THE cold breath of air as soon as you open the front door is enough to take your own away. Then there’s the uninviting darkness of the early morning or evening as well as the need for woolly hats, thermals, leg warmers. . . being a runner in winter is only for the physically hardy – or perhaps that’s foolhardy.
This is the time of year when most people’s good intentions about keeping fit begin to slip, in much the same way as trainered feet do on frost-covered pavements; when keeping fit makes way for keeping warm indoors.
So when better to launch a new book to inspire the gritting of teeth and grinding out of miles than just as winter is beginning to bite?
David Syme, author of Running Away From Home, published almost two years ago and which detailed his own running while he travelled abroad, has now collected a host of running tales from plodders to top athletes. Running Home and Away is the result.
“So many people got in touch with me after my book saying, ‘I’ve got a story about running’, it was fantastic,” says the former Merchiston Castle languages teacher and Nato linguist. “The first book was about how I’d just go out from my hotel wherever I was staying and go for a run, so I saw places in a way most people wouldn’t and there was the odd misadventure from time to time. But it inspired people to send me their own tales.”
There are 14 runners’ stories in the book and 40 tales in total. David, 70, from East Calder adds: “It was particularly pleasing to get a few big names of the running world in there, like Dr Andrew Murray and Mark Cooper but also Jonathan Wyatt from New Zealand who’s been the World Mountain Running Champion six times. He was a great scalp to get.”
Like the previous book, the proceeds from this one will go to the Edinburgh-based charity Tong-Len UK which is dedicated to the welfare and education of destitute children in Dharamsala, northern India.
“Most people who run do it to raise money for charity and ask for sponsorship. I just want people to buy the book and the royalties will go to Tong-Len.”
As for going out in the winter, David’s advice is just to keep on running.
“After the first five minutes you don’t feel the cold, and if you’ve a headtorch the dark is no problem. There’s no point not going out just because it’s cold – and you might even end up with a story.”
The 10k taper
The race was on Sunday, it was the Thursday before. Fifteen minutes to the chemist and 15 minutes back, an easing of the muscles in the wind down before the race. Taper run they call it. But a 40-minute wait for a prescription meant I could have a slow, pleasant run.
On to Mid Calder over the Almond and up to Pumpherston, back along the old railway line. I reached a road bridge underneath, which was a huge puddle. . . wondering how to cross I heard a splash behind me, a runner came at full tilt, a slim, young sandy-haired lad – head up and arms pumping. Splash and away!
What must he think of me an old duffer dressed for a run but scared of a wee dab.
I started to run after him, holding 70 metres behind. We sped down the railway path and he saw me, hopefully recognising I could run after all. He dropped down to the river and I followed. . . I was hoping he’d turn left so I could relax, but no. He started up the long hill. . . I had to show him I wasn’t to be underestimated. When we reached the main road he turned left, thankfully, away from the chemist so I stopped and stood panting.
He turned, saw me and waved. I managed a weak wave back and tottered into the shop before limping home.
West Highland Way Race
Donald Sandeman, 55, former police officer now part-time cabbie
What is the next challenge after you have a few “ordinary” marathons and the Marathon des Sables behind you? Completing the West Highland Way Race in 24 hours. The first section to Drymen is easy running . . . at Balmaha I was bang on time . . . the next leg to Rowardennan was excellent.
My stomach began to play up but I put it down to running a hilly marathon and eating food at silly o’clock. But stomach cramps hit me hard and I had three trips into the bracken, giving the midges a feast of my bum.
After Tyndrum, the rain became heavier and the headwind stronger. I limped into Bridge of Orchy and my support team set about me like Formula 1 pit team, massaging Ibuprofen into my legs, feeding me painkillers. . . I set off but the downhill parts had me in pain. With 35 miles to run I realised I would miss my 24-hour target. My running pace deteriorated to a shuffling jog. . . I felt pain at every step. . . I asked how far until the last checkpoint and was told four miles and then seven to the end. Thank goodness the darkness hid my tears.
