Saturday, 15 February 2014

Alive, kicking and still blogging

I cannot believe we're in to February and this is the first blog post of the year - time flies!  Here's a little round up of what's what but first of all I must tell you about the above photograph.

Running with Jon

That's me on the right with my good friend Jon in the white shirt.  This was taken a few weeks back on a Saturday morning run.  First of all, please let that be some reassurance that I am still running.

Jon, well he's a great pal but it has to be said he is not into cycling. In fact, he's made a point of that in his own blog.  While we were out running we spotted a handful of cyclists and Jon plucked up courage to ask me about cycling.... why I like it, what's the buzz and so on.  Naturally I wasted no time in telling him all the many reasons why cycling is such a great thing to do and why it fits alongside running so well.  It makes you wonder whether he might be secretly wanting to take up cycling, or at least to taste some of the many benefits but cannot bring himself to take the plunge.  He doesn't know it but there's a good chance of this happening as they say the best predictor of future behaviour is to look at what has already happened.  Years before he took up running, he was far from that.  Nowadays he's far (outwardly) from being a cyclist, so who knows....?

Anyway.  We went for a really nice run over one of his courses - about 8 miles and out into the countryside around Breachwood Green.  I already know this area, the network of country roads and lanes, through my commuting to Stevenage.  It was a great run, we kept up with each other in pace and conversation.

When we got back to Jon's house that's where things started to get interesting.  Locked out.  Yes, the front door was locked, so too was the back door.  Locked out.  Being a Saturday morning we shouldn't be reading anything into the fact the family cars were there in the drive way, and as Jon explained, they would be taking the dog for a walk.  We waited, got cold and waited a little more with a little shiver thrown in.

To keep warm and be distracted from Jon's embarrassment we jogged around the neighbourhood hoping to spot his family.  Not successful at all.  We asked some dog walkers, looked in the usual places where Jon reckoned they might be, all to no avail.  We got back to his house, gravel, stones, bigger stones all hurled at the upstairs windows. "Anyone in?" desperatley went through the letter box.

Yes, someone was in and so we got into his house.  Just as well really as I wasn't going far without getting my car keys back.  Nevertheless a humbled Jon took all the flack on his chin very well and certainly not putting us off having another run some other time.

The thing about running with other people

I'm sure I've blogged about this before, the pros and cons of running on your own or with other people.  Like many other runners I probably lean more to running on my own but when you get to run with someone else, who is like-minded and runs at a similar pace, why not?

I had been thinking I ran slower on my own, perhaps I do sometimes but I also like to run in short blasts to get myself totally out of breath when any kind of conversation is impossible.  When running with Jon it feels like we start off quicker than I would normally on my own.  It always seems to take me 20 minutes or so to get warmed up and running well, Jon, on the other hand springs into life a bit quicker than me.

Overall I think it's great to run alone but then with the right person, why not run with someone else?  All adds depth and variety!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Being a bit "run down"

I'm a bit "run down".  How do I know this?  Four reasons:


  1. I have a cold sore.  I can't remember having one like this before and I'll spare you of the details.  In general cold sores tend to emerge when people's health or resistance has been depleted a little.  Also referred to as "burning the candle at both ends".
  2. I have a painful hand; though this might seem a bit weird.  In January 2011 I managed to injure my left hand - I fell over while I was running.  Click here for a blog post at the time.  No broken bones but more likely nerve damage according to the Doctor.  He said at the time it would take about a year to heal completely which ran true to form.  The crazy thing is that it's flared up now - there's no further injury or anything to aggravate it - it's just flared up and it's never done that before.  So that is another reason for knowing I'm "run down".
  3. Few last minute things just done at work as I finish for the Christmas break.  This time I have annual leave booked until 6th January so a decent break.  Yesterday was my last day and I finished at 2.00pm (please no cheeky comments about public sector workers knocking off early - we work blooming' hard in ways most people will never know about).  I can tell you it felt good as I had my last 1:1 meeting with my manager, gave the Chief my Christmas greetings, watered my desk plant and set my 'out of office' and got out of the building as fast as anything.  This is all a sign that I need to get away from work and forget about it for a couple of weeks.
  4. I am missing seeing daylight.  I drive to work when it's dark or just getting light and drive home in the dark.  I hate this; I need some daylight.  No, before you say it I don't need one of those SAD lights - I just need to be outside and feel the wind on my face and feel ALIVE!
Last year I ran over the Christmas break each day - and absolutely loved it.  This year I shall try and cycle instead, with the odd run thrown in.  I need to do this. Why? Glad you asked:

