The Times Are A- Changin

Come gather ’round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a-changin’.

A good old classic rock lyric is always a good place to start.

The times they are a changin’. Good Ol’ Bob Dylan. He couldn’t have realised what a Nostradamus he would become. Popular culture is often a barometer of the public feeling and Bobby Dylan is is certainly up there. It is easy to fit their words into prophecies. The words of the prophet are written on a subway wall. A line from Spirit of Radio by Rush. It is so easy to pluck a line from a song and consider it divine intervention. It’s so easy to do that but it’s probably better coming from Bob Dylan than DJ Clucky Cucks and his Mighty Ducks or whatever passes for musical culture these days.

The reason for my rant; well, it’s our return to running, and running in groups. It seems groups of teenagers can hang around in groups of many yet official club runs are criticised. I am club captain of Burnham-on-Sea Harriers and am meticulous in arranging our runs into small groups of 6 maximun but, of course, this is not always possible. It depends on pace, on distance, on friendship within the group and availability to run and it can be a bloody headache.

So far things have gone okay. We’ve only had a couple of complaints, one joking the other more serious but outdoor running can’t really be more serious than queuing for fish and chips so why are we vilified so much. Public perception, media?

Exercise, activity, getting off your arse and doing something is great for our health but also our mental health. It provides a change of view, a different focus. Something to aim for and therefore achieve, a sense of self satisfaction and a release of our problems. Maybe to chat on a run with buddy can release all those demons that have been cooped up in your psyche. It really is great to talk.

Online help has never been greater. The choice is up to you. England Athletics affiliated clubs have Mental Health Champions who you can speak to with without judgement ot prejudice. Facebook groups like Runr or Team Jelly Babies are another alternative. Help is available if you’re too sensitive to reach out to people you know.

The point of this is that there is help available. Sometimes not professional but others have suffered liked you have and you’re not alone and they have some experience. Please reach out, they’ll always be someone to listen without judging. The stigma isn’t there as much. Regrettably more and more people are feeling the strain especially now, without meeting with family and friends during this horrible time.

The face
The route

The weather was unseasonally warm with a cloudless sky and endless sunshine. Charlton Athletic had lost to The Posh so what better reason to run than lift my spirits. This was a route a Run Leader colleague of mine, Tracey Thomas, had used a couple of weeks previous and I thought would be a perfect antidote to a day at work and release from those pressures for a club run of my own. During the weeks of spring and summer, I think it’s important to get away from the dusty roads that we trample over the dark days of winter and seek the trails. Another reason is to avoid the beach and Esplanade that is so busy always for a seaside town. Public perception is everything and mentioned before we must respect this.

Hopefully I’m going to participate in my first race in over a year next weekend and I’m not sure what to expect. One day this will all be a distant memory but let’s all reduce the mental health cost we will all have to pay. We have to be optimistic, we must look forward because the past has gone.

The future’s so bright, I have to wear shades 😎.

Emotional Rescue

I come to you, so silent in the night
So stealthy, so animal quiet
I’ll be your saviour, steadfast and true
I’ll come to your emotional rescue
I’ll come to your emotional rescue

In under 10 days our hell may be over. The roll out of vaccinations and increased testing of Covid-19 may help us feel a little safer and secure but we have all been isolated from our friends and family, the people we truly love. The Harriers will again return to our club night runs. We will start with organising ourselves in small groups of 6 or 7. We could have groups of up to 12 but I think that is insensitive. Some runners will be happy and quite prepared to get out and run with friends in a group again but some may feel not so.

Some of our friends could feel an amount of anxiety. Hey, yeah, it’ll be really great to see my buddies again but am I safe? Will they be safe? Do they have signs of symptoms of Covid? Has everybody been vaccinated? Are they tested regularly?

Anxiety is a performance killer. It has destroyed many potential great athletes, business people, politicians, in fact anybody and everybody. Try not to let anxiety prevent you from coming to club runs or racing. I truly shudder when I type this as it’s such a massive obstacle with anyone who thinks too deeply or worries about things. I am a worrier. I get severely anxious and nervous. I’m not perfect or have the answers but I hope I can help. Here is a simple traffic light system to assess your feelings.

It comes down to how you feel and your thought process. If you can evaluate that, it could be a massive step in the right direction.

What is anxiety?
A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. A nervous disorder marked by excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behaviour or panic attacks.

Whatever words you use, it can be crippling and prevent the most tuned athlete from performing at their best. After a year of not racing and competing, without being with friends and family we will all feel some sort of anxiety when we can return together. A certain amount of anxiety can be good and help to give the edge when competing or performing a certain training session. An excessive amount can be obstructive to performance.

What techniques can we use to overcome anxiety? Anxiety typically affects our breathing rate as it is a defence to fight or flight tendencies. When anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and oxygen is not transported around the body as it should be. Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, can help regulate oxygenation around the body.

