Sunday, 30 January 2011

The longest long run in a long year

How time flies. Without really meaning to do it today featured my longest run in an entire year - 15.4 miles to be precise, topped only by a 16 mile effort in January 2010. It's a bit embarrassing really as these extended aerobic efforts really are essential to building base fitness and we can probably all do with a bit more of this. Either way as predicted I did have a touch of the hangover this morning (I blame Liz and Johnny's hospitality for this) and so my run over to Jack Straw's Castle wasn't threatening any world records. Thankfully the ambient temperature was a few degrees warmer today and so my hands remained unfrozen.

Once again an elite group (of myself, Adam, Mike, Rob and Amanda) rose to the top - the crème de la crème obviously - and we set off down to the well-monied suburbs of St. Johns Wood and Belsize Park. This part of the world really is quite decent and, remarkably, almost all downhill! Sadly we didn't make it into Regents Park but on Hampstead Heath we stumbled across some excitement; the car park was full of eager-beavers being drilled by the British Military Fitness crew. This type of training has really taken off in London, especially in the summer, and I can sort-of see the attraction in paying to be shouted at by an ex-forces sergeant; in a way that's what we get from Ira, the founder of the running school!

On the return home I opted to create a nice figure-eight route by crossing back over the Heath (and the BMF group again) in order to take in Parliament Hill and the long drag up Fitzroy Park to Highgate. I find it such a pleasure to be heading home with 11 or 12 miles in the bag as you just know that every extra mile is of huge benefit; the whole idea of training your body to perform when fatigued. The odd thing is that I didn't feel tired at all and would have been quite happy to keep on going had I had some food or drink to hand; maybe all those years of training have turned me into an efficient fat-burner? Certainly a useful skill to have!

Distance: 15.4 miles
Time: 2h 09m 08s

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Winter keeps its icy grip

Driving over to the Running School this morning I was dismayed to note the outside temperature; 1 degree Centigrade! What's that all about? In St. James Park the cherry trees are already pushing out blossom and those hardy daffodils are thrusting their heads up from the earth and yet today the puddles had ice on them. This is just wrong but it didn't stop twenty or so of us massing in the car park for a quick performance in front of the video camera (I kid you not) before heading over to Highgate.

As you can see this took us into one of those nice little loops that combines a bit of road-work with some parkland scenery, throwing in a few hills to keep us on our toes. For me this is always a casual, social run but I like to liven things up with a bit of fartlek - which essentially means pushing the pace on any hill worth the name and jogging back down to pick up the stragglers. Today provided 3 or 4 of these opportunities but the one I enjoyed most was a 400m sprint up the Heath Extension at just over 6 min/mile pace. Very satisfying! Tomorrow I may jog to the start to make a long run out of it but we'll see what the weather is like (and my hangover given that we're going out for dinner tonight!).

Distance: 8.5 miles
Time: 1h 14m 24s

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Evening run is a good 'un

Well here we are on day 2 of our adoption preparation course and I haven't done any running. In fact I haven't done any exercise at all (unless you count walking briskly to the cafe for lunch and I don't really). So when I came home this evening I might have been mentally knackered but it was straight on with the running shoes and out the front door. Damn but it's cold, 2 degrees maybe, but when the calling comes you've just got to answer!

For obvious reasons it was going to be a local run but that's ok; I've got a nice route that circumnavigates Muswell Hill and takes in Coldfall Wood, Alexandra Palace and then Highgate/Queens Wood (when they're open). So it's pretty quiet and kind of pretty when there's enough light to see and your eyes aren't tearing up because of the Arctic cold. Now, as I've said before, running at night is quite nice what with the lights and all and tonight it's quite clear so I decided to take the high road at Ally Pally for the view over London:

It really is special with all of the East London landmarks all arrayed in front of you - you might even be able to see the Olympic site with a decent pair of binoculars. Also I got to put in a hard effort up the hill to the Palace and I followed this up with another heavy-breathing push up Wood Vale. I guess that I should apologise to the female (and maybe male also) pedestrians who I probably alarmed but what can you do; at least I didn't sweat on them!

Distance: 8.2 miles
Time: 1h 04m 07s

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Stop me if you want to animate!

