Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Sleep tips for athletes

I love sleeping.  Getting good sleep is so important and this ‘Sleep like a Champion’ infographic caught my eye.  While its about Sleep tips for athletes – it’s all so true for everyone!
It normally takes me 20 seconds to fall asleep at night, perhaps even less if I’ve had a run or a bike ride during the day.  Now I don’t think I can prove this but sometimes I almost know when I’m having a really good, deep sleep.  I can almost feel my body repairing itself!      This is a strange feeling and one which I do like when I remember it.
Thinking about it, I normally get about 7.5 hours sleep each night, so I guess this is in the right range, although I do admit that I like the idea of having a nap or a siesta in the afternoon.  Not that that is ever going to happen!  How about you – how many hours sleep do you get?

My friends at Casper, a start-up business that has been committed to sleep since the creation of their comfortable mattress, shared this graphic with me in hope of spreading better sleep habits to all athletes!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016


Eerie rainbow, quite recent, brings hope
This winter had seriously dragged on for me, plus its been pretty eventful for us as a family.  Life seems to have thrown quite a lot at us lately.  It is at these testing times when my faith has an important part to play makes a real difference.  Faith also provides answers in the most unexpected of ways and, as I discovered a few years back, taking good care of myself, eating well and staying fit has provided me with the ability to weather the various storms which seem to come along from time to time.

People say there are key sources of stress which seem to have the biggest impact these days.  Moving house, divorce are said to be among those but happily these don't apply here.  Instead the sudden and unexpected loss of my father on New Year's Eve was a terrible shock, as mentioned in the last post here.  And then a few days later I was starting my new job.  Both huge events for me having never lost a parent before and in terms of changing jobs, this was the first change of this scale for 23 years.

It seemed the short days and long dark nights were hampering me in terms of running and cycling.  Now spring has properly arrived I am pleased that I was able to keep ticking over to position me well for now as my mileage picks up.  I am seriously having to resist the temptation of sprinting ahead too fast in terms of increasing my mileage.  This is hard going, especially as I have had some nice runs and there is always the temptation of saying "I want some more of that" and then head out for another run before recovering properly.

Gym, again
So instead I've joined a gym (again!).  This time it's the shiny new leisure centre at Flitwick, Bedfordshire.  It's not exactly local but it's on my way home from work and, because I now work for the Council, I get a discount.  Fifty percent in fact.  That's cool.

I quite like doing 'people watching' while I'm doing a bit of cardio.  Quite a range of people; their ages, body weight, fitness and so on. I feel another blog coming on about that another time.

So now I'm feeling positive, optimistic and hopeful.  The days are getting longer and life is getting easier.  I've had some nice runs of late, including another with my friend Jon as we've both entered the St Albans Half in June.  Seriously looking forward to that but simply no idea if I'll come anywhere near my PB on that race (I think it was around 1:45).

Monday, 15 February 2016

So, what I have been doing?

I can hardly believe its been so long since I last blogged here; it's even longer on my cycling blog.  Plenty has happened by way of distraction.  Perhaps, it could be argued, having a little rest from something is a good thing: an opportunity to be revitalised, re-energised and to reflect on the general direction.


Took this when leaving the office a few days ago;
it sums up my optimistic view of work!
My full time work has seen an incredible change and from previous posts you will have seen this brewing.  After 23 years I have now left the criminal justice system. Through the dreadful reforms I have found myself on first name terms with my MP through my letters objecting to what has happened.  I wrestled with the reforms and restructure for months, survived the restructure and then accepted another job in my local authority for a whole range of reasons.  I understand my departure surprised a few people who questioned if I was doing the right thing, shocked one or two and possibly delighted one or two others.  I'm pleased I made the jump, although I have had some reservations:

  • I have left behind some lovely colleagues who I really like and miss a great deal (others, sadly, had already gone)
  • I really believed in the importance of the work, many agencies working together, getting the community involved, all for the greater good within the concept of public service which should be retained largely in the public sector.  
  • Whitehall is too powerful.  Ken Clarke had the right idea when he was Secretary of Justice and I came to respect him a great deal.  He knew reforms were necessary and took a measured approach to test out new concepts.  Alas that was all cut short when a Cabinet reshuffle took place and Grayling was shuffled in (there were always tensions between No. 10 and Petty France).  That was the start of the rot which finished off the Probation Service.
Nowadays I can simply move on from these reservations.  As I get to know more people within the Council, I see there is considerable scope for doing some great work there together.  The work is worthwhile; I really do like working and serving my own local community; this adds an important dimension for me.

