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It’s not about you joggers who go round and round and round and round…

I’ve got a cracked (or at least very badly bruised) rib at the moment.

This is inconvenient at the best of times but I managed to find myself committing to running the Reading Half-Marathon recently (I blame the wife’s Jedi mind tricks) and I’ve not been able to train at all this week.

I’m not a natural runner – I am definitely more built for football – but I have started to find myself enjoying it in the past few months. More evidence of my impending mid-life crisis, perhaps. Toys like the Nike+ GPS tracking with my iPhone, as well as being able to listen to music as I run, make it more enjoyable but I sense there’s been a real change in my mindset that means I now enjoy the loneliness of the long distance runner when I’ve always been adamant that the only way I could ever do any exercise of any proper intensity or length is by doing it in a team sport, where other people are dependent on me.

The last – in fact, only – time I did any organised run was the inaugural London Nike 10k run in 2005. At the time, 10k seemed like a ridiculous distance to attempt but that’s pretty much my training distance now so I guess I’ve made some sort of progress. I also run about 8 to 9k during a football game every Saturday, according to an infuriatingly inconsistent little gadget I use (shame on you, Adidas, for selling such shoddy stuff that’s not ready for market) – albeit mainly a mix of sprints and walks – so 10k really isn’t a big deal now. 21k, however, is somewhat daunting.

I only just realised tonight that I blogged about my training for the Nike 10k in 2005, so delved back into the Londonist archives to see if I could find any inspiration. Here’s what I wrote.

From Londonist: ‘Run Baby Run‘, 16 August 2005:

An unflattering photo is to blame for this. More accustomed to being the hunter, karma caught up with me, and I became the hunted, snapped unawares, with a face displaying unwelcome chin extensions the likes of which John Hurt’s make-up artists would be proud. God damn you, Flickr, and your photography-encouraging ways!

Big Brother is to blame for this. The sickening sight of Single White Male Craig’s jiggly man boobs were too much. Some men like to ‘joke’ that they wish they had breasts, to play with all day. Don’t be fooled, man boobs are not to be cherished, and their association with that unhinged infantile stalker has resolved me not to follow that physical path.

My imminent wedding is to blame for this. During the first measurement for my suit, I was shocked to discover my waist size has expanded 6? since my slim (starved) university days. I didn’t feel fat, yet here was clear empirical evidence. I haven’t dared step on those body-fat-measuring scales since that first fitting.

I am to blame for this. With an inability to moderate my food intake to a level appropriate to my declining levels of activity, the dreaded ‘spread’ has slowly taken hold. Gym membership has not helped. There is nothing less suited to the mentality of a team sports fanatic than the loneliness of the treadmill runner.

Organised activity is my only salvation…

From Londonist: ‘Keep on Running‘, 1 September 2005:

Ken got married last week and is off on his honeymoon right now. Congratulations and best wishes to him and Polly.

From Londonist: ‘Born to Run‘, 15 September 2005:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and is 10,000 metres long.

In contrast to Hazel and Alex, my training has been minimal, the small matter of my wedding and honeymoon disrupting any plans. I had departed for my honeymoon, fully intending to use the gym at the hotels to make sure I didn’t fall too far behind with my training. Unfortunately, the marketed ‘facilities’ appeared to be non-existent (or ‘under construction’). The excellence of the food in South Africa did not help, either, and I felt sure I had put on at least a pound a day in the fortnight out there.

I dreaded the return home to step on the scales but, in a perfect illustration of every cloud having a silver lining, I managed to pick up what is becoming a customary bout of food poisoning on my last day abroad. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say my stomach and intestines were indisputably empty for a few days. Not the best crash diet, I admit, but effective.

Once well enough to step on the scales, I discovered two things. Firstly, I was the same weight I was when I left on honeymoon. Secondly, my details for the body fat measuring function had been set incorrectly, lopping a good five inches off my height. Once re-set, I was pleased to see I had miraculously shed several percent of body fat. (Perhaps if I’d had the scales set properly in the first place, I would never have committed to this 10k kerfuffle.)

