Monday, 24 February 2014

A Weekend of Surprises

Well that was an interesting weekend, full of surprises and slightly surreal experiences, but certainly one I’ll remember – for a number of reasons.

On Friday I headed into Tokyo since I had a meeting with a potential designer. As I dressed in the morning I was debating whether or not to wear a suit. One wants to impress at meetings, but then I really didn’t want to drag a suit around with me all weekend, and certainly not to a half marathon.

Then it hit me. I’m the client. These folks are trying to win business from me. I could turn up in my Bananaman outfit and they’d still be the ones trying to impress. I’ve never been the client before. My entire career I have been the one trying to sell a product – but this time I'll be on the other side of it. Rather nice it felt too. Sadly Eric, along with all my other fancy dress, went to the skip before I left London, so trousers and jumper would have to suffice. How very dull.

Meetings where everyone dressed like this would be infinitely better

Meeting done and I managed to get lost on no fewer than three separate occasions before successfully meeting up with Darrell to eat a considerable amount of meat while supping on several fine craft beers and chasing them down with a couple of bourbons as the evening wore on. All good prep for a race on Sunday.

Saturday was to be a quiet day, but it got off to an incredibly odd start. My morning routine involves me checking my emails as soon as I wake up, because of the time difference it means that the majority of emails I receive come in overnight and it’s always nice to start the day with word from home.

Now, I’ve had a bit of a Facebook embargo recently, more on that later, but I saw an email from the site and then a whole load of responses from people. It turns out that Cricinfo, the biggest Cricket website in the world, had an article on the homepage asking “What’s the best job in Cricket?” Which then went on to describe yours truly as a: “Sushi-eatingCricket Missionary”.

Back on Cricinfo - but not writing about myself this time

It was a very odd way to start the day, reading an article on a website you visit daily that you might just have the best job in the sport you love. While I’m not entirely sure that I agree 100% with the sentiment, it is rather humbling and the next time I have a shitty day at the office and start complaining to myself I may just re-read the article and then give myself a solid slap round the face.

The rest of Saturday involved steak for lunch (protein you see, all good for muscle recovery) and a trip to the cinema, before an early start on Sunday for the Odaiba Half Marathon.

Odaiba is small island of reclaimed land which is a bit of a tourist attraction. At present it hosts things like Cirque du Soleil, Oktoberfest and in 2020 it will be the staging post for much of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Having done a long running post recently I won’t bore you with all the details, but the course was exceptionally dull – up and down the bay four times, which meant running passed the Statue of Liberty no less than eight times. I felt for the people who were running a full marathon on exactly the same course.

Knackered, but pleased at the end
I did the run in 1:44:51, meaning I broke the magic 1hr 45min target I’d set myself two years ago. Considering I have not run all week and genuinely couldn’t walk six days earlier because doing 15 miles had left my right knee creaking worse than the bike shelter outside my building after the snow, I was doubly pleased and now feel that I might  have a chance of hitting the target I’ve set myself in London – provided the knee does not copy the bike shelter and collapse. Days like this are a huge confidence boost, and make you realise that the training is actually doing it's job, and thus worth sticking with.

Dear knee - do not behave like this shelter.
That’s all for now. I’m steering clear of Facebook because, well, essentially seeing what everyone else was up to was making me homesick. That and the fact that I felt it had reached a tipping point where I found more stuff on there to be irritating than amusing or informative. As such I am only visiting to post links to this blog, while the occasional photo via Instagram will go up there too. I will of course, respond to any messages that come via the site, but would rather people just emailed me instead!

As ever – Mahanimashte. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Filming Day

Not a great deal to report right now, I spent most of Valentines weekend hiding from social media to avoid all the photos of flowers, hearts and inappropriate usage of pet names. Never understood the need for Valentines Day, surely if you love someone you should tell them everyday, not just once a year? 

Since the weekend was once again snow and hail filled, Saturday involved a lot of doing nothing (hoovering the flat, having a bath - seriously rock and roll), but I at least managed a 2:20hr run on Sunday, which has left me more than a little sore (couldn't straighten my right leg on Monday - oops). I've got a half marathon around Odaiba Island this weekend, so let's see how that goes. I'm also planning to go into Tokyo on Friday and find a steakhouse - I cannot tell you how excited I am by this.

