Sunday, 23 September 2012

New Home

My blog is moving to Wordpress, you can find the new posts here. Thanks very much for looking at my site, I'd love if you dropped by the new place too! (I have cake and tea!)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Hywel


I'm sad to hear that my friend Hywel Jones passed away yesterday, July 4th 2012. It's not an exaggeration to say that being friends with Hywel changed my life. I would not have run the London Marathon this year were it not for the inspiration he gave me; Hywel taught me a lot about bravery, determination, mental toughness and achieving goals in the face of difficult circumstances. He is a special person who helped and inspired others right until the end, without self-pity, often with his trademark dark sense of humour. Some cliches are cliches because they're true - there should be more Hywels in the world.
 
My thoughts are with Hywel's wife Cathy, son Luke, daughter Carly and the rest of their family.



You can buy Hywel's single on Amazon here to raise money for Tenovus Cancer Charity. 


You can read Hywel's blog here.






Saturday, 30 June 2012

Francois and the Atlas Mountains Review

This review will appear in Plugged In Magazine, a not-for-profit social enterprise with the aim of improving the literacy skills, confidence and educational/vocational opportunities of young people through workshops, practical experience and copy in a quality publication. The magazine is produced by volunteers and funding is gained to cover the print run only. I help out with the mag as a volunteer writer and sometimes organise workshops with Plugged In in music journalism, photography and event organising as part of my job in Community Arts. I am continually amazed by the dedication of the guys who run this venture, and the great results they achieve. Now they've been nominated for a National Lottery Award in the Education Category - please could you spare a moment of your time and vote here? If you'd like more information on Plugged In, you can find it here.


May 9th 2012
Clwb Ifor Bach
Cardiff

Listening to Francois and the Atlas Mountains’ 2010 record E VOLO Love made me a fan, but experiencing the French male foursome in the musical flesh was something quite different, an encounter which propelled me into SUPER fandom. Their live performance offered so much more than the already wonderful Gallic chamber pop tracks that the album presents. In person, their formula of layering keys, African percussion, glistening electric guitars, electronic sounds and intermittently upbeat and wistful vocals becomes magical. On this night in Clwb Ifor Bach, the floor was layered with bright blankets, the multiple leads and wires connecting amps to instruments were covered in coloured cloth, the drummer wore bells on his legs, no socks on his feet and a sequinned t-shirt. They looked great – pleasingly eccentric, likeable, vibrant - and the sound was out of this world. The bones of the tunes were fleshed out with tiers upon tiers of beats, jangles, and dance making morsels which collectively elevated this show to nothing short of fantastic. The sparkling crown on top of the kingly set came in the form of synchronised dance moves the guys suddenly broke into at regular intervals. Surprising, yes, appreciated and massively entertaining, definitely. My cheeks ached with the force of an uncontrollable happy grin all evening, and to not dance would have been impossible. I attended the performance on a very rainy Wednesday night with no expectations. I left with memories of my number one gig experience to date, in addition to confirmation of why I love live music and will never stop seeking its pleasures and life affirming benefits.


Japandroids Review

Thursday May 17th 
Clwb Ifor Bach
Cardiff

Packed, sweaty, pulsating with bodies and alt-punk/garage rock beats, Clwb Ifor Bach was bouncing with energy generated from this Pitchfork recommended Vancouver duo. They attracted a stack of gig goers despite this being a school night and were as noisy as a band double in numbers. Brian King (guitar/vocals) and David Prowse (drums/vocals) stated at the beginning, “We don’t do set lists or loads of talking, we play you as many tracks as we’re physically able to.” And that they did, tearing through fourteen with what seemed like every ounce of vigour they possessed, accepting requests along the way from fans who clearly knew their material well. Tracks played included 2009 Post Nothing anthemic favourites The Boys are Leaving Town and Young Hearts Spark Fire, mixed with material from the brand new release Celebration Rock such as The Nights of Wine and Roses and Younger Us,  and one of my favourites the heavy, sombre, insistent Darkness on the Edge of Gastown from 2010’s record No Singles. Japandroids’ music makes you ache for an American road trip and a reversal in time to be an early ‘twenty something’ forever; such is its emotive youthful power. I am positive that if a DJ set had not taken place immediately after Japandroids’ slot, an encore would have been demanded by the hungry-for-more crowd and the dancing uber-fans in the front row would have moshed until the sun rose. The boys might have left town to continue their tour, but I hope they keep their promise to return to Cardiff and share their passionate playing again later this year.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Swn Presents Canton Crawl - April 28th 2012



Entire days of Swn served music are usually reserved for early Winter time when the eagerly awaited annual festival takes place, so I jumped at the chance of attending a Spring taster. Little did the organisers or attendees know this particular Spring afternoon would come with arctic gusts fit to freeze even the hardiest of krautrock fans. Soon (Swn?) after arriving at the new not-for-profit art space The Printhaus, I realised my error in dressing for summer, so an early survival dash back home for hypothermia preventing clothes was essential.


