Saturday, 31 December 2011

Stretching or not stretching?

A fellow runner at the 2011 Ridgeway run is wise to stretch but I'm less sure of his atire!
Quite a lot of fuss is made by some people about stretching (and in my line of work, "doing a stretch" means something completely different).  At the gym, some men or women do a quick bit of stretching just before they go treadmill running but most do none.  Continuing the people watching theme, some stretch after a run but most don't do any at all.  Just about everyone seems to walk away alright, although some stagger and some do look stiff.  When I was getting into running I saw this taking place and started to ask a few people about this and got a variety of responses.  It seems the views fall into three distinct groups:

The pre-exercise stretchers
These are generally the ones who appear newbee novices and do one or two stretches for just a few seconds and then go full blast on a treadmill.  A former colleague swore by this and passionately warned me I was heading for serious injury without doing this.  Now having read about this, it is likely this is not beneficial unless the muscles have already been warmed up in some way.  Stretching cold muscles can lead to injuries and yet being nice and loose is important before a race.  Therefore a jog or bike ride is a great way of warming, loosening up before having a stretch.

The post-run stretcher 
The post-run or race stretchers look as if they have a bit more experience and certainly don't rush the stretching.  When they stretch they hold the position for 20-30 seconds and most look comfortable.  Some, on the other hand, look as if they're in some pain.  Some look very supple and agile, lean and slim.

Why stretch at all?
Stretching is pulling the muscles as far as they would normally extend and then a little extra.  This creates tiny microscopic tears in the fibres which are then repaired afterwards, making the muscle fractionally longer.  Our bodies are wonderful at this.  Do this often enough and you'll find you have increased your flexibility - you can take longer strides or maybe touch your toes a little easier.

And the benefits?
There are benefits at many different levels.  For the runner, stretching helps improve your running form - i.e. your balance, posture and efficient movements - less of those awkward, jerky painful looking movements.  It gives increased flexibility which is perhaps useful in running over uneven ground or having to take long strides going up a steep hill or even taking three steps at a time.  For people leading sedentary lifestyles, sitting around doing nothing will grind you to a halt sooner or later.  Everything will become more difficult and require more effort, which is when a vicious cycle is just going to get worse and worse.

And me?
I have learnt to do a few stretches which I do after a run and NEVER before.  I can feel the benefit and I can feel the penalty of having gone too far for too long.  It's a case of learning a little more about the workings of my body through a little bit of trial and error.  There are many kind of stretches I'm learning - calf, back thigh, hamstring, front thigh, bottom (gluteal muscles), hip flexour, inner thigh, outer thigh and lower back muscles.

An important thing to remember when stretching - and this is really important - is not to go too far for too long.  Just go to the point of starting to feel a little uncomfortable , holding it there for 20-30 seconds and then easing off.  Remember, it's about making tiny little tears which are easily repaired over night - not torn ligaments that require surgery!

If nothing else, it forms part of the cool down process, a chance to relax and reflect on what I've just done or achieved.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Blogging in 2011

I've enjoyed blogging this year and it started as a New Year's resolution last year (when I didn't really do much) but this year I thought I'd put in some more effort.  Enjoying it is two fold: firstly there is sharing my thoughts with you my audience and secondly and just as important, I have enjoyed reading other people's blogs.  Some of these blogs are listed in the right hand column below.

Some stats:
December 2010 - 38 views, that's all!
By December 2011 - over 18,000!  Not bad for my first proper year.  I have set Blogger not to count my own views
Comments - 159 including my responses.  How can I make it more interactive....?
Adsense income - only £31.88.  Just as well I'm not depending on this for an income!
Audience - in order of page views - UK, USA, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Ireland, Russia, Belgium and Spain.  There are plenty of others with fewer page views.

Referring sites - Cycling info, Thorn cycles, CTC
Most common search terms - Sauncony ProGrid review, Thorn Audax Mk3, human hand, Brooks B17

Blogging in 2012
I would like to develop a few things.  Firstly as I like people and find people interesting, encouraging and value other insights, I want to develop more interviews, guest blogs etc.

Most popular posts:

31 Jul 2011
642 Pageviews
4 Jun 2011, 4 comments
602 Pageviews
8 Jan 2011, 4 comments
354 Pageviews
29 Jan 2011, 1 comment
265 Pageviews
21 Feb 2011, 4 comments
239 Pageviews

Thank you
Many thanks for visiting my blog and especially so if you are a regular reader.  I value encouragement 
and constructive criticism alike, so please do feel very welcome to leave me a comment.   
A particular 'thank you' to those who have kindly included my blog as a link from their own website.

Just as this blog charts my efforts to stay in good shape, please be encouraged to do the same in terms of your physical, mental health.  Above all, don't forget your soul.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Long term review - Saucony ProGrid Omni 10

My well used Saucony ProGrid Omni 10 running shoes

You may already have read my previous review  of these running shoes written on 31st July, almost 5 months ago.  Back then I was quite pleased with them but not exactly over-the-moon having been upsold by a shop which has now gone bust.  Now having run even more in these and used them alongside a pair of Brooks Vapor 9, I can say I'm now delighted with them and would happily buy another pair.  Although maybe I'll do another post some other time about having 2 pairs of running shoes, let me say now I think it is a good idea.  If you run daily, having a spare pair allows extra drying time, especially if you (like me) enjoy running through all kinds of mud.  Also, it does no harm to allow the shoes to rest and regain some of their structure having been pounded for a few miles.

They really have grown on me and I'm having to face up to the fact they must be nearing the end of their life now.  Overall I like the comfort on longer runs the best.  With ordinary short runs, running shoes just merge into each other.  The Saucony's have that something "extra" that brings some comfort just as I need it.  I like the stability and confidence I get from these, with their predictable sure footedness.  That's important to me as, to be honest, my balance could be better.

