Monday, 30 May 2011

I've just entered the 2011 St Albans Half Marathon - less than 2 weeks to go!!

Me! Just recovering after the 2010 St Albans Half Marathon
I've got good memories from the handful of races I've done, though I'm nowhere near the winners.  Last year the St Albans Half Marathon was a good event with a time I was pleased with - 1 hour 44 minutes.

I ran it with Collette, a colleague of mine who signed up for the 2011 event some time ago and has been encouraging me to do the same.  At first I'd hesitated as I need to keep some Sundays free (some Kenyan Church friends are visiting) but now I know I can make this on the Sunday in question.

The other reason for doing this is my hand.  For those who have read some previous posts, I tripped over while running in late January and even now, four months later, it still hurts a lot sometimes.  I'm thinking of going back to the Doctor as it ought to have healed by now.  So, what's my injured hand got to do with the St Albans Half Marathon 2011?  I'm finding that cycling is aggravating the injury, not too much but just enough to stop it healing and perhaps the vibration coming through the handlebars is the cause.  So I'm thinking of easing off cycling and concentrating on running in the short term, while my hand heals.  My head tells me to hang up my bike for a couple of months, my heart says "enjoy the summer first".  Of course if something appears to be aggravating an injury, one should give it up but but but.... I'll have one last ride before I do hang my bike up - the plan is Becky and myself to have a mini cycle camping trip away, just for one night.

I need to step up my running over the next week or so as the event is in two weeks time!  I'll need to be mindful of not doing too much and "tapering" in the last week, so I can enter fairly fresh and not worn out.  Three days ago I ran for about 1 hour 20 minutes, yesterday I ran for about one hour, today 45 minutes.  Tomorrow a longer run and then a rest for a day or two.

Right now it's half term and I'm on leave from work, so normal routines are "on hold" for the week.  Running shouldn't be a problem especially before breakfast.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Cycling in the Cotswolds

Yesterday my friend Wallie and I had another great ride in the Cotswold Hills.  For us it's a brilliant place to meet up (equidistant from our homes).

Any rumours about us being like a pair of grumpy old men is just not on, right?  We don't need injunctions, super injunctions or anything like that because it's just obvious - we're not grumpy old men and not even middle aged grumpy men either.  Naturally we did a fair amount of "putting the world to right".

Wallie on his 1980's Claud Butler Dalesman
Anyway, here's a few bits from the day......

Our bikes were perfect for the day and it was the first time Wallie had seen the much-talked-about Thorn Audax Mk3.  Naturally I'm very proud of it.  It's uncanny how similar our bikes are despite the age gap of 30 odd years between them and just goes to show how timeless and useful a traditional touring bike is.  Makes me wonder why people go and buy Mountain Bikes, especially those flat pack heaps of junk sold in supermarkets.  They're useless and cheap for a reason and I'll have another rant about those some other time, we don't want to spoil a nice Cotswold ride, do we?

The weather.
The month of May is always a fantastic month in my book, the nicest month in the whole year.  May is characterised by lengthening daylight, nice warm weather and beautiful clouds.  It also strongly hints at the coming promise of summer.  For us, we managed to pick the wettest day of the week for our ride!  It was almost like a dose of April showers with squally gusts of wind, horizontal rain, all mixed with sunny intervals and a rise in air temperature.  Consequently we were wrapped up all day in our waterproofs and I'm having mixed feelings nowadays about my Altura jacket - I feel a bit of a 'Kit review' coming on but some other time.  Back to the weather which links neatly to the wonderful clouds...

The Clouds
These were fantastic to watch through our ride.  Fast moving, sometimes threatening, or dramatic and brooding.  

Becky our eldest daughter is, I'm pleased to say, genetically programmed to be a day dreamer and we think it's a very good thing to do; it can be a means of sorting out all kinds of problems.  One regret I do have is not knowing all of the different names of the clouds we enjoy.  Perhaps another reason to check out the Cloud Appreciation Society one of these days.  

