Monday, 26 May 2008

I have absolutely no right to complain....

......but I ache all over. I spent yesterday volunteering at the Edinburgh Marathon and to look at me you would think I had run 26 miles! I had a wonderful time and am so glad I decided to do it - for all of you (sane) people out there who run a bit but never want to run a marathon, this is the best way to get involved without all those pesky 20 mile training runs. This is going to be a long post to help me remember the day, so if you don't want to hear about the minutiae of unpacking medals, feel free to skip. I won't be offended, honest.

I was assigned to the finish area so had to make my way to Musselburgh in the morning (for non-Scots, Musselburgh is a town about 5 miles or so east of Edinburgh). I decided to show solidarity by walking the brisk half hour or so down into town to catch a bus that would take me there. I don't really know Musselburgh so managed to get off at the wrong bus stop and added another 15 minute walk to the tally. I arrived at Musselburgh Racecourse in what can only be described as unpromising weather: blustery, low grey threatening clouds, cold. The precise military level of organisation I was expecting was noticeably absent so those of us who had arrived at 9am just waded in. We were however issued with our exceptionally groovy purple volunteer t-shirts, with the Hairy Haggis on them (the relay part of the marathon is called Hairy Haggis. Don't know why). Very cool.

We had boxes and boxes and BOXES of medals to open. Inside the boxes were smaller boxes, inside those boxes were bags and inside those bags were hundreds of individually plastic-bagged medals which we had to unwrap and lay out for distribution. I found myself on the relay finish funnel where the runner of the last of the four legs would come through, so for each person we got coming past us, we would have to hand out 4 medals. That's a lot of medals. In fact every time we thought we had finished, people on the other lanes found more boxes of relay medals which they cheerfully dumped on us. We got there eventually though. We even took a photo of the table when we finished. We were so proud of ourselves we had to commemorate the moment. I may even post it if I can find the lead for the camera. Underneath the table there were more boxes of medals still in their wee plastic bags waiting to be handed out. (We reckoned the runners of the earlier legs would be sufficiently recovered by the end to peel off the sellotape and get into their own bagged medal)

Fortunately, there were great people on the crew: Ann from Belfast whose husband was running his 46th marathon and hoping to get a qualifying time for Boston; Richard, a student from the Philippines who had not managed to enter in time to run the race this year and Rebecca, who had the misfortune when she arrived to be assigned to banana duty (unpacking the enormous boxes of bananas for the runners) and who plaintively said when she was finished that she never wanted to see another banana so long as she lived. Most of us took the opportunity at some point to go over and run across the finish line, just so we could say we had. All you Edinburgh Marathoners? I crossed the finish line before you! (Don't hit me)

We also took a break to watch the winner cross the line - the advantage of a volunteer t-shirt being that we could be in the restricted area right by the finish line. Ann and I jumped up and down and cheered like loons before returning to our stations and...continuing to jump up and down (it was cold). The PA system was also churning out some excellent crowd-rousing music so we danced around a fair bit too. Richard was particularly impressive doing "YMCA". I think it was just the buzz and the adrenaline. We couldn't run anywhere and we couldn't stand still, so dancing it was.

And then at about the three hour mark, the relay runners started to arrive. I was on de-chipping duty, removing the velcro bands around the runners' ankles and depositing them in fetching black buckets still bearing their "2 for £1" stickers. Runners were surprised and extraordinarily grateful that we were happy to remove their bands for them if they stuck their foot up on a bench - seemed the least we could do, frankly! Some of them were wobbly enough that bending down might have finished them off! And it's amazing how adept you become at detaching velcro from socks and laces and leg hair after a while. I also had a bag of jelly babies on the go, which made me very popular.

By this time, the weather had completely changed. It was still a bit windy but the clouds had cleared, the sun had come out and the temperature had risen significantly. People were hot. Very hot. Sun cream was passed round (I missed my right hand and a strip at the base of my throat. I look slightly odd today). Runners were sweaty, unsteady and trembly when they got to us. Lots of people needing a wee sit down. I cheered and applauded all the relay guys as they came in and congratulated them on finishing. Nearly every one of them replied with a variation on "I don't feel like I deserve that, compared to those guys" nodding over at the lanes where the full marathon runners were coming through. I made a point of telling them off for this, pointing out that they had run a minimum of 4 miles, some of them 8 miles, in the heat on a Sunday morning when most of the population was in bed with the Sunday papers and a cup of tea. Most of them were also raising funds for charity. They all deserved congratulation. Especially the guy in the full Womble costume.