  1. Dealing with the stress of work.  Having a decent run for an hour is such a wonderful way of dealing with those things.  If you are a runner you'll know this.  Probably the effect of the Runner's High and a chance to get out into some daylight and fresh air.  Plus the challenge of some hills.  Wonderful, simply wonderful.
  2. Yep, cycling.  As much as I love running, I am going to spend more time on the bike for the next six months as I train for the Coast to Coast in a Day event in June 2014.  Heck that's not far away now and there's lots of training to do.  Because of that you might see more of me blogging on The Cycle Hub.   
  3. I can tell you, drifting around at home, moping a bit is not good for me.  I get frustrated and need to get on and do something whether its us as a family or going for a blast on my own.
  4. There are times when doing absolutely nothing is okay - that was the case yesterday evening.  A nice meal and watched two folios on TV.  That was then and now I need to get moving, as physically I don't want to get sucked into all those coughs and colds.  Having a cold sore is bad enough.  I just need to get moving!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Staying active over Christmas

Last Christmas I set myself the challenge of running everyday over the Christmas holiday and I absolutely loved it!

Most of my friends and family thought I was completely bonkers,  even more than normal.  They asked whether I was even planning to go out on Christmas Day or even New Year's Day.  My answer confirmed that was the plan.

Last year I did 11 runs, starting on 21 December with Christmas Run no. 1 and found it to be very beneficial.  In that post I explained a little more about why I was doing it. If nothing else it was a way of burning those extra calories which are so easy to consume!  I was reminded of this when I spotted Sustrans recently highlighting a YouGov survey which found 54% of people were planning to take some exercise on Christmas Day or Boxing Day (click here for the article).  

That figure of 54% people taking some exercise is reassuring as apparently we can easily consume 8,000 calories on Christmas Day alone.  That is an incredibly amount, roughly four times what an adult should be eating or drinking in a day!  Talk about being glutinous.  For myself I found running each day to bring other benefits which included dealing with stress which had been building up at work.  It is also a lovely way of finishing off the year, a way of reflecting on the previous 12 months and remembering some of the many ways in which I felt truly blessed (running itself is a wonderful blessing on its own!). It is also a nice way of starting the new year ahead.

This year it will probably be slightly different for me.  Yes I plan to stay active for all the obvious reasons but this year I am going to cycle more (I have an endurance event in six months time).  I'll probably mix running and cycling for practical reasons.

I can only stress how good it is to do something everyday over the holiday period.  I think the only reason to stop me would be illness for something totally beyond my control.  It's important for physical and mental health reasons, plus it's almost symbolic - who I am, what I do, how I'm starting and finishing a year.

How about you?


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Top Tips for a Triathlon

Pick your clothing and first event - wisely!

If you're reading this, the chances are you might be interested in giving yourself a challenge next year.  How about a triathlon?  Interested?  Here's some Top Tips of things to consider:

"Where can I get some help?"
Join a Tri Club as this will give you easy access to other like-minded people.  Some people have said this sounds a bit scary, joining a club where everyone else is going to be so much fitter than the newbie.  Almost certainly you'll find many people there who are friendly and always remember everyone has started at the most basic level.  Chances are you'll find some expert coaches who can really help improve your technique in the pool or on the bike, as well as your running form.

Tri Clubs are often based in existing sports clubs, swimming pools etc.  By joining, you will probably get easy or cost effective access to a swimming pool, or perhaps a gym.  Don't simply join the first club you check out unless you're completely sure it's for you.

