If you're a woman who wants to run a bit, a red setter is an essential accessory. Photo: Getty
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How to run (if you're a woman)

According to Runner's World, a woman needs some pink trainers and a dog if she is to stay safe while jogging.

This article first appeared on mytightswontstayup.com and is crossposted here with permission

Last Boxing Day, when I was too full to do a jigsaw or argue with my dad, I sat in the chair near the cat litter tray with a bottle of sherry, and stared at the wall for six or seven hours. Ignoring my mum’s conversation about whether Jeremy Irons had been born a woman, I started to think about my life. Just as I was envisaging the whole community grief-stricken at my imaginary funeral, the next door neighbour’s cat ran in through the cat flap and did a massive shit in the litter tray at my feet. It was existentially traumatic.

As I stood outside in my slippers, leaning on the wheelie bin with a glass of Croft Original in one hand and a bag of Fluffy’s turd in the other, I saw three women wearing day-glo Lycra jog past. FREAKS! I thought. LYCRA! On BOXING DAY! What wankers! Why don’t they just piss off and GET A LIFE! I went back indoors and watched a film about ghosts with Maggie Smith in it and ate two jam tarts, but I couldn’t get the vision of the Lycra-clad runners out of my head. “Mum,” I said, “I’ve just realised that I’ve never, ever run anywhere in my life. Except for running for buses, and that doesn’t count.” My mother stared at me blankly. “Well, I know you never did PE love, but you ran like the clappers to the chemist when you got nits off that kid that looks like Angela Lansbury, and that was after you’d eaten that massive trifle for the Royal Wedding, so you can’t be that unfit.” This got me thinking. If I could career down a dual carriageway pissed on sloe gin, crawling with nits and full of Elmlea then, if I actually tried, if I had the right gear and didn’t eat Toblerones, maybe I could properly run.

On 3 January, I went to Sports Direct, a sort of preparatory dogging ground for passive aggressive teenagers, who feel each other up in massive queues whilst breaking wind freely. It was in the changing rooms that I discovered two things: 1) that most sports clothing manufacturers hate women and 2) that female runners know of a secret supplier, who fashions magic leggings that hold in your stomach, lift up your arse and make the outline of your knickers disappear. Now, not to be big headed or anything, but I’m not grotesque. My legs and arse just look like legs and arse, I don’t have any sort of major weird shit going on. But whenever I tried on a pair of running “tights” I looked like a  bloated Bonfire Night Guy stuffed with sausage meat, dog shit and gravel. In a panicked frenzy, I bought a pair of shiny leggings with a pretend skirt attached, which made me look like a possessed fan of skort-loving nineties pop quartet, B*witched.

After my first three runs and the self-loathing, pain and horror that ensued, I asked my brother for tips. “The problem is,” he said, “you run like you’ve got wasps after you. Stop flailing your arms about and pulling that face. And you’ll knacker your knees doing it like that. But, then again what do I know, I’m not Fatima Whitbread, I know toss all about running.” I pointed out that Fatima Whitbread did Javelin. “Like I said,” he replied. “I know toss all about running.”

So I sought professional advice and, while eating a delicious bagel, perused Runner’s World’s website, where I found the article 30 Things Every Woman Should Know About Running. This is it, I thought, this is the Holy Grail of running tips. These people know so much about running that they manage to write a whole magazine’s worth of crap about it every month. I was excited.

The tips, however, turned out to be so packed with condescending, scare-mongering, sexist wank that I picked up my bagel and hurled it across my living room. I threw it like a Frisbee, and then spent fifteen minutes cleaning Philadelphia off a cushion with a wet tea towel and muttering expletives.

That was seven weeks ago, and I’ve now calmed down enough to revisit what I saw on that angry, bagel-strewn afternoon. Prepare yourselves; here are a few dazzling tips taken from 30 Things Every Woman Should Know About Running:

“Running with headphones outdoors is a safety hazard in more ways than one. You won’t be able to hear cars, cyclists or someone approaching who intends to do you harm. Attackers will always pick a victim who looks vulnerable. When you have headphones on, that means you.”

