Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A lot changes in six weeks

I can't believe it either - I haven't run in the Royal Parks at lunchtime in a month and a half, according to my records, but it seems hard to believe. Just the other day it was Spring and the blossom was out but now the earth is parched and every breath has the tang of diesel - and I didn't even notice. Either way I was glad to get out today what with the potential for thunderstorms and Regents Park to enjoy this weekend. To a degree I also wanted to test my general fitness since, on the whole, I've been feeling stronger (and less injured) as the month has progressed but this could merely be down to taking less exercise!

So I set off in the general direction of Hyde Park just as the sun retreated behind a large cloud and some big, fat raindrops decided to make an appearance. At first I couldn't help calculating the chance of getting hit by lightening but when the thunder signalled its safe separation from me I began to appreciate the cooling effect of the weather; definitely welcome. Up and around the park I went, past the site of Hyde Park Calling where Adam Ant apparently rocked, taking in the horse track and gradually accelerating as I went. Often the first half of these sessions is slower than 7 minute/mile pace but when I spotted some guys in front heading down South Carriage Drive I couldn't help myself!

The nice part is that while I was pushing hard on the sand, at almost 6:30 minute/miles, I felt pretty solid and that I wasn't likely to cause a recurrence of any of my recent injuries. So that's a bit of a confidence boost given how up and down the past six months have been. Even better the rain stopped and I knocked this run on the head in just 55 minutes; all good news.

Distance: 7.4 miles
Time: 55m 22s

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Free to run - to Finsbury

So who makes it to these Sunday runs anyway? Well Mike and Adam are stalwarts, core personnel, while Amanda and I try to turn up more often than not; lately though Daniel and Craig have become regulars (not Daniel Craig, of course, as that would be slightly scary) and that's great. Route setting honours go, mostly, to Mike or Adam though and today they decided that we should venture down to Finsbury Park. It's a touch further than we would normally expect I grant you but then that is the joy of Sunday; we push the boundaries. In this mood we made our way over to the Parkland Walk and our very own slice of heaven:

There's nothing not to like about this idyllic scene!
As you might imagine this ex-railway track is popular with runners and this morning was no exception; even so none of them could compare for either grace or style with our light-footed band. Beyond this there was certainly no one around who could match us for either volume or fervour; the House of Commons has nothing on this lot once they get started on a particularly meaty subject. Who better to put the world to rights? Still the intensity could only fade a little once we'd turned around (after supping brackish water) and started on the climb. Mike and I peeled away a little to celebrate his "four runs a week" fitness and in no time at all we were at the end of the path.

Coming through...
Almost the end of our tale really apart from a little burn up Jackson's Lane and then a slightly more extended burn up Hampstead Lane. What else can you do when there's a slow cyclist in view and you've got it in your head that you can catch them? Despite this exuberance we all enjoyed a great run this morning, I believe, with no injuries, quite a lot of sweat and much satisfaction. A bit like tidying up your garden but with less in the way of slugs!

Distance: 8.8 miles
Time: 1h 18m 02s

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Ira back in the saddle

After a productive week spent on a health farm the new and improved Ira returned today (looking lean and mean) to show us just how to lead a run. It's a good thing too as a whole crowd turned up to enjoy the continuing good weather and we were all eager to stretch our legs. And so down, down and further down we went over Primrose Hill (where Ira unleashed the first wave of organised training) and then onto the running track in Regents Park. Just like the animals in the ark we ran two-by-two in the shadow of our past glories and it's fair to say, I think, that this wasn't the most popular session ever. Still all was forgiven when water was provided:

Yup - I'm sorted!

If I can just make this picture a bit wider...

What me worry?
It was a fun little break but then the real work started; directly from Regents Park we ascended the slope alongside Primrose Hill and then barely paused for breath. In fact on the long stretch of Belsize Park Gardens Ira was positively calliopean in his efforts to keep the school together (which should be lesson for all other erstwhile leaders; this is not a job for the faint-hearted!). Through such labour the school remained together until Hampstead village and then, of course, it was every man and his dog for himself. So it would be churlish to complain!

