19 December 2013

Walking with a mountain

I have not rushed back into running since the Abingdon Marathon. All things in moderation - that's the motto of the long-distance runner. 5K on a dreadmill on the 'minus first' floor at the Aquamarine Hotel when I was in Moscow the week after Abingdon, when I tried to keep up 6 minute pace for a mile and failed, so it isn't likely to happen over 3.1 miles very soon. A couple of runs between Paddington and the office, all on the streets (so, under 2 miles). Then on Tuesday a club run in Abingdon, my last with the club as I am going to join one nearer home - two, perhaps - when I get myself organised. 4.64 miles (oddly precise), time unknown as I am so out of the running mindset that I clean forgot to start the Watch. My legs, even today, are much stiffer than they should have been.

It has been a difficult period, as on 2 December we lost our springer spaniel, Hugo, only six years old and a member of the Groves household for less than two of those. A few days before he died, shortly after a chest x-ray had revealed that he was suffering something much more sinister than a kennel cough, his lungs a mass of tumours, he and I drove round by Land's End (the less famous one, on the Berkshire Downs near West Ilsley) and I realised just how little running he and I had done together. But he was a veteran of many Parkruns, including the pilot Newbury one, the 100th running of which took place just last weekend. Without me, and of course without Hugo.

Hugo had character in huge quantities, and he has left a huge gap which could never be filled completely, but we have now given a foster home to another springer, Lucy, who has made herself very much at home but without appropriating any beds or settees. Throw a ball for her and she exhibits an impressive turn of speed, and she'll go on bringing it back for a long time before she gets tired or just fed up. I hope she'll be a good long-distance runner.

It has also been a manically busy period for work, some of which has even paid. It does however feel like an uphill struggle, and the intellectual property book I so confidently expected to get up-to-date and published is still some way from being finished - I have half of trade marks and all of patents to revise. Then only another three books to complete - or is it more? When can you say you are working on a book? How long can it be since last you did something with it, like adding a couple of words or even dotting an i or crossing a t? Is it enough just to think about it?

20 October 2013

The Immortal Story

If you run one Marathon a year, at most, you're condemned each time to commit the beginner's cardinal error. I am, anyway.  Out too fast, then struggle round the second half. Too fast means seeing sub-8 pace on the Watch (great! I'm really flying!), and struggle means discomfort walking, let alone doing the Old Man's Shuffle. But it's done, and it was number 13 so worth getting out of the way even if I claim not to be superstitious. And whichever way you look at it, a big improvement on last year's effort. Several minutes spent chatting to Mick and Phil provided a dose of inspiration - not enough, as it happened, to avoid a very ugly and extremely slow endgame. I hope I see them racing again soon, not just standing at the side of the road cheering on those of us who, although we don't appreciate it all the time, are so much more fortunate.

06 October 2013

Sunday morning

Time, I thought, for a long run - with the Abingdon Marathon coming up in about three weeks - oh, actually, exactly two weeks. The realisation came as a bit of a shock.

I ran to the field, where Hugo had gone on ahead to feed the horses (for which read, eat some carrots), and after a short pause to nail some rails to fenceposts we headed up to the Ridgeway.

I'd feared that it would be a mess, since it was only a week ago that the police were up there in force dispersing an illegal rave, but it was pretty litter-free and the only ruts were the ones that have been there for years - they took years to create, and I guess they will take even longer to fade away.

At the Bury Down car park we encountered a middle-aged couple (by which I mean they looked a little older than me) on what I can only describe as a recumbent tandem, a type of machine I have never seen before. I paused to admire it, and forgot to restart the Watch when we started again.

By the time we reached the turn-off back towards the village, where the plan was to go straight on to the Wantage Memorial, about three miles further along the Ridgeway, Hugo was lagging behind so much that I decided to head home. He needs a couch-to-seven miles training plan.

I had a recovery cappuccino and croissant and headed out again, unaccompanied. It was hard work to get started again, and a struggle after about three miles, but endurance is all about learning how to keep going when everything is screaming "stop", isn't  it? I'm afraid I did stop a few times, but even so my legs are strong (all that cycling to the station and home again, uphill, in the evening) and I'm not really tiring - helped, no doubt, by the chia iskiate I made up to keep me going on the planned long run. But my left foot is stiff and painful where I injured it in January: perhaps a spot of arthritis, which would not be surprising at my advanced age. It is certainly aggravated by barefoot shoes, so I'll be back in the marshmallow ones for a few days.

05 October 2013

Morning of our Lives

All the way round the Abingdon Parkrun course this morning I was kicking myself - figuratively, anyway. The chap on whose shoulder I was running as we rounded the farthest bend wasn't kicking me either, but he looked at his watch a couple of times and as he did so his elbow hit my chest - not painfully, not so as to slow me down, but it made me feel as if I was in a race. He accelerated away and beat me soundly.

I was kicking myself for wearing my Vivobarefoot Evo shoes - before I even reached the start I had discovered they had no traction on the wet grass, and round the meadow and along by the river there was an added problem with slippery bare earth. Breatho trail shoes are the right choice - how could I have forgotten?

I was kicking myself for wearing glasses. I have  never got used to the bifocals that I bought a year and a bit ago: where I want to plant my feet is out of focus, so staircases become a problem and running on a surface that demands attention is, too. And I guess that after the summer, the ground is especially uneven: it needs some moisture to soften it then a few Parkruns to smooth it out. Not being able to see where my feet were going, and slipping and sliding when I did plant them, was far from ideal.

On the other hand, I felt good: no niggling pains or injuries, for one thing. I have also been noticing recently that the action of running, just putting one foot in front of the other, has become deeply satisfying: I have had several moments of wishing it could go on for ever. I suspect that's a feeling that might wear off pretty quickly if I succumbed to the wish, but while it lasts it is inspiring. I have been using marshmallow shoes quite often in the past few weeks, and perhaps that has something to do with it - not only do the soles promote comfort, but I have gel pads under the balls of my feet too. I wonder how they would work in Vivobarefoot shoes?

I had lined up near the front of a field of at least 100, planning to keep ahead of the children and ear-phoneys (I just coined that - I wonder whether it's ever been used before?) until we'd negotiated the first couple of choke points, which meant I lined up with Pete, to whom I remarked that I was clearly not where I really belonged. But it worked, and I reached the lock without being seriously baulked.

At least a good proportion of the course is tarmac, and on those sections I felt as if I was making decent time. I was concentrating on my arms, making sure they did a fair share of the work: 22 years of serious running, and I think I have got to the point where my legs can be left to their own devices while I get my arms sorted.

One runner asked me about my PB as we started the second loop, but I was unable to give him much of an answer - first, because I had no breath available for speech, it was all being used for running, and second because that isn't information I carry in my head. What is in my head is targets: 20 minutes for 5K, 40 minutes for 10K, 1:30 for a half, 3:30 for a Marathon - all well beyond reach, as they have been since I first set them for myself at least 8 years ago.

I told him it was, oh, 22-something, but I assured him that I wasn't going to change it today.

For the last quarter of a mile or so the route is on a good metalled surface, though runners have to share it with cars as well as pedestrians. But there's a slight bend in it, so you can't see the point where you turn right and hurtle down a short slope to the funnel: how inspiring it would be if that were in sight earlier. As it is, that final near-straight comes in two stages: first you can see the marshal at the point where you make a sharp right on the first lap, then once you're past that point you can see the marshal at the final right turn. At least I believe that's how it works - but who knows, my memory might be playing tricks. Whatever, it's a small psychological battle to attack that last section because the targets aren't quite in view when you need them. I divided it mentally into two parts, made for the first marshal and once past her fixed my sights on the next and final one, upped my pace (or so I thought), pumped my arms and did my best to save a few more seconds.

For a change, I remembered to press the button on the Watch as I crossed the line. 22:20, it said, but all I knew was that in whole minutes that was consistent with recent times, and I was surprised. I hadn't hung around, but I certainly hadn't felt like I was pushing it - I lacked that near-death experience at the finish line that marks out a really hard effort. But it turns out I got nearly everything right: avoiding trouble in the first hundred yards, keeping my form, ensuring my head stayed in the right place (not so difficult when you only have to concentrate on running): now I check my records, that's a PB for this course, by an amazing 29 seconds, and even 12 seconds faster than I have managed at Newbury, which is a much faster course.

How many seconds did I waste with my feet slipping, I wonder? And stumbling on the uneven ground? 140? That would be nice ... Maybe next week I will take a trip to Newbury and see what I can do there.

