30 December 2009

Box of Rain

A foul morning, ideal for demonstrating to myself that I still have willpower to run and that deep down I am a Warrior! So I donned gloves, hat, waterproof jacket and shorts, hooked Boston up to his lead and set off with the rain stinging my frozen cheeks. At least the ice has gone and the air was warm enough to breathe, but once past the waste transfer station (onto the section of dirt road up and down which the dustcarts and skip lorries ply) it was a matter of leaping the puddles and trying not to sink into the mud where I landed. Boston, of course, thought it was great, and not having had a chance to investigate the smells on this route for many months he kept getting distracted from the main purpose of the trip.

At the corner after the waste transfer station, I stopped because there were trucks coming both ways and with a deaf dog to control staying put was the best plan. One of the trucks pulled up alongside us to let the one coming the other way go through. The passenger, a young man, athletic-looking and holding a bottle of sports drink, leaned out of the window and remarked that my legs must be cold. "Not while I'm moving - only when I'm waiting for the traffic!"

The rain and slight wind were bad enough but once I'd fed Foxy and climbed up to the Ridgeway I found we were in the clouds. It was thick enough that I worried about losing sight of my canine running companion, as there was a lot to distract him along there - especially when we reached the car park and he had to check the litter bins. I tried to stay behind him so I could give him a gentle push if he got too far off line, but it didn't really work and we took a long, long time to reach the turnoff back towards home. Part of the time was spent chatting to the only dogwalker out this morning, well wrapped up against the weather. Normally I would have to separate Boston from half-a-dozen other dogs along the way. By this point I had lost all sensation in my fingers and the waterproof capability of my jacket had been tried and found wanting. Well, it did come from eBay.

I slithered down the path towards the school, hitting tarmac at the bottom of the hill but still not being able to up my pace because Boston was still investigating the myriad smells. But speed didn't matter today - it was enough that I was out in these conditions, running, proving to myself that I still have it in me. One of my best runs ever.

20 December 2009

Winter song

Winter's shadowy fingers pursued me for the full 13.1 miles today: indeed, they started even earlier as I had offered to assist with putting out signs on the course, for which purpose I presented myself at the Royal British Legion Hall in Wootton at 8 o'clock in the morning. The road surfaces were predominantly black ice - hardly a bit of tarmac to be seen. By 10, the sun had come up but was making little impression on the ice or the air temperature.

From the start, we headed up Boars Hill, a demanding climb when you reach it after mile 8 (last year's route, starting and finishing at Tilsley Park which no longer opens on Sundays - a leisure centre closed on the day of leisure: what will local government think of next?), only marginally less demanding in these conditions. Use the verge when possible, seek out the patches on the road surface that have melted, and hope for the best. But the greatest problem was breathing - at least, it was for me. I have, certainly, lost fitness (and gained weight) in the last few weeks with my enforced lay-off, but the cold air made my chest feel as if it were constrained in something tight but slightly elastic - a wet suit, perhaps. I'd dragged myself, gasping and wheezing, over Boars Hill, through Bayworth and down to Lodge Hill before I felt I could breathe. (Here's a photo, by John Harvey, of Dave and me at this point.)

Unfortunately, that meant that I got into my stride just at the moment that my body decided to make other demands. Tilsley Park was near at hand, but closed, and there are no other public facilities in the area. I tried Hilary's cousin's house, not far off the route, but there was no-one at home, so I diverted to the local running shop, Fit To Run - someone later pointed out the irony, which escaped me at the time - where I was received very helpfully, as they could see from my running number that I was taking part in the race.

After that, with ten or fifteen minutes wasted (but my dignity preserved), I clocked some reasonable miles round the ring road and through Abingdon, right to the ten-mile mark where Tor and Mel were running the second water station. I was able to report that there were two runners behind me - all that I had managed to pass again after my extended pitstop. I drank the sports drink that I had prepared earlier and left with them, and headed off towards Cothill where I hoped I might catch Andrew, who had been in sight when I first spotted the drinks station. But outside the Merry Miller (where we had dined the previous evening, perhaps too well judging by the way my stomach was reacting to a little light running) something in my groin succumbed to some sort off strain that I hadn't even been aware of imposing on it. As it happened, I didn't get much chance to run on it any more as the last two miles were more suited to skates than running shoes. How the first man home did it in 1:24:something (and the first lady in some ten or twelve minutes more) I cannot imagine, although even those are not fast times and must have been spoilt by the conditions.

At least no-one was hit by a wayward car, a real concern at the start: the only injury was Andrew, who fell and grazed his knee somewhere - claiming that the cold anaesthetised it so well he had not even noticed until he saw the blood when he stopped at the water station.

In so many ways, a fitting end to a highly unsatisfactory week. I hoped that completing the race would give me a sense of achievement (it has merely left me with more sore muscles than I have had for years, and still wheezing hours later) and do me some good in the Club championship: but it might even be that, having been beaten by nearly all my clubmates, I have actually boosted their positions. Roll on 2010.

16 December 2009

Black Night

Running in the dark can be miserable, and cold and damp make it worse - no surprise there. What has happened to the Warrior in me? Perhaps I found a little of him again yesterday.
The last few months seem to have consisted of one reversal after another: Achilles injury leading to an enforced break from running, glacially slow payments from clients leading to shortages of cash, and generally horrible weather. But now there is money coming in, work is picking up, I have a new publishing contract and yesterday evening I managed a medium-length club run.
Unfortunately my performance in the club chapionship has suffered during my lay-off - I hope I might salvage something on Sunday, when all I have to do is run a half Marathon.
Yeterday the flow was back: I didn't run fast but it felt as if it could have gone on for hours. And on a cold, damp December evening that is Warrior quality - perhaps.

12 December 2009

Baby it's Cold Outside (again)

Across the road from the coach stop, a couple had popped out of a Christmas party for a cigarette. Limbo-dancing beneath the sash window, they stood on the first-floor balcony in the steadily-falling snow, she keeping it off with an umbrella.

01 December 2009

Feel a whole lot better

There is no better feeling than this. Ten weeks since my Achilles problem started, in which time I've managed a couple of races (both featured in the latest Runner's World - two pieces by me on the same page) and a very few runs that were little more than jogs and often cut short by complaints from the offending tendon, I finally managed a real run this evening. Only about 3.4 miles, and not much under half-an-hour to do it, but no grumbles from my injuries and a stretch round the Abindgon ring road where there was something approaching flow going on.

I was a little short of breath, and not surprisingly I have lost a lot of fitness - but I feel a whole lot better now that I am running again!

18 October 2009

Promenade sentimentale

Race organisers who'd like to tempt me to enter their events - not that there's much reason for them to do that - would be well advised to steer clear of references to topography in the title. Unless they use words like "pancake". But I take my duties as a race reviewer for Runner's World seriously - of course! - so was I going to be put off by the second word in the name of the Frieth Hilly 10K? Not much.

The course shares some road with the Marlow Half, which is - erm - strenuous, so it was clear that the organisers were being nothing more than honest with the off-putting name. Quite right, too, that they should issue a caveat to prospective entrants who for whatever reason would find it too much.

As well as the roads (with very little traffic, though the organisers had at least one set of "stop" and "go" signals operating, apparently at the insistence of the County Council) it includes a lot of off-road stuff, much of it through glorious autumnal Chiltern woodland (with plenty of roots to catch the unwary). The villages through which the course wends feature lovely flint cottages with fantastic views, most seeming to have a dog or cat watching with bemusement from a window.

I turned up according to my usual "just in time" policy, collected my number, went back to my car (the car park was a couple of hundred yards from the start), took off outer clothing, removed car key from ring, locked up, placed key in pocket, jogged out of the car park, returned to car for race number ... arrived at the start only to turn round almost immediately and head back towards the car park as part of a running millipede, hundreds of feet tramping up and down. So, not the most relaxed start in my running career - is it ever any different? And did I miss the vicar's pre-start blessing which was a feature of the race's first running last year? I must find out.

The race is held to raise funds for the village school, and it seemed that every parent was on marshaling duty unless they were running (there being prizes for parent-runners). The support, from the marshals and the numerous spectators, was uplifting and the sheer number of marshals was extraordinary. This is a tremendously well-organised affair.

