Once a cheat, always a cheat

I’ve never cheated. Ever. Well, not since the time I played tennis with my brother as a 10 year old and I told him his shot was out when, in actual fact, I was just too tired to go chasing after the ball.

I’ve grown older and wiser since then and learned that there’s nothing to be gained from cheating – other than a hollow feeling of shame as I cover up the fact that I didn’t really win.

I’ve subsequently taken up running; the only person I can cheat is myself. I have been running for many years now and have never ever contemplated it. The sport is occasionally tarnished by drugs, but it is a sport that I enjoy tremendously and hate to think about the time that I am unable to do it. The thrill of continually pushing myself to my limits and subsequently stretching those limits further. The great feeling after a good run and the comfort it provides when I put my feet up later in the day and dive into a cake [note that I refer not to a piece of cake, but to an entire cake]. Running can be an addiction, and much like a drug itself.

This takes me to today’s run. The Beachamwell Half [marathon]. It is the highlight of the Beachamwell running calendar and attracts the best runners from Beachamwell and some very good runners from further afield. It is a mixed terrain route but, despite this, is frequently run in times under 70 minutes. It was my debut at the classic event and I felt the pressure when I was introduced to the course record holder on the start line.

I started steadily and soon found myself in second position. I was a long way ahead of third place so, in my mind, it had become a two horse race. As the race progressed, the leader was pulling away, but I was feeling strong. At a junction without a marshal, a race signpost pointed left along a route I was familiar with and I followed it. I questioned it in my mind, but I had been followed by a cyclist on the same route, so presumed it was right. There was nothing to indicate I had gone wrong, so I kept heading straight until I saw the next marshal.

Fifteen minutes later, I was at a crossroads without a marshal or a signpost. I now knew I had gone wrong, so I waited and conferred with the cyclist and we decided that we didn’t fancy an extra half hour, so forwards was best. We headed for the finish area and after a total run time of 67 minutes, I was cheered along the finishing straight and crossed the line in first place.

I couldn’t live with myself. That hollow feeling had returned. I owned up straight away. I had essentially cheated – albeit unwillingly. My first gold medal and I had cheated. I hung my head in shame. I may as well have taken EPO.

This didn’t stop me taking home the certificate that said I ran it in that time, but it certainly will not be placed above my mantelpiece. I will file it in this blog for history’s sake and no more. Technically the certificate only suggests “participation” and not “completion” but either way, I don’t deserve it.

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Two fifty nine

I began running nearly nine years ago with the sole intention of completing  a marathon. Never shying away from a challenge, my target soon became the elusive 3 hour mark. The most recent attempt was an assault on Rotterdam.

After an extended period of consistent training, I had been refining it for the preceding months and racing well. However, in the weeks leading up to the race day, my legs hurt more than previously. I was unable to sleep the night before and, on the day, I felt sick when I woke up, wasn’t hungry and had to force a bowl of cereal in. Approaching the start line, my legs went to jelly; the only positive thought I could find was the fact I was as prepared as I had ever been and this time, I had experience on my side.

I knew exactly what I had to do. I just had to deliver.

At the start, I was caught up with slower runners and didn’t see the first or second km markers, so when I went through 3km in 14mins (more than 90secs off target), I thought “Don’t panic”. Fortunately, I didn’t and quickly found my target pace (4mins 09secs per km) and maintained it.

That was until 20km. I hadn’t even reached halfway when my quads started talking to me, politely telling me they didn’t want to go the distance. I tried to blank the negative thoughts, but monitored the situation. By 30km, they were shouting at me, willing me to give up. I ignored their call; giving up wasn’t an option, so I nursed them as much as possible giving them an extra 10secs every km as well as a splash of cold water.

At 32km, my calf seized as a result of subconsciously changing my stride to accommodate my quads, so I stopped momentarily to pour a cup of cold water on them and continued; the pain subsided. I started doing the maths on the run – I had close to 45 minutes to complete the final 10km, which feels like a walk in the park when fresh but, clearly, I wasn’t – I needed to average 4:30 per km.

This meant 4:15 for 5km followed by 4:45 for the final 5km, however I was on 4:30 by 36km – it was going to be touch and go. I crossed the 40km line (4:37 for the km) with less than 10 minutes to go. Then I remembered a marathon is longer than 42km, about 1 minute longer, so I had to pick up the pace – I had no choice. The 41st km took more than 5mins so I knew I was in trouble. I felt unable to pick up the pace and my quads were now screaming at me. With 1km to go, it was down to 4 mins, but I had no strength left. With 500m to go, I first caught sight of the finish line. It was now or maybe never again. I tried to kick and I felt like I was increasing the pace – in fact I felt like I was sprinting, despite my stride length being barely that of a brisk walk.

