Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A New Personal Best!

On Sunday I took part in the 70th Plänterwald 10k and ran my fastest 10k so far. I was also very happy to have achieved third place in my age group (out of twelve).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer is nearly over

And autumn is coming. I have had a lot going on over the last few months, including a month of meetings and conventions in England. In the meantime, building work has begun on the new Buddhist centre at long last, which is very satisfying. I am slowly working my way through the Oxford History of Western Music by Richard Taruskin (in five volumes!), which I bought in June and is a fascinating journey.

The pope is visiting Berlin. Here is the view from my kitchen window:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Get Stoned in Luckenwalde and another Half Marathon in Potsdam

Last Thursday was Ascension Day, a public holiday in Germany. After leading an evening session of the Foundation course at Buddhistisches Tor on Thursday evening I took a train from Berlin Central Station and joined Claudia in the garden at Luckenwalde for the start of a couple of weeks holiday. Friday was the start of the Turmfest in Luckenwalde, a three-day festival during which the town centre is closed off to host a fun fair and numerous stands offering assorted refreshments, and three stages present live music until late into the night. On Friday Claudia and I paid our four euros each and enjoyed first of all the music of pop band Stella Nova, and then the country and western of Uncle Lu, which was fascinating more on account of the couple of dozen square dancers in front of the stage than the music. The highlight of the evening however was Get Stoned, a really competent Stones cover band from Berlin. 
On Sunday I ran the Potsdam Schlößer half marathon again. This year it was even hotter than last, maybe 28°c. I had expected to run a faster time than last year, but it didn’t happen. I finished in just under two hours. Three minutes before the start, the commentator encouraged all participants to remember a runner, who died during last year’s race with a minute’s silence. The silence lasted literally about five seconds before the commentator started talking again. I suspect that part of the intention of this remembrance was to make this year’s participants aware of the potential risks. With about three-quarters of the course behind me I witnessed a man being helped to the grass at the side of the road, clearly suffering under the conditions. I asked if he required help, to which he assented, so I ran a hundred meters back along the course to a water station and explained what had happened and the helper called someone on his mobile phone. Hopefully all went well. 

My time was 1:58:59, three minutes slower than last year. I finished 784th overall (compared to 795th last year), 71st in my age class (70th last year)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More Music and preparations for Potsdam

Since I last wrote something I've continued training for this Sunday's half marathon in Potsdam. Last year it was hot and I was not really fit so it was a tough run. This year I feel reasonably fit but the temperature is expected to be around 28°, so it might again be pretty hard going. We'll see...

After the pleasing discovery of Takemitsu at the Berlin Philharmonic the other week I have found another classical composer from the East: Tan Dun, whose Ghost Opera is a fascinating piece. Performed by the Kronos Quartet, it can be seen on You Tube, where his Internet Symphony can also be found.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wesak Celebrations and a Trip to the Berlin Philharmonic

On Saturday we celebrated the anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment at Buddhistisches Tor Berlin, beginning with a morning of meditation and mantra chanting. After lunch Vajragupta, who was visiting from Worcester in England, gave an uplifting and very personal talk on generosity. This was followed by some readings from the Buddhist scriptures about the Buddha's path to enlightenment and we concluded the celebration with a puja. Some of us rounded off the day with a visit to the Berlin Philharmonic to see Yutaka Sado conduct From me flows what you call time for five percussionists and orchestra by Takemitsu and Shostakovich's 5th Symphony. Whatever one might think about the music, there is no doubting the Berlin Philharmonic as one of the best orchestras around. Not that I claim to be at all experienced in this field, but I reckon they're a pretty tight combo.

I really enjoyed both works which were very different from each other. Takemitsu's piece is a very contemplative and was performed with a pleasant bit of theatre, as the five percussionists made their way onto the stage shortly after the start of the piece from different directions, each playing finger cymbals and wearing different brightly coloured jackets - the  colours of the five Jinas in the five Buddha mandala. But I was most deeply moved by the Shostakovich piece, in which a clear tension in the music reflects the terrible tightrope which the composer walked throughout his working life, but especially under Stalin's reign of terror, between conforming to the demands of the Soviet regime while at the same time being true to his own creative convictions. And all that for 8 Euros - last minute tickets on the podium directly behind the orchestra. Great to be able to see the conductor's enthusiasm and gestures from the front.

