28 December 2012


Exactly how I feel after the Christmas break. Not that I was inactive: there was a great deal to do, but it didn't include any running. Every time I thought there might be a chance to fit in a few miles, I looked outside and rain was beating against the windows, or darkness was falling (which happened just after 2 o'clock this afternoon). I was itching to give my new VivoBarefoot Breatho trail shoes an outing, but not in driving rain and wind. That's what January is all about: Christmas is the time for staying indoors, isn't it? And I don't want to get my trail shoes muddy, do I?

On the basis of the newly-minted idiom, "those who can run, run: those who can't run, read about running", and having exhausted (for the time being) all the running blogs I usually read, I turned to an extended piece of work by one of my favourite running bloggers (by which I mean the author of one of my favourite running blogs), Laura Fountain aka Lazy Girl of Lazy Girl Running blog fame. She's written a book with the oxymoronic title "The Lazy Runner", available as an e-book for the Kindle from the Amazon website for £4.99.

So of course I could not resist getting it onto my Kindle, where I am currently 78 per cent of the way through "Bleak House" and almost completely baffled about what is going on. Kindle e-book readers are fine devices but they certainly have their limitations. I am sure I could jump backwards and forwards to remind myself of who the characters are and where they fit into the story (or stories) but I fear I would become lost, and that 78 per cent has been won at great cost.

But, just like a conventional book with a bookmark in it, "Bleak House" will wait for me, open (as it were) where I left off, so I could read Laura's book without losing my place. (I also fitted in an ink-smeared-on-dead-trees copy of "Gentleman Captain" by JD Davies, an intriguing story about an interesting era on which the author is very knowledgeable, though perhaps the book shows signs of being a historian's first venture into fiction - but I digress.) And I have done. Not all of it yet, but enough to write a review. OK, I have written plenty of reviews in my life after reading little more than the title and the name of the author, and actually that's often all one needs to know: but of course I wouldn't do that to a fellow running blogger.

If I say I didn't need to read it, that might be seen as a put-down, which it isn't. But Laura has written about her transition from novice to Marathon runner, and I did that starting about 20 years ago - though it took me longer to step up to Marathon distance than it took Laura. So I didn't need to read it: I have made every possible mistake entirely of my own volition - it's too late for her to warn me what not to do.

However, I didn't need to read Murakami either - once, twice, three times, four times or five times, which is where I stand at the moment. I had run several Marathons before "What I talk about ..." came out, though what he had to say about ultra-Marathoning was interesting - off-putting at first, but enough to pique my interest ... The point is, there's always something to get out of a running book, and if all you get out of it is inspiration from reading about someone else's journey, that's reason enough to read it.

Laura is an entertaining writer, although I do feel that a bit more re-writing would have benefited the finished product. I wish I had been able 20 years ago to call on the advice she offers: the stages of her journey are horribly familiar, although I think I made some big mistakes with shoes which she seems to have avoided. I guess when I started, running shoes were primitive compared to what they have become - or perhaps what they became, before evolution started to go backwards and we arrived at my current choices of footwear. Each chapter (of which there are 17) has a "What I wish I had known then" section, which brought a wry smile to my lips a few times: been there, done that, and of course as runners we have all got the tee-shirt. The only part of the book which did not resonate with me so far has been the discussion about running bras ...

Everybody's running experiences are different, yet at some level they are all the same. Take away the incident, and most runners' stories would look pretty much the same: but put the incident into a book and you have something that every runner will enjoy reading.

16 December 2012

Paper Sun

It's never easy to choose what to wear for a run. Of course, some elements select themselves - compression tights, for one thing, without which I wouldn't go further than about 5K nowadays. But singlet or tee shirt? Base layer underneath? This is December - and the other day the temperature reminded me of Moscow. Which coincidentally is the only place I can remember being cold on a run. But then it was -25° centigrade, and that day this week it might have been 2 or 3 degrees below in Didcot, so it reminded me of Moscow partly because my memory is not as good as it might be.

Often, the club's Pud Run takes place on icy roads. The downhill stretch at about 2 miles can tempt one to slide all the way down (I think it would be a bad idea), and one year I was still slithering all over the place at mile 12, where the sun had not reached some patches. This year, it was positively balmy: the sun shone, my shades remained in place for most of the course, and in a short-sleeved tee-shirt I overheated. Just slightly, but overheated just the same.
Courtesy of John Harvey
Arriving in the nick of time to pay my entry fee (£4) but needing to pin on my number on the run, I had to use the shoes I had worn from home: no time to change into Luna sandals as planned. I quickly - too quickly - passed a few others on the climb up Boar's Hill, and enjoyed the effort I felt I was making. I was conservative on the downhills, and one or two passed me again, but through Bayworth towards Lodge Hill (where John took the photo) I was turning out consistent though not very fast miles, between 8:30 and 9:00. I was also enjoying a meditative experience: my mind was even emptier than usual, and I was concentrating exclusively on my running, with nothing to distract me - does that look like good form in the picture? Working hard with my arms, listening to the rhythm of my breathing, hearing the gentle sound of my own footfalls, keeping tall, not bending from my waist, feeling the work my core was doing. The miles rolled by.

At about mile 4 there was the sound of a fast runner behind me, and PF came steaming past - either he was on a second lap, or had missed the start. A small group of us swapped places, then along the Abingdon ring road I caught Trish and another guy - passing him easily, but ending up alongside Trish for quite a distance, chatting about injuries, and together passing Cliff, until eventually, about mile 11, Trish came past for the last time and disappeared from view as my pace dipped towards 10 minutes per mile. But those miles passed almost unnoticed, especially during the faster first 9 miles - which I had a feeling were going to cause trouble for e later in the run.

Under 2 hours was a very satisfying time on which to end a disastrous running year. Plenty to aim for in 2013!

24 November 2012

Make me smile

Until this evening, I have never been to a concert where the soloist was hidden behind his instrument: but then again, I have never previously heard and seen the Vaughan Williams tuba concerto played live.

It's a work that appealed to me the moment I learnt of its existence. The sheer craziness of writing a concerto for such an instrument attracted me to it, and I first heard it (I think) on a 10" LP from Hartlepool Music Library, where it accompanied one of the symphonies. It always makes me smile, and I smiled throughout the performance this evening. At the end, the soloist and the conductor were both grinning too.

Ed Leech, the tuba player, looks - in the nicest way - as if he had been made to play that instrument. He has the sort of face that could not possibly be seen bent over a violin. A delicate woodwind instrument would be lost in it. Even a trombone would appear to be on the wrong scale. And he played it brilliantly, or so it seemed to me. Perhaps the limits of the solo repertoire for the tuba mean that a player is bound to be pretty familiar with the VW, but even so he did a fine job. As did Rachael and the rest of the orchestra. I have only one small complaint: the soloist and the conductor saw fit not to wear evening dress, while the orchestra - the performers appearing for nothing - were immaculately turned out as they should be. I do think that the (presumably) professionals should have matched the efforts of the amateurs.

13 November 2012

Universal Mind

The great joy or running is, of course, that it is so easy and uncomplicated. You don't need any special equipment. Not even shoes: just a couple of old pieces of tyre and some hemp rope or (the non-vegetarian alternative) leather straps.

My minimalism does not extend as far as it might - not like Jenni Blake in Born To Run, or many participants in the Bay to Breakers, for example - and I am attached, very attached, to my GPS watch and HRM. I always carry a phone with me - a BlackBerry, in fact, so much cleverer than a simple phone that "universal mind" seems apposite, even if it often has a mind of its own - for emergencies and to snap pseudo-photographs while I'm out running. (Images produced with a BB do not count as real photographs, except in a very literal sense.) As I care nothing for fashion, I'll stick with the device I know rather than try something different which is bound to have its own set of problems. Unless it detects even the smallest amount of perspiration, when it will refuse to comply with any instructions, a BB does what I need it to do ...

Except ... Yesterday there dropped into my inbox an email inviting me to look at Strong Runner App. I'm enough of a technophile for it to pique my interest - always seeking a computer program that will automate my life, but be infinitely adaptable so it does so precisely the way I want it to. Yes, some hope. As if a few lines of code could make me a strong runner.

