09 November 2014

Remembrance Day/Grand Union Canal Half Marathon

Done! It was never going to be the proverbial swift half, and it turned out to be slower than I planned, as I faded in the November heat (!) in the last three miles (as the splits show), but to run a Half with so little preparation and with injuries to overcome is rather satisfying - almost as good as a PB. Almost!

Apart from the heat, the race was also memorable for the beauty of the Grand Union Canal in its route through the western edge of London - just inside the M25. How can such a conurbation have so much green in it? There are some delightful houses along the bank, too, including one with a very airy artist's studio - several canvasses visible through the windows.

The towpath, however, is not ideal for racing on. We started in three waves, so for  most of the way the field was suitably spread out, but a gate after only a few hundred yards (most of that round the park where we started) was a bad bottleneck. The surface was far muddier than I had expected, and in places a wrongly-placed foot could have landed you in the canal, which the organisers explained would necessitate a thorough check for Weil's Disease. I didn't see anyone take the plunge, though I had a nasty moment when an earphoney cut me up as I went past and my foot slipped a little.

My calf injury didn't trouble me, and indeed the exercise seems to have loosened it up a bit (another underuse injury? I doubt it). Marshmallow shoes helped, as I could do some heel-banging or at least run less on the fore- or mid-foot and save the calves. Hills remained a problem, though, and even a canal towpath has them - attached to bridges and locks. I quickly realised that the solution was to attack them sideways, running like I would in a warm-up session, pushing sideways with the injured leg: no strain on the gastrocnemius that way at all. It has probably produced some very strange photos, though, as the race photographers (of which there were many) were usually positioned at the top of climbs.

No crabways running on the hill at mile 12, though: it went on too long, so I just had to grin and bear it - and dodge the football that a small boy saw fit to kick straight at me, his mother remonstrating mildly (rather than giving him the good hiding he deserved, and which would have nipped his antisocial tendencies in the bud.

A 10am start on Remembrance Day poses a problem - what to do at 11? The answer was to have a minute's silence before the start. Not everyone fell silent, and the Portaloo doors kept on banging shut throughout, but the music stopped and proper respect was shown. Well done to the organisers. Starting an hour later might have been a good idea from that point of view, but it was quite hot enough by the time I finished and running through the midday heat (!, again!) would have been trying, to say the least.



08 November 2014

Tomorrow is a long time

A limited goal today: complete 5k, regardless of time, without any gastocnemius or Achilles problems, so I could assess the chances of completing a half tomorrow. A few twinges from the offending part of my right calf, but I made it. Now, a couple of hours later, it's a bit sore, so I'm not sure I have proved myself capable of tomorrow's mission.


27 October 2014

Moscow calling


Taking Parkrun tourism to a new level, I turned out for my fifth different Parkrun in Gorky Park on Saturday morning - bright and a little early, so I had time to jog up and down the course a bit to warm up before any other runners appeared. I knew I was in the right place because of the familiar banner, which I could see from the Metro station. I had been bemused by the map on the Gorky Park Parkrun page showing the Vorbyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills, the area formerly known as Lenin Hills) Metro station in the middle of the Moscow River, but as the train pulled in all was revealed - it is on a bridge, so one may leave the station on either side of the river. Clever. Unfortunately the 'vkod na gorod' or 'exit to the town' signs didn't help me to find the best way to the park, and I ended up scrambling down a bank (a well-worn path: I was by no means the first) which I would have avoided having to do had I turned right after the exit gates rather than left, which was the direction in which I had already seen the Parkrun banner.



My plan had been to shed the fleece top I had worn on the seven-stop journey from Lubyanka (hat and gloves also being necessary, as the temperature remained at least a couple of degrees below freezing all weekend despite the weather actually getting warmer from Friday to Sunday) but it soon became apparent that it would not be a good idea. Having established that the officials at the start, the only people there when I arrived, spoke no more English than I speak Russian (although I was complimented a couple of times on my accent when I uttered some of the few words I do know), I was pleased when one of the runners who appeared a few minutes after I got there (they obviously know not to wait around in Moscow weather) spoke to me. Unsurprisingly he used Russian - so I used the most useful phrase in my limited repertoire: я не говорю по-русский -Ya ne govoryu po-russki. 'I said, you look as if you don't belong here, and it seems I was right!' he said.

Konstantin, as I learnt he was called (the phrase 'как ва завут?', 'kak va zavut?' comes very early in the BBC's Russian Language and People course, and even I have got that far), proceeded to act as my interpreter, although the announcements came from the Parkrun script with which I am pretty familiar. We then obediently lined up along the kerb, as instructed by the race director, and applauded the volunteers before moving to the start and posing for a photo. It's an out-and-back course, with the turn (so Konstantin told me) clearly marked with cones, just like Blandford in fact - only cooler. And smaller: 17 runners this week, though I think at least a couple of them joined in after most of us had started.


I suppose that on average runners in the UK wear about 2.5 items of clothing: most men probably wear two (I am not counting socks) and most women, three. Never have I seen a field assembled for a race with so many items of clothing. My fleece was definitely staying on, even if my Abingdon marathon t-shirt would be concealed. Most had jackets on, and all wore leggings - no bare legs or arms and I might have looked every inch the typical Englishman had I stuck with the original plan. Hats (or other warm headwear) and gloves were also de rigueur. The conditions were not conducive to running in huaraches, although I have used them in Moscow at this time of year before: I was in Vivobarefoot (with socks!). You can see the get-up of the other participants on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.799413070121523.1073741831.702520579810773&type=1) - but not me, because when I got to the turn after a very gentle first half the marshal-cum-photographer was busy taking photos of his glamorous assistant (the lady in the fur-trimmed hood and glasses in those photos) so he only got a snap of the lady who was just behind me, in the greeny-blue jacket and white hat. It also meant that I almost failed to spot the cones, which were off to the right of the footpath we were running on so slightly out of my line of sight - and I was going slowly enough that the runner in front (who must have been the chap in the photos with the long hair and beard who seems to have been running in jeans) was already out of sight by this point. A little guidance from the marshal would have been helpful. The lady just behind me kindly ensured I didn't get lost, although we ended up going round the turn in opposite directions and having to dodge each other half-way round.


I suspect most Parkrun photographers would be pleased to get pictures of 88 per cent of the runners, but when that means 15 out of 17 it's a less than impressive hit rate, especially with runners arriving at the turn several minutes apart! Photographic evidence that I was there would have been nice.


After the turn, my injured gastroc still felt OK and I thought it would be possible to up the pace a little. The path had a couple of gentle climbs and descents, in particular on a stretch by what I took to be the Spanish embassy and a lot of new and very exclusive-looking flats, and climbing certainly didn't agree with the errant muscle. My splits were 8:55 for the first mile, 9:01 for the second (including the confusion at the turn) and a very different 8:14 for the third. Once the finish was close (it was visible from about half a mile out, but didn't tempt me to sprint immediately) and the timekeeper with the beard (see photos) was shouting what I assumed to be encouragement I got a lot faster, and did the last .11 mile at 6:59 pace - still a minute a mile slower than my ambitious target pace, not even close to target half-M pace, but it felt good at the time.