Here is a video of parts of the rehearsal for the concert

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Olympic Stadium at last

Last Friday I returned from an eight day solitary retreat in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on the edge of the Müritz National Park. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, meditating, studying, walking, running, reflecting and just doing nothing. It wasn't wholly comfortable the whole time being alone with nothing but my own mind, but always interesting. I spent a lot of time reading Wisdom Beyond Words by Sangharakshita, commentaries on some of the potentially bewildering Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, based on some seminars he led several years ago.

After a couple of weeks neglect on account of being very busy I also returned to training again while on retreat, but I guess I was still not as fit as I needed to be in order to run the Berlin BIG 25 on Sunday as well as I might otherwise have done. Having not participated in the event in the previous two years because of illness, it was a relief at least to be able to start this year. By the halfway point however, my lack of training became apparent and from then on it was a real effort to keep going, my pace dropped dramatically, and I became conscious of continuously being overtaken by other runners. Still, the effort proved well worth it with my arrival in the amazing Olympic stadium, where Jessie Owens won three gold medals in 1936. The recently refurbished stadium is a really impressive work of architecture, a temple to sport.

Here are my race statistics:
Duration: 2:13:04
Pace: 5:20 / kilometer
Field Placement: 1445 / 4048
Age Group Placement: 182 / 498
Gender Placement: 1290 / 3077

Monday, April 18, 2011

Relaxing in Luckenwalde

 After my illness last weekend it was a great feeling to get back to running yesterday during a restful weekend with Claudia in Luckenwalde. The sunshine and warm temperatures were an added bonus to the pleasure of getting out into the country for a short break, and doing a little physical work, enjoying the sights and sounds of the natural world, as well as reading and listening to music. After an early breakfast on Saturday we went for a stroll through the woods for an hour, and then I mowed the grass and turned the compost heap. Claudia and I set up the swinging garden seat after lunch and while reading my book on the life and works of Mozart we were joined by a beautifully marked green woodpecker who hopped back and forth a few feet in front of us for five minutes. As well as finding time to listen to some of Mozart's piano sonatas, I enjoyed an hour's snooze, before meditating outside in the still warm early evening. The garden is looking particularly spring-like with the opening of the daffodils I planted in the autumn.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sickness, Celebrations and the Mara Marathon

Last Thursday, less than a week after the half marathon I was sick with a stomach bug and couldn't eat anything, which of course meant I couldn't train either. Since yesterday I feel I've got my strength back and look forward to training again at the weekend.

WG Chintamani 2011
On Saturday my community hosted the annual Triratna Day celebration to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order) 44 years ago. We held the celebration in the community because we also wanted to mark the tenth anniversary of the founding of our community, named 'Chintamani', the 'Wish-Fulfilling Jewel'. Of the original four members, three of us are still living together and we have been joined by three more, who see living together on the basis of our common spiritual ideals as supportive to our individual spiritual practice.

The Berlin half marathon seems a long time ago already. While having a look at the clips of it on YouTube I discovered the this clip of a somewhat different half marathon in Kenya, won by Geoffrey Kipsang, who also won in Berlin.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Photos from Sunday's run

Today I saw my brother Llion and my cousin Pauline off to the airport. They'd been in Berlin for almost a week and it was a delight to be able to spend some time with them, much of it in restaurants and cafes of various sorts. On Sunday they followed the runners along different parts of the route, and I was very happily surprised to see them at Ku'damm, a little over half way around the course, where Llion took the following sequence of photos. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Another Personal Best

Despite not achieving my goal of running under 1 hour and 45 minutes I was pleased to have run a personal best time of 1:45:29 in yesterday's Berlin half marathon. The first really warm and sunny weekend made the going tough for the participants, and I have to admit to struggling in the blazing sun. I made a point of stopping at every refreshment point to tank up with water, which also slowed me down a bit,  and I also set off at an overly ambitious tempo. It's my third Berlin Half and each time I've improved my time. How long I can carry on like that will be interesting to see. Next year I'll be in a new age group, so I will have the advantage of being one of the youngest in the over-55s. Even if I don't improve my time, maybe I'll improve my placing in my age group. 
Here are the statistics with last year's in brackets):
net time: 1:45:29 (1:46:35)
10 km time: 47:59 (50:12)
overall position: 2929 (4408)
position (age group) 291 (442)
4:59 per km (5:03)
average speed: 12.00 km/h(11.88)

And now I'm looking ahead to the Berlin Big 25 in five weeks time, which I've entered twice before, but never actually run due to ill health.

