Sunday, 19 February 2012

Amersham and Chalfont St Giles

Over the years, although less often post-kids, we've liked to head out into the countryside for a bracing walk - typically with the help of an OS Pathfinder Guide such as this one for the Chilterns and Thames Valley. The great thing now is that Joshua and Christina are of an age where they can complete a decent walk (of 5 miles or more) without too much difficulty or complaining! So with the sun shining we took ourselves off to Amersham for a proper stroll along the South Bucks Way.

Muddy and hilly - it's not London!
As ever it wasn't far off lunchtime by the time we arrived in Amersham but I figured that we should at least make a start on the walk before stopping - if only to get ourselves warmed up. So we slogged up the hill out of town and up to the top of the ridge. This was well worth doing as the view was very pleasing and the sun shone warmly from the sky; enough so that Joshua was forced to strip down to his T-shirt! All in all it was very nice to be out in the fresh air and stretching our legs:

We like walking!
The funny thing is that while we were all keeping half an eye out for somewhere to lunch we never actually spotted anywhere right up until we stumbled into Chalfont St Giles! So we managed to complete half of the walk before lunch without anyone really noticing - although we were all quite ravenous when the sandwiches made an appearance!

Our natural habitat
Of course on the way back along the River Misbourne things started to fall apart a little (compared to our previous state of high organisation!). On the one hand there were quite a few guard-dogs hanging around to provide excitement while on the other some of our shorter legs were feeling a little tired by this point. Not that this was always obvious given Joshua and Christina's level of excitement:

I can do this - I really can...
Little by little then we edged our way along the valley and back towards Amersham. While I was aware of the sun edging ever closer towards the ridge-line the kids spent their time chasing a ball (pretending to be dogs) and rolling in the mud. Ah who am I kidding; Lenore was a more than active participant in the fun!

It could be a summer's day
Hence it was left to me to be the 'adult' of the party and to shepard our weary feet along the valley. Apart from the hum of the main road it was very pleasant strolling along the grassy path and in some ways it's a shame that the temperature wasn't twenty degrees higher and we weren't able to just hang out and take in the scenery. Next time maybe.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Another birthday? Let's go for a walk!

You know how it is. Another birthday rolls around and while you try to make it special (and you do) it's hard to make it a knock-out affair. The weather didn't help (in that a cold front was scheduled to bring rain to the south-east) but also a level of indecision got in the way of organising a weekend away. So instead we've decided to make the best of it this weekend with a spot of walking and perhaps a visit to our wonderful local Japanese restaurant Tosa in the evening.

And so, to cut a long story short, this is why we found ourselves in Stanmore on a wet Saturday afternoon! It's not somewhere that we've visited before but it's relatively close to us in North London and I'd managed to unearth a route-guide from London Footprints. With the decision made we found ourselves trying to park in some expensive looking suburban streets and ended up at Stanmore Country Park - where the car park itself was utterly empty! Probably not a good sign but we set off in the drizzle up Stanmore Hill and by the time we reached the top and Stanmore Hall it was pouring down:

I am a hobbit and I live in a hole!
But we persevered and actually walking along some of the London Loop it was really quite nice to be out in the countryside (well you know what I mean - there were trees and all). Heading up to Stanmore Common we spent a bit of time watching Harrow Rugby Football Club in action (Joshua was actually quite interested for once) before meandering over to Fish Pond and thoughts of maybe escaping the rain and getting back to the car:

Fish Pond - maybe there are fish here?
Fortunately the steady shower eased off as we walked in solitude around the water's edge and by the time we turned back towards Stanmore we could even make out the Wembley Arch in the distance. Okay it wasn't exactly framed against a brilliant-blue sky but you can't have everything. The fact is that it was nice to be out and about in a place that isn't our familiar home turf:

It's my party...

Friday, 17 February 2012

Track Cycling and the Olympic Velodrome

Remember last year and all the hassle there was over getting tickets for the Olympics? Some people got what they wanted (or even more than they wanted) while others got nothing? Well I was one of the poor saps who came away empty-handed and I so wanted to see something! So when the London Prepares series of test events was announced I was first in line to score myself some track cycling tickets...and I managed to get some for the World Cup tonight.

I tell you this at 5pm today I could hardly wait to get down to the Jubilee Line and travel on to Stratford; which is not something that I'd usually say despite the dubious attraction of the Westfield Centre! Anyway once I'd hooked up with Lenore and we started walking towards the Olympic Park it was hard not to feel a tangible sense of excitement. I mean the Olympics are only four months away and this was going to be my first glimpse of the much-discussed Velodrome:

I know that it looks like a crisp!
I was not disappointed! As the double-decker bus drew up outside the arena (no walking across a construction site for us!) my mouth dropped open. I can't say that I've been to many velodromes but this one is something else. With the wood panelling soaring over our heads and the brilliant light from inside pouring out (almost too bright to look at) I couldn't wait to get in and find our seats. And when we do - wow! They are literally right at the back, with the gods in row 23, and the view is amazing; as is the atmosphere.

