Sunday, 30 December 2012

Philadelphia Dreaming

This final blog of 2012 comes from my good friend Mary, who gives us an insight into her journey towards last month's race in Philadelphia and becoming a fully-fledged marathoner. It's an inspiring story and shows the positive impact running can have, both among friends and within our communities.

The hard work ends here. Relaxing after the Philly Marathon on Bahia Honda beach, near the aptly titled Marathon, Florida.

Mary's blog means I can continue my lazy recuperation from the Philly Marathon, while I contemplate the Vienna Marathon in April 2013. I wish you a healthy and successful New Year.


After much contemplation about how to start this post-marathon blog, I thought about the words of the Footprints prayer I prayed in June 2010 during my first half marathon – the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut in Penny Pack Park, Philadelphia. I agreed to run only two weeks before the race as a favour to my friend, which was not my wisest decision! Although I had run the Broad Street 10 Miler (see http://www.broadstreetrun.com), the half marathon was a huge step up and having to run in a forest park with no supporters, and not having trained (not to be advised!), made it one of the roughest runs of my life. I remember seeing the 3rd mile marker and reciting the lines of Footprints, where Jesus says, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you only see one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you”. Oh, how I believed those words when I eventually crossed the finish line and vowed that this was my first and last half marathon. How wrong I was! My Italian Broad Street Run partners, Tree and Laurie, were not going to let the Irish girl give up. They continued to call me during the week and wake me up on weekends for longer runs – and listen to my abuse along the way! A few months later, Dunk came to visit en route to New York and was full of fabulous stories from the fivemarathons and his recently run Vancouver Marathon. After spending the weekend with him and hearing these amazing stories, something clicked in my head. I wanted to join this elite group and Dunk was full of encouragement and advice.


With Dunk after his first Phillies baseball game, May 2010

That autumn, I went to teach in West Philly, in an area where the students needed positive role models. After some research I found “Students Run Philly Style” (see http://www.studentsrunphilly.org). As Dunk explained in his last blog, Students Run is a group organised to support, mentor and encourage Philadelphia school kids to train for, and run, the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon. After attending a day training with the organisation I was astonished to see how many kids had already run half and full marathons. After that, my life changed forever and I truly believed that my fellow mentors and I could really make a difference. Since 2010, it has been a privilege to get to know the Students Run leaders, staff, kids and mentors. Their tenacity and drive enabled me to believe that running a marathon was actually a possibility. Seeing a 13 year old who struggles in school, and yet is the first one to show up two or three times a week smiling and pumped for training, makes me believe in the power of running and the positive impact our determination has on each other.

Students Run summer camp - what a great experience

After receiving a message from Dunk during my summer hols in Yorkshire, telling me of his 40th birthday US travel plans with Jayne, and the possibility off a stop in Philly for us to run the marathon together, I thought, “Well McCullagh, it’s Philly 2012, or bust!”. BUST seemed like the best answer, but “YES” was the only one that came out! I honestly haven’t felt so nervous in my life as I never thought I would commit to another half marathon, let alone a full 26.2 miler. If there was any English sun that day, it must have gone to my head!

Olney Track Team at 5k Deb's Run For The Stripes (see http://www.runforthestripes.com)

I returned to the USA in late August, armed with a marathon plan from Dunk, lots of great running advice and the worries of the world on my shoulders. Could this be done? I spoke with my South Philly running partner Laurie and we embarked on our first week of Dunk’s training plan in late August around the Art Museum (see “In Through The Out Door” at http://www.fivemarathons.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/in-through-out-door.html). With 90 degree heat and a very out of shape Irish woman, I only made 3 miles. I would have been quite happy to have given up that day but, with the help of Laurie, Dunk and the stellar young people and mentors of Students Run, quitting wasn’t an option. My Students Run running partner Katie organised some excellent 5k races to keep us motivated and, more importantly, paced me throughout our bi-weekly team practices (and listened with a smile to all of my short stories longer).