Below is a photo I took this morning of the heal; evidence they have seen better days.
Evidence of being nearly worn out after 600+ miles


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas break challenge - update

In my previous post I said I was going to run every day during the Christmas holiday.  Here's the briefest of updates:

Yes I have now run everyday and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Even on Christmas Day itself I went out for about 5 miles, at daybreak, just before breakfast.  We were staying at my Mother-in-Law's place at a nearby village and I remember doing exactly the same last year except that was in the snow and ice.  This Christmas, by complete contrast, is very mild.  Each run is before breakfast and I set off just before sunrise while the whole world seems to be fast asleep.  I've not seen another runner since Christmas Eve, now that's depressing.  C'mon everyone!

I have truly felt the benefit of running everyday and alternating between short runs (about 3 miles) to longer runs (6.5 miles and upward).  Today I ran my favourite Hilly Route, in reverse and added a little extra diversion making a total of 8.5 miles.  I felt great afterwards!  However I have maybe over done it - a leg muscle in post run bit of stretching.

Each day when I've headed out I have felt stiff and have found the first 1 or 2 miles hard going, almost to the point of turning back (something I never so).  It's always worth it to carry on for my planned distance.

Apart from a couple of trips to Sainsbury's, I haven't cycled since 23rd December which although I may miss it, I've just not had the chance.  Still, Rachel has treated me to the book 'Cycling home from Siberia' by Rob Lilwall.  The strapline is 30,000 miles, 3 years, 1 bicycle - an extraordinary journey through Papua New Guinea, Tibet and Afghanistan.  I'm going to enjoy settling into that in the new year.

Wow I can tell you my calorie intake has been raised somewhat over the last week, what with invites from other families for food and conversation.  Everyone's being so good in accommodating me as a relatively new vegetarian  (thanks Everyone - you know who you are!).

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas break challenge

My Christmas Challenge
One of the blogs I follow is the well written Fiona Outdoors and she's recently mentioned her self imposed challenge to run every day during December.  That sounds a great thing to do as it's very easy to eat a few more calories at this time of year.  I take my hat off to her while I think of all that Scottish snow and ice as I hate running in those conditions. I could only do that by alternating short runs (3m) with longer runs (6-10m).

I only picked up on this a few days ago and so I can't match this, being this far into December but I can run or cycle every day during the Christmas holiday.  We're not going away this Christmas and so there's nothing to stop me from now until the 3rd January when I return to work.

Cycling home from work
Yesterday I cycled to work, first time this month as far as I remember.  It just seemed a nice way of rounding off the year and I planned to "knock off" early.  The office building itself was very quiet for the whole day, perhaps only 25% colleagues in anyway.  The route to work was 13 miles and it seemed strangely hard going and I knew I had lost a lot of my "cycling muscles" and form in just a few weeks.  The ride was uneventful.  Coming home in daylight for a change was great. Knowing that we'd just passed the winter solstice brought a strange beauty to the ride.    As I started the journey home there was some drizzle in the air which, before long, turned to rain and so I decided to take my favourite long way home!  This added on a few more miles and a good hill to climb (and whiz down on the other side).  It just felt so good, such a wonderful way of leaving my work-related thoughts and worries in the office.

The super veteran in the gym
The previous two days I had been to the gym and amongst other things, I ran 10k in a remarkably ordinary time. What was truly remarkable was getting chatting to a fellow runner on the treadmill alongside mine.  He had been running a few minutes before I started and was going well with a good running form.  In our conversation he disclosed he was 61.  I truly admire him.  In one sense, yes, he looked 61.  His hair was almost white and he had a few wrinkles but also had a good measure of experience, of wisdom and encouragement in his words.  However, he ran like a lean, fit athlete half his age.  Modestly he mentioned he was running the London Marathon again this year after he had asked about my planned marathon time.  I felt his modesty would have prevented him from telling me his time, which I knew would be impressive for anyone, let alone a 61 year old.

I asked if he'd always been a runner.  "Only from when I was in my 30s, when I gave up playing football.  I did have a break a while ago when I had a small Achilles heal operation".

We both acknowledged the benefits of running, both staying in good shape physically and mentally.  When I explained the driver for my running is to control stress levels, he knew what I meant.  We commented, briefly, on the sedentary lifestyle of many and how they're heading for early graves.  Even the men working with free weights in the gym who were building up impressive muscles and weightlifting strength are not necessarily heading the right way.  What's the point of being a weight lifter and getting an early heart attack?

I can only admire someone like that.  Someone with the discipline to run in all conditions, month by month, year by year.  It is my hope I can be in that good shape when I'm 61, God willing.  Finally back to my challenge.  Yes a good thing to do over the Christmas break.  Of course, I'll feel the benefit and enjoy it but it's not just the next 10 days I should be thinking of, the real challenge for me, is over the coming years.  To keep going, don't let-up for fear of it being too difficult to start again.  Rachel, my ever tolerant wife, was told by a Doctor it's important to hit 50 in good shape.  Otherwise those niggles or health issues won't go away, they'll just carry on creeping forward and dragging you down.  So, this is another reminder as I approach the big 50!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Top tips for intermediate runners

Following on from my recent Top Tips for New Runners, here are my Top Tips for the next stage.  Probably not very scientific but straight from the heart (I mean the trail).

Get into a pattern
The chances are you're already well on the way to having a good pattern going but it is worth consolidating.  Aim  to run 3 or 4 times a week, each of variable distances. I normally try to have my longest run at weekends and shorter, possibly faster or more intense runs, during the week. How does your routine work?  Can you run easier in the mornings or at other times of the day?  Myself, mornings are better before breakfast but in reality it is mostly in the evenings nowadays.