This is one amazing venue
Once the racing kicked off I have to say that we were captivated. Obviously I knew that I'd enjoy the action but Lenore really got into it; and when a GB athlete was competing well then the place really came alive. We were on our feet screaming and shouting, willing our girls and boys to do their absolute best, the whole arena reverberating with emotion. And they did too. With world records being broken and medals of all colours flowing we couldn't ask for more excitement.

Neck and neck in "devil take the hindmost"
The programme obviously made a big difference, in that it explained all of the different races and how they worked strategically, but the organisation was truly key and exceptionally slick. Race after race ticked by (sometimes separated by medal ceremonies and sometimes not) but for hour after hour the events of all types continued and we never had a chance to get bored. In fact tonight came close to matching some of my finest memories of watching cycle racing (such as the Tour de France) and that's really saying something.

The hum of the boards and the sweat of the riders
As the evening drew to a close after near on four hours of racing it was nice to think that we would be getting a break from the intensity but my what intensity! This was a night of fantastic racing and entertainment, phenomenally well organised and entirely gripping. I can very much see myself coming down to a track event in the future as this is such a full-on way to experience the exhilaration of athletic performance up close. So it was with a slightly heavy heart but also much anticipation that we bade goodbye to the Olympic velodrome for London 2012:

Isn't she a beauty?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

A change of fortune

Today, for the first time in over two months, I made it out to join up with the Running School. It might not seem like much of an achievement but this is the longest intermission in my time with the School since I first started running with Ira back in 2003. Yes it really has been that long! So it's fair to say that despite quite enjoying my relaxed weekends (and taking Joshua to his piano lesson) I've been quite keen to get back in touch with the group.

That said I almost missed the start this morning by faffing around at home and I was within 30 seconds of missing them when I rounded the corner at Jack Straws (the gang was already on the move). Luckily Mike, Adam, Darren, Rob and Amanda waited for me while I got sorted. It was good to be back even if my GPS watch wasn't ready for action and my calves still ached from yesterday's surprise race!

Isn't there a surprising amount of green space?
To be honest the route that we took wasn't my primary concern today. I was just glad to be back and hopeful that I could keep going for an hour or so without destroying my legs. This is not as easy as it sounds given how brutal these minimalist shoes are being (to my calves at least - the rest of my legs are sitting pretty). That said I don't go down Fortune Green and Childs Hill way much and so the route chosen by Mike was all pretty novel to me; a good distraction from my physical state.

Happily in the final push up Hampstead Way I rediscovered a flash of my old form by pushing on through the discomfort and catching both Mike and Darren from a long way back. This concentrated effort almost felt good and to a degree I feel that I'm on an upward path again - and it's been a long time coming. Sadly I won't be able to join the School on Saturdays so often any more as my car has been condemned by the garage, and I'm without wheels, but with luck I'll still be around on Sundays. Definitely better than nothing!

Distance: 6.7 miles
Time: 58m 12s

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Park Run 5K - Ally Pally

Well let's just say that this morning's easy training session of around 45 minutes didn't go as planned. There I was halfway through my standard loop around Muswell Hill (taking in Coldfall Woods, Alexandra Palace and the like) when a guy running down the other side of the road shouted across to ask if I'd ever heard of Park Run. Well, yes I said of course I have; they seem like a great idea but I've never actually managed to get my stuff together and run one. Ah, he said, well a new one started up at Ally Pally last December and I'm jogging to it right now - and it starts in 20 minutes!

So like the convivial fellow I am I decided to tag along with Nigel, for that was his name, down to the start just to gauge the lie of the land. No pressure of course, says he, but since the whole point of Park Run is that you can just turn up and race then maybe I'd like to? Now at this point my calves felt a little sore, courtesy of my new shoes, but I figured that there was no reason to bring this up as an excuse so early; I could always keep it in the bag for later. And that's why I found myself standing at the start line with 20 or 30 other runners (young, old, fit and not so fit). Honestly it is!

It's been a while since I last raced a 5K so at the beginning I decided to play it cool - especially as I had no idea of the course apart from the fact that it might be muddy! However it's easier said than done to hold back and about a km in, when a group had moved off the front, I figured that it was worth using them as a motivational tool and see what my legs were capable of. Initially this approach went swimmingly and by the start of the second lap I was in around 6th place and looking to reel in the veteran in front; on the downhill he had a good turn of pace but on the flat or the uphill I had the edge, I thought, and so it proved.

