31 December 2011

Tightrope walker

Rye Meadow was slippery this morning. I wore trail shoes, having found last week how little traction huaraches have: I joked before the start that barefoot might be best, as one could dig in with one's toes, and maybe that was more right than I meant it to be. Along the riverbank and through the meadow I slithered all over the place (as did everyone else). On the tarmac I did OK, and at the end the Garmin data show that I managed a respectable turn  of speed, but I have lost 20 seconds since last week and am a minute off my personal best for this course. Time for some serious New Year's Resolving ...


30 December 2011

Drive

I'd have considered this anathema once - not only because the motor industry paid my salary, and more cars was irrefragably better, but also because of my personal preferences - but now it delights me to read that the godless institution in Gower Street has produced a report for the Department for Transport arguing for a revolution in our relationship with the motor car.

UCL's godlessness (which, to be fair, was originally with a capital G) evidently extends to rejection of the cult of the automobile, and the report provides recognition for the romantic notion of self-propulsion, though I suspect the report doesn't use Caballo's words. A nice piece of joined-up thinking, connecting health policy with transport policy, though the suggestion that we (or any other country, I suspect) has a transport policy worthy of the name is verging on fantasy. A policy built around using the appropriate form of transport for each journey would be a sound one, and any transport policy that recognises the true cost of using cars so much should be applauded - provided it also puts in place a public transport system that can effectively replace those car journeys, like a bus from here to the station to connect with a train that will get  me to work on time. And one back in the evening. But only for those days when cycling, or running, is out.

29 December 2011

Airscape

A breakthrough run, simply because it has been so often postponed. And even then it had to be done in the dark, with a blustery side-wind threatening to push me into the road and oncoming cars dazzling me so I could not see the path. The Watch ran out of power half-a-mile from home, but I didn't.

A daily 10K might be an ambitious target (I wonder whether Murakami is still doing them), but it's not completely out of sight.


24 December 2011

Run Rudolph Run

My concession to today's Parkrun being a fancy dress one was to dress as a raramuri, from the ankles down. Not very clever. Next year - if there is a next year - I will take up someone's suggestion and adopt the rest of the outfit.

I guess the conditions in the Copper Canyon are different to those in England at Christmas - mild though it is. Where the path was worn, it was rather slippery: trail shoes might have been a better choice than huaraches - but I have to take the opportunity to fly the minimalist flag, don't I? And it was my hands, not my feet, that were cold: after all, my feet were working (and they work more with huaraches on than in cushioned shoes, I'm sure).

Anyway, even throttling back on the slippery sections (about half the course) I beat my time from the last outing (last week's run having been cancelled because of freezing conditions - not because the participants were not up for it, I'm sure, but because we'd have had people in the river at the lock where the path was too slippery). Only by about 10 seconds but I'll take that - 40 seconds to go for a course PB. I finished with quite a satisfying turn of speed - not a sprint by any standards, and it didn't leave me feeling like death, so there was definitely more in the tank, but all in all a good run. Nice to see Martin, in heavy disguise, though it would have been nicer still to finish closer to him - although I was first man in my age group.

11 December 2011

Tell all the people

Another experience of that wonderful institution, the Parkrun: my sixth, not my fastest, but a good feeling. An institution that needs to be even more widely known, I think.

At home I wondered whether compression tights and long ordinary running tights would be too warm, compensated for them with a short-sleeve teeshirt, put a fleece on top to get me to the start, added my running hat and then as an afterthought put running gloves in my pockets. But I had forgotten that we have our own microclimate and the Thames Valley can have completely different weather. It's just as well that I decided against huaraches ....

Rye Meadow was white with frost, and my choice of conventional footwear was fortunate - though several friends enquired about the sandals. How mad do they think I am? I was only out for a gentle jog, anyway, as my resolutions about getting fitter and faster always seem to run into that hard-to-overcome barrier called "work". It's an inevitable consequence of portfolio working - though this week I finally unloaded one of my six jobs, one that was fun at times but never remunerative. That ought to leave a little more room for the three new ones that I added to the portfolio this year.

I put the fleece aside so I had a layer (half a layer) to put on when I finished, but kept all the other stuff on, as John's photo shows. I plodded round at an erratic pace, as the splits show - when I spotted John at about the 4K mark I put on a turn of speed for the benefit of the camera, which might account for why mile 3 was so much faster than mile 2 (which was all about consolidation, I suppose): mile 1 is all about ensuring I'm not going to be blocked later on by optimists or inexperienced runners who've set off too fast, meaning that I have to set off much too fast. As things settled down after the initial rush to get onto the narrow riverside path in a good position, we left the bright winter sunlight in which we'd started: the eastern end of the course was in shade. Cliff, a few yards behind, was moved to exclaim, loudly. The conditions certainly weren't ones to hang around in. Maybe that explains my splits too: mile 2 was the sunny part.

I spent the rest of the day as a white van man, which is fun occasionally. Last weekend it was a nail gun, this weekend we hired a Transit. Perhaps I should go through the whole gamut of fun things to hire.



04 December 2011

A Little Bit More

This time last year we were up to our knees in snow. This year trees are putting out buds and daffodils are reportedly blooming. There are flowers still out in the garden. They are likely to get a shock soon: but despite the unseasonal mildness, when I ventured out of the door this morning - rather later than intended, too - it was surprisingly cold. So I ventured back indoors to find a fleece - and bright green hat and gloves.

I rarely run with more than a single layer of clothing, but I didn't expect to be burning up the trails today. In fact, I wasn't even expecting to be doing more than perhaps three miles: I was expecting that the loop I used to do when I first started running, well over 20 years ago, would be quite enough. But at the southern end of South Row, where I might have headed back towards the village, I was trotting comfortably, and by the time I passed the field I was quite ready to decline the offered lift home and press on to complete what used to be my regular10K (very approximate), 1 hour Sunday morning (and subsequently other mornings too) run.

There was nothing really exceptional about it. A modest pace, grey weather, only a few people out exercising their dogs on the Ridgeway. My left knee felt slightly uncomfortable at one stage, and I gave careful attention to how that foot was striking and that problem went away: my right Achilles was also a little stiff at some points of the run, but the discomfort passed. My feet are much stronger than they were, I am sure, from the new posture I have been training myself to adopt - and I ran the entire distance today without once landing on my heel. Thanks to my compression tights, there are no ill-effects in my calves, unlike the last run recorded here!

Over the last mile or so I kept up a much faster pace, really running and not just jogging as I must admit I had been earlier on. But, before I get too carried away, I didn't even hit what six years ago was target half-Marathon pace. An unexceptional Sunday morning run, then, but even so - how good it felt to be out there doing it.


30 November 2011

Riders on the Storm

There's a price to be paid for a morning ride to the station in glorious, unseasonal sunshine: it's the ride back home in the evening, three hours after darkness fell, with the wind blasting what feels like sleet at you. But the feeling of righteousness, well-being, downright superiority, over those unfortunates who don't understand the romance of self-propulsion that you feel at the station on the way to work in the morning is the best part of all.

Even better: I left the office to walk back to Paddington this evening, breaking into a jog as I crossed the road, purely with a view to getting out of the way of the traffic - and it felt so good, I didn't stop (except for junctions) until I reached Paddington. That's the way it should be.

