Sunday, 31 July 2011

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...

There are times when everything just seems to go wrong. You tip things and burn things, you are blocked at every move you make. Nothing seems to go your way. You end up thinking, "What have I done to deserve this?"

This weekend has been nothing like that. This weekend has been abso-bloody-lutely lovely.

It started on Friday when I bought some shorts in the Zara sale for the bargain price of only £7.99. Ching-ching! This was followed on Friday evening with my first run in a week - and my hip wasn't sore. On Saturday I cycled about quite a bit in the afternoon sunshine and then went for a lovely, long relaxing swim.

On Saturday night, I went with my friend Jaime to the impressive, newly renovated Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama to see the excellent Only Men Aloud perform in the intimate Dora Stoutzker Hall. With no microphones and only a pianist and cellist to accompany them, the first half of the show was almost entirely made up of classical pieces. The second half saw them on more familiar territory and the show as a whole made for a frequently moving, often rousing, always stunning and ever enjoyable evening out.

Afterwards, we joined some of them for a few drinks at the Cameo Club in Pontcanna (I have a vague memory of a Justin Lee Collins look-alike). You soon realise why they work so well together on stage: that is because they are such friends together off stage.

Today saw me surface from under my never-been-slept-in, brand new bedding, which I'd forgotten I'd put on before I went out last night. Mmmmmm! I spent most of the day mooching about on my bike again in the good weather (sporting my new Zara shorts). I cycled around the Bay and into the town centre and then onwards out to Bute Park before retracing my steps. This I followed with another long and relaxing swim at Cardiff International Pool before returning home and eating my own bodyweight in cheese. That done, all I can now do is gently rock from side to side.

Happy days...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Does size matter...?

Ask Sultan Kösen, Junrey Balawing, or any basketball player, jockey, tailor, cobbler or resident of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and the answer will be a resounding, "Yes!" And so it is with me, when it comes to swimming.

Cardiff International Pool has a lesiure pool with slides, rivers, fountains and all manner of stuff to excite and entertain. It also has a 50m laned swimming pool. However, for the majority of its opening hours this Olympic size pool is carved up into different 25m sections so that they can maximise its use for swimming classes, training, and public swimming.

Most weekends (when it isn't closed for events) the 50m pool is actually open at its full 50m. And let me tell you, swimming in a 50m lane is a totally different experience to swimming in a 25m lane. It feels calmer for a start; expansive and serene. I think it's a harder swim too; you don't turn as often and you have to sustain your stroke for a lot longer. I think it's an altogether better swimming experience and, for that, it's worth every penny in the membership that I pay.

To those of you who might argue that it's not about size but how you use it; I'd argue that both are important. But let's be honest; you can't fail to be impressed by something that big... Phwoar!

Friday, 29 July 2011

One small step...

Neil Armstrong wasn't chosen for the Apollo 11 mission because of his oratory skills. "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" is what he'd intended saying when he stepped from the Eagle (Apollo 11's lunar module) onto the surface of the moon. But it came out all wrong and, it seems, he fluffed the most momentous line of the 20th Century.

I ran tonight for the first time in a week. I can honestly say that I felt no pain, not even a twinge; although there was a slight stiffness above the hip bone toward the kidney area but this could have been to do with not having run in a week. It's a good start and it satisfied my need to just get out there and run.

Were I a young astronaut (rather than a 48 year old gay, diabetic with a sore hip) I'd have an army of boffins monitoring my every breath. I wouldn't be able to break wind without sending the medical team at Houston into blind panic. Instead, I had to monitor myself by more subjective means - sometimes known as the ouch factor.

It's strange when you're running and looking for signals from your body and how it's coping with the exertion. Every footfall is overly scrutenised and you notice things that have, in all probability, been there all along. If anything affected my run tonight it was my right knee, which felt way more weird than my right hip. If I was a religious person, I'd be praying for a positive outcome; for a trouble free run next Monday and a problem free ease back into my normal running schedule.  However, as an atheist, the only God I believe in is Richard Dawkins.

I'm just re-reading the Wiki article I've linked to above and, apparently, one of the first things Buzz Aldrin did when he and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon was to take communion. You'd have thought that after a journey that was the focus of the best science money could buy and then viewing the splendour of the Earth from the "magnificent desolation" of the lunar surface, he would have been prompted to question his religious faith. God really does move in very mysterious ways (Perhaps he's got a sore hip too?).

I'm not due to run again until Monday evening so I shall rest again over the weekend, limiting myself to a couple of swims and the odd breakfast warm up. That, I'm hoping, will be enough to allow me to turn a corner with this hip problem and get back into my regular running schedule.

I think it's a bit too early to announce that, "the Eagle has landed..."

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Green with envy...

I'm going a little stir crazy with this enforced rest whilst my hip gets better. I've not run now since last Friday. Instead, I've been swimming and also gently exercising my hip every morning in the hope that I can build up strength there and also keep it flexible.

Tomorrow night I will go for an introductory short run to test if I can resume running or whether the soreness returns. If the soreness returns then I will have to see the physio for help in getting me back running.

One of the seven deadly sins, envy is also a capital vice and a cardinal sin. In addition to this, it is one of the sins of the flesh because it corrupts the body. For some further delicious corruption, listen here to Ute Lemper in Weill and Brecht's magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (IV - Avarice/Envy/Epilogue). Envy is closely related to both jealousy and schadenfreude.

And, much to my shame, tonight I was guilty of it. Whilst cycling home from work, I spotted two guys running toward me and I was envious of them. I so wanted to run like them; I was jealous that they could run and I could not. I resented this.

In Dante's Purgatory, the punishment for the envious is to have their eyes sewn shut with wire because they have gained sinful pleasure from seeing others brought low.

Just as well I'm a big Radio 4 fan...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

On your bike...

Norman Tebbit is often misquoted as saying, "Get on your bike and look for work." Apparently, he never said that, although, in the aftermath of the Brixton riots of 1981, he did tell a story about his father getting on his bike to look for a job rather than rioting.

