I’m glad you decided to read this grievance. I don’t want to become one of these people who talks about nothing but running (#marathonbore), but I’m assuming that, like me, you love a wee dose of schadenfreude and won’t mind hearing about the bad bits associated with my latest obsession. No cringeworthy mentions of runners’ high to follow, I promise.
I partook in many a conversation on Saturday. Some were more memorable than others – think pre- and post-prosecco parlance, as it were, but two in particular were pertinent to this post. The first conversation concerned the phenomenon of The Wall – that much-feared nemesis of the long-distance runner. I was advised to purposefully experience it once. The theory being that if I knew first-hand of the horror, this would henceforth ensure that I’d do everything in my power to avoid a repeat performance. I nodded gamely, whilst all the while knowing I was far too chicken to actually try and hit the metaphorical wall. I don’t go about grabbing electric fences just to make sure I don’t decide to accidentally grab one again. Anyway, I’m not quite sure this preventative approach would really work on me… Exactly how many times have I vowed never to consume another glass of vino for as long as I shall live, i.e. until the following weekend?
The second conversation was about this blog and how it had stalled a little of late, and how there would be many more things (presumably Bad Things, was the unsaid assumption) for me to write about in the future.
It is almost beginning to sound like I jinxed myself.
So let me let you about Sunday…
I’d originally planned to go out on a group run first thing in the morning. However, in my infinite wisdom (whilst sharing bottle #2 on Saturday night), I decided that realistically this may not actually happen (or, if it did, it would be exceedingly unpleasant). So I bailed. That done, I was able to relax and enjoy my beverage and catch-up in comfort – no niggling notions of 5am alarms.
The following morning, I woke up with the Fear that I had put lots of inappropriate kisses on the Running Club group Snapchat when I sent aforementioned cancellation message. Apart from that, I was feeling rather bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a nice long lie, and as geared up as it’s possible to be for a solo 16 mile run. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like running, but running for 3 hours by yourself is not nearly as enjoyable as sitting by yourself in your lovely comfy armchair eating popcorn and watching a boxset.
One of the very best things about a long run is the fact that one must eat lots and lots in order to fuel oneself for the endeavour ahead. The other very best thing is the guilt-free post-run beer and 3 course meal consumption. Much like one is always advised never to swim on a full stomach, it is most ill-advised to eat and then venture out running immediately afterwards. This means that the time between eating and running is rather like the time spent on a train journey – you’re doing something unquestionably productive without actually having to do anything for a predetermined length of time. It’s wonderful.
Occasionally I will nap after fuelling (‘fuelling’ sounds so much better than ‘stuffing my face’) and recently I’ve spent the time in limbo watching the Sex and the City boxset. Clearly I’m already being productive, I’d be drastically over-achieving were I to fold some clothes or clean the hair from the plughole.
On the morning in question, I was getting ready to fuel when I realised I had no milk. This is one of the only rubbish things about living alone – I can’t drink a carton of milk quickly enough and it is constantly going sour. On balance, I absolutely love living by myself, but there are a few notable negatives:
- I frequently leave the house not quite dressed as I have nobody to do up those fiddly buttons or pop my labels back in. I also have nobody to stress out by wearing odd socks.
- On a similar note, I have nobody to unlace by boots for me when I am too tired to do it myself.
- I do, on average, an extra 1500 steps a day going up and down the stairs to my flat checking that the oven/hot water/iron/grill/hob/radio/washing machine is switched off. And that’s before I remember that I’ve definitely forgotten to lock the door and have certainly left every single window wide open and all the taps running.
As I had nobody to send out for more milk (I myself was conserving energy for my run, of course), I was forced to make my porridge Scottish-style (i.e. vile) with water and salt and no sugar. I’m stating this is Scottish-style but I actually have no idea. All I know is that this is how my dad enjoys his porridge (my father is not remotely religious, but he does sometimes adhere to those good old Calvinist values of avoiding all things fun). He also tells the story of how, when he was a wee boy, his mother would fill a drawer with porridge (presumably of the salt and water variety) at the beginning of the week. This porridge would set, allowing family members to carve slices for breakfast each day. I accepted this story without question the first few times I heard it, but having attempted to force down a bowl of the stuff without milk, I’m beginning to doubt its credibility… (I never once questioned the feasibility and hygiene related issues of filling a drawer with sloppy breakfast matter, I now note). I attempted to rescue my bowl of grey gruel by adding a mashed banana and copious quantities of maple syrup, but to no avail; it remained rank.*
It goes without saying that I ate less than I should have done of these slow-releasing running friendly carbs and resorted to ferreting about in the cupboards for salty snacks of the not-quite-so-virtuous variety to munch as I caught up on the antics of Carrie et al. In retrospect, this laissez-faire attitude probably wasn’t remotely wise considering my dinner the previous day had consisted of prosecco and crisps. My late lunch on Saturday was a hog roast sans carbs at a friend’s party (why fill myself up on pesky bread when I could use that additional space to fit in extra piggy goodness?!) Proper Runners bang on about the importance of glycogen stores: perhaps I should have taken heed…
Two hours after I discarded my porridge bowl (which, regrettably, had now set like cement), I set off running towards Shiplake. For non-local readers, Shiplake is a village situated 8 miles along the river from Reading. My plan was to run there, refuel (jargon alert) and run back. What could possibly go wrong? I even took sweets with me. Following on from the conversation about hitting the wall (or ‘bonking’ as I believe is the technical term – I’ll never be a Proper Runner as I can’t say it with a straight face), I figured I’d be better safe than sorry, despite the fact I don’t usually bother carrying snackage. All in all, I felt like I was pretty damned organised. I had my sweets decanted into a sock (no rustling or shoogling as I ran) and a pound coin in my pocket with which to buy a drink. My mortice key was taken off my keyring to cut down on unnecessary weight/prevent clinking (and I’d checked the Yale was locked no fewer than three times) Sorted!