"Spend money wisely"
It is easy to spend a fortune on kit, especially a for triathlete needing to run, swim and ride a bicycle.  Make sure you buy the things you actually need, not things that might look fashionable or trendy - some find it very easy to get carried away.

For many people, the most cost-effective approach is to strike the right balance with price and quality.  For example, you can run in a cheap pair of trainers but you could easily become injured through having the wrong shoe that isn't made for your footfall.  At the opposite end of the scale, do you really need that top-of-the-range shoe if you're just starting out?  Be realistic, take advice, buy what you actually need.


"Do I have to spend thousands on a new Tri bike?"
In a word "NO" you don't.  Tri bikes are obviously designed and built for triathlons but they are not absolutely essential.  A decent road bike  (which you might already own) should be fast and comfortable enough for being in the saddle for a few hours.  Road bikes are fine for starting out, nobody should frown on this at all.

Perhaps once you have a few good events under you're belt and you're still improving, that could be the time to consider a Tri bike.

"What are the distances?"
There are different kinds of distances according to the type of marathon event.  They include:

Sprint: swim 750 metre,  cycle 40k, run 5k
Standard (Olympic): swim 1.5k, cycle 40K,  run 10k
Long (half Ironman): swim 1.9k, cycle 90k, run 21k (a half marathon)
Ultra (Ironman): swim 3.8k, cycle 180k, run 42k (a full marathon)

Sometimes people are under the impression that all triathlons are actually Ironman i.e. the full works and where only the fittest of the elite can possibly take part.  Sure, to do an Ironman you have to be extremely fit and well trained, plus have a natural talent and have the outstanding commitment.  And yet, looking at a Sprint or an Olympic length marathon, could these be looking a little more possible?  Maybe?  Why not?

"What clothing do I need for swimming?"
In open sea races, you'll probably need a wetsuit.  The material thickness will depend on how much insulation is required according to the temperature.  Alternatives include the "shorty" or "triathlon suit" or "tri suit" which don't cover the legs - these then are easier when it comes to jumping out of the water and straight onto a bike.

The really important thing is to get one that fits properly and it's where going to a decent shop is going to take all the uncertainty away.  If your Tri suit is too big, it will be like having an under water parachute around you and this will sap your energy, as well as slowing you down considerably.  If it's too small you will have restricted movement and anyone seeing you try to take it off will laugh their socks off.

"You mentioned shops…."
Finding a store where everything trialthon is under one roof is very helpful and well worth tracking one down.   As you become more known the staff will understand what you need in terms of advice and kit, plus they'll be willing to share their own experiences - they're often rightly proud of their own achievements and it's natural to share these with others!

If you live in the northwest, shops like Eureka are specialist suppliers and natural meeting places for other triathletes as well (there's a 77 year old cafe there, a natural meeting place)

"Do I train at all three disciplines together?"
In general, yes.  Yes but do these on different days of the week.  For example, you could swim on a Monday, Run on a Tuesday, take a rest on Wednesday, bike on Thursday.  Many keep the weekends for long endurance bike rides or runs.  The different disciplines use different muscles in different ways, so it's a good idea to allow them to rest while you do something different.  Doing something different could also include using a cross-trainer in a gym - this still provides good cardio exercise without pounding your joints.  Plan actual rest days as well - if you don't you'll probably get an injury at one stage.

"When I be ready to enter a race?"
It is probably a good idea to sign up for a race straight away, to get something in your diary.  Aim for an event which is in about 6 months time.   t makes sense to go for a Sprint distance (unless you're superbly good).  Myself, I always seem to train better if I have an event in my calendar - its something to aim for, something to motivate me.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Running in Stevenage


Here I am looking slightly knackered after a post work run around Stevenage in Hertfordshire.  I did this through the last winter and I'm in the habit of doing it through this winter.  I can tell you, it's a life saver for me.

