running feet

running feet
Running feet. These aren't mine.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Feel the burn

Just got back from a seven mile Sunday evening jaunt in the rain - the perfect way to end a week (or should that be start the week, I'm never sure if Sunday is meant to be the beginning or the end). Despite the drizzle it was a lovely run, reminding me again why I love living in Bristol - starting from my inner city suburb I ran seven miles, with barely a car or a main road to be seen (only through Clifton village, over the suspension bridge, and at the bottom of Ashton Court was I on main/busy roads - maybe two miles max).

As well as congratulating myself on how great it is to run near where I live, I also spent much of the run pondering on how much my thighs were hurting. Probably this should be no surprise - since I started training for this half marathon my weekly milage has probably doubled. And yet I don't remember these 'long slow runs' hurting so much last time I trained properly. Well, I don't remember them hurting at all.

Now, rationally, that can't be possible, and once again experience brings memory (and its morphine like ability to blur the sharp edges) into sharp focus. When I stopped this evening I thought my legs would seize up, and I know just standing up from the sofa now is going to hurt. The bad news is I only did about half the distance of the half marathon, at a pace about a third slower than I might aspire to do on the day. The good news is the half marathon isn't until September. Hopefully the long slow runs won't hurt so much by then.

Running log
Distance: Seven miles (ish)
Pace: About 10 minute mile pace
Location: Bristol harbour, Clifton Suspension bridge, Ashton Court park

Friday, 3 June 2011

Do I think at all when I run?

So. I finally committed to running Bristol Half Marathon and have started a 16 week training plan to get me there. So although the blog has been quiet this month, this is no reflection on the amount of running I've done - 13 miles for the last couple of weeks, with more to come over the summer.

Interestingly though (at least to me), I'm discovering that most of the time when I'm running I'm aware of nothing more than my breathing, my heart-rate*, the rhythm of my feet on the road, the relative amount of pain in my legs and so on. Which not only brings into question the theme of this blog (not sure I can make a recurring series out of 'nothing much'), but also my memory of why I enjoyed running in in the first place.

I ran a lot in 2007 and 2008, but then more or less stopped after the birth of my second child (citing physical and emotional exhaustion as an excuse to my inner personal trainer). I always intended this as a pause though, and over the last year or so I've been wistful about not running regularly, partly because I remembered the sensation of running as being a great time to think. Hence the idea for this blog.

But it turns out I don't think too much at all when I run. Or at least not about anything that is interesting. Perhaps this will change as I get fitter. Or perhaps there's something else going on. My (admittedly shaky) understanding of meditation is that the goal is to clear one's mind of everything and focus only on the immediate moment, starting with the in and out of your breathing. So maybe when I'm running I'm taking myself into a similar meditative place, and what I wistfully remember as a time when I got to think is just the memory of a period in my life when I was calmer and more centered generally. ?

Maybe. We'll see. Anyway, the bottom line is I still enjoy running, and will continue, and I still enjoy blogging, and will continue. It's just the two things might not be quite as entwined as I intended a couple of months ago.

Friday, 6 May 2011

On challenges and competition

So the A-Z challenge is over. It was fun, and certainly a challenge, and I'm both happy to have done it and fairly happy I'm not forcing myself to blog every night anymore. Running today was both liberating and a bit odd at first though, as the lack of a pre-defined framework for my thoughts (in the guise of an arbitrary letter for that day) left me momentarily blank. It's very strange how you get used to letting external structures help define how you think.

Anyway, the run was very nice in the sunshine, and I ended up wondering about the nature of challenging oneself generally. I've recently found my heart-rate monitor, so I've now (should I wish, I haven't actually bothered yet) got a way of comparing my running now with past ones when I was in better shape. I'm also thinking of doing Bristol half-marathon later in the year to help keep me motivated (again, letting more external structures define what I'm doing and thinking), and there's quite a bit of me that worries that I won't be able to do it anywhere near as quickly as I did before (I'm three years older and have another child this time around) and I'll end up being disappointed because I ran it slower.

Which struck me as I ran as a really strange thing to worry about. I enjoy running, I enjoy training, I enjoy the experience of a 'big race' - and whether I come 1,000th or 2,000th or 3,000th in the final race will make absolutely no difference to my life at all in any way. So what possible problem would there be if (or when) I run it a bit slower than last time?

And yet there's something deeply ingrained in the human psyche (or at least this human's psyche) that makes us want to compete and challenge ourselves to do it faster, better, harder, whatever. It's probably the reason I decided upon blogging a different letter of the alphabet every day - just to see whether I could.

Ultimately I don't know if it's a good or a bad thing that we are so ready to challenge ourselves in such arbitrary ways. But I do know it's very odd.

Running log

Distance: 3 miles
Pace: 8:45 minute miles
Location: St Werbergs, Bristol

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Z is for Zooooom

This morning, once we'd got the kids their breakfast, we tried to get them dressed. My wife was busy this afternoon, so the plan was to try and get to our allotment to plant some broccoli and artichokes seedlings that are ready, before getting back to get lunch before she went out. Needless to say, this plan didn't run smoothly; first they wanted to 'help' mummy print some documents, by standing by our printer in the spare room and shouting (down-the-stairs) as each page printed, and then they wanted to do some printing themselves.

