Marathon Training – Week 10 CYPRUS HALF MARATHON

This was a run that I have been looking forward to for so long. Sue and I had registered for the half marathon and booked our stay in Cyprus a year ago and decided to make it a mini holiday. Our week in Paphos and running in the event has always been in my mind during the past twelve months. Even during the time after my cycling accident I focused on this event. It helped to keep me going through some very difficult times. I am delighted to say it did not disappoint.

Not having been to Cyprus before I was unsure what to expect. We had been given assurances that it was a lovely place, everyone speaks English, and they drive on the left hand side of the road. Despite this I was still feeling nervous. Having to deal with airports and flying and transfers has never been my idea of fun. It is safe to say I need not have worried. Following our arrival and settling into the villa Sue and I went for a run – three miles in the warmth and the sunshine. I felt at home straight away. This was running for pleasure and I wanted more.

The bonus of being a member of a running club is that there are always familiar faces to see. Katie Tucker, https://cleancoachkatie.com/#StrongerFitterFaster had initially suggested a group of clients take part and then with collaboration the Redway Runners club,http://www.redwayrunners.com/ had made this event a club trip. There were around one hundred members in and around Paphos. We met regularly in the evenings for social get togethers. I felt at home. This is what running is about.

The half marathon was due to take place on Sunday. During the evening on Saturday I started to feel very anxious and nervous. My hands started to shake. What was going on? Thoughts started to appear in my head – “I am going to struggle.” “This is the longest I have run in over six months.” “It is going to be a slow run.” “I will not finish this.” ” Why am I doing it?” “How am I going to cope?”

I had to sit down in the dark and collect my thoughts. Focus on breathing, stop getting frustrated, think of alternatives. This is when after a few minutes positives started to appear – “This is a run for fun, not for speed.” “I can do this, take it easy.” “Friends have offered to help – Daria and Amy will support.” “Take it as a leisurely and social run.” “Enjoy the sunshine and company.” This worked. I started to feel better. My hands had stopped shaking. I felt calm and relaxed.

Sunday morning arrived. Off to the start of the runs. The sun was shinning and the temperature early in the morning was warm. Surprisingly I was not feeling overly nervous or anxious. I was looking forward to the run. I was feeling confident. The atmosphere at the start was buzzing. So many from the club were attending. There were four events. The marathon, the half marathon, a 10km run, and a 5km run. Sue had opted to do the 10km run and this started after the marathon and half marathons had set off. There was a lot of chat, good lucks, and other felicitations.

It was getting very noisy and a great deal of bustle. Sue and I needed a little time to sit and relax. We went and sat on the quay side and dangled our legs over the edge. Just a few moments to collect out thoughts and relax.

Time was ticking on and the start of the half marathon was looming. We had a hug and a kiss and wished each other good luck and off I went to find Daria and Amy, my support team. This was to be Amy’s first half marathon and was running with Daria for support, so for them to offer me support was exceptionally kind. It was obviously very busy at the start line and it was fantastic to see so many familiar faces from the club. I found my support team and we had a chat whilst waiting for the start. After a few years of running I have come to learn that it is always good to have a race strategy. So on this occasion my strategy was – Take it easy, do not push hard, take into consideration the temperature and the hot sun, pause at water stations as required, but above all ENJOY IT!

The race started. Off we went up an incline out of the quay side. I was following Daria and Amy. I was surprised. Normally it takes a little time for my legs to warmed up and for me to get into a comfortable pace but I felt comfortable straight away. Was it the sun? Was it the location? Was it the atmosphere? I do not know but I felt good right from the start. I managed to blow Sue a kiss as we made our way up the incline and then it was down and along Poseidonos (the sea front). There was a lot of cheering and encouragement from the spectators. This run was already feeling good.

We continued running with the masses along the sea front. Then the runners started to thin out as they found their pace. The temperature was getting warmer and there was some concern in my head thinking “Can I continue all the way to the finish line?” Daria and Amy were fantastic. Daria kept checking on me almost every mile. Amy kept going. We passed water stations taking on water without stopping. Both Daria and Amy offered me sweets throughout the run for energy, but I had a stash of fruit pastilles in my pocket which helped. After a while we were running out the back of Paphos on dual carriageways. The surface was good (smooth and very few obstructions).

Half way round and we were all still going at a comfortable pace. The sun was climbing in the sky and the temperature was getting hotter. Some of the stretches on the run were ‘out and back’ so you got to see other runners heading back towards you. This provided excellent opportunities to shout encouragement to each other. I was feeling good. The legs were going well and not aching. Daria was leading our little team with Amy following. I followed Amy.

