Thursday, 23 April 2015

tired of waiting....

....and with that little 3.32 mile trundle around the Embankment, marathon training officially ends.

Between the 1st January this year, when my sixteen week training programme officially started and today, I have covered some 472.6 miles.  As well as all the seemingly endless miles I've done around the river Trent and the Grantham and Nottingham canals, I've even found myself running up a ski hill in France as I attempted to keep putting miles into the bank whilst we were on holiday in March.  I've smashed all my previous records: miles covered in a week, miles covered in a month, longest duration, most calories burned....  For a while, it seemed like I was doing my longest ever run every single week.  I've topped out at 22 miles for now, but on Sunday, I will be smashing that record too as I line up on Blackheath Common for the 26.2 mile amble through London the the Mall.

When I think that it was only a couple of years ago that I thought I would never be able to run further than six miles ever again, it all seems like a bit of a dream.  It might sound trite, but it really does go to show what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.

I still don't know if I'll successfully complete the marathon on Sunday - I guess I'm about to find out.  What I do know is that I didn't think that my body would be able to withstand the rigours of marathon training, and it seems to have handled it all pretty well.  In fact, although all that training sucked up an enormous amount of time and was a huge commitment, I've actually really enjoyed the longer runs.  Even the really long ones.  I think all runners have something of a masochistic streak, but it looks like I really, really enjoy flogging myself.

I would never know that I could achieve any of that unless I had tried.  Sorry to sound like a bad motivational speaker, but that goes for you too, by the way.  Your target might not be a marathon, but there is something you can set your sights on... you know there is.

We've also smashed our fundraising target, for which I can only thank you all.  Your generosity continues to humble me and if I need to find any more motivation for running, it's your kindness and good wishes that will power me round on Sunday.  There's still time to sponsor us too.  CLICK HERE.

The training is over, and now we just count down the time before we actually start running.  In some ways, that's harder than just getting out and doing another run.  You will be able to track our progress on the day on the London Marathon website or by downloading the app from the App Store.  I'm runner number 11637 and C is 26096.  Alternatively, just look out for the blue tutus.


See you on the other side!  Perhaps I'll be able to talk about something else then? No promises....

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

respect....

We had a team away day today.  We were away from the office and in the genteel surroundings of the Trent Bridge Inn.  Wetherspoons pubs may be many things, but this one has the distinct advantage of at least being within short walking distance of my house.  In any case, since Wetherspoons took it over a few years ago, I think it's fair to say that it's never looked so good.

Anyway.  Amongst the things we did, we spent an hour or so either side of lunch walking along the Embankment in two teams devising (and then doing) a treasure hunt.  My team was wandering around the riverside looking for interesting things we could use as clues.  There's a war memorial here, and we paused to see what we could find.  I was transfixed and moved by a little wooden cross with a poppy on it that had clearly been fixed to the gates of the memorial on Remembrance Sunday.  It was only a humble little thing, but in faded writing on the wood of the cross was an inscription commemorating a 19 year old Able Seaman called Sidney who had lost his life at Omaha beach on D-Day.  The cross had been left by his sister, and I was touched at a devotion from an elderly lady who was remembering a brother who had died some seventy years ago.  I find things like this profoundly and quietly moving.

My contemplation was interrupted, however, by one of the members of my team coming up in front of me on the other side of the gates holding a poppy wreath.
"I found this on the floor over there"
"That's a memorial wreath.  Please put it back."
"It was over there.  Someone had just chucked it on the floor."
"It wasn't chucked on the floor, it was laid there during Remembrance Sunday last November.  Please put it back."

At this point, this 25 year old stropped off and hurled the wreath back in the general direction of where she had found it, muttering about how there was no need for me to make such a big deal about it and basically behaving like a stroppy teenager.  I could have chastised her to show some respect, but I simply explained what it was and asked her to put it back. Fair to say, I wasn't terribly impressed by her reaction.

I'm fifteen years older than this girl, but it seems to be a long fifteen years.  The Second World War ended only 29 years before I was born, but that means it was over for the best part of half a century by the time she was born, and was that much more faded from living memory.  I grew up around people who had experienced at least one World War first hand; people in my own family. This girl isn't an idiot, but the memory of the sacrifice of people like this nineteen year old sailor on D-Day and the quiet dignity of those remaining who remember them just seems somehow less relevant to her.

It's a shame.  Remembering is probably a vital part of making sure that it never happens again.  As Harry Patch said (about World War One) before he died in 2009, "It wasn’t worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands."

