Thursday, 31 May 2012

C2C training: the funniest ride!

Even before we left home, there was a flat tyre on Hannah's bike.  I fixed it but not well enough, I didn't put the patch in the right place!  Just 2 miles from home, the tyre was again flat and here we are fixing it.

I might need to work on her road safety skills (when on proper roads with cars etc.).  She's quite a comic at times.

Here's Hannah flaked out upon arriving at Grandma's house, after 10 miles.  C2C is next week, not sure now how well we'll manage!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Keeping my bike clean?

When I got the Thorn Audax in January last year, I felt like an excited school boy with a new shiny racer.  It's always nice to have a beautifully maintained and lubricated bike but I became very self-conscious in the early days with spokes glistening in the sunlight.

Soon I saw it differently and have continued to keep a certain amount of dirt on the bike.  Here's why I keep it with a little dirt on:
  • Attracts less attention from would-be thieves, blending in makes me feel a little more modest
  • Maximise cycling time, instead of fiddling around keeping it clean
  • It's good to keep the chain extra clean: this will really reduce the rate of wear and extend the life of the chain and sprocket
  • Not setting myself up as an expert cyclist
  • Becoming more interested in the mechanical side could turn out to be expensive.... "ah I could do with upgrading X and while I'm at it I might as well do Y at the same time.  Then I'll need special tools for doing this and a workshop stand" and the list goes on and on....
  • BUT I am less likely to spot something that's worn or about to fall off
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"
What about you?  Do you clean your bike?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The sheer joy of an early morning run

Just a few brief thoughts from this morning's 8.5 mile run...

  • Decided to do my favourite hilly run this morning, setting off at 5.40am.  Once outside town it takes in a few hills, some woodland trails and some open views before dropping back into the urban area 
  • How wonderful being up and out before anyone else.  My family were slumbering away.
  • At last the weather in May is as it ought to be
  • Very misty, especially higher up but there is the promise of that fading away by a rising temperature through the day.   I love the hazy sunshine we get at this time of year
  • Why couldn't I have gone sooner?
  • I knew I had to think through some issues from work - some don't "get it" and should.... how can I fix that?  I'm normally adept at manoeuvring these situations, I just need to work out my strategy.
  • Pace - gentle for most but delighted in a few faster stretches
  •  Again that feeling of freedom.  I am so thankful I live in a free society in a peaceful country and do not take this for granted.  I have no fear of being mugged, robbed or being any kind of victim
  • I have the rest of the day ahead of me (a days' leave from work as well!) and what will it bring?
  • I have problems at work but this run is a brilliant reminder of being able to conquer these issues; to rise above things, to draw people along and not having  to push or drag people
  • I am thankful I could run so much further but 8.5 miles was enough today.
Going for a bike ride soon.... (yipeeeeee)

Monday, 21 May 2012

More Coast to Coast training

As you know, we are planning to ride a Coast to Coast route during the fast-approaching half term break.  So here's a couple of snaps on a recent Sunday afternoon cycle ride to get limbered up a bit.  Getting Becky and Hannah up and out took some doing but they were reassured the ride was only 4 miles.  Well, I can tell you, I got that completely wrong and seriously under estimated the distance.  They were none the wiser and didn't complain a bit once I'd relented and agreed to buy an ice cream for each of them (not that I really approve of Sunday trading).

Look Dad, this frame really is too small....

Hannah enjoying a bit  of "me" time

Becky trying out my bike

Becky has had her eye on my bike for several months, knowing that with the seat down a bit she can ride okay.  While she can ride it, it really is the wrong size reach etc.  A real laugh seeing her in my cycling shoes that are too big, even for me!   She is wanting a new bike for her birthday in July.  A women's specific bike 50-52com frame or thereabouts, perhaps with a triple chainset, would be absoluetly ideal.  Any suggestions or offers? 

Just leave me a comment and maybe we can discuss further?

Friday, 18 May 2012

Just a few more running mistakes

Here's a few more mistakes I have made in my running career to date.  There are others but I'm not ready to admit to those, even if you promise not to tell anyone.

Running on hard surfaces

By this I mean avoiding running on concrete or tarmac all the time.  Why?  Simple.  It can cause injuries with your knees and ankles and is caused by the unrelenting shock being transmitted through those joints.  It is always better to map out runs that include some softer surfaces.  I like woodland trails best of all.