Indeed, for most of the past year (and much of the two years before that) I was no sort of runner at all, because I kept sustaining injuries. Partly it was the transition to barefoot running, which should take six to twelve months but which I did as soon as the package arrived from Barefoot Ted's workshop. Partly it was incipient early middle age. And partly it was failing to stretch as I should.

Well, stretching is boring, isn't it? Why waste time stretching when you could be out running (or lying in bed with a mug of coffee)? And it means digging out an old copy of Runner's World which shows you how to do it (I rely on a set of yoga poses described years ago in RW by John Hanc, which are really good but which never all stick in my memory: still less do I remember the correct order). As for warming up, surely it's enough just to start slowly (yeah, I have always been really good at that - I will never forget an INTA 5K which I started at what I thought was a sensible pace, looking over my shoulder to locate Villu, Rudi and several others who should never be behind me in a race, and at the finish, by which point they and many others had cruised past, Mario asking whether no-one had ever told me not to start too quickly).
Watch the Demo from Taavi Sumberg on Vimeo.

The Strong Runner App is the perfect antidote to every excuse I have ever used for not stretching or warming up properly. It also shows you how to exercise your core and lower body, and gives useful tips about injuries. None of which is news to me, or to you either I guess, but which could not be more conveniently presented. While I deplore the modern habit of blanking out the world by means of headphones, the fact is that people do run with their smartphones (whether they are listening to music on them or not) and with the Strong Runner App they can have all the information they need about stretching, warming up and so on at their fingertips. Better than carrying around a selection of back copies of Runner's World. Unfortunately it's not much help to a BB user, but at least I can look at the videos provided on the website and learn from them. And when I have managed to carry out a real test, I will post again!

07 November 2012

Streets of London

A gentle three miler this morning, from Paddington through Little Venice, along the canal and down through Regent's Park to Portland Place. Then this evening, time being short and running faster than public transport at least up to about four miles (you don't have to go to a station or bus stop and then wait, for one thing), a brisk almost tempo street run of about two miles. Running the length of a platform at Paddington could boost the distance significantly. Very satisfying to have kept up the pace. Knucklelights are great for getting pedestrians to give you space.
Sent from my Bunbury

03 November 2012

Loosen the knot

A mile or so into the Newbury Parkrun this morning, making steady progress pulling Hugo along near the rear of the field (he no longer sets out at sub-6 pace, but the uniform pace he adopted today was the pace at which he used to finish) my right huarache suddenly started to flap uselessly. When I pulled up, I saw that the rope between my big and next toes had come adrift. It was a simple matter to poke the end through the hole and tie a new knot in it, though it took longer than tying the laces on a boring running shoe and adjusting the rope to achieve the right tension round the heel is always tricky. Most of the rest of the field filed past while I carried out the repairs, but with it firmly laced on again I set off in pursuit.

Except that the left one was in exactly the same state, and I had to stop again and effect an identical repair. In each case, all there was to see was a frayed end where there had been a knot. It was not that the knot had pulled through the hole in the sole, which I feared might have happened and which I wouldn't have been able to repair mid-race, or at all. So what had happened? Had the knots become untied? Had the rope rotted away (perhaps after immersion in Caribbean seawater a few weeks ago - but if so, why the delay?)? Had the knot simply worn away?

The latter seems to be the likely answer. 26.2 miles a couple of weeks ago, landing perhaps 20,000 times on each side, and probably bang on the knot, would probably have worn away the soft hemp. Especially as most of it was on tarmac. I should have checked.

So finally, with about 5 minutes lost, I set off after the rest, nearly all of whom had now passed me. And almost immediately my foot went from under me as I planted it in a spot of mud and I went down heavily on my right side - the inside of my forearm taking most of the impact, and coming into contact with the stony track. The result was, first (as I told a competitor who came along at this point), damage to my pride, but second and more importantly rather a lot of blood running down my arm. I came to a pond and used it to clean the mud off the damaged area, and we proceeded without further incident to the finish where Rachael turned out to be the first aider. She cleaned me up with medicated wipes and applied two very long sticking plasters to keep the blood in ... The year of running injuries isn't ever yet!

27 October 2012

Dawn on the Moscow River (Рассвет на Москве-реке)

Another BB photographic failure!
As the sun rises on a clear autumn morning in Moscow, it picks out the golden domes and brilliant colours of myriad churches and the gorgeous colours of St Basil’s Cathedral and the buildings of the Kremlin. In conditions like this, it is staggeringly beautiful: but unfortunately in conditions like this I don’t care to run far. Uneven sections of pavement house extensive puddles, which in the early morning are still frozen – later in the day, every Muscovite I speak to remarks on how cold it is, and Muscovites are experts in cold, although to me it doesn't seem exceptionally so. Perhaps it is the first sub-zero day of the year, and in England too that strikes everyone as cold.

I have another reason for not running far: determined to secure photographic evidence of where my Luna sandals have taken me (six days after they took me to the end of the Abingdon Marathon), I am not wearing the most appropriate footwear for icy conditions. Although the shortcomings of Luna sandals in the insulation department are plain to see, in fact my feet do not feel cold (and that is not a matter of numbness, as I feared might be the case) so long as I keep moving. I am more concerned about slipping on ice, but they turn out to have remarkably good grip.

Unfortunately, like any big city, there are many road junctions to negotiate so a lot of standing waiting, and cold feet. Especially as the pedestrian lights operate to a strange routine: I wait at one junction while a red man signal is accompanied by a countdown which takes a minute or so (another I see later is counting down from a figure greater than 100!). Assuming that when it reaches zero it will turn green (just as a green countdown precedes a red phase) I stand and wait, but all that happens is that the numbers disappear – the red man remains, and eventually I cross warily, looking constantly to each side for for approaching traffic, especially if it be our driver to whom 120 kph on a shopping street, in the wet, seems to be acceptable.

On the bridge that offers a fantastic (literally so) view of St Basil’s, I find a lampost and low wall which enable me to snap a Blackberry photo (which I define as a photo of barely acceptable quality) with my Luna-shod feet in the foreground and the Kremlin (unfortunately I can't get the cathedral) beyond. Unfortunately it involves holding the phone down near ground level so I cannot sight it very well, but it should do the job.

I continue down the embankment alongside the canal, catching sight of the Peter the Great statue or memorial which seems to be universally reviled but which is certainly spectacular, but my efforts to get to it are thwarted as the paths and roads I am following seem to finish at Bolotnoya Square, which for reasons of recent history I am pleased to have visited anyway. I could cross the river and attack the end of the island from the area of Kropotkinskaya metro station, but these road bridges are formidable affairs which, as road bridges often do, deliver the traffic to a point some way away from the river bank – I fear I would end up near Revolution Square before I could get away from the multi-lane highway. And now I’m at a junction, waiting for the elusive green man, with a police officer standing in a little sentry box next to me ready (I am sure) to apprehend me should I infringe the incomprehensible rules. Better to head back for breakfast.

22 October 2012

Mission accomplished

My fitness goal has long been to be able to run a Marathon without special preparation. Just to keep myself in good enough shape to do it without those tedious 16-week training schedules which are so difficult to fit into a busy life (or even my life). To my amazement, I have got there.

Gone are the days when you can enter a Marathon on the day - I did precisely that back in the 90s. I'd had my number for the Abingdon Marathon for a few weeks, taunting me whenever I came across it among the papers on my desk. No way, I thought, after a six-month hiatus and with nothing longer than 12.29 miles under my belt since I got myself running again a few weeks ago. But on the day it was a different story. After all, I could pull any time if it was going badly - as I fully expected it to do.

I reckoned 10 minute miles would see me through, although they turned into 12 minute shuffles after about mile 20. I didn't worry about how long I stopped for feed stations, or to chat to friends by the side of the road, or for pit stops. I answered many questions about my huaraches, or "invisible shoes" as one marshal dubbed them, and apart from a tight calf muscle suffered no real discomfort - which is more than can be said of most of my previous Marathons with foam wedges under my feet.