Monday, March 28, 2011

After the Retreat the Countdown has Begun

Yesterday I returned from a refreshing weekend retreat that I co-led with Karunabandhu in Strodehne an der Havel. In all nineteen of us stayed from Friday until Sunday afternoon at the youth house and enjoyed a peaceful, as well as a quite intensive time together. The theme of the weekend was generosity and everyone contributed to the harmonious and pleasant atmosphere, and wholeheartedly joined in the programme of meditation, communication exercises, talks, discussions, ritual and periods of silence. There was of course time to go for walks and explore the surrounding countryside too. The weather was pleasant enough too. 

With the half marathon now less than a week away I am reducing my training quite considerably, but I did go for a brief interval training on Saturday: 7 x 400 meters. Just a couple more runs before the big day on Sunday. I'd like to beat my personal best time of course, and ideally I'll run under 1 hour and 45 minutes. We'll see...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Meditating for Japan

This morning I got up early to get to the Buddhist centre for 6.30. I suspect many others around the world have  also experienced a sense of helplessness in the face of last week's earthquake and its consequences. While meditating last Tuesday I had the idea of offering a meditation at the Buddhist centre exactly a week after the earthquake struck. So I lead a Metta Bhavana meditation this morning at 6.45am ,in which the seventeen of us,who turned up systematically worked to develop loving kindness towards all beings, and thereby also gain a sense of solidarity with all beings, even though there might be little we can do that will be of direct help to those suffering the terrible effects of the earthquake.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Reading about Running among other Things

Claudia bought me a book at the start of the week by Haruki Murakami called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which I am consuming avidly at every opportunity. Even though Claudia gave me the German edition, I am getting through it at a good pace. I have to admit that I had never heard of the author before, but am interested in learning more of his work, although I guess the subject  matter will be different. What I Talk About... is a collection of reflections and memoires about his life, especially his daily running, accounts of his first marathon and a 100 km ultra marthon, and how all this relates to his work as a novelist. From what I have read so far, he seems a very 'sympathisch' (what DO we say in English? Likeable?) person and I can relate to a lot of what he writes about running. (Photo of Haruki Murakami by wakarimasita of Flickr)

Unfortunately I don't make as much time in my daily lif e as I would sometimes like to have, to read as much as I sometimes want to. One of the benefits of teaching English at the TAZ (a German daily newspaper) has been the regular reading of English books, which we discuss each week. Our most recent book is The Other Hand by Chris Cleeve about a young Nigerian refugee, which is also gripping, though in a completely different way. Over the years that I have been teaching this group, we have read a wide range of books, from The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole to The White Tiger and The Room.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Cold Spell

Training is continuing to go well, despite the return of freezing temperatures., dropping to -12°  at nights. So far we've been spared the snow though. At the weekend I took repossession of the pulse meter, which had to have a new battery and a service. The last time it worked anything like reliably was during the marathon last September, and even then it played up right at the start, so that I ran the whole time not really knowing my time. Of course I now realise I've probably been training too fast, after today's easy run at 70% of my maximum heart rate. Actually I don't believe it is possible to run that slowly. I always end up running at around 75 or 80 %. 

One observation from today's run: I regularly pass people pushing their babies in prams and wheelchairs, sometimes men (most of whom don't look at all happy with their task), and sometimes women (who also look pretty unimpressed). What I particularly noticed today is that almost all the women were talking into their mobile phones. One could speculate on the effects of this phenomenon, and on the reasons for it. But not today. I need to go to bed.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Week at Padmaloka

Last week I was on retreat at Padmaloka, the retreat centre near Norwich in East England where I lived and worked between 1994 and 2000. I have been back several times since I moved to Berlin and my retreat this time was as ever a joy. There was plenty of meditation and discussion on the topic of the Imagination, raised by a paper by Subhuti, recently circulated among members of the Triratna Order entitled Re-Imagining the Buddha. During the week I also managed to keep up my training schedule and avoided getting ill, with the help of Master Lam's Chi Kung 'cold prevention strategy', which I learnt from his book, The Way of Energy, from which I learnt chi kung several years ago, and was the source of inspiration to practice it over many years. Since learning this form of chi kung incidentally, I stopped having the regular problems with my back, from which I had suffered over many years, probably on account of simply becoming more aware of my body and its movements than I had been before.

