So I had to go into Southampton this afternoon for some winter running kit and on the way back I decided to take the scenic route along the city's medieval walls. I noticed a young homeless man sitting on a pile of dirty blankets and I watched as everyone walked past him, some staring but many not even seeming to notice him.
I decided to get him a warm hat and some food. There is a poundshop in Southampton and I thought my money would go further in there, so I went in and got him a woolly hat, a box of grapes, a box of cereal bars, a bag of cheese and some chocolate raisins for a fiver, and I went back and gave them to him.
He said thank you and I asked him where he was sleeping tonight and he told me in a carpark. So I asked him if he had any help and he said some, but that funding was limited and he was in the system but that took forever so there wasn't an awful lot available. I asked him how long had he been like this and he said six months, and that he was often close to giving up. He was 21, a year younger than our daughter, a year older than our middle son, four years older than L.
I sat down, and we chatted. He told me he'd been in and out of prison for petty offences which meant as soon as a prospective employer checked with the DBS or CRB his record popped up and the job disappeared. He said people had told him, commit a crime and go to prison, it's a roof over your head and three meals a day, but it hadn't helped him. I asked him what he most wanted and he said a roof over his head and a job.
He said that for much of the time he didn't feel human, because people ignored him, they didn't interact at all with him, and he could go all day sat in the middle of hundreds of moving people and not speak to a soul. And it would make him feel terrible, and despairing, and like it wasn't worth going on. And then, every now and then, someone would stop and talk, or give him something to eat or drink and he would feel better for that moment of kindness and it would reassure him that not everyone was bad (in his words). Mostly he said he just wanted someone to talk to.
So I told him about an idea I've had in my head for a while about using running to help homeless people and I explained about Skid Row Marathon, the documentary that had moved me to tears about the judge in America who set up a running club for ex-offenders and trained them to run marathons and how many of them had turned their lives around as a result. And he listened and I asked hm whether, if that were open to him, he would think about it. And he said he wasn't sure. But later in the conversation he told me his dad had been a member of a running club and that he himself had been in the cross country team at school. And I was thinking, that was what, only six, seven years ago? And how quickly life had spiralled to leave him in this condition. His face was wispy with half-grown beard because he had no-where to shave and grimy with the muck of the streets because he had no-where to wash and his fingernails were black and the skin around them torn, but his eyes were clear and he was lucid and articulate.
I left him with the exhortation to try to run, just for a few minutes, every day, interspersed with walking, because it might just switch some of those lights back on that had gone out, and once that happened other things might start to change too. And I urged him to go to a local running shop and explain his circumstances and see whether they might have an old pair of shoes they could give him, because that's literally all you need to run. I firmly believe if you don't ask, you don't get, and he might just ask the one person who feels empathy and social responsibility and wants to help, or maybe even who was once homeless themselves.
I'm going back tomorrow with an old pair of M's runners and I'm going to see if I can find him and if they're the right size I'll give them to him, and if they're not I will find out what size he is and I will ask all our running friends to see if I can find a match for him. Because we go through at least two pairs of running shoes each a year, probably more, and while they're no good for us for long mile training once the cushioning has gone, for someone doing short distances and just starting out they would be fine. And it's a beginning, right? He might decide it's not for him, he might chuck them in the bin when I've gone, but at least I'll have tried to help him, at least I will have shown him that someone has reached out to him and demonstrated that he deserves to be helped and to be treated like a human being again, and that's got to be worth something.
I noticed all the people about me after I left him, everyone dressed in warm coats, laughing, chatting, clean, well fed and I really struggled to understand how it is possible in this day and age for a 21 year old to be sleeping rough in a carpark when all around him is such comparative wealth.
What do we do to change this?
Monday, 29 October 2018
The alarm went off at 5am on Saturday morning, but we were both awake already having spent most of the night waking up to see whether it was time to get up yet. No-one sleeps well the night before a marathon and, in anticipation of the early start, I didn't sleep well either, despite having a quarter of the distance to run that M had.
