Sunday, 30 November 2014

Masters International, Nottingham

Photo: Danielle G, many thanks

This was the second time I had been invited to wear the Scotland vest and run against England, Wales, Ireland and N Ireland. Last year for Cardiff I took it fairly seriously and did xc training and went into it reasonably strong. Although a few weeks ago I was in better shape I have sort of let things slip in the running dept. while being far too busy in the work life lately. However a couple of jobs involved a 40 minute cycle at either end of the day and that seems to have kept me in ok shape. I hoped I would get around the 5 miles without too much of an international thrashing. 

But first there was the small matter of getting there. A coach had been laid on which was appreciated. However it meant (with trip over to Glasgow to catch the coach) more than 10hrs travelling on Friday and the same coming back on Sunday. So three days spent for less than 30 minutes running. Which is quite a price. As is £30 for obligatory dinner. Unless you have the good sense of Chris Upson who didn't feel it was obligatory. And got the train back same day. Smart as anything.

In terms of accommodation I prefer quirky charm to soul-less franchise. The Team HQ was a soul-less franchise with shared rooms. I risked quirky charm (at the P&J Hotel) although make sure you read the reviews before jumping at the first budget room. You do risk stained ceilings and decor from 30 years ago but you get a room to yourself where, overnight, you can blow out either end and ruin nobody's race day. (Mary tells me I snore.)

Basin in the corner = virtually en suite

The previous owner (Mrs. Bates?) liked to collect chintzy plates, teapots and artifacts, some of which I photographed for your viewing pleasure. (The grey clouds hardly lifted all weekend so I had to take photos of something.) In fact when we got off the Saga coach trip in Nottingham it was tipping it down. I had to make my own way through this foreign town in the pouring rain and dark. Luckily I had chosen a hotel within a mile of the Holiday Inn and printed out a google map or 2 of the surroundings. On the way over I popped into a take away place and asked directions. The guy asked if I knew the roundabout at the end of the road. I said I had just arrived from Scotland and didn't. He then asked did I know Tesco's up the road.....

Despite this I still got to my room before Willie who had had to endure queueing behind a coach load of athletes at the Holiday Inn reception before getting his key.

John Paul 2, QE 2, a high-scoring draw.

This was the apt teapot at my breakfast table. I felt it was a good omen.

Helloooo, I'm rather pissed but I like your long brown paw.

Rumpole of the teapot

I had to cross the canal to get to the Holiday Inn.

What with the heavy rain on Friday night I opted to dine alone rather than arrange to meet Willie etc. and get us all soaked. I asked at reception for directions to the nearest Indian Restaurant but the guy was new and not local. I thought if I headed towards the town centre I would find one within 150 yards. Not so. I had to walk past about 4 Chinese restaurants/take-aways and it was getting expensively central before I came across a vaguely suitable place and even then if I hadn't been dying of hunger and weariness I might have walked right past.

If I had to do this eating place a second time I would know how to work it. However the staff - mostly Malaysian looking girls with only rudimentary English, while enthusiastic that I ate there, did not present a full picture of the format employed. A kind of buffet of international dishes (oh dear I can hear Gordon Ramsay swearing already) seemed available but there was no single menu and you had to leave your expensive waterproof unguarded on the back of the chair while filling your plate as many times as you liked (I think, though no absolute rules were ever imparted,) for £13.95 a head, drinks not included. In theory you could place a pizza on a plate, pile on Indian food and decorate that with Sushi. I did not attempt this but placed an order for a main dish while shovelling pakora and bhaji on a plate. While I was eating the delicious starter my nan arrived with some meat on the side but no sign of the main so I went back to the counter and while waiting on a second order it slowly dawned on me that I had already consumed the first one with the nan bread. To offset my embarrassment I put quite a lot of Chicken Dopiaza (help yourself from a cauldron) on top of the second main (Lamb Pasanda) but forgot about rice. Dessert was another trip to a help-yourself spread of many small squares of chocolate-fudgey-rocky-road and profiterole-like things. I did not have the neck to stack my plate high, nor to try them in situ which would have let me know which ones to avoid and which ones to pile on. I was really caught between the urge to get my money's worth (fill my pockets with sushi) and the notion that since I was only running 5 miles in 3 days I shouldn't return home 2st fatter. At the end of the meal I returned to the hotel room replete having spent less than £20 which was, in many ways, the object. I didn't leave a tip and from the way they handed me my change they weren't expecting one.

I slept really very well apart from the sheet being smaller than the bed and therefore waking regularly dressed in a toga. I had a good healthy breakfast and made my way back over to the Holiday Inn to catch the coach to the venue. It was Wollaton Hall, "a spectacular Elizabethan mansion and deer park in the heart of Nottingham." We were first up for the team photo and stood on the steps at the front of the stately pile. The aging photographer must have a contract with the masters organisation as it was the same dude as last year despite being almost psychotically absent of humour or adroitness. He pointed at Megan W but it was unclear whether he wanted her to smile, to leave or to give him her phone number. If it was a tactic to get us all laughing it worked. While he wrestled his specs on and off between photos to check their focus I nipped out from the ranks and took the above photo. 