Since arriving back home I have had a very full round of meetings and appointments. There has been some excitement at Buddhistisches Tor around the arrival of a film crew from ARD who have been making a documentary for showing in the autumn. While leading the meditation on Sangha evening on Tuesday, which was filmed, I was very aware of the opportunity that unusual experiences give us to experience our responses. Such occasions prevent us from falling into our habitual ways of being and so we more clearly experience the tendencies of the mind, usually tending towards one of the extremes of aversion or desire. Apprently they have been awarded prizes for other documentaries, for example one called "Gut sein auf Probe - Ein Egoist engagiert sich" (Good on test - an egoist commits himself).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Marathon in a week

The first week of my training for the half marathon went well. I ran 40 km in the course of the week - which is more or less the same as I ran in September in one day. This morning I ran another 12 km and noticed towards the end that my hair had frozen, or more correctly, the sweat in my hair had frozen. When I touched it I was reminded of the time I stopped coming my hair, thirty something years ago and developed natural dreadlocks. I was also reminded of my winter cycling tour in Dorset in January 1991, when my beard froze and I took on the appearance of an arctic explorer, and thereby attracting a little attention when stopping to visit shops for refreshments.

Anyway, the training feels good, despite the cold, and I am looking forward to running in the Berlin half marathon for the third time in a row.
This is part of the course I ran on Sunday in Luckenwalde

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Getting well again

Last week I had a cold and on the way back from Britain my ears seemed to explode. For much of the time since then I have felt as if I was underwater. Not a very comfortable feeling, although my hearing wasn't really affected. This morning things have improved considerably and ts my ears are almost back to normal.

In the week I was kept busy, arriving back from my trip to Britain to a full week of meetings and events at Buddhistisches Tor as well as teaching English. After unpacking on Monday morning I led the lunchtime meditation at the Buddhist centre, but decided against attending the inter-religious meeting at the Town Hall in the afternoon to which I had been invited, on account of feeling unwell. On Tuesday I gave a talk at Sangha Evening on the Four Sangrahavastus, or Means of Unification. We intend to dedicate each of the next four years at Buddhistisches Tor to each of the four Sangrahavastus, starting this year with dana, or generosity. Next week Dhramapriya will give a talk on dana, the first of four talks on the subject to be held during the year.

On Wednesday I gave an English lesson, attended my chapter meeting, a weekly meeting of Order Members in Berlin, and spent a very pleasant evening having a meal with members of the year-long Buddhism foundation course that I led last year and ended in November. Thursday was a full day too, beginning with two English lessons, after which I spent an hour photocopying material for the new foundation course I was starting in the evening. After photocopying and before the course in the evening I had a meeting of the centre's Teaching Team. Friday and in between my round of appointments this week I managed to catch up with a few e-mails and telephone calls. I also managed to find time to buy a new netbook and begin finding my way around it. All in all a very satisfying and enjoyable week. All being well I will be fully fit and well by Monday to begin my training for the half marathon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Year Plans

It has been a long time since I last wrote, and I have had a couple of people expressing their wish for me to carry on writing something here every now and again, so here I am again.

I had a bit of difficulty getting back into my running shoes after the marathon - not just because I had caught a cold - more probable was the fact of not really having a big goal to aim at any more. And then the wether broke, as well as having a heap of other things demanding my time. So I kept the training ticking over, and fully intended to run the Twin Piers 10K race from Llandudno to Colwyn Bay last Saturday, but went down with another cold from which I am still not a hundred percent recovered.

Last night I returned home from a ten day visit to Britain, where I first attended the Triratna European Chairs Assembly, a week-long meeting for Chairs of Triratna Buddhist Centres, held this time at Taraloka near Whitchurch. At the end of an inspiring week of meetings, discussion and practise, I spent a weekend with my dad in Old Colwyn. He has run the Twin Piers race many time over the past thirty years and I had hoped that we might run it together this time. However, by the time I announced to him my plan to run it this year, he had already decided not to participate again.

As it turned out, I am not too disappointed that my health let me down again, as the weather was incredibly wild on Saturday and the stormy winds and rain would have made the going really tough. Instead I enjoyed a pleasant couple of days with various family members slowly getting better, and being fed extraordinarily good grub! (The sausages were of course vegetarian.)

At Liverpool Airport I was stopped at security and had 250 ml of Marmite confiscated. To be honest, I'd completely forgotten about it in my rucksack, and even so, I probably wouldn't have thought about it contravening the rules. I tried pointing out that it isn't exactly a liquid, to which the security person gently answered, it is a cream. I am happy that I packed the two large jars (500 ml) in my checked-in rucksack, which should keep me going for a couple of months anyway.

The flight played havoc with my ears on account of my cold, and they have not yet readjusted, but they are getting there.slowly sorting themselves out.

Next week I start my ten-week training plan for the half marathon again. I would like to cut a couple of minutes off my best time from last year, when I run in the Berlin Half Marathon at the start of April.