Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Streak: A sense of ending

2011 Streak: A sense of ending

Not with a celebratory burst through the finishing tape, nor with a retirement forced by overwhelming odds,  the 2011 Streak ended. I cannot give a precise reason why I could not carry on but rather it was an increasing weariness and a fading of enthusiasm. For sometimes the whole enterprise had felt like going through the motions rather than something fresh.
I missed the day of my return from France. The shipped docked in the morning and I still had most of the day in front of me but I did nothing. No exercise, no photograph, no notes. After a streak is broken you cannot put it back together again. 
When that happened I felt a sense of relief. A voice in my head said "300 days is not too shabby and anyway what about all those other jobs you have put to one side. Eh?" (You can never escape that voice that tells you you ought to be doing more).
"Yes" I said "it will do. I need to get on and regroup"  A sigh escaped my body and that was that.
The picture of a fizzled out firework is probably appropriate

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 Streak Day 305 (Friday Nov 4th): Going home

2011 Streak Day 305 (Friday Nov 4th): Run- 3.1 mile, Time - 33min, Weather - a bit overcast
Again the routine of running before breakfast. 
There is nothing much to report about the run except that it was slow but with a low heart rate. As this was my last run here I was determined to make sure it was easy and enjoyable - a chance to look around and appreciate.
Instead of the the ferry going from Caen, this time we went from St Malo, which is a much more interesting port. When we arrived there were bright lights and a milling crowd as amovie or TV programme was being filmed on one of the old sailing boats and people gathered to watch.
The action was to the right of the photo (you can see the glow from the lighting on the side of the boat). I took the photo mainly because of all the yellow lines but the kids also looked rather cute discussing the finer points of filming.
Whilst waiting for the ferry we went to a bar. A cat was sleeping on one of the bench seats. There were two other people huddled over their drinks at a corner table, speaking softly. A girl came in sat at the bar and over her drink chatted to the barman, they were friends. I thought that if this was one of the last experiences in France on this trip, then it was a good one - bars are meant to be like this.  

2011 Streak Day 304 (Thursday Nov 3rd): And then there was lunch

2011 Streak Day 304 (Thursday Nov 3rd): Walk - 2 miles Time - 40 min, Weather - a bit wet
This was the last full day of the break. All the planned work had been done and it was a day to celebrate by having a very long lunch. After all this is France and it would be totally wrong to ignore the culture.
I can honestly say that I have never had a better value meal - ever! In fact I find it hard to believe one exists. €19 for 5 course meal, including a bottle of wine, at a good quality restaurant is quite amazing. The most amusing course was probably the cheese. The waiter wheeled in a huge trolley full of cheeses I had never seen or heard of before. I could only make a random pick and hope but it worked. I was just amused at the collision of so much choice and so little knowledge.
When we finished we walked out, looked around and thought "Well that's that then.  Tomorrow is the journey home. The interlude is over." 
We had had a civilised lunch in a restaurant in a small town. As we left there were few cars on the road and all around were views of rolling countryside. I suddenly realised why I am always slightly discombobulated when I get home - I miss the emptiness. Here there are enough people to make the place civilised but there is also space. You don't feel crowded-in. Home though is southern England, one of the most densely populated corners of Europe, where there is always the pressure of others.
Anyway the picture the picture was taken outside the house in Gourvillette. Its purpose is to show the steel grey skies and dampness. I was a good day to eat and not run.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 Streak Day 303 (Wednesday Nov 2nd): habit

