“The Philosopher’s Pupil” round-up and “The Good Apprentice” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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I so enjoyed this one, staying in my Top 5 (thank goodness) but with me creeping past the main characters in age once again … Here’s my review with the usual comments and discussion. Jo has done her usual excellent review on Goodreads and I’m so enjoying watching her read them all for the first time while most of the rest of us are re-reading.

No cover image from Peter this month because weirdly, the US Viking first edition had exactly the same cover as the Chatto and Windus one here in the UK. We think the next one is different, though. If you have any juicy paperbacks, do send me covers to include as I love seeing all the different ways the books are interpreted. Did you notice that on the new Vintage cover, the stones all have the waves from “The Sea, The Sea” around their bases?

I always welcome reviews after the month I happen to have read the book, so do comment away if you’re coming to this at some other time! It’s always good to talk about Iris Murdoch!

A thought: I was considering collecting these 26 essays, plus an introduction and concluding thoughts, into a small book and making it available via Amazon, as I did with my research a few years ago. Should I, or keep it to this blog?

“The Good Apprentice”

I have always really enjoyed this one and its different locations of London and Norfolk. I have three copies still, however Vintage for some reason didn’t re-print it in one of their nice red-spined editions; I didn’t have a modern copy so bought their one from their last round instead.

The 1986 Penguin (so the first I would have bought when it came out, having discovered IM that year, although I didn’t write in it so don’t know exactly when I bought it) is SO 1980s, isn’t it! Not sure what era the rather alarming first edition is capturing. Rorschach butterfly to go with the face on the front, anyone?

And when I opened this copy from a book dealer, there were loads of random stamps inside!

Bruno would approve, right?

Anyway, the blurbs: a good, full one in the first

The Penguin paperback went for more of a reviews by other people approach:

… although with some echoes in the language in the main blurb. The Vintage goes for:

which kind of blends the two. Intrigued?

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Good Apprentice” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

Book review – Steve Haywood – “Narrowboat Dreams” #20BooksofSummer #amreading

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Another book ticked off my 20 Books of Summer list! I didn’t have an awful lot of work on this week, plus it was really hot, so I spent quite a lot of time reading in the shade in the garden or in the cool sitting room, and have made better progress with my list.  This one was from the back shelf, as it was one of the more recent acquisitions (of course, I’ve acquired even more books since I made my list, so they’re coming out of the section about 3/4 of the way along, argh!). I’m reading the next one now, although also reading another Shiny review book.

Steve Haywood – “Narrowboat Dreams”

(BookCrossing, from Gill, 20 May 2019)

Subtitled “A Journey North by England’s Waterways”, he takes advantage of the re-opened canals around Huddersfield and other bits of the North (although they have some teething troubles, he carefully states at the end that he’s been through a few times since and they’re fine now). He’s written a few other books about boating and does seem to hanker after the old days before there was so much red tape and pleasure cruising, bemoaning all the heritage signs now springing up, and I felt this was a shame as the canals are now, for example, a lovely resource in Birmingham for runners, walkers and cyclists, giving relatively well-maintained and safe green corridors to explore. He likes a manky city canal and I can’t fault him there, and there are good descriptions of other boaters and people around the canals, told with humanity and respect.

He says early on that the journey will push him to his limits and change his life – I actually discussed this with Gill, who read it before me, today and we were a little nonplussed by this. He does hurt his ankle badly and has to rely on the kindness of strangers, and is also moved when the canal community finds out about his mother being unwell and checks he’s OK, but there’s no real statement of how that’s changed his life (nor does there need to be, of course; the canal stuff was fine on its own, but if you say your life was changed …).

I was pleased to learn that winding holes are wind as in the thing that blows, not as in what you do to wool or a bobbin, as boaters let the wind help their boats turn (but is this true??) and I also enjoyed his defence of writing about a smaller journey and how that kind of adventure is just as important as the big, worldwide ones.

This book was number 6 in my 20 Books of Summer project.


I’m currently reading Harriet Harman’s excellent autobiography, “A Woman’s Work”, and am just starting “The Seafarers” by Stephen Rutt, a beautiful book for review for Shiny about seabirds. Good times!

Sedate lady running 22-28 July 2019 #amrunning #running

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Second recovery week done and getting back down to normality, although I did overdo it slightly.

First of all, thanks to everyone who popped over to my friend Bernice’s blog post about her experience of Race to the Stones here – she was overwhelmed by the messages!

Tuesday – It’s been hot all this week (until the weekend) and I left it that little bit too late to go out for a run in the morning. For a start, the window cleaner came and I didn’t want to leave when he was there or have the alarm on full and have him set it off banging on the front window again! So I went out close to 11 am and did some hot walk-run miles. I tried to take a photo of the hot Liz that ensued, but my selfie camera insists on beautifying everything so I came out slightly highlighted! The expression is real, however!

At least you get a nice view of our new sliding door to our boiler cupboard, right?

3.1 miles, 12:01 mins per mile

Wednesday – Dave Yoga, I just got really hot doing this even though the aircon was on and had to lie down for a bit of it. Done, though. And I finally stopped being quite so horrendously tired.

Thursday – Planned better this time – the temps went up to NINETY-THREE in the Midlands (this is unheard-of) but when I went out at 6am to run with Jenny it was actually very pleasant, only 60 and quite fresh. We did our usual route.

