrants in total and the word used by the organisers to denote people who retired is ‘broke’.  Starting a race at half past six in the evening, one can only imagine what ‘breaking’ at 1am or 3am the following morning feels like.  You’ve put six or nine hours into a race and you have to give up.  Gutted!  Only five runners finished.

But this weekend, with Kevin’s wife Lydia in support, our three intrepids (should that be extra-peds?) made surprisingly short work of the serious hills, glorious sunshine and stiff wind, coming in joint 8th or 9th (results not yet available) in 11 hours.

So if Cliff is not keen to run because of windblown eyes, I understand.

More rain… and bad wind

After almost perfect driving conditions out on the roads yesterday, this morning dawned very wet.  We ran from Nick’s place and it was fun to go somewhere completely new for a change… even if I have absolutely no idea of where we went or how we got back.  At times I had the feeling that Nick didn’t know where we were either, but I’m sure this was just feigned.

The run was a mix of delicious, lightweight and very wet mud in a parky sort of area; a nasty road with no path and lots of fast-moving traffic; a forest firebreak with big trunks across and deep slippery clay-mud, another road like the previous one; and a pavement through a build-up area, where the puddles seemed to be jumping out at me as I ran past.  This latter may have been something to do with Nick’s foot… I don’t know.

At one point he managed to thwack me with a medium sized tree: I thought it was a little unsporting bearing in mind we were clinging to the side of the dangerous road to avoid being collected by a car roaring past at the time.

I was also surprised by the drains in the locale.  It’s a fairly upmarket area, but even in the forest I kept getting whiff of them from time to time.  Later I realised it wasn’t the drains…

 So, our run was a very wet 6.6 miles in a breathy 58 minutes.  Great fun for a change, but can someone buy Nick an OS map before I return?

Really bad wind

Nessie made a delicious breakfast for Cliff and I this morning, consisting of eggs from the hens in the garden, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, fried bread… and beans.  It was a HUGE plate and they waited patiently while I slowly worked my way through it – Cliff having woofed his down before their three huge dogs (which you can see in this video with After the Ice) spotted that he had food enough for all of them. 

What was odd about it, was that whilst you would expect to have wind after eating a meal like that, we had it before.  In fact, truth be known, Cliff had it much worse than I did.

It was one of those mornings where one look outside gives you sufficient information to call the planned run off.  Alas, I knew that whatever excuse I could devise would not suffice… and certainly not ‘it’s fweezing cold and heaving it down with rain’.  I suspect that even ‘hell hath frozen over and it’s raining frozen fire’ would still elicit a response along the lines of ‘get out there, you wuss’.

So it was that I found myself running with Cliff on this weather-filled day.  He really is SO fit (as Daren’s fitness table shows) and it won’t surprise you to hear that he ran up the steep hill behind their house (25 minutes bottom to top) directly into the strongest Northerly wind I have run in this winter.  Strangely, I neither ran up the hill nor directly into the wind… instead I ran (pretty much flat out) two feet behind him whilst watching the seemingly almost flat ground spew out from under his feet.

When we turned to the East towards Firle Beacon at the top of the hill, I finally emerged from Cliff’s lea and the full force of the wind hit me.  It was so strong that it was actually difficult to breathe and when it started to hail, ten minutes later, it was like needles stinging the side of my face.  My gloved hands were starting to freeze, but I knew that if I stopped it would only prolong the agony, so the only option was to keep on pressing forward. 

As we approached the top of Firle Beacon, the full force of the wind was augmented by driving rain: the combination meant that I could see nothing out of my watery up-wind left eye!  Momentarily I was transported back in time to kayak trips in my ‘teens & early twenties when the wind and rain always seemed to unleash their full force as we crossed an area of open water… despite the feeling of total wretchedness and despair, the only option was to press on.  One paddle stroke forward, one to correct the heading as the wind caught the bow and seemingly a third stroke forward to get back to where you started.

