Simplification

Decided a while back to slim my online presence down and make it much simpler. Other things have also taken over such that the time – and inclination – that I had to write about things in detail has rather evaporated.

I’m certainly not feeling the urge to write about politics in quite the same way. Maybe because I’m finding very little new to say (presuming I ever had), perhaps because I’m not as wound up by it quite as much as I used to be (draw your own conclusions on that). I also find I don’t like seeing other people’s overt political views about the topic of the day popping up in my social network feeds, so I took a long look at what I had been doing all this time, and figured I’d at least start by shutting up myself. My views are available in the pub with a suitable amount of prevaricating and hand waving and round buying.

I’ve still got my old website archived away, and maybe one day I’ll dig it out again, but for now I thought just a simpler setup was in order.

Kinda hoping what develops will be more about me and my interests, than about my views on things. I’m sure it’ll probably change again over time (this is the third or forth incarnation), but hey-ho. Not really bothered too much right now, and also rather fancied a clean slate.

Anyway, watch this space.

Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist

Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist

parkrun is growing in Scotland

It’s been almost two years since I started making noises about starting a “Glasgow Time Trial” (parkrun, as they’re now known). And what a journey it’s been. A lot of time and effort by myself and others, but that work is offset many times over by the immensely rewarding experience being involved with parkrun almost every weekend since then has been.

parkrun’s principles of a fun, sociable, inclusive, free, weekly timed run are a wonderful, and it’s so good the idea just spreads – an ideal example of a meme.

When I ran the 3rd Richmond parkrun nearly two years ago (you can read my race report here), I was so struck by the light weight and relaxed system (Bushy parkrun is so big, it’s not quite as obvious it’s as simple). Compared to a lot of races, it just feels so relaxed. A handful of volunteers are needed to make the event happen. And then, the best bit, was how welcome I was made to feel by the other runners, and at the post-run coffee. I was so enthused, I got to thinking about an event in Glasgow, and so started the year-long journey that culminated in Glasgow staging the first Scottish parkrun. Together with Iain,the support of my wife Frances, the parkrun HQ team, all the other race directors I spoke too, we soon had the groundwork in place to start the ball rolling in Scotland.

The growth of Glasgow parkrun has been spectacular. From our first event with 44 runners, we’re now regularly topping 200 participants, and our attendance record is a whopping 250 runners. Over 2,000 individual runners have now taken part so far, and we have well over 3,000 people registered with it as their home run. Regular participants have made new friends, and involvement spreads

So when I heard that some runners who’d come over from Edinburgh to take part were looking to start a parkrun there, I was absolutely delighted. parkrun is such a flexible, fun and sociable way to get involved in running, I had hoped it was only a matter of time before we’d see another event in Scotland, but I’d not rated the chances of one starting within a year of Glasgow! I knew there was a lot of work behind the scenes to get the paperwork in place, and councils can be slow organisations to work with. Of course it transpired that Gary, one of the Event Directors, worked for Edinburgh council… But it’s the enthusiasm of the whole team that’s been the big driver.

The event’s starting with a bang tomorrow, and I’m excited to be going over to take part (it’ll be my 6th event, but just the 8th time I’ve run at a parkrun event!). Seeing the idea growing in my adoptive neck of the woods makes me burst with pride, and gives me just a tiny glimpse of what parkrun’s founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, must be feeling as he sees new parkrun events starting around the country/world, and the success of attendance of 3,000 runners every week taking part across the country.

For me though, whilst running is very much at the core of what parkrun is about, by far the best thing is the community and support it engenders. It’s really about the journey, and who you meet along the way, than the destination itself. Runners at the front of the pack are always great to see, but I get so much more from seeing participants from across the speed spectrum returning, growing and improving each time, learning from their experience, and pushing their own targets. It’s that determination to improve and to challenge, to have fun, to be supportive to others, and together to build something special that really unites parkrunners, and makes the event such a wonderful idea and privilege to be associated with.

The Edinburgh team have put in a lot of effort to get to this point. On the eve of the event’s launch I can’t help but be genuinely excited for them and the journey they have ahead. They’ll see and experience highs, and lows, along the way, but the sense of pride they’ll feel, as they watch runners tackle their challenges, will serve as it’s own reward. The participants, tomorrow and every week, will soon get a sense of that, and how parkrun is a wonderful addition to the local community.