The landscape
We always did like the Cotswold Hills and they're brilliant for cycling - nice gently rolling hills, a few sharper ones, beautiful colours and picturesque villages.  The different seasons all have their own treats and reasons to make each visit so memorable.  Wallie was the first to spot these colourful thistles:
The ride was gentle and at an easy pace, so we could talk easily.  We covered all our usual topics including what old friends are up to and I enjoyed telling Wallie all about my friend Dee (Hello Dee) who'd been in touch from California after break which has been too long.

We also started to talk over what our next ride could be like, having both enjoyed an all night ride last year.  We could once again do a tour of the Cotswolds but I was wondering if we could do some kind of A to B ride (we'd need to sort out the practicalities of maybe planting a car in the right place) and I'd appreciate there being a nice Cafe at the destination.  So we'll have to mull that one over.  I'm tempted with the Black Mountains and being up high (Hay Bluff?) for sunrise - that would be fantastic but tricky to organise especially if we're working in our respective jobs during the day.  Watch this space.

At Eastleach, where we stopped for our packed lunch.  No, I didn't fall in.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

What is the "Runner's High"?

I was chatting with my friend Tony after church today about running.  By his own admission he's a bit of a 5 mile plodder, which is perfectly fine for him.  We went onto comment on how great it makes us feel and we got on to talking about the Runner's High.  We laughed a bit when I said that in church lingo this could be a long the lines of "do you feel the high, brother?".  We both agreed it was a fantastic sensation.

So what is the Runner's High?  Could be different things for different people.  For me, this is it.  It comes after a run of at least 30 minutes, especially if it's been a hard run or I've finished at a fast pace.  This is how it makes me feel:

  • Euphoric
  • Confident
  • On top of the World
  • I can handle anything
  • Reassured
  • Calm
  • I don't care if anyone laughs about me
  • I can do this
  • Unbeatable
Probably the medical definition would talk about endorphins, neurotransmitters, natural painkillers and so on.  I wonder if it's like being on drugs, except this is legal and very natural.  This begs the question whether the Runner's High is addictive?  My honest answer is yes it probably is but not in a destructive way that cigarettes, alcohol and drugs are.

The Runner's High helps me deal with the stresses and strains of life (which mostly come from my job).  It has probably be a critical factor in hanging in there, instead of resigning long ago.  When I run, I can sometimes be on a kind of autopilot, my mind is on all kinds of things but not on running.  As for running itself, it's a wonderful way of solving problems or seeking new ideas or solutions.

How long does the Runner's High last for?  Again probably extremely variable from one person to another.  For me it is generally felt immediately at the end of a run or a race, sometimes a little towards the end especially if I put my all into sprinting (as best I can) towards the finish.  The peak is about 30 minutes later and the feeling of "well being" can last several hours, sometimes even for 12 hours.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Quote of the Day

"Does hot chocolate count towards my 5 a day?"
Hannah, aged 11

Hannah could never be described as a lover of fruit and vegetables, not uncommon with other kids.  Besides, I think she's following in my own footsteps as I have memories from childhood where I'd have a game of wits with my parents about how much cabbage I'd get by with for Sunday lunch.  Of course I'd always loose.

Nowadays I have a different taste and really do enjoy a wide variety, especially fruit.  Sometimes I eat 10 portions a day quite easily; I have to to keep my digestion moving.  Often for breakfast, I'll have a large Innocent Smoothie (counts as two portions) and then other fruit with my cereal - normally two from the fruit basket.  You might like to click here to see a Cyclist's breakfast).  It's really nice having a wide variety and I do enjoy shopping for these and also of course are the clear health benefits.

The contents vary but typically include:

Melon (Gala, Water Melon or Cantilupe)

The goodness in these is extraordinary: all those vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals - all wonderful health giving properties and helpful in strengthening our immune system to guard against cancers and other diseases.  For my working lunch, often it needs to be suitable for eating on-the-go as eating in between meetings is the only option, so one-handed car-friendly packed lunches are the order of the day.  I always pack a small plastic box with a couple of prunes, figs and a handful of nuts.  These could be Brazil, Almond, Walnut etc.  As I said, just a small handful to go along with maybe an apple or banana.  