The finish was a bit of an anti-climax: I got the codes scanned, and needing to get back to my hotel for a 10 o'clock departure to the Academy I left pretty quickly. Konstantin was leaving at the same time and accompanied me to the Metro station, and for several stops of the journey: we agreed that we would meet again in February, when the race should be even more interesting, weather-wise, and I look forward to seeing him again. The photos suggest that I missed out on the socialising - although I think I had exhausted the ability of most of those present to make a foreigner welcome.

So I am pleased to have done it, both as an event and as a race performance, and will do it if I can on every Moscow visit, but there were definitely disappointing aspects. Perhaps my hopes that Parkruns were a guarantee of a warm and friendly welcome all over the world were too much: not that anyone was unfriendly, and Konstantin was certainly very friendly. And at least I haven't wrecked my (gastroc's) chances of completing a half the weekend after next.

The previous day when we'd landed we stood on the runway for a long time. The pilot was not prepared to pass a mechanical digger which, with a typically Russian appreciation for the twin gods Health and Safety was parked by the runway. The plane's wing would have passed over it had we continued.
While there was enough headroom, I could understand the pilot's reluctance to proceed until the digger moved - a man climbed into it shortly after we stopped, then spent several minutes clearing the windows. At long last he moved off and we were able to carry on: only later did I learn what a sensitive subject large vehicles on runways at Russian airports are: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-29722498






28 September 2014

Autumn

I heard this beautiful piece on Radio 3 on Thursday, and although it alludes to a rather different autumn from the one I am having - Chaminade's seems a little melancholy - it is too apposite, and lovely, to be ignored.

Yesterday I ran the Blandford Parkrun for the second time, managing to get to the start in time to join the throng and embed myself a few rows behind the serious speed merchants and small boys at the front before the starter shouted "go!" and I had to turn round and head back the way I had just come. Next time I *will* leave at 8 o'clock to get there on time.
Good form, I think! Photo by marky444
Encouraged by my run last Tuesday with Didcot Runners, and specifically with Jean-Luc with whom I had done so many Amblers club runs in the past, I set myself a fast pace and stuck to it. The knowledge that I had kept going at an average 8:18 pace, but mostly at about 8 minutes/mile (a slow first mile accounted for the average - that was the mile in which I was talking to people: I soon shut up as Jean-Luc's pace took all my breath) encouraged me just to keep huffing and puffing and putting one foot in front of the other. The huffing and puffing was hard work, and noisy, sucking air in for two steps then forcing it out over the next couple of paces, but I knew that if I could do it for 5 miles then 5K was going to be a walk in the park - or at least a tempo run on the trail.

Perhaps the fact that I had not been able to find The Watch helped: there was no indication of how fast I was going to distract me from the job in hand. The course rises from the start - it's a narrow track, asphalt for the most part, and giving the impression that before Beeching it served a different purpose - then soon dives under the main road to Shaftesbury and climbs up the other side. Reaching the top of the descent, I realised that people around me were not going to commit to a crazy rush to the bottom, as I did, so I passed a few there and kept the pace up for the uphill section on the other side.

My race was spent mostly in proximity to two men in black, one with a ponytail and the other with a traithlon club tee-shirt - a potentially dangerous companion, from my experience of triathletes. I got to the turn first of the three, taking it wide to keep my speed up - I think my triathlete friend paused to clean his shades ...
Photo by marky444
Somewhere along the return leg the second man in black (but white socks) left the two of us for dead. I thought I had in turn shaken off the traithlete but about half a mile out he appeared at my shoulder again and it took a big effort to drop him before we reached the finish. With it in sight I tried a final effort to catch the guy in front - Mr Ponytail was way off in the distance by now - but try as I might it wasn't happening. I needed to have done it a hundred yards or so earlier, but at that moment I was taking a short breather after attacking the climb from the tunnel under the road.

I thanked my two running-mates for their company, chatted a while with one of them and another runner who remarked on my footwear (ha! that's exactly what you're supposed to do!) and headed off, thanking the marshalls as I went. Running without The Watch meant a sense of anticipation that is completely lacking if I already know my time - although so often I forget to stop it, I don't really know what the time was anyway. So when it came through at 23:11, average pace 7:27, age-graded score 68 per cent, a season's best and only 49 seconds off my best ever Parkrun (from last October), I was delighted - and especially pleased that I made the decision a few weeks ago to focus on season's bests rather than all-time PBs. A much more realistic thing to aim at: although I ought to be able to find that 49 seconds somewhere, and then the elusive sub-20 will be in sight (well, if you have exceptionally good distance vision).

On the way, I will break the 70 per cent age-grading barrier, which I don't think I have ever managed before. It will help if I can shed a few pounds - just as well that the Dorset beer festival was after the Parkrun ...


06 September 2014

September

I avoided the ignominy of a three-digit finishing tag today, and recorded a time which compares reasonably well with others over the summer. My one run during the week hasn't improved my endurance, though (and I didn't seriously expect it to make a noticeable difference): my legs felt tired after only a few yards, so on the race to the gates by the lock - a notorious bottleneck - I pulled over to one side to let faster runners through. After that it seemed to get easier: by the time we left the metal road for the last one-tenth of a mile sprint I was in good shape, and I think my form was OK throughout. When I concentrated on my arms, I sped up noticeably, and I feel able to concentrate on them more now than ever before, as the rest of my form is hard-wired. It might not be good, but at least it is automatic!

I have my dates for Moscow trips this coming year now, coinciding nicely with the ceasefire in Ukraine, and can start planning to take in the Gorky Parkrun which will be great fun.




23 August 2014

Pastoral

I am in the middle of one of those rare periods when things seem to go right. As I drove this morning to Newbury Parkrun, listening to Beethoven's Pastoral sonata on R3 and heading for a nice run in the country (a great deal more pastoral than when the USAF were there), I found myself counting blessings - a most unusual state for me. All three daughters settled into clean and pleasant trades (an expression which has certainly lodged in my memory since Ron Colman first made me ware of it); we have completed the purchase of the dacha, as I like to think of it; next year's lecturing looks promising; and yesterday I had my most productive day's work for many a year, possibly the best of my entire career. That last might not be saying much, but it is progress.



And, an hour or so later, a big improvement over my last few Parkrun times. Strangely, although it was 28 seconds faster than last week,  Garmin Connect credits me with an average pace of 7:45 (hooray! better than target Marathon pace! although I do need to make my target a little more realistic) against 8:00 last week, so over 17 seconds has disappeared somewhere. The eccentric course measuring might account for some of that: Newbury seems to be .03 mile over distance - let's say 50 yards for the sake of argument - and last week Abingdon seemed to be .01 mile short, so actually, at the end of 5K, that's certainly the right order of magnitude.



The age-graded result is 64.38 per cent. I know I was pushing 70 per cent at one time, and might even have exceeded it in the distant past: but at least I know that if I fit in a Parkrun next weekend the age-grading algorithm will be kinder to me. I realised after the race, as I jogged back to the car, that I should stop worrying about PBs and think instead of season's bests: today was not one (23 June is, at 23:47) but the gap is closing. And with my next lecturing weekend looking firmer than I had feared it might, I might be doing a season's best at Gorky Parkrun sometime in October.



