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Poetry Blog: ‘Every day, a walk’

I wrote this poem because I’ve become a little bit obsessed with walking. If you don’t know, I had a pacemaker fitted in November and as a result, I’m trying to work my way back to fitness and some kind of normality.

At the time of writing the poem, I was walking every day, like the title suggests. I couldn’t run, because the pacemaker was too uncomfortable and I just wasn’t well enough, so I settled for walking. However, Christmas got in the way of that, so now that my recovery is quieter again and my kids have gone back to school, I walk…every day. I’m building up to running again.

I got so obsessed with walking in the lead up to Christmas that I would get quite grumpy – or more accurately, more grumpy than usual – if I wasn’t able to get out. And I would be out whatever the weather too, because I came to depend on the routine of it all and it was proving a more than adequate substitute for long runs. Furthermore, it gave me time to think about what was going on in my life.

Anyway, it was only a matter of time until I wrote a poem about it. When something takes up such a big space in my life, I tend to write about it. As you’ll see with my next poem, ‘Taking Out The Bins’. Just kidding…

Every day, a walk.

Every day, a walk.
Some days you feel like you're fighting back,
others, like death warmed up.
Almost all, you're glad to be alive.
Whether breathless
or jelly legged,
alone with your thoughts
or in company and chattering away
about anything and everything,
swaddled like a newborn against the biting cold
in your big coat
that she zips up for you, because you cannot,
dazed by the noise or the light,
or the breeze,
bruised but not battered,
tweaked but not torn,
smiling, but not quite as happy as you'd like to be
and always, always tired.
Every day, a walk.

My first walk after surgery came two days after getting home from hospital. Down one street and back up another. I was utterly shattered when I got home.

At that time, I couldn’t dress myself properly, such was the restriction on my movement from the scarring and bruising around the site of my pacemaker. So not only did my wife have to zip up my coat, she had to put my hat on and do my laces too! Then she reversed the process when we got back home. Her reward was to watch me fall asleep on the settee!

I’ve gradually got stronger since then. Some walks feel great, while others are an absolute grind! Today’s, for instance, felt horrendous and I was out of breath and staggering a little having not gone far at all. There are good days and bad days though and hopefully tomorrow’s a bit better!

The final thing on this particular poem is just to mention that it came out of thinking the title out loud. I said it as I walked through the door from a walk one morning and liked it, so I quickly scribbled some ideas down and out of that came a poem! Funny, how inspiration can strike!

As ever, I hope you enjoyed the poem and always appreciate any comments, so feel free to leave one.

New Year’s (quiet) resolutions!

It’s that time of year again. Time to put the last one behind you and start kidding yourself that everything will be a great deal better for the next 365 days simply because one year rolled over into the next one. A new year, a fresh start, time to make some changes and all that.

As it happens, things have been so bad for me lately that the turn of the year is actually just convenient for change in my life. My previously documented health problems mean that things need to change and I’m now just about well enough to start changing them. On top of that, I think I can be more than hopeful that next year will be far better than this one was!

I’m keen not to set myself too many big targets though, hence the quiet resolutions. And I know that there are previous targets and goals that I’ve set and then never really done anything about, so I’ll stick to a manageable number this year. I mean, it’s still very early in the year and healthwise, I already feel shattered, so let’s keep things in perspective!

Here goes…

  1. Stop keeping secrets. An important one, this. It’s not me blatantly telling anyone who reads that they can’t trust me, by the way. However, I kept my heart problems to myself last year, in the hope that they’d go away and that I wouldn’t have to bother anyone. Fat lot of good that did me! Hopefully, there won’t be much to report, but if there’s any action in my chest, I’ll be sure to let someone know. Anything more and I’ll blab to the nearest medical professional. Common sense, I know, but that’s not always been my strong point where health is concerned.
  2. Get fit…again. Heart problems blighted last year for me, culminating with time spent in hospital and the shock of having to have a pacemaker fitted. It’s been a long recuperation and it’s left me feeling decidedly unfit and still pretty poorly. I’m breathless and wobbly on my feet if we walk too far! Just before Christmas though, my cardiologist gave the all clear to start running again, albeit really gradually. I’ll freely admit that this is something that scares the living daylights out of me, but once I find a bit of courage, I’ll be back out there getting fit. Hopefully, come the Spring time, I can start taking part in races again. Baby steps for now though. I’ll keep you posted!
  3. Get healthy and stay that way. I’ve been off work now for around 7 weeks and to be honest, while I know when my latest sick note ends, I’m really not sure when I’ll be well enough to go back to work, although I hope it’s sooner rather than later. And then there’s the matter of getting back to normal life. It’s not just been about being off work. If I run upstairs, I’m out of breath. If my clothes are too tight, I struggle to get them on or off and it hurts to do so. Tying my laces still hurts. If I take one thing too many out of the cupboard, I struggle with the weight on my left hand side. I can’t think fast and I struggle to get my words out quite frequently; I don’t know why. And I’m genuinely quite scared when I feel any kind of activity in my chest. So it’s not just the physical side of things that need to get better. It’s all too easy to tell people that you’re ‘getting there’ or whatever other platitude I might use when asked how I’m doing, but I’m not coping anywhere near as well as I’d like. So, getting healthy is going to continue to be a big old job!
  4. Finally send some poetry to somewhere other than my blog. I’ve had this ambition for a while now, but although I write poems on a fairly regular basis, I always seem to end up just adding them to my blog. I’ve resolved to enter some poetry competitions before now, as well as looking into sending stuff into literary magazines. I’ve just never found the time or I suppose, the courage to do it. However, I have a few things that I’m working on at the moment and a few finished poems that I’ve done nothing with, so 2023 has to be the year that I break my duck in this area.

And that’s that. Part of me wishes I had a fifth resolution, just because it looks like a better number. But then, if I’m trying to lessen the burden a little bit, adding a fifth would just be counter-productive and I’d be even less inclined to actually do anything about it. Anyway, that top three is going to keep me pretty busy, I reckon!

