Roger Waters: Echoes’ of Innovation

Is there anybody in there?

Is there anybody in there?

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Progressive rock is broadly thought to trace its origins back to the late Sixties and early Seventies. Without question Pink Floyd, led ultimately by Roger Waters and David Gilmour, became key standard bearers for the genre culminating in the recording of their seminal albums ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’.

The roots of ‘Prog’ as it became known can be traced as far back as the release of ‘Meddle’ in 1971 as well as the early work of King Crimson, Genesis and Yes. Meddle, a seminal work in the eyes of many, saw Pink Floyd break into new areas of expression contributing to what was to become, for a few heady years, the dominant musical form in rock.

The evolution of progressive rock saw a more challenging form of experimentation replace psychedelia as the vanguard of art in rock music led as it was by a procession of truly gifted often classically trained musicians. Thus ‘Prog” began to take shape and become what we fondly recall today. Heady and occasionally confused concepts, characters and increasingly long album releases accompanied by ever more extreme cover art characterized Prog’s output up to 1977. Having said this, for those that wanted to be challenged both intellectually and musically this upstart child of the rock revolution fitted the bill perfectly.

Much debate has ensued in recent years as to what progressive rock was or ultimately became. To the purist it is an oddly eccentric style that features complex and lush keyboards complimented by technically demanding and emotional guitar work gathered up in expositions of lofty, sometimes quasi philosophical and political lyrics or story telling. It is also worth noting that bass guitar invariably took a prominent position in the early masterworks exemplified by the work of great players such as Greg Lake, John Wetton, Chris Squire and Mike Rutherford. Each played a major part in redefining how the bass was used in rock music.

Strangely Roger Waters has invariably, even by his own admission, not been included in the ranks of the great bass players in progressive rock. This is a hard assertion to substantiate when his work from ‘Meddle’ onwards is listened to closely. It becomes self evident on closer analysis, notably when listening on state of the art audiophile equipment, just how his economic and beautifully placed bass playing is judged, often to perfection, in the music of Pink Floyd. There never seems to be a note out of place and the phrasing, though often understated, is wonderfully conceived. Was this style deliberate? On considering how Water’s has approached every other aspect of his musical output, it is hard to think that it was anything but deliberate.

The documentary about the making of ‘Dark side of The Moon’ inevitably paid a great deal of attention, understandably, to the sublime and eternally memorable guitar work of David Gilmour. But hold a while ! The bass playing stands out in its own right. It adds something very special to the final work. Recent remixes of DSOM and WYWH have shown that to be especially true. The bass playing stands out prominently in all its immense and enjoyable glory. It forms a carefully crafted foundation upon which the rest of the band wove its timeless songs that defined a generation.

Progressive rock established itself as a globally significant musical force as the seventies advanced though it lost its way with the advent of punk in the late seventies. Punk music questioned grandiose, technically accomplished music and sought to replace it with more direct musical expression that eschewed technical ability for pure raw passion and, it seemed, anger. For many years even the most devoted progressive music fan was hard pressed to find new bands willing to be standard bearers for the music they loved. Progressive rock was almost destroyed by the simple and direct assault of Punk ! Almost !!! A few seeds remained that began to germinate in the late 1990’s.

In the past five to ten years the situation has changed with a host of new bands emerging that loosely fall under the banner of Progressive Rock thus reviving the genre and spreading its influence throughout the world. What had been a strangely English phenomenon for much of its history was taking root notably in Scandinavia and the former Eastern European countries as well as the USA to a smaller degree.

From diverse corners of the world bands have lovingly labored to produce a diverse catalogue with, it seems, something for just about everyone. The term ‘Prog’ has become a catch all casting doubt on what it means in today’s world. Descriptors such as Progressive metal, Symphonic Prog, Folk Prog and the Canterbury Sound vie with obviously main stream progressive music that clearly owes its existence to the great originators King Crimson, Yes, Genesis with Peter Gabriel, ELP, Camel, Van Der Graaf Generator and of course Pink Floyd.

The Waters Legacy

The Wall in all its glory !!!!!!

The Wall in all its glory !!!!!!

Leaving this often fervently argued debate aside there is a clear trend among today’s in progressive scene that pays direct homage to the big three as many see them……King Crimson, Yes and Pink Floyd. The latter, notably referencing what Roger Waters and David Gilmour brought to music, have figured regularly in both tribute band activity and the content of progressive rock albums over the last 15 years. Gilmour’s guitar style is much copied, but the pioneering compositional innovations and story telling techniques of Roger Water’s are strongly represented in many key releases.

Some bands quite unashamedly draw from the style and pace of Pink Floyd at their greatest. Chief among these has been the early work of Porcupine Tree. Stephen Wilson, who has become a latter day Waters of sorts, wrote a series of albums that carried the Floyd tradition forward in a new and exiting way. Suddenly it was cool again to like this wonderfully dramatic and mentally challenging music. Indeed much of the modern Progressive movement owes a debt to Wilson and his tireless work ethic. There was never a hint of plagiarism as Porcupine Tree were always their own band. This has been proven by their later output which itself has seen many imitators of late.

Despite the growing European interest in progressive rock, England undoubtedly still plays a major role in establishing the new wave of ‘proggers’ as they have become known. Though not strictly linked to Floyd in style English bands like Konchordat, Haken, Also Eden, Big Big Train and Karnakata have come to the forefront in recent years.

A Liverpool band, Anathema, morphed from doom laden death metal protagonists into an intropsective and emotional outfit that clearly owed more to Pink Floyd and Roger Waters than Opeth or Paradise Lost. The dreamy, pathos laden soundscapes they create are assuringly original but clearly ‘Floydian’ in style. This change in musical direction dismayed their early fans, but new followers must have been heartily assured that such wonderfully moving music was still possible amid increasingly cynical, product driven times.

Mostly Autumn, who hail from York, are undeniably interesting though they ply a more traditional rock furrow these days. Set against often strong Celtic tones, their guitarist has produced some truly staggering solo guitar playing that would not be out of place in The Wall. Add to this the work of seminal band Arena led by Clive Nolan whose songs are carried along by the technically astounding guitar work of John Mitchell and there is enough angst ridden, dramatic playing with heart rending climaxes to keep a nation of Floyd fans happy until they draw their final breath. The clear influence of The Wall on the writing of these bands proved that Waters in particular had not been forgotten. Now, with renewed interest in and the astounding success of ‘The Wall’ all over the world, it seems absurd to think that forgetting him might even be possible. Both Arena and Mostly Autumn carried Prog through the fallow 1990’s along with such stalwarts as Pendragon, IQ and the previously mentioned Porcupine Tree.

As previously mentioned, Scandinavia has seen tremendously creative artists issue some truly memorable albums in recent years. Carptree, owing more to Peter Hamill and VDGG than Floyd make ingeniously crafted records with some of the most superlative playing heard in recent years. The style owes a great deal to Sondheim in places but there is a clear debt to the narrative style that Waters pioneered in the Wall. Tortured central characters are brought to life through the music in a way that Waters could readily identify with. Each of their albums takes years to make, but when they emerge their dedicated followers treasure each one. They deserve greater exposure.

Sweden is the home of The Flower Kings another group of technically brilliant and prolific musicians. They guest on hundreds of other albums and even have a side project called Karmakanic which is the equal of Carptree in terms of quality. Their style is closer to classic Yes but they cannot be excluded from any discussion of what is going on in progressive music. This said, their classic track ‘Two Blocks from the Edge’ opens in proud Pink Floyd style. It must also be noted that the musicianship and production is everything you might expect from thoughtful, talented and supremely talented Scandinavians. This, of course, is where Pink Floyd and Waters in particular always scored highly……the tradition is thus continued.

