Sunday, 28 December 2008

A child is born

Announcing the birth of my heir, Sebastian James Connor, born 27th December 2008 at 11:29 and weighing in at a sprightly 6 lbs 8 ozs. Here he is fresh from his birth throes.

His mother Elissa has now firmly established her earth mother credentials with a completely natural birth - no palliative medicines, not even a piece of bark to bite down on! Honey, I salute you!

What I have seen of the little fellow's temprament so far has led me to expect great things. Last night he slept soundly and whenever he is discomfited he can be easily placated by picking him up. I am twice blessed! Even if several kill-joys have told me not to put the pot on: you know who you are.

His long, athletic limbs lead me to believe that the Connor gene is dominant in this incarnation but the Soave mouth is clearly in evidence and he has my mothers nose (on second thoughts the nose may be the inevitable consequence of his tempestuous journey down the birth canal and will probably rectify itself). Every child is indeed a miracle.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Finish Line

Well…it’s over. My race is run. 10 months of training culminated in 3 hours 30 minutes and 38 seconds of effort. How did it feel? I want to do it again! Does that seem a long time to be running? Perhaps I’m glorifying my reflections but it seemed to fly past. There was pain certainly, and disappointment: at mile 14 I developed a pain in my left hip joint that stayed with me and intensified for the remainder of the race. At the time I thought it was bad luck, an unfortunate injury that would steal from me the faster time that I was owed but, on consideration, my time reflects accurately where my running is – no more, no less. In the marathon you have to pay your dues. Some people get cramps, others hit the wall, but one way or the other, if you don’t prepare properly you will get bitten. More miles on the road; cross training to strengthen my core; both these things may have prevented my injury. The marathon is a harsh teacher. There were lots of pluses to take from the day too of course, but perhaps the biggest is that I know my running still has room for improvement.

Finally, I want to thank all those who sponsored my run or wished me luck. The encouragement you gave helped ease the miles as they ticked by. We did a good thing together: we raised over £320 for charity. And Emil was right - if you want to experience something run a marathon. Happy running!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The waiting game

My wife Elissa is 29 weeks pregnant at the moment but in her pre-impregnated state was no stranger to running herself. In fact, as she often likes to remind me, her running pedigree is a lot more distinguished than mine stretching back, as it does, over twenty years. She doesn’t say so exactly, but I think it frustrates her sometimes to see me lacing up and leaving our family behind when her own exercise ambitions await our new arrival. And I can sympathise with how she feels. My marathon has had a lengthy gestation period of its own. I signed up and began training in early February and the process will eventually come to fruition in less than two weeks time. The big day has been a shadow on the horizon for a long time now and I’ve run that race so many times in my head that it exhausts me to think of it. The French have an excellent term for it: the idee fixe. A fixed idea, an obsession that dominates all other thoughts. For too long now my primary concerns have been for training, nutrition and recovery and the minutiae of everday life has been lost. To Elissa certainly, it has become boring. The obsession of self: it’s wearing, especially for me! But…when I cross the finish line what then? When the cheering has ended, the blisters have healed and my medal rests in some forgotten drawer, what then? I hope I will feel like a runner and not a one-race johnny: that it is a beginning and not an end. I hope that running – second nature to me now – will assume its proper priority in my life. I hope that when Elissa pulls her lycra back on she will be mindful of the immortal tag line from Highlander: There can only be one! ...You know I'm joking Honey

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

History by numbers

So, it’s really happening! My number has arrived. Now it is official. Whether I post a time or not I will forever be a statistic in the Abingdon Amblers Running Club marathon record for 2008 – and hopefully not for DNF (did not finish)! It is a special feeling. Running for fitness or pleasure has its own attractions but racing is something entirely different. The camaraderie of your fellow runners, the fear and anxiety before the start, the adrenaline of the race – I am experiencing it now as I type. All your training, all your hopes, find their expression when that gun goes off. 246 is more than just a number: it is a key, a passport, an entry in the records. And in this last sense, runners make history every time they race.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Lessons in Japanese

