Monday, 28 October 2013

[Gallery Post] Great South Run Round Up

Well it was no half marathon but it might as well have been given the gruelling intensity of the relatively flat 10 mile course that was the 24th annual Great South Run. Three months of physical and mental preparation got me to the historic city of Portsmouth, ready to tackle the longest distance I was yet to run. The Great South Run of course wasn't just an indulgence to test my physical and mental fortitude but to raise money for a worthy cause and come the day, having endured some pain and an unforgiving Mother Nature, I did more than enough to make my efforts worthwhile.

Sitting in my hotel room the night before the race I studied the route very carefully, making a note of each magnificent landmark that I would pass from the war memorial to the naval dockyards and past the HMS Victory all the way up to the Esplanade with the famous Yomper Statue towering over us all. I had been previously warned that at mile 8, as you turn onto the Esplanade one would face a gruelling cross wind and was advised to save some energy for this. My strategy therefore was simple; find a comfortable, steady yet speedy pace (not too fast) and hold it for at least five miles. This would allow me to take advantage of the drinks stations, to get hydrated and restore my energy levels for the big push. I would hold my pace until midway through mile 6 when I would slow down to give myself a rest until that dreaded 8. After that it was to be a case of play the rest by ear but if there was one thing I was determined to do it was to finish the race on a sprint.

It was an unfortunate coincidence that on the weekend of the run Britain was possibly facing the worst storm since 1987, one that would cause untold damage not to mention injuries and even causalities. At one point it was even likely that the run was to be cancelled amid safety concerns, and I considered the possibility of hitting the hotel gym to run the 10 miles on a treadmill. After all I raised nearly £700 for crohn's & colitis, it would have been a shame not to have at least attempted a run even if it meant doing so indoors. Luckily we were greeted with sunshine and blue skies although the occasional windy gust reminded us that it could all turn hellish at any point. I spent the hour leading up to the race amongst the other stable of runners, stretching, running on the spot and jogging up and down making sure every part of me was suitably loosened and warmed up. Come 11.05am  it was time for the green wave to make its way to the START and head off.

So far everything went to plan, having quickly found my pace. The first 3 miles were easy enough, despite the occasional gust of wind knocking me ever so slightly to one side. It was an annoyance but not distracting enough to put me off my stride as I quickly regained my pace. Passing the memorial and running through the naval dockyards was truly breath-taking and added some eye pleasing scenery to the race. The cheering crowds and performing bands conjured that much anticipated thrill and excitement that always comes hand in hand with these events and why I love to participate in them. Mile 4 passed with no problems having taken on water for hydration, smiling as crowds cheered us all on and children held out there hands for high fives for which I was happy to oblige. Reaching miles 5 and 6 brought a big grin to my face in the realisation that I had passed the half way point with no inkling to slow down or even stop. It was the ultimate rush of adrenaline and enthusiasm that carried me all the way through mile 7 and I smugly smiled to myself in the knowledge that this was the furthest I had ever ran. .

The 8th mile of the race took us all from the eastern loop of the course from Henderson Road onto the Esplanade. To the left we were treated to a beautiful sea view, and on the right, The Royal Marines Museum with the hugely impressive Yomper Statue. All the splendour of these wonders soon diminished as we turned the corner and suddenly I found it difficult to keep my pace. It was as if the Westerly wind was waiting for us with all the maniacal glee of a super-villain. The strong gusts whistled past my ears drowning out my inspirational tunes as we all waded through the barrier placed before us. I pushed, breathed hard and even growled to keep running albeit at a pathetically slow pace but Mother Nature proved to be a formidable nemesis that day. The feeling of pushing through such an intensely strong wind was the equivalent of pushing a car up the steepest hill. I could feel the pain in my legs and cramp in my ankles as I forced my way through the heavy gusts but I knew it was hopeless. For the first time I had to reduce to walking speed, along with majority of the other runners, and I felt defeated. I maintained a walk run pace throughout the remainder of mile 8 trying to keep some semblance of the race in me alive, ignoring the pain and bouts of cramp. Having crossed the 9 mile mark I maintained a pathetically slow pace determined that at the very least I was going to cross the finish line on a sprint. With less than half a mile to go and the finish line in sight I gritted my teeth and sprinted as fast as I could. The giant clock above flashed 2:02:38. I raised my arms in victory and "whooped" at the top of my lungs. Spectators and other finishers clapped and cheered as I did so. I had finished the longest race of my running life to date.

My initial feeling of joy quickly turned to sadness as it suddenly hit me that the race was over. Despite those gruelling two miles and the pain that accompanied them I did not want to stop. I have an expression that I try to live my life a mile at a time, because for those ten minutes or less I feel free, nothing can touch me and I am kept completely in the moment. It is the closest to a pure moment of Zen that I can attain and before any snarky remarks are made yes I did pinch a line from The Fast and The Furious. Yet the sentiment is very applicable to my running especially during the race. Once my mixed feelings of joy and sadness passed there came the realisation of what I had achieved. My official race time was 1 hour 59 minutes 44 seconds and at the end of it all I raised £690 (including Gift Aid) for crohn's & colitis. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

UK Comedian Crowdfunds Comabck Stand-Up Shows

UPDATE!!! Deadline for reaching the funding target has been extended until 14th November 2013

Actress, writer and comedian Helen Lederer, well known for her work in renowned British television shows including Naked Video and Absolutely Fabulous, is planning a comedic stage and screen comeback with help from the crowd. Through the crowdfunding platform BloomVC, Helen is looking to raise sufficient funds for two "pop up" comedy shows and even a pilot show for television. In order to bring her well known brand of comedy to the stage Helen is looking to raise £10,000 in ten days.

