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.