Ducks Versus Puddles (Round 1)

James Proclaims (4)

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A couple of notes before I begin:

  1. This post is notionally about ducks, but really it’s more about geese. And a tiny bit about swans. Essentially it’s about the birds that live on the Thames, or the bit of the Thames that goes through the town of Reading. I think the collective name for such birds is waterfowl. But I tend to call them ducks, even though only a few of them are actually ducks. 
  2. It’s also about puddles, so the above picture seemed an appropriate choice. But, even though cartoon ducks (and those plastic ducks that some people have in the bath) are often yellow, I’ve never seen a yellow duck in real life. Do such creatures exist?
  3. I’ve never seen a white duck either, like Donald and the other Disney Ducks. Or Beatrix Potter’s ‘Jemima Puddle-Duck’. In fact, to my mind, Jemima Puddle-Duck looks more like a goose, and I just assumed that ‘Puddle-Duck’ was an affectionate, antiquated, name for a goose. But I googled it and it’s not; there are such things as Puddle-Ducks and they are white ducks, I just happen to not ever have seen any in real life. Which brings me back to my question about yellow ducks. Actually I could just google that too… 
  4. Although this post is about puddles and ducks, it isn’t about Jemima Puddle-Duck. We’ve dealt with her and she won’t be mentioned again.

When I partake in my thrice weekly run, I go out at ‘stupid o’clock’. ‘Stupid o’clock’ can be defined as somewhere between 5am and 6:30am. Usually it’s before 6am. I go out early. I do this mainly because there are fewer people around at that time. Because they are mostly still tucked up in bed. Which is where I’d rather be. But my desire to stay in bed is currently being out-voted by my desire to get fitter. This tends to be a temporary state of affairs in my world and I’m making the most of this current inclination towards self-improvement, so I get up at ‘stupid o’clock’ three times a week and go out for what I refer to as a run, but what many others would probably refer to as a plod. I don’t like running when other people are around because I’m not yet at the stage in my running where I feel comfortable. It’s not a vanity thing, I don’t possess a lot of dignity when I run, but few people do. It’s more that I find running so utterly joyless that it’s all I can manage to keep going most of the time. I don’t need obstacles and other people do tend to get in the way. It’s worse at the moment, because with the gyms all closed, a lot of people have taken to going out running. But at ‘stupid o’clock’ in the morning there are only a small number of intrepid souls out and about. Including yours truly.

So mostly I get to run without anyone getting in the way. Sometimes I seem to time my run at roughly the same time as the man from the council is out in his little van emptying the bins along the Thames path. This is less than ideal as, obviously being in a van he goes faster than me, but he also stops a lot to empty the bins. So it’s a weird mile or so of me overtaking him and then him overtaking me. He never actively gets in my way so it’s more of an unwelcome distraction than anything.

No, it’s mainly an obstacle free course at that time in the morning. Except for the geese. They get in the way. A lot.

The ducks don’t, they mainly stay in the river. The swans are also quite considerate. But the geese, in quite large numbers, tend to congregate on sections of the Thames path, leaving me with something of a conundrum. Do I run towards them and trust that they’ll oblige and get out of my way? I’m not the fastest runner, but I’m a fairly large person. I imagine, to a goose, the sight of me running towards them would be akin to a tractor moving towards me. I’d have plenty of time to consider my options but none of those options would include waiting for the tractor to arrive at the space I’m currently occupying. But the geese, in general, don’t seem that bothered by my presence. Or at least not especially fearful. And I don’t know if you’ve ever met a goose, but they are quite frightening. They move around in packs (I suppose technically flocks) and they resemble, to my early morning eyes, the velociraptors off of ‘Jurassic Park’. And they hiss. Quite aggressively. They’re really not very nice.

So I tend to alter my course to avoid them. Which I can’t help but feel does throw me off my stride a little.