4.0 miles, 12:33 mins per mile (mile 3 we walked a lot up the hills, at my request. Still not quite back on it)

Friday – Claire yoga was very nice and restful. I haven’t worked much this week, more hanging around and reading, so a good end to the week.

Saturday – I covered running club’s 7.5-mile half marathon training run. We offer runs to train for the Birmingham half-marathon every year, aimed at people new to running distance. We don’t offer our usual 4-mile route but still do beginners’ sessions. This rota, I’d asked to do beginners’ only, as the groups typically go faster than the advertised 12-13 minute miles, and I feel I’m not offering them a great experience if I really can’t keep up with them (this happened last year). However, the person down to do Beginners’ had a 20-mile marathon training run on Sunday, so I felt I could offer the longer distance, and did so.

I prepared the way as soon as it was announced I was leading: when I shared the route, I also shared that I would be leading from the back, I explained we could use loop-backs to keep together and a diagram.

Yes, I know their hair disappears, yes, B and C are meant to reverse, showing there’s one group of mixed runners and one fast one

I also reiterated when we met up that people were free to go ahead if they wanted to as long as they were in pairs or more and let me know they’d got round OK. Everyone agreed, and I also handed out laminated lists of the roads for the route, so if people were ahead, they could see where to go:

it was POURING with rain so I needed to laminate them! Lovely Trudie came along to keep me company and I did just about manage to keep up, although I lost them at about 5.75 miles, which was the easy part of the route back home. I managed to have them do about 4.5 miles of the actual (complicated, wiggly) course, although missed one tiny road without a road name (this will be easier when they’re following thousands of other runners). They were all there at the end and told me they’d done their stretching! Lovely Trudie took a pic of two drenched runners …

A little damp

I was tired for the rest of the day, however, and I had to walk home rather than running. I’d run there, so I covered 8.5 miles in total.

0.6 miles, 11:18 mins per mile / 7.9 miles, 12:43 mins per mile (last 0.9 14:37 uphill)

Sunday – My enhanced DBS check had come through, allowing me to work with children and vulnerable adults, etc., so I sat down today to do my Safeguarding course, which I also needed to renew my Run Leader and Athletics Official licences. It wasn’t a fun course, quite upsetting in places, but I pushed through and did it, with 100% on each of the two tests. Phew! So now they should automatically send me my new licence, including my Level 1 Field qualification.

Weekly total 15.6 miles. Total this year 617.8 (I need 583.3 at the end of this month to be on track for my 1,000 miles in a year total)

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Philosopher’s Pupil” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Well, this was the fifth time at least that I’ve read this book (I recall taking it on holiday to Greece and reading it in the reception area of a Turkish hammam on a day trip while my husband was being pummelled and terrified (he thankfully didn’t end up exploring any bubbling pipework below the baths!)). Yet again, I’ve aged past the characters’ ages. Yet again, things that I thought happened in the middle happened at the end and there wasn’t as much of some themes as I’d remembered. But my goodness, this one stays firmly in my Top Five.

If you’re doing the readalong or even selected books along with me, or of course some time afterwards, do share how you’re getting on and which have been your favourites so far.

Iris Murdoch – “The Philosopher’s Pupil”

(31 December 2018)

I absolutely loved re-reading this book. I think it’s her most “George Eliot-ish” novel, isn’t it – is that a sacrilege to say? The huge web of characters, the interconnected society, the whole world in one town, the omniscient narrator who occasionally addresses the reader directly …

It opens of course with that seminal scene of Bad George crashing his car into the canal, complete with wife Stella. Oddly, I always associate this scene with “An Accidental Man”, probably because of the car crash there, and also George is a bit of an unlucky man making his own bad luck, like Austin Gibson Grey, in my opinion. And the shadowy figure of the dodgy priest, Father Bernard is there, as he always seems to be  and is indeed at the end at the scene of George’s other big misdeed – a funny touch when you’re re-reading and know just how much he worms into people’s lives. And we very soon find that our narrator is N (with “the assistance of a certain lady” as he admits at the end, p. 558). What will happen to Stella now George has tried to kill her, if he has? Is his old university tutor coming back, and will he want to see him? Just who does Rozanov want to install in a quiet house and why? The community acts as a sort of chorus as events unfold, with a sub-plot of a restaging of a peculiar opera going on at the same time.

The big Murdochian themes are all there, with the novel starting with “malignant rain” and a car in a canal and punctuated by the baths and Lud’s Rill, the geyser in the grounds, worried over by the superbly sketched in director of the baths.  We have a lot of being outside, looking in, mainly to do with the Slipper House, which Tom does a dry run for his later peering early in the novel when it’s still empty, but with Pearl looking in to Belmont and Ruby staring at Maryville, the house by the sea. In case we’re missing someone climbing over a fence by having the back gate to Belmont’s garden open, Gabriel sees the mysterious naked man climbing over one. George follows Diane three times before he finds her properly (and she’s searched for in Paris, too). Big flabby faces with wet mouths are represented by Rozanov, slippery hair in plaits and buns by Hattie. Stones are found in Hattie’s soapstone seal, Gabriel’s malachite egg she buys for Adam and hides and the stone circle at which strange things are seen, Rozanov is upset to see have been cleaned, and where George has his ‘episode’. There’s also talk of rocks that the hot spring comes out of, although only the surface ones around Lud’s Rill are visible.

