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Hmm, haven't seemed to be in the mood for reading much this week. I seem to have stalled on the Sylvia Pankhurst book, I just need to pick it up and get on with it!

Part of the problem has been that I have been watching and re-watching all of Twin Peaks. Actually, I hadn't watched all of the second series until last week (I had some holiday and plenty of ironing to do!). I also rewatched "Fire Walk With Me". I am very excited about the new series coming out and getting a little obsessed (again) with the world of Twin Peaks.

On watching all of Series Two properly, it is clear that the programme lost its way a bit there, but since all the new season episodes are directed by David Lynch, I don't think there will be that problem again.

I know I could probably just go on IMDB and see exactly which cast members are returning, but instead I've just been being a little morbid and wondering which actors are now dead. Jack Nance, one of my favourites, is dead. And so is Frank Silva. Does this mean there will be no BOB in the new episodes? I doubt it, but I am interested to see what they do about that.

Anyway, perhaps I do need some fiction, just to get me back into reading again. I may go and look in the library at some point this week.
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 I mentioned this on an earlier post, and now I have finished reading it. 

No-one reads this blog, but, just in case - spoilers!

As I thought after reading about 30 pages, the main male character (Theodore Finch) seems to have bipolar disorder. Although he is never diagnosed with this, his counsellor does suggest he should consider looking it.

I suppose it's impossible for me not to have mixed feelings about this book, as a sufferer from bipolar disorder. I totally relate to what Theodore talks about as his periods of being "Asleep" and Jennifer Nixon does a good job of showing us what his depression is like.

I am well-controlled on Lithium and I have never been manic. My hypomanic episodes bring with them a terrible anxiety so I can't fully relate to Finch's enjoyment of the times when he is "Awake".  However, I did respond deeply to his unpredictable behaviour and impulsiveness. Maybe full mania is rarely as romantic as this - delusions of grandeur and some of the behaviour that comes with that tend to be pretty terrifying, I think. Through it all, the character of Violet, suffering a totally normal reactive depression as a result of her sister's death in a car accident, is the person with whom we identify most. At times she is unsure of Finch and can't really deal with his behaviour, even though he does get her to make some progress at moving on and wanting to live again. The most poignant thing, for me, was the idea that even with her in his life, that still wasn't enough for Theodore. He kills himself anyway. It's a comforting message for survivors of suicide and one that it's important to hear.

Re-reading my last sentence, I need to rethink that. If a loved one has committed suicide, survivors must not blame themselves, wondering why being iwith them was not "enough" to make that person want to keep living. But it's also a terrifying idea as it suggests that someone with bipolar disorder, when depressed, is likely to kill themselves even when, from a saner perspective, he or she has much to live for.

Like many readers of the book, I was surprised by Theodore's suicide. Maybe I am relating the events of the book too much to my own experiences, but I felt Niven moved a bit too quickly from Violet and he starting a physical relationship through the falling-out that occurs and his sudden disappearance and death. 

I'm no expert, I just know how I feel living with this illness. I realise he felt that Violet had abandoned him. I just felt with the intensity of his relationship with Violet, plus the physical relationship, he would not have killed himself at that moment.

But I suppose a tragic love story is more romantic than one in which Finch got a diagnosis, started taking Lithium, and continued with his life with those highs and lows damped out.

This is a really good book, I found it interesting that Finch resists the label and that no-one had really helped him. Also his father seems like a sufferer also. Plenty of this rang bells with me. Personally, I am (reasonably) content to live with the diagnosis and the medication. But maybe if my hypomania were a little more "fun" (as I know it is for some sufferers) I would be less compliant.

Whatever, there's plenty to love about this book. And for all those who are not bipolar, it's an excellent insight.
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So, it was my lunch hour and I had ordered All the Bright Places from the library. I'd had the email to say it was there. I was thinking about going running, but I didn't really feel like it. Last week I felt distinctly under par. I'd had a flu jab, bits of me were sore - I wasn't sure if from weight lifting or the vaccination. Today, my right arm (the one I had the jab in) looked a bit mottled and had some little marks on it. Anyway, it was a no-brainer, I went to the library to pick up my hold.

I realise, by the way, that no-one reads this blog.

Anyway, I have been feeling a bit down lately. The strength training is going sort-of okay, but I feel fat and progress is slower now. I am thinking I should start to add conditioning workouts back in. But the sore knee is not yet fully un-sore. I did run at the weekend (4.5 miles) and feel okay. So, I will try.

Anyway, back to the book. I managed to read the first 38 pages in the library and couldn't resist finishing the chapter at my desk at work. For those who do not know, the book opens with two teenagers both considering suicide by jumping from the bell-tower of their school. Theodore and Violet. What interested me a lot about what we learn about Theodore is that he seems to be bipolar (okay, I know I am only 40 pages in, but that's how I read it). He has extended periods when he is "Asleep" and others when he is unpredictable, dangerous, exciting. Well, that sounds a lot like my illness. Except now I'm on Lithium it's more of a steady state of disappointment and regret.

But enough about me. As the (zero) readers of my blog will know, I have been reading quite a lot of YA fiction recently. I'm not so into the fantasy or dystopian stuff, but I like books by John Green and E Lockhart  - basically romance but with characters who are cool, quirky and tragic. This book is clearly right up my street. 

