14 July 2008

Trying to get to heaven before they close the door

37 years to the day since the first British Grand Prix I attended ...
What is clearly missing from my training is mileage. To think just over a couple of years ago I was doing nine miles a day between office and flat, plus a lunchtime run most days (that was when Andrew, Shane, Vanessa or Rose would usually be willing to join in), and a long run - 15 miles or more - at the weekend. I often managed 40 or 50 a week, and recently I doubt I have been doing ten. So this evening I was going to run to Paddington at all costs, having missed out on the way in because my back pack was simply too heavy.
First I was sidetracked by a colleague on the way to the changing room, and arrived to put my running kit on later than planned but still in time to get the 1848. But I'd left my phone on my desk, so I had to go back upstairs for it and by the time I was on the street my watch showed I had 25 minutes to make the train.
I reached Hyde Park Corner in good time, taking Constitution Hill at a good pace which left me grateful for the wait to cross the road, which was the full 90 seconds from green to red (for the traffic, that is: I go by those lights, not the pedestrian ones, which lag slightly behind). Up the stairs from the tube station lobby and through the arch to the park, and I had to walk a few paces. up the long but gentle climb to where the tree once stood, now marked by a sort of roundabout in the junction of several paths. Eight minutes to reach Paddington. Down the hill then walk a few paces to regain my breath, jog to the crossing on Queensway, over the road, into the mews, past the restaurant on the corner opposite the pub where I met Andy for a drink once ... four minutes left.
Up London Street from Sussex Gardens to Praed Street, then down the ramp into the station where the clocks indicate that I have a couple of minutes in hand, pause at the barrier, take off my backpack, and fumble for my ticket for the best part of a minute. Damn! Got it, put it in the slot, the gates open and I am through them like a greyhound. The first door of Coach H is and the train manager standing at it with a whistle between her lips, and I am sprinting up the platform faster than Dwaine Chambers in Saturday's Olympic trial - or perhaps not ... decelerate and simultaneously turn into the doorway with a great squeaking of rubber soles on stone floor ... made it comfortably. Tap Julian on the arm as I pass his first-class seat - he's on the phone so I just wave - and through to the cheap seats.
Thank goodness I remembered to take a towel out of my desk drawer to bring with me.

13 July 2008

The long and winding road

To the Didcot 5, a race I had meant to do before and never quite got to. A nice flat course, mostly on paths through a housing estate - which is better than I realise that sounds. Dave, who lives a short walk from the start, assured me that there was only one climb, on the approach to Tesco, and I spent a lot of the race wondering how we were ever going to get anywhere near Tesco: in fact, I'd already done the climb (which was nothing to worry about) and it was outside Sainsbury's. Shows who does the shopping in his household.

Rachael was there, with Mark who was doing the Fun Run with his young daughter - but he made sure I knew he had already done 20 miles this morning, and an athletics meet the day before in which it seemed he had been obliged to do most of the events, including the pole vault and long jump and several track events which were much speedier than his normal running, so he had (he said) felt stiff this morning. Perhaps to prove a point, he was wearing a finisher's tee-shirt from the Comrades, which rather set him aside from the other fun runners (not to mention the non-fun runners in the 5 miler). I didn't ask him whether it had been a down year, though.

The course was flat but very, very winding. I don't know why town planners make footpaths and cycle routes meander through housing estates - presumably, pedestrians (if there are any) cut off the meanders, creating what I suppose one might call ox bow paths across the grass ... but of course we didn't, although there was a lot of scope for straightening out the meanders while remaining on the tarmac.

The first three hundred yards or so (and the last quarter mile) was across a recreation field, nicely rutted where it looked as if joyriders had been practising handbrake turns, though the ruts had been filled with sand. Still, it was bumpier even than the lawn that I levelled and reseeded at home this spring. (I finished the job in near-darkness, which probably accounts for some of the bumps.) By the time she exited the field, Rachael was fifty yards or more ahead of me, which was a bit less than I expected, and I had passed several people, including one with earphones in place who almost forced me into the barrier. (Later he came past me, cut in in front and slowed so I had to pass him again immediately: later still, he passed me again and I finally acknowledged that he was probably half my age.) Dave was behind me, though, and stayed there until it finally occurred to my body that this was twice the distance of most of my recent races, which ironically occurred just opposite Sainsbury's. He pulled out a bit of a lead over me, and was engaged in a spectacular sprint finish as I plodded round the last 400 yards before following his example to the best of my ability over the last 50 or so.

Not the most spectacular race, but very well marshalled and quite well-supported, with one water stop (about half distance, before the Sainsbury's Hill, where I paused to sip water and allowed Dave to make up a considerable amount of ground on me). At the end we received medals - Rachael kindly taking one for me while I got over the first half-minute or so after finishing, during which I always feel as if I am about to die, or if I have run really hard that I already have died) - though after being presented with a rose at the end of the Frohnau 10K in May medals will always seem a bit naff to me. She estimated my time at 36 minutes, my watch being in the office in London, and I reckon that isn't bad compared with 22:30 or thereabouts for a 5K and 16:15 for 2.3 miles in the Bridges Race.

I definitely need to get more training in if I am going to improve from this level, and I am conscious of the weight I am putting on as much as the fitness I am losing. I probably won't be taking a leaf out of Mark's or Rachael's book, though ... On to the Great City Race now, on Thursday, which is never a PB opportunity just because of the crowds, but at least will be a great evening out with colleagues.

