Play misty for me

I’m quite often not in the mood to run on an early mid-week morning, but usually the feeling goes within the first mile or so.  Not this morning.  I forced myself to run and had to cajole myself to keep going virtually every step of the way.

Part of this was that it was foggy and very chilly… such that my hands were cold (even having dug out my winter gloves from the bottom of the drawer) whilst the air in my nostrils was actually painful.

I ran out onto the common and after a warm-up lap, did a further three laps: each with two sides at a normal jog (albeit trying to keep my knees up), one at a faster run and then one stretching out down the final hill.  On the last circuit I had to be content to walk the first side on account of being knackered!

The fast side cannot be more than 300m and is slightly uphill and though I try to hold a good pace the whole way, I really  don’t understand why this relatively simple task should affect me so badly… I’ll obviously just have to keep going back to see if it passes over time.

I’m having second thoughts on whether the circuit is 900m or only 800m so I’m not sure whether I ran 4.25 miles or 4.5 miles, but the time was 45 minutes… all I could manage today.  At least the sun came out when I got back.

On deep loss

What do you say to the friends & family, the spouse, children, parents or siblings, of a close friend who has died in tragic circumstances?  Especially when you have your own personal thoughts, emotions, memories.

This is a question that has been omnipresent over the last few days and it continued to mull around in my head while I ran this morning.

We go through a fairly similar set of emotions for any major change situation, whether it be to do with work, life or death.  It starts off with shock, confusion, disorientation, immobilisation.  This gives way to denial as our minds struggle to assimilate the information.  We then experience anger, frustration and hurt, often lashing out at those closest to us.

Only at this stage do we really start to confront the reality but this leads to depression, helplessness, hopelessness.  We can often feel victimised too, but it is normal for us to experience these feelings as we only now start to really acknowledge what has happened.  

As we begin to get our heads around the reality, we start to form new frameworks for life and we finally reach acceptance.  Accepting what has happened does not mean that we understand it or like  it in any way, just that we are now more grounded.

It is important that we go through the whole range of these emotions, as people can be left with dysfunctional behaviour when they get stuck somewhere en route.  This is easy to write, of course, less easy to say to someone who is grieving.

Even having become more grounded, we are always susceptible to those surprising moments that remove our composure.  I lost a very dear friend to cancer in 1998 and some months later, as I listened to a beautiful new CD by an artist we had both liked, I found myself in floods of tears.

I had a pause for thought during the run today as, waiting to cross the road outside Sporting Cars of Brighton, around 20 Harley Davidson’s growled their way somberly past.  This vague coincidence will not mean anything to people reading this, but I found myself smiling at happy memories despite the sadness of losing another very close friend.

My run today took me south-east out of Burgess Hill, across the fields and through the chicken runs to Ditchling.  It was a glorious day, but not stunningly hot and it took me 25 minutes to shed my jacket and hat.  The 42 minute mark found me at the bottom of the Beacon track and it took ten minutes for me to reach the top from there.  It seemed easier after my mid-week speed work, but at the top I retched intermittently for about five minutes as I tried to recover… is that too much information?

I then headed east along the top but quickly dropped down the first winding path as I had a plan to overcome the potential emotional baggage of feeling queasy from the hill-climb… which was to do another one.  This time the path up from the bottom was steeper still, but the climb seemed yet more effortless.  I didn’t even pause for breath at the top, despite a strenuous round trip that had taken me fifteen minutes and I heading off down the first stony track I had run up, dodging two separate mad-women on horses on my way down… and one more relaxed one on the level ground at the bottom.

This put me at Sporting Cars in Ditchling and after waiting to cross the road, I headed up East End Lane and back across the fields to the north.  At the common I took the Magical Path and was surprised to find other people walking along it… rare indeed, but it was a lovely day.

The 12.2 mile run took me two hours and five minutes and I feel relaxed about the 5.85mph speed in view of the two scarp-slope climbs I threw in.


I fell asleep on the sofa last night around 8.45pm as if I’d been drugged, ignoring peppermint tea and chocolate muffins on the coffee table and only being roused to go to bed after eleven.  I was quite surprised then that I awoke at 6.10am this morning, ten minutes after my alarm didn’t go off.