We left the house at 5.40 in the dark and headed east down the M27, then further east down the A27 towards Brighton and Eastbourne. After an hour or so the sky started to grow lighter with the pre-dawn luminescence and the land around us began slowly to emerge.
We arrived in Eastbourne a little before 8 to find the side streets already thronged with cars. Could these be runners? Noting the feet in trainers, the lycra on legs and the warm hats and gloves we decided they were. We were really lucky to find a parking space behind a school about 15 mins walk from the start.
We wandered down to race HQ to collect our numbers and realised just how cold it was. The race goes up onto the South Downs so we knew it going to be even colder up there where a North wind was whistling over the exposed hills beside the sea. There were hundreds of people milling about: a total of 3000 people were taking part, 2200 in the marathon and 800 in the 10k.
Having collected our numbers we went back to the car to change. Brrr! It was proper cold. A bit of a shock to the system after all this warm weather we've been having. I decided to run in a body warmer and even M put on a long-sleeved top beneath his racing vest and wore a buff round his neck as a concession to the temperature (he still wore shorts though. It has to be absolutely arctic for him to wear long trousers for running!).
We ran back to the start so were soon warm. The marathon headed off at 9, with the 10k going at 9.30 so we had about half an hour to wait for M to start. As we got to the start the race director was talking cheerfully about the bitterly cold winds that were blowing up on the hills and also warning people that the cliffs were cracking and unstable in places so not to get too close to the edge! I resolved to stay well back; M enjoyed teasing me about taking the most direct line :o).
Soon the marathon runners were off, heading the short distance up the road before they were straight onto the Downs by way of an enormous hill. There were so many of them it took ages for them all to clear the start. Then I had half an hour's chilly wait for the 10k to go, so I hovered inside the number tent doing warm ups and trying not to clatter my teeth together too loudly.
The day was bright and clear, sharp and cold- almost perfect for running, although the wind on the hills was biting and my face quickly went numb once we climbed the first hill past the bagpipe player (a lovely touch) and got out onto the Downs proper. The landscape we were running through was some of the finest in England: Beachy Head, white cliffs, the South Downs and the Belle Tout lighthouse- it felt a real privilege to be running through this breath-taking scenery on such a clear, crisp day and I felt very lucky to be part of it, given that last week I'd assumed I'd be walking the race.
I got a bit caught up in the crowd for the first mile or so, it was largely single track stuff and 800 runners all pressed together didn't make for easy movement, but after a while I was able to move over onto the rougher grasses on the edges of the path and push on and get past the slower runners.
There were plenty of hills. Some big hills, and some not so big but steady and long, which is almost worse because they zap your energy. Mindful of the hip, I was sensible, walked up the steepest bits and stopped for photos on the way, but the hip really wasn't too bad and by the time we reached the final mile, which was mainly downhill, I was flying along thoroughly enjoying myself. I overtook some people, which felt good, and then chased after two people I'd been following for most of the race. I managed to catch one just before the land plunged away down a sharp final incline. The marshal ahead was calling out 'two options: left for a gentler hill and some steps, or right for the steepest bit'. Matey ahead went right, so I knew if I wanted to catch him I couldn't afford to take the easy route. I went right. I don't think I've ever run down anything so steep before. I knew I'd pay for it with very sore quads a day or too later when DOMS set in (delayed onset muscle soreness), and the thought of missing my step and flying down the flinty chalky hill on my face wasn't appealing either, but you only live once and I knew I'd regret it if I didn't hurtle down as fast as I could and give myself every opportunity to overtake him :o).
The final hill led down onto the road and the finish was only a few metres ahead. I managed to overtake the bloke in front just before the line, and finished in a little over an hour. To put some perspective here, the winner did it in 36 minutes!! Still, I was really pleased with the result, mainly because I'd been able to run steadily for most of the race and speed up for the final mile with no ill effects. I am hoping this means I can now start to slowly up my miles ahead of January's marathon.
