48 hours in Nigeria

I wrote this 12 years ago, just a month after the event

This is a story about how I could have easily been killed in Nigeria. It’s not as morbid as it sounds. I wasn’t seriously injured, barely even scratched in fact, but I hope by sharing it, it may give people some insight as to my experiences of travelling to Nigeria and stop anyone from ever travelling on the same fateful road that I travelled on.

I flew to Nigeria on 16th June 2008 exactly a week after my 27th birthday. I was working for the University of Wolverhampton and on a recruitment trip to the former English colony, as the UK is a very popular destination for educated children of wealthy Nigerian parents and sponsors, to continue into Higher Education. It was my second trip to Nigeria the first having been a few months back in February when I visited Lagos and Abuja on an enjoyable and drama-free 6 day recruitment trip.

When I arrived at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, the check-in desk was like the check-out in ALDI, ie, there was one long queue with one desk. I had to have my passport checked twice, the first occasion was fine and they handed it straight back and asked me to join another queue. When I arrived at the second desk, I handed my passport to the attendants who were dealing with a few passports. After 5 minutes or so when they didn’t appear to be doing anything, I asked if my passport was ready to be returned to me. They asked me my name, I replied, then my passport was handed back to me and I shoved it in my pocket and headed over to the baggage carousel which was just behind the desk and down three steps. My luggage shortly arrived and I was literally on my way out of the airport when I heard a voice, booming, “Roberts! Roberts!”

I turned on my heels to see a huge Nigerian Police Guard walking around with my passport! Panicked, I quickly identified myself to him and after checking the photo in the passport he agreed, it was mine. I then fished out the passport I had put in my pocket to find that it belonged to a middle-aged, bald English man, who was no-doubt now and extremely irate middle-aged, bald English man at the check-in counter. We exchanged passports like a pair of dodgy dealers and I headed out of the airport into the hot Lagos evening.

My Nigerian colleague collected me in a taxi and took me to my hotel – the Hilton, Lagos. Whenever we travelled to Nigeria we always stayed in the most expensive hotels. This wasn’t through indulgence, but because the British Council recommended it on account that only the security in place at the top hotels was sufficient a guarantee of safety. My colleague, Eze, on the other hand didn’t have the same security fears being a native so stayed in a cheaper hotel across town. This was much to his credit as he was just as welcome and encouraged to stay at the Hilton.

We agreed on a departure time for the next morning. If memory serves, it was to be 9am, as we had a meeting arranged the next day in the city of Ibadan, around 3 hours away on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

The next day I was ready at 9am. There was no sign of Eze. My memory fails me as to how many times we got in touch with each other but clearly he was stuck in the most horrendous traffic the other side of town. In the end, he arrived at 11.30am. Lagos traffic, incidentally, is always horrendous. Traffic crawls everywhere and you would generally be just as quick to walk from one-side of the city to the other when it is really bad, which from my experience, was always. The plus side is that, it appears, punctuality doesn’t appear to matter a great deal in Nigeria. One of my colleagues says that time is ‘elastic’ in Nigeria. I know exactly what he means.

Eze arrived over 2 hours late, which meant were two hours late arriving for our meeting in Ibadan, but no-one really cared. The drive to Ibadan was pleasant enough. We were in a 4×4 Mitsubishi Pajero and the traffic wasn’t too bad once we had negotiated ourselves onto the Expressway. The road was fairly rough with quite a few potholes, but none that we couldn’t spot and avoid easily in the clear light of day.

We arrived at Ibadan and drove through the streets of the city to our destination, which was a fairly upmarket hotel. Rumour has it at the time of Nigerian Independence Ibadan was the most populous city in Nigeria and third on the continent behind Cairo and Johannesberg. The parts of Ibadan we saw en route were probably on the edges of the city and they looked tired, run-down and like they had seen better days.

Despite the fact we were over 2 hours late for our meeting, when we arrived the room was still full. No student had gone home and there were no dissenting voices the kind of which you might expect after being so late for a similar event back at home. We did our presentation and met some charming and very well-mannered students the likes of whom were perfectly qualified to come to the UK to continue their studies.  We had a great time chatting away one-to-one with students after we had done our presentation but I couldn’t help notice the skies outside beginning to darken as we were beginning to wind up. We had set off late which meant we were going to be returning late and this went against general guidance which was to not travel long distances in Nigeria in the dark. However, this didn’t worry me unduly and anyway even it did, we had to get back to Lagos that evening as we had other things to do the following day and we had a driver who also had other things to do.