It was such a beautiful morning that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run and since Avishai had said the magic words ‘interval training’ at the weekend, I decided to do a little speed work.  This meant a trip to the local common, which was glorious.

I estimate that the circuit around the common is 900m and is roughly rectangular (if you’re drugged, that is) with sides 250m, 150m, 300m and 200m.  The surface is also roughly and it’s a great place to twist an ankle if you’re not careful.

My intervals for the four sides were broadly:

  1. Run at a good pace keeping my knees up
  2. Jog to get my breath back
  3. Run at a fast pace
  4. Jog, stretching out my strides and kicking my legs up behind me.

I approached this in a sufficiently vigorous manner that I needed to stop, stretch and catch my breath between each circuit.  AND, on the last circuit, to stop myself from being sick!  You probably didn’t want to know that though.

With a 1.5km run to get to the common and a 2.1km return, I reckon I ran about 8.1km in total, just over 5 miles, in 53 minutes.  

Next time one of you guys with a satellite-guided wrist-watch is over this way, maybe you would tell me how long the circuit really is!

London Marathon… call to action!

If anyone reading this would like to donate a little money to the Arthritis Research Campaign via a good friend of mine who is running in the London Marathon next Sunday, 26th April, please go to  

I bought my first house in 1990 from Phil and his wife Pam and they have been firm friends ever since.  Pam is a long-time arthritis sufferer and Phil has been training hard for months so any donations, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated.

Guest runner

This morning I took Avishai, our weekend house guest up to Jack & Jill to see the view from the top of the Downs.  Alas, what I had hoped would be a beautiful, warm run was anything but.  First, the wind was sharp and cold (added to which we were both wearing shorts) and second, there was a low cloud base so that the view was largely obscured.

We ran the 1.4 km from the car-park to the top of the hill (a height gain of 85 metres) and then in a bid to get out of the wind and get up to working temperature, took the tank tracks down to the very bottom again.  This was a height loss of 145 metres in 1km.  I had in mind to turn round and go straight back up again, but was persuaded, sensibly, to instead run along Underhill Lane.

On the basis that what goes down usually has to go back up again, we ended up taking my favourite route to the top of the Beacon.  With a height gain of 140 metres in about 1.3 miles, it is clearly not as steep as the tank tracks, but as a city dweller & largely flat tarmac runner, Avi proved his metal by keeping up with me the whole way without stopping.

At the top he looked a little like this:

Suitably warmed we headed away from the car along the top of the Downs to Streat Hill and then turned around and ran back.  The cloud was slowly clearing and we could at least get some sense of the view, whilst there was a vague warmth to be detected in the wind.

Having passed Ditchling Beacon for a second time we came upon a most amazing pastoral scene:  The sun came out just as we reached a huge field of closely cropped grass, with slightly rugged-looking cattle neatly spaced out either laying down or standing… it was a little like a child had placed a load of model cows there.  For some reason it looked just weird.

We ran on and reached Jack and Jill having covered 7.9 miles in one hour 25 minutes.  5.6mph is not bad bearing in mind the fact that we threw Ditchling Beacon in for good measure.

Then it was back to base where I aired out the parasol after its long winter incarceration and Kim treated us to a delicious Sunday roast.

On going faster

I ran my current default circuit of 5.2 miles in 42 or 43 minutes today and whilst I wasn’t that impressed with the two or three minutes less that I took compared to last time I ran it, it did increase the speed to 7.3mph or thereabouts.

I spent the run thinking about how we run more quickly and have come up with this quick (and certainly not exhaustive) list.

  • You have to want to run faster (and I seldom do, as I enjoy the act of running more when I’m not racing)
  • You have to be fit enough to push a bit harder
  • The conditions need to be favourable –  it rained a little last night so the going was springy and quite flat, but trying to run fast on a rutted surface, or in a gluggy mud-bath, would not be so sensible
  • You have to keep focused on going faster – you need to maintain the pressure all the way round otherwise you can end up losing any extra ground you’ve made.

I didn’t particularly want to run this morning and it was hard going at first, but the springy mud was so delightful to run on that I decided to up the pace a little.  I then kept the pressure on, especially in the uphill sections, chose faster lines through corners, stretched my legs out down the hills and kept focused.  Made a game of it, really.

