Monday, 11 April 2016

Jim Dingwall 10K

On Sunday I took a trip to the Jewel of Central Scotland – Grangemouth, with all of its myriad sights and smells.  If you’ve never been then you don’t know what you’re missing!

Red sky at night, a massive amount of pollutants in the atmosphere...

On Saturday night it struck me that, despite this being the fourth time I’d entered the “Jim Dingwall Memorial Round the Houses” race, I’d never investigated who Jim Dingwall was.  Often the person in question is, while beloved enough and having made such a contribution to their local club to merit having a race named after them, a fairly average local runner.   Not so with Jim.  Although it seems he was also beloved and made a big contribution.  But mainly he was a fantastic athlete (which is one stage better than a runner in my book).  His list of achievements is stunning.  A 1500m PB of 3:45:8.  A 10,000m PB of 28:45.  (Those PBs were, incidentally, run on consecutive days).  A fantastic bushy beard, before hipsters ruined them for us.

But he was primarily known as a marathon man.  He completed London 20 times between 1981 and 2003, the last four of which were after major bowel surgery.  In 1983 he ran his PB of 2:11:44, which is quite frankly ludicrously quick – almost beyond comprehension for someone like me.  According to Power of 10, he is still ranked 37th on the UK all-time list, and (if listed club is used as a slightly unreliable basis for nationality) 2nd Scot (behind only Allister Hutton).

Poignantly, one of his few remaining ambitions was to be the first 100 year old to break 5 hours for the marathon.  Tragically, he died in 2005, aged 56 “after a long struggle with cancer”.  I don’t particularly want to imagine what pain and misery lies behind those few words.


Back to the race itself, and I didn’t know what to expect.  I’d had a couple of short runs (3.5 and 4 miles) in the week before, but this would be only my third run since Lasswade a month before.  At the start I plonked myself beside the “40 min target” marker, without any degree of confidence that that was realistic.  As the funnel filled up, two young ladies (perhaps 19 or 20 years old) squeezed themselves into a gap which did not exist between me and the guy in front.  Although a little irritated, I tried to give them some room.  Except we were now tightly packed and there was no way I could move back.  To make matters worse, one then said to the other, “have you ever done a 10K before?”.  To make matters worse still, the one on the left began to flex each of her legs in turn, which meant that she was thrusting her buttocks into my “gentleman’s area”.  Some people might pay good money for that, but I felt more violated than anything.  And not in a good way.

Fortunately, I made it away from the start with my dignity (or what passes for it) still intact.  Unable to recalibrate my expectations to my reduced circumstances however, I did the first mile in a completely unsustainable 5:56. 

Not long after, a lad from Glasgow Uni barged through a gap between me and another runner that wasn’t really on, banging my arm as he went.  There was no real harm done, and he did apologise, but I couldn’t help myself from pointing out that “there’s plenty of room to the sides, mate”.

There’s very little else to tell, or at least nothing that can’t be told by this chart of my declining pace.

But that’s not to say I am down-hearted about it.  I got round, pain free, and still feel fine the next day.  Which is a good result.  Get fit, then get faster again.

Talking of getting fit, after finishing I went to collect my t-shirt and goodie bag.  I approached a stall and asked for a medium.  A lady looked me up and down and said, “nah, you’ll need a large”.  Thanks very much – just as well I’m not sensitive about my weight!  The lady at the next table had obviously heard that exchange and said with a grin, “extra-large is further down”.  Everyone’s a comedian.

Club mate James had a great run, with a new PB of 35:19.  Impending fatherhood clearly agrees with him.  The winner (at the head of a strong field) got round in 31:00.  I’ll remind you that Jim Dingwall’s PB was 28:45.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

A Working Hypothesis

Sorry for the lack of posts of late, but this is supposed to be a running blog, and I have done nothing since my injury at Lasswade.  And not “still something nothing” either.  Literally nothing.

Well nothing other than eat, drink, and catch up on box sets.  Jo and I managed to finish both “House of Cards” and “The 100 Code”.  And I watched first “Flaked” and then “Deutschland 83” on my own. 

House of Cards is the one with Kevin Spacey as the US President, and Robin Wright as his First Lady.  It is very loosely based on the UK three part series from the early 90s (Tory MP/Whip Francis Urquhart becoming Democratic Congressman/Whip Frank Underwood).  There is more than a little of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth going on.  It is fascinating the way you can be manipulated into rooting for a pair of very unpleasant, ruthless, amoral and ultra-ambitious characters.  Part of this is due to the use of the device known as “breaking the fourth wall” – where a character (in this case Frank) talks directly through the screen to the viewer, explaining/justifying what he is about to do, and thereby making you complicit.

The 100 Code is a mixed English and Swedish language serial killer/cop thriller and stars Dominic Monaghan and Michael Nyqist.  The initial premise was really interesting – an NYPD man following his suspect (who has a horrifyingly inventive MO) to Stockholm and teaming up with the local Polis.  But it definitely has its flaws.  Monaghan is the Mancunian Hobbit from Lost, and neither he nor his accent convince as the hard-boiled cop with a bad attitude and a head full of demons.  He is more like a slightly tetchy gerbil, and no more threatening.  The Swedish characters and scenery are largely terrific though – Nyqist (from the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) in particular. It was worth sticking with to the end of the season, but I’m not sure I’ll bother with the second (if they make one).

