I don't have a small drill bit and I don't trust my subtlety

  • Sunday, April 17, 2016
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The Pobble who has no toes
      Had once as many as we;
When they said, 'Some day you may lose them all;'--
      He replied, -- 'Fish fiddle de-dee!'
And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink,
Lavender water tinged with pink,
For she said, 'The World in general knows
There's nothing so good for a Pobble's toes!'
(Edward Lear)
Big toe anatomy 101.
I have a big toe. Well actually I have two but only one is (marginally) blog worthy at the moment. One Hallux which is Latin for big toe. One bruised and throbbing toe sporting a blackened toenail.
Here are some big toe or Hallux facts for your enjoyment, feel free to share them with your loved ones and random strangers in the street...
I've learnt that that big toe in humans has two bones in it unlike the rest of the toes which have three. The big toe and little toe have muscles that are unique to them and the Hallux is flexed by the flexor hallucis longus muscle which is deep in the back of the lower leg. Who would have thought that a muscle in the leg would be responsible for toe movement? Five nerves provide sensation to the toe's skin. Sensation to the Big Toe comes from the Deep Fibular Nerve. Gotta love that Deep Fibular Nerve. Blood comes from the plantar metatarsal arteries and drains into the Dorsal arch. Huh? The Big Toe is the most vital of all the toes allowing us to remain balanced and bear weight, the Hallux bears twice the amount of weight of the other toes combined. Finally, our toes are in contact with the ground 75% of the time we are running so they're reasonably important.
I love the complexity of the human body.
This week I've become an amateur toe surgeon, a goalkeepers football stud coming down with full force on my big toe led to an immediate subungual hematoma or in plain English, a shitload of bleeding under the toenail turning my nail black. It may sound silly but the pain that night was so intense it kept me awake and I wondered if it was broken and had visions of another enforced break from running. Quickly turning to Google I learnt that the blood and pressure could be reduced by boring a hole through the affected toenail. At first I tried the hot paperclip method which meant straightening a paperclip, heating it and burning my way through the nail but I couldn't hold it tight enough and the paperclip cooled too fast. Some forums suggested a 1mm drill bit but cautioned against going to far and drilling into the nerves (remember the trusty old Deep Fibular Nerve?). This would lead to further excruciating pain and probably loud screaming, tears and snot. I don't have a small drill bit and I don't trust my subtlety so I tried a pair of extremely sharp nail scissors, sterilising them with a gas flame and carefully boring into my nail and, BAM!, a small geyser of blood erupted from the resulting hole. Immediate relief followed and doing a daily drain over the next few days has done the trick, my nail looks almost normal and apart from some slight pain from the bruising to my flesh I am pretty much OK to run.

The dead hand of winter scrabbling at my window.

  • Sunday, March 27, 2016
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Tonight the clocks go forward and British Summer Time starts. Outside it is dusk and I am sitting on my sofa with my kids kaleidoscoping around me while the rain from storm Katie lashes down and the wind velocity is picking up. Yesterday I sat shirtless in the sun, this evening I took down my garden umbrella least the wind launches it into my neighbours garden. Hopefully this is the last of the Winter storms, the last kick of a dying horse, the dead hand of winter scrabbling at my window.
Despite the storm spring has been making a slow arrival, out on the trails I've heard the Woodpeckers and it's been getting steadily lighter in the morning, so much so that I'm able to get six miles of running in on my way into work and have time to spare. I'm on my Easter break at the moment and by the time I go back I should be able to extend this to Seven. Summer is my favourite time of the year for running but spring comes a close second. I've never particularly been an early morning runner but started last year to experiment with the inbound commute to work - and I've grown to love being out early. I love the stillness and the solitude and the sense of freshness in the air, especially when it is clear. I love knowing that at sunrise I am the first human to pass on the trails. Strangely I'm also beginning to love the intimacy and the routine of running the same trails over and over. My connection to woodland that I am already very familiar with has deepened considerably and it is a habit that is bringing deep peace to me. It should be boring but somehow it is ever changing and I try to run mindfully and see new things all the time. For the most part my mind and my spirit are clear and I have a strong sense that this is going to get stronger the longer I do it.
I was reflecting a few days ago how my running has evolved over the years, it's always renewing and revealing new facets and I'm enjoying this latest incarnation.

A beautiful example of an early spring morning, crispy, sunny and misty at the same time


Late afternoon, Good Friday

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)