Cross Country Training - Map Reading
Training for the Paris Marathon

The challenge of preparing for your first ... and lets face it, all the smart money is on it being ... your last ... full marathon, presents you with many personal mountains to climb.

The first one is simply getting the idea into the right part of your brain cell. It is one thing filling in the online entry form on a lazy summer's evening in the South of France, whilst the cicadas are singing, the wine is flowing and the endless cheese course, that is three weeks in France, has reached the fromage avec truffe* stage.

It is quite another to put your running shoes on and drag your self out of the front door, when it's cold, it's raining and it's windy, often enough for it to make the slightest bit if a difference when the big day actually dawns.

The trick is to move the idea out of the 'summer fantasy' part of your head. You know, the part that is full of impossible, though strangely pleasing images. The crowd is cheering wildly as you cross the line. It is a moment of sporting glory! You are just behind Mo Farah (who is admittedly a little out of form due to a potentially career ending incident during the filming of his latest advert, which involved being locked in a room with an over sized Quorn pie for the better part of a week, with only a spoon for company. Imagine Mo Farah with a bit of a pot belly!)!

Forget all that fantasy malarkey.

If you are going to do this marathon lark, you are going to need a strong dose of reality, intravenously administered, just to get yourself to the start line.

You need to recognises the marathon for what it is. A bloody long way that your short fat and hairies are going to struggle with and struggle with a long way behind the likes of Mo Farah, with or without a serious miscalculation around food intake on his part.

And the only support on the day will be in the form of the occasional Gaelic shrug from one of the few spectators still hanging around by the time you go passed, who will be wearing a yellow jacket, waiting for it all to be over so she can get on with some serious protesting about ... well ... anything actually.

There is no getting over it. You will be lucky if you are able to get round without tears, tantrums and developing a life affecting male sulk that will challenge the loyalty of even your best of best friends as days drag into months, months into years of the same old stuck record.

Paris Marathon 2019

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All 26.2 miles of it! Paris. 14th April 2019. A day that will live in infamy.

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'Did I ever tell you that I once ran a marathon.'


'No! It was bloody awful!’

To achieve even this modest goal, you are going to have to spend a lot of time on the road building your legs up to cope with 42.2K. So making your long runs interesting is essential.

So how do you make long runs interesting?

You can treat long runs a bit like long car journeys. Plugging yourself into some high energy, fast paced, uplifting music, with a positive theme of overcoming adversity and triumphing over all, especially ex-boyfriends/grilfriends, whilst moving on to personal fulfilment, with the help of a spectacular sunset and an unexpected lottery win and is a common solution. If you go down this route, however, you will have to face the irony of such songs at mile 17, when your left leg has had enough, triggered article 50 and wants to go it alone from here on in.

Playing I spy is a less common way around the boredom problem, or at least few people admit to playing it. It would after all have to be the solitaire version of the game. Not often played and quite difficult whilst running a long distance. Then there are the inevitable consequences of admitting to doing such a thing. It is likely to lead to a referral to the outreach department of the local loony bin.

The running version of playing a video game on the back seat, while your parents get on with the issue of negotiating the pothole covered moonscape that we laughingly call our roads these days, has, as far as I am aware not yet made it onto the market. But I guess some boffin is working on it even as I write. Before you can say 'Do you get a selfie stick with that?’ there will be people running marathons with virtual reality masks on, playing the latest Grand Theft Auto, or Black Ops type video game, as they clock up yet another high score, without breaking into a sweat.

My approach to combating racing boredom is different. More low tech. You might even call it retro.

I set off on a Sunday morning, with an O. S. map, the bus fare to somewhere on the edge of the map, a sense of adventure and a vague idea of how to get back home.

Not everybody's cup of tea. But for those of us who did a bit of hill walking before the beer swilling, curry afterwards, long Sunday lie in, life style kicked in, it appeals to a nostalgic over confident opinion of our map reading skills

Also, it takes me to places I never knew existed or at least never gave a second thought to.

Codnor, as an example.

Those of you who have been through Codnor, (and lets face it what else would you do if you found yourself, for no reason that logic can explain, in Codnor?) will have it down as one of those arse end places in the U.K. that seem to exist outside of history. Just a place that happens to have a few houses, stuck there by a long forgotten, probably now dead and somewhat disgraced town planner, who never actually finished the town planning correspondence course, before being thrown in at the deep end with a pencil, a map, a budget and a deadline.

Certainly not the place for anything as interesting as a castle and one of the most haunted houses in Britain ... or so I thought. Wrongly as it happens.

Codnor Castle is not the most impressive ancient monument, but it does exist. Next to it, largely built from stone nicked from the castle, is a boarded up farm house that is forever appearing on 'Most Haunted', 'Here There Be Ghosts ... Honest', or 'We Are Going to Scare the Pants Off You' type programmes on T.V. youtube or Tom the Ghost Hunter Bloke's Video Blog.

As well as giving me a chance to discover an unknown corner of my own back yard, cross country running also gives me the opportunity to meet total strangers ... in the loosest sense of the term. People in the countryside will actually respond to your 'good morning'. Unlike city folk who tend to blank you, assuming you must be a deranged pervert with evil grooming intent or a rather polite mugger.

But probably the biggest advantage of cross country running, over the general plod around the streets of Nottingham, breathing in the fumes, of my usual training runs, are the naturally built in stops.

I find the most common cause for the need to stop for a bit, is my school boy map reading coming into direct conflict with the inconveniences that are the details on the ground.

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Failure to fully appreciate the size of the map is my first problem.