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16 August 2014

Hekla - and Abingdon Parkrun 158

A piece of music chosen purely because it came on Radio 3 as I drove home after my regular Saturday Parkrun - perhaps I should have saved a musical description of a volcano for the day I break my PB, but we might have to wait a long time.

Rarely have I felt much less like running. You know the feeling? Legs are heavy, breathing is not quite right, a general sense of lethargy comes over you - the product, I suspect, of a long week with too little running and too much work. Swept up in the start, I probably took the first half-mile or so too fast, and after the furthest turn in the meadow I had to move over to give faster runners space and reduce my pace. Twice. I mean the same happened on both laps. At other points on the course I was quite fast.

Photo by John Harvey
Perhaps the lack of a warm-up caused, or contributed to, the problem. I just felt old and tired. Soon I will be entitled to feel old, but at least my age-graded performance figures will automatically improve.



13 August 2014

Ripple

Paddington Basin
I am drawn to London's waterways - some of the best running in town, or traffic-free walking. A builder was standing by the basin where I took the photo. We exchanged views on how attractive the area had become, compared with the state it had been in not many years ago. "That used to be a BT depot", he said indicating a new block of flats on the corner of Praed Street.
But I have ambiguous feelings. The developer is making huge efforts to landscape the area (the green in the photo is newly-laid turf, and "an exciting new lifting bridge" (I quote from memory) is being installed there: the adjectives that spring to my mind are "unnecessary" and perhaps "spurious". Not something that I could possibly get excited about, for sure. And who for? Well, surely for the delectation of the people like me who pass through on their way to jobs that pay nothing like enough to be able to afford one of the surrounding flats. They have been bought, for the most part, by investors from overseas who will never even visit them let alone live there. While London has a housing crisis.
My builder-interlocutor said he'd been working on a site in Old Street, just a hole in the ground at the time but 95 per cent of the development had been sold off-plan. To Chinese, he said, though I suspect his evidence was anecdotal.
It struck me that I had not taken the route through Merchants' Square (as it is known) for several weeks, since quitting RIBA. And I recall the struggle I often felt to make my way from Paddington to Portland Place, and more often the other direction, my legs reluctant to take me to my destination, feeling as if they were struggling through treacle (especially when the wind was in my face, sometimes creating whitecaps on the water in the basin).

11 August 2014

Congratulations

The students received their examination results today - not until late in the day, because for some reason the university did not release them until 5.30 and even then they were a little late: and to make matters worse the emails with the links went out in batches. Finally, when the dust settled, I learned that the four I'd been working with intensely in the run-up to the exams all passed, with some good marks in intellectual property. Well done, all of you! I am so pleased that this stressful period of my life (not to mention yours) is over.


Blue Monday

There was a curious quality to the light this morning when I served Lucy her breakfast on the patio: an autumnal feel, though it is only just post-Cropredy and autumn never begins until my birthday, which is still a couple of weeks away (which means that it's Gunver's birthday today). Yesterday's torrential rain, although it was only a couple of short bouts, reinforced the sense that summer has run its course already and filled the IBC: it felt less like a summer thunderstorm than an autumn downpour. But this morning the sky looked as if it had been washed, and the ground had also benefited from a good bath.


It was too good a morning to leave my bike at home, and being a few minutes earlier than usual (and it being holiday season) the ride into Didcot was quiet and largely uninterrupted. And it was too good a morning to take the tube to Old Street: my Parkrun times show the dire effect of a lack of training on my endurance, so I ran - gently, as this represents a big increase in mileage - down to Hyde Park, across Hyde Park Corner, down Constitution Hill (along the sand - hard-packed after the garden party season, when it is used as a car park: what is the right term for the sandy track provided primarily for horses? I rather like the idea of calling it a beach), through St James's Park, round the perimeter of Horseguards Parade because of some event taking place on the parade ground which calls for large grandstands, across Whitehall then to the Embankment along which I ran past London Bridge before heading uphill to St Paul's Cathedral and thence, via Guildhall, to Mallow Street. Crossrail is interfering with the Moorgate area, but mercifully that is the only disruption caused by those works and a short diversion is all that is needed.


Not a fast run (just under 50 minutes on the Watch, but that missed the first half-mile or so as it struggled to find a satellite) but it should be good endurance training. Just knowing that I'm still capable of running six miles is a significant boost. No problems from my strapped-up knee, at least not until I took the support off: I hope it is healing, whatever it is.


I cheerfully greeted many people as I passed, and received an above-average number of 'good mornings' in return, reminding me that last week someone actually wished me a good morning without my having initiated the exchange. So, despite an exchange by Skype bemoaning the start of another week, it's really not a blue Monday at all: and I am hoping that the present mood continues, even improves further, when the University of London finally reveals my students' grades - the only news so far is that the email with the all-important link has not reached Moscow.


02 August 2014

Perfect day

Not really perfect, but closer to perfect than any recent days - running-wise, at least.The weather was pretty well perfect for a Parkrun, anyway: warm but not hot, not too humid, no sun. Little wind, too, although a gust carried me nicely up and over the culvert at about 2.5 miles while there was enough wind in my face down the stretch of road back to the lock at the end of the first loop (around half distance) to make me seek out the shelter of a bigger runner. Even at my pace slipstreaming can save some valuable energy.

I find it hard to believe that I have still only done 31 Parkruns. It would be nice to get to 50 and have the shirt to prove it, after which perhaps I'll be a Parkrun tourist or volunteer rather than trying to get to my home event every week.



01 August 2014

Im Abendrot

There is something particular about a late-night train. The fluorescent lights are unmercifully harsh and industrial. The passengers are tired and often at least a little under the influence: and they have no understanding of train etiquette, most of them, because they are occasional, not twice-daily, users of the thing. Several messages over the loudspeakers have failed to persuade the girl in front of me that she should not use her mobile phone in the quiet carriage, though to be fair to her the “train manager” did say only that calls should not be taken in Coach A, and she seemed to be initiating them, so a literal interpretation would excuse her. (Any statement from a railway announcer must, however, be interpreted purposively.) To be fairer still to her, I could see from her reflection in the window that she was in tears, so I was not about to ask her to desist from telephoning.
With noisy, unruly trainmates, I needed to immerse myself in some relaxing sounds. The trouble was, after an evening at the Proms which had included Four Last Songs, it was hard to think what might be acceptable from the limited choice on my Blackberry. Not Lindisfarne or Elvis Costello, that was clear, nor Cheryomushki. But I found I did have the perfect choice: Four Last Songs. I think I’ll get through it twice before I get to Didcot, but there’s no harm in that. Better still, on this BBC Music Magazine CD, the soprano (who to my shame I cannot name) is much more audible than Inge Dam Jensen was in the Royal Albert Hall this evening. (The clip I found on YouTube features Renée Fleming.)
Years ago, so much happened during my train journeys that I wrote enough almost to make a book out of it. Perhaps it’s because I don’t travel so often now that the flow of tales has dried up, but I don’t meet people like the ex-accountant who made his living laying fibre-optic cables in Azerbaijan, or the gothic lady who provided intimate services for gentlemen. Perhaps it’s just as well. Perhaps it is connected with getting older, and I was reminded this evening of one of the effects of advancing years – in my youth I just didn’t “get” Four Last Songs, although I loved much of Strauss’s music (and perhaps just didn’t know those pieces that I didn’t love). On Facebook once, Claire Lindley mentioned that she was playing in a performance of the piece, and seemed unenthusiastic: I commented that one had to be of a certain age to appreciate the Songs. What that age is, I don’t know: it probably varies from one person to another, and I would never presume to tell anyone what it is, or might be, for them. Evidently Claire had reached it. In my case I think it must have been about 45, which means I have been enjoying the Songs for many years now. In that same BBC Music Magazine live recording – and now in a couple of live concerts too. There’s an interesting topic to explore: the relationship between the appreciation of Four Last Songs and mid-life crisis. You can’t have the first without having experienced the second, I reckon.