My SO told me this morning that she will not be coming into town for coffee tomorrow, which means I can get to the gym. Realistically, I can only do two things. Obviously one of these will be squats. If I do 5x5 I might not have much time left for anything else, but if I can warm up on the bench press in between sets, I will probably have time to do either a new 5RM attempt, or some sets across at a slightly lower weight. Sounds like a plan.

90% of my current 5RM at squats would be 105kg.
For the bench, I should try 5 x 75kg, or sets across at 67.5kg.
I will also do some dips with 10kg on a belt as I warm up for squats.

My appetite has not been great recently. I have that feeling that I am forcing myself to eat at almost every meal.

I am still enjoying The Suffragette Movement by Sylvia Pankhurst. Very interesting stuff on the split with the Labour Party, despite Keir Hardie's long-standing support for women's suffrage. Highlighted for me the utility of single-issue parties. The Labour Party would not prioritise votes for women as they were still trying to get votes for all adult men, help for the unemployed etc..

It's a fairly slow afternoon at work. 

E Lockhart

Nov. 1st, 2016 01:07 pm
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lockhartJust finished reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E Lockhart. At first I thought it reminded me of John Green's Looking for Alaska since most of the plot concerns romance and pranks at an exclusive boarding school. However, I enjoyed this more than the Green novel. The  main character, Frankie, calls herself a feminist and  refuses to be held back by patriarchal power. I enjoyed the playfulness with language in this book, and especially the way Lockhart sometimes guides us through Frankie's thought processes in a very detailed way as she works out how best to respond to a difficult situation.

I have read We Were Liars, and fully intend to read more from this writer.

The opening few pages - Frankie's letter to the school administration about some of the pranks she has orchestrated - are amazing. If you read these I am pretty sure you will want to devour the whole thing.

Anyway, must get back to reading The Suffragette Movement. You know how it can be when all your library reservations come in at once ....
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Sylvia Pankhurst I am currently reading Sylvia Pankhurst's book The Suffragette Movement. It's a fascinating book. I am still in the early part of it and SP alternates between describing the political lives of her parents and giving us her autobiography.

I was moved to read it after watching the film Suffragette. I have also just read I Call Myself a Feminist: a great collection of essays by young feminists. But I felt I ought to know more about the struggle for votes for women.

At the risk of just betraying my ignorance, I didn't know that, at the time (late 19th Century). women could vote in local elections, but not stand as councillors. I was also unaware of the divisions within the suffrage movement, especially the fact that some groups campaigned for votes for women legislation that excluded married women.

Anyway, I am learning a lot about conditions for women during that period and looking forward to the parts of the book in which Emmeline Pankhurst takes more of a leading role.

Her husband, Richard, was a great campaigner for women's rights and a leading figure in the early history of the Labour movement. He was also a staunch republican and an agnostic at a time when both those viewpoints tended to expose one to a great deal of negative press. 

Anyway, it's great to be able to read a first-person account of this period.

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 Been reading some YA fiction. John Green: The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. Just in Case by Meg Rossoff and, currently, Youth in Revolt by C D Payne. I've been enjoying these, especially the John Green books and Youth in Revolt. The Lie Tree was also excellent. The author writes about a young girl who aspires to be a Naturalist like her father. It's set soon after the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species. It's an exciting book that manages to expose the endemic sexism of that period without appearing didactic.

In terms of exercise, I twisted my knee a bit a couple of weeks ago at kickboxing. So I didn't run for a couple of weeks. Then I did 10.5 miles at the weekend and had crippling DOMS in my calves. This is starting to improve now (Wednesday). I have been going to the gym pretty regularly twice a week. What I do is this. On Monday, I do a couple of things in my garage (row & press). Then, at lunch, I high-tail it down to the gym and do squats and deadlifts If there's time I do some dips as well.

Then, on Wednesday, I have to train at home. So currently I am doing a 20 rep set of squats (brutal) followed by press and power cleans.

Friday, I again do my rows in the garage (plus maybe some curls). Then I get down to the gym and do squats, deadlift, chin-ups and bench press.

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 Helen and I ran 12.5 miles at the weekend. It was supposed to be 13 miles, but I was a little off with the route planning. I have re-read Norman Mailer's "The Fight". Perhaps not quite as good as I remembered it, but interesting nonetheless. The chapter when he went for a run with Ali was the highpoint, probably.

I have been re-reading Mark Rippetoe's "Starting Strength". I've put Power Cleans back in my routine and I am swapping out the barbell rows (although I may include them as "assistance"). Ordered some chalk and a chin-up / pull-up bar. 

I've been taking it a little easier this week - no run on Monday as I had a little soreness from the long run. Yesterday I did a (barefoot) hill session up Clayton Bypass in Congleton. That was fun. 

Also reading "L A Confidential", continuing my re-read of the L A Quartet by James Ellroy. Father's day gift came at last, so I have F X Toole's "Pound for Pound" to read soon.

Watched "Deadpool" movie and loved it. Other than that, not a lot to report really.

