The paunch of shame

This is lovely personal account of the early days of getting in to running, written by my colleague and friend, Andy. It made me chortle! I hope it does the same for you, but also I hope it might just inspire anyone who doesn’t think running is for them to give it a go and perhaps enjoy the same benefits as Andy. This piece, plus many more entertaining posts on a variety of subjects, can also be found on Andy’s blog.

I’m new to running. I’ve obviously run at times in my life – to catch a departing train, for instance, or escape a persistent wasp. Also, my tardiness has occasionally forced me into a frantic dash across campus to attend a meeting, where I’ve strived to achieve a fashionably late arrival, albeit as a sweaty, breathless, dishevelled, shambles of a man. But actual running, for fitness, on a regular basis, never.

I’ve been thinking about running for a couple of years now, but the idea has never advanced from the concept stage to pounding the local streets in hi-visibility running gear. I’ll be honest: the main reason is that I’m exceptionally lazy and my middle-aged knees are seriously bad. (When I walk up and down stairs it sounds like I’m being followed around by a Foley artist grinding up aggregate with a mortar and pestle.) But with nine months of lockdown and Christmas excess under my belt (or rather comfortably contained within elasticated trousers), I had to do something to arrest the decline.

So with some newly acquired running gear, the highly recommended Couch to 5k app downloaded onto my iPhone, and the gentle, encouraging, Geordie voice of Sarah Millican funnelled into my ears, I decided to dive straight in. With my sportswear, wireless headphones, greying beard, and jaw-length hair tied back into a man bun, I looked more like an ageing marquee signing of a League Two side rather than a runner. But I was serious. And I was ready.

The one thing I hadn’t realised with running is that it allows you time to think – and just be alone. Whenever I’ve run any distance in the past – usually because I’ve been late for something – the only thing I’ve been able to focus on is the intense burning in my lungs and my teeth literally itching in my gums. But this mellow introduction to running using the app has enabled me to just zone out, listen to some music, occasionally leap into deep, rain-filled ditches at the side of the road to avoid being mown down by reckless delivery van drivers, and simply think. (Mainly about what I would do if I found a body in the thick undergrowth I’m running past, but lots of other things too.)

After a dusting of snow overnight followed by temperatures that didn’t get much above freezing, today was my first big challenge. Shall I just get out there and run, or sit by the radiator and drink coffee? Thankfully my new Adidas light running jacket was delivered, which was just tight enough to accentuate my paunch and shame me into heading out into the cold. I was glad I did. Even with the sleet lashing against my face and my penis shrivelling into my body to seek warmth, I felt, dare I say it, positive that I was at least making the effort. And aside from the risk of suffering a fatal heart attack mid-run, what’s the worst that could happen? I can only get fitter and slimmer, right?

I’m three runs in now and it’s going fairly well. For a start, I’ve neither collapsed into a hedgerow, incoherent and delirious, nor vomited into one. That may change as the process shifts to running for longer and walking less, but I’ll stick with it for now. Probably.

An Ode to 2021

Dear next year, it’s new year’s eve
And I think we need a word
To think I’m talking to a year
May at first seem quite absurd

But, you see, it’s vital
In the next year, that we find
It is nothing whatsoever
Like the year we leave behind

2020 really did
Fall well below the bar
Shocking effort, didn’t try
The worst of years by far

We’d like to see our families
We’d like to see our friends
We’d like to see all business boom
Upon us it depends

We’d like to give NHS staff
Some very well-earned breaks
So work with us to help
Let’s not repeat last year’s mistakes

We want to see our kids excel
Our elderly well-served
I’m afraid last year these people
Did not get what they deserved

We will all play our part
And do as we’ve been told
To stop the virus spreading
As we watch the year unfold

But please, next year, play your part too
And please keep front of mind
It must bear no resemblance
To the year we leave behind


Running one thousand miles in 2020

On Sunday 29th November I achieved something I would have considered two years ago – difficult, four years ago – unachievable, and six years ago – impossible and quite frankly daft to even think it. On this day I achieved my aim of running 1,000 miles in a calendar year. As it happens, I completed my goal one month early but this matters to me less than the fact that I did what I set out to do at the beginning of the year.

