Poetry Blog: Process

I’ve had a burst of activity with poems lately and written three or four that are in varying states, as well as several lots of notes that will serve as drafts for other poems.

I love it when this happens. Primarily because it’s good to be writing and in most cases, these poems provide something to go on the blog! But also, there are times when I haven’t written for a while and start to feel like I might never be able to do so again. So, to al of a sudden be able to produce some ideas, let alone some actual poems, is a bit of a relief.

I had to read this poem back a couple of times before I could work out what it was about. I’d written it a few days ago and, as is regular for me, it was done in the early hours of the morning after I found that I just couldn’t sleep once again. Hence, coming back to it, I was unsure who it was about as well as precisely what. Turns out it wasn’t that complicated because it’s just a poem about me and my state of mind at the moment.

I wouldn’t say that I was particularly low; just not particularly happy. Confused about a few things maybe and while not struggling, definitely not finding things as easy as I’d like. There’s been a lot going on with family issues and health issues and I think it’s reflected a bit at least, in the poem.

Process

Thoughts emerge like a pack of cards being dealt haphazardly,
some spinning and turning over as they drift through the air,
others plummeting directly to the floor
and the time spent on each left interrupted as more and more land to steal away your attention from the last,
and although your gaze may return to some randomly, 
none will be allowed to feel complete,
so you twist and turn, restless for an end that doesn't look like coming.
Similarly, your questions are all frustratingly rhetorical.
There are answers, but they are never a truth,
a rock, a definitive
and as a consequence, you do not know which route to take.
This is a process.
No one else need get involved or share the burden.
All of this, you hope, will pass.

For once, I have reasons behind the title of the poem. And for that reason, I think that for once, I have a decent title. I called this one ‘Process’ because my whole state of mind and the situations that I find myself going through will get worked out. They really are a process. As well as this though, I used ‘Process’ in terms of the fact that I’m just trying to figure things out. In know what’s happening and I know why, but I can’t really figure out how best to get through it. But I know that I will.

The end of the poem is quite important for me. In terms of problems or any kind of mental health issue that I might have, I’m never great at sharing. It’s not that there’s no one to share with and it’s also not that I don’t believe in sharing, talking or unburdening yourself. I totally understand that a problem shared is a problem halved, as they say. It’s just that I’m usually fine just dealing with stuff myself. It might take longer, but at least I don’t have to trouble anyone else. Apart from by writing about it, I suppose!

I hope you enjoyed reading and would love to hear any comments that you might have.

Until next time…

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)!

A spanner in the works.

It’s been a bit of a strange week in our household. It’s revolved around me, but it’s affected the four of us and probably spoiled everyone’s half term break in some way or another.

Last Sunday I had a bit of an unwelcome visitor. My heart problems resurfaced. Not in a big way, but big enough to completely stop the day and have me worrying for the rest of the week. There was no hospital visit this time so it was a lot less dramatic than four years ago, but it served as a bitter reminder of my age and the fact that, deep down, I’ll always be worried about my heart health.

We’d been visiting family in the morning and everything had been fine. I did feel a little bit grumpy though, but I put that down to hunger as by the time we left it was past dinner time. I felt tired too, but assumed that was just a hangover from the day before when I’d pushed myself far more than I’d intended when out on a 5k run that turned into a 10k one.

I can’t quite remember when I first felt my heart racing., but it was Sunday afternoon and I was conscious of the fact that it wasn’t right. However, I was confident that it wasn’t going that fast; just faster than it should have been. I put it down to the previous day’s running and decided that no one needed to know as it was sure to calm down soon. I then spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the settee watching TV, afraid to move too far and fully aware that my heart was still racing. After a few hours I was starting to worry.

We were supposed to be going out that night. My wife had booked tickets to see the Alan Partridge tour as part of my 50th birthday celebrations and tonight was the night. As the time approached for us to be getting ready, nothing had changed. My heart rate didn’t seem to be any worse, but it wasn’t any better. And then I went upstairs to get my clothes ready.

At the top of the stairs I suffered a terrible spell of light-headedness and I kind of staggered into our bedroom and grabbed onto the window sill to keep myself upright. I scrunched my eyes closed, seeing stars as my legs turned to jelly. After a few seconds I sat on the edge of our bed and put my head between my knees. My heart was now thumping and had quickened up noticeably. Stupidly, I decided to just sit tight and see if it would stop. That’s stop as in calm down, rather than just stop. I figured that could be a problem with my heart!

After a few minutes, it went back to just racing. I took my heartbeat via my smart watch – 105 bpm, not too frightening. So, I went back downstairs.

Thinking about the stairs in Leeds Arena – venue for our night out – I knew that I probably couldn’t go out, so when my wife headed upstairs to get changed I followed. And at the top of the stairs it happened again. This time, I told her.

She got me to lie down on our bed and said that she could see my whole body shaking through my clothing, that she could see my heart thumping through my t-shirt. I could see this too and I didn’t really want her to have noticed, but it was ever-so-slightly obvious! We decided pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be going out, but then when things didn’t calm down, we packed a bag for hospital. Last time they’d admitted me really quickly as I have previous for heart problems – oh, and they thought I might die at the time as well – so we decided we’d head to A&E a bit more prepared. We told the kids and there were tears.

In the meantime though, my heart rate felt like it had dropped. My watch was measuring it at various speeds now, but none over 100. It was fluctuating, but I’d stopped shaking and sweating. After about half an hour, we headed downstairs, more settled and prepared to wait this one out. Probably ten minutes later, while sitting on the settee again, I had another awful dizzy spell. It made me feel sick and was so violent that it sort of forced me forward in my chair. I saw stars again and I gritted my teeth hoping that it would pass with me still conscious. My main thought was that I was not going to hospital in an ambulance! I didn’t realise that my daughter was sat opposite and witnessed the whole thing.

