Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Travel Gremlins

It's been a day...

A long day...

A trip to work's office in Basingstoke is never particularly straight forward but...


The first train at just before 6am - decided to tell us there was a signalling fault, and sat at the station for five extra minutes... and then crept into Liverpool.

The Virgin down to London was for once only 10 minutes late - or ON TIME as we've come to accept it...

The Tube, for once worked like a dream...

And then Waterloo...

At this point I feel duty bound to say I have a fair grasp on my faculties, and am capable of walking significant distances...

Platform numbers weren't showing, so asked one person in uniform, got sent to a platform where the train wasn't going to Basingstoke... So asked another, different platform.... still not going to Basingstoke... Ask a third... and he checks his app...

Get on the train... and the guard tells me I'm on the slow, stopping train... and there was a faster one leaving behind us, but it was too late to run across the platforms.

So Basingstoke... Pity the instructions on getting to the office said for those on the train get a cab... unless you were driving, in which case park in town, and walk from the town centre.
Good meeting, went well...

Walk back to the station... 15 minutes...

I even got the slightly earlier train from Basingstoke that gave me a half chance of getting the earlier train home... Guess what the earlier train  was late, I missed my connection by a minute... 

The journey was slightly unpleasant by the lady next to me over spilling her seat somewhat, and tucking her legs diagonally into mine - normally if I'm feeling that much warm thigh I at least have been on a date!  If it was a come-on it didn't work, and the seats aren't that bloody small!
Anyway, back to the travel If New Street had been organised a bit better and I hadn't been given directly contradictory directions I may have made it to the connection. If station redesigners want to see how NOT to do things, so to New Street now... as well as my experience, see later for the lengths they're having to go to.  

No worries, I'm only on the train I'd planned on with time for a coffee...
Have coffee...

Walk back... Discover that you now can't get through the shopping centre to get through to the station. No worries plenty of time to get to the 17:01...

The 17:01 has been cancelled due to a 'staff issue'...

Get given two contradictory sets of instructions to get home...

And spot that New Street is so bad that for some platforms they have walking guides taking you on a merry trip around the place to get to your platform. IF IT IS THAT BAD YOU NEED TO DO MORE THAN SHOUT AT PEOPLE TO FOLLOW YOU!

The penultimate train with at least double its normal complement of people, and I've won a table with a family that look like they've come out of cloning tubes... who get off a few stops later and get replaced by a loud child... I'm sorry people by now I've been on the go for 12 hours...
And guess what, that train is delayed by about 10 minutes...

Miss the next connection... fortunately they are every 15 minutes.

And in a final irony of the day, my train sat outside of my station as there was a signalling fault.
A 14h day... good job it was a good meeting...

Sorry, no running today.. I need an early night!



Sunday, 19 July 2015

Running for Charity...

A couple of people have asked for my tips and tricks for running for charity in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I'd write a summary of my sage advice...

1) Some charities have places in run, others don't, some put on their own events. 

If a charity has places in a big run, then they will have paid for it (and on top of the cost the run would charge you there may be an admin cost from the race organiser for bulk bookings, the admin of managing finding the runners etc).

If they don't then see below.

If they put on their own event then expect the events to be more fun and more loved than others - my favourite 10k, the Mad Dog, is run by the local rotary and supports their good works.  It's not the cheapest 10k run I've done, but its one I've done every year since it started.

2) Fundraising targets - check, check, check... If a charity is giving you a target then be honest, will you make it?  As a minimum please cover costs (and try for awareness if you can't make a bit of extra).  Some charities (normally bigger ones) will ask you to sign a contract for some events, and will expect you to pay the minimum even if you don't get the sponsorship... Yes, seriously, and some (very big ones), will charge you an admin fee for some popular events.

3) If a charity doesn't have places... Then think about getting your own.  I've done races/events in every part of the UK, there are only two that I've ever had to enter a ballot for... The Great North Run and the London Marathon.  GNR I've been lucky every year I've applied through the ballot and London, once in seven years.

Not getting into London is probably the best thing that happened to me as a runner.  By the time London came around I'd done 5 or 6 marathons or Ultras.  The distance wasn't a problem, the emotion... well, doing anything after 6 years of waiting is bound to be a tad emotional.

Find a local run, try and get into the local paper, have local support - I have friends who only see me run in Southport, or Liverpool who'd never get to Newcastle or London.   When you run a big run, there's support for everyone, from everyone...

4) There are some events that ask for your running pedigree - normally to work out where to put you in the pens, or in some more extreme events as a safety check.

If you're a speedy runner, and have the evidence, you may be fast enough to get a Good For Age place - in which case I'll see you at the end, and the pint is on you ;-)

5) Getting the cash - ask the charity which method works best for them; justgiving takes a small percentage to cover their costs, virginmoney doesn't take anything out.. But ask.

I'm not into doing baking, stalls etc, so I just ask and keep asking.  If your work will match funds, then ask them to.  If you are a dab hand at baking (or something else useful) then do it, it all helps.

Keep telling people how much you're training, tell them your highs and lows - make it their journey as well as yours.  Some people have doubled their sponsorship of me when they realise just how much hard work training for something is.
Electronic money is a lot easier than cash... but never say no!  E-money via the websites also makes getting giftaid (free money!) a lot easier.

6) Bottom Line!

a) If you want to do an event, then applying yourself will normally be cheaper for the charity than taking a place they've booked (but ask)
b) Check how best to raise cash for them
c) Have fun and enjoy your run!!!

And never forget just because it's not the GNR doesn't mean its not a half marathon, and all marathons are the same length as London...



Sunday, 21 June 2015

A scientist in a world of religion

I've said bits of this before, but a month after submitting my last assignment is about right for some more serious reflection.

I'm a scientist whose pretty much worked in science for the last 20 years. I'm not a bench, lab or field scientist (though I've dabbled with all of them), I'm an applied scientist. Sometimes working in my specialty, sometimes working from first principles.

So why do a course in religious controversies... A332 is it's code number.

Why not? Is my first response... My more considered, with that wry smile my friends know and fear, is I'm doing this OU degree for the challenge, the fun and to regain some of that love of learning that it's so easy to lose.

I'd also classify myself as a confident, but not overly strident atheist, frankly I don't care what you believe, I do care if you foist it on others or make people live by your rules.

I'm by inclination and training I'm an analyst, but I'm an extrovert who learns discussion. So the OU is a strange experience, much of it on my own. At this point I should thank my climbing friends and lunch partners, they've been battered this last year as I've finessed arguments, and looked for them to prod for rot.

So, what have I learned - nuance. It's very ready to take a simple reactionary position, based on your perceived position. This course has been excellent in challenging us, it's willing victims, to go behind the headlines - was Ghandi a great man, or a politician with an eye for young ladies; did the Romans think Jesus mad; what impact do multicultural policies have, for the good of society or the bad; what drives people to be suicide bombers and how does ask this affect, at one extreme the individual, and at the other, international politics.

So into this I did go. With a little trepidation, how would an atheist fare? First up I wasn't alone, second up very few people ended up being challenged on what they believe.  The formal OU forums had a curious feel at times when some individuals chose to forget that the art of communication is adapting to your audience, or tried to impose a world view on others. Yes, it went to the moderators... I don't know what formally happened but the individual disappeared for a while and life returned to normal.

The informal forum on Facebook, had I think less issues, we had the odd argument and some strident people turf up, but the shared interest and willingness to learn from each other made it a safe haven as journal papers, TMAs, the EMA and dreaded Harvard referencing got on top of us.

The online communities are characterised by their robust politeness and willingness (odd individuals apart) to recognise that in the OU we all have different backgrounds and that means we have to explain and change how we explain our positions much more than in any other academic discussion.

My course feedback suggested they need to tweak the bits on Dawkins & Darwin. It may have been deliberate to show one side of the argument, but unless you knew or were inclined to check it could easily have been accepted as fact - it's the nuance that is critical. My essay on that bit got my favourite comment ever from a tutor "wow!".

My tutor group was a good mix, of good people, with the bunnies of two groups trying to meet up so we had extra brains. Salford uni on a study is never going to be buzzing, but the debates provided a spark in barren wasteland (trust me, you can't buy coffee!! The tutors bought biscuits).

So, the long wait for the final results had started, somewhere in the country a marker is, probably with a well deserved wine in hand, giggling through my 3000 words. I enjoyed writing them, I just hope they answer the question in a way they appreciate.

So, thanks to the forumites (official & unofficial), my tutor group and tutor. My marks are my fault, but you made it a blast!!! And I now get even more angry at poor reporting, it used to just be science, now its religious did as well!!



Friday, 19 June 2015

Now things get interesting...

Well, the race strategy worked, and my ability to judge things was tested and didn't fail.  The Rock and Roll Marathon Weekend in Liverpool was many things but flat and cool it wasn't.

A great fun 5K, racing a quintet of Disney Princesses and a large number of Elvis', complete with a stupendous arena finish with black lights and pounding rock music... It doesn't get much better than that!

Apart from it does...

Because after the 5k comes the main event - for me a half marathon... Liverpool Half Marathon's have a couple of interesting elements - mostly the hills, definitely the parks (and the humidity) and the headwind along the prom.  And yet, with bands blasting out at regular intervals, well stocked and volunteered water and fuel stations it was fun - and my fastest half in Liverpool by 5 minutes, and 10 minutes faster than the flatness of Cambridge.

What a difference training makes :-)

As an added bonus there was a pint of cider and the best, blingiest medals EVER!!!

And so after a busy week at work, and no running my thinking goes forward - the next big race is the Chester Marathon.  According the profile, and the views of friends who've run it it's flat. 
I have a two element plan - one build up to a single 20 mile run - looking at the stats from my other marathon training the second 20 miler added nothing, I know its meant to be a confidence thing, but I know I will finish, so this is just about getting fit and leaving plenty in the legs for the big day.
The second element is to get tough, my normal running routes aren't flat - they're in Liverpool but they're not the sort of hills I love to walk up - so when I hit the hills there'll be a run built in.  If I'm doing a multiday walk there'll be at least one hard-day.
So this weekend is the start, a weekend of walking, with a c8mile run in the morning on Sunday.
It won't be fast but it will be fun.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Time for a race strategy...

One of the great things about the Rock and Roll Marathon series is they genuinely cater for all runners, unlike some where the half marathon pacers go 2:15 or faster they have some out to 3:00 and back markers as well - http://www.runrocknroll.com/liverpool/news/2015/05/cep-pacer-gallery/

Which gives me a dilemma:

Start and try and stay with the 2:30 pacers (Ange and Helen),


Start with the 2:45 pacers (Guy and Robbie) and try and have enough in the tank for a fast last 5km along the river...

Partly it will come down to the day.  Partly it will come down to how the horrendous first hill goes, if I'm moving easy and keeping steady up Upper Parliament Street then I'll keep with the 2:30.

Worst case scenario is blasting out (for me) with the 2:15 pacer and then watching the 2:30 & 2:45 go past...

Why not go for the PB?  Basically, cos to do that I'd be running faster than I have in the last month.  I should, being a race tart, get a bit of a lift - it's the ego thing, I have an audience!

Also its a curious thing about half marathons, I don't tend to get good training in for them, my two fastest have come off the back of marathon or ultra-training. So, going out to 13.1 for the second time this year, in much better shape than Cambridge, will be good.  That said Cambridge has two "hills" both bridges you have to get over... Liverpool is not fast and flat, but it is (well the Rock and Roll version) fun and also bling-tastic.

I'll be getting a medal for the half, and one for the 5km on the Saturday... and a medal for doing both... and a medal for doing the marathon last year and the half this... FOUR stonking medals!!!!

And two technical t-shirts... and a free beer... and music, around the course and at the after party!

So, I'm gently carbo-loading, I've a 5km tomorrow evening and then I rest... Well I'm off to the British Cardiovascular Society meeting as a patient "voice" and I have long days of meeting at work...

Then Friday is the Expo, pick up the race packs... Trot the 5km on Saturday morning... then David Sedaris on Saturday night... then run 13.1 :-)

It's easy when you say it fast and don't mention the dilemmas...



Friday, 29 May 2015

and breathe... it's time for fish, chips and curry sauce

It's almost done, the End of Module Assignment - EMA in the secret Open University code language - is written, and a friend is proof reading it before I send it in.  For better or worse its done.

With a course as wide ranging in time, space, and philosophies, I'd be surprised if any of us on the course have taken the same route to an answer, let alone have any commonality in our choice and use of independent references.

So hopefully, I'm a fiddle and a re-read away from finishing my first third year course with the OU.  

Have I learnt anything?

My core of scientific based atheism is unchanged, my belief that the world is held back by the energy wasted on religion is unchanged. 

My appreciation of some people has greatly increased, Rabbi Regina Jonas' story should be taught to anyone and everyone about how you can treat people with inhumanity not just by torturing and killing them, but by trying to forget they existed.  If you read nothing else I prattle on about please look at this one - http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/culture/religious-studies/regina-jonas-the-first-female-rabbi

I have a wider appreciation of why some people do things that I find truly odd, and I've developed a fascination with the hijab as an art form, seriously the layering, the possibilities for accessorising and then the economic, cultural and religious overlays on that. Watch - https://youtu.be/QB9IJb9wSxY 

Throw in properly looking at how fashion can limit how groups interact, and display power relationships, and I'm in a world that sweaty running gear has not equipped me for.

And that's the point, whether I was looking at fashion in South East India or working out what the feck dispensational pre-milleniumism is, and its impact on foreign policy, I was in a world that I barely knew, and now know exists.

The challenge of learning something new, outside your comfort zone is one I enjoy.  Yes at times (yoga and intellectual property rights springs to mind) it was a bit of a trudge, but those were the days when I watched the hijab videos and smiled, or re-read Rabbi Jonas' story and got angry.

So what now, now I await the comments and focus on getting a good essay in.

And then I have a summer of fun.  Walks to walk, a half marathon in a couple of weeks, and marathon training to do. And then I'm back in the arts world - Renaissance Art reconsidered, an in depth look at some beautiful art I like, and the new stuff - how it was made, and what meanings were implicit and explicit in the art forms.

So, tonight is Fish Chips and Curry sauce.  I've a 10k to do this weekend (my plan has slipped due to the cold/hay fever combo that has wiped me out this week) it's time to plan adventures big and small (and read some books for fun!).



Sunday, 24 May 2015

Writer's Block and Irritations of Life

The postmodern irony version of this post would be a blank page...

However, I'm hoping my usual mutterings and mumblings will leak into the academic part of my brain and let me get beyond the 10% of my final OU essay that I'm currently stuck on... Part of that's my fault, I'm gambling big with a large multifaceted approach to the question which makes juggling the elements a little more difficult and piecing them together an headache.

However, stuck in the doldrums of the Newfoundland and Rotherham Sex scandals and their religious components is not a place anyone can lurk for long without getting angry...

Which is a slight problem as I'm angry enough this week.  Two promotion applications, two sets of feedback not calling me for interview.  One set I fully accept, its was a tilt at windmills job and the feedback is about what I would expect - need more big team management (as a scientist, I have more management experience than almost all of my peers, as an Administrator less so).  The second, well I was taught on my sifting and interviewing course that you should always remember that people will have put a lot of time and effort into applications and that as someone doing a sift I had an obligation to them, and to the organisation, to give good, actionable feedback and to do it with respect.

Which is why I tend to see red when the feedback is you need to do the job in the higher band, and whoever put it in the system left typos in and didn't have the courtesy of proofreading it (a couple of sentences make no sense whatsoever).

There could be a good reason, but quite frankly none of them stack up against that central ethos of doing a job properly.

Which probably comes across as a bit bitter... and probably is, but I've been passing selection panels for the next band up for a decade, and under our system that means nothing to anyone (apart from me, and a collection of frustrated, and unsure what advice, to give managers). When someone from HR does a career review and comes to the conclusion that I "just need some luck", I drag down my copy of the Civil Service code and look for the references to luck...

Ho hum...

Back to running stuff...

I'm a published running article writer!!!! Odd, I know for a blog starting with writers block...

Like The Wind Magazine is a brilliant running magazine that focuses on the why we run, rather than the how... And they liked and published an autobiographical piece on why I run.

Most of it will be familiar to those who've read this blog over the years, but as ever I hope it shows what can be done from the back of the pack.

I'm in the final bits of training for the Liverpool Rock and Roll Half - after doing Cambridge off the back of one eight mile run, my training for this has gone well... Out to ten miles once, bits of speed work, and back up to team miles next weekend before a short one week taper. 

So all in all a mixed week, and now back to abusive priests and cab drivers...


Of course, me being me my annual bout of hayfever has kicked in so my 5k efforts run last night was a no-no, and Today's 10k run will depend if I can breathe and see... The good news is that I tend to get hayfever for three days...

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Restaurant Review - Maritime Dining Rooms; Liverpool

I do so like a challenge, so following a text from me saying how good my Sunday lunch was a mate sent the challenge back that he "Expected the Jay Rayner style review soon"... So with apologies to my favourite restaurant critic.

The Maritime Dining Rooms at the Liverpool Maritime Museum could easy be yet another National Trust style "tea and bun emporium" with tacky links to the latest displays and a creeping sense of lavender impregnation. 

Almost hidden on the third floor of the converted dock building, the best seats are those either looking at the iconic Three Graces, only recently spoilt by the black monstrosity of a new build, put up with all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer through an Old Master, or the Albert Dock, surprisingly busy with a range of sailing boats, narrow boats and the occasional giant swan pedalo.

With unfussy, pleasant efficiency the table is taken and menu arrives, only tea as I've a run tonight, and the roast beef is ordered. 

And arrives, no fuss, no condiments - rapidly sorted with a small pot of English mustard, of the type made 24h beforehand with double the recommended amount of mustard.  Hot, but flavoursome, with a viscosity that drapes over the beef like a velvet curtains in a Rubens painting.

The beef is just the right side of pink, thickly cut with well cooked darkened edges. It is appropriately resistant to the knife, textured like beef should be looking like a cross between slowly setting lava and well cut marble.  Robust flavours hold up well against the mustard, the onion marmalade adding body and a slight cut to the rich gravy. The roast potatoes are as they should be, crunchy and brittle on the outside, encrustations of roast potato on the sharp edges braking off at the merest touch, and under the thick layer the innards are steamingly yielding.  The quenelle (are they still called that?) of mashed, buttery swede adds smooth to the crunch and the perfect bitterness of the broccoli.

If the meat on a Sunday roast is the masterpiece, then the Yorkshire pudding is the cartoon.  Sharp edges, soft and succulent bottom (Rubens would be proud), absorbing the last of the gravy, meat bits and remaining encrustations of potato like a luscious edible mop.

Perfection on a plate? I'm not really qualified to say, but it works for me, and for £10 it is very hard to think of anything better.

TTFN I've a five mile run this evening


Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Giant Boobie Blog

It's been a weekend of good running, managing to get out to my running club's monthly 5km - it's still a little odd to think I've joined a running club, but these guys and gals are amongst the friendliest bunch of lunatics you can ever meet... http://www.knowsleyharriers.com/

So, a good 5k, my sixth fastest ever...

Liverpool has a couple of very good 10ks, the Mad Dog up in Southport and the Spring 10k.  A flattish, fastish 10k with excellent organisation and a decent t-shirt, medal and goody bag... complete with a tin of salmon... Not sure why, but hey ho, its protein!

And so on to the giant boobies...

In my runs I've; tangled with Chinese Dragons in Manchester, been tripped up by a banana, been given a dead leg by a dog, chased someone carrying a Angel of the North made out of 4 by 2, been overtaken by a 9' foam nurse and was almost given a horn enema by someone running the London Marathon as a rhino.

Today, however, was the first time I've been sideswiped by a giant boobie... and then almost ran in to the back of another one... The Cop A Feel running boobies are giant boobs, worn like a rucksack and they tend to sway from side to side as the runner carrying them runs...

Which is fine when you know that's what has sideswiped you, that momentary distraction of something cold, mildly fluffy and yielding bumps into your side is an unusual feeling until you can work out what its is...

And despite the obvious distraction it was my 8th fastest 10k.

So all in a good weekend of running, boobs and tins of salmon... next week is back to work, which takes me away and the challenge that running when shacked up in a hotel brings...



Sunday, 5 April 2015

Situation normal... well normal for me...

As some people may have picked up I had a check up this week, to hear the results of the MRI, the 24h tape and the exercise test I had following the last check up.

Well, there are two sides to the data...

The MRI confirms the echo that I have severe pulmonary regurgitation... and also confirms there's no sign of anything getting worse since the last MRI (4 years ago).

The ECG shows very little change.

The exercise test says I'm as fit as a 43 year old without a heart condition.

And I've run a half marathon, a 10k and a night trail run so far this year and am back up to running three times a week.

So, the docs are going to have a case conference, and I'm in the same position as I've been for the last 27 years.  One set of data says there's a need to seriously think about open heart surgery to replace the valve and one set of data says leave well alone - he's running frigging marathons!

So, I shall wait for the docs to have their "Multi-Discipline Team" meeting and then we may have another chat, if that happens in the next six months great, if not my next check up is scheduled for the week after the Chester Marathon. Ok, between then and now I've got at least one 10k, a couple of half marathons and a long distance path or two, but that's normal.

So how did I celebrate this return to normality - in the only way I know how, a decent lunch followed by buying some running shoes...

As ever Natterjack Running did me proud, I tried four brands, six shoes... and the one's I loved I had to be dragged off the treadmill to stop me wearing them out.  I don't have particularly odd feet, I'm an heavy overpronator with mildly duck-like feet.  Given the miles I run minimalist shoes aren't very sensible, and I like a reasonable amount of ankle support.

So, the ones that won my hard earned cash...

Gel Kayano 21s... The upgrade from last years shoes.  The only thing I don't like?  The inner sole, which is fine I have a gently orthotic foot bed that fits :-)  And boy do they come in a bright colour

I can justify the literal glow-in-the-dark scheme by the number of times cyclists have almost taken me out... but really I just like they, they exude a glow as I run in the dusk that warms the cockles of my heart.

And despite my three a week limit for runs, I cracked in under 24h and took them out for a 5k... and it the fastest 5 k of the year, and a clear sign that things are progressing.  I paid for it on today's run - the hills were deeply unpleasant, but I run a lot more than I did even a fortnight ago.

Which is good news, I'm building up slowly to the Spring 10k and the Rock and Roll half in Liverpool to make them more enjoyable than the Cambridge Half and the Mad Dog (both runs I love, but I don't recommend doing either on bugger all training).

So new shoes, a new zip in my legs and a "hold until called" from the cardiologists all is good :-) So on with the OU essay and back to the miles... And it feels good to say that!