Monday, 4 May 2009

The One With Peter. And Whasername...

My full report on the London Marathon is due out any week now... just as soon as I find the energy to lift the medal from around my neck and stand up straight again. Damn this swine flu. Meantime, enjoy this extract from the latest edition of New! magazine (the exclamation mark presumably reflecting the publisher's amazement that anyone bought it) which features celebrities and the macap lives they lead. Here we have Peter (?) and Katie (?) and the reassuring headline that Katie's legs will get thin again. Phew... can't you just hear Morgan Freeman saying this in the movie version in the same calm manner he used at the end of 'Deep Impact' to reassure us that "the oceans will receed"? But more important than that, check out my wee sister Rona in the photo at the bottom, flicking the Vs at the celebs as she sprints past. Superb!


Sunday, 26 April 2009

The One With The Finishing Time

STOP PRESS... Marathon completed in 5:56:28 (hours, mins & secs... NOT days)... STOP... Wee sister Rona finishes in awesome 4:52:36... STOP... Body still in one piece, just... STOP... Never, EVER doing anything like this again, EVER!... STOP... then again...?!?

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The One With The Global Position Thingy

In an hour’s time I’m heading to the airport to fly to London on a jet plane. My bags are packed, I’m ready to go and quite frankly I am ever so slightly sh#tting myself. On the plus side though, all my immediate family are going to be there, even my wee-est brother Keithy who’s skipping parole and jumping (bail) on a flight from Texas in order to feed me cut-up Mars bars every 5 miles or so on Sunday.

If you’d like to watch out for me on television, my running number is 41484 and I’ll be the one in the maroon running vest and white shorts. And knees pads. Near the back. Beside the guy in the deep sea diving suit. But you know that already. I’ve tried to find out whether there’s some kind of fancy on-line GPS tracking system you can use to tell whether I go “off the grid” and jump on the tube instead, but it all seems to be connected to Adidas’s text update service through the website below and that’s all far too complicated for me to research further, much less understand.

http://marathon.mhub3.net/

With luck, I’ll get back on-line on Sunday evening with news of the outcome. Either that or I’ll buy an iPhone and post an update from my hospital bed. Meantime, many thanks to Alasdair & Sheena, Ken & Christine, Linda, Kate and Kirsty for their kind sponsorship in the last few days, it’s very much appreciated. Here goes nothin'...

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The One With A Flock Of Seagulls

It’s been a tortuous week; mentally, far more than physically. I can only recall two decent nights worth of sleep in the last nine despite all manner of sedative drugs, not to mention extra-fluffy pyjamas. Here's what happened last week...

Saturday 11/04 & Sunday 12/04: Back in the pool both days for more “running”, “walking”, “cycling”, “flapping”, “flailing”, and assorted “near-drownings”. Feel like an idiot walking up and down the pool while pensioners glide by me with effortless front crawls. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn the bright orange, blow-up armbands? Or the flowery bathing cap?

Monday 13/04: Like Rocky after getting hammered by Clubber Lang and watching old Mickey die, I return timidly to the gym this evening unsure whether my body can take any of the exertions it needs and uncertain whether my mind has the will to even try. Strap on the knee supports and get back on the bike (literally) for some low impact cycling, followed by some treadmill “power” walking, followed by some cross-training, followed by some ice cream.

Tuesday 14/04: Long, sh#tty day back at work is not helped when my knees become very sore in the afternoon after last night’s exercise. And an even more exhausting night follows watching Liverpool and Chelsea fight out a 4-4 draw. Knackered.

Wednesday 15/04: Back in the pool for more of the same as before. But without the armbands. Or cap.

Thursday 16/04: Back to the gym for more of the same as before. But without the knee supports. Apparently it will help build the strength in my knees quicker if I don’t wear them, says my gym instructor Leann. Or wreck them quicker if I push too hard, says one of the 138 conflicting voices in my head.

Friday 17/04: “Working” from home today because I have another appointment this afternoon with my Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapist & Clinical Aromatherapist, or “Helen”, as I like to call her. She does her stuff and says very optimistic things about my chances of running this weekend and then makes me a cup of tea. As I drive home, I finally decide that one way or another I will be lining up at the start for the London Marathon on April 26th. All thoughts of a target time of five hours have disappeared and I’m at peace with the fact that if I have to walk the entire 26.2 miles then so be it. It’s not how I envisaged or wanted it to unfold but for all sorts of reasons I need to complete this thing. More importantly, I want to complete this thing. There… it’s decided.

Saturday 17/04: I need to try running this weekend so in an attempt to rediscover some nostalgic mojo, I drive to my old home town of Falkirk to soak up the atmosphere of its big public park where I used to go running and play mini golf when I was young. Power walking around the grass is certainly easier on the feet and legs but I’m too sh#t scared to break into a run. Have an ice cream to calm my anxiety… it never fails to help.

Sunday 18/04: Last weekend I made the mistake of watching a film called ‘Unbreakable’ which I’d taped (‘taped’, how quaint) ages ago. If you’ve never seen it, it was made by the same guy who made that one about the kid who could see dead people and like that one, it also stars Bruce Willis, but this time he’s not a psychiatrist who’s actually – Plot Spoiler Alert - dead.

Anyway, in ‘Unbreakable’, Samuel L Jackson plays a weird character who has some kind of brittle bone syndrome and in one particularly horrific scene, the weight of his unfeasibly large afro hairstyle makes him keel over and fall down a flight of stairs shattering almost every bone in his body. When I watched it, I realised it was exactly what I’ve been envisaging will happen if I ever try running again. With a large afro.

But I can’t put if off any longer so today I went out and started with half an hour of walking in the glorious sunshine. Returned to the house to collect some juice and do some stretching and then stood outside my house for what seemed like hours trying to…

a) remember how to run, and

b) pluck up the courage to start.

When I finally begin, it feels like I’m trying to run without having my feet touch the ground but every contact I make with the concrete sets off one of the 138 screaming voices in my head… “What. The. F#ck. Do. You. Think. You. Are. Doing. I. Thought. We. Had. Agreed. That. This. Was. All. A. Big. Mis… WARNING. WARNING. Six. Inch. Kerb. Ahead. Pull. Parachute. Cord. Now. Pull. PULL.”

Anyway, I manage a couple of miles in a sort of stop-start, run-walk fashion, which I know doesn’t sound a lot, but it felt very good to me. I RAN.

Favourite iPod moment of the day was Hothouse Flowers singing ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. I loved this band twenty odd years ago (Twenty?!? WTF?) and I’d quite like it if this is the song that’s playing when I cross the finish line next week.

This may be the last time I write here before the marathon next Sunday. If you’re trying to spot me on television, I’ll be the one in the maroon running vest at the back beside the guy in the deep sea diving suit. Either that or I’ll follow the advice of a friend who last week offered the helpful suggestion, “If your knees are f#cked and you’re gonna just walk it, you might as well dress up in a chicken suit.” Thanks pal.

It only remains for me to say a very big thank you to Murray & Helene, Linda & Kenny, ‘Amish & Vanda, John & Anita, Rachel, Kathryn, Mer (all three ladies in wonderful TX), Marc (the cousin), Mark (the published author), Karen, Alison, Steve, Stuart and Val for their kind and generous sponsorship in the last few weeks.

www.justgiving.com/neilsutherland

Friday, 10 April 2009

The One With A Proper Sport

It’s Good Friday, it’s a beautiful calm, mild day with hazy sunshine and I’m due to be playing golf in Gullane at 9am this morning. I’ve hummed and hawed all week as to whether the combination of my twisting (but majestic) golf swing and walking five miles up and down hills will have a negative impact on my knees. But in the end I decide to wear my running tights and knee supports under my trousers and head out to the links to meet good friends Hawaii and Dave.

Three and a half hours later I’ve recorded seventeen pars and one bogey for a seemingly effortless 72. Golf is such a great game… what the f#ck am I doing trying to run a marathon?

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The One In The Pool

It’s been seven days since I last ventured out for a run and although my knees feel more stable now when I walk, I’m still too scared to inflict any heavier impact upon them. So early this morning I slipped into my skimpy Speedos and headed to the local swimming pool for what can best be described as "a moistening". Because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s swimming.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I can’t swim. In fact, if you ever find yourself flailing in the shallow end and you’re less than ten feet away from the side of the pool, I will not hesitate to descend the pool steps in a cautious manner taking care not to slip and crack my head open and then reach out my arms to point you in the direction of safety. Any more than ten feet, I’ll throw you a ring.

I just find swimming the most boring (and tiring) activity ever conceived. There’s the water for one thing… it gets everywhere. Luckily though, I hadn’t gone to the swimming pool today to swim; I had gone to “run”… or at the very least, “walk”, up and down the length of the pool for half an hour with a little additional “cycling” throw in for good measure. It didn’t make me feel like I’d made any inroads into all the running I’ve missed in the last week or so but doing something must be better than doing nothing, right?

Incidentally, I noticed from the updated information poster by the side of the pool that “running” and “bombing” are still very much frowned upon in the public swimming arena. However, there was no mention at all of “heavy petting” so I… um... never mind...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The One With The Second Opinion. And The Third.

