Saturday, December 02, 2017

Fell running, punk rock and Boff Whalley - "putting the Oi back in Choir".

Richard Askwith's popularising first book 'Feet in The Clouds' was my introduction to the venerable history of fell running. I read that book - and then I read it again - and so cemented my compulsion with what Mike Cudahy called "the magic and the joy" of running off road, in the hills and out in what passes for a wilderness in the UK.

Despite this, my attempts at running in the hills were not as Askwith described. If anything, my running life reflected my personal life at the time, which was frequently a life of failure and collapse.

His book filled my mind with the names of runners that I tried and failed to emulate - Bland, Naylor, Helene Diamantides, Stuart, Holmes to name a few. Names from the sports past too, like Bill's Teasdale and Smith, and George Brass. Somewhere in the online fell running communities web presence, I read a name that didn't need an introduction - Boff Whalley. 

Chumbawamba, back when they were better  different

Oh, I exclaimed at the time.

I'd managed to avoid hearing any Chumbawamba music since getting into punk in late 1986. Y'now, 'Picture's Of Starving Children...' and 'Never Mind the Ballots', but had managed to have my mind cast fully into doubt by my copy of "English Rebel Songs", on 10" vinyl, which I can just about appreciate today, listening to it now as I type.

But back then, in the days of newcastle brown, the Brewery Tap and thrash at the Talbot Hotel? Get away! If it didn't sound like Doom it wasn't getting played.

I did go and see them a few years later. I went to Wolverhampton in the back of a hunt sabs van in 1993. Did they play with Gunshot? To be honest, I was paying more attention to The Girl in the van I’d fancied since a bizarre incident at school with some hair gel behind the library, some ten years earlier. 

I recall getting a ‘ticking off’ for reading Threat By Example at the nightclub after the gig - by this time it was obvious that The Girl was more interested in my friend -  by someone I'd swear was Alice Nutter for years afterwards

Probably wasn't though.

And then of course, they had their hit record in the hopeful year of 1997, and we all shouted sell out! once again, as some in the wider punk scene had been doing for a few years already.

It’s not exactly revelatory, twenty years later, to say that there was more to it than 'band makes famous/retires to island in the sun', and no amount of cash to anti capitalist organisations – Indymedia, for instance, or groups monitoring the worst practices of corporations - could atone for the heresy of the act in the eyes of the holier-than-thou or those with no skin in the game. Where would punk rock be without a little seppuku or pedantic moralising, I ask from my vantage point on Mount Hindsight. Who knows. It's a post-modern, post-structuralist world, twenty years later - does anyone care anymore?

So it was strangely satisfying to read Richard Askwith endorse Boff's book, which suggests that ‘Run Wild’, written in 2012, is “inspiring, wise, entertaining, moving, readable and incredibly timely.” 

Preamble upon introduction upon preamble later, here's an interview I've done with Boff  - fell runner, actor, writer. Ex- of anarcho-pop band Chumbawamba, currently of Commoners Choir, and many other things you can read about at his website

Enjoy the interview.

Me: Supposedly, there is a difference between a ‘runner’and ‘a jogger’. I suppose there is some truth to that. When did you first consider yourself a runner (and maybe you don’t?), and did you notice a transition from jogging to a more structured form of exercise? 

Boff: It’s not about speed, is it? It’s how you define yourself, or something. Is it “I’m taking this seriously now...”. Or maybe it’s when you stop wearing the trainers you wear to the pub and buy some proper running shoes. I think I jogged for some months when I decided to run a marathon in the early 1980s. Then I think as soon as I started to run off-road in the late 1980s I was running, not jogging – mainly because the person who introduced me to fell running wouldn’t have tolerated jogging.

Me: Do you actively train, or do you just cover miles, letting the ground dictate your pace? Have you set goals for this year, and do you have an off-season?
Where is the most interesting place you have run? Or is that unimportant to you and why?

