Sunday, 30 August 2015

Rainy tempo run

A few days ago I planned to go running on my way home from the office in Huntingdon, Cambs.  As it had been raining CATS AND DOGS all day, my colleagues thought I was a bit daft, to say the least, even though they should know better by now.  In fact those CATS AND DOGS turned into STAIR RODS at one stage, with rain drops dancing off the ground.  I drove from our office, turned south onto the A1(M), then right at the Black Cat Roundabout and across to Marston Moretain.  This is where the Forest Centre is, a lovely regenerated area with a couple of sizeable lakes and a network of trails to run along.

During the drive there the wipers were on, off, on slowly, off, on full speed and so on.  I got to the start of my run and the rain had stopped for just a few seconds while I started.  Within no time at all the rain started properly, first as a drizzle, then as light rain and eventually as proper rain.  Naturally I was soaked but I loved it all the more.

There were a few other runners there and one or two cyclists.  Every single one looked as if they too were enjoying it!

The funny thing is that it turned out to be a faster run than usual.  It wasn't a long run, just 4.5 miles but I loved every minute of it.

I have run at the Marston Moretain Forest Centre a few times this year already and I had been looking forward to this.  It is an opportunity for an after-work run to leave behind all those concerns and worries of the office, the stresses of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda within the Ministry of Justice.  These stresses are very real to me.  The implications are also very real to me and I'll blog about that again soon, in a little more detail.

For now - and for this particular rainy run - I was left feeling, well, here's the list:

  • Feeling so alive!  Must be that Runner's High once again; makes me feel great, on top of things, euphoric
  • Whatever is being thrown at me in terms of my job, career and so on, I will not be beaten and although the outcome might be different to what I might want, I know the right doors will open in the long run
  • Knew I had run a faster run compared to normal
  • I guess it would have counted as a tempo run, had I intended to make sure I got the pacing totally correct
  • It reminded me about why I should run faster from time to time.  I am getting a little stiff and a faster run tends to loosen me up a bit
  • I appreciated my surroundings: fairly quiet countryside, good surfaces for running, trees and bushes looking lush and the grasses were bleached yellow
  • Another reminder of how beneficial even a short run is for me in terms of my physical and mental health.  This is SO important and having my 1,000 mile target for the year is helpful to make sure I don't give up.  Every run, no matter how long or short, counts towards my 1,000 mile target and each run is positive for my health. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Why runners should cut their toenails

If ever there was a reason why us runners need to trim our toenails, this is it.  These are my feet with black toenails and something I am not proud of at all.  This dates back to early May when I ran the MK Marathon and in my pre-race countdown preparation I didn't manage trim my toenails as normal. The net result of running 26.2 miles with untrimmed toenails is exactly as above.

My apologies for the gory details, I am about to lose my left big toenail as a new nail has grown up underneath and about to push the old one off.  My right toenail is doing fine and not being "replaced" even though it looks quite horrible.  With the toenail about to get pushed off, as far as I can tell the new one is about half way up, so I guess the flesh underneath maybe a little tender.  I will have to wait and see but I hope this doesn't inhibit any running in the near future.

The amazing thing about this is that I didn't feel a thing as I was running; it wasn't until after I got home and took my shoes and socks off I saw the damage.

I regret this terribly, an avoidable position to be in.  Does it count as an injury?  Not really.  Will I repeat this another time?  No way.

Not like I had dropped a breeze block or anything....

How to look after your feet

Friday, 14 August 2015

DiCAPac universal phone case review

Recently I came across the DiCAPac universal smart phone case and it's is a nice bit of kit.

Here I share a few points about it - which might be useful for any outdoorsy types who will need to get something like this sooner or later.  I will also share my family's reaction to me trying it out and why they think I'm bonkers  Firstly....

What it is

The DiCAPac is a nice looking blue plastic case. It is designed to protect and hold any smartphone up to 5.7 inches, keeping it dry when it gets splashed, dropped in water or even used underwater.  That's cool.