Try and practice this on a daily basis to build up your skills to be able to use this tool when needed. A similar technique that could be used is Ratio Breathing. This when the exhalations are longer than the inhalations. For instance breath in for 2 seconds, hold, breath out for 4 seconds , hold and repeat.

Other techniques can also be used such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, PMR, where you tense and relax muscles in order. Podcasts are available to guide you in this process. I believe breathing is a good place to start.

Anxiety can start with thoughts but our thoughts can be can be controlled. Our first thought may be ‘I’m good enough’ but that comes with comparison and especially at the moment there can be no comparison to how you achieved last February/ March or to how our friends have been doing. It’s just a challenge to maintain our own fitness to level that we find acceptable and without races that’s difficult. So it’s vital, when we do return, to just concentrate on the social aspect. Enjoy the company of the friends that we all have missed. Chat and run and soon enough that edge, that pace, that competitiveness will return. And, it always helps to talk.

Old Man

Old man take a look at my life
I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that’s true.

Neil Young’s song is about a young man reaching maturity and maybe realising his responsibilities. It’s one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite singer/songwriters. A simple song featuring just voice and acoustic guitar, no lavish production. Getting older is just like that that, no shits and giggles, just time passages.

18 is considered the age of majority in Great Britain. You can vote and legally (!) go into a pub. In fact you become an adult and are able to make all those legal decisions without your parents consent and a great excuse for a bloody good p*ss up. It used to be 21 but now it’s merely another excuse to ‘get on it’ and away from the im/er indoors for a night out. Life begins at 40 mainly because you’re in that mid-life crisis and you still think you’re 18. 50 you want to be in by 9 o’clock because that nice David Attenborough is on the telly box. I’m 57 and dress like an 8 year old and act like a 12 year old so much of that doesn’t apply.

Why write this depressing drivel about getting old I hear you mutter? Some things do improve with age. Wine, cheese, comedy. I find Porridge and Tommy Cooper funnier even now than Mrs. Brown’s Boys or Michael McIntyre and don’t get me started on music. The Jam, The Clash, and even Duran Duran stir the blood more than most 2020s musicians whom I couldn’t even recall. What would Neil Young say?

This is all because Tom Brady has won his seventh Superbowl ring at the tender age of 43. Sports men/women just don’t play at the top level at that age. Vision and reactions aren’t as sharp. The fitness and the ability to recover quickly goes as does the hunger for success but as for runners no way, Pedro.

When I was 43 I was at my best as a runner. Runners, distance runners, runners like us, don’t reach our best until we’re in our forties and beyond. Running and the training involved is hard work and your average teenager to twenty something isn’t awfully keen on putting in the sort of shift required. Instant gratification with little effort or, especially, sweat is the way and a plethora of video games and television channels can’t help.

At Burnham-on-Sea Harriers we’re blessed to have some real age related inspiration. Super Sue Nicholls has to be top of the list. She took up running late in years and has certainly made up for lost time. She has ran all the World Marathon Majors, London, Boston, Berlin, Chicago, New York and Tokyo and is consistently winning awards in local races. Ian Booth, a high quality road and mountain cyclist, climber, hiker, rambler and leader, and now turned runner offer so much knowledge that you would be a fool to ignore. We’re so lucky to have this kind of experience to call on, especially when new runners are about to tackle their first really big challenge like a half or full marathon.

Of course there’s a pay off. Waning performance but increasing experience, and it’s that racing/running savvy that can pay dividends. Knowing where and when to push on . Take it easy up a hill climb and then fly down the descent the other side. Where it’s flat and can pick up the pace. Knowing exactly where the finish line is an advantage.

As for me, myself. I’ve had my moments and can offer some of my experience and advice. And now, it’s not a time to despair, keep ticking over, keep doing the right things like cross training, like running for fun, like stretching, like nutrition and getting out with a buddy and encouraging each other, watching YouTube videos of Joe Wicks or some crazy ultra runner. Everything helps to fire motivation and it can come from anywhere and when you least expect it.

Ultimately, its all about fun and getting what you want out of it. Some want fast times and rise through the ranks, others prefer the social aspect and running with likewise, run to hopefully make loved ones proud and some are just looking forward to the journey and where they may end up. Whatever, enjoy and embrace every run. My Old Man watched the London Marathon and the local half marathon and I hope he would have been proud of my achievements as my son and wife are.

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide

Learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues

Steely Dan at their sarcastic best. All my ‘fans’ know I love my musical references and here I am like Tom Waits sat at a piano with a bottle of bourbon and a head full of thoughts and emotions just hoping for the bran to take effect for that artistic crap. Thanks to XTC frontman Andy Partridge saying this in a NME interview and now will never shift from my mind.

2020 was a non year. I nearly had more lockdowns than races! And the near future doesn’t look a lot better. I won’t consider entering another race until March at the earliest and I won’t get a Covid-19 vaccination any time soon, maybe June. I’m an asthmatic but I’ll wait my turn. I get regular temperature checks and Covid tests so I know I’m cool.

