Week 6 – Songs that make you go ooooh…..

This week’s blog is somewhat inspired by a blog started by a friend of mine (let’s call him John Brown, as that’s his name :)). John had entered The Great North Run (which is fact approaching for me now) a couple of years ago, and charted his progress each week by signing off with a favourite song of his. He unfortunately got injured before the GNR, and it didn’t get fully finished, but nonetheless I loved reading it.

So, when I resurrected my blog a few months ago, I was going to end each blog post with a song like John did. As I haven’t done so to date, I thought I’d add a few here in this post, as much as for posterity as anything.

Choosing your favourite song though is a nigh on impossible task in my view. They change with what mood you are in, or what is happening in your life at the time. Songs also evoke memories of childhood, of events in your life, of moments of love, of family and friends, and so many more things. As memories fade and change then so do the songs, but it is just as easy to recall a memory (or a song) from 40 years ago as it is from 40 days ago, in fact probably more so.

Although I never wear headphones on runs (I prefer to stay alert and listen for things that might hurt me!) I did used to on long walks, and like most people I (used to) have a playlist. It was (like much of my taste in music, which will be echoed below) very eclectic in nature, but a lot of it was fairly mindless stuff which I could lose myself in to pass the time. Long walks for me used to sometimes be 20 miles or more, and that’s over 5 hours worth of time to keep yourself amused. Sometimes I’d just hit ‘random play’ on iTunes and see what came along. There’d then be much skipping/fast forwarding whenever I wasn’t in the mood for half the stuff that popped up. And, as my son will tell you, my taste in music was never that good, even by my own admittance!!

But how to actually choose favourite songs? It’s like choosing a favourite movie (pretty impossible for me on almost any given day) or a favourite child! And in fact I’m not sure I could name my favourite Queen song for example. So all I’ve tried to do here is to name a selection of songs that (still, as most of them are old like me :)) represent something special. And if not always for the brilliance of the song itself, then for whatever it triggers in me. I think, (and this has taken some time to pull together!) what I have ended up with here are some tracks that when I hear them, they actually do something amazing to me. So I’ve tried to also describe why they are special wherever I can. Forgive then please the self-indulgence!

Oh and John’s blog is at the following address – I hope he resurrects it sometime, as I totally loved reading it: https://johnrobertbrown73.wordpress.com/tracks/

So here goes, and (definitely) in no particular order, as they say……….

ELO – Rockaria – Gosh, I could have chosen several songs by ELO. Telephone Line (one of the first singles I ever bought) for example, or Confusion, or Wild West Hero, and certainly Mr Blue Sky. Why can I only have one song per artist? I absolutely loved ELO, and the Out of the Blue Album was the first album I ever bought, when I’d just had my appendix removed, aged 13. I think I could still name all of the songs on the album now and know all the lyrics off by heart. Musical genius for its time. Rockaria to me brings out the best in ELO, showcasing Jeff Lynne’s great vocals and also the brilliant orchestration they always had. It’s catchy too, and fast paced. Love it….

Queen – Teo Torriate (“Let Us Cling Together”) – I don’t know how many Queen songs I could have put in my favourites over the years. Queen were the first band I saw live, the Wall of Lights tour, with Freddie Mercury in his absolute prime. I was transfixed, blown away, and remained a fan for life. I think Freddie Mercury was the biggest musical genius ever, the most amazing all round entertainer, and the best frontman the world of music has been lucky to witness. I need not re-tell his story here to anyone. I sat and cried the night he died with my friend Mab in The Kings Head in Lichfield (but not as much as Mab did it is fair to say). The world is is still a considerably poorer place for his sad demise, but he is otherwise immortal, and I firmly believe that his music and his legacy will live forever.

From the A Day At The Races album, the gentle ballad Teo Torriate is unique for being released only in Japan, and has two verses sung in Japanese. The chorus line in English (and indeed all of the words) were put onto a cloth print for me by my first ever girlfriend – ahhhh. They are repeated here below and are as meaningful to me now as lessons in life and love as they were when I first saw them:

Let us cling together as the years go by,
Oh my love, my love,
In the quiet of the night
Let our candle always burn,
Let us never lose the lessons we have learned.”

I could name about 10 Queen songs which are more important, and memorable to me, than any other song in this blog. Amongst those would be Love Of My Life, Take My Breath Away, We Are The Champions, Fat Bottomed Girls, Killer Queen, and Spread Your Wings. And those ignore the many songs that Freddie did solo, that are also favourites, such as Living On My Own, The Great Pretender, I Was Born To Love You, and Barcelona (with of course Montserrat Caballé.

Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell. I surely could have named most of the songs from the Bat Out of Hell album here, but the title track just gets it, closely followed by Heaven Can Wait, Paradise by The Dashboard Light, and For Crying Out Loud. This song (and the entire album) rings back so many memories from times at University (Birmingham in case you are wondering), where it was sung with great gusto in the common room of any given evening. Happy days 🙂 There can’t have been many people (perhaps the esteemed Mr F Mercury as the exception) who put so much heart and soul into his performances as Mr Michael Lee Aday:

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Oliver’s Army This is one of those songs that I just bloody love, and I don’t even know why. I don’t really like any of Elvis Costello’s other music, or even his voice (although he did a pretty good job with “She”, the soundtrack for Notting Hill). But whenever, to this day, this comes on the radio, I turn it up, sing my head off, and it just does something to me. You know, some songs are just like that.