I'll blog again soon about WHY these foods are so important for me in trying to stay in good shape.  In the meantime, I think we'll have to work on our lovely Hannah in coaxing her to enjoy some of these wonderful foods!

Friday, 20 May 2011

A big thank you to Jason

You might remember I blogged a couple of times in April about the friendliness of other cyclists and runners, or to put it another way, the indifference that some show to their fellow cyclists.  It's sometimes like you're invisible.  Again I had my faith restored today by another cyclist while riding home from work.

Jason was a real Road man - a really fast decent bike and he had the appearance to match.  He caught me up (which wasn't difficult today) and we rode alongside each other for a few miles.  We talked about the usual things; the weather, why we liked cycling and so on.  I mentioned my disappointment with some other cyclists who appear a bit snooty or aloof and wondered whether it was because my appearance doesn't quite fit the scene.  I should mention that today I was wearing my baggy cycle shorts and a stripy Landsend polo shirt.

Jason knew exactly what I meant and said he and his clubmates know them as New Age Cyclists.  These are generally reckoned to be middle aged blokes who have seen a bit of the Tour de France on TV and fancy some of the action themselves.  It then often follows they'll blow some of their city bonus on a classy bike with all the gear and think they're "it".  This all made sense and I was reassured I'm not the only one to get the cold shoulder.  Jason reckoned it's nothing to do with your appearance or what kind of bike you have, it's just old fashioned snobbery I guess.

I was having to work hard in keeping level with Jason, especially as I had a pannier bag with my papers for Monday inside.  After a few miles our routes diverged and we wished each other well.  So there you go.  This encounter was another significant step in restoring my faith in other cyclists, cheers Jason.

Today has been fine for me at work.  A pleasant meeting this morning - I'm leading on the Environmental Strategy and we have a local Action Group comprising of some great colleagues working alongside me.  Also I've been working on another piece of work which finally came together which was promptly emailed to HQ.  Felt like a burden was lifted off.  Felt good, especially at the end of a mixed week.  Looking forward to a great weekend and I'm really looking forward to my next blog post already.

So, Jason: many thanks!  You're a brilliant cyclist - your accomplished riding style, the club run etiquette and for the reflections on those New Age Cyclists.  Really sorry if I held you back!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Wow - I feel great!

Here's a quick update as I'm feeling pretty good!  This is more clear evidence of the real value in running and cycling - both physical and mental benefits rolled together.

Yesterday the blog might have looked like I was on a bit of a "downer".  Today things are so much brighter, still fuelled by the endorphins from yesterday's runs.

Drove to HQ and had my annual appraisal interview, which went well.  Felt really encouraged.  Following meeting cancelled owing to Cambridge colleagues being double booked.  Although a little disappointed I found a desk and dealt with emails, and did some preparation for a meeting I'm chairing tomorrow.

Norfolk colleagues arrive for a meeting with my manager and myself at 1.00pm.  Warm hand shakes and banter.  They go out to get Kebabs, which I politely declined on account of now being completely vegetarian.  They returned, we sat in the CEO's office eating as she was out all day.  Meeting OK but got complex and I struggled at one point to keep up with the financial planning language.  At precisely 3.06pm my watch beeps everyday (Becky accidentally set the alarm and I don't know how to turn it off).  They thought I had another appointment and accepted my apologies as I left.

Drove back to my office, completed preparation for tomorrow's meeting and drove home.  I got issued with a new mobile while at HQ, quite unexpectedly but it doesn't work with the Bluetooth device in my car.Grrrrr.

Back home, family time and then Rachel reminded me to go for a run.  That I did but just for 20 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Survived a stand-off with a bull.  Got back, felt great.  Decided to time myself in the "round the block" dash.  When I started to run in 2008 it took 4mins:20secs and I'd be exhausted and panting like crazy.  Today it took me 3mins 03 seconds.

Looking forward to cycling to work tomorrow.  It'll be the first time this week as I've needed to drive here and there during the week so far.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Running to save my career

Sorry if the title is a little melodramatic but this is exactly how I might feel without the "release" that comes from going for a good run.

