Wednesday, 23 December 2015


 December, December. What can you say about it? My favourite day-time run at the moment is up to the top of Arthur's Seat as fast as I can, and then down and round Whinny Hill and then there's a variety of finishes, depending on what I'm after. I've been trained by Peter always to take a camera, just in case I see something...but there's not much to see. It's been pretty windy at the top of the seat and I guess most of the students are away home, so there are fewer people.

At work. Apparently this is me? Honestly these people have no respect.

On the bus with only my phone to take pictures for Run Home Thursday. Impressionistic.

A house all lit up in Corstorphine on a dark Run Home Thursday.

My other favourite run has been over Corstorphine Hill in the dark to run home from work one night a week. I have the trail figured out now so it has been less eventful, but it's still very good to get out of the stale air of the office and under the trees and get a bit spooked in the dark.
It means getting home absolutely starving at about 7pm and forcing myself to get a shower before dinner.

The cycle-path is filthy and flooded and my bike will have no moving parts left if I don't clean it soon.
We're still  busy at work, trying to get waiting lists down and hit targets. It's dark most of the time.

So when our friend Jennifer posted up on the "book" that there's to be a St Magnus Marathon in Orkney in July next year the thought of some light and an adventure was irresistible. Biggest impulse buy of the year. 2 entries for the St Magnus Marathon and 2 return flights. I don't think I've been back to Orkney for about 13 years, and every year I think I might go - so next year is the year - and it takes care of which marathon to do for the club championships. But shhhh, don't tell the fast HBTs. They seem to turn up at all the most remote races.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Persian Grey

"Have you done your Christmas shopping then?"
Yep it's all done. Well when I say done, what I mean is I took a bus along Princes Street the other day. I have a new routine in my life. It's called Run Home Thursday. In order to try and get 5 runs done in a week, I run home from work on a Thursday. In order to do that I have to get the  bus to work.
I'm pretty proud of run home Thursday. It hasn't been easy. I got lost on Corstorphine Hill in an absolute storm one Thursday night. My work colleagues told me that someone had killed, cut up and buried their mother there recently. Was I not afraid of seeing a ghost? Then they thought it might be just a bit of a ghost. Maybe just an arm or a foot. If your body gets cut up and buried on a hill, does your immortal soul likewise fragment? Science is silent on the subject.

I just wanted to show you some pictures from the bus. That's as close as I'll be getting to doing my Christmas Shopping. Quite enjoyed it actually.

Thick-necked swan.

Persian grey paint.

I wasn't really looking forwards to going out a run today. And then I convinced myself that maybe I could enjoy all the very subtle shades of grey, so I packed the little water-proof camera and off I went. You have to give yourself reasons in the winter.
I started off thinking I'd try to run fast round the road and then I remembered that I never signed up for a life of senseless grind. St Margaret's Loch has spilled right over the edges and has clearly even been across the road. The swans would have enjoyed that. I stopped to take a picture and have a breather. NOW I was enjoying myself more.
I ran up the road as fast as I could and had another breather at the wooden bench at the top - and took some pictures of all the subtle smoky greys in the distance. It put me in mind of when Peter and I decorated our living room 1000 years ago. We got obsessed with colour charts, as you do, and were trying to decide what colour to paint the door. We both fell for the chat on the colour chart about Persian Grey. I wish I had it now, but it was something along the lines of "this beautiful grey off-sets the jewel-like colours in Persian rugs and scarves, it is the backdrop that makes the gems glow with transcendent light". You know the kind of thing. So we got some Persian grey and we painted the door. But rather than lifting the colours in the room it was too dark - even industrial. We had to paint over it.

Back at the bench, I reluctantly acknowledged to myself that if I was taking photos across the Forth I should really make an extra effort and run up to the top of the seat. Setting off up the last steep bit from the road I had a wave of nostalgia for Gordon the Coach's "Triangulation" session, that used to come down the route I was using to climb up. It was a horror - 5 times up to the shoulder of the seat as quick as you could and jog down back to the road. I realised that it's possible to get nostalgic about absolutely anything, especially if there's no danger you're going to have to do it again. Gordon is safely retired now, and I can't make club sessions because of other commitments.
Then I realised that grey is actually the colour of nostalgia. It made sense at the time. Then I made it to the top and had another breather...

