Saturday, 31 August 2013

A word for my sponsors

And the word is...thanks. No hectoring this time, just a quick word of appreciation or those that dipped in their pockets; it's much appreciated.

I read a newspaper article a couple of weeks ago by somebody who wrote that they'd stop stopped sponsoring people who were going to do events that they'd do even if they weren't being sponsored, and it did make me wonder whether today's run was therefore 'legitimate', in the sense I'd have probably got round to doing it at some point anyway.

In a sense it doesn't matter, but I hope that the fact I'm going to match the funds given makes it a little more legitimate. And the timing of today has accidentally coincided with MSF being in the news for their work in Damascus after the chemical attacks there, the ramifications of which haven't been off the news all week. So it looks like the provision of medical assistance will be the extent of the UK's practical involvement in Syria for now, for which I am relieved. I couldn't see what good was going to become of ringing the doorbell and running away.

Anyway, to the run. Mrs M kindly drove me up to Marple this morning (and even more kindly got out of bed before 6.30 to do it), and after a few photos I was away just after 7.15. The weather was pretty cool to start with - I ran the first half wearing a gilet. There's not much to describe really; it was a long and winding canal towpath. I made a mental note of only two things. First, you can tell we've had a reasonable summer, as I could feel the heat radiating off the stone as I ran under many of the 96 bridges on the canal. And second, metropolitan ducks (that is, the ones up near Marple) are clearly more used to humans in close proximity than rural ones, as the former continued to lounge around lazily as I passed inches away, whereas the latter hopped, quacked and flew off once I was within a few feet.

Mrs M and daughter number 1 met me just before my halfway point (handily just a couple of hundred metres or so from our house) with a few provisions, and I carried on with the second half. The first 20 miles were all completed in times of under 8 minutes a mile, whereas the last 7 were all a few seconds over 8 mins a mile, which reflects how I felt; I did tire a bit. But I finished the 27.3 miles in 3 hours 33 mins running time, a couple more mins if you add on the quick break I had at halfway.

I got some lovely blasts on a barge's hooter as I crossed the finishing line (the point where the Macclesfield Canal ends at the junction with the Trent & Mersey Canal), and my 2 support team had made a "well done!" banner big enough to be seen from outer space. And then there were many photographs, some of which will undoubtedly appear on Facebook sometime soon. Annoyingly, a couple of them captured the only 10 seconds of real discomfort I had either during or after the run, a tiny bit of cramp in the hamstrings. Tomorrow might be another day however....

So, it was fun. It's a lovely run, from the outskirts of urban Stockport through the countryside of east Cheshire, to the the outskirts of the Potteries - you should try it. Perhaps not all at once however. And finally, thanks again to my logistics team; couldn't have done it without you.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Evoking the spirit of Sir Bob

***Spoiler*** - short, hectoring paragraph to be followed by a few in the usual vein...

Those of us above a certain age can almost certainly remember Bob Geldof letting loose a stream of spectacular vernacular at Wembley in 1985 during Live Aid, which, once you'd distilled its basic meaning was "give us your money". Well, I feel the same, with one small difference - there's no minimum I'm after, £1 will do.  You see, on a bad week I get 15 or so people tuning in for this rubbish, which can rise to 50 or so if I happen upon a subject that's du jour. And yet, a mere six (6) folk have so far dipped into their pockets for my sponsored event this Saturday.  To those six, many, many thanks, and to the rest of you - I mean it, even if it's just a pound or maybe two, please do what you can here:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/StuartrunsMaccCanal

It's for MSF, who at this very moment have doctors and nurses in Syria (and many other places besides) doing what they can to save and care for the poor buggers who've been caught up in the turmoil of that place through no fault of their own, and have suffered appalling injuries.  Thanks.

OK, maybe it was two paragraphs, but here we go with the rest. My lad and I had a lovely weekend in the Shropshire hills. Maybe it's a reflection of the mild OCD that it's been suggested we both have, but we don't seem to tire of doing the same thing each year (this was the 4th time we've done it). We do put in minor variations, but in essence it's the same walk. This year our variations were an earlier start, a museum visit, and a Chinese takeaway eaten with B&B-borrowed teaspoons on a street bench. Dammit, we know how to live. The earlier start meant we encountered fewer folk than usual on our route, the museum visit was a bit disappointing to be honest (its subtext seemed to be "wasn't it great when we all had rickets?"), and the takeaway was top quality - though enjoyment of it was considerably enhanced by watching the good burghers of Craven Arms go about their Saturday night business. I'll say no more, other than I'm surprised we didn't see more cars with confederate flags on them. Yee-ha!