Rippetoe's book is making me concentrate on the form of all the barbell exercises I perform, which is good. I did my first workout including Power Cleans this morning. I am having a little difficulty with the "rack" position. I need to experiment a bit with grip width. Or maybe I just have long forearms?

The focus on form is partly because I've started teaching Jack (my son, age 16) to lift weights. I want to show him the right way to do this stuff.
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 I am currently re-reading James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere. It's a long time since I read this book, probably back in the 1990s. I am enjoying it a lot. The narrative is split between three main characters: Buzz Meeks, Danny Upshaw and Mal Considine. At times there' so much going on that I have to go back and check where particular bits of information come from (who told whom what). But the writing is really good. It tells the story of the hunt for a serial killer targeting gay men and an attempt to take down the Communist sympathisers in a Hollywood trade union. Very enjoyable.

In terms of training, I have lost quite a bit of weight (down to 11st 1lb on Sunday). I feel torn now between carrying on down to 10 and a half or so or increasing my calories and adding a bit of muscle (hopefully). For the time being, I am going to try to continue with the weight loss.

Helen and I ran 11.5 miles on Sunday, so we are doing very well in terms of our 1/2 marathon training. Still not having a full "rest day". Today, instead of my (hard) "coins" conditioning workout, I just did a fairly easy couple of sets of Good Mornings and Romanian Deadlifts. The idea of this is to strengthen my left hamstring (well both of them obviously ... ). I have an old injury there.

So, other than feeling slightly weird about (almost) having a day off training, I am doing fine today.

I must be due a thyroid test soon. Funnily enough, my neck does feel a little enlarged. But maybe it's a cold or hayfever irritating something.
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 Well, it's been just over a year since my last post. Today is my 46th birthday.

I've been reading quite a bit. I enjoyed The Big If by RIck Broadbent. This is a boxing biography about Johnny Owen, the Welsh boxer who died after a fight in 1980. It was a very moving book, detailing Owen's dedication and "heart". 

I also lapped up Marathon Man by Rob Young. He's the child-abuse survivor who recently broke the record for the most marathons run in a year. Right now he is trying to break the record for running across the USA.

Lessons from these books are how much more we are capable of than we realise. But also the sacrifices you have to be prepared to make to achieve great things. 

Another boxing book, F. X. Toole's Rope Burns, which includes the story upon which the film Million Dollar Baby is based. Very good - the author was a "cuts man" and really knows his stuff.

Currently rereading some Ellroy - The Black Dahlia and (right now) The Big Nowhere.

I was reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. I'd enjoyed No Country for Old Men, but stalled on Blood Meridian. It's fairly rare for me to give up on a book, but I found it hard to connect with any of the characters and it just felt a little pointless continuing with it. Maybe I'll go back to it at some point.

Meanwhile, my barefoot running had been going well. Did about 10 miles bf a couple of weeks ago in Leeds. My wife and I are training for a half-marathon in October. On other runs I have to switch between bf and using my (Xero shoes) sandals depending on the road surface.

Thyroid-wise, things seem to be fairly well controlled. I did have a bit of a wash-out last weekend. Didn't do any runs and was exhausted. I am experimenting with taking my Thyroxine at night instead of on waking.

Generally, I am trying to make my training as close as possible to how boxers train. Here's how my typical week looks. Most days I have a morning workout and a later-in-the-day session. Morning workouts are at 7am.

              am                   later
Mon      heavy bag      run ~4.5 miles (in my lunch-hour)
Tues     weights           run ~4.5 miles (in my lunch-hour)
Wed      GPP
Thurs    Yoga               kickboxing
Fri         Yoga               weights
Sat        heavy bag     run
Sun       Yoga              long run

The yoga sessions are the 45 minute "Short Form" from David Swenson's Ashtanga Yoga book.

The heavy bag sessions vary a bit, but I am currently doing 8x3mins with 45sec rest.

The GPP session I favour is 10x:
    100 skips
    10 burpees
    10 bicycle crunches
    10 squats
    (no rest between sets).

My weights sessions are based around the 5x5 system, with a few adaptations. I alternate 2 workouts.
Both begin with a set of 20 squats and end with 3 sets of 5 deadlifts.
One day I do 5x5 with row & press, the other I do 5x5 row & bench.

I don't schedule in any actual rest days, but some days are lighter than others and sometimes I just take a rest day if I feel I need it.

I've only recently put back in the weight training sessions. When my thyroid was playing up I just couldn't manage the sessions (felt faint when squatting for instance). As a result of this, I am back on slightly lighter weights and building my strength up again.

I have been trying to lose a bit of weight. I've lost about half a stone over the last 6 months or so. I am now hovering around 11 and a half stone. I'd like to get down to 11 stone and then, maybe, try adding some muscle mass without gaining too much fat.

I went back to veganism a couple of months ago after a long period during which I ate eggs. I feel better about this ethically and can't notice any ill effects in terms of health and energy levels. I do use a Vegan protein powder to help me with recovery etc.

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 My wife has had a cold, which turned into a chest infection, over the past couple of weeks. Since I've been doing a fair bit of my running with her recently, this has affected my training.

