Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Fundraising: For Whom and Why

Hi there, one and all – hope you’re doing well in the build-up to Christmas. A build-up to which I can now turn, since we are now closer to Christmas than my birthday… but if you weren’t born in December you won’t understand that.

I feel I ought to spend a little time explaining why I’ve decided to fundraise for The Children’s Hospital Charity – that being the Children’s Hospital in Sheffield, by the way. Back on May 4, I explained that I didn’t feel comfortable asking for money for running a 10k, at the time the sole race for which I’d signed up. I acknowledged I might pass the collection tray around for a half marathon, promptly clarifying that I was
delighted to confirm that the concept of aiming for a full Marathon has not entered, and never will, my brain. Seriously!”. And it had not. But May was a long time ago… 986 miles ago…

…and since then I have run a Half Marathon. And sure, ahead of that I did contemplate fundraising. Often. On June 11 I added:

“And, further to my post on May 4, I probably won’t be fundraising: 23/09/12 is about me, matters a huge deal to me and I don’t want the added pressure of raising cash. Ask me again on September 24. Providing I’ve got my breath back, I’ll answer. What I won’t tell you is what the previous day has done for the idea at the very back of my mind about entering the 2013 Sheffield Half Marathon, though I do hope they will have announced the date by then… not that I’ve enquired as to when they might make that announcement or owt like that, you understand.”

Of course I had. I hadn’t given any thought to running the Bristol Half, mind. It was to take place a mere week after the 10k – how would I know I was ready? Well, in the end running 18km in training for a 10k race convinced me I could run a 21k half… but you know that already. Just like you know I didn’t go down the charity route. Those races, and indeed 2012, were about me, about me getting back into shape and discovering a form, both physical and mental, in which I cannot ever recall being previously. But the end of 2012 is now only a fortnight away: and in 2013 I plan, I will, give something back. Which is why I
’m running the Greater Manchester Marathon*!

This leads us to The Children’s Hospital Charity. As I start asking people for money, I need to explain why I’ve chosen them ahead of, say, the Epilepsy Society or indeed Springboard Opportunity Group, which I was considering as far back as May. So here goes.

Quite simply, I wouldn’t be here without the Children’s Hospital in Sheffield. As I told them at the end of August, when I told them I’d be raising funds for them:

“All the best in your work - I owe my life to treatment at the Hallamshire Hospital back in 1977. That's why I'll do my best in fundraising for the Sheffield Half Marathon and in actually running it.”

That’s right. Aged eighteen months, whilst in Sheffield I ended up in a coma, brought on by my first (and worst) epileptic seizure. I was in Sheffield because my Mum was heavily pregnant with my younger brother and had headed back there from Italy for the delivery. That was no romantic ideal: she had no issues with giving birth in Italy. Or at least she hadn’t until her pregnancy with my older brother. That went wrong and ended up in a miscarriage. Touched by motherly instinct even before the birth, my Mum kept telling the doctor that something was wrong, but he ignored her concerns and maintained all was fine. It obviously wasn’t. Coming in to see her shortly after, the doctor offered to resign. My Mum calmly told him that that would be pointless, that it wouldn’t change anything and to just make sure he didn’t make the same mistake again. But that is the reason that, when pregnant with me, she headed to Sheffield. That is the reason I’m a Brit, an Englishman, a Yorkshireman and, most importantly, a Sheffielder. Maybe it’s the reason I’m so passionate about being those things, who knows.

Where were we… yes, the Children’s Hospital. I was in there while Mum was in Jessop’s Hospital, where I’d popped out in December 1975. Sadly, eighteen months later my Mum’s whereabouts would make no difference: my younger brother died shortly after coming into this world. If you’ve ever asked me whether I have siblings, my answer won’t have been a simple “no”. I don’t feel that way: I feel I carry my two brothers in my heart, that I am not alone. As I wrote after the TenTenTen, when the end was in sight and I started to tire I “felt my brothers lift me and carry me on as I made my way down the woods”.                          

