Sunday, 27 February 2011

Injury update 2

It's now about 4 weeks since I had that fall.  It has been a period of slow healing and frustration and rising stress levels.

Just to recap, I fell over while I was running and I landed by squashing the side of my hand under my chest causing it to curve inwards around the palm.  No broken bones thankfully but I reckon I've pulled the tendons / ligaments about.

Riding my new Thorn Audax Mk3 has been too painful and even running has been painful - yes, unlikely as it sounds, just the movement of my arm when I run hurts my hand.  I was starting to get concerned that the fitness levels I'd built up would just fade away.  Even going to the gym, DW Sports, seemed pointless.  Those stress levels that I have experienced over the years have started to rise and this has got me concerned.  The start of this keeping fit all started in 2008 when I was experiencing stress because of the complexity of work and moreover my capacity to handle it.

I was reflecting on those stress levels while sitting in Millbank Gardens in SW1 as I'd got to London with a little time to spare on Thursday.
Mulling it over in Millbank Gardens
So I decided two things.  Firstly this month of resting will have benefited me though I probably don't appreciate it fully right now.  Secondly, I'm going to give running a go this coming weekend.  If that goes all right, I'll have a gentle bike ride, maybe next weekend.  in the meantime, I'm off to see the Doctor on Wednesday about this.

Seeing the Doctor is relenting to those around me.  I'm not quite sure what to say and I'm certainly not sure what the Doctor will say to me.  My guess is that I should take it easy, rest it, don't do anything that will aggravate it.

So, how did the run go?  Pretty good really!  Sure my hand was hurting by the time I got home but it was worth it.  I did an old run, about 6.5 miles and involves a couple of testing hills - short but sharp.  For anyone seeing me, I would probably have looked a bit awkward, running in a tired, lumpy kind of way, certainly poor form.  I felt a bit tired for the rest of the day and to be honest, a little achy.  But!  But I'm feeling pleased!  I managed it.  I haven't gone back to square one with fitness, sure I've gone back a couple of steps but that can be regained.  The days are getting longer and hopefully warmer.  I feel determined not to let this hand business set me back too much.

I long for those days again when, after a really good run, I can feel unbeatable and on top of the world.  Stress?  I can handle this.  In fact, come to me with your problems, bring them on, we'll handle it.

Oh, one thing I have now realised, is that my Asics Gel 1150 running shoes are well and truly worn out.  I'll do a mini review soon, they've been pretty good though not quite as comfy as my Saucony Pro Grids.  I have my concerns about Asics following an article I read in the Ethical Consumer magazine a while back.
Worn heal following at least 800 miles

Asics Gel 1150 - around £70 from Arosport, Harpenden

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Dried Figs - Sainsbury's Taste the Difference

You might remember I commented on Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Dried Apricots a while back.  I have been really surprised at the high number of page hits, so I thought I'd have a go with these dried figs.

Some quick factoids:

- They cost £1.69 for a 250g pack.

- They are produced in Turkey

- Using the "traffic light" system, 4 out of 5 is green, the other is amber.  Therefore a 40g serving is healthy

- No preservatives or additives; they're preserved using a steam process

How do they taste?

Two words: pretty good.  Probably what I notice the most are the tiny seeds which are quite hard and seem to be distributed throughout each fig.  They're crunchy and add an interesting, if unusual, texture.  I always tend to think of figs as being a bit on the dry side and happily these aren't at all.  They're moist and very gooey to look at - perhaps not the most attractive of fruit - and are pleasantly different.

Are Sainsbury's Taste the Difference dried figs good for you?

I believe so.  Figs in general certainly are and there's no reason why these shouldn't be.  After all they are free from any nasty additives and the drying and partial re-hydrating process seems to bring them to a nice condition.  A quick look around the web indicates they're a rich source of Vitamin A, B1, B2, calcium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, phenol and Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids.  Amazing; all in one fruit!

Various sites talk about different benefits, right from improving sexual performance (ahemmm), rest and sleep, through to the more obvious benefits of digestion, the role of antioxidants and they're reputed to have a role in respiratory problems.

