Bestwood – My Evening Paradise

It’s ‘Flaming June’ 2014 version and my local running spot at nearby Bestwood comes into its own on these beautiful, sunny and relaxed evenings. Nominated as a country park a good few years ago, it will always be plain old ‘Bestwood’ to me. A stretch of the old Sherwood Forest which lies but a few minutes from where I live, that is satisfyingly accessible.

HTC2 793

In truth, I love the place at all times of year. The former royal hunting estate and retreat of many a notable over hundreds of years of history looks gorgeous when coated in a thick layer of snow for instance. Spring has its own translucent green freshness whilst some might say Autumn is the richest time of all with its crispy, golden leaves and paths laden with chestnuts. It’s the dog days of summer that most appeal to me though as I trot along the dry, dusty paths bordered by lush green fields and thick forestry of Oaks, Chestnuts and Birch to name but a few of the ancient trees. I’ve been coming here a long time and I still love it. It is the green lung of the residential suburb where I live.

HTC2 794

Within a few moments in this place, I forget the hardships of the day and wind down with copious amounts of invigorating fresh air, the sound of skylarks and lapwings and the sight of an isolated walker or horse rider. The air at this time of year smells sweet and highly scented with the delicate fragrances of the old hedgerows. It is the perfect tonic and antidote to the stresses of the day.

HTC2 792

The sun finally sets over Bestwood, it is time to return home.

HTC2 791

Springtime and back on the road

IT’S BEEN A LONG WINTER and it’s so welcome to finally see a little watery sunshine again and have a brief respite from the chilling winds of the past few months. I felt it time, upon this encouragement, to pull out some summer training gear and head out to the local villages for a canter round the pretty lanes.

Over the past six weeks I’ve been running three and latterly four miles twice a week to augment the single mile minimum I undertake to carry out every single day in order to continue my running streak of consecutive days which now stands at around thirteen years and three months. For the past few weeks too I’ve been trying to slowly awake from my winter slumbers with a short session of Royal Canadian Air Force exercises each and every day, building up very steadily.


Substituting the track suit bottoms and rain jacket with a pair of shorts and t-shirt for the first time in some six months, it was a pleasant and reassuring feeling cruising in the car down Bank Hill which overlooks the beautiful Woodborough valley, to my start point at The Nags Head at the east end of Woodborough village. Today I thought, I’ll have a slight bump up to five miles of a run.

‘From little acorns do mighty oaks grow’ is an old phrase not lost on me when it comes to running. I’ve had so many years doing this thing year in, year out, that I understand that whilst not being very fit at the moment, this will change once the ‘building blocks’ of regular training are cemented into place. It takes patience, hard work, commitment and perseverance.

With April bird song sweetly ringing in my ears I was shortly passing along Epperstone villages’ Main Street and on to the rural Gonalston Lane. Bordered by green fields and busy hedgerows, accompanied by the tip-tap sound of my training shoes. The countryside still looked in hibernation with only an odd strenuous and failing attempt at Spring blossom by a solitary cherry tree in Epperstone. Further along the route, evidence of Winter’s destructive and stormy weather manifested itself with a collapsed wooden bridge at Lowdham Mill. Grave council warnings lay pinned to the fence stating the footpath to be blocked for that reason but a ginger few steps took the runner on his way to the seclusion of the Old Lowdham Road, passing on to Lowdham Lane and the end point at Woodborough village.

A drink of cold water to finish at the gate of the Nag’s Head’s deserted garden. Just a few brave daisies push up from the grass and the bench and umbrellas wait patiently and silently for the Summer months.

Since this pleasant run I’ve been fortunate enough to have another identical run at the weekend around the villages and enjoyed it’s portents for the oncoming of summer and longer runs in the warmer weather and sunshine, hopefully. It’s time to get ‘back on the road’ again.

