Sat not three feet from the gently rippling Caribbean sea, I turned the last of the 415 pages of Preparation For The Next Life by Atticus Lish. As a few beads of sweat from the wonderful, sweltering heat dripped onto the cover as I gazed at it in awe, I’m sure there was a tear or two amongst it. I would never quite be the same again. Heart-warming, heart-wrenching, heart-breaking, this brutal modern romance consumed me, amazed me, horrified me and illuminated me.
Desperate for more, yet exhausted from having my emotion squeezed to the end.
Set in post Iraq war New York, an unlikely couple emerge from the wreckage of their lives. Zou Lei is a Muslim illegal immigrant from the east, sucked into, spat out from, hidden from, persecuted by and constantly in fear of the authorities. Brad Skinner is a veteran of three active tours of Iraq and has been physically, emotionally and psychologically butchered in his few adult years to date.
A chance encounter in the maze of New York’s mess of an underground world, where a hidden (mostly illegal) immigrant community lives in a desperate economy all of its own, leads to comparing of muscles and rare laughter.
Zou Lei’s strength is her work ethic and single minded determination to make the most of her, apparently destitute, existence. Brad hitch-hikes into town, with the remainder of his forces pay out withering in his bank.
They, with their ragged clothes and lives, somehow find their souls alive.
His desperation, her devotion, their private battles, their joint journey and the unlikely chaotic romance which ensues are dealt with in a style who’s prose is honest, clipped and, like the characters, on the verge of breaking. It’s like having a window into this couple’s world through filthy and cracked glass.
Commentators, far more informed than I, have suggested that this tale of how the hopes of the hopeless are crushed by the inequality and heartlessness of a fast and selfish world is important in its belief that these tales need to be told. Fiction it may be, shockingly real it definitely is.
You’ll get no plot spoilers from me, but if you’re looking for a twee love story I’d perhaps recommend you avert you eyes.
It is a rare thing for a book to bring tears to my eyes, yet on this wonderful holiday we have just enjoyed, two books have managed to achieve just that. (Expect a review of the other soon)
I try, in these ramblings, to avoid politics, religion, in fact controversy of any kind. Sometimes I may say something which makes the occasional reader bristle. In general though, this blog is a designated place of safety….
So, it is with some trepidation that I commence typing a little piece I scribbled on the overnight flight home. During which I repeatedly thought to myself, how DO people sleep on airplanes?!?
A (ficticious) character, who has moved into my head whilst I’m creating my ‘novel’ (yes, it IS happening…..slowly), is know to chant “god loves a trier, but does he trust the non-believers?”. My atheism forms part of my own belief system but certainly doesn’t intend to influence, nor comment on, anybody else’s. It just seemed something that this character would say.
Whilst in the land of the birth of Rastafarianism, I saw a plaque with a fabulous saying carved into it. Think of those motivational or loving slogans found on pieces of home-art in The Range or Dunelm, but found in a beach market stall in Jamaica.
It simply read “God made Marijuana, man made alcohol……”
I don’t partake of any of the three nouns in that sentence, yet I found myself nodding.
After 14 days of these beach traders and their, let’s face it, stoned, dry humour and “no problem, reeespect” attitude to seemingly everything, it was quite emotional to be wheeling our suitcases alongside the beach ready to begin our epic journey back to (freezing cold) reality.
This disappointment was exaggerated by the particularly drunk pair making public fools of themselves (and potentially jeopardising the flight) on the way home to a Gatwick seemingly populated by the stressed, angry, jostling, selfish majority.
So, there you go, maybe, just maybe, those guys and girls on the Negril beach are on to something……
Anyway, approaching the end of the year, I found myself writing a festive, reflective piece for my regular column in the excellent online magazine Run Deep. Mulling over the years pictures, it struck me what an absolutely extraordinary year it has been.
Ahhh, regular readers (if you’re still out there after our little hiatus?) will be only too aware of Nicky and I regularly proclaiming to be ‘on it’. Well, we’ve really pushed the boat out this time.
In fact, and I do digress rather, always trust the advice of a local……
Having managed to get Nicky out on a little catamaran dinghy (we literally ‘pushed the boat out’) whilst in the Caribbean, we attempted to get a boat again on the penultimate day of our amazing stay. The wind was up. Consequently, unseen by us, so was the red flag. I thought it meant Jeremy Corbyn was in town…
We went to the desk…
“We’d like to go sailing, please”
“Not today…..” (pointing at the red flag)
“Tomorrow, then, our last day?”