In Norway Airbag has been creating waves and are soon to issue their third album. The first two are absolute modern day evocations of ‘Wish You Were Here’ period Pink Floyd. They are both moody, emotional and inspiring classics. There is little doubt that if David Gilmour heard them he would assert that he did not remember recording the solo’s on the albums so close are they to his style. This is not a criticism as the band retains an originality that begs subsequent listenings in a way that many less talented Floyd ‘clones’ do not. This is a truly talented outfit. They have drawn on Waters and Floyd to make new music that keeps the flame alive.

Moving on to Australia where Pink Floyd tribute bands seem to proliferate as rapidly as Kangaroos, there is one group, admittedly based on a Floyd tribute band, that leaves many listeners breathless when first encountering their music. Anubis released an album called ‘The Tower of Silence’ a couple of years ago. Many are attracted in true progressive style by the album art work. This is soon augmented by the quality of the music. The scale and pace of the songwriting clearly evokes influences from classic era Floyd notably in the guitar and keyboard work, though the start of the opening track is very reminiscent of King Crimson too.

Rarely do modern bands pull off the trick of carrying the listener along and then raising them up to a climax as does this band. There is no doubt that a strong Australian influence can be heard in the song structures of Anubis which is to be admired, but the imprint of Roger Waters is clear for all to hear notably in track six, ‘ And I Wait For My World To End’. Their third album due out in 2014 is eagerly anticipated. Although the musical business has undeniably changed with respect to the fortunes of bands such as Anubis there seems little doubt that with the right exposure this band could be huge. They are set to headline a major Progressive festival in Germany in May 2015. It would be a crime to miss them.

One aspect of Roger Waters work that will always be an essential element of great Progressive Rock is that of the narrative based around a central character. Waters tribute to Syd Barrett and the use of Pink’s rise and decline in The Wall as a vehicle for his ideas is a method that has taken firm root in many current offerings. Sean Filkins after he left Big Big Train came out with an album that certainly utilized this approach strongly.

Greater still is the work of Cosmograf, led by the multi talented Robin Armstrong. His album ‘When Age Has Done It’s Duty’ has all the introspection and deeply provoking thought you might expect from Waters at his best. The album takes us on a journey accompanied by music of the highest quality. Waters always seem to put great emphasis on the strength of composition and that message has been well and truly applied here. The songs and bridging passages are consistently enjoyable and worthy of repeated listening. These bands do not achieve the popularity of years past, but Cosmograf are capable of producing modern day classics.

All the hallmarks of classic Water’s are in place in the work of Robin Armstrong. The drama, angst and singular cries of the lonely or isolated man set against the insanity and indifference of the world loom large. Solo voice accompanied by sympathetic acoustic guitar, echo vocals and repeated phrases all vie to remind us of Waters, yet
they are woven into a new musical fabric that makes the listener take notice and listen closely. We reminisce. We applaud the artist for recalling his musical origins. Never once is it apparent that this approach is lacking in originality or derivative. The talent on display is of such a level that it avoids such flippant accusations. There are many examples of less talented bands who mercilessly plagiarize Floyd, Roger Waters and to an even greater extent early Genesis : they deserve no mention here.

Poland is making serious waves in the world of progressive music. Though bands like Riverside have established a distinctive Polish style others such as the Black Noodle Project have unequivocally set themselves up as modern day Floyd influenced artists. The imprint of Roger Waters is very clear on even a cursory listening to their most recent work. ‘Meddle’ comes to mind in many of their tracks.

English band Freedom To Glide have on their recent album ‘Rain’ produced an anti war epic that will be readily compared to The Wall in terms of its message and use of radio, dialogue and sound effects that compliment the music. The composition is smooth and excellently recorded. The playing is accomplished though it lacks the rousing peaks and troughs of The Wall. It is an altogether more sombre work with a superb central metaphor likening the fall of soldiers in war to the fall of rain. I have no doubt that Roger Waters would respect this sentiment as being truly iterative of all he feels about the waste and pointlessness of war and the arms race. It will, of course, never rival The Wall but ‘Rain’ is one of the clearest examples to date of how music can be used to rail against the pointlessness of most wars redolent as it is with Waters style pithy observation and fearless critique !

There is little doubt that progressive music is alive and well. This brief review merely touches the surface of all that is currently being recorded and released. There has been for the past three to four years a specialist publication called – wait for it – ‘Prog’, that is devoted to progressive rock. The magazine plays a central role in enabling those with a thirst for the music to keep on finding succor for their obsession. I will aim to update this part of my blog as more bands recalling the greatness of Waters and Gilmour are discovered.

Unquestionably one of the most critical influences on the musical rebirth of progressive rock music, notably with the more thoughtful works produced, is the work of Roger Waters. Echoes of innovation live on.

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The Final London performance of The Wall

The Final London performance of The Wall

Meeting Dave Kilminster who played on the wall and is a current leading light in modern Prog !!!

Meeting Dave Kilminster who played on the wall and is a current leading light in modern Prog !!!

Snowy White and ...............?

Snowy White and ……………?

Finally ! It’s cool to be a runner again !!!

Los Fast Boys, Diva, Lauren and I !!!!

Los Fast Boys, Diva, Lauren and I !!!!

It has been a breath defying summer. Humidity that would grace the finest Finnish Sauna has been our constant companion these past months. In the midst of this Britrunner, yours truly, has struggled to maintain anything like a decent level of training. Frankly, the steamy hot months almost left me questioning my love of running……….something I could never have considered possible in years past. I have commented more than a few times here that, for me, 80 degree heat and more simply does not work ! Those born in the swampy sub tropical environs of South Florida seem to rather like it, but this northern European soul with more than dash of nordic genetics making up his existence is not built for it.Not in the slightest.

So, I was bolstered these past two weeks by temperatures in the low 50’s for a 5K race in Boca Raton and more recently a tolerable 68 degrees in Parkland, although humidity at 88% seemed to be indicative of a last stand before cooler fall and winter air chased it away.

This last Saturday for instance we were greeted by 68 degree weather, a clear fresh morning and a glorious silver disc of a moon smiling in the most welcoming way. My running light struggled against the lunar wash that bathed the road ahead. Even the lights adorning some of my fellow runners caps, lights that resembled the ‘full on’ beams of pickup trucks could not detract from the beauty of the scene that accompanied us on this outing. All was well in our running world.

To add to the pleasure of the morning we were complemented by returning heroes from last weeks Ironman Florida. I was, it seemed, surrounded by more iron than the trans Siberian rail road. Such elevated company saw me pick up the pace as I forgot where I was for a few miles. Thankfully one of my more sensible club mates caught us and threw a blanket of good old fashioned sense over the proceedings. The pace was ameliorated to a more sensible 8-8:10 per mile. I was thus able to return to my intended pace as a means of ensuring I did not do any dmage to a still fragile knee. I hope to run a couple of half marathons this year and that could all be in jeopardy by doing something stupid at this point !

Los Fast boys as I will now affectionately dub my Central and South American freinds, were allowed to run on. Btw guys I’m still waiting for the Spanish translation of ‘fast boys’ !!!!. It cannot be that difficult to conjure up an appropriate monicker for such a fine collection of runners and triathletes.

Bill, my club mate, and I ran the remainder of the 10 miles together and, I’m pleased to say, came up with a workable plan for world peace and a also good approach to getting race ready in the midst of the conversation we shared. It is amazing the things that runners discuss when on a long trek together………maybe I will have to pen a blog post on that very subject !!!!

In the final analysis it was gratifying to get a great run in now that the weather has cooled down. If I want a sauna I’ll go to the aforementioned Finland. For now I will run around Parkland in cooler air and be thankful for it !!

Until next time I can only say………….. Be healthy. Run well. Enjoy. Cooler weather is here.

You know it makes sense.

Recent Roads and Those recalled: Running, the ‘tough love’!

Recent Roads and Those recalled: Running, the ‘tough love’!

Running on Wimbledon Common !

Running on Wimbledon Common !