Running uphill
Depends where you live and the surrounding terrain but do try to encompass a couple of hills in your run.  I hated the thought of trying to run up a hill to start with but actually it readlly does become easier the more you do it.  Try to find a hill that takes 1 or 2 minutes.  The benefits are increased cardiovascular strength and improved muscle tone.  If you live in a flat urban areas, try and find some stairs to run up and down on.

Build the distances
Add 1 mile each week to your long run. This I have found to be a sensible approach as when I tried to do more I was exposing some weaknesses leading to a potential injury. I have had to learn to be patient, to build myself up gradually. Training programs, widely published by Runner's World are helpful.

Interval training
Following on from running uphill, aim to include some intervals.  This means once you are warmed up, perhaps after 15-20 mins, try sprinting to a specific point, maybe about 100m away.  Run as fast as you can and then coast or jog to recover, then resume your normal pace before you try it again.  Like running up hill, this has some real benefits.

If you haven't already done so, buy a couple of "technical" tops.  These are synthetic materials designed to wick sweat and allow there to be a natural coolness.  Most effective if it is close fitting.  I wear track suit bottoms if the temperature is sub zero, otherwise a pair of shorts.  Running in sub zero temperatures challenges me the most - knowing what or how much to wear is difficult.  Gloves are needed and normally a hat.  It has to be very cold or windy to wear more than a simple base layer.  I never run when its hot; even in the summer I run at dawn or dusk for a variety of reasons.  These include avoiding the heat, it suits my routine and these are normally the most beautiful times of the day.

Reading this blog might be helpful but there are plenty of others and the Runners World magazine is informative. I have learnt a lot from reading what other people are up to, makes me feel as if I'm not the only person who would ever struggle with something.  I like reading inspirational blogs.

Enter a race!
Very worthwhile and so motivating! By nature I have never been interested in sports at all but this has been an exception. By racing I have found I can pitch myself against others, to see how I fare and I have not been disappointed. Once that race entry has been submitted you have a target, something to aim for, something to give you that extra bit of focus. Besides, using it as a way of clocking your own ability against others is good and I'm sure everyone remembers their first race!

Very important to avoid injury and the levels of rest from one person to another must surely vary but in knowing this for myself has been helpful. Certainly after a race or a long run I need to have a rest to allow my body to repair itself. I never mind this as I know I am being built to be a little stronger each time. Not only is it worth factoring in some rest in any given week, please do bear in mind that the may be times when you should rest for longer; perhaps a season or longer. Naturally it wil take much longer to get going again afterwards but you can never escape the fact that rest is important and ignoring the need for it is to our peril. Periods of rest need not be periods of no exercise at all as it could be that retaining fitness can be done in other ways as well - perhaps using a rowing machine, a cross trainer or cycling (which as you know is something's I love).

Monday, 19 December 2011

Review - The Food Doctor - raw seeds & nuts

This is a brilliant little pot of good foods and not very sticky, exciting, gooey, sweet or sickly.  Instead it is very nutritious and filling.

On the face of it, it is fairly expensive at £2.99 but it does give you a good balance of seven ingredients which you could go and buy in bigger quantities and save some money.  The 210g is a handy size and there are not many ready packed foods like this and so it could be a real challenge to find another source of food which gives so much for the price.  I quite liked reading the blurb on the inside of the packaging which clearly gives a stream of principles; this one is number 3 and reads as follows:

"Variety is the spice of life and by eating a wider range of wholesome foods you are more likely to get the nutrients your body needs.  Try a new food every week to make life more interesting and help keep you motivated to eat better forever"

How right they are with this principle and it's true, a varied diet of wholesome foods is vital.  A little bit of this mineral here, a little bit of that phytochemical there, makes all the difference.  So what exactly is included and are they any good?
This is what is in the pot:

Sunflower seeds 35%.  Contain vitamins E, B1, B2, B3.  Other minerals to improve skin ans help tissue repair.
Peanuts 20%  Good for protein, fibre and unsaturated fats.
Pumpkin seeds 15%  Contains Magnesium, copper, selenium and vitamins B1, B2, B3
Almonds 8% Good for lowering cholesterol, enhancing antibody production to protect against some cancers
Hazelnuts 7% Contain a good range of nutrients and vitamins E, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and copper, zinc and iron
Coconuts 5%  Contains vitamins A, B & C

This food has the advantage of travelling easily (not fragile) and not needing refrigderation and ideal sprinikled over breakfast cereal in the morning, adding to my reputation of having gravel for breakfast.  It could be used sparingly as a snack while cycling but I'd recommend washing it down with plenty of water.  It takes a while to digest as it's very filling, so not too much in one go!

This along with other similar products are available on The Food Doctor website

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Vegetarian parsnip bake - easy recipe

I love parsnips, especially in the winter and came across this simple recipe which I thought I'd share.  I'm sure those nice people at Goodness Foods won't mind too much.  

Makes six servings but for the above photo I have doubled the quantities.

