Gdansk

Gdansk
Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk, Poland


A sunny day! We’re having one on, one off here at the mo. Last night I was eating in a lovely restaurant by the river, a short walk from the hostel, and wondered why it had suddenly filled up outside. A proper look showed that it was bucketing down, though they had an additional attraction in that the tout who was trying to pull people in had brought out a guitar and switched his folksy talent into overdrive. What’s the equivalent of “let’s rock!” for folk music? That, anyway.

Last night I had come back to the hostel to find the room full, so met AJ the French girl, and a Hungarian couple. I’ve been thinking of heading to Mongolia to explore the lands of the Khans, and have now hit the trail of menaces to civilisation early, by meeting Attila the Hun(garian). They went out to eat late, but came back for me to join them for a beer. A Monday night in April, and sitting outside drinking after midnight; I think this is exactly how I imagined time off work looking.

Today I hit the Roads to Freedom exhibition and the National Museum. The former covers the solidarity movement, very well done with a mixture of audio, visual and props, though I was tired enough to nearly doze off whilst listening to the audio guide. Parkrunner Adrian had mentioned a video showing a striker being run over by a truck and I duly found that highlight. Otherwise it’s impressive, and one heck of a moment in history, though the commentary is oddly phrased, feeling the need to over egg the repression of communism, as if describing the privations weren’t enough and they must point out that this was all bad, m’kay.

The National Museum is mostly art, with the big highlight being Hans Memling’s Last Judgment tryptich. Lovely though, as Sal would put it, altogether too much god. I liked several of the Gdansk paintings, though I’m confused by the chief of the watch, who seems to have the oddest arms ever. I rationalised it as him wanting his portrait to suggest he had only turned from duty for a moment, though that doesn’t quite fit given everyone would have known that sitting for a painting takes a while.

Tomorrow, Lodz. I wondered how easy picking up a ticket would be, and had the destination and time written out, but just used a machine. The only tricky bit was realising/remembering to choose the L with an accent, not without. Not a problem you have when looking for Surbiton on a ticket machine in Britain.

Gdansk

Gdansk
Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk, Poland


With everyone else gone, the parkrunning posse last night and Fast Legs this morning, Gdynia seemed even quieter than usual. I dragged myself up for a run, taking advice from those who’d run yesterday to run along the sea front and then back through the forest. Heck of a climb from the sea to the top-though possibly 9200 feet shy of my greatest elevation (quiet at the back) this year. I’d covered under 3 miles when on the way back, so u-turned and headed back into the woods, climbing again to shouts of encouragement from a Polish man who needs a better dentist. The way down was steep and just as I tried to speed up I saw my ****-travelling over me as I fell. A great scrape down my side, no blood but a definite bruisey bulge on my right calf. Oops.

Run done I lounged in the hotel, checking train times and booking hostels. I realised that my tentative plan of training to Krakow was stressing me out, involving two long journeys in just three or four days, so I sackowed Krakow, have two nights in Gdansk and three in Lodz, cutting out an 11hr and 5hr journey and adding only a 6 hour one.

Dave and I had wandered round Gdansk last night. It was against my better, or lazier, judgment to be hopping on a train at 7, but turned out to be a great idea, giving me an idea of where everything was, and letting me pick the hostel by the river where we’d spotted the youth playing Fifa last night as my next place to stay. Home from home.

The old town is quite something, cobbled streets in places, old Dutch merchants’ houses and amber merchants a-plenty. Today is dull, some rain, but not as cold as Saturday. I don’t think I’ll add to my tiny supply of clothes.

Polish parkrunning

Polish parkrunning
Gdynia, Poland

Gdynia, Poland


Dave and I headed for breakfast. As is my wont, I turned first to the food area, rather than the people, which left it up to them to approach us. Possibly, Peter, who had organised everything, had gone up to several people saying “are you John?”, but I like to think we looked like runners, making it easy for him to work out that we were the final guests. We met people and ate, which counts as job done.

