Friday, September 29, 2006

Man with cold complains about things

It's been a bitty week (although not in the oepidal sense), and I am glad that Friday evening is approaching. I'd be still gladder if I knew whether I was working this weekend or not. I took Monday off in lieu of time worked, and felt happier on a Sunday than I had in recent memory. I visited a new client on Wednesday and was tense and worried beforehand, but they weren't at all fierce and I hope to see more of them. All this change has stirred up my schedule and I feel quite tired as a result.

There's just over a walk before the Hopetoun House 10k which should be, almost literally, a walk in the park compared to the Glasgow Half. I passed through Glasgow on Wednesday, and the topology of the city now has a different feel to me after the ordeal. I've had a cold, from which I'm mainly recovered, so I should be fine for the race, and can comfortably cover 10k in 54 minutes in training. I'll aim for 50 on the day.

Anyway: An emerging problem with the .com economy is that were are at the mercy of the couriers we choose to deliver our purchases to us. I've spurned economy couriers because they're unapologetically useless, in favour of Parcel Force, but they now seem to be heading the same way. They won't leave large parcels at your local post office, failed to redeliver to my home address on Monday after I waited in all day, and after promising to redeliver to work on Wednesday, left the box with my neighbour instead. Oh, the irritation! This is probably another reason I'm feeling so tired.

Anyway, in about five hours I shall be heading home, and as Helen is going to the pictures with a mate, will comfort myself with a week's ironing and a reconstruction of The Enemy of the World. Bliss.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Yogic Stealth Commuting

I was visiting a client site today that's a good way outside town, and took the bus. It's a special bus, that takes slightly different routes at the far end, denoted by different alphabetic suffixes to the route number. I had forgotten which suffix I needed, but reasoned that the informative signage at the stop would enlighten me.

Alas, the timetable and map had slipped behind another route's details in the display at the stop, obscuring the critical details of which variant I needed. The perspex covering had been cracked, possibly causing the slippage, or maybe due to another bewildered traveller trying to get through at and slide the details back into view. When I tried this option, they wouldn't budge, leaving me looking like a nutter to the other passengers.

I decided to board whichever bus had a destination beyond where I was going, as shown on the still just visible route map. It seemed there was one every five minutes, so it was bound to turn up. That's what I thought. The first one to come was a 44C, which sped past without stopping. I worried that it might have been the one I wanted, but reassured myself that it probably wasn't. What I could see of the map seemed to support this theory. Each 44C was followed by more 44s, and very occasionally a 44B, heading to a non-candidate destination. It must be the 44A, or even 44D I needed, I reasoned.

After an hour, neither of these rumoured services had appeared, so I asked the driver of teh next 44C which bus I needed to get to my destination. "It's the 44C" he responded, matter-of-factly. "This bus, then", I added, to which he nodded. This was about the fifth 44C to have passed since I had been waiting. I boarded and sat down.

I did feel a bit of a twat at the time for not having pestered fellow passengers, or the driver of any bus with a 4 in its number to have passed, for the service details, but on reflection, I'm quite happy with what happened.

It shows that I like waiting at bus stops, listening to MP3 files, and watching the world go by. I am content, patient, and at peace.

This, it seems, is exactly the kind of outcome you can expect if you attempt to go to work straight after a yoga class.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Escapement Escapism

As a bizarrely mild Autumn falls on Edinburgh, I find myself in a mainly comforting routine. Helen and I have had the house to ourselves for a few weeks now, and the only things keeping us apart are the amount of work she brings home, and the unsocial hours I am working, despite being embarrassingly unoccupied during the working day.

I've managed to keep the momentum going after the half marathon, and apply the lessons learned, such as training outdoors (well, once), and not wearing garments liable to chafe. I feel happy to wake up and go and run each morning, accompanied by some terrific audio drama. In order to keep my hand, and more pertinently, my feet, in, I've entered the Edinburgh Great Winter run, a swift 5km around Arthur's Seat in January, and having failed to get into the Linlinthgow 10k this weekend, have entered a more local event, the Hopetoun House 10k, not for from where I used to work in South Queensferry. Training's going well - I can comfortably do 5k at 12 km/h and 10k and 10 km/h and will try and reach a level that combines these before the day. My right knee is telling me I need to fix my orthotic insole - it seems that even the book-leather thick covering that slid off a few weeks ago is critical to my equilibrium.