26 September 2013

Black dog

A run is usually a great way to get rid of a black dog, in the figurative (or, as they say these days, "literal") Churchillian sense, but today we had the company of one (literally literally, if you see what I mean) who just wouldn't give up. A large young labrador. I eventually had to hold him by his collar until his owner caught up and took him away on a lead - for the second time. He was not inclined to let me walk him back the way we had come.

In fact the Ridgeway had an unusually large number of dog-walkers on it this morning, as Hugo and I trotted along it after feeding the horses (making a 7.09 mile loop, a perfect start to the day although I don't know whether my companion agrees with that assessment - he was flagging in the second half). Between black dog episodes, we passed a man walking two dogs which raced past me to make Hugo's acquaintance (he lagging some way behind at that point). Their owner was relieved, he told me, that they had ignored me because one of them often jumped up at joggers. I explained that there was therefore a very good reason why they hadn't troubled me. He apologised - and perhaps he will think twice about using the J-word again ...

No data for this run, because Garmin was out of juice. Planning another seven-miler this evening - keen to get fit enough to get a respectable time in the Abingdon Marathon next month, having taken over a spare number. And recent runs, though they haven't been long (it has been some days since I even managed to fit in a 5K between Paddington and the office) have been fast and have felt very good, which bodes well.

17 September 2013

Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes

The Santa Cruz Sentinel - of course! - reports on how a lawyer turned up in court in Bucharest wearing blue suede shoes (trainers, or "sneakers" in American English) and was fined for contempt. He looks old enough to know better - but it's an excellent excuse to embed a link to this great piece of music.

I walked into this court
And the judge refused;
He said, "I don't hear lawyers
In blue suede shoes;
We don't give credit, and
We don't give way--
We have to think about what the people might say..
Uh, you know what I mean..."
I said, "sure, man"


That's the end of the message
Thank you very much.
Bye bye...

22 August 2013

Push push

Tuesday, 8x800 metres plus run to and from the Site made a good 10K. Yesterday, short route from Paddington to the office (1.9 miles) but 4.35 coming home to make it up - including several times up and down platform 4 at Paddington, until I had the right mileage on my watch. Tonight, a 1500m time trial with another 19 laps to get the right distance. Four consecutive days running 10K and I feel good.

19 August 2013


Some days I know I just can't run. Then the only sensible thing to do is sit it out, wait for the urge to return. It's never more than a few hours away, and last weekend I could just watch the World Championships on the devil's fishbowl for inspiration.

But we are not always sensible, rational beings, and I can say that without having to produce in evidence a colleague who ran Leadville over the weekend, in a little over 29 hours. I hope he got a buckle for his trouble. No, to prove how irrational we are, and despite a 1am late night on Friday, I lined up to start the Abingdon Park Run.

In one sense, no running event can ever be too successful, but when it comes at the price of hordes of children who, if they did not need to be escorted under the rules can only marginally have been within the cut-off level (12), some might say that's too much success. And the Abingdon course has some bottlenecks, the first after only a couple of hundred yards.

My legs were not really good for that couple of hundred yards. They felt like they did one day when I essayed a 5K the day after giving blood. A distinct shortage of oxygen going to the muscles, and a general feeling of fatigue from the hips down. I hoped things would come together as I got into my stride but that bottleneck put paid to that, and by the time I'd passed the lock I knew this run was not going to happen.
Of course, part of it is wanting to run a PB for the course. If your run is thwarted, why go on? That mindset prevented me from running the other 4.6 or so km. I went home and watched other people run on TV, along the Moscow river, past the statue of Peter the Great, past the Red October chocolate factory, past the Kremlin, four times in each direction. It gave me ideas for where to run next time I am there.

Today I cycled to the station and ran from Paddington to the office, and this evening I ran back and will soon be cycling home. A good 10K running, to prove that 5K is nothing and I can do a Parkrun whenever I want provided I have a good night's sleep and a bowl of porridge. (There's another prerequisite too but I won't go into that - suffice to say that a 5K is too short to be stopping behind a tree). Flat battery, so no data.

One moan, though. At 0906 the gate at the west end of Lisson Grove moorings was still locked: the eastern gate was open, and the sign said the opening time is 0730. This evening the eastern end was closed at 1802 (so, it must have been locked pretty well spot on the hour as advertised) but not the other end. What is going on? I hate to leave the footpath there, although it does avoid a couple of flights of steps and a 30 foot climb.

15 August 2013

Onion: 4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

I can't resist posting a link to this article on The Onion, which calls itself America's Finest News Source: 4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence. 

Parody of the best sort, with no need for any sort of spurious exception from copyright protection. I hope that the University of Chicago or Associated Press do not now prove me wrong by taking legal action over it.

13 August 2013

Speed of sound

After a few sedentary days, missing a couple of possible sessions last week, I got myself down to the Site, as it is known locally, for a speed session with Compton Harriers. Only four other people: a friendly group. Speed training takes the form of laps round a block behind what used to be AEA's head office, and before that was probably the main building for the old RAF station - maybe the officers' mess was in there. Must check. Anyway, it's now all conveniently outside the wire so we can use that for 800m reps.

The session was supposed to comprise 8 of them, but for starters three of us headed off round a 1 mile loop, me tagging along to be shown the way - knowledge that might come in useful one day. I started off in my Mizuno Wave shoes, maximum cushioning to protect my very tired and aching feet: I fear I might have a touch of arthritis or something in my left foot, which suffered the self-diagnosed stress fracture earlier this year. Then I changed to Vivobarefoot Achilles sandals for a lap, which wasn't too bad: a little friction between big toe and its neighbour on my left foot, and a lot of slapping down on the road on the right - suggesting one was tighter than the other. Lucy pointed out that I hold my left shoulder higher than my right when running, which could all be associate - I am anxious about injuring my left foot, and perhaps I tense up in avoiding this.

I ran the next four reps in my Vivobarefoot shoes, which now just feel so natural: running in anything else feels odd. They are extremely comfortable and light, and I am used to them after all the running I have done in them. On the third or fourth lap, having addressed other matters of form on previous laps (stride, arm swing) I tried to lean into the run, and felt as if I had really started to fly - although I doubt I would have seen sub-7:00 on the Watch if I had looked. And this evening I had taken the HRM with me, which means that the usefulness of the Watch on the run is diminished because every time I look at it it seems to be telling me my heart rate. Useful , to be sure, but it would be nice to see other data too: it just seems to scroll past the other stuff before I can see it.

A bit more training like this and I will be closing in on that 20 minute target for 5K.

05 August 2013

Monday monday

Finally broke through 200 miles for the year to date - not a very impressive total, but I might just make it to my target by the end of the year. 3.5 miles from Paddington via Little Venice, the Regent's Canal and the Park (round by the boating lake to add some distance) to get to work. Conditions were near-perfect: dry, clear, still, not too sunny, and I kept up a cracking pace through the Park. But coming home was a different matter: waited half an hour for a cloudburst to pass, then jogged through the streets to the station, only a mile and a half - better, marginally, than nothing, but indicative of how exhausted I feel at the end of the day, and how reluctant to throw myself on the mercy of First Great Western for the ride home. No cycling, either, because of the likelihood of foul weather (and general lethargy).

03 August 2013

Indian Summer

I find this hard to understand. Off very little running, none of it really fit to be called "training", I had done a couple of fast Parkruns culminating in a personal fastest time, and a couple of 5 milers not far off 40 minute pace - one of them with a nasty cold (which lingered for nearly a fortnight). Nor am I any younger than I was, at any time before, naturally. So where did these performances come from?

With a fastest Parkrun time from an outing at Abingdon, which is definitely not the fastest course in the world, an attempt on my PB at Newbury (RAF Greenham Common, as was) was hard to resist. This morning the weather was perfect: no wind, and not too hot or sunny. I lined up in an unaccustomed spot a little bit from the front, eyeing a couple of young boys who perhaps should have been accompanied warily - will they get in the way of faster runners? - and worrying a little about the guy with the racing stroller (thank goodness they were not long invented when my daughters were small). I had already discussed running with a springer spaniel with the man who was doing precisely that, and it was clear from what he said to me that he'd be off into the distance (whereas Hugo would have had to be dragged along).

What can I say? It felt good from the start. A few people came past, and I passed a few optimists who should have started a little further back. My friend with the springer headed off at a storming pace until nature called and I passed them with the dog squatting and the runner rummaging in his shorts pockets for a plastic bag. Shortly afterwards they came blasting past me again, the bag grasped more firmly in his hand than ever such a parcel is in mine.

