Thursday, 24 December 2015

Running 1000 miles in a year

After-work run at Preston, Herts

Today I ran up my 1000th mile this year -yipee!  Here it is in numbers:

Number of runs: 170
Shortest run: 0.7 miles (late for church)
Longest run: 26.2 miles (MK Marathon)
Height gained: 32,178ft
Time taken: 143h 59m
Weight loss or gain: I lost a little in the Spring and then ended up 4lbs heavier!
Outlay: One pair of running shoes (these really need replacing after 600 miles)
Detergent: Several bottles of Halo anti smelly detergent for washing my running gear

Why did I do this?
Quite simply I need a challenge, without any kind of a challenge I am inclined to "tick over" and drift.  So having some kind of goal, something to aim for, keeps me going and gives me some kind of self imposed accountability.  Mind you, I did mention this challenge to a number of friends, knowing they'd check up on me to make sure I hadn't wimped out. This also helped keep me on track.

Although 1000 miles sounds quite a long way, it's actually no big deal when you have 365 days to do it in.  Actually most novice runners could do it I reckon, it's averaging just under 3 miles a day and put like that makes it sound very achievable.  I tended to have one longish run each week, say 10 or 11 miles and then two or three shorter runs on weekdays.  These shorter runs were often after work and around Stevenage.

The highlights

  • Getting ahead in January.  I ran a lot last Christmas, every day in fact.  This put me into a good position to spur me on.  
  • Training for the MK Marathon as this was a target within the overall target.  I improved my previous time and although I'm no notable runner, I was pretty chuffed to come comfortably under 4 hours.
  • Another race, arguably my favourite race, is the Ridgeway Run in October and I always enjoy this regardless of my time.  It's a perfect time of year for a run through some wonderful countryside.
  • Running in new places this year.  This includes around the pretty Hertfordshire lanes around Preston, Whitwell and so on.  A real highlight was running in Germany on our holiday there in Bremen and the one run I had as we passed through Hamburg. I also ran a little in Yorkshire.
  • Getting the course record for running up Bison Hill.
  • Having running as an on-going stress buster through some difficult times at work this year.  As you will have seen from the previous posts (and others dotted through the year) there has been a horrible restructure which I survived by the skin of my teeth - and then decided to quit having got a better job elsewhere!
  • Having some "me" time every time I ran.  This is an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts which sometimes was about problem solving, thinking things through and most of all, being thankful for all of God's blessings
The low points
  • Getting a really bad cold in December and not running for almost two weeks.  This followed a flu jab which I'm starting to regret ever having in the first place.
  • Picking up an injury in the weeks before the MK Marathon.  This was self inflicted through over training and increasing my mileage too quickly
  • Not logging a couple of runs but this is no big deal
  • Although I run reasonably well (cruising at 8:30 minute/mile) my core strength and above waist tone is not very good: I need better all-round fitness and this in turn will make me into a better runner, cyclist and so on.
Running 1000 miles in 2015 has been a fantastic thing to do.  Having said that, it hasn't been too difficult and any difficulty has been maintaining the discipline of doing it.  Having Strava on my iPhone was the key, keeping a log of my runs and having the weekly totals shown has been very helpful.

I have loved this, it's been a really good challenge to do.  I think what has been especially good is that it has kept me going through the year and it hasn't been about training for one big event.  It's about on-going fitness and I have been blessed with excellent health once again this year, for which I am extremely thankful for.

Dealing with smelly technical fabric
MK Marathon
Bison Hill
The best run in 2015
Ridgeway Run - tattooed legs and heavy feet

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Work-life update

I can hardly believe it is around 7 weeks since I last blogged here.  So much has happened.  Seeing as a blog is, quite literally a web log, I will treat this post as just that: a log of what's been happening.  Then I hope to resume normal blogging.

Work changes
My last post was about having complete faith and trust.  I also vaguely referred to something I wasn't in a position to share.   On that day I was interviewed and offered a new job which remained in management and I would maintain my salary.  I was also asked not to say anything as the unsuccessful candidates had yet to be notified.

I felt so thankful I had future employment lined up with security of a decent salary, pension and so on.  But it wasn't quite what I wanted or felt I would be best suited for.  I had also applied for another internal job as Partnership Manager.  This was a role I have already done but I knew would be tricky and I blew the interview.  I knew that was the case from 5 seconds into the first question.  My colleague who got the job will be fine.  It took me a while to find out I hadn't got the job as I think there were a few behind-the-scenes suffling around taking place.

What I hadn't mentioned at work at all was an external job with my Local Authority I had spotted and decided to go for.  Normally we can attend interviews in our work time but as I didn't want anyone to know about it, I took a day's annual leave.  When I found the job advert I wasn't actively seeking another job but it struck me as a job I could do.  It took me a few evenings to complete the on-line application and then fine tuning it on a Saturday.  Rachel double checked I had covered everything and cross referenced it to the job description.  Pressing the 'submit' button felt good and the day before the deadline as well!

Another interview
A few days later I had an email inviting me for an interview and, as is often the case nowadays, to give a presentation as part of the process.  I was very pleased to do this as I feel more in control and it's a good way of putting things across which might not easily fit into the remainder of interview questions and answers.  The interview itself went fairly well and I felt that I had given my best.

At the end of the interview I was asked if I had any questions to ask myself.  I breathed out heavily, smiled and asked "do I lose marks if I don't ask anything, I'm exhausted!".  The interviewers both laughed with me and reassuring said I didn't.  Actually I followed this with saying sometime thing about time scales and when I'd know the result.  In the nicest of ways it was explained that although they had been interviewing through the day (it was a Friday), there was one further person to interview on the following Tuesday.  Because of this, the earliest I would know would be on that Tuesday afternoon or possibly on the Wednesday.

Tenterhooks  on Tuesday
From the interview on Friday, the days went slowly and I kept thinking about the interview.  I was almost replaying it in my mind, going over the things I remember saying and trying to match this against the questions I could recall.  The rapport seemed fairly positive between myself and the interviewers and I was left feeling it had gone fairly well.  I knew I had done my best but naturally he big question was "was this good enough?  Was there to be someone else better than me?".  Perhaps?  I just didn't know.

Friday went, Saturday, Sunday and Monday crept passed slowly.  Tuesday and then Tuesday afternoon arrived.  Luckily for me I didn't have any meetings so I was just working at my desk, which is in an open plan area.  My phone was there on my desk and I'd listen out for it overtime I got up and walked across to the printer or tea station.  I even took it with me when I went to the toilet; I just didn't want to miss THE phone call.

