28 September 2014


I heard this beautiful piece on Radio 3 on Thursday, and although it alludes to a rather different autumn from the one I am having - Chaminade's seems a little melancholy - it is too apposite, and lovely, to be ignored.

Yesterday I ran the Blandford Parkrun for the second time, managing to get to the start in time to join the throng and embed myself a few rows behind the serious speed merchants and small boys at the front before the starter shouted "go!" and I had to turn round and head back the way I had just come. Next time I *will* leave at 8 o'clock to get there on time.
Good form, I think! Photo by marky444
Encouraged by my run last Tuesday with Didcot Runners, and specifically with Jean-Luc with whom I had done so many Amblers club runs in the past, I set myself a fast pace and stuck to it. The knowledge that I had kept going at an average 8:18 pace, but mostly at about 8 minutes/mile (a slow first mile accounted for the average - that was the mile in which I was talking to people: I soon shut up as Jean-Luc's pace took all my breath) encouraged me just to keep huffing and puffing and putting one foot in front of the other. The huffing and puffing was hard work, and noisy, sucking air in for two steps then forcing it out over the next couple of paces, but I knew that if I could do it for 5 miles then 5K was going to be a walk in the park - or at least a tempo run on the trail.

Perhaps the fact that I had not been able to find The Watch helped: there was no indication of how fast I was going to distract me from the job in hand. The course rises from the start - it's a narrow track, asphalt for the most part, and giving the impression that before Beeching it served a different purpose - then soon dives under the main road to Shaftesbury and climbs up the other side. Reaching the top of the descent, I realised that people around me were not going to commit to a crazy rush to the bottom, as I did, so I passed a few there and kept the pace up for the uphill section on the other side.

My race was spent mostly in proximity to two men in black, one with a ponytail and the other with a traithlon club tee-shirt - a potentially dangerous companion, from my experience of triathletes. I got to the turn first of the three, taking it wide to keep my speed up - I think my triathlete friend paused to clean his shades ...
Photo by marky444
Somewhere along the return leg the second man in black (but white socks) left the two of us for dead. I thought I had in turn shaken off the traithlete but about half a mile out he appeared at my shoulder again and it took a big effort to drop him before we reached the finish. With it in sight I tried a final effort to catch the guy in front - Mr Ponytail was way off in the distance by now - but try as I might it wasn't happening. I needed to have done it a hundred yards or so earlier, but at that moment I was taking a short breather after attacking the climb from the tunnel under the road.

I thanked my two running-mates for their company, chatted a while with one of them and another runner who remarked on my footwear (ha! that's exactly what you're supposed to do!) and headed off, thanking the marshalls as I went. Running without The Watch meant a sense of anticipation that is completely lacking if I already know my time - although so often I forget to stop it, I don't really know what the time was anyway. So when it came through at 23:11, average pace 7:27, age-graded score 68 per cent, a season's best and only 49 seconds off my best ever Parkrun (from last October), I was delighted - and especially pleased that I made the decision a few weeks ago to focus on season's bests rather than all-time PBs. A much more realistic thing to aim at: although I ought to be able to find that 49 seconds somewhere, and then the elusive sub-20 will be in sight (well, if you have exceptionally good distance vision).

On the way, I will break the 70 per cent age-grading barrier, which I don't think I have ever managed before. It will help if I can shed a few pounds - just as well that the Dorset beer festival was after the Parkrun ...

06 September 2014


I avoided the ignominy of a three-digit finishing tag today, and recorded a time which compares reasonably well with others over the summer. My one run during the week hasn't improved my endurance, though (and I didn't seriously expect it to make a noticeable difference): my legs felt tired after only a few yards, so on the race to the gates by the lock - a notorious bottleneck - I pulled over to one side to let faster runners through. After that it seemed to get easier: by the time we left the metal road for the last one-tenth of a mile sprint I was in good shape, and I think my form was OK throughout. When I concentrated on my arms, I sped up noticeably, and I feel able to concentrate on them more now than ever before, as the rest of my form is hard-wired. It might not be good, but at least it is automatic!

I have my dates for Moscow trips this coming year now, coinciding nicely with the ceasefire in Ukraine, and can start planning to take in the Gorky Parkrun which will be great fun.

23 August 2014


I am in the middle of one of those rare periods when things seem to go right. As I drove this morning to Newbury Parkrun, listening to Beethoven's Pastoral sonata on R3 and heading for a nice run in the country (a great deal more pastoral than when the USAF were there), I found myself counting blessings - a most unusual state for me. All three daughters settled into clean and pleasant trades (an expression which has certainly lodged in my memory since Ron Colman first made me ware of it); we have completed the purchase of the dacha, as I like to think of it; next year's lecturing looks promising; and yesterday I had my most productive day's work for many a year, possibly the best of my entire career. That last might not be saying much, but it is progress.

And, an hour or so later, a big improvement over my last few Parkrun times. Strangely, although it was 28 seconds faster than last week,  Garmin Connect credits me with an average pace of 7:45 (hooray! better than target Marathon pace! although I do need to make my target a little more realistic) against 8:00 last week, so over 17 seconds has disappeared somewhere. The eccentric course measuring might account for some of that: Newbury seems to be .03 mile over distance - let's say 50 yards for the sake of argument - and last week Abingdon seemed to be .01 mile short, so actually, at the end of 5K, that's certainly the right order of magnitude.

The age-graded result is 64.38 per cent. I know I was pushing 70 per cent at one time, and might even have exceeded it in the distant past: but at least I know that if I fit in a Parkrun next weekend the age-grading algorithm will be kinder to me. I realised after the race, as I jogged back to the car, that I should stop worrying about PBs and think instead of season's bests: today was not one (23 June is, at 23:47) but the gap is closing. And with my next lecturing weekend looking firmer than I had feared it might, I might be doing a season's best at Gorky Parkrun sometime in October.

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16 August 2014

Hekla - and Abingdon Parkrun 158

A piece of music chosen purely because it came on Radio 3 as I drove home after my regular Saturday Parkrun - perhaps I should have saved a musical description of a volcano for the day I break my PB, but we might have to wait a long time.

Rarely have I felt much less like running. You know the feeling? Legs are heavy, breathing is not quite right, a general sense of lethargy comes over you - the product, I suspect, of a long week with too little running and too much work. Swept up in the start, I probably took the first half-mile or so too fast, and after the furthest turn in the meadow I had to move over to give faster runners space and reduce my pace. Twice. I mean the same happened on both laps. At other points on the course I was quite fast.

Photo by John Harvey
Perhaps the lack of a warm-up caused, or contributed to, the problem. I just felt old and tired. Soon I will be entitled to feel old, but at least my age-graded performance figures will automatically improve.

13 August 2014


Paddington Basin
I am drawn to London's waterways - some of the best running in town, or traffic-free walking. A builder was standing by the basin where I took the photo. We exchanged views on how attractive the area had become, compared with the state it had been in not many years ago. "That used to be a BT depot", he said indicating a new block of flats on the corner of Praed Street.
But I have ambiguous feelings. The developer is making huge efforts to landscape the area (the green in the photo is newly-laid turf, and "an exciting new lifting bridge" (I quote from memory) is being installed there: the adjectives that spring to my mind are "unnecessary" and perhaps "spurious". Not something that I could possibly get excited about, for sure. And who for? Well, surely for the delectation of the people like me who pass through on their way to jobs that pay nothing like enough to be able to afford one of the surrounding flats. They have been bought, for the most part, by investors from overseas who will never even visit them let alone live there. While London has a housing crisis.
My builder-interlocutor said he'd been working on a site in Old Street, just a hole in the ground at the time but 95 per cent of the development had been sold off-plan. To Chinese, he said, though I suspect his evidence was anecdotal.
It struck me that I had not taken the route through Merchants' Square (as it is known) for several weeks, since quitting RIBA. And I recall the struggle I often felt to make my way from Paddington to Portland Place, and more often the other direction, my legs reluctant to take me to my destination, feeling as if they were struggling through treacle (especially when the wind was in my face, sometimes creating whitecaps on the water in the basin).

11 August 2014


The students received their examination results today - not until late in the day, because for some reason the university did not release them until 5.30 and even then they were a little late: and to make matters worse the emails with the links went out in batches. Finally, when the dust settled, I learned that the four I'd been working with intensely in the run-up to the exams all passed, with some good marks in intellectual property. Well done, all of you! I am so pleased that this stressful period of my life (not to mention yours) is over.

Blue Monday

There was a curious quality to the light this morning when I served Lucy her breakfast on the patio: an autumnal feel, though it is only just post-Cropredy and autumn never begins until my birthday, which is still a couple of weeks away (which means that it's Gunver's birthday today). Yesterday's torrential rain, although it was only a couple of short bouts, reinforced the sense that summer has run its course already and filled the IBC: it felt less like a summer thunderstorm than an autumn downpour. But this morning the sky looked as if it had been washed, and the ground had also benefited from a good bath.

It was too good a morning to leave my bike at home, and being a few minutes earlier than usual (and it being holiday season) the ride into Didcot was quiet and largely uninterrupted. And it was too good a morning to take the tube to Old Street: my Parkrun times show the dire effect of a lack of training on my endurance, so I ran - gently, as this represents a big increase in mileage - down to Hyde Park, across Hyde Park Corner, down Constitution Hill (along the sand - hard-packed after the garden party season, when it is used as a car park: what is the right term for the sandy track provided primarily for horses? I rather like the idea of calling it a beach), through St James's Park, round the perimeter of Horseguards Parade because of some event taking place on the parade ground which calls for large grandstands, across Whitehall then to the Embankment along which I ran past London Bridge before heading uphill to St Paul's Cathedral and thence, via Guildhall, to Mallow Street. Crossrail is interfering with the Moorgate area, but mercifully that is the only disruption caused by those works and a short diversion is all that is needed.

Not a fast run (just under 50 minutes on the Watch, but that missed the first half-mile or so as it struggled to find a satellite) but it should be good endurance training. Just knowing that I'm still capable of running six miles is a significant boost. No problems from my strapped-up knee, at least not until I took the support off: I hope it is healing, whatever it is.

I cheerfully greeted many people as I passed, and received an above-average number of 'good mornings' in return, reminding me that last week someone actually wished me a good morning without my having initiated the exchange. So, despite an exchange by Skype bemoaning the start of another week, it's really not a blue Monday at all: and I am hoping that the present mood continues, even improves further, when the University of London finally reveals my students' grades - the only news so far is that the email with the all-important link has not reached Moscow.

02 August 2014

Perfect day

Not really perfect, but closer to perfect than any recent days - running-wise, at least.The weather was pretty well perfect for a Parkrun, anyway: warm but not hot, not too humid, no sun. Little wind, too, although a gust carried me nicely up and over the culvert at about 2.5 miles while there was enough wind in my face down the stretch of road back to the lock at the end of the first loop (around half distance) to make me seek out the shelter of a bigger runner. Even at my pace slipstreaming can save some valuable energy.

I find it hard to believe that I have still only done 31 Parkruns. It would be nice to get to 50 and have the shirt to prove it, after which perhaps I'll be a Parkrun tourist or volunteer rather than trying to get to my home event every week.