Sunday, 30 January 2011

VLM week -12: The week of the Southern Nationals cross country

The Hampshire XC in Jan
Three weeks earlier

Well, I only logged one run this week, but it was a toughie! I took part in my second cross country race, the Southern Nationals at Parliament Hill Fields - a really ‘iconic’ event. It was a bitterly cold day, as we travelled up to London on the train. I am not sure that I ever felt totally warm from 8am to about 9pm! We arrived at Hampstead Heath to catch the start of the U13 boys race. That took me right back to my first days at Bloxham - ahhh! There they were, rushing up the hill, arms pumping, going at it for all they were worth. Then, of course, I remembered that I would be there myself soon enough. Or, as I found out, not soon enough really, with my race being at 2.50pm. So, we shivered for several hours (at one point I found the warmth of the changing rooms and just stayed there for about half an hour). Finally, the off - nearly 900 men racing up the first hill, and then sliding down the foot-deep mud on the other side, just about staying upright. It was a like a peaceful version of the Somme, arms flailing, legs slipping, as my trail shoes failed to find any grip. The middle part of the 3 mile lap was characterised by brutal short and sharp climbs, all like a mudslide, so that I took on the role of those wildebeest that you see crossing the Masai Mara, the ones that go across a river and then can’t quite get out on the other bank. That was me, that was. The final mile of the lap was a bit more balanced, being like an undulating trail through the woods, but still no picnic. One lap down, two more to go, 9 miles in total! I have never felt so totally blown at the end of a race. Even marathon tired is different - that’s more about endurance, whereas this is speed and stamina.

Suffice it to say that the end, when it came, was blissful. After a quick shower, and much post-race analysis and bravado, we headed off to the Southampton Arms, a wonderful, wonderful pub. It only serves independent ales and ciders, and one Camden lager for the inveterate drinker of that style. Cash only, too. You can only get this kind of specialism in a big city. You may never go out to Hampstead, but if you do, take the Gospel Oak tube and then walk up to 139 Highgate Road. Great.

Not strictly speaking part of last week, however I am in Manchester as I write this, and I have just been for a short (and very cold) walk around the city centre. Never having been here before, I am pretty impressed by the scale of it, and I like the trams! I was fascinated to come across the Fourth Church of Christ. Wouldn’t you really want to join the first one, given the option? Or, maybe the second, if that offered something different, and felt the need to break away. But the Fourth? What, I wonder, was the motivation to form this one? No doubt in the mists of time there was some schism over a marginal point of doctrine that had a group pick up their hassocks, hurrumph a lot and march out, vowing never again to talk to the Third Church!

On now to wine of the week (before I get myself into choppy waters), which is Wirra Wirra Sparrow's Lodge Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. What a beautiful wine this was. On the nose, ripe blackcurrants and licorice, really clean and intense. A rich, ripe palate, full in the mouth (and at 14.5% perhaps that’s no surprise) with great depth of flavour, and a long, lingering aftertaste. Tannins were soft, suggesting that a bit of aging will be fine, or you could tuck in now. It is very tempting to have a go at another bottle very soon! This is also under screwcap, so I wonder if the development will continue? Also worth noting that this wine had about two hours decanting and the licorice smell did start to fade later.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

London Marathon week -13.

Stats this week - Miles 46, weight 165.8lb.
It's coming off but slowly..
As a running week, it has all been 'steady as she goes'. So, I shall say little more than my pleasure at completing all the planned sessions including track, threshold on Friday night (now that's tough when it's cold!) and a 21 mile long run.

A big shout-out to Janet, who ran the Romsey 5 today, and was delighted to beat her previous best time, in spite of having a poor training build-up, went for it and did really well.