Five thirty came and there was no phone call.  Running through my mind was the thought of the successful candidate having a phone welcome conversation followed everyone else the following day, myself included in that.  I was a little philosophical but not giving up either.  I changed into my running gear and went for a post work run around Stevenage and that's when things changed!

I was almost back to the office and jumping into my car when my phone rang.  I took the call and was amazed, thankful, surprised and totally flabbergasted I'd been offered the job.  Forgive me for not going into all the details.  I did, however, apologise for being a tad out of breath and for the noisy traffic in the background through explaining I was having a run.

"You're putting me to shame Doug, I'm at home now and I thought it would be better to call you after you would have finished your work for the day".

I became a little cold having stopped running to take the call and so I ran back to my car with that extra spring in my step.  I called home to share the good news once I was at my car and drove home with the most enormous grin on my face.

Keeping quiet at work!
I knew my new employer was wanting to move swiftly to all the pre-employment checks which would include references.  I also knew that it would be bad form on my part not to say anything to the CEO before a reference request arrived in his inbox.  I waited until the Thursday to tell him, I was just wanting to savour the moment for myself for a little while.

The CEO genuinely was delighted for me and was generous in the things he said.  I also agreed I wasn't going to announce the news widely until I had the contract and I was actually handing in my notice formally.  I shared the news with a very small number of close colleagues, of whom I trusted.

Is it really happening?
It took about 4 weeks for all the pre-employment stuff to take place.  Occupational health, DBS check, references, bank details and so on.  It was, at some point, slightly surreal.  It was helpful that the new HR department kept in regular touch with me about all the different steps taking place.  Eventually all the checks had been done and I knew my contract was coming and I had to give some thought to how I might announce the news more widely.

I was a fairly regular attendee at SMT, the senior management team.  Although I wasn't quite in that club, I often had business there of one kind or another.  And so as I was giving a general update on some things, I left staffing to the last bullet point.  I updated SMT on my small team and then shared the news about myself.  Many seemed surprised, especially as I'd been offered the internal job.  Afterwards quite a few came up to me wanting to know more and then the news spread more widely.

The last few days
I managed to negotiate a slightly early exit on account of the informal notice I had already given.  Gradually I shared the news with external people, some of whom had heard on the grapevine.  I sent a round-robin email to everyone.

A Director thought I needed a bit of a "jolly" before I left and I got asked to go to Anglia Ruskin University to represent us at the employment fair for criminology students.  So I went there on my penultimate day with a colleague having spent a couple of days clearing my desk etc.  I liked that as it wasn't much fun moping around in the office.

The last day came, last Thursday.  A colleague from Norwich came over to see me as she's picking up some of my work.  And then the last few emails and sorting this and that including my final "out of office".  The CEO took me out for lunch which was nice, though we were both slightly guarded.  Back to the office I produced cream cakes for everyone and at 3pm came my farewell.  The CEO was very gracious and said some lovely things.  I also wanted to thank my colleagues around me and say how many positive memories I was taking.  I surprised myself by referring to the tough times in my work.  These were the times when I had learnt the most and had generally benefitted myself.  I could think of the tough lessons I'd learnt, the stress I'd had on occasions and how this had pushed me to the edge.  I held back on those things, there are times when it's best to do this.

I handed the CEO my ID card, phone, iPad and door pass.  We shook hands and I went downstairs to Offender Management and said farewell to a number of colleagues individually who hadn't realised I was actually leaving there and then (a couple of others are going on Christmas Eve).  I said my farewell to the receptionist, asking her to finally sign me out.

Running and so on
Well everything has been going okay until 10 days ago.  My mileage for the year stands at 970 miles and I managed to pick up the most awful cold about 10 days ago.  You know this has happened before after a flu jab and I'm not convinced they serve me very well!  It's only today that I'm really anywhere near ready to run and I know I'll go around the bend if I don't get out there for a few miles today.

I suspect I need to take it easy as it must be 10 -14 days since I last ran.  I also guess I need to run a bit everyday now to hit the 1000 mile mark before the 31st.  It would be nice to have a few miles to spare and I'm sure I'll reflect on the 1000 mile challenge over the next couple of weeks.

Washing smelly technical fabric
Bison Hill
MK Marathon race report

Saturday, 24 October 2015

I am so blessed

On Tuesday I had the most incredible run, perhaps the most fantastic run of my running life and I must tell you about it.  I am so blessed.  It was so uplifting as a run and yet it was also was a run about faith and trust.

To begin with, let me tell you a little about the day.  At my work, there has been a restructure brewing since March (officially) and for several months before that (unofficially).  It has been a horrible ordeal, already with so many great colleagues taking voluntary severance deal and leaving over the last two months.  For those of us who are left in corporate services things are coming to a bit of a head and Tuesday was a critical day for me.

While I cannot share the details yet, let me tell you I have complete faith and peace about the situation.  Whether I am to stay or leave soon, I can be assured everything will work out well in the end.  I say that as I have my strong faith as a Christian, plus I am a naturally optimistic person and I often turn various situations around in a positive way.

And so on Tuesday at around 5pm, I changed into my running gear at the office, jumped into my car and drove up to Preston, the small pretty village in Hertfordshire.   When I got there it was already dusk and getting dark so I wasted no time and got going.  As the light was fading so quickly I decided to stick to the roads and do a circular run which I'd done before.  It was a typical route, the kind of thing I can reasonably do on my way home from work and without upsetting our evening routine at home.

Here's my run in numbers:

Distance: 6.7miles
Time: 46:12
Average pace: 6:52/mile

And the splits:    

Mile      Time/mile   Feet
1            7:29            -69
2            6:44            -114
3            6:10            -13
4            5:47            -31
5            7:50            +158
6            6:59            +75
0.7         7:10            -7

I can tell you I was pleased with these times, especially as I hadn't set out to achieve any personal bests at all.  Within those times is my personal best 10k of 42:11.

As I ran I felt so alive, my mind was full of thankfulness and joy in spite of all the uncertainties around.  I ran to enjoy the run, not to beat any records and yet my mind was on God in wondering what this was all about, what was he trying to say to me.  I ran through the remnants of the daylight with a very low sun skimming across the fields before it was dark.  As I ran up the steep part of Charlton Hill and the wooded part, I could barely see where I was going let alone see how steep it was.  I knew my strides were longer than usual as I could feel my quads pulling a little tight and my breathing was a shade deeper than normal.  And yet it felt so good.

When I got back home and looked at the stats, I was surprised by some of those times, much faster than normal.  Most importantly was that feeling of being tested and now blessed in such a spectacular way.  I have thought about this run quite a lot since and the significance of the day.  God's mercy, his undeserved grace, seems to be the main reminder when I ask what it was all about.  As I said earlier, I don't know the outcome of the restructure at work and how it will affect me - but I do have that complete trust and faith things will work out.