Recently though, the weather has been a little less clement. I’ve woken up at ‘stupid o’clock’ to find that it’s raining. On such days, any sensible person would decide that outdoor exercise is a bad idea and return to the comfort of their bed. But, as previously mentioned, I hate running. So running in the rain is not especially any less appealing than running when it’s not raining. I’ve completed a few runs in conditions that some would describe as ‘nice weather for ducks’. I’m not sure if the ducks really have a preference for the rain over other meteorological conditions, but the geese do seem to behave differently. I wouldn’t say the path is clear of geese, but more of them seem to remain in the river on such days. Which means I encounter fewer feathered fences to hurdle.

So you’d think I’d go faster on such days. But alas, in place of the geese, I find numerous puddles. And they are also a hindrance. Because, while some puddles are insignificant, some are akin to small lakes and it’s harder to run around the larger puddles than it is to run around a goose.

Or course puddles don’t tend to be quite as aggressive as the geese, and they don’t hiss at me, so I can run through them without fear of being attacked. But it’s easier said than done. I’m sure more able runners, those who are solely focussed on improving their personal best, would run straight through a large puddle without a care in the world, but I’m still at a point in my running when such disregard for common sense is alien to me. Because it’s human nature to avoid puddles. So where I can I do and when I can’t, and I have to traverse the offending quagmire, I do so as delicately as possible. Which rather slows me down.

And while none of my running times are yet worthy of any kind of boasting, I’d have to say that, on balance, when my primary obstacle is puddles rather than geese, I tend to record slower times.

So, in the category of ‘Hindering Me While I Run’, puddles would have to be declared the winner.

Puddles take round 1.

But it’s not over, ducks and associated waterfowl still have a chance to level the series.

Tune in next time (whenever that is) to see if they manage to do just that.

An Overly Long Post About An Underwhelming Return To Running After Quite A Few Years Of Not Running

James Proclaims (4)

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Note – I started writing this on Sunday, but didn’t get around to finishing it until today. So every reference to ‘today’, with the exception of the one in the previous sentence, actually refers to Sunday. Not that it matters, but I’d hate for you to feel in any way deceived.

 

Today, according to my bottom-of-the-range GPS watch, I ran my second best time ever for a four mile run.

Of course one could deduce that I have, in fact, only run four miles twice in my life and today I was slower than the last time I did it.

This is not entirely true.

But it’s also not exactly untrue.

In my twenties, particularly a golden period in my mid-twenties, I could knock out a four mile run fairly effortlessly, and much more quickly than I managed today. Indeed, back in my twenties I used to run half-marathons on a pretty regular basis and on three occasions I actually managed to complete entire marathons. Technically the third was the day after my thirtieth birthday but, to be fair, the training took place while I was still in my twenties. I began my thirties in pretty good shape but it really was the start of a decade of my life when I mostly seemed to be committed to undoing all of the good work of the preceding ten years through a combination of poor dietary choices and watching too many box-sets. Although ‘The Wire’ was excellent. It’s not really relevant to this post but I can’t overstate how good that show was.

Even in my twenties I was never especially quick, but I could run for quite a long time. Nonetheless, I was almost certainly quicker than I am now.

Unfortunately, back then, I didn’t own a bottom-of-the-range GPS watch, so I had no way of tracking my performance stats when I was training. I don’t even know if such devices existed back then.

I own one now though and I’ve had it for about three years. I didn’t initially buy it to keep track of my running. Frankly, after that last marathon in 2009, I thought I’d pretty much given up running for good. It wasn’t my intention to give up but life just kept getting in the way, as life is often prone to do, and I’ve never been especially disciplined when it comes to fitness. I did briefly come out of ‘retirement’ in 2014 to run a half marathon. I did very little training and somehow completed the distance, in an admittedly lamentable time, through a combination of misplaced confidence and presumably an element of ‘muscle memory’ from my earlier endeavours.

That last half marathon was a grim experience though and I had no interest in doing it again.

But in 2017 Mrs Proclaims and I started doing quite a lot of walking. It started off relatively modestly, but we went out most weekends and we were pretty soon clocking up twenty-plus miles on our outings. So I bought the GPS watch to keep track of our progress. Alas, it had rather less energy than we did and it would frequently run out of charge long before we completed our perambulations so it was, essentially, useless.