There was a very comforting coincidence this week - the two audios I'm listening to in a sandwich are Doctor Who's The Evil of the Daleks (the latest in my chronological attempt to experience all of 1960s Doctor Who in 2006) and the latest Sapphire and Steel, The Surest Poison. Completely by accident, both concern the present day and the past being linked by antique artefacts, and arcane methods of time travel. Vintage clocks play a part in both, and I was wonderfully reminded of the days of my youth spent repeatedly absorbing Liverpool Museum. I love city museums because they harbour an eclectic, anachronistic mix of exhibits, and wandering between the Egypian, Roman, natural history, or industrial revolution galleries evoked the same sense of wonder as Sapphire and Steel's exploration of fractured times, or Doctor Who's jackdaw meanderings. Best of all the top floor at Liverpool held the planetarium, literally and metaphorically the apex of the visit for me, and the horological collection. The city's maritime past made timekeeping specially significant, and I revelled in such specifc terms such as 'escapement', as well as the presence of more running timepieces gathered together than I had ever seen before. I always left with the horizons of my imagination broadened in both space and time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It's been busy for a Wednesday

The bike shed at the site where I'm working at the moment, at night

Work is keeping me reasonably busy at the moment, which has raised my spirits no end. I’m doing weekend days and odd evening shifts (doesn’t this entry sound like one of Travis Bickle’s monologues so far?), but I like the odd little extra moments that gives me, like this morning at home, when I had the chance to catch up on bits and pieces. I also stayed true to my promise and did some running outdoors, along the Union Canal (that’s a local stretch of water, not a posh term for “front bottom”), the banks of which were verdant and lovely, without any significant trauma. My next outdoor race will not be such as shock to my joints as the last.

Now Reading: Ghost Rider – Travels On The Healing Road by Neil Peart
Now Watching: Doctor Who – The Moonbase
Now Playing: 21st Century Schzoid BandLive In New York

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Riding without Stabilisers

An interesting consequence of desisting from hammering your body with alcohol, is that you become far more attuned to the effect of other, less potent, drugs on your system. In this category, I'd include caffeine and sugar, both of which I've felt the need to control. Although I'd thought of alcohol as a narcotic, I now realise that for me, it was a stimulant. Need a bit of dutch courage? Have a drink! Need to clean the kitchen? Have a drink! Need to stay up until I've finished this piece of work for publication? Have a drink! The simple carbohydrate content of booze is such that it gives a quick shot of energy, raising the blood's glucose levels. In the short term, this can propel one to effort, and in the long term all this glucose gets laid down as fat - hence the beer belly.

In the months after I stopped, I found I was getting an unignorable craving for sweet food in the evening, and nipping out to get a chocolate bar. I think my body was expecting a glucose boost each night. This also explained why when I'd taken 2 hours to prepare a meal, swigging all the while, I never felt like finishing it - the booze had topped up my blood sugar level, reducing my hunger. Of course, I didn't knock back the booze all in one go, unlike a chocolate bar, or a bag of Margiotta's frankly irrestistable yogurt-coated peanuts. (Yoghurt? Aye, right - yoghurt-flavoured fudge more like). So perhaps the way to keep my glucose on a even keel is to nibble fruit and nuts throughout the evening, just as I used to sip at a drink all night, never feeling full, but never feeling hungry, either.

And then there's coffee. If carbohydrate food feels like booze, then coffee feels more like cigarettes. Some people need one first thing in the morning, some after a meal. Some don't touch it for months, and just have one as a treat now and then. I was in the last camp (ha!) when I dried out, but found on a week long residential course, where complementary fresh-ground coffee was on hand between every classroom session, that I began putting it away in pints. I think I'd been avoiding it, because one of biggest fears of life after alcohol was difficulty sleeping, thinking that the restless nights I'd always experienced after a rare dry day would be the norm. In fact, they were a withdrawal symptom which I recovered from very rapidly. I learned I could drink coffee in the evening and still be asleep within minutes of going to bed. It seemed to give me that jolt to help finish doing something in the evening that a strong cocktail had done before.

I learned quite soon that the cumulative effects of too much coffee are extremely uncomfortable: you feel exhasted, yet restless. The only way to stay awake was to have more. All my bodily fluids smelled of coffee. I was more than a little hard to live with. Oh dear. Coffee had taken the place on my back of alcohol. It took some withdrawal, too - take it way too suddenly, and I'd be lethargic and get severe headaches. I stayed off for months, and stuck to Earl Grey or herbal tea.