This morning I went to see an old friend who gives massages. To be fair, she’s actually a Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapist & Clinical Aromatherapist which means that although I usually go home afterwards feeling like I’ve had a good “going over”, I sure do smell pretty.

As usual when I arrived, she told me to take off my clothes but unusually, she then invited a friend to join us. Struggling to stifle a broad grin, I expected a flurry of camera phones to appear but it turned out her friend was a physiotherapist who’d been told of my knee trauma so they both examined my lower back closely and decided the problem had definitely originated there as a “soft tissue” issue. You see, the back bone is apparently connected to the hip bone and the hip bone’s connected to the *breath* thigh bone and so on and so forth, all the way to the knees and toes, knees and toes.

Anyway, they reckoned I shouldn’t have had the steroids shots yesterday adding more fluid to already fluid-filled knees (also, I don’t think they liked the new breasts) but I suppressed the urge to open my flesh with a scalpel to see what’s really going on and instead managed to lie back quietly for an hour while experienced hands tried to fix me.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The One Where I Was Asked To Cough. Twice.

In an effort to combat the inflammation caused by a build up of fluid and grinding cartilage, an orthopaedic surgeon stuck a needle into my left knee twice this morning to give me two steroid shots. I’m not sure if I’ll ever run again but my new breasts sure look pretty.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The One With The Forrest Gumps

When I wrote the title for this post on Tuesday evening, I was all set to relay the story of how I went shopping for knee supports on Monday. I was going to take a picture of me wearing them or manufacture a ‘hilarious’ image of me strapped into the Forrest Gump leg braces. I was going to joke about how the most horrifying physical challenge for all marathon runners is CROSSING A F#CKING ROAD because not only do you have to execute a ridiculously intricate tippy-toe stepping movement that wouldn’t look out of place in a comedy Riverdance routine as you twist round to see if there are any cars coming, but when you get to the other side you have to constantly chop and adjust your stride pattern like a sh#t-scared showjumping horse approaching the puissance wall as you contemplate mounting the monumental obstacle of the SIX INCH KERB.

But now it’s Friday evening and there’s something wrong with my knees; my left knee in particular which ‘popped’ painfully last night as I was slowing down at the conclusion of a five-mile run. Both knees have since been iced, elevated, compressed, rested and plunged into hot baths and although there’s no obvious swelling, I couldn’t walk today without a constant grinding and crunching seemingly taking place behind the kneecaps on every step.

So now I’m anxious and feeling desperate, especially after just completing the online ‘How Prepared Are You To Do The Marathon In 3 Weeks Time’ assessment questionnaire to discover that I’m officially rated as “sh#tting myself”. Every time I get an email from Just Giving to tell me that another kind and generous person has made a donation to my fundraising effort, I cringe at the prospect of not living up to the responsibility. I feel like I want to write to anyone that hasn’t yet sponsored me to say, ‘save your money, save yourselves, turn around and run… run like the wind’. It actually crossed my mind today to see if I could transfer to the wheelchair race instead.

But I have hope.
I re-read the inspirational words on my wee sister Rona’s fundraising page and have reinforced to myself that not completing 26.2 miles on April 26th is simply not an option.
I have been in touch with various friends and acquaintances that have either had knee problems or are medically trained to give opinions.
I have an outside chance (thank you Carol) at getting an emergency appointment with a renowned sports physiotherapist in Edinburgh next week.
I just need a solution to get me to the finish line in three weeks time.
I will pay any price, financial or otherwise, to make this happen.
I have done too much to give up.

If you read this and have any idea, notion, suggestion or experience that you think might contribute to the solution I need, please let me know with a comment, text, phone call, smoke signal, semaphore flags, Morse code, carrier pigeon, two tin cans and a piece of string… WHATEVER!

Or you could email me at neil_sutherlandAThotmail.com

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The One That Wasn't Nearly Enough

My wee brother Keith called me today to inform me that he was on his way out to the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Irving Texas, just north west of Dallas. Oh, and he was also concerned that "the blog has gone cold". To discover the reason for that, we have to go back seven long days… *..cue Scooby Doo squiggly screen..*

Last Sunday when I got home from St. Andrews, I started to feel a bit queasy and the next morning when I got up at 5am to catch a flight to London, I could barely move my aching bones after a night of feverish sleep in sweat-soaked sheets. (I’m going to spare you descriptions of other bodily excretions that took place in a different room of the house.) This condition might have been acceptable if I’d had company but I didn’t so the rest of my week consisted of maximum bathing, minimum shaving, drinking lots of water and Lem-Sip Max Strength, eating a little food, laundering some bed linen, “working” from home, more sleep than I’ve had in what seems like a decade and most alarming of all, absolutely no running whatsoever.

I also developed what I have now officially patented as my ‘worried and concerned face’™ such was the anxiety over not being able to get out the house, far less put on my running shoes. In truth, I did venture out to the gym late on Friday evening but had to stop after half an hour when pixies came floating out of my nose and tried to trip me off the treadmill with a series of mesmerising dance moves and punches to my face. Either that or my legs gave way and I fell over.

And so to my ‘long run’ today. I was supposed to do 16 miles. I reckon I managed 11 at most in the two hours and 6 minutes that I was out. Not nearly enough. By the time Emmylou appeared on my iPod singing ‘Deeper Well’ – “thought I’d died and gone to hell, looking for the water from a deeper well” – I knew exactly how she felt. So if anyone happens to be passing and can hear my shouts from far below in the dark, I’d be obliged if you could throw me a rope. Thank you.

Meantime, let me dwell on more positive things and say a very big thank you to Rona, Douglas, Sue, Bruce, Linda, Evie, Kenny Y, Heather, Elaine and Marshall for their kind and generous sponsorship over the last four weeks.

There’s only four days to go now until World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd and only four weeks to go until the Flora London Marathon itself. If you’d like to make a donation to this extremely worthwhile cause, and thereby avoid receiving a nagging email from me, you can do so by going to…

www.justgiving.com/neilsutherland

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The One In St. Andrews

The weeks seem to be passing quite quickly now. Too quickly perhaps. Because of the length and duration of the long runs at the weekend, the ones during the week seem straightforward in comparison. Too straightforward perhaps? On Tuesday this week, my training plan said “40 minutes, brisk” and for the first time ever I actually felt I completed it at a tempo a notch or two higher than my usual pedestrian (but graceful and biomechanically efficient) pace.

But all I seem to do at the moment is work, run, eat and sleep (and not very soundly at that) and have found myself putting off seeing people until these next five weeks are complete. At which time I can continue to avoid them by rediscovering golf.

However this weekend is different because it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow so I’ve come to St. Andrews to visit my mammy. I did my long run late this afternoon which I’m hoping will mean I get a long, restful sleep tonight but I’ll need to be careful not to leave wet towels and clothes lying all over the floor in case my Mum accuses me of treating the family home like a hotel… I’d hate to have to phone down to my Dad at reception and complain about the maid’s attitude again.

Anyway, the long run was tiring but enjoyable on yet another gorgeous, cloudless day. For anyone familiar with the area, I parked my car beside the Old Course Hotel and ran all the way out to Leuchars, then back to the car to pick up some more Powerade and the most disgusting honey ‘energy gel’ ever concocted, then all the way through St. Andrews past the East Sands to the caravan park on the hill and then back to the car, some 14.5 – 15 miles in total.

Before I left home this morning I charged up my little iPod Shuffle and allowed iTunes a free reign to reload it with whatever it wanted. As usual, it selected a disproportionate number of hits from its (extensive and slightly disturbing) collection of West End musicals… how the hell did the Colonel Hathi’s March – “in da militawy style” – from The Jungle Book get in there? But my favourite iPod moment by far today was REM singing “Fall On Me”. Ages since I’ve heard this. And bring back MTV’s Unplugged.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The One With A Real Half Marathon

It’s the end of week 10 of the 16-week training plan. These next four weekends are going to be hell; a real dark and tough time within the latter part of the plan which will witness the longest training runs and stretch every mental and physical sinew to breaking point; a time to which we marathon runners refer simply as “the four real dark, tough, sinewy-stretchy, pointy-breaky, physical weekends of mental hell”.

Today I should be running 13 miles (followed by 15, 17 and 19 on the next three weekends) so it’s fortuitous, accidental even, that two days ago I came across a poster advertising today’s Meadows Marathon taking place in Edinburgh. Arranged and managed by students of Edinburgh University (so imagine the slick, efficient, organisational skills on show in Bristo Square early on a Sunday morning) the name’s a bit confusing because although it’s being held around The Meadows in Edinburgh, it’s only a half-marathon.

But it’s exactly what I need… a chance to see what it’s like to run with other people while the thronging crowds cheer you heartily all the way round and hot, scantily-clad students smeared in Flora are on hand at every water station to provide resuscitation in all its forms. Alas, not everything turns out to be exactly the same as I’ve fantasised London to be come April. The crowds were thin on the ground for one thing. And I couldn’t believe it wasn’t Flora. But it was certainly an experience running with other people.

I say ‘running with’ but I got the shock of my life when the starting gun went off and almost everyone seemed to shoot off at a sprint leaving me towards the back of the pack, languishing behind four guys carrying large and heavy-looking Loch Ness Monster costumes on their backs.