The course took to a wooded track before crossing a field and plunging down a narrow woodland path, where the tree roots were hidden beneath leaves. The entrance to this section created a bottleneck, which perhaps was just as well given the nature of the route on the other side: if we'd all funnelled into that path without having to pause and get into single file there would have been trouble. Then we burst out of the woods and hurtled (some faster, more recklessly, than others) down the side of a steep field: I crossed my fingers and hoped that the surface would not be too slippery for my pell-mell descent, and thankfully it wasn't. I passed several people on the way down - they got me back later, of course.

I chatted briefly to a couple of guys as I passed them, though with hindsight I should have saved my breath (as a marshal to whom I called out thanks advised me to do in the first mile). The fourth kilometre mark arrives as the course has begun to climb to its highest point, through woods on narrow pats 9so if someone stars to walk in front of you, it's difficult to find a way past). One young lady bounded past scores of us struggling up the gradient: I felt the complaints of Achilles again, and realised that even a week's rest after the last race (a week after the race that caused the niggle, with no running in between) wasn't enough to see it right. I stopped at the top and stretched it out, then continued on my way - not in pain, not even discomfort, but aware of my limitations, and of Achilles.

A young guy stopped in front of me, as he had done earlier before passing me while I was stretching, and I encouraged him on. He tagged on with me, so I asked him to pull me along when I needed help. He told me he had done this route, or most of it, many times, but never the last stretch - and others had spoken darkly of a hill at the end. As it happened, we parted company before kilometre 9 (not in the way I had anticipated, with him leaving me standing, but with me stepping up my pace), then we were back in the village and the road cruelly stretched, straight as a die, up a formidable ascent. A photographer snapped action pictures of us struggling up: "I'm not at my best" I complained to him through gritted teeth. Head down, driving on with my legs, ignoring Achilles, I reached the top from where it was a short distance to the school behind which the race finished. I even managed to sprint round the playing field, though spectators could have been excused for not recognising this.

Then I splashed out a fiver on a massage - possibly the best decision I have ever taken, at the time, although Achilles is even more sore now than after the race ...

Here are the gory details. After the race I delivered a goody bag to another competitor who ran 7 miles home afterwards and not surprisingly did not wish to be encumbered. Private Passions was on Radio 3 - Ian Rankin making his choices - including Promenade Sentimentale, minimalist piano music from the soundtrack to Diva, my favourite movie and a simple but relaxing piece of music. It seemed a perfect close to the morning.

11 October 2009

5 Miles Out: The Stewart Horwood Memorial Hanney 5

What nicer way to remember a clubmate than to name a trophy after him and run a race each year in his memory. Stewart Horwood organised the Hanney 5 for Oxford City AC for many years, and now it bears his name. Anyone would be proud to have such an enjoyable and friendly event named after them, too, although holding it in October means gambling with the weather – which, this year, was at times refreshing.

Elaborate plans to bring my old INTA running friend Paul, over here from New Zealand, out of retirement failed when he awoke with a cold. A wet October race definitely wouldn't have been a good idea for him, but at least we could still have lunch - which I had to earn by running the race. Not an unfamilar course, because apart from running it in previous years we had a club run here in the summer - and anyway, the territory is very similar to the White Horse Half, which even uses a couple of miles of the same roads (in the opposite direction).

The race attracts a good field of local club members - it features in Abingdon's club championship, so there were large numbers of yellow vests to be seen. There's nothing flashy about it: start in the road by the village hall, one lap of mainly rural, lightly-used roads, a sprint round the village paying field and a cup of water at the end - oh, bacon sandwiches I think for the omnivores, and other refreshments laid on but I had a train to meet. No goody bag or tee shirt, but the novelty of those wore off years ago for me (although I appreciate a nice surprise like the coaster from the Headington 10, and the Cotswold Classic drawstring bag was also welcome, and come to think of it the jacket made the Capital City marathon irresistable, so forget what I said about goody bags - let me just say I'm happy to pay a modest entry fee for a race and forgo the goodies). Only 160 entries (plus some on the day, I imagine), so it's a comfortable size of event.

I succeeded in getting my Garmin device set up and locked onto a satellite so I could press the button as I crossed the start line, so when Mile 1 appeared I could see (squinting to overcome the correction provided by my contact lesnses) that I had run it in 7:10. Not clever at the end of a three-week layoff following Achilles's complaints on the Cotswold Classic. The second mile was 7:36, which amounted to an over-correction, then 7:30, 2:23 and 7:24. The steadiness of my pace is as satisfying as the speed.

It was faster than planned, and faster than I thought I could do, at least in part because I found myself running with Kate, previously encountered on the Banbury 15 in February. When I realised who I was running alongside, I knew her pace would be about right for me - though she had complained that every time she made to overtake me I sped up. So she pushed me along, and I pushed her, for most of the race until after mile 4 she pulled away in the company of a mere 15 year old lad.

The course isn't spectacular, though it is rural and not remotely ugly. It's good for a PB, being flat and (today) so miserable weather-wise - I just wanted to get out of the rain (as this photo by John Harvey amply demonstrates). It didn't help me to a great time, but 37:24 (maybe a few seconds to take off to allow for a senior moment when it came to stopping my watch) was well within my 8-minute-mile aspirational target. The last mile or so involved another small argument with Achilles, but fortunately nothing serious and I was able, with a little circumspeaction, to run through his complaints this time.

07 October 2009


I came across this very useful guide to how to lace your running shoes today, and having suffered from black toenails and all sorts of discomfort around the front of my running shoes in the past I thought it deserved the widest possible dissemination.

22 September 2009

The Book Song

Looking on YouTube for a song about books: how could I even need to look, when there is such a perfect candidate as this? Beautiful. Only a pity that the "video" is just a still of the album cover ...

So, a few reasons for writing about books today. Alexander McCall Smith's new online novel, The Dog Who Came In From The Cold, for one. I'd forgotten the previous one - though we have the bound hardback edition on the shelf now. I am however getting just a bit irritated by the way the chapters are put together, which seems to be a bit formulaic - viz the second para of today's instalment. Amusing, and beautifully written, but by the time we get to chapter 80 these inner monologues are going to be tiresome.

From there, I followed a link to the 20 worst sentences from Dan Brown's oeuvre only to find that they weren't half as bad as I had expected. Many of the selections weren't sentences, either, and most of them failed to illustrate the bad writing of which Mr Brown s accused. I have no wish to read his books, but that's because of the subject matter more than the writing style - ditto Harry Potter, but not Philip Pullman. I just finished reading a The Olive Tree by Carol Drinkwater (see my post about the Oxford Literary Festival back in March) which I enjoyed despite the fact that it was the most over-written book I have read since - well, since the other one of her books that I have read. I would dispute the meanings she appears to intend for some of the more obscure words she uses, too. But I still liked it. The fact that one has met an author gives the books a different dimension, perhaps. If one has been to parties at the author's house, so much the better ... (Pullman, that is, not Drinkwater.)

Alexander McCall Smith writes so elegantly, selecting and using words so beautifully, that it could be a knitting pattern - well, perhaps I exaggerate ... a book on medical ethics? Might be worth trying - it could inspire me in my legal book-writing, as his fictional writings inspire my slow-moving efforts in that area.

Having returned Carol Drinkwater to the bookshelf, I turned to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a work that has rather a lot in common with A McCall
Smith's, although he doesn't write epistolary novels. It is an absolute delight, though there are darker aspects to it as well, superbly written and evoking the post-war period very clearly (at least, in accordance with what I imagine it must have been like).