My training so far has thus consisted of playing a couple of football matches which, whilst proving that I have a surprisingly robust latent level of fitness, will need to be supplemented by some sessions with the treadmill and iPod Shuffle. I hope, for my sake, I have better progress to report to you next time round.

From Londonist: ‘Run to You‘, 13 October 2005:

Things I have learnt during training:

1. Football match fitness is a good base on which to build for a middle-distance run. I found it surprisingly easy to run a fair distance in my first proper training run. When once I feared not being able to finish even half the course, I am now thinking in terms of how to improve my time.

2. Football match fitness is not enough to start off a training run at 10kph. Much as I would love to be able to do the 10k in an hour, I would like very much to be able to walk by the end of it.

3. Watching the video for Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love helps to pass the time and distance in a stupidly effective way. Watching football highlights, on the other hand, nearly caused me to stack it spectacularly, as I reflexively went up for a header; something not conducive to running on a treadmill.

4. Queens of the Stone Age’s Feelgood Hit of the Summer is a surprisingly great running song; The Chemical Brothers’ Hey Boy, Hey Girl is a surprisingly rubbish running song.

5. The part of the race between 3k and 5k will be the hardest for me. It represents some sort of barrier when I’m not yet ‘in the zone’ but have been running long enough to be bored of it, if the wrong songs on the iPod Shuffle come on. As long as I get through this, I think I should be fine.

6. I enjoy running more than I thought I ever would. I’m more of a team sports man but, provided I have good music to keep me occupied, I can push myself further than I ever thought would be possible during a lone sporting event. I even intend to continue the long running sessions after Sunday so, like Hazel, I grudgingly admit that perhaps this has changed my life. I don’t think I’ve got that much fitter, I think I have just proved to myself that I am capable of more than I thought, an attitude that has transcended mere sporting activities.

From Londonist: ‘No Distance Left to Run‘, 19 October 2005:

Three days before the big day, our final pre-run post goes up and I’m off out for the regular Londonist piss up. After the usual self-deprecatory discussions as to what we should do better, followed by booze-induced self-congratulatory discussions as to why we’re great and what we’re going to do to make ourselves even greater, I leave the bar. During the 50 yard walk to the bus stop, I discover that I am unable to walk properly. Nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with aggravating the injury I picked up two days earlier, I am now in such a state that I am even thinking of declaring myself unfit for my game of football on Saturday. (The ultimate litmus test of any illness or injury affecting me is to see if I’d be prepared to play football through it.) I eventually get back home safely, thanks to the wife picking me up from the station, and I put my feet up, feeling very sorry for myself.

Contradictory feelings now enter my head. On the one (injured) foot, part of me (my legs, mainly) thinks that it will be a relief to have a genuine reason not to run the 10k given that I only started my training 13 days before race day and only managed 6 training sessions (and a football match) before the injury struck. On the other foot, I don’t want people to think I’m a quitter, especially when Alex and Hazel have been putting in the hard work.

Miraculously, upon waking up the next day, my foot has recovered sufficiently for me to be able to play football on the Saturday, so I’ll be able to run on the Sunday. The football passes without great incident, although my foot doesn’t appreciate not being given a rest and my hamstring starts to tweak in sympathy. Still, nothing that should prevent me from finishing the 10k as long as I run at a reasonable, slow pace. My target is to finish quicker than 1:30 and hopefully closer to 1:15, a pace of 8kph, my training speed.

Sunday, and my body protests at the 6.30am start required to give my stomach enough time to digest my fuel-giving breakfast before the run. I’m so tired but adrenaline induced by the fear of what I’m about to put myself through soon takes over. After the horrible Americanised ‘wooh yeahs’ (so incongruous for a chilly Sunday morning in a London park) emanating from the big screen and stage, it’s soon time to run my first race since the 400m at my school sports day, and my first race above 1,500m ever.