One mile, and the Watch beeped. 6:48. I don't know when I last saw that sort of pace on it. Another mile, another beep. 7:04. Could be more consistent, but that first mile was not a complete flash in the pan. But the third mile was tough, and the little bit at the end (not as little as it should be though: 3.14 miles means I can deduct a few seconds to give me a reliable 5K time) not inspiring enough to lift me - perhaps because the new finish was not as visible as the old one was. I was struggling, though the splits still look respectable. Perhaps next time I'll do it in metric and see what it gives me. But however you look at it, that's a big PB for a Parkrun, and 68.79 per cent a good age-graded result (though I have bettered 70 per cent in the past, something else to aim for). And Newbury's fast, but not completely flat and certainly not smooth ...

22 July 2013

London Calling

It seemed like another good idea at the time, and even with hindsight it doesn't seem bad: a five mile race in the Olympic Park, finishing in the Stadium, marking the firs anniversary of the Games and the reopeninig to the public of the park. It would provide family members with a chance to see inside the Stadium for the first time. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Well, to start with it was not a cheap privilege. Then Tor, who had drawn it to my attention, didn't get a place in the ballot (but Phil did, so when I got mine at least there were two members of the extended family taking part). There was the small matter of getting to the far side of London for 0930 on a Sunday morning (whatever happened to sleeping in? That must have been in a previous lifetime). Finally, there was a cold to contend with, one bad enough to wake me several times during the night, one which should have precluded running.
And there were 15,000 other people taking part, too, not all strangers but I had no idea who I might know. Had I known, and tried to make contact, it would not have worked because the cellular network could not handle all the traffic, anyway. But the chances of finding someone in that crowd - each runner had two guest passes - were vanishingly small, which made my encounter with a member of Didcot Runners whom I recognised from my recent three-race weekend rate high on the improbability index.
The race - it was a race, for those in the elite section - was hard work. It was started in waves, and Phil and I started together but he went off rather faster than me after we finally reached the start line, some five minutes after the official start time. My Garmin had been plugged in all night but had failed to charge, so I had to judge my pace, which is tricky in an obstacle race such as this. I have never overtaken so many others in a race, including some who had to pause on the ramp to the velodrome less than a mile in. There were runners listening to music rather than what was going on around them (though fewer with headphones than I had expected, perhaps because there were supposed to be bands around the course though I saw few: there was rather a lot of loud music of the supposedly uplifting rock genre which completely fails to communicate anything to me - I'd have benefited from something like the the piece from which I borrowed the title for this blog post, incongruously used as a theme song for the Games last year, proving perhaps that no-one pays attention to lyrics). There were runners two or more abreast, leaving no space to squeeze between them. There were constructions sites, and gaps where venues from last year had gone. In short, four-and-a-half miles of irritation with no real redeeming features.
Then we were in the Stadium building, running at first through its bowels, a concrete world reminiscent of the underside of the Dallas convention centre, and finally for the last 300m out into the daylight in that huge arena with cheering crowds and the springiest track I have ever run on. I crossed the line with a few seconds to go before the White wave's clock tripped over to 46 minutes - but it had taken over 5 minutes to reach teh start line, so my chip time is an astonishing 40:38, just 23 seconds slower than Didcot, where I really tried!

06 July 2013

So far away

It seemed like a good idea at the time - Abingdon Parkrun at 0900 as usual, to have a go at setting a PB for the course after my shoelace thwarted a (completely unexpected) fastest time last week, making me realise that I am fitter than I thought: then at noon the Compton Canter, which it seems I run every other year - well, the last few year. This was the eighth Canter, and I ran the sixth in '11 and the fourth in '09. The Parkrun would be a good warmup for the Canter, which is too demanding (terrain, heat, topography) for a fast run.

The first thing I would have to do was get near enough the front of the Parkrun start that I wouldn't have to pick my way through the kids who start flat out and fade, if they get that far, along the single-file path by the river. Two did still get in front of me, one of them clearly under 11 and without a parent despite the race director's threat that unacompanied under-11s would be taken straight into care: and predictably he took a break after a few yards, turning round to see what was going on behind him (a hundred runners about to trample all over you!), but I sidestepped him and left them both behind.

And that's the story of the race, or most of it anyway. I was in the zone, concentrating on my form, picking off a few slower runners and being passed by a big guy whom I tried to keep close to - and then, at about the 4K mark, by the older of the two boys who'd started in front of me. Good for him (and I don't think he was required to be accompanied)! I let him slip in front of me where the path narrowed a bit, but accidentally clipped his heel as he did so, for which I apologised (and he barely seemed to notice me nearly tripping him), but got back in front somewhere between there and the finish. My sprint had been exhausted on the opening hundred yards or so, so it was not an impressive race for the line, and I didn't manage to catch the big guy until we'd finished and I thanked him for the race. All very pleasant, and a PB by 15 seconds - even more time than it takes to tie a lace.

And thence to Compton, where at registration I was handed the number 1 - a heavy responsibility! - and quizzed about llama-hunting, which I have managed to avoid doing for over a year now. The course was the same as the last couple of times I have run it: a steady climb out of the village to the top of Lowbury Hill, then a fairly straight return along two more sides of a triangle. Except that someone - presumably following the runner who'd checked the route in the morning - had moved or removed several of the arrows showing which way to run, hence the spike on the map of my course (below) and the wheels coming off my run when, at the 6K marker, Mr Garmin reported 6 MILES. Further than the course was supposed to be to begin with!

I walked. I stopped for water. Two of us met a competitor coming up the hill from completely the wrong direction. I walked some more. Someone passed me, also walking. Terrible. It was hot, it was hilly, the path was rocky (or I was running on recently-cut long grass) and I was not happy. But as the track sloped down into Compton again my feet rediscovered running and I hauled in the guy who'd passed me a few minutes earlier, then maintained a respectable pace to the recreation ground and for the last 200 metres on the field itself. But the time ... I did 44 and 48 minutes before, so an hour and 12 is disastrous.
Photo by Mel Groves. Looks like I am overstriding a bit.

One runner collapsed at the finish, another at the far side of the recreation ground, and a third out on the course. I don't know whether they had run the extended route, but if they did the prankster who thought it amusing to move the signs has a lot to answer for - in addition to ruining several people's races, mine included. I think it's going to have an effect also on tomorrow's Didcot 5, which suddenly seems a lot more ambitious after the extra 3K today.

Up to 9.1K it looks as if I actually ran a respectable pace, which is something to be pleased about. I got up the hills well, better than those around me, and I got down pretty well too, passing some people who chose to resist gravity. But it's the final 3K that I'll remember!

02 July 2013

Running up that hill

Only 3.74 miles to show for it (a couple of hill reps missing because I forgot to start the watch - but even then not much more that 4 miles, as I was doing short reps, only about 100 metres): but what an effort, and what a great feeling at the end!


July Morning (again!)

An energetic start to the month - a fast ride (perhaps my fastest ever on the traffic-free route) to the station, a very brisk run along the Regent's Canal to the office, and the reverse, rather slower, in the evening.

8:08 is a pretty good pace for a route that throws plenty of obstacles at the runner, including a couple of road crossings, a few bridges, and a flight of steps - not to mention cyclists, who are almost all very considerate along the towpath although I would like to hear a bell ring before the bike whizzes past from behind!

Wonder if I might achieve a PB if I venture another Parkrun on Saturday? I am in better form than I imagined I was.

"Money is like fertilizer: When it's hoarded, it stinks. When spread around, stuff grows."

Not a quote from JM Keynes, who tended I think to employ a rather different turn of phrase, but from John Densmore in his new book (brilliantly entitled "The Doors: Unhinged") quoted in Defending The Doors in the Syracuse New Times. The article creates a wonderful mental picture of Densmore and Rear Admiral Morrison as co-plaintiffs. Another book for my "to-read" list, too.

29 June 2013

Abingdon Parkrun

Remarkably, only seven seconds short of a PB for this event - though that might change when the official times are published, as my PB is a couple of seconds faster officially than it is on my Garmin account. How do I manage that, on so little running, none of it proper training?

Even better, my time includes about 9 seconds for tying a lace, so in truth it was a PB or at least an equal PB. The lace came loose just after mile 1, and by the time we came round to the same point on the second lap I had passed all the people who passed me while I was re-tying it. At the finish I was approached with an invitation to run a 3,000M race on Monday for the Amblers, so I must have made an impression!

