31 December 2010

New day yesterday

I started to write this blog because I thought it would improve my literary skills. I keep forgetting that. Looking back (as I have been this evening, waiting for this damned year to finish) I found some really quite good writing. I also found this posting about a previous, very strange, New Year's Eve (I wonder whether she succeeded in finding a husband): and I read my Premeditated Notebook, a kind of ink-on-dead-trees precursor to a blog, which I think I stopped writing in about 2005. It is full of gems, mostly about commuting. I should do something with it - like publish extracts in this blog. Perhaps dating them to coincide with when they were written.

I was also impressed, reading that old blog entry, that so many people including me seemed so keen to see an end to 2007 - just like I feel about 2010.

This morning I got out shortly after daybreak for a 10K run down to Rowstock. It was a shame to run along a busy road when there are so many wonderful trails to use, but it was the right thing to do at the time - and I wanted to measure out a 10K course for future use, so I can follow the Murakami prescription. In fact, my New Year's Resolution goes on from his 10K per day, to include a target of 40 miles a week, a half-M distance once a week (a Sunday long run - nothing particularly unusual about that) extended to a Marathon once a month. Or more. Nancy pointed out on Facebook that I have omitted rest days, but I'll simply run slowly once a week.

My fingers were cold when I started, but eventually warmed up, and while it wasn't scenically anything to write home about it was a pleasant outing. To make up the 10K distance I had to go a surprisingly long way past the natural turn-around, but I know now exactly which telegraph pole marks the 5K-from-home point.

On the return leg, I started thinking about poetry - as one does - and in particular, for some reason, The Lords and The New Creatures, the slender volume of Jim Morrison's writings that I bought, by mail order, when at school. I considered it the height of sophistication, though I didn't like most of the poems, which didn't read like his songs sounded and which contained insufficient sex for my adolescent taste. It struck me, however, that what I am interested in writing is a form of poetry - I am keen to (I have in the past managed to) write in a manner that's as satisfying for the way in which it uses words as for what it says. And if I am writing about running, the possibilities are huge. I have, somehow, even succeeded in producing what seems to me to be very satisfying prose about intellectual property, in my Dictionary. So I'd better keep on practising. See if I can't match the quality of some of those early blog posts about runs. I think my imagination is letting me down.

That said, my Runner's World article has generated some very flattering comments - one professional novelist, when I remarked to him that it made me feel as if I were a writer, saying "You are a writer - and a bloody good one!" - and a friend expressing admiration for a few paragraphs I dashed off about a piano recital. I need to give my creative writing muscles some exercise. I have so much in my head to write about, but I rarely get round to doing much about it. Perhaps a New Year's Resolution is called for - to write a little each day, which I might add to learning a little German each day (can anyone tell me what "dann fang schon mal an" means?), making a serious attempt to learn Russian, improving my French, and learning the piano. Maybe a busy year - which means it will be all the more important to learn from this posting I read earlier about the "not-to-do" list. What am I going to resolve not to do? Procrastinate, to start with.

Happy New Year!


29 December 2010

Cadence and cascade

For no apparent reason I started humming this to myself this morning - no reason apart from it being a lovely piece of music, that is. I might equally well have chosen one of Colin's orchestral versions of Debussy's Preludes, which I have been listening to pretty well to the exclusion of everything else since Christmas Day - but that's another story.

There's hardly even any yucky slush left now, but I bet that means my regular running trails are quagmires, so I chose to stick to the road today. It was one of those days when you just have to run - I needed to burn off a lot of excess energy, partly because I didn't get out yesterday. I thought about running into Didcot to pick up a replacement radiator cap for the Subaru, but ended up driving that - 5 miles each way was perhaps a little more than I needed. And I do need to work today too. So I ran down to Rowstock and back, a tedious route and only a little over 5 miles. However, Garmin intervened and deemed me to have started in the middle of nowhere about 2 miles east of home, recording also that I had put in some impressive miles at the start - one of just six seconds. I'll have that - and the extra miles, although I'll only claim 5.14 towards my weekly total. That means I've slipped from the Murakami Average - 10K per day, as in What I Talk About ..., but I should be able to claw that back in due course, and I should still be able to make it to 40 miles this week. Probably a bad idea for a first week of serious running, but so long as I feel good ...

And indeed I do feel good. I took a few breaks on this run, including at the turn to which I had descended from Ralph Schumacher's allegedly one-time house at a cracking pace - not that the Garmin was much help in measuring it, as it still thought I was 25 minutes ahead of where I should have been. A break at half-distance seemed reasonable - and it took a while, and a couple of false starts, to get going again after that. The snow has given way to mist, one of those appalling wet grey days that so often come along in December, but at least there was no need for extreme weather equipment beyond a long-sleeve top. The p[ace was conservative for most of the way, but I managed to maintain good pose-running technique (felt good to me anyway) and when I concentrated on it to put together arms and legs (swinging the arms straight forwards and backwards) so as to look quite stylish. I lengthened my stride a bit, too, and found that felt good - so perhaps when I have been trying to pose-run I have been taking too-short strides, which might account for the curious movements of my feet as I run.

Moral: pay more attention to running style. Tune out other thoughts - difficult though that might be! A great run, though, which has left me feeling pretty tired but content. If I keep up the miles I'll be fit again fairly soon.

27 December 2010

Break on Through

A little voice, my own private running daemon perhaps, was pointing out to me that it was cold, grey, windy, and generally not a great day to go running (even if the mercury was above zero for the first time in days and the snow was starting to melt). Another daemon had already intervened when I expressed the intention to go running, and I had spent half-an-hour of valuable running time hanging pictures. I wanted to resist, but the second daemon was persuasive, and I was tired and still sore after yesterday's unexpectedly long run.

Then another voice joined the discussion - via Twitter, which is so useful for this sort of thing - and told me to get my AIG. It was exactly the guidance I had been waiting for. This, of course, is why we have mentors and coaches - so it was on with the same strange ensemble in which I had ventured out the previous day (thank goodness no-one but other runners is around to see me) - it can all go in the wash later - and off for another lap of my regular 7-mile route (recently slightly amended, making it a true seven miles).

What a difference a day makes. Where there had been hard-packed snow and ice there was now at least something for my shoes to grip on, and in many places to splash through. There was even some mud, a substance I haven't seen for a long, long time, and grass poking up through the white stuff. I still had to pick my way very gingerly along some of the paths, the ruts being filled with snow and every step a potential twisted ankle. I made it through the tunnel without falling over, and later managed the descent from the Ridgeway to Upper Farm without incident. So, not a great session - but not junk miles either, and a very important willpower exercise.

Of course, I know very well that had I maintained my resistance the AIG fairy would have been on Twitter again for sure, to call me a wuss - which can be amusing, but I wasn't going to let it happen today. No, this afternoon I was determined to break on through, and now I'm on the other side and intending to stay there ...


26 December 2010

Mr Cool

Why did I think a few inches of snow was any sort of excuse not to run? I set off this afternoon for a gentle exploratory effort - a jog, even, given the conditions, though I usually only ever jog before or after a race - and as Mr Garmin told me he was out of battery it was only ever going to be an ephemeral run: here today, gone tomorrow.

I wrapped up well, as the temperature was a couple of degrees the wrong side of zero: green hat and gloves, of course, as immortalised in Runner's World, but a fleece too, and tights (which might have been tight 12 years ago, but you know what I mean). The road outside the house is hard-packed snow along which (in a car) I crawl, foot off the accelerator, low ratio if in the Subaru (though it is suffering from the notorious Subaru overheating malaise just now, so going nowhere, hence the exciting blast to Bristol airport and back by MG this morning, the return journey with roof down and heater on full - the best way to travel). I definitely jog on that. But past the church and through the village hall car park, I thought maybe a few laps of the playing fields would meet my running needs for the day. The snow, though, was too lumpy to run on, the product of much dog-walking I suppose. So over the footbridge to the road up to the Ridgeway for some 1,000m reps, though not at the pace Rach once suggested I should be doing.

