Sunday, July 31, 2005

Lawn of dreams

The week before last, I was on holiday with my family, staying with my great-aunt in East Anglia. A relaxing time was had by all. We went to local attractions we've been to many times before; we read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince while lying on the lawn; we ate a lot of cake; and my siblings and I acted as though we were all at least 10 years younger than we actually are (although this is everyday behaviour for the sibs). I feel so lucky that I get on well with them.

Despite all the cake-eating, I got plenty of exercise. My brother tends to feel a day is wasted on holiday if he hasn't been for a bike ride, played frisbee or at least kicked a football about. We did a bit of all of this. My great-aunt has an enormous garden and one night, my brother and I played frisbee until we could no longer see each other in the dusk. It's a glow-in-the-dark frisbee.

However, one sporting activity in particular will form my abiding memory of this holiday, and it all started when my sister said, "Anybody want to play rounders?"

We had a softball bat, two squash balls, and (between us) a hazy grasp of the rules of rounders, softball, and cricket. And only three players. You may ask yourself, how would any of those games work with only three players?

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the D. Family Sporting Federation Memorial Batball Tournament.

(Name arrived at after much discussion. "Who is it in memory of?" my mum asked. "Batball!" said my brother.)

1. There shall be 3 players:
– Batter
– Bowler
– Fielder.

2. There shall be 2 bases:
– The glow-in-the-dark frisbee, positioned a yard or so from the edge of the lawn nearest the house (home base)
– The yellow football, positioned about 10 metres away from the frisbee, or level with the big leylandii tree (outside base).

3. The playing area shall be the lawn. If the ball is hit beyond the trees and into the bushes, or on to the gravel path, or over the wall and into the woods, and is therefore hard to find, that will automatically count as half a run.

4. When the ball does go on the gravel, K will fetch it if she is the only one with shoes on. Uncharacteristically good play by K may also be attributed to the shoe factor.

5. The ball shall be bowled underarm, as otherwise we will be here all night before it goes near the batter. The batter will stand to the right of home base, and may claim a no-ball if the ball does not pass over the base at roughly waist height, or if K’s sister does not feel like hitting it, or if K bowls particularly erratically.

6. The batter may not stop at the outside base (the football) but must keep going back to home base, since there is only one person on the batting team.

7. Three strikes and you’re out, unless we’re feeling generous (see no-balls, rule 4).

8. Either fielder or bowler may get the batter out, but only by touching, while holding the ball, the base towards which the batter is running, or by striking the base or the batter’s body with the ball. This last is not recommended, as you will certainly miss and make "arrrgh" noises. If anybody (K) actually manages to hit a running target (brother), a round of applause is in order.

9. Once the batter is caught out, the bowler becomes the new batter, and the fielder the bowler. Or something. Bowler and fielder may swap roles if they feel like it or the batter is doing too well, but the order of turns at bat should stay the same.

10. When K’s sister tries really, really hard to catch her brother out and misses the catch by an inch, play will stop to commiserate her as soon as her brother has reached the base. This is doubly true if she falls over in the attempt.

11. Play may be suspended for the night if:
– the grass becomes too dewy to run on
– the midges become too rapacious
– it’s too dark to find the ball in the woods.

Our tournament ran over three evenings, and I won in the end! ("Fluke! Fluke!") On the last night, as it got darker and darker, we realised that the air was full of little dark shapes that squeaked and fluttered. Our batball had been graced with some genuine bats.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I hate mornings

That's not a witty post title, but frankly I'm not up to thinking of one. I had an insomniac night, and am somewhat zombified this morning (never my favourite time of day, at the best of times). Oddly enough my entire family seemed to feel the same way at breakfast this morning - my sister complained that she thought she had left her brain lying around somewhere - so maybe it's something in the air... which is distinctly damp and chilly. Apparently it's about 14 degrees. I worry about global warming as much as (or more than) the next person, but hey, it's July. It's not meant to be like this.

I have lots of stuff to post about, such as the lovely holiday I had last week, and the 5K I ran just before that. And I will, when I muster up the energy to do it properly. Just not this morning.

This week, however, is going to be Eating Week. I have been half-hearted about this for far too long and it's time to face up to the facts: I am not losing any weight at the moment. I haven't approached the scale since I got back, but given that cake consumption was pretty much a daily occurrence on holiday, I need to get serious whatever it says.

I'm going to go to the gym at lunchtime, which I hope will make me feel more energised.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Running up that hill

OK. It's been a week and a half. I am finally going to write about the Race for Life.

There are various reasons why I didn't do it earlier. Last week was very unsettled and disconcerting, even before the bombings, and somehow I just didn't feel like it. After the bombings we were all sad and I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for writing a cheery, lively "I love running and I had a great Sunday" piece.