The ‘race’ consisted of seven and a half laps round The Meadows and right from the start one thing became clear: running ‘laps’ is mind-numbing, delusion-inducing, soul destroying stuff…

Neil (quietly to himself): “Right, there’s that same gnarly-looking tree again. I must’ve passed it a few times now. Only one more lap to go?”
Neil (to himself, but rather more strenuously): “Think again numbnuts, this is only lap 2.”
Neil (out loud): “F##########CCCCCKKKKK!!!!!”

However, one advantage of running seven and a half laps is that at some point you get to see almost every other person running in the race… mainly because they keep lapping you – the winner lapped me three times! But I was heartened by this because while my running style is the very definition of sleek, energy-saving, biomechanical efficiency, most other people looked, if not quite like idiots, then very akin to Phoebe and Rachel. Sure, they’re quick and very fit and probably powering their way to new personal best times but the crooked feet and the flailing ankles and the weird tilting and the stubby little t-rex arms are not going to rack up many style points in my book. Because we all know style points are the most important thing in running marathons, right?

RIGHT?

Anyway, overall I enjoyed the experience and finished the run just a couple of minutes outside my target time of two and a half hours. And I beat the Loch Ness Monster. Only three more real dark, tough, sinewy-stretchy, pointy-breaky, physical weekends of mental hell to go now. Oh, and then the 26 mile one...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The One With The Running Vest

Today my official running vest arrived in the post from the NAS – pretty, isn’t it? – and in an instant, made this whole marathon experience more real than it’s ever been up to this point. Now, finally, I can add vivid colour to the image in my mind of me crossing the finishing line, arms outstretched as I try and dig my nails into the concrete and pull my broken and prostrate body inch by agonising inch towards its final resting place.

Last year’s NAS vest was light blue in colour but I much prefer this one because it’s almost the same as the basketball strip I wore with great success in High School, that being the last time I could run for more than 20 minutes. I’m presuming my official race number will be pinned on underneath the wording but I’m a little concerned that there might not be enough room towards the top to iron on “Lightning Boy Woo! Hoo!”, my official race moniker. We’ll see…

Monday, 9 March 2009

The One With The Top Tip

When training for your first ever marathon, NEVER do your weekly long run on a Monday evening in March after getting home from a shitty day at work and thinking that it looks quite nice outside but forgetting how cold it gets as soon as the sun goes down and timing that exact moment for when you happen to be at the furthest point from your warm home and even warmer bubble bath of scented lavender and ylang ylang.

Got it?

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The One With The Running Guilt

Still trying to get this blog up to date... Still trying to catch up on sleep... Still the one I run to, the one that I belong to... jeez, Shania, where'd you come from?

Meantime, if you ever want to leave an encouraging comment here – “run faster fat boy”, or something - I've removed the Krypton Factor-like word verification thingy so it should now be easy to do…


It had been my tentative plan to try and do this weekend’s long run late yesterday afternoon so that I could go to bed afterwards and finally get a decent night’s sleep. But four hours in the office yesterday morning removed all motivation to do anything other than lie on the couch and eat ice cream.

This morning when I woke up, there was a blizzard blowing outside – actual snow and winds, hurricanes even – and it continued for most of the day, so to cut a not-so-very long story even shorter, I didn’t get out today to run the 140 minutes that my training plan seemed to be screaming at me all day… “Only two things come from L’lthgow BOY…

However, once the roads were clear of snow, I went to the gym for an hour late in the afternoon and found it absolutely packed with anxious people who also hadn’t made it outside for a run today. Sitting at home afterwards without the usual Sunday feelings of aching muscles, creaking bones and desperate, debilitating tiredness left me slightly guilty and uneasy that I’d gone ‘off the reservation’ as far as the training plan was concerned.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the same blind hysterical panic associated with something serious, such as a new toilet roll being put on with the flappy bit DOWN THE BACK or the milk being poured into a cup BEFORE THE TEA, but all the same, it wasn’t the most pleasant of sensations.

Friday, 6 March 2009

The One With The Dressing Down

Every Friday in the office we get to ‘dress down’; an enjoyable ritual whereby we’re allowed to wear ‘casual’ clothing (i.e. clothing that’s perfectly free to see other people, no questions asked) and in return we throw a few coins into buckets placed strategically at the front door which eventually get donated to the company’s nominated charity.

However staff members undertaking private charity fundraising are allowed to reserve certain Fridays in order to collect the ‘casual’ money for their own particular charity. Four months ago I reserved today for just such an effort which meant that at 7am this morning, I was standing in the reception area of the office rattling my fundraising tin wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a big beaming smile. Oh, and my running shoes. And socks. And a National Autistic Society t-shirt.

My marketing ‘team’ had placed posters around the office over the past few days advertising the event which, in an effort to ensure maximum attendance, excitement and participation, had suggested the shorts I would exhibit this morning would be, to say the least, of the ‘snug’ variety. Alas.. *cough*.. they weren’t. But hey, marketing works (‘I’m Lovin’ It’?) and the people turned up and only a few (men mainly, wtf?) were disappointed with the ‘exhibition’. When I added up the cash from all the buckets and tins at the end of the day, I’d made £502.55, a fantastic result.

Clearly, this is not the occasion to make observations about the strategies people adopt to give money to charity (or not, as the case may be) but standing at the front door for three hours this morning was a fascinating insight into all the intricacies of human behaviour. So let me just say a very big thank you to everyone who made a donation today, especially Jackie, Tom, Ruth, Big Kenny, John and the others who gave hard-earned notes rather than coins. A special thank you too to Morv for the marketing, the tin-rattling, the coffee and the roll and sausage with potato scone (hey.. I’m ‘carb-loading’, okay?) and to Jamie and Eric who turned up to shake theirs also. Tins, that is.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The One With The Gym Review

Last Saturday morning I went to the gym for the first time in about three weeks and when I put my magic key into the machine thingy to ‘check-in’, there were a bunch of messages from my fitness instructor Leann asking me to make an appointment with her ‘asap’. The urgency of her tone made me think at first that perhaps she’d seen me having a fly smoke round the back of the five-a-side pitches and I was now being summoned to her office so she could ask me what the hell someone like me, with all that potential, had been thinking and didn’t I know that when she inevitably had to call my parents to break the news, it would hurt her far more than it would me?

But then I remembered I haven’t had a fly smoke since January 3rd so maybe I wasn’t being reprimanded after all and instead, had picked up a monthly gym accolade… February’s Most ‘Distinctive’ Treadmill Running Style (Seniors). So I made an appointment for this evening and jogged the 2.6 miles to the leisure centre to find out.

Amazingly, it turned out to be neither of these scenarios. Although Leann explained that she just wanted to review the original exercise plan and amend if necessary, I think I detected some relief in her eyes that I was actually still alive and my three week absence was not the result of keeling over at home with an aneurism after stretching to reach the remote control.

So now I have the same exercise routine as before but with all the numbers increased slightly so that I can go faster and stronger for longer… or some such thing. Favourite iPod moment as I ran the 2.6 miles home was Neil Finn singing “She Will Have Her Way”.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The One With The Scottish Rain

After last Sunday’s half marathon, the descriptor for today’s long run – “120 mins comfortable pace” – seems, on paper at least, like a bit of a walk in the park. But when you take it off the paper and put it in the discreet back pocket of your running ‘tights’, alongside the ‘special’ black and red jelly babies (oh, I haven’t told you about the jelly babies yet, have I?), and then go outside to face the elements, it becomes less of a walk in the park and more of a two-hour slog in the pissin’ Scottish rain.

Actually, that’s not quite true. It did rain while I was running for the first time since the ‘Toy Story 2 episode’ but only for about half an hour at the start and only when I was running with the force 10 ‘breeze’ at my back. Thankfully, all during that first half hour, my little green iPod shuffle served up, in what I can only assume was a tribute to Friday night’s gig extravaganza by The Signals, a right plethora of Scottish-based rock and pop gems including, but not limited to, the Kevin McDermott Orchestra, Del Amitri, Danny Wilson, Hipsway and the Allan Hendry Band. Awesome.

I spent most of today’s run on the path alongside the Union Canal, which passes through my town on its way from somewhere in the west, all the way to a noisy, overpriced bar/'bistro' in Edinburgh. I'd calculated that canals rarely run uphill or down so changes in elevation, and the resultant agonising pain in my calves and shins, would be kept to an absolute minimum. What I didn’t count on though was the rough terrain of the path where jaggy stones would stab me through the soles of my shoes and slight muddy patches would become barely leapable Red Sea-like puddles after a rain shower. Not to mention the mad cyclists and the fighting dogs who both almost sent me headlong into the murky waters of the canal at different points. And me without my crèche-boy water wings too. Never again.

However, at least I didn’t suffer last week’s little niggling injury again. The day after the half marathon run, I was in the shower and noticed that my left nipple was… um… ‘crusty’ is probably too strong an adjective but chafing-wise, it was certainly ‘medium to well done’. So this morning to counteract this, I lifted the Vaseline jar off the bedside table and headed into the bathroom to begin the Sunday ritual.