Like many young boys, and I daresay girls, Joshua is a bit of a Lego fiend. He just loves building a new model and incorporating it into a diorama - one that's normally populated by storm-troopers and attack helicopters it's true but nevertheless there's a story there somewhere. Anyway like most of us I've long been aware of some great Lego animations on YouTube; this classic sketch, Death Star Canteen, by Eddie Izzard has me laughing out loud everytime. Joshua though has only recently become aware of the possibilities and now he spends most of his time searching the net for Lego films. Thankfully we have parental controls turned on!

The point of this post though is that recently Lenore took Joshua to a film-making workshop for kids held at the Rich Mix arts centre in East London and he absolutely loved it. Here they got to learn about animation techniques and bringing a story to life with the end result being a film of their very own: Tree Redux I call it!

Now, of course, he fancies taking this interest further and it turns out there's a whole world of brick-based stop-motion out there known as brickfilming or bricksinmotion. So it looks like I'll be splashing out on a Logitech Webcam 9000 in the near future since that comes highly recommended on these geeky creative sites. Beyond the hardware I'll need some software and I reckon that Zu3D looks like a decent package for kids and since a film without sound is pretty half-hearted I'll probably need a sound editor up to the standard of Audacity.

Maybe pursuing these imaginative urges is going to prove time-consuming, not to say expensive in Lego, but I don't mind admitting that I quite fancy scratching this itch myself! After all the all-powerful Lego corporation is right behind this brick-based madness and I can't play Lego Universe all of the time!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Intervals in Green Park

Some days you only have time for a quick session and luckily the Runners World schedule that I'm nominally following required a speed hit today (although for 8 miles - rather longer than I had time for). So, for the first time in a good while, I headed to Green Park for my trademark inner-city interval work-out; the great thing about this park is that it is almost exactly 1-mile around the edge. Thus you can just keep looping back and forth, clockwise and anti-clockwise, as fast as you like without too much mental effort beyond counting in ones. In the past I've got up to five or six mile-intervals but today just a couple was on the menu.

Before the main course though I had to jog over from the office and I couldn't help feeling that something was missing. Pondering on this I suddenly realised what wasn't there - for the first time in maybe two months my left foot was entirely pain free! A miracle! Well that and biology; I'm pretty sure that I had a stress fracture (which necessitated two weeks off running over Christmas) but now it seems to have healed up. Throw in the fact that my lungs finally feel clear of my New Year lurgy and maybe, just maybe, this year is looking up at last.

I have to admit that this wasn't all that I had playing across my mind; I was also looking forward to trying to spot some gas lamps in Green Park. Yes they exist (according to the Time Out guide that I read only yesterday) and in quite a few places in central London (like Buckingham Palace, the Royal Parks, Covent Garden etc). So on arrival I looked about and lo and behold there was one all lit up; just for me! It's strange how an outdated and labour-intensive system of illumination can evoke an emotional response - see if you can resist:

Anyway back to the running, well almost. Just as I was about to set off on my first lap there was a decently-sized thud in the grass next to me as a squirrel fell plumb out of the tree! Jumping to its feet and looking a little sheepish it raced back up the trunk - perhaps to repeat the experiment? With that I left and managed the two laps at a pace ranging between 6.15 and 6.30 minute-miles; reasonably handy without quite being race-pace. Next I need to up the number of intervals I think...

Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 40m 38s

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A long run - without a compass

Man but I was hacked off this morning. First off I got delayed because the computer wouldn't work properly and I needed to get out the door on time if I was to run up to Hampstead Heath in time to meet the school (in the past I've been just a few minutes too late and that's truly frustrating). Then my stupid Garmin watch stopped working because its batteries were low even though I'd charged it up - this is the one truly annoying bug with this device. Finally I had to contend with a hangover from last night's party! So that's why I wound up pounding the Bishops Avenue at 7.45 this morning if anyone saw me.....

Anyway by the time I made it to Jack Straws Castle I'd forgotten these momentary concerns and was looking forward to continuing my long run with the elite Sunday group - Adam, Mike, Richard and Rob. The group numbers are always down on Sunday but that just means that we get to hustle along a little bit quicker and don't stop so much. It suits me fine. Today we headed north up through Golders Green and over towards North Finchley - taking in College Farm and the road curiously named "Crooked Usage":

A slice of the countryside, kind of
I've no idea where this name comes from (lost in the mists of time I suppose) but from here we had a pretty straight run back through the Hampstead Garden Suburb and the somewhat obviously named Big Wood and Little Wood. Maybe they'd just run out of inspiration by this point in the development of this artificial suburb? What was nice though was coming across a planned view from the Heathgate cul-de-sac over the Hampstead Heath extension. It really is quite pretty and the super-expensive houses (£2-3 million!) sited here really do benefit from an excellent location:

Also this extension to the Heath is a nice quiet place to run with the added benefit of providing some solid hill-work in amongst the trees (as seen in the picture above). From the top (and the end of the group run) I managed to bag a few more climbs (Parliament Hill and Fitzroy Park mainly) on the way back home and was quite surprised to find the clock hitting 10am when I staggered through the front door. So a longer run than expected mostly because I had no idea how long I'd been out or how far I'd gone in that time. Almost as strange I wasn't even that hungry or thirsty after being out for 2-and-a-half hours either; maybe it's all in the head?

Distance: 14-15 miles?
Time: 2h 15m?

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Wake up it's Saturday!

I've mentioned before how much I like the tradition of getting out on Saturday morning with the Running School and this morning was no exception - despite me waking up at half-seven and feeling like I'd slept with a sock in my mouth. It still amazes me that I've been running with the same bunch of guys for seven years (well some have gone and others arrived but the spirit lives on) and we continue to have stuff to talk about - and boy do these guys know how to talk. Less a run and more a mutual support group today we headed south towards Regents Park:

This is a nice route in that it takes in Camden Market (where we surprise the stall-holders setting up for the day as 20-30 middle-aged runners thunder past) and the Regent's Canal. If you're so inclined you can follow this out to the Paddington Basin where it connects with the Grand Union Canal and from there, well, you can run to Birmingham if you want to! The School though usually turns north here and that suits me very well as quite often we run up Fitzjohn's Avenue and through Hampstead. This is where I get to test my hill-legs in a sprint to the top and at about a mile in length the effort required is just about perfect. I can't believe that most people don't feel the same way!

Distance: 7.7 miles
Time: 1h 09m 07s

Friday, 21 January 2011

Hyde Park - the whole nine yards!

After yesterday's poor effort I was well up for a decent run today and decided to treat myself to a circumnavigation of Hyde Park. What a truly fantastic place this is; over 350 acres of green space in the heart of London. Amazingly it was acquired by Henry VIII from the monks of Westminster Abbey almost 500 hundred years ago for use as a private hunting-ground; both pheasants and peasants probably! Anyway the sun shone brightly this lunchtime and I headed out as soon as I could:

From the GPS route, courtesy of my Forerunner 205, it's obvious how big a chunk of London the park takes up. Just by looping around the edge you can clock up a 4.5 mile run and I'm pretty happy to have knocked out steady 7-minute miles for the first three-quarters of my lap before finishing with a 6:30-minute mile down to the Wellington Arch and a jog back for lunch. As usual there were plenty of runners out enjoying the sunshine but the funniest bit was when I bumped into a colleague right outside the office on my return - she'd just endured 10K on the gym treadmill while I'd been out in the fresh air. I know which I prefer!

Distance: 8.2 miles
Time: 1h 0m 33s

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Cycle route journey planner

Today I intended to go running, I really did, but when lunchtime came I was just too busy (and it looked miserable outside) while at the end of the day I neglected my window of opportunity. That's the problem with running by yourself you see - no one cares if you don't turn up and, equally, no one knows when you miss a session. Most of the time I'm lucky enough to be quite self-motivated and just get on with it but when I'm not in the mood....

That said it wasn't just laziness. I also had a new toy to play with: This is great because it's a journey planner but for bikes; so rather than coming up with routes that take in all the main roads it tries a bit harder and looks for some quiet backways that suit two-wheels. Actually it's even better than that as you get a choice of three tracks: fast, slow and something inbetween. Inevitably I spent some time fiddling with it to see what it would offer to get me home and, quite impressively, it matched the itinerary that I've finessed over a number of years in many places:

So very well done to the team who put such a great tool together. It is, however, still a beta project and what this meant became clear when I followed the directions home. In one place I had to turn right onto the Camden Road despite it being a left-turn only junction and in about three places the backstreets turned out to be cobbled mews. Great if you're doing Paris-Roubaix but less enjoyable when it's dark and all you want to do is get home. Overall though I quite enjoyed trying something different on a commute that I've followed almost every day for more years than I care to count.