I’ll keep you posted about how things are going. In the meantime, perhaps you could let me know about your own resolutions in the comments? Maybe someone might yet inspire that fifth one for me!

Poetry Blog: ‘Fog’

For around about the last month I’ve been off work, spending all day, every day at home courtesy of my latest brush with the cardiology department at my local hospital.

As part of my recovery, for almost all of the time that I’ve been at home, I’ve been going on a daily walk in order to build my fitness back up. Living in northern England means that it’s very cold at this time of year, so I’ve been forced to brave all weathers. When it’s rained and been freezing cold at the same time, it’s been horrible to walk in, especially when your body doesn’t want to be bothered. But, on days like the last couple when it’s bright and sunny, there’s something amazingly refreshing about walking in the cold.

Last week it felt like we were shrouded in fog for the entire week. It was cold, but not unbearable. In a way it was miserable too. But what struck me most was how lovely and kind of mysterious everything looked. And so it was, that while I was sat up, wide awake in the early hours of one of the mornings, I wrote a poem about the fog.

'Fog'

Looking up the hill towards town, you appear, 
a blot on the landscape,
tough shoes to fill given the presence of a paint factory 
at the side of this particular road,
but you fill them and blighting a beautiful day
you begin to strangle the light 
a creeping of the cursor down the screen,
deleting the optimism of a crisp winter's morning,
cancelling the order of light
and replacing it with not quite darkness, but a curtained haze
that disastrously alters the appearance of everything.
Later, diving out for some morning exercise
I try in vain to catch the sun through your veil, achieving only rare glimpses that turn this familiar sight
into an alien land, an unexplorable planet.
Still, it feels good to be alive, caught in the glare  of any number of incongruous headlights
and while dog walkers emerge unnervingly from the low cloud
their calls deadened by this slate grey wall,
I follow the path home to shelter once more from a different storm
and amble my way through another aimless day. 

So, those particular days looked different and as a result of the fog, felt different too. In a way, the fog broke up what was becoming a bit of a boring routine, when my health meant that I wasn’t able to break it up myself. It meant plenty of opportunities to stop – and in truth, catch my breath – and just have a gaze at how unfamiliar this familiar landscape now looked. So, although I would be walking a similar distance each day, I was able to stay out a while longer!

As ever, I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment, as they’re all much appreciated!

Cramp, a head like a tomato and lots of aches and pains – an introduction to running in middle age.

What do you do when you wake up one day and realise that you’re now somewhere between the ages of 40 and 50 and you have no idea how it all happened? Well, there are of course lots of answers to that question. If you’re a man, you may consider some form of mid-life crisis, be it buying a sports car, dressing like a teenager or flirting with people half your age. Actually, if you’re a man you might well do all three and then some, pushing hard to ruin your life! If you’re a woman, you might feel regretful about missed opportunities or low about your appearance, but ultimately you’ll be OK!

Whatever you are, you might want to make positive changes and a really popular change is to start becoming healthier. With the hedonism of your twenties having taken its toll and the hard work of your thirties now bearing fruit in the form of a mortgage, kids and an expanding waistline, you may well decide that you want to reclaim some of your youthful good looks and energy.

There are lots of things you can do. You may go back to a team sport like football, rugby, hockey or netball. You may try a new sport like squash or tennis. You might even fling yourself into the kind of pursuits you’d so far avoided like the plague, like yoga or pilates. Or, if you’re like me and many others in their middle age years, you might just go out running.

Running and health and fitness have been a major part of my blog. They’ve also been a huge influence on my middle age. The two things collided when I fell ill with heart problems aged 44. They advanced somewhat during lockdown and now, six years on, they’re a major part of my life.

So how might you get started with a pursuit like running when you’ve hit middle age? Well, I’m certainly no expert, but let me offer a few suggestions.

The first thing that I would recommend is a change of mindset. I see a lot of people, especially on social media, bemoaning the fact that they ‘can’t do’. That might be because of time and the perception that they’re too busy or because they feel that their fitness is too poor to try. When I was younger this was always my mindset. I wanted to get fit, but would tell myself that it was too rainy, too windy, my back hurt, my knee felt niggly, I was too tired and found it really easy to convince myself not to run. Even when I went out I’d hear a tired little voice in my had telling me I’d done enough and then I’d convince myself that I’d ran a few miles, when probably what I’d managed had been a very slow mile. Often, I’d not even make it out, convincing myself that I’d go when I felt just right. All too often, I’d find another excuse not to go or I’d go out and find myself settling for just a section of a planned route.

Needless to say, it didn’t work and I rarely found running a pleasure. My fitness didn’t improve and as a result, my running dropped off until it was non existent.

I started again following a health scare a few years ago. Despite telling myself – and probably anyone who’d listen – that I was ‘naturally fit’ I found myself in hospital with heart problems. It terrified me and speaking to a patient who had suffered multiple heart attacks seemed to flick a switch within me.

Once I was fit enough again I went out running with my kids. My mindset at first was that we’d run as far as I could. To start off with that’d be 10 minutes and I learnt to love the fact that I was able to do even that. But, by changing my mindset, I managed to keep making progress. I’d celebrate our runs, often posting on social media and I’d tell the kids that we had to run further next time and not just another minute or so, a decent amount. Within a year we did a 5km fun run in Roundhay Park and I’ve never cherished a finisher’s medal so much!

Nowadays, I don’t allow myself to have excuses. Reasons are fine; so recently I’ve been struggling with a back injury and was able just to tell myself to rest. I know I’ll be back out soon enough. Similarly, if I’m too busy, I’ll find time, even if it’s just 20 minutes. Unless it’s ridiculously windy or rainy, I’ll force myself out, whether I feel like it or not. My changed mindset says it’s a huge positive to get out and run. So, my first tip would be to change your mindset – don’t allow excuses and see every step and every minute as a positive. You could say that it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

If you’re beginning to run in middle age you’ll also need to set yourself small goals. At first that might be a lap around the block or a circuit of the park. You can build from there. When I ran with my kids we had a circuit around our estate and we’d always end up doing laps of the football field. Our goal was to do another lap every time, more if we felt we could manage. It worked. If your goals are realistic, you can reach them every time and it’ll feel great. Have a plan, set a small goal and then…out you go.