Basically, I did no running the weekend before last. Then, in the week I went during my lunchtime on Monday and Wednesday. Following that there were no runs at the weekend just gone. Also, my feet were feeling a bit sore. No blisters or anything, just feeling a bit bruised (no actual bruises  visible). 

So, I've had a few days off - even wearing my sandals when walking the dog. I did run barefoot during my lunch hour on Monday (8th June). But other than that I have been really taking it easy.

Alongside all this, I think I may have been coming down with the cold. Had a sore throat the night before last, and it's still a bit tickly today. 

I've also been getting a bit fed up with my strength-training routine. It's rather punishing as every session calls for 3x20 squats at 55kg. I find this hard to do. I always manage it, but it's quite daunting.

Also I've been feeling a bit disappointed with my lack of flexibility and balance and generally it was inevitable that I would come around to doing Yoga again.

The thing is, I like to do Ashtanga Yoga. So, once you decide to do that, you have to dedicate yourself to practising six days a week. So, I think I am going to suspend my weight-training and some of my other work-outs while I get back into my Yoga practice.

I suppose it doesn't help that I am not feeling very well.

Anyway, I bought Kino MacGregor's book and DVD on the Primary Series and I have done some Yoga each day this week. I am already feeling the benefits (no back pain at all after full day at work).

I am guessing that I will feel some resistance when, in a week or two, I freak out because I have not been lifting weights. By then, hopefully, I will be back into the Yoga enough not to care. And maybe my feet will feel nice so I can run barefoot.
I do sort-of wish I could still go to the Ashtanga Class where I used to learn Yoga (it was at St. George's Church Hall in Altrincham with a great teacher called Vicki Shields). That was actually quite a bad time in my life, just before I had my last big meltdown before being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. The Yoga class was good, but it didn't save me from myself then. It's a long drive from where I live and so, no, I won't be going back.
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I am reading Proust. Currently I am in the middle of Swann's Way. 
In the "Combray" section, the narrator writes about buttercups:

"[...] and so it had been from my earliest childhood, when from the tow-path I had stretched my arms towards them before I could even properly spell their charming name - a name fit for the Prince in some fairy-tale - immigrants, perhaps, from Asia centuries ago [...]"

(I am using the Terence Kilmartin revision of the C. K. Scott Moncrieff translation. Penguin, 1981, p. 183).

Anyway, of course this made me think of The Princess Bride, in which the princess is called Buttercup. I wonder if William Goldman was influenced by this passage.

Well, I just wanted to blog this detail now before I forget it.

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Well, since I last posted I have finished reading Unbroken. I then did one of my usual things which is to borrow more books from the library that I can ever really read. One was The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (a book about how the internet is ruining our brains). The other was The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton (a book saying that many successful people share some of the characteristics of psychopaths). So, I read a bit of each of them and felt that I sort of knew what they would be spending the rest of the book saying and returned them to the library.

Unfortunately, this is something I do. A few months back I was despondant and couldn't settle down to read anything. I even gave up on Dune, despite the fact that many people think this is one of the best Science Fiction novels ever. I have biploar disorder and low thyroid and so at times I just find it hard to get motivated. Anyway, since then things have been different again. The other extreme, for me, is to gather a great big pile of books by my bedside which, realisitically I am not going to read. After reading a few running books (Eat and Run, Robin Harvie's Why We Run) along with Unbroken, I have got back into reading and running. The library splurge was just symptom of that over-excitement.

Anyway. I have now started reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. I'm about a hundred pages into the first volume of the Terence Kilmartin version. I am enjoying it, and I think it'll keep me good for a while. I have also ordered from the library Alan de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life, but I'll just read that alongside.

In terms of running, I have done a few barefoot runs since I last posted. I won't write about all of them, but there are a couple of things worth mentioning. A couple of weeks ago, I went for a run in my lunch-hour at work. This is something I have done for many years. When I worked at Lambs House in Congleton (2001 ish), I used to head off up the Biddulph Valley way. When I worked in Leek, I'd run down to the canal and along it for as far as I could manage and still get back in time to shower and be ready for afternoon classes. Also at Verdin High School in Winsford - although at that time I had an injury so the workouts were more often skipping / HIIT sessions. Anyway, I headed up to the canal in Congleton. This was a bit of a mistake as a lot of the path was gravel. I know that Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton recommends running on gravel when you start (if you can handle that, everything else is easy) but this wasn't that kind of gravel. It was quite large chunks of grey stone. Anyway, I hobbled along, used the grass verge at times and was heading back into town (relatively) unscathed when I (almost literally) bumped into my pychiatric nurse. I could only talk to her briefly as my running time was almost up and I had to get back to work. I think she was pleased that I was running at lunch-time (although this isn't everyone's choice, I think she considered it a good thing). However, I did point out that I was barefoot and there, perhaps, I had over-stepped the mark. To most people, barefoot running is a little crazy, and it's partly her job to check that I am not losing the plot. I was a little worried she give me a call to see how I was doing, but she didn't. That, I suppose, shows that she knows me pretty well.

