Social networking – A cautionary tale for an age of online interactions.

I’m back here, on my much neglected blog, weary and insecure from 18 months of increasingly hostile social networking abuse. Why the abuse? I have been thinking about that. For someone orientated to giving more than the occasional monologue, the short, sharp attention grabbing (and often seeking) posts of a social networking site are something of a potential minefield. The newsfeed of your facebook account, the front page of your twitter account, these things hold up a mirror to your soul…but do they? Increasingly I have feared that my friends and those aware of my internet life see my inner being as a set of headlines, many of which are reactionary and give a poor impression of my inner life. I fear that the person that people see is, in some ways, a pastiche of myself, a fiction, and in other ways that the elements of truth about myself that I would otherwise shy away from revealing to any but my most trusted of friends stand to be put on trial by the public jury.

There are other elements of the social network phenomenon that trouble me. The involvement of the media in targeted advertising. The encouragement to share more and more of your private details, allowing interested parties to profile your movements and behaviour patterns. It would not be difficult for people to ascertain which day I go to university, when I tend to go cycling, who I go to the pub with, my date of birth, where I shop, all of the little details which someone with an interest in doing so could use to take advantage of my behaviour, or worse, convince another person that they were me.

Then there are the interactions. A close friend of mine reminded me today of the term “keyboard warrior” that we used to use a lot about people who were all bravery, threats and promises in an online forum, irritating the other members with their egotistical ranting and cajoling. These days it seems to take a lot from preventing any of us from becoming that keyboard warrior, or sitting atop our ivory towers judging the behaviour of others around us whilst convincing ourselves that we are throwing pearls of wisdom amongst the swine of humanity.

A friend of mine who I hold in some esteem recently felt comfortable to compare an image of me to that of a mass murderer and right wing extremist, and in typical social networking style I overreacted, demanding an immediate apology (which was forthcoming, of sorts “you don’t share his politics but you still look like him”). Afterwards, during a period of introspection, I examined the wrongs of the situation – we think all sorts of things about people every day, but we seldom feel brave enough to say them, unless there’s a keyboard and monitor seperating us from the person we’re saying them about, in which case all respect and sense of propriety comes to nought. Similarly, a comment such as that which was made may not be one that is easy to brush off. However, knowing my temper, were this comment to have been made in my presence, I would have been most likely to try and brush it off and ignore it rather than reacting by demanding an apology. This is no bad thing. Not telling people when they have managed to insult you and get under your skin is part of the natural balancing act that most of us have to do in order to conduct social interactions, have friendships and find a basis to relate to other people. But it is an act, and most people are not sufficiently thick-skinned not to be insulted frequently by people that they are nonetheless on good or even close terms with for the majority of their lives. The important thing is that in most cases it is only the most sensitive of us, often the ones who cast themselves most frequently as victim, that will let on that their feelings were ever hurt.

There are aspects of social networking that I enjoy. The ability to gather like-minded people from far and wide together in one environment. The social connection when no other connection is possible, which can be a valuable tool to prevent isolation. The ability to share enthusiasms and interests with people who will understand and indulge these interests. The ability to mentor others in shared interests and pursuits, and to foster (sporadically) intelligent discussion. These are all good, healthy, positive things. However, for many they are also potentially somewhat dangerous and complicated elements that easily manifest themselves in the unhealthy behaviour of an addictive personality, via frequent posting, trolling and other activities that indicate a desire for attention and a desire to control the perception of others more closely.

A few recent incidents have led me to these thoughts, and now my hand has been forced to action: About 20 hours ago, a friend of mine made me aware that she had been the victim of a complex and disturbing campaign of harassment that had culminated in several of her online accounts being hacked and the contents of message and chat records being produced as text documents in order for her abuser to make her aware of his level of infiltration and control. Approximately 18 hours ago, having become concerned at the apparent severity of the attack and being aware that some of this individual’s threatening behaviour had been directed towards me, I closed both my facebook and twitter accounts. I edited details on other online accounts, and I am in the process of reviewing more accounts that may be vulnerable to attack from a proficient individual.