A good way of setting goals might be to download a running app. I use Strava and while I’m running I might well be thinking of other roads on my route that I could run down in order to lengthen my run next time (a good trick to keep your mind off how your legs are feeling, that one!). Failing that, I’ll look at the map on the app when I’m finished and target a route for next time. And 9 times out of 10 I’ll set myself a simple goal of running just a little bit further next time.

In terms of starting off and setting smaller goals, the ‘Couch to 5k’ app looks ideal. It’s free, easy to use and automatically sets the goals for you, working you up to a 5km run in manageable steps, which at our age is a really good thing!

Another good tip is to invest in some decent gear to go running in. When I first got back to running, aged 43, I simply bought a cheap pair of Nike runners from an outlet store without any real thought about what I was buying. They were there, they were in my size, they were cheap. They actually lasted me for a decent amount of time and were falling apart by the time I replaced them.

This time though, I’d done some research and read up on what I needed. I still didn’t shell out a huge amount of money, but made sure that I read reviews and took into account things like cushioning, weight and the heel to toe drop. The results were great. Firstly my times improved, but much more interestingly, especially given my age, my recovery time between runs got noticeably better. My legs ached a lot less and I wasn’t frequently waking up in the night after a run with shocking cramp! Furthermore, I didn’t feel 30 years older the next day either. So, I’d thoroughly recommend doing a bit of research and spending a bit more money on trainers that are going to be of more benefit to you.

This led to me spending a little more money on kit like shorts and running tops, which if I’m honest just make me feel better because they fit better! As a middle aged runner whose face turns tomato red after about a mile, having nice kit could be an essential distracting factor as I run past people in cars. In short, if my kit’s better, they might not notice my hilarious face! That said, even having better running socks feels like it’s of benefit, so a slightly bigger spend is a great idea. And if you’re worried about money then just keep an eye out for the sales when it’s easy to grab yourself a bit of a bargain. Oh, and buy shorts with a pocket; handy if you’re taking a key out or you just want to take a bit of fuel. I always make sure I have pockets to put some jellies in, which I find give me a much needed sugar rush at certain points in my runs!

As a new, middle aged runner you’re possibly going to feel a bit self conscious. I’m not a fan of my body and it’s safe to say that it’s got worse as I ticked over into my fifties. So, the idea of the horror show that is this tall, skinny middle aged man with a little pot belly running around the streets clad in clingy material haunted me from the word go!

One good idea for this problem would be to find some like-minded individuals. You might have friends who are keen to start running, but if not, there’s always a running club that you could join. A quick Google search is almost certain to reveal some kind of running club in your area and from what I understand, they’re always a friendly bunch. Being a bit of a grump, I still run on my own, but even I can see myself joining a club at some point. It’s got to provide a boost and maybe looking forward to meeting up with your running pals might help you resist the urge to stay in watching telly and resting your still aching muscles! Running as part of a group is also a lot safer too, so it’s definitely a good idea if you can find the right people.

The final piece of advice I’d give you if you’re starting to go running in middle age is to listen to your body. I’ve found running to be quite addictive, particularly as I’ve got fitter and been able to achieve certain goals. But I’ve really had to temper that readiness to go out running. The simple fact is that if you’re starting to run in your middle age, your body isn’t going to bounce back like it used to do! Rest is absolutely vital at this time of life, particularly if you’re pushing yourself. And the more you ignore your body, the more likely you are to pick up niggling injuries that will only get worse. So my advice would be to enjoy your running, but make sure that you not only give yourself good recovery time, but recover properly too; drinking lots of water and getting the vitamins back into your body is vital to being on top of your fitness when you go back out again. I find that eating cranberries or bananas gives me back that limited feeling of vitality that I have in my fifties!

So, there you have it! Hopefully that might give some people a bit of a push or maybe even some inspiration. Personally, I can’t recommend running enough and I genuinely feel like I’m, in a way, revitalised by going back to it in middle age. And given that none of us are getting younger, maybe we all need a bit of revitalisation!

The Morley 10k

Bright sunshine, blue skies, a chill in the air and a slight breeze. Some – including me – would say these are perfect conditions for running.

And so it was that on Sunday 9th October, 2022, in bright sunshine, myself and my family left our house at just after 8.40am to make the short walk down to the start line of the inaugural Morley 10k.

Despite my usual case of pre-race nerves and self-doubt – usually put down to having hairy skinny legs and combining them with shorts while other people are around – I had an inkling that this was going to be a good race as soon as we arrived. As I’ve already mentioned, the weather was lovely, but it was the atmosphere that struck me more than anything.

Whether it was because I’d never seen this stretch of road so busy, I don’t know. But there was an unmistakable buzz about the place. As well as race officials and over 700 chattering runners there were lots of spectators at the side of the road, people in their gardens, others just sitting on their front step with a cuppa, all combining to make for a really positive atmosphere and sight.

As 9 o’clock struck, the race was started and off we went on the steady climb up Middleton Road that would mark our first kilometre. Spectators continued to line the road, some out of curiosity (probably just to find out who in their right mind was out running so far on a Sunday morning) and many there to support relatives and friends that were out there having a go.

Personally, as a keen runner, I’d ran the course a few times and so I was able to make a steady enough start, easing my way past a few slower runners as I went, while allowing others to pass me by. After all, at my age there’s no point whatsoever in a fast start when I know that there’s an enormous hill at the end of the 10 kilometres!

Morley town centre marked the start of the second kilometre and there were more people milling around and clapping our efforts. The course then swooped down a big hill where I was careful not to get too carried away for a couple of reasons. Firstly, these big hills can see a runner topple over, unable to handle their own momentum and secondly, with a while still to go and a long uphill section ahead of me, energy preservation was at the forefront of my mind!

