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.