We must have set off back to Lagos at around 6pm. This is when the story actually starts to get interesting. I was in the back of the car with Eze and the front passenger seat was vacant. I can’t remember when it started raining, but it started and got progressively heavier. Tired after a long-day at work and with the spacious back-seat of the Pajero, I drifted off to sleep, aided by the hum of the engine and the patter of rain on the body of the car………

………the driver yelled an expletive and slammed the steering wheel to the right without a care as to what might be beside us or behind us. I saw through a blurry, sodden screen two rear lights alarmingly close to us then flash by to the left as we swung round like a child’s carousel. The driver’s shouting had woken me up and only a second later I was shouting too as we pivoted 180 degrees on the Lagos-Ibadan highway at high-speed. The reason the driver had had to take such evasive action, I think, was because the traffic in front had unexpectedly stopped, probably due to a pot-hole causing a further accident ahead. On reflection we were in what accident investigators might call, phase two of an unfolding series of collisions.

We swung round unceremoniously into oncoming traffic. Right there and then I thought I was going to die. Simple as that. A large, luxury tour coach was hurtling towards us as we faced the traffic behind us. There was no avoiding it, we were going to get hit, front on, like a boxer would smash his opponent in the face. And so it came…. I don’t remember the noise or the trajectory the car took, or even what I was thinking. I just remember a blow to my body which could have been me slamming into the interior, or Eze, or both.

The next thing I knew we were in a ditch on the side of the road with pieces of window glass all over us. The passenger front seat was effectively no longer there. If either of us had been sitting there, we would have been killed no question. A quick diagnosis determined that the coach had tried to avoid us, hit the passenger seat on its way and sent us spinning and rolling into a ditch. We soon established that, remarkably, none of us had been seriously injured though I recall that Eze was bleeding from around his eyebrow.

We checked on each other to make sure we were ok and then Eze and the driver got out of the car. I tried to get out and was forcibly told to stay in the car. Only later did I realise that we were on a road infamous for its highway-robbers and being a vulnerable white face, wasn’t a good look in such an environment. I sat in the car, jibbering and shaking. I looked through the back window, which had been part smashed, to see the coach on the other side of the road having careered into an area of trees. It was upright and as far as I could make out it looked like everyone was ok on there.

I think there was a moment when I reflected on my current situation. I was involved in a car-crash in Nigeria in the pouring rain on a poor, dangerous road at night. I was helpless, completely in the hands of Eze, our driver and the prevailing circumstances. I had no idea what to do or what would happen next.

As it sat in the car Eze and the driver were outside trying to wave down other drivers to help. There was no attempt to call the police or to check on the coach. It became quite clear to me that the aim from here on in was to ditch the car and get back to Lagos however we could before any bandits came along to take advantage of our perilous situation. I can’t remember how long we were waiting, but then suddenly Eze called me over and said we were to get into a white van, which had pulled over.

I recall questioning whether this was a wise decision, but in the circumstances, I guess we had no other choice. Eze and the driver had vetted this guy as best they could in the driving rain and established that this was our best option. On reflection, I owe Eze a lot for this decision – it was his call and he got it right. I was ushered into the front seat and behind me in an open area of the van, in amongst tools and bits of machinery, Eze and the driver sat on the floor. I can’t remember how the conversation started, but I soon established that the man who had pulled over, had done so purely as a good Samaritan. He had no other purpose other than to help people who he could see were in need. He told us that the road was infamous for bandits setting up road-blocks. A quite simple method of blocking the road with a line of cars, walking up to people’s car windows with a gun and demanding cash, before letting them go on their way. He said he was getting fed up with these ferrell highwaymen and a couple of days earlier had driven through a road-block at high speed. This accounted for the scratches on his car as he had swerved through a tight gap in the barrier and the bullet holes which peppered his van. You’d think this hearing this story would have made me anxious, but you have to understand that when you have just been involved in a crash that for a second you thought my kill you, then paralysed by fear at the predicament you’re in, to actually be back on the road was a huge blessing.

