Friday, 29 April 2011

Gawd bless you, Guv'nor

Another four-day weekend and glorious fine weather; what recession eh? Royalist or not it's always a boost to be gifted an unexpected day off and the running school celebrated by, well, going for a run! So this morning a male contingent met up (perhaps our lady members were preparing for the big event?) by the Heath prepared to be cajoled by Simon on a snappy 10km. This was to be a classic route taking in Golders Hill Park, the Heath Extension and the Heath itself - so plenty of off-road work and pleasing scenery. That said it's hard to know if anyone was paying attention given the amount of chat taking place:

Taking Ingram Avenue by storm
A notable aspect of the route, as we wound our way towards Parliament Hill, was just how poor the views were over London and the nearby hillside. It was almost as if a thick fog-bank had descended over the capital and enveloped the entire Thames Valley; so it was with some relief that Michael collared an innocent jogger and coerced him into taking a group photo instead:

There's a royal wedding somewhere in the murk behind us

After this it was all, literally, downhill. As usual we engaged in a little light-hearted competition on the dirt track back towards Spaniards Road (well all except Mark who was otherwise, er, preoccupied!) and managed to finish both dusty and a little out-of-breath. Like most places in London the Heath felt oddly deserted today but I'm glad that we took full advantage of an opportunity for a Friday outing.

Distance: 6.4 miles
Time: 55m 28s

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Track session in Regents Park

There's a part of my training that's been sorely lacking for a number of years and that is the discipline of getting down to the track and laying down a few speedy intervals. It's not that the mind and body haven't been willing but for various reasons I haven't found the right time and place until now; at last, I'm glad to say, Tri London has started up a weekly track-based work-out and, even better, it's on my way home. Okay I have to hold my hands up and admit that I've missed the first two of these but today I was determined and it was a good thing too because only three of us made it and one (Tomas) was blowing the whistle!

So after a short warm-up we settled upon an ever-so simple plan: today Ian and I would run for two minutes, rest for two minutes and repeat this all eight times. Easy-peasy - the only fly in the ointment being that we had to run in zone 5 which is around about 5K pace (or 90-100% of your maximum heart rate); in other words pretty committing. I wasn't wearing a heart rate monitor but I've done enough races to have a pretty good idea of how my body handles this sort of stress and how quickly I should start out; especially if I was to meet Tomas' goal of hitting the same end-point for every one of the repetitions!

Regents Park cinder track

At first I wondered if I was moving too quickly (at 5:45 min/mile pace it turns out) but Ian wasn't that far behind and I wanted to give it my best shot. Also two minutes isn't all that long (enough for about 600m) and it is possible to keep your pace up over the last 200m if you concentrate on your breathing and form. After the first four intervals I still felt pretty strong and with the last two I tried just that bit harder; at the time it didn't feel like I was going that much faster but looking at the data I got down to a 5:30 min/mile pace and I find that both astonishing and gratifying. There's life in the old dog yet!

Okay I know that I've got to keep coming to these sessions if I'm going to see any benefit and that's always going to be tough with my relaxed attitude to training but I'm going to try - really I am! I just hope that Tri London manage to get enough momentum going to make these work-outs a permanent fixture.

Distance: 5.4 miles
Time: 42m 26s

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

We're off to see the wedding....

A wonderful Spring day, a week book-ended by Bank Holidays and a Royal wedding in the offing; who wouldn't want to be living in London at such a glorious moment? With that in mind I took myself off to the parks for a classic lunchtime run as wedding fever drifted noticeably in the air; along Whitehall every lamppost sported a Union Jack, in Horse Guards Road motorcycle outriders practiced rounding up anarchists and outside Buckingham Palace a media circus of satellite dishes and celebrity suites was springing fully-formed from the earth:

Green Park is aptly named for the media scrum!
As you might expect the crowds were simply enormous - far greater than normal - so I skirted around both them and the office workers spread-eagled on the grass for a lunchtime vitamin D top-up. Compared to a week ago the temperature was a good few degrees lower and with a frisky northerly blowing the smog away conditions were really quite pleasant. So I entered Hyde Park feeling quite lively, set off at 7 min/mile pace and didn't slacken for the entirety of the loop; a most satisfying result. Only when I got back down to the bottom of Green Park and the Victoria Memorial did I pause for a quick photo session. Oddly enough this is the first time that I'd actually jogged round to the front of the palace and I have to say that 2,300 tons of marble make for an impressive edifice:

Bronze winged ‘Victory’ on top of the Victoria Memorial
After this it was a simple matter to head along Spur Road and back down to St James Park; well it would have been except for the cones, tourists and taxi-drivers perplexed by the temporary road layout. Ah well at least I survived to warm-down along the Embankment and enjoy a shower hot enough to wash the grit out of my eyes (note to future self: wear sunglasses when London is hot, dusty and windy - you won't regret it).