I’m physically tired and mentally exhausted and it’s affected my health. I’ve tried really hard to make sure we’re all engaged and encouraged to run. I have had a couple of loyal lieutenants who have helped to keep me sane and I am completely in your debt. They were a tremendous rock when I had my mental health issues during the autumn. They won’t appreciate this but I will namecheck them. They are Kelly Sherriff and Ian Booth. Maybe I set my bar too high. I feel I’m along the right lines judging by the response from our members.

We had Harrier Spotting, Rainbow Colour Shirts, 5km Challenge, different cross training challenges, the Virtual Pub Quizzes, various bingo challenges and Victoria Nixon with her Stars and Segments Challenges and Ganesh and the Half Baked Half Marathon. There was the Spotify playlists. The ‘First Record Bought’ was very illuminating. We had the Zoom chats with an England Athletics Coach to try and improve our approach to running, trialling Totum supplements and I tried and failed to get nutritional advice from Calleva, a supplement company in North Petherton, but that’s still a work in progress. I’ve been accepted as an England Athletics #runandtalk Champion supported by the charity Mind to help regarding mental health issues.

It’s been an unfortunate period. We can’t run in groups with our friends, we have to have be so vigilant to keep ourselves and others safe as we have a new normal.

I feel like a dinosaur and an imposter. Things have moved so much and so quickly. Technology has taken over. Zwift virtual runs and cycle rides have taken over as people want to avoid people. I just want to get out and run. On the road, beach, trail. Feel the wind, rain and sun on my face and the back of my neck. It’s my way of feeling truly alive.

Some have been shielding and isolating and I hope you’ve not been forgotten. I’ve tried to keep in touch with most. The Annual General Meeting is looming near and in stunning Supermarionation™ of Zoom. I feel my job is unfinished. I have to be captain when we have races, I have to use my experience to make a difference, and I have to help others to reach their goals.

Do I want to carry on as Club Captain? No, not really. In normal circumstances, of course. I am truly gratified that the membership wanted me as captain. But, this year has been a shit sandwich. I want to rock up next Tuesday and see Tracey Benton and Sue Nicholls smiling, telling me to pay attention and announcing their club run. They’ve both served the club brilliantly and deserve their chance to step back a little.

This leads me to the work of others behind the scenes. Tracey and Mark Benton have both been a huge support for me. Tracey’s experience as a previous captain has been invaluable and Mark is a no nonsense common sense bloke and does a great Geddy Lee impression after a little red wine. Matt Powell is a real fun guy. The kind I can spend hours with in a pub and come up with loads of brilliant ideas. An idea for committee meetings when we can meet up again. Stevie D is the work horse that makes everything tick, unnoticed but always there. The Run Leaders, Super Sue, Tracey B, Steve Wilcox, Ian Booth, Matt, Stevie D, Tony Gore, pressed ganged Tim Byrne on special occasions, and, especially, Tracey Thomas who has always been there for club runs regardless and a great support.

Also, I would like to thank all the Harriers who have bought into my madness, have taken part in the challenges and have turned up on those rare Tuesday club night runs.

I’m sick and tired of moaning about the lack of races, lack of time running together. There are some Harriers I haven’t seen in nearly a year. I want to write about Harriers racing, great performances from our members, humorous encounters and episodes along the way. In fact I yearn for precedented times unlike these unprecedented days. Those halcyon days where, like the Nailsea RC Beer and Banger 10k, when we we can sit around with a pint and chew on a cheesy sausage.

The Annual General Meeting is on Tuesday, 2nd February at 7.30pm and it will take the form of a Zoom chat. It’s your chance for your voice to be heard.

Vote Pineapple 🍍

Incidentally, I prefer bourbon or Irish Whiskey to Scotch Whisky.

Call me Team Yellow

Year of the Rat

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came

In the year of the rat

2020 is the Chinese year of the rat. Makes sense now doesn’t it thanks to the Wuhan clan.

The year started with great expectations but it was to be a Dickens of a job to eventually for fill them.

As usual Christmas 2019 for me was filled with illness and a visit from our paramedics. High temperature, shallow breathing, coughing and lethargy. Things didn’t click until a couple of months later. Had I suffered something greater than my usual chest infection/pneumonia?

The months carried on like a watercolour running in the rain, literally. Well, I was running of sorts and trying to put my best foot forward for The Grizzly at Seaton, Devon in early March. A race I desperately wanted to run and complete but we had storm after storm after storm. The UK was rocked by Storms Brendan, Ciara, Dennis and Jorge.

The race carried iconic status from my Tewkesbury running days of 20 plus years previous. A near 20 miles of the most hideous fell and trail running in the South West but with the most beautiful views and scenery. I had ran the Cub, a mere 9 miles the previous year, and now I was desperate to challenge myself to the full distance. It would be a good marker to my ability to run another full marathon as well.