The Marathon Diaries: Twenty-one up

Sometimes one just gets the bit between the teeth. Yesterday was just such a day. The day was not a particularly auspicious one as I toiled with the psychology report I am taxed to do. Administrative problems with the report were driving my blood pressure skyward and I really needed a complete change of pace and activity for the day. I had promised myself a longer run, all being well, for the day as it had been a few short months since I’d ran more than 11-12 miles in one session. This had nagged at me mentally and in truth was carving chasms in my confidence regarding running a marathon. At one time of day I was mentally strong and assured enough to contemplate any distance placed in front of me – not so these days. For the day I desired 13 miles as a maximum and would have been comparatively happy with that achievement.

12052009059The beginning

So, head in something of a whirl with the frustrations of the day, I set off for my regular starting spot in nearby Woodborough and headed off down the lane pictured above at just after quarter past four. A pleasant afternoon was an encouragement as I hit the River, Trent side, at just after five miles and having passed through the pleasant villages of Lowdham and Caythorpe. Skipping through the cherry tree-lined path on the way to Gunthorpe I realised that I was doing pretty well today – feeling comfortable and about to settle into a long run. After six or seven miles I became fixated with the outlandish idea of running…yes, twenty miles.

Gunthorpe Lock, Notts

Gunthorpe: running by the river

My footsteps were light and economical – always a good portent, and I flicked on through the unkempt riverside pastures of Hoveringham village, sunshine fortifying my way on to the powerful Hazelford Weir along the Trent. There was no going back from here.

16072009565 Hazelford

16072009562Hazelford Weir

The secluded, attractive and sleepy route of Gypsy Lane took me to my third water stop of the day at Bleasby village’s Wagon and Horses. Wandering in through through the pleasingly refurbished old county pub’s rear entrance I drank thankfully, thirstily and lengthily from the bathroom’s cold water tap. Now some twelve miles in to the run, Thurgarton village loomed as the next target, but yet some way off. Still a long way from home and a more familiar route. Mentally and physically I still felt strong for the challenge that I knew from experience was up ahead.

16072009556The Wagon and Horses, Bleasby

Tip-toeing over the quiet level crossings of the Nottingham to Newark-on-Trent railway line, Hoveringham and more water lay ahead. A peer at the GPS on my wrist confirmed the unfeasible length of time this run was beginning to take away from the ‘normal’. Hoveringham careered into my tired view and more welcome and highly necessary water in the shape of the beautiful Reindeer Inn within the village. Sated, I curiously paused a moment to look at the pictures on the quiet pub’s corridor walls of previous party times. So incongruous with the reason for my brief presence there today.

Re-emerging into now-greyed skies, I was now back on a more regular route and heartened and fortified by this. The country lane wound and wound as I kept a strict control on my head – rejecting any negative thoughts of tiring. The hamlet of Gonalston heralded a ‘final lap’ of around four or five miles. Passing the old blacksmith’s shop, past the diminutive cottages, even a mild incline registered on my legs and general posture. Straighten up. Straighten up. Gonalston has a long lane of the same name that leads to the next village of Epperstone. The historic rural area ahead often feels like a long drudge towards the end of a lengthy run but today – perspective of distances altered by a very long run – it felt good to be so near home.

Evening drinkers outside the Cross Keys eying the runner curiously I passed on, ever nearer my destination which I knew held two challenging hills at the end of the run. Why twenty-one miles? Well I arrived, bloody but unbowed, on Woodborough Main Street having registered 20.25 miles – to doodle around the village for a further .75 of a mile seemed to be the best, most perverse thing to do right now. I was extremely weary and slowing accordingly but I wanted to show that, yes, I can go that ‘extra mile’ – quite literally. Twenty-one miles. I was pleased to stop. I really was. Water, back at the car and an attempt to straighten my head.

Messages to my friends and a phone call home in which I realised that my voice had all but disappeared. A pint of water and a celebratory pint of beer in The Nag’s Head garden followed before a worsening chill saw me head back to the car and the short drive home. Sated, accomplished and triumphant. I had proved once again that I can do this thing. I will be taking part in The Nottingham Marathon in September.

