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.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Drastically improved eyesight

If you're a regular here you might have clocked I have an eyesight problem - central serous retinopathy.  The fantastic and remarkable thing is, it has now drastically improved.

You see, the problem is mostly in my left eye, where a tiny leak occurred and the back of my eye, causing the retina to budge forward and this in turn causes distorted vision near the middle of my retina.   You can see in the above photo there is a darkish area in the middle and a few white-ish spots.  As if this was't bad enough, because the retina has been starved of nutrients (explained my Doctor, a dullness had set in for a few years.  This was like viewing the world through the lens of a grey pair of sunglasses.

The Doctor said this was not reversible and yet I now think there is little colour vision difference between the two eyes!  I think this is remarkable, having put up with everything looking greyish and with muted colours for several years, everything now seems so much brighter and more colourful.

I noticed this yesterday when I was driving back across the Cotswold Hills on a bright sunny day.  I found myself enjoying the lovely colours and September sun across the stunning landscape.  I also remember thinking "these colours will look pretty dull through my left eye".  So my astonishment was an almost complete colour restoration.  That you God.

The details I see, however, is still well short of my "good eye".  The distortion comes and goes but it is always noticeable.  An example of this is when I look at the toolbar of my computer screen, it is wavy and certainly not straight.

This is all very wonderful and I'm not quite sure why this has happened.  Most likely it is my excellent diet and through being a regular runner!

Posts about eyesight

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Running up Charlton Road, Hitchin

The start of Charlton Road, from Hitchin 
 Charlton Road is just outside Hitchin, Hertfordshire.  This is all "very Hertfordshire" with leafy lanes, gentle rolling hills and probably has a good number of millionaires in the area.  For me I sometimes drive through this area on my way home from my office in Stevenage and I am getting to explore some of the good runs in the area.

Turns out Charlton Road has two running segments on Strava and, from memory, one segment for cyclists.  I have cycled this Cat 4 climb a few times but the best bit is RUNNING!

It gets used quite a bit by runners and cyclists as normally I see at least one or two, sometimes more.  Cyclists tend to go up the hill, runners tend to prefer coming down.  Not me, I prefer running up!  Each time I have parked my car in the pretty village of Preston, at the top of the hill.  I either run down the hill and straight back up (a bit boring) or perhaps do a circular run mostly on the roads, as I did in the Strava print out below. Additionally I am gradually piecing together a number of bridlepaths and footpaths which are very pleasant in this area.

In terms of stats, the "Charlton Hill full climb" on Strava is 1.3 miles and a rise of 249 feet.  My PB time on this is 12:41 and places me 62nd out of 121 other runners - this is simply not good enough for me.  The other segment is the "Charlton Hill steep bit" which is just 0.2 miles and has a rise of 121 feet (but it feels a lot more than that!  The steepest section is 1:4.  My positioning improves on this bit with me being 21st out of 121 other runners.  My PB is 2:31 which I'm sure I can improve a little.  I know this is all a bit nerdy but it must be proof that I like running up steep hills!

The day these photos were taken, I bumped into another runner.  I think he said his name was Sean and he's also a blogger but concentrates on wildlife.  We had a little chat while he took the photo of me (below) and he explained he's doing the Couch to 5k programme (aka C25k) and he looked as if he was doing very well, certainly not a complete beginner.

The actual climb
The first part of the climb is a gentle incline (picture below) with arable fields either side.  The lane passes through a wooded area where it gets steep and steeper still as the road winds its way up the hill...Once out of the wooded area the road levels out and fields once again are on either side.

Credit to Richard Puckey who is the course leader for the steep part segment with a really impressive time of 1:27 (against my PB of 2:31) and the fastest woman is Sarah Mitcherson who ran it in 2:30 back in 2012.

Charlton Hill, near the start and only a gentle incline

Charlton Hill,   approaching the steepest part by some lovely farm buildings.
Very Hertfordshire!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Quick update and some coming reviews