The next slightly interesting barefoot run was Wednesday of last week. It was wet and I ground down quite a lot of the skin on my forefeet (although I didn't realise this until afterwards). I think it will be okay, but I need to be a lot more careful about form when it is wet. The funny thing was that I got quite a few comments from people. One pedestrian shouted out: "What are you doing?". A driver slowed while turning left at some traffic lights to shout across the road to me: "Are  you mad?". And then, on the high street, a lady slowed her car down to say: "Do you realise you haven't got any shoes on?". These comments amused me, especially since the drivers seemed to be prepared to shift their focus away from driving to speak to me. I will have to think of some good comebacks for when this happens again.

Since the wet Wednesday I have done two more barefoot runs, at a steady pace, with my OH. These were 2.5 miles and 3.8 miles approximately. My feet are fine and I am not getting any soreness in my calves. I will be aiming to up my mileage a bit over the next couple of weeks.

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 As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I am trying to make the transition to barefoot running again. After reading Born to Run sometime in 2010, I made some efforts to do this.  I was struggling with pain under the ball of my foot and, like Chris McDougall, I hoped that running without shoes, or with minimal shoes, might help. I tried a lot of different approaches. I ran in sandals, I ran in "pumps" with no cushioning or support, I ran in rubber swimming "socks". And of course, I ran barefoot. 

I'm not good at taking things slowly and so I got into difficulties. A lot of skin came off the bottom of one of my feet after I developed a blister. The new skin was tender and thin and I could not run on it. Eventually I stopped and came to terms with the idea that I couldn't run. I turned to other forms of exercise (eg skipping).

Anyway, several years later and I have overcome the ball-of-foot pain through myofascial release. I also think the skipping (which involves landing on the ball of the foot) has strengthened my feet. Another thing I have been doing is carrying 20kg of sand when I walk the dog (2.5 miles, most days of the week). Some of this has been in boots, but more recently I have been doing it in some pretty minimal fell-running shoes (Inov8 Roclites) which has strengthened my feet further.

Also, I have been running a bit since October 2014. Usually only one or two times a week and nothing more than about 4 miles.

I currently have a pulled hamstring (which is improving quite well) and so haven't been running much. I did do a couple of miles with my wife at the weekend and the leg seems okay, so I feel ready to get into a bit more running again.

In a way, I feel the hamstring problem is something of a blessing in disguise. I won't feel like doing a lot of running, or running too hard, until it is completely better. Short runs don't seem to make it worse, so this could be the perfect opportunity to make a careful transition to barefoot running.

The preparation I have done up until today has involved walking barefoot on the road with my dog. These walks have been short (10 -15 minutes). I've done at least one a day for a couple of weeks. I have also sometimes walked barefoot in the local park for about 40 minutes during my lunch break.

Well, today I decided to go for it and run barefoot. Daniel Lieberman recommends starting with a quarter of a mile to one mile for the first few runs. I decided to run for ten minutes. This would probably be about a mile and I felt that the preparation I had done would make this a reasonable amount to do.

It was a wet morning and I walked up the bridle path in my Inov8 shoes. I left these near to the Methodist Chapel on the corner and ran for 5 minutes down the road, and then back again. It felt fine. I tried to practise good form, without over-thinking it and getting too tense. The run went well. My feet and my leg both felt fine after it.

After showering I put some "Bag Balm" on the soles of my feet and went to work.

I feel pleased that I did not overdo it and that my first barefoot run was a success.

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I am a grown-up now so I can run at night. I like the coolness. There are not many people on the footpaths. Those I do pass are on their way to pubs and I smile to myself, because they are off to the pub to poison themselves whilst I am making myself fitter. I am dressed in black, not very visible in the darkness. But I don't care. I am not going to get run over unless a car actually mounts the pavement. I like being almost invisible. The shadow. Tonight I am heading out of town, towards Biddulph. It's uphill most of the way, but that is good because it means it's downhill all the way back.

It's cold, so run faster to get warm. And I begin composing an email in my head. It's to my friend who's a runner and its subject is running highs and lows. Running is a good time to write. When running I write my leaving speech for work, bitter or touching depending on my mood. While running along the canal I write stories, poems about running. I revise and plan conversations. When I next see Caroline I am going to ask after her dog. I have to plan small-talk. I write jokes to tell my colleagues. I script out positive interactions ahead of time. I devise new games to play with my kids. I plan lessons. I run through my to do list. I cross things off as I cross the road.

Running Highs and Lows

When I was a fat teenager, my dad taught me to run. I played rugby, he was a footballer but we both ran. I remember the trainers I had then, no cushioning just some hard-soled puma shoes. The laces were really long and I looped them right under the shoe, like I did with my rugby boots; maybe that gave them a little more grip on muddy days. I remember the soles had little circles on them, almost like suction cups. I imagined them gripping the dirt as I ran. Dad led me across the fields to the park. We ran across the park's drive and past the farm, then on out past the tennis club until it was time to turn back. And doing that again and again I found out that running flipped a switch inside and made me happy. I didn't know about endorphines then, I just knew how it felt to run like an animal.

My dad didn't run with me very often. Now I realise that he had found an easier way to flip the switch. Beer did the job more quickly and conveniently. So I ran alone. I had a walkman, it was still the early days and I was so proud of my Sony Walkman. It was a bulky thing, mainly white with a smoked window through which you could see the tape. I decorated it with a sticker from some schizophrenic charity I gave money to in the street. I did it to be cool, because I listened to The Who and I'd read the word in the sleeve notes to Quadrophenia.