We continued back to Lagos and as we did we passed harrowing scenes. There had been multiple car crashes along the road. We drove, at snail-pace (which suited me fine) passed over-turned cars and  trucks that had jack-knifed. There were intermittent scenes of this kind of chaos all the way home.

We managed to direct our driver to the hotel I was staying at. We arrived and I stepped out of the van, thanking our new friend profusely. I can’t remember what I said but I hope the sincerity of gratitude I was feeling came across. I think it did. Had he not stopped to collect us, we could have been in serious danger of being robbed, kidnapped or worse, or crashed into again as we sat, open to the elements. I managed to pull out some cash from my wallet, £100 – all that I had, and gave it to him by way of a token of my gratitude. A small price to pay.

I returned to my hotel room, instinctively called my family and girlfriend (now my wife).  Rambling on the phone to them that I was alright, then explaining what had happened. I also called my manager back at home. He was horrified and urged me to come home as soon as possible and abort the trip on day 2 of the 10 day excursion. He was (and still is) a very kind man, had a fatherly instinct about him and was only concerned for my safety and nothing else. Him telling me to come home, without me having to ask was hugely appreciated by me and my family.

To cut a long story mercifully short, I checked out the following day and after a short visit to the British Council to meet some more students, headed back to the airport where my tickets were awaiting me which had been hastily rearranged by the highly efficient office back in Wolverhampton.

So, there you go. That’s my story. I have written this as much for myself as anyone else, as it is one of those events that probably gets hazier in your memory as time goes on, so I wanted to capture it now before it gets any worse. Fortunately the episode didn’t really affect me beyond a bit of neck whiplash and a bruised hip. There were no longer term effects, although I do recall the next time I was driving on the motorway in the dark and it began to rain I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable and had to pull over to a service station and wait for it to stop raining before I continued on. Strange how the mind works.

I’ve never been back to Nigeria, though have been to other countries since where the road safety is poor and do not enjoy travelling by car in these places one little bit. Prior to this accident I had tolerated poor driving and just accepted it as part of the job when travelling, or part of the experience when on holiday . These days I don’t accept it and ensure I make my feelings quite clear to any taxi driver who thinks tail-gating at 70mph + is a good idea. I’ve never been to India, but people who have been to both China and India tell me that the Chinese are much better drivers. With this in mind, I may never actually go to India!

Final tip – don’t be put off going to Nigeria, but whatever you do NEVER travel on the Lagos-Ibadan Highway. I have since found out that two colleagues at other universities have run into similar difficulties on that stretch of road. One was lucky like me, sadly, the other lost his life.

Two Running Routes in Sutton Park

I have lived in Sutton Coldfield for around seven years now. In that time I have gone running in Sutton Park more times than I can remember. I’m doing some very swift arithmetic as I type and if I was being conservative, I’d say I’ve averaged a run in the park once a week during that time, so that’s roughly 350 times. If you’ve done anything that many times you ought to know a thing or two about it.

At 2,400 acres, Sutton Park is pretty big, and in fact is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. There are many wonderful things about it, but the first that springs to mind is how accessible it is. There are several entrances, or ‘gates’, to the park, which means its sphere of accessibility radiates in all directions and attracts runners, cyclists and dog-walkers from across north Birmingham and beyond.

Sutton Park is also a runner’s paradise. It has so many options. I’m going to share a 5k and a 10k route with you here. As an aside, I generally measure my distances in miles, but going metric is quite in vogue, so let’s run with it.

5k from Town Gate

Town Gate is the one just off the Sutton Coldfield High Street. There is plenty of parking in Sutton Coldfield itself and, unless it is one of the hottest days of the year (if so, why are you running?), there is plenty of parking upon entry to the park.

From the car park near the Visitor Centre run up to, and past, the first cattle grid, then immediately fork right. This takes you up a slight incline before a descent to a flat path. You’ll pass Keeper’s Pool on your right then head up a slow steady incline towards the Jamboree Stone, which is bang central in the park and acts as a kind of cross roads for all routes. From there take an acute left turn and head down the second side of the triangle for around 1.5kms on a wide road. Just before Powell’s pool ahead of you on the left, it is time to take a 90 degree left turn, past the metal gate and on to a narrower path. A few yards ahead follow the path to the right which is like a tunnel with the trees encroaching overhead from either side and the light glimmering at the other end. Carry on, passing Wyndley Pool on your right, then follow the path around to the left where the Visitor Centre and car park will once again come into view, and you’ll run right up to the point where you started, just after the cattle grid.