The Oldest runnning club in the world

The Oldest runnning club in the world

The path back to respectability as a runner is not an easy one. I discovered this as I have found it increasingly hard to motivate myself for long runs in particular as this smothering summer heat continues unabated. Morning short runs have ceased due to the pressures of a new job and evening runs hinge largely on whether the heat drops below 90 degrees and there is some decent cloud cover. Of course, cloud cover in Florida invariably prefaces storms, dazzling lightning shows and heavy rain!!!

I often find myself telling people that I live in Florida partly because I like the fact we can run all year round. This is essentially true, but whether we can run well is a point that promotes much discussion at my South Florida running club – this year more so, it seems. While I have no doubt that the science supporting climate change is real, there certainly seems to be much local anecdotal evidence that the earth is getting warmer, at least when I am out running !!!!!

All of this has left me sometimes to recall with fondness the days when I ran in London and the Sussex South Downs hills before my eventual emigration to the United States in 2003.

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When I lived in England I thought nothing of adding leggings and a second layer to my attire, donning gloves and heading out for a cross country trek over Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park where Henry VIII once famously hunted. In winter the perennial heathland puddles froze over and farm tracks hardened into ankle turning ridges. Not to worry. We simply took care and got on with it. On days when it was so cold that five lungs full of air would preserve them for all of eternity we stayed inside and drank fine ales at the 17th century inn near my apartment.

This ‘training’ method seemed to work and was warmly supported by all and sundry within the club, although I secretly suspected that some hard nosed individuals actually took their training seriously and ran in all weathers. We, the rank and file, of course drank their health, told stories alongside high piled log fires built in Jacobian hearths and looked forward to their exploits in the upcoming Olympics. Yes. We had Olympians. Shady characters with medals, silly PR’S and no evident desire to support the local brewing trade at all!!!!! We were drinkers with a running problem it seems. The Wimbledon chapter of this worldwide phenomenon no less.

We competed only sparsely and ran on clement days, an occurrence not always guaranteed. November afternoons of grey, bone leaching drizzle were enough to deter all but the most intrepid aspiring racer, but as we were not really training for anything in particular it was ok to take a day off and head to the pub. My club, Belgrave Harriers, one of the oldest in the world condoned such attitudes. It was ok to run for fun and race from time to time. I wonder sometimes if this is still the case, especially when I see the times posted in the Park Series 5 K races wherein the first 50 runners all come in under 18 minutes. Times are changing my friend when the English seem to give a damn! Do they actually train now, I muse?

On those dull, cold Saturday afternoons when we got back to our clubhouse, an old Victorian building with meeting rooms, basic changing facilities and communal showers with, of course, a place for making tea we would slowly wait for the sensation to return to our hands and feet while our noses indicated a semblance of function by starting to run again. This was where the cotton gloves we often wore came in useful or better still that long sleeve of the light rugby shirt worn for the run with the club vest on top of it. Mr Hen would walk round shaking a wooden box fixed to a flat wooden handle as we stiffly moved our fragile, chilled limbs and changed. As he passed each of us we would rather unskillfully drop a few coins in though the slot on top of the box. A collection for club funds was the purpose of these grubby pennies and shillings gladly proffered. Ah happy days. You see, we knew no better!

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Naturally, there were warm days. As I recall we had about seven of these in any given year. They were to be enjoyed and talked about in the months when the darkness gathered more tightly than eager runners clumped together on the start line ready for an autumnal 5K.

The starting line !!!

The starting line !!!

Then I moved to Florida……………………………………………

More Humidity please !!!!

More Humidity please !!!!

Things changed when I joined my first running club here. A Fort Lauderdale outfit that actually sponsored and held races. I had lost a fair amount of weight in recent months and was in much better shape. What a brilliant idea it might be to see how fast I could run these races. It was tough at first because I lacked fitness and I was totally bamboozled by this warm air that seemed to follow me everywhere. Consider that I had never started a run before 10AM in England and then imagine my surprise at lining up for a race At 6:30AM in the dark. This is the Florida way.

Indeed, I have to remember to tell any English friends that come here looking forward to a race that things kick off in the earliest hours or they will pitch up when the age group awards are being given to the over 60’s or just as the last of us has headed home!!!

Things are taken a lot more seriously here in Florida. People talk of regular races, their progressive improvement of times and all they are doing to be better still. If you were unaware of it at the start you soon become familiar with the extent of your competitive spirit by joining a club in Florida. No matter what your age or ability there seems to be something other than humidity in the air. It is the inescapable joy of being outside, in the warm weather, by the ocean and alive!! Welcome to Florida running at its best though beware the dog days of summer training !!!! They sap the strength and flatten the will, but we plod on in soaked, squishing running shoes because we know that soon the balmy days will return.  

I have written before about how best to handle the hot weather and humidity, but have only touched on how demotivating this can be. Carrying a persistent nagging injury doesn’t help, but we are runners and we famously press on through the aches and pains because that is what we do!! Right? We run! That said, the almost sauna like characteristics of the atmosphere and its lung soaking humidity seem to strip the last vestiges of pleasure from long runs in particular.

As September advances many of us are heard to plead both publicly and privately ‘when will it end, when will the cool weather return?’ Of course, by ‘cool’ we Florida based runners mean anything close to or under 70 degrees. To us that is a winter blast, though personally I would welcome anything in the 50’s, a temperature that sends my fellow Floridian athletes scurrying for the closet in search of that long sleeve running vest that we know is in there somewhere. Color is not important nor style, so long as it protects them from the imaginary frosts they believe lie in wait for them.

Florida living softens the soul and thins the blood many say and the array of warm swaddling clothing suddenly adorned in these parts when more temperate weather settles on our roads bears clear testament to this.

Even when it is cooler the time hardened habit of convening before the dawn remains for many of us. Perish the thought that we might get up an hour later just because it is cooler. Arising at such silent hours is all part of the ritual of being a runner. A Florida runner. You see it’s hard, running, and not for the faint hearted. Apparently.

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In Florida it gets very HOT !!!!

In Florida it gets very HOT !!!!

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You can’t run forever !!!!!

All that was left after 'The Challenge '

All that was left after ‘The Challenge ‘

There are those who steadfastly refuse to participate in what they see to be a ‘fad’. I have had this said to me. The ALS ‘ice bucket’ Challenge seems to be sweeping the nation and has spread well beyond these shores. A recent Skype conversation with my parents in England was suddenly halted by my 76 year old father asking : what this ‘ice thing’ was all about? It seems that many celebrities and sports stars are doing it there. I quickly recounted the origins of the phenomenon and suggested that my father would be better off avoiding it ! Frail health does not augur well for him with respect to sitting under an ice shower.

Having done what every good son does in bringing Dad right up to date, I noted in my mind that I had not told him of the challenge meeted out to me which, to date, I had not responded to. You can run, it seems, but you cannot hide ! I had feigned a flight to Greenland to escape the wash of the ice and I had quietly acknowledged each passing day with no on enoticing…….until Jim Dunn issued a SECOND challenge. My goose was cooked and it was time to get ready for the chill !

The logistics of the challenge can be bewildering and, in some cases, harmful. As I pondered how I might respond without help I was reminded of the perils of the challenge through Facebook. The best failures and mishaps have been posted widely. The dangers of getting a relative, usually inatentive and incompetent, to stand above you on the deck in readiness as you utter your pre prepared lines and then challenge others are immense. Many a challenger has been hit by coolers crammed with ice suggesting that cranial decompression and a few days in ICU would be the price they pay. Surely donating would have been easier !!!!

Then there is the vexed matter of those that really do not try too hard !! I have seen a few tuppaware lunch boxes filled with tepid water supporting a couple of lonely ice cubes. I thought they were going to drink the water but no, they doused themselves and then feigned frigid surprise. Really !! There is a reason people go to acting school. Convincing performances being one of them ! I think people mounting such a tepid resonse to the challenge should be subjected to a publically arranged ice dousing so as to assure them of the fun they missed by being so pathetic ! Then there was Sarah Palin who put two ice cibes in some Dr Pepper ( probably laced with booze as is her apparent bent these days) and drank it. Thankfully the staff at her TV channel hit her hard at the end of the video thus priving once and for all what a fake she is !!! ha ha !

