Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Looking Forward To Sheffield!

Greetings! How’s tha diddling?

I’ve been quiet for a week. On here, anyway – I’ve still been yakking away about Manchester to anybody daft enough to ask how it went… a particularly rewarding process in a work context, bizarrely, as several colleagues and partners were aware of my little challenge and have not been backward in coming forward with praise. I dropped a line (literally) to two senior execs in my organisation whom I’ve bumped into in gyms around the world and whom I’d rarely bother with work-related stuff and received appreciated appreciation. “Congratulations! That is fast!” and “Great job” are comments I would gladly welcome as part of a salary-linked performance appraisal..!

Man does not live by praise alone, of course. My lovely Auntie Jo-Jo (twin sister of my equally lovely Auntie Dawn) prepared a lovely Sunday dinner post-marathon and pre-Greystones meet up with Simon and Philip while I was up there. It was great to have family around and to soak in the warmth of their acknowledgement and congratulations. From my uncles, one of whom is a former marathon runner whose PB I’d beaten by around nine minutes, to my younger cousins whom I hope to inspire, it was… champion! It was what my family do. A lot of families rejoice in coming together around the same table once a year for a roast: in S11, it happened every Sunday, at my grandparents’ house. It’s one of the reasons I still always talk about “going home” when I head back to Sheffield… my house is also my home, courtesy of my wife and kids, but the minute I step beyond our front lawn it’s a different feeling…

…for all the people who knew about Manchester, only a handful have enquired after it. That’s fine – it’s not compulsory! But for all the nice small-talk outside school gates, truth is nobody hangs onto the contents of those conversations. Which is one reason I don’t really bother: I’m just more Northern/honest in my approach, in that I don’t make small-talk as such. If I ask, it’s because I’m genuinely interested – and I will duly follow up. The only person in Portishead who’s proactively approached me to ask me about Manchester is Phil, father to two of Littl’Un’s friends whom I generally bump into on a Wednesday morning after my run as he’s heading home having taken the dogs for a walk in the field opposite our house. I can only tell you it’s on Wednesdays that I see him because Wednesday is Bin Day: we always seem to have bins around us! One day he kindly helped me refill our recycling bins after the wind had seen fit to disperse their contents. He asked me then if i was training for anything so we chatted about Manchester: this morning he asked me if I’d run it yet. He was genuinely impressed with the time, knowledgeable that anything sub 4-hrs is a good time for a first time, and had the insight to ask me “when the next one is”. I was happy to tell hi… oh hang on, I’ve not told you lot yet, have I? Yes, let’s park that one for now..!

Much as I enjoy talking about it, Manchester is slipping evermore to the back of my mind – and not just because it’s in blinkin’ Lancashire (although most of our race was run in Cheshire, to be honest…). It was good, it was great, but it’s in the past now. Time for a new challenge. As it happens, there’s another gig on… Sunday!

I’ll be Northbound again on Saturday, running the Sheffield Half Marathon the following day. It’s not received a lot of coverage on here: to some extent, there’s something of an “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” feel to it. Personally, I prefer to (somewhat arrogantly, you may say) view it as a personal 13.1mi lap of honour. Not purely because of Manchester but because it caps off a special year for me. A year that began with me venturing out for my first run/walk; a year that saw me run my first ever race (Salcombe excepted!), the TenTenTen last September, 232 days before I’ll take to the starting line at Don Valley Stadium (my last chance to do so before it gets demolished), with a couple of halves in Bristol and Bath, a 10k in Weston-super-Mare and a marathon in Manchester in between. A year during the course of which I’ve made some true friends via Twitter but also via miles of roads pounded together (if maybe a few minutes apart), of which there will be another 13.1 miles’ worth on Sunday. Nevertheless, when I signed up for Sheffield, I did so knowing it would be the first race I’d run without aiming for a PB. Initially I feared for the state of my legs, knowing it would follow Manchester by a mere fortnight: but that’s not going to be a problem, they’re in perfect health! I ran 50mi last week (OK, 52.54), not too shabby given I’d run 26.2mi on the final day of the previous week. Nevertheless, whilst health is good, training up to last Sunday had all been about covering that distance, at whatever pace it took. I went out for a run yesterday trying to push my time from the Bath Half and struggled – well, failed. Now going out at noon on a hot day and failing to reproduce a pace from a 9am run shortly after we’d had snow may not surprise you: I, for one, am not disappointed. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, I can’t see myself beating 1h35’54” on Sunday. This will be my final race till September, when I will run two further Half Marathons darn’ere: Bristol on the 15th, Weston-super-Mare on the 29th. I think I am capable of beating 1h35’54” at both, especially at the latter: but not in Sheffield, not on Sunday. Having conquered Bristol, Bath and, last but by no means least, Manchester, this is me coming home to share my elation with my people. Thousands of them. For once, by looking at the map I can make sense of the route: and not because I’ve run it before but because I know it. Those are my streets. And that is why, even with no PB in my sights, Sheffield could prove to be my greatest race ever…

