Sunday, 31 March 2013

Seriously missing running

Friends, you will know I have had flu or something for the last 10 days or so and I'm now feeling sorry for myself: I hate being ill.  Whenever I've had something like this I have worked my way through it pretty quickly, certainly inside a week.  Talk about itchy feet: I've read through some blog accounts of some nice runs I have done in the past and, well, you can imagine how I feel.  I hate feeling so useless!

Aching arms and legs, no energy and a hacking cough are the symptoms.  Eating lots of fruit as usual and my appetite is back (so I must be getting better!).

I know that I'm going to get through this and gradually pick up running again.  While I have a feeling the MK Marathon is slipping through my fingers because of this, I can't help but feel incredibly optimistic about, well, anything really but especially RUNNING and CYCLING.

I haven't quite figured out exactly why I have had this dose of flu; it seems ideal for space in my busy life for some reflection or an inspired idea.  This hasn't happened as yet.  Perhaps I need to be a better patient!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Types of running shorts

Ron Hill shorts have proved brilliant
This is me (take my word for it) wearing my trusty Ron Hill running shorts which I bought several years ago and they're still going strong.  These are a brilliant pair of shorts as they have:

  • proved very durable
  • a small zipped pocket at the back, ideal for a bunch of keys or a mobile phone, energy gel etc.
  • good "climate control" where I never feel hot wearing them
  • a light "brief" liner and accordingly designed for men
  • been used for many races, been washed umpteen times and have run thousands of miles with very little signs of wear
And when I run, it's like you wouldn't know they are there - no chaffing or anything like that.  The only time I have ever suffered was in a marathon while it rained throughout and I had chaffing at the top of my legs.  But those conditions were exceptional and I wouldn't blame the shorts in any way.

So while these are my favourites, what are the alternatives?

Ron Hill Vision


These are probably about the closest to mine that are currently on the market.  Reviews are positive and these are pretty no nonsense shorts.  Like mine they have a small zipped pocket at the back.  They are made from a breathable material which is water repellent.  The liner is made from bamboo fibres but if this is new to you, do go ahead and try it as I think bamboo is proving a brilliant ecological material.  Well done to Ron Hill on these.  Expect to pay about £25 which in some ways might seem a lot but by the time you have run a few thousand trouble free miles in them, you'll be saying they're worth every penny.

Suitable for: drivers of Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla cars, Steady Eddies.

Ron Hill Advance Contour

As an alternative, you could try these cycle style shorts which are popular with some runners, I've certainly seen quite a few people, including some really accomplished runners, wearing these.  Made from a PowerLite fabric, this is a close fitting pair of shorts.  They include some mesh inserts, reflective decals and a key pocket on the rear.  These are probably good in the winter in providing some warmth and almost certainly suited to slim lean figures.  Naturally if that isn't you, you're more than welcome to go ahead and wear them but, well.... just think it through.  These aren't cycle shorts though and don't try to pretend they are or try and think they'll do for both.  They won't and if you try to use these as a pair of long distance cycle shorts and get chaffed etc - you only have yourself to blame!

These shorts also provide more coverage and therefore would be good for class-style work-outs in gyms or fitness clubs.  Versions for women are also available and expect to pay around £25 for these.

Suitable for: drivers of modest little soft top cars who need to keep warm while keeping up appearances; wannabe cyclists.

Gore classic baggy AW12 running shorts

fyVMtP8A.jpg These are a little different and well liked by seasoned runners.  Gore itself is a well respected brand and known for quality breathable fabrics applied to an increasing range of outdoor activities.  These particular shorts cost typically around £30 and therefore are a cut above the average.  

This particular pair has side pockets which is useful for energy gels, sunblock sachets etc and also has a zipped pocket at the back for your front door or car key.  These also have a sewn in liner or "inner pants" as Gore say, also referring to "fixed inner tights".  Having reviewed the reviews, the majority of people seem to like these and comment on their usefulness in normal wear because of their relaxed, slightly baggy fit.  One reviewer has suffered chaffing in long desert running conditions but this seems to be the exception.

Suitable for: drivers of small estate cars who enjoy an air of quality such as BMW and who want something good but versatile for the weekday and the weekend.  These shorts may also disguise the full sized spare tyre a little more than some.....

Gore running wear Air GT AS Shorts AW12

H-Gore-TGAIRW9900-Front.jpg I thought these were worth including in this guide as something a "little different" and out of the ordinary.  If you're a modest kind of short wearer, or fancy something with a little extra protection these could be for you.  Made from the same high quality fabrics in common with other Gore garments these are almost certainly going to serve you well.  They appear to have the advantage of having all the right sporty qualities but also have some day-to-day potential.  They're a little more expensive at around £60 to £80 and do have the advantage of an additional stow pocket on the inside.

Suitable for: drivers of big 4x4 who are likely to run and likely to use the extra drive for actually driving off road, unlike those who drive and pose in their black Range Rovers.

Nike Country 2 inch split leg

Finally these shorts from Nike are pretty cool and pretty good.  First of all, I personally would have avoided Nike in recent years but now they seem to have got their act together as far as ethics are concerned, so that's positive.  

These shorts are for runners wanting maximum flexibility and movement i.e not being restricted in any way.  I see quite a few fast runners wearing shorts like these at races and I must admit they do look good on lean athletic bodies.  These exact shorts are new for the 2013 season and therefore no reviews to draw on but I think they are highly likely to be good.  Price is likely to be around £30, less any discounts you might be able to spot.  

For support and modesty there is a built in brief liner as you'd expect and they also have a rear pocket which is useful.  The fabric is Dri-FIT

to keep you comfortable as it efficiently wicks away any moisture.  These shorts would be great for use in the summer including track use.

Suitable for: drivers of lovely carefree cars like the Mazda MX5 and other soft top cars that represent proper sporty cars that are still sensibly priced and where they can enjoy a good bit of drafty air.

Running with a cold / flu / feeling ill?

Withdrawal symptoms
I haven't run for eight days - EIGHT DAYS - can you believe that?  Since becoming a runner, this must be the longest time I have gone without running and I'm really missing it.  You see, I had a real hum-dinger of a cold that progressed onto flu.  I'm not talking "man flu" either, this is flu, man.  Everyone else in the family has had it and now it's been my turn.  

I can't tell you how much I miss running and what's more, I am starting to feel the forthcoming marathon slip through my fingers.  Having said that, I'm not beaten just yet as there is time to redeem myself if I'm lucky.

Running with a cold, or flu or feeling ill?
There is a rule of thumb which says you can run if you're feeling okay from the neck down.  So, if you have a cold, runny nose, headache, then you're okay.

If you're suffering from below the neck - shivers, aches, feeling sick, coughing or respiratory problems, then you'd better rest and get better to avoid making anything any worse.

I hate being ill, I hate taking time off work as I always feel guilty.  I've really hated it this time because I have been too wacked to even do anything apart from flop around feeling uuuuugh.  

Does running lower immunity?
No, not really.  I believe that running helps me stay healthy - I run well, eat well, sleep well and stay in good shape.  However, there does seem to be a point when you go a little too far and then start to compromise the natural immunity and resistance that's there.

It is very hard to say where the tipping point is.  For instance if you run 25 miles a week you'll be okay but running 30 miles is pushing yourself too hard.  Depends on so many different variables: age, base fitness, climate, lifestyle and so on.  

I think our natural outlook on life makes a difference but I can't prove it at all.  You know, I have a positive view of things and this includes my health - I think this helps me stay healthy.  I have known other people who almost seem to "think" themselves into being ill.  They are ill because they want to be ill?  Maybe.

Anyway, here's a link from Runner's World that gives a little more information - click here

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Review - Sunita Sesame Bar

Here's another quick review of a healthy snack which some readers might find useful in deciding whether it's worth trying it out.

Again this is the kind of snack I might get tempted with at lunchtime while I'm out stretching my legs and getting away from the reports I write, draft, amend, debate, argue, tear up, shred, delete, re-write, resubmit, explain, present or those I read from other people etc. etc.