18 June 2013

Legal Writing Prof Blog: overcoming procrastination (an oxymoron?)

The Legal Writing Prof Blog offers a couple of articles on overcoming procrastination which are obviously required reading for me: some of my readers might also benefit from them - but if your procrastination takes the form of reading my blog, or blogs, please don't allow me to interrupt you.

It strikes me that reading an article on overcoming procrastination is a bit of an oxymoron ...

14 June 2013

Wheel's on fire

As I was securing my bike at the station this morning, an incoming commuter arrived at the bike shed to find only a pair of wheels, securely fastened to the rack. He was remarkably phlegmatic, in a situation in which most people would have been very angry and many would have gone off on a Daily Mail style rant against immigration and other common scapegoats. Another cyclist advised him to get the CCTV footage, which I hope will help him recover the frame.

I made doubly sure that my two U-locks secured the wheels to the frame, and now I have a longer one at home I might bring that into service too. After all, it's quite a long walk or run home, and having paid £45 for quite a good bike (!) I don't want to become a victim of crime. Even the lights and pump have been untouched for years, though I rarely leave my bike at the station overnight as my unfortunate interlocutor does (or did).

06 June 2013

After Dark

A former commuting friend mentioned After Dark by Wilkie Collins, saying he'd enjoyed reading it: and I have been doing likewise, pleased to find it available from Project Gutenberg (here) and enjoying it greatly - except for one thing ...

Why, I wonder, has someone taken the trouble to translate it into American? All the "-our" words have become "-or", and other American spellings have been adopted. (I have an American edition of an Iain Rankin novel on my shelf, and reading that was an even weirder experience - why on earth go to the trouble and expense of making all those changes?)

Now, about 90 per cent of the way through (Kindle's alternative to providing page numbers: it's page 225 if you read it online), I find "met with". Why? Did Collins write it that way, I wonder? See, it even makes me doubt what I know about writing English. OK, perhaps there are circumstances in which it would be correct, but not in this context:
Old recollections of the first day when he met with Nanina ...
There's no translator credited on the title page, and for "language" Gutenberg states "English". Were his moral rights engaged (had he ever had such things, in fact) would Collins be able to sue on the basis that this is a derogatory treatment? Of course, translations are not "treatment" for the purposes of section 80, which raises the question whether the defendant would argue that this was indeed a translation. But if treatment it be, what could be more derogatory than giving the impression that a celebrated English author could neither spell nor observe the rules of English grammar?

The book, incidentally, is a delight. Some lovely turns of phrase, and some wonderful stories, though somewhat dated (from 1856, so hardly surprising).

05 June 2013

Something cool

It's unseasonably cool today, for June. I woke up feeling worn out, as I seem to do most days at the moment: I hate to acknowledge it, but I need a large cup of strong black coffee to get me going, and some exercise to get me fully awake. The ride to the station fills that need, but I do wonder sometimes if I am overdoing it. How many men in their late fifties (which, I must also acknowledge includes me), incorporate a five-mile cycle ride, one performed as fast as I can manage, into their working routine?

Normally, of course, this is only for three days of the week, and sometimes I wimp out and use the car. This week, though, the car is hors de combat, as a friend's father once described one of the cars of my youth, struggling to get MoT fit, so yesterday my "working from home" day had to include a ride into Didcot to collect a couple of track rod ends and handbrake cables (which I am getting a professional too fit) as well as some time to dismantle the front bumper and take a headlamp apart, in the interests of overcoming classic MGF dim headlamp syndrome. Along with some regular work, mowing the lawn and doing a little cleaning, it made for a tiring day, such that I skipped the running opportunities available in the evening (and, of course, regretted doing so).

As I reached the descent to Upton on my ride to the station this morning, a descent which on the new bike with sprung front forks I take without braking and often while still pedalling, I overtook a pick-up truck with a dog trotting alongside. The driver was keeping to the left, but might not have seen me: fortunately it all went without incident. I did, in fact, slow down to make the pass. Further on, at the edge of Didcot, two men out walking myriad dogs had stopped to chat facing each other across the cycle path, making a very effective road block I rang my bell as I approached and they unhurriedly moved to one side, by which time I had lost all momentum. They did not merit, nor did they receive, a "good morning" or "thank you".

03 June 2013

Joy of a Toy

After yesterday's great run, I was keen to check that it wasn't a fluke. But the weekend's work had left me feeling exhausted even when I woke up this morning - thank goodness I had had the presence of mind to set the coffee maker before I retired.

A brisk cycle ride to the station saw me taking an earlier-than-usual train, but I could only run part of the way from Paddington to the office because of the need to buy some C4 envelopes to get the last few Motor Laws in the post - the plastic bags ran out at last, as I wrapped the latest edition, my last task of the weekend. I can't very well run with 50 envelopes in my hand , although I did manage to run as far as Rymans in Baker Street. From waking up knackered at 0600 to running a mile at 0900 is progress, of a sort.
This evening looked perfect. It had been a glorious day, not the first of the year but there haven't been many like this one , given the ridiculously long winter we have had to endure. I took my favourite route through Regent's Park, onto the Regent's Canal towpath and thence to Padddington. Before the enforced diversion at the Maida Vale tunnel, I happened to notice for the first time that it's possible to see right through to Little Venice, where the evening sun was glistening on the water. Lovely, although Little Venice always makes me think of of Kevin Ayers who lived in a houseboat there while recording Joy of a Toy at Abbey Road. Not that I knew him: but I saw him live twice, and listened to his records thousands of times, which means I almost knew him, I suppose.

Well, the run to Paddington was satisfying though nearly half an hour for 3.11 miles is unspectacular. Of course it's not a quick route, with lots of interruptions even if all the cyclists you encounter are sensible and friendly (as they were this evening). I reached my train without the desired distance showing on The Watch, perhaps because I left from 77 instead of 66 Portland Place, so I ran a tenth of a mile up and down the platform to make it up.
The title of this post is apposite for another reason too: I have the joy of trying out my latest toy (actually a really serious business tool for anyone who writes professionally), a Bluetooth keyboard for the Playbook. In fact it's a generic BT keyboard, but it forms part of a nice case (although I would prefer the vegan alternative to leather)  which makes a practical combination, tough some sort of closure on the case would have been nice. And the keyboard misses some of my keystrokes, repeats others - I hope I can adjust the sensitivity. This first effort does not look too bad but it has been a fairly laborious process to type this and correct it.

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26 May 2013

Jet spotter of the track (racing cars)

What sort of running blog is this, when I have no running to write about? I have spent two days working on the vegetable patch and the cars, which leaves no time for running but plenty of scope for commenting on cars. And I also took time to watch the highlights of the Monaco Grand Prix, giving me an excuse to embed a piece by John Otway. A dominant performance in the race, but not a patch on '72. There will never be a race like that again.

Imminent annual tests forced me to give the cars my undivided attention. First, the MGF: the RAC patrolman who recently solved its little no-starting problem observed that the engine oil was past its best, which I had suspected for a while. Obviously it had not been changed for a long time before we bought it. That bodes ill for its emissions levels, so oil, oil filter and air filter would have to be changed - I haven't looked at the plugs yet, and perhaps I should - and something would have to be done about the handbrake. Plus, the driver's side door mirror was cracked when we bought the car and that is a test fail.

The Renault also displays signs of exhausted engine oil - a very noisy tickover from cold, until the oil gets round the system. So an oil change (and a new filter) was indicated there too, plus an air filter. All pretty simple, no?

No, not really. Neither car has enough ground clearance to accommodate the special receptacle that I have used for about 35 years to catch the old oil, which replaced a gallon oil can with an aperture cut out of it. Which in turn was a solution that replaced positioning the car over a convenient storm drain grate - but that was never an approach that I adopted. So I had to jack them, both of them, and - would you believe it - I could find my trolley jack but not its handle, so I raised the cars on the scissors jacks from their toolkits. And got my work done quickly rather than bother with axle stands - although tomorrow, when I have to remove wheels, it will another story.

The sump plug on the MG is conveniently located on the front side of the sump, close to the offside rear wheel, and takes a 15mm socket (and, in my case, a sharp tap with a heavy hammer to turn said socket). The filter is just over from it, towards the centre of the car. A doddle. The Renault's, by contrast, is masked by a large plastic undertray which miraculously is provided with a hole under the sump plug. Socket? No, it requires an 8mm square drive thingie, which fortunately I have in my toolbox (bought to do this job on a Fiat Panda in the mid-80s). A Sykes Pickavant thingie, at that. But how to offer that up to a plug you can't see, when it won't fit in a socket? Hold the other square end in an adjustable spanner, seems to be the answer. Loosen the plug, and be prepared for a deluge way beyond the capacity of the receptacle to swallow it. Result: black, grotty, used oil on the drive.