Forgetting how well we are made

When you look at an x-ray of a leg or foot or perhaps a diagram of bones, muscles and tendons it is incredibly wonderful.  The way we were created, such a marvellous design.  All too easy to take this for granted and for me that's a big mistake.

Family life

I often get this wrong, I think.  It's tricky picking a time when it's better to go for a run or not, as the case may be.  

Not resting enough

Resting in between runs is really important.  A rest can range from not running at all, through to running no more than four times in a week.  I know I have pushed my luck here and the worst was running for an hour each day for a week.  For me that's too much and over the last Christmas period I ran each day for over two weeks but I made sure the "rest runs" were little more than a gentle jog for 15 minutes.

There is no loss of pride through taking a rest.  Our bodies need time to regenerate, to heal.  Failing to do this properly will cause more short and long term injuries or problems.

Running too fast

When I started running, I think I ran too fast and suspect I am not alone in this.  For a new runner, you should run at a place where you could still have a fairly coherent conversation.  Much better to build up the distances before building up the speed.

You might like to read some early mistakes from a previous post.

Friday, 11 May 2012

My running mistakes (but only some of them)

A fairly gentle lunge, not going too far

Every runner makes mistakes and I've had my fair share.   None of these are reasons on their own should put anyone off running but knowing I have some readers from the excellent C25K forum lurking, I thought I might share a few tips:

Don't stretch too far

I believe there's an art to stretching - i.e. a right and a wrong way.  I have discovered this the hard way.  In my view stretching should take place only when muscles are warm after having been used a bit.  The reason for this is that cold muscles aren't very flexible; they're taught and could be easily torn if stretched too far.

When you stretch, do it gradually and feel the point when it starts to hurt a little.  As soon as you get to that point, relax and just come back a little.  There's no point in stretching to improve flexabilty and create muscles with lots of tiny tears.  If you're doing some lunges, the above picture is probably okay for many people - enough to stretch but not too far.

I sometimes smile to myself when I see newbies in the gym.  In they come, stride up to the treadmill, a quick swig of water, one stretch lasting no more than 2 seconds and then blast off at maximum speed.  A few minutes later, all red faced and panting, they go off and find something else to do.  I want to stop and ask them if they know how many muscles there are in each leg and why you only stretch one of them, cold as well?   I can say all this because I've been there myself and another way in which I've learnt the hard way.  It does make me smile though, I can see myself there from a few years back!

Avoid increasing your mileage too quickly

There is a rule of thumb which suggests runner's should not increase their weekly mileage by more than 10%.  I think that's sensible advice but I know it is so hard, sometimes, to balance that enthusiasm and drive against the need to take it easy.  I have injured myself as a penalty here.

Falling or tripping over

I have had two significant falls in my running experience, each through tripping up over uneven ground.  It's more easily done by some people it seems (and I'm one of them!).  Remember modern running shoes have thick soles which we're not used to in everyday life, so avoid this as a reason to trip and fall.

I have also fallen over through being cold and not reacting quickly enough, running in poor light and through running over snow with ice underneath.  It's possible you can fall or trip for no obvious reason, i.e. just a background risk.

Getting lost

The great thing about running is being able to explore new areas - the urban and rural environment can be an exciting place to explore.... "where does this trail go?  What's it like on the other side of that hill, hedge etc".  It's easy to allow the miles to blur into each other, running on a kind of auto-pilot has really confused me before now.  Carry a map, recognise landmarks, look for clues, retrace steps are possible solutions if there's nobody to ask or no signposts to spot..

Running after a meal

This is probably my most common and regular mistake.  I know I run best first thing in the morning and before breakfast, with nothing inside me (apart from a cup of tea!).  Ideally I think food needs to be well digested, perhaps for two hours, before any serious running takes place.

The consequences to regret are: indigestion, feeling bloated, nauseous or sick.

That'll do for now....

....but I'll blog again as I have made plenty of other mistakes (balancing family life, wrong race strategy, not cooling down, wearing the wrong clothes and so on).