Johnny Cash – Love’s Been Good to Me. How can I possibly choose a Johnny Cash song here and put just one in? There should have been Jackson, Rose of My Heart, or Ring of Fire, or I Walk The Line, to name but a few. I’ve chosen Love’s Been Good to Me, as it is one of the very last songs he ever recorded and is on the American V; A Hundred Highways album. I could have put every song from that album in my top ten songs in fact. Released posthumously, and recorded only months before he died in 2003, you can hear the strain, the pain and (every bit of) the age in Cash’s voice. It is spellbinding, beautiful, ridiculously heartwarming and incredibly sad all at the same time. Please listen to the song if you haven’t before, even though it is almost hard to do so:

Beautiful South – Everybody’s Talkin’ – I could have named Perfect Ten, or Rotterdam, Old Red Eyes is Back, Sail This Ship Alone (and maybe I should have done!) or You Keep It All In here too. And more. I LOVED The Beautiful South, and still do. Both Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot have the most incredible voices, and complement each other incredibly well. And although the originality and humour of The Beautiful South’s music was what always set them apart for me, this song does neither of those, as it is a cover (done by Harry Nilsson and the theme tune to the movie Midnight Cowboy), but nonetheless is a fantastic song.

Mamas and the Papas – Dream a Little Dream of Me Almost like no other song here this is a total one off. I’ve no affinity with the 1960s at all, and other than California Dreamin’ (and how good is that too?) I don’t think I could name any other Mamas and the Papas songs. Mama Cass has such a unique and incredible voice though, and this song (whilst it has no affinity to any life event or person) will stay with me forever. I think I’d put it in my top 3 in fact, if I had such a list of course….

Hazel O’Connor – Will You – probably more so than even Dream A Little Dream of Me, this is an even bigger one off. I don’t even like Hazel O’Connor (!), couldn’t tell you anything about her, and wouldn’t probably listen to her music if I had to (and I did try once I seem to recall). But this song, oh, THIS SONG, just absolutely stops me in my tracks, brings me to my knees, and has me drooling. The saxophone solo in particular (I used to play the tenor sax in a previous life, if badly) is probably my favourite instrumental solo of any song ever (if that is a category). Top 5 song for me, and on any one day I could choose it as my number one even.

David Bowie – Life on Mars I have always loved David Bowie since I can remember knowing what music was. Still do. Like some of the other people in my list here he was unique, a revolutionary, a pioneer. He did what he wanted, and didn’t care (until maybe a bit later on when he went a bit more mainstream). I deliberated between Starman and Ziggy Stardust here too, and always loved Suffragette City and Oh You Pretty Things too. How can you not love a song which contains the line “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow’. So, come on, “Sailors, fighting in the dance hall, oh man, look at those cavemen go………”…

Eva Cassidy – Autumn Leaves (or Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I don’t really mind) So my only joint choice of song by one artist (as I couldn’t separate them) goes to Eva Cassidy. Everyone loves Eva Cassidy surely, how could you not? Her story is of course even more tragic than possibly anyone in musical history, but that isn’t anything to do with what makes her incredible. No-one, in my view at least, has ever done covers of other people’s songs like she did, and then just totally made them her own, and moreover absolutely made them immeasurably better. And what’s more she did it to songs that everyone already knew and loved, and were impossible to make better in any way. I mean, how do you improve on Songbird by Stevie Knicks, or Somewhere Over The Rainbow, or songs by Sting or Nat King Cole? And this version of Autumn Leaves, sung live (a rare thing in itself for her) makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, every single time.

Leningrad Cowboys – Gimme All Your Lovin’ I actually tried to leave this out, but just couldn’t. Perhaps not the most musically gifted band in the world (!), or possessing the most gifted lead singer either, the Leningrad Cowboys are quite possibly the greatest band to come out of Helsinki. They are a cover band (just in case you’ve never heard of them!!), with perhaps slightly exaggerated hairstyles and shoes, and they may not even exist anymore. They have however given me and my extended family in Germany and Denmark some riotous evenings of fun over the years, and then some. Look up their version of Happy Together too if you like this…….

Eagles – Take It Easy The Eagles are just one of my favourite bands and always have been, so I couldn’t leave them out. Had that not been true then I’d have not named an Eagles song, despite having so many favourites. Desperado, Lyin’ Eyes, The Last Resort, and Take It To The Limit being some that I could never tire of listening to. Another band of course punctuated by the untimely death of frontman Glenn Frey, the Eagles music spans generations and continents, and everyone on the planet can sing along to Hotel California. I saw them live twice, and would say they are the best live band I’ve ever seen (including Queen, see above). Take It Easy is here for the line “it’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me….”, which was Glenn Frey’s favourite line too.

Squeeze – Cool For Cats OK, so this song so very nearly didn’t make it frankly, but I’m glad it did, if only for the line in the song “I’m invited in for coffee and I give the dog a bone”. Squeeze were just like that, very ‘real’. I had the Greatest Hits album on repeat play for about 10 years back in the day, and songs like Up The Junction, Labelled With Love, Take Me I’m Yours, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) and Goodbye Girl are all absolute classics in my book. Songs of their time perhaps, but for me always a wonderful nostalga trip to a great moment in time. I’d still pay a lot of money to go see them live (if they still exist that is!), and so am all ears if someone can tell me where I can find them, although maybe I’m a good 30 years too late….

Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next Such a hard decision this, and I agonised about it for ages before putting it here. Took a day on its own, probably. It should perhaps have been You Stole The Sun From My Heart, or The Everlasting, or Design For Life, or Everything Must Go. Every song is as good as the other. James Dean Bradfield’s voice (particularly live) is one of those while never perfect, is utterly compelling and exciting – so much energy goes into every verse, and Forever Delayed is one of my favourite albums of all time.

The Housemartins – Happy Hour So Topper Heaton, by virtue of being also lead singer of The Beautiful South, effectively makes it into this list twice. Originally called (being from Hull) The Fish City Five, the Housemartins gave another nod to their Northern heritage with their debut album London 0 Hull 4, which also featured some of my other favourite songs of theirs including Think For A Minute, Build, and Flag Day. In fact thinking about it for a minute, I should have put Flag Day up there instead of Happy Hour. I think Flag Day is one of those songs that I have to stop what I am doing, and sing. I don’t think I ever agreed with their politics and anti-royalism, but I can overlook that when you make music as listenable and as catchy and fun as this. Take the later “Me and The Farmer”, which includes the immortal line “getting on like hand and blister”. Musical genius again….

Alan Parsons Project – Old and Wise – Another one off for me, or at least one album of theirs is. It is probably as old as I am, but dearly love the song, even though it is a bit melancholy I suppose. I also loved The Eye in The Sky on the ‘Best Of’ album.

Dixie Chicks – White Trash Wedding Where oh where to start with the Dixie Chicks? I could say ‘just ask Dan’ here. This has so many memories, principally of driving up to some random horse racing event with him and Becca in the car and me singing my head off. The Dixie Chicks have incredible energy, are fantastic musicians, and sing beautifully.

Pink Floyd – The Great Gig in The Sky Whilst I’m a much much bigger fan of Wish You Were Here as an album than The Dark Side of The Moon, The Great Gig In The Sky captivated me the very first time I heard it, in my friend Neil’s house when I was a teenager. Clare Torry’s wordless vocals are one of the most incredible performances in any song ever, and I can’t think in fact of any better right now. Pink Floyd were one of those bands that whilst I was never a big fan, their music is so seminal, and enduring. They were unique, and in so many ways still are today. Shine on You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here should get more than honourable mentions here too. Here is Clare Torry doing her thing live, which I had never seen before until posting this. Enjoy…

Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere I was never really a Talking Heads fan, but they’ve had some great songs I’ll give them that. Road To Nowhere was on my walking playlist for years and is one of those songs (which is why it is on the list!) that just had me at hello, simple as that.

Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want (or Angie – can I have two by them?) I was never a Rolling Stones fan tbh. Still not. But this song is one of those that I think is breathtaking. It gets me in the first few bars. Love Angie too, and that makes me realise how good Mick Jagger was I suppose. Still don’t like them though……

Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes. One of the songs I probably remember most from being a teenager and I discovered with (or from, he was a huge fan of theirs) my best friend Colin. I could have named here just as readily Sunday Morning, or I’m Waiting For the Man, or I’m Sticking With You, or Sweet Jane. Lou Reed just was rock and roll, or something like that.

Alex Parks – Maybe That’s What It Takes This. Is. The. Song….I could leave it there really. But it deserves more, so I won’t. I watched, as many people did, back in the day, Fame Academy, which was the forerunner to The X Factor and all those other reality TV shows, and that’s where Alex Parks emerged from. The show was with a difference though, in that each of the performers had to write and perform (at least some) of their own music. Alex Parks, who I think I’m right in saying was known (terribly unkindly, and it wouldn’t happen today) as ‘The Cornish Lesbian’ (bear in mind social media hadn’t been thought of then, thankfully), got me (and half the nation, she won the show) from the get go. She was an unlikely (and indeed reluctant) hero though in many ways, suffering as she did from what appeared to be terrible nerves, and her voice was often shaky and warbling as a result. When she won the show I cheered and shouted and jumped up and down and did cartwheels down the street naked (well, ok, but you get my drift). We then never heard from her again and suspect and hope she went back to happy life out of the limelight in Cornwall. I love this song (which she also wrote) almost as much as I love life itself, and possibly more than Will You, and any other song I’ve mentioned here as being ‘right up there’. In fact, if you pushed me very very hard, and said “of all these songs, which one would you choose first…..” then it would perhaps be this. But you’re not going to ask me that, are you? In short, I could play this song every day and never, ever, tire of it.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno. This might easily have been Come On Eileen, or Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache. Dexy’s made such an incredible version of Northern Soul, and Kevin Rowland was brilliant. He once kicked me in the head at Newcastle Mayfair (I deserved it, I undid his shoelace when stood in the front row at a concert there. I was so happy!) I saw Dexy’s at least three times, along with the likes of The Specials, Madness, The Beat and others of that era. This was my golden age of music, when I was around 15 – 18 years old and most impressionable. I could also list songs like The Horse, and Because of You here.

Christina Aguilera – Beautiful (or The Voice Within, it’s a pretty impossible decision) Christina Aguilera has the most incredible voice, and puts much passion into her music. I’m not a fan of most of the music she’s ever done, but both of these songs, are anthemic, symbolic, and empowering. Love them in equal measure.