As it passed, I reassured her that I was OK. I wasn’t, but I didn’t want to worry her. She sat with me as did my wife when she came downstairs. I told them that I just needed to rest and so we just sat. Something was different now though.

After a few minutes I realised that my heart rate was completely back to normal. No racing whatsoever and when measured it was going at 49bpm! And that was that. The end of an episode that had ended up with me terrified by my heart once more, but in actual fact, entirely back to normal. I was absolutely shattered though and secretly frightened at the prospect of being back in hospital again.

Almost a week on and, as I said, it’s been an odd week. The next day was a write off and the two after dominated by visits to the doctor. But by Wednesday I’d had an ECG and blood tests and they’d declared that there was nothing to worry about and provided no explanation of what might have happened. That’s not a criticism either. I mean, how would they know? But I’d gone there hoping for a clear answer and left with nothing but a sore arm from needles and an itchy chest from the fact that they’d made me shave it for my ECG!

I’m back to work next week and I know that I’ll have to be careful. I’m forcing myself to rest and have told myself that there’ll be no running for a while longer. I continue to plan my next run though, while continually considering the fact that I might just get away with it in the next couple of days. I have to keep reminding myself of my daughter’s reaction as I nearly passed out in front of her as well as the fact that up to Thursday I was knackered all day every day.

I’m hopeful that this was just a scare and that it was simply the result of pushing myself far too hard, followed by not recovering properly and not keeping hydrated. I started this blog as a result of being hospitalised four years ago. I have no wish for any more cardiology ward blogs!

Look after yourself, folks!

Winter Running Tips – a cautionary tale to update!

Earlier this month I published a blog of 5 Winter Running Tips. One of the tips was to make sure to warm up and warm down properly; a reasonable ask, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here’s what I actually wrote.

Make sure to warm up and warm down properly. Whether it’s Winter or not, this is a good tip to follow. However, if you’re planning on going out running in freezing temperatures, then making sure that those muscles are fully stretched and warmed up is essential. The temperature alone should be the only shock that you get; you don’t want to have gone 100 metres and find that your body just doesn’t feel right. It’s Winter; you’ve got every excuse you need for turning round and heading back to that warm bed or front room with the fire on! At least if you’re fully warmed up, you’ll have a fighting chance of getting into a rhythm nice and quickly and after that, it’s all about just running! Warming up will help prevent those little niggling injuries that could mean you’re back on the sofa before you know it. Similarly, by warming down once you’ve finished, you’ll feel much, much better. I sometimes finish my run within a half mile of my house and then get home with a combination of light jogging and walking, just to make sure nothing seizes up. I always stretch again once I get back to the house and make sure that I take on plenty of water to rehydrate. It’s no fun when all you want to do is flop down on the bed, but it’s a lot better to have warmed down for ten minutes or so.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, leads me on nicely to my cautionary tale. I went out for a run on Friday just gone. It had been just short of two weeks since my previous run, because I’d been a bit poorly. Not Covid, but some kind of Winter bug that knocked me for six and meant that I’d chosen to rest the previous week. I could’ve gone out, but despite the weather being perfect, decided to listen to my body a bit and give myself a rest. This, after all, had been another of my Winter running tips; rest when needed.

I continued to follow this advice on my run, reasoning that I’d do four miles at most, just as a way of easing myself in again. It all went well. I was a little more tired than I’d imagined, but set myself a different route with more uphill sections, so I reasoned that this would naturally take its toll. I’d managed a steady first couple of miles before upping my pace for the last, flatter couple, finishing strongly if more than a little tired. And then I started to give myself problems. Initially, I stretched for a while, trying to make sure that my muscles didn’t stiffen with the sudden inactivity. Next, I went through to the kitchen, grabbed my bottle of water and took a few big slugs. And then I got distracted.

Instead of continuing with my normal recovery process – taking on at least a couple of bottles of water, having a banana, eating some nuts and seeds and stretching some more – I started to make my kids’ tea. Then I had a look at Twitter. Then I filled the sink and did some dishes. Another look at Twitter. The next stage of my kids’ tea.

Before I knew it, I’d gotten washed and changed, cooked my own tea and was sitting down to watch some TV. Later on I would indulge in a beer and some chocolate, before hauling myself into bed just after midnight. And then it happened.

At just after 1.30am I was woken by intense pain in my thigh. Cramp in my quad, in fact, but cramp like I’d never known it before. The level of pain was so ridiculously intense that it felt like it burned. Not having ever had cramp here before I didn’t really know what to do, so I jumped out of bed and stood stretching my leg out as best I could. Then a hamstring cramp. This was agony. People talk about seeing stars – especially cartoon characters! – but I never believed it. But, wincing with pain, I closed my eyes tightly and was greeted with the ‘sight’ of a border of stars around the darkness behind each eye! I broke out into a cold sweat and felt decidedly nauseous, so I lay down to try and stem the tide of pain and sickness. For a panicked few seconds, I actually thought I might be having a stroke! Maybe it’s judgements like this that saw my career in medicine go up in flames!

Eventually, trying not to wake my wife, I got back out of bed and hobbled to the bathroom, taking refuge on the cold tiled floor after drinking some water, and staying there for around 20 minutes. After this, I cautiously returned to bed.

The cramp would continue to strike. Not as bad as the first time, but enough to wake me each time. At around 6.30am it woke my for the final time, keeping me awake for another half hour, this time striking in my calf. When the alarm woke me some time later I was only able to hobble to the shower and was in some discomfort for the rest of the day. Days later and the hamstring still doesn’t feel right. The memory of that cramp continues to haunt me (not that I’m being at all dramatic here!).

I’ll end this cautionary tale with a reminder. PLEASE BE SURE TO WARM UP AND WARM DOWN PROPERLY IF YOU’RE GOING ON A WINTER RUN. IF YOU DON’T, THEN DON’T BLAME ME WHEN THE CRAMPS ATTACK!