Just to clarify, the sweets were inside a clean sock which was then zipped into the pocket of my shorts. Not my actual sock, because that would have been disgusting.
I arrived in Shiplake (having only got lost once) feeling not too terrible, only to discover the shop where I’d intended to buy a drink was closed. At this point (in a sort of Pavlovian dog-like response – see shop, get dry mouth), I started feeling thirsty. Really thirsty. Quite possibly the absolute thirstiest I’d ever felt in my whole entire life. I was so thirsty that I briefly considered drinking out of the watering can outside said shop (this is the type of village where even the corner shop has window boxes), but decided that was maybe not entirely wise – i.e. someone might see.
In an attempt to make myself feel better and remembering some vague notion that a high percentage of the water we consume is in the form of foodstuffs, I decided to eat my sweets. Note to self: Skittles are disgusting when running, especially weird-flavoured limited-edition Skittles (I may have mentioned before that I am powerless to resist new sweet/crisp flavours). Eating weird-flavoured Skittles from a sock is not remotely appetising. Weird –flavoured Skittles (quite possibly all Skittles) do not aid thirst issues. Oh no, on the contrary, Skittles suck all moisture from everything they come into contact with.
Idiotically (not thinking straight by this point, and barely able to swallow), I decided to press on to Henley – about two miles further. Two miles maybe doesn’t sound like much, but this stretch of the river is a veritable obstacle course of dogs, children and painfully slow, hard-of-hearing, elderly posh people taking up the entire path. I’m not being intentionally ageist or classist, I’m merely stating the facts.
By this point I was looking longingly at puddles along the way – it is tortuous in the extreme running beside a body of water when thirsty.
I arrived at Henley public conveniences, willing to ignore all signs declaring ‘this is not drinking water’, gulped what felt like gallons of the lukewarm stuff then decided I’d better spend a penny before setting off again as I had consumed rather a lot of liquid by this point…
There’s not really a delicate way of saying this, but I did my business, went to flush and then panicked when I noticed the water had taken on a very distinct pink hue. I knew exactly what had happened: I’d broken my kidneys. By being too stuck-up to drink out of a watering can/a puddle/the river, I had BROKEN MY KIDNEYS. There was only one thing for it (as I tried desperately to remember what Eddie Izzard did when he broke his kidneys) I decided I needed to drink more. If I’d had my phone with me, clearly I would have Googled my symptoms (actually, I might have called someone to take me straight to A&E), but as I’d failed to bring it, I just gulped rather a lot more water from the tap. The water wasn’t tasting quite so nice by this point.
And it was right about then that I remembered the massive pack of beetroot crisps I’d demolished not long before setting off…
Have you tried Aldi sea salt and balsamic vinegar beetroot crisps? They are spectacularly good, and because they are all made from beetroot, you don’t have to rummage through the bag of veggie crisps picking out all the yummy beetroot ones before anyone else does. Just beware that polishing off a whole big packet all by yourself may result in pee-related repercussions….
Feeling rather silly, but still a bit adrenaline-y following my brush with death, I emerged from the loos and set off through the crowds of octogenarians, canines and children. The water and remaining Skittles were sloshing about in my tummy and I realised I was going to be doing a round trip of 20 miles (I’m not quite sure why this hadn’t occurred to me before this point) and I also realised the (presumably excess-water-consumption-related) stitch in my side wasn’t going to subside any time soon. I realised I was an idiot not to bring my phone and I also realised I was even more of an idiot not to bring train/taxi cash.
The kidney-breakage thing wasn’t idiotic; that was a mistake anyone could have made.
I managed to run (‘run’ being a slight exaggeration) back as far as the outskirts of Reading before losing the will to live – i.e. only speeding up when a Proper Runner came towards me or a dog got too close for comfort. At mile 17, I sat down on the ground and watched the world go by for a bit (trying to look like I was just having a small stretch), before realising I was really going to have to get up/keep moving as I was getting rather cold by this point, and it was starting to rain. I was also very aware that I was going for dinner with a friend at 6pm (by this point it was about 5:15…)
I set off at what can only be described as a trudge. Once I’d started walking there wasn’t a hope in hell of me starting to run again. With every step, I vowed to drop out of the marathon just as soon as I had internet access. It’s difficult to articulate exactly what hurt – my legs were okay, nothing was chafing – but just remaining upright took rather more effort than it really should have done. My music was annoying me immensely (and usually I LOVE my long-run playlists). Things were definitely bad.