14 September 2009

Temporary Like Achilles

Cotswold Classic 10 (miles, that is) yesterday. I prepared well, with pasta the evening before and porridge for breakfast, and I armed myself with the energy gell from last week's goodie bag - a high-caffeine one. Even so, as I lined up ("Where's the start?" "I think it's that yellow line across the road") I remarked to James that I never felt as unwilling to run as when I am about to start a race.
Last week had to be consigned to the dustbin of history, so I resolved to keep to a sensible pace. Trish mentioned how I had set off at a cracking pace seven days earlier, and other clubmates agrees, so I asked them to tell me if I was ging stupidly fast. Some hope: I left most of them well behind within the first mile or two.
It's an attractive course, though the "Cotswold" in the name should be ample warning that it will involve hills as well as lovely stone-built villages. I fell in with a lady from the local club (though she lives in London, she told me), who warned me of the ascents and gave me advance notice of the descents, and all was going very nicely at a little under 8 minute miles, until some way after the 8 mile marker, head down, arms pumping, getting up one of the hills on the balls of my feet, my right Achilles tendon issued an unmistakeable warning.
I stopped to give it a good stretch, half-thinking I wouldn't be leaving the company of the two marshalls at whose post I had paused, but (after Trish has passed by) david appeared and I tagged on with him - just like the previous week. But I had to let him go after a short distance, and I stopped to stretch again. A spectator with two young children offered me jelly babies for energy, but that didn't answer my need (even if they had been gelatin-free, which I doubt): the frustrating thing was that I had plenty in the tank, and I'd have been finishing well ahead of those clubmates but for the twinge from just above my ankle.
I did manage to run the last couple of miles, after a fashion, but what should have been an exilerating descent to the finish (discounting the last quarter-mile or so, uphill into a school site and round the playing field) was a disappointment and the final part was an ungainly limp. 1:26:43 wasn't bad, all things considered, but it failed to deliver the uplift I had been banking on. And now I have the prospect of a week or more resting before I can do any more running.
On the other hand ... 16 years ago this event was my first serious race, and in all that time I haven't had a race marred by injury. That's not too bad an injury rate.

28 August 2009

Goodbye, summer

The Big Bang serves delicious food (although the wild mushroom and garlic bangers are a bit too solid). It is not, however, runner's food. Perhaps the two pints of Henley Gold with which I washed down the meal were to blame, or perhaps it was the dessert - Star of St Tropez sounds irresistible, but it fails to live up to its promise.

The upshot was that, after dinner at The Big Bang in Oxford yesterday, I felt rather uncomfortable lining up for the Headington 10K this morning. Worminghall Airfield - the race no longer takes in the Oxford Ring Road and Marston Ferry Lane, as it did last time I ran it and it's a bit more than the 5 miles it was then too - is probably windy every day of the year, as airfields often are. Summer ended last Monday: to me, the August Bank Holiday always marked the end of summer, coinciding as it often did with my birthday and coming shortly before the start of the school year. Nowadays, I mark it by the fact that clients are back from summer holidays, so work starts coming in, other lawyers are there when you phone or email, and (I hope) bills finally get paid.

The route of the race is nice enough, although the scenery wins no prizes. It lacks relief, as the best running courses usually do - I like flat in a race. I started conservatively far back, but felt up for a rather faster pace so I weaved through the field over the first couple of kilometres (here is a photo of me doing so, and looking very serious about it, by John Harvey). The first leg went out and round a marker before taking us out of the airfield and onto a quiet road to half-circumnavigate the airfield and re-enter it at about 8K. The runways are disused, and grass grows through the cracks, so it is not a perfect running surface but it's pretty good - better than some Oxfordshire roads. I got to half-way at a good pace - 22:13, but each kilometre was slower than the one before: and when I stopped to drink at the water station just before the 6K mark, I had trouble getting going again. Several team-mates came past, then David encouraged me to keep pace with him for a while, but as we passed the 7K mark I was struggling to hang onto him.

Once the finish line came into view I managed to muster a reasonable sprint finish, but in the funnel at the end came closer than I have ever come to throwing up - before running straight to the Portaloos ... So I seem to have learnt something about pre-race eating, and probably a great deal about pacing to. not the best day's running of my career: indeed, it might well qualify as one of the worst. And such a shame that we are now stuck with autumnal weather, until it turns to winter.

12 August 2009

Running from the Law

A tough day's running, and still only half-way through it. Cycled to the station, took the train to Paddington, ran to Westminster, had a meeting - I had arranged it at Caffè Nero, but found the place was too small to have much in the way of seats so we sat outside, on the pavement! - then crossed Westminster Bridge to take part in the Bridges Race. Ran that in an unimpressive 16:52, resulting in a cut of 30 seconds in my handicap (which should prove useful next month), saw several old friends who I haven't seen much of recently, then ran on (much more slowly) to the office. A good 8 miles so far today, with the prospect of even more this evening if I meet Kevin as planned for a lap of the Royal Parks.

09 August 2009

People are strange

Some people would probably consider it strange that I choose to spend my Sunday morning running ... but after ten days or so enforced rest (brought to an end on Friday) I was keen to get going again. Chose a shorter route than I had in mind when I started out, just under seven miles - my regular hour-long run.

I didn't go hard at it, because I still have a sore rib to contend with, and I stopped for a breather, or just to think, two or three times. But after the Bury Down car park I got into a good rhythm, breathing in for three paces and out for three, lengthening my stride to increase the effect of the regular breathing. The sun shone, the going was good (though it's always a little bumpy on the Ridgeway), and I even found myself thinking about running the Ridgeway Challenge - not a realistic proposition this year, I am sure of that, but there's no harm in dreaming. Sometimes that's the most I can do.

Coming down the hill back to the village, I started with the idea of running one of Rachael's Reps - this being the 1000m stretch that I use for those, on the rare occasions when I get round to trying them - but quickly ran out of steam. Later, though, a passing telegraph pole reminded me that I could use them for intervals, so I ran three or four telegraph pole intervals, each probably well under 100 yards. First one trying to run more on the balls of my feet, but I was landing while my foot was still moving forward so I was slowing myself down: then one heel-striking, which was faster and much easier: then one landing on the forefoot again, but this time keeping my centre of gravity a bit further forward, making sure my foot was pushing from the moment it hit the tarmac. I passed the target pole and glanced at my watch: the pace was around 4:30, so allowing for the fact that I had already slowed down that sounded satisfactory. I ran another like that, and the watch told the same story, but when I downloaded the data to my computer Mr Garmin told me I had hit a maximum of 3:55 min/mile. That's world record pace, or nearly - if only I could run a whole mile without slowing down ...

25 July 2009

Surf's Up

One of those days when I just didn't feel like running, but forced myself and had a great one. Here are the details. Headed down to Whitesands, where the surf was far from up as it happens, then tried to go south along the coastal path - intending to find the St Justinian's road and take that back to St David's, but took a wrong turning and ended up pretty quickly back at the golf club. But the road sections I covered at a very satisfying rate, attacking climbs and taking advantage of descents, and felt much better for it.

18 July 2009

Farewell To Arms

A spectacular route - well, in large part: the bit alongside the road, with no footpath, wasn't so good - along the side of Lake Maggiore, passing the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées where Hemingway set part of A Farewell to Arms (and Isola Madre, a quarter of a mile offshore, where Mussolini, Laval and MacDonald created the Stresa Front in 1935 to try to contain Hitler's ambitions: it fell apart when Britain unilaterally agreed to an increase in the German navy, and Mussolini invaded Abyssinia).

13 July 2009

July Morning

Sometimes we seem to have progressed straight to the back-end of summer. The sixth running of the Didcot 5, and my second time, had a fairly stiff breeze and cool drizzle as well as warming sunshine - not great for most summer pursuits, but good running conditions. It came at the end of a week in which I had failed, for reasons largely of work, to get in a single run. So much for my resolve. Like a friend I saw before the race, I was taking the opportunity to kick-start my running.

"Is it hilly?" asked a female runner, wearing a vest indicating her membership of a club far away, as we lined up. "No", two of us reassured her, before my clubmate warned her about the state of the tarmac. I wondered whether she might consider our assessment inaccurate when she reached the incline opposite Sainsbury's: one person's "flat" is another's "undulating". But she didn't come from the Fens, or anywhere like that.

No chip timing here (though perhaps next year?), but no delay worth speaking of getting across the start line either. The first stretch is across playing fields, the course marked out by tape that crackled in the breeze, then it makes a sharp right turn onto a cycleway parallel to the railway to Oxford. The Didcot Railway Centre was "steaming", pungent coal-smoke drifting over parts of the course: I hope it didn't set off anyone's asthma.

Initially I tried to stay close to a clubmate, then settled for keeping him in sight, but when we reached the first water station I paused for a mouthful or two of water and lost him altogether. The course wends its way through the Ladygrove estate on the northern side of Didcot: it's - presumably - Thames flood plain, and therefore as flat as a pancake. On the other side of the tracks the land rises towards the Downs to the south, but the race only briefly passes under the railway, taking in that gentle incline by Sainsbury's before returining to the cycle paths of the Ladygrove Estate at the first opportunity.

The paths meander across the expansive green areas between the houses. It's not a bad course at all, considering the unprepossesing nature of the terrain, though the sinuous tracks make finding the shortest route something that demands concentration. I measured it at 4.88 miles in the end, and I wonder whether I lost .12 by taking the shortest route along the paths? Much more could be saved by cutting the corners, taking to the grass - but, naturally, no-one gave any sign of even considering it. There's a small amount of road involved, and a couple of points at which the race crosses roads (no closures for the event), but there were marshals everywhere. The compact nature of the route makes it possible to redeploy marshals, and I spotted some of them two or three times (thanking them for their efforts), and positioning the water station at a point where the course almost crosses itself is also a convenient economy - it all seems so well-planned.

Didcot, of course, is famous for power generation, and where you have a power station you are bound to have power lines too. One of these accounts for the green swathe through the housing estate: no-one wants to live under the lines themselves, though I'd feel pretty uncomfortable even in proximity to them. Perhaps that .12 miles can be accounted for by interference with GPS.

The breeze in the first half-mile or so of the race shortly developed into driving drizzle - not unpleasant, not cold, in fact rather refreshing, and that continued up to about mile 2. My suglasses were coming off and going back on for a while, but mostly it was bright enough to need them, though I wondered aloud to someone alongside whom I was (temporarily) running in the rain, before I stopped for water, what had happened to July.

Three or four runners got away from me at that point, and I couldn't close the gap again. The second water stop I managed with the loss of only one place, which I took back again swiftly, but the green vest of one of the first group remained tantalisingly in sight for the rest of the race. As we regained the playing field for the final act, it was - perhaps - in range: at the finsh line it was just an arm's length ahead of me. We patted each other on the back and shook hands in the funnel.

I was surprised to see my watch showing 34:28.something: under seven minute miles for 5 miles. But it averaged my pace to 7:04, because of that missing .12 miles. If the GPS lost the distance, I wonder, did the time get lost too? No, I don't think that could have happened. Anyway, it's slightly academic as the timer pauses when I pause, as I did twice for water. Nevertheless, I impressed myself with that pace at the end of an idle week.

09 July 2009

Southbound again

An easy mistake. I went to a meeting in Pall Mall: the wine flowed liberally: I left for Paddington, neglected to change at Baker Street and wound up looking for a southbound train at St John's Wood - my stamping ground of three years ago.

It was a good and fruitful meeting, but as I strolled to Green Park tube station afterwards a girl passed me running down the slope from Piccadilly and I realised how much I would have preferred to be doing the same. My sense of priorities has becomedistorted recently - money comes first.

What, I wonder, is the best course of action after arriving at Baker Street heading south and needing to reach Paddington? I guess the Bakerloo line, though it is more vulnerable to terrorist attack ...

And what is the right thing to say to the slob who places his empty drink can on a seat on the northbound platform? Tempting as alternatives are, nothing is best.

The train just pulled in, expiring before it got fully into the right zone. It has got going again now - I hope it makes it to Paddington!

04 July 2009

Sunny Afternoon

The Compton Canter is billed as a 10K Fun Run on some pieces of paper advertising it, a 10K race on others: but despite the highly impressive organisation (Compton Harriers are amazingly adept at putting on races: any club that can manage to stage a 40 miler deserves immense respect), when the 9K sign is accompanied by another saying "300 yards to go" it's not just the mixture of SI and Imperial units that is open to criticism. (If I misread it and it did say "metres", my apologies.) Strange, as most of the people involved seemed to be scientists (with Harwell just up the road, and the Institute for Animal Health being a major part of the village - with its own anual run, incidentally, round the boundary of its site).

The race is part of the annual village fete, which no doubt dicates a start time of 2pm - exactly the wrong time to be starting to run in July, but Thame last week was good preparation. The course climbs out of the village along the track that the Downland Challenge uses to descend to the finish of the first loop, and after following a bit of the Ridgeway drops down along the track that 40 mile candidates use to start their second loop (and which I ran a couple of months ago in the course of my Marathon preparation). Two water stations (how Thame Runners were criticised for laying on only one last weekend!), although in fairness to Thame there is a difference between their 1000 strong field and the 50 who ran this afternoon at Compton. Yes, all that hard work and meticulous organisation, the water stations well away from human habitation or metalled roads, and the myriad marshalls, was all to enable fifty of us to have a race. And I had worried about registering before the 200 limit was reached (particularly after seeing a guy with a number over 200 when I parked the car: but they started with 200, it turned out).

The first water station was at 3K, where the marshal announced to us all that we were nearly at the top. Round a bend and out of the wood where his water station was set up, it became apparent just how misleading that statement was. OK, we only had perhaps 400 metres climbing to do, but in that distance we would approximately double the elevation gain from the start. Several runners who'd passed me - for some reason they seemed reluctant to take up front-row positions at the start, leaving me to line up next to the eventual winner - could be seen walking up the hill. I put my head down and attacked it, hitting 174 bpm just after the summit, and passing one runner into the bargain.

After that summit, we followed a familar part of the Ridgeway. I heard someone coming past: it was a guy I hadn't previously overtaken. "What age group are you?" I demanded. "40", he said, so I told him he could go. Later another appeared along side me, and n response to the same question revealed that he too was MV50. "I've got to race you", I said apologetically, and stepped up my pace. He suggested that there must surely be another MV50 ahead of us, and I told him I thought there might be but I was not sure. As it happened there was, but not the competitor I had in mind.

We took a rough path downhill alongside some racehorse gallops, though a field of oats (following an official path, but they are still pretty scratchy) where I closed right up to the 40+ guy again before finding I couldn't quite maintain the pace and letting him go again. I'd heard someone behind me after the 6.5K water station and wanted to get well clear of them, which I must have managed to do, but there was no way I was going to get ahead of the youngster in front. As we reached the outskirts of the village another competitor drew level, but I wasn't going to let him through, and when I lengthened my stride to put in a fast last mile or so he fell away. And of course the last mile or so was rather less anyway - as little as half a mile, I suppose.

I failed to win one of the prizes on offer, being about a minute and a half adrift of the first MV50 who actually looked much, much younger - not a grey hair on his head! Mr Garmin told me 44:07, not a bad 10K time especially on multi-terrain (but nearly all tracks, some gravel, some grass, some deeply rutted) - but of course it was nearly half a mile short: still, I'm not at all unhappy with the time. The official time will be a little longer (I can't remember what it was) because I did pause to take water.

There were prizes for the first three men, first three women, first 40, 50 and 60 in each sex (and I think a special for the first 70+ man when they discovered there was one), and also for the first male and female Compton residents. That is something I have seen at other localised events, and it's a nice touch. However, when all the runners in the village are out on the course marshalling or officiating at the start and finish, the competition is slightly distorted - the first (and only) local man was about 40th, and the first local woman was last. From what I heard her saying she hadn't been running long, and I hope this modest incentive will help her to even greater achievements! The unfortunate 50+ rival who had thought he'd passed me was kind enough at the finish to compliment me on my competitiveness, though I fear I spoilt his race a bit, and it's not as if there was much at stake - even if I hadn't been wrong about the guys ahead of us, a bottle of red wine isn't really worth fighting about.

The organisers issued a plea for those of us who had turned out to bring some others along next year. It's a mystery why there should have been so few, although Reading Roadrunners were quite well represented and there also seemed to be a few White Horse Harriers and Newbury AC people. Well, maybe someone will read this and feel inclined to turn up next year. At just £5, including on-the-day penalty, with the fete thrown in for free (some nice classic cars, and a good secondhand book stall where I managed to spend the single pound coin in my pocket, on Roy Jenkins's biography of Churchill - worth a quid of anyone's money), and a very scenic if slightly demanding course, it makes a great summer afternoon out.

29 June 2009

Memory of a Free Festival

Not content (it seems) with my exertions the day before, today I ran both ways between Paddington and the office in blistering heat. Indeed, I even diverted on the morning run to Run and Become to invest in a White Rock headband, which proved invaluable on the return run in the evening.
The morning trip was further complicated by three phone calls in Hyde Park with a client who has conections with a participant in various musical events that took place there many years ago. Nothing like the event they are prepared for in Hyde Park today, for which a fence has been erected of which the Israeli government would be proud. It's almost a paradigm case of how intellectual property (in the broad sense of the expression) represents the triumph of private over public rights - only almost, because Hyde Park is a Royal Park, not public property, but if the Queen keeps on allowing private interests to interfere with her subjects' enjoyment of it I might be turning republican before long.
No fence keeps the music in, anyway, as Beniamino and I proved a couple of years ago, sitting in the park listening to Robyn Hitchcock (but not seeing him). A huge sign indicates that an aperture in the fence is for those enjoying corporate hospitality: various big businesses channeling money they don't really have into big music businesses, no doubt. Corporate hospitality is much better when it takes the form of a pizza followed by an evening in the 100 Club - at least, that's worked well for me. And in Hyde Park, you'd have to put up eith the noise coming from all the people who didn't really want to hear the music anyway: not to mention extremes of hot and cold, possible downpours and all the other delights of an English sumnmer evening.
So, I have done a couple of 10Ks today on top of yesterday's, and I must say a rest tommorrow (until I have to do five miles in the evening) will be welcome. It was too hot, really, to run today, and then too hot to work comfortably in the office. Out to buy elderflower cordial and coffee (from different suppliers) in the afternoon heat, I walked through Bunhill Fields, a very old burial ground in the City, about 100 yards from mthe office: and there, side by side, were Daniel Defoe and William Blake.

28 June 2009

Mad Dogs and Englishmen: the Thame 10K

A young guy in an Argentine football shirt drew level with me at about 8K before leaving me for dead, and we chatted for a little while. He referred to this event as a fun run, but I can't believe it was ever billed that way. "A fun run is 20 yards, at the most" I told him. And I might have added (had he remained longer within earshot) that it does not take place on a blisteringly hot June morning.

I arrived a little early to enter on the day, slightly anxious about the race perhaps being full, but I need not have worried. However, the entry form gave me pause for thought: it invited me to state in which category I fell, and the option for a man over 50 was described as "Super Vet". The adjective I rather liked, but in conjunction with the noun I was at least a little ambivalent. This novel classification is the work of the governing body - thanks for making me feel good about myself.

By 0930 as we lined up at the start - around a thousand runners - the sun was already beating down. I joked to the guy next to me that we would have heatstroke before the start, as we had several minutes to wait. Last time I ran this race - fifteen years ago! - it was equally hot, but I was a novice: it was one of my earliest races, and I knew little of what I was letting myself in for. I do recall the pleasure of running through the spray provided by a spectator standing outside their house with a hosepipe, though. No such luck today.

Like I so often do, I ran well for 80 per cent of the distance. I have too many of these in my record: a good 11 miles in a half-marathon, a good half-marathon in a 15-miler, a decent 25 miles in a 40-miler ... By 8K (the course had km markers but no mile markers, the first time I have seen that in England) we were running along an old railway track - what Cinephile was referring to in this weekend's FT crossword: they hadn't reckoned with Beeching when they named it permanent way - with little relief from the sun. A short stretch of shade was very welcome, but short it certainly was. And, like another footpath-cum-cycle route that I have run, in last year's Shakespeare marathon, it seemed pretty well endless. My willpower evaporated and my legs went on strike: I stopped for a short rest, I stopped for water, I stopped for another short rest, then set off at a jog to get the final couple of kilometres out of the way. Compression socks meant that my calves were fine, but even the green shoes (an experiment, running 10K in them) were almost too heavy for the above-the-knee muscles to lift.

I know where I went wrong, of course. I always do after a race. I imagine that all runners do. I did not hydrate enough before the start, and I needed a bowl - a big bowl - of porridge before leaving home, not just crunchy oat cereal. Nevertheless, after I got myself jogging again in the last couple of km, I arrived in sight of the finish with enough energy to outsprint four guys (John Harvey's photo here), none of them Super Vets as far as I could tell, and although my Garmin device had enough juice left to obey my instruction to stop and reset I had to get home and plug it in before I could find out that my time was 47:39:15. The chip time will be a bit more than that, but I didn't feel unhappy about that - although I thought ruefully about chasing 40 minutes just three years ago.

Another tee shirt for my collection, and a goody bag containing a very welcome bottle of isotonic drink, two Mars Bars (almost liquid by the time I got them home in the hot car) and, bizarrely, a couple of wristbands and one of those things for hanging a pass round one's neck, all from the Euro 2008 football tournament. A novel way to dispose of out-of-date junk!

19 June 2009

One of these Days

On Wednesday, I had to drag myself away from the office to come home. Not because I was enjoying myself so much, but because I dreaded the journey - as I have for years. But I donned my shorts and tee shirt, pulled on my running shoes and enjoyed the first leg of the journey as much as I have enjoyed any run. I didn't time it, just took it at a comfortable trot and caught the train with ease. I felt bon dans ma peau, as they say, almost as bon as when I was running daily a few weeks ago.

On Thursday, yesterday, I had a meeting with a client at 10 in London to thrash out a contract, so I took an early coach to London. By the time I arrived in town I had nearly two hours work under my belt. Then a two-hour meeting, after which I set up my office temporarily at table 1 in that client's restaurant where I had a pleasant lunch with an old friend whom I see too rarely and worked at the other things on my "to do" list. Then it was back on the coach to Oxford and more contract drafting. Well over five hours chargeable time: although I did arrive home feeling exhausted it was the sort of tiredness that comes at the end of a satisfying race.

So, what have these two days got in common? How can I consistently get from my work what I get from my running? If only I knew ... I am working on it, and my first step has been to start re-reading Murakami.

17 June 2009

Dress to depress

As a semi-professional presenter, I am always interested to observe how others do the job. This week I spent an afternoon in a very interesting session, and the main facilitator was an object lesson, to my mind, in how not to present oneself.
His message was clear and well-expressed, but his appearance was so unpreposessing that it detracted from the value of what he had to say. It was hard, at first, to take him seriously.
He had chosen a pair of pinstriped trousers which might well have been half a suit, though in line with modern thinking there was sign of a jacket. I take my suit jacket off to present, but I would not dream of starting without one.
Nor was there any sign of a tie, though it is hard to conceive of one which would have harmonised with the shirt. This looked well-cut from a good material, which had been printed with a ghastly collection of stripes in various shades of grey with a little pink. It completely drained away what little colour there was in his complexion. He probably works 12 or more hours a day for the corporate behemoth that pays his salary and passes his leisure time in front of a computer or TV screen, or in some hellish club being assailed by incomprehensible and deafening music.
Stripes and stripes are bad enough, but navy pinstriped trousers with brown belt and shoes is another sartorial disaster which compounds the overall impression. Worse, the belt is not up to supporting the incipient beer belly that rides over the front of the trousers, and the shoes - a modern style that provides several inches of redundant toe-space, which must make stairs very tricky - are badly scuffed, battered in the elongated toe area and obviously unacquainted with polish.
The overall impression is reinforced at the other vertical extremity, where gelled hair that appears to have been styled with the assistance of a hedge (traversed backwards) or a couple of fingers in an electrical socket is complemented by what might politely be called designer stubble (when on a good-looking singer or model) but which actually looks more like laziness, or perhaps a broken shaver, until you notice that he has troubled to shave parts around his adam's apple. At least the growth serves to obscure, though obviously not to hide, some spots which nevertheless manage to shine through.
His colleagues, and other participants, mostly belong to similarly eccentric schools of fashion thought. One stands in front of us wearing neatly-pressed suit trousers and a high quality white cotton shirt which has not recently been in the presence of an iron. Closer up, the cuffs and collar display a long term lack of attention at laundry time. The open neck and white tee-shirt visible there fail to provide the colour his pallid face needs.
Does this matter? Quite by chance, between finishing the previois paragraph and starting this one I found myself in a tube carriage with the friend who invited me to that session, and he is interested in feedback. We agree that the subject of my criticism was very good at his job, and the corporate behemoth must be assumed to know what it is doing. I regret the fact that his personal presentation detracted from what he had to say, until I had overcome initial unfavourable impressions and focussed on what he was doing very well.
I think I am right to ensure I am smartly turned-out when I stand in front of an audience. And I perform better when I feel comfortable.
Sent using Bunberry from Orange

16 June 2009

The Polite Force

Emerging from the pedestrian tunnel onto the Victoria Line platform at King's Cross, I find it fill of British Transport Police officers and Lodon Underground employees. One the police officers shouts peremptorily for the ordinary people who pay his wages to move over. The compelling word is not please, but police. He leads out three groups of officers each with a captive in handcuffs.

20 May 2009

INTA - Wednesday

We cut the run a little short today, and the group was slightly depleted - though I cannot now remember precisely who turned out. Still, I guess we did about 5 miles. By 0900 I was at my first meeting, with Bayo, after which another meeting failed to happen

In the middle of chatting to Faisal, my next appointment, Dave Musker happened past, and we arranged to get together in London rather than waste valuable INTA time on one another: after which the conversation expanded to take in two people from Ella Cheong, one of whom turned out to be a keen runner and Murakami fan.

I had double-booked myself to see Susannah and Marc at the same time, but fortunately also at the same place. I arrived and found Susannah, having the advantage of knowing her already, but Marc is not someone I had met before. A message arrived on my Bunberry: "wearing a light trenchcoat". I swift pass through the lobby found him in no time, and the three of us sat down together to become acquainted - and I derived much satisfaction, as I had done at other points during the meeting, from introducing two of my friends to each other.

We talked at some length about my propsed article for the TMR, floowing on from some intelligence given to me by Julianne at Perkins Coie about the law on "official marks" in Canada. Susannah held forth on s9(1)(n) of their Act, and agreed to collaborate on the article, which was a good result.

I ran from there to the Red Lion Hotel, where I met Ken - although we went to the Elephant and Casle, the mock English pub in the basement there - I'd known of it for many years, but not been there - or had I? I recall an early listserv gathering with Bob and Marty Schwimmer which might have been there, years ago. Ken and I can get together in London, though, where there will be no need to frequent a place named after one of the least desirable neighbourhoods in London.

Next, Debora from Buenos Aires was a no show, but Dedar Singh Gill from Singapore was there and we enjoyed a good talk, about running as much as anything else (another candidate for IPRun). Later I introduced him to Santosh too, trying to work out what is the significance that they both have Singh in their names - is it just like bneing called Smith or is there more to it than that?

A couple of Aussies that I didn't already know also failed to show up, so I took a quick look at exhibits - just as the final whistle blew on the exhibit hall. I was able to say hello to Rudi, and visit the Appleby stand where I saw Huw but failed to get a rum cake - not really surprising at this later hour. Next was Mohiuddin Adeni, another guy from Pakistan, whom I did know already but was pleased to see again. He reminded me of an old English friend - facial mannerisms - though I won't go into that here, but save it to fictionalise one day perhaps!
Dennis, one of my oldest INTA friends, and I went to Starbucks for a coffee, then I was due to meet Jorge at the Paramount Hotel but there was no sign of him. I had seen him earlier, but we hadn't stopped to speak then as we had a date later. Oh, well, the strike rate was still pretty good.

As I was close by, I called into John Kenny's hotel but he had already left, so I headed off to Bill Seiter's bash, encountering a lady from a Canadian firm on the way who turned out to be the co-host. I found myself suddenly, and unexpectedly, in a completely new circle - at the start there was no-one there I knew, although Wing and Taiji reliably showed up later. I got a cappuccino and an elegant Russian lady gestured to me to invite me to sit at the table where she and her young (and very pretty) colleague were sitting. They explained that they have one man in their office, whose job it was basically to run around after them, and he was immediately dispatched to get cappuccinos for them too. An equally elegant Latvian lady joined my new Russian friend (the younger Russian girl had gone to talk to someone else) and somehow, I cannot explain how the words escaped my mouth, I told her that I had already met as many new people as I could cope with for one annual meeting. She rightly decided that a chat with the older Russian lady, an old friend of hers, was a better prospect, and a discussion of shoes, in Russian, ensued. Served me right.

Bob had asked if I might prefer a pub quiz to the grand finale, and even before my incredible faux pas with the Latvian lady I had decided that it was time for some relief from INTA, so - rather like in Atlanta, where Bob, Paul and I went for a drink before the Grand Finale and eventually, after trying all the beers in the microbrewery which was conveniently across the road from one of the main hotels, and eating a few plates of nachos and things, we decided that the Grand Finale would be just about over so we might as well stay put - I had a completely different evening. It was good to meet some of Bob's ex-students, though I think I was a disappointment to them on account of my inability to answer questions on (Association) football.

19 May 2009

INTA - Tuesday

Another day, another run - 5.4 miles again, with a group that included Matias and Diego, and to which I invited Dave whom I met on the street on my way to the Aquarium. A great INTA moment!
Then Luca for breakfast, and into my round of meetings though I missed the first one with Andreas (wonder where he got to? Perhaps I had failed to confirm.) Then Wilson from Brazil, after whcih I should have met Dilek but couldn't find her - she had the same experience, she tells me in an email a few days later, which suggests that we were expecting to meet in different places! Laura was next, then Wilfredo (rearranged from the day before), and finally (for the morning session) Slawomira (and Katerina)
I met the Kochanskis for lunch, which sadly turned out to be rather shorter than I'd have liked, because I had to get back to see Chetan Chadha at the Convention Centre. Leaving there to go to Perkins Coie's open house I bumped into Marek and Berenika, just as it started raining. Berenika insisted that she could not allow her hair to be ruined so we had to take a taxi to Perkins - a couple of blocks, which clearly did not amuse the (Sikh) taxi driver. Marek reunited me with the pullover I had left in his hire car after the marathon.

The Perkins party produced a large number of new contacts, and I succeeded in meeting Wing and Taiji there as we had arranged and had a short chat. It wasn't as well-attended as I thought it might have been, but everyone enjoyed the view from the 48th floor.

I had promised to look in on my new running friend Dave's firm's reception, wihc I did on the way to Graham & Dunn's party, to which in the end I travelled by taxi, to save a little time and get out of the rain that was now setting in. I'd intended to try to get to the listserv party a few blocks away, and also to see Patricia at G&D, but I'd also fixed to meet an old lawyer friend from Seattle at 6 o'clock at his office - I ended up getting a ride with becky and one of her Amazon colleagues and then running to Tad's office, which turned out to be rather hard to get into - until another person came out and I sneaked in. Then, however, I found the lifts wouldn't take people who didn't know a secret code, so I had to call him to let him know I wa in the lobby and not able to go anywhere else.

Tad and I went for a drink across the road, which turned into a meal as the rain started coming down in stairrods: and by the time it had passed, I was ready just to head back to the Pensione. After all, I had to run again in the morning.

There, another guest - the lady in the next room to mine, with a very nice slight Australian accent - asked me "Was that you outside my room this morning in the red shorts?" (Of course it was - on my way to breakfast, after the run.) "Made my day!" she added.

18 May 2009

INTA - Monday

Hard to credit it, but at 0700 I was out ready to run with Scott, Vicki, Santosh and the Collyer Bristow guys. I might have forgotten about others. Not only was I running - this was not a gentle recovery jog - but on the way back I kept pace with Dan, although it was clear that he wasn't trying as hard as me - and finished a long, long way ahead of the rest. 5.4 miles the morning after a Marathon: I cannot believe it.
My meetings should have started at 0830, but I ended up a little late and failed to connect with Wilfredo from Paraguay, though we caught up later. Then it was Vanessa from DM Kisch in South Africa, Paul Jones (talking about his article for the TMR), Colleen from New Zealand, Woon, Omer (a LinkedIn connection from Mexico), Russell, Marie, and Markus. The Daily News has run an article about the Marathon, with our group photo, although it is elided with a piece about Charles Gielen and a couple of others climbing Mount Rainier for charity after the conference. Still, priceless publicity, given how much they charge to get into the Daily News normally.

