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.