Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Building back up slowly

After a lovely, relaxing weekend in North Wales with plenty of beach running I knew that it was back to the metropolis for me and in many ways I didn't mind. It's been a while since we spent an entire weekend in London and there's something comforting about falling back into a routine. So off up to Green Park I headed this lunchtime with the plan of putting in a couple of easy laps and seeing how my legs responded. Given the large number of other runners out and about this was clearly a popular option - which might be why I failed to notice a couple of my colleagues also out in their running shorts. Oops!

On the other hand my inattention might be blamed on another cause - my general feeling of malaise as I completed a route that not six months ago was, quite literally, a walk in the park. Oh well. I persevered and even managed to keep up, more or less, with a sprightly middle-aged runner who decided to make a race of it and had the form to be competitive. This gave me a bit of a psychological boost and by the time I returned to Embankment Gardens I was anticipating a few barefoot minutes alongside the office.

Obviously it looks a bit strange when someone just takes off their shoes, puts them down and then runs away but, to their credit, Londoners are a hardy breed and no one batted an eyelid. In fact barely anyone gave me a second glance as I completed a couple of laps around the office! However I'm going to have to find a longer barefoot route in Central London as there are only so many loops one can run around their workplace before tongues start wagging!

Distance: 6.8 miles
Time: 45m 57s

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Sandy feet in Criccieth

After gazing longingly across the bay yesterday this morning we decided to take the leap and visit Harlech Castle. This isn't as straightforward as it sounds as there aren't that many roads across the bay and the most direct route takes in an ancient, narrow toll-bridge that still employs a man with a stop/go sign:

That's quicksand right there!
However I suppose that's a bit typical of Wales, a bit stuck in the past. Funnily enough the castle itself proved not so stuck what with sword-fighting demonstrations, county maidens stirring great cook-pots and a castle cat or two patrolling the grounds. So there was enough going on to keep everyone occupied and that's without considering the numerous towers and battlements to climb - with and without barriers! And when you're at the top after a strenuous climb? Well the 360-degree views are something special.

After this family entertainment Dan fancied running back to base along the cycle-route; a mere 10 or 12 miles probably! I seriously considered it but in the end caution won out and I hit on an alternative plan to run, instead, along the coast from our flat to Criccieth. Okay this meant going over some of my route from yesterday but after that it would all be new and anyway it's not like I'm here every day of the year am I? Also this meant that I could run along Black Rock Sands which might be interesting as it's hard enough for people to drive on - and so they do!

Black Rock Sands without the cars
What people don't tell you is that it's quite a long beach and there's not much shelter from the wind when it's coming from the wrong direction! On the other hand at least I didn't have to cross the beach twice, like Dan, particularly when you consider that he'd run into trouble trying to cross the sands of the bay and wound up losing his map (but not his shoes)! Instead I enjoyed 10 minutes of barefoot running in the surf after I ran out of beach coming round Graig Ddu (ending up at the stony end of Criccieth) and had to push on to locate the family unit.

After this all I had to do was settle down to some light crabbing, swimming in the surf with Joshua (this is a really shallow beach and so it's surprising just how far you can walk out) and drinking hot chocolate to ward off hypothermia. A typical day at the British seaside really!

Distance: 5.4 miles
Time: 47m 21s

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Before dinner in Borth-y-Gest

As part of our wide roaming summer holiday season we've decamped to Porthmadog  - one of Lenore's favourite holiday destinations - in North Wales this weekend. Well I say we're here for the weekend but that's just me; everyone else gets to enjoy a full week by the seaside while I'm slaving over a hot keyboard! Nevertheless it should be fun as our good friends Dan and Debbie, and their kids, are joining us for a few days and so there'll be plenty of action.

For example this afternoon, after a tasty lunch in the Big Rock Cafe on the High Street, we embarked on a postprandial stroll along the coast from Borth-y-Gest. Just a few minutes from Porthmadog this is a delightful little harbour where our rental flat happens to be located; a great location as the beach is just across the road and very safe for the little cherubs. In fact the place looks much as it did in 1930:

Eighty years ago and unchanged
Then, if you gaze in the opposite direction, you really see how unaltered the area is since you're looking across the bay towards the medieval castle in Harlech and the mountains beyond. So quite some view and this remains the case all along the Llyn Coastal Walk. Of course we didn't get all that far what with scrambling on the rocks and the kids stopping to dig sandcastles. Very much a relaxed stroll then with plenty of time to chat and consider what to do over the bank holiday weekend.

What I was keen to do though was head out for a quick coastal run before time ran out and so when we all returned, eventually, that's exactly what I did. For the sake of simplicity I went straight back onto the coastal path and aimed west with the aim being to travel as far as possible in 15 minutes and then come straight back. As luck would have it this meant that I made it out to a promontory by Morfa Bychan and this opened up a tremendous view over Tremadog Bay. With that in the bag I high-tailed it back home and just had time for a barefoot outing up the hill - which amused the local teenagers necking alcopops by the beach!

Distance: 3.7 miles
Time: 34m 36s

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Man about town - it's been a while

Life is just full of surprises isn't it? Not all that long ago, back in the Spring, it seemed like every time I ran it was in the centre of town and to the usual places - St. James Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and (if I was lucky) Regents Park. In a way I was almost bored of padding the same old paths. And yet today I went out for a lunchtime run and realised that it's been two months - yes, that's right, 8 whole weeks - since I last set foot on this hallowed ground. That's kind of scary, a little depressing and it's no wonder I'm not the man I used to be!