Then my Committee meeting, which finished early. I have put myself forward to write an article for the TMR ... Outside the convention centre afterwards I encountered a couple of photographers, who told me they were working for the INTA daily news. One proudly told me he had taken the pictures of Elle McPherson on the front page. "Would you like me to autograph them?" he asked, idicating the copy I was holding. "Would you like me to autographthis?" I asked him in return, holding it open at page 3.

Then the Ogilvy Renault reception, where I find myself with a delightful Australian lady called Mary, from Clayton Utz. I suddenly realise that I have to be at another meeting back in the convention centre - Mr Sheikh, from Pakistan, a charming and distinguished gentleman - and later when I see Mary she complains that I left her with someone terribly boring - I cannot remember who on earth it was, and it was not deliberate!

I missed another meeting, with people from Krishna & Saurastri in India - no sign of them at the meeting point - and then headed off, on foot, for the Meet the Bloggers reception at Graham & Dunn. That should probably be the subject of a posting of its own (though it is getting difficult to recall eveerything that needs to be included now, a couple of weeks later).

INTA - post-Marathon

Hardly able to believe how well I felt, I showered and changed and headed straight off to a reception, with live African music. Not the best venue, because it was dingy and noisy while the music was playing: I couldn't tell, for example, whether the Chinese pair were the ones I was looking for, though I had a meeting scheduled with them for a little later anyway. I also had a little difficulty when Woon popped up as if from nowhere, just like Barbara had done the previous day, and I found myself trying to read her name badge, without my reading glasses, in a darkened theatre, while being held in an embrace. It was a relief to realise I knew her!

My rehydration programme was going well, though I had started using beer for the process. I saw Matt, who promised to come running sometime but never appeared, and introduced him to Woon. He was most impressed with my Marathon exploits, and given his running prowess that was especially gratifying.

I met my Chinese associates, then headed to the Gorodissky party - which in previous years had been a highlight of the confernce, with caviar and vodka in vast quantities, and the home team - numerous people from the firm - in costume. Today, it was a couple of rooms in a hotel suite, locally-sourced refreshments, and a handful of firm members, though both Viktor and Valeria were there. Their Russian costume was limited to scarves worn with standard business suits. The economic crisis must have affected them, though they still seem to be taking skiing holidays in France. I tried to get Valeria to provide me with a few choice phrases to use on queue-jumping oligarchs, but perhaps it wasn't the time or place ... I sat down to eat at a table already occupied by half-a-dozen others, and when the introductions were done it turned out that I was sitting next to another Peter and the striking Swiss lady next to him was Petra - who for some reason proceeded to reach under the table where I was sitting, perhaps for her handbag or something: "This isn't sexual harassment", she assured me, and I wondered whether to suggest that, in that case, she might try again.

The next event was the opening ceremony, with a keynote speech by Elle McPherson, who was brilliant. The same could not be said of the officers of the Association, who read without interest from the autocues. Considering how much this annual jamboree costs, you'd think they could spend a little money on coaching them. I caught up with Neil at this point, and we went together to the opening reception until a combination of tiredness following the exertions of the day and the imminent arrival of someone I was not anxious to see sent me off to bed. Not before we'd chatted to Ethan Horwitz, author of World Trademark Law and Practice and other works. "You're an author," I said to him by way of explanation for why I knew his name. "I write," he countered modestly. "No," I said, "I write, you're an author!"

17 May 2009


My Capital City Marathon experience got off to the worst possible start: I failed to wake up. Having calculated that we should set off at 5am, and arranged to meet Marek at that time, I woke at about 5.27 with a feeling that all was not well (and a distant buzzing noise, which was Marek ringing the front door bell). I rushed downstairs, told him I would be two minutes (I lied), grabbed clothes, performed my ablutions and joined him in the car in an incredibly short time.

An empty stomach is not a good basis on which to run a Marathon, so I ate two energy bars on the way - though I was still replete from my previous evening at Bob and Grace's house, where I had rather unwisely loaded up with delicious enchiladas and copious amounts of refried beans. We arrived at junction 104 more quickly than we should have, still with over half-an-hour before the start, but unfortunately we needed junction 105a and had been talking about something else at the material time. It took a couple of minutes to get on the right road, then another couple of minutes to realise that Marek's printout from Google maps had led us to the right street but completely the wrong part of it, a dozen blocks too far south. Still, we parked up, jogged to Sylvester Park (the start of the race, and the end of the Oregon Trail), met Chris, collected numbers, pins and souvenir jackets (supposedly for finishers, but given out at the start), jogged back to the car to drop off surplus stuff, found a passerby to take a photo, jogged back to the park, waited in line for the toilets, rushed to the start and joined in just as it got under way.
Me, Chris, Marek, courtesy of anonymous passerby
The route took us north through the city - the centre of which was behind us at the start - and out past a marina along the side of Budd Inlet before the waterside disappeared behind trees and we turned right, heading down a long, straight road through the woods.

Three sides of a square brought us back to the road we had been following, which took us through attractive countryside, past those typically American wooden barns and well-spaced homes - many large and expensive-looking. Marek and I let Chris go at about Mile 1, which I timed at 8:25, far too fast for me and potentially disastrous for Marek on his first Marathon, and a short time later we found ourselves running with three local lady teachers who were to be our companions, on and off, for the entire morning. There were groups of supporters everywhere around the course, and at least one person in each group knew at least one of the three teachers, many hanging out banners encouraging Mrs Nord: we received a significant lift just by being near them.

Our pace settled down and we continued through the wonderful countryside. Although the race was small, with only 329 people making it to the end, it never got strung out and we were always running with others. At one point a deer ran across the road in front of us, but we saw little wildlife apart from that. The sun was warm, but the roads were mostly shaded by trees and a breeze sprang up as the day grew warmer: the course was slightly undulating, with only one serious climb, up from Woodward Bay at about 15 miles - preceded by an equally steep descent. I was still enjoying the boost given to me by a very vocal female supporter at mile 14 who, seeing my Against Breast Cancer running vest, shouted "A man who wears pink is a strong man!".

Our pace had dropped off a little by this point, falling below 11 minutes for one mile, then I left Marek for a while and clocked a much faster mile before stopping at a drinks station (all of which had water, Ultima electrolyte replacement fluid, and toilets, every two miles: most offered sponges and a couple also had Gu energy gels). I had the most extraordinary feeling, completely fresh as if I were just starting, and the running flowed very satisfactorily.

We had been running with a lady called Darci from Seattle for a few miles - she was alternating running and walking - and now found ourselves in the company of another lady from Seattle, Betsy, wearing a vest that announced her membership of a club called, ominously, Marathon Maniacs. She had already done several this year. As the 20 mile board approached, she remarked "ah, the half-way mark!", indicating me and adding "He knows what I mean". In terms of effort, of course, that was pretty accurate, but for Marek it was unwelcome news and he decided immediately to take a walk for a while. I took off again, seeing my pace increase to near-8 minute miles before I slowed again to run with Jim, from Vancouver, Wa, 68 years old and (he told me) running his 291st Marathon. I stayed with him for a couple of miles, then - with his encouragement - upped my pace again in anticipation of a long, fast descent to the finish. It was all flowing again, and when I came across one of the half-marathon mile markers in the path I hurdled it.

I was on what felt like 5K pace as I passed the state Capitol (Garmin indicated 6 minute miles) and a few blocks further on came to the finish - confusingly, with two separate mats across the road, so I kept my pace up after crossing the first, and indeed hardly slowed until I reached the water station behind the finish area where I was presented with a souvenir water bottle (full of souvenir water). I congratulated one or two others whom I recognised, waited for Marek, then returned to the car where we applied recovery rub to our legs and then drove back to pick up where we had left off at INTA.