The Marathon Diaries: Injury Strikes

It struck quite a while ago actually but I’ve been soldiering on with it as one often does – ill-advisedly and for several months. It’s ultimately not serious though I’m happy and relieved to say and whilst it remains uncomfortable for the moment, does not represent a physical problem that will stop me training, hopefully.

I include this post today for any budding, beginner or inexperienced runners reading as dealing with injuries is always going to be a part of running, unless one is inordinately fortunate. It’s important to consider the way one considers these inevitable problems when they come along and present themselves.

For some time now I have been experiencing pain in my lower stomach. This is always exacerbated by running and has led to many an uncomfortable time, during and after runs and more especially lying in bed trying to get comfortable at night. Like many injuries it’s always worse after being at rest for a little while – after sitting or when getting out of bed in the morning.

The problem is diagnosed by my physiotherapist as a Sacroiliac condition – basically my left pelvis was ‘stuck’ and causing the tendons in my front lower stomach to be stretched and therefore become inflamed. The lack of movement in the pelvis meant that upon movement, my spine would twist one way to compensate for it then the other further up, not a good scenario obviously. A few manipulations in the surgery this morning have left me a little sore but nevertheless hopeful of being on the road to pain free running, something I’ve not had the pleasure of in a while.


Read about this condition

As is often the case, anti-inflammatory medication in the form of Ibuprofen tablets has been suggested as a useful and helpful tool in alleviating the inflammation and discomfort. I was already using this rather spasmodically and have taken it at various times in the past for different conditions. I learned today that administering it properly is very important. It should be taken as near as possible to every eight hours as is achievable to spread it’s effect in an even manner. A problem and inconvenience with the taking of this kind of medication is that it should not taken on an empty stomach as this can be harmful to the stomach lining. It’s good to hear however that a ‘not empty stomach’ can simply be the ingesting of a piece of fruit (preferably not of an acidic variety), a digestive biscuit or similar just prior to taking the Ibuprofen, it’s not necessary to have a full meal which can of course be inconvenient to fit in adequately.

I have to take it easy for a day or two to let those manipulations settle down a little. That’s not always so easy to do! I feel that this is a blip on the marathon training horizon however and am encouraged that I now run in the full knowledge of what the problem is and how to handle the situation. That always has to be the best way, to operate in an informed way.

I’m a runner. I’ve been a runner since I was around twelve years old and that’s a long time. We runners tend to be obstinate, stubborn and set in our ways about the way in which we practice our chosen sport. I’m sure this is often a necessary part of the character of a typical long-distance runner – a hard activity that requires not a little determination and inflexibility of thinking, not to say downright cussedness and pigheadedness at times! It’s what keeps us going when the going gets tough but it can also be our downfall.

Onwards and upwards.

The Marathon Diaries: Wired for Sound?

With the demise of my latest set of headphones and a few runs listening to the sound of my own footsteps (no bad thing) it set me to thinking about the methods I’ve used in order to hear a little image‘live’ music on the run over the years.

When I began running long ago than I care to remember in my school days such a ‘miracle’ wasn’t really possible. The smallest sources of music were diminutive transistor radios and no one at that time had the forethought to invent something that was truly portable – in a running sense at least.

The seventies grew more mature and whilst in my first ‘proper’ job as an apprentice compositor in the print trade, I rustled up the money for a brand new piece of technology entitled the ‘Sony Walkman’ The pic shows something very similar to the small metallic box with the magic sound. What an innovation! This new concept in music on the move wasn’t even ruined by a cheesy Cliff Richard hit of the time by the same name of my title here.

“Walkin’ about with a head full of music
Cassette in my pocket and I’m gonna use it – stereo
-out on the street you know-woh oh woh…”

Continue reading “The Marathon Diaries: Wired for Sound?”

The Marathon Diaries: The Old Road

It’s three days after my initial run of thirteen miles as I write, the two intervening days containing a couple of single-mile runs which keep my ‘streak’ going and a seven mile walk around the Denton area of The Vale of Belvoir. This was partly due to sore lower stomach muscles from that last long run. Sometimes having the ability to run a long way without taking too much care about doing it can be a bad thing. I really should remember that it’s some five weeks since I ran such a distance.

