26 February 2012

Darkness, darkness

I wanted to up my mileage today - but left it a little too late. Hugo and I headed out on the extended Ridgeway route, my Achilles twingeing and then settling down as I tried various running styles to try to keep things under control. A phone call at about three miles slightly threw me, but the rest did my Achilles good, as did another rest at about 4.5 miles just before the killer ascent - which many would regard as a mere trifle, but which certainly caused me some grief today. Achilles did not like it, and demanded more nursing once we'd reached the top.

In the end, a phone call home and a pick-up from the Bury Down car park became essential, not for reason of tiredness or sore Achilles but simply because it was getting too dark to continue along the Ridgeway without my headlight or Knucklelights. Still, a good distance and a good feeling, though a very modest pace.

I wanna destroy you

Yesterday's run counted as a personal best for Hugo in his third official Parkrun - but he was faster at the Newbury try-out. Perhaps it was the lack of a tow over the last few yards, when his collar slipped off.
Photo by Rachel Eliott
I had told him he was on for a PB with about half a mile to go, but he was holding me back quite badly by that stage. As for me, a pretty trouble-free outing - no twinges from my now-taped Achilles: more on that later. And I got in my post-modern ironic statement by wearing the "Lemmings Choose Cruise" badge from my extensive collection of early 1980s political ephemera, though no-one remarked on it: it did occur to me that, while I was being facetious, the idea that 30 years after I got the badge the Cruise missiles would have been and gone, the Cold War would be over, the Soviet Union would have disappeared, I would have been running in Moscow, and it would be possible to display this piece of early 80s agit-prop (which I recall, probably wrongly, I bought from Pat Arrowsmith in Hyde Park) on the main runway at Greenham Common would have seemed outrageous.

Well, she was certainly there, dressed as a lemming, of course. The previous evening the Soft Boys, probably at the Hope and Anchor, had dedicated this song to everyone taking part in the nuclear disarmament march the next day.

Friday I'm in Love

It seems so trite it's hardly worth stating - but I feel better for a run. On Thursday my mojo disappeared after breakfast and didn't reappear until coffee time (which I made deliberately early, and supplemented as usual with toast and excellent home-made marmalade). I realised that this was happening quite often. On Friday I started earlier, cycled to the station, took the train to Paddington (where phone calls with clients and emails gave added stimulation) and then ran to the office. And I took a different route, not adequately illustrated here because I forgot to turn my Garmin back on when I descended to the canal after the Aberdeen Terrace diversion. (Nor do I understand how it detected the start of my run to be Paddington Green police station, the fortified one used when the Met have a terrorist or similar to deal with). So there's a whole stretch which isn't measured, and the route shows me leaving the canalside towpath more than I actually did. So I guess it's about 3.4 miles in total: I will run it again soon to check.

The point is, Friday was better, by an order of magnitude, perhaps more than one, than Thursday. I felt alert, alive, intelligent, and fit. Just not fit enough.

21 February 2012

Rat race

On Sunday I began to feel like a runner again. I was shaking off the ill-effects of winter and the injuries that seem to have dogged me for months, even years. I was enjoying running with a new four-legged companion. Yesterday was a prudent rest day (but even if it hadn't been scheduled, I didn't have the energy to do much about it, not even to trek into London to do a day's work), but today ... Today was something else.

I began with a cycle ride to the station. Not as early as I'd have wished, but by the time I dragged myself out of the front door it was a pretty good day. Then I decided to make the most of the opportunity to run in London, and head for the office via the Regent's Canal rather than straight down Praed Street/Chapel Street/ Homer Street/Crawford Street/Paddington Street/Weymouth Street, which is not great running country. Exchanging BBM messages with Santosh as I went, necessitating a couple of stops, I took a moment to capture the beauty of the canal just before it enters Regent's Park so that, thanks to the miracles of BBM, I could show him what I was doing.
Regent's Canal, and not a boat in sight
Hard to imagine that's in the centre of one of the biggest cities in the world. Then I climbed to a bridge that would take me across the canal (just out of sight round the bend in the photo above) and emerged into the Park by the zoo. The view across the park (divided at this point into football pitches) to the West End, with the Post Office Tower (the BT Tower to younger generations, but the new name never stuck for me) prominent, made me stop and get the BlackBerry out again. Almost completely useless, as a phone, a PDA, and a camera, but just about an acceptable result here.
I'd rather be using a camera
Then the route joins a superb avenue heading just about straight for my office, which also seemed worth a picture. Here's another thousand words equivalent (saves me typing).
Perhaps a BlackBerry photo is only worth about 900 words.
I didn't run to get to the City after an hour or so at RIBA, or from Mallow Street to Holborn for the Red Bus Seminar (a subject for a different blog), but after the seminar I ran back to Paddington. Someone, noticing that in a room of suits I was dressed for exercise, asked me as we left where my bike was, but didn't expect Didcot to be the answer. I'll work out the mileage and the route and post that another time. I found myself seeking out the darkest parts of Hyde Park to get the most out of the Knucklelights, which were great. I attracted some curious glances but no-one stopped me to ask about them. 38 minutes 26 seconds, and I think around 4 miles. Then the train to Didcot and a five mile ride home (36 minutes) to work up an appetite for pancakes!