I didn’t enjoy the run as much as normal, but it was rewarding in a different way, once again to do with resiliance… being able to complete a task you’ve set yourself.  

And as usual there are a whole host of other things that you can apply this thinking to, from my peers and I putting ourselves out to take further education in our forties, despite busy jobs, to my mother fighting to learn Tai-Chi to improve her balance at 79.

What new way can you find to stretch yourself today?

The storming of Wolstonbury Hill

I took a bottle of water with me yesterday, despite the fact that I suspected I might have a short run.  This was less to do with not feeling like running, as I felt fine, but more to do with not feeling particularly inspired by any of my normal routes.

After a relatively dry period, it had been raining for a couple of days so there was a top layer of mud sitting on a more solid surface below.  This meant slippery conditions… actually very slippery in places as I was to find out.

As I headed out of town on Ockley Lane, so another runner appeared in front of me from a path and ran ahead of me.  He didn’t slow and it was only my devil-may-care approach to mud that allowed me to catch him as we ran towards Oldlands Mill.  He looked very familiar to me (like Ian that I used to hang out with 20 years ago) but we only chatted for a few minutes before he ran off to do a shorter loop.  This all may sound odd to non-runners, but when your feet are sliding every which way, your focus is pretty much on the ground rather than any running companion.

He did however ask if I was going to run up the beacon and since that suddenly seemed like a good focus, I said yes and off I ran in that direction.  At the bottom of Lodge Hill I took a dog-leg to the right and cut down to New Road across the fields to the West of Ditchling.  And there was a highly misleading sign from Mid Sussex District Council about the re-routing of a path.  Suffice to say I decided to have a look so turned right and ran along the road.

I’d obviously misread their map and as the path didn’t materialise, I turned left by Lodge Farm and headed towards the scarp slope.  On such a slippery day, climbing the scarp slope can be slow-going so my target was to run up what is locally called the tank-tracks, a path that has has been kind of tarmacked in a primitive way.  It’s a really steep climb and unlike my normal path to the top, it is relentless in its gradient.  It’s also really intriguing as the areas to the left is landscaped like a giant playground.  I made a mental note to find out why.

At the top, as I paused to catch my breath, a couple supplied the answer… it had been where the Canadian troops dug in during the war and the tank-tracks were just that.  The Canadians must have been made of sturdy stuff to drive up and (more to the point) down that gradient… NOT for the faint of heart!

Since I was running well, I turned right, away from the Beacon and headed for new territory… I had decided to take Wolstonbury for the Fosters.  This involved running down past the golf course to the Clayton Hill road, right up the permissive bridleway and then left up the long hill.  

At one point I was running along on a narrow elevated grass verge about a sea of cloggy mud, which was the path, when my left leg slid right to catch my right leg.  With my weight going left toward a clearly painful encounter with a barbed-wire fence (I was actually more worried about ripping my Gore jacket) I somehow managed to twist from my core to go straight down, landing safely on one knee but feeling poleaxed from suddenly tensing a whole bunch of muscles, particularly those around my groin.

As I approached Wolstonbury from the south, my aim to claim it for the Fosters was thwarted as I found a small boy sitting resolutely atop the trig-point.  He was guarded by a plucky younger sister twirling around so I retreated, gracefully.

The view from the top of the north slope was breathtaking, even on a misty day and their mother was able to clearly point out to me where the path led to the north.

Getting down the steep grass slope was hard work, feet searching for grip and legs pumping to absorb the descent and harder still when I reached the slippery mud further down, but it took only moments.  Having stopped for a pee, negotiated a bunch of little wooded paths and deeply mudded tracks and finally reached the road, I took the next photo only ten minutes after the last.

I then ran on and finally managed to find Danny House.  It really is an awe-inspiring place.

A compass might not have gone amiss at this point, as, hoping for the most direct route back (I was already knackered) I ended up on the Brighton Road approaching the Hurstpierpoint church from the south.  Cutting east through Hurst was interesting, looking at all the dwellings that have been shoehorned into this charming little village.  The rest of the run, north to Hammonds Mill Farm, then dog-legging north east to the railway bridge and back along the railway, was hard work… I seldom stop when I’m running but I had to stop twice in the last 20 minutes.