However, in the winter of 2017 Mrs Proclaims and I had to curtail our ambitions regarding walking, due to the forthcoming arrival of Little Proclaims. Also it was winter and walking long distances is rather less fun in the winter. But we knew that, all going well, by the time the weather picked up, Mrs Proclaims would be in no condition to complete the kinds of distances we had been walking and, whether capable or not, was hardly likely to feel inclined to do so.

I have generally tried to maintain an acceptable, if not exactly impressive, level of fitness, so I’m certain I did still do some sort of exercise (albeit in an ‘on and off’ fashion, as is oft my way) throughout Mrs Proclaims’ pregnancy, but it did not tend to involve any kind of running.

However, it did occur to me that our forthcoming lifestyle change, and in particular the additional costs of having a child (which I still, even with my most pessimistic calculations, managed to woefully underestimate), might render gym membership a luxury I couldn’t really afford. So I thought about taking up running again. Because running is, if nothing else, free.

And, in April 2018, I went for a run.

I didn’t expect it to be especially easy, but I was ill-prepared for quite how horrendous the whole experience would be.

In the end I completed a mile.

A single, solitary mile.

Which would be all well and good. Not the most ambitious of beginnings, but something is better than nothing. Except that I didn’t run the whole mile. I actually ran about 40% of a mile. And then I had to stop because I was in agony. I completed the rest of the distance through a combination of walking and painful short-lived attempts to reignite the run.

It was a pretty humbling experience. I didn’t expect to be able to run a 10K on my first attempt, but to not even be able to manage a mile did seem a spectacular fall from the giddy heights of my youth.

I needed to urgently right this wrong.

For the next eight days I ran (or attempted to run) a mile every single day. And I did improve. By the end of those eight days, according to my cheap GPS watch, I was actually able, if I gave it my all, and didn’t mind collapsing in a breathless heap at the end, to run a mile at roughly the same pace as ‘most men my age’.

I’ve no idea how the pace of ‘most men my age’ was calculated, but I’d hazard an educated guess that it was ‘most men who decided to part with their cash to purchase a similar device to mine’, so it probably wasn’t the most accurate calculation. Still, I was quietly pleased, in eight days, to have improved from that pitiful first effort.

And in order to build on this success, I promptly gave up running again.

Fast forward a few months and I found myself spending a lot of time in hospital. The birth of my daughter, was not a straightforward affair and while Little Proclaims thankfully came out of the ordeal relatively unscathed, Mrs Proclaims was not so lucky and was in quite a bad way for a few days. My wife and new-born child were not discharged for the best part of a week, and while I did occasionally venture home to sleep, I was mostly there with them. But they were both asleep for quite a lot of the time, so I spent some of that time reading. And, although I mostly tend to read novels, my attention span was somewhat lacking during that week, so instead I found myself reading some of those collections of newspaper columns that comedians like to repackage as books around Christmas time. One such compendium was by Charlie Brooker and it was a pretty good way of taking my mind off what was a very surreal and stressful situation (my wife’s long term prognosis was actually pretty good, but she was really not well for those few days in hospital, which was hardly the ideal introduction to parenthood for either of us). Anyway, one of the recycled articles in Charlie Brooker’s book, was about how he, despite not being someone who particularly enjoyed ‘keeping fit’, had taken up running regularly by completing one of those couch to 5K apps.

And I thought to myself, if Charlie Brooker can do it, then so can I. Although he has also forged an extremely successful writing career on a variety of platforms, and I, despite often claiming I would like to do that, have never come anywhere close to making that happen. So I’ve no idea why I thought Charlie Brooker’s achievements should serve as a baseline for my own ambitions.

Anyway, once my wife and daughter had been discharged from hospital, and after we’d had a few weeks to adjust to life as parents, I downloaded the same running app and started running 3 times a week. And I really enjoyed it. As is no doubt the case with similar apps, the programme starts you off very gently so the first few weeks were eminently manageable, particularly for a man who could run a mile at roughly the same pace as most men his age. And after five weeks or so I was building nicely towards a regular running routine.

So obviously I gave up again.

To be fair, being a new parent is exhausting enough and there were a lot of other irritating things like ‘having to go to work’ and ‘thinking about but not actually writing my MA dissertation’ that were getting in the way too.