Then Mary Lye said "Hello Mary". OMG someone I know. Actually I don't really know Mary but I know she has a parallel life to me. She's done the same counselling course I have, she runs up hills, I think her first degree might have been in English and she writes a blog. We aren't exactly the same, obviously, but close enough so I wasn't sure we could safely be in the same place at the same time. I have known about Mary's existence for quite some time, and we have that strange intimacy that being FB friends gives you, but we've never spoken much. Also, I'd been up for hours but had only been spinning around in the fun park which is my own mind and hadn't actually spoken yet...

So I said a few unrelated  things, expecting Mary to be able to follow me. Anyway, it was nice to see her. After I'd said a number of random things her son reminded her that it was time to be moving on by tapping her gently on the shoulder with a stick. Ahhh,  non-verbal communication. So clear and concise. And then I ran home. The end.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015


I've been trying out this thing which I haven't been telling you about.

 It's very easy to burn out doing counselling work and last time I was at supervision it was clear I was getting there. Listening to other people's problems, it's easy to start to carry them. You can join people in feeling lost, over-burdened, discouraged and over-whelmed, and that doesn't do either of you any good. It's an old chestnut of counselling that you have to look after yourself. It's easy to say but it's not always so easy to know what you need. What can you do to keep your joie de vivre and sense of hope and fun?

I've always liked exploring things and one of the frustrating things I felt, growing up in Orkney, was that everything was always happening somewhere else. One of the things that delighted me in moving 'down South' was that there are so many things going on, so many things that can potentially be done. When I was younger the opportunities I availed myself of were chiefly staying up all night drinking, going to Fire Island High Energy sessions and dancing all night and then rolling out into the dawn a bit deaf....

Later I tried other things. I did Tai Chi for a while and liked it. I've done some night classes - a couple with Peter. We went to a creative writing class for a while in Leith. As fate would have it we met a guy there who we were later to meet in a climbing context. He wrote a memorable short story about a worky laying flooring, getting high on the solvents in the chemicals he had to use and the thoughts that were running through his head. I wonder if that story is still in existence.

So anyway, Clare, my supervisor, asked me what I could do for myself that would be good.
An idea popped into my head.
"I'd like to do some body work" I told her.
"What kind of body work?" she asked.
"Well I saw that there's this guy that does Rolfing in Edinburgh... ...but it's expensive."

I'm quite interested in whether there's a physical correlate for our psychological defences.
There were two things that touched on this theme that  I'd read about w-a-y back in the past. One was bioenergetics and one was rolfing. I was once given the phone number of someone who does bioenergetics, but that was back in the 90s. I didn't follow up on it at the time. There aren't a whole lot of people who do bioenergetics in the UK and there aren't a lot of rolfers either. But a couple of years ago, surfing aimlessly on the WWW, I'd come across the blog of someone who was doing rolfing in Edinburgh. At the time there was no way I could afford it. I thought about writing to the guy and asking if he'd do a student discount, but lost my nerve and forgot about it.

I know what you're thinking. "Stop saying 'Rolfing' like that's a thing, and explain yourself." Okay. I'll try, I think Rolfing sets out to work with your posture by manipulating the fascia on your body. I had read that this not only benefits you physically but also mentally, because your physical stance affects how you feel and vice-versa. That's probably a massive over-simplification.
There's an explanation of it here.

Wikipedia is rather dismissive of the whole thing saying that

"There is insufficient evidence to claim that Rolfing is effective for the treatment of any health condition"

But I'm a bit tired of all the bumbling on about evidence and evidence-bases. The closer you get to the subject the less substantial and convincing it all gets. There is insufficient evidence for a lot of things, but that shouldn't stop you trying things out for yourself.

Fast-forward. I have booked a session with James the Rolfer and there I am, stripping down to shorts and  a t-shirt.

This picture conveys my worst fears. Pony-tails, tummy control pants and serious faces. Courtesy of the European Rolfing Association Website.
I am having trouble explaining why I am there. Many of my most brilliant ideas are flashes of inspiration rather than wordy expositions and people who weren't in the know might think I was a bit mental. I tell him about my outy feet and a bit about why I'm there. I hadn't really thought about going  being anything to do with my running, but very quickly it becomes so.

