Somewhat agitated he asked me if I'd seen anyone riding a silver bicycle.

  • Monday, February 01, 2016
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This is a desultory peck at my keyboard, it's Monday pm and I've stayed off work today with a cold that started late Friday and intensified on Sunday. I've slept most of the day away and I don't feel significantly better.
Such is life I guess.
I've had a bright start to 2016 on the running front, once again building up my fitness after a quiet December. I intend to slow down a bit this year and enjoy what the woods and the beauty of creation has to offer. I want to be more mindful of what is around me so I'm going to try be aware of colours, lines, light, shapes, textures and words (stories) I want to take more photographs too. It's a slight shift of perspective away from purely running to running being a creative springboard and a vehicle for observation. On my homeward run last week I noticed a burly figure in the dusk running up the gravel road toward me, he turned out to be a gruff individual wearing jeans, Workman's boots and a thick olive jersey. Somewhat agitated he asked me if I'd seen anyone riding a silver bicycle. It turned out that he had been taking a short cut through the woods and had a sudden need to urinate, he propped his bike against a tree and stepped off the trail to relieve himself. By the time he returned his bike had gone. It reminded me of my own bicycle, a proud and shiny red model with three speed gears and a carrier that was stolen out of the school bicycle shed when I was aged around 14. Bizarrely the police recovered it a year later at Harare airport, the thief had poured a tin of grey paint all over it in an attempt to disguise it and if memory serves it was the crudeness of this paint job that alerted them that the bike may have been stolen. I rode it for a few more years but it was never the same and I never got rid of the streaks of industrial grey paint.
I felt for my gruff inquisitor, there are not many people around in the woods at dusk in winter so it must have been a real opportunistic thief or perhaps someone who thought it had been merely abandoned.

I will have faith, live and run simply

  • Wednesday, January 06, 2016
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In the early 80's I used to watch a television sitcom called Mork and Mindy starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. Williams played the role of Mork, an alien from the planet Ork sent to earth to study human behaviour and he had an Orkian expletive he uttered when things went wrong  - Shazbot. This two syllable word was adopted by my mother and I and we used it as often as possible in conversations between us. Running in to work just before dawn on Monday after a few days of steady rain brought back the memory of this. I was struggling to maintain any form of adhesion to the earth, it was devilishly slippery and I found myself chuckling as I reflexively muttered shazbot after a particularly sharp slide. This is a word that hasn't passed my lips for at least 20 years. People had better pray it doesn't again soon.
I loved the show so much that I named one of my Bantam hens Mindy, I used to leave my bedroom window open for her because every afternoon she would fly into my room and lay her egg in my clothes cupboard.
As for running, these are my thoughts so far in 2016.
My regular commuting runs to and from work are the boilerplate of my fitness. This is where I will lay down the foundation and forge my running year. The route may vary little but it wont be boring because the skies and seasons will rotate and change around me and there is always comfort in liturgy.
Secondly, a few days ago I was watching Jacob Barnett, an autistic genius delivering a TED Talk where his message was, forget what you know, stop learning, begin thinking and start creating. His idea is that when we are able to stop structured learning it gives us the time and freedom to think instead and creativity flows from there. I like that and I'm going to try and apply it to running and life. Maybe we try and learn too much. I knew an ancient Jewish lady once. She had survived Auschwitz and yet had a deep and unshakable faith in God. I remember her saying to me once that we spend too much time trying to learn about God, we read endless books and listen to people who try to teach us who He is. It stifles us and puts Him in a box. The reality is, she said, is that God is a mystery and that is how we should approach him. As for me, she went on, I just believe, no more, no less. Simple. It had a huge impact on me and transformed my view of faith. So this is my new thing, I will plunge in and treat life and the running trails as a mystery to be enjoyed. I will have faith, live and run simply, I will think and I will create.

The almost gothic dawn on Monday

Just a hint of sunrise on the fence poles along the river path. Monday. 

Mist and mud. Wednesday

Footbridge in the mist. Wednesday.

Um, the crack of dawn. Wednesday.

Celebrate we will Because life is short but sweet for certain

  • Tuesday, December 29, 2015
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It may have been last nights King Prawn Bhuna making itself known but todays run was a dead leg hobble with muscles as tired and unresponsive as wet sandbags. As I rasped around in the mud I was trying to distract myself by reflecting on the year past both in life terms and running as well. Normally at this time of the year I do a bit of a précis of the year highlighting what was memorable and looking ahead to the coming year but I've decided not to although it's been a superb years running apart from the injuries towards the fag end.
I have a son, eleven, who lives life filled to the brim. I've had to adjust to this because I like order and his approach brings chaos, he does everything at full throttle including the mundane like filling his cereal bowl or mug to overflowing. I'm always picking up cereal bits from the floor or the sofas. Put simply he extracts joyful living out of every situation.
I'm never going to be like this, my personality is far to straitjacketed but I'd like to learn from him.
I've decided that if I'm not moving then I'm just sitting around waiting to die. I don't mean this to be literal but more of a philosophical  idea - we need purpose and action to fill our lives with meaning. We need love too. One of my very favourite songs (one I'd like at my funeral) is by the Dave Matthews Band, it's called Two Step, a happy exhortation to live while we can and celebrate. Dave sings: "Celebrate we will
Because life is short but
sweet for certain
We''re climbing two by two
To be sure these days continue
The things we cannot"

