Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Nearly time to run The Bath!

Only a few days to go now to the Bath Half Marathon (March 3) – and the nerves/excitement are kicking in!

It’s a very different scenario to the end of September and the build-up to the Bristol Half. That was my first… I had run the distance in training with Jon, but the whole race-day experience was new to me. Or, to be more precise, it was so different in scale to what I had experienced the previous Sunday when I ran the Sheffield TenTenTen that it qualifies as ‘new’.

I clocked 1h49’56” in Bristol – 8’23”/mi (or 5’13”/km, as I was calling it back then). A good time for a newbie, by all accounts. The problem with being a newbie is that you only get away with it once. On the plus side, you learn some valuable lessons on that first race, too. Some become apparent on the spot, otherwise only weeks or months later when preparing the next race.

I have been running at least one half marathon-equivalent training run just about every week since the Bristol Half. Indeed, I ran 23.1k (14.3mi) the Thursday after the Sunday race. Which is probably why I went back on my “never again” promise to myself, voiced during the final mile of the Bristol run, and duly signed up for Bath the following day!

In recent weeks, I appear to have made a breakthrough. Not in terms of stamina, more so in terms of speed. I went out on Monday morning and ran 13.1mi, the exact half marathon distance, clocking 1h37’50” at 7’27”/mi pace. On both January 22 and February 4 I had run 13.5mi, recording the near-identical times of 2h05’25” and 2’05’29” respectively – 9’17” and 9’18” per mile. So what has happened in the past three weeks to help me shave the best part of two minutes per mile, over thirteen miles, off my pace?

The answer is twofold. I think.

Firstly, there was Lund. I was running on a straight, flat road – and went for it. If the pace were to prove too much, I knew I just had to slow down and/or turn 180 degrees and head straight back for the hotel. No witnesses to my pain, no hill to climb to get back to the starting point as with my runs from home… I may be over-analysing now, looking back, but those may all have been factors. Or maybe I just felt the need to run fast to keep warm under the snow, who knows. Regardless, I ran 13.1mi in 1h44’ – a PB. Not bad for a run that had begun at 5:38am in Southern Sweden in February!

Secondly, there’s a book. It’s called “The Art of Running Faster”, by Julian Goater. It was already on my Amazon WishList when Mike, one of the online nutters, sang its praises…
…I’ve picked up a handful of tips on technique and applied them to my running, though mainly what I’ve done is taken on board the notion that, in training runs, there is nothing wrong with stopping as a result of running too fast if it means you’re pushing the boundaries in the process. Rocket science that ain’t: indeed, I suspect my Dad shared most of those tips with me whilst running along the Ligurian Sea coastline some twenty-plus years ago! But that was a different time, a different me… and I cant remember everything! Besides, Goater’s words gave me the impetus to step out of my comfort zone and “go for it” a tad more. And, much to my surprise, I found that actually I could run faster than I had been doing. I also tweaked a few aspects of my technique, reducing stride length and increasing cadence and just generally keeping an eye on what my body was doing. Having never had any running coaching (why would you? one foot, then the other…), there was obviously scope for some improvement. I have no idea as to how apportion the merit for these improvements and, quite frankly, I don’t care – something’s working!

Which then engenders a virtuous circle of comments and ‘kudos’ on Twitter and Strava with my fellow online ‘nutters’. I couldn’t do this without them – thanks, guys!

What this means is that I go into Sunday’s Half with very high expectations of improving on my Bristol time. Based on what I’ve managed this week, averaging a minute a mile faster than I did at the end of September near the mouth of the Avon. I’ll be further up the river this time round… what could be a realistic time?

That seems to depend on which of my online friends you ask:
> 1h37’47” – Mike
> 1h33’40” – Trevor
> 1h32’30” – Andy
> 1h31’55” – Martin

So, anywhere between a dozen and eighteen minutes below my current PB… no pressure then, Squintani! In fact... Mike made that prediction before my training run, knowing him hell probably squeeze it down now..! <27/02 update: he's now saying 1h34’45”>

OK, shall I let you into a secret? Shall I tell you how I plan to run on Sunday – and what I’m targeting?

