23 May 2015


I re-tied the rigging on my right huarache just before the start of Didcot Parkrun this morning, so inevitably it was the left one that was coming loose before the first 180 degree turn, all of 200 yards from the start. The stop added 25 seconds to my time - keep that in mind.

The bit in between was hardly noteworthy, except for a short chat with a young lad who'd had a break from running when he lost his trainers, bought a new pair and hurt his toes in them. I slowed to encourage him to stop walking, and we ran together for a while before either he slowed a bit or I picked up speed again, or perhaps both, and I called over my shoulder that I didn't want to hear him walking again. (The sound of footfalls behind you tells you a lot about what is happening where you can't see - which is one reason I so dislike the earphoneys who insultate themselves from that important information.) Then I caught another youngster, perhaps a year or so older, and passed him before we reached the turn that leads, after another quarter of a mile or so, to the finish, but he steamed past me again and as we left the path for the last 100 yards on grass I was right on his shoulder. I accelerated, so did he: I dug a little deeper, so did he: I tried again, and still he kept just ahead. I never thought to pass him, although there was no chance of that anyway, but I did want to give him a run for his money and stretch myself, which I did: 4:06 was my fastest pace, according to The Watch, right at the end.

My time was a slightly disappointing 25:01 (my Watch time being confirmed by the official results) - I would have preferred the 5 to be a 4, no matter that the 01 might have been 59 ... But subtract 25 seconds from that and 24:36 is not too far off my season's best 24:14, still less far from last-time-out 24:24. Then adjust for the extra weight I'm still carrying - oh, that's not allowed? Shame, although 2 seconds per mile for each of 14 pounds (conservative) for 3.1 miles, well, it gets me close to 23 minutes, still a long way my increasingly unlikely off sub-20 target (please, just once in my life). To show myself the effect of carrying that extra weight, I tried some pull-ups on the bars near the finish while I waited for my neighbour Yvonne, who was chauffeuse for the day: I couldn't complete one repeat. Upper body strength has never been my strong point but that's ridiculous: I should have been able to do three or so. At least I could do 15 situps, so my core is OK.

Actually, having not run for three weeks, since that 24:24, it's not a bad effort and with a bot [that is a typo, but whether it should be "bit" or "lot" is an interesting question] of training I should be able to dip below 20. Here's an idea: I'll work hard on the training for a few weeks to maximise the chances of a PB and then do the next Parkrun, which will be no 50. In the meantime I can volunteer.

After the run, walking back to the car park with the volunteers, Simon the race director drops back and walks alongside me. He explains that he has an injury, and I notice a limp. Automatically I reduce my pace. I think any runner, acutely conscious of injuries, would react the same way, but it's a little anecdote that might come in useful someday, when I am writing.

22 May 2015

Dunbar's number

How Many Friends Does One Person Need? - FT.com:

Robin Dunbar's book tells us that from an evolutionary point of view, we can handle a maximum of 150 people in our social group. Not all at once, I hope ... An interesting statistic.

'via Blog this'

Spanish practices

A news story in the Evening Standard (thanks, Gerry, for bringing it to my attention) reminds me of something that happened to me ...

Several years ago, I was interviewed for a television programme about the motor trade. I met the interviewer and his crew at a gigantic non-franchised car retailer's premises in Slough. After the introductory niceties, we adjourned to the car lot for the filming.

At one point, waiting for something to happen, the cameraman started talking about the social value of car dealers. All those salesmen, earning fat commissions, contributing nothing useful to the process, driving up the cost to the consumer.

The sound man agreed wholeheartedly. I refrained from enquiring about his contribution to what we were doing.

Oh, and I ended up on the cutting-room floor, or would have done had there been one.

02 May 2015

As long as the candle burns

How could I possibly take a wrong turn in a Parkrun, for goodness' sake? Coming round for the third time at Didcot this morning I failed to take the left-hand fork and headed off for a third lap of the playing field - which would have been a serious handicap. As it was, I heard a French-accented voice shouting to me and realised it was Jean-Luc (not hard to guess) who I had managed to pass a few hundred yards earlier. Realising my error, I put on the brakes - and went flat, as the grass was still wet. Picking myself up, I darted through a convenient gap in the hedge, but I'd lost a few seconds stopping, falling over, getting up again and backtracking to the gap, so Jean-Luc, to beat whom was (as I had told him) my target for the day, was comfortably ahead again. Eventually I followed him across the finish line, 20 or so seconds adrift and 9 seconds slower than my Didcot PB which I set last time out. Well, I know where the 9 seconds went.
I forgot my Watch, but having no data about this run is a small loss. I took a neighbour, Yvonne, running her first Parkrun, and she put in a very impressive performance considering what a novelty it was - and she will improve in leaps and bounds if she carries on, I'm sure.
I keep finding that the videos I embed in these postings have disappeared from YouTube, and I am slightly concerned about posting links to what might be unauthorised clips. Picking something with a relevant title is also tricky, as there are only so many songs with "run" in the title. So this one is just one that I came across this morning, one of my favourite bands with one of my favourite singers making a guest appearance, doing a lovely song together, and she seems to be singing a fairly close translation. Interesting to hear Patti singing the English and Andrei Makarevich singing the original Russian simultaneously.

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.