And then the D. B came to visit, of which more later.

But I need to write about it now. Why? Well, because tonight I'm doing another 5K...

I woke up on Sunday 3 July at 6am, not feeling exactly my best.

It’s probably a good idea, if you’re planning to run five kilometres for the first time ever, not to be a physical wreck. It was partly my own fault. The previous Tuesday, I’d been called up by a catering firm for which I occasionally do a bit of waitressing. They were due to provide food at a wedding on Saturday at a castle near Dundee, and the agency which was to have provided the waiting staff had pulled out because of the G8 summit. Would I come and do it? Well, I have this slight problem with saying no… also, I could use the money. I won’t be working full-time until August and I have a wedding to save up for.

I carefully wore comfy shoes so as not to end up with sore feet, but there wasn’t much I could do about the need to hold heavy trays of champagne and serving dishes for extended periods. On Sunday morning, my biceps ached and my shoulder-blades felt as though someone had tied them together with a thick rubber band. I don’t think I’d helped matters much by trying on Friday to find out what my one-rep maximum on the assisted pullup machine was; I set the weights too light and plummeted floorwards, nearly yanking my arms out of their sockets on the way. Nor was I entirely sure about my left ankle. Wednesday's run had been on a dodgy treadmill which sloped slightly to the left, and I'd had to cut it short because of an ache developing in the ankle. Rather than push it, I hadn't run on Friday at all, but stuck to the stationary bike. Furthermore, I’d had to serve food on Saturday with my left wrist strapped up. This wasn’t exercise-related: I have a small ganglion which gives trouble sometimes. Obviously I would run even if the strapping was still on, but it's made of black Neoprene and is rather sweaty to wear, so I was hoping I wouldn't have to.

So waking out of troubled dreams about having forgotten to bring my race number, and not being allowed to run, I headed downstairs much earlier than I needed. After eating my porridge (slow-release carbs) I hung about the kitchen, trying to tell myself I wasn't nervous.

I was getting a lift to Kirkcaldy with a lady at work, whom I had never met. Only four people could make it to the Kirkcaldy race (there were 20 in the original team) but her teenage daughter was going to run too, and her husband was driving. Dad took me over to her house at nine. It was already quite sunny, and Mum had suggested I change my black T-shirt for a white one. This was perfectly sensible, but the black one was old, soft and comfortable, while the white one was newer, stiffer, and shorter in the sleeves. I kept tugging them down.

It soon became apparent that the lady from work is a Proper Runner. She’s very friendly, and chatted on about the various races she’d done: several Races for Life, 10Ks, taken part in a marathon relay team. She had serious-looking running shoes and had her race number on already. Her daughter is slender and long-legged and I felt sure that both of them would speed away from me and I’d pant in long after them. As usual, they were both smaller and slenderer than me, so I was feeling like a big lump. I was only mildly reassured by the daughter's attitude; she wasn't sure what shoes she was going to run in and wanted to hang on to her mobile phone, just in case her friends rang or texted her while she was on the course. I wished I could be that casual about the whole thing!

We arrived at Beveridge Park in plenty of time. There were plenty of women in evidence with pink race numbers on, but it wasn't at all clear where we ought to go, although we could see pink plastic tape marking out part of the course. Eventually we decided to follow the tape and were led past a pond (with swan-shaped pedalos) to the other side of the park, where there was a stage, a man with a microphone yelling out enthusiastic things, and various tents selling wristbands and ice cream. The sunshine was hot, but there was a fresh breeze.

While we waited for the other two team members, we drank water, did some stretches and talked about running. I repositioned my race number about three times, in a vain attempt to make it lie neatly over my chest (taking a tip from D-Girl, I did have safety pins with which to do this). The others arrived. "K's been training for four months", the Proper Runner told them. Oh no, don't tell them that, I wanted to say. Now they'll expect me to be good...

Eventually the call went out for the warm-up. This wasn't one of the biggest races, but 3000 women is still a sizeable crowd. Here and there you could see little groups all in the same T-shirt or costume: a bunch of girls with bunny ears and tails (but not swimsuits and heels, I'm glad to say), some nurses in surgical pyjamas, a large team from an oatcake factory. Over their heads, I could just see the warm-up leaders on the stage - two leotarded madwomen in wigs that looked like a collision between Agnetha Fältskog and a bale of hay.

I am so rubbish at aerobics. By the time I've grasped one movement, we're on to the next and I''ve lost my rhythm completely. The size of the crowd didn't help: it was hard to get a space to stand in, and nobody wanted to wallop the person next to them! However, we all survived, I didn't trip over or kick anyone, and they started to call for the Runners group to make their way to the start line. Once they had moved off, the Walkers would follow.

