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” –, 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” - 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” – 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