So yes I do buy these from time to time.  Sometimes as a little treat for myself (nobody else in the house is at all tempted) and sometimes because I know these are simply good for me and add to the variety of foods that I eat.

The retailers

The more I think about these figs, the more I think I'll track down some others from the likes of Holland and Barratt (not seen any in there so far but the website says £4.99 for 500g), Tesco (who do sell them) and maybe Waitrose.  I must again place a Goodness Food Direct order; they sell dried figs for £2.23 for 150g.

I do wish that the likes of Sainbury's, Tesco and the other major supermarkets would take some of their responsibility further.  What responsibility is that, you may ask.  Well, if each aims to have a large market share they will, by default, have an impact on the diets of their regular customers.  At the checkout I often watch the person in front of me unload their trolley.  You can tell by glancing at the customer what their shopping is likely to be.  So often obese people will be loading on prepared ready meals, white breads, beers and lagers and so on.  Others who are well presented and appear more prosperous will often be buying the more upmarket, better quality foods. It wouldn't hurt the Sainsbury's or Tescos of the world to promote healthy eating in more proactive ways.  Sure, they do some but much more could be done.

Please take a look at my previous blog on apricots - just click here.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Injury update

Weston-Super-Mare - a great beach for running!
This hand injury of mine has really scuppered me in terms of cycling.  It's now three weeks since I had that fall and I continue to really miss cycling.  Once or twice I've been out into the garage just to take a look at my bike and to remind myself what it looks like from close up.  Each time I spot some tiny detail that I've not spotted before.  So, yesterday afternoon I decided to have a trial ride on my bike, though I knew it was a non starter.

Sure enough, it was a non starter.  I rode just a short distance along our road holding the handle bars as loosely as I could and it was still pretty uncomfortable.  I tried reaching for the brake lever; that was really painful and I remain in no doubt I'm not ready to cycle.  This is all very frustrating as I was determined to build up plenty of miles in preparation for some longer rides in the summer - I fancy taking part in some Audax events where stamina are more important than outright speed.

Now I find myself somewhat resigned to not cycling for a while.  I can see I have to rest the hand and allow it to heal; if I do too much I risk causing some long term problems.   However, knowing that healing has been taking place, I reckon I could run - and so I did this morning, just for about 15 minutes at daybreak.  Although not long enough to experience or enjoy the "runners high", it did still feel good.

So, with the worst of the weather hopefully behind us and the lengthening daylight, things are looking up for some running.  Looking on the bright side, running is still something I enjoy and it does wonders in terms of keeping fit.

All being well I'll go for a run tomorrow morning before I go off to work.   Afterall, its half term.  The girls tend to have a sluggish routine in the mornings and I find the roads have much lighter traffic so I might go a little further tomorrow - it won't take long for me to be enjoying those 7 mile / 55 minute runs again.

I took a look at some web based x-ray images of hands.  What a wonderful design and in thinking what a hand can do, it's just an amazing part of creation.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Reasons to Cycle

You might remember I enjoyed writing a blog post on why I like running.  So on this dreary Saturday in, mid February, I thought I'd reflect on why cycling is so goooood.....

Because it's healthy
Low impact exercise - kinder on joints compared to running
Good aerobic exercise - a more gentle way of getting my heart and lungs going well
Nicely tones leg muscles
Burns around 300-500 Calories per hour
People who regularly ride a bike are more likely to live longer
A brilliant way of de-stressing

Because it's green
Virtually no greenhouse emissions
Extremely energy efficient
Petrol costs £1.28 a litre (is that about £5.84 a gallon?)
Bikes don't cause traffic jams

Because it's an efficient form of transport
Urban journeys are faster by bike
You don't have to ride around looking for somewhere to park
You can ride right up to the building
Getting two pannier bags of groceries keeps us going for several days
It takes me 40 minutes to drive 13 miles to my office, cycling takes 45-50 minutes

And just because....
It's satisfying
It's fun
It's cool
It's cheap
Bikes are nice machines and last a long time
It gives me a nice feeling of independence
Feeling the breeze in my hair
Every ride is an adventure
It makes me appreciate my car for when I really do need it
It feels fantastic whizzing down hill at 40mph

This is the link to the parallel blog post "Reasons to run".  Take a look....