The 1 inch to a mile of my youth has given way to something altogether more metric and on a completely different scale. It takes time to adjust. Things are a lot bigger at 4cm to 1km and consequently they pass me by before I’ve even seen them coming.

This is regarded as a bit of a disadvantage in the map reading world.

My ability to misread the contour lines is something of a legacy from a rather pivotal lesson on the subject in the 2nd year of comprehensive school, when Mr Clough, who was taking the lesson, thought that I would benefit from taking my attitude, along with a letter strongly suggesting my need for a good talking to, to the Head's Office.

Consequently, I have often found myself following the up hill lane rather than the down hill path, which the map was clearly directing me towards ... for several miles ... on several occasions.

And therein is a lesson for life.

However, a few minor miscalculations are inevitable for even the most competent map reader. Things usually turn out about right ... eventually ... don’t they?

My approach is generally to ignore the details and press on ... more or less regardless. Through an almost, although not entirely, impenetrable hedge (I have the scars to prove it), the knee deep stream that really ought to have a footbridge (maybe I should write to someone about it) and then on to a confrontation with an angry farmer, who would not accept my self righteous indignation about public rights of way not being maintained, the appalling lack of styles on his property and doesn't he get a grant for the upkeep of that kind of thing.

Then a mile on, once my annoyance with the jumped up farm types in these parts has abated, it dawns on me that I have been following a parish boundary, rather than a footpath for the last three miles, which sort of explains everything.

Naturally I look for someone else to blame.

Clearly the fault lies with those mythical beasts ultimately responsible for all map reading blunders by blokes whose egos don't allow them to face up to their own short comings in the navigation department.

I mean of course the people who made the sodding map in the first place.

Now don't get me wrong. O. S. maps are wonderful. Painstakingly put together. Full of graphically detailed information. Easy to follow ... or a least very colourful.

It's just that they are always out of date.

You can see how it happens. Pubs marked on the map are closing down all the time. Housing estates and industrial estates are springing up all over the place and farmers, ever eager to maximise profits, or rather grant payments, are forever diverting footpaths, blocking them with strategically forgotten lumps of rusting farm machinery or leaving rabid killer werecows in every other field as some kind of twisted ancient rural blood sport.

Keeping up with all those changes must be nightmare for the O. S. team.

Every school boy knows that the O. S. team consists of 3 blokes wandering the nation with a theodolite, a note book and a long red an white striped pole. They tend to favour working in the highlands and islands of Scotland. Partly because they like the dramatic scenery, their love of malt whisky and the fact that they are on expenses. But mostly because nothing much changes up there, making it easier to keep on top of things. (Your average school girl has a more mature and better informed view of the world than your average school boy.)

This is of course a myth. It is no longer the way these things are done. We are well into he 2nd decade of the 21st Century, after all.

Firstly, they are not all blokes. Yes, equality is reaching even this hallowed corner of the establishment. It is has now been accepted that not only can modern women read maps, they can also be involved in the making of them, without compromising quality.

Secondly, they now have a team of 2. Times are hard and we are all in it together. (The one with the theodalite now also carries the note book.)

So don't be surprised when you find your map is out of date and what looked like the path crossing the railway leading to the last stretch home, turns out to be a dead end in a field with an angry looking bull, staring back at you. (Bulls are not generally marked on O. S. maps.) Or that you find yourself entering a village that should be 5 miles to the north, has somehow rotated by 90 degrees and they have put up the wrong signs but nobody noticed.

But don't worry, as you wait at the bus stop, having given up trying to find out exactly where you are. Just trust that the bus knows where it is going, give yourself up to the moment and watch the sun inexplicably setting in the North East for the first time in recorded history.

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The buck can be reassuringly passed on to the whisky drinking couple who are making a really nice map of the Outer Hebrides at the moment and have no plans to visit this neck of the woods anytime soon.

And, you can reassure yourself that come the 14th of April, in Paris, there will be no need to do any more advanced map reading than following the signs to the portaloos at the start ... which will, of course all be in French.

Did I ever tell you about the rather pivotal French lessons I spent outside the Head Master’s Office, with a letter of explanation, waiting for a bit of a chat about my attitude?

*If you have never had fromage avec truffe then at least 2 things can be said about you.

Firstly, you will have more money to spend on other things. It is not cheap.

Secondly, you have missed out.

Whatever you chose to spend the money on that you saved by not buying probably the most expensive cheese in the world, it will not have blown your mind in quite the same way. It is difficult to explain the taste of a rather bland cheese with real truffles embedded in it. Not in the same way that it is difficult to explain the taste of any other things that are new to you. Most things, after all, only need a short statement, ‘it’s a bit like chicken,’ or ‘it’s not unlike boiled cabbage’ and then at least the person you are trying to explain it to knows whether or not they would like to have a go.

Fromage avec truffe tastes like neither chicken or boiled cabbage. It does sort of taste like cheese and truffles. Not that I generally get the chance to taste truffles and cheese is a variable taste as anyone who has fallen foul of an over ripe Stinking Bishop will attest.

Fromage avec truffe is the culinary manifestation of synergy. It is more than the sum of it’s parts. Much more.

In short ... next time you get the chance, arrange a short term lone and take the plunge by buying a sizable wedge of the stuff. Then, as the stall holder packs up and goes off laughing to herself, all the way to an early retirement, try to explain the taste to someone you are not sharing the experience with.

Only then will you fully understand the mysteries of fromage avec truffe.

Oh My Nottz is a HotHouse Theatre production. Co. No. 6505843 Charity No. 1154523. Tel 07963020259 email website
The views expressed in Oh My Nottz are not necessarily those held by HotHouse Theatre.