H. Hawkline, R. Seiliog, Tender Prey, Stacking Chairs, and No Thee No Ess were amongst the literally super cool line up, with Fist of the First Man a particular highlight for me. The trio are a new project by Cardiff electro king Zwolf. Using his alter ego, composer Tom Raybauld can usually be found wielding a laptop to create his sound, but on this day he appeared with old school instrument in hand. Along with two band members walls of technical guitar were created, which were intense yet engaging with reverberating psych edges. I couldn’t help be reminded of Right Hand Left Hand in terms of their vocal free, almost mechanical style, but there is something warmer about this threesome which doesn’t just leave you impressed by their playing skills but fully captivates. It was a tiny set of three tracks, but a big sound and a taster of an album with a lot more to offer, including layered electronica, scratchy dance beats, and vocals ranging from haunting to the bluesy funk variety. A listen on Soundcloud is recommended.


Next up came much hand warming around mini-bonfires and drinking of hot drinks and alcohol at the onsite bar. A discount arranged at the nearby Chapter Arts Centre also proved popular as people ran across for between-band-hand-defrosting before gathering expectantly in fur coats, scarves and bobble hats to wait for Cate Le Bon. The weather seemed a perfect accompaniment to the Camarthenshire born performer’s set. Her penetrating glacial vocals and mix of quirky experimental spooky folk suited the wintry people huddle which had formed. Le Bon’s feels like music for the night and the dark, particularly when considering the often death-focused lyrics. Tracks including the title song from latest release CYRK were played, along with (my personal) old favourites from the 2009 Me Oh My. A few technical hitches didn’t annul the atmosphere, and as the sun set a magical set by Le Bon and band created a perfect full stop to the great Cardiff line up.


Thankfully this festival experience, as with all Swn events to date, culminated in the comforts of sleep in my bed rather than a shivery tent. The lingering campfire aroma which had secured itself to my hair continued to remind me of a wonderful day for the remainder of that weekend.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Leave the Valleys, MTV

MTV – The Valleys is a planned reality TV Show in the vein of The Only Way is Essex, which will seek to perpetuate negative stereotypes of Wales and its’ residents. I have discussed in detail below why I think this is the case. If you too object to True North Production Company creating MTV – The Valleys; please sign this petition and share it – you will really help to raise awareness of opinion. Likewise, please follow this Twitter account, and there is a Facebook page in the making which would be great to share far and wide. For more details read on…


MTV -The Valleys is described by its makers as, “The Only Way is Essex, Geordie Shore and Made In Chelsea - but Welsh”. The definition points toward another fake tan and stereotype saturated TV show in which combinations of individuals are purposefully plucked to maximise cohabitation catastrophe, outrageous behaviour and headlines grabbed in low brow publications. Or, as True North, the company commissioned to produce this programme state, “The True North team love what they do - they respect the people they work with and they put money on screen.”

I had the displeasure of watching an episode of Geordie Shore at a friend’s house. It was not pretty. Drunkenness, vomiting, ridiculous conversation, nudity and sex, no doubt edited to reveal ‘the best bits.’ Is this the content of a respectful TV company’s product? The quote, “they put money on screen” is the answer. Anyone else thinking money shot? The filmic term refers to the most expensive clip to produce or the most money making – particularly synonymous with climatic moments in pornography. So in reality TV, the money on the screen must be the most scandalous, the most pitiful, that which causes the most media furore, and is the most expensive to the individual unwittingly making money for the company. Perhaps he or she will pay with their dignity, their privacy, their pride.


True North - responsible for previous high-brow docu-gems such as My Fake Baby and My Mums Used To Be Men - want to put money on the screen from South Wales in this instance. The programme’s Twitter feed announces their late night presence in towns such as Merthyr Tydfil, Neath, Blackwood, Abertillery, and Bridgend. Potential show members are flattered with hand delivered postcards which read, ‘You’ve Been Spotted.’ This looks-based selection process taps into the idea that being a Cheryl or Ashley-Cole-Alike is a viable and aspirational goal. This is accentuated by the show’s aim of putting eight young people into a house in Cardiff for five weeks and allowing them to “work in any field they like.” Social work, teaching, journalism, engineering, molecular biology then? Nope. Not any field. “We're looking at the more glitzy, fun industries - fashion, music, modelling, events, promotions, acting, singing, etc.” All of these professions are valid in their own right - but they will be used in this programme to create spectacles of those involved, and fit in with the "glitzy" image of the show. I don't suppose it would be as justifiable to film a scientist in a bikini as it would a model.