14.1 miles took me 2 hours 35 minutes, a dismal 5.45mph, but I really enjoyed the challenge of the run and Wolstonbury is well worth trying to storm again, if only for the view!

PS.  If anyone lost a pair of sheepskin boots on Saturday night, this is where they are.

I feel GOOD, la la la, la la, la laa…

I’ve been noticing that its harder work to run these days and having discounted thicker air, increased gravity and the earth tilting against me, I’ve decided it’s probably just because I need to run more.

As I fell out of bed this morning, there was an extended howl of wind from outside which was accompanied by rain drumming steadily on the roof.  I did my Chi Kung, put the coffee on and realised that somewhere in the back of my mind there lurked a desire to run.

It might have been raining, but it wasn’t cold outside and after sitting reading Edward de Bono’s Po for a while, I sprang into action.  Shorts, t-shirt, Gore jacket and a beanie… ready for anything.

The rain was lighter by the time I left and quickly desisted leaving me to enjoy a damp spring morning… particularly engaging was the beautiful smell of blossom which I periodically ran past.

The ground was firm and the mud flattened out so the rain had collected only in occasional shallow puddles making for easy running, with light mud splashing delicately onto my calves as I ran.

I did only a short circuit, out to the Royal Oak, Wivelsfield, West Wood, back via the Magical Path & across the Common.  It was a great morning for thinking, especially with Po still fresh in my mind and I made good time, completing the 5.2 miles in 45 minutes, five minutes faster than on the 8th March.  6.93mph and I wasn’t even pushing myself.

As I got back so the sun broke through the clouds, as if to accentuate just how GOOD I felt!

T-shirt & shorts

After working hard in the garden yesterday, I would not have been surprised if the last thing I relished was a run today.  However, yesterday’s hard work was a visual triumph, especially on such a bright spring morning and as I sat in the tea house circa 9am, I had the urge to run rather than read.

I’ve not been out before 10am on a Sunday for months so to leave at 9.20am felt really good.  Especially as, despite the slightest of chills in the air, I ran out in a t-shirt, shorts & summer socks.  I ran out past Ote Hall and for the first 20 minutes I really missed my beanie hat… my ears were frozen.  There were no llamas in the llama field, but there was a yappy dog at Townings Place that chased after me.

The only people in Wivelsfield were those collecting their Sunday papers and I headed south down Hundred Acre Lane.  At the top of the hill, despite feeling like I really wanted to head back (I had intended to run for about an hour and so had not brought any water with me) I turned left down a path that I remember having seen on the map once.

This brought me out on the road to Hattons Green and I headed in that direction before turning south to St Helen’s Farm.  This dropped down to the road west to the Common and since the traffic was whistling past, I stopped at a stile to see whether the path would take me in the right direction.  A cyclist stopped to see if I needed directions & it turned out that she owned the land I was looking at.  It’s always so lovely to find out about places from locals so I stood & chatted to Karen, probably for ten minutes.

Some friends used to have a cat called Chester, which was a cross between a Tonkinese (or similar) show cat and a black Tom.  Chester, clad in grey fur, was a big cat with a low boredom threshold.  He would sit lovingly on your lap for a while before taking a swipe at your face or whatever else he could reach!  Karen had a black cow that had a similar story to tell, its mother having had a brief fling with an Aberdeen Angus (I think) in a neighboring field.  I don’t know about it’s temperament, but I’m guessing you’d not want it sitting on your lap anyway.

I ran onward, back across Hundred Acre Lane and stopped to talk to Lew as he was trying to figure out how to use one of his new toys… a wood trailer.  (mental note to self, remember to scrounge some wood for the wood-burner from Lew before next winter!).  A further ten minutes or so spent chatting, but this time not in full sun, and I suddenly felt a chill so headed for home.

I returned via the magical path & the Common, collapsing into a chair in a sun-soaked garden.  8.65 miles were covered but I have no idea how long I ran for.  My guess is one hour 25 minutes (I was out for 1:45), giving a speed of about 6mph.

More chores ensued (several not on the list again) and I shall undoubtedly feel as if I’ve been beaten up when I get up tomorrow morning, but WHAT a great weekend!