Unfortunately I was so busy I didn't get to see any of the people from the running website I had hoped to meet come over the finish line. I was supposed to finish at noon but it was pretty full-on and the second shift were fully allocated, so I stayed on. I did meet Ailsa of "Star of Venus" who kindly came up and introduced herself (I was wearing a badge with the logo from the running site to identify myself) and said nice things about my blog. Hi Ailsa! I also managed to have an exchange of texts with another "virtual" friend, Goughie, who had finished in a stonkingly good time and was then physically dragged off to the hotel swimming pool by his kids.

I held out until about the 5 hour 50 point when, frankly, the urgent need for toilet facilities became impossible to ignore (I had been on duty since before 9am and it was now almost 3pm) and I had to retreat. I bumped into a friend of mine from work who I knew was running and she had finished but said it was horrible at points and a real struggle. The weather was just bad - gusty wind in your face for much of the route.

Then my phone went and it was TISM. TISM is a living legend in our little running community, a real ambassador for the sport (and he'll kill me for calling him that!). If you have a moment to spare, pop over to his website and be uplifted and encouraged. You won't regret it. Anyway, TISM had finished and was still on site. I headed off to meet him and found him relaxing at a table in the sunshine NOT looking like a man who had just finished his second marathon in 2 months (he ran the Flora London Marathon too!) It was brilliant to meet him in person - I have passed the URL for his website to many people I know and everyone has been singularly impressed. I produced the jelly babies I had faithfully promised him (yes, I have to bribe people to meet me, I'm not proud) and we had a blether in the sunshine. We discussed curry restaurants we know and love, running (of course) and Ferrero Rocher (the ambassador thing again....).

Then I had to head home on the bus. I caught one bus back into Edinburgh and then, because I could not face the walk uphill to get to my house, caught another one to take me to my door. About two minutes after I sat down on the bus, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see two ladies of a certain age, wearing marathon medals. They said they just wanted to say thank you to me for volunteering, because the volunteers had all been so good and the event was so well run. Well, that just crowned the day for me. I had a nice chat with them about their run and told them to go off and get a bottle of wine and a big bar of chocolate tonight before I got off and headed home.

And today I feel like I ran the flipping race myself! I have an enormous blister on my little toe, my legs and back ache (all that bending and sitting and standing and bouncing around and dancing - should have worn my HRM!) and I am hobbling around like an invalid. I ache in places I forgot I had but I would not have missed a second of yesterday. Well done to everyone who ran, whether in the full race or the relay - you were all stars.

Thursday, 22 May 2008


That describes how I have been feeling this week. I have hit a sort of slump generally: work blech, no exercise, not eating particularly well (except for my fruit and veg intake: I eat fruit for lunch these days and on at least two days this week my daily intake was 14.5 portions of fruit and veg. Knocks your 5 a day into a cocked hat, huh?) But other than my slow transformation into some sort of fruitarian sloth, nothing. Except WAY too much cheese.

So the weight has started to creep back on and I feel yuck but somehow I always forget that it is exercise that makes me feel less yuck so I just sigh and have a slice of buttered toast instead. Good grief, I can get really pathetic in the space of a week.

Anyway, today I hauled myself up by the scruff of the neck (an interesting manoeuvre but necessary). I cancelled my membership of the Cooncil gym. It's a nice little gym but realistically just too far away for me to get to in a lunchtime so I barely use it. The journey in the car there and back is soul-destroying and just puts me off most of the time (especially with the tram roadworks in Edinburgh just now - don't get me started) so it was false economy: paying less money for a gym I hardly use as compared to (a lot) more money for one I do/did.