Not only is the show advancing the empty ambition of celebrity, rather than championing the values of self-worth, skills and education amongst young people, it misunderstands and will no doubt misrepresent The Valleys. It is moving participants twenty miles along the A470, to a city the majority already frequent. Will they suggest people who live in Welsh towns and villages rarely leave them? This is true for some people – but I suspect they will press on with this generalised image regardless of individuals’ experiences as it fits with their premise.


The show’s Executive Producer Fiona O’Sullivan, who held the same role in TOWIE for Lime Productions said: “The Valleys is very exciting - I’m in no doubt looking at the casting for the series that the kids from the Welsh Valleys are huge reality stars in the making. It’s a fantastic little known world and will make a brilliant setting for a constructed reality show." Patronising, yes? “Huge reality stars in the making” smacks of a cannibal who has discovered a fresh batch of human flesh in a hitherto undiscovered pocket of civilisation. I bet O’ Sullivan is salivating over her incisors as I type. South Wales is a little known world in terms of ‘reality TV’ and it would be nice to keep it that way. The Valleys are scenically beautiful and abound with vibrant, welcoming, witty people. This programme, as the others in whose likeness it has been created, will not be looking for well rounded good news stories however.


The South Wales Valleys experience high levels of unemployment as a legacy of the mining industry closure, which created cyclical social problems such as low levels of educational attainment and high teenage pregnancy rates. There are many organisations working with communities in these areas to change this social landscape and correct the consistently negative press received. Colleagues of mine who work in Merthyr Tydfil Community Projects regularly receive calls from broadcasters asking for programme fodder. The answer is always no, the staff want to help improve and change, not exploit and exacerbate problems. On-screen coverage of South Wales often features the most run-down areas, opinions gleaned from the least broad minded, cumulatively leading to a negative, skewed vision of the area by those outside.


There is a surfeit of successful, highly educated, hardworking and eloquent people of all ages in and from the South Wales Valleys, who do not parade cleavage or chests and would not wish to appear drunk or naked on national TV. They aren’t the ones who will appear. The vulnerable or misguided will appear. They will have been creepily conscripted and cold-bloodedly cast by True North Production Company to make money and increase ratings. The South Wales Valley stereotype will be perpetuated. The Welsh stereotype will be propagated. The idea of vanity and fame as a career path will be given a helping hand, potentially inspiring a whole host of Welsh youngsters to avoid academia and concentrate on hair extensions instead.

Stripped down, MTV -The Valleys is about business people manipulating and exploiting human beings – and a nation - in order to make money – how can this be allowed to take place?


If you are approached by MTV - The Valleys, please realise what the invite to take part actually entails, and rely on your self-worth, hard work and talent to make you successful instead.


Anyone who objects to True North creating MTV - The Valleys, please sign this petition and share it – you will really help to raise awareness of opinion.


Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Why I got a Taxi Home and Other Tales of Running.

It was Sunday afternoon when it happened. I was supposed to run fifteen miles. I expected to run fifteen miles. This didn’t go to plan.

The task ahead didn’t feel daunting. Training for a marathon has changed the way I view longer runs, and as the distances have increased, so has my confidence and acceptance in my ability to achieve more. I train lots, so am able to run further, and I attribute a large part of being able to run further to belief. The same applies to lots of life’s tasks and challenges – if you believe you can do something, and you prepare, then it is highly likely you can. If I can train for a marathon, then so can a lot of people, who at the moment, may not believe this is the case. I like this quote from Percy Cerutty, legendary running coach:

“To hell with the lot of them if you ‘feel’ you can do it.”

Quite.

I’ve gone off track and down a metaphorical windy lane into the woods here. Back to my original tale. So, on Sunday April 8th, I was prepared, I was not worried. But at 3 miles I already felt uncomfortable. I considered stopping at 5, but instead of heading home after a lap of Roath parks, I ran past Cathays cemetery toward Crwys Road. I paused at a bus-stop shelter, where I stretched and sat down. Another runner heading my way spurred me to start up again. My shins hurt. The other runner overtook me. I probably scowled at her and passing cars. I joined Whitchurch Road, and ran through the underpass onto Western Avenue, then through Bute Park. I acknowledged it was nice to take my time through Bute Park as opposed to the mad heart-attacky dash which is parkrun. But that’s as cheery as I got. My shins hurt. The scenery didn’t enthuse me on this day. I cut across Castle Street and ran along the Taff Embankment. I felt sick. I checked my watch. I stopped. I changed my iPod from the high bpm dance trash I employ to keep me going and put The (lovely) Cave Singers on instead. A bit better. I checked my watch. I felt sick. I pulled my earphones out. I ran to the sound of my stroppy breath and footsteps. I checked my watch. Ten miles. I walked for a bit. I tried to pretend the wind wasn’t freezing. People in padded jackets and bobble hats walked past me in the opposite direction. I tried to pretend I wasn’t freezing. I thought about walking through Penarth marina, along the Cardiff Bay barrage and back to Roath (approx 5 miles). I thought about phoning a taxi. I phoned a taxi.