It costs around £20.  It has some impressive credentials including "all DiCAPac products have passed Japan's rigorous JIS IPX8 test and are all waterproof certified at the highest possible grade (grade 8).

Tested and passed up to 33ft an underwater lab test and actual real-life conditions. This means you can be assured your smartphone can be taken within the DiCAPac case up to 33ft (10 metres) underwater for long periods of time and capture those precious moments".

The details

The main construction is a flexible plastic case in a nice light blue colour.  On the front there is a clear panel allowing you to see the whole screen.  Interestingly you can still operate the phone easily through the window with all swipe and touch button gestures still working - it's rather like having a heavy duty screen protector in place.

The back panel has a clear section for the camera lens.  This is very clear and is perfect for taking photos or videos without any noticeable drop in quality.

You also get a nice lanyard which is adjustable and attaches onto two reinforced holes at one end of the case.  The lanyard has some quick release toggles and looks pretty smart in grey.

Waterproof and the small print

It is worth reading the blurb which comes with the DiCAPac.  Before you seal your £600 smart phone inside and take it swimming, you are advised to make sure it is completely waterproof.  Thoughts of "duh.... really?" come to mind and followed by "do I really have to?".  Yes you do.  Period.  End of.  Just do it.

To check the seals are okay, it is recommended you get some tissue paper and fold it up to place inside.  With the tissue paper inside, carefully roll the cover over making sure the double velcro seals are firm.  Then drop it in some water and push it under.  Afterwards simply take the tissue paper out and make sure it is dry - it should be and therefore okay to use for real.

Throwing it into the Grand Union canal!

My youngest daughter is a member of a local kayaking club and I often take her there.  While everyone was getting their boats into the water I rashly threw my iPhone/DiCAPac into the canal.  The splash was loud enough for it to be heard by others and was much to the horror of Hannah and the bystanders.  They thought I had totally "lost it" and by that I mean my iPhone and my sanity!

Thankfully it floated nicely and everyone could see it was absolutely fine.  Grabbing it out of the water I took a close look and it was perfectly dry inside.

Amazingly the phone can still be heard easily in spite of being in a waterproof sealed case - I didn't really expect this to be so good.  It is easy to use the screen and all the swiping.  It is a little more fiddly pressing the physical buttons on the side and top of the phone but I guess these are likely to be used less often.

Long term, hard going use

Like all outdoorsy or sporty kit, I suspect this DiCAPac case will eventually have its limitations.  It is worth regularly checking the seal and seams are intact and not leaking in anyway.  I recommend you check this with tissue paper in a bowl of water, as well as visually checking the actual case itself.  If I were swimming frequently underwater, I think its worth getting something a little more robust.

Normal, everyday outdoorsy use

The DiCAPac is absolutely ideal for normal day to day use.  This means taking it kayaking, running, hiking whether it is wet or dry - simply because it is a cushioned case which absorbs the knocks and splashes thrown at it.  I think it's one of those "good to know it's there" pieces of kit which will simply keep your smart phone well protected in a wide range of conditions.

"You're still bonkers"

Yep my family still think I'm completely bonkers for testing this with my £600 iPhone inside.

Available from: mobile fun

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Catching up with myself: health checks

Yet again time flies and blogging gets left behind.  So here's a quiet Sunday morning and my favourite time in the week.  My family are slumbering upstairs, I'm sitting at the dining room table having emptied the dishwasher from its overnight run, laid out everything we need for breakfast, brewed some (decaf) coffee and sitting down with my Mac.  Here goes.

Health checks

Left eye, July 2015
Right eye, July 2015
As you know I always like to make sure my body is in tip top condition.  I ensure I have an annual check at the Doctor's surgery covering blood pressure, cholesterol, liver function, kidney function, PSA levels and so on.  That's always okay.  At the dentist I quite often get caught with a little decay or something needing attention on an x-ray.  And then I go to the optician as well.