Here was the dilemma I'd been waiting for: Walkers or Runners? By this point, I was feeling the need to stick with my group, so I headed for the Runners when they did. I wasn't feeling too daunted. Usually when I sit an exam or whatever, I don't sleep well the night before, and then calm descends just before I get started. This was just the same.

We trotted over the starting line to the sound of "Sisters are Doing it for Themselves". I started fairly slowly, but even so I quickly lost sight of my teammates - the Proper Runner was up ahead somewhere, but the others were behind me. Suddenly it came upon me: I'm actually running in a 5K! Me! In the Runners!

For the first few hundred metres, the course sloped uphill fairly gently. Then it looped back on itself and began to climb the biggest hill we could see. I was determined not to do two things: a) wear myself out in the first ten minutes; b) wimp out too early and walk when I could be running. So I jogged gently up about half of the hill, then walked the rest (two little blond boys yelled "Faster, girls, faster!"), and then started running again when I got to the top. Fortunately there were plenty of large trees for shade. The runners were beginning to string out a bit along the course, but not all the Walkers had even crossed the start yet (I later heard the guy with the microphone say that it had taken six minutes for everyone to get over).

The downhill was wonderful. I didn't go crazy - I didn't need to twist an ankle at this stage, but I definitely ran fastest over that part of the course. When we reached the bottom, the course began to wind through the gardens. This part was level, but it was harder to see where it led next and how far there was to go.

After a while (maybe 1k) I kept seeing the same people. I'd pass them, then they'd pass me, then I'd pass them again - including two little girls dressed as a banana and a raspberry! I found it quite encouraging that there were plenty of people who were going about the same speed I was. The Race for Life seems to be an excellent run for the beginner, because there are runners of all levels of fitness and seriousness. There were lots of people along the course to cheer us on, and the little blond boys popped up again and again. It was all right for them - our course wound backwards and forwards in order to get 5K in, but they could just take a shortcut...

By this point it was definitely beginning to feel like work. The trees were further apart, and the sun was beating down. However, most of it was on grass, which was much easier on the feet and joints than I'd imagined. From time to time I walked, but I was trying hard not to let the walks come too often or be longer than the runs, as I am a complete slacker and it would have been all too easy just to walk the rest. I began to play games with myself: run to that tree, then you can walk. No, that was too easy, run to that tree instead. OK, walk now. Right, that girl in the white T-shirt has passed you again, you've been walking long enough. Catch her up...

I spotted a steward in a red T-shirt. "How far are we?" I yelled. There weren't any distance markers.

"About halfway..." By that point I was already past him. Halfway? That was OK. I didn't have a watch or stopwatch, but we hadn't been going 20 minutes yet. It usually takes me that long to go 2K, so I was ahead of the game. Then another woman said "He's probably lying, just telling us that to motivate us." Thanks! Very helpful... Walk a bit, trot a bit, walk a bit. I began to run through the sunny patches and walk in the shady ones, which isn't as daft as it sounds: you spend more time in the shade that way, and you appreciate it better! We passed the entrance to the park and doubled back along past the pond. I was so hot by then that I almost considered scooping some water over my head, but fortunately I thought better of it. I overtook the girl in the white T-shirt again, and we exchanged a smile.

We wound through a hedged garden. Another steward called out "Half a K to go, girls!

Half a K? At that point, we emerged from the garden and started up the big hill again, but I didn't care. I speeded up and left all the raspberries and others who'd been jogging round with me behind! It was hard work, but I jogged/powerwalked all the way up the hill by kidding myself that I'd walk after the next tree. Then it was a gentle downhill all the way to the finish, about 200 metres. I knew I could run all of that. About 100 or 75 metres from the finish post, the Proper Runner, who was watching from the sidelines by then, yelled "Go Kirsten!" and I actually sprinted the last bit!

I sprinted the last bit. Amazing. Ten years ago, I thought having to run 100 metres was difficult. I thought running 500 metres on the nice, level school track was wellnigh impossible. As I approached the finish, the time-readout said 35 minutes something (I was too focused on the finish by then to be able to take it in properly).

That was about five minutes faster than I'd been hoping for. I wasn't focused on trying to beat any particular time - I just wanted to finish - but I had projected taking about 40 minutes at best.

I collected my goodie bag and medal (I got a MEDAL!) and went back up to meet the rest of the team. Not all of them had finished - I was third! I was tired, but much to my surprise I didn't hurt anywhere (and nor did any aches develop afterwards - shows the merits of warming up properly, I suppose!) My feet hadn't blistered, my ankles were fine. Even my shoulders and wrist had stopped hurting. Granted, my cheeks were starting to ache a little, but that was definitely caused by the big stupid grin.