Home and £11.20 poorer, I lay on the sofa underneath a blanket and contemplated what went wrong.

Some thoughts:

1. Within the previous fortnight, I had run approximately 71.78 miles.
2. Within the last month, I had run approximately 126.48 miles.
3. I had completed assignments and run fundraising events and not had much sleep for weeks.
Conclusion = I was cream-crackered. (Polite version used for parental readers)

I’ve since read up on this experience, and RealBuzz, a healthy living forum, assures me it was normal. Their article on marathon tapering suggests:

“Two weeks out from race day, your ‘long run’ should be just half the time/distance you achieved on your longest session. The week after, it’s cut in half again (so your 'long' run may actually be four to six miles).”

Ooops. I was aiming for 15 miles as a Runner’s World plan I read that week had told me. According to RealBuzz then, 10 miles was about right, as my longest had been 20 miles. There was more:

“It is not unusual to feel suddenly lethargic and heavy during the taper. This is partly because your glycogen stores are full (since you aren't continually depleting them with training), and each gram of glycogen is stored along with three grams of water. Your body also becomes accustomed to a large volume of activity, and taking this out of the equation can leave you feeling as if you could barely run a mile, let alone a marathon.”

Relief.

It’s obvious then, that no matter what training advice says, ultimately you need to listen to your own body. There are hundreds of thousands of marathon plans, but these have to be adapted according to how you feel.

I spent the next two days sleeping and lying on the sofa enjoying multiple films, and plan similar for the next fortnight, alongside a bit of running – but definitely no 15 milers!

The taxi tale will no doubt be re-told and laughed about.

So will the story about my covert running attempt. It was the beginning of my training. I ran at night to ‘avoid being seen.’ Outside Cardiff High one winter evening, I got swearily heckled by a car full of teenage boys who could see me clearly. I tripped over a bump in the road, ripped my trousers and cut my knee. I started to consider morning runs.

I have been overtaken during races by by a giraffe, and by Sesame Street’s Big Bird.

On the approach to a Merthyr Tydfil race start line, I was greeted along with several other runners by a group of drunk-and-drinking teenage boys. They'd obviously been up all night, and wished us luck whilst holding their bottles of lager aloft. 

I’m looking forward to firstly, resting. Secondly, to collecting some more stories at the London Marathon. I promise not to catch a taxi until I’m over the finish line.


My fundraising amount is now at over £2250. If you'd like to sponsor me to help raise funds for Tenovus Cancer Charity, you can do so here. Thank you!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Marathon Countdown Weeks 6 – 3


Sunday April 1st will mark three weeks until the London Marathon, and also the date of a gig organised as part of my fundraising for Tenovus Cancer Charity. I’ll describe that in more detail a little later on.


The last few weeks have been a bit busy with life, fundraising and running. I’ll split these into sections for any readers who don’t want to read the lot!


Life: I had an MA assignment due mid March. My day job has been especially busy. There were Mother’s Day festivities. I went to see Wild Beasts and Alt-J for Plugged In Magazine in The Coal Exchange, as well as The Jayhawks and Richmond Fontaine in The 02 Academy. I met up with friends as much as possible. My poor car LUI (as named by the number plate) ended up in scrapped car heaven.


Fundraising: There were several fundraising events this month. Firstly, a stall in Roath Craft Market with my friend Laura. We sold bags and earrings, and made £45. Lots of friends visited us, including the very cute newborn Bill, his parents Nicola and Gareth, my mam, Jonny, and Pete. It was a lovely way to spend a morning whilst supporting a great cause. Thanks guys for buying our wares and big thanks to Laura for making lots and booking the stall!


Laura (right) and me (left) on our craft stall



Magda, Mair, Margaret and Me! 
















I held a jewellery making lesson for my mother’s friends and colleagues, and also sold a few pairs of earrings. It was a really fun night full of cake and wine (water for me!) which raised £74. Diolch mam for being a great host and to your friends for being brilliant students!




Headlining act Everything Burns

Saturday March 17th saw a gig in The New Crown Inn, Merthyr Tydfil. I’d booked the date to hold a Tenovus event, and my Merthyr College lecturer friend Mike told me his students needed to hold a gig as part of their music tech degree – so, we joined forces. The students did an amazing job of booking bands, promoting the event and making sure things ran smoothly on the day. Every act was talented and full of passion for their music, and generously gave their time for the cause. The venue helped out by letting us play there for free, and The Welsh rugby team kindly achieved their Grand Slam on that day, increasing the number of merry gig-goers through the door! We raised a staggering £820.56 and I’d like to say a big huge THANK YOU to everyone involved in the day.

My justgiving page has been visited lots this month, and I really appreciate every penny so thanks lots to folks who have donated here. As I write it is at a huge total of £1594.44!