As the last veterans of these wars die, we need to keep the memories of them and the sacrifices they made alive so that it never happens again. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.

That's not too much to ask is it?

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

smaller and smaller and smaller....

 
Over the years, I've lost quite a bit of weight.  I won't bore you with the story again because I've told it here many times.  Suffice it to say that, over the last fifteen years and without ever really trying, I've lost something in the region of 8 stone / 50kg / 112lbs.

Needless to say, over the years, this has necessitated some wardrobe changes.  Contrary to what you might imagine, this isn't just because I'm now a lot thinner than I used to be (although the last pair of jeans I bought have a 9" smaller waist than the ones I used to buy, which seems remarkable to me).  I also seem to have changed body shape too.  When I was a teenager, I played quite a lot of rugby and I played in the second row: it was the obvious place for someone of my height and general build.  If I was to start playing again now, I'm not sure where they'd put me, but I'm fairly certain I no longer have the heft required for the engine room of the pack.

Whenever I weigh myself, I often joke that I haven't been this light since I was coming up the other way, aged about 17.  I've just discovered that this isn't true either.


I bought a denim jacket when I was about fourteen years old.  It was a black Levi 501 jacket and I loved it to bits.  For years and years and years it had a little Iron Maiden "Powerslave" button badge on the breast pocket, and -- when I wasn't wearing my cheap leather biker jacket -- I wore it pretty much all the way through school and through University.  I was never quite able to bring myself to chuck it out, either... so, even though I haven't worn it in years, it's been kicking around the house in deep storage somewhere.

I dug it out the other day because it's a cool jacket and I thought I might start wearing it again.  Only it doesn't fit.  It's way, way too big and, when buttoned up, absolutely swamps me.

So, to recap: a jacket I bought when I was fourteen years old doesn't fit me because it's far too large for the forty-one year old me.

Is it meant to be this way around?

Monday, 20 April 2015

run run run run run run run away....

I'll just leave this here, shall I?


This is C's Christmas present.  It took a little while to get everything organised, but we eventually had the photo-shoot on Easter Sunday afternoon, an hour or so after we had completed a 22-mile run (which I hope might explain why my leap might look slightly arthritic, if not why my growl looks slightly apologetic, certainly in comparison with my wife's mighty battle cry....)

Nottingham artist, Video Mat AKA White Dolemite has done an absolutely bang-up job with this, I'm sure you'll agree.  The Leftlion kickstarter was worth investing in anyway to help a great magazine go monthly, but I think that this perk was a real winner - it's completely unique.  When we get the print, it will certainly be getting properly framed and then taking pride of place in our living room.  Possibly scaring away prospective burglars.   She does, after all, now have swords in the house.

Just look at that face....would you take the chance?  Would you?  I wouldn't.  In fact, you'll notice how I'm right behind her.  Very dangerous.  You go first.

Friday, 17 April 2015

shall we look at the moon, my little loon?

Earworms of the Week

Them Bones” – Alice in Chains

I finally watched some highlights from Sonisphere last year that’s been hanging around on my Sky box since last summer. I’d mainly recorded it for the performances by Metallica and Iron Maiden, but was happy to spin through, stopping at any performance or band that caught my eye. Alice in Chains were one such band. I actually saw them performing at Download the other year, and they were pretty good there. Watching on telly though, I obviously had a better chance to assess their performance. Layne Staley died in 2002, but his replacement is actually really very good. Most importantly of all, I suppose, the material is good and this is a great song. “Dirt” itself is a brilliant album that still sounds good today in spite of being released in 1992. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve got any other album by the band… that would be pretty hard to top, but it’s strange that I’ve never really gone looking for any of their other stuff. Anyone know if any of it is any good?

Toxic” – Britney Spears

Say what you like about her, but this is a damn fine pop song.

Stay Too Long” – Plan B

This was my starting point with Plan B and the gateway to “The Defamation of Strickland Banks”. There are better songs on that album, but this is the one that I keep coming back to most often. It just explodes with life and brilliantly brings to life the leary evening that it describes. Not fussed by any of his rap stuff, to be honest, but this record was the perfect storm.

Game of Thrones opening credits / “The Rains of Castamere” – The National

I'm loving the new series, right from the moment the opening credit sequence showed a rebuilt Winterfell with the flayed man sigil.  That probably confirms my geek status, right?  Having these songs in my head is also an excuse to reuse this picture.


