23 January 2010

Uncorrected Personality Traits

Is this what Andy Davis meant by the description "Tupperware day"? He was talking about the first Glastonbury Festival, which was, season-wise, at the other end of the spectrum from today - but it's s wonderful, evocative expression which I am delighted to be able to borrow ... safe in the knowledge that it won't qualify as a literary work so Andy can't have any copyright in it, and anyway if he claimed it he'd have problems with a certain trade mark owner. Come to think of it, if the trade mark owner is of an absolutist disposition I could have problems myself.

Well, Tupperware or not, there's a dull, grey sky hanging over OX11, but nothing falling from it. What has fallen from it in recent weeks is still lying around, in liquid form (I saw one small residual patch of snow this morning). Puddles stretch across the track in many places at Chilton level, but up on the Ridgeway the water drains quickly through the chalk and the going is good.

The worst of it is that stretch along which the refuse trucks ply on their way to and from the landfill site. I had settled into a very satisfying groove, following a pause to stretch my Achilles tendons which might have been on the verge of complaining, perhaps about the new trail running shoes: I was trying to empty my mind, which should not be too difficult given that there is rarely much in it ... and was trying to concentrate on my breathing - two paces in, two out. It seemed to be working very nicely. Then I was over the old railway bridge, there were two refuse trucks at the entrance to the landfill site (or "waste transfer station", though the only transferring that goes on there appears to be from the trucks that bring it to the hole in the ground that was once a railway cutting) along with a digger, and all that vehicular coming and going had created a mudbath that hippos would probably die for. So much for the pristine blue trail shoes - but, as Nancy said the other day, one of the great things about trail shoes is that your road shoes stay nice and clean.

I didn't manage to empty my mind again, although I got close to it once or twice. Perhaps there is some metaphor here that I should be exploring - emptying my mind at the waste transfer sation - but it might be getting a little complicated, and perhap it's better not to go there. I'll find another route for the next few weeks, until the ground gets a little drier: there are plenty of alternatives to this track.

With my mind refilling, I found my running going slightly haywire - a couple of times I found I had stopped focussing on the running while some other matter occupied my mind, and had forgotten to keep placing one foot in front of the other. It's a simple enough action to repeat, but all my running career I have found that I am quite capable of letting what I am doing slip my mind - and finding myself walking, quite by accident. The climb to the Ridgeway was hard work, and the underpass was tough, but once I was on it the Ridgeway was perfect running. I passed several dogwalkers and a group of bird-watchers, with binoculars and cameras - I asked if they had got a good shot of me - all wrapped in heavy-duty outdoor clothing, gloves, woolly hats. One remarked that I was "brave" in tee-shirt and shorts. Foolish, I wondered: but no, on reflection, just being a Warrior. Seven miles this morning brings the total since Thursday morning to about 26 miles.

22 January 2010

A Touch of Grey

Yesterday was a great running day. After listening to Karno on the
journey to London, it is simply not an option to use the Tube for the
rest of the commute. I complemented my run to the office yesterday
morning with a run back to Victoria to catch the coach back to Oxford.
4.5 miles, slightly slower than the morning run at 8:50/mile. On
crowded London streets that's not at all bad. But sitting on the coach
in a sweat-drenched running shirt was not good at all - I must carry a
dry tee-shirt to change into.
This morning, Karno struck again. Was I going to get the bus to Didcot
to catch the train? Of course not! Did it matter that it was
drizzling? What do you think? Five miles in gentle rain is nothing to
a wild runner like me - like I aspire to be, perhaps.
And I have something serious to train for: it is now certain that I'll
be going back to my old school as a member of the Old Boys'
cross-country team to run the Barney Run. I can't help remembering the
multichoice quiz we wrote for the alternative school magazine, which
rejoiced under the inspired name "GG148" - the number used by the Lily
Laundry of Darlington to identify items from the school. I still have
some very old handkerchieves with GG148 tickets on them, for old
times' sake.
The quiz, which I think was the work of Steve Fletcher and me,
offered famous quotations and a choice of people (usually including a
master or other school personality) who might have said it. "In the
long run we are all dead": was that JMKeynes or Lord Barnard, whho
donated the trophy awarded for the senior cross-country competition
known inevitably as the Barney Run? That one went down well - less
well-received was "It was so cold I saw a brass monkey looking for a
welder". That was Mike Hailwood, talking about the weather at Watkins
Glen: I can't remember what other names were offered, though it could
have been any of us who lived in that Victorian edifice in upper
Teesdale where the radiators rarely merited the description lukewarm.
The headmaster, a chemist and therefore ignorant of the etymology of
the expression (I wonder whether Mike the Bike knew?) required us to
unpick some 300 or more copies of the magazine and replace the page
with a new one from which all references to brass monkeys had been

21 January 2010

Positive Vibrations

I disembarked from the Oxford Tube at Holland Park this morning, having dressed in my running gear and spent the coach journey from Oxford listening to Karno's 50 Marathons, 50 states, 50 days audiobook - which is exactly as inspirational as you might hope. It was cool in London, so I pulled on hat and gloves before crossing the road to Kensington Gardens and starting my watch.

