Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Oh I do like to be beside the Deeside #runbalmoral

Last year I went to Aberdeenshire and ran “The Illuminator” – 15 miles through glorious scenery in the pitch dark which, while fun, did seem a bit ironic, given the scenery I hadn’t seen.

So we signed up for “Run Balmoral Trac 15 Mile Trail Race” which was during the day, so that we could run through glorious scenery and see it.

The Illuminator had taken me three hours and twenty minutes, so I figured the RunBalmoral 15 miles would be about the same – given that both races were all about elevation.

Imagine my horror and faint panic when I read on the instructions a few days before setting out to Deeside:

“There is a cut off time of 3 hours for the event.”

Ahhh!

“If you are out on the course after three hours, you will be given the option to either stop and be transported back to the finish area or if you continue, you will be made aware that the marshals will be removed and you will have to make your own way back.”

How stressful! I was consumed with visions of a sweeper Land Rover snapping at my heels as I failed to eat up those now oh-so-necessary 12-minute-miles. But to cut 20 minutes off my time-for-distance was a tall order. Much as I didn’t want to arrive at the finish line in a Land Rover, I also didn’t much fancy being left out in the foothills of Lochnagar with nothing more than a dwindling supply of water and three jelly babies.

I was going to have to run faster. (I wasn’t even entertaining the other option that they gave; you could ask for a head start. Just no.)

I have a problem with speed – but I had done some research… and was told to take more steps and lean forward. Other people said I needed to… move more quickly. That kind of thing.

I did an uncharacteristic amount of number crunching in my head, figuring out what I would hope would be on my FitBit at various points in the run. I don’t have a head for numbers; it was quite a challenge. But twelve-minute miles would be good, so ten-minute miles would be better, and I could save up some minutes to use at tricky bits. So that was the plan.

After a full Scottish breakfast and the donning of optimised kit (including the last formal outing of my soon-to-be-retired-NorthFace trail shoes, ancient but very reliable non-chafing shorts, my orange-therefore-easy-to-spot-in-race-photos Deerstalker t-shirt, my Tweed Tunnel Trail run buff, my invincibility gloves and my hydration system and jelly babies… all good and ready to go) we arrived at Balmoral and trekked in to the event village toting our post-race tote bags.

The morning had been beautiful, but the temperature was dropping and there was plenty of chittering to be done until we got going. With the fear of very possible failure giving this race a bit more of an edge than other races,  I resolved to “go faster”.

The first mile was dull tarmac – far too bangy for my shins; the second mile was similar. I think it went to hard packed track after that. At the 3 mile water stop, I cruised on through, saving valuable seconds, I hoped, by wrestling with my own hydration system. The path improved to a more trail run terrain – but pretty much the whole race was on hard packed surfaces.

As usual, I was being overtaken by everyone – I just hoped there were some people left behind me. I was doing my slow-and-steady-completes-the-race-in-three-hours pace – but there were others around me that weren’t. Two girls stopped for selfies all the time. When they stopped for a selfie, I overtook them; when they finished with the selfies, they overtook me. Repeat to fade. There was also a couple with big backpacks (I have no idea what they thought might be useful beyond water and jelly babies – but there must have been something) who I kept overtaking because they were WALKING TWO ABREAST ON A NARROW PATH – but I overtook them about five times, so they must have overtaken me about five times. They must have been doing walk/sprint intervals or something. With their rocket booster packs maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know why people walk on races unless the incline is insane. It’s very annoying when you are tortoising along like me.

So the three mile water stop was also the eight mile water stop at the end of the forest loop. I passed the eight mile marker at an hour and a half which was ideal. This meant that I had a mile’s worth of minutes to spread out over the second half of the race which was a mile shorter, as it were.

The first eight miles felt like a bit of a necessary evil to get to the bit I was interested in running – above the tree line. It was good. We punched up out of the trees to an open landscape with a middle-of-nowhere vibe about it – where you can imagine Queen Victoria and her various descendants getting away from it all with dogs, horses and John Brown etc, making up “The Old Man of Lochnagar” and avoiding the paparazzi. Of course, there was a photographer there for us, with Lochnagar looking a bit moody and atmospheric in the background…

At the ten mile marker my FitBit said 1hr 57 minutes – so it was still possible. Five miles an hour. So I reprogrammed my brain away from twelve minute miles into ‘just go faster’.  I was plodding along keeping going, keeping going, while everyone else was walking – and then this girl was about to overtake me WHILE WALKING, which does your psychology no good at all – so I caved in and walked with her for a bit.  I took the risk of taking a few pictures at the eleven mile mark which I think was the high point literally and metaphorically with great moody views one way and bright blue sky the other.