19 February 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

Not the early morning run that I had intended, but shortly after noon Hugo and I got ourselves out of the door for a longer run than we'd done together before - and longer than I had managed in a long time. A well-worn route, but of course new to Hugo and I wasn't entirely sure how he'd get on - would he wander off? Somewhere in his history there might be a wandering episode,which is how he comes to be living with us, but there was no reason to worry: he followed closely in my footsteps almost every inch of the way.

The weather was pleasant, and could optimistically be described as early spring. It has become colder this week, but next weekend is predicted to be very warm, as a chap I spoke to up at Bury Down car park told me - he seemed to think he knew me, and I thought I recognised him too, as an habitué of the cycle path from Upton to Didcot, in a dog-walking and bird-watching capacity.

The wind, however, was another matter. Down on the level (the first 2.7 miles) it seemed to me that up on the Ridgeway it would be at my back. Once I climbed to the top, it was in my face. Had it veered (or backed) that quickly? Or was I mistaken? Whatever, it was hard work on that long slog before we turned down towards the village again. But the feeling of well-being I have after the run probably owes something to the adverse wind, plus an experiment taping my Achilles and a reversion to heel-striking. Compromises notwithstanding, it's a great feeling to have this one in the bag. Especially with a half Marathon only three weeks away.

18 February 2012

Precious Angel

I am having something of a gadget binge, which spills over into running - in fact, in some ways it's a substitute for running, given that Achilles won't let  me do as much of that as I want. A few weeks ago, I was determined that the winter wasn't going to stop me running, and in a short interlude of madness I placed on order online for a pair of YakTrax ice grips and was about to order some Knucklelights when I realised a better solution was to get a friend to procure some for me in the States and send them over to England with her daughter so I would save the shipping costs. Great idea: it then took me about six weeks to organise to get them. Meanwhile, I snapped up a cheap head torch which did a pretty good job on my small number of after-dark runs.

As one of my daughters has recently started running, and was training by running home from work, I thought a second pair would be justified. It turned out that they were the last two in the shop - Born To Run in Redmond, Washington (where have I heard that name before?). Mine finally got to see action in the pre-dawn darkness (that's always the darkest hour, isn't it? So Shane used to remind me) in Moscow last weekend, when in fact the YakTrax would have been more use. They have streetlights in Moscow - pretty good ones. Still, it gave me a chance to try them out, and had anyone been watching they would have marvelled even more at the crazy Englishman running in minus 20-something.

Knucklelights do exactly what you'd expect from the name: they are provided with a strap (this is reading like a patent specification, isn't it?), an adjustable one, through which you pass your fingers so the light sites neatly and comfortably on your knuckles. The switch is conveniently disposed for operation with the thumb. I might even say the switch can be moved slideably - but there are limits to how far a patent pastiche can go. So you put one on each hand, switch them on, and start running.

The beam, of course, bobs about a bit. That's inevitable. But that means it covers the area you need to know about: if you were carrying a torch you'd move it about to scan the area of interest to you. Anyway they are deliberately wide-angle, so bobbing about doesn't detract from the job they are doing. They are 45 lumens, with four LEDs, so they give out quite enough light for running - probably about enough for cycling, too, though they would be a nuisance to have on your hands while riding a bike, I reckon, and because of their design not so useful. They take 2 AAA batteries: I haven't tested them to the limit of the batteries' lives yet (my planned 10K in Moscow got truncated for reasons of extreme cold) but I will post here when I have some idea. And maybe I'll get a photo of them in use.

At a shade under $40 they aren't exactly cheap, and if you pay postage and packing on top of that from the US they would get pretty expensive, but then again a good quality head torch will set you back a lot and not do such a great job (IMHO). A great piece of kit which will make running in the dark a lot safer, and probably more enjoyable. Must turn up to a club run one evening soon with them, before the evenings start to get light!


Well, I forgot to wear my badge, so here's a piece of music to do duty instead.

