I don’t run with headphones

At the weekend I was happy to babysit for my new granddaughter whilst her mum went out for her first post baby run. Just half an hour of child-free head space brought her back to us glowing. It’s true that running is every bit as much about mental health as physical and it was great to be part of the support team.

My own running habit has been less active since the last ‘justtenmiles’. Call it a rest for a couple of weeks. Not even a park run, the local course is sitting under a temporary lake.

Without the running, my writing fades a little too. The rhythm and solitude of running defines my thinking space. The breathing in and breathing out required to maintain a steady pace unravels my thoughts. I find words as I run, they tumble into my consciousness. Quite literally, I take an idea and run with it. I write poems in my head, short stories; perfectly crafted sentences. Sometimes I remember them when I get home; sometimes the words make it onto a page, often they don’t.

A new friend, a lovely gentle person, Elizabeth, asked could I record the words as I run? ‘I don’t take my phone’ I said. ‘I don’t run with headphones or a playlist.’ She laughed out loud and, with a distinctly different emphasis, said ‘I don’t run with headphones or a playlist either’.

This granny keeps on running

The second ‘justtenmiles’ has been run: a relentlessly undulating route around Derwentwater. It was tough. The third time we have done this; the 60th time the event has been held. Having spent the whole year celebrating my own 60th birthday, this race needed to be run.

In good Lakeland fashion, it was a day for filling the lakes and waterfalls. We started and finished in rain, a real challenge in glasses. Water streaming down the lenses; the view misted by my breathing out, I struggled to see my feet, let alone the road ahead. Climbing above the lake, the views, even in the rain, are stunning. Rich autumn colour framed the water, rewarding me each time I wiped my glasses.

With fewer than 500 runners, mostly (but not quite all) significantly faster than me, for the latter part of the run I was very much alone.  No struggling to find a space in which to run. Lots of time to live the run inside my head, creating new memories, reliving old ones. Remembering the day I paraphrased Wainwright: telling my young children that Catbells was a hill to take your granny up. In snow and wind, they questioned this piece of wisdom. A re-reading of the text suggests that grannies should take care!

This granny was undaunted by the weather, striding out (or struggling?) to the end. Resisting my cautious instinct to hold myself back on the downhill, I let gravity do its work, fearlessly enjoying the thrill of descent. The belief that every uphill was the last kept me running up them; only remembering at the end how much tougher the second five miles was than the first. I’ve no immediate plans now for another ‘justtenmiles’; but this granny will keep on running.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

October half term: the clocks have been put back an hour, the evenings are getting longer. It’s time to get used to coming home in the dark.

The clock in my car has not been put back an hour. But, for the first time since March, it is now in line with the rest of the country. I get used to it. It has caused occasional confusion to Mr A. He nearly ‘put it right’ for me just a couple of weeks ago. After two seasons of mental adjustment, putting it right at that time would have been more confusing.

In our house, for over thirty years, October half term has signalled the time for making a Christmas cake. This year’s cake is in the oven now, in the old tin, wrapped around with brown paper. The first smells of Christmas filling the house come as much from the hot paper as the spices.

The fruit was well soaked in brandy beforehand and the cake will be spoon fed over the coming weeks. It’s a rich fruit cake, always made to the same recipe; Delia’s, in which she says ‘any cake full of such beautiful things can’t fail to taste good’. She’s not been wrong yet, although this morning there was just a moment’s hesitation over the use by date on the black treacle (not long enough past to worry about it spoiling everything else, I decided).

It’s very much a tradition rather than a chore; bringing with it a glimmer of anticipation, hope and light as the days get shorter.

Just ten miles, done

An early start this morning took me to the start line of the just ten miles. Parking space found, a short walk to the event village, toilet queue negotiated; I saw the marathon runners on their way. Elites, serious runners and fancy dressed fun runners set off at a pace down the hill. Down the hill. The hill that would be climbed 26 miles later. Mr A was there, and back in just 3 hours 43. He’s a fast runner. I may have the stamina to keep on running, but I’m not fast.

Then it was the turn of the just ten milers. It’s cold hanging about at the start of a run. There’s the opportunity to leave old clothes for charity. A trailer full of items abandoned by the marathon runners had already been collected. I said goodbye to the redundant cardigan that had witnessed life from the back of my office chair.