Cheers Runner’s World! My previous fears re. looking like a sausage meat effigy of the curly haired one from B*witched have shot RIGHT down the list of concerns. Rather than worrying about “Guy Fawking” of the legs, I’m now concerned that I’m going to get massively murdered by listening to my training podcast which, as it happens, YOU recommended on your website. This is particularly irritating, as I have searched far and wide to find headphones that will accommodate my Paul Daniels sized head.

You don’t have to be the competitive type to enter a race every now and then. You’ll find that lots of other racers aren’t overly competitive, either. They’re out there because it’s fun and social, and it motivates them to keep on running.”

What a helpful tip for the ladies! Runner’s World clearly understands that women are never competitive, ever, but know that they LOVE being sociable and having fun! That’s why most runners will tell you that marathons are a real laugh, a proper scream, and that they provide ample opportunity to discuss interior décor and dinner party recipes with like-minded athletes. People have told me they run to improve their stamina, to strengthen their muscles, to look after their heart, to lose weight, to combat depression…but I’ve never heard anyone say “I run because it’s fun and social”. WHO WOULD SAY THAT? If you want to have fun and be social then sod off down the pub.

“Unfortunately, men and women will never be equals in the urination department…Simply find a private place behind a tree or dense shrubbery, squat and pull the lining of your shorts over to one side.”

This is real. This is an actual tip from Runner’s World. While the tips for male runners cover nutrition, training, pronation and injury prevention, the tips for women tell us how to have a wazz in a bush.

“There’s no need to miss a run or a race just because you’re having your period.”

I’m 33, Runner’s World. I’ve had approximately 239 periods. During those periods I’ve done things like dismantle five MDF bookcases with a miniature plastic spoon in lieu of a screwdriver, babysat for four children with diahorrea in a caravan in Mablethorpe and had actual sex with a man. Books and life have taught me that it’s OK, nay, even encouraged, to move while having a period.

“It may not be much consolation, but men are sometimes verbally harassed and occasionally threatened on the run, just as women are.”

Seriously, RW, just Fuck Off.

“Just because you’re married and have young children and a job doesn’t mean you don’t have time to run…You need this time. Taking it for yourself (by letting your husband baby-sit while you run, for instance) will benefit the whole family.”

Question: can you babysit your own child?

“Morning is the best time for women to run, for lots of reasons. First, it’s the safest time; statistics show that women are more likely to be attacked late in the day.”

Wait! There’s more:

“Women who run alone should take precautions. Leave a note at home stating when you left, where you’ll be running and when you expect to return. Carry a personal attack alarm. Stick to well-populated areas, and don’t always run the same predictable route. Avoid running at night and don’t wear jewellery. Pay attention to your surroundings. Carry identification, but include only your name and an emergency phone number.”

Good Grief, I want to do Couch to 5K, not join the KGB. Why would I wear jewellery, Runner’s World, why? And what sort of ID features only my name and phone number? Must I carry one of those little gold tags that fancy Labradors wear on their collars? Which leads on to my favourite “tip” of all:

“Running with a dog gives you the best of both worlds – you get to run alone, but with a friend. A dog is both a faithful companion who will go anywhere, any time, and a loyal guardian who’ll discourage anyone from harming you.”

Who wrote this bloody article, Son of Lassie? Let’s face it, dog walking almost always entails:

  1. Shovelling turd off the pavement and putting it in a bag.
  2. Carrying the turd bag around for half an hour in search of a bin.
  3. Trying desperately to stop the dog having sex with moving or inanimate things.

Now, I have oft seen the cover of Runner’s World magazine, and it usually features an athletic woman with blonde hair, scampering over Scarfell Pike in tiny hot pants and a yellow bra. Never, ever is this woman pictured chasing a Border Collie across Tesco’s car park, with a bag of shit in one hand and a rape alarm in the other.

