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!