Every now and then I go through a rough patch at work.  Right now, on a scale of 0-10 I would put myself at 5 today although in other times before I'd say 8 or 9, meaning I was close to quitting.

You might be wondering what's going on.  You'll be pleased to know it's not too bad and nothing I can't handle and I want this to be a positive post, rather than a poor-old-me sob story.  Just a few pressures, a few hurtful remarks by some colleagues (who should know better) and a couple of uncertainties; but like I said, nothing I can't handle.

My faith helps and so too does running as a way of getting things straight in my mind but also the buzz and "runner's high" helps me deal with the issues.  Also it helps by making sure I'm sufficiently tired enough to sleep right through the night as opposed to waking up at 4.00am tossing and turning.

I've said to Rachel, make sure I either cycle or go for a run everyday, until further notice.  She's very happy to oblige and will willingly turf me out.

Yesterday I woke a little earlier than normal and yes, work was on my mind as I had half expected.  So I went for a run for just 30 minutes (half the normal time).  As it was a shorter route, I found myself running over the track where I'd fallen over in January.  Then in the evening I ran for an hour.  Today I went for a run this evening for a little longer and what a difference it makes.

Normally I have a day in between running rather than running on consecutive days.  Not having done that probably accounted for an achy knee as I was half way around but now, an hour later and after a hot shower, I feel fine.

So what about you?  
If you're stressed or anxious, I would suggest taking up running or cycling as a way of dealing with that but please make sure you clock this disclaimer: it is your responsibility to make sure you're medically fit to run or cycle.  For me running and cycling makes all the difference between going off on sick leave (and a year later possible dismissal) and hanging onto my job and career.  As I have said before, running and cycling are both fantastic sports but running is the most effective in ordering my thoughts and dealing with the stress and anxiety.

Just a quick internet search reveals a few interesting links:

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Today's ride

Not the best photograph I've ever taken, nor the most flattering but it's about as good as it comes today I'm afraid.  Have you ever tried to photograph yourself while riding along?  Not easy, is it?

Anyway, this afternoon's ride was pretty good.

I did 52 miles over a reasonably flat terrain today as I wanted to clock up some miles.  Having treated myself to a new Ordnance Survey map I've been exploring some new areas.  All frightfully English and this was helped today by seeing quite a few vintage cars (don't ask what kinds as I don't know but I'd guess and say 1960s or earlier) having an outing, perhaps there was some kind of a rally on.  Picture postcard villages, cricket on the green, village ponds and "gated communities" all provided the backdrop.

There were a few other cyclists around and again I made it my business to greet them in some way (nod, smile, "hi there" etc).  Pretty much everyone responded in a positive way and one or two beat me by greeting me sooner.  This is amazing, especially after the rant I had (click here) and it got me wondering what has changed.  Perhaps the weather improving helps?  Perhaps I'm not quite as scruffy nowadays?  Maybe it's the sight of my kness?!?!?  Which ever it is, I appreciate it.

The kind of anti social cyclist which remains indifferent are those Lycra clad fellows, wearing dark wraparound shades and who do their best to ignore me.  They're normally riding in the opposite direction, on decent looking road bikes

I have been plotting a ride of about 125 miles in my mind.  How will I get on?  Can I make that distance right now?  Extra training?  I was thinking about doing it in a few weeks time; maybe I'm biting off more than I could do?

Just a quick word about the bike, my Thorn Audax Mk3.  I still really like it, handles nicely.  The honeymoon period has now concluded and I'm up to 870 miles (I got the Cateye on a couple of weeks after I had it).  I'll do a proper review when I get to 1000 miles and there's a couple of things which could be improved on.  The LBS who built it for me used a cheap nasty rack and mudguards.  The latter of which got replaced and the ack isn't looking that good either.

I have faired reasonably well, legs a little tired and I'll sleep extra soundly tonight.  Just the thing for setting me up for the week ahead, which tomorrow includes attending some of the SMT awayday.  Might be scary but I'm determined to make the most of it.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Why run?

I really want to tell you about a run I had a few days ago.  As our computer has been on the blink, I've not had much of a chance.  So now, here goes.