Our turn came to run down the hill and into the city. Over the cobbles, less treacherous than in last year’s rain. Under the city walls, past the minster, through the country villages. Encouraged all the way by spectators and fellow runners, my lack of serious training was not a big issue.  Lots of banter made me pleased to have given my Trump t-shirt another airing. Less than 2 hours later, it was my turn to climb the hill to the home strait. Marathon runners were already sprinting towards the finish, pulling the ten milers in their wake.

So that’s one of the ten mile runs done. Just two short weeks to go to the next one. The undulating Lake District run. The distance may not be an issue, but this granny will be challenged by the hills.

Ready or not…

This time last year I was ready. Ready to run my first, and in all likelihood my only, marathon. I had conscientiously trained, over a long hot summer, to get 20 miles into my comfort zone. I had run, fallen, taken time off to recover; then run some more, before taking more time off to walk coast to coast. I was definitely ready.

I was confident that, having run 20 miles, the finishing line would be achievable. In my head, I broke the run (run, not race: this was just for myself, a personal achievement, not a competition) into chunks: 10 miles (twice), followed by a final 10k. The physical training and mental strategy worked. I finished the run, enjoying every step.

Having trained for the marathon, it seemed reasonable to sign up to run 10 miles, just once, around Derwentwater. A tough run within a couple of weeks of the marathon. That completed, I would take a month’s break from running to recover. The break began with a holiday in Rome; lots of pasta, gelato and walking. Then Christmas, winter, my birthday, the break grew longer. A handful of Parkruns and a couple of undulating 10ks passed with little training.

Mr A signed up to run the 26.2 miles this year. He’s risen to the challenge and is well and truly prepared for a good time. Overtaken by the fear of missing out, I signed up to run the 10 mile route. Somehow, a year has passed and the numbers have arrived. It’s nearly back in the comfort zone; but for today, ‘justtenmiles’ is feeling easier said than run.


I love picking up conkers. Nice fresh shiny conkers. This time of year, there is normally a conker, or two, in my coat pocket. Sometimes, my pockets are positively bulging with conkers. I can’t resist them when they’re fresh and newly hatched. If I’m not picking them up, I’m likely to be kicking one along the pavement in front of me.

As autumn rolls on, a cairn of drying out conkers will be growing next to the coat hooks in the porch. I’ll be asked if they are there to keep the spiders away; apparently, that’s a thing. If they were, it’s not working. The house is full of spiders at the moment. Apparently, they come indoors to look for a mate. Maybe we should set up a web based dating agency?

Back at the conkers. I read this week that horse chestnut trees are at risk of extinction due to pests and disease. Young trees aren’t surviving more than a few years. Which is a worry.

When I was a child there was only a couple of horse chestnut trees near to my school. There was always a scrum and a fight to collect the conkers. Around our town, wide Victorian avenues are lined with trees. They are beautiful in their autumn colours. And a hazard to the runner. On a windy day, it may be raining conkers; on any autumn day, they will be there underfoot. I’ll pick my way through them, wondering: don’t today’s children feel the need to collect conkers?

Pedal power

The cycling world championships came to town last week. There was a mixed welcome for the experience. Opinions were divided. Some embraced the excitement; others saw it as, at best, a nuisance. Over the week, an international party atmosphere grew in our small town.

The weather was perfect the week before the event. The sun shone with anticipation on the empty fan zone as the Ferris wheel and beer tents arrived. The races started, and the rain began to fall. The fan zone became a muddy festival. Some days the cyclists may have wished for canoes to carry them along the roads. There was an irony to the wet conditions; the Victorian prosperity of this spa town was built on its water.

This granny is not much of a cyclist, no wet or busy roads and not too many hills for me. But I do like the sense of occasion of a big event; I was out watching the cycling and meeting new people every day. Along with other churches, we served hot drinks and cakes to passers-by. Security staff and visitors sheltered in our building, made use of our facilities. It was great to open the doors and welcome the world.

I know that some local businesses will have suffered a shortfall in trade over the last week; I’ll be out supporting my favourites as the rain continues this week. Others will have benefitted as visitors sheltered from the weather. On balance though, the local hotels and breweries have probably done ok.