True dat.  Even more so now we're starting to significantly diverge from the books and/or reveal plots that haven't even been written yet.  Exciting, no?

Overkill” - Motorhead

Playing Glastonbury! Yes!

Frozen Heart” / “Let it Go” - Frozen OST

Sadly becoming something of a feature of my life. The new season at choir starts next week, and because this is in the setlist, I’ll be spending many hours over the next few months listening to it and learning my part…. Not that there’s much in the way of a bass part on “Let it Go”. I think that’s why “Frozen Heart” has been tacked onto the beginning: to give me something to sing. Not many Disney Princesses are basses, you know. I might actually watch the film for the first time this weekend. Something to look forward to, eh?

“Stayin’ Hot” (Lobsterdust mashup) - Nelly vs the Bee Gees 

This really, really works. That Nelly song is something of a guilty pleasure anyway, so mashing it up with the Bee Gees and some footage of Travolta dancing is just genius. Check it out, but be warned that this is an atomically powerful, weapons-grade earworm.

Fourth of July” - Sufjan Stevens

I loved “Illinoise” above all for those beautiful, heartfelt ballads: “Casimir Pulaski Day”, where he talks about the death of a friend or “John Wayne Gacy Jr” where he pulls off the trick of managing to empathise with a notorious serial killer. My love of those songs and that album were one of the main reasons why I was so disappointed with “The Age of Adz”, an album I reacted so badly to that, to this day, I still haven’t managed to listen to it all the way though. I find it literally painful and have to turn it off. Stevens' new album, “Carrie & Lowell” is a return to heartfelt, acoustic songs. Inspired by the devastation he felt at the death of his mother, this is a starkly beautiful and haunting record. This song in particular is a heartbreaker: it’s a (imaginary?) conversation between Sufjan and his dead mother, and features the refrain “we’re all going to die” (an echo of the lyric "some say we're born into the grave" in "Them Bones", actually). It’s an emotional punch in the stomach and such a beautiful, beautiful song. Sufjan Stevens is well known for his soaring ambition and love of complex arrangements and grandiose schemes for his music: this is almost the total opposite of that, and it sometimes feels like we’re a voyeur, looking in on his grief.

Did you get enough love, my little dove? / Why do you cry?"

sniff.

Have a good weekend, y'all.  Next weekend, WE RUN.

Just remember: gonna end up a big old pile of them bones......

Thursday, 16 April 2015

(I don't want your) photograph....

Do you remember that website from way back in the day where a guy called Eric attempted to convey any requested emotion? Pity, horror, love, bemused resignation, indifference, kill.... that kind of thing.

Well, get your thinking caps on and let me know what emotion you think this guy is conveying.


It was taken by my friend Tony in Sheffield the other day when we were up there for the Bevox Rocks concert (He's a keen and very talented photographer, but I was happily quite elusive from his camera for the most of the day and during the actual performance itself, but he did manage to catch me here, it seems)

I'm going for "mildly perplexed"....

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

humbled...

Raising money for charity is a truly humbling experience.

When we knew we were going to be running the marathon, I thought about what kind of a target we should set.  I've raised money running half marathons before, and I like to think I've been pretty good at it.  If you included gift aid, when we ran the Robin Hood half in 2011 we raised a little over £3,000.  When I entered the same race the following year, even though I only had a few weeks to go before the start, I still managed to raise more than £1,250.

Not bad going, I thought.  We can top that, can't we?  Running a full marathon is a much bigger deal, after all.  Shall we start with a target of £3,000 and see how we go?

Well, with a little over a week-and-a-half to go before we line up in London, we've raised over £3,600 (including gift aid) with something like £900 to add from offline fund-matching from work, the money we raised at the cake sale earlier this week and things like that.  There's still time to chase out a few more last-minute donations too.

I reckon that, by the time we've finished, we will have raised something approaching £5,000.  That's a huge amount of money that will make a huge difference to the MS Trust and will help them to reach even more people affected by multiple sclerosis, providing information and support.

I'm delighted.... but it really is humbling.  That money has come from all sorts of people, who have put their hands into their pockets and put an enormous vote of trust in us.  Many of these people will not have heard of the MS Trust before; some may not know that much about multiple sclerosis; it's likely that lots of them might not even know why we're running for the charity.  Hell, some of them are barely more than acquaintances.... but they still decided to make a donation to our charity.  Some went further than that: they baked cakes for us; they chased donations out of people who don't even really know who we are; they took the time to talk to us and to find out about the charity and to see how we were doing with the training.