Finally, at about half-ten, with baby number 2 sat in the car waiting, we realised that baby number 1 simply wasn't going to put his shoes on anytime soon, so I left him and mum at home and went alone with our youngest. However, once we got to the allotment, Theo decided he wouldn't get out of the car, and I made the decision that forcing him to stay while I tried to plant seedlings was a losing game (he's only two after all). So, back home to drop him off, back to the allotment, and at about 11.15 I finally started planting. Only of course, it was a mad rush by then, as I had to get back after an hour to hand over the childcare.

And so the day continued - I got home at about 12.30, had a five minute chat with my wife as I handed over the car keys, wolfed down lunch, and then the boys were waiting to go out on our bikes as we'd planned in mummy's absence. Snacks, drinks and changes of clothes hastily thrown into bags, and we were out - chasing a steam train and then riding on it, cycling around Bristol harbour, and then eating an ice-cream. We got back about four, and once the washing was hung up I managed to sit still for about five minutes before my wife arrived home with some shopping and we got cooking, and then descended into the dinner/bath/bed routine, which went on until about 7.30. This was then followed by the general tidying/washing up that always needs to be done before the following day's onslaught, before finally collapsing into the sofa to read the paper and write this blog. Zoom indeed.

When I was a kid, I often wondered why my mum and dad showed so little interest in going out to the cinema or for dinner or whatever. It's not so much of a mystery to me now.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Y chromosones

My bonus day off today (thanks Kate and Will!) was lovely. The kids bedecked the house in bunting in the morning, and then watched the wedding, while I got a chance to do a bit of digging at our allotment (and there's always digging to be done there). We then rode to the park in the afternoon and climbed on logs, and I even got out for a run tonight. (Back to my allotment to pick up a jumper I'd left.)

I got to wondering as I ran just how far my current life is defined by the luck of the draw in procreation. We managed to pull two Y chromosones from the deck, and I wonder what where we'd be if we'd got to Xs instead? Certainly our two beautiful boys keep us on our toes, and it's fair to say our household is loud, active and full of trains.

As a boy myself I have no problems with any of this, indeed having the opportunity to ride my bike and climb on logs every weekend is fantastic. I'd like to think that had I two girls instead I'd be just as encouraging of them to clamber around in the woods - whether they'd be quite as keen on the clambering as me though is the great unknown. Would our lives be essentially the same, or would they have different interests and likes that would have taken us in completely different directions? Not that it matters of course, it's just interesting how your life can be shaped by such arbitrary factors as which chromosones your children have.

Running log
Distance: A couple of miles or so
Pace: Slow - I'd been digging the allotment for three hours this morning
Location: Ashton Gate, Bristol

Thursday, 28 April 2011

X marks the spot

Pirates, what's not to love? OK, so there's the stealing, and the murdering, and probably the raping, but you know Johnny Depp was really cool in that film, and those hats and bandanas, and what about those treasure maps? (And yes, admittedly, it would be amazing to find a big X underneath a palm tree on a Caribbean island, that strangely no one else had spotted for 400 years).

Since becoming a parent though I've pondered on the nature of pirates quite a bit. Our culture is obsessed, and I mean absolutely obsessed with pushing the iconography of pirates to our very young children - if from the cradle girls are pushed into princesses and pink, then its equally true that boys are bombarded by pirates. Why is that?

And, while Pirates of the Caribbean et al are very entertaining, pirates really weren't that nice back in the day, and they're really not that nice now. I've already had to erm and ahhh through the inevitable 'Daddy, are there pirates still around today?' question, that obviously every young child will get around to. (Well, yes son, you see some people aren't very nice and they carry guns and take hostages. . . it's really not where you want to be five minutes before bedtime.) So, you know, can't we all just get back to firemen and builders as the indoctrination of choice for our young boys? At least they hopefully won't steal your boat if you get to meet them.

Maybe it's time for a 'pirates stink too' campaign. Don't tell either of my children I said that though. They'd make me walk the plank.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

W is for weddings (and royals)

My five-year-old had a 'street party' today at school in honour of Friday's royal nuptials. The whole affair seems to have caught his imagination, and he's suddenly become a font of all knowledge on the royal family. (Kate, it transpires, is not really a real Princess, but 'some random' person who will only becomes a Princess when the marriage is completed.)

Personally I'm completely indifferent to the big day - I wish the happy couple all the best, but I have no particular desire to know more or wave flags - and this probably reflects my own views on our royal family; I'm neither a royalist or republican because, really, I don't care enough either way. I guess my wife feels similarly (though to be honest neither of us has ever been motivated enough to discuss the subject, so perhaps she does feel strongly one way or the other).

So it's some surprise to us that Lucas is suddenly so excited and interested, and a little unsettling; do I really want him becoming aware of the existence of Prince Charles, Kate and Wills and Harry, as they're all so slightly ridiculous? Obviously, his enjoyment/enthusiasm is his cultural birthright as much as my indifference is mine and perhaps this is what is really unsettling. If parenting is all about accepting your kid's long walk away from you, then this seems like a milestone along the way. It is possibly the first time we've become aware that he is autonomously absorbing a cultural moment without any mediation from us, and we can't tell him what to think or how to react to it. Which seems a bit weird.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

V is for Voting alternatives

The upcoming referendum on whether we should change our voting system is looming like a saltry summer afternoon. And while I (like almost everyone else) haven't really followed closely, it seems the political discourse around a yes or no is starting to turn nasty.

