Week two of Operation Rhalou in the wilderness and I seem to be settling into country life okay. Thankfully last week’s Chickengate was solved by a quick visit to the local donkey sanctuary that doubles up as a chicken petting zoo. They kindly took Monty the evil ginger cock off our hands in exchange for three considerably less threatening Silkie chickens, who I’ve collectively christened Chaka Khan.

Chaka Chicken Khan

Curiously, since we waved goodbye to Monty, his fellow rooster Freddie has stepped up to alpha mode and started lording it about the garden. What is it about men? Even in chicken form must they be forever locked in an archaic battle for supremacy?

I was hoping to have something a bit more rock ‘n’ roll to blog about this week than poultry. Life may be quiet in the country, but chickens alone are not enough to sustain a blog. Unless you write a blog specifically about chickens that is, in which case, my apologies, chickens are great. My intention was to write about running, but I haven’t done very much, due to a self-diagnosed IT band injury. But arguably self-diagnosis and doing sod all about it definitely makes me a typical runner, even if I’m not currently doing very much running.

I should probably stay in rival chicken bloggers good books anyway, because I suspect I may be inadvertently developing a chicken fetish. And since writing exclusively about running at Women’s Running magazine for nearly three years, maybe it’s time to spread my wings and write about something a bit more existential. Like birds.

If you don’t have anyone else to chat to, chickens certainly do start to take on a whole new level of importance. Those feathered friends have become my family. I eat most of my meals in their company, I study them obsessively (they’re like mini dinosaurs!) and even meditate amongst the mystic chickens. Okay that’s a lie, I find it impossible to sit still for that long, but their mere presence is quite meditative. If only chickens could run 10K at a comfortable pace, or bitch about boys over a glass of Merlot on Thursday nights.

Anyway before I change the name of this blog to City Chicken in the Sticks, let’s get back to the job in hand. The next obstacle in Rhalou versus country life is only marginally less pathetic than being scared of maverick poultry. This week I have mostly been grappling with the fear of being alone. Not in a spiritual sense (I welcome spiritual enlightenment, hence the bold move to the wilderness) but the fear of actually being alone, all by myself, all night long, in the middle of nowhere, with nobody to hear me scream…

Ultraboy is off to run a race in the highlands this weekend, leaving me home alone with the chickens. Ordinarily I’d relish the opportunity for a bit of Rhalou-time, so I could secretly watch One Born Every Minute, get drunk, eat Rocky Road and paint my toes pirate red at the kitchen table. But that was when I lived in a flat surrounded by six billion people, so I could still hear my neighbours farting through the walls. There’s being alone, and then there’s being alone, in the wilderness, with no car and no sense of direction, and a rusty torture chamber in the cellar. Okay I lied about the torture chamber bit too, Ultraboy gets his kicks from torturing me in a hill running sense, but the rest is all true. I have to spend one night on my own in the house on the hill in the middle of nowhere in Scotland, and I am shitting myself.

I know the crime rate in The Borders is considerably lower than London. Plus after finding a dead body in my back garden in Hackney a couple of years ago and witnessing a shooting in London Fields (both true) I’ve probably used up my horror quota for a lifetime. But combine the house, the hill, the rain, the woman alone and the wilderness, and my weekend definitely possesses all the ingredients for a classic horror film. Except for the gang of horny young teens on spring break required to get picked off one-by-one by the serial killer/monster/tribe of zombies in the lead up to my gory finale, but that’s just a minor plot detail.

I’ve seen The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre enough times to know slutty redheads rarely make it out of the woods alive. The surviving role is almost always saved for the brunette. And when the aliens do land in the garden, I can’t even run away! My IT band injury is practically begging for an axe-wielding murderer to chase me limping through the undergrowth. I’m just thankful I’m not a blonde; they always get chopped up before the intermission.