The surface gave just enough grip to enable me to run fairly confidently in my trail shoes, so I went up and back, stretched a bit, then went up and back again, and was taking another rest and stretching my soleus muscles when a couple of runners appeared from the direction of the tunnel. I invited myself to tag along with them, to which they raised no objection: they were heading for the Ridgeway, from which they would descend by our field, making something very like my regular route but in reverse. I thought I'd accompany them to where I'd already turned back twice at the end of 1,000m, but when we reached that point it felt so good I had to carry on.

The hill becomes much steeper after my turnaround point, and the surface goes from good tarmac grotty ruts, and I laboured up the climb, but I'll cope better with it after a few weeks' practice. I reached the top last of the three of us, but my new friends waited for me and we trotted along the Ridgeway exchanging notes. Then we picked our way down the slope to the tunnel - a feature lacking on this course years ago, one of my companions told me, which made the A34 a test of sprinting ability - I recalled one of my glamorous running mates in London showing an impressive turn of speed across Hyde Park Corner in similar circumstances. I was just saying how much I enjoyed the climb when I felt fit, when my feet went from under me and I ended up lying on the hard ground, laughing despite my right knee feeling rather sore.

I walked the next hundred yards or so, then we all jogged down the hill where the snow was still powdery enough to give us enough purchase, and back to the village. From the point at which I'd had in mind to do a couple more 1,000m reps I'd put in about 6 miles, proved that except for one stretch it was runnable in the snow, and made a couple of new friends. A good afternoon's work - and a great feeling of well-being.

17 December 2010

Why can't I be satisfied?

Learn something new before breakfast. I don't do it deliberately - perhaps I should go through the various foreign words of the day that come in by email or something - but there's always something new to pick up, and it will be a black day when it stops. Head fake, today: thanks to GB Trudeau, so rich a source of things that are new to me. Where would I be without Doonesbury to keep me grounded? Today, "head fake" - which turns out not to be a counterfeit West Coast psychedelic musician, but the American equivalent of a dummy, as in rugby - or in association football, I guess. Well, if the word "dummy" is available to me I won't be making much use of the American term.

Which brings me, by a route known only to myself, to "pixie dust". There's a lot of it around, and a text message from a new client, referred by a former student of mine, reminds me. It fell with the snow a couple of weeks ago, although that particular sprinking seems to have gone the same way as the snow did - got to go after that prospect again today. But, just like with head fakes, I'm in an uncomfortable zone somewhere on the western side of the Atlantic. Like most copyright lawyers, I have more than a passing acquaintance with Peter Pan - indeed, even had a client who'd written a musical version, and knew the ins and outs of Schedule 6 to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act which was very interesting. And when I was a bairn [I'll throw that in so maybe someone somewhere else in the world will learn something before breakfast too] I used to go to the pantomime in Newcastle - about this time of year - so I had a fair knowledge of Barrie's play. Even so, it only hit me this morning that pixie dust is the Disney equivalent of what Barrie, in a different, more innocent and (in some ways) gentler age, called fairy dust.

Which I think goes to show that, as with so many other aspects of life, the pace at which the meaning of words changes has accelerated. More than that: it's not just the rate at which speed increases, the rate of acceleration itself is accelerating. That exhausts my A-level applied maths, and perhaps explains how I once scored one mark in an exam - though I think my teacher was trying to convey a message, because I recall that I had a couple of other things right too. Come to think of it, he was also the school's careers master and it was his suggestion that I should do maths A level - after he'd given me private tuition (meaning, my parents had paid him for private tuition) to get me through O-level. Nearly 40 years on, the thought suddenly occurs to me: did he hope to create more private tutoring work for himself? Unlikely, as he was a fundamentally good and decent man, unlike many of the weirdos who taught there!

16 December 2010

Song from the bottom of a Well

I felt this evening that (in the words of the song) I hadn't moved here, I just fell - into a comprehensive meltdown of the railway network - but the title was intended to refer to the announcements at Paddington station, which were utterly incomprehensible. They always are. The messages echo around Brunel's great shed, and it seems that the announcers merely shout more loudly into the microphones to try to overcome the deficiencies of the equipment. Years ago, there was a female announcer with a delightful soft Irish accent, who pronounced everything with perfect clarity: now it is not merely useless as a means of disseminating information, it is worse, because it drowns out attempts to engage railway staff in conversation.

Not that there were many railway staff in evidence at Paddington today anyway. Two on one of the customer information desks, besieged by passengers ("customers") trying to find out where they might be able to get a train, and when. The reason was a power failure in the Didcot area which had put out the signalling, from about 2.30 this afternoon. I eventually asked a gentleman in railway uniform whom I found on a platform, and he was remarkably forthcoming: his colleague was even able to translate the words of the man down the well, and guide me to platform 13 where a train was about to leave for Reading. There I changed to an Oxford train and eventually arrived at Didcot - not quite four hours after leaving the office. At least once ensconced in a railway carriage (even a cool one) I could doze, and (again in the words of the song) indulge in pleasurable fantasies. Thank goodness I got a good day's work in first.

A trip like that would have been bad enough on a summer's evening. Today the east wind came blowing back in, not with Siberian temperatures but bringing the thermometer crashing down and swirling snowflakes around - which haven't settled anywhere. Nowadays railway stations are not spaces in which people are encouraged to sit and wait, of course - the train operators believe their own information about late running trains, which no-one in the real world does. No, passengers are expected to spend their waiting time engaged in that most important of modern occupations, shopping. At least at Paddington there were the options of eating and drinking: at Reading most of those places were closed, and the waiting room bursting while a coffee bar stood empty and locked next door and refugees huddled on the platform wrapped in whatever they happened to have with them.

And it seemed such a promising day. I'd even thought I'd have to run to the station this morning to deal with an excess of energy that had me bouncing off the walls and ceiling. In the end, I put on a suit (needed for the party I was due to attend this evening but which eventually had to be sacrificed in the interest of getting home), then found that my one pair of black shoes at home were still in need of a clean after an evening in the slush of Westminster a couple of weeks ago, and that they shared a single lace between them. On top of that, I didn't merely cut myself shaving, I slashed my chin, and left for the station wearing suit, tie, trainers and sticking plaster. So maybe by that stage the day had started its descent.

12 December 2010

Shouting in a Bucket Blues

I have a lot to smile to myself about at the moment, but Twitter has given me one that needs to be shared. An account that I administer: I had a few requests to follow it, which I granted, and politely (I believe it's the done thing) followed them back. One of them a philospher ... a real living, breathing, thinking philosopher - and he replied:
So you're following me... and I'm following you? Does anyone know where we're going? Never mind, let's enjoy the journey for a while...
Twitter came up in conversation several times yesterday at the Writers in Oxford Christmas party. Why use it? One of our colleagues in that organisation has done fantastic politically important work with it, but I know of only that one example. A series of Tweets yesterday involving two of my friends mystified me, and my Social Media guru explained that it's all about the number of mentions one gets (or, more importantly, gives) - Twitter Juice, I guess, like Google Juice. The ultimate triumph of media over message, then. It doesn't matter what I put in the Tweet so long as it mentions @someone. I now understand - within its limitations - what #ff is all about. A formula guaranteed to create far more traffic than one can ever read? Just a numbers game?

At least when someone asks me what Twitter is for, I now have the perfect philosphical answer. Perhaps I'm wrong to call it futility, and I am indeed enjoying the journey - enjoying a few journeys at present, wondering where I'm going ... not a bad state of mind.

Some beautiful and poignant turns of phrase in this great song ...

03 December 2010

Blackberry trackball stuck? Try this simple solution

My blog post on how to replace the water pump drive belt on a Nissan Micra has proved a remarkable success, so here's another technical tip that might help someone. Yesterday my Blackberry (a 9000 Bold, I think, though I don't bother myself about details like this - it's not something I could get attached to, like a sports car) stopped scrolling down. Not for the first time - but on this occasion it wouldn't come free no matter how much I tried to move it.

