Friday, December 28, 2007


It probably won't come as a great surprise when I say that Christmas this year wasn't particularly Christmassy. What with all the illness and death that went on in early December, and spending Christmas in the sun without my sister and her fiancee, it just wasn't Christmas. That's not to say that it wasn't exactly what I needed, a nice break from work, good food, good wine, sunshine and all that. I came back ready to face the world again, and feeling more positive and in control than I have done for about three months, but I didn't come back feeling like it was Christmas.

It's not exactly the traditional way to spend Christmas. I got up, went for a quick run, then got changed and headed off with mum and dad down to one of the resorts to get onto a boat for a spot of dolphin hunting. Not hunting in the sense of capturing and killing, of course, but hunting in the sense of getting a good view of them, and finding where they were playing. The main object of the trip was achieved, and we saw a group of striped dolphins, including some babies, but it was rather surreal.

Sitting on a boat under clear blue skies, looking out to sea, and then over at the island, while White Christmas played over the speakers. My christmas was anything but white. Not only in a literal sense, but it was also far from the "ones I used to know". I suppose it never will be again now, I'll never be 10 again, waiting anxiously for 5am, when we were allowed to start jumping on beds and dragging reluctant adults into the lounge for the great present opening, and grandma will never be there again. That's not to say that Christmas can't be good, and a bit more christmassy, in the future, it just won't be the same.

After the boat we had a light-ish picnic lunch by the port, then went to a bar that my dad does the website for, and had a bit of a chat with the owner, and a couple of drinks with him. Then back home, where we started preparing the meal. The advantage of both my parents being over in England for the funeral was that we had far better stocks of English christmas food than normal - parsnips, mince pies, cranberry sauce, cheese, christmas pudding and what sometimes seemed like half the stock of Marks and Spencers. At one point they were discussing the logistics of smuggling a turkey over in their case, but thankfully they decided they'd be able to find one over there - and luckily for them they were rights.

And then, only after all that, did we get round to opening presents. None of us had really had any time to shop this year, or even to think about what we wanted and drop suitably unsubtle hints, so it was a bit of a low key present opening. Not to say that I didn't appreciate what I was given, but for me, the most valuable thing I came back home with wasn't a christmas present at all. It was my share of grandma's jewellery box.

I've never been a jewellery person at all. Sometimes I just don't care that much about what I look like, and other times it's more of a practicality thing - if I can't run in it, wearing it at other times involves taking it on and off, and the times when I remember to put it on are few and far between. I also had a deeper seated dislike of rings. Rightly or wrongly I kind of saw them as a sign of ownership, that someone gives you a ring, and when you wear it it's a warning sign that you're taken by that someone. Or maybe it was just bitterness that no-one has ever bought me much that's worth wearing.

But she had worked out who she wanted to have her various bits of jewellery, and my name was on a diamond and sapphire eternity ring. I wore it to the funeral (the advantage of losing weight - it actually fit me without alteration!) and it started growing on me. I started to love how it looked on my finger, and I liked wearing it. The only problem was that I worried about how it would stand up to the rigours of sweat and, on holiday, sand. So I decided to take it off in Spain, at which point mum offered me an alternative.

She had been left two almost identical rings. One was grandma's wedding ring, the other was my grandad's mother's (grandma's mother in law - but having no daughters, the ring worked it s way down to her). Mum said that she couldn't wear three wedding rings at once, and offered me the older one. I was less worried about its fragility, as it didn't have the stones, and started wearing it, and falling in love again.

So now I have the two rings, and a renewed relationship with jewellery. I realise that it's not a sign of ownership, imposed on someone unwilling, but a sign that you want to remember or respect that other person the ring came from. And wearing those rings means more to me than any christmas present could.

Not least for an unintended effect. While I was in Spain I ran almost every morning, and by the end of the holiday I was quite a familiar sight to the early morning dog owners and power walkers. I'd get a nod, or a buenos dias. Because I spent quite a few days walking up and down the seafront in town anyway, I'd see some of them again later in the day when I was properly clothed.

The day before I came home, someone who would see me in the morning and then run himself later in the day came up behind me while I was walking along and unleashed a torrent of Spanish. As he ran past he realised I was wearing an ipod, and that I hadn't taken it in, but carried on running. A bit later he ran past again on a second lap, but this time he stopped and sat down on the bench I was sitting on.

Yup, full chat up situation. Sadly, I couldn't use my no habla espanol line, as he then switched into English that was undoubtedly better than my Spanish (although we ended up in a vague Spanglish mix after a while). Apparently my eyes are like lighthouses. That bit was in English, and to give him credit that's far better than I could have come up with in Spanish...