BTW if you pair CycleStreets with Google StreetView then you end up with a truly exceptional tool. I used the available road-level scans to preview all of the route sections that were new to me before I set off this evening and it made a huge difference - I didn't even need to carry a copy of the turns and road names as it felt like I'd been through it all before. In a way I had.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The sights of London

About yesterday the less said the better - what a miserable day all round - but today dawned clear, bright and chilly in London. So even as I cycled in to work I knew that I'd be running at lunchtime, as much to test the knee as to put in some serious training. The only fly in the ointment (there's always one) was that work was kind of busy and I needed to minimise my run time while getting maximum benefit and this meant only one thing: I was going to be running down the embankment to Tower Bridge and back. Simple this route certainly is but what it lacks in topographical excitement it more than makes up for with landmark after landmark.

It's easy, nay compulsory, to become blasé about the sights of London when you live and work here but I do love to look around when I run. From the start the London Eye dominates the skyline before I stumble across Big Ben and cross the river; then, heading east, it's all about bridges before hitting the Tate Modern (right across the river from St. Pauls), the Globe Theatre and then "The Glass Gonad" right next to Tower Bridge:

A year or two ago I got trapped here, by the Tower of London, while the guards carried out a 60-gun salute to Prince Charles (or maybe the Queen) using a decently sized howitzer. As noisy and exciting as it definitely was the onslaught didn't do much for my mile-splits and that's nice thing about this two-mile stretch back to the office: on the north side of the river there are less tourists and it's possible to knock off a couple of sub-6:30 minute miles on a good day (and today was a good day). That said it was hard to take my eyes off of The Shard as it thrusted its way into the sky over London Bridge:

We have a great view of this construction site from our office but really you have to get up close to realise just how damn tall it is right now (never mind what it'll be like when finished). I can't wait to travel up to the observation deck and drink in the vista on a clear day - it's pretty good from the top of St. Pauls but this is taking it to another level. Can't wait.

Distance: 7.3 miles
Time: 52m 31s

Sunday, 16 January 2011

When is a niggle not a niggle? When you re-frame it.

Today was my first time out since Thursday morning and I'm not too happy about it. I wish that there was some great and interesting reason for this, like alien abduction or winning the lottery, but there isn't; it just so happens that running on Wednesday irritated my left knee without me even realising. The following day then heightened my awareness of "the niggle" without exactly aggravating it and so Friday and then Saturday got scrubbed. This morning, well, I felt unmotivated and also a little scared; there's nothing worse than taking a niggle and turning it into a full-blown injury.

That said I did want to have something to write about here and so I decided that an easy test run might be a good idea. Where better to head off too than Finsbury Park then since most of the route is along the Parkland Walk - a decommissioned railway line of gentle gradient and delightful prospect:

To be honest though my heart wasn't really in it and for the first 5-10 minutes my thoughts revolved about just getting through the next hour and no more than that. Then, for no better reason than that I had to perform some fancy footwork to avoid the mud in Highgate Woods, I suddenly realised that it could be better than this. If I just lifted my knees a bit, enjoyed the sunshine breaking through and concentrated on enjoying myself then maybe it would be alright; and the funny thing is that it worked! I forgot about my knee and the missed training and focused on looking around and smiling at other runners (well not too much; this is London after all and everyone's a potential psycho!). Soon enough I was down at Finsbury Park, skipping around the perimeter and knocking lost balls back to kids enjoying a kick-about: 

Heading back is perhaps my favourite part of the route - a 2-mile uphill section, traffic-free and sprinkled with other runners to chase. With my positive frame of mind I was raring to go and started at a pace decent enough to reel in several runners and a couple of cyclists by the top; even better my mile pace of 6:52 going up the hill was better than my pace of 6:58 going down! Truly I was in the zone and as I made my final turn home I marvelled at how I could just run on forever; my feet didn't hurt, I wasn't tired and I just plain felt good. The power of the mind eh?

Obviously I'm not fixed (as I sit here typing my knee is not exactly painful but it is uncomfortable) but I'm not so broken that I have to stop running and that's a relief. Also obvious is the fact that I'm not the first person to benefit from re-framing an experience and, as it happens, the whole idea of "you are what you think you are" was brought home to me only yesterday in this excellent audio recording: Earl Nightingale Speech.