Animals are beautifully represented by the mysterious foxes and the lovely Zed, a full character in his own right with his own thoughts, emotions and reactions. Who doesn’t have their heart in their mouth when he goes into the sea, even knowing what will happen? What a fantastic character who makes the book in the same way the parrot does in “The Book and the Brotherhood”.

The little ‘feminist’ touches are back in this novel, something I’ve completely missed in every other reading of all of them but am increasingly noticing now (and although Alex is a bit haggard and yellowy, the descriptions of her ageing are not nearly as horrible as those in many others of the novels). Gabriel has a year in secretarial college but wants to go to a university, before she is “overtaken by marriage. Now who and what was she? Brian’s wife, Adam’s mother” (p. 60). This is on top of her other “chief grievance”: “Brian’s selfishness to which she quietly gave in, forgiving though not forgetting” (p. 60). The feminist sector of society, while gently mocked, are I think seen as a force of good, trying to help Diane and Stella.

Like with the ageing, IM seems to have relaxed a bit on her views on marriage in this novel: although the marriages of the two older McCaffrey brothers are not successful as such, there are not so many damning statements on the condition, and we have positive hopes of Tom’s. The only real statement is this rather lovely one:

It is a feature of marriages, including happy ones, that two people who live together may have quite false ideas of one another. This does not at all necessarily lead to disaster or even inconvenience. (p. 546)

There’s a lot of religion of course, including religion lost (Alex and Rozanov’s Methodism,Father Bernard’s Judaism and then high Anglicanism. But Adam is a pantheist and Alex makes little fetishes, while Father Bernard carries on practising after his faith is lost and ends up feeling he needs to explain NOT-religion to everyone in Greece. And the books – both George and Rozanov are writing books which are, of course, unfinished. The only completed book is the one N writes! In fact, Rozanov has lost all interest in books, including perhaps his own, made clear in a melancholy description of his state of mind: “Unless one is a genius, philosophy is a mug’s game” (p. 132)

The humour is back, having been a little missing at times in the last read. The descriptions of the townsfolk and their habits are droll:

It is even alleged that people make a habit of leaving their offices early at four-thirty, bathing and resting until six and then proceeding to the pub. I have met some of these offenders myself. (p. 32)

I also loved this description of Brian:

Of course compared with George he was ‘nice’, but he was not all that nice. (p. 43)

The descriptions of Emma’s startling counter-tenor voice are also most amusing, with windows opening in London and glasses ringing in Ennistone when he produces it, and who can not giggle at Father Bernard’s consternation at having “managed to chuckle in a suggestive way” (p. 239) when phoning Hattie and then his struggles when he has his academic session with her: “Father Bernard was excited too, but not by the grammatical quest” (p. 261). The set-piece where four people watch George going to re-enact his scene by the canal is also very funny.

And what IS Mrs Bradstreet’s terrible secret?

There’s duality all over the place – the Slipper House and the main house, the brothers (well, three brothers), George’s wife and mistress, Alan’s two wives (and Fiona has a brother who has also died), two servants (and three cousins), the town and the baths, the town and London, the UK and America, Lud’s Rill and the controlled bath house, the young people and the old guard. Nesta regards the babies in the baths and can’t help being enchanted; George wants to drown them and indeed thinks of that when completing his own ‘drowning’ of his tutor. Zed appears to be a bag on the lawn of Belmont and a plastic bag floating in the sea.  We have portents, as well – George sees the number 44 everywhere.

Who is the saint and who the enchanter? Well, John Robert Rozanov is the obvious enchanter – everyone he meets ends up doing things that they often really do not want to do in order to please him. He even enchants his own grand-daughter. However he is conscious of using his powers and so he’s not entirely classic enchanter material:

Father Bernard detested walking, but he was already himself captured and caged. (p. 162)

Being so concentrated on was beginning to give tom a panicky feeling of being trapped. He wanted to get up and lean on the mantelpiece, or open the door into the hall. But he could not move. he was fixed by John Robert’s glare and John Robert’s purpose. (p. 271)

William Eastcote is described as being a saint, repeatedly, and he’s the person people want to go and confess to and ask for help. He never gossips and this is because of his “virtuous austerity” (p. 414) although he’s all too painfully human, reminded of his mortality constantly. The McCaffreys think of him as “‘a place of healing'” (p. 473). He’s also the only Quaker to speak in a meeting that’s described. His speech there is a sort of ‘how to be good’ bringing in themes from all the other books. People should print it out and regard it daily. I might do so!

Let us then seek aid in pure things, turning our minds to good people, to our best work, to beautiful and noble art … Shun the cynicism which says the our world is so terrible that we may as well cease to care and cease to strive, the notion of a cosmic crisis where ordinary duties cease to be and moral fastidiousness is out of place. (p. 205)

I wonder if he, like Charles Arrowby’s father in “The Sea, The Sea” is a portrait of IM’s father (although I say I don’t like looking for that sort of stuff, he is reminiscent of his portrayal, I feel). The other saint is poor put-upon Gabriel, with an angel’s name, a ministering touch and unfortunate floppy hair. Critically, she is described as “the silliest wettest human-being I’ve ever met” (by Alex, p. 485), a bit like Anns Perronet and Cavidge, although, like them, she doesn’t live in a mess (maybe female saints don’t?) and is really good at mending things. Is there an argument for Stella with her lack of feminine wiles and inability to “conceal her strength” (p. 79)? She has netsuke, after all, and a father in Japan …

Attention is a theme although not pushed unsubtly. N is the only person who looks at Stella’s netsuke, and all George wants is to be paid attention to by Rozanov.

