Friday, 20 June 2014

I drink, therefore I run . . .

Buster Martin, the 'film star' who was a  great
advert for running and drinking beer!
AS we runners know, an interval session is a tough but beneficial form of training. Well, usually.

This weekend in Essex I know of an 'interval session' that will involve running for approximately four kilometres, repeated five times, and your recovery in between is the consumption of a glass of foaming ale. There’s a time bonus for downing a half, and an even bigger time bonus for downing a pint!

The Ridley Round 13-mile trail race (10.30am Saturday from The Compasses, Littley Green) is the brainchild of runner and radio presenter Howard Jardine. He has designed a largely off-road route that has checkpoints at five different pubs. One of them closed down recently, I understand, but Howard wasn’t fazed and will be transporting beer to the site anyway!
If you thought this sort of eccentric behaviour was the preserve of only the English, think again. Your Clapped-Out Runner came across something equally odd in Brazil a few years ago. This was a trip when my running activities showed the Brazilians how we English sportsmen are good at performing like heroic failures – a trait emphasised in the past few days by the England World Cup team.

While in Porto Seguro, I heard about a marathon taking place the following day in which runners were expected to stop at every bar along a 26-mile route, swallow a drink and then move on. And this was in an area absolutely full of bars. Instead of paying an entry fee for the race you were asked to donate a quantity of food to a local orphanage. It was all in a good cause, but being a sensible English runner, I naturally backed off and opted for a completely different road race that I thought would be far safer and more appropriate. However, things didn’t quite pan out that way.

My race of choice was in the city of Salvador da Bahia and involved rising at an ungodly hour around dawn to catch a bus to a shopping cente. Here I assembled with 500 others for the inaugural 'Corrida Rustica da Justica 10k'. I was in a tiny minority of foreign participants and alongside my precious and now defunct Nike Air Sock racers, I couldn’t help but notice a vast amount of bare feet on show. It was hard to tell if these people were too poor to afford shoes, or whether they simply preferred the Zola Budd approach.

The course proved hot, humid and hilly so I didn’t push too hard, aiming to nip inside the 40-minute mark at worst. When we reached the latter stages and were still going uphill out of town, it began to dawn that this must be a point-to-point race and at the end I’d be a long way out of town without transport back.

We duly finished at a council administrative centre in Salvador’s remote hinterlands, and lapped up the water melons and oranges that were handed out instead of the usual medals or T-shirts. Several of my fellow runners keeled over in the intense heat, one needing oxygen and a saline drip in the back of an ambulance. If the locals were going down, what were my chances of surviving this ordeal unscathed?
Stuffed in the pocket of my shorts was a tatty little street map which I showed to a policeman in the hope of some directions home. I attempted some Portuguese at him, but in my exhausted state it probably translated to ‘What is the weather like?’ or ‘A glass of caiparinha please.’ Whatever, he looked at the map, scratched his head, thought long and hard and then simply shrugged.  

I attempted to walk and jog back the way we’d come but the course was not marked and every street looked the same. It was searingly hot and I had no fluids, no sunscreen, no mobile phone, nada. Now and again a direction sign saying ‘Centro’ provided encouragement and I soon found myself strolling down a dual carriageway. I passed through some rough districts, but my skimpy running gear clearly concealed very little worth mugging me for (ooh-er, matron!). It took an hour or so, but eventually I got back, convinced no other 40-minute 10k in history had ever involved quite that much blood, sweat and effort.
Tiredness made me forget to take the daily malaria tablet that night. I swallowed it the following morning, but having missed the hotel breakfast, my empty stomach decided enough was enough and began to rebel violently. I kept calling for 'Hughie and Ruth', but was persuaded out by my spouse to go for a suco and fruit salad to try and settle things down. However, my Portuguese failed again and the waiter instead brought a greasy ham and cheese sandwich.  

Still feeling very unwell, my recovery programme rather bizarrely continued at a live-music bar, but not the type where you can just chill out. This choice of sanctuary meant we attracted attention simply by sitting still. Well-meaning Ronalt and Gracy nearby were overflowing with Brazilian friendliness and insisted we sat with them and piled beers our way. We were evidently the first English couple they’d met and my enforced immobility and lack of fluency fascinated them. I’m afraid I may have reinforced the stereotype of the reserved Englishman abroad, for via translation I was told Gracy had me down as: “Robert, the man who doesn’t drink, dance or speak.”  I think she liked me really, though.
She and Ronalt later transported us and our bags to a local terminus for a 12-hour bus trip to Porto Seguro. It was here I was told in great detail about the forthcoming marathon/drinking race mentioned above. The bringer of this news was a well-travelled woman who said she’d been born in Portugal, had German parents and a French husband, was raised in England and had lived in Holland, Spain and Italy.