Well, I can run a Marathon when I want, but not as fast as I would like. I was on my feet for nearly five hours, and that is too much time out of my day, so having accomplished this important goal I will get on with a bit of speed work.

14 October 2012

So many roads

Not a great week of running, but the comeback continues. A couple of sessions between the office and Paddington (or vice versa) but nothing longer, until this morning, when Hugo and I managed 12.26 miles - out via the field to feed the ponies, then along the Ridgeway but keeping going for an extra couple of miles to the Wantage Monument. Actually, 2.6 miles or thereabouts. The weather was superb and of course the scenery is pretty good too. Lots of walkers and cyclists  on the Ridgeway, plus a couple of other runners and a family out with three ponies, one with rider, the others hitched to a vehicle - not a trap, I think, but something of the sort.
Hugo at the Wantage Monument

2 hours, 9 minutes and 30 seconds. That makes just slower than 10 minute mile pace, but for that distance I am content. It is not fast running terrain, although it is fairly flat once you're up on the Ridgeway: too much jumping over mudbaths and leaping over ruts. I almost went over, my feet slipping on a patch of mud, but that's part of the price you pay for running in such lovely surroundings.

I wore my Vivobarefoot shoes, which have immediately become my favourites - even for general wear, although I have a pair of more formal Vivobarefoot shoes for that. My Achilles tendons are a bit sore now, but nothing too serious, and at one point it felt as if my knee injury was returning, making me wonder whether it was this particular stretch of the Ridgeway that brought it on.

Down the tarmac to the school, a mile-long gentle downhill section, I started to feel footsore. With no cushioning under my feet, this isn't entirely surprising (must follow Dean's suggestions for strengthening my feet: I think the barefoot shoes are helping to do that) but it makes me wonder whether a Marathon on the roads is ever going to be possible (having proved I can do a half with only a thin sheet of Vibram under my feet). But apart from that, there's also the important question of whether next Sunday's Marathon is going to be possible - first, whether the time turns out to be free, and second, whether I can get round if I have the opportunity. I think that, with 10+ minute miles, I stand a reasonable chance of making it. I wonder, though, whether my future lies in going longer, and whether I should stop thinking of going faster ...

09 October 2012

May the road rise to meet you

Or better still, gently fall away in front of you.

08 October 2012

Been down so long

A weekend after which I can claim again to be a runner! Abingdon Parkrun on Saturday morning, in a fairly respectable (in the circumstances) 26:09, then a lap of my regular one-hour (just over 7 miles) loop from home taking in the Ridgeway, which took me about 1:10. I can live with that: better to be running about 9:30 pace than not at all. And it is many months since I ran 7 miles - the White Horse Half in April, to be precise.

After such a long absence from Parkrun, I saw several long-lost friends. One seemed pleased with his time, coming back like me from many injuries, and he seemed to have finished before me and registered his finish with the timekeeper. Seing the time on his watch, I was a little disappointed as I hadn't seen him and assumed he must therefore have been well ahead of me: but it transpired, somehow, that he'd been several places behind me at the finish, so (while Parkrun is definitely not a race!) I felt more than a little satisfaction as a result.

05 October 2012


Contemplating taking a rare holiday somewhere warm before the winter set in, we were inspired by seeing Kirani James win Grenada's first Oympic medal. Truly. He made a great impression when at the end of one of his races he asked Oscar Pistorius to swap bibs with him - clearly feeling honoured to have been in the Blade Runner's first, historic, Olympic race. The people of his country are justifiably proud of him too - this is the terminal at Maurice Bishop International Airport (whose runway largely prompted the US invasion):
OK, I'll tell you it says "Welcome to Kirani Country".
On the way into the capital, St Georges, we passed along the newly-renamed Kirani James Boulevard. He is a superstar, and deservedly so.

I thought that, just possibly, I might find it in me to get over all my niggling injuries and do some serious running. Of course, it was a big effort to drag myself out of bed to run here:
Morne Rouge beach
 But I forced myself, nearly every morning and most evenings too, also making a tremendous effort to take a dip afterwards.

Beaches are of course perfect for barefoot running, and I could get straight onto Morne Rouge from the hotel so didn't even need to wear anything on my feet to get to the running track. The middle one of those three strips of sand was ideal: the strip being washed by the waves was a bit too sticky and the really dry and soft strip was more of a workout than my leg muscles could cope with. It was not the idea to inflict another injury on myself!

I thought that my footprints might give some interesting and useful information about my form. Looking at the photos, I'm not convinced - perhaps I am landing more heavily on my left side than the right, but apart from that I don't know what to take from them. Maybe an expert will be able to interpret them.

 I also put in a bit of hill work (not much of that on a beach, usually) and went over to the famous Grand Anse beach which the guide books say is 2 miles long. Perhaps they got that from US military intelligence, which was notoriously lacking in 1983, when Grand Anse was used for some of the landings, or perhaps it's just that Garmin can't be relied upon too much - though the laps seem pretty consistent.

Funnily enough, no-one I saw while out running (and everyone in Grenada greets everyone they see) tried to draw any sort of comparison between me and their man. I planned to tell them I was aiming to peak in time for Rio - or alternatively that there are about six age groups between him and me.

Naturally, they are particularly proud of him in his home town, Gouyave. The main road is called - yes, you've guessed - Kirani James Street. The signs have a rather improvised feel to them.
The running, and the soft surface, and my new Travel Stick massage stick, all served to loosen things up, and any niggling pains were dealt with most effectively by the application of a preparation made from Grenada's most famous product, and sold under the predictable but neat trade name NUT MED, which really works. 

Unfortunately, a week of decent mileage has made me think that I might be able to get round the Abingdon Marathon, which up to then had seemed utterly hopeless. It might however be another story in the English autumn. I will essay a long run or two over the weekend and review the situation then.

14 September 2012

American Squirm

I am, as a friend pointed out to me recently, a very fussy reader. Not so much about what I read, but about the quality of my reading. No doubt it comes from being a writer myself (I nearly wrote something about having pretensions there, but that would be unnecessarily self-effacing, or so the row of books on the shelf behind me which bear my name tell me - not to mention my pieces in Runner's World). I had been explaining to my interlocutor that I had given up on a book (The Thread by Victoria Hislop) when the author wrote of sewerage running into the sea. Just like Louis de Bernieres telling me in Captain Corelli's Mandolin that Greek used the Cyrillic alphabet, except that the errors occurred at opposite ends of the respective books, so I had finished the Greek island novel but only just started the mainland one.

If I were to find a foreign body in a bowl of soup, I would hardly remove it and eat the rest, whether I had found a fly, a hair or a piece of grit - whether it would be reasonable to assume that the whole bowlful had been polluted. I would have lost faith in the product. It happened with a novel by a friend which used the word "taught" on page one, where "taut" was clearly intended. Perhaps that should be actionable as a tort? (No, not a torte.)

Not that I have never read badly-written books. Clinton Heylin's biography of Sandy Denny, No More Sad Refrains, comes readily to mind, but the subject-matter enabled me to overcome any reservations I had. One reads non-fiction for reasons quite different from those for which one reads fiction, I suppose. I have read very few legal textbooks that have truly been well-written - lawyers, apart from anything else, are often addicted to the compound preposition, as if they were being paid by the word. Legal documents are even worse, being replete with compound prepositions: and I recently corrected a travelling draft of a lease which used the indicative mood where the subjunctive was called for. Speaking of the subjunctive, I also recently noted with pleasure how Joanna Harris deployed the subjunctive throughout Blue Eyed Boy, proving that it is not the fossil that some say it is. But I must admit that my enthusiasm for this irrealis mood is the enthusiasm of a convert, or rather one who has only recently come to appreciated and (however imperfectly) understand it.

