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The Secret Diary of a Race Director aged 48 and ¾

Wednesday November 9th 2011

Wake up in a cold sweat.  Had a terrible dream that I volunteered last night to be Race Director for the 2012 Eccup 10.  Reassure myself that I wouldn’t do such a stupid thing.  Go back to sleep.

Tuesday November 22nd 2011

Meet Alex in the bar.  He’s talking to me as if I was next year’s Race Director. Which is funny because I dreamt this was the case two weeks ago.

Thursday December 1st 2011

Seems I am Race Director.  Write letters to a pub, a golf club, a church, a farm, a donkey and a dog to tell them this fact.  They don’t reply.  Is this what is meant by “living the dream”?

Wednesday December 7th 2011

A race needs a licence more than a fish needs a bicycle.  I apply for a licence and return the Brompton to Halfords; Goldie could never get his fins around the folding mechanism.

Thursday 12th January 2012

Start to work my way through the list of people who need to know about the race: fire service, ambulance (in the air and on the ground), a brace of police, assorted councillors, highway engineers and the like.  At the same time I find myself climbing the very steep learning curve that is the world of road closures, race prizes, insurance, risk assessments and chemical toilets.  It’s the glamour that attracted me to the job.

Tuesday 7th February 2012

Catwoman and Comedy Jim have sourced some cheap technical t-shirts.  In Stella McCartney’s absence, Comedy Jim has done the design.  The back is emblazoned with our name, a fact that some other running clubs in Leeds are to complain about after the event since they object to advertising Abbey Runners when they wear their free t-shirt, which is a bit like Mary Whitehouse complaining about sex on TV…no one made you watch it Mary!  But I’m glad I stopped him at “Abbey Runners” and deleted “probably the best running club in the world.”

Friday 30th March 2012

Jobs to do today:

  1. Write a risk assessment for St Johns Ambulance
  2. Write a risk assessment for Yorkshire Water
  3. Risk a rite assessment for Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (he’s in town on race day!)
  4. Right a wrong assessment for entry forms, water cups and safety pins

Monday 14th May 2012

Invite lovely Abbeys to stand up for Eccup.  Lots do.  Which is nice.

Friday 29th June 2012

Give all the lovely, fluffy Abbeys their assignments for race day.  All accept their lot with minimal fuss. This is too easy.

Monday 2nd July 2012

Write letters to all the residents affected by the race, stressing the money we raise for charity and what a curmudgeon they would be to complain about the inconvenience.  Dispatch two of our most senior and friendly looking vets (Uncle Peter and Grandpa Ward) to deliver said letters.  Two curmudgeons ring me up to complain about the inconvenience.  I decide to reroute the race through their front gardens, but fail to complete the necessary risk assessment in time for race day.

Monday 9th July 2012

Jobs to do this week:

  1. Collect finishing arch from Up & Running
  2. Collect reservoir gate keys from Yorkshire Water
  3. Tour the course by car
  4. Run the course by foot
  5. Perform a sun dance to counter the rain dance Prince Philip did on the Royal Barge that resulted in six weeks of rain
  6. Mop up all the water on the paddy field formerly known as Bedquilts.  We can’t be losing cars in the Adel marshes.
  7. Ask lovely, fluffy, sexy Abbeys for cake

Thursday 12th July 2012

Spend far too long discussing chemical toilets.  That’s 1 hour and 17 minutes of my life I will never get back.

Sunday 15th July 2012 – race day

Seemed to go quite well.  The sun shone. No cars sank.  People found the toilets.  Cakes got eaten. Only hiccough was having to disqualify 631 runners for a false start.  Runners’ World reviews were positive about marshals, t-shirts and cake:

Well organised. Good route. Well marshalled. Good value for money with a tech tee shirt and lots of homemade goodies!

Good marshalling, water stations and crowds. One of those races where everything is so smooth you don’t even notice the organisation. Cakes available for spectators and a cricket pitch for my daughter to run around on. Fantastic. 

Fantastic organisation. Beautiful around the reservoir and fantastic quality shirts awarded at the end. A highly recommended race, see you next year!

A superbly organised race.  Lovely route, plentiful undulations, and great marshals.

A real gem of a race this. Race organisation was impeccable – no traffic, loads of marshals, 3 water stations, a very nice technical T-Shirt, plentiful parking.

I might do this again.


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No bear is an island, entire of itself…

Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main

There is a time in every bear’s life when he (or she) has to take one for the team. When he (or she) has to stand up and be counted.  When he (or…oh you get the idea) has to go with the flow, get with the programme, climb on board, step up, stand proud, seize the day and join the gang. I’m talking of that moment when you’re called upon to run for your club in the Louisville Crumbly Way.