1.5lbs parsnips, peeled, topped and tailed.  Cut or slice into smaller chunks for boiling
1oz butter (or a vegan alternative like Pure but not quite so nice)
generous dash of milk (the creamier the better but semi-skimmed is okay)
3oz grated cheddar cheese
3oz chopped nuts (peanuts or mixed nuts are ideal)
3 desert spoons of cranberry jelly or sauce
handful of fresh chopped parsley (or a desert spoonful of dried herbs)
handful of cranberries
1oz of breadcrumbs

  1. preheat the oven to 180 degrees
  2. grease the cooking dish with a little butter
  3. boil the parsnips for about 10 minutes; until they're soft
  4. once the parsnips are cooked and drained, add the butter, herbs and milk before mashing
  5. spoon about half of the mashed parsnip into a oven dish and smooth over
  6. spoon on a thin layer of cranberry sauce and evenly sprinkle some of the nuts across the dish
  7. cover with the remaining parsnip, smooth over with the back of a spoon
  8. add the remaining mash parsnip, smooth over
  9. spoon on a little more cranberry sauce and spread it evenly around
  10. sprinkle the remaining nuts, breadcrumbs, cranberries and finally the cheese
  11. bake for 15 - 20 mins, until golden brown
It's as simple as that and really tasty and nutritious provding you go easy on the butter or replace it with a healthier alternative yourself.  As parsnips are the principle ingredient, it's worth bearing in mind they are high in fibre and contain potassium (helps maintain good blood pressure), vitamins C and K and folic acid .

The cranberries are good as indeed all fruit is but I was a little alarmed when I read the ingredients on the packet of Whitworth's dried cranberries. Among the health properties of cranberries are they are full of antioxidants and reputed to be good for urinary tract problems, especially infections. The first ingredient is sugar, followed by dried cranberries (41%) and vegetable oil.  To be fair, Whitworths are not the only ones doing this, other packs of cranberries from other sources have been similar.  I'm sure you'll agree it is a shame, having all that sugar.

    Friday, 16 December 2011

    Guest blogs welcome

    If you would like to be a guest blogger, please leave me a comment with your email address (I'll delete it ASAP if you prefer).

    Thursday, 15 December 2011

    Note to self: I'm a runner = I need to run

    Running gives a euphoric high
    Note to self.  I'm a runner and I need to run.

    If only I had got properly into running 20 years ago but I'm very grateful I discovered it while I have many years ahead (God willing) to enjoy it.  Just as well really as it makes all the difference, just like faith itself.

    If you have found this page because of a search on how to handle stress, or is stress bad for me, or stress symptoms, let me give you some encouragement.

    Sometimes I can feel really stressed out at work and as a manager myself, I recognise stress as a health and safety risk.  Just as I am responsible for the well being of colleagues, I must take responsibility for myself.  I expect much of myself, I'm sort of a Type A personality but not completely, nevertheless we're demanding and very critical about ourselves, never satisfied.  Type A personalities are often their own worst enemies.

    Running is part of the solution and it also serves the worthwhile purpose in keeping in good shape.  I can be weighed down with all kinds of worries, problems and feelings of inferiority and failure.  Then as I run, those problems seem solvable and solutions are found, often in imaginative ways - if only I could remember them! Troubles are kept in perspective.  After a while I sometimes feel as if I'm running on auto-pilot; unaware of those miles going by.  After the run and maybe for a day afterwards I often feel a kind of "high".  Yes, it's the Runner's High, with all of those endorphins flooding my thoughts.  Those make me feel good about myself and give me that extra boost of courage and confidence.

    So, if you are suffering some stress and you are not a runner, is it worth giving it a try?  Why not?  You might like to get checked over by your Doctor if you're not used to this kind of intensive exercise.

    Wednesday, 14 December 2011

    Slobusfaticus again

    I went to the gym again last night and the Slobusfaticus was there.  Perhaps he's been reading my Ramblings as  he was drying himself with a towel instead of using a hairdryer.  Mind you, probably the safest thing to do knowing there were a couple of lads in high spirits running around when the staff turned their backs.

    One of these lads was the same as one with a mobile phone in the gym.  I'm sure that's against the rules, we can't have people wandering around with mobile phones, try buying one without a camera these days.

    Anyway, Slobusfaticus and Mischievous (lads) aside, I had a good workout - running and stretching.  The running bit was 7.2 miles instead of the standard 6.2 (10k) which was a fairly gentle run with a few intervals at 9-10mph.  Otherwise I stuck at a steady 7-8mph which keeps my heart rate at around 170-175bpm and at about my maximum (220-age = max bpm).  Having a fast blast takes me up around 185bpm which I know is pushing it but probably okay for a couple of minutes.  Certainly feels great afterwards with a nice dose of Runner's High.

    Stretching is getting easier but now I need to make sure I'm stretching all the right ways.  A few lunges, as far as I can comfortably go with a 8kg weight in each hand, is good to hold for 30 seconds.  Must read up and blog about that another time but for now let me say I firmly live in the camp of stretching AFTER exercise, not before.  I always slowly warm up with a gentle jog and slow run for a few minutes and this seems to work for me.

    So, we'll need to see how Slobusfaticus and Mischievous behave next time!

    See also:

    What is the Runner's High?

    Monday, 12 December 2011

    The Slobusfaticus

    I have mentioned before that gyms or fitness clubs are sometimes amusing places for their people watching opportunities, particularly when you're pounding away on a treadmill.  I'm certainly not given to continuing those observations in the changing room but I must make an exception here for the Slobusfaticus. I did wonder if he was related to the Surly Slob

    The Slobusfaticus is a new species in my eyes, I have never come across him before.  Allow me to describe.  He's big, hefty and most definitely doing the right thing in joining the gym.  Perhaps a young specimen in his 20s, a good suntan I'd say for this time of year.  He has a large gym bag over flowing with all kind of bathroom smelly things, new trainers, pointy shoes and a Smart phone.  There he was, with a beach towel wrapped around his waist and he was drying himself with a hair dryer - all over!  Can you believe it?  Why would anyone do this?  Standing there blasting himself with a hair dryer and never mind the global warming!

