The Boys and Girls are back in town – Hurt

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

‘Shit, that’s the alarm’. Close, it was The Police and Regatta De Blanc but it was time to get myself ready for the 33rd Torremolinos Half Marathon. I hate fuss and rushing before a race so everything was laid out in meticulous fashion. Numbered vest, shorts, socks, trainers, inhaler. All I needed to do was prepare an electrolyte drink. I stepped out onto the balcony, it was quite chill but the skies were clear and the day looked like it was going to be a warm one.

Looking out across towards Malaga, Granada and the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada in trepidation of the day ahead. Sue and I headed down to breakfast. I can eat anything before a race but I had a glass of pineapple juice and nibbled on a croissant. We then walked the half mile or so to the start.

The start area was the same as for yesterday’s 5km race but the half had many more entrants. Spain has yet to embrace parkrun so this wasn’t such a surprise. I intended to start off easily and hang on. The first 6 miles meandered through the streets down to the Esplanade and this is where the hurt in the title comes in. To be fair, after illness I was nowhere near half marathon shape and this was going to be tough.

The Esplanade section was around 4 mile long and I hoped the Sunday morning strollers would give me a lift. Our hotel was at 8.5 miles in and Sue shouted encouragement(!), ‘Not far to go’. F*ck off. I was blowing out of my ass. I needed a shower a big plate of scran and sleep. In reality, I was never going to give up. In all my years of running races I have never had a Did Not Finish and I certainly wasn’t going to do it today.

I jogged and walked along the remainder of the Esplanade and. after what seemed like hours, I reached the 19 km mark and to the sting in the tail. What comes down must, therefore, must go up. This was brutal.

Eventually the end. I felt like death cooled down. The medal/goody bag handing was a complete shambles and should have been organised better. Also, if you finished outside the 2.30 hour cut off time you weren’t entitled to a medal. I’ve raced in Spain and I know that the average standard is better but you really now to encourage runners back from the UK especially this early in the year.

Sue and I wandered back and found a bar, had a couple of beers, gin and tonics and some scran. Barbecue chicken, potatoes and peppers served up by Bacchus himself.

Reunited-

Reunited
And it feels so good
Reunited
‘Cause we understood

A mysterious phone call to Sue’s mobile from my mobile indicated that my only connection with my ‘real’ world had been found. My phone was lying cold and lonely in Ryanair lost and found office at Malaga Airport. Cheers, Bud. I’m on my way. A mercy mission plan was devised and the elite group of Sue and myself set off for my phone’s rehabilitation. Well Ryanair’s lost and found was to be located deep in the bowels of the airport. In fact we thought it was lost, and found if you were lucky.

Back at base, our hotel, we bumped into Rachael Nolan and her parents, Ollie and Bev, and the unfortunately nicknamed, Ju Drop. This led to a visit to Bailey’s Irish Bar and then pasta. It was now 6.00pm and Rachael, after an early start and travelling, crashed and needed to sleep. The rest of us was hell intent on picking up our numbers for Saturday morning’s inaugural Torremolinos 5km. Google maps was useless and all the locals we asked had either never heard of it or pointed us in the wrong direction. Nearly 90 minutes later we gave it up as a lost cause and we would pick up our numbers in the morning.

Saturday morning. A 20 minute walk from our hotel to the start and number collection and the start point. Jeez, we would never had found it even now but Rachael in full tour guide mode led us there with no worries. Conditions were good. Warm and sunny yet quite cool in the shade and most of the race was around the streets so cool. Just the way runners like it. No wind like Burnham-on-Sea so lovely. The course starts with about half a mile of gentle incline and then a sharp uphill and then it declines gradually to the finish, which is about a quarter mile too long!

After a couple of pints at Sherlock’s, another Irish bar, we made our way back to the hotel. A shower and I was knackered. The flu I had had/having was taking it’s toll and poor Sue was feeling poorly. I watched the American football conference game highlights, with Spanish commentary and 6 Nations rugby Wales vs. Ireland but was falling asleep. We were due to meet the others for pasta but missed the deadline, so went past Cat’s Corner for a pizza. I don’t like pizza!

Romantic, eh. You softies ☺️

As I write I’m in the hotel bar writing, drinking a beer and watching more Spanish football. Real Betis vs. Celta Vigo and Manuel Pellegrini hasn’t appeared to age at all.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is half marathon day. Stay tuned for Part 3.