Distance: 7.9 miles
Time: 56m 58s

Monday, 25 April 2011

Grand Union Canal

Occasionally the School likes to break the mould with a step outside of its comfort zone and today is a case in point. Rather than commence in leafy North London we gathered at the home of our chairman (the location a closely-guarded secret in Maida Vale) for a rare treat; the opportunity to appreciate new and unfamiliar territory. In practice this meant hooking up with the Grand Union Canal near Little Venice and heading directly west. Now the towpath is a surprisingly busy place early in the morning what with other runners, cyclists and water-folk living in barges and so there is plenty to observe and absorb. In a way you get a chance to examine London from the rear and while I'm no proctologist it isn't as bad as it sounds!

No names, no pack-drill
After Ladbroke Grove the north side of the canal is bordered by Kensal Green Cemetery and, for obvious reasons, the inhabitants here don't kick up too much of a fuss. This soft edge continues for the best part of a mile and right afterwards, on the south side, comes Wormwood Scrubs Park. To be brutally honest it doesn't sound like much, and this was our turning-point anyway, but having looked into it I quite regret that we missed the boat to explore this 200-acre nature reserve. Maybe next time. Anyhow the run back suffered from the same affliction as all out-and-back routes; you know what's coming! So the best thing to do was get it over and done with as soon as possible by turning it into a race:

Adam demonstrating a clean pair of heels
After this finale all we had left were a few twists and turns through the wide Maida Vale avenues (for some reason there aren't many 'streets' here at all) and very nice they are too. It's hard not to feel relaxed after a decent number of days on staycation in such pleasing warmth (I almost feel sorry for all of those suckers who flew off in pursuit of some sun!) and for certain everyone out today seemed to be enjoying themself. The best thing about it though it that we get to do it all again next weekend. Bonus!

Distance: 6.8 miles
Time: 57m 46s

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Running in a rectangle

Who doesn't love four-day bank holiday weekends? What a marvellous invention. First you get a normal two-day weekend and then you get another one without having to work for it. Fantastic! I put my free time to good use by doing absolutely nothing on Friday or Saturday; not a sausage. So this morning I needed a fix and I needed it bad; luckily so did Mike, Adam, Craig, Mark, Amanda and Josiane. OK I know that we're all candidates for the twelve-step program but who's got the time? We're too busy chatting, heading over to Holloway and avoiding the hills. The plan today, as enforced by Adam, was to bring the run in at 10km; no less and certainly no more.

As it happens we might have achieved this had we not taken a wrong turn on the Parkland Walk and ended up on Crouch Hill rather than Highgate Hill. With Ally Pally shimmering in the distance like a desert mirage I was all for pressing on to visit its verdant slopes but sadly it remained but an illusion; my enthusiasm was not shared by the group! Instead we took the gentler path through Queens Wood where I, at the very least, managed to lead us up the rugged north slope of this vertiginous valley. A welcome treat.

Is this the face of a 2011 London marathon finisher?
As is so often the case the pace inched up on the stretch back to the cars and by the time we flew past Kenwood House we were scattering dog-walkers and joggers like nine-pins. Ah the exhilaration of running freely on a beautiful summer's day in the sure knowledge that you've earned an hour or two with the Sunday paper! Maybe a perfectionist might complain that the route ended up being a good 30% longer than the advertised distance but seriously - who's counting?

Distance: 8.5 miles
Time: 1h 14m 47s

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

No time to run?