During my leg injury in Spring 2005, I'd read a piece in Men's Health that advocated targeted used of coffee as a pre-exercise stimulant. Drink coffee before you work out, and at no other time, they said. The day I decided that the way to get out of my post-injury stiffness was to exercise through it, I remembered the piece, and downed a large espresso (and some Ibuprofen!) before heading to the gym. It worked: I was energised and started a path of training that I'm still on. I've tried having more than one coffee a day, but find that going beyond this limit means I get addicted again, and into the state of needing coffee to stay alert.

The one day a week I don't have an espresso (because caffeine and yoga don't really mix), I find I am drowsy and lethargic by 11am. That serves as a regular reminder that it really is a drug, which I'm using to motivate myself into getting out of bed in the morning, and to enhance my performance at the gym.

I'm think I'm slowly coming round to the Buddhist stance regarding stimulants, but I won't throw away our cafetiere just yet.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Glasgow, the Hard Way

I am forty years old, have not consumed alcohol for over six hundred days, and this morning, completed the Glasgow Half Marathon (Just over 13 miles, or 21 km) in 1:51:52, within a hair's breadth of my target time 1:50:00. In so doing, I have raised over £300 for the Prince's Trust, and also exerted myself physically more than ever before in my entire life, having previously only run 12.2 km outdoors and 16 km indoors. I am very proud, but in considerable pain!

The photo to the left is me on Glasgow Green, at around 12 noon today, a few minutes after finishing. I am still full of endorphins there, as you can see.

It all began at 06:45 when my alarm formalised my body's decision that it was time to get up. The day immediately felt somewhere between an exam and a holiday: now at such close quarters to the event that only the details were visible, thankfully occluding the scope of whole enterprise. Shower, porridge, orange juice, coffee and kit on and I was ready to go by about 07:20. Despite the fairly heavy drizzle, I had decided to go light and not risk taking a rucksack and fleece without having anywhere to park it at Queen Street station. The full inventory ran: Upper-arm pouch containing mobile phone, Visa card, bus pass, and folding money, and back pocket containing folded space blanket and hands-free headset for mobile. That was it - no keys, glasses, or fleece. It was a bit dreich outside though, so I donned a bin liner to keep me dry on the way to the station.

An inauspicious start saw me drenching my breathable trainers in a puddle and finding there were no buses from our local stop that would get me to the station in time. A quick warm-up jog to the next route ensured I arrived in good time. At Haymarket station there were a handful of runners, all nerves and fingers-and-thumbs, queueing for the ticket machine. I was glad to see that bin-liner chic was the order of the day.

No reading matter was required for the journey, as the wonder phone incorporates an MP3 player, today hosting a BBC Radio 4 afternoon play which kept my mind off things nicely, by the time we pulled into Glasgow Queen Street, the train was carrying a good quorum of runners. The incipient drizzle reached had followed me to Glasgow, so I hung back in the station, stretching and sipping water until 09:45, when impatience got the better of me, and I headed out to the start at George Square.

The runners were divided into three muster groups, depending, I think, on our declared finish time on applying to run. I was in the middle group, and found a spot roughly, I thought, in the middle of it. I had that no-turning-back feeling that astronauts might have when the capsule door is shut, and was relishing heading off. Or so I though: I must have been giving off waves of anxiety, because a really chatty and likeable guy next to me offered some infectiously hyped-up encouragement, and I was relieved to hear that this was his first half marathon as well. The wheelchair competitors went first, a few minutes before ten, and then on the hour, the group before us went to a raucous send off and the Stones' Start Me Up over the PA. A couple of minutes later, we were off, and as I passed the start line, kicked off the digital stopwatch on my wrist. On a podium to our right, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, some other dignitaries, and rather wonderfully, Sir James Savile, OBE, waved us off.

It was as expected at first; a packed field with much darting for position. Ahead of me the Scottish Sikhs, wearing colourful turbans and holding the Saltire aloft made a visible pack marker to pace myself against. Heading towards the Clyde, we soon found ourselves among motorway viaducts and soon passed the 1 km marker. Only 20 more to go. Then, the 1 mile marker. only 12 more to go. But I wasn't feeling good. Unlike previous races, I was being overtaken constantly. This made me worry and try to overtake more myself, and I knew I was going too fast but couldn't slacken off. My ankles and shins were giving me a lot of pain, and I was concerned I couldn't put up with it for the best part of another two hours. I immediately rued not having done more of my training outdoors, where I'd have acclimatised to the percussive effect of tarmac compared to treadmills. Hang on - more of my training outdoors? In fact, I'd stayed in the gym for all my training. Dummy. I was paying the price now.