We all put in great performances considering the terrible conditions, especially Matt Powell and Ian Waude. Tracey Thomas had trained so hard and was running so well so it was a real shame she wasn’t able to convert to the performance she deserved and then go on the smash the Spring races. The mud was more than ankle deep in many places and I’ve never wanted to curl up and die so many times in a race before. It was brilliant. That pint or two that we stopped for on the way home was the most delicious I’ve tasted.

Our AGM was maybe a week or two earlier than this and the electorate voted me as captain and my die was cast for the the year. And, what a year!?!

A headtorch race at Taunton and Pickering golf course the following Saturday and that was it for racing in 2020 and how I miss these post race pictures.

So not that much to report from 2020

Now for The Cliveys, the 2020 awards for the famous and infamous.

So, The Grizzly was my favourite race by a South West country 19 miles. What of the future and 2021? Races will have to to be more localised and organised by tiers and therefore the ensuing travel restrictions. Here in Somerset we may be able to travel soon to Devon to race and if not Gloucestershire. This of course depends on any New Year lockdown which may or not open up more of the country for racing.

I binge watched Line of Duty. This kind of boxset telly is interesting as you can see the disintegration of a franchise from Series 1, Episode 1 until up to date. I did enjoy it though, well written and some great performances and was probably my favourite offering from the tellybox this year..

An avid reader but I rarely found the concentration or patience to read a book, or even a magazine this year. I haven’t bought a newspaper in probably 10 years. I do like and am interested in the news but I like to arrive at my own opinions without being nudged by an editor or newspaper owner. Only one story this year. Garmin going down worldwide for a few days. Favourite book was Everything will work out in the long run by Dave Urwin. Followed closely by a book my son, Elliot, bought me for my birthday, England – a biography by Simon Wilde. It’s about cricket.

Favourite film ? None

Favourite music/album/artist ? None

Biggest disappointment was a three way tie between Charlton Athletic getting relegated, inevitable especially as striker Lyle Taylor refused to play after EFL shutdown during 2019-2020 season fearing injury and therefore scuppering a ‘life-changing’ move to Nottingham Forest(!) but I’m not bitter, the gallant effort by Tampa Bay Rays getting to the World Series but losing to L.A Dodgers 4-2 and not being able to go to Taunton and watch Somerset CCC play.

Zero to Hero Award goes to Tom Brady. When he was with New England Patriots I hated him but strangely he joins the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it’s like falling in love with someone you haven’t seen in years and finally learn to appreciate them. You do have a second chance to make a first impression and it’s never too late.

Hero to Zero is Lyle Taylor for reasons given in a previous paragraph. I hope Forest recognise his suspect loyalty values.

Like Covid-19, who would I like most to see the back of in 2021? 3rd Laura Whitmore, beautiful but annoying. 2nd Ant and Dec, of course. 1st all the undetected drug cheats who’ll scoop up the medals if the Olympics goes ahead. Special mention for Boris and most of his cabinet especially Priti Patel and Matt Hancock. Rishi Sunak excepted.

What I’m looking forward to most in 2021? Proper mass participation in sporting events, especially running and crowds returning to sporting stadia. Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning Superbowl LV in their home town Raymond James Stadium.

Favourite celebrity/ personality/ comedian? Elis James and John Robins. They have a show on Radio 5live on Fridays and their podcasts are worth a listen .

Award for I’m not a yes man but when Boris says no I say no goes to local Member of Parliament James Heappey for his anti Party Covid recommendations. While waiting at BARB station for a cyclist who was riding from Burnham-on-Crouch to Burnham-on-Sea, he wantonly went into the Bay Cafe through the EXIT door and therefore going against Chris Whitty’s advice and causing me to tut in an aggressively loud manner.

Sportsman for 2021? Tom Lammonby, Somerset CCC batsman/all rounder. England bound.

Favourite quality time? Running the Quantock trails with Ian ‘Yobo’ Booth. A highly knowledgeable man and great fun to run with. A close second was boozy Sunday lunches in the Vic chatting with The Chair, Canvas Bosh.

People who have supported me the most in 2020, apart from Sue and Elliot? Again, Ian and Kelly ‘Petal’ Sherriff. Both kept me buoyant in my lowest and darkest moments in 2020. Nicole, my therapist from Healthshield, was a tremendous help and support. I miss our Friday morning chats where I spoke of things I can never repeat like the fishing trip with Uncle Bryn. I thank my friends from work, especially Sue Ganfield and my bosses Michelle and David, who allowed me the time to get my sh*t back together. Honourable mention for Sophie who showed me the value of not giving a f*ck.

Blog of the year…..? Goes without saying 😉

Happy New Year to everybody who has taken some of their valuable time to read my rubbish and I hope I have some more rubbish to write about in 2021.