He was quite sweet, but he was rather older than me, and not exactly my cup of tea. I was trying to shake him off gently and politely, making the most of the fact that I was flying home the next day and therefore needed to pack instead of going out for a drink with him. And then he spotted it. A wedding ring on the ring finger of my right hand. Oh joy, the Spanish wear their rings on the opposite hand to the English, and there are certain situations where you don't want to correct the misunderstanding that may arise.

Thanks, grandma, and the great-grandmother I never knew...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Just as I got some news that should have perked me up (well, it did, but not for too long, but more of that later), I seem to have hit a slump.

For the last week or so I've tended to pull on my trainers and head out for a run to try to clear my head a bit. I did something stupid like 40+ miles last week. Then over the past couple of days I've been driving all over the place, picking my dad up from the airport, driving people round for the funeral etc, driving back to Leeds (I ended up doing 350 miles in little over 24 hours, which for me is a lot). And I've just run out of energy.

I just feel like I'm dragging myself through to the end of the week. I struggle to get interested in anything, to motivate myself to do anything. I couldn't even motivate myself to change my shoes, put my coat on and leave work earlier, and just ended up sitting there trying to get the energy to move.

I got into work to find a christmas present and card, and a sympathy type card on my chair. It took me until 4pm to actually open them. I didn't run this evening, needless to say. But neither did I make an attempt to start packing to go to Spain on Saturday morning.

The trip seems to have snuck up on me. For a while I was trying to ignore it because I really didn't know whether I'd be able to go, or whether christmas would be spent in hospices in Blackpool. And it's hard to find too much pleasure in the fact that I am going, other than the fact that it might give me the opportunity to clear my head and find some spark again.

Because I need spark. I'm counting down to the start of my next round of marathon training because....


I've had the occasional moment of excitement when I filled in my form, or tried to work out travel arrangements, but I'm still strugging a bit to look forward to next year. Hopefully when I get back I'll be ready to throw myself back into training, and part of my thinking behind skipping the run tonight was that I need to make the most of the opportunity to rest before I start training again. But for now, I think I'm back in the place where 26 miles seems like a very long way, and putting myself through all that training again seems like a very stupid idea.

Fingers crossed that when I get some energy back I'll feel a lot more enthusiastic about training for it!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Santa Dash

There's nothing like making a fool of yourself to take your mind off things for a while, and this morning I had the perfect excuse with the Santa Dash.

I didn't know when I entered it whether I'd actually be around today, but I thought it was worth signing up for and making a decision closer to the day. As things turned out I was around, so thought I'd turn up and see what happened.

It was only a mile, and I needed to pick my santa suit up when I got there, so I decided to do a longer run into town first. That led to me dragging myself out of bed at 7.30 after another wine and dvd fuelled night in, and waking myself up with a bracing 12 mile run in the rain.

By the time I got to town the rain was stopping, so I picked up my suit and met up with a load of people from running club, which is where the fun started. Seeing a large group of santa-suit clad people, we got accosted by all sorts of press photographers, and did silly runs up and down Briggate for them. Apparently normal running didn't look as good in the photos as exaggerated long strides. Or that's what they claimed anyway, maybe they just wanted us to look stupid...

After that, it was the warm up. 120 santas doing star jumps and the like. Not to mention the dogs who had turned up in full costume (with their owners), and the truly bizarre "dance" by the sponsors. And then the dash. We decided that we'd run together as a club, rather than anyone racing it (which would have been hard in trousers that seemed to be sized for a sumo wrestler, and beards that gave you a mouth full of fluff whenever you attempted breathing). I have no idea whether it actually was a mile, it felt a bit short (or maybe it was that a mile just does feel short these days?!).

And then, having run in, I had to look on jealously as everyone else changed into normal clothes to go to the pub, while I had a choice of santa suit or running tights. mmm. And after the pub all the other santas had dispersed from town, meaning I got more than a few funny looks on my way to the bus stop, and then on the bus home.

But I don't care, it was a good laugh, it got me out of the house, it got me a bit of a chat with friends over a pint or two, and it got me the fear of being spotted in the papers looking like a bit of an idiot...

