Category Archives: Running

Letter from the Lockdown

April 20th 2020


Lockdown stops the clock


How are you? These are difficult times aren’t they.

How am I?

I am under pressure. The virus gives me anxiety. The lockdown confines me. My voluntary work is all remote. My faith is getting more attention in the abstract, less exercise in the real world, and I am missing my family and the normal routine of life with which I was content.

Anxiety took me by surprise. I wasn’t aware of how much I suppress my anxiety until it burst out from under the threat of catching the virus. My throat dries up, my digestion rebels, my head fizzes, sleep is interrupted by distorted thoughts, until dawn restores my perspective.

Action is needed.  Less news. The radio, normally on all day, is off. I watch just one TV news broadcast at 6pm. Reading online news for too long makes me nauseous so I stop doing it.

I’m helped by meditation on the goodness of God, who shares my anxiety and feels my weakness. I have found a daily prayer app called Lectio365 that enables me to focus on good things, to pray out how I feel and to yield to the peace of God in my life.

Exercise. Running, walking and cycling. I take the full allowance of permitted daily exercise and sometimes more. Those endorphins certainly know how to restore well being.

There’s some singing too. Breathlessly to the tunes playing in my head whilst I run – a personal praise party or a good times song from one of my playlists. At other times when my memory is jogged by an earworm replaying something from the online service from church, I’ll whistle the tune or burst into song.

Its counterintuitive for me not to rush off to help someone, with something, somewhere. Any help I now offer is online or on the phone. When tempted to step out of the house in response to a simple request I remember #stayathome – home is the only place I feel truly safe from this virus.

This week I will have three video conference meetings – some may be fruitful; some frustrating and others possibly inconclusive. In this time of lockdown they feel like an intrusion into my home because they would normally be conducted somewhere else. There’s no excuse not to attend, no variety of location, concentration is, at times, difficult and the strain of no proper eye contact makes them less engaging. I have no way of measuring the response in the room to my contributions. It’s quite sterile.

Holidays are now located in Never Never Land, while refreshing and inspiring trips into the lovely surrounding Yorkshire dales and moors are denied.

Add all of this together with lockdown and it is like inhabiting another world; of being ‘away from home at home’, with a constant question, “When can I get back to normal?” A question that has no answer. Life is on hold, but it hasn’t stopped. My grandchildren continue to grow and develop without me. This is especially true of our youngest, Rowan, born just days before the restrictions. I have to be content with seeing his smiles on a screen.

On the positive side, I am at home with Joan and we enjoy each other’s company and generally work well together. Our frustrations with the lockdown are shared. There’s good cooking, some long delayed chores receive attention, the sun is shining and the buds of spring are bursting open in our small garden. Our house is pleasant and especially the garden room.

So I use my frustration to remember those who are confined in less pleasant places, alone and anxious. I use my anxiety to pray for those suffering, serving on the front line of health and social care and parents working from home alongside home schooling in cramped spaces. At times my prayers range wider to the refugee camps and warzones across the world where the pandemic adds more fear and death to those already frail and broken.

I could say ‘who am I to be anxious and concerned about my plight’ when so many suffer infinitely more than me. But it’s right to deal with anxiety and not to ignore it simply because others have greater needs. If I address my needs alongside theirs, I am better equipped to serve – even if action is confined to prayer and other things that can be done remotely. Left to run riot, anxiety will consume all my strength and distract me from ever caring about others.

This is a writing exercise but also a real letter. It’s part of my treatment. Writing allows me to leave the house and imagine better things. It’s a longer letter than I had anticipated, but writing it is helping me to rise above the circumstances. I’ll let you judge its value to you.

Let me know how you are coping in these strange days.

All the best



For a week I’m a 49er


Approaching the end of a Parkrun on York Knavesmire

I ran my 49th Parkrun this week. Before I reach the milestone 50th I’ll reflect on how I reached this point.

Two hundred and forty five Parkrun kilometres ago (153 miles) I was a ‘first timer’ having just completed a ‘Couch to 5k’ programme because I had never run for fitness before. I’d cycled but running engages another set of muscles and techniques and I didn’t want to damage my ageing limbs.

I registered on the Parkrun website, printed my unique barcode and stood with the crowd of runners at the start line on the Knavesmire in York.

The first surprise was the range of people standing with me. They were not all athletes in the Olympic Games sense. But they were all up for the challenge. A great briefing from the run director preceded the starting countdown. Those reaching milestones were congratulated; first timers welcomed; ‘tourists’ shouted out their home run; applause for everyone; countdown and we were off. That was in October 2016. In reality it’s not a race. The only person I run against is myself. Can I beat my PB (personal best time). It’s some encouragement that on the first week everyone gets a PB –  incentive to return next week to beat it.

I’d completed a few 5k runs before joining the York Parkrun so I was confident of reaching ‘The Funnel’ in reasonable shape. As you cross the finish line the timer clicks the watch. “Stay in order” calls a marshal as we are lined up in the funnel. Staying in order is vital to preserve your finishing position until you reach the first volunteer handing out the position tags with a barcode and a number; your finishing position. Mine was 392 (out of 496). Next another volunteer scans your position tag and your unique barcode. Later a bit of computer number crunching matches your position with the stopwatch click and spews out your result.  It’s sent to me by email and text. My first Parkrun result – 30 minutes and 47 seconds. Since then I’ve knocked off over 4½ minutes. My PB now is 26:07.

It has to be said that York Knavesmire is a route to which many Parkrunners flock to set a PB. It’s flat, has a good surface with no odd bends or obstacles. I have run other Parkruns where the paths are narrow leading to congestion; sharp bends slow you down; hills, mud, puddles, underpasses, narrow bridges, tree roots – all kinds of handicaps for the determined PB setter.