The walkman had two swivelling things on the back. Each had a slot through which you passed a piece of grey webbing. This was then made secure around the waist with a plastic thing with two slots in it. I pulled it tightly, squeezing it into my chubby flesh. I headed out the door, a key tied to my laces (a trick my Dad taught me – I've never liked to carry anything when running). The walkman flapped against my hip. The tape wowed and fluttered. The Dolby B Noise Reduction system was on and there was no hiss. I turned up The Jesus and Mary Chain and ran. I moved the walkman round, onto my hip, into the small of my back. As my stride altered there were different positions that worked best. I had entered a new era of running. I didn't know about associating and disassociating. I just knew I had to slip out of the door and run to the park. Then I would feel better.

Are all runners masochists?

Running highs. Just going around the park and feeling that it was my place. I run to make a relationship with a landscape, to take possession. I own this. I belong here. The muddy side of the field, the grand approach to the lake, the gravel track, parts that few people visit, birds, dog walkers. This is my place. That feeling of power as I approach home. I had never read a book on running. I didn't know about LSD or fartlek. I just ran like an animal. A wolf, loping along, prepared to do this for hours if necessary, marking his territory, circling the boundaries.

Once an alsatian bit me on the backside. I didn't care.

Running lows. I don't remember the first time I had to poo when out on a run. The running motion encourages it down. At first you think it'll be okay and you can wait until you get home. Sometimes I've made myself wait, forced to slow to a walk, rediscovering the meaning of “desperate”. The sensation is unlike any other. Mixed in with the extreme discomfort is a note of panic – will I be able to keep it in? You can experiment with different ways of coping: to clench up tight or to relax almost to the point where it's coming. Neither option is a solution. It's better to evacuate on the move. It's not a big deal. Find somewhere out of sight. Squat down. Find a nice leaf. Now run, it's easier now you've got rid of that excess weight.

After my dad died, I carried on running. I remember the first time I ran after getting back from that holiday. I was back in my place – the Biddulph Valley way. The dismantled train-track I'd been running on for eight years. But now something was different. And being here with him dead reminded me that everything is impermanent. Just being here in this place, able to run and commune with these trees, these contours of earth, that's a gift. U2's One came on my MP3 player. Bono sang: “Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head”. Yes, that's why I come here. And I wept as he sang about love. But I kept running. Tears, sweat, what's the difference?

On holiday again. Again running to avoid something. Just don't want to be in the house tonight. Don't want to talk. I am not contactable, even when sitting in the same room. No signal. We cannot connect you at this time. Something somewhere is down. So I head out. It's getting late, 8pm. I am going to be out for two hours, I shout through into the living room. They look up from their copies of Harry Potter and nod. So off I go, into the twilight. And I am just running. This is what I do. Let the feet move you, switch off, look at the scenery. Music is good. I have got lots of Interpol on my player. Run for twenty minutes and have a few sips of homemade isotonic drink (High Juice cordial, water and a pinch of salt). Now I am on the beach, by the Nature Reserve. I keep going. Switch off to thought.

Much later, nearly ten o'clock. It's getting dark now, really dark. I come past the castle, lit up in the night. I'm tempted to run up and have a look at the ruins at night, but my route pulls me on. Down to the estuary, past the weir where the swans have gathered. And it's flat here. I'm tired. I've been out for a long time. My leg is sore where I have injured it, but I can't let that stop me. I've got the sea beside me. Spoonman comes on. Underworld. It takes me back. The other kind of twilight. Coming back from nightclubs in the dawn. 1993. Putting Dubnobasswithmyheadman on the stereo. Now I am not tired. I lengthen my stride. Shouldn't do that, but I don't mind the pain in my leg. I'm flying along on a new surge of energy. It's not over yet. Here I am running in the near-dark. I feel so good. Body is tingling with energy. I'm excited by this music, by the cool air on my body. This is it, this is why we come out here.

No-one needs to get taught to run. It's a no-brainer. You run towards things you like – that pretty lady. You run away from things that scare you – the monsters. You run on the spot with excitement. If you hate home you run away – although a bus is your best bet. Or maybe you just run away from home temporarily. For an hour, let's say. Come back, shower and feel much better.

Blink. Stand. You are in blinkstance. We have crashed out of the time-construct. Every song on your player is your favourite song. Listen! Hear things you never noticed before. Feel the crunch of snow underfoot, the gurgle of a stream mixed with the music. Run like an animal now and you may escape the shadow. Pass under a streetlamp and the shadow is strong – a solid shape with the big head because you are wearing a fleece hat. A dense shape because you are so heavy, indestructible. If a car struck me, it would shatter against me. I am the shadow. But then the shadow fades. You are moving beyond the reach of the sodium glare, into a void, into blinkstance. As you near the next light your shadow re-appears behind you and edges round, like some runner riding your slipstream before powering past. You have no surge in you that can beat the shadow. He always catches you, just have to pound him out again in the no-space between the street-lamps. Or in that tunnel which means you are out of town. It's dark under there, so dark you sometime wonder if someone might be silently lurking there. If no cars happen to be coming it's a little scary to enter that tunnel. But the shadow must have no fear. And you don't stop.