Next week (or is the week after?) we get to decide whether we want to express a second (or third, or fourth) preference for our MP, in the event that one candidate doesn't get an outright majority. Laid next to recent events across the Middle East, it seems a particularly British eccentricity for so many of our politicians to get in such a tizzy over such an essentially trivial change. I'm not so sure that it's so funny though. With a cabinet featuring 18 millionaires* embarking on a massive, ideologically driven, series of budget cuts that are likely to cripple the economy and blight a generation of school leavers, it's probably worth giving some thought as to why there is such opposition to this change?

The older I get, the more openly corrupt I perceive our politics to be; when you see David Cameron sharing a stage with John Reid to extol the virtues of anything it's probably a good idea to take the exact opposing view on principle - even if they were extolling free cup cakes for all there would no doubt be some small print based on self-interest somewhere along the line. So on that basis I'll probably vote yes to AV - anything that might allow the people to chip away at the carapace of our one party state and actually express some choice about something has got to be worth a try.

*This is a made up statistic based on a half-remembered newspaper report that I can't be bothered to google. Apologies to any cabinet members who feel unfairly maligned, please feel free to post the correct figures in the comment section below.

Monday, 25 April 2011

U is for under-the-sea

We spent our Bank Holiday Monday at the beach in Weston-Super-Mare - a classic English seaside resort if ever there was one. It was a lovely day, and the kids loved running around the beach and stroking the donkeys. At our eldest's prompting we also took a look around the 'seaquariam' and took in the sharks, seahorses and stingrays.

The kids loved it (especially seeing a wrasse teasing a moray eel by swimming around its head), and having done quite a bit of scuba diving in the past (a six month trip around Indonesia, Thailand, Austraila and the Philippines after Uni saw to that) I always enjoy a good aquarium. But like zoos I'm never quite sure of the ethics of it all - I know fish are reputedly fairly dumb (a mind like a goldfish indeed) but are tropical fish, sharks, rays and eels really happy to be confined in (comparatively) tiny enclosures and ogled by small children?

Running log
Still no running, but hoping to get out this week

Saturday, 23 April 2011

T is for Tesco riots

So, on Thursday night there was a riot in Bristol, on Stokes Croft. Was the riot caused by the massive austerity programme our 'elected' representatives are about to embark upon? Was it caused by widespread revulsion as we wade into a civil war in Libya in order to set up a client state to control that country's oil resources, all the while dressing up our involvement as some kind of 'humanitarian mission'? No? How about a popular grocer has opened up a convenience store in the neighbourhood? Man the barricades!

Indeed I'm being flippant. Tesco (much like Walmart in the US) is a corporate behemoth that has ridden roughshod over suppliers, competitors and communities in its pursuit of 'every day value'. It's been a key player in the degradation of our food culture and probably our health, and as such it deserves all the criticism it gets.

And yet still. A petrol bomb plot? A 300 person riot? Because of a shop? There comes a point where if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem, and I do wonder how constructive it really is to fuck shit up in the name of corporate protest. If you don't like the shop how about just trying not shopping in it? But then I suppose if its cider is cheaper then at the next door independent then that's not really fair, is it?

There's nowt so queer as folk as my mum used to tell me.

S is for sunshine

And how the sun has been shining this week. We were on the factor 50 today and it was supposedly around 28C. And it's still April! What is the world coming to?

Apparently the weather will break on Monday, and we're in for showers. I'm half relieved, and half worried. Hopefully this wasn't the high point of Summer already.

Anyways, apologies for reusing a topic. But goodness it was hot today.

R is for running

It had to be running for r really, given the original point of the blog. And running is a strange thing. For so long I looked on in pity as my friends flogged their knees around their marathon schedules. There was no envy, jealousy or sense of self-regret. Nothing like that - I just really didn't get it.

And then, before I knew it, I was the one with a four run a week timetable. The first prompt was as a necessary evil when I was rehabbing after knee surgery (the result of an injury pursuing my true sporting passion), but serendipitously I found I quite enjoyed it, and a couple of 10k and half-marathons was just a natural consequence. And I can genuinely say I enjoy training regularly - the space to clear your mind, the sense of incremental gain, the weight loss, the endorphins!

And then, as suddenly as the birth of my second child, I wasn't running anymore. Literally overnight, the combination of lack of time, lack of sleep, and lack of energy meant I moved into a space where the thought of running became a huge, challenging, chore. So I stopped.

And now, two year's later I'm trying to regain the middle state of enjoying a regular routine of running again. In many ways, I'm learning, it's a bit like blogging. If you're fresh and have the time, it's easy to get started and great once you get going. But as soon as you're jaded, stressed, or just lack time it can become a millstone. So, once April is over (I know I'm dropping off the schedule, but I'm not going to let this A-Z beat me!) and I'm over this horrible cold (which is still giving me problems) I'm going to make sure my running and blogging becomes a bit more balanced.

We'll see.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Q is for Q-Tip (and Phife Dawg)

Back in the day when I was a teenager, before I had status and before I had a pager. . .

I have a lovely friend, Ingrid, with whom I spent my University year abroad with in California. Unfortunately (for my chances of ever actually seeing her that is) she now lives in New York doing something in documentary movie making (what exactly, other than facebooking the glamorous party she attends, I know not). Anyway, one of the things she facebooked recently was news of a Tribe Called Quest documentary premiering at that Robert Redford film festival I forget the name of right now.