Cliff’s run rate is right on the edge of my capability and I was really pleased to have managed to stay with him, even if I had slip-streamed him for the really difficult bit and now felt like up-chucking!  But from here on in it was mostly downhill with the wind in our rear quarter.  Slowly I managed to fill and empty my lungs more fully, while my frozen hands became more painful as the warm blood returned and eventually the pain subsided.

The sun came out and the run down was a delight in the little valleys where the temperature felt like a summers day.  Bizarrely, on one last little uphill section, I could feel the intense heat of the material of my longs on my legs… something that I cannot recall having experienced before.

And before I knew it, we were back, showered and eating breakfast: the pain of the hill receding into my failing memory whilst the rain came down once again outside. 

I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that we ran around 7.6 miles in just under one hour 10 minutes which is 6.5mph.  This is a staggeringly fast speed bearing in mind that we climbed 776 feet and had to cope with a roaring headwind.  And for the avoidance of any doubt, this was nothing to do with Nessie’s beans.

From the mouth of babes

Nick & Anna’s son Sam is just as much of a car nut as his Dad and whenever they see a fast car, he points it out.  His speech is not yet fully formed, so he says far-ca.  He has also grasped the idea of more than one and pronounces another as ‘nuvva.

So you can imagine Nick’s blushes in a crowded supermarket car-park the other day when Sam saw first one, then a second fast car.  Look daddy daddy… ‘nuvva far-ca.



No, I don’t mean clothing… it’s still WAY too cold for me to wear shorts, although Cliff probably went back to wearing them straight after his annual Christmas break!

No, having had more than my fair share of mud, sweat and tears (of laughter) this week, I decided to go for a pavement run… which is not as inspiring as running through countryside… so I don’t run so far… so I have to run faster.  Therefore, if you’re still with my logic, I ran for short bursts around a short circuit and shortly became short of breath.  Shorts.

31 minutes (WOW, that IS short!) and 3.9 miles gives 7.5mph.  Or just under 8 minute miles.  This latter information is particularly relevant today because I had to pull the rug out from under my reputation yesterday.  My colleague John had assumed that I was training at around 7 minute miles (as he used to), as opposed to  7mph (my usual fastest), which is actually 8-34 minute miles.  Or my more usual and sedate 9-15.

Breaking new, er… water


There seemed to be a plethora of possible titles for my entry today, amongst them ‘Harmless Barbie Lost Her Head-ing Too’ (I’ll see if I can get a picture at some point, then you’ll understand!) and ‘Beyond the Edge of the Known Universe’.  Let me set the scene though: I didn’t feel like running, it was raining outside, my stomach was ready to eat breakfast, I was happy sitting reading about deforestation in China etc.  But weighed against that was the need to write… and hence the need to run… allied to the fact that my gear is truly BRILLIANT.  Out I went.

I couldn’t decide whether I was in the mood for a long or a short run, but I topped my water bottle up just in case.  It quickly became apparent that water was going to be in abundance, with the brooks and streams pretty much filled to overflowing.  This meant that it was also rather muddy… oh boy, is that ever the understatement of the year!

I quickly got into my stride, heading straight through most of the mud except where there was a more obvious firm line.  One of the things that you quickly learn when you first drive a car off-road is that you have to slow down and this was no exception… trying to avoid a mudbath at the last minute was not an option given the general lack of traction, so it was often safer to go straight through!

I headed out to the Royal Oak and then decided to go a different way.  It seems strange to me sitting here now why I always seem to do this on rainy days!  I ran into Wivelsfield and up Slugwash Lane and then turned right where Nick and I normally cut across.  Rather than going back down to Wivelsfield though, I headed East with the view of finding a path that goes South further across.  I didn’t find it though and ended up running around a big WET field before passing the place I had come in.  With the dull, overcast sky, I had managed to lose my direction in the process and now headed North by mistake, into a tract of woodland that could more appropriately have been called WaterWood.

The marked path was basically a small river, so I had no choice but to plough on through it.  Splish Splash Splosh!  It is very strange how the heart is heaviest when you think you’re going in the wrong direction but you’ve come too far to turn around: out of the whole run, it was only here that I actually registered that it was raining.

