Monday, November 30, 2009

Caution, Bowling In Progress

A sure sign that one is in the Rebel County is coming across a road bowling match. Peculiar to Cork, Armagh and very few other places, the contestants take turns in hurling a small iron ball along a country road. He (or indeed she) who completes the distance agreed upon in the least number of throws is declared the winner. Thought to have been brought to Armagh by the mill workers of the north of England, the game was in turn brought to Cork by those workers engaged in the linen industry. It was extremely popular for much of the 20c with hundreds of people turning out to cheer on their local heroes, and heavy betting would took place.

Today's match was a pretty low-key affair though with only a dozen or so spectators. I stopped to allow one chap to take his turn which proved a weak, off-target effort and I proceeded on my way.

I find myself in the Togher district of Cork City, about three miles to the south of the city centre. Heading further south into the country lanes one cannot escape the inevitability of hill climbs. Today I set off from Togher Cross up past the City Bounds pub along a road that appears to have no name on the OS map. It rises quite steeply for maybe 1.5 miles before levelling out, and you find yourself at the perimeter fence of Cork Airport, and indeed passing by the end of the western runway. Running along here the other night was a risky business what with being blinded by car headlights, but today it was fine. A little further on, leaving the airport behind, the road drops away steeply again and I found myself coming out onto the main Kinsale Road at the Five Mile Inn. Happily it was not necessary to follow the main road and I was able to hang a right in the direction of west Cork. At the outskirts of Ballinhassig the Garmin bleeped six miles, time for me to turn around.

Today for the first time I activated the Garmin's 'Return to Start' facility, which is quite neat. It shows the route you have travelled and you can follow this line home if you're lost. Although I didn't have to fall back on it today it would certainly come in useful under certain circumstances, as would the little compass pointer showing magnetic north.

Not for the first time I was struck by the consideration of Irish drivers towards pedestrians where no footpath exists. They always give a wide berth, or slow down/stop if traffic is coming in the opposite direction. In addition the indicator is often used and, if so, is acknowledged by me with a wave (as I hope it is by all walkers/runners, but maybe not). Compare with Jersey where drivers inevitably treat pedestrians with careless disregard, if indeed they happen to see them at all.

I'm running nicely today and I manage to negotiate the steep climb back up to airport level. But it's only now I fully realise that there is a damp and brisk northerly blowing that means I have to dig in along this flat section. Compensation for the climbs come in the form of the views to west and south. In the dark the city lights are quite stunning from this viewpoint. Through the bowling match and down the drop to Togher, now pretty tired and cold and ready for a hot shower.

So 12 miles in 2:07 making 27 on the week and 993 for the year to date. All things being equal I'll try to wrap up the 1,000 on Tuesday.

I feel guilty about leaving my Couch to 5k ladies group in Waterford. We were onto Week 5 and I think they were surprising themselves with their good progress. I left them the schedule for the remaining weeks and hope that they stick together as a group and complete the programme.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Congratulations... Bill Dowis, author of The Road to Philadelphia blog who completed his first ever marathon today at - of course, Philadelphia. Well done mate.

Still pretty aimless really

An interesting LSR today. After two SSRs during the week in which my legs were very heavy I again struggled initially today. Although the gales had abated somewhat it was still hard going as I set off uphill and westward around the city of Waterford. A couple of walk breaks were required as I gained the high ground and then descended to the Old Kilmeaden Road along a very watery Knockhouse Road. The country is basically under water at present though Waterford has escaped relatively lightly.

Battling into the wind and turning onto the ORR (Outer Ring Road) I was tempted to cut it short and hang a left along the Cork Road and a couple of miles back into town. But I persevered and was rewarded with a revival as the Garmin ticked through five miles. This isn't unknown for me by any means. Often in Dublin I'd struggle the four miles up the Royal Canal to Ashtown before finding some rhythm as I headed into the Phoenix Park. So today I perked up and speeded up a tad with the wind now behind, or side-on at worst. So much so that, coming to the Farranshoneen roundabout I resolved to add 3.5 miles by turning right and looping via Knockboy Village and the Dunmore Road.

A little way down towards Knockboy I passed the house bought as a newbuild 20 years or so ago by my friends Eleanor and Dave. Why not, I thought, and paused the Garmin and invited myself in for a coffee and a chat. Poor Elly has contracted successive exotic bugs from visits to Istanbul and Thailand and is a bit fragile at present. But we had a nice chat and I set off again refreshed.

That nice drop past Ballygunner Church with the Suir estuary in the background. Listen to Steve Runner, on his knees, begging us all to start producing running podcasts. Up a last testing little rise to Ardkeen and from there it's a nice drop of 1.5 miles down into town.

13.46 miles in 2:21 for 27.6 on the week and 966 for 2009 to date.