Renault thoughtfully place the oil filter in plain sight just inside the bonnet, so no problems there. Except that unscrewing it causes a trickle of old oil to escape - of course, fully expected - with nowhere to go. There is no hole in the undertray corresponding to the filter. Fail.

As for the air filters, don't get me started. The MG shows signs of having been built around this component. It cannot be removed by entering through the aperture in the boot which gives access to coolant and oil fillers - it is possible to undo the clips from here but not to separate the box and remove the filter. The engine cover has to come off - unfasten the hood from the back of the cockpit, remove carpet and soundproofing, then unscrew ten or so 10mm bolts (two missing on my example, which might explain why the engine is loud) and take off the metal cover. This is also necessary, incidentally, to get to the oil filler cap (the satellite filler reached through the boot being incapable of taking on 4.5 litres at any reasonable rate). Then the air filter can be wrangled out and a new one put in. The new one is nice and white and clean: the old on black, confirming the wisdom of carrying out this operation before emissions are tested.

Renault's air filter looks, superficially, much more accessible. The owner's manual says unclip the trunking that funnels in the air, then unfasten two screws at the back. Removing the trunking allows a substantial plastic box to be removed - but I celebrated too soon, as this is merely an expansion box and the filter casing is held in place by those two screws, which are in fact under the scuttle so not exactly easy to get to. Worse, because this is a Renault they are not screws in the conventional sense, with a slot or cross head to get a driver onto: they are star drive affairs, referred to generically by ISO 10664 as "hexalobular internal" but commonly called Torx which is of course a proprietary name and should not be used generically, and they require a bit that fits into a socket - but one has to attack them across the width of the car, not from the front, so it's not easy to keep the bit engaged with the screw. Madness. Alternatively, a hexalobular internal screwdriver will do the job - but the one I have at my disposal, from a recently-scrapped Renault's toolkit, is mysteriously bent and the points of the star are chewed up. Cue much cursing, aimed largely at French car designers (reminding me of when I called the RAC out to my Citroen Dyane because it was making an unnerving noise: "I can tell you what's wrong with that", said the patrolman at a glance, from a distance of about 20 yards. "What's that?" said I, highly impressed. "It's a Citroen" he replied.)

Both cars run much more happily with new oil and filters, and the feeling of satisfaction is reward in itself. Mechanic's high, perhaps. Now for the brake pads.

21 May 2013

Downhill from here

It suits me much better to join Compton Harriers for a Tuesday evening run at 6 o'clock than to traipse into Abingdon for 7, like I have been doing on and off for years: and if the club wants to change its name (as it has) and drop the "Amblers" part, it's taking itself too seriously for my taste. So, for the second time, I have been out running with Compton. This week it wasn't on the roads round the Harwell site, it was up and down the hills at Streatley - and I feel good for it.

We gathered - all five of us! - at the car park where I marshalled the Downland Challenge in April, and set off through woods to view bluebells (which were very nice). Then it was downhill to Streatley, negotiating a slope at which I would have balked on skis, along the road a short way and back up the hill. The climb was such that flights of stairs had been constructed along mush of the path, and there were benches ever 50 yards or so on which I took breaks. Every bench. It was hard work, but it's what I wanted, and what I need - and I can set a target, to run up it in a few weeks without stopping.

The going was rough in places, as I expected, and I wore Breathos with that in mind. I put my left foot down on unforgiving and awkward stones or roots three or four times - twice with consecutive paces - and caused some twinges in the foot which I injured in January: but so far, no problems. A great workout.

16 May 2013

Songs of distant earth

Last night was already late after a meeting in London relegated me to the 1045 train. I arrived at Didcot, already in a bad mood because of the dreadful contract I had been reviewing during the journey, got into the car and turned the key ...

Nothing. The lights on the instrument panel went out, and the car stood there in silence and darkness. The battery is  new, I did not leave the lights on, there was no door ajar to cause the interior light to remain on all day. I opened the boot and then the bonnet (the release lever for the latter being in the former, for some reason known only to MG designers) and wiggled the battery leads about a bit. Instrument panel warning lights appeared, but when I tried to crank it there was nothing. I set the horns off a couple of times wiggling those battery leads, and tried several more times to get it to turn over, but eventually admitted defeat. I walked back to the station, in search of the first of a phone box to call the RAC (my Blackberry smartphone having died earlier) or a Pryor's taxi. Basil Pryor beat British Telecom.

This morning I set off to run into Didcot to get the RAC to sort out the problem. I thought I might speed the process by calling them en route, but the operator to whom I spoke thwarted that idea by asking for the registration number. I could give her the letters, but she was not satisfied when I told there were three digits between the first letter and the final three. So I ran on, and called when I reached the car.

The second operator, male, asked me the type of car. "MGF". "What model?" Good grief. "Petrol or diesel?" I explained patiently about the extreme rarity of diesel MGFs. "I don't know much about cars" giggled my interlocutor. Evidently. I refrained, with no little difficulty, from suggesting that the RAC might not be the right employer for him.

The patrolman was with me very quickly, and soon diagnosed a faulty contact at the end of the earth cable (not before he had tried the classic fix for any starter motor problem, a few whacks with a blunt instrument). Emery paper was applied and the lead refastened, and the car started on the first turn of the key. It might be my imagination, but it seems even to run better now.

4.11 miles on my GPS watch, which didn't find a satellite until I had already run half a mile or so, but the Garmin distance is the one to add to my cumulative total. Still way off track for 1,000 miles this year, but heading in the right direction. And a beautiful morning for a run. Pace not bad either: I used Vivobarefoot Evos rather than Breathos - but the first third of the route is on farm tracks, which were a bit rocky and might have been more comfortable if I had used the trail shoe.

14 May 2013

Run awhile

A coincidence of two small matters that reminds me of - what? Well, something important. Something that it's important to keep in mind.

Last night, at Nettlebed folk club, during an excellent evening with Fairport Convention in which we were treated to performances of Farewell, farewell, Who knows where the time goes, Mattie Groves, and of course Meet on the ledge, I also hear one of my all-time favourite Fairport songs, Walk awhile. Not because of the tune, although it's a great song for singing along, but for the sentiment. "The more we walk together, the better we'll agree". If only Richard Thompson or Dave Swarbrick had been runners - I mean at the time, not to suggest that they are no more, though Swarb has famously had the rare experience of reading his obituary in the papers - I think Run awhile would have been even better. But back in 1970 I would not have appreciated it ...

Then, this morning, my daily inspirational email from Runner's World:
Running is not, as it so often seems, only about what you did in your last race or about how many miles you ran last week. It is, in a much more important way, about community, about appreciating all the miles run by other runners, too. (Richard O'Brien)
I believe that's Richard O'Brien the actor and writer - and, obviously, and more importantly, runner. And clearly all-round good man. I have seen that one before, perhaps even shared it with readers of this blog, but it bears repeating. Shared it ... actually not an expression I find very comfortable: too American for my taste, as I grow to resent the intrusions into our language of more and more of theirs. But perhaps not inappropriate, because sharing is what it is all about. Appreciating all those other runners' miles, too. I never disparage what another runner achieves. At least, not knowingly.

12 May 2013

Overall, a Perfect Day at #writethisrun

I won't get many chances to run with an Olympic Marathoner: in fact, I would not be surprised if today turns out to be a unique occasion. I don't mean simply in the same race, which I have already done (when he beat me, as did several thousand others) but at Scott Overall's shoulder, having a conversation if his conversational pace were not my tempo pace. Eventually I dropped back with slippery huaraches from the wet grass. Great excuse.

Write This Run was an event for running bloggers, of whom there were about 100 in attendance. First interesting observation: about 90 per cent were female. Do men not have the time, or the need, or the aptitude, to blog their running activities? Or is it just a disinclination to spend their Sunday at a conference (with a grand prix and some football on the TV to deter them)? Or were they out running? There were plenty out pounding the pavements around Hampton Court as I drove to the venue.