I think this beautiful rendition of Psalm 23 sums it up, especially the phrase "And I will trust in you alone, for your endless mercy follows me, your goodness will lead me home".  Take a listen:

We have been in tight situations with work a number of times before, either for Rachel or myself.  Often unexpected things happen at precisely the right moment and this cannot be by chance.  Somethings happen which aren't what I wanted to happen and yet, looking back, I can see now why things did go the way they went and how it is for the best.

I have run twice since then, each time that Tuesday run was on my mind so much, still wondering what lies ahead....

Running up Charlton Road, Hitchin

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Ridgeway Run 2015 - tattooed legs and heavy feet

Never enough Portaloos!
Here's my race report from the truly excellent Ridgeway Run on 11th October 2015.  As usual race HQ is at the cricket ground in Tring, Hertfordshire.  It was a cool and delightful morning to arrive early enough to sign in and collect my race number.  Helpfully there were a good supply of safety pins!

All of the officials were welcoming, friendly and chatty.  There was a really nice atmosphere as runners prepared themselves for the race, plenty of high spirits and laughter going on.  It looked as if the majority of runners were with club mates or with friends and I think this adds to the event in having someone to share it with.  I find with almost every race, there is always a lengthy que for the Portaloos; it does matter how many have been supplied, there will never be enough for the 15 minute window in which they'll be fully used.

It was great chatting to the two officials on the left, in between checking in on-the-day bookings.  He thought I looked like Edward Fox and I think he looks like my daughter's physics teacher.  We got talking about blogs (naturally mentioning this blog!) and how Mr M wants to set his own up about the history if Rock & Roll so please do get in touch if you'd like some help.  In fact I think I could do a workshop for budding bloggers - let me know if you're interested - I'll cover all the basics in three hours giving enough practical guidance to have your own blog up and running in that time.  Just let me know.  Back to running now.

As usual there was a 10-15 minute walk from the cricket ground to the start line which is right at the edge of Tring, in a quiet little cul-de-sac and at the start of a bridleway.  Gradually everyone assembles, the Race Director arrived with his airhorn and timing officer, complete with clipboards and stopwatches galore.

Many runners seem to have GPS watches these days and these were all being checked, primed and ready for the press of the start button.  Me?  I have my old fashioned analogue £20 Timex on my wrist and my iPhone with Strava ready to record the run.

Ready, steady, go!
Last year I commented on heavy breathers and fast women: this was based on the first mile or so where we were all tightly packed with each other and the heavy breathing surrounded me.  This year the early stage was pretty much the same with everyone running closely together but this time I became aware of a different breed of runners around me.

The new breed were of the tattooed leg variety, perhaps normally quite rare.  I did notice how I was surrounded by the sound of "heavy feet" landing all around me.

These tattoos included all the latest fashionable swirling designs and also a few (but more discreet) Ironman tattoos on the backs of some runner's legs on the calf muscle.  Interestingly I spotted a number of other discreet tattoos and these also could be a sign of having completed a gruelling sporting event.  Apologies for not knowing what these are, I'm afraid that's not my world but I can understand people wanting some kind of wearable memento which entitles one to a kind of membership into an exclusive club.   Didn't spot any Olympic rings on shoulders though and I suppose it does add to the list of "wearables" we hear much about these days.

I had deliberately positioned myself a little further up the field on the start line for this year.  I dare say there were about 200 runners in front of me, more behind.  So that seemed a good place to start.  Once the race was underway and we had all done the start line shuffle, our pace picked up to one that was just right and we gradually jockeyed for position and started to thin out a little over the first mile or two.

No heavy breathers; instead I was conscious of heavy feet landing all around me. I was trying to listen out for my own but I couldn't quite discern them.  Sometimes when I'm running alone on something like a beach I will close my eyes and listen to my feet, my breathing and so on.  This tightly packed race was hardly the time to start closing my eyes but then I realised I was running lightly i.e. my footfall was light in landing on the ball of my foot i.e. towards the toes.  I often find myself doing this when I'm running quickly over rough ground, it's not a conscious thing, it generally just happens.  It does make running a little more comfortable I find and I like the extra "spring in my step" which it seems to bring.  I guess that landing lightly and in a deliberately controlled way puts less strain and impact on joints.

Howard's intervals
Once the pack had reached and crossed over the main road (and here's a "thank you" to the fabulous marshals) we turned right along the road for a short distance, through a gate and onto a path which was single file.  This was also a little slower for everyone.

Next was a little climb and I found myself tuning into a conversation going on behind me, between a man and a woman.

"You know I feel as if my training is paying off now"


"Oh have you never been on any of Howard's Wednesday night sessions?"


"It's brilliant.  He gets us doing intervals, you know fast and slow, plus running up and down a hill.  Really good and I'm feeling the benefit".

I remember thinking that yes, that did sound like good training by Howard, although I don't believe I know him.  I too have found reps to be beneficial in going to the limit for a couple of minutes and then jogging to allow my heart rate to come back down.  Repeating this many times is tremendous training and if I'm honest, I should do more than simply clocking up the miles as it would make me a better runner.

Going up
I like hills, as you my already know and I can just about remember the time when I used to avoid them like the plague.  I found myself looking for opportunities to over-take some other runners as we climbed through the wooded area to the Monument in the Ashridge Estate.  Gaining some time on these stretches is at least one thing I can do alright.  As I said, I like running up hills!
The first drink station by the Monument was such a welcome site and once again I'm so grateful to the marshals and volunteers for being there.  I made the most of a cup of water, so refreshing.  Then it's a case of turning left and running through the woodland area which is so beautiful at this time of year.  There were plenty of Sunday morning strollers around and everyone was stepping aside, letting us go by.  Before too long the trees thinned out and to the left you could see glimpses of wide open countryside in the soft October sun - really nice.

Going down
As I had gained a few places running up hill, now we were heading down the start of the actual Ridgeway I got over taken by quite a few.  I just don't have the right technique or form to run down hill well.  Something to improve on.

The terrain undulated and before too long another drink station, just before a short uphill slog and a waiting photographer ready to snap these exhausted runners - believe me that was a steep climb!  Next was a hazardous section, twisting and winding through a wooded area with lots of tree roots and rabbit holes.  I took this at a pretty easy pace as I didn't want to risk tripping.  Unsurprisingly I had a runner on my tail before long.  I yelled out asking if he wanted to get by and he said he didn't at all.  It seemed funny having a conversation for a few minutes with someone I could see!