Car park conversation

Yesterday I spent my day at our Headquarters, which is also the venue for much of the training that goes on.  For us visitors, we have to use a nearby public Pay & Display car park.

I had just finished buying my ticket when a trainee turned up to park her car.  She didn't have enough money, so I offered to lend her some money.  That was appreciated but she seemed a little flustered.  So to change the subject I ask her what brought her over to Headquarters

"oh, stupid training" she said
I felt a bit cross at hearing that.  Didn't she know the value of training?

"I didn't know you had to be trained to be stupid" I replied

Blank look.

"So what are you here for Doug?"

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Apricots - Sainsbury's Taste the Difference

In all fairness to Sainsbury's, these ready to eat Apricots are delicious and in my view the nicest tasting I've tried.

They're very soft compared to other dried / semi dried apricots with no chewing at all.  Just pop one in your mouth, push it around with your tongue and enjoy the lovely sweet caramel-like flavour - they really are nice!  According to the blurb on the packet, they are sun-dried and preserved using a steam process that is chemical free.  That's brilliant - none of that 'orrible sulphur you get with those chewy, bright orange ones you can also get.

In terms of their nutritional benefits, they're packed full of goodness; low in fat and fairly high in fibre (5.4g per 100g).  According to my wife's excellent "Eat for Immunity" book (by Kirsten Hartvig), apricots provide Vitamins A, B2, B3, B5, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, zinc and a variety of sugars.  Their effect is one of detoxifying and are an antioxidant and stimulate the immune system.

Additionally, according to the book, they contribute to efficient antibody production, help stabilize blood sugar levels, keep muscles, nerves and hormones working properly and facilitate the release of energy from food.  The list goes on....

While not exactly cheap on the face of it, when you consider the wide ranging health benefits these do become impressive snacks.  In some ways, because they are so sweet, eating them is almost like having chocolates!

Highly recommended for anyone taking care of their health in a delicious kind of way!

Please take a look at my blog post on Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Dried Figs - just click here

Monday, 14 February 2011

Daydreaming in SW1

From Great Peter Street, London SW1
In London again today but not too pressured (thankfully) and met with some regional colleagues about a project - we are in the early stages of plotting where it could all go.

As there were just a handful of us we were sitting around one end of a Boardroom table, we were at the far end of the room, away from the window.  That was just as well really as I would have spent the entire meeting daydreaming, just watching the clouds drift by as I thought about those miles I have yet to do, places I'll go and miles I'll run.

It was nice meeting Stuart again and I remarked how it was a bit of a coincidence - we'd been at the same event last Friday and that was the first we'd seen of each other for a couple of years and now we were bumping into each other 3 times in a week - would you believe I'm at a seminar elsewhere in SW1 tomorrow and guess what, yes, he's there as well!

Walking to and from the Tube station I just seemed to be aware of every cyclist around, kept thinking "you lucky so n so, you look like you're really enjoying riding today".  I'm so looking forward to riding again soon.

I'm grateful to Anonymous for you urging my patience, thank you. If I were a Doctor I would be the worst kind of patient. Yes, I am often hard on myself.

Today is, of course, St Valentines Day and Hannah was lovely this morning in surprising her Mum and Dad with making a fuss of us at breakfast time.  I had my usual muesli but with chocolate hearts as an extra. She'd made sure the party green table cloth was on, together with paper napkins and chocolate spread (normally reserved for Sunday).  Oooooh that was a lovely treat for us all!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I'm really needing to run and ride!

Here's a quick update, or perhaps more of justifying a lack of action over the last week or two.