Winter Running – 5 Tips to make those chilly miles that little bit better.

It’s that time of year again. The weather is invariably freezing cold, the days aren’t as long and the nights are closing in, so that it’s getting dark by around 4pm. Add in the potential for rain, snow and high winds and this can be a challenging time in anyone’s calendar.

It’s also the time of year where all sorts of people make all sorts of vows about being better people in the future. Those resolutions, however, are never particularly binding and as we all probably know only too well, they’ll fall by the wayside with the least bit of encouragement.

Exercise at this time of year can be difficult. But unfortunately it’s also one of the things that people see as a good way of changing their lives. An easy win that, in Winter, can turn out not so easy after all. So, for runners and would be runners alike, I’ve written up what I think are some handy some tips for running at this time of year.

  1. Run early. Although Winter mornings can be ridiculously cold and utterly miserable, it’s always worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast. Every once in a while you’ll get an amazingly beautiful day; still, bright blue skies and a tolerable, bracing chill in the air. If you find one, set the alarm, roll out of bed, warm up and then get out and run. I think this type of morning is my favourite for running, especially in Winter. I’ll put on a base layer – maybe some running tights as well, if I think they’re needed – and after some warming up, sneak out of the house while everyone else sleeps and just run. It’ll be dark to start off with and as a result it can be quite an unnerving experience; the sight of anyone at all will put you on edge when it’s so dark. But the peace and quiet is just fantastic. Well worth the early start. It allows me just to focus on breathing, pace and whatever might be on my mind at the time. You’ll see the occasional dog walker or shift worker, but other than that, the world is your own. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll catch the sun rising. I can’t recommend an early morning Winter run enough!
  2. Hi Viz. If you’re running in Winter, chances are that it’ll be dark at some point. Even the middle of the afternoon can get dark at this time of year. So, be sensible. A high viz top or windproof jacket is well worth investing in. A neon yellow works well, particularly in late afternoon and if you can find something with reflective patches or stripes, then all the better to be seen in! Failing that, you can buy anything from trainers to socks that are reflective enough to make sure you’re seen at night. Not everybody can pull off the neon look. In actual fact, I’m not entirely sure anyone can, but safety must took presidence over fashion at this time of year! So even if you might be going out on a run looking like a road worker or a throwback to mid 90s rave culture, at least you improve your chances of getting round your route safely this way.
  3. Join a running club or get a running buddy. Now I’m afraid this is a classic case of the person giving the advice but flagrantly ignoring it at the same time. That doesn’t make it bad advice though. Personally, I prefer to run alone. In company I know I’d either feel guilty for being too slow or grumpy for the company being too slow. But, amongst other things, running is supposed to be fun. And in Winter, it’s just safer to run as part of a group. Another added plus here is that company can be encouraging and even give you a bit of a boost. I’m a far better runner in a race situation, where there are lots of other people to focus on and aim for, so to speak. But I can guarantee that in a race, if I’m flagging, someone will offer encouragement and support. Running clubs or groups are easy to find these days, as they’re only a Google search away and they’re ideal for beginners. I know that there are a few groups around my area where it’s all very informal, friendly and the emphasis is on gaining fitness with a bit of fun and friendship. So, if you made that resolution, joining a club with like minded and friendly people might well be the decision that helps to stick to your vow!
  4. Make sure to warm up and warm down properly. Whether it’s Winter or not, this is a good tip to follow. However, if you’re planning on going out running in freezing temperatures, then making sure that those muscles are fully stretched and warmed up is essential. The temperature alone should be the only shock that you get; you don’t want to have gone 100 metres and find that your body just doesn’t feel right. It’s Winter; you’ve got every excuse you need for turning round and heading back to that warm bed or front room with the fire on! At least if you’re fully warmed up, you’ll have a fighting chance of getting into a rhythm nice and quickly and after that, it’s all about just running! Warming up will help prevent those little niggling injuries that could mean you’re back on the sofa before you know it. Similarly, by warming down once you’ve finished, you’ll feel much, much better. I sometimes finish my run within a half mile of my house and then get home with a combination of light jogging and walking, just to make sure nothing seizes up. I always stretch again once I get back to the house and make sure that I take on plenty of water to rehydrate. It’s no fun when all you want to do is flop down on the bed, but it’s a lot better to have warmed down for ten minutes or so.
  5. Never underestimate the importance of rest. Winter running can be difficult. Motivating yourself to actually go out is tough when you already know how cold and miserable it is out there! So don’t put yourself under too much pressure. If you’ve scheduled a run, but you know your body’s just not right, then don’t go. Rest up instead. There’s always another day. And the same applies for days when it might just seem too cold or too windy. If you don’t feel like it, but know you’ll go another day; do that! Or the other alternative is to go out and maybe run a shorter distance than you’d had planned. I’ve done that a few times recently and spared myself a little bit, but have also been able to say I’d been out and kept my fitness up!

So there you have it. Hopefully a few handy tips that might just help you out a bit when running this Winter. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know if they’re of any use in the comments!

How to unravel at half term.

I didn’t realise how tired I was until the first Saturday of half term. As an early riser I’m normally fine with being out of bed and able to function at the very least. But not on that Saturday. I still dragged myself out of my warm bed, but in truth I could have stayed there for a few more hours at least.

I’ve spent the rest of the week, from that point onwards, slowly unravelling. It’s the following Friday and I can’t recall having felt more like my age than I do now! My knees ache, my shoulder is still sore – a now months old injury that still hasn’t quite healed – my back hurts and of course I’ve managed to develop the traditional teacher’s holiday cold on top of all of this! With a list of jobs to go at, it’s been just great to feel so terrible!