5k route – map courtesy of Strava

This is a fairly gentle 5km run. Not entirely flat, but not so hilly that you’ll be too out of breath. Only a short stretch of it has any cars on it, and even then it is on a wide road where drivers are generally cautious. It also introduces you to the Jamboree Stone to which I would advise you then return to another time and set off in a different direction to do some exploring!

10k from The Bracebridge

The Bracebridge restaurant lies just on the banks of Bracebridge pool, a lovely large pond a couple of kilometres in from the Four Oaks gate. There is plenty of parking and it’s a good place to start and finish, and grab some refreshments afterwards.

From the Bracebridge, run back to the main lane leading from Four Oaks gate and turn right. You will pass a cattle grid and then follow the road as it inclines slightly, watching out for drivers who themselves will be watching out for potholes! You’ll turn in to a car park on your right and jog to, and past, the Blackroot Bistro (another good place to start and finish this run), down the steps towards Blackroot Pool. From there turn left and follow the road gently downhill towards Town Gate. From there, turn right, away from the Town Gate entrance, up past the cattle grid and take the road on your left, with the Visitor Centre also on your left. You will pop out from the path on to a road with Powell’s Pool just ahead of you on your left. Take a 90 degree right turn and follow the incline, watching out for cars in either direction (there is a trail-type path running alongside it to the right, but the cars do go slowly). You’ll come across a crossroads of sorts, with a gravelly car-park to the left. Run through the car-park and out the other side. Keep going, running past Longmoor Pool on your right, and you’ll reach Banner’s Gate on the east side of the park which is where the Park Run starts.

Turn right at the Banner’s Gate car park and enjoy the traily run for just over a kilometre until you reach a poorly defined grassy crossroads. You’ll know when you’re there as there is a short cut pointing 45 degrees to the right before the crossroads which you should take and then carry on along a well-defined, if slightly narrow path. Soon you will see a scraggy, rock-ridden and very steep hill in front of you. Brace yourself, mind your ankles, and go for it. Your quads will be screaming at you at the top for a few seconds, but no pain no gain! At the top keep going straight and you’ll pop out at the big Jamboree Stone intersection. From here, turn left where you’ll be heading towards the Streetly Gate. Then after 300 meters or so, run to the end of the uneven car-park on your right, then turn right and run through to the field where you’ll have a wide expanse of grass to your left, and some trees and gorse bushes immediately to your right. Keep things this way and head towards the forest in-front of you. Upon entry you’ll have two paths to choose from, you need to take the left path. It will suddenly become very dark, and could be a bit boggy. There are tree roots and stones strewn across the path, so keep your eyes peeled, go easy on your pace, and mind your ankles. You will wind down to bridge over the train track. Go through the two gates over the bridge, then turn right and you’ll find yourself emerging on the footpath right in front of the Bracebridge where I rarely resist the temptation for some form of refreshment after completing this run!

10k route – map courtesy of Strava

This is a part path, part trail run, so be mindful of the how the weather has been before you do it, as it can get a bit boggy off-road.

I do both of these routes either standalone, or as part of longer runs in and around the park, and I never get bored of the views. You can forget that you’re in Sutton Coldfield, or even close to one of the biggest cities in the UK, and just enjoy the craggy, grassy and undulating greenscape which always seems to offer something new each time I’m there.

If anyone wants to do either of these runs with me, just drop me a line!

Equally, if anyone does actually follow these routes as described, I’d be very interested to hear your feedback but please don’t complain if the distances aren’t exact; like my piano playing, close enough is good enough and it’s the taking part that counts!

The future is running

Just as we were entering lockdown I wrote a blog post about the power of social running clubs and raised a hope that while group exercise and sports were being temporarily banned, running clubs would continue virtually.

That was back in March. Since then, my club, the Green Heart Runners, has been going strong as a virtual running club with active engagement on social media, running challenges, virtual group warm-ups and circuit classes, and our very own virtual race through which we raised over £3,500 for a local Foodbank. Run Brum Crew, of which I am also a member, has also maintained a strong virtual community, set up run challenges, and also raised around £1,000 for a local hospice through a 10k running event.

