Saturday 5 June 2021

Life Before Lockdown Part 4- An Unexpected Twist

Above: with my parents in George Square, Glasgow after the Men's Health 10k in June 2017.

6 months into 2019 and everything generally appeared to be going rather well. I was in a good place with my work and running, getting to the Queen's Park games when the opportunity allowed and had a decent enough social life with friends and family. I also enjoyed the balance of time to myself having acquired my own property in 2018.  A lingering concern however lay in the back of my mind.

My parents, my brother and I had booked 2 weeks in Majorca during the last week of June and first week of July. In the days before we departed, I felt that something wasn't quite right with my Mum. She was off colour. She always looked pale and in discomfort, complaining of stomach pain. Her mood was subdued when we flew out. However, she seemed to perk up once we hit Spanish soil, enjoying all of the perks that an all inclusive holiday provides with some colour returning to her cheeks. All seemed back to normal as we returned home. Or so we thought.

Above: Unwinding in Majorca, unaware of what lay ahead.

The weeks that followed saw a rapid deterioration in my Mum's condition. She struggled to keep her food down to the point where she was hardly eating anything. The same applied to fluids. Every time I visited her, she seemed to be in her bed. To say that I was getting worried would be an understatement.

Things came to a head over the first weekend in August. On the Friday I had a half day at work for the Paisley Fair holiday. The Kilmaurs 5k was that night with an early start (6.30pm), hastily rearranged from the Wednesday after flooding forced a postponement. The plan was to head home for a nap and freshen up and eat then attend the race like a human being. So much for that. I had an extremely stressful day and only had enough time to go straight to the race. In hot conditions, I did enough to win, holding off a determined challenge from Martin Brown (Kilmarnock Harriers). There weren't many people there that I knew and I hung about a bit aimlessly waiting for the prize giving. In hindsight, I shouldn't have bothered with the race because my mind was on my Mum.

On the Monday, a day off work, alarm bells truly rang when I phoned my Dad who told me not to pay a visit. My parents then didn't turn up that night for a family funeral. Phoning my Dad again, I learned that my Mum had been admitted to hospital and had undergone tests. She had a tumour in her bowel and would be having emergency surgery that Thursday. Until the tumour was removed, we wouldn't know if it had been cancerous. The very mention of cancer was chilling. My Mum? Surely not. Thankfully, even if it was, it hadn't spread. I visited her the following night and promptly wished I hadn't because it simply upset me. I held it together in the ward but, once behind closed doors at home, my composure deserted me. I didn't always get on with her or necessarily see her every day but, at the end of the day, it was still my Mum. For the first time ever, I contemplated the possibility of life without her. Amazingly, once I got it all out, I felt a whole lot better. As the saying goes, better out than in. My Dad had kept me company throughout my outpouring. Having come to terms with what was going on, we shared a cup of tea, a blether and even a few laughs about lighter topics before he wished me good night.

Quite how I got through the working day that Thursday, I don't know but I learned at some point that my Mum had come through her operation and was in recovery. To keep my mind occupied, I ran Bellahouston Harriers' latest 2 mile race, clocking 9:52, my second personal best of the year. I noted in my training diary that I had felt fresh and up for it but, more importantly, recorded getting my priorities right and staying on this time for the soup and roll included in the £2 entry fee. I got a lot of support from good people during this week which was warmly appreciated.

Progress with anything in life is never a straight line and my Mum was to remain in hospital for the rest of the month rehabilitating. It had indeed been cancer. Training didn't seem to suffer though race performances did. Martin Brown claimed my scalp back at the North Ayrshire 10k on a sweltering day in Saltcoats then I had below par runs in two track races, the Scottish 5000m (15:14) and a 3000m at one of Shettleston Harriers' Open Graded Meetings (8:52) two nights later. When I read back my training diary and see that I wrote of being emotional about my Mum before the latter race, you can maybe understand why I was slightly off key. Happier days were to come though.