Only thing of interest to report from last week is the guy made it over from the ICC to make some video tutorials for our new website (which someone today kindly offered to do for us for free, in both English and Japanese, which is a gigantic result).

Because of the heavy snow we had to do all the filming indoors, which was a bit rubbish, but having seen the first cuts this afternoon I think they still look pretty reasonable.

We spent the whole day doing a variety of coaching drills and playing different forms of the game which was all fairly entertaining, but what I liked most about it was watching these kids really enjoy themselves. It was pretty awesome, and some of them were even quite good! 

Below are a few photos that I thought I’d share here. Enjoy.

An award before the games got underway

Opposable thumbs - very useful

Genuine enthusiasm
Girls and boys all play over here
Filming the sessions took all day - editing took all night

Obligatory group photo


Teaching the kids to Boom Shake Shake Shake the Room


Not cricket related, but this made me laugh. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Aches, Pains and Melted Brains - Marathon Training

Wednesday morning. 5:59am

My eyes flutter open and I immediately wonder what time it is. I know I have to be up at six, any later and I’ll be rushing; which is a strange thing to be worried about when you know you’re going to be running.  

I roll to my left and reach for my phone. I’ve barely lifted it from the dresser when it begins to vibrate, the familiar alarm tone coming a split second later. That’s three days in succession I’ve woken at the exact time I wanted to. My internal clock has always been pretty good, but this is getting absurd.

The snooze button glares bright red at me, daring me to press it. Not being one to pass up a dare, I accept. Sadly however, snoozing is not on the agenda.

I check the weather. It is -4 outside, not factoring in the wind. Holy shit that’s cold. I put the phone down and roll to my right, pulling back the curtain to see if the sun has come over the hills yet. Not quite, but it’s clearly trying. Like me it’s awake, but not quite ready to swing its legs out of bed.
Sunrise, as seen from my bed
Before long the alarm goes off a second time. Nine minutes in what felt like two. It’s time to pull back the duvet – the worst part of any morning. The cold bites immediately, and as I reach the sliding doors of my bedroom I immediately notice that the air con unit is irritatingly silent. I must’ve messed up the timer again. Bugger.

Dress, stretch,  a quick glass of water and it’s time to go. This  is the second run of the week, it's usually 4 miles on a Monday, 6-8 miles on Wednesdays, like today, Friday could be anything from 4-8 miles and the long runs on Saturdays are now almost exclusively half-marathons or more from now until April. I’m not eating before the midweek runs; trying to train the body to get used to running on empty, like it will be in the final throes of the marathon. I’ve not read that anywhere, it’s just a theory I devised because I hate eating first thing in the morning.

As I open the door to leave I hear the air con kick in – at least the flat will be warm for my return. It’s 6:30am.

The first few strides are horrible. My body growls at me for making it start work so early, and all the old pains in my back and knees give me a sharp reminder that they still exist. Thankfully they soon realise that bed is gone for the day, and start behaving as they should.

Barely 100 metres in and a terrible thought hits me. I’ve left my gloves at home. I’m wearing base layers on my top and bottom half, a beanie and sunglasses, so I look faintly ridiculous, but I’m grateful for all of those and think about going back for the gloves. Of course, I spend far too long deliberating and before I know it I’m at the left turn for the high street – too late.

I pass the office. There’s nobody in there yet thank God, which was not the case this time last week – although I’m still not sure why Makoto was there so early. He’s pretty eccentric at the best of times, so who knows.

Right turn, towards the rail tracks. The lights start to flash and I hear the bells going over the music on my iPod. Without thinking I sprint for it, going under just as the barriers start their descent. Nothing worse than getting stuck there before I’ve even warmed up. There are plenty of traffic crossings to come still, so highly likely I’ll have to stop at some point anyway. I hear the train rumbling past behind me, and feel sorry for the commuters already heading into work at this ungodly hour.

I say ungodly hour, but actually this is the best part of the day. I realised that on my Thames River Walk back in September, when I was often on my own first thing when the day was still and the sky just gaining its colour. 
A dude wandering in a school field well before first lesson
This is also when I start to drift off and think about whatever. Usually a song sets me off, reminding me of a person, place or specific event, and from there the mind wanders aimlessly. I believe this is what people refer to as “the zone” and I want it to last for the whole run.