Cooncil gym cancelled, I went back to my old, shiny twice-the-price gym and re-joined. I can get to this gym from my office in 2 minutes flat. (Shauna, I think it may be the same shiny gym you once haunted - under the cinema?) It has free parking and a swimming pool for the days I don't feel like gym-ing. It has perky instructors in the gym and lots and lots of machines. It is close to the canal for short lunchtime runs. It is expensive but I think, overall, worth it. I am more likely to go there, simple as that. I have stopped buying expensive and fattening lunches from the local shops (Pret a Manger being particularly alluring and pricy) and since discovering the joys of, I no longer regularly spend the equivalent of the GDP of a small country on books, so I reckon I can justify the cost.

So with my new gym card nestling in my purse, I am planning a swim tomorrow to ease back in. I'll get a programme made up one day next week - mostly weights and cross-training type stuff because I still plan to get most of the cardio from my running. Wish me luck. By the time I hit Canada in July, I will be svelte. Or, at least, a bit less wobbly. I'd settle for that.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Scotland's finest

I was delighted to see in the news today that a collection of poems by William Topaz McGonagall, self-proclaimed Poet and Tragedian is to be auctioned and is expected to fetch more than a Harry Potter book signed by J K Rowling herself. Don't get me wrong, I love Harry Potter as much as the next person (unless the next person is my husband, who is unnatural and has never read HP or seen any of the films) but William McGonagall is a Scottish national treasure.

We have at home a volume of his collected works which also includes his "Brief Autobiography" and some "Reminiscences". The latter includes "an account of my experiences among the publicans" which gives an indication of how much time old William spent trying to educate and entertain the public by reading his poems in the pubs of Dundee. Brave man. The second sentence of his "Reminiscences" is a masterpiece. It starts: "Well, I must say that the first man who threw peas at me was a publican....." Isn't that just brilliant? The first man - Mr McGonagall had clearly led a life full of airborne vegetables. How could you not want to read on from there?

A work colleague of mine used to attend an annual McGonagall Supper. As the Scots among you will know, and others may be aware, every year hundreds of Burns Suppers are held in January to celebrate the life of Robert Burns. Whisky is drunk, haggis is addressed and poetry read.

Braver souls celebrate the life of McGonagall. The dinner is held back to front. You say goodbye to everyone in the room as you arrive. Coffee and mints are served followed by dessert, main course and soup. Aperitifs are served at the end. The entertainment consists of recitations of McGonagall's finest works and the highlight, an emotional rendition of "The Tay Bridge Disaster", his best known work, complete with a reconstruction of the disaster using a model railway, several chairs and a large basin of water. At the end of the night, you are introduced to everyone present, say hello and then you leave. I really really want to go to one.

I did once have the pleasure of giving the "Reply to the toast to the lassies" at my former firm's Burns Supper. I based it on McGonagall and it was the most fun I have ever had speaking in public. I leave you with an excerpt of one of the poems I chose to read in that speech. It does not have the grandeur of "The Tay Bridge Disaster" but is an ode in praise of Penicuik, a nondescript little town a few miles from my home city of Edinburgh. (Don't worry if you are not from Penicuik, there is probably still a poem for you - McGonagall travelled around a fair bit and praised most places he went in verse. He had peas to avoid.)

The Beautiful Village of Penicuik

The village of Penicuik, with its neighbouring spinning mills,
Is most lovely to see and the Pentland Hills;
And though of a barren appearance and some parts steep,
They are covered with fine pasture and sustain flocks of sheep.

There, tourists (!) while there should take a good look,
By viewing the surrounding beauties of Penicuik;
About three miles south-west is the romantic locality
Of Newhall, which is most fascinating and charming to see.

Then about half a mile above Newhall the River Esk is seen,
Which sparkles like crystal in the sun's sheen;
And on the Esk there's a forking ridge forming a linn
Betwixt two birch trees, which makes a noisy din.

And on a rocky protuberance close by is Mary Stuart's bower
Where Scotland's ill-starred Queen spent many an hour,
Which is composed of turf and a nice round seat
Commanding a full view of the linn - the sight is quite a treat.

Then there's Habbie's Howe, where the beauties of summer grow,
Which cannot be excelled in Scotland for pastoral show;
'Tis one of the most beautiful landscapes in fair Scotland, (trust me, it's not!)
For the scenery there is most charming and grand.