At the bottom of the hill lies Morley Bottoms, so named because…well, you can work it out, surely? We would cross this point a further couple of times but there were already plenty of people around, which again was a lovely boost. Every so often there’d be a friendly marshal telling you how well you were doing too, which as someone who’s generally a solo trainer was a nice change. Normally I just have people like dog walkers staring at me, no doubt wondering why I’ve chosen to make myself look so knackered, sweaty and red!

Around the next mile or so would be spent running uphill and while this was a steady rise for the most part, I knew that it was going to be quite challenging. When you possess legs like mine – imagine a stork in trainers – then hills are going to be an inconvenience at best! However, I must admit today surprised me and when I got to the top of the climb and we turned to head back down – hurray – I was still feeling strong. The nagging injuries I’d taken into the run weren’t troubling me, which was a relief, but I was still careful to take things fairly steadily back down the long stretch of hill to the 3 mile point.

I knew that my family would be waiting for me back down at Morley Bottoms, having walked round from the start. And given I’ve lived in Morley for around 25 years, I thought I might see someone I knew too. In short, this meant that as I got there I was running at a pace of a minute quicker per mile than I would have liked as excitement got the better of me!

Emerging at the bottom of the hill my eyes darted everywhere, searching for my wife and children or even just a friendly face. But at first, when I couldn’t find them, it was the noise that hit me. It felt like half of the town had come out, all armed with bells, whistles, tambourines and anything else that they could make a racket with! It felt fantastic running through! And then as we ran through the crossroads I spotted my family – I heard my kids first, in truth! – and now, having ran just about half of the route, I was flying! That is, flying in terms of a tall thin, 50-year-old man flying…so probably moving at a fast jog to those who saw me!

The next part of the route took in a stretch of road where I regularly run, so I was comfortable here and began to try to move through the runners as best I could. However, as we turned to head down Middleton Road towards MacDonalds, the fact that this was a long hill that I’d be running straight back up, was at the forefront of my mind! I knew that this was the place on the route where I would probably begin to feel it in my legs…and of course the rest of my ageing body, lucky me!

Heading back up towards Morley was very much a case of trying to stay smiling and keeping my pace somewhere near respectable and I tagged on to the back of a much younger, much taller runner on this section just to give me something to concentrate on. Then, as we turned again to head up Albert Road and I knew I was close to the final mile, I realised that my legs still felt reasonably good. I got myself to the 5 mile mark and decided that with just over a mile to go, I was going to pick up the pace, while still keeping in mind the mountain that we’d have to climb near the finish!

As I approached Morley Bottoms again for the final time, I’d increased my pace and although my legs were now understandably a little shaky, I was confident of a strong finish. Morley Bottoms was still completely alive with noise and I must admit to feeling a little bit emotional as I ran through, listening to cries about how well I was doing and encouragement to keep going. As the road curved left though, I allowed myself a little look up, just to confirm how steep this final hill was. Sadly, nothing had changed…it still looked huge!

I’ll confess to feeling sick as I got close to the top of the main part of the hill. And, as I suspected they would, my legs felt a great deal more jelly-like! But, with the magnificent town hall now in my eyeline and the finish only a few hundred metres away, I knew I needed to grit my teeth and finish as strongly as I could.

My family were stood opposite the Town Hall – there’s a video where my son shouts, ‘You don’t even look tired’, bless him and his terrible eyesight – and again their support gave me a massive, timely boost. In fact though, there were people everywhere at this point and the support was wonderfully loud. It was at this point that I realised that I was completely on my own in the race. A quick glance over my shoulder showed the nearest chaser about 50 yards back and the next runners on from me were slightly closer.

I pushed myself to what I’ll laughingly describe as a sprint finish, almost catching a few people in front of me on the line. It was a blessed relief to get there though, so gaining one or two extra places didn’t really matter. I’d done exactly what I’d set out to do, finishing in 54.34, almost a minute quicker than I’d ran the course before. The winner finished in 34 minutes, but let’s not dwell on that too much…

It was wonderful to see so many people come together on the day. Hundreds came out to shout themselves hoarse and encourage a load of people that they probably didn’t even know, to run a distance that must have seemed like some kind of madness, so early on a Sunday morning! The race was a victory for community spirit and I’m really thankful for those that had the idea and then put all the hard work in to make it a reality. I really hope that the race goes from strength to strength, year upon year. As we try to forget a pandemic, isolation, austerity and the fact that everything in our lives may just be getting harder and harder to afford, this was the type of thing that the town needed and maybe the kind of thing that we all – runners or not – needed too.

Huge thanks to @morleyrunningclub and Morley Town Council (and anyone else involved that I don’t know of) for all of their hard work. The inaugural Morley 10k was an absolute triumph!

Grassroots Football: Back on the grass once again…but it might be a very long season!

I half recognised the feeling both when I went to bed on Saturday night and then while I was having a shave on Sunday morning. With the whole house silent, other than the noise of the swooshing of my razor in the sink, I tried to pin down what it might be. I showered – always a good place for thinking – but still it didn’t come to me. Breakfast presented no breakthrough either. And then, as I closed the front door and ventured out into the brisk chill of the early Autumn morning, it hit me.

Excitement!

Of course! This was the first Sunday of the grassroots football season and despite the fact that my team had finished rock bottom of their division last season and then subsequently lost around half of its squad, I was definitely smack in the middle of a bout of excitement.

I’d packed the car, as I always do, the previous afternoon. Kit bag, footballs, nets, Respect line, corner flags, step ladders for putting the nets up and a smaller bag with my match book and a few other things in. I’d got up slightly earlier than usual, having also lost an assistant coach, whose son was one of those who departed at the end of the previous season, which meant that I’d be starting to set up on my own. And now, I was getting into the car to drive the two minutes up to the pitch. To add to my by now rather distinct sense of excitement, it wasn’t even raining! Today would be one of those rare occasions where I would be able to set foot on the grass without getting soaking wet feet within about 3 minutes!