In the first session he deftly finds all the sorest parts of my body and pokes them, sending some muscle between my back and my buttocks into a wild, twitching spasm. He says this is therapeutic gold....I can't actually remember everything about the earlier sessions - I should have been keeping a journal. The process is of having different areas of your body worked over, right in, really deep. The second session was my feet. There was so much damn pain in my feet! James says it should not really be painful, so I have stopped saying it hurts and started describing the sensation as "intense". Either I am sore all over or he magically finds the most tender spots. I concentrate on trying to relax and use what I know about pain management to tolerate what I am feeling. I try to concentrate on the sensation, allow it and not tense up and fight. Occasionally something relaxes and it's all easier. I don't mean to sound so mystical but I'm trying to talk about sensations in a layer of my body that I don't really know and have no words for. It is very absorbing in a way and the time passes quickly. Then he gets me to stand up and see how I am. I'm always a bit spaced out and floating, and gloriously pain-free.

What is really noticeable is that I am much less stiff.
Several sessions on it's becoming clear that he understands, and is helping me to understand, the different factors that add up to my distinctive 'Knees up Mother Brown' running style. At first I couldn't quite connect up what he was telling me, but I'm getting a more coherent sense of it as I focus on the areas he points out to me week by week. Whether my running style will change, I'm not sure. Forcing things is never a good idea. But I had a great run at the cross country on Sunday. I felt relaxed and comfortable in my body and I really enjoyed it.

I have an 'I'm not worthy' feeling about it all. Is it not a huge indulgence getting somebody to work on me so closely? Who do I think I am? But it's absolutely great. And the guy needs to work. He had to go to Colorado to train in Rolfing.

That is all I have to say about that!

For now anyway.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Peebles XC

Nothing looked very promising about this race. The weather forecast was dire; a black cloud with two drops and a gusty wind. Kate Jenkins had posted on the "book" that the course was water-logged - that it was hard, at points, to distinguish the course from the river. I didn't give myself any time to think about it because I couldn't see what I might think that would do me any good.

Steve and Willie had both run the WOL half yesterday and so were suffering before the race. Peter was pretty fresh and had loaded up with Red Bull before getting in the van so there followed a torrent of passionate opinions. I like having Steve in the car because he helps me navigate. Usually it's all up to me. It was even wet in the van. I think the seal must have gone on the passenger side window. Peter's side had a good sized pool of water anyway.

I had the wind-screen wipers on "double" at times and the wind was shaking the van. I remembered how back in the Citroen AX the single windscreen wiper broke one day on the way back from a race on the motorway from Stirling. It was in the middle of a deluge and in seconds I couldn't see a damn thing.  Scott Ferguson was in the car and I thought "I bet he won't want to travel with me again", even though he didn't complain. Luckily we were near the turn off for the service station. Damn, it's amazing what you survive. The next time Scott came in the car it was icy outside and the heater had broken so we had to drive with the windows wide-open to stop the windscreen from steaming up.

Nothing like that today. I thought our timing was pretty nice. No point in being too early - conditions were too extreme - but there was plenty of time for a pee and a warm up - the essentials of country life.

So, fast-forward. The boys went off to warm up and I sat and finished the coffee in my flask in peace. A big flurry of rain blew over and I realised that I'd forgotten to bring a rain-coat. What a twit. I'd been about to, and I'd been swithering about which one to take. I recently bought a new waterproof and I still love it too much to stink it up! So I was considering my options and then something happened and I forgot all about it.

When I got out the van I was stiff as cardboard but a wee run about loosened me off. As is often the way with extreme weather, it was really daunting going into it and then being out in it was enlivening. To my surprise I found I was enjoying myself.
The start was hectic as I hadn't really left enough time to get my layers off and then everyone's kit was getting blown away by huge gusts of wind. Ian Nimmo of Carnethy jammed his kit in the roots of a tree along-side mine and I weighed them down with a big stone. Then I had to go as it was off time. I didn't hear the safety talk, or the start. Off we jolly well went into the teeth of a gale.