In my new role I'm busy maintaining  and applying my skills and doing my best to apply them to a new area of work. To be honest, I'm quite enjoying it.  Although I know I've gone from being a big fish in a small pond to becoming a tiny fish in a huge lake, I am optimistic and positive about the future.  Much for me to learn!

Bringing the whole area of work into focus, in terms of healthy living and so on, it really has reminded me how vulnerable many of us can be to the negative pressures on work and why making a change can be a healthy thing to do.  It is so easy to get sucked into a rut.  Worse still it can be easy-to-get-drawn-into roles which become increasingly specialist it becomes harder and harder to even contemplate doing anything else.  Quite often colleagues asked me whether I'd ever want to go back to the front line, to practice again.  The scary thing was knowing I couldn't, I wouldn't be competent or be able to handle the IT system of assessments, sentence planning and so on - I wouldn't even recruit myself!  Things had moved on in the 13 years of management far too much to ever consider going back.

And another reason!
Yes, a further reason was about wanting to take a leap into the unknown.  Let me explain.  While I had done some research on what my new job would be like and I regarded the recruitment process as a two-way process, there were still some unknowns.  What would my colleagues be like?  What is the level of work like?  Why did my predecessor leave?  Will I truly enjoy the work?

Naturally there is a risk to this but, on balance, it's sometimes worth taking.  I didn't want to get totally stuck in a rut at this stage of my career.  If I left it much longer, would anyone ever take me on?  I simply had to do this while I still could.

Personal loss
One of the reasons why I haven't blogged much, cycled or been running very much is that I unexpectedly lost my father.  Aged 88 he died on New Year's Eve, completely out of the blue as he wasn't ill.  As a family we have had to make adjustments as we took this in.

We have been touched by the incredible support, love and prayerful encouragement from friends, family and acquaintances.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Running 1000 miles in a year

After-work run at Preston, Herts

Today I ran up my 1000th mile this year -yipee!  Here it is in numbers:

Number of runs: 170
Shortest run: 0.7 miles (late for church)
Longest run: 26.2 miles (MK Marathon)
Height gained: 32,178ft
Time taken: 143h 59m
Weight loss or gain: I lost a little in the Spring and then ended up 4lbs heavier!
Outlay: One pair of running shoes (these really need replacing after 600 miles)
Detergent: Several bottles of Halo anti smelly detergent for washing my running gear

Why did I do this?
Quite simply I need a challenge, without any kind of a challenge I am inclined to "tick over" and drift.  So having some kind of goal, something to aim for, keeps me going and gives me some kind of self imposed accountability.  Mind you, I did mention this challenge to a number of friends, knowing they'd check up on me to make sure I hadn't wimped out. This also helped keep me on track.

Although 1000 miles sounds quite a long way, it's actually no big deal when you have 365 days to do it in.  Actually most novice runners could do it I reckon, it's averaging just under 3 miles a day and put like that makes it sound very achievable.  I tended to have one longish run each week, say 10 or 11 miles and then two or three shorter runs on weekdays.  These shorter runs were often after work and around Stevenage.

The highlights

  • Getting ahead in January.  I ran a lot last Christmas, every day in fact.  This put me into a good position to spur me on.  
  • Training for the MK Marathon as this was a target within the overall target.  I improved my previous time and although I'm no notable runner, I was pretty chuffed to come comfortably under 4 hours.
  • Another race, arguably my favourite race, is the Ridgeway Run in October and I always enjoy this regardless of my time.  It's a perfect time of year for a run through some wonderful countryside.
  • Running in new places this year.  This includes around the pretty Hertfordshire lanes around Preston, Whitwell and so on.  A real highlight was running in Germany on our holiday there in Bremen and the one run I had as we passed through Hamburg. I also ran a little in Yorkshire.
  • Getting the course record for running up Bison Hill.
  • Having running as an on-going stress buster through some difficult times at work this year.  As you will have seen from the previous posts (and others dotted through the year) there has been a horrible restructure which I survived by the skin of my teeth - and then decided to quit having got a better job elsewhere!
  • Having some "me" time every time I ran.  This is an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts which sometimes was about problem solving, thinking things through and most of all, being thankful for all of God's blessings
The low points
  • Getting a really bad cold in December and not running for almost two weeks.  This followed a flu jab which I'm starting to regret ever having in the first place.
  • Picking up an injury in the weeks before the MK Marathon.  This was self inflicted through over training and increasing my mileage too quickly
  • Not logging a couple of runs but this is no big deal
  • Although I run reasonably well (cruising at 8:30 minute/mile) my core strength and above waist tone is not very good: I need better all-round fitness and this in turn will make me into a better runner, cyclist and so on.
Running 1000 miles in 2015 has been a fantastic thing to do.  Having said that, it hasn't been too difficult and any difficulty has been maintaining the discipline of doing it.  Having Strava on my iPhone was the key, keeping a log of my runs and having the weekly totals shown has been very helpful.

