My article in the February edition of The Westcombe News. Also available online – page 7.
PostedFebruary 9, 2022
My article in the February edition of The Westcombe News. Also available online – page 7.
The wind whipping up white sea horses
The clouds constantly changing, craving, chasing
Blue, grey shards of colour
Learn to let go
The run where I found that elusive, mysterious link between conditions and performance.
The right weather. A warm summer sunrise, the light sprinkling the Thames with diamonds.
The right music. Mathew Herbert’s 1998 classic Around the House
The right track: In the Kitchen
The right motivation: training for the London Marathon, fundraising for local charity South London Special League.
And I’m running strong and fast and nothing can stop me. Work worries, life worries – they all fall away for a little while.
And this is why I do this, why so many of us do this, to push ourselves, to motivate each other, to give something back.
Training Block 2 has officially begun.
Trapped under the ice, blinding white above, deep, endless, frozen dark beneath, struggling ever more weakly, knowing he is about to die, terrifed…
Leon finally emerges from his deep coma and the nightmares caused by the accident that almost killed him in hopsital. He’s been given a test treatment, Syndrome K. As he takes more of the drug, an unexpected side effect emerges: the startling increase in his intelligence.
Not particularly academic at school, Leon notices with astonishment how K opens up his mind and his perception. The drug makes Leon first notice and then begin to understand strange patterns, the interconnectedness of art, music, science, everything that surrounds us.
But the drug soon starts to take over and Leon becomes increasingly enmeshed inside his own consciousness, turning ever more inward while his brain searches restlessly for the ultimate Gestalt, the pattern that underpins the entire universe.
Award-winning US writer Ted Chiang’s sci-fi thriller was published in 1991 and explores with rich lyrical density, what it is like to become ever more self-aware. The sad irony: the more self aware and hyper intelligent Leon becomes, the more he’s becoming locked inside his own head, separated from the rest of humanity while seeing how connected we all are, the strands of energy that vibrate between person to person.
‘Benevolence’ muses Leon, ‘being able to bestow generosity on other people. How many emotions are required by the presence of another person….’
Leon creates his own language from all the languages of the world so he can express the inexpressible. He writes a poem ‘which is like combining Finnegan’s Wake and Pound’s Cantos…’
Ted Chang’s book is packed with rich descriptions: Leon’s search for the ultimate Gestalt and the struggle to describe what lies beyond the capabilities of human language – yet still having to use language to describe what lies beyond words and most mere mortals’ comprehension.
Gestallt – the patterns and the systems that underpin us, climb inside and understand the secret machinations of the universe…
After his third dose of K, Leon watches his mind watching itself working itself out, each time creating chemical reactions and interconnections. Leon’s watching himself watching himself fall into ever deeper understanding but the more understanding, the less that is understood as the universe expands out in a giant fractal. Soon, he’s using more of his brain than any other human in existence but his mind is getting too big for his brain, a mere piece of organic matter, to contain.
‘ Exploring the nature of reality and existence – that life is an illusion, that life is just a dream – that the true reality is just out of reach. That to be biologically concious means we can never get to ultimate reality – our thoughts, our emotions, our attachments constantly getting in the way.’
Patterns everywhere. Life ending and beginning across the globe one second at a time. The condition inexorably changing as time moves constantly forwards one moment to the next. Steam rises from the subway, smoke curls up from the bonfire, the child laughs, the clouds chase each other across the sky.
Plane trails, leaves falling, people walking. The exhalation of my breath running on a cold Autumnal day.
The universe: zero point, one giant fractal. Half into half into half and back out again.
Further Thoughts and Reading
There was a definite mind expanding, examining theme to this weekend. The trailer at the end of Episode 3 was for The Haunting of Alma Field.
I discovered Gestalt Therapy – developed in the 1930s by Fritz Perls in Berlin: https://gestaltcentre.org.uk/what-is-gestalt/
And then explored the infinite expanding and contracting beauty of fractals:
26.2 cold and soggy miles, over £2,500 raised for South London Special League.
One of the most challenging things I have ever done…
I spent much of Friday afternoon staring apprehensively out of the window at the rain pouring down relentlessly. Visions of me twisting my ankle in Oxleas Woods led to a rapid rethink of my planned route. The carefully mapped out circular route via the Green Chain and Oxleas Woods seemed a wonderful idea on a crisp Autumnal day, less so during a downpour.
First loop – Westcombe Park, Blackheath, Lewisham Way to Cator Park and back – 14 miles
The only other people I saw out that day were bedraggled dog walkers and other marathon runners, easily identifable even if their numbers weren’t visible under their wet weather gear by the look of stoic determination. As we passed each other, we high-fived and continued our unique journeys towards the magic 26.2 miles, step by wet and soggy step.