I called in at the Orange shop at Paddington Station, where unusually I received little practical assistance (they have happily charged my phone for me a couple of times). I was simply advised this time to phone customer service, which I did, and they sent a new one which has just arrived ... but I'd already fixed the problem, at least temporarily, and this (after that long preamble) is what I want to share with you, gentle reader.

If you can't move the trackball with your finger, use a bit of sticky tape. Not only didt get sufficient grip on the trackball to move it past whatever was making it stick - it also picked up some of the junk that was causing the problem in the first place. I'll never know now how permanent the fix is but when this new phone does the same trick I'll know how to fix it.

Ce qu'a vu le Vent d'Est

On a cold December night - the heaviest early snowfall for some 30 years - the pianist stepped onto the stage. The applause, as he took his bow in his evening suit, white shirt and black bow tie (made up, not tied, the adjuster gleaming in the audience's sight) was thinner than he might reasonably have expected, but as the staff member behind the bar - where did his accent place him? It seemed German - explained, there had been many cancellations because of the weather.

Being an English audience, they had carefully taken their assigned seats in the hall, so the fifty or so hardy souls present were scattered across the hundreds of chairs at their disposal. He lowered himself onto the piano stool, endeavouring to extract what dramatic effect he could from this mundane act, and the stool squeaked under his unexceptional weight. He raised his hands, and borought them down on the keyboard: the audience might have found the dissonances remarkable in such a piece, but if they did they didn't let on, and John Ireland's London Pieces unfolded in front of them. At the end, they applauded as convention dictated (though even without convention, they would have recognised the brilliance of the playing and the quality of the composition), the pianist stood, turned to face them, smiled, bowed, and resumed his seat (squeak!) To play a Chopin sonata.

At the end the same protocol was followed, and the audience made its way to the bar, from whence it returned twenty minutes later for the pianist to recite five of Debussy's Preludes. The Submerged Cathedral was further engulfed by what sounded like the wine bottles emptied at the interval being consiged to a nearby bottle bank, and the piano stool's protests continued from time to time throughout.

The audience, careful not to applaud inappropriately, lacked the collective confidence to mark the end of the fifth of the Preludes, so the performer had to launch into Poulenc's Suite Napoli without the encouragement of an ovation. Having added the Improvisation No XV (Hommage à Edith Piaf), he received the applause that was his due, and duly encouraged returned for a couple of encores.

25 November 2010

Now be Thankful

An obvious choice for today: best wishes to all my American friends. I'm thankful that I've had several occasions to hear and see Fairport (and, back in the mid-seventies, Swarbrick, Pegg & Nichol, who  might appear as a fictional law firm in some piece of writing in the future) perform it. Oddly enough, I've never reflected on the lyrics before, and having started to do so I'm not going any further. They could be a bit of a downer - although attributed to Swarb and RT, I sense the lyrics were mostly Thompson's work. The melancholy gives it away ...

My 40 mile per week target remains just that - no running this week so far, the pathetic excuse being toothache. It wouldn't help it to be out in this weather, drawing large volumes of cold air through my mouth - would it? But it's better now - the weather and the tooth. A strange dream last night, in which I was taking part in the Broloppet (a long-standing ambition, as I want to get another of the five longest bridges in the world under my belt to add to the two I've already run, though an ambition that's hard to realise when it takes place at ten-year intervals) but with ten minutes before the start I was eating omelette and a large helping of roast potatoes without having even entered the event. Strangely, given that in real life it is fully subscribed months in advance, I was able to get an entry on the day, when finally I found the registration desk. At least I find that I was wrong about another troubling element: I thought I was on the wrong side of the bridge, but it does indeed start in Denmark. My dream ended with me finding the money for entry fee, and I have no idea what happened in the race. Nothing unusual there.

12 November 2010

One for the Road

Another 2.66, unencumbered by my canine coach. Purpose: to collect car from garage. Average pace 7:45 - which doens't sound great but when I've had only an hour's break since my last run, of 8.46, I'll call that a good result.

Nice to find a Ronnie Lane song to put in here. I remember meeting him back in about 76, and I also rememebr the rather good photos I managed to get of him and the band, back in the days when I thought maybe I could make a living out of that sort of thing.

If Tomorrow Wasn't Such a Long Time

My personal trainer - the canine one - made sure I got the miles in this morning. We set off to go to the field to feed the ponies, then rashly decided to take the long route home - up to the Ridgeway, completing the regular 6.7 or so, one hour, run. Today it was 8.46 miles and 1:53. Coach Boston made sure I got the miles in by cleverly doubling back the way we had come along the Ridgeway, so I had a half-mile diversion - then had to cover it again. Eventually we agreed that I could put him on his lead, and although the pace didn't suit either of us at least he didn't stop at every interesting smell.

I think he's trying to get me accustomed to running at an appropriate speed for ultras.

09 November 2010

Out there in the Night

How quickly the nights draw in at this time of year. Club runs are now limited to well-lit roads in town, not the most interesting prospect but a necessary evil.

Arriving just in time for the start, I attached myself to three people who seemed to be going at about the right pace. Somewhere I overlooked two important matters: first, I was very, very stiff in the lower legs after Sunday's poseur effort, and second, I gave blood yesterday. Not very successfully, it has to be said: it dribbled out too slowly to fill a bag in the allotted 15 minutes, and a partly-full bag is no good because the measure of anticoagulant that's in the bag at the start doesn't become sufficiently diluted by the short measure of blood. The - what was he? I think his badge said "donor carer" or something, but let's call him the Man with the Needle, or better still, call him Shaun, which also appeared on his badge - so, Shaun asked whether I'd drunk much during the day (he was trying to take blood at 5.30pm) so I said, yes, and itemised it: three coffees and a cup of tea, plus a pint of water while I waited to be called. "That's not what you want to hear, is it?" I added, and he confirmed that I should avoid the diuretic drinks and concentrate on water and juice. Especially as it seems I have thin veins.

Anyway, an abortive donor session meant that I felt OK to run this evening, and to mark the occasion I forgot completely about taking it easy. For starters I was determined to do the long route, 6.35 miles or something (in the end I did a modified version which came in at 6.1, so not quite the target 10K per day like Murakami). The three with whom I was running in propinquity (a word I am using to amuse Graham) turned off where the medium route diverged from the long one, and I was on my own for a lonely mile or so before the two met again and, exhaling every lungful loudly enough for most of Abingdon to be following my progress, I caught Andrew and Ernie, out for a gentle run and a chat. I thought I might join them, but the craziness took over again and I left them to their reminiscences - beside them, my running history is hardly worth remembering, my running future is what matters.

I didn't think my pace slackened appreciably - the data show a bit of variation in my split times, inevitable in an urban run I suppose, but I hit a great pace half a mile or so from the end as i found myself mixing it with another club's elite group. Well, I think they were elite, and I didn't recognise them: but they did seem overdressed (jackets and hats: my concession to November was a long-sleeved top) and I did manage to say with them for a hundred yards or so, before tapering off on the climb back up to Tilsley Park.

The feeling at the finish was quite brilliant: stretching near another club ember, we remarked on how fantastic it is to finish. I need to codify that inspirational message so I can recall it when I need it - rather like the leaflet about my forthcoming book which I have pinned on the wall so I can read the endorsements from Bob, Dave, Tony and Jonathan - it's nice to be able to ask friends to say how much they like one's book! Apart from a good run, I haven't found anything quite so uplifting as that leaflet for a long, long time.

Another clubmate remarked on my Runner's World article, which he said he'd enjoyed reading: I enjoyed writing it, and I enjoyed the running, but the black dog that haunted me for months after revisiting my old school has caused immense damage this year. A few years ago a professional in these matters was impressed by how much my schooldays had scarred me, and I should have realised that I would take that assessment with me when I went back to the place, and prove to myself just how right he was. But now I've confronted that, and put the black dog back in its kennel: next year looms, with the prospect of some great runs - and I have announced on here my intention to get perilously close to the border between enthusiasm for new challenges and utter madness. The next step is to get RW to take the story of those races, when I do them.