One of the jobs on our list was to have my daughter’s bedroom painted. It was something I’d started a few months ago, when she was away for the weekend doing her Duke of Edinburgh expedition. So, the hope was that finishing it off wouldn’t be too big a job. Turns out that hope was – and pardon my turn of phrase here, but in my defence it couldn’t be more accurate – a load of bollocks.

Years ago I’d vowed to just steer clear of my daughter’s room. It was, in short, a shit hole – again, the most accurate term I can find – and I just got to the point where asking her to sort it out or trying to do so myself was causing too much conflict, so I stepped back. I also vowed never to have a hand in decorating it either, such was my level of dissatisfaction. But, in a moment of weakness I stepped up to the plate and began the task. Now I needed to get it finished.

I’ve tried. And I’ll keep trying. But short of taking every last bit of furniture and tat out of said room and then just painting non stop for a good couple of days, it can’t be done. If you could see said room you’d understand my reluctance to move everything out as well. I have a genuine fear that I’ll reach to get something and be bitten by some kind of small animal. Or become trapped in a giant hair ball, ending up feeling physically sick, but with a great idea for a B-movie. So, let’s just say that progress has been slow. Slow in the sense of the movement of the glaciers as well, rather than just walking pace.

Stuff has got in the way as well. You know stuff, don’t you? Cleaning ,walks, trips to deliver things to charity shops or pick up prescriptions, that kind of stuff. Not to mention ridiculous shopping trips where you stand in a shop debating whether to buy a 6ft tall light up, inflatable snowman before leaving with no snowman but the bonus of three Christmas gonks and a mirror. I mean, we’ve all been there…

I must admit that my body and mind unravelling and shutting down has made ‘stuff’ unavoidable. So, as much as I’ve reminded myself that I need to finish decorating or I need to mark books or plan some lessons for Year 11, my aching shoulder or the fact that every time I get up I get shooting pains through one of my knees, makes shopping for Christmas gonks or family sized bags of crisps all the more appealing. And before you know it you’re 4 days into the week and nothing’s got done! But your Christmas gonk game is the envy of all of your friends, who are now frankly playing gonk catch up.

On Thursday we went to a theme park in a desperate attempt to inject some fun into our week. And it was fun…for three quarters of the family. However, it felt like purgatory for me. In short, I’d prefer to spend the day working in a Siberian salt mine than being at a theme park, but sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and go along to please the family. And I couldn’t get a flight out of Leeds/Bradford airport to Siberia at such short notice anyway.

I’ve never understood the thrill of theme park rides. To me it’s just a terrible feeling of being completely out of control and deliberately making yourself feel sick. There is no thrill. And if there is – and there isn’t – you have to stand in a massive queue for ages for the dubious pleasure. Add in that this was a theme park in North Yorkshire on a cold and windy October day and the fun was even more minimal than usual for me. I even wandered into the zoo section of the park at one point, while my family were queueing for yet more thrills and having wandered around for a good 10 minutes, I made my way back into the park having clapped eyes on not one solitary animal. Everything was sat inside where it was no doubt warmer than me. Meanwhile, my mind was unravelling, just like my body had been for the previous few days.

We did manage to order a cooker earlier in the week, so a major item was being ticked off a list there. But then we had to refuse delivery this morning when we discovered that new gas fitting regulations would mean that we couldn’t actually have it fitted! So just when it looked like we’d achieved something quite major, we had to reverse our decision at literally the last second, as the delivery men were unloading the cooker from the van! And as I stood explaining myself to them at the bottom of our drive it began to rain heavily.

All in all, it’s been a fairly forgettable week. Instead of a glass of wine at night, or a beer, I’ve sat in front of the telly more than once nursing a cold and flu drink. My daughter’s room still has work to do. And it’s still a shit hole, whatever the colour or state of the walls. We couldn’t replace the cooker but managed to waste a good 10 hours or so researching one and then buying it. And , of course we also had that day at a theme park which three of the family really enjoyed while the other member slowly froze while getting ever more bored and confused. But there were gonks…Christmas gonks. So you know, it’s swings and roundabouts isn’t it? Isn’t it?

As a kind of post script to this post and week, let me tell you about the latter part of my Friday afternoon. Determined to shake off the feeling that my body had been broken by 7 weeks at work, I went out for a run. It really hurt. Towards the end I could feel pain in my right ankle, my asthma was kicking in and making me wheeze a little bit and my hamstrings were beginning to cramp up. I was fine with this though as I had ran the furthest I’d ran since the middle of August when my shoulder injury kicked in and stopped me altogether. I was delighted. So delighted that I decided to cook a fresh pasta sauce for my tea in the spirit of health and fitness. Fresh garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, some sausage and some fresh chillies. The week was finally taking a turn for the better. And then, while chopping the chillies I managed to squirt quite a bit of it into my eye. So now that doesn’t work either…

It’s not been the week I expected.

Running Tips for Beginners and enthusiastic old people alike!

Let me start by pointing out that in no way am I any kind of expert on running. So I’m not claiming that what I write about in this blog is any kind of guarantee of success. There is no way on Earth that reading this blog is going to make you some kind of Olympian! However, as someone who’s ran on and off – more on than off, but a little stop start now and again – for most of his 49 years, I can certainly say that I speak from experience.

Running is something I’ve always loved. It was something that I started at school and success at junior school sports days whetted my appetite. I discovered very early on that I was in possession of a good turn of pace and despite my size, was capable of beating more or less anyone I raced. For a while at least. A heart problem put pay to that and once I recovered I found that I wasn’t the ‘athlete’* I’d once been.

*The term athlete is being used with quite an amount of creative license here by the way. I was a quick kid but that was about the size of it!