As a result of this, like a junkie searching for his fix, in my case of interaction, validation, gossip and communication I have picked up my smart phone and absent-mindedly flicked through the menus to where the facebook logo should appear some thirty times in a matter of a few hours. I have spent the afternoon browsing for bike parts that I do not need, and I’m considering making a longer term commitment to a blog that I have neglected for 18 months. This is of some concern to me and indicates that the problem is a little deeper than I had first imagined.

In recent months a number of thoughts have gone through my head about social networking: That it is unhealthy; that it is addictive; that it encourages conflict where none need occur; that it causes the people that we see most often to become bored with us and those whom we would see less frequently to become over-familiar; and that overall it causes us to take what used to be meaningful interactions that we would give great time and consideration to for granted, whilst jeopardising both our privacy and, by virtue of this, our identities, both hypothetically and actually. Things seem to have arrived at a head for me now, in that by virtue of the sheer number of my online interactions via social networking sites I have exponentially increased my risk of coming across something sinister that I must take measures to protect myself from, and that appears to be exactly what has happened. However, I also feel a certain acceptance of the inevitable, that like the junkie who has courted formal intervention by third parties to curtail his addiction, for I too must now alter my behaviour for the sake of both my safety and my sanity. I’m not sure when or whether I will reopen my social networking accounts, and for the time being I know that cold turkey is the cure, but I am sure that at the point that I do renew my relationship with this new technology it must no longer be the relationship of an addict with his drug. That’s all for now.

Two Halfs Pt.2: The (not so) Flat, Tarmaccy One

On Sunday, 20th March 2011, I did not get a lie-in. I don’t often manage this fabled thing that parents frequently complain about not getting anymore. Anyway, I don’t think that all that many active people over the age of 29 and under the age of 70 do. It is a myth, born of the teenage growth spurt, continued through binge drinking, and abandoned at the age where one has better things to do with one’s weekend that stay in bed (or is tending to a mewling infant in some cases). Anyway, on this particular morning I very much did not stay in bed, rousing myself at 05:30 instead.

I was, of course, racing – this was to be leg two of my so-called Lazy Man’s Marathon, the Reading Half. Wraith-like, I dragged myself downstairs, counted out one banana, two apples, 20 almonds, 50g porridge oats, 250ml milk, my normal pre-race breakfast, and about all that I can hold down at 5:30, an hour invented purely as a story for frightening drinkers returning from an all-nighter. A quick shower, run-down the pre-race morning checklist and I was out of the door by 7am. Reading is about 45 minutes by car from where I live, but obscenely, due to the sheer pre race logistics of packing 17,000 runners plus many more spectators into the area surrounding the Green Park and Madejski stadium, I had to allow more than two hours for early arrival and potential delays, made all the more obscene when the delays added only ten minutes to the usual journey time.

To be fair to the race, the Reading Half is on a much grander scale than most of the races that I run. Runners are well catered for in the race village, with teas, coffees and snacks of various kinds (not my personal choice prior to 13+ miles of making my stomach lurch up and down), a decent selection of stands, and the race organiser, Sweatshop’s large retail tent, a prospect to whet any ardent pavement – eroding athlete’s appetite. Additionally, with warmth and shelter from the elements (and the ever- present toilet queue) available within the “Mad Stad”, home ground and namesake of the club owner of the (formerly Premiership) Royal’s Football Club itself, in many ways this could not be a more ideal setup for pre race prep. Not that shelter was needed on the warm but lightly overcast morning, and I took this opportunity to escape the smell of Deep Heat in the stadium’s corridors in order to mingle with the teeming throngs outside.