Generous amounts were, as always, applied to the inner thighs and massaged well into the muscles for effortless, frictionless movement. A second dosage, more subtle in quantity, was then added to the tops of the inner thighs, moving up slowly, gently, respectfully to allow the lower buttocks to receive their fair share of the ‘oiling’.

It’s at this point on most Sundays that the rubbing stops and the running begins but this morning I returned to the Vaseline jar for a third scoop. As I manipulated the substance delicately around my chest ensuring maximum nipple-lubing, a funky guitar soundtrack kicked up in the background, wah-wah peddle to the fore and all the way up to 11, and my door bell rang unexpectedly. To my surprise, a beautiful girl stood on the front step wearing denim shorts and steel-capped boots, plaid shirt tied up at the front and hands resting gently on each side where her well-laden toolbelt crossed her magnificent hips.

“Hey baby, I hear you got some plumbin’ needin’ seein’ to,” she whispered in a barely audible whisper.

I don’t remember what I said in reply because the next thing I knew it was four hours later and I could barely walk. Still, I’m sure that means I had a great workout.

Favourite iPod moment of the day was The Silencers singing ‘Scottish Rain’. If The Signals had videoed Friday night’s gig, it would’ve looked a lot like this.

Oh and before I forget, a big thank you to Suzanne, Allison and Soapy for their kind and generous donations to my fundraising efforts during the last seven days.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The One With The Half Marathon

It’s the end of week 7 (of 16) of my training plan and today it says, rather ominously, “Half Marathon (13.1 miles) Slow, plus walk warm-up and cool-down”. I love how they include the distance just in case there’s the tiniest semblance of doubt as to JUST HOW FRICKIN’ FAR that is for a 44 year-old ex-smoker who used to consider crossing the living room to collect the remote control from the other sofa “a fair hike.”

So yesterday I went out in the car and found myself a 13.1 mile route and this morning, on yet another cloudless, beautiful Sunday, I drove to the approximate seven mile mark and stashed some Powerade and a young Thai masseuse for the inevitable “support and supplements” my body would require. Long story short, I managed to complete the half marathon distance but was initially a bit disappointed with the time. Like most things in life though, there are pros and cons to consider when reflection takes place.

Pros
- I completed it.
- I didn't die.
- I felt ten times better after 13.1 miles this week than I did after 11 last week.
- Once I got home, I could walk up the stairs AND back down again for the rest of the day.
- I smashed my non-stop personal best running 95 minutes from the start to the Powerade stop, where I only stopped for a minute to stretch.
- I really only stopped one other time (for 30 seconds to stretch) during the remaining 77 minutes.

Cons
- It took me 2 hours, 52 minutes and 7 seconds to complete. I was hoping for 2 hours 30 minutes.
- Mind you, I was running into a cold, strong wind for at least half the run.
- And there were quite a few hills too.

So all in all, I'm feeling quite happy with the progress especially when I don’t think I’ve ever walked that far before, never mind run. And my favourite musical moment of the day was Simply Red singing 'Stars'... pure class.

All that remains today is for me to thank Shari, Brian, EJ & LB for their kind sponsorship in the last seven days as well as my good pal Andy (how does one say it… ‘obtainer’ of rare, as yet unreleased U2 albums) whose generous donation of Friday night’s poker winnings (still can’t believe I got bombed out with two pairs, Kings and Fours) has pushed the fundraising over the half way mark on the way to my target. Thank you all, it’s very much appreciated.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The One After London

It’s March 15th as I write this and I now have very little clue as to what the hell I was going to say about ‘the one after London’. Probably something about how happy I was to be home, despite London being a wonderful, friendly place where people smile at each other all day on the tube and never look stressed and where all of the potentially lung-strangling smog gets sucked away and disposed of as if by magic so that you feel like you’re walking around all day in a flowery meadow bursting with pushing daisies and dancing unicorns. Yes, I’m pretty sure it was something like that…

Friday, 20 February 2009

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The One At Dawn

Tomorrow I have to go to London for two days for work. This evening I have to go out and rehearse with The Signals. My day’s too busy to go out running at lunchtime so in order to meet the training plan’s requirement for “30 – 35 minutes, steady” I got up at 6am this morning and went out in the dark. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be doing that again.

I’d envisaged waking early, stumbling straight to the fridge, cracking a dozen eggs into a jug, downing them all in one, pulling on my little woolly Rocky hat and jogging into town to sprint up the Town Hall steps, all six of them, before turning triumphantly to face the main street, hands held high in the air as I floated like a butterfly, toe to toe. But of course it was O(h. My. God. It’s. Early.)600 in the morning and freezing cold and pitch black so I couldn’t see a hand in front of my face, never mind the far off Philly skyline.

Think I’ll try the Chariots of Fire run on the West Sands in St. Andrews next time. In the summer. After a long lie.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The One After 11 Miles

You know how they* say that cows can walk up stairs but now down again? I think it’s something to do with their burning desire for a luxury penthouse suite that makes them weak at the knees and then they get vertigo and can’t move, never mind descend. Well that was me today after running for 120 minutes this morning, 10 intervals of 12 minutes with a minute of walking/stretching between each.

I ran to the home of my good friend Donald, sturdy bass player with Falkirk rock legends The Signals who, incidentally, will be getting their rock groove on and bustin’ some moves at Behind The Wall, Melville Street, Falkirk on Friday February 27th from 9:00pm onwards as part of their triumphant 25th anniversary tour. Entry to the gig is free. Smart jeans only. No hoodies. Swooning optional.

Donald lives approximately six miles away from me and I managed to get to his house 62 minutes after setting off which meant only one thing… I was running too fast at the beginning and there was gonna be hell to pay on the way back. Sure enough, I suffered more pain in the last two sessions of 12 minutes than I did the entire 90 minutes of the 1971 League Cup Final when Celtic got humped 4-1 by Partick Thistle Nil. THAT was heartbreaking.

I think I probably ran no more than 11 miles in total today and only just managed to haul myself up the stairs a step at a time and into the shower when I got home. When I emerged all clean and sparkly however, I couldn’t get back down the stairs without sitting on my arse and bumping my way down, such was the stiffness around my knees. But no matter. It was another beautiful day to be out running and Celtic didn’t lose to Rangers in the afternoon and my favourite iPod moment was getting jiggy wid Will Smith so if only unicorns would return to Earth tomorrow sprinkling love potions and prosperity powder which meant I didn’t have to go to London on Wednesday for work, it would be the perfect week.

Until then, let me give my weekly ‘shout-out’ and sincere thanks to Moira, Sandy, Wendy, Laura, Jack, Lucy, Gordon, Nancy, Drew (sans Hardy Boys) and Lesley for their kind donations towards my fundraising efforts in the last seven days. Remember, it’s so easy to see your name on the internet… you could video yourself with a cow in a luxury penthouse suite but it’s probably simpler to go to

www.justgiving.com/neilsutherland

and help a very worthy cause.

Have a great week.

*Stephen Fry, probably…

Friday, 13 February 2009

The One After The Garage

My car (Fox, to his friends) is booked in for a service at a local garage today.
The garage is exactly three miles away on the other side of town.
I’m running back to the house after dropping it off.
The garage doesn’t open until 8:30am.
I have a conference call at 9:00am.
I don’t really do ten-minute miles.
But it’s amazing what the right motivation can do for your performance.
Friday the 13th… pah!
Favourite iPod moment: Bryan Adams – ‘Run To You’

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The One With All The 'Episodes'

In true ‘blog catch-up’ mode, it’s Sunday February 22nd as I write this. Over the last 12 days I’ve really hummed and hawed about writing what would be quite a personal little story about the ‘episodes’. Since my only previous venture into exposing intimate details of my private life amounted to the sensational revelation that I named my previous car Dana and was inconsolable when she left me, I think this would be something of a leap forward.

Last Saturday I was definitely going to do it. The following day after my long run, I posted the title but decided against writing the content. Yesterday, again, I was definitely going to do it. This morning during my half marathon run, I vowed it would be done by the end of the day. And now it’s 9:00pm, the will to write it has left me again so I’m heading off to bed. Which is probably just as well because I’m sure it’s not the kind of thing you really want to read anyway. Is it?

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The One After 10 Miles

Today I ran 10 miles using the cool new technique that I read about last Monday and have been experimenting with all week but which I haven’t actually written about yet because I’m still operating roughly two weeks behind here on getting things up to date. Next weekend things will definitely have caught up. Or perhaps tomorrow if the snow currently falling outside gets worse and I get trapped at home, unable to work remotely because a bear has ventured into town and stolen my work laptop so he can search my hard drive for funny videos with which to entertain his newly woken cubs. They’re a bitch immediately after hibernation.

So meantime let me say a big thank you to Elizabeth, Hugh, Big Dave, Sylvia, Tommy and Scotty Boy for your sponsorship over the past seven days. As always, your kindness and generosity in assisting my fundraising efforts is very much appreciated.