Sometimes weeks just don't turn out as you planned and this week I've been really busy - but in a good way. Last night Lenore and I went to a preparation meeting for a parenting course that we're starting (at the New Learning Centre) and tonight we've got one of those rare child-free evenings where we can pretend to be young again! I wanted to squeeze a run in and that meant running to work across the Heath, and so on down to the river, although today I decided to throw in a few new diversions to keep things fresh. Now, as everyone knows, the weather has been great recently and even at 7:30 this morning the sun was bright and starting to lift the early morning chill:

Sunrise on the Heath
I was feeling pretty perky, with a spring in my step, and so when another middle-aged runner took me on down Grafton Road (at the back of Kentish Town) I girded my loins and rose to the challenge! There was going to be no competition here and I managed to carry this 6:30 min/mile pace all of the way down past Mornington Crescent. Here I decided to divert through some park gates that I must have gazed ineffectually at hundreds of times and found myself in St Pancras Gardens. I won't claim that they're a major new addition to my running repertoire but at least I now know where gravestones go to die:

St Pancras Gardens - a little cramped!
After this charming departure I then kept a green theme and passed through Tavistock Square Gardens, also new to me, Russell Square Gardens, which enjoys a pleasing symmetry, and Bloomsbury Square Gardens. Before writing this I hadn't quite realised how many garden squares I typically pass through but in reality I try to seek them out; there's something very refreshing from gaining just a few moments with the grass under your feet in a city like London. If I had my way I'd probably knock down all of the ugly '60s office-blocks that are dotted around and replace them with gardens (just so long as I didn't have to do the gardening!).

Distance: 8.4 miles
Time: 1h 4m 13s

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Put on the spot!

Turning up for the Sunday run has become something of a routine for me lately and I like the discipline; it used to be that I never had the time (or maybe I preferred having a lie-in?) but now it's just part of my schedule. So this morning I rolled up to make a foursome - me, Mike, Amanda and Rob - and Mike asked if I had a route in mind to take us all on. It took a few moments to pull something together but then I realised that what I love to do is head out in a direction that we usually overlook; in this case pretty much due North. Thinking ahead I reckoned that we could proceed all of the way to the Coppetts Wood nature reserve and enjoy a rarely-visited green oasis:

Coppetts Wood next to the A406
So we headed across the Heath Extension on the soft horse track (no evidence of equine activity to be seen) and through the Suburb, via Rob's house (next time we stop for muffins!), before encountering the North Circular and Long Lane Pasture. The latter is, in many ways, one of those secret backwaters that charms by being both open and unspoilt; for small children it's a delightful cornucopia of insects, ponds, wild flowers and blackberries but unfortunately the gates are locked until 10am. So we didn't dally but instead took in further North Finchley back-roads as a way to both avoid the traffic and explore new areas; in this I think that I was successful! Coppetts Wood was a great hit too (you can hardly believe that six lanes of traffic is just down the hill) and this naturally turned us all back to Muswell Hill and yet more woodland shade.

In fact we all could have easily continued on for a good while but Amanda had a date with the London Marathon. Well not personally you understand but Josiane ran today and so Amanda wanted to get down to Mudchute, on the Isle of Dogs, to provide vocal support. With our little run put into a proper perspective we finished off with a charge up the Bishops Avenue:

And then there were three
To be honest I quite enjoyed the chance to lead the way today and share a few of the short-cuts and cut-throughs that I've got to know so well in recent years; it's certainly more fun that just running them by myself with no one to experience them with. OK so the overall route was a touch longer than usual but how else are we going to get the chance to break new ground if we don't extend our range? So there are no apologies here on that score!

Distance: 9.3 miles
Time: 1h 22m 7s

Saturday, 16 April 2011

When the Chairman's away

This weekend Ira is indisposed and so Simon (stalwart that he is) stepped up for the keynote Saturday run to ensure continuity of service. Sadly numbers were well down on the double-digit turn-outs that we're used to but nevertheless the quality level remained high! In true North London style then we headed down the full length of the Heath en-route to Belsize Park and the ever-delightful Primrose Hill. These streets may not be paved in gold, as Dick Whittington imagined, but they do have a commodious and delightful aspect; especially in the Spring. So we made our way to the top of the hill and convinced a fellow runner to capture our aspect for posterity:

The Primrose Hill Mob
From hereon Simon's command was made immeasurably easier by the fact that we all knew where we were going, more or less, and were eager to get there. So we twisted and turned through what I suppose is still Belsize Park just so we could meet up on Hampstead High Street; us and the local denizens with their freshly-printed Guardian and warm, organic croissants that is. It's always a bit of an obstacle course up to the tube station entrance but this does serve to space everyone out and allow for a photo opportunity. Without further ado then I am very happy to bring one of our most cherished and long-standing members into focus:

Michael - always there, rain or shine
There we have it; a solid Saturday run without unnecessary heroics. I'm just glad that my ITB is finally finding its old, inconspicuous role again and that I can run without any concerns lurking at the back of my mind. Even my bunion seems to be hurting less these days although that might be because I've taken to walking barefoot whenever I can. It occurred to me that my feet have, one way or another, been confined their whole life and that it might do them good to stretch out and work a little. Unscientific I know but even after a week they feel happier!

Distance: 8.3 miles
Time: 1h 12m 45s

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Recover, recover and recover

After last Sunday's longer than expected trek through the countryside I've been a bit waylaid this week! Luckily it only took a couple of days for my right knee to ease off, along with my major muscle groups, but that's not been my biggest problem: even now, as I sit here, my right ITB is complaining and tender and this is five days later. What's most annoying though is that I had intended to take in Lotte's freshly-created TriLondon track session in Regents Park this evening and work on my speed but that was a definite no-no. Instead I came home with the intention of heading out to Highgate Woods for maybe 45 minutes and a few easy laps.

Well in the first few minutes even this felt like a tall order! My knee hurt, as did my shins and also, not to forget, my ITB. Maybe it'd be easier describing the bits of me that didn't hurt? Believe it or not even my palms are sore from spiking the lawn on Tuesday. If this is old-age I want to get a refund! Anyway I stumbled around the woods and formulated a plan - today would be a good day to fool around by jogging up a few hills because, for some reason, this wasn't painful! So I crossed over to Queens Wood since this has a most wonderful U-valley shape with a kind of bowl at one end and this means only one thing: lots of hills. At first I figured that if I got to 30 minutes I'd be happy and go home but then a funny thing happened; I was having so much fun that 45 minutes sneaked past and then I started to think that maybe I should just stick around for the whole hour, going up and down and around about the woods:

Queens Wood - round and round
Yes that really is a plot of my route! I was having so much fun exploring all of the little paths that I covered pretty much every inch of the wood and I've never done that before. So maybe there is a silver-lining to being injured? OK my ITB still aches but other than that I felt good during my little excursion and, moreover, I feel refreshed from having larked around with no aim other than to keep moving those legs. Sometimes that's enough.

Distance: 7.6 miles
Time: 1h 2m 52s

Sunday, 10 April 2011

OARC: The over-ambitious running club!

Yesterday was a great day what with the sunshine, some great food and my good friends Phillipa and Chris getting married. All afternoon, into the evening and eventually through to the morning we partied at the Van Dyk Hotel before I eventually crawled into bed. It would have been nice to go on but I'd realised this week that I could run down to Sunday lunch from where we were staying - with almost all of it being on the forest trails of the National Cycle Network. So early this morning after a solid breakfast at the local Little Chef (oh how the other half live!) we sauntered down to Clumber Park; the last time we were here was for a triathlon but this time all I wanted was to find the bridge and thus my starting point:

Clumber Park
Almost from the off I was alone on soft-needled tracks through the woods with just the echo of birdsong for company. Truly I felt a world away from London and the South-East; just me and my thoughts and at times like this my mind certainly does wander! As I padded along I reflected on the wedding and how much fun it is to catch up with old friends, whether my muscles were going to loosen up if I kept moving and how easy it was going to be to keep to my chosen route. It's fair to say that there weren't many people around to ask for directions:

Somewhere in Duncan Woods
So I kept heading south, picking up signs for Sherwood Forest and musing that it would be easy enough to hide a pack of thieves in the dense woodland. We may live on a small island but there are still plenty of quiet, out of the way places and for sure Nottinghamshire is hardly the back of beyond! Eventually signs of civilisation emerged as I passed by Clipstone and into its Country Park - popular with anglers by the look of it, tucked away in the crook of a railway line and featuring a giant golden hand (which is somehow meant to represent the area's mining heritage). I was just glad to pause for a moment as this run was taking rather longer than I'd imagined:

Clipstone Country Park
Guessing from the maps that I'd printed off I reckoned that it'd be maybe 15 miles door-to-door but that was looking like a gross underestimate with almost 12 miles on the clock already! So it was with a sense of wondering what I'd got myself into that I jogged over to Sherwood Pines Forest Park for a, hopefully, quick diversion around Mansfield. There were lots of families around on mountain bikes and a moment's inattention saw me heading at a ninety-degree angle to my desired route and with every step further away from lunch!