07 November 2010

Lucky man

A perfect autumn running day, though whatever the weather I was determined to go out. Ini fact, the worse the better - it would bring out the Warrior in me.

It seemed cold enough to need a long sleeved top, and at first my hands were cold. I felt comfortable using pose technique, landing on my midfoot and allowing my heel to drop to the ground, but as the end of the first mile came up I realised I had settled into a brisk pace which was not going to work for nearly seven miles. I turned the speed down a couple of clicks and tried to concentrate on my running - to listen to what my body was telling me.

As I reached the end of the track to climb up by the A34 the sun broke route the clouds and the first beads of perspiration appeared on my brow. Whatever the temperature, I've never not broken sweat out running.

I don't want to overdo it at the moment, after such an extended period of injury, and I don't have the cardiovascular fitness to do this hill the way I'd like to. Nor can I manage the sort of scramble up from the tunnel under the A34 that I usually relish, but that will come back with time. As it is, I got up on my toes and made a respectable effort, although I was pleased to stop to admire the view at the top.

The panorama from this part of the Ridgeway is not the most beautiful sight in the world, but it is spectacular. But the spectacle is a result of human intervention, including - hard to miss - the village synchrotron. A little further along, two cyclists pass me and as they approach I hear them discussing it. "It's big, isn't it?" said one. The other said something about how it's used for testing atoms, and I hear him mention something about France - no doubt a reference to our synchrotron's larger cousin.

Along the Ridgeway I was pleased to see my shadow stretching out in front of me, a rare sight this year. Beyond the Harwell site, Didcot Power Station was shrouded in cloud, perhaps of its own creation, so the biggest blot on this landscape was missing. On a clear day, I might be able to see past it to Oxford in the distance, although having left my glasses at home today that might be a bit optimistic. It would be nice to do so.

The run was a great head-clearer too - I didn't manage to concetrate entirely on my running, as my thoughts drifted towards a challenging client problem I am trying to deal with, and happily I came up with an idea on that. My thoughts also drifted further along the Ridgeway, as I have just finished reading Eliza Graham's "Jubilee" - set in Kingston Lisle and Uffington, ten miles or so west from here, to where I entertain thoughts of extending one of my runs. It will be good practice for when I essay the Ridgeway Challenge - and now is the time for laying plans for runs next year ...


20 October 2010

The End

The BBC reports that the Cardiff half-marathon at the weekend was 211 yards short. It quotes one participant who wasn't pleased - and I can imagine lots of ordinary people thinking that perhaps he should get a life. I hope I'm wrong - and that everyone who reads it will be impressed by his commitment and achievement, as they should be by the commitment and achievement of all long-distance runners.

I'd feel miffed if I found a half-M was short, by any significant amount. I don't compare my Garmin miles with the mile markkers, but I can understand those who do - although given the Garmin Glitches I have experienced since I started using mine, I wouldn't rely too much on it measuring accurate miles. Over 26 miles and 385 yards (or 42.195 km, which is in fact the official distance, metricated in 1921), or even over half of that, I expect a GPS device would be pretty accurate - rather like an atomic clock: no good for measuring fractions of a second, but extremely accurate over longer periods.

No such complaints about the Abingdon Marathon, which I marshalled on Sunday morning. A perfect running day - meaning a cool day for standing by the side of the road, appluading the runners partly because it kept my hands warm - and a great bunch of runners, though perhaps fewer than usual found the breath to thank the marshals. Never mind, I know they appreciated it, or at least most of them did. Only one had blocked his ears, a bad idea as he approached the most dangerous junction on the route where the ability to hear the marshals' instructions was essential, and contrary (I believe) to express instructions from the organisers.

One might feel miffed if a race is short, but worse still is marshalling when one ought to be running. I had to defer my place in the inaugural Kielder Marathon on Sunday - the time saved being put to good use by turning out to marshal, I think, but the old motto "I'd rather be running" certanly applied. On Monday, I was: about nine miles round Regent's Park and up Primrose Hill with a new running mate, Dominic, which should also have included a long-standing (I so nearly wrote "old", which would be highly inaccurate) one but she was delayed in a meeting ... the lot of a City lawyer. At least we managed a quick dinner and a drink, not this time in Bloomsbury Square - the weather was less conducive to al fresco drinking than it was a few months ago, and not being dressed in sweaty running kit enabled us to go to a pub.

Before my course for CLT yesterday morning, I tied on my Luna sandals and headed slowly towards Regent's Park on an experimental outing to test my calf muscles with the radical alternative to cushioned shoes. I didn't get very far: I'm being prudent now, making sure I don't overdo it, and when I felt just a slight twinge in one leg I turned back to my hotel, but even a mile or so of soft running is a good start - and I will build up gradually.

12 October 2010

Whole Wide World

The perfect running day in London, and recklessly (which is what prompted my to borrow this title, and embed the video) I continued my comeback from injury by running both ways. I read somewhere about the benefits of runnig twice a day - and realsied that I did precisely that back in the mid-2000s, sometimes three times a day, and I was fitter then than ever before, or since. I took it easy, and made it to the office in the morning and back to Paddington in the evening without the slightest problem (save for the need to stop for a breather a couple of times).




One good excuse for a breather is to take a photo - and Horseguards looked stunning in the sunlight, backed by a clear blue sky. I'd left the train feeling like doing anything but running six miles, but a little way into the run I was pleased I'd made the choice. I thought the time was slow but it looks respectable: the distance, though, is 5.35 and I thought it was just short of 6. Far enough, though, for returning from injury, and certainly far enough twice in a day.

After the Embankment stretch, which I didn't think to photograph - I should collect some shots, and assemble photographic records of my regular runs - St Pauls looked pretty good too, although the sun was too far round by then to be at its absolute best.

I had another webinar to present yesterday, and after completing that I headed back to Paddington by much the same route, though I always set off from the office and turn right at the end of the street, which I only realised  yesterday. I found a slightly better route to St Pauls, paced myself even more gently, forgot to restart the Watch a couple of times, and at Hyde Park Corner fell in with a runner who'd passed me at Blackfriars. "I've been seeing you of and on for four miles" I said. He admitted to having slipstreamed me for a while - and apologised for it. I told him he was very welcome, flattered by the idea that I might offer a worthwhile tow.

Back at paddington, the bike ride from Didcot didn't have much appeal - being quite dark by then - but I don't think asking for a lift from the station counted as cheating.


05 October 2010

The Morning of our Lives

It was a classic morning for transport problems yesterday. One of the all-time greats. Cycling to the station was fine, although I was two trains later than I wanted to be, and had I been on an earlier I'd have been through Maidenhead before a truck driver contrived to hit one of the railway bridges there. A bridge strike halts most of the trains, in both directions, until the bridge is judged to be safe: yesterday, a down train went across and, presumably on the simple basis that it didn't collapse, it was deemed fit to use. So a delay of only about 20 minutes - extra preparation time for my webinar on the Bellure case for CLT.

At Paddington, a lot of people were standing around forlornly outside the gated entrance to the underground station. I don't care whether the RMT strike: if I use public transport I take the bus, and if I don't do that I run - which I was dressed to do, but lacked motivation for - after all, this is my first day back to running after a lengthy lay-off and several months of very irregular running. A 205 came along Praed Street pretty soon, and I jumped on - along with a considerable number of other people.


An hour later, we reached King's Cross and the young lady in the adjoining seat, who'd told me she had five hours in hand for whatever journey she was on, left. That takes about 20 minutes on a normal day, by bus or running: I could probably have walked it faster than the bus could manage yesterday. Things improved after that, but I was stuck on the bus for so long that I had to eat my lunch. At every stop, a vast press of people crowded round the doors - if we even stopped, that is, because we went straight past several stops where no-one wished to alight.