If anyone had said to me at this point ‘It’s only a Parkrun to go!’ (a phrase I have heard at least once during every single race I’ve run in), I could not have been held accountable for my actions.
I got home and my friend was outside panicking as she knew I was going for a long run, hadn’t heard from me, and we had a dinner reservation at the exact time I hobbled to my door. The first thing she said (after checking I was okay) was ‘Why on earth didn’t you just turn round and get a drink in Sonning?’ (On the way home, only marginally further than carrying on to Henley, clearly what a sensible person would have done).
So, what did I learn?
Well, I don’t think I hit the wall – I doubt I would have been able to walk to a restaurant and consume a massive 3 course meal if I had. I think that I may have done if I’d not taken the dubiously-flavoured sock of Skittles with me, so for that I am exceedingly grateful (cheers for your fuelling advice, Dr Birrell!) Clearly I spent the next day Googling ‘worst long runs ever’ (and trying to wash Skittle-dye out of a white sports sock) and I think I got off lightly. But I learned that eating lots is VITAL for a successful run (oh what a hardship) and I also deduced that you can think you’ve planned marvellously when in actual fact you haven’t.
What is it they say about best laid plans? Well, I know exactly what they say having done a wee bit of research (a.k.a. a speedy internet search on the topic). It turns out that the phrase was coined by no other than our very own Rabbie Burns:
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley.”
Basically, it doesn’t matter how carefully you plan something, chances are it’ll go wrong in some way.
Take for example the time a couple of months ago when my friend planned a wee jaunt up the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. I’m telling this story as I want to make it clear that I am not the only person that makes bad food-related choices….
The trip was planned very well. The three of us arrived with plenty of time before last orders and after parking up the camper van and pitching a tent (well, I supervised whilst a tent was pitched), we rocked up to the local pub.
The selection of available beer left a lot to be desired: something resembling John Smiths (why oh why would anyone drink this out of choice?!); two questionable ales (I know they were questionable as I had a pint of each and couldn’t finish either); cold Guinness (again, why? Guinness should never be served extra cold); cider. I want to say the cider was Blackthorn just to emphasise the sheer horror of the selection, but I think it may have been Strongbow.
The surroundings were less than salubrious. The only vaguely fancy bit of the experience was the toilets. It was kind of like being in a cheap restaurant in Turkey. The sort of restaurant where the waiter directs you through a curtain and along an alley and suddenly you find yourself in the toilets belonging to the altogether fancier establishment next door. These toilets were actually situated in the pub but they were completely at odds with the rest of the décor. All very strange.
We’d tried most of the beers on offer (and I’d decided to stick to whisky from there on in) when a man I can only presume was a local, approached our table carrying a tray of individually-wrapped flapjacks. When I say individually-wrapped, I mean cling-filmed, not in factory-sealed packets. I do seem to attract these people. I think it’s the fact I work in a pub; they sniff me out and know I am accustomed to talking to/not being able to get away from their sort.
He gave his spiel, the gist of which was that his teenage daughter had made them with her own fair hands to sell to walkers, hence funding her time at university. Even in my ever-so-slightly intoxicated state, I was hoping his daughter wasn’t signed up to a maths degree.
I politely declined the offer of purchasing a sweet treat (put it this way, a toothless random offers you dubious-looking foodstuff, would you accept?!) but my companions happily bought one each and were rewarded with a couple of bonus ones too… I was given two free ones which I placed behind my three open packets of crisps (I often find it to be the case that the worse the beer selection, the better the choice of salty snacks in any given establishment) and promptly forgot about them.
The boys ate theirs.
The next day we managed the first peak before the others had to struggle back to the campsite, their guts protesting (they later assumed it was the bad beer, I am certain it was the fact they scoffed the skanky flapjack) I carried on all on my lonesome – it was fine; I had 6 pork pies all to myself. I got to thinking (the most annoying and far-too-oft repeated phrase EVER from Sex and the City) and realised a few things along the way:
- Walkers are weird – they’ll say hello as you pass them going in the opposite direction (surprising number of folks doing the peaks in the ‘wrong order’), but if you overtake someone, they remain resolutely silent. And let’s not forget that these were lovely friendly Northerners.
- It’s never a good idea to post a nice panorama on Instagram with the caption that you’ve been abandoned by your climbing companions when your mother is an avid follower. It’s guaranteed that you will lose reception for at least another 6 miles and won’t be able to text her to let her know you’re alive.
- ‘Just follow the folks in front’ is easier said than done as you have to make sure that you walk at exactly the same pace as them to ensure you never overtake and hence become the followed.
- That I am almost as scared of sheep as I am of cows. Especially the ones with the gigantic horns.
It’s now a few days since that horrible run and the memory is already fading. I’ve postponed my marathon cancellation (I’m expecting to get at least one more running-related grievance on this blog) – I’ll just have to wait and see how the next long run goes… And in the meantime, I’ll try my very best to limit my consumption of beetroot crisps.
*I felt the need to find out if this was a true story and it would appear it could well be: