Sunday, 21 August 2011


Left: a big cheesy grin

A few days ago I noticed a comment from a fellow runner on how we didn't have a lot etiquette; we don't do that "how do?" that country people do when passing each other on a ramble. Indeed we barely make eye contact despite the fact that cyclists almost dwell in packs and that so many of us runners lurk in social media nudging each other to join ridiculous events.

So we (a loose association!) started a campaign (and even looser sense of the word) to get more Runners Who Smile. Ok it's not really a campaign yet, but that's where my three readers come in (yes we dropped two after I posted pics of my eczema.) When you go out for a run, why not smile at the person you run past?! I mean, why not?! After all, I live in London, where everyone thinks you're a mugger / terrorist / fraudster if you so much as ask directions to a hospital and I gave it a try.

And the result?

Starting point: LimeHouse. Arrival by DLR. On the way down into the station, I pass two lycra-clad people with Garmins and give them a big beam. They look confused, either because they wonder why I am smiling at them, or because they wonder if which one of us is going the wrong way to a race start.

On the DLR, I practice my smile - not too enthusiastic, but gentle, in camaraderie. I try it out on the old man sitting next to me as I ask to see his tube map and he leaps as if I am asking for his wallet. When I give the tube map back he is hesitant: "are you sure, you can keep it?" he suggests, one eye on the door.

At Limehouse I am quickly on the waterfront. There is a man coming over the Basin Bridge looking like he needs some kit; clad in sweaty cotton and wearing a normal backpack. This, I think, is a man who needs a smile. I beam but he is looking at the floor and thuds past.

Undettered I seek out the next runners. A bit of a blur but I do remember coming across some nuns (not running) and gave them a hearty hello, have a nice day etc. They were blue, the nuns. I thought that was just a wine.

It was a warm day and as I plodded past Bethnal Green I had to stop, my heart rate was near 180bpm, my lungs were on fire and I was pumping ventolin faster than a kid inflating a football. I never want to run sick again. So I started off again with a bit of a heavy heart and decided that being a Runner Who Smiles was really going to help me get through 16km.

Man in Berlin Marathon T shirt was the next person to be very smiley (wish I wore mine).
There are a lot of runners on the Regents Canal, and a lot of serious and very good runners. There were not many people having fun I have to say. There was an awful lot of grimacing and groaning and looking generally like people were in a lot of pain. I had always thought it was just me who looked like this. Perhaps it was the heat? Perhaps that is just how people look around these parts when they run, you know, real and gritty. Or maybe I was just paying an awful lot of attention to people's faces because I was trying to catch their eye and make them smile. Just goes to show how much avoidance usually takes place.

At Hackney, near Ron's Eels I had a big cry. Not one of those crocodile tear cries where you think you're hurting but a proper bloody sob. I think it was because Snow Patrol was on (thanks Michael) and I was thinking of everyone I know who was dead and thinking a bit of a tight lung while running was nothing compared to cancer. Cheery stuff. Can you believe I was still trying to smile at people when this happened? Anyway, I crouched behind a block of flats, sucked a gel and wept. The Significant Running Other got me going again via text message and I hit the tow path again with my eye on the pace clock, even if running at a slower pace meant hurting my joints more, it hurt my lungs less.

Hackney's part of the canal with the nice cafes and shops, had been overtaken by a mega diversion inland and by road. A nice man in a yellow t shirt shouted over to get me in the right direction. I couldn't keep up with him and only just kept him in my sights. I felt better later seeing him stop to take a gel and on the home straight near Regents Park he passed me on his way back. He had the biggest and best smile on a runner but probably because it was the recognition that we were both out for a decent sortie.

A similar smile of recognition came from a man in a Paris marathon t shirt. We must have bumped into each other three times, who knows how.

The best smilers were hard core pros who seemed delighted that someone wasn't grimacing. A bloke who could have run for England was super cheery. The women never made eye contact, except one at Camden who sensibly turned back before getting lost in the market food stalls. It was a surprised smile but a smile none the less.