Honourable mentions…..

So many songs nearly made this list, and on another day probably would. Several of them, by bands that I can count as my favourites I suppose, have been mentioned in dispatches above. Others might include:

Paul Weller – You Do Something To Me. This song does something to me too, simple as that really :).

Black Eyed Peas – Shut Up – not really sure why this is here in fact. I used to love I’ve Got A Feeling, but so did everyone else, and so I chose this one by them instead.

The Commitments – Try A Little Tenderness. Loved the film so much, and this song is right up there with the best, so much energy from the young guy who’s name I have forgotten who played the lead.

Amy Winehouse – Our Day Will Come. This and Valerie are both wonderful, as was she. Another tragic and premature end to such a talented life.

Missing You – Puff Daddy. Epic song, the intro is waaaaaaaaaay too long though.

Rag N Bone Man/Calvin Harris – Giant. I had to have a recent song in here somewhere, and this is mine of the moment. So catchy, great riff, awesome horn section.

Emeli Sande – Clown – One of the best female voices ever in my view, so much emotion in every breath she takes.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Born To Run. A superb cover of a song that I liked (but not Bruce Springsteen) – epic energy from Holly Johnson as ever.

George Michael – Cowboys and Angels. George Michael proved his worth to me when covering Freddie Mercury on Somebody to Love. He’s the only one who has ever come even remotely close.

Hot Chocolate – I’ll Put You Together Again. Sorry about that.

Laurie Anderson – O Superman. Blame Dan for this one. Despite it being an old song (like 1980s) I only heard it for the first time this year. It’s an earworm for sure, and you either get it, and completely love it, or you think “what the hell is that crap?”. You know now which camp I fall into.

Lucinda Williams – Right In Time. It’s sexy (….”turn the light off, and moan at the ceiling, ohhhhhhhh baby…..”, that’s all I’m going to say about it.

Mike and The Mechanics – The Living Years. My Dad’s favourite song, along with Mr Blue Sky actually. I can’t listen to it without wanting to cry.

And so, onto the running 🙂 This is a running blog after all isn’t it! So after last week’s brief respite (of only 38 miles!) this was the longest week of any I’ve ever run (again) with 43 in total.

Tuesday was a nice gentle easy run of 6 miles, but then followed by a long Wednesday run at marathon pace of 9 miles. I say long, but I mean long for a Wednesday, as opposed to long full stop! On Thursday was the hardest run yet for me, a 6 miler but with 6 lots of half mile intervals at 7:30 pace. Now I know I can’t run a mile in 7:30, and so to run three miles in total at that pace (albeit punctuated by some quarter mile rests) was really tough. This was not helped by it being hot, even though it was 6:30 in the morning! We are having a bit of a late heatwave here in the UK, and this very much affected the weekend’s runs too. So Friday’s rest day didn’t come a day too soon for me!

The weekend (Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK) was spent over in Cambridge with Melanie. The Saturday run was a gentle 5 miles and the Sunday was a monster 17 miler.

Saturday was nigh on a write off, caused by too much alcohol and not enough food or sleep the night before. Although I didn’t exactly go silly by any means on Friday night, a combination of eating late and too much to drink before doing so clearly didn’t do me any good. So a gentle five miler, which should have been very pleasant (a nice jaunt to the village of Whittlesford and back to Melanie’s) was just bloody hard work, with my heart rate elevated and me just not enjoying any of it. I cursed myself and made a mental note to try to learn from that (as if I ever do!). Sometimes though life just gets in the way of running and you have to balance things, but all things in moderation I suppose….

Sunday was a different matter for two reasons. One the temperature was forecast at a crazy 32 degrees, way way way too hot for most sensible people, and me too. and secondly it was 17 miles, the longest run of my life, and so I wasn’t taking any chances the night before. A glass and a half of wine was more than enough, and an early night ready for an early start to beat the worst of the heat. I also took out a running belt replete with two quarter litre bottles of electrolyte mix, and hoped it would be much easier and more comfortable than the disaster that was my hydration vest of a few weeks ago.

Thankfully the running belt was great. We set out at 7:30 to get most of the run done in the (relative) cool (although it was still 20 degrees before 8am and 27 when we finished). We ran into and around Cambridge, through Grantchester (which I’d never been too before, and is very picturesque), and then through the parks and along the river Cam. Had it not been so hot it would have been fabulous. Overall though I got through it, at a nice gentle pace overall, and did my personal distance record both for the day and the week. As I write this I’m still recuperating, but feeling great that I’ve got through 6 weeks unscathed, more or less.

Next week is another 43 mile week, with a 20 mile run at the end of it. I’ll keep that post much shorter than this, as after all I’ve well and truly exhausted my list of songs here in the longest blog post I’ve ever done. Thanks for reading if you made it this far……….:)

Week 5 – No experiments please!

After last week’s somewhat fraught experience with water carrying running vests, I was definitely not up to experimenting with anything new this week. I also resolved to make sure I always (ahem) ‘cleared the system’ before I set out for a run, and also bought some extra jars of my favourite coffee such that when I am away from home I can take them with me, to make sure that I do the job properly (it’s very effective coffee!!).