May. 6th, 2015 11:34 am
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 UnbrokenAs I mentioned in my last post, I have been re-reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run. However, I also have Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken on my Kindle and I have ended up spending more time over the last few days reading this. I haven't seen the film and I  haven't finished reading the book yet (I've just got passed the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Considering that I have been reading books on running and war recently, this is possibly the ideal book for me at the moment. I enjoyed the description of Zamperini's early running career and the story of his ordeal in Japanese prison camps is absolutely riveting.

I haven't read Seabiscuit, but I am enjoying Hillenbrand's writing. It's pacy and detailed, giving a real insight into what these men and their families suffered. She pulls very few punches (although she does gloss over a couple of incidents, leaving us to imagine exactly what happened) but she also takes care not to demonize the Japanese. Although many of the guards were sadistic, there were also several who risked violent reprisals in order to help the internees. Hillenbrand also spends some time explaining that the guards were often working in the camps because they were not suited to other roles within the Japanese military (either due to lack of intelligence or the psychopathic tendencies they demonstrated). Combined with the repugnance they felt towards men who had been taken prisoner due to their culture's ethos that it was better to commit suicide or die fighting than be captured, this helps us to understand why they were capable of treating their prisoners so badly. It is a fascinating book, and I am looking forward to reading the sections about Zamperini's life after WWII.

Meanwhile, I have only read a few chapters of Born to Run. I am enjoying reading about the Tarahumara again. As mentioned in a previous post, I am once again trying to make the transition to barefoot running. I am continuing with walking barefoot on the road a couple of times a day. I also went for a (short) run on Friday 1/5/15. This was in shoes, but they are fell-running shoes of  a pretty minimal design. I focussed on landing on my mid-foot  / ball of foot. The run went well and I am hoping that the injury to my left hamstring is on the mend.

I've been feeling quite tired after spending a long weekend in London. Lots of hours on my feet in museums and late nights! Therefore, I didn't do any exercise yesterday or today. Hopefully I will feel like doing something tomorrow.
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I am thinking of trying to do a bit more blogging, since I have been neglecting this recently

First, I recently read (and loved) We Were Liars  by E. Lockhart.

I really enjoyed the plot, which was skilful and surprising. The narrator, Cadence, was a great character and this was one of those books I just had to read over a couple of days; family life and work means I can't read books in one sitting any more!

The other thing I wanted to write about is that I am starting to try barefoot running again. In the past, I have  tried this (after reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall). I did my usual thing of trying too much too soon and I got blisters which forced me to stop.

I have been strengthening my feet by walking 2.5 miles (wearing fell-running shoes) carrying 20kg of sand almost every day. I am also doing short barefoot walks on the road with my dog (about 15 mins once or twice a day).

Additionally, I do skipping workouts which I think will help me develop calf strength and help me to land on the balls of my feet.

I actually have an injury at the moment, so I haven't been doing any actual running. I am hoping to get over the injury soon and try out some short barefoot runs (maybe as part of training with my wife who is also a runner).

In other reading, I have been on a bit of a military kick recently. I read American Sniper by Chris Kyle and I enjoyed the insight into modern warfare, although I found his attitude to the Iraqis very troubling. I am also reading Michael Herr's Dispatches and Tim O'Brian's  The Things They Carried. Both of these are established classics about the Vietnam War, and I am really enjoying them.

For anyone who doesn't know, Herr contributed to the screenplays of Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.

I have Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis lined up to read next.

Meanwhile, I have also been reading more books on running. Eat and Run by vegan ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek is wonderful (and has some cool recipes). I read Richard Askwith's Running Free and enjoyed it,  but not as much as his brilliant Feet in the Clouds, which I think I may re-read soon. Another running re-read planned is Christopher McDougall's Born to Run - the book that kicked off the whole narefoot running phenomenon.

Okay that's all for now. My next update will be more on my barefoot progress, plus some reading updates!

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[Been looking through some of my old stuff. Found this. Added a missing quotation and thought I'd share it.]



§ 1: It is infinite. It is real.

§2: It (the whole, the superorganism, the bioverse) is God.

§3: One cannot explain what it is by means of a neat numbered series of simple propositions.

§4: Some things cannot be proved. This doesn't mean they are not true. 

§5: Can I “prove” that I would drown if I were to attach concrete blocks of a certain weight (say 50kg) to my feet with chains and allow myself to sink into deep water when no-one was there to intervene‚Äč? “Proving” this hypothesis would be unhelpful. 

§6: “Given the nature of spiders, webs are inevitable. And given the nature of human beings, so are religions. Spiders can't help making fly-traps, and men can't help making symbols. That's what the human brain is there for – to turn the chaos of given experience into a set of manageable symbols.” (Aldous Huxley)  

§7: Spiders' webs are not perfect fly-traps. If they were, all the flies in an area would be caught and the spiders, after an initial glut, would die out. Human symbol-systems are not perfect maps of reality. Like the webs, they work just about well enough – they make human life possible, but they are not the truth. To know the truth would be like the spider trapping all the flies. Impossible, but also too much and self-destructive. If you see God, you die.