Little did I know at the time but Sue was heading for the finish in the 10km. All I can say is she was amazing. At the start Sue had a lot of doubts and was feeling negative. This had been brought on by her bad hip and difficulty in running (frequently Sue runs in pain). Despite this she flew across the finish line, and I missed it. Absolutely fantastic. Thankfully others were there to catch it on camera. I am totally in awe. Despite all the problems Sue still did it and with flying feet.

We were now well passed the half way mark and were heading back into Paphos. I was still feeling good and ideas started to pop into my head. “Shall I go for it?” “Shall I push hard?” “Lets speed up.” Ridiculous now that I look back but I was very tempted. All I can say is that I am pleased I stuck with my strategy. Daria was still leading us, Amy was still going strong and had not stopped once, and I was feeling good. “Lets not spoil it. Stick to the plan. It is hot. Don’t be stupid!” I told myself. I offered a few words of encouragement to Amy which also fortified my own thoughts. Daria kept checking on me and all was going well. Soon we were back on the front heading to the harbour and the finish line. The support from spectators was great. There was a lot of applauding and cheering. This was pure enjoyment and this is why I run. Because I enjoy it.

We were on the last half mile with a little incline up and around on to the quay side and the finish line. This was exhilarating. Cheers, shouts, applause, and so many spectating. Around the last corner and down to the finish. Amy in front, Daria closely behind, with me following. I caught a glimpse of Sue and blew her a kiss. With the cheers and applause we crossed the finish line. WOW! That was fantastic. I loved it.

The medals were handed out and congratulations exchanged. We had done it, without stopping once. I was thrilled. My first half marathon for over six months and I kept going without stopping with the support and encouragement from Daria and Amy. And for Amy to complete her first half without stopping on such a hot day is amazing.

One of the perks of the Cyprus Marathon event is the free cold beer for the runners at the finish line. I can assure you that this was greatly appreciated. Running on hot days can cause some serious dehydration. What better way to quench your thirst and rehydrate?

Looking back this run was everything I had hoped for. I am glad I did not push hard. If I had I firmly believe I would have become a cropper. This was not about ‘time’. This was about running for fun. The atmosphere was great, the event very well organised, and the support was excellent. Will I do it again? Definitely YES.

A huge thank you to Daria and Amy for supporting and guiding me around the course. A huge thank you to my wonderful wife for her support and encouragement and a massive WELL DONE for her 10km. This is one run that I have many happy memories and will always look back on with great fondness.

We had a few days in Pafos after the event for sightseeing and relaxing. It is a lovely place and we shall return. During our few days I was mentioned in the Redway Runners club press release for my half marathon. This made me feel very humble yet honoured and very proud.

Why do I run? I run because I enjoy it. I run for fun. This event delivered exactly what I was after. Bring on Pafos March 2020.

Marathon Training – Week 6 to Week 9. Reality is kicking in.

The past three weeks have been disappointing as far as running is concerned. I am not meeting my targets and have been experiencing problems. It is fair to say that I am not running as much or as good as I had hoped. This has also led to me making another big decision. I can no longer lead runs for the running club. I have resigned as a run lead. The following will explain but bottom line is it is not safe for me to lead runs anymore.

Monday 18th February – Rest Day = NO RUNNING. Tuesday 19th February – Easy run for 6 miles = NO RUNNING. Wednesday 20th February – Active Rest Day = Ran to Clean Coach Katie PT session. It felt good. Distance = 2.12 miles. Pace = 8:56min/mile. PT Session with CCK. A good session with some good therapy chat. Ran back home from PT. Up hill!! Distance = 2.11 miles. Pace = 10:04min/miles. Thursday 21st February – Steady Run for 5 Miles = NO RUNNING. I was tempted but spent time in the garden in the sunshine.

Saturday 23rd February – Run 5km (3.1 miles ) at easy pace + BEGINNERS GROUP. Running today. A short easy warm up run with Sue. No major problems and even Sue found it OK. Distance = 2.5 miles. Pace = 10:08mins/mile. This was followed by the Beginners Course. I am co-leading with Annette and todays target was the “timed 1 mile”. It was a great effort by everyone. Distance = 2.7 miles. Pace = 17:39mins/mile. Bear in mind there was a lot of stopping for briefings and loop backs.

Sunday 24th February – Run 25.8km (16 miles) at steady pace. EVENT: The Gade Valley 15 miles. My plan was to run the Gade Valley 15 but decided that I am not ready for this yet. MY FIRST “DNS”. So it was a case of going for the alternative plan – Lead the “Step Up” run. It was, however, a beautiful day. The sun was shining and a warm temp. Agreed to leading the Step Up run from Howe Park. I felt a little nervous and anxious at the start. Sue was with us and we had 75 runners turn up. 45 mins (ended up being 1 hour) followed by a further 30 mins (became 25 mins). A good run into Tattenhoe along Loughton Beck and into Emerson Valley. Felt very good and happy to be leading again. Great welcoming and feedback from the runners. Total distance = 5 miles. Pace = 15:45 mins/miles. This was due to a lot of stop/starting with numerous loop backs.

