08 April 2015

Reading Galbraith

In my far-off student days, when I learnt so much less (about law, at any rate) than I have learnt at any time since, a friend who will of course remain nameless was challenged by one of our lecturers about what he was doing with his time at law school. He replied that he had been reading a lot of Galbraith (John Kenneth, that is). "Reading Galbraith" thereupon became a synonym for "wasting time".
In my time, I have read a lot of Thompson (Hunter Stocton, that is, not the Alan Clark definition, for which see Diaries, volume 1: although I realise that I have read a lot of that too): but not in recent years, the supply of new material having rather dried up. Unlikely role model though he was, I would dearly love to write like him, and certainly his work has had some influence on my writing career, such as it is, though readers might be hard-pressed to discern it. Today my attention was drawn to an early example of his work, and indeed of his wisdom: a letter to a friend who had asked him for advice on what we might now call the meaning of life (this being long before Douglas Adams provided the answer). The letter can be found in the printed book, Letters of Note, but not on the corresponding website where I discover that all but one of the HST letters that were there have been removed at the request of his estate and the one that remains is about him rather than by him. But Business Insider has the text and the wonderful Brain Pickings website also reproduces a lot of it (which I think is where I stumbled across it this morning, though not for the first time). It should be required reading for anyone who is human, I think. That is not to say that it is the definitive answer to the troublesome question (other guides to the meaning of life also exist) but it is a good one - and all the better because of its unlikely provenance. The youth of its author (20 or 22 depending on where you take your information from - the latter seems the more evidence-based estimate) makes it even more extraordinary, although on second thoughts perhaps this was the part of his life in which he was thinking most clearly. The fact that anyone should have asked HST for advice on anything is also a bit surprising.
I am now resolved to re-read some of the Thompson on my shelves, and to read the untouched volumes which I have collected with a rainy day in mind (and no doubt with an eye to a bargain). A glance through the contents pages of The Great Shark Hunt reminds me of what I have been missing, in the same way as listening to an old favourite piece of music that I haven't hear for decades.
I also like the 11 lessons for Gen-Y extracted from Thompson's letters (collected in The Proud Highway which was published 17 years ago, when I had other things on my mind, and followed by two more volumes of The Fear and Loathing Letters as the series is called). I think I am right to describe his work as "existentialist", a word the meaning of which has become rather confused as it is applied to matters related to the existence of all sorts of things rather than being left alone as a helpful philosophical concept. "The Eurozone faces an existential crisis ...", writes that calmest of commentators Robert Peston on the BBC News website: why not a challenge to its very existence? Because "existential" has much more pseud value and Left-bank cachet, perhaps.
Well, time to get some work done (the client from whom I was expecting a call has missed the time, so I have no excuse to procrastinate longer: I have, one might say, read enough Galbraith for one morning).

07 April 2015

The dangers of jogging too much

Runner's World reported (back in February) on the supposed dangers of (according to the headline) running too much: the article itself seems to be concerned with jogging, which of course is a matter of no interest to runners because, while they might jog a little from time to time, they certainly don't do too much of it. But it turns out that it's not such a problem anyway, even for joggers: the BBC tells us today (confirming what that same RW article already stated) that the sample of "strenuous joggers" (call them "oxymoronic athletes") was so small as to be statistically insignificant, as the BBC quoted unnamed critics.
RW also mentioned that the results of that particular piece of research had been published a long time ago, in 2012,and were merely coming round again in that irritating way that stuff on the Internet has, albeit in slightly different form. Given that the stories are based on papers published in respectable and presumably peer-reviewed medical journals, and picked up on the headlines rather than the detail in the paper (and who'd seriously expect a journalist to study a heavy piece of medical research?), I feel a bit of despair - not a great deal, because there are many other things in the world about which despair should be felt. Perhaps shortened modern attention spans, and the general rejection of anything that smacks of "elitism" (which often includes "quality"), mean that publishers of medical journals are driven to provide a précis of their journals which inevitably focuses on the newsworthy aspects - without fully explaining the topic: and the journalists who report it lack the luxury of time, and perhaps also the specialist knowledge, to check that what they are writing is anywhere near the truth.

16 March 2015

What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Is it right to pull someone out of a race for being too slow? asks The Guardian, in a blog item devoted to this week's top running story. I won't express a view about the runner or the organisers, because it is impossible to tell what is true and what isn't, and lot of it probably turns on people's perceptions, although one thing that is clear is that there is a great deal of vituperation which should be completely alien to the running community.

Avoiding the contentious matters which occupy a large part of the Internet, the important matter in this boils down to something that is lacking in the modern world - respect. One of the wonderful things about running - and many other sports and pastimes, I make no special claims for my sport - is that the people involved generally have a lot of it for the other people involved. To most runners, a grossly overweight reformed couch potato struggling through their first 5K is at least as much deserving of respect as the whippet (as someone wrote in the comments on The Guardian blog) winning it in 17-something. All runners began the journey somewhere, perhaps not with so much to overcome but we still recognise, and relate to, the effort it takes. And almost all of us - though, evidently and very sadly not every single one of us - will do what we can to encourage those taking the first steps. That is respect.