The seat next to me was taken as soon as it was vacated, by another young-ish lady who proved to be much chattier than her predecessor. She enjoyed people-watching - and like me wondered what all these people trying to take a bus in the middle of the day were up to. "I wonder what sort of job you dress like that for?" she mused, looking down from the top deck at no-one in particular in the scrum outside the bus door. "I'd like to work there." We remarked on the sight of so many people on the streets - usually so many of them are travelling many feet below the surface. A lot of walking (and quite a lot of running) being done, though hardly any Boris bikes in use: we discussed the merits of the mayor's pet scheme, which I am inclined to dismiss as a token, perhaps a gimmick. What if you're the only person who's taken out one of the bikes? How are you going to dock it when you reach your destination? And with a charge of £45 to get access to the things, buying a cheap bike of your own (and an expensive bike in London is probably just a more effective thief-magnet) and keeping it somewhere handy has attractions.

My stay in the office was brief but fairly intense, so I could get to CLT's offices to present the webinar: by the end of which it was time to head for Paddington, and fortunately I felt much more like running it than I had in the morning. An inordinate number of pedestrians made it tricky to get along the Embankment, and there were plenty of runners out too, one of whom I spoke to briefly - he'd been on my shouldder for some distance, so I asked whether he was waiting to outsprint me at the finish. His destination wasn't  mine, though: he admitted to running with a back pack for the first time in a long time, so I reckon he wasn't a regular running commuter.

I faded a bit in St James's Park so I used the excuse of the drinking fountain there for a pause. I had to mix it with a large number of cyclists down the Mall and up Constitution Hill, but they were well-behaved and I deliberately chose to run in the sand, well away from the cycle lane, which I thought would be pretty congested on a tube-strike evening. At Hyde Park Corner there was a long wait for the traffic lights, during which I cursed the New Zealand war memorial which necessitated the closure of a very useful subway: they deserve a memorial that engenders only positive feelings. I exchanged a few words with the runner next to me, of about my age, and it turned out that he too was heading for Paddington. We headed off side-by-side through Hyde Park, me trying to chat at first but finding the pace too much for that. I settled for a fast tempo and limited conversation: my companion seemed comfortable at that pace, and perhaps in a week or two I will be too. Once across Bayswater Road, I told him I'd use the rest of the run for a warm-down, and he excused himself and headed off for his train, which I saw him catch when I arrived a few moments behind him.

After stretching for a few minutes - something I need to make a fixed part of my routine - I phoned home to confirm what time I would arrive, then while I waited I attended to my 42 single leg squats on each leg. After about 20 on the second leg, the status of my train on the departure board changed to "boarding", and the ticket inspector came over from the barrier to draw my atttention to this. "I heard you telling someone you were taking that train", she explained. This is the sort of service level you receive from many - most - railway employees: it's the management who've lost sight of the fact that their task is to run trains on time and give their passengers the best possible experience. "I was just finishing my exercises", I explained: she urged me to do so, but I'd stopped by then. "No, the moment's gone!" I had to tell her, thanking her very much for her attentiveness.

30 September 2010

Those were the days

It's been a long wait - but finally Runner's World has hit the newsstands with a horrifying four pages of me, including one full-page photo. I have eclipsed Rachael and Mark, to whom I couldn't get close in competition. Six months after the event, it all seems rather distant.

If you buy Runner's World once in your life, make it November 2010 (yes, in the world of magazine publishing it's already November). You're unlikely to have such a laugh again!

I should add that I am rather proud of the prose (which my editor has modified just a little, mostly to tighten and improve it, but also to substitute "borstal" for my carefully chosen "institution". Maybe I need to learn not to try too much subtlety - after all, this was not literature, it was just an article in Runner's World - or do the two overlap?

Concertino

I've surprised Chris, quite unintentionally, before, somehow managing to show him parts of London that he hasn't seen before. Last year he was amazed by Hyde Park and the Serpentine - to me, little more than a pleasant running route. Today I introduced him to Wigmore Hall.

Well, Wigmore Hall is rather surprising by any stretch of the imagination. To enter under that interesting-looking canopy and pass down the corridor to the box office and the entrance to the auditorium is odd in itself - it strikes one as a waste of prime London real estate, although presumably the street frontage is profitably occupied by shops. The corridor is merely the prelude to the most surprising part, the auditorium itself which you just have to go to see for yourself, if you haven't already. The arts and crafts cupola is nothing less than spectacular.

There's also a surprise or two down the stairs, where the reception I attended last week was held, in the Bechstein Room (with Clive Barda's best photographs hanging round the room). There's also a bar and restaurant, where we took a glass of wine and a bowl of crisps and Chris contrived to drop a wad of rail tickets and other small pieces of paper behind the bar. And to leave his programme.


We were there to hear, and watch (because virtuoso piano pieces are as much a spectacle as an aural experience), Mark Bebbington run through an eclectic (to my mind) programme, from Haydn, by way of Schubert, to Liszt, with a premiere performance of Ireland's youthful rhapsody along the way. Being no technical expert, all I can say is that it was uniformly superb, although the piece I looked forward to most, Liszt's transcription of the Liebestod, seemed to me to have rather more notes than it really needed. Even so, a sublime piece of music. Mark was called back for two encores, a piece by Castelnuovo-Tedesco (another premiere, perhaps, as it was unpublished and he told me he had discovered it while studying in Italy) and Feux d'Artifices - not that I recognised it, but someone said that was what it was. I really should know my Debussy better.

I've sometimes felt that Wigmore concerts were put on for the benefit of a closed circle - one member of the group playing for the enjoyment of the others, and perhaps moving round for the next event. To call it cliquey would give the wrong impression, as I didn't feel excluded, but it was a strange sensation - as if they weren't really public concerts. This evening seemed different, somehow, and anyway I am only going on the experience of three visits over a period of some 15 years, so I am probably talking complete rubbish: and each time there have been people there I knew, including the pianist in each case.

A satisfying way to end a very interesting day: a positive (though whether productive remains to be seen) meeting in the morning, and an afternoon of frenetic activity including an hour-long transatlantic conference. Unfortunate that a lunch with an old friend and client had to be dropped, but we'll get back to that soon.

No time to run in the middle of all that, but it's good to know that once again I can run when I want.

Youtube didn't have a lot of relevant choice to offer, but this is worth watching.

29 September 2010

Room to Move

The train jolts to a halt shortly after the train manager announces Reading as the next "station stop". But this isn't a station stop - it's one of those random ones that trains execute when the signals tell them to do so. Nevertheless four passengers have leapt to their feet and vied to be first to the door.

28 September 2010

Not dark yet

A small step - but in the right direction: an injury-free run, a mere 3.75 miles or so and at a pretty relaxed pace, but I seem to be on top of the injury that has sidelined me for most of the past year. Thank goodness. A lot of fitness to recover now, and a lot of races to run next year to make up for this.

We are now in the time of year when club runs have to stay within the town, as it's too dark to venture outside. A more compelling reminder of the passage of the year is hard to imagine. It seems no time ago that I was writing of the onset of last autumn.

Roar

It seems sometimes that the world is full of marketing gurus, mostly American. Certainly my inbox is full of their words of wisdom, and I have invested much time in reading them. Those daily emails are like a security blanket – so long as I keep on reading them, I tell myself, something good will happen. They often seem to be telling me what I already know, but don’t act on – nothing wrong with that, indeed it’s extremely useful. But there’s something just a little foreign, a bit too American, about most of them, so their teaching isn’t necessarily what an English lawyer needs. On top of that, many of them aren’t lawyers, or if they are (and I think by now most Americans probably are lawyers) they haven’t practised much, or at all, or for a long time.
No, if I were to be able to specify my ideal marketing guru, I would want someone who understood my profession – ideally, an English solicitor. One who had practised, and not too long ago, so knew at first hand how to bring in clients. One with proven rainmaking experience. And, because we English are still rather tribal, let me specify a north-easterner, to whom it would be easier to relate: and let’s also specify a shared interest or pastime – which, of course, in my case must be long-distance running. Finally, though these of course are entirely optional (though always desirable) characteristics, I’ll throw in female, blonde and good-looking. After all, not every business relationship is entirely conducted online.

Any marketing guru – or entrepreneur lawyer, or rainmaker, or whatever: you’ve got to expect creative titles with this sort of person – who offers an e-book with the arresting title The Naked Lawyer is likely to attract attention. Not a bad start: obviously someone with a good grasp of how to market. When the headings in volume 1 of that work include “wakey, wakey”, “status quo doesn’t rock any more” (never did for me, anyway), “eat my dictaphone” (by the way, that’s a trade mark that ought to be acknowledged) and “get naked”, few readers aren’t going to find their interest well and truly engaged.

Chrissie Lightfoot is the author of this work, and of lots of other things including the Law Society’s Gazette’s In Business blog. She is a solicitor (non-practising at the moment, with so much else going on), so she knows about the peculiar needs of the profession: but she has also set up her own businesses, and understands what it’s like to be the client too. She was born and raised in the northeast (though she’s now based way down south, in Leeds) and she runs. Coincidentally, she also ticks the optional boxes.
When I met her, she’d been waiting patiently despite not receiving the message that I was running late (even before I bumped into Julian Lloyd Webber on the tube, got sidetracked talking to him, then lost my way on leaving South Kensington station – I think I’d have been OK if I had followed Julian). In fact, “running late” is the wrong expression altogether, because I wasn’t running at all, but that’s another story. She’s the sort of person who’s always bubbling with ideas, and while the purpose of the meeting wasn’t a marketing tutorial her infectious enthusiasm coupled with my having read volume 1 was just as effective. The key message of Chrissie’s book is “reach out and relate”, or ROAR, and without needing further encouragement I’ve been reaching out and relating to my clients and contacts – or what I perceive as reaching out and relating: there’s scope for a lot of personal interpretation – ever since. I don’t know yet how well it works, but it makes me feel a whole lot more positive about what I’m doing.

I'm not going to let all my other gurus go, but I'm going to pay particular attention to what this one says from now on. I’ll hang on, passively, to my security blankets for the time being – but the naked lawyer has no need of them.

20 September 2010

The Kreutzer Sonata

It never occurred to me - why should it? - that there should still be
private palaces in central London, houses with drawing rooms large
enough to accommodate a string quartet and a sizable audience (and to
feed most of them dinner afterwards). Nor that they might house art
collections, largely hidden from public view, including works by
artists whose names were familiar to me, hung as densely as the
posters on a student's bedroom wall.
I found myself in just such a parallel universe this evening, but by
way of a different parallel universe in which celebrity chef manqué
Arthur presided over the opening of The People's Kitchen, a new
venture within The People's Supermarket. He has devised seasonal
recipes for snack-type dishes, the sort of thing that a hungry office
worker might devour at lunchtime (and probably much cheaper than the
Pret à Manger sandwich, these days referred to just as Pret, as a cup
of coffee is often called "a Starbucks", that they might otherwise
buy). I tasted cheese on biscuit with a very tasty savoury jam, and a
couple of other concoctions - one largely potato, the other largely
chickpea - which were equally good. I must ask him for the recipes. My
idea of catching up with him there was, of course, hopelessly
misguided. Apart from the throng of customers, he had a TV crew in
close attendance. (The show is now due to go out in February.)
So, after a chat with Kate and making the acquaintance of Andy I
headed off to the palace I didn't realise was there, arriving footsore
and a quarter of an hour early. I did a hindi squat round the corner
to stretch out my calf muscles, writing a couple of emails in that
position, then headed for the front door where I encountered Sally,
who'd invited me to hear the Barbirolli Quartet, and Ashok, their
cellist.
Inside we were offered wine and I met the two gentlemen whom I had
particularly wished to meet, chatted with them until it was time to
take our seats and sat with them admiring the paintings. When the
music came, I learnt more from my neighbour's comments than I have
learnt about music since Mr Fender's Music Culture lessons at school.
A Haydn quartet (opus 54/3 in E major) they played with passion, which
they confused with intensity, he thought: I had been impressed with
the animation of their performance, which was as visual as it was
auditory. They should slow down to give the audience a chance, my
tutor explained, and I recalled the webinar I presented some time ago
where the only comment from the audience came in the form of a request
that I speak more slowly. They knew the music, we didn't: I knew the
subject of the webinar, the audience didn't. It made much sense.
Sensing that there might be a story in this event, I made notes - the
flashing eyes, raised eyebrows, furrowed brows and frowns of the
players, the manoeuvre that involved the second violinist holding her
instrument under her chin when a few rests came along, allowing her to
adjust a wayward strap on her dress with her left hand, the same
player snapping upright in her seat at a climax as if in receipt of
an electric shock. It made me feel alive, which contrasts favourably
with some recent concerts I have heard of music that had quite rightly
lain unplayed since a premier a century ago. This was great music, and
excellent music making.
How to build a story from it?
The Haydn gave way to the emotional wringer of Janacek's "Kreutzer
Sonata" quartet, the music of the book of the music - tempting to
reuse it as the title of a book, but for now I'll make do with using
it as the heading for a blog post. Then an interval, before more
emotional intensity with Mendelssohn (opus 80 in F minor).

26 August 2010

Summer's almost gone

All my life this day of the year has marked a turning point, with another year notched up and school or university about to (re)start. It also means clients returning from their holidays, training courses starting up again, and a Marathon getting distressingly close ...

17 August 2010

Got my Mojo Workin'

If yesterday was not running for the sheer enjoyment of it, tonight came close. 5.64 miles, faster than yesterday and towards the end I managed a cracking pace. I managed to stay on the midfoot most of the way, and while I might be stiff in the morning it doesn't feel bad just now. Uplifting.

I have a commission from Runners' World to write up the Medmenham 10 next month, and it has put the idea in my mind that the best way to motivate myself is not just to enter races, it's to enter races and commit myself to writing them up. I'll ask if RW want something about the Compton 40 next year - then the Ridgeway Challenge.
Details at http://connect.garmin.com/activity/44970211.

16 August 2010

Long dark river

As it's Crun's birthday today, it seems appropriate to use one his compositions - borrow the title, use it as an excuse to embed the video. It's a terrific song, and very poignant. I've been out this evening avoiding the long dark river - at lest, that's what I had in mind, but I felt at times as if I was running along it - or in it, perhaps. A very messy run, several pauses, some on my midfoot but mostly heel-striking. I tried again to locate the route to the Traffic cottage, and got closer but still not close enough.
Someone whose words I was reading today or yesterday mentioned the differnce between training and just running for the joy of it. I tried to run for the joy of it this evening, but joy was rather lacking. It was hard work, and although the weather was pleasant enough there didn't seem to be any of the elements that make a run in the countryside so pleasant.
That said, I am glad to ahve got out and done something. 9 miles plus is a respectable evening excursion, even if it took me over 9:30 on average for each of them.

10 August 2010

Every day I write the book

This is a uniquely satisfying thing to see when checking one's email in the morning: my book has put in an appearance on the publishers' website, here - and the best part of it is a very nice endorsement from Jonathan Turner. I still have to contain myself until February, though, according to the page - and indeed am waiting for page proofs, which are promised for September.

08 August 2010

Back on the road again

A great feeling, after a whole week resting to let my calf muscle get completely sorted out, to spend most of the afternoon running. Because there'd be alift back waiting for me, I chose to run from home to my mother-in-law's house: some people whom I met on the way, when I'd stopped to check where I was going on the map, were surprised to find anyone running to his mother-in-law rather than the other way.

Not a great route - here it is - but good enough. About 10 miles, but I added a little by missing a turning and having to double back. And not a heel strike in almost all that distance. After crossing the river at Day's Lock (less than a mile to go) I took off my shoes and socks to run across the meadow - a lovely feeling - but then reached a path which offered few areas that weren't stoney. I tried to carry on but eventually had to resort to shoes again - which would have been necessary anyway to negotiate mother-in-law's gravel drive.