My excitement continued, but was dulled ever so slightly when I walked across our pitch and saw the state of the grass. It was easily a good three inches long and therefore not really very convenient for football. So, not ideal then! When one of our parents arrived, we decided to change to an adjacent pitch which appeared to be slightly shorter. That buzz of excitement was still hanging around and the fact that an adult pub team might turn up later looking to use the same pitch added a sense of jeopardy too!

Time always seems to fly when you’re setting up for a match. It can seem like one minute it’s just you, your corner flags and the odd dog walker and then the before you know it, players and parents are arriving and the whole pitch is surrounded with people. It’s always at this point when you realise that all of this is your responsibility and sometimes, especially when the opposition seem to have a number of players who look like grown men, it can be quite daunting!

Still though, the excitement hung around. I spoke to some parents, to some of my players, to the opposition coach and still the flutter stayed. As we warmed up and closer still to kick off, as we conducted a team talk, I was optimistic and looking forward to the game to come.

Sending your players out onto the pitch at this level can relieve you of any control that you thought you might have had. And this is where the excitement can begin to dissipate. It certainly did on Sunday. I sent my lads out onto the pitch on Sunday we some simple instructions, I’ve decided this year to try and think of games in terms of 3 Golden Rules because this should mean I’m never over-complicating matters for my players. I may then speak to people individually, but as a team I want them to all think in terms of these golden rules and trying to do a few simple things as well as we can.

After making a decent enough start on Sunday, we then conceded 3 goals in quick succession and the game was almost already out of our grasp. Worst of all was that they were avoidable goals, meaning that my excitement quickly turned to tension, dread and a real feeling of helplessness. I ask my team to enjoy playing and stay positive, but for them and for me it can be difficult when nothing’s going your way.

At 3-0 down I could see heads dropping and I could hear one or two of my players sniping at each other and arguing a little bit. Obviously, I tried to encourage them to stay positive and to keep playing and pushing forward, but by half time, we were 6-0 down and I knew that it was going to be a difficult half-time team talk!

That earlier feeling of excitement now disappearing somewhere over a local hill, I tried to stay positive. I pointed out the mistakes that were being made, but also reminded my team that they were a far better team than both the last 35 minutes and the score were showing. I repeated the three golden rules and pointed out some positive aspects of our performance, but made sure that I didn’t give anybody any excuses to relieve themselves of any responsibility for what was happening. I made sure that we all understood that every one of us was part of a team. No one person was responsible for this scoreline.

To cut a long story short, we were better in the second half, but we still lost the game 9-1. We had 7 new players in the squad, so it was always going to be a bit of a learning curve as these are 13 and 14-year-old kids getting used to new people.

At the end of the game I ramped up the positives and made sure everybody knew that in the second half we’d been far, far better. We train again on Wednesday evening, when we’ll try to tweak a few things about how we play in order to cut out the kind of silly errors that cost us dearly this weekend.

Then, we have another home game next Sunday. Same time, same place, different opposition. Hopefully I won’t allow myself to get too relaxed and too carried away then, because as I found out at the weekend, it turns out that excitement’s not always what it’s cracked up to be!

Grassroots Grumbles: Here’s to a new season!

It’s that time of year again; we’re approaching another season of grassroots football. Nothing particularly remarkable about that, but given that I’ve felt like quitting on a number of occasions recently I’m a little surprised that I’m writing this blog.

Last season was dominated by a feeling of joylessness and repeatedly asking myself the question, why am I bothering? Of 24 games played (22 league and 2 cup) we won 2. We drew a few and really didn’t deserve to lose in others, but largely, and for a number of different reasons, standing on the touchline during games of football last year was simply horrible. And so, the thought of doing it all again for another year wasn’t one that I approached with any optimism at all.

The sound of the last referee’s whistle of the season may well have still been lingering in the air when the first of several players said that they were leaving. This was followed by another and another and before I knew it, I’d lost 5 players. In fact, from the squad of 18 that we’d stated the season with, we’ve actually lost 7, while another seems to have disappeared (and he’s not even the first to do that). So we’ll call that 8 then! And whatever your knowledge of football, you’ll probably realise that 10 players doesn’t make a squad.

There has been some good news since that point. We’ve been helped out by our A-team coach – nothing to do with Hannibal, Face, Mr T etc, just the other team in the club at our age group – who’s sent 6 players our way who weren’t going to be good enough to play for his team, given the division that they play in. Further to that, our advert for players has gained us a couple of other players, including a goalkeeper, which was the position that we struggled with last year. So, in many ways, that signing alone means that we’ve struck gold. All in all as I write, we have potentially (so far nothing has been made formal) 18 players for a squad for next season. And who knows, the lad who disappeared might well pop up out of nowhere again!

We also have a little bit of hope elsewhere too. Firstly, our best player from last season – one of those who left – is considering coming back to us. I’m not building up my hopes at all, but also can’t ignore the fact that he came and played in a friendly match for us and has openly said that he just misses being part of our team. At the moment, he’s thinking about exactly what to do next, but he knows that he’d be welcomed back with open arms, so we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed as he really would make a difference.

We also had a response to our advert for players just this week that has intrigued me. It was from a girl and we’ve been trying to encourage girls to join us for years. In the developmental sense, I just think it’s good for the game that more girls join in, but also we’re just very aware that there are some excellent female footballers out there that can’t always find a clear path into a team. England’s Lionesses winning the recent European Championships has undoubtedly helped with that pathway, so I’m hopeful that we can find our first female player soon! Again though, it’s really just a case of keeping fingers crossed!

We played our first pre-season friendly match a couple of weeks ago and in contrast to how things felt at the end of the season, this was a really positive experience. We only played against our club’s Under 13 team to help them out as they adapt to playing at 11-a-side, but we had 20 players available, including our best players from last season, who as I said earlier had only just left!

It was difficult to juggle the numbers and we ended up splitting the game into quarters and just using almost separate teams, but it worked and we were able to try players in different positions and get a sense of where new lads might fit in. Since then we’ve struggled for availability because of holidays and so we haven’t had another game, but we’ve kept training chugging along, albeit it with smaller numbers.