“Nobody sailing tomorrow…..” with a knowing smile.
We awoke the following day to find all the resort’s and beach traders’ boats absent from the beach. In hiding apparently. The waves were seriously crashing. It’s almost like the locals knew….
Anyway, back to… er… where was I? Oh yes. ON IT!! We did run the hot Hot HOT Reggae Marathon (read all about it HERE) and a couple of beach jogs and a little bit of swimming. But mostly it was all about the four ‘R’s…
READING, RECLINING, (W)RITING and RAIDING the fabulous all inclusive food and tempting restaurants on offer.
Yes indeed, I came home 8lbs heavier than I went!
Not only this, but we’ve started to push the boat out with endurance targets and ambitions for the year ahead….. there’s talk of over night running adventures, long distance triathlons. There’s also talk of my rather beautiful, inspiring lady wife coming out of her Ultra Marathon retirement, watch this space.
So, yes, we’re ON IT!!
Oh and hopefully we’ll be stuffing an envelope with some of those shiny new folding notes in the hope of saving up for a return to the streets of Negril (and why would you go all that way and NOT run a marathon?)…….
Sometimes this blog writes itself. Not literally, of course, but you get my drift. Yup, the words are out of my brain, through my clacking fingers and on to some enormous data storage facility in the South Pacific before I can say ‘blimey’! And then, hopefully, they are recalled and perused by you people kind enough to share this bizarre, electronic story with me……
Other times, I sit.
And nothing happens.
But, mostly, I have vague idea of where I’m going with a blog post and it sort of evolves around my mind as I type. I know, with my writing ambitions, more proof reading and re-writing is required, but the flavour of the blog is to just….. well, get it out there…..
I’ve had this idea of writing about anniversaries slopping around my head for a few days, but didn’t really know how to attach blogworthy significance.
I know Facebook prompts me to remember the birth of my virtual friendships, reminds me of previous years frolics with pictures and posts and invites celebrations of fellow users’ birthdays, but some anniversaries need a more delicate touch….
Sometimes, there are dates which just fill the heart and soul with joy… for me, the best day ever was our wedding day and I get all goose-bumpy just thinking about it now. Our first date, and, of course our birthdays are truly special to remember. Our birthdays’ are on the same date….. aaaaahhhhh
For those new to the blog (and Nicky chastises me regularly for going on and on and on….) I am quite prone to publicly declaring how wonderful my incredible, beautiful and utterly inspiring my gorgeous lady wife, Nicky, is. I am so grateful and blessed to share this fabulous life with her…
Other anniversaries, like the day we lost loved ones, are less celebrated, but still marked, if only in our hearts. I like to remind myself of the good times shared, particularly with my dear departed sister, who I know would have loved to see me, finally, having the happiness which makes me treasure every moment.
Enough of this, lets talk about running. I’m quite partial to donning the plimsolls and trotting along, as has been mentioned on this blog occasionally, and luckily for me, so is Nicky….
What a weekend of running we treated ourselves to.
With Nicky fancying a change, we headed over to Parke (a national trust property in Bovey Tracey) for the fabulously named Parke Parkrun. Nicky drove the 16 miles, with Charlie and let him loose amongst the squirrels (he’s keen but far, far from being a hunter!). Me? I decided to run over…….
Luckily I enjoy a bit of road running, not as much as the trails perhaps, but, sometimes, I like to run with a steady repetitive stride and zone out. Apart from the first 5 or so miles, this is a traffic free route, much of it on the Templer Way.
So those lovely slick bottomed road running shoes were brilliant alllllll the way to Parke…….
Parke Parkrun (love that!) was an absolute mudfest. I basically slipped and slid my way along behind Nicky as she did her usual…….. Start at the back and just get stronger….. slicing through the field from start to finish….. (see the whole run HERE)
Bacon bap and a coffee to follow, what’s not to like…….
“I thought you said it was FLAT!?”
Nicky said this a few times on Sunday’s run. Our next marathon is coming, we’ll be running together, it’ll be on the road, and, it’ll be lovely and hot (so hot in fact, the start time is 5.30am to get some of it done before the sun comes up), we’re fortunate to be heading off for some winter sun and squeezing a marathon in whilst we’re there.
So we, as I had the previous day, headed for hard trails and quiet roads, doing an ‘out-and-back’ from Totnes following National Cycle Route 2. Heading out early meant we encountered pretty much nobody for the bulk of the run. Hillier, for sure, than it appeared on the map……. (see the route HERE)
Hence Nicky’s oft-repeated refrain during the lovely run.