Gdynia parkrun is within walking distance of the hotel, so we set off, a riot of 50 and 100 club parkrun t-shirts. Jakob, Peter’s contact and Poland country manager, was there with course and finish funnel marked, so we could talk to a few locals, sign our names for the record (possibly for insurance, but that may have been a rumour) and pick up on the local fashion of greeting all the other runners with a handshake. Very cool. The run itself is a two lap out and back along the sea front, so would be lovely on a sunny day. It was clear if a little fresh for us, but with little wind we could go go go. An early leader soon yomped off, while I settled in with a group of 3 Poles. For under a k that worked, then I found myself moving away from them, only to find all three plus Hannah Oldroyd, who I knew of from PRF’s Facebook updates, moving past. I latched on again, and over the next couple of ks was able to move past all but one Pole who was clearly significantly faster and using it as an interval session. Once I got past Hannah, though, I used her as motivation and kept up my effort to make sure I stayed ahead as we made the final turn to the finishing 200m, ending up 3rd and pleased.

We stood around, waiting for transport to sort itself out for the Gdansk run at 11, but Peter had things sufficiently in hand that the casual approach from the rest of us worked well, with me jumping in the first car that had space before some rumoured taxis arrived. By now it was a bit cold, and my two layers was proving to be on the ‘not quite’ end of enough. The car was warm, at least, and once we’d done the polite thing and waited for our local friendly driver to change into her running shoes we jogged over to the start. We had time before the start, and talked about the cold. We were cold. It was cold.

A slightly bigger field here, and much more of a twisty turning course. Two laps, through and round the edge of the park, with a mixture of concrete and sandy paths, mostly concrete. It’s a quick course, if not a completely flat one. This time I settled in to the middle of the field, working through a little but not quite giving it full beans. It was good to warm up again, and we caught the train back for a shower and proper warm up and sort out. Double run, done.

Peter had all sorts of suggestions for filling our time, and as ever with a big group we were happy to be led, just enjoying the dynamic. We explored Gdynia, talking running and the challenges we were taking on. I, as usual, got enthused by the idea of a tough run and if it weren’t for the fact that I plan to be travelling, would probably have signed myself up to the alpine race Peter takes part in each September. I really ought to have a picture taken from somewhere high about my person at all times to remind myself of my folly-there is no way I could take on an alpine race in which on the descents “you can’t afford to think too much, just go and aim not to fall” and not panic on the way down. I was reminded of that later in the year, in Ireland; when going up Diamond Hill I was right on the tail of my retired walking companion, but on the way down he let me lead and had ample time to rest as I weighed every step before taking it. There’s an adventure race there, people throw themselves down that hill, I could barely walk it and the alps would be similar at best. Twit.

In the evening we met some Polish parkrunners for socialising and talking about running. The only problem there is that most of the UK lot didn’t know each other so we were just as happy talking amongst ourselves as breaking new ground; some of the Poles might have found us a bit ghettoised. The pub, though, had a great view of the waterfront, so everyone had an excellent backdrop to their evening. Dinner was back at the same, excellent, place as lunch, and while the young or young at heart went looking for bars-and were sore disappointed in their lack of activity-the rest of us headed to the hotel for a last drink. Plus, of course, a long lingering look at the day’s results.

The captain has decided not to land the plane

The captain has decided not to land the plane
Bydgoszcz, Poland

Bydgoszcz, Poland


Interesting words, those. Especially when passengers have looked outside and seen the runway lights looming near enough to touch. I remember reading many years ago that pilots weren’t really necessary, and if airlines could persuade people of it we’d have automated flights. But rather like living in the 2000s (or should I, as someone who thinks saying “two thousand and…” sounds a bit more retarded every year, say ‘the 20s’) without the things shown in Tomorrow’s World in my youth, we now have flights that can get very close to the ground and then fly off elsewhere. Cynics tell me that Ryanair sometimes diverts people in order to get a plane where it’s needed, but we did get awfully close to the ground, so surely that’s not what they were doing this time.