With Laurie and Dunk, celebrating our marathon victory

With lots of coaching and advice from the other side of the Atlantic, runs with my Students Run kids and mentors and long Sunday runs with Laurie, I felt as ready as I ever would be. Having the support of Dunk, Jayne and my friends and family gave me the push I needed to wake up at an ungodly hour that cold November morning. Seeing our kids on the world-famous Rocky steps (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUfWECjUNwg) gave me all the reason in the world to run this thing and run it well. Their smiles and contagious energy raised the temperature and, after a very long wait, we were in our starting pen. Throughout the 26.2 miles, the support of the Philadelphians was overwhelming. The banners of encouragement, cowbells, horns, orange pieces and even FREE BEER in Manayunk (not accepting that almost surprised my mates more than me running a marathon!). Seeing fellow teachers, Students Run supporters, and my friends Jayne, Hans and Ryan, who ran with in from Mile 20 was so emotional. When I saw the Mile 25 marker, I really believed I could do it and hearing Dunk say, “I think you can get a sub 4.30 time. Now enjoy this last mile – it will be a big moment in your life” really made me capture the enormity of what we were achieving. Throngs of people flanked both sides of the marathon route and I felt like Katie Taylor when she lifted her Olympic Gold for Ireland. As we approached the finish line, Dunk held up my arm and we crossed it together. As Jayne handed me the tricolour, I was filled with emotion, what an honour to finish with my coach and running hero and accomplish a lifelong goal.

Students Run pasta party for the Philadelphia Marathon 2012

As I sit here, weeks later, I’m still smiling at the thought of the marathon accomplishments of my friends and running partners, Dunk, Laurie, Katie, Carlin, Sarah, Heather and our Students Run kids. I am humbled to have been, and continue to be, a part of this great journey. I know that the road to the 2012 Philly Marathon is only a part of our journey. The dream I mentioned at the start of this blog has come true and I surely have been carried. RUN STRONG!

With my fellow Students Run mentors: Heather, Sarah, Melissa and Katie
 
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, 30 November 2012

Students Run Philly Style

Hello from Florida, where I’ve been spending Thanksgiving and generally taking it easy after last Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon. The race was a fantastic success. My friends, Mary and Laurie, ran great races and I crossed the line with Mary in 4 hours 28 minutes. A fantastic effort for her first ever marathon. Perhaps most encouragingly, Mary had plenty left in the tank for miles 23 – 26.


With Mary, moments before the start. The Students Run kids are in the royal blue tops.

Regular readers will remember that Philadelphia has had a recurring role in fivemarathons history. From helping Mary to step up to half marathon distance after her run in the Broad Street 10 Miler in spring 2009 (see http://fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2009/05/local-zero.html), including a (hopefully useful) list of the 11 things I wished I’d known when I was getting started, to visiting Philly on the way back from the Vancouver Marathon in May 2010 (http://fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2010/04/philadelphia-story.html and http://fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2010/05/in-through-out-door.html), featuring a titanic struggle with a Philly cheesesteak sandwich at the Phillies game and a recreation of the Rocky training montage on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUfWECjUNwg).
Mary with Katie, another Students Run mentor, and the Students Run kids before the race


After arriving in Philadelphia on Friday, I went straight to the pre-race pasta party organised by Students Run Philly Style (see http://www.studentsrunphilly.org). Students Run is a group organised to support, mentor and encourage Philadelphia schoolkids to train for, and run, the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon. In their own words, “Students Run Philly Style transforms students’ lives through running and mentorship. We pair volunteer Running Leaders with teams of students to inspire them to push themselves further than they ever imagined. Their goal: the completion of a full or a half marathon. The courage and effort required, the unfailing support of a caring mentor and the thrill of its ultimate achievement results in a student who knows anything is possible.”  
Behind every great man.... is a woman rolling her eyes.
Jay loads the carb gel belts on the steps of the Museum of Art


Mary’s role as a teacher, coupled with her own hard work towards the Philadelphia Marathon, makes her a perfect mentor within the group. Through Mary’s Facebook page, I’ve watched the various Students Run training sessions go by, and the distances increase, in the lead up to the race. Having friends to run with can make a big difference in keeping to your training plan. I know that Mel and Ron were a big encouragement to each other in their preparations for the Liverpool Marathon last year (http://www.fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2011/10/with-little-help-from-my-friends.html). While I’ve been able to dispense some (hopefully sage) advice from the other side of the Atlantic, I’ve no doubt that being able to train with Laurie and the Students Run kids has made all the difference in Mary’s preparation.
Practising our victory pose, the night before the race

At the pasta party, I was struck by the enthusiasm and positivity shown by the kids. I couldn’t help but wonder whether you’d get a similarly positive response if you offered kids from Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds the opportunity to spend at least six months working hard, training towards a marathon. That’s precisely why it’s so impressive and reflects so positively on the kids and the mentors who encourage them.