The next step is to start registering players. So far everyone seems keen, so it’s only the notoriously difficult internet registration site to get round. It took several visits and around a week to get it all done last year, but I’m hopeful that with some players returning from last season, at least their registrations will represent minimal work!

Another big job will come with trying to get a new kit. We need a new away kit, as a lot of lads just haven’t got one as they joined the club late while others have simply grown out of theirs. We need to attract a sponsor and while in my head that could be difficult post-Covid, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that our old sponsor will simply give us the go-ahead – aka money – to get another set of kit ordered. If that happens and the registration of players is at least quite straighforward, then we can just concentrate on training and organising friendly games. It would be nice just to stat being able to work on building a team, given that we’ve lost four who were regulars in the team for the last four years. But in the ever complicated world of grassroots football, I’ll stay just a little bit cynical about those prospects!

One of the bright spots of the last couple of months worth of scrambling around trying to get new players was the offers of help. Other coaches at our club have said they’ll keep their eyes and ears open for any possible players and as I said earlier, the other Under 14s coach has sent players our way. But the one that was most positive was the offer from another coach at a different club in our division. One of the teams at our age group had folded due to lack of numbers and despite the distance between the two teams, he actually passed my details on to parents of players left without a club because in his words, he knew I’d look after those players.

As it turns out, I’ve not heard from any of those parents, but I’d like to think that’s because it’s a good 30 minute car journey to get to us and there are probably other clubs that they can go to that are a lot closer to where they live. It didn’t matter; it was nice to know that your hard work gets recognised and that there’s respect between coaches. It was something that helped make up my mind about carrying on coaching the team this year and it was nice to be reminded of the good that’s out there in grassroots football. (So thanks Rich, if you ever stumble across this blog).

So we’re just under a month from kick off in grassroots football here in our corner of Yorkshire. There’s a lot still to do, but I feel like I’m approaching it with at least the tiniest bit of optimism!

It’s been a weird couple of months – a bit of a health update.

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog about the latest downturn in my health. I didn’t do it because I’m self obsessed and imagine that anybody really wants to know how I’m feeling at any given time. It was written mainly because my health was the reason that the blog started in the first place and also because writing stuff like that is a good way of taking the weight of any worry off my shoulders. If you fancy a read of that one, it’s on the link below.

A spanner in the works.

For a bit more context, just over four years ago I was taken into hospital with heart problems and then, having been fine ever since, last month I spent a Sunday afternoon in a bit of a secretive mild panic as my heart decided it was about time it start racing once more. When I eventually confessed to feeling unwell we had a bag packed ready for a visit to hospital quick smart! In the end though, I didn’t need to go as after an awful spell of dizziness and nausea, everything went back to normal.

A few days later I had an ECG and some blood tests at my doctors and was referred back to Cardiology at our local hospital. This then led me to another local hospital some weeks later, where I got fitted with a 24 hour ECG machine. The most exciting thing to happen within that 24 hours was going to the hospital. Once I had the ECG machine on, my heart behaved impeccably, which was both a comfort and a frustration. A kind of proof that nothing was wrong alongside the mystery of what had actually happened in the first place. So, it sort of confirmed what I’d felt all along; that the latest setback was just a blip, while still leaving open that nagging sense of doubt!

In between times I gave myself a short break from any exercise at all. However, in the back of my mind I knew that I had entered the Leeds 10k and was desperate to do it. With 4 weeks to go until the actual race I set myself a challenge. I would train as best as I could, without pushing things too hard and a few days before the race itself I’d make an honest decision on whether to run or not. I presumed that if there was a problem, I’d know before then anyway.

On my first training run I had to detail my exact route and approximate finishing time to my daughter, so that if anything went wrong, she’d have an idea where to find me. This was much more for her benefit than mine as really, I felt quite strong. I also texted my wife the same details just to reassure her too.

Fast forward four weeks and I found myself on the start line suffering with my usual bout of pre-race nerves, but also feeling a huge determination to run a good time. It was a warm day, but quite still so I was pleased that I wouldn’t be battling the wind too much. What I felt I was battling though, was a bit of a lack of fitness. I’d run a solitary 10k in around 6 weeks, so while I wanted to run a good time, I didn’t know how capable I was and the state of my heart was always at the back of my mind too.

In the end, despite any reservations, I ran just two seconds outside my personal best! I got a little confused in the final mile, thinking I had more to run than I did – I’d definitely put this down to fatigue – and so I didn’t start picking up the pace until it was a little too late. I’ll know for next year though!

My latest heart scare had come after another 10k race about 6 weeks previously having just gone straight back to training, so I made sure I rested properly this time round. In fact, I don’t think I’ve run a 10k since, just concentrating on 4 and 5 mile runs when I go out in order to just stay sharp.

So, at the moment, everything seems OK healthwise. I actually spoke to a cardiology doctor last week, about the results of my 24 hour ECG and the general consensus seems to be that what happened was a bit of a blip. He did brielfy float the idea that I may have had another, much less serious atrial flutter (my problem first time round), but having consulted with another doctor, neither of them were too sure or too concerned. There doesn’t seem to be any need for medication and the only minor concern is that my heart rate is particularly low while I sleep, but from my point of view, that’s OK. I keep an eye on my heart rate when I’m out running, but only looking once or twice, usually once I’ve got up any big hills! Again, there’s been nothing alarming to report.

I’m learning to listen to this middle aged body a bit more though! I’m hopefully finding out that it’s not in as bad a shape as I thought it might be. Oh, and I’ve also learned that I need to hydrate far better, after another doctor told me that my blood test results looked like those of a bloke who didn’t ever actually drink water! So, now I start every day with a glass of water and then make sure that I’m drinking throughout the day. It sounds easier than it is, so again, I’m still learning which is ridiculous at my age.

The good thing is though, despite a few more heart worries, I’m still going strong(ish)!