Nicky is getting really fit and strong, swimming, spinning and running in equal measures as she gears up for the challenges of 2018…… Me? well, I seem to be getting back to fitness (if not pace) after ‘the injury’ (did I mention I’d done a 50 mile ultra……. read alllll about it HERE)
As ever, time is our enemy…….. please check out the other posts on this blog (there’s about 70 now!) and some of my other scribblings OVER HERE and keep in touch via FACEBOOK etc and look out for RUNDEEP MAGAZINE which features a column by yours truly.
I’m growing a beard. Although, by the time you read this I might have abandoned it and burned it off……. It’s a bit itchy and scratchy and, quite frankly, not quite the suave silvery stubble I was hoping for.
Unlike Martin. For the uninitiated, Martin is our good running buddy who is known for his (VERY) chatty nature, the numerous sugars he shovels into his tea, and for being, well, ‘The Silver Fox’!
T’was the Templer Ten last Sunday, sold out this year, it is a lovely jaunt towards Bovey Tracey from Stover school, with barely any hills, but plenty of varied terrain. Organised by the Teignbridge Trotters, one of the most active clubs in the area and organisers of several of South Devon’s finest events.
As ever, they provided umpteen friendly, smiling and encouraging marshals, cajoling and guiding you through the countryside.
There’s a fabulous (I mean AMAZING!) cake stall, teas and coffees (including a free post race cuppa for the runners) and bacon baps to replace those calories burned.
There’s also a 1 mile fun run around the grounds of the school. Grandson, Callum, was pencilled in for this but at the last minute decided a morning performing stunts on his new Rocker bike would be much more fun……. Up steps Faith…… 6 years old, with that butter-wouldn’t-melt princess smile, and full of life and energy and, well, character…. “I’LL DO IT, I’LL DO IT!” she exclaimed, seeing an opportunity to upstage her brother.
Somehow, Grandad Kevin was volunteered to run with her….. “COME ON SLOW COACH” she giggled to anyone who’d listen as she whizzed around the playing fields in her treasured silver Hunter wellies.
Everything seems silver today.
Apart from my beard!
I bumped into a smashing friendly chap, Mark, whilst on my first post injury long run, the previous weekend (did I tell you I’d ran a 50 mile ultra marathon? No? read allllll about it HERE).
Well, Mark, it turns out was also at the Templer Ten and we pretty much lined up alongside each other, by pure coincidence. It wasn’t to be last we’d see of each other. (This, and all my other running can be found on STRAVA).
Also lining up alongside us on the start line was Ferg, race director and general top bloke from Mudcrew, organisers of many a fine event, including my all time favourite, the R.A.T. (you guessed it, read all about how Nicky and myself got on back in August HERE).
Mudcrew also host the scarily named Ark Of Attrition, which Nicky and I followed when we were on holiday in Cornwall (read all about it HERE), back when this blog was a brand new thing. It wouldn’t be the last I saw of Ferg either. And, the Ark is, well, hopefully where it’s all heading for me……..
In the interests of sharing the plugs for local events…… Steve from Pure Trail was also there – they have just announced a rather splendid looking 100 miler on Dartmoor.
Nicky started at the back. Nicky likes starting at the back. (Nicky, for those new to the blog, is my wonderful, WONDERFUL, lovely lady wife, soul mate and setter of endurance challenges) Nicky, she won’t mind me saying, is, like many of us, quite capable of having dips in confidence, particularly if she gets streams of runners overtaking her. So she starts at the back. Problem solved.
Considering she smashed her previous time on this course by over 6 minutes, and overtook 70ish people, I reckon this tactic is working very well. One of the first subjects I felt the urge to write about, when this blog was a youngster, related to how we can all support and encourage each other in this wonderful sport – read that post HERE.
Ferg ran away from me whilst Mark and I jostled for position (I’m probably exaggerating there!) as the first couple of miles unfolded.
Actually we did exchange places several times during the race, both sneaking past Ferg later on as he paid for his blistering early pace!
As regular readers, friends of the blog, friends, people I meet in the street, anyone who’ll listen, AND anyone who won’t, will know, I’m getting quite into this ultra marathon idea (hence the beard!)
With this is mind, as I ‘come back from injury’ and up my mileage, I decided to follow a lot of the training advice I read and go back-to-back. That is, I did another coast path long run on Saturday (HERE) so that this hard race effort, the following day, was on tired legs. It worked, I was proper blowing at the end.