If you too would like to make a donation to support the work of the National Autistic Society, and in doing so be entered for a free prize draw to win a date with me wearing my skin tight running attire, then go to

www.justgiving.com/neilsutherland

Thank you.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The One With More New Shoes

It’s been quite severe winter weather this week across the UK, although thankfully, central Scotland seems to have escaped the worst of it. But its arrival is timely because I’ve been keen to get another pair of running shoes to rotate into the training plan so that my original pair don’t get wet and muddy or wear out too quickly or decide to up and leave me because of all the constant abuse they endure.

I ordered a new pair last week (New Balance 1063s, if you like details) and got an email on Tuesday evening advising they would be delivered yesterday so my boss very kindly let me work from home so I could sign for the package when it arrived. And here they are. Cute huh? Look how they nuzzle into each other while they sleep… aw, just like weary little tiger cubs.

Now I know you’re worrying that from a fashion standpoint, perhaps the yellow flashes may clash uncomfortably with my golden locks of hair and I’ll be subject to much abuse ‘out on the road’ from cooler kids. But let me reassure you that my thick woolly hat looks likely to be covering my head until the Scottish summer arrives on June 29th (departs July 6th) and by then I’ll be fast enough to run away.

Despite yesterday being a rest day on the training plan, I was dead keen to try them out so I went for a steady 20 minute run (2 x 10 minutes with a minute of walking in between) and they felt lovely and cushioned. A very sweet ride.

Favourite iPod moment last evening: Maria Mckee singing ‘I’m Gonna Soothe You

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The One With The Cool New Technique

Last night, before I turned off my bedside lamp and said goodnight to Mr Huggles, I was, as usual, lying in bed reading one of my favourite glossy magazines full of almost-clad women which I so totally buy for the quality, informative articles in the hope that they’ll teach me new tools and techniques to enrich my social and leisure time. Stuff like stamina enhancement (‘pace yourself’), injury prevention (‘look before you leap from the top of the wardrobe’) and ways to show you care (‘mix tapes… always mix tapes’).

I came across an article entitled ‘It’s Good To Walk’ written by former Boston Marathon winner Ambrose Burfoot which, apart from being very funny and puncturing the pompous running attitudes of some, advocated a technique which made perfect sense and clicked immediately with me. Essentially, he was describing a technique which added a little walking to a training run (‘R/W training’) and could even be used during a marathon itself…

Run a mile, walk for a minute, repeat another 25 times. Simple.

I was so enamoured with this cool new technique that I couldn’t wait to try it out this evening. I have a vague idea that I might be running an average of 11.5 minute miles at the moment but since my training plan says ‘50 minutes steady’ for today, I decided to carve it up into 5 sessions of 10 minutes with a minute of walking in between each. And it was great.

The countdown timer on my phone vibrated with an alarm in my skin-tight running pants every 10 minutes (I’ll pause here for a second while you picture that… got it?... no?... how about now?... there you go…) and I used the minute in between to either walk briskly, stretch any muscles that felt tight or drink from a water bottle, something I find quite hard to do when I’m running. By the end I reckoned I’d done almost five miles total distance so will definitely be trying out this technique again in the coming weeks.

Favourite iPod moment of the evening: Doves – ‘Pounding …does exactly what it says on the tin.

Monday, 2 February 2009

The One With Only 12 Weeks To Go

It’s been four weeks since I started my ‘proper’ training.
It’s been three weeks since I started this blog.
It’s been two weeks since I promised this blog would definitely be up to date by the end of the month.
It’s been one week since you looked at me, cocked your head to the side and said “I’m angry”… Who sang that?

Only twelve weeks to go now until the marathon itself and at my current rate of posting, I should get this blog up to date by the middle of April. I would’ve done more last week but I had a busy time visiting Starbucks and catching up with ‘Lost’ & ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and doing a bit of shopping and lunching and helping out Miranda with the babysitting and walking round my upper east side apartment in my underwear staring blankly at this computer screen. TMI?

The writing may be blocked but I’m very pleased with how the fundraising is going and this week I’d like to say a huge thank you to Nathalie, Daragh, Adam, Deej, Janet, Mark, Sharon, Rach, Joanne, Dave, Dora, Captain, Tennille, James, Goose, George, Duey, Mary Kay, Aiden and Lucy who all sponsored me in the last seven days and helped push the total over £1,000.

If you’re feeling left out and would like to see your name on the internet next Monday then all you have to do is go to

www.justgiving.com/neilsutherland

and make a donation, big or small, to support the work of the National Autistic Society. Every little helps.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

The One With All The Chafing

During the week I was in a store called TK Maxx where they’ve come up with the revolutionary retail idea of filling their vast space with as much stock as possible whilst only staffing one checkout. This means that consumers have to queue in a snake-like fashion throughout the aisles, so as to encourage them to supplement their shopping baskets with additional impulse buys… “Oooh look, Ralph Lauren tea coseys, grab ‘em quick.” Genius.

Ordinarily, I might have gently and respectfully enquired as to whether putting additional staff on the tills might not be such a bad idea seeing as how the world's oil is due to run out in 2050 and some of us may struggle to get home if the petrol stations are all shut. But I was in a good mood because I'd just discovered this magnificent running attire (they're not tights, okay?) at 50% off so reasoned that if the worse came to the worst, I could put them on and run home.

As you can see from the photograph they're fairly ‘snug’ so before giving them their first outing today, I debated long and hard as to what underwear would complement them best. Prominent VPL's are obviously a worrying concern for marathon runners so I decided on an equally snug pair of Y-fronts (photo available on request), ‘high cut’ in the thigh for ease of movement.

My movement certainly felt easy as I began the weekend's 100-minute long run, but after 30 minutes or so a certain amount of discomfortureness(iticity?) became evident. Specifically, the hunkiness of my thighs, normally so well protected and encased in boxer-styled underwear, was causing some very definite skin friction in the rear groin area and as a result, unequivocal and irreversible chafing had commenced.

I stopped, I stretched, I ran some more, I stopped again, I stretched again and eventually I tried running like a chimpanzee who'd just dismounted after a five-day horse ride, which of course instigated a whole new form of chafing as my knuckles began to drag along the ground.

When I finally waddled through the back door of the house, I'd only managed 75 minutes total running – in short painful interludes – such a disappointment after last weekend’s accomplishment. However, my favourite iPod moment today was Supergrass singing ‘Moving’ which, I swear, came on at the very second my arse was lowering itself on to a park bench for a rest and immediately made me get up and continue on my painful way.

Next week: The One With All The Vaseline

Friday, 30 January 2009

The One Where I Was Pure Burstin' For A P#sh

I used to think I had the greatest bladder in the world. I once flew from Amsterdam to San Francisco and never once left my window seat, never mind visit a mile-high bathroom. But try drinking a couple of litres of water within the first hour of waking up, with only a bowl of cheerios (multigrain) and freshly cleaned tubes adorning your insides, and see how far you can run without diving into the bushes for a slash. 15 minutes was all I could manage today before my ‘compression’ base layers exerted unbearable pressure and something had to give. 10 minutes later, I had to repeat the entire emergency bush-diving exercise to ease the strain. Now I'm no doctor (not since the BMA saw fit to revoke my licence for 'inappropriate bedside manners'... some nonsense about 'excess drool') but I'm pretty sure that was probably the same kind of pain that women experience in childbirth… ‘cept I was back on my feet and jogging home five minutes later. No please, save your applause… I’m no superhero… I’m just a man.

Favourite iPod moment: Blondie – ‘Picture This’ (Check out this 1979 video from the magnificent Glasgow Apollo.)

Monday, 26 January 2009

The One With More Excuses

Well it’s been two weeks now since this blog was born and despite my usual rash promises (“It’ll be up to date by the 19th, definitely!”... “No, no, it was a POKER website, honest dear.”... “Sure, I’ll definitely call you.”) some of the posts are still not completed, while others are inspirational ideas that came to me fully formed during a long run only to disappear as soon as I collapsed back on the couch.

If it’s your first visit here today then welcome, come in and make yourself at home but would you mind leaving your muddy shoes at the back door please? Oh, and watch you don’t put them on the spleen I coughed up there yesterday. Thanks. I know I seem to be doing this welcome thing most Mondays but there might be a few work colleagues tuning in this week after I bombarded everyone I know on Friday (pay day!) for their support, and more specifically, for them to show me the money.

In that regard, let me say a huge thank you to all who sponsored me in the last seven days… Norm, Gordy, Lorraine, WS, Linda, Stavros, Morven, Kenny, Gill, Neil, Jo, Eric B, Hawaii, Graeme, Nick, Andy and Big Al… I’m constantly amazed by your generosity, kindness and inspirational words of support, although I have to admit I struggled to find the Obama-like rhetoric of hope in Graeme’s succinct “You have no chance of finishing”.

Anyway, despite appearances – and not unlike the second, ragged-looking Death Star - this website will be fully operational by next Monday, not least because I have some days off this week and will be putting my hands to very good use. On the keyboard. And what not.

Have a great week.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The One With The Appreciative Nods

My training plan says that today’s long run should be ‘80-90 minutes jog with walking breaks’. I reckon that constitutes a run of about eight miles so the first thing I do today is go out in the car and drive four miles west out of town. And then four miles back home again. It’s another cold but beautifully clear day as I set out on my initial jog to the ‘stretch zone’, a little area up the hill with a low wall onto which I can raise my legs to stretch the hamstrings and calves like some comedy ballerina; less Darcy Bussell, more Roly Poly.