I feel like a runner again.

26 July 2010

Down to the Waterline

For a change, I decided to run from Paddington to the office along the Regent's Canal, at least as far as possible - remembering that great evening run with Sarah Gatley a few weeks ago. I arrived at Little Venice to pick the canal up on the wrong side of the river, so had to run a whole lap of the basin there, then off down the towpath until a stretch of private moorings forced me to take to the road. Then the canal disappeared into the Maida Vale tunnel and I had to find my way down Aberdeen Terrace (a blue plaque showing where Guy Gibson VC once lived) and along a length of footpath before picking it up again.

I had no idea that there was a linear green lung running across London, although I had seen some of it. The stretch through Regent's Park might reasonably be expected to be green and pleasant, but I could have been picking blackberries (had they been ripe) at many points along the route. One cyclist almost hit me by dint of ignoring the signs telling her to dismount for a short stretch, but generally it was a gentle and good-natured run. I cheerfully greeted almost everyone I encountered, the anglers universally responding, most of the pedestrians avoiding eye-contact, all the runners carefully ignoring me. I take perverse pleasure in being as friendly as one normally would have been when I was 35 years younger, in the north-east where people lost the habit of speaking to each other so much later than they did elsewhere in the country. I wonder whether they still do?

At Camden Lock I unnecessarily got onto the wrong side of the canal, though after passing locks and yacht basins north of King's Cross and St Pancras I was forced (as I knew I would be) to leave the towpath when the canal disappeared under Islington. Down Copenhagen Street - lots of memories there from the early eighties - then a miserable trudge through Islington's shopping centre and across Upper Street, where my right calf made a difficult-to-ignore complaint and I had to pause to stretch. I found the other end of the tunnel, but one towpath was closed for repairs and the other side didn't last long.

My plan was to run down the side of the City Road Basin, but I found that blocked first by Islington Boat Club's compound - never mind, only a short diversion round the back of it - then by a new residential development of the sort that doesn't want runners - or anyone else - coming too close. So it was a matter of running down City Road for the rest of the trip. Perhaps when the works between Islington and City Road Basin are finished it will be a more viable proposition, and if I could get to the other side of the basin I might get to the office without having to use the road so much. Distance-wise not much different from the usual route, and now I know the way - the signposted "Regent's Canal By-Pass" through Islington, in particular - I should be able to do it in a reasonable time. Here are the data.

21 July 2010

Reason to Believe

It came on the radio this morning, as I was sitting in bed drinking my coffee and trying to take stock of the day to come ... a few bars of melancholic piano introduction, finishing on a chord full of potential and optimism. I probably hadn't heard it for 30 years or more, but I knew instantly what it was and every word, the Hammond organ part, the violin solo, the whole song came back to me as perfectly as my musical limitations permitted.

Perhaps I need to find that chord, and play it to myself whenever I need it.

16 July 2010

Metamorphosen

Went looking for something else and found this, from Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That's part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads - at least that's where I imagine it - there's a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you'll live forever in your own private library.

10 July 2010

An den mond

The crops in the fields are ripening under the sun – which isn’t strong and hot yet, and from the precedents of the last few summers never will be. The sky is blue with a few clouds to break the monotony and the Vale of White Horse stretches out, flat, to the edge of the Downs. The train rushes with unseemly haste through this idyllic landscape, and I look up in time to see the white horse on its hillside to the south.

I’d rather, as they say, be running – but not all the way to Cheltenham, though it would (now I think of it) constitute only a modest ultra. Not the route the train takes, though: I am going through Swindon, Stroud and Gloucester, and the journey time is an hour and 48 minutes. Still, if I ran it I would arrive in no fit state to go to lunch, which – at the invitation of my publisher – is what I am going to do. And anyway today is marked “rest” on my training schedule. After the last six days training I need that, notwithstanding the borderline-insane stuff I have been reading recently.

It’s a leisurely sort of journey once past Swindon (and presumably off Brunel’s main line): the train does not seem to hurry through the Cotswolds, and I wonder how we can possibly fill the time between now and our scheduled arrival. One of the joys of modern technology is being able to track my progress using Google Maps on my Blackberry, so I have a good idea of how far we have to go.We seem to have half an hour to get from Gloucester to Cheltenham, which is enough time to run it – if not even to walk. But the train goes into Gloucester and reverses out again - rather like Luxembourg - which takes up the time.

From the station, a pleasant walk along what I take to be an abandoned railway line - now a cycle way - which eventually, and it seems to me inevitably, lands me in a supermarket car park. Interestingly, notices at the limits of the car park announce that trolleys will not pass these signs - on inspecting them (I must get a life) I find they are equipped with devices, branded Radlock, which presumably lock the wheels at a certain distance from base. Clever.

The purposes of my trip are to take lunch with my editor, and a newly-appointed commissioning editor, from my publisher, and later to attend two concerts in the Music Festival, the second of which is sponsored by the charity of which I am a trustee. The lunch is delightful, but it could hardly be otherwise in the company of two stunning blondes half my age. Afterwards, Gerald meets me and takes me to the Holst Birthplace museum - we arrive just ahead of the cleaner, so a little late for a visit, but we get round it and of course I learn a great deal.

The first concert of the evening is an all-Schumann affair, not something that would normally attract me but the invitation was hard to refuse: he musicians include Steven Isserlis, who must be worth seeing irrespective of the music. He doesn't disappoint and neither do the other musicians: the music is also a delight, all the more so for being unfamiliar to me. Drei Gesaengte, a soprano accompanied by a harpist, will remain in the memory especially for the singer who stood in at very short notice - she was faxed the music that morning when the billed singer declared herself indisposed, something that afflicts singers quite often and which I should bear in mind for an excuse myself in the future. The Festival director is her brother-in-law, but no suspicion of nepotism arises in an emergency like this.

before the concert Gerald and I are offered the choice of a drink on the terrace or in the VIP bar. It turns out we are the sole VIPs - at least in the bar - but at the interval I encounter an old friend who turns out to be a former chairman of the Festival. Small world. We have to leave before the final piece to get to the next event (though Meurig manages to get to it in time to introduce it, anyway).

The second concert of the evening is an all-English affair: Bliss's Elegiac Sonnet (discordant and enthralling), Britten's Six Hoelderling Fragments (discordant and tedious), Warlock's The Curlew (brilliant and absorbing), the Bliss piano quartet (English folkiness with shades of Ravel) and Gurney's Ludlow and Teme (tuneful and bucolic). Great end to great day!

08 July 2010

Roadrunner

I remarked the other day to a Facebook friend, who was facing the prospect of playing violin in a performance of Strauss's Four Last Songs, that they get better the older one gets. After the concert she agreed (although she's got a long way to go before she's as old as me). I am increasingly conscious of the fact that I do not get satisfaction from listening to the rock music to which I was devoted years ago, and I have a feeling this is because it is rooted in time - overloaded with memories which don't come with classical music. Maybe because rock is linked to individual performers - who have aged at the same rate as me. When I listen to (for example) Four Last Songs - ignoramus and Philistine that I am - the identity of the singer, conductor and orchestra are unimportant to me. The music has an existence independent of them, whereas (for example) Roadrunner is inextricably connected in my mind with The Modern Lovers, and that period of my life in the late seventies and early eighties when so much was going on that I look back on with nostalgia.

Or perhaps Richard Strauss is just a much better composer than Jonathan Richman. I suppose that's a distinct possibility. Unfortunately Strauss didn't provide me with such useful titles to reuse for blog postings - when you see Beim Schlafengehen on this blog you probably needn't worry too much, but if I use Im Abendrot it might be a different matter. And if I raid Das Lied von der Erde for Der Abschied it will probably indicate that I am really in trouble ....