    I don't have a problem with hefty things in the gym, after all I was a tad over weight when I started and that's the driver for many people because it's such a worthwhile thing to do.  But to stand there, in front of a mirror, drying yourself with a hair dryer - why?  The only explanation I can think of is Slobusfaticus is a bone idle poser.  He wants to be in good shape and that's why he's joined but he's going nowhere if he can't be bothered to dry himself with a towel.  Slobusfaticus could be one of those who always drive to the gym, being in the vast majority.  They drive around the car park looking for an empty space as near to the front door as possible.

    Watch out for other bits of people watching, as seen from the treadmill.

    See also:

    The Surly Slob

    Friday, 9 December 2011

    STI levers verses Bar End shifters

    It was almost a year ago when I took the plunge and bought my Thorn Audax.  I agonised over some of the details far too much; in fact we bought our last car with much less thought or research!  Amongst these details was whether to go for the all-in-one Shimano STI levers i.e. the combined brake and gear lever, or, the bar end shifters which you see in the above picture.  I'm still not convinced I did the right thing but here are some considerations if you're undecided which to get:

    Bar End shifters:

    • Bar end shifters are much cheaper
    • Stay in adjustment very well
    • Simple
    • Easy to replace
    • The front shifter is friction only (not indexed) so it is easy to fine tune, or trim, the position of the front mech in order to stop the chain rubbing
    • Slight less vulnerable to damage
    • You only change gear when you need to
    STI levers:
    • STI levers are very comfortable to rest your hands on; gives a nice position on the bike
    • Expensive when bought on their own
    • Scope for changing gear and braking at the same time
    • Safety - keeping your hands on the handlebars when gear changing
    • The more upmarket ranges (i.e. Ultegra) have the gear cable concealed under the handlebar tape
    • Less durable
    • More likely to need cable adjustments

    Thursday, 8 December 2011

    Dealing with stress

    My apologies for not blogging much lately; this has been quite a stressful time lately but please, no need to worry, all is in hand.

    This is a brilliant reminder of how finely tuned and balanced life can be at times and I want to tell you about this as an encouragement, particularly if you identify with this.

    There are many stresses and strains for people in each of our sectors in the UK right now and without doubt readers from elsewhere in the World will not be far from these issues. Some many countries are, quite frankly, almost bankrupt having been living off borrowed money for too long.   We are all "feeling the pinch" and last week's public sector strikes were testimony to that.  Although I wasn't on strike myself, many of my Ministry of Justice colleagues were and I have much sympathy with the stand they took.  Government direction is hard to fathom at present and I read tensions in Whitehall and observe the implications of No.10 and Petty France (of SW1) not agreeing on things.  I've heard a certain Government Minister speak a couple of times lately; a fairly plain speaking man but I reserve judgement on how much faith or trust I have for him and in what he says.  This troubles me.

    Then I sometimes doubt my own abilities, especially when I am faced with a straight forward problem but get stuck.  The dark, cold and inhospitable weather is a major stumbling block for me during this winter.  I am very wary of running in the dark as I've had a few falls this year, simply through tripping up on things I haven't seen.  Mind you, I can trip and stumble quite easily in broad daylight!  Cycling opportunities have been limited through needing my car for work quite a lot recently.  Two weeks ago I re-joined the gym and have been twice.  You get the picture, I am missing running and cycling.

    And yet, in spite of these negative factors, I have an underlying belief that everything is - and will be - okay.  This morning while driving to work I experienced an overwhelming sense of well being, almost a runner's high without the running. Truly a blessing from God.  Having a restful couple of weeks is not a disaster.  I suspect I'm putting on a few pounds in weight but giving my leg joints and muscles a rest is no bad thing.  Before long the Christmas break will arrive with all that fun, I'll become fitter again quite quickly.  It'll be a break from work, enjoying a real family Christmas time together.   Without doubt I'll be out running, mentally preparing for the year ahead and the next 50 years - full of optimism, rising above those [ultimately] meaningless problems and worries.  It's gonna be a good start to 2012 and I can't wait!

    Wednesday, 7 December 2011

    Busch & Muller bar end mirror review

    Busch  Muller Busch & Muller Cycle Star Mirror fits to Handlebar End No Stem for Drop Bars
    I have had this bar end mirror on my Dawes Galaxy for the last year or so.  It is well made, fits easily and is a good quality product but isn't it any good?

    • It stays in place well, easily installed and easily adjusted.
    • Looks fairly discreet, black seems a good choice              .
    • Has a convex mirror
    • It typically costs £15, perhaps a little less
    • As it is a bar end mirror, it seems distant.  In spite of the convex lens it doesn't really give a good view of what's happening being on the road.

    Would I recommend it?  No I'm afraid not.

    Monday, 5 December 2011

    Crickey, I've entered the Milton Keynes Marathon!

    Yes I have entered the 2012 Milton Keynes Marathon.  It's on 29th April, so there will be sufficient time for me to get my act together and train up for this.

    Having been unsuccessful (the truth is I left it too late) in getting a place in the Luton Marathon, I had contemplated the Gloucester Marathon in January which would be very nostalgic as the route runs alongside a house I used to live in at Elmore.  Not that I used to run in those days but it would have been nice.  It was training in an uncertain winter that made me hesitate.

    With the MK marathon, the attraction was it being a new race and looks like it'll be in some pleasant surroundings, all traffic free I think.

    So now the training begins.  This morning at day break I had a gentle run for about 1 hr 15 mins over my favourite hilly course with splendid views.  I needed that run: I needed to get out into some fresh air and feel the breeze and splash through some muddy puddles.  I guess I covered about 8 or 9 miles and felt good.

    Everyone was still in bed when I got back, though not in their own beds!  Rachel has treated herself to an iPad and B&H were keen to snuggle up either side of her to explore all those apps.   Even Rusty and Misty were there.   Had a hot shower, a stretch and my ideal breakfast complete with a smoothie and a huge mug of coffee - all that was about getting the day off to a good start.