I’m coming home – and I’m coming home to race in my kind of city with new friends. Simon, Mike, Sarah, Catherine, Martin, Andy, Rob, Philip, Cat… they’re my kind of people, my people, and they’ll all be there. Seeing them before the race will be one of the highlights of the day: that and running past landmarks that are an essential part of my being, of who I am. Some of my relatives will be heading down to Hunter’s Bar (at the entrance to Endcliffe Park, main setting for the TenTenTen), where runners turn and head back towards Don Valley Stadium, and it will mean the world to me to see them there, shortly after and before the route takes me to the foot of Dover Road, home to me during my University years and to so many happy childhood memories of summer holidays in Sheffield, far away from the madding Mediterranean coastline crowd. Take away my days on Dover Road and my life would have been very different. Something I have in common with Seb (OK, ‘Lord’) Coe, by the way.

I’m training as hard as for any other race: it’s been a shorter preparation, that’s all. It’s a Half so I’m not carbloading: indeed, last week I had fish&chips, pizza and even a BBQ sausage and a burger! I’m even drinking caffeine, folk… but then I’m told you’re allowed when it’s ‘just’ a half. Besides, I am being sensible this week, just to try and avoid carting unnecessary weight around Sheffield. Well, trying… colleague’s leaving lunch today, meal at friends’ tomorrow… but I’m trying! And look, I can hardly go into every race eyeing up a PB, right? Conditions in Bath were perfect. I’m not predicting that for Sunday: might be warmer, will be hillier, and, most importantly, I don’t have the same room for improvement!

Need to sleep on my strategy for Sheffield. To run alone, to see if there is a PB in these marathon legs? I genuinely don’t know. But let me sign off with an anecdote – if that’s the correct term for a story that’s less than a day old! Probably not… anyway, here we go:

I’ve been toying with the idea of joining a running club for some time. I’ve just ultimately never seen the point. I took up running because it suited me to run when I wanted and for as long as I wanted, as well as being able to set off from my front door rather than have to sort out lifts to and fro places. I get all the encouragement and wisdom I need on Twitter and I’m not big on social gatherings anyway. I have joined Portishead Running Club members for ‘unofficial’ sessions and I’ve genuinely enj… er, ‘appreciated’ it, as I have done mid- and post-race chats with them. I ran with them through the North Somerset countryside in virgin snow back in February and the scenery and the company meant… well, let’s not get too carried away, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it but… I got close!
Nevertheless, pleasant as that run was, and much as I’ve enjoyed sharing my Bristol and Bath experiences with Portishead Running Club members, I’ve always preferred keeping myself to myself and doing my own thing. Let’s face it: I do run at silly o’clock times! Yet now… I’m about to join a club!

But no, it won’t be Portishead. Because my needs are unchanged and they do not include training: I may well still join a few of its members for unofficial runs, although again, those are generally on Sunday mornings and that doesn’t really work for me either. There is no set time/date that works for me on an ongoing basis. So sorry guys and girls: yes, I do live in Portishead, but, being the oddball that I am, the club I’m joining is… well, a fair old distance away. Certainly not running distance – not even my Mike’s or Andrew’s standards!

That’s because one need I do have is the need to belong, to feel part of a community even without being actively involved in it on a daily basis. Portishead cannot truly satisfy that: I’ve lived here for fourteen years but ‘here’ is
one of the fastest growing towns in the UK and until that process has matured it’s hard to feel truly connected. Everywhere you turn there are new faces and I often feel I don’t know anyone. I speak as a former member of the local cricket and tennis clubs and a current member of one of its churches, so not quite the recluse I may have led you to picture. And still… things change too fast here to feel truly settled. You can connect to individuals, of course you can – the way I connect to Jon, for example, not least through running. But connecting to a community, a group… I find that harder. I still find it easier when I visit my parents in Santa Margherita Ligure, near Genoa (Italy), where people have lived in the same houses and run the same shops for decades, whereby I can walk down the streets recognising people and connecting them to a given network of friends, former schoolmates… and I get recognised as well. Anyway, the club I’m joining is…

…Totley AC!

Totley AC are based in Sheffield. Several fellow nutters are members, including Simon. I will never run with them. I will never make it to any of their gatherings. But I will belong. Want proof?

I e-mailed enquiring about club vests yesterday and the practicalities of getting hold of one whilst I’m in town this weekend. Running vest, a smart suit, a football shirt in the crowd… what we wear often helps define us and our place. The contact address on the website was outdated but the recipient kindly forwarded it to the correct person… who, after providing the required payment info, enquired:

Are you Dawn, Jo, Rog & Richards Nephew?
If you are, I've known you since you were about 4 running around in tartan shorts !!
If you're staying at Woodys, I can drop the vest off if you want on my cycle home”

Having reassured Andrew I duly was (not prior to enquiring how many Giacomos he knew!), and having cast out of my mind the image of my tartan shorts, I was informed that:

“I always have a pint with your Dad on Cents [“Sheffield Centralians”] curry nights when he's over. Mandy has known Dawn & Jo since she was 5, I played footy with Rog & Richard for Cents.
Our address is [none of your business! – g.o.s.] or I'll be in the Hammer with Rog at 6 pm on Saturday (try dragging Richard along!). I'll drop the vests in this week

I was born in Sheffield. I spent eighteen years visiting it for a couple of months in the summer. I spent three and a half of my four University years living there. I left all too soon upon completing my degree, a regret with which I have to live – a challenge made more bearable by my lovely wife and boys darn’ere.

But can you blame me for feeling a sense of homecoming when I head back there? When even e-mails from a total stranger turn out to be… well, not from a stranger, but someone I first met over thirty years ago? Someone whose football boots I probably cleaned for charity on an evening outside the Hammer and Pincers after The Once A Year Trophy between Sheffield Centralians and a team comprising of London-based actors, raising around £20 for The Children’s Hospital Charity in the process? Someone whom I vaguely remember, and no doubt will remember better once I connect his name with his Sunday football-style nickname? Whereas here I head out of my own front door and still feel like a stranger?

What all this means is that I will be running freely on Sunday. By my standards, anyway. By then I might well have figured a pace to target, but right now I can honestly say I don’t have one in mind. I’m just looking to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city that will forever be my home, spiritually if not in the flesh. Who knows, I might even…

dare I say this…

…enjoy it?

Well, stranger things have happened, folk. I ran a marathon, for starters. And if for one lonely day I do enjoy it… heck, don’t worry, this blog’ll still keep going. No namechanges required.

Oh, and as a result of writing this I now have a target time in mind. 1h39’56”. That would be exactly four minutes above April’s PB in Bath. And exactly ten minutes below my first Half Marathon time in Bristol last September. I’d settle for that.

[a few hours later: Hang on… Chris is now telling me I can aim for sub-1h35’… he’s a sponsored athlete, don’t you know, so he knows what he’s talking about! and… oh I do wish I could just go out there and run “to feel”, as Trevor suggests, rather than try and have it all worked out in my mind!!!
Right… I need to sleep on this!]

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