29 November 2011

Rain

In a desperate effort to secure some of the undoubted benefits of running, and when I had finished the urgent outstanding matters that had to be dealt with today, I put on running shorts, tee shirt, and (partly in the interest of speed, and to preserve my calf muscles) shoes and socks, then looking at the weather, added a waterproof jacket, and headed out.
My leaving home coincided with the start of the hitherto-unknown local monsoon season. The roads were awash, so there was hardly a dry patch on which to place my feet. I hadn't even reached the postbox (where I entrusted two FT crossword puzzles to the Royal Mail, or as the Postal Services Act would have it delivered them to the post office) before my shoes and socks were soaked. I thought I could still manage a few laps of the playing field, but when I got there the driving rain was so thick it could have been fog and the wind was enough almost to stop me in my tracks. I reckoned the long grass would be so wet, I might as well have been running through a few inches of water, so I turned round and the wind carried me home.
By the time I'd dried myself off the rain had stopped, of course.

15 November 2011

I ran

When I cycle to the station to go to work (an activity that, I regret to say, is on hold at present while the weather is as cold as it is) I use an old railway line, courtesy of Dr Beeching who does not really qualify to be referred to as the cyclist's friend. And occasionally I run it, though a five mile run on the way to work is just a bit much - having said which, five years ago I was running four-and-a-half regularly in the morning and the evening, so perhaps I should be more adventurous.
I don't know whether Italy had its own Dr Beeching, but what happened along the Ligurian Riviera was not that they dispensed with the railway, rather that they shifted it a little inland, and for much of its length underground, then turned the old one into a cycle-cum-running track. A sensational one.
Probably no surprise that on a Saturday morning it should be well-used by cycling clubs, along with individual serious-looking cyclists - no surprise at all, because every piece of tarmac in the country seems to have them. They ride responsibly, and (on the roads) cars seem to treat them respectfully, so it's as different from England as you could get. I was a little wary about stepping across the white line when pedestrians came at me two abreast, lest a cyclist come up at speed from behind me, but a prudent glance over my shoulder was all that was needed when I was forced into the cycle lanes.

For some distance I passed and repassed a young English couple on a side-by-side pedal quadricycle, chatting with them as we fell in alongside each other, then they seemed to tire of the game or went to do some sightseeing. It was hard - impossible - to believe it was November: not too hot to run, but quite warm enough (though it was the middle of the day - I certainly wouldn't be out running at that time in the summer).

The route goes through several tunnels and across a number of bridges - how many, of course, depends on how much of the old railway you run along - including the bridge from which I took this photo (those white birds dictating the choice of music clip for this posting), of the Argentina river. I was doing a prescribed distance, having been dropped in San Remo and being expected for a picnic lunch (in November?) on the beach at Riva, but I could have gone on for ever.

Actually, that's a complete lie. Had I been wearing clumpy cushioned shoes I'd probably have gone further: had I bothered to take my compression tights on holiday with me (and space in our single case was definitely at a premium) I might have gone further still, but after five miles in huaraches my calves knew it was time to stop - and it took me a week to be able to walk normally again ...



23 October 2011

Saturday in the Park

Another four seconds faster. Boring conventional footwear. Any connection?

Fast enough that I felt ill at the finish line: not something that has happened for a long time. The sign of a good 5K.


18 October 2011

I'll feel a whole lot better

I jogged this morning, I admit it. Just a short jog, to get back from the garage having dropped off the car for a service, but I gave blood late yesterday afternoon and my left arm is probably only half full. I thought I could manage a gentle jog of under three miles, and indeed I did, but I arrived home in the throes of an asthma attack. That might have been partly because the air was much colder than it has been so far this season. Anyway, good to have done even a short distance, and a superb autumn morning with a lovely blue sky, bright sun, and turning leaves.

12 October 2011

Reconnez Cherie

Two elements meet, merge together: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a wonderful, humane, thought-provoking book, with its meditations about the nature of time, and an old packet of coffee. The coffee came from my mother-in-law's house, which we have been clearing gradually since she died: she left two presentation packs of coffees of the world, nine different varieties in each (the same nine, pretty much). Some had been consumed, some were open, others were still sealed and (I imagined) should be in reasonable shape. For my morning coffee, I took out an Ethiopian mocha that sounded promising, only to find it had been opened before. The packet bore the legend "best before March 2006". A still-unopened packet of Columbian will have to take its place: its best before date is under three years ago, and it tastes fine.

2006 was once unimaginably far in the future. Now it is too long ago for a packet of coffee to have remained drinkable.

09 October 2011

The Park

Fourth Park Run, and my best time yet - 23:45 officially, a whole 54 seconds off the previous best. Four more weeks and I will be under 20 minutes. No, I know life's not like that.



Arriving - unlike last time - early for the start, I had a classic conversation with an old running friend I hadn't seen for a while. While I waited for a break in the conversation he was having with another clubmate, I heard all about a litany of injuries which sounded remarkably like mine, so when finally I was able to speak to him I only needed to say "I was going to say long time, no see, how are you doing? - but I don't need to now."

I got to the front of the start - forty-odd participants (not competitors - this is not a race!) to avoid being stuck behind youngsters along the narrow riverside path - and slowed a little after the first couple of hundred yards. Gary, Andrew and some others came past, but I wasn't bothered, except that I have become accustomed to Andrew suffering from injuries that allowed me to outpace him. Clearly he's better now. And that was it. One photo shows me just being passed by Gary along by the lock, another in good shape along the road section, and another looking anxious about the finish. The compression tights do a great job, although I am concerned with the rate at which the stitching is coming out of the waistband. Maybe it's a problem with my waist - I have resolved not to eat flapjack unless I have run at least 5K already that day, which might help. After all, it's runner's food - that's the whole point.

My huaraches, as always, attracted some comments, and John was fascinated enough to add a photo of one of them to the photostream. Thanks for omitting my other foot with the big black toe nail ...

An excuse to revisit one of my favourite albums, and favourite songs from it, from my teens. It's really rather a good piece of music, especially coming back to it after 40 years.


04 October 2011

October

That run in Moscow on Saturday has started something. Yesterday I cycled to and from the station, and ran between Paddington and the office both ways (but recorded only the first cycle leg, and then only in part and it isn't very interesting). Going in I followed the canal, and took a meandering route through Regent's Park: coming home I left myself only 20 minutes to catch my train, so took the most direct route - which got me there in under 13 minutes. A useful piece of intelligence for future use, but I'd prefer to go via the park and canal when I can.

01 October 2011

Песня о Друге

I had to work hard to persuade myself to get out for a run this morning, especially as it had rained overnight. Yesterday I had travelled from London to Moscow, to give some tuition in intellectual property to Russian students reading for external London University LLBs (and doing Russian law degrees in parallel), and my old friend Viktor had met me and taken me for a typical Russian dinner followed by a short tour of some Moscow sights - particularly Red Square.

He had suggested that a suitable route for a run would be the Bul'varnoe Kol'tso, which is an inner ring road comprising a series of boulevards. I had been sceptical, which further increased my inclination to stay in bed: but having forced myself to run it, I can say that Moscow is one of the best cities in which I have ever run. Most of the distance was in the middle of the boulevards, which resemble elongated parks. Traffic free until you come to the end of one and the beginning of another - and there might be an extensive open square to negotiate between them. Russian drivers have an extraordinary attitude to traffic lights - red is not even regarded as advisory - and speed limits, although come to think of it I have seen none indicated. It seems that if you have a collision you must leave your car where it is, placing a warning triangle behind it (but so close as to afford no advance warning). You can then wait hours for the police to show up. If you have contrived to connect with another car side-to-side, a very difficult form of collision to engineer but one at which Muscovites appear to excel, this means two cars in the middle of the road, two triangles, and huge disruption. Still, it wouldn't bother me  if I was trying to run through it. The drag down  Tverskaya was less impressive: perhaps it lost its central reservation a while ago and became a 12 lane road - but any road that leads to Red Square has to have something to commend it. I was in fact off course here, and realise I should have gone past the Kropotkinskaya metro station - there is a name to conjure with! - but I wanted to do Red Square in the morning light. It did not disappoint, but my Blackberry did, refusing on account of damp (that is, sweat) to take photos.