Picture that, if you will: my Mum was in one hospital grieving a second delivery gone wrong while I was in another hospital, in the same city, in a coma. Eighteen months old, I was in that coma for six weeks before the guys and girls at the Children’s Hospital brought me back. That, in a nutshell, is why I’m running the Greater Manchester Marathon for them.

On a broader note, I am convinced those events shaped my ties with Sheffield. Many people don’t understand my passionate love for my hometown, given I grew up a thousand miles south in Italy. And I don’t blame them: it’s not logical. But it is true and genuine. Granted, aged 22 I left Sheffield again, this time of my own volition, heading South and later West as I landed in Portishead thirteen years ago. That’s a whole other story… one I touched upon back in June, after spending ten hours wandering around its homely streets. For now, all you need to retain is that, to this day, I feel I owe my life to Sheffield and to the Children’s Hospital; that I still recall visiting a cousin of mine who’d been born prematurely as she fluttered along the line separating her life’s beginning and end before pulling through with a strength that continues to serve her in good stead to this very day; that I feel I have a debt to the Children’s Hospital I will never fully repay, although I must try.

This won’t be the first time I fundraise for them. In the mid-80’s I did a sponsored swim, ably assisted by Uncle Richard. I seem to recall raising £31… what I don’t recall is any real discussion about whom I should fundraise for. I was a Sheffield lad, in Sheffield at the time, so I’d be raising funds for the Children’s Hospital. I got a lovely letter back from them, an’all. Hopefully I’ll do better than £31 this time.

Don’t get me wrong, Springboard was a genuine and worthy contender. Karen has quietly but strongly canvassed for it and the plan is to ask our local friends for cash for Springboard rather than online donations for The Children’s Hospital Charity. I am even contemplating making a donation myself at the end of this journey to recognise Karen’s patience with it all. And of course I am grateful for the support they have given and continue to provide Daniel as he continues to progress with his speech along the road to catching up with his age peers. Rationally, I should be raising funds for them and/or maybe the Epilepsy Society, what with me having had epilepsy surgery and all that. But… ultimately this was not a rational decision. It was a gut decision. And my gut still has that umbilical cord-like link to the Children’s Hospital. As I strive to put one foot in front of the other in a slightly exaggerated fashion, it’s the Children’s Hospital Charity that comes to mind. It’s my chance to give something back to recognise I’m still here, I’m still alive. And that, my friends, is why I’m after your money…

…so why not go to www.justgiving.com/gos75 or text GOSQ75 and a sterling monetary value (e.g., if you want to donate a fiver, GOSQ75 £5) to 70070. I could really do with your help. Because it’s more than about the money: it’s about being out there, training, at 5:40 on a December morning knowing that there are friends around me supporting me in my quest to run the Greater Manchester Marathon.

“What’s he going on about? He’s lost four stone… he’s already run a half… he’s running fifty miles a week… where’s the challenge? This is easy for him – I’m not going to sponsor him, it’s going to be a doddle”.

Trust me – it’s not. Yes, training is going well and yes, I’m feeling good. But running 42.195km or 26.22mi will not be easy. Running 21.975km or 13.11mi in Bath and then Sheffield won’t easy, for that matter. Because let me tell you, during the final mile of the Bristol Half I made myself promise I’d never do anything like it again. The verbatim words were along the lines of “Don’t tha even f*****g think abaat it, Squintaani!”, but that's probably more detail than you need. It often is, with me.

So, if you think it will be a doddle to run a marathon, do join me. Manchester, 28/04/2013. If you realise it won’t… well go on, get out that credit card!

Right, best knock this one on the head. Getting up at 5:05 in the morning. I
’ve got a 21.5km training run planned. That’s a half marathon, basically. Fancy joining me?