Monday 25th February – Rest Day = Rest Day but weather is still good. To good to miss. Went for an easy run into Tattenhoe Park by myself. Planned a 5 miles route and got lost. Ended up doing 6.6 miles. It felt a good run. No pressure for pace or distance – just run for fun. Distance = 6.6 miles. Pace = 9:32mins/mile. Tuesday 26th February – Easy Run – Run 8km (5 miles) = Rest Day to day. Need time to rest and recover. No running. Spent most of the day in the garden. Wednesday 27th February – Active Rest Day = Evening run with the Move on Up to Half Marathon course. A good turn out on a chilly evening. It was windy and cold and this created problems. I had great difficulty in hearing what people were saying. Distance = 6 miles. Pace = 14mins/mile. Again a lot of stop/starting checking on the runners in the group. Thursday 28th February – Run 10km (6 miles) at steady pace = NO RUNNING. Was going to do a short interval run with Sue but other things got in the way. Sue did a 5 km run in the evening. I will take this as an active rest day and did some work at home with weights. Friday 1st March – Rest Day = NO RUNNING.

Saturday 2nd March – Run 5km (3.1 miles ) at easy pace + BEGINNERS GROUP. A good turn out for the Beginners Run. A nice route into the Poplar Plantation. Weather OK (a little damp and cold with some wind). Distance = 2.62 miles. Pace = 11:034mins/mile.

Sunday 3rd March – Run 21km (13 miles) at steady pace = The plan was for a 13 miles run but I agreed to lead the “Step Up” run again. Leading the Step Up Run from Furzton Lake. I was feeling a little anxious and nervous. The weather was not good. Wet, cold, and windy however I had agreed to lead this run. I am concerned that the conditions will play with my head affecting my steadiness. 56 runners turned up. After initial briefing headed out to the Teardrop Lakes. Pretty much OK however hearing was a problem following an incident when a runner twisted his ankle. Went for an extra 3o mins around Furzton Lake. Felt a little wobbly in the wind but overall run went OK’ish. Distance = 4.54 miles. Pace = 13:58mins/mile.

And so it goes on for the following week with a couple of short runs but generally NO RUNNING due to the poor weather conditions. This is when, after much thought, I made a massive decision. It was a very sad day but the decision had to be made – I CANNOT LEAD RUNS FOR THE CLUB! It is not safe. I cannot hear, I become unsteady in poor conditions, I have to be mindful of the health and safety and wellbeing of the runners. I have informed the Club. It is upsetting as I love leading the runs and the Club has invested time and funds for me to have this great opportunity – but I have to be realistic and mindful of the risks this now has for me and the runners.

The week ended with another “DNS”. On Sunday it was the Harpenden Half Marathon and I had registered to run a long time ago when drawing up my training plan. This is my SECOND DID NOT START. My running is not going to plan and it is affecting me. I hope for decent weather and then I can be out again but in the meantime it is a struggle.

On the positive side – we have a holiday in Cyprus and I have a half marathon to run in the sunshine. Looking forward to this immensely.

Here’s hoping the next blog piece about my running will be up beat and cheerful.

Marathon Training – Week 5. Big Decision Time!

I have to be honest with myself and admit that my running is not going to plan. With the poor weather I have found that it has a serious detrimental effect on me when I go running. This past week has been difficult and disappointing, including a sad event that totally upset Sue and I. At the end of week a big decision had to be made.

Monday = Rest Day. No running today. Following yesterdays (Sunday) failure to go out in the ice and snow I was still feeling negative and my mood was definitely on a downward turn. Decided to make the most of not going out for a run. A short workout with the weights at home and this was sufficient.

Tuesday = Easy Run for 4 Miles. No running again. Just do not feel up for it. Enthusiasm has gone and still lacking confidence to go out in the cold. Therefore I wrote a blog piece having a moan about my situation (see Marathon Training – Week 4).

Wednesday = Active Rest Day. Became fed up with my attitude so I went for a run. Decided it was make or break. The weather had improved. It was a warmer temperature, little wind, and the ice and snow had melted. My decision was to go out without any plan for distance or pace – just run for a set time limit (up to 1 hour). As always it was a struggle to get going but once I warmed up found it to be enjoyable. Distance = 5.05miles. Pace = 8:51miles/min. Although there had been no running for a few days my feelings were upbeat and I was happy with the result. Attended Core Session in the evening. This was a good workout and worked up a sweat. Enjoyed the session. Does this mean my enthusiasm is returning?