My employer transferred me to a different office in 2012 and found myself based in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.  Stevenage is a 'new town' and most of it is around 50 years old now.  While it is full of controversy in terms of whether its a nice place or not, it was designed with considerable foresight in my opinion.

All of the main roads are dual carriage ways which generally have roundabouts making sure crossroads work smoothly.  Running alongside these main roads is a network of cycle paths which I use for running.


My Stevenage running
A normal run in Stevenage for me is about 45 minutes and enough to easily do at least 5 miles.  From my office it's easy to get onto the cycle paths and there are a number of different routes I can take.  If there is enough daylight I normally head through Fairlands Valley; an extensive green space, complete with a yachting lake but these days I simply stick to the familiar cycle paths.

Running at rush hour time means there's plenty of cars on the roads and a handful of cyclists and other runners on the cycle paths, which is nice.  Why? I like seeing other runners and cyclists as I feel encouraged and there's a feeling of safety too - not that I feel particularly unsafe at all.

While Stevenage has some very socially deprived areas with the usual issues, I don't feel unsafe at all.  In fact the biggest worry is tripping up over the odd paving slab (this is something I do from time to time).

What the runs mean to me
After a day in the office I often feel a certain level of stress, for a variety of reasons.  I don't like that at all but the plus side is that I know a good run deal with it.  As I have said so many times before running melts away all of those stresses.

My last run was an interesting one.  It was dark when I set out and cold, at around 2 or 3C.  There was a little bit of drizzle in the air, so not the nicest of conditions.  As I ran I recalled it was the same route as  one from last December when I was seriously stressed out with a number of work-related worries.  The conditions then were awful and yet that made it so amazing.  Sometimes I need to run in challenging conditions with freezing conditions or heavy rain, snow or even blizzards to really make me feel ALIVE!  So on my last run I was almost disappointed the weather wasn't extreme or even more unpleasant - does that make sense?  The harder the run, the more I have to over come and the higher I feel afterwards.  I got back to the office and jumped into my car to drive home.  Felt good with those Runner's High helping me to feel on top of the issues.

Only runners will understand?
I hope that makes sense.  I suspect it will to fellow runners.  I remember someone once told me "….if they don't run, they won't understand what running is about".

So while some people might knock Stevenage for its awful architecture, drug dealers and roundabouts, I think its a great place to work and run to blow away all those stresses and strains.

Friday, 6 December 2013

I'm back!

I'm back!  Very sorry to have neglected talking and rambling here about keeping fit, handling life and staying in good shape.  Lots happening and I did miss sitting down with my laptop each morning and writing a little here.

Nothing dramatic has happened, honest, just the hectic demands of life in being a husband, a father and earning the daily crust.  Here's a few specific things:

Cycling
I've made sure I've cycled as much as I can lately: the odd hour or two, here and there.  This is because I've signed up to the Coast to Coast In A Day event in June 2014.  Rachel thinks I'm worse than bonkers for doing this but nevertheless is right behind me.  She knows its the kind of thing I have to do.  Why not pop over to the cycle hub to read a little more.

Running
I had thought of cutting back on running almost completely in favour of cycling but I can't!  I'd miss it so much!  There is something about running which I have found to be so compelling and almost addictive.  I'll tell you more soon about running in Stevenage after work (yep, that's where I work these days) and the latest gear.

Handling stress
Amazingly people are talking to me about stress and ways of getting through it and over it.  This is extraordinary.  Having experienced periods of stress in the work place (in 2003 I had a month of sick leave) I know exactly how it feels and have developed ways of dealing with it.

I still work in the same field and I see those stresses and strains bubbling up in my colleagues around me, so it remains real.  I'm human too, I have to deal with tricky things at work so it never completely goes away but I know more about handling it these days.  

Please get in touch if via ramblingsofdoug@gmail.com you'd like to talk about helping you out - me coming to your workplace, group etc.  If it simply helps to chat via email, that's fine: I'm happy to talk on email if that would help you individually.