After a few weeks of complete inactivity, I did take up swimming again, which is a form of exercise I much prefer. Even that was a bit stop-start for a few months, but once I’d finally put my MA dissertation to bed I did invest quite heavily in the swimming and by the time my daughter’s first birthday rolled around, I was relatively fit again.

So much so that once again I started running. I didn’t bother with the app, I just decided to try and run 5K straight away, and although it was pretty miserable and painful and even though I was still pretty slow, my recently acquired swimming-induced fitness meant that I was able to do it. This time I kept up a routine of running three times a week.

And I lasted an entire three weeks before again giving up.

I stuck with the swimming, which I much preferred and that did seem to be enough to keep me in relatively good shape until November when a series of ear infections kept me out of the pool until the end of January.

If you’re going to stop exercising regularly, then the period between November and January is not ideal.

And although I was able to return to the pool, my GP advised me against swimming daily, as I had previously been doing, because she was obviously getting fed up with constantly prescribing antibiotics.

So in February I started running again, alongside a much reduced swimming regime. But after the excess of festive food and a lack of training over Christmas, I decided once again to turn to the app in order to try an establish a manageable routine.

And much like before I quite enjoyed the first few weeks because they really aren’t that strenuous. But, by around week five, I was starting to look a little shaky and was fairly convinced that once again I’d be ditching the running and risking further ear infections by upping my time in the pool.

And then a certain pandemic happened.

And suddenly the swimming pool was closed indefinitely (and indeed still is) and running was all I had.

So I stuck with it and completed all nine weeks of the couch to 5K app.

And on the last day, I expected the little voice in my ear, the one that had been encouraging me for all those weeks, to make a bit more of a fuss than she actually did. But there was no pomp or ceremony. The app gave me no closure. It was almost as if it was an emotionless piece of software.

However, I had achieved the goal of running three times a week for nine weeks.

But, during that time, the entire world had taken up running. So I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to continue. After nine weeks I didn’t really enjoy running any more than I when I started, and in any case, I particularly dislike running when there are lots of other people also running.

Nonetheless, I dusted off my GPS watch for the first of my post-app runs (having previously decided that none of the app-inspired runs needed to be recorded for posterity).  I expected to see a vast improvement from my August/September running pace and lo and behold, I discovered that I was , if anything, even slower.

But I suppose the app did instil a routine because I completed it some time in April and I’ve stuck with my three-times-a-week running schedule for a while now.

I’m a little bit faster but it’s certainly nothing to brag about.

The agonising pain seems to have gone though, which seems like a good thing.

I’m still a long way off even thinking about running marathons again.

But this morning I ran four miles for the second time in as many weeks. And four miles is better than no miles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff I Used To Do But Don’t Do Anymore (Or How I’ve Become A Less Interesting Person Over Time): Part 2 – I Just Kept On Running (Or I Did For A While And Then Gave Up…)

James Proclaims (4)

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Part 2 of my confessional about how I’ve become a less interesting person over the years and it is time to focus on a perennial lie on my CV – the claim that I enjoy long distance running. To reflect that fact, this is a longer-than-usual post. A marathon of a post if you will. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

I’ve never enjoyed long distance running. I can’t think of anything I’d rather avoid than running of any description to be honest.

I’m not built for it for one thing. Until settling in the town of Reading in 2013, I led something of a nomadic existence. I’ve lived in a few places in the UK and I even lived for a few years in Paris (more of which later). The one thing that moving around means is changing GPs. And every time you change GP you have to go and have a medical. Consequently, no-one is more aware than me that I am, according to my BMI score, obese.

It’s a horrible word, obese. I often wonder if it’s specifically designed to make you feel bad about yourself. Cos if someone describes you as obese, then you’re going to want to do something about it aren’t you?

And I would, but I think it’s fair to say I’m also quite fit.

I’m no Olympian but I do exercise a reasonable amount. Continue reading Stuff I Used To Do But Don’t Do Anymore (Or How I’ve Become A Less Interesting Person Over Time): Part 2 – I Just Kept On Running (Or I Did For A While And Then Gave Up…)