Yesterday my training schedule asked me to run 6 miles slow. How difficult could that be? But after a frustrating day's work, mostly trying to extract money from recalcitrant clients and drum up some publicity for my intellectual property podcasts, it might just have been that the release when I got out on the road meant I couldn't help myself. That's the only reason I can think of for the revelation that I got down to 6:03 minutes per mile at one point (only for a moment, though, and it might well have been a Garmin glitch).

I can feel a big change coming over my running as I get fitter. In the mornings I can walk downstairs normally: my calves and Achilles tendons are holding up well. I managed half my run yesterday forefoot striking, and maybe by October I'll be able to keep that up for a whole Marathon. And I am feeling more content otherwise, making better progress with work.

I do have many things about which to remonstrate with myself. Failing to treat my work as a business, in general: not taking payments on account before getting down to work with clients, who then fail to pay, promptly or sometimes at all: and being too trusting. My late and very good (and much missed) friend Peter Farmery once told me never to trust two particular individuals. I am not going to disclose who they were - I will say that one was a member of his chambers, which was telling, I thought - but I have made the mistake of trusting the other, and find myself much the poorer and hugely let down as a result. But also wiser.

06 July 2010

I'm alive

The sessions making up my training schedule so far have been pretty gentle. True, running 10 miles on Sunday knocked me out a bit but that was because I wasn't accustomed to it. Today - this evening, as it transpired - the schedule dictated a jog of a mile, then three repeats of 1.5 miles with 800 metre recovery jogs in between, then jog a mile back. I do wish they wouldn't mix their units - why couldn't the recovery jogs be half a mile? - which I was taught at school was the most heinous offence.

So it was back to the site of yesterday's 4 miles easy, but with a different timetable. it's a half mile jog to the start, and (as noted yesterday) the road surface is exactly three-quarters of a mile, so up-and-down added up to the required distance for a rep. For the recovery jog I headed off at right angles by the village school, and The Watch told me that if I turned round at the postbox on the corner I'd do the prescribed distance. The pace was supposed to be 11 minutes for the repeats, with 5 minutes jogging to recover. I forgot to time the session in laps until I was part-way through, but the second and third repeats were just a bit over the prescribed time and in my present state of fitness (and fatness - still a few pounds over 11 stone, so probably a stone to lose before I reach the ideal weight) I'm pretty happy with that.

Similar sessions are going to feature every Tuesday - I might have to rearrange that, to enable me to run with the club on Tuesdays. It won't get any easier though, but then again I won't feel any less satisfaction when I have finished. My legs feel great now, and I think I made some improvements in my style - working the arms in particular, though not getting onto the forefoot - still anxious about injury.

Here's the session: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/39461379.

05 July 2010

Free four

Four miles easy on the schedule for today, but - as expected - my legs were stiff this morning, plus my right arm is suffering badly from some form of repetitive strain injury and has been since I got well into writing my last book. It seizes up at night and becomes very painful, though it's OK once I start moving it, at least up to a point. Incipient old age.

I postponed the four miles until this evening, and then set off gently with a view to running past the Site to Rowstock. On the footbridge over the A34, though, it crossed my mind that I'd do better on the road up towards the Ridgeway, the site of my Rach's repeats sessions a few months ago (not yet repeated, much, but on the agenda for the future!).

"Easy" in this context meant 8:45 minute miles, and with my virtual partner set at 9 I was pleased to find I was keeping ahead of her. The tarmac surface is conveniently three-quarters of a mile, and it was half a mile from home to the start of that stretch, so two repeats were all I needed to do. It's slightly uphill on the odd numbered reps, downhill on the evens, and on the second and last downhill one my 8:45  pace had become 7:03. I was dicing with muscle strain. I cut back, but still reached home well ahead of VP.

I kept to my forefeet for the first portion of the run, but was anxious about the developing knots in my calves so went back onto my heels, or at least more on my heels. Much more comfortable: is that just because  it's what I know? I was running an interesting three paces/three paces as I breathed in and out, which became two and two as my pace crept up, and taking a leaf out of Roz Savage's book I started reciting a little mantra - "tougher than most", two syllables for the intake of breath, two for the exhalation, and it helped me get into the Zone - which, at this stage of my training, is probably not where I want to be. Well, if I'm getting into a zone it needs to be an 8:45 or slightly faster one, not down near 7.

Just before I headed out an email came in from the Kielder Marathon - well, purportedly from Crammie, but they don't fool me that easily. It said they hoped my training was well under way! Well, I guess it's going a bit better now ...

04 July 2010

Climb Every Mountain

An excellent visit to the Cheltenham Festival, thanks to the charity of which I am a trustee - we are sponsoring a concert later this week, but received an invitation to the opening reception and evening concert. This was the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra playing music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, with a couple of very good singers (Kim Criswell and Brent Barrett), conducted by John Wilson. Not my favourite cup of tea but perfectly palatable, indeed a very enjoyable evening (the company certainly helped too). Learnt a lot about Rodgers and Hammerstein, including being struck by similarities between You'll Never Walk Alone and Climb Every Mountain - they probably serve similar purposes in the two shows, but they do have a lot of other similarities when heard almost back to back. Evening slightly marred by some people in the audience singing to themselves - we were encouraged to join in at one point, but not otherwise, and I hadn't gone to listen to the fat guy (a solicitor) in the row behind me ...

Returning home at about 0040, I found an email from Bob who'd completed the FT crossword and had a few queries - so I retired to bed with my copy, which I hadn't looked at before, and completed it in under 20 minutes. Probably not Cincinnus at his best, but I was rather satisfied with that outcome.

My Marathon training should have started on Monday, but my leg didn't co-operate - and if your legs won't co-operate with running, it's not going to happen at all. The sessions prescribed for the first week were all pretty untaxing, and by Friday I could certainly join in - it says "Rest". Saturday (5M easy) was dealt with by running to the field to feed the pony and water the vegetables, exercising the dog into the bargain (though at his age he does make the run last much longer than necessary). Today the schedule directed me to run 10M slow, adding "approx 90 minutes)", twice the time for yesterday - so "easy" is less demanding than "slow". I headed off, dogless, at about 10 o'clock, on a beautiful sunny morning with a gusty breeze.

For the first two-and-a-half miles I managed to land on (and take off from) my forefoot, with no adverse effects on my leg muscles or tendons. By that point my left calf was threatening to tie itself into a very painful knot, so I stopped the experiment - although I think I was still striking with more forefoot than my usual, habitual running style, the product of 18 years of indifference.

I wasn't setting the world on fire, with a pace just under 10 minutes per mile - but I was covering the miles. I even took a diversion to look for the Traffic Cottage, having caught a documentary about Steve Winwood on the TV a couple of weeks ago - but I think I had taken the wrong track, and needed to have travelled a bit further east, over the next hill. Another day ...

A business phone call at Bury down gave me a 40-minute break, so by the time I reached home I'd been out for about two-and-a-half hours: but with sunshine, the wind often behind me, birds singing (probably, I have to admit, in alarm at my presence) it was a great outing. Having just (before getting up to go running this morning) finished reading Roz Savage's Rowing the Atlantic, I was fired up with the notion of how facing up to a challenge can be beneficial - and other lessons that she learnt on the way. It struck me later that my Marathon training programme is about the same duration as her 103-day row - though I am under no illusions about how arduous it might be in comparison ...



A great inspiring read, whether you are interested in ocean rowing or not. Well, of course you need to have at least a passing interest in it, but if it falls short of imagining that you might row the Atlantic yourself, I don't think that matters. Craig McDougall might have got me thinking about ultra Marathons, but Roz hasn't whetted my appetite for ocean rowing ... But I could relate to a lot of her experiences, and the lessons she offers are certainly applicable outside her sport.

26 June 2010

Born To Run

A friend recommended that I read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. I read the author's article about the Tarahumara in Runner's World years ago and was inspired - and the book is utterly compelling, though written in a style as breathless as me after one of my numerous unsuccessful attempts to run 5K in 20 minutes. I've torn through it, and find myself itching to run ...

Surprised by some of the things he has to say about Karno, though.




Download Born To Run MP3.