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!