I get on my bike to go to work every morning. It's a pleasant journey in the summer sunshine and second only to getting on my bike to go home each evening. For the entirety of my journey I manage to avoid cycling on the road and this ensures I avoid any road rage stress. The 3.5km ride into work begins with an ozone scented journey along the harbour front of Mermaid Quay. Next, I cut across Roald Dahl Plass  in front of the Wales Millennium Centre and then up Boy George Avenue (Lloyd George Avenue). There is such a cool serenity about this place as I cycle its entire length. Skirting the corner of John Lewis, I try to avoid running the pedestrians down on the Hayes, then up past St David's Hall to the City Centre where I work.

This evening, I came across this photo of my bike taken on April 24th 2002 out on the Cardiff Bay Barrage. It was the day I first got my bike. I was so pleased with it. It was a beautiful day and I'd taken the afternoon off work to go pick it up at Reg Braddick's excellent bike shop in Splott. I then took it for a spin around Cardiff for the rest of the afternoon. A Marin San Anselmo; it has lasted me well. Not the cheapest of makes but it has well stood the test of time and I've had very few problems with it. If I had to go looking for a job, as Tebbit's father once did, my Marin bike would, I think, stand me in good stead.

And, had Tebbit's father known the right wing, reactionary bigot his son would become, rather than cycling to find work he might have cycled straight under a London Bus, thereby saving us all from the Chingford Skinhead.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Nature, red in tooth and claw...

After a lovely warm day, I cycled my hot and sticky carcass over to Cardiff International Pool this evening for a refreshing dip. The pool was packed - I think everyone must have had the same idea. You could hear the hiss of steam as people lowered their sizzling bodies into the cool waters.

I shared a lane tonight with two others; a man in his late twenties who was physically very fit and swam with the power and ferocity of a killer whale and a 12 year old girl who was plump with a little prepubescent fat and swam... well, she swam like a plump, prepubescent, 12 year old girl. In fact, she swam a bit like an injured seal.

None of us seemed that pleased to have been thrown together and I'm sure I wasn't the only one to feel a little exasperated. The injured seal seemed to be getting more flustered every time the killer whale carved past her and the killer whale's frustration was evident as she blocked his path with her nervous dithers and little extraneous splashes.

It was bit like watching a wildlife programme. If he'd finally risen from beneath her with a dizzying velocity to deliver a fatal blow, turning the water from a cool chlorinated blue to a frothing baby seal blood red, I don't think I would've been that surprised.

I've suggested that the pool allocate the lanes as either fast, medium or slow. Other pools have adopted this system. People can then choose a lane that suits them and their ability. That way they can separate the killer whales from the injured seals.

Later when I was changing, coming from the cubicle next to mine, I'm sure I heard David Attenborough's voice...

Monday, 25 July 2011


Tonight I would normally have gone for a run but I'm resting my sore hip. And I couldn't go for a swim instead because the pool closes early on a Monday. So it was I was left in the lap of the gods...

Spontaneity is one of life's all too rare treats. The sorts of things you did as a kid on a summer's day like going to the beach or building a den. By definition, you can't plan for it, it takes you by surprise and if you run with it, you're rarely disappointed.

It started this afternoon in work. I spotted my friend Jaime who stopped to ask if I was free for a catch up later in the day, I suggested after 4:30pm when I'd be out of my meeting, she suggested 5:00pm for a drink somewhere close by, which then became drinks nearer home and that quickly segued into a meal and a few glasses of wine at Côte Brasserie in the Bay.

I've little recollection of what we talked about but a persistent memory of laughing a lot. Good weather, food, wine and, of course, company. And the best bit: it was a total surprise!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

What's in a name...?

To scarper is British slang for to run off or to run away. It originates from the Italian scappare meaning to escape and was popularised through it's usage in Polari.

Polari is a language, used predominantly by gay men, made up of slang borrowed from various sources such as Italian, Romany, cant, backslang, rhyming slang and Yiddish. Polari's heyday was prior to the legislation in the late 1960s that partially decriminalised homosexuality. Prior to this date, a careless word could mean a gaol sentence, if overheard by the wrong person. Speaking in a slang only understood by likeminded souls was a very real protection against prosecution.

This was hilariously exploited in the Julian & Sandy sketches in the hugely popular 1960s BBC radio show, Round the Horne. Julian and Sandy (played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams) were out of work actors doing different jobs to get by. Each week would see them try their hand (hopelessly) at a different profession. All of them prefaced with bona, the Polari slang for good: Bona Law, Bona Pets, Bona Estate Agents even Keep Britain Bona where they launch their own political party. 

Because of all of the above, the fact I'm gay, that I like to run and that the URL was available, it seemed right to name this blog The Scarperer - escaping into my thoughts when I run. For those interested in finding out a little more; here's the Wikipedia article on Polari, a One Show feature on Polari by Arthur Smith with Paul Baker and even the Bible translated into Polari. For those still not sated, you can get a copy of Paul Baker's excellent Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang.

Bona nochy!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Dogger: northerly; moderate; showers; good, occasionally poor...

I guess I'm not alone when I say that all I want each morning throughout the week is a bit longer in bed and then come Saturday morning, guess what: I'm wide awake and bright as a button at 5am. Typical! I've learned that, whenever this happens, my best course of action is to switch on the radio. My radio is always tuned to BBC Radio 4 and the sound of voices soothes and relaxes me. I listen to it to go to sleep at night and I wake to it each morning.

Curiously, I don't listen to anything when I run. I know there are those who can't run a step without their iPod plugged in but I don't like being wired for sound when I run; I prefer the sound of my breathing and the whir of my imagination. I have an iPod and, for a time, I used it when running but I rarely listened to music - there's only so much Madonna that even a gay runner can take. Instead, I listened to podcasts; and one in particular: The History of Rome, which I became addicted to.

