Archive for September, 2008

Week 17 – In which Allan is hit by a squirrel, given “evils” by a gangster fox, runs even further and discovers “existential running”

September 23, 2008

This week:
Weight: once again, still at about 76kg! (target: 73kg) but I don’t really care at the moment; Miles run in the last seven days: 35.92 (57.8077 km)
Total funds raised up quite a bit: £376.79 (including Gift Aid) Only £623.21 to go. Sponsor me at my Justgiving page by clicking here.
Days to go to the New York Marathon: 39 (oh my!).

I think the change of season is having an effect on the wildlife of North London. It is very noticeably darker when I do my early morning runs. So, for example, one morning last week as I ran on to Hampstead Heath, two geese flew (heading south?) picturesquely (majestically, even) across a very bright moon shining in a dark night sky. 

Another morning as I left the house – again in darkness – a fox which was a few metres down the road gave me an aggressive and arrogant stare, as if he were in a Guy Ritchie film, and was about to say, “This is my manor, son! You’re only here right now because I let you. You remember all those rabbits and guinae pigs your kids used to have that disappeared? I had them. Understand. So naff off.” (Actually that sounded more like Fletcher in Porridge, but you get the idea.) “Gangster fox terrorises Tufnell Park runner shock!”

And on another morning  run – yet again in the dark – a squirrel ran into me.  I thought squirrels sense of self preservation was such that they were pretty good at avoiding humans, but it seems not. I wasn’t trying to sneak up on it or anything (because that would be quite odd in a man of my age), but as I was running along this squirrel didn’t seem to notice I was there until I was right next to it at which point it panicked and ran straight into my foot, then bounced off and ran away.

The point of all this being that this equinochial period is a time of change. Days get visibly shorter each week. Temperatures drop. Animals change their behaviour – flying south for the winter (birds), being bolder and more aggressive in their foraging for food (fox) or stupider (squirrel). And I have been thinking about some changes too.

I have done some very long runs recently. Longer than I have ever run before. Last week I ran 18 miles (29.1291km) and, the weekend just gone, 20 miles (32.2030km). This has helped me to turn a corner in my thinking about the marathon.  Having done these runs, I now know I can finish the marathon. Even if I have to walk the last six miles, I can do it. This is quite a profound change from the way I felt a few weeks ago when I was panicking about it.

One of the things that has changed is that I have been making sure I eat my porridge before long runs and I have been drinking energy drinks and energy gels during the long runs.  Energy gels are absolutely disgusting – “The great taste of vomit with the texture of wallpaper glue!” -but they do seem to give me the energy I need to run a very long way. (Be warned Nestle makes one brand of energy product called PowerBar.) So I am not so worried about the 3kg I still need to lose to reach my target at the moment. I am making sure I have the fuel I need to run a long way.

I have also been reading a book called Running & Philosophy: a marathon for the mind, edited by Michael W Austin. Which is “a unique anthology of essays exploring the philosophical wisdom runners contemplate when out for a run. It features writings from some of America’s leading philosophers, including Martha Nussbaum, Charles Taliaferro, and J.P. Moreland.” (Thanks to Kathryn of the Bradford chapter of the north of England regional branch of RunAllanRun readers for recommending this to me.) It features such exciting chapter titles as “Chasing Happiness Together: Running and Aristotle’s Philosophy of Friendship”, “John Dewey and the Beautiful Stride: Running as Aesthetic Experience”, “Can We Experience SIgnificance on a Treadmill?” (to save you the effort, the answer is “not really”) and the surprisingly upbeat “Existential Running”. Some of it is a bit forced but there are some really interesting essays which are helpful in linking some of the feelings of elation and struggle involved in running to some established theories about life and happiness. 

So, since I have after all chosen to do this marathon and this training ,when I get up and go running in the dark or run a “challenging” 20 miles it can be useful to think about freedom and choice and all that sort of stuff . Or I can just enjoy the amusing antics of my local woodland creatures!

Birds are flying south
I am running in the dark
But still enlightened!

Week 16 – “Why New York, Allan?”

September 15, 2008

This week:
Weight: once again, disappointingly still at about 76kg! (target: 73kg); Miles run in the last seven days: 30.02 (48.3125 km)
Total funds raised up a bit: £319.10 (including Gift Aid) Only £680.90 to go. Sponsor me at my Justgiving page by clicking here.
Days to go to the New York Marathon: 48.

Helen, my wife, who has done two marathons, warned me that I would become a marathon bore about now. (Actually, Helen put it much more nicely, saying “Your thoughts, actions and conversation will be dominated by the marathon and we’ll all have to get used to it.”)

This past weekend we looked after our friends’ two children while they (the parents) went away for the weekend. We also went to another friend’s very enjoyable 50th birthday party. Stanley, our youngest, learned how to play Eye of the Tiger on the guitar (with appropriate irony, I think, but I’m not entirely sure).  Delilah, our younger daughter spent a lot of the weekend working on her personal statement for her UCAS form and recovering from the party she went to on Friday night/Saturday morning. Our elder daughter, Mathilda, came back this weekend from Moscow where she has been attending a drama course at Moscow Arts Theatre for the last two weeks. However, when people at work (NCT) asked me about my weekend, I said “I had a successful 18 mile run on Sunday, thank you for asking.” And went on to explain to anyone who was in the same room about how I ran from Angel to Stonebridge Lock out past Tottenham Hale on the canals and then back again. How I drank energy drinks and “ate” energy gels to help me on the way and how encouraging for the marathon it is to have run so far. And their eyes start to glaze and writing that report on membership attrition and retention rates data for the year end accounts seems a lot more interesting to them than it did five minutes ago. And do you see what’s happening here? I am doing the same to you, dear reader.  Blah blah blah 18 miles. Blah blah blah marathon. Etc. So Helen was right.

Now 18.1 miles (29.1291km) is a very long way and I have never run that far (in one go) before in my life.  So I think it is OK to be quite pleased with myself at this turn of events. And for your info, as I am sure you will be as interested as me, it took 3 hours, 14 minutes and 22 seconds, an average of 10 minutes 44 seconds per mile, my average heart rate was 154 bpm (sorry, are you finding this boring?) and I burned approximately 2,154 calories (which is, incidentally, equivalent to approximately 850 g of raccoon meat– which must be about all the edible meat you could get from the average raccoon, I imagine).

Anyway, after very patiently listening while I droned on about my 18 mile run, our friends’ young daughter (yes, be warned that the listener’s age, relevance to the current conversation and likely potential interest to the listener represent no barrier to my ability to launch into riveting descriptions of the pain in my foot between 6.3 and 8.2 miles – which, I’m sure you want to know, was rather like someone shooting a rivet into my foot every time I stepped on it)  asked me why I am running the New York marathon rather than somewhere else (closer to home).  Which is an interesting question.

After I had been running a few years and Helen and other friends of mine had run some marathons I thought I would probably like to do a marathon at some point, too. And if, as is very possibly the case, I only ever do one marathon, which marathon should that be? Why not make it somewhere I would really like to visit as well.  Given that I have two degrees in American Studies (a BA from UEA Norwich and an MA from Birkbeck, London) and had always wanted to visit America but, rather embarassingly now that I was over 40, never had, New York seemed an obvious option.

Of course this also meant it was easier to put off!  I could say, wittily I thought, that I didn’t want to do the London Marathon because I had been to the Isle of Dogs and it was closed. (Ignoring the fact that there is at least one marathon in the UK every week that I could choose to run instead.) New York offered that classic excuse in that it was the one I was holding out for, therefore I didn’t actually have to do it. And, even better, I said to myself that I would give up smoking when I was definitely going to run a marathon. So, being rejected for a place in the New York marathon every year meant I could continue smoking as well!

In the meantime I visited New York, without a marathon, first with my daughters, Mathilda and Delilah and then with the whole family. And I absolutely loved it. Having seen it a million times in film and TV, the best things turned out to be the smells and the tastes of New York which I couldn’t predict. So now I can, hopefully, enjoy running a marathon there, knowing that I will enjoy being in a wonderfully exciting city which I love.  (I also love London too, I hasten to add, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.)

So this year I got my guaranteed place in the New York Marathon. (If you apply and are rejected three years in a row, you are guaranteed a place in the fourth.)  So it all got rather real. And quite scary. But, joy of joys, it has made me give up smoking. It has made me run and feel good about running again. It has already helped me run further than I have ever run before.  And it has, and this could be the most scary bit in some ways, meant I am taking a risk or two.  At least 30 friends, relatives and colleagues have read this blog and are expecting me to run that marathon. Many have sponsored me. Some, it seems, have even been inspired to do a little bit more exercise. So actually, that 18 mile run is quite important, because it has made me feel a little bit more secure about running the 26 miles in November.

And to answer Amy’s question about “Why New York, Allan?”, the answer would have to be that originally it was probably an excuse to postpone doing things I said I wanted to do, but now it is an exciting and frighteningly real adventure in a city I love to visit. So sorry if I corner you somewhere and turn into a marathon bore in the next few weeks, but it really is very exciting for me.

New York’s exciting
Twenty-six miles is quite far
I am nearly there.

Week 15 – Conflict

September 4, 2008

This week:
Weight:still at about 76kg! (target: 73kg); Miles run in the last seven days: a hefty 37.23! (59.9159 km)
Total funds raised up a bit: £257.56 (including Gift Aid) Only £742.44 to go. Sponsor me at my Justgiving page by clicking here.
Days to go to the New York Marathon: 59 (oh lordy! Less than two months!).

