26 December 2008

New Morning

I rushed at the climb from the tunnel under the A34 (otherwise known as the E5, which runs from Gibraltar or Algeciras to Greenock: how useful is that?) and emerged into the bright sunlight. The sky was clear, the ground was dry, and there was a cool easterly breeze. This morning was just perfect for running.

I ran with my virtual partner today - the one on my Forerunner, I mean. She - I know she must be female, as so many of my favourite running partners are, though I have resisted the temptation, incriminating as it might be, to give her a name - did steady eight minute miles, and for the first couple of miles I pulled ahead. Up the hill beside our field she overtook me, so that when I crested the climb from the tunnel (with the HRM showing a disappointing 176) she was ahead again, and by over a minute. I chased her down along the Ridgeway, so by the time I turned off to head downhill again I had nearly caught her, and I'd pulled out a comfortable lead by the time I passed Upper Farm.

Hitting the smooth tarmac after the helter-skelter dash down the often-treacherous clay-and-chalk path from the Ridgeway, I consciously lengtened my stride and tried to lift my heels as high as possible - feeling the effort in a range of underworked muscles in my thighs and backside. I raced past a couple walking their doberman, gasping a polite "good morning" to them but then finding that I had acquired a new, large and enthusiastic training partner - nothing virtual about this one. So I stopped and encouraged the dog to rejoin its owners, which only worked on the second attempt when they forcibly restrained it from tagging along with me.

Meantime, VP had continued at her 8-minute-mile pace, oblivious to my attempts to leave behind my new running mate, and managed to build up a lead of about 20 seconds. I clawed it back again before I reached the school, but had to pause by the old beryllium pits to catch up with myself, allowing VP to close down the gap again. I thought about settling the matter by declaring a slightly earlier-than-planned end to the timed session, but rejected the idea: what would the records on my page at garmin.com look like if the loop were not finished? So I completed the circuit before stopping the watch, arriving home a couple of seconds ahead of her.

Fortunately, I didn't need to share my porridge with VP: I needed a large bowlful after that. I'm going to set her going at 7:55 for tomorrow and see how that goes. I think we are going to have a wonderful running relationship, though I won't be giving up running with humans any time soon. Apart from anything else, I prefer their conversation.

21 December 2008

Stories of the Street

Surely the Sunday morning before Christmas is a time to stay in bed - pull the duvet tight around you, perhaps get up enough to make a coffee and get back under cover as soon as possible. It was a breezy morning, though dry and not cold; no sunshine penetrated the rolling grey mass of clouds which initially seemed to promise some form of precipitation. Even so, I had that "what the hell am I doing here?" feeling as I lined up with thirty or forty others from Abingdon Amblers for the club's annual Christmas pud run.

No social jaunt, this, but a full-blown half-Marathon describing a big clockwise loop from Tilsley Park, through the town then out through Gozzards Ford to Cothill, Dry Sandford, and Wootton, up Boar's Hill and down the other side before heading through Sunningwell to Bagley Wood, down Lodge Hill and back to Tilsley along the ring road. Perfect preparation for the festive season!

Although I had been up since 6, I adopted a classic "just in time" approach (which might work well in manufacturing industry, but I should try to organise my life according to a different principle). The result was that I just caught Dave, in charge of handing out the numbers, and gave him my entry fee in time to get out to the road before a slightly delayed start. So no warm-up or anything. John, doing duty as starter, called us to the line and almost everyone hung back, so when he caled out "Go!" we set off from well behind where we should have been - which might have corrected the eccentric measurement of the course, as it happens. The first mile marker came up in about 4:40, giving most of us reason to doubt the accuracy of its position (and my Forerunner told me this was at 0.6 miles, translating into a more reasonable pace).

After the second mile (which must have been about 1.2) the markers seemed to be regular enough, though about .15 short all the way to the end (and the half-way mark came up just short of the 7). Still, the data from my Forerunner show that I kept up a fairly steady pace - three blips showing where I made a pitstop, slowed briefly to a walk half-way up Boar's Hill, and stopped for a drink at the second water station. And I certainly felt after about six miles that things were flowing and, while my pace wasn't spectacular (though on a par, taking stops into account, with last year), I felt as if I was eating up the miles quite satisfactorily. Or maybe it's just that time passes more quickly as you get older ...