After several hours talking intellectual property to a very switched-on and impressive bunch of students, I rounded off the day with a theatre trip. Two hours of which I scarcely understood a single word, but it was magical and exuded a real sense of occasion. Billed as a spectacle, it was the show put together by Yuri Lubimov as a memorial to Vladimir Vysotsky, which the authorities banned in 1980 after Visotsky's death (they also prohibited a public funeral, anxious that it would empty out the Olympic stadium: I believe it did anyway). They tried to put it on in 1981 and the letter from Andropov, then head of the KGB, telling them not to do so was reproduced in the programme.
The cast sang and recited poems, and stood or sat while recordings of the man himself were played from the back of the theatre: the only thing on the set was a block of theatre seats, suspended from chains so they could be raised and lowered and on which the cast could when appropriate sit, as if at a Vysotsky concert, and also a very large sheet which could be used to cover the seats and on one occasion many of the cast too. There's more about the evening here if you are interested, including the cast list at least one of whom is a very famous Russian actor - and a great political mimic, it seems. Even I recognised his Medvedev and Putin.
When the cast came to the front of the stage to take their bows, having been sitting on the floor leaning against the back wall, they left a guitar standing against the wall. Attendants and (I think) members of the audience handed the actors bouquets, which is not in itself unusual, but in greater numbers than I have ever seen: and the actors took the flowers to the back of the stage and piled them by the guitar, which it became clear was there to represent Visotsky. It soon disappeared under the pile, and I could hardly imagine a more touching tribute. Thirty years on, too. Combined with a memorable run, it made it a day on which to be glad to be alive.
To round off the day, the evasive lens fell out of my glasses as I set off to cross a Moscow street on the way back to the hotel. Viktor recruited three local lads who obligingly moved their car so the headlights illuminated the area, and eventually one of them fished the lens out of a puddle. A memorable end to a very memorable day.

25 September 2011

Run run run

A mile or so into my run this morning, I was mentally planning a language course. Although I am a poor linguist, I am rather addicted to language courses. My problem is always that the subject-matter isn't sufficiently interesting. How about teaching languages using running vocabulary? Courir, correr, laufen ... je suis blessé - mes genoux, mes pieds, mon (ma?) plantar fascia.

Thoroughly distracted from the matter in hand, I suddenly realised that I was heading down a slight hill, heel-striking with my arms flapping loosely by my sides. Better leave the language courses to those better qualified to create them, and keep my mind on running. Or find a language course and use it as a model, adopting running vocabulary - and running situations: you can still do all those directions, food, relationships, etc., stuff in a running context, can't you?

I was pleased with myself to be running for the second successive day, following yesterday's Parkrun in Abingdon. Not a great time: 11 seconds slower than the last one I did, partly because of congestion along the single-file riverside path, partly because I was there merely to get round without worrying about my time. Not worrying about my time? What rubbish. What runner has ever done a timed event without worrying about how long it would take? Still, after my chaotic year of running and injury it was pretty satisfying.  I was even predicting to friends that this time next year I'd be in sight of 20 minutes. I had my tongue in my cheek - but who knows?

Then yesterday evening Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run, my second favourite running book (no-one can come close to Murakami, I'm afraid) posted You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because… .  I'd heard (recently: therefore too late) of John J Kelley, but never heard of the Dipsea Demon, Jack Kirk - who ran the Dipsea Race 67 consecutive times, from 1930 to 2002 (the missing years accounted for by war and depression - economic, not mental). A man to admire, I think: one should avoid having heroes (which for some reason that I have never understood is the first noun the Penguin Russian Course throws at you: but I digress, although it might be useful to remember for the Runner's Russian course), and anyway they often prove disappointing - pace Bob Dylan, who seems to take a cavalier attitude to others' images when producing his own paintings (but that's a  matter for another blog). I'm trying to come up with a similar handle for myself to the Dipsea Demon, which will have to be Ridgeway R... Any suggestions? Or too presumptuous? Yeah, probably.


So, inspired by a 96-year-old trail runner, and the NYT story linked from CMcD's blog (Marathoners in their late 30's - mere striplings), I dragged myself out for a trot round my regular loop this morning. Just as well I got it done, because this evening the news is that Radcliffe and Gebrselassie, about whom the NYT was talking, both missed out on winning in Berlin. But I know I am not in their league - hardly even on the same planet. I am just so happy to find that I can still run. I wore my NYC Marathon 1998 vest for the Parkrun yesterday, to remind myself that I could once run, then proved it this morning, even if Mr Garmin ran out of juice at about 3 miles so there is no record of most of the run. Let me tell you (not that you're interested, really, are you?) that I kept up a good clip along the Ridgeway and burnt up the road down to the village school, then blasted across the A34 footbridge which is the second steepest (but shortest) hill on the route. No idea about pace or total time, though.


And returned home very satisfied, with more left in the tank, and feeling like a runner again. Oh, and the pains in my left heel and my right Achilles tendon are responding very well to running therapy: they have almost gone. For now.


No Parkrun next week, unless there's one in Moscow.







23 September 2011

Awesome

Lazy Girl Running asks what the collective noun for three PBs in six weeks should be, and answers her own question: an awesome. She's trying to do one, and good luck to her. I'd thought about suggesting calling it a PB cubed, which is hard to put in a blog owing to the lack of superscript, and while I was thinking about that my mind went back to the days when I did PBs: and a look through this blog confirmed that I had done three, in about a month, aided by achieving two in one race (5K and 10K). Crazy. Perhaps also aided by some erratic record keeping. And anyway my triptych was an easy one: 5K, 10K and half, whereas she's a stage ahead of that having started with a Marathon PB. So mine's a minor awesome, perhaps, and hers will definitely be a major one.

21 September 2011

White Horse

It's a rare thing, I suppose, to have a book written about you without having any input into it. But essentially Born To Run is about Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco, although there's a lot more to it than just him. He is, in a small way, a legend: indeed, to many of the locals in that part of Chihuahua that he has made his home he was thought of as a ghost, if I remember the book correctly.

On Monday he certainly wasn't a ghost: he was in London, speaking to a hundred or enthusiasts, most of whom - surprise, surprise - had read the book. It was his opportunity to tell his story himself - though he admitted he's writing a book too - not that he seemed to have much argument with Chris McDougall's work, which he described as a "really nice book".

The audience was distinctive, recognisable by their running backpacks, drinks bottles (those whose backpacks didn't pipe their refreshments to their mouths), serious oversize GPS watches, heavy-duty trainers (one pair of Five-Fingers and one of Huaraches: mine were in my backpack, and I didn't think they'd look good with pinstripes), Gore-Tex outer layers, and ultra-runner stubble. The national tendancy to obesity had clearly passed this group by, and my marmalade flapjack habit (but it is classic runner's food) probably meant that I had more excess weight than the rest of the audience put together. My concessions to the dress code were my Livestrong band (after a couple of breakages this one has been on for five years) and a Jerry Garcia tie, although geography aside the overlap between Deadhead and ultra culture is probably vanishingly small.
Three of those present were wearing suits, but I never found out what excuses the other two had. The sound check found one of them: "In the suit, at the back - can you hear?" "Yeah - what language is that?" Nice.