Participating in a book club has exposed me to a wider range of reading than would otherwise have been the case (notwithstanding my already catholic tastes). But publishers are letting books out with errors of one sort or another that should have been picked up by the editor or proof-reader - and my own work has suffered too: a grotesque misspelling, of a German word, that I admit I should have got right first time but that the publisher should also have picked up. Mr Rosenblum's List, for example, using "airplane" and "aeroplane", and Through the Language Glass - a book by a linguist, for goodness' sake! - using "practise" as a noun. Neither book was written by an American, or first published in an American-speaking country - if one excludes the UK, of course, and that's increasingly difficult as more and more people receive their speech from awful American films. I am sick of hearing "train station" and "can I get?" - the latter, posed to a ticket collector on the train, receiving a simple affirmative answer, confounding the speaker. Better still: the ticket collector was Polish. Actually, given my experience with local taxi drivers, he might well have been a highly-qualified Polish teacher of English. Perhaps it's with foreign users of the language that the best hope for its preservation lies.

07 September 2012


Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has surely lost the support of everyone who's ever run a Marathon, or perhaps just laced up a pair of running shoes, by claiming vaguely to have run a 2:50-something Marathon when. He also gave the impression that he had run several Marathons. In fact (as the world now knows, thanks to a possibly unprecedented piece of investigative political journalism by US Runner's World) he ran one, in 4:01-something - respectable enough for most people if not David Castle, editor of Running Fitness magazine, whose comment to the BBC about the definition of a "real runner" is, well, contemptible, and has lost him at least one potential reader. Perhaps it's not a real running magazine ...

If you aspire to political office and have run a Marathon, visit www.paulryantimecalculator.com and find out what you can claim. It does wonders for one's PB, much better than WAVA age-grading.

04 September 2012

Too much is not enough

It could be the motto of the runner coming back from injury, and heading straight for another one. But I have lived by that maxim for my running career to date, and am stopping now, trying to be a little more conservative, acting my age not my shoe size - which, taking the Euro size of my new running shoes (of which more anon) is 44. Even with such a high number for my shoes my actual age passed that twelve years ago now, so it must be time to act my age. Stretch before running, run gently: don't go too far, too fast, too soon, which is exactly what I was doing a year ago.

What I did a year or so ago was transition (overnight, so perhaps "transition" is a misnomer) to barefoot running, in my Luna sandals. Once the calf strain wore off (leaving only a couple of tender Achilles tendons) there was a brief period earlier this year when I seemed to be flying - Parkruns getting faster, and a minimalist half marathon. But a run in cushioned shoes seemed to put a stop to that: they were supposed to be an antidote to the instantaneous transition, but they set my knee off hurting.

This evening I set off for an exploratory few miles, having managed a couple of miles on Sunday before Achilles warned me it was time to go home. Anticipating just that, I had chosen to run laps of the village playing field so I would  never be far from home. This evening it was the loop which, 20 years ago, was the second stage of my development as a runner - I started with a shorter loop, then went up to this 5K course before I really got serious.

These two latest runs have been in new VivoBarefoot Evos, which aren't taking the place of the Luna sandals (though it remains to be seen whether they are still usable after Hugo chewed lumps off them: is SuperGlue up to it?) but which after such a short trial seem great. And I have also taken to wearing, most days, a pair of black leather lace-up VivoBarefoot shoes, which I imagine Alan Clark would have said no gentleman would be seen in but I suppose I have no pretensions to being a gentleman any more ... But I do have pretensions to being a runner.

16 August 2012


The Guardian asks whether you are cut out for a law degree. On Facebook the College of Law cites the article, but asks if you are cut out for legal practice. It has confused two utterly different worlds.

Cracking up

I am not an early adopter of new technologies, or anything in fact, never have been and surely never will be. Not usually very late, but certainly not early. I am too old for much novelty, even if a commuting friend last week estimated my age at a full decade less than it is, and another friend commented that in my Facebook profile photo I look younger than ever (which needs to be considered in context: she last saw me nearly four years ago). On the other hand, I had to point out to Paul that I had gone up an age group since last I ran the Bridges Race.

Actually, one thing that I have adopted early (and with too much enthusiasm for my own good, which is another matter) is neo-barefoot running. I add the prefix because the early adopters of barefoot running were around at least 200,000 years ago. As I read somewhere this morning, we are all born barefoot.

I reasoned that adopting a barefoot technique, running on my mid- or fore-foot, would save my legs and knees from the pounding I was giving them by heel-banging. It seemed as if whenever I mentioned to someone that I was a runner they would offer the helpful opinion that my knees must be wrecked, which they weren't, although I could see a distinct advantage in ensuring they never got into such a state. My current knee problems stemmed from my use of a new pair of foam wedges ...

Having spent so much of my life wearing my lawyer's uniform, my feet are accustomed to being laced into black, leather-soled, Goodyear welted, highly-polished Oxfords or similar, with pronounced though not excessive heel drops. They are not cheap (although one shops around), they need frequent resoling (even with Blakeys - a highly inadvisable way to use a trade mark, by the way), they have to be polished every day (though they don't get it!) and they crack up where they bend, right by my little toes. Plus, they are often uncomfortable even if they seemed fine in the shop.

My knee injury, and Achilles problems, and strained calf muscles (the latter the product of too much midfoot striking without a proper transition) combined to make walking a really painful experience for most of this year, and it crossed my mind that it might be worth replacing my traditional shoes with something a little more comfortable. I could see my socks through the side of one pair, and another pair needed resoling (which brings another song, by the most famous band ever to have lived within three or four miles of my home, to mind), so I went out and bought a couple of pairs from Eye Footwear in the arcade at Old Street tube station, and a great experience it was too - excellent service, and great value, comfortable shoes.

But that's not the point of this rambling story. I found - probably through Facebook - the Sport Pursuit website, where useful stuff features in pop-up sales. Having signed up to it, I get an email every so often advising me of what's going cheap, and it does seem to be very cheap - everything being relative: half-price cycle wheels are great, but when they start at £1,700 it's hard to rate half-price as cheap in any absolute sense of the word. I haven't checked whether you get a pair for that.

You do certainly get a pair when you buy shoes from them, and they don't have to be sports shoes. A recent sale offered Vivobarefoot shoes at a very attractive price, including the Ra, so now I can do the whole barefoot thing day in, day out. They are exceedingly comfortable, and I thoroughly recommend both the shoes and Sports Pursuit.

14 August 2012

Five Bridges

Actually, three's enough. After months of hobbling around with various pains in my legs, I felt confident to try a spot of running last week: but, inspired by the idea of racing in London during the Olympics - who could resist that? - I made the classic elementary runner's error, and went from months of zero miles a day to about eight. Including the Bridges Race.

I also made the classic mistake of leaving insufficient time to get changed and to the start. I rushed from my desk to the gents' to don my running kit, then to the Boris Bike station outside the Polish Embassy, then down Regent Street, round Picadilly Circus, through Trafalgar Square, and down Northumberland Avenue (part of the Olympic Marathon route) where I surrendered the bike at another docking station. London might have been deserted during week one of the Games, but by the middle of week 2 it was heaving again. The lights had all been against me, and I'd had to take a big diversion into Mayfair to avoid road closures or traffic jams.

I ran across the Millennium Bridge to the South Bank, which of course was packed with tourists with only the haziest idea of where they were going, and who had left their spatial awareness at home, reaching the start with time to spare - because when I checked in, for the first time in nearly four years, I found I was running off a 4:15 handicap.

The great thing about the race, of course, was that I did it. Taking part, not winning: I was in an Olympic frame of mind. Actually, winning has never featured in my reasons for entering a race. Not only did I fail to undo any of my handicap, I rocked up last and got a maximum 30 seconds adjustment for next time's handicap. But I saw many friends for the first time in a long time, and of course we baffled the visitors to London as we always do.


"Inspire a generation", the Olympic Games' motto told us: it's still hanging from lampposts all over London, rather like Colm's photograph was in south Dublin when I was there a few years ago. A few? Last century, I suppose. Or I could say last millennium, if I really wanted to depress myself, which I don't.

Like all good mottoes, that should make you think. Is it a statement of the organisers' hopes and wishes? Or an instruction to the rest of us? And which generation is supposed to be inspired?