Therefore, having stretched and done the necessary, I felt reasonably refreshed and calm making my way to the start line. Of course, superstitious being that I am, I am wont to look on such auspicious omens in a negative light, but in truth I felt ready to run, and the 30 minutes taken to start the race did little to dampen my spirits, giving me the opportunity to engage in some start-line banter with a few of the “older hands”. Due to the number of runners, Reading staggars its start into colour coded categories. I was two groups behind the elite runners, placing in this season’s training well up into the faster groups. Although I’m no kind of snob in this sport (I’m not nearly good enough at it to justify a bad attitude) I have to confess that I appreciate this device, as it does assist in preventing some of the more pushy but ultimately slower runners crowding the start, which given the percentage, in a crowd this size is a lot of awkward overtaking work avoided, and ultimately energy saved towards that elusive Personal Best. Afterall, this event, in common with many others, is chip-timed, meaning that how soon after the gun one gets across the line is utterly irrelevant to finish time.

As the race started I was hit by the usual exhilaration, as my legs began to pump underneath me and the first half mile started to unroll. I always think of those early strides like a steam train puffing into action, my legs slowly but relentlessly coming to life underneath me, and second by second gaining momentum and power to carry me forward to my full pace. So I was feeling pretty good when the other runner, too intent on the walkman that he was fiddling with, stepped across me, briefly tangling his shin with my right ankle, and shoved through with his shoulder, sending me sprawling, hands in front of me awaiting the seemingly inevitable tumble, which somehow never came as I managed to take half a step back up to my feet again. The other runner slowed, turned and apologised, and I did my best to grit my teeth and be gracious, despite a desire to fill the air with profanity.

This early incident done, and pleased with the pace I had maintained so far, I was reminded that there is no such thing as too much pre-race research. At some point, somebody told me that the Reading Half was flat. Running in Gosport at the end of last year, I have certain expectations of the word “flat”, which, I am afraid to say, do not at any point include the concept of a steeply inclined slope. The Reading Half course, for the reference of any of you runners labouring under the same misapprehension that I was, is not flat by any reasonable standard. I counted, within the first four miles, two noteworthy hills, and one rather steep, long one. There was one more minor a bit later on, coming past the Nag’s Head, but I can forgive that. So having confirmed, on the first of these “contours” that this was not going to be a flat race, and cursing those who’d run this race before, of whom there are several, who had not seen fit to disavail me of this misconception, I dug in…and realised that I was dragging my right foot.

I am not sure whether it would be fair to blame the inconsiderate sod who tripped me for injuring my ankle; to be fair I overpronate moderately when I run, and although I wear stability-style trainers to correct this, I had been aware for some time that my current pair were nearing the end of their useful life. I would imagine, therefore, that after a great deal of long-distance training through the winter, and an extremely tough and challenging trail half the previous weekend, that the trip was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. My achilles tendon was swollen, my heel was hitting the ground at the wrong angle, the whole mechanic of my stride was completely wrong, and I knew that I had another 11 miles of it getting worse to look forward to, plus I was still feeling hard-done-by over the hill.

In this situation I have learned over time to take stock of things: A system check informed me that provided no muscle actually gave out in my ankle it would probably go the distance, albeit painfully. The first hill had reminded me that I was less race-fit than I had been a month ago, and that my muscles were still very much looking to rest up after the battering they’d taken in the New Forest the previous weekend. I swallowed my pride and abandoned hopes of a sub 1:40 finish, dropping my pace to something that should, all being well, take me in about 1:45. Not fast, but respectable.

The course continued on, and I realised something else about Reading: It is not a pretty town to run in. As we dashed between fly-overs, multistorey car parks and took in scenic stretches of dual carriageway, I got a taste of what city distance running is all about, and why I should be grateful to live, and run in a suburban area with easy access to more rural, lesser trod paths. For my money, the city runner is to be saluted, as the urban environment that we have created is bleak, industrial, featureless, grey and oppressive. Reading exemplifies all of these less desirable qualities of the modern urban sprawl.

As we passed through the retail centre, however, taking in my formerly beloved Friar Street (another bookshop that I miss), jostling though arches with me becoming increasingly impatient with what I can only describe as a very ill-mannered group of runners, I did recall what used to excite me about this town, as even in such a dingy spot there were still to be found hidden corners with history and character. Alas, on a 13 mile run, hidden corners are not really enough to break the monotony.