The Boys and Girls are back in town

Guess who just got back today?
Them boys and girls that had been away
Haven’t changed, had much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy

Blood won’t spill but Guinness might and Dino’s Bar and Grill had better stock up with pasta and paella. Yeah, it’s Almost Athletes annual trek to Torremolinos and it’s alive and very dangerous.

My training had been going quite poorly. Although I was running regularly 4-6 miles, there was no speedwork or long runs. My longest was only 8.5 miles and I like to have more than that before a half especially as this was to be a focussed race. I hate to fail at a race I had been aiming for but I had the safety net of running in Spain, in February with a bunch of great folks, and when the UK was cold. Maybe years of running has made me soft and uncompetitive but there have been many times where a good time, a good finish place and finisher’s memento have meant everything to me. As I improved I started winning prizes like out of date biscuits at Severn AC races and the inflatable bed that I won for winning the Gloucester Half in 2007. If I won the following year I’d get a pump. Essential for an asthmatic.

Back to Torremolinos, oh how I wish, two weeks before the race I received a bang on my head resulting in concussion rest and then a brutal cold/life threatening man flu. Needless to say this, kind of, interrupted my forward progress. I do have to say, coughing seems to be a good core exercise although I wouldn’t recommend it. The cold, the darkness, the depressing news just made me yearn for Spain and even a half marathon. I needed to get away and be with crazy people or just get some crazy out of me. Undeterred, I will find a way.

January and February are such difficult months to deal with if you have any mental issues. The dark, the cold, and the optimism of Christmas and New Year have long passed. It’s a long drag to Spring and Easter. If training for a Spring marathon, it really is a hard time for motivation. That date with destiny and glory is so far away. 40 miles training weeks and a 20 miler at the weekend after a cr*p week at work. Runners need discipline above and beyond the call of any duty for merely a hobby. When playing football, 90 minutes in ankle deep mud and the exfoliation of peeling that dried mud off my legs was absolutely nothing compared to the horrors of skipping tea, speed reading Pingu to our son at bedtime, trying to appease my wife and running 8 miles in the dark and on ice but I do have very smooth legs. I can speak from some experience but my only regret is my Dad wasn’t alive when I ran the London Marathon, he would have been so proud.

This little fella would give me nightmares.
“Here’s Pingu”

Thursday, 3 days before race day, we flew out to Malaga and then a short taxi journey to Torremolinos for the half marathon. I certainly don’t envy frequent flyers. Flying is about waiting and waiting. A dull flight and some more waiting while you baggage is being reassembled. Also, flying seems very motionless. You’re up there in the sky and below the countryside, sea, Pyrenees, are floating past like a stick in a river that you’re watching in the reverie of a warm summer’s day. I gazed out of the window when a passenger jet flew past in the opposite direction not more than 100, maybe 200, metres away. This made me realise how cluttered our skies are but the real speed we both were travelling. The other plane had disappeared within 2 seconds and but for the brilliance of the pilots, I might have ended up, if only momentarily, in the cabin of the homeward bound plane and kissing my ass ‘good-bye’. I did, however, kiss my phone ‘good-bye’ as it fell out of my flight bag and could quite possibly be any where now.

I’m sat, forlornly, writing this piece minus mobile phone and listening to Spain’s answer to Raquel Turner and Tony Valentino in the hotel bar and watching a Galactigos less Real Madrid coughing and spluttering like a King who’s Grandfather walked the walk and did that talk thing better. Sue has wisely knocked it on the head and is catching some Zzzzzzs.

More soon but hopefully not from these two. So many unanswered questions like how will the race go? Will it get any warmer? And’ where’s my bloody phone? Oh My God, Sweet Caroline. Where’s a zombie attack when you need it.

Stop The Cavalry or My Christmas Message

Bang! That’s another bomb on another town
While the Tsar and Jim have tea
If I get home, live to tell the tale
I’ll run for all presidencies
If I get elected I’ll stop
I will stop the cavalry

Jona Lewie 1980

Covid waxes and wanes like the moon. Where we are now, I have no idea. News is sketchy at best as it’s being hidden by Piers Morgan, Meghan Markle, Royal deaths and strikes. Strikes and deaths are occurring in Ukraine where a massive oppressor is bullying a smaller nation. Like Star Wars but even Hollywood couldn’t make this up.