Mary and Katie, with a sub 4.30 marathon each

Since the Vancouver Marathon, my running has revolved around helping first time marathon runners to achieve their goals, not least the Liverpool Marathon with Mel and Ron, and the Philadelphia Marathon with Mary and Laurie. Helping somebody towards a defining achievement is a real thrill. Mary said the Philadelphia Marathon was one of her best ever experiences, which makes it so worthwhile. I can imagine that the Students Run mentors get an even bigger buzz from seeing the students cross the finish line.

Implementing our victory pose, just after the race

My own marathon running is about to step up a gear towards a couple of (hopefully quick) marathons in 2013, starting with Vienna in April (see http://www.vienna-marathon.com). In fact, if Vienna is quick enough, my proposed autumn marathon may never happen! I hope you’ll continue to tune in as preparations progress. First steps are more speed work and a healthier diet. The last two weeks following Philly have seemed like an extended episode of Man v. Food (and I’ve loved every minute).

Run strong!


Saturday, 25 August 2012

London Calling

Are you, like me, suffering from withdrawal symptoms, now that the London Olympics have drawn to a close? What a great fortnight. Even the closing ceremony, with all of its choreographed naffness, was quite an event. Why do these things always have to descend into interpretive dance? And to think, just two weeks earlier, we all thought that Britain had great musicians and poor athletes. How wrong we were. With Liam Gallagher, George Michael, Russell Brand, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell on the bill, it’s a good thing that the games’ last mandatory drugs test had taken place earlier in the day.


As I mentioned in my last blog, my next running engagement is the Philadelphia Marathon on 18 November with my friend, Mary. Here’s a picture of Mary in training over Christmas, fell running with two Olympians: the Brownlee brothers, winners of gold and bronze in the men’s triathlon. I understand Mary gave them some training advice and they haven’t looked back since.

Belgium House, London 2012
My own Olympic journey, which started with the torch relay on 20 June in Appleby, ended at the medieval Inns of Court, Inner Temple, watching the men’s marathon from the gardens overlooking Embankment. The Belgian Olympic team had taken over the Inner Temple and renamed it “Belgium House” for the duration of the Games. Having successfully played up our Belgian credentials, which don’t extend much beyond an interesting debate with three customs officers about 50 kilograms of washing powder and a replica hand gun (true story, one for another blog), we found ourselves eating waffles and sipping Belgian beer on the lawn. Meanwhile, the runners did all of the hard work before our very eyes.

Belgium has more marathon-running heritage than you might imagine. For example, Stefaan Engels from Ghent holds the Guinness world record for the highest number of consecutive marathons, having completed one a day for 365 days (see http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/10/us-belgium-marathonman-idUSTRE7192DL20110210). Kind of puts five marathons in eight months into perspective.


Men's Olympic Marathon, 12 August 2012
The day before the marathon, we’d been to see Brazil take on Mexico in the men’s Olympic football final at Wembley. Having carefully studied the form, we purchased some Brazil tops and joined the resident samba band. Unfortunately, Mexico hadn’t read the script and took a highly unexpected 2-0 lead. I expressed my discontent by querying how they’d even managed to field an Olympic team, given that any Mexican who can run, jump or swim is already across the border into the USA. The Mexican couple behind me tended to disagree.

Men's Olympic Football Final, 11 August 2012
Last week, I was invited to talk to the Rotary Club of Manchester about carrying the Olympic torch and the fivemarathons which led to my nomination. After the talk, the various Rotarians and their children and grandchildren made donations to Christies and Macmillan to have their photograph taken with the torch. My friends at Iceland Foods did the same thing on Wednesday, raising money for Alzheimer’s Research (www.alzheimersresearchuk.org). In Leeds, both Pinsent Masons and my own DWF have made similar efforts, raising money for Macmillan and the Leeds Children’s Charity respectively. The torch has already raised nearly £1,000 for good causes and, I’d have to say, it’s been a lot easier than running the marathons. The excitement generated by the torch has been great, especially since Team GB’s fantastic performance at London 2012.