In a way it was probably just as well that I didn't have anyone close to me at the race, as I would have just babbled about how wonderful it was and how I love the world and everyone in it, etc. I think circumstances were kind to me: it was a nice day, if a bit hot, and the course was undoubtedly a lot easier than the Arthur's Seat route I would have been doing if only I had got a place on the Edinburgh race. Be that as it may, I ran a 5K!

I probably wouldn't have done it without these people: Dietgirl, who gave me the idea and has sent me encouraging e-mails; the boyfriend, who ran with me in public; Erin, who sold me (through her blog) on the idea that this running business didn't have to be torture.

Oh, and my lovely sponsors who gave me £177.54 and haven't even seen any photos of me looking purple yet... That's me on the right.


So this week has been a bit of a washout, exercise-wise, because the D. B. came to stay for a couple of days and I've been spending most of the time locked in his arms. Sorry. He was only here for three days, during part of which I was felled with period pain. However, he did manage, while he was here, to find my engagement ring!

It's been missing for three or four weeks now. We had given up any hope of finding it, and the insurance claim had been granted (yes, we've cancelled it. What do you take us for?)

It was in a box containing silk scarves, at the back of a cupboard in my bedroom which I had already searched. Not throughly enough, it seems. Here I was, imagining it being buried, falling down drains, being squashed by cars on the road, and it was nestled in silk all the time.

I've acquired one of those little clip things that make it smaller temporarily, and I'll be getting it resized. The question is, how much smaller are my hands going to get if I lose more weight? If I resize it straight away, will I have to do it again in a few months?

I wish I didn't have to say "if I lose more weight", but unfortunately I've been losing and regaining the same pound for an awfully long time now. Nine weeks, I think. It's highly annoying and I only have myself to blame, because I'm not being as vigilant with food as I was at the beginning. I haven't been passing up desserts and I'm not doing so well at avoiding snacks, either. I've been concentrating on the exercise, which is easier.

However, once I run today's race, I won't have a particular goal in mind, so perhaps I'll be able to focus on the eating a bit more. I'm going on holiday next week, so I won't be able to go to the gym... and if I have to post a gain I'll be seriously annoyed with myself!

The race tonight is at 6.30, so I'm hoping it won't be too hot (it's cooler today after several days of 80-degree sunshine, in which I do not do well). It's organised by JogScotland and I have a feeling the average fitness level will be higher than it was for the Race for Life, but I'm just going to aim for completion again and not worry too much about times. And hopefully I won't take so long to tell you how it went!

Friday, July 08, 2005

In Memoriam

I will post about the Race for Life, I promise. I had fun, and I want to thank people who sponsored me - I have a half-written entry on it already. Finishing it was one of my tasks for the day.

But then four bombs went off in London, and nothing is the same. 38 people are dead. Hundreds are injured.

It has not been a good week in Edinburgh. The march against poverty on Saturday went off fine - 25,000 marchers, just one arrest - and so did yesterday's Live 8 concert. But on Monday anarchists rioted in the streets, tearing up paving stones (20 people were injured) and on Tuesday and Wednesday large parts of the city were inaccessible for hours on end. I didn't personally see any violence, and not many anarchists (the worst that happened to me was having to walk a mile or so in the rain because of a cancelled bus!) but the place has felt... uneasy. There's something very unsettling about hearing sirens every few minutes, and seeing police everywhere you go. People have been grumpy and inclined to engage in more political arguments than usual.

Then we heard what had happened in London, and our troubles seemed so minute in comparison.

We've become complacent here in Britain. It's been a while since New York, Bali, Madrid. We haven't forgotten, but nobody was expecting this (and large chunks of the Metropolitan police are here in Edinburgh or up near Gleneagles). It's so calculating: London was probably at its weakest. Tony Blair has left the G8 and come back to London, and (never mind what I think about him and the other world leaders) I can't help feeling that the cause of the world's poorest can only be hurt by what has happened.

And I really don't want a society where we all have to be ID'd and monitored all the time to make sure things like this don't happen (and I doubt if it's likely to be effective) but those in favour of ID cards are going to have a stronger case after today, and I'm finding it harder to disagree. Not impossible, but harder.

My family and friends in London are all OK. We had a bomb scare on a bus in Edinburgh a little later, and a controlled explosion, but the consensus seems to be that it was just some forgotten shopping. It could have been worse. For people in New York and Bali and Madrid, it has been a lot worse. But right now, I'm sad. Sad for the families of the people that died, and the people that are injured, and for all of the rest of us too.

I'll be back, probably tomorrow, but now I'm going to get some sleep. God bless and safe journeys.