I know a man who spends his life in his kitchen watching television and coughing up a lifetime of cigarettes and booze. He is a stoic waiting to die in the company of an old portable black and white TV.
My best run this year was in the midst of a thunderstorm with the rain sounding like an express train in the treetops and lightning forking the cracking sky, I knew I shouldn't be out there, I was running against conventional wisdom that tells us to avoid trees during lightning storms but I went anyway, away from metaphorical kitchens and metaphorical tv's, and running, always running, from the metaphorical carcinogens seeking to choke the lungs of my spirit. I felt rebellious and a little afraid but the risk and the rain made me a celebrant.
Getting back to todays uninspiring trudge I've decided that there are no unimportant runs, they all have some sort of value, even the so called duds. They should all change us in some way, teach us something and liberate us. Every run is a legacy run.
This then is my goal going forward, not to forget the hard times but to celebrate this life short and sweet that it is.

Was this shadow a visual analogy of life

  • Thursday, December 24, 2015
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I made a strange decision to run at 21H30 last night. Feeling restless and a little on edge I opened my front door and felt the clarity of the night calling to me. Allowing myself to be seduced I impulsively thrust my feet into my Merrells and my body out under the full moon and wispy clouds like drifting artillery smoke. I ran on the cracked paving slabs from lamp post to lamp post, my shadow long and wavering in front of me, disappearing into darkness and then reappearing on my shoulder, older, wiser and more anchored, repeating the pattern again and again like an Andy Warhol animation. Was this shadow a visual analogy of life, rushing ahead, youthful and unsure, disappearing into darkness and re emerging diminished but more defined? I lost my way too, becoming disorientated on a side road I've never been down and finding myself running in the wrong direction and away from home, a prodigal son. It's not the first time that's happened to me but what was a first, and ridiculous, is that I found myself standing on the roadside feeling lost and confused, an amnesiac moment in an area I know well, truth is I'm still a bit bewildered today at how jumbled my thoughts were for those few seconds and how adrift I felt. Afraid too, not because I was momentarily lost but because of the refusal of my brain to work and the sense of isolation and foolishness that gave me. It was a lonely place.

It's saying I may fail but win or lose I will be better for having tried.

  • Thursday, December 10, 2015
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And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost.

Last week as I entered the school gates I became aware of a presence on my shoulder and turning to my right I saw Guy our PE teacher ghosting along on his bicycle. Guy is a man driven by passion and a hugely infectious enthusiasm for life and education, his brain never stops, endlessly delivering ideas and exploring concepts and his mouth follows, he loves to talk and share and he will talk and share with whoever crosses his path. He is pretty much a Tasmanian Devil on speed. It so happened that it was a beautiful morning, bright, clear and mild and I had relished my walk in to work. As it turned out, Guy had decided on an ad hoc route to work that had taken him through the woods for the first time - and it unleashed a torrent of words as he attempted to describe what he had felt, thought and experienced. We share an identical and maverick educational philosophy that believes that children and young people learn and grow when they are allowed to play and think for themselves rather than be confined to a rigid curriculum and tested to death. Guy was excited that he had chosen to go off piste and he had new discoveries and feelings. He was stimulated by risk and adventure and happy it had affirmed his educational beliefs. He was motivated to try it again.
This of course is the attraction and joy of trail running for me, the chance to take the unmarked and untrodden path and throw out the plan. It's the gift of choice. I can think of umpteen times Jerry and I have come across a wild bit of trail or wondered where a path leads and decided to follow it to find out. We've had some epic runs and discoveries and it's enhanced our running elevating it to something magical and full of value.
Thankfully my path has crossed Guy's a lot over the last few days and we've had other discussions, war and politics (I happened to be listening to The Black Eyed Peas Duncan, Where is the Love and I wondered, where is the love?) to how to change the world and the impact of greeting and smiling at strangers. We've discussed the idea of risk leading to gain (several times) and how F is the new A*.
Yesterday Guy encountered me by the fish tank in the foyer and started quoting Robert Frost's poem The Road Less Taken and what we could learn from it. Running in to work this morning I began to mull over the concept behind the poem, being short on fitness I was beginning to tire and I realised that I could choose to take a path that would cut short my run. It was then that I had the revelation that to continue and run the full distance was a form of taking the road less travelled and that the temptation to take the short cut was the easy way out. I realised that I would learn more by stretching myself a bit and getting into a place of discomfort, that when we pay the price we benefit more. This then is the road less taken, a road of risk, discomfort but ultimate reward. It's saying I may fail but win or lose I will be better for having tried. It's making a choice.

 Yo', whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality
Instead of spreading love we're spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity

That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' under
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' down
There's no wonder why sometimes I'm feelin' under
Gotta keep my faith alive 'til love is found
Now ask yourself

Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Where is the love?