Kes, who had put the whole thing together, asked for our indugence to enable a few missing souls to find their way to the venue: "If you can find your way around the Barbican, the Copper Canyon will be a breeze." Micah introduced himself as "the lone wanderer of the London wilderness", not for the time being of the Sierra Madre. He turned out to be an engaging and fluent but not polished speaker - much as you'd expect. I learnt years ago not to drink water close to a microphone (thanks, Ray Snow, in that recording studio on Abbey Road - no, a different one) and I can tell you that from a plastic bottle with one of those spout things on the top it is even worse: maybe it's part of Micah's charm - and I can understand that he is keen to stay hydrated. Just not like that while using a public address system.

He started by telling us about the tarahumara, so called because the Spanish invaders heard that instead of "raramuri" (which means running people): being a non-confrontational people, they said (according to Micah) "whatever - just don't call us late for dinner." We saw a short film about them, and he told us that in the 2006 Coppoer Canyon Ultramarathon - the one featured in the book, but actually the fifth, not the first as widely thought - the first four places were taken by raramuri and him. Later he explained how he had come to the area and become a race promoter - not, I think, that he'd give himself such a title.

The race is sponsored, he said, not by a big corporation but by "korima" - the raramuri concept of sharing. Great idea, but it doesn't pay the bills, does it? In Urique the bills are small to start with, so sharing gets you a long way - and the communal (perhaps even communist) ethos certainly has its appeal. Caballo also gave us another raramuri expression, Norawas de Raramuri, "friends of the running people" - he told us, gratifyingly, that by turning up and paying our tenners for the evening, we'd all become friends of the running people. Surely all runners are friends already: I certainly like to think of other runners as friends, although that puts me in mind of the difficulty I've remarked on before of making eye-contact with other runners in central London.

As I have been slow to post, the Lazy Girl Running blog beat me to it and with much more style - there's not much point in repeating what she has to say. But I will note a few points that Caballo set me thinking about ...

  • He spoke of "the romantic notion of practising self-propulsion." Fantastic. The lady on the coach yesterday evening with the Brompton liked it too.
  • He mentioned the point at which "I started taking myself too seriously." I did that too. About 40 years ago, and I haven't stopped yet.
  • The raramuri greeting "Kuira ba" which literally means "we are one". More hippy nonsense. I love it.
  • He described the Raramuri language as "a mixture of Chinese, Martian and a flock of birds." Memorable. I'll probably recycle that one day (with a footnote to attribute it).
  • He described us as "human two-legged confused ones" who appreciate what no longer exists. I suppose you can say that sort of thing if you're a horse. Food for thought. Does that include listening to the Grateful Dead?

Asked by an audience member whether anyone could run an ultra, he said yes, anyone who wants to do it badly enough (I paraphrase because I didn't note it down). I've said that about marathons before now, and I believe it's nearly true - there are some people who just couldn't even with a superhuman effort of will-power, though they might be able to practise some other method of self-propulsion. An ultra is just somewhat longer, so it needs more willpower, perhaps. One day I'll find out. Thanks, Caballo, for the inspiration.

12 September 2011

Not in our Time

In common with many people people to whom I have spoken recently, I find it hard to believe that the destruction of the World Trade Center was ten years ago. It is an event of such magnitude that it will probably always appear a recent memory. Yesterday, the actual anniversary of course, was marked by many ceremonies and events, including the première of an oratorio entitled Not in our Time by Richard Blackford.
I was introduced to Richard by a mutual friend earlier this year – earlier in the summer, which today has confirmed the joke that I heard a few weeks ago: Hurricane Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm before it hit New York, has now been further downgraded to English Summer. We might reasonably have hoped for an Indian Summer, but we seem to be deprived of that consolation.
That said, yesterday was pleasant, although I spent much of it indoors. Richard’s work received its première in a bolted-on extra concert which nominally formed part of the Cheltenham Music Festival, which had in truth finished in July. The first half of the programme was an entirely predictable, even hackneyed, selection of American works: Fanfare for the Common Man, followed by another of Copland's top five, the Lincoln Portrait, and finished off with Barber's inevitable Adagio. But in fact, the programme was extremely well-balanced, and therefore well-thought-out: a workout for the brass and percussion to start and a showcase for the strings to finish, and although we hear those works (as I said to Gerald) too often, so we take them rather for granted, they are great pieces. The Fanfare, which I have never heard live before, took on a new, mind-blowing, dimension, and the Adagio was performed with such a light touch as to seem weightless. Both seemed impossibly fresh for works that we hear so often.
As for the Lincoln Portrait, which everybody and anybody in American public life (and Margaret Thatcher) seems to have narrated at one time or another, we had the privilege of hearing the Shakespearean tones of Simon Callow. Does it need an American accent? I think the work takes on a lot of the personality of the narrator, and as an English tribute to an event which was primarily (though by no means exclusively) an American one, it seemed entirely in order.
I guess it benefits from the fact that we don't hear it so often, not as much as the works that bookended it. I'd have rather liked to hear the choral version of the Adagio, which seemed perhaps a missed opportunity with all those singers sitting through the first half with nothing to do (I wonder why they came on at all? Did they sing a little in the Lincoln Portrait, unnoticed by me?) which would have given the programme a little more novelty: but I have no complaints. If it the programme was a bit of a cliché it was nevertheless a brilliantly executed one, and very moving.
I was able to attach myself to the representatives of Richard's record company, a meeting with whom was another purpose of my trip to Cheltenham: we lunched in Raymond Blanc's Brasserie, then made our way to the Town Hall where the chorus were leaving the stage having completed the rehearsal of the new work. That wasn't quite as we had planned it – especially as I was keen to reprise my long-lost career as a performing arts photographer. But if I were unable to get any shots of the rehearsal of Not in our Time, I was fortunate to be able to photograph perhaps the country’s greatest practising actor venturing into what I imagine might well have been new territory for him – I should have asked: when he joined a group which included me at the interval, he told us that his preparation had included listening to Katherine Hepburn's recording, which he estimated from the sound of her voice might have been made minutes before she died. His research had not included the Thatcher version – which I suspect is worth hearing, though this is a piece for occasions, not for daily listening.
The first half, even Mr Callow, were little more than a warm-up for the main event. After the interval (in which we were instructed to present ourselves at the patrons' bar, where we enjoyed a glass and a chat with the Narrator as well as meeting some other new people – to whom I was, to my embarrassment, introduced by the country's most highly-regarded composer of art songs as a leading authority on intellectual property) I had the pleasure of listening to one of the most intelligent, humane pieces of work I have ever come across. Richard had taken part in an interesting panel discussion earlier in the day, which helped to set his work in context. The discussion took us back to the Crusades, perhaps in greater depth than we really wanted given the time available but certainly it was very interesting: and it is the Crusades which inform Richard's work, starting with President Bush's extraordinarily insensitive, ill-informed, destructive reference to the war on terror as a modern version. Did no-one pause for a moment to consider where that word comes from? One of the panellists recalled how Rageh Omah, the BBC's man in the middle east at the time, had reported the gasps when people heard the word. It must be something like threatening the Jewish people with a new holocaust, imagining that it is a neutral expression. I too remember thinking it was an ill-chosen word, though I don't think I realised quite how significant it was at the time. (The panel discussion also produced the interesting insight that Barbara Bush, asked whether her son was dumb, had said: Yes, dumb like a fox. I beg to differ, at least on the basis of this evidence - and notwithstanding my sense of association with President Bush whose personal best for the Marathon was the same as mine for many years - until I took a few minutes off it six years ago.)
So, the music was atmospheric and tonal, the choral parts were excellent, and the concept was inspired. Some of the texts set were, however, a bit weak - they were the rights texts to use, but they weren't up to the job, in my opinion. President Obama's speech at Cairo University was not composed with a view to being set to music. The Falling Man, great in parts, has the same shortcoming in this context, and frankly I found it inappropriately dispassionate. I think I can see what the journalist was trying to do, and in places he succeeds magnificently, but some of the description of a victim's final seconds is simply too clinical. And, like the Obama speech, it lacks the rhythm needed to work as a libretto. To my mind at least.
Ian kindly explained to me a little about "recit", and mentioned how Balshazzar's Feast succeeds with this sort of vocal writing - A Child of Our Time too - so I must go and listen to them. I would much prefer to have listened to Mr Cowell declaiming those passages rather than singers battling with the conflict between the rhythms of speech and those of the music - but that's my taste, and I'm afraid that always grates on my ear. But as the piece ended - ended in what struck me as a highly original way - I was  in no doubt that I had witnessed a significant musical event - and not just musical, I hope. Not enough to get me to my feet, as most of the audience did, and that wasn't entirely because I had spent so much time on them earlier in the day, as I am allowed reservations - but I congratulated Richard when I saw him afterwards, and, musical ignoramus though I might be, all the accolades were richly deserved.