I was also somewhat heartened to discover, on checking my very efficient, if rudimentary, wallchart, that there were a mere 38 miles to run this week. A step back from last week’s 39! And if even only one mile, it is a relief compared to the fact that every week so far has increased by about four from the previous week. It’s the little things!

Better still, this week there was no tempo/race pace running at all. That’s good for me, as I find that the most tiring and challenging overall. I don’t mind faster intervals, and (usually) enjoy the slower long runs, but the tempo ones mean I have to think harder, or be ‘in the zone’. It’s psychological of course, but that is often what running (or most sports for that matter) are all about – believe you can do something, and you are (almost always) at least half way there already.

Marathon training, I am discovering, is so psychological! Particularly when like me, you have never done one before. I still have no idea if I can even run 26.2 miles for example, but I set off on this programme thinking, no, believing (subtle but important difference there) that I could. And that’s where I still am. I have simple, but strong, faith that by following the Runner’s World programme that I have (to the letter, naturally :)) and meantime looking after myself in terms of nutrition, hydration, rest, alcohol intake, and trying to stay injury free (to name but five things!) then I have a good chance. It’s a huge undertaking though, and when you hear people saying that ‘it takes over your life’, they are right.

In fact, thinking about it more, marathon training already affects almost everything I do. It affects the time I get up, what I have for breakfast, the time I go to work, what I do (and eat) at lunchtime, what I do in the evenings after work, what I cook for my dinner, what I drink with my dinner and after it, and what time and for how long I go to sleep. And that’s not the end of it, far from it. It dictates what I do, and where I am every weekend, and affects any thoughts or plans of holidays I have. It affects conversations at work, my social media posts and things I look at online. I may in fact be living in a running bubble – and this is after just four weeks of the 16 week programme! I even bought a mug to reflect just what this has done to me in fact………..:

Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself……………..:)

So onto this weeks running:

It consisted of six miles Tuesday, including 10 x hill sprint repeats, 8 miles Wednesday at easy pace, and six miles Thursday including 9 x 400m sprints. Then Saturday was a leisurely 4 miles @ slow pace, followed by a half marathon on Sunday. I did each of the midweek runs at 6am or thereabouts, such a nice time to run in the summer if you can force yourself out of bed (not always easy for me!).

The Tuesday run went well, the Wednesday run was fine too, but so wet that I wouldn’t have been wetter had I run the whole thing underwater. I also got ‘puddle-splashed’ by some white van man who thought it presumably funny to do, but I was already so wet i didn’t care. On Thursday the 400m sprints were hard, and I really felt the pace (7min mile pace or thereabouts). I also got very distracted along the way by somewhat randomly singing (out loud at times) the words to “Making Your Mind Up” by Bucks Fizz. I have no idea why. It popped into my head, and wouldn’t go, earworm style. I haven’t altogether shaken it yet in fact some four days later!

I’m not sure why I felt the need to post this, but something compelled me to do so!

Thankfully the Saturday run called for just the gentle four miles at a jogging pace, and that was a big relief for more than one reason, the principal one being that on Friday night I had friends round for dinner, and let’s just say that a lot of drinking was done! In fact after gin and tonics, white wine, red wine, and vodka shots (to name a few) it was a miracle I surfaced into the daylight at all the next day!

For the Sunday we (Melanie and I) took things considerably more sedately on the Saturday night, as we had a half marathon to get through. And after being woken up early by a colossal ground shaking as the nearby Didcot Power Station cooling towers were brought down in a controlled explosion, we also managed to avoid a massive downpour (and a power cut which nearly put paid to my ability to make coffee!!) and get it all done without incident, in what was pretty much perfect running conditions.

So the week ended with 38.2 miles having been run, and me actually feeling pretty good at the end of it. I felt like I could have gone on further on further on Sunday in fact, which was a completely different outcome to the week before!

It’s now getting close to Great North Run time (in just under three weeks from now), and I can’t wait for that. As anyone who knows me will tell you, it’s the most emotional and exciting occasion of my year, or any year in fact, and currently I’m even looking forward to it more than the New York Marathon. I’m so happy also that Melanie will be joining me for it this time too, it is so wonderful to be able to do these long runs together, and it will be great to be in my homeland with her too.

Meantime the next two weeks gets much harder. There are 43 miles to run this week, with a 17 mile run at the end of it. It might be August Bank Holiday weekend, but there is running to do, and it will be done. We’ll fit in some fun around it too though, as we have managed to always do so far. Keep it coming………..:)

Fantastic, or what!

I ended last week’s blog post with the line “it’s getting serious now” (probably, and if not I meant it) and it has definitely come home to roost this week. The simple figures alone show that to be true, in that until a week or so ago, I had never ran 25 miles in a week before. This week I ran 39. I’d also never run more than a half marathon before (ever), and the final run of the week called for 15 miles, 5 of it at race pace. I thought I was ready for it, and it ended up being a lot tougher than I thought….

The week was also made more difficult by two other factors. One, I’m back home, and running on my ‘same old same old’ well trodden paths was always going to be a comedown after last week’s wonderful holiday in Chamonix (see last week’s blog here…….https://aquavista.me/2019/08/09/week-3-bye-bye-chamonix-its-been-a-blast/ . Secondly I’m back to work, and the midweek runs are now a minimum of six miles long (they get longer from here too).