Birmingham Pub Bombings 1974

I was a trainee accountant in 1974, working for a small firm of Chartered Accountants in Birmingham city centre. Us articled clerks - four or five of us, would work away either in the office in Cornwall Street, or else out on site at a client's premises. We were all studying for exams at the time. And whereas the large auditing firms would send their trainees away on residential courses, at Ernest T Kerr & Co it was correspondence courses all the way. You'd be sent the course work, buy the recommended text books, send away the test papers and somehow get yourself in shape for Intermediate, Final Part 1 and Final Part 2.

Thirty five years ago today was a Thursday, a pretty ordinary day I guess. All that week I'd left work and gone with my fellow trainee Pete to the Reference Library with our papers and books. We'd work away for a couple of hours, often testing each other on case law and stuff. At closing time, 8 o'clock, we'd head off for a few pints. Quite often that meant the Tavern In The Town, a lively cellar bar in New Street, next door to the Odeon. But that Thursday I was knackered and we agreed that, with the weekend in sight, that an early night was a sensible idea.

Sure enough, once home in the city's eastern suburbs, I crashed out straight away. Only next morning did I find out as Mum pointed silently to the TV screen. The previous evening 21 people had been killed and 182 injured, many of them horrifically. Bombs had detonated without adequate warning at the Tavern In The Town and at the Mulberry Bush, just around the corner. Most of the victims were young.

The actuality was awful. The aftermath was chilling. For days people, myself included, avoided the bombing scenes and tried to deny what had happened. For a time there was a strong anti-Irish feeling in the city which faded with time. The Birmingham Six were arrested, charged, convicted and later released on appeal. The perpetrators, whoever they may be, are still amongst us today - living, working, socialising.

On the 35th anniversary of the bombings it is still chilling to flick through the photographs of the young victims, none of whom I knew personally but many of whom I would have regularly bumped into making my way to and from the bar of the Tavern. Their lives were too short.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Run Net Community

The Run Net Community. This is a concept that is being talked about by a small but growing group of running enthusiasts and podcasters. At the nucleus is Steve Runner of the podcast Phedippidations. Already there is a Facebook group and a Google group. I think that the rather fuzzy concept is to encourage more potential bloggers, podcasters and videocasters to join in the quest to get even more people to join us on the road. You can find the embryonic website devoted to this by clicking on the title.

I suppose I should be all in favour, as I appear to be part of this social network. (As are you, by reading this sorry blog). I enjoy everything to do with running - as well as having a wider interest in track & field and the coaching thereof. I fell upon my Athletics Weekly and Runner's World like an alchoholic seizes a can of strong cider, until the deliveries dried up here in the sunny south-east. I enjoy talking about the sport. I enjoy introducing others, young and old, to running and athletics. I enjoy reading running blogs and listening to running podcasts.

Some of them.

Those blogs listed on the left have a bit of quality about them and I enjoy reading the updates. There are others which I will make it my business to add. But there are many others that are very, very average, this one amongst them. And that is OK because most bloggers blog for their own enjoyment and are reasonably indifferent whether or not they get an audience. Some are outstanding and deserve a large readership.

Podcasts are different. No doubt podcasters enjoy producing their works but they are certainly unlikely to do so unless they think that they can attract listeners. I have listened with great enjoyment to virtually every episode of Phedippidations which rarely disappoints and then only where the producer drifts into areas in which I have no interest. A Mile With Me is a good English equivalent, laid back in delivery and usually holding the interest. But, in an effort to expand my listening habits I recently subscribed to another well regarded podcast. This consisted solely of spoken 'submissions' from miscellaneous runners - no editing, no pattern, no quality. I suppose one or two of the speakers were entertaining enough, but on the whole I'd heard enough to immediately unsubscribe.

So I am all for people blogging and podcasting about whatever they wish. But inviting everyone to do so is to inevitably drag the overall standards down. Or am I wrong, will it drive the standards up as more people learn how to use the new media? Overall I applaud the initiative and I'll do my bit by highlighting quality productions that I come across. Because by definition there will be those that are good, many that are average and those that are of marginal interest at best.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Darkness Into Light

The lack of any semblance of planning in my running is summed up in this last week - only two runs for a total of 22.8 miles. One of these fine days I'll target a race and set myself a programme based on some sort of logic. At the moment it's a case of setting off around the city when the fancy takes me.

Thursday was slightly unusual though as I headed out in the early evening after darkness had fallen. This involved a couple of miles of unlit country lanes in the early stages. Not kitted out with any sort of torch it became a bit of an adventure, taking my chances with conditions underfoot. However I made it out to the Old Kilmeaden Road unscathed. On the Outer Ring the darkness continued though with the streetlights out all the way along to the Tramore Road. Not a major problem though on the wide, light-coloured concrete sidewalk and with the passing car headlights. I trotted along quickly enough to Ardkeen at the hospital end of the road.

At which point I broke the run to take my Couch to 5k group - we are now on Week 3 and most of the ladies are doing very nicely. Week 4 will be a bit of a step up though and the mantra will be, more than ever, SLOWLY does it. Speed means nothing at all at the moment. If these new runners carry on beyond this programme then they will have a base from which they can consider speed as an element of their running if they so wish.