I love a Tribe Called Quest. I like to say the first 12 inch single I ever bought was Can I kick it (though it may actually have been the second, and in any case I only ever bought three, the first one was probably the Soup Dragons. . .) and I've always loved their combination of kick-ass beats and properly creative and intelligent (and often funny) rhymes.

Towards the end of my year in the States I got nicknamed Tim El Segundo by the father of a friend in LA (my friend Aliye already had one friend called Tim, and her Dad claimed he needed a way to differentiate). It was never a name that stuck, but it always made me overly pleased that there was some link with a Tribe Called Quest. What were they doing in El Segundo in the first place? Anyway, I can't wait to try and see this documentary, not only to find about the lives of some really talented artists, but also to remind me of a lot of good times, places and people.

P is for poor posting rate (again)

So I've fallen behind the A to Z curve again - just shortly after posting I was over the hump. Oh the cosmic irony. Unfortunately my cold thing flared up again on Tuesday, and I had to go to bed with the shivers for an hour at 3pm and then again at 7pm. So the blogging lost out. Again. Given the need for three posts tonight to catch up I'll keep this one short. And hopefully sweet.

Monday, 18 April 2011

O for over the hump


I find the alphabet a funny thing to be honest. I think it might be because I rote learnt it at school, and we used to recite it in class in a manner completely devoid of rhythm, sense or meaning. But for whatever reason, once I get past e, or possibly f, I find it quite difficult to place the middle letters in their order or have any sense of how far through the alphabet we're getting. I don't instinctively know whether i is before l for example or whether j comes earlier or later than g. To be fair there's no real reason to ever actually know this, and if I am asked I have to pause while desperately starting to recite the whole thing from a in my head.

Strangely once I get to o (or possibly n if I'm having a good day) I kind of find my feet again - I know that p-q-r is coming, and then you'll be into s-t-u, and once at u it's a synch to work through those v-w-x-y-z's. (Although that all said, I have just recited the whole thing from a, and then written it at the top of the blog to make sure I didn't humiliate myself to the world by forgetfully omitting a letter there!)

I say all this to explain why getting to o seems like a hopeful moment in this particular A-Z challenge I've joined in on. Last week was a struggle to keep up for various reasons, but I think partly because I was feeling like the five-year-old on the carpet at infant school, slap bang in those awkward middle letters that just keep coming, and you've just got to keep chanting until, maybe, you'll get a chance to finish and breath. And, really, why is the alphabet in any kind of order anyway? To whose advantage is it that m must come before n? Or that l should come before both? I didn't know as a five-year old, and I still don't know now.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

N is for natural medicine

If you've read either of my previous two posts you'll understand why a five-year old's birthday party was not top of my agenda for things to do this afternoon. And indeed we'd initially planned that my wife would take the children, and I'd try and get some stuff done on our allotment.

But after an early start prompted by our youngest (6.30am on a Sunday and you want to get up?, yeah thanks son) followed by a morning of 'challenging' behaviour from our eldest (sickness driven I'm sure, he always acts up when he's not well) the plan changed, and we decided we probably needed a one:one adult/child ratio to head off the risk of mutually assured destruction at the party.

As it turned out, our fears were unfounded. The party was held in Leigh Woods, a lovely patch of woods about ten minutes drive away, and the calming effects of putting children in woods is a sight to behold. At this age most kid's parties degenerate into sticky red-faces and ear-splitting shouting within about a quarter of an hour (which, to be fair, if you can be zen about it is part of their charm) but there was nothing like that today - sure there was a fair bit of stickiness on faces, but something about having the shouting framed by tree canopies and bird-song seems to change the nature of it for the better.

Professionally the best interview I've ever had the pleasure of was with Margaret Atwood (a truly gracious, and fascinating interviewee), and one of the things she was big on was nature deficit disorder - the idea that our kids are missing out on interaction with the natural world, and suffering behavioural problems as a result. One of the things she said was that studies have shown that simply walking in the woods for an hour lowers blood pressure and heart-rate. I never looked up the studies, but I know for sure that my children were calmer at the end of the party than the beginning, and that as a result my blood pressure seemed much lower. So next time you're feeling rubbish or sick, try a walk (or a birthday party) in the woods - truly a natural tonic if ever there was one.

Manic weekend

Well it's Sunday night now, and I'm two posts short of keeping up with the A-Z challenge. The weekend's been pretty busy: the cold has got worse, my last day in the office before Easter was hectic for various tedious reasons, and the kids are both still suffering. On the bright side today is my seven year anniversary of being married to the most wonderful woman in the world, and we went to a lovely birthday party today that I'm about to blog about on N. So with the need to catch up I'm going to draw a discrete veil over M.

Running log
Not likely with the cold I've got!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Lack of inspiration

I'm tired, the cough/cold/ear infection that has been playing havoc with my kids for the last week seems to be catching up with me, and try as I might I can't think of anything to blog about on an L theme (well that's not strictly true, I've been sitting here trying to brainstorm Ls, and I keep coming back to Luton, a dreary town outside London that I've never even been to, which if I embraced could turn into the dullest blog entry of all time).