    Related posts:

    My ideal running route
    My ideal breakfast

    Saturday, 3 December 2011

    Treadmill training

    Regular readers will know that I have recently re-joined the gym (DW Sports Fitness Club to be precise).  Although I'm not a complete fan of such places, I think of it as a means to an end.  Being able to avoid the harshness of a British winter and have some safe, reliable indoor training has many attractions.

    I have found I like running on a treadmill, much to my surprise.  This is why:

    • Indoors, so the weather outside doesn't matter.  Self imposed excuses like "it's too cold, wet, icy, snowy, windy" simply don't apply.
    • No tripping up on things in the dark as I have done in the past.
    • Great to monitor progress - distances and times are precise.  I take note of my 10k and 1 mile runs
    • Some have heart rate monitors
    • Some have programmable runs - different gradients and speeds.  These can simulate tempo runs, fartlek training etc
    • It's safe.  Nobody is going to mug you
    • A running surface that is not rock hard
    • Set a speed and it stays constant.  This is a great way of pushing myself.  Otherwise if I'm running outside and resolve to have a faster or slower run, I always seem to adjust and run at my normal pace
    • You can stop at any point, have a nice hot shower and go home.  Or maybe a different form of exercise, or perhaps stretching.
    • You can still get that Runners High feeling
    • People watching can be fun.  Just watching the others in the gym is fascinating sometimes; the body builders, the posers, the bums n tums folk and so it goes on...
    Of course there are some disadvantages:
    • Can be boring
    • Is it real running?
    • Treadmills cost money
    • And use electricity
    • Some might say it is a pointless treadmill which refers to jobs, careers, lifestyle etc (I tend to think of it as a keep-fit tool)
    So there you go, treadmill running.  Boring but it serves a good purpose and has made all the difference to me.


    Sunday, 27 November 2011

    Dee J Harmon

    I am really pleased to share something about Dee J Harmon, good friend and keen cyclist.  I've known Dee since the 1980s - first as a mechanic and then as a friend and a quaint bike shop in England was the common denominator.  Dee has a natural feel for bikes, easily picking things up, knowing how things worked and just having the right knack.  Amongst his repertoire is wheel building which I think is like an art form when in the hands of a skilled builder like Dee.

    Dee, you clearly like riding bikes - how did it all start? 
    It is hard to pinpoint when the love for cycling started for me, I have had a passion for working on bikes since my early teens.  I have never had a mechanical problem on a bike which I couldn't take care of. As a very young youth I would ride my Schwinn Stingray every where; didn't matter how far.  It was partly for transport which was used in delivering news papers on a 26' wheel Schwinn paper rout bike called a (Heavy Duty) through many teenage years. 

    In 1977-79 I worked in one of the biggest bike shop in the area of Sacramento CA. My Love of cycling really started while living in England although it was nearly all for my transportation. I had the fortune to work in a Bike shop in England and was able to have a great time there learning a lot and building lots of wheels for customers. And now have worked part time at a bike shop from 1999 to present. 

    What bikes do you have rightnow?
    As for the bicycles I have now, one high end road bike, a touring bike brought from England, a hybrid bike with an 8 speed rear hub, a mountain bike brought from England, and I have a Schwinn collection of cruisers and 20' Stingrays plus a few restored ones.  None of my my bikes are aluminum or carbon fiber.  It's al total of 16 bikes and I may not be done yet!  

    Some of the best times when I am the most content is when I am off on a cycle ride and with no time limit and no one to answer to.  

    Tell me about the cycle scene like in California.  Are you all roadies, mountain bikers or .....?
    Well I remember when Lance Armstrong was winning the Tour De France 7 years in a row and road bike sales took off. .Mountain Bikes have always been popular, and plenty of places to ride off road.  The Sacramento area has a lot of paved bike trail for road bikes and much more bike ways have been added in the last five years and you can pedal many miles with out being in any traffic.   But for now,  Road bikes and Mountain bikes, I would venture to say they are somewhat even here in Northern California.

    Truthfully road bikes may have the edge.  That is if you add in all Hybrids and bikes only used on the roads and paved bike paths.   For me,  I would go mountain biking once a year and the rest of the time road only, as I sure did my share of off road riding in England of which has very fond memories.

    Friday, 25 November 2011

    Improve your running form - run with your eyes closed!

    This is not as crazy as it sounds, providing you can run on a beach or some other wide open space, for obvious reasons.   I tried this a few weeks ago while when visiting my parents who live by the sea - an early morning run there is great.

    What does it fee like?
    Strange, first of all.  But it makes sense after a bit.

    Try and find out for yourself.  I was more conscious of my body taking strides and knew exactly how my feet were falling onto the sand.

    I stopped after a minute and looked back.  I could see my footprints in the sand and my path was far from straight.  I tried again but paid more attention to running with a bit more "precision"

    What happened?
    After another minute or so I again stopped, looked back.  This time I could see I had run in a straight line.  It's a good way of examining for yourself something about your running form, how in-tune you are with your body.

    Anything else?
    Yes, try it for yourself but pick the right place!  For me it was amazing to do this and concentrate on my running form.  If you can, look behind you to see if you have run in a straight or curved line.

    Thursday, 24 November 2011

    Where are my blog readers?

    This shows a typical days statistics of who is visiting my blog.

    Lately I've noticed lots of hits from the US and I can't help being curious about this.

    PLEASE can you leave a comment and tell me where you are and maybe something else of your choice?

    Thanks in advance!


