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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