Mark steamed past me in the final few yards to claim bragging rights for when we next bump into each on the coast path. So, I may not have been as nippy as last year, but really pleased to be fit and running well (see how my race unfolded HERE).
All three grandchildren enjoyed their trip to Stover and the late autumn sunshine meant they joined us for some more weekend fun in the garden……
Don’t forget, there’s plenty of my witterings over at…..
Quite often our mantra whilst we’re casually googling potential new challenges.
Swim 10km? How hard can it be? 50km over Dartmoor? How hard can it be?
You get the picture.
Also my work chum and myself……. plumbing? roofing, underfloor heating etc? Just how hard can they be?
So, a couple of days with the eldest grandson, Callum, taking him away for his birthday treat. Not a problem?
I’m often found to be idly flicking through the well-thumbed pages of Ultra Marathon websites, ooohhh, ahhhh, mmmmm, ha ha ha, how hard can they be?
But multi-day events. Ow! Not sure that’d be up my street, not my bag, unlike my cup of tea (which is actually coffee, anyway). Nope, as regular readers will know, I DO have ambitions for long single stage events, but multi stage events, nahh.
Legoland. Two days. Two CONSECUTIVE days! I know!! Is there a test of endurance to match it?
I’ve been blessed. I know I’ve mentioned this before, and my rather wonderful, beautiful and, quite frankly, HOT, lady wife, Nicky keeps telling me to stop being so soppy. I’ll be making the avid readership feel nauseaous, she reckons. BUT, I truly am blessed.
From the moment Nicky bundled her way into my soulless life and filled it with all this phenomenal love, adventure and laughter, I have felt, well, blessed!! AND I became Grandad to her two bundles of fun filled granchildren, which has now become three. And I absolutely love it.
Late on day 2 in this world of a billion coloured bricks, we found a perch and had a selfie with a lego batman soft toy. We looked drained!! In the most wonderful way. Callum has been full to the brim with excitement, with wonder, with awe and has, for two whole days been nothing but a joy to share the time with.
A 6am start (sounds like an identikit race report coming up….) followed by 4 hours in the car and we arrived at the park. It’s big! Luckily, we had booked, as the place was sold out, mostly because it was open late for fireworks.
Yes, we’ve had our moneys worth, getting to the Holiday Inn Express in Slough about 8.30pm that night (we know how to live!!) where we promptly ordered a Dominoes gorge fest. The three of us propped ourselves up on the (less than) double bed and feasted our tired, hungry faces. Bliss.
Callum slept well on his put-me-up, whilst we enjoyed the aural delights of Heathrow, and before we knew it, day two was upon us.
By the time we climbed into the car at tea time, we were all suitably sated of our lego desires and the trusty Mini devoured the miles home.
An extra hours sleep?
Nah, an extra hours RUNNING!!!
(Did I mention I’d completed a 50 mile Ultra? – read alllll about it HERE) I reckon the three weeks since my Gower exploits haven’t yet flushed the fatigue from my legs. Combined with the previous two days adventures, I was never going to break any records on THIS run.
BUT, I loved the three hours around the bay, much of it by headtorch, and, after the ‘injury’ at Gower, I seem to have also been blessed with amazing powers of recovery too.
I know, we will, and I’m sure Callum will too, treasure these moments forever!
Keep on keeping on people, don’t let the b******s grind us down….
Nicky and I watched this fabulous film recently. By coincidence, I needed to carry out a film review, using strict format and word count, as part of a trial for a copywriting brokerage.
If you’re inspired by extraordinary people overcoming extraordinary barriers to attempt extraordinary endurance feats, then you’ll love this film. Or, indeed, if you simply enjoy a full-on tear jerking love story, or a rollicking adventure, I’m sure you’ll be lost in the emotion and action of 100 Metros.
The magazine informing expectant hopefuls of their 2018 London Marathon fate dropped on a few hundred thousand doormats a couple of weeks ago.
Were you one of the lucky ones? And will it be your first marathon. Well, looking back to my first, in Paris in 2008, I can give you some valuable tips as to how to get it horribly wrong. From experience……
SHOE CHOICE – particularly important this. Is the specific model you’re training in repeatedly giving you blisters on any run over half an hour? Are they banging into your toes as your feet get hotter and hotter? Do you find your feet throbbing, and the material above the little toes is actually tearing? If you can answer yes to all of these, and you’d really like to have the same experience as me…. then BUY ANOTHER PAIR THE SAME. Yup, and then race the marathon in them. Worked for me. My mate, who had travelled to Paris to support me, nearly fainted when I peeled my sock off afterwards. Nice. A fist sized blister, covering the entire arch of my foot had burst and rubbed and was a (literal) bloody mess!