Being a modern boy as I am, I have turned to my iPhone to see if an App can help me with logging my food intake. I have found this the best way to take a long and honest look at what you are really doing. It's all too easy to forget something that you know you shouldn't have eaten! I've found this fantastic free app called MyFitnessPal in which you set up your vital stats, goals and exercise levels, and then it sets you an intake level to meet that. So far, so good. Then you log everything you've eaten - and it has access to a fantastic database (it find everything from the major supermarkets - incredible!). Finally, once you finish the day, you press a button and the cruel rating comes up 'if every day were like this, in 5 weeks you'd be....' and you just hope its downwards! So, useful for a couple of weeks of control and monitoring.
Of course, by way of contrast, two wines this week that I have really liked. One is the excellent Sicilian white wine called Polena by Donnafugata (available online, £10ish) It is a blend of Catarratto, a classic Sicilian grape, and, peculiarly,Viognier. The first vintage was in 2006, and this was the 2009. Quite lovely. Dry, with a peachy lift to the nose. On the palate, a full mouthfeel, a great combination of citrus and minerals, combined with a fleshy fruitiness (from the Viognier, I assume). Absolutely perfect with Salmon. I know very little about Donnafugata, beyond the fact that I recognise the name. I read from their website that "The figurehead, which in Italian is called Polena, is the unchallenged queen of marine ornaments and stands over the bow of a ship. Polena has once again the silhouette of a woman, it is evocative and fascinating. It is a new wine to accompany you on the discovery of new sensations.". Well, that is perhaps a bit overblown, welcome, marketing blurb! I bought this from a great shop called Caviste in Stockbridge (about 10 miles from Romsey for you non-locals). Quite upmarket - really a place for £10 plus wines, though they do have an everyday selection, albeit at the price that the majority of the UK would call 'splash-out'! A great selection and a lovely wineshop. Quite new world focused as well. Lots of very big Pinot Noirs from Oz. Not my style, those.

The other wine, from the cellar, was Kanonkop Pinotage 2003. I have long been a fan of Kanonkop, and they manage to tame the pinotage very well, though it does require, I think, a good bit of ageing. This example is perfectly balanced and mature, with just a prickle of acidity suggesting that today was the right day, of all days, to drink this wine (sometimes it's just like that!). The fruit is a mellow, palate-filling mouthful of cherry and cassis, with a hint of banana (!). Really well balanced, and with none of that rawness and burnt notes you can sometimes get from Pinotage. More modern vintages are fairly widely available for about £15, and worth laying down for  a few years. When I consider what I said about the Batailley a few weeks ago - I know which I would rather drink right now.

 And that's just what I will be doing with a beef casserole in about 15 minutes..

Sunday, 16 January 2011

London Marathon Training: Week -14

Stats this week - Miles 41, weight 166.5lb.
A full training week. Back on the track on Tuesday, this time for 20 x 200m. You go very fast, and just about finish the 200m before you clog up with lactate (or whatever technically it is, but this will suffice for now!), and then rest for 30 secs, then you're off again. Gobsmacked to hit the pace that I did, very consistent 38 secs for each rep. Not having done these before, I was not aware of quite how tough they are, especially afterwards, compared to longer sets. Although short they are very fast. I went to a circuits class on Wednesday, thinking all was ok..until the warm up, when I found that someone had replaced my legs with blocks of lead. The only word is mashed. At the gym on Thursday I could hardly do more than 20 mins steady on the bike, and had to cry off even 5 mins on the treadmill. I was seriously leg-weary. So, Friday's run was converted to some sports massage..altogether a wise choice. The good news is that through all of that I was tired but not injured. Apparently I will 'feel the benefit' in a couple of weeks..we shall wait expectantly!

I have been struggling this week to stop the snacking...this is not going to help lose the 6 or so lbs that I want to drop. I know that I am going to have to start focusing on this, and controlling it a bit, for my weekly running should be 'worth' about 1.5lbs, less whatever you put back on, which is pretty much at the moment netting out. Sure, you have to get the balance there, can't not eat, just got to eat the right food. After all I am lucky in that I am not trying to reduce calories, I am just trying to balance them out to keep the body fuelled and healthy for the runs, whilst not undoing this good work with fatty nibbles. I am keeping off the chocolate, though, which is a start!

