29 March 2009

St Anton and fame

No running this week - skiing again. I decided to repeat last year’s trick of emailing everyone I know and seeing who wanted to come along, so we ended up with 29 of us (and four poor randoms) in the Chalet Regina, under the care of the lovely Dee, who did a really great job of looking after us.

There was plenty of snow - if anything, too much! A few of us had luckily booked a guide (the lovely Martina from Piste to Powder) for the Tuesday and Thursday and we ended up in ridiculous amounts of powder on both days. Despite some of the most enjoyable skiing of my life and a lot of other fun too, there’s no disguising that a holiday like this is not in any way healthy and I now need to sleep for a very long time. After that, I need to get back running again, as www.mapmyrun.com has just informed me I have only done 25 miles this month, although I have admittedly climbed some stairs and skied down some mountains.

In other news, the Guardian Online published my write-up of the Vertical Rush event a couple of weeks ago! Impressive (until you hear that I know someone who works there, which might have helped). Still, at least it might mean that someone ends up reading this blog – they included a link to it at the end. We’ll see...

19 March 2009

Vertical Rush


1. Finishing.
2. Overtaking the person who started first in my heat about half way up, Sky TV's Gladiator "Tempest". She is hotter in real life.
3. £900 for Shelter.


1. Too many people - I started way back in my group and they got in the way, so I only finished in 7:38, 169th out of 593. How the winner did it in 4:22 I really don't know.
2. How I felt at the top - legs were fine but my lungs were burning.

Same again next year, but I'll try harder.

15 March 2009

Trail running in Pembrokshire

I managed to persuade my friends Al and Rob to enter a "half marathon" run earlier in the year. After a 5 hour drive down to Broad Haven on Friday afternoon and a quiet evening eating pasta in our rented apartment, we found ourselves at the start of what turned out to be a 14.8 mile race. To be fair, the organisers do warn that distances are only approximate but I think we were all a little concerned that the extra 1.7 miles might be a step too far. I was certainly a little concerned - this was to be my first ever trail run, I haven't run that far since my marathon in 2006 and the forecast in the previous week had always suggested a lot of wind whilst varying between pouring rain and cloudy conditions.

In the end, the weather was beautiful if a little blowy. The start was hilarious - after a 50 yards, we reached a staircase onto the cliffs that was only scalable in single file, leaving a trail of runners stretching out into the distance in front of us (they're visible at the top of the cliff in the photo on the right).

Both Al and Rob had professed to be "unfit" before the race, although there was little evidence of this as Rob hared off into the distance after we'd been running around 15 minutes. At this point, we'd been running quite hard and constantly climbing or descending as the path meandered along the coast so I slowed down, ran at my own pace (conveniently similar to Al's) and really enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

After 8 miles, the path turned inland and we left the stunning views for the run back, which was a bit of a shame. By then, though, my thoughts were much more on putting one foot in front of the other and getting round the course in one piece - the extra distance and uneven ground meant that it was much harder than standard half-marathon on the road. In the end, the beaches of Little Haven emerged back into view and the final little downhill run took me back down to the finish line in 2.11, with which I was enormously pleased. The run was followed up with a decent amount of beer, a nice cawl in the very pleasant Swan Inn (where we particularly enjoyed the influx - at around 5pm - of a dozen chunky local lads all without their shirts on) and, by 9.15pm, I'd passed out in bed.

A couple of thank yous: to Al for driving us down, and to all those who thought they were going to enjoy a nice Saturday morning walk along the coast only to be confronted by hundreds of sweaty people haring it along the paths. Sorry!

10 March 2009


My first special training event will be next week's jaunt in aid of homelessness charity Shelter. Known as 'Vertical Rush', it will involve climbing London's second-tallest building, Tower 42 (the old NatWest Tower).

I remember reading an article about tower running a few months back and thinking "wow, that sounds cool". A couple of weeks ago, I saw a poster in Bank tube advertising Vertical Rush and wanted to get involved. I then re-read the original article after registering and present selected quotations here:

"Tower runners all talk of one universally shared experience - the pain"
"After my first race, I puked in a garbage can. Everyone high-fived me"
"Tower runners love to relate stories of elite marathon runners who assume they'll cruise to the top, only to drop out in a crumpled heap on the 43rd floor"

Luckily, Tower 42 is only 42 floors high and I'm not an elite marathon runner, so the last comment definitely won't apply to me. Nevertheless, the write-up worried me enough to take the organiser's suggestion of training a little. So, at lunchtime today, I found myself climbing the the Monument (right), which happens to be about three minutes from my office. Built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London, the viewing platform is 311 steps up, 160 feet above the ground. This makes it a quarter of the height of Tower 42 (although with one third of the steps - clearly they had short legs in the 17th Century) - so a good training run rather than anything directly comparable to next Thursday's event.

Bugger me, it hurt. The first half was OK. The second half left me gasping for breath, with my thighs and calves burning. The real event will be exceptionally unpleasant. The only vaguely good thing was managing to get this snap from the top - Tower 42 is the very tall building in the centre of the pic.

Finally, I'd like to give a big thank you to Dos Hermanos and the Guild of Fine Food, which organises the Great Taste Awards, for my dinner tonight. The former are a couple of well-known food bloggers, who organised a fantastic dinner a couple of weeks ago at Vinoteca - my second meal there, but easily as good as my first visit (the mutton pie was awesome). At the dinner, in exceptionally uncharacteristic style, I won a hamper that was organised by the latter.

Having now munched my way through a load of the "3-star gold winners", I can confirm that the wild boar salami from the Real Boar Company is awesomely piggy and genuinely complex, Products From Spain's manchego is really excellent given I don't normally find it that particular cheese especially exciting, Hi-T's fudge rocks (it won the 'fudge, plain, including vanilla' category after all) and CoCouture's Irish Whisky Truffles were worthy winners of the 'dark truffles with alcohol' class. The reason I'm writing about this now is that my dinner is one of Harvies Pies steak pies. They have made me a happy man...

I met a bunch of great guys at the dinner, mainly food bloggers (links to their sites are on the right of this page). I felt a little humbled in their presence, given my readership averages (I think) in the mid-to-low single-digits, whereas theirs is in the hundreds or thousands. In some ways I'd like to write a food blog of my own. On the other hand, somehow food seems so integral to my life that it seems a bit odd to want to write about it as though it is something noteworthy, rather than it being a sine qua non. I can't contemplate life without being able to eat well; this blog only exists because I still think of running as somehow alien to me, given my still-'sturdy' build.

08 March 2009

Animals I / social animals

I kinda started the blog in order to add some interest to my runs. I now find myself trying a little to spice up the blog with a semi-permanent theme/riff, which will be: London's animals. Not actual animals, mind - just its permanent (or semi-permanent) fauna. I've observed a lot of these in the last few weeks whilst running around the place and they should make for good sport. They tend to be rather unusual creatures - often carnivorous, rarely native to these shores and sometimes not even real. To get us kicked off, let's move from the sublime (the WWI Royal Air Force memorial, completed in 1923):

to the rather more prosaic:

On a different note, following this article in the Guardian recently about how runners rarely acknowledge each other, I tried an experiment. It was a genuinely beautiful sunny day today, and I felt no difficulty in summoning up a cheery smile and "good morning" for all the runners that I passed. Given that I went on a 10 mile run (West along the North Bank of the Thames to Battersea, then back along the South), there were plenty of people to greet.

It rapidly became apparent that the running community is indeed miserable. After the first few people, I learned that the best hope of a response was to make eye contact around 20 yards before passing the next runner, followed by a nod of the head (15 yards) and then finally the aforementioned "morning" (3-5 yards). Even this resulted in maybe only a 15% acknowledgement rate (and half of those were women who looked at me like I was some kind of molester).

I think the bottom line is this. Many runners listen to MP3 players and thus don't greet anyone at all. Many women are afraid that interacting with strangers is an open invitation for abuse. Greeting runners is a bit arbitrary anyway - why only say hi to them whilst ignoring every other pedestrian that one passes? And finally, I suspect that many runners don't enjoy their pastime very much and do it for reasons of virtue rather than enjoyment - they simply aren't in the mood for interaction. All of which is a shame. I am minded to continue in my efforts to greet people from now on, despite their lack of enthusiasm, in a one-man effort to... dunno... something, anyway.

07 March 2009

Ski touring

No running for the last week, because I've been off learning to walk uphill on skis on a course with the International School of Mountaineering, based in Leysin. Unfortunately, we were severely restricted by some appalling weather, which left us with a huge amount of snow but also a great deal of wind, whiteness, avalanche risk etc.

After a couple of days of learning the ropes, including an ascent of Pic Chaussy, the supposed highlight of the week - a couple of days in the Great St Bernard Hospice, where some monks invented the brandy-carrying dogs - turned into a bit of a nightmare. We skinned up in horrible conditions and hung around for a pleasant night in the Hospice. On setting off the next morning, we triggered a mini-avalanche within 10 yards of the front door, decided discretion was the better part of valour and we just set off back down the mountain again. Through the Combe des Morts - the "Valley of Death" - so called because of its avalanche risk. Great.

Luckily, like my recent visit to Chamonix, this trip was saved by the last day - a climb of the Gros Châtillon. The weather was a bit less severe (the summit is only at 1,840m versus the Hospice at 2,470m) but there wasn't much of a view beyond our immediate surroundings. Luckily these were the most incredible snow-laden trees - it was pretty spectacular.

The ski down, through the ~18" of recent snowfall, was good enough to make up for the previous couple of days.

Am I now a fan of ski touring? I enjoyed lots of things about it - the tranquility (particularly when compared to a traditional ski resort), the sense of achievement on climbing a hill, the sense that one should try to ski down as well as possible and not "waste" any of the ascent, the freedom to roam wherever you want rather than being constrained by lifts and the aerobic element, just to name a few things. If I lived somewhere snowy, I think I'd happily tour a lot - it's like going for a good mountain walk, with the added bonus of skiing down at the end. However, for me, with only a week or two of skiing per year, I think my time on the slopes is too precious to spend it walking up them as well as caning it down. Having said that, I'm sure I'll be back for a proper hut-to-hut tour at some point in the not too distant future - the West Oberland Haute Route, also run by ISM and involving "superb north-facing (powder) slopes giving about 1000m of descent each day, and beautiful backdrops of huge limestone cliffs and the peaks of the Swiss Valais" sounds pretty cool!

Finally, a big "thank you" to Terry, who taught and guided us last week and generally kept us out of trouble, and thanks also to those on the course who were, for the most part, an entertaining bunch.