As we look forward, going to the gym will be a different experience when they finally open and group contact sports will be challenging to undertake safely for the foreseeable future. But social running clubs will thrive. Or they should. It is the one form of social and group exercise that should be able to resume uninterrupted. And I see an untapped demand for this. Morning, noon and night I see individual runners on the pavements, in the parks and on the country lanes.

Running is generally an individual endeavour. I do the majority of my weekly running (around 25 miles a week) on my own. But twice a week I exercise and socialise virtually with two running clubs, and very soon I hope to do this physically together with them. It’s an important part of my week. They spur me on to run individually and it’s something to look forward to. When we’re together we all share stories of running success or strife, we also share the highs and lows of life outside of running. I have learnt more about different business sectors, and made more friends in my local area through the running clubs I am part of, than I think I could have done in any other way.

If you enjoy exercise, socialising and have a pair of trainers, for me, contact your local running clubs to find out more. If you’ve never run before and are nervous about taking those first steps towards regular exercise, clubs are there for you too. There will be more than you might think and you’ll find them so welcoming and friendly. You’ll soon find one that matches your needs. Some are very professional and aimed at dedicated runners, others are more laid back but still well organised, and welcome runners of any ability, including first-timers. Some charge, some don’t. Both in the club I lead, and the other club I am member of, very few people attend every single week, and you don’t need to. But you’re still part of something and the connections you make are long-lasting.

Most will be accepting new members even while they remain largely virtual clubs for now. With the light mornings and long evenings, now is the perfect time to go looking for your local running club. It could be the best thing you did for your health and social life in 2020.

RR

To get you started, check out these websites

Run of a Kind – a new way of exploring Brum

You’ve all heard of the city walking tour. I have been on many a walking tour in a new city – Edinburgh, York and New York spring to mind. They are generally inexpensive for the time you are informed and entertained, and are a great way of learning about a city, of getting access to a local expert who can help you plan where else you might visit during your stay, and of clocking up your step-count.

But what about the running tour? I’ve never done a running tour. Well, up until yesterday, I had never done a running tour. But on the hottest day of the year, I participated in a test run tour around Birmingham with “Run of a Kind”, a new run tour company founded by my friend Lucy.

As soon as Lucy invited me to take part I was intrigued and a bit excited about it. With all the various types of running I had done, I’d never done a running tour where you run from landmark to landmark and learn as you go.

We met outside the Bull Ring in front of the imposing Bull statue. Before we had even started I had met four new lovely people and was reacquainted with Lucy and my friend Hannah, who is supporting her, and whom I also hadn’t seen since lockdown. I knew this was going to be good.

From the off we learnt some really interesting facts about the Bull; who knew how photographed this handsome fella was?! We then set off towards Victoria Square and the Council House, where we learnt about the disdain Queen Victoria had for Birmingham (more fool her), before moving on to the Mailbox (did you know there are underground tunnels between there and New Street?), and then to Centenary Square surrounded the Symphony Hall, the Rep Theatre, the University of Birmingham’s new acquisition ‘The Exchange’, and of course, the magnificent Birmingham Library.

All the way we were chatting, getting to know other people and even getting some supportive cheers from the friendly folk who were enjoying themselves, in the evening Brummie heat.

For a first run through, Lucy knew her stuff for sure. Clearly well planned, light-hearted, informative and also with the opportunity for chatter, questions, and even anecdotes from other runners.

We moved on to the Jewelry Quarter and it was here that I realised that running tours don’t have to be reserved for cities you’ve never been to before. I’ve lived and worked in Birmingham for over 10 years but yesterday I ran down new roads, and learnt so much more about this vibrant and underestimated city that I call home.

There were no Aston Villa fans amongst us on the run so blushes were spared when Lucy shared a couple of embarrassing stories from their past. But is this really news? (sorry Villa fans, couldn’t resist!).

In between landmarks we chatted, joked, shared running stories and kept together as a group. This isn’t for the runner looking to improve their 10k personal bests, this is for runners interested in getting to know their city, or a new city, better and enrich their stay.