I didn't set any records, but Mr Garmin tells me I averaged 8:38 for 6.17 miles. I did pause the timer when I had to stop, but that's not cheating ... Arrived a bit sweaty (carrying gloves and hat, which I removed on the Embankment), but very, very satisfied with an uplifting performance. I'll soon be putting together my own list of 50 Marathons - well, perhaps one day.

19 January 2010

Blue Monday

Yesterday was Blue Monday. It seems it is official, because Sky Travel (the travel agents' equivalent of that curious satellite TV channel for the motor trade on which I once appeared, talking - probably to no-one - about the block exemption) put out a press release some years ago with one of those spurious formulae, in this case for calculating the most miserable day of the year. I thought everyone could see they were a joke, even with my grade 6 in O level maths, and the excellent Ben Goldacre (to whom I am forever indebted for coining, or at least alerting me to, the expression "absolutist" in the intellectual property context) comprehensively debunked it in his Guardian column some time ago.

Working out that the third Monday in January would be a bad day is no great intellectual achievement. I suspect that the second Monday was worse this year, because of the snow, and yesterday actually felt like a new start. But on the other hand, phone calls to someone who owes me money and who I hoped would help me generate more in the future reached a full voicemail box, and I find they have closed down their website and stopped trading. Now I learn that a friend is suffering a recurrence of a serious medical condition. These things don't even feature in
(It's all here in Wikipedia - must be true.)

But it had its moments. I travelled up to London to spend a bit of time in the office, where I found a couple of Christmas presents which had been waiting since before the holidays. Unfortunately one of them was cheese, but it displayed no green bits so I am hopeful that it might do for lunch today. (The other is an audiobook of Dean Karnazes's "50 50" - "Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days and How You Can Achieve Super Endurance". My sort of book, for so many reasons.)

I was pleased, in a starnge, sadistic (or perhaps masochistic) sort of way, to find that rail travel offers much the same experience as when I last tried it a few weeks ago. I noted it down at the time, and to practice my creative writing thought I might regurgitate it, slightly revised, here ...

I took a seat on the Oxford train (being restricted, on a cheap ticket, to frequently-stopping boneshaking sardine cans). It is invariably full to Maidenhead, the first stop, but spacious enough thereafter. As I was stowing my coat on the overhead rack, I dropped my copy of the Evening Standard and the gentleman sitting in the window seat facing the one I proposed to take picked it up and handed it to me. Come to think of it, that in itself was a remarkable event. He and I struck up a conversation, mostly about the quality and size of the Evening Standard, both reduced since it became a freesheet.

While we were talking, a pretty young lady took the middle of the "back to direction of travel" seats in our group, next to me: and almost immediatel - so quickly that it might have been because she had taken that seat - my interlocutor jumped up like a scalded cat and left the carriage. The young lady moved to the vacant seat - even for slim travellers the seats are only comfortable if the neighbouring one is empty - and we speculated about the motives of the former occupant, now standing outside the window staring at the departure board.

The middle seats of the set were then taken by a man, who sat next to me, and a fat woman with a nose stud. She would probably be offended if I referred to her as fat: but it is an objective comment, based on my observations - particularly of the fact that she did not fit the seat. She declined her companion's offer to place her possessions on the rack, pleading that she had once left a coat on such a rack, though as she seemed to have most of her possessions with her on this journey a similar lapse would bave been highly unlikely.

"Is that all right? Have you enough room?" she asked her companion, as she placed her bag on my foot. He assured her that he was, and he did, although it seemed manifestly untrue, and I laughed to myself. Crammed into the space with the woman's luggage (and my own rucksack), my knees were forced to rest, under the table, against those of the girl opposite.

17 January 2010


The snow has gone, almost in the blink of an eye. Temperature well above freezing: even some sunshine this morning. Nothing now to stop me running - trying out the new trail shoes.

Nothing apart from my asthma, that is. I don't know why, but it cut in after a few paces and a mile futher on it was still getting worse. Nothing for it but to walk, disconsolately, back home. Try again tomorrow!

16 January 2010

You've Got to Pay

I spent a few minutes complting a questionnaire for Saga, who promised that I might won £500 for doing so. One question started with the words "Asides from ...", and another used the word "less" when it meant "fewer". Last month the survey (t seems to be a regular event) asked me whether I found it harder to find fashionable clothes than when I was middle aged: this from the company that is unable to arrange for the phone to be answered whenever I try to talk to them about my car insurace. I explained when once I did eventually get to speak to someone that I wouldn't be renewing my insurance with them, and he told me that a lot of callers said that.