On the last Friday in August, I learned that my Mum was being discharged from hospital that Monday. On the Saturday, I was competing in the Scottish Masters Track 10,000m in Carluke. On a wet and windy afternoon, my closest challenger in the race sought to shadow me the entire way. I was visiting my Mum that night and felt absoloutely determined to win this race for her. The first mile was 5:15, the next, 5:02 and the next 3, around 5:10 each. My challenger was still there and, in all honesty, his tactics were getting under my skin. I dug that wee bit deeper than I already had and churned out the last mile in 4:58, enough to win the race, and Scottish M35 gold, in exactly 32 minutes. Of all of my race wins, this is one of my most satisfying every time I look back on it given how hard I had to work and the emotion surrounding it.

Above: post race with clubmates, Stevie Wylie and Chris Upson, who won their respective age categories (M45 and M55) in the same race. Photo courtesy of Scottish Athletics.

Off I went to Hairmyres Hospital that night therefore with a trophy and a gold medal for my Mum (and the new chums she had made in the ward, patients and nurses alike) to see. The nurses had become familiar with us by now. They also learned that I enjoy my cups of tea because, when they did the tea run for the patients at night, they always offered me one as well. The patients were also allowed toast with their beverages. My Mum always refused the toast and I found myself tempted more than once to ask if I could take it instead. Waste not, want not surely? I never succumbed to the temptation I must say. As I got set to leave that night, in a poignant moment, my Mum, admittedly with some difficulty, got to her feet and walked me out the ward. I hadn't seen her standing up for almost a month. She was obviously getting better. I joked to my Dad that the party at home was soon to be over for him.

The remainder of 2019 would see a return to the happiness and contentment of the early part of the year, starting with a welcome weekend away.

Saturday 15 May 2021

Life Before Lockdown Part 3- A Period of Contentment, Until....

My result at the National represented how much of the following few months in 2019 panned out. The day after the race, I had tired legs and had also sprained my ankle in the latter stages which meant that I only managed a 5 mile jog. Not that it mattered because I had scheduled a rest week. I recorded having "a real feeling of satisfaction at having done myself justice at the National. I felt like the old me." I completed a 20 mile week with an outing at Ayr Parkrun, a place that you'll discover, in future articles, that I've become more and more familiar with. Toni had recovered from her calf injury and I popped down for a catch up at what was her first Parkrun post injury.

As indicated, I didn't have a lot to complain about for a while. Various highlights included:-

1. A 5 night warm weather training trip in the Algarve in March then coming back on time for my oldest friend's wedding (photo below). That was a 66 mile week, my highest since I last attempted the marathon in 2013. I did a few double sessions and one of my training diary entries for an evening run in Portugal reads "I didn't want the evening run to end. What running is all about. Flowing like a dream."

Above: with my brother (second right) and our lifelong family friends, Brian (next to me) and Alan Potts (next to my brother).

2. Later that month, being part of Cambuslang's gold medal winning team at the Scottish Road Relay. In saying that, I was quite peeved at being overlooked for a long leg. I put it out my head for long enough to clock a course best for the short leg. I had though taken the huff a little by stretching my legs at Strathclyde Parkrun the day before, hoping that no-one would notice. On arriving at the race however, the first thing that our long serving club chairman David Cooney asked me was "have you recovered from yesterday?" My time showed that I thankfully had. There are no secrets in running.

3. In April, running my first outdoor personal best for 18 months at Bellahouston Harriers Monthly 2 Mile Road Race (9:55). Admittedly, I hadn't competed in a 2 mile race since 2005 but they all count. There was also soup on offer afterwards but it had been a long day and I made a mental note for next time. All for just £2. On turning up, I enquired if non-members of Bellahouston Harriers were allowed to run. The response was "as long as you have £2." I love races like that.

3. Also in April, proving a point, to myself anyway, by running the club's fastest long leg at the English 12 Stage Road Relay. We achieved 15th place, our highest ever position in the race.

4. Getting to within 4 seconds of my 10,000m track personal best with 30:49 at the Scottish 10,000m (6th place). I had won medals in previous years but with slower times. There was no doubt that I was running well.

5. In May, being promoted to Associate Solicitor, with a salary increase, by my then employer and marking it with an all expenses paid dinner and refreshments in Glasgow.