30 July 2014

The Streak

Mercifully, I had forgotten this piece of music - perhaps 'entertainment' is a better word, though you need to have a strange idea of what is entertaining to enjoy it. But it is definitely the most appropriate clip to append to this story of what I was doing yesterday after work: listening to, and running with, the legendary Ron Hill, who will on 21 December complete 50 years of running every day (the runner's, but not Ray Stevens's, definition of a streak, and in Ron's case the longest one on record).

As you might have noticed from the lack of postings in this blog, I have not been running much lately, let alone every day. Having missed Barefoot Ted and other events at my favourite running shop (sorry, Hugh, but it used to be very handy for the office too) I made certain I booked a place for Ron's talk-and-run session, and set off from the office (now some three miles distant) in good time to get there. As a precaution, having suffered from a very painful knee for several weeks now (following a session crouching down to clean car wheels, my right knee crunching every time I straightened it), I used my knee support, but had no problem with it: what did cause problems were my feet, unaccustomed to the huaraches and the hard work they had to do to absorb the forces generated by landing on them - which might be another way of saying that I need to lose weight: about a stone would be nice.

An audience of about 25 to 30 - as many as Run and Become can hold - heard a description of Ron's running career (summarised on Wikipedia here), and marvelled at his ability to remember his time in races over 40 years ago. He did complain rather a lot about being obliged to run in trials before selection for various events, and if you're a Marathoner that's understandable: a trial too soon before the race can really affect your performance.

Ron Hill at Run & Become
The talk, however, I thought lacked any sort of inspirational quality. It was more inspirational to go for a very gentle run (I almost used the J-word) round St James's Park, and of course it's good to be able to say I stayed ahead of such a successful athlete (though even at the age of 75 I don't doubt he'd have beaten me comfortably, had we been racing). It wasn't even 5k: when we returned to the shop, Ron went off round the block to bring up the desired distance (I think he completed three miles - and he mentioned that he'd run two miles earlier in the day).

But he didn't have to say anything inspirational: merely showing us how to do it was quite enough.


21 June 2014

So it goes

Much better than last week, though still a long way off my personal best let alone my target. But Abingdon Parkrun is getting bigger (249 people today, which is a lot when there's a substantial section that is single-file, and it comes up only about half a mile into the run) and the participants less familiar running etiquette. Too many earphoneys, for one thing, and although it's a traffic-free course there are other runners you need to hear. Too many running side-by-side, and too many unaccompanied children. But all that only means that I wouldn't be going for a PB even if were a stone lighter, a great deal fitter, and perhaps 20 or 30 years younger. It's still a nice social occasion. When I'm ready to run fast, I'll get to the front at the start.

13 June 2014

Wonderboy

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself providing some innocent entertainment for a small audience - though that had not been the stated purpose of my visit to the hospital. The idea was to supplement the ECG test which had been done on my at my doctor's surgery recently, with a further one, this time on a dreadmill. My doctor is satisfied that there's nothing wrong with me, but as she helpfully observed I am approaching 58 years old and she felt a further test would be prudent: so, after a phone call the previous day to tell me that a last-minute cancellation had opened up a slot, I presented myself at the John Radcliffe Hospital - after a drive which included typical Oxford traffic (one motorist, stuck in the queue on the other side of the road, volunteered the information that he was from Swindon and knew of no worse place than Oxford for traffic) such as to induce an attack of the coolant anxiety which is the lot of every MGF driver, especially as I passed the very spot where the most recent hose had given up. But at least the car got me there and back this time, without the assistance of the RAC.

My name was called right on time by a nurse, who led me to the dreadmill room, a windowless cell as seems to be traditional for such machines but mercifully without a television screen (a documentary about the sinking of the Bismarck, in the Aquamarine Hotel in Moscow, is a memory that will remain with me for the rest of my life), where it transpired she had two female colleagues. The youngest was in charge of technical matters, including creating suitable spaces on my chest for electrodes; the middle one, who had fetched me from reception, took my blood pressure (which at 110/60 met with general approval), and the senior one took it again, explaining that her colleague was learning how to use a stethoscope.I hoped she wasn't also looking for practice for her skills with a hypodermic.

I had to answer a load of questions, beginning, to my delight, with what they should call me. They were friendly, so 'Doctor' didn't seem the appropriate response. Then questions about symptoms, which were slight and now distant in time, so there was little to satisfy them there: but the slight pains I had felt certainly sounded like symptoms of stress rather than anything more sinister. Then, 'how far can you walk comfortably?'. What? In retrospect the correct answer is 'until my feet get sore', or perhaps 'until my shoes wear out', but I chose instead to refer to the fact that I can run 20 miles. I felt a certain amount of licence was permissible, because I could have run the Compton Downland Challenge if I'd set off at a more conservative pace, and it's not so very long since I ran a Marathon. Someone in the room said something like 'I told you so!', and from then on we all seemed to be having fun.

They have a protocol (called Bruce, after its creator not just a pet name) for the dreadmill, increasing speed and incline in five or six increments intended to get the subject up to 90 per cent of maximum heart rate. Some subjects, they told me, get there walking slowly (office-to-Paddington-in-the-evening-with-a-headwind pace) at stage 1. I got there only with the machine going at a comfortable 10K-type pace, but  added to the incline that was enough to get me to 98 per cent, which they said was the hardest they had worked anyone for a long time. It was also the most exercise I'd had for a few days, even if the run only lasted for a minute.

The most important thing, though, is that there was nothing to worry about. But it's nice to have fun learning that information.



08 May 2014

I can't stand up for falling down (Society of Authors management committee election part 2)

My election statement:
I am standing in this election to ensure that members have a choice, as I did last year, when three of us who were members of the constitution task force put our names forward for the Management Committee. We believed that the Society needed change to make it a responsive, democratic organisation in which members were fully involved. It is, after all, a trade union and must be judged against the standards of other unions. Just by standing we ensured that members directly elected four candidates to the Management Committee.

I continue writing and lecturing about, and practising, intellectual property and other types of law, as I have done for 33 years. The Society remains the same, too, for the time being, and elections are being run the same way. In what other organisation is a list of candidates approved by the executive and announced to the electorate, so that independent candidates join in only after the starting gun has been fired? If any other trade union conducted its elections in this manner, there would be widespread outrage.

The Task Force’s recommendations for reform were filtered through the Management Committee before being presented to the membership. Just as it nominates its own candidates, so the Management Committee makes recommendations for reform, patronisingly offering members ‘an alternative solution’. It proposes that its own candidates continue to be given a head start, as the ballot paper will identify those whom it prefers. The level playing field is merely ‘an alternative’. But Management Committee members may nominate whomever they wish, and overt approval from serving members carries considerable weight: why should the committee itself have the privilege of making nominations? To present an open and democratic procedure as ‘an alternative’ to a system that entrenches the nomenklatura is a travesty.