When I switched the radio on this morning, Radio 4 hadn't started broadcasting and so instead I got a selection from the BBC's World Service. This morning the World Service was just winding down with news headlines about yesterday's terrible events in Norway before flipping over to BBC Radio 4 with the Shipping Forecast. If you've never heard this programme, you don't know what you're missing.

It's an impenetrable and soothing three minute smörgåsbord of nautical and meteorological terms, guaranteed to send me to sleep. 3, 2, 1 and I'm gone. Starting with Viking and moving in a clockwise direction around the British Isles through Forties, Humber, Portland, Fitzroy (formally Finisterre), Shannon and Malin and many more to finish at South East Iceland; the listener is treated to a synopsis of British maritime conditions.

Because of the soporific effect it has on me, I think I've rarely got past German Bight. Certainly, by Trafalgar I'm fast asleep and dreaming that I might one day remain conscious until Rockall. And so it was this morning...

If you've never listened to this programme, you can find out more in Nick Higham's Close Up report and you can access the last few broadcasts on the BBC's Shipping Forecast website. You'll be asleep well before the end; guaranteed!

Friday, 22 July 2011

You're only as old as the man you feel...

Age is such a strange concept. I had a conversation with a woman whom I work with today and she was surprised to hear that I will be 49 in less than 3 months time. She was quite flattering, until her gob smacked realisation of, "God, you're older than my parents!" It was quite funny. To be honest, turning 49 in under 3 months is a surprise to me; in my head I'm still only 12. I got stuck there in 1974 and I haven't moved since.

Having not run since Monday in an effort to rest my hip, I did a short run tonight to test how it was feeling. To bring you up to speed, on last Sunday's run I developed a twinge at my right hip. When I ran again on Monday, that twinge turned into pain and so I've been swimming rather than running during the week. I haven't felt any pain at all whilst swimming or cycling; not even when walking. The only sensation I have of it is a slight twinge when going from a sitting position into a standing position.

I've thought about it quite a bit during the week and how I might have caused it:
  • Is it my new running shoes? We'll they're nearly 4 weeks old and it doesn't really add up; I got used to them (and them me) within the first few days so it'd be a bit odd if they started causing trouble now.
  • Have I turned awkwardly whilst running? Not to my knowledge and it didn't suddenly come on with a twang, such as you might expect if I'd turned awkwardly; in fact, it was quite a smooth and gradual onset.
  • Have I been overdoing it? Well, I don't think so but what exactly is meant by "overdoing it"?
  • Is it just the wear and tear on my body as I get older? Well, yes - I can't get away from the fact that I'm getting older and I'm less able to deal with life's knocks than a younger man. But again, it doesn't add up: I think I'm in pretty good nick for my (almost) 49 years on this planet - better than many younger men.
  • Perhaps it's the product of a hyperactive imagination? Again, yes; I have one of those so who knows...
With all this mulling over in my head, gingerly, I set off on my run tonight; promising myself that if I felt pain I would stop running. After about 200m I could feel a faint, dull ache. It remained like that throughout the run: no more than a faint and dull ache. Barely perceptable, it didn't interfere with my run, although I have to admit that it was a shorter, nimbler and more careful run that I'd normally do.

Whatever it was, I hope that it means that this 12 year old is on the mend; I can really do without a visit to the physiotherapist.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Elaine Carmody fights for your rights...

Cardiff International Pool opens at 06:15 on weekday mornings and it's usually full from the start. Swimmers training for events have arrived for their first swim of the day and anyone who fancies a pre-work dip gets in there as well. I don't usually go until after work in the evening when it's a lot less busy. On the rare occasions I have gone for a swim in the morning, I usually try and avoid the place until after 09:00, when most of the early birds have cleared.

If I do go for an early pre-breakfast swim, I'll just just jump out of bed, throw on an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt and then cycle the 10 minute ride over to the swimming pool for a quick dip. However, I always feel a bit scummy; not having washed or made any effort at all. I feel the same when I have to pop to the local supermarket first thing if I've run out of milk.

Feeling scummy and unwashed and wearing yesterday's t-shirt whilst buying a pint of milk is one thing but I really can't conceive of popping anywhere, swimming pool or supermarket, in my pyjamas. However, if I did decide to leave my flat sporting nightwear, I wouldn't be alone in Cardiff Bay. When I'm going to work in the morning I frequently see people in dressing gowns leaving the local shop; usually clutching a carton of milk, the Daily Mail under their arm and a ciggie in their face.

I haven't yet seen anyone at the pool wearing pyjamas. The sort of people who go to the pool that early aren't really the sort who'd pop to the shop in their jim jams for 20 Benson & Hedges. Although, I can remember wearing pyjamas to my local pool once but that was when I was a 12 year old a Boy Scout and I had to dive to the bottom of the pool and retrieve a brick wearing them. I think I got a badge for it.

Does anyone remember the Elaine Carmody news item that broke in January 2010? My friend Carl reminded me of this classic David and Goliath story of a full time mother of two fighting a multi national for her right to wear her pyjamas to go pick up a packet of fags. It's comedy gold.

If she was in the Girl Guides, they'd have given her a badge.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

My seal has withered...

I went to Cardiff International Pool for a lunchtime swim rather than an evening swim today because I was working from home. At last they've started to enforce the changing area barefoot policy. Up until recently, all they'd had was a polite notice asking that shoes be removed; some of us adhered to this and others ignored it. I'd even seen one member of staff wheel his bike through the changing area. Today there was someone sat by the entrance asking people to remove their outdoor shoes. Perhaps it's dawned on them that it's a pointless policy until everyone does it.

Today should've been a running day but following Sunday's twinge, further aggravated by my run on Monday night, I decided to opt for a gentler form of exercise in the hope that I'll be back up to speed in time for a run on Friday. Whilst swimming is a great form of exercise, it doesn't give you that exhilarating lift and afterglow that you get with running. Fingers crossed for Friday...

The pool was relatively quiet and I shared a lane with a guy who was having none of this clockwise or anti-clockwise rubbish; no, he was straight up and down on one side of the lane. Up on his right and back down on his left. I just fitted in alongside; up on my left and back down on my right. The only problem with this set up is that you're limited to 2 people per lane. I didn't complain...!