So that was my first run as a Runner Who Smiles. We have a hashtag, and soon will have merchandise (at the moment, I could afford to give every member a t shirt). I have contacted two running journalists in the hope of spreading the word but not got a massive response. I think celebrity involvement could change that. And some great sponsorship. And some less miserable runners.

And my smiling? Well I managed to either be poised to smile, or did smile at the hundreds of runners passing alongside me that made eye contact. But my individual smiling was pretty limited. There was a lot of grimacing until I got back to Baker St, when I ended my run with the Biggest Smile Ever. And that's why I do it. It feels good when you stop.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Mysterious blister folk: you have come to the right place

Warning: if you're a runner look away. But if the above heading means something to you, read on my cursed reader...

So a quick scan through the hundreds of visitor statistics for this blog reveals that, of the five people who read this blog, one does so under duress and the other four are here searching for "weird blisters on the soles of my feet and hands". And I want you four to know, you are not alone and you've come to the right place.

For I am, and probably now forever will be a Person with Pomp: I have pompholyx eczema. And like you, I had to surf the net with my symptoms, which we all know is dangerous because on Google, you're never more than three clicks from genital warts. Having been misdiagnosed with warts and verucca - rather alarmingly as my hands and feet were covered, I too entered the blister search term and brought the diagnosis to my medical clinic. Alas, the staff there also had to google.

So here's my top tips for people who have suddenly found themselves with The Pomp.
  • What are you doing differently? And if you aren't doing anything differently are you really really really stressed? Because I've noticed that now The Pomp is triggered, it flares under stress. You may not feel stressed but if you're carrying a lot in your head or smoking a lot, that will probably count.
  • Have you been using any Dettol or similar disinfectant? Did you know that dettol can cross react with a common preservative in nearly every moisturiser, even the natural ones? And the reaction can be Pomp.
  • Are you using lots of chemicals like phenoxyethanol and butylphenol? Again they can trigger a pomp flare. And these are really common chemicals especially phenoxyethanol which is again also in natural type cosmetics because it's a really common and useful preservative.
These are just the things that triggered me and everyone is going to have different causes but if I can help one person, that would be great because I know what it's like when you can't walk, let alone run, can't sleep, are burning your skin with the wrong treatments and look like you have some sort of bubbly leprosy.

In terms of what helped me:
  • I reduced all chemicals and moved to products that had none of the above preservatives. I had to become an amateur scientist breaking down compounds, breaking down sales jargon ("dermatologically tested" just means tested on skin), breaking down all the scare mongering cliches ("contains chemicals found in anti-freeze" - yes well so is water) and spend hours pouring through chemist or natural health shelves. You also spend a fortune in revised products. I can recommend Faith in Nature and Aveeno as the more cheap range.
  • I treated with a cortisone cream over the counter and betamethasone and a LOT of it. Your skin on your feet is tough. Lather it on. Forget the 7 days only warning, you need to get better and run right.
  • Finally, once you've got your skin back to normal, you need to learn to walk again. This sounds silly but if you have had it as bad as me, I wasn't able to walk properly for six weeks and so some muscles compensated and others withered. And I am still trying to correct that in my right foot.
Finally, I guess you want proof that you have got the right thing... so as to spare anyone who has stumbled on here intrigued, I shall now link to the pics... Shudder.

Now you're diagnosed, please stay!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

See Jane Run.

Thanks to the good people at the Running School I can now share with you the before and after shots of me running... Grab some popcorn and settle down!

I had 12 lessons at the Running School. Here's what I took home from the experience:
  • How to get more power from your arms: chin to pocket, chin to pocket. My arms are more straight and my fists are loose. Gone is the ninja hands from before cutting across the body.
  • Legs hit the ground in parallel tracks, not crossing over like I am sashaying down the catwalk.
  • Legs kick back much higher and cycle as if on a bike, without the bike instead of a long oval shape and a minor lifting of the foot. Contact time with the ground is reduced - yay, less chance of knee injuries through impact. They also land under my body as a result, not somewhere else and then I have to drag the rest of me into alignment.
  • Posture: more straight up with a proud chest.
  • Work that arse: activated glutes - I was mostly running with my quads, and had a series of simple but difficult exercises to engage them.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Hedgehogs and joints

Well I logged in to blog, and read my last post to remind myself what kind of rubbish I had been ranting about and got all confused. I sounded particularly happy in that post. Which must have jinxed everything. Because the subsequent runs I tried to complete after that post were cut short or in fact, not even started, following my complete inability to mask a stabbing and sharp pain in my right knee.

