Sunday, 5 October 2014

The loneliness of the long distance runner

Today I ran my first half-marathon.  This evening I am sore but happy.  As my Dad rightly pointed out the other day, I am not a natural athlete.  When I did the induction at the gym 18 months ago I was allowed to walk on the treadmill for 10-15 minutes.  But today I ran 13.1 miles.

Many of you will have done this yourself and those of you that have will almost certainly have done it faster.  Possibly quite a lot faster.   Having trained for 12 weeks and not run more than 3 miles in one go for 25 years, I was very nervous about it, especially when the entry form said there was a two and a half hour cut off point.  I knew from my training runs that it was going to be touch and go whether I did that. 

Conditions were ideal.  Started cool and cloudy and with no breeze.  The race started and ended on grass, with a lap of the cricket pitch, followed by roads for the rest of the way.  Burnham on Sea is very flat and the biggest ‘hills’ are railway bridges, just three in total.  

Midway round the first lap of the cricket pitch I realise that I am following 173 other runners in a 174 person race.  But I know what I can do and more importantly, what I cannot do.  I cannot try and keep up with the pack if I want to finish.  So I am not unsettled by the little girl who on that first lap says to her Mum, “That man is really slow”.  Mum is a little embarrassed but I laugh.  She is right. 

I am used to running alone so I’m okay with how I run alone for nearly the whole of the race after the two mile mark.  I’m encouraged by an old man in a wheelchair who sits at the end of his drive at the three mile mark and cheers me on.  It gives me a real boost.  I’m less happy with how it feels for the first four miles but have found that is often the case and my times are okay.  For me.

Around 6 ½ miles in I catch up and run with a woman who is running her second race of this kind.  She pulls away when I walk while I drink my water at the drinks station but I pass her at around 7 ½ miles and feel good as I run.  I’m there or thereabouts in terms of the time, though beginning to drift a little.  

I don’t see another runner in front of me for about 4 miles after that.  The last two or three miles are tough and probably not helped by running on my own.  Lin and Ben surprise me by showing when I have two miles to go and it’s a massive encouragement to see them.  It’s just around the time I have started to talk to myself to spur me on.  (Other people do that too, right?)

As I get to the last half mile I can see Lin, Ben and my friend Eerke.  He finished 35 minutes ago but runs alongside me to spur me on over the last bit.  The person I saw in the distance a mile ago, an older man, is suddenly very close.  I hadn’t been trying to catch him, just concentrating on my own race.  I am surprised that I can put in a faster finish than I expect and finish 26 seconds outside the 2 hour 30 minute mark.  Mo Farrah can rest easy.  So can I tonight, once I have negotiated the stairs.

The great motivation in all this was to raise money for MAF, an organisation that flies medicines and doctors and patients and pastors and relief supplies to some of the most isolated parts of the world.   My good friend Mark Stanton was working for this charity before his life was cut short by MND.  I came 171st out of 174 finishers.  He’d have done the run so much quicker.  

A huge thank you to the friends who turned out to see me finish, who fed me afterwards and the many, many people who were so generous in their sponsorship.  In my wildest dreams I was hoping to be running for £100 per mile but we’ve just about made it to the £1500 mark, which is brilliant.   Thank you so much for your generosity. 

I just hope I can get out of bed tomorrow.   

Monday, 18 August 2014

Getting there. Slowly

So much for regular updates.  I'm now two weeks further on in my programme to run my first half marathon.  Getting there, slowly, is an appropriate description of my progress.  Week Four and Five have generally seen me stick to the programme, making little discernible progress speed wise, but - like the Duracell bunny, I'm finding I am able to keep going a little longer each time.

You can find the details of the half marathon training programme. I am following by clicking the link.

I've just finished week 5, so yesterday I (very nearly) ran my furthest distance ever.  The schedule had me down for a seven mile run.  I diligently planned my route and all was good for about a mile and a half.  It was only then that I discovered that about a mile of the route I had so carefully plotted was along a very rough bridle-path, lots of deep furrows from farm traffic and not worth turning an ankle over.  So I walked a far bit of that mile and probably lost some time as a result.  But not much, I am very slow anyway.