6. In June, running a course best at the Kilmarnock Harriers organised Roon the Toon 10k to finish 3rd behind Calum Mackenzie and Richard Mair. Attending the post race hospitality at the Park Hotel with friends, Toni McIntosh, Scott Martin, Connell Drummond and various others afterwards rounded off a great day in fabulous company.

It wasn't all plain sailing but the hiccups were minor in comparison to my troubles of 2018. Running so fast at the Scottish 10,000m was a delight. Spraining both calves on the rock hard Crownpoint track surface and being in agony for a week wasn't so much.

Little did I know that my happy equilibrium was about to be threatened in a way that I hadn't thought possible.

Saturday 1 May 2021

Something Worth Seeking Out

Before continuing with my "Life Before Lockdown" series of articles, I shall have a brief pause to bring attention to a commendable venture of a friend pursued for a very worthy cause.

I became acquainted with Scott Martin of Kilmarnock Harriers a number of years ago. As far as I recall, we first encountered each other at the 2007 Isle of Arran Half Marathon, a significant race for me being my first ever road race victory. As time went on, as you do in the running world, we would meet at races and have a blether and, when Facebook became a thing, connected on there. We have also socialised on occasion outwith our sport. As well as running, we have a shared interest in following our respective football teams and, from what I have gathered, he, like me, enjoys a beer, at the correct times of course. Back in January 2020, I appreciated the pre-match pints he purchased for my Dad and I at Rugby Park though not so much the 6-0 drubbing his team inflicted on mine in the Scottish Cup tie that followed. I have forgiven him since.

During the first lockdown I became aware that Scott had a little writing project in progress. The result was a book, the cover of which is photographed below.

The publication of Scott's work has had the very positive spin off of raising money for Alzheimer Scotland. This is a cause very close to Scott's heart since his mother has lived with dementia for a number of years. The topic and its effect on the lives of mother and son are addressed throughout the book in a very thought provoking and touching manner.

The remainder of the book can be summed up as memoirs of an extremely varied and successful running career with many an amusing anecdote which I was able to relate to. It was the marathon that brought Scott into the sport and his improvement over the years has to be seen to be believed. It is apparent how much time and effort Scott has put into getting the very best out of himself, all the while looking after his mother and dealing with the other challenges life can throw at us in the background. I have made no secret of my aversion to the marathon so it is saying something that Scott's book put me in the mood to try one again. Only momentarily of course. The insights into his preparations and how he ran the races themselves gave me food for thought as to how I could do things differently whenever I get round to tackling the distance again.

I don't wish to divulge too much of the detail that the book contains because I think that it's best that people read it for themselves. Remember you will be contributing to an excellent cause in making the purchase. Scott can be contacted through Facebook. Alternatively, email me at the email address at the top of this blog with any requests and I will either liaise with Scott or put you in touch with him directly.

Happy reading and, if sufficiently inspired, happy running.

Friday 23 April 2021

Life Before Lockdown Part 2- Scottish National Cross Country Championships, 23rd February 2019

It's incredible to think back and recall how nervous I was about this race. I felt the nerves since the beginning of the week. The key thing is that you channel them properly. Hopefully I was able to do it on this occasion.

My record at the National since the second of my two 9th place finishes in 2013 had been patchy and read as follows:-

2014- failed to finish. I had struggled for the entire winter since the Dublin Marathon the previous October. My legs buckled on the first major climb at the opposite end of the pond and I dipped under the tape shortly afterwards. In all honesty, my heart wasn't in it from the start.

2015- I didn't run through choice after starting a new job and wanting to target something different that winter.

2016- Again, I didn't run, this time through a combination of an injury (sprained ankle) and illness (chest infection) in the weeks leading up to the race.

2017- 38th place in a complete and utter mudbath. I was so tired, I gave the club night out that evening a miss. I could hardly move.

2018- 24th place. On the face of it, this was a good result. However, losing 6 places in the final few hundred metres and my state of mind made it feel a lot worse.

At this point, I will confess to a guilty pleasure in life. I have had an on-off liking for WWE. My heroes have ranged from Hulk Hogan in my younger days to John Cena more recently. I totally understand that this is scripted entertainment. That said, I have often drawn on some soundbites, especially from John Cena's work, as sources of inspiration. Anyone portraying a character urging people to never give up and to give their best is good enough for me. The night before the race, I called upon a promo video before one of his big matches which referred to things such as going "to the top of the mountain." It did the job. It's a miracle that I slept.