And yet I was warm and happy. I'd worn two vests as a concession to the weather and I had my buff jammed over my head. I wondered how long I was going to stay cheerful like that, but it lasted. Turning around in the park was delightful. All you had to do was stay in the air as long as possible and the wind was doing the work. I felt like I was flying along and yet very comfortable. The second time into the wind was fine, I won't bore you. It was all good. I was enjoying myself and I relaxed into it. Joy Division was playing away in my head...."What you going to do when the novelty is gone?" Thrashing guitars. I toyed with the idea of a few Ian Curtis dance moves. Maybe at the end.

Before I knew it we were on the climb up through the trees on the far side of the river. And then before I knew much more we were climbing up that short, sharp hill. And then it isn't far to the end. And so it went all the way. Ya-hey!

The team seemed to be in good spirits at the end. Steve's legs were set concrete after yesterday's half. Willie had a niggle which was worrying him. Richard had an impressive gash out his leg although I didn't hear the story of it. I think a branch came down on Steve's head. Peter had had a good run and was buoyant. I needed to make up my weekly mileage to 30 miles for my OCD so Peter and Steve came a run with me.

And now we are home. And I am still in my duvet jacket and muddy know the story...

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Dance Off

Shiatsu Massage
I don't really have time to be writing, but I'm missing my blog. I've just been so jam-packed, unbelievably busy...Today, in a little while, I'm going to go and try out some Shiatsu massage. I discovered by accident that students at the Shiatsu school need people to massage for their exams, so I can have a third year work on me for an hour for £15. Well it would be rude not to. I'll let you know how I get on. I thought this was kind of interesting so I said to my colleague Karen yesterday "I'm going for a Shiat...." Before I could say "su massage tomorrow" she said "Mary Hunter! TMI!"
How we all laughed when I explained.

In Praise of Running
Among the things I haven't had much time to do has been running. I squeezed in a 40 minute run before work yesterday which meant getting up at 5am instead of 6am - still I was hardly really there in body or spirit. It was dark and cold and I was still more than half asleep. I've had a burning conflict in my head since Wednesday. This is often the case in nursing and therapy world. It throws up dilemmas and I've never been very good at just letting stuff go. My mind grinds over and over things when I'm conflicted about them. So, despite my best efforts, whenever I've had time to reflect over the last few days my mind has started going back over this ground...on and on...
I didn't really want to go out running today. I was tired and the grey sky and icy wind weren't inviting. As soon as I set off all this stuff bubbled up into my brain again, continual argumentation, back and fore...Before I left the house I felt like today's run was just going to be a grind and that I'd left it too long since breakfast, and I wouldn't have any energy - but once I was out I found  I had run the quickest mile up the road in quite some time, and the next mile, which is up a long hill, was even quicker! Then half way through my run, without even trying, I suddenly realised that I was thinking about something else. Hallelujah! Praise be! And everything no longer looked so unappealing. Instead it looked subtle. I liked the shaggy brown and white cattle in the small field at the side of Arthur's Seat, blending in with the brown scrubby grass and reeds and black rocks and bleached grass. I was quite enjoying that icy wind on my bare legs and even the feel of it in my gummed up lungs. (I've had this cold that's been going around. The one that Peter calls 'bird flu'.)

Dance Off
And finally, for today, I want to say how lucky I am that I have landed up (for now) where I have at work. After several years, which were quite all right, of working with colleagues who were either much older or much younger than me, I have landed in a place where we are all much the same age and can easily get each other's cultural references. I mean "culture" such as Sid James, Shari Lewis and lambchop, Paul Evans and "Hello This is Joanie", Petrocelli...all the odd things that were a back-drop to our 70s childhoods. So when, on Thursday, I suggested for some reason that we should have an Ian Curtis dance off on Friday, just to let off some steam, this suggestion was not only understood but was immediately adopted and held to be a good idea! Before I knew it I had been tasked with bringing in a Joy Division CD. Ann on reception, who wasn't very sure what we were talking about, was selected to be a judge.
We couldn't set an exact time, but about 3pm, after my last patient for the day had left, seemed naturally to be the right time. (Can I just say that according to our contracts we are allowed a 15 minute break in the afternoon.)
And what followed was indescribable, and it has been a long time since I laughed so hard. If I've ever laughed so hard. As with all these things, you probably had to be there.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, but would like to.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Doing the Double

This won't happen very often, so I might as well enjoy it!