After ten minutes of being impressed that the level of conversation in the plane had not become any more panicked or noisy-though travel partner Dave had a commentator switch to transmit behind him further back in the plane-we finally heard that it was just thanks to low cloud. I’m sure we were low enough that landing lights were only 20m away which seems near enough to put down, but perhaps the pilot was a Die Hard 2 fan. We ended up in Bydgoszcz, then had a several hour coach transfer and chose to get a cab to the hotel, in at 1ish. Frankly, after running through all the reasons why one might decide not to land a perfectly good plane at a perfectly good airport, I was just glad to get down, and know that parkrun was go.

Cake and beer - dinner
What we found for dinner.

London marathon

London marathon
London, United Kingdom

London, United Kingdom


And so the marathon happened. With a week gone I think I can talk it through. Short version, a bad day, and I’m blaming the three missed long runs, and my settling in to plodding slowly and gradually slowing through my long runs at altitude. That seemed to train me to do exactly that in a long run, so I slowed from mile 18 or so, before having a walk or two during the 20s.

Arguably I’d also gone off too quickly, though I felt as though I was following last year’s plan of running to how I felt. Doing so from the good for age start made for a much quicker first mile than 2012, which may not have helped. Miles 1-3 were okay, but mile 4 slowed to over 7 minutes for the same effort and at that point I knew I should have felt stronger. I’m sure I had another tower bridge surge, but it was short lived, as at mile 14 I pulled off for a wee and thoroughly enjoyed standing still in the cubicle. So went my mental focus, and everything from there was a struggle.

Halfway in 1:33, 4 mins slower than 2012, and slowing within a few miles made for a big positive split, redeemed only by the crowds, music and the end. I’d seen the 2:59 and 3:15 pacers slide off, and the 3:30 came past with a km to go. I let them go for a few hundred metres, then finally had a talk to myself. Right. 800m to go, can I get under 3:30? I was on for 3:32 or more at that point, but found I had legs that were happy to go and I raced the final half mile in 3:30 or so. Which suggests I had more if I’d knuckled down, but what the hoo.

Meeting in the Red Lion afterwards was a pleasure, as was my usual two meal special in Wetherspoons later. My time (from last year) allows me entry via the good for age start again next year, and London now feels like unfinished business. A year with plenty of hard track sessions would make a big difference, though whether I’ll get them in is debatable. But I expect to be back next year.

Pub garden with clear blue skies above
Not London, but an idea of the sunny weather.

Home

Home
Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

Hertfordshire, United Kingdom


Finally I get to add a second location to the blog. It’s a lovely feature that it marks your progress around the world, but since I didn’t write anything before I left, my map looked a bit sad.

The journey home was uneventful. The London flight never seemed to be available for check in so eventually I just checked in at the first class desk, where the extra service stretched to checking I had a jumper in case I got cold in just a t-shirt. By the time I’d done that I was behind the whole contingent for a Jeddah flight. A stronger man would resist, but my kindle had taken me from bleak house to a Star Wars novel and I can’t, so I will add that I was pleased to see so many Jedi, and that they find it perfectly safe to apparently all travel together.

Through security and I found a bar, thinking to get some food. The bloke next to me asked if I could speak English and, despite being Scottish, was pleased to find that I actually was English. Pleased enough to pass me a beer, in any case. A proper wild man, he had a 10 hour layover (“my travel agent hates me”) en route to DR Congo from Kryzygstan, and in the half hour of it I shared he told me about his new born, “the woman” who is its mother and a few other women. Who are not. Scottish but lived in Canada for 15 years, so he was all aboot this and that. I left, returning his “welcome to Africa!” Following signs to my gate led me to a locked door, but I got through via the door near where I came in-observation score 0-joined a queue of 1 and was very pleasantly asked how I was. Fine, and how are you led to a delay, before she stamped me through with a “I am fine, but you are late”, though this was a value of late that meant I joined a queue of 100 waiting for a bus downstairs. Definition score 0.