After a stop at Curzon Street, the original Birmingham railway terminus, and the centre piece of the HS2 development (watch this space), we headed down to funky, street-art decorated area of Digbeth. This place is so cool. It’s an area of town I’ve not spent too much time in, but this must be rectified now!

From Digbeth, we made our way back to the Bull via China Town and Hurst Street, where we learnt about the pioneering and breakthrough steps made in Birmingham for the LGBT movement.

10k and just under 2.5 hours later, we arrived back at the Bull. We weren’t exhausted, as the run had been broken-up. My watch told me we had been on the move for just over an hour, and had stopped for just over an hour, which is a lovely balance of exercise, entertainment and expertise all lead by Lucy and wonderfully supported by Hannah who herself will also lead future run tours.

At the end of this particular run, we had organised ourselves to get some takeaway pizzas, but Lucy had also brought some refreshments, and post-run snacks along as well, which was a lovely touch and much needed after the hot run we had been on.

So what’s the verdict? If you want to learn about Birmingham, want to meet new people, and enjoy running – I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t (a) join this running tour and (b) encourage others to do so.

It was so much fun and a privilege to be part of something creative, entrepreneurial and new being developed by two dynamic and proactive young women. All very Birmingham indeed!

You can follow Run of a Kind on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

We. Are. Back

These are some reflections of my colleague and fellow Green Heart Runner, Cristina (on the left), on lockdown frustrations as a scientist, finding new interests and reigniting old ones, and the excitement at being able to return to the lab this week to do what she was born to do!

We are back. We. Are. Back. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t been able to sleep properly the past days since we got told that Tuesday 23rd, 9am, the labs of the Medical School were re-opening. That or the warmer temperatures, but the excitement reminded me of those young years, the night before Christmas (for me the night before The Wise Men Day, 6th of January), when I couldn’t stop thinking about what would I find, wrapped up, under the Christmas tree (for me next to my shoes).

It has been a long path of ups and downs, especially the last few weeks. I could feel my patience slipping away at the end of May, as although the government had said that research could restart, there was so much to do at the University to get the buildings and labs ready for people to start coming back. I felt helpless as I couldn’t find peace in those things I have enjoyed during lockdown, because I must admit, a teeny-weeny part of me smiled when we were sent home.

To be more precise, I didn’t even get sent home. I was in Spain in mid-March, when the pandemic started to turn into a reality, so when I rushed back to avoid getting stranded, I had to isolate for two weeks. I remember very well receiving an email on a Thursday afternoon saying that the labs were to be shut down next day; I didn’t get time to say goodbye.

However, I felt this was an opportunity to pick up those crafts that I had once brought home, but never found time or energy to do. I enjoyed some knitting, macramé, grew a herb garden from seeds, spent time in the garden (watching Tom doing it up), got 20 new indoors plants (I now manage to keep them alive, yay!) and even did some baking! By then, a couple of months into lockdown, I felt that I was running out of things to do – hence the baking, which I haven’t done in some 20 years.

The first days (even weeks) of lockdown were very frustrating, as many other colleagues would agree. We are research scientists. It felt like this time we were needed, more than ever. Instead, we were sent home like many others. We had experience with techniques used for testing and we were used to working in a lab (risks assessments and COSHH forms included). Why would we not be there in the front line helping? I signed up to volunteer three times for different roles, as soon as the emails asking for help arrived. However, we waited and waited, but it was clear that we were to stay at home.

I managed to keep active with daily walks, online classes, yoga (which a couple of lab mates joined) and running. I even ran my first ever 10k. This was a massive achievement and part of the merit goes to Robbie and the Green Heart Runners club he set up. It has been fantastic to run and discover different routes around campus, and he has made a massive effort to keep us all motivated and running during isolation. I particularly enjoyed the photo competitions set-up by Jess, as I do like to take a picture or two every now and then.

This time has taught us many things, and for me, it has made it even clearer that I belong in the lab. I’m not good sat in front of a computer all day. My attention span, normally not great, was down to nothing due to the situation – I stopped watching the news after two weeks, because it was not doing any good. I tried hard to ‘work from home’ and read some scientific literature, did some programming training, and completed some online courses. I still felt useless, as I don’t see this as my work (even though I know this ‘is’ part of my job), but somehow, the fact that we could not do any experiments to carry on our research felt very frustrating.