But what of me? How was I going to video the proceedings? Most of the people I knew were busy and not able to assist. I pondered ways in which I could balance my iPhone on a chair and set it to record. It might be quite funny to see me do this, scurry to the spot marked with an X on the ground, say my lines and then unleash the ice on a well warned dome! But, what if I missed? What if the ice came out in one great lump? Missing my follicly challenged head would be the worst outcome of all. I would then have had to scamper around my yard collecting up the raidly melting ice ready to record take #2. THat was NOT an option clearly !

All these possibilites cascaded into my mind leaving me to contend that maybe this could become a sort of response wherein I video my evident difficulties with the logistics of the whole dreaded perforance. I soon discounted this when I thought of the approbrium and abuse I might get for being so lame.

So it was that a friend, Jum Dunn came to my rescue !! Noticing that I had not picked up the original challenge from Helena Redshaw, citing as i did the technical difficulties I faced, Jim challenged me a second time. Immediately a quote from Ocar Wilde came to mind as I paraphrased Lady Bracknell in thinking …………’to avoid one icebucket challenge is a misfortune but to avoid two challenges looks like carelessness’. I was cornered. I had not choice but to plan my compliance with the challenge. Fortunatley the prospect of a Saturday long run loomed large on my calendar and Jim in his challenge suggested that this might be the perfect time and place to do it !! I had my ice ready along with a small cooler. The die was cast.

The rest, they say, is history. I did what was expected of me and all I can say is that we should all have an ice water shower at the end of a long run. I highly recommend it !!

A job well done !

A job well done !

I had Complied and issued my own challenges.

Fad it might be, but it is all in a good cause. Many of us had a bit of fun. I wonder what will grip the nation across the social media next. I shudder to think !!!!!

Another hot one in the steam bath that is Florida !!!!!!

It’s bloody hot. It’s bloody humid and about 50 of us from Northwest Broward Road Runners pitched up today to run in this weather. There’s your definition of insanity for you.
Today I was pleased to have my English friend Stephen Scott joining me on the run. When I woke him up at 4:20 he asked ‘what time is it?’ I replied ‘4:20′ to which he responded :
‘4:20!!!! I normally get up that early to go on my holidays ( vacation) !!!!’ You can’t beat that Yorkshire humour, can you ?
Having discussed this eventuality at some length we set off to join the athletically insane folk that comprise my running club.
As I got ready to start I saw the powerful frame of Joe Gonzalez emerge from the dark. I thought ‘oh no! He’d promised me he wasn’t running’. Thankfully he wasn’t as i had planned a more leisurely run this week. I thought it was impressive to wear his club running gear just to put out a water stop for the club. That’s professionalism for you that!
A hot steamy run ensued with banks of fog lying across scary road (as we call it) making it REALLY scary…..well maybe a little bit anyway!!! You have to get with the general flow here. Banks of runners complimented the scene. They ran along the road all lit up like a gigantic crawling Christmas tree stretching out a little in front and a long way behind me.
Then a ‘mellifluous’ and intermittant stream of loudly expressed vocal notes caressed, well invaded, my ear after we turned to head back to Hinton Waters, the lovely cool water stop that the good folk of the Hinton household put out for the club every week. As i ran further on the form of Sandi Weisenfeld Oscar slowly and eerily materialzed out of the fog. There she was, blissfully alone, belting out the first three words of a song she vaguely recalled. Happy as a happy person celebrating happy week could be. I asked Andrew Oscar who was running along side me what she was singing and he didn’t know either. But she was happy.
It was nice to be joined by Lisa Getlen Callahan who now has to rename her company bilife as she used up a life saving herself from a delicate trip. One of the Great saves was witnessed as she used all her athletic prowess to regain her poise. Spectacular in the extreme but Trilife is now Bilife. Lol. Sorry Lisa. Couldn’t resist that.
Another steamy 10 miles in the books I can now spend the rest of the day recovering……..for that is the lot of the runner newly admitted to the 55-59 age group who insits on training in Florida where heat is never enough. WE have to have humidity of 90% and above for months in the summer. lovely !!!!!

Heat Hubris and humidity !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Feeling like we have just fallen in a river !

Feeling like we have just fallen in a river !

For most the advent of summer signals vacation, great weather and firing up the grill. While much of this is done in South Florida there is the additional factor of humidity to throw in to the mix. For several months the outdoors in South Florida feels like a massive sauna as skin dripping humidity, often in the mid to high nineties, soaks us thoroughly if we dare to even move a few steps. I have often wondered why more Finnish people do not live here because their love of Sauna would be naturally provided though we might struggle to find them a frozen lake to flop into unless they own a meat cooler or a restaurant with a big fridge. Just a thought!!

Of course, the lot of the runner is such that we have to maintain our training in this heat and humidity even if it just a matter of maintaining a base. The really lucky ones get to prepare for fall marathons as they work up to running sweltering 20 milers!!!  This is no easy task as our drenched running clothes and perennially soaked shoes demonstrate. How many of us leave shoes by a sunny window or stuff them with newspaper (or old screwed up printed emails if you can’t find a newspaper such is the march of modernity) in an attempt to have them ready and dry for the next run. I do the sun trick. My cat knows it too as one of her best sun stretching spots has been invaded by a pair of malodorous Nike’s.

How do you approach these high temperatures and humidity?  With humility or hubris??? I have to confess that I have been one of those who thinks it is a good idea to throw in some fast paced miles even on long runs. Something my run concussed brain tells me that I’m toughening myself up for race days when the temperatures are lower. But, not so fast young man (I can fantasize!!!!).

A recent article from a major running publication posted on Facebook by my friend, and certified coach, Melissa Hinton suggests that we need to approach this Floridian summer weather with more caution. Naturally a runner’s genetics and underlying fitness are going to influence how they feel, but there is little doubt that making allowances for increased temperatures and humidity is a wise thing to do.

Below is my take on the major points raised in the article. Essentially there are 5 things a runner can do to enable them to cope better with the brutal conditions encountered in the South Florida summer :

1)    Slow down!! Shock horror!!

This is not easy. I know as I have been guilty of not doing this. I recall one run where the temperature was around 92 degrees. I set out at a decent clip winding up to 8:11 pace by mile three at which point I had the really bright idea of throwing in a sub 8 minute mile. I clocked 7:35 and felt very proud of myself. All I had left to do was run the last two miles and another fine run would be in the books. Ha! Was I mistaken!!! I literally crawled the last two miles as my body started to shut down. By mile six I was almost walking at around 9:45 pace, gasping for air and desperate for water. I felt as though I was melting and breathing air directly from a hairdresser’s blow dryer!!!!

The moral here is to hold it back a bit on really hot days. Even if you run early or as the sun is setting, the temperature in South Florida is regularly above 80 degrees. The experts suggest cutting at least 5 to 15 seconds a mile off you pace for each 10 degrees over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. So, if your average training pace is 8:15 a mile an adjusted pace of around 8:45 would make more sense if the temperature is in the 80’s. As tough as this sounds to the hardened runners mind the benefit will surely be felt in the final third of the run. On my long runs recently I have been tempted to run with a fast group and mile 3 – 7 have been run at an average of 7:30 pace. Hubris to the fore I stride out with them only to run out of steam, literally, as we hit mile 8 after which I crawl home. In the main the others are younger, fitter and faster than me, but there is no benefit to hitting near racing pace on long runs anyway and doing it in really high temperatures makes even less sense. On the three occasions I have done this recently it has taken me the best part of the rest of the day to recover. So slow down !!!!!

2)    Avoid the sun………….duh !!!

Yes. Another shocker !!! How often do I see people plodding along the canal sidewalk near my house at 1PM in the full glare of the sun? Too often is the answer. I ran one race this year which started at 8AM and I can say it was an additional stress factor to run at full pelt on a mostly sun drenched route. Don’t do it. I am not a mad dog, but I am an Englishman and I will ALWAYS avoid the midday sun!!! It’s simple really : Run in the morning in Florida to avoid the hot glare of the sun and try to wear a cap or visor if the sun is up. It makes a lot of sense.