WEAR THICK LEGGINGS – This is particularly important if it’s warm, raining, or you are (like me) a prolific perspiring machine. What you must NOT do, is heed the warnings from last time you wore these leggings. When it rained. Hard. And you were quite literally holding them up by the time you finished that 10k. So in Paris – my inner thighs looked like they’d been caressed by an industrial sander!
TRAINING GUIDE – Again, some key points here……. I decided to pick an arbitrary time to pretend I was capable of running. I then worked out how many minutes per mile this equated to and then hardly ever ran a mile that quickly in training. Oh, and only get to 20 miles once in the build up – and be a cramped up, shuffling mess by the end of that run. BUT, don’t let that stop you still believing you can hit that goal time come race day.
GO TO A HOT COUNTRY – This is optional, obviously time and budgetary constraints wouldn’t normally allow this but I found 10 days averaging 34 degrees with 100% humidity particularly crucial to depleting me about a month out.
FIND SUITABLE ACCOMODATION – Paris is great for this, I reckon I walked about 8 miles to and from the Expo on Marathon Eve, and then probably 4 on the morning. Combining this with the training guide above is fabulous for that crucial pre-fatigue needed for the race.
NUTRITION – I went for taking gels, you know, the thick and sickly sweet gunk in those foil tubes. I didn’t do what I did with my shoes though, I went for a different brand to any I’d tried before, with spectacular results……
FIND AN OFFICIAL PACER – he or she might be carrying a flag with your target time on. If you ignore them and decide, 30 minutes before the race, that you’ve become Mo Farah then push through the crowds to stand behind a pacer going 30 seconds per mile faster than your (already hopelessly optimistic) target.
KEEP PUSHING AS HARD AS YOU CAN – Especially in those early miles, your mind, body and soul are going to really thank you for it later on……. I went through half way bang on my target pace, blowing really hard and having to dig deep already. Really deep.
STAY ON YOUR FEET – Now, regular readers will be more than aware that I’m shuffling back from injury right now (Read all about why HERE) and probably not surprised to find a bit of a tumbling history…… Yup, went to ground TWICE in Paris. The first time I ran into one of those tall kerbs that separate the bus lanes from the road. The second time I glanced up at a stunning building, didn’t notice that everyone had slowed in front……. (I was REALLY popular amongst my fellow runners after the second one as took out about a dozen people!).
EMBRACE THE SUPPORT OF OTHERS – Or, as I did, grumpily ignore them, obsessed with having ‘failed’ at my pointless time goal (in the words of that great cannon-straddling, hair flicking goddess of ROCK… “If I could turn back time…..”) Actually, I was staggering so much in mile 25, a guy jogged alongside me and encouraged “At least you’re going to finish…….” He was right of course and being extremely kind and generous. I, unfortunately, was neither.
My life was very different back in April 2008. The Paris Marathon was an obsession with time. My personal life was in a dark and dangerous, lonely place. My lovely sister was still with us, but terribly and chronically ill and I was making too many poor choices.
I’m (the more I look back) extremely proud of all my running achievements and that first marathon taught me so much. Not JUST about running. But, yes, a LOT about running. A running coach, friend and supporter (Eddie) offered me two key pieces of advice as the marathon day neared – firstly that you can’t really train or prepare for a marathon until you’ve ran one, and secondly that the ridiculous long baggy football shorts I regularly sported were acting as a parachute!!
In later years, when I trained for a while in Eddies group, he also (famously) described me as running like “a drunk man herding cats”… I’m not sure it was a compliment……
Anyway, to anyone building up to their first marathon – seriously now – go and enjoy it, be as fast as you feel like being on the day and take pleasure in every step.
I’ve managed to reach 35 marathons (and longer) now, many of them in muddy countryside or hilly moors, mostly alongside my amazing running partner (who I’m also so so lucky to be able to call my wife) and I genuinely try and treasure every moment of them. The full list HERE.
Keep on keeping on people, let’s not let THEM grind us down…….
The latest issue of Run Deep magazine will be out on Sunday (They haven’t learned, some of my words have crept in again……) Check it out here
I do scribble about non-running related thoughts too – short stories and poems to be found here
I’m trying to start up a Facebook ‘page’ too – here
If you, or somebody or organisation you know, is in need of words, stories, blog writing, copywriting then please do spread the, ahem, word…..