My tactic to get through the race is to keep listening to the music instead of my protesting body and it works. The first song is the rather inappropriately-titled Stop by Charlotte Hatherley, swiftly followed by New Order’sBizarre Love Triangle (the Brotherhood version). Before I know it, I’ve run a kilometre and I haven’t even finished two songs. The ‘motivational’ signs along the way provide further distraction, especially ‘I will not think of the pee word’ which, as someone with a passing knowledge of NLP, annoys me for a full kilometre. Shed Seven’s Disco Down comes on the iPod, I briefly put my hands in the air (like I don’t care) to dance along to it, and I realise that my pace is being dictated not by my carefully-measured training stride, but by the speed of the songs I’m listening to. Still, I feel comfortable and, oh look, I’m halfway round and about to start my second lap of the park. I look up at the clock and nearly trip up when I notice that I’ve run the first 5k in 30 minutes.

The second half of the race feels better than the first, with the smug satisfaction that is gained from overtaking people who have not paced themselves properly. Not long after the 8k mark, Moloko’s Sing It Back (Boris Musical Mix) comes on. I think to myself that this song will be the penultimate one I hear this race and then think that actually, if I get a wiggle on, I could even finish the race before the song ends. Before I know it, my stride lengthens, my breath deepens, and my head breaks into a Paula nod. I see my wife cheering me on down the finishing straight, I put a sprint of sorts on to ensure my time is under the 1 hour mark, and not long beyond the finish line I come to a sudden halt, barely able to stand up. It doesn’t take long for the pain I’d been ignoring throughout the race to make itself known. Barely two minutes before, I’d been finishing a 10k run comfortably, and yet now I could barely walk! I count my blessings, though, as I notice someone vomiting profusely; at least I have the puff to hold a conversation comfortably (which begs the question as to whether I could have run even quicker than I did).

Making sure I collect my medal (it may be tacky, but I bloody well earnt it!) I meet my wife who congratulates me, then tells me never to do anything so bloody stupid again. I agree then work out that a half-marathon isn’t much more than twice the distance I’d just run…

Official time: 59m 34s

Overall position: 13499

Battesea Park Position: 1938

A few things strike me reading through those old posts:

  1. I hate to blow my own trumpet, but blimey, I think was actually in quite a good groove of writing back then. Londonist really was a great training ground (no pun intended).
  2. I can’t believe Londonist would give Nike such easy free publicity nowadays. Ah, how young and innocent we were in those days.
  3. The fact that song titles were used for the blog post titles suggests that I probably had a hand in writing them. Funny how the habit of using songs titles or lyrics is still with me. I’m particularly chuffed about the Blur song title being used for the last post.

I encourage you to read the full posts, by the way, not just my own extracts. A couple of other Londonist writers did the Nike 10K and their training and race stories make for great reading.

Then off goes the bell ringing through my head, signifies that all’s been said…

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.

That’s not to say I think they’re a bad thing or worthless. I just mean that I’m not great at keeping them. I think for me it’s because trying to break an old bad habit or start a good new one isn’t best done in the depths of winter. I go into an odd kind of mood in the winter – so much so that I’ve got a special Seasonal Affective Disorder light – and I’m even more self-indulgent than normal and, let’s face it, weak. When it’s cold, wet, dark and miserable, I want to be comforting myself and not making life difficult. I’ve never dieted as such, but even trying to eat less or more healthily is a resolution doomed to failure for me, because I cannot help myself cooking or eating comfort food. I’m pretty sure there’s some evolutionary basis to this – isn’t it natural to try and fatten up during the winter? Actually, thinking about it, it would be more natural to fatten up during the autumn in preparation for the winter.

So instead of going for New Year’s resolutions, I tend to have my birthday resolutions instead, following my own personal new year, rather than the calendar new year. The period between 1 January and my birthday serves as a useful trial or run-in period before the serious business starts on 25 February.

You already know about one resolution, which is to update this blog every day. It’s already had a tangible effect on my internal monologue. Whereas prior to Monday I would catch myself sometimes composing tweets in my head, I now catch myself thinking of things to write here. Is that progress? I think it might be.