Then ye tourists to the village of Penicuik haste away,
And there spend the lovely summer day
By climbing the heathy barren Pentland Hills,
And drink the pure water from their crystal rills.

What are you waiting for? Book your tickets now!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Sliders and oysters and tubs

Someone mentioned an ice cream van to me the other day and it brought back memories of the ice cream van of my childhood. It was run by a guy named Tom, or, more accurately since I grew up in West Lothian: "Tam". His was the one and only ice cream van in the village. On Gala Day, he always set up shop at the field where the festivities took place, dispensing ice cream sliders and the latest score from Wimbledon (he had invariably hooked up a TV to the battery so he could watch the men's final). Lots of Dads were happy to go for the ice creams on Gala Day. Strange that.

Anyway, the strangest thing about the ice cream van was the tune. You know, that plinky tinkly music they play to give you enough time to go and pester the living daylights out of your gran so you can get an oyster? I have heard many variations on this music, from sort of sea shanty type tunes to "Greensleeves". I have never though heard any other ice cream van play the music our one did.

The Funeral March. Seriously. "Dum dum de-dum, dum de dum dum dum de dum!" You could spot a visitor to the village by the look of confusion on their face when the van appeared, quickly followed by a look of bemused horror.

I would be very grateful if any of you out there happened to be in West Lothian in the 1970s and can confirm having heard this. Whenever I tell people about it, for some reason I start doubting my own memory*. There must be a generation of West Lothian adults out there who start subconsciously to salivate at the opening bars of the Funeral March. I can't be the only one, surely?

*I actually asked my Mum about this before posting and she confirmed that I am not losing my marbles, this is absolutely true.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Random thoughts

Oh, I seem to have gone all quiet for a wee while there. Sorry. Aftermath of the 10k and the ongoing lumpy-throatedness have made me a bit wabbit, and this tends to mean plenty of blog reading but not much blog production. It also means that this little post will be less of a carefully created literary gem and more of a random outpouring of thoughts that have occurred to me. (No difference there then, I hear you cry.) Off we go.

SB is going to be playing Pinocchio in his year group production next month. He is, as always, very laid back about this and his main concern seems to be to ensure that no-one thinks he actually put himself forward for this: "I didn't ask, they just told me" he tells everyone. Husband and I on the other hand are steeling ourselves for an emotional rollercoaster. I teared up when he played a minor part in Dick Whittington last year (a very cute rat). I may make a complete fool of myself this time. In fact, I doubt the word "may" comes into it. Sniffling in the front row is a racing certainty, I suspect.

What else...oh yes, I got confirmation that I am indeed marshalling at the Edinburgh Marathon this year. I have been assigned to the "Finish Funnel Crew" which sounds to me like a really duff Scandinavain rap outfit, but in fact involves thrusting water, bananas and medals at the brave souls who stagger over the line in Musselburgh. I'm really looking forward to it as I am hoping to meet up with some "virtual" friends from the running website and also, this is the closest I will ever get to a marathon. I can share in the jubilation without that pesky 26+ miles to run first.

I could also witter on a bit about last week's Apprentice, but if I do that, this post will turn into an epic saga so suffice to say : loss of both Jennys = excellent. I bet Lucinda was dancing round the bedroom when she heard. Also, why does everyone find Lee so charming? He seems to me to be a loud, arrogant, not-particularly- competent eejit. AND he was the one who was leading that dreadful display of bullying Sara after the greeting card task - not nice. It was however nice to see Raef step in and try to stop it - he is really growing on me. Can't wait to see him managing a task.

Finally, if you like words, go over and read this post at Chalk Dust Makes Me Sneeze. Made me giggle like a loon. I wish I was half as clever and witty as the people who came up with those.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Now what?

Thank you all so much for your lovely and encouraging comments after my run. Brought a tear to this old middle-aged lady's eye. I don't have access to the race photos yet (not sure I want to) but here's a wee photo of me before the race. The other lady is a fellow blogger. She goes by the name of "Tinabee" on the running website I use and we were able to meet for a short chat prior to the race. She is a proper runner - she can do a 10k in under an hour, is planning a half marathon and (clincher) owns a Garmin. I cooed over the Garmin just a little. Look at that grin (me, not her). That, my friends, is barely concealed panic. Oh, and that's the queue for one set of the portaloos behind us. Not only did I not want to wait in such a queue, I was pretty sure I wouldn't want to use the portaloo after that queue anyway.