I’m determined to break the 60 minute non-stop barrier today so start off very slowly, ignoring the ‘pedestrian-passing principle’ whenever possible. Why is it that I seem to be able to reduce the distance between far off pedestrians at a seemingly consistent rate but at the point when I actually catch up to them it seems to take forever to overtake them? Do they hear my footfalls pounding the pavement behind them and start to panic in a “Oh f#ck, it’s just like Jurassic Park!” type of way? Or do they throw in a sneaky hop ‘n a skip to speed up and mess with my head? Or is it like when a police car passes you and the siren changes tone and pitch? Isn’t that Einstein’s theory? My speed relative to their speed multiplied by itself equals E? (For the record, this is exactly the kind of crap that fills my head when I’m out running. Is it just me?)

Being a Sunday and such a beautiful day, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of people out taking exercise. Usually when I run in the daylight there’s a lot of teeth-gritting and pavement-staring going on but today, for the first time, I raised my head and noticed there’s actually a lot of mutual appreciation going on between human beings undertaking common activities. Who knew?

The Woman
As I reached the main part of town, a woman who I’d estimate at 60+ years old was jogging in the opposite direction. As we passed each other, she smiled and nodded at me as if to say “we pensioners can really show ‘em, eh?” So sincere was her smile that I didn’t have the heart to steal her water bottle.

The (Other) Saggy-Assed Jogger
This guy was running in the same direction as me on the other side of the road and I’m sure he speeded up as he passed, despite wearing saggy-assed cotton jogging pants that looked ten times heavier than mine. He glanced over and nodded with a slightly contemptuous “seriously dude, that’s as fast as you can go?” which made me think he was in hurry to check whether a seagull had crapped all over his BMW so I retorted with a nod that said, “usually I’m quite a competitive person but I so don’t want to be you… oh and it wasn’t a bird that crapped on your BMW, it was me. Have a nice day.”

The Kid
On the other side of town I saw a little kid of no more than 10 years old sprinting towards me in a blur like he was trying to catch a bus or was late for a Sunny D convention. As he approached me at great speed I could see he had little earphones in his little ears and his little shoes were proper running shoes and here, to my amazement, was a kid out running for the pure enjoyment of getting exercise. I braced myself for a torrent of youthful abuse but instead he looked up at me and beamed a genuine smile of such warmth that I nearly asked the next woman I passed if she’d mind having my babies. Strangely, she declined.

The Lance Armstrongs
Once I was out of town and heading into the countryside, a group of cyclists approached me all dressed the same in their bright yellow wind jackets and wraparound sunglasses. As they passed me, they were beginning to climb a slight gradient and as they rose out of their seats to begin the ascent, everything seemed to turn into slow motion. I looked at each in turn trying to gauge the effort going on behind the shades and finally, the guy at the back of the pack looked at me and nodded his head with the slightest of forward bows, not unlike that big majestic flying beast thing in the Harry Potter movies. I took this as quite a reverential gesture that said, “if you’re running out here in the countryside, then you’re doing something serious so good on you,” however he may just have been trying to shake a bug off his visor.

Anyway, I broke the 60 minute non-stop barrier today with 62 mins followed by a good stretching session and then an easy 30 minute jog home. Favourite iPod moment of the day was Coldplay singing “Fix You.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The One That Was Four Miles From Threemiletown

I had a day off work today and what a gorgeous sunny day it turned out to be. Actually, that’s been quite a consistent pattern since the turn of the year with very few of the normal Scottish January days where everything, including the grass in my garden, is grey. And hardly any rain. (Cue February blizzards.)

Following a light breakfast consisting of a cup of tea and an ‘everything’ bagel with cream cheese (low fat) and pastrami, I did a few (three) sit-ups in the living room and then went back to bed for a bit (an hour). It was bliss.

Up until now I’ve been running different combinations of the same streets near my home but when my best pal paid a lunchtime visit I decided it was time to try a new route. We drove east out of town and I got dropped off after exactly four miles, right beside the sign for Threemiletown, a sprawling conurbation of two cottages, a tractor and a shifty-looking black and white collie.

Knowing exactly how far I was about to run was a new experience, made all the more enjoyable by the gorgeous weather. It was also the first time I’d run a ‘straight’ route, starting and finishing in different places, much more akin to what will happen on the big day. Might do more of that in the future. For now, today’s favourite iPod Shuffle moment was Stevie Wonder – “Isn’t She Lovely”.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The One With The Blog Excuses

If you’re visiting here for the first time, perhaps because I sent you an annoying email last week demanding that you sponsor me for the 2009 Flora London Marathon, then hello and welcome. It’s been a week since I started this blog, which means it’s been a week since I made the sincere promise that by the time today came around, all would be up to date and you’d have the full, horrid picture of just how p#sh my marathon training was going last year up to Christmas.

To be honest, I had all the backlog of “posts” typed up on my old typewriter (not quite sure what Bling-Bling, my Thai houseboy, does then to put them on the interweb, “scan” them perhaps?) but they’ve disappeared because it’s a been a bit stormy here recently and a freak gale blew the back door open last Thursday and a racoon ran in and grabbed them for nest-lining or dam-building or bedtime-reading or whatever the hell it is that racoons do of an evening.

So as you can see – if you scroll down to the very bottom and work your way up slowly – there are some posts that have TITLES ONLY and have NOT YET BEEN FINISHED. I emphasise this because I received some earnest feedback in the pub on Friday night from my good friend Dave in a conversation that went something like…

Neil: “Hi Dave, happy new year mate. What can I get you to drink?”
Dave: “Um.. gettus a Bottle of Miller, will ya dude?”
Neil: “Yeah, no problem. Oh, and listen… thanks very much for your generous sponsorship which you no doubt donated quickly and easily when you logged on to www.justgiving.com/neilsutherland on Wednesday. It’s very much appreciated.”
Dave: “You’re very welcome dude. And yes, it was very quick and easy once I’d logged on to www.justgiving.com/neilsutherland; couple of clicks and I was done and you know… it left me with a warm spiritual glow inside, having helped my fellow dude.”
Neil: “Yes Dave, that’s so true. Giving is so much more gratifying than receiving, as you know only too well.”
Dave: “Aye.. anyway.. I’m also enjoying the new blog but I think it’s broken dude.”
Neil: “Broken?”
Dave: “Yeah, I read the first bit – skippin' aw the big words of course - and then I scrolled down a bit and read some more, but I couldnae get into some of the others. I was clicking and clicking and clicking but they widnae expand and display any of the text.
Neil: “No Dave, that’s because they’re only titles; I havenae written or posted them yet.”
Dave: “Posted? Like wi’ an envelope and a stamp in a post-box?”
Neil: “Sure. Bling-Bling scans them and then goes down to the post office to send them to the interweb.”
Dave: “Cool, that’s awesome dude. Now whaurs ma Miller?”

So apologies once again. I hope to get up to date with all the posts by the end of next weekend but meantime, let me start a new weekly ritual by saying a very big thank you to all who sponsored me in the last seven days… Keithy, Poochie, Mum & Dad, Ewen & Donna, Helen, Lindsay, David D and Dan & Alexa… your donations will help enormously and are very much appreciated.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The One Round The Loch

On Tuesday I was 'working from home' and had a very pleasant lunchtime run on a gorgeous sunny day. 30 minutes running in total, 25 non-stop. Favourite iPod moment: The Clash – ‘London Calling’.

On Thursday evening, I managed 40 minutes running in total with 35 non-stop. Favourite iPod moment: Feeder – ‘Just The Way I’m Feeling’. Rona once told me that when you break the '30 minute non-stop' barrier, everything's a 'piece of p#ss' thereafter, a technical training phrase I’ve yet to find replicated elsewhere in any other running publication. Well see.

The ‘long’ run on the plan for this weekend says ’75 mins jog/run’ but because there’s a storm due to arrive tonight or tomorrow, I decided to run in the sun this morning instead.

The town where I live has its own palace sitting atop a little raised hill (as opposed to a sunken hill) beside a picturesque loch where fairies often flutter low above the sun-kissed water and elves skip among the toadstools.

It’s 2.3 miles around the loch with another two or so to get there and back so as I head off, I wonder whether I can run for an hour non-stop.

The path around the loch isn’t great in places and I have to work hard not to get my lovely white shoes all covered in mud but I make it round and head home, all the time thinking, “that must be close to an hour, surely?” When I arrive home, my watch has a little sneer and tells me that I’ve only done 55 in total, 50 non-stop so I punch it in the face and head out again.

“That must be another 10 minutes, surely?” Watch says 5.
“That must be 15 by now, surely?” Watch says 8.
“That must be 15 NOW?” Watch says 10.

By this time I’m approaching the house again and am more than ready to chuck it for the day which is when ‘Fanfare For Rocky’ comes gushing out of my wee iPod Shuffle and I run straight past the house and keep going for another five minutes. Feeling strong now.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The One After The First Gym Session

After the disappointment of week 1 of my training, I sat down yesterday and gave myself a good talking to. Normally when I try and do this, I get bored quite easily with what I have to say to myself, so I always make sure I’ve drawn eyes on the back of my eyelids with a felt-tip pen in the event that I drift off to sleep, so that it appears that I’m always awake and alert and I don’t get offended by my own disinterest and sloth. Clever eh?

