Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Memories, A Pen, My Grandfather, And Finally A Reference To Running

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, always have. They help me think and I often find myself writing things in my notebook. I am here now watching the nib of my fountain pen as it moves across the page. I like using a fountain pen - I don't know why. Perhaps I like the way they feel in the hand or the design of the nib, maybe it's the way the ink flows. I don't know. I suspect the reason has more to do with subconscious associations: images of important people signing important documents, black and white films, the desks of famous writers, or my own memories.

Looking at my pen, I open the door to memories of myself as a young boy, probably about five or six in my grandfather's house. He lived across the way from us and I used to pop-in and the two of us would talk. Perhaps it would be about bird watching and he would show me something then hand me his binoculars. Sometimes we would go to a room he had which was full of wonders: like bits and pieces from radios, a flying suit on a hanger on the back of the door and an old roll-top desk. I loved that desk and the way the lid would disappear. It was magic - furniture that actually did something interesting.

In that desk was a Swan pen. The fact that I know it was a Swan means he must have told me and he was proud of it. Being a boy, who liked to fiddle with things, I liked the little lever recessed into the side with the tiny scoop so you could flick it up with your fingernail but I can also remember looking at it and marbled pattern of the barrel, fascinated by the interlocking shapes and varying colours. That pattern made a deep impression on me because I can remember an art lesson in my junior school where we were told to paint a pattern. I drew a few bold geometric shapes and painted them different colours. The teacher liked it and held it up for the class and then asked why I done it that way. I said it was because I couldn't do it the other way. "What was the other way?" he asked but I couldn't describe it. All I knew was that in my mind I saw a richly variegated, random pattern, a bit like my grandfather's pen. I knew it was beyond my abilities and so I just made things simple.

Sometimes we would be in my grandfather's garden. It was used to grow fruit and vegetables. I can remember him reaching down, giving me something and saying "Here try one of these goosegogs". I didn't much like it and I have never really cared for gooseberries but I love the word 'goosegogs' and in my head I can still hear his voice saying it. Our memories are full of these odd little things.

I always thought he looked like Mr Pickwick (we had some Dickens illustrations on our wall so I even though I was young I knew what Mr Pickwick looked like). He was round in shape with a comfortable belly, wore small round glasses, was bald on the top of his head with grey hair growing at the side and back and had a ready chuckle. He was vigorous right up until his end and everybody called him 'Pop', not only the family, everybody. He was part of the community and at the end of the garden was a scout hut he had helped build.

Also (and here is the running link) he had been a member of the three As. I don't know in what capacity - as far as I know he was not a runner. I only have a memory of my father mentioning it, but there were no further details and there is no one left alive who I could ask. I am thus free to imagine it as one of his interests like the scouts or being a radio ham. I am also free to imagine that my taking-up running is a belated connection.

Just like that marbled pattern of my imagination, being good at athletics, being a competitive runner, running with grace and elasticity is beyond me. Instead I have to simplify things down, plod along at my own steady pace and be content. But you know what - there is virtue in simplicity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Stuff

It is Christmas Eve and I prefer it to Christmas Day itself.

I like fettling around with last minute tasks and the feeling of getting things ready. As long as you don't leave too much to do it is good to know things will come together and everything will be ready. Wrapping presents is almost better than opening them and we decorate the Christmas tree (our tradition is to wait until Christmas Eve before putting up the tree), to the sound of carols and the air heavy with the smell of mince pies being baked

It is a good day but there is not much time for running – it is a matter of priorities. At the moment I am on a fairly relaxed schedule of running every other day. Today is a running day and if truth be told a longer run run is overdue but there is no chance of that. Instead there is time for 3 miles or so at a pace that gets me puffed. I like these runs. At the end I put my hands on my knees, take a few deep breath then slowly straighten up before sauntering back home feeling relaxed. As I have only run a short distance the legs are not tired and it is eventually refreshing. The day can thus be faced and all jobs can be done. In the end there will be a pile of presents under the tree and I will wonder at the number of parcels and just how much stuff there is.

The picture at the top of this post comes from the British Museum and it is appropriate because if ever there was a place jammed full of stuff, it is the British Museum. I marvel at the ability of people to represent the world and make beautiful objects. As humans we all have a drive to make things and decorate, an inherent sense of form, but some people are exceptionally talented and the Museum is full of examples the best of work. It help us look at afresh at all the things that surround us in our own lives and all the things we are giving and receiving..

Anyway I hope everybody who reads this has a good Christmas, with good company, good running and, of course, lots of good stuff.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A few Trends

As if there are not enough distractions on the Internet!

Google have now produced a tracker tool which allows you to monitor the trend in queries over the past few years. There are no absolute numbers but the graph shows the relative volume of the query, over time. Underneath is a graph of related news stories. It is also possible to compare a number of searches e.g. see the relative interest in Saucony and New Balance

A search for "marathon" looked like this:

This shows a big peak around the time of London and Boston and a smaller hump for New York. If you look at the results for the UK

you can see that New York just does not register -we all know that for non-runners in this country there is only one marathon. The big peak is for the 2005 race when Paula Radcliffe made her very public pit stop – so you can see what really grabs the public imagination about our sport.

A search of "marathon training" shows how the curiousity is translated into a more practical interest. The graph for UK search shows an interesting pattern. The people committed to a spring marathon are preparing in November/December, as you would expect, but most people look at the time of the London Marathon. So it obviously does a good job of piquing interest – people want to know what's involved.

None of this is surprising, but like all statistics, confirmation of assumptions is always useful.

This tool was developed to monitor trends in diseases, to see how much internet queries mirrored infection rates. It is a surprisingly good proxy for mapping their spread. So I thought I would compare the rates for a very typical running injury – shin splints

The season is more pronounced in the World results than those for the UK but it is interesting how steady the pattern is for both. Every year we all bounce up full of enthusiasm, over-train and get injured. At the end of the year, with less training, the injury clears. Shin splints tend to be more frequent in new runners so these graphs probably show a steady influx of people starting to run. The graph would also suggest that there have been no great developments in shoe technology, which have reduced the incidence of injury.

Again nothing startling but you can fool yourself into thinking you are discovering things

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My E Number

A couple of weeks ago there was a wonderful TV programme on Einstein and Eddington.

Einstein is one of the most famous men of the Twentieth Century, and his image is an icon, but of Eddington I knew nothing. I had no idea that it was his observations, confirming the deflection of light, which caused worldwide headlines about the proof of relativity and made Einstein a celebrity. More to the point I knew nothing about the strength of character that allowed him to pursue a scientific truth in the face of wartime hostility to anything German. He was certainly a great man whose life should be celebrated.

There is though very little scope for astrophysics in a running blog (even if I knew anything about the subject). However Arthur Eddington was also a keen cyclist and kept detailed records of all of his rides and developed the concept of the ‘Eddington Number’. This is the definition from Wikipedia:

The Eddington Number in this context is defined as E, the number of days a cyclist has cycled more than E miles. For example an Eddington Number of 70 would imply that a cyclist has cycled more than 70 miles in a day on 70 occasions. Achieving a high Eddington number is difficult since moving from, say, 70 to 75 will probably require more than five new long distance rides since any rides between 70 and 74 miles will no longer be included in the reckoning.

The construct of the Eddington Number for cycling is identical to the h-index that quantifies both the actual scientific productivity and the apparent scientific impact of a scientist.

This can be applied to running. (As I can’t be bothered to get out my old diaries I will only look at the annual number). This year I have run more than 6.5 miles 24 times but my E number is 10.

For someone who prepared for a marathon during the year this is not high enough. I thus have a new challenge: raise my annual E number. I must run longer more often.