My Dad and I had an inkling that something good was going to happen. I had trained well and the conditions were to my liking, Dry weather and a firm, hilly course. I'm never in the mood for socialising before the bigger races so, having collected my number and timing chip from the club tent, I quickly made myself scarce. I don't even warm up with company. It's just not for me. I'll chat and jog with anyone at all after the event. Not before though.

Not wanting a repeat of the Armagh debacle and knowing that the course veered right at the top of the first hill, I positioned myself so far to the right that I was clinging to the tape. I managed to keep out of harm's way and tried not to be too concerned about who was ahead of me. I'm very much of the view that it's where you are at the finish that counts. No medals are won in the first 100m but you can certainly lose the race in that time with around 10km still ahead of you.

Much like most of the wrestling I have enjoyed watching over the years, everything went to the script for the first two laps. I was working hard, well up the field and in good form. The atmosphere, particularly in the "tented village" area of the course was electric. You couldn't help but up your game a few notches. I had even fought my way up to 2nd Cambuslang Harrier.

Above: the second lap, focused and determined.

While not sharing it with anyone beforehand, I'd had a notional target of top 20 in my head. To earn team medals, your 6 counters, plus arguably the next few after that, need to be as high up the field as possible. I had taken no prisoners and run aggressively during the first two thirds of the race. I was doing my bit. In hindsight there was going to be an inevitable tailing off. Right at the beginning of the final lap, a Fife athlete unknown to me overtook. Don't panic, keep the head up. Thankfully the deluge of the previous year never happened. Later in the lap, Sean Fontana (Inverclyde) and another runner who I can't now recall also passed me by. From around the climb at the pond until the final corner, I lost no more. I had been in a ding dong battle with Conan McCaughey (Central) before he gradually opened a gap on me. Central were gunning to break our record of consecutive team gold medals. Both clubs were throwing everything at this race.

After negotiating the tented village for the final time, I started to anticipate the finish. Come on, it's a rep from your cross country training. You've done loads of those. A tight right hand turn takes you into the home straight. No way did I want half a dozen people to trample me this year. I didn't do those 200m reps two days before the race for nothing!

In the charge for the line, I was groaning in agony. Craig Ruddy (Inverclyde) came by. Fine, I can live with one person but no more. The finish line came with no more damage done. Safely through the funnel I lay flat on my face. I was totally exhausted and had left it all out there. It took some congratulatory words and a pull up from Dale Colley (Central) to get me to my feet and my Dad's helping hand to transport me to the club tent.

It turned out to be mission accomplished by the narrowest of margins. 20th place, 2nd club counter and a team silver medal. Central proved to be worthy winners of the team gold. No shame in that. Each club had given their best.

Above: Cambuslang's team silver medallists. From left to right- Alasdair Campbell, me, Iain MacCorquodale, Kevan Harvey, Ryan Thomson, Fraser Stewart.

It had been a fantastic result and a brilliant day. The full results can be found here. There was no missing the club get together that night. 

Days like this don't always happen but, when they do, the feeling is unbeatable. This was one of those occasions. They make our sport the pleasure that it is at the best of times.

Saturday 17 April 2021

Life Before Lockdown Part 1- 2018 Into 2019

To say that a lot has happened since I last updated this blog on a regular basis is a huge understatement. Even if the nightmare that life became in March 2020 hadn't occurred, the statement would still apply. I intend to pick things up from where I left off in the article, "Then You Open A Hotel...." (I haven't, things have never got THAT bad), summarise how 2019 panned out over a handful of articles then address the hellish existence that has been Covid 19. 

My Mum says that I have a brain like a sieve. I am therefore grateful to have my training diaries to jog my memory on a lot of the things I shall be writing about in the days to come.

