Sunday, 17 July 2011

Greece Is The Word

Following my recent blog about the great Grete Waitz, regular blog reader Beverley told me that she had once run with the Norwegian legend. Apparently, it was in Japan with the Kobe Hash House Harriers (see www.kobehash.com). While a hash house may sound like something best left to the Dutch, my closer investigations revealed it to be something of a running institution. The hash runners follow a trail laid by another hasher (the hare). At a given signal the rest of the hash, (the harriers, hounds or pack) set off in pursuit. If you find yourself in Japan, it could be worth a look; they’ve been hashing every Monday at 7pm since 9 January 1978. Kobe’s website describes hash houses as “an international drinking club with a running problem”. I trained in Kamakura and Tokyo during the summers of 2000 and 2002 respectively and, I’m ashamed to say, the drinking (and the hash for that matter) passed me by. Probably for the best: Paul McCartney tried to introduce hash into Tokyo in 1980 and matters didn’t necessarily resolve themselves to his advantage (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-FmAXRKtws).

Shapanese running wisdom: wise words from The Greyhound pub in Shap

This week’s blog comes from Greece, the home of the marathon. If you’ve ever wondered why the marathon is 26 miles, this could be your lucky day. The very first marathon took place in 490BC, during the Battle of Marathon. Athens was under attack from the Persians, who had arrived at Marathon, a town conveniently located 26 miles along the coast from Athens. An almighty ruck had ensued and the Athenians needed a messenger to run from Marathon back to Athens to relay news of the battle. Pheidippides, who had already fought in the battle, was chosen, on the basis that he had proven himself to be a strong runner in recent Greek games. Sadly for Pheidippides, he was a short distance sprinter, with no experience of longer distances. Stay and risk getting slaughtered, or run 26 miles? I should imagine that Pheidippides was ambivalent at best. He arrived in Athens with just enough energy to announce that Athens was saved, then promptly collapsed and died. I’m sure most first-time marathoners can identify with that. Even mild shin splints have me Googling the telephone number for Dignitas.

Blogging in Kos – it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it

So that’s why the marathon is 26 miles long. When Athens hosted the Olympics in 2004, the marathon re-traced the original route, along the modern Marathon – Athens highway, which runs southwards along the coast from Marathon Bay. I suppose we should be grateful that it started in Marathon. If Bonnie Prince Charlie had decided to send a similar message on 18 December 1745, the eve of the Battle of Clifton Moor (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_Moor_Skirmish), the last battle to have taken place on English soil, the marathon could well have been called a “Shap”. Shap is the village where the Young Pretender installed his troops before the battle and is fivemarathons’ home. Fiveshaps.com would just not have had the same popular appeal.

45 degrees at only 9.54am in Kos – better schedule that 8 mile run for 6am

The British Royal Family has to take responsibility for the seemingly inexplicable additional 0.2 miles that you have to run at the end of each race. As if 26 miles weren’t enough. When the Olympics were held in London in 1908, the 26 miles were painstakingly measured out, with the finish line just inside White City Stadium. The Royals noted that the finish was too far from their viewing enclosure for them to see what was going on. 385 yards too far, to be precise. The finish line was dutifully relocated in front of the Royal Box, and that increased 26.2 mile distance was adopted in 1924 as the standard. Prior to 1924, the Olympic distance varied from 40 kilometres in 1904 (St Louis), to 41.86 kilometres in 1906 (Athens*), 40.2 kilometres in 1912 (Stockholm) and 42.75 kilometres in 1920 (Antwerp). To my amazement, my run in Vancouver would have been good enough for me to have won the gold medal in St Louis. Thomas Hicks of the USA broke the tape in 3 hours 28 minutes and 35 seconds. I was born 100 years too late. ­­I could have had a string of endorsements for running plimsolls by now and been sending the blog to you via the magic of telegram.

The morning before I left for Greece, I managed to catch an episode of Gok Wan’s “How To Look Good Naked”. Big fan, never miss an episode. Being too lazy to fetch the remote proved to be its own reward when this week’s stars turned out to be Macmillan’s North-West fundraising team and fivemarathons’ own fundraising coordinator, Marie Travers (see http://www.warringtonguardian.co.uk/news/2194440.macmillan_seven_bare_all_for_charity/). She kept that quiet. I can’t think why - the Macmillan girls looked great. I’m just grateful that I only had to run a few marathons. I don’t doubt that you are too.

Ticket sales for the fivemarathons live dates had been disappointing

Training on Kos is quite agreeable. Running through the worst of the Shap / Liverpool summer, on the other hand, wasn’t agreeing with me at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve had girlfriends that have agreed with me more. Matters came to a head, when I was lying in bed, central heating and winter duvet on, unable to sleep due to the sound of the rain on the roof, with only the thought of a freezing cold 14 mile run later that day to keep me warm. By 4pm, Jayne and I had resolved to take affirmative action, had booked Greece by 4.30pm, packed by 5pm and were on our way to the airport. My running now has an entirely different set of considerations. By 9am, the heat is already too fierce for running, so I’m up at 7am, running soon afterwards, then back for tea and medals on the terrace. Life could be worse. Just ask Pheidippides.