Often I can cover several miles in this state before something blasts me back to reality, but today it’s short. About 15 metres ahead is one of the major junctions and the green man has begun to flash. It’s a four lane road and I’m going to have to sprint. Only being a couple of miles in, this isn’t so bad, better than stopping anyway, so across I go.

What song am I listening to? Oh, it’s finished. Despite the fact I was singing along to it moments ago, I’ve already forgotten what it was so I wait for the next to begin. Another junction approaches and the man is staying green. Well done Sir.

It’s time to go through the underpass. Infuriatingly my sunglasses are steaming up. I ignore it and push on, the brief downhill slope helps lift the pace again and as I come up the other side I see another runner. This is a genuine shock, as it is only the second one I’ve seen in the month I’ve been here. He’s an oldish guy and I wonder if he’s doing the Tokyo marathon, which is just a couple of weeks away. If I was shocked though, he looks utterly bewildered at the sight of a Gaijin coming towards him – it is always this way for me in Sano.

Left turn, and now I get the best view of the run. Or it would be if my glasses hadn’t steamed up so much that there’s now just a tiny gap in each eye, right by the bridge of my nose, so I am essentially running cross-eyed. Realising this could end badly I decide to wipe them, but in doing so my hand slips to the volume button on my phone and suddenly Van Halen is melting my brain like that scene with George McFly and Darth Vader in Back to the Future.


With vision restored I admire the mountains before me. One stands out above the rest and is amusingly called “The Man”. Apparently “The Woman” is around somewhere too, but I’ve not seen her yet.

Over the bridge and another left and the mountains are gone. I’m now on a main highway, which on my longer run goes for a full five kilometres, but today is about 3.5. With nothing but petrol stations, warehouses and a weird gift shop with a giant tomato displayed outside to look at, I desperately try to recapture “the zone”.

What do I think about now? It’s always the same. I think about home. Sometimes it’s the very recent past, the last year or so. The big events; weddings, holidays, family occasions mainly, sometimes just the odd night out that makes me smile.

Other times it’s less pleasant memories that come to mind; things I’ve done I’m not proud of, people I may have hurt – even people from long ago. There’s no  way of controlling the thoughts that pop into my head, but when it starts getting depressing I stop myself and think of people who have inspired me instead.

Lots of people have run marathons, a few people I know did it last year in fact and so this time 12 months ago were doing exactly as I am now. They managed it, and I’m proud of them for doing so. It’s hard this stuff, but they put the training in, so I can too – and I hope they’ll be proud back.

There’s others too, who inspire me in different ways. Not through physical exertion, but the way they live their lives, deal with different circumstances. It’s hard not to think of Rob and Bells – it would’ve been Thea’s 2nd birthday this Friday.

I’m blasted out of this thought process by the Foo Fighters, swiftly followed by Cotton Eye Joe, which shifts me on to wondering if those two songs have ever been played back to back by anyone before. Not usual bosom buddies I suspect. Odd how my thought process can swing so dramatically. 

I’m not far from the final turn, but before I reach it there is a surprise for me. A gigantic stone head. Seriously. I’ve done this run half a dozen times now, but I’ve never seen this head before, just resting in a car park, divorced entirely from its neck and body and barely an arms reach away. How have I never spotted it? If it wasn’t for Joe and his Cotton Eye then I might have missed it again, so there’s a reason to give thanks.
Did someone lob a snowball at him?
I’ve hit every green light this morning, even the one I don’t need as I take the penultimate turn. The traffic guys are in place now – they carry big batons and seem to stop traffic at random, despite always being stationed next to a zebra crossing. I’ve seen the guys by my house a few times now and one of them recognises me as I come towards him. He waves me forward, a big grin on his face, then steps out and stops the traffic for me. What a legend.

I don’t have a watch, so I’ve no idea if it has been a quick run or a slow one, but I stretch my legs out on the final straight anyway, my hand slipping as I do and once again my brain gets melted by the volume. It's one of my favourite tunes though, and a great one to finish with, so I leave it loud. 

47 minutes to do 9.6km (exactly six miles). I’ll take that. At no stage have I been trying to run quickly, and actually felt pretty ropey at the start, yet this is the quickest I've done this loop. Enjoy it while it lasts I tell myself, before long the knees will start squealing again - it's inevitable.