With my childhood heart problem taken care of I started running again, albeit not as well as before. But I really wanted to raise money for the heart unit where I’d had my operation and so, to cut a long story short, I started running more regularly and more seriously. I started to do sponsored fun runs and from there graduated to doing the Great North Run, a half marathon, raising money as I went. After that, I just kept on running either for fun or more competitively for clubs. In my time I’ve completed a number of half marathons, but mostly just ran for fun. That said, that’s a lot of running! And in the last few years, following more heart problems, I’ve started running much more regularly. It’s amazing what a health scare can do for you! So you never know, there might just be a bit of common sense in the tips that I can offer! So here we go…

  1. Preparation, preparation, preparation! I can’t lie; there are far too many times that I go out having not prepared properly. If it’s an evening run I tend to make the excuse that I’ve been on my feet all day at work, so I’ll be fully warmed up anyway. But it’s never true and the proof is never more evident in those first couple of miles when I can’t get into my running or afterwards when everything seizes up! So, it’s a little bit of a case of doing what I say and not necessarily what I do here. Take time to warm up. Stretch thoroughly and perhaps even go as far as some running on the spot beforehand. Your body will thank you for it later! Stretching isn’t the only thing you can do though. I always make sure that I’ve had a blast on my inhaler – I’m asthmatic – as I don’t want to be too out of breath too soon. I’ve also started eating a handful of pine nuts and cashews before I head out, just in the hope of a bit of an energy burst. Pine nuts are good in terms of being heart healthy and contain things like iron and magnesium, which can boost energy. Don’t eat so many that you end up running with indigestion, but I always find they help me along the way. Cashew nuts contain healthy fats and again are heart healthy. I can’t claim to be an expert on all things dietary, but even if it’s as a placebo, I find that handfuls of things like this help me out.

The final thing that I make sure I do is to have a few jelly sweets in a pocket, ready for a quick sugar rush when I feel I might be flagging just a little bit too much. My personal choice are Mike and Ike’s, a nicely sugary coated import from America, available in B&Ms brilliant and strange American Confectionary section. Other jelly based confectionary, American or otherwise, is available. All over the place.

2. Clothing. Unless you’re into naked running, clothing is a vital part of your armour as a runner. Some would say it’s essential. From a personal point of view, having never tried naked running, I’d always go with clothing; no one repeat no one, needs to see me and my middle aged body charging down the road, in the nip as they say.

Silliness aside, good quality running gear is important. But there are levels here. I’m not someone who feels the need to splash ridiculous amounts of cash on what I’m sweating into, but I do want to feel comfortable and at least look the part without it being a case of ‘all the gear, no idea’.

The most important thing – in my humble opinion – is to get a good quality pair of trainers that you’re comfortable in. I used to run in Nike flats, but found that their very thin nature meant that they wore out relatively quickly. So eventually I went for a reasonably priced pair of New Balance 680 v6, which feature a nicely cushioned sole. Game changer! Suddenly I was running faster, going further and more importantly at my age, not suffering with aches and pains for days after. You could say that I’m a convert to cushioning. I’ve since bought a new pair of New Balance, but my 680s are hanging on in there and I’m out running in them regularly. I’ve found that some good quality running socks feel a lot better too.

In terms if what else I wear, I prefer 2in1 shorts, with an inner cycling short lining. I’m all for keeping those hamstrings warm! What I would also advise with running shorts is that you buy something with some kind of pocket. That way, anything light that you need to take can be stored away. My pockets always have a few jelly sweets and I find my door key handy for getting back into the house!

I’d also advise buying specialist running tops. I’m a t-shirt man myself. My build just doesn’t lend itself to vests and no one needs the sight of any more of my body! What I would say is that you should have something bright or even high viz, just for your own safety. It’s surprising how people many just don’t see you coming, so be as visible as possible, especially on more murky days or evenings. With this in mind, I was pleased when my wife bought me a couple of light up bands that I can wear around my upper arms in winter. If it gets too late and the light is cutting in, I just flick a switch and they light up, leaving me to focus on my running rather than whether or not I might get knocked over! They’re lightweight and comfortable too, which is ideal for people like me who hate running with anything annoying attached to me. You can see the kind of thing I mean below, although there are lots of variants on this particular accessory.

3. No excuses. Until the last 18 months or so I’ve always been brilliant at coming up with excuses as to why I shouldn’t go out for a run. And excuses as to why I should come in early from a run. Drizzle, too windy (weather, not me), a niggling and sometimes not real injury, not enough time, too close to lunch, not enough sleep, not in the right frame of mind, too windy (me this time), too sunny…I’ve gone through phases where anything I could tell myself would be enough to stay where I was and not head out for a run.

Don’t do it. Those endorphins won’t release themselves. However tired you think you feel, however bad your day at work was, get out for that run. Keep up the momentum. You’ll feel better for it. You’ll be pleased with yourself. You’ll have improved your fitness, just a little bit. But if you let that excuse keep you in then you’ll find another one the next time and even when you get back out again, you’ll excuse yourself some more, another time.

Once I stopped making excuses and just getting out there, I got fitter, stronger and faster. It’s taken me a long, long time, but nowadays the weather and the niggles don’t get in the way and I’m absolutely loving my running.

4. Plan a route (kind of). Personally, I don’t like to plan a very detailed route, but I like an idea of where I’m going, vaguely which set of streets I’ll be running along and more to the point, where I turn for home. I keep it vague for one reason: if I want to add a chunk of running in, I can and that means that I can feel good about myself once I get home. If I know that where I’m headed will take me say for 5km but I’m feeling good, then I might add a few extra streets in and before I know it I’ve covered an extra kilometre or two. And I can’t pretend that it doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better. Maybe it’s just a me thing, but I’d definitely recommend it. I suppose in a way it means I get to explore little bits of town, rather than just running another circuit of somewhere and I find my way a bit more interesting. Sometimes it’s good to keep my mind distracted from how my legs are doing and heading down a couple of new streets does just that!

5. Recovery. Over the last 18 months I’ve learnt that once I get back in after a run, my next hour or so is really important. I always used to make sure that I had a drink of water, but it was never anywhere near enough. And I’d never stretch.