It is always interesting at the opticians as I can tell my eyes are deteriorating in terms of becoming longer sighted.  I still hate the time when I was told, in my mid forties "well you're middle-aged now, most people become long sited and need glasses.  You're no different".  So I have glasses for reading and using a computer - for that reason my employer kindly allows me to claim £15 for an annual test and £40 towards the cost of glasses.

This check up revealed I needed slightly stronger lenses owing to continuing to become more long sighted.  "This is all fairly routine" explains the optician every year.  She went onto explain that if I follow the normal pattern my long-sited vision will level out soon and not change too much of the rest of my life.  That sounds good as I do need my glasses more and more for anything under one metre and also to expect things to be in focus.

There are always two things which provide interest to the conversation.  Firstly she says "what lovely blood vessels you have at the back of your eyes Doug".  No sign of diabetes or anything like that.  You had better keep up your veggie diet and keep running.

Secondly she's always interested in the dark patch in my left eye.  Actually it is more textured in real life than the photo shows.  This is a Central Serous Retinopathy and this is a tiny leak causing the retina to bulge and this leads to distorted vision.  It has been there for many years and comes and goes a little.  It also features a little in my right eye, although considerably less.  Apparently there are further signs of this happening away from the centre of my vision but I'm less aware of this.  The long term effect of this is to deprive the retina with certain nutrients and my vision has become dull and the world appears as if viewed from a bit of grey, uneven glass.

On a positive note, my brain adapts and this is an example of our wonderfully designed bodies.  I tend to see more from my right eye, so I hope this eye doesn't deteriorate any further.

You might wonder what causes this.  Well, Central Serous Retinopathy is still a bit of a mystery to the medical profession.  It does appear to affect men more than women and the age group is generally 30 - 50 years.  Men who suffer from a Central Serous Retinopathy are often high achievers, high flyers.  Additionally they expect a lot of themselves and put themselves under a lot of pressure.  In other words these are Type A personality traits.  Now I am NOT a high flyer but I do expect a lot of myself.  I am, perhaps, my hardest critic and often known to give myself a hard time over some things.

As a release from this, I find so much solace in my faith (I'm a Christian) and of course running has a brilliant effect on me.  Although I became a runner about eight years ago and at a time of considerable stress, I do find this helps me deal with the challenges of life, especially my work.  Having faith and becoming a runner doesn't solve everything but they are brilliant ways of accepting situations and thinking them through.  I digress.

Back to health checks.  These are so important and I'm pleased those public health folk take it seriously and the Government fund it.  It always amazes me how some people spend far more time and money on maintaining their cars than their own bodies.  Cars are expensive things, sure.  Cars are also very transitory objects and unimportant in the great scheme of things - having a nice car won't allow you to live a minute longer or be a better person.  Taking the time and trouble to have regular health checks at the doctor, dentist and optician is a great way of spotting any problems as they emerge and as we should all know, early diagnosis is very important.  Also important are steps which can prevent illnesses in the first place.

So there you are.  Make sure you get a check-up once a year, especially if you are anywhere near the dreaded "middle age".

Type A personality tag
Staying active in old age

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Squeezing in a few short runs

We've been to Yorkshire!  Only for a couple of days while my eldest daughter took a look at York University.  We decided to camp at the Castle Howard Lakeside Campsite which turned out to be a bit posh in a basic kind of way (i.e. expensive, looked nice, few facilities).  This was through being somewhere on the Castle Howard Estate which meant there weren't many footpaths open to a runner and those that were there stopped after a while with a good measure of barbed wire and signs warning of nasty dogs on patrol.

We arrived on Monday and left Wednesday (today) meaning I could squeeze in three short runs. Each of these was about 4 or 5 miles and I absolutely loved them through being in perfect weather conditions and new terrain.