Oooooh… bleak and majestic…oooh….

Then it was downhill. My neck went into cramp which I could have done without, and my legs were beginning to struggle but I kept going and kept going. The descent was good – long and gradual, until the infamous “last hill” that was absolutely fine. I think, had there been worse weather on the run up to the race, this might have been a more challenging feature – but I liked it, as it gave me soft terrain for a sharp descent to the end of the race.

I knew that the three hours was possible, so I mountain-goated my way down out of the trail section, back onto a few hundred yards of the tarmac and across the line.

Approaching the finish line as they dismantle the course…

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Hoping they have a medal left for me 🙂

My Fitbit gave me the good news: 2 hours 59 minutes 56 seconds. Phew! I was absolutely delighted with my time and my medal and my t-shirt, although when I went to pick up my post-race-tote bag, there were only about three left!

The event village was all being packed away – the burger vans had gone, but there were free sandwiches – and the hot chocolate van was still there. We quickly got changed, half expecting the changing marquee to get taken down while we were in it – the place was deserted as all the fast folk had gone home…

Balmoral Castle was looking beautiful and the estate looking glorious. I wonder if the Queen would have preferred to watch Aberdeenshire’s fittest speeding by her window to celebrate her 92nd birthday rather than being down in London watching a variety show. I know where I’d rather be.

In comparison to other races, this was the least inclusive fitness/ability wise; the field was very… elite. Normally in large events I am exactly average – coming pretty much precisely half way in placings. This event – I was in the bottom ten percent, I think. One didn’t get the impression that there were people running primarily for charities or for someone’s birthday or stag-do or anything. These people were runners. The keenest runners were the “Devil of the Deeside” entrants – who were doing four events over two days – 5k, 10k, a running and cycling duathlon and then the 15 mile race I was doing. I had hoped/ suspected that the Devils would be … tired… on our race, but no. Fresh as daisies.

Overall we had a great time – as I had hoped  – it was very beautiful and to have made it under the finish line with seconds to spare was great. I would have been very annoyed with myself for taking pics on the course if I hadn’t made it in on time!

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Should Christians be vegan?

It was suggested to me this week that perhaps Christians should be vegans. I thought this was interesting – as my instant reaction was eh… no they shouldn’t – in fact, in my opinion I think I think that only theists have any justification for eating meat, really. Not that I would agree with Morrissey on much – but it all depends where you see the ultimate rule on morality. If God says something akin to “eating meat and eggs and dairy is fine” then eating meat and eggs and dairy is, of course, fine. Without God, any speciesist exploitation of another species is questionable. If aliens came here would they have the right to eat us? I kind of hope not. But on what grounds….?

Way way back many centuries ago, just when the bible began there was Creation explained. And, In the Beginning, everyone was vegan:

…I have given you all the plants that have grain for seeds and all the trees whose fruits have seeds in them, they will be food for you…”

This even extended to the animals who were all veggie as well.

Then there was the Fall and it all changed – and Abel looked after flocks and Cain was looking after plants. Vegans may not be pleased that the offering that pleased God was “the best parts from some of the firstborn of his flock.” The food from Cain was rejected. So from the carnivore’s point of view it looks as if meat farming is approved of by God and acceptable.

However, the Vegan would perhaps argue that what we really want to do as Christians is to get back to the preAdamic condition – where things were as they should have been. Or maybe it is an attempt to live in Isaiah’s peaceful kingdom where the lion lies with the lamb. So, like, does this mean we should all become naturists as well? I’ll leave that thought there. I don’t think it would work in Scotland.

Clearly there was any amount of meat consumption and animal sacrifice in the Old Testament – but the vegans might argue that such practices were abandoned by the Jews with the destruction of the temple and by Christians in the fact that:

He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

With the ‘once for all’ sacrifice of Christ Jesus there was no requirement to kill any other animals. But I am going off track… what about animals for food?