Nowadays everything has changed. When I remember, I put a bottle of water into the freezer before I head out for my run. I’ll neck that as soon as I get in and then refill and drink slowly for a while. I might even refill again after that. I also make sure I eat a banana as soon as I get in. I might even have more cashews or pine nuts. If I have any pain I have a massage roller ball that I put in the freezer and then massage with when I get home and it works wonders! And I make sure I stretch again. This is usually done while lying or sitting down, touching my toes or painfully pulling my feet back behind my back. Before, I might well have just flopped down in a chair and watched television, then wondered why my muscles just stiffened up half an hour later. I’d wake up next morning and find it difficult to walk, such was the stiffness in my legs and back. And then lockdown happened.

During lockdown I read a lot of things about running and exercise. I also did online workouts and learnt the value of warming down and recovery from this. I can’t recommend it enough. The stretching helps to loosen and lengthen the muscles again and the fruit and snacking helps throw vitamins back into the body, which can only help. The water replaces fluid that you’ve lost while also refreshing you, obviously. It seems obvious now and why I totally ignored recovery for so many years is beyond me, but I would absolutely recommend that you take far better care of yourself after you’ve ran. You’ll feel so much better for it.

I hope these tips – some more obvious than others – will come in handy for you. Like I said before, I’m no expert, but I’ve found that these things have helped my running immeasurably. I’m faster and stronger, but more to the point, I enjoy my running much more than ever.

As usual, feel free to let me know what you think by leaving a comment. Oh, and happy running!

Poetry Blog: Sixth on the list (behind key workers and various degrees of old people.)

I had my first dose of the Covid vaccine last weekend and it’s safe to say that it felt like quite a momentous occasion. As someone regarded as being vulnerable to the virus, it was something I’d kind of looked forward to since news of a vaccine first broke. Not in the same way as I might look forward to some beer and cake, a new Grandaddy record or Christmas, but I was looking forward to it.

It was done early on Saturday morning and I was in and out within about 20 minutes, including having to queue outside for around 10 minutes. Everything was well organised, the staff were friendly and helpful and it was a generally positive experience. Definitely something worth writing a poem about. And it would have been a bright and breezy, optimistic poem as well. But then the side effects hit on Saturday afternoon…

Anyway, here’s my poem about having the vaccine.

'Sixth on the list (behind key workers and various degrees of old people.)'

On a misty Spring morning the air fizzes with an optimism and good humour
that I can't remember feeling in a long while.
March gently attempts to wrestle February to one side 
and it's almost twelve months since the fear began.

Within minutes a smiling volunteer injects some fight into my
'at risk' body that signals hope, a way forward, a route home.
As I walk back, the town is waking up and as their day breaks
I feel I have a secret that I'd like to share with all.

I bury my bare hands deep inside the pockets of a jacket,
turn my collar to fight the chill and resist the urge to skip 
down the hill to my front door, safe in the knowledge that
I have at least half of the weapons needed for the rest of the fight.

The rest is a canyon sized unknown; I will suffer to feel good,
wait in the dark to feel better and then go through
it all again before I am able to even think about 
casting aside the unwanted cloud of our restrictions.

Over sixteen hours later, having grumbled my way through
discomfort, nausea, shivers, fatigue and pain, 
having shouted myself hoarse at a curse of Magpies, I will sit alone,
at the kitchen table, as the house sleeps around me.

I will try to find the words to make it all sound like a proper
opera, praying silently for sleep and the chance to shut down
the hell and then feel well again, but fail as all the while 
one inane thought gnaws away at my brain:

I didn't even get a sticker.

On the whole, I have to say that the whole vaccine thing was a positive experience. It wasn’t stressful at all, mainly because of the way it was organised and the staff, but my worries about the after effects would come true and then some!

For the first few hours, all I suffered with was a bit of a sore arm, but then gradually more and more went wrong. I was fatigued, felt sick, was dizzy, everywhere ached and I just felt incredibly rough, as mentioned in the poem. Strangely though, when it came to heading off to bed, I was wide awake and ended up back downstairs, where I proceeded to open a notebook and write this poem!

I managed some sleep that night, eventually, but didn’t really feel a great deal better on the Sunday. It doesn’t matter though. The fact that I’m safer now means the world and the fact that I may be able to see my family and friends again relatively soon, makes it all worth while.

As for the poem, it’s all quite straightforward, although there’s maybe a couple of lines in the sixth and seventh stanzas that are probably best explained. Despite feeling worse than I’ve felt for a long time, I was fully aware that my football team, Newcastle United were playing that evening, live on Sky Sports. There was no way that I was missing it, as long as I could keep my eyes open. Hence then the line about shouting myself hoarse at a curse of magpies, as if you don’t know, we play in black and white stripes and are known as the magpies. It’s safe to say that my croaky voice next morning had nothing at all to do with the vaccine. The other line that I wanted to explain was the bit about making it sound like a ‘proper opera’. That’s me laughing at myself as I wrote the poem. The opera reference, be it soap or the more theatrical version is me looking back and just wondering if I’ve made a bit of a big deal about it all! In my defence, it was particularly horrible though…

As always, I hope you enjoyed the poem and I’d be interested to hear any feedback you might have, so feel free to leave a comment.

Heart ops, Strava groups and 7am starts – how I fell in love with running again.

Looking back, I’ve been a runner most of my life. From scratch races around our estate and school sports days, cross countries and a brief dalliance with a running club I’ve always done it. And I’ve always loved it.

I was born with several heart problems. The main one was a hole in the heart, but there were a few other things that when combined, put my life at risk. As a child, up until the age of about 6 or 7 I spent a lot of time in hospitals and had open heart surgery at a young age when such a thing was very much still in its infancy. I was weak, scrawny and described by my surgeon as “a very poorly little boy”.