PS - can you guess which santa I am?!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Alternative Christmas Party

It is generally agreed by everyone at work that the office christmas party tomorrow night is going to be shit. The venue is too small, and has recently changed hands. The new owners are refurbishing it, and it is closed until February. They wanted to cancel our booking, but we had nowhere else to go so they agreed to open for one night only. The planned sit down meal has turned into a buffet, and it's not looking promising. I haven't been inspired to find something to wear (other than the new shoes), and I didn't fancy the annual battle to get home at the end.
I sometimes like socialising with work people. I went to the ballet with some of them at the weekend, and when I'm in the mood I can have a good time. There are also some who it's painful to spend time with, but when you're in the mood you can put up with that.
I'm not in the mood. Quite possibly the last thing I want to do at the moment is stand around in a rubbish venue, nibbling on rubbish food, drinking cheap alcohol, and pretending I'm having a good time. Grandma died on Monday night, and although it wasn't exactly unexpected, it still hasn't put me in the mood for faking festive spirit. The only spirits I'd be interested in would be neat, in a futile attempt to make myself more sociable.
At one point earlier this month I wanted christmas to be cancelled altogether. There are various christmassy things that set me off (I was glad it was dark at the ballet, as the opening scenes of the Nutcracker reminded me of family christmases when I was little, and when she was the best grandma in the world), and the sight of other people being happy, or at least pretending to be, irritated me. I'm coming round a little. There are some parts of christmas that will be more important than ever this year, like spending time with family and letting them know how much I love them. It's just the commercialisation and forced socialising and merriment I'm struggling with a bit. Christmas isn't about how much money you spend on a present, how much you drink, or whether your coffee comes in a red cup.
There are people I would happily go for a night out with, I'd enjoy myself, and it would be fun. I went to running club last night and was glad of the opportunity for a bit of fresh air and a chat (I might be a comfort eater, but I've also now discovered comfort running to balance it out. After I do a santa dash for a local hospice on Sunday I'm planning a run along the canal, partly because the canal is somewhere I feel close to her). I would happily go to the christmas lights run if it didn't clash with the funeral (and I might go to the drinks afterwards if I get back to Leeds in time). But the people I want to spend time with aren't the people I work with, and I have better uses of my time than going to the party.
It might sound a bit sad of me, but I'm planning the ultimate weepy night in instead. This morning I bought myself a stack of dvds, which include some guaranteed tear jerkers. I'm going to get the lounge set up complete with duvet, chocolate, candles, tissues, mulled wine, takeaway menus and warm socks. I might even get the wood burning stove ready to light. I'm going to sit, watch dvds, relax and get everything out of my system. I was considering inviting some of the running girls round to keep me company, then decided that I'd be better off just being on my own so I don't need to apologise if I want a good cry, or feel like I should be keeping their drinks topped up if I don't want to move.
I've been rushing around so much for the past three or four months that I want to have a night that's just about doing nothing. Not heading into town to try to find something to wear, dashing home to get changed, then trudging back into town for something I won't enjoy. Not thinking about the chores which have gone undone. Not even cooking (although I'm sure that whatever I order, I'll end up whingeing that I could have made something cheaper, better and healthier). Yes, there may be blatant comfort eating, but for one night only anything goes (and in any event, I'm scaling back my plans realising that I probably wouldn't actually be able to get through everything I planned to buy! Even if I do, compared to what I'd probably eat and drink at the party, it's probably not a huge amount worse).
And I'm re-naming it. Instead of thinking that I'm missing the christmas party, and feeling a teeny bit guilty for it, I'm starting to think of my night in as my alternative christmas (pity) party. Of all the things I could do on Friday, it is probably the one that will give me most pleasure, or at least comfort, so it's my night, my party. Who cares if no-one else is invited?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Fast People

This morning I had a bit of a dilemma. Recently a 5k time trial has been set up in Leeds. It runs every Saturday morning, and it's free.

5k isn't really my distance, but I know that there's nothing like doing short, fast efforts to put a bit of speed in the legs, from where it seems to have gone missing a bit since New York. Or maybe it's just that the people I normally run with have got faster.

One of those people ran the TT last week, and was first woman. I know that every time we've been in the same race I've beaten her (2 10ks and a marathon). I improved my marathon time in my autumn marathon, whereas she slowed down a bit, but since then she's definitely had a bit of speed on me as my legs go through the recovery process. We get on really well, but there's definitely a bit of healthy rivalry in this friendship.

She said that last week there weren't as many of the fastest runners, because of the Abbey Dash the day after. A quick check of the results shows that although her winning time of 22:something is decent enough, it's nowhere near the times that had won it in other weeks. But a win is a win. It did mean, though, that I didn't expect that I would be able to repeat the feat on a weekend without the Abbey Dash.