Boff: Yes I actively train but within that I’m really just enjoying myself, sometimes I run hard and sometimes I just take it easy. What I’ve stopped doing as I’ve got older is the proper speed-training, track training, etc. I still do hill reps, but just when I fancy it. And fast-and-slows, occasionally I’ll break into a few of those!

I don’t have any goals for the year other than to keep enjoying my running.

The most interesting place I’ve run is a really hard question to answer – there are so many beautiful places, even within Yorkshire – I love the landscape with bits of ruined industrialisation, I love the history of the Calder Valley (Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge), its poets and weather and rebels and radicals in the past. I love the big Scottish mountains, the really rough rocky climbs. I love the Lake District... running alone in the moonlight up near Fairfield in the snow. I love the rough descent off Burnsall fell, jumping the wall into the bottom fields. I love runs with other people that are just long conversations with paths and miles rolling by. Sometimes I go for long runs with my partner Casey and we just basically natter for a couple of hours whilst roaming around the Yorkshire Dales, getting muddy and stopping occasionally to look at a map or cross a river.

Me: Have you ever decided to skip a gig or other event because of running?

Boff:My old running friend Geoff Reid once told me you should never watch a sport when you could be playing a sport. I feel guilty about this sometimes if I skip a good run or race to go to the football match! I’ve missed lots of gigs because of fell racing though. When I was running competitively for Pudsey & Bramley I would sacrifice almost anything to travel and race with the team in the Lakes, Scotland, Wales etc.

Me and Danbert, who was also in the band and also ran the fells, once missed a couple of rehearsal days in the USA at the beginning of a tour of the West coast of America so we could run the Ben Nevis race. It was a crucial championship decider and we desperately wanted to do it. The rest of the band were very accommodating. We ran the Ben, jumped in a car and drove like mad to Manchester airport for the flight. By the time we got to San Francisco my legs had practically locked, I remember hobbling down the plane steps, backwards.

Me: I hated sport after the age of eleven, and when I discovered punk I realized others did too and I wasn’t the only punching bag in school. I was a punk weirdo, nobodies easy target and proud of it. That anti sport empathy sat really well with me for about 15 years before I turned old and needed to sort my health out. Running is seen as a solo undertaking, unless you compete, or run with a club, and in fact some of us enjoy the solitude of cross-country running more than anything else. Punk on the other hand claims to be a community. So, if punx hate sports and love the scene, why do we run? What draws us away from excessive substance use and late nights?

Gary Devine

Boff: Well I totally understand what you mean but I’m not like that – I’ve always loved sport. Within the band we were always doing bits of sport here and there and always watched it. I had this conversation with Ian McKaye, who was in Leeds doing some recording with Henry Rollins. We were making an album at the time called ‘101 Songs About Sport’. Maybe around 1987 or 1988. We’d heard that Napalm Death were doing a 100-song album so we decided to do an album with 101 songs. All about sport. We had lots of guest vocalists and players and writers. Mekons, Dick Lucas, The Ex etc. Anyway we met up with Ian and asked him if he would write a lyric for the album. He point-blank refused, saying that where he came from it was jocks v punks, the sporty men at college hated the artists, you had to choose sides early on; so he hated sport, saw it only as something macho and competitive. Fair enough. But I reckon there’s an incredible match between punk and fell running, in the sense of wildness and escaping boundaries and finding your own way. In the sense of being adventurous and wanting to find out about the world. When I first started fell running it was through seeing a Leeds punk (Gary Devine) at gigs, once notoriously scrapping with riot police at a Conflict gig, then the next day running up hills wearing tights and studded shoes. The two things made sense together, and still do to me. Do you remember the Alf Tupper character in Victor comic? He’s very punk. I have him tattooed on my arm. His aim in life is to beat the toffs at running. Punk can be a very personal, solitary thing too, it’s not all about community – there’s the solitary outsider part of every punk’s make-up, isn’t there? Wanting to be different.