Dedicated followers of my blog will remember my recent angst at Schipol when I wrestled with the decision to buy Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, [henceforth referred to as WITAWITAR]. I saw it again in Borders on Saturday, quite by accident and, taking it as a sign, I settled in one of their comfortable club armchairs and read a chapter at random. Which proved fortunate in retrospect. You see, I broke down on my long run that morning after mile 11 of a prospective 18. The last seven miles home were as bad for morale as any I have run. Fatigue swept over me and I slowed to a walk several times. Not surprisingly, I was a little down about this: if I broke down on an 18 mile training run how could I expect to finish a marathon? The answer lay in Murakami’s experiences. Part biography and part training log, the book is very conversational in style. The chapter I read described the fatigue he felt at a particular time prior to a marathon and his experience then very much mirrored my own. The lesson was that what I was feeling was normal and that it was time to start scaling back my weekly mileage now that race day was so close: exactly what my own schedule prescribed but hearing it personally, so to speak, reconfirmed my belief. I bought the book. Was it luck or synchronicity that led me to it? In any event, it was the right message at the right time.

I have one last long run scheduled this Saturday but otherwise my week is light and the miles drop off further as race day approaches. Today's run was 4.26 miles which I clocked in 32:17.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Elementary, my dear Elissa!

I am a great admirer of Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth, the incomparable Sherlock Holmes. And, by all accounts, I am not alone. There are apparently fan clubs devoted to his fictional detective all over the world. I am sure that the principal attraction for most people are his astounding displays of deduction: breaking the alibi of a murderer for example, by measuring the depth to which the parsley sank in the butter on a hot day; or determining the character of a prospective client from the walking stick he left behind. The original Strand stories with Sidney Paget’s dark illustrations, the numerous film and TV adaptations of his adventures, I am mad for them all. Even the pastiches that vary from the original stories: Billy Wilder’s excellent “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” complete with German spies disguised as monks and featuring a Loch Ness monster being a good example. I would also mention in that vein, “Murder By Decree” - an intelligent take on the Jack The Ripper legend starring Cristopher Plummer as the super sleuth in a dark story far removed from his usual association with singing nuns! But you get the picture. I was put in mind of Sherlock Holmes this morning when Elissa presumed that I had missed my run this morning. Her deduction was based on the fact that the shower did not contain traces of the mud that usually accompany my runs. Normally my morning runs are on woodland trails so mud is inevitable. On this particular morning however – and now until the spring – my run was all on road. Why? The daylight hours are now so scarce that streetlit roads are now my only recourse. A fact that Holmes would have easily deduced.

Anyway. This mornings run was a medium effort, 4.26 mile, base run which I clocked at 31:55. As Holmes might say: “the game’s afoot”.

Monday, 15 September 2008

That was zen. This is tao.

I have always been attracted to asceticism in one way or another. Movements or religions that place emphasis on denial, discipline and physical hardship have always held a fascination for me and running affords opportunities for them all. Examples might be the eastern orthodox churches with their long traditions of hermitism, the more familiar Christian monastic orders or the now equally familiar Buddhist orders. Their renunciation of material belongings is an essential element of their appeal but there is another element that is even more compelling: the motif of purification through pain or physical suffering. A motif not uncommon I suspect among runners. Suffering, of course, can take many forms: self-denial, fasting, or physical discomfort to name but a few. And in this regard and others, running can bear at least a superficial resemblance to ascetic religions. Consider the case. It has its own rites of worship: private worship is constituted by the runner’s training; public worship by race meets. It has its own practises and rituals: witness the runner stretching before a run and you are witnessing a habitualised ritual that will be repeated perhaps many thousands of times during the course of their life. And they pray! They offer up invocations that they won’t get injured before a race; that they can get their mile splits down; that the finish line is immediately around the next corner; that the cyclist on the pavement will get off the bloody pavement. Not to a deity you understand, but to the spirit of running, the zen of running. A runner will often push through the pain barrier in a race or in training, not because they are masochists, but because of what lies on the other side: the satisfaction of having given their best; the feeling of being tested and not found wanting: and, in my case at least, the feeling of purification by ordeal. It feels redemptive. If life is a series of debit transactions with the soul, running makes a positive contribution to the accounts. So you see, it can very spriritual.