Yesterday was Tinto Hill Race, last in the Porty championship series. None of the other ladies in my category had entered this, as it turned out, so the only pressure on me was internal. That fool in your head that thinks it knows where you should be in a race. I remembered not much liking Tinto when I did it in 2011. I'd done Glenogle the weekend before so I was a bit lack-lustre and there were people ahead of me who shouldn't be. I've had this experience over and over in the last few years. At the time I wasn't that pleased because I only ran 50 minutes. Yesterday I think I did okay and I came in in 53 minutes. That's a large section of humble pie I've been eating for quite a long time now. You'd think I'd be full up.
The weather was looking like it would be horrific but it was actually all right. There was a bit of snow up the top and a coldish wind, but nothing to write home about. It's quite a rocky path, especially on the upper reaches, and I was super careful not to fall over, break anything or twist a stupid ankle. I enjoyed the lower section a bit more because it was possible to push. I thought that Helen F, who is coming back from injury and a lay off, was behind me, but I wasn't exactly sure. I was expecting her to come past me, and wondered where she was. Plenty of other people were coming past. I 'let' them.
At the kissing gate near the very end I looked behind me and I saw to my horror that Helen was right behind the woman right behind me. It was so late in the race I didn't want to just concede it without a fight, so I gave it everything that I could find. So much so that I actually have sore abs today...not usual after a race. I dug deep, nearly died, and held it to the end.

After the race everyone was all happy as usual. Well except the Stave who had had a tussle at the line with some other bloke and was feeling incensed. There was a bit of talk about how I should be going to Dunbar tomorrow. I like to think my foolish racing days are over and the days of squeezing two races into a weekend are behind me. I've got books to read. I got a new guitar for my birthday that I'm working out some tunes on. If I got desperate there is even house-work I could be doing. I dismissed the idea of a second race and when I went to bed last night I was quite convinced that that wouldn't be happening. However, something happened this morning and I found myself rolling my legs with the trigger point roller and putting on my spare Porty top. I was headed for the Dunbar XC...

I think it's just drugs really. That surge of adrenaline and whatever courses through your system and keeps you buoyed up after a race. I told myself it was a short race and there'd be time for doing other things in the afternoon and evening. (as if). Peter and I went for a warm up and tried to ease off some of the terrible aches left over from the race yesterday. Unusual places were hurting. My abs, as I mentioned, and my lower back, and the inner side of my knees. After a mile or so warm up it was all loosening off nicely. It was pleasantly mild and the rain was holding off. 

Stuart Hay had us have a minute's silence for the people in Paris before the race start. It was impressive to witness the large, cheery crowd quieten immediately and hold the silence perfectly. You could hear a child shout in the distance "Daddy!", but there was no noise coming from the crowd. After a minute there was a round of spontaneous applause.

And then we were off. My 'tactic' was to hold back for the first wee while. To save it - whatever I had - for later on. Then, bizarrely, and I've no idea how, I went right over on my ankle on the perfectly flat and smooth sand. It was a sore one. I took a few limpy steps and then it seemed to pull itself together. I was thinking maybe I should drop out when I came back up off the beach, but I got cheered on by Bert Logan who is 59 today and was out spectating as he's injured. That made it impossible to drop out somehow. It doesn't come easy. So I was just a bit careful for the rest of the race. I felt like I'd got away with it largely, and I was planning, after I'd finished, to go for a warm down. As soon as I stopped racing, however, I could feel it, and the warm down was cancelled.

So that's a bummer. It's not that bad. I can weight bear fine, it just isn't flexing well, and should hopefully be fixed in a few days. But how the hell am I going to burn calories over the next few days? Especially as the freakish winds are supposed to be coming back tomorrow. It won't be any good for cycling. Sigh. Do I have to go swimming tomorrow? Maybe that would be good...
As ever, it's Sunday night. There is a mound of dishes to be done in the kitchen. There is a mound of wet and muddy running kit to be washed and hung up. There is a shower that I should be having...and I can't figure out whether race madness is a good thing or a bad thing.