Friday, 30 September 2011

Sunshine - no rain today!

Hey I'm loving this hot weather. Why we couldn't have got some decent heat like this in the actual summer I don't know but this is just great right now - so long as it holds out till the weekend! Not many things are as disappointing as a week of perfect sunshine followed by a hurricane season of a weekend. That's one way to rain on my parade.

Anyway I figured that I'd head up to the park today and get me some time by that big ol' lake The Serpentine. Once upon a time this lake was kept full by the River Westbourne, flowing naturally down from Hampstead, but that happy state of affairs only lasted about a century; since then we've had to pump up the water from the Thames and I'll bet that it all got a bit fragrant during The Great Stink! Nowadays though the lake is clean enough to swim in and it's certainly a very pleasant place to visit when the sun is out and you'd rather be relaxing with a picnic in the country.

Just waiting to be served!
So I enjoyed a pleasing loop around the edge taking in the water fountains, for obvious reasons, and incorporating a little barefoot running along the eastern edge of the park. However my calves still felt a little tender from earlier in the week and so I didn't push my luck at all - although I get the feeling that I amuse my 'audience' somewhat as I don't see anyone else running around shoe-less (unless they're still in nappies that is!).

Still it helps to keep my running fresh and gives me something to look forward to; apart from the changing of the seasons that is. Soon the winter weather will be here and it'll suddenly become a whole heap easier to run around London - a bit like the roads emptying during the school summer holidays.

If only I could have got a gull on every pole
As it happens I did warm up after a while (no joke) and the running became a lot smoother on my return journey. This is definitely becoming something of a theme for me; is this really what old age is all about? Becoming a low-revving diesel engine that finds it hard to get going in the morning? I suppose that things could be worse!

Distance: 7.3 miles
Time: 58m 08s

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Park Life

I guess that it was inevitable that one day I'd name-check Parklife, Blur's seminal album of the Britpop era, since it's an idea that appeals to me greatly. In so many ways the London parks are both a microcosm and a reflection of urban life in general; there's not much of the human condition that you won't witness if you hang around parks long enough!

Anyway with the threat of this Indian Summer hanging in the air, and a 10K on the cards at the weekend, I felt keen today to enjoy the moment in Hyde Park. So I headed over there feeling reasonably fresh (which makes sense as I haven't been able to run since last Thursday) and capable. Just like last week I wanted to pull my shoes off and see how far I could go before I either ran out of road or it all became a bit too painful. Starting next to the domineering statue of Achilles (hopefully not an omen?) I headed down the road but soon veered off onto the grass when my poor little toes began to suffer.

He's a big fella ain't he?
This was just fine though as it directed me onto the wide open space at the centre of the park where I got to enjoy the long grass under my feet; sheer pleasure. I was enjoying myself so much I decided to give the horse track a go and this was even better. With heavy rain last night there were lots of puddles and soft, squidgy sand sections for me to splash through; far more relaxing than any therapy I would warrant! Only when my left calf gave a little cry for help did I stop and reluctantly put my shoes back on. What lumps of clay they are compared to the freedom of going barefoot.

On the return leg the sun was out in force and the sky cleared; lovely conditions indeed although I was a bit thirsty by the end (and this at the end of September). Still it did allow for a pretty photo opportunity:

It could only be London
Distance: 7.3 miles
Time: 58m 59s

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Apple Day at Fenton House

For the last few years we've really looked forward to the Autumn season because this signifies the arrival of one of our favourite fruits, the apple, and more importantly the chance to enjoy Apple Day! Initiated by the Common Ground organisation (whose work I love) twenty-one years ago this is an annual celebration of the fruit that defines England like no other. Somehow these local events strike a real chord with me; the heady combination of history, knowledge handed down the generations, a connection to the land in all of its bounteous variety. Truly mouth-watering.

Now last year we visited Fenton House in truly dismal conditions and the beautiful gardens weren't packed out - although we had a great time anyway. Today though the sun had his hat on and the split-level gardens looked gorgeous. At first it was hard to know what to do first but when we saw a girl apple-bobbing we knew where we needed to be! Joshua was first up and he made strenuous efforts to secure a prize; in the end, just as his time was up, he emerged successful but damp with an apple in his jaws. After a little hesitation I figured that I should take a crack at it too and, to be honest, it's harder than it looks! The apples were sizeable and I was having a lot of trouble until I came up with a method - to thrust my entire head under the water so that I could pin the apples to the floor of the trough. After this there was no stopping me and in the end I retrieved eight apples; double the number anyone else managed it seems.