From hereon it was a case of stretching out my advantage, trying to avoid killing my calves too much and possibly reeling in 4th place if he faltered. For a time it seemed as if this might be the case as I seemed to be drawing him closer, although the distraction of non-racing joggers made it hard to tell, but when we reached the steep downhill section he pulled away decisively - the one thing that these Brooks shoes don't seem to do well is going down and my legs aren't strong enough to go hell for leather just yet.

As a result I crossed the line a solid 5th in around 20.42 (although I don't appear in the results) and considering that an hour before I hadn't even known about the race then that seems acceptable! So thanks very much Park Run organisers! Up till now this has always been one of my to-do list items that never seemed to struggle into life but now that I've done a Park Run I'm hooked. In fact the timing couldn't be better as yesterday my car was condemned to the scrap-heap by the garage and so I can't easily drive to races any more; maybe it's fate but I can see how my Saturday mornings will play out from now on...

Distance: 8.3 miles
Time: 1h 07m 01s

Friday, 20 January 2012

Goodbye car; fare thee well faithful carriage

I guess that I knew that this day would come. I mean nothing lasts forever does it? Somehow though I never thought that it would happen to me; not now and not after we've been through so much together. But the Universe doesn't care and entropy will always get you in the end.

Still I was glad that I was sitting down when Mark from Victory Motors rang me. There was definitely a catch in his voice - almost as if he felt just as bad about breaking the sad news to me as I felt about hearing it. After all I'd only left the car with them for a quick service and MOT - something that Mark has successfully and happily arranged for me for many years now amongst other excellent services. Hardly brain surgery and as Mark said it looked like my car would pull through at first but then they decided to be thorough and take a short test drive and that's when it happened....

One little emergency stop was all it took; a stamp on the brake pedal and it was all over. Corroded beyond endurance my brake line ruptured explosively and with that the braking system had played its last card. It's just lucky, really, that they were on a quiet side-road as the alternative doesn't bear thinking about. Then, to seal the deal, Wayne decided to investigate the sticky rear seat-belt and in prising off a body panel he revealed a whole different level of horror:

There it is then the final nail in the coffin. All that remains is for me to strip the corpse of its valuables (mainly fiddly bits of Lego that have fallen down the back of the seat) and spend a moment's silence considering the 225,000 miles that this sturdy waggon has managed to cover in a hard-working life. On Monday I'll sign the papers that consign my car to the crusher and that'll be it. For the first time in twenty years I am without a car and actually I feel alright about it; no more repair bills, no more insurance, no more tax and no more traffic cameras. The future looks bright!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Horror on Sandy Heath

It seemed like such a good idea at the time; why not invite our good friends Claude and Georgie over for lunch with their kids and then head out for a bracing walk afterwards? Over the delicious food barely a tremor was felt in the ether; no premonition of what was to come. In fact the meal was excellent and all were in fine spirits (adults) and well behaved (children). In fact I've come to believe that the first sign of trouble became visible when we realised that we weren't heading to Golders Hill Park (a middle-class mecca) but instead to the wilder shore of Sandy Heath (an outpost of Dartmoor).

At first all seemed well as we booted up and marched into the dense forest. Nature sounds all around and plenty of climbing trees for the boys; old-fashioned fun. With this kind of freedom in mind the boys rushed ahead and up the steep hill to the ponds (former gravel pits essentially) since this was kind of the main feature of the walk. How though could we have foreseen that the swampiest pool of the lot would claim another victim; sucking its prey down into the clammiest of demises? In a sense this all took place off-camera as by the time us adults reached the crime scene the damage was done - Oliver's boot had vanished from the material world.

Now most of us would have accepted this loss with stoic resignation but not Georgie! Oh no. With barely a thought given to the dangers of the mire she waded in and began a forensic examination of the sucking mud. To say that it was malodorous, dirty, stinking work is barely sketching the awful reality and that was just for us bystanders!

Needless to say that in time Georgie's determination rubbed off and we all, man and woman, lent a hand in the increasingly fruitless search for this missing boot. How could it possibly have vanished so completely from human gaze? Only the gurgling quagmire knew and it wasn't about to reveal the truth. In the end it took the intervention of Eve to bring us to our senses (possibly befuddled by bog gas as we were):

It's over was her simple message; let it go. Sometimes the marsh wins and that's an end to it. With these wise words ringing in our ears we retreated to our cars - all of 200 yards away. Yes it had been but a short walk but what an adventure! The primal power of nature has never seemed so immediate; a shade away from devouring us all. Yes I think that it's safe to say that we all returned from this stroll as changed individuals bonded together in the face of adversity. Just another day in London really.