3)    Drink in response to your thirst……….interesting !

I am fortunate to be a member of a club that puts out water stops at strategic points along the main running routes of its Saturday long run. I NEVER miss a water stop on a long run. Although I do not guzzle down gallons, I do slake my thirst and where necessary use a ‘Goo’ or ‘Shotbloc’ to replace some of the electrolytes I lose through sweating. This seems to work and by taking on the right amount of fluid I ensure that I do not set off again with a stomach full of fluid that is trying to reemerge at any point!!!! Running with a protesting stomach is never easy.

Apparently the Australians, who else, have figured out that running with a little dehydration is a good thing. I can add to this that not trying to throw up is a good thing too which leads me to be in the rare position of agreeing with Australians. You see. Running opens us up to all manner of possibilities and outcomes !!!!

One final point on hydration relates to replacing electrolytes. Thankfully we have moved on from Roman technology of salt pills which I do not recommend unless you are running an ultra ( and even then you need to be careful) but I do recommend either gatorade, especially if your club puts it out on long runs. If this is not available take some of the electrolyte chews that now crowd the market. They need to be taken with a couple of cups of water, but they make a huge difference. Drinking water alone will not replace important electrolytes. As the weather becomes hotter is is important to get sodium, potassium and even magnesium into the body to avoid problems. Get some chews now !

4)    Sweat and sweat again……yes even you ladies !!!!

Sweating is a good thing. Lets face it, there is little glamor in what we do. We look our bedraggled worst at the end of runs, we have sweat stains in all manner of ungainly places and in this hot weather we all look as though we have been dragged through a lake. Clearly sweating is good for us. Sweating is how the body cools itself. The wicking materials found in most running clothes these days help us to sweat. I cannot imagine anyone running in cotton these days, but if you do – STOP IT NOW !!!! You are not helping yourself. Even though my shirt can usually produce a jug full of water when I take it off after a run, I now realize that this is an indication of how my body has sweated and thereby cooled itself. It is not pleasant but it is necessary. One word of caution. If your body stops sweating and you feel chilled, it is time to stop and get some fluids quickly. The whole point of drinking, especially on long runs is to keep the body sweating. It is sane to sweat !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

5)    Get naked……..within reason !!!!

And now to the fun part. What to wear or not to wear. In addition to effective materials it is not a bad idea to expose some skin. Clearly naked is not good in many cases and even where it would be heartily applauded by fellow runners it is not advised. This is not Germany and the police would take a dim view of naked runners even if they did carry adequate lighting in the early hours of the morning. This said, I have always been an advocate of running as unencumbered as you can especially when it is really howt. A running vest, shorts and socks is plenty in the apparel department unless you like to wear a cap. As for the other paraphernalia please read my article called ‘Naked Running’ on my blog from a few months ago – I take a humorous look at all the stuff peole wear when they run. Its on britrunner.com

Wearing sweat suits and layers of clothes will make you lose weight until you replace it by drinking, though it can also push you dangerously close to overheating and getting seriously dehydrated with the consequent effect of inducing heatstroke which is far from pleasant!!!!! I ahve seen people doing this and I just want to stop them and say : stop it !!!

That is about it. Practical advice and of the sort I am very happy to state because when I thought about it I realized I had to slow down in the heat. In this way I can better enjoy my run, recover more quickly and gain maximum benefit. Now all I have to do is apply the learning when I run on a Saturday and not let my male hubris get the better of me as I chase after the fast boys. I hope you do the same

Happy training and good luck in the races you prepare for in this maddening and decidedly uncomfortable heat !!!!

Have it !!!

britrunner

Banishing The Inner Runners Voice…………………..

Team Running Wild Celebrating Progress

Team Running Wild
Celebrating Progress

Recently a member of my racing team, Danielle Kleppan, sent me a link to, in this case, the wise words of the elite runner Ryan Hall. I will share these words later, but the fact that she cared enough to post the link on Facebook spoke volumes about why running is so elevating to the spirit.

She may not know it ( yet!!!) but that simple act meant so much to me as I slowly make my return back to some sort of decent form as a racer. The sharing of advice, experience and hope borne of a genuine desire to see each of us improve and gain satisfaction from what we do marks running out as almost unique among the sporting activities that people of all ages, sizes, pace and gender can immerse themselves in. I say this often, but running is a community – one that embraces the spirit and fends off the craziness of the world for a few precious hours a week.

Incidentally, I recalled seeing Ryan Hall give a presentation at the Houston Marathon Expo. He imparted all manner of practically useful tips and hints to those of us gathered to listen to him that day. Truthfully, 98% of those rapt by his words would never experience a sub 5 minute mile and certainly not in a marathon, but this did not dull the applicability of what he said that day. Listening to the great runners can benefit us all. So. More of his words later.

Running is a curious beast when all is said and done. We train hard often running at crazy hours of the day, sweating our guts out, exhausting every last ounce of our energy all in the hope that we can express ourselves well on race day. We can be hard taskmasters if we do not run well, or more importantly, it seems, satisfy the fragility of the inner runner’s ego, that less than silent voice that nags at us as we try to reclaim former capabilties or get better still. In response to this ‘inner voice’ the litany of reasons as to why we did not do as well as we had hoped in a race are often recited in the post race ‘analysis’ that we all revel in. Runners certainy love to talk about running. We either celebrate or commiserate.

Sometimes an expression of apparent satisfaction with a race can be couched in such terms that the listener will say ‘don’t be so hard on yourself, you had a good race’. Such a sentiment was expressed to me last Sunday more than once. I was surprised as I did not think I was being negative but it may have come across that way or at best as not recognising what was good about the run. It seemed I was being received that way. I had run a season PR and while it was a warm day ( 80 degrees), a late start for a Florida race and a demanding course that included two large river bridges I may have given a misleading impression. Inside I was heartily satisfied with the run. Or so i thought……………….

As for the race. I had run a quick first mile, there was no vestige of the aches and pains I had felt all week after a really hard track session. The cadence and motion, for me , was smooth and I was passing people. I was still struggling to kick myslef into the zone of discomfort that I had felt for my PR races, but I was cruising well. Mile two, as ever, was a bit slack and then the third mile was quick again. In this race I felt the ability to maintian a pace but there was none of the old kick. That would have to wait for another day !

My season PR was only three seconds better than the previous week run on a flat course and a cooler day but it was, none the less, a season PR. I thought, as I crossed the line, ‘I’ll take it!!!’ I really was happy. But my inner runner, the one trying to get out again, seemed to have commandeered the microphone. The innner runner was broadcasting to anyone interested, or not in some instances, vaguely egotistical rants that really said more about why it was such a ‘bugger’ not to be running like I did last season than being satisfied with what I had just done. I thought my words were those of a happy runner, but the iner runner prevailed and muddied the waters.

Then came what might sound like excuses. Why excuses? Well. The fact is that I ran only a year or so earlier a minute and a quarter quicker : 20:18 to be precise. This year I had battled back from an injury layoff and in the light of advice from so many running friends I had limited my miles and rested where in the past I would have run just to get my miles in. On the back of 12-15 miles a week I ought to be very happy, particularly at my age. But that inner voice, perched on my shoulder at this point, no doubt to ensure being noticed, was the one that people were hearing. ‘It was a tough race’, ‘it was hot’, ‘I was not doing the hard miles’ etc, etc. The reality was that I had once again made real progress in a race. With that little devil of a voice sitting on a runners shoulder it can appear as though former results are a thousand miles away. In actuality they are not, they happened in a different time and under different circumstances. As many of my friends say : it is important to run in ‘the now’ and celebrate each good run for what it is. Many of my freinds said that this past Sunday and I was ultimately grateful for their well intentioned words. They gave me a better perspective.