I also had the dilemma that Saturday is my long run day. Even though I'm not marathon training at the moment, I know that I will be again relatively soon, and I don't want my long run to get too short. 10 - 13 miles is the target. Not 5k.

Anyway, I came up with a plan. I would run the 4 or 5 miles to the time trial very gently (there isn't a direct bus so it was that or cycling anyway), run it, and then run home again. I was confident I could still get a new PB on the basis that I haven't run a 5k for 18 months or so, and my 5k PB was run at a slower pace than my 10k PB. And then if I liked it, I might take it more seriously next time. I'd get my long run done on the basis I had somewhere definite I needed to get to, so couldn't cut it short, and would do a bit of a speed session in the middle.

First problem, it started ridiculously early, and adding on a45 minute or so run to get there meant that I had to leave at about 8. So when I woke up at 7.20 it didn't give me long to digest my breakfast before setting out! But it was a nice morning, so I decided that wasn't a good enough excuse to skive off, and set out as planned.

I got to the start and met up with a couple of people from running club. I do like the fact that I can turn up at a race and almost always bump into someone I know. Or at least the local races. Someone who had done it before described the course, and I sized up the opposition. One girl was running around warming up (I always used to be wary of people who took these things seriously enough to warm up properly - until I started being the sort of person who does a 4.5 mile warm up for a 5k...), and someone said that they thought she'd done it before and gone under 20 minutes. I made a mental note not to try to keep up, my target was to do a similar time to Eleanor's, rather than aiming for a particular placing.

When it was time to set off, a couple of girls hared off, but I didn't really keep count. Because the start was slightly downhill people set off fast, but I overtook a couple of them soon enough. The course was one small lap of the park and then two bigger ones, and as I got to the end of the first lap one of the marshalls said that I was 3rd woman. I was quite pleased with that, as I hadn't kept count of how many were ahead of me. I was even more pleased when I realised that I could see the two other women, and they weren't far ahead at all. It might have been a case of mistaken identity or a case of tired legs, but the woman I'd seen warming up didn't look like she was going to go sub-20.

On the second lap I overtook the other woman, to move into second place. I was checking my watch and thought that I could probably dip under 23 minutes, which was my target. I still wasn't chasing the woman in front as such. I could see her, but was concentrating on my own run. Because it's a time trial rather than a proper race, the important thing is to improve your own time, rather than winning. There are no prizes other than a mention on the website.

But after going past the finish for the second time, heading into the last lap, I realised that I was gaining ground. This was my chance for glory, which suddenly started to matter to me. At the 4k marker I was sitting on her shoulder considering my options. I've never had to really think up race tactics before, but I knew that I don't have a sprint finish. Whichever race I'm doing I'm always overtaken by a whole bunch of people right at the end as I plod to the line at my normal speed, while they find that last burst of energy. I knew that if I was still on her shoulder, or she on mine, at the end, she'd win it. So I needed to overtake and make a break to give me enough of a gap to hold her off. I knew that she was slowing from her earlier pace, but maybe she was just coasting a bit while she was in the lead and would pick it up once she realised where I was? I've seen that often enough - as you try to overtake someone they speed up. Although that's mainly men who don't like being beaten by women...

I saw a slight hill. Not a big one, but enough to use a bit of power. I hate hills, but I've started to notice that they're where I tend to be able to open up gaps on people. This was my chance. I gritted my teeth, attacked the hill, and went past. I was in the lead! From there I had half, maybe a bit more, of a kilometre to go, and I knew that I needed to hold her off. This is where I started getting serious, I wasn't going to let that lead go, and I dragged myself towards that line as fast as I could. I surprised myself by lapping not only walkers, but people who were actually running it and I started to smile.

I've never won a race before, and even though it wasn't a proper pay to enter, win prizes type of race, and even though my winning time was 10 or 15 seconds slower than Eleanor's (although still under 23 minutes), I'm still walking around with a beaming smile. I took on everyone who turned up this week, and I beat them all. Or at least the women. I was 22nd overall, and 1st woman. I don't know how many there were in total, last week it was about 60, the week before nearer 100. But all the women were behind me. Fingers crossed I'll get credited with it - even though I registered, they couldn't find me on the computer at the end so had to write my details down.

And then I ran a slightly longer route home, to cool down...

When I got back I texted Eleanor to tell her the news. She was away this weekend so didn't run it. Last week she said that all the fast ones must have been resting for the Abbey Dash, so this week I said that they must all still have been recovering. And then she texted back.

"If "we" (people our speed) have won 2 weeks in a row, maybe we ARE the fast people?!?!"

Maybe, indeed...