On Tuesday I had a tricky meeting at work.  There's nothing particularly unusual in that, quite common for me in and around the Ministry of Justice.  Don't get me wrong, tricky meetings are engaging and feisty sometimes and definitely worthwhile.  This meeting however took an unexpected turn which made me think the direction of my (ever changing) job might take - a direction I'm not happy about, perhaps a bit of a put down.

Back home, I felt exhausted through replaying the discussion in my mind.  Went to bed at the usual time and fell asleep almost instantly as I normally do.  Next I knew was waking up at 4am feeling really worried, hot and very bothered.  I got up, quietly, made a mug of tea, went to the loo, decided to go for a run.  It was the only thing to do.

As normal the first mile was hard.  Hard because it is slightly uphill and I'm still stiff.  After 8-10 minutes I'm at the top of a short but very steep hill and leaving all the houses and cars behind me.  It was then I decided a longer run was needed but also knew I'd ache afterwards.  It would be worth it.  If clearing my mind is achieved, achy legs is a fair price.

The run was hilly and I had a gentle pace for the most part.  My spirits were lifted on seeing a young deer, long before it saw me but then bolted into the undergrowth.  Shortly afterwards a fox who was not bothered by me being quite close.  The sun was low and soft.  The colours of the countryside were muted and blended well with each other.  I ran for about an hour and I was really starting to enjoy it, although getting a little tired.  I mentally worked out a route to get me home in another 30 minutes.  Just right, the run would probably be about 10 miles in all.

This now is the important bit.  I was mulling over the problem, not sure how to react and deal with it.  Gradually it became clearer and clearer as the miles ticked by. I began to realise what I should do and how to go about it.  After a couple more miles my confidence was lifted and feelings of complete assurance buzzed through my thoughts.  I smiled to myself, I knew how to handle it.  I was on the home leg now, going down the steep hill and just a few minutes from home.  The last 100 meters turned into a sort of sprint (well, as best I could do) as I wanted to feel that runner's high well and truly and I certainly did!

I thank the Lord for the issue, the problem and praise for the way that I've been able to deal with it.

The rest of the day was fine.  Although I wasn't away from my office (often a reason to cycle) I decided to drive to work and allow my achy legs to recover.  It's a few months since I last ran about 10 miles and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finally to anyone dealing with a stressful, difficult situation or where you're fraught with worry, I can testify to the wonders of running.  You could feel on top of the world, totally free and able to see things completely differently.  From my own experience, I whole heartedly recommend running for physical and mental well being - my only regret is leaving it until my late 40's to find this out.  All that, combined with faith, is the answer for me.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference dried apricots - back in stock

Sainsbury's TTD dried apricots - £1.69 for 250g
Readers with a good memory will remember I was disappointed these lovely apricots had vanished from the shelves in our local Sainsbury's.  Gone also were the prunes and those wonderful dried figs.  click here for my rant about this.

Happily I can tell you these apricots are back in stock, just as they said.  No sign of the prunes and the figs were nearly sold out.  Looks like others enjoy them too!  One of the nice things about them, aside from the lovely caramel taste, is that they're just apricots and none of those nasty preservatives.

My wife has bought a packet of Asda's ready to eat Stoned Dried Apricots, in fact they've been lingering a while now as they really are 'orrible to eat.  In fact I've just tried one of those miserable chewy things and, with regret I can report, they do not taste anything like an apricot should.  If you like apricots, DON'T BUY THEM FROM ASDA!  It gets worse, take a look at the ingredients....apricots 89%, water, acidity regulators (malic acid, ciric acid) preservative (sulphur dioxide).  UGH.

Go and buy the Sainsbury's Taste the Difference dried apricots if you like apricots as good as they could ever come!

Some of our friends kindly pass old copies of the excellent Ethical Consumer magazine
to us and we really do thank you, Steve and Rachel.  The January / February 2011 edition has a helpful looking guide to supermarkets.  I haven't had a chance to completely review it as yet but it does relay grim findings all too often.  Sometimes there are some pleasing surprises.  No pleasing surprises with Sainsbury's though.  Their Ethiscore (out of 20) is just 2.5.  Naturally the Co-Op is amongst the highest scoring supermarkets and Tesco, ASDA and Netto are the worse.