How about a special run today?
Colin McPhail, 54, owner of Footworks Running Shop, Bruntsfield
As is usual on a Sunday morning I turned up for a group run, but I had a cunning plan – to get them to run a 5k or 10k in Holyrood Park for the British Heart Foundation. The response was negative, so we set off for Blackford Hill, a favourite run, although my claret-loading of the night before reminded me that carbo-loading made more sense.
We loped down Liberton Brae, with eight miles behind us, Chris and I decided to take a look at the 10k race. We got to the start and the marshall looked at us like we were a pair of plonkers for missing the start.
It was 25 minutes after the official start when we crossed the line. . . Chris was suffering in his barefoot shoes so opted for the 5k, I carried on. . . crossing the finish in the manner of a man who has given his all.
With medals round our necks Chris and I ran the two miles back to the shop. . .
Wet Feet – The Black Rock ‘5’
Ann Davidson, 56, JogScotland programme co-ordinator
The evening of the race (in Kinghorn, Fife) was a bit breezy as we gathered at the start, before the reluctant climb to the main road and then onto the beach. As soon as I hit the sand, my legs felt much heavier and it got much harder as I jogged towards the water. The tide had formed the smooth sand into ripples which could all too easily cause a twisted ankle. I hadn’t been going fast, but now I eased off trying to disregard the front runners out in the distance.
By the time I reached the Black Rock, I was wading through knee-deep water so on the way back on the beach I realised how hard it was to run on dry sand in wet trainers. And back on the road the combination of sand-filled shoes and wet socks was uncomfortable. I reached the end gasping for breath. There were no medals or goodie bags – but a banana and a bottle of beer.
Running made simple
David McKendrick, 43, lecturer in social work
Can you believe there are people who think that running is simple? The men in white coats will soon turn up. . . Running is far from simple. It takes organisation, commitment and no little dedication. Finding the time is the first in a series of problems. Then there’s the route.
Runners are masochists and for me I need to run up a hill, the bigger the better. If I don’t hear the sound of blood pumping in my ears then I’ve not done enough.
Then there’s the gear. . . and the issue of trainers. It’s all so confusing. The internet is a godsend. I even follow Mo Farah on Twitter in case he wants my opinion on trainer socks.
The truth is running allows us to be healthily obsessed.
It provides a focus and for me in a life controlled by work and finances and families running is mine, and I love it.
• Running Home and Away, A Collection of Running Adventures is available from Footworks, Bruntsfield Place, Run and Become, Queensferry Street and Blackwell’s, priced £7.49
• ONE of the contributors to David Syme’s new book is Dr Andrew Murray, the Edinburgh GP who ran 2659 miles from Scotland to the Sahara, and who has since become the Scottish Goverment’s physical activity champion.
But the 32-year-old – who won this year’s North Pole marathon – now has his sights set on a new gruelling challenge: seven ultra marathons on seven continents over seven consecutive days.
While he does that he wants people to sign up to their own challenge – to walk, run, or cycle 5kms each day for the week he is away. Each competitor who enters can win themselves prizes such as signed Chris Hoy T-shirts and Scotland Rugby goodies. And he’s also raising money for Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), hoping to hit £10,000 or more. Andrew says: “It’s a genuine challenge, athletically and logistically. It is a fantastic way to challenge myself and see some of the world in fast forward. But the most important thing is to raise awareness of the benefits of exercise. Being active regularly is the single best thing for your health.
“It cuts the risk of dying early by 30 per cent and is good for the brain. If we get 6000 people to walk or run 5km a day for a week, that’s enough to go around the world five times.
“Low fitness kills as many as smoking - almost one in ten of the world’s population. I’m pleased the Scottish Government is recognising the scale of the problem.”
n For more information visit www.5x50.co.uk or to donate visit www.justgiving.com/runners4getactive