Marek asked me in the car if I was familiar with Vladimir Visotski's "Marathon" - actually, I think there is more to the title than that. I wasn't, despite beng a great fan of the man, but I am now.

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16 May 2009

INTA, Seattle: The Start

For the first time, I did INTA properly this year. It's taken me 15 years to learn how to take full advantage of this event: and I am sure that I could still do a great deal better. But I don't have large corporate clients to meet there, no presentations about their trade mark strategy to attend, just a lot of existing friends to meet up with and new friends to make - and as far as the last is concerned, the possibilities are considerable even if there were fewer than 5,000 delegates present this year (as rumour suggested). Certainly there seemed to be many fewer Chinese delegates (or "attendees", though I would have thought the correct word derived from "attend" would be "attenders") and the rumour mill suggested that, wary of being quarantined on their return, they had chosen to stay at home.

My Chinese associates were there, though. Well, perhaps it's a bit much to call them my associates, as I have passed on trade mark registration to them, but I suppose that's enough. That is more than enough to make them old INTA friends - in fact, a couple of minutes acquaintance (or so I say, partly in jest) amounts to a long-standing INTA friendship.

Having become a committee member last year, and therefore entitled to attend (at my own expense, of course) the annual leadership or half-yearly meeting, some of my INTA friendships have moved to a new level: and I have acquired new ones between annual meetings. This year, unlike previous ones, I find myself encountering friends everywhere, and introducing them to one another, which raises the experience to a new level. No more sitting around in the hospitality area hoping to meet someone of interest - I have been through that phase, and feel that I have arrived.

So I arrived in Seattle with a full schedule of meetings starting on the Saturday morning - although the conference proper did not start until Sunday evening. A couple of meetings on Friday, too, but they were almost extra-INTA ones - a Hong Kong lawyer in town for another reason altogether (cancelled when he had to fly back to China) and an old friend who, though in trade marks, has a place in my personal rather than my professional diary. Then dinner with an Indian friend, Santosh - we had met once only, at INTA two years ago, but there have been referrals of work in both directions since. Having met only once, there was a small problem of identifying one another, which required a very short phone call from my British mobile phone via a US carrier to an Indian, which sounds like a potentially expensive exercise. We ate pasta, as befits a pair of runners, preceded by an unnecessary plate of nachos - that alone could have satisfied both of us.

There are two themes to my schedule: a large proportion of my INTA friends are runners - the now-discontinued 5K race was always my primary area of friend-making activity - and a large proportion are female; some, naturally, are both. I took care to arrange meetings with as many of my female friends as possible, as well as organising a running group each morning except the Sunday when some of us had more serious running to do.

Saturday started with a run with Cristobel, which Santosh joined: and as I stretched outside the Aquarium where we had arranged to meet, Patrick and Dan showed up too. I am in two minds about sharing my INTA friends with other English solicitors - but I think it would go against my INTA ethos to be restrictive about it. Dan turned out to be from Sunderland, so we had a lot to talk about as we headed north up the waterside, followed the tracks through Myrtle Edwards Park and Eliot Bay Park, and returned to our starting point. Then, allowing my compatriots to head for their own breakfast engagement, the three of us raced up the 80-odd steps to Western Avenue - Cristobel beat me fairly easily.

We returned to our respective hotels, then gathered outside my Pensione to wait for John Kenny who eventually showed up wearing a very dapper hat and exuding bonhomie as only he can. We enjoyed breakfast together, then John and I headed for the Sheraton where he was to meet an associate from New Zealand and I was later to meet an old friend from Barcelona. Taking our seats in the coffee shop, I spotted Bruce at the next table, in town for the day only and deep in conversation with someone else. Being INTA, I was entitled to interrupt, which I did briefly, and did again when I left my antipodean friends to ask Bruce if could to introduce himself to them before he departed.

Sadly, that was the last time I saw John all week. I don't know where he got to: he was without email or mobile phone, but I suggested receptions at which we might meet later in the proceedings, even blagging him an invitation to one. He got to the Pensione twice, once with a selection of Aussie-themed gifts (a beach towel and a bar of soap among them, neither of which a Pom has much need of) and before he left town a handwritten note. I am so disappointed not to have seen more of him - but where, I wonder, did he get to?

I'd intended to register on the Saturday morning, but discovered that it didn't open until 1 o'clock, so my 12 o'clock with some people from Macao whom was doomed to failure: I must have met at least one of them before, but I had no idea who I was looking for and needed the clue that a delegate's badge would have given.

My carefully-prepared timetable had already gone awry, in fact at the first meeting of the trip when I had booked it in for an hour and a half later than the other party - and the time was her suggestion, so the fault was entirely mine. On Saturday lunchtime, I had also erred: I met Sindre at 1230, then waited for Gonzalo to join us, only discovering after waiting nearly half an hour that his email had said clearly that he would be there at one. But we had a very enjoyable lunch, cut short because I had to leave for a 2 o'clock - which also failed to come off but was promptly rearranged by phone for later in the afternoon. Then it was off to one of the conference hotels, first to have my ego thoroughly overhauled by my two Thai lady friends whose pleasure at seeing me last year at my old firm's reception caused such an impression on my colleagues, and then to see Barbara, a meeting with shom is also very good for the soul. I ended up with all three of them at once - in the lobby of the Paramount Hotel, I hasten to add: this was not some private assignation - which was the start of my four days of introducing people to one another.

I was deep in conversation with Nan and Christy when Barbara approached, unnoticed, and planted a kiss on my cheek - an unfamiliar experience, having women sneak up and do that, but not unpleasant: while it's not reason in itself to attend INTA, it is certainly an attraction. Barbara it was who last year extolled the virtues of running one's own practice, or at least of getting out of Big Law, and she observed this year that I had my smile back - though even at my most depressed I think her approach would have caused a smile.

Then it was back to the Convention Centre to catch my postponed 2 o'clock, with the two Michelines from Montréal; back again to the Paramount for half an hour with a nice lady from Malaysia; and then it was time for some male company and a beer with Michael Graham before Bob collected me to go to his home for the evening, along with Chad and Marco, and Mike Atkins. After eating too many of Grace's enchiladas and far too much refried beans on the side, I finally got back to the Pensione rather later than planned, given that I had to get up in time to leave at 5 in the morning ... so I set my alarm for 0530 ...

15 May 2009

View from the breakfast table

Today is to recover from the journey. Fortunately it's a beautiful day - let's hope it stays like this for the duration, if not of the conference then at least the Marathon!

Sarah in the Maldives

Sarah said she had arrived safely but nice to have it confirmed by the Ministry of Education.

Capital City Marathon and Against Breast Cancer

Before I retire for the night (or, as it is in England, morning, which is what my body clock is thinking), let me post a link to my Justgiving page. With the Capital City Marathon only a couple of days away I've got a respectable amount of sponsorship, but more would always be welcome! I'm running in aid of Against Breast Cancer. Unfortunately pink isn't really my colour, but I'll wear the running vest ...

Finally, Seattle

It's 24 hours since I got up this morning, but I am finally on the last leg of my journey (not counting the walk from where the airport shuttle drops me to the Pensione). It has been a gruelling experience, but I succeeded in sleeping through most of it.

I feel as if I am on familiar territory already - it's nearly 20 years since I first drove up I-5 past King County airport, which I've just seen to my left. And now the towers of the downtown area are in sight, and soon we'll pass the railway station. Have I been here since the Kingdome went?

The coach driver seems a miserable individual: he was profoundly unhelpful at the airport and managed to take an inordinate time to load bags, collect fares and start driving. One fellow passenger gets thoroughly disenchanted with him. But after a couple of stops at downtown hotels he reveals that it's his birthday, unfortunately only after his disenchanted passenger had already left the bus. The remaining passengers sing happy birthday to him, and he becomes much more cheerful

Pensione Nichols, a few blocks from where I alight from the bus, is all that I remember: that feeling of familiarity is stronger and stronger. Now it offers wifi too - last time I was here that would have been unknown! I let myself in from the street using the numeric keypad and a key is lying on the deserted reception desk with a note: "Peter Groves, Rm #6". Perfect. I could use a bed after 24 hours travelling.