I think I will forego the opportunity to win £500 in future. Since the survey offered no route for feedback, I will vent here and perhaps write them a letter later.

08 January 2010

January Song (again)

I've lit the fire in the sitting room, and closed the curtains on a cold, snow-covered, runner-unfriendly world outside. I spent an hour feeding horses and mucking out this morning, which would have eaten up the time for running anyway. Some people sugest that it's OK to run in snow - not sure that they mean snow as deep as we have at present, though - while others warn of Achilles damage, which I certainly don't want. One Warrior type on a Runner's World forum helpfully suggested that if you want to run badly enough you'll find a way to do it. I don't think I can quite subscribe to that view - but might have a go tomorrow. Perhaps this is the time to buy some trail shoes or even cross-country spikes: I haven't been able to find a supplier of snowshoes anywhere handy.

If there's a chance of a repeat of weather like this, cross-country skis would be a sound idea - or maybe I should go for a treadmill, or gym membership?

06 January 2010

Don't Eat That Yellow Snow

Couldn't run until late yesterday because I had to allow a reasonable amount of time to pass after giving blood - about 24 hours, although more might be a good idea - but by the time I felt I could do it the weather had turned to snow and there were severe weather warnings out. A trip to Abingdon to run with the club seemed like a recipe for getting stuck in the car overnight ...

As it happened, I'd probably have been OK, but this morning there was about six inches of snow outside the back door which unfortunately is more than the depth of oil in the bottom of the tank for the boiler. Spent an hour or so shovelling the stuff away from the front of the house: it was lovely light airy snow, almost a pleasure to move - there are probably some yellow patches around now, though. By lunchtime there was a couple of inches on the cleared parts again, and as I type it is coming down steadily though not fast. No, on second thoughts, that does look pretty fast. I cannot remember when last I saw snow like this in this country - many years ago, probably at least 30 - and I am resigned to there being no opportunity to run today. I have looked on eBay for cross-country skis (a pair for collection from Manchester: out of the question as things are) and snowshoes (none). Probably more enforced rest days to come, too.

04 January 2010

Hazard Profile

A slow, slow run of only four miles - but it maintained my hundred per cent record. The reason for the snail-like pace was the ice that stayed, most unusually, all day long and made skates rather than running shoes the appropriate footwear. I kept to the road from the village, past the school, up towards the Ridgeway, and used only the three-quarters of a mile of it that has a decent tarmac surface - though that was only patchily on display this lunchtime.

A run before lunch was necessary because I wanted to give blood this afternoon - so after lunch I spent an hour or so in Didcot giving blood, or perhaps in Bloodclot giving did (in which case I should find a Dancing Did song to accompany it - but there isn't one on YouTube, so perhaps I should rectify that). So, not much to report today, but records still intact.

However, it is worth saying that I realised I could provide links from many of my race reports to photos by John Harvey - so I have been back through a few recent postings (Pud Run, Hanney, Thame, Headington) and added links: never underestimate the vanity of a 50-something man! I liked the Thame photo - the others didn't quite do me justice ...

03 January 2010


Not a long run today, despite it being Sunday: I think I did more than enough yesterday, and today I needed a recovery run. Gently down to Rowstock and back, out in about 22 minutes (2.65 miles) and back in a little less. The Garmin went to sleep on the way back, but I had taken precautions - I wore a spare watch. Only a Warrior would think of that. A superb winter's day, clear blue sky, sun, no wind, no precipitation, a bit of frost underfoot (but going quite quickly when I ventured out - which wasn't until after 11). Felt good in technical tee shirt (commemorating Sir Roger Bannister's birthday party) and shorts, plus hat and gloves.

New Year's Resolutions intact.

02 January 2010

Repeat offender

I guess I should have had a rest day, at least a gentle recovery run but time wasn't on my side so I fitted in a quick session of what I planned to be 1K repeats. To give myself a decent three-mile run, though, I extended each one a little, to three-quarters of a mile, and did four rather than the prescribed 6 (or was it 5? It has to be an even number to get me home!). The first one started too fast, and I ran out of steam part-way to the turn: the second (downhill - and my Garmin suggested the elevation gain and loss was about 50m, which is clearly out by an order of magnitude, perhaps two) rather more effective; the third involved a break at the KM mark, but I then jogged on to complete the 3/4 mile; the fourth was much more relaxed all round. The time turned out to be remarkably consistent, all things considered. most important, of course, I have maintained my 100 per cent running rate, every day for the year (not hard, by 2 January, I admit that) - and I am also keeping up my resolution, unanounced until now, to blog every day too.