    Sunday, 20 November 2011

    First 2000 miles on Thorn Audax

    In marking this milestone, I could talk about the frame and the components but instead I thought I'd reflect on some figures lying behind the 2000 miles.  Before I do so, I'm disappointed in myself that I have only covered these miles in 11 months and you might remember I was off the bike for several weeks having injured my hand (and it STILL hurts but less so).

    Calories, energy
    2000 miles at an average of 14mph = 142 hours of cycling
    142 hours using 400 calories per hour = 56800 calories
    Knowing there are about 95 calories in a banana....
    56800 calories divided by 95 = 588 bananas needed
    (that means a banana will fuel me more 3.4 miles)

    The bike cost, in round numbers, about £1000.
    I estimate that half the miles were purely for leisure.  The other 1000 miles were in commuting and where I left my car at home.  Using the HMRC mileage rate of 45p per mile, means I have saved £450 in petrol and running costs.  At this rate the bike will have paid for itself after 5000 miles!
    I've had a couple of punctures, resulting in using a couple of patches and a new inner tube.

    De-stressing reflective times
    A sense of well being, independence
    Three great rides with my friend Wallie
    Environmentally friendly
    Sometimes faster than driving to work
    It's becoming a good "friend"

    Thorn Audax mk3 our first 1000-miles l

    Saturday, 19 November 2011

    New membership with DW Sports

    I've decided to re-join DW Sports as I'm just not getting the opportunity to run with the short days drawing in.  Apart from an early morning run on Saturday and Sunday, I'm just not getting the miles in.

    I have some mixed feelings about re-joining DW Sports.  On one hand it's an expense I'd rather not pay, on the other it is a small fee for staying in good shape through the winter.

    It turns out to be a good time to join with "seasonal" promotions going on.  They have waived the normal joining fee of £17.50 (you get nothing for this, it's DW Sports way of extracting some more money) and I get January free because of the 12 days of fitness for £12 offer.  It took me a while to work it out but it looks like I'll save just under £53 on the normal fees.  Plus there's a public sector discount of £4.00 a month (just over 10%).

    While I like to save this money, it again seems daft to me.  Why should public sector workers be favoured?  It's true that we all serve our communities well and often in ways that are unknown and unappreciated.  It's also true that equivalent private sector jobs often command higher salaries.  What about unemployed people, others on a low wage, self employed people?  The list goes on.  Seems a bit discriminatory to me but I won't complain too much as it's in my favour!

    Actually joining was a bit of a faff this time.  First time I went and asked to join, I was asked to show some form of photo ID, which I didn't have on me.  I returned the next day with my ID card and was told it had to be a passport or driving licence.  So, seeing as I only have one of those old fashioned paper licences, I had to dust off my passport.  Third time lucky!  I was able to join and I couldn't resist asking why the fuss over a photo ID.  The assistant said it was "company policy" and I asked why, what was behind that.  She didn't have any idea at all.  Fair enough, she was following instructions but it did seem disappointing she didn't know.

    Enough of the waffling around, I think(?) I'm looking forward to some good all-round work outs, swims and exercising through the winter months.

    See also:
    DW sports fitness review

    Friday, 18 November 2011

    Top tips for new runners

    On a recent run I spotted a couple of other runners who were clearly in the early stages.  It made me smile as I remember being like that.  It got me thinking of a few tips for new runners:

    Do buy some running shoes from a proper running shop.  Why? So you know what kind you need and lower the chances of being injured and then giving up before you have even started (almost like I did!).  How many times do you hear people say "I can't run because I have bad knees"?  Having the wrong shoes is a serious issue.  Just having a white pair of sports trainers with soft soles is not good enough.  Ideally you should find a shop that can carry out a gait analysis and be staffed by someone with some expertise.  If you can, get some socks at the same time following the recommendations by the shop assistant.

    Don't bother with special clothing at this stage; you don't really need it.  That comes later, if you want the "look".

    Do remember the immense benefits of running which can be amazing - physically and mentally.  Always good to bear this in mind if you're feeling discouraged.

    Do you need to talk to your Doctor? Only you will know the answer to this but might be worth having a general health check at the same time - blood pressure, cholesterol etc.

    Don't run too fast.  I fell into this trap and I think it is quite common.  I felt I had something to prove but just put this aside in your mind.  To get the pace right, you shouldn't be completely out of breath.  Instead you should be able to say a sentence at a time and maybe have a quick blast for a short while once or twice on a run.

    Don't feel you have to run all the time.  If you are completely new to running or not in good shape, there is nothing wrong in starting out with a walk, then a jog for a few minutes, then walking again and then a gentle run for a minute or so before finishing with a walk.  Gradually increase the distances and times you spend running.

    Don't take a water bottle as I don't think you need this, especially when starting out.  Instead have a drink beforehand and when you get back.  It is like carrying a sign which says "New Runner".  Even on my regular 7.5 mile runs I never think of taking a water bottle.  Don't worry about sports drinks either.  I don't believe you need these, unless you're covering long distances and need refuelling.

    Do rest between runs - maybe go out 3 or 4 times a week, giving your joints and muscles a chance to become used to what you are asking them to do.  Try running every other day, this suited me in my early days.  Don't be discouraged if your legs feel a bit achy the following day: this is normal and a sign of your body repairing itself and becoming stronger.  Just make sure you build up gradually and (this is really important) you don't over do it!

    Do plan your routes starting off with maybe half a mile and no more.  Gradually expand your range but avoid hills if you can at this stage (hills become welcome feature later!).  I valued running on something softer than concrete when my joints were getting used to the new strains.  Depending on where you live, try running on some grass, a beach or a dirt/gravel or a woodland trail, you'll find this less punishing.  Be careful if the ground is rough or bumpy.