A Spaceman Came Travelling

A spaceman came travelling on his ship from afar,
‘Twas light years of time since his mission did start,
And over a village he halted his craft,
And it hung in the sky like a star, just like a star.

Here’s the moany bit.

I am exhausted.

It’s been a absolutely terrible year for my first year as Club Captain. At Tewkesbury Athletics Club it was largely a ceremonial and totally pointless role. Here at Burnham-on-Sea Harriers the role is more involved as the Captain picks out the Club Run Route on Tuesdays and the supportive element at races is greater. But, what if there’s no races and groups have to be organised in smaller groups because of a world wide pandemic?

Everything is so 21st century. Boxes must be ticked and absolutely right. I must ensure our runners and Run Leaders are perfectly safe on club runs. Coronavirus protocols must be adhered to as well as social distancing. Our elder and vulnerable Run Leaders and members must be protected and, yet, encouraged to run and keep active.

John Lennon sang about the thoughts of a future year at Christmas and New Year. And so this is Christmas and what have you done? Another year ended and new one just begun. 2020 and it seems as appropriate as ever. Some have managed the odd race here and there and some triathlons have been going ahead but I haven’t raced since mid March and I’m p*ssed off and frustrated. So this is Christmas, And what have you done, Another year over,
And a new one just begun. What have I done??? Nothing. Building base miles, building a secure foundation that specialist training might grow from, but why with no competition? All it’s gave me is a sore knee.

I was relieved I was able to run the Grizzly, a 19 mile off road race, even though most of it was ankle deep mud but it would have been pleasant to have other races, and I fully understand the reasons for cancelling those races. Next year’s Grizzly is scheduled for October and that will pose lesser problems. Surely running in fresh air poses a smaller risk than competing indoors with no adequate ventilation.

Back to more moaning. It has been very hard thinking of things to try and encourage our members to get out and run. Thankfully, Kelly and her colour collage and Victoria with her Christmas star search have been a brilliant boost and superb challenge for our guys. The spot the Harrier challenge was also successful back in the Spring during the first lockdown and the Virtual Friday Pub Quiz has been fun and I hope you’re all still doing your planks and squats.

Everybody has suffered in some way this year, and just not racing or running. Everyone has paid a personal price for this year. Visits that can’t be made this Christmas, family we will be estranged from, places at tables that won’t be sat at, the inestimable price to the economy and our mental health.

So, next year. I can’t see much ‘racing’ only time trials and virtual races until April at the earliest. Park run, who knows! But at least it’s encouraged some to get out and run a different route.

I do have an ambition for 2021. I have ran 12 marathons but I need to run a post cancer marathon. It would mean so very much to me to do it. Just to prove that cancer patients can return and compete, but most importantly, to ease my mind. to know I can be up to a level again. I know I have nothing to prove but I have something to prove to myself. I need to know I can achieve this and it burns deep.

My phone is on charge right now and as it charges pictures from the year come up on it’s broken screen. Pictures of smiley selfies, of small groups of us running, of sunsets. Brighter things from the past for our future.

So, please everybody, have a brilliant Christmas and New Year. My thoughts are with you all and your family and I truly wish things may get to some sort of normality soon and stay safe. Here’s to 2021 and a brave new future. Make some great resolutions and may they come true.

The Pretender

Are you there? Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong only to surrender

Whatever we do in life we all start off with hopes and dreams and aspirations. I wanted to be a train driver or an astronaut but instead was a tie maker, worked in a record shop, a tool maker, repaired home cinema projectors and make high quality preserves and marmalade. Quite a diversity. Did any of this make me happy? Not really. It was never Manchester Piccadilly to Bristol Temple Meads or Cape Canaveral to the Moon. Apart from the record shop, none of these jobs satisfied my insatiable appetite for pushing my boundaries, giving me something at the end of the day to contemplate and take home to further myself. I guess sport was my always that outlet, that reason and purpose to push myself both physically and mentally.

Originally cricket gave me that outlet. At school I was described as a ‘poof’ for playing cricket but I enjoyed my lessons bowling at the ‘cool’ rugby and football players and watching them crap themselves as my medium-fast paced bowling slapped their thighs and, then when batting, launching their bowling onto the 400m athletics track. But, cricket is a team game. It’s based on the one to one battle between batter and bowler but as a team game you can still be let down by other team members who didn’t follow my philosophy as we win and lose as one.

So I ran. I could win or lose by my own efforts alone.

Friday I ran with Ian Booth from Cross up to Crook Peak and back. 6and a half miles. Ian was and still is a very keen cyclist, mountain biker and general outdoor enthusiast, and now runner. A valued Run Leader with Burnham-on-Sea Harriers and a good friend. We always have a great chat. It may be politics, music, just any ideas or thoughts and we are generally on the same page of life’s playbook. Like me, his choices when he left school were very limited but he worked hard and made a great life for himself with lots of great memories. I guess, looking back, I never noticed my opportunities or they were never there to begin with. Thatcherism. My generation were more obsessed with a 3rd Cold World War than any future.