After this untrammelled excitement we all felt like a rest and so headed down to the apple tasting tables in the orchard. What fun! The crop has been fabulous this year, so I was told, and there were many unusual varieties available to sample; each with their own unique texture, taste and colouration. With a few favourites in the bag we settled down in the deckchairs for a glass (or four) of hot, spiced apple juice in the sunshine. For some reason this proved to be a real hit with Joshua and we spent quite a while doing very little indeed:

Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the children appear to have picked up some sort of war-paint in these pictures (or an unusual rash). Well the truth is that we did make a visit to the face-painting stall, because Christina was desperate, and these pictures were taken when we returned for yet more hot, spiced apple juice! The funny thing about the face-painting is that initially Joshua was very dubious about the whole thing and quite stand-offish. However when he saw how much fun Christina was having, and that you could get non-girly designs, I couldn't beat him out of the artist's chair!

After this, laden with fruit, wine, juice and assorted toys, we nipped over to the Hampstead Heath Extension for a spot of cycling. I'd been racking my brain trying to think of a flat, large and safe area where Christina could practice her nascent cycling skills and then it came to me - the wide-open fields of the extension would provide a perfect venue for such a learner. So with Joshua racing around doing figure-eights I got Christina up to speed and confident enough to make her own progress (on the grass at least). Real success!

Who needs stabilisers anyway?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Jaffa and Popcorn - unleashed!

Well it's been a week now since two terrible felines entered our house and turned it upside down! In one swoop we went from being a no-pet household (after the last of Lenore's elderly cats jogged off to the great cattery in the sky) to one that seems to revolve around kittens! Still it isn't so bad as they're real little darlings; incredibly sweet, affectionate and entertaining. Oh and for obvious reasons the children absolutely adore them - they just can't get enough of the furry fireballs and would quite happily carry them anywhere. In fact they do....

Anyway just who or what are these moggies? Well we picked up Jaffa in Golders Green last Saturday where he shared a house with his brothers and sisters; all of them orange tabbies and bright as buttons. We could have spent all afternoon choosing, and almost did, but in the end Joshua picked Jaffa (known as cat #3 at that point) for his placid temperament and all-over colouring. Isn't he cute?

His Master's Arms!
After that we enjoyed a quick jaunt up to Aylesbury where Popcorn, as we eventually named him, lived with his brothers, mother and assorted cousins; all of them pure-bred Tonkinese. Now this might seem like an unusual choice but my late Mum had a Tonkinese cat called Chocky and he was a truly delightful creature and I know that my Mum would have adored another; so really it had to be Tonkinese (a cross between Burmese and Siamese) or nothing! Fortunately Lenore managed to track down a breeder with kittens and so it was that another little boy came to join our family:

You looking at me?
Now it's fair to say that Jaffa and Popcorn didn't exactly see eye to eye on first meeting; in fact they circled each other warily and hissed with gusto when the other one came near. Not too surprising given that both of them had just been torn from the only home they'd even known and deposited in a strange house full of strange people. And yet within 48 hours they were snuggling up together and playfully wrestling like born brothers; truly remarkable. 

As a special treat I allowed them a short amount of supervised time in the garden this weekend - almost like the exercise hour that hard-bitten cons get in the movies! Given that neither of them has ever stepped foot outside before they were both utterly wide-eyed and remarkably brave. Who knew that long grass could be such a blast?

After this high excitement they were both a bit pooped and looking forward to a little cat-nap (had to get this in here somewhere!). So we went out and left the boys to their own devices for a while and, for once, they didn't tear the place up:

We're going to need a bigger box!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Dyslexic Advantage

A topic that I'm very much interested in right now is dyslexia - for the simple reason that Joshua was diagnosed with a form of it this summer and we're putting in a lot of effort to make sure that he gets the best support that he can. So with this in the background I'm always looking for articles that cover this problem and here are a couple of great ones:

Book Excerpt: The Dyslexic Advantage

Q&A: The Unappreciated Benefits of Dyslexia

What I particularly like about these articles is that they re-frame the standard view of dyslexia as an affliction, almost a disability. Instead the authors point out that dyslexia occurs simply because the brain is wired differently and that this alternate structure confers many powerful advantages such as an ability to see the 'big picture', enhanced spatial reasoning and an awareness of relationships between disparate fields of knowledge where these links are invisible to others.

