246. London Marathon 2012 – every single step: running for Macmillan Cancer Support

a tree on the heath blackheath london england april by Julie70 flickr1: Endangered species
The vista is all but empty now, across the expanses of the open plain ahead. The sky is blue and cloudless, the temperature cool in the early morning as the huge animal lumbers slowly past me.

I keep walking evenly, as calmly as I can, trying not to distract the rhino’s attention at this moment of maximum peril, as it sets out upon its annual trek.

Behind me, I can hear the approaching patter of many more feet upon the ground, growing inexorably nearer with every second. The veneer of calm I’ve been carrying since before the break of dawn seems false and fragile now, as the adrenaline rises in my throat.

The months and weeks of single-minded preparation, the hours of planning and even this familiar landscape offer little comfort as I stand in trepidation at the beginning of the journey. Almost in a moment, the chasers are on my heels.

And yet, I keep on walking. It’s a vow I made long years ago, for here and now one rash move can destroy it all. No matter the temptation, I will not run a single step until I really have to.

A moment later, the wave of pursuers breaks over me. The rhino is trotting frantically not far ahead as a hundred fleet-footed gazelles and antelopes bound by. I furl my brow in resignation and don my cap. Then I check my laces, hitch my socks and straighten my green shirt before the pain begins.

A bright flash of sun glints closer as I take what must surely be my final walking strides. The sight that greets me next stretches all due reason. The beast is in full flight ahead, huge head lolling wildly as he sets his eyes on other prey. Two figures clad all in shining white are streaking past with that wicked horn bobbing menacingly just a single pace behind.

london marathon 2012 starwars trooper c spoiltrottengiftscoukI allow myself a smile and take one last step across the fateful line of hope and fear. Right before my eyes, the rhino is chasing two Star Wars Imperial troopers in full battle dress, all along the road. I click my watch, and hit the tarmac running.

My 2012 London Marathon has started, and anything could happen now.
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245. London to Brighton, and back

Well, almost. London to Brighton to Guildford, anyway.

wey and arun canal near billingshurst west sussex england by roadsofstoneTravelling home with the bike on the car roof was a comfortable way to rest weary legs after the London to Brighton Bike Ride. And then, somewhere along the bleak A23 south of Crawley, I saw them.

Lone cylists, still carrying their London to Brighton numbers, pedalling along the bleak dual carriageway and working their way through the late afternoon across Sussex. Heading north and back to London.

The idea was born — to complete the 54 miles of the London to Brighton Bike Ride, and then glide (or limp) home to Guildford afterwards. That would make a long day’s ride of perhaps 100 miles in all.

And the last four years, I’ve done that — although on different routes each time.
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244. A day in November – Occupy London 2011

(… with apologies to Sebastian Faulks).

One day in November 2011. Two views of the City of London.

1) St Paul’s Cathedral, from the top floor of a major European bank;

st pauls cathedral london england november morning city bank view by roadsofstone

2) The Occupy London protest. Down to Earth, in St Paul’s Churchyard.

grow the real economy occupy london protest st pauls cathedral england roadsofstone

Truly, we live in interesting, fascinating times. When distance and detail each yields its own perspective.
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243. Across two continents: Istanbul, Turkey

sultan ahmed blue mosque istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneAs I stand below the Blue Mosque in the early morning, the Call to Prayer is deafening, drowning out all the other senses and sending forth the unmistakeable message — Istanbul is an Islamic city.

But this narrow street hides a wider view. Because just across the road stands one of the great ancient cathedrals of Christendom. The Agia Sofia spans the history of the Holy Roman Empire.

agia sofia from topkapi palace istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneThe first church here was founded in 360 AD whilst the present structure dates back to 532 AD — and for almost a thousand years formed the largest cathedral in the world.

Contrasts run through this city, at every level. We landed here in Asia, but we’re staying in Europe.

inside the grand bazaar istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneLast week, this place felt bafflingly exotic and full of oriental mystery. Yet returning now from central Turkey, Istanbul’s efficient trams and city bustle seem much more familiarly European, almost recalling Zürich rather than the Middle East.

city wall and turkish flag istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneI wend southwards through winding streets to reach the city wall. High above it run the last few kilometres of the mighty railway line which carried the Orient Express towards its European terminus at Sirkeci.

türkmen store kadiköy istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneFrom there, the ferry across the Bosphorus sails to Kadıköy, the town which gave the quartz mineral chaldedony its name, where another line begins at Haydarpaşa station for the onward journey to Baghdad.

The long odyssey from Western Europe into Asia is divided in two by just this narrow stretch of water which lies ahead of me now.
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242. The secret of Sandwich – British Open 2011

the maiden 6th hole royal st georges sandwich england by roadsofstone

A major tournament – contested on the best links I’ve played, and won by the gutsiest golfer I know. There could scarcely have been a better result to this year’s Open Championship.

Amongst the courses on the British Open rota, Royal St George’s is the toughest and biggest one out there. And those are qualifications which could apply perfectly to Darren Clarke, as well.
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241. Cuba 4: Cienfuegos – a pearl endures

rooftop panorama cienfuegos cuba by roadsofstone

Daybreak, 250 km east of Havana.

The sun is rising languidly above Cienfuegos as I take in the view of architectural wonders from the hotel roof.

free as a bird plaza de armas cienfuegos cuba by roadsofstoneFar below me in the city’s famed central square, Plaza de Armas, stands a fine statue of José Martí, most inspirational of Cuba’s great nationalist heroes.

The square is, quite simply, stunning.

Alongside the classical lines of its cathedral, theatre and town hall — all adorned in white — stands a billboard to Martí’s spiritual successor, Che Guevara.

che guevara tus ideas perduran plaza de armas cienfuegos cuba by roadsofstoneTu ejemplo vive — tus ideas perduran:
Your example lives — your ideas endure.

The colonnaded streets of Cienfuegos would thrill any aficionado of Hispanic architecture.
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240. Rory McIlroy – US Open Champion and UNICEF Ambassador

rory mcilroy us open champion congressional 2011 rorymcilroy comGolf is a sport which can make you humble.

Yet the new US Open champion had already learnt humility the hard way.

In April, Rory McIlroy led a major championship for the third time in a row, starting the last day of the US Masters with a four-stroke lead. That was before a spectacular Amen Corner collapse raised doubts if Rory could ever win a major.

rory mcilroy range work TPC sawgrass florida usa 2009 by ltbeyer flickrAfter all, his final round at Augusta only matched the score he had made in a gale at St Andrews last July, after opening up with a 63.

Scoring 80 twice when leading majors seemed to ask serious questions about Rory’s appetite for the fight.

Yet really, his fortitude should never have been in doubt.
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