Does that help?  Any of these familiar?  Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Guest Blog: Fitness and Its Immense Benefits In Fighting Cancer

David Haas
I am delighted to welcome David Haas with his guest blog.  It's a sensitive but significant subject area being dealt with in this post; well worth absorbing if you, or someone close to you, is touched by cancer.   While I have no experience of cancer myself (personally or professionally) it does seem that we have something in common: the belief that staying in good shape helps us to remain more resilient through life's challenges.  In this article David talks the issue through but first of all, a little more about the man himself:

Joining the organization in 2011, David Haas is a cancer support group and awareness program advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In addition to researching the many valuable programs available to our site’s visitors, David often blogs about programs and campaigns underway at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, as well as creative fitness ideas for those dealing with cancer, while creating relationships with similar organizations.

Cancer is an ugly word that sends fear and panic through the minds of most who hear this word in a doctor's office. For those battling cancer, research indicates exercise is just what the doctor ordered to help fight this disease.

According to Rush University Medical Center,
exercise not only helps prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, it also helps those suffering from these conditions. Research shows those preparing for surgery or chemotherapy after any kind of cancer diagnosis, whether it is a blood cancer like Leukemia or rare lung cancer like mesothelioma, often fare better in surgery and recovery if they exercise regular prior to the operation. Exercise helps cancer patients stay alert and less tired while dealing with treatment.

In addition to the health benefits of exercise during the treatment process, the American Cancer Institute reports that cancer survivors can reduce the risk of their cancer returning or developing into secondary cancers by keeping active. 

While fitness is always important, anytime an illness strikes it is even more necessary to focus on healthy living. Naturally, dealing with such a powerful disease as cancer can knock the wind out of anyone's sails. Despite the instinct to curl up and hide under the covers, studies suggest exercise can prevent depression that often accompanies a serious illness such as cancer. 

So how can cancer patients best stay fit while fighting this dreadful disease? Here are some tips:

1. Take a long walk. Look at nature, experiencing the peaceful sounds of birds, pleasant aroma of fresh cut grass and the beauty that exists all around you. Bring some headphones and your favorite music along to truly enjoy the time alone. Bring a friend if you need to talk, laugh or just vent about the challenges you are facing.

2. Go for a swim. A pool helps you relax when you need some solitude or can get your heart rate going when you need a good cardiovascular workout. Do some laps, and then take some time just to enjoy the water.

3. Ride your bike. Hit the highway, pedal through the park or just cruise your neighborhood to get your workout in and take your mind off your troubles.

Fitness should always be a priority in our lives, even in times of physical illness. For those fighting cancer, it can make a world of difference.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A Runner's Lunch (aka Compost Sandwich)

Compost sandwich
Following the huge number of page views for my Cyclist's Breakfast, I thought I might share my favourite lunch which I'll have on the odd day I'm at home on my own.

I might as well get the possible disadvantages out of the way first, before I extol the wonderful features.  Firstly my wife, aka Mrs Ramblings, keeps well away from me after I've had all this.  Can't understand what all the fuss is about, there's only one raw spring onion there and not a morsel of garlic.  Secondly my friend and fellow foodie blogger Natasha and her excellent The Nourishing Road blog would have a fit at the low fat veggieness!

Like all good meals, it contains a good mixture of ingredients, each serving a different purpose.  The combined taste is awesome (if pungent, maybe), filling, cheap, easy to make, involves no cooking and requires little washing up afterwards.  You can see it contains:

  • 2 slices of home made wholemeal bread
  • thin spread of Pure (soya based spread)
  • mayonnaise
  • lettuce
  • watercress  (aka pond weed)
  • red pepper
  • spring onion

This is ideal for a good dose of carbohydrate fuel with vitamins, useful fats and antioxidants.

I do like this, especially with some nice strong freshly ground coffee.  Perfect food for a post marathon recovery day.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Review - Landgarten Pumpkin Seed Snack

Following on from my recent review of Landgarten Organic Snacks I have another review to share with you.  You might remember I was pretty positive about those Soya bean snacks and these are even better!  I also road tested them on my family and we all agreed they were very nice, although this was for a variety of reasons.

What are they?

Okay, what we have here is special.  It's a 55g snack sized pack of pumpkin seeds covered in chocolate.  The pumpkin seeds are roasted (more about that in a minute) and the chocolate is very generous.  They're sold as a snack in, we reckon, about the right quantity.  At least we all agreed you wouldn't want any more in one go than these.

The pumpkin seeds are organic and grown in Austria and are free from genetic modification.  They are roasted and then covered in a dark chocolate.  As you can see on the above image, there are no trans fats, it is gluten free as well as GMO free.  These are good, sound credentials.