Flaked is a pretty short series by US standards – only six episodes, and just the one series to date.  It stars Will Arnett as a recovering alcoholic who has killed a man in a drink-driving incident, now floats along as a very part-time furniture maker and guru at the Venice Beach AA, and revels in his minor local celebrity status.  It is often pretty melancholy, but has some really sharp comedic moments – not unlike the better Wes Anderson films.  One of the producers is Mitchell Hurwitz, who created Arrested Development (which was where I first saw Arnett).  I absolutely love AD (apart from the much later and pretty poor fourth season), so decided to give Flaked a go.  Well worth a watch, and I’m already looking forward to the second season.

But best of the lot has been Deutschland 83.  I had been “saving it” until all of the episodes were available to watch back to back, rather than having to endure the frustrating weeks between them.  It is set at the height of the Cold War, and follows a young East German soldier who is basically shanghaied to Bonn and forced to spy on the West for the hyper-paranoid Communists.  I was only 8 years old at the time, so didn’t have a great understanding of what was going on.  I do however remember getting the then latest Raymond Briggs animated book “When the Wind Blows” – it was rather darker than “The Snowman”, “Father Christmas”, and “Fungus the Bogeyman”!  And “War Games” with Matthew Broderick had a similar impact.

What is shocking is how close the world has come to nuclear annihilation on more than one occasion, and usually as the result of misunderstandings and misinterpretation.  D83 is set during the preparations for NATO’s Able Archer military exercises.  Against a backdrop of increasingly aggressive rhetoric and posturing, and US plans to deploy medium range nuclear missiles right on their doorstep in West Germany, the Communists became convinced that the supposed war games were simply cover (or indeed the build-up) for a real attack, and made extensive preparations towards getting their retaliation in first.

But earlier in 1983 (and not covered in the TV series) there was another equally close call.  On three separate occasions in September the Soviet nuclear early warning radar system detected launches of missiles from bases in the US.  Fortunately, a Soviet Air Defence Forces officer named Stanislav Petrov concluded that these must be “false positives” on the basis that any US attack would be massive, and not the single missiles supposedly observed.   

Even after the break-up of USSR, and the end of the Cold War, there have been near misses.  In 1995, a group of US and Norwegian scientists launched a rocket in northern Norway for research purposes.  Despite informing 30 countries, including Russia, the information wasn’t communicated properly up the chain, and the Russians mistook it for a submarine-launched Trident missile headed for Moscow.  The nuclear briefcase was brought to Boris Yeltsin and turned on in anger for the first and only time in history.  Thankfully his finger wasn’t too twitchy on the trigger, and it soon became apparent that the rocket was not in fact moving towards Russian airspace.

I digress however.

Aside from the box sets, I said that I’ve been eating and drinking too much.  And given the lack of training, have put on a bit of extra timber.  I’m not yet in danger of hitting the weight I was in this photo (from Christmas 2012):-

... but I’ve resolved to go back to the boxing circuit training that helped me lose two stones in 6 months, and gave me the confidence to join Dunbar RC.

Another reason for wanting to return is down to my theory of what might have been causing my injury issues.  After struggling to pinpoint the precise problem for much of the past 3 months (was it my left calf, my left hamstring, or my left achilles?!) it dawned on me in the week before Lasswade that the best description was of it being like an electrical fault – sparks jumping from place to place.  Which led me to the conclusion that I was suffering from sciatica.  A quick Googlevestigation suggested that sciatic nerve issues were likely short-term and would resolve themselves – make yourself comfortable through pain relief and press on as best you can.  So, reassured that I couldn’t really do myself any damage, I took a couple of ibuprofen and went out hard in the race.

The first couple of miles went well, and the pace was good.  But not long after climbing back out of Roslin Glen (approaching 3 miles) the spasming in my left leg started to return.  While I could drive off of my right leg, the left felt weak and liable to collapse.  The pace gradually slowed as the tightness in my left leg got progressively worse – so much so that I had to stop to stretch it out at around the 6 mile mark.  After that, I decided that I’d carry on but coast to the finish as by that point the race had long gone.  It therefore came as a bit of a shock when my left hamstring went pop at 9 and a half miles, and I had to more or less hop the remainder.

But despite the apparent contradiction of the actual muscle damage, there might yet be something in the sciatica self-diagnosis.  The lady who gives me my massages (Jenny) says that sciatic symptoms often have their (literal) root in the glutes.  The nerve feeds either behind or through (depending on who you are) the piriformis, and if the piriformis is not functioning properly then it can put pressure on the nerve and cause it to become inflamed.  After asking me to switch my glutes on in turn, it seems that the right piriformis is firing properly, but the left is not.  If it is not firing then other muscles and tendons have to pick up the slack, but are not designed to do so.  Hence my blown hamstring, and hence the succession of IT band problems I had last year.  Although just a theory, it fits, and has given me hope.  If I can fix my glutes then I might fix everything!

So that’s why I am back at boxing.  Strengthen the glutes and the core, and become a better runner.  In hindsight, the boxing training gave me a fantastic platform from which to add on running training, and saw me make real progress in 2014 and the first half of 2015.  But having given boxing up in favour of running alone, my all-round fitness declined, I became more injury-prone, and my running has suffered.  Apologies if I am the only one for whom this is a revelation, but I’m going to make sure that I bring more balance to my training from now on!

I had my first tentative 3 miler last night, and am pleased to report that it went ok.