I got through, but for a long time I stayed as very much that same scrawny little boy. I don’t know whether my illness contributed, but I took a long time to really grow and always found myself playing catch up with kids of my own age. I was forever skinnier and until I was about 16 years old, I was shorter too. Where any kind of sport was concerned it didn’t bother me a bit. I was always doing some kind of actvity, and while I may not have been the best, I was prepared to put in the hard work in order to improve.

In terms of running, I had a bit of an advantage from quite an early age. I seemed to have decent pace in sprints and about enough stamina to hold my own at longer distances. But I was never quite good enough to make me really happy. I still really enjoyed running though. However, always being not quite good enough began to get to me in the end and I would suffer mentally while running, whether it was a race or I was just out on a training run. Nothing terrible, just a bit of what I saw as a weakness. I’d drift off, losing focus on what I was doing and begin to hear my own voice often telling me I’d done enough, or that I was far too tired and that I should just stop and walk. As time went on I began to just lose interest. In the end on one of the final times that I entered the Great North Run (a famous UK half marathon) I had a bit of a shocker! I had trained sporadically and ended up just putting faith in the fact that I’d done the race enough times before to be able to know what I was doing. It didn’t turn out that way.

To compound my lack of fitness, it was a really sunny day and I got sunstroke. By the time I’d finished I found talking difficult and was slurring my words. I’d arranged to meet my then girlfriend – and now wife – along with, I think my mam and dad, at a certain point away from what would be a crowded finish area once I’d finished. However, by the time I arrived I think they were considering sending out a search party! I vaguely remember asking a man on the baggage bus where our meeting point was but really not understanding his explanation, such was the state I was in. In the end, I gathered my thoughts somewhat and just staggered in the general direction of where I felt it was and finally found my welcoming party. After that, I remember being forced to drink a lot of water and then falling asleep on the back seat of the car, draped across my girlfriend’s lap. I genuinely don’t remember much at all about the actual run.

Needless to say, the whole experience put me off running for quite a while and it was a long time before I found the motivation to start running seriously again. However, to cut a long story short, I got motivated enough to do one final Great North Run (my 6th) in order to exorcise those particular demons, ran it in a decent time, proved a point to myself and then more or less gave up running for a number of years.

Until my mid to late 40s I didn’t really run again much at all. And then – as has been documented in a few previous blogs – heart problems struck again and I decided that I needed to get fit. As far as I was concerned I’d had a gentle brush with death and wasn’t prepared to sit around and allow my body to go to seed any longer. So I ran for my life.

Even then my running was relatively sporadic. I’ve always been particularly prone to niggling injuries and sadly it’s always been something that I’ve allowed to put me off. I think as I’ve got older I’ve got mentally weaker in terms of levels of determination and used small injuries, colds etc. as a good enough excuse to duck out of a run or two. But then something else happened that completely changed my outlook and fortunately allowed me to make my body a great deal fitter and stronger.

When Coronavirus struck, I ran. Simple as that. Being told that I was particularly vulnerable to the virus and then watching how dangerous it could be, made me think. I needed to be as fit and as strong as possible. I had to be prepared to fight. So I fought. And this time I fought properly.

By March of this year I was in lockdown and unable to work. I genuinely didn’t know what I’d do to get through the initial four weeks that I was going to be away from work. So when schools closed and Joe Wicks decided that he’d run a live family fitness class every morning of lockdown, I jumped on it.

Initially it was our whole family. But when my four weeks turned into 6 months, things got busier for the rest of the family. My kids were being schooled remotely (until my then Year 6 son went back to actual school) and my wife was working from home. This left me, pig-headedly doing a Joe Wicks workout every morning at 9am and without realising it for a while, getting much fitter and stronger into the bargain. Suddenly one morning while having a shave I noticed the appearance of actual muscles on my arms, across my shoulders and chest and thought, well this is a bit different!

After a few weeks I felt fitter than I had in years and so started getting into the habit of finishing a workout and then heading out for a run on at least a couple of occasions in a week. And what a difference a bit of strength makes! A couple of weeks later and I was beating personal bests every time that I went out. If I ran 3km on the Tuesday, then I’d run 3.5km on the Thursday, until I was regularly running a 5k after a couple of workouts per week. Just over a year ago, I started to do Park Run and after a couple recorded a 5km personal best of 28 minutes and 56 seconds. That was enough to give me an excuse to stop again! Now, after a few months of going out running, that personal best has been broken several times and now stands at 24.48. Who knew that being actually, properly fit could make such a difference!

Clearly, taking fitness seriously has really worked for me. As someone who’s thought of himself as a runner for years, I’ve now realised that this is actually the fittest I’ve been in probably 25 years and at the same time, the best I’ve been at running! Other commitments mean that I have to limit my running to twice a week, but I find myself getting quite giddy in the lead up to a run. I can’t wait to leave work on a Thursday so that I can get home, stretch and then go for a run with my son. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed, but it’s definitely a mild addiction.

Recently, because of new lockdown rules, grassroots sport was cancelled and I usually coach an Under 12s football team. Armed with the knowledge of what the last lockdown did to my team, I was quick to put in a plan. And armed with a new fitness regime, it was always going to involve running!

The last lockdown meant that the only contact I had with many of my players was via a parents WhatsApp group and all that I could really do was check how they were. It also meant that by the time they returned to football, months later, many of them were really out of shape. So this time I had a plan.

We’ve set a 5km challenge, meaning that we’re trying to get every kid in a squad of 14 to run at least 5km per week. This will hopefully keep them fit. We’ve formed a club on the Strava app, meaning that we can all check each other’s progress, the kids are getting respect from each other and there’s a good level of challenge as they can see each other’s efforts in the app. As a coach I can keep an eye on who’s doing what and it’s definitely going to help me to pick a team when we’re all back together as, apart from anything else, I’ll know who should have the fitness to last an hour of playing time! While there are some who’ve avoided it, the majority have taken up the challenge and I know that they’ll be in better shape than last time when we finally play again. The whole thing seems to have kept spirits up within the team too and it’s been brilliant to see each of them trying to improve on their efforts. It’s also been a brilliant way for me to test myself and set a good example to my team too. We’ve even got one or two of the mums and dads joining in too, so running has been a bit of a saviour over the last month or so!