Now I have finished the whole GER thing, I feel a bit rootless - like I need something to give me some structure. The 10k was such a big deal for me, something I was genuinely not certain I could actually do, so I spent a lot of time preparing a plan, training and mentally calculating whether I was going to be ready in time. I was always, to some extent, thinking about when I would next run and where and for how long. I still want to run now but am not sure in what way. Without a race to aim for, I am not even sure how often or how far I should run. Daft really. Just go out the door and run till you feel like stopping, you dimbo. Except without a spur, that would probably result in lots of really short and rather pathetic runs. Hmmmm. May have to sign up for another race. SB is already discussing the running programme for the coming months (he wants more medals) so maybe we should put our heads together and come up with a plan.

Non-running post coming soon, promise.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Hot, hilly, hard work

Well, I think I can say without fear of contradiction that was one of the hardest Sunday mornings I have had since that one I spent trying to persuade my second child to just be born, for Pete's sake. I ran the Great Edinburgh Run, all 10km/6 miles of it. It wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty, but I did it. According to the chip, I ran it in 1.20.23. I would like to have done it a little quicker but in light of the fact that (a) it was pretty close and muggy, and I struggle in such conditions, (b) I am still on the dreaded oxytetracycline which plays havoc with.....erm......your digestive system, and (c) you don't really REALLY understand how hilly Edinburgh is until you have to run round it, I am actually pretty content.

I won't give you the full race report - I have unburdened myself of that on the running blog where people gather to happily chat about lost toenails and how best to pop blisters - so I give you instead my edited highlights and impressions:

Edinburgh was warm today. Too darn warm for someone who sweats profusely when running through two inches of hard ground frost.

You have to be very brave to run a 10k in a full-length wedding dress. Especially a strapless one.

A 6'2" black guy dressed as Princess Leia is very impressive to behold. Also, slightly scary. Luckily, attention was deflected somewhat by the guy running only in his Superman undies.

I am not sure I would ever be desparate enough to queue behind 40 other people for the dubious privilege of using a portaloo. I now understand Paula Radcliffe's decision to just go in the gutter a little bit better.

The Cowgate in Edinburgh really stinks when it is warm and you are running along it (for the non-Edinburghers among you, the Cowgate is one of the lower level streets in the City - it runs sort of under the High Street and it is lined with pubs and nightclubs. When warmed by the sun, the combined aroma of stale booze and recycled kebabs is very potent)

That hill through Holyrood Park goes on for ever.

The predominant emotion when you cross the finishing line isn't joy or exultation, it's relief.

I am delighted I did this. Also slightly astonished.

I never EVER want to run a marathon.

Off to eat some chocolate now. Thanks to all who encouraged and sponsored. You helped enormously and I am very grateful.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

One down, one to go

SB ran in the Great Edinburgh Run Mini race today. The run was for 3-8 year olds so lots of really cute kids running with their mums and dads. SB of course having none of that, marched off into the start pen by himself. Couldn't see him start off and really only caught sight of him as he approached the finish line, giving it his all as ever. We did get some photos but I haven't downloaded them from the camera yet.

He ran the course (1.4km) in just under 8 minutes which is a darn sight faster than I could do it. And he didn't even break sweat. Seriously, I checked. I felt his forehead while he was devouring the contents of the goody bag and it was completely dry (irritated cries of "Get OFF Mum!" of course.) Could not be more proud of him. FB performed as video cameraman and got a short but good clip of SB in action, so he was pleased with himself too (had to give him a role so as not to have the whole day focus on SB. I tell you, a career in the Diplomatic Service awaits)

Now I am watching Dr Who, about to go and make a big pan of lemon and rocket risotto in the hope it will quell the butterflies which have been intermittently fluttering around my insides in their size 10 Doc Martens since this afternoon. I saw all the preparations for the 10k run and the road we will start on and, because I live here in Edinburgh, in my mind's eye I could clearly see all the roads in the whole route and I started to doubt whether I could run that far. To be honest, I started to doubt I could run to the end of The Meadows. Lots of svelte, athletic, competent-looking mums wandering about in running tights chatting to their kids didn't help.