So it’s back to the old disused road near where I live for a few laps to gauge my soreness. I know by doing this I can end at the appropriate time without being obliged to complete a circuit. The old road is a curious place. It’s a crumbly half-mile stretch of faded tarmac running parallel with its more modern successor of some forty or so years. It’s pleasant and fairly quiet though, often you won’t see a single soul around there. To one side is a small wood and to the other open farmland with a picturesque farm house perched on the red hills.

05052009024 05052009025

I set off and immediately feel my stomach tugging though this soon eases. I consult the set of limestone rocks near the beginning that I count off my laps with. I could never remember how many half-mile stretches I’ve run after the first handful!

The old road itself is largely set on a hill and is a healthy workout for that reason. The road is useful for a very short and necessary run near to home but when encountering the thought of running several laps, music become essential to me. A Sony Walkman Mp3 player plays some summery music into my ears under the watery May sunshine, dappled by the freshly green trees lining the route.

05052009026 05052009029

Today I ran twelve laps equalling six miles. The time was unimportant. I’m thinking of the long-term goal as usual. Now – what about that diet…

The Marathon Diaries: The Road Back

So here I find myself, back in the car park of The Nag’s Head at Woodborough in Nottinghamshire. Alone and ready to run. Five days ago I filed my entrance online for the Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon in late September to absolutely no acclaim at all. There’s not much going back now. It’s a pleasant Saturday afternoon in early May and I have much work ahead of me.

First name: STUART

Surname: FREW

Race Type: Marathon – non-AAA affiliated

Date of Register: 30 April 2009

Time of Register: 09:11:06

It’s familiar road, one I’ve know so many times. I’m breezing along steadily with that small Hibernian FC Harp on my chest and a Maple Leaf emblem on my shorts. The first stream appears with a duck paddling furiously underneath the brackish water, swimming against an insistent current.

Continue reading “The Marathon Diaries: The Road Back”

Canada ’08: New Years in Saint John

Well things are going very nicely here in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada – thanks for asking. The family welcome for our Christmas and New Year break has been marvellously warm and kind – a complete contrast thankfully to the Canadian winter that we face here.   

I run every day – it’s a given. That applies to wherever in the world I am and whatever other commitments I have, I alwaysrun – at least a short distance, every day. Through the cold, fog, rain, snow and icy sidewalks, being here in the Atlantic Canada city of Saint John presents no exception to that rule.

I have to say it’s been difficult.

In fact I can honestly say that all told, its the most difficult place I’ve ever run in.



Continue reading “Canada ’08: New Years in Saint John”

Canada ’08: Snakes Alive!

Out on of my daily runs around the sidewalks in Kelowna, a surprising thing happened to me the other day. I’ve got used to my usual daily slog in the Okanagan heat. The longer runs can be something of a strain in the mid-thirties sun, sometimes without too much shade whilst running alongside the local orchards. One thing they certainly do offer is a challenge.

There have been very few occasions in the past when I have found myself in something of a scrape. Two in Italy come to mind. One was getting hopelessly lost in the streets of Rome and another being confronted by a pack of dogs up a dark lane in Napoli. A few times I’ve felt dangerously cold whilst running, another occasion saw me contracting heat-stroke which left me pretty poorly for a day or two. (Curiously I have never craved ice cream as much as I did on that run!)

Continue reading “Canada ’08: Snakes Alive!”

Over the Hills and Far Away

An emailed conversation with a good friend recently focused my thoughts on the origins of how I began this addiction called ‘running’ many years ago as a twelve-year old with an attitude and an inclination. My friend Margaret and I have shared a few miles on the county’s footpaths and country lanes, we also at one time were part of the Redhill Road Runners club but that’s probably a story for another day. Safe to say, we have both had our share of pleasure, friendship, heartache, frustration and achievement over the years taking part in the sport. did I say sport? Perhaps more a way of life because I find one begins to define oneself as a runner in many ways.