I've never run further than 6.25 miles before - the length of 10km races I entered a couple of times.  That was twenty years ago and carrying a wee bit less wait too, so I even though I was forced to walk some of it, I was delighted to have done 7 miles yesterday.  Sore, but delighted.  The fact that I have to do 8 miles this Sunday is something to think about later in the week.

If you would like to sponsor me, this is the place to do it.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Snap! (almost)

This caused me to do a quick double take this evening and then, on reflection, to be encouraged.  One is a shot from yesterday's Western Morning News Sport section.  The other is one of mine from Saturday's game.  It would appear I'm getting something right.  Or getting lucky...  

Monday, 4 August 2014

Running 1

I want to record my progress - or lack of it - in training for my first ever Half Marathon.  I've promised a few updates to the good people that have offered to sponsor me for it but, don't worry, it won't be a step by step account.  I'll spare you all the detail. 

I joined a gym nearly 15 months ago and at the induction, the young girl gave me some exercises to get me started.  It included 10-15 minutes of walking on a treadmill.  It hurt my pride a little but I have since progressed to a bit of running.

This will probably be my first and only Half Marathon.  Because I've discovered that a bit of running isn't enough.  According to the running plan I am following, I need to do a lot more than a bit. I am three weeks into a twelve week programme and according to my times, I'm getting slower.  But I am middle aged and I'm running further each week.  I am determined to finish, for reasons that I'll go into later.

Week 4, here we come...

Thursday, 9 January 2014

A bit of culture

Some of which was a bit wasted on us, to be honest.  As I think I recorded elsewhere, I preferred the photography at the Orange County Fair to that on display at the Getty Center but what do I know.  Nothing really floated by boat more than the sensational architecture of the place itself.  Scorching hot and the white stone of the buildings really stood out against the blue sky.  I spent more time looking at the buildings than the treasures they contained.  Hmm, there's a sermon illustration in there somewhere....

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Venice Beach - Out Come the Freaks

On our first Sunday, we paid a visit to our friends' church, leaving uplifted.  The service was excellent and the preaching (by a guy who was a fire fighter by day) was fantastic.  On hearing of our plan to go to Venice Beach that afternoon, we encountered some raised eyebrows and someone, choosing their words very carefully, said that it should be very eclectic ... I think that was the description.  Intrigued, we went anyway.

The place was very busy and we eventually found a $25 parking space.  It was overcast but you could see that the beach must have been amazing in the sunshine.  It was further inland that things were less pleasant. Naive fools that we were, we were looking for a Starbucks, maybe a tea and some muffins.  It's eclectic, alright.  But it's not that kind of place.

I saw a drug deal being done within the first couple of minutes of walking the shop fronts along the sea front, and there was a parade of characters on display.  My friend the snake handler (below) was preaching on the street in his leopard skin thong.  As Moe says in the Simpsons, when Homer tries to get him to convert, "I was born a snake handler and I'll die a snake handler".  Some other guy (below) was standing around begging for cash for hash, and people were trying to press their CDs on you too.  The famous Muscle Beach was a bit tatty as well, though I wouldn't have said so to the two guys that were working out there.       

In truth it wasn't a great vibe, the only time that we felt unsafe in our trip to America and so we made for the cars and went back to the safety of the suburbs for that cup of tea.  Still, it was an interesting experience.     

Monday, 6 January 2014

High Tide - 6th January 2014

A couple of days ago, when we had a flood warning at high tide, there were a lot of photographers out to record events, even though it was happening at day break.  Today high tide was 10.15 a.m. but most people were back at work and so I pretty much had it to myself.  I was at work too but I'm based about 50 metres from the pier, so could pop out with my camera.  I'm a lucky man.  

I think the waves were a bit more challenging this time but the wall passed the test and kept the sea at bay. Good fun!


Saturday, 4 January 2014


Before leaving San Diego, we took a trip on this wee beastie.  It does roads as well as sea and was a great way to see San Diego from a different angle.  The sea lions were easy to spot, they just sailed us out to the point where they unload the fish that people catch and there they all are - well fed and (in the main) sleeping it off.  A further treat was the sight of dolphins, albeit some distance off in the naval pens.  Both seals and dolphins are used by the military serving out of San Diego.