Thursday, 19 April 2012

The final countdown...

Since my final pre-marathon training run at the end of March – a toe-bruising 23 miles – I have only ventured onto the roads three times in as many weeks. Though all part and parcel of the tapering-off process, the lack of running in the lead up to the big day is unnerving, particularly as I have felt heavy-legged and sluggish each time I've ran. 

Though perhaps understandable to feel weary only a few days after a 20-miler, struggling to complete a short lap of Kennington Park only the week before embarking on a marathon is hardly a confidence boost. Instead of feeling prepped and primed, I´m paranoid about the miles I´ve missed in training and confused about carb-loading tactics. In hindsight, a boozy weekend of wedding-fueled revelry and a night dancing Strip the Willow and the Gay Gordons in high-risk heels, wasn´t exactly ideal preparation. As a result, I´ve spent a panicked three days on a serious, if slightly belated, health kick. 

However, weekend excesses aside, at least I have made it this far. From loops of Clapham Common on dark and frosty mornings, to late-evening circuits of Battersea Park, to monotonous laps of the swimming pool during the week… Now, there´s only three days to go and no way to wriggle out of it. Though convinced that in the hours preceding I´ll either clumsily injure myself, lose my timing chip or get lost on route (all worryingly likely scenarios), I should be on the start line on Sunday. After notably sporadic training, I haven´t a clue how it will go. The only thing I can be certain about is that I´ll be relying on bloody-mindedness and praying for a strong tail wind. Unfortunately, weather reports so far have confirmed that it´s likely to be pissing it down. Typical! 

I´m still collecting sponsorship, and am a fair way behind the target total that I promised to Children with Cancer. Thanks to those of you who have already donated, and to those who haven´t, envisage 26.2 miles in the pissing rain. You can sponsor my efforts here!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Does Spiderman get hangovers?

Had it changed in the seven months I´d been away?

The Tio Pepe building in Sol was still hidden behind a curtain of green net and scaffolding... the bearded beggar on Calle Carretas still swayed shakily behind the same cardboard plea... Plaza Mayor was still the melting pot of Madrid, humming as it always did to the tuneful motifs of accordion players… However, when I used to visit on midweek mornings the shiny cobbles were untrodden - expectant, expansive and empty. Last weekend in comparison, the square was heaving: a congested mill of well-dressed abuelos, tourists in halter-necks and hot pants, and locals wrapped up in duffel coats and Doc Martins.

Most notably, the carnival of street performers had swollen ranks. Of course, the long-term residents still occupied their favoured corners - the weary Mini Mouse shuffling in circles around the central statue, the tabletop of zombie heads routinely startling passers-by - but new characters were strolling in between the familiar faces. A nonchalant Elvis strutted back and forth in front of the terraces, his hands laden with cheap finger bling and his tango-tanned cheeks framed by a stiff collar and colourful Hawaiian garland. Occasionally he would pause for a discrete word with a headless sailor, whose floating glasses wobbled on the bounce of their wire supports, or would cock his head in greeting to a toothy yellow sponge, just one of the multiple Spongebob Squarepants. There was even a bare-chested, long-haired Jesus Christ lugging a make-shift crucifix around the square.

However, for all the new arrivals, one member of the plaza was poignantly absent. Spiderman, whose presence had been reliably predictable during my year in Madrid, was notable only by his absence: the ringmaster of the circus nowhere to be seen. It wasn´t until the square was nearing gridlock with the lunchtime rush that his hulking figure appeared.

His distinctive silhouette instantly recognisable, he lumbered into the square from the shadows of a restaurant terrace, walking with heavy legs and laboured steps towards his customary corner. On arrival, he drew his plastic wheelie box to a halt beside him and swung his paper-mache miniature unceremoniously onto the cobbles. Then, rocking back on his heels, arms clasped loosely behind his back, he briefly scanned the milieu of people before him before walking a short loop. Arms swinging characteristically as he went, his unmistakeable outline seemed largely unchanged - the distended barrel of his stomach perhaps slightly bulkier, the slack of his suit stretched in even baggier sags. He walked purposefully through the crowds, bumping fists with a suited clown and saluting one of the waiters on his way to the centre before circling back.

On returning to his wheelie box, he thrust his arms skywards in a full body stretch and made a few stiff circles with his hips in an unexpected sequence of stretches. However, the effort alone of limbering up seemed to swallow what little enthusiasm he had: no sooner had he finished than he collapsed onto his plastic trunk in a heavy round-shouldered slouch. His torso folded in a double roll of breast and belly, legs resting in a shallow V shape, he mechanically folded up his mask and lit a cigarette. Puffing mindlessly on his fag, wholly detached from the buzz of the plaza, he seemed a sorry shadow of the showman who used to command the square. Even a noisy rabble of 15 – a wave of matching fluorescent T-shirts that would have been a jackpot for the Spiderman-of-old – failed to inspire him: he remained stubbornly seated as they passed, his usual theatrical display abandoned.

Is Spiderman struggling to keep pace with the carnival of street performers? Or is he just fed up of the burgeoning circus in Plaza Mayor and unwilling to compete with walking fruit bowls and men selling invisible mouth whistles?

Or, maybe even Spiderman isn´t immune to the non-stop nightlife of the MadrileƱos and he just had a stonking hangover? I wonder where he goes out for a drink…