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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Time To Evolve Ideas

Ever have one of those days where you ask yourself what it all means? I know I have more than my fair share of them and recently it seems every time I turn on my computer, TV or pick up a newspaper its utter doom staring right back at me. Earthquakes, storms, riots, children being murdered (by a parent, in some of the recent cases I have come across) and so on. I know there is no human control over the elements but a little more care on mother earth might make her a little less pissed off. Have we gotten to the desensitised stage where violence and evil are now just par for the course of life. It's really quite shocking and makes my brain numb with fear and disbelief. Why are questions not being asked enough? Why is it accepted that this is now our path. I want to know why, why, why on so many levels. Evolution is never over, our ideals and ideas now need to evolve even more so. It's like Adam and Eve in the garden, the perfect world. But hey, its just not enough, lets just take a bite out of that apple and see what happens.

I recently found this documentary trailer and looking forward immensely to its release. Hollywood star comedy director Tom Shadyac survives a bicycle crash and rethinks his life. He embarks on a mission to find answers to life. I was hooked the minute I saw my two favourite thinkers Noam Chomsky and the late, great Howard Zinn participating along with a host of other influential figures, all being asked two questions by Sahdyac~ "What’s wrong with our world, and what can we do about it?" It may not change the world but it's a step in the right direction.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


One year ago today I quit smoking. It was not the simplest thing in the world to do but wanting to do it was the very first step. Every smoker will tell you of ways to try and rid your lungs of the cancer sticks, fags, ciggies, tabs, coffin nails, call them what you like. Will power can only get you so far, it needs to be tactical and you need to have yourself readied. You see, smoking is not just a case of lighting up. It's a way of life, a relationship, a ritual. I was never a morning smoker and would normally wait until afternoon before choosing to kill myself slowly. I would organise my schedule around when it would be convenient to have a cigarette. Any smoker will tell you that after a meal its bliss to just blaze a ciggie and have a coffee or tea and the world will seem pretty f**king good. Ah, wrong. You may be craving the nicotine but its the habit of that after-meal smoke that is harder to break. Nicotine is gone from your brain in 40 minutes and out of the system in less than a week and that's for heavy smokers. Where people falter is breaking that habit. The lighting up first thing in the morning, having a cig with coffee, after meals, waiting for a bus or just to stave off boredom. These are the times when your hands and reach for the packet and you are reminded that you don't smoke anymore. This automatic reaction lasts a lot longer than the addiction to the drug itself.

Quitting smoking is all about approaching it with logic, you need the guts to go through with it yes but replacing it with fruit, sport, doing a crossword etc will help break the hold of dependence that hovers over you. Of course if you are a non-smoker then this post is all Dutch to you. But smokers......... You know I'm talking about.

I'll leave it to one of my heroes, Bill Hicks, to summarise. Years ago I used to listen to this and laugh at runners because the butt (pun of the year, surely?) of the joke was running guru Jim Fixx. And here I am a non smoker and avid runner, what would Bill have thought? Hope you enjoy it and have a laugh, the language might be not to your taste if you are easily offended though :)

Looking forward to many more years of not smelling like and ashtray.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cross de la Sabliere 2011

Last Sunday saw the annual running of the local trail race the Cross de la Sabliere. It is right in the heart of the trails that border Versailles and Viroflay and is a really good speed test and fitness indicator early in the season. Now on its 32nd edition it has grown is both strength and stature as the years have passed, however, no one could have predicted the turn out for what proved to be a highly contested race. I think the popularity of the event relies on the many races that are held ranging from kiddie runs to couples races, a 5k and 10k event, relays and more.

I had been on the course a few times in the week leading up and was glad to have had the opportunity to just amble around taking pics (see my previous post) knowing that on race day my legs would be cursing me. I have never been and will never be a fast runner. Even on training sessions I prefer to go further and like wandering the hills at a steadier pace. A year previously I had ran this same course 52.28 and it was not an enjoyable experience, I went out at an unfeasible pace for the first lap and completely deteriorated on lap two. This time I planned to be quite conservative going out and hammer out the last 5 k.