I’m aware that are still lots of people that won’t come back to their workplace for a few weeks or months. I know that we are lucky we didn’t need to worry about our job situation and the University tried to support us the best it could. Strangely, now that we are back, it feels like lock-down was only a week ‘away’ from the lab, instead of the long months that are now thankfully behind us. Crossing the Medical School doors, switching on the tissue culture cabinet and holding a pipette again, felt like it was yesterday I was juggling several experiments at the same time, and felt like I was born to be there.

Cristina Escribano González

So many ways to smile

The Reverend Richard Coles thinks when wearing a mask, no-one can see you smile. I beg to differ 😊:


You can smile with your sparkling eyes
You can also smile with your deeds
You can make another person smile
When you put them before your own needs

You can smile with a kindly gesture
You can smile in the way that you walk
I will know if you’re smiling
Simply by the way that you talk

If I see your shoulders shaking
I know there’s a smile and a laugh
You can’t bottle up a smile
And you can’t plot it on a graph

You can smile in the messages you send
You can smile in a friendly tweet
You can smile by looking others in the eye
And not by staring at your feet

You can smile in the way you think
And smile in the words you say
Ain’t no way a protective mask
Will ever take our smiles away

RR

Inspirational running stories

Charlotte Hall is a member of the Green Heart Runners and will soon be able to support me in developing and growing the club when she becomes qualified as an England Athletics Run Leader. Charlotte has interests and skills in many different outdoor pursuits, but I only recently discovered her flair for writing book reviews! Here are reviews of two books by two some amazing women. Big thank you to Charlotte for writing these reviews and for sharing on my blog!

Injured or lost your running mojo? Well, pop the kettle on and settle in, I have two book recommendations that’ll get you hyped for a run.

The first is Lizzie Hawker’s Runner: A short story about a long run. Lizzie is a down to earth person whose career in running started and continues with just a passion for pushing herself outside of her comfort zone, and for spending quality time in the mountains. She comments many times about the fact that she isn’t really a runner (put it this way she wouldn’t necessarily nerd out about split times and the latest shoes). However, a runner she most certainly is when you learn more about her running endeavours. She is a long-distance runner whose career started when she attempted an ultra, which entered as something to do to celebrate completing her PhD. In this race she achieved first woman home. However, this wasn’t just any ultra, this was ‘The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc’ (approx. 10,000 metres of ascent and decent over 155 km that loops around Mont Blanc).

She has since won this race five times, in addition to holding the world record for 24 hours road running. However, my favourite of her adventures was running from Base Camp on Mount Everest to Kathmandu; which she has now done a total of three times just to figure out why she is drawn to running so far. This book describes each of her running adventures in such a way that you feel like you’re there with her willing her onwards.

Overall, she writes in such a humble way and her running achievements are so incredible that her story can be described as nothing but hugely inspiring.

Lizzie Hawker’s website

The next book by Chrissie Wellington ‘A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey’ comes with a warning: I completely devoured it. I originally listened to the audiobook version whilst on runs which consequently meant that my runs got longer and longer and much more frequent. Chrissie is the world’s number one female Ironman triathlete who holds four world champion titles, world records and since has been awarded an MBE. However, this is by no means a book only for current or wannabe triathletes. In it Chrissie eloquently tells her incredible journey starting from what she describes as a sporty but a jack of all trades and accident-prone child (her nickname is Muppet), then through an exciting period travelling as a sustainable development advocate, and finally she gives an incredibly honest account into the ups and downs that it takes to become a world champion. In the book you enter each race with her (amazed at how she continues to have a beaming smile on her face the whole way around) and remain enthralled from every start to each finish line.

Immense sporting achievements aside, one of the most admiring traits of Chrissie is her genuine empathy. She commits a whole chapter to celebrating the people that she calls ‘The heroes of Ironman’: the recreational athletes that she says are hugely humbling and inspiring to stand on the start line with. It is these same athletes that after completing every race she stays to cheer and support until the very last competitor crosses the finish line. In this vein, Chrissie sees her sporting achievements as an opportunity to make lasting positive change. In her own words ‘Champions come and go, but to me the real judge of my success will be whether I actually do something positive with the opportunities I have been given’.