There are more thanks to come as so many people are helping out with Do Good at Gwdihw, the April 1st event. Four fantastic bands are playing: Kymo, Jam with Robina, The Word Virus Essay and Under the Driftwood Tree. Matt Jarrett of Cardiff indie night Punks in the Beerlight is DJ-ing. Lisa Heledd-Jones of Scrabble Sunday will be bringing her boards along. Laura will be running the craft and sweet stalls. Mike and Merthyr College students will be manning the door. Gwdihw have kindly donated the venue for free and helped lots with the organisation. Dan designed the super cool poster. Jonny, Sarah, Laura, the bands and the guys from Tenovus have promoted lots. In short, it is going to be great, and all of the people helping are too. Please come along and join us for a fab afternoon! 



Running: There has of course, also been some running in the last few weeks. I’ve been surprised by how exhausted I’ve felt following the long runs, but reassured by chats with experienced distance runners as to how this is a normal part of the body’s adjustment and repair work. Therefore, I’ve been making an effort to get more sleep than usual...particularly since taking part in the San Domenico 20 on March 25th! It’s a race organised by the Cardiff running club of the same name, and involves a run along the Taff and Trevithick Trails from Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon and back. It was a beautifully sunny, and therefore hotter-than-the-fires-of-hell kind of day, and this coupled with some serious inclines, deep stone steps, and steep downhill stretches equalled something of a challenge! I got a bit carried away with the excitement and took off too quickly, meaning by mile fourteen my gas had dwindled and I plodded along for a while before picking up again. I finished in 3 hours 20 minutes which I felt a bit disappointed by, but I’ve also since reflected on this as an achievement – my first race of any kind was just six months ago so I’ve made some decent progress since then! Geeky details of my run can be found here for those interested. The event was loads of fun in a this-is-horrible-I-want-to-stop sort of way, and a great education in pacing. I now realise I need to keep an eye on my speed in the first half of the London Marathon, to hopefully leave me with enough energy to run rather than crawl over the finish line!


Happy to have completed the San Domenico 20!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Marathon Countdown - Weeks 8 & 7

On Saturday 25th I ran over 19 miles, my longest distance yet. I started out in Roath, Cardiff, and my route went a bit like this around the city:

1. Newport Road
2. Lloyd George Avenue
3. Cardiff Bay Barrage
4. Penarth Marina
5. Around the Ice Rink, Morrisons Supermarket, Whitewater Rafting Centre
6. Taff Embankment
7. Bute Park
8. Western Avenue
9. Whitchurch, Crwys, Albany Road
10. A couple of laps around Roath park, and then home

En route I photographed the sunrise in Cardiff Bay...













And some local wildlife...














The following Sunday, March 4th meant Llanelli Half Marathon time.  I set the alarm for 5.30am to be greeted by the sound of heavy rain falling from Hirwaun skies. My parents had kindly agreed to accompany me, despite the extra early Sunday start, and we hoped for sunshine further West as we left their house. Our wish was granted, and by the time we reached the race location, bits of blue sky were appearing between the grey clouds. It was freezing though, with icy winds whipping around the lycra clad crowds who had gathered. I'm glad I gritted my teeth and stuck with wearing just my Tenovus vest and leggings as I was soon my trademark beetroot running shade after we'd taken off. The folks who had opted for bobble hats, bodywarmers and hoodies looked even hotter!

The race involed two out and back sections, the first of which was along a path, past some grassy banks, over a bridge, a roundabout, and into a culdesac within an industrial estate. Not the most inspiring route ever - particularly when it offered a view of all the faster runners sprinting their way past in the opposite direction. Big thanks to the single spectator who ventured into this out-of-the-way half of the run and seemed to clap all 1,600 people who took part (out of a registered 2,500)! The middle bit was full of encouragement as we ran past the carpark where everybody's parents, partners, children, grans and dogs were hanging out. Next, the more interesting coastal section with hi-fives from Mr & Mrs Derrick, glimpses of sea and sand, but also the dreaded faster racers flaunting their sub-1.45 times in my face (not bitter). Mile 11 onwards was quite tough as the sun was beating down at this point and we were running into the wind. There was also a hill at mile 12 which felt a bit cruel. But I got up it and down it again and finished feeling tired but not collapsy in 1:59:56. That's 10 minutes faster than my Cardiff half time in October which hopefully means my training is paying off. Not enough to beat Cookie Monster and Big Bird from Sesame Street sadly, but Postman Pat and his black and white cat were no match for me. Probably as I wasn't carrying a cardboard van like they were!

I really enjoyed the race and I'm glad I did it as I feel more confident about April 22nd now. It 's also really nice to participate in this type of event and feel part of something fun and positive.

After the race, with my Llanelli Half Golden Trainer!
















Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Marathon Countdown - Week 9

My to-do list for this week includes activities to improve upon shortfalls of last week.

So...

1. Get more sleep
I had a few spontaneously late nights last week which involved meeting friends, eating Indian food, and playing trivial pursuit. Awesome. However, trying to get up for a run following four hours sleep is hard work/impossible/didn't happen. Hence I only went for two runs and one swim as I had less energy to get out. Whilst I'm no athlete aiming for a sub 3hour time, I want to feel comfortable and confident on the day of the marathon so need to ensure I get enough sleep to, in turn, train enough to feel happy.

2. Sort-of plan my runs
I'm not much of a planner in my personal life. I like to keep an open-ish calendar and wing things, as this feels far more exciting to me than filling the calendar weeks ahead and knowing exactly what's around the corner. So far, I've applied this to my training schedule. I was never going to adopt the detailed training plan method, as again, if I could see 50 + runs all lined up in my diary I would have felt pretty overwhelmed and restricted. Perhaps this is considered an airy-fairy approach by some, but I like to run according to feel and according to what else I've got on that week in work, uni, with friends and so on. Even so, winging it can only be stretched so far before it means things don't get done. Back to point one - sleep! I'll continue to go with the flow and fit runs around life, and vice versa, but with a more mindful, balanced approach than last week, and even if I don't have a plan on paper, a rough one in my head will enable me to be more efficient.

3. Buy de-caffeinated teabags
Quite easy this one. I've cut out caffeine as it gives me headaches and makes me feel dehydrated and lethargic. Rubbish for running. Last week I slipped back into bad habit mode of drinking caffeinated tea as I'd run out of my alternatives. So. To the shops!

I could add eat less KitKat Chunkys to my list, but that would be ridiculous.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Marathon Countdown - Week 10

Sunday, February 12th marked 10 weeks until the London Marathon.
Since the last post, I have mostly been thinking about breakfasts and new running routes.

Sunrise at Swansea seafront, 8am, February 11th 2012
Whilst Cardiff is great for running in terms of having a plentiful supply of parks and water to run through and alongside, scenery fatigue has been kicking in recently. In a bid to keep things interesting I took an early Saturday morning trip to Swansea's seafront, and ran from the civic centre to Mumbles pier and back again. I absolutely loved this. I arrived in time to see a super cool sunrise, the views from the pier were epic, and Swansea's runners are extra friendly - I even got a cheer from a group of strangers running in the opposite direction! I've since talked to other runners who reported similar experiences further West. Smiles - and cheers - go a long way to making a run more pleasurable. Cardiff runners take note! With the exception of my running friends, I've noticed this city's runners can be sullen at times, making me look like a grinning lunatic bounding around the streets with unreturned smiles. Maybe Swansea's sea air makes their runners happier? Or maybe my presence triggers this reaction?! I plan to continue sharing smiles with the happy and annoying moody runners regardless.



View from Mumbles Pier, 9am, February 11th 2012
If anyone is planning a similar crack-of-dawn wintery trip,  I recommend taking a vehicle with working heaters. Despite gloves, hat, fleece, scarf and sleeping-bag-like coat, I thought my freezing fingers were going to stiffen into permanent claws whilst driving back.

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, so when a man who runs through ice-bogs* mentioned how great pancake breakfasts are for runners, immediately a seed was sewn. My pre-long-run version this week combined blueberries and honey. Lovely! And not sure I should be revealing this...but I also ate pancakes and honey with scrambled eggs and spinach this week. My palate is combination trained, but perhaps it's not for everyone! A more everyday addition to my breakfasting has been gluten free oats - also a great energy giver and again great mixed with the old favourites of blueberries and honey. 
During the week ahead I plan to incorporate a 15 mile run, have a physio session to keep my currently repairing shins in check, improve my iPod playlists and continue to plan my fundraising** events. I'll post details of those very soon, but I'm excited to say that lots of lovely people have agreed to help out - thank you those people. Big thanks also to the folks who have donated to my justgiving site this week, and thank YOU for reading my blog post!



* Said guy recently ran the crazy Hellrunner race for The Prostate Project, which involves heaps of hills, mud and ice-bogs! To sponsor him and read more, check out his fundraising page here.


**If you'd like to sponsor my challenge for Tenovus Cancer Charity, you can do so here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Marathon Countdown - Weeks 12 & 11

My laptop broke last week. Well, when I say broke, the moral of the story is don’t drink tea near computers kids. Its lack of functionality meant I wasn’t able to write a blog update until getting my hands on another, so I suddenly have two and a bit weeks worth of pre-marathon-ness to cover. It is pretty scary to think about how quickly the last fortnight has flown by when there are just eleven weeks left to the BIG LM. So, best not to think about that and just get on with some more training I think!