Well, clearly, it's young people who the Games should ideally inspire. The ones who'll compete in four years' time in Rio, or in Games not yet "awarded" to anywhere. Tokyo 2020, perhaps, and - who knows? - Nairobi 2024. The victims of the mobile phone and computer games culture. But the more I think about its meaning, the motto (which becomes more banal the more one considers it) starts to irritate me. Aren't the Games supposed to be about inclusiveness? So why only a generation?

Many aspects of the Games inspired me (while many did exactly the opposite - "dishearten" is the best antonym to "inspire" that I can find), but I am certainly not of the generation that was supposed to be inspired - or the one before, come to that. The generation which the Games aim primarily to inspire must be Generation Y - and late Generation Y, at that. My birth date makes me a late product of the Baby Boom, not even Gen X. Perhaps I am not supposed to be inspired? Were the organisers trying to exclude me with their motto?

Well, I don't care. From the moment the Queen parachuted into the stadium with James Bond, to The Who performing (of course) My Generation, the Games were full of things to inspire. Not just gold medals, though, because:
Olympic Stadium, 9 August 2012, during the pole vault competition in the decathlon, which might explain the empty seats. A shame about the ghastly typeface, and why does the word "essential" take a capital initial?
Come to think of it, Coubertin was absolutely right and that's perhaps a better motto: but it's a principle of which many people seem to have lost sight. Silver and bronze medals seem to have come to represent failure, which perhaps means that British expectations have become over-inflated, although it is wonderful to see one's country in a respectable place in the medals table. Apart from the Queen's appearance, the most outstanding moment for me was when Kirani James exchanged bibs with Oscar Pistorious after their heat in the 400 metres. Another was Keisuke Ushiro in Group B in the pole vault in the decathlon, outjumping most of the Group A guys, and receiving great applause from a stadium which was regrettably far from full at the end of four hours of vaulting.

Of course, Mo Farah left a considerable impression too, and I found myself recently reading this article from the New Yorker about his coach, Alberto Salazar. It's as inspirational as anything I saw in the Olympics, and well-crafted unlike the utterances of most of the BBC commentators and interviewers, for whom "barely competent" would be a flattering assessment and who seem unable to string together a few sensible and correct words to make a sentence.

And on the subject of taking part as opposed to winning, there seems to be a lot in the American running blogs that I read about Ryan Hall. Was he right to try, given that he had niggling injuries? Did he deprive someone else of the chance of Marathon glory? Should he not have pressed on regardless rather than pull out? I was struck by his comment at the end of this article from the NY Times.

“It’s going to take a special day,” Hall said of his gold medal chances. “But I feel like I went for it, regardless of how the race goes. I’ll always look back on this as a season of joy. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of the fun of life, taking some chances and seeing what happens.”
An admirable attitude.

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31 July 2012

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

I had never realised that Bruce Tulloh was a pioneer (of the modern era, of course) of barefoot running, or  about his running across America, until I read this interesting article about him. But what particularly impressed me about the piece was the reference to the "souls of his feet". The feet of only the very greatest runners, presumably, have souls.

At least I could laugh at that while simultaneously groaning at the appalling standards of English among professional writers or publishers. Usually I just get irritated. The other day I began reading The Thread by Victoria Hislop, our book club's chosen work this month, and I had barely got started before I read something about sewerage flowing into the sea. An inability to tell the difference between sewage and sewerage can, I suppose, land you in deep ... well, better not to go there. Presumably Mrs Hislop is reasonably content to pay a water company for sewerage, but would be unlikely to spend good money on sewage.

It was, I thought at first, like finding a fly in a bowl of soup: it ruins one's enjoyment. But that wasn't quite right, because one would certainly not proceed to eat the rest of the soup even after the fly were removed: so finding a piece of grit in the bowl might be a better analogy. Once it has been dealt with, the remaining soup is perfectly acceptable (unless there's another piece of grit, or a fly, in it) but one is unlikely to enjoy it. I read no further. Had I bought the book myself, I would have been tempted to rescind the contract on the grounds that it was not of satisfactory quality.

This has happened with several book club choices recently. The Hare with the Amber Eyes was distressingly full of errors, and Mr Rosenblum's List used wrong words, mixed American and British English ("airplane" and "aeroplane") and committed other sins that should have been picked up by the publisher. Indeed, my own experience suggests that they may even have been introduced by the publisher ... At any rate, there is no excuse when a professional writer and a professional publisher contrive to get it wrong, no excuse whatsoever.

What a jerk (Deaf School)

A brilliant initiative from Samsung (why Samsung?) to get people to run between home and office in London, called Homerun, which validates what I have been doing for many years. It works, I suppose, on the well-known principle that you're more likely to run if you've got company, especially if you are in any way nervous about being alone on the streets. I don't think there's much to worry about in central London, where there are usually enough law-abiding citizens about to deter the bad ones, but once you head off into the suburbs there are some mean streets about. And even Hyde Park is a scary place after dark.

One thing runners can to do avoid trouble is to keep music and running carefully segregated. If you plug up your ears and blast music - whatever music it is, I'm not discriminating here - into them, you give the bad guys a better chance to take you by surprise, and cyclists a higher chance of running you down. Of course not all cyclists ride like maniacs, but pedestrians need to give even the most careful cyclists a sporting chance of not making physical contact. Yesterday evening, on the designated cycle track that brings me home, I passed a young woman running with earphones in place who failed to hear (or certainly gave no indication of having heard) my bell despite my ringing it constantly as I approached and passed her. I stopped and pointed out to her that if she made it impossible to hear cycles' bells she could easily be killed. She pulled out the earphones to hear me, and I was surprised at the volume at which the music was playing, but then she put them back and carried on, so my advice was clearly unwelcome. I'll fit the horn on my bike, I think, because there are too many pedestrians suffering from self-inflicted temporary deafness. I don't need them to get off the track, just to make clear that they know I'm there, and to give me enough space to get past.

There are also too many dog-walkers who don't think it necessary to control their animals. Most stand aside, often moving right off the track, which is usually more than is needed, and I ring my bell, slow down, and freewheel past them, thanking them as I go: but a minority see no need to make any concessions to the presence of cyclists on a piece of tarmac dedicated to them. I still ring my bell, slow down and freewheel gently past, but replace the thanks with an observation about the usefulness of a leash, especially when their dog meanders into my path (which often prompts the owner to break into an inane grin). I wonder what they do when they walk their dogs beside a road?

Give me a spanner, Ralph

In search of a solution to poor TV reception (and an antenna for the recently-repaired Quad kit, the tuner never having been used for want of an aerial), I visited the excellent ATV Aerial Sales website to which Google led me. Unsure whether I need a better aerial, a longer pole, a masthead or mains amplifier, or just a Freesat system, I spent [wasted] an hour or so reading through their website, and came to a couple of conclusions.

  • There is too much to know about television reception. The amount of information on the website is overwhelming, in a good way of course provided you have the time and inclination to get to grips with it. Personally, I don't even want to climb a ladder to the top of the chimney, where the aerial is, as I'd have to buy a ladder first and wouldn't know what I was doing when I got to the top of it.
  • However, presenting mundane technical information with wit makes for a winning website. Among other things, the table showing the relative times that it would take a combination spanner to reach the ground from the top of selected television masts is just brilliant. The table also gives terminal velocities, and provides alternative figures depending on whether the spanner falls end-first or with its flat face to the direction of travel - with the observation that relative drag and weight distribution makes it likely that the spanner will assume a ring-end-first position.

The prose is also grammatically correct, which sets this website apart from about 99.9 per cent of all sites and adds considerably to my delight. There's a note on the site saying that scholars are welcome, but much more so if they proceed to buy something rather than merely take the free information - together with a request for a link should the site prove useful. Well, it has convinced me that I should not meddle with things I don't understand, and has demonstrated my lack of understanding, so a link from this blog is well-deserved.

When I realised that reading through more information on this arcane subject was not the most profitable use of my time, I booked a professional installer to come and give me an estimate. And tomorrow I have someone who actually understands Briggs & Stratton engines to come and look at the tractors. I'm learning.