Reviews
One of the nice things in blogging is being asked to review products from time to time.  Right now we are trying out Trek and Nakd cereal bars for The Cycle Hub.  I will do a summary here sometime.  I have been trying Aldi's cycling gear and have agreed to test their 2014 range a little later on.  

I've also written a few articles appearing elsewhere which I also immensely enjoy.  That's the thing isn't it - when you write about something you're passionate about - it's so enjoyable!

Page views
I can't believe how this has dropped through the floor over the last two months.  A few months ago I was getting over 15,000 page views a month.  Now it's about 1,000 - wow that's quite a drop and all because I've had a blogging holiday.  So I hope this will spring back quickly now.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Update: bookings and a break

I am taking a little break from this blog for a while.  There's no way I have run out of things to "ramble" about, far from it, moreover a lack of time is the biggest problem.

Rest assured I am taking care of myself and I hope you are too, especially if you're a regular visitor.  In fact only last night, after a day in the office, I went for a 5 mile run before I drove home.  I loved it and still run a few times each week to stay in good shape physically and mentally.

In the meantime, why not head over to my other blog - http://thecyclehub.net - where I will be blogging more about cycling over the coming months.  There's a couple of things you might spot there and which might be of interest to you....

Firstly, I am now giving talks to groups and companies on heathy living!


Speaking at a recent  Wellness event at Apple, Watford.














Essentially I am covering what I have already covered in this blog.  I'll tell you more about my journey from a closer personal perspective and tailor my time with you to meet the needs of your group.  I promise you it'll be interactive: there's no way I will be standing up and just talking!

Broadly, these are the subject areas, all built around my journey of going from a stressed out, flabby and overweight forty-something year old, to a marathon runner in his 50s.


  • keeping fit, healthy living
  • managing stress
  • cycling
  • running
  • motivation
  • giving up smoking
I have had some really encouraging feedback (thanks everyone!).  I will travel through Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and London.  Please give this some thought for your group, your team, your business etc.  

Making Contact

Please use this link.

Secondly, a challenge!

The second subject developing in The Cycle Hub is the Coast to Coast In A Day challenge.  This is an endurance event, a 150 mile bike ride through beautiful Cumbria and Yorkshire.  The event is in June 2014 so there's much time for training and bike rides to tell you about.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Urban Smoothie Bikes

My daughter Becky making a pedal powered smoothie
Everyone knows how healthy smoothies are for us.  Everyone knows cycling is an equally healthy way of going from A to B.  Put them together and you get a fresh and really good pedal powered smoothie.  Here we see the Urban Smoothie Bikes at the local Family Cycling Festival last Sunday.

What is it?
You need an adapted bicycle with a Fender Blender.  This is a special gizmo with a little roller that is driven by the bicycle tyre and in turn causes the blender to whiz around and make your smoothie.

These gizmos are called Fender Blenders (and must be North American!?) and available more locally from http://www.urbansmoothiebikes.co.uk .

It seems a well made piece of equipment that was certainly being put through its paces.

It reminded me of our Kenwood bomb-proof mixer which has an attachment which looks very similar.

There's a glass jug with a built in blade - you simply put your chosen pieces of fruit in, plus a little fruit juice and then pedal like crazy for a few minutes.

What kinds of smoothies can you make?
I guess the answer is the same for this as any other smoothie maker.  On the stand at the Cycle Festival, there was a choice of smoothie you could have.  In practice it was boring grown-ups like me saying "yeah may I have a mango smoothie please" quickly followed by the ingredients being put in, all free of charge.  You will typically get some mango pieces, banana pieces and apple or mango juice as the base.  Then you need your teenage daughter for some high speed pedalling.

Urban Smoothie Bikes
I chatted to the proprietor, Murat Basaron, who's a really nice guy.  He clearly loves what he's doing and the whole thing brings a smile to everyone who stops to watch.

Are smoothies good for you?
Yes of course they are!  You knew that all along, didn't you?

