Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Sightseeing Runner

My last post outlined my evangelical approach to running: not one whereby I go out praising its glories during runs, rather one where I will happily outline its benefits in conversation without needing too much prompting. So here’s another of the upsides of running every day…

…firstly, hands up if you travel for work? Thanks. So you know the drill, especially if said travel entails aircrafts: you get to your departure airport, waste away time waiting to board, travel, clear customs and pick up your luggage… and then you’re ready for the joys of international business!

What, you are? Then you’re luckier than I am, my friend. When I travel it is generally to attend conferences (typically ones my company sponsors) or for meetings. Typically, I will head straight from the airport to my hotel. Typically, that hotel is also the conference venue. Typically, there are conference-related evening events (a nice word for ‘meals’). Typically… you got it, they take place in the same hotel.

Not that long ago, for example, I travelled to Copenhagen for a two-day conference which took place at a hotel within the airport terminal. The only non-airport land I saw for two days was… er, Sweden, as it happens, out of my hotel room. It was the same last November in Stuttgart, though at least that time I got to head out of the terminal and cross the road to the other side!

Now don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions. I have had a decent share of free evenings during which I’ve roamed the streets of the likes of Amsterdam, Berlin… hmm, not a lot else, to be honest. Amsterdam’s central location and relevance to the industry in which I work means that I’ve been to a lot of conferences there over the years. I even have my ‘local’ curry house and Irish pub in Amsterdam. I don’t really have those in Portishead. Something’s wrong there. I’m assuming Vic, the landlord of The Ship Inn, isn’t Irish, anyway – if he is, he hides it remarkably well.

So, you get my predicament. Conferences typically require me to be on site by 8am, dinners rarely end before 11pm (and then often spill into the hotel bar)… what scope to take in some of the delights of beautiful cities that attract tourists from all over the place?

The fact that you’re reading a running blog should give you a clue as to where this diatribe is heading. Indeed, running. I was in Stockholm earlier this month, awaking there on February 7 and 8. Stockholm had long topped the list of European cities I’d not seen that I most wanted to visit, certainly since we drove through Port Talbot. I was actually nervous about finally making its acquaintance, in case the expectation that had built up over the years would turn to disappointment. I am relieved to report that it did not: she was every inch as beautiful as I hoped and expected. Every inch I saw, anyway…

…and I saw more of her than I might have done before my conversion to running (much as I continue to not stand it, you understand). Because on February 7, at 6:33, I went for a 4.1m run near the hotel, venturing a bit further the following morning when I headed out for 5.6mi at 5:25. Those 4.1m were tricky, as fresh snow fell onto slippery ice; less so the 5.6mi, by which point the snow had settled and I could pay more attention to the clearer surroundings. Here’s the route, should it mean anything to you!
I still only caught a glimpse of what is a major capital, it’s not as if I ran through it in its entirety. But hey, it’s a glimpse more than I would have got in the past, when I would have got up at what I believe is referred to as a ‘normal’ time (I prefer ‘sane’), leisurely strolled down for breakfast and then headed off for a day’s work. In those 38’ and 47’ I was still able to appreciate this beautiful city in almost virgin snow and equally unblemished tranquillity, its heart still resting from the exortions of the previous day before it truly started beating with the blood of its people pumping through it. I was afforded a more intimate glance, on the second day even finding my way not just by sight but by the smell of a baker I’d passed the day before.

So that was Stockholm. Before then, I’d spent a couple of days in Lund, in South Sweden. On the morning of February 6 I went for a 13.2mi run – no random distance, as you no doubt know (clue: I ran 0.1mi too many). Upon checking in a couple of nights prior I’d asked for suggestions for a run and was kindly given a couple of small maps for a 3.5km and a 5km run. I tried one of them on February 5 but, true to form, obviously got something wrong. But, after a detour through the centre of Lund (in itself no bad thing!), I discovered a cycle track / pedestrian lane in the proximity of the hotel that led to the next town along, Dalby, and decided to use that and that alone for a longer run the following day. Ladies and Gentlemen, runs don’t come much straighter (or flatter) than this one:

OK, so I took in some slight turns when I reached Dalby, having a nosey around. I even found myself running through the cemetery in the church grounds, leaving fresh footprints in the snow at about 7:15: a beautiful, quiet, peaceful feeling that I hope to cherish for some time. I respectfully slowed down in the cemetery, but I didn’t slow all the way down to walking pace. I’m sure they didn’t mind: relaxed folk, the Swedes. None more so than those six feet under with snow falling down…

…and of course I was in shorts and short sleeves! What else would I be wearing heading out for a run at 5:38 in Sweden in February? Not sure what the drivers passing on the highway that ran parallel to the cycle track made of this madman in glo-yellow top… suffice to say I didn’t pass a single living soul once I was half a mile from the hotel! Then again, those Swedes weren’t quite the Vikings I’d been anticipating. Coats, gloves, hats… they had the lot. I figured I may not, for once, be alone in displaying my trademark dress sense. Disappointingly, however, I was.

Good run, that one in Lund. 1h’44”22 is the fastest I’ve ever covered the half-marathon 13.1mi distance. Burnt best part of 2,000 calories, too: by then I’d established the hotel offered just about every brekkie going, and I made sure I helped myself to the whole spectrum!

Therein one of the beauties of running, my friends: the knowledge I can “top up” after a run (or at other selected times of the day) with neither guilt nor fear! Just enjoyment and a feeling of a well-deserved reward!

Half marathons… oh yes, I’ve got one of those coming up soon. March 3, Bath Half Marathon. Last September I tackled my first (and, to date, only) half in Bristol in 1h49’56”: all of five minutes slower than on the Lund cycle path, and that’s with race day adrenaline. Then again, I have run 1,085mi in the 146 days since the Bristol Half – that’s got to count for summat. Oh, 7.6mi/day: I’ll save you the hassle of working it out. Moreover, that half was on September 30 and I’ve run every day since October 12: that’s also got to help. Or so I believe, anyway: I appreciate runstreaking lends itself to various interpretations…

Anyway, ten days to go to the Bath Half Marathon. What’s my goal? Oh, that’s for me to know and for you to guess. Unless you’re one of my fellow Twitter #nutters, in which case I’ve spelt it out and committed to it. It’s Thursday and I’ve already run 41mi this week: taking it easy next week. I’ve been aiming for 50mi/week in training, but this week have added the clause whereby the target need not be achieved in weeks featuring races. So aiming for 29 in the build-up to the 13.1 that count next week: the 13.1 that will tell me what pace I can sustain for a half marathon, that will hopefully give me an indication as to what I can achieve come April 28, come Manchester. Because, in running terms, that’s what it’s all about for me this year. Lund was a confidence booster, Stockholm an eye pleaser… here’s hoping Bath (pronounced… well, ‘Bath’! there
s no ‘r’!) can be both. It’s certainly a nice place. As for the nice pace… well, that’s up to me. Purely, entirely up to me. No referees, no judges, no team-mates… success or failure lies entirely on my shoulders. In itself, not a bad feeling. Hope it turns to a blinkin’ good one in ten days’ time: I’m genuinely at that stage where I’m looking forward to it. To the race but also to the day, to the preparation, the anticipation, the post-race hydration… Now obviously I won’t enjoy the run, but hey – let’s do it. There’ll be food afterwards.

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