* yes, well spotted – in August I was planning on asking for money to run the Sheffield Half. I’ve since upgrade to the Greater Manchester Marathon - thats an upgrade in terms of distance, not geography, you understand! ‘Doh! But don’t worry, I’m still running Sheffield, if my legs can cope with it just two weeks after finding themselves on the wrong side o’t Pennines… and the Bath Half on March 3, for that matter..! Am I sure they took out the right piece of brain thirteen months ago? No!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Brief Essay About Male Friendships

Right – big subject…

…and one which I more than most could write for hours about. Not because I am male and have friends, helpful though that is, but because I can always write for hours…

…so I’ll try to be succinct, if only by my standards.

In early June, I wrote quite candidly about how I find it hard to talk about ‘friends’ in my new neck of the woods. I say ‘new’: I’ve been here since 1999 so maybe I ought to rephrase that. Only… well exactly, that’s half the problem…

…anyway, I acknowledged ‘guilt’ and a tendency of mine to ‘overthink’, although I don’t actually recognise the latter as a downside. So let’s take my relationship with Jon Bonner as an example: I’ve known the guy for five years now, we’ve spent many Sunday afternoons in one of our church’s House Groups discussing both personal and biblical matters, he’s helped me out with lifts on several occasions… and yet I found it hard to refer to him as a ‘friend’ (in the word’s real meaning, not the Facebook sense). Why? What was blocking me?

I think I may have figured it, folk! And I am unashamed to list this as a predominantly male feature. Apologies to any ladies (or indeed men) who may feel offended, I just think it’s a fundamental component of the dynamic of male friendships that is not always present between women. And that’s not a judgement: it’s not about good or bad, just fact. As subjectively perceived by me, anyway.

When I think about the guys whom I consider true friends, they all have something in common. I could bump into them tomorrow, having last seen them either today or thirty years ago, and begin a conversation with those famous words:
“Do you remember when we…?”

sits back and awaits mixed bag of head-nodding and head-shaking

Male friendships are, in my opinion, based on shared experiences. Some good, some bad, but all shared. Not all involve alcohol, though if I say ‘Prague’ some friends will smirk. My best and oldest friendships are founded on shared concerts, matches, trips, school years… on something visual as well as emotional, on something that, whether it was a single instance or something that was repeated over time, means we can look each other in the eye and think “Yes, we shared that”.

I should at this point stress that, in saying this, I wish not suggest that all female friendships are based on gossip and idle chat. But, whereas I see Karen build friendships at the school gates, I struggle to do that. I build relationships, yes: but when I apply my own F-test, they often fail. Unless… exactly, unless there is a “Do you remember when we…” moment.

What about male-female friendships, I hear you clamour. Good point, I say. I am blessed with cross-gender friendships that go back decades, so I will give it some thought

 * thinks *

…and do you know what, when I think of those friends my mind does not instantly seek to pick out specific moments. When I see them, conversations are far less likely to begin with the “DYRWW” question. So in my own personal, unscientific, not statistically significant experience, the “DYRWW” factor is one fer tblokes.
With Jon Bonner, pace-setter and friend,
after the 2012 Bristol Half Marathon.

This brings us back to Jon. On September 9, we ran a half-marathon-matching (in fact, -exceeding) 22.24km. The run came to an end with a sprint down Portishead High Street and subsequent high fives. For me, that did more to cristallise the friendship than all those previous conversations, enriching as they had been, could do. Then, three weeks and two further training runs later, we ran most of the Bristol Half Marathon together and Jon, having paced me to my sub-2hr target (1h49’54”, since you ask) was there at the finishing line when I crossed it a few minutes after him. As well as the hugs and high fives there was an instant and unspoken shared appreciation of what we had achieved, of what it had taken and what it meant to us. And, whereas a friendship needs words and discussions to embellish it, to keep it fresh, those original foundations are unspoken.
Well that’s my take on it, anyway! I actually wrote this post a couple of months ago. I didn’t realise I’d finished it but when I revisited it there wasn’t anything to add. So I hope you enjoy it: me, I’m leaving the country for the day tomorrow, so I’ll miss the backlash. Just… please let me back in, eh? Or I might have to tackle the follow-on consideration (along the lines of can you have a true friendship with someone youve met on a Social Media site but never seen in the flesh?) from far, far away
then again, physical location hardly matters in this day and age. Or does it?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas Cracker - Follow The Man in... er, Blue!