2017 was a pretty good year....until a month before it ended. Unforseen non running events sent my life into a tailspin, wiping out the positivity of the previous 11 months. The aforementioned article will fill in the gap thereafter. How I managed it is a very long story and was down to the huge support of some great people but, as 2018 drew to a close, I had pulled myself together. I was running well again. I even churned out a track session of 12x500m with 100m jog recoveries in freezing fog at Crownpoint on Christmas Eve, my traditional run on Christmas morning and 12 High Point hill reps on Boxing Day. A tough year ended with the huge high of a time of 31:16 at the Ribble Valley 10km Road Race on 30th December, easily my most complete performance of the year. I can still remember my emotions at the finish. A great example of the sheer elation running can bring and how it can make things seem not so serious.

My last two 2018 training diary entries were two easy 6 mile runs. I had written the heading "Epilogue" on a new page after this but never ever wrote it. Why dwell on negatives? Instead, I closed the book on 2018 and opened 2019 with a fresh page.

Above: the conclusion of the Ribble Valley Race in December 2018.

Alas, I wasn't as fresh as the aforementioned metaphorical page on rolling up for the Beith Harriers New Year Road Race on 2nd January. I had the winner's trophy, the McLuckie Cup, to return from the previous year and had noticed from the engravings that I was one short of Laurie Spence's record of 5 wins. The race had been changed from its fast 4 lap industrial estate route of 4.5-5 miles to an undulating 10km and, coming only 3 days after Ribble Valley, it was just too much for me. Shettleston's Jamie Burns deservedly defeated me by 11 seconds as I struggled home in 2nd place with 33:09 on the clock. My friend Toni McIntosh also suffered a severe injury during this race and seeing how upset she was about it capped off a fairly flat day.

The festive period tends to be topsy turvy with little routine. That probably explains why I lined up for the Scottish Indoor 3000m Championships at the Emirates only 2 days later. Glutton for punishment. This was an emotional occasion for happier reasons. I found myself comprehensively outclassed in the fastest heat where the first 4 finishers broke 8 minutes. What mattered though was my time of 8:39.04 not only constituted a first personal best for 14 long months (I've run faster over 3000m outdoors but they all count) but also secured me M35 gold, my first ever individual Scottish title. I was bursting with pride after this and humbled by the social media reaction I received, including from Toni so soon after her own misfortune. I still treasure the medal more than many of the others.

That race took place on a Friday night. What about Saturday? You just have to relax and recover with a 16:50 clocking over 5km at Strathclyde Parkrun don't you? I did suggest that there was little routine to the week.

Above: feeling every step but sticking it out. James Donald of Dundee Hawkhill Harriers, since vastly improved, is on my shoulder before eventually beating me.

Things then settled down into my familiar work-running-watching Queen's Park routine. By the time of an old favourite race, the Renfrewshire 5 Mile Road Race in Greenock on 3rd February, I had completed 4 consecutive 60 mile weeks. I would complete one more the next week. As a traditionally lower mileage distance runner, this was a heavy workload for me. 

The week leading up to the race is interesting to read back on. Firstly, on 30th January, a Wednesday, I wrote that my car was in for a repair and I had run 9 miles from my work in Paisley (I don't work there any more, to be explained at a later date) to Busby. My Dad had suggested this. What a great idea. A new regular training run was born. On the following day I had a problem with my car and missed my run. Not to worry, I did my new run again on the Friday in the exact same time as the Wednesday before having a night out and a few pints at a comedy night at East Kilbride Sports Club with some friends. On Saturday I ran 8 miles during a session that I call the Mixed Grill. This is 1 mile easy, 2 miles hard, 1 mile easy, 8x1 minute hard 1 minute easy, then the remainder easy. One continuous run. No stopping at any stage. I do it occasionally as a fitness test. I completed it in 48:54 and wrote that I "had a level of contentment I haven't had for a long time." The contentment can be the only explanation for me finishing 3rd in 25:18 the next day in a blustery Greenock behind Sean Fontana and Dougie Selman but ahead of the likes of clubmate Gavin Smith and Craig Ruddy. I was though clearly fit as well. The race always falls around my Dad's birthday and the Covid situation has temporarily robbed us of a great father-son day out.