Checking my stopwatch, I was killing each kilo in a little over five minutes, so the speed was good. But as well as the sore legs, my breathing wasn't settling down. I kept falling into ragged, just-started-swimming-in-cold-water breaths which were working against my running cadence. I kept trying to impose long deep yoga breaths but they wouldn't stick. How on earth was I going to cover the course?

After about four or five miles, we turned into parkland, which was a little hillier. I'm actually better on hills than flats, and fewer people were overtaking me. I finally realised I'd settled into a sustainable cadence, accompanied by deep frequent nasal breathing that I could keep up. My mood began to lighten at last.

The spectator encouragement hadn't been that stirring up until now, but it seemed the further we went, the more people were prepared to help us along. As we passed through Pollok, I found that families walking in the park were stopping to clap us along, and my smiles of appreciation were beginning to be reciprocated. This brightened my mood considerably, as did passing the 7 mile mark, over half way, when my stopwatch read about 55 minutes. That was the feedback, I needed - I was well on target for my revised goal of 2:00, and might even get near my original objective of 01:50.

I took advantage of the frequent water stations, overcoming my innate austerity and discarding half-drunk bottles when I knew I'd had my fill for the time being. Considering how much water I'd taken on board, and what a wet cold day it was, I was relieved not to have to stop and relieve myself like many of the other men running. This meant I never stopped running and left the spell unbroken all the way round.

At 10 miles, I knew I was going beyond my previous longest run, but felt buoyed by some banter around me that I'd even managed to join in with, about the last three miles being easy. I knew they'd be tough though, and really suck to the bottom of my fuel tank. This wasn't helped by the absence of an 11 mile marker - until I'd realised it wasn't there or I'd missed it, the eleventh mile seemed to be taking an eternity. The last couple of miles were agonising: we entered the parkland where we would be finishing and took a circumlocutious route around it. It was just like those false summits that hill walkers and mountaineers are seduced by. Checking my stopwatch, I realised that there was a slim chance I'd manage it in 01:50, and gave it all I had. I was by now emitting involuntary moans of pain every time I let my breathing rhythm slip, and I felt oddly disconnected from the cheering crowd lining the final run past the 13 mile mark, as I was nearing exhaustion and they were all there to see other individuals finish, anyway.

One hour, fifty-one minutes, and fifty-two seconds after I had crossed the start line at George Square, I went over the finish at Glasgow Green, wheezing "I've done it, I've done it". I'd expected what followed to be anticlimactic, and sure enough we were herded a bit perfunctorily though the surrender of our timing chips, and the collection of out goody bags of medals, t-shirts and promotional freebies. I phoned Helen, took a picture of myself, and after negociating some unhelpful signage which necessitated actually crossing the running field (!) to get out of the park, walked, head held high, back to Queen Street station, where the paper, a mocha, and a train home awaited me. I do pity the lady sitting next to me, as I smelt like a dosser.

On returning home, Helen expressed the same sentiment, and while showering I noticed how dreafully chafed my thighs and underarms had become. I advised her to vacate the room while I applied the germolene unless she wanted to learn some new compound expletives. I surprised even myself with my inventiveness.

I have learned a few lessons today:
  • You can travel light to these things
  • Grease your moving parts, even if they didn't need it in training
  • Train outdoors. You bloody idiot!
  • I want to do more half marathons
  • I may not belong to Glasgow, but for a couple of hours today, Glasgow belonged to me. It's a great city, with a heart like Belfast's and the scale like Vancouver's.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Eve of the War

I'm delighted to have reached my sponsorship target. But that really was the easy part. I'm a bag of nerves this evening, and even a theraputic hour or so's ironing couldn't do the trick. I'm not really worried about being able to run the 13 miles so much as getting to the start on time; the earliest train to Glasgow doesn't even get there until nine, leaving me dependent on the left luggage service at the station being open, as I'll have no time to take my belongings to the changing area at the other end of the run before the off. If it isn't actually raining in Edinburgh when I leave, I might travel light, which would be far less hassle.

Intellectually, I should know that I'll have done it by this time tomorrow, but I can't make that emotional leap. I've been laying off training for the last couple of days, which has worked wonders in the past, but my ankles are sore, and I've had a mild headache for a day or so, too.

I'm sure it will all look different in the morning. We're going out to a birthday party tonight, which should keep my mind off it.