There were also some unexpected bits to the weekend which made it really good. These included the discovery of Stokesay Castle (somewhere we'll spend more time at next year), the climb up to Flounder's Folly and the views from it, and a superbly maintained 1950s Foden truck parked by our B&B on its way up to a heritage event at Shrewsbury. The best bit though was the fact that my grunting teenager is becoming an entertaining and erudite walking companion - not once did I have to make conversation all weekend.

I was planning to write more than this, but I've been up since 5.30, it's 9 now, I've got another 2 hours on the train and I fancy some shut-eye, not least because 36 hours from now I'll be running a marathon. Night, all.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Less is most definitely more

Evolution is healthy; sometimes even revolution is healthy. This blog has been quietly evolving for a while now, focusing less on the sport stuff and more on, well, all sorts really.  But I think it's time to move on a bit further, and begin to chart some of the big changes that have started to take place for me and Mrs M, and which will continue in the next few months. I've not really mentioned them on here before now, mainly because they were still plans rather than reality (and some still are), so I neither wanted to jinx them nor embarrass myself if they didn't materialise. The blog will continue, of course, to talk about running and cycling, both me doing it and some stuff on pro-cycling as and when. It will, however, happen within a wider context.

The main change is that our lives will begin to shift geographically - we already spend pretty much all of our holidays in France, and the plan is that we'll spend even more time there. Mrs M may even be able to spend the majority of her time there - her work have agreed to a three month trial of her working reduced hours from France. That should start in January all being well. The wider plan is that we'll sell our house in Brittany and buy somewhere slightly bigger further south - it's a terrible cliche, but the Dordogne looks favourite, followed by the Gironde. Why? Well, we love France of course, but we also like proper summers, mild winters, good food and drink, a relaxed lifestyle and good links back to the UK. Who doesn't? Fortunately, thanks to the flexibility of Mrs M's work, and the changed working pattern I find myself in after the first half of this year, it looks like we can make it happen.

We've decided to keep a base (house) in the UK, and much though we both love our current house, it takes quite a lot of maintenance to keep it looking ship-shape, and if we were to keep a fair bit of expenditure on its fabric would be needed in the next couple of years. So we've sold it. And bought a new, smaller, more modern one, which is all of 250 metres from where we are now. And in a further twist, the people buying ours live directly opposite the one we're buying. That, however, is a sign of that fact that, when I'm in the UK, there's nowhere that I - and others - would rather be; the hills, the countryside, the proximity to Manchester and the established networks are an unbeatable combination for me. It looks like we might move five weeks today, a rapidity that's caught me by surprise a bit and led to a few sleepless nights - "are we doing the right thing?", "where's everything going to go?", and so on.

The cash we'll free up from downsizing in the UK will go towards our new French house. That'll probably mean we can afford to buy it without selling the house in Brittany, which is only worth peanuts and in any case will probably be on our hands for a couple of years yet, given the state of the French property market. Ideally, we'll find somewhere with a small gite attached, both so that we can generate a bit of extra income, and have people to stay with us, but not 'with' us, if you see what I mean. I know these plans sound grandiose and expensive, but as I say, the state of the French property market means that ain't necessarily so.

So the future looks like this. Subject to the trial period working out, Mrs M will spend the majority of her time in France. The cat will have to emigrate with her. She'll come back for weddings, funerals, christenings and Hard Rock Hell. I will continue to work as a management consultant in the UK, but flexibly. I'm only working four days a week at the moment, and after the experiences of the first half of this year the boss is currently shaping his ideas on how the firm will work in the future - something that might affect me further. Either way, I'll aim to get out to the new French gaff as many weekends as possible, retiring to the easy-to-look-after new Macclesfield house when I can't. And I'll certainly try to engineer an extended period out there in the summer.