I arrived at the hub of the action at 10.45 and met many of the locals milling around and chatting. I was a little tired as I had been up late following the Rocky Raccoon 100 which turned out to be history in the making. The usual pre-race chit-chat is always pleasant and gives one the opportunity to hear of new races or swap tips. Luckily I was in time to catch the end of the 5 k race and it was a close finish with Irbrahim KANTE cruising in to first place in 20 minutes flat. Second place was just thirteen seconds behind and a joint effort with Guillaume LECALLIER and Tom QUEGUINER joining hands to cross the line in unison. Tremendous effort and camaraderie.

(dedicated volunteers are the backbone of a good race)

(pre-race banter)

(Irbrahim KANTE making it look easy)

(joint second place for Tom and Guillaume)

The gun for the 10k was scheduled for 11.30 so after a few strides to warm up the start line beckoned. We were facing an alternate course this year that added on and extra half a kilometre. It also meant the start line had been moved to a different part of the forest and this presented a problem. The numbers were treble what they were last year which saw maybe 200-300 people take part and along the start line it felt bunched and unyielding. To add to this the width of the line was far greater than the bottle neck of a trail we were heading into and the first half k was an exercise in staying upright. Elbows flew, ankles were stepped on and no one gave an inch. The boys at the front though sorted this problem by snaking out the pack with a blistering early pace. Once the pace settled and I found myself with a group mid-pack I was content that I could move up on the second loop. My legs felt fresh and the halfway mark came and went without incident or discomposure, now it was time to turn up the heat. I have learned through these types of race that I lose ground on the downhill and this lap showed me that it's an area that needs work. I would breeze up the steep inclines and pass maybe 8-10 people only to have 3-4 of them pass me on the way down. I was thinking back to all those videos of Kilian Jornet just crushing dirt coming down Kilimanjaro and how he descends like a mountain goat, then again he did grow up in the Pyrenees, I grew up in Offaly :)

The last 3 km are made up of a winding track that descends before a sharp right up a steep, leg burning ascent that is imperceptible in length. Even having navigated it 20 minutes earlier, or the fact that the finish was within reach, did not make it easier. But arriving at the top I had passed many and moved up overall. I was also greeted by a cheer from the Mayor who was shouting "Allez, pour Pearl". Top man and just the incentive to push on for the last 300 metres. I was a happy camper to pass the line 76th in 48.29 (four minutes up on last year) and felt like I could have given it more. My bass-line mileage is what's important though and am happy that speed sessions like these are thrown in every so often to mix it up a bit. Congratulatins to Maxime QUEGUINER for a great win in 38.54.Thanks to all the volunteers and the race directors who work hard to make an event like this affordable, judging by the success of this year there are at least 32 more editions to come.


(bottle neck start

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Breaking the Ice.

This morning I took off on a leisurely hike/run with my camera to get some shots ahead of Sunday's Cross de la Sabliere. It was a chance to suss out the trail conditions and which shoes to lace up for 10km of fast fun. Last year was quite tough due to the blizzard of snow that fell for most of the beginning of February and whilst it looks like it will be powder free this year it will probably just as, if not more dangerous. A persistent fog has lingered over the trails for the past week or so and with the sub zero temperatures at night it has turned the ground into a solid stretch of glistening ice. It is deceptive to the eye and underfoot is much more difficult than usual to make firm and controlled contact, it makes descending particularly dicey. Taking all these factors into account I think the Speedcross 2 will be my best choice as during the steeper sections it gave me a bit more purchase than my XT Wings 2. I love the Wings but find they are better suited to runs where a bit more road running is involved. This course is all technical and single track.

I met a few guys and gals out hiking and dog walking and it was nice to stop and talk for a change, usually it all business when I am out there. I think taking a run like this every once in a while is a good way to reconnect with why I love being out there so much. The simplicity of slowing it down and just being in the moment. Will leave this post with some photos form this morning and looking forward to checking out the speed merchants this weekend. Good luck to all who are racing and on the elite front the Rocky Raccoon 100 mi kicks off on Sat in Huntsville TX. Krupicka, Jurek, Meltzer and Koerner are just a few of the guys who could take the top spot whilst Liza Howard and Connie Gardner are two of the many names in a deep ladies filed.