I certainly have an acute awareness of the last strength since for whatever reason my brain seems to see the world differently to most people and it can't help but come up with crazy connections between all sorts of thoughts. Now I'm not dyslexic but there's a tangible benefit to being able to think beyond the mainstream in my view (even if most of my crazy ideas remain just that - both crazy and no more than intangible ideas).

Anyway the book looks like an interesting read (so I'll probably buy it) and there's even a website:

Welcome back to the Royal Park

I don't know if we're technically enjoying an Indian Summer at the moment but either way I'm liking this warm, calm weather. Actually it seems we aren't by looking at the definition (we're not late enough in the year) but I'm not going to split hairs; it was nice enough for me to enjoy some park running and that's all that mattered this lunchtime.

Oddly enough I felt just as uncomfortable and out of sorts as I did at the weekend - which is a bit of a concern as it does make starting a run a lot less enjoyable. All of the way round St James Park and Green Park my lower limbs felt heavy and unresponsive; definitely not interested in the task at hand. So I decided that as soon as I reached Hyde Park I would take my shoes off and run barefoot along Serpentine Road - on the basis that it surely couldn't make me feel any worse! In the event doing this felt fantastic; properly great. Just like that I gained a spring in my step and a smile on my face as I traversed the tarmac, sand and grass (but watch out for acorns - they hurt).

Plenty of space here to run shoe-less
After 10 minutes I returned to the world of normal attire but the benefits largely remained - my stride felt light and my gait more flexible. Truly a remarkable transformation for such a minor change. If I wasn't convinced before of the benefit of barefoot running I am now and it's just so much fun. All of the way back to work I ran at a fair clip and my path remained clear. The power of positive thinking or just plain luck? You decide!

Distance: 6.7 miles
Time: 54m 09s

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Haringey Families

How is it possible to live ten years in the same place and yet remain oblivious to something that appears so suited to your way of life? I have no idea what the answer is, by the way, but what I do know is that I have just discovered (and joined) Haringey Families. An organisation that's been running for over 40 years, in one form or another, the group puts on family events, publishes an informative newsletter and runs a weekly toddler group (amongst other things). Definitely a great find and I'm looking forward to getting involved.

I love any Oliver Jeffers book!
Just as an example what first caught my eye was a trip that's being organised to see The Way Back Home on stage at the Arts Depot in North Finchley. Having seen Malina's Dream there earlier this year I know just how great the theatre there can be for kids - truly a magical, transporting experience. However the date chosen is at the back end of half-term and it's possible that Lenore will be away with the little beasts; so maybe this is one we'll just have to miss I'm sorry to say. However maybe we'll make the Halloween Party? Spooky fun!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Back for more on a Sunday

Today, at last, I got back into the swing of this running lark. It's taken a while, and for most of today's run it didn't feel possible, but at last I seem to have got my mojo back - or something approximating to it anyhow. I don't mind admitting that at first I felt terrible. Seriously. In all sorts of places I felt tight and uncomfortable to the extent that I wondered whether I could stand an hour of running; like always though I just stuck at it to see what would happen and in the end a couple of unexpected events occurred.

The first of these (and if you're eating you should probably look away now) was that by the time we'd made our way down to Regents Park - the halfway point more or less - my guts were rebelling. Ordinarily I'd tough it out (see above) but a voice in the back of my head told me that this wasn't an option and so I put in a little sprint to get me to the nearest toilet. What blessed relief and thanks go out to all the owners of public toilets everywhere. You all deserve medals. With that little job out of the way I felt perky enough as we slogged our way up the steep side of Primrose Hill:

A view like that don't come for free!
Even so I wasn't quite sure how my legs were going to cope with the long drag up to the car park and this remained a source of concern with strong runners like Craig, Daniel, Jo and Mike in the vicinity. So I hung back a little until Rosslyn Hill where I thought it worth lifting the pace a touch to see what would happen - which was that Daniel and Jo stayed close on my heels! So I tried another dig and suddenly I had a gap of 5 or 10 metres and the desire to defend my slender advantage. By sheer will I kept my pursuers at bay all of the way and it felt good, it really did, to glimpse my old form. There's a friend that I hope to welcome back!