Passing the Nag’s Head, I was amused to see the trays of beer awaiting thirsty (and foolhardy) athletes. It reminded me of a story in a recent issue of Runner’s World, detailing a chap who completed the Boston Half Marathon with some ridiculously slow time (I’d be surprised if he even actually finished it within the time allowed for the race) photographed on one of those beautiful American suspension bridge spans with a pint of beer in one hand and a cigarette hanging untidily from his mouth. He consumed a pint per mile, for the benefit of charity. Hats off to the guy, I couldn’t drink 13 pints, much less trot the distance on it. I admire his dedication, if not the state of his abused liver and kidneys.

By now though, my mind was wondering. I had lost much of my initial motivation, and was just about keeping myself on my feet. At 10 miles the pace markers went out, and I was gratified to see that I was still only marginally behind the 1:45. I dug deep to try and catch him up, but as we entered the particularly bleak and featureless landscape of the road network leading back towards the Madejski, and the fetid stench of the previous night’s beer and kebabs emanating for the nearby sewage works filled our nostrils, I finally flagged completely and accepted that the best that I could do now was to put one foot in front of the other at a jog and try to forget everything around me and the ambitions I’d had when entering this race. It was here, at my lowest ebb that the Madejski Stadium finally came into view, and all of a sudden I remembered what, foresaking every other bit of misery, I was here to do. I was here to finish a half marathon, and to finish it as best I was able. That single thought took me, picked me up and carried me. I took deep breaths and straightened my back. I picked up my feet, and I ran. I was late; I was massively off pace; it didn’t matter. I pushed hard. Half a mile to go. My lungs were burning and my eyes were streaming. It didn’t matter. Quarter mile to go. My ankle sang shocks of pain as I crossed the ramp into the stadium itself. It didn’t matter. The terraces sprawled before me and I felt a lump rising in my throat. 200 metres to go. I pushed on, now running as fast as I was able. My foot went up. Photo finish. My foot came down; it was my right one; and hit the ground numbly. I crossed the line, feeling alive and brilliant.

You see I have realised something during my reflections upon the Reading Half over the last few weeks. It is not glamorous, it is not scenic, it is not pleasant, and some of the runners would be best described in a string of expletives, but it is an amazing achievement. The logistics of the thing are mind-blowing. The crowds thronging the barriers all the way along the route are wonderful and inspiring. The finish is unbeatable. For all that I have griped and moaned and slated above (and believe me, following the race I’m not too proud to admit that I had something best described as a tantrum), take those three factors and consider this race completely absolved. Would I run Reading again? I think that I just may have to.

Two Halfs, Pt.1: The Muddy, Hilly One

Muddy Shoes

As you may be aware from my previous post/ the small amount of promotion that I’ve done on Facebook, I’m running two half marathons over the course of two consecutive weekends, primarily as a challenge for myself, but also with the intention of raising a little money and awareness for Amnesty International. I will get the shameless plugging out of the way now – my JustGiving page can be found via the following link: http://www.justgiving.com/ki11ingtim3. Please give whatever small amount you can afford to this worthwhile charity, and hopefully in recognition of me giving up my time to do something that I think is a little bit beyond the call. So that’s done with, now onto the interesting bit – the story of the first race!

The John Austin Half Marathon was an inaugural event this year, in support of the Oakhaven Hospice Trust. Funds were raised via fees and donations from runners and attendees. It was also a first for me: My first trail half marathon. For the uninitiated, trail running is the sort of hardcore preserve of the more mentally touched of runners, providing, in the abstract, beautiful views, absence of traffic pollution and pleasantly soft running surfaces. In the less abstract, in the early spring, trail running is wet, muddy, hilly and in the New Forest offers the occasional surprise equine hazard. Thus was John Austin for me.

I decided to run this race upon being given a flyer at my previous half marathon in Gosport at the end of last year. Somewhat naively I decided that an off road route through the New Forest in March would be a pleasant diversion from the usual daily tarmac abuse. It seemed, idealistically, like a wonderful idea to encourage myself to use some of the local towpaths and woodlands for training, not to mention forcing me into a little hill running too. Therefore, I set out, in one of the coldest Decembers that I can remember to engage in a distance running program that took in early morning runs, the Kennet & Avon Canal, local hills a-plenty and a crash course in running on snow and ice. Things did eventually thaw a little in January and February, and I was able to engage the right gears to really produce some excellent results from my longer and shorter training runs, improving personal bests and building greater strength and confidence with some of the more challenging elements of running.