RIP Sweeny. 07.02.2019
Sweeny. We miss him.

Thursday = Interval Session. No running today. A little workout at home with weights but due to unforeseen reasons unable to get out for a run. Today has been awful. Our adorable pet cat, Sweeny, has been very sick during the past couple of weeks. He has got a viral infection and has not improved in health. He has not been eating and has lost a lot of weight. Today I took him to the vet in the morning but despite being given a drip feed there was no improvement. Advice was he was not going to get better. After much thought and consultation with the vet Sue and I agreed that it would be kinder to have him put to sleep. This was heart breaking and both Sue and I were incredibly upset. Sweeny was put to sleep and we brought him home wrapped up in his old blanket. He is now laid to rest in the garden next to our other old pet cat. We miss him dearly.

Friday = Rest Day. No running. Weather absolutely miserable (raining and very windy). Laid Sweeny to rest in the garden in the pouring rain. To be honest, today has been dreadful.

Saturday = Easy Run 3 miles + Co Lead the BEGINNERS GROUP + CROSS COUNTRY RUN – CAMPBELL PARK. Today was gong to be a busy day. Disaster – Sue and I ran a mile warm up prior to the parkrun without any serious issues. We then started running the parkrun but Sue’s hip started playing up and my head was all over the place. I felt very unsteady on my feet. We managed a mile but some of this was walking. We agreed to abort the parkrun. Walked back to the car with some difficulty and agreed to come straight home. We offered our apologies to the Beginners Group (Annette) and came home. Both of us feeling disappointed and fed up. Distance = 2 miles. Pace = 13mins/mile. Today has been a big failure. Could things get any worse.

Sunday = Run 13 miles at steady pace. OLYMPIC PARK HALF MARATHON. I had previously registered to take part in the Olympic Park Half Marathon in London but following recent events I decided I could not do it. Following yesterdays debacle I decided not to run the half marathon. The weather was cold, windy, and wet and I knew that I just could not manage the distance following my recent history. Apologies were offered to friends along with good luck and best wishes for their running. Sue and I decided to go out for an easy one hour just to move the legs and get fresh air. It was raining a little and cold but we wrapped up and went for it. We achieved a 5.3 miles distance in the planned one hour. NO PRESSURE – just take it easy. Distance = 5.3miles. Pace = 11:28mins/mile.

All in all this week has not been good. I have to be sensible and realistic. For the past two weeks I have struggled on most of the runs for one reason or another. I am not achieving the running distance that is expected with my training plan. During the next few weeks leading up to the marathon there is to be a lot of training runs, but, the weather is not likely to be in our favour. It is BIG DECISION TIME.

Do I run the Milton Keynes Marathon in May knowing that it is unlikely that I will be ready? Obviously the answer is NO. Therefore I am not running the marathon. I will run the half marathon as 13 miles is more achievable than 26 miles. I am disappointed but I have to be realistic. A marathon run can wait. There will be plenty of other opportunities.

Race the Train, East Lancashire Railway, June 2019
Race the Train 2018

Race the Train. Meanwhile I have consoled myself by registering a place in the Race the Train run in June. It is a ten mile run across country alongside a steam railway. Absolute joy. I ran this last year with Kerry and Chris and thoroughly enjoyed the event. Bring it on!

Marathon Training – Week Four. Where’s My Enthusiasm Gone?

This is not going to be an upbeat or positive account of what has been going on. I will start by stating I am struggling to get out running. I hurts me to say that I am losing my love for running. The past few days have been a struggle to get some enthusiasm and go out. The weather has not been in our favour with the wintry conditions – cold temperatures, snow, ice, and wind – and this plays havoc with me when running.

I will try to explain later in this blog but I have found that following my accident and head injury when running in the cold and windy conditions I am struggling. I must accept that there will be times when the training plan is not going to be followed. There is a need for me to adapt and change the plan depending on the situation and circumstances.

Monday – Rest Day. No running today. After yesterday’s effort need time to rest and recover. I ran 10 miles with the club and ended up feeling light headed and unsteady and needed support from others. Today is about taking it easy therefore it was to be a few chores around the house and write some blog.

Tuesday – Easy Run – Run 6.1km (4 miles). I am disappointed. Not felt the mood for a run today. It is cold out there and there is a breeze blowing which makes it feel colder than it is. Have I lost my enthusiasm for running following the weekend? Where has my confidence gone?