Distance: 7.2 miles
Time: 1h 02m 49s

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Gone but not forgotten

Today for the first time in over two and a half months (yes, really, a whole 12 weeks!) I made it to the Running School on a Saturday. Crumbs. This is the longest period ever since I started that I've gone without seeing Ira and the guys and yet it feels like no time at all; pretty obviously this has been one busy summer even by Cannon family standards. Nevertheless after flying back from Lenore's aunt's funeral last night this was my first opportunity to rejoin the gang and I took it.

The only problem was that I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was going to struggle a bit today where once I'd been the young buck forcing the pace. With no exercise since Tuesday and no running since last Sunday I've been feeling a tad stiff and lethargic; the blood is not flowing as enthusiastically as it once was. Anyway a good few of us met up and it was nice to receive a warm reception; there's nothing like being missed to make you glad that you made the effort to return!

That said today turned into a bit of a long one as Ira piloted us towards Finsbury Park via the always pleasing Parkland Walk - particularly now that they've sorted out the drainage. It's no longer a mud-bath and that explains why there were so many runners and cyclists out and about; that and the miserable weather forecast for this afternoon! As expected I had no choice but to hang at the back of the pack, although that is no bad thing sometimes, and my slow-motion running only worsened when we turned round and headed up and up back to the finish.

The damage is obvious!
Luckily there were no photographers in the verge today and I had plenty of company in my personal discomfort; also it's not like I've never had to come back from injury before and so I do know that my condition will improve. It's just that there's not a lot of joy to be had in this intervening period apart from the pleasure of being able to run at all. That's certainly something and none of us should forget it!

Distance: 9.0 miles
Time: 1h 17m 55s

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Pangbourne Multi-terrain 10K

Well as I sit here thinking about my race today it's with mixed emotions I think. On the one hand I ran just as hard as I could and given where I was fitness-wise a month ago it turns out that this is pretty hard; on the flip-side when I ran the race last year I was really flying and came in 5th overall and first V40. So this year I was eight places further back and over two minutes slower - a good indication of how challenging the course is and how much it punishes anyone unwise enough to set off too fast. Talking about the route the Pangbourne 10K takes a lovely meander around the village of Sulham - up Sulham Lane, around Sulham Wood and across Sulham Hill. It's all there, you know, if you're a Sulham fan!

As for the race it was a bit of a dash against time just getting there what with half of the family slumbering in bed while the other half made last-minute preparations this morning! So a quick dash down the motorway was required to allow even a few minutes warm-up - definitely a requirement given that the race goes uphill right from the gun - but we managed it without too many cross words. At the start line I wasn't quite sure where to seed myself but I figured that if I was going to have any chance of reprising my result from last year I had to at least be in sight of the leaders.

At least I know what I'm in for!
This was a valiant aim and for the first 500 metres I got a clear view of the large group forming in front of me - almost close enough to touch but too far away to catch. Steadily they pulled away and from my laboured breathing I knew that I wouldn't be bringing them back! So I tried to settle into a rhythm although my right calf felt rather sore/tight and this wasn't helped by running in lightweight trail shoes on the unforgiving tarmac; when we turned the corner into a muddy field I was probably the only one to breath a sigh of relief! From that point I started to feel better and better; catching two or three guys very quickly and then keeping in touch with a guy maybe a hundred metres in front.