Sadly it took about a mile to realise my mistake and then, well, I had to fashion a cross-country trek across the forest to recover and with no end in sight (and a rapidly fading phone battery) circumstances were starting to look bleak. That said no one knew where I was anyway and so my only way out was on Shank's Pony and believe me these dogs were barking; understandable after 2 hours and more than 15 miles! So I forged on although that makes me sound quite indomitable: in reality my right-knee had been aching for a good hour as a consequence of being tracked out-of-line by my ever-tightening ITB. Actually that's the strange part; in my head I'd imagined that I could run long whenever I wanted just by dropping my pace, to conserve energy, but as it turns out the limiting factor is bits of me falling apart due to over-use!

The end
So this is it - the exact point where I stopped and thought "What the hell am I doing?" After 18 miles I was nowhere near where I wanted to be; that was at least 6 miles further, minimum, and I had neither the inclination nor the physical condition to pursue nearly a full marathon today. So I gave it up and considered my options. There weren't many. With a nearly dead phone I couldn't afford to spend long guiding Lenore to my location, I didn't know where to find a taxi and I wasn't going to run any further. For more than a few beats I contemplated hitch-hiking along the A617 (why not?) but in the end I phoned Chris (luckily not on honeymoon) and sat on a wall in the sun. Being the great mate that he is he drove out to rescue me, restored me with a bottle of cool water and then took me to lunch.

Thanks Chris!

Distance: 18.2 miles
Time: 2h 27m 46s

Friday, 8 April 2011

Heat in the city

This week I've been a bit slack as I haven't run since Sunday but that's alright I think; sometimes it's good to give your body a break and anyway it's been a very busy week. However I can't pretend that I haven't felt a little sad every lunchtime as the sky has arched blue overhead while our Sun has shone like we're at latitude 25 (think Tripoli). So today I was out of the door like a cat on heat and mentally prepared for the crowds that were sure to be flocking to the nearest patch of grass; even so I overlooked the noisy demonstrators in their pen outside Downing Street but that didn't put me off my stride. Instead I felt pretty good by the time I reached St. James Park and, I've got to be honest, it looked good:

St. James Park never felt so good
In these conditions it's a pleasure to run and by the time I hit Hyde Park I knew what had to be done; off came the T-shirt and all that I had left was shorts and shoes! What a great feeling it is to enjoy the cooling air and the sunlight on your back; a properly freeing experience. If I was a lizard I'd have basked (like so many other wage slaves) but instead I stayed with the horse track and concentrated on good form. In a way this came quite easily but there's a deception here - whenever I neglect to run for more than 2 or 3 days I always go out strong on my first run back - although so what? I felt light on my feet and managed to maintain 6:30 min/mile pace on the far side of The Serpentine and back down to Green Park:

Blossom and blue skies
I guess it probably looks a bit strange when someone who's running fairly quickly suddenly stops, veers off of the path and digs out a camera (while sweating copiously) but I enjoy the challenge of finding things to photograph. Today I did consider getting in some crowd shots but right now nature is at it's very best so I stuck with that as a theme; I don't think that I need to apologise on that score! Surprisingly I didn't feel that baked when I got back to the office but then I had tried to keep to a sensible and solid pace; only once, when another runner drew alongside in a challenging manner, did I really try to motor and that discipline certainly helped. Bring on those long summer days....

Distance: 7.6 miles
Time: 54m 44s

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Regents Park 10K - April - It starts again!