Second Loop – Westcombe Park, Thames Path to Rotherhithe and back – 12 miles
Final 6 miles – run a couple of steps, walk a couple of steps to a landmark a little in the distance. A car, a statue, a lampost. Wince, walk, swear, run repeat…
My neighbours saw me run out and were following me on the Virgin Marathon app. They were waiting for me to stagger back round the corner. I’d miscalculated the final 0.2 miles which meant I’d finished at the bottom of the hill instead of at the top. I very nearly flagged down a bus to take me that final bit.
Once Lockdown is over, South London Special League are going to spend the money we raised to provide tennis on Friday morning in Greenwich Park.
Sunday October 3rd 2021 will be my second London Marathon. I’ll be running once more for South London Special League, helping raise money for Friday Morning tennis in Greenwich Park. I’m looking forward to watching the sessions and the players develop over the year and will provide an update here.
31km, 19.2 miles. My longest distance ever. I was running a steady, much slower pace than I’d originally planned; once more I found myself naturally speeding up for the final 4km and actually enjoying the run.
26.2 miles amazingly now feels achievable. I just need to figure out the final part of my route and avoid the strangely magnetic presence of the A205 South Circular when I reach Eltham…
Helen’s London Virtual Marathon Route
Greenwich to Cator Park via the Waterline Way (Approx 7 miles).
Green Chain route to take me from Beckenham to Eltham Palace (Approx 14 miles).
The next part is still TBC as I lost the Green Chain route and ended up on the A205 South Circular for the third time. The plan on the day is to continue on the Green Chain route to Oxleas Wood, pick the Thames at Woolwich and loopback until I reach 26.2 miles.
Greenwich to Beckenham: Re-listened to Duncan Marley’s Zero Point on Mixcloud.
Beckenham back to Greenwich: Change of scene via BBC Sounds. I travelled to nineteenth century Russia and a classic tale of doomed romantic love with Anna Karenina – imagining Beckhenham Mansion (below) was the place where Count Vronksy abandons Kitty to dance with Anna for the first time…
And welcome to my penultimate Long Run…
Where I awarded myself a Personal Best for Distance – not for time, this was one of my slowest runs ever – more like a fast walk in parts! However, this was my first long run where not only my legs weren’t screaming at me to stop for the final 2km, but where, amazingly, I was actually picking up speed for the final few km instead of slowing right down.
So there’s a first marathon lesson – run much slower than you normally would for the first half.
Next October with one marathon under my belt, I will focus on improving my time. This year, I’m focusing on enjoying the unique London Lockdown Marathon experience and raising money for South London Special League.
The playlist this week moved between The Prodigy Experience, Arab Strab’s Monday at the Hug and Pint and The Last Romance, Baxter Dury’s Prince of Tears and Marhaba by Maalem Mahmoud Guinia.
13 miles on what is now my usual running route – Blackheath, Lewisham, Waterlink Way to Beckenham and back.
Next week I’ll be in Block Three of training. And that means it’s 5 weeks until the world’s first Virtual London Marathon on October 4 2020 and my very first marathon.
Today’s soundtrack was Jon Hopkins’ soaringly gorgeous Singularity, Underworld’s pounding Everything, Everything live album, finishing off with the Prodidgy’s seminal Music for the Jilted Generation. Steve Lamaq and 6 Music’s Album Club played this album out in all its uncensored, anarchic, energetic musical fury on 19 August 2020 and what a glorious, glowing, raving listening party that was. All these years later and it’s lost none of its urgent rawness.
And I celebrated by runing futher than I’d ever run before, training for my virtual London marathon for local charity South London Special League.
28km or 17.4 miles (and I really did feel the final two km….!)
Accompanying me on my run was Zero Point, a rather fine deep house mix by Duncan Marley, including tracks from Omar S, Small People, Super Discount and Francoise K.
I discovered new parts of London via the Green Chain and Capital Ring routes, picking these up at Beckhenham (after coming off the Waterlink Way) getting slightly lost in Beckhenham Mansion grounds and then finished at Eltham Palace. What I should have done here is continued along the quiet routes to Oxleas Woods and Woolwich. Instead, I headed down the relentless South Circular just as I was starting to feel the miles and needed maximum distraction.
The no filter photos – just the quick snap with my iPhone 7 as I run past:
There will be no summer holidays this year but as I stepped out of my front door this morning, it felt like I was on holiday. Warm sun, soft gentle breeze, golden light over Greenwich Park. I found out on Friday that this year’s London Marathon will go ahead on October 4th – but it will be an elite only event. The rest of us have the option of running a virtual Marathon – as long as we complete 26.6 miles on Sunday October 4th, we get a 40th anniversary medal. And also, be part of London Marathon sporting history at the same time. The photo below was take approximately 2km into my 5km tempo run while listening to Four Tet’s Love Cry. Take microholidays where you can. Leave the madness for a few minutes. Don’t forget to breathe.