I used to be able to do the four mile midweek runs in my lunchbreak, especially helped by the fact there are quite a few other keen runners at my place of work, but not any more – I just don’t have the time to justify it. A seven mile run takes over an hour, and by the time I’ve dressed, showered, stretched and eaten, that would be just taking the mickey to do it on anyone’s time but my own.

So therefore, three times this week I’ve been out pounding the pavements of Abingdon on Thames at 6am in the morning to get those midweek interval runs in. This just takes its toll, as I find myself needing to go to bed earlier (but actually not!), and also needing to lay off the alcohol midweek (but actually not!), so this all has both an instant and also cumulative effect upon you. I absolutely know that I will have to make some proper and serious adjustments to my lifestyle soon, including eating more healthily, or something will give, and it’ll be me, and that is not something I obviously want to happen.

The midweek runs themselves however went well, with 8 minute mile runs dispatched with less effort than I thought they’d take, and a tempo run in between was ok too. With the weekend approaching though, and the 15 mile run on the Sunday, one other thing hit me that was going to be something I’d never actually dealt with before on training runs, and that is hydration. With my previously longest ever run being a half marathon, and that an organised event, the drinks are laid on at feed stations. This time it’s just me (or actually me and Melanie, as I was over in Cambridge with her for this weekend’s runs), so somehow I figured with the weather being warm I need to somehow provide for myself.

I have tried a few times before to carry a water bottle on runs, but I just don’t like it. Worse, I find it actually expends energy, something that is quite precious to me!! I thus (after asking a few running friends’ advice) took the plunge and bought one of those trail running vests with squidgy drinks bottles, like they wear on ultra marathons. I got it from Decathlon, for what I thought was the pretty reasonable price of £20 (some online I saw were well over £100, a price I thought very steep for something I wasn’t sure how often I would use).

Decathlon’s finest water carrier thingymajig, modelled to an amused office by yours truly.

The weekend in Cambridge (and pretty much everywhere in the UK) turned out to be very windy, and I was also concerned about how that would affect things. In fact 65mph per hour winds were forecast, and that could have been just downright horrible at best.

Saturday’s five mile run (no vest needed for that) actually went well, despite the winds. Although it was gusty, we stayed out of the worst of it, and it felt good. Sunday however was a different kettle of fish. The 15 mile run was not a success overall, although I suppose not a failure either…

So firstly (this is a bit TMI here, but am recording this for posterity and my own benefit as much as anything so bear with me, or skip this bit!) I had toilet issues! I always manage to ‘go’ before a run of almost any kind, but this time I just couldn’t. Blame it on the wrong coffee, or whatever, but nothing was happening! Knowing that we had about two and a half hours of running ahead of us didn’t augur well, but when you can’t go, you can’t go!! Thus unfortunately about an hour into the run, things had worked their way through (as it were!) and so a hastily arranged visit to a public convenience in a park in Cambridge took place. This might have worked, were it not for someone to come banging on the cubicle door (trying to get in!!) within 10 seconds of me sitting down, which put me off somewhat! I thus spent most of the run waddling like a duck, not a good look! I have resolved to take my favourite coffee with me wherever I am from now on, and so far it hasn’t let me down. There’s also a good book I have called ‘How to Make Yourself Poop’, which I clearly need to read more carefully…….:) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Runners-World-Make-Yourself-Poop/dp/1635651832

The title says it all……………..compulsive reading 🙂

Secondly the aforementioned water carrier device did not exactly get the outcome I desired! Firstly it wasn’t comfortable, by which I probably mean that I had it on too tight, as I was worried about it all sloshing around (I was carrying a litre of water). Secondly it basically restricted my breathing (due I suppose to me having it on too tight!) to the extent that I got a bad stitch at about mile nine which I just couldn’t shift. Whenever I ever get a stitch I can normally get rid of it pretty quickly by deep breathing and extending my arms to open my diaphragm, but this just didn’t work this time. The stitch was painful and didn’t shift for about five miles,even after taking the vest off altogether. And thirdly I didn’t even drink the vast majority of the water I carried! I threw most of it away in the toilet I visited, and probably squirted the rest over myself without ingesting it.

When I took it off at mile 10 I actually wanted to throw it in the river, but I am so grateful to Melanie for carrying it the rest of the way for me. My takeaway from the whole vest experience is (at the very least) that I was pretty stupid to attempt the longest run of my life wearing a litre of water sloshing around on my chest without trying it out first on a shorter run. Lessons learned and all that….but either way I need to find a solution for longer training runs, as when it gets to 20 miles I can’t not have access to some sort of fluids at some point. I may try it again of course, but don’t want that restrictive/tight chest feeling when I run – I said afterwards that it felt like I was being hugged by a demented gibbon! All alternative suggestions welcome………..:)

By the end of the 15 mile run (5 at easy pace, then 5 at tempo/race pace, then 5 at easy pace again) I was definitely finished. I don’t think I could have run another 20 paces. It was interesting (and not a little daunting) to reflect that earlier in the week I thought everything was going so well. The positives (some of them…..) are of course that so far I’m injury free (oh dear, should I have said that?!!!!) and that also I’ve completed every run on the programme so far. But, I’m/we’re only 25% of the way through, and the runs get longer and harder from here again, even if Week 5 itself doesn’t look as bad as Week 4.