For the uninitiated, the Louisiana Cranky Wake (or LCW as it is known to its adherents) is a 6,000 mile circuit undertaken in 6 legs of a hundred miles, with two runners doing each leg, running about ten miles apiece.  Or something like that. And every year, club captains the length and breadth of Yorkshire summon all their negotiating and persuading skills to cajole recalcitrant runners to abandon their dreams of individual gold and personal glory and come on and join together with the band, as a salmon-farming pinball wizard might say if he were to be a running club captain, which is more than possible, but less than probable what with his outspoken views on dying before he got old, which, judging by his recent appearance at the Olympics closing ceremony, he singularly failed to do.

Not being the fastest bear on the planet (that title is unlikely to be wrested from Ursine Bolt’s grip any time soon), I admit I don’t always volunteer for this (or other) team games partly because when I do I am usually somewhere half way down the reserve list for the Mixed Open Vets C Team and partly because when I do, they sometimes make me run.

This year I was selected for the Super Elite Go Faster Hyper Large Hadron Collider Team.  I’d like to think this was due to my extraordinary performance in the recent Sri Lankan Sloth Bear Ultra Challenge (which consisted of, well, nothing much), but more likely it was due to a clerical blunder whereby my Rambler of the Month award was interpreted as being for extraordinary running prowess in the face of enemy fire as opposed to actually being in recognition of my awesome ability to push paper around a desk in a timely manner.

But despite this, my esprit de corps resulted in the one and only time in my whole life where I came in the top 10 in a race (although eleven other runners may have had far more to do with that than I).  I won’t be changing the title of this column to View From Near The Front anytime soon, but the next time Oh Captain, My Captain stands upon his desk in a call to arms, I might put my hand up, do my bit and take a bullet once again.  But if I don’t, you could.  You might even make the First Team. I’d be grateful if you did.

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Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, on the far edge of the outer rim, beyond the Abilene paradox, I landed upon the populous world of Running.  On Running were people of many breeds and creeds.  There were the Trackers who worshipped the god Fartlek, the Fallen who had scarred and bloody knees and a faraway look in their eye when mention was made of fells, moors, crags and headtorches, the Marathoners who ran long and ran deep, there were the Whippets and there were the Wobblies.

Being a bear of ample girth and antiquated gait, I made my home amongst the Wobblies; a people of wobbly knees (cartilagely crucified), wobbly tendons (a killer Achilles), wobbly wisdom (a run in the morning is worth a Mars in the hand) and wobbly hearts (pain is inevitable, suffering is optional, so I’ll stay home tonight).  Our fellow Runlings struggle with our philosophy and our language as we do with their physiognomy and their mileage.  The Whippets comprehend not a word, mainly because of the reverse Doppler effect: they run so fast as they pass that our every utterance sounds like an inverted siren.  The Trackers encourage us and occasionally we join them for recurrent reiterative repetitions with a side order of parlauf, but more often than not end the night with repetitive strain injuries.  The Fallen are evangelical and inclusive, but leave us standing as they skedaddle cloven-hoofed down mountainsides in ever decreasing circles round the circular trinity of Bob, Paddy and Ramsay.*

The Wobbly philosophy is a perverse reinterpretation of Cartesian dualism.  Descartes posited that the mind and body are two distinct substances and the problem is that mental phenomena differ from the physical body on which they apparently depend.  Wobblies would argue that physical stamina depends entirely on mental phenomena and since you can convince yourself of anything, why convince yourself of ten miles in the pouring rain (as your correspondent did this morning, which proves both the Fitzgeraldian view that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function and that I am an idiot).  Consequently, if the mind says it doesn’t matter, the body has not the will to argue back, and another night on the sofa goggling the goggle box ensues (or Googling the Gosling butt as I believe some young people are wont to do).  This can be restated as free your mind and the rest will follow (i.e. give up the guilt and stay put).  Or no pain, no gain, so what?

So to all those struggling to achieve more than 60 training miles a week, a sub-40 minute 10K, a faster than Nell marathon (or, in the case of most middle-aged marathon men, a five paces behind Nell marathon) or even the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs, embrace your inner Wobbly and run when you want, how you want, and where you want forsaking all others as long as you shall live. Amen!


* If you’re reading this whilst stood next to one of the Fallen, ask them what this means 

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Dom’s in da house

“My leg hurts. That’s why I’m not running.” Mr Wolf is explaining his recent absence.  “I’m not sure what it is.”

“A leg?” I offer, helpfully.

“I mean I’m not sure what I’ve done.”

“Hurt your leg?” I suggest.

“No, I mean, I’m not sure what I did to hurt my leg.”