Yesterday however, I had absolutely no problem listening to the wise words I had to say to myself in that low, husky (but smoke-free) register that makes the young girls sing (or is that the songs I write?). To further keep me motivated, I placed this photograph of my nephew Tommy by my desk at work so he can hypnotise me with his hypnotic eyes and remind me why I’m doing this. The result is that I’m now feeling a bit more optimistic about week 2, especially as I’m slightly ahead of the game… yesterday the plan said ‘Rest’ but last night I went to the gym.

Some people told me I should avoid going to the gym on a Monday evening between 5pm and 8pm because it’s always very busy with regulars and pretty people as they try and work off their weekend excesses… “Oh, I really shouldn’t have had that fifth Ferrero Rocher at the Ambassador’s do on Saturday night.” It was certainly mobbed around 7pm on the night I went for my induction so last night I turned up at 8.15 hoping I’d have the place to myself. Although not empty, I was pleased to see it was occupied by what looked like less showy newcomers so I felt right at home. For those interested in such things, here’s the cross training plan Leann and I devised last week, Leann mainly…

(i) Exercise Bike: 10 minutes at 80rpm (3 mins at level 5, 2 mins at level 7, 3 mins at level 6 and 2 mins at level 8)
(ii) Treadmill: 22 minutes (2 mins at 6kph and 20 mins at 8kph)
(iii) Cross/Elliptical Trainer: 15 mins (3mins at level 5, 2 mins at level 7, 3 mins at level 5, 2 mins at level 7, 3 mins at level 6 abd 2 mins at level 5)
(iv) Leg Press: 15 rep x 40kg x 30 seconds x 3
(v) Calf Raise: 15 rep x 40kg x 30 seconds x 3 (watch out for low swinging udders)
(vi) Stomach Curls: 10 rep x 3

No, I’ve got no idea what all of those numbers or abbreviations mean either which is why it’s all loaded into the magic key that makes the Dalek machines work all by themselves. I have to admit I really quite enjoyed the ‘workout’ last night and there was a moment on the treadmill listening to Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’ when I was convinced that all the other newcomers and I would dismount simultaneously from our equipment and sashay effortlessly into the video’s perfectly choreographed booty-throbbin’ routine. Luckily, the lateness of the hour diluted my embarrassment somewhat when I was the only one who leapt into the middle of the floor and started a-shakin’.

Monday, 12 January 2009

The One With The New Blog

For those of you joining us for the first time, perhaps via erstwhile sister blog ‘neilwritestheblog’, a very warm welcome to you. It’s a little embarrassing to begin with an apology but you’ve actually caught us a bit off guard this morning as we’re still getting things sorted out and haven’t yet unpacked the good cutlery or tracked down curtains to match the carpets. Found the kettle though. Tea?

The purpose of this blog is to try and document my experience of training for and running the 2009 Flora London Marathon. It’s as much for my benefit (perhaps more so) as it is for anyone who reads it because I hope writing about it publicly will keep me honest about doing what needs to be done, instead of, for example, pretending that I did that first long 75 minute run yesterday. More on that later.

If you want to scroll down to the very bottom and work your way upwards, you’ll see some of the things I’ve been up to over the last six months, together with some unfinished stories yet to be.. um.. finished. Between now and next Monday I hope to fill in all the gaps and get up to date so that going forward, there will be something new on this blog almost every day. That ‘thud’ you heard right there was the sound of people who know me, keeling over in disbelief.

After you’ve scrolled down and read a little about the people responsible for making me undertake this ridiculous venture, I’d like you to offer whatever financial support you can in helping me raise funds for the National Autistic Society. If you click on all these brightly coloured red words that are underlined, you’ll be whisked off to my fundraising page where it’s quick and easy to make a donation online. Any amount, big or small, will help and will be very much appreciated.

So why not go ahead and do that now to avoid me annoying you with emails later this week. Because you know that I will so totally do that!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The One With The First 'Long' Run

Every training plan for a marathon includes a weekly ‘long’ run, usually scheduled for the weekend when in theory you have more time to attempt it. (“attempt”… is that the right verb? Makes it sound like I’m trying to jump the Grand Canyon on a scooter. Then again…) Yesterday was dirty, horrible weather, the worst kind of grey Scottish horizontal rain flung against the windows by angry gusts, so I was quite content to forego the plan’s “15 minutes, very easy” and sit in the house all day working on ‘admin’ stuff for this marathon. Things like…

(i) setting up an on-line fundraising page and trying to write the background story explaining why I’m doing this,
(ii) collating email addresses and attempting to find the right words to ask friends and family to give me some of their hard earned money in sponsorship,
(iii) setting up this new blog and struggling to fill it with all the content that had seemed so effortless when it was flying through my brain during the run to the gym on Thursday evening.

The weather didn’t abate until about 2.30 this afternoon at which point I creaked my way off the chair in front of the computer screen and pulled on my saggy-assed, cotton jogging pants. Glancing at the plan, the description of the Week 1 ‘long’ run says “75 minutes, easy run; take walking breaks if needed”. I was out of the house getting buffeted by the wind and enduring severe back, neck and shin pains for a grand total of 30 minutes. I’ll be lucky if 20 minutes of that could in any way be described as “running”. For the entire week, the plan advocated a total of 195 minutes of running. At a stretch, I managed 80.

Tomorrow, this blog is going to have a chirpy introductory post which will attempt to wear its hat at a jaunty angle and put a brave face on this whole venture. But if you read very carefully between the lines I’m sure you’ll spot the abject terror and catch a whiff of the fear of failure that I very definitely feel this evening.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The One With The Gym Induction

Yesterday I did my first proper running, a stop-start affair during my lunch break which in no way made up for the sessions I should have done earlier in the week. This evening, I was meeting qualified fitness instructor Leann for a 7:00pm appointment (it would be a stretch to call it “a date”) so I decided that because the weather was decent, I would run the 2.6 miles to the gym. And I did, more or less, with two or three walking breaks.

Leann is considerate enough (or well trained enough) to keep a straight face when I tell her what I’m working towards and doesn’t flinch an inch when I step on to the scales for the weigh-in, other than to point out politely that I shouldn’t really keep one foot on the floor. Next she takes my blood pressure which is borderline “treadmill safe” and then she takes it again to see if it was an anomaly. It wasn’t, but she decides I’m okay to proceed.

We talk about the type of training I need and the core strength I desperately need to build up and she recommends a circuit of different exercises which build into an hour-long programme. She then uploads the entire programme from her computer into a magic key which I assume will open a secret door to Narnia where training is effortless and unicorns run free by my side, encouraging me as I go and handing me bottles of Lucozade Sport whenever I need them.

Alas no, the magic key fits into a myriad of Dalek-looking equipment, negating the need for me to ever push any ‘start’ buttons or adjust any speeds, which is just as well because if you’ve ever seen Bill Murray in ‘Lost in Translation’ killing time on an elliptical trainer in a Japanese hotel (sorry, I couldn’t find it on the YouTube), you’ll have some idea of what happened to me this evening when I stepped on to this cross training death trap for the first time in my life. Stupid fake cross-country skiing machine.

But pleasingly, all the fitness equipment have little televisions installed, as well as churning out stats and charts on their screens recording everything from my heart rate and calorie burn to a ‘hotness in lycra’ rating. I happened to be wearing my saggy-assed, cotton jogging pants so only a “This Hotness Cannot Be Found 404 Error” message was displayed. Stupid Dalek machine.

All in all, the evening was quite enjoyable and I was a little out of breath having had more opportunities than I expected to try out all the equipment. As I walked back out to the car park, I started to look forward to my first proper session and the long term benefits it would bring. Which was when I remembered that I hadn’t brought the f#cking car. Cue the thirty minute run, walk, run, walk, run, walk, crawl journey home.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The One At The Gym

There can surely be no worse time to commence a training plan for your first ever marathon than early January. In Scotland. Today is a case in point. It’s the second day back at work after the holidays and there’re plenty of things to do but you just cannot be arsed. It’s blowing a gale and pissing down outside so any thoughts of a quick lunchtime leg-stretch melt like the cheese in your baked potato and very quickly disappear. By the time you get home in the evening it’s pitch black outside, it’s still windy and rainy, your SAD light is broken, a couple of ‘units’ of “Friends” are just about to start on E4, you make yourself a nice wee cup of tea and before you know it, you’re snoring on the couch and drooling all over your Burnt Sienna throw-cushions from Ikea.

My training plan says I should be doing “40 minutes steady” today (what, no fartlek?) but there’s no way I'm venturing outside to get soaked. I’ve been thinking a lot about what the doctor said last week and it does make sense to find other ways to get fit without my feet taking all the punishment. So at the risk of causing (yet another) great disturbance in The Force, I get in the car, drive to the other side of town, track down the local “leisure” centre and I.. I.. I.. *gulp*.. I.. join a gym.