The other thing to note from today's swim was that the right eye of my goggles kept filling with water. This sometimes happens when I first put them on but a bit of re-adjustment usually sorts the issue. Try as I might today, it just kept letting in water. Perhaps the seal has withered. It's annoying in the extreme and I'm not sure if you've ever seen someone rant and swear underwater but if you'd been there today, you would have. Having one eye piece filled with water makes navigating a straight line almost impossible. Mr Straight Up & Down must've thought I was drunk as I repeatedly strayed into his side of the lane.

I must've looked like a subaqua Father Jack.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Like a fish out of water...

My preferred direction of swimming is clockwise; always on the left hand side of the lane. Tonight I shared a lane with a guy who was already swimming in an anti-clockwise direction when I arrived. I had no option but to fit in and follow his lead. But then, I'm such a conformist.

It's amazing how something like this can throw you. I had to really concentrate on counting lengths and ensuring I was swimming in a straight line. Things I've long taken for granted, such as turning and kicking, I now became very conscious of. It seemed that even homeostatic regulators, such as heart rate and breathing, might be up for review.

But why do I prefer clockwise and why did he prefer anti-clockwise? What possessed him to swim in an anti-clockwise direction? Is it to do with right and left handedness or could he be from a country where they drive on the right? I puzzled about this for the entire duration of my swim. My only conclusion was that he wasn't the conformist I am; probably a bit more rebel and a lot more rock'n'roll than me.

Or maybe, when he got in the pool, the guy already in that lane was swimming in an anti-clockwise direction...?

Monday, 18 July 2011

More Saga than sagger...

Last year a friend of mine told me that I should wear my jeans lower; more on the hip than the waist. Not wanting to risk comparisons with Simon Cowell, I made the change - although, I must admit, it still feels odd. I don't feel secure without a belt around my waist and, I have to say, part of my reluctance to wear my jeans lower is an aversion to the sagger look.

Dressing for your age is a hard one to guage. I don't want to turn into some sad old queen before my time; out of step with everything other than nostalgia. Equally, I don't want to become one of those older gay men who try so desperately to cling on to their youth at all costs; squeezed into the latest fashion and cramped by their own style. It's a tough life steering a safe passage between Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh.

Tonight's run was a short one. My third run in three days, I am being careful not to over do it. During yesterday's run I felt a twinge just above my right hip; like I'd strained something somewhere deep inside. By tonight's run it was transforming from twinge into pain and during the run it got worse.

As a young man, I spent my life shrugging off such pains and twinges but, as I get older, I can't help wondering is this just a fleeting pang or is this something far more serious. Is that just an ache or is this a cue for a hip replacement?

As you get older, you become less spontaneous and more conscious of everything. What once you just did, now you have to plan for first. Look at Saga and their strap line, "Doing things properly." As you get older, doing things properly becomes more important.

Of course, I make it sound like I'm over the hill and past it when, in fact, I'm nowhere near that. As the song goes, "Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December" - and whilst I'm nowhere near December, autumn is fast approaching.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Poking around my own backyard...

My mate Andy from Bristol arrived at about 11ish this morning and we wasted no time in setting off on our run around the bay. I haven't run with someone else in quite some time. It can prove tricky; what with different speeds and length of step and different stamina. However, the two of us soon settled into a comfortable pace that suited us both, although given his leg length and youth, I'm pretty sure he could've outrun me if he'd wanted.

Rather than run my usual 5km route, we decided to run all the way around the Bay via the Sports Village and Pont Y Werin then out to the Cardiff Bay Barrage and back into the Bay via the footbridge by the Norwegian Church. This route is about 7.5km and so a bit of a stretch for me. However, the run passed quickly and in no time we were back at my front door. I always get such a sense of achievement when I circumnavigate the Bay via the Barrage. I'm sure Juan Sebastián Elcano had similar feelings.

I've heard it said that a good running pace is one where you can run and talk at the same time. We certainly tested that, catching up on what we'd both been up to over the last couple of weeks. I don't think the term, "taciturn" could be applied to either of us. We chirped our way around the bay.

After we got back to mine we went for a coffee at Coffee Mania followed by a quick tour of Cardiff Multicultural Mela taking place in the Oval Basin (or Plass Roald Dahl, to give it it's official name). Andy had never seen the inside of The Pier Head Building so we popped in there to admire the tiles and then onto The Senedd.

The Senedd is really such an impressive building. I like it more and more with each visit; everything from the simplicity and warmth of the architecture to the friendliness of the staff. Today it was a bit of a refuge from the gusting showers of rain and the Bhangra music bumping away in the Oval Basin.

Hey Andy, when are we gonna do it again?

Saturday, 16 July 2011

It's just not cricket...

I had intended to go for a swim today. However, Cardiff International Pool was closed all day, as was Maindy Pool, as was Splott Pool. I gave up and decided to sit on my great arse eating Belgian chocolate truffles all afternoon go for a run instead. Today's run was shorter than my usual run because I've arranged to go for a run tomorrow with a mate of mine from Bristol. And to get me back into my normal schedule, I'll probably go for a run on Monday also.

My original intention was to go for a run last night after work but, instead, I got invited to the cricket at the SWALEC stadium and so went there straight after work. What I know about cricket you could write on the back of a postage stamp, three times over, in crayon, using only your feet. I didn't see much of the match as I stayed in the corporate hospitality lounge - not that there was that much of a match to see, given the squally showers that littered the evening. Having said that, it was a pleasant evening talking to friends and meeting new people.

So, how come three of the city's public pools are closed on a Saturday afternoon? Have Cardiff City Council passed a by-law which prohibits swimming on a weekend, or are they just a bit dim, short sighted and disorganised...?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Let's get physical...