Distance: 7.7 miles
Time: 1h 08m 45s

Friday, 24 June 2011

City Lit - Starting to Draw

For a long time now (and by that I mean years!) I've wanted to try my hand at something different, something artistic, like music or art. However procrastination has ruled the roost and I've never really got round to doing anything about it; it's been one of those unfulfilled needs I guess. Well at least it was until a few months ago when I decided to grasp the nettle and choose decisively; it wasn't easy but I reasoned that while being musical is great because you can entertain and enjoy playing socially it's hard to practice and the results don't last whereas with drawing whatever you create stays with you forever and it's eminently portable - with a pencil and paper you can draw anytime, anywhere.

So first I landed myself a Groupon voucher to the WK School just off Piccadilly for an afternoon's introduction to drawing and technique. To be honest I was a bit nervous on arrival but luckily there were only four or five of us beginners hoping to learn and the atmosphere was very informal. With our pads and pencils we kicked off with some lines and patterns, then moved onto drawing realistic spheres and even an egg-shaped object with shading and shadows. Surprisingly some of our attempts weren't too bad and so our teacher moved us on to pastels, charcoal and all of the fun that you can have with these materials. Tiring as it was the session was a good one.

More than just a ball?

Opening the window to something new
Fresh from this new beginning (although a little tempered by the realisation of just how hard it is to be really good at something) I decided to quickly book a 4-week Starting to Draw course at City Lit. For once all of the stars seemed to be aligned with the course taking place a mere 10-minute walk from my office at the very convenient time of 6-9pm on a Friday and for a not too astronomical price. I was sold on the idea although not so much that I actually put in much practice as the course approached! Of course this all changed when Diane got hold of the fifteen of us and put us to work drawing still-lives in pencil, practising our shading and then finishing with some charcoal work using our 'other' hand; that was interesting!

Glue bottles are not so easy to draw it turns out

Dramatic fruit and goblet ensemble
In the weeks that followed we practised and we practised while Diane nudged us in various useful ways and we critiqued each other's pieces. The really surprising aspect was just how different our pictures turned out to be; while we were drawing the same pieces of fruit with the same materials our styles were all totally different and convincingly unique! At first I thought that charcoal, with all of its many graduations, was my favourite material but then we moved onto pastels and my world shifted on its axis! When you start adding colour the possibilities are just endless:

A whole new dimension for me

Somewhat abstract but it's a start
By the final week every one of us had produced at least a few works that we were proud of (as well as some pieces that were, shall we say, unfinished) and discovered where our talents lay. Personally I like the idea of layering pastels, charcoal and pencil together in the same drawing but the only problem is time; you'd think that in an hour it'd be possible to get something half-decent down on paper but that's not how it works out. Really in that time I'm just getting started!

From now on then I just need to keep sketching and discovering what works and what doesn't. I can see myself taking another City Lit course that's for sure but in the meantime it's just me and my pad:

What a pretty fellow!

I can see fruit becoming a preoccupation!

Another run in the sun

Is getting older all about deja vu or is it just me? Every year the English summer does its own sweet thing and every year we complain about it; what the heck would we do with a Californian climate? Do more running perhaps if today is anything to go by! A bright blue sky greeted me when I pulled the curtains open this morning (metaphorically speaking - everyone else in the house was still lost in the land of nod!) and I wasted no time in wading my way through two large slices of toast, a sizable banana and a hot cup of tea to boost my energy reserves. OK like The Very Hungry Caterpillar I did feel a little bit stuffed at first but it all quickly settled once I'd got into my stride.

I like food!

With the sun beaming down from an unblemished backdrop I felt very comfortable jogging along, not too fast and not too slow. As usual I took in as much off-road as possible and perhaps this contrast is why the streets seemed busier than usual once I hit Kentish Town; then again I did start a bit later than intended and so the rush hour was underway. On the other hand the foot traffic didn't slow me up too much; over the first half of the run I averaged around 8 min/mile pace while in the second half I was down to around 7 min/mile pace. Much more satisfying and I didn't even have to sort breakfast out when I made it to my desk!