 §8: “Absolute reality is chaos and anarchy, from our relative human standpoint; and our poets are out ultimate corps of defence.” (John Fowles)

 §9: “A map can never be completely accurate, otherwise it would be the same as the ground it covers.” (Joseph O'Connor).

 §10: If you tried to make this type of map, what would you make it out of? Where would you put it? How would you represent yourself, the map-maker, within it? How would you represent the map itself? With another infinite map? Oh dear!

 §11: If you prefer to think of it as in some way separate from God (as a creation), then perhaps you see it it as God's mind-map. But it is an infinite web. A map which is identical with the territory (which is confusing – see §10). I don't find this dualism helps me, but it is one way to trap flies and will work fine for lots of people.

 §12: “The human brain works best with information presented not in the form of isolated data bits but in patterns of meaningful connection, in a community of data, as it were.” (Parker J. Palmer)

 §13: “[...] the growth of learning [is] the growth of a flexible network of ideas and knowledge – the cognitive structure. It suggests that when something new is learned, the idea links into the network wherever the learner considers that it fits and this might be in more than one place. Fitting new ideas into the cognitive structure and thereby making greater sense of the meaning is the process of coming to know something.” (Jennifer Moon)

 §14: “The fundamental nature of reality is relationships, not things.” (Peter Senge)

 §15: “Looking deeper I see the interconnectedness of all things.” (Buddha).

 §16: Since it is infinite: we find it tricky to see the interconnectedness of all things. Perhaps it is sufficient to see the interconnectedness of a significant number of things and to try to accept this (not just intellectually, but with the whole of awareness).

 §17: The human brain, learning, the universe, DNA, life, reality, God, it – these things are similar (in the mathematical sense: think similar triangles).

 §18: “David Bohm has suggested that physical reality, much like the human genome, is made up of an invisible web of information, an incredibly complex community of coded messages, a holistic underlying implicate order whose information unfolds into the explicate order of particular fields and particles. One analogy ... is a holographic photograph, of which every part has three-dimensional information about the whole object photographed. If you cut the hologram into small pieces, you can unfold the whole image by illuminating any piece of it with laser light.” (Parker J. Palmer)

 §19: “Fat later developed a theory that the universe is made out of information.” (Philip K. Dick)

 §20: It is not merely “information”; love is mixed into every part of it.

 §21: Holographic love in To the Lighthouse: “What was the spirit in her, the essential thing, by which, had you found a crumpled glove in the corner of a sofa, you would have known it, from its twisted finger, hers indisputably?” (Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse) Whatever piece of it you look at closely enough reveals itself to be “Hers indisputably”.

 §22: You illuminate a hologram with laser light to see the whole in the fragment. If you look at it in ordinary light, the fragment will just look like a damaged part of something. You feel it might once have been part of a beautiful image, but now it just looks like rubbish.

 §23: It is only visible as it is when looked at illuminated by love. Illuminated by other types of light, it looks the broken, damaged remains of something that was not a very good idea in the first place.

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Too many people defend powerful men who rape and sexually abuse young girls and/or boys. They have several tactics.

One is to debate about the age of consent and suggest that it is "natural" for older, powerful, men to have many young sexual partners.

Then they like the "times were different then" argument. They'll say that young girls "throw themselves" at rock stars.

They'll pick an example of an older man who got together with a younger woman and got married and use this as a defence of someone like Prince Andrew.

So, here's the thing.

There's nothing wrong with a relationship in which there is a big age gap.

But when a man uses his wealth and power to coerce many young women and boys into sexual relationships, he's being abusive.
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 I have been really struggling to read any fiction recently. So, I decided to try something that has been sitting on my shelves for ages.

The Sleepwalkers by Herman Broch is a trilogy and I have almost finished the first section: "The Romantic". I have really enjoyed it. 

I haven't got a great deal to say about it at this point, but hopefully will be able to add to this post when I have read a bit more.

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This is the first book by Nina Kiriki Hoffman that I have read. For those who don't know, it deals with a family (the Boltes) who have magical powers. The family has a very edgy relationship with the inhabitants of the nearby town - they have a tendency to "fetch" people into the Hollow to be their slaves.

Anyway, all is not well in the Family - fertility is a major problem and the future of the Boltes is in peril. Enter Tom - someone unconnected with the family with very strong magical abilities.

There were things I liked very much about the book - the way Tom interacts with Peregrine (one of the Boltes' "Presences") is really good. I also enjoyed the magic and the exploration of the abusive way much of the Family use their powers.

I can't say I loved the book though. I didn't get a really strong feeling of the characters as people. This may just be me, of course, but I felt that Tom and Laura were just too good to be true. And things just seemed to go right for them all the time with very little effort (until the climax of the book, that is).

My other major stumbling block was that much of the book concerns a character called Carroll. This guy has basically abducted, held prisoner, raped and abused another character (Maggie) over a series of years. Somehow we are supposed to care that Carroll might want to learn to be a better person and change. I realise this is an interesting idea but I just felt that I didn't care and there were other characters who could have been given more attention rather that this nasty guy.

So, I can't say I loved it or that I will be rushing to read another of Hoffman's books. But there was definitely lots to like in the magic system and the unusual world of "The Hollow."


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