2011 Streak Day 303 (Wednesday Nov 2nd): Run - 3.11 miles, Time - 31min, Weather - cloudy but mild

Again another run keeping the heart rate down. I am beginning to enjoy this routine of running every other day before breakfast. The mystery is why I can never do this at home.
Here it feels easy to wake-up put on running kit and leave. Once I am out of the door I walk for a few yards, gentle jog and then get into a rhythm of slightly more active plodding. I am on quiet lanes with no one in sight and the sun coming up. It feels just right and for this house it is my habit.
Back home I can never maintain the pattern and it does not feel the obvious thing to do. I have tried but after a few days the effort peters out - perhaps after many years my morning routine is so ingrained it resists change.
One of the strands of the Mindfulness book is to become aware of ones habits and try to break them: do things differently. On the whole I like that idea. I like, for example, to randomly take a different route or doing something new but it has to be after breakfast. Everything before then is a matter of waking-up and sorting myself out. And breakfast, well breakfast is the most habitual thing I do. Almost every morning I eat exactly the same thing. 
I actually don’t know if this is a good or bad. It is what I do and it is comfortable but that is not the same thing at at all. 
Today’s picture comes from Cognac and shows that the tourist season is over. La Dame Jeanne takes groups of people up and down the river but is now undergoing maintenance. I suppose I should not have been surprised at how shallow the draft is and that it is flat bottomed but I must admit that was my first reaction. A couple of moments thought though and I realised that was the appropriate design

2011 Streak Day 302 (Tuesday 1st Nov): Open skies

2011 Streak Day 302 (Tuesday 1st Nov):Walk - 5.23 miles, Time - 1hr 39min, Weather - walked after the rain there were dramatic grey clouds but they passed and then the sky was blue with fluffy white clouds.

Although my average pace was just over 19 minutes, the first mile took me 24. I stopped many times to take pictures of the dramatic sky and bare fields. it is probably the section of the walk I enjoyed the most as I was paying attention to the surroundings. After I had put my camera away the pace increased and I trudged along. Often my mind was elsewhere as trains of thought were followed. The pleasure was then  in the exercise, pumping my arms and keeping-up the pace. 
The great feeling was in not having to go anywhere to appreciate the surroundings. One step out of the door and there were beautiful views, peace, tranquility and a sky full of birds. I love the raptors in these parts, especially the buzzards gliding in the skies of sitting on the wires.
The great thing about an open rolling countryside is the skies. Vast and dramatic all you need to do is look upwards and appreciate the majesty of the clouds. Sometimes the weather fronts move amazingly fast and today produced one of my favourite effects, where if you look in one direction the sky is steely grey and oppressive but if you turn around it is blue and sunny. Heavy grey clouds, streaked with sun light look fabulous and foliage seems to glow.
Sometimes being outside, slightly raising your breathing but being well within exercise limits so that you can sustain activity without stress, looking around, appreciating the landscape, feels like the most enormous privilege. If this blog is about anything it is about that feeling.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

2011 Daily Streak Day 301 (Monday 31st October): Contentment

2011 Daily Streak Day 301 (Monday 31st October): Run 2.5 miles Time 25min Weather - the most glorious warm sunny day

The run was mid way between the last two both in terms of speed and heart rate. Interesting how direct the relationship was.It actually felt quite comfortable most of the time but I got out of breath going up hill. 
The weather was so good though, with the sun rising in a clear blue sky it would have been hard not to enjoy a run in open rolling countryside the the early morning light bringing out the texture of the landscape and burning off the overnight dew. I felt lucky to be here on this particular morning.
Inspite of the run being enjoyable I was not tempted to extend it. the distance felt about right. It was refreshing and set me up for the day. I did not want it to be tiring.
I spent part of the day in Jarnac - walking in the park and by the river. The town itself was quiet (it was Monday) with very few people about but a café was open and that is all you need. 
It was just peaceful and I felt amazing contentment looking at the river and trees. At one point I sat down and listened to all the sounds around - the rustle of the leaves when the wind got up a little, the mixture of bird song, cars in the distance.
I often talk about how part of the pleasure of running is being a figure in the landscape - the appreciation of your surroundings through effort. As you are sensitive to gradients you are very aware of contours and shape. You feel the land under your foot. But in some way you are fighting it. Your satisfaction comes from covering the ground, doing, achieving.
Sitting still, listening and sensing your surroundings is very different. The very reverse of doing. But in those few moments I felt an enormous sense of contentment. 
The photo marks the time of year. The 1st of November is La Toussaint a public holiday where it is traditional to remember the dead with chrysanthemums. In the days beforehand the flowers are for sale everywhere. Never before have I seen so many bunches of one type of flower