Laura and Liz did a great job putting together a programme, although to my mind they tried to cram in too many speakers, so time slots were short and a 10 am start on a Sunday was a bit early. Several speakers didn't seem particularly comfortable presenting to an audience of such a size, although they were all at their ease with a roomful of runners. I will write more another time, but while it was nearly all interesting stuff I would have liked to hear more about blogging - though the tips I picked up about running were valuable, and the inspirational stories of some of the speakers were, well, thoroughly inspirational. A day well spent, even without the group run at the end!

29 April 2013

The ultimate positive spin

"We expect to gain a 15 minute extension to our journey time today", the "train manager"l has just announced, a propos a signalling fault between the Slough of Despond and Paddington. He went on to say this means an arrival time of 0930, which in the language spoken by ordinary people is 15 minutes late.
I am heartily sick of being lied to by the train operating company. Some years ago, their services were usually announced as "the slightly delayed First Great Western service to ...", so a stranger might assume the qualification was part of the company name, but they have rewritten the definition of "on time" so no qualification is needed except in extreme situations. When the dot matrix departure board on the platform tells me that the train is on time (the time posted being the timetabled departure time) yet it is not even visible half a mile down the line to the west, it is clearly late and they are therefore giving false information. As a Latin American fellow commuter remarked to me years ago, civil disorder on the station would be unavoidable in her home country. I never see her on the train these days - last time I saw her she had carved out a career in viticulture that minimised her need to commute to London.
I have spent a few hours in the past 24 putting a positive spin on my election address for the management committee of the Society of Authors. Having questioned the proposed constitutional reforms last years (both the substance and the process) and joined the task force set up to seek a better model, I would consider myself a hypocrite (not, perhaps of the most egregious stripe, but a hypocrite nonetheless) if I stood by and allowed a raft of candidates picked by a Magic Circle modelled on the one that brought in Home to succeed Supermac to be "elected" unopposed. William Horwood and Charles Palliser, also members of the task force, are doing likewise: we are, if you like, a slate, standing on a platform of democracy and transparency.
Yesterday also found me marking mock exams for my Russian students. As usual, too many demands on their time meant inadequate preparation and incomplete scripts. I cannot imagine trying to write an exam in a foreign language, even having to write in a foreign alphabet: surely you cannot write very quickly that way, and certainly the results can be rather untidy. One script was actually much easier to read than I had expected, in fact, and it was interesting to see how that student had formed Latin letters the Russian way (elaborate capital Ds for example. (Update: the train manager says that "the disruption is now complete", but contradicts the clear meaning of that statement by promising an earlier arrival time than previously advised.)
Another problem for the Russian students is reading the questions. The problem questions take a few minutes for me to read: were they in French it might take me four times as long, and I guess that's comparable to what my students have to do. And they miss things in the question: an English student would easily recognise that a question featuring the trade mark WONDERFUL will involve possible invalidity, but a foreign student can easily fail to appreciate that.
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07 April 2013

Top of the Hill

It took a long time, but eventually I conceded that my foot injury precluded running the Compton Downland Challenge this year - even the 20 miler. I had to agree the other week when Kerry offered the opinion that 20 miles was not the right distance for a first run after a few months off, and 40 was an even worse idea. So I offered to marshal instead.

The first problem I knew about: I had already agreed to marshal at the White Horse Half the following day (tomorrow, now). That was when I abstained from entering the WHHM because I expected to be running 20 or 40 today ... The second problem became apparent later: the Compton race wasn't going to be the usual figure-of-eight (which would have allowed me to stroll down the road from home and look after a road crossing for three hours or so) but two laps of the first loop of the usual course, so marshaling became a six-hour-plus job.

I was posted to the car park above Streatley - far above Streatley, as I have observed before (when I actually took part in this race). In the course of my lengthy stint minding the road crossing there, and making sure runners followed the correct route (strange how often they took the left-hand path even after I had impressed on them the need to traverse the car park) I was pleased to see John, erstwile running mate, but he only came past once - whereas Colin, whom I had met when I ran this event in '06, came past twice. The first time I recognised him and said hello to him, by name: the second time round, several hours later, he spared a little time to chat, which was nice.

As for John, all became clear the following day, when he lined up at the White Horse Half - a 20 the day before is impressive, a 40 would have been verging on lunacy.

05 April 2013

Time was

The railway operator which claims me as its "customer", for which privilege I pay indecent sums of money, treats me and fellow passengers like idiots. I am particularly incensed by their habit of describing as "on time" trains which manifestly are not. The 1016 to Paddington is late if does not leave at 1016: it is therefore late (meaning "not on time" to everyone except train operators) if it pulls in at 1016, later still if it is not even in sight at that time.
Today the 1016 halted as the digital clock clicked over to 1020, and almost at the same instant the display changed from "on time" to "expected at 1020". So I don't feel in the least bit patronised.
 Unfortunately the late arrival, compounded by slow running to Reading, meant that despite a sprint through the wonderful new station from a distant new platform all the way to Platform 2 I missed my connection. I asked a couple of railway employees for guidance, as the next train to Waterloo (from which I intended to alight at Twickenham) was half-an-hour later and I was already behind schedule. The senior one suggested, eventually, a train to Paddington then transfer by underground to Waterloo ("but I can't guarantee the Tube" - as if anyone could!): I needed the 1045 departing from ... "About Platform 53, I suppose?" I suggested, referring to the large number of new platforms at Reading. He thought that was hilarious, and undertook to walk with me in that direction so we could continue talking about the new facilities.
On the huge new bridge, all high picture windows and metalwork with myriad escalators which my new friend told me seem to be causing rather a lot of falls, I observed that it would not be long until the space became filled with shops and food retailers. Indeed, he told me that many passengers wanted a cup of coffee, and he was pleased that Starbucks would be opening soon. "Oh," I said, "I thought you said coffee." He thought that was hilarious too. I was on a roll.


31 March 2013

A Hazy Shade of Winter

The coldest Easter on record, and the coldest march since 1962 - but today the weather was more like spring than it has been since early January. 5K round the playing fields, stopping to thrown the ball for Hugo, is not great but it's certainly better than nothing, and nothing is what has been happening with my running of late. The other day, I ventured out on the same route (with the same running mate, and the same ball to throw for him), wearing a sweatshirt against the cold, which I assumed was not going to be Muscovite in its intensity because the sun was shining - a little. And while I was running with the wind at my back, I was right. Turning along the southern edge of my lap, though, the wind hit  me and it was immediately apparent that gloves and hat were essential. Since they were at home, that was where I went, though for a cappuccino rather than to pick them up.

I deliberately raised the pace along that southern edge of the lap today, and for the last lap kept it raised for another fifty or so yards: and I find I was up to (or down to?) 5:31 pace, at least for an instant. OK, that might be a Garmin hiccup, but it's not entirely implausible, and it gives me something to work on. Timekeeping at the Abingdon Parkrun yesterday, I envied not only the first man home in 17-something but all the other runners who came in at times quicker than I could contemplate. That elusive sub-20 5K has surely eluded me for ever now, but it would be very nice to get down to the low end of the 20s again. Rather better weather will certainly help my training.

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26 March 2013

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Does your running sometimes amaze you? Do you sometimes manage to keep up a workrate that you didn't believe possible? Do you ever finish a run and ask yourself where on earth it came from?

If your experience is anything like mine, you'll have had this feeling - perhaps once or twice, perhaps a few times, definitely not very often. It's too special to happen every day. I have particularly had this on club runs, when I have fallen in with someone rather faster than me - and kept up with them. Often left them at the end. It's the very antithesis of social running, but sometimes it's what I feel I need.

Talking to Kerry the other day, over a lunch that I've been looking forward to ever since he phoned me to ask if I would be interested in writing for RW, I was surprised to find that his take on running with people, on socialising on the hoof, was quite different from mine. It never struck me that some people might be so much in the zone that they wouldn't want to be interrupted. Well, it's probably something elite athletes do, but they inhabit a different - not distant, but definitely different - planet, and for me the social side of running has always been essential. Well, nearly always.

Actually, even tonight it was important. I suggested to Kerry that even if one did not speak, the act of running with someone, matching strides, breathing in parallel (or perhaps out of synch), was a form of communing. He didn't seem to agree - but this evening, on the long drag along Audlet Drive/Twelve Acre Drive/Dunmore Road, the last couple of miles of a run far longer than I thought I could comfortably manage, there was something reassuring about the sound of feet behind me. I wasn't talking to the teammate to whom the feet belonged: I had no breath for that. But just to know from the sound of her feet that she was there, that was enough. We hadn't met each other before - she told me after the run that she had only joined the club about five months earlier, and I haven't been out with them much in that time - but we pushed each other to performances far beyond what we thought we could manage: and the feeling that gives you is priceless. I have a sense that I can achieve something big now: but the most important thing is to keep up the running, stay in this zone, hang onto these positive vibrations.