Seems like that's a great segway into this week's wine, which is a classed-growth claret from a mixed case bought some years ago for (thankfully) around 1/3 of the current rate - Chateau Batailley 2003, 5th growth Paulliac, Bordeaux (£35-£40 bt) - a wine that is pleasing, but ultimately not great value, given what else you could buy at this price. The blend is 70% Cabernet, 28% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. This wine took several hours to soften out with breathing - I am rapidly learning that great Bordeaux seems to need at least 3 hours, and can take 4 or 5. This does mean that Janet sees me uncorking wine at about 2pm on Saturday and Sunday, leading to suspicions that I am 'tucking in' before the sun is over the yard-arm, the universal curfew hour of 6pm. And sometimes that may be true..but not with Claret unless I opened it before I went out for my long run at about 9am...anyway, back to the wine! A pleasing nose, gentle blackcurrants and a bit of meatiness. On the palate, good fruit, a bit lean on flavour, and fades quickly. Nice enough...but as I say above, I really am struggling to see why I should shell out for this kind of wine when there are so many better wines from Burgundy, Rhone, Brunello, Margaret River Cab...etc etc etc. Sorry, but there it is. I was also a bit surprised as 2003 was the 'hot' vintage in Bordeaux, so I expected warmer fruit.

Finally, a shout out for a great pub-restaurant that I used for a meeting on Friday - the Carnarvon Arms near Newbury. Just off the A34, mighty convenient, a lovely casual meeting space and a fantastic lunch.

Pip Pip.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

London Marathon week -15. MIles 34, weight 167.8lb

I said that I would look to change the shape of my blog when the new year commences - and to be honest I have not yet worked out exactly what that means! However I do know that for the next 15 weeks, preparations for the London Marathon on 17th April will figure highly and soak up an increasing amount of my free time. And of course, this week we returned to work on Tuesday..

After a belting 57 miles the week before, the next set of changes to my training plan started to show themselves, commencing first with the Tuesday track session. It was a bit of a rush getting away from work, changed and at the track for 6.45ish, in time for a warm up. The SAC members were friendly very open, which was great, and helped put me at my ease. After all, I am 40 and have not done any track sessions or races, and a lot of the crowd are young, thin and fast! There are definite groups that have formed over time, and you join in where you can keep up the pace - or just a bit ahead, maybe. That is perhaps what is so great about running - you get out what you put in - and you do your talking 'on the track. All great athletes welcome anyone who is prepared to try, no matter their level. Anyway, it felt just great, to bang out 6 x 800m at a very fast pace, with such a crowd, and well below zero 0c! I am looking forward to becoming a regular.

So, that done, the second piece of the jigsaw was the Hampshire County Championships Cross Country. Now, last time I ran XC was when I was about 17, apart from one race two years ago as part of the Old Boys XC team at my old School. So, this was a shock to the system - muddy, tough, long (about 7 miles) and fast-paced. A word about the event - everyone is part of a club, and when you arrive at the field, each of the local clubs has set up a tent with a banner outside - it looked like a jousting contest, with competing warriors working for their clubs. I was a knight going into battle in my club colours! No souvenirs here, this is raw racing, look after yourself stuff. It felt great! and my placing was not too bad, about middle of my age group, and just over a 7min/mile pace, which is pretty good on that course.

Let me tell you, the next day I struggled round a recovery 5 miles...

Winewise, I am trying to hold back a bit after Christmas, so during the week we are lowering the amount (not stopping, I am not MAD) and perhaps only having a full bottle on the weekend. This week, a step into the New World with Mendel Malbec 2007, a sensational wine from Mendoza in Argentine. It is imported by the Wine Society, about £13-£15. Still a bit young, this is a hand-crafted and loved wine. The vines are over 70 years old, and the wine is aged in small tanks, 100% new oak...real love. Malbec is very much the 'junior' grape in Bordeaux, and the heart of Cahors, where it is called Cot. This variety needs the heat to sing fully. However the Argentinians have taken it to their heart and are rapidly making it 'their' grape, having grown it since the back end of the 19th century.