04 July 2012

The Stranger Song

Reading about the making of Trout Mask Replica in the Wikipedia article on Captain Beefheart - which once provided me with a great intro to a talk about the Henry passing-off case (Numatic International Ltd v Qualtex UK Ltd [2010] EWHC 1237 (Ch)), so this is not a waste of time, just part of my on-going search for useful trivia (an oxymoron if ever there was one):
Beefheart spoke of studying texts on brainwashing at a public library at about this time, and appeared to be applying brainwashing techniques to his bandmembers: sleep deprivation, food deprivation, constant negative reinforcement, and rewarding bandmembers when they attacked each other or competed with each other.
Why does that put me in mind of life in a law firm? The only difference is the food deprivation.

03 July 2012

Dumb waiters

When I went to my secondary school and began to learn Latin, one of the earliest lessons involved the derivation of the English word "procrastination". I was the only member of the class who knew the word  (which comes from "cras", meaning tomorrow, in case you are as ignorant - or innocent - as my classmates). I was, needless to say, prone to it.

I am still inclined to leave decisions to the last moment: I never choose from a menu until someone is hovering with a pad of paper and pencil poised over it (is this why they are called "waiters", I wonder?), though being vegetarian has the advantage that one's choice is usually pretty limited, and sometimes even made for one. I am however delighted to find that there is some sort of endorsement for this approach to decision taking, revealed in a book review by one of my favourite writers. The book in question is Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination, by Frank Partnoy, Profile, RRP£12.99, 304 pages and the reviewer (in the FT of course) is Lucy Kellaway.

Evidently it is all about managing delay, so I do not have carte blanche to leave things until tomorrow, but at least I know what skill I should be trying to develop. I won't do it dumbly, which gives me the chance to embed James's and Andy's piece ...

29 June 2012

I can hear the grass grow

A small victory. No running worthy of the name, disregarding the small matter of a half marathon, since mid-March. It has been painful, and I do not mean just my legs., but on Tuesday I started to fight back. In a small way only, I'm afraid, but even a three-miler from Paddington to Portland Place is worth writing about, and some of it – the Regent's Canal stretch, for one thing – was supremely uplifting.
Unfortunately I am not out of the proverbial woods yet. Good though it felt, Tuesday's run (along with a less satisfactory effort in the evening, on the streets) has not sorted out my knee pain. I don't think it made it worse, and at least I have worked out the best stretches to relieve it, but it is some way from being good. And memories come back of previous trouble with my left knee, when I had physiotherapy on it for a while before simply buying a new pair of Mizuno Wave shoes and bringing that episode to an immediate end, later struggling with knee supports when Vanessa suggested we run round St James's Park the other way as going in the same direction day after day might not be doing me much good. Perhaps this current injury has its roots in those problems.
A 24 hour (give or take) trip to Brussels has probably not helped. I took my huaraches, but felt no inclination to take myself off to the Parc Royal for a few laps – it's a lovely park, but distance-wise not in the same league as the west London complex of Royal parks, so several laps are called for and when I did it on a previous visit it became just a little boring. But I walked – far more than I should have done, I suspect, and far, far more than I intended. I deliberately booked (as significant expense) a room in the conference hotel, only to learn that the conference was, in fact, in another hotel in the same chain and therefore of the same name,  a mile or so away, so this morning instead of falling out of bed into the restaurant for breakfast and then into the conference there was a longish and uncomfortable walk in between two of those stages. Uncomfortable because my knee, Achilles and feet objected to it (I was not wearing my most comfortable shoes), and also because it was so warm and humid in Brussels. In addition, I had been obliged to do the same walk late the previous evening, after dinner, which had been at a restaurant well-placed for the other hotel …
Sitting in a conference for a day, and in the Eurostar train for two journeys, is also hard on a joint that really wants to be flexing. Worst of all, Tuesday evening – after my sort-of run from Portland Place to Paddington, was a railway disaster such as would have moved Tiresias to write about it. I left the office early so as to be home in time for an early dinner with one of my offspring who had reason to be there but wished then to return as early as possible to London: and I caught, with great satisfaction, the five o'clock train. Well, it travelled a couple of miles from Paddington and stopped: the train manager (the railway employee previously known as the guard) announced eventually that there had been a suicide ahead of us, at Hayes and Harlington. The announcements were, in fact, all but inaudible, but this was the gist that I obtained from it. It turned out that I was in the seat next to a British Transport Police officer, on her way home and therefore not in uniform (possibly not a uniformed officer at all), and she was able to learn a great deal from her office. Like the fact that there were plenty of witnesses to put beyond doubt that it was a suicide, so Hayes and Harlington was not a crime scene: that would speed matters up, and we would be on the way once the site had been cleaned up. If it were a crime scene, apparently a protocol dictates that trains will be allowed to run through after 90 minutes – still a disastrous delay at rush hour, when Paddington station would quickly fill up with thousands of commuters with no way of proceeding homewards – apart, that is, for the Waterloo to Reading alternative, a journey I have taken more than once: half an hour on the tube to Waterloo (£2 on my Oyster card, not provided for in the budget), no guarantee of a seat on the train, no guarantee even of standing room on the concourse, then a very leisurely and meandering journey through places that you didn't imagine could lie between Waterloo and Reading.
Eventually we backed up to Paddington, where we arrived an hour after first leaving. An announcement invited us to play the Waterloo gambit, but I have been through this too often: sitting tight will, at worst, mean a later departure than might otherwise be the case, but at least it will guarantee a seat. So I took a nap, waking when the coach started to fill up again.
A second hour after initially setting off, but only about half an hour late because the train, otherwise unchanged, was now the 6.30 not the five o'clock, we trundled out of Paddington again, in conditions that sardines only tolerate because they are past caring when they are canned. I was glad of the seat. But far from proceeding to accelerate through Hayes and Harlington and on to home, we showed solidarity with road users by observing the 30 mph limit and even took a few rests along the way. We were on the second relief line, I think we were told, and therefore not in a hurry: only just before Reading did we change to the main line, and the approach to that station was replete with delays too as we were held outside waiting for a platform. You might have thought that with few trains being dispatched from Paddington there would be little to hinder a smooth approach to Reading, but the players of the Waterloo gambit were all there trying to cram into already-full trains and loading was taking an inordinate time. When eventually our train pulled up at the platform and disgorged a load of passengers, we got more than one new one for every leaver. By the time I reached Didcot (the train did attain 120 mph about Moulsford, managing a respectable pace after leaving Reading) my 42 minute journey had taken over three hours more than that.
Those of us whose journeys, and evenings, were disrupted suffered frustration, discomfort and inconvenience. There were several thousand of us, each wasting a couple of hours or more. But that pales into insignificance beside what befell the driver of the train into the path of which a tragic individual felt moved to throw himself (a twenty-something man, my BTP informant had told me), and his trauma would be not much greater than that of the emergency services who had to clear up. The inordinate delay was because it was a particularly messy siucide. The witnesses on the platform would be no less shocked and upset, and the deceased's family and friends will have suffered an appalling blow. Quite apart from their loss, they might well be asking what they might have done differently to prevent the horrible series of events. So I am not complaining about the journey – merely remarking on it.

14 June 2012

Keep on running

Good heavens! Congratulations to Hans Schmid, winner of the Dipsea trail race in California - the oldest trail race in the US, this year's being the 102nd running of it. Although it's a handicap race, for a 72-year-old to win any race is extraordinary. And inspirational. A successor to Jack Kirk, the Dipsea Demon, perhaps? No, I don't think anyone could assume that mantle: he'll have to take a different title.