Along towards Gozzards Ford - about 3 to 4 miles - powered gliders from the old RAF Abingdon hauled themselves into the grey sky, but shortly afterwards the sun broke through and it became a pleasant early winter day, though without what should be winter temperatures. I was even perspiring in my vest and shorts. There were still others on the same stretch of road as me, though Andy, who had caught me at Gozzards Ford, disappeared when I dived behind a hedge. I ran a long way with him in this event last year, but not today. Miraculously, the wind, which had been in our faces along the bleak stretch before the turnoff for Cothill, continued to blow from the same direction when we turned, so part of the route was wind-assisted, and I also benefitted from the encouragement dispensed by one former club member who appeared three or four times around the course to cheer us on.

Recalling my theory (formulated on Friday) that it's not the run that matters so much as with whom you run, this was not a great outing. I ran most of the distance solo, passing only a couple of runners and one of them at the very end. Several passed me early on, a consequence of my being near the line when the start happened, including two shapely young ladies whom I thought I might keep in sight - but that proved impossible, especially without contact lenses (they had not co-operated when I tried to put them in). I was however delighted with my time, just a little slower than last year and I haven't run this sort of distance since April. Now I just need to find some events to get into my diary for the first few months of the New Year.

My Aim is True

"It's not a very nice course", somebody said at the start of this month's Last Friday (in fact, on account of Christmas, penultimate Friday) 5K in Hyde Park.  For the second month running, the usual route which largely follows the banks of the Serpentine was unavailable because of Winter Wonderland, that excess of seasonal commercialism (in contrast with the rather longer-established - by about 614 years -  Frankfurt Weihnachtmarkt, of which unfortunately I just saw the edge on Tuesday evening).  But this is Hyde Park, one of my favourite running locations - how could it be not nice?

Well, the fact is that the alternative route isn't nearly as nice as the lakeside one, but another fact is that the quality of a run depends very much on who you're with.  Which, I suppose, is to say that there's a world of difference between racing complete strangers and one or two people whom you only ever run with when you're racing, and running for pleasure with friends.  There's plenty of room in a runner's life for both, but they are very different.  I've done the LFOTM many times with friends, too, but always run my own race - in fact, taken great care to try to beat them, which I've found is a forlorn hope with many of them (those who are 20 years younger than me, for a start).

This month I did get to the start on time, though the warm-up jog from Paddington was a little faster than I had intended.  It was warm for late December and there was enough sun to justify me wearing  my shades, though the amount of sunlight I deem necessary for that is minimal.  There were a few Bridges regulars, as usual, but the BDB contingent was absent: I do hope that the great running tradition will continue, and indeed reports that Nancy has encouraged groups of junior colleagues out at lunchtimes bodes well.  A monthly 5K is quite a step up from that, though.  How long, I wonder, was it between my starting to run and entering my first race?  Probably a year or so.

I didn't get to the 1K mark too quickly - well over 4 minutes, but I can't be sure how much because I haven't yet got into the habit of using my Forerunner to time anything except the full distance.  Shortly after that, Alan came past me as he so often does, and I resolved not to let him go: 3K further on, well into the second lap of the course, I slipped past him again and he eventually finished a second behind me.  I assume he isn't benchmarking his performance against mine, as I do mine against his.  Not only did I get ahead of my elder, but I also saw off a younger competitor: at about 3K one of the always-encouraging marshalls called out "well done, young man!", for which flattery I almost thanked him - but it was clearly aimed at the teenager in front of me, whom I passed shortly thereafter and stayed ahead of to the end.  (I thanked the marshall anyway, as I always try to do when breath permits.)

The time on my watch was 22:01, which I hoped would be reduced sightly in the official results: in fact, I lost a couple of seconds, and only scored an age-adjusted result of 68 per cent.  Still, given the irregularity of my training of late, not a bad outcome at all, and plenty to aim for next year.

16 December 2008

Watching the river flow

Terminal 2 at Heathrow is a bad joke now, probably has been for years.
Low ceilings give it an oppressive feeling to start with, and the fact
that it is packed with shops as well as waiting passengers makes the
experience so much more depressing. The tedious piece of muzak that has
been repeating endlessly for hours doesn't help, either.