Looking at links to other books, poor old Alex, stranded in a relic of her past life reminds me of Henry’s mother in “Henry and Cato”. Like her, Aliex has had her faithful retainer since her teens. As I said, George reminds me of Austin, the “Accidental Man”, and of course even more than this we are given a tiny glimpse of Hugo Bellfounder, Jake’s confidant in “Under the Net”. On p. 82 we’re told “He kept up with William Eastcote and with an eccentric old watchmaker with whom he had philosophical conversations” and then later, we find he’s died: “‘What about all those valuable clocks?’ ‘He left them to that writer, I forget his name'” (p.99) (in the introduction, Malcolm Bradbury claims this is IM (p. xvi). But surely it’s Jake?). Again with “Under the Net” is it chance that Rozanov pursues quarries of lines of thought into nets (p. 135)?

The car going into the canal and the fine balance of the act reminds me of Rain’s Morgan going into the river in “The Sandcastle”. As my lovely commenters pointed out regarding “Nuns and Soldiers” we are at a time of change here – Ruby is restive, Rozanov is back, and there’s a periodic uprising to do with Lud’s Rill which makes everyone go a bit odd. Diane with her cluttered room and odd clothes is all the prostitute/mistresses in the oeuvre, her boyish hair and figure perhaps a clue to how some of the other genderfluid women might have ended up. Mistaking French is in there, this time actually not understanding at all (p. 145). Like in “Nuns and Soldiers”, Tom like Tim undergoes trial by water and emerges changed and grown. Like in “An Accidental Man” and “Nuns and Soldiers”, Tom and Rozanov pass each other in The Crescent but don’t notice each other.

Looking forward through the remaining works, the obsession with the old tutor prefigures “The Book and the Brotherhood” and I was excited to find George post-stones described as “weak and pale like a grub in an apple” (p. 547) as this prefigures Stuart Cuno in “The Good Apprentice” being described as a white grub (more than once?). She must have liked and retained the image.

On rereading this one in particular: so everyone’s in their early 40s apart from (maybe) N, and definitely Alex, William Eastcote (sob!) and John Robert Rozanov. So I’m older than them again. But this time I do still have kind thoughts towards the young crowd, where I went off them in other books. I remembered a lot of the set pieces and being somehow obscurely almost in love with N, but somehow thought that Tom’s adventure among the pipes was a lot further back in the book than it was (and also John Robert’s demise). I also thought there were lots more walks with philosophy for Rosanov and than there actually were. Odd, isn’t it!


Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.

Book review – Neil Gaiman – “Norse Mythology” and @ShinyNewBooks review #20BooksOfSummer

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Today I have a Shiny New Books review to share and another #20BooksOfSummer book completed – progress on all sides although I still have some reviews to get submitted. My review of Michael J Benton’s “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” is out now on Shiny New Books (here) and it’s perhaps more serious and scientific than my more emotional reaction to the book that I shared here previously. Anyway, a really enjoyable book and one I highly recommend for the dinosaur-lover in your life.

Now to remove one from the TBR picture shown here …

Neil Gaiman – “Norse Mythology”

(22 May 2018)

A retelling of the Norse myths by the great purveyor of fantasy and general all-round National Treasure – and it’s well-done and serious, paying close attention to the sources and taking pains to explain in the notes what he used for which sections. I also liked the introduction, where he describes finding the myths, first through comics, then through Roger Lancelyn Green (he mentions Green and Kevin Crossley-Holland as master storytellers who he had to look away from when compiling this book; I read Crossley-Holland’s version of the myths a while ago), and his telling is more straightforward and less inventive than, for example, Joanne Harris‘ although the ending does have some interesting and different details. I also like that he states he wishes he could tell stories of the goddesses but that only a fraction of the mythology remains, and their stories have been lost.

In Gaiman’s unmistakable voice, I’m sure this will become a worthy classic. It hits all the right marks and tells all the right stories.

This was Book 5 in my #20 Books of Summer (I’d better get a move on, right?)


I’ve just finished Iris Murdoch’s “The Philosopher’s Pupil”: what an almost perfect book, so wonderful. No idea how I’m going to review it. Then it’ll be either another review copy or another 20 Book of Summer …

Sedate lady running 15-21 July 2019 #amrunning #running

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A week of recovery then getting back on it – hooray!

First of all, in the unlikely event you didn’t catch it, my race report from Race to the Stones Day 2 50k is here, and also my lovely friend Bernice, who I did it with, has written her very first blog post about her own experience of the race (with the odd additional photo of me I didn’t include and the cutest ever pic taken by my husband of her little lad running to her) here – it would mean a lot if the odd person from the link-up or other readers could pop over and read it/drop her a comment. She was amazing, running through the pain and always cheerful!