08 September 2011

Time is on my Side

Reassuring information about the benefits of running from Jim's always interesting "Meditation on the Run" blog here, and I should properly give you a link to the original article by Henrietta van Praag in the Australian newspaper site The Age which I suspect doesn't feature in your regular reading.


Thanks, Jim. That will help get me out of the door to break my current running drought (or would "fast" be a better word? Probably not) - so long as my feet will withstand it.


22 August 2011

Obscured by Clouds


 A cloud of cold mist had descended on Hagbourne Hill this morning, and it seemed to get thicker and thicker as I cycled into it. I reached behind the saddle and switched on the rear light, then the front light, as I began the climb, getting up early out of the saddle to power my way up the hill without changing down. It's the only way.

By the time I reached the top, oncoming vehicles without lights were emerging suddenly from the fog, until I realised that it was almost entirely on my glasses. After my right turn into the downhill stretch towards Upton – the point at which the GPS told me I had done a mile – I pulled over and wiped them thoroughly on my tee shirt. The improvement was enormous, and very temporary – I had to repeat the exercise quarter of a mile later. Autumn is definitely coming (though as I write this, trundling slowly through Old Oak Common, the sun is bright), winter probably not far behind. My birthday has always marked a watershed in the seasons, and it comes up on Friday.


The ride took only about 25 minutes, which may or may not have something to do with the time I spent adjusting the brakes to ensure they did not bind as the wheels rotated, and perhaps getting the wheels to track more accurately. But there's still some wobble in the wheels which might require some more technical adjustment – I wonder whether I will be able to find the tool for doing that, which I bought years ago when the wheels on my racing bike were bent out of shape at the merest hint of an Oxfordshire road surface?

28 July 2011

Dancing Barefoot (again)

Here I go and I don't know why ... I have spent three days this week thinking about running, reading other people's running blogs, and failing to get out and run my self. This had to change. This morning began with a thick fog, but the sun burnt  it off by about 9 o'clock and it turned into a perfect running day. I couldn't find any excuses.

Two things stick in my mind about it. First, the pain when I landed on a stone, especially as the ball of my left foot struck it. That had my screaming out loud. There's something wrong there, and I wonder what it might be - perhaps just a bruise that keeps being aggravated. Solution: try running in shoes with some cushioning - 6mm of Vibram clearly isn't enough, and indeed Barefoot Ted says that these sandals are fine for paved surfaces and moderate trails. Some of these trails are distinctly stoney. Alternative solution: a pair of Leadvilles perhaps. That'll probably be the closest I get to the great event.

The other thing: after 6 miles, doing a spot of fartlek between the telegraph poles, and sprinting over the footbridge, an unprecedented feeling of lightness and springiness, leaving no sign that I had been there ... The sense that I could run like that for hours, even that I could fly. Dancing across the footbridge ... and I managed quite a good pace for short distances too.

24 July 2011

July Morning (again)

My target for the near future is to run to the White Horse at Uffington and back one Sunday morning, a distance, I reckon, of 10 miles each way. Not yet, though: I need to build the mileage a bit more gradually - and taking most of this week off has set back that programme badly.

So today - an absolutely perfect summer morning, with blue sky, warm sun and a cooling breeze - I determined to get part of the way there. I thought I would head west and turn round when it felt like I had gone far enough, bearing in mind that every mile I ran added two to the total distance. I've gone seven miles wearing my huaraches, and I didn't want to add a lot more to that in one go. Plus, given the irregularity of my running just now, I didn't want to overdo it.

I have run to the Wantage Memorial before, and three miles out that seemed like a good place to turn around. By the time I reached it, at 4.5 miles, I had decided I should add another half mile, but concluded that a ten-miler before breakfast (I had left a pan of porridge on a very low heat) was perhaps a little too much - I was feeling hungry.


Opposite the Monument an inviting footpath led off towards Lockinge (which the Garmin map places on the wrong side of the Ridgeway). I resisted it.



I'm not up for tempo runs or anything exciting like that. My concern at present is to explore my limits, see what distance I can comfortably manage, perhaps build endurance into the bargain - and get my feet accustomed to the huaraches. The feeling of freedom is wonderful - but now my feet are sore. Not blistered, though, and I am sure they are getting tougher.



22 July 2011

John Wesley Harding

Too many days slobbing around, reading other people's running blogs and not running myself. Excuses? None. no injury. A shortage of time, sure, but not one that couldn't be overcome. So on Wednesday evening I finally headed out when there was a window of opportunity before dinner. Not far, not fast, but running ....

On the way out I spotted a small hawk floating around, and on my return journey it was there again, landing on the overhead wire then taking off as I drew close, landing on it again a little further on, repeating the exercise five or six times - all along the telegraph, in case you hadn't spotted the reference.


18 July 2011

Working class hero

The Daily Mail online, which surely knows all about street cred, tells us that Glastonbury is so middle class and extols the virtues of the Proms. I'd certainly like to think of the Proms as classless - epitomised, perhaps, by yesterday's concert: a symphony by an untrained working class composer. But I don't think the proletariat was well-represented in the audience - even promming tends to be a bit middle-class. But as a music festival, it wins by having no mud and no-one spoiling the music by talking through it.

I'd have liked to have given you a link to the only piece by Schulhoff in my record collection, his mad setting of The Communist Manifesto as a cantata. I don't know about his working-class credentials but he was certainly a Party man, with a tragic life story. Parallels between the Communist Party Manifesto cantata and the Gothic Symphony spring to mind - both seemingly crazy ideas, but each with its own logic for the composer.

Gothic Symphony

I was shocked to realise the other day how much I learnt from The Guinness Book of Records when I was a child. Back then, it was a "must have" Christmas present, and when eventually I was given one (I think it was the 1968 edition) I read it avidly. What an appalling way to learn of the Holocaust, Stalin's purges and the Cultural Revolution: man's inhumanity to man as world records.

It also told me of Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony, the world's biggest piece of music - mainly, I think, because of the forces it requires, but perhaps also in sheer number of "dots", or of bars ... As soon as I knew it existed, I wanted to hear it, and last night at the Proms I did. I had already heard it, thanks to what I am coming to think of as the modern curse of CD technology - it's too easy to hear music these days, too quotedien (ha! presumptious - moi?), although using the Gothic as aural wallpaper is even by my standards eccentric ... How much better to hear it straight through, live, with nothing else to think about. No multitasking required.