I cannot resist telling you about today's visit to Sainsbury's.  This has little to do with apricots or the battle against stress but it is worth a rant.  In addition to picking up my Nectar points, getting another £4 off my next £40 shop as well as £4 discount today, they have given me a voucher for 3p.  Yes 3p.  It tells me to "Enjoy 3p to spend on your next shop"  Sainsbury's, are you being a bunch of shysters or are you trying to tell me something?  What can I buy for 3p?  Shall I buy a single grape perhaps?  Mind you, look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves....

Finally, you will be pleased to know I cycled there, as normal.  I took Doreen the Dawes Galaxy complete with my Carradice saddle bag and Karrimor pannier bags.  Today must have been the heaviest shopping trip and I couldn't resist putting the back wheel onto our weighing scales when I got back.  Wow - 4 stone 6 pounds in weight.- 62 pounds in all.  Goes without saying the bike is fine, me too but it was hard work racing to beat a red traffic light that was on it's way!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Computer on the blink

There's so much I want to blog about but our computer has been on the blink during this last week, so apologies for the inactivity.  I'll do a proper post tomorrow evening, all being well.

I have an amazing early morning run to tell you about following a tricky day at work, a couple of days commuting by bike and a trip to Ikea Milton Keynes.

For now I'm thinking of all kinds of posts and I'd certainly like to build up my "hit rate" again.  People tell me I need to be patient, use good word combinations (helps the search engine optimisation) and be a regular blogger. I'm feeling ambitious with my blog which still feels in its infancy while I get the content and style right.

So, thanks for bearing with me and please come back soon!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Is cycling addictive?

You might have seen my recent post considering whether running is addictive.  I concluded that it was and now I find myself wondering if cycling, also, is addictive.  Could I be addicted to both?

This last week I have had the opportunity to do both, in equal measure.  I had my usual Sunday afternoon ride today (we always visit my mother-in-law for a spiffing afternoon tea, whato) and it was suggested to me by Rachel that the most direct route would be politic this afternoon.  That is about 30 minutes.  Now that simply isn't enough, I was reckoning on at least a 90 minute ride.  Hadn't she noticed the wonderful clouds piling up in the sky against such a crisp blue sky?  Hasn't she felt the lovely breeze outside?  How on Earth can anyone resist the temptation or the opportunity of having a ride this afternoon.  It's May, the most promising month in the year with the message that summer is around the corner, the days are getting longer and warmer and finally, not forgetting the new leaves on the trees, hedgerows.  It's beyond me how anyone could not want to go for a bike ride!

Anyway, I obliged and sacrificed my 90 minute ride and knowing there's no way Rachel with B&H would be there on time I succumbed by adding on a few miles.  Not too many but enough to feel I'd had a decent ride and I still beat them!

This brings me around to the title of this blog - is cycling addictive?  While I was riding, I was thinking of little else other than cycling and in particular plotting some more adventurous rides.  I have all kinds of rides mapped out in my mind to different places and most are ridiculously long.  I was trying to figure out how I would get fit enough to do 130 miles in a day, never mind 100.  I was contemplating whether I should invest in some better clothing, now I have a decent bike.  I was thinking that some of the long rides ought to start at 4.00am which brought me on to remembering last June's ride around the Cotwolds at night.  In fact my friend Wallie and I are considering doing that again.

So there I was cycling in near perfect conditions and plotting more rides.  I was enjoying riding into the stiff wind, I was remembering the fun of riding in the rain, getting drenched and longing to be home and yet reveling in every mile.  I remembered other rides that were long and difficult and it made me smile.  Surely when I'm a grumpy old man, I don't want to be there in a rocking chair wishing I'd done more while I had the opportunity.

Cycling tends to make me reflect, plot and plan.  Running makes me imaginative and have inspired ideas (which I mostly forget as I get back home).  Both help with the stress and strains of life which I cannot do without.