Home straight
Once back down on the flat and onto the bridleway which runs straight back to Tring, I attempted to increase my speed in trying to estimate how further with the pace I would maintain.  Unfortunately for most of this straight section I was on my own.  It was so welcome getting back to the start line and knowing there was about half a mile (maximum) to go.  I gave it my all, which didn't really amount to much of an increased speed although I did feel a bit mean overtaking another runner within yards of the finish line!

My result was 1:16, about 5 minutes faster than last year.  Chuffed.  This places me at 149 out of 564 runners.

Again I find myself asking "if I lost a little more weight, trained better, did Howard's intervals, how much faster could I go?

I felt so good, having a generous dose of the Runner's High.  This was a brilliant reminder of why I run, or at least one of the many reasons.

Serious side
My running form has changed over the years and there was a definite shift earlier this year when I had a bit of an injury.  Now that I'm running with a lighter, softer footfall using more of the central part of my foot and the ball of my foot, I can feel it is better somehow.  It feels just as natural as it was before when I was a bit of a heel striker sometimes.

Once again this was a lovely race.  I like it for not being a big event.  I'd say the number of runners this year - well over 600 - was probably about the maximum for this course towards the start.  It is a tricky balance as it wouldn't be a nice race if there were only 50 runners and we became too spread out.  No, it's nice to run in the company of others and I find I enjoy running a little faster this way.
Speaking of other competitors, my admiration for the winner and other prize winners.  My admiration goes especially to those who are in their 60s who beat me (I'm 53).  You give me something to aim for!

I like also having a technical teeshirt instead of a useless medal and it's always nice wondering what it will look like.  It's nice being handed a bottle of water and a flapjack instead of the carrier bag of rubbish you get at some races. Well done to Tring Running Club!

I love the course being virtually all off road on lovely tracks in wonderful countryside.  I like the hills, even though I need to get better at running down hill.  As races go, this is extremely good value and I'm already looking forward to another go in 2016.

My thanks to Tring Running Club for the friendly welcome, great organisation (inc perfect weather conditions) and everything else which made this a great race.

No, I'm not having a tattoo, ever. Even I ever do something where I'm "entitled to" I simply won't be having one.  Not my cup of tea, sorry.

Here's a few snaps from the day:

Marshals getting ready

First aiders having their briefing

Race numbers being pinned on.  Note watercress tee shirt.

Race numbers being pinned on.

Post race drinks handed out!

More drinks!

Clubs enjoy a social side too

Lovely first aiders, they said they weren't needed

Made it!

This is a muddy splash on my leg, not a tattoo


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Strokes in middle age

At forty three years old Simon Hall was not exactly a candidate for having a stroke.  Far from it as he was a non-smoker, sensible weight, he took regular exercise as a kayaker and enjoyed good all-round health.  And yet this all changed one ordinary morning in 2013 when, completely unexpectedly and without any warning, he had a stroke.   Happily Simon Hall has recovered and it appears has been helped through regular kayaking.

“It was an ordinary day when I was getting ready for work and I simply dropped my socks on the floor.  My arm started flapping around uncontrollably and I had no idea what was happening” explained Simon.  

He quickly found himself in hospital.  Although he was initially sent home as they’d believed he’s simply had a “minor” stroke, he was rushed back a couple of hours later as it was clear the stroke was far from being minor.  

“The NHS treatment then was brilliant.  They invested a great deal in trying to find out why the stroke had happened but concluded it was ‘cryptic’ which means there is no obvious reason.  They did all sorts of tests on me to try and find out why I’d had a stroke.  This included looking at my heart to see if there was anything abnormal like a wide opening in the heart or an area where the blood is pooling but nothing was found; there was no reason why I’d had a stroke".

"Having a stroke was incredibly debilitating for me, I had almost three months off work.  The immediate impact on me was chronic tiredness and fatigue.  The Doctor I saw at the hospital recommended I sat at home, rested and pottered around”.    This is exactly what Simon did but soon became restless.

"After being in the house for a week or so, I leapt at the opportunity to go shopping with my wife Elizabeth to nearby Milton Keynes.  When we got there we went to a cafe which was only 50 years away, I couldn’t even make it that far and had to go back to the car for a sleep.  This is because my brain was working so hard to repair itself, that is why I was so exhausted. People tend to look at the physical effects but it is actually a brain injury and it takes a long time to heal".

"Then there was a period of recovery and it was the canoeing which I missed so desperately.  Even when I was in hospital I remember thinking how I’d miss canoeing for my own sanity and sense of well-being.  I became despondent after a couple of months, I was wondering if I’d ever be able to go canoeing again".  

The Doctors couldn't tell Simon how precisely his recovery would go as the impact of every stroke is different.  After three months there was enough improvement to allow Simon to return to work on a part time basis.  The turning point was when his own GP recommended he continued kayaking having recognised the benefits (other health professionals had suggested exchanging his canoe for a set of golf clubs).  Something like kayaking his a non-contact sport and therefore relatively safe for someone in Simon’s position.

Simon was greatly encouraged by one of the other club members to pick up kayaking again in a K2.  This was a helpful way of easing back into the sport and it was reassuring to know someone was always close at hand for Simon.  Gradually Simon regained some of his strength and fitness.   He believes the regular pattern of paddling as been helpful in his recovery, having to co-ordinate the left-right-left-right rhythm.  

Now it is three years on from his stroke.  Simon describes his recovery as being almost complete.  He says the grip in his left hand is not being quite as strong but otherwise he’s regained his strength, fitness and confidence.   Although very modest and unassuming, Simon is clear that he owes so much to kayaking.  His stroke could not have been predicted; he was fit, healthy and ordinarily far too young for a stroke.   Simon believes it was his underlying all round level of fitness that helped him recover and, most importantly, provide a focus for his rehabilitation.  

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Review - High 5 energy gel

I have used various High 5 products on and off for several years and have mostly found them to be fairly good.  Following an approach by ProBikeHut I am giving the High 5 energy gels a good road test and in my review below reflect on their usefulness for cyclists and runners alike.

The range
High 5 produce a comprehensive range of sports nutrition products including energy, hydration, recovery and these come in various options (trial packs, singles, bulk packs etc).  The range is pretty comprehensive in my view and is suitable for quite a wide range of sports, not just running and cycling.  The High 5 range claims to be suitable for "beginner to pro" and I reckon they're spot on with this.

Energy gels
My first experience with energy gels was in training for my first half marathon, some years ago.  The advice given by those "in the know" was always to try out these things in training ahead of a race: the last thing you want to do is use something new the day before a race and find it doesn't agree with you, worse still in the race itself.  Happily I have never had any bad reactions myself.

The energy gels come in a 40g (32ml) sachet and has a squishy feel to it.  The top is secure so it won't leak and yet very easy to rip open while you're on the go.  Once open simply stick it in your mouth and squeeze the energy gel.  These are not particularly sticky, perhaps just a little, as it is almost inevitable you'll get some on your hand if running and taking these gels in at the same time.  

They are caffeine free (which is a must for me now) and each contains 23g of carbohydrates.  The recommended dose if one every 20 minutes and this should be sufficient for anyone taking part in an endurance sport.

High 5 say these energy gels do not contain any ingredients with gluten.  There are no artificial sweeteners and the sweetness is from real fruit juices.

How I get on with these
Now I am used to these energy gels, I quite like to use them from time to time.  Normally I don't bother if it's just a shortish run of less than one hour.  I do find that when I'm running or cycling for 90 minutes I am starting to run a little dry so these energy gels come into their own then.  The beauty of these, of course, is that they're so easy to carry in a pocket or in one of the specially designed race belts where runners often have 6 - 10 gels ready for use.

As you can see from the above photo, I keep a supply of these in my car!  This is one of those cup holders in my Honda's dashboard.  Most people use these for drinks.  Some use these for sunglasses, hairbrushes and the like.  Me?  Energy gels!  This is so I am stocked up for an after-work-stress-busting-run and it's always nice to know they are there.

Sometimes the effect of these is subtle, other times I know I'm getting a real energy boost, almost as if someone has flicked a switch or pressed the turbo button.  It seems to take a good 15 to 20 minutes before these take effect, so it's worth bearing this in mind.  Being a gel, they are very easy to digest and I never feel as if I am full in any way.  When I did my last Marathon, I settled on about 2 each hour as a good balance but it's good to know I could take more if I needed to.  

There's a number of different flavours and the samples I received were lemon.  The taste isn't strong at all, quite subtle and fairly pleasant; there's nothing to dislike.

Wrapping up
These are great for using on-the-go in cycle or running events.  I don't tend to use them if I'm running or cycling for under 90 minutes; after this point they are useful for an easily digestable boost of energy.

Thanks to Adam Lowe of ProBikeHut for asking me to review these.  A pleasure.

Click for the ProBikeHut webpage.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Drastically improved eyesight

If you're a regular here you might have clocked I have an eyesight problem - central serous retinopathy.  The fantastic and remarkable thing is, it has now drastically improved.

You see, the problem is mostly in my left eye, where a tiny leak occurred and the back of my eye, causing the retina to budge forward and this in turn causes distorted vision near the middle of my retina.   You can see in the above photo there is a darkish area in the middle and a few white-ish spots.  As if this was't bad enough, because the retina has been starved of nutrients (explained my Doctor, a dullness had set in for a few years.  This was like viewing the world through the lens of a grey pair of sunglasses.

The Doctor said this was not reversible and yet I now think there is little colour vision difference between the two eyes!  I think this is remarkable, having put up with everything looking greyish and with muted colours for several years, everything now seems so much brighter and more colourful.

I noticed this yesterday when I was driving back across the Cotswold Hills on a bright sunny day.  I found myself enjoying the lovely colours and September sun across the stunning landscape.  I also remember thinking "these colours will look pretty dull through my left eye".  So my astonishment was an almost complete colour restoration.  That you God.

The details I see, however, is still well short of my "good eye".  The distortion comes and goes but it is always noticeable.  An example of this is when I look at the toolbar of my computer screen, it is wavy and certainly not straight.

This is all very wonderful and I'm not quite sure why this has happened.  Most likely it is my excellent diet and through being a regular runner!

Posts about eyesight

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Running up Charlton Road, Hitchin

The start of Charlton Road, from Hitchin 
 Charlton Road is just outside Hitchin, Hertfordshire.  This is all "very Hertfordshire" with leafy lanes, gentle rolling hills and probably has a good number of millionaires in the area.  For me I sometimes drive through this area on my way home from my office in Stevenage and I am getting to explore some of the good runs in the area.

Turns out Charlton Road has two running segments on Strava and, from memory, one segment for cyclists.  I have cycled this Cat 4 climb a few times but the best bit is RUNNING!

It gets used quite a bit by runners and cyclists as normally I see at least one or two, sometimes more.  Cyclists tend to go up the hill, runners tend to prefer coming down.  Not me, I prefer running up!  Each time I have parked my car in the pretty village of Preston, at the top of the hill.  I either run down the hill and straight back up (a bit boring) or perhaps do a circular run mostly on the roads, as I did in the Strava print out below. Additionally I am gradually piecing together a number of bridlepaths and footpaths which are very pleasant in this area.

In terms of stats, the "Charlton Hill full climb" on Strava is 1.3 miles and a rise of 249 feet.  My PB time on this is 12:41 and places me 62nd out of 121 other runners - this is simply not good enough for me.  The other segment is the "Charlton Hill steep bit" which is just 0.2 miles and has a rise of 121 feet (but it feels a lot more than that!  The steepest section is 1:4.  My positioning improves on this bit with me being 21st out of 121 other runners.  My PB is 2:31 which I'm sure I can improve a little.  I know this is all a bit nerdy but it must be proof that I like running up steep hills!

The day these photos were taken, I bumped into another runner.  I think he said his name was Sean and he's also a blogger but concentrates on wildlife.  We had a little chat while he took the photo of me (below) and he explained he's doing the Couch to 5k programme (aka C25k) and he looked as if he was doing very well, certainly not a complete beginner.

The actual climb
The first part of the climb is a gentle incline (picture below) with arable fields either side.  The lane passes through a wooded area where it gets steep and steeper still as the road winds its way up the hill...Once out of the wooded area the road levels out and fields once again are on either side.

Credit to Richard Puckey who is the course leader for the steep part segment with a really impressive time of 1:27 (against my PB of 2:31) and the fastest woman is Sarah Mitcherson who ran it in 2:30 back in 2012.

Charlton Hill, near the start and only a gentle incline

Charlton Hill,   approaching the steepest part by some lovely farm buildings.
Very Hertfordshire!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Quick update and some coming reviews

Now the school term has started and holiday things fade away, I was hoping my blogging routine might improve.  Life, however, is once again very busy.  Family life is delightful and work is quite a strain right now.
Some might already know my full time job is looking a bit risky after a 23 year career in criminal justice.  This is a huge restructure taking place.  I’m not the only one and over the last few days a number of colleagues have come to either say farewell or to say they’re going soon.  This is bringing out so much camaraderie and I have seen so much support being shown amongst my colleagues it is quite emotional!  I am seeing the best side of people, not the worst.  For myself it is too soon to know how I will fare in this restructure but whatever happens, I will make it right for me.
Back to the world of cycling and some up and coming reviews…..
Firstly I have been testing out some Vertix headsets.  These are an intercom link between cyclists and include a microphone and ear pieces which fit neatly onto a helmet.  After a slightly slow start they are working fine and first impressions are mixed.  I think these will need a fairly detailed review in their own right.
Aldi have kindly sent some samples of their winter range of cycling gear, ahead of the launch on Thursday 24th September.  I have bib tights, a jersey, some lights, arm warmers, leg warmers, electrolyte tablets and some bike cleaner to try out.  Savvy shoppers to get ready!
Probikekit is, for myself, a new supplier and it’s been good getting to know them  They have asked me to review some Osmo products (preload hydration and some active hydration sachets) as well as some High 5 energy gels in a new flavour.
Also coming are some Primal Pantry bars.  I’m pretty excited about these as I remember meeting the producers at the London Bike Show and they’re just my kind of saddle bag food.  I understand I’m getting a mixed box containing a variety of different flavours.
I do enjoy blogging!
Blogging can be very rewarding at times and I do hope to develop things further during the winter months.  It’s a strange feeling knowing that I can be typing away quite happily at home, keeping a kind of “web log” reasoning in mind and yet minutes later someone on the other side of the world could be reading my blog!  Sure I get things to review which is nice.  Yes I get a little income through the affiliate adverts but the most engaging aspect are the people I gradually get to know and this is lovely.

Monday, 14 September 2015

My Ramblings gets translated into Vietnamese!

I've said it before, one of the lovely things about blogging is the interesting interactions with other people.  The most recent example is me being asked if I would allow a blog post to be translated into Vietnamese by a community group of people wanting to share knowledge around the world.  They came across my post about cycling up Kirkstone Pass, in Cumbria, northern England.

To know a little more about this work, click here.
To see the above post in Vietnamese, click here.
To see the original post in English, click here.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

What should I eat before the Rock Solid Race?

Some of my friends are doing another obstacle race soon, namely the Rock Solid Race, also known as an Obstacle Course Race (OCR) which is a military type course.  It involves some running, climbing, crawling, pulling, pushing, lugging a log around and so on.  In length it will be 5 - 10k and might take 1 or 2 hours to complete.   In other words it is a good all-round workout needing strength, stamina, agility and some confidence to do those crazy things!

My friend John is always keen to adopt best practice when it comes to these events (and I'm quite impressed by that).  This shows itself in his preparation, training, knowing what to do at the event, what to wear and so on.  He has now specifically asked about nutrition.

First of all, John has volunteered his previous nutrition as:

Breakfast at 7:30am
Two slices of toast
Cup of tea

Morning snack
Cereal bar

During OCR
Cereal bar

After OCR
Sandwiches x3

Here are my thoughts:
John is taking part in a demanding OCR and it will be at a time of year when it will be pleasantly warm but not too hot.  I am working on the basis there are no medical problems and this is simply general advice.  I should say John is around 15 years younger than me, slim and looks a good healthy weight.

Hydration starts the day before.  Make sure you drink plenty at least 12 hours before the OCR and this will make sure the body is well hydrated.  Now I am not talking alcohol here (especially as I'm teetotal myself) but instead the usual glass of water, fruit juice or tea etc.

Carbohydrates is an interesting topic.  Many athletes and sporty types talk about carb-loading in the days before an event.  I don't think this is necessary for this event, general fitness and no excessive food is required.  Yesterday I ran a half marathon in 1:45 without drinking or eating anything on-the-go.  If I was going much further I would need rehydrating and taking on a little food.

Breakfast needs to be a normal meal as it is several hours before the event - it's still good to build up a little fuel in the tank here.  I am not a fan of cornflakes as they are often processed and refined foods, laden with sugar and additives. I think John has shop-bought white cotton wool bread, though he has been rumoured to have a slightly healthier "half and half".  I asked John what he puts on his fruit and he replied "Marmalade".

"It's all very well having marmalade but don't think it counts as fruit i.e. one of your five-a-day" I commented.  John looked a little disappointed.  Sorry John.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I certainly treat it that way and make sure I get a good mixture of different foods i.e. fruit, a glass of smoothie (I like a wide variety) and some gravel.  Gravel, by the way, is what my wife calls my muesli.  I'll tell you another time about what goes into my gravel.

So John, make sure your breakfast is more wholesome, it should include some fruit (perhaps either whole fruit or a smoothie or fruit juice).  Try something like this:

This is a typical breakfast for me.  Smoothie with gravel.  On the gravel you can see there is some chopped up fruit with some yoghurt making this a very healthy meal, full of goodness.

Mid morning snack needs to be something easily digestible and not too heavy going. Have whatever you fancy and ensure your fluids are maintained.  You could try one of those energy drinks I gave you.  There's no point in having something fizzy as this is just short term, quick burn sugar.  Something with some carbohydrate and protein will be okay.  Don't go trying anything new just before a race - if it doesn't "agree" with you you'll be risking blowing the whole event and end up feeling awful.

The race itself!  For the OCR you shouldn't need anything else.  You should be sufficiently fuelled within yourself.

Having learnt myself from making the odd mistake, I can tell you that running with undigested food in my stomach is absolutely horrible.  It is probably the closest I'll ever get to feeling pregnant.  Pregnant with twins no less.

After the race is still important when it comes to your nutrition.  You see, when you run or do any OCR you are putting a lot of strain on your body - muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments all taking some damage.  Repairing this damage needs good quality protein and some antioxidants.  John will remember our friend Nettie posting photos of her bruised knees!  This is an outward sign of the battering our bodies get and clearly needs repairing.

Protein comes in many forms and in many foods, excellent for building muscles etc. Antioxidants help mop up free radicals which are released during exercising and these, if unchecked, can be harmful.  So even something as straightforward as a banana is very good.  You could go one step further and have a fruit juice and a muesli bar.

If you get cramp at all, this could be a sign of running low on some minerals / electrolytes which again bananas or other fruit can help with. High 5 and others often do electrolyte drinks which are good for this.  On the other hand, cram is not fully understood by the medical profession and it can be linked to a number of possible causes.  Linking cramp to a nutritional deficiency does seem plausible.

Wrapping up

  • Make sure you include more fruit in your diet before and after the event
  • Don't eat too much immediately before the OCR or you will feel bloated (or pregnant!)
  • Make sure you are well hydrated
  • Make sure your pre event foods include the right mixture of proteins, carbohydrates etc
  • Make sure you have some recovery food ready afterwards such as a banana, fruit juice or a commercially made recovery drink
I could waffle on for ages about all kinds of other good foods to eat i.e. making sure we get our Omega 3 and 6, getting the soluble and insoluble fibre mixture right.  The most important thing is to ensure you eat a wide variety of good, wholesome and natural food.  

Enjoy your food, enjoy knowing it is doing you a whole load of good!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Running in Bremen

We have recently returned from Bremen in Germany, having spent some time with a lovely family there.  During our stay we were blessed in achieving the perfect balance between being sight seeing tourists and simply spending time with Torsten, Katharina and their family.

Bremen is in northern Germany.  It has a population of around 750,000 and although inland somewhat, it has a dockland area which is being regenerated and a river which has tidal rise and falls each day.  It is about the 10th largest of German cities and has some green credentials.  These green credentials include a number of traffic free routes around the city and these are brilliant for cyclists, walkers and runners alike.  We were in the northern suburbs and could get right into the city centre through using these routes, which is pretty impressive.

These routes, at least in our neighbourhood, included a number of circular routes and for myself Route 1 was a 4.5 mile loop.  This was almost entirely traffic free, completely flat and very pleasant.

The Routes were generally well signposted with signs normally at alternative junctions.  It was encouraging that cars have to give way to runners and cyclists at intersections with the Routes.

I was pretty surprised at the number of people who smoked in Bremen, although perhaps the percentage is little different across Germany.  Equally I was also surprised to see there were cigarette machines dotted around in various places.

And now, some running

It was on Route 1 where I clocked up the most runs and I absolutely loved these.  They were mostly in the early morning (my most favourite time of day) but there were a couple of spins around Route 1 in the evening.  This was hilarious at times as I had a cycle escort which, for most of the time, helped me achieve a pretty good pace.  Other times, well, let's just say they were having some fun and I pressed ahead!  There were, however, a couple of serious bits:

My youngest daughter (Hannah) is a budding coach and athletic event official.  Every now and again she would come alongside me, make sure I was running at a reasonable pace (i.e. under an 8 minute mile) and yell "SPRINT" and I'd go for it with every ounce of energy I had and aim for a parked car or lamppost ahead, then just a little further.

Route 1 goes past Bremen Prison, in fact it loops around the extensive grounds.  The buildings include old austere Gothic buildings through to more modern buildings at the rear.  The extensions include a new perimeter wall with a couple of interesting murals.

It is this mural which seems to say so much.  It depicts a ribbon along the prison wall being cut by a couple of children.  This then allows the brick wall to fall away leaving a huge hole in the wall.  For those children, you can't help wonder if their Dad is somewhere in that prison.  Why can't they see their Dad?  Why should they serve his sentence as well?  If only it could be that easy to get to their Dad, to feel his arms around them, to hear his voice, his breath, to be lifted up by him.  You look at their faces and you see their pain, their emotion.  The girl looks as if she's having to harden up, after all it's tough when people know your Dad is inside.

In the UK more children are affected by the imprisonment of a parent, compared to those affected by divorce.  This is a deeply troubling statistic which has a profound influence on children, our communities and society as a whole.  

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-prison.  We need prisons to protect us from the harm offenders could inflict on individuals and society.  

Other runners
There were almost none on the Route 1 at all.  In fact there was only one runner on Route 1 that I saw, although its possible there are loads at other times.  And cyclists, yes, there were plenty and mostly riding sit-up-and-beg hybrids.  Some of these had triple chainsets which seems an over-kill in such a flat environment.  However, all was not lost as we had the opportunity to dash down to the Bremen Triathlon after the Sunday morning church service.  

Clearly there is a healthy and vibrant triathlon scene in Bremen with a sizeable club, judging by their stand being flocked with wannabes like myself (yes I picked up a leaflet!).  I did feel for the competitors as it was such a hot day.  I guess what surprised me was the huge variety of those taking part and this was reflected in their choice of bicycles.

Yes there were a good number of time trial bikes and other road bikes which were adapted of a triathlon.  Some were incredibly expensive, carbon fibre Dura Ace equipped machines.  Others included some nice hybrids, some questionable hybrids, a handful of mountain bikes and at least one Bike Shaped Object.  Perhaps the nicest were some lovingly looked after bikes from the 1980s.  Some were almost original with their groupsets intact and others which had been updated with contemporary components.

As I mentioned above there didn't seem to be many runners out there in Bremen. I looked on Google and found No apathy allowed which is a nice personal blog, written by an American ex-pat living in Bremen for the last few years.  Amongst other things, she's a runner. That's cool and please do check out her blog. 

Overall this was a wonderful holiday with my family, staying with a lovely and lively family in Bremen.   As a rule, I seldom have much desire to return to places I've already been to, on the strength of there being so many other new places to explore. And yet more and more, I find myself wanting to return and re-live some holidays where we know there is so much more to explore, see and experience. We also love meeting new people and becoming friends.

At Bremen Triathlon with my eldest daughter

Monday, 31 August 2015

1,000 mile update

I have mentioned once twice before that I am aiming to run 1,000 miles in 2015.  Now is a good time to review the position to see if I'm on track.

Once or twice I have actually wondered whether I am doing the right thing but, on the whole, I do believe it's good for me.  So now we have reached the end of August and I have run sufficient miles, pro rata, for this two-thirds point in the year.  These are the detailed stats from Strava:

Total miles for 2015: 708 (this is 42 miles ahead)
Separate runs: 126
Time: 103 hrs, 25 mins
Elevation gain: 22,280 feet

My longest run was the MK Marathon in May at the usual 26.2 miles.   The training for that was not ideal, moreover a bit disjointed and therefore injury prone (unusual for me!).  My shortest weekly mileage was about 10 miles against a target average of 19 miles.  In fact I remember having a few of those low mileage weeks earlier this year but thankfully I have caught up and over taken myself a little.

A number of the runs have been post work gentle runs of 3 or 4 miles.  Although this doesn't sound much, each one is valid and counts.  Each one of these short runs helps balance the longer runs at weekends.  I am enjoying the discipline of being accountable to myself, for making sure I keep it up.

I mentioned injuries.  In brief, I managed to pull a calf muscle while [over] training for the marathon.  To compensate I altered my running form a bit which helped solve that injury and now I seem to have transferred the problem to my left hip.  It's not too bad, providing I don't over run too much and have adequate rest after a long run, or a high mileage week.

I will blog again about the benefits of having a distance target like this as this is the first time I have done this.  I like it, it's working well.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Rainy tempo run

A few days ago I planned to go running on my way home from the office in Huntingdon, Cambs.  As it had been raining CATS AND DOGS all day, my colleagues thought I was a bit daft, to say the least, even though they should know better by now.  In fact those CATS AND DOGS turned into STAIR RODS at one stage, with rain drops dancing off the ground.  I drove from our office, turned south onto the A1(M), then right at the Black Cat Roundabout and across to Marston Moretain.  This is where the Forest Centre is, a lovely regenerated area with a couple of sizeable lakes and a network of trails to run along.