Distance: 7.6 miles
Time: 1h 00m 22s

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Track Session IV

After a fortnight's break brought about by the pressure of work I was keen to get back to the track this evening and check how my recovery was going. Disconcertingly on the cycle over I felt quite lethargic and achy which didn't act to improve my state of mind but the die was cast; this week I would attend. The funny thing is that it almost seemed like Tomas wouldn't turn up and I'd have to lead the session myself - since it was just me and six other TriLondoner's who hadn't done a single track session! I didn't mind, since my trusty Forerunner 205 lay easily to hand, but in the nick of time Tomas burst through the gate and we were on!

Now despite my expectations Tomas had a surprise up his sleeve; this week we do 1 x 1 minute, 2 x 2 minute, 3 x 3 minute and well you can see where this is going! Luckily we ended up with just a 1 x 4 minute repetition, with 2 minutes rest between each effort, and we didn't have to destroy ourselves. On the downside this pyramid meant that I couldn't properly record each separate effort; all I can really tell is that in some of the later sets I did a lap of the track (circa 400m) in under 1:30 and this translates to a pace of around 5:40 minute/mile. Suffice to say that this is very much my top-end speed!

Moving away from the numbers an interesting thing happened with the sets themselves. With the first one, all of a minute, we were pretty bunched up and I was definitely not the quickest. Even during the second one I only pulled away a little towards the end of the 2 minutes. Then, however, the guy behind me commented that I was heel-striking in a fairly obvious way. Now in my own mind my style is that of a fore- or mid-foot runner and this was a bit of a shock! So from then on I resolved to try much harder to strike the floor cleanly and suddenly I was flying along and way off of the front; in fact I was accelerating from the start so quickly my new 'coach' started to rue the moment that he'd ever opened his mouth! Luckily he did and I had a great session...

Distance: 3.5 miles
Time: 26m 27s

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Another page turns

It might be my birthday today but as an official old man I can't let that stand in the way of training - no way - and so I jumped out of bed bright and early this morning. OK given that it's also Father's Day it might have been nice to have got something (anything) in bed but don't worry; I'm storing all of this stuff up for the teenage years! So once again a select group met up by the Heath; me, Michael, Adam, Mark, Amanda and Josie (fresh off of the plane). Just about the perfect number if you want to stick together without too many breaks and on a day like this no one was going to rain on my parade.

We happy few - before taking even a single step!
So where did we let all of this enthusiasm take us? Well down the hill to Golders Green and then somehow gravity took over as found ourselves dragged towards the A41 and Brent Cross. Only by dint of massive effort did we manage to turn this ocean liner around and avoid ending up in Top Shop! Instead we skirted Hendon Park and got just a little bit lost down Elms Avenue as a railway line or some other demonic creation of the 21st Century prevented our onward progress. What black magic is this we thought! Again, though, disaster was avoided as Michael ably led us back towards Hampstead Garden Suburb and the ample bosom of Henrietta Barnett. For that we are eternally grateful!

Distance: 8.1 miles
Time: 1h 12m 15s

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Trouble with watches?

Is it old age or just general forgetfulness? Whichever it is for some reason I forgot to press the start button on my watch this morning and that's a real shame because Simon took us all out on a brand-new route this morning. Fortunately for me Simon is a star on two counts because he managed to both start his GPS and then email me the results (see here). So I've a lot to be grateful for in terms of bacon saving! Anyway the highlight today was that we ventured out to an untouched destination, Gladstone Park, that had previously been dismissed by less enlightened members of the running school! A bit of a shame really as it proved open of aspect, clean and pleasingly varied; worth a visit.

A rather nice oak don't you think?
The only problem, really, with venturing East in this way is that we had to traverse Cricklewood and, well, not to put too fine a point on it but this isn't the nicest neck of the woods. In fact Barnet council proclaim it to be the site of one of London's largest regeneration schemes and I don't really see that as an advert! That said there was a big group of us out today and so there was lots of craic and general fun and the route itself was sufficiently hilly to prove interesting without becoming demoralising; this isn't some army death-march we're on here despite outwards appearances! All in all then Simon conjured up a memorable route this morning and I hope that we turn out this way again.