While I’m on the subject of catching myself doing things, I’ve had this weird feeling that I’m caught in some sort of meta-state and can’t get out of it. I think I’ve always been a relatively self-aware sort of chap but I’m often finding myself watching myself do things, if that doesn’t sound too odd. Like right now I’m aware that I’m typing away, blathering on in a kind of stream of consciousness kind of way, and I’m watching myself do it but almost as if my mind is one foot above my shoulder and my body is separate to ‘me’. I think – hope – this is normal to an extent; I just also think that I’m doing it too much and being aware of being aware of this makes it even more stupidly meta.

Before my brain explodes, I think I’ll leave it there for today.

Scoring Baguettes

One of the things I’m teaching myself at the moment is bread-making. I’ve got a lovely sourdough starter called Bessie who is 10 months old. I’ve reached a sort of plateau with my bread-making in that I can produce a half-decent loaf consistently but I hardly ever hit dizzy heights of near perfection. (On the plus side, my disasters are few and far between or, rather, I know how to recognise a disaster in the making and rescue the situation.)

Scoring baguettes is something that I find difficult. Even though I’ve been on a bread-making course at Le Cordon Bleu, they didn’t really cover how to score the baguette in any great detail; certainly not in the same detail shown in the video below. So this is me, at 39, getting excited at a video showing how to score baguettes before baking…

These days are better written off than written down…

It’s […] acceptable to have a party on a major birthday or anniversary throughout adulthood, but for the most part, once you are beyond your mid-twenties you should avoid them.

Mark Radcliffe, Reelin’ in the Years

It’s my 39th birthday today. I am entering the 40th year of my life. In my usual way, I’ve avoided making any sort of fuss. When you’re an introvert like me, any sort of celebration feels more like a punishment to be endured, so a quiet night in with the iPad is pretty much perfect. I suppose the only difference is that I’ve decided to try to be a bit more active than passive in my end-of-day activities.

For the past few months I’ve been joking about having a midlife crisis but maybe I’m only half-joking. I think this blog post is one manifestation of my half-arsed crisis.

I have in my head the idea that I should write a blog post every day and one of the reasons for that is that I want Amélie, my daughter, to have some sort of insight into my character. I have visions of her reading through this when I’m dead and gaining some sort of comfort from the words I’m putting down now.

Recording my thoughts also plays into the idea I have that immortality is gained through remembrance. Stupidly, the best articulation of my idea came from Doctor Who, in the culmination of I forget which series, in which the Doctor is brought back to existence because he is remembered. That said, I don’t mean immortality in the sense that I will continue as a sentient being or soul but more in the sense of being remembered. As an atheist, with no belief in any sort of afterlife, this is my riposte to people who think that being an atheist means being bleak in outlook on life. Far from it – I think I can still aspire to immortality but through the deeds I do during life, things that are worthy of being remembered. (This handily allows me to say to Amélie, who, at 6 years of age, is already a firm atheist but needs some guidance on religious tolerance, that Jesus is kind of immortal in that people are still talking about him 2,000 years after his death.)

I don’t expect I’ll achieve greatness in a massive sense but I can still aspire to be seen as a great in a small way – if that isn’t too contradictory – in the impact I have on my family and friends.

So yeah, maybe I am going through some sort of crisis, or at least heavier reflection than normal, because I’m thinking about mortality, the flip side of immortality.

Apart from the lofty aims of leaving behind something more tangible than pure memories, I’m out of practice when it comes to longer form writing and I need to force myself to flex those muscles again. Twitter’s great in many ways but there’s only so much that can be said in 140 characters and it forces a certain writing style. Setting myself a target of a blog post a day means pulling myself away from the attention-sucking Facebook and Twitter and creating in a more meaningful way.

I’ve also freed myself from any notion that I should be writing for anyone other than myself which gives me licence to be as narcissistic as I want on this blog. I’ll save writing for an audience for the paying jobs.