Not that I felt particularly spiritual this morning when I was running long intervals. I ran well outside what I expected to run – 20 seconds a mile slower in fact on average. I ran 3 mile splits with 2 minutes rest between splits and a mile of warm-up and warm-down. I clocked the splits as:

First split: 7:19
Second split: 7:12
Third split: 7:12

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Inspiration in unlikely places

"Try not. Do. Or do not." - Master Yoda

Inspiration can come from anywhere and, clearly, the diminutive Jedi master has much to teach us. Star Wars enthusiasts might recognize the quote but I came across it quite by accident last night as Luca and I cuddled up in front of the TV for our Friday night film fix. It occurs in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda, schooling Luke in the ways of the force, chides his pupil for his negativity in a failed exercise to lift his crashed craft from a swamp. Like most great quotes it is wonderfully concise and very profound. I was immediately struck by the words. I always seem to be trying instead of doing. So this morning after another disturbed night when I was awoken by pain I ended my training hiatus with a 7 mile run. I didn’t dwell on reasons why I might not run – I just did run. I clocked 49:51 for the distance. It felt good to be running again for as Yoda also said "Always in motion is the future" – words for a marathoner to live by.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Black dog days

I’m just back from a business sojourn in Amsterdam so it was that on Wednesday I found myself in a bookshop at Schipol looking for some material to occupy the hours before my flight. I saw a hardback copy of Haruki Murakami’s “What I Think About When I Think About Running”. My first impulse was to buy it but then I had doubts. Have you ever done this: anticipated something so much that you are afraid to buy it in case it lets you down? It was 17 euros – not a lot of money if it brings enjoyment but more than enough to rub salt into the wounds of shattered expectations. I held it in my hands and furiously debated with myself whether to buy. In the end I didn’t and I felt curiously depressed as if I had failed a test. A symptom, I suspect, of a greater malady.

Sunday’s half marathon seems a long time ago. I haven’t run since then which has torn up my training schedule. After the high of competition has come the antidote of the working routine. Tomorrow I have to motivate myself to pick up the pieces and clock some miles on the road. My training schedule requires me to run six days out of seven. Since February I have never let more than two consecutive days pass without a run so this hiatus has assumed a massive significance in my mind. In fact, I don’t feel like a runner anymore. Black dog days indeed.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Loneliness of the long distance runner

When I started this blog I swore I would never sully it by using such an obvious pun on Alan Sillitoe’s existentialist masterpiece. Until now that is. Sometimes circumstance drives events in way that are impossible to predict. It saddens me to say that Sunday morning lethargy in the Connor camp meant today's half marathon was a one man operation. As Luca put it, this was only a practise run – he’d be there for the marathon. Elissa, stretched by my toothache induced histrionics didn’t feel inclined to persuade him. And so the stage was set. Drama never became so elevated. Running toward the finish I empathised with our eponymous hero. I was running by myself for myself. That said, their was camaraderie in the packs and associations were made however loosely: shallow connections with my fellow runners based only on their running cadence and their backward appearance. They came and went as the miles ticked by and their efforts encouraged my own. My impressions of the race still haven’t settled yet. I’ll post more fully when they do. In the end I clocked 1:30:33 for the distance. I was disappointed not to break 1:30 but a marker had been set. A first and, by default, a personal best.