But the pursuit of a good time is really secondary to the main benefit of running. Fitness. I’ve lost weight, strengthened my heart, improved my lung capacity and visibly toned my leg muscles. Running has driven me to discover exercises and stretches to warm up and warm down to avoid injury and to generally make sure the rest of my body keeps up with my legs! The sense of wellbeing after a run is worth all the effort.

All this has prepared me to be more adventurous. 10k runs, 10 mile runs and the odd half marathon. This September I will run the Great North Run for the second time. Half a marathon (13.1 miles) on roads from Newcastle to South Shields in a crowd of 57,000 other runners. I’m running for Shelter. You can sponsor me here.

Lots of people ask when I’ll run a marathon. I won’t. I’m 70 next year and I’d like to keep running for many years yet. I think a marathon takes its toll on any body – and mine probably hasn’t many tolls left to take. So I’ll stick to 13 miles as my limit. Having said that there are half marathons and half marathons. In October I’m going to the Lake District to run the Langdale Half. That’s likely to be tougher than a run in the park. But it’s where I was born – returning after 69 years to run the roads my father knew so well seems like a challenge I can’t refuse even if some of the inclines are 25%.

[Talking to a friend who shares my birth year I realised I’ll always be a 49er because I  was born in 1949]

On Saturday 1st Sept 2018 I run my 50th Parkrun. Will it be a PB? I’ll run it at York’s Knavesmire to be in with a fighting chance.

(49er was the nickname given to speculators who flocked to California in 1849 for the Goldrush. It generally became slang for any miner and an American Football team in San Francisco the city founded as a result of the goldrush)



I don’t just run to end homelessness

If you follow me on any of the social networks you will know that I regularly undertake running and cycling challenges to raise funds to help homeless people.

shelter-logo2I am running another fundraising half marathon on the 9th of September when, along with my brother Mark, I will run the Great North Run. For this run we are looking for sponsors for Shelter. I make no excuse for asking you to donate again because as long as there are people without a home there’s a need to raise funds. I know many of my friends, contacts and former work colleagues gave generously when I ran the Great North Run last year. I’m asking again because there are still people homeless. Shelter’s tag line, printed on the back of my running shirt, says “Until there’s a home for everyone” and the last time I looked not everyone yet has a home.

logo-sigBut I don’t just run. Eight years ago I was one of the founders of a charity in York called Restore. It houses people who, without support, would inevitably be homeless. Today I am that charity’s chairman. We employ 6 staff, run 8 houses and provide supported accommodation for up to 30 people.

Three years ago I became the chair of the York Homeless Forum. Hosted by the City of York Council it brings together a wide range of providers in the city; statutory, independent, voluntary and charity providers. This group helped produce the city’s five year strategy for preventing homelessness. You can read it here, including my forwardYES - Below Zero Vol Flyer

I am now supporting the formation of a team of volunteers to staff a new overnight service for people sleeping rough on winter nights. It will provide a bed, showers and food on the coldest nights this winter.  YES Below Zero is a joint venture between churches, voluntary groups and the council.

So while I often run or cycle to raise funds for these projects and more, I’m directly involved in solving homelessness, not least for those who still remain with nowhere to live. Most of those people are hidden. For each of the people you may see sleeping rough around cities and towns there are many more, sofa surfing, in overcrowded and unfit houses and flats, in temporary hostels or even camping illegally on someone’s land.

So I unashamedly ask. Will you sponsor me and my brother as we run the Great North Run this September for Shelter – one of the national charities researching, campaigning and offering advice to end homelessness. Together we must fight the injustice of homelessness. In one of the richest countries in the world people have nowhere to call home. It’s not right is it. So please be generous –   donate here




No Direction Home

I was running and listening to Bob Dylan on my headphones. “Like a Rolling Stone”. The run was  longer than usual, part of the build up to the Great North Run in September.

The words of the refrain alerted me to the pertinence of this song to my training.

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be without a home?
Like a complete unknown?
Like a rolling stone?

Barrie at the start of the Great North Run

Great North Run 2017

I am running the Great North Run for the charity Shelter. One of the leading charities campaigning to eliminate homelessness.

I don’t know how it feels to have no home, but I speak to many people who have experienced the raw edge of homelessness. I am chairman of a charity called Restore (York) which provides supported housing for people who are homeless.

Dylan’s words were penned in the 1960s – I was a teenager. Now, over 50 years later the problem of people being homeless is still with us. I don’t think homelessness figures were collected in the 60s to tell us how many people were without a home. Homeless people were ‘a complete unknown‘. Today we do count them but that doesn’t solve the problem. To be a number is hardly progress from being ‘a complete unknown‘ unless houses are built and affordable for the people who need a home. We are not building enough houses. We are still not providing enough care and support for people who are homeless. The numbers have increased year on year for the last 7 years. This is unacceptable.

Shelter has been offering advice, researching and campaigning on behalf of homeless people for almost as long as Dylan has been singing his song.

Subsequent refrains in the song use the line With no direction home. My sat nav has a HOME button which is programmed with my home address. One press and the route home is displayed on the screen with an estimate of the time I will arrive there. Homeless people have no address to preset that button. No direction home, like a rolling stone

I’ve been listening to this song since my youth – but it took a moment in time on a training run for the cry of the refrain to touch my heart. It’s just a small thing, but a helpful one, to donate to Shelter so that they can raise their game to end homelessness.

The shirt I am wearing for the Great North Run has the Shelter logo front and back with a tag line on the back until there’s a home for everyone. That’s why I’m running. Donate here