Distance: 7.1 miles
Time: 1h 03m 42s

Friday, 17 June 2011

Almost a wet run

Since my current schedule demands that I run to work on a Friday, if I'm to log enough miles, then this morning I awoke with a slight sense of foreboding; all night the rain had been lashing down and while I don't mind running in the wet I'm hardly going to go looking for it! Luckily the skies were clear and not long after 7am I hesitantly made my way down to Highgate Wood. With my knee still playing up I've developed a more flat-footed running style to avoid any undue stress and it seems to be working. Anyway in amongst the trees it felt almost jungle humid and I really love that atmosphere: the heavy, pressing dampness that envelops you like a sauna and makes you want to stretch out on a rug with a good book!

Hampstead Heath after the deluge
Given that that wasn't an option I continued plodding on towards the Heath fully expecting a mud bath. Luckily it wasn't too bad but all of that water has to go somewhere and the little streams and tributaries were full of vim this morning. Whether there's much animal life in them I don't know but, for sure, the ponds are well stocked with carp! Still I wasn't here to angle (although give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day) and I had to get into work fairly sharpish given that a major piece of work was released this morning and it was all hands on deck to make sure that everything ran like clockwork. In the end it all worked out but either way I didn't do any more sightseeing on this particular run!

Distance: 7.8 miles
Time: 1h 07m 41s

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A late run home

With it being a Thursday I was hoping to make the track session in Regents Park this evening but, as sometimes happens, work got the better of me. So instead, a little later than planned, I decided to take the simple option of running home. It's something that I fall back on every now and again and usually I aim to skip the busy, noisy and congested section through Soho because it's never much fun. Instead I let the train take the strain and hopped onto the Bakerloo line as far as Regents Park tube station. Perfect!

From here I trotted over to the park to be met by the sight of the Taste of London food festival; talk about a massing of marquees and an attractive aroma for a hungry runner! Nevertheless I remained strong, looped round the lake and pointed myself towards the Hub and Primrose Hill. It's amazing how many people were out playing rounders and kicking a partially-inflated ball around; maybe running isn't the only fruit? Anyway from Primrose Hill the view was lovely but my job was to continue through Belsize Park and on to the Heath. In the evening this lovely open space is often quiet and you have to share your thoughts with no one. Great!

Dinner was on my mind though. So I took the shortest route possible and that meant a long jog along Sheldon Avenue; backing onto Highgate Golf Club this is one of the most prestigious roads in the area and if I had the dosh well there are worse places to live! Sadly we don't reside there and so over the Great North Road I went before twisting and turning my way through the back-streets to home. Happily my sore knee didn't need to complain throughout the short run and I feel ready for the weekend. Excellent!

Distance: 5.4 miles
Time: 43m 11s

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Stanley Road here we come

Well what a day - wet and windy hardly describes the climatic conditions does it? That said at 8am this morning the conditions were just fine for running and quite a few of us thought so; me, Mike, Adam, Amanda, Mark, Daniel and even Ira (fresh from his health camp). With so many leaders and not enough followers it could have been chaos but nothing could be further from the truth; Adam took charge and we headed north through Golders Green and up to the mega-roadworks at Henley's Corner. It looks like it'll be great when it's finished but right now the area is a sea of cones!

Anyway we navigated the junction successfully and headed over towards North Finchley - where I successfully lobbied for a minor diversion via Avenue House. The gardens here are delightful in the summer and worth a trip; the only problem was this caused me to become the de facto leader on the road and so it was my task to bring us back home in the best way possible. What was neat was that I could see a chance here for some exploration around the area of the Stanley Road Playing Fields; I knew roughly where they were but had never managed to find them up till now.

So through the back alleys of East Finchley we continued until, fortuitously, a side-alley appeared and a sixth sense told me that this was the one. By this time Daniel was totally disorientated and even I had my doubts but no; a bridge appeared, we crossed into the promised land of Stanley Road and then we were in familiar territory. Only Winnington Road stood between us and a warm car seat! Now it's reasonable to say that Mark took an early and seemingly decisive lead on this long, gentle drag upwards towards the Heath but in the end I just couldn't resist and had to chase him down from the halfway point. Sorry Mark! After that it was a gentle jog and Amanda showing us a clean pair of heels at the finish; having been strong all weekend she had to end on a high note!