I have loved this, it's been a really good challenge to do.  I think what has been especially good is that it has kept me going through the year and it hasn't been about training for one big event.  It's about on-going fitness and I have been blessed with excellent health once again this year, for which I am extremely thankful for.

Dealing with smelly technical fabric
MK Marathon
Bison Hill
The best run in 2015
Ridgeway Run - tattooed legs and heavy feet

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Work-life update

I can hardly believe it is around 7 weeks since I last blogged here.  So much has happened.  Seeing as a blog is, quite literally a web log, I will treat this post as just that: a log of what's been happening.  Then I hope to resume normal blogging.

Work changes
My last post was about having complete faith and trust.  I also vaguely referred to something I wasn't in a position to share.   On that day I was interviewed and offered a new job which remained in management and I would maintain my salary.  I was also asked not to say anything as the unsuccessful candidates had yet to be notified.

I felt so thankful I had future employment lined up with security of a decent salary, pension and so on.  But it wasn't quite what I wanted or felt I would be best suited for.  I had also applied for another internal job as Partnership Manager.  This was a role I have already done but I knew would be tricky and I blew the interview.  I knew that was the case from 5 seconds into the first question.  My colleague who got the job will be fine.  It took me a while to find out I hadn't got the job as I think there were a few behind-the-scenes suffling around taking place.

What I hadn't mentioned at work at all was an external job with my Local Authority I had spotted and decided to go for.  Normally we can attend interviews in our work time but as I didn't want anyone to know about it, I took a day's annual leave.  When I found the job advert I wasn't actively seeking another job but it struck me as a job I could do.  It took me a few evenings to complete the on-line application and then fine tuning it on a Saturday.  Rachel double checked I had covered everything and cross referenced it to the job description.  Pressing the 'submit' button felt good and the day before the deadline as well!

Another interview
A few days later I had an email inviting me for an interview and, as is often the case nowadays, to give a presentation as part of the process.  I was very pleased to do this as I feel more in control and it's a good way of putting things across which might not easily fit into the remainder of interview questions and answers.  The interview itself went fairly well and I felt that I had given my best.

At the end of the interview I was asked if I had any questions to ask myself.  I breathed out heavily, smiled and asked "do I lose marks if I don't ask anything, I'm exhausted!".  The interviewers both laughed with me and reassuring said I didn't.  Actually I followed this with saying sometime thing about time scales and when I'd know the result.  In the nicest of ways it was explained that although they had been interviewing through the day (it was a Friday), there was one further person to interview on the following Tuesday.  Because of this, the earliest I would know would be on that Tuesday afternoon or possibly on the Wednesday.

Tenterhooks  on Tuesday
From the interview on Friday, the days went slowly and I kept thinking about the interview.  I was almost replaying it in my mind, going over the things I remember saying and trying to match this against the questions I could recall.  The rapport seemed fairly positive between myself and the interviewers and I was left feeling it had gone fairly well.  I knew I had done my best but naturally he big question was "was this good enough?  Was there to be someone else better than me?".  Perhaps?  I just didn't know.

Friday went, Saturday, Sunday and Monday crept passed slowly.  Tuesday and then Tuesday afternoon arrived.  Luckily for me I didn't have any meetings so I was just working at my desk, which is in an open plan area.  My phone was there on my desk and I'd listen out for it overtime I got up and walked across to the printer or tea station.  I even took it with me when I went to the toilet; I just didn't want to miss THE phone call.

Five thirty came and there was no phone call.  Running through my mind was the thought of the successful candidate having a phone welcome conversation followed everyone else the following day, myself included in that.  I was a little philosophical but not giving up either.  I changed into my running gear and went for a post work run around Stevenage and that's when things changed!

