Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Little things can have amazing consequences.  About a month ago, or maybe it was years ago, I wandered about on a website and eventually clicked on the little box labelled "enter now".  One of the consequences is that I have become a connoisseur of stairs.

In particular, I have become intimate with four different sets of stairs. I had a brief but intense relationship with the seven flights of fourteen steps each up to my mother's apartment. These I used daily, in contemptuous disdain of the lift, except when my octagenarian parent was accompanying me. I twice celebrated their existence by doing seven and ten reps, 686 and 980 steps respectively. The stairs were a textured concrete, painted in slip-proof grey, with black hand-rails, and a general air of neglect.  The natural light, through small windows was sufficiently insignificant that it was the better part of a week before I recognised there was any.  But I had them entirely to myself, unquestioned.

Late in my stay with my parent I discovered that the set of stairs in the far end of the block had twice the number of flights, offering an even longer continuous ascent.  Even better, the natural light in that stairwell was excellent even on a dull day, quite bright enough to render the motion-sensitised lighting unnecessary.  This stairwell was not deserted; I shared it occasionally with maintenance staff, who eyed me curiously but refrained from comment.  I only ever did a proper stairs session once, five ascents, 980 steps, after which the conditions outside had improved to admit real hill runs.

Back at home in flatland now, I return to familiar steps.  There are the office steps, a selection of eight possible circular stairwells attractively surrounding lift shafts, admitting light and carrying sound well - excellent eavesdropping opportunities, catching any conversations in the corridors surrounding the stairwells.  The eight stairwells some connected by corridors or walkways offer an exciting variety of routes.  There is but the one hitch: I must admit to being shy of indulging in the sport of stairs in the presence of my colleagues.  I have not been able to determine whether this shyness is because I worry that they may consider me (even more) mad, running up stairs beetroot red-faced and puffing, or  for fear they might join me, and by bounding up twice as many twice as fast render my pride in tackling stairs at all as nought by invidious comparison.

So the compromise is a grand, broad set of four flights, about 100steps, in a 1950's lecture block in the Sidgwick Site.  The stairs are sealed concrete, with metal edging and wooden hand rails polished by many hands.  The stairwell amplifies my footfall; minimising that impact for the sake of those in lectures is an added challenge. In between lectures I am by no means alone; streams of students pass in either direction, but there is room, and I can fall in step with them for that short interruption of my study in stairs.  Yesterday's ascent was ten reps, steps taken one at a time.  Sometimes I take them two at a time, but I need to get the distance up first.

What is it though, that derails a mostly stable mind that it should fix on the subject of stairs?  Hope. That entry button confirmed my place on the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon.  Dweller in flatland that I am, the stairs must deputise for hills, and I must persuade unwilling legs to do the homework.  Distance along the flat alone will not do, although there is work to be done in that department as well.

Hope is an odd thing.  It puts life and colour back into the world, giving me eyes again to see the world as a woman fit and well and ready to compete, present situation and future concerns notwithstanding.  I am again in training.  I am again a runner.  The framework of life has returned, the weekly round of different "runs" with different purposes providing the lattice on which the other parts of life are fixed.  

The present does its best to withstand, I must admit. At the time of clicking on "Enter now" even a single flight of stairs presented problems.  Walking peg legged and 13 minute miling are the norm.  A rest day for me means at least half the day spent with my feet up, with book or laptop on my knees.   Me running up hills in the Lakes requires a very lively imagination at the moment.

Fortunately, Hope knows better. Imagination to see these my present legs capable of climbing hills is not required. The peaks are often not clearly visible from the foothills.  Eyes down and focus on the stairs. Spend the time with feet up today to extend the mileage tomorrow.  Just do the runs for the week and leave worry for the never arriving later.  It is a gamble.  Yes, it may be that all I can do is nothing worth, and I face another DNF or even a DNS. Yes, PD might win this time.

But it might not, and if I don't settle down and get to grips with the stairs now I've lost already, and will never know if I might not have won had I tried and done the homework.

For now, the eventualities, whether I do or do not make it to the start-line, whether I do or do not manage to complete the course, are irrelevancies. What matters is that I am again a runner.  In training.  Life's compass is restored, Polaris has resumed its rightful place in my night's sky.  Life resumes, in defiance of PD and the other little devils of life.

On on friends.

1 comment:

  1. You're not alone with those stairs: without you I'd never thought of entering such an event, and now I am doing my weekly stair session at the hospital car park, and I bring a friend, so you infected 2 people already.

    And stop complaining about Cambridge being flat. You have Castle Hill. I have Dutch countryside that is flatter than your dining table...