23 May 2012


I am reeling from learning recently that a friend uses my blog as an aid to learning English, listening to the embedded music videos and studying the lyrics. I assured him that rock lyrics are not usually even grammatically correct, citing the obvious example - which also cropped up on Twitter, where the tag #popleveson leads to some delightful attempts to link the Leveson Enquiry and popular music lyrics. Actually, less to do with Leveson as with the language of cross-examination:
I put it to you, Mr Jagger, that your double negative was intentionally misleading and you are in fact perfectly satisfied.
Priceless, and thanks to @GrahamYapp (via @CharlesCrawford - what is a retired ambassador doing wasting his time on Twitter, I wonder). But how can I help? I should provide a selection of competently-written, grammatically correct songs (and perhaps some explanations of their shortcomings). Where to look for examples? Well, I think James Warren and Andy Davis know what they are doing. No damage to the English language here:
Goodbye the fire has stopped burning
The bellows lie dead in the road.
Goodbye the mill has stopped turning,
The Miller has changed to a toad.

Goodbye the journey was topping,
We saw all we wanted to see,
I really don't think I'll be stopping,
I think I'll go home and have tea.

Goodbye the stream has stopped flowing,
The big sun has parched all the pools,
Goodbye the dream has stopped growing,
A fantasy surely for fools.

Goodbye the journey was topping*,
We saw all we wanted to see,
I really don't think I'll be stopping,
I think I'll go home and have tea.
I have never been sure what it all means, but a lovely song, and historic too - the first song performed at the first Glastonbury Festival - as my friend Mike Tobin, the band's manager then and now, explains on this video. I hope it helps the language practice. Enjoy!

*"British archaic slang excellent. ..." Concise Oxford English Dictionary.

16 April 2012

Scotland the Brave

As I lurch from one injury to another, and indeed from one year to the next, the importance of investing in maintenance becomes plainer and plainer. Although I'm not hobbling like I was a few days ago, my knee is still painful: Sharon loosened up my quads and a couple of connected tendons last Friday, and it felt better for a while. However, I still cannot do the classic standing quadricep stretch which she prescribed without great discomfort - which makes me fear that I am causing further damage in my knee, and whenever I get it loosened up it does keep stiffening up again. It was time, I thought, to find out whether I was doing something wrong that I could readily put right, so I made an appointment to go to see Colin Martin at Solutions 4 Feet in Bicester (link in sidebar). After all, he had solved all my running problems last time I consulted him - back in 2007 - or at least those problems which a pedorthist might be expected to sort out. He didn't sort out a set of PBs for me, for example. I guess I have to do that myself.
The first good thing was that, although I had only met him on that previous occasion, it was rather like meeting up with an old friend. It's great when any service provider makes you feel that much at home. Actually, the first good thing about today was that it was beautifully sunny as I drove, roof down, the 30 or so miles north past Oxford to get there - sunny, but still chilly.
I took my last pair of running shoes so Colin could see how the soles had worn, and I also took my huaraches which I thought he might blame for most of my problems. He looked at them in amazement, and offered the suggestion that they might be better for soft surfaces but conventional running shoes might be better for tarmac - which struck me as sensible advice. He thought that huaraches would suit those whose biomechanics were 100 per cent, but he pointed out that no-one is perfect, even Scots ... Then he got me to run on his dreadmill, and I demonstrated my disdain for such devices by failing to get to grips with the four buttons for start, faster, slower and stop. Eventually I realised that the button marked "stop" might be the one I needed, and I dismounted to watch the video he'd made. And guess what? He couldn't tell me anything that was wrong with my running action. Pelvis straight, hips level, perhaps a slight turning of the foot at the top of the movement on my left. I must say I thought I looked good too. But I'd come to have my problem pointed out to me so I could fix it! If I'm doing everything as perfectly as a Sassenach can, how can I get rid of this pain in the knee? Oh, rest, ice, etc. I see.
The one mistake I might have made was to run in my new shoes without the orthotics that Colin sold me five years ago. I showed him that I did now have them in my new shoes. He thought that they might have made just that little bit of difference - that might be the explanation I was looking for. Did I need a new pair, I wondered to myself? No need to articulate the thought - he was impressed at the state of the five-year-old inserts and reckoned there was another year's wear in them. So when my knee stops hurting, I'm ready to go again!

01 April 2012

Wild horses

The first thing I did this morning, after making coffee and tea and putting a bowl of porridge (essential running fuel) into the microwave, was to seek out the latest news on Micah True. He'd been missing for several days, after going for a 12 mile run in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, so it really wasn't a surprise to learn that his body had been found. No surprise, but nevertheless a tragedy. He was an ordinary, unassuming, gentle man who happened to run immense distances and became famous almost at second hand (and, I believe, reluctantly) by being featured in the barefoot runner's bible, Born to Run.

No denying that reading the book has changed many things for me. Meeting Micah - Caballo Blanco, as he was known - last year was another inspirational event (though as Lazy Girl Running noted at the time he didn't claim any particular benefits for barefoot running, and turned up to give his talk not wearing huaraches). I imagine he met what he'd have considered the best possible end, while running in the wilderness, and reports suggest that he suffered no trauma. Not a bad way to go at all.
Have I mentioned the limitations of BlackBerrys as cameras?
Now, if you've been reading this blog (have you nothing better to do with your time?) you'll know that my experiments with minimalist running have created no end of injuries. Going back to slabs of foam, as I did a couple of weeks ago (a new pair of Mizuno Wave Riders) saved Achilles but wrecked one knee, or at least coincided with pain developing in it. I have been walking very strangely, if at all, these past two weeks: not so much hobbling as taking half-strides and forefoot striking, which must have looked very odd. Last week's Parkrun proved I could run through the problem, or rather that it ceased to be a problem when I adopted a pace faster than a walk - which I dare say medical experts would dismiss as pure, unadulterated rubbish. My new The Stick massage stick (as I remarked, a pathetically weak trade mark and one that is almost impossible to use properly) worked wonders (ibuprofen gel was also pretty useful) and Sharon gave me a good beating up on Friday morning. She asked me whether I was doing any races soon, and I said yes, on Sunday, depending on what you say after half an hour's massaging the weakest link. She sent me on my way at the end saying I should do it if I felt like it - helpful, indeed.

I was in two minds about whether to run the race at all (OK, let's say about one-and-a-half minds) and in two minds about which label to wear: clumpy Mizuno or pared-down Luna by Barefoot Ted. The news this morning made the decision for me, notwithstanding Micah's liberal attitude to shoe choices. I wrote "Caballo R.I.P." on my running number and pinned it to my vest. The fact that I would be running the White Horse Half M and marking the passing of the White Horse himself struck me as absolutely perfect.

The sky was clear, but the sun isn't yet powerful enough to make the mornings warm - perfect running weather. Gary, on car park duty, mentioned that he'd be marshalling at 3 and 9 miles, and I asked if he'd take my cushioned shoes in case I needed a change: he was happy to do so, but explained that he would not be at the finish and I might therefore lose my shoes for a while. So I headed off with only the huaraches, or "flip-flops" as several people called them. Heathen.

In the first, very relaxed, mile I came upon Jeff and ran with him for a while: then along the way to the infamous railway bridge I got a bit ahead - I must have stepped up the pace, as the splits confirm - and I certainly attacked the short sharp incline when I reached it. After the right turn at Denchworth, where the loop part of the course begins, I fell in with Daniel, in the late stages of training for the London Marathon (or chienlit, as it might be called in French) who was planning a time between 1:50 and 2:00. About right for me too, especially as I still didn't know how the radical alternative to shoes would perform over the distance.
Photo by John Harvey (of course: who else?)
In fact, they were fine. Nothing more to say, really. I found an excellent turn of speed in the last mile, repassing Daniel who had set off for a long run for home about two miles out, and Trish, and a few others too. Passed John much earlier, reminisced about a long-ago White Horse Half (1998?) the enjoyment of which was marred by heavy sleet. He remarked that he'd almost suffered from exposure on the course, and that I had almost suffered from exposure waiting for him after I'd finished. I do remember wondering where he'd got to, but surely he wasn't that far behind? And he wasn't far behind today either. But at least I was ahead ... unburdened by those heavy shoes everyone else was wearing.
Photo also by John Harvey

I even won a spot prize, the second time this has happened at this race which is still the only event at which I have ever won anything. And as I headed back to the car I bumped into Kate, my glamorous acquaintance from the Banbury 15 some years ago, sidelined by an injury. She expressed surprise that I might have run in flip-flops and asked me to run up and down the path to demonstrate them - a big ask, when I had just completed a half. I don't think the demonstration was remotely convincing - Kate, you should have seen me finishing!