On Sunday morning I clambered out of the car and enthusiastically jogged the mile to the start line with notions of personal bests and the glory of a sprinting finish flitting through my mind like a cascade of gems. However, as the race began and the first mile lengthened into the second and then the third, I quickly felt the dawning realisation that my confidence in my training, dedicated as it had been, may have been a little misplaced. For this course seemed to be a hill…a very, very long hill, that albeit not steep or dramatic in any other way, was gradually sapping the life from my limbs. This monumental, if gentle hill continued in a principally upwards direction, in fact, for the first six miles of the race.

Having reigned in my aspirations for a personal best, and instead resigned myself to “a respectable finish” by mile seven, I was glad when “The Great Hill” levelled out into a flat track that was part of an old airfield complex. With my pace, and my pulse quickening, I resolved to make up some lost time, taking time only to sip a little water on my way past the station, waving to enthusiastic spectators like royalty (I do enjoy hamming it up).

The game was very much back afoot. This was more the sort of running that I’d been expecting – rough surfaces and the occasional puddle and root demanding more concentration than a road, and I was just beginning to look forward to the promising downhill to complement the earlier uphill when my feet sank into the bog that mired the entirety of mile nine, and I realised that I had yet to taste the harsh derision of this course. Yes, mud there was aplenty. Coarse, sticky and boggy wet mud, and all other types inbetween. Sliding mud, and mud that didn’t even look like mud until grass yielded to shoe and shoe sank with foot and leg into, you guessed it, more mud.

Yet that was but an entree, the main course of the poisoned chalice presented itself at mile ten, following a sharp prolonged decline, after which the narrow path, if it could be so called, erupted into a series of five crushingly, soul destroyingly steep hills (with plently of mud) spread over the next two miles. I ran the last of these at little more than walking pace, vaguely humiliated, although slightly comforted by the encouraging words of the female marshall who chatted alongside me pleasantly for half a mile or so. She mentioned something about a railway bridge round the next bend, which proved to be the case, and found me utterly lacking in any enthusiasm whatsoever. Bridges on running courses have won my eternal contempt before now, and as I gripped the handrail for fear of toppling on my way down, I cursed Brunel’s infernal contraption under my breath.

What followed was the joy of knowing that the path back to Brockenhurst College led to a victorious lap round the sports field and an end to the day’s exertions. For strangely, running a full ten minutes behind my PB, covered in mud and so exhausted that the best I could muster was a half-way decent running pace for my finish, victorious was how I felt. Victory; that I’d stayed on my feet, that I’d run the whole way, that despite what I now realise was woefully poor preparation for an off-road race of this intensity, I had stuck it out and won my medal (and Freddo The Frog funsized Dairy Milk Bar!). In short, I hated every single minute of this race, and for that reason I can honestly say that I loved it.

A few thoughts upon the occasion of finishing a video game

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As I write, I’m sat in my armchair feeling slightly confused and desolate because I’ve just finished yet another video game. That makes ten this year. The fact of the matter is that before this year I may have bought plenty of games, but I didn’t actually play them. So why the change? I put it down to not being in the pub in principle; it’s not like I don’t have plenty of things to do. With training for runs I’m generally more busy than ever, but I seldom drink. I have never been dreadfully into playing games when hungover, which is not often a problem in recent times. Besides, as mentioned, I’ve bought all these games and feel rather ashamed of how little I’ve actually played them.