To top it all off, the “Women’s” section of the website features a massive stock image of a model with a perfect manicure pinching her waistline, just to gently remind us all that we’re fat and disgusting. Other gems in this “special section” for women include tips on how to run with a buggy and reviews of some nice pink shoes.

So, to summarise: we’re all fat and we’re going to get killed. Buy some cerise trainers and get a Red Setter and you might be OK, otherwise, stay indoors.

Thanks Runner’s World, thanks loads.

This article first appeared on mytightswontstayup.com and is crossposted here with permission


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The players make their mistakes on the pitch – I make mine on the page

I find that if I watch three live games in a weekend, which often happens, I have totally forgotten the first two by the time the third comes up.

I was a bit humiliated and ashamed and mortified last week because of letters in this magazine about one of my recent columns. Wait till I see the Correspondence editor: there must be loads of nice letters, yet he or she goes and prints not just one, but two picking me up on my mistakes. By the left.

But mainly, my reaction was to laugh. Typical, huh, I’ve gone through life spelling things wrong, with dates dodgy, facts fictional – will I ever learn?

John Lennon did not use a watch. He maintained that he had people on the staff who would tell the time. I don’t wear a watch, either, but for different reasons. I want to get my wrists brown and I hate carrying anything.

By the same milk token, I don’t worry about my spelling. Like Lennon, I expect others to clear up after me. Surely the subs should have spotted it was a typo, that it is 64 years since 1951, not 54 as I wrote? What do they do all day? The other mistake was about replays in the League Cup: too boring to repeat, you would only yawn.

I usually try to get the spelling right the first time I use a word, then bash on, letting it come out any old way, intending to correct it later. Is it Middlesbrough or Middlesborough? Who cares? I’ll check later. Then I forget.

I was so pleased when Patrick Vieira left Arsenal. I found those ten seasons a nightmare, whenever I realised his surname was lumbering into vieiw (I mean “view”). Why couldn’t I memorise it? Mental laziness. The same reason that I don’t know the phone numbers of any of my children, or the correct spelling of my grandchildren’s names, Amarisse and Siena. I have to ask my wife how many Ss and how many Ns. She knows everything. The birthday of every member of the royal family? Go on, ask her.

I might be lazy on piddling stuff such as spelling but I like to think my old brain is still agile. I have three books on the go which are hellishly complicated. I have the frameworks straight in my head but I don’t want to cram anything else in.

It can be a bit embarrassing when writing about football, though. Since sport was invented, fans have been making lists, trotting out facts, showing off their information. As a boy, I was a whizz on the grounds of all 92 League clubs, knew the nicknames of all the clubs. It’s what you did. Comics like Adventure produced pretty colour charts full of such facts. I don’t remember sitting down and learning it all. It just went in, because I wanted it to go in.

Today, the world of football is even madder on stats than it ever was. I blame computers and clever graduates who get taken on by the back pages with nothing else to do but create stats. And TV, with its obsession with possession, as if it meant anything.

I find that if I watch three live games in a weekend, which often happens, I have totally forgotten the first two by the time the third comes up. Not just the score but who was playing. When Wayne Rooney or whoever is breaking records, or not, my eyes go glazed, refusing to take in the figures. When I read that Newcastle are again winless in their first seven League games now, I start turning the pages. If I get asked who won the Cup in 1923, my immediate answer is HowthefeckdoIknow. Hold on, I do know that. It was the first Cup final at Wembley, won by Bolton Wanderers. I remember that, having been there. I don’t know the dates of any other Cup final winners. England’s World Cup win? That was 1966 and I really was there.

I love football history (I’ve written three books about it) but it’s the players and the history of the clubs, the boots and strips, development in the laws, that’s what I enjoy knowing. Spellings and dates – hmm, I do always have to think. Did the Football League begin in 1888 or 1885? If I pause for half a second, I can work it out. Professional football came in first, which must have been 1885, so the Football League came later. Thus the answer is 1888. Bingo. Got it.

But more often than not, I guess, or leave it out. So, sorry about those mistakes. And if you’ve spotted any today, do keep it to yourself. 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide