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Saturday, 18 September 2010

Off & Running

So why am I writing this blog; there might be 5 people reading it.  I guess that one cannot ignore the simple self-indulgence of writing down ones thoughts and memories; it is a pleasurable way to record part of the biography of a life.  Maybe one or two people will draw some sort inspiration from it.  It enables me to develop my style in writing.  Perhaps the most important aspect for me is that I now feel I am more of a contributor to the Run Net Community.
I don’t know where the ‘new media‘ path will lead in terms of our communication but I sincerely hope that it will contribute to the breaking down of barriers between humans that still seem to be prevalent across our world.
It was exactly four weeks after the Pony Marathon that I toed the best one can at a mass participation marathon...again.  This was the 1981 Interplas Marathon in Birmingham.  I completed the course in 3hrs 15mins, with a diary comment of ‘Much better”.  
After the Interplas
Four weeks later again, and amidst quite a busy cross country season, I took part in the Honiton Marathon in Devon; the time came down again to 3hrs 10mins 30secs.  
My training was still quite un-informed.  I’d read Jim Fixx’s book and The Runner’s Handbook  by  Bob Glover and Jack Shepherd but I was still tending to just run at every opportunity, which mainly consisted of running to and from college (5 miles by the shortest route).  These were halcyon days of fitness.  A diary entry records, for example, “Ran to college, played 5-a-side football, ran home: 10 miles”).  
My training carried on well though the Christmas break and it was in February 1982 that I took part in the Seven Sisters Marathon, a cross country event that starts and ends at Eastborne on the south coast of England. More specifically it started up a very steep, grassy slope and finished over a series of cliff edge hills, the eponymous Seven Sisters, one of which is Beachy Head, sadly well known as a site for suicide jumps (so much so that volunteers are often there to talk with, and hopefully dissuade, potential jumpers). 

The Uphill Start
I remember this being a tough event but with some notable features.  Firstly, the runners set off some time after the walking entrants and I can still picture the rows of boots outside the pub door as the walkers took on their liquids...seems to me that that’s not a bad approach.  Secondly, we were all given a large chunk of fruit cake at the base of one of the later climbs (22.5 miles); the sensation of that chewy lump of cake becoming concrete-like in my dry mouth still remain a startlingly vivid memory.  I recorded a time of 3hrs 31mins and finished 11th out of 150 entrants.         
Closing stages of Wolverhampton
It was on Sunday the 28th of March 1982 that my marathon time fell below 3 hours for the first time. The Wolverhampton Marathon, which I ran with my friend Chris Windley.  I found my flow and my recorded time was 2 hrs 52 mins 25 secs.
My diary recalls a rather more significant event around this time though.  I returned to my family home in Exning, a small village near Newmarket, and there I ran with both my mother and my father.  Dad had been a long time smoker but he was stick-thin and had been a useful 400 yds runner in his school days.  It was a joy to run with him but Mum’s achievement was, perhaps, the greater.  She was hard working and stoic in her character, she would never have thought herself a runner but with gentle encouragement, starting out with very small increments, she was now joining me on a 5 mile run.
The next chronological event was my move into ultra distance running but I’ll leave that for my next posting.  I just want to skip forward here to Sunday the 18th of July 1982.  The Cambridge Half-Marathon.  I was a little disappointed by my time of 84 minutes but I was elated to be able to record that Mum, at 49 years of age and within months of starting to run, finished the same event in a time of 1hr 58 Mins. She grew to love running and was hugely disappointed when unremitting knee pain forced her to stop before she could tackle a full marathon although she went on to play tennis until, sadly, she was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1997. I still miss her. 
Mum and Me, very happy after the Cambridge Half