Right – time to tell you how I got on!

I ran the Wyvern Christmas Cracker 10k yesterday – which starts and finishes on scenic Weston-super-Mare beach. You may recall (if you ever read the post in the first place) that I was aiming for sub-50’. Did I achieve my goal? Hmmm
let’s find out

I headed down to sunny Weston-super-Mare with Simon From Church (Simon Faulkner), getting there in good time. As avid readers of this blog
(of which there are none) will recall, my only previous 10k had been The Sheffield TenTenTen, with a few hundred runners registering and getting set in Endcliffe Park. So Weston was a shock… all that stuff was indoors, in the comfy, almost luxurious surroundings of Weston College! Changing facilities and everything! They even had a crèche!

There was just one thing I needed to check: whether there’d be distance markers. To achieve my goal I knew I had to pace myself: start off around the 5’/km mark and ensure I had enough left in the tank to up the ante during the second half. Next year I plan to use a GPS watch for this purpose but Father Christmas hasn’t done the 2012 rounds yet! Anyway, so long as there were markers in place I could make do with my stopwatch and my perfectly decent mental arithmetic skills: alternatively, I’d have to strap my smartphone to my arm. Something I do on every training run, something which I’d never done in a race: it’s harder to hear the phone’s voice reading out distance and pace and I dread it coming off in the crowd. But there was an over-riding goal here… not for the first time, fashion was not the issue! Not to worry, anyway: promptly assured kilometre markers were in place, the phone went into runner 2505’s bag which was duly handed in.

We walked across to the beach and lined up for the start just before 11:00. Out of the corner of my left eye (you know, the one where my vision might be impaired) I spotted a runner sporting a… Sheffield Wednesday hat!

There you go. You train hard, you put in the hours and the miles, just for some muppet to turn up in something like that. Not quite as bad as when I went to the top of the Empire State Building and saw a family of Tesco-bag wearers there, but still… a Blade’s gotta do what a Blade’s gotta do!

That’s right – introduce himself. “Look, if you’re going to be wearing that I must tell you I’m a Blade!”. He suddenly went on the defensive, claiming he was a Rotherham supporter and he’d just borrowed this off his son. I instantly believed him, purely because you wouldn’t claim to be a Rotherham supporter unless you really had to. We exchanged best wishes and got our minds back into The Zone…

…shortly afterwards, the gun went – and the crowd of 2,000 set off! There were meant to be 2,000 of us, anyway – although the results page ‘only’ shows 1,604 and I doubt there’d have been 396 DNFs*! And no, you’re not having the link to the results just yet…

…as I set off, I felt good. I didn
’t place myself too close to the front and it’s really true, it does feel good to overtake other runners rather than starting off too ambitiously and watch others fly by you. My mind felt I’d found the right pace and my legs felt they had the challenge in them. A glance at the watch at the first marker confirmed I was right about the former. As for the latter… well, it would take another nine kilometres to find out!

And I wasn’t particularly keen on running those 9km on my own. I wanted to find someone to follow, someone who might pace me to sub-50’. I eventually settled on a guy wearing a blue vest with “Minehead” on the back, just because he was running pretty much at my pace and so it seemed fair enough to assume he was aiming for a similar goal. Again, you train hard for weeks, you spend time planning your race… and then put your fate in the hands of a complete stranger. Makes sense, right?

Actually, it does. You’re using him or her as a marker but you’re still keeping an eye on your watch and leaving yourself time to take remedial action. But Mr Minehead and my watch got on just fine as we wove our way through the flat roads of Weston-super-Mare. Around the 7km mark, and still feeling I
’d not been overtaken by many, it felt safe to see whether I could stretch the contents of the tank, so I upped my pace slightly and hung onto the back of someone else. A kilomentre or so later I wondered whether I’d regret this, as my legs found themselves having to counter the fresh sea breeze of Weston-super-Mare beachfront: but I coped just fine until, with a few hundred metres to go, I even managed to put in a bit of a sprint… and crossed the line in what my watch stated to be 47’05” only for the chip to shave off a couple of seconds for an official time of 47’03”!