Monday – I had booked today and Tuesday off work (should have booked more days!) and felt generally OK, a bit stiff, had a blister on the inside of my right big toe (which has since healed fine) and a slightly black nail on the toe that’s been a bit upset nail-wise since about Feb 2018. Not too bad! I had a coffee with Gill in the morning and showed her my medal (of COURSE) and then went to see Ben 401 marathons man do a talk about his new venture (if you are in the US and in or near a state capitol, please follow him and check out where he’s running a marathon near you; he’s my major marathon inspiration) at the cricket ground in the evening (fortunately lovely Abi drove me there and back, I also saw running club friends and met the legendary Usingh Bolt, a lovely man from Aldridge who has been doing some epic fundraising and is running John o’Groats to Land’s End really soon (page here).

A great evening and glad I managed to get there.

Tuesday – Slightly exhausted by having a man round to cut our hedges – much needed and good timing on a day off but I did have a bit where I just wanted … to … sleeeeeeeep …

Wednesday – Went to Easy Dave Yoga – I’d warned him I might need to just lie down but I managed quite a lot of the moves, although anything involving my quads was a bit sore (I seemed to use them to pick up my feet rather than my hips and glutes towards the end of the race!). Really lovely to be back moving though.

Thursday – After all the work on the house interior, my friend Claire (of London and ultra training fame) kindly took me to the rubbish dump with a load of plastic and cardboard. I wanted to run today but was shattered after the tip run, so no!

Friday – My present to myself arrived and I was really pleased with it. From a maker on Etsy, Pendant4yourThoughts, I realised the necklace with five names on could be customised totally, so had it made to have my five endurance runs – Reykjavik Marathon, Birmingham Marathon, my DIY Birmingham Marathon, Liverpool R’n’R Marathon and Race to the Stones. I was really chuffed with how it came out:

It’s nice to have that to draw a line under endurance races. I will continue running of course, but it will be nice to do it around my officiating work for a bit (I had to miss day two of one meet because I needed to do a long training run) and just for fun!

Sunday – I felt ready to go for a run, so I took the opportunity to join Jenny for a pre-breakfast trot around our local area – one of our standard runs we do a lot, which felt good. In fact, running up to meet her at her end of the road that links our addresses, I got a PB on a strava segment I was running for the 44th time!! I was sensible though, jeffed with Jenny (3 mins running 30 sec walking) and then ran home for a total of four very happy miles.

Shadow Liz in leafy Moseley

The sun was up but only low still

4 miles, 12:43 mins per mile

Weekly total 4 miles. Total this year 602.2 (I need 583.3 at the end of this month to be on my 1,000 miles in a year total)

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

Book review – Vassos Alexander – “Don’t Stop Me Now” #amreading @RunBookshelfFB @VassosA

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Don't Stop me Now Vassos Alexander

Proof of RTTS breakfast reading

My lovely friend Cari sent me this in a parcel of books very recently – we’ve been reading friends for well over a decade and since she’s started running, running/reading friends, and there has always been a flow of books between us. Even though I have reading plans and challenges to do, given the circumstances of doing my first ultramarathon this past weekend, I pulled it from the shelves to take with me for that essential very-early-morning pep-talk read. And it worked well! So thank you, Vassos, for a great book which helped me through that morning and was fun recovery reading, too.

Vassos Alexander – “Don’t Stop me Now: 26.2 Tales of a Runner’s Obsession”

(05 July 2019: BookCrossing)

Based around the 26.2 miles of the marathon at the end of his first Ironman triathlon, one chapter per mile, and the frankly hideous time he had, explained by various errors he made, this also covers his journey into running and also pieces by different runners and their own stories, from Olympic medallists to a random man he collided with on a bridge and his own children. As a sports journalist he’s had access to some greats, and it’s lovely to see favourites there.

I hadn’t realised when I picked it up to take with me that he actually did Race to the Stones as his own first ultra, but when I did realise, I quickly leafed through to that section and gained some last minute inspiration, how lovely and appropriate was that? Talk about reading books in the place they’re set!

I really liked the honesty of both Alexander and his interviewees – from Donovan Bailey, the sprinter’s, new respect for endurance runners in the midst of hurt after a long run to Alexander’s own desperate toilet break (if there’s one thing runners love it’s a toilet story). I also liked his use of the well-known term “hangry” (crossly hungry) and the previously unknown “runpy” (lack of a run grumpy), the latter of which I am indeed right now myself.

An entertaining book, there are always new tricks of the trade to pick up or mistakes to avoid, and I liked the context of his work reporting on sports allowing him to run in all sorts of different places.

 

Book review – Cressida McLaughlin – “The Cornish Cream Tea Bus” @fictionpubteam @CressMcLaughlin #NetGalley

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The Cornish Cream Tea BusI downloaded this book from NetGalley a few days ago, and, worried that my review level was going to slip below 80%, popped it on my Kindle for my train journey down to and recovery from my Race to the Stones ultramarathon experience. And it was exactly right for that situation, a light and fun read but well-written and with a nice independent and resourceful heroine with good friends. And set in good old Cornwall, of course.