    Related post:

    Reasons to run

    Friday, 11 November 2011

    Tejvan Pettinger

    Tejvan - 2011 National Hill Climb Championship
    I know I am not alone in following the excellent Cycling Uphill blog by Tejvan Pettinger and have been for a while now.  When you reach the end of this post, take a look around his blog - you'll find a wide variety of posts and articles all within his cycling world.

    There are, I am finding, many things positive about personal blogs.  They are a chance to follow an individual; their progress, the twists and turns, almost getting to know someone through what they have to say.  I find myself thinking that if I could put the clock back, chances are I'd fancy some competitive cycling, especially in the light of my half marathon times achieved as a runner.  Whenever I click onto his blog I find myself thinking "I wonder what it's about today" as it could be a race report, a review of a bike or a bit of kit, perhaps some personal observation or simply a few photographs.

    Tejvan seems to be getting a fair following, judging by the number of comments and it almost looks like a fan club is starting to grow.  And with good reason judging from some of his results below.  I quite like the banter which pops up occasionally in the threads of comments (I might even have fuelled some of this myself!).

    I was keen to find out more.  Here's how the conversation went:

    Tejvan, you're clearly an accomplished cyclist, where did it all begin? 
    I began cycling aged 15. At the time, I was mainly interested in doing long rides. I joined a local cycling club (Otley CC) and on Sundays we would go out for long 7-8 hour rides and complete 100 slow miles around the Yorkshire Dales (with quite a few cafe stops); it was the traditional British club run. As a teenager, I did one 10 mile time trial (30mins) and  two hill climbs, but wasn't any good. At university (Oxford University CC) I did a bit of cycling, but never really got round to racing. Then due to knee injury and other factors I stopped cycling almost completely. I didn't restart until I was 26. That was when I started racing regularly, and to my pleasant surprise did quite well.
    With cycling in mind, can you tell me what's in it for you? 
     I think I enjoy training and racing. I've always loved cycling, so taking it to next level and racing seemed the obvious thing to do. Also, I like going to races to meet similar people and see what you can do.

    In other words, what drives you to do all that training? 
    I enjoy the training nearly as much as the racing. I like stretching myself and pushing yourself to your limits. It's hard work, but you get a feeling of satisfaction after riding.

    What about other kinds of cycling? 
    I commute into centre of Oxford, which is really very different kind of cycling. It's not so much getting fit as safely negotiating the roundabouts and cars! I think a lot about optimal transport systems, it's a shame we can't do a lot better, because transport could be really good - if you provide the right infrastructure.

    I also enjoy long rides for the scenery. But, ironically often only do this in winter, as in summer my focus is racing. I've never got into off-road riding, perhaps because I already have 6 bikes, and don't have space for any more.

    Wow six bikes!  Do you like the technical and tinkering side of cycling?
    Yes, and no. I struggle with bike maintenance and often end up taking to shop. I love it when bike works well; but when it doesn't, I'm not very good at making it work.

    Does this mean you give up training during the winter, or maybe just taking it a little easier?
    I do more miles, but less intensity.

    What is the greatest highlight or achievement from your cycling career so far? 
    2011 was a good season winning 20 races out of 30. Also finishing 4th in National 100 Mile TT championship (2005) and national hill climb (2010) was good, and hopefully one day will be able to finish a little higher too!

    Do you have an embarrassing moment you would care to share on my blog? 
    Plenty. Like the time I took by bike 200 miles north, jumped on bike, started pedalling and realised the pedals were back in Oxford. Or the time I forgot front wheel. I also once forgot my helmet when visiting parents, but my mother likes me to ride one. So I spent a few days training in Yorkshire with my aero time trial helmet, which looks silly at the best of times, but especially when riding through the middle of towns.

    My kids want me to ask you a question.  What's your record speed?  Have you ever been stopped for speeding?
    I've gone over 50mph a few times down from fleet moss in the Yorkshire Dales. It's great fun. Can't say I've ever been stopped for speeding. 

    My own blog touches on staying fit to maintain my physical and mental health, especially dealing with the pressures of work.  Does this strike a chord with you at all?
    Yes, I think cycling is good for both mind and body. I spend a lot of time working on computer, and cycling provides a very good balance. You definitely notice difference when you can't go out and exercise.

    Tejvan - now that's an unusual name, what's behind it?
    Tejvan, is a name given to me by my spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy. He gave names to some of his students to reflect the qualities of their soul. Tejvan means enthusiasm, dynamism and self-giving.

    Thank you.

    Link to Cycling Uphill: click here

    Wednesday, 9 November 2011

    Montane featherlite marathon jacket review

    Here's an early first few impressions of a jacket I recently bought.  To be honest I'm a little disappointed in the jacket and in myself for buying it.  I bought it on impulse: something I only very rarely do.  I was after a lightweight dual purpose jacket I could use for running and use on the bike.

    Plus points:

    • really bright day-glow yellow, with a reflective trim
    • just £45 (and perhaps this is where the problem lies)
    • complete with a really useful stuff sack which is well made and has a useful Velcro strap
    • nice slim fit but as it is not cycle specific the tail doesn't come down too far
    • the elasticated sleeves are long enough for cycling
    • very light; the label says <150g / 5oz for the medium size

    So what am I about to whine about?  Well, it doesn't seem very breathable.  One day I rode to work and worked hard keeping up a brisk pace and I was wearing a cotton polo shirt underneath.  The sweat was "significant" and once again I'm thankful to have an office for myself.  On thinking the polo short caused the problem, I wore a couple of thin wicking layers and the problem persisted, although less so.  Perhaps I'm asking too much of a basic jacket? On a practical note, there's not one pocket.

    These are my first impressions and I haven't even used it for running so I might need to update it later.  I'm not impressed, I wish I'd done some research and got something better.

    My cycling in the rain guide