Top Ten Hazards for the Middle Aged Runner

Now some people would take one look at the title of this particular blog and question the need for a Top Ten. In many ways, I would be one of them. I mean, as a fairly regular middle aged runner I can testify to the fact that it’s often no fun whatsoever. In fact, there are times when it’s nothing short of sheer hell. I enjoy it, in a strange way, but I can’t kid myself that it can be sheer hell too!

In the recent heat, there have been more than a few moments where I’ve wondered if my thumping heart, trembling legs and sweaty face would actually make it through the next few moments, let alone allow me to get back through our front door. I could argue that my face when running, resembling as it does a prized, agricultural show-ready plum tomato, is hazard enough to just give the whole running lark up. But, if you insist on continuing to run into your forties and fifties, then I suppose I’m providing a bit of a public service in telling you the kind of things you should look out for. And simultaneously ignoring my own advice as well…

Hazard 1 – Hills. Going up. not going down. Although even going down a hill can play havoc with the knees these days. But it’s the going up that presents the hazard. A friend of mine once commented on the town where I live, ‘Morley, built on 7 hills, like Rome. And that’s where the comparison ends’. I’d argue that this is not true as we have crumbling buildings and crazy drivers too, just like Rome, but that’s beside the point. Morley was indeed built on seven hills and this means that when running locally I cannot escape the bloody things. So beware, fellow middle age runners, hills mean an increasingly worrying heart rate, jelly legs and the production of many a strange wheezing noise.

Hazard 2 – Van drivers. Well known for their stereotypically lewd comments to women, van drivers are often not the runner’s friend either. Strangely while some are just downright abusive, others appear to think that they’re either running coaches or cheerleaders and many’s the time I’ve been shouted at to “get those knees up” or just told “go on lad”. None of this does any good for my motivation and if you too are a fifty something runner, I daresay it will only inspire muttered threats and swearing.

Hazard 3 – Wind. Just to clarify, that’s the weather related type rather than the arse related. Although I find that sometimes a good burp can do me the world of good while running. But that’s besides the point (and possibly another blog…). At a certain, respectable age wind can become less of a challenge and more of a factor to keep me indoors. It’s battle enough chasing times running a 5 or 10k without having to throw myself headlong into a 20mph headwind. I don’t mind said wind behind me as I’m heading home though!

Hazard 4 – Cobbles. Now this is a niche hazard, I’ll grant you that. But where I live in West Yorkshire, cobbles are still quite common. And before you say ‘just avoid them’, it’s not that simple. I don’t have to run on entirely cobbled streets much at all, but there are certain sections of the roads that I run on where there are still cobbles that are more or less unavoidable. If I don’t run on the cobbles the alternative is to run on the main road connecting Wakefield and Bradford, which as you’d expect, can be rather busy. So while my elderly knees and ankles are put at risk on cobbles, I’ll take my chance with this hazard rather than getting clipped by a truck! If I can continue to keep my balance and stay upright, everything will be OK!

Hazard 5 – Dawdlers. Slow walkers. Like, perilously slow. The bane of my life when I’m out running. Now you may think that this isn’t just a problem for the more vintage runner like myself. So let me explain. I’m out, I’ve established a rhythm and I’m not even giving any thought to how I feel. I’m just running without really having to think too much. And then, up ahead there’s a dawdler. I’m suddenly aware of the width of the pavement or just conscious of the fact that running behind them might give them a bit of a fright. But if they can just make it to that opening or the wider bit of pavement I can give them a wider berth and not slow down. Because I can’t slow down or stop as I might struggle to find this rhythm again! Of course, they never make it to that wider section at the right time and so I’m forced to take evasive action, like running up a grassy bank or into the road. Not a problem at all as a younger runner, but now it’s the kind of thing that could knock me off balance or just drain the legs of what it turns out is absolutely vital energy! Dawdlers: the incredibly innocent looking hazard that you hadn’t even thought about!

Hazard 6 – Dog walkers. Before I go any further, I’ll just say that I know that the majority of dog walkers are wonderful and responsible people. Some of them though, are just dicks! Now this hazard can be similar to your dawdler, which as we know represent a tricky problem. But then you throw in the dog. And here’s the deal. On numerous occasions I’ve been leapt at by dogs, twice sending me crashing to the floor in an ungainly fashion. The first time led to me completing the final half of my run caked in mud – hair, face, arms, legs – and the latest saw me sent sprawling to the concrete and subsequently taking the skin off my hands and knees. And on each occasion the humans involved were unapologetic and worse than useless. I was jumped at recently by a couple of scrawny rat type things and when the owners just grinned I’m afraid my response wasn’t particularly composed. Instead it was riddled with expletives. But I think I made my point. I’m 50 years old and doing my level best to stay fit and healthy. My body does not need to be hastily considering evasive gymnastics while I’m out running.

Hazard 7 – Young runners. Put simply these runners are younger than us, fitter than us and most likely quicker than us. In my case, they probably look better in their running gear too. But they certainly represent a hazard to the middle aged runner like myself. Lots of us will be the same in that we still retain a competitive edge and thus, when I see a young runner out and about, I only ever see a challenge. If I’m ahead of them, I’ll try to stay ahead. If I’m behind, I’ll lengthen my stride and try to catch them. Both are terrible ideas at my stage of life and only ever result in a struggle to actually finish my run! The lesson is to not try and take on people 20 or 30 years younger than me. If only I could learn the lesson!

Hazard 8 – Friends in cars. Admittedly, not the worst thing in the world, but believe me, when you’re 50, approaching the end of a run, sweaty, disheveled and your face looks like it might just explode, you do not want to see one of your mates go past in the car!

Hazard 9 – Chip shops (see also Indian takeaways and pizza shops). An easily avoidable hazard, but one where I never seem to learn my lesson. All of the above are regularly on my running routes simply because I live in quite a large town. Let me tell you, they are not good for moral! The wonderful aroma of chips, garlic or curry never fails to leave me wondering what the hell I thought I was doing when I had the idea for a run in the first place. Surely, ordering out and then sitting down and tucking into any one of these delights would be far more sensible and enjoyable than dragging my weary lycra-clad self round another 10k?