So, there'll be less (formal) work for her, fewer days (not necessarily less work if recent experiences are anything to go by) for me, smaller houses (though more of them), and definitely a smaller income. That's the 'less' bit. The 'more' bit is a more relaxed lifestyle, a greater sense of seasons and being in touch with our surroundings, definitely more crusty baguettes and wine, and the more civilised approach to living that you find in rural France.

It's not in the bag yet of course. We haven't exchanged contracts in the UK, Mrs M's trial might not work out, and I might be thrown out of work. But we're on the road to making it happen. We've been through a few iterations of 'the plan', and in the next couple of months I'll reflect on why we want to do this. We're very lucky to be able to even contemplate it, I know that.

Meanwhile, this weekend sees the annual Dad-and-Lad expedition to the Shropshire hills. This is the fourth running of said event. Whilst the route stays broadly the same (OK, exactly the same), we do try to throw in a variation of some sort each year. This time it's an early start tomorrow to do the longest walking day of the two in time to visit a museum in Craven Arms ("The Land of Lost Content"). It's basically a shrine to the foodstuffs, clothes, cars and furnishings of the 1940s to the 1960s. It's got some spectacular feedback on Trip Advisor, though I fear it may be more up my street than Seb's. We'll see. I'll console him with beer, which I may have to sample for quality control purposes too....

Friday, 16 August 2013

Meanderings...

Sometimes it's hard to know what to write about on here. This week, for example, I left home at 6.25 am on Monday, and I shall get back by 7.30 pm tonight. Apart from the train journeys between Macclesfield and Reading, I've existed within a 250 metre by 250 metre area of central Reading. I've been in my hotel, my client's workplace, and Marks & Spencer, and that's it. I've worked from 7.30 in the morning till 10 at night, sometimes later, with intermittent breaks for food, transit between buildings, and 3 visits to the Novotel gym. It's been simultaneously a damned hard working week and one that will be erased from my memory within a month or so. In other words, it's been fairly dull. I could of course share the detail of how I've helped a private equity-owned finance firm make even more money than it makes already, but I try in general not to make this blog a potential insomnia cure.

So, rather than develop any particular theme, I'm going to do a Notes & Queries-type edition:

  • Running - I ran a sub-45 minute 10k in the gym this week. I can't decide if this was better than I'm likely to achieve outside, on the basis there isn't anything in the gym to disturb your rhythm, or worse, that logic being gyms get damn hot. Either way, I was unfeasibly pleased with myself, until I tried to run the day after, when I discovered the fuel tank had been thoroughly drained the previous day
  • This weekend sees a minor gathering of the clan for my mum's 70th birthday celebration. All my kids, Mrs M, and my sister her kids are congregating twice, once on Saturday and once on Sunday, the second edition being the main event - a formal, professionally-staged and taken photoshoot, the results of which will, I hope, be on all our walls for years to come. I'm bracing myself for hours of female angst, and possibly some male (teenage) angst too over what to wear, hairstyles etc. As for me, I'll be doing nothing more of course than having a dry shave, my monthly bath (whether I need it or not etc....) and throwing on the first thing out of the wardrobe....
  • An unaccountable but irresistible urge for pastry - maybe it was that apart from a single porridge on Tuesday morning I hadn't had anything hot to eat since Sunday, but earlier today nothing save a double legbreak would have stopped my visit to the West Cornwall Pasty Company on Reading railway station. It was 10.52 am. I'd had a decent breakfast. But I had a junkie's need for a fix. And £3.80, though expensive for a cheese and onion pasty, felt cheap for a hit
  • It's always worth trying to do a deal - my stay at Novotel last week was disappointing. I complained via their feedback form, telling them I was going elsewhere this week. The general manager e-mailed me to ask if there was anything they could do to win back my valued business - she suggested an executive room at no upgrade cost. I suggested a price I was willing to pay for it which was £25 less than I paid for a standard room (itself already an internet-special), and to my astonishment she agreed not only for this week, but also, without me asking for the duration of my time in Reading. I'm thinking of asking next week if she could send up some Puerto Rican lovelies to iron my shirts wearing nothing but ostrich feathers and a wide smile
  • Bicycles - God alone knows what Brian Rourke Cycles are doing as part of the manufacture of my dream machine. What I know is that it's going to be two months late, and if I'd had the means, I could have ordered, had built, and be half way round the world on an ocean-going yacht by now. At least there's nothing specific I was wanting it for at the moment (the bike that is rather than a yacht), but I was hoping to get a few summer rides in on it before the roads clag up with the usual winter mixture of salt and muck. And I get to keep £ Quite A Lot in my back account a bit longer
I'm boring myself now with all this wittering, so I'll stop. Next week I may be able to illuminate you with tales of romance, intrigue and skullduggery, but it's more likely to concern prep for my annual hillwalking weekend with The Lad, and GCSE results of t'youngest if I'm honest.