Jesus ate meat, I assume; there was a lamb eaten at Passover. He talked about the absurdity of giving your son a snake when he asked for an egg – a “good thing”. However he said that God cared about birds sold for food:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
This is where the vegan argument goes all hermeneutic. Yes people ate meat in Bible times and yes it was a social norm; that doesn’t make it right. For example, there were slaves; it didn’t make slavery right. Women were told not to say things in church; it didn’t make it right. There were (they would argue) things in the Bible that were descriptive rather than prescriptive. In our Guardian-soaked enlightened progressive world surely what is “right” is self evident? And therefore changes can be made to traditional expressions of faith. The traditionalist within me cringes and says – but if you start decontextualising the bible – eventually you lose Truth and the whole thing comes crumbling down and you end up with a liberal fail of a denomination or life that is Laodicea all over and we all choke on our own lukewarm vomit.
But hey – I think –  is it ABSOLUTELY compatible with a Christian life to be vegan? Yes – by all means, express your faith that way. Yes – I like the idea of living in as-close-to-Eden as you can and being nice to animals and things. But…
It’s wrong to say it is a NECESSARY expression of someone’s Christianity. As clearly outlined here from Romans 14:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
Here, it is the vegetarian whose faith is characterised as weak – and someone else is an omnivore and this is fine. They are challenged to accept each other’s differences – both have been accepted by God. Paul continues:
Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God
Here’s an interesting one:
 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.
I like this. Clearly Paul doesn’t have strong feelings about food. But he wants Christians to help one another. If you told someone that they needed to be vegan to be a Christian, this may be a “stumbling block” or an “obstacle” that is not necessary for them to live with to come to faith. On the other hand, you have the picture of someone being distressed if you were to eat an egg or a chicken or something. If your propensity to eat meat causes distress, it would be kinder to go for the lentil soup, in any given context. The believers should love one another – and that IS necessary for Christian living.
So, what does the Bible say about what we should eat? They had a debate and came up with this:
You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
How might this be read for us today? Food sacrificed to idols? Black pudding? Chickens whose necks have been pulled? The Christians were having some difficulties drawing a line between the Jewish traditions and dietary laws and the freedom to live in grace. This instruction was like a handy ready-reckoner/rule-of-thumb for the sorts of things to avoid.
Jesus here, I suspect, was talking about poverty – but in the context of veganism it’s interesting:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink ; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
There is a bit of a “bigger picture” thing going on. For me, this is where I am. Admirable as it may be to be vegan, I am not (yet!) in any way compelled to consider it. Chicken pakora and boiled eggs and full fat milk are all things that I am thankful to God for, for food.
Daniel, eh… in the book of Daniel… went vegetarian while he was in exile. However, that was less to do with vegetarianism and more to do with faithfulness to his own God and culture. He was not able to eat meat prepared in the way that was in line with his faith, so he went vegetarian. I suppose there is a kind of principle here – but when I make ethical selections relating to food and drink – it is to do with the treatment of humans, not animals. I will buy fair trade so as not to oppress my fellow human; I don’t have a problem eating farmed animal products. Maybe I should, but I don’t.
I sound, perhaps like those described by Paul in Corinthians who says “I have the right to do anything”:

“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.  Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience,  for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

For all concerned, the Christian response to food should be:
  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God.

Ethics vs Morals

I should know the answer to this, having studied Moral Philosophy back in the day  – but this prompt really flummoxed me: how do you draw the line between morals and ethics and if morals were in a battle with ethics, who would win?

Here are my attempts at definitions:

Ethics (I think) are rules and conventions that society generates, when groups decide what is right and wrong in specific spheres and contexts. It’s to do with the “principle” of the thing; the truth about how to behave is known and the ethics lead out from that. There are medical ethics, professional ethics and so on. If someone breaks a rule or convention, they are behaving in an unethical manner.

Morals (I think) are less to do with society and more to do with the individual. One’s morality is to do with the response to right and wrong. If a person has a belief in right and wrong action and chooses to act wrongly, that act is immoral. However, it is only unethical if it relates to a public/social sense of right and wrong. If you have morals, you hold to the understanding of right and wrong in practice.

The trouble with ethics and morals are many: the main problem is figuring out when you are right about what is right and what is wrong; the second problem is to do with human behaviour and our propensity to break rules; the third problem is how to deal with different groups that clash over what is right and what is wrong.

The way through these battles, I think is to do with acknowledging values. (I know, I know – the last thing we need is another term sloshing about in there.)