08 March 2013

Song for insane times

Yesterday's running felt good: light and easy, although I have to admit that it wasn't fast. Today I ran about a mile to the station after dropping off the car to have a new exhaust fitted, and it also felt good, although it was a supremely uninspiring route. Then, after a day's work in London, I ran back from the City to Paddington - a run I haven't done for a long time. And, after a reluctant start, I found it remarkably easy too. 9:42 pace isn't exactly pushing it, but to get from the office to Paddington in 52½ minutes is respectable, in my world at least. Running in London is rarely very fast, although after the Micky Mouse section through the City the run along the Embankment, then through Horseguards, St James's Park, Green Park and Hyde Park (except for Hyde Park Corner) is pretty good uninterrupted running.

Along the Embankment, on a wet March evening, I was passed by a beautiful Ferrari Dino - an exquisite moment, but if I were a Dino owner I don't think I'd be exposing it to that sort of risk. But then, what would be the point of owning it?

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07 March 2013

I'm Going Home

Another few miles - 4.42 recorded ones today, though there should be a bit more because my Garmin operation wasn't too good. A short run to the office, pausing to phone a client (and shelter from the rain as I did so) and to deposit a cheque at the bank in Baker Street. Coming home, the long route, extended involuntarily: the gate on the towpath just after the tube bridge, a short distance outside Regent's Park, was open, so I carried on into that section of the canal where many boats are moored semi-permanently, with the thought that I might find the exit closed and have to retrace my steps - which would have been about half a mile to repeat. As it happened, I met the man who locks the gates - the turnkey, I guess - who'd secured the far, westerly, one and was heading for the eastern gate through which I had just passed. He told me I would have to turn round - had he been close to the recently-locked gate I might have pleaded with him. I put it to him (if I may be permitted a lawyerly turn of phrase) that he was out to boost my mileage: he concurred, and laid claim to a Mars Bar by way of reward. Did I look like a man with a spare Mars Bar?

I was never a TYA fan, but the news that Alvin Lee has passed away at the age of 68 gives further pause for thought. Musicians from my youth are dropping like flies.

06 March 2013

I had too much to dream last night

Ten laps of the playing fields this morning, 3.21 miles, making 17 miles in the past seven days - hardly worth mentioning, except that it is Progress (definitely with a capital P). And I wore my Vivobarefoot trail shes (the black ones being carefully filed away at RIBA).

For the second night, I had particularly vivid dreams - last night's I have forgotten the details of, but the night before it was one of those occasions when I had a Marathon to run and didn't seem to be able to get to the start. I was in Westminster, in an hotel, or perhaps it was the RAC: the Marathon started in the City. I had allowed myself to be sidetracked until there was only fifteen minutes for me to get to the start. I am sure this is all highly significant - does anyone else have similar dreams, I wonder?

05 March 2013

Ce Soir On Danse

A gentle 3.6 miles, the shortest of the routes on offer at Amblers this evening. Many comments about my (comfortable, cushioned) footwear.

04 March 2013

Salad Days (are here again)

I hope.

Two short runs, bookending a working day: the most direct route in each case, because of time constraints. The morning train was in reverse formation so it was straight out onto Praed Street: back in the evening I took to the waterside after Edgware Road, and there was some flow going on - with my running, I mean, not with the basin. No GPS because of a lack of juice in the Garmin, which is a shame because some of it was a decent pace, by which in my present condition (that is, at my age - and weight) means sub-eight minutes.

No problems with feet, but then, I have only run about three and a half miles today, split between two sessions.

On the way in, passed several large vans with satellite dishes, illegally parked though the cops (of whom several were in attendance) didn't seem bothered, and a throng of snappers outside King Eddy's. Pity ER: she needs a spot of rest.

03 March 2013

May I?

This isn't my first blog posting since his death, but searching for an appropriate song by Kevin I find that I never used this one, which is not only probably my favourite (I like Puis-je? just as much) but also one of his best - and with such a superb band, too, of whom Lol Coxhil and David Bedford (who, I just realised as I watched the video again, looks remarkably like Lech Wałęsa) went before him. It has been part of the soundtrack of my life (what a hackneyed phrase) since, in my first year at Warwick, I bought a copy of Shooting at the Moon from a record shop in Kenilworth. Someone had ordered it but had never come in to collect it, a tragic, inexplicable and unforgiveable omission for them. Naturally, I always hoped an opportunity would arise to use the line from the song myself, but of course it never did.

It's a completely arbitrary choice of music, too, a gratuitous homage to the great songsmith, because it bears no relation to what I have to tell you, which is merely that Hugo and I did the seven mile loop from home, up to the Ridgeway, under the A34, across the Bury Down car park, and down to the village again past Upper Farm and the school. Nothing exceptional there, except that it's a long time since I did it or anything remotely similar in length. And, thanks to Countryfile on the BBC just now, I remember to say that I was skumfish after that. There's a campaign to preserve the Northumbrian language and "skumfish" is one of the words being thrown around: my father used to use it a lot, though my recollection is that it had "-ed" at the end. Either way, it eloquently conveys my state at the end of a seven-miler, then feeding the ponies and sitting down to read a few pages of a book. "Knackered" is a bit obvious, isn't it?

28 February 2013

Winter Idyll

I carefully rehearsed what I might say on Radio 3 yesterday morning, to introduce Holst's excellent Winter Idyll which I had suggested as a piece worthy of inclusion in the programme's series of "Winter Warmers". I had quickly come to realise that, although you can feel the frost and see the bare trees in the arresting opening bars, the criteria for inclusion were more to do with thawing out, or sitting by a log fire while a storm raged outside - and revisiting the piece, I was happy to find just those elements too. Of course, others might not hear it the same way as I do, but that's the beauty of an abstract art form like music ...

However carefully rehearsed, I managed to forget it all and began with a thought-collecting "errmmm". I'd expected, having heard the feature many times before, that I'd be expected to contribute more than just about 15 seconds of explanation for my choice, but there we are - perhaps the schedule did not permit of more. And no-one would want to hear me rabbiting on about it instead of listening to the music. Sarah Mohr Pietsch,  the presenter, seemed to like it too ... and on listening to the programme on BBC IPlayer (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qwh69 about 66 minutes into it) I got more than 15 seconds, and squeezed in a reference to my morning run (which was distinctly wintry, though not as Moscow-like as it was on Sunday).

Take it easy

If I am right (as I am, sometimes) about the injury to my foot at the beginning of January, I certainly don't want to aggravate it now that I am able to run a little again. Which is why once round St James's and Green Parks was enough yesterday morning, slower than nine minutes a mile for three miles or so before my appearance (15 seconds of fame!) on Radio 3's Breakfast Show, then breakfast and the Motor Law conference, all at the RAC Club. And this morning 5K round the village playing field was enough, though I might try to make this a two-run day: that could be the way to build fitness without causing another stress fracture.

All this is in the pair of Mizuno shoes I bought this time last year. My Vivobarefoot shoes, and the Luna sandals, are out of use for the time being. Despite being able to say to anyone who asks about running far in the invisible shoes "I don't know, I haven't gone further than 26.2 miles in them ..." (cleverdick is the word that springs to mind - and with huaraches, perhaps the correct preposition is "on"), and having done a Half (not a particularly swift Half, it has to be said) in Vivobarefoot shoes, my left foot needs a bit of cosseting. Or maybe those long runs in minimalist shoes got me most of the way to a stress fracture - who knows? In any case, I am taking it easy for the time being - I have big ambitions for later this year and another injury could wreck another year, running-wise.

24 February 2013

Fundamentally yours

My return to running is taking a long time - and perhaps that's how it could be. My injured foot has had six weeks' rest, which is what all the websites I have consulted said was appropriate for a stress fracture, which I believed (despite not having the "exquisite" pain the one doctor I did speak to about it thought I should be experiencing, although maybe that depends on what you mean by "exquisite") was what it was.

After exactly six weeks (what it seems would often now be called the six-week anniversary, an expression which could easily move me to acts of violence) I ran the nearly two miles from Paddington to the office, then in the evening I ran the 1.65 miles back. No, I don't understand that either, but I do think it is really 1.95 and I will stick with that. Not that it's much of a run: hardly even worth lacing up running shoes for - and incidentally I am wearing big clumpy foam things, with orthopedic insoles and forefoot gel pads, until I feel confident about doing differently.