Of course I set this challenge for myself before I had any idea just what 2020 would be like for us all. Coronavirus was in the news a bit in late December and early January but, at that point no-one knew what was around the corner. I think on the whole the periods of lockdown helped my running cause, but it’s a difficult judgement to make. I lead one running club and am a member of another and in normal times run seven miles with my fellow club runners over a Monday and Tuesday evening without really thinking about it. For a challenge where you need to run around 25 miles a week, a ‘fun seven’ definitely helps. This was snatched away from mid-March onwards and with 200 miles already under my belt, I did the vast majority of the remaining 800 on my own. This was not the plan. I was expecting to do at least 500 miles of my challenge with company, including the Edinburgh marathon which, along with countless other events, got cancelled. But when Edinburgh got removed from the calendar, I was left with a solitary running challenge to complete.

Running has pretty well defined my year. My runs have been the commas, semi-colon, and full-stops of every week and month of 2020. It has been the topic on which I have written more about this year on my blog than any other. It got me a short article in the iPaper in March, a slot on the radio with BBC WM in November, and two opportunities to co-host the @UKRunchat run hour on Twitter. In addition to my personal challenge, the Green Heart Runners undertook two running challenges this year (April and November) and between us we raised over £7,500 for B30 Foodbank.

Completing the Green Heart Runners Challenge in April
Mid-run message for the Green Heart Runners in May

Throughout the year my weekly running mileage has varied quiet a lot. The graph below shows how it fluctuated. Occasionally I would have a really good week of running when weather was good, the opportunity was there, and I was in the right mood. I learnt to capitalise on these moments and this is a reason why I ran a few ‘accidental’ half-marathons. My view was if I was enjoying it and felt comfortable and injury-free, that I should keep going and capitalise on the good feeling and fortune. This then bought me some credit for other weeks when getting the mileage in was that bit more difficult.

The vast majority of my runs this year have been in Sutton Coldfield where I live. During height of the pandemic and the first lockdown, I took to exploring new running routes and also completely lost interest in my running pace. I think this may have been partly due to the Edinburgh marathon being cancelled as well.

Stopping for the cows in Sutton Park in May
Running in the Gower in August

This year I have found several new running routes, including areas of woodland I never knew had footpaths, and most importantly for me I have discovered so many trails in the magnificent Sutton Park, which is just three miles from my house. I treat Sutton Park a bit like my extended back garden now. I have got to know it very well now, and never tire of it.

Opportunities to run further from my home patch have been few and far between. However, running in Birmingham with my friends Lucy and Hannah with Run of a Kind in June on the hottest day of the year, through Cardiff City centre, Swansea Bay and the Gower in August, and taking in the key London sights one chilly Sunday morning in September, are lovely running memories from this year.

Running past the Houses of Parliament in September

In the three weeks since completing my 1,000 miles I have taken the opportunity to do other forms of exercise, mainly in the gym on the free weights and on some of the other cardio machines, just to vary things and give other muscle groups a bit of a workout. The gyms re-opening has been a big boost not only for the exercise, but also it has been somewhere to go and be around people, and frankly the only activity outside the house that I enjoy that we’re still allowed to do!

Completing my 1000th mile with my friend and gym instructor Rachel

So to 2021. I have already declared my running goal for next year, which is to run a marathon in under four hours. I hope this will be the Edinburgh marathon in May, but time will tell. If all races are cancelled for another year though, I shall just have to run my own marathon! Completing a sub-four hour marathon will require me to knock off around twenty minutes from my previous marathon time. I’ve no idea whether this is a realistic goal, but anyway, it is my goal and I’ll go for it! On top of all the training runs I will need to do, I also need to learn more about marathon fuel, as poor planning in this department was a key factor (I think) behind my legs seizing up with five miles to go during my one and only marathon run so far.

I throughly recommend anyone setting themselves an exercise goal. Based on my experience my advice would be to set something that feels almost out of reach, break it down into sizeable chunks so you have a plan for achieving it, and keep yourself accountable and motivated by letting other people know.