You might be wondering why they are good for you.  I'll tell you.  Fruits such as bananas, mango, oranges and so on are all good for you with vitamins, phytochemicals and fibre.  Worth bearing in mind that some smoothies you can buy in the shops have rather a lot of fruit juice in them.  This isn't bad but the 'bits' in the fruit are also quite good for us, not just the fleshy juice.

A glass of smoothie will normally count as two portions of fruit.  That is really important and a crucial part of maintain excellent health.  I like having a glass of smoothie with my breakfast; always better if it's at room temperature.

Smoothie are also quite easy to digest, top up hydration levels and, most importantly, add to the variety of fruits we consume.

So I hope you like smoothies.  They're good for you.  I hope also you can have a smoothie if you are at some event and Urban Smoothie Bikes are there!


Sunday, 15 September 2013

Running the Bus Way and ticking over

Early morning cyclist on the Bus Way
We have a new Bus Way (connecting Dunstable and Luton) about to open near where we live and I've been exploring it!  The actual Bus Way is one of those new fangled tracks for special buses that can use ordinary roads and then adapt themselves at the touch of a button to drive along these new routes.  There are meant to be all kinds of reasons why these are so wonderful but that's not really what this blog is about.

Instead, let me concentrate on the cycle track which runs alongside.  It has been a little controversial with the surface being too rough for cyclists but this seems to be settling down now.  Yep it is certainly a delight to see cyclists using it, as I noticed early one morning when I took the above photograph: it was cool, misty with the promise of a great day.

Running the cycle track
Aside from the issues faced initially by cyclists, I have found this to be brilliant for running!  The track is, for the most part, about 2 metres wide with a gritty texture and pretty flat.  It really is ideal, especially for people who want to have an easy run, not complicated by running on the streets with roads to cross, other pedestrians, cars, loose paving slabs etc.

If you're new to running, perhaps just starting out, this could be a good place to go as you can join it in many different places along the route.  Here's a few things to keep in mind:


  • If you run and listen to music through your Smart phone or MP3 it could be a great place.  There are no cars to listen out for but be aware of cyclists coming up from behind you.  Now the track is smoother, bicycles can easily cruise along at 15-20mph
  • Keep to a straight line, don't go weaving all over the track: you might be making yourself into a hazard for a cyclist
  • Cycle tracks can be isolated places running on the fringe of urban environments, so consider your own health and safety.  Hopefully the new Luton Dunstable Bus Way will always be a safe environment.  Do report any issues to the Police which might be useful in simple intelligence gathering, or, to the Council as appropriate.
  • It is an ideal width for runners to go alongside each other.  So it's ideal for you and a running buddy and you can encourage each other


A spot of interval training
I found myself spotting a tree, or some other landmark, and simply sprinting towards it for all I was worth and then easing back to a gentle jog to recover.  This, by the way, is interval training: pushing your heart rate right up high for a short burst and then allowing it to come back down.

The purpose of the run, just today
I haven't run much lately so this was just a 30 minute run to stop my "running muscles" thinking they were no longer needed.  I did the same yesterday, just a gentle run then.  For runners I think it's important to have a little jog or run in periods of rest and recovery if it is possible to do so.  Okay some injuries may result in a Doctor or physiotherapist advising someone not to run at all for X months and this is naturally sound advice.  But here I'm not talking about injury myself, just going through a little phase where I'm spending more time cycling than running.

So there you go, a little "reminder of a run" and a thoroughly enjoyable run nevertheless.

A word about the success of the Bus Way
The "powers-that-be" might be looking to see lots of people using the Bus Way as the measure of success.  I'm sure the providers of the bus service will be looking at their income and trading surplus and the bottom line.

Myself I think success will be:

  • Fewer short journeys taken by car
  • More people opting for non-car transport
  • More people cycling
  • More people running, jogging or walking
  • Children becoming more independent
  • The health within local communities improving
Related:
http://thecyclehub.net/luton-dunstable-busway/

Another blog I noticed generally on focussing on Bus Way issues