And that was that. Flight, book, chat, sleepy, train, walk, home.

Last run, last bike

Last run, last bike
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia


Oh what feeling is this, electricity flows like the very first kiss. Actually not so much electricity, today’s run was more sloth powered. But it’s done, and the rest of the day will contain some lounging, maybe a walk and one last turn on the exercise bike. I’m ready for home now, and particularly for the chocolate that is waiting for me there. And a pint of brown beer, mmm.

Best hold those thoughts, I’ve still got 15 hours till the flight takes off, let alone lands. I’ve got some old running shoes to give to coach Abdi later, and given that you can only take 200 birr out of the country, I only need about 200 for food today and have 900 left, I can also give my favourite staff a bonus. 100 birr is the cost of the most expensive pizza here, 8 birr will get you a ride into town, 150 will get you a meal in a decent restaurant in town. I suspect that’s beyond the ordinary local, so I think 100 will be enough to make them feel appreciated, though it’s not that much overall, and especially when you consider I’ve been here for five weeks. The exchange rate at the camp is 28 birr to the pound, for context.

For lunch, seeing as I’m paying and since it is very close I went to the hotel nearby-Hunde resort. There are several athletes staying there, including a Belgian I have met briefly. He was outside with friends, so we went through the usual handshakes all round. I knew the hotel was cheaper to stay in, something like 7dollars a night, and that stretches to the food, too. 45 birr, or under £2, for spaghetti and a coke. It’s a bit more bare bones, as you might expect, without the gardens at Yaya, but a good base for training, track and trails in easy reach. There’s also a bar right next door, and I’m sufficiently unused to being a full time runner that for a mo I figured none of the others had spotted it, seeing as no one had mentioned it. No, not that, twit, just that they, in general, just don’t drink. If I come back for another stay here I’ll run a sweepstake on how many takers my ‘evening in the bar’ excursion garners.

A little later, and I’m at the airport. Plenty early, as we left at 9.30 so the Swedish dude who also leaves tonight could catch his midnight flight. No traffic lights in Addis, so occasionally a crossroads will snarl up, which happened to us and added 10 mins or so. That added to prior experience made the Swede a little nervous because in January the line waiting to go through security to get into the airport was way long, but he needn’t have worried on two counts-one, there was no queue to get in, and two, his flight was already boarding. 24hour clock misreads win again! He’s aiming to qualify for Moscow. If he makes it and I bump into him, I don’t think I’ll trust his information about when to go and spectate…

Summary: 59:17, 9.68km, 30m bike.

Afternoon running

Afternoon running
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia


Yesterday’s run went pretty well, but left me with pain in the front of the knee. It does seem to be moving all the way round, so perhaps like an astronaut slingshotting round the moon it’ll go all the way round and then bugger off. I’m an optimist.

Today’s session was supposed to be 12x400m, 6miles in total. I put in a relatively gentle hour on the exercise bike this morning, then headed out late, just before 6. I’d definitely be running in the twilight and it turned out to be raining, too. Probably a good way to reacquaint myself with European conditions. Instead of the session I jogged round the camp track until I felt comfortable then put in an effort on each uphill section of the lap. So 5 or 6x 250m uphill instead, but it felt fairly good. Shorter reps here tend to be okay, as the altitude (more accurately I suppose, the lack of oxygen in your body) doesn’t catch up with you until you’re a few hundred metres in. That said, even a mile or so does leave you feeling generally tired out and done in, and recovering on the run doesn’t really happen, it’s just that the body will respond if you push. All in all it takes a bit of mental strength, more than I have found, though I am hopeful that at shorter distances I’ll now feel more comfortable whilst pushing myself, as I’ll be going at a much greater pace, able to hold it better on the grounds that nothing feels as bad as a jog uphill out here.