2020 has been a great year of running for me. It has kept me sane, and disciplined and provided some focus in turbulent times. Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way, I shall need more of it for my 2021 challenge!


13 December

Hello. Hi there. I’m sorry to disturb you, but..
You’ve not seemed yourself for a while
I’m probably just nosey, getting in your way, it’s just..
I can’t remember when I last saw you smile

Maybe you’ll tell me, and maybe you won’t
Does it matter that I went out of my way?
Months ago I noticed, weeks ago I worried
And I don’t know why I happened to choose today

Your brave face and busy days can provide a mask
But the signs may be breaking through
It took a little time, to recognise the fact
That lately I’m not really seeing you

Could it be a big thing that’s run out of control
Or is it just a small thing standing tall?
Is it something more sincere and something much more deep
That makes you want to run away from it all?

The sun may be shining, but are there storm clouds in your mind?
The rain may clear the haze but leave a scar
Tell me. Is there no escaping it, or is there some reprieve?
Is it something that’s just gone a bit too far?

I don’t the answer, I’ll wait for you to speak
Just know there is a friend to lend a hand
I’ll listen, I’ll support, I’ll protect and I’ll remember
And do my best to try to understand.

Life in the balance

You lie here before me
Life in the balance 
The wonders of science
The irresistible will power of nature
In battle

Sickness, silence, contemplation, flowers
The occasional bleep from a white machine
This is our new environment 
A television in the corner of the room
But no desire to break the silence

What will happen in the next minute, hour, day?
What will life be like next week? 

Outside frail autumn leaves cling to their branches
Spiders weave watery webs
Rabbits burrow beneath the bracken

Inside – masks, tubes, cables
Bland clinical cloths stretch across your surrendered body

But you’ve never looked so beautiful 
I’ve never needed you more than I do now
My love for you has never been greater

The contemplation of what could be lost is on a scale I can’t comprehend

I’m utterly helpless

I’m so sorry that I can’t help you

I just sit on this chair
While you lie here before me
Life in the balance
The wonders of science 
The irresistible will power of nature
In battle

Running routes around the University

This post is for anyone looking to get out running on and around the University’s Edgbaston campus. There are plenty of short running routes around the campus, and longer routes which incorporate parts of the campus and the Vale Village.

I have designed and run various routes as part of the Green Heart Runners’ run-meets, and also for my own solo lunchtime and pre/post-work runs from the Medical School Building.

All routes below include pavements or paths only. There is no requirement to run on the road itself and no off-road trail paths. Some routes will require you to use pedestrian crossings and, on quieter roads, to cross the road carefully with no traffic lights.

Whilst the campus is well-lit, it is advisable to wear some high visibility clothing or accessories during a run at any time of day during the winter months, and to be mindful of when the light begins to fade late in the afternoon so you’re not caught unexpectedly in a poorly lit area (like the canal towpath!), particularly on the longer runs where you will stray well away from the campus.

All the routes below generally start at the Green Heart or at the Medical School on the University campus, but you can start and finish them at any point on the route.

My regular running routes

I often take the Green Heart Runners on one, or a combination, of the first three routes below.

2 miles

This is a good beginner’s route and also a good one to repeat a few times if you want to do a longer run but stay close to the campus. The majority of it is off main roads and is all within the perimeter of the campus, which is well-lit in the evenings.

3 miles

This is another good one for beginners and includes a run along the walkway to the Vale and a loop around the lake, before following a short campus loop and running back to the Green Heart.

4 miles

This is an extension of the three-mile route by taking the canal towpath to the Vale, doing a wider loop there, then running back along the walkway to the campus before taking a circular route back to the Green Heart.

Another four-miler for those who want to include more hill-running at the Vale. An easy start on the canal towpath will warm you up for three loops at the Vale which will get your legs burning, before returning to campus via the walkway.

6 miles

This six-miler involves multiple different loops at the Vale before returning to campus and running around the perimeter of the campus and back to the Medical School.

This six-miler involves a run up to the top of Harborne High Street, all the way down (watch out for shoppers!) towards the Botanical Gardens and turning sharp right at the White Swan and heading back towards the University, turning left on Pritchatts Road for a quick dash to down to the Vale before returning back to campus.

