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


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


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.