Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Old Nag

What do you do with an aging draught animal that is nearing the end of its useful life? Do you retire it gracefully with unlimited supplies of hay or do you work it into the ground mercilessly grinding out the last drops of its usefulness before you sell it for glue?

Definitely the latter when you need runners for the first Southern Mens League meet of the year. In truth I did volunteer to help out wherever I could - I just wasn't expecting to be selected for the 800m, 400m and 400m relay in one day!

I'm looking forward to the meet, but am having a few concerns about the state of my body by the end of the day. Having perused the results from last year's meets it looks like the standard can vary wildly - from pretty shit to slightly above average. It's probably no coincidence that that is the zone in which I currently reside, so maybe it's a good match.

In the interest of maximising team points I have resolved to get the best position possible in the 800m (first race on the card) without killing my prospects in the following races. I'm glad to see the meet is at Watford again, which is becoming like home territory and is one of the few places in Britain which seems relatively immune to wind.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The 800m Season Is Under Way

I returned back from the trip from hell at 1 a.m. this morning miserable, cranky and with a new, violent aversion to people who whistle in public. I haven't managed to do a decent quality workout for quite a while and for the first time that I can remember I couldn't contemplate trying.

It was time to use my get out of jail free card and use a race to pull me out of the doldrums. You can't do this often during a season - it's a harsh solution that must be used sparingly, like electrodes on your bollocks. Using a race to give you confidence when your own is low is the sort of strategy that is more likely to blow up in your face than be a success - particularly with the sort of preparation I'd had. But every now and again you have to volunteer for the Forlorn Hope and trust in something beyond cold, hard rationale.

So it was off to Watford in the evening to compete in my first 800m of the season. Watford organise their races according to seedings so I entered at 1:58 because I felt anything between 1:57 and 2:00 to be realistic. That got me in the top race with the slowest seed time. Knowing at least one person was seeded at 1:52 I was expecting a very quick race, so resolved to hang back and run my own race – particularly as I was in lane 1 (10 runners in total). The 800m is a weird race in that it’s one of the few where accepted wisdom leans towards a positive split – combine that with the first 100m in lanes and early race excitement and you get half the field committing suicide in the first lap.

Unfortunately when the field split out of lanes at 100m I found myself about 5 metres off the back and this gap was maintained for the first lap. I wasn’t panicking, although you could imagine the “why did the old fart end up in this race?” comments. I’ve been here before but when the leader’s split was 57.XX and mine was 60.XX I did note that the pace wasn’t as quick as I expected.

500m into the race I was still well behind but one runner had pulled out and some of the others’ form was getting sloppy. I felt pretty damn good so by 600m I was latched on to the pack and starting to get involved. I started to push hard and went past 3 round the bend (not ideal) pretty quickly – legs were still in good order but breathing very heavy. With 100m to go I still had room for a kick and started closing on positions 2 to 4 quickly, but with about 50m to go the absence of lactic tolerance training meant my thighs couldn’t carry on. Interestingly my glutes, calves, feet and upper body were still in pretty good order – reflecting my recent gym training perhaps.

I ended up with 4th place and a time of 1:58.12. Satisfied with that – as I ran a solid race and I learnt a valuable lesson. In hindsight I should have run the first lap much quicker and probably would have got at least 3rd . I made an incorrect assumption about the expected pace – although in my defence I would usually judge the pace myself but it’s difficult without much 800m pace work this year and a new pair of ultra light spikes. My best last year was 1:57.12 and my avid memory from that race (which I won but was way back at half way) was that I was barely hanging on pace-wise all the way round. This time I felt the pace was pretty easy – therefore I think my speed is a fair bit better than the 52.0 for 400m I managed last year.

Life in the old twat yet (as the oldest prostitute in the world once said).

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Curse Of John Candy

If you've ever squared up to a proficient boxer you'll know that while you're countering the threat of the jab you'll probably never see the overhand right which turns your lights off. In the same way, whilst we were concentrating on the potential problems of flying out of Krakow due to the state funeral, a large volcanic ash cloud was forming to test the political will and organisational skill of our pathetic excuse for a country.

Faced with the ludicrous uncertainty of being stuck in Poland for the foreseeable future we have decided to take matters into our own hands and devise a guaranteed way of getting home. Unfortunately this means getting a train from Krakow to Warsaw, then to Berlin, to Uttrecht, to Rotterdam, to the Hook of Holland, a ferry to Harwich, a train to Colchester, a bus to Stansted and then a drive home. Oh yes, and we'll arrive home next wednesday morning at about 1 a.m. I'm going to have a sense of humour breakdown I can feel it.