M finished his marathon in 3:25 to take 22nd place out of 2200, a fantastic result given how hilly the race was. We both agreed we had absolutely loved the event and would do it again. Top job, organisers! The day ran incredibly smoothly from start to finish; the marshals were brilliant; the other runners were friendly and the course was fantastic. It isn't an easy job to get 3000 people so smoothly and efficiently through an event like that so top marks to the guys and girls at Beachy Head who made a big event feel like a lovely, low-key run across the hills.
Hope you are all well?
Tuesday, 23 October 2018
The first (and most important) bit of news is that I am back running! Hooray! Tentatively at the moment, because the Bursa in my hip hasn't completely gone yet, but the miracle worker who is Physio Steve tells me it's responding well to treatment and by next week if all goes well I should be able to start slowly upping my mileage again. This is Good News, because I've had to cancel three marathons this autumn and don't want to miss the next one which is scheduled for January. If all is well next week I'll have enough time to train for it.
M had Friday off so we went to the sea. East Head near West Wittering, on a perfect day...
Afterwards we popped up to Petworth House for lunch in the courtyard and a look at the art collection....
|The carvings are made of lime wood and are slowly disintegrating. There is nothing they can do to prevent this. They are so delicate that they're cleaned by puffing air on them to remove the dust, but one day they will have crumbled away to nothing.|
Afterwards we headed up to the South Downs and walked along the Way for half an hour of fresh air before heading home. It was a bit of a recce because I have a race along the South Downs Way next year and wanted to check it out.
Saturday, we shadowed Run Director Rob at parkrun. A friend of ours is establishing a new local parkrun and we've both offered to be Run Directors to help her manage it. It was interesting seeing the results side of the operation at work. It's reasonably straightforward, as long as all the info has been collected correctly during the run itself. I've done lots of volunteering at parkrun so am familiar with the various roles that happen during the actual run, but the collation and sending out of results behind the scenes was a new one to me and it was interesting seeing how it all worked.
Sunday was Blenheim 10k. I wasn't planning on running because I'd only just got back to 3 mile runs last week, then I realised there was a 5k option so changed my entry a few days before. A couple of the Hares were going too so we met up for some photos to send to the rest of the Hares via our WhatsApp group....
It was a glorious morning, bright and cool and clear once the mist lifted, perfect for running. The course is lovely, winding through the parkland of Blenheim Palace. We did the race last year and both really enjoyed it. This time I had planned to keep my time to 30 minutes, so 6 min/ kms, in view of my recent return to running. I managed quite well for the first two kms (5.59 and dead on 6.00) because I was running with Ali and we were talking. Km three is downhill and inevitably I was a little faster on that one (5.35). Then we came to an uphill bit and I decided to push on just a little bit because I like running up hills. It was at this point I got a bit carried away, running km 4 which passes in front of Blenheim Palace in 5.13. My blood was up by then and I was starting to feel like I should be overtaking the people in front, so I slightly lost the plot and did km 5 in 4.26. I finished three minutes faster than I should have done. Oops. Anyway, it was great fun and no pain in the hip, but it did serve to reinforce my feeling that I probably shouldn't enter shorter distance races because I find it hard not to run faster than is good for me. I reckon this is OK for 5k but probably not for 10k.
I collected my medal then went back to cheer M in (4th place) and then Ali and Jo. We'd all enjoyed it and decided we'd bring the rest of the Hares next year. There are some races that become firm favourites and there is a charm to this one. There is something about running through the parkland of a stately home. Before we went home M and I gave our medals to two little girls who were watching the races with their parents.
I'll leave you with a little person I've just found in the kitchen. I was upstairs hanging out washing when Ted came to tell me someone was indoors who shouldn't be. I've no idea how the blue tit found its way in, there have been scrabbling noises all morning in the downstairs part of the house but I couldn't locate the source. Anyway, a bit of window bumping occurred when I tried to open the windows and oosh her out, and she ended up sitting in the sink a little stunned. Luckily, after five minutes sitting on my hand she opened her eyes, gathered herself together and flew off into the garden with a chirp, so all is well. Aren't they beautiful?
Hope all are well?