*The Olympics were held in Athens in 1906 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the birth of the modern games.

2009

FIVEMARATHONS

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
3 hrs 57 mins (new PB)
London, 26 April 2009 4 hrs 01 mins
San Francisco, 26 July 2009 3 hrs 43 mins (new PB)
Berlin, 20 September 2009 3 hrs 46 mins
New York, 1 November 2009 3 hrs 53 mins

2010

Vancouver Marathon, 2 May 2010
3 hrs 31 mins (new PB)


HALF MARATHONS

Coniston 14 (14 miles), 28 March 2009
1 hr 48
Humber Half Marathon, 15 June 2009 1 hr 40 (new PB)
Congleton Half Marathon, 11 October 2009 1 hr 33 29 seconds (new PB)

Liverpool, 28 March 2010 1 hour 33 mins 14 seconds (new PB)

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see www.christies.org). Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see www.macmillan.org.uk).

Noel Bresland - Bliss (www.bliss.org.uk) - http://www.justgiving.com/Noel-Bresland-223-Marathon-Challenge

Rebecca Gilbert - Kids (www.kids.org.uk) - http://www.justgiving.com/Rebecca-Gilbert1

Marco Giannini – Christies (www.christies.org) – http://www.justgiving.com/marcos-72-mile-challenge

Melanie Opmeer – Canadian Cancer Society (www.cancer.ca) - http://convio.cancer.ca/site/TR?px=4183630&pg=personal&fr_id=9870&fl=en_CA&et=Hye9JhsoIUUbQukLHAgi5w..&s_tafId=180683

Lisa Canning – Cancer Research UK (www.cancerresearchuk.org)- http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/lisacanning2011

View fivemarathons photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fivemarathons/

If you’d like to be notified each time a new blog is posted, simply email dunkvaughan@hotmail.com

Friday, 8 July 2011

Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before

Since May, it’s finally been getting back to business as usual at fivemarathons. The looming Liverpool Marathon in less than three months’ time is no doubt focusing my mind. Last month, I helped with training plans for Mel, Ron and Libby, and was back training in Central Park - just in time for the launch of this year’s New York City Marathon. This month, I’ve been making friends all over again with the hills around Shap and venturing to Norway with Martin for our annual mountaineering jaunt. I’ll no doubt tell you all about it in a future blog.

Running in Central Park, April 2011: “I’m walking here, I’m walking...”

This time last year, we were getting ready for a summit attempt on Mont Blanc (4,810 metres) and various other high Alpine peaks. With mountains in mind, regular blog readers may remember my all too brief career as a Roman Catholic priest (see “The Devil Wears Puma” - http://fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2009/07/devil-wears-puma.html), when I officiated at Laith’s wedding in Great Langdale. The chapel at which I performed the ceremony is part of the Achille Ratti Climbing Club (see http://www.achille-ratti-climbing-club.co.uk/). The club is named after Father Achille Ratti, a parish priest from Northern Italy who was also an accomplished mountaineer. Despite discovering (with Giovenni Bonin and Luigi Grasselli) Mont Blanc’s north Italian route in 1890, and publishing the seminal “Climbs On Alpine Peaks” in 1923, Achille turned his back on a promising mountaineering career to become Pope Pius XI. If the Vatican looks kindly upon mountaineering accomplishment when selecting a new Pope, then perhaps my chances of promotion are not entirely hopeless. This was at the forefront of my thoughts as I set out in Pius’ footsteps towards Mont Blanc.

I travelled to Zermatt with Martin and James to prepare for our summit bid. We acclimatised and warmed up with ascents on Theodulhorn (3,469 metres), Roccia Nera (4,075 metres), Dom (4,545 metres), Castor (4,228 metres) and Pollux (4,092 metres). The twin peaks of Castor and Pollux, also known as die Zwillinge (literally, “the twins”), are named after the twins of Greek and Roman mythology, who were transformed into the Gemini constellation. The Jedward of the classical era, if you will. The principal difference being that Gemini has some genuine star quality.

Three Wise Monkeys? On our way to Castor and Pollux, July 2010.

Mont Blanc itself is a big undertaking. Fortunately, I was in a very good team. Both Martin and Jim are serious marathon runners, so fitness wasn’t one of our concerns. The conditions, on the other hand, can be much more unpredictable. However, as we left our hut at around 1am, things were looking good for a clear ascent. The mountain has some reasonably challenging moments, like walking across ladders laid flat across gaping crevasses. Easier said than done, on three hours’ fitful sleep, with only the light of your headtorch to guide you, and steel crampons on your boots making you walk like Charlie Chaplin.

Don’t Look Back. Mont Blanc, July 2010: one of the smaller crevasses we needed to cross.