When I think back to when I began running it brings a smile. Not quite into my teens and obviously knowing everything* I was probably kitted out in a pair of Tesco jeans, ‘Tesco Bombers’ as us Levi’s-deprived lads termed them. Completing my running clobber would be an orange Mickey Mouse t-shirt and pair of very flat-soled trainers which had starred in many a school playground twenty-a-side, tennis ball, football match.

Continue reading “Over the Hills and Far Away”

London in the Springtime

I was watching the London Marathon on TV this morning and it brought back a few memories of the two appearances I’ve made in the race. I think that most of us that have run ‘The London’ share a few pangs of regret, if not outright guilt that we’re sitting watching the progress of the participants rather than battling it out on the streets of London when the big day in April arrives.

I have many mixed feelings and memories of the two occasions that I took part. What I would say without hesitation however is that they were two of the most memorable days of my life. What happened on those days is still crystal clear in my mind and no doubt will remain so for a long time to come.

Today’s event saw some potential high drama with the discovery of a gas leak in the Isle of Dogs and on the marathon route. Worried reporters talked of re-routes, diversions and short or non-standard routes. Of course the latter factors there would affect elite runners’ qualification times for the Olympics so it was indeed serious stuff. Thankfully a chicane around the problem was added that gained the marathon distance but a mere two metres.

Celebrity runners Amanda Holden and Kate Lawler line up for the big event

Continue reading “London in the Springtime”

The Streak

Okay it’s here.

Today marks eight years since I began a running ‘streak’ – running every single day without fail for a minimum distance of one mile. In practice the distance has been anywhere between one and twenty-six point-two miles (The London Marathon) along the way. I’m going to save the full story for another day but I’d just like to relate how it began and a couple of memories along the way from this past eight years.

I’d been originally thinking of this project for some time and had even achieved a period of several months of marathon training before sadly succumbing with a broken big toe. Ironically that was not caused by the seventy/eighty miles a week I was training at that time but by stubbing my foot on a door frame in the home! Such is life I mused as I struggled through a couple of painful eight and five-mile runs with the fractured toe before realising that particular streak was sadly at an end.

The idea of ‘The Streak’ came from former Olympic runner, Ron Hill. Ron is usually the first individual the running fraternity think of when the term is mentioned, his own Streak beginning way back in 1964 and still ongoing at 15,742 runs this very day. I took Ron’s criteria of running at least one mile a day and sometimes smile at the things he did to continue his long unbroken run of days. The former marathoner has told of running after a car crash in which he sustained a broken sternum and heart damage. Now that’s serious stuff. It almost makes his ‘run’ on crutches the day after an operation for bunions seem like small beer. This is the sort of mindset a streak puts you in however so I can easily understand what was going through Ron’s mind as people were undoubtedly calling him crazy for doing what he did. It’s difficult for others to understand the time, hardship and investment that goes into a Streak.

Over the past eight years I have been very fortunate with injuries, thank you God for that. I have however run with torn muscles on several occasions and dragged myself out of bed when I could hardly stand with a bad case of influenza. Travelling and holidays often presented a problem. I have run around airports whilst waiting for a late flight arriving, I have run down back lanes in Italy with a pack of dogs chasing me and got hopelessly lost in Rome when not being able to find my way back to the piazza upon where my hotel was situated. I have run in temperatures of -30 in Canada when the cold air burnt my throat and froze my eyelashes. I have returned home from a run with heat stroke conversely.

The Streak has enabled me to run in some beautiful places. Beaches, mountains, major cities such as Vancouver, London, Naples and Edinburgh. It’s also enabled me to connect back to nature on the majority of days, most often when I run in the beautiful old hunting estate, Bestwood, part of the original Sherwood forest in Nottinghamshire. I’ve done an awful lot over the years to maintain it thus far but it’s given me an awful lot in return. I have no idea if, how and when it will end but will continue to treat it one day at a time as I have always chosen to.