Kirsten Watt I was touched by your contribution. To donate your pocket money to the cause instead of buying McFly merchandise clearly reflects your increasing maturity – and taste! On that note of gratitude, I applaud those people who have contributed to the campaign so far who don’t know me personally. Kara McKee, Nancy Allan and Lynda Donnelly a special thanks to you all. Not for you the obligation of association but the purest motive of good-heartedness. Thank you.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Behind every great man...

…is a great support team. With the American presidential hopefuls announcing their running mates it’s perhaps apposite that I introduce mine. Barack Obama has Joe Biden and John McCain has Sarah Palin (for now). In my corner I have my son Luca, my mascot of sorts, and the mercurial motivational talents of my wife Elissa. For Sunday’s race they will be there cheering me on along with Elissa’s mother Terry. Terry is one of those wonderfully optomistic women where her family is concerned: she tells me -and I believe she actually means it - that I might win if I have a good race. No pressure then! To put this in perspective, if you put a tenner on me at your local turf accountant your winnings could buy Venezuelas oil output for the next ten years – hell, you could buy Venezuela.

Today, I took things easy with a 3 mile run to keep limber for tomorrows race. Time is meaningless since it was run at training pace and effort but for the record I clocked in at 19:59. If I could keep that pace up tomorrow for 13 miles I would be very happy. However the Gods of running are conspiring against a good performance. A visit to the dentist this morning confirmed what I have suspected for the past few days. I have a gum infection which has resulted in severe toothache. Antibiotics and ibuprofen are prescribed but I can’t help feeling I am falling apart. My inevitable grouchiness has caused friction in the Connor camp. Can we hold it together? Don't bet against us!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Facing the music

No subject divides runners more vehemently than the run-with-music/run-without-music debate. There is no denying the prevalence of iPods and other conveniently sized mp3 players in our everyday lives. And marvellous devices they are too. I personally love to listen to Radio 4 podcasts of “In Our Time” covering as they do every imaginable subject from Grail legend to the Battle of Tours - but not when I’m running. Incidentally, being something of an iconoclast, I don’t own an iPod. I have a generic mp3 player instead. But that’s a story for another day.

Running purists extol its simplicity: its closeness to nature. They argue that iPods are another symptom of an increasingly selfish society that encourages isolationism and lack of engagement with others. Wear earphones and a large part of the sensory running experience is lost. Personally I’m not against iPods but I prefer to run without music – even on long runs. If I couldn’t hear the cadence of my breathing or the rhythm of my footfall a lot of what I enjoy about running would be lost. Other I runners I know like music to motivate them and choose their playlists meticulously. That’s OK too. The running community is a broad church and can accommodate both camps.I want to avoid the pseudo-philosophy that can often accompany the purists camp [for an excellent exposition read “Running: A Marathon For The Mind” edited by Amby Burfoot] but it is true that the mind follows satisfying threads of its own during long runs that music would interrupt. In the end you should do whatever gets you out there.I didn’t run this morning – I’m tapering!
A special thanks to Michael and Nicola my biggest sponsors yet. Your generosity distinguishes you both. Loved the Zatopek quotation Michael: I have now adopted it as my motif!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Cometh the hour...

…cometh the man. My first ever competitive race is the Great Scottish Run half marathon this Sunday on the 7th September. Lots of people will be participating –perhaps you are too? If so then good luck. It should be an excellent chance to learn some racing protocol and practise refuelling on-the-run. My preparation for the race is a little schizophrenic. In essence the race itself will be a training run for my marathon ambitions so there will be no tapering beforehand and it will be training as usual on Monday. Tapering in running terms means scaling back normal training miles before a race to ensure peak energy and performance. I am torn about this though because part of me wants to give the half-marathon my best shot since bragging rights in the office may depend upon it. Logically I see it like this: if anyone in the office beats me then obviously it was a training run and I instruct them to subtract 13 minutes from my time to get my ‘real’ competitive time; if I beat them it’s still a training run and they can imagine what it would be like to be an elite uberathlete like your humble blogger. A win-win scenario! This mornings run was 5.5 miles at a easy-normal effort and a 41:05 pace.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Aches and pains