Bon Courage a tous.


(one of the few stretches of soft single track)

(surveying the terrain ahead)

(slippery ascent, favourite part of the course)

(nearing the top)

(coming down)

(pretty solid ground)

(weapon of choice)

(speed-bumps a plenty on this circuit)

(it looks soft but its jagged and hard on the surface)

(winding descent before the final climb)

(the same descent pictured from atop the other side)

(the podium is up, probably as close as I will get to it)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pearl Update

In my last post I hinted at explaining some of the issues with Pearl's schooling so, having an opportune moment, I will do just that.

At the beginning of the school year last September we had an AVS (auxiliaire de vie scolaire), which is a teaching assistant for Pearl to aid her in the classroom. As with anything it was difficult in the beginning. New surroundings, routine, and faces made it all a bit overwhelming at the outset. But she was a little trooper and school soon became just another thing she had to do. Like all kids do. Before too long however, just as Pearl is settling in, tensions seemed to be brewing below the surface between the school director and the AVS herself. I noticed that the smiles each morning from them were more jaw clenched grimaces than anything else and predicted the worst. Well I got it, just two days before the Christmas holidays I might add. I was informed of family problems on her side and then there were excuses about snow travel and then something else (I had tuned out at this stage). I was hardly surprised though and knew that simmering uneasiness probably played a larger part than the trilogy of excuses put before me. Wished a Merry Christmas she was not I can assure you. This left us in a bit of a pickle. The director assured me she would make all the necessary calls and not to worry too much about it.

So Christmas passes and on Pearl's return we are still no more enlightened or assisted as we were before Santa had come and done his job (at least someone was working).

It is essential to this post to mention the MDPH (Maison départementale des personnes handicapées). They are responsible for looking after the cases of kids like Pearl and also the broader range of needs for handicapped individuals. The reality is they do so very little, constructive or rational, to help out and I say this not just from our family's perspective but the dozen or so professionals and parents I have spoken to in the past 2-3 months. They are the ones responsible for finding Pearl and AVS but it is still the school and us who are doing all the leg work. We managed to find some people but only through advertising ourselves and having potential assistants sending us their CV's and details. In the meantime the file we submitted to the MDPH before Christmas had reportedly disappeared. A file that Alicia laboured over for ages to make sure Pearl would be able to get her full quota of allowances for 2011 and also to upgrade her specialist appointments. She gets told over the phone that someone had left the job and everything was in a state of disarray, this coming after you have endured all the form-filling bureaucracy that typifies the red-tape mentality of this country. So I trotted in to the office the next day and waited forty five minutes for a lady to rummage around and tell me"Oops, it was there all along" Yes, we have nothing better to do than to waste time chasing y'all down. So now having explained the bang-your-head-against-a-brick-wall ethos of theirs I will return to the AVS saga.

The director then proclaims to me one January morning that she has found someone. Yay, praise the Lord, Allah, Buddha, Krishna and any other god you want to throw into the mix. Pearl does her first half day with her new accomplice on a Thursday morning and it goes superbly, problem solved the McLoughlin household can rest easy. Until the next day that is. I am informed first thing on the Friday morning that our saviour got a better job offer that very evening and high-tailed it to pastures richer. She also had the same first name as the previous AVS, a sign? nah just bad luck.

So as it stands its limbo for the little fairy. We are awaiting word all the time and everyday I am told by the school that there is a problem with prospective assistants whether it be contracts overlapping or improper registration or credentials blah blah blah. At the end of the day the complicated nature of it all only serves to illuminate the inadequacies of a severely flawed system. A system that makes everyone else do the work whilst the infant in question goes through the system without the proper help. I think that for the current organisation to work it needs transparency and a shake up right down the very foundations. Next Monday sees us meet with all the school team, her therapists and the head of the MDPH. I hope it will be productive and yield something a bit more substantial than what we have seen so far. Heaven knows my little girl deserves that much.


Pearl having a drink and a chat :)

Running for Pearl

This blog is dedicated to my daughter Pearl who was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in August 2009. My goal is to raise funds and awareness by doing what I love....Running.