The start of the women's race.

The course was quite tame; mostly on flat grass. Four laps of 2k round the perimeter of the front lawn. There was a substantial rise on a moderate gradient from the start line towards the big house and a sploshy bit in the third quarter. The rest was flat grass and while not technically challenging, nobody was there to run at chatting pace. It would be eyeballs oot the whole way, like a 5mile parkrun. The ladies and 65+men were off first, 50~65 men second and youngsters (35~50 men) last. 

Willie (Bill) Murray, right, along with myself and Willie J made three counters from Portobello Running Club, each in a different age group. 

Betty G had a tremendous run.
If you've ever noticed her good-for-age grade at the parkrun you'll know she is one of the top athletes in her age group in the country and she proved this today with an individual gold medal performance, and over a minute and a half ahead of her nearest rival. 

Next up was myself and Willie J's group. I wore spikes - for the first time in a year but with only medium length spikes in the soles. They held the turns better than hill shoes and the couple of tarmac crossings were carpeted. Last thing I said to Chris U before setting off was that we should try to avoid heading off up the first hill like a mental. Then pretty much did exactly that. A combination of the strong coffee at breakfast and the Red Bull an hour previous. And honestly, the pace didn't seem that fast. Willie M later pointed out that from where he was standing I appeared to be in fifth place on lap one and in lap 2... I stopped him going any further while thanking him for noticing. 

All the following photos from the 35~50 event

I felt the prompt start was not a bad idea. It was no faster than I would start a short hill race or cross country in Scotland. However if you look at my lap splits the first one at 6.45 was a bit sharp compared to the next 3. (Average dropped to 7.09) In fact it was exactly the same pace I raced the same distance along the prom last Wednesday evening at club training. Willie had us run 3 x 2k with 200s in between. On the last one I gave it everything left in the tank and timed it at 6.45. On flat tarmac with recovery between each. I now had to run another 3 laps on grass while not going backwards through the field. Stan went past early on and Chris came alongside then edged ahead although I could see him for the rest of the race and thought I was reeling him back in around lap 3. I counted off each climb up to the big house, round and down. By about the third lap I was soaking wet and breathing very hard. An Irish guy and I were swapping places and the thought that Paul and Colin had not yet come past was keeping me keeping on. Everything ached. Lap four up the hill, still no P&C. I took a wee look behind at a turn and saw them a short bit back, running together. It was sufficient inspiration to keep the pace going and push through the pain. I got ahead of the Irish guy on the second slight rise but he came back strongly on the final straight into the wind. I tried to keep with him but he pulled away. And finally the line. Paul had moved up to 3 secs behind and Colin 2 behind that. I tried to shake Paul's hand but neither of us were working well and I grabbed his wrist as he bent double and leant on his knees. We were all absolutely spent and I remember I shook the same people's hands on several occasions, wandering like brain-dead zombies, impressed just how much damage you can do to yourself in under 30 minutes.

Individual Silver medal for Robert G

The 35~50's

The 55+bronze team prize. Paul, Colin, Willie and Ian
(Note the first 2 numbers on the bib denote age group.)

I was pleased to have the race behind me. I was pleased to be third counter for my age group, behind Stan and Chris who both ran really well. And my 2 PRC team-mates seemed to have had great races as well. So a good day. I took photos of the youngsters running their race and cheered them on, knowing exactly how they were feeling. I went for a bit of a wander after that. There was a group of bachelor stags nearby, not bothered by the tourists being really up close and taking photos. It was tempting to go right up to them as they seemed completely unfazed by human presence but since you could easily take an eye out with those antlers nobody was going over for a stroke. I resisted the urge.

The sun tried to come out but failed.

Back over the canal, again.

Against my instincts I had signed up for the £30 dinner and presentation. It is a chance to mix with the other runners while medals are presented. Last year in Cardiff it was fun (or I was drunk, or both,) and the food was pretty good. This year it was not much fun and the food was desperate. I felt that the competition should not stop at the finish line but that England as hosts should be trying to match and exceed the hospitality of the Welsh last year. And so on. Obviously they, the English, did not. It was a buffet with people serving us so we got up and stood in line while they served small portions of very bland school dinners onto our plates. And you had to stack your salad on top of the braised beef (mince and potatoes) rather than risk going back later. Looking at the end of the queue there was no later and the £30 meals were running out before the queue did. In the afternoon there wasn't really much time to return to base, have a small snack, get scrubbed up and return via the Holiday Inn to the coach and get across town to the Conference Centre - a piece of contemporary architecture, much like the food, devoid of interest, imagination and flare. So maybe I was just a bit hungry and cranky. I sat next to Greig who had the vegetarian option which you had to order 2 weeks in advance like it was a delicacy flown in from another country. He informed me it was no delicacy. And 9 desserts were chosen for us and plonked on our table leaving little in the way of choice other than yes please or no thanks. Greig said his tasted like it came out a 3d printer. Did I mention it cost £30. (You'll be thinking that was to cover the wine on the table. You'll be thinking wrong. They did however have Christmas crackers on the table. November 22nd. Christmas Crackers. £30.) 