In reality I have a little way to go to genuinely get close to the two or three guys that I know can out run me in my age group, but I should be very happy with the race on race improvement I have experienced since returning to racing just a few weeks ago. I know what to do from this point and if I can stay injury free I should continue to pick up speed and stamina for this demanding little race. 5K races hurt, notably if run at pace. This is something I am set to explore in the coming weeks. The clear light of reason and much appreciated advice will stunt the volume of the complaints my inner running ego and allow me to continue to enjoy the fact that I am running at all. This is something we should all be gratefull for as we witness the passing of more racing seasons !

As for the inner runner and his expression of angst at being less than him former self I can only refer him to the wise words of Ryan Hall and respectfully ask the ego to be quiet awhile

‘Training, especially after injuries,requires patience and faith. Not comparing yourself to where you’ve been but celebrating progress is key’

Well put Ryan !!!

This weekend saw progress indeed and if progress is good enough for Ryan Hall its good enough for me!!!

Thanks Danielle for sharing this, it made a difference and that is why I love running. We do this stuff !!!!!

Team mates inspire

Team mates inspire

They ran strong, defiant and many : The 2014 Boston Marathon

The prize : worth its weight in resolve !

The prize : worth its weight in resolve !

Today the 2014 Boston Marathon was held. This year, above any other, was poignant in that the running community was joined by the nation at large in remembering the tragic events of a year ago when terrorists wreaked havoc at one of the worlds greatest sporting events. This,of course, is no ordinary event. The 118 year old race mixes the best in the world with gifted amateurs, road hardened marathon warriors and first time qualifiers in a multicolored river of humanity which expresses all that is good about athleticism and fitness. It proves that we don’t have to be world beaters to compete or take part, we just have to meet and beat the challenge of the hardest race of all. Irrespective of age, gender or relative speed the act of qualifying for Boston or ‘BQing’, as it is often called, unites thousands of runners for a few short hours in ways they will relate for the rest of their lives.

Boston stories abound. Everything I hear about it radiates magical energy and almost always brings beaming smiles to the faces of those talking of the day they ran Boston.

I, like so many, had friends running today. I watched online as best I could while trying to conjure a semblance of interest in my work as those I followed forged their way through the streets of Boston. I wrestled with the web site, baulked at the fitfull “live’ feed and cheered as each of the runners I was following hit key points in the race. I too was getting as much of MY Boston experience as I could handle considering the inconveninet and self evident pitfalls of having to work at the same time.

A well earned beer !!!!

A well earned beer !!!!

Friends, runners, Boston marathoners

Friends, runners, Boston marathoners

Michele Anthony was representing my club having trained hard and moulding herself into a superb marathon runner. She ran her way to an experience she will cherish for life on a day that seemed perfect for completing a marathon. Her recovery beer was well earned……………add to this the race of Angela Chambers, another club mate, who somehow completed the course despite having battled chronic injury for months. The injury blighted her training but Angela was not to be deterred. She went to Boston having qualified. She was determined to be a part of this most emotional of Boston Marathons. This is the essence of running and marathon running in particular. A personal best would be nice, but the reality of Boston is encapsulated in the elation of qualification, the inspiring joy of simply being there and above all participating. Angela’s acheivement ranks with all others on the day because she like Michle and 36,000 others reclaimed the finish line for running and humanity. Add to this a fine run by fellow Brit Helen Mckenzie who looks just a mite like Paula Radcliffe, and a grand day was complete.

Supporters are critical too

Supporters are critical too

A few months ago I was running from the Running Wild store in Fort Lauderdale when I rubbed shoulders briefly with Brian Keno. He did not know me but I was aware of him and his illustrious running past. Subsequent to this I read his Facebook posts.

The inspiring story

The inspiring story

Proud finisher 2:48 !!!!!!

Proud finisher
2:48 !!!!!!

I learned and understood that the events of 2013 had affected him so greatly that he resolved to run the 2014 Boston marathon despite having not raced seriously for a few years. He trained hard and set his mind to ‘do my part’. For Brian , the terrosts could not and would not be allowed to win. I added his race number to my tracking list and watched in awe as he tore the course up. Brain is 52, a mere three years my junior yet he ran this notoriously difficuly marathon more than an hour quicker than I ran my own single marathon amid the realtively genteel boroughs of Houston in 2013. Today he ran a time of 2:46 ranking highly in every category that can be thought of. I was left speechless by this gargantuan effort, this utter expression of human will and carbon steel resolve. Brian still does not know me that well, but through his efforts I feel I know him much better. His effort this day said everything that coud be said about this wonderful sport and the people that become involved. All I can say is ‘Hail Brian, a true hero on the day’.

In my own feeble way I have shied away from training for another marathon because of a painful knee. Having witnessed what Brian did I have no more excuses. I will never run as fast as him, but I will do everything in my power to qualify
( 3:40 for my age group – meaning I have to cut 14 minutes from my PR!!). Brian has been an inspiration today and I am certain I am not alone in saying that. Thanks Brian. Running won today and you were an ambassador of the highest measure. Be proud.

All that remains is for me to relate my experience of last year, first published on Facebook a few days ago.

BOSTON 2013 RECALLED

A year ago this day I was walking through the infusion suite at work when I stopped by a patients chair. My attention was drawn to street scenes of chaos, smoke, emergency vehicle sirens and what appeared to be sheer panic. As my senses focussed I realized this was happening at the Boston Marathon.

My mind struggled to grasp the vista that was playing out before my eyes. Surely not. This is a marathon. ‘THE’ marathon in the eyes of many. Why would it be wrecked by explosions?
Nothing made sense. Everyone at work knows me as a runner. I was being peppered with questions :
‘Do you have friends in the race?’
‘Have you heard from anyone?’
‘Hey, Mark. They think it’s a bomb!’
A bomb!!

But it’s the Boston marathon. I kept repeating this over and over in my head. No one would attack that! The race I had wanted so dearly to qualify for in my first marathon a few months earlier was under attack.
I stood transfixed by the garish headlines of the CNN news feed. Every unsubstantiated snippet of ‘news’ was being repeated ad nauseum. Video news loops caused an almost hypnotic reaction. I simply could not function. The whole ugly circus rooted me to the spot.

As I regained a modicum of sense I thought of friends. My scrambled brain tried to recall those I knew to be running. I then attempted to figure who, among my friends, would finish around the 4:09 mark when it was said the bomb exploded.
My text messages lit up, my phone rang. Others, those that knew me were similarly as confused. Friends asked if I was there. They knew I wasn’t, but they still asked. They opined : did I know anyone running? Had I heard anything?
Panic gripped irrespective of being at the race or watching on TV.

Since then ……….

A Year has passed. The running community has paid tributes to the fallen, raised money for and awareness of the victims and their families suffering. We came together as only we know how.

Today we remember. We remember the horror that was visited on this, the most inclusive and all embracing of sports.

No matter our age, ability or level of training we can all run and enjoy the camaraderie felt by those who are inspired by the joy of ‘the run’. We can rub shoulders with the best, compare stories of personal journeys towards fitness and personal achievement. We are ALL part of the family of runners that train together, race together and now grieve together.

Because so many of us run there is a unique sense of loss when events like this occur. We ALL feel it. Why? Because it could just as easily have been one of us. And, last of all, we share grief at the bewildering notion that anyone, no matter how politically crazed, could unleash such pain, suffering and horror on innocent runners and bystanders.

They shall not forgotten. Today. We will stand silent at the appointed time and remember them. We reflect on how our world changed in one senseless and destructive moment of insanity.

4/15/2013 will forever live with us.

The mind drives : the body follows ! 3 races in 3 weeks – the comeback trail

Running Wild was well represented !

Running Wild was well represented !

