A short film about winning

Just a quick something for the weekend. This is a video I made for my fantastic colleagues in Billericay, who had a Sports Day on Wednesday to raise money for me.

Although I couldn’t be there myself, I wanted to convey my thanks and remind them that the joy of competition and winning doesn’t end when the games are over. It can continue anywhere you want it to…

Come to the Chabaret!

Chabaret - Wednesday 25 April at ConcreteIn a lot of ways, the hardest part of this whole endeavour is not the running (although let’s not forget that it is very hard and I am very brave) but the fundraising. Trying to raise a whopping £12,000 forces you to find new ways to bring in the cash and encourage attractive, discerning people like yourselves to donate.

One of the ways to do this is to make like a can-do 50s musical and just put on a show, goshdarnit. So thats what we’re doing – and the show is Chabaret!

Chabaret brings together some of the finest, funniest cabaret artists working today, all being stupidly generous and donating their time and talent for free.

It takes place on Wednesday 25 April at Concrete in Shoreditch. And the line-up is like a slice of awesomeness on a bed of wow…

Frisky and Mannish - The comedy musical geniuses themselves.
Richard Herring - RICHARD HERRING is playing my charity night!!! That is all.
Sarah Louise Young - Singer and star of Fascinating Aida and Cabaret Whore transforms into Bernie St Clair, an act inspired by my own dear Elaine Paige.
Mandy Muden - Really funny magician who stole the show at Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties in February.
The Blue Peril – Benjamin Louche from the Double R Club is the world’s newest superhero. You’ll believe a man can fly. Just not this man.
Ginger Blush - One of the funniest burlesque acts I’ve seen will be going back in time….to 1955…..in a Delorean…
Shirely & Shirley - Very odd, very funny sketch comedy, as seen on that there BBC.

And all MC’d by 6Music’s breakfast show’s Shaun Keaveny, staying up past his bedtime for a good cause.

Tickets are £15, available here, and all profits go straight to the Twelveathon fund, so get yours today. Tell friends, colleagues, passing people who look like they have a spare £15 to spend on nights out, etc. They, and you, will not be disappointed.

The hardest run, and the reason I ran it

“Is this anyones first trail run?”

A few hands, my own included, went up.

“And is this anyone’s first marathon ever?”

About three or four hands went up.

The announcer laughed and grinned to himself for a moment. “Right, well…good luck to you…”

This didn’t fill me with confidence.

In truth, I was very nervous about this marathon anyway (the Sussex Coastal Trail marathon, organised by Endurancelife, around the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head areas of Sussex). Having tagged it in my head as a ‘sort of cross-country run’ when I signed up, I didn’t really think any more about it, pleased it was relatively close to London and thinking it would make “a nice change”.

Reviewing the map two days beforehand to work out if there were any good points from which Zoe could watch was the first time I paid attention to the information on ‘ascent’ or in layman’s terms ‘how hilly it is’. If you’re ever doing a trail or cross-country race, I recommend you look at this a few weeks before. It might mean you do some, oh I don’t know, hill training or something beforehand? And might not turn up looking like a Dad competing in his first school sports day.

So it quickly became apparent that this might be a very different race from what I’d had before. A fact quickly confirmed by the first time I HAD TO RUN UP A CLIFF. See for yourself…

The absurdly long time I took was partly down to staying with Martin as he was really feeling the pain in his hip and ankle, so was going very slowly in order to finish. I wouldn’t have gone hugely faster by myself though, and indeed might not finished at all had it not been for the support and encouragement of Martin and Tim, gentlemen and scholars both, from the halfway point, which was a welcome reminder of the camaraderie you can find in what is often considered a solitary pursuit.

That basically tells the story, though here is a photo of the salt I’d managed to collect using only my face and subsequently sold as artisan seasoning to a local deli.

To spur me on, two days earlier, I had had a reminder of one of the reasons I was doing this craziness when I attended the first night of the latest round of the Scene & Heard plays “Snakes & Ladders – The Playful Plays”.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes these evenings so rewarding. Yes, the plays are very funny, often because of the absurdity of the non-human characters (including a caterpillar cake, Shakira’s gold beaded skirt and Tottenham Court Road) having very everyday wants and needs (wanting a new job, wanting a girlfriend) and being portrayed with marvellous straight-faced conviction by the actors. But this isn’t ‘Kids say the funniest things’, the internal logic of each play is respected by the Scene & Heard directors and actors, who do not alter a word, and make the comedy stem from how the characters are usually the architects of their own problems.

In each play, a third person is introduced to act as a catalyst to change the situation, and the way the writers used this opportunity was incredibly varied – some of them having the character provide a previously needed item or opportunity, or to provide an opportunity for a character to demonstrate a trait or quality that had previously been hidden.

The verve and variety of the plays make this one of the best nights of theatre London has to offer. Surreal without being self-conscious, funny and often deeply felt, with echoes of the children’s own lives not too far below the surface. The next set of plays will be in July – sign up to their mailing list here to make sure you don’t miss them.

Number two

A week on from running my second marathon in Cambridge, I’m still struck by the fact that it was pretty much the complete opposite of the Disney World marathon. In fact, Disney was possibly the least typical example of what marathon running, or indeed any regular running competition, or indeed the world, is like normally.

There were about 400 entrants, no giant mouse, lots of cross-country and it rained. The whole. Way. Round. It rained for so long that the arrows showing the route fell off the trees and I made several wrong turns. It turned the cross-country sections into bogs and found me standing in a field, not another soul to be seen, hysterically shouting at the sky. It started to snow as I crossed the finish line. In short, it was not Florida.