Now the school term has started and holiday things fade away, I was hoping my blogging routine might improve.  Life, however, is once again very busy.  Family life is delightful and work is quite a strain right now.
Some might already know my full time job is looking a bit risky after a 23 year career in criminal justice.  This is a huge restructure taking place.  I’m not the only one and over the last few days a number of colleagues have come to either say farewell or to say they’re going soon.  This is bringing out so much camaraderie and I have seen so much support being shown amongst my colleagues it is quite emotional!  I am seeing the best side of people, not the worst.  For myself it is too soon to know how I will fare in this restructure but whatever happens, I will make it right for me.
Back to the world of cycling and some up and coming reviews…..
Firstly I have been testing out some Vertix headsets.  These are an intercom link between cyclists and include a microphone and ear pieces which fit neatly onto a helmet.  After a slightly slow start they are working fine and first impressions are mixed.  I think these will need a fairly detailed review in their own right.
Aldi have kindly sent some samples of their winter range of cycling gear, ahead of the launch on Thursday 24th September.  I have bib tights, a jersey, some lights, arm warmers, leg warmers, electrolyte tablets and some bike cleaner to try out.  Savvy shoppers to get ready!
Probikekit is, for myself, a new supplier and it’s been good getting to know them  They have asked me to review some Osmo products (preload hydration and some active hydration sachets) as well as some High 5 energy gels in a new flavour.
Also coming are some Primal Pantry bars.  I’m pretty excited about these as I remember meeting the producers at the London Bike Show and they’re just my kind of saddle bag food.  I understand I’m getting a mixed box containing a variety of different flavours.
I do enjoy blogging!
Blogging can be very rewarding at times and I do hope to develop things further during the winter months.  It’s a strange feeling knowing that I can be typing away quite happily at home, keeping a kind of “web log” reasoning in mind and yet minutes later someone on the other side of the world could be reading my blog!  Sure I get things to review which is nice.  Yes I get a little income through the affiliate adverts but the most engaging aspect are the people I gradually get to know and this is lovely.

Monday, 14 September 2015

My Ramblings gets translated into Vietnamese!

I've said it before, one of the lovely things about blogging is the interesting interactions with other people.  The most recent example is me being asked if I would allow a blog post to be translated into Vietnamese by a community group of people wanting to share knowledge around the world.  They came across my post about cycling up Kirkstone Pass, in Cumbria, northern England.

To know a little more about this work, click here.
To see the above post in Vietnamese, click here.
To see the original post in English, click here.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

What should I eat before the Rock Solid Race?

Some of my friends are doing another obstacle race soon, namely the Rock Solid Race, also known as an Obstacle Course Race (OCR) which is a military type course.  It involves some running, climbing, crawling, pulling, pushing, lugging a log around and so on.  In length it will be 5 - 10k and might take 1 or 2 hours to complete.   In other words it is a good all-round workout needing strength, stamina, agility and some confidence to do those crazy things!

My friend John is always keen to adopt best practice when it comes to these events (and I'm quite impressed by that).  This shows itself in his preparation, training, knowing what to do at the event, what to wear and so on.  He has now specifically asked about nutrition.

First of all, John has volunteered his previous nutrition as:

Breakfast at 7:30am
Two slices of toast
Cup of tea

Morning snack
Cereal bar

During OCR
Cereal bar

After OCR
Sandwiches x3

Here are my thoughts:
John is taking part in a demanding OCR and it will be at a time of year when it will be pleasantly warm but not too hot.  I am working on the basis there are no medical problems and this is simply general advice.  I should say John is around 15 years younger than me, slim and looks a good healthy weight.

Hydration starts the day before.  Make sure you drink plenty at least 12 hours before the OCR and this will make sure the body is well hydrated.  Now I am not talking alcohol here (especially as I'm teetotal myself) but instead the usual glass of water, fruit juice or tea etc.

Carbohydrates is an interesting topic.  Many athletes and sporty types talk about carb-loading in the days before an event.  I don't think this is necessary for this event, general fitness and no excessive food is required.  Yesterday I ran a half marathon in 1:45 without drinking or eating anything on-the-go.  If I was going much further I would need rehydrating and taking on a little food.

Breakfast needs to be a normal meal as it is several hours before the event - it's still good to build up a little fuel in the tank here.  I am not a fan of cornflakes as they are often processed and refined foods, laden with sugar and additives. I think John has shop-bought white cotton wool bread, though he has been rumoured to have a slightly healthier "half and half".  I asked John what he puts on his fruit and he replied "Marmalade".

"It's all very well having marmalade but don't think it counts as fruit i.e. one of your five-a-day" I commented.  John looked a little disappointed.  Sorry John.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I certainly treat it that way and make sure I get a good mixture of different foods i.e. fruit, a glass of smoothie (I like a wide variety) and some gravel.  Gravel, by the way, is what my wife calls my muesli.  I'll tell you another time about what goes into my gravel.