Imagine you have a historical society – way way back in the dim and distant past – in which infanticide is just fine. You don’t want your baby? Leave it on a hillside and wait for the inevitable. From our perspective, safe in the 21st century, we find this abhorrent! We think that infanticide has always been wrong, whether or not that society thought it was wrong. We think we are right and they were wrong. Murder of the innocents is not a good thing. Of course, but then…

Now we have today’s society where the abortion row continues. I think the most prevalent view just now is that abortion is considered to be morally okay because it’s the woman’s body and she has the choice as to what happens to it. Our society thinks that our society is right and the pro-lifers are wrong, yes?

Can we then imagine a future when we look back and think that abortion in this century was as obviously wrong as infanticide in a previous century? Can we likewise imagine a future when we look back and wonder why there was even a debate when it is so obviously a woman’s right to choose? It could go either way, couldn’t it?

So a society generates a code of ethics based on what they are sure about as being right or wrong. This is based on that society’s values – the things that that society thinks are important. With the abortion example – it really could go either way, depending on whether people go down the path of valuing children above all else, or valuing personal freedom of choice above all else.

Once a society has its values, it is easier to generate the ethical codes. Then morality comes into play; if a person is moral, they will obey the ethical codes.

What about a person who acts immorally but is fine with that? Do they not think that their actions are wrong? I think the difference must be in their values – they are working from a different set of principles of right and wrong. The “immorality” is therefore subjective – unless of course there are absolutes in terms of right and wrong.

More universal is the person who knows right and wrong and is a moral person – but they behave in an immoral way. As the apostle Paul put it: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” I think that he encapsulated well this propensity of the human to fall short, to disappoint and to end up on the wrong side of one’s own moral code. 

If we have a sense of right and wrong in a society, this is all good; we can decide what behaviour is good and which behaviour is bad. Then we can set up a system where some things are legal, others are illegal, some things are accepted and others frowned upon.

But when there is no consensus, there is conflict. And there is conflict because the values beneath the ethics, the morals and the principles are different. Does utilitarianism have it right? Is the most amount of happiness for the most amount of people what we value most? Or is freedom of the individual to do whatever they like to make things better for themselves a good guiding principle? Or is pleasing God the best way to live? Are there real, objective truths about what is right and what is wrong? And if so, are these knowable?

Back to my original prompt: Morals versus ethics. I think I will make them play chess. Ethics plays by the rules, taking all the pawns, then the bishops, knights, rooks and the queen. Meanwhile Morals is trying to figure out whether he should try to dominate the game, or whether that might make Ethics sad; he then wonders whether by not trying his hardest he is not playing honestly and that might be worse. So, in the end, Ethics wins – but that doesn’t make him right.

#MurielSpark : Queen of the Spoilers 

I read three Muriel Spark novels in the summer: “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, “The Driver’s Seat” and “The Girls of Slender Means”. I read them in quick succession, probably on three consecutive days lying in the sun in Gran Canaria. So they are a bit of a Sparky blur.

Here are a few reasons to read some Muriel Spark:

The books are short. Or should I say economical. You get a lot of literature for the length.

The books don’t follow the rules pertaining to how novels are meant to be. Spark throws in intentional spoilers, so that the experience of reading the novel is not about the protagonist achieveing their goal or the reader or anyone else finding out the truth at the climax. We know what the climax  pretty much as soon as the plot gets underway, so that the rug has been pulled out from beneath the reader, leaving you to have to reimagine the role of the reader as you read.

“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” is about a school teacher with her own agenda. “The Girls of Slender Means” are in a sort of boarding house in wartime London getting up to all sorts. “The Driver’s Seat” is about a woman on a mission. I am not into giving spoilers. But I could, and technically they wouldn’t actually be spoilers, but I can’t. That’s just me. I’m not Spark.

The plots are not exactly neither here nor there, but they aren’t totally central. The reader knows what the plot is, and reading the novel is kind of ironing the plot out in reverse and filling in the blanks with the help or hindrance of the narrator, depending on what the narrator knows or doesn’t know or chooses to tell us or not.

The characters I think probably are pretty central – but there is a sense of distance between the narrators and the characters. The main characters are unconventional women, carving out things they way they figure they should be.

I am now thinking that I should write a Spark inspired short story, seeing as I might be approaching my prime and all that.  It might be a relief to drop a spoiler into the second paragraph. It would save the anxiety of building subtly to the climax I suppose.

 

Social Media

This is (technically, for me) a banned subject for blogging.  It’s a snake swallowing its own tail, or like writing a book about writing a book. It’s the BBC reporting on the BBC.

If the medium is the message, which we know it is, then this is social media content on social media about social media. Ew.