A cold wind was blasting across the former airfield this morning as over 200 runners lined up for the start - down on last week's turnout, a record for an inaugural Parkrun of 317 - which broke the previous record by exactly 100. I am astonished at Rachel's and Mark's achievement. Not so surprising when you consider what a superb course it is, against which you must set last weekend's snow which far exceeded what I saw in Moscow. If I'd stayed at home I'd have got more use out of my YakTrax ice grips.

Anyway ... Hugo and I lined up at the rear of the field, with another man-and-dog combination. Hugo still doesn't understand much about pacing, so I tried to hold him back. In the crowds over the first km or so, before we crossed the old runway, I had to keep him on a short lead anyway, then there was enough space to let him go for a while until we reached the next group and he had to be pulled back again. We proceeded in that way for a while, passing a couple of dogs and many humans, a large proportion of whom didn't seem like seasoned runners - good for them, and good for Parkrun getting them out - out running, and out of their comfort zones. Like I should be - but today I am staying deliberately within my comfort zone, which I hope means I'll keep Achilles comfortable too.

After the second turn, down the long back straight, we run on the grass alongside the track to leave plenty of room for the runners, but Hugo's very disciplined and there's never any threat of tripping anyone with his lead. When he sees a dog in front he becomes highly competitive and sprints past it, with me trailing in his wake: then at the far end of the course we are joined by a labrador, out for a walk with his owner. Not being on for a PB (not being bothered about my time at all), I stop until the dog-walker comes and encourages his dog to leave us. "Give me a lead, and he can come with us" I offer. He declines - the owner, I mean.

Another half-mile or so and a teenaged girl is hobbling alongside the course, her gait speaking eloquently of a lower-leg injury. Been there, done that, only a few weeks ago. No good calling out "are you OK?" because any fool can see she isn't - still, when people did that to me it was taken as well-meaning, and I was actually OK by any objective standard, just not OK enough to finish the run - so I called "are you going to be OK?" which struck me as a nuanced approach. I think she answered in the affirmative, but - to demonstrate just how pointless any expression of concern was - I'm not sure. A hundred yards further on and a marshall is running against the flow of runners, probably to accompany her.

There's a significant climb at about 2.7 miles, which seems to have slowed me a bit - look at the splits - then the finish is in sight and I am trying to speed up. A couple of speed merchants come past - they must have missed the start, or else they are't in the Parkrun at all - and I try to keep pace with one of them. By myself I could have done so easily, but with a reluctant dog to hold me back it's not so easy. Hugo is definitely tiring now, having gone out too fast - having gone from car to start at too fast a pace, to be sure - and having sprinted to overtake those dogs. But when we cross the line I learn that he's second dog, which isn't bad. 34 seconds down on the "trial" Newbury Parkrun a couple of weeks ago, but that was the time we spent shaking off the labrador. Not a bad outing, and no complaints from Achilles, who will get a thorough icing this evening anyway.

12 February 2012

Running blue

A couple of weeks ago I did a virtual race, the Freeze Your Thorns Off 5K, and this weekend there was another virtual event to take part in. It was organised by one of my very best Internet friends whom I have never met - Beth, who blogs about her running exploits under the name Shut Up + Run, a name I wish I'd thought of ... As much of the wordwide running community knows, a lady in the US called Sherry Arnold was abducted and murdered a few weeks ago when she was out on her morning run, and it's a tragedy, an atrocity, that has shocked and moved runners everywhere - and non-runners too, I am sure. So yesterday Beth had organised a virtual run for Sherry.

I did my best. There is currently a cold snap in Moscow, and as it's usually supposed to be cold snap means minus 25 centigrade. And this is relevent because I was in Moscow for the weekend - looking forward to another lap of the Bulvarnoye Kol'tso, which I didn't quite manage in October when I took a wrong turn and found myself heading to Red Square when I didn't quite intend to. The virtual run was supposed to be 9am in Colorado, but I had to go about 7am in a very different time zone. I put on as much clothing as was compatible with running - compression tights plus ordinary leggings, long-sleeved top plus fleece, green hat and green gloves, Buff pulled up over my mouth and nose - and headed out of the hotel and north along the canal to the bridge that would take me to the Boulevard Ring.

It was dark enough to feel it was a good idea to give the Knuckle Lights a first outing, and they were brilliant in every sense of the word - more on them later. I didn't put my Yak Trax on, despite having bought them specially to ensure that running in the Moscow winter was a possibility: there wasn't enough snow to merit it (there was by this morning, but there was no time to run). Passing a runner on the embankment - I thought briefly about turning round and trying to run in company, and surely this must have been another mad foreigner rather than a native although a chance to use my few words or Russian might have been a welcome diversion - I crossed the canal bridge, then reached the bridge over the Moscow River. In the middle I stopped to record the fact that I'd run at all this morning ...

