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My name is Graham and I’m part robot…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bloke in possession of what he thinks are a perfectly good pair of legs, will NOT be allowed to walk up to a cardiology ward from his A&E bed, no matter what reason he gives or how ‘ok’ he feels. And so it was that I found myself clinging to an overnight bag while a porter wheeled me through the eerily quiet hospital corridors up to my new temporary home.

Having spent around 7 hours working my way through the various stages of A&E, I’d almost got sent home. Almost. Then, minutes after the cardiologist doing my ‘final’ echo scan had mentioned discharging me, he found a problem and performed a rather neat about turn, admitting me to a ward.

So, having had my sleep disrupted on several occasions during the night, either by a nurse checking a monitor or taking my blood pressure or by a fellow patient making loads of noise in their sleep, I woke next day to the wonderful hospital sensation of a nurse turning on all the lights, yanking the curtains open and asking if I fancied tea or coffee! This would be the first of several occasions that I’d be woken from a slumber, hospital wards being both great places to nap and probably even better places to get woken up.

Now this was most unexpected when I started my working week. I thought I’d just be clinging on for Friday to arrive, as usual, and now here I was clinging on to the hope that I might still go home with just some tablets to take.

However, as the day went on things just seemed to get gradually worse, culminating with the visit of the head cardiology honcho, who broke the news that I’d be having a pacemaker fitted. Despite my relative youth for such a procedure, my condition just meant that it was the common-sense decision. Staggering. A pacemaker wasn’t on the menu as far as I was concerned; not for at least another 20 years. Yet, when everything was explained, it made perfect sense. I could either carry on not knowing when I might black out again – and have my driving license taken away – or I could have a pacemaker.

I was told that I’d have the operation that day, meaning that I could even be home that night. But in the end I never even got my next echo scan and so was told that there’d be another night in hospital.

To be fair, this didn’t much bother me. I think I was still quite stunned by what was going to happen to me and so the thought of having a bit more time to think was quite welcome, really. So, the rest of my day was spent mulling things over, reading, napping and snacking until it was time to go to sleep.

I got to sleep that night without a problem. Truth be told, I was shattered. The latest episode with my heart had worn me out and the news that accompanied it had been mentally draining. However, it wasn’t to be a quiet night and I was woken up by a new patient being admitted to the ward. Clearly drunk, my new Slovakian friend veered between laughing or crying hysterically, insulting the staff and praising them and telling anyone who’d listen that he’d been homeless for the last 6 nights as well as having been wrongfully imprisoned at the same time. Welcome to the ward my friend! I felt sure that I’d never get back to sleep, yet I did.

The next day was a whirlwind of activity that will stay with me until the day I die. And for a short time, it felt like it would be just that; the day I died.

Having had some breakfast, I was taken down by the now familiar wheelchair to another part of cardiology where I would have my pre-op echo scan. On my return to the ward I imagined that I’d have a bit of a wait for my operation, so I called my wife just to explain what was going on. However, within about a minute a nurse appeared with a gown for me. It was pacemaker time!

Thankfully, for this operation I managed to avoid the paper underwear that the NHS usually insist on, but even wearing my own pants, the gown and NHS slipper socks didn’t really do a great deal for my dignity.

The operation itself was successful – or at least it seemed so from my experience – so I won’t bore anyone with a blow-by-blow account. Rather, let me tell you a few interesting things that either struck me while I was there or have done since.