So John, make sure your breakfast is more wholesome, it should include some fruit (perhaps either whole fruit or a smoothie or fruit juice).  Try something like this:

This is a typical breakfast for me.  Smoothie with gravel.  On the gravel you can see there is some chopped up fruit with some yoghurt making this a very healthy meal, full of goodness.

Mid morning snack needs to be something easily digestible and not too heavy going. Have whatever you fancy and ensure your fluids are maintained.  You could try one of those energy drinks I gave you.  There's no point in having something fizzy as this is just short term, quick burn sugar.  Something with some carbohydrate and protein will be okay.  Don't go trying anything new just before a race - if it doesn't "agree" with you you'll be risking blowing the whole event and end up feeling awful.

The race itself!  For the OCR you shouldn't need anything else.  You should be sufficiently fuelled within yourself.

Having learnt myself from making the odd mistake, I can tell you that running with undigested food in my stomach is absolutely horrible.  It is probably the closest I'll ever get to feeling pregnant.  Pregnant with twins no less.

After the race is still important when it comes to your nutrition.  You see, when you run or do any OCR you are putting a lot of strain on your body - muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments all taking some damage.  Repairing this damage needs good quality protein and some antioxidants.  John will remember our friend Nettie posting photos of her bruised knees!  This is an outward sign of the battering our bodies get and clearly needs repairing.

Protein comes in many forms and in many foods, excellent for building muscles etc. Antioxidants help mop up free radicals which are released during exercising and these, if unchecked, can be harmful.  So even something as straightforward as a banana is very good.  You could go one step further and have a fruit juice and a muesli bar.

If you get cramp at all, this could be a sign of running low on some minerals / electrolytes which again bananas or other fruit can help with. High 5 and others often do electrolyte drinks which are good for this.  On the other hand, cram is not fully understood by the medical profession and it can be linked to a number of possible causes.  Linking cramp to a nutritional deficiency does seem plausible.

Wrapping up

  • Make sure you include more fruit in your diet before and after the event
  • Don't eat too much immediately before the OCR or you will feel bloated (or pregnant!)
  • Make sure you are well hydrated
  • Make sure your pre event foods include the right mixture of proteins, carbohydrates etc
  • Make sure you have some recovery food ready afterwards such as a banana, fruit juice or a commercially made recovery drink
I could waffle on for ages about all kinds of other good foods to eat i.e. making sure we get our Omega 3 and 6, getting the soluble and insoluble fibre mixture right.  The most important thing is to ensure you eat a wide variety of good, wholesome and natural food.  

Enjoy your food, enjoy knowing it is doing you a whole load of good!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Running in Bremen

We have recently returned from Bremen in Germany, having spent some time with a lovely family there.  During our stay we were blessed in achieving the perfect balance between being sight seeing tourists and simply spending time with Torsten, Katharina and their family.

Bremen is in northern Germany.  It has a population of around 750,000 and although inland somewhat, it has a dockland area which is being regenerated and a river which has tidal rise and falls each day.  It is about the 10th largest of German cities and has some green credentials.  These green credentials include a number of traffic free routes around the city and these are brilliant for cyclists, walkers and runners alike.  We were in the northern suburbs and could get right into the city centre through using these routes, which is pretty impressive.

These routes, at least in our neighbourhood, included a number of circular routes and for myself Route 1 was a 4.5 mile loop.  This was almost entirely traffic free, completely flat and very pleasant.

The Routes were generally well signposted with signs normally at alternative junctions.  It was encouraging that cars have to give way to runners and cyclists at intersections with the Routes.

I was pretty surprised at the number of people who smoked in Bremen, although perhaps the percentage is little different across Germany.  Equally I was also surprised to see there were cigarette machines dotted around in various places.

And now, some running

It was on Route 1 where I clocked up the most runs and I absolutely loved these.  They were mostly in the early morning (my most favourite time of day) but there were a couple of spins around Route 1 in the evening.  This was hilarious at times as I had a cycle escort which, for most of the time, helped me achieve a pretty good pace.  Other times, well, let's just say they were having some fun and I pressed ahead!  There were, however, a couple of serious bits:

My youngest daughter (Hannah) is a budding coach and athletic event official.  Every now and again she would come alongside me, make sure I was running at a reasonable pace (i.e. under an 8 minute mile) and yell "SPRINT" and I'd go for it with every ounce of energy I had and aim for a parked car or lamppost ahead, then just a little further.