Standing on the start of the Riverwalk 5K run this year I allowed myself a few brief moments to consider where I was in my running life. Having endured the most cursed of afflictions that befalls a runner I was finally on the thresh hold of a race that I hoped to race, at the very least, competently. This said, I was still wracked with anxiety. Questions flooded my mind. Could I hold the pace? What if I blow up after a quick first mile? It is easy to get carried along by the pace, to feel how it used to be only to then recall that training up to this point has been slight ! A recipe for disaster. Add to this the fact I kept telling myself that this was ONLY a 5 K and the cloud of doubt was complete. There was a time when I thought nothing of a 5K even though it is a hard race on the body, especially if that body is 55 years old and coming off an injury. As we get older it is harder to return to prime form and this was becoming ever clearer to me.

On the day I elected to stand a few yards back from the top runners. This way I felt I could avoid any embarassment at the finish as I imagined myself stumbling across the line fighting for breath and way short of what I used to run. I looked around me and many familiar faces were present. No hiding here. In truth no one really cared but having been absent for nearly six months I wanted to be sure that I could compete as incongruously as possible.

The national anthem was played, we all stood still and let the music surround us in the lifting gloom of the early morning. The formalities complete it was time to race. The course split was explained for the 5K and 5 mile runners and then we were instructed about the count down to the gun. In an instant at least 50 of us leaned slightly forward and placed nervous fingers over the start button on our watches. Pulses quickened, the countdown started and then the refrain ‘Runners are you ready?’ preceeded the 5,4,3,2 1 countdown before the gun sounded. Suddenly I was racing again.

Carried along on the wave of multi paced humanity I rounded the first corner to face the New River Bridge. I got into my stride. It felt good to perfuse my lungs with large breaths of air. My legs were moving freely and I was holding a nice pace. As the race prgressed I looked around for other grey beards that might be in my age group. The field had thinned and and, surprisingly, I was on my own somewhere in the first 30 runners. Mile one, then mile two, albeit markedly slower, preceeeded the injection of pace I tried to make as part of my final push. Not a great deal happened. Training is key and I lacked it. As we rounded the corner to cross the New River again I actualy accelerated across the bridge. I always was a good hill runner and muscle memory at this point was driving me on.

My legs got heavier, I tried to maintian my cadence. Improved core work kept me upright and I was praying for the red brick pavong near the finish to come into sight so I could start my sprint for the line. I tried to pick my knees up but not much was happening. I need to work harder in training, but at least I had broken 23 minute, my desired objective on this my second race since injury.

I somehow managed to win the age group in a somewhat thin field, but a place in my age group is always welcome. I can only race who is there on the day.

With Vic Beninate, a true running freind

With Vic Beninate, a true running freind

So. 22:20 was not spectacular by my standards of recent years, but it represented a geunine mark of achievement.My knee was sore but not a problem. In the post race euphoria I was able to see many running freinds and pose for the obligatory pictures. Mementos of a fine day and yes, It really did feel good to be racing again !!!!!

Cameraderie carries us all to the line !

Cameraderie carries us all to the line !

And so, on to Coral Springs 5K and a tougher field. The race was held as a charity event for local breast cancer services. I was not at all sure what was going to happen. I wanted to break 21 minutes, but I was not feeling at all great. It was a lot of fun to greet and offer my best wishes for a fine race to the many friends I saw entered in the half marathon.Once they were cheered on their way I started my pre race prep with Melissa who has graciously guided me to greater fitness these past few weeks. A slow paced mile always serves to get the legs warmed up and ready for the race. I cannot imagine racing without doing this. All runners have rituals of course and I am no different. Melissa did her ‘thing’ and I did mine.

This week the race started very quickly. One second I was standing next to Melissa, the next minute the gun had fired and she was 15 yards ahead of me. It was very impressive to see her shooting off into the distance. I thought I might try to hold on to her and challenge in mile three. Not a chance ! She was strong and I was not. Two great runners in my age group caught me at mile one and then politely left me behind. They were gracious enough to let me have third place in the age group, but in view of where I am at present and that they are both good runners, I was happy to just be in the mix.

The post race euphoria was electric this day. Melissa was the first woman to break the tape which was an amazing result considering her battles with injury. She has been a true friend and an inspiration to me. I owe a lot to her good advice and cajoling. Sadly on the day an unusual intepretation of the normal racing rules for the overall top three saw her cede first place to another fine lady runner who completed the course in 26 thousandths of a secone less time.

It was similarly inspiring to meet so many top local runners afterwards. My age group looks competitive with John House and Joe Gonzalez both at least 40 seconds ahead of me at present. I have work to do and I need to catch these men in time. 22:08 this week. Happy with that.

Chicked !!!!!!!!!!!! Melissa showed me a clean pair of heels all the way round the course

Chicked !!!!!!!!!!!! Melissa showed me a clean pair of heels all the way round the course

John House - faster right now but a great guy to aspire to in terms of speed

John House – faster right now but a great guy to aspire to in terms of speed

Old guys rock. The 55-59 top three on the day !

Old guys rock. The 55-59 top three on the day !

Finally, we come to the TriCycle 5K which was run in aid of Sickle Cell anemia and recognition of the impact of this disease on young people.

1st Woman overall and 2nd in 50-59 age group

1st Woman overall and 2nd in 50-59 age group

Meeting Ron Downey....a 2:17 marathon runner in his day. Respect !

Meeting Ron Downey….a 2:17 marathon runner in his day. Respect !

With team mate Luiz Sousa who was the overall race winner.

With team mate Luiz Sousa who was the overall race winner.

I felt better today having done some decent speed work in the week. Melissa and I lined up for the race in a small field of 125 runners. It was unusual to be in the front 10 for most of the race. I do not do this very often. I hung onto Melissa this week and though I trailed her by 3 seconds at the end, she ran quicker than last week when she absolutely destroyed me. To my surprise I cut 19 seconds off my time and finally got under 22 minutes. Mission accomplished. 21.49 and there is more to come !!!!

I think I will rest this week, but I am certain there is a 5k to run the week after. I have the taste for it again. I love to race. I lOVE TO RUN !!!

Mermaid Revealed !……Helena Redshaw interviewed with Tea and Bikkies, of course !

Helena with Britrunner (me) after another steamy one in Florida !

Helena with Britrunner (me) after another steamy one in Florida !

I’ve been told I am an influencer says Helena Redshaw. First impressions reveal a cheeky, unrelentingly dedicated woman who makes a splash wherever she goes but who retains humility and a beguiling shyness when confronted with the success of her ideas and inspiration. Her story is like so many others but in critical ways it is unique. Read on. Discover more !!!!!!!!!

Striding out !

Striding out !

Time in the saddle !

Time in the saddle !

Her journey from spectating year after year with her Mum at the London Marathon to running it, tackling other ‘majors’, completing a half Iron Man and becoming known in the South Florida running and biking community as ‘the running Mermaid’ (badass Mermaid, no less) after she learned to swim is colorful and inspiring.

Helena has made a life of doing what she puts her mind to and more importantly inspiring others to follow suit. When she meets people the ‘influencer’ in her means that they invariably end up registering for a race somewhere, even if they’ve never run before. Although many great athletes are among her friends, she loves to inspire ordinary women to get up, get fit and get involved.

As an athlete she is regularly seen in gymnasia, bike training centers and on local roads running, clipped onto her distinctive black and white Quintaroo bike affectionately called ‘Nola’ or more recently swimming inordinate distances in local aqautic centers at godforsaken early hours of the day.

Helena is a member of many clubs locally including North West Broward Road Runners Club in Parkland/Coral Springs, Florida, Boca Triathetes, Doghouse Cycling and G2 Cycling among others. She also loves to knit, have a nice cup of tea (with milk of course – she’s English dammit !), be ‘brilliant’ and avoid cooking wherever she can. She is a regular woman, a mother and competitor who lives by a simple mantra : do it and don’t quit. If it is there and it can be done, train for it or just do it !

Helena’s journey from avid avoider of anything remotely athletic at high school to training for a full Ironman in 2014 is colorful and characteristically filled with challenges faced, conquered and then renewed. Her motto ‘coz why not?’ is fitting in the extreme. Why not indeed!