Saturday morning’s just aren’t the same any more

Almost two years ago now, I took part in the third Richmond Park Time Trial (now Richmond parkrun). It’s funny to think that in taking part in that, my second time trial, the seeds of what would become Glasgow parkrun were sown. I was catching up with my friends David and Sharon Rowe, and taking in a free running event that had become a big part of their lives. I was incredibly struck by how simple the format was. A few folk taking their turn to help out, everybody else getting a great sociable run in. Go for coffee and cake afterwards.

‘When were they going to come to Glasgow?’, I asked the organisers. ‘Whenever you want, if you’re offering to start it’ was (essentially) the reply.

At that point came one of those moments when a decision is required. Not quite of the order of choosing a university (I still remember the moment I chose my University, at the foot of my parents stairs, deciding that a work-placement year was important, and therefore Oxford Poly (now Oxford Brookes) would be my choice. Thus perhaps the single biggest life changing and affecting moment in my life to date, and with such profound consequences. Boy did I get that one right). But certainly ‘up there’ with notable decisions. Did I take time out to work on persuading the council and runners in Glasgow that this was a good thing. Chase the paperwork through. Put something in to creating what – I hoped – would be a success. But faced with the blank expressions when talking to people even the famous Bushy Park Time Trial (now Bushy parkrun), knew there was perhaps a bit more of an uphill task ahead of me.

What followed did take a bit longer than I’d hoped. After an initial surge of interest from Glasgow council, things went quiet. Wrong avenues, wrong dates, wrong people. Oh, and getting married was something of a focus for the first few months of 2008. Getting put in touch with Iain from Sweatshop was just what was needed to get things going. Turned out that Iain had been making noises and enquiries himself, and together we developed the momentum to get things moving forward.

Glasgow council required a fair bit of paperwork, and think it’s fair to say there were probably a bit sceptical views on what we were proposing. But once over the initial hump, and through a couple of meetings, don’t think we could have asked for better support. With the paperwork sorted out, it was just a case of setting a date, and getting on with it. Oh, and choosing a specific course and getting the word out. Would have been horrible to have turned up and found nobody else there.

We needn’t have bothered. The course pretty much selected itself given some of the constraints we needed to work to, and when we had a launch date set interest picked up. Our trial run went well, and the first event – despite my forgetting the tokens to dish out to runners – went really well. We’d chosen to start in early December, so it was certainly cold, and with Christmas shopping a priority for many too, our numbers were low. But all the better for getting used to the format and system. Heck, I even managed to run myself on 27th December, and have done two other times since.

Forward fast a few months and Saturday mornings really have changed, not just from those first few small Glasgow parkrun events, but from a year ago when ‘lie in’ was something that happened. Followed perhaps by a stroll around the farmers market, and maybe some Saturday Kitchen. Goodness knows I’ve not seen a live broadcast of that programme in a while, but I certainly miss the lovely eggs and interesting produce from the farmers market.

The big worry I had with the prospect was, in bringing parkrun to Glasgow, that the system would come, but would the atmosphere? I’d been struck by the friendliness at both Bushy and Richmond. Bringing a system wouldn’t necessarily bring that though. But I needn’t have worried. The registration queue, the free and weekly nature of the event, and the post-run coffee and cake, brings a special atmosphere with it because folk are more relaxed, and if they mess up can either come back next week, or console themselves with cake. Contrast with a local race, where runners are so much more serious. I suspect it’s a combination of having paid (sometimes quite substantial amounts) to enter the event; It’s probably an annual event, so no room for messing, and most importantly, there are reputations at stake, so there’s a little less banter and chatting.

Glasgow parkrun: 4 months on

It’s quite hard to believe that it’s over four months since Glasgow parkrun started, and I thought it was perhaps time to write a bit of a personal reflection on how things have gone.

Quite simply, it’s been stunning. We’ve been completely taken aback by the enthusiasm and uptake of the event since starting. We always knew it’d be quiet in December, and would pick up a bit more as the spring kicked in (and Glasgow’s spring 10k’s approached), but it’s surpassed even our most optimistic projections.