My hand
Yes my hand, that mishap I had a couple of weeks ago is still causing much pain in my left hand and I've just not felt able to go cycling, let alone grasp the handlebar.  Although the hospital A&E Doctor said I hadn't got any broken bones, it still hurts badly when I try to do things.  Drying my hands with a towel is really painful - this is an example of an everyday activity that just tells me I'm still healing.

Another clue is the need for Ibuprofen, which seems to work really well by deadening the pain and dealing with swelling.  It's now two weeks and I was hoping I'd be better by now.  I know progress is being made in that the bruising has subsided and I have a little more movement in my fingers and wrist.  I'll just have to be a more patient patient!

My work seems to have got pretty busy of late and I'm quite enjoying it, though not much time is now spent at my desk to deal with the never ending list of things-to-do.  I had planned to visit Avon & Somerset Probation Trust last Friday but owing to a ministerial visit my plans were thwarted so Plan B was hastily arranged and saw me heading off to West Mercia Probation Trust instead.  Monday and Tuesday, I'm in London again and it now looks hopeful that I'll have most of Wednesday at my desk.  Having put in a lot of hours this last week, I've been mentally so drained it has made me physically very tired.

Oh, does all that sound like a moan?  It isn't meant to be, far from it.  In these days of massive public sector cut backs, nobody is safe and I'm ever grateful I have a job and even more so, a job that I really like.

So, I'm still trying to be philosophical about this; it happens for a reason.  Perhaps that reason is about me needing to have rest (albeit an enforced rest) both physically and mentally.  It doesn't take me away from those thoughts of feeling frustrated and in fear of losing all my fitness.

Cycling Active magazine

March 2011 issue, £3.99
Years ago the cycling magazines around were pretty dreadful, unless you were heavily into road / time trialling.  Nowadays there's a growing number covering different aspects of cycling and Cycling Active is one that I quite like.

On one hand it's a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades by covering a fairly wide range of disciplines but on the other, it is a good entertaining read for the general cyclist, perhaps just like me. Maybe that makes me sound a bit of an "armchair cyclist" and perhaps there's some truth in that right now.  In this issue I've warmed to a view articles and these are just what I need right now, what with still being out of action.

The articles I like include "In the name of my father" which is all about Donal Harrington undertaking some rigorous training for an ambitious ride in honour of his late father. Donal Harrington has gone from being a 17 stone lorry driver to a cyclist who is well on the way to great things, including raising money for the Irish Cancer Society and the Marie Keating Foundation.  It is the training schedule that leaps out at me the most:

Monday - rest day
Tuesday - 90 miles cycling plus weight training / circuits
Wednesday - 3 hours cycling plus stretching
Thursday - repeat Tuesday
Friday - rest
Saturday - 2 hours cycling
Sunday - long distance ride

Makes me want to just get riding again!

Friday, 4 February 2011

The importance of rest

The bruise went right through my hand, now fading nicely
You'll know I have been feeling frustrated and a bit restless this week following my fall last Sunday.  Having this injury has been painful, inconvenient and stopped me doing almost anything physical.  Even peeling a grapefruit for breakfast was painful and slow.  In the shower I could see the bruise on my knee which I hadn't taken any notice of before, though my shoulder is getting back to normal.

It is probably not helpful to contemplate too much WHY this might have happened but perhaps reflect on HOW it actually might have benefited me...

Sometimes we/I can simply over do-it.  Perhaps there are weeks, or even months or seasons when any of us might serve ourselves better simply by stepping back and reflecting on things a little.  I know from my work I certainly need a mental rest often.  Doing too much, putting middle aged bodies through too much pounding can be counter-productive.

In our bodies there are, perhaps, thousands of processes taking place at any one time.  Some will be repairing, or healing something or dealing with an illness, an infection or some other damage.  For this we all need the right food, rest, sleep and perhaps for me, the right attitude.

I know that some nights this week I have slept even deeper than I normally do, almost to the point of knowing that at the time and being aware of my body benefiting from it, certainly my mind has benefited.  It also seems to fit well with this time of year.  On one level February in England is always a dreary, dull month with that feeling of winter dragging on.  And yet it's a month where we can see signs of nature just starting to stir a little.  We can see the daylight is lengthening day by day with the encouragement of Spring being around the corner.  Snowdrops are starting to appear in the garden and we have some early daffodils inside on a window sill.