Arguably I could just jump on the train to London, or call my Dad who lives 20 miles up the road, or beg Ultraboy to take me to the highlands to share a tent/car/hostel with his sweaty ultra runner mates (sexy). But as shit scared as I am about being on my own in the arse crack of nowhere with nothing but a flock of chickens to protect me from the antichrist, I need to suck it up and be alone at some point, so it might as well be now. If I’m really going to morph into a fully-functioning country girl, I’m going to have to man-up and I’m going to have to do it fast.

If anyone reading this does happen to be a serial killer/monster/tribe of zombies, please don’t come to The Borders and kill me in a complex yet visually exhilarating way this weekend. But do feel free to come and visit! I’d love to have a guest or two for the weekend. We could have a nice cup of tea and talk to the chickens. Chickens are really great.

After several months of meticulous planning, I finally made it to Scotland to begin my new life of hill running and romancing under the stars. I always knew the transition from Shoreditch to The Borders was going to be a tough one. Not least because I’m used to living in zone two with six billion other people and 24-hour hummus on tap (yes I know, there are probably far more exciting things one can acquire after-hours in the great city of London, but hummus is the distilled essence of the Gods). So what’s the real reason the big move to the wilderness was bound to be particularly challenging? My new rural abode is located in the ass end of nowhere, an hour from the nearest train station, and I don’t actually know how to drive…

Not only am I clueless to the rules of the road, but I don’t have a bicycle, or a helicopter, or a unicorn. And there just aren’t enough people living on this particular hill out here in the sticks to justify a frequent bus service. We do live near a really nice donkey sanctuary with 71 different funky donkeys to choose from, but after three days of country life, I haven’t quite plummeted to donkey-riding depths just yet. If cabin fever really starts to set in, I’ll wait until Christmas Eve and charter an old donkey to carry me to a local barn, so I can lie down in the hay and give birth to Jesus Christ. But if miracles do occur, I’d prefer to have a driving licence and a snazzy new car than the trials of mothering the new messiah. Plus I have only just moved in with the boyfriend, so one step at a time.

So until I learn to master the art of driving, I’m not going anywhere. And before anyone suggests running to the nearest hummus shop, I’ve knackered my knee (great start to my hill running career) so basically I’m stranded in no man’s land like a fish without a bicycle, or a driving licence. But curiously, despite my concerns when I was back in the heaving metropolis, living in the wilderness without any reliable transportation is actually the least of my worries. After living in Hackney for the past six years, I’m really enjoying the peace and quiet. The biggest obstacle to my future happiness is in fact much smaller, fluffier and more inherently evil than any of life’s transportation woes. I’m talking about my new nemesis, my boyfriend’s cock, Monty.

Monty the evil ginger cock

No I haven’t christened my boyfriend’s manly cluster in homage to Judy Bloom’s Forever, (my first foray into early sexuality when Jackie magazine couldn’t provide the answers. What did she call his willy? Roly?) When I say cock, I mean cockerel. A Polish Frizzle to be precise. But not just any Polish Frizzle. Monty is a mean ass cockerel who wants my blood. I swear the frizzly little fucker is out to get me.

As with most cockerels, Monty likes to make the first morning call. Except he thinks 4am is an acceptable time for the world to wake up (that’s when I used to go to bed, oh how times have changed). Despite his antisocial timekeeping, Monty is actually hilariously funny to watch in action. He minces about the garden in a stately manner and parades in front of his hens with one wing raised like a bull fighter, whipping his red cape about in preparation for battle.

But despite being a fortuitous comedian, Monty is one vicious chicken and he rules his roost with a steely resolve. In the pecking order, he’s the top dog, and everyone must obey him, including me. Consequently, if I try to cross the garden to do something really ghastly, like feed him or clean out his water tray, Monty will go for me, wings, talons, beak and all. He’s drawn blood twice now. If he came in human form, he’d be Dorian Gray and hide a picture of his evil tarnished soul inside his chicken coop.

