Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Running in Spain

Running at dawn; Javea, Spain

We've been to Spain!  This has been a nice family holiday and, it goes without saying, a brilliant opportunity for some running in different surroundings.  We went to Javea, about 90 minutes drive north of Alicante.  This happened through the generosity and real kindness of the Pallets; some Christian friends we have got to know over the last year or so.

Late October is a time of year when the climate is just right in this part of Spain, especially for early morning running which as you'll already know is my favourite time of day.  Daytime temperatures reached 25 degrees C most days and this, for me, a little too warm for a long run without water.  Dawn was about 8 to 12 degrees with only light winds.  I ran every day except Sunday. Perfect.

Kindly taken by a couple from Gloucester, also on holiday

One day I had a run later in the afternoon and absolutely loved it, though I was more than a little hot by the time I had scrambled up the hill to view the Els Molins windmills overlooking Javea.  I set off at a gentle pace, well hydrated from where we were staying.  In the above photograph, look to the left of my right shoulder, that's where I started from.  I ran along the sea front, got to the Port and Old Town area and started to climb up through some "des res" houses.  I had a couple of wrong turnings but eventually found a steep set of steps leading up onto the rocky hillside.  For most of the way there was a sort of track heading upwards and signed by some yellow and white stripes on the rocks.  In other parts it was a bit of a scramble.

White and yellow stripes show the way - easily in this bit!
This stretch was hard but the most enjoyable.  I knew I was running well and my heart rate must have been at maximum - I could just tell.  I loved it and as I got almost to the top the path levelled out so the last few meters were fairly easy.  I admired the view, gazed around at the beautiful landscape in the late afternoon sun.  I chatted to a couple from Gloucester who, like us, had only been in the area for a few days.

As I caught my breath at the top, I could feel all those lovely endorphins (i.e. the Runner's High) making their presence felt.  I was revelling in it.  I was also a little apprehensive about the descent - I knew I was much more likely to have a fall or trip over something going back down.  So I took care and gingerly retraced my footsteps back to our apartment.  Everyone could tell I'd had a good run just by the look on my face as I was swiftly nudged, cajoled and prodded into the shower.

This run must count amongst my all time top runs!

Another totally irresistible thing to do in a place like this is run bare footed.  What better way than along the water's edge.  Never-mind thoughts of the opening scene to Chariots of Fire: this was another of my memorable runs in Javea.  Who cares if everyone is watching, who cares if my watch gets soaked - this was a great run to be had.  Not long, just up and down the short stretch of near by beach.

Getting the line right was important.  Too far to my left and the sand was too soft and it seemed like I was running through treacle.  Too far to my right and the water became too deep to run properly.

Every runner should do this once in a while.  It is liberating, exhilarating and almost inspiring.  While I was running and feeling so good, I wondered if I was benefiting in some Earthing kind of way?  There I was, barefooted and in good contact with the "wet Earth" and its good connectivity.  Who knows, maybe I was and it felt so good.

Running bare footed is also liberating in not having to run in a slightly artificial heel-toe action.  This was not far short of running on tip toes.  Not quite tip toes, more towards the ball of my foot.  I wondered if this is how the Good Lord has made us to run.  I thought of the whole discipline of barefoot running and how it must, surely, have so much going for it.  Whether it is those rubbery glove-like shoes some runners use or those lighter running shoes that are more common these days.  I enjoyed this little run so much, I think I might be putting some bare foot shoes on my Christmas list!

This little family holiday has been good for each one of us.  We're thankful because we have been blessed in so many ways, all undeserved but nevertheless we have been truly blessed.  Each one of us has gained something from this holiday.  Amongst those blessings has been good running with all of the ingredients that contribute to that.

Getting back into the habit of running daily has been easy as it was planned and looked forward to.  This morning (back at home) I did a familiar route.  Two things struck me:

  1. How easy it was - I ran smoothly and, for me, efficiently with a reasonably good running form
  2. It is flippin' cold!  Not just cold.  Seems windy, drab and dull.  I'll get used to it.  Afterall, this is home and I love it!

Finally another photograph.  Nothing to do with running (yet).  Just a scene that caught my eye - I love clouds and interesting to see them flowing over this mountain.  Just so you know, I'm thinking of starting another blog - all about clouds.  More on that another time.  Come back soon as I need to tell you about some of the local sporting highlights in Javea and also to enlighten you about the "women who walk".

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Hope shining from difficult times?

These beautiful clouds remind me there is always hope, even in the most difficult situations.

I am worried.  Worried about a couple of people I know and I'd like to tell you a bit about them here and what they're going through.  The reason for this is because I feel a lot of empathy for them in their difficult situations and reminded me of my own story (see About) from some time ago.  One is dealing with the situation in a number of ways, which includes running and the other isn't quite at that stage.  I am wanting to do "my bit" and possibly encourage them as best I can but for now I'd like to share their stories.  It goes without saying I am, for the purposes of my blog, changing their names and being a little economical with the details.


I see Adam from time to time.  We have known each other for a few years now but over recent weeks he's opened up and shared some difficulties in his life.  He's a decent hard working man, practical and realistic about things.  Certainly, from my point of view, an easy person to get a long with.

Adam has, for all the time I've known him, been a fairly heavy man.  That combined with middle age, a difficult job, a good salary means he's able to afford an "affluent" lifestyle (restaurants, foreign holidays) and with little exercise they have all started to conspire against him.  Add to that some relationship problems - which have sadly led to a separation from his wife - and the emergence of an eating disorder has compounded the problem.  I didn't know about the disorder until he recently shared that with me, along with some of the counselling he's having.

Happily Adam has caught the running bug and the weight is dropping from him.  In fact I'm amazed at how quickly he's becoming thinner.  He can run for about 3 or 4 miles, including a hill.  It is giving him courage to over come the difficulties he's living through in terms of his marriage and his eating addiction.  I've noticed him refuse food and instead sips water from a big pink bottle he carries around everywhere with him.

We have talked a little about running, fairly superficial but I have not had the right opportunity to tell him about my story.  Not sure I will tell him, though perhaps in time I may but for now it's all about him.

It is really good to see Adam making such progress; even when I last spoke to him on the phone he was more upbeat than normal.  Horrible situation with his marriage and I wish things could look brighter.  Although resolving that in the right way (i.e. restoring their relationship) is the best thing to hope for and I say that as I'm a bit old fashioned with that kind of thing and I'm sticking to that.  He's seeing some brightness on the horizon and just starting to feel the mental and physical benefits of running.  I even joked saying "Adam one day I can see you entering a race...." and before I knew it he said "now that's not a bad idea, maybe a 10k before Christmas".


Unfortunately Brian isn't at Adam's stage as yet.  Although I might be wrong, it looks like he needs to go down a little more before he comes zooming back up.  He's a little younger than me, single and a nice gentle giant kind of man.  Like Adam, he's in a tricky job but one way the demands are more emotional because of the nature of the work.  Plus he gets pulled in all kinds of different directions and it looks like those above him allow that to happen, or at least it seems that way from what Brian says.

He's going through a rough patch at work, he says.  Through some health niggles he's accumilating a pattern of needing a few days off fairly often and this has been noticed.  Now I don't work with Brian so I don't really know the deal; how his employer will play this one.  The health niggles include some depression that results in him burying himself under a duvet for a few days at a time and this, I think, adds to the weight problem.  Weight, oh yes, I'd guess and say he is about double his ideal weight, give or take a bit.  He has mentioned he takes loads of pills for this and that including gout.  This is not good.  

Not sure he's recognising there is a positive way out of this as yet: perhaps at the "pre-contemplation" stage.


I can see myself in both Adam and Brian, or at least as I was heading a few years ago.  I was on their path in gaining weight and not dealing with stress very well.

My guess is we often have to reach a certain point when that decision is made to do something about it.  The first stage is recognising their is a problem and something needs to be done.  I remember being at that stage and thinking through different options and praying about it.  As a Christian with a strong, real faith, I can bring all these worries to God who, in His timing, shows the way.  I am now thankful I've gone through those difficult times to bounce back - all part of the great plan - but we often don't see it happening at the time.

In terms of Adam and Brian, they don't know what lies ahead anymore than I do.  Yet in terms of physical exercise and taking care of himself, Adam has turned the corner but Brian has yet to reach it.  Naturally life is complex - you can't simply solve problems by becoming a runner - but for me it helps.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Who would drive a (black) Range Rover?

This is a bit of a departure from my normal blog posts but please bear with me.  Besides, if you're a runner yourself this might strike a chord.

Through my running and cycling I have encountered a few Range Rovers and have learnt to be wary of them.    Especially black ones.  Especially black ones with black windows.  They don't seem to drive in a normal way where everyone blends in and co-operates with each other.  Not so with Range Rovers.  No.  Not at all.

Who drives a Range Rover?

Here in the East of England with occasional trips into London, I often see these machines and wonder who drives them.  The blacked out windows are there for a reason, perhaps?  Who could be behind....

  • drug dealers
  • celebrities
  • "new money" people (i.e. Lottery winners)
  • Royal protection officers / other Government vehicles
  • hit men
  • (from summer 2013) our friend Dave.  He's none of the above, that we know of.  Instead he's really nice and he helps us out with our various computer problems.

How they drive

Normally they are mean drivers.  Almost as if they are wanting some kind of pecking order on the roads in the hope that their huge heavy size counts for something.  Or perhaps the menacing look, the mysterious blacked out windows, the powerful engine, the ridiculous fuel consumption and obscene purchase price.  Would you believe some people pay well over £50,000 for these things?  I should think the four tyres would be worth more than my whole car.

They drive too close, don't give much room when over-taking, tend to be impatient, almost pushing others off the road, being unforgiving and generally having an intimidating driving style.  

How I react

When I'm in my little Toyota and have one of these things behind me on a country lane trying to nudge me out of the way, I deliberately carry on bumbling along.  I keep that up for quite some time until I imagine their annoyance is rising and then, in order to avoid the driver becoming too aggressive I might pull over in order to avoid them taking it out on someone else (like a runner or a cyclist).

And then the other day.....

I was out running the other day along a country lane.  It was a fairly narrow lane and as I heard a vehicle coming from behind I took a look.  Seeing as it was one of these Black Range Rovers, I naturally jumped up onto a grassy bank to let it pass by.  I was amazed at how carefully the Range Rover had slowed down and courteously avoided me.  Even more so when I realised it was driven by an ordinary looking young woman who gave me the sweetest smile and a little wave.

That made me smile as well.  An obscene, ridiculous car driven by a nice pleasant looking person, not a stuck up tough-guy on bling wheels.  Had I been maligning Range Rover drivers all along?  Are they all decent people driving tasteful, impressively purposeful cars bought with their small change?  No of course not.

But there is at least one decent Range Rover driver out there.  Unless you know different.....

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review - Wholebake flapjacks

Back in September I bought a little supply of these flapjacks with high hopes for a brilliant find.  Below is our view but first of all a little introduction concerning Wholebake.

The company 

Wholebake was founded in 1984 by Stephen Jones and Jennifer Gibson who, after many years in both the retail and wholesale Wholefood Trade, found that was nearly impossible to buy good quality, healthy ready-to-eat food anywhere. Seeing the potential of this market, they started to produce such food in the kitchen of their farmhouse and sold it locally through Health Food Shops and local supermarkets.

Initially this consisted of frozen Ready Meals. Encouraged by the response, a range of Wholefood pies and pasties were soon added to the range. A barn adjoining the house was soon converted to provide the extra capacity needed to cope with the demand.

By 1987 they had again run out of capacity and purchased premises in Corwen. With the extra facilities at the new premises, a new product was born - the Apricot & Apple Slice. With a shelf life of three weeks these slices were distributed far more widely and proved to be so popular that soon other flavours were added.

Since then they have continued to grow and develop as a company and increasing their range. Their purpose built factory is in North Wales

The range

Wholebake do a nice range of flapjacks.  With the exception of the Flapjack bites, they retail for around 70p to 80p.  At 100g they are just about the right size, more about that later.  The flapjack range consist of a premium range (pecan, cranberry, berry and pistacio), nut, fruit and finally their indulgent range.  The indulgent range includes chocolate, chocolate & ginger, fudge and Bakewell).  This, to be honest, is a very attractive range: if you like to have one in your daily lunch box you'll not exactly get bored with the same flavours cropping up every week or two.

Ingredients are pretty straight forward with 37% oatflakes in the Apricot flapjack, for example.

Road testing

We both tried some of the flapjacks from the fruit range and the indulgent range.  At over 400kcals per flapjack they are not foods for slimming.  On the other hand, for us sporty types, this makes them ideal.  It is a compact punch of energy which includes sugars for an instant boost through to more slow-burn carbohydrates.  I found them to be suprisingly solid and this is useful for the kind of saddle-bag cuisine I try to perfect.  It is all-too-easy for flapjacks to crumble and fall apart through being bounced around in a saddlebag.  These don't anywhere as much as Blackfrairs, which are natural competitors.  

We liked the taste of the chocolate & ginger and Bakewell varieties with just the right amount of topping.  The topping was lovely and sweet.

The flavours from the topping is close to the ideal - there is a slight tendency to be a little bland in taste but the ginger and chocolate certainly improves the taste.  they are easy to eat and digest, providing you don't gobble them too fast.  We liked the other flavours and they had a good balance between the natural 'oatiness' and the sweetness of the toppings.


There are a couple of inconsistences which need clearing up.  These include the possibly misleading labelling concerning the Kcals in each flapjack.  The chocolate & ginger flapjack says it gives you 745 kcals per 100grams.  Wow that seems a lot.  The internet says it is 415kcals, which is closer to what I would expect.

The other inconsistencies is the handmade nature of this product.  Indeed the packaging refers to it being handmade and yet the website boasts of machinery cabale of producing 200 flapjacks a minute.  I don't think they can have it phrased differently.

I have tried to have a conversation with Wholebake, albeit unsuccessfully.  When I telephoned, the receptionist suggested it would be better to speak to someone more senior and put my query on to their website's 'contact form' a few weeks ago  but this is disappointing with no response.


There's a good range of vegetarian flapjacks here, reasonably priced and taste good.  It is organic food with no GM ingredients or hydrogenated fats - this is good.  Balance against this are my queries.

We may buy a supply and they will fit the bill completely.  There is scope for greater clarity as outlined above but on the whole, we like them very much.  I am very happy to address any issues, as and when I'm contacted.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

10 Reasons to enter the 2013 MK Marathon

After the 2012 outside the MK Dons stadium - fab!
Just had an email from those nice people who are organising next year's MK Marathon.  That's the Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, aka Milk n Beans.

The 2012 event was the first marathon in MK.  Many people, myself included, will remember it because it rained, it was flippin cold and at times pretty tough going.  It was a fast flat route, virtually all off road and very well organised.

Reason 1

One of the best reasons to do THIS race is because it takes place on 6 May 2013 - Bank Holiday Monday.  Almost certainly the weather will be great and isn't it a refreshing change for a race to be on any day other than Sunday.  I know quite a few Christians who like running but are put off from racing on a Sunday.  Okay, I'm a Christian and I do race on Sundays, sometimes with a heavy heart but I always remember being told how we can worship God in all we do.

Reason 2

No waiting for a ballot: Guaranteed entry if you enter now – no waiting to see if you have been accepted or disappointment to find out that you haven’t.  Book a place and start planning your training now!

Reason 3

No pressure to raise money: A proportion of the race entry fee is already allocated to the official event charity (MK Dons Sport & Education Trust).  Your guaranteed entry has no pressure to raise astronomical amounts of money although you are welcome to raise money for your chosen cause, we have plenty of suggestions on our Run for Charity page.

Reason 4

Unique bespoke training plans – get ahead of the restTraining plans unique to the Milton Keynes race featuring specifically dated detailed training recommended for different levels of runners. There will also be training runs on the marathon course and workshops for your anticipated pace.  Our chief trainer will be Mark Kleanthous, who has a wealth of experience in coaching endurance athletes.

Reason 5

Access to the best expert advice and products: Our workshops, training runs and seminars will feature presentations, Q&A sessions, product sampling and spot prizes, all great aids to your race day preparation.  (There will be a small fee to book for these events).

Reason 6

A scenic green course – no concrete cows!:This is a 26.2 mile city marathon with a difference. With 4,500 acres of woodlands, lakesides, parks and landscaped areas within the city, Milton Keynes is the ideal venue for a Green Marathon.

Reason 7

No mind-destroying laps:  A single lap course with no significant inclines.

Reason 8

Plenty of crowd support – even if it rains!: ‘Big Marathon’ experience with entertainment en route to motivate you, excellent marshal support and crowds of enthusiastic spectators.  Comments from last year’s participants:  “some of the best marshalling I’ve ever seen”  “Despite the awful weather I would like to say a massive thank you to all marshalling staff and drink station staff who were vocal in their support. Thank you so much.”  “I was amazed at the support on the course”.

Reason 9

Stadium finish: You will have an unforgettable atmospheric finish in a modern 22,000 seater stadium.

Reason 10

Keep your supporters happy:  While they are waiting to cheer you into the stadium there is a Superhero Fun Run to keep the family entertained, access to stadium seating will be free on race day.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Running after work

Regular readers will know that early mornings are my favourite time of day for running.  This remains the case but I have been toying with the idea of trying to squeeze in a run at different times in order to fit in with family life and my work.  To be honest, there's just not enough hours in the day!

I think I've highlighted before some of the advantages of a morning run:

  • sets you up for the day, so you're more likely to handle anything - especially when there's a good dose of the Runner's High afterwards
  • running on an empty stomach seems to suit me (providing I have had my morning 'cuppa')
  • early morning runs mean there is probably less carbohydrates waiting to fuel a longish run.  This means you are more likely to burn fat instead and this is useful for losing weight
  • it can be a real privilege to be the first person to run along a footpath on a day.  Running through cobwebs, seeing the dew on the grass and enjoying it as the wetness seeps into your running shoes

With the shortening daylight hours this is not so easy, so I decided to take my running kit with me to the office and have a run once I'd finished my daily graft.  It worked well.  My colleagues are no longer too surprised when they see me bouncing down the stairs in some sporty clothing and seem to accept it.  There might be the odd raised eye brow but nowadays I couldn't care less!

Before I wax lyrical about it, let me offer a few benefits that have occurred to me:

  • an effective way of leaving all thoughts of work behind, where they belong, unwinding, dealing with the stresses
  • don't need to worry about taking a shower at work: just drive home afterwards
  • others might be encouraged but probably only on a 'good' day
  • as I have an office job where I spend most of my time either sitting at my desk or sitting in a meeting room, it's a welcome bit of activity.  Otherwise it's straight out of the office and in to my car
So, let me tell you about today.  I had a meeting in the morning which was okay although one of my colleagues has become a little prickly of late.  Balanced against that are some new colleagues from Health and we're starting to talk about a new joint project, so that was interesting.  One of them looked like he could be a runner.  The other looked like he wasn't a runner at all but should be - and I mean he really should.  He was not a good advert for such an agency!  Then this afternoon there was a special Board meeting which I got invited to.  Only two agenda items and one of them concerned a project I'm working on so that made it very relevant and I needed to really be on the ball, alert and leading the conversation.  That was all fine but my mind couldn't avoid wondering what my run would be like after work, almost at dusk. 

I changed, put my office clothes in my car and set off for a run.  It was a fairly gentle pace and mostly on footpaths and cycle paths and I did a 30 minute circular route which I made up as I went along.  I got back to my car, all nice and sweaty.  The car park was virtually empty, so I did a few lunges as my muscles were thoroughly warmed up.  This worked well and guess what I'm doing tomorrow at 5.00pm!!!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Back on track!

Myself in the newly restored Great Room, RSA, 8 John Adam Street, London
In case you may have been wondering, I have been out of action for a couple of weeks.  I've really missed running and cycling but thankfully I'm now back.  There's a bit of a weird story to this and it starts a few weeks ago at the RSA, that's the Royal Society of Arts by the way; the claimed home of enlightened thinking.

HRH Princess Anne introducing the President's Lecture
I found myself being invited to this rather grand affair because of my work and had the honour of being presented to Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.  Through a brief conversation, as one does, I was very heartened and impressed by her insight and her practical grasp on the matter in hand.  

Unbeknown to me that's where my recent string of difficulties begun.  I managed to become thoroughly dehydrated through the evening: being teetotal my options were limited and I had previously advised my hosts that I was vegetarian so I was, perhaps, a bit of an awkward guest. The dehydration managed to bring my digestion to a halt which in turn lead to a bladder infection.  The fact that the Duke of Edinburgh has been hospitalised twice this year for the same difficulty had me wondering for a while if there was a connection.  Of course there wasn't but I was amused to think that, just for half a second.

I will spare you the painful (and I do mean PAINFUL) details but rest assured the Doctor was spot on when he said the antibiotics would take three days to take effect.  It seems incredible that this has kept me out of my running shoes and off my bike for two weeks.  During that time, I can tell you, I have been through all kinds of withdrawal symptoms and I realise now how much my ability to function is helped by running and cycling.  

So, declaring myself fit and the arrival of the weekend, yesterday I had a gentle run along the seafront at Weston-Super-Mare, just for about 20 minutes.  It was very tempting to go further but I knew I should ease myself back in gradually, I know it won't take long.  This morning I ran a little further - about four miles including a hill.  That was splendid and I knew I was back on track.  This afternoon in the beautiful hazy sunshine I cycled up to see my Mother-in-Law as usual on a Sunday afternoon.  That was just over 15 miles and it felt as if I was starting from scratch again!

Already I am mentally planning a few runs and a few bikes rides over the next week or two.  Knowing I am better and in believing it won't be long before my usual fitness returns, I am feeling very positive.  Just as well really as there have been a few things troubling me at work lately and a good dose of endorphins and sweaty tee shirts is normally a brilliant way of working through these things.

RSA, 8 John Adam Street, London

I took this a long time ago at the RSA

Monday, 1 October 2012

Brooks Vapor 9 - long term review

Brooks Vapor 9

Now I'm coming up to my first birthday with these shoes and they've had a good thrashing, now's the time to consider their performance.  They have been worn alongside two pairs of Saucony Progrid Omni 10s which have proved useful benchmarkers.  LIke many runners, I like to have two or three pairs of shoes on the go at any one time.

The Vapor 9s are fairly economical running shoes and aimed at mild pronators, just like myself and huge numbers of other runners.  This is confirmed through the stiffer, grey section of the sole which controls the roll of the foot through the heel to toe movement.  At the time of writing it appears they have been superseded by the Vapor 10 which is similar.  These appear a natural replacement as a support shoe and are available in men's and women's versions with two colourways.

These shoes aren't bad at all, far from it.  Right from the start I liked them and was pleased I took the shop's advice and went for a slightly larger size.  It was easy to get used to them and I've been happy since over several hundred miles.  Whether it is something to do with the material used for the sole or the tread pattern, I find the grip isn't as good as it could be, especially on wet tarmac.  Having said that, a softer material would wear out quickly, which these certainly haven't.

These shoes have been thoroughly used.  They have run through mud, streams, scrambled up steep banks, run along miles and miles of woodland trails (yay, the best!), grassy tracks, pavements and roads.  The construction of the shoes have certainly proved themselves in a good light.  They have not distorted, stretched, changed shape or anything like that.  Lifting up the inner sole and looking at the stitching inside, it has remained tightly in place and that's a real credit.

Assuming the Vapor 10s are constructed to the same standards, you'll have a good pair of running shoes that will last the distance.  Having just taken a quick look at other Vapor 10 reviews, my own comments about grip and ease are reflected elsewhere.