Cracking cracker! 3’42” inside my Sheffield TenTenTen time of 50’45”. I’m not surprised I set a PB: I’m fitter than I was in September, I had figured I needed to pace myself better – and, most importantly, the Wyvern Christmas Cracker is virtually flat! But I did exceed expectations with how comfortably sub-50’ I was. Back in September, my TenTenTen time was 5.7% better than any training 10k I’d run in the build-up. Yesterday’s 47’02” was 5.27% inside my training best of 49’40”. Thanks adrenaline – and thanks flat Weston sand!

Last but by no means last, thanks Mr Minehead! As he crossed the finishing line shortly after me, I felt compelled to go up and thank him for pacing me to a PB! He
’d put a hat back on, one he’d taken off around the 4km mark. I tapped on his shoulder but wasn’t prepared for what happened next…

…as he turned around, he became Mr Wendy hat! I’d seen the hat before the race and the Minehead top during it… and not made what is hardly the most obvious connection! [says Giacomo Squintani, born in Sheffield and now residing in Portishead having grown up in Italy]

He again apologised for the hat. I obviously checked the timings online later in the day but scrolled a little further down: I wanted Mr Wendy Hat / Mr Minehead Vest to have a proper name. I duly found it on the results page and got in touch with him. He enjoyed the post but has chosen anonimity. He also enquired as to what a “Wendy hat” may be. One oft forgets that there are people not caught up in the United/Wendy banter out there… so here’s hoping the context of that comment clarifies it without me having to spell out that name!

There you go: the secret to a PB is following a a stranger sporting the hat of a team you loathe! Just as well I didn’t realise that was the other side of Mr Minehead or I’d have felt an irrational need to overtake him earlier – and believe you me, I did so just at the right time. And before any Blades start lauding me for the 54” I finished ahead of Mr Minehead – his result stands proudly in the MV50 category, far more so than mine in general Male one! Still, much as these (few) races I run are against myself and the clock, not the rest of the field, coming in 253rd out of 1,604 doesn’t sound too bad for a fat lad from Sheffield!

Simon and I were both in a good mood on the way back to Portishead. He’d claimed on the way down to be nursing a slight twinge and to not having trained as much as he’d like, though his time of 40’48” hardly suggests that! And me
, I had my PB. And trust me, I really enjoyed that little sprint along the beach!

Next up for me: well, in 2012 a bit of a rest! From ‘racing’, anyway – this morning’s 12.5km marked day 60 of my runstreak, which I shall endeavour to keep up over Christmas (albeit on reduced mileage)! As for 2013…

…it will feature the Bath Half Marathon, 03/03/13, followed by the Greater Manchester Marathon (28/04) and the Sheffield Half Marathon (12/05). As for 10ks in 2013, I will probably stick to the TenTenTen (13/10) and this here Christmas Cracker (I’m guessing 10/12). Cousin Natalie is suggesting the BUPA Great Yorkshire Run instead, which takes place on September 29: far flatter and more suited to a PB. Having looked at the course, I can see why! But I’m not setting out to record a PB every time: besides, I can wait till December for that. I feel indebted to the TenTenTen and genuinely want to make it a fixture of my running calendar, even if it were to become the only fixture on it! And I don’t mind that hill: it’s what makes the race. And a good race it is, too. Hopefully in 2013 I can record sub-50’ there, after September’s 50’45” – sounds a reasonable goal. What about Christmas Cracker 2013? What do you reckon – sub-45’? A further two minutes off this year’s time?!?

Sounds good, eh? Well, let’s see. There could be another couple of thousand miles between now and then. Who knows.

* Did Not Finish. Jeez, am I starting to use jargon and TLAs under the assumption they are universally known?!?