  1. It always surprises me how many people are involved. Mine was quite a routine operation, but I swear there were at least 8 people present. In fact, at one stage a random man appeared in an adjacent room and began talking to my team via some kind of intercom. It was a bit like he’d just wandered in to have a look, like a competition winner. Perhaps someone on the team had told him, ‘Hey, we’ve got that bloke from the Middle Age Fanclub blog in again’ but I highly doubt it.
  2. The sheer talent of these people is awesome. At one point they were chatting about the songs on the radio while one of them had my chest open and was concentrating on turning me into a robot. Meanwhile, I still stick my tongue out of the side of my mouth while concentrating…on anything.
  3. My gown made me look like something from the hot counter at Greggs, such was its colour and design. I’d like to think that the operating team also had me down as something from the hot counter. Again, I very much doubt it.
  4. Knowing that the area around my scar was numbed, the surgeon just kept dropping his instruments on to my chest. It wasn’t that numb and I felt every pair of scissors as they hit my collarbone!
  5. They have to make a kind of pocket in your flesh to put a pacemaker in. To do so, they drag your skin and flesh around like you’re a particularly heavy and stubborn bit of furniture and although it’s not painful, you are fully aware of what’s happening! So, you’re kind of lying there thinking, ‘Ooh, he’s ripping my flesh!’
  6. While pulling stuff around in my chest, I could feel the sensation in my throat. My voice has changed slightly since my op. No, really, it has! I take it this is not a coincidence.
  7. They cover you up completely in a kind of big sleeping bag and have you face the right, leaving a gap you can see out of. It’s to protect the wound from your own germy mouth!
  8. While looking to the right through my sleeping bag gap, I could watch my own heartbeat on a monitor. It goes unrecognisably mental when the pacemaker is switched on and looks nothing like a heartbeat anymore. I was also able to watch – in some horror – while my heart stopped a few times as the pacemaker started to get used to its new home! Coupled with the fact that, prior to the op, my cardiologist told me, “You’re heart stopped for 4.2 seconds this morning”, this was a development that I didn’t need to see. Indeed, it was at these points where I had the dubious pleasure – and not for the last time that day – of quietly telling myself, “Just breath and you can’t die”.
  9. My feet were freezing for the whole op.
  10. The whole thing took around 45 minutes, during which time the team involved chatted, danced (I think) and sang, while also telling me exactly what was going on and why. These people are incredible.

It was a relief when I got back on the ward and I was fairly sure that they’d send me home within a few hours. But not every story has a perfect ending, does it?

Having messaged a few people to tell them I was back on the ward, I sat back in my bedside armchair to relax. But, in what now feels like some kind of twisted tradition, my heart had other ideas.

Without warning, my heart began to race again and it didn’t feel like it would stop. I told myself that my pacemaker would kick in and take over, but that didn’t happen either. Suddenly the alarm on my heart monitor was going off and within seconds there were nurses and doctors at my bedside and the curtains were being frantically pulled round. If you’ve ever watched a film that has any kind of hospital-based emergency, it was just like that. Bodies everywhere!

No one was panicking, but clearly there was a problem. And I was it.

My heart wouldn’t slow down. In fact, it was getting quicker. A doctor told me that they were in touch with the people who’d fitted my pacemaker, whose customer service was thankfully as good as their operating skills, and that this would be sorted out and my heart would be slowed down. In the meantime, it seemed that lots of them would ask me how I was feeling, and I would reply as calmly as I could, that I was ok. I wasn’t ok, I was terrified and reduced to telling myself that I couldn’t die if I just kept breathing. So, I kept breathing.

Sadly though, my eyes were still fully functioning and the last time I saw a monitor my heart was hitting 209 bpm. They took the monitor away after that, but I’m led to believe that it went higher.

The ending of this particular episode still seems slightly surreal. After what seemed like a couple of hours, but was probably only 7 or 8 minutes, a man from the pacemaker team arrived at my bedside and ushered everyone else away. Then he uttered something incredible in both its calmness and ridiculousness.

“Hi Graham. I’m Dan from the pacemaker team and I’m just going to have a chat with your pacemaker.”

I think I laughed, which in the circumstances was great, given that I was fairly sure I was going to die, whether Dan was going to have a chat or not.

But then, he got to work. Dan pressed a few keys on what I swear looked like some kind of Fisher Price My First Laptop and then strolled around my bed doing I know not what. As he went back to his laptop, I noticed he’d placed some kind of device on my bed. It looked just like e Wi-Fi router. Then, he said,

“OK, we’re going to chat to it wirelessly now”.

After this he tapped a few keys on his Fisher Price toy and within seconds I could feel my heart slow down. So, I told him I thought it was working, to which he replied – cool as you like – that he knew it had worked. At this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d made himself a martini.