All this reminded me of why I sometimes like to run on several consecutive days, doing simply a few miles each day.  This is why:

  • Fitting in a run for 30 - 45 minutes is not too difficult
  • It builds a nice running habit
  • Much less likely to pick up a running injury, compared to longer runs
  • Each run is valid; good runs don't have to be long or fast runs - they all count
  • Burns about 500 calories each time
  • Long enough to get warmed up and feel like I'm having a decent run
  • Long enough for a Runner's High
  • Still incredibly effective in maintaining good levels of fitness (heart, circulation, joints etc)
  • A daily reminder of all the great things about being a runner
And now we're back home, I think I'll carry this on for a few days.  Oh, should have said.  It's true every single run does count, even if it's just a mile.  I am on track for 1,000 miles in a year - that's through a real mixture of lengths and I love each one of them.


Monday, 20 July 2015

Sometimes running is hard, or easy. Why?

Last Saturday evening I went for an amazing run with so many fantastic ingredients and yet it has thrown up a question: sometimes running is hard, or easy.  Why?

In brief the run I had was utterly fantastic and over a course which I have run many times before.  It was an 8.5 mile hilly run going from Dunstable to Church End, through some footpaths and across Whipsnade Common.  Then passed Dell Farm and out on to the Downs.  From there is was a fast run along the escarpment (highlight enjoying those inspirational views) and then back down into Dunstable.  My moving time was 1 hour 14 minutes and I gained about 780 feet in elevation.

With this run, the further I went the easier it seemed to go and the last 3 miles were well under an 8 minute mile.  Everything was simply coming together so well and I knew my running form was good.    I should say it was at dusk, having set out at about 8:45pm and the weather was pleasantly warm but not hot.  The air was still and an ideal summer evening.

And yet I have done this run many times before over the last 8 years of running.  Sometimes I have found it hard going.  Furthermore I have found some runs after work to be particularly hard going, even simply a 3 mile jog lasting 30 minutes.  Sometimes my legs have felt like lead and I've been stiff with little energy.  What an amazing contrast to this other evening when I felt so alive, full of energy, supple and brimming with excitement.

It could simply be a case of "that's the way it is".  Other possible factors could include how well hydrated I am, nutrition inside me, blood sugar levels etc.  And then there is the mental, thought-based side.  What are my expectations?  How eager am I?  Have I missed running over the last couple of days?  All of these possible factors can make a difference in my view and I think these all add to the variety of running.

If every run was in perfect conditions, over the same route with the same performance it would soon be boring, just like treadmill running can be.  So thankfully we are not like that at all, we should thrive on variety and take the good with the not-so-good.  Even though I am naturally optimistic and "half full" in my approach, I need to remind myself of these things sometimes!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Cycling, running and cramp

If you ever listen to the excellent Radio 4 programme Inside Health, presented by Dr Mark Porter MBE, you might know he sometimes invites listeners to get in touch with health queries.  Here's mine.....

Dear Dr Mark,

From time to time I get bouts of cramp, mainly in my legs and feet.  When I get cramp it is often at night and a muscle seems to go into a kind of stiff spasm and be very taught.  I can tell you, it can be dramatic waking up at night with an agonising pain in either my left or right leg.  It scares the living daylights out of my wife who will often wake up as well, very startled at me leaping and hopping around the bedroom.  

It seems to generally affect one muscle at a time, either in the upper or lower part of my leg.  It's the same with my feet but that's not quite so painful as I guess the muscles are smaller.

While I get cramp mostly at night, it sometimes happens when I cycle and believe me, this is a little disconcerting when you have both feet clipped into the pedals.  Like many other cyclists, I use a clipless pedal where your cycling shoes are locked to the pedal.  Releasing your feet is done by twisting the heel outwards and then the shoe springs out.

Me, my health
I am in my mid fifties and have no health issues.  I'm pretty active and fit with running (I average over 20 miles each week) and cycling.  My BMI is 22.5 and I'm in pretty good shape.  I'm tee total, don't smoke and I'm a vegetarian.  I reckon my diet is pretty good generally; I especially eat lots of fruit (as many different kinds as I can over the course of a week).