I was almost back to the office and jumping into my car when my phone rang.  I took the call and was amazed, thankful, surprised and totally flabbergasted I'd been offered the job.  Forgive me for not going into all the details.  I did, however, apologise for being a tad out of breath and for the noisy traffic in the background through explaining I was having a run.

"You're putting me to shame Doug, I'm at home now and I thought it would be better to call you after you would have finished your work for the day".

I became a little cold having stopped running to take the call and so I ran back to my car with that extra spring in my step.  I called home to share the good news once I was at my car and drove home with the most enormous grin on my face.

Keeping quiet at work!
I knew my new employer was wanting to move swiftly to all the pre-employment checks which would include references.  I also knew that it would be bad form on my part not to say anything to the CEO before a reference request arrived in his inbox.  I waited until the Thursday to tell him, I was just wanting to savour the moment for myself for a little while.

The CEO genuinely was delighted for me and was generous in the things he said.  I also agreed I wasn't going to announce the news widely until I had the contract and I was actually handing in my notice formally.  I shared the news with a very small number of close colleagues, of whom I trusted.

Is it really happening?
It took about 4 weeks for all the pre-employment stuff to take place.  Occupational health, DBS check, references, bank details and so on.  It was, at some point, slightly surreal.  It was helpful that the new HR department kept in regular touch with me about all the different steps taking place.  Eventually all the checks had been done and I knew my contract was coming and I had to give some thought to how I might announce the news more widely.

I was a fairly regular attendee at SMT, the senior management team.  Although I wasn't quite in that club, I often had business there of one kind or another.  And so as I was giving a general update on some things, I left staffing to the last bullet point.  I updated SMT on my small team and then shared the news about myself.  Many seemed surprised, especially as I'd been offered the internal job.  Afterwards quite a few came up to me wanting to know more and then the news spread more widely.

The last few days
I managed to negotiate a slightly early exit on account of the informal notice I had already given.  Gradually I shared the news with external people, some of whom had heard on the grapevine.  I sent a round-robin email to everyone.

A Director thought I needed a bit of a "jolly" before I left and I got asked to go to Anglia Ruskin University to represent us at the employment fair for criminology students.  So I went there on my penultimate day with a colleague having spent a couple of days clearing my desk etc.  I liked that as it wasn't much fun moping around in the office.

The last day came, last Thursday.  A colleague from Norwich came over to see me as she's picking up some of my work.  And then the last few emails and sorting this and that including my final "out of office".  The CEO took me out for lunch which was nice, though we were both slightly guarded.  Back to the office I produced cream cakes for everyone and at 3pm came my farewell.  The CEO was very gracious and said some lovely things.  I also wanted to thank my colleagues around me and say how many positive memories I was taking.  I surprised myself by referring to the tough times in my work.  These were the times when I had learnt the most and had generally benefitted myself.  I could think of the tough lessons I'd learnt, the stress I'd had on occasions and how this had pushed me to the edge.  I held back on those things, there are times when it's best to do this.

I handed the CEO my ID card, phone, iPad and door pass.  We shook hands and I went downstairs to Offender Management and said farewell to a number of colleagues individually who hadn't realised I was actually leaving there and then (a couple of others are going on Christmas Eve).  I said my farewell to the receptionist, asking her to finally sign me out.

Running and so on
Well everything has been going okay until 10 days ago.  My mileage for the year stands at 970 miles and I managed to pick up the most awful cold about 10 days ago.  You know this has happened before after a flu jab and I'm not convinced they serve me very well!  It's only today that I'm really anywhere near ready to run and I know I'll go around the bend if I don't get out there for a few miles today.

I suspect I need to take it easy as it must be 10 -14 days since I last ran.  I also guess I need to run a bit everyday now to hit the 1000 mile mark before the 31st.  It would be nice to have a few miles to spare and I'm sure I'll reflect on the 1000 mile challenge over the next couple of weeks.

Washing smelly technical fabric
Bison Hill
MK Marathon race report

Saturday, 24 October 2015

I am so blessed

On Tuesday I had the most incredible run, perhaps the most fantastic run of my running life and I must tell you about it.  I am so blessed.  It was so uplifting as a run and yet it was also was a run about faith and trust.

To begin with, let me tell you a little about the day.  At my work, there has been a restructure brewing since March (officially) and for several months before that (unofficially).  It has been a horrible ordeal, already with so many great colleagues taking voluntary severance deal and leaving over the last two months.  For those of us who are left in corporate services things are coming to a bit of a head and Tuesday was a critical day for me.