Our road, taste testing

Imagine the scene: I poured them out into a dish, we're sitting around our dining room table.  Cautiously Rachel and Becky tried one and then another and another.  It was as if an argument had sprung from nowhere and happily I can say it was reasonably light hearted - they were arguing overeating these seeds and each wanting to gobble the lot.  Rachel, reading the packet to Becky said "it says here that these are not suitable for anyone wo has not done their school homework".  Somehow I managed to have some before they were gone.  We liked them and here's why:

We compared the taste with ordinary raw pumpkin seeds, bought "as is" from our local health food shop.  There was a different taste - these from Landgarten seem more mild and a better taste.  We put this down to the roasting.  They have quite a rich taste also sweet (but not too sweet).

These are nice as a luxury snack.  The chocolate is proper chocolate and was lovely - we all agreed on this.

Health benefits

These contain Magnesium, Iron, Zinc and Phosphorus amongst other nutrients.  The overall health benefits are quite wide with an anti inflammatory action, antioxidant, a detoxing function and also pleased to see it stimulates the immune system.  We believe that to realise all of these benefits, it would be wrong to rely just on these for these nutrients but there is no doubt in our minds about how good these are.  

They're quite high in Calories (so again, don't scoff too many in one go!) and there's some useful fibre.

The packaging

I don't normally comment much on packaging but it's worth a mention.  It is attractive and fairly stylish , easy to tear open and strong.  We did notice a "typo" on the front with "darl" chocolate, presumably instead of "dark".  We found the printing on the back quite small and hard to read.

While this is less than perfect, you could argue there is something quaint about it.  We live in a globalised society where the large supermarkets have every little detail sewn up in their corporate perfection.  Here's a small enterprise bringing good wholesome foods your way and because of that, we don't want to be too hard on them.  Having said that, the typo needs fixing and maybe they need to have a word with the people who print the packaging to make it a little clearer.  

Our conclusions

We did like these!  They are delicious and I must stress I am "not just saying it" but we really do mean it.  As they're not cheap, we felt we would probably buy them as a treat as they certainly do taste luxuriously rich.  They're sweet but (importantly) not too sweet; just about right.  

I'd like to again stress I do not have any connection or relationship with Immergruen.  They simply contacted me and asked if I'd like to review these.  It was, arguably, a risky step as I'm going to be honest and frank in my reviews.  I certainly wish them well.

Please click here for my previous review on Langarten and look out for the links to companies stocking and selling Landgarten products.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Recovering after a marathon

Remember to cool down after the finish line dash!

Following my marathon on Sunday, I have learnt about a few things I wish I had known before.  Now I'm thinking that the training schedules that are around for long distance races should not stop at the race day but include a few tips about what to expect after you've ran your marathon (or half marathon, or ultra marathon).

The day after the race, I did my blog post in the morning (feeling a bit stiff) and then started to feel really low.  That had me reading up on a few things which I have summarised here.  I hope it might be of use, including those fellow runners in the MK Marathon:

Cool down

Once crossing the finish line, the most natural thing to do is stop running and go "flop".  Anyone crossing the line at 26.2 miles is probably exhausted and pushed near to the limit and the temptation is to savour the moment and maybe watch a few other runners come in and add to their congratulations.  Instead it is best to continue slowly running, or jogging and then walking.  This gives the body an opportunity to move some of that lactic acid away from the muscles to lower the feelings of soreness afterwards.  That clever Race Director had arranged the finish area in the MK Dons stadium in a way that the runners had to continue around two thirds of the pitch to collect our goodie bags and exit to the meeting area.  In my ignorance, I walked along with the other runners but that was certainly better than doing nothing.

Having a massage is a good thing to do and these were on offer but I declined (£5 for 10 minutes!).

Start re hydrating but don't over do it.  Water is okay.  Even better is a drink to replace those electrolytes - choices include fruit juices or sports drinks (such as Zero High 5 in dis-solvable tablet form).

The next few days

Accept that you have pushed yourself and you might be feeling sore.  Resist the temptation to do anything if it hurts.  When you do start to run again, start with a gentle run or a jog.  Make an extra effort to eat good wholesome food; I think fruit and muesli is wonderful - plenty of antioxidants and carbohydrates.  If you're really sore, consider a physiotherapist for sports related massage.  As I am not very experienced in running these long distances, I gather the best thing is to build up again to that distance but obviously it will take less time compared to the original training.