My platform is to do all I can to make the Society responsive to what you want and need. My legal expertise and experience benefitted the task force and is now offered to the MC. I offer no manifesto setting out what I think the Society should do for its highly diverse membership, because different members need different things, and I do not presume to tell you what they are. If elected I will listen to you. Victorian paternalism might have been appropriate for much of the Society’s history, but in the 21st century it needs to be transparent and – yes, that word again – democratic. Only then will we have a Society fit and able to represent the interests of all authors – members and prospective members – in the very challenging environment of the 21st century.

I pledge to work to create a management committee that does what members tell it to do, rather than telling members what they should do. That, to my mind, is democracy. If it accords with your idea of democracy, please support me and the other reformist candidates to bring about the radical change that the Society's establishment will not embrace.
Normally the idea of drafting by committee would be anathema to me. This is not really a committee work, but I received valuable input: what made it interesting, and fun, and unusual, was that the input came from published authors, including a couple of well-known novelists. James Michener reportedly said 'I'm not a very good writer but I'm an excellent rewriter', and the truth of that statement is apparent to me every time I review something I have written - it always benefits from being rewritten, though often it doesn't get the amount of time it needs. And this exercise in writing to a word limit has also shown me the importance of choosing carefully the right words - not only does the writing become more powerful, it becomes more concise too.


Let's work together (Society of Authors management committee elections)

The Society of Authors is a nice organisation of which to be a member. You meet interesting people and make interesting friends. Once I went to a party the Society held for Shakespeare's birthday, where the Poet Laureate read a couple of Sonnets and I talked to Sir Michael Holroyd about his (short) time as an articled clerk. I joined the Society back in about 1987, although I haven't always paid my subscription on time and my membership has had to be revived at least once.

A couple of years ago my old friend, the novelist William Horwood, introduced me to a group of members who were interested in the reform of the Society's constitution. It was not a topic that I had worried about much until then. I was amazed to find that what I had taken to be a pleasant little club for like-minded people with an interest in writing was in fact a trade union, albeit one that features on the 'special register' of unions which don't have as their main function the regulation of relations between employers and employees, and which are permitted to be incorporated under the Companies Acts (or by Royal Charter or Letters Patent). The Society is, it turned out, a private company limited by shares, which must have seemed like a good idea when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and some mates set it up a hundred and odd years ago.

So I found myself a member of a five-person Task Force (and I was, strangely, the only one who found the Thatcherite overtones of that title uncomfortable) to consider and report on the reform of the constitution. Some aspects were fixed: to switch from being a private company limited by shares to the more appropriate structure of a guarantee company (which was, my research told me, an option available to Sir Arthur and friends) would mean chucking out the trade union baby with the limited-by-shares bathwater, and it became clear that trade union status was very important, and likely to become more so.

The Task Force steamed on, and a report issued forth - far less radical than William, Charles Palliser or I (the three non-establishment members of the Task Force, or as I referred to us recently the Bolsheviks, in the literal sense of majority as well as the figurative sense) would have wished, but we made compromises that recognised the need to devise proposals that would be widely acceptable. And having argued at great length for a Management Committee that was clearly democratically elected we took the view, a year ago, that we should ourselves stand for election.

Let me explain how the Management Committee is currently elected. In January, the committee receives a list of names from the staff and chooses enough people from that list to fill the places falling vacant later in the year. These names are announced to the membership, which generally pays very little attention as they are busy writing. Their biographical statements (which are indistinguishable from election addresses) are posted on the website. An election campaign seems to have started, although at this stage it is uncontested. Later, other members may be nominated for election, though of course they do not have the endorsement of the Management Committee. They join the race some weeks after the starting gun has been fired and the electorate informed of the names of the chosen candidates. This is of course a perfectly democratic process, as that word is understood in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

I was not surprised last year that I failed to be elected to the Praesidium. (North Korea does not have a Politburo.) I did not campaign for it: the reason for my candidature was to ensure that there was an election not of the North Korean sort, with more candidates than places to be filled. The electorate did choose Charles, and almost chose William, but three of the nomenklatura were elected. Good: they got the votes. That was what it was all about.

This year I find myself unhappy about what has happened to the Task Force report. After all, the Bolsheviks trimmed so the Task Force could put forward a fairly unanimous set of recommendations. I did not envisage (though in truth I didn't stop to think about it) that the MC would make its own recommendations. For elections to the MC, for example, there is a recommendation that would retain the process of 'preferred' candidates, and an 'alternative suggestion' that dispenses with that (while still, apparently, reserving considerable influence to the MC, to which I am opposed - but perhaps the wording will be polished to remove this). What to do about this? Stand again, of course, but this time campaign!


20 April 2014

May the road rise

The realisation, some 18 months ago, that I could run a Marathon without special preparation (provided I would be satisfied with five hours) was never going to be good for me - and was certain, fairly quickly, to be refuted (in the proper sense of 'proved wrong', not 'denied' as it now seems to be used to mean). Refutation came today, in the Compton Downland Challenge. (I should have re-read this posting, with valuable advice from a Runner's World staff member.)

A cursory reading of this blog will reveal that I haven't done a lot of running since last October's Abingdon Marathon. A few Parkruns, and several runs between Paddington and the office. A week skiing didn't help, as it didn't work the right muscles, and giving both knees a violent twist on the last day certainly didn't help. And my cycling-to-the-station régime has barely got under way this year, at least in part because my route was flooded for so long.

That amount of running's not enough on which to do a 20-miler, clearly, although I thought that if I kept the pace nice and slow - I had in mind 10 minute miles, which I revised to 12 in my own mind (and in practice) as soon as we got going. I also thought that if I stuck with John, who was doing the 'full fat forty' as it was billed at my last attempt at it, in 2006, he'd keep me at an appropriate pace. But I lost him in the melée at the start, and after catching him later I lost him again about mile 10 - he just disappeared into the distance. Well done, John: 8:40 for the full distance is superb.

Shortly after John vanished, this loomed in front of me:

Streatley Hill: spot the runners

It was daunting the first time I ran this race - and if it's daunting at 10.5 miles, what must it be like at 31 miles of the 40-miler? At least this time I was prepared, having done a couple of training sessions up and down this section, and I succeeded in keeping up a run - albeit a very slow one - almost all the way to the top. No-one else I saw tried that: naturally, they were the people who later came running past me as I limped miserably to the finish ...

At the time, though, it wasn't the climb that did me in, it was the descent half-a-mile or so later. My knees, the right one in particular, complained fiercely, and I found it painful even to walk down the hill. The same went for all the descents in the remaining seven or eight miles. As for the ascents, which were equally numerous, perhaps I'd expended all my climbing energy on the big one and if I hadn't run that I'd have coped better later on, but at 10.5 miles I had felt as if things were still going reasonably well.

I think I understand the sentiment of the old Irish saying, but interpreted literally a road that rises up in front of me is the last thing I want when I am running. When the road falling away in front of me is painful, too, as it was in this race, I have the worst of all worlds. I suppose I know what I must do about it: train!