Me: Are you active in your local punk scene anymore? Do you see any contradictions between the wider portrayal of punk rockers (from the real to the imagined) and your participation in the often very corporate world of Running©? I’m thinking about global shoe brands with less than ethical histories and current practices that still don’t cut it, Global Positioning Systems with their origins in the US military, and possibly even racist and sexist coverage of professional running events.

Boff: I don’t know what my local punk scene would be, but I feel that punk informs everything I do. I run a choir and our slogan is ‘Putting the Oi in Choir’. Most of what I do, for theatre and music and bringing up kids and shopping etc is informed by punk; the sense of questioning everything and not getting boring. Or being bored. I still try to think about all that corporate stuff in terms of my running, but I’m not very loud about it. I won’t buy or wear Nike etc, I have shoes made by Walsh in Bolton, I really don’t like the branding of fell and trail running and I love how running can be a very low-cost sport, not very equipment-based. It makes me laugh seeing all the gadgets that you can get for running when really all you need are a pair of shoes and a rain jacket. I remember asking another fell runner when I first started, “what do I need to buy for a race?” and he said, “a bumbag and a Mars bar.” I got involved with the Pudsey & Bramley club when they had an unspoken ethos of scruffy belligerence and this was reflected in the tatty vests!

Me: Do you keep a running diary to complement your training? Have you ever logged the miles on your running shoes?

Boff: I’ve never kept a running diary or logged running miles. When I first started I wrote down race results but after about a couple of years I realised that the times were pretty irrelevant, it all depended on weather and underfoot conditions etc so I stopped doing it.  I admire people who are keen enough to do all that, I’m just basically disorganised.

Me: Do you listen to music when you run or do you prefer the flow of sensation that seems to remove the need for constant sensory input from less natural sources? I find I can’t hold too many ideas in my mind, but maybe that’s because the terrain I run on is generally rough. Maybe it’s different if you run on smooth surfaces?

Boff: I never listen to music when I run. I love the idea (especially in today’s non-stop digital age) of being out of the house, in a forest or on a moor, no screens or bleeps or electronics. Stopping and looking around and realising that it’s just me and the earth. Feeling like someone could have had this same feeling any time in the past 1000 years, on these same moortops.

Me: We sometimes see footage of Boris Johnson running with his security detail. Have you seen it? Do you think he is a jogger? Not as in does he run or even jog, but do you think he is posing for the cameras?

Boff: I think he probably is a jogger, deluding himself that running along a London street for twenty minutes gives him some sort of old-school testosterone-fuelled sense of power. He’s a despicable man. I imagine him running along giving wide berth to all the homeless people on the streets.

Me: I would like to see him running for his life sometime, preferably from hungry wild dogs. Fun Question: are there any jogging politicians, past or present, you’d like to see in similar straits?

Boff: There’s a great photograph somewhere of John Prescott opening a bike lane or something in Hull, balanced on a bicycle that he clearly has no idea how to ride, wearing a cycling helmet that’s about five sizes too small for his huge head. Like half a peanut shell on a coconut. Maybe all politicians should go running more so we can see how stupid they look when reduced to such normal activities. There’s a great film too of Theresa May walking along a London street and getting her high heel stuck in a pavement crack. I imagine she’d look pretty spectacularly awkward trying to run up and down Burnsall Fell. Bring it on!

There you go. Thanks to Boff for the answers and the insight, and the anarchy. 

Footnote: I have run this week - I've done about a dozen easy miles and used KT tape. It works.

This Gunshot record is immense!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Cut The Shit

Harmed and Dangerous

After the pain of over extending last week - running too far too soon - I have changed my goals for winter. Instead of jumping straight to marathon distance, and thinking I could handle it as an ex runner on a comeback, I've seen sense and decided to run sensibly and build a good solid base over the next three months.

I was running three times a week and covering up to 18 miles a week. For someone beginning again I think that is pretty modest but the length of the weekly long run took up the bulk of the mileage. That is what led to my problem.