Charlie inherits a Routemaster bus from her beloved uncle: he used it for Cotswolds tours but she decides to combine it with her love of baking and create a mobile cafe. I really liked how it didn’t all go right for her immediately: she had to work hard and call in help, and still got stuck in mud and had a disaster at her first fair. It was more realistic to have the issues and not be able to sort them out herself immediately. She ends up on the North Cornwall coast, staying with friends (and taking her dog into their two-cat household: all pets are fine and never in any kind of peril – thank you for that, Cressida!), and then the novel kicks into what appears to be a current genre – regenerating a tired seaside town. Which is fine, as there’s loads of detail and substance and it doesn’t all happen overnight, and thought has gone into what happens when an incomer tries to make everything better.

There’s romance, of course, with a kind mobile cocktail man vying for Charlie’s attentions with the local bad guy, Daniel from that fancy spa up the hill. Of course there are misunderstandings and worries, there’s a strand about coercive control (not named as such) and gaslighting which I’m always pleased to find mentioned in a place where probably only women will look and might give someone some information they need. And there is a lot about the community and local families running their businesses as well as the romance stuff. Yes, the ending is a bit dramatic but the edge is taken off with some humour and all in all it’s a charming and attractive and very readable book, and I would definitely watch out for others by this author.

Thank you to HarperCollins publishers for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review.

Race Report – Race to the Stones 2019 2nd Day 31 mile / 50 km ultramarathon

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Here at last is my race report – sorry if it’s a bit garbled as I’m still recovering!

Training

Although I bought Krissy Moehl’s book on Ultrarunning I realised it was A Bit Much, with 5-6 runs a week and loads of strength training. Knowing I’d undermine myself if I tried to follow that and panicked, instead I booked a marathon for 6 weeks out, reasoning that I knew how to train for a marathon and could then bridge the gap with some surface-specific training. So I booked, trained for and ran the Liverpool Rock’n’Roll marathon at the end of May (report here). Then it was time to do the trail thing (argh!) – this was the thing that scared me most as I am very much a conservative road runner. Bernice and I did the Bumble Bimble trail 10 miles together on 16 June (report here) and although I spent a bit of time worrying about not having got a really long one in (Bernice did 18 miles that day running to the race!) actually it prepared me well for some of the surfaces. I ran on the canals where it goes non-tarmacked and round the back of the rugby club where it’s like cat litter and gravel, and we took a road trip to the actual route on 23 June (included in this post – have a look at the surfaces there, too) and did 14 miles out and back, covering 7 miles of the 31. This was excellent and prepared us very well.

I’d been really really calm all week, weirdly. Not worried, somehow. I knew I could do the distance, and the Bimble Bumble had used up a lot of my fear. So I thought.

Preparation

We went down to Swindon the night before and stayed in unfortunately not-great serviced apartments – Bernice and Mitch’s wasn’t ready when they arrived (they had spent some time at the half-way point cheering friends through) and they and their son had to camp out in our flat while it was sorted out. Not ideal. Then I had tuna pasta cooked by Matthew, but it was very hot in the flat and it was near a nightclub so NOT a good night’s sleep.

I did a kit-lay / Flat Liz the night before and sorted bags into on the day – food and clothes for Matthew to bring to meet us – food and clothes for the end. COMPLICATED!

The day

I got up at 3.15 am (hooray) and had a Shreddies and oats breakfast (brought in a portion from home) and read a bit of Vassos Alexander’s “Don’t Stop me Now” – in which he does the whole of what we were doing half of. I had a messenger chat with Cari, who sent me the book, who was up as she was in New York.

We met outside just after 5 and set off, avoiding drunk girls lying in the road! Thanks for all the driving, Mitch! I’d left my number off till we got there and promptly dropped one of the safety pins they’d provided.

Fortunately there was an info stand with many, many more. We were looking for clubmate Colin but he’d already set off, but we did see Ben from the 401 Foundation – it’s his fault I ran my first marathon but seriously, he’s a massive inspiration and when he told me at the Running Show in Jan that he was doing this, along with his fab mum-in-law Pat and other family and friends, it made me feel loads better about the race (see my review of his book and explanation of his influence on my own running journey here).

 

Gosh, I look scared. I WAS scared. Bernice is much better than me at doing The Things so as well as necking a Gu caffeine gel in amusing fashion … I got a photo at the start …

Photo by Bernice

… we did the thing with the frame (it wasn’t raining, just misty and a bit dimpsy) …

Photo by Mitch

… and the thing with the big square. I never did this in Liverpool and was sad, so thank you, Bernice, for getting me doing this!

Photo by Mitch

Then it was quite casual, you could just start. Said goodbye to the boys, had a small briefing from a nice man then we were OFF. All pics were sent to us free by the way – a nice touch.

And off we went, weirdly, trotting along. Well, I got a tiny stone in my shoe after a mile so we got rid of that. It was quite busy, with faster runners coming past us etc. In about 8k we got to Pit Stop 1. The pit stops were amazing, all the food (watermelon!!), all the water to top up with, nurses in a tent sorting feet out… Bernice had her old blister taped professionally here and we ran into Ben and had a chat, then I talked to a chap in a Help for Heroes vest before we carried on.

We got onto the bit we knew around the White Horse of Uffington. Here it fell apart slightly for me. We got on a downhill section where it was very rutted, the ruts weren’t straight but faded in and out in an alarming fashion, and lots of faster people were barelling down the flattest bit (as was their right, of course) and I ended up with some of them between me and Bernice (not her fault) and on the other, cambered, rut, getting more and more panicky. So of course I turned to a bush and had a cry. Immediately five or six other ladies were upon me checking I was OK and offering all the sweets and water, so, so lovely. And I was OK and carried on.