Ironic, isn’t it, though? That the very use of a medium necessarily reduces the social aspect of any interaction. Media is the literal middle man, the technobuffer between the would-be socialisers.

But I like a technobuffer. It means that actual physical social interaction can be streamlined, minimised or indeed avoided altogether. Which seems like a good thing, but probably isn’t a good thing – given that while everyone has a bazillion “friends”, too many people are lonely and isolated with only the glow from their telly or their tablet for company.

And yet, many of them can sit, grinning beatifically at the screen, hitting “share” intermittently, keeping everything viral viral and finding it all enlightening or hilarious or – more likely – mildly entertaining followed by something else mildly entertaining.. like me – when I get stuck in a loop of Michael McIntyre sketches, round and round and round… Not that watching Michael McIntyre sketches are in any way “social”.

Maybe this is why Facebook are going back to basics and having a wee focus on putting up posts by people we know. But people don’t post the way they used to. They’ve all gone quiet. Or they’ve blocked me. Or I’ve muted them. Or they’ve been warned by their workplace not to say ANYTHING. Or they worry that they might be disciplined in a job they might hold thirty years from now  because of something thoughtless they might post now that will be considered borderline criminal in the future.

Yes, maybe we’ve reached peak-social-media, in the written form anyway. Photos are less potentially incriminating, in terms of future proofing one’s political correctness, I would imagine.

Anyway – if the medium is the message – what is the message from social media?

Social media is the means by which people get to do “social networking”:  “..the use of dedicated websites and applications to interact with other users, or to find people with similar interests to one’s own.”

When the other users are not physically nearby, or the interest is so obscure that it is a global niche, social media is ideal for little online communities.

The sad part is the “to find people with similar interests to one’s own”. I reckon that that kind of socialising should be done in person. Just turn up to the art class, to the wine tasting, to the fitness club, to the shops, to the church, to the random community event… Have some interests to have in common with other people – interests beyond miscellaneous content on a screen that someone else dreamed up.

Finding “people of similar interest to one’s own” online –  rather than in reality – really is sticking the middle man right in the way.

Live life.

Leave the house.

(Unless you are the parents in Michael McIntyre’s “having children” sketch).

Things Hold Together

Christmas is a bigger deal than you might think. And I don’t mean the celebrations.

Referring to Jesus Christ, this little piece of the Scripture says:

“… in him all things hold together”.

And in the context “all things” actually means “all things”;  it means everything:

” things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…”

That about covers “everything”, I reckon.

The passage refers to Jesus as creator:

“…by him all things were created…”

which isn’t an accidental anachronism.  If however, you think he pitched up in existence at Bethlehem this would seem to be anachronistic.

This is what I mean when I say that Christmas is a bigger deal than you might think.

It is not that God produced Jesus ex nihilo at that point.  According to the apostle Paul, he already existed from before the creation of the world.

At the first Christmas, then, this isn’t a new life and a blank slate:

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…”

This then was “God with us”.

Which I know is the point. But occasionally in my mind, God gets reduced to the baby in the manger, rather than my seeing that baby as the creator God, with “all his fullness” as Emmanuel “God with us”.

When the apostle Paul then says that “in him all things hold together” I think of creation and science and atoms and gravity and how things actually are held together and the fine balance of our existence and the “goldilocks zone” and all of that – that in all the randomness and chaos and mystery and discovery of the universe “all things hold together”.

It is not just the physical landscape that is “held together”. In the list of all things are political things:

“… thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him…”

So that’s kind of surprising – that “creation” is not just the creation of “all things” – but the layer of human management of the “things” is also part of the creation.

Now, to what extent do you feel that things are “held together”? Or do you feel that “things fall apart”? If you look at nature and politics it is easy to see disintegration of things in the world.

And here’s where the passage leaks into Easter, as Christmas inevitably does:

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Mentioned here is the point of Christmas and of Easter:

“…to reconcile to himself all things”.

Again, this is a bigger deal than a “personal faith” that a lot of people think that Christmas and Easter are about. The incarnation was about “all things” – and the need for reconciliation – the bringing together of things – is stated as the purpose. The reconciliation is with all things – whether physical or political. This isn’t just a spiritual thing. This is holistic in the extreme.

And how does this reconciliation ( bringing (back) together (again)) happen? How do things come together to be held together?

“by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross..”

Things often fall apart – in nature, in politics for sure and in life in general. But in Christ “all things hold together”; because of the peace made “through his blood, shed on the cross”.