Now I am running four times in seven days but only covering half of my previous load. It's all about quality, not quantity. Today I did a three mile LSD run, with a mile / pace average of 09:23. That is a little fast for an long slow distance, so will need to slow that down. I think that's reaching tempo run pace, although it generally felt comfortable, and as the LSD pace will eventually become my steady distance pace I need to reign it in.

In non-running news, here is something else I've cut this week- its a weeping beech, and one of three in the garden of the house I lodge at. Up until two days ago, its branches were touching the lawn. I crown lifted it. I'm happy with the end result. It's quite a thing to be able to hang out under this tree in the Spring. I hope I haven't killed it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

I just did my 13.5 mile run.

The furthest I ever went in all the running I ever did was 17 miles. That was the entire Malvern Hills range followed by the run home afterwards from West Malvern to South Wu. When I got back to work in Leeds the following monday I asked if I could wear comfy trainers, due to the fifty pence blister on my heel. The 'sup said no and I limped around my patients all week in ambulance issue unbroken DM shoes.

Do I think the urge to keep going at all costs is really damaging and not what running is about? It's such a masculine mode of thought - dig in, no pain no gain, even ubiquitous American epithets like 'suck it up!', 'it'll buff out'  - that I think I should be avoiding those inner voices at all cost.

Where do these inner voices come from? Who taught me that it's better not to quit, to beat myself up because any other outcome is failure? Why is a sport like running, so subjective and personal, prone to so many damaging injuries and harmful ambitions? Is it the leakage from professional sports coverage in the modern era, into the ambitions of our class? An insidious concept that equates accomplishment with affluence, and male expressions of power, wealth and 'success' over everything at any cost?

At 11 miles I developed a pain that increased in intensity as I ran , and stopped as soon as I decided to walk, which I did for the last two miles of my long run. Self diagnosis leads me to believe its an overuse injury, and a form of tendonitis - peroneal tendonitis.

Fortunately I can slow down and change my plans. I still intend to run, as long as the pain stays away, but have decided to alter my end goal.

Down with the Patriarchy!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Takin' it easy...

Not a lot to report today. Ran an easy 10km in a slow time round the forest. It was warmer than I thought and I was overdressed.

Stay tuned for my first 13.5 mile run ever next week.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Dumfries and Galloway - the secret coast, forgotten corner of Scotland. We just spent a week there in the van with the dog.

It's a relatively small area and we only really explored from Dumfries in the east to the Galloway forest and the Rhinns - Scotlands most southerly point at East Tarbet.

The hills are gentle and the coast is peppered with beaches, cliffs, rock needles and peninsula's. The Corbett 'Merrick' is the highest hill in all of Southern Scotland and at 850 metres is more of a pleasant stroll than a chore. It gives good views of Ailsa Craig, a volcanic cap 7 miles out into the Irish sea, which we saw, rising from the horizon like a death star, the day we climbed Merrick. A chance meetings with a lunatic cyclist at the top and a cold war era Nuclear missile technician and his dog Hamish on the way down revealed all about this ominous rock.

Galloway is home also to several of the famous 7Stanes mountain bike centres. I ran on two of these this week. Firstly at Dalbeattie forest, where the running was sweet - I was there before 8am and the undulating flow of well etched, pine-softened single track beneath my Walshies was a pleasure, as was the occasional rock drop and technical boulder section. Awesome for running over and no doubt killer on a bike.

At the end of the week I did my LSD at another of the 7Stanes centres at Glen Trool. A somewhat different beast, it took me through the remnants of an ancient sessile oak wood where Robert Bruce's ragged band smashed an English army with rocks and guile, and down to a section of the Southern Upland Way.

This was hard going as I am not used to running fire roads but I managed a good 12 miler in 2 hours 20 minutes.

All this was a welcome antidote to the shameful debacle at London's Anarchist Bookfair the day before we left, which left me saddened and demoralised at the actions of an actual baying mob of fanatics. I support people who identify as Trans everywhere, and feel there needs to be a dialogue before the descent into hardened factionalism solidifies further.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Feel The Darkness

No, not Poison Idea's riot inducing 1990 late classic but the half moon-lit LSD I did last night. I have had to squeeze my training together a little, as I am about to head north of the border for a week and wanted to maximise my running up there. More on that next time.