Don’t tell anyone, but…

DISCLAIMER: The assumption behind the following forward-looking statement is that the weather will not have an adverse impact upon performance. There are sections of the course that could prove muddy if it rains too hard. So far, so dry – but there’s time, eh, good old English weather?

I’m targeting 1h35’. If I managed 1h37’50” on Tuesday, I ought to manage 1h35’ in a race. Or so popular wisdom goes, anyway. Because to hit 1h35’, I need to average 7’15”/mi. That’s a full twelve seconds faster than on Tuesday. 2’50” over 13.1mi may not sound much, but 12”/mi is quite a difference… that’s where race day adrenaline needs to kick in!

Now, back in September I had Jon pacing me and we both wore wristbands he’d made featuring the times at which we needed to pass the various mile markers to hit our target time of 1h50’. I was aiming for sub-2hrs but, having seen me run and looking to build in a little cushion, Jon suggested we targeted 1h50’. The fact that I crossed the line in 1h49’56” is a glowing testament of Jon’s pacing capabilities! There’ll be no Jon in Bath…
…but there will be a Garmin Forerunner 410. In fact, I suspect there’ll be thousands of the things. But one, in particular, will accompany me on my left wrist. Amongst the many pieces of data it can provide me (including sunrise and sunset times) are the pace for that given mile and the stage of that mile at which I’m at. And, as I did on Monday, that is all I plan to look at…

…on Monday, I never once glanced at my overall time: I just knew that, as long as I hit 7’30” pace mile after mile, I’d come in sub-1h40’, which was my goal. That meant accelerating towards the back end of several miles, after which I may have slowed down shortly at the beginning of the next. They were not major changes and they smoothened out over the course of the half-marathon distance. But trust me, when I needed to make ground around miles nine and ten, it felt easier to step up and iron out a small deficit within those miles than it would have done to let the gap grow and find it too big and demoralising later.

And that’s what I plan to do on Sunday: to keep an eye on the pace and try to hit 7’15” pace for each mile. Or maybe even 7’20”, knowing that may leave enough in the tank for the final few miles: I’ll see on the day, I will know after a few miles. Whatever the pace, the goal is to eat that elephant in thirteen small bites rather than worry too much about the overall picture, because taking care of thirteen miles will take care of the PB.

That is The Plan, Ladies and Gentlemen. Come race day, there will be scope for flexibility. There has to be, always. Hopefully, though, not till halfway. If 7’15”-7’20” is a struggle, I hope to maintain something in that region for at least half the race to build up a cushion. If it leaves enough in the tank, I may see if over the remaining six miles or so I can push a little further. Back in Bristol, the last few miles were a struggle: and that is something I am very keen to avoid. One reason was psychological: we had been heading towards the finishing line, my mind was looking forward to the finish, then we turned away from it. That hurt. And that slope in the final mile doesn’t help, either. Well, it didn’t in 2012. I’ll be ready for it this year. 2013 entries open on Friday (March 1), by the way. Just in case you could care less.

Incidentally, from a pure weight perspective I’ve actually put weight on since the end of September. I write this purely for the benefit of people who, upon seeing me, think my weight-loss is ongoing! Fear not, I’m fine!
On September 24, I weighed 73.5kg with a BMI of 13.2%; on Monday, February 25, I weighed 74.9kg with a BMI of 13.9%. This doesn’t worry me in the slightest – if anything, it just amuses me, as I delight in the knowledge of the homemade cakes I’ve enjoyed in recent weeks, whereas I was turning down the majority of such offers over the summer. But what’s the point of running 50mi/week if you can’t give it to the occasional (well, daily) indulgence?

Anyway… let’s run the Bath!!!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Sightseeing Runner

My last post outlined my evangelical approach to running: not one whereby I go out praising its glories during runs, rather one where I will happily outline its benefits in conversation without needing too much prompting. So here’s another of the upsides of running every day…

…firstly, hands up if you travel for work? Thanks. So you know the drill, especially if said travel entails aircrafts: you get to your departure airport, waste away time waiting to board, travel, clear customs and pick up your luggage… and then you’re ready for the joys of international business!

What, you are? Then you’re luckier than I am, my friend. When I travel it is generally to attend conferences (typically ones my company sponsors) or for meetings. Typically, I will head straight from the airport to my hotel. Typically, that hotel is also the conference venue. Typically, there are conference-related evening events (a nice word for ‘meals’). Typically… you got it, they take place in the same hotel.

Not that long ago, for example, I travelled to Copenhagen for a two-day conference which took place at a hotel within the airport terminal. The only non-airport land I saw for two days was… er, Sweden, as it happens, out of my hotel room. It was the same last November in Stuttgart, though at least that time I got to head out of the terminal and cross the road to the other side!

Now don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions. I have had a decent share of free evenings during which I’ve roamed the streets of the likes of Amsterdam, Berlin… hmm, not a lot else, to be honest. Amsterdam’s central location and relevance to the industry in which I work means that I’ve been to a lot of conferences there over the years. I even have my ‘local’ curry house and Irish pub in Amsterdam. I don’t really have those in Portishead. Something’s wrong there. I’m assuming Vic, the landlord of The Ship Inn, isn’t Irish, anyway – if he is, he hides it remarkably well.

So, you get my predicament. Conferences typically require me to be on site by 8am, dinners rarely end before 11pm (and then often spill into the hotel bar)… what scope to take in some of the delights of beautiful cities that attract tourists from all over the place?

The fact that you’re reading a running blog should give you a clue as to where this diatribe is heading. Indeed, running. I was in Stockholm earlier this month, awaking there on February 7 and 8. Stockholm had long topped the list of European cities I’d not seen that I most wanted to visit, certainly since we drove through Port Talbot. I was actually nervous about finally making its acquaintance, in case the expectation that had built up over the years would turn to disappointment. I am relieved to report that it did not: she was every inch as beautiful as I hoped and expected. Every inch I saw, anyway…

…and I saw more of her than I might have done before my conversion to running (much as I continue to not stand it, you understand). Because on February 7, at 6:33, I went for a 4.1m run near the hotel, venturing a bit further the following morning when I headed out for 5.6mi at 5:25. Those 4.1m were tricky, as fresh snow fell onto slippery ice; less so the 5.6mi, by which point the snow had settled and I could pay more attention to the clearer surroundings. Here’s the route, should it mean anything to you!
I still only caught a glimpse of what is a major capital, it’s not as if I ran through it in its entirety. But hey, it’s a glimpse more than I would have got in the past, when I would have got up at what I believe is referred to as a ‘normal’ time (I prefer ‘sane’), leisurely strolled down for breakfast and then headed off for a day’s work. In those 38’ and 47’ I was still able to appreciate this beautiful city in almost virgin snow and equally unblemished tranquillity, its heart still resting from the exortions of the previous day before it truly started beating with the blood of its people pumping through it. I was afforded a more intimate glance, on the second day even finding my way not just by sight but by the smell of a baker I’d passed the day before.

So that was Stockholm. Before then, I’d spent a couple of days in Lund, in South Sweden. On the morning of February 6 I went for a 13.2mi run – no random distance, as you no doubt know (clue: I ran 0.1mi too many). Upon checking in a couple of nights prior I’d asked for suggestions for a run and was kindly given a couple of small maps for a 3.5km and a 5km run. I tried one of them on February 5 but, true to form, obviously got something wrong. But, after a detour through the centre of Lund (in itself no bad thing!), I discovered a cycle track / pedestrian lane in the proximity of the hotel that led to the next town along, Dalby, and decided to use that and that alone for a longer run the following day. Ladies and Gentlemen, runs don’t come much straighter (or flatter) than this one:

OK, so I took in some slight turns when I reached Dalby, having a nosey around. I even found myself running through the cemetery in the church grounds, leaving fresh footprints in the snow at about 7:15: a beautiful, quiet, peaceful feeling that I hope to cherish for some time. I respectfully slowed down in the cemetery, but I didn’t slow all the way down to walking pace. I’m sure they didn’t mind: relaxed folk, the Swedes. None more so than those six feet under with snow falling down…

…and of course I was in shorts and short sleeves! What else would I be wearing heading out for a run at 5:38 in Sweden in February? Not sure what the drivers passing on the highway that ran parallel to the cycle track made of this madman in glo-yellow top… suffice to say I didn’t pass a single living soul once I was half a mile from the hotel! Then again, those Swedes weren’t quite the Vikings I’d been anticipating. Coats, gloves, hats… they had the lot. I figured I may not, for once, be alone in displaying my trademark dress sense. Disappointingly, however, I was.