20 March 2014

Prelude for string orchestra (Gerald Finzi)

For several years, it has to be said, Arthur Richard Itter, who died on 1 March, was the bane of my life. He was a charming, friendly and invariably interesting bane, to be sure, but while the adjectives are important qualifications the noun is the only appropriate one I can think of. And it occurs to me that he would have said I was the bane of his, and he would not have qualified the noun.

He was cremated today (I am actually writing this later but it is backdated to the appropriate date), and as we took our seats in Slough crematorium the Finzi prelude for string orchestra was playing. The Lyrita recording, of course. Afterwards we left to the strains of the Tallis Fantasia - naturally, the Lyrita recording, conducted by Boult (as was the Finzi)

Richard's influence on British classical music is impossible to understate. He recorded pieces that would have struggled to get an airing otherwise - at least in the vinyl era. He gave young performers breaks, including Yo Yo Ma's recording of the Finzi cello concerto, although I met a well-known pianist once at a Jaques Samuel Christmas party (and that is a story in itself) who complained bitterly that he had recorded a concerto for Richard many years earlier which had never seen the light of day - he'd been paid, of course, but it had done nothing for his reputation. It is available on CD now.

I first encountered Richard as a client of the firm for which I was then working, and in those days (the mid-nineties) he was always called Dick. Over the telephone I formed a picture of a tall, bald, rather gaunt and ascetic figure. I offered once, in the days before e-mail (which Richard never embraced anyway) to drop a document off at his house, as I was at the time accomplishing my commute to work by driving along the M4 to the outskirts of London before taking the Tube, but he was clearly not happy about my visiting him.

A few years later he approached me out of the blue to become a trustee of the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust. I was at one of the several crossroads with which my life seems to be littered: so was he. His sister Margaret had died, as had his accountant, and they, in addition to him, were the other two trustees. He said he'd felt that I had a deeper interest in the music than most, and I thought it sounded like an interesting and indeed exciting opportunity. No money, of course, but I thought being involved in a classical record business would be enormous fun, and fun would be a nice thing to have.

It was at this moment, as I recall, that he told me he was no longer Dick: the way he put it to me, again according to my recollection of 16 years ago, was that it was not an appropriate form of address for the proprietor of a classical record label. Richard it would be from now on - until the eulogy at his cremation, given by a friend from his childhood.

I met him, finally, at his house in Burnham. He was not tall and far from gaunt, though he was bald. His disposition was by default happy and smiling, but when he became impatient about something a different side to his character emerged - as I suppose it does with all of us. Unfortunately the history of the Trust, which seemed at that first meeting to promise so much, involved a great deal of impatience. The trust existed principally to preserve and promote British music dating from the century ending in 1960, with a direction that this should be accomplished by financing Lyrita recordings: but Lyrita was no more than a trading name of Arthur Richard Itter, and the trust therefore - unintentionally - a device for putting money, free of tax, into one of his pockets prior to being transferred to the other. It was predicated on the ownership of the label passing to the Trustees, and that in turn was predicated on the proprietor's early demise: I knew that his father had died young, but I had not realised he had done so in his early thirties, as had Richard's grandfather, and he was convinced that the same heart ailment would get him. Indeed, in his plans he predeceased his sister, and her death had thrown everything up in the air. The Trust had been designed to work in quite different circumstances, and the efforts we all made to find a way to apply the Trust's funds, now swollen by Margaret's bequest, made relations fraught. One new trustee, Richard's accountant, gave up and resigned. Richard was persuaded that the main stumbling block was that the beneficiary of the Trust was a trustee and therefore money could never be applied to the Trust's main purpose, so he too resigned (leaving me and Colin Matthews as the last trustees standing) but used his privileged position under the trust deed as Founder to thwart whatever we tried to do. Eventually, and sadly, and unnecessarily, relations were broken off and the Trust justified its existence by making a few grants to worthwhile projects - the Stanford Society, a recording by the Barbirolli Quartet, and a concert at the Cheltenham Festival. In the end, Richard struck a deal with the Wyastone Trust, licensing the Lyrita business to them which led to a flood of new Lyrita releases, including the above-mentioned piano concerto, and with great relief Colin and I passed over the trust to them lock, stock and barrel. At last it could spend money on Lyrita recordings without benefiting the founder.

I could not imagine what life must have been like for Richard, in that large house with its magnificent music room. It had been built after his father's death, when his mother and sister and he moved from Peterborough where Itters Brick Company was a major local business, his father had been mayor, and a park still bears the family name: what memories it must have had for him. He never to my knowledge left it: I don't know that he owned a car, but as the garage was full of CDs I suspect not. I offered to drive him into London once, to take him the London premier of Colin's Pluto (preceded, of course, by Holst's suite) at the Proms, but he demurred. Perhaps he didn't want to promenade (but I would have splashed out on seats had he accepted!).

Recent history shows that Wyastone - Nimbus, to use the trading name under which they are better-known - did him proud, though history has not yet recorded, as I believe to be the case, that they organised the funeral. His legacy is extraordinary, and there is more to come. In June there will be a new Lyrita release, a completely new recording, a piece from which was played by Andrew McGregor on Radio 3 in his tribute to Richard (though he seemed merely to read the statement issued by Wyastone). And I still look forward to hearing the Chinese Symphony, by Bernard van Dieren, even though I am assured by people who know that as a piece of music it is not worth it.

After the cremation we repaired to the house of an old friend of Richard's sister. The eulogist offered to lead the convoy, which was long as most people had driven themselves. The journey took us through the centre of Slough, and it was only a few minutes before a bus had infiltrated the convoy, a few cars back from the head, and then stopped (as buses do). When it moved on again our leader was out of sight. I continued to follow the car in front as it made a left turn then doubled back round a mini-roundabout, suggesting that the driver was lost. At a set of traffic lights I took the opportunity to ask the driver, who turned out to be Lewis Foreman whom I knew through the Trust, if he knew where he was going, and he confirmed that he didn't. Behind us was Siva Oke (proprietor of SOMM, another classical label, whom I also met through the Trust and have encountered a few times since, including entertaining her to lunch a year or two ago). Via the Wyastone switchboard I made contact with Antony Smith, who did know where he was going, and I arranged to meet him in the car park of a pub where we had once had lunch after a meeting at Richard's house. Eventually we reached the wake. The moral of that tale is that one should never rely on an octogenarian baron of the Holy Roman Empire to get you to where you want to be, even if his name is Taxis.

The Wyastone guys had even thought up the perfect finishing touch: a Lyrita CD featuring a documentary which Lewis Foreman had made a few years ago, Andrew McGregor's tribute, and the music from the cremation. How much, I wondered, would a Lyrita collector pay for that? It's an academic question: it is not for sale. It is a memento of a very significant part of my life, and a reminder of a man whom, although he richly deserves the description I applied to him in the opening words of this posting, I liked a lot.


18 February 2014

Sonatine

To what has become one of my favourite haunts, the BBC Maida Vale studios, for a recital by Pascal and Ami Rogé of piano music by one of my favourite composers, Maurice Ravel. One piano duet (Ma Mère l'Oye), one solo piece played by Pascal alone (Sonatine), then two pieces for two pianos - and I was surprised that they should be orchestral blockbusters La Valse and Boléro (the latter with Paul Clarvis on side-drum, a gig that demands infinite patience as well as faultless rhythm). Under an hour of music, but what music, and what playing. The applause as Boléro crashed to an end was tremendous, the performers grinning from ear to ear as if delighted at what they had just pulled off (and so they should have been).