Firstly, my apologies for the last blog which I think was a bit boring. The picture of the mushroom got the most positive feedback so I think that says it all. I think I was too happy and relaxed after my holiday trip to Cornwall (Kernow) to write the edgy, “out there” blog posts you are used to. Because, as we all know, there is no drama without conflict. Which is why Mr Men books are so dull. (Except Mr Nosey, who is taught the lesson of minding his own business by being smashed in the face with a hammer by his friends and neighbours while they stand around pointing and laughing at him(?)! This is how I think it happened:
Roger Hargreaves (Mr Men author) [talking into telephone]: Hello, this is Roger Hargreaves, author of the Mr Men Books. Is that Mr Puffin, my publisher? How are sales of my Mr Men books going?
Mr Puffin the Publisher [talking into his telephone]: Hello, Roger. Yes it’s Jim Puffin, publisher, here. To answer your question, sales of your Mr Men books are OK. But they’re not as good as Dr Seuss’s. Did you know his Green Eggs and Ham is the third biggest selling book in the English language ever? And it only uses 50 words! But what it has is conflict, Roger. Dramatic conflict. Sam-I-Am wants the other bloke to eat Green Eggs & Ham, and he doesn’t want to. Do you see? Conflict. And that’s got the reader hooked so that he (or she) wants to know if (and how) that conflict is resolved.  Does Sam-I-Am persuade the other bloke to eat the green eggs and ham? If so, how? Does he like it? Why are they green? Do you see, Roger, the conflict creates drama and interest. So, what we’re thinking here at the publishing house is that maybe Mr Messy getting his house cleaned by Mr Neat & Mr Tidy doesn’t quite have the same level of dramatic conflict that can hook the reader. And that perhaps, Roger, you could make the next one a bit more edgy. Throw in some conflict. What do you think, Roger?
Roger Hargreaves: Hmmm. Conflict, eh? Dr Seuss, eh? Think you know more about writing children’s books than I do, eh? Well why don’t you just mind your own business (publishing) and I’ll mind mine (writing children’s books)! You want conflict? I’ll give you conflict! [Slams down phone.]
And so, Mr Nosey was born!) (Or probably not.)
Anyway, I digress.

This week I have had some internal conflict because I am feeling quite unwell with headache, stomach cramps and, well lets just call it “bathroom unpleasantness”. So on my run this morning (5:49 am; 4.83 miles (7.77313 km); 50 minutes, 35.49 seconds, a disappointing 10.28 minute miles, and burned 595 calories – equivalent to approximately 1lb (453 g) of topically tasty Alaskan caribou meat) I was constantly in danger of puking or doing a “Paula in Athens 2004”. But the thought that I am behind on my training schedule kept me going. I had a terribly difficult “long” run on Sunday – running out of energy for the last four miles. And I am not doing the speedwork my schedule suggests I should. And I am back at work and the mornings are getting darker. And there is less than two months and I only have a quarter of the fundraising target and I have lost my blogging mojo and and and…. There goes that doubting voice in my head again… (Still not saying “Kill! Kill! Kill!”, you’ll be pleased to hear! but a clear example of some internal conflict none the less.)

So I have had a look back on some of the previous blogs (am I going all postmodern again?) and thought I would try to look at some of my achievements. And they are worth mentioning, I think (with thanks to all those who have supported and helped these achievements):

  • Weight is down 7kg in 14 weeks from 83kg to 76kg.
  • Weekly running mileage up almost 100% from 19 to 37.
  • Blog readership up nearly 900% from 3 to 26!
  • Funds raised up from £0.00 to £257.56.
  • The sport of Competitive Postmodernism™ invented
  • 8 haikus written
  • one picture of large mushroom uploaded.

Which makes me feel a bit better about it all again. And now *stop press* stop press* stop press* someone out there has created a link to my blog!!! It is from a New York blog called Brooklyn Running, which says:

“Here’s a blog entry from a guy in the UK (I think), who just spent some time in Cornwall, clocking down the time until New York (62 training days from today).
It features a photo of a mushroom (or is it a toadstool?) Nuf said.”

It then includes a quote from my Week 11 post about the wonder New York and of Balthazar restaurant. I feel so proud and excited – my reference and quote in another blog. Thank you, Brooklyn Runner. (And yes, I am in the UK.)

So all of this has made me feel a bit more positive about things again. Taking a pause and looking at what’s going well is a really useful thing to do. So my inner conflict, though not entirely resolved, is at least somewhat mitigated. And has hopefully made for a more interesting blog?

Thanks for reading. Please send a link to anyone you think might enjoy this and (really importantly) might sponsor me… This week’s haiku:

Drama needs conflict
Haikus need seventeen sounds
I need your money!