Right now though, all I have to worry about are my hands. By the time I’ve taken the lift up to the 4th floor they are in so much pain from the cold that it takes me a good minute to get the key in the door.

I wonder to myself, did I enjoy that? Truthfully? I did not. I am not a natural runner, and this stuff does not come easily to me. Admittedly, I might’ve enjoyed it more had I not forgotten my damn gloves, or melted my brain twice, but there is solace to take. I am glad I’ve done it, and not just because I need to clock the miles before April 13th. I’ll feel better today for having done this. I’ll be more alert at my desk, less likely to drift off into daydreams, because I’ve got most of those out the way already, I hope.

Next it’s sit ups, press ups, stretches, shower, cereal and the office. It’s safe to say that Sano Life is somewhat different to London Life. 

Union Jack running shoes - what a knob

PS - This post was based on a run in late January, it's just taken me a while to write it up. I actually did the same run this Wednesday, and it took me almost 50 minutes and I had a nasty pain in my right knee from about four miles - typical given that the day before I'd taken 90 seconds off my fastest time for the four mile route I do. I've got a five-miler lined up on Friday and then 15 on Saturday, which is going to be the biggest test yet, especially as it's been snowing for the last 18 hours - just like last weekend.

PPS - A few people have asked about sponsoring me for the marathon. Obviously, that would be very kind - but I am doing this together with the Thames Walk, so if you sponsored me for that, which most of you almost certainly did, then you really needn't do so again. If the money is burning a hole in your pocket of course, then you can sponsor me by clicking here

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Snow Business

It’s been a pretty eventful last week or so. I spent much of it trying to finalise the project plan (currently a 36-page dossier) which I need to present in order to release the second set of funding from the ICC (of four that is), while also preparing for another visit from a Cricket Australia representative due to arrive on Monday morning.

The plan is pretty much done, but the dude coming over from Australia is going to have a bit of a shock when/if he arrives. I say if because it absolutely dumped down with snow on Saturday, and the bloke is coming over here to make a load of video tutorials for us – not sure we can do those outside anymore.

It happened just as I thought this place was warming up. It reached 17 degrees on Tuesday, and then on Weds we had about a foot of snow fall in just a couple of hours. By the next day it was all normal again.

On Friday morning Alex and I went into Tokyo for our first “Brits at Lunch” event, which is exactly what it sounds – a boozy lunch for expats. Randomly I bumped into someone who I sat next to at a wedding last summer – small world. Not much to tell about the day other than I got suitably boozed, met a few interesting folks and had my picture taken with this random dude on my way home.

Excuse me Sir, may I borrow your hat?
By the time I woke up on Saturday morning it had snowed again pretty hard. Because of the boozy lunch I had skipped my Friday run, meaning I had to run both days on the weekend, which sucked. It was just a short 4-miler on Saturday which gave me a chance to see just how deep the snow was and if it was even possible to run on. It was, just, and I was amazed at how many people were out shovelling snow in their driveways. I’m just not used to that. My feet however, got soaked and utterly frozen. 

It then snowed throughout the day, so dragging myself out for a 14-mile run this morning was a serious effort. More on the actual running in a separate blog, but to give you an idea of just how serious the snow has been, a reported 7 people have been killed and more than a thousand injured as a result of it nationwide – according to this news report.

At least their wipers were OK...
I took a few pictures while out this morning and needless to say I decided afterwards that the best course of action was to sit in front of the TV for the remainder of it. Irritatingly I still can’t watch any live sport which is starting to get on my nerves, despite all the Six Nations games kicking off at about 2am over here (not that this has stopped people sending me 4am texts of course – which despite my complaints, I secretly love).

Taken this morning - those piles of snow were twice my height

In other news, the proposals for the restructuring of theICC went through on Friday after South Africa, who originally questioned the legality of the whole thing, decided that their bank balance was more important and so switched sides. What this means for the smaller nations is pretty unclear right now – although most on social media have already proclaimed the death of the sport as we know it. What is clear is that every Test playing nation is now guaranteed more income, so it seems unlikely that the other 93 will get the same as what they previously. 

Finally – it was awesome to receive some post the other day. Simple pleasures here in Sano. Thanks sis! 