With my friends at Iceland, 15 August 2012
I’ll leave you with a couple of, fortunately unrelated, incidents from the weekend before last. On the drive home to Shap, we overtook a lorry from a Manx butchers. When I read the name aloud, “Isle of Man Meat” (see www.isleofmanmeat.com), Jay looked absolutely horrified. After taking a few moments to compose herself, and doubtless choke back a few tears, she asked me why I’d just admitted, “I love man-meat”? I went for my long Sunday run and tried to let the aftermath of that ill-advised declaration die down. Just as I was reaching Haweswater, I stepped to the side of the road to let a farmer go past in his 4x4. The lazy beggar was walking his sheepdog by driving at 5mph with the window down, as the dog ran alongside. That would have all been fine, had the dog not decided to take a big bite out of my backside as it went past. I shouted to the farmer through his open window and he kindly sped off with the dog in hot pursuit. He didn’t bargain on me chasing him for over 6 miles. When he finally stopped, and to his amazement, I put my head through the (fortunately still open) window and made clear my discontent. He tried to maintain that the dog didn’t bite, so I helpfully offered to remove all doubt by showing him the teeth marks in my cheeks. By the time I finally retraced my steps and made it back to the house, Jay was starting to worry and asked what had taken so long. My explanation that I’d been offering to show my bottom to the local farming community only served to confirm her worst fears about the whole man-meat debacle.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Kiss Seen Around The World


The Olympic torch relay on 20 June was just fantastic. I started the day early at 7.40am with an interview with the BBC Radio Cumbria breakfast show. The presenter, Ian Timms, enthusiastically told me that I’d be the first Cumbrian to carry the torch. Although the torch entered Cumbria in Brough, before it reached my stage in Appleby, Ian explained that both of the Brough torchbearers would be from County Durham. As it turned out, I was on the relay bus as the procession made its way through Brough and the reception from the crowd was amazing, County Durham torchbearers or not.

Monty can barely contain his excitement.
As soon as I’d finished on the radio, I was out into the garden to help put up the bunting for the garden party Jay had kindly organised to celebrate torch day. Fortunately, it was a bright, sunny day. Given that we’ve had a record-breakingly bad summer, getting a good day was a real stroke of luck. I’d have been particularly miffed if we’d had to cancel, given that I’ve spent the last 6 months painting fences, sheds and garden furniture, digging, weeding and planting. No mean feat, given that I hate gardening at the best of times. Jay had been baking like an electric Nan for days and it turned into such a quintessentially English party: Battenberg cake (German), Viennese Whirls (Austrian), and lashings of the best ginger beer (Jamaican) since 1932, when Mrs Donoghue bought a bottle of Mr Stevenson’s finest. That’s one for the lawyers amongst you. The rest of you will have to bear with us. We don’t get out much.

Erica keeps a close eye on the Union Jack sponge cake
Between radio interviews, garden parties and dinosaur hunting with my nephews, I had a to-do list longer than a Leonard Cohen song, and there was barely enough time to get to the business of the day, carrying the Olympic torch. By the time I arrived in Appleby, there was already a large crowd and the atmosphere was building.

Right of the photo: the average age of my fanbase has increased dramatically

Like the fourth Bee Gee

While waiting for the torch to arrive, my friends and family were interviewed by a reporter from the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald. Everything was going well until he looked at my Mum and Dad and asked “Who has Duncan got here to support him? His grandparents?”. I wish I’d been there to see my Mum’s face! As it turned out, my laughter was to be short-lived. Later that evening, in my village’s pub, an Australian lady asked Jay if she wouldn’t mind taking a photo of me and her with the torch: “Would you take a photo of me and your Dad?”. Jay must look youthful because there’s no way that I look old. Ahem. Unfortunately, the photographic evidence doesn’t corroborate that point of view. Check out the photos below, taken 22 years apart, in 1990 and 2012. My Pennine Way team, Marc and Simon, came to Appleby and we took the opportunity to recreate our team photo from all of those years ago. It’s not the years, it’s the miles on the clock.

2012 team photo

1990 team photo

My moment carrying the torch lasted only a matter of minutes, but it's a memory I'll treasure always. There won't be many days when your run will be escorted by five coaches, six police motorcycles and six metropolitan police officers. Colleagues in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Deeside, and friends and family all over the world, downed tools to watch the BBC tv coverage. That explains the countless text messages I received, asking me the identity of the girl who broke through the police cordon to kiss me, after I'd handed over the flame to the next runner. Have a look at the screen still, below. No prizes for guessing who! 