So, this last week has not been of my choosing but sometimes I'll admit that I don't always know what's best for me or my family.  This week I have been home promptly from my work, more time spent with my family and this includes Becky who has enjoyed more Mummy and Daddy time while Hannah has been away on a school trip.

I took Audrey the Audax into the bike shop this morning for a tune up and I had to push it there.  My hand is still too painful to even hold the handlebar let alone ride it.  Now I'm more accepting that there are benefits from this enforced rest.  I am gaining from this rest, although not my choice, it is almost certainly what I have needed and so I must, in a funny kind of way, be thankful.  Truly thankful that is.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Cycling in East Africa, 1984

That's me!  This was taken on my first ever trip to Kenya and an amazing cycle ride that was a journey of discovery - about the land I was riding through, myself and my faith.  As you might know, I'm having an enforced rest from cycling having had a fall last Sunday.  My hand is getting much better and I hope to go for a cycle ride on Sunday.  In the meantime the Thorn Audax Mk3 will have a return trip to the bike shop for an initial service - spokes and cables bedding in.  I also thought it might be a time to reflect on an earlier bike ride.

I was determined to do a trip like this alone, as a kind of post-college gap year.  I took my bike to Nairobi, headed south into Tanzania, around Moshi, Arusha and almost fell off my bike at the truly inspirational sight of Mt Kilimanjaro before heading south east towards the coast.  I spent a few days around the coast in the company of some frightfully English nuns who allowed me to pitch my tent in their grounds (and near some bee hives if I remember correctly).  Then back up to Mombasa, Kenya along a nice coastal and where this photograph was taken.

After a few days in Mombasa it was a hard 3 days riding to Nairobi (300 miles and climbing 6,000ft) before heading into the more temperate highlands and the Rift Valley.

I sold my bike while I was there to stretch out my time a little further.  It was a BSA steel frame heap I had while I was at school with hilariously high gears.  I still have the sleeping bag, and Karrimor bags.

For some black and white photographs, take a look at my flickr photostream:

I could "wax lyrical" about that East African journey for ages.  Instead a few reflections.  It was something I had to do; call it some kind of compelling wanderlust having had a taste of Egypt a couple of years beforehand.  I had no ties, no idea what I wanted to do in life, no idea where I was heading in life.

While I was there I knew my parents were praying for me, I had a feeling of being cared and loved.  It was a huge step forward in my faith from just being a nominal believer in God to then knowing there was far more.  So that was the start of another kind of journey that led me to becoming a Christian, though it wasn't a sudden 'Road to Damascus' type of conversion.  Instead a gradual period of asking questions, reading books and talking to people.  In other words, working it out.

I was really touched by people's hospitality and generosity throughout my time there.  Somehow I think that travelling alone seems to open more doors and more conversations spring up naturally than compared to travelling with another person or indeed a group.

Looking back I'm amazed I actually got round on that bike.  It was heavy and not very suitable for the trip, though the wheels were especially strong and new.  The wheels with the (then) Specialized Expedition tyres were the only bit of new or decent kit.  As far as I can remember I only had two punctures and I think one of those was sabotage!  The lowest gear was probably in the region of 42x28 which isn't great for hauling such a heavy load up some of those endless hills which involved some dreadful road conditions.

The climate was great and as it was in February / March I was just seeing the end of the rainy season.  I must have become pretty fit while I was there although looking back, I paid no attention to training, nutrition or my health.  I did suffer a bit health-wise but that was all part of the adventure.

Those feelings of wanting to travel, see places and to do it under my own steam are still with me today.  While I contain those feelings, I don't think I'll ever shrug them off completely and neither do I wish to do that.  Without wishing my life away, I do look forward to retiring and then being able to travel, leaving my career largely behind.

The images below can be seen on my flickr photostream (click the link above) and I'm afraid the images below have pasted across very poorly but better full frame versions