77. The most miserable day of the year

An article on the radio this week said that 24th January was officially the most miserable day of the year. Apparently the combination of bad weather, dark nights, post-Christmas debt and broken New Year’s resolutions serves to make this the depressive lowpoint in our calendar.

The fact that it was a Monday can’t have helped much either.

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In reality, the weather around here has been so benign that until a few days ago we seemed to have gone straight from autumn into spring this year, with the snowdrops of last week only just winning the race into flower against the daffodils outside the front fence.

But hang on a minute there – daffodils in mid-January ? My childhood memories are of snowdrops in February and daffodils in April. How much further can the seasons change ? Will our spring flowers soon be blooming in November ?

The winter nights are a drag, though. I was running around the athletics track in the dark at Spectrum again on Sunday night, whilst an ice hockey game was going on (Guildford Flames beat Fife 9-0). And although the car park was fully lit, the track was dark and unwelcoming, even if my solitary session went well. The pleasant and, let’s face it, unfamiliar thought of 9-0 victories might almost see me trading in my West Ham scarf, if only the Flames hadn’t spoiled things by losing 1-3 to Bracknell at my first home game a few weeks back. Oh puck.

A better knowledge of on-rink tactics would certainly have come in handy this morning, much of which I spent slithering across Ranmore Common on my way to work. A light dusting of snow on the Downs had frozen overnight into a lethal veneer on the tarmac. The combination of black ice and steep hills is never a good one, and all my experience of Alpine driving didn’t help much when I found myself executing a gracefully terrifying four-wheel drift outside St Teresa’s School. Fortunately at only 5 mph.

As for the post-Christmas financial hangovers, luckily there is little out of the ordinary to report this year, and there aren’t even really any broken New Year’s resolutions. Admittedly, this may well be because there weren’t any New Year’s resolutions in the first place. I’ve always found this a successful approach in the past, and so I tried it again. But you only need to drive past the ranks of cars parked outside the pool or the gym in January to realise that a job as gym instructor must offer a wide range of increasingly seasonal employment opportunities.

As I set off then, resolutely but resolvedly resolution-less into this New Year, and past that dark, chilly, poor, and unfit slough of despond that is, or was just, 24th January, what is my approach going to be ? The answer is, for once, that I simply don’t know. There’s no marathon in the plan, well, specifically not London. A couple of half marathons lie ahead, starting at Almería in Spain this Sunday, and then at Bath in March. A few more sociable runs this year, I hope. And that’s about it.

Unambitious this might seem, but directionless it’s not. I spent at least ten years of my life, saying. ‘This year, I’ll get fit’. But I never did, of course, as all those lapsed gym memberships serve so amply to explain. Eventually, it was a gradual but determined shift to a regular habit of exercise which finally got me there, rather than any lightning-like bolt from a life of lethargy. A routine to retain.

So, for a while longer yet, I’m just planning to keep up my regular winter running pattern. Six miles early in the week, up the annoyingly steepish Crawley Lane to Pound Hill. A short, three mile speedwork session. A slower seven miler north of the airport towards the pimple-like Prestwood Hill. And either a longer run, or a Spectrum track session squeezed in somewhere if I can make it. It’s a regular rota, where I can measure my progress over the same routes, on quiet lanes and pavements. Four days and 20-25 miles a week, and it seems to work quite well.

Can this regular training make a difference ? The truth is, of course, that running always is just as hard, because you simply run faster as you get fitter. I was no less breathless over my Pound Hill loop today than when I started back after injury before Christmas. But it took me almost 55 minutes then, against a little over 52 minutes today. Just a five per cent improvement in pace – it’s not all that much, and yet uncannily the same proportion as my 4 kg re-lost (again) back down to 83 kg. An apparently straight line equation between weight and speed.

So does this really mean that a one-off liposuction session each 24th January might offer precisely the same pace improvements as weeks of regular training through frozen lunchtimes and around the dark track ?

It’s an intriguing thought, that one. Maybe next time I’ve got a half marathon coming up I should step up the training, or then again maybe I’ll just book myself in for a good old-fashioned adipose-fat draining session.

I guess both approaches might prove equally painful. But only one of them is ever likely to make inroads into that six-pair high pile of running shoes which lingers in my cupboard after the sales each and every 24th January. It may well be a cold, dark time of year, but somehow the annual trek to the running shop has already spoken of the days of summer ahead …

Related articles:
76. A year of running, rainily
63. Henry VIII’s consumption and the rocky road to running ruin
79. In sickness and in health
13. A winter night’s fartlek – Guildford town and track
22. West Ham bubbles – football relegation and running

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