The reception area is busy and noisy and as I fill out forms in a daze and then hand over credit cards, the feeling is, I imagine, akin to turning over your personal effects as you begin a ten-year stretch as punishment for a lifetime of petty smoking and opportunist snacking.

Anyway, I have to go back on Thursday for something called the “gym induction”. I’m thinking of getting the entire blueprints of the place tattooed on my back because if I hear the merest snap of rubber gloves being put on, or the steady trundle of water hoses being unraveled, it’ll be time to start digging a tunnel.

Monday, 5 January 2009

The One With The Swedish B#llocks

Today is Day 1 of the sixteen-week Flora Marathon Training Plan for “first timers”. The plan was emailed to me by the Flora organisers shortly after my place was confirmed last year and consists of sixteen separate pdf files. Not a lovely spreadsheet or a tastefully formatted Word document; not even ONE pdf file with sixteen pages but SIXTEEN SEPARATE PDF FILES.

This incorrect and inefficient use of Office–related applications seems to bother me far more than might be reasonably expected. It’s a disgrace and just plain wrong of course (and they’re a f#cking pain in the arse to print), but I can’t help feeling that I might be transferring some of my own anxiety and insecurity about what’s to come on to the unsuspecting Flora addicts and their crack Adobe habit.

Anyway, for those of you with bionic eyesight, here’s what the plan for week 1 looks like. At the top of the page there’s a breakdown of the running and resting I should be doing each day, at the bottom there’s a motivational tip ("Try running from a lion") and a ‘training’ recipe (101 ways to bake, fry, roast, toast and sauté with Flora) and in the middle there’s a ‘training tip’. It reads as follows:

Try fartlek! – ‘Fartlek’ is Swedish for ‘speed play’ and consists of bursts of speed in the middle of a training run. After your warm-up, try running at an easy training pace, throwing in bursts of speed for various distances throughout the run. Vary the speed and times of the speed sections, from as short as 15 seconds to as long as 2-3 minutes. Between these bursts, allow yourself enough recovery time to match roughly 2/3 of the effort time.”

A few observations about this…

(i) If this was a wise extract from the Kenyan marathon playbook I might be more convinced. But Sweden? Really?
(ii) This is WEEK ONE of the marathon training plan for FIRST TIMERS. What the F#CK are we doing discussing “speed play”?
(iii) And what’s with the Good Will Hunting algebra problem in the last sentence?
(iv) I am a 44 year-old ex-smoker who’s just recently realised he can get off a couch. I don’t DO “bursts”. Seriously, ask any of the guys I play football with about my “change of pace” and then stand well back because you might just get splattered with something nasty when their SIDES ACTUALLY SPLIT from the convulsive and uncontrollable laughter.
(v) And for that matter, what the hell is the difference between “jog”, “steady”, “easy”, “very easy”, “comfortable” and “brisk” when illustrating the type of running I should be doing? I have one pace. If you’d described each day’s running as “XX minutes, mosey” then you’re talking my type of language.

So Sweden, I love your tasty meatballs and your reasonably priced furniture; I especially love your Henrik Larsson and the blonde one out of ABBA. But as far as your week one training tips are concerned you can Fartlek Off.

For the record, I was going to play football for an hour this evening instead of doing the plan’s “25 minute jog”. But things changed and I didn’t manage either. Bad start.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The One At The Doctors

It’s ages since I’ve been to a doctor’s surgery, years even; I think the last time might have been 2003 when I had to get a ridiculous amount of inoculations to ward off Japanese Tetsi-Fly Flesh-Eating Syndrome (was it?) during my round the world travels. To everywhere but Japan.

I made an appointment at the local health centre this morning to get a diagnosis of why my left foot has been hurting so much recently and, as is the norm whenever I visit a doctor, the ailment for which I’ve made the appointment is nowhere to be seen (or felt) when I arrive. However, I’m glad to see from the list in the waiting room that my doctor has a degree in sports medicine so I have half a chance of avoiding the usual “drink plenty liquids and keep it elevated” retort.

Doc: “Morning. What seems to be the trouble then?”
Neil: “Well… I’ve been doing a bit of running lately in preparation for the London Marathon next year…” did he narrowly avoid spitting his cup of tea all over his desk just then? “…and I’m getting these sharp, shooting, agonising pains in my left foot. I’m wondering whether I might have cracked a little bone and I really think I should could get an x-ray because I’m just about to ask people to sponsor me and I want a proper diagnosis so that I can actually complete this madness and, and…”
Doc: “Right, first things first. You’re not the lightest of runners are you?”
Neil: “Well.. I..”
Doc: “Do you have the proper running shoes?”
Neil: “Em.. yeah, I do NOW but up until Sunday I was just using my crappy old trainers.”
Doc *rolls eyes*: “Right, let’s see the foot then.” He prods and pokes and taps and squeezes without causing the merest hint of pain. “Well, I’m pretty sure nothing’s broken here.”
Neil: “But I should still get an x-ray to know for sure, right?”
Doc: “Less than 20% of foot stress fractures show up on an x-ray so no, I wouldn’t recommend that. But here’s the telephone number of the Edinburgh University Sports Injury Clinic if you want to pay for a full biomechanical assessment.”
Neil: “They can rebuild me and give me a bionic foot?”
Doc: “No. But they’ll make sure you’re running properly with the correct shoes and not doing anything untoward to cause this pain. Personally, I think your body’s just reacting to the shock of dealing with something new and unfamiliar. Have you thought about doing more cross training?”
Neil: “Running angry you mean?”
Doc: “No. I mean cycling or anything which gives you a similar workout without putting heavy pressure on your foot. Have you ever been to a gym?”
Neil: “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, oh that’s a good one Doc… I was once IN THE VICINITY of a gym; passed it on the way to the office so, yeah!”
Doc: “Well, give it some thought, see how your new running shoes work out and if the problem persists, definitely call that number I gave you... not here you understand, the number in EDINBURGH. Okay?”
Neil: “Thanks Doc, I will.”

At this point, he didn’t appear to be reaching into his desk to give me a lollipop so I took that as my cue to leave and affected my famous little Keizer Soze limp to take me to the door. Join a gym… ha ha ha ha ha, aye right!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

The One With The New Shoes

I got a call from the running store on Boxing Day informing me that the shoes I ordered (“freakishly extra wide” for “special” runners) had arrived, so this morning I went to collect them. And here they are. Pretty, huh? I was a bit disappointed they didn't have flashing lights or wheels in the heels but how cool is the personalised initial on the side?

As I tried them on, they seemed to gently and seductively wrap around my feet and I devoured the explanatory blurb on the box in an effort to discover more…

Comfortable and cushioned training shoe constructed for the neutral runner seeking a responsive ride. (Yeah baby!) The interior PHANTOM LINER and lightweight mesh upper will keep your feet feeling great as you run the miles. With our patented padding technology of Baby Pandas & Angel Tears™, blisters are a thing of the past and you’ll never feel any pain anywhere ever again.”

Okay, the last sentence isn’t entirely true (I still get the odd blister) but from the first moment the young oik assistant let me try them out on the store treadmill, I knew this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Let’s just hope the doctor doesn’t tell me my foot is already broken when I go and see him on Tuesday.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The One On Christmas Day

Remember last year when I said there’s no better place to be on Christmas Day than St. Andrews? Well there isn’t, and I’m back here again, this time with all my siblings, partners and children (the partners and children of my siblings, that is… not mine... 'cause they're back at the kibbutz) and at 8am this morning I was down at the West Sands with chipper twins Rona and Keith to go for a run. I had a brief jog yesterday afternoon when I was “working from home” and felt no ill effects in my left foot so naturally assumed that my body had simply cured itself and one more run in my shitty old trainers would do me no further harm. I was wrong.

Two thirds of the way to the far end of the sands, the foot-throbbing was back and I had to stop and watch the twinnies run effortlessly into the distance. I hobbled about for a while hoping the pain would just disappear miraculously (why does healing take so long?) and occasionally clutched a fencepost for support, pretending I was doing a bit of stretching for any passing dog-walkers who might have given a shit.

Eventually the twinnies reappeared on the horizon and seemed to be coming back at quite a sprint so I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d have to suck it up and start jogging again to try and convey the impression that stepping onto the first rung of running competence might be somewhere in my immediate future. And here’s where I learned some invaluable lessons about marathon training.

(i) When you are in agonising pain, STOP f#cking running.
(ii) If you think running a marathon is a “race”, you better be training for the Olypmics.
(iii) Leave your ego at home on the mantelpiece (alongside the dignity you discarded when you chose the saggy-assed jogging pants) because no good can come from trying to keep up with runners who are fitter and more experienced than you.
(iv) See rule (i)

Anyway, the rest of the day in St. Andrews was gorgeous in every respect, despite me not being able to run and catch a two year-old in the park before dinner, and my secret Santa got me a lovely long-sleeved, skin tight, base layer running top which accentuates every single small ripple of your muscles and six-pack / spare-tyre ‘cuddly’ bits*. I’d post a photo of me modelling it but I’m sure you’ve just finished your turkey and stuffing and I wouldn’t want you to see your Christmas dinner consumption in reverse.

*delete as appropriate