Eventually, after more trees, more water and some beautiful, but distant country houses, I emerged back onto Slugwash Lane, although I was sufficiently disorientated that I didn’t realise it.  Faced with the choice of which way to go on this unfamiliar road I did what many of my other friends might have done… I chose the up-hill direction.  Training is training, after all.

I finally realised where I was when I came to the junction with Lewes Road, to the East of Haywards Heath… and off the top of my map (no, I didn’t have it with me, silly!).  The quick way home might have been to turn round and head back down Slugwash Lane to Wivelsfield, but instead I turned towards Haywards Heath and then, some way along the road, made a right turn into Colwell Lane which was marked as unsuitable for motor vehicles.

It seemed okay to me as I ran down the tarmac but then the tarmac ceased and I soon came to understand what the sign meant.  Unsuitable?  HA!  This was the muddiest lane I have run on this whole winter!  Oh, how I wish the Bok had been here with his freshly laundered trainers!  I could almost have paddled my kayak in places, it was that wet.  On and on and on it went and anyone hiding in the undergrowth as I passed (and they would have been hiding, believe me) would have heard the mud-covered monster laughing out loud as he sploshed through the worst of it.

Eventually the tarmac resumed and I emerged onto Fox Hill, passed the pub (very tempting to stop, but they used to have a policy of not allowing muddy boots and I know I would have not even have made it to the door) and headed back into the country in the general direction of Burgess Hill.

Some records are not destined to stand for long and I quickly found that, on reflection, Colwell Lane was not the muddiest of them all.  This bridleway really was hilarious and I ended up with one main consideration… not losing my trainers!  In places the water & mud was up to my ankles, but on I went.  Finally, when it had been assured of it’s place as the new record holder, it morphed into Theobalds Lane, and the ancient tarmac with its plethora of axle-breaking puddles served the useful purpose of washing the mud off my trainers… once again, where was the Bok when I really needed him!

There are two reasonably direct ways back home from this place, one of which has thick mud in the middle of summer, so I opted for the other, even though it was a little dull running on the road. 

So, my little run had taken me some 10.2 miles in one hour 45 minutes and whilst the speed of 5.8mph is not outstanding, I think it can hold its muddy head up with pride given the fantastical conditions.  As can my gear… my Rono soft underlayer, Gore jacket and iQ beanie, all from Run in Hove (actually), really do help make every day a fair weather runner’s day!



We all spend a lot of time inside, out of the weather: our homes, offices, cars, shops etc each place a roof over our head, a barrier to the weather outside.  One of the things that was most striking about the Vipassana meditation retreat that I attended last year was having time to immerse myself in the weather: to be able to think about it, listen to it, revel in the wind and the rain.  It helped that it was January and there were lots of weather fronts sweeping through to demonstrate their power.

This morning there was an ever so gentle rain falling and the raindrops were caressing my face the whole way round.  It was a truly delightful sensation.

I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel after not running for over a week.  I helped Debbie & John to dig a hole in their garden last Saturday as part of their pond redevelopment: it was only 2.5 feet square by 3 feet deep but past the luscious top-soil, it was thick, heavy London clay, so heavy that I could hardly lift a small spade-full of it above my shoulders (my work boots, above, both weighed me down and stuck to the ground!).  The combination of this with some most inclement weather disinclined me to run Sunday [please see comment below].  This week was then very busy, added to which Nick has been poorly and quite sensibly decided not to run.

So it was just me striding out this morning, which was a shame as it would have been fun watching the Bok trying to avoid the gorgeous, squelchy, wall-to-wall mud!  In the same way that the Inuits have quite precise descriptions for different types of snow and ice, so I might describe the going today as a good structure of firm mud with large pockets or areas of wet surface mud: my trainers came back wet but not clogged and thus got a wash off and are now drop-dripping outside… I had actually forgotten that they were disco shoes!