01 January 2010

In the New Year

New Years often start in a manner that you hope will continue - weatherwise as well as in other respects. Of course, for many people they begin with a hangover, but I now find that the contemplation of serious drinking is enough to give me the hangover symptoms. I can feel ill just reading, for example, a Rebus or Wallendar novel. Incredible - looking back, with the advantage of perfect hindsight - to think that I might have enjoyed drinking when I could have enjoyed a much more satisfying and stimulating sensation by taking a long run.

So after an abstemious NYE I was up bright and early on NYD and ready for the Amblers' NYR (New Year Run). 6 or 10 miles? Do you have to ask?

The route, roughly described to the assembled 30 or 40 runners, took us from the car park at Wittenham Clumps (grid reference SU 567 923) round the nearest hill, with spectacular views across the Thames Valley, then down to the riverside and downstream to Shillingford Bridge. Cold, it certainly was - little mud except in sheltered paces where the frost hadn't penetrated - but shorts were quite enough for me - others protected their legs against the elements, but perhaps they lacked the covering of hair that somone pointed out on mine. I soon lost touch with the group with whom I'd have been running a couple of years ago, but when Phil - who must have started late - passed me I took a tow from him and caught Trish and Julia, so at least I had company for the morning - and someone to keep me on the right track, perhaps. I hope they were happy to have me along - far too polite anyway to tell me to leave them in peace.

Up the hill from the Shillingford Bridge Hotel, where we encountered many people to whom we could wish a Happy New Year: the vague instructions had said turn left before you get to Wallingford - I had no wish to go that far, but in the event it turned out that it was necessary to enter the outskirts of the town before we found the graveyard where we had been directed to turn. A path took us back to the riverside, and at that point - as we turned for home - I realised two things. First, that I had forgotten to press the start button on my Garmin (I did so immediately) and second that I had left the car key in the driver's door lock without turning it (although if you leave the key in the lock it hardly matters whether you turned it or not, does it?). So I phoned Hilary, who was due to come to the post-run pub lunch taking in a visit to her mother first, and asked her to divert via the car park and collect the key, assuming it was still there. I am pleased to say I managed the phone call without reducing my pace.

Then it was over the river again at the lock (the route from when I pressed "start" is here), through Preston Corwmarsh and Benson marina to Shillingford again, marveling at some of the extensive riverside properties that one never usually sees. There are alleyways between some of these palaces, and along one of these came a group of about 20 people preceded by a labrador carrying a stick in its mouth - coincidentally about as long as the path was wide. When one of my companions described it as a hurdle, I thought about trying to treat it as one but when I reached the obstacle could only lift one foot, which still made contact with the stick and probably jarred the unfortunate dog's head - but its owners could have given a little more thought to oncoming traffic.

Then it was along the road to Dorchester. I was flagging a little by now, and by the Dyke Hills I stopped to call Hilary again - in sight of her mother's house, where she was by then - to learn that she'd recovered the car key and taken it into safe custody. All very well, but my wallet and change of clothes were in the car, and the option of a half-mile detour to collect the key from her didn't appeal by this stage.

Heading for Day's Lock to recross the Thames, one stretch of narrow path - hemmed in by hedges - had more walkers on it than you could shake a stick at if you happened, like the labrador, to have one. The ladies were fifty or so yards ahead of me now, and by the time I had negotiated the bottleneck they had almost reached the bridge aat the lock. With the end within reach (but for one small consideration which I will come to in a moment) I upped my pace across the meadow, up and over the bridge, and then found a group of walkers spread across the full width of the pathway and paying no attention to people coming the other way. It always astounds me that people can be so wrapped up in their own world, or perhaps just so aware of their own importance, superiority even - that they fail to show an iota of consideration for anyone else: but it's a fact of the modern world. I just went for what gaps there were, trusting that either they would widen as I approached or that they would offer the least resistance should I have to barge through - whcih was basically what I did. No cheery "Happy New Year" for them.

There's a climb from there to the church, opposite which the path heads back to the car park. Julia and Trish were at the gate. "The long way or the short way, Peter?" they asked. I opted for the short - which means straight up the hill rather than round its shoulder. Last year I'd felt pretty good trotting up it, but I think I'd done the shorter route that time - today I struggled up, with the sun in my eyes, in three stages with a good deal of walking in between. My leg muscles had withdrawn co-operation and it had become apparent that I had burnt up the bowl of porridge that I'd had for breakfast. That hill has a lot in common with the side of a house ...

Over the brow I had a chance to indulge in a downhill rush, reaching the car park close behind my two companions for most of the distance. Strangely, my heartrate doesn't seem to have become particularly elevated over the last stretch, up or down, but I finished up with a great sense of well-being and anticipation for some great running in the next few months.