20 April 2014

May the road rise

The realisation, some 18 months ago, that I could run a Marathon without special preparation (provided I would be satisfied with five hours) was never going to be good for me - and was certain, fairly quickly, to be refuted (in the proper sense of 'proved wrong', not 'denied' as it now seems to be used to mean). Refutation came today, in the Compton Downland Challenge. (I should have re-read this posting, with valuable advice from a Runner's World staff member.)

A cursory reading of this blog will reveal that I haven't done a lot of running since last October's Abingdon Marathon. A few Parkruns, and several runs between Paddington and the office. A week skiing didn't help, as it didn't work the right muscles, and giving both knees a violent twist on the last day certainly didn't help. And my cycling-to-the-station régime has barely got under way this year, at least in part because my route was flooded for so long.

That amount of running's not enough on which to do a 20-miler, clearly, although I thought that if I kept the pace nice and slow - I had in mind 10 minute miles, which I revised to 12 in my own mind (and in practice) as soon as we got going. I also thought that if I stuck with John, who was doing the 'full fat forty' as it was billed at my last attempt at it, in 2006, he'd keep me at an appropriate pace. But I lost him in the melée at the start, and after catching him later I lost him again about mile 10 - he just disappeared into the distance. Well done, John: 8:40 for the full distance is superb.

Shortly after John vanished, this loomed in front of me:

Streatley Hill: spot the runners

It was daunting the first time I ran this race - and if it's daunting at 10.5 miles, what must it be like at 31 miles of the 40-miler? At least this time I was prepared, having done a couple of training sessions up and down this section, and I succeeded in keeping up a run - albeit a very slow one - almost all the way to the top. No-one else I saw tried that: naturally, they were the people who later came running past me as I limped miserably to the finish ...

At the time, though, it wasn't the climb that did me in, it was the descent half-a-mile or so later. My knees, the right one in particular, complained fiercely, and I found it painful even to walk down the hill. The same went for all the descents in the remaining seven or eight miles. As for the ascents, which were equally numerous, perhaps I'd expended all my climbing energy on the big one and if I hadn't run that I'd have coped better later on, but at 10.5 miles I had felt as if things were still going reasonably well.

I think I understand the sentiment of the old Irish saying, but interpreted literally a road that rises up in front of me is the last thing I want when I am running. When the road falling away in front of me is painful, too, as it was in this race, I have the worst of all worlds. I suppose I know what I must do about it: train!

18 February 2014


To what has become one of my favourite haunts, the BBC Maida Vale studios, for a recital by Pascal and Ami Rogé of piano music by one of my favourite composers, Maurice Ravel. One piano duet (Ma Mère l'Oye), one solo piece played by Pascal alone (Sonatine), then two pieces for two pianos - and I was surprised that they should be orchestral blockbusters La Valse and Boléro (the latter with Paul Clarvis on side-drum, a gig that demands infinite patience as well as faultless rhythm). Under an hour of music, but what music, and what playing. The applause as Boléro crashed to an end was tremendous, the performers grinning from ear to ear as if delighted at what they had just pulled off (and so they should have been).

The BBC will broadcast it on Radio 3 on Ravel Day, the composer's birthday (139, which seems like a strange anniversary to commemorate), 7 March. I recommend being near a radio at the right moment.

11 February 2014

Contact in Red Square

No running to report o, unless you count a kilometre on the dreadmill on the minus-first floor of the Aquamrine Hotel. I arrived before dawn on Saturday morning, refreshed myself as best I could with a few minutes' running, a sauna, a shower, and a substantial breakfast, before repairing to the Academy for a full day of teaching. I don't know what the students made of it, but I found a red-eye flight across four time zones, even if the time difference made it slightly easier, poor preparation for work.

The teaching is almost now just and excuse for getting to Moscow: the purpose of the visit is to meet old friends and make new ones - with the current crop of students falling into the second category, moving in due course into the first, I hope. Dinners on Saturday and Sunday evenings were with former students, and Monday was devoted to visiting new friends. I'm getting to know all Moscow's vegetarian restaurants, and very nice they are too - although the bills have come out a bit higher than I expected, largely because of the very high price of alcohol.

I decided that, with a couple of hours before my first meeting, a walking tour of central Moscow was a good idea. It was cold but not typically cold: about freezing, I guess. The pavements and roads are remarkably ice-free, partly because they are treated with chemicals that friends warned me would quickly rot my shoes. Unfortunately it was cloudy and dull, and my only camera was the one in my BlackBerry, so the tour is not well-recorded.

I left the hotel and strolled along the embankment, crossed the canal and then the Moscow river, taking in the fantastic view to the west as I went: the Kremlin, and the myriad onion-shaped domes of the many churches and cathedrals, is always a fantastic sight. Reaching the Kremlin wall, I turned off towards Red Square. A couple of policemen manning a row of crowd-control barriers across the entrance to the square shouted at me, making clear that I was not to proceed along the path close to the Kremlin wall: but they were happy to let me through their barrier, while one of them went to place a barrier across the path that I had been on. My anxiety about dealing with Russian policemen was unnecessary - I think it was just that the path was closed, perhaps because it was icy.