Some stats illustrate this: Our first event had 44 runners, but the proximity to christmas meant numbers dropped until January: Event #2 had 24 runners, #3 22 and #4 25. I look back at those events with a strange fondness, as we were learning so much about running the event, but the numbers feel almost, er, pedestrian. You see, since January, we’ve not really slowed down. 10th January say 81 runners, 28th February 114 runners, and the 28th March 153 took part. So with 18 events under our belts, we’ve had 644 runners take part, with 1490 separate runs totalling 7450 km. An average attendance of 83 participants each week, with the average run taking 24:11, and the average runner taking 38 seconds off of their course time over the duration of the event.

We’ve had a our fair share of problems. We had to adjust the course twice, first to move the start/finish away from a persistent puddle (ironically it’s not made much of an appearance since then!), and secondly to take account of a formal course measurement one of our runners did for us. But the new course has a much wider, downhill start section, and better accommodates the larger numbers we’re now seeing Our ‘best’ problem was actually only last week, when our timing device had a problem that meant we didn’t record the first 11 participant times. Thanks to the quick thinking of Frances, we soon got back on track. Best of all, everybody affected understood and wasn’t too bothered by the inaccuracy.

Glasgow council, and in particular the management at Pollok Park, have also been incredibly supportive. I recall our first meeting, and was worried there was some concern about what we were proposing. Perhaps they found it difficult to understand what motivated a couple of chaps to want to put on a free 5k race every week. I recall a few frowns, and certainly was a bit concerned they weren’t ‘getting’ it. We had a good few hoops to jump through to get the permits, and it was certainly quite a difficult process, but we got there in the end, and all the better for it. All the risk assessments came good, and covered us. The managers are enthusiastic, and we’ve been delighted to report to them that as a result of our event, many participants are coming back to enjoy the entire park and the Burrell Museum. Plus they’ve got a regular event taking place at a quiet time of the day.

Speaking to other park users I see when out and about putting up or taking down the signs, almost everybody is supportive of what we’re doing. The park is, after all, very quiet at 9.30am on Saturday mornings. Dog walkers are probably the only ones who are adjusting their habits, but all our participants know to respect other park users and yield to them. So far, so good. We take our respectful use of the park very seriously.

But by far the best part is the sense of fun and community that is building up around the event. I think it’s a bit of a puzzle to people when they first hear of it. They perhaps think of more ‘formal’ races, with their pinned on numbers, serious athletes, and entry fees. Once you get in on the running scene, they’re friendly enough of course, but new comers are often put off by them (I know I was). They’re just a tiny bit intimidating, at least until you start to enjoy them. But with parkrun it’s different. Here we have a free event that you can just turn up to once you’ve registered. It’s deliberately sociable and enjoyable, and it’s run by runners, taking their turn to volunteer on the day.

Somehow, there’s a real ‘magic’ to parkrun that brings participants together, and enables previous strangers to start chatting to each other in the post-run registration queue, or coming along for the post-run coffee. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen as much chatter at a local race, from and between elite runners and newcomers.

Any interest in starting a Glasgow Time Trial?

As a keen runner, I’ve been fascinated and intrigued by the UK Time Trial phenomenon that started with the Bushy Park Time Trial, and now is starting to grow to other venues. Why is it so good? Well, it’s free and it’s fun, and it can form a great part of any runners weekly training, allowing them to gauge their improvements over time. If you’ve not encountered it before, take a moment to have a look around The UKTT website.

Recently a number of new time trials have started up. Whilst still predominantly based in the south of the UK, there’s one in Leeds and even one in Harare, Zimbabwe.

I’ve therefore got to thinking that it’d be worth investigating what is involved in setting up a Glasgow Time Trial. I know there are a lot of passionate runners in Glasgow. I saw over ten thousand of them in the Glasgow Half Marathon in September, and many of them passed me in Pollok park in the weeks and months before the event. There’s also a hugely successful ‘Jog Scotland’ initiative, which I know is very popular. And that’s all before I mention the many running clubs in Glasgow, including my own.

So with thousands of runners in and around Glasgow, how many of them would be interested in a regular, free, 5k timed event somewhere in the city? I’ve been in touch with the organisers of the UK Time Trials, and it if we can find a course, muster a few initial volunteers to take care of the timekeeping,

The 2007 Glasgow Half Marathon

Last year I wandered down to the end of our street to watch runners in the 2006 half marathon, hoping to see my friend Keith. Unfortunately, I didn’t credit Keith with being the runner he is, he’d gone by long before I dragged myself out to see him. However, I stayed by the side of the road for an hour and cheered on the runners who followed. Inspired by the determination and effort put in by the many runners, a week or so later I pulled on some trainers and went for a short ‘jog a bit, walk a bit’ run, and I haven’t looked back since.