I'm currently reading Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running". I bought the book some weeks ago but have only recently started reading it. I'm not so sure I like his style of prose (perhaps it's just a case of getting used to him) but I like his content. And before starting Murakami's book I'd been reading the 2nd volume of Michael Palin's diaries, "Halfway To Hollywood". A keen runner, Palin writes frequently in his diaries about running; about the thoughts he has whilst he runs and the effect running has on his thoughts.

In his book, Murakami writes, "Even if the skill level varies, there are things that only runners understand and share." I believe there's a truth in this; I think that the psychology of running is so central to what and who we are as humans. Anyone who runs regularly (even to the extent that I do) will understand this.

There are anthropological theories that argue we are born to run. We once had to run in order to survive; chasing down prey and scavenging. We don't need to do that today but those of us who do run do it because it turns on the same pleasure centres in the brain. It's part of our genetic make-up.

I guess both Murakami and Palin were influential in finally getting me back into blogging; I wanted to record the thoughts that I have when I exercise. Ever since I started running five years ago, I have realised that running (and, by extension, exercise) is so much more than just a physical thing. I wrote in one of my earlier posts about it being a bridge between work and home life - that is certainly one of the functions it fulfils. It's both a time of focus and of dissapation. It's a time where I can process the day.

I certainly didn't want this blog to become an exercise log where I simply recorded times and laps and diet along with injuries and personal bests. No, I wanted to capture the hundred and one thoughts that float through my head (including times and laps and diet along with injuries and personal bests) and how my thoughts affect my exercise and how the exercise affects my thoughts. I wanted to record the narrative behind the running, swimming and cycling.

Has it got legs? Is there any mileage in it? This blog is in its infancy and I'm still finding my voice. We'll see...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

What will they think of next...?

Swimming can be the most repetitive and boring of exercises. Tonight was a case in point. Often it takes on a meditative quality and it passes in a flash but tonight it was a boring, 600 stroke thrash.

Nothing to distract me; no passing scenery to look at (the occasional eye candy but far too infequent to keep me entertained), no opportunity for a chat with a fellow swimmer as I complete my set lengths and no chance of any music to make the time pass a little quicker...

Or so I thought until I stumbled across this waterproof mp3 player complete with headphones. Amazing! What will they think of next?

Here's my subaqua playlist:

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

I'm not superstitious but...

I'm out running and before I know it, I've stepped on a drain cover. No! Why don't I focus on what I'm doing rather than daydreaming and passively taking in the passing scenery. Wait! I only stepped on a drain cover; it's not the end of the world.

I should imagine I am not alone when I admit to having some superstitions about running. The world of sport has always been littered with participants (and followers) who have rituals, quirks and superstitions to do with their activity.

A lot of the superstions runners have will centre on the competition day, such as not shaving on a race day or not wearing new running gear on a race day. I guess, though, the last thing you want to do on a race day is to be distracted by something like itchy stubble or, worse still, ill fitting trainers.

Others get superstitious about their preparation before a run, for example eating certain foodstuffs or doing stretches in a certain order. This too makes good sense, as what and when you eat has such an impact on your running. I recently read an article arguing that the absense of a pre-run stretch did not lead to injuries; what led to injuries was the absence of a pre-run stretch if you normally streched before your run or the inclusion of a pre-run stretch if you normally didn't bother.

Some superstitions will focus on training; I was recently talking to a runner who did not like the week's milage to end in a 9. I'm not quite sure how to explain that one rationally. Perhaps this is one that is actually based on true superstition. Bonkers!

I'm not normally a superstitious person; things that are not based in knowledge or reason rarely get much space. I guess, though, that there's actually some sense in avoiding running on drain covers, especially when you see the state on some of the drains that pepper my route. However, it has now gone beyond sense and I often put myself at greater risk by running in the road in order to avoid the drain cover than the risk I'd face by running on the drain cover itself. High time that I got a grip and knocked it on the head.

Now, where's my lucky rabbit's foot...?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Sharks gotta swim...

And so I finished my second full shift in 24hrs at 08:30 this morning. Abso-bloody-lutely shattered! However, accentuating the positive; it passed quickly, I got quite a bit of work done, I didn't feel that tired through the night, the company was good and the release went well.

When I left work this morning, I cycled straight to the pool for a swim. It had been a muggy evening and this wasn't helped by the fact that the air conditioning in work had little or no effect making it a sticky night. The pool was quite empty, calm and quiet and the coolness of the water beckoned; as I swam I could quite easily have drifted into a deep sleep. If only I could just glide through the cool water without the need to break the surface for air. I felt a little like a shark, slowly moving to remain afloat and to keep water passing through its gills.

After my swim, I cycled back home for a breakfast of two big, strong coffees and a bowl of porridge. It was at this point I started to flag; my legs felt heavy but not quite as heavy as my eyelids. I lay down only to be woken half an hour later by the warning noise of a lorry reversing in the street outside.

I had a shower to wake me up and then cycled up to the National Museum of Wales in the city centre to see the new art galleries that opened on the weekend. Not quite as impressive as the hype led you to believe but pleasant and long overdue. It's always a pleasure to visit the National Museum in Cardiff and, if you've not seen the permenant collection, you should certainy visit; the Monets, Manets, Van Gochs, Cezannes, Renoirs and Rodins make it an exhibition of international standing.

A stroll through town and then I cycled back home for some lunch and... instead of putting my head down and giving in to an intense urge to close my eyes, I cycled off to Ikea and a few other dusty corners of the Bay for an hour or two. This was followed by a slow and lesiurely ride back home where this shark is, at long last, going to close his eyes and rest.

Monday, 11 July 2011

To sleep: perchance to dream...

It sounded like a good idea a couple of weeks ago when I stuck my hand in the air to volunteer to work tonight. As the culmination of a high profile project in work we have an IT release tonight. It has to be during the night because that's when fewest people are affected. Now that this night shift is imminent, I'm not so sure about my earlier keenness...

I left work mid afternoon today. I should've gone straight to bed and tried to sleep in preparation but I sort of knew that wouldn't happen. Instead I rode about on my bike for a bit. I went into town and picked up my monthly prescription and then I had a little nose about the shops before meandering home.

It was a muggy afternoon; not very pleasant, especially for running. I thought a run might be a good idea as it might tire me out a bit so I could get my head down. I was sweating before I got out the front door. However, my legs felt light and I was full of bounce. I thought about the Diamond League Men's 5000m I'd seen on TV from Birmingham last night: Mo Farah did it in a little over 13 minutes - that's nearly double the speed at which I run! I can't even conceive of moving my legs that quickly over 500m, never mind 5000m.

I know that he's running on a level track and doesn't have to negotiate slopes and steps and potholes in the roads and pavements but still... It's the difference I find astounding: double my pace! I finished my 5000m run tonight looking a lot less composed than Mo Farah did last night after his run and in an unimpressive 26 minutes. My hopes of a place on Team GB in 2012 are dwindling fast!

And even that little run has not tired me out. Nor the muggy atmosphere which has persisted into the evening. There is little point in lying down and trying to catch 40 winks. I feel as bright as a button at the moment but it's a sure bet I'm going to be fighting to stay awake come the wee, small hours. I shall console myself with the delicious prospect of no work until Wednesday, once I finish my second shift in 24 hrs at 8ish tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Ride me...

A sunny day of cycling here and there, hither and thither: to Asda's to get ingredients for tonight's mushroom orzotto, to B&Q  for some adhesive, to Cardiff International Pool for a swim (Yay! I don't believe it; the pool's open...), to Morrison's for their wonderful bread made with the spelt grain, into town for a bit of a mooch and then back out to the Bay for a coffee at Coffee Mania with a mate. Peddle power!

The only cloud in the sky was that the Terrence Higgins Trust chose to accept Murdoch's offer to advertise for free in the last edition of the News of the World. Other charities (notably the Salvation Army and the RSPCA) managed to control themselves and reject Murdoch's offer of free advertising space. I fear that this can only harm the THT - a decision they will regret, I think.

On one of today's forays, I noticed a woman on one of the numerous rental bicycles from OYBike. Usage of these rental bikes parked throughout Cardiff seems to have grown in the two or three years since they began. However, as this woman passed me, my eye was caught by some OYBike advertising on the bicycle itself. "Ride Me" it said and, in Welsh on the other side, "Neidiwch arna i" (Jump on me). She obviously didn't care (and neither would I) but I can imagine some customers potentially being put off by having such a message boldly emblazoned on their bike.

And with that, I'll sign off for today: before I sail even further into murky NOTW territory and their smutty puns and jokes, before I'm hacking into your phone, before the THT come looking for free advertising space.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Land of my fathers. And mothers...

I had hoped for good weather today so that I could get out on my bike but rain stopped play until lunchtime. I then popped to the supermarket for some smoked mackerel. My father liked mackerel. Perhaps that is where I get it from? Frankly, my father liked all foods; I can't think of anything he didn't like. For some reason, I've thought about him quite a lot recently. Physically, I follow my father. I grow more and more like him with every day that passes. I look in the bathroom mirror each morning and my dad stares back at me. He died 7 years ago. He was 71 and had Alzheimer's. I think he just gave up.

Emotionally, I follow my mother. Principled to the point of stubbornness and with a pyrotechnic temper; she is not to be toyed with. I don't think I'm particularly principled but I can be stubborn and I have a pyrotechnic temper. She is now 72 and still going strong. My mother did not want to be the cutesy, ringletted belle her mother wanted her to be. No, she dreamt of playing the saxophone and liked messing about on bikes; she was a bit of a rebel. Perhaps that's where I get my liking for cycling from?

I followed the river, cycling up through Bute Park towards Maindy Swimming Pool (Cardiff International Pool being closed again). The weather had certainly improved from the morning and the park was full of people enjoying themselves. I cycled past the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, which I left 25 years ago. The facilities have certainly improved since I was there; an impressive new building with terraces backing on to the park.

And onwards past Blackweir to Maindy Pool. The water temperature was, as usual, too warm. When I got changed after swimming, I noticed a text on my phone. It was from my mother. She was at a family do today and had bought some new make-up to wear to it, along with a new pair of glasses. My mother never wears makeup but she had treated herself to some. She admitted in the week to being a little nervous about applying it, given the time that had elapsed since she last used make-up. Contained within the text was a photo of her in full slap before she set out. I think she looks beautiful.

Oscar Wilde wrote that, "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

Friday, 8 July 2011

Jogger with Tourette's...

I don't manage stress as well as I might. I sometimes need to vent my frustration. I find shouting obscenities helps and, in extreme circumstances, some sort of physical expression is required. I know that physical and emotional vents for stress in public are not fashionable. But when I need to vent, I find an immediate and uncensored response the most satisfying. However, this isn't always possible and I sometimes arrive home from work with several monkeys on my back. Today's monkeys were not work related monkeys, far from it; the entire troupe had found their way there from non work related sources.

To explain: this morning a gas engineer called at my house to service my boiler (not a euphemism). Shortly after his arrival at 8:30am he told me that I had a substantial gas leak (again, not a euphemism) but he could not locate the leak itself because most of the pipes were blocked in by my kitchen units. I had to go to work at 10:00am and so left the keys with a neighbour.

To find the leak, several fitted units in my kitchen had to be removed, I was told when he rang me. My heart sank. He said that whilst this was regrettable, the good news was that he had found the source of the leak and sealed it. After numerous other calls between me, him and various other tradesmen, I was informed that some finishing work was outstanding but the units had been put back and the gas reconnected; the kitchen was fully functional again.

However, when I got home at about six o'clock this evening, I found that my kitchen looked like something from the frontline in Misrata; and to top it all, the boiler wasn't firing, the cooker wasn't connected to the gas supply and, furthermore, the grill door to the gas cooker was hanging off. No hot water, no gas and a broken cooker. Furious is probably an understatement.

Prior to the availability of jogging as an option, nuclear meltdown would've been my only choice. I counted to ten and quietly put on my running kit, the odd rogue expletive occasionally escaping into the eerie silence. I quickly left the flat and started running. The first part of my run is across a 1km bridge carrying a dual carriageway spanning the mouth of the River Taff. Here, I can give full vent to my frustrations, which is exactly what I did. I must look very odd to oncoming traffic as I run along the pedestrian footpath across this bridge; ranting, jabbing the air, gabbling and twitching as I go.

A contorted and gesticulating, foul-mouthed gargoyle jogging through Cardiff? Yes but it does my heart a power of good and allows me to function almost like a normal human being. Almost...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Budgie smugglers...

People wear the strangest things to go swimming. It seems they always have done: the bikini, tankini, burqini, monokini, unikini, mankini and fundoshi. I never knew there was such a choice! But despite that choice, I've seen people in the swimming pool wearing cut off jeans, shorts, boxer briefs and even y-fronts.

It seems that the French had the right idea with their ban of shorts style swimwear in favour of the swim brief. The reason they stated was hygiene; you're less likely to wear such things for anything other than swimming at a pool and therefore you're less likely to carry grit and dirt into the pool.

I was swimming tonight alongside a man in a pair of calf length floral board shorts. How do you swim in those? The weight and drag must have affected his ability to swim. They were almost trouser length. I wondered why he'd bothered getting changed.

I must admit, I'm a Speedos fan, myself. I know that people think I'm a bit kinky in my liking for them but they make sense, especially when you swim for exercise: they're small and roll up in a towel easily, they dry quickly, they're hygienic (if you believe the French) and they don't produce drag when you're swimming.

I'm more than happy with my banana hammock, slug huggers or budgie smugglers... take your pick!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

I'm no doctor but...

My back is killing me. I've got a sharp pain in the middle of the left hand side. I think it's a muscular pain rather than being related to lung function. I don't think so, anyway, or else I wouldn't be able to run and tonight I wasn't short of breath or having any breathing difficulties whatsoever. In fact, tonight's run was pretty damn quick for me; 5km in just under 25 minutes. My legs felt light and sprung and I was able to accelerate easily. It felt like a smooth and energetic run.

However, because of the pain in my back I have a constant urge to press the afflicted spot hard into a door knob and to deeply knead the area. I could feel it throughout tonight's run. I think I did it whilst doing some sit ups a couple of days ago. Every morning, whilst my porridge cooks, I try to run through some simple exercises such as sit ups, push ups, lunges etc to build core strength. I felt a slight twang mid sit up a couple of days ago and I think it stems from that. I should probably visit the physio and see what she has to say.

Since I started running, injury has only once completely prevented me from running for a prolonged period; that was when I broke my ankle in 2007 and that took me out for a little over 3 months. Looking back over the last four or five years, I have certainly been in the wars. But I've managed (for the most part) to keep the running going.

I have run with my arm in bandages after surgery in 2008 to resolve my Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. The bandages were quite voluminous and when they were removed I thought them a bit overkill, given the size of the incision on my hand. I have run with my arm in plaster when I went over the handlebards of my bike in 2009 and broke the Scaphoid bone in my wrist. I have run with my knee strapped up whilst having physio in 2010 for Chondromalacia Patellae (itself related to the broken ankle and the compensations I continued to make).

I'll be damned if I'm gonna let a punctured lung stand in my way!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Drenched to the skin...

In Douglas Adams' novel, So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish, it continually rains on long distance lorry driver, Rob McKenna, wherever he happens to go. It transpires that, rather than having something to do with meteorological changes, it rains on him because he is a rain God and the clouds want "to cherish Him and to water Him".

I love running in the rain. There's something quite exhilarating about being drenched to the skin. I look forward to the opportunity of running in the rain but, surprisingly for Wales, the opportunity has not presented itself that often. In the last 4 years I can count on one hand the number of times where I have worn my weather proof running jacket because of the rain. I have worn it to protect me from the wind and cold on numerous occasions but rarely to protect me from the rain. Clearly, unlike Rob McKenna, I am not a rain god.

I was beginning to think the same must be true whenever I go cycling. I have cycled into work nearly every day since Easter and have never got wet. That is not to say that it hasn't rained since Easter. Far from it. But at about 8am for half an hour and, similarly, at about 5pm for half an hour it has been fairly dry in Cardiff. I was beginning to think that God in his heaven was smiling on me.

Until tonight. I hadn't travelled that far from work when I felt the first few heavy spats and within a minute or two it was hammering down. It soon became clear that the nylon weatherproof jacket I was wearing would be of little use. I battled on - there seemed little point in stopping. This downpour was of monsoon stature: drains overflowed, rivulets ran down the pavements whilst people dressed for the summer scattered squealing in all directions.

I progressed at a steady pace through the desserted and flooded pavements of Lloyd George Avenue. My trousers had stuck to my legs and my shirt was dripping under my jacket. My shoes squelched and the water ran through my hair and down my face and into my eyes and mouth. I stopped at a set of lights next to another cyclist. We looked at each other and both started laughing at the situation. There was nothing to do but enjoy it.

My original intention was to cycle over to the pool for a swim but I was hardly in any state to do that. By the time I reached the Bay, all I was ready for was a glass of red wine. Dripping, I stripped in the kitchen, throwing my sodden work clothes straight into the washing machine. Now, where's that wine?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Such a drag...

The beauty of the weekend weather on a school day such as today soon turns sour. Sentiments such as this are borne out of envy; envy as a cloudless sky beckons whilst a corporate life demands. I gazed out of the office window feeling listless and fatigued, wishing I was elsewhere... anywhere else! I tried to concentrate on my work but failed miserably; the unfortunate twist of meteorological circumstance.

The only good points about work today were the blissful ride in and ride home; a cooling and calming cycle in the breeze coupled with dappled sunshine through the leaf cover. Perfect!