2011 Streak Day 300 (Sunday 30th October): Easy day

2011 Streak Day 300 (Sunday 30th October):Walk 3 miles, time 1hr, Weather - mostly overcast

Sunday and time for a day sight-seeing - going somewhere new. Confolens is a medieval town on the confluence of two rivers that has retained the narrow, jumbly street structure and many very old buildings. In the 19th Century it was, apparently the administrative centre for the surrounding agricultural region but it has not grown since then and has the atmosphere of being stuck. The population has declined as people have moved from the land and despite its beauty it does not have the tourist infrastructure of cafés, bars and shops. 
It was all a bit weird to go somewhere that felt quite so shut. The plan had been the obvious one of wandering around, seeing the sights, taking photos, eating and then going home, which worked just fine except for the eating. There was nowhere.
We asked around and were told about a place a few miles away by an old railway track. It looked like the functional shed of a traditional truck stop but of course the food was nothing like and so all was well.
All in all it felt like a easy paced day off - something that needs to be built into every schedule

Thursday, December 08, 2011

2011 Streak Day 299 (Saturday29th October): Going slow

2011 Streak Day 299 (Saturday29th October):Run 2.53 miles, Time 27min 44sec, Weather - grey, overcast, slight breeze

Yesterday I ran with my heart rate monitor for the first time for ages and was horrified at the reading. I was about 10 beats above what I would have expected for every speed and it conclusively proved what I already suspected - I am far, far away from any decent level of running fitness.
It cannot be denied. Reality has to be accepted.  Plan have to be made from where I am, not where I want to be.
Patience, Patience, Patience! will have to be the three watchwords. It will take time to build back up. To do so I must accept a slow pace and run to my heart rate and build a base. It is difficult because part of my mind will not let go of a false pride that tells me “I should be better than this!”, or “ surely I am faster than them!”  (whoever them may be). Part of the training is learning to ignore that voice. A little humility never hurt anyone.
On today’s run I cut back on my speed, paid attention to keeping my heart rate down and started the process. When I got back I ignored the average speed (delicately averted my eyes, if you will) and concentrated on my average heart rate, which was 18 beats less than yesterday. Huzzah! there is always something to give satisfaction.
My French observation of the day concerns design, thinking through a workflow and cultural differences: 
We had to take some rubble to the tip. At my local tip, and every other English tip I know, there are big skips with steps you have to climb up. If your load is heavy or awkward then too bad, it something you just have to manage. This local French tip was much smarter because it was on two levels. The higher level was where you drove in. The lower level was where the lorries delivered and took away the skips. This has two advantages: the first is that skip lorries can go in and out of their own gate without obstructing the cars and causing the tip to temporarily close; the second is ease of use - as the skip is below you, all you have to do is drag the rubbish to the edge and let go. 
However I don’t know if it is an example of something being better thought-out or diferent design priorities. With the French design it would be much easier to topple over the edge when letting go of your load. It could be that in England we are more concerned with health and safety and aware that there will always bee the idiot user who must be protected from himself.

The picture of the day comes from Matha. I only went there to pick up the day’s bread (there is a particularly good bakers/choclatier in the town) but was fascinated by the towers of pallets piled up beside the distillery. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