Yes, cycling is addictive.  Addictive but in a different way.  Anyone else....?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Those stresses and strains but how running helps

Quite a bit to talk to you about today, not sure if I'll get much of it done in this post but I'll make a start.

Earning a daily crust continues to be such a fascinating thing.  The pressures at work aren't so much the volume and intensity but around differences of opinions.  While this is normally a strength, to bring a balance and a debate leading to wise decisions, I have a few worries right now. People who should know better but don't.  Nevertheless I am very pleased my view is normally welcomed and heard.  I just wish I could tell you more.

Handling the worries
My strategy for handling my worries involves many things.  My faith, losing myself in music (I long to hear Mahler's 5th again) and keeping in good shape.

Over the last week I have had a few good runs.  Each one has been a gentle easy pace, including this morning.  As normal I run for around an hour; anything less and I don't enjoy it through remaining stiff and lumpy as I run.  Mind you, I'm still far from my peak but am moving towards it, rather than falling further away.

I've also cycled to work twice this last week.  This has felt good and rewarding.  A chance to mentally switch off, enjoy the countryside's sights, sounds and smells.  I do appreciate those times around dawn and dusk when you can ride into those pockets of cool air, often in wooded areas or dips in the road.  You just wouldn't feel that in a car. On Wednesday I deliberately took a longer and more hilly route and I'm so pleased I did.

Pace wise I pushed myself a little when riding home, trying to build muscle strength on those hills.  Sometimes I'll resist the temptation of dropping into a lower gear and instead stand up on the pedals to heave myself up a sort hill.  When I'm really working hard, it feels like I'm going to pull the cleats out of the bottom of my shoes! I'll do a post sometime about my cycling shoes and the Shimano SPD clipless pedals.

The bike is running very smoothly - the Thorn Audax Mk3 frame continues to handle nicely for me.  I've replaced the mudguards as there was an unexpected problem.  The rear rack isn't the best design afterall but not bad. Trial and error will always apply to a certain extent.

Running -v- Cycling
You might remember I have set myself some goals (click here) which involve running a marathon and riding 100+ miles in a day.  While I feel I am in fair shape with both cycling and running, I wonder if I should concentrate on achieving one of these goals.

Do they conflict with each other?  If I build up my cycling muscles, will that affect my running?

I'd like to think there isn't a problem with those directly.  Perhaps indirectly is me and my capacity to do both.  I need to rest in between long runs or rides (though this cannot be any sign of being middle aged).  I can comfortably cycle 50-60 miles and I'm sure I could do 100 if the opportunity came up.  So maybe that's what I should do - get the bike ride out of the way and then concentrate on running.  Afterall, it'll take longer to get up to marathon distances.

My hand
Did I tell you I hurt my hand and it STILL hurts?  It really does and I find myself using Ibuprofen most days now.  I think another trip to the Doctor is justified.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Does this mean I'm a "proper" runner?

Although I've been running since sometime in 2008 I still think of myself as a novice.  To my surprise and delight, a colleague has approached me a couple of times about running.

To avoid any embarrassment, I'll call her Caroline.  By her own admission she could do with losing some weight and has high blood pressure (for which she takes medication) and high cholesterol.

The first conversion was raising the subject with me and hearing what I get out of it together with what it was like starting off.  I told her to start off with a few brisk walks and maybe a gentle jog for a few yards.  Also to buy a proper pair of running shoes, with socks.  I told her about my account of going to Aro Sports in Harpenden for a correct pair.

The second conversation was her affirming my advice was good.  Also she'd heard Paula Radcliffe talking on the radio in which she had echoed my suggestion of getting a decant pair of shoes.  Hearing Caroline ask about these things, picking my brains made me feel quite chuffed - me - being asked about running!  Who'd have thought!

I've learnt Caroline my copy of Teach Yourself Running - a book I highly recommend, particularly for anyone starting out.

Click hear for more details.

So, here's wishing you well Caroline with your running!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Becoming a vegetarian

Hannah who announced she too wanted to be a vegetarian
Over the last couple of years I have gradually been eating less and less meat.  Our eldest daughter, Becky has already more-or-less decided to make the change to become a vegetarian just from following my example.  Hannah (above) too announced last week she'd like to follow but changed her mind 30 minutes later when she realised she'd need to eat all her vegetables up!