Yes, of course I chose my longest run to screenshot!

So where am I at with my running currently then? Well, given everything in my life – and I’ll be honest, my age – I’ve made sure that I only go out and run twice a week. I run on a Thursday evening with my son, simply because that’s when he should have his football training. I also get up ridiculously early on a Sunday morning and go out for a long solo run, while there’s hardly anyone around.

Fitness-wise, this is great. I’ve been out on the last four Sundays and starting with a 5 miler, have progressed up to my latest effort of 8 miles. This is the furthest I’ve probably run in at least 10 years! I have to say, I love it. There’s nothing quite like running through a foggy Yorkshire town at 7am, knowing that it’s more or less just you for streets and streets around! I’m alone with my thoughts, watching day break (sometimes I even see the sun come up, but this is northern England, so it’s a rarity) and just completely relaxed. It hurts, I must admit, but it doesn’t really matter. As I’ve previously explained, I’m much fitter and stronger and so feel that I can recover fairly quickly, where before it might have taken me days of walking like I’d had a blunt object inserted somewhere unpleasant before I was back to feeling even remotely normal. Like I say, it’s amazing what being properly fit will do for you!

The start of a beautiful sunrise during one of my early morning runs.
But sadly, it’s not always as lovely!

If the pandemic allows I plan to run at least one race for charity in 2021, partly to raise money for a heart fund, but also in memory of a couple of friends who we’ve lost this year. It’s been a tough time and I’d really like to be able to give a little bit back. And now I have a way of doing that again.

It feels like a bit of a success story. I’ve rediscovered something that I really loved and feel that I’ve become much, much better at it too. And for a man of my advancing years it’s been a real boost. Given the context of things with a global pandemic, lockdowns, normality being taken away and the fact that we’re unable to see family and friends, I think we all need a bit of a boost. Perhaps, if you feel like having one too, you might go out for a little run and see how it feels? I’d definitely recommend it!

Poetry Blog – ‘No blue lights.’

Photo by Pranidchakan Boonrom on Pexels.com

So a little while ago, during lockdown, I got to thinking about a couple of years ago when I was poorly and got admitted to hospital. Fun times. It led to a couple of poems, the first of which – imaginatively entitled ‘Heart’ – I published on here a few weeks ago. At first I didn’t know what to do with the poems, given their personal nature. but as I’m not one for going back through notebooks and reading my own work, I decided to publish.
I thought I’d share because otherwise – as I said when I shared ‘Heart’ – it’s just words on a page for no one really and they’ve been sat in a notebook for months. This poem was actually the first one of the two.

No blue lights, no ceremony.
Instead, a last meal, rushed to send you on your way into the dark.
A numbness. A thought nagging at the back of your mind, like a job that needs to be done, but feels better ignored.

In the steady opening of a door time accelerates, yet thought slows down.
A world spins, but you watch wondering if you’re still part of it. And for how long?

A sharp scratch jolts you back, a reminder of a TV drama.
This is really happening. So you summon the banality of the everyday to make it go away.
Then a dark hint dropped by a friendly face and before you can utter a sound, formulate a thought, time moves on and you struggle to keep up.

Death is no longer a stranger. Death is the friend that everyone else hates, but no one tells you why.
Death is a temptation, but a step too far, a drug you will not take. An adventure that tempts you, talks to you before something unnamed barges in and stops you.

Dreams. Faces in the dark. One long nightmare.
The morning’s loneliness and thoughts that you’ll never see them again.
Until you do.
And you fight, kick like an Olympian down the back straight until you catch life. And them. Feel their tears, their warmth, their hearts still beating with yours.

Reading it back for the first time in a while, this feels like a really fast version of events. I don’t know why. There was certainly plenty of subject matter to tackle, so maybe subconsciously I wanted to reflect how quickly certain things seemed to happen. I’m not sure it was a deliberate intention though!

The story behind it is having to go to the Emergency department of the hospital when I was having heart palpitations. I drove myself in – I didn’t want any fuss – and fully expected to be given tablets and sent on my way. And maybe this is where the pace of the poem comes from. They were expecting me in A&E and unlike whenever I’ve been there before, I was seen almost immediately. People came into my cubicle in quick succession, each with a more serious expression on their faces! The ‘sharp scratch’ was a canula being inserted into my arm by a male nurse. It was something I’d heard of on TV, notably on things like Casualty, so I knew things were more serious than I first imagined when a canula got mentioned.

The friendly face was a kind looking young nurse. However, as kind looking as she was, I couldn’t help but notice her tine change when I explained that I’d been feeling this way for a few days and nearly didn’t come in at all. For the life of me, I can’t remember her exact words, but it definitely hinted that I was in a bit of a mess!

From that moment everything was a bit of a whirlwind. Doctors and nurses came and went and my wife popped in with an overnight bag, so I had to resume my act that it wasn’t all that serious. Not long after she’d gone I was told that I was headed for a ward, but wouldn’t be allowed to just walk up, so was helped into a wheelchair and taken by a porter. I’ve never felt so helpless in my adult life!

I was terrified that I was going to die. Doctors and nurses kept waking me up in the night when exhaustion and probably prescription drugs meant that all I wanted to do was sleep.

When I woke in the morning I felt massively lonely – as it says in the final stanza – and, although I’d had the fact that I’d be fine but needed an operation explained to me, started to think that I’d never recover.

I did recover though. I kicked ‘like an Olympian’, tried to eat the right things, exercised, rested when I needed to and cherished the people around me like never before.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started