From last year I remembered the course very well and knew that the high point came between 5 and 6 kilometres in and that previously I'd pulled back a stubborn resister in just this very stretch; so it held happy memories. Well I don't know if this is the power of positive thinking or what but once again I used this part of the course to my great advantage and reeled in my opponent; a moment when you need to look strong! After this the course fell away to the finish and while I refused to falter it took an awful lot of mental strength to keep my pace high and not look back to see who was chasing. When the finish line finally came into sight I was awful glad to see it:

Ouch - that hurts!
In the end though I managed to put clear water between me and whoever was trying to chase me down; no sprint finish required and for that I am eternally grateful. Almost as grateful as I was with managing to pick up a spot prize (which is one way to ensure that a large crowd remains for the prize-giving) and certainly as grateful as I was to see the massage lady with a spare bed and no queue. That's one tangible benefit to finishing at the sharp end of the field! After being put back together I even felt up to facing the press:

With my aunt Janet having survived the race
Overall though coming 13th out of 251 finishers isn't too bad even it it did take me 41:16 to get round. Like last week pacing was a definite strong point since I managed to push hard most of the way and still had enough in the tank to maintain a stiff pace in the closing kilometres (even if these were downhill!). Even better the weather was absolutely great despite the gale warnings - real sunshine in a way that I haven't felt in months. To celebrate we headed off to the Beer Stampede at the nearby Elephant Hotel and it's no exaggeration to say that rarely has beer tasted so good and that's not the belly talking!

Distance: 7.0 miles
Time: 48m 44s

Friday, 9 September 2011

Too early for the Thames Festival

With only one run completed this week I knew that, at the very least, another one was required and Saturday wasn't an option given my race the next day. So today was pencilled-in and on the face of it conditions were ripe for spending more time in the park. Then I remembered that the Thames Festival is on this weekend and that set me wondering - would there be anything to see along the riverbank if I set off downstream? So my plan was made and if I'm honest the scheme pleased me - it's always nice to have a reason to run beyond the quotidian  response of "to stay fit, duh!".

So off I went down to the Embankment and over Waterloo Bridge - the idea being to avoid the crush of tourists that always exists beside the London Eye, day or night. This deposited me on the South Bank and, wow, it was really busy with office drones enjoying the sunshine and foreigners enjoying the weak pound. However it didn't really matter as I wasn't setting any records and in a way dodging around people gives my muscles an unusual work-out! Outside the Tate Modern a large stage was being constructed but that wasn't what caught my eye; instead I love looking across the river, past the Millennium Bridge and on to St Paul's Cathedral. Magnificent.

No more wobbling here!
From here I wiggled my way past Southwark Cathedral, then City Hall (also known as The Onion if you're feeling polite) and onto the always impressive Tower Bridge; which is even more beautiful now that they've finished repainting it and removed the scaffolding.

Can you get that shade of blue in B&Q?
Sadly the north side of the river is less interesting to run along, once you've got past the Tower of London, and so I just put my head down and beavered away. It was surprisingly muggy at this point, and kind of warm, so I was glad of the stiff breeze blowing down the river. Even so I was beginning to flag a little by the time I returned to Embankment Gardens; however rather than skip back to the office I decided to slip my shoes off and see how long it would take me to lap the park barefoot. Sure there were lots of people watching with interest but I've never been one to concern myself with public opinion! As it turns out a lap takes about 5 minutes and there's some cool grass to be had - so I'll be returning shoeless in the future I believe.

Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 39m 28s

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Discretion is the better part of valour

Isn't it amazing that over 400 years ago Shakespeare was writing lines such as this: 'The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.' Now I'm no Falstaff or, at least, not yet so long as I keep off of the capons but I know exactly what he means. Sometimes you set out to do one thing and then events set you on a different course - unless you're too hard-headed to realise.

Take today for example; I was all set to slot a run into the lunchtime session and entertained plans to travel a little further than I managed last week. All being well I'd make it up to Hyde Park and a loop on the horse track for good measure. However it quickly became apparent that my legs hadn't quite recovered from the weekend - most specifically in the groinal area and that's never a good place to feel sore - and they didn't start to feel better even when warmed up.

So I resigned myself to chugging once again around Green Park; just a couple of laps. Now there are worse places to be on a late summer's day (down in the sewer or even on the end of a skewer!) but it wasn't what I'd planned and so lacked a certain excitement I think. Nevertheless after a while and a bit of stretching I began to feel slightly more normal and glad that I'd made the effort - although not so happy that I was going to do some barefoot running. Somehow I get the feeling that continually rubbing the freshly-formed skin off the hole in my toe isn't a winning strategy; so I'm going to give it a chance to heal. Discretion and all that....