12 July 2008

Fog on the Tyne

Writing a post - pursuant to a new resolution, following a phone conversation this morning with Mike Semple Piggott - for my other blog, IPso Jure, I found myself involved in one of those digressions that so easily seem to distract me. And in part it came about because yesterday, at Quorum Training, where I was running a course on data protection (see previous posting) I encountered an old political acquaintance who was also running a course.

Having established that he was who I thought he was, he asked me which wing of the party I'd been on - I answered "same as you", which made him smile: the whole conversation was a throwback to a competely different era, one in which it was necessary to be a little cagey about saying too much, one in which disloyalty (to the leader, that is, not necessarily to the party) was treated just a little (OK, a very little) like the way it would have been treated in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. I remembered my interlocutor haranguing Party Conference from the podium in a debate on capital punishment, him being barracked by the extreme right, and me leaving the conference hall in disgust and as a precaution against the likelihood that I might take direct action against some of the headbangers. He told me that it was otherwise: perhaps the debate was not on capital punishment (party managers generally had the sense to keep that off the agenda, and therefore off live national television), and his recollection was that he got into trouble by asking what the purpose of the Monday Club might be. A good question, perhaps. It was certainly a low point in my time as a member of the Conservative Party.

On the other hand, the meeting with the redundant shipyard workers (from Readheads Ship Repairers in South Shields), and the subsequent petition, the visit to Downing Street, the re-opening of the yard as a workers' co-operative (that most Conservative of business organisations), the award lunch at which their efforts were recognised and the Early Day Motion in the Commons calling (unsuccessfully) on the Ministry of Defence to send the Sir Tristram to them for repairs to the damage suffered in the Falklands War (which attracted the signatures of two MPs, Michael Fallon whom I had talked into tabling it, and Richard Needham, which neatly bracketed almost the entire breadth of the broad church that was the Parliamentary Conservative Party): those were the undoubted high points of my career in the party. I think I even included a plea for the Sir Tristram work in the speech I made to Party Conference that autumn, which was another high point in my political career - unfortunately there were not many more after that!

11 July 2008

Do you see the lights?

The worst thing that can possibly happen when you're running a training course is to turn on the radio to listen to the 6 o'clock news on BBC Radio 4 and to learn that a major official report on the very subject of your course is being published that very day. This morning, I heard that an official review had concluded that data protection laws needed a far-reaching overhaul and that public confidence in the law in this area was "evaporating". There's a story on the FT website about it here which I read hurriedly before setting off for the station to go to London to spend the day talking to an audience about the Data Protection Act.

I think I'll blog some more about this on IPso Jure, although it isn't IP law: I managed to get through the day without displaying my lack of knowledge of this development in the area of law in which I was professing expertise.

09 July 2008

Earth has not anything to show more fair

Wordsworth was not referring to the weather in 1802, but it probably wasn't anything like today's when he composed his sonnet on Westminster Bridge on September 3rd that year. Today the rain was coming down like stair rods, and registration for the Bridges Race was in the tunnel under the bridge. Others admired the bin liner I had procured from the general office before setting out for the race, and I was surprised to see that no-one else had adopted this traditional item of runners' attire.

I found myself being dispatched seven seconds ahead of Chris, who usually runs at about the same pace as me, but along the Embankment my legs felt weak and I could only manage a modest pace. Terry was in the distance ahead of me, and that's where he stayed. Faster runners started coming past, including a couple who got ahead just as we reached the challenging flight of steps up onto Vauxhall Bridge, so we pounded up the stairs together in a tight group.

Crossing the bridge, with groups of bedraggled casual runners coming in the opposite direction, a young man jokingly joined in and ran alongside one of the two who had just passed me before giving up. As I passed him I held out my raised hand and we "high fived" each other, which seemed so contrary to normal London practice - avoiding eye contact, never speaking, treating all strangers as dangerous, knife-carrying psychopaths - that it made me smile.

By the time I reach the end of Vauxhall Bridge I am usually making the most terrifying noise as I drag the reluctant air into my lungs and expel it again. The last couple of races I've done on this course I have given up trying not to do this, and finished the race hoarse: anyway, it serves to warn people in front that I am on my way, and today, running nearly silently, another competitor closed the gap between herself and a roadside tree just as I tried to squeeze through it.

I guess I was putting less into my racing today, based on the amount of noise I wasn't making, and Chris came past along Millbank, remarking that it had taken him a long time to wind in the seven seconds. I pointed out to him that the handicap was predicated on his achieving that at the finish line, so he was passing me very early. But I was able to tail him across Lambeth Bridge, making up ground as he slowed on the ascent (despite unusal cramp-like feelings in my foot) and catch and pass him along the final straight. As I passed Chris, another runner passed us both, but I caught him as well in my final sprint, and Julia, and Dennis, and evidently others too, because when Chris rued the fact that he had never been given such a high-numbered disc on finishing (30), I had been handed 22. It will be interesting to see what my time was, and how it compared with last month (noisy) and the relay the week before last (noisier).

At the finish, where those without bin liners did not hang about, two Community Support Officers (policemen-lite) were interested to know more about the event, so Dennis, who probably has more first-hand experience of it than almost anyone, was explaining it to them: they sounded as if they might be prepared to turn out next month.

07 July 2008

At 7 this morning I had just reached the top of the climb to the old railway bridge on the outskirts of Didcot, having managed (to find out whether it was possible) not to shift down from top gear, when my phone beeped to alert me to an SMS. I stopped and fished in my bag for the phone. Sure enough, First Great Western were teling me that the 0711 was cancelled. A lady walked past with her dog so I shared this information with her, and she replied sympathetically.
At the station, of course, no such thing had happened. The train rolled in a few minutes late, and full.