Sleep well

Allow time for extra sleep in the days following your race - perhaps you'll need extra sleep for a week afterwards.  Don't skimp on this - allow your body and mind to repair and rejuvenate itself.

Mental health - be mindful

This really took me by surprise.  Naturally I enjoyed the Runner's High from completing the marathon and that's a perfectly natural.  For me it lasted into the next day but then I felt as if I had really bounced over into the other side - a murky feeling of being depressed and mentally weary.   That was quite a shock for me and having surfed the internet, this appears to be a common thing.  The nearest I have felt to this is after an all night bike ride which I have simply explained away as being tired and a bit grumpy (me, grumpy, really? Gosh.).

It depends on your own circumstances but for myself, I know now I need to alert my family and those around me in advance next time.  Happily that feeling of being so low lasted about 24 hours and now I am back to normal.   

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Review - Landgarten organic snacks

Some of Landgarten's tasty range of organic snacks
I was really delighted when I was asked to review these scrummy snacks.  Immergruen had picked up on my liking of good wholesome food and kindly sent me these packs to try.  Before I go into the details, here's a little of the background.

"Immergruen who....?"

Immergruen is the importer of these, and other health foods into the UK.  It's a company that has started just a few years ago from spotting a gap in the market and taking steps to address a real need.  From the outset, I can only admire people with a real entrepreneurial spirit with the drive in starting a business, especially when it is backed by some clear principles.  Amongst the range of health food, Landgarten is the newest addition.  In coming from Austria, where there is a commitment to growing organic food, it is guaranteed to be free from any Genetically Modified Organisms.  That's really important these days and I'll do a blog ramble about that some other time.

Organic Soy Snack

First off is to tell you about the pack in the middle of the photograph above.  It's grown in Austria by Herbert Stava.  He is a man who wanted to find an alternative to other snacks which are all too easily fatty, covered in preservatives and generally divorced from the way nature intended foods to be.  He invented his own hot air roasting technique which contributes to the overall taste.  There's just a tiny amount of sea salt (1%) as the only added ingredient - so no added fat, E numbers, extra calories or other junk.  

"Soya beans without any additives must be boring!"

No not at all. It's true there isn't a strong taste, so I guess that means just about everyone will like them.  They have a fairly pleasant and mild taste and they are quite enjoyable to eat.  First impressions are about how crunchy they are and I must admit I became a little cautious wondering if they were tooth crackers.  You shouldn't have any problems here - although they are crunchy, you can hold one between two fingers and crush them easily.  Instead, just enjoy that crunchy texture and mild taste.

Another surprising thing is how filling they are.  The 55g pack doesn't seem that much but believe me, you'll feel really full if you eat a whole pack in one go (now there's a challenge!).  To put it another way, you'll never have a more filling 200 calories.

Organic Soy and Chocolate Snack Mix

These are a very interesting twist on the other beans.   Covered in Belgian dark, white and milk chocolate they are very sweet and enjoyable.  Still the same crunchy beans but with a lovely covering.  

I needed some further input on this so first I asked my wife to try some.  "Pretty good, I like the white ones best of all".  Daughter #1 took one look and retained her scepticism of her Dad's taste in healthy food.  Daughter #2 tried one and then refused to give me the bowl back - I think we can safely read into this how some teenagers will enjoy these, others need to develop a more trusting taste!

You say Soy beans are good for you?

I reckon they are, espcially when they are without the extras.  I'd say the calories content is modest at 397 kcal per 100g.  Total fat content is high at 24.7g but saturated fatty acids are very low at 3.5g.  Certainly no transfats  so no problems there.  The polyunsaturated fat is 15.2g and remember that as this is found mainly in plant oil it's an essential part of a healthy diet.  Usefully they have a really high fibre content with 17.3g per 100g - this is a welcome consideration in the Western diet of low-fibre highly processed foods.

Overall, Soya beans are a good wholesome food and this brand is even more valuable as so much of the worldwide production involves genetically modified beans.  So conclude, in terms of good, wholesome organic food, these are hard to beat.

Where can I get these?

They are available from
Planet Organic
Whole Foods
Amazon UK
and about 50 other Health Food shops across the UK

Look out for my forthcoming review of the chocolate covered pumpkin seeds (I'm really looking forward to that - yum!).