During the last twelve years the nature of the video game has changed, reflecting increased popularity, the diversified interests of gamers, and the former pioneers of video game consumption maturing in age. It is, perhaps, none too surprising that video game players have become an increasingly complex and demanding demographic. Afterall, it isn’t just the technology that has developed: Our reactions are honed, our problem-solving and pattern recognition skills eclipse pre-gaming generations, and we expect to be consistently amazed. In this modern age a successful game typically needs complex characterisation, plot, intrigue, special effects and the high production values associated with a blockbuster film or successful tv series. That’s in addition to the puzzle and AI implications traditionally associated with computing and the prevalence of online multiplayer gaming as a social recreation.

Maybe it’s natural that an activity that acknowledges its origins as darkened rooms, pizza faced adolescents and all-night sessions to finish “just one more level” should attract some of the most creative designers, architects and production teams of our time. Afterall, with no prerogative to be achingly cool, or even to appeal to the high earners, games are a true mass commodity, with a well-established code of embracing the weird and other. In fact, although one could easily forget it in the current climate of painfully overpriced gaming systems, the games console was based on Atari’s original design concept for leisure computing that everyone could afford, and with a little sacrifice here and there, it still succeeds on the back of that noble sentiment.

I feel optimistic for video games. They are pushing back the boundaries of our drab, overcrowded, polluted world, offering hitherto unparalleled degrees of interactivity with creative media. If the unknown world is the past, the unknown imagination is the future.

A Year On My Feet

This post is about something that I have been interested in, and enjoyed from time to time for many years, but that over the last year has become a passion; running.

I guess that since childhood I’ve loved running. Back then it was running to school, or running to hide with my friends during the endless summer holidays. Active children don’t think about being active, they just are, and maybe my generation were the last to enjoy full freedom from the oppression of an over-protective and perverted society. More on that some other time. I didn’t like P.E. at school – was badly coordinated, so not good at bat and ball games, and by the time that I was in my teens was lagging behind developmentally, so those classes were always an unlooked-for punishment. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the athletics; the Commonwealth and European games were especially exciting, with local athletics stars getting centre stage.

However, aged 16, a lot changed for me. I started to catch up with the other teens, physically leaving childhood behind, and my G.C.S.E. exams were over, with the long summer holiday afterward to seek distractions whilst anxiously awaiting Results Day – So what did I do? I played tennis, grumpily conceding daily defeat to friends who graciously tolerated my Jekyll & Hyde temper, and I ran every day, not far, but a daily 20 minutes for a kid who has been entirely unfamiliar with exercise for five years is quite a big deal, and by the end of that summer I was slim, fit and the picture of youthful health.

Of course, this pattern did not continue. Aged 17 I discovered drinking and smoking, and that was that until I was 20 really. At uni I developed the common obsession with weight training, which I took to a real extreme, and following uni there were more years of drinking and smoking with many stalled attempts to get my fitness regime back on track, stalled mainly due to a lack of perseverance and that mid-20s refusal to grasp the concept of mortality in favour of outright hedonism.

In fact that was pretty much the story until suddenly I was 30, weighed 14.5 stone, was having regular panic attacks principally brought on by frequent heavy binge drinking, and more than a few twinges of depression. So I did what thousands of others do every year and joined a gym. This had limited success, as I now had an expense to justify, and enough interest to make use of it, but it didn’t really address the problem of the drinking.

It took a year. It took accepting that at times I have a bit of a problem with drink. But most of all, it took a new pair of trainers, some nice Nike t-shirts and Addidas shorts. It took the conviction to know that if I didn’t try I would never know how far I could run and how fast: I started to run again, on the treadmill and on the road.

At the beginning of 2010, an innocuous conversation with a work colleague who is passionate about mountain biking and takes every opportunity to spend some time on two wheels ramped things up a gear. At the time I was complaining that keeping a constant level of motivation when training is difficult, and I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to sustain it. He happened to mention that he’d found that entering a race the year before had really spurred him to focus on training, and made a huge difference. I thought about this, then cast about looking for events. I turned up the Sport Relief 6 mile challenge (I was already running about three miles at a steady, if slow, pace and had a couple of months before the event). I decided to go for it. It was a hugely big deal, as I’d not competed in *anything*, even casually, in years. Hell, I’m so competitive I don’t even play video games with other people in the same room. However, I gave it a shot, and got sponsored about £300, for a very worthy cause. What was lovely though, was knowing that I was an ex-smoker, and not dreadfully fit, how enthusiastic people were. It is easy to underestimate how encouraging people can be, as long as you’re not too good at what you do(!).