While I cannot share the details yet, let me tell you I have complete faith and peace about the situation.  Whether I am to stay or leave soon, I can be assured everything will work out well in the end.  I say that as I have my strong faith as a Christian, plus I am a naturally optimistic person and I often turn various situations around in a positive way.

And so on Tuesday at around 5pm, I changed into my running gear at the office, jumped into my car and drove up to Preston, the small pretty village in Hertfordshire.   When I got there it was already dusk and getting dark so I wasted no time and got going.  As the light was fading so quickly I decided to stick to the roads and do a circular run which I'd done before.  It was a typical route, the kind of thing I can reasonably do on my way home from work and without upsetting our evening routine at home.

Here's my run in numbers:

Distance: 6.7miles
Time: 46:12
Average pace: 6:52/mile

And the splits:    

Mile      Time/mile   Feet
1            7:29            -69
2            6:44            -114
3            6:10            -13
4            5:47            -31
5            7:50            +158
6            6:59            +75
0.7         7:10            -7

I can tell you I was pleased with these times, especially as I hadn't set out to achieve any personal bests at all.  Within those times is my personal best 10k of 42:11.

As I ran I felt so alive, my mind was full of thankfulness and joy in spite of all the uncertainties around.  I ran to enjoy the run, not to beat any records and yet my mind was on God in wondering what this was all about, what was he trying to say to me.  I ran through the remnants of the daylight with a very low sun skimming across the fields before it was dark.  As I ran up the steep part of Charlton Hill and the wooded part, I could barely see where I was going let alone see how steep it was.  I knew my strides were longer than usual as I could feel my quads pulling a little tight and my breathing was a shade deeper than normal.  And yet it felt so good.

When I got back home and looked at the stats, I was surprised by some of those times, much faster than normal.  Most importantly was that feeling of being tested and now blessed in such a spectacular way.  I have thought about this run quite a lot since and the significance of the day.  God's mercy, his undeserved grace, seems to be the main reminder when I ask what it was all about.  As I said earlier, I don't know the outcome of the restructure at work and how it will affect me - but I do have that complete trust and faith things will work out.

I think this beautiful rendition of Psalm 23 sums it up, especially the phrase "And I will trust in you alone, for your endless mercy follows me, your goodness will lead me home".  Take a listen:

We have been in tight situations with work a number of times before, either for Rachel or myself.  Often unexpected things happen at precisely the right moment and this cannot be by chance.  Somethings happen which aren't what I wanted to happen and yet, looking back, I can see now why things did go the way they went and how it is for the best.

I have run twice since then, each time that Tuesday run was on my mind so much, still wondering what lies ahead....

Running up Charlton Road, Hitchin

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Ridgeway Run 2015 - tattooed legs and heavy feet

Never enough Portaloos!
Here's my race report from the truly excellent Ridgeway Run on 11th October 2015.  As usual race HQ is at the cricket ground in Tring, Hertfordshire.  It was a cool and delightful morning to arrive early enough to sign in and collect my race number.  Helpfully there were a good supply of safety pins!

All of the officials were welcoming, friendly and chatty.  There was a really nice atmosphere as runners prepared themselves for the race, plenty of high spirits and laughter going on.  It looked as if the majority of runners were with club mates or with friends and I think this adds to the event in having someone to share it with.  I find with almost every race, there is always a lengthy que for the Portaloos; it does matter how many have been supplied, there will never be enough for the 15 minute window in which they'll be fully used.

It was great chatting to the two officials on the left, in between checking in on-the-day bookings.  He thought I looked like Edward Fox and I think he looks like my daughter's physics teacher.  We got talking about blogs (naturally mentioning this blog!) and how Mr M wants to set his own up about the history if Rock & Roll so please do get in touch if you'd like some help.  In fact I think I could do a workshop for budding bloggers - let me know if you're interested - I'll cover all the basics in three hours giving enough practical guidance to have your own blog up and running in that time.  Just let me know.  Back to running now.

As usual there was a 10-15 minute walk from the cricket ground to the start line which is right at the edge of Tring, in a quiet little cul-de-sac and at the start of a bridleway.  Gradually everyone assembles, the Race Director arrived with his airhorn and timing officer, complete with clipboards and stopwatches galore.