I hope you have a peaceful Christmas. And that things hold together.

So Long, Ceylon

For any insomniacs out there, I had a life changer of a realisation, so I thought I should pass it on.

I no longer drink tea in the evening because the quality of sleep I am getting as a result is worth it.

This is mind-blowing if you take into consideration how much I like tea.

I happened not to drink tea one evening and freakily slept right the way through the night.

I didn’t think my quality of sleep was that bad – but it turns out that for the last 15 years or so I have just been getting into bed, snoozing on the surface of sleep, getting up to go to the toilet and to check the news, snoozing a little more and then, hey, it’s morning.

Now, I am getting into my bed and plunging into total sensory deprivation, a cocoon of warm blackness, a battery-recharge docking station where time evaporates without my knowledge – instead of that subconscious awareness of pretty much what time it is at any given point in the night.

I wake up having had an actual break between one day and the next.

I have stopped crashing out on my weekend afternoons as had become habitual.

I am about six weeks into my post-tea era and am not missing tea enough to sacrifice a good night’s sleep.

I tried decaffeinated tea one night and it was hopeless – heid was buzzing all night. I am now one of these people that asks for hot water. Who’d have thought it?

It is not as if I was aware I was having trouble sleeping – I just thought my sleep pattern was kind of normal.

So, if you like sleep, I recommend tap water.

For all your rock and roll lifestyle life hacks, I am your woman.

Roasting Runners and Compulsory Kit #illuminator

I was doing a race that had a compulsory kit list; fair enough – the race was up a couple of hills in the Scottish Highlands in the autumn in the dark.

The kit list caused me twitchiness and anxiety: if you didn’t have the compulsory kit, you might be banned from running; if you took all the compulsory kit, you might be more of a pack horse than a runner and keel over, kit heavy into a ditch just past the start line.

Glove Anxiety. I like to run with fingerless gloves on. They make me invincible and something of a superhero. They also mean that if you deck it, you don’t skin your palms. If you need to grab on to a tree or rock, it’s all good.

But… would fingerless gloves count as gloves? My brilliant full-fingered sealskins are great for heavy clambering and freezing temperatures – but for a race on the cusp of autumn and winter?

What if I wore them and they were too hot and made my hands all sweaty inside? And if I took them off I would have to stow them somewhere about my person and they are quite bulky. Or I could lose them on the course, but – eh – that’s not eco friendly and they are great gloves and totally expensive.

So, should I have taken my thin, non-waterproof, narrow running gloves, designed for such an event as this? No. I wanted to wear lovely liberating and empowering fingerless ones. Which is what I did. I figured, in the event of a kit check, they are gloves; fingerless, granted, but gloves.

Hat. Hat? No. Now a Buff/shall we say “seamless multifunctional headwear” ? Yes! But is that a hat? To save myself a kerfuffle at the start line, I messaged the organiser: “Does a buff count as a hat?” Apparently, if it covers your head to keep it warm, it counts as a hat. Good to know.

Sleeves were the worst dilemma. That decision went down to the wire. I only wear sleeves for training when it hits 2 degrees or less. It was a balmy 11-13 degrees or something. There was a lot of debate and deliberation. Everyone else I was running with were going for long sleeves, on the grounds that once we were up on the open hilly terrain it would be pure freezing and windy and sleeves would be a good thing. So, I caved, took off my lovely cheerful orange t-shirt and put on my depressing long-sleeved black underarmour thing.

WRONG DECISION.

It was ROASTING.

1000 or so racers, runners and walkers set off up a vertical incline and a mile and a half in, everyone is stripping layers off – firing jealous glares at sneaky wee jammy short-wearing, vest-sporting smuggins people, with their minimal packs and appropriately exposed flesh – and tying their waterproofs around their waist and rolling their sleeves up.

Pretty warm, pretty warm; up the hill up the hill.

I think it was mile six that I started to panic. We had had, I think, a descent, and we turned a corner for another gradual climb and I am thinking I AM ROASTING and trying not to shout out IS EVERYONE NOT TOTALLY ROASTING? and keeping running keeping running, thinking I WAS RIGHT ABOUT THE SLEEVES! WHY DID I NOT LISTEN TO MYSELF AND WEAR THE T-SHIRT?

What to do? If I messed with my buff on the move, that would dislodge my head-torch and I would doubtless take a header into an oblivious capercaillie.