It had been performed a couple of times by the time I learnt of its existence - so the composer did get to hear it before he died at the ripe old age of 96. There have been a couple of performances of the first, orchestral, part since, which overcame the problem of finding 700 or so singers to make up the three choruses needed, and I think you could also get away without the four off-stage brass bands, so all you need is an orchestra of just short of 200 people. Brian (the "Havergal" was an addition he made: his forename William hardly ever seems to be mentioned) was not content just to write the biggest piece of music in the world, using forces Mahler would have considered large: he also decided to include every type of woodwind known to humankind, so the 200 will have to include contrabass clarinet, obe d'amore, basset horn and other exotica. Hard to find the instruments, let alone the players, I suspect.

And as for the players, Brian bowled a few googlies there too. He included what seems to be regarded as the most difficult xylophone solo ever written, and (perhaps on account of his being a self-taught composer) made the horn-playing tricky, unlike Strauss who understood the mechanics of the instrument (this from Ian Fisher, one of the 17 horn players involved in last night's performance, at the Pre-Prom Talk). I snapped an illicit photo before the conductor Martyn Brabbins came out to lead his army, and it hardly does justice to the size of the gathering: several choirs are lost in the gloom.
Seats reportedly sold out in 2 hours, though curiously there were many spaces down below, in the expensive parts of the hall. That reflects the attraction of what someone I know referred to as a "freak show", as well as the sheer rarity of an event like this, but more than either of those factors it reflects the fact that so many seats were unavailable to paying concertgoers and the Arena was reduced in size too - with the water feature taken out as well. Only a few hundred Prommers downstairs: we were on the Balcony, my favourite location for promming (literally: it's possible to stroll round most of the circumference of the hall when one grows tired of standing still).

Brian started writing this first symphony (it has been called immature, although he was already 33, and certainly he seems to have learned later that brevity can be a virtue) in 1919, only nine years after the first performance of Mahler's 8th (which wasn't performed in the UK until 1930). Mahler used Faust as the basis, or a basis, of his work, and so did Brian, so it strikes me that the formula for the Gothic might be expressed as Mahler 8 plus World War 1. Certainly the war influenced Brian's work - and working, as he did, as a clerk dealing with the effects of Canadian casualties must have been awful, if nothing like as bad as a combat role.

So what of the music? Well, 40 years of anticipation could have spelt disaster. I went to the Royal Albert Hall fully expecting to be disappointed, and I wasn't. The music was constantly engaging: there was always something happening. As my companion pointed out, nothing to whistle on the way home, except perhaps that jaunty march from near the end - scored, naturally, for nine clarinets. The score was inventive and very listenable, as well as having a lot of profound things to say, and there was never a dull moment. The clamaxes towards the end were fabulous - as was the quiet ending. An arduous evening - about equal in time to a half-marathon, and no less tiring than one run at that pace (when I'm fit, at least).

At the end of the Pre-Prom Talk we were told that one listening might not be enough, and we'd probably have to come back to the next performance, in about 30 years. Thankfully, I can now listen to a recording - even "listen again" to R3, which might be worth trying. Which makes me think: what motivates a composer to write something virtually impossible for many reasons to put on? Brian can't have had much realistic expectation of hearing it in his lifetime, and he certainly didn't have a chance to revise the score when he heard it played. So it was a purely paper exercise to him, essentially a private matter for which he might not even have imagined there would ever be an audience. Nowadays, one might imagine him sitting down to write his way into the record books, but it seems clear (going by the programme notes) that the flame of creativity, of inspiration, burned bright. Not just a freak show but a fantastic piece of work by a man who had taught himself to use the tools of composition and therefore produced a less polished end product than others - but one that perhaps demands greater admiration for the way in which those drawbacks were overcome.

Naturally, reactions to the concert have been mixed - Ivan Hewitt in the Daily Telegraph very positive, though a review of a length not at all commensurate with the piece ... Edward Seckerson in The Independent likewise ... David Nice of The Arts Desk (the what?) not. Come to think of it, none of those pieces really amount to criticism, they are merely reports of the Event (I think it merits a capital) with some impressions. And an interesting piece on Salon des Oubliés which I will mention because I want to work out how trackback operates ...

13 July 2011

The Gift

Every morning, I eagerly read the "kick in the butt" that comes by email from Runner's World. Sometimes it's disappointing - often because it comes from someone who might be well-known in the USA but remains unheard-of here. This morning was a good one, though:
Running is a gift I give myself almost every day. Even on those days when things haven't gone great, I can come home and give myself the accomplishment of a 30- or 40-minute run.
It comes from Arthur Blank, co-founder of the Home Depot, who I do know about as Home Depot was the subject of a presentation at INTA a few years ago - in Atlanta, I think, which would figure.

So, whatever goes wrong in a day, you can make one thing at least go right. An excellent idea.

The day already feels better for having listened to Velvet Underground. It's decades since I last played my copy of White Light/White Heat (which was very secondhand when I bought it) and I'd almost forgotten this gem. One or two lines came back to me though, and I realised it hadn't completely slipped my mind. The octopus bit, for one.  "That schmuck" for another. But I had to listen to the end for the punchline, which I'd forgotten. I found myself wanting to know how the story ended.

I hadn't realised that Waldo had been in transit for about three days - and I'm sure that the money he spent on the staple gun, let alone all the other stuff he needed (and which nowadays he could get from Home Depot), would have got him from the unlikely-sounding but real (though vanishingly small) Locust, Pa, to the even-less-likely-sounding Clarence Darrow, Wi, named after the great civil liberties lawyer, a distance of at least 600 miles but surely not that expensive by Greyhound. But then Lou Reed would have had nothing to write about, would he?


06 July 2011

The Rain

I aborted my run from Paddington to the office this morning, and jumped on the tube A couple of hundred yards was all it took to show me that, although I would probably get there, it was not shaping up to be a great experience. Who knows, it might have been fine after a couple of miles, but it would be tough to get there.

The return journey was another matter, and although I took it easy it was feeling very satisfying. Round the south of the Serpentine to add a little to the mileage, a few spots of rain developed into quite a downpour. Suddenly I found myself running on an almost deserted path, as everyone else sheltered under trees or under the bridge. If they were waiting for the rain to pass, that might not be until next summer.

The rain, of course, played havoc with the watch, which started pinging and changing function. I couldn't make it pause when I stopped at road crossings, nor did it reveal any useful information - until it came to the end of a lap, when the display popped up - and showed me that what I'd confidently expected to be 10K was well short. Still, it was far enough in the circumstances. Green shoes today: huaraches are not ideal for cycling, and I did nearly ten miles of that too, and I think they might be tricky if I'm tired.

04 July 2011

Your latest trick

What could be a better end to an evening of sublime music than a hour-long drive through a warm summer late evening, roof down, music loud? My hunt through the CDs in the car produced only one I felt like listening to - and following Tabula Rasa with Dire Straits is eccentric by any standards, but it was just right for the trip home.

No run yesterday, and almost no run today either, but I took myself off this evening for a regulation Murakami 10K at a gentle pace - almost a rest-day. Green shoes and compression socks rather than Luna sandals and tights, that sort of run. I felt so good for it, I am furious with myself for not doing it earlier in the day - I spent the time working myself up by reading other people's running blogs ...