What can I update you on? Well, hill sprints have entered my life, courtesy of Coach Cotsen. As Mr C ran the London Marathon a few years ago and has been offering me welcome tips based on his real-life experiences I’ve decided upon the nickname. During a late evening training session, Coach C decided upon a starting lamppost at the base of a Cyncoed hill, and one towards the top. The aim of the game was to run up from one to the other as fast as possible, walk down slowly afterwards to recover, and repeat, ten times. It burned, but was fun, and no doubt a great fitness boost. I found myself repeating on the following Wednesday, February 1st, and managed eleven that time. I hope to add an extra rep each week.


On Sunday January 29th I decided to go for a long, slow run, taking in the Cardiff sights and a few photographs along the way. Here they are, mapping my 10.7 mile journey around the city. I felt very entertained by all there was to see, so I’m hoping for even more distraction in London when I’ll be passing heaps of landmarks.

1. The Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, during the Britain's Got Talent Auditions

2. I ran over the Cardiff Bay barrage, planning to head to Penarth but the bridge was up so I reversed my route instead!

3. Next section : along the Taff Embankment, past the Millennium Stadium (one of my favourite parts of the city) into Bute Park.


4. Past the RWCMD, onto Cathays Park (pictured, and looks amazing at night!) back to Roath via Cathays.
Oh, and another noteworthy feature of my recent running has been THE NIPPLE SPLINTERING COLD. My method of encouraging myself out of bed and out the door? Pre and post running hot showers. But in spite of my shower trick, the cold has disrupted my training a bit. I’d planned a long valleys run when I went home for my dad’s birthday last weekend which had to be cancelled as the pavements were too icy, so I went to the gym instead. However, a 9 mile run early on snowy Saturday felt great and it was quite entertaining to see the seagulls skating on the frozen Roath park lake. And, whilst leaving my cold flat to run in the cold weather might initially be a wrench, once I'm out I love it. Cold weather running beats hot any day for its invigorating effects, plus it makes me less beetrooty looking than when I'm outdoors in the sunshine.

My shins hurt as I type – no connection between the two - but as such, I’m going to make more of an effort to fit in yoga and swimming to increase my stretching and promote muscle soothing. I’m also being kneaded by a chiropractor which is hopefully helping but not very soothing! I may give physio a try soon. Any other suggestions gratefully recieved.

This weekend I plan to find a new long route, possibly via an early morning run along the Swansea seafront into Mumbles. I will continue to follow this man’s super motivational tweets. And I will also continue to reward my efforts now and again with incentive such as this white chocolate panna cotta.

Worth a month of cold weather runs! 





Saturday, 21 January 2012

Marathon Countdown - Week 13


It is not yet 6am on a Saturday morning in January and the wind is whipping outside, bending trees and howling around houses. It is contrastingly calm and cwtchily warm in my flat, in my bed. But there is nowhere I’d rather be in this moment than in my trainers, rain in face, running against said whipping wind. I wake up thinking about running. My legs tell me to move. Is that addiction? You might suggest love. Either way, that was yesterday morning, and that's what I talk about when I talk about running.

In past weeks and months I’ve talked about running in very different ways. Prior to Cardiff’s October half marathon I suddenly became terrified of running. An activity I had always undertaken alone would need to be carried out amongst crowds of thousands. That scared me. I thought these things:

  1. I’ll come last
  2. I’ll fall over
  3. I’ll come last and fall over and everyone will laugh.
Inner Running by Donald Porter calmed me, a book I am becoming evangelical about. Donald Porter, if you start a religion, I will become an Inner Running nun. I did not come last, I did not fall over, if anyone laughed at me I did not see them. I loved taking part in the half marathon. I ran fear-free again, albeit with a post-race limp.

Then December arrived. I had a bit of chiropractic treatment, my injuries healed and running felt good. It was, however, the month of a thousand Christmas parties and an assignment deadline so I didn’t get to run as much as I’d have liked. Still, the runs I did complete were great, particularly the early Christmas morning one when the streets were silent and still, full of expectation for the day ahead. And running over Christmas massively alleviates the usual exploding-with-chocolate feeling.

The prettiest picture I have of Bute Park. Not on a Park Run day admittedly.
And now it’s January. I’ve started attending Cardiff’s Park Run. It’s a weekly event which is part of a national not for profit organisation that does what it says on the website. You go to a park (Bute in my case) and run a timed 5k. I experienced the coming-last-and/or-falling-over nerves before my first, but once again my paranoid premonitions weren’t realised and I now love it. Lots of friends old and new attend, and it’s a wonderful way to wake up to the weekend, if a little finger-freezing at the moment!

So, today (Sunday January 22nd) marks thirteen weeks until THE BIG DAY when I’ll be running the London Marathon. INSERT FILTHY SWEAR WORDS OF PANIC HERE

Just joking, I'm calm.