Distance: 8.0 miles
Time: 1h 11m 07s

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Back with the Saturday gang

After missing last week's run I was quite eager to meet up with the gang this morning; so excited in fact that I decided to carve a hole in the side of my trainer to accomodate my painful bunion! This minor adjustment made I turned up, nabbed a parking space and tried to get my legs moving. Luckily there was a decent quorum present and everyone was happy to head off over Hampstead Heath and on towards Highgate. Now we could always have made the unpopular decision to take in Swain's Lane but instead the pack headed for Dartmouth Park Hill. On the far side of Waterlow Park this ascent is scarcely easier but it does have the virtue of being shorter.

Victims of Dartmouth Park Hill
After this a gentle downhill towards the Shepherds Cot Trust land, between Muswell Hill and Crouch End, ensued; clearly the website is in a state of development at the moment but we can all be grateful to the far-sighted folk who endowed this precious space to the community. On the other hand the area could certainly use a few drinking fountains! As it was we kept calm and carried on past Highgate Woods and back towards Kenwood House. A small amount of competition ensued and then, as if by magic, we were all back where we started (with the addition of Darren - a very late joiner today!).

Job done

Distance: 7.0 miles
Time: 1h 07m 37s

Friday, 10 June 2011

Starting the end of the week

With my art course (at City Lit) on this evening I decided to take the easy option and run in this morning - although easy is a relative concept when your knees, feet and various muscles still ache from a vigorous session the night before. So I set off gingerly in the hope that I wouldn't stir up any unpleasantness if I stuck to a steady pace. On the whole this worked and traversing the Heath was, as ever, a delightful affair with birds singing in the trees and the wind ruffling my hair (or what's left of it after Lenore sheared me with the clippers!).

However by Royal College Street (which is a long, downhill drag) all two of my legs joined in complaint and I began eyeing up the Boris bikes lustfully. How nice it would have been to unhook one of these noble steeds and continue in a relaxed manner to my place of work. If only. Luckily, perhaps, I'm not a member of the scheme and so I continued down through Bloomsbury and past all of the hotels where foreign tourists tucked into their bacon and fresh toast; how my empty stomach rumbled at that familiar guesthouse aroma. Still just another couple of kilometres and breakfast would be mine!

Distance: 7.8 miles
Time: 1h 00m 58s

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Track Session III

Oh Father I have sinned; it has been a month since my last track session and I have been consumed by impure thoughts of ultra-distance events. I absolve your sins my Son; just complete six repetitions of three minutes running (with two minutes rest) in Regents Park and your conscience will be clear. And so it was. After Lotte's clarion call I resolved to attend the after-work session, along with Andy and a few more game triathletes, and try my hardest. As it turns out this is quite hard and I'm quite pleased with both the pace of my splits and their consistency:

1 - 5:45 min/mile
2 - 5:43
3 - 5:38
4 - 5:36
5 - 5:39
6 - 5:48

Okay events took a turn for worse in the final lap (of around 800m), which was more than painful, but I claim leniency on two counts: in the first instance I was kind of tired from being constantly chased down by Lotte (who has a great turn of pace) and in the second I was also hampered by an over-full bladder. This is not the way to achieve an effortless running style! Either way the result was a solid training session that can only produce dividends I hope!

Distance: 4.8 miles
Time: 40m 06s

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Regents Park 10K - June

Today's race was always destined to be a rushed affair as I've had the kids all week and nowhere to leave them while I ran round the park; luckily our good friend Emma offered to take them off of my hands. In fact this suited Joshua and Christina down to the ground as Hal and Scarlet are their best friends and they hadn't seen them all week. So I turned up at Regents Park in plenty of time for a warm-up lap and another pit stop (the third of the day if you must know!) before mingling with the hordes; these summer races sure do attract a lot of charity runners and they really fill out the pack.