To spark my creative thought I've been cruising some of the other blogs on the A-Z challenge, and have come to the conclusion my time would be more productive just enjoying these blogs for what they are, rather than trying to read them to steal ideas. So I'm giving up trying for a decent L and moving on to the next day. Now, about an M. . .

Running log
Played my weekly game of football tonight - shivery and light-headed, it wasn't fun

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

K is for kilo. . .

. . . or a thousand page views, a milestone this blog hit today. Not bad in a month or so, so thank you to anyone who was one of those thousand or so visitors (and by definition is still reading afterwards!)

The numbers are down, in their entirety, to my post on Goldie's Band - somehow it was picked up by the BBC website, and I got a link from there. So the moral of the story is that if you want to drive traffic, blog about a BBC programme. It's a shame Jamie's Dream School (that I've just finished watching) was on channel4, or I could have added an extra J post!

J is for Just William

I missed yesterday's post - the combination of two sick children meant I was literally left holding the baby last night, as my two-year old's blocked nose meant he could only sleep while upright. . . To make up for lost time it will be two short posts tonight.

My J is Just William, which I'm half-way through reading to my eldest son as his bedtime book. The truth is it's probably a bit too old for him yet, as he's only five, and he happily admits to not understanding a word of it. He doesn't seem that bothered though - I think he likes listening to the rhythm of it rather than the story - and I'm persisting because I've never read it before, and it's hilarious. Between working and running around after two small kids most of the reading I do these days is to my children - so it's lovely when you come across a gem that you're glad to be reading anyway.

Running log
Nothing since Monday, and I think I'm getting my kids' virus, so this state might become catching.

Monday, 11 April 2011

I just wanna sing!

So, after a fairly long night with a sick two-year old, I was tired this morning, and had to force myself out at lunchtime for the run I'd already put off from the weekend. As ever, once you make the effort it's worth it, and I set to thinking about an I for my blog.

By the time I'd completed my four miles I'd sketched out an idea about intensity of effort and incremental improvement. Something about an analogy between running, blogging and a metaphor for life; you can't reach the stars every time you run/blog/take part in some undefined activity.

To be honest though I wasn't really feeling it fully. And as I got back into the office I realised why - my ipod was halfway through my favourite track on Radiohead's OK Computer, No Surprises, and I had to bite my tongue to stop from singing out loud (something about being professional means you're not allowed to do that kind of stuff or something). And it struck me: incremental improvement, shrincremental improvement, I just wanna sing! For now, I'll leave it to the professionals:

Running log
Distance: 4 miles
Pace: A little shy of 9 minute miles.
Location: Bristol harbour

Saturday, 9 April 2011

H is for hearty chuckle

I've got two young boys - they're five and two respectively - and alongside being amazing, beautiful, creative, imaginative, sensitive little creatures, it's fair to say they can be hard work at times. They're both a bit under the weather at the moment, and this evening we deposited them in a shared bath and took five minutes to compose ourselves for the final bedtime push.

Being the first chance in the day I'd had for independent thought, I mentioned to my wife that I needed to think about an H to blog about, and my well was running a little dry. At which point my youngest's special laugh drifted across our kitchen from the bath - there's probably nothing in the world as pure and innocent as a baby's laugh; or as uplifting. After a long, hot day it was tonic indeed, and instantly gave me a topic for H.

So this particular entry is for my children, and their hearty chuckles.

Running log
Distance: Interminable (as anyone who's got small kids will tell you)
Pace: Unrelenting
Location: My house, my allotment, the park. (Again, no maps necessary)

Friday, 8 April 2011

G is for glorious sunshine, global warming, and green manure

The weather today is fantastic again, and I got out at lunchtime for a three-miler up to Cabot Tower, and then back down next to Bristol Harbour. I love the sunshine, and despite it not being Easter yet, it seems like summer is already here. However, in the spirit of things seeming too good to be true, my thoughts found themselves turning to that creeping feeling that actually it shouldn't be quite so nice this early in the year, and that my run was actually proof that we're all going to hell in a handcart.

Fortunately it was too nice a day to worry for too long, so I tried to focus myself on the positive. It's pretty clear that, in order to jump out of that handcart I just mentioned, we need to change how we do things. Depending on which figures you read, food and farming accounts for somewhere between a fifth and a third of our global carbon emissions, so is as a good a place to start making changes as anywhere. And this means changing what we eat - with less meat and more cereal/vegetables, and changing how we grow - relying less on fossil fuel based synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

So, for G, let me introduce to Green manures - crops such as crimson, vetch and rye that are grown for the benefit of the soil over the winter, or between other crops. It's such an elegant idea - you grow a plant, it takes carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, provides a habitat for bugs and wildlife and crowds out weeds, and then you dig it into your soil and it rots down, supplying nutrients and goodness for the next plants you grow, and locking away carbon as it goes. It's surely better than spreading ammonia fertiliser all over the ground, and then following up with roundup to knock back all the weeds that spring up. Combine this idea with grass-fed cows in a clover meadow and you've got a growing system that not only produces great food, but might help prevent the sun shining so hot so early in future years.

Running log
Distance: 3 miles
Pace: Not sure, not too fast - it was hot!
Location: Central Bristol

Thursday, 7 April 2011

F is for football

I sometimes consider myself to be a fairly rounded individual. I've got a lovely family, an interesting creative job at an NGO, I've travelled the world, I've studied at three different Universities and got a couple of degrees, I'm even trying to learn the guitar.