Many runners seem to have GPS watches these days and these were all being checked, primed and ready for the press of the start button.  Me?  I have my old fashioned analogue £20 Timex on my wrist and my iPhone with Strava ready to record the run.

Ready, steady, go!
Last year I commented on heavy breathers and fast women: this was based on the first mile or so where we were all tightly packed with each other and the heavy breathing surrounded me.  This year the early stage was pretty much the same with everyone running closely together but this time I became aware of a different breed of runners around me.

The new breed were of the tattooed leg variety, perhaps normally quite rare.  I did notice how I was surrounded by the sound of "heavy feet" landing all around me.

These tattoos included all the latest fashionable swirling designs and also a few (but more discreet) Ironman tattoos on the backs of some runner's legs on the calf muscle.  Interestingly I spotted a number of other discreet tattoos and these also could be a sign of having completed a gruelling sporting event.  Apologies for not knowing what these are, I'm afraid that's not my world but I can understand people wanting some kind of wearable memento which entitles one to a kind of membership into an exclusive club.   Didn't spot any Olympic rings on shoulders though and I suppose it does add to the list of "wearables" we hear much about these days.

I had deliberately positioned myself a little further up the field on the start line for this year.  I dare say there were about 200 runners in front of me, more behind.  So that seemed a good place to start.  Once the race was underway and we had all done the start line shuffle, our pace picked up to one that was just right and we gradually jockeyed for position and started to thin out a little over the first mile or two.

No heavy breathers; instead I was conscious of heavy feet landing all around me. I was trying to listen out for my own but I couldn't quite discern them.  Sometimes when I'm running alone on something like a beach I will close my eyes and listen to my feet, my breathing and so on.  This tightly packed race was hardly the time to start closing my eyes but then I realised I was running lightly i.e. my footfall was light in landing on the ball of my foot i.e. towards the toes.  I often find myself doing this when I'm running quickly over rough ground, it's not a conscious thing, it generally just happens.  It does make running a little more comfortable I find and I like the extra "spring in my step" which it seems to bring.  I guess that landing lightly and in a deliberately controlled way puts less strain and impact on joints.

Howard's intervals
Once the pack had reached and crossed over the main road (and here's a "thank you" to the fabulous marshals) we turned right along the road for a short distance, through a gate and onto a path which was single file.  This was also a little slower for everyone.

Next was a little climb and I found myself tuning into a conversation going on behind me, between a man and a woman.

"You know I feel as if my training is paying off now"


"Oh have you never been on any of Howard's Wednesday night sessions?"


"It's brilliant.  He gets us doing intervals, you know fast and slow, plus running up and down a hill.  Really good and I'm feeling the benefit".

I remember thinking that yes, that did sound like good training by Howard, although I don't believe I know him.  I too have found reps to be beneficial in going to the limit for a couple of minutes and then jogging to allow my heart rate to come back down.  Repeating this many times is tremendous training and if I'm honest, I should do more than simply clocking up the miles as it would make me a better runner.

Going up
I like hills, as you my already know and I can just about remember the time when I used to avoid them like the plague.  I found myself looking for opportunities to over-take some other runners as we climbed through the wooded area to the Monument in the Ashridge Estate.  Gaining some time on these stretches is at least one thing I can do alright.  As I said, I like running up hills!
The first drink station by the Monument was such a welcome site and once again I'm so grateful to the marshals and volunteers for being there.  I made the most of a cup of water, so refreshing.  Then it's a case of turning left and running through the woodland area which is so beautiful at this time of year.  There were plenty of Sunday morning strollers around and everyone was stepping aside, letting us go by.  Before too long the trees thinned out and to the left you could see glimpses of wide open countryside in the soft October sun - really nice.

Going down
As I had gained a few places running up hill, now we were heading down the start of the actual Ridgeway I got over taken by quite a few.  I just don't have the right technique or form to run down hill well.  Something to improve on.

The terrain undulated and before too long another drink station, just before a short uphill slog and a waiting photographer ready to snap these exhausted runners - believe me that was a steep climb!  Next was a hazardous section, twisting and winding through a wooded area with lots of tree roots and rabbit holes.  I took this at a pretty easy pace as I didn't want to risk tripping.  Unsurprisingly I had a runner on my tail before long.  I yelled out asking if he wanted to get by and he said he didn't at all.  It seemed funny having a conversation for a few minutes with someone I could see!