When the horn went I started in around 15th place, more or less, and the initial pace felt very easy. Almost without trying I moved past the nearby runners and placed myself in a decently sized group - which then seemed to ease up, forcing me to move on ahead. If this is what it feels like to race after a week of no running, with a solid sports massage in the middle, then I should take a break more often! As this first lap unfolded I still felt smooth and strong; even more so when the marshals shouted out that I was in 7th place (and right behind 5th and 6th). Unfortunately the guy behind was strong and breathing down my neck....

It all got a bit hard towards the end!

As we struck out on the second lap he drew level and so when we turned into the wind I made a tactical decision to drop back and draft; he was a big guy and provided plenty of shelter! At first this worked superbly and he slowly dragged me towards the athletes in front - one of whom decided to blow-up and effectively vanish from sight! However I could very much identify with his pain! The pace being set was just slightly outside of my comfort zone and I used every mental trick I know just to stay in contact with my pacer. Sadly as the second lap drew to a close, on the downhill past the finish, I just couldn't stay with him; my breathing slipped into the red zone and my legs gained twenty pounds. This was not good.

So whether I liked it or not the race became an opportunity to show my mettle, to suffer and not give in. Right now though I knew that I'd pushed just a bit too hard and needed to ease back; at the same time I didn't want to get caught from behind but equally I knew that I'd be hard to spot amongst all the back-markers. With 3km to go I counted the hills and the metres, dosing my effort and aiming to conserve energy; really the 8th and 9th kilometres were the worst with my times falling behind 4 min/km pace. Only in the final thousand metres did my body perk up a bit and I strove for the finish in a bid to cement an amazing 7th place! And it worked! Just 2 seconds back came my personal chaser but it was all too late for him!

What a race though; while nowhere near a PB I worked properly hard today for my 38:46 and it really paid off. A top-ten finish, first V40 by exactly a minute and my position at the top of my age-category cemented (with 3 out of 6 races completed). I'm very happy.

Distance: 8.8 miles
Time: 1h 01m 00s

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Wellgate Community Farm

I always like taking the kids to city farms because they adore seeing and petting the animals and, for me, it's a nice change of scenery. So when I noticed that the Wellgate Community Farm was having an open day I thought that it'd be nice to try somewhere new - although I actually left the decision up to Joshua and he chose the farm (and Kung Fu Panda 2) over Legoland! Now I have to admit that I didn't realise just how far down the A12 we would have to venture but it all worked out in the end as the event hadn't even kicked off when we arrived - so we went for a stroll around the animals:

The purr-fect feline?
It turns out that the farm isn't especially capacious, a surprise given all of the surrounding fields, but it does manage to squeeze in the usual suspects: cows, sheep, horses, goats, pigs, geese, chickens and a lot of rabbits! These are all pretty close at hand, and so easy to see, although not as close as the bees! Behind just a pane of glass are a couple of busy bee-hives and these really caught the imagination of Joshua; after speculating for a while on what might happen to a bear hunting for honey we moved on to the main attraction for little children. Not the ice-cream vendor but, instead, the chance to cuddle a soft, little bunny:

I want one - of course!
As for the open day it was kind of fun with there being pony rides, stalls, a bouncy castle, farm displays (such as a farrier at work) and even a swap-shop! The little beasts were, however, less interested in this side of things and so we departed for Hainault Forest Country Park - the bikes were in the back of the car so I was well prepared for such an eventuality! It turns out that this is a really pretty 300 acre patch with far-reaching views back towards the capital. Immediately the open space and relaxed atmosphere appealed to me and when Joshua discovered an adventure playground on the map our course was set.

Off we cycled around the fishing lake and into the cool, shady forest; Christina wobbling and complaining on her bicycle, Joshua pushing on ahead as our scout. Amongst the trees there was peace - no road noise or planes overhead, just the chirping of birds in the canopy and the shrieks of excited children! It didn't take Joshua long to discover where there was ropework between the trunks and I took the opportunity to do a little sketching (since this is the homework from my just commenced art course). All in all then a lovely place to spend a hot summer's afternoon.