Wednesday – Active Rest Day.Today is sunny but cold. Decided to run for 4 miles. Ended doing 6 miles as I felt good and happy. Very pleasant run. Admittedly my legs felt stiff at first but after the first mile they soon loosened and warmed up. Took it nice and easy with no pressure for time. There was no wind and it was good to see the sunshine. Distance = 6.1 miles. Pace = 9:26mins/miles. I did not attend the Core Session in the evening due to having to collect our cat from the vets (he has not been well during the past two weeks).

Thursday – Intervals. I know the plan said intervals and I sort of did this. Went out with Sue and covered just over 4 miles. There were some inclines to contend with (hill intervals?). It was cold and with a strong breeze. This messed with my head and had an effect with my running. It was a real struggle at times to keep going. Distance = 4.1 miles. Pace = 11:40mins/mile. This was followed with a PT session with Clean Coach Katie. It felt like a good workout with focus on upper body strength and balance. Bonus of working out in a gym – it is warm and there is no wind.

Friday – Rest Day. It snowed overnight. The ground is white, slippery, and wet. Decided not to run as it is not worth the risk. Ended up walking to the doctors surgery for an appointment and found the walk quite enjoyable although it was very cold. Distance = 2.6 miles. Pace = 22mins/mile.

Saturday – Easy 3.1 miles. No parkrun today – cancelled due to ice and snow. Went for a run with Sue to test the paths and found it very difficult in places. Ice and snow do not make good running conditions. The cold air also made my head feel fuzzy. I am beginning to see a pattern – if it is cold and/or windy I struggle to run as it effects my head. I am becoming fearful that I will fall over and bang my head again. This would not be good. It is clearly influencing my confidence. Distance = 2.5 miles. Pace = 13:46mins/mile.

This was followed by the Beginners Session. We ran around the cricket pitch at Campbell Park. This was not easy in the snow, but it provided more grip than running on the paths which were icy. There was a lot of stopping and starting on my part as I was time keeping the intervals and shouting to everyone “run” and “walk”. Distance = 2.5 miles. Pace = 20mins/mile.

Sunday – Long Steady Distance Run, 13 miles. No running. It is cold and breezy and still icy in places. I have lost my confidence to run when the weather is not good. I am fed up running in the cold and wind to feel light headed and unsteady. The best way I can describe it is like running when drunk. Your vision goes blurred, it is difficult to move in a straight line, and your balance is messed up. It is extremely difficult to run when feeling this way. This happens only when running in the cold and wind. Thankfully I do not experience this at any other times. It is strange but it clearly has a negative effect on me. My confidence is disappearing. Overall, I am not feeling happy with the situation. On top of this I have a half marathon to run this coming weekend.

Conclusion – BE POSITIVE. Look to the future and the summertime with the lovely warm sunny days……………………

My Life in the Forgotten Service – A career in Her Majesty’s Prison Service

In the Beginning – This all started back in 1981 when I was seventeen, at school, and with my application for a job as a clerical assistant in the DHSS (Department of Health and Social Security) in Bedford.

It was my ambition to be a police officer, but I was still seventeen years old and too young to apply. My exam results from school were not particularly good, although I had achieved three “O Levels” including English. A job search took place throughout the summer when I applied for a clerical assistant job in the DHSS in Bedford.

I was invited to an interview. This took me by surprise as I had had very little luck with other applications. On the morning of the interview I was obviously feeling nervous. After a good wash and brush up, attired in a three-piece pinstriped suit, and carrying a copy of the Daily Telegraph, I arrived at the DHSS building. After signing in I was shown where to wait. I was not alone. There were numerous other candidates sitting and waiting for their interviews. As you do, I sat there eyeing up the competition. Male, female, all generally of the same age and all dressed smartly. I sat there waiting, feeling nervous and apprehensive, and glanced through the front and back pages headlines of The Telegraph. Eventually my name was called.

From what I can remember the interview passed without any major incident. I was directed to a chair in front of a table behind which sat three interviewers. The usual questions of Why had I applied? What did I have to offer? What are my ambitions? What was my background? What are my interests? were asked. I think I answered and performed well. I felt confident. Finally, I was dismissed, and I came home. As it was September and I had no employment I returned to school for another year in the sixth form to re take my failed exams.

One day on returning home from school I was told by my mother that someone from HM Prison Bedford had telephoned and wanted me to go for an interview for a job in the prison. It had been explained that I had been picked out of the DHSS interviews for this task. I was shocked and dumb founded. Why would the prison want me? It was totally unexpected and I had never thought of working within a prison. Never the less another interview was pending, and I had to report to the main gate at HMP Bedford. This was very daunting.

The Old Main Gate at HMP Bedford

Another wash and brush up and on goes the three-piece pin striped suit again. I arrived at the prison and knocked on the gate as instructed. An officer opened the small door in the old large wood gate and after giving my name and showing my identification and the reason for attending I was allowed in and was instructed to report in the gate office. I gave my name and identification again and I was signed in and told to wait.