Good run, that one in Lund. 1h’44”22 is the fastest I’ve ever covered the half-marathon 13.1mi distance. Burnt best part of 2,000 calories, too: by then I’d established the hotel offered just about every brekkie going, and I made sure I helped myself to the whole spectrum!

Therein one of the beauties of running, my friends: the knowledge I can “top up” after a run (or at other selected times of the day) with neither guilt nor fear! Just enjoyment and a feeling of a well-deserved reward!

Half marathons… oh yes, I’ve got one of those coming up soon. March 3, Bath Half Marathon. Last September I tackled my first (and, to date, only) half in Bristol in 1h49’56”: all of five minutes slower than on the Lund cycle path, and that’s with race day adrenaline. Then again, I have run 1,085mi in the 146 days since the Bristol Half – that’s got to count for summat. Oh, 7.6mi/day: I’ll save you the hassle of working it out. Moreover, that half was on September 30 and I’ve run every day since October 12: that’s also got to help. Or so I believe, anyway: I appreciate runstreaking lends itself to various interpretations…

Anyway, ten days to go to the Bath Half Marathon. What’s my goal? Oh, that’s for me to know and for you to guess. Unless you’re one of my fellow Twitter #nutters, in which case I’ve spelt it out and committed to it. It’s Thursday and I’ve already run 41mi this week: taking it easy next week. I’ve been aiming for 50mi/week in training, but this week have added the clause whereby the target need not be achieved in weeks featuring races. So aiming for 29 in the build-up to the 13.1 that count next week: the 13.1 that will tell me what pace I can sustain for a half marathon, that will hopefully give me an indication as to what I can achieve come April 28, come Manchester. Because, in running terms, that’s what it’s all about for me this year. Lund was a confidence booster, Stockholm an eye pleaser… here’s hoping Bath (pronounced… well, ‘Bath’! there
s no ‘r’!) can be both. It’s certainly a nice place. As for the nice pace… well, that’s up to me. Purely, entirely up to me. No referees, no judges, no team-mates… success or failure lies entirely on my shoulders. In itself, not a bad feeling. Hope it turns to a blinkin’ good one in ten days’ time: I’m genuinely at that stage where I’m looking forward to it. To the race but also to the day, to the preparation, the anticipation, the post-race hydration… Now obviously I won’t enjoy the run, but hey – let’s do it. There’ll be food afterwards.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Evangelical Runner

I go to church. Do you go to church?

I’m a Christian. I’ve pretty much always been a Christian. I grew up in Italy, where I landed in the second half of the 1970s. Everybody in Italy was a Christian in the 1970s…
…and I was no exception. Born in Sheffield in December 1975, I moved to Italy around six weeks later and I was baptised on February 8, 1976, a shocking 59 days later. Catholic rules in Italy stipulated a maximum gap of eight days – my excuse is that I spent my first six weeks in Sheffield, so tough!
Anyway – that’s how it works. Not that there were any regular churchgoers in my house: the nearest thing was my dad’s dad, my Nonno, and even he didn’t go every Sunday. His wife, my Nonna, has probably averaged three masses/week since he passed away, but that’s a different story…

…anyway, I grew up a Catholic. My nursery school was run entirely by nuns, although I don’t think that’s why my time there was short: I just missed my Mum too much. Aaahhh… Well, spending more time at home with Mum helped me with my English: who knows, that may come in handy at some point. Cosa ne pensate?

From the age of around six I was an altar boy at the imposing church of Nostra Signora della Rosa (correct, Our Lady of the Rose) (I never did ask if it was the white rose… probably not… darn!)

…anyway, my best friends from school were altar boys; I wanted to be an altar boy. My Dad had to forego one of the few local races to take me to church for my debut… I have no recollection of the service, I just remember Dad bemoaning my sense of timing as it clashed with the ‘Michelina’. And still he took me. God bless..!

I was an altar boy for a good eight years or so, I guess. Midnight masses, holding the bishop’s incense, mitre or… you know, that long stick-like thing, over the years I undertook every job in town. For the special late-night services we’d get a ‘pinguino’ ice cream afterwards, where a standard ice cream is dipped into white or brown chocolate – delightful. But that was a twice-yearly treat: most Sundays we made do with a free kids’ weekly magazine, “Il Giornalino”. You could make good money trekking around town with the local vicar during the month when he’d visit each and every household in his parish to bless it by madly shaking some holy water around, mind: you’d only get two of those days as there were plenty of altar boys amongst whom share the duties, and certain routes were hardly fought over due to the above-average generosity of its inhabitants. As you grew in seniority, you grew increasingly richer, your pockets by the end of the afternoon overflowing with thousands of… well, lire. I used to be a millionaire, you know… blinkin’ Euro! Anyroad…
…happy days! Oh, and I won two “Torneo dei Campanili”, the local altar boys’ football tournament whose final was held at the local seminary. I played right-back in a side so full of attacking talent that I hardly ever had anything to do, although I do remember flooring an opposing winger with a malicious kick in the side of the leg as he went past me in one final. All the religious teachings I’d learned at church were gazumped by my Dad’s wise words: “The man can get past you, the ball can get past you, but not both”. ’Av’it.

In all my thirteen years of school in Italy, a crucifix hovered over the teachers’ desk, Jesus’ resting head looking down upon them all. Somehow it never fell crashing down on any teacher’s head. He must have approved of their teachings.

So… that’s the first eighteen of my relationship with Christianity covered. Then I moved to the UK…

…where I remained a Catholic during my student days in Sheffield. Then I moved to Earl’s Court, London for the summer of ’98 and found it convenient to attend services at St. Jude’s in Courtfield Gardens, on my doorstep (if you can have something on your doorstep when you’re living in a basement apartment). The vicar was one David Stone, who (presumably on the back of his success with yours truly) has since moved on to the impressive role of Canon Precentor at Coventry Cathedral – whatever it is a precentor does. Is it not a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient? Maybe not.
Anyway yes, summer of ’98. I liked what David had to say and I liked the nature of his services. I appreciated the more discursive nature of his preaching compared to the more imposing style I had heard for many a year in Catholic churches. I felt I was in an environment where ‘faith’ was more important than ‘religion’, where substance mattered more than customs, and I embraced that. He was kind enough to spend some time with me to discuss the differences between Catholicism and Anglicanism and all the kinder, twelve months later, to accept me into the Church of England. You can’t be baptised twice, see… water shortages and all that.

So there you go: as of 1999, I am officially a Protestant. My Dad wasn’t overly enamoured with the change but then he’s not exactly an ‘active’ Catholic. At the time it might have seemed like one of my petty acts against all things Italian, but even I would not allow what to me was always banter (if not always expressed with humour or grace) to impact my religion.

In 2005 I started dating Karen. You probably already know that we met online, so long before we’d set loving eyes upon each other we knew that we were both Christians. Just to add another shade to the rainbow, Karen comes from a Baptist background and indeed it was in her local Baptist church in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol that we exchanged vows and rings. Soon after that we joined Gordano Valley Church, which is a…
…oh I’m not sure. Most people would say ‘evangelical’; we are told to say ‘non-denominational’ or ‘independent’. Whatever the label, it’s a kind of church I’d heard about but never come across. The congregation meets in a school, for starters. I say ‘congregation’… the correct term may be ‘members’, I’m not entirely sure. People are allowed to talk publicly during the service, share thoughts, prayers and stuff – which you may occasionally see in a CoE church, but certainly not in a Catholic one! Anyway… I’m done with labels now, I just embrace the term ‘Christian’ and don’t dig too deep into the detail. It’s too much hassle.

Why am I telling you all this? Why, it’s simple!

See, every Sunday (OK – “most Sundays”) I am part of a congregation which features many believers happy to raise their hands, share their thoughts, wave flags, proclaim the glory of The Lord. I struggle with that. I only raise my hands at Springsteen concerts and keep most thoughts to myself or share them solely in quiet discussions. As for the proclaiming bit… again, I believe in the glory of Lord The Almighty, but I’m not one for shouting it to the seven seas. It’s not… what I do. Even now, behind the safety of a keyboard, I’m self-restricted by nature to fairly placid language… it’s who am I, what I am. And unashamedly so. I’m not a shouter, though I’ll sit down over a drink to discuss anything and everything. Does that make sense?