Now I know that the guy speaking here is prehistoric and that there is rather more religion and reference to how great the ol' US of A is in this recording than I would like but even so I think that he's saying something very important here: If you act like the thing that you want to become and put it to the forefront of your thoughts, night and day, then inevitably you will achieve whatever that goal is. Heck writing it down like that makes it sound like the worst case of self-help advice but then again it allowed me to have one of my best workouts in a long while today. Makes you think.

Distance: 9.4 miles
Time: 1h 14m 09s

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Early morning starts

Sometimes you just don't get a choice when to run and today was one of those days. Too many meetings meant that if I was to get those seven steady miles in then there was only one option - run to work. In the summer this is a delightful way to welcome the day skipping happily through the woods and basking in the early-morning sunshine but in the winter; well at 6.30am my entire head, not just my ears, felt stuffed with cotton-wool and it was still pitch-black outside. After a cup of tea that had no effect whatsoever I stamped about a bit and then set of for the Heath. Just as I got there a wonderful view of the city in all of it's illuminated glory lay before me in the bowl of the hill:

Truly it's a sight that never fails to impress me and as I ran through the dayspring little by little the dawning light began to open up my muddy path. From Parliament Hill the view was, perhaps, even better and I felt a little bounce in my step as I descended to Gospel Oak and almost ran in to a young fox that quite casually staked a claim to the pavement. At first I thought that it was just a large cat but, no, it was just Vulpes Vulpes out for some breakfast:

Who can blame him? I too was ready for a solid four slices of toast once I'd made it to the office (feeling a little bit more awake than when I started). Fair reward for 7.5m in bang on an hour.

Distance: 7.5 miles
Time: 1h 03m 49s

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Two days off is two too many

Sometimes the best of intentions just don't make it do they? Lovingly conceived and nurtured they turn out to be DOA - a pretty good description of Monday and Tuesday for me. So much for getting that proper speed session in. On the other hand when lunchtime came around today I was going to get out if it killed me and once again Hyde Park stepped up to the plate. I have to say I felt a touch rusty during those first few warm-up miles though, slogging along at around 4:50min/km; sitting in an office chair all day really doesn't do me any favours. In fact a study reported just today reckons that even an extra minute away from your desk makes a measurable difference.

Either way once I made it to the sandy horse-routes in the park they turned out to be a sodden mess of mud, manure and memories of Waterloo in 1812. It's a shame since in the summer these tracks provide a soft surface to run on that really gives my calves a work-out and is so uneven that my ankles have definitely toughened up. If you don't believe me this photo shows just how good the routes can get:

London eh and those crazy arts-types! Still you do see some pretty strange things going on in parks, cough cough. Must be all the fresh air. Today though it was all hard graft and after the first 3 miles my legs had woken up and it was sub-4:30min/km all the way back to the office. Quite a nice way to spend an hour if I say so myself although there was a moment coming down Constitution Hill where I was chasing this old geezer (white hair and all) and making little impression on his lead. A bit of a shock to the system frankly and only a bit lessened by him stopping and telling me that he was doing 800m intervals. Phew! I just hope that I've got his legs when I'm in my dotage.

Distance: 7.8 miles
Time: 59m 20s

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Book of the Dead

No the title doesn't refer to how I feel after a Saturday night on the beers, although it could I guess, but instead this great exhibition at the British Museum. On my friend Dan's recommendation we decided to book early morning tickets to the show with the theory being that it would be less busy then and so more fun for a pair of small and restless kids. So at oh-9:30 we lined up outside the Reading Room ready to see some Mummy's and their ancient scrolls:

It has to be said that up till now I've seen the Ancient Egyptians as being good at building pyramids and drawing people from the side but I have to say that they also had some really whacked-out ideas about the afterlife too! Not content with mummifying their dead and sticking their internal organs in some Canopic jars they also provided several hundred spells to help the deceased make their way to Osiris and the scales of judgement (fail here and the "Devourer" will get you - part hippo, part leopard and part crocodile!).

Sadly this wasn't of great to interest to Joshua - once he'd rushed past the mummy's and assorted grave goods he declared himself bored and so Lenore drew the short-straw of taking him off for some cake. Luckily Christina was happy to play with the iPod exhibition guide and I got to read about spells that told you name of demons, helped you defeat snake-like monsters and also avoid your digestive tract being reversed forcing you to eat your own poo! These Egyptians were nothing if not thorough but after 2 or 3 hours one hieroglyphic starts to look like another:

With the exhibition completed and the sun shining in a clear blue sky we decided that the kids needed to run around and that Coram Fields would be just the ticket. Not far from the British Museum it has seven acres devoted to kids; in fact you can't even go in without a child in tow! So thank you Captain Thomas Coram for being such a forward-thinking kind of guy although maybe next time you could open the cafe? It gets a bit chilly sitting around reading the paper you know...