The BBC will broadcast it on Radio 3 on Ravel Day, the composer's birthday (139, which seems like a strange anniversary to commemorate), 7 March. I recommend being near a radio at the right moment.


11 February 2014

Contact in Red Square

 No running to report on, unless you count a kilometre on the dreadmill on the minus-first floor of the Aquamrine Hotel. I arrived before dawn on Saturday morning, rather pleased with myself having spotted when the driver took a wrong turning - can I possibly know the place better than him? - and refreshed myself as best I could with a few minutes' running, a sauna, a shower, and a substantial breakfast, before repairing to the Academy for a full day of teaching. I don't know what the students made of it, but I found a red-eye flight across four time zones, even if the time difference made it slightly easier, poor preparation for work. Someone at Transparent Language, provides by e-mail of my Russian word of the day, was watching:  выдохнуться, it said, to my students' amusement (or was that the way I read it?):  to be exhausted. As in  Я весь день работала. Я выдохлась, I've worked all day long; I'm exhausted.

The teaching is almost now just and excuse for getting to Moscow: the purpose of the visit is to meet old friends and make new ones - with the current crop of students falling into the second category, moving in due course into the first, I hope. Dinners on Saturday and Sunday evenings were with former students, and Monday was devoted to visiting new friends. I'm getting to know all Moscow's vegetarian restaurants, and very nice they are too - although the bills have come out a bit higher than I expected, largely because of the very high price of alcohol.

I decided that, with a couple of hours before my first meeting, a walking tour of central Moscow was a good idea. It was cold but not typically cold: about freezing, I guess. The pavements and roads are remarkably ice-free, partly because they are treated with chemicals that friends warned me would quickly rot my shoes. Unfortunately it was cloudy and dull, and my only camera was the one in my BlackBerry, so the tour is not well-recorded.

I left the hotel and strolled along the embankment, crossed the canal and then the Moscow river, taking in the fantastic view to the west as I went: the Kremlin, and the myriad onion-shaped domes of the many churches and cathedrals, is always a fantastic sight. Reaching the Kremlin wall, I turned off towards Red Square. A couple of policemen manning a row of crowd-control barriers across the entrance to the square shouted at me, making clear that I was not to proceed along the path close to the Kremlin wall: but they were happy to let me through their barrier, while one of them went to place a barrier across the path that I had been on. My anxiety about dealing with Russian policemen was unnecessary - I think it was just that the path was closed, perhaps because it was icy.

I walked on past St Basil's outside which stood a number of ice sculptures, which seemed worth a photo even on inadequate equipment. Ice is, however, hard to see - but it gives you some idea.
 Ice sculptures outside St Basil's
 I checked the opening times at Lenin's mausoleum, but it never opens on Mondays, apparently (the notice gave me a chance to revise my knowledge of the days of the week in Russian). Fridays are also non-opening days. Even on the days it is open, it's only between 10 and 1. Indeed, 10 seems to be the standard opening time, as the former state department store GYM (as it would be in Cyrillic - which we should not transliterate as 'GUM' because that doesn't do the vowel justice: 'GOOM' would be better) also opens at 10. I popped in to see the building, which is as spectacular in its own way as the redbrick opposite, and the churches, cathedral and museums that also surround Red Square. The shops I could do without: it reminded me a little of Bicester Village in scope, though the prices were probably inflated, not cut. Interesting to see cars on display in the aisles (big Audis in the part I passed through) and that Levis should be one of the brands represented in this cathedral of luxury-brand consumerism. On reflection, though, jeans were highly-prized in eastern Europe in my youth: it's merely that they are highly-prized in the west too now. Not suitable attire for mucking out a stable or changing the oil in the car.

I made my way up Tverskaya, conscious that time was passing and I had a meeting at 11, and wanting to take a circuitous route round the Bul'varnoye kol'tso so I would finally, after failing to notice him when I ran the route on my first visit in 2011, see this:


The Vysotskiy memorial

Then it was a short distance to the appropriate radial road that would get me to the next ring road, the Garden Ring, and the start of Prospekt Mira which was the address I was looking for. I didn't imagine it could be difficult to find and enter a law firm's office even in Russia, but it turned out to be in a business centre and nothing was (to my eyes) very clearly signposted. Add to this the fact that in Moscow all you get is a building number, so 'Prospekt Mira, dom 6' is a rather imprecise address, covering a large number of premises. I guessed that what looked like a business centre was a good place to start, and I had a brief and highly unsatisfactory conversation with the guy on the front desk, but at least he worked out where I wanted to go (here's a tip: take the business card of the person you're visiting, if possible, or at least a written note of their name and firm - why on earth did that not occur to me before this experience?) and I worked out that his instructions, after he'd spoken to the firm's reception by phone, were that I should go through the doors to which he pointed, turn right and take the lift to the third floor. It helps that 'lift' is one of those words that Russian has borrowed from English, and similarly it has taken étage from French. Numbers below a hundred I can cope with slowly, numbers under ten fairly quickly. Nalevo, priyamo and napravo just happen to be among the words that have stuck in my mind.

Then I met another friend for lunch, and we had a delicious and not extremely expensive (so, expensive enough!) meal at Café Avokado - the Chistye Prudni branch. A hearty soup (though I am not sure it was the one I ordered), chickpea rissoles, and blackberry tiramisu. Highly recommended if you are looking for a vegetarian restaurant in Moscow - I am getting to know them all. the previous evening it was Fresh which was also excellent, inventive and surprisingly expensive (especially if you drink the beer, but after a day lecturing I find it very refreshing).

And so back to the airport, using the airport express from Paveletskaya Voksal (500 roubles, or about £20, so on a par with the Heathrow Express) and home.

23 January 2014

Time passes slowly

Seven miles in very mixed weather. Some glorious sunshine, some lashing rain - and of course the latter came right up on the Ridgeway, from the west, straight into our faces. But that's what makes me a stronger runner. I suppose.


21 January 2014

Angel of the Morning

It might have been different, had the car started. The engine compartment is wringing wet, and WD40 doesn't seem to make much impression. The cockpit is wet, too, as is the inside of the hood, suggesting that it isn't really waterproof. On top of all that, I couldn't even open the boot to get to the engine because the lock was iced up. That was fixed by the application of boiling water, but even squirting starting fluid ('Easy Start') straight into the air intake failed to get it going. Having said that - where is the air intake on an MGF? The air filter is cleverly positioned under the fixed panel between the grille section in the boot through which you get access to do some of the routine things like top up the oil and water, and the main engine cover which requires some fairly serious dismantling of the car, so you can't even open it up to remove the filter cartridge (or to squirt starting fluid in!). Where that collects air from, goodness knows, though I now know that it's not through the side grille which is purely decorative. I pulled the hose from the filter off the manifold (there's no Jubilee (R) clip on it, which might explain why it doesn't run too well) and discharged the aerosol into the aperture, but even that didn't persuade it to fire. So off Lucy and I went to run to the field. And that's about it, really. It was a nice day for a run: cold, but eventually my hat and gloves came off and my three layers proved just a bit too much. The ground is still wet, but it should be possible to ride to Upton along the track, with just a couple of puddles taking the whole width to be avoided. Maybe tomorrow ...