Well, that was Monday, and on Wednesday (I thought a rest day might be a good idea) I took the picturesque, long, route, 3.1 miles, along the Regent's Canal. And back in the evening. Nothing to report: steady 10 minute miles, and I realised that it's not easy to commute-run much faster than that anyway.

I fitted in a lap or two of the playing fields at home in between times, but a lap's only about 0.3 miles so nothing to get excited about. Even ten laps is pretty modest. Yesterday there was not a moment for running, because we set out early to watch Mel play lacrosse in the BUSA tournament at Warwick (which leads to another story), and being out in sub-zero temperatures all day left me too tired to do anything when we returned home (except watch Engrenages, to which I am becoming quite addicted although mostly I tell myself I am improving my French, hence my not calling it Spiral). After that, I slept very soundly and didn't have too much to dream ...

This morning I had every intention of doing my regular 7 mile loop when I donned my running kit. Honestly. But waiting for Garmin to find a satellite, the cold seeped in through my gloves and hat and two long-sleeved tops. The forecast said the wind-chill factor was -2°C, which is nothing compared with the temperatures that halted a run last February in Moscow although it did actually feel pretty similar. Instead, Hugo and I put in three laps of the playing field and I returned home to bake comfort food - no, I mean runner's food, namely flapjacks (to be precise, marmalade flapjacks). Naturally, I had in mind to take an opportunity to do a second, longer, run later in the day, but predictably it failed to materialise.

The FT prize crossword, a Mudd, proved quite a challenge and not only because I was tired last night when I started on it. It's finished now though, thanks to an afternoon spent largely listening to Johnny Walker's "Sounds of the Seventies" programme on Radio 2 (not a patch on the original Sounds of the Seventies, with Bob Harris, John Peel et al, but surprisingly good). It needed to be listened to as James and Andy were on it, reminiscing about the seventies although both claimed to be able to remember little about the decade - not even sure whether Stackridge had really opened the first Glastonbury Festival, although they were clear that they had played the final set. Walker asked them about their recollections of that famous Wembley Stadium gig in '75, when the consensus among knowledgeable commentators seems to have been that they were the best act on a bill that also included the Beach Boys, the Eagles and Elton John: but of course James was not a member of that iteration of Stackridge ... That could have cued a major incident, and perhaps years ago it would have done, but James said that he had been "dipping out" at the time, and there was some talk of how all the band members had been fired at one time or another - Crun three times. Walker played the sublime Fundamentally Yours, surely one of their best songs, and Spin Round The Room, about which I have no comment - plus Oh Yoko, for Andy's famous session guitar work.

31 January 2013

Running blues

How many times has it happened to me at this time of year? I successfully ran every day for the first seven days of the year, and then suffered an injury that was enough to stop me even walking properly. It has rumbled on since my last posting, although it has improved a great deal and I even managed a slow half-an-hour on a dreadmill in the gym (on what the receptionist delightfully called the "minus-first" floor) of the Aquamarine Hotel in Moscow - my home-from-home, it seems. While in Moscow, I also paid a visit to Café Illarion for an excellent Khatchapuri po-adzherski and a couple of pints of Zhigulevskoye beer, both highly recommended although I would warn you off the lobbio (bean cassoulet) which is predictably windy - perfect, perhaps, for Beth at Shut up and Run. But my long-awaited second run round the Bulvarnoye Kol'tso, on which I am determined to notice the statue of Visotsky, has to wait for another visit: anyway, with the temperature down near minus 20 centigrade I could really appreciate the advantages of the gym. (The sauna as also rather good.)

It's now over three weeks since the injury struck, if that's the right verb, and if it is a stress fracture as I fear it is I should be OK sometime around Monday fortnight. Let's hope. Meanwhile, Running Blues are precisely what I've got.

Time Blues Band

Hidden heart (updated)

What to make of this story in the Wall Street Journal, reporting studies that highlight the health disbenefits of running, and entitled somewhat sensationally "One running shoe in the grave" (at least it doesn't say "trainer", or in American English "sneaker")? First and foremost, I suspect, that you can find medical evidence to back up any argument you might wish to make. Indeed, the article quotes a couple of docs, who seem to be getting a bit too personal.

It's almost axiomatic that if you go to the doctor with a running injury you will be advised to stop running. My former GP was a member of the same running club as me, so I doubt that would have happened, although I can't now be sure how it might turn out, since her retirement: but running injuries aren't matters with which to trouble the National Health Service, which has its hands full with people who have no intention of living a healthy life, and perhaps no idea how to recognise one - who get their nutritional advice from TV ads, perhaps ... Visiting the doctor entails a long wait (well, too long for an impatient patient like me), first to get a date and then at the surgery. Running injuries are for Sharon to help me sort out, unless there's some additional element like putting my foot in a hole in an Oxford pavement while executing a sharp turn at high speed as I did in the Teddy Hall relay several years ago. That merited an X-ray, if only to support a possible claim (which I didn't make anyway).

But that's injuries, and the "one running shoe in the grave" syndrome is about heart problems. The BMJ's journal, Heart, on an article in which the report is based, has several articles in its archive on running, including this one from nearly two years ago (the link is to the abstract), this one from yonks ago (1979, long before I bought my first running shoes, which in turn was long before I became a runner) and this one from 2009. To this layman, to whom even the abstracts are largely incomprehensible, the two more recent ones seem to be saying that running is a risk factor, while the earlier one says that a pre-existing heart condition can cause death during a Marathon. (The 2009 article also seems to say that often the relevant pre-existing condition might be hard to detect, which strikes me as a very important observation.) The editorial on the basis of which the WSJ story rests is due out in the next issue of the journal, so I can't comment even on the abstract, although we could perhaps treat the WSJ report as one. (Update: here is a link to an extract, from which you can get to the full article if you cross the BMJ's plam with silver - at £24 for one day access to the article, I am passing.)

The WSJ seems to have drawn more conclusions in the story than are entirely justified. To me, it reads like a prescription for moderation rather than a warning that over-50 athletes (I use the word advisedly) are playing cardiac Russian roulette. What about its parameters? It considers 20 to 25 miles a week as "a lot", and the threshold speed mentioned is 8 mph (which shows, perhaps, that this was written by no runner: 7:30 in runners' language - minutes per mile that is). That doesn't sound like a particularly high mileage: it is a great deal more than I have managed for a long time, but less than my target, and well short of Murakami's 10K per day (and according to the book he followed that regime when he was about my age). However, 7:30 is more like 5K race pace than a "normal" speed - so where do I fit into the statistics?

I don't see anything here to put me off long, slow runs, and actually not much to put me off short fast ones either. The truth is that, like many runners, I have left behind running purely to keep fit, so analysing the activity purely in terms of heart problems isn't really relevant. Even if the chances of SCD (a piece of jargon I have picked up from reading abstracts!) were greatly increased, I would probably consider it a good trade-off to secure the manifold other health benefits. What's the use of staying alive but depressed? We all have to go sometime: Micah probably got it right.

10 January 2013

Janathon day 8 onwards

What I have done to my foot remains a mystery, but it has kept me from running since Monday - indeed, it has come close to keeping me from moving.

I remember feeling that I was maintaining a good pace, but aware that I was striking even more with the forefoot than usual - and not grounding my heel after landing, which is my (probably misguided) impression of what pose running is all about. Whatever the technique might resemble and whatever name you give it, that's what got me round the Abingdon Marathon and the Pud Run, so I know it works: but it wasn't what I was doing on Monday.

My Monday run was all on hard surfaces, too, except for the part along by the zoo in Regent's Park, where I take to the edge of the playing fields (and saw someone running completely barefoot, incidentally - or wearing flesh-coloured running shoes). That would have taken its toll on my feet. Plus, I was wearing thick socks inside my Vivobarefoot shoes, which were therefore tighter (including below the laces) than usual.

The pain is partly in the arch, which I fear might have collapsed, and partly in the ball of my foot and big toe. A roller massage device and new orthotic insoles have helped the arch problem, but the forefoot problem remains. The medical client whom I saw on Monday afternoon was confident that I was not in such "exquisite" pain for it to be a fracture. So I am resting, icing occasionally, taking homeopathic arnica pillules, elevating and compressing. And worrying about the Gloucester Marathon, and other races I hope to do this year.