After having so much fun at the Winter Series I decided that this year I would go for the Summer Series of 10K races as well - especially now that these are run on a Sunday as well. So today rather than head off to Legoland with the family I decided to keep it local (and pay the price by dealing with a long list of jobs around the house). As much as I like travelling out to Windsor I'm pretty happy with this arrangement since I got to enjoy the sunshine and to be honest I am just loving the warmer weather! The only problem is that the paths are now swamped by Londoners still sleepy from their long hibernation and that includes the race today what with over 500 participants! Still at least the route is unchanged:

So, as ever, I gently warmed up with a lap of the course and then spent a decent amount of time stretching out in the radiant warmth; for some reason the start time is 9:30 for this series and so there's no need to rush. Even at the start I was happy to seed myself 20-30 people back; right next to the runner in a rubber horse's head (shades of The Godfather?) but in front of a vast wave of charity joggers. This was all part of my plan of course! Today I wanted nothing more than to keep my knees high, maintain my form and by extension my stride length; if I managed to keep it together for the entire 10K then I wasn't bothered about the time.

Which was fortunate as I didn't really start with super-speed; there were just too many bodies around to find a rhythm and it wasn't until the second lap that I felt able to claw back some places. Which isn't to say that I was out of my comfort zone but neither was I in it. Just somewhere in between. However during the seventh kilometre my world became a little brighter when I managed to definitively drop the guy who I'd picked up 2000m earlier and then who should I find at the start/finish but the world's most vocal supporter - Ira! With his encouragement ringing in my ears I found the strength to pick up the pace and drag myself towards the Highgate Harrier in front.

So there we were - I draw level as we go past the ponds and when we head up the first hill there's heavy traffic from the back-markers. He's working hard to make it tough on me and a bit of dodging around people is required but that's ok; it's the same for both of us. Then, though, he cuts right across the corner onto the main drag to gain 5m and that's just not fair; this behaviour I do not like. So I decide that I'm going to bust his balls! Just like that I accelerate to 6 min/mile pace up the hill, my form feels great and I slide out of view as far as he's concerned; no fireworks, just solid running. For the next 2K I put in my fastest splits of the race and by the finish that Harrier is 10 seconds back - plucked and served. This is a result that I can live with (well that and finishing in 38:52 for 22nd place out of the 511 souls who made the finish).

Distance: 10.9 miles
Time: 1h 18m 27s

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Regents Park is a destination

A warm Saturday morning, a good turn-out and a restoration of the normal order of things. Yes Ira was back in control and, while Mike's route last week found favour in many quarters, this week featured a return to our core standards - which signalled a trip down to Regents Park. Now this suited me down to the ground as I like the park and, more importantly, didn't fancy exerting myself excessively with the Summer Series of races kicking off tomorrow. The cute part though was that we went down Fitzjohn's Avenue after Hampstead and that kind of precluded coming back up the long hill again - clever! Anyway along Ave Road we chanced on a group of horses fresh from being exercised - presumably part of The King's Troop based in St. John's Wood - and no one gave them a hard time for blocking the road!

In the park it was very much business as usual - quick wit, numerous complaints and the opportunity for a photo-shoot always taken:

As fine a group of athletes as you could ask for...
Right after this the school's never-ending recruitment drive picked up (press-ganged?) another recruit - Mrs Alex Hatter and her very hairy companion Otis. This would have been fine except we then embarked on one of our trademark loops to nowhere around Holme Green and then followed this up by marching up to the top of the hill in Queen Mary's Gardens and then, well, marching right back down again. I guess that it was lucky that we then re-grouped outside The Cow & Coffee Bean and made-up:

Who's that handsome fellow with Alex?
From here inevitably The Broad Walk and Primrose Hill led us back to perhaps the gentlest approach to Hampstead - which is Haverstock Hill. It's a nice steady drag without any nasty surprises unless you count unwitting pedestrians stepping into your path from all directions! Many are the times when I've wanted to keep going and literally 'run them over' but breeding always prevails and I generally let them proceed unmolested. On that subject I did wonder if Darren and Daniel might tag-team together and rough me up as the hill progressed given that it was just us 3D's at the front but fortunately I was able to avoid trouble and get a few shots of some of our most promising members:

Jeff Boekstein leading from the front
Smilin' Mike
Well known super-elite athlete Simon - larger then life!
And so, at the top of Heath Street, concluded another successful run out for the school. It just goes to show that while novelty has its place at times we all need to return to the source and draw comfort from the bosom of the familiar; with this security re-affirmed once again will we be able to face the horror of the North Circular..... 

Distance: 7.7 miles
Time: 1h 11m 40s