At the back of my mind there was, of course, the thought of getting back to that never-satisfied running schedule. So as soon as we got home I strapped on my shoes and headed out for a quick 5-mile run around the local streets, in the dark, which wasn't as bad as it sounds. Maybe the hills just seem flatter when you can't see them but I quite enjoy pounding the pavements at night and looking in the brightly-lit front windows of our middle-class neighbours; it always surprises me how many have space for a pool or snooker table. Luxury!

Distance: 5.7 miles
Time: 47m 44s

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The weekend? A long run? Bring it on!

Saturday morning is always fun as I get to run with a bunch of guys who've been running since, well, the dawn of time I reckon. I'm a relative newcomer with only seven years on the clock but maybe if I hang on long enough I'll get a gold watch! Anyway every Saturday we meet at Jack Straw's Castle next to the Heath; once this was a pub (reputed to be the highest in London) but now it's a block of chichi flats.

Okay maybe the guys haven't been running this long but that's the pub in the background
Anyway being as it's on the top of a hill all roads lead down from here - some of them a long way down if you want to trek as far as the Thames. Personally I was looking for a good 12 miles or more and that meant running to Jack Straw's from home, doing the social bit (usually 6-7 miles) and then running back again. Pretty easy if you don't push hard and on a sunny morning it can be quite a pleasure jogging past the multi-million pound mansions of the Bishop's Avenue. Tasteful they are not:

How much?!
Afterwards it was back to the family home for a quick stretch and shower before heading off to the Phoenix Cinema. We don't get here nearly often enough but the place has just been refurbished and they do a great Kid's Club on a Saturday morning. Today the main event was The Sorcerer's Apprentice and sure it wouldn't have been my first choice but seeing as The Exorcist wasn't showing for some reason it had to do:

In the end it wasn't all that bad; yes the story was a paint-by-numbers affair but Nicolas Cage is always often watchable and the special effects were quite decent if you like plasma bolts and that sort of thing. More importantly Joshua and Christina gave it about 3/5 on the wriggle-o-meter but that might be because Lenore got lost and couldn't find us in the cinema once the film had started!

Distance: 12.5 miles
Time: 1h 51m 38s

Friday, 7 January 2011

Time to be brisk - look lively lad!

There's no getting away from the fact that the RW plan is going to be tough to live up to - especially when you consider the speedwork side of things. Usually I don't do a lot of this (well almost none) because it takes a bit of an effort and I'm not in the mood. Today though the plan called for at least 3 brisk miles and so that's what I had to do. Usefully there's a path around the edge of Green Park that's not much more than a mile in length and this makes short work of counting off the laps. So that's where I headed:

It's a shame that the Queen doesn't let us run round Buckingham Palace gardens (what a great route that would be) but the park next door does give some lovely views over her house. Today though I was more concerned with not getting stuck in the mud and losing a shoe - the track gets churned up after heavy rain - while trying to keep the pace 'brisk'. Actually I think that this went alright given that my average pace was decently under 4m:30s per kilometre including stopping for traffic - mostly!

Distance: 5.4 miles
Time: 39m 21s

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Back to work and an old favourite

Working in London has lots of pros and cons and, to be honest, as a place to go running it leaves a lot to be desired. I don't know how many times I've had to dance round a tourist vacantly staring into space or sprint across a busy junction before the lights change. However with a bit of ingenuity and a small heap of Ordnance Survey maps it's possible to come up with some half-decent routes - especially when you make use of the Capital's best feature: it's parks.

One of my favourite routes involves popping out from work at lunchtime and making my way through St. James Park and Green Park to the urban lung that is Hyde Park:

It's a route that I love no matter how I'm feeling which is kind of lucky as today I definitely felt a bit rough; thankfully the RW training plan only called for a medium-length, slow run and I could just about manage that. Bit of a shame that my hamstrings still felt tight from the weekend but that's what you get for taking a couple of weeks off from training.