Here we also picked up a lovely woman called Tess who was struggling with her knee, and we took her with us and looked after her for a bit. And we’d asked the boys to meet us near the car park we’d used in our recce and there they were!! Bernice changed into her road shoes here as the trails were rubbing. I felt OK and stuck with the comfort of my Saucony Peregrines. They’re a hybrid shoe so a bit more cushioned and supported than a true trail shoe but with grippy lugs. I love them so much. Even if my heels hurt a bit now.

Me and Matthew, at the earthworks at Uffington.

At 10 miles in we were 3 hours on the road, so I predicted a finish of 10 hours plus (hoping for less but knowing we would slow down).

On and on we went, more pit stops, more watermelon, more wees, more topping up. At one point (and to be honest I’m not sure all these pics are in completely the right order now) we went over the M4, as you do …

We had long bits on chalk paths undulating away, all the other runners in front and behind, which was amazing. Here I am leading us on / holding everyone up (YOU decide) with Tess behind me and Bernice behind her. It was rare for Berni to be behind me as she was suffering with her hips and glutes and back, and running was more comfortable than walking. What an epic lady to battle through that.

Then we hit this. This was so horrific I decided to put a cry for help up on Instagram (then forgot to update that I was OK which Matthew had to do). So steep. The walkers with their poles click-clicked past us! This was almost half-way.

There was a sign (more on those later) that the view was better at the top – and there was a photographer to prove that! Don’t know who these other people are, but look at that view.

Yes, the signs. I got very cross with them!

Grrr. Bernice must have taken this one; she kindly took a pic of millions of them and carefully sent them to me because she knew how much I loved them …

There was a terrifying downhill steep bit somewhere around here. Oh my, I was terrified. But you know what, everyone around me, as I stepped aside to let tranches of people by, said, “You can do it,” “I don’t like it either, you’ve got this”. How lovely.

We then had a weird bit on the road where we went through this perfect village, all thatched cottages. Bernice took this one as I wasn’t feeling taking pictures of perfect houses but also wanted to remember them.

Anyway, here we are with the view a bit later on. This was a lovely long bit on grass. We were creeping up on some blokes who were walking and said we should play a song: This Girl is on Fire was my choice. “My feet are on fire” was the reply, so we sang along with altered lyrics! They asked for Something Inside So Strong too and we had a moment with two other walkers, too.

This was where we realised we were playing cat and mouse with two really tall guys, one with checked shorts, passing them as we ran on downhills, being passed as they strode along.

Another pit stop, the third, and the boys were there. Had a cup of tea and a plain bread roll as well as WATERMELON. We asked them to go to the finish as we had someone coming at about 26, we hoped.

We encountered our sore feet chaps again later (I think after the last pit stop) and one of them was clearly suffering. Bernice offered him an anti-chafing wipe, but apparently be was beyond that. I hope he was OK!

One more pit stop with a bloke telling us there were no more hills (a lie), there were higher up water taps which was good as I was struggling with operating a tap by now. On we went. At one point between then and seeing Angela Bernice opened up her London Marathon playlist and played my contribution, Hall of Fame by The Script. That was a good moment!

It was more chalk paths and we were coming up to A MARATHON. Well it was certainly not boring (“Sod colouring books, this is proper mindfulness” I may have shouted) and it seemed fairly OK at that point. Bernice put out a little Facebook video and a call for sponsorship (after being asked by a few people we decided to raise some money for Birmingham Mind). And I’d worked out that my friend from my photo-a-day group, Angela, was likely to be at about that point. And she WAS and she only blooming well stayed with us to the end! She had jelly babies and beans too. She’d waited a while giving out sweets and cheering people on. Bernice needed to run so Angela stayed with me and cycled when I ran. Perfect!

Photo by Angela – thanks again!

We then hit a great bit, although it was ruts and stuff you could run on it and you can see on the map and stats at the bottom we had a good long run downhill. My feet were a  bit sore esp starting to run again but nothing too bad. It was so good to do that and felt special and proper. We came past our shorts guys at some point and tapped their shoulders as we ran through them.

We knew we would have to go to the Stones at Avebury then go back on ourselves. So it was up a road, round the stones and back. But you know what, this was like a Best Of of all the people we’d been with along the way, either going back down as we headed up or heading up as we went down. One last high-five for the shorts guys and we did beat them.

The stones bit was a bit odd, to be honest: we were told to pose by two photographers but liked the ones Angela took (thanks again). It was quite a small area with confused, dazed runners and walkers wandering around.

But we were pleased with this one, frolicking away!

Back the way we’d come, more people going up to wave and cheer on and I saw Ben’s Pat which meant a) he would be at the finish, and b) we could tell him they were on their way. Then we turned off, Angela rode round to the finish, and we had this (there’s Bernice in the background). She was hurting and apparently crying (oh noes!) and I did some awful attempt at scout’s pace, shuffling along trying to catch her. I couldn’t.

Then it went at right angles. Honestly felt like this. There’s the finish middle left but we had to go along then along. Wah! It was getting warm and I couldn’t catch up but we’d nearly done it!