Quote: “il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger (one must eat to live, not live to eat)” I’m not sure the chunky obsessives in Masterchef Australia, which seems to be off screen only when My Kitchen Rules comes on, would agree.

…”That’s the French saying, and mangering is as necessary to me as it is to a Frenchman. Or more so.” Bleak House.

Summary: 60m bike, 45:50, 9.06k.

Physiology

Physiology
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia


So, nearly five weeks in, here’s my top five ‘things’ about altitude training. I hate, with a passion, univeralisation, where individuals describe their own experience as if it is what everyone feels, but I’m going to do it anyway.

1. You will run much more slowly and the slightest bump will feel like a proper hill

2. Even after a few weeks here, you’ll still find yourself short of breath from time to time. Whilst sitting

3. Recovery is slower, dehydration worse

4. Your heart rate is elevated at all times-mine is about 80 straight after getting out of bed, reckon it is under 60 at home-but doesn’t reach so high as it would normally*

5.. The feeling when finally you hit a pace makes all of the above worthwhile. Though it is probably a transient feeling.

Not that I’ve run yet today, though it is only half two. Last night I was still off food so skipped dinner and generally messed with my system, sleeping in the afternoon then staying up till half one at night when The Empire Struck Back, which helped keep me up till after 4, so I generally got very little sleep. Today I feel much better, make of that what you will (that I was already feeling much better so not eating or sleeping last night didn’t do too much harm would seem sensible). Managed breakfast and then finally got myself over to the primary school on the other side of the road. The Yaya website mentions it, and that pencils, notebooks etc are gratefully received, so I had dutifully patronised Ware stationers before I came out and then lazily not managed to walk across the road until now. A quick wander in, greeted by a couple of smiling but slightly bemused children and I was shown to the director’s office, interrupted his meeting like a true big-footed Westerner and handed over the loot. Easiest good feeling in the world.

I finished the last of Niall Ferguson’s Reith lectures on the bike and then moving to some hand washing gave me a nice moment of pondering public versus private provision and whether the words “I’m a historian” should really give you carte blanche to treat anecdote as data and wilfully conflate subjects all whilst wringing out my pants. Another first.

Quote: “natural flavour could be anything that isn’t man-made. Cat urine could be a natural flavour.”

Summary: 40m bike, 45:11, 9.18k. Book: You Might be a Zombie, Cracked.com. Answer to question I didn’t mean to ask, can you escape David ‘Bloody’ Mercer out here, via Dubai Sports? No.

*Dr Chris’ theory is that it’s a muscle like any other, so with less oxygen it just can’t work as hard.

Dancing in the restaurant

Dancing in the restaurant
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


In January, Joseph (the owner) arranged for the Yaya gang to head to a restaurant in town and the memory of food and Ethiopian dance was good enough that Morten suggested we do it again. Just the Danes and I went down. I was feeling fairly unwell again but figured I could make it through a few hours. Worst bit first, the journey back was a stomach cramping yuck, though at least that meant I made sure to be distracted by the view of Addis’ lights, which is pretty fine once you’re up the hill, and it made any putative danger from the dark road seem unimportant.

The restaurant itself had a quick security search on the way in, though they weren’t checking for a complete lack of coordination so we all got in. Each setting had a small table and chairs all round-given most cuisine is rolled up in the pancake-like bread and eaten with the fingers, having food at waist height is no impediment. Andreas and I had different dishes that were both essentially smoked meat. My stomach coped. Meantime the band played and four singers came out in rotation, with dancers joining in some songs. And they moved through the audience, making sure we realised that dancing with shoulders whilst bobbing the head is much harder than it looked.

Morten had booked our trip back for 10, so we missed the full on-stage dance-off experience, but got a flavour for the whole thing. We left bemoaning our lack of national dance – Morris Dancing just doesn’t have the same mix of kinetic energy, suggestiveness and costume changes.

Summary: 30m bike, 35m bike. Food cravings, slim to none.

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