What of the wine? Well, dense, rich fruit, very intense, beautifully consistent right to the bottom of the bottle. Tastewise, rich, thick cherry and plum aromas, a real dollop of fruit compote. You could almost cut it with a knife! I think and hope this will age well over the next 5 years, and I am probably going to keep 3 bottles for that time, and drink 2 more now to enjoy its youthful energy. Really, for this price, a great wine.

Finally, no video this week as I still haven't found the time to work out what is going wrong. I promise that I will....

Until next week..and sorry for the late posting,

Sunday, 2 January 2011

miles 57.54; Bike miles 0.1; Units: probably more than 57!

Well, dear reader, here we are at the end of my first year of blogging. My commitment was to write a blog once a week for a year - which I have now done, albeit not always regularly on the week. I intend to continue with the Blog, though I may permit myself some variance in the format now and then. Might I also thankyou at this stage for your perseverance and interest. More comments always welcome!

So, to running. I am delighted to finish the year with my highest ever mileage in one week. It's a little bit of a cheat in one sense, as the 7 days had two long runs, because the timing of Christmas pushed on Long run a day later. However the honest truth is that I have run 5 times in 7 days with with two long runs of 16 and 20 miles. My muscles know nothing of calendar days and think only of elapsed time! The good news is that I am holding together remarkably well. The not-so-good news is that I have now a clear benchmark that shows me that I am good for 20 miles only at the moment (ie I am 6.2 miles short of the marathon) and I can only hold a half marathon pace for about 25 minutes. So, I have lots of work to do! However, this is week 16 of a 16 week plan - so a pretty good start!

I don't have resolutions as such for the running year, however I do have some specific training goals. One is to incorporate a weekly track session where possible in the marathon build up. Secondly, to aim to get above 50 miles a week for 4-6 weeks in mid Feb to March. This will no doubt mean that I have to plan to run into work and back again on at least one day of the week to get that in. So that's the third training goal - to plan better!

I'm also going to commit to getting the alcohol level down from Monday 10th, when Christmas wines and foods should all be eaten up. Fear not, however - I said DOWN not teetotal. I'm not mad. Life is about balance, and there's no point sacrificing one pleasure simply for another. My goal is achievable without such wild swings. Now, if I'd aimed for sub -3hr marathon...that would be a different matter, and monkishness would be needed!

Which leads neatly on to my last wine of the year. Rather in the same way that you get to sing one Christmas carol on the Sunday after Christmas, then this will be the last of the Christmas wines - the other Port that we didn't get round to. The choice this time is Quinta do Vesuvio 1992 (£50-£60, Corney & Barrow). Firstly, a quick port lesson. Vintage port is only made in the 2 or 3 years a decade when the port 'houses' decide that the quality is top notch. It is self-regulated, and, as the houses don't want to compromise their reputation by over-declaring, it works well. In the 'not quite so good' years the houses still produce a top port, which they bottle as a 'Quinta' Port using the name of their top estate (Quinta) from which their best grapes always come - eg in top years you get Taylor's Vintage Port, in 2nd rank years you get Taylors Quinta do Vargellas Vintage Port. These wines are still excellent, and usually quite a bit cheaper. Still with me? Good.

Now, Vesuvio makes this difficult! Because it is an excellent set of vineyards, originally developed by the Ferreira family, and now owned by the Symingtons (of Warre, Dow and Graham fame) since 1989. The intention is to produce vintage port, pretty much every year, with each year representing the character of that vintage, more like, say, Bordeaux does. They have set their standard very high, as the port is made with hand picking, and traditional foot treading in granite lagares. It is much more than simple Quinta quality, definitely. But a bit confusing for the port drinking public who have learned the simple rule in the paragraph above!

So, what of the 1992?  The year was very dry at the start, almost too dry. Thankfully the rains came in May and June. The colour was a deep red, with an intense brambly/pruny fruit on the nose, and good concentration. The balance of fruit and spirit was good. A lovely port - however, somewhat in the shadow of the Grahams 1983 from the previous week, which just had the edge in terms of power, structure and balance.

Still, a wine that gave me much pleasure in the latter days of the Christmas break. Happy days.

No video this week, alas, as I still haven't managed to get the time to work out the technical issues. Happy New Year to you all.