On club run nights, Ian leads a group at around 10.30 min/mile pace and mostly ladies. He has the charisma and the chat and they love him. They are called the Dream Team and they are a great bunch. Recently I’ve had difficulties with my mental well being and Ian has been very supportive in helping me get back to my default setting and to function normally in society again. I can’t thank him enough as well as a couple of other people like Kelly, Tracey B and Georgie DV.

Pretender and surrender? I’ve lived my ambitions through sport rather than work. I was a good footballer, a good cricketer, a good runner but I never realised my potential. Sometimes I was held back and other times I held myself back. Jealousy of others and I was just scared of reaching the next level stopped me. So, Pretender. I’m a social runner now, Surrender.

Saturday was a pottering around day. Frustrations built up and and my only release was to run. I chose my favourite route. Through town to the golf course and follow a foot path along the side and across the golf course onto the beach where I would run back to Burnham-on-Sea town. I would dwell a while at St. Mary’s Church, or ‘Church of the Dunes’, at Berrow. I find the views and silence very relaxing. It’s easy to find my inner peace and control my feelings there. I ran across a fairway and along a trail onto the beach where my headtorch expired and all was dark. Jinkies, I have nearly 3 mile run back, along the beach, and in the absolute dark. This only added to my inner peace. The darkness, solitude, the silence as high tide was hours away. I could see the headtorches of sea fishermen in the distance and the lights of the lighthouse and Burnham growing ever closer. What could have been a freaky run turned into a wonderful, spiritual experience.

Sunday and another challenge, and a virtual race with a race number, a Santa suit and a medal. 2020 Virtual Santa Scramble over Brean Down. I met my co-runners, Kelly and Andrea, at my usual place. Fortunately, They early and I didn’t have to hang around in a Santa suit looking like I was walking home after a Saturday night carousing.

Kelly parked up opposite Brean Village Hall and although it was high tide and after checking with our favourite coastguard, JJ Jacobs, it was safe enough to get onto the beach and run that way to the Down to make the distance up to 10 kilometres. Running along the road is tedious and dangerous, as it’s not that wide. Also, road running wearing trail shoes is painful on the ‘plates of meat’ because they have little or no cushioning.

It was a beautiful chilly December morning and the beach was quite deserted. As I tried telling my accomplices, the beach was perfectly passable and we made our first ascent. Kelly ran all the way and I thought it more chivalrous to keep Andrea company. Along the run to Brean Down Fort and back we met many walkers who were very surprised to see three runners in Father/Mother Christmas regalia. Needless to say it certainly was a conversation starter. Coming back the beach was busier with children staring with wide eyes at us. I might try it again as it could be a great way to meet single, bored mums 🤨. On returning to the car, Kelly rewarded us with a scrumptious slice of lemon drizzle cake and Andrea with delicious German ginger biscuits. My contribution was the curd for the cake, a small yet vital contribution. I washed it down with a sickly Snickers™ protein shake. Time was no objective as it was a beautiful run, on a beautiful morning and with great company.

Maybe I should be more Foo Fighters and less Jackson Browne?

What if I say I’m not like the others?
What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
You’re the pretender
What if I say I will never surrender?

Run Snow Patrol

Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I’ll be right beside you dear

What inspires us to get out and run?
Monday, 27th October 1997, 07.00am I was getting ready to go the work. I went out to buy the newspaper and made my sandwiches to sustain me through a hard, arduous day. At that time I was an uninspired toolmaker. I hated the job and worked with morons whose stupidity gave me a kind of one-upmanship. I was tired and aching after racing the Stroud Half Marathon the previous day. It was that sense of pride ache that runners get after a good race and time. My sister Gill phoned me and told me the sad news that our Dad had passed away during the night. He had been ill for much of that year and although, not surprised, the shock of it hit me like a speeding juggernaut. I phoned my Boss and told him I wouldn’t be into work that day. I was allowed two days off plus another for the funeral compassionate leave. Whoopy shit. My sister Gill and me, were executors of our Dad’s will and to unravel a man of 74 years of life in two days was pretty much impossible. Luckily, my sister’s employers were kinder and she finished what we had started.

That night, instead of an easy recovery run, I ran like my life depended on it. To free the stress and, especially, the emotions.

My Dad was unfortunate enough to die on the 27th October, my Mum’s birthday and this makes it easy for me to remember, or dread. Every year since I’ve been anxious and nervy over this period. I know I should focus on the good memories that I have, and I do have many but the day always conjures up sadness.

Just to rewind a little, my parents met during World War II in Scotland. My mother was in the Army and was an enemy plane spotter. My dad lied about his age to join the Navy as he was from Portsmouth and it was a family tradition to join up. I’m proud to say they served the United Kingdom and Allies during the darkest of days well. Especially my dad, who was on the tank landing crafts that enabled Allied troops to make it to the Italian beach at Anzio for their attack at Monte Cassino, a crucial battle akin to the D-Day landings but not often mentioned or revered, and my dad only spoke of it in his last years as real heroes don’t. The fear of attacking the beach, and being so vulnerable, most have been unimaginable for us nowadays even with the horror of watching the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.