Welsh born Helen Lederer emerged at the dawn of the UK alternative comedy scene of the 80s establishing a stand up act at London's famous Comedy Store. Helen worked with various big names in the scene including Rik Mayall and Ben Elton in the popular television shows The Young Ones and Happy Families (with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders). Helen then joined the Scottish based comedy sketch show Naked Video giving her a broader audience for her own brand of humour, in particular her role as the inebriated Sloane performing a monologue from the comfort of a wine bar. Helen continued to work with her comedic collaborators from the alternative scene in a variety of television programmes as well as appearing in a number of film productions and the West End.

The latest project from Helen entitled "Why The Fuss?" (WTF) will  consist of two pop-up comedy shows to be held at the St James Theatre in London. Playing before a live audience she will take on the ultimate topic, the meaning of life with her trademark insight and observational humour that has been prevalent throughout her work . Joining Helen for some intelligent philosophical debate as guests will be writers Mark Lawson, Suzanne Moore, and Jay Rayner (better known as a broadcaster and food critic) with the live shows scheduled to take place on 7th and 28th November respectively. To fund her comeback Helen has turned to crowdfunding and the platform BloomVC to raise £10,000 in a record time frame of just ten days.
I am so very excited to join the 21st century at last and to launch my latest project using crowdfunding. It was popular support that led to my decision to bring "Why The Fuss?" back to the stage - this was incredibly flattering, and now I hope that the support of the crowd will also financially enable it. I am giving the crowd the chance to decide whether I can produce my own show. If we can pull this off, it will be the first for a middle aged woman and all thanks to you. - Helen  Lederer

Whilst the funding target  will cover the costs of the shows, Helen has promised that should that target be surpassed the excess funds will contribute to the production of a "Why The Fuss?" television pilot episode. So in addition, donors will not only be rewarded with WTF tickets, wine hampers, pre-show dinners, or an evening  with the funny lady herself but also the opportunity to become television producers. The campaign started from 16th October 2013 with only ten days to raise the necessary funds and is already 12% funded. There is still time to get involved and pledge your support. To do so, click here to visit Helen's funding page.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

[Gallery Post] The Importance of Debates Around the Dinner Table

Whenever there is a family get together (and by that I mean my family) you can be certain that once the meal has been devoured, everyone huddles around the dinner table and at some point the conversation topics become intense. The most recent was no exception and like most of my family topical debates they always get a little heated. I usually do end up on many opposing side doing my best to hold my own and the temperatures and decibels do increase as debate fever takes. At times I get defensive and carried away causing me to lose a little focus thus failing at times to articulate my point. Yet I love these debates with my family because whilst they might seem like a family row to some it is in fact a perfect of example of passionate freedom of expression in action. Lately, after the last gathering of the clan and a good night's sleep I started to wonder about the typical kinds of discussions families around the country had around their dinner tables. Was it all like ours, topical and relevant with views expressed with all the no holds barred gusto of a WWE pay per view event? Is it just light banter? Do families even bother to speak except when absolutely necessary?

In a society in which the national media (particularly right wing raggedy excuse for newspapers) are portraying an increasingly apathetic and lazy generation of youngster let down by the system and their own families it is easy to assume nobody really cares anymore. I know some families only ever talk to each other in expressions of rage barking orders and shouting at one another. They say you should never discuss religion or politics with friends and family as that is when people fall out. Yet when you consider they both play a vital role in shaping world events, even down to a local level then surely the most irresponsible thing to do is not to discuss them. It all boils down to fear mainly of causing offence but also fear of being judged as one amongst an unsavoury minority. My recent family post dinner debate really made me think about the importance of topical discussion that should be carried out unshackled by convention and free of fear.

In the song Harder Than You Think by Public Enemy, front man Chuck D raps "if you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything." Could this be the future of British and even western society as we become increasingly apathetic about the things that shape the world we live in? I was raised during turbulent political climates on two continents and by an evolutionary osmosis developed my intellect and passion for all things political. The news was regularly played in my household and I would listen with great interest as my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles talk about the headlines and the state of the country. My idealism quickly took shape and I hadn't even turned sixteen when I would join in. I was fortunate to be raised in a socially and politically aware environment not to mention having first hand experience of changes in political climates. I ask again, what about the rest of Britain's families?

Should it be the case that majority of dinner conversations consist of the occasional grunt or eerie silences disturbed by the occasional chewing sounds then something is seriously amiss in my opinion. In between the occasional gossip, banter about the latest Made in Chelsea episode or even berating the latest X Factor contestant as a society we need to discuss the more serious things that go on in the world,those that matter. A night with my family might seem like a verbal free for all to those who don't understand and as I usually end up on the opposite end of a debate with the rest, not necessarily a fair fight. What you would be witnessing in fact is passionate Britons voicing their opinions, with no fear of causing offence or being labelled. I would like to imagine more of this goes on around the country than my cynicism might lead me to believe. Where my family are concerned we never shy away from the controversial and out of it comes a better understanding followed by dessert. When it comes to topical debates, mainly politics but also religion as well as the effects of pop culture and society's decline my family and I might be on opposite sides of the fence but we definite do not sit on it. Here's hoping so many more do the same.

Image Credit; Dion Hinchcliffe