In four hours time it will be time once more to drag those trainers and kit on and today head off to dear old Bestwood for another three miles-worth of The Streak. Wish me luck!

Les Skinner

It’s a running anniversary of sorts for me tomorrow (more of later). For that reason it seems like a very opportune time to remember an old friend and fellow runner who is sadly missed by all that knew him. This was my humble tribute to him at the time. Two and a half years on, this gentleman still remains an inspiration to me… 

Les Skinner ,who passed away on the 6th September 2005

A celebration of my friend Les.

It was with great sadness I heard the news of the passing of Les Skinner recently, an old friend of mine and a great friend to many at Redhill Road Runners and of the club itself. I felt it important to write a few words about him at this time and although this is a sad occasion, I shall attempt to relate some of the lighter times with Les – just as I believe he would have wanted.

Many of you will know that Les was a founding member of Redhill Road Runners, having begun running with a group of colleagues from his then place of work, Jessops, in the city of Nottingham. The rest is history as they say with the group evolving into a genuine and successful running club over the years and into the present day.

I was first ensnared by Les’s powers of persuasion in the early nineties. I would notice him when out running through our favourite woods at Bestwood, we’d shout a cheery hello when passing each other and on one particular day I saw him in the distance and actually managed to catch up with him, (no mean feat in those days!) We chatted a little, running alongside, and he duly invited me along to the Redhill Road Runners club. So numerous were the occasions when out running afterwards with Les I would observe him doing this with other runners. It was at this time I first realised his great pride in the club that he had been a founding member of.

One of the many reasons I enjoyed running and training with Les was simply because he was great company. Out there on the country lanes and through the fields and woods, a tough fifteen-mile run would seem to pass in the blink of an eye with him chatting away and laughing together with you. All that knew Les will recount his mischievous but good-natured humour. One of the attributes I always loved about him was his bright-eyed enthusiasm he brought to everything, it was impossible not to be motivated by him when he spoke, he was one of those rare people who make all things seem possible.

Les, back row, 2nd left, with his beloved Redhill Road Runners

Although Les lived away from his native Cornwall for many years his love for his home county never diminished. He remained very much a Cornishman and proud of it. One of the many yarns he would relate would be the story of him being born in a castle down there in that loveliest of counties – it was true too!

There were so many humourous times with Les, to recount them all would take up pages and pages, from the Nike ‘Shoe Mountain’ which was his pride and joy at home to the story of when he broke ranks, leading at the very vanguard of the London Marathon at the mass start. Perhaps he would be inclined to inform you about the latest of his many and varied ‘injuries’ which would thwart his latest plan for world veteran running domination! Les told me once he ran part of a marathon with Australian champion Steve Monaghetti and I believe him. Make no mistake though and casting jokes aside for a moment, Les was a special and gifted runner. Those who ran with him like I did knew that.

It seems almost churlish to mention facts and figures in the context of a light-hearted man like Les but I would just like to add that his best time for a marathon was no less than 2.49 – almost international class. Without being dramatic many of us will remember him as being a tough and determined character, well suited to the rigours and hardships of long-distance running. He also had a great, natural inbuilt talent for the sport too, of that there can be no doubt.

Latterly after Les contracted his illness I would still see him out on the roads and trails, not running but power walking (probably faster than many could run actually). This to me was the mark of Les Skinner – a true warrior athlete who NEVER gave in.

I’d like at this point to acknowledge all the considerable work and dedication that Les and his wife Sheila, who I am proud to also call a friend, have offered to the Redhill club over the years. I’m sure that you will all share this moment with me to offer our condolences to Sheila and his two daughters Tina and Kerry who Les leaves behind.

No more shall I see that familiar running style of Les with that distinctive left arm curling outwards as he raced along – was this man one of the most easily recognised runners from a distance you have ever seen?

What’s more I’m going to miss it.

Thanks for being a friend Les, you will be very sadly missed.


For anyone interested in joining the club that Les helped found, please go to:

Redhill Road Runners