The main positive for me though is my partner in crime Melanie. She’s the reason I’m doing this programme (culminating of course in the New York Marathon in November) in the first place, but most importantly we’ve committed to doing all of the long runs (and more where we can) together. There is however a massive difference from just doing runs together, to getting help, encouragement, motivation, inspiration and a voice of calm, which was shown yesterday. If I’d been out on my own yesterday I’m not at all sure I’d have got to complete 15 miles, or even half of it. So thank you Melanie, for getting me to this point, and of course for so much more than that. It’s an incredible feeling to have such encouragement and inspiration, something I’ve never had before. We are in this together, and it’s a really wonderful and amazing journey so far.

So, at the end of the week, 39 miles have been run. That’s now 131 miles in four weeks, of the total 599 training miles in the 16 week programme. There are a mere 38 miles this week, which sounds like almost respite at this point, but then next week it will be 43! Help!

I can’t leave this post without also mentioning/recording an incredible and otherwise unrelated thing, which happened literally a half mile into Sunday’s run. Melanie and I had just started out on our way into Cambridge, running along a pavement in a suburb called Trumpington, which I’d never even heard of let alone been to before, when a car pulls past us and stops about 50 yards away. A youngish man gets out of the passenger seat and looks towards us, and I exclaim immediately “oh my God” (or words to that effect). Can you believe it was my son? I couldn’t!! For context, my son lives in Nottingham (about 80 miles away) and I see him much less these days than I would love to, but it turns out that he and his girlfriend were on their way to touch rugby training, also in Cambridge! I had no idea of that fact, and neither did he know that I was there doing my run. And even if we had both known of each other’s whereabouts, the chances of us being on the same street in Trumpington at 8am on a Sunday morning, and then bumping into each other, are more than ridiculous!! It was as happy as it was unexpected too, and after a quick hello (sorry Dan and Sadi for the sweaty hug :)) we both had to get on to where we were headed. Fantastic or what!

Week 3 – bye bye Chamonix, it’s been a blast!

And so week 3 of marathon training came to an end with a mixture of unbridled joy and also some potential despair and trepidation. The joy came not from the running per se (there’s definitely another word other than joy to describe it at times!!) but from the time that Melanie and I had in our nine days in Chamonix, culminating in a paragliding adventure. The despair and trepidation came from a twisted ankle for Melanie, which happened on the penultimate day…..

Week 3 was all spent (on holiday 🙂 ) in Chamonix in the French Alps. To those who don’t know it, Chamonix is a small town/commune in the Haute-Savoie region of the Rhone-Alps. It has an incredible history in terms of mountaineering and skiing, and was the host of the very first Winter Olympics in 1924. Home to around 9,000 residents, it is a ‘proper’ French town (as opposed to a purpose built resort) and has a history of agriculture as well as tourism. It is situated in a glacial valley at 1,035m (3,400 feet), and is dominated by the incredibly majestic mountains which surround it, the highest in Western Europe, and they themselves topped by the highest of them all, the mighty Mont Blanc.

Very much visible from the town itself, Mont Blanc sits like a slumbering giant directly above it, and rises 4,808m (15,774 feet) above sea level. Straddling the border of France and Italy, it was first climbed in 1786 by local doctors and alpinists Michel Paccard and Jacques Balmat, following the offering of a prize by the local mayor, and this is acknowledged as the date of the beginning of modern mountaineering. A statue of the two gentlemen sits in the town square and is a very popular ‘Kodak moment’ spot, the finger of one of them pointing towards the mountain, it’s elusive summit often shrouded in clouds rolling in to top up the permanent snow and ice which sit on top.

One of the statues in Chamonix looking up to the dominant features of the Mont Blanc massif

I’ve visited Chamonix on five previous occasions, twice to attempt (unsuccessfully, due to weather each time) to climb Mont Blanc, and the others just to enjoy the surrounding mountains and countryside (the latter word does it such an injustice). It is the ideal, and in my view best, base for mountain adventure, with around 200 miles or so of mountain paths and walks, many used in the Tour du Mont Blanc and the notorious Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc, widely regarded (perhaps ranking just behind the Marathon Des Sables) as the most prestigious ultra marathon on the planet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra-Trail_du_Mont-Blanc. The race itself is over 171km of arduous mountain trails spanning three countries (Italy and Switzerland as well as France), and has over 10,000m (33,000 feet) of climbing involved!

On one of our walks up to the Albert 1er Refuge by the Glacier du Tour, Mont Blanc and Chamonix itself in the valley far below in the distance.
Enjoying ourselves up on the Aiguille du Midi at 3,842m, views into Switzerland behind us.
Enjoying some of the local beer from a mountain restaurant at Brevent on the Balcony du Sud – it would be rude not to!
At the stunning Mer de Glace glacier, also known as Le Vallee Blanche, one of four main glaciers which flow into the Chamonix valley, this one 14 kilometres long……
…..which we got to go inside! Yes you can go into an ice grotto, tunnelled into a 14km long glacier – fabulous!
Melanie on the stunning Balcony du Sud, heading towards Lac Blanc above Argentiere, probably the prettiest walk I’ve ever done.
And part of Lac Blanc itself, a truly beautiful and amazing place of great tranquility and majestic views.
Life can’t get much better than moments like this – I cannot even describe to you how good this all tasted 🙂

Anyway – onto the week itself, it was all going so well! The mornings in Chamonix, even when the weather is a lovely 21/22C during the day, falls to around 7 or 8 degrees overnight. We thus did almost all of our runs early in the day, so that firstly they were bearable (especially after last week’s 37 degrees in the Uk we were looking for something much cooler, and it was wonderful), and also so that we had the rest of our days free to explore, or chill (although little chilling was actually done, as we didn’t want to waste a moment here).