I wonder who she’s supporting in this summer’s World Cup?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Reporting direct from the streets of Brazil (retrospectively that is!)

* Brazilian coco verde water . . . just the job!

LISTEN up Steven Gerrard and the chaps!

After the World Cup opener with Italy this weekend your best way to re-hydrate is to slurp some Brazilian coco verde water, straight from the shell. You’ll be able to find it on most street corners out there.
Listen to your Clapped-Out Runner, for I am one who knows. It revived me instantly after a run in sticky Recife one time, quite possibly the hottest and most uncomfy five-miler I've ever completed. That day I sweated buckets, cobs and whatever else the English language allows pores to expel.

Although Rihanna, Courtney Cox and Madonna have all sung the praises of coco verde water in recent years, your Clapped-Out Runner was one of the first to proclaim its fine re-hydration and electrolyte-replacement qualities. This happened way back in 1991, a year in which I had the opportunity to do a bit of running in various parts of Brazil, golden running days when PBs were still a possibility and not merely a distant memory. Back when I hadn’t quite entered the arena of the (nearly) clapped-out.

Whether you are a runner, a footballer, or just a tourist, Brazil is certainly not a destination for the faint-hearted. As bossa nova star Tom Jobim famously said, “My country is not for beginners.”
Brazil never fails to produce the unexpected, and my five-mile run along Recife sea-front was a good example. For there in the road, meticulously and clearly displayed, were metric marker points, purely for the benefit of runners. It meant I knew that my exhausted carcass had completed exactly 8,450 metres when I came to a halt, and that one mile of that was done in 5:51. As Garmins hadn‘t been invented back then, it was satisfying to have such precise figures to put in the Old Grey Training Log.

But, true to form, Brazil will give with one hand and take with the other. For instance, just a few yards from that runner-friendly road was a cinema whose entrance proved simply impossible to locate. And there were restaurants and nightlife clustered nearby, but we couldn’t find a safe way to get there. There was even a late-night record store, but it was full of Euro-pop and nothing by Brazilian jazz legend Flora Purim. One consolation that night in Recife was the Bom Preco supermarket, shelves heaving with splendidly huge bags of peanuts for around 50p!
As well as brilliantly marked out sea-front roads, what every cash-strapped runner visiting Brazil can benefit from is a rich American tourist. Keeping fit in choking humidity builds a big thirst and in Rio de Janiero ours was slaked one night by the deep pockets of Heathcote, a pharmaceutical consultant from North Carolina.

In search of a bar with air-conditioning and live music we found ourselves slipping into the elevator up to the Skylab Bar atop the 5-star Hotel Othon Palace beside Copacabana beach. Behind the sliding doors was slumped Heathcote. He was very well lubricated, couldn’t remember which sights he’d seen so far in Rio, didn’t know a word of Portuguese, and would soon be off to Buenos Aires anyway. We forgave him these sins because he’d recently lost his wife and was travelling alone.
He thought two Brits taking a career break to travel was “a terrific thing” and paid for all our expensive drinks before tottering back into the elevator. As the Skylab proved to be an almost deserted piano bar straight out of Lost in Translation, we soon followed him.

Going for a run in Brazil’s smaller towns is not so easy as on the sea-front promenades of the tourist traps. Roads are pot-holed, animals are on the loose, and you gain unwanted attention. In Porto Seguro one evening I could only find one decent stretch of tarmac and ended up going up and down this five times. I kept passing a single abandoned New Balance running shoe in the middle of the road – and by the fifth shuttle had become convinced it was all that was left of a previous running tourist who foolishly came this way.
For post-run refuelling that night, we found a no-frills establishment called ‘The Hall of Hunger’. A large nourishing portion of proper Brazilian fare was around £1.50. “What made you come here?” enquired the owner rather disconcertingly, adding that very few English folk passed through Porto Seguro. He had thought we were Argentines.

Then followed intense questioning about my Luton Town shirt. He took considerable convincing my team were then a top-flight club in England (yes, this was a while ago), for he couldn’t recall seeing them on Brazilian TV’s Os Golos Fantasticos, which showed the best goals from around the globe every week. But, for all his fierce patriotism, he conceded that England’s Gazza had been the best player in the most recent World Cup.
For that remark I let him off those faux pas about Argentina and Luton!

* Rob Hadgraft's books on running and football can be browsed and purchased via the following links:
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