On the last straight a man I’d last seen lying on a bench grimacing passed me so I said, “If you’re going to pass me you have to pass her, too,” as I was determined we’d appear next to each other in the results. I saw Bernice go through, the tiny figure of Danny running up to her to run her in (awww). It was quite quiet and chilled but I could see a wall of people at the finish and I blasted well burst into tears. And missed my ham moment! No!

Little me, big finish, announcer not looking, but see that arm bottom right? That’s Matthew. Look at the SHADOW! Aww! And he had a suede jacket on and he didn’t care.

Photo by Mitch

You don’t get a photo of yourself getting your medal very often do you? So it’s great to be sobbing! Look at Bernice hovering anxiously, bless her!

Saw Ben and was able to tell him the news about the rest of his party, then we waited to see them through, which was lovely. There was food and drink but I got a bit overwhelmed, and every time I tried to go in a dark hangar there was terrible stuff being done to feet in it! We eventually sat on the grass and had an ice lolly (calippo for Bernice, cider ice for me, just like last time).

The medal is nice!

I picked up my tshirt which I’d bought in advance, but very disappointingly, I’m afraid, although the medal has a 50k ribbon, the t-shirt just says 100k. And when I asked the bloke giving them out, he said, “Yeah, just 100k, you can pretend though, right!” Well, no. But I’ll customise it, it’s fine.

And we were done and Mitch drove us home (thank you!) and I ate stuff and I ate more stuff and had a big shower and SLEPT.

I was so pleased, we came in in 9:47 (8:18 moving time at an average pace of 15:55 which due to the hills and terrifying downhills I’m quite surprised by) so didn’t slow down that much. My pace was pretty even and my heart rate too, around 130 which was great. I was proud I’d conquered the surface but a  bit discombobulated.

Aftermath

I am OK. I can walk! I have one blister on my big toe, a sore tongue (what?) and generally sore legs but not toooo bad. And tired and hungry.

So 6 weeks: a marathon I had to haul back from the brink of disaster, a 10 mile trail run I was so scared I had s tension headache before it, and a 31 mile trail ultra. I don’t think any of this has sunk in yet, to be honest. That’s a lot of races for a woman that doesn’t race much, and a lot of trail for a road runner. I feel a bit disconnected from it all, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and very proud of Bernice too and grateful for her poise and grit, but I feel a bit odd still.

What’s next? No more racing for a good long while. That’s not an idle statement. I don’t like all the rushing around packing, all the worrying about times (RTTS was good for that and if you’re worried about cut-offs I’d recommend doing a thing with walkers in it as it’s more relaxing). The reason I don’t drink any more is because I don’t like how it makes me feel afterwards, and to be completely honest it’s a bit rubbish feeling this achy and blistered and not being able to run it off! But there we go. So a phased return to running. Getting into the strength thing properly again. I’ve ordered a necklace with disks on reading Reykjavik, Birmingham (for the mara), Birmingham (for my DIY mara in 2018), Liverpool, Avebury and five marathons or more feels like enough for the time being. It really does. I’m looking forward to just running.

Thank you for all the support, so many people – Bernice, of course, Matthew, my non-running friends, my running club and wider running community friends (all the ladies who have done ultras before me especially who made me think I could do it), my co-Mental Health Champion, Maria, Phil my physio (and Fotios, my old physio), Paul and Lee for their coaching and horrible tables of terrifying things to make myself do, Claire and Dave for the yoga classes that have kept me moving, Ben for starting it all off by mentioning Reykjavik is a nice marathon, the official community for understanding when I couldn’t book two-day events while training, the lovely women in the Trail and Ultra Running Ladies Only Facebook group who are inspiring and kind, and all the lovely blog readers and commenters and fellow Sunday women link-up-ers and the ultra chaps who’ve given great advice too. And anyone else I’ve forgotten because I just ran a blooming ultramarathon! Thank you.

Those other race reports.

Reykjavik marathon 2016

Birmingham marathon 2017

Birmingham DIY marathon 2018

Liverpool Rock’n’Roll marathon 2019

Sedate lady running 08-14 July 2019 #amrunning #running

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A quick one today as I’m quite tired after today’s exertions …

Tuesday – A nice run to meet my friend Jenny at her yoga session, then ran to her house and back to mine. Perfect pre-Race to the Stones run to keep the legs turning over.

1.5 miles, 11:22 mins per mile / 2.1 miles, 11:51 mins per mile

Wednesday – Dave yoga – quite chilled and nothing odd so managed the whole class!

Thursday – Eschewed a run as I had to walk round to a friend’s house to check she’d left her window shut before going on holiday (she had). I took the long way home and bought some garden chairs in a local shop, then carried them home and had to have help from a nice local chap to get them up the side entry into the garden!

 

Garden chairs in situ and totally worth it

Friday – Claire yoga – I took it gently but she included my favourite standing up slowly from a deep squat! A lovely prep for the big run. Unfortunately still had bicep/tricep/rib DOMS from the chairs.

Sunday – Race to the Stones 2nd Day 50 k / 30 miles done. Race report to follow. It was hard but no harder than I thought and I did not hit the wall or feel unwell afterwards, which I am so proud of!

33.2 miles / 15:55 mins per mile

Weekly total 34.9 miles. Total this year 598.1 (I need 583.3 to be on my 1,000 miles in a year total)

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

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