We’ve had two monarchs and three Prime Ministers. We are being represented by members of Parliament that are more interested in filling their banks balances than filling the stomachs of poor children. Unfortunately, I’m old enough to remember the Winter of Discontent in 1979. Unions had power and the Labour government were weak. It snowed and we couldn’t bury our dead but worst of all it brought Margaret Thatcher to power. She broke the unions, she broke the manufacturing industry, but worst of all she broke our hearts and spirit.

I felt my position at Burnham-on-Sea Harriers was untenable, so I left and joined Almost Athletes, Cheltenham as a remote member. That leads me to my first memory of 2022. Event of the year, Torremolinos Half Marathon. A week away in Spain in February, what could go wrong! Well nothing. I thank Rachael Nolan and her parents, Alison Hume, Matt Proome and Suzy Roger for making me and my wife so welcome. A truly terrific few days with them. They run hard and party harder. A great event also, tough finish.

The most memorable race has to be Swansea Half Marathon. We rocked up in Swansea to find what was less than basic accommodation for the night and I spent several hours trying and successfully find the last possible decent hotel for our stay. We were very close to going back home. The course was fantastic. A lap of the the centre and out to the Mumbles and back. Great medal and tee shirt and the most expensive pint in Wales.

Most satisfying race has to be Newport Half Marathon. Well, my son, Elliot lives in Newport and this seemed the perfect excuse to visit him and take in a run. We rocked up on Saturday when Newport County FC was at home to Bristol Rovers. Police were everywhere and we weren’t allowed anywhere without proving where we were from and what we were doing in Newport. Local footballing rivalries are cute to the observer but a bloody nuisance if you’re caught up in it. Elliot helped us through and it was brilliant to spend time with him. The race was terrific for a city half taking us out to Caerleon and back past the biggest pig I have ever seen.

Best medal of 2022

A Sort of Homecoming 2022 was Tewkesbury Half Marathon. This the event I’ve ran the most in it’s differing incarnations. Back in the day I finished constantly in the top 10 but these days are different. I made the point of running to my parents grave and carrying along my favourite route along the River Severn to Deerhurst and back via public footpaths and the golf course. Sadly, next year the race has been cancelled due to the lack of police involvement and safety factors. A real shame where a compromise has to be found.

The most disappointing race has nothing to do with the organisation, the marshals or the medal or tee shirt. Palma Half Marathon was absolute pooh. When I woke up I didn’t feel right. I vomited many times around the course and afterwards and I can’t explain why. A great course but I was glad to finish. The most disappointing thing was I trained hard and, for the first time, followed a training plan. I was in good shape and better than the 2hrs 15mins I ran.

I wish you all the very best Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I thank all who have read my writings. I try to give a little insight into the mind of an average runner and my tribulations. God bless and all the best for 2023 xx

The Return of the Lost Palma 2

Waiter!

Nutty Boys

After the success of the fling in Torremolinos earlier this year, your correspondent was keen to try another Mediterranean half and have a nice little break before the onset of winter, strikes, power cuts and a three-day week. Living in Blighty these last few months would darken the spirits of any good heart, but I had this beacon to aim for to gladden my soul. I searched to internet for a suitable autumnal Spanish break and the Palma marathon, half and 10km ticked all the boxes. I thought a half would just the ticket, especially with a few days rest and recuperation afterwards.

It is fair to say that after Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic is a minefield of form filling and internet searches for regulations. Needing our passports updating only added more stress to an already stressed-out Clive. Added to this a train strike affected our plans to get to Bristol for our flight. International Rescue in the shape of a taxi answered our prayers, well phone call for an overnight hotel stay before an ungodly early flight.

Touchdown in Palma and the wait for our luggage. Sue can’t wait 10 more minutes for a ‘fag’ which results in 20 minutes trying to meet up outside for a connecting taxi. Said taxi took us many miles out of our way to a similar sounding but not our hotel. I showed the driver a picture and the address of the hotel where we were staying and was eventually taken there but still having to pay for the irritating diversion. This was unfortunately a sign of the chaos that was to follow.

After dropping off our bags and changing into more appropriate clothing, we set off to race registration which was situated some 2 kilometres from the hotel near the cathedral. I’ve looked at the map many times and realistically booked a hotel convenient to the start and all the amenities that we may require for our brief stay but on the ground, it looked very different. Traffic, people, it all seemed so strange. Google Maps seemed no help, but we eventually rocked up at registration after a prolonged tour of the harbour. At the site was a small expo where Sue refused to allow me to purchase ‘essential’ kit.