Given the space my head was in, it was an inevitability that tonight's run was going to be a lardy legged and panting affair - despite the new running vest, good weather and the trainers bedding in ever more with every run, it was destined to be heavy going. I did my counting trick and tried to zone out but failed. I remained painfully aware of every rasping breath; a run that should take 25 minutes felt like a marathon.

I needed to lift my spirits if I was to finish this run. When I broke my leg in 2007, I swore that if ever I ran again I would enjoy every bloody step of it. Thinking about this usually does the trick instantly for me. I just have to picture myself in that hospital bed and the difference between now and then usually gets me grinning from ear to ear. To be fair it pulled me out of glums today but, dear God, it wasn't easy.

Smiling was a long and hard won battle tonight but I got there eventually, partly thanks to the memory of sitting in a hospital bed with a melon sized ankle and partly thanks to the memory of the fun I had recording this on Friday night.


Sunday, 3 July 2011

Several squeaks of delight....

Today was like yesterday, only bigger, better and more beautiful.

I woke after a really deep, red wine induced, sleep with a surprisingly clear head at 8:30am. Breakfast consisted of two large cups of coffee and a bowl of porridge (I never leave the house without something hot inside me...). I went for a quick bike ride over the bridge to the supermarket at about 10am to get some bits and bobs (no, not more wine...). Then I met my friend, Jaime, for a coffee in Cardiff Bay at 11am. We chatted and then went for a walk through Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve. The place was alive with wildlife: flowers, insects, ducks and a pair of swans with their four cygnets. There are so many swans in Cardiff Bay this year; you can't move for them. Undoubtedly they're beautiful birds but their feet leave a lot to be desired; I expect chiropody isn't high on their agenda.

After the Wetlands Reserve we then meandered up through Hamadryad Park, solving world peace and generally putting the world to rights. This park is one of Cardiff's best kept secrets, judging by the number of people who use it. Jaime then went for lunch at her mum's and I went for a leisurely bike ride. The weather was absolutely glorious and it really does make a world of difference: people are friendlier and more open and the whole of Cardiff had a big smile on its face. Or is that my imagination...?

I bumped into a friend of mine I'd not seen in a while at the King's Cross on my way through town and stopped to say hello. Cycling on, I spotted some lads diving off the footbridge at Blackweir in Bute Park. They'd drawn quite a crowd of spectators. With their improvised swimwear, playfulness and easy charm, it was reminiscent of a Henry Scott Tuke painting. Despite the warning signs not to dive into the water, you couldn't really blame them in this weather. If I was their age, I would have been first off that bridge.

I cycled on for my swim at Maindy Swimming Pool (Cardiff International Pool being closed for the third consecutive day this weekend) and then slowly made my way back home, cycling at a relaxed and leisurely pace with the warmth of the sun on my back; soaking up the the atmosphere, the ambience and the good mood in which Cardiff seemed to be revelling.

Days like yesterday and today really do make you glad to be alive: good friends, great weather and an all pervasive excellent ambience... On days like today I could squeak with delight.

There really is little option but to give into this good feeling...

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Just free-wheeling...

I have spent most of today cycling around Cardiff. Not in any competitive, get fit kind of way; it's hardly exertion at all. Just free-wheeling here and there, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the breeze blowing through my hair (OK then, enjoying the breeze blowing through the thinning strands that don't quite cover my balding pate!).

I cycled to the supermarket to pick up some stuff this morning (a bottle or two of Shiraz), I cycled to the sports shop and exchanged one of my new running vests for one in a different colour (white swapped for black) and I cycled to the barbers to get my "thinning strands" trimmed and my "balding pate" slapped and pampered.

I wasn't able to go for my usual swim at Cardiff International Pool today because it's closed for the weekend. Lord knows why they'd close the place on the first weekend in July for three days? I have suggested that they might inform us members why they close the pool when they do; if it's for an event, you never know, we might be interested in attending as spectators...?

Anyway, that being so, I had to rely on my fall back option of Maindy Swimming Pool - smaller and not nearly as nice; the water temperature is always too high and so it feels like you're paddling in someones bath. Still, it's a pleasant cycle ride up through Bute Park to get there. After 20 lengths (in what felt like second hand tepid bath water) I was ready to get out and cycle back home through the park in the afternoon sunshine.

Past the picnickers dotted on the grass throughout Bute Park, past the crowds in a specially erected stand in the Hayes watching the Wimbledon Ladies Final on the big St David's Hall screen,  past the cafe society cliques sat outside the numerous Starbucks in the town centre, past the gay men, preening, posing and posturing outside the (doomed to turn straight) King's Cross and past the numerous families, friends and lovers enjoying a leisurely stroll up Boy George Avenue (Lloyd George Avenue) to the Bay.

On days like this there is no finer place on earth than Cardiff.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Best run of the week...

What a glorious evening! The sun was shining, a slight breeze was delicately teasing me and I'd finished work with the vast expanse of the weekend to look forward to. My run this evening was an absolute pleasure; no trainer issues (my feet are now firm friends with the new trainers and it looks like a promising relationship), the thrill of a new running vest to wear (new running gear is always such a treat and I looked the biz) and a bottle of Shiraz in the kitchen gently calling my name (a reward to spur me on through my run).

Whatever form of exercise you take, you'll know that some sessions are a breeze whilst others are such a slog. Sometimes everything just comes together and the session feels effortless whilst at other times all you can do is grimace and get through it. And there doesn't seem to be any cause. Tonight felt so easy, not like exercise at all; my heart rate seemed to barely move from that of resting, my breathing remained calm and even and my legs felt light with the potency of a springbok's nether quarters from first to last step. Whereas, other runs have felt like such an uphill climb; leaden and heavy-limbed, panting and sweating and awaiting that first cramping seizure of a coronary.

I'm aware that the way you feel on your run sometimes can have it's roots in any number of physical causes but sometimes it is purely a psychological game. I guess the clues for the ease of my run tonight can all be found in that first paragraph: perfect conditions, no anxieties, no work, treats and a reward.

Small wonder my run was such a pleasure: moments like this make me glad to be alive.