I’ve had the last week off running due to being ill. I have Old?! Crohn’s Disease which flares up now and again, and I’d have made things worse by running this week. Instead I rested and my trainers are still waiting faithfully by the front door. I feel loads better and can’t wait to start ‘proper’ training. From here on in I’m aiming for five times a week with a mix of long runs, sprints, hills and slow jogs. I’ll also mix in some swimming, maybe a bit of yoga, lots of healthy foods and big sleeps. There’s also the small matter of fundraising and completing another masters module during the thirteen weeks ahead. But I have strategies in place, friends, family and the folks in Tenovus supporting so I know I’ll get there. And compared to the situations faced by the people I'm raising funds for, what I'll go through in the coming months will be a breeze.

I’ll be blogging at least once a week during my marathon countdown. If you’re following my stories and thoughts – thank you! I've gotten a bit behind in my running log this month, but will resume asap. If you’d like to donate as part of my fundraising campaign you can do so 
here


Bring. It. On.




Monday, 2 January 2012

Emet

A new story for the new year...


It is 2pm.
You are drunk.
You are wearing a skirt.
The stripper is not wearing a skirt.

Today’s light is the colour of anaemic sunshine, and the remnants of countless smoked cigarettes appear to shade the sky. The Square’s medieval structures and cobbled streets hold an air of disdain, their moodiness tangible all around. From on high, The National Museum looms imposingly, the city’s guardian, remembering, observing, disapproving. A million ghosts jar with a thousand tourists.
Emet wraps the scarf tighter around his neck and unties the ear flaps of his hat. Sat on a wooden bench, he wiggles his legs up and down on top of glove-less hands, small bones chilled by November winds. He watches goose bumps form on hairy white legs belonging to a man in a pink tutu. The man’s knees tremble.

It is 6pm.
You are drunk.
You are eating a mustard smothered sausage from a stand.
You shout yes to the salesperson's offer of hot wine.


Dusk dissolves the light into a shady version of itself. A square removed; crowds of camera clad people gaze up at a clock tower. The hour strikes and their cameras click, capturing rickety disappointment. Gothic peaks pierce inky expanse, their spot-lit bodies projecting faint pools of light down onto cold stone.

The little boy visits the shop to pick up some chocolate bars. The weathered Loew's Store sign hangs above the doorway, translated for tourists. His dad insists on the big coat and gloves. Less mobile but cosy, and later he finds a paper wrapped pastry in the left pocket. Leaning against a market stall he eats whilst people watching, his gaze settling on a slowly assembling tour group. The tutu-clad man is amongst them, swaying and singing, his yells crushing the quieter, hushed voices all around. He has a can of cider in hand. His friends laugh as he bumps into scarf wrapped locals struggling to hurry past. Emet’s eyes narrow. His shoulders become rigid.


It is 8pm.
You are drunk.
You are staggering through a walking tour of the city's Jewish Quarter.
You need the toilet but there are no bars around. You find a quiet spot.


Pallid grey stones tangle with pallid grey stones in an undulating labyrinth of memorial. The headboards of the dead rest above the city's ground level, raised high by residents' grandfathers and grandmothers and their grandmothers and grandfathers. The tour guide has led the group to the Jewish Sector entrance, where a giant stone statue stands. Emet watches. He can hear her words in the distance, and recites along in whispered tones. He can also see the man, who has fallen away from the group, his friends too drunk to notice, the guide counting on her young friend.

Emet tastes bile in his mouth as he watches the man urinate in the shadows, desecrating the deceased. He grits his teeth and begins to whisper again, a different recital this time, his own name, over and over, over, and over, over and over.


It is 9pm.
You are sober.
A gargantuan shadow looms over you, blackening even the darkness.
You feel searing pain in your head. Nobody can hear your screams.


The group gather patiently around the guide to hear the end of tour tale, oblivious to nearby events.
In the 16th century, during the reign of Rudolf II, an old man named Rabbi Judah Loew lived in Prague. It was a time when the city's Jewish people lived in fear of attack. Rabbi Loew decided to protect the Jews by creating the Golem, a giant who, according to the Cabala, could be made of clay from the banks of the Vltava. The Golem was built following prescribed rituals, the Rabbi bringing him to life by reciting a special incantation in Hebrew. The word "emet", meaning "truth", was placed on the Golem's forehead.
The Golem obeyed the Rabbi's every order, protecting the people of the Jewish Ghetto. However, as he grew bigger, he became violent, killing non-Jews and spreading fear. Violence against the Jews was promised to stop if the Golem was destroyed, to which Rabbi Loew agreed. By removing the first letter from the word "emet", and changing to "met" - meaning "death" - life was taken out of the Golem.
But the story does not end there. Rabbi Loew's son, according to legend, brought the golem back to life some years later, and it is rumoured he is still protecting Prague today...”

Only the little boy, listening from afar as he always does, notices the satisfied glint in the tour guide's eye.