Route 1 goes past Bremen Prison, in fact it loops around the extensive grounds.  The buildings include old austere Gothic buildings through to more modern buildings at the rear.  The extensions include a new perimeter wall with a couple of interesting murals.

It is this mural which seems to say so much.  It depicts a ribbon along the prison wall being cut by a couple of children.  This then allows the brick wall to fall away leaving a huge hole in the wall.  For those children, you can't help wonder if their Dad is somewhere in that prison.  Why can't they see their Dad?  Why should they serve his sentence as well?  If only it could be that easy to get to their Dad, to feel his arms around them, to hear his voice, his breath, to be lifted up by him.  You look at their faces and you see their pain, their emotion.  The girl looks as if she's having to harden up, after all it's tough when people know your Dad is inside.

In the UK more children are affected by the imprisonment of a parent, compared to those affected by divorce.  This is a deeply troubling statistic which has a profound influence on children, our communities and society as a whole.  

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-prison.  We need prisons to protect us from the harm offenders could inflict on individuals and society.  

Other runners
There were almost none on the Route 1 at all.  In fact there was only one runner on Route 1 that I saw, although its possible there are loads at other times.  And cyclists, yes, there were plenty and mostly riding sit-up-and-beg hybrids.  Some of these had triple chainsets which seems an over-kill in such a flat environment.  However, all was not lost as we had the opportunity to dash down to the Bremen Triathlon after the Sunday morning church service.  

Clearly there is a healthy and vibrant triathlon scene in Bremen with a sizeable club, judging by their stand being flocked with wannabes like myself (yes I picked up a leaflet!).  I did feel for the competitors as it was such a hot day.  I guess what surprised me was the huge variety of those taking part and this was reflected in their choice of bicycles.

Yes there were a good number of time trial bikes and other road bikes which were adapted of a triathlon.  Some were incredibly expensive, carbon fibre Dura Ace equipped machines.  Others included some nice hybrids, some questionable hybrids, a handful of mountain bikes and at least one Bike Shaped Object.  Perhaps the nicest were some lovingly looked after bikes from the 1980s.  Some were almost original with their groupsets intact and others which had been updated with contemporary components.

As I mentioned above there didn't seem to be many runners out there in Bremen. I looked on Google and found No apathy allowed which is a nice personal blog, written by an American ex-pat living in Bremen for the last few years.  Amongst other things, she's a runner. That's cool and please do check out her blog. 

Overall this was a wonderful holiday with my family, staying with a lovely and lively family in Bremen.   As a rule, I seldom have much desire to return to places I've already been to, on the strength of there being so many other new places to explore. And yet more and more, I find myself wanting to return and re-live some holidays where we know there is so much more to explore, see and experience. We also love meeting new people and becoming friends.

At Bremen Triathlon with my eldest daughter

Monday, 31 August 2015

1,000 mile update

I have mentioned once twice before that I am aiming to run 1,000 miles in 2015.  Now is a good time to review the position to see if I'm on track.

Once or twice I have actually wondered whether I am doing the right thing but, on the whole, I do believe it's good for me.  So now we have reached the end of August and I have run sufficient miles, pro rata, for this two-thirds point in the year.  These are the detailed stats from Strava:

Total miles for 2015: 708 (this is 42 miles ahead)
Separate runs: 126
Time: 103 hrs, 25 mins
Elevation gain: 22,280 feet

My longest run was the MK Marathon in May at the usual 26.2 miles.   The training for that was not ideal, moreover a bit disjointed and therefore injury prone (unusual for me!).  My shortest weekly mileage was about 10 miles against a target average of 19 miles.  In fact I remember having a few of those low mileage weeks earlier this year but thankfully I have caught up and over taken myself a little.

A number of the runs have been post work gentle runs of 3 or 4 miles.  Although this doesn't sound much, each one is valid and counts.  Each one of these short runs helps balance the longer runs at weekends.  I am enjoying the discipline of being accountable to myself, for making sure I keep it up.

I mentioned injuries.  In brief, I managed to pull a calf muscle while [over] training for the marathon.  To compensate I altered my running form a bit which helped solve that injury and now I seem to have transferred the problem to my left hip.  It's not too bad, providing I don't over run too much and have adequate rest after a long run, or a high mileage week.

I will blog again about the benefits of having a distance target like this as this is the first time I have done this.  I like it, it's working well.