At this point I find myself wandering off.  Not literally, wandering off.  That would be rude.  No, more wondering off, so to speak.  To Mr Wolf, I remain, sat opposite, pint in hand.  To me, I’m outside the front door of my house, visualising the moment I locked it, before ambling over here, to the Hundred Acre Tavern.  I think I can see me locking it, but I might be remembering me locking it yesterday.  No, I’m sure I locked it.  I don’t want some golden haired Sloane helping herself to my “totes marve” porridge whilst I’m out.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

I glance over at my erstwhile running companion. He’s still talking.  Mr Wolf and I have been discussing his ailment for less than a minute and I am already bored.  Other people’s injuries are boring, unlike mine.  Mine are endlessly fascinating.  But I’m between injuries right now, free of hurty leg syndrome, so his words don’t interest me as they offer no immediate route back to talking about me. 

I wonder whether my eyes have glazed over.  I’d take out a mirror to check, but suspect this could make obvious my lack of concern with his plight, so I think better of it.  That and I don’t have a mirror.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a tall, unshaven middle-youthed man limping towards us, leaning heavily on a cane. “May I?” he asks.  Without waiting for an answer he clicks his fingers and three white-coated twenty-somethings appear, carrying a whiteboard.  “Differential diagnosis, people!” he barks. 

“Joint and muscle pain: it could be lupus” says the first of the white coats, a blond young man with an Australian accent.  “I see. Because he’s a wolf, he only gets illnesses with lupine-derived names? Genius! It’s not lupus.  It’s never lupus.  Next!”

“A hurting leg could suggest an anterior metrocorsical atropedial diatracaucus dysfunctionianoma” offers the young woman in the group.

“You’re over complicating it people. Next!”

“A broken leg?” offers the ex-ER intern, who got the part mainly due to already owning a stethoscope.

“DOMS” I hear myself saying as House and his team evaporate and I snap out of my reverie and return to the snug.

“Dom’s? Dom’s what?”

“No, DOMS. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  You’re suffering from DOMS.  You ran.  With muscles.  Time passed.  You’re sore. DOMS!”

“Oh, okay. So it’s not life threatening then?”

“No.  But I’ll tell you what can be.  Spilled honey.  Did I ever tell you about the time I almost died slipping on spilled honey?  Now that really hurts a leg”

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January, sick and tired, you’ve been hanging on me

January is upon us once again, with its partner in crime February not far behind.  I’m not a fan of January (or February for that matter).  It’s not that I don’t like winter, in fact if they made winter like they did back in the good old days, full of snow and sugar mice, power cuts and candles, frozen pitches and the Pools Panel I’d probably not mind so much.  But it’s the way January (and February, let’s not forget) arrives with such inexorable regularity, always after Christmas when the party is over.  Just as the celebrations have died down and the decorations have been put away, January turns up on your doorstep proposing resolutions, offering detox diets, promising a new you, whilst simultaneously delivering grey cloud, dark days and whistling winds; a Calendrical paradox akin to Private Frazer speaking of doom and gloom with an upward inflection or Droopy ending every sentence with a question mark at the end of it.

I suggested to Mrs Bear the other day that if I were Prime Minister I’d make an immediate budget saving of 16.67% by getting rid of January and February and introducing a metric year that started in March.  Gone would be the grey skies and short days and we’d move straight from Christmas to Spring.  She pointed out that all those with birthdays in January and February might be upset and I offered to redeploy their birthdays to other parts of the year.  Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions, I said in my best management speak.

Truth is bears should be sleeping now.  It’s not right to be awake.  I successfully laid down fat as I do every December in preparation for hibernation, but then blow me if I’m not kept awake by hurricanes ripping the roof off my house and endless e-mithers about doing my bit for the club, taking one for the team and trundling up and down mud-infested, windswept, sleet-slashed hills in the PeepShow cross (cross? I was bleeding livid…boom boom!) country in such a way as to present an obstacle so slow and wide that no one from Birnamwood Colliders or Haresfart Hagglers could pass without either digging tunnels à la Tom, Dick and Harry or enlisting a Right Royal Rugger Bugger to toss them, dwarf-style, over the top of my behemothian bulk.

Running Bear in all his glory

Talking of behemothian bulk, I have now joined the ranks of those sportsmen and women (yes BBC, women do sport too) who have had their likeness cast in bronze and the results speak for themselves I think you’ll agree.  The artist has perfectly captured my sleek physique, my lean figure, my (let’s not beat about the bush here) ripped bod.  I fully expect to get my call for the Runner’s World cover shoot any day now.

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Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat

Never mind the geese.  I don’t care about the geese.  Geese, shmeese! Don’t come around here, fussing and squawking about morbidly obese geese, because frankly you’ll get short shrift, or more likely no shrift at all, from me.   Christmas is coming, on that we can agree, there are no matters of contention in that assertion, no grounds for disagreement, nothing of substance for our lawyers to pick over or into which they can sink their teeth.  So putting to one side the getting-fatter-all-the-time (“it can’t get no worse”) geese there is the rather larger matter of the bear.  Christmas is coming and the bear will be getting fat.