Hazard 10 – Beer Gardens. I regularly go out for a run after work on a Friday. I leave as early as possible, get home and changed quickly, stretch and then out I go. And it always seems like a great idea. I can rid myself of the mental fatigue and stress brought on by the working week and just be alone with my thoughts. Until that is, I spot a beer garden up ahead. It’s similar to the feeling I get when I smell a takeaway, but worse. Worse, because as I look up, it seems like every other middle aged person in town has decided to head to the beer garden and they look to be having such a great time. Would it not make sense for me to deal with my stress just like them? Well, yes, it would! And yet, here I am attempting to recapture the fitness of my youth, like an idiot while the inevitable wag glances up from a cold pint to call out to you to ‘get those knees up’. He probably came over in his van as well!

It should be a very simple thing to do, go out on a run. Staying fit in your middle age should only really be a battle with your own body. But as you’ve just read, it can be far, far more than just that!

Jelly legs is feeling his age!

It’s Monday morning and not only am I afflicted by that Monday feeling, but my body aches almost everywhere from head to toe. Worst of all is that nobody else is to blame; this is all my own fault. And now I have a busy day at work ahead teaching students aged from 11-16, not many of whom will have any sympathy for me!

So yesterday, I completed a 10km race. The same 10k race that I was banging on about a little while back in the blog on the link below, complaining that I was never going to be in the right shape for.

https://middleagefanclub.wordpress.com/2022/04/09/my-first-10k-race-of-the-year-a-month-to-go-and-i-dont-feel-good/(opens in a new tab)

It was my second time at the Pontefract 10k in West Yorkshire and I was determined to do well. But training had been far from perfect and I’d been suffering with a mixture of injury and illness in the weeks leading up to the race. However, come race day I believed that I was fit enough to get round in a time that would beat the one I ran at the same event last year. I felt that I’d managed to pull myself together just about enough in the last few weeks and had trained fairly well, completing a couple of fast – for me – 10k training runs that were only a minute or so outside of the type of time I hoped to run in the race.

It was an early start on race day in our house as myself, my wife and my son all rose before 7am in order to scramble down some breakfast and get ready to head to Pontefract, a 20 minute car journey away. The race was starting at 9am and we would need to be there early in order to get parked up before heading to the start.

I’m functional at best in the morning, so it was tough going! However, I really enjoy an early morning run, so while breakfast and getting ready would be a struggle, running – I hoped – would not!

This year’s start line was not the nervy place to be that last year’s had proved. I felt that I knew my surroundings and it helped that I bumped into a friend from work and we chatted for a few minutes until it was almost time to line up. In short, I didn’t have time for nerves. However, I still felt a strange mixture of concern about my fitness and hope that I could run a sub 50 minute 10k.

I won’t bore you with a detailed commentary of the race, perish the thought. I for one don’t particularly want to relive it anymore!

However, it’s safe to say that it was tough. It started to rain on the first long, uphill stretch and I heard someone near me let out a little cheer about this. I should have tripped them up. Thankfully, it stopped shortly after.

The course is described as undulating, but let me tell you that the undulation feels largely uphill when you’re out there. I managed to forget any race plan I might have had and instead went off quickly (for a man of my vintage and physical state, that is). My competitive side kicked in here and I was more concerned with passing people, than thinking about how far I’d gone and how I was feeling. I’d regret this later. I told myself that I’d be able to power through and just keep the pace going, but it’s safe to say that miles 3 and 4 saw me slow more than I’d have liked.

By the time we turned for home and the last couple of miles or so, my legs were like jelly, a substance which for years I was quietly convinced that they may have actually been made out of. Quite a bit of the last half of this race is uphill though, a fact that my mind had rather inconveniently forgotten, so it was pretty difficult to keep on going at any pace, although I managed. For the first time in a long time though I found myself thinking I should just stop, as a few people had. I had a bit of aa word with myself though and kept going.

The final mile or so of the Pontefract 10k is downhill and I was looking forward to just powering down the hill. However, having used up so much energy already my body wasn’t responding in the way I wanted. I imagined a Mo Farah like kick where I just passed runner after runner. Instead, I was much more akin to Moe from The Simpsons as I grumbled my way down the last stretch.

Pleasingly, I did pick up my pace a bit though and kept a close eye on the time via Strava, so I knew exactly where I was with my personal best in mind. Passing my wife and son just before the last 250 metres, I knew I had to go faster, but was convinced that there was nothing left in the legs…not even jelly. However, as someone passed me within the first few metres, something in me flicked a bit of a switch – my competitive side again – and before I knew it I was sprinting. More like a middle aged man laden down with bags on a train platform than Usain Bolt, but sprinting all the same.

I crossed the line in 51.27, a good 25 seconds better than I’d ran the previous year and inside my personal best. I wasn’t sure I’d stay on my feet or even conscious, but I’d done what I’d set out to do! Never had 250 metres felt so long!

Cramp set in as I met my wife and son, but some stretches and a stroll back to car had me feeling a bit more comfortable. But I’d forgotten how much racing takes out of me. I can run 10k on a training run and feel reasonably good hours later and more or less back to normal the next day. Running a race just wipes me out.

The rest of Sunday was spent keeping busy, while also trying to relax, but I woke up on Monday morning feeling groggy to say the least! It’s now Wednesday and although the muscles are nowhere near as tender as they’d felt for the first couple of days of the week, I’d still quite like to just be at home napping rather than at work!

Training for this race was difficult. It was very ‘stop start’ as I seemed to just keep picking up niggling injuries or colds, meaning that some weeks I’d be running 20k and others I’d do 3k at best! I think a lot of what got me through was just sheer bloody-mindedness and a determination not to let myself down. Having got through it quite successfully I’m now planning my next race, which will probably be in Leeds in July, unless I can find something earlier that appeals. For now though, I’m just feeling my age and hoping to recover by the end of the month!