During the drive there the wipers were on, off, on slowly, off, on full speed and so on.  I got to the start of my run and the rain had stopped for just a few seconds while I started.  Within no time at all the rain started properly, first as a drizzle, then as light rain and eventually as proper rain.  Naturally I was soaked but I loved it all the more.

There were a few other runners there and one or two cyclists.  Every single one looked as if they too were enjoying it!

The funny thing is that it turned out to be a faster run than usual.  It wasn't a long run, just 4.5 miles but I loved every minute of it.

I have run at the Marston Moretain Forest Centre a few times this year already and I had been looking forward to this.  It is an opportunity for an after-work run to leave behind all those concerns and worries of the office, the stresses of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda within the Ministry of Justice.  These stresses are very real to me.  The implications are also very real to me and I'll blog about that again soon, in a little more detail.

For now - and for this particular rainy run - I was left feeling, well, here's the list:

  • Feeling so alive!  Must be that Runner's High once again; makes me feel great, on top of things, euphoric
  • Whatever is being thrown at me in terms of my job, career and so on, I will not be beaten and although the outcome might be different to what I might want, I know the right doors will open in the long run
  • Knew I had run a faster run compared to normal
  • I guess it would have counted as a tempo run, had I intended to make sure I got the pacing totally correct
  • It reminded me about why I should run faster from time to time.  I am getting a little stiff and a faster run tends to loosen me up a bit
  • I appreciated my surroundings: fairly quiet countryside, good surfaces for running, trees and bushes looking lush and the grasses were bleached yellow
  • Another reminder of how beneficial even a short run is for me in terms of my physical and mental health.  This is SO important and having my 1,000 mile target for the year is helpful to make sure I don't give up.  Every run, no matter how long or short, counts towards my 1,000 mile target and each run is positive for my health. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Why runners should cut their toenails

If ever there was a reason why us runners need to trim our toenails, this is it.  These are my feet with black toenails and something I am not proud of at all.  This dates back to early May when I ran the MK Marathon and in my pre-race countdown preparation I didn't manage trim my toenails as normal. The net result of running 26.2 miles with untrimmed toenails is exactly as above.

My apologies for the gory details, I am about to lose my left big toenail as a new nail has grown up underneath and about to push the old one off.  My right toenail is doing fine and not being "replaced" even though it looks quite horrible.  With the toenail about to get pushed off, as far as I can tell the new one is about half way up, so I guess the flesh underneath maybe a little tender.  I will have to wait and see but I hope this doesn't inhibit any running in the near future.

The amazing thing about this is that I didn't feel a thing as I was running; it wasn't until after I got home and took my shoes and socks off I saw the damage.

I regret this terribly, an avoidable position to be in.  Does it count as an injury?  Not really.  Will I repeat this another time?  No way.

Not like I had dropped a breeze block or anything....

How to look after your feet

Friday, 14 August 2015

DiCAPac universal phone case review

Recently I came across the DiCAPac universal smart phone case and it's is a nice bit of kit.

Here I share a few points about it - which might be useful for any outdoorsy types who will need to get something like this sooner or later.  I will also share my family's reaction to me trying it out and why they think I'm bonkers  Firstly....

What it is

The DiCAPac is a nice looking blue plastic case. It is designed to protect and hold any smartphone up to 5.7 inches, keeping it dry when it gets splashed, dropped in water or even used underwater.  That's cool.

It costs around £20.  It has some impressive credentials including "all DiCAPac products have passed Japan's rigorous JIS IPX8 test and are all waterproof certified at the highest possible grade (grade 8).

Tested and passed up to 33ft an underwater lab test and actual real-life conditions. This means you can be assured your smartphone can be taken within the DiCAPac case up to 33ft (10 metres) underwater for long periods of time and capture those precious moments".

The details

The main construction is a flexible plastic case in a nice light blue colour.  On the front there is a clear panel allowing you to see the whole screen.  Interestingly you can still operate the phone easily through the window with all swipe and touch button gestures still working - it's rather like having a heavy duty screen protector in place.

The back panel has a clear section for the camera lens.  This is very clear and is perfect for taking photos or videos without any noticeable drop in quality.

You also get a nice lanyard which is adjustable and attaches onto two reinforced holes at one end of the case.  The lanyard has some quick release toggles and looks pretty smart in grey.

Waterproof and the small print

It is worth reading the blurb which comes with the DiCAPac.  Before you seal your £600 smart phone inside and take it swimming, you are advised to make sure it is completely waterproof.  Thoughts of "duh.... really?" come to mind and followed by "do I really have to?".  Yes you do.  Period.  End of.  Just do it.

To check the seals are okay, it is recommended you get some tissue paper and fold it up to place inside.  With the tissue paper inside, carefully roll the cover over making sure the double velcro seals are firm.  Then drop it in some water and push it under.  Afterwards simply take the tissue paper out and make sure it is dry - it should be and therefore okay to use for real.

Throwing it into the Grand Union canal!

My youngest daughter is a member of a local kayaking club and I often take her there.  While everyone was getting their boats into the water I rashly threw my iPhone/DiCAPac into the canal.  The splash was loud enough for it to be heard by others and was much to the horror of Hannah and the bystanders.  They thought I had totally "lost it" and by that I mean my iPhone and my sanity!

Thankfully it floated nicely and everyone could see it was absolutely fine.  Grabbing it out of the water I took a close look and it was perfectly dry inside.

Amazingly the phone can still be heard easily in spite of being in a waterproof sealed case - I didn't really expect this to be so good.  It is easy to use the screen and all the swiping.  It is a little more fiddly pressing the physical buttons on the side and top of the phone but I guess these are likely to be used less often.

Long term, hard going use

Like all outdoorsy or sporty kit, I suspect this DiCAPac case will eventually have its limitations.  It is worth regularly checking the seal and seams are intact and not leaking in anyway.  I recommend you check this with tissue paper in a bowl of water, as well as visually checking the actual case itself.  If I were swimming frequently underwater, I think its worth getting something a little more robust.

Normal, everyday outdoorsy use

The DiCAPac is absolutely ideal for normal day to day use.  This means taking it kayaking, running, hiking whether it is wet or dry - simply because it is a cushioned case which absorbs the knocks and splashes thrown at it.  I think it's one of those "good to know it's there" pieces of kit which will simply keep your smart phone well protected in a wide range of conditions.

"You're still bonkers"

Yep my family still think I'm completely bonkers for testing this with my £600 iPhone inside.

Available from: mobile fun