Given that I have dislocated my knee seven or more times, I know a thing or two about pain. I know what it feels like when you don't know that your patella has moved sideways and in a bid to make things better, you twist ligaments and tendons round the joint. I know what it's like to be swinging into bed and the lower half of my leg completely disconnects, when I'm on my own, have to call for help and am wearing bad pants. I often have to mask the pain of my knee being undislocated so that whoever is helping me can concentrate on the job at hand and not be distracted by my screams. So for my knee to be in so much pain that I couldn't hide it is quite extreme.

I was ordered by the SRO that I was not to run this weekend. I tried to swim, kicking from the hip while pretending to be an Olympic dolphin. Boring. I came home and surfed the internet for cheap MRI scans and private health insurance. I was Very Worried.

On Monday I saw Magic Galina with trepidation. She took once look at my leg and had me all sized up. Since I had been plagued with horrible pompholyx on my right foot, I had been limping for about six weeks. I had been flopping around in converse boots (bad for feet!) and not doing special exercises with my trusty hedgehog. This had resulted in my foot being not quite right, pronating or was it suppinating - basically rolling in. As you know, the hip bone is connected to the toe bone so my ankle rolled in, my tendon down my calf rolled in, my knee (that floppy joint) rock and rolled in and my quad rolled in, bringing my newly formed glute behind it. It's a wonder I wasn't running in circles. Of course, this is all pretty indiscernible to the civilian eye but to a trained professional I have a wiggle that won't quit.

The cure is a couple of sessions being massaged, unrolled and acupunctured, followed by a lot of foot rolling on the hedgehog.

I've done one week of "cure" and went for a 13 km run. I could really feel everything rolling on the right leg while my left leg felt like Haile Gerbresalassie. When I stopped at 10km due to the pain I couldn't get the right foot going without some waddly walking.

However I am on the hedgehog with vigour and hope it's all going to be alright on the night.

Stay tuned...

No hedgehogs were harmed in this post.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Cause you can't, you won't and you don't stop

I've not been blogging for a while which can only be a good thing. It means I have been too busy running! Hurrah.

Despite the fact that I could only get an embarrassing 1.2km before seizing up in cardiac and respiratory pain, I kept going out, and trying again. It didn't get any better and the sudden onset stitch was a bit of a nightmare too. I beefed up my personal training to two sessions a week and kept spending time on my feet walking and run-wheeze-gasping.

One sticky afternoon, I had enough. I found inspiration, insight and intelligence: I read blogs about fat people who finished marathons, ordered a gadget called a metronome and hit the streets for another failed attempt. I ran six kilometres - my furthest in a long time, finished with a negative split and a smile on my face. Woo hoo... only 36 more to go.

Since then, I've been out to repeat the distance, risen to eight km and will do ten tomorrow. Whereas I had been slowly inching up ten percent at a time, after this week, I drop in a number of mid week ten-km runs so I can plateau to being able to do a half marathon in happiness at the drop of a hat, before returning to ten percent increments for miles 18 to 26. (This is why your training plan should always be done in pencil).

I'm really pleased that somehow the stitching, the wheezing and the thumping heart have all come together and that there seems to be a lot of muscle memory. My right knee (seven times dislocated) is dropping, my foot is pronating and the glute is a mess of knots. And let's not think about my hip flexor and IT band... But I see the magician that is Galina on Monday who will both cure it, and berate me for letting it get that bad.

As for the metronome, well it makes a sound like a personal attack alarm when on low, and it buzzes like something out of an Anne Summers catalogue when on silent so I will save it for when I do some novelty speed work at a track for the bemusement of all.