The end of the year show is upon us when the Western world eats like it’s our last supper, nails a star to a tree (didn’t that happen at Easter too?) and turns wine into water.  And Yulemastide is yet again another example of the difference between front runners and back markers.  Where the lean mean running machines eat three French hens, two turtle doves, the partridge, the pears and the tree and then turn out on Boxing Day to set an age-resistant PB at the Chuffin’ Chase, those of a more ursine nature take one look at the mulled wine and mince pies and remember that winter is God’s way of saying eat more and sleep loads.

For the bear, for whom food is a pleasure and running a chore, and Descartes’ oft-misquoted “I eat therefore I am” is not so much a philosophical truism as an indigestive neologism, it is a constant juggling act to balance calories in with calories out and at Crimblemas the wheels more often than not fall off the proverbial wagon.

Three factors converge at this time of year that not-so-much halt me in my tracks, but at best lead me to spin my wheels and at worst cause me to come off the rails (enough, already with the modes of transport analogies).  One, it gets cold and the lethargy-devil on my shoulder whispers in my ear, it’s too cold to run, stay indoors by the fire, and watch repeats of the Morecambe and Wise 1975 Christmas Special.  Two, I get injured either because it’s cold and there was wisdom in the lethargy-devil’s words or I fall over and crack a rib/twist an ankle/butter a parsnip (delete as appropriate).  Three, I consume too many mince pies (it would be rude to say no to a third, wouldn’t it?), Cadbury’s Roses (it’s only the wrappers that stop me eating them by the pawful) and bottles of Chateau Abbé d’Adel.

But there is a plus side, running fans!  Fat insulates, which is good because it counteracts the “it’s cold outside” excuse for not running, fat protects, which means when you fall over you bounce back up like a Weeble of old, and fat stops you sitting too close to the table which is good because you can’t reach that extra mince pie.  So winter is good because winter makes you fat and fat makes you slim.  Time for that extra slice of Christmas cake, methinks…

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7 Songs About Running

Like a Saturday night Channel 4 programme commissioner needing to fill a three hour slot with a tuppeny budget or a monthly magazine columnist with a deadline to meet and a muse gone AWOL feared dead, this month’s wittering is a random collection of thoughts beneath a title that implies thematic coherence where in fact there is none.  Running Bear Solutions (motto: “never knowingly undersolved”) in conjunction with iToons brings you, “7 Songs About Running (Despite What Wikipedia May Have You Believe)”.

1. “Everybody Hurts” – in 1991 all four members of REM had completed the Athens Marathon (Georgia, not Greece) dressed in a 24ft tall Godzilla costume when they penned this paean to blisters, cramp and chafing.

2. “Blowin’ In The Wind” – Many people believe that Bob was providing the question to the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything when he sang “How many roads must a man walk down” (42, the Bobcats say), whereas in fact the song refers to the time when he visited England and entered the Snake Lane 10.  He was clearly heard to mutter the immortal line as the Race Director led the entrants from the Race HQ through Pocklington to the start.  And everyone has made the same point since.

3. “Perfect Day” – I think we all know how witless X-less Factorites have mistaken the song’s tale as being about a nice day with Sangria and movies and zoos, when it’s patently obvious that it refers to the illegal and highly dangerous activity of pre-race number swapping (I mean what else can Lou mean when he sings “I thought I was someone else”?).

4. “Grounds For Divorce” – pretty obvious this one, warbled as it is by running widows the length and breadth of North Leeds as he exits the front door to meet up with his beloved Abbey once more.

5. “Where The Streets Have No Name” – Bono says it’s about religion and income but it’s bloody obvious that it’s about the Leeds Country Way and Leg 2 in particular where the routes have no signs, the instructions make no sense and your running partner has no clue.

6. “All Things Must Pass” – it’s a little known fact, pop pickers that George Harrison was a pretty good club runner in his prime, turning out for Hamburg Harriers, Blue Jay Wayfarers and latterly the Friar Park Runners.  No song more evocatively and poignantly captures the anguish of pre-race bowel evacuation.

7. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – or “Smells Like Deep Heat” as the original demo was entitled.  In fact the whole Nevermind album can be best understood through the weird-eye lens of running.   “Come As You Are”: an encouragement to new club members.  “Something In The Way”: Kurt knew how cyclists, anglers and dogs on canal towpaths can be annoying.  “Territorial Pissings”: Dave Grohl witnessed first-hand the disrespect shown the bushes and trees on the first mile of the Leeds Half Marathon.

This article is available now as a podcast and playlist for your next run.  Just go to www.thebearisanass.co.uk create an account with all your personal details, choose a password based upon your grandmother’s first pet’s school, enter your credit card details, tick that you have read the 673 page terms and conditions that grant me the rights to your eternal soul and Robert is your mother’s or father’s sibling.