Still, I learned a lot more about running, namely:

  • Always bring some waterproofs, even if it only ‘might’ rain. Because it ‘might’ then rain for the whole run and you ‘might’ have to keep stopping to pull up your shorts because they had become so waterlogged they were slipping down your arse.
  • If its raining, put your MP3 player in a plastic bag to try and save it from the water so that it doesn’t die halfway through and leave you with only the sound of your own whimpering to keep you company during the toughest parts of the race.
  • I should run a bit slower for the first half, because running a first half of 2hours 10mins and a second half of 3 hours 9mins – even accounting for wrong turns and slowing of pace due to weather-based despair – implies I’m not really pacing myself properly.

It all gets a bit serious from now on as I’ll now be doing two marathons a month till June. Still, the weather’s improving, so it can’t get any worse, right?


Anyway, here’s some footage, which should really have the title ‘The Misery of Zoe Fletcher’ as she valiantly tried to find me to cheer me on, but effectively spent most of the day trudging round the oustskirts of Cambridge in the rain. I am truly nothing without her.

One down, 11 to go

Finally, I am able to share video and stories of my first marathon with you. This is not because it has taken me the best part of a month to finish the marathon, just because I am easily distracted. Here’s the video diary, in all its sweaty glory:

My final time was 5 hours, 24 minutes, 32 seconds, which, as I was hoping for a five-and-a-half hour time, made me very happy. You can also see photos and some video of the end here. I appear to be walking in more than one of them – a most unfair reflection.

The anticipation and firework-filled, massive mouse-hosted start was a lot bigger than I expected, and that carried on for the first couple of miles while the field was relatively bunched up and lots of people were shouting ‘woo’ and the sense of occasion was at its height. I started a lot more slowly than I expected because of the crowd, but that was probably a good thing as it stopped me from pelting off as I have done in training.

The middle miles passed relatively calmly, enjoying the spectacle of running through all these parks and watching the sun gradually come up. Little bits of advice I’d been reading came back to me – keeping my pace steady, focusing on the three/four mile “race within a race” to break things up. It was almost relaxing…

From mile 20 was when that ‘wall’ I’d been hearing so much about reared up and smacked me in the face. My legs started to sputter like a broken engine, stopping to walk at shorter and shorter intervals as my body screamed “For pity’s sake man, we’ve been through THREE theme parks and you haven’t stopped to ride at any of them! WE DEMAND REST!”

So I walked most of the next four or five miles, occasionally seeing the more outlandish costumes that I’d passed earlier pass me right back (this included someone wearing a previous t-shirt from a marathon sponsored by Snickers). The reassuring thing was that, even at that point, I thought that the worst that could probably happen is that I’d walk the rest of it, but at least I knew I could finish.

As it was, I had enough left to run the last mile, spurred on by the amazing crowd, the music and the grandstand full of spectators by the finish line. Oh yeah, and the GOSPEL CHOIR (pics here by The Mad Marathoner), which I heard before I rounded the corner and saw them and therefore thought I was hallucinating for a moment.

I thoroughly recommend the Disney World marathon – it was friendly, the spectators were lovely and enthusiastic and the spectacle is done on an appropriately grand scale. As a first marathon, it was a great introduction.

Running since then has been more difficult that I expected, as though my body used up all its knowledge of running during the marathon and is having to re-learn, Bambi-like, from scratch. Apparently this is quite common after a marathon, but doesn’t bode well for when I have two marathons close together (i.e. quite frequently).

Its also difficult to motivate myself again. The exhaustion, relief and elation I felt after finishing, (and after finishing my FIRST marathon), was overwhelming and I had to go and sit and be quiet for an hour afterwards while it sank in. That utter catharsis was something I really hadn’t banked on and I think I underestimated how running a marathon can leave you both physically and mentally spent and how you need to make time to recover in both ways.

And with less than a month to go before the next one and almost £3,000 donated so far, I should have the motivation I need (THANK YOU EVERYBODY, YOU ARE HONEY-DIPPED MARVELLOUSNESS ON A STICK OF JOY). The next run, in Cambridge, looks like it will be distinctly short on giant mice and fireworks. Still got to get round it though, these marathons aren’t going to run themselves (but it would be AWESOME if they did).

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And running 12 marathons.

We have to leave the house in half an hour to catch the train to Gatwick. Then we hang around for two hours before getting the plane to Orlando. After landing, we get the hire car, drive to the hotel, then try and pass 36 hours without incident until 5.30am Sunday morning, when my first marathon begins.

Throughout all this, the gnawing fist of fear that has been sitting in my stomach since yesterday morning will be getting bigger and bigger.

Ever since I started planning this, and moreso since I announced it last month, I’ve been hearing variations on “Wow! That’s so impressive/insane/impressively insane! How on earth are you going to do it?”

And I’ve generally patted them away, safe in the knowledge that I had a clear training schedule mapped out, was being sensible in training for this first one to finish, rather than finish fast, and had thought carefully about sustaining fitness/recovery in between races. All the while, doubtless giving off the impression of one who embodies the Kipling maxim “If you can keep your head while all around are losing theirs, you probably haven’t understood the situation.”

All this cool, logical planning is of no help to me now as I am gripped by this horrible vague fear of the unknown. A specific fear is fine as it usually has a specific solution to deal with it: “Set the alarm half an hour earlier”, “Run away from the lion”, etc.

But vague terror is horrible because it deals with the unknown and pulls in unrelated, probably unrealistic problems from the entire spectrum of your imagination. In terms of this marathon, that means thinking “My legs might fall off”, “What if I explode after 20 miles?”

“What if I can’t do it?”

And that’s what’s probably at the root of all this fear, that worry that I can’t do it – the specific cure for which does not exist as it won’t go away until the moment the starting pistol goes and I start running and then that’s all I can do.

So I’ll just try to go on a lot of rollercoasters tomorrow. And not let my legs fall off in the interim.