Another big bad bit of event planning was the PA system and 2 tier seating. Firstly it split up the runners, and then the upstairs couldn't hear a word that the compere downstairs was mumbling. To be fair if you went downstairs it was better, suggesting the PA system was at fault rather than the speaker. (Given the awards were presented for nearly as long as our coach journey and it was important to collect your medal at precisely the right point, this meant quite a lot of stress, which I absorbed with copiuos amounts of alcohol.) There were a few minutes to spare so (this being Nottingham) Robin Hood stepped in and did a spot at the mic, inadvertently revealing his day-job was as a tour guide, and a pretty dull one at that. Still, he certainly looked the part (when he wasn't on his mobile.) In case we didn't recognise this as cheesy as fuck they played the Robin Hood theme tune (yes, Riding through the Glen) over the PA and looked very pleased with themselves about it.

Meanwhile I reverted to form and sloped off to take selfies in the toilet. I wasn't sure about this corridor; whether it exuded minimal chic or just they hadn't got back from Ikea with the photo frames yet.

2 facing mirrors = infinite possibilities. Ref Flann O'Brien in The Third Policeman...
"If a man stands before a mirror and sees in it his reflection, what he sees is not a true reproduction of himself but a picture of himself when he was a younger man. De Selby's explanation of this phenomenon is quite simple. Light, as he points out truly enough, has an ascertained and finite rate of travel. Hence before the reflection of any object in a mirror can be said to be accomplished, it is necessary that rays of light should first strike the object and subsequently impinge on the glass, to be thrown back again to the object - to the eyes of the man, for instance. There is therefore an appreciable and calculable interval of time between the throwing by a man of a glance at his own face in a mirror and the registration of the reflected image in his eye.
"So far, one may say, so good. Whether this idea is right or wrong, the amount of time involved is so negligible that few reasonable people would argue the point. But de Selby ever loath to leave well enough alone, insists on reflecting the first reflection in a further mirror and professing to detect minute changes in this second image. Ultimately he constructed the familiar arrangement of parallel mirrors, each reflecting diminishing images of an interposed object indefinitely. The interposed object in this case was de Selby's own face and this he claims to have studied backwards through an infinity of reflections by means of "a powerful glass." What he states to have seen through his glass is astonishing. He claims to have noticed a growing youthfulness in the reflections of his face according as they receded, the most distant of them - too tiny to be visible to the naked eye - being the face of a beardless boy of twelve, and, to use his own words, "a countenance of singular beauty and nobility." He did not succeed in pursuing the matter back to the cradle "owing to the curvature of the earth and the limitations of the telescope."

50+ ladies Silver team medals - Fiona also won individual Silver

Willie M's team wins bronze

Someone getting down on the dance floor.

They left some of the official photos out on a table. 

ooh, me "ahead" of Paul - get that on camera!

Gillian, Lindsey and Megan - team bronze

50+ team with Robin standing in for Chris who had the good sense to leave while the going was good. Stan and Ted make up the bronze medal team. Photo Willie J. (As 2 below)

"Bill", Les and Walter - 75+ team bronze

I think this is the official team photo. 

I left the dinner just after 10. I was not in the mood for dancing. I had enjoyed some chat with the other runners but was more inclined to head back to the hotel and finish the sandwiches I had packed for Friday's coach trip than waste any more time at the rather lacklustre evening do. I also got a decent night's sleep which was the best idea given the looming prison sentence of the return coach trip. (I broke that up by finishing the book group novel which I had started on the trip down.) Willie and I travelled wearily back to Edinburgh but I shouldn't complain as others (due to a hold up leaving Notts) were busy missing their connections for trains North to Aberdeenshire. And that, after being drafted in late and having to pay double for a whole cell in the Holiday Inn (not shared.) So I really shouldn't go on. I did enjoy the running and I was pleased all 3 Porties returned with medals. Perhaps the nicest memory from the weekend was the result of a PRC committee ruling earlier in the year when it was voted to help cover some costs of anyone who was invited to run in such an event with a contribution from the clubs funds. Willie J handed Bill and myself an envelope each which I opened after I got back to the P&J, tired but feeling I'd done my best: a card and contribution with "congratulations on being selected to run for Scotland from all at Portobello Running Club". I was very touched.