Cutting to the chase, the overall time was one hour, one minute for 6.7 miles (6.6mph), but it was interesting that after 45 minutes I decided to increase the pace and managed to change it from a comfortable 7mph, for the distance prior to that, to a breathy 5.25mph for the distance home.  Yes, you read that right: I actually slowed down!  Go figure!

Bush Thwacker


It was another chilly morning in Sussex and the glorious sunshine was one of the two reasons that I wished I had worn my Oakleys (no, I don’t have Prada sunnies either).  The other was that the Bok was getting his own back for my mud splishing, by thwacking bushes across my face.

Mind you, part of that had to do with my proximity running behind him, itself the result of a reversal in fortune, energy wise.  Yes, let’s be clear about this: I was on form for a change.  I realised this when we got to the first hill (that’s a low rise to you Cliff) and the Bok started to push harder: where he would normally open up a lead, today I just went with him.

We went out via Ote Hall and around to the north of Wivelsfield, dropping through the middle of the village and heading south on Hundred Acre Lane where I was once again able to match his pace and raise it a little on the rise. 

An indicator that he was finding it harder by comparison was that the alarm on his heart-rate monitor, which sounds to warm of impending heart failure, kept sounding.  Beep beep BEEP!  Having slightly more energy that normal, I pushed the pace a little harder every time I heard the alarm sound, keeping it going off for as long as possible.  Beep, beep BEEP!  Beep, beep, BEEP!  You might say that this suggests a total disregard for his well-being, but I feel that he has proved pretty conclusively that he is virtually indestructible in this regard (note the qualifications on both counts!) so I felt no qualms about it, whatsoever!  When the sunne shyneth, make hey!

Heading back through the woods, we came across an old bike and since he was clearly finding it hard work running, he tried to cycle instead.  Despite being a mad keen cyclist as well as all-round mini Olympic team, the combination of the state of the bike and the gradient of the terrain proved too much for him and he had to lay down for moment, as you can see for yourself above.

The run continued in a similar vein, with me generally taking (and extending) the lead until we got to the home straight.  This is where he normally runs me completely ragged, so I thought I would play him at his own game and to the tune of his alarm, I gently upped the pace the whole way down the road until I was virtually sprinting.

Beep, beep, BEEP!  Beep, beep, BEEP!  Beep, beep, BEEP! 

Then nothing.

I thought it was the batteries on his watch that had expired, but I suddenly found myself running on my own.  More than slightly alarmed, I retraced my steps to find him walking along very gently, the power outage not in the watch, but in the owner.

I have to report that there were several perfectly reasonable mitigating circumstances (note that I deliberately went out of my way not to use the word excuses) as to why he had less energy than normal, but alas I am unable to make further hey under pain of extreme torture!

According to the beep beep watch we covered 7.12 miles in one hour and one minute, a speed of 7mph on the nose, which I am pretty pleased with personally.  His maximum heart-rate was apparently 193 – I’d welcome comments as to whether this shows that this 40 year old is fit, or just passing his perspiration date.

Post-script.  In the spirit of friendship, I told him about my having pushed harder when his alarm sounded.  As a measure of his competitiveness, he immediately worked out how to to turn the sound off!

Crisis Consequences Homeless Charity Concert


The Roundhouse is an architectural triumph and is small enough that people like me, with er, less stamina, can sit out the thronging party at the Crisis Consequences Concert whilst still feeling connected to what’s going on.

We went to see the eclectic, genre-bending Danny’s Last Dance, but in the supporting line-up were Paul Weller, Supergrass and Dirty Pretty Things.  My contact there said that security on the back gate apparently got a roasting from the management once they realised that Danny’s limousine had been turned away so that Paul Weller could park his trelicopter.  As if… I don’t even know what a trelicopter is.

It was reassuring to see that Banksy had maid a reappearance after a clearly less talented rival had painted over it.  Graffiti?  No thanks, but this is art that elicits a smile and adds great value to the whole quirky Primrose Hill / Camden thang.  Especially as she keeps the pavement clean ’round there.