Tabula Rasa

The Morris Marina, of course, holds a particular place in the affection of of all English intellectual property lawyers of a certain age, because of its key role in BL v Armstrong. I haven't seen one on the road for years: but on Saturday evening I was stuck behind three on the way to Cheltenham, where I was uplifted by the oeverture to Die Meistersinger, enchanted by Amanda Roocroft's rendition of Four Last Songs and stimulated by Brahms 4 - all played by the LPO under Vladimir Jurowski, who from where I was sitting hardly seemed to have to raise a finger to get what he wanted out of the large band. Someone told me at the interval that Strauss had been present at a rehearsal for one of his operas, with singers competing against a typically huge orchestra. "Louder!" he insisted of the orchestra. "I can still hear the singers!" Amanda Roocroft (in a spectacular velvet dress) had a hard time in the first two songs, but made herself heard just as much as was needed, and in the second two the singer has an easier time. Gerald, in the next seat to me, dozed off appropriately in Beim Schlafengehen.

I was back in Cheltenham the following evening for some Bliss, something that never goes amiss of course - missing the screening of the film of Checkmate, unfortunately, but hearing an interesting talk by Terry Barfoot about the man and then a concert including the Music for Strings played by the Festival Academy - who, Meurig had told us the previous evening, had thoroughly enjoyed themselves rehearsing it. Their enjoyment showed. They were joined by pianist James Rhodes in a Bach concerto, which itself was preceded by a Richard Rodney Bennett piece I hadn't heard of before but which showed very nicely how versatile a composer he is. The second half was taken up with Tabula Rasa, after which I was pleased I had a flask of strong black coffee in the car to get me home. Hypnotic.

02 July 2011

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Not the Noel Coward classic: an altogether different song, by a band I remember oh so well from my youth. I suggested to one of the marshals out on the course of today's Compton Canter - during a lengthy stop for a drink at the first water station - that the title of the race should contain a reference to mad dogs and Englishmen, given the noon start time.

I ran this a couple of years ago, when it started at 2 o'clock - which might have been slightly worse. I associated it on this blog with a classic Ray Davies piece, Sunny Afternoon, which tells you all you need to know. Today wasn't quite so sunny, but the temperature was uncomfortably high - and it was pretty humid. A cooling breeze moderated things, but at one point I was assailed by a blast of warm air that reminded me of opening the car door in Death Valley - that was like opening an oven door. Nothing like as extreme in Compton today, but the same idea.

My Luna sandals attracted a lot of attention, of the "are you going to run in those?" variety. Yes indeed, and my feet were cool (but pretty dirty by the end). They did not, however, enjoy the rocky bits - there were some very uncomfortable stretches of track and a footpath through a cornfield that, unsurprisingly given the geology of the area, was littered with flints. It's only necessary to pick the spot where you're going to plant each foot very carefully, but that doesn't make for fast running.

Never mind, because I wasn't going to be running fast anyway. My first race since the Pud Run at Christmas, and that was the first in a long time. What mattered was to prove that I could complete a race, and second to do so in the Luna sandals. I reckon the running time was 47:46, which is not great for 10K and of course even less great for 9.1 which was the distance today: my time was boosted by the stops at the water stations, where I was not going to risk chucking water down my throat as I ran. Multitasking is best left to the female of the species.

Even so I was delighted to pass others on the climbs, just as I was two years ago. I've still got the right mindset, and the fitness, to make hills work for me - though there's always room for improvement. Here's a link to a photo of the finish. I completed my daily target 10K with a few laps of the playing field. Now there's the prospect of hearing Amanda Roocroft singing Strauss's Four Last Songs in Cheltenham this evening with the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski (plus Brahms 4 and the Meistersinger overture). A nice long run in the morning to look forward too, as well.

01 July 2011

Out-bloody-rageous

First commute in Luna sandals, and what a great feeling. Even cycled to the station in them (and back this evening). My feet feel so free. Stopped to cross The Mall and an Antipodean couple on Boris Bikes pulled up and she asked me a load of questions about my footwear, which I answered at probably greater length than she had wanted. She even volunteered that I'd seemed to be going very well in them.

A hot day, so I had the cooling headband on: and to minimise the risk of damage to calves or Achilles I also had my compression tights on. And shades. Plus backpack with full bladder - since that drinking fountain is out of action. I had to apologise for my appearance. She said I looked very serious.

Nearly six miles running and ten miles cycling today: that does sound serious. A good day's work too, and a job interview that was nothing more than a formality, so I should be starting a new part-time job soon to go with all my other part-time jobs. Portfolio working. 10K race tomorrow - in the Luna sandals, I hope. That'll be the acid test.


30 June 2011

Set Me Free

Needing to spend a long day in London, I took the coach from Oxford and alighted at Notting Hill Gate. It was a real summer day and even at 9 o'clock it was getting warm. Past Kensington Palace Gardens, with all its embassies, and into the park, I headed east towards Lancaster Gate with a view to picking up the Last Friday course at the end of the Long Water - the extension of the Serpentine. Lots of other runners out, all seemingly plugged into their own musical worlds and studiously avoiding eye contact. Gaggles of foreign tourists or language students too, with no idea that spreading out across the entire width of the path really isn't acceptable. And random hazards too, like the woman who, seeing me approaching, still turned sharply to her right into my path to head for a park gate.

A day for seeking out the shade. Along the path parallel to Rotten Row I passed a slim, long-legged girl, ears plugged, but at Hyde Park Corner I stopped for a quick breather and she passed me again, with not a word of flicker of acknowledgement. I didn't see her after that. Down Constitution Hill I took to the horses' pathway, for the shade and the soft sand - though it was packed pretty hard.

By the time I gained St James's Park, three miles in (and therefore half-way to my destination), I was hot and thirsty and looking forward to getting to the drinking fountain. I'd completely forgotten that last time I'd needed it it had been out of action, and although it had a new tap fitted (replacing the sawn-off copper pipe that used to spout water when a button on the side was depressed) that produced a tiny trickle. It was also still surrounded by bollards and tape, though the tape had been broken and didn't act as much of a deterrent - but without water there was nothing to be deterred from anyway.

I backtracked to the refreshment kiosk, deciding to invest an extravagant pound or so in a bottle of water. Three people behind the counter, one serving another customer and taking a long time to do it: neither of the others saw fit to serve me, so I pocketed my money again and figured I'd get to the office without expiring. Indeed, leaving the park there was a pleasant, cooling breeze from the direction of the river.

Ahead of me on Horseguards Parade a man on a Boris Bike was making for the arch - through which stern notices tell cyclists not to ride. He showed no sign of dismounting, but when I reached the arch myself and could see in the shadows he was pushing his bike - I wonder whether the Guardsman in his ceremonial uniform with sword in hand had persuaded him to abide by the law? Could this be a more general solution to the problem of anti-social cyclists?

The Embankment could usually do with a few sword-yielding Guardsmen to keep the cyclists off the footway, but today there was no need, and as I counted the miles and looked ahead to Blackfriars it seemed to me that the stretch along the riverside was shorter than I remembered. Onto the footpath under Blackfriars Bridge, and   I put in a quick few hundred yards before coming to a halt outside the City of London School, at the foot of the steps under the wobbly bridge.

Another runner, heading west with a bigger backpack than mine, a man with the air of an ultra-runner, makes some jokey comment which has gone from my mind before I could note it down. Did he call me "young man" or something similar? Was it irony? Did he sympathise because it's hard, or tell me it wasn't really hard? Who knows? Maybe I should use poetic licence and put words in his mouth. What does it matter? After being blanked by all the other runners I'd seen, this friendly exchange was very welcome. I bounded up the steps, jogged to the pedestrian crossing 50 yards further on, crossed because the traffic was waiting, paused again for breath on the other side, then bounded again up to St Paul's - featuring in several tourists' photos of the landmark, I bet.

And so, eventually, to the office. A bit of extra distance, a touch of speed (pretty slow, still, but faster than it could be) and a fantastic feeling of well-being, of ease of movement, for the rest of the day. Set free, indeed.