Now… about this running stuff…

…you should of course be aware that I can’t stand running. Indeed, I only (reluctantly) embraced it at the ripe old age of 36, having turned up my nose at it when my Dad first wanted me to embrace it…

…and isn’t that true for so many about religion?! Many members of my church embraced faith in their adult years. As a result, they seemingly have a burning desire to vigorously share their story and their faith that I lack. Take away the ‘vigorously’ and I’m fine: the paragraphs above prove that! But it’s still something I do softly-softly, not through any weakness in my beliefs but purely as a reflection of my personality and, most likely, the fact that I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t a Christian. I was never struck by lightning on the road to Damascus, although that could be because I’ve never been to Damascus. For me, being a Christian (both technically and in reality) was part of life, part of me: and I say that with gratitude rather than the resentment others may feel about the ‘technical’ side of things.

I have noticed, however, that where running is concerned I shed those inhibitions. So when someone I’ve never met tweeted, some months back, that she wished she had “a personal trainer”, I suggested she get two – one for each foot! We exchanged a few tweets and she now runs three times a week… I keep checking on her, see…
…similarly, other people have credited my story with them trying out running. Because, no matter what the press would like you to think, it’s not the likes of Mo Farah that inspire adults to run. Kids, maybe: seeing Seb Coe (as he was back then) win gold in L.A. in 1984 gave me an adrenaline rush, it just didn’t last long. But sane, responsible, time-constrained, weight-unconstrained adults are not going to watch a skinny bloke run 5k in 13’41”66 and think: “Oh yes, I can do that!”. Because they can’t. If anything, such feats can be disheartening. Knowing that an overweight middle-aged bloke who spends most of his time sat on his arse in front of a keyboard lost 4st and has run a half-marathon in under two hours… now that’s more likely to strike a chord. Or so I’m told…

…by people who credit me with them giving running a go. People who ask me for advice on Facebook or Twitter the way I have done with many a folk on there. And guess what, I’m delighted to oblige. I may even reach out to people in the first instance when I read they are looking to “get fitter” or “lose weight”, because I know now that running can do that. Not for everybody, of course: circumstances vary, bodies vary. But I know that I could never have lost 4st without running (and hey, I’d have settled for half that!), no matter what diet I followed, and that I can run a half-marathon on any given day and will run a marathon… well, one day (April 28, 2013).

Not only do I know that, but I willingly share it with that same vigour with which believers who have embraced their faith of their own volition later in life share their religious beliefs. Don’t get me wrong: I am pleased to have grown up in a Christian environment, to have had my Christian faith as an ever-present companion along this rocky road for as long as I can remember. We’ve always enjoyed a comfortable relationship, like a smelly foot and an old slipper (or would sandal be more appropriate?). The flip side is that I don’t have that burning need to talk about it: it’s just the way it is, there is nothing exceptional about me believing in God – it’s part of my fabric, always has been. But me running – now that is extraordinary and, therefore, worthy of sharing. Hence this blog, hence by Facebook statuses, hence my tweets… and indeed hence many a face-to-face conversation I’ve had with people enquiring after my health, my weight-loss or just why it was they saw me running in the wind and rain before sunrise. And believe me, it’s not because I enjoy it! I can’t stand it!!!