It was like stepping back in time. HMP Bedford is an old Victorian prison and it felt that it had not change much since it had been built in 1801. The gate was busy. Officers and vehicles were coming in and out. There was a lot of noise as the gates were opened and closed. It was dark and dingy in the gate area. The clanking of locks, bolts, and the jingling of keys was quite deafening. On top of this staff were shouting instructions at each other. The waiting area was a dark small room within the gate. My nerves were playing up. I remember my hands were shaking. What was I doing here?

HMP Bedford. The Discipline Office located in the Administration Building (the three windows behind the Gate building)

After a while I was escorted to an office in the main building. This was where the Head of Administration worked. Introductions were made and I was offered a seat. He was accompanied by a mature lady. I was introduced to her as the office manager (Executive Officer) and pleasantries were exchanged. It felt relaxed and a little informal. I found this a little odd as I expected another formal interview board like the one in the DHSS. He explained why I had been invited and said that I had impressed the board on the initial interview. He provided a brief outline of the job involved – it was still a clerical assistant role (filing, photocopying, post clerk, general office duties) and the conversation went on for quite a while. I started to feel a little reassured, although it was still daunting thinking about working in a prison. He took me for a quick look up to the office where I would be working and there were some brief introductions to the staff present. The office was titled “Discipline Office”.

We went back to the Head of Administration office where he offered me the job, which I accepted. There was some form filling to carry out and I was informed a formal offer will be sent in the post. Next was to arrange a start date. This took me by surprise. It was to be in a couple of weeks – Wednesday 21st October 1981. I agreed.

The next two weeks were pretty much uneventful other than attending school and boasting about my new job in the prison. I finished school on Tuesday 20th October 1981 ready to start my new job. Little did I know then that I would still be in the service thirty-three years later.

Day One – I was nervous, and I was anxious. I was seventeen, literally just finished school, and was about to start work in a prison. I arrived at my new workplace at nine o’clock in my pin striped suit and went through a few checks and presenting identification and walking through the gate again. I was met by one of the staff from the office and escorted up to the Discipline Office where I would be based. The first day memory is a blur. So much information and form filling (including the Official Secrets Act). Keeping in mind all the time to be polite, respectful, ask questions if in doubt, and try to remember what I have been told. I was introduced to my mentor – Helena – and was informed that she will be showing me everything I need to know about my job. It was a busy office. All the prisoner records were kept there along with mountains of other documentation. Diaries for court appearance, worksheets to calculate sentences and date of release, numerous forms for requesting and obtaining information. I had a brief introduction to the Chief Officers Clerk, a prison officer who liaised between the office and the operational side of the prison (the Chief Officer, reception, residential wings, et al). There was a very brief explanation of the processes involved with prisoners arriving in reception and going out to courts and release. It became clear to me that this “Discipline Office” was the hub of prisoner information. I found out about nominal index cards, warrants for custody from the court, F2050 (prisoner record), and numerous other forms including a Form 46 to request prisoners’ previous convictions from the police. There was so much to take on board, but it was only day one and I was reassured that I was not expected to remember everything. The other staff in the office were a very pleasant and friendly

I came home feeling somewhat worn out. There had been a lot of information to take on board but there was a feeling of excitement in me. This was my first proper job and I was looking forward to returning to work the following day.

Sat at my desk in the Discipline Office

The office was busy, so much going on all the time. There were escorted tours of the rest of the prison and getting to meet other staff including the officers. I was introduced to Governors, Chief Officer, Principal Officers, and many others ranks and grades. It soon became apparent how friendly everyone seemed to be. Everyone appeared to work well together, no matter where they worked in the prison. There was a friendly and welcoming, and at times a jovial environment. Even the few prisoners I met seemed good natured.

There was a Red Band (trustee) prisoner who used to provide hot drinks for the staff. This I found strange, but it was how the things worked at the time. We would order sandwiches from the staff mess and these would be delivered to the office.

In the early days my favourite sandwich was known as a “Space Special”. Sausage, fried egg, brown sauce, on brown bread. I had one of these almost daily mid mornings. After time I earned the name “Spacey” as my lunchtimes involved visiting the local pub, having a pie and a pint, and playing on the space invader games. This was to become a regular occurrence. The name “Space Special” was generated by my colleagues and it was a regular request from the staff mess.

After some time, I found my feet and started to get to know my tasks and the expectations of my job. It was generally routine with filing, retrieving documents and files, form filling, sorting and franking the outgoing post. The office was lively and good natured. Everything seemed to be going well until one day when I was summoned to the Head of Administration office………

To be continued……..