Aches and pains associated with running tend to be one of two varieties: the gratifying tightness of muscles after a long run just painful enough to let you know they are there and the more worrying persistent variety. The latter category are made worse if the pain is in a muscle that only a copy of Gray’s Anatomy could help you identify. For weeks now I’ve been troubled by a strain around my pelvis and groin area that shot up in intensity if I led off with my right foot on a large step or low wall. My first panicked thoughts screamed hernia and I looked carefully ‘down there’ for any telltale bulges. Consulting my runners bible, the excellent “Alberto Salazar’s Guide To Road Racing”, I diagnosed a strained adductor muscle. The illustration opposite shows where it is. I know - all this and education too! Anyway, the pain has gone now and I realise I don’t know when it did. It just goes to show the flip-side to the old adage: there are some things you don’t miss even when they are gone.

Another thing I don’t miss – but my boy Luca does – are the toenails of both my big toes. Relentless pummelling has reduced them, particularly the left, to very distressed states. Luca finds them so gross he won’t come near me unless I’m heeled or socked at the very least. Recently, the necessity to plaster my toes to prevent blistering has had the pleasing side-effect of allowing me to walk barefoot in the house again. But in a typical example of universal karma, this has been offset by Elissa’s revulsion at finding old plasters in unhygienic places. Remind me to post some pictures of those beauties. Todays training run was 8 miles run in 58:14. A good time over that distance for a training run. Same again tomorrow.

The road of excess...

…leads to the palace of wisdom. Or so some great sage was reported to have observed. And so by extension to the running world. When you run further than 13 miles you find out some interesting things about your body and your mind. If you have a defect in your bio mechanics, if your running style is inefficient, if your motivation is poor, then this is where it shows. On Sunday I ran an unprecedented 18 miles. Before the run I had anxieties. I’d never run this far before. Would I break down? Would it show that the marathon distance was beyond me. In the end the run was sublime. I got faster as the miles progressed and for short durations I found that ethereal state, that serenity that’s known as a runner’s high: in these moments I felt I could run forever. Now I know that I can run the marathon and I’m not afraid of it.

Sleepless nights

It's 01:38 in the morning and I can't sleep. Do I have any donors yet? Was it Oscar Wilde who said the only cure for temptation is to succumb to it? I'll take a look. Yes! My first donor. May God's light shine upon you Susan Reid. The first fruits of my sister-in-law Carla Munro's social connectedness I suspect. My training schedule calls for an 8 mile run tomorrow. As usual with my morning runs it means a 5:00 am start but this run feels different. Now it feels like a collaborative effort instead of a solitary pursuit. Tomorrow I really will have a spring in my step. Thanks Susan.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

My first post!

Welcome to the blogosphere! I've never blogged before so this represents new territory for me. If I were just scribbling private musings then writing would be easy but I'm conscious of the potential exposure of my witterings so I find I'm trying too hard to be witty and amusing - so I'll stop and pretend I'm writing for myself. That's better. Mind you, the vast majority of blogs apparently go unread in cyberspace so I should count myself lucky if anyone thought I was trying too hard. Anyway, you're reading this so I have been discovered!

Why start a blog? I'm running a marathon in Abingdon on October 18th 2008 in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and I thought it would be useful if potential donors could read about my preparations. It might help loosen their purse strings and soften their hearts if they knew where their money would go and they knew the hardships I was facing to prepare for the race.

On the subject of hardships I am not one of those 'worthy' souls that bike trek across Peru or walk the Great Wall in China funded by the charitable donations of my envious donors. Every penny I receive will go directly to Macmillan - my race fees and expenses are being met by myself. If you donate through my justgiving website your money goes directly to the charities bank account. Please follow the link: