Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Out Of Season

There’s a bit of a commotion outside as I get ready for work this morning. L has only just taken MD out seconds earlier; surely he can’t be in trouble already... Suddenly he is hauled back through the front door in disgrace. In his defence I would say that it was the fault of a particular Jack Russell that had attacked him recently and had chosen that precise moment to walk down our street. So hardly surprising MD was gunning for him. If he’s entitled to gun for anyone, it must be that Jack Russell.

A disappointing pub lunch. Standards aren’t what they used to be. Cold pasta. Yum. Should have complained really but we were in a rush.

Squash. I’m back on a roll and get my one game. It really should have been two. The post-game is good too. Free chip butties in the pub and 6.4% ale on the bar. A sort of Christmas cake and rum sauce flavour. A bit out of season perhaps but very nice. Unfortunately I only get to sip L’s, as I’m driving.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Was There

On the bike today. The old legs don’t feel up to it but they often don’t, yet once I actually started pedalling they never seem as bad as they did before I started. Again this seems to hold true today. The rain holds off as well but it’s a tad chilly.

Apparently it’s exactly 20 years today since the notorious poll tax riots in central London. I remember it well and this is one of the few times when I can genuinely say, I was there. No I hadn’t gone there to riot or even to protest as it happens. I got involved by complete accident. Honest. A friend and I had travelled down to London that day to see Derby play at Chelsea. This is slightly ironic because in those days Stamford Bridge was the place you went if you wanted a good riot, not Trafalgar Square, but the match went off without incident and in glorious sunshine as I recall. The score, if you’re interested, was 1-1. We even spent the morning by the Thames watching the build up to the varsity boat race. It was, until later at least, a very leisurely day.

Then post-match we headed into central London to meet up with another friend and to grab a beer or two. We hopped on to the tube and then got off to complete mayhem. As a chap ran past us brandishing a scaffolding pole we quickly decided that the best thing to do was a complete u-turn, get back on the tube and move on but... with a great sense of timing, they suddenly decided to close the tube station for safety reasons. Who’s safety? Certainly not ours. So we set out across the war zone to find one that was open. It was an interesting walk as we waded through the broken glass of the shattered shop frontages and past the overturned and sometimes burning cars. Then my mate suddenly yells ‘duck’. Just in time as a bottle smashes on the wall just above my head. Nice.

Eventually we made it to an open tube station, got the hell of there, found our friend and got that beer from a safe distance. Watford I think it was. 20 years... is it really? Seems like yesterday.

My work colleague is on his bike today too and we kind of race home. I lead off but he jumps ahead of me at a roundabout. More fool him, it’s terribly windy, and so I opt to stay behind him, in his slipstream, the rest of the way. He can have his victory; I’ll have the easy ride.

I almost decided not to train MD tonight but then I had a horrible premonition about his first course on Friday which is his first proper Kennel Club event. After which the mere mention of the word ‘tyre’ brings me out in a cold sweat. MD may have to face this particular obstacle and we haven’t practiced it for ages. So, with that worry in my mind, I decided to go.

I went late, as I wasn’t involved in one of the organised sessions but when I arrived a 7.45, 45 minutes after the first class was supposed to start, everyone was stood outside in the cold. Locked out. No one had the master key and the spare had been mislaid... Honestly the clubs powers of organisation never cease to amaze me. Eventually someone turns up with a key and the first class kicks off an hour late just as the people for the second 2nd class start arriving.

For the record, I finally managed to get some training in but I think it's fair to say that if a tyre pops up in MD's course this weekend, we're stuffed.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Permission To Kick

L admits that ‘it wrenches to say it but perhaps I do need kicking out of bed early... oh dear, what am I saying?’ indeed. What is she saying? That sounds like permission to kick to me... but I haven’t the heart to do it this morning. Well not as I’m in no hurry myself as I’m taking the car to work today. If I had to get up early to run or something then I’d have had no such qualms.

Almost a pleasant drive to work as well, probably because its school holidays in Nottingham, although not yet in Derby.

Tonight, the first of a new series of training sessions for MD but hopefully I’ll be able to train them both. Details are sketchy though, so I’m taking nothing for granted given my club’s powers of organisation or lack of them.

When I get there I realise that there’s one crucial thing that they’ve forgotten to tell me. This venue doesn’t have a roof, it doesn’t even have sides, in fact it’s open air, on a hill and it’s been raining all day. Thankfully the rain largely holds off and it’s a good session. After which I am made to sign an oath in blood that I will train ‘whatever the weather’ to guarantee the trainers fee. I may live to regret that.

One thing that’s a first tonight is that the dogs get to see each other run for the first time. Usually one of them is in the car whilst the other is doing their stuff. Tonight there is room to tether them up by the training ground.

Doggo’s immediate reaction appears to be ‘hang on. What’s he up to? That’s my sport’ and he don’t seem too happy about it. Perhaps it might spur him on a bit and I might get another couple of years out of him if he doesn’t like MD stepping into his shoes.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

East European Retro

This morning I get the bus into work and gain first hand experience of Derby’s new bus station. I suppose you have to expect teething problems but it took us fifteen minutes from arriving at our usual dropping off point in Derby to getting to the bus station though all the lights/traffic and then queuing to park in the bay. Hope these are problems they can iron out or else it’s going to play havoc with the Red Arrow’s desire to always be early and where will they stack up all the Red Arrows when they arrive in pairs. Sometimes they even arrive in threes and when they up the frequency to every ten minutes, as they intend to, it could be in fours.

The bus station itself is a bit cramped inside but might be better when (if) it gets finished. Not that they seem to be even working on it any more. Rumour is there’s no rush as they can’t fill the shop and business units that will come with it.

Architecturally, it’s a wonderful piece of 1960's East European retro, in the style so favoured by the dictators of that era. Just what Derby needs; more grey metalwork and cladding. You half expect to see someone painting over the sign saying ‘Stasi’ and painting ‘Bus Station’ over the top.

There’s no dog training tonight, so the dogs get a run on the park which is now open until a staggeringly late 7.30 where it rains on us, of course.

Whilst I’m out I miss the fun as Leeds and Reading Festival tickets go on sale. Probably wise. I leave Daughter sat at the computer with her eyes and fingers on several ticket websites. I almost say ‘make sure you buy the right ones’ but I think to myself, don’t be stupid, she’s almost an adult, she knows what she’s doing...

Then half way around the park it dawns on me that she may be an adult but she’s still female (no offence) and she has recently gone pure Essex girl bleach blonde... but I’m sure she knows what she’s doing...

So it comes as no great surprise when I get back to find out that she has got a bit over excited and now is the proud owner of not only a ticket for the Leeds Festival but one for Reading too. It might be a tad difficult to keep her eye on so many stages, given certainly fairly obvious logistically problems.

She wonders why I’m not annoyed... you kind of get used to little setbacks like this after sixteen years. So if anyone wants a Reading ticket, click on the email link above.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mission Accomplished

The alarm goes at 6.30am but it feels more like 5.30am, this is probably because it is. Well it is, if you take back off the hour we’re just put on the clocks. L’s already awake. I’m impressed. Well until she tells me she’s had a largely sleepless night. I resist the temptation to tell her it’s only a cycle ride and how hard can it be... then there’s the risk of punctures and of getting lost... I keep quiet.

We get to Gresty Road and Crewe Alexandra’s Stadium as early as possible, sign in and then L lines up to start. I think she wants to get it over with as soon as possible. The fact that there are very few sets straight handlebars and even less sets of ‘real’ pedals probably doesn’t help her nerves.

The weather isn’t exactly warm and the sky is grey, threatening us with a soaking. All of which makes kit selection difficult. I can the shorts idea, go for full leg cover and even a jacket, which I don’t actually use as in the end the rain holds off all day. L has no such kit problems; she simply piles everything on and still complains of being cold afterwards.

There’s still ten minutes to go until the first riders start, so I fetch a calming cup of tea for her by then the queue has moved forward and I can’t find her. So two teas for me then. I can’t find her at all, so perhaps, with riders now starting in batches, she’s already started. I finish my teas, grab my bike and start to line up myself. My plan was to give her half an hour head start and then hopefully catch her at the first feed station, 27 miles in.

I start off a fairly leisurely pace, there are a few killer hills in the offing and all early on, so I want to make sure I’m in decent shape for them. Unlike my previous sportive there doesn’t seem to be any large groups forming, that I can join, and nobody’s talking much either. Maybe later the effect of the distance and the hills will batter it in to them. Perhaps they’ll all stressing about Mow Cop.

Ah yes, Mow Cop, which comes at just fifteen or so miles in. Apparently all the riders who manage the ascent of Mow Cop without stopping receive a medal but I’m not actually sure how or where they measure this.

When we start to climb, I wonder if this is the beast we’re on now or not. I’d heard it was a really steep tarmac wall of a climb and this isn’t but it’s still pretty steep. As I go up it I pass L but I can’t find the breath to acknowledge her greeting. I didn’t expect to catch her so soon. I find out later that she only started around ten minutes ahead of me; it’s just that I couldn’t see her in the crowd.

Then the road flattens out a bit and I notice the incredibly steep section in the distance. I pull over for a few moments, which seems a very popular tactic, but perhaps a bit naughty if you’re supposed to do the whole thing for your medal. They have all stopped where they have because this is well out of sight of the invigilators ticking people off as they succeed or fail on the steepest part. I have a quick drink and apparently totally ignore L who had by then caught me up. I would say this was because I was so totally focussed on the task in hand. Then I head off up the road to tackle the rest of it.

The top is very very steep but certainly doable. I don’t believe in this zigzagging tactic which seems very popular, I prefer to go the shortest route up these things but I’m forced to zigzag around people who prefer the longer route! As well as around the people who are walking up it.

Someone gives up, stops dead and dismounts right in front of me. Cheers mate. This causes me a bit of a wobble right in front of the officials, I veer to the right, past the guy and then start going back upwards, managing not to put a foot down. Then another zigzagger nearly rides me off the road as he leaves his turn very late, until he almost drives me into the curb. I reckon all this extra effort makes up for my brief stop.

Then I’m up and over the steep bit, mission accomplished, although the hill keeps going up. Everyone seems to be stopping here and ignoring the last bit, which also makes me feel better about my stop. I keep going in case there’s another batch of invigilators but there isn’t. I descend down the other, equally steep, side before pulling over to wait for L.

After a brief chat with L who doesn’t seem that thrilled to see me, I push on. Passing loads of people at the roadside fixing punctures. I hope L hasn’t seen them; she'll be worried if she has. Mind you, should the unthinkable happen, she’ll have plenty of volunteers to help her, as she’s wearing those sexy lycra trousers of hers. Well they work for me anyway.

Then there are two more testing hills in quick succession, Blacky Bank and Bridestone, before we reach the first feed station at Swythamley. Just before I get there a silver car passes me and clogs up the road for the cyclists. Yep, it’s my father. I can’t complain, he’s come to support me, but others might.

At Swythamley I have a big feast, I call it breakfast and refill with energy drink. This is thankfully High 5, my preferred tipple. The queue for this though is horrendous, as they keep running out and the other drawback with the feed station is there are no hot drinks. I need my caffeine at this point!

Then after a brief hello to L who turns up there after me, I’m back on the road and the final serious climb of the day, Wincle. This leaves around 70 miles of fairly flat terrain to go. Not far, if you say it quick.

I almost, deliberately, mow down a spectator who is standing in the middle of the road. I’m allowed to, it was my Father. It was also the only way I could think of, of getting his attention as he was stood there with his camera but clearly hadn’t seen me. The photos should be interesting, of a cycling helmet coming towards him at speed.

Then it’s the second feed station at Holmes Chapel, just shy of half way, I again bump into L. Showing that she is not that far behind me and doing a better ride than she expected. I can see L isn’t enjoying it but we knew that was going to be the case before she did it, in fact even before she entered it. She’s never been that enthused about cycling but aspires to the level of fitness that cycling can give you. She also not getting on with the other cyclists, she’s always maintained that there’s a reason why the words ‘psycho’ and ‘cyclist’ are so similar.

Then as we lose the folks doing the shorter routes, the camaraderie starts to build a bit among those left on the 100 mile route. I get talking to a few people and join a few groups. I probably stand out a bit when I tag on to the end of a group of cyclists all from the same club in their matching blue tops. I don’t care and they don’t seem to mind, so I let them carry me along. Another chap joins us and asks if I’m a member. No I confess, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they handed me a form and made me join or at least made me do a stint at the front. My interloper status makes him feel a lot better and we both stay with them until the final feed station at Malpas. 75 miles now on the clock.

So, the final push and I make a tactical error. In my eagerness to get on with it or rather my haste to get it over with, I head out onto the road on my own and straight into a headwind. It’s a lonely few miles until I sense someone behind me; it’s my fellow interloper from earlier. I ease up to let him join me. We work together, catch up another smaller group of club cyclists and infiltrate them.

They must have been going fairly steadily for us to catch them but as the finish draws nearer and nearer the pace gets quicker and quicker. I even pay my dues and take a stint at the front.

As we go along, we keep picking up other riders, who join our ever growing peloton but all this seems to do is add to the pace. It’s eyeballs out time now and I’m struggling to stay with them. I get dropped a few times but somehow battle back each time.

A girl gets swept up by the group, tells us she’s local and that we have three miles to go. Another three! My speedo is already saying the 100 is up, has someone mis-measured this. Then she goes to the front to lift the pace, again, which is impressive but honestly, there really is no need.

Then finally I can see the stadium and we all finish as a big group. My time was 6 hours 35 minutes cycling time according to the official timings but over 7 and a half when you take into account what were obviously more lengthy stops than I thought.

We head home, to the poor neglected dogs and the perhaps slightly neglected kids but only because they’ve had to feed themselves. They get a takeaway out of us as we order Indian via, which is a first for me. The service is impressive, less so the food but that’s not the websites fault. They did though get our naan bread order wrong, not sure who we’re supposed to blame for that?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Beautifully Crafted

The boys, ‘odd git’ and ‘psycho pup’ as L now calls them, get an all too rare park session this morning. Things will be better from here onwards as the clocks go forward tonight and therefore we should then have enough daylight for the council to open the park in the evenings. Well we’ll have the light, whether we’ll have the will from the council, is another matter...

In another way it’s the wrong day for the clocks to go forward, what with us needing an early start to do the Cat tomorrow.

It’s a vital game for Derby today, at home to Leicester, which thankfully results in a 1-0 win and makes Derby almost safe from any threat of relegation. It was a beautifully crafted winning goal. Leicester’s Andy King's back pass slipping under goalkeeper Chris Weale’s foot and into the net. It was one of the funniest moments at Pride Park for many a year but then we rarely get any joyous moments there.

It was also good to see the reception three ex-players, now playing for Leicester got. Matt Oakley, Steve Howard and Chris Powell all got tremendous receptions from the Derby crowd. Not so Robbie Savage from the Leicester supporters, despite Leicester being a club her served so well for many years. I know Savage divides opinion but he did a hell of a lot for Leicester during probably the best ever period in their history, so it was really strange to hear them boo him.

I’m almost AF pre-Cat but I think L needed something to calm her nerves and I couldn’t let her drink alone. So just a small tipple of wine... or two.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Too Busy Keeping Fit

My Kilomathon antics have definitely shamed my colleague at work into action. He’s been cycling into work pretty much every day since, come rain or come shine, well just come rain actually.

He also seems quite pleased with the Nottingham Grand Prix form I gave him. All of which means, that should he do it, I’ll have to start taking it seriously again. No more biking to the races like I did last year.

I meet L at the gym straight after work. Not that I particularly want to or even need to go to the gym. In fact resting the legs before Sunday’s 100 mile bike ride may have been the better idea. Actually in one way I do need to do, because of the council’s bribe scheme. Under the ‘Change 4 Life’ programme, which is supposed to encourage people to get fit, they decided that if you went to the gym once a month for a whole year they’d give you £50 but I’ve been too busy this month keeping fit to go. Still I don’t see any reason as to why I should let them keep hold of their money, hence tonight’s visit.

This incentive is wasted on me obviously, and it would be interesting to see if it has attracted any new gym recruits at all or whether it’s just people like me relieving the council of their cash.

I do a steady 15km on the exercise bike before we retire to the Plough to start topping up with fluids. Which are so vital for a good event.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Medieval Torture

It’s my third day out of four on the bike today and boy are the legs tired now. This does not bode well for the weekend. When practising tyre changes with L last night, I finally got around to putting my new tyres on. So thankfully more grip today and my back tyre even stayed up.

What also doesn’t bode well is the climb up Mow Cop on Sunday which comes after only 15 miles of the Cheshire Cat. Apparently if you are simply riding a standard double chainset like me, you might as well forget it and walk up unless you have exceptionally strong legs. So not necessarily looking forward to that. Perhaps I could rendezvous with L at the bottom and she could lend me her bike, she has a triple chainset, so has lower gears. I might make it on that.

(Sorry can’t remember where I got this photo from so can’t give credit)

L’s clearly been preparing for the likely pain this might involved and has been training on what she describes as the new medieval torture devices at John Carroll Leisure Centre. They now have some stretching machines installed... I can’t even begin to picture what she means unless they really have installed a medieval rack... Suppose if it was going cheap the council would have gone for it. I must go and have a look myself.

In the evening we go to a presentation evening about going to University for Daughter’s benefit, who tries to look as disinterested as possible. Perhaps she is disinterested in which case it was a waste of time and I needn’t have given up squash to go. It is though cracking entertainment when they get around to the Q&A session with the students at the end. Brings back so many memories...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Unmentionable

Tonight L and I partake in a spot of the unmentionable. Well it’s unmentionable for L anyway and I give her a lesson in the black art of changing a tyre, just in case she gets a puncture during the Cat on Sunday. Well it’s not a black art really, well not for men, who seem to instinctively know how to do it.

At dog training tonight they switch the trainers on us, which isn’t really very good form. I’ve paid for a particular trainer who I get on with and who has trained MD since he was a young pup. So I’m not best pleased when we get someone else. I’m not the only one miffed about it either. There doesn’t even appear to be any reason for it, our normal trainer is there training her own dog on the other side of the arena. Apparently they’ve had a disagreement... err... so what? That’s not very professional.

That said MD was actually rather good. He only had a few poles down, his weaves were excellent and even his tunnels were good. I had got him pencilled in for extra tunnel practice but he seems to have less of a phobia about them tonight. Ok, so his contacts weren’t that good... but you can’t have everything.

L’s still wrestling with her tyre when I get home, the fact it hasn’t been taken off for years clearly doesn’t help. She’s not happy but the wine rack is untouched, so the situation has not reached critical yet. I hope I offer helpful advice and we get it sorted. I’m sure that should the unmentionable happen, she’ll have plenty of assistance on hand, what with being a girl. Should it happen to me, I’ll be on my own with only other chaps yelling ‘good luck mate’ at me and my upturned bike, as they whizz past at 30mph.

It’s the first day of the Track Cycling World Championships from Copenhagen today. At last something to watch on TV.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meals On Wheels

Doggo has it on him this morning. The milkman disturbs him at around 3.30am and he seems to be jittery for the rest of the night after that, keeping both L and I awake in the process. Had its benefits though. I’ll pay him in Bonios later.

I cycle in to work again, two days in a row. It’s a long time since I last did that. There’s a mega long queue in Spondon and I notice that ahead, at the lights, a cyclist is remonstrating with a van driver who is making full use of the ‘Advanced Stop Zone’ which as we all know if for the exclusive us of vans, taxis, boy racers and BMW drivers.

The cyclist seems to have misunderstood that just because they’ve painted a bike on it it’s for cyclists. The bike symbol is just for decoration I believe. I leave them to it and line up behind the van and the box with the other traffic.

In the evening it’s a rare family outing as all four of us go over to L’s parents because it’s her Mum’s birthday. In an attempt to avoid a trip to another cheap-but-not-cheerful-all-you-can-eat Chinese or similar, L cooks Lasagne and takes it round with us. Yes for the evening we have become meals on wheels.

It’s always entertaining to get the family together because the two kids banter so well together. Daughter does an excellent line in ranting, about all kinds of diverse subjects and I think she’s being serious most of the time, whereas Son has become the master of the droll one line put me down. All excellent entertainment and makes for a pleasant evening out, perhaps I should have recorded it all, it would make an excellent podcast.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whilst The Going Is Good

I don’t seem to have any ill effects from the weekend, all my race wounds seem to have healed themselves, so I decide that I best start my training for the Cheshire Cat Sportive, which is... err let me see... 6 days away. Loads of time. So I cycle in to work.

The results are already up on the website for Saturday’s mud fest, along with an apology "to those affected by marshals leaving their posts to deal with the major helicopter rescue incident." Hope the person concerned is ok.

My colleague, who is also on his bike today, seems to want to avoid pacing me home. He takes his chance to escape whilst the going is good, as I pump my rear tyre back up. I have a slow puncture there. I really must stop slacking and fit my new tyres and tubes before the situation gets worse. Luckily I’m not doing the Cat on this bike. Talking of which I ought to check that bike out as well. It doesn’t look as if its copped for any collateral damage from one of the many teenage parties but I still ought to check.

On the way home it’s time for Cycling Close Shave Of The Year Number 342 (or something). Today’s near miss involves a couple of old women leaning on their walking sticks and chatting by the zebra crossing. Are they waiting to cross or are they just loitering with intent to gossip? It is hard to tell. They don’t seem to notice that every car is slowing down in case they attempt to cross before speeding up again when neither of them moves. It’s not unknown for an OAP to leap out on to a crossing at a moment’s notice. I eye them cautiously as I pass but they seem routed to the spot until one of their sticks twitches at bit. I slow down but I think she was just gesturing to make a point in their conversation.

The usual dog training and tinkering with my father’s computer in the evening. Tinkering with my father’s computer is becoming an all too frequent an occurrence and almost as regular as my training is but far less successful.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Great Escape

It’s turning into an expensive weekend. Not only do I have to replace a wing mirror on the car, we may be looking at a new tent now as well. The zip was already a bit dodgy before Doggo managed to put his head through it. Now it won’t fasten at all. Cheers mate. Once Doggo had dug the escape route, naturally it was MD who was the first dog with his paw up offering to lead the escape party. He immediately exploited this breach in tent security and had to be hauled back into the compound. Although we attempted to safety pin the entrance closed, L ended up spending the night lashed to him by his lead, just in case he fancied a nocturnal jaunt around the campsite.

We also find out that the Langdale campsite are installing barriers to prevent people using their car park but they will also prevent access after 9pm. I’m not quite sure how that’ll work but it appears it may prevent us and many others turning up late to camp on a Friday night. So could be a serious money loser for them.

Eventually we head home, via a Sunday lunch. Not a bad a weekend really, despite the run.

Friday, March 19, 2010


The afternoon start means we don’t have to rush getting up, although we do have a 50 minute drive down from Langdale, where we are staying, to Cartmel in South Lakeland. Cartmel turns out to be a very picturesque village which we experience first hand in a traffic jam in the middle of it. We have a map from the organisers that included a detour to keep us away from the village centre but we couldn’t follow it and they didn’t bother to put any signs up. We weren’t the only ones; there were several entrants for the races caught up in the jam, so signs would be a good idea for next year. Cartmel also has very narrow Lakeland lanes; I have the broken wing mirror to prove it.

We’re actually looking for Cartmel Racecourse which you would have thought would be signposted but isn’t, particularly if they don’t like horse boxes gridlocking the village centre. Then suddenly we stumbled across it, wedged in between the houses and the fells is a quaint little racecourse, a far cry from what we have in Nottingham. If I was a horse, I’d like to gallop here.

We park in the car park, where cars are already having to be pushed out of the mud. This is not a good sign. I don’t like cross country and I particularly don’t like muddy cross country as funnily enough most of them tend to be. Oh and did I mention it’s raining.

The 10k-er’s are just finishing and then its L turn, as the wimps, sorry I mean the competitors who didn’t fancy the sharp elbows and studs in the back of the calf environment of the real thing, line up for the start of the Challenge event, the one where they get an unassailable head start. I presume here that the challenge is to stay ahead of the main race but I may have misunderstood and anyway they have an unassailable advantage by starting an hour early.

I wave her off, the dogs bark her off and then I go off to get ready myself. The rain seems to have stopped, obviously feeling that its work is done and it has already softened the ground enough. Then I head to the start, telling the dogs that L will be back soon, as she has an unassailable head start on me, and that they will be able to bark me across the finish.

The official on the start informs us all that the first 4k is fairly easy running before it gets narrow and muddy. He says this is a Cumbrian accent so his idea of ‘easy running’ could mean literally anything but during that one sentence my race strategy is formed. Leg it to the front at the start, stay there for 4k, then try and hang on for the remaining 14k. No problem. The best strategies are the simple ones.

So off we go and to be honest the official is right, the first section is not too bad, mainly uphill but mostly solid underfoot. It’s rocky but it’s not slippery, so, so far so good. Quite fun this in fact, as I gain place after place, uphill is my thing.

Then it starts to get muddy. Correction. Bloody muddy and steeper. As I start going rapidly backwards through the field it dawns on me that I’ve entered a fell race. How stupid of me. How did that happen? Did it really seem like a good idea at the time? Someone describes the effect of running in so much mud as like Bambi on ice. Did Bambi fall flat on his face, lose his left shoe, twist his left wrist and simultaneous put a thorn bush through his right hand. I think not.

Some kind (ish) passing competitor asks if I’m ok as I hop downhill to get my shoe, I know he’s taking the Michael; I would have done the same. I walk a bit; it’s safer but then start running again. It’s only 18k, I am well fit enough for this, mud glorious mud or not. I could do this with my eyes closed... not that I recommend such a strategy, as I lose a shoe again, best watch where I’m putting my feet.

Then what’s this... tarmac... I resist the urge to kiss it. Oooh I love tarmac. Sadly there’s not enough of it in this race because I suppose that would upset the purists and the mud worshippers. Sadly I soon have to wave goodbye to the road, as a marshal directs me through a gate and back on to the fells, where we continue the mud-fest. I'm assured that there are nice views to be had but every time I lifted my eyes to look at them I slipped or fell over a rock so I canned that idea. So if you want my opinion of the view, it was all a rather brown, muddy colour.

Oddly despite my two steps forward, one step back approach, I’m already catching a few runners from the Challenge race who have already, somehow, thrown away their unassailable lead. Admittedly some of these are walkers, they’re carrying poles to drive home the point that they are walkers rather than just plain slow, but some of the ones I pass are clearly runners.

I make it to the first of the two drink stations, situated at about half way. As well as water they also have mint cake, which is very welcome. Then it’s back to wading through another river of mud, all you needed were a few shells coming down beside you and you could have imagined you were in a World War One trench. Then my foot hits something solid amongst the sludge and my ankle goes. Then just when I think things couldn’t get any worse, I fall over again.

On the next downhill section, I pass an octogenarian rolling in the heather, he’d taken a tumble but someone grabbed him before he continued his roll all the way down to the estuary below. He seemed fine and should be grateful he landed in the heather. Land head first in some of this mud and they might never find you again.

Then after that descent we’re back, thankfully, on terra firma, my beloved tarmac. I can get back to proper running again. Then, whoah, hang on, who’s this? Oh no. It’s L. This could result in divorce, removal of beer rights or worse, no canoodling tonight. Can I sidle past and hope she doesn’t notice me, my crafty mud all over disguise might deceive her or it might not. In the end I put on my best ‘Hello Dear, fancy seeing you here’ smile.

So just when does the unassailable become assailable? When you get lost apparently. I suppress a chuckle, it wouldn’t be a good moment, and I put on my best sympathetic look. Personally I thought it was well marked, although there had been a few grumbles from other runners. I think there was some emergency out on the course, some marshals had to go assist and therefore deserted their posts. Seems she may have done anything up to an extra half an hour off the course. Oops. She gives me permission to skip on ahead, she probably doesn’t mean it but I go anyway.

It’s kind of them to send us through a ford, it got my shoes nice and clean, although terribly pointless as I was then directed to another field where green grass was just a distance memory. Someone commented that going back to running on tarmac was going to be so dull after this... listen mate, dull is underrated, believe me.

Finally I stagger down the final hill and gallop like a racehorse on to the racecourse, well not quite. It’s over at last. Suppose it wasn’t too bad. Suppose I did only lose my shoe in the mud three times.

My time of 1:41 was actually a lot quicker than I expected and I’m half way up the field which is a pleasant surprise. Then there’s the damage... one twisted ankle, one twisted wrist, several thorn splinters through my fingers, two falls and a submission (well almost). All in the name of fun. Do I not like Cross Country. All for a free sticky toffee pudding at the finish and a T shirt.

L finishes around ten minutes behind me. I smile politely but she looks gutted. It wasn’t my fault she got lost!

We head back to Langdale to celebrate my survival and drown L’s sorrows. I don’t feel I can limp to the other end of the valley, so a weekend that was supposed to be a run sandwiched between two sessions on the Snecklifter is sadly not to be but a run sandwiched between two sessions on the Old Peculiar wasn’t too bad a substitute...

And L does seem to be still talking to me...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Blow To The Head

This morning, for some inexplicable reason, I give my friend advice on his Fantasy Football team. It must be the blow to the head he gave me with his racquet when we played squash last night. Such helpful advice naturally makes him suspicious and he wonders whether I’m trying to stitch him up. As if... I mean we're only first and second in our league and we’re not remotely competitive about it... Funnily enough, I am actually being straight with him but if I’m wrong he can hardly blame me, I’ve had a blow on the head you know.

Tonight, straight from work, we head up to the Lakes as Mad March continues apace. On Saturday it’s The Sticky Toffee Challenge 18k Race. As far as I’m concerned any excuse is a good excuse to go up to the Lake District but this is race is most definitely L’s work. In fact I did consider a supporting role in this one (as a spectator) but now I’m 26k fit, how hard can 18k be? The problem is it’s off-road, basically a cross country race but with attitude, as it’s over fell and I hate cross country, even East Midlands style. So I’m just treating it as Duathlon. Beer-Run-Beer or more specifically Snecklifter-Run-Snecklifter.

The M6 is pleasantly quiet and the rain that accompanies our departure from Nottingham, stops somewhere in Lancashire. We arrive in good time but I quickly have to reassess my race strategy. Silly me, we’re at the wrong end of the valley for Snecklifter. Oh well. Old Peculiar-Run-Old Peculiar then.

It’s guilt free drinking as well. The race doesn’t start until a well sobered up 1pm, or 2pm... We have different start times. Although L and I are both booked into the 18k event (there is also a shorter 10k distance), actually we’re not. She’s booked into the ‘Challenge’ and I’m into the actual Trail race. The Challenge, which is for the slightly less serious (I put that so diplomatically), starts an hour before mine. So we’ll be on the course at the same time but she’ll have a healthy and unassailable head start on me. This is also all good for the dogs. I’ll be able to leave them just before 2pm and L should be back not long after 3pm or at least that was the plan...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Was The Point Of That?

I’m on the bike this morning and as the mornings are now so much lighter, I can now start taking my preferred route again. This is the hillier route, which might be useful as some training for the Cat. Well I hope it's going to be useful, I don't have much time to do much more.

It’s also a very pleasant morning. I didn’t even wear a jacket this morning. It’s almost shorts weather.

Have a few problems as usual. I’m cycling down to the lights in Spondon, doing around 25mph, the same as the queuing cars. I’m a few feet away from the curb, to keep my place in the queue, as I'm going to turn right. Most drivers understand this but today a car is desperately trying to overtake me, to gain a metre or so on the road. Well there's no room, I'm practically on the bumper of the car in front but he's going to do it anyway and push me out of the way. I hit the brakes and slow up to let him in. What was the point of that? Then the **** turns left across the front of me. Cheers.

In the evening its squash and I get carried away. I launch myself into the match from game one. Discarding my cunningly thought out plan that had worked well for the last few weeks. The tactic is supposed to be to wear my opponent down gradually, and not tire myself out, before I take a game off him. With that plan in tatters we have some fantastically close games but I don’t win any of them and get a blow to the head from my opponent’s racquet into the bargain.

No chance of any sympathy at home, L’s gone to the cinema. She said I wouldn’t be interested because it’s a romance and it’s Jennifer Anniston, she’s forgetting that I’ve seen ‘Marley’. Anyhow the Jennifer thing was just a red herring. Apparently Gerard is the reason she’s going, which doesn’t mean much to me...


Just in case the inspiration is half as good as last night’s Sophie effect, I’ll make sure I’m free later.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blowing The Cobwebs Off

L did 25 minutes on the bike at the gym this morning. I’m not sure if her comment ‘Whooppee do’ means she’s pleased with that or not but its 25 minutes more than I’ve spent on a bike recently. In hope to rectify this by cycling into work tomorrow.

This morning though I decide to blow the cobwebs off the antique legs by doing a steady five files from Borrowash into work. By steady, I mean the plan was to walk bits of it, if necessary, as I did after the knee wrecking experience that was the Sleaford Half-Marathon a few weeks ago. The aim being to loosen the legs up before the weekend’s pudding plod over the Lakeland fells. It went better than that though and I ended up running it all.

After work it’s the regular-ish meet up with a couple of old school friends. We have a beer or two in one of the Wetherspoon’s houses in Derby. This one helpfully grades it’s beers from A to D, where A is the palest and D the darkest. It works a bit like your women. Avoid the A cup’s, settle for a B, revel in the C’s and if you’re brave go for a D. Regrettably no D’s or even C’s tonight. Gutted. There is though, a G on the menu. This is either incredibly dark or it’s a wind up. Applying the women’s rule, you wouldn’t go there. It is a wind up, of sorts. As its St Patricks Day this one is apparently green in colour but as it turns out, not very. We have a taster but leave it at that.

After that, we go next door to the Chinese buffet, which is as usual a bit of a mistake. We eat far too much and it wasn’t actually that good. Probably the first plate was enough but you just can’t stop yourself.

I never thought I’d have anything to thank the Sophie Kinsella for but L’s become a bit of a fan of her books. Can’t complain, I liked the Sophie effect last night. L muttered something about raspberry bushes. Nice inspiration. I’ll be checking out Sophie’s box sets for L’s birthday present.

Monday, March 15, 2010

An Unusual Substitution

There’s a match tonight and usually I’d park the car at my parent’s house and run into work. Today though I figure that the legs could do with a break, so I brave the gridlock and take the car all the way to work.

The match is better than expected, although when Middlesbrough go ahead we expect it to end in the usual defeat. Derby though battle back and after an unusual substitution from Mr Clough, e.g. a positive attacking one, we fight back, equalise and then take the lead. Unfortunately they then succumb to a last minute equaliser and a draw does little for the clubs perilous position but at least the performance was encouraging.

On the day that 'sleep lessons for grumpy teens’ is in the news, as I drive home I get call from Daughter on my mobile phone. This results in a late night diversion to retrieve her and a couple of friends from a night out topping up their sleep deprivation in Nottingham. The article is all very well but I can't imagine any teenagers listening.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Basking In The Glory...

L asks if I’m basking in all the post-race glory this morning. Well, kind of, but most of my colleagues at work still want to talk about Crufts and I have to run through ‘Doggo’s performance’ again for all those who weren’t in on Friday. Note the words ‘Doggo’s performance’. They're all so full of praise for him... No honestly, it’s ok. It’s not as if he did it on his own or anything and he didn’t run sixteen miles yesterday, but I didn’t expect any credit.

My colleague, who decided he wasn’t fit enough to do the race, couldn’t go anywhere yesterday because of the road closures. Ha. Serves him right.

The Kilomathon organisers have the nerve to email me, after ignoring me yesterday by not texting me. It’s not with a nice well done, like they did with L, but with an online questionnaire. Which of course I dutifully fill in.

I get the bus home and then wait for L to return from the dentist with the car, so that I can go dog training. Apparently she had to extract Son from the pub to get him there. The pub! At 4pm! Whatever next! I’ve no idea where he gets that from.

On the drive to training I try and start the new audio book that L has got for me. It’s another John Grisham. I’m about due one of his and it’ll be good to get back to something reliable like that, after some not so great reads recently. Unfortunately I don’t get very far because there’s no disk one. That’s council libraries for you. You would have thought they’d check the CDs before the let them out. I was looking forward to a bit of JG as well but would just be lost without disk one.

L is cooking roast chicken tonight, which sounds great. I know she’ll be saving some for the dogs, for after their training. Hopefully, she’ll save me some too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Two Minutes And About Fifty Seconds

The black cloud that appeared in November and has been hovering threateningly somewhere in the distant future ever since, although gradually creeping closer, is now overhead. Yep, it’s Kilomathon day. My two work colleagues who were going to accompany me have both fallen by the wayside. One got injured and never trained for it. The other trained for it, then stopped, then decided he wasn’t fit enough. I’m not sure I’m fit enough either, but there’s only way to find out.

It is after all, as the organisers keep telling us, the world's first Kilomathon but perhaps simply because no one had thought of doing a race over 26.2 kilometres (16.3 miles) before. Which is to me still a bizarre concept but it’s a concept that may catch on, so expect to see perhaps even a Half Kilomathon appearing near you soon. For me though, it was purely the fact that this bizarre concept was from Nottingham to Derby that appealed to me. That’s from where I live to where I work, and almost even door to door. So I had to do it really.

It’s so door to door that we walk to the assembly point on the Nottingham University campus. They reckon they have 6000 entries and from the amount of people milling around, they might even be right.

The start is a bit of a mess though. It said on the published information that baggage buses, taking your stuff to the finish in Derby, would close at 8.30, half an hour before race start. This wasn’t good news because it’s March and it’s been a coldish March at that, so standing around, in race gear for half-an-hour in the cold was not an appetising prospect. Which could have been a whole lot worse had it rained.

It got worse though because as we arrived the tannoy was demanding that everybody went to the baggage buses NOW, as they would now close at 8.10. As it happened, it turned out to be a lie but attempting to rip up the published timetable like that, which was rushed anyway, and subject people to 50 minutes of cold, was not the best of ideas.

The pre-race warm-up was already in full swing and not very well attended, understandable really. What's the point of a warm-up an hour before the start of a race?

Still I was stripped and in my colour coded assembly pen, shivering with all the others, as demanded half an hour before the start, simply because I didn’t want to lose the good start I had been given. My slot was in the first block of runners behind the elite few.

Half an hour also seemed to be the average waiting time for the toilets. I think they ought to look at festival style urinals next time because they’ll never be able to rent enough portaloos.

Then they walked us up to the start, which was on the main road, where we had to wait the twenty minutes until 9am, whilst the rest of the race assembled behind us. I line up alongside a chap who is using the race as a training run for the Edinburgh marathon. If that didn’t make me feel inferior he went on to brag about his two previous marathons, in Prague and Berlin, of all places. I nod and smile politely before turning my back on him and talking to the chap on the other side of me. He was a fell runner, who was feeling a tad unfit after a decadent holiday, so he’d gone out and run twelve miles on Tuesday and then twenty miles on Thursday. My jaw was already on the floor when he told me that he too was using this event as training, in his case for a forty mile trail race next week. I’m doing an 18km trail race next week I mumble quietly, secretly hoping no one hears. Then I shuffle backwards a bit and leave the two of them to talk among themselves.

Finally, we start. It takes me seventeen seconds to cross the start line. I find out later that apparently it takes L ten minutes, so it must be a fairly big field. After the problems pre-race, once it got started, the organisation was much better and I really enjoyed the race. Although I feel I start too slowly, or perhaps it was just those seventeen seconds at the start upsetting my timekeeping but then I go a bit too quick compensating before I finally settle into the right pace.

One of my key concerns was whether the course would be marked out in Km’s. It ought to be, being a Kilomathon, but all the maps they sent out were marked in miles. I didn’t mind either way, as I’ve been running in miles for the last two weeks but would like to know for sure in advance, to get my head around which of 4.30 per km or 7.20 per mile it’s going to be. That is to break my target of two hours. L’s reason for knowing is even more vital, whether to carry twenty-six jelly beans or sixteen. I hope she has deep pockets, it’s in km.

Some folk claimed that the markers were easy to see, I beg to differ. They were too small, dark in colour and didn’t stand out at all, despite the fact they’d put red streamers on them. Personally I’d like flashing lights on them; organisers please take note for next year. So I missed half of them and in the end I stopped looking.

Eventually I got into those steady 4.30 minute km’s but start to losing the pace far too early, in fact in the 11th km. I blame the head wind, which seemed to be with us nearly all the way around and was making this harder than it should be. I already knew the course was slightly uphill, pretty much all the way, and I soon started to notice how relentless this was. Perhaps when they hold this again next year, they could run it in reverse?

That is, if they hold it again. The race needs to build itself a solid base of local support. Unfortunately there were too many idiots using ‘adhoc’ toilet facilities both near the start and in the first mile. So that probably put paid to the good will of the local residents. Although that all comes back to the portaloo farce earlier.

The crowds lining the course were vocal but smaller than I expected, perhaps not enough advertising was done. Race wise though, the course was well signposted and enthusiastically marshalled and the drinks stops were good. Although energy gels at the first stop as well as the second would have saved me from having to carry my own.

At half way I’m almost bang on the hour, on target and bang on the required pace but I’m only on target if I can hold this pace and I know I can’t. At 18km it starts to go out again but I must have had a brief revival because at 21 km, which is half marathon distance, I’m only 14 seconds down on last week. This isn’t much but I’m not feeling as good as last week and my pace soon slips out to 5 minute km’s.

There’s a rather odd section just outside Elvaston Castle Country Park where they send us around a hairpin of cones, presumably to make the distance up. We then enter the park and do a rather pointless loop there, that didn’t even take us past the house itself. Some people will have liked the variation in terrain but not me. Then we do another small loop out to Ambaston. It would be nice if in future years they ditched these bits and extended the start and finish closer to the respective cities, making it true city to city.

Then it’s the final stretch through Alvaston to the finish on the park there, which they could have made more of and better for spectators but the post-race facilities were good. I headed straight to the beer tent (naturally) for my free beer where I chatted merrily to the other runners there. With hindsight this was a mistake. What I should have done was grab my free beer and take it up to one of the other tents where the girls from University were giving out a free massage. By the time I found out about this particular perk, the queue for the girls was already out of control.

In the end the race took me two hours, two minutes and about fifty seconds. That's two minutes and about fifty seconds off my target. Suppose it’s not much if you say it quickly but I was gutted naturally. I just ran out of steam towards the end. I could have done with them handing out a fresh pair of legs at the last drinks station or perhaps, organisers please take note for next year, they could relocate the University girls to there? That might help.

I’m still secretly pleased of course, as I did beat around 4000 others, as well as my two ‘no show’ work colleague and of course all those who never got off the sofa in the first place.

The T-shirt is ok, I will wear it with pride to the pub but it’s not something you would race or train in, so the organisers have missed out on the chance of some good publicity there. Then there’s the medal which is some serious piece of metalwork.

If I was secretly pleased, L was shouting her delight from the roof tops as she beat her target time by some distance. The organisers must have been impressed too, as she got a personal text message of congratulations from them afterwards. I didn’t! But perhaps I didn’t leave them my number.

Overall a good event, which needs tweaking a bit but I’d definitely do it again. I’ve got to really, to beat that pesky two hour mark.

We then stagger/walk/crawl into Derby whilst my ever supportive father goes to fetch my mother, so we even get to celebrate mother’s day with Sunday lunch in the Royal Standard and so many pints, that we’re too sloshed to go out as planned in the evening.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cold Damp Reality

So from the glamour of Crufts its back to earth, the cold damp reality of a horse arena in Lincolnshire and MD’s next step on his journey to (hopefully) follow in Doggo’s paw-steps. After his injury this week I was beginning to think he wouldn’t be able to run at all, so booking the show may have turned out to be a waste of time. With all due respect to Doggo, running him alone at a show like this wouldn't really be worth the trip. However, MD now seems to be over his bad paw, so I will run him on his first course but if he limps I will pull him out of his other events.

It’s a slight step up in standard from his first show last month but surprisingly he still doesn’t get to face a set of weaves. Despite the fact that the judges had it in their remit to include them, they choose not to. It’s a shame because his weaving isn’t bad at all. He does get to do his first see-saw in a competition and manages it without any trouble at all. In fact all his ‘contact’ equipment is fine.

The problem today is his jumping and he demolishes his first two course, scattering poles everywhere. There is no sign of a limp and I text L to tell her that his paw’s fine and that, if she didn’t already know, his vocal chords are working fine too.

Someone ‘helpfully’ points out that MD knocking poles down is all my fault. Obviously. I should have known that would be the case. They are annoyingly right and I change my handling accordingly and suddenly he keeps all the poles up on his next course. He then goes on to only fell the one pole on his last run. Hurrah. All very promising. We're still not clear of course, we still had a few refusals, because oddly he seems to have an aversion to tunnels but we should be able to work on that. I’ll just bring one home and make him sleep in it for a week... or something.

Doggo, by the way, turns in four immaculate solid clears in his four events, giving him a 5th place, a 6th and two 8ths. Mr consistent as ever.

The evening is spent in at home, with a plate full of pasta and distinct absence of alcohol. There’s a little matter of 26.2km to be negotiated tomorrow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Laying It On A Bit Thick

When I left for work MD was still struggling with the broken claw on his paw but it did look a lot better. By the time the dogs returned from their morning walk with L it seemed to have dropped off completely. We had booked him into the vets this evening but now he seems fine. Well, he’s still playing on it, trying to lay it on a bit thick but that’s MD for you. So we cancel the vet, don’t want to waste his time and well £30 of our money.

At work, its ages before I can get any work done because everybody wants to talk about Crufts. They all watched practically the whole competition. Doggo now has even more adoring fans than he did before, they all comment on how he didn't put a paw wrong... well I didn’t put a paw wrong either but nobody mentions that!

There’s a strange sight in our car park this afternoon, a woman from the office opposite appears to be cleaning her car by discharging a fire extinguisher over it... very odd and by the look of things, not terribly effective.

Going to half to be AF tomorrow, pre-Killermathon, so best make it a good session tonight.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Let Battle Commence

So it’s the big day out at Crufts. I’ve had lots of good luck texts, there are a fair few supporters here in the flesh and to my surprise quite a few watching via Crufts TV over the internet. I have given the Crufts TV link to everyone I can think of, just in case there’s nothing on proper TV, but I didn’t think many people would actually watch. Apparently the whole of my office are sat around a PC with breath’s communally bated, so don’t ring them up with any computer problems, apparently they’re not answering. So no pressure then...

We have a new kit, well t-shirts, although not terribly impressive ones and they are not a success. My white t-shirt is so massive that L says it looked like a dress. In fact half the team refuse to wear theirs.

We did ok last year, coming 6th, but hopefully we can do a little better this time. It would be nice to make the afternoon final, which will be in front of an almost full arena unlike the sparse crowd who are here for the morning’s qualifying round.

There are eight teams with the best four to go through to the final. We run seventh and when it comes to our turn, the team currently in third have fifteen faults. So if we better that we will be through, whatever the last team to run does.

Naturally they make Doggo and I run first again. I’ve made sure that Doggo knows his fan club are all here, so there’s no chance of him embarrassing me by going to say ‘hi’ to my father, as he did at a show the other week, plus luckily the seating is too high up here for him to be able to spot anyone. I hope.

It goes well. We do our usual solid but unspectacular clear round, nice and steady. It’s a no risk strategy, that’s all Doggo’s idea, he simply refuses to rush his agility, but I admit it’s very effective. I was worried about a tricky set of weaves but he coped, although I held my breath throughout that bit. So we go clear and hand over to dog number two who is a bit too eager, goes off like a rocket, misses a jump and picks up five faults for that. Other than that it’s a good round for a dog in its last ever performance before retirement, until she picks up another five by clipping the long jump. So ten faults for the round.

Dog three does a terrific run although he may have missed the dog walk contact but if he did, he got away with it. So that’s an excellent clear round for us, meaning we’re in the hunt, still on ten faults with just the last dog to run. Unfortunately she immediately fells a pole and then has an awful A frame which unfortunately gets us eliminated. So that's that, dream over, again, for another year. The rest of that last round is quite horrible, not that it mattered by then.

So a bit gutted, again, and my phone is going mad. Hot on the heels of the good luck texts beforehand are a spate offering commiseration. Which is nice, I guess. It is suggested that perhaps I should consider a transfer... hmmmm. A bit unfair, we weren’t too far away until that last run.

We fetch MD from the car, to sample the atmosphere and hit the shopping halls to see if we can buy a replacement dog sock for him, to replace the one that got inexplicably chewed the other day. Surprisingly this doesn’t prove possible despite the huge number of stalls.

After watching the final, that we’re not in, we head home. I might have a commiseratory drink later.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

We All Have To Start Somewhere

The organisers of last weekend’s Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon have sent out a survey. One of the questions is would you object to a bottle of beer in your goodie bag next year? Errrr, no. What a daft question.

I decide that tonight, despite it being Crufts tomorrow, I will take Doggo training rather than rest him. Mainly to try and get his confidence up after a bad session last Wednesday and after his mugging on the park yesterday. He does well, so I think it was a good idea. Won’t know for sure until tomorrow...

I would of course have gone to training anyway for MD’s sake, had he not been injured. He didn’t help matters by chewing off his protective sock whilst he was in the garden. He’s not popular; it was supposed to keep his wounded paw clean.

All the same I give him a brief run at training, just to see how he is. Not bad actually but he did seem to be favouring one paw over the other when it came to taking jumps. So he now looks unlikely to be competing at his next event, which is this weekend. Which isn’t on the warm, dry carpet of the NEC at Crufts but in a cold, damp horse arena somewhere in Lincolnshire but we all have to start somewhere.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Psychologically Scarred

On the bike today and my legs seemed ok. Well at least until I met that cyclist again and tried to stay with him. In fact I managed to catch him, until he jumped the lights in Stapleford. Tut tut. I wasn’t prepared to do that.

Doggo had a bad morning, getting mugged on the park by a couple of dogs, one of which was the infamous dog with no knees. He’s ok, I don't think he's too psychologically scarred, but I think L might be. As ever it was the owners who annoyed in these situations, standing by, doing nothing and muttering things like ‘he's never done that before’.

MD came out of it the worst and made his injured paw worse by diving in to help. None of which is going to do much for MD’s lack of confidence around other dogs and it’s the last thing Doggo needed two days before his big day at Crufts.

For the second night in a row we’re at Rock City. The first band on, Little Death, are ok, as noisy, feedback favouring indie bands go. They're nothing special or different but probably better than most and as they are probably feeling a bit out of sync with the other acts on tonight, it’s to their immense credit that they go down pretty well. The female bass player has a nice outfit as well, which L kindly points out to me.

I could say that I’ve been looking forward to seeing Ellie Goulding but I’d be lying. Not so some of the crowd who are squeaking ‘Ellie Ellie’ excitedly at a decibel level that thankfully is out of hearing range for most humans, at every opportunity from the moment Little Death have departed the stage.

Perhaps it's my fault for being signed up to too many email lists from ticket agencies, record labels, music blogs, newsletters, websites and the like but the most used two words in such spam recently has been Ellie Goulding. So not hyped much then. Of course she topped the BBC Sound of 2010 poll and won the Critics Choice Award at this year’s BRIT Awards... if that actually means anything... So I best give her allegedly ‘folksy’ voice and acoustic guitar playing a chance, to see if those awards mean she does have something about her after all....

She can probably sing but somebody seems to have advised her no to and to just go for those high notes instead and warble a lot, but the warble soon grates and as Ellie grates her way through number after number it becomes more of a screech. As for her guitar playing, you can’t actually hear it over the other instruments her backing band are playing and after three songs she herself puts it down and doesn’t bother picking it up again. If she can play, then let’s hear her.

Being able to sing/warble/screech is simply not enough when the material she has is so very thin. One incredibly dull song, from her just released debut album ‘Lights’, follows another but I’d had more than enough after the first one and pretty soon the prospect of being trapped in the same room as the woman for half an hour turns into purgatory. Half the crowd seem to agree with me and look bored or in pain, whilst the other half remained sadly heavily into her, including the two girls bouncing the stairs up and down near us.

By the time we get to ‘Under the Sheets’ which at least has a decent bass line, my only thoughts are it must be nearly over... then her hit single, ‘Starry Starry Night’ or whatever it's called, follows and brings her set to its horrific conclusion.

I'm sure she's a nice girl but her show is about as exciting as watching paint dry and if Ellie Goulding was a paint, she'd be Magnolia, she's that dull.

I guess Ellie is here on this tour because she is known to Boston's Passion Pit, having provided guest vocals to the re-released version of ‘Sleepyhead’ but I will try not told hold that against the band, who take the stage next and kick off with ‘I've Got Your Number’. Ah the romance of it. Passion Pit were conceived when Michael Angelakos gave his girlfriend four songs for Valentines’ Day and this was one of them. Not that is worked, well not long term at least, she’s now an ex or he is. He probably doesn’t care, he’s getting all the love and affection he needs from a warm reception from the Rock City crowd tonight.

As they move on and into ‘Make Light’ it dawns on me that this man can do high pitched very well indeed. OMG it's the Mika falsetto again... and there’s not escaping it because Angelakos’s voice drives each song, squeaking us wonderfully through ‘Better Things’. He looks and sings a bit like a chipmunk and probably prances around the stage like on as well. No offence.

The songs translate far better live than I expected and actually sound better than on CD. They’ve may have lined banks of synths up on stage but the band also make good use of guitars and their sound is more varied than I expected it to be. Plus they have a very impressive light show. Passion Pit come across as a real fun band, having a good time and thoroughly enjoying indulging themselves in front of an audience. An audience, who are enjoying themselves immensely too, there’s plenty of passion down in the pit tonight...

The double header of ‘The Reeling’ and ‘Moth's Wings’ prompts a big sing-along before Angelakos rudely turns his back on us to play ‘Swimming In The Flood’ at his keyboard and it’s the only time he still really.

The crowd repeatedly call for their signature song, ‘Sleepyhead’, and Angelakos seems to get a bit irked by this, pointing out that they have sixteen songs in total, not just one. Well mate, the solution to that is to throw it in early and have conviction in the rest of your material. Conviction that you have something else good enough to round off the night with.

I happen to think they have, this is far from a one track band. The crowd have gotten into every song and not just stuff from their debut album ‘Manners’ either, which is played in almost its entirety tonight, but also their initial EP ‘Chunk OF Change’ from where, to be honest, some their best stuff actually comes from tonight. The particularly lively ‘Smile Upon Me’ from the EP provides probably the best moment of the night when they play it just before set closer ‘Little Secrets’.

They return for an encore of ‘Eyes As Candles’ before the inevitable ‘Sleepyhead’ finally makes an appearance. Although to be honest, when it arrives, it’s a bit of an anticlimax, not the highlight at all. Have faith in those convictions Michael.

I’m actually a bit gutted about the encore tonight. They have been encoring with a cover of the Cranberries' ‘Dreams’, which would have been worth hearing. Not enough bands throw in a cover version live these days or if they do it’s something so obscure hardly anyone knows it.

Still a very good gig though.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Walking Better Than Me

MD has injured his paw; in fact he’s almost ripped a claw off and just before his second show as well. We cover his bad paw with a sock, a special dog sock that was provided to us for Doggo to do the Sport Relief mile the other year. He looks a bit shocked, when we put it on him, perhaps by the colour. Yes it’s red. Then I think he realises that it will get him the sympathy vote, so he doesn't try and remove it.

He’s still walking better than me though, although I feel I’ve recovered well from yesterday. The legs are a bit stiff but they’re a lot better than last week.

It’s Crufts on Thursday, so in an endeavour to look smart for the TV cameras (highlights on More4 and live online, if you’re interested) I get a haircut. Although after much consideration I decide not to go blonde. Then I head into JJB to look for new tracksuit bottoms. They actually have some good stuff but again mostly in Large, X-Large and XX-Large, just like Sports Direct on Saturday. Racks full of them, so they’re obviously not selling. Which isn’t surprising as it’s all quite technical stuff and pricey too. There’s not much in Medium and I found Medium too baggy anyway for what I wanted. So I had to choose between two styles in Small. Just hope it goes with my team t-shirt that I still haven’t got.

We are supposed to be at one gig tonight and Daughter at another but Lady Gaga has cancelled on her, due to logistical problems. If you google ‘Lady Gaga cancels’ it comes up with loads of gigs she’s cancelled all over the world in the last year for various reasons. She seems to be a bit of a cancelling expert. Apparently she’s been persuaded to do some extra gigs in Australia on this occasion, which is her ‘logistical problem’, she can’t be in two places at once but shouldn’t she have honoured the original dates. Meanwhile L and I are at Rock City for Mr Ego and his band, Liam Fray’s Courteeners.

To be honest, I haven’t been that struck on their new album 'Falcon' and I was actually more looking forward to seeing Detroit Social Club, who I’m quite taken with. A much talked about band, who have been around for a few years, with very little output to show for it but now with an excellent new single out entitled 'Kiss The Sun' which is what they open with tonight and pretty awesome live it is too.

With a name like Detroit Social Club they are obviously from... errmm... Newcastle upon Tyne and sound like a Geordie Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to me. This means I whole heartedly approve of them. It’s an excellent short set from them, where ‘Black And White’, a current free download, is just terrific in the middle of the set. As is the closing 'Sunshine People'. I think it’s all rather powerful stuff but then I was already a convert before tonight.

In the other hand I’m still to be totally converted by Liam Fray, I still don’t particularly like the man but I do like his band, so it’s a bit of a shame that he makes the live shows so much about him.

At least I think I've figured out why the Courteeners play the entirety of ‘Rock n Roll Star’ before they come on. It's to tempt people into getting the beer throwing out of the way before the band comes on and gives the crew chance to mop the stage. However it doesn't work. Although an impressive amount is dispatched at this point there's plenty been held back in reserve to be launched when the band take the stage, after the usual protracted delay. Both 'Cavorting' and the following 'Acrylic' are accompanied by industrial quantities of what can only hope is alcohol or water.

The crowd don’t help Mr Fray’s ego by chanting his name far too often for my liking, his heads big enough already thank you very much. When they get bored with that, and with chanting the band’s name, they settle on ‘Nottingham Is Full Of Fun' football style which isn't what they chant Nottingham is full of at Derby's home games but never mind.

Then there’s the crowd surfing, which is even more excessive and extreme than usual, which seems to rile the security who are getting rougher than they probably should be and taking no prisoners. So it’s unclear what causes the few visible injuries that are sustained, the crowd surfing or the unsuccessful prevention of it.

Music wise, the new songs sound much better live than on record and I can see some of them becoming real favourites live. The faithful are already well rehearsed on most of them. Particularly 'Cross My Heart & Hope To Fly' and 'Scratch Your Name Upon My Lips' come across very well.

Liam himself seems a bit miffed at the negative press reaction to the new album and is not backwards in telling us all about it. Perhaps he set the bar too high with ‘St Jude’, where even the not so good tracks are still live favourites. Perhaps even, deep down, Liam agrees because tonight’s 21 song set includes more of the first album than the second, which is unusual for a band promoting a new record.

As usual they wind down towards the end with a trio of solo songs from Liam. During the first, 'The Rest Of The World Has Gone Home', he has to pause to watch as an attractive female crowd surfer is pulled out at the front, then as his pulse returns to normal he continues from where he left off. Following that with ‘No You Didn't, No You Don't’ and ‘Yesterday, Today & Probably Tomorrow’ with full crowd accompaniment.

The full band return for the recent single 'You Overdid It Doll' and the traditional set closers of ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘What Took You So Long?’. It’s all a tad predictable but still very entertaining stuff.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Famous Last Words

The organiser of today’s half marathon, known as the ‘Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon’ doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when he says he’s putting his head above the parapet, admits they haven't got it 100% right in the past and promises ‘the best Fraction yet’. It's not an easy course, he says, but you will enjoy it... famous last words perhaps.

Not sure what the problems were in the past but today dawns cold although sunny and fine with it as well. Initially I go for long trousers but change my mind and have to strip in the car. No one seems to notice or mind or perhaps care.

Today also, I warm up better, in an effort to avoid the sore knees of last week. I do a lap of their running track and plenty of stretches and stuff.

We start and I repeat the same ‘too fast’ first mile of last week, around 7.10 but this time I’m not phased, I’m looking for a 7.20 average. In fact I hold 7.10 for the first five miles which is excellent paced running.

I have a pack of gel to get me through the ordeal. There are five water stops and I have a squirt of gel and a mouthful of water at each, which seems to work ok. L’s drug of choice is ‘sport beans’ one for each mile, although these look just like normal jelly beans, but cost several times the price.

The first of two brutish hills puts pay to my good pace, but then I settle back into 7.20’s before the second hill in the eleventh mile forces a correction to that pace. Then I run the last mile in 7.15. So all is good with the world.

There are sarcastic signs taunting you on these hills, informing you, among other things, that you’ll never get a PB on this course. Well, I may only have one race to compare it with but I intend to get a PB, in fact now I’m determined to get one.

The running track is a welcome sight even though we have to do a lap and a half of it to finish. 600 metres to go the chap says. I want to argue that actually I’m sure it’s more than that, as the first lap is around the outside and is therefore more than 400 metres but I don’t have the breath to do so.

The first twelve men and women get a bottle of Newton's Fraction Ale. No, I don’t get one. Just a red t-shirt, ugh, and no massage. So that’s L’s job sorted for later.

1 hour 36 minutes, that’s two minutes faster than last week. I’m even feeling rather fit afterwards. So roll on next week. I reckon I can do another three miles at 7.20 or so which means I should crack the two hours, just, but we’ll see. In fact everyone is talking about next week and everyone has a pet name for it. The Kill-athon seems a popular one, whilst L sees it as her own personal Kilimanjaro-athon.

The 'worth having' goody bag turns out to be a calorie counters nightmare which means I get L’s as well, so yes, certainly 'worth having'.

In the evening we head out for a few beers and a film. Another of L’s choices, ‘The Lovely Bones’ based on the best selling book by Alice Sebold.

The year is 1973 and on her home from school a young girl, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), is approached by her neighbour, George Harvey. He persuades her to enter an underground den he has built. Once she enters, he attacks her, kills her and then dismembers her body before bundling it into an old safe. Meanwhile, Susie's spirit goes up into her own personal afterlife, an 'in-between' state between life and death, which looks shockingly like Windows XP world. You know those garish green grass/blue sky images from the default Windows XP backdrop. Either that or it's that hillside that features in the Teletubbies programme. At first, I thought L had sneaked me into ‘Alice in Wonderland’ instead. Except a Tim Burton film is sure to be darker and there's not much dark here.

From up high Susie watches down over the aftermath of her death, like an angel and she doesn’t seem to mind being dead. The Salmon family react as you would expect, at first reluctant to believe in what has happened and then consumed by grief. Meanwhile Harvey is not suspected by the police and gets away with the crime. Jack, Susie's father, isn’t so sure and continually harasses the police about Harvey.

I don’t know the book so I’m probably not in a good position to comment. Although I’ve read a synopsis of it and L has filled me in on details as well. So I was expecting an intricate story and a disturbing one, dealing with difficult issues, but we didn’t get it. In fact we didn’t get much at all. I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing did, for ages. This was not edge of the seat stuff.

Perhaps Peter 'Lord of the Rings' Jackson was the wrong person to be handed the reins to this film. His liking for the visual effects side of film making has been used to full effect and to make room for all that, they’ve had to dispense with the plot, or perhaps all the computer generated stuff is to try and distract you from the fact that somewhere along the line they forgot what the plot was.

The film also has some celebrated actors in it. Rachel Weisz is the distressed mother and Susan Sarandon plays her alcoholic mother. While Mark Wahlberg plays the devastated father well and there is an excellent performance from Stanley Tucci, who is menacing as the murdering neighbour.

There are a few good scenes but not enough of them. Suzie was supposed to be trying to influence things from beyond the grave but there is little of this. It kind of got exciting when Susie's sister Lindsey grew suspicious and finally breaks into Harvey's house where she discovers information that implicates him. He discovers her there but fails to catch her. Then comes an unbelievable scene where she takes an age to hand the information over to her family, as if it wasn’t that important after all. In the meantime, Harvey, knowing the game is up, disappears. Although he eventually gets his comeuppance when he is killed by an icicle...

It’s a very empty film and an incoherent one, which perhaps thinks it’s a murder mystery but a poor one at that. The murder is after all revealed early on but we still get the suspicion that, that is what the film is all about. It has no flow at all and it’s hard to see who the finished product is aimed out. Perhaps they asked Jackson to Disney-fy the story but how can you do that to a story about a girl who has being attacked and murdered.

I get home and switch the computer on. In my inbox are both race results, this weeks and last weeks. So that’s very quick from Grantham, very slow from Sleaford.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Appointment With Doom

I’m so not bothered that I’m missing my first Clumber Duathlon in four years. It’s always been a case of must do purely because there’s nothing else on over that weekend. Well this year I have an appointment with doom tomorrow, Grantham style half marathon doom.

In the morning I end up in Nottingham city centre and shopping, due to an unavoidable optician’s appointment. It's hard though, as I go in to Nottingham so infrequently I no longer know where any of the shops are. I’m trying to get some new tracksuit trousers so that I will to look good on TV on Thursday when I'm at Crufts. Walking trousers would do, so I pop into Blacks. I see that Craghoppers do an ideal pair but they only appear to have them in women’s sizes. I ask the assistant if they have the same style in men’s. ‘Oh yes’ she says and pulls a pair off the next rail. They are not the same; they have big baggy pockets down each leg. I don't need pockets. An agility run is forty seconds at the most, so I don't need to carry supplies or for that matter a map, compass, etc. Well not usually. This is also quite sexists isn’t it, the women’s trousers imply that they aren't expected to carry these things but instead leave that to their men folk. So if women get lost on the hills blame Craghoppers...

Anyhow, I digress, for my intended use for these trousers pockets would just get in the way. The assistant can’t see a problem. ‘Most men prefer the commando look’ she tells me, with a completely straight face. The male assistant behind the desk stifles a laugh. I don't think she knows what she's just implied... although I do know what she meant.

I move on and try Sports Direct, which I knew would be waste of time. Looking at the rails there, they really only stick three sizes. Those being: - Large, X-Large, XX-Large. This is not sports equipment for people who do sport, except from the comfort of their own sofa. There is though a chink of light at the end of the dark Sports Direct tunnel and not many people know this, I certainly didn't, because there are no signs outside the store to tell you this. Up on the top floor they have branches of ‘She Runs He Runs’ and ‘Field and Trek’. Blimey. They even stock things in Small and Medium but I still come away emptied handed.

There’s a victory for Derby today, 2-0 over Watford and then we head over to Lincoln for the first of three gigs in four days. Tonight, Editors.

Support comes from New York band Cold Cave who are on stage when we arrive, standing behind three bands of synthesizers. It’s so 80’s retro, so Gary Numan, except they don’t sound much like him. In fact they sound more like New Order than current media darlings’ Delphic do, who happily sound nothing like New Order despite what the music press say, at least not when they were any good. Cold Cave are early New Order, when they mattered.

One of their members looks like that guy from Sparks, the miserable one, but only because he looks, well, miserable. There’s a girl on another of the synths, plus a drummer and then there’s lead singer, Wes Eisold, behind his keyboard. He’s more into being moody than miserable but they make a good sound. Their obvious 80’s-ness is mixed with a noisier edge which perhaps points to Eisold’s punk/hardcore background.

I love ‘em. Excellent stuff. My kind of electro, move over Delphic.

We only saw the Editors in October at the beginning of their 'In This Light And On This Evening' tour, but they were so good, we just had to book to see them again. Well, when I say good; they weren’t quite as good as I expected. On that night they seemed oddly subdued, well Tom Smith did, the crowd certainly were and the track selection irked me a little. So a second chance tonight and boy, did they take it.

What I didn't want them to do was to keep the same format of the set, same start, same end, same encore, as they have been pretty much doing, throughout their jaunt across Europe, the US and even down under. The middle of the set though has been ever evolving and that is the beauty of the Editors, they epitomise what I like in a live band. Their set is likely to include almost anything from their three albums, no track is ever completely forgotten and labelled as ‘we don't play that anymore’ as some bands so. Nothing is too obscure. B sides or tracks off the bonus CDs they often throw in with main albums. 'You Are Fading' is one such track that has become a live favourite. I just felt singled out on the wrong end of track rotation in Sheffield last year.

They start the same, although at first I don’t think they’re going to as Tom Smith himself appears to muck up the intro to 'In This Light And On This Evening' and has to start it again. 'Lights' follows and yes, all the big numbers are present and correct of course, 'An End Has A Start', 'Bones', 'Blood', 'Bullets' etc but what’s this... ‘A Life As A Ghost’ off the Cuttings II bonus CD. Cranky enough for me? Oh yes. I always find a cranky set list much more enjoyable than an obvious one. By the way, 'You Are Fading' is absent tonight, so they’ll get letters of complaint about that, but this allowed room for some cracking diversity.

Tonight they also play ‘The Boxer’, the only track off the new album criminally omitted last time. Possibly the best of the more doleful numbers of the new album.

Then there’s ‘Escape The Nest’, a live favourite, not played (just to annoy me) last time, and boy did I take it personally. It’s even more awesome live than on record. I’m one happy bunny tonight.

This is followed by much confusion and blank looks all round. I don’t know this one and looking round nor does anyone else. Turns out to be a brand new track called ‘Last Day’, played for the first time tonight. We are honoured and pretty good it sounds too. Of course Tom Smith still introduces nothing. You would have thought at least a few words about this one but no. Still he’s generally just as theatrical tonight as usual. He is not a man who is capable of standing still, literally throwing himself into things, or sitting still for that matter. He’s just as animated when he’s seated at the piano. His hands and body continually trying to embellish the song. He is so into his own songs and tonight, so too are the crowd, right from the start and this makes such a difference to the atmosphere.

Tom is a treat to watch but then so too is Mr Popular, Chris Urbanowicz, whether this be on his Rickenbacker or on the keyboard with the guitar slung across his back. You be forgiven for thinking that some of the words to their songs are ‘Chris Chris Chris’, such is the frequency of their utterance from the crowd near me.

Slightly surprised that ‘Camera’ is still in the set but it’s excellent again tonight. Then we have a really big finish with ‘The Racing Rats’, ‘Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors’ and ‘Munich’ back to back. Playing ‘Munich’ has really stuffed the encore, so it’s got to be different now.

Tom returns on his own and as he tinkles at the piano I think for a moment he’s going to play ‘Distance’ which would have been awesome but no, he gives us a ‘Twilight’ moment, well a ‘Twilight: New Moon’ moment. Their song ‘No Sound But The Wind’ which was part of the soundtrack but has yet not seen the light of day on any of their own releases.

‘Bricks And Mortar’ lifts the pace a touch before ‘Papillon’ cranks it up further and then Tom turns positively chatty, thanking the crowd generously before ending again with ‘Fingers In The Factories’.

No complaints from me tonight. Ten out of ten.