There is also the respect which one hears about from people like mountaineers and explorers - respect for the challenge they are undertaking. I might feign being being blasé about Marathons, but it is not long since I was very respectful of 5Ks. We must not undertake these events lightly. If we are injured or unwell, we must respect the fact that the challenge is temporarily beyond us: and apart from self-presevation, we must do so because we would not wish to burden the organisers and marshals, or the other competitors whose event we might spoil. A very small number of runners die in organised events: how must those running in proximity to them feel about that? I know of no cases in which a runner died because they ran with a condition of which they were aware, but if one is ill one should not risk imposing on other runners. Or burdening the marshals, or the first aid people. That is respect.

It also extends to thanking the marshals (and when I marshal I remember those runners who, though not short of breath, fail to show their gratitude: even the fastest runners can find a way to acknowledge us) and to refraining from using earphones, which block out marshals' commands and the sounds of traffic and other runners, all essential to safe and considerate running. Reverting to the case in point, it includes making clear on the entry form if there is a cut-off time and (on the part of the entrants) at least making an effort to run the course - if you have entered a running race with a view to walking it, you have deprived someone who wanted to run it, to do it the way it was intended, of the opportunity to do so. If there is an early start for slow runners, respect for others means recognising honestly whether that means you. About whether that applies in the case in point or not I venture no opinion, but simply reiterate that with the respect for each other than members of the running community traditionally show to one another these problems would never arise.

27 February 2015

The holiday begins today

With the Motor Law conference over for another year, I can relax - a bit. Most importantly I took advantage of an overnight stay in the area to get out early yesterday morning and run round St James's and part of Green Park, which always brings back happy memories of many lunchtime runs and the great friends with whom I did them.

01 January 2015

The Empty Space

Another year passes and once again Janathon comes around - encouraging me to run every day and blog about it. Well, it didn't look as if that was going to happen today, because I have had a problem which was quite likely a chest infection, ever since returning from India over two weeks ago and perhaps actually since before that. (But I do have a piece of paper from the Indian authorities declaring me free from ebola.)

Yesterday I picked up quite well, enough to enjoy dinner at The Ship Inn in West Stour which was excellent, but this morning my chest still felt like a run, of any length, was not a good idea. Parkruns at Blandford and Yeovil beckoned but I managed to resist them. Eventually, as the day faded and darkness crept in remarkably early - the sun hardly having put in an appearance all day - I put Lucy on her lead and jogged off through blustery weather towards Fifehead Wood. It probably wasn't as much as a couple of miles all told, the woods being too muddy to venture far off the road, but it was a run and I can blog about it. No Garmin data because I don't know where it is, and anyway it wouldn't be very interesting.

So, tomorrow I can try to go a bit further - I hope the weather will be clement ...

09 November 2014

Remembrance Day/Grand Union Canal Half Marathon

Done! It was never going to be the proverbial swift half, and it turned out to be slower than I planned, as I faded in the November heat (!) in the last three miles (as the splits show), but to run a Half with so little preparation and with injuries to overcome is rather satisfying - almost as good as a PB. Almost!

Apart from the heat, the race was also memorable for the beauty of the Grand Union Canal in its route through the western edge of London - just inside the M25. How can such a conurbation have so much green in it? There are some delightful houses along the bank, too, including one with a very airy artist's studio - several canvasses visible through the windows.

The towpath, however, is not ideal for racing on. We started in three waves, so for  most of the way the field was suitably spread out, but a gate after only a few hundred yards (most of that round the park where we started) was a bad bottleneck. The surface was far muddier than I had expected, and in places a wrongly-placed foot could have landed you in the canal, which the organisers explained would necessitate a thorough check for Weil's Disease. I didn't see anyone take the plunge, though I had a nasty moment when an earphoney cut me up as I went past and my foot slipped a little.

My calf injury didn't trouble me, and indeed the exercise seems to have loosened it up a bit (another underuse injury? I doubt it). Marshmallow shoes helped, as I could do some heel-banging or at least run less on the fore- or mid-foot and save the calves. Hills remained a problem, though, and even a canal towpath has them - attached to bridges and locks. I quickly realised that the solution was to attack them sideways, running like I would in a warm-up session, pushing sideways with the injured leg: no strain on the gastrocnemius that way at all. It has probably produced some very strange photos, though, as the race photographers (of which there were many) were usually positioned at the top of climbs.

No crabways running on the hill at mile 12, though: it went on too long, so I just had to grin and bear it - and dodge the football that a small boy saw fit to kick straight at me, his mother remonstrating mildly (rather than giving him the good hiding he deserved, and which would have nipped his antisocial tendencies in the bud.

A 10am start on Remembrance Day poses a problem - what to do at 11? The answer was to have a minute's silence before the start. Not everyone fell silent, and the Portaloo doors kept on banging shut throughout, but the music stopped and proper respect was shown. Well done to the organisers. Starting an hour later might have been a good idea from that point of view, but it was quite hot enough by the time I finished and running through the midday heat (!, again!) would have been trying, to say the least.

08 November 2014

Tomorrow is a long time

A limited goal today: complete 5k, regardless of time, without any gastocnemius or Achilles problems, so I could assess the chances of completing a half tomorrow. A few twinges from the offending part of my right calf, but I made it. Now, a couple of hours later, it's a bit sore, so I'm not sure I have proved myself capable of tomorrow's mission.