Halfway, water spray, card play & fast day

The news always seems to be full of doom and gloom and currently it seems the World around us is as bad as ever:  the US lose a Chinnook-full of Special Forces in Afghanistan at the same time as they lose their AAA credit rating starting fears of a second Credit Crunch; turmoil in North Africa continues with Syrian tanks bombarding one of the countries largest cities; the Euro zone becomes more concerned about Italy defaulting on their debts; and closer to home the phone hacking scandal continues to rumble on whilst riots & looting in North London leave Tottenham looking like a war zone.

It’s a real shame more focus isn’t given to the good news stories, one of which has really caught my attention.

A man from my ancestors home town of Newcastle Upon Tyne, named Mark Allison, is fast becoming a living legend.  In 2007 he ran 874 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End in 37 days and raised over £34,000 for St Benedict’s Hospice who cared for his Mum during her final days battling lung cancer.  He is now nearing the end of his latest mammoth fundraising challenge for the Hospice and The Children’s Foundation: running 3100 miles from California to New York in just 100 days.

Running in all weathers, across all terrains, battling with the difficulties that have been thrown at him he is now inside his last 100 miles and has already raised over £54,000 for the two charities.  Please tweet him, @rungeordierun, messages of support and encouragement as he closes in on the finish line.

And that brings me onto my own running challenge, a mere one sixth of Mark’s challenge and with a much more lenient time frame.  As regular readers will know I embarked on a challenge to run 800km within 12 months in aid of Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres, my company’s charity of the year.

Yesterday saw my 19th week come to a close with a 5km run around my hometown of Witney which means I have averaged 25km a week for the past 13 weeks now and more importantly, it means that I have reached the halfway point of my virtual journey between the proposed Maggie’s Centres at Oxford and Aberdeen – the two closest centres to my office and our headquarters!

The 400km has come surprisingly quickly and I am now feeling good about the remainder of the challenge.  With the nights already drawing in, I’m trying to bank as many kilometres now so that when the daylight is lacking I can still complete my challenge with a little less motivation.

As a little light relief yesterday afternoon The Wife and I, joined by 4 friends, travelled across to Swindon for a bit of nostalgia.  When you think nostalgia and Swindon you may think about the Brunel train empire, and quite rightly as there is a small but well put together railway museum called Steam.

But we were heading to the Oasis!

To anyone not familiar with Swindon or the surrounding area, the Oasis is effectively a council run sports centre and swimming pool – with a difference!  The Lagoon Pool, as it is titled, is a glass-domed pleasure pool complete with wave machine, water slides and a pirate ship play area for the little ones.  It had been many, many years since I had last visited and I was bracing myself for the same disappointment as when I realised that Wagon Wheels weren’t as big as they used to be.

Luckily, I think, nothing much had changed and the six of us 20- and 30-somethings smiled with amusement (and slight embarrassment) but none more than Graham.  Already on a high after riding the Great White (the best of the three water slides) two times in quick succession, the disappointment of the end of the machine-generated waves soon dissolved into intense joy as a faux rainstorm began.  The happiness on his face like that of an excitable labrador.

After a second go on the water slides it was time to go home, especially for Bear who was still struggling with a hangover from the aftermath of Friday night’s curry!  The Swimming 6 then came back to ours for a barbecue that never was (I’d run out of burn-in-the-bag charcoal so only had briquettes and no fire lighters) before heading to Mark & Kate’s for a spot of cards.

Now, my recent run of form at poker has been in stark contrast to my running achievements.  I can’t remember when I last picked up some prize money!  For any of you familiar with Texas Hold’em poker I tend to play tight.  The trouble is my friends know this so I’ve struggled to play my normal game and struggled even more as I’ve tried to randomise my playing.  I was having a reasonable game – from 6 starters I was now third of 3, but firmly in third place in terms of chips and I needed to secure second place to get my stake back.

I looked at my cards – a pair of Jacks.  A good hand, especially in this situation.  I bet beg, so did Graham.  I was all in.  This was going to be a game changing hand: I was either going to be right back in the hunt for 1st prize or I was going to be out.

My Jacks were up against Graham’s King-high, I was in pole position.  Until the flop delivered a King for Graham.  Oh dear.  And there it was, a third Jack delivered on the turn putting me back in control.  Then it was left to hope that anything but a King on the river.  I don’t recall what the card was.  It wasn’t important, it wasn’t a King.  From that point I was chip leader and managed to stay out of trouble and temptation to see Sarah finish third and me pick up the first prize of £45!

The late night finish for poker meant a later start for my Sunday run after a lay in.  I had decided that with no race on the agenda that I would try to make up for it with a race-pace 10km rather than my usual long, easy run.  As a result of going for speed I exchanged my usual Sunday listening, Rhod Gilbert’s podcast, for something a little more upbeat: the eponymously titled album from Sub Focus.

I set off with the intention that I would go for speed even if it meant having to take a couple of short breaks on the way round.  It paid off with all of the first 5 kilometres under 5m02 pace securing me an unofficial 5km personal best of 24m19.  The sixth kilometre was my slowest of the 10, ultimately acting as a recovery kilometre at 5m26 pace, with the final 4 kilometres getting quicker allowing me to secure a fabulous 49 minutes 28 seconds.

I have now secured, albeit unofficially, my first ever sub-50 minute 10km.  What appears to be more challenging is finding a decent race to repeat my feat!

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