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.

Long hot summer

The weather was looking quite benign at noon today, and as I had an errand to run I decided to do so literally. Just a trip to the bank to remove some cash, a mile and three-quarters each way, but better to run than to get my bike out - a fortiori the car.

It's not a bad trip to the bank either, taking in some nice trails on the Harwell site.

I kept up a decent pace and didn't heel-strike: hard on my calves but they will get used to it - won't they? Yesterday my attempt to run was aborted when my knee complained - complained, I think, that I was running in three-year-old shoes, which will have to go. I got out my racing shoes today, and suffered no ill-effects.

My marathon training for October will have to start soon, according to the chart that I have had stuck to the wall in front of me since this time last year. It will be a  long hot summer. Well, long. I can only hope for hot too.


Poppies in the Field

The countryside - large  parts of it, anyway - is a beautiful shimmering light blue - contrasting with the sky, which is usually some shade of grey, often with rain pouring from it. We are surrounded by fields of poppies, but not red ones - there are plenty of them, but they are interlopers in fields of wheat. These are opium poppies, and are being grown to make morphine. They brighten up what would otherwise be an unbearably dull summer, but a moment's reflection on their purpose, or rather on the need for their product, might bring back the clouds, especially as I think of a friend currently dying of cancer ...

05 June 2011

Coloured rain

A mile in the rain of a typical English June day is worth two under more agreeable conditions, so today's run was nearly a Marathon. My feet are tired and my leg muscles are sore but the sense of achievement is enormous.

And did I find the Traffic Cottage? Not sure ...