Home straight
Once back down on the flat and onto the bridleway which runs straight back to Tring, I attempted to increase my speed in trying to estimate how further with the pace I would maintain.  Unfortunately for most of this straight section I was on my own.  It was so welcome getting back to the start line and knowing there was about half a mile (maximum) to go.  I gave it my all, which didn't really amount to much of an increased speed although I did feel a bit mean overtaking another runner within yards of the finish line!

My result was 1:16, about 5 minutes faster than last year.  Chuffed.  This places me at 149 out of 564 runners.

Again I find myself asking "if I lost a little more weight, trained better, did Howard's intervals, how much faster could I go?

I felt so good, having a generous dose of the Runner's High.  This was a brilliant reminder of why I run, or at least one of the many reasons.

Serious side
My running form has changed over the years and there was a definite shift earlier this year when I had a bit of an injury.  Now that I'm running with a lighter, softer footfall using more of the central part of my foot and the ball of my foot, I can feel it is better somehow.  It feels just as natural as it was before when I was a bit of a heel striker sometimes.

Once again this was a lovely race.  I like it for not being a big event.  I'd say the number of runners this year - well over 600 - was probably about the maximum for this course towards the start.  It is a tricky balance as it wouldn't be a nice race if there were only 50 runners and we became too spread out.  No, it's nice to run in the company of others and I find I enjoy running a little faster this way.
Speaking of other competitors, my admiration for the winner and other prize winners.  My admiration goes especially to those who are in their 60s who beat me (I'm 53).  You give me something to aim for!

I like also having a technical teeshirt instead of a useless medal and it's always nice wondering what it will look like.  It's nice being handed a bottle of water and a flapjack instead of the carrier bag of rubbish you get at some races. Well done to Tring Running Club!

I love the course being virtually all off road on lovely tracks in wonderful countryside.  I like the hills, even though I need to get better at running down hill.  As races go, this is extremely good value and I'm already looking forward to another go in 2016.

My thanks to Tring Running Club for the friendly welcome, great organisation (inc perfect weather conditions) and everything else which made this a great race.

No, I'm not having a tattoo, ever. Even I ever do something where I'm "entitled to" I simply won't be having one.  Not my cup of tea, sorry.

Here's a few snaps from the day:

Marshals getting ready

First aiders having their briefing

Race numbers being pinned on.  Note watercress tee shirt.

Race numbers being pinned on.

Post race drinks handed out!

More drinks!

Clubs enjoy a social side too

Lovely first aiders, they said they weren't needed

Made it!

This is a muddy splash on my leg, not a tattoo


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Strokes in middle age

At forty three years old Simon Hall was not exactly a candidate for having a stroke.  Far from it as he was a non-smoker, sensible weight, he took regular exercise as a kayaker and enjoyed good all-round health.  And yet this all changed one ordinary morning in 2013 when, completely unexpectedly and without any warning, he had a stroke.   Happily Simon Hall has recovered and it appears has been helped through regular kayaking.

“It was an ordinary day when I was getting ready for work and I simply dropped my socks on the floor.  My arm started flapping around uncontrollably and I had no idea what was happening” explained Simon.  

He quickly found himself in hospital.  Although he was initially sent home as they’d believed he’s simply had a “minor” stroke, he was rushed back a couple of hours later as it was clear the stroke was far from being minor.  

“The NHS treatment then was brilliant.  They invested a great deal in trying to find out why the stroke had happened but concluded it was ‘cryptic’ which means there is no obvious reason.  They did all sorts of tests on me to try and find out why I’d had a stroke.  This included looking at my heart to see if there was anything abnormal like a wide opening in the heart or an area where the blood is pooling but nothing was found; there was no reason why I’d had a stroke".

"Having a stroke was incredibly debilitating for me, I had almost three months off work.  The immediate impact on me was chronic tiredness and fatigue.  The Doctor I saw at the hospital recommended I sat at home, rested and pottered around”.    This is exactly what Simon did but soon became restless.

"After being in the house for a week or so, I leapt at the opportunity to go shopping with my wife Elizabeth to nearby Milton Keynes.  When we got there we went to a cafe which was only 50 years away, I couldn’t even make it that far and had to go back to the car for a sleep.  This is because my brain was working so hard to repair itself, that is why I was so exhausted. People tend to look at the physical effects but it is actually a brain injury and it takes a long time to heal".

"Then there was a period of recovery and it was the canoeing which I missed so desperately.  Even when I was in hospital I remember thinking how I’d miss canoeing for my own sanity and sense of well-being.  I became despondent after a couple of months, I was wondering if I’d ever be able to go canoeing again".  