Distance: 5.7 miles
Time: 42m 49s

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Regents Park 10K - September

Today has been a long time coming that's for sure - six whole months of sweat, suffering and effort. But it's been worth it, I think, despite those dark moments where I've wondered what it was all for. Even better I've achieved my initial goal of winning the series overall in my age category and that's something to be proud of I guess. My problem is that victory is only fleeting and when it's been digested, well, I'm looking for the next challenge. Maybe it's good to stay hungry though?

Anyway returning to today's race my main goal was not to blow up, suffer like a dog and live to regret my aches and pains all week; it seems that this is becoming a bit of a theme in my racing adventures but I can only work with what I've been given. So at the start I hung back and left the blocks at a very sensible pace - a little over 4 min/km to be precise. Unlike last month this felt properly comfortable and I felt very able to cruise along like this for as long as it took; in fact at the end of the first lap I still felt very much within myself and had to be careful not to get carried away!

Pretty early on - just cruising
What's funny though is how my expectations have recalibrated themselves - when I glanced at my watch at the halfway mark I couldn't help but smile at the time of 20:30. As much as this is a long way from my best it's also a world away from the torture of tight muscles that I endured in August and for that I'm grateful. Still I couldn't help but lift the pace slightly when I got to the final lap - not so much an attack as a gentle acceleration - and right there I found the area that I need to work on. While my legs said yes, my lungs said no and so general fitness is, as it so often is, the limiting factor.

I probably should have sprinted harder - right?
That said I managed to bring back a few guys on the run in and I felt very much in contention in the little group that I'd pulled myself up to - which explains how the last kilometre was run at 3:51 min/km pace and that still wasn't a flat-out sprint. There is room for improvement! Now before the race today I'd decided that I wouldn't be entering the winter series this year as a break would be beneficial. Wrong! Keeping active is the only way forward and besides when I was chatting to Maurice Raynor, the race organiser, afterwards he mentioned that entries are down this year - possibly because Runners World has got the link pointing to the summer series or something. Well we can't have that and £60 is a small price to pay - although the financial cost of the races is the least of my concerns!

Oh yes, and just for completeness, I crossed the line in 41:07 and this was good enough for 36th place (out of 610 finishing). On the other hand I was third V40 and the first two were right in front of me according to the results; I definitely should have gone harder at the end! More importantly the bulk of my kilometre splits were within the 4:05-4:10 range and that's pretty damn consistent if I say so myself! Although this could all change given that the timing system wasn't started properly. Local races eh? Bunch of amateurs.....

Distance: 11.6 miles
Time: 1h 26m 31s

Friday, 2 September 2011

Laps in the woods

This morning I was all set for a jog around town at lunchtime what with the sun being out, and me needing as much time on my feet as possible, but when the time came it just didn't happen. Why? Well I remembered that I haven't run in my own neighbourhood in ages and I kind of miss it. Funny really! So I decided to head out when I got home with the side benefit of seeing how suited the local pavements are to barefoot running - after a few miles in the woods first.

So at about half-past six I jumped into my shoes (tipping the sand out first) and headed down the road. Not that I got far before bumping into Claude, a school dad who we've become good friends with, and a reminder that in just a few days the whole educational merry-go-round begins all over again! Until then though it's still the summer holiday and, at last, it's warm enough to feel like those long, hot days of my childhood - which meant that by the time I hit Highgate Woods I had a decent sweat on. Luckily I was only planning on a couple of laps to bring the run up to the 30-40 minute mark and thank goodness as I've enjoyed easier sessions! With a stitch on one side and then the other I felt far from super.

On the other hand I was quite looking forward to 6 or 7 minutes of barefoot running along my local pavement; if this works out in terms of surface (smooth is good) and comfort (clean is good) then I can see a long-term training opportunity here. As it happens the paving slabs are quite suitable although bits of branch and seed from the numerous trees hereabouts turn out to be, shall we say, painful. Also I seem to have rubbed a bit of a hole in one of my toes! Oh well - it's only skin and I think that the soles of my feet are starting to toughen up now. I just need to keep at it.

Distance: 5.1 miles
Time: 40m 39s