Iceland has a lot to answer for - firstly for their sizeable contribution to the credit crunch and secondly, to rub salt into our wounds, they lose control of one of their topographical features. For a country so small and apparently pointless they know how to influence the lives of ordinary folk living far beyond their natural remit.

Oh, yes -this is supposed to be a running blog. I've been running wherever possible but my knee is still playing up and the concrete jungle of Rotterdam is the most unpleasant place I've ever been forced to run.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Arbeit Macht Frei

Greetings from Krakow - that's in Poland which is also the answer to question 4a on your MENSA exam booklet, page 3 - 'Mexico is to America' as '____ is to Britain' .

At the risk of turning off all the young ladies reading this blog I've always had a fascination with military history. Did you know for instance that the Gatling gun centered around a cyclic multi-barrel design which facilitated cooling and synchronized the firing/reloading sequence?

Erm...anyway, I've always wanted to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp so we have popped over to Poland for a few days. Once again, finding myself speculating on the similarities between the interior of the Ryanair flight cabin and transportation during WWII.....anyway, I digress.

The camp was nothing like I had imagined. It's essentially divided into two remaining camps - the original Auschwitz which prior to its notoriety was a Polish military barracks and Birkenau which was built specifically for death and forced labour.

Within its walls were hundreds of thousands harrowing stories but the general vibes it emitted were, and forgive me for saying this, more 1980's school trip than anything else. Of course, this wasn't helped by our ridiculous Polish guide who just wouldn't shut up. By the end if was beginning to feel like having the Krankies provide the music for a state funeral.

The people operating the camp were guilty of genuine depravity but the distinct impression I came away with was it was run so much like an efficient factory that within a few days I bet the whole extermination process had become so dehumanised it meant nothing to the people running it. The victims were systematically stripped of property, dignity and life in the same way you'd bang out a sheet of metal, drill the holes and rivet something together. I have to agree that with an author I am reading - that it's arrogant for any of us to look back and say we wouldn't have been a part of it, because the majority of us would have done as we were told like we do in life today and been as much a victim of circumstance as those in the ovens.

On that cheery note I foresee travel chaos on saturday, our departure day, as the Polish prime minister will be buried in Krakow and apparently the airport is going to be an interesting experience with President Obama requiring something like 6 planes! I bet he wouldn't be carrying that much luggage with a budget airline.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Walk Like An Ethiopian

Susannah Hoffs - now there's a woman I would have married in an instant. Unfortunately she has nothing to do with this post apart from having a tenuous link to an already contrived title which makes the whole thing a little desperate. Like my life.

Another trip back to the master physio, Mark Buckingham, yesterday. My knee pain, which was primarily making itself known below the kneecap, had changed location. The pain was circulating in the tendons around and above both knees - but of more concern was the regular pain underneath my left knee cap. This was actually preventing me from running sometimes, coming as it did upon straightening my leg. It got so bad on one run along the river that a pirate ship docked and asked if I knew how to splice a mainsail.

Apparently though this is all part of the process as learning a new running style will inevitably lead to more stress on tendons that had previously been taking it easy.

Hopping back on the treadmill again showed I'd made really good progress in my technique - which was further improved by concentrating on every step. (Having to concentrate on 180 footfalls a minute soon makes a 60 minute run seem a tad knackering by the way). Once we'd got the technique nailed via the video - my mental visualisation being Japanese soldier minus bayonet, Seppuku and rice packed lunch - I was sent packing with more of the same plus some kneecap stretching exercises. Apparently my kneecaps themselves are a tad George Michael (a tad gristley and don't point in the right direction).

As I was leaving it was also pointed out that I also walked poorly and need to work on that also. I'm starting to feel like a beginner, I'll be brushing off my school uniform next.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Watford Open Meet #1 3k

Running is a sport of lessons. Lessons that you only have to learn once (don't 'box the jesuit' before running when the temperature is well below zero), lessons that you have to relearn every single season (when it's wet and you're wearing a cotton t-shirt always grease your nipples) and lessons that you never really learn (if something hurts take a few days off).

Racing 3k's is a lesson I have to learn every single season. Whenever I wear a watch and run to splits my race always turns into a tedious, sterile experience with a disappointing outcome. This race was no exception. My adherence to my splits left me between two groups, effectively time trialling on my own. I managed to close on a couple of athletes at the end but I felt more like the guy who joins in at the end of a pub fight and kicks someone when they're already lying on the floor. Standing there growling in the middle of the pub shouting "come on then" when everybody's already left because the police are coming.

So, on a perfect evening I left with a decidedly average 9:15.92 to my name. Only 5 seconds slower than my best last year, but well behind the point at which I hoped to be. Lesson learned.