All this was leading to my major target of the winter, the Scottish National Cross Country on 23rd February. I did one more preparatory race, the Armagh 5km Road Race on the 14th. This would be my 6th time racing in Armagh since 2010 and, I am sorry to say, the least enjoyable. The race has grown from around 80 runners to over 200. The course is too narrow and simply cannot cope. I found myself boxed in and hampered at the start. For the record, I finished 106th out of 201 finishers in 14:57. My last kilometre of 2:57 was my quickest. That says all you need to know about the congestion. On the plus side, it was a pleasure again to see my good friends Charles and Jenny Bannerman from Inverness and I can't say that I didn't enjoy my post race pints of good Irish beer in the hotel bar (until 2.30am!). Sadly though, I would think twice about going back until athlete safety is given more of a priority by the organisers than it currently is. I voiced these concerns to them at the time.

Two days after Armagh, my Dad and I headed to Callendar Park, Falkirk where I did 7x3 minutes with 2 minute static recoveries as a pre-race recce. During the 21 minutes of efforts I covered 4 miles. Two days before the National I did a track session of 10x200m with 200m slow jog recoveries. One rep took 31 seconds, 2 were completed in 33 seconds and the remainder in 32 seconds. I wrote the following:-

"Short, sharp session to finish National preparation.

Feeling nervous, really hoping it can all come together.

Big race feeling. Time to leave it all out there and to reclaim some scalps."

My next article will describe how it all panned out.

Saturday 10 April 2021

Sources of Inspiration

Over the years, I have taken a lot of enjoyment and pleasure out of reading. I think that books are wonderful things. Whether it's fact or fiction, you can learn so much from them. Nowadays, technology provides us with so many forms of entertainment. I have never however been a big fan of the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime etc. You will rarely, if ever, find me having a "boxset binge." It's just not my thing. Give me a cup of tea (or even better, a pot) and a good book though and you will make me a happy person. I'm also not talking about electronic devices that store books. I mean physically having a book in your hand. 

Back in the good old days, up to early 2020, when we were allowed to partake in things called holidays, I would take two or three books away with me. There is no better way to pass the time at a poolside or in a coffee shop. The last time I managed to get away anywhere was a couple of nights in a country hotel in December 2019 when competing in the Ribble Valley 10km Road Race. On that occasion, I even sat by the fire in the bar with a couple of books (a biography of the late American comedian and actor Richard Pryor and, to provide some balance, that year's Broons annual) and a few pints after my dinner. I should add that I had already run the race earlier in the day! More on that in an another article in the not too distant future.

Where am I going with this? Well I'm not oblivious to the fact that this blog has not been updated often for some time. It's fair to say that we have all not had our troubles to seek over the last wee while! I've lacked the inspiration to write anything. In all honesty, a lot of the time, I just haven't felt like it. That was until the day I wrote this article when I received another book for my collection. A friend from Kilmarnock Harriers, Scott Martin, has commendably written one in support of Alzheimer Scotland. It looks like it will be a good read- I wait with baited breath to see if I'm in it. If he can perform such a selfless gesture, surely I can write a few words on this blog again every so often? Of course I can, and that's what I now intend to do. Thank you for the fresh inspiration Scott and I hope that your efforts raise plenty money for your chosen cause.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Lockdown Experiences

Driving to and from work. Doing a day's work in the office. Getting the train to work while relaxing with a book, picking up a cup of tea from Greggs on the way in and running home. Training with my club. Racing. Venturing to a Parkrun and socialising afterwards. Going to the football with my Dad. Going for a pint with my brother. Going out for a meal with my family. Having the occasional Sunday run "away day" down the Ayrshire coast. What have all of these activities got in common? They have all been off limits to me since 23rd March 2020.

Above: the football with my Dad in happier times.

None of us need any introduction to the perils of Covid 19 and the destruction it has caused to our daily lives. Offices, shops, pubs, restaurants, cafes, sports facilities, hairdressers/barber shops and schools all closed. Friends and family separated from each other. Thousands of people losing their jobs and even their lives. It has been nothing short of a catastrophe. Lockdown has had an effect on me too in many ways. I thought that sharing my experiences might help others.