As mentioned I returned to the forest tracks this week and headed out along the flow of the bike tracks into the forest.  I left at 18:15, as dusk was falling, and under the canopy the clocks had already fallen back.

I decided to try a new headlamp, as my old tech Petzl just doesn't cut it any more so I have gone entry level and picked up a Unilight H1, mainly because it's as cheap as the chips you used to buy in the eighties, when you'd been sent down the road to the local chippy. It's also hi-viz yellow, bright as a single AA powered 175 lumens Cree LED can illuminate and it's highly waterproof. I found myself using the 20 lumens setting along tracks out of the canopy and only amped up for detail work finding junctions.

It seems my ears interface with the tri-glide band adjusters a little bit but I didn't really notice that until much later in the run and it didn't bother me much. The strap grip is buffered with a line of silicone and didn't move once, and the 45degree rotational head was ample for seeing the state of the tracks ahead.

Thanks to @UniliteUK for that.

The forest soon gave way to the common above Jevington and I found my route onto the Weald Way, which was a muddy mess, preferable to the ice rink chalk. After a good twenty minutes of that I started to rise up above Folkington and the A27 and was reminded of that hill above Keighley in the dark.

I was due to pass under the Long Man and was amazed when the headlamp picked out it's chalky feet fro the path below. A slog up the side took me back to the South Downs Way, which I skirted around for the final four mile descent back home.

There is a point just by the nature reserve at which my GPS shows a path that doesn't exist. If you follow this advice you will come to a three foot fence with double strands of barbed wire, to pass which you will need to bend double thru an old hawthorn glade to find any kind of crossing. The hawthorn trees will hate you and try to scratch you to a bloody pulp, but eventually one will provide a way out. I'd suggest avoiding it.

After passing that trial I fled down to Charlotte's Bottom and home in time for bed.

11.1 miles, LSD constant in a horrendous time. It's not the distance but the speed that kills you. Start slow, relax and forget about it.

Feel The Darkness

PS it's the Seven Sisters Marathon today but I'm off to the Anarchist Book fair which I haven't been to for nearly 20 years.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hardcore Punk Rocky roads

So, Brian the Storm is present here in sleepy Sussex-shire. The trees are bent over and the rain is like Tā moko i'm sure. Perfect running weather. 

Trig point at Firle Beacon
This run takes me up to the highest point in the local area - Firle Beacon - which overlooks the Low Weald at a modest 217 meters. It's all off road and in the dark I only made one navigational mistake, which is how I overshot my target distance by nearly a mile. The paths, unsurprisingly, are mostly chalk-y flint and grassland. There are ponies and juggalo cows.

I have been getting debris in my shoes so I decided to try a low profile running gaiter from after checking out various available gaiters from companies like Inov8 and raid light - none of which were ever in stock anywhere. @ULTRAmarathonR are the connect for the Dirty Girl in this country and, even though he was waiting on a re-up in the size I needed,I decided to go with this brand.

They attach in the usual manner at the front and with a little hook and loop at the back, and they weigh, oh, nothing really. They rely on a small mod to yr running shoes and provide the sticky backed velcro to do just that. I got a camo version, cuz i'm tuff.

The Sun and Brian vie for attention
In use they do exactly what they should and for the kind of trails I run on around here, which are mostly gritty rather than sloshy mud, they did an admirable job this morning. Sometimes I kick my own ankles so we'll see how durable they might be. 

My long term running goal at the moment is to run a marathon distance across the South Downs from my front door to my partners front door in Brighton and this is the second recce run up the downs. It's hard going, and I have to be careful not to just run junk miles on hillsides, or to dive in too soon, so next week I will return to the forest tracks at home. Friston forest is full of MTB trails which are perfect for running, as long as I don't head-long into some lycra girl on her XC machine.

10.7 miles today, continuous LSD. Legs need to relax more but it's getting there.