In summary, Chrissie is a very charismatic and endearing character whose dedication and endurance are mesmerising, and her story is written so beautifully that you can’t help but be inspired.

Chrissie Wellington’s website

If you have any comments, other running book recommendations, or a book review to share, please get in touch e: Charlotte.l.hall453@gmail.com

I turned thirty-nine this week

The passing of another year
I’ve just turned thirty-nine
I’m marking it with Netflix
And a decent bottle of wine

Utterly forgettable
(My age, not the booze)
To reach an age so tedious
Can hardly pass as news

I don’t remember thirty-eight
And it comes as no surprise
That thirty-seven too it seemed
Passed before my eyes

Don’t think I’m complaining
But I just don’t get my thrills
When birthdays come and birthdays go
Like annual household bills

Many said they hoped I have
A lovely day, it’s true
Facts are, it was pretty dull
Like I’m sure it was for you

Next year I’ll turn forty
Not so far down the line
I’ll mark that one with Netflix too
And a decent bottle of wine

RR

Happy Birthday to us!

The Green Heart Runners social running club turns one on 4 June, exactly one year since our inaugural Tuesday evening run-meet took place with myself and two trusting souls to whom I remain indebted for their support. That day, as I recall, it threw it down with rain and had they not turned up it would have been a demoralising false-start from which to bounce back from. But they did, it was fun, and since then the Green Heart Runners have not looked back.

In the beginning there was just me, an empty Twitter feed and a website. Following that first run-meet, over the first few months we expanded from an average of three to around eight runners. As the numbers grew the nights drew in, and we descended into darkness on our Tuesday evening runs, which meant we had to adapt our routes and our routines accordingly.

We kept growing throughout October and November and then in December, placed a little advert in the University internal newsletter encouraging new members in the new year. This had the effect of rapidly increasing our average number of runners to over twenty per run-meet, which happily (and not entirely by chance) coincided with Jess becoming a qualified run leader to help us ensure we had a safe run leader to runner ratio as we grew.

Jess’ enthusiasm, drive, organisational abilities and generosity of time has been a massive reason why our club has flourished over the past few months – thank you, this club wouldn’t be what it is without your support.

More people joined us in February, a month where we hit a peak of 30 runners on a single run-meet – impressive given that we were in the darkest and coldest month yet. It was also in February that we launched our logo and visible identity and teamed up with a company to enable members to order their own GHR-branded t-shirts, another important milestone in our fledgling club’s early months.

In early March we decided we wanted to grow still further and managed to leverage funding from within and beyond the University, to contribute to the cost of training up three more Run Leaders. In this month also, members started actively registering for a half marathon event in Sutton Coldfield, on 19 April – another milestone with runners entering as members of Green Heart Runners for the first time.

Then, COVID-19 struck. I was pretty devastated to have to email everyone on the morning of Tuesday 17 March to say that the run-meets were cancelled until further notice. It seemed at that moment, that everything would need to be put on hold, and that our first race wouldn’t be happening any time soon

GHR race finish line selfies!

How wrong I was! We quickly set-up a Facebook page for our members, membership continued (and continues) to grow with people wanting to join a virtual running community whilst partaking on a solo basis. Then, between a few us we decided that we should do something on 19 April as a club in lieu of not being able to run our first race. We chose a fantastic charity (B30 Foodbank), ran solo and virtually, and raised over £3,500 – a signature achievement in the life of our young club and one which every member was proud of and for which we received huge support from family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers.


Now we remain very active, virtually of course, with with photo competitions, running challenges, group chat and support. The most recent development is online circuit classes which can be done in their entirety or form part of the warm-up ahead of a Tuesday night run.

And so here we are, on the cusp of our first birthday and ready to celebrate and reflect on our achievements.

The biggest achievement for me isn’t the miles we’ve run, the fitness we’ve gained or the money we have raised. These are wonderful by-products of the most significant achievement, which is developing a supportive and friendly running community which all members have collectively created and cherish. This is what sustains us during these lock down and physically distancing months, and is the positive energy driving the innovation and creative ideas which has seen us develop as a club. This, I sincerely hope, will be the reason we will continue to move forward, welcome more people, develop as a vehicle for fitness, fun and community spirit in and around the beautiful Green Heart, on the University of Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus, from which we take our name.

Happy Birthday to us all!

RR