Father, Father, Father, help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love?Yo', whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality
Instead of spreading love we're spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity

That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' under
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' down
There's no wonder why sometimes I'm feelin' under
Gotta keep my faith alive 'til love is found
Now ask yourself

Where is the love?
(Black Eyed Peas)

It should always be within a mile of the sheep.

  • Sunday, November 22, 2015
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“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”
(Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa)

Running with Jerry last week we were talking about the privilege of living where we do as we are able to access extensive off road running right on our doorstep. I mentioned how restless I am and how I wouldn't mind moving - but that if I ever did it would have to have trails nearby. Yes said Jerry, it should always be within a mile of the sheep. That's it I thought, it should always be within a mile of the sheep, what a great rule of thumb for both running and life.
Before this I last ran on September 23 and it was as close to perfect as running can be. I love England and I love running in England during the early autumn. I was out on the trails at dawn, there was a low, thin mist, I was breaking cobwebs with my face and I saw a lone deer crouching in a field, dark and still against the green like the slash of an artists brush.
Since then I've been shackled by a chain of injuries, initially hobbling with an unexplained and out of the blue injury in my hip joint which halted my running for weeks. When it healed I went running again but within half a mile I turned my ankle over on a root and fell to earth. The pain and frustration was such that I had to fight back the tears and the sight of the immediate tennis ball sized swelling didn't help, I knew that I was screwed as far as running went for a lengthy period. X rays showed no fracture but I was told that it would take six to eight weeks to heal. The doctor was wrong, I was ready to go after four but then my back flared up making movement difficult - another week out

So it's taken a lot of patience but I have been able to kick start training, once again becoming the Rocky Balboa of South East London with another one of my endless comebacks. Last Sunday was a muddy six miles of surprisingly good quality given our respective fitness levels and this week I've been able to run home from work, chasing the light and pursued by the dusk. It won't be long before the darkness overtakes me and I have to use my head torch. I'm just hoping that's it for injuries, 2015 has been brilliant as far as my running goes, I've never run better. Being hurt and incapacitated has marred that somewhat and I now want to finish strong and carry my great form into the new year.

All the time menaced by the throbbing pub rock.

  • Sunday, June 28, 2015
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Every so often we manage to gather a sporadic and motley bunch for a night run. These runs never fail to produce a variety of strange things and colourful characters.
We met at Downe in Kent, Jerry and myself, Karien, Richard, Andrew, Sue and Ralph, two South Africans, one Zimbabwean and the rest natives, gathered on the pavement outside the Queens Head pub. It wasn't long before the local village sage stumbled out in a dirty waxed jacket and was attracted like a moth to a flame by Jerry's Union flag shorts. This is Nigel Farage country after all. A conversation ensued and we learnt some interesting facts about the area as well as some utter bullshit, understandable when wax jacket informed us that he had lived in the area his whole life and had been in the very pub we were heading for all day. He did tell us that two aircraft had crashed into the Kings Arms over the years, once during WW2 and more recently a jet. This seems partially correct. On the 18th of August 1940 there was an air raid on the area and a bomb landed next to the pub and the pub was strafed wounding some customers. Two cars parked outside exploded and a Dornier bomber crashed a short distance away. History records that Mrs Taylor owned one of the cars and was learning to drive but after that she didn't bother.
Extracting ourselves we ran off toward Biggin Hill airfield and he weaved away to find his dinner. Off we went through Ginger Cat Gate and over the fields, briefly accosting a women, a boy and a dog to ask if they had any interesting facts about the area. They didn't but the lady did enquire if we were Orpington Road Runners to which I replied that we were a mash up of clubs. She took a moment to digest this, nodded once, turned and tugged the boy and dog away. It was about this time just over a mile into our run that loud music free distortion began in the far distance and we appeared to be running towards the vortex it created. Reaching the perimeter fence of the airfield with it's forbidding security notices we turned right and began our run along the runway, all the time menaced by the throbbing pub rock. It was a bit like being in a bad sci fi movie where aliens capture humans using some dastardly means to get them in their thrall, we ran zombie like in single file toward the mother ship, deadpan, silent and emotionless. After traversing a waist high wheatfield we arrived at the Kings Arms which bizarrely and ironically was the source of the music that had been torturing our ears for miles.
The Kings Arms is one of those myriad historic English public houses, typical in it's low beams and with walls festooned with paintings and prints of second world war aircraft. A particularly nice touch were the Christmas lights that looked as if they had been strung in the 1950's. Thankfully, as we entered the music died away and I enjoyed a bottle of Corona whilst the rest of the bunch sipped on real ale. Drinks finished we departed into the dusk, scaled a high gate, dropped into the wheat and began the return journey. No aliens tried to apprehend us but right on cue the music started up and it didn't stop as we ran the 4 miles back to Downe.
A great and sociable run with good people finished in the Queens Head filled with rustics wearing a variety of patriotic English and British garb, I think they were celebrating some historic occasion or perhaps that's how they always dress? I don't know but I had fun.