Even though Monty is only ankle-high, I confess I’m secretly terrified of the evil little rooster. I’ve been avoiding the garden at all costs, but he still stalks the outside walls and seems to know exactly which window ledge to jump on in order to stare through the glass and straight into my soul. I swear to God he’s out to get me. Arguably I should just drop kick the little bastard into the ether, but I’m a vegetarian and I don’t possess the fighting spirit. Plus I’m already rather attached to the lovely organic eggs his girlfriends have been laying and fear assaulting their alpha may put them off the job in hand.

The only individual in our manor that Monty does not bully is Ultraboy. But I imagine a six-foot Scotsman striding through the morning mist brandishing a bucket of seed would be an imposing sight even if you’re not a seemingly innocuous but secretly evil cockerel. Or perhaps Monty is locked in some ancient love rival battle, and believes that Ultraboy is his one true love?

Whatever the sadistic chickens’ intentions, now that I live here, it’s time for me to man up. I didn’t emigrate to the wilderness without a driving licence only to get beaten by a vicious little cock with a chip on its wing. So step two in this city chicks assimilation into country life, vanquish the vicious chicken before it gets me! Then all I have to do is book a driving lesson, learn the local lingo and become an expert hill runner. Not sure which is scarier actually…

Hello and thanks for reading what I hope will be the first of many blogs about running, disco, rogue chickens, romance, moonlight and my adventures in the hills.

After nearly three years, several hundred miles, a dozen halves, two wholes and one ultra marathon, I’m sad to announce that, as of next week, I’ll be stepping down as Online Editor at Women’s Running magazine. It’s been an amazing journey, I’ve made some great friends along the way and I’ll be very sad to leave. But due to a series of events that led me to one rather handsome ultra runner, I’ve decided to quit the rat race and emigrate to a little cottage in rural Scotland…

Like most good stories, this one begins with a girl and a boy and a bit of romance. But to set the scene, I probably need to go back a little further. Back to the days before running and carbo loading and compression gear consumed my life. Bear with me; this may take a while…

It all started long ago in a little city called London. I was living in a house with a boy. Not THE boy I might add, but another boy, who it turned out wasn’t destined to be the boy for me. But ever the optimist, at the time I thought maybe he was. I was slogging away for peanuts editing Penthouse Forum magazine at a grimy publishing house in East London, believing my destiny was spread-eagled (teehee) before me and all I had to do was hang on.

I spent my days penning articles on S&M, interviewing adult babies and reviewing saucy porn films, and my nights pretending to be happy with the wrong boy. Having been estranged from my Dad for nearly 20 years, I suspect I was lacking decent male role models. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that perhaps I deserved more than this boy was capable of giving.

Fortunately Lady Fate knew that my fortunes lay elsewhere. So she decided to step in and clear the decks for me in a very painful, dramatic but ultimately necessary fashion, so that I could start all over again (if only I’d seen it this way at the time).

As with all good life changing events, in a trilogy of drama I lost my boyfriend, my job and my house in the same week. They do say bad luck comes in threes. Homeless, jobless, dumped and utterly distraught, I relied on the kindness of friends while pondering the impossibility of my utterly fucked up life. But then, just when I needed it the most, a little thing called running came into my life…

At this point I should probably make a confession. Before the whole running epiphany started, I wasn’t remotely interested in fitness. I’d spent thirty years veering between chubby, skinny or depressed depending on the state of my love life. The only thing I hated more than running, was my fat arse (go figure). But then one day, a particularly awful day when I had no idea what the hell I was doing with my life or where my next meal was coming from, a friend told me about a job on a new running magazine, and that’s when everything changed.

To prepare for the job interview, two days before, I tentatively took up running. I say running, I hobbled round the block a few times, hated every second of it and showed up at the interview swearing blind that I was an avid runner with a bright future on the magazine. Against the odds I got the job, so I was forced to keep on pretending to be a runner.

At around this time I also lost an important uncle to cancer and a much-loved granny to old age. Struggling to comprehend the shitty cards I’d been dealt, I decided to focus all of my energies on pretending to be good at running. Right through the deepest darkest winter I plodded around the park, gradually building up strength, stamina, and mental determination. I ran through the stresses of house hunting, heartache, bereavement and injury. I would not advise the last one. I had a particularly nasty arm operation following a run in with my bicycle and a black cab, and tried to continue running with my arm in a sling. (Turns out you actually need all of your limbs to run. Who knew?)

It didn’t happen over night, but I gradually fought the sweat, the tears and some rather persistent shin splints to become a runner. Despite what I told my boss, I wasn’t immediately a die hard fan; running can be tough going for the best of us, and I found it particularly rough on my spindly knees (and don’t get me started on the dodgy shoulder) but I kept on going and every week I got a little bit faster and grew a little bit stronger. I ran through the rain, I ran in the dark, I ran weighed down by tears and bone heavy with sadness, regret and fear. But even during my darkest hour when I didn’t know what life was going to throw at me next, I kept on running.

I have a lot to thank the open road for. I shared my heart with the sky every night and whispered my problems to my pounding feet, until gradually, one step at a time, my fears began to dissipate. And to my surprise, when I’d told my story to the road a hundred times until even the trees were dog tired of hearing it, I was left with nothing but boundless energy and miles of unchartered territory ahead.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that these profound running moments all occurred within the 5K circumference of Victoria Park. Running can be an amazing, life-changing, moving meditation, capable of healing all of life’s woes, but it’s still bloody hard. The big miles didn’t come until much later.

But what did happen quite quickly was the impact running had on every other aspect of my life. I discovered that if I was running well, everything else in my life seemed to fall into place. Before long I had a nice flat, a great group of friends and a job involving writing about my new favourite hobby all day long.

As is the case for most runners, my regular plod round the park soon got tedious, so the pursuit of running events took over and within a year I’d conquered my first marathon. Many people complain about the arduous side of marathon training, but I discovered that I respond really well to structure, plus I often need an excuse to hit the road, so I set about signing up to every race that came my way.

But running can be a solitary sport and as most of my friends were party kids, when my miles began to increase, I started to get lonely. But then one night I met Run Dem Crew, a collective of East London runners who take to the streets en masse every Tuesday night, and my fate was sealed. The first time I ran with the crew, I felt like I’d come home. Run Dem Crew really shaped my running, and my favourite hobby quickly blossomed into a love affair. It’s more of a family than a running club and I feel blessed to have met and ran with so many amazing and inspirational people.

After a summer of running fun, that September I was due to review The Great Scottish Run for Women’s Running magazine. It was an important weekend for more than one reason. I was also going to stay with my Dad, who lives in The Scottish Borders and was just out of hospital after having a heart bypass operation. We were in the very early stages of rebuilding our fragile relationship after twenty years apart, and I was nervous about seeing him.

And then when I least expected it, I met an interesting gentleman (let’s call him Ultraboy) and once again everything suddenly changed. It’s funny how when life finally feels complete, someone can suddenly appear and knock you off your feet. Ultraboy (an ultrarunner, funnily enough) also lives in The Borders, and kindly offered to pace me round the half marathon. At the time I didn’t realise that in run world ‘can I pace you?’ is the new ‘can I take you out?’

I boldly accepted, and so on a perfect summer’s day in early September, we went on our first date, a half marathon around the streets of Glasgow. I figured if he still fancied me after 13.1 miles of sweat, he had to be a keeper, and I was right.

After nearly a year of running up and down the country, we figured it was time to leap into the void, so I’ve decided to follow my heart, escape the rat race and take on The Borders! The only problem being, I’m a die-hard London girl with no clue about country life and our nearest neighbour is a chicken coop. So will this city chick survive in the wilderness? Watch this space…