About two thirds of the way through our ascent came an almost vertical ice climb. Fortunately, there are fixed ropes, already attached to the rock face, which you can clip onto as you make your way up, digging your ice axes, and the front points of your crampons, into the ice as you go. The route up is in a natural channel, so it creates a bottleneck as several groups of climbers converge at the same point. The amount of ice coming down the channel, and onto your head, displaced by the climbing teams above, makes you grateful you wore your helmet. You honestly can’t look upwards; you just keep looking at the ice face, as golf ball sized ice fragments rattle down on you from on high. I just thanked my lucky stars for the fixed rope and got on with the job in hand. As I reached two thirds of the way up, I got to the point where my fixed rope was anchored, and got ready to swap to the next one. To my horror, the rope I was hanging onto had been rubbing back and forth across the sharp edge of a protruding rock and only a few fibres were left holding me up. I felt like Wile E Coyote, gazing in despair at the rapidly deteriorating rope as the Roadrunner looks on with a grin, chuckling to himself as I disappear into the abyss with only a frayed ACME climbing rope for company. Worse still, Jim and Martin were climbing directly beneath me, probably using the same rope. Later, back at the hut, when I related the rope situation to Martin, he doubted whether, in my position, he’d have been able to even consider the cartoonesque humorous elements of the frayed rope situation. If fate is watching me, the least I can do is try to be entertaining.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place. Mont Blanc, July 2010: I’m the character on the right, clinging on with a heady cocktail of sheer terror and colourful language.

The remaining ascent to the summit was hard work but, fortunately, nowhere near as eventful. We were on the summit at a little after 5.45am, UK time, and it felt great. Unbelievably, my mobile phone was managing to get a full signal and I used the opportunity to make some suitably boastful calls to several non-plussed acquaintances. If France Telecom can get you a full signal on the top of western Europe’s highest mountain, why does O2 require me to stand on a chair on the top floor of my Liverpool flat to get even two bars?

The unpopularity of my mountain telephone calls wasn’t necessarily anything new. At the end of 2004, I was in Argentina for an attempt at Aconcagua. On Christmas Day, I trekked across three glaciers to reach a hotel which had been built two thirds of the way up the mountain. The whole hotel venture had not been at all well thought out. The idea had been to fly in the guests by helicopter, but they’d made no allowance for the fact that the guests would be arriving at high altitude with no opportunity to acclimatise. The first guests checked-in, closely followed by headaches, nausea and loss of bowel control. A bit like a package holiday to the Dominican Republic. The hotel was now largely deserted, with the building frequented only by mountaineers. It did, however, have a satellite telephone and that was the reason for my no-effort-spared trek across the glaciers. I got there and called my then girlfriend to wish her Happy Christmas. I had naively imagined that she might appreciate the effort, and the uncharacteristically romantic gesture. To my surprise, she wasted no time in telling me that, if I went away on an expedition again, she wouldn’t be there when I got home. I commented that it sounded like a win-win situation and assumed that the long pause was due to the satellite lag on the shaky South American connection. Losing a girlfriend can be hard. In my case, it was damn near impossible.

Finally, you may recall my incredulity during my recent visit to Seville, when Spanish supermarkets were giving away a choice of free carving knives every time you spend over €20 (see http://fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2011/03/inner-city-blues.html). It seemed absolutely bizarre and you didn’t need to be clairvoyant to see what might happen next. Sure enough: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/8513028/British-woman-beheaded-in-front-of-tourists-on-Spanish-holiday-island-Tenerife.html. Now I’ve seen Spain’s version of a customer loyalty scheme, I’ll be a whole lot less dismissive the next time Sainsbury’s ask me if I have a Nectar card. Come back Green Shield Stamps, all is forgiven.

2009

FIVEMARATHONS

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
3 hrs 57 mins (new PB)
London, 26 April 2009 4 hrs 01 mins
San Francisco, 26 July 2009 3 hrs 43 mins (new PB)
Berlin, 20 September 2009 3 hrs 46 mins
New York, 1 November 2009 3 hrs 53 mins

2010

Vancouver Marathon, 2 May 2010
3 hrs 31 mins (new PB)


HALF MARATHONS

Coniston 14 (14 miles), 28 March 2009
1 hr 48
Humber Half Marathon, 15 June 2009 1 hr 40 (new PB)
Congleton Half Marathon, 11 October 2009 1 hr 33 (new PB)

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see www.christies.org). Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see www.macmillan.org.uk).

Noel Bresland - Bliss - http://www.justgiving.com/Noel-Bresland-223-Marathon-Challenge

Rebecca Gilbert - Kids (www.kids.org.uk) - http://www.justgiving.com/Rebecca-Gilbert1

Marco Giannini – Christies – http://www.justgiving.com/marcos-72-mile-challenge

View fivemarathons photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fivemarathons/

If you’d like to be notified each time a new blog is posted, simply email dunkvaughan@hotmail.com

NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004