But I know I should be able to do this. I have at least been doing some training, I have run/walked the distance before, I don't care if I have to walk chunks of it tomorrow, I just want to finish it. Bet I run the damn thing about ten times over in my sleep tonight!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Cautious thumbs up

Well, so far so good. The antibiotics seem to be working, the football is slowly deflating and I am feeling pretty good, really. My brain is, however, mince through trying to monitor and organise taking these tablets.

Let me explain: I have to take one tablet, 4 times a day. Easy-peasy, yes? One before breakfast, lunch, dinner and one before bed. Job done. Ah, but there are rules. The tablets have to be taken on an empty stomach, either one hour before food or 2 hours after. And you can't have them with milk or dairy products because those interfere with the absorption of the medicine. Okay. So.

First tablet first thing in the morning. I am normally downstairs, dressed and possibly even showered (on a non-running day which these are because I am on antibiotics!) by about 7.15am. I have breakfast while I do the various chores involving lunchboxes and schoolbags and we leave the house by about 7.55. Huh. Need to get up at 6.30 to take first tablet and still have time for breakfast. You don't want to meet me in the morning if I haven't had breakfast. Right-o, I can do that (grudgingly).

On to the next tablet at lunchtime. Say 12 noon or thereabouts so I can leave an hour before I eat at 1pm. Oh but wait, I have to wait for 2 hours after eating so that means no snacking and no tea (I like a LOT of milk in my tea) from 10am onwards. Growl. I like my tea. I need my tea.

On a slightly grumpy roll now, next tablet to be taken before dinner. This should be easy. We normally eat about 8.30pm after the boys are in bed, so I can take my tablet at 7.30pm or thereabouts. Bags of time! But that means I can't eat from 5.30 onwards and that's when I get in from work and I am peckish and usually have a wee snack and/or a cup of tea to keep me ticking over and I am really really crotchety without it. Harrumph. This is starting to really annoy me. Anyone would think you weren't SUPPOSED to eat between meals.

Last lap. Final tablet before bed. We eat dinner at 8.30 so wait 2 hours and take it at 10.30. Except I am frequently in bed by then WITH A CUP OF TEA! And even if I am not in bed, kind husband will almost invariably have made me a cup of tea to drink whilst watching the news. (Do you think Hollywood will want to make a film of my life anytime soon?) And I might have some grapes or something by way of dessert. Can't do that. No tea or food between 8.30 and 10.30. I am now seriously ticked off. And don't even get me started on what happens when I get distracted and forget to take the tablet at the appointed time and then have to start doing long division in my head to figure out whether I am going to need to stay up until 4am to fit in my medication schedule.

I now know why people do not finish their course of antiobiotics. It is not that they are lazy or ignorant of the risk of allowing superbugs to incubate. They simply run out of the mental stamina needed to keep this up for 7 days.

Well, that was scintillating wasn't it? Anyway, had a little run at lunchtime for half an hour and felt fine so I think I am okay for the race on Sunday. I won't run again before then, I think, just to keep my reserves in, er, reserve. Little Brother's family are not faring so well. All 4 of them have been down with a pretty horrid flu-type virus. Both kids have recovered but of course they are not running. Sister in law is only just beginning to recover and she too is on antibiotics. She has, however, been medically advised not even to try running, so she is out. Little Brother is over the worst (he is no longer sweating and shaking and wishing for death) but he has a cough that is slowly but surely shaking his fillings loose. We will talk on the phone tomorrow and see how he feels. He has gallantly offered to run anyway and, since he is in a much faster section than I am, if he feels ropey, to stop or walk slowly until I catch him up and we can finish together. That sounds like a really nice idea. Unfortunately I suspect my dear brother has failed to appreciate just how spectacularly slowly I actually run. Even if he coughs out a lung in the middle of Holyrood Park, he is still going to finish before me.