7 miles

This seven-miler is a favourite of mine as it takes in quite a few green spaces. From the canal towpath to the Vale, you then keep going further away from campus around the back of the Edgbaston golf course and down to the Bristol Road. After hopping across to the Pershore Road there is a lovely stretch following the River Rea before you make your way to Selly Oak, past The S’Oak (and other student favourites!) and back to the campus.

13 miles

For those looking for a long run, this route takes you into Birmingham via the canal towpath (and a few loops at the Vale), through the lovely Brindley Place and Centenary Square and into the city centre, where you manoeuvre your way through to the pagoda island on the Bristol Road. The return leg sees you head back towards the University, briefly diverting across the Pershore Road to take in Canon Hill Park, then returning to the Bristol Road, heading up past the University and up the Selly Oak High Street.  You then run towards, and around the back of, the QE hospital and up to Somerset Road where the end is in sight as you run back down towards the Vale, turning right to run up the walkway, and back on to campus.

I hope this gives you a few ideas! Strava isn’t always 100% reliable on distance, and they can always vary slightly from run to run, but they’ll be pretty accurate.

I’d love to hear how you find these routes, if anyone gives them ago. Also, please let me know about any new routes you have found which start and end at the University; it’s good to explore new areas and to have a strong repertoire of runs from which to choose.

Happy running!

Green Heart Runners’ Winter Challenge #GHRB30

  • 40 participants
  • 25 marathons
  • 200 sponsors
  • £4,200 

Read on…

The Green Heart Runners has been operating as a virtual club since the first lockdown 8 months ago (8 months!), in March. Since then, save for one official get together over the summer, our members have been running individually and occasionally in very small groups, and have been supported by our running community over social media and other virtual platforms.

We have grown as a club over this time as running has increasingly appealed as a way of keeping fit and we now have 78 members.

Back in April, on the day we were supposed to have been entering our first physical race as a club, we continued to do a virtual race and raised a phenomenal £3,450 in the process.

Fast forward to late October and I began wondering whether we had another virtual running event in us this year. I had recently posted on the University of Birmingham Facebook group about the Green Heart Runners and the benefits of social running clubs.  This generated a positive response, new members, and a short comment from Sally Brooks “I feel another virtual race coming on..” which I think was the final push needed to get a new plan in place! After a few quick-fire messages with Jess and Hasan, who were instrumental in the organisation and success of April’s event, we came up with the Green Heart Runners’ Winter Challenge – 12 marathons for Christmas.

The idea to hold this event came about before we all knew that the new national restrictions would come in to force in early November, and by the time they had, we were well in to our planning and felt even more so that it might be something our members and supporters might get behind and be something positive to focus on during a fairly bleak and boring month.

We once again decided to raise funds to support the wonderful local charity, B30 Foodbank, which has seen demand for its services increase dramatically during the pandemic and whose own fundraising efforts have been hampered somewhat by the restrictions in place this year.

The idea of the 12 marathons was to chime with the 12 days of Christmas and the plan was for our club members collectively to run the equivalent distance of 12 marathons (314.4 miles) over a period of six days in late November, in order that any monies raised could be used to bring a little cheer and support to individuals and families over Christmas.

On 3rd November I let club members know that we were planning this challenge to test the water and see who might be up for it. The response was incredible. We asked everyone to pledge the miles they wanted to run and within two days we already had 7 marathons on our tracker. On 10th November we launched our challenge and our fundraising campaign officially and within 24 hours had already raised £500.

You get this tingly feeling of excitement when you can see and sense a plan is working out…which it was!

The following Sunday I found myself live on BBC WM, a local radio station, plugging the event, and members and supporters continued to pledge miles and money to the cause.

On the eve of the beginning of the challenge we already had £2,000 in the pot and 20 marathons pledged. Amazing!

All we had to do now, was run.

Day 1:

We set off like a rocket and knocked off four marathons by the time the light was fading.

Day one involved dogs, parks, treadmills, canals and a cheeky appearance by Old Joe.

Day 2:

Day two incorporated beautiful sunrises, Chrismassy photos, and Strava fails (we’ve all been there!)