I was on the verge of pulling over to the side and taking off the long sleeved top and running ‘taps-aff’ – it was dark, after all. Instead I managed to roll the sleeves up, open the neck right down and tuck the midriff section up my sports-bra, so that my midriff could breathe h the lovely fresh evening air.

Oh the relief.

A little later on, there was a cool lighting and snack station, so I unplucked it all, so as not to offend with my air-cooled “abs” hanging out.

Fortunately the temperature did drop a couple of degrees, so the sleeves were just about tolerable for the return leg of the run.

I was very pleased with my run. At 15 miles it is the furthest race I have run, and I was enjoying it at the end – there was a good descent and a flat bit to the finish; lots of people were walking that stretch, which seemed mental as that was the descent and the flat bit… so I whizzed past a whole bunch of people in the last mile as my legs were still working.

Bonus.

The whole compulsory kit put this quote from Hebrews in my mind:

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”

Honestly, the desire to jettison extraneous kit was almost overwhelming. I didn’t need: my phone, my jelly babies, protein bar, waterproof jacket, long sleeved top, spare torch or batteries. I also didn’t need my (non-compulsory) vaseline, my tissues or my foil survival thingmy.

How great would it have been to have been able to ‘throw off’ ‘everything that hinders’… (within reason…)

 

 

… in which I go shopping for a dress…

We have a family wedding on the horizon, known locally as “The Wedding”.

Because of the ever-decreasing window in which to purchase an auntie-of-the-groom dress, I had to go shopping yesterday – or risk having to wear last season’s (sharp-intake-of-breath) wedding outfit or my classy, lacy but wintery-toned petrol-blue dress.

At least I already have the shoes. Gone are the days of my shoe-buying failures. I now have a pair of “nude” heels that I can walk in!

John Lewis. Clearance. Urgh. Wood for the trees. What kind of brand am I supposed to think is my kind of brand, at the age of 44? Which brands are for people twenty years older? Twenty years younger? More relevantly – where are the brands for short people? Eh?

I looped around a couple of times, trying to stave off any faint shopping panic that may be begun to pool in my subconscious.

Ted Baker, Jigsaw, Whistles… Hobbs… Coast…

Round and round we go, where will we stop? Nothing grabbed me, so I swung out of John Lewis and off down to Next which I knew at least would have a Petite rail…

…which turned out to be totally uninspiring.

Down the escalators, out onto Buchanan Street in the sunshine. I started googling for petite dresses in Glasgow and it fired up a potentially helpful lead: House Of Fraser. Great idea.

I marched purposefully down the street, successfully not going into North Face to look at trail shoes and approached Fraser’s, picked a door and entered.

Did I want to try some fragrance or other? Eh, naw. I just want dresses for short people. A dress. A short person. Not that short. Just five foot.

It happened to be the only day that Scotland’s natural air conditioning was not sufficient. Out in the glorious sunshine, the breeze made it ideal shopping weather. Inside the airless perfume-fogged Fraser’s, the temperature was on the rise. Tartan carpets, mirrors and blingy shop fittings were starting to mess with my head.

I found some clothes. Are these posh enough? Is this the casual bit? Is that security guard following me? Where is the dresses-one-might-wear-to-a-wedding section? Less air, more heat, more stairs, less focus.

I need to get out.

I then had a brilliant plan. There must be a Debenhams around here somewhere. I bounced over to St Enoch’s Centre and up the escalator to Debenhams. Which turned out to be Hamley’s. Who knew?

I tried to escape Hamley’s but ended up trapped in a loop of Hamley’s, a food court and some toilets – unable to get out. Began to panic. Found a lift. Got in it. Didn’t know what to press. Pressed things.

Eventually I found the entrance to Debenhams off the main mall – which was deserted – and as I stoated in, hoping to see a sign marked “dresses”, I was faced with a multiface of glass and light – I don’t know if it was fragrances or make up, but it was like my migraine aura – just fragments of reality or not, shoved together and brightly lit so that I was super-disoriented and less likely to buy perfume than I think they would have perhaps been hoping.

Do people actually find that lights, mirrors and muzak help them to buy stuff? Does it not just make your head spin and incite you to pine for a quiet café that serves crispy scones beneath a good wifi link to an online perfume shop?

(If you wanted to buy perfume. Which I didn’t.)