I found a Caffe Nero – in fact I found two, but the larger one, with
seating, was crowded and I didn't fancy queueing – and as I walked
around with cappuccino in hand an American lady approached me to ask
directions. I wondered for a moment whether I looked like an airport
employee, but there are plenty of business travellers wearing suits
around so there is no likelihood of confusion there. No, she just wanted
to know where I had found coffee, and I was able to direct her. I
ventured a comment about how well we treat visitors to our country,
exposing them to the misery of this airport terminal, but my witticism –
a form of gallows humour in any case, and of course far too ironic for
an American audience – passed her by.

I've perused all the shops, as BAA intended I should, though I haven't
bought anything more than a few necessaries – sandwich and fruit-and-nut
bars. I've enrolled with the iris-imaging programme, which is supposed
to speed my passage through immigration when I come home tomorrow:
unfortunately, the staff tell me that US Immigration doesn't participate
in the system, so it will still take hours and usually an interaction
with a congenitally humourless border guard to get into the land of the
free.

Today is not a good day to be travelling anywhere, it seems, certainly
not in middle Europe. Several Lufthansa flights are showing on the
monitors as "cancelled", though the helpful approach of telling us about
cancellations over the loudspeakers seems to have been lost somewhere.
My flight's appointed time came and went, and then the monitors showed a
revised departure time – 95 minutes late. But no announcements – perhaps
so as to avoid disturbing the shopping.

10 December 2008

Winter's shadowy fingers

I didn't know how much to wear for the Bridges Race this lunchtime. The temperature in London was scarcely above freezing, and I arrived at the start wearing leggings, thermal top, fleece, waterproof jacket, hat and gloves. I removed the jacket and the fleece before the start. I have rarely been cold when running, and if I am ever cold when I start I soon warm up (I remember once gallantly giving my gloves to a running mate when my need for them had passed, and hers was pressing), but these were extreme conditions.

I joked with another competitor that I would run just fast enough to keep warm, but when I was called to the start and immediately sent on my way (the start of these handicap races is always a bit messy) I set off at a cracking, some might say foolish, pace.

After track training last week, I had realised that good runners get their feet much higher up behind them than I imagine I normally do. No wonder I don't lift mine as high: it is extremely hard work, as I found that evening. But here I was striding down the Thames Path kicking my heels up and feeling as if I was eating up the ground.

Of course, it didn't last, but I saw off the runner who set off on the same handicap (or nearly) as me - she got ahead at first, but I'd passed her again before we reached MI6 (or is it 5? I can never remember). I overtook Guy, who suggested I might have my eye on the trophy - and it occurred to me that there hadnt been many starters ahead of me and with the generous handicap I'd acquired by virtue of a bad time last month it might just be posssible.

But I lumbered up the steps to Vauxhall Bridge (only two at a time), although I still felt as if it was flowing nicely as I headed for Millbank. A couple of competitors were in sight ahead of me and I'd have to catch them - but the gap wasn't closing, and my legs, the calves in particular, were tiring from the ffort of lifting my feet so high - even though I stopped doing that a couple of hundred yards earlier. (Would compression socks have made any diffeence? There's one way to find out!)

Although it was cold, the sun was shining and I regretted having left my sunglasses at the office yesterday when I went for a lunch that lasted until 6 o'clock (although I maintained thoughout that I'd be going back to the office). Where the route came out of the sahdows alongside St Thomas's I could feel the warmth. Turning onto Vauxhall Bridge there was an unwelcome breeeze in my face, but I suppose it was at my back (and therefore unnoticed) as I crossed Lambeth Bridge.

The two guys in front were in exactly the same place as I came off the Bridge, and there was nothing I could do to catch them in the final few hundred yards along the Embankment. I had nothing left in the tank, despite the terrible gaspoing noise I was making with each desparate breath. Not only could I not catch them: one runner passed me, closely followed by a second, then another, then three more, and I slipped down the order dramatically. Guy's words of encouragement didn't help.

My time, though, was 16:41, and now I think about it that means that I ran pretty much to my handicap.