As previously noted she did not immediately gravitate to an athletic lifestyle but the seed of her future endeavors had been firmly planted back in her native London. Every year she would watch the London marathon with her mother and wonder at the runners and charity competitors as they sped past or staggered in some cases laden down by elaborate fancy dress costumes. Ultimately the desire to run the race got the better of her.

Helena eventually ran the London Marathon in 2009. She said that she ‘just winged’ the race as she knew nothing about running back then. She readily admits to ‘winging’ races a bit ever since. Despite training in a determined and utterly focussed manner she always seems to have an injury to take along for the race. That said, for her, seeing the finish line in her first marathon was a memory that will ‘live with her forever’, one which has inspired her for everything else she has done since. After finishing London she decided to run New York. After this the realization dawned on her that she could run all the world ‘majors’. New York and Chicago are in the bag and only Boston and Tokyo, the newly minted ‘major’ remain to be tackled. Many would ask : why would anyone do all this ? In her own inimitable words the answer is simple -‘Cos why not?’.

Prior to running the race she had been successfully treated for an illness called Ventricular Tachycardia ( VT) which is a potentially life threatening medical condition that results in the heart beat getting up to 100 beats per minute. In Helena’s case her heart beat irregularly and up to 190 times a minute. This is clearly not a good thing if you aspire to run or for that matter live beyond a certain point. It would certainly curtail any likelihood of ever becoming a running mermaid. Thankfully medical science came to the rescue and Helena was able to start her unique contribution to women’s fitness athletics after successful treatment. As a result She raised $6,000 for the British Heart Foundation as her charity effort at the London marathon.

In Helena’s words, ‘It was after this that the real journey began’. The London marathon was duly completed with a modicum of training, ‘winging it’ all the way, of course ! As is the case for most first time marathoners, the finish line was a sight she will never forget. The emotion of finishing the first marathon is one of those life events that has inspired thousands of writers and more runners still. Helena, as we know, was not content with running one major marathon which is why New York quickly followed thus inspiring the desire to complete the set.

Another ‘first’ ocurred after the London Marathon when she bought her first serious bike. It was a Trek bike affectionately called Tonka ! She joined G2 Cycling and naturally completed her first century ride within two months of starting. The purchase of ‘Tonka’ was inspired by the notion that inflicts itself on all first time riders : why spend a fortune on something that you may not like? Of course she loved cycling and eventually got her first Triathlon Bike from Doghouse Racing after she learned to swim. This was one dubbed ‘Nola’ after New Orleans the venue for her first 70.3 race! She is often to be seen on the roads of Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Parkland and Coral Springs astride her striking black and white speed machine putting more than a few male riders to shame ( the author included). She is a member of Boca Raton Triathlon Club as well as Doghouse and G2 and she has inevitably made hundreds of friends along the way. Her infectious enthusiasm draws people to her and if they have not done so already they will run, ride or swim something shortly after meeting her. Her ability to inspire and enthuse women and men of all levels of athletic ability is clear testament to the energy she brings to our sport.

Since getting involved with the world of triathlon she has completed several sprint tri’s, the HITS series Olympic distance triathlon and the New Orleans Half Ironman. With these considerable achievements behind her the Ironman Texas is next up in 2014. After that , who knows……………..she lives for the next goal and seems to be up for anything.

I became friendly with Helena some two years ago. We share common ancestry in that we both are English. This provides us the benefit of being able to communicate and joke in English English much to the confusion of many of our American friends. It is this Englishness that has inspired many hilarious moments, a few private jokes and the kick starting of my writing aspirations as they presently stand. Helena even inspired me with her wit when we ran early wednesday runs at the start of 2013. The adventures of the Glades runners as we became known provided me with a great deal of material for posts that acquired a small following on my Facebook timeline.

Me with more mermaids !

Me with more mermaids !

Helena and her trademark Jump with me failing miserably !

Helena and her trademark Jump with me failing miserably !

Shortly after she mentioned she was thinking of starting a club. This became The Mermaid club. Consequently a web phenomenon was created. Why ‘Mermaid Club’? Firstly, the epithet ‘Running Mermaid’ was given to Helena by people she trained with when she learned to swim shortly after her 40th birthday. Soon after gaining the confidence to swim 9 lengths of the pool she was participating in her first Sprint Triathlon. Not only did the title of Running Mermaid stick with her, but it inspired the founding of The Mermaid Club in 2013.

Secondly, the name of the club was derived from the club of the same name formed around, it is said, William Shakespeare though there is little evidence that he was a member. Leading Elizabethan literary figures would meet on the first Friday evening of the month at the Mermaid Tavern in London partly to imbibe and partly to share ideas and inspire one another. Inspiration of others is a key attribute of The Mermaid Club. Helena is also a big fan of Shakespeare.

Thus it was that one of her greatest achievements was not been related to training for a race, it was the founding of The Mermaid Club. This online global community for women who aspire to ‘think big, make things happen and inspire others’ is beautifully described in the tag she coined ’Live life, make waves”. The club links women all over the world, many of whom are working mothers, who in the words of Anais Nin, ‘have a fear of shallow living but no fear of depths’. They share their achievements, knowledge, athletic journeys and support for each other via Facebook and a webpage ( livelifemakewaves.com) launched in 2014. Inspiring women to take the first step of a journey that will fulfill them in so many ways is a fundamental principle of the rapidly growing club.

The three passions of running, biking and swimming are embraced by the club although pure fitness activity is included as well. The planking posts on FaceBook have become a weekly staple for women all over the world on the club page.

Much of the clubs art work is original with Helena taking many great pictures. I am convinced her bike pictures will be a great coffee table book within the next five years. More lively ideas make up the online presence of the club including Motivating Mermaids on a Monday, Tuesday tool kit, Thursday Anything Goes, and Friday is focused on rest and relaxation or Mermaid love! The mantra of the club is ‘live life, make waves’ and the women who take part and share their athletic highs and lows are encouraged to live by the words of Anais Nin by ‘having a a great fear of shallow living and no fear of depths’. The analogy is perfect for the Mermaid club and typifies the creative zest that Helena brings to its evolution.

A web page has been launched to add to the club use of FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter. The phrase ‘Show your fins’ has been widely adopted as encouragement for those women starting their athletic journeys. The phrase has also developed a life of its own as many women now ‘show their fins’ as they finish races or train for them. The pictures of them completing races with fins held aloft are plentiful and the enthusiasm of those connecting with the club is clear for all to see. The women who get involved love the club and voraciously acquire the T-shirts, swim caps and running tee’s that Helena advertises and sells bearing the club crest. Much of this is done either as a non profit activity or where possible donations are made to charities such as Swim Vietnam which is run by a friend of Helena’s in Vietnam.

It is clear to me that the club has a real chance of becoming huge over the coming year and beyond. The face book page has well over a thousand ‘likes’ and the ‘goodies’ offered for sale simply race out of the box soon after Helena receives them from the manufacturer. All of the merchandise, online posts, pictures and ensuing correspondence support the notion that there is a clear desire for women to share their stories and to grow from this. Whether a woman is an established athlete or a complete novice, the Mermaid club has a place to discuss and connect just about every aspect of being fit, training, competing or simply being a woman who is living life and making waves.

Helena is unquestionably a difference maker, someone for whom just getting on a bike, jumping in a pool or knocking off an early morning run is not enough. She will continue to innovate and drive her ideas forward while have a lot of laughs along the way. Tea and bikkies (English cookies) are her fuel and an unrelenting enthusiasm for every challenge she sets herself allied to an ability to get thousands of others to follow suit are her hallmarks.

This recent USA Triathlon Florida woman of the month is an irreverent but dedicated athlete who relishes the next big challenge as something that has to be done…………Riding a hundred miles? Just do it, as she says ‘Cos why not?’ Why not indeed !

Ready for a nice cup of tea now !

Ready for a nice cup of tea now !