This morning was another circumnavigation of Waterford, this time more laboured. However I have reached 938.4 miles for the year and only if I do a Devon Loch can I fail to reach the 1,000 for 2009.

On other, personal levels things have gone somewhat pear-shaped and I need to hang on to some running metaphors and to remind myself that there is always light after darkness.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ancient and Modern

Two hours plodding through rural Kilkenny this morning was thought provoking. I have a fascination with local history, the micro picture of how things change over the years and centuries at an individual and community level. And Ireland presents the runner with unending echoes of the past as well as strange happenings in the present.

Until recently - the early 80s, Ireland remained an insular, agrarian society. Contact with the outside world was limited and resources were few. There was little by way of industry and it was commonplace for its young people to leave the country to seek employment elsewhere. Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. Outside the main population centres life was quiet, livings were made from the land, pubs were the social centres.

All that changed when Ireland entered the European Community, and also started attracting inward investment by offering generous grants and tax breaks to foreign companies. The Celtic Tiger was born and the economy boomed, but all that came to a shuddering halt a year or so back.

Today I passed by once more the mothballed Ross Abbey shopping centre, mocked across the road by a convenience store supplying all that the local population needs and can afford on a Sunday morning. Further on I came to a road junction. To the right was ostentatiously signposted a technology park. It was a lovely looking road, beautifully maintained with seemingly managed marshland off to the side. Off I set to explore. Eventually I came to barred gates which announced a construction site. Other than a few huts there seemed little construction going on. A lonely flag read Servier. I now read that this French pharmaceuticals concern announced in November 2006 an investment at this Belview site. To be fair they said that production will commence in 2010 but I'm not holding my breath.

Further on again and, in the corner of a field, an old tower and a tumbledown stone cottage, redolent of ancient Ireland. There are times and places in this country that one can almost see, feel and hear the ghosts of Ireland's past. A misty day on the Dingle Peninsula, Slievemore on Achill Island, Connemara (not on race weekend), the Beara Peninsula are examples.

But onto Belview Port, downriver from Waterford. I am almost surprised to see signs of life - this is an actual working port with boats and stuff. So many new or incomplete developments but the river trade is an ancient one, harking back down the mists of time. Nearby however a modern glassy office development, Marine Point, looks unoccupied. Another couple of exploratory detours before I headed back. As I neared home I wondered how many of these modern developments will become the ghosts of the future? At present Ireland is on its knees financially with a savage Budget coming up, without which the IMF would probably march in and make today seem like partytime.

Back to Waterford and 11.67 miles on the clock at a reasonable lick. But I was aiming for 13+ today and thought I was on course for that. Where did those two miles go? And thinking about it, I don't recall passing the road to the Servier site on the way back. Now that's spooky.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jennifer Alice in Wonderland

I commend to you this blog - link on the left. Nothing to do with running though. It's written by a Waterford lass living at present in Italy. One or two commentators say that she displays 'typical Waterford humour', whatever that is.

Whatever, Jennie has sharp observation for the mundane in life and - most importantly, has the gift for putting it in writing in a very humorous manner. If she cops on she may have a future as a very original novelist.

Give her a read.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Into Cats Country

On a bit of a wild Sunday morning I struck out across The Bridge for Kilkenny. In a country which is routinely scattered with the colours of the local GAA county team, Kilkenny has a profusion of yellow-and-black chequered flags mostly everywhere. With unprecedented recent hurling success the Cats pretty much lord it over their blue-and-white Waterford neighbours, who are no mugs themselves.

On beyond the point that I reached a few weeks ago and - here be quiet country lanes! A pleasant surprise to be able to trot along the roads without having to deal with traffic continually flying along, a feature of modern Ireland. But just before the lanes proper, another stark symbol of the times that we're in. Ross Abbey Shopping Centre - a modern, spacious mall in mothballs and fenced off, though still showing a list of shops and apparently 'opening early 2009'. A little further on the road was flooded for about 50 metres ahead necessitating a retreat and a diversion up another pleasant lane. Over a long-disused railway bridge - it would be nice to see these disused railway lines opened up, as in many places in England.

But I was not running well and I decided to turn around about five miles in. A shame as it was otherwise a pleasant outing despite the howling wind. Back into town with only 9.2 miles on the clock and 27 on the week.

I listened to a very good Fighting Talk episode, broadcast live from Hull. Three big hitters in John Rawling, Greg Brady and Martin Kellner, with local legend Dean Windass who could do no wrong. Canadian Brady won by audience acclaim. But a less than memorable Phedippidations for a change.

Earlier in the week I took a group of ladies from Energie Fitness out on Week 1 of a Couch to 5k programme. Happily most turned out on both Tuesday and Thursday and hopefully they will have done a third session over the weekend ahead of Week 2 when we step it up very slightly.