So the 2007 Half Marathon (The ‘Great Scottish Run’ is a coincidental (or not!?) by-line; Confusingly it’s nothing to do with the other ‘Great’ runs such as the Great Northern Run) was a target I aimed for. Perhaps wistfully at first, but as my pace, stamina and – most surprisingly of all – immense enjoyment of running continued to build, actually doing the run went from dream to reality. So in entering the race, I felt something had come full circle, and it was inevitable that I’d enjoy the day.

I didn’t sleep very well. I rarely do when something is looming, whether flight or event. But a bowl of porridge at 7.30am soon got me going. We were out of the house in plenty of time to get a train from the nearby station of Crossmyloof at 09:12 (which has to be one of the best railway station names in Glasgow). The first train of the day from our normal station was at 9.30, which was leaving it a bit close for my paranoid travel time-scales. Got talking to some of the other runners who were doing the half marathon, which was enjoyable. A shared experience ahead does wonders for breaching the normal reserve we hold about talking to strangers. Quote of the day goes to the people sat just next to us: “*I’ve been off the beer for eight weeks. Been drinking plenty of Gin though.”. To which, from a few seats in front of us, was heard a comment between another group, “*Not drinking alcohol? I don’t think I’ve been taking this seriously enough!*”

In the centre of town and, after a last visit at the queue-free toilets at Glasgow Central, to George Square. Frances was with me, and was planning to watch the start, jump on the underground to Cessnock, then back over to the Gorbals to watch me there, before coming to the finish line. No structured warm-up, so after saying cheerio to Frances, did a short warm up before joining my muster. There I got talking to a senior runner who’d clearly done a few runs before. We both had Garmin Forerunner 305’s, and we both had anecdotes about the Championchip timer widgets we wear to get accurate times.

The start was ‘pulsed’, so there was at least a 5 minute delay before we, in the green muster, crossed the start. Lots of beeping leaves me in some hope my chip was detected this time. Then up through town to the highlight of the course for many (including myself) over the Kingston Bridge. Two lanes of the motorway were closed off enabling us to run over the bridge and enjoy great views of Glasgow. Unfortunately it was rather crammed in various spots which meant this part of my race was a bit slower than I’d hoped.

Coming off the bridge, we then navigated through Shields Road and Scotland Street (past Mackintosh’s Scotland Street School which we’d visited just yesterday, then on to the nice and wide Paisley Road West, where I saw Frances! She’d managed to start talking to some other “running widows” who were dashing about on the underground to get to various vantage points. Onwards to Bellahouston Park. Along the way I’d found I was keeping pace with a chap in a cow costume. Suffice to say there were plenty of jokes about “getting a moove on”, but the kids loved the outfit and it buoyed the spirits immeasurably.

Bellahouston Park and Frances’s two brothers, sister-in-law and nephew were there to cheer me on. Then through my usual stomping ground of Pollok Park, and out onto Haggs road where a bottle of water being thrust at me by Frances’ aunt Alice was the first I saw of her uncle and two aunts who’d made a heck of a trip out to see me there. Not long after Frances’ parents were down from their local church. Running past the end of our street (where I’d stood last year) was a fun moment, but the nice wide streets of the South Side were very welcome enabling much easier overtaking.

The local Sikh community are a regular fixture in running events, in their distinctive yellow tops and turbans announcing they’re ‘proud to be a Scottish Sikh’. Supporters from the local Sikh community were also handing out water and spraying runners who ran close enough to them with a hose. Marvellous stuff, and a lot is rightly said about what a great example they’re setting.

After there it was practically downhill all the way, and my times reflected that. I’d been averaging around 05:15/km in the first half of the race (I neglected to switch my garmin over to mile pace 🙁 ), but the last 9km came right down to around 05:03/km. Having found a faster pace, and less congestion, it was much easier running. I wasn’t paying as much attention to the supporters by the last few miles, so sadly missed Frances. The last mile was tough going, not helped by the local brewery firing up some awful smelling concoction that wafted across Glasgow Green.