Sport Relief, and a personal best time down, I felt that I was on a roll, so I next entered the Bayer Newbury 10K. 6.25 miles of mixed road and track during a horribly hot and sticky May. Again, I had two months to train, so pounded my heart out, battling asthma, hayfever and heat exhaustion. Race day came, and went broadly to plan with another P.B., although being shoved out of the way by a ginger kid who can’t have been more than 13 on the way to the finish line was slightly humiliating. Next time ginger gets tripped up, no matter how many cameras are pointing at me.

Having been met with relative success thus far, and having bored everyone who’d listen with my training tales, I decided to step things up: at the beginning of 2010, I’d set myself the goal of completing my first half marathon by Spring 2011, as I knew I’d need to get my weight down by at least 2 stone in order to sustain the burden on my joints. However, upon finishing Bayer I weighed just under 13 stone and needed a challenge, so I entered the Windsor Half, set in Windsor Great Park at the end of September. It was a long summer of training. My girlfriend and I went away a couple of times, both to hotels with gyms so that I could train. By June, 6 miles was a light run, by July I’d crossed the ten mile gap, and in August I ran my first full half marathon; 13.1 miles of toil and pain, followed by an ice bath and lots of protein. For five weeks my mileage was 30 miles per week; each Saturday morning, rather than waking up to a hangover I woke up to a run. By the morning of the Windsor Half I was burnt out and wearing a support bandage as my right calf and knee were showing signs of injury.

The Windsor Half was a disaster. Aside from traffic problems getting there and back, and the first bitterly cold weekend that year, it turns out that the beautiful Windsor Great Park is full of trees. Now for any normal individual this would not even be worth a thought. Any normal individual who is not allergic to most types of pollen, grass, bark and several kinds of smoke. Having discussed this with the St John’s crew and later my doctor, I understand that the reason that my limbs swelled up, my blood pressure spiked and dipped and my skin started burning and throbbing like it was on fire was simply because the flow of blood to the skin is high when running and any allergy manifests itself there. In fact, had I taken an antihistemine in the morning, as I would have on any day in the spring and summer, I would have been able to run the last 4 miles to the finish, thus fulfilling one of my life’s ambitions.

Obviously, being withdrawn on medical instruction from the race, I was bitterly disappointed. I felt crushed, and denied the thing that I’d worked so hard for. Let down by my own body in the last 13 miles out of hundreds of miles run before I’d even crossed the start line. I needed something quickly. I needed a goal. I needed another race.

So here I am in wet and vile mid- November. I’ve been prodded and poked by the doc, who has confirmed that I couldn’t be more healthy in every respect that matters, and guess what? I have another race. In fact, so desperate is my need to do this thing, and to do it before the end of 2010, before another birthday, another Christmas, another year, that on Sunday the 21st I am going to Gosport, a cold and exposed part of the British coast, where I hope to achieve this ambition. Gosport is important, not for a personal best, not even for a medal, but so that I know that what I started in September, or in January, or when I was 16, or even when I was a kid and running down the street to get “Home” before I was “It” is something that I can finish. Gosport is the end of a chapter, and the beginning of a new one, where I can focus on new goals, new challenges and new achievements.

Running this year has taken a great deal of sacrifice: I have alienated friends who do their best to understand my level of commitment and obsession, but can’t. I have been in bed getting invaluable sleep when I could have been out at the pub. I have given up drinking for months on end, and cannot tolerate much alcohol at all now. I have declined party invitations and other social occasions in favour of keeping clean so that I can run, and will have to do all of the above over and over again. Yet I love running. It focuses me. It channels my energy. It absorbs my mind. It gives me a refuge from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It makes me a better person. It is worth every bit of pain, toil and sacrifice, and feels like living in a way that nothing else does. I hope that I carry on running until I can’t run anymore.