Marathon Training – Week Three. What went wrong?

This was my third week into the marathon training plan. I was feeling optimistic after the Fred Hughes 10 miles last weekend, although my legs were feeling stiff.

The week started with a rest day on Monday so I did exactly that. I took the day leisurely and did some chores I the home but felt that I needed to do something. I should not run therefore my decision was to do a little homework. Stretches and some exercises using weights worked well and satisfied my need for activity on a rest day. Legs were still feeling a little stiff but better than first thing in the morning.

Tuesday the plan said an easy 4 miles. Not wanting to disappoint myself I headed out with tight calf muscles. After a little warm up muscles started to feel OK. It was an easy run out and back. The temperature was cold,
3° C, and yet it was a sunny morning. There was still some frost and ice on the paths so I proceeded with care. The final distance was 4.1 miles at a pace of 9:04mins/mile. I was happy with this.

Wednesday was an active rest day. The plan was to attend the evening core training session. Unfortunately I did not attend. For some reason I was just not feeling up for it.

Thursday arrived and today was interval session along with physical training session. Intervals have never been my favourite and my decision was to run to the PT session and then run home. The route was down and up hill so I reassured myself that this would achieve a similar aim of the intervals. So I ran to PT, had a good session focusing on upper body strength and balance, and then ran home. I must admit that ran is a bit of an exaggeration. It was more of a jog. Total distance was 4.3 miles at 10:00mins/miles. Nice and gentle.

Friday was a rest day. Who am I to argue with my training plan. Chill out and take it easy before the weekend running hits me.

As always we ran the local parkrun on Saturday morning. Runners from the running club were doing pacing so if you were eager it was a good opportunity to aim for a personal best. Sue and I, agreed that we would take it easy. My plan stated an easy 3.1 miles. I am not a slave to my training plan, but it sounded like a good idea. After all I had a long run to do the following day. We completed the parkrun in 33:50, distance of 3.1 miles at a pace of 10:40mins/miles. I was content. Sue was also content. Following this we had the Beginners Course to attend so of we went.

The Beginners Course went without a hitch. Plenty turned up, despite it being a cold winters morning, and we headed out for short intervals after the warm up. Annette and I co lead this course and Annette asked me to take the lead this week. I have to say that I did enjoy this. The group are very up beat and chatty and they all seem to be getting along very well. This makes it a positive and pleasing experience leading a course. After the session we went for our compulsory coffee, cake, and debrief (chat).

Along came Sunday. The plan was to run a long steady distance run of eleven miles. It was a cold and windy morning, although the sun was trying to shine in between the clouds. I run with the local club along with many others so I met up with Annette and Simon to run to the Stadium MK where the club run started from. This gave me an early three miles warm up prior to the main run and it went well. Legs were feeling good and I felt warmed up, although the wind was cold. Unfortunately on arrival at the Stadium MK there was a good fifteen minutes of hanging around waiting for everyone to congregate and the run to start. It did not take long for the cold to set in. My fingers soon started to feel numb and regretfully I was wearing shorts so the legs were feeling the cold. A friend very kindly lent me some gloves to help warm up. I took solace with the thought that as soon as we started running I would warm up and all would be OK. Not sure why but once we started the run the warm up never appeared. I was feeling frozen. Although my legs were feeling alright my hands and arms were numb, my face was feeling pretty much the same, me eyes were watering, and my ears were also numb. I persevered. So long as the legs were feeling good I could keep going.

Unfortunately the symptoms started to play havoc with my head. Following the serious head injury I received some months ago my sense of balance can be upset in extreme conditions. This I have found when running in the cold. With the cold, the wind, and the exertion my head started to get a little out of sorts. I noticed that I was starting to weave across the paths and in front of other runners. The only way I can describe this is “running when drunk”. It is not easy. The only way I found I could keep going was to focus on the person directly in front of me and hope that they kept going in a straight line. This worked for a while but it was noticed by some others that I was clearly struggling. Meera kept an eye on me and raised the alarm. Annette and Simon guided me back to the finish. At the finish I struggled to stand up. My head was spinning and I was all over the place. Annette and Sam carried me into McDonalds where finally I could sit down, relax, rest, and warm up. I never want to experience this again.

On reflection I have learnt some valuable lessons from this run. I also owe many thanks to friends who looked after me and helped me get to the end.

When it is cold – wrap up. Keep warm. It is easy to strip of layers when you get hot rather than try and keep warm by running. When it is cold wear long leggings and gloves. Wear a suitable hat and buff. Dress suitably for the weather conditions and temperature.

This run has knocked me back. I ended with a 10 miles distance at 10:08 pace, but it was a real struggle and battle to keep going. I gratefully appreciate the help and reassuring comments I have received since, but, I should not have put myself in that situation. Lesson learnt.