Oh yes, I knew there was something....I've not exactly been overwhelmed by the response to this:
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/StuartrunsMaccCanal

...so do it, and do it now!  (Please).

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Médecins Sans Frontières

Back in May I wrote about the loveliness of the Macclesfield Canal, and how I was planning on running its length to raise a bit of money to contribute to its support and maintenance.

However, I've changed my mind. Not about the loveliness of the canal (indeed, I'm now familiar with 25 of its 27 miles, and if there's a finer, more picturesque stretch of inland man-made waterway in the UK I'd be surprised and impressed), nor indeed about the fact I'm going to run its length (training for which is going very nicely). What I've changed my mind about is the choice of charity for which I'm going to beg funds off you, dear reader, and others besides.

So why have I changed my choice? Well, a few reasons. First, it was always going to be a bit of a parochial exercise, asking people to give money to something that benefits the denizens of Cheshire, who aren't, let's face it, a particularly deprived bunch of folk in the first place. I'd planned to get round that by just asking for a pound, but I can do that too with the new enterprise. Second, the Canal & River Trust, that looks after the Macc Canal, whilst nominally and officially a charity, actually receives a fixed grant from DEFRA, and is, you could argue, therefore more an arm of government activity than a body that's genuinely reliant on public donations. (In fact, one of the great unremarked-upon scandals of the 21st century, as I may have mentioned before, is the number of charities that actually receive the bulk of their funding from central and local government. In my view, no 'charity' should have the right to call itself such if less than 50% of its income is raised by private and corporate donation). Third, I've decided to raise money for a cause in which I have no current interest, nor am I likely to in the future. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with people raising money for causes that are close to their heart, or which they think they might benefit from in the future - quite the opposite in fact, as I suspect many charities' income would be much smaller if that didn't happen - but I want to do something in which I have no personal stake whatever. And to underline my commitment to that, not only will I do the run, but I'll also match the funds of anything my sponsors chuck into the pot.

I will, therefore, be running for Médecins Sans Frontières you won't be surprised to learn, given the title of this post. I'm not going to extol their many virtues here, but I do urge you to look here: http://www.msf.org.uk/.  Independent, neutral, impartial medical assistance, to the people in the world who need it the most. Only without the moralising and campaigning of people like Oxfam, who, in my humble opinion, have got much too big for their metaphorical boots. I pick on them in particular because the last time I raised a three figure sum for them they couldn't even be bothered to acknowledge the cheque, let alone thank me. However, you shouldn't tar them all with the same brush, hence....

Even more important than the last web address is this one: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/StuartrunsMaccCanal, for it's here you can donate. Please do, and please do so knowing that neither I nor anyone else is going to make any judgement about the amount you give. It's one of the great conundrums of the modern age when someone asks for sponsorship - "do I ignore it? If not, how much should I give? Will people think I'm tight if I only give, say, £2?" I say - don't worry about it. I have no target, whatever my website might say. There's no minimum I have to raise as part of a set event. Anything MSF get as a result of this is, as far as I'm concerned, a bonus for them. So if you want to give them £1, please do. It's one more than they'd have had otherwise.

So unless a) any of my bodily bits hurt more than they usually do as I up training volumes and distances over the next couple of weeks or b) we get an unseasonal deluge that makes the towpath impassable, I'm aiming to run from Marple to Kidsgrove on Saturday 31st August. That will be a mere 7 weeks of training to go from zero running to more than marathon distance - a foolhardy venture some might say, and I suspect I'll be agreeing with them somewhere round Congleton on the day itself. Whatever, we do these things. I've given myself an added incentive now to do the training as I've entered a 10km race on 15th September, in which I aim to run a sub-50 minute time and get top 10 for the 45-50 age group. It's very dangerous, making public those kind of ambitions, but if it doesn't work out, I'll just not mention it again, ok?




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