We had four runs of 5 miles each before the final day, two at tempo pace (roughly 9m/mile for us) and two of intervals, one hills, one 90 second sprints. All were great, until the last tempo run on the Saturday, post paragliding. Early in the run, Melanie rolled over on her ankle trying to circumnavigate a lot of market stalls to get to our usual and beautiful route along the River Arve, which flows its glacial and glassy meltwater at sometimes alarming rates down the valley. She said it was ok at the time, and carried on the run just fine, but later that day she was limping and had to put ice on it to stop swelling and bruising. Not good with a half marathon scheduled for the next morning….

Flying high above Chamonix, having jumped from Plan Praz at 2,000m…..
And yes, those knuckles are quite white!!

And so to the Sunday morning, which as it was also the day we were due to fly home, and we wanted to have a nice indulgent lunch before we went, we’d aimed to get the run done at 7am. Upon getting up however (or actually as it turned out not getting up at all), Melanie was clearly not fit to run. She urged me to go, although I was in several minds as to whether I should or shouldn’t. In the end I did, and the run was cool, with stunning cloudless skies, and despite the fact that (due to Chamonix’s position in the valley that runs up and down) there was rather more uphill than I would ever have liked over such a distance (almost six miles continually uphill for example) it went great, and I felt good, even if I did spend almost the whole run worrying about whether her injury would have significant consequences for New York.

So with that 13 miles (I had to do the .1 too of course to make it a proper half marathon!) that made 34 miles for the week, another personal record for me. So far though (and Melanie within a day or so had recovered too which was the main worry for us both) all is good and on track, but it is only week 3 of 16, and it shows you how easily you can all of a sudden find yourself with an injury problem and out of action.

So this week I can only say has been an incredible adventure. A beautiful holiday, with fabulous weather, and full of fabulous memories in the most idyllic location. If I lived in Chamonix I’d be out running every morning just to experience the air, and the stupendous beauty of the finest playground that nature has to offer. Melanie loved it, her first time here, and it has also given her (and me) an appetite for trail running too. Maybe that’s for another time though………:)

Next week it is 39 miles, with a 15 mile run on the Sunday – and with no Chamonix to run in, that’s going to be hard. It is getting serious now…

Week 2 done – in the Alps!

Today is 28th July and it consisted of an 11 mile run this morning in what started out as pretty wet conditions and a temperature of 8 degrees, although it never felt that cold. To be fair, I could be running in -3 degrees or + 35 degrees and I may not notice the difference. Chamonix is that beautiful, that dramatic, that amazing.

So here we are in the Alps, or more particularly Chamonix, one of my favourite places on planet earth. And I’ve, or we’ve (Melanie and I), just completed week two of our New York Marathon training. What a place to do it!

Looking towards Chamonix and Mont Blanc from Le Tour

The week has consisted of 5 runs, as is the case of every week in the training programme. Tuesday was 5 miles, with 3 miles @ 8:15 pace. Wednesday was 5 miles at marathon pace, which for me is around 9 minutes a mile ( we are aiming all being well to finish in a time of approximately 3 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds!).

Mentioning temperature above, this last week (prior to arriving in Chamonix) has been a real challenge as far as weather is concerned. The records will show that the UK recorded its all time highest temperature of Thursday, of 38.7 degrees, which in my book is very much not very conducive to any sort of running. Much less when on this day you’ve been at a Strategy Day from work in a hotel without air conditioning! Thus all of the runs have taken place at around 6 am in the morning, a time not usually known to me, least of all me being out pounding the pavements.

So having arrived on Saturday morning in Chamonix, after a very early start, it was almost straight out to complete the week’s running. Chamonix sits at 1,030m ( or 3,400 feet) above sea level, so whilst this isn’t exactly high altitude, it does take a day or so to adjust to very slightly thinner air.

The town square in Chamonix with its stunning backdrop of Mont Blanc.

This also being (obviously!) very much a mountain resort, each side of the valley slopes extremely steeply, and so there is fairly limited scope for running, unless you are a trail runner, in which case this is your nirvana! The road up and down the valley connecting the various ski areas slopes not too steeply though, and we discovered that running by the river is both stunningly beautiful, and also not too taxing. Frankly, despite the slight inclines, if you can’t run here and enjoy it you really should give up – consider that a week ago I was running on the outskirts of Slough!!

So the week finished with the earlier mentioned 11 mile run on a slightly wet start to the day, but the weather was otherwise quite cool and perfectly suited to what we were doing. I absolutely loved it, and just wish I could run here every day, or just live here in fact. I could never ever tire of this scenery, it is mesmerising.

Week two then finished with a total exactly on schedule with 31 miles completed for the week. That’s a new weekly high for me – and so far so good. Next week ramps up to 34 miles with a half marathon to finish on the Sunday, but every one of those runs will also be in Chamonix, so I have no doubt that every one will be cherished and the distance won’t be a problem. The only problem will be having to leave at the end of it all!

Bring on week 3…….