Bring on week four of marathon training. I hope it is more positive….

My Life in the Forgotten Service – A career in Her Majesty’s Prison Service

I retired from the Her Majesty’s Prison Service on Thursday 17th April 2014 having served thirty-three years.

My career started on Wednesday 21st October 1981.  I was fresh out of school. It was my first proper full-time job. I was seventeen years old. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. Ronald Reagan was President of the USA. It was the same year that the first London Marathon took place with 75000 runners.

HMP Holme House, HMYOI Aylesbury, HMP Garth, HMP Bedford

During my career I have served at HMP Bedford, HMP Garth, HMP Holme House, and HMYOI Aylesbury. It has been a long and illustrious career during which I have worked in different establishments in different roles, in both administration and as an officer, and witness many changes in the service.

Prison Officer Graduation, 1995

I have witnessed a massive increase in prison population, a major prison building program, major changes to staff organisation, the introduction of information technology, many new work processes and systems, the introduction of private prisons, and I have been involved in and witnessed many incidents. During these years’ violence, disruption, drug use, and self-harm have been on an increase. Regretfully, in my opinion, discipline and control have not kept pace with the alarming rise of violence. This reflects society outside the walls.

There have been good times, happy times, sad times, and some truly dreadful times. There are times that I have very fond memories, and times that I wish I could forget. There are many events that are fixed in my memories. There have been reprimands by senior managers, a Deputy Governor, Principle Officers, and Senior Officers. There have been commendations on several occasions. There have been thanks from prisoners for my time and help. There have been immeasurable number of occasions when colleagues support, assist, and help each other in various incidents and events. I have had the unfortunate event of discovering a death in custody and being the first person on the scene. There are numerous occasions when I have sat with a prisoner providing help, advice, and just to listen.

My experiences in a public service may be boring to some, but I hope to others they are interesting, and perhaps give some hope. What I can say is that I have an immense pride with my career and the colleagues who I have shared my time in custody with.

Time to have a moan (get it of my chest) –

I am very aware that the prison service as it is today is not the same as it was during the majority of time in my career. It has been decimated by political ideology and with the priority to save money. It is no longer a “public service” that people once had pride with. It is a business driven by the objective of saving money at the top of the agenda. Cut costs is the message from the very top. This has been going on for many years. As soon as you create a business and drive for continual savings on the budget you lose sight of the real reason why the organisation exists. The priorities change. Everything is driven by budgets and the delivery of rehabilitation, care in custody, and even security become secondary. Money becomes the first and main consideration.

This has blinkered the view of many managers. I was a victim of this attitude a decade ago when I was managing a young prisoner who was suicidal and actively self-harming and who required constant supervision. When requesting permission to place the prisoner on constant supervision from the duty governor (this is prison service protocol) the duty governor asked, “How much is this going to cost and who’s going to pay for it?” This took me by surprise, and I admit I was somewhat dumb founded and angry that a governor would be asking such a question. It was then that I realised that the priority for some is money – not providing the service and to deliver the care that we are employed to provide. I appreciate that the public services do not have an unlimited budget, but to be asked “How much?” when you are putting in place procedures to preserve life comes as a kick in the teeth. I felt let down and unsupported. It was disappointing, and to some extent upsetting, that a governor should ask such a question in a time of high stress and anxiety.

When you are working with a young man and putting procedures in place to help and protect him (from himself), who is clearly distressed, violent, threatening, is actively cutting himself and threatening to take his own life (and I add he had a long history of attempted suicide and self-harm), the last thing on any persons mind should be “how much is this going to cost and who’s going to pay for it?”

This I have struggled with for so long. Many managers have forgotten what the prison service is for. From the very top many managers strive to meet their targets and score points, which in turn leads to a bonus for some. Thus, their objectives are different to what the prison service is here for. The statement of purpose is clear – Her Majesty’s Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release. I firmly believe that some in the echelons of prison service management, both on a local and national level, have forgotten this, and this is clearly having a big impact on the service.

That is it – moan over.

My blog is not going to be a critique of the prison service nor is it going to be an opportunity for me to rant and rave how bad things have become within those walls. The paragraphs above will be my one and only censure and condemnation of the service.

This blog will be about my career, the roles and tasks I undertook, some of the obstacles I have had to deal with, some of the events and incidents that I have been involved in, and the adventure which lasted for thirty-three years. An adventure in which I have immense pride.

In the Beginning –

HMP Bedford. Where it all started.

This all started back in 1981 when I was seventeen, at school, and with my application for a job as a clerical assistant in the DHSS (Department of Health and Social Security) in Bedford.

To be continued….