So I sometimes wonder just why I've spent quite so much of my life (both childhood and adult) concerned with watching/talking about/thinking about football? Clearly it's the opium of the masses, clearly worrying about the 'performances' of eleven millionaire child-men is a fool's game, and clearly I willingly allow myself to be infantalised by continuing to buy in to the never-ending merry-go-round that is the modern sport (see video below).

And still. At it's best the game can produce moments of balletic grace and beauty*, and the enduring appeal I guess is in trying to reproduce such moments. I'm playing my regular game tonight with a bunch of middle-aged friends, and for an hour I'll hopefully be in the state of concentrated 'flow' that comes rarely in everyday life. And my addiction will be fed once again.

*I was sitting about five rows from the sideline, level with Kanoute for this third one.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

E is for Etiquette

Or more specifically the etiquette of blogging, commenting and following. (And no, I refuse to use the term netiquette because we happen to be talking about something on the internet. (Although could I be first to coin, and then reject because it just sounds so horrible, the term bletiquette?))

Up until last month I was exclusively a blog reader, and a big fan of RSS feeds; my browser (Chrome) both detects feeds and notifies me of new items, and it takes one click to subscribe and one click to check my reader in the morning. Simple, effective, no need to think.

But now I've started blogging, and I sense the rules have changed. Suddenly other bloggers have been saying nice things in the comments below (thanks guys, they're all appreciated!) and I think I now have four followers - again, thanks for this it's truly flattering and encouraging.

However. Now I've got over the initial shock that anyone might be interested and kind enough to leave a comment/follow my blog I've filled with self-doubt. It's surely the polite thing to do to acknowledge comments below the line, but I've also started trying to visit commenters blogs - but is it rude if I don't visit everyone's? Or I visit and don't leave a comment back?

And as for followers, to be honest, other than the little square photo that appears on the blog, I'm not entirely sure what it means to follow someone's blog, let alone whether I'm being terribly rude by not immediately entering into a reciprocal following arrangement with people who follow mine. I really don't want to inadvertently offend anyone, but equally I'm quite content following blogs I like through my RSS reader and commenting irregularly.

The good news is that most people in the world I've met are essentially good, and I'm pretty sure no one is losing sleep over whether I've returned their comments (if you are let me know, and I'll fix it!). But it does raise a question for me as to what my purpose is in blogging? My career is in editorial on magazines, so it's not like I'm not used to writing for an audience. And while I'd love it if thousands of people started reading my ramblings and telling me they loved what I was doing (who wouldn't?) there's also a certain purity in writing exclusively as an outlet for yourself - I guess why diaries have been with us since people invented written language.

Running log
This is another runless blog (as will tomorrow's be)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

D is for doubts and (3) degrees

So, having rashly decided to join this blogging alphabetti-spaghetti thing while running on Friday night, I'm only now beginning to really understand the depth of the challenge. It's not just that posting six posts a week is a bit stiff if you've got a day job (it is, but I know that's kind of the point), it's the need to force your blog into an arbitrary letter on any given day - I could have easily written something today about E (my thought is etiquette, but that might change) or F (possibly food, again no decisions made) but D has proper stumped me, to the degree that I'm now doubting this was a good idea in the first place.

Still, I know when it comes to writing the best thing to do when you're doubting is just to push on and get something down on paper - it will usually come good in the end.

And, as proof of this, and so as to leave on an up beat, in writing this blog I was reminded of one of my favourite seventies soul tunes. So for your delectation let's say that D is for the Three Degrees

Monday, 4 April 2011

C is for cycling

I was worried the other day that taking part in the A-Z challenge would necessitate blogging without running. But having been for a run today I've discovered a more fundamental problem: today I was running without thinking. Well, that's not entirely true. But, rather than letting my thoughts wander where they might, I spent most of the run racking my brains for an interesting C. In the end, given this is nominally a blog about running, I decided that I'd talk about cycling.

I love cycling. As the youngest of three, in an attempt to keep up I learnt to ride a bike pretty early - I must have been about four, but certainly I don't remember not being able to ride. And throughout my childhood I spent a lot of time on my bike (a Raleigh Striker (that's not me on it though) and then a BMX). I had a pause from cycling in my twenties, but got back into it, first in London, then in Bristol as a cheap and reliable way of getting to school work on time.

Aside from commuting, we've recently discovered how much fun cycling can be as family activity; I've got two boys (they're five and two respectively) and the eldest is already whizzing around, while the younger one has a seat on the back of my bike. And for the last few weekends we've managed to all get out around Bristol together, exploring some lovely nooks and crannies. It sure beats pushing a buggy to the park, or driving twenty minutes to go somewhere 'natural'.

I think it's the freedom that a pedal bike brings that is so great. You can go where you want, you don't have to worry about traffic or parking, and you get to enjoy your surroundings as well. What's not to love?

Running log
Distance: 3 miles
Pace: 24 minutes, 8 and a half minute miles
Location: St Webergs, Bristol

Sunday, 3 April 2011

B is for Band (Goldie's)

Having taken the decision last night to both a) join the A-Z blogging challenge, and b) not limit to myself to blogging just about running, I was left in something of a hole tonight. What to blog about on a B? Luckily, I just caught some of the most inspirational TV I have ever watched.