At the end of day two we had clocked up seven marathons and crashed through the £3,000 barrier for B30 Foodbank.

Day 3:

This was a chilly one. Day three involved running hats, gloves, head torches and enviable sea-side pictures.

By the time we were all tucked up after another day of running, we had taken ourselves to the brink of ten marathons completed.

Day 4:

One of our members ran further than they had in eight years on this day! We were all very proud of her and it reinforced again the power of community and social running clubs. Street art, face-coverings, fog, and semi-naked running (not like that), were all features of Feel Good Friday!

As we headed into the weekend we had left our original 12 marathon target in the distance as we had clocked up 13.2 in just four days, and had £3,462 in the bank.


Day 5:

Many members completed their target distance on Day 5 on a miserable day weather-wise. There was only optimism pulsing through the veins of our runners though. I did my first mile of the day inside while I waited for the rain to subside a little. Others just launched themselves in without delay and as a result we achieved our highest daily mileage, shooting us up another six marathons to 19.5 and a sub-total of 511.5 miles for the challenge.

6th and Final Day:

Day six was the final day of our challenge. Many runners (including me) had miles to fit in to reach target and it was another misty, murky day. This didn’t stop some more fantastic achievements, including a cool PB-busting half marathon from one runner and plenty more contributing to the distance of a further five marathons bringing our vital statistics to 24.7 marathons, 646.6 miles and a staggering £3,800 raised.

At the end of the final day we held a celebratory virtual catch-up to share the final totals, and congratulate our runners on their individual, and our collective, achievements. There were also prizes for the best photographs, the furthest, fastest and highest runs, and two joint-winners of ‘Achiever of the challenge’, for two runners who had run further and faster, respectively, than they had ever thought was possible this week.

The Green Heart Runners has been on an exciting journey ever since I formed the club in June 2019. We’ve been a virtual club as long as we have been a physical club now, something which is hard for me to get my head around. We have no blueprint to work from, we’re just forging our path as an inclusive, friendly, social running community with members who are passionate about supporting others, having fun with running and introducing new ideas and dimensions to the club.

To have over 40 members taking part, to have run the distance of over 25 marathons, and to have been sponsored by more than 200 people to raise a total of over £4,200 is an achievement of which we can all be justly proud. It has been a huge team effort from every single person involved.

In addition to the impressive collective stats, we had members who this week have run further than they’ve run before, run faster than they’ve run before, and clocked up more miles in a week than they ever thought they were capable of doing. They too feel immense pride and satisfaction at what they have personally accomplished in addition to their contribution to the collective achievement. And quite rightly so.

So what next? 2021 will be upon us soon and we all hope that we will be able to return to physical group running very soon. As we have done to this point, the Green Heart Runners will adapt, develop, and grow. With this will come opportunities for members to help shape our future, and develop skills as Run Leaders. As for future running challenges I think our next aim has to be to do what we intended to do this year, but couldn’t, for obvious reasons. So in 2021 look out for Green Heart Runners at a local running event near you…!

Finally, thank you to all of our runners, everyone who has supported us on this #GHRB30 Winter Challenge, and a special thanks to Jess Harrington and Hasan Patel who gave up so much time and applied much skill, expertise and organisation to make this event as successful as it was, and whose enthusiasm and passion for Green Heart Runners we would all be lost without!

Until next time…



Ok. I’ll admit it
I’m finding this one tough
It happened all quite suddenly
And I’m feeling pretty rough

The weather’s bad, it’s getting cold
We’ve got nowhere to go
It’s getting dark by 4pm
And time is moving slow

The news is pretty awful
With numbers on the rise
And the ‘leader’ of the free world
Still clinging to his prize

I’m grateful to the kind souls
And scornful of the cruel
I have no time bullies
I left them all at school

Summoning some energy
To brighten up my week
It’s hard not to conclude
That it all looks pretty bleak

Oh and then there’s Brexit
Maybe you’d forgotten
Whichever way you voted
It all sounds pretty rotten

It’s wet and cold and dark and dank
This lockdown in November
Goodness only knows
What awaits us in December