2011 Streak Day 298 (Friday 28th October): Misty grey

2011 Streak Day 298 (Friday 28th October): Run - 3.4 miles, Time 33min, Weather - soft grey, slightly misty

The day feels very soft and quiet as a light mist lays a thin blanket over everything. Not a fog, the visibility is good but everything is cloaked in grey. It did not feel oppressive or gloomy. The number of grey days in Hemel over August and September were much more lowering. Instead today feels  gentle.
The great pleasure of running here is feeling alone. The land is well tended - so it is not wild - but you can run on a road and not see another soul. There was just me and the bare autumn landscape, alone with the sound of my foot scuffling on the road and a heaviness of breath. In the background I can hear birdsong.
Of course my running is still rubbish - I am in no great shape and cannot expect a magical transformation just because I am in perfect running country. I have to accept that and do the best I can
Afterwards it was a day of little activities. I went to Matha to buy some bread and was again struck by the rhythm of a small French town. People were out and about, stopping to chat or quietly going about their business but all at a comfortable pace. It felt human in scale as there were not the crowds of people pressing against each other, as happens in cites or bigger towns.
Also (and this was probably a freak of timing rather than a general rule) I saw nobody walking around with a phone to their ear. Sometimes I am minded to sit on a street corner at home and survey the percentage of people using a phone. I’m sure it would be large.The consequence is that many people aren’t really present - their body is there walking about, occupying space but their mind is elsewhere. 
Here in Matha today, everybody was in Matha.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

2011 Streak Day 297: (Thursday October 27th): Travel

2011 Streak Day 297: (Thursday October 27th)
Walk 3 miles, Time 1hr, Weather - dark and wet when I set out bright when I arrived.
The picture is of people milling around Paris Montparnasse station. It is like any station: so many people, so many reasons for travel. My reason is pleasure. I am on my way, once more, to the Charente and am catching the train to Angoulème. A couple of months from the summer holiday and I am going back again but this time I am going there to offer a little help to my brother-in-law with the eternally ongoing building project that is his french house.
I take a childish delight in long training journeys and almost like the prospect of arrival as much as actually getting there, especially if you have to get up early and the day stretches out before you - it seems more of an adventure. For this journey I had to get up at 4:30 (plenty early enough) and set out in the dark and damp to walk to the station (pleasure doesn’t come from things being easy). As I walked I thought myself lucky because serious rain and soaking trousers would not a happy rail passenger make.
On the Eurostar I sat alongside a grandfather, father and child. All three were train enthusiasts, something I gathered from the adults reading railway magazines and having the odd conversation about high speed points and the boy getting excited about seeing a TGV painted the wrong colour. It was reassuring to see a family sharing an interest, a reminder that the world was still a decent place. 
The bit of overheard conversation I liked the best was not about trains at all. The father was showing the grandfather a GPS app on his iPhone. “Look”, he said “it shows you exactly where we are on our journey.” “Well where are we then?” “In the middle of nowhere.”
I sometimes feel like that when collecting stats about my runs. The technology is all very clever but all it shows me is that in running terms I am in the middle of nowhere.

2011 Streak Day 296: (Wednesday October 26th): Attention

2011 Streak Day 296: (Wednesday October 26th):Walk 3 miles, Time 1hr, Weather - sunny and bright

I regularly walk to past the parish church on the way to the park, sometimes I look at it sometimes it is just another part of the familiar landscape and I pay it scant attention. 
Walking and running are like that - the mind can drift in and out and  attention swings between the sharply focussed to the fuzzy. Sometimes on a familiar path you can drop into a reverie, snap out of it and, for a few moments, not be sure of where you are. “I don’t remember passing the bridge/building/bend/tree”,  you say to yourself, spend the next few moments puzzling how you could have been so unobservant and then miss the next landmark.
Bridges puzzle me the most because there is such a transformation when you pass under them but I have been known to run a familiar section of the canal and lose count. That should not happen - my senses are meant to be alert!
It is an indication of my low level sporting mentality. The difference between me chugging along and a top sportsman is indicated by an anecdote of Jackie Stewart’s (related in the film about George Harrison, ‘Living in the material world’). Apparently when he raced his senses were incredibly heightened, so much so that he could remember an occasion when coming into a bend he smelt grass; instinctively he backed off, knowing there should be no fresh cut grass on a motor racing circuit, and avoided problems from an accident which had churned up a grassy area. To notice grass above the engine smells, whilst all his other senses were being bombarded meant he was completely and utterly in the moment.
I would love to have even a hint that such awareness was possible but sadly all I can say is that I have read about other people being ‘in the zone’ but have no recollection of it ever happening to me. All I get are little flashes of attention, like when I walked past these trees and realised, as if for the first time, how beautiful the colours were and what an exceptional month it had been.