A small shrine just down the road from my house. 
PS - I'm trying not to slap too much stuff over Facebook as I know how irritating that gets, but if you use Twitter or Instagram then I am polluting them aplenty with photos etc, always using the #SanoLife hashtag. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Blasting Tree Horses...A Boring Work Blog

I suspect this will not be the most exciting post that you’ll read here, but many of you have asked me how the job is and what it involves, so now I’ve actually figured it out for myself I thought I’d do the honourable thing and share.

If you’re bored already I can’t blame you, but if you’re one of those who made the mistake of asking then you have only yourself to chastise.

My official title is “Project Manager – Junior Participation”. A bit wishy washy I agree, mainly because I didn’t know what the actual project was initially. Well, it turns out the project is called “Cricket Blast” – which is a six-a-side competition that runs for two hours a week over a six week period, and is aimed at 8-12 year olds. The first one happens on June 1st.
We've got a logo and everything
We hope to run the competition twice a year (June & October) in each of the cricket “hubs” in Japan, which are Sano (the exciting town in which I reside), and Akishima, in the western suburbs of Tokyo. So four times in total.

A version of the same event was run last year, just in Sano, and had about 30 participants, but all of these were from the Sano Junior Club, so there were not any ‘new’ players getting involved. The aim is to have 48 participants in each six week series, so that’s 96 in each hub over the course of a year, and 192 in total. 

So how do we do that? Admittedly it is especially challenging when you have people who’ve never played cricket before, and some who think it might involve horses. Neigh – it does not.
Stop Horsing Around
What we’ve done is set up a ‘Festival Day’ two weeks prior to each series. This will be in the format of a School Cup, so we are trying to get 20 teams to enter (meaning 120 participants). There’s a trophy to play for and a few giveaways to hopefully encourage entry, not to mention the endless adulation that will of course come with winning such a prestigious event.

“But won’t you still have the same problem of kids thinking there should be horses on the field?” I hear you ask. Good point. That’s why I’ve spent the last few weeks devising a 4-6 week coaching program to run in schools in the build up to the Festival Day where kids will learn all the essentials needed for Cricket (1: No horses. 2: It’s not Baseball) and by the end of it will be total converts and will refer to me as the Messiah.

That’s the plan anyway. We’ve even got a highly professional chap coming all the way from Australia to film some coaching videos for us. Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding volunteers and educating them to a level where they can help out during the day and even run some of the coaching lessons in schools for us. Well, that and persuading the schools to actually let us take over their PE classes in the first place, which is a pretty big challenge in a country that is essentially a big believer in the Status Quo.

The Quo-love is hard to argue with, I mean LOOK at these guys!
Of course, there’s quite a lot more involved in the day to day running with a variety of things to do and trying to get my head around the set up over here, but I’m making steady progress. There’s something quite ironic about me designing school lesson plans for 8-12 year-olds with zero teaching experience and having had no contact with that age group since I was part of it. Not to mention how crap I am at cricket of course.

Likewise, I’m also trying to source sponsorship for all our clothing and keep getting asked to design the shirts etc. Yep, me – designing clothes. Needless to say I am doing everything in my power to pass the job on; otherwise everyone will simply end up in T-Shirts like this:

I think they mean the food...
That’s it for now, not a lot else to report after a fairly quiet weekend where the highlights included buying a rug for my flat and carrying it home on my shoulder like a man carrying a tree trunk, and finding Kit Kats on sale in the local 7/11. Amazing how a small reminder of home can be so pleasing. I did have some great Skype chats with folks though, so thanks to those who hollered.*

The other thing people have asked me about is the marathon training. Well, there’s been a lot of that. In fact I have just completed a full week when I’ve exercised everyday (five runs, two squash matches), which I’m not sure I’ve ever achieved before. It has also coincided with seven days (now eight) of not touching a drop of booze. Funny how they coincide. Anyway – I’ll do a running blog next time, so that will be equally exciting I’m sure.
Until next time...Mahanimashte.
*A special mention to the new human who has entered the world - Barnaby Roland Jasper Hill. Barely a week old and already catching his old man in the nickname stakes (Hedge, Marvin, Hoglet, 002a etc) was good to get screeched at by the little fella yesterday. Huge love and congrats to the parents.