The rest, as they say, is history. I think I had a major brush with death. Dan from the pacemaker department probably hasn’t thought about it since. However, for at least a few of those minutes I thought my time was definitely up. I didn’t panic, I didn’t see any light (people have asked!), I didn’t cry or shout. I just kept thinking that I should keep breathing.

My cardiologist decided that they’d keep me on the ward for the night, so that everything could be monitored, so again it meant that I wouldn’t be going home. For once, I was delighted. The ward was safe. The ward had Dan or a Dan alternative that could sort me out if anything happened again. So, I called my wife to let her know what had happened before having a bit of a nap. When your heart’s been beating at over 200bpm, you’re going to get tired out.

I’m now a few weeks down the line in my pacemaker journey. And I’m sorry that I couldn’t think of anything better to call it, by the way. It’s not been easy. I’ve not spoken to many people about exactly what happened, because it’s quite a difficult thing to talk about. Easy enough to write about and crack the odd joke about though. I can’t do much and what I can do tires me out. I feel guilty for not working and I miss being around my ‘big sisters’ and my students. I can’t hug my wife and kids and I’m not allowed to kiss them as I can’t shave and have grown a very tickly beard! And I really feel for them, because none of this is easy for them. I hope none of them ever finds themselves wondering when the next episode will happen, but I think they will and that might just be the saddest thing to come out of all of this.

On the bright side, I’m alive. I have a future, even if I don’t really know what it looks like yet. There’s thinking to be done. I also have a couple more stories to tell and a lump in my chest where me pacemaker is, meaning that in years to come I can lie to anyone and everyone about what that is and how it came to get there. Live a day in my shoes and then tell me that’s not one of the best things ever!

Be thankful for what you’ve got, tell people you love and cherish them daily, listen to your body and try to enjoy life as best you can. Stay safe everyone.

Doctor, doctor…I wish there was a joke to finish up with!

So, there you are, a forty something year old man, living your life, minding your own business when all of a sudden, your heart decides to stop working properly. While at hospital, you think you might die and when you don’t, one of the things you decide to do is start a blog. At the very least you’ve got a sob story to tell…

Fast forward four years and hundreds of blog posts later and everything seems peachy. You’re fit, healthy, love your job and family life, you coach a football team and really enjoy going out running. It’s like some kind of Disney film, if you want to watch a Disney film that’s probably in black and white and is about a bloke with a very normal life who occasionally pushes the boat out and tries out stuff like smiling and having useful ideas in those meetings where he’s not in a semi-comatose state.

Then, a few months after your 50th birthday, you start to realise that you don’t feel that well. Work leaves you almost constantly tired. You’re having to cut down on the running. Your heart’s beating a bit funny and you’re lying awake at night listening to it do just that. You see a doctor, go to a hospital and have your heart monitored, but the results are pretty inconclusive.

Fast forward some more to October half term. We’ve booked a very last-minute holiday to Majorca, hoping to soak up some sun and just relax. Having not felt well for weeks, this felt like the right thing to do. Just go and sit by a pool and laze around on a beach, with not much pressure to do anything else. And that’s exactly what we did.

However, this was partly because I think we all felt too scared to attempt anything else.

At Manchester airport I’d felt rough, but had kept quiet. I figured that we were almost on the plane and that a little bit of sun would make me feel a lot better. And then, it happened. One minute I was in the queue for security and shuffling forward while my wife tried to retrieve the passports from her bag. Next minute, everything went black.

There were voices disturbing my dream. And they were getting louder.

“Are you alright mate? Are you OK?”

I wasn’t sure who they were talking to, but he wasn’t responding. It didn’t matter though, because I was asleep and still dreaming.

“Are you alright, mate? Do you need help?”

Suddenly, I could see my wife and kids. But why was I looking up at them? Why was the voice still asking those questions? Why did it sound like more voices had joined in? And more to the point, where was I?