From the outset, I would say that I know that I am far more fortunate than many. My heart goes out to everyone who has suffered in any way during this. The first impact on me was the cancellation of a holiday. On 14th March, I was scheduled to fly out to Portugal's Algarve region for 6 days to enjoy some warm weather training for the third consecutive year. While Covid 19 had not spread throughout the UK and there were no travel restrictions at that time, Portugal was in a state of alert. Concerned about bringing the virus home with me (especially with my Mum having just recovered from a life threatening illness) and having to "self isolate," I cancelled the trip and decided to have a week off at home instead. I got more than I bargained for.

Above: a previous trip to the Algarve in 2009, once the training had been done of course.

You could sense things were happening. My time off was cut short at 3 days to prepare for homeworking. Lockdown started on 23rd March. My old room at my parents' house became my new office. It certainly had its perks. A much shorter, traffic free commute (less than 2 minutes), no need for formal dress, no face to face client meetings. It also gave me the chance to tune into the Ken Bruce show on Radio 2 every morning. I have been a fan of Ken for at least 16 years since seeing him as a guest in Dictionary Corner on Countdown. I used to listen to the late Terry Wogan on the radio and soon realised that Ken was on after him. When I was in Sweden for 6 months in 2004 my Dad used to send me recordings of his show on cassettes. Ken has proven to be a tonic during homeworking. Great music and chat and a wee quiz called Popmaster every day at 10.30am. I strongly recommend it.

Over time however, things started to fray at the edges. Realising that we were in this for the long haul, my morale, motivation and mental health slipped. I received a pay cut and reduction to a 4 day week. There is only so much you can achieve outside the office and the frustration at the length of time even routine tasks took grew. I found myself making occasional twilight visits to the office (with no-one else there) to complete some tasks. It wasn't uncommon for me to be there at 8pm or later.

Eventually, at the beginning of June, I agreed to go on furlough for 3 weeks. To be taken out of the firing line for a while was welcome but it's not really a holiday when leisure options are so limited. The first couple of weeks were fine but by the third week I was thoroughly fed up and, yes, a little depressed. Relief came when I was told that I could not only return to work on 1st July (still on a 4 day week) but also be in the office if I wished provided that I kept my workspace sanitised. At the time of writing, I have been back for 3 days. The sense of normality it has brought is a godsend.

More generally, the whole situation has been a massive test of my mental health. I have addressed this topic elsewhere on this blog. I'm quite a private person but the loss of the opportunity to socialise with others when I feel like it has been a massive loss. I'm still training on Saturday mornings but wouldn't it be nice to get to a Parkrun one week? I love a good brunch after training but occasionally enjoying it in a cafe with others would be lovely. Saturday afternoons in the house listening to Off The Ball and Sportsound on Radio Scotland have become the norm. While not the worst way to pass an afternoon, it's no substitute for being at a race or going to see my team. A drink at home or at my parents' is good once in a while but it's nice to break it up with an evening at one of my locals in East Kilbride once in a while. A "virtual" race just does not have the same buzz or social aspect as the real thing. I guess what I'm trying to say is that lockdown has been horrible. I stay alone and have had a few periods of depression and loneliness. This has caused the very real worry of slipping back to the state I was in back in 2018. Friends, clubmates and work colleagues, you name it, I miss you all more than I can put into words.

Above: the Allan Scally Road Relay on 29th February and the Cambuslang Harriers 10km Road Race the following day, the last two occasions I did a real life race to date. Photos courtesy of Kenny Phillips.

As I write this, the virus seems to be getting suppressed, at least in Scotland, and restrictions are being eased. I'm mentally drained from hearing phrases like "social distancing" and "new normal." With regard to the latter, in no way do I wish the way that we are currently living to become normal. I don't want to resemble a bank robber when I go to the shops or get on a bus or train. When I meet someone I want to greet them with a hug or handshake. I have no desire to watch sport played out without spectators. I wish to see people physically in person, not on a screen. I certainly would be grateful to see more tolerance and respect in society than there was previously. Otherwise, Covid 19, please give us our lives back.

I have grown to love a beautiful song by The Adventures called Broken Land. I became aware of it when Ken Bruce played it one day. It contains a line which beautifully sums up my feelings about this year's events- "where I stand, I see a broken land." I hope and pray every day that it is fixed sometime soon.