Next Saturday John and I have a chance to catch up when we run - slowly - the Compton Downland Challenge. He, having been sucked completely into the Vortex, is running the 40. And he's doing Maidenhead the day before. I hope if I run with him a bit it will rub off on me. Which leads me back to the start of this posting: it would have been so easy to make an opportunity to run with Caballo in London last September, and I failed to do so. Seize chances like that: they might never come a second time.

27 March 2012

Overture in the Italian style

I found a nice comfortable, peaceful, place to catch up on a little work this afternoon. There were no phones to ring to distract me, no emails, no chatter, although I was with a couple of hundred other people. There was beautiful music, which I was able to listen to while working my way through my to do list. I came away feeling refreshed and satisfied with the work I had done. Best of all, it was free.

I went to a BBC Radio 3 concert at the Maida Vale studios: an all-Schubert programme, because Radio 3 is having a Schubert week - the Overture in the Italian Style in D, the Overture to Alfonso and Estrella, and the work formerly known as the unfinished symphony which Brian Newbould had completed - not the first person to stand in for the regrettably unavailable composer. And it seems not the massive task you might imagine: Schubert left sketches for about three-quarters of the scherzo and repurposed the finale as the entr'acte from Rosamunde, so re-assembling the four-movement symphony was certainly do-able. And it seems to have been done pretty well, to my untutored ear.

I'll be looking out for further opportunities to spend a quiet couple of weekday afternoon hours catching up on work.

Light my fire

Just reading this Runners World piece makes me want to lace up my huaraches and get outside - that, and a beautiful sunny but still crisp spring morning.

Let's stick together

The Stick, a hopelessly weak trade mark unless you can get into the market and carve out a substantial niche in it very quickly before the name becomes generic (and the branding is confused I'm not even sure who makes it), looked like a great idea when I first saw it. Finally, yesterday, after hobbling from Paddington to Portland Place, taking mini-strides and walking on my forefoot because of the pain in my knee, and leaving a phone message for Sharon asking for a treatment session at her earliest convenience, I bought one.

I had to buy a new inner tube anyway, and Cycle Surgery and Runners Need, listed as a The Stick stockist, share premises in Great Portland Street. There on the floor, with a discarded air, were three The Sticks, each a different model, including the grey-handled Sprinter that I reckoned was what I needed (though a Travel model might have done equally well, perhaps even better because it would be more portable). I handed over my cash (about the same as an hour with Sharon, though without the conversation) and pushed it into my shoulder bag, one end sticking out, and I remarked to the sales assistant that I could cope with looking eccentric - what runner can't?

I resisted the temptation to start using it in the meetings which made up the rest of my afternoon, resorted to taking the bus to Paddington because my knee really was that painful, and also refrained from trying it out during the train journey, where instead I found myself engaged in a lengthy conversation with Stuart, from Cholsey, who had spent two hours travelling between his work in Oxford and home on account of train doors that refused to open and let him out on his first attempt to detrain at his home station, compounded by his being advised to take the wrong train for the second attempt: he explained to me that he was a Manchester United fan, quite unnecessarily given (a) the badge of allegiance he was wearing in the form of a tee-shirt and (b) his, and its, sheer size. He predicted a 5-0 victory over Fulham and I promised to look for the score and think of his jubilation later that evening. Well, they won, and had they failed to do so at home that would have been remarkable, but it seems that Fulham almost had a penalty in the closing minutes of the game. Still, Stewart, I'm pleased that you're pleased.

I thought The Stick would sort out my lower leg problems and bring Achilles under control, but I started with a few strokes across the inside of my knee. I assume that the problem is medial ligament or cartilage, which wouldn't be susceptible to direct massage treatment, but after a couple of short sessions with The Stick yesterday evening, and the application of ibuprofen gel before retiring, I got up this morning and descended the stairs with not a hint of knee pain. I can't believe it's that easy, and I'm taking half-an-hour of Sharon's time later  in the week anyway, but The Stick has already been life-changing in a small way. Highly recommended.

24 March 2012

The Warrior (Abingdon Parkrun)

This is real progress. After a week during which I didn't have the confidence to risk aggravating my left knee (complaining after that ten-miler on Sunday) or Achilles so abstained completely from running, I feared that this morning's Parkrun would be more than I could handle. I'd taped the uncomfortable parts of both legs yesterday, though, and they felt a whole lot better. Just in case, though, I added knee support and compression tights to my ensemble. And after last Sunday's outing in my new cushioned shoes left my knee hurting, huaraches were needed - but I knew I'd have to take great care to avoid Achilles problems.

I don't think ahead about how I should run an event like this. Next weekend, for the White Horse Half, I'll give it some more consideration, but this is just 5K ... Don't go out too fast, though, that's a crucial lesson. I didn't have Hugo to pull me along today, so I could do it at my own pace.

That pace still turned out to be surprisingly fast. And not just in terms of minutes per mile: I can't yet accurately estimate 180 paces a minute, but I think I got close, and I could feel the difference. Landing on my forefeet, directly (or pretty well directly) below my centre of gravity, there was noticeably less strain on my lower legs. My knee felt OK too, and my confidence built as I got into my stride. Along by the moorings after the lock I passed a few others, and even squeezed past some more runners along the narrow path leading to the meadow. The only problem was the dew which was lubricating the interface between my feet and the sandals, causing some unwelcome lateral movement - not good on an uneven path with the Thames a couple of feet away.

My one, two, one, two breathing rhythm sounds pretty dramatic when the cadence is so fast, and it must have been a bit disconcerting when I came up behind another runner. But it was all going well, and a glance at Garmin told me that it was a good pace - it began with a 7 rather than 8 or 9 which is what I usually see, even on a 5K. I picked my way carefully along the stony track from the meadow at the eastern end of the course to the tarmac road by Kingfisher Barn, and fell in with a lady runner who pulled ahead as we made the sharp turn (I run wide there, to avoid an uneven-looking, huarache-unfriendly apex) before I got back alongside her down towards the lock. As we left the metalled surface for grass and bare earth again she seemed to slow, and with the narrow riverside path coming up I decided to clear a couple of other runners so I had some space in front of me - both, I think, with ears plugged and presumably some music masking the sound of what was going on around them, including me puffing my way past.

A little later, as I picked my way along the stony section for the second time, one of them came past again. A  big guy, he was making quite a noise as his feet made contact with the ground - probably much as I have done for many years - and striding much further than me. The contrast was striking: I felt as if I were leaving no sign of my passage. I stayed close to his shoulder on the long, long drag to the finish, acknowledging Paul (who'd finished first and was going back to meet one of his children who was also taking part) and another guy who offered a spot of encouragement, advising me that there was about 400 metres to go - as I could have worked out for myself. When I judged that I was close enough to give it a go, and feeling better than I could ever have hoped, I accelerated. So did the guy in front, when (despite the music) he heard me coming. I accelerated more. I was flying. He seemed to realise there was no point in trying.

At the finish he wasn't far behind, and we shared that great near-death moment that marks the end of a good fast run, bent over as we waited for our breathing and heartrates to settle down again and the nausea to pass before shaking hands and registering our finishing places (17th for me - unprecedented - and a PB for this event, by 37 seconds). Then my female running companion came to thank me for the race, and to remark that she thought perhaps she needed similar footwear (how will I feel when for the first time I am not the only crazy tarahumara-imitator at a race?) as she'd been very impressed at how I had taken off. As I was.

And after a period of, we guessed, ten years I met up with my old running mate John, still living in the same place and from what he said maintaining a running (and racing) schedule that corresponds to some of my wildest dreams. He and some other Didcot Runners incorporate the Parkrun in a 20 mile loop - which is a seriously crazy way to do it. But I have a feeling, now that I have at least overcome fears of exacerbating injuries even if I haven't quite overcome the injuries themselves, he's just the person I need to help me rediscover my inner warrior.