It took a short while to figure things out but it turned out that I’d blacked out. I remember feeling dizzy and trying to hold onto a wall for balance, but nothing else. The airport ambulance was called for and we were reassured that we’d still make our flight if I was ok. We were moved over to one side and the queue diverted in the other direction while the security staff got me a seat and some water. Then, when the ambulance staff couldn’t attend because of an emergency, we were allowed through security on the understanding that if I felt poorly, we’d ask for help. We made the flight, but it’s very much a blur as I slept for much of it.

A few days later, there was another dizzy spell and although we had an amazing holiday, I felt poorly for much of it. I just hoped that it would pass and that I’d get back to work and begin to get better. I did manage to cop for a few emergency ice creams as well, so the dizziness wasn’t all bad!

Back at work, I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. Sorry pals; that didn’t turn out to be my best decision, did it? But I didn’t want anyone to worry, and I really don’t like a fuss. Pretty selfish and pretty stupid, eh?

I think I failed with the fuss and the worry stuff as well.

On the following Monday, I was giving out some texts at the start of a Year 10 lesson, when I felt the now familiar dizziness. I knew before I felt it that my heart would race and I crossed my fingers that it would be over within seconds. Not long after common sense prevailed, which it doesn’t often do where I’m concerned. I got myself sat down and continued on with the lesson while writing a short email to my department. Someone needed to come and help. I couldn’t black out in front of my students.

It felt like hours before someone arrived, but it was probably less than a couple of minutes. I closed the door on my classroom, quickly explained what was happening and then headed into our main building, not knowing what I wanted to do. I did know that I felt awful though. I was too hot, dizzy and felt sick.

I don’t remember much after that. I know that I saw my friend Gemma (yes, she of ‘Educating Yorkshire’ fame) and that in our office people rallied round and made stuff happen. I also know that I was apologetic and just felt really upset with myself. And I do know that I’m eternally grateful to everyone who helped me out.

As I sat there, I was still hopeful that it would all fade away and that I’d be back at work by the Wednesday, but my friends insisted that I was going home and that I shouldn’t worry about work. They also stopped me from driving home; a good idea given my dizziness and the fact that I’d have tried to concoct a story about not feeling that bad to tell my wife when I arrived home.

Instead, I was made to call my wife and confess! Not long after she collected me and, after we’d called at home to change my clothes, we headed into Leeds to go to A&E.

Once there, there was another dizzy spell and a bit of a fall into a nearby seat, which actually righted my heart rate. But I wasn’t getting out of this one. Instead, we were taken through various stages of Accident and Emergency and tended to by several amazing people. And just when it looked like I’d be able to head home, a last echo scan revealed a problem with my heart – a leaky valve apparently – and I was told that I’d be admitted.

This made me feel equal parts sad and relieved. I’d told my wife that I didn’t want to be back on a cardiology ward, but the news that I was going to do just that meant that whatever the problem was, it was hopefully going to get sorted out. But it was incredibly frustrating to know that my heart was letting me down once again.

The next day, after more monitoring and scanning, my latest wonderful cardiologist broke the news that I’d be fitted with a pacemaker and I have to admit, it felt like my world was crashing down around my ears! My heart’s abnormal rhythm would need to be controlled and a pacemaker was the answer, despite my age. But, pacemakers are for pensioners and here I was in the prime of life! But there was no point wallowing in self-pity. After all, what did I know about heart health?

It’s a bit of a big one to write about just now, so I’ll do the detail in my next blog, but it’s safe to say that it’s been a weird last month or so. On October 9th I ran a 10k race here in Leeds and ran it well, feeling fit and strong throughout. Just over a month later, I was on an operating table having a device fitted to control my heart for me. Writing about that another time isn’t some dramatic cliffhanger ploy, it’s just still a lot to take in. And I’m too knackered to do much at the moment!

For today, I just wanted to write something to update people and to say a heartfelt thanks to the friends and family that have got me this far. So, from the bottom of my poorly, electronically controlled heart, thank you! And sorry for not saying anything sooner. Boys will be boys though, eh?