Next stop is the Philadelphia Marathon on 18 November and I can’t wait! My torch, on the other hand, is on its own tour across the country, having barely spent a night with me since I brought it home. Shap, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle... Check out the tour album, with just a fraction of the honorary torchbearers:
The most poignant photo has to be the Macmillan nurses at Aintree Hospital, who are looking after Jayne's Mum following her recent cancer surgery. As Rob Ainscough reminded us back in February 2009 (http://fivemarathons.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/for-moll.html), just before the first of the fivemarathons, this is why we run. This is why Amanda, and Lucy, and Libby, and Melanie, and Katie, and Harriet, and Helen, and Lisa, and Jo, and Philippa ran: to raise money for the cancer care that we rely on so much when our loved ones need it the most. In my case, that fundraising was why I was nominated to carry the torch in the first place, and here it is, back with the ladies we run to support. As Rob put it, support them generously please, for your Moll.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Torch Relay




Today's the day the Olympic torch arrives in Cumbria. At approximately 4.19pm BST, I'll collect the torch and run my leg of the relay through Appleby in Westmorland. You can watch it live at http://www.london2012.com/torch-relay/video/live.html.

Under the Olympic torch: Olympic Stadium, Barcelona
March 2012

You can also hear me interviewed about the fivemarathons, the Olympic torch relay, and the fantastic support I've received, at around 7.40am on BBC Radio Cumbria (available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radiocumbria/).

The build up to the torch relay has been really exciting and I can't wait to get underway. Carrying the torch in front of my home crowd is an immense honour for me, and I'm very grateful for all of your support since 2008. Without your help, none of this would have been possible. Finally, many thanks, and much love, to Jay - for all of her care throughout. Not least when the alarm goes off at 5.50am on weekdays for my early morning training runs. She's not just there on the days when I race, or carry the Olympic torch; she's there when it's chicken, rice and vegetables for dinner for the 7th time in as many days; when I'm gone for hours on long Sunday runs; when marathons dictate our holidays and even when the fence needs painting, ready for a garden party on Olympic torch relay day. This one's for you kiddo.
http://www.thebusinessdesk.com/northwest/news/331272-hold-for-thurs-dwf-lawyer-to-carry-olympic-torch.html?news_section=10968#

http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/features/why-do-people-run-such-long-distances-1.947565?referrerPath=2935

Harsh
Vienna, December 2011

Harsh but fair
Madrid, April 2012
Fairly harsh
Barcelona, March 2012

Hardly fair
Madrid, April 2012

Revenge is sweet
Barcelona, March 2012


Sunday, 25 March 2012

London Olympics

On Monday, LOCOG confirmed the names of the official Olympic torchbearers for the London 2012 Olympics. I'm proud to confirm I'll be carrying the torch in Cumbria in June. 

Afternoon tea to celebrate the LOCOG announcement
  
After the official announcement on

Fell-running near Haweswater, 11 and 25 March 2012


And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England's mountains green?

And was the Holy Lamb of God, On England's pleasant pastures seen?

Among the online news stories, I was surprised to find that I'm not the first Duncan Vaughan to carry the Olympic torch to the London Olympics. In 1948, Shaftesbury School old-boy, Duncan Vaughan, carried the torch on its way to that summer's London Olympics:  
 
When my Dad and my Auntie Joan watch me carry the torch in Cumbria, it will be the first time they've seen it since 1948. My Auntie Joan said the last time she saw it, it was disappearing down Windsor High Street. After 64 years, I hope it will be worth the wait!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Rapid Vienna

I hope, like me, you had a great Christmas. I took some time off and spent the break at home in Cumbria. Even when you’re not in work, Christmas can seem like just another day at the office - you do all the work while the fat guy in the suit gets all the credit. Throughout December, I was fighting off a series of colds, which was annoying from a running perspective, but it provided me with a cast iron excuse for welding my lazy rear to the sofa over the Christmas period and moving only to throw another log on the fire. The enforced running inactivity means I’ve got lots of ground to make up in 2012. Despite throwing some impressive shapes at this year’s Christmas parties, the lack of running, coupled with some festive overeating, mean I’ve lost my Moves Like Jagger and replaced them with some Moobs Like Jabba. On Christmas Day, the temptation to stay indoors and enjoy the celebrations proved too much. I weighed up a run over the local fells against cooking up a storm in the kitchen with my new Christmas present, a Gordon Ramsay cook book. The chief difference between a fell run and Gordon Ramsay is that one is a pant in the country.....