Rachel has been very accommodating as she prepares different meals for us as a family these days. Although not a vegetarian, she doesn't eat much meat and has cooked some wonderful vegetarian dishes which we've all enjoyed together.

So, why become a vegetarian?  There must be many reasons, on both sides.  These are the ones important to me:
  1. Health.  I do not need all of that protein from meat and the wrong kind of fat.
  2. There are a relatively small number of commonly available meats compared to the wide range of fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts.
  3. Meat is expensive
  4. Animal welfare - ethical reasons
  5. The land needed to raise cattle could be used for other more productive purposes - ethical reasons
  6. I dread to think what goes into sausages, burgers etc
  7. Do I really need it?
  8. I've heard meat contains traces of medications given to animals while alive
  9. Easier to stay fairly slim
  10. Vegetarians are said to live longer

The above list isn't in any particular order, it's just how it came out.  I'm  feeling very healthy and well nourished (but my hand still hurts!).

Monday, 2 May 2011

Is running addictive?

This morning I went for a run before breakfast, nothing very unusual.  I decided to go for an easy pace run over a short distance, maybe 3 or 4 miles and while I was on the return leg, a thought occurred to me: is running an addiction for me?  I know David Cameron runs a bit but I don't suppose he has the time to be addicted to running.  I've previously commented on Conservative heavyweight Eric Pickles, perhaps an ideal candidate for a gentle jog.  Gordon Brown, while he was Prime Minister, had been photographed jogging around Westminster and again, I don't suppose he was anywhere near a candidate for being addicted.

You see, this is the first time I've been running for exactly a week and although I've had a few nice bike rides in between, I've missed running.  So much so I could feel those missing endorphins giving me that "feel good" feeling which continued for a while after I was back.  In fact even now, a couple of hours later, I can still feel some of that lovely "high".  I really missed running.

This prompted me to think back on what has driven me out on a cold, wet morning in the past feeling stiff and miserable, only to find myself coming back and hour later feeling energised and on top of the world.  Sometimes I have been sitting at my desk at work, reading and deleting emails on autopilot while I also think of where I'll run tonight.  Perhaps while driving home I'll see some runners training together and for a fleeting moment wish I could leap out of the car and join them.

I remember some really great runs, including some races, where I've pushed myself so hard and got (for me) a pleasing time and felt totally enthralled by the whole experience.  As I run around the course I'm thinking this has to be the way, allied to a healthy lifestyle with the right food and maintaining the right weight and physique.  Other times I remember those runs when I've been alone which have turned out to be so inspiring times.  All this helps me handle life's little pressures.

So I reckon running can addictive and I've experienced that.  The flip side includes some of those withdrawal symptoms.  Yes, these are real.  Although we all tend to think about addictions as being bad news, this is a risk I'm willing to continue taking as I believe running has more benefits on balance, than not running and going back to that old sedentary, stressed out and over weight lifestyle I used to have until 2008.  That's just for me, I cannot advocate this is appropriate for everyone and I can only speak for myself on this.

I've just done a Google search and there are a handful of other articles around that are worth reading through:

Sunday, 1 May 2011

A reflective start to the day

Last night I put my running kit ready for an early run this morning but have decided against it, instead I just wanted to enjoy the quietness of the early morning at home. In some ways it is perfect for an hour's run - soft sunshine, still, quiet and probably a pleasant temperature but staying back is the right thing to do.  Everyone else is still asleep upstairs right now.

When I woke up there were a few things on my mind.  Firstly there was a dream I'd had in the night.  Forgive me for not sharing it with you but let's just say I was saddened by my behaviour in the dream. Secondly my left hand was painful (you might know about this from previous blog posts). Most importantly I recalled a couple of verses from Proverbs that I'd recently read.  Such a famous and familiar passage but oh so true and a reminder I need from time to time.  So I thought I'd simply share it as it is:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight"  Proverbs 3, v5-6