Eventually, I crossed the line. I glanced at my watch over the line and it was close. Very close. I thought I had probably done it. I didn’t actually stop my watch until 3 hrs 11 secs, so could not be sure. I needed to find out, but the only internet cafes I found in Amsterdam had a peculiar herbal smell. This was arguably the worst bit of all – the not knowing, but fortunately I received a message the next day with confirmation. Two hours fifty nine minutes and fifty eight seconds. One whole second to spare – I have rarely been known to make life easy for myself.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Being a marathon runner, I know the importance of training and preparation. Being a mathematician, I analyse everything.

So how come on the most recent excursion, we managed to leave behind one of our party in Amsterdam? I had booked the tickets months in advance, coordinated all timings and arrangements to everyone involved, and even factored in room for manoeuvre. Yet as we travelled home, things took a turn for the worse.

Holland had certainly been an eye opener. Everyone had spoken of the Red Light District in Amsterdam, the marijuana, the stag dos. But it was the other things that caught our attention: police on Segways; mobility vehicles weaving through the traffic on just two wheels; smokers smoking while boarding the plane; cars taking off over speed bumps on cobbled streets; thousands of bicycles; and questionable logic at pedestrian crossings. But none of this could have helped us realise what fate was about to befall us.

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time (more than 4 hours before take off), had a bite to eat and decided that, as we had already checked in online, we did not need to go to the desk and proceeded to go through passport control. After a strange look and some strong words from the man behind the counter, we showed that we had boarding cards and passed without issue. We waited for about 2 hours before finally going through to the departure gate and once we had squeezed everything into one bag and separated out the liquids, our luggage was scanned and we joined the queue to board the plane.

The plane was in sight. 50 yards stood between it and us. There was one more door to pass and one final check. I went through without indication of a problem. The next went through without concern. And then the last. The boarding pass was scanned. Nothing. Scanned again. Nothing. Why was the machine rejecting the boarding pass? It wasn’t until many read throughs that it finally dawned on us and the air stewardess that the boarding pass was for a flight on a different date.

We couldn’t believe it. How had it gone wrong? How had we not picked up on it before now? How could we have stopped it going wrong? These questions were pointless. They didn’t matter. We had 5 minutes to react before boarding the plane. The ticket desks were closed so the ticket couldn’t be changed and, despite there being seats on the plane, it was not possible for all of us to board the plane.

I suspect if the plane didn’t have orange lettering, the story may have differed, but we had to suffer the consequences of our previous decisions and sacrifices.

There was no choice. One of us would have to stay another night. The others would then drive home that evening only to return back to the airport eight hours later. I also had to make the phonecall. Yes, that phonecall. “Hi, everything’s ok, but…” and “the reason we had to leave your son behind is…” and “he’ll be fine in Amsterdam on his own”.

If only we had checked the boarding card. If only this, if only that. It was no use.

A plan is only as strong as its weakest link.

Who cares what students think?

“Pupils are wrongly being used to interview prospective teachers, a teaching union says”
– according to an article on the bbc website (http://tinyurl.com/ye62vzv)
The reasons for having student interview panels are clear. However, my own experience would question their benefits.
I have attended two interviews where a student panel was used as a part of the interviewing process – where students posed questions in the presence of an existing teacher. One of those processes did not require me to teach a lesson.
At both interviews, I was told that I was the strongest candidate according to the student panel. I was also told on both occasions that the job was given to a better candidate. Interestingly, at the interview where I didn’t have to teach, I also received feedback that I was “over exuberant”.

So what sort of signal does this send out?
It appears to suggest “we give the impression to students and to others that we care about their opinions”.
Is it any more than an impression? I am unconvinced.

Blame the Emu

This is an experiment. I am intrigued to see how and where it ends up.

I’ll start by upsetting the apple cart.
I am in a position of responsibility. My job requires me to show no bias.
The internet provides a fantastic medium for expressing opinion. I can say what I want. Anyone can hear it.
Hiding within the internet is difficult. Why do it?
Why make a claim, but disguise yourself? What purpose does it serve?
It’s like saying “vote for me, I will reduce taxes, I will improve services, I will make the world a better place” but not telling you how.
All impact is removed.
So why raise the issue? Clearly my own apple cart felt like it was being tipped; I leave you with http://tinyurl.com/yzmm3pc
Welcome to my blog. Expect opinions (hint: this one is cryptic). Stay tuned.

Clearly, now that I am tapering, I have too much time on my hands.