For those who haven't watched it, Goldie a UK drum'n'bass producer/national treasure has put together a band of 12 young people with various levels of adversity in their backgrounds to play a gig at Buckingham Palace. You may well think that, so far, so reality TV, but the series is absolutely spot on - the kids are not only talented musicians with upsetting life stories, but they are properly real people, making properly real music. Personally I love the X-factor, but the comparison between something like that and this is like The Cheeky Girls to Nina Simone.

Now, I've always loved music (including Goldie's, Timeless is the proverbial bomb), but never had much understanding of where it comes from – I kind of guess I always thought that songs just emerged from a band pretty much as finished articles. The show catches the alchemy of music being made, and watching it is magical. And has left me feeling pretty emotional.

If you have access to BBC/Iplayer watch it. If you don't then here's what you're missing:

Running log
Distance: Kitchen-Sofa - around 5 metres
Pace: Half a bottle of red wine and a Maker's Mark.
Location: My house - you don't need a map.

Friday, 1 April 2011

A is for the A-Z blogging challenge

OK. So tonight, after getting my five year old to bed and washing up I went for a quick jaunt around the harbour. Other than the nagging suspicion that going out for a run rather than alcohol at 9pm on a Friday night means middle age is not just an idea on the horizon but a creeping reality, the main thing I thought about was whether to take part in the A-Z blogging challenge I'd read about earlier in the day.

It sounds fun, but I was worried that as there's no way I'm going to try and run six days a week, signing up would mean some (lots?) of the blogs will be written on a false prospectus (thingsimightthinkaboutifihappenedtogorunningagaintoday.blogspot?). But half way around I had a bit of an epiphany: who cares, no one's reading this anyway! So, it's not like I'm going to mortally offend someone by adding blogs not based on runs. (I believe I went through a process more commonly known as 'getting over one'sself'.) I felt my mind free up, and I've signed up - number 1100 on the list!

And, ermm, that's it for tonight, hopefully I'll make it past C. (Actually, let's get B out of the way first. . .)

Running log
Distance: 3 and a bit miles
Pace: 28:37 - eight and a half minute miles.
Location: Bristol harbourside

Monday, 28 March 2011

Still hurting. . .

I got out on Saturday for a jaunt around Bristol Harbourside. It was a gorgeous day, and I enjoyed the sunshine, The best of Cream on my Ipod, and (strangely, given what I've written elsewhere) the dandelions in bloom down the chocolate path. That said I didn't enjoy the actual physical act of running - I think a combination of football on Thursday night, followed by three hours digging on Friday morning caught up with me, and the whole affair was an exercise in wishing for the end. Interesting thoughts were at a premium; hence the short nature of this entry.

Better luck next time.

Running log
Distance: 3 and a bit miles
Pace: 32 minutes - nine and a half minute miles.
Location: Bristol harbourside

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Bad legumes

It was a quick hilly jaunt this lunchtime, and I didn't think about much other than the steady thump, thump of my feet on the tarmac. Something to do with running up hills makes it hard for me to concentrate on much else other than my feet and breathing.

The one thing that was wandering across my mind was a comment I'd read earlier on the Guardian website, which was something along the lines of: 'why do we need mange tout from Kenya in December?'

Now, leaving aside the obvious (and pretty facetious) answer that it's because mange tout don't grow here in December, the underlying logic of the question – based as it is on the premise that the insane merry-go round whereby Africans grow mange-tout as a cash crop in order to earn currency that is then spent on buying. . . food (as well as imported pesticides and fertilisers) is basically a bad thing – is not unreasonable. The thing that makes me wonder though is that, really, the logic should just as well be extended to bananas, or apples in the summer, or coffee or chocolate or citrus fruit. If it's OK to import all these things that we can't grow here, why is there such a backlash against mange-tout, green beans and asparagus? Just what have the African legumes done to people that is so bad?

Running log
Distance: 2miles
Pace: Again didn't time it. I really must dig out my watch
Location: Cotham and St Michael's hill, Bristol

Monday, 21 March 2011

Grand schemes

The weather this weekend was absolutely gorgeous. I think that early Spring days when the sun is shining and it's warm enough to do without a coat (or a jumper) is my favourite kind of weather; something to do with the crispness of the light. It's certainly a great time to run, and yesterday morning I managed to get out onto my favourite short routes - over Vauxhall bridge, up the chocolate path, around the Create centre and the Cumberland basin, through Underfall Yard and back down the harbour to Vauxhall bridge. The fist part of the video below shows the first bit with the chocolate path and the back of the Create centre to give you a sense if you don't know this area of Bristol (though I was coming the other way up the path).

Interestingly (well to me, as it's what I thought about when I ran, and serves as a convenient introduction to the topic) if you watch this video you can hear the cyclists discuss the proposed BRT - the Bristol Rapid Transport scheme hatched by the West of England Partnership (a (from what I can tell) unelected quango made up of representatives from Bristol city council as well as Bath, North Somerset and South Gloucester - sort of like the EU in a minature, cider drinking form without any of the foreign travel or nice food). The idea for the BRT - again as far as I can tell - is to demolish the old railway (that's currently used by a harbour steam train, also visible in the video), pave it over, and start running bendy buses up and down it, in order to replace the Long Ashton park and ride. (Which presumably no-one uses anyway?) The scheme is currently awaiting a funding decision from the department of transport, and given the budget deficit I guess it's moot whether it will go ahead.