20 January 2014

On the road again

A two-run day - neither of them much to write home about, but a total of 5 miles give or take a few yards.

14 January 2014

Pump it up

Not the most inspiring run, especially in the dark, but it's good to have nearly six miles on the clock and great to have the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a fairly hard workout. A small pyramid: 1 lap, then 2, then 3, and back down again. Each lap 800 metres, so 7.2K of hardish running with a jog to and from the to warm up and down.

Add 5K (almost to the centimetre) round Regent's Park yesterday lunchtime, and I am beginning to feel like a runner again.

09 January 2014

Janathon: Moonlight Drive

Aiming to run every day is not necessarily a good  idea. As you'll know if you have read much of my blog, it has led in the past to injuries, and in any case it seems to me that the mental benefits of regular running are negated if you convince yourself that you ought to be out running every day but then fail to do so - because (Monday) you found that you had everything you needed at the office except a shirt or (yesterday) work just got too much.

At least I managed a solid 5.09 miles on Tuesday evening. Running round and round in the dark isn't as much fun as I wish for from a run, but it beats doing nothing.

05 January 2014

Janathon: Don't let it get you down

I'm not doing very well with Janathon, although at least I am managing to run every day - and if Janathon can get me to do that, it is definitely a Good Thing. Tomorrow might be a serious challenge, but if I don't aim too high I should be able to fit something in - something like this gentle outing, but around Regent's Park tomorrow lunchtime.

Why so little? I worked hard to get myself out in the first place, and was fairly sure I could do the full seven-mile loop - after all, I did it on Thursday - but it just was not to be. Partly the weather, partly physical issues - OK, GI issues, let's not go any further into that - and partly a failure of will-power. It seems wrong to cut short a run when it's the starting of it that is the hardest thing, but if I'm doing this for fun I need to avoid it becoming a chore.



04 January 2014

Janathon: Newbury Parkrun: The Rain

Not my only friend - for one thing, I had my four-legged one with me this morning, making her Parkrun debut at Newbury as Hugo did a couple of years ago. The news is full of reports of atrocious weather, and widespread flooding is predicted as more water falls on already-saturated ground and flows straight into already-full rivers. Except, of course, those places that are already flooded. At times like this I am pleased to live well up on the edge of the Berkshire Downs away from rivers, floodplains and the sea. I wonder how Bedford fares, now that the supermarket that was mooted when I was a councillor 25 years ago has been built on the Ouse's floodplain? The Environment Agency website indicates that it's OK at the moment, but the flooding problems haven't really begun to hit inland areas yet, except for Tewkesbury which must be the most vulnerable place in southern England (York being its equivalent in what southerners regard as 'the north').

Arriving nine minutes late for the start (according to the time-keeper), we set off in pursuit of the slowest runners who were not even in sight by then, Lucy safely restrained with a harness and lead. After a few yards she thought it was time for a bowel movement, notwithstanding the earlier one or perhaps even two when we fed the horses en route for Newbury. At least I now had a hand-warmer. I released her from thelead as clearly we weren't going to be among fellow-Parkrunners for a long time and with a handwarmer to carry and a short lead that required frequent swapping from one hand to the other according to where she saw fit to run it was easier to let Dogs Run Free (but I can't use that clip, or song title, again so soon!).

My plan was never to run this one quickly. I'm not up to it, and I haven't run enough with Lucy (who, amazingly, has only been with us for three weeks) to be sure of how she will behave. This was an exploratory outing, which meant that a nine-minute handicap wasn't a problem. In fact the handicap became even greater when Lucy roamed away out of sight, seemingly having lost sight of me and threatening to head back to the start. But just as I was about to set off to find her, she appeared from a completely different direction splashing through one of the many temporary lakes that covered so much of the former airfield.

I thought it best to attach the lead again - by now, despite the stop, the tail runner was in sight, and indeed in a few minutes of dog-assisted running I had caught and passed a few other participants. At the far end of the course water from the newly-formed lakes was running across the path seeking lower ground, and I had to splash through several fords.

Back at the car, it became apparent that we were both absolutely soaked. My rain jacket was a sodden mess, fit only to be dumped on the floor of the car. My shoes and socks were wringing wet, and as for Lucy, the towel I had brought made little impression. But 5K like that is surely worth at least a Marathon in more conducive conditions.



03 January 2014

Janathon: Dark Star

It's a great deal easier to fit in a run when the days are long. My plans for today went awry when Sarah's plane was delayed with an electrical fault at Toronto, so instead of completing the collection from Heathrow before the working day had really started I picked her up at midday, and missed the chance to run before I set off - partly because of appalling weather. A hailstorm turned the landscape white shortly before I left home, and the A34 was moving at a crawling pace because of the ice on the carriageway.

So Lucy and I settled, again, for three laps of the playing fields. A poor sort of run - ten is really the minimum - but it was getting dark and rabbits have been busy there, so it would be easy to sustain a nasty injury: and it's cold enough for my asthma to be a problem. 1.25 miles to add to the total.



With Duane Allman and Peter Green

02 January 2014

Janathon 2: If dogs run free

This is the sort of weather we often seem to get on New Year's Day - only 24 hours late, I suppose. Yesterday's rain has left the going muddy, but what's new? This is England.

Lucy was still to be tested on a long run, but she'd already proved herself to be obedient and good with other dogs and humans. She didn't stop running, and loved the open spaces on the Ridgeway. She also came running when I blew a dog whistle, although as she comes when called (see photo) perhaps that isn't so important.


I wasn't aiming to make it a fast run, because that way lies injury, as I proved last year. A steady 7 miles and a great sense of satisfaction and well-being at the end of it - which will be increased by the cappuccino I just made.





01 January 2014

Janathon: Time passes slowly

As is obvious from the time since my last posting, there has not been much running going on. Time now to reset the mileage counter and aim for a new target - the same target as last year, but with a better chance (I hope) of hitting it.

The plan was to take Lucy to Newbury to make her Parkrun debut, but a couple of things conspired against that. Most importantly, the weather was absolutely foul, with rain being driven by a blustery south-west win. The stats say it was 15mph but I'd say it was verging on a full gale (Force 8 on the Beaufort Scale: 'Twigs breaking off trees, generally impedes progress'), certainly a near gale (Force 7: 'Whole trees moving, resistance felt walking against wind'). There was certainly resistance felt running against the wind, but I doubt that Sir Francis Beaufort was a runner. And a lot of twigs have come down, so we have ample fuel for the fire which is very necessary on these dark, miserable days.

Anyway, to ensure that I have the best possible chance of keeping my resolution, I have signed up again to Janathon (click on the image to the right for more information). I am committed to running and blogging each day this month - until, if past experience is anything to go by, I sustain an injury that puts paid to it for a while. Today's wind-blasted, rain-soaked mile is not the start I planned, but it will do. And I can report with satisfaction that Lucy ran very obediently to heel on a short lead and harness. Her Parkrun debut will be on Saturday, all being well.