It's humbling and it's inspiring.

I find it emotional watching the London Marathon on the telly.  With the tens of thousands of other runners and the hundreds of thousands of spectators cheering us on, never mind the legs, you can pretty much guarantee that I'm going to be an emotional wreck by the time we cross the finish line.

You can still sponsor us here!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

enlargen your world....



Back in January, I joined a choir.  On Saturday night, I was one of two hundred singers performing with a live rock band in front of a sell-out crowd of 600 people at the Octagon in Sheffield.  With all the various technical rehearsals and quite a lot of hanging around, it was a pretty long day.... but it was also an excellent day.



It's pretty disconcerting singing when you can't really hear anyone else singing, but the acoustics of the venue, the volume of the band and the fact that I was standing right next to them (and behind all the other basses) all combined to mean that this was exactly the position I found myself in.  Still, that's what rehearsals are for, right?  I'm also told that the band were so loud for some of the gig, that in places, our voices were a little overwhelmed by the instruments.  Still, it was a good night and the audience seemed to enjoy themselves.

I know I did.



I've always liked singing, but I haven't sung as part of a choir for the best part of thirty years.  I've really enjoyed the last few months and, in spite of the fact that next season includes such delights as a medley of songs from "Frozen", I'm really looking forward to getting started again in rehearsals next week.  We've got a CD recording in Scarborough coming up in July, so it's going to be another step into the unknown for me.  Exciting.

To be honest, this marathon has been looming large in my life over the last few months, and it's been great to have something else to think about.

I won't lie to you though: it's been nice to put the MP3s of the bass tracks to one side for the first time in a few months and to listen to something else.  As my wife is in New York with work, I had the rare treat of a run by myself this evening.  The sun was out and I plugged myself into Metallica and had a not-quite-so-slow-as-recently trudge around the Embankment.  It were grand, kid.  Eeee, it were grand.

Monday, 13 April 2015

sugar for my honey....


We had a cake sale at running club tonight.  A few weeks ago, one of our friends there asked me if I would object if they organised one on behalf of our charity - the MS Trust.  As it happens, this kind soul is also running the London Marathon this year, in her case to raise money for a Nottingham charity that provides support for women escaping domestic violence.  It's a charity that's very close to her heart, and she's finally got to run London at the sixth attempt.... and here she was asking if she could raise money for us because she felt it was the best way of repaying us for the donations we both made to her.

I've met some amazing people through running in general and through running club in particular, but tonight was just remarkable from start to finish.  As well as Lisa organising the whole thing, a succession of people arrived for the evening's run carrying cakes they had baked especially for us, and then, when they got back, we raised something over £250 from their donations, with another cake sale happening at the run that takes place on Wednesday night on the other side of the city.

It's humbling.  It's truly humbling.

What amazing people.   Just look at the little cut-out they made to go on the collection jar, complete with tutu.

With about 12 days to go before we line up in Blackheath for the start of the longest run of our lives, there's still time to sponsor us!

CLICK HERE!

Thanks to everyone who has already donated (or baked a cake) - we're well on the way to smashing our target and raising some really meaningful cash for the MS Trust.

Friday, 10 April 2015

poor, poor pitiful me....

At the MS clinic today, I was reminded all over again how lucky I am.

I might have my problems, and one of the outputs of today's visit will be a referral to the beautifully named incontinence clinic at City Hospital to have my bladder function tested.... but relatively speaking, I'm doing alright.

I'm 41 years old and first began to experience symptoms a decade ago.  In about two weeks time, I will be running my first marathon: 26.2 miles through the streets of London. The moment I cross that finishing line, I will join a relatively select group of humans who have completed a marathon.... that's a relatively small number amongst the total of all humans who have ever lived.  There are not all that many able-bodied people who can manage this, nevermind anyone else.

A quick look around the waiting room at the hospital this morning is all it takes to have a reality check: there are enough walking sticks and wheelchairs here to remind me that I've got it pretty good, all things considered.

It's all relative and we would probably all do well to remember that.  Be grateful for what you can do, not bitter about what you can't.

Speaking of which, this week's ShiftMS selection as blog of the week made me cross.  Good luck to this person, and perhaps I'm lacking empathy, but to me this reads like a pity party that focuses on all the negatives and none of the positives.  That might be how she wants to live her life, but it sure as hell isn't how I'm going to live mine.