In the distance goodies I will never own and further back the Cathedral
My name but not quite in lights

Race Day Sunday. The half marathon started at 8.15am. So, I set my alarm for 6.45am to give me a little time to set myself. Like any seasoned racer, I had attached my bib number and laid out my kit. I was nervous just like any previous race over the last 25 years but today felt different. I took my anti-depressant and was instantly sick. Not necessarily a problem. Taking medication without drinking can do this. We wandered off confidently to the start in good spirits knowing the weather was set fair and the course, although the second half was undulating.

The event was meticulous in its organisation. Athletes were shepherded to their pens depending on distance and times. I took an energy supplement at the start which I immediately threw up. Today wasn’t going to be my day. We set off on time and I ticked down the kilometres as worried runners do. We ran up and along the harbour front and I saw Sue at around 6 km. I felt awful and really wanted to drop out but Sue was cheering and so encouraging I had to try. My splits were as bad as I was feeling. I had hoped to complete in 1 hour 50 minutes but I was struggling at 10 minutes miles a minute. The course then went up into the city and the undulation. Palma is a truly beautiful city full of fantastic architecture, basilicas and the awesome cathedral. I ticked off the kms as I ran around areas I recognised. At 17 kms I was broken. I stopped and vomited. I hated this and running and everything. Why the f*ck should I put myself through this? I don’t have anything to prove, only to myself. I picked myself up and made it the last 4 kms to the finish. I crossed the finish line, collected my medal and finishers bag, made it to a quiet side and was sick. A lady came over to me and asked me if I was alright, yes, I lied. I lay there for a while, hoping my race had been a dream or somehow, I’d feel well enough to walk somewhere anywhere.

I staggered back to the where Sue was waiting, and we carried on to the harbour. I was still being sick, and Sue was worried. I sat in the shade of a tree and hoped this feeling would subside soon. I knew I needed carbs or sugar, so we dived into a cafe where I drank a Powerade drink and Coca-Cola and I felt so much better quickly. I have no idea what started this as it has never happened before, but it was a terrible feeling as I had trained so well for this event and was expecting much better than a 2-hour 15-minute finish so to say I was disappointed was like saying, well I was disappointed.

The following evening, we went to the bar across the road from our hotel. Spanish Monday night La Liga was on, and the game was Elche versus Mallorca. The match was delayed by 30 minutes because of a storm of biblical proportions. Mallorca huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow bottom of the table Elche’s house down. 1:1 was the final score. I was amused by the locals. There must have been about eight old boys watching the game. Their reactions and frustrations were a sight to behold. It only went to prove that being a fan is tough and it’s the hope that lets you down.

This gave me a thought. The Real Mallorca football stadium was only about 3 kilometres from our hotel. I thought this would make a great recovery run. The next evening before we went out and Sue was resting, I thought a little jog out would be fine. I checked into Google Maps™ and figured out a route; quite simple, out and back. However, it was pouring with rain and soon my hands were too wet to operate my soggy mobile phone. I was running towards an unfamiliar part of town, which felt very less than salubrious. I thought maybe I should sweep back. There is a main thoroughfare from our hotel towards the cathedral and coast, all I needed to do was to somehow find my way to an intersection and Bob’s your uncle. In the rain and traffic nothing looked right. Who’d have thought there so many Maccy Ds in Palma? Mugged and murdered in Mallorca after a sh*tty half marathon I didn’t like as an epitaph. I eventually stumbled towards a plaza I recognised and found my way back to Sue who was outside our hotel smoking and looking out for me. A 30 minute run turned out to be an hour. No more Palma running for me, well, for this week.

Goodnight

Might as well Jump, go ahead and Jump (National Hunt mix)

Cheltenham Racecourse

I didn’t feel like writing a blog for this year’s Cheltenham Half Marathon but looking back a couple of issues have arisen from this weekend’s event that have whetted my appetite for prose, and I needed to keep my literature juices flowing

I’m indebted to Almost Athletes Jason Hulance for the information below. These are the numbers of entrants for the Cheltenham Half Marathon from 2016 to this year. Clearly a race in freefall but why?

2022 – 1529 Half + 399 10k

2021 – 2007 Half + 311 10k

2020 – ahem

2019 – 2478 Half

2018 – 2935 Half

2017 – 3138 Half

2016 – 3509 Half

How do other runners feel? I’ve sensed in recent years, before Covid, races were were well subscribed but there definitely seems to be a trend against this.

Firstly, the price. Early bird entries are set for a limited time at £30 which goes up to £45 nearer the race date. Road closures but still a high price to pay with no finishers tee shirt.

Secondly, the finish. This is a brutal final two miles around the iconic National Hunt course. It’s excruciatingly hard work after the previous 11 miles. Not a personal best course or personal favourite.

Thirdly, there seems no forum for discussion for improvements to the course or runner’s overall enjoyment to address any problems arising over the declining numbers.

Many club athletes prefer the local races for local causes where races are organised to raise funds for local schools or charities. Many of these races tend to be trail or off road which needs no road closure or supervision, the use of public footpaths or permission of landowners and farmers and are far more interesting and much cheaper with delicious cakes to boost funds.

The Journey to Cheltenham

It started at Highbridge/Burnham-on-Sea railway station at 10.37. Sue, my wife, and I attempted to board the train to Bristol Temple Meads. Usually, an easy thing to do but on this occasion the whole train was rammed tighter than sardines in a tin. It felt like an over filled cupboard that would spill its contents when opened. The relief to reach Bristol Temple Meads without any mishap was immense and the folks standing around me in the vestibule were in good spirits seeing the crassness of GWR and their passenger coach ratio policy.

We boarded our train from Bristol to Cheltenham and quickly realised that from the generous leg room implied we were in First Class. What a mistake to make but even though Cheltenham was the next stop we asked to leave and squat in the vestibule even though our ticket allowed us to sit in any available seat. Might need some re wording.

We arrived safely, checked into our hotel and wandered up town to a favourite drinking haunt of ours from back in the day when we visited Cheltenham on a day out from our hometown of Tewkesbury. Copa is situated about 50 metres from the Everyman Theatre in Regents Street and is the perfect situation for people twitching or watching but it still doesn’t make £9.10 acceptable for a pint and a Coca Cola.

Might be the most expensive pint I’ve bought but I nicked the glass as a memento 🤣

Race Day

The alarm went off and I turned on the TV in our executive suite at the Premier Inn in the centre of town. The repeat of last night’s Match of the Day was on and celebrated footballers from a bygone age were refuting the future and VAR. I can never do breakfast since my cancer but instead drank a £2.20 bottle of water from a vending machine.

It was a good mile and a bit walk from town to the Racecourse and the start. This was most enjoyable as it’s a chance to calm down and destress a little before the race. I am usually/always nervous before a race. It is so bad that I really don’t know why I race anymore. I don’t have anything to prove but it’s a way and proving that I’m still alive and kicking. It is very odd being a distant Almost Athletes member, I see vests and tee shirts everywhere but only the few that went to Torremolinos in February have met me but I greeted as many as I could and introduced myself. We all lined up in our expected finishing times pens and waited, and waited, and waited. Nearly fifteen minutes we had to wait after our warm up from a fitness professional, which evidently was a waste of time!

And they’re off. Off towards Prestbury and then taking in the sights of Promenade, Montpellier and Tivoli and Pittville Pump Rooms and back to the iconic Racecourse and all those Festival views. It was fabulous to see so much support from from the crowd and Almost friends. Luckily after early drizzle, the day was fine. The final two miles follows the emergency services roads around the course and for a runner after eleven miles is pretty brutal and finish at the Grandstand.

Sign up for 2023, give me a couple of weeks 🤣

At the finish I met up with Sue and chewed the fat with Matt Proome and other Almosts. I was pretty wasted and tired. I started too quick as the first miles were down hill and tried to hang on and the final four miles were purgatory. A delicious burger and a couple of beers at the Brewery revived me before the long trek back to Burnham-on-Sea which was far more straight forward than the arrival.

Broken Arrow

Do you feel what I feel
Can we make that so it’s part of the deal
I gotta hold you in these arms of steel
Lay your heart on the line…this time

I’m feeling stronger, able to face things full on again. My friends say I’m more positive, and look and sound better. And I thought so also. It’s doesn’t take much. Something on social media that’s not phrased right, a look, a quiet word said out of earshot and my mood will plummet. These things aren’t noticed normally and, if they are, are taken at face value and ignored.

My biggest fear, anxiety, insecurity, reason for low self esteem and confidence is rejection. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to follow blindly to be part of the gang, or herd, I want to be accepted for who I am and what I can deliver to the group. It really is quite crippling to try and conform and not speak out, After all, it’s better to be silent and appear stupid then say something and remove all doubt.

This kind of made me a listener. I would remain quiet and listen to other people’s problems and anxieties. I’ve been told that because of this and the fact I have/had 4 sisters made me a friend to girls and if I dared summon the courage to ask them out they would decline. I guess it was a curse and stepped back into the shadow.

I’m back at work and now and in my second week. I’ve had 5 or 6 weeks off and felt I had the tools and strength to return but now I feel quite down and isolated. It’s probably just a blip. Blips occur all the time where mental health is concerned. The secret is to keep it a blip and not dwell too much. The blip is normally something which is out of my control. So hey, I don’t give a f*ck, sh*t happens, this is me so love or loathe me. It seems I work in extremes.

Beast of Burden or Some Girls, Some Hope

To my surprise and shock I received an email last week reminding me that in 2020 I had entered one of the toughest, but most satisfying races, in the Somerset Race Series and it was soon. I love to run the trails but I haven’t been able to run in the Quantocks for a long time and this has come a little soon for me. The Quantock Beast started in 1996 and was included in the first Somerset Series.

Fyne Court, Broomfield, Somerset. Possibly the prettiest race HQ ever

The journey, once off the M5, was along those single track roads where you fear to meet head to head one of those local tractors or worse one of those spotless, never been off road 4x4s. I was lucky to have BoS Harriers chairperson/man, Matt Powell, to provide me with lift in his battered old Volvo. A challenging song title if Prince were still with us. Matt is big news within the Somerset Series and a very good off road runner so he had to wait a while for me to rock up at the finish. The fact that he had to wait for the last finisher and take the clock for the Harriers race at Pawlett in a couple of weeks was a great relief.

Inside the first half mile and I’m already regretting this 😵 but look at that game face. I should play poker.

The race route had to be changed at the last moment due to Forestry Commission concerns leaving the race a whole mile longer. Race briefing and then then 11.00am start. Tyrone Davis had a mid 70s soul song and the title is hotly contested by all runners and cyclists, what goes up must come down. I believe this cannot be equal as running up hill never equates to running down. Geography and common sense just doesn’t come into it. However, this was in reverse. A few hundred metres down hill and then an uphill trail. I’m blowing chunks. I’m always nervous before races but this was different gravy. I’m an asthmatic and have recently had a review. My nurse told me not use my reliever before running and use my preventer. This was clearly crap advice as I couldn’t breathe. A couple of puffs and I was away finding a comfortable running pace and even limbo dancing under a fallen tree.

A terse climb through the woods and a chance to get some oxygen into my lungs along a wheat field and then down a never ending access road. What goes down must go up and in the second half of the race when legs and hearts are weary. Down into the ‘secret valley. A section of flat but very muddy running through red clay that literally sucked the shoes off my feet. After The Skids had me Into The Valley, Yazz and The Plastic Population had me with The Only Way Is Up. I climbing up through the same woods I had came down in the first third of the race but my legs were heavier as was my shoes with mud. Out of the trees and on the road and a drag back to the finish. On the journey home my thoughts turned to a lunchtime pint and roast lamb.

Sasquatch sighting!?!

Revolutionary Spirit or Fumbling in The Mumbles

All is quiet where the angels fear
Oh my blood relations the revolutionary spirit is here

The Wild Swans Revolutionary Spirit, 1982. Great single. I love this song.

Swans… Swansea, simple. Any excuse to quote a great record.

Revolutionary spirit, something I believe I am. I like change. Push boundaries. Try something for a boost or change of scene or style. The week building up to the Swansea Half Marathon have been a change for me. Work has made me very tired and disillusioned. It has become so hard to work a 10 shift and then run. At my place of work, we’re desperately understaffed and with an aging workforce it has become very difficult to keep on keeping on. Running is my freedom. My ‘get out of jail’. It eases my body and, more importantly, my mind. Running is my salvation, it is my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday long run best, My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love of running would last forever: am I wrong. Sorry W.H. Auden.

This last week before Swansea Half I did something I have never done before a race before: I have taken it easy! I resisted my usual temptation to run every day with hard workouts and tapered. I ran Tuesday at about 10 seconds per mile faster than, hopefully, race pace. I then rested 2 days and then ran an easy 4.5 miles but with a couple of Chariots of Fire miles on the beach. The rest days I worked on strength and conditioning. Not so much resting but I get bored easily.

Swansea Bay

Saturday was a travel day. A lovely three hour train journey stopping at nearly every Bristol station and a joyful stop seeing the steel works of Port Talbot. We rocked up in Swansea around 1.30pm but couldn’t get into our room until 4 o’clock. Using my trusty Google Maps™ app we set off in search of our overnight lodgings. We meandered around the streets desperately trying to follow the map and eventually found our destination. The exterior looked less than inviting and the huge sign promoting student accommodation did set alarm bells ringing. So Sue and I did what all other weary travellers do, we popped into Wetherspoons for a pint and cheap and cheerless food.

At the appointed time we wandered to Neon 160 (!). I tapped in our PIN and we entered. Jeez, this place was unreal. We went to our room. A bare mattress with no bedding, a table covered in rubbish. A completely unprepared apartment. This was completely unexpectable, so we left to find a better hotel. This, of course, was a busy weekend in June with all the usual shenanigans of a city at this time of year and the added bonus of thousands of runners.

We decided to seek out where the race started as there were two hotels on the the route. The first was the Dolphin Hotel. This looked nice. Asked at reception if they had any rooms for the night. No the receptionist answered. Sold the last one 10 minutes ago but he did check on Booking.com™ if any rooms were available elsewhere. Possibly Morgan’s or The Dragon. The Dragon was nearer so we dragged ourselves there. Please, please, pretty please, do you have a room for the night? No, sorry. We were now in Joseph, Mary and the wee bloody donkey territory. Phone battery was now on 4% and a rapid return home looked our best bet. I sat on the floor and started charging my phone and with one last throw of the dice I tried Expedia.com™. The Village Hotel had a room £145 but they had a room. I gulped and booked it. A 30 minute walk, we were knackered and a half marathon the next day. I tried phoning local taxi firms but nothing so we slowly trudged forward with my phone still at 4%. We asked a couple security guards at a pub if we were on the right track and they suggested going to a taxi rank nearby. The journey was short but the relief when we arrived at our hotel was beyond compare.

A couple of pints and a few more with a group of golfers aided the sleep I already was desperate for and when the alarm went off at 7.30 I felt I needed at least 4 more hours and no running! Bleary eyed I walked the 10 minutes to the start. I’m always nervous before a race and don’t really like conversation and this was easy because I was the only runner I knew. I never used to use energy gels during a half marathon but now I need them. Now I need an energy gel to get out of bed. The start was delayed by 15 minutes, which didn’t help, but once running I eased myself into the job in hand. The race starts with a 3 mile loop within the city where the crowds and cheering was plentiful. I then ran out to St. Helens and past Swansea Cricket Club where Glamorgan CCC used to occasionally play before the upgrade at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff. The route was now looking familiar as it was along the Swansea Bay 10k course that I had ran in 2000. Familiar but different with wonderful guard of trees. I reached The Mumbles voted the best place to live in Wales. After recent visits to Newport and, now, Swansea this didn’t surprise me. The village is very pretty and the houses look very expensive. Even the chippy looks like it’s a listed building. Here I looped back to the city along a lovely cycle path following the coastline and that salty smell of sea air. I gazed across the bay seeking out Burnham-on-Sea. The miles ticked along quickly and soon were heading back to the marina where the start and finish would be. With 100 metres to go Sue saw me and shouted out in her usual manner but with fewer profanities. I collected a handful of protein bars, a bottle of water, my medal and tee shirt. Sue greeted me and then off to pay £6 for a beer.

Where’s the pub?

Purple Reign

I only want to see you laughing
In the purple rain

Prince Rogers Nelson

Prince can’t hear you

Saturday 14th May would see me return to Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire for the first time in three years. I was born at Cheltenham Maternity Hospital and lived in Tewkesbury for my first 51 years but, with no family there, I rarely feel the urge to return. I have returned though for a funeral, a couple of President’s Day cricket matches at Tewkesbury CC and the half marathon. I have entered the race as an unattached, a Tewkesbury AC, a Burnham-on-Sea Harrier and, now, as an Almost Athlete (well, I’ve always been almost an athlete 🤣).

The Tewkesbury Half Marathon is the race that I have ran the most. My first running was in 1984 when the event was held in September. I ran a fairly creditable 1 hour 42 minutes and felt very proud of my effort and thought that would be it as most casual runners do. My next running of it wasn’t until 1997. I had started jogging to get fit and lose some weight for the cricket season but enjoyed running so much that I stopped playing cricket and to focus on my running. After that I joined Tewkesbury AC, now Tewkesbury Running Club, and concentrated on running more seriously. I competed every year afterwards until I stopped running in 2008. In 2007 the first 5 runners followed the leading car and missed the Mitton section leaving me as 6th to be technically the first runner home following the correct course. The following year I finished officially and technically 3rd. It was very hot that day and the organisers had under estimated the need for water. Fortunately gardeners in Bredon used their hosepipes to fill cups to help provide a positive experience for the runners. Sue, my wife, stood in the road at Morrisons to stop cars crossing and avoiding a potential accident at personal risk to herself of being arrested by a jobsworth ‘Bobby’.

Patriotic shoes and flying feet. My running male crop top never took off and neither did my Roy Orbison sunnies.

Now to the 2022 version. The event had been held back by three years because of the pandemic and I was looking forward to returning to my home town. All those Tewkesbury AC years I had been a top 10 finisher but now I was glad to be a finisher and happy to enjoy the ride. Those sub 80 minute halfs have been replaced by barely sub 2 hours. I only want to collect that medal and tee shirt and celebrate with friends.

The start was at the Gupshill Manor. This was my local when I was younger as used I live nearby at Gloucester Road and Beaufort Place. The landlords back in the day were two old blokes with long ZZ Top beards, an amazing selection of malt whiskies and a wonderful open fire. A proper old pub. Later in the 80s it was the Mecca for the Sunday morning football team I played for. They provided a great spread for us after training nights and matches but now changed beyond my recognition. The Gupshill Manor was where Queen Margaret stayed before the 1471 Battle of Tewkesbury. A battle of huge importance in the Wars of the Roses.

Sue and myself travelled down by train on the Saturday and while Sue spent time with her parents I stole the opportunity to visit my parents grave and trot along my favourite running route. I’ve ran this way many times over the years but I felt the urge to return. To the ones who know the area, I run down Lower Lode Lane to the college boat house and follow the River Severn across the fields to Deerhurst church, across more fields, up Heartbreak Hill to the golf course and back onto Lower Lode Lane. I can’t tell you how many times this run has eased my mind. This was followed by the FA Cup final, Eurovision, too many drinks and a late night

Tewkesbury Abbey, the finest example of Norman architecture in England

Sunday and race day. We stayed at the Bell Hotel, opposite the Abbey, and under a mile from the start Having already collected my number, I wandered up to the start while watching in amusement others jogging there as a warm up. Jeez, I had 10 miles to warm up 😂. There was the usual milling around of athletes, nervously wondering if the training they had done was enough and jogging up and down. Thirteen miles is still a bloody long way.

At 10am we were sent on our way down towards the town centre where the course levels and off to Northway and the adventure. Running past my alma mater, Tewkesbury School, I heard the clump clump clump of clogs and a shortish lady passing me. No, it wasn’t Topo Gigio but somebody wearing those chunky, noisy Nike carbon running shoes. Gawd, they sound awful but apparently very effective.

Me running through Northway. Picture courtesy of Mark ‘Spyder’ Ryder

The wow factor of the run is the chocolate box villages of Kinsham and Kemerton. Beautiful villages and showing fabulous support for the runners. The trouble is the the long straight run towards Kinsham. I always struggle on this section. I feel as though I’m running in treacle. Okay, it’s about halfway and maybe I should feel weary but I train well and every time I’ve worn a different make of shoe so I’ve decided it’s the tarmac on the road, it’s just not responsive to me.

Three quarters done and just the run from Bredon down back to Tewkesbury, the Victory Leg. This can be a little scary as there is little pathway and the traffic can pass perilously close. That hideous quote comes to mind ‘just a Parkrun to go’. Just ahead of the last drinks station I witnessed a man receiving medical attention. This only goes to emphasis what a fickle mistress running can be. On to Mitton and plenty of support as usual and entering the Tewkesbury town centre is full of folks cheering so loudly it’s deafening. Medal, goody bag and tee shirt and then off to the Anchor for a well deserved Thatcher’s Gold with a couple of buddies. Very satisfied with my finishing time of 1 hour 54 minutes. Oh have times have changed but I now love for the love of it, the enjoyment and the calmness that brings to mind.