It may not be long but it's a start
From that perspective then I feel quite pleased with my short run today; it wasn't too painful, the sun was shining and I don't feel like I aggravated any of my injuries in a disastrous way. So I take this as a sign of success and reckon that this is going to be my approach for a while - a decent number of short runs combined with as much cross-training (swimming and cycling) as I can squeeze in. At least then I should manage to regain a certain amount of core fitness even if it's not 'run fitness'.

Oh yes and I also slotted in 4 minutes of barefoot running (up and down the pavement behind the Adelphi) at the end of the run. It doesn't sound like much, it never does, but I felt pretty good apart from taking a small amount of skin off of one of my toes; small beer compared to my other toe (the one that almost got broken) and that little piggy is definitely healing nicely. Just call me the walking wounded!

Distance: 4.5 miles
Time: 35m 46s

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Plumbing the Loders lows

After the wedding celebration yesterday I woke up a little hungover this morning; not enough to put a dampener on the day mind but perhaps not my usual sparkly self. So to cheer myself up I decided to jog in the opposite direction and down the hill towards the village of Loders (shouldn't it be called Downloders?!):

Still Uploders I'm afraid
Previously, while out on a short walk yesterday, we'd spied a delightful looking valley across the fields and I thought that I should pay this idyllic landscape a visit. Checking out the OS map I could see Peascombe Nature Reserve in the vicinity and if it's good enough for the Wildlife Trust then it's good enough for me. Of course because I didn't take the map with me I didn't actually make it to the reserve although I did manage to circumnavigate Waddon Hill - it's a bit hard to miss!

Waddon Hill
With that little treat consumed I headed back to our lovely B&B, Dippers, for a home-cooked breakfast and some time with their three dogs. Sadly by the time I returned they'd all been taken out for a much-needed walk; that'll teach me for taking out-and-back diversions just to add in some extra hill work. On the other hand I did get to see some amazing strip lynchets (Medieval field features) in the land by the road and they look even more impressive from the air:

Aren't these lynchets something else?
So I guess that it was worth missing the pooches....

Distance: 5.0 miles
Time: 44m 33s

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Hitting the Askerswell heights

This weekend we came down to deepest Dorset for the wedding of Nick, my cousin Martin's step-son, and Rumbi in the picturesque village of Askerswell. We've been down this way before, when hiring a delightful farm cottage near the town of Bridport, and love the rolling countryside and easy access to the sea. In fact yesterday we came down early in the afternoon and spent a happy few hours crabbing off of the key at Mudeford and generally larking around:

Yes crabbing is popular here - very popular!
This morning though I wanted to get a short run in as part of my attempt to 'get back into running' and where better than the quiet countryside? I had, it must be said, hoped to achieve this goal in the week but work was very busy and I just ran out of time. So before breakfast I jumped out of bed and seized the opportunity to explore the roads leading from Uploders to Askerswell with half an eye on how far it might be to walk back to our B&B late at night!

Askerswell is quite compact!
What you can see from the map is that to the SE of the village there is a road, Litton Lane, that crosses really quite a large number of contour lines and is rather steep - which we discovered when driving down it in the dark. So I decided to run up it, to the main road, as you do. First though I had to get to the lane and I don't mind saying that for the first mile or two I really felt my lack of fitness; where once I had zip, and even zing, now there was nada. Not great. 

View from the top
In time though I navigated my way through the village and even quite enjoyed setting a steady, maintainable pace up the steep ascent. To run without seeing another person, let alone a car, is something of a novelty and certainly I enjoyed the experience. Even better the way back was all downhill since Uploders really does nestle in the heart of the valley and out of sight. A rather nice start to the day.

Distance: 5.0 miles
Time: 42m 19s

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Regents Park 10K - August

Well I knew that today's race was going to be hard what with not running a single step for 4 weeks and, even worse than that, not doing a scintilla of exercise in the last 2 weeks; what I didn't know was just how hard! For some reason I thought that I'd get away with it on the back of some residual fitness and years of training but take it from me - if you take a month off then don't, whatever you do, make your first run back a 10K race (or a race of any sort for that matter). It's just not worth it; oh the pain!

Anyway this is how it went. As usual I put in a lap of the course as a warm-up and, on the whole, I didn't feel too bad. A little stiff maybe but at this point I figured that I still had it, that I could be a contender. Which is not to say that I went crazy at the start; not at all. In fact I seeded myself 20 or 30 bodies back from the front and began slowly enough that even more people came straight past me. As the first lap wore on though a sense of misplaced confidence began to grow within me; maybe I could do 40 minutes or so? Sure I could. Come the second lap I decided to push on just a little bit. Unexpectedly though just a few minutes later it all began to get a tad hard and I definitely wasn't getting any quicker.

There's blood, sweat and tears here you know
In fact, as the graph nakedly illustrates, big, red warning signs started flashing up at this point and, like a car that's run out of oil, continuing was only going to lead to 'bad things' happening. Obviously I couldn't actually stop and call it a day; I just had to plough on, getting ever more sluggish as each one of my leg muscles queued to scream in agony and seize up. What's worse is that this pain was nothing like the 'good' pain that you feel when you're pushing your body to the limit and riding that endorphin wave. No this pain was the hard, clubbing, wounding pain of a nightclub bouncer in steel toe-caps; no respite and no favours.

Going... going... gone...
Eventually the finish line heaved itself into sight but not until runner after runner had tip-toed past me in a light and joyful manner. Frankly it was a surprise to find many people behind me after such a shocking final lap. Be that as it may in the end I sneaked under 43 minutes with a time of 42:57 and that was enough to put me 74th out of 590 finishers. As for the question of how many of the first 73 were in my category, V40, I wasn't in the mood to check when I finished and I'm no more inclined to do so now! Some experiences are best forgotten.

Distance: 10.8 miles
Time: 1h 26m 03s