I finally crossed the line with a self-recorded time of 01:52:41 – Over seven minutes faster than the two-hour estimate I’d given myself when entering, and over two minutes faster than my most recent pace guess of 01:55. The great news was my heart rate average around 92% of it’s maximum, which means I have a little bit more upside there. Plus I felt absolutely fine most of the way around, so really felt like I paced myself well and got more than enough training in. Perhaps, if anything, I didn’t push hard enough (or do enough speed training), but congestion and not wanting to trip up (or worse still, anybody else up!) didn’t really help there.

A few negatives from the event were the late arrival of the race packs. Only got mine on Monday. Still in time but I know it upset a number of folk who didn’t get there’s until Wednesday or Thursday. Not overly impressed by the goody-bag either, but worst of all there was a distinct lack of mile markers until about the 7 mile mark. Whilst my Garmin helped, it was set to kilometres, so I was trying to remember how many km per mile a few times. But perhaps I simply didn’t notice them. They were white flags after all, and hardly stood out. But that’s perhaps putting a bit of a downer on it. On the whole it was all fine, and really didn’t distract that much from what was otherwise a decent enough event, especially for a race with somewhere between 15 and 20 thousand people running.

So after hooking up with Frances at the end, we got back to Shawlands and went for a coffee. Frances was very much deserving a hot chocolate and toasted scone for all her hard work, and photo taking. Finally back home, and have rung around Frances’ family who turned out to support me to thank them, and gone over my stats from my Garmin. Now eagerly waiting for the official time to come out, as well as the Evening Times’s supplements with the full results and photo supplement over the next couple of days.

I’m certainly hugely pleased with my race time. It could have been a little better perhaps – I certainly felt I could have run faster in the first half of the race – but it was congested and slow – so given where I placed myself (about 2/3rds of the way back in the Green pulse) didn’t do too badly all said. My first ever half-marathon training run was over 02:12, so a ten minute improvement over the course of my training feels like a huge achievement. I’ve also got a great target now, to beat 01:50! Certainly something for next year!

As to the more immediate future, I’m eyeing up a 10k in Barrhead in a couple of weeks. I’m also absolutely convinced this whole running lark is here to stay. It started off as just a way of getting fit. I certainly didn’t expect to find it such a rewarding and enjoyable past time. I certainly plan to join a running club in the near future – The autumn and winter is looming and whilst last year rapid improvement was it’s own incentive, I wasn’t running for more than 30 minutes at a time. Now I need to get more mileage done a running club makes a lot of sense especially for the dark and drizzly evenings that I know are likely.

Will I run again next year? Definitely.

What just happened?

Help me out here. I have some strange feeling I might actually have just gone for a run. I put on my old trainers, some shorts, and went for a 25 minute jog/walk/jog/walk type thing around Pollok Park this lunch-time.

My inspiration comes from the realisation quite recently that I don’t do any regular exercise, and seeing 20,000 people run past the end of our street inspired me to actually have a go at it myself. But then I often say that when I see ‘normal’ people doing these marathon things. Somehow though, this time it was was different. Perhaps it’s my age (33), or the fact that it’s not the first time I’ve said “I should do that”, or maybe even the smiles on Frances and her family’s faces when I mentioned I might be doing it, that meant this time I was determined to at least make a start.

It was, as is to be expected this early on, all a bit laughable really – I barely managed more than a few minutes at a time, but having a sense of reality about this is vital: It’s going to take time, so a small amount – regularly – should hopefully mean that things improve quite quickly. A minute or two’s run, followed by a few minutes of walking, meant I got round the Pollok Park circuit I had in mind in about the right time. It’ll also be a nice yard-stick for how well I’m doing. I’m already excited about the possibility of improving to the extent I can do a complete circuit without stopping sometime.

I’ve promised myself a few geeky gadgets to encourage me along the way. There’s a new iPod Nano coming soon, which I think I’ll get to while away the time, and maybe a digital watch with some wizzo features (as my mobile phone isn’t the best thing to be using to keep track of my time). Hey, a guy like me needs incentives!

I’m certainly not as brave, or as determined as Sharon, who seems to be in a similar frame of mind/stage right now, but entering the London Marathon next year!. If I’m still doing it by that time, I’ll be pleased. Whether I get as far as actually *entering* even a half-marathon is yet to be seen. If I’m still posting ramblings about jogging in a few months time, as the winter draws in up here, maybe, just maybe… 🙂