You might be able to tell, from this introduction, that I'm not instinctively a fan of the scheme. And it's true, as I rumbled up the path, with the birds singing and the sun shining, I pondered again why anyone would think that sticking an enormous bendy bus through this oasis of calm in the middle of a busy city would be a good thing. Now, it's entirely possible that the case for the BRT is essentially sound, and that my antipathy is fed mainly by a case of NIMBYism. And I can't say I'd go to the wall on this in any case. However, I do wonder whether such a grand scheme is something of a metaphor for the delusion of human beings.

My main objection to the scheme is not to do with the massive environmental disruption, the embedded carbon costs, the pre-existence of a perfectly good park and ride scheme that drivers don't seem to want to use in any case, the disregard for and trashing of a piece of Bristol's heritage or, to be fair, the reduction in my quality of life when Spike Island becomes that little bit less of a nice place to be. What concerns me the most is that the scheme smacks of being a magic bullet, a grand scheme dreamt up by a bunch of middle aged men on a sub-committee of an unelected quango because it sounds 'sexy' (what, a new half train, half tram, half bus hybrid you say? running on tracks some of the way, and the road the rest? and we build a new roadtrack to run it on? and we can call it the West of England Bristol Rapid Transport solution? sign me up. . .), and these rarely end well.

Take the fight against malaria, for (a completely unrelated) example. For years scientists have been searching (and spending biillions of dollars of investment from people like Bill Gates) for a vaccine to protect against malaria. And the search for this magic bullet dominates how we think about 'solving' malaria. Now despite all this work, and money, malaria still kills thousands of children each year. So I was surprised when watching comic relief on Friday night, to discover that deaths from malaria in Africa could be cut in half by the wide-spread adoption of mosquito nets and DIY testing kits. That's right, cut in half, by mosquito nets - the cheap, low tech solution that no gap year student leaves home without. You wonder just how many children could have been saved if Bill Gates spent his billions on a network of African mosquito net factories?

So how about the West of England Partnership does some work on understanding why drivers aren't using the park and ride that's already there (erm, perhaps because it's expensive and you lose the sense of autonomy and control when you submit yourself to transport controlled by someone else?), or using the (beautiful) cycle path that's already there (perhaps the hassle of sticking a bike in your car? perhaps the complete lack of facilities at workplaces to shower or change?), and are content to sit in traffic jams on Anchor and Coronation Road's? And perhaps they should do this before they spend £50 million on a mutant bus that the drivers can stare at across the river at as they continue to sit in those jams.

The problem, I suspect, is that the answers are hard to find, and that changing behaviour requires the kind of persistent, and awkward, hard graft that don't fit well with a politician's (especially a local authority politician's) sense of agency on the world (speak to every employer in Bristol to incentivise the provision of showers and changing facilities, you say? Scope out a secure cycle storage facility at the park and ride and market it to commuters? Introduce a road charging scheme for people turning off the A370 into Bristol at peak hours on a weekday? H'mmm, now where did the plans for that trainobus go. . .). We'll see what happens.

Running log
Distance: 2 miles ish.
Pace: ?? didn't time it, 20 minutes or so
Location: Spike Island, Bristol

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Three miles is a very long way. . .

I like to run, and I like to write. I also like thinking. But I could do all three things more often, hence this blog - to give me something to post I'll have to go for more runs, and in going for more runs I'll have more time to think. So the theory goes at least. In practice we'll see. . .

Anyway, I've always like sport - both watching and playing, but until my thirties I never particularly like running. If you weren't actively trying to chase something spherical, it just hurt, and what's the point in that? This changed when as I hit my thirties - a knee reconstruction meant rehab in order to chase spherical things again, and rehab meant running. Funny enough, once I got over the initial hump I discovered I enjoyed it immensely. Just me, my heart-rate monitor (and sometimes my ipod) and the road. I lost weight, felt good, loved it.

A couple of half marathons in 2008 later came the birth of my second son Theo, and the total body exhaustion that babies bring. Though I kept up the best intentions my running became sporadic at best. So this year it's all going to change, and I'm going to run more. My target is to get round Bristol half marathon in a half decent time at the start of September, and blog about it on the way.

So, that's the back story. And yesterday lunchtime saw the first run of my new, all running, all blogging lifestyle. And to come to the point, what did I think about? Mainly that three miles is an awful long way if you're out of practice.

I actually spent the first five minutes wondering what I should think about in order to blog - not a great start as, like trying to go to sleep, surely the trick is not to think about it and let the thoughts emerge? Fortunately, spontaneous thoughts did emerge - starting with 'wow, this is making my calfs stiff pretty quickly', moving on to 'and now the pain is creeping up to my lower back,' and then moving on to 'yep, I'm regretting that flapjack this morning now'. Two-thirds of the way through I did find some flow and started to think I was enjoying myself, but this was temporary. The final main thought was 'when will it end' and then relief.

I suspect as I get back into regular running I may have a few more runs like this. So this might be shaping up to be a fairly dull blog. Oh well, c'est la vie. . .

Running log
Distance: 3 miles
Pace: ?? didn't time it, probably 25-30 minutes
Location: St Pauls, St Werbergs city farm, Bristol