... and you can see the Kremlin in the distance. You can't however see my "Running for Sherry" bib, which is one of the limits of self-photography. In particular, I found self-photography in minus 20 degrees or whatever it was - I wasn't counting, but even in the daytime it was said to be that cold, so at 7 o'clock in the morning it was probably even colder - a big challenge. Thin running gloves turn out to be no use in these conditions: the rest of me was OK but my fingers were already painful before I took my gloves off to work the camera in my BlackBerry (which, as BlackBerrys do, decided this was a good time to display a little clock symbol and refuse to obey commands, so i couldn't review the photo). Anyway, I secured the photographic evidence and decided that the Boulevard Ring, including the Vissotsky memorial and the statue of Peter the Great, could wait until another time.

I never knew Sherry Arnold, of course, but - like many people, no doubt - I feel a close association with her now. What happened to her is appalling, and the fact that it happened to a fellow runner in the course of the pastime that we all enjoy makes it even worse than appalling. I'm pleased to have been able to do a little to ensure she is remembered. But by then I had had enough, and headed back to the warmth of my hotel.

01 February 2012

All good people

The mild winter has lulled us into a false sense of security. It turned cold last Friday, and grew colder over the weekend. The Newbury Parkrun was cold although the puddles were still liquid: and although it did not rain or snow, and there was no wind, it was not good weather for spending extended periods of time in the open looking for an escaped llama.
By yesterday it was bitterly cold, and I worked from home wearing a woolly hat and making use of microwaveable heat pads. It was one of those days – do others have them too, or am I unusual? - when the tasks that need to be carried out hide themselves away, out of my consciousness. I know it is important to work through some of the items on my to do list, but I simply do not have the will. The cold seeps into my body and any mojo that I had seeps out.
Ann appeared in the middle of the morning, when I was contemplating driving the car to the garage in anticipation of its MoT test on Thursday. She had taken a break from the llama hunt to check her emails, for which she needed to borrow a computer which I gladly let her do in return for a lift back from the garage – a three mile run, surrendered with no resistance whatsoever.
On the drive back, she stopped to take a phone call from a BBC journalist who was meeting her at 12 to interview her about the llama hunt. Getting as much publicity as possible seemed the key to finding Yasmin right from the moment she jumped out of our field, so this was a major development.

By 1230 the idea of heating up the home-made carrot soup that was waiting for me in the fridge was compelling – not so much on account of the nourishment but more for the heat. And I had scarcely finished it than my phone rang and an excited Ann told me they had spotted the escapee: could I come to help? Well, no, unfortunately, because we just took the car to the garage (and the two cars outside the house are not legally useable). Then could I email all the people who'd been party to a series of emails the day before? Yes, but I hadn't been a party to that conversation – I had to have Hilary forward the emails to me, then cut and paste addresses and spend 15 minutes weeding misformed addresses out of the resulting list. But I got the request for help out to about 30 people, who are probably now mostly cursing me for cluttering up their inboxes. I also included a request for a lift, because Andrea, the only other llama-hunter I knew in the village, hadn't answered her phone when I called her to ask if she could at least take me to the scene of the action, even if she didn't want to participate herself.
Hilary said she would come home immediately, then Andrea did answer her phone having just returned home from her morning's llama hunt. She wasn't enthusiastic about going straight out again, but was willing to give me a lift. No sooner had we arranged that than one of my unknown email correspondents called me to offer a lift and request directions. And when Andrea pulled up to collect me, so too did Hilary, who needed to change before joining in, so collecting our extra volunteer en route we headed to what seemed like the easiest point at which to join the roundup.

When Hilary caught up with us there she told us that Ann had called her and said that the previous junction was closer, so we headed back up the A34 to Compton, but only a short distance up the road word came from Ann that Yasmin was safely in the trailer, so it only remained for us to get a glimpse of her in captivity before going home.
I didn't expend much physical energy in all this: most of the time I was sitting in one car or another. But when I got home I was exhausted. It has certainly been an interesting and novel experience. It must have been even more so for the BBC crew, one of whom had played an important part in herding Yasmin into the trailer and whose vehicle had also been pressed into service as a barrier to prevent her from avoiding the trailer. But it seems that the two male llamas who'd been walked for miles over the Berkshire Downs were a strong enough attraction, and eventually Yasmin went into the trailer quite willingly. She will be dining out for years on the stories from her four days or so of freedom. And her TV stardom.