I walked on past St Basil's outside which stood a number of ice sculptures, which seemed worth a photo even on inadequate equipment. Ice is, however, hard to see - but it gives you some idea.
 Ice sculptures outside St Basil's
 I checked the opening times at Lenin's mausoleum, but it never opens on Mondays, apparently (the notice gave me a chance to revise my knowledge of the days of the week in Russian). Fridays are also non-opening days. Even on the days it is open, it's only between 10 and 1. Indeed, 10 seems to be the standard opening time, as the former state department store GYM (as it would be in Cyrillic - which we should not transliterate as 'GUM' because that doesn't do the vowel justice: 'GOOM' would be better) also opens at 10. I popped in to see the building, which is as spectacular in its own way as the redbrick opposite, and the churches, cathedral and museums that also surround Red Square. The shops I could do without: it reminded me a little of Bicester Village in scope, though the prices were probably inflated, not cut. Interesting to see cars on display in the aisles (big Audis in the part I passed through) and that Levis should be one of the brands represented in this cathedral of luxury-brand consumerism. On reflection, though, jeans were highly-prized in eastern Europe in my youth: it's merely that they are highly-prized in the west too now. Not suitable attire for mucking out a stable or changing the oil in the car.

I made my way up Tverskaya, conscious that time was passing and I had a meeting at 11, and wanting to take a circuitous route round the Bul'varnoye kol'tso so I would finally, after failing to notice him when I ran the route on my first visit in 2011, see this:

The Vysotskiy memorial

Then it was a short distance to the appropriate radial road that would get me to the next ring road, the Garden Ring, and the start of Prospekt Mira which was the address I was looking for. I didn't imagine it could be difficult to find and enter a law firm's office even in Russia, but it turned out to be in a business centre and nothing was (to my eyes) very clearly signposted. Add to this the fact that in Moscow all you get is a building number, so 'Prospekt Mira, dom 6' is a rather imprecise address, covering a large number of premises. I guessed that what looked like a business centre was a good place to start, and I had a brief and highly unsatisfactory conversation with the guy on the front desk, but at least he worked out where I wanted to go (here's a tip: take the business card of the person you're visiting, if possible, or at least a written note of their name and firm - why on earth did that not occur to me before this experience?) and I worked out that his instructions, after he'd spoken to the firm's reception by phone, were that I should go through the doors to which he pointed, turn right and take the lift to the third floor. It helps that 'lift' is one of those words that Russian has borrowed from English, and similarly it has taken étage from French. Numbers below a hundred I can cope with slowly, numbers under ten fairly quickly. Nalevo, priyamo and napravo just happen to be among the words that have stuck in my mind.

Then I met another friend for lunch, and we had a delicious and not extremely expensive (so, expensive enough!) meal at Café Avokado - the Chistye Prudni branch. A hearty soup (though I am not sure it was the one I ordered), chickpea rissoles, and blackberry tiramisu. Highly recommended if you are looking for a vegetarian restaurant in Moscow - I am getting to know them all. the previous evening it was Fresh which was also excellent, inventive and surprisingly expensive (especially if you drink the beer, but after a day lecturing I find it very refreshing).

And so back to the airport, using the airport express from Paveletskaya Voksal (500 roubles, or about £20, so on a par with the Heathrow Express) and home.

23 January 2014

Time passes slowly

Seven miles in very mixed weather. Some glorious sunshine, some lashing rain - and of course the latter came right up on the Ridgeway, from the west, straight into our faces. But that's what makes me a stronger runner. I suppose.

21 January 2014

Angel of the Morning

It might have been different, had the car started. The engine compartment is wringing wet, and WD40 doesn't seem to make much impression. The cockpit is wet, too, as is the inside of the hood, suggesting that it isn't really waterproof. On top of all that, I couldn't even open the boot to get to the engine because the lock was iced up. That was fixed by the application of boiling water, but even squirting starting fluid ('Easy Start') straight into the air intake failed to get it going. Having said that - where is the air intake on an MGF? The air filter is cleverly positioned under the fixed panel between the grille section in the boot through which you get access to do some of the routine things like top up the oil and water, and the main engine cover which requires some fairly serious dismantling of the car, so you can't even open it up to remove the filter cartridge (or to squirt starting fluid in!). Where that collects air from, goodness knows, though I now know that it's not through the side grille which is purely decorative. I pulled the hose from the filter off the manifold (there's no Jubilee (R) clip on it, which might explain why it doesn't run too well) and discharged the aerosol into the aperture, but even that didn't persuade it to fire. So off Lucy and I went to run to the field. And that's about it, really. It was a nice day for a run: cold, but eventually my hat and gloves came off and my three layers proved just a bit too much. The ground is still wet, but it should be possible to ride to Upton along the track, with just a couple of puddles taking the whole width to be avoided. Maybe tomorrow ...

20 January 2014

On the road again

A two-run day - neither of them much to write home about, but a total of 5 miles give or take a few yards.

14 January 2014

Pump it up

Not the most inspiring run, especially in the dark, but it's good to have nearly six miles on the clock and great to have the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a fairly hard workout. A small pyramid: 1 lap, then 2, then 3, and back down again. Each lap 800 metres, so 7.2K of hardish running with a jog to and from the to warm up and down.

Add 5K (almost to the centimetre) round Regent's Park yesterday lunchtime, and I am beginning to feel like a runner again.