Distance: 7.2 miles
Time: 57m 27s

Monday, 3 January 2011

Follow the plan - and Bagpuss

Looking at my Runners World email I knew what I had to do today and on paper it looked like a walk in the park: an easy 5 miles, no sweat. In person though my hamstrings ached like a Turkish masseur had been at them and my chest cavity continued its role of mucus production. Yuk! Still Dan was as eager as a new puppy and so I showed him the leafy delights of Muswell Hill and its surrounding districts. All very pretty but I was never so glad to put 6 miles and 52 minutes behind me!

To be honest I had a lot more fun taking the family to see Bagpuss at the Soho Theatre. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for but it was a real hoot even if you couldn't remember the stories. Oh yes to see Bagpuss, Professor Yaffle and the Mouse Organ brought to life on stage was just fantastic and Joshua and Christina loved it; being 7 and 4 is such a great age. The only problem was that Joshua truly wanted a Bagpuss of his own after the show; such a shame that the theatre had sold out! I can see the attraction though:

What was just as fun was searching out some old episodes of Bagpuss afterwards on YouTube (isn't the Internet great!) and watching them with Joshua sat on my lap. Speaking as a certified old git kid's television just isn't what it once was (moan, moan) but Bagpuss is something else. Feel free to join me wallowing in a little nostalgia:

The Hamish (Part 1)
The Wise Man (Part 1)

Distance: 6.1 miles
Time: 52m 13s

Regents Park 10K - January

One of my very favourite races, or set of races, is the 10K that Mornington Chasers Running Club put on in Regents Park throughout the winter. I've no idea how long they've been putting this show on but on the first Sunday of every month several hundred of us dutifully line up in the park come rain or shine. When I first took part the races were joyfully amateurish and a real delight and now, well, they're all of that but just a bit more slick: Regents Park Winter Series

What with the chip timing and mounds of bananas at the finish (along with all of the water you can drink) I hope to be doing this race for a long time yet:
Okay I didn't make this one but from now on....
I can't say that I was particularly looking forward to racing this morning what with a sore foot, the dregs of a month-long cold and various other ailments. Dropping out wasn't an option though as my good friend and best man Dan was here for the occasion; a decent runner in his own right and a budding triathlete. So no pressure then!

As usual I warmed up with a lap of the course and showed Dan where the "hills" were (this may be an urban run in a park but it still has surprises) before seeding myself a few rows back from the front. Then we were off and quite a number of disgustingly healthy runners sprinted past as I settled in for the chance to find a nice pace group. So it was a bit annoying then when one formed about 20m in front of me and I had to spend the whole of the first lap willing myself towards it! On the other hand once I managed to get there sheer momentum carried me past and the second lap was all about breaking free and trying to consolidate what seemed like a top-20 place.

In fact I felt so good that I sprinted away at the beginning of the third lap to seal the deal and, oops, big mistake! Blowing-up on a downhill is never a good sign and right then I knew that things were going to get sticky. Sure enough the big Swede (well he looked like one to me) that I'd dropped a half-lap previously came puffing past and I put the kitchen sink into staying with him. On the hill to the fountain, past the Honest Sausage, I can truly say that walking on hot coals would have been more fun; my legs screamed for mercy, my lungs screamed for air and at the top I was broken man. All I could do was hang on for the finish and that arrived in an all-too-long 39:08 and this not even top-20!

As for Dan well he strolled over as I bent over, coughing my lungs up, having nailed 2nd place with a fantastic time of 36:29. Respect to Dan and all of the runners: Results

Distance: 10.8 miles
Time: 1h 16m 55s

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A new year and a new start

Suddenly middle-age is no longer round the corner; it's put on some running shoes and is standing outside banging on my front door. How did this happen? Just the other day I was a sprightly, thirty-something guy who had did time to do as many triathlons as he liked and now look at me. I guess that's what being ill over Christmas does to you, or me anyway; a bitter reminder of mortality and, even worse, decrepitude. It's not the dying that bothers me, that I can handle, but the thought of slowly falling apart and spending my twilight years rusting-up like the Tin Man.
Boy he could do with a spray from the oil can
Nope I'm going to pull myself together and get serious about training. Well more serious than I have been in the past; I admit that doing a lot of running, cycling and swimming does get results but it's all been so haphazard and that's got to stop. Instead I'm going to hand myself over to the experts and who better than those kind folk at Runner's World:

Ultimate marathon schedule - sub-3:00

Okay it's a bit ambitious but how else am I going to turn myself into this?

(I reserve the right not to dress up even if I do make it to the marathon!)