Which, incidentally, ties back into my faith. I do enjoy it, but enjoyment is not my driver. I’ve often told folk “happiness is over-rated” and will continue to do so. Indeed, the last person to whom I made that not-as-flippant-as-many-of-mine comment was someone from church whom we saw briefly after Christmas. She had attended a midnight carol service at one of the local Anglican churches and had been disappointed with its old-fashioned nature. I guess I was astounded by her astonishment as she was by the service. What she described sounded awesome to me: an old building, a structured service, no impromptu contributions, no kids screaming… I like our church and I love many of the people we’ve met there, I am truly grateful for the love, kindness and help they have brought into our lives, but ultimately I’m far more comfortable in a more traditional setting. This is no shocking revelation, as I’ve told many folk at GVC. It is also why I occasionally skive off to St. Nicholas’, one of the local Anglican churches and indeed a landmark on any run involving Nore Road in Portishead. It used to be the chapel to the local Nautical School, set up by one Harry Fedden “‘to train boys who would otherwise through poverty or parental neglect, or being orphans, be left destitute and homeless, and in danger of being contaminated with vice and crime”, whereas the flats into which the school have been transformed has more of a need for a private tennis court and a private pool than a private place of worship. Stained glass, stone walls… lovely place, it is. And no rowdy kids running around the place, unlike GVC. Trust me, I know: none are rowdier than ours. For all the reassurances from fellow congregation members that it’s anywhere between ‘OK’ and ‘lovely’, it makes me deeply uncomfortable: I was brought up to think that, in church, children should be seen and not heard, that peace and quiet are fundamental for prayer and should not be compromised by the likes of The Squintanis. Altar boy material they are most definitely not.

On February 3, days after I started writing this, Jon Bonner spoke at GVC. Remember Jon? He got me round the Bristol Half. A trained actor, he spent many years doing “Jesus stuff”, going out to evangelical events, doing school assemblies and leveraging his artistic talent in the name of God. A couple of years back he released his album “Big It Up For Jesus”, which has undoubtedly further facilitated Roberto’s current understanding of God: no doubt an imperfect one, but at least we’re veering in the right direction.
Anyway… February 3…
…Jon spoke candidly about his own struggles with seizing the right moment in conversations to introduce faith. Yes, he’d stood in front of thousands of people and performed: but they were people who had congregated to hear such messages, not strangers or colleagues with whom he was making small-talk. I found his admission heart-warming, in so much that it ticked the “not just me then” box.

Does any of that make sense? You may well argue that, by acknowledging my reluctance to shout about my faith, I am accepting the need to overcome it and do something about it. There will no doubt people at GVC who would take me aside and make that point. Personally, I’ll stick to what I do and what I am: I’ll too continue to take people aside and have a quiet word when the moment is right, but I won’t take to the rooftops. There are people who do that and it’s great that they do. But me, I’ll just stick to the ground and maybe follow people who seemed interested in what the shouter said and follow up on it. Quietly.

As for any intersections between my faith and my running… I am happy to say that, when I look upon nice scenery, I do allow myself to thank God and drift to thoughts relevant for that particularly day. Somehow I seem able to do so even when running into a headwind in a hail… sometimes, anyway. I can’t claim to be in God-mode throughout all my runs, obviously: attention to God has to be balanced with attention to my Garmin, not to mention traffic, legs, etc.. But I am well aware that, if I find an hour and maybe then some to exercise my body, I need to ensure at least some of it is co-dedicated to God. Easier said than done, but then that’s life for you. Besides, I have an uneasy relationship with prayer. Again, it harks back to my Catholic/Protestant background: my default setting for prayer is ‘thanksgiving’, whereas in my current church the focus is generally on ‘requests’. Since I believe in prescience (but not pre-determination), and since Jesus himself on Calvary called up to His Father saying “if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done”, I have never felt entitled to use prayer to change the Lord’s plans. Whatever they are, let them come to pass. Not that such thoughts stood in the way of me praying when I saw an ambulance rush past with lights flashing but sirens silent at 5:40 this morning, mind.

I can but hope that God
s will includes you generously sponsoring me for the Manchester Marathon at www.justgiving.com/gos75. Not many people have done… seriously, do you guys think this is no major effort for me, that April 28 will be a doddle and thus not an effort worthy of financial recognition? That I will enjoy it, just like I’ve enjoyed all the training? Tha need thi marbles checking! In’t meantime, dig deep!!!

That’s me done for this time. I’ll be back next week with tales of running in Sweden, where I spent last week for a conference. Since starting this running malarkey I’ve now trodden the streets of Amsterdam (it’s flat, tha knooes!), Paris (not sure they were ready for my glo-yello attire!), Berlin (shortly after beginning my runstreak), Boston (44k in one day!!!), Atlanta, Lund, Stockholm, as well as Portishead, Sheffield and Santa Margherita Ligure. It doesn’t read too badly, does it?