On entering the next part I suddenly knew exactly what I wanted. And they weren’t for sale. As summer decorations, the store had installed big, bold cardboard bananas, watermelons and pineapples suspended from the roof. I want these. I need these. (I am decorating the church hall as a desert island in early August. These would have been perfect. Sigh…)

And then we were there. “Women”. It was like John Lewis all over again. A loop of brands: too much, too much. Mirrors and light. Where’s the exit.

You’ll be relieved to know I finally triumphed.

I worked my way up Buchanan Street, shop by shop – almost re-enacting the Karen Millen meltdown of 1999 when I bankrupted myself buying my going-away-outfit.

Confidence was growing.

When I finally found the dress I was looking for, I was still in the cubicle, breathing the second-hand overheated shop-air, when I heard the staff talking about a minute’s silence that was to be held at 11am. It was 10.54am.

Should I stay in here for six minutes? Or could I get out, through the checkout and back on the street in six minutes? Or, as I suspected would happen, would I try the latter and end up mid-transaction at the top of the hour and end up in an awkward face-to-face silence with a member of staff while feeling utterly shallow that that even bothers me, given the reason for the silence?

I needed to get out.

Dress bought, paid for, wrapped and out, out, out into the street for the silence, just as the shop cut the Muzak.

Silence.

Once home, I celebrated with rather more Heinz Ravioli and Cadbury’s Caramel bites than the recommended portion size indicated on the packaging of each.

Couch to 5k? Here’s my advice.

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First of all – good for you! It’s the right decision.

Leaving the couch has so many benefits, I can’t believe I am here, sitting on my couch, blogging.

Why am I not circumnavigating the village, getting my step count up? I could be out there, seeing the sky, breathing the air, feeling the health and wellbeing seeping into my pores…

It’ll be great. If you ever have to run for a bus, you’ll be able to. If you ever need to escape from a weird bloke, you can just leg it. It’ll be great. Schoom! All this without getting three paces, peching and thinking “I can’t run.”

You can in fact run. But, there’s one thing that you have to get right before you even bother to lollop into that first stride.

Ladies, it is all in the underwear. An off the peg own brand sports bra will not suffice. We are talking ROBUST here. SOLIDITY. It’s a strong and stable government that our figures crave, not the coalition of chaos that ill-thought-through underwear brings.

Without the right underwear, you bound into that first stride, and your foot lands, and then the wobble of unfettered weight lands a split second later, swinging you off balance and destabilizing step two. It’s not the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other that’s the issue, it’s the management of the unruly, untamed, soft and dough-like flesh, wherever it happens to pool on one’s body.

Once the underwear is sorted, it’s all about shoes. I’m not so good with the shoes. I should say that you should go to Run 4 It for a gait assessment . I did that and bought some beautiful running shoes, but they took longer than their recommended mileage to actually break in. So, good luck with the shoes.

So, you have your shoes and your bra. Both expensive. Both essential. And then clothes. Take your pick.

Now you are ready to break into a run.

If the target is a 5k, you are building up to running for half an hour without stopping, at a reasonable pace.

The first job is to be active for half an hour without stopping.

You can do it by lampposts: run for two, walk for two – alternate until half an hour has elapsed. Do that three times a week and then run for three, walk for two – alternate until half an hour has elapsed. And so on…

When the lamppost counting gets too tricky, move on to minutes: Run for two walk for two – and then build it up – run for three, walk for two. Get your body used to being active for the length of time you think it would take you run 5k.

Future you will thank present you for making this decision. Future you won’t get breathless going up stairs. Future you will never be late when a wee burst of speed is all that you need. Future you will enjoy the ironic endorphin high that comes with repeated running: everyone hates running; everyone loves ‘having run’.

Plenty of people don’t want to run. Fine.

Many people would love to run but are not medically or physically able.

However, sometimes people want to run and it doesn’t happen and here are my suggestions if any of these reasons are the reason you don’t run:

  1. Time – there’s always the crack of dawn; there’s always last thing at night.
  2. Knees – run on grass – it is kinder to knees than the road.
  3. Weight – Use a fitbit or similar to figure out your calorie intake and calorie burn. Do the math and respond appropriately.
  4. Weight – to lose weight you have to move more. Start moving or your weight trajectory will continue as it is.
  5. Boredom – get a friend to run with you.
  6. Age – It is just a number… but stretch properly at either end of a training run or your calves won’t cope.
  7. Weird idiopathic belief that one cannot run – Deep down this is probably the underwear thing. Honest.

Fancy going for a run?

What’s stopping you?

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