After leaving the Royal Navy my dad joined the Merchant Navy and served with them until I was 8 or 9. I saw very little of him and therefore I was very close to my mum in those formative years. My dad always sent me a birthday card containing some money which I spent in the local toy shop, Arden Gifts, on some Gerry Anderson toy from Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet. It did irk me when playing cricket for Burnham-on-Sea Cricket Club when an old boy bragged about his Merchant Navy pension when my dad got f*ck all, but that’s life and progress and the creakyter was a dick. Bitter, of course I am. My dad was a hard worker and and a great man and life didn’t give him an even break.

My dad regularly watched the London Marathon on tv and the local Tewkesbury Half Marathon although not being sporty or active he loved to see people try and have a go. It’s my biggest regret that he wasn’t alive to see me run them. I know he would have been so proud that I had ran in London regardless of what time that I finished in. That is the touchstone for many club runners, that elusive London Marathon medal and tee shirt. The ultimate proof of being a marathoner.

Remembrance Day and Armistice Day have recently passed and I know there must be many who are fondly thinking of the the sacrifice of their father’s, grandfather’s, mother’s and grandmother’s youth to help preserve our democracy and improve our way of life even in these days of Covid-19.

Incidentally that Stroud Half Marathon was my 4th half and I finished in 124th place in a time of 1.23:22

A Day at the Races. Queen or Marx Brothers?

What’s that best run ever? Jinkies, what a thing to confront. A good friend of mine suggested this and I just baulked. I’ve ran for many years on and off so I have a huge back catalogue to choose from. What’s my favourite record, comedian, film, takeaway? These things change on a daily, hourly basis depending on my feelings. Is it the race, the route, the overall experience, the company or my performance?

Maybe it’s easier to break it down into individual memories that stand out. Boy, oh, boy, there’s been some of those down the years.

Relays may a good place to begin. I’ve always been used to paying sport within a team dynamic, like football. I’ve played cricket which is different as it’s a team game based on the mono et mono battle of batsman against bowler. Running relays revive that team and bonding ethic and that is establishing with the Uphill to Wells relay at Burnham-on-Sea Harriers now. Years ago back in Tewkesbury we regularly entered the County Road Relay Championship and often had success in the over 40 and woman’s categories but familiarity breeds a certain amount of contempt and to dip our collective toes into the the Midland Regional Road Relays at Birmingham was a massive reality check. We entered the 6 stage relay in the Autumn as opposed to the 12 stage in Spring. Spring would affect marathon training. We had a good team, as we thought, but incredibly we finished one place outside qualifying for the National Road Relays. Okay, second and third teams within clubs didn’t count but it was still a huge thing for a small club like ours.

Secondly, we entered the Regional Cross Country Relays at Nottingham. We had a great time. We shared food, England beat Australia in the Rugby World Cup and we really bonded, even our Australian runner, and we turned up sweaty and in running gear at a club member’s 18th birthday party on the way home. As I remember we also put in creditable performances on our runs.

There are those personal runs where you beat adversity like my nervous first run back with the Harriers after cancer. I kind of tried to sneak back without any fuss. It must have been a year after my operation to remove my tumour. It was a light evening, so it must have been May, and Jayne Biddlescombe-Jackson came over to chat with me like we had been friends forever. Her uncle had unfortunately had died from bowel cancer and her father had mercifully recovered from it. As a nurse, she knew everything and how I was feeling and she was a huge comfort bringing me back into the club. The next spring we an a 12-13 mile run while training for the Yeovil Half Marathon. Jayne was running so well but during the second half of the run the weather really turned for the worse with a strong wind and hail. Jayne told me to run on, which I did regretfully, but I felt like a real runner again running in such adversity. I will always remember that and thank, yet, apologise to Jayne for leaving her.

The Pawlett Plod July 2019. I set off at a reasonable pace hoping for an enjoyable run and a good time only to suffer an extreme pain in my chest. Convinced I was going to die, I was prepared to be rolled, naked and shoe less, into the river when Angel Kelly caught up and dragged my ass to the finish, singing all the way and checking on my shoe size in case she knew anybody who was a size 9. I’m glad I finished as we were refreshed with a delicious bottle of Rich’s cider.

I have ran races and genuinely been competing with champions. I ran the Lliswerry 8, near Newport, I had a strong finish and one competetitor asked if I was a track athlete! I tried to talk to another runner, Steve Jones, winner of the Chicago Marathon and past marathon record holder for the distance, but he didn’t want to talk so I thought he was an ignorant c*nt and left him to his tea and biscuits and I got a beer.