The view from here...
Christmas 2011
Be all of that as it may, the long hours on the sofa gave me ample time to reflect on 2011 and look forward to 2012. For me, 2011 was built around the Liverpool Marathon, not only my own training but also helping Mel and Ron with their preparations. As I described in a previous blog (“With A Little Help From My Friends” – www.fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2011/10/with-little-help-from-my-friends.html), getting to run with Mel and Ron, in their first marathon, and with our family around us, was an unforgettable experience. Towards the end of the year, the big news for me was being confirmed as an official torchbearer for the Olympic flame on its journey to London. I feel honoured to be involved in such a great sporting tradition (even if it was invented by a certain Bavarian Corporal for the 1936 Berlin Olympics). My folks are very excited and already planning to be there on 20 June, when I’ll carry the torch on the Brough to Carlisle stage. Not all of it, I hope.


Other marathon news in 2011 included the sad death of marathon-running stalwart, Jimmy Savile. And there I was, thinking he’d ignored my letter to Jim’ll Fix It all of these years. You may remember that, despite being 46 years my senior, Sir Jim almost overtook me in the 2004 London Marathon (see “Jim’ll Fix It” - http://fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2009/01/jimll-fix-it.html). I’m not bitter. Talking of elderly marathon runners who should know better, Merseyside’s very own Anthony Gaskell finished the 2011 London Marathon in the fastest time ever recorded by a pensioner. You might think that posting a mighty 3 hours 5 minutes was impressive enough, but wait until I tell you that he completed the second half of the race in under an hour, faster even than the then world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie has ever managed. This super-human feat earned him, not only a place in the record books, but a plaque to mark his achievement. Before he received it, the 69 year old was found to have taken a 10-mile short cut. Gaskell was shown to have cut the course just after Tower Bridge. Far from criticising him, I wish I’d thought of it myself. In the interests of balanced reporting, I should tell you what he told the Daily Mail: "I simply walked through a short cut to the end of the course where my belongings were waiting for me. I had no idea that anyone thought I'd won." You be the judge.

The New Year provided me with a good opportunity to re-assess the blog’s target audience. From the “fan mail” I regularly receive at 5M Towers, I can tell you that it’s not appealing to vegetarians, Scousers, Brummies or the hard of thought. Sorry, I said that last one twice. However, through the magic of Google Analytics, I can proudly reveal that the blog is finding a receptive audience in central and Eastern Europe, which is a shame because I had a cracking gag about a pair of Cossacks. Not surprisingly, the UK accounts for nearly half of the readership, but who would have guessed that the former eastern bloc would make up over 21%. Russia alone accounts for almost 8% and, despite its relatively small population, Slovenian viewers represent 4%. Oddly enough, a massive 38% of the readership are not native English speakers. I feel curiously like Norman Wisdom. Ridiculously unfunny in his own country, but inexplicably popular in Albania.

Evening run in Bratislava, December 2011

In a half-hearted attempt to investigate the blog’s eastern promise, in early December, Jayne and I took ourselves off to Slovakia. Running through the freezing cold streets of Bratislava was very atmospheric. I could have chickened out and run in the comfortable and state-of-the-art air conditioned gym at the hotel, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, I got out and froze myself in the pursuit of a few more lame blog anecdotes. As I crossed the Danube, ice was beginning to form on the pedestrian walkway of the Novy Most bridge. The hazardous conditions underfoot, coupled with the bridge’s low handrail, meant a slip would have almost certainly seen me sailing off the side of the bridge, to an unwanted early bath. I gingerly retraced my steps and stuck to several laps of Bratislava's old town.

Now I know why Jay wanted me to stand in that precise spot...
Vienna, December 2011

After Slovakia, we travelled on to Austria. Running in Vienna was fantastic. I was surrounded by so many Wieners, it was as if I’d never left Manchester.

Catholic gilt
Stephansdom, Vienna, December 2011

You may remember the last training run I took with Mel and Ron before the Liverpool Marathon, among the Anthony Gormley figures on Crosby beach (see “With A Little Help From My Friends” – www.fivemarathons.blogspot.com/2011/10/with-little-help-from-my-friends.html). On my Sunday morning run in Vienna, I noticed that the figures are about to take a holiday to Bregenz, on the Swiss-Austrian border:


I hope that there’s less complaint in Austria than there was in Crosby about the “anatomically correct” nature of the statues. Each one is supposed to be a representation of the artist himself and, given the freezing cold weather whenever I’ve run in Crosby, a generous representation at that.

Jay at Schoenbrunn Palace, Vienna

Right, I’ve got an 8 mile run beckoning, so I’d better let you go. Next time, I’ll tell you about my plans for 2012 and a change in my running style from heel striking to forefoot striking. Right now, that Christmas over-indulgence is making everything hard work.

NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004