1. A mix of envy, inferiority, and profound sympathy – watching the London Marathon

    Posted April 17, 2011 in ephemera, running  |  No Comments so far

    Today we went down to watch the London Marathon. One of Cathy’s colleagues, Pam, was running in it and it was a nice day so why not head down to lend some support?

    I’ve never run a marathon and I’ve never actually watched a long-distance race. I’ve run a 10K before, though, and while that’s not really in the same league as a marathon, I have at least an inkling of what it must feel like to run 26 miles.

    We walked down to the City and met the marathon route just where Dowgate Hill meets Upper Thames Street, south of Cannon Street. Quite quickly I settled into the routine of the well-wisher, shouting encouraging things at the people who ran by. You could add a personal touch by shouting their names as well, because most marathon runners have their names on their vests.

    Before running the 10K last year I would never have done that. I’d have thought people wanted their privacy, that they just wanted to get on with the run without the whoops and shouts of strangers. But I was proved wrong – despite being a pretty antisocial and introspective person, I found the encouragement of the crowd genuinely heartwarming and motivating, so I was determined to try to give some of that encouragement back today.

    Watching people run the marathon, I felt a kind of laziness. Why was I not running it? After doing the 10K last year I could have kept on training and might have been ready for this by now if I’d worked hard enough. So that was a pretty humbling feeling. I was almost envious of the runners.

    But at the same time I can’t deny that I felt glad I wasn’t running. I mean, you know – your rational mind can figure it out – that running 26 miles is going to be gruelling. But when you see the faces of normal people who are in the process of doing it, you get a clearer sense of just how hard it is. We even had a few people stop next to us and nearly collapse (but they all kept running in the end!). At those times I was glad that I was on the “civilian” side of the banner.

    The marathon represents something quite rare in British society in that it seems morally unambiguous. Almost everyone is running for charity, no-one can sneer at the enormity of the task, and the whole structure of class and privilege seems to have no place amidst the sea of runners. You see the odd person waving an England flag but all in all you don’t get the sense of this being about nations competing: it’s about human achievement plain and simple. Maybe I’ll try to do a marathon next year after all.


  2. The 10K run: over and done with

    Posted July 11, 2010 in running  |  No Comments so far

    Today was the day of the Asics 10K London Run, the first serious running event I’ve ever taken part in. And I finished the race alive, getting to the finish line in just over 54 minutes!

    But what’s more impressive is that my sponsors helped me raise a total of £290 – much more than my goal of £200. That money will go to the Haller Foundation, a charity that works towards environmental and economic development in Kenya. It’s not too late to sponsor me, of course – just head over to my page on JustGiving.com if you’d like to chip in.

    The race itself

    My usual running routine is pretty simple. I run up to Highbury Fields, circle it several times, then come back home. Other runners will be there but it’s hardly packed. So the 20,000 participants in today’s run made it a very different experience.


    The race route – click to see larger version

    There were lots of novel things about today’s experience. Here are three of them.

    To begin with, it was funny being a cause of, rather than merely subject to, a massive transport disruption in central London. As soon as I arrived at Piccadilly and saw the thousands of runners mobbing the cordoned-off streets, I realised that the race had more or less shut down Westminster for the morning. Usually when these things happen I’m one of the people on a diverted bus cursing the event and everyone involved, so it was nice for the boot to be on the other foot.

    Another thing that surprised me was how encouraging I found the spectators. I’m accustomed to running in a near-deserted field so wasn’t looking forward to thousands of strangers looking on and shouting. But in the end I actually missed them on the stretches of race where they weren’t allowed. Hopefully it won’t seem too lonely next time I run around Highbury Fields!

    Finally there was the sheer size of the crowd. On Highbury Fields you might pass an unpredictable dog or a pavement-spanning pushchair armada, but at least there aren’t 20,000 other people running around. When there are, you quickly learn two things: i) there are lots of people slower than you and ii) there are lots of people faster than you. This means you need to read the crowd, in front as well as behind you. Running into someone’s back or being run into by someone else could lead to a pretty painful fall, so you really have to look out.

    Cathy came along to cheer me on, and found it so inspiring that she went to the gym afterwards and ran 5km on the treadmill for the first time ever. And I was pretty inspired too. I will definitely be doing it again!


  3. Running 10,000 metres in July – and looking for sponsors!

    Posted June 9, 2010 in running  |  No Comments so far

    On Sunday July 11th 2010, I’m taking part in a 10,000 metre run in central London. It’s my first proper race and I’m doing it for charity – so all donations are welcome!

    To donate, please visit my JustGiving page and follow the instructions. It won’t take more than a few minutes.

    The charity I’m running for is the Haller Foundation who work for economic and ecological development in Kenya. To find out more about why I’m running for them, click here.

    The Race

    The race I’m running is the ASICS British 10K London Run. Its official website can be found here but be warned, it is absolutely atrocious! So to spare you from having to experience its full horror, here’s what you need to know.

    It all kicks off at 9.35am on Sunday 11th July 2010. The starting point is Hyde Park Corner (Google Maps link).

    The route goes down to the river via Trafalgar Square and then eastwards to Tower Bridge, where we turn around and come back along Embankment. We’ll go west as far as Westminster Bridge before heading up to the Houses of Parliament, then finally along Whitehall to the finish line at Horse Guards (Google Maps link).

    My plan is to run the race in 50 minutes, so if there are no complications I should be finishing at approximately 10.30am. I’ll then most likely be on the lookout for a local pub to visit (although obviously not The Greencoat Boy!).

    The Haller Foundation

    The charity I’m running for is the Haller Foundation. You’d be forgiven for not having heard of them – I hadn’t until a month ago, when I visited their stall at the Camley Street Natural Park Festival and got talking to their representatives.

    The Haller Foundation works in support of economic and ecological development in Kenya. They rightly view economic and ecological issues as completely interlinked, and this is reflected in the way they work.

    They focus on providing small farming communities with techniques and tools that can be sustainably managed, without need for ongoing outside support. They encourage farmers to work smaller plots of land far more effectively, which in turn delivers ecological improvement at the regional scale. And they recognise that human communities, economies and ecosystems are all emergent and highly interlinked systems, which respond best to change coming from the “bottom-up” instead of from the “top-down”.

    Please sponsor me in this 10K run and help the Haller Foundation continue to improve the lives of communities, economies and ecosystems in east Africa.