Friday, 3 September 2010


Diaries and Log Books

It is quite evident that I was running before 1981 but that is the year that my running records begin.  Since I started those records I have maintained a hand-written log that estimates every mile covered.  I could never claim that it is accurate as I’ve only ever kept the record to the nearest 0.5 miles and my timing estimates must have been a bit off on several occasions.  Now, with the advent of Google maps combined with the training site [great site] or the iPhone sat-nav app that I use, I feel that my recorded accuracy is rather better.  It is, interestingly, quite close to my time based  estimates and there seems to be a reasonably even compensation between the over and under estimate values. This, of course, accepts that I believe in the accuracy of the technological aids
I’ve used buckeyeoutdoors  to record all my runs this year but I don’t want to let go of my paper records, so I still keep a hand-written log.  I feel that this log is an important part of my running, it helps to stimulate and maintain my interest.  Even those of us that can sit in the circle, give our names and admit to being addicted to running still need stimulants (I mean emotional stimuli here, not drugs, of course) to encourage us past the flat spots.
Let me return to the running story.  In May and June 1981 I was recording 40 - 60 miles per week.  I entered my first real road race on Sunday the 14th of June 1981: ‘The Fisherman’s 6’ at Brixham in Devon.  This is a coastal fishing town and I recall that it had some surprisingly steep hills.  My diary records that it was a very hot day and that I had a good run but my memory tells me that it was a sharp introduction into how competitive such events can be.  The following weekend I did the ‘Dartmoor North ~ South Run’; this was a cross-country event and Dartmoor has some difficult and energy sapping terrain.  My diary records that it was a 25 mile event but it took me 4 hours 30 minutes; I added the note “Stick to roads”, an interesting comment given that just 3 years later Dartmoor saw my most triumphant moment of running.
The events continued through the summer.  I took part in a 10,000 metre track event on the 16th of was a huge field of 58 runners.  My recorded time was 39 mins 38 secs.  So there was some evidence of my speed improving.  I was never going to threaten the leaders at such events but I felt that I was learning more about the sport of running.
I had my first marathon in my sights.  Just a few years after the days when I considered such distances impossible for the average (and in my case, with running, rather below average) human I was going to take part in the 1981 Pony Marathon in Bolton in the North West of England.  
I have been very thankful over the years that my body has not sustained any significant or long-term running injuries but my diary reminds me that I did have some pain in my right knee in the month before my marathon debut.  I was determined to run that event, however, and drove up to Bolton for the weekend.  I broke the first cardinal rule by purchasing a new pair of running shorts for the race at the registration expo...but I seemed to get away with that on the day.   
I lined up on the morning of Sunday the 23rd of August 1981 with 8753 other entrants.  The results show that I finished 964th in a time of 3hrs 25mins 51secs (as well as my diaries I also have several scrapbooks and folders so there’s a lot of stuff for me to refer to).  I remember very well that I, like so many of us, set out far too quickly.  By 12 miles I was struggling and already into the run/walk rhythm that has got many middle-packers home over the years.  I found the energy to keep driving myself on and, again like so many, I remember the flood of emotion that hit me when I crossed the finish line.  Perhaps less common amongst runners, I can also recall lighting up a cigarette quite soon after I’d completed the run too.  It would be a couple of years before I had the determination to beat that particular demon.  My diary note for day was: “I done it!! (sic) - can do better - hard run”.  So I had thrown down the gauntlet to myself.
The Start of the 1981 Pony Marathon
As I write this blog entry the sporting headlines in England are dominated by the allegations of cricketers fixing play in the recent England v Pakistan Test Series.  To many cricket is an arcane sport that moves at a beguilingly slow pace.  To others it is a wholly engaging spectacle as deeply considered tactics move the game through its phases.  I have, for many years, delighted in the sportsmanship that was at the core of the game.  There are umpires and they have to decide on many aspects of a match but the code, the spirit of the game meant that the players would often make those decisions ahead of the umpire having to intervene; if the batsman knew he’d nicked the ball when the keeper claimed a catch then he would walk from the crease, giving himself out.  If a fielder dived for a catch and claimed that he had caught it cleanly then his word would be accepted, no requirement for scrutiny by television replay from 4 angles.  Now, I fear, those gestures are less commonplace and the game is the worse for it, in my opinion, although it seems that confrontation and argument makes for better viewing in the judgement of many who control our media.  
The betting scandal...and it’s not the first in another sorry reflection on the corrosive effects of short-term monetary gain.  I feel that the  money involved in most sport at the professional level has had a largely negative effect on the pastimes that so many of us enjoyed watching and participating in. This is one of the reasons that I still draw pleasure from running...and here I have, with regret, to differentiate between running and athletics, there have been too many drugs cheats in athletics for me to be able to watch that beautiful sport without a disturbing uncertainty.  Running, ordinary folk just getting out alone or together, with all but the very few having any prospect of winning the prizes seems to me to be truer to the ideal of exercise forming part of a complete and sustaining lifestyle than being disappointed again by seeing those with wonderful sporting gifts and abilities squander so much for what, in the end, will give them so little satisfaction.    
Two footnotes:  Firstly, I have used the male gender when writing about cricket here but I acknowledge that there have, for very many years, been excellent female cricketers too.  Secondly, my son plays a lot of cricket for a village side here in Somerset, England.  It is a continuing pleasure in the game played at this level that the batting team will often furnish both umpires for their own innings and yet decisions of those umpires are accepted by the fielding side as the final ruling.