27 June 2011

Why Are We Sleeping?

The important thing isn't the pace, but that I have done the same loop two days in a row. And today for the first time I ran a real distance in my luna sandals. Not easy, especially along some particularly stony tracks, but my legs stood up to it. This is the second day of the forecast heatwave, and it was hot - and humid - when I set out. I must have looked every inch the professional runner with compression tights, minimalist footwear, vest, shades, and clever cooling headband. Or a complete idiot. Take your pick: I prefer the former. I've got a new profile photo, at least.

About mile five I passed a couple running in the opposite direction. His music was so loud I could hear it as he passed, without acknowledging me as far as I could tell. She was also plugged in, but at least had the courtesy to say hello. To me the song of the larks was all the music I could ask for.

I had to get in a good run today because this afternoon I gave blood, so I won't be doing anything strenuous for 24 hours or so. In fact after donating a pint I came home and fell asleep. Happy to give it, though, and this time while it drains out I can remember a friend who probably made a lot of withdrawals from the blood bank over the last year, and in the end didn't make it.

26 June 2011

My Friend the Sun

A two-day heatwave, we are promised by the Met Office. So often apparently wrong (though my experience of them tells me that they have an extraordinary ability to show that whatever the forecast says, and notwithstanding the actual weather, they were right: when running a training course for them years ago, I joked about the famous hurricane of 1987 or whenever, and I was told in no uncertain fashion that they hadn't got that wrong, though it is generally regarded as the epitome of an inaccurate forecast), today they seem to have been spot on.

A wonderful morning for a run, so I set out fairly early with the intention of doing perhaps an hour and a half, perhaps more - still building towards running 20 or more miles on a Sunday morning. It was still a little dull as I left home, so my shades were superfluous - though not for long.

I wore my green racing shoes which are less likely to cause injury than the old Mizuno Waves, partly because I couldn't remember quickly enough how to tie the luna sandals. They might have been pretty uncomfortable on some of the stony tracks, anyway. It takes a while for me to get into the groove of my modified footstrike, but once I get there it feels good (especially with compression tights to keep the gastrocnemeus happy). I called in to feed the ponies, and ended up having to corral them in part of their field because they were tucking in to the straw bale field shelter we put up a couple of years ago. I also had to water the tomatoes, chilies and cucumbers in the polytunnel. Then I was off again.

I can't remember a more satisfying run for many months, if not years. The weather was perfect for running, the condition of the Ridgeway has improved enormously since vehicles were banned from the stretch I run and the grass wasn't too high, and I felt in great shape. However I did decide I'd better limit myself to 7 miles (about 1 hour) having spent half an hour at the field and still not having had breakfast: and it probably wasn't a bad decision to keep my increased mileage within bounds. Down the road to the school - the sixth mile - I tried sprinting between some of the telegraph poles, and was delighted to see 5:30 pace on the Watch.

I didn't get out for a second run, as I had intended: instead I planted more brassicas in the cage (tip: make sure you make a cage with a removable top, so you don't have to crawl in on your hands and knees), watched the European Grand Prix and cut the lawn. Not a bad way to use a sunny day. I'll be out running in the second half of the heatwave tomorrow. After my morning porridge.

25 June 2011

RVW Symphony no 5

The Leiden Toonkunst Orchestra under conductor Jeppe Moulijn played a free concert at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford this afternoon - for patients, staff, family and friends. It's a big hospital with many patients and many staff - and they mostly have families and friends - so it was a shame that the orchestra outnumbered the audience by two to one.

The Orchestra was in town - Oxford is twinned with Leiden, as well as Bonn, Perm and who knows where else - to play at the Town Hall which they did the previous evening. This afternoon's concert repeated two of the three works in that programme.


First came the Concertante for Flute and Oboe by Ignaz Moscheles. No, me neither. But he is in the Penguin Dictionary of Music - my oracle, until I know everything in it and have to graduate to Grove, which Oxfordshire County Council thoughtfully provide online for their library members. in fact, "A New Dictionary of Music", third edition, 1973. It's a long-term oracle. Moscheles was a friend of Beethoven and teacher of Mendlessohn, was German-Bohemian in origin, lived from 1794 to 1870 and spent the years 1826 to 1846 in England. He wrote eight piano concertos - the Dictionary adds "etc., now never performed", so the Concertante must count as an "etc" and the "never" is no longer true. It was a delightful piece, reminiscent of Mozart (unsurprisingly) and available here on YouTube along with loads of other Moscheles stuff, some of it played by York Bowen. Do listen!

Then there was a short interval, just long enough to eat a Snickers bar, followed by Vaughan Williams's fifth symphony. It's a piece I must have heard sometime, but RVW's symphonies are not as familiar to me as I would like - and this one will bear a lot more listening. The band didn't sound perfect, partly because the acoustics of a hall that appeared to be designed mainly for sports left something to be desired: but I noticed a few mistimed entries and bum notes, which didn't detract a bit from the enjoyment, or from the players' evident commitment to the piece. A great afternoon.

24 June 2011

Up Where We Belong

I found this inspiring short video about top ultrarunner Geoff Roes, by Joel Wolpert, on Anton Krupicka's Riding the Wind blog. How come all these ultra runners have blogs? Where do they get the time?

Interesting to note that Geoff has never lost a 100-miler. Well, I have that in common with him. The difference is I've never run one, either.

23 June 2011

Beware of the Dog

In the course of a morning's work, or more accurately a few digressions from it, I realised that I am already in the 16-week period marked out on a chart in front of my eyes, culminating in the Kielder Marathon on 9 October. And actually I'm doing OK: Monday 4 miles easy (I did about 3.5), Tuesday the same with a few gentle strides (I did 6.5), Wednesday 5M slow (I did 10 on the bike - can I count that?). Today 3 miles steady, so I laced up my Luna sandals for their first serious use and ran round and round the playing field about 10 times.
I didn't want to go too far from home in case I did my Achilles in or the PF came back, so laps of the field seemed a good idea. Nice grassy surface, too. I found I was keeping up a surprisingly decent pace, until I stopped to see if I could help a neighbour's two young boys control their dog which had decided to go after a bird. They didn't need my help.

Great break from working - and interesting to try meditating as I went, concentrating on my breathing and footstrike and trying to exclude everything else from my mind. But I kept finding I came back to the idea for a story about a legal author putting the finishing touches to his life work, for which the publisher has patiently waited 40 years. I am allowed to let my mind wander: the meditation techniques need to be taken up in small doses, rather like barefoot running. I think I have made good progress with both.


20 June 2011

Ghost Town

Thirty years old - it hardly seems possible, but the BBC news website has a lengthy piece about one of the defining songs - no, probably the defining song - of its era. I wonder what happened to my copy of it?

It's hard to remember how the world felt that summer, what it was like living in Hackney which was the scene of some pretty unpleasant rioting (though far enough away not to affect me). More than half my lifetime ago. It's a very powerful reminder of how music occupies a leading position in one's memory, though it's a very powerful piece of work. I was already almost too old to be into the latest popular music at the time, and the comments on the BBC piece about how mourning the fact that music isn't like it was in one's youth strike a chord. I have no doubt that there are musicians doing highly political and also highly musical work - the difference is probably that the industry wouldn't touch them now, and there's no route to the top of the charts as there was for The Specials. But a latter-day Ghost Town could reach a lot of people through YouTube - perhaps there's no reason to bemoan the fact that it's not like it used to be. I can't imagine the sheer excitement  of that time (no, not the excitement of throwing petrol bombs on the Front Line, I'm only referring to the music) ever happening again.