After one of my Stroud Half Marathons I chatted with former Olympian Dan Robinson and he was the nicest and most encouraging elite athlete I have ever spoken to. Just goes to show about meeting your heroes. I even finished 3rd to Dan Robinson in one one race and I was truly dumbstruck. He was quite away in front of me but there was only one bloke between us. He won a shitty pot plant and I won a bottle of wine so I was the real winner. Nice guy though.

I do have races that I can put into the memorable races pile but I’ll tease you with that for another time.

Darkness on the edge of town

Here in Burnham-on -Sea we really are fortunate to have such testing climbs like Brent Knoll and Brean Down within a few miles. At this time of year, when the clocks have fallen back an hour and darkness is all around from 5.00pm, these locations are of interest to the casual head torch runner.

I had tried to get a group of us interested in a night run up Brean Down but the weather had been very poor recently with lots of wind and rain. Life, being as it is, prevented some from from committing to a run. The reasons being sadness and happiness. The Yin and Yang of life really. Every action has a reaction. I have found that it’s very important to have a balance and realise things happen, and for a reason, and to keep events into some kind of perspective.

For example, this week I forgot to buy some cat litter and I felt devestated. Like I was unworthy and useless but I can name at least two people who’s lives are to be potentially turned upside down in the next few weeks. Mental health issues can be sporadic, random, irrational and just bloody weird. Although I’m learning to use the tools to give me logic to a situation and be able to rationalise and quantify it. It is a new concept to me and needs challenging. Also, I’ve come to the conclusion that that you can please some of the people some of the time, but to please everybody any of the time requires a f*cking miracle which is beyond me.

Anyway the group ended up being a pair, Kelly Sherriff and myself. Kelly is terrific company as, dare I say it, because she can talk at least while she can breathe. Life has made me a listener but I do enjoy interacting and once I get going I hope I’m interesting and fun. I never used to run with others before but now I really like it and actively look for company. Whereas in my previous life I was pushing myself all the time and often nobody but myself could push me to that maximum. I love chatting now and mentoring where I can. I like people again.

Weston-Super-Mare, the Pearl of the Somerset Riviera

Picture courtesy of Kelly Sherriff

Kelly parked up at a pub car park at Brean which gave us a mile warm up jog to the Down. A steep road is the easiest access to the start of the climb where we’re greeted by a supreme panoramic view of Weston-Super-Mare and the bay. Needless to say without street lighting it’s bloody dark up there but is easily navigated along a path on the Weston side to the the fort. The fort is creepy during daylight so as darkness falls your imagination can run wild. The views are still tremendous even in the dark. The lights of Cardiff to the North West and Hinkley Point power station to the South West.

Hinkley Point lights up the sky

Picture courtesy of Kelly Sherriff

The Bristol Channel was a convenient area to practice the Dambusters raids and on a night like tonight I could see why. The solitude and the silence, apart from the waves crashing, was quite deafening and challenges your senses. The darkness adds to the eerieness of the fort. What happened here to provoke such thoughts?

Our intrepid explorers

We ran back over the top. At the bottom a couple of coastguards were waiting for back up. Apparently some concerned individual had seen lights at the bottom of Brean Down at high tide. We hoped it wasn’t us that caused the shout but we were always at the top so it couldn’t have been us. We had seen some walkers when we started our run on the lower areas. Thankfully everything was okay and the coastguards, after their reconnaissance, were stood down. We completed 5 miles back to Kelly’s car. The pub was still closed so I couldn’t buy her the comforting Bailey’s I had promised but maybe next time.

Saturday was All Hallows Eve, Halloween, and I thought it would be fun to run around our local park run in the dark and with head torches to provoke the local apparitions to reveal themselves.

Several turned up wearing fabulous themed costumes and soon after the darkness fell we set off, The run and how it was to be organised was always dependent on numbers. We had 10 turn up with 3 run leaders so as an organised club run we fell well into England Athletics post covid-19 guidelines. The Burnham and Highbridge park run takes in Apex Park with it’s lake and wildlife and the sea front. I’ve ran this many times in the dark with a headtorch but most of my co-runners hadn’t. As they were regularpark run participants, back in the day, this was quite a novelty.

Looks like Big Dave’s Pee Pee has had an idea!

Picture courtesy of Kelly Sherriff

Thanks to Kelly, during the run we had regular updates on England’s rugby 6 Nations match against Italy but Boris Johnson’s coronavirus statement to the nation waited, at least for me, until later and the news wasn’t nice.

Picture courtesy of Kelly Sherriff

The run was accepted in the way that I that I hoped it would be with the faster, keener runners stopping to allow the slower ones to catch up. The whole intention was for the run to be fun and sociable and that’s how it turned out. Hopefully everybody enjoyed it. We had Quality Street™ chocolates at the finish and Kelly arranged some wonderful medals as a memento of the event.

Winners are grinners

Incidentally, England won the 6 Nations Championship and Boris locked us down again.