09 December 2008

Live at Olympia

Great news!  At the ITMA Christmas lunch, to which I was invited at an hour's notice by an old (meaning long-standing) friend, I learnt of a race that coincides nicely with INTA in Seattle next May: the Capital City Marathon.  As the name suggests, it's in Olympia, which I remember as a very attractive little city: it starts at 7 on the Sunday morning, so not too much time out from the conference: but by no stretch of the imagination is it a stroll in the park.  The elevation chart looks a bit daunting, and there is no getting away from the fact that it is 26 miles, 385 yards.  Ther's a half, too, and a five-miler, but I proved in April that when faced with the opportunity of continuing running when the end of the half comes along, I take the stupid option.

I rate that as two good things that happened today - the lunch, and the news of the race.  Can I also count the delightful company at lunch?  I think that might be cheating slightly, but I do feel confident that I reached three today - as i do each day, of course: it's only really a record-keeping exercise.

I have some serious training ahead of  me now.  A new friend whom I met today might also run this race, and was talking about other events to do in the early part of next year, so maybe I will join her.  And more immediately i have he Bridges tomorrow, and my entry for the Last Friday arrived in the post today.

06 December 2008

Buddy can you spare a Dime?

A man in a disreputable wool hat and a high-vis jacket came up to me and, muttering something I could not make out, pressed 60p into my hand.  It seemed that he wanted me to use it top pay for the copy of The Sun that he was brandishing.

I was waiting in line to redeem my voucher for today's FT, and we were in WH Smith in Didcot, but to be asked to pay someone else's dues in this way struck me as odd.  I was at the back of the queue, so engaging me as his agent did not offer any significant saving of time.

"You won't have a receipt", I pointed out to him.  "They might think you haven't paid for it."

he seemed happy to take his chances: indeed, he went on to explain that he would be delighted to be locked up, preferrably with some paedopihiles whose throats it seemed he would take delight in cutting, confident that he would be able to avoid suspicion.

Our brief conversation had already covered a great deal of ground, and I was not unhappy to find myself at the head of the queue.  I proferred the 60p to the assistant, explaining that it was this gentleman's copy of The Sun: but the gentleman had already gone on his way, perhaps in search of paedophiles, though the assistant had seen him and seemed to understand.  (Perhaps he did the same thing every day.)  I glanced round the shop on my way out in the hope that I might be able to give him the receipt, but there was no sign of the high-vis jacket.

An hour or so later, I was looking for loose oranges in the fruit department of Sainsbury's.   Standing by them, carefully examining the produce, was a familiar figure.  Taking reassurance from the fact that his clothing was not spattered with the blood of a paedophile who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and conscious of the fact that I had an interest in the same fruit as him, I decided against jumping to the next item on my shopping list and moved into proximity to him.

"Would you like me to pay for your groceries?" I asked.  He looked up and after a moment of hesitation recognised me and smiled.  he didn't take me up on the offer: but neither did I understand what he had to say about the oranges.

02 December 2008

My Favourite Things

Positive Psychology sounds like a piece of New Age rubbish, but its academic and scientific credentials look fairly solid, so the notion that writing down three good things that happen to you each day is worth thinking about. Yesterday, the main difficulty would be keeping it to three.

First, one of the most pleasurable runs I have had in a long time. That's partly a function of the irregularity of my running just now, but it was a beautiful, clear, crisp day in London yesterday. I departed from Paddington wearing jacket, leggings, hat and gloves, and stopped outside Buckingham Palace to remove most of them (after passing a runner on Constitution Hill wearing a tee-shirt and shorts, which made me feel inadequate). Carrying a backpack didn't make for a fast pace, and the Forerunner didn't find a satellite very quickly so it lost the first mile or so, but at least most of the route is recorded here for posterity. I arrived at the office feeling good, but during the afternoon felt more like dozing than working, and this morning my legs were pretty stiff.

Second, the prospect of seeing an old friend in Frankfurt when I go there later this month. I dropped her an email to say I would be in town, aware that she wasn't exactly close to Frankfurt (the drive many years ago from the Ruhr to Frankfurt, and back, in her husband's S-Class Merc at a steady 120-140 mph, dodging the Trabbies which at the time were flooding across the recently-removed border, has stuck in my mind), but she can arrange things so she can meet me there.

Third, a satisfying afternoon of work. Nothing particularly exciting about it, but when I think back six months or so, the difference in the degree of satisfaction I derive from my work, and my motivation to do it, has changed beyond recognition.

I could go on. The three things don't have to be big, apparently, just good, and after a week or so you can look back and draw strength from it.