The Doctors couldn't tell Simon how precisely his recovery would go as the impact of every stroke is different.  After three months there was enough improvement to allow Simon to return to work on a part time basis.  The turning point was when his own GP recommended he continued kayaking having recognised the benefits (other health professionals had suggested exchanging his canoe for a set of golf clubs).  Something like kayaking his a non-contact sport and therefore relatively safe for someone in Simon’s position.

Simon was greatly encouraged by one of the other club members to pick up kayaking again in a K2.  This was a helpful way of easing back into the sport and it was reassuring to know someone was always close at hand for Simon.  Gradually Simon regained some of his strength and fitness.   He believes the regular pattern of paddling as been helpful in his recovery, having to co-ordinate the left-right-left-right rhythm.  

Now it is three years on from his stroke.  Simon describes his recovery as being almost complete.  He says the grip in his left hand is not being quite as strong but otherwise he’s regained his strength, fitness and confidence.   Although very modest and unassuming, Simon is clear that he owes so much to kayaking.  His stroke could not have been predicted; he was fit, healthy and ordinarily far too young for a stroke.   Simon believes it was his underlying all round level of fitness that helped him recover and, most importantly, provide a focus for his rehabilitation.  

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Review - High 5 energy gel

I have used various High 5 products on and off for several years and have mostly found them to be fairly good.  Following an approach by ProBikeHut I am giving the High 5 energy gels a good road test and in my review below reflect on their usefulness for cyclists and runners alike.

The range
High 5 produce a comprehensive range of sports nutrition products including energy, hydration, recovery and these come in various options (trial packs, singles, bulk packs etc).  The range is pretty comprehensive in my view and is suitable for quite a wide range of sports, not just running and cycling.  The High 5 range claims to be suitable for "beginner to pro" and I reckon they're spot on with this.

Energy gels
My first experience with energy gels was in training for my first half marathon, some years ago.  The advice given by those "in the know" was always to try out these things in training ahead of a race: the last thing you want to do is use something new the day before a race and find it doesn't agree with you, worse still in the race itself.  Happily I have never had any bad reactions myself.

The energy gels come in a 40g (32ml) sachet and has a squishy feel to it.  The top is secure so it won't leak and yet very easy to rip open while you're on the go.  Once open simply stick it in your mouth and squeeze the energy gel.  These are not particularly sticky, perhaps just a little, as it is almost inevitable you'll get some on your hand if running and taking these gels in at the same time.  

They are caffeine free (which is a must for me now) and each contains 23g of carbohydrates.  The recommended dose if one every 20 minutes and this should be sufficient for anyone taking part in an endurance sport.

High 5 say these energy gels do not contain any ingredients with gluten.  There are no artificial sweeteners and the sweetness is from real fruit juices.

How I get on with these
Now I am used to these energy gels, I quite like to use them from time to time.  Normally I don't bother if it's just a shortish run of less than one hour.  I do find that when I'm running or cycling for 90 minutes I am starting to run a little dry so these energy gels come into their own then.  The beauty of these, of course, is that they're so easy to carry in a pocket or in one of the specially designed race belts where runners often have 6 - 10 gels ready for use.

As you can see from the above photo, I keep a supply of these in my car!  This is one of those cup holders in my Honda's dashboard.  Most people use these for drinks.  Some use these for sunglasses, hairbrushes and the like.  Me?  Energy gels!  This is so I am stocked up for an after-work-stress-busting-run and it's always nice to know they are there.

Sometimes the effect of these is subtle, other times I know I'm getting a real energy boost, almost as if someone has flicked a switch or pressed the turbo button.  It seems to take a good 15 to 20 minutes before these take effect, so it's worth bearing this in mind.  Being a gel, they are very easy to digest and I never feel as if I am full in any way.  When I did my last Marathon, I settled on about 2 each hour as a good balance but it's good to know I could take more if I needed to.  

There's a number of different flavours and the samples I received were lemon.  The taste isn't strong at all, quite subtle and fairly pleasant; there's nothing to dislike.

Wrapping up
These are great for using on-the-go in cycle or running events.  I don't tend to use them if I'm running or cycling for under 90 minutes; after this point they are useful for an easily digestable boost of energy.

Thanks to Adam Lowe of ProBikeHut for asking me to review these.  A pleasure.

Click for the ProBikeHut webpage.