My own Doctor
Every year I make sure I get a health check covering the usual things such as blood pressure, cholesterol, liver and kidney function etc.  These are all fine and my Doctor says "well done, keep it up".

I did mention the issue of cramp to my Doctor.  She said that she wasn't very knowledgeable about it and flicked through my notes and said there was no obvious reason.  She felt behind my knees and then held my feet in her hands and commented they were colder than she expected, although it was a chilly day.  Other than that there was nothing to say or do apart from "I could suggest you give up running any cycling but I doubt if you'd think that was a good idea!".

Some people suggest sports drinks to be a solution and yet there are many different types around.  I have tried taking some electrolyte drinks which might help but I cannot be sure, there's no regular pattern.

Any suggestions?  
Goes without saying I'm hoping you can cover this on Inside Health, I'm happy to be interviewed or provide some further information if that would be helpful.

Radio 4 Inside Health
Electrolyte drinks - do we need them?

Friday, 10 July 2015

Only another runner would understand

Recently I got into a conversation with a colleague at work.  He's not a runner, you can tell that.  But he used to be a runner and, in fact, competed in County championships as a schoolboy.  In more recent times he has been in and out of gyms and has been an active runner from time to time.

He asked me what I get out of running and so I explained a huge range of reasons.  These included staying slim, keeping my bones, joints, lungs and heart healthy.  I also went onto say about running being helpful in dealing with the stresses and strains of life; at that point he started to nod and smile.

I went onto to say it goes further in terms running being so helpful in really thinking things through, having deeper thoughts, beyond seeing things at face value and working through things in my mind.  I said one last thing "when I'm deep in thought, sometimes the miles can drift by almost unnoticed". At that point he looked at me in a knowing way, I thought I could almost see his eyes welling up as we smiled at each other: he understood.  He understood what being a runner is all about as he has experienced this himself.

We paused, as I say, smiling at each other.  We concluded these things could only be truly understood by another runner, as simple as that.

Crash diets - yet more reasons to gradually lose weight

No, this isn't me and further more, I don't really need to lose weight.  Plus I should reassure you I have only ever been to prison in my professional capacity.  This is a story about a man who did need to lose some of his weight, although not for the best reasons.  I spotted this slightly amusing but tragic story through a work related site called No Offence!

The story goes that this man, Matt, was held at the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York.  He and an accomplice hatched a plan to escape which involved getting through a pipe.  In a dry practice run he found he was too fat to get through the pipe and this led to him going on a crash diet.

After a while he was slim enough for the escape and the pair were actually successful in escaping.  They remained at large for a few weeks before both being shot by the Police.  One died and the other, injured, was returned to prison.  Everyone knows no good can ever come of this kind of thing - escaping from prison or even a crash diet.

The trouble with crash diets
While a crash diet can help someone lose weight quickly, it isn't exactly an enjoyable or a wise approach.  Sure, a heavy person is wise to cut down on junk food and empty calories; i.e. processed rubbish which is fattening and has no real nutritional value.  Such a person will gradually use their fat to provide the energy they need in their daily fuel and become thinner and lighter.  This perhaps might be handy if you're wanting to escape from a prison but it is not the healthiest thing to do as we all know our health can deteriorate if we miss out on daily Vitamins and other nutrients.  It can lead to short term problems with lowered immunity and store up some longer term health risks.

Another reason why crash diets are a bad idea is simply because they are unlikely to be sustained.  It is all too easy for someone who has lost weight rapidly to find that they have regained that weight soon after.  They simply don't work for most people.

The better solution
A more healthy approach is to lose weight gradually, slowly and consistently.  You will stay healthy, establish a life changing habit that is more likely to be sustained and that is the key for healthy living.

For Matt and his accomplice (sadly RIP) escaping from prison and being shot by Police is not good for their health either.