Until next time…

Poetry Blog: 24 Hour Hearty Person

This is another poem about my health, which over the last few years seems to be absolutely fine for just about long enough to lull me into a false sense of security before – metaphorically – jumping out from behind a bush to scare the living daylights out of me again. Middle age is proving to be a cruel mistress at times!

In summer of this year my heart decided it was time for a bit of fun and began to play up again. Having been admitted to hospital over four years previously with heart palpitations that led to enough tablets to sink a boat and then an operation a month later to resolve it all, I thought me and my heart were done with our difficult relationship. It turns out I was wrong.

In July, I had a mini episode when my heart began to race and stayed that way for around 5 hours one Sunday afternoon. I tried to hide it from my family, but eventually had to admit there was a problem after my complexion had gone grey and you could see my body shaking through my clothes. Dead giveaway, really!

In short – because I’ve already gone through this in a previous blog – I ended up being referred back to the cardiology department of Leeds General Infirmary and then referred on again for a 24 hour ECG. It found nothing at all unusual, but made for an eventful couple of days…and a poem.

24 Hour Hearty Person

Summoned to an inconvenient hospital you've never heard of 
your first impression is of a relic from a different time,
a bit like yourself, you think, and smile to seem brave.

The clouds have returned again though, as the heart acts up,
like a toddler seeking attention, giving a firm 'no' to all of your requests
and striking with a clown-like tantrum, shaking its head at your every syllable and making you feel that you're not as in charge of things as 
you thought you might be.

Once again, you'll notice every flutter, every beat, every time you're
out of breath.

So, here we are again.

A hot summer's day when you shouldn't have a care in the world,
even if you're stuck at work,
but instead, you're stepping tentatively through the automatic doors,
outwardly confident you hope, but inwardly full of fear.

A receptionist greets you, smiling through the Covid mask,
takes your details, asks the all too familiar questions about symptoms and tests and then motions you over to the exact place to where you will sit and wait...

A few minutes pass like a decade and despite the hustle and bustle
you're alone with your thoughts, your confusion and your paranoia.

Child again.

Then, your name is called and, still smiling you step into a glorified cupboard.
Pleasantries exchanged, seats taken, your next 24 hours are explained
and before you know it you've lifted your shirt without even being paid a compliment, let alone the offer of a drink.

The inevitable question of the scar comes, like night follows day
before you're scrubbed within an inch of your life and sticky patches are applied.
You instantly vow to be brave and rip it off without a sound when the time comes to leave it behind.

Next, the tiny machine that will shadow your every move is prepped and plugged and you're briefed about exactly what it is you'll need to do.
And then, when it's time to go, you clip it to your belt like a pager last seen on an 80s trading floor and off you go, back out into the sunshine to have as normal a day as you can while your every heartbeat is recorded and scrutinised in search of an abnormality that you'd rather they didn't find.

It was a strange couple of days while I wore the portable ECG machine. It makes you quite self-conscious, the fact that you’re attached to a machine that’s liable to make itself known to people if you move in a certain way.

After the hospital, I went back to work where those in the know were surprisingly eager to see my ECG machine (although secretly I’m sure it was a sneaky look at my abs they were after!). I’m sure that it was as disappointing a sight as could have been expected; the machine and the abs!

Having been at my appointment for a while there wasn’t a lot of work left, but it was simply a case of doing what would be normal in order to see what my heart did. And this continued when I went home before getting up the next day to have some breakfast and head back to the hospital to give the machine back!

As it turned out, there was nothing overly worrying found in the results of the ECG and the blood tests I’d had, other than the need to hydrate myself about 100% better than I do. So, it turned out to be quite a worrying time that led to no real answers, which is never what we want when we visit the doctors or the hospital, I would imagine.

I’ll end with a word about the title, which if you didn’t know, references the Happy Monday’s classic made popular in the late 80s and early 90s. Although the song is about doing drugs and staying out raving, adapting the title to fit the poem just felt like it worked, even if the drugs are purely prescription and the partying has very much slowed down these days! Regardless, I hope you enjoyed the poem!

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!

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!