These Sesame bars don't come more simpler than these in terms of their ingredients.  Simply sesame seeds (60%) and honey (40%).  That's it, nothing else: not even a dash of flavouring, colouring, preservative or anything else - just sesame seeds and honey.

I was pleasantly surprised as I am not really a fan of sesame seeds as I imagine they will always be like little horrible bits of grit to break bits of my teeth (which I'd like to stay in tact for another 40 or 50 years).  So I was quite pleased, they're not too threatening for my teeth and instead they are fairly chewy instead.  As the bar is fairly thin they're easy to bite and get to grips with in your mouth and chewing your way through a bar is fairly pleasant.  Being "fairly pleasant" doesn't mean it's exciting at all - to be honest I think they're a bit on the bland side.

Ever keen to give a balanced view on such matters, I asked Mrs Ramblings for a second opinion and slightly cautiously said she'd give it a go.  Sometimes it has to be said, Mrs Ramblings is a little dubious of my strange vegetarian / vegan healthy choices.

"Mmmmmm not bad but a bit on the chewy side" she says, followed by "besides sesame seeds are good for you, you know that don't you?".

Of course I know they're good for me but I can't quite remember why, so courtesy of the wonderful internet here's why:
  • high in protein, about 20% of the weight
  • Vitamin B - thiamin, niacin, folic acid, B6 and riboflavin
  • minerals - magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium
  • unsaturated fat

And then there's the honey:

Yep this is very healthy and I have blogged about this before - click here

But remember, honey isn't compatible with a vegan diet but okay with vegetarian diets.  Actually the Sunita brand offers an organic bar which presumably means the honey is organic as well as the sesame seeds.  This is a whole other subject on its own!

For now the sesame bars are okay - nutritious and perfectly okay for vegetarians.  Fine also for a lightweight snack that contains plenty of energy, weight for weight, to give you a good boost when you need it.  The flavour isn't going to set your taste buds alight at all but it's still a fairly pleasant snack.  Doesn't make the task of reading and writing reports any easier though!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Review - nakd snack bars

Not far from my office is a health food shop and I often pop in to buy something at lunch time, possibly for our food cupboard at home or simply because I'm still hungry and fancy a snack to keep me going through the afternoon.  The staff in the shop recognise me nowadays and they admit to wondering what I will buy this time, since I have made my way through many of their snacks.  So.  So here we go with a review of what must be my absolute favourite of all my extra lunch time snacks.....

what are nakd snacks?

Nakd are a British company making whole food snacks.   When pointing out their origin, it's a case of being "gleefully" made in Britain - I quite like that!

Their snacks use ingredients that are natural and are not processed beyond the minimum needed to combine them together for the snack itself.  Many other snacks - even those sold in health food shops - have many sugars, syrups and other gloopy sticky things amongst other mysterious ingredients.  Nakd point out that many of their rivals will include up to 30 odd ingredients that appear to me to be largely pointless.  Nakd are made by a cold pressing process, meaning it's not stuck together with refined sugars or syrups.

Take a look at their website (link below) and you'll see a touch of humour in a young company doing very well with what it does - they have their mission and from my point of view as a consumer, they're doing fine.  I do like companies that aren't too serious about their corporate approach.  In fact, if I were to start some kind of business myself, it would be just like Nakd!

and the taste?

Surprisingly good!  There's no mistaking the fruitiness in the Berry Cherry bar at all.  Quite a firm texture and there is a nice moist feel to it but better still with a favourite drink to savour it all the more.  One of the things Nakd play on is that whole foods don't have to taste dry, bland and be boring - these are far from it.

They have a good "solid" feel to them and are reasonably robust for being carried in saddlebags, bumbags and so on.  If they do break up, they don't explode into crumbs - i.e. you can still gobble them up easily.

They're also very filling.  Some snacks are made, in some way, to be scoffed and you're left feeling just as hungry.  That's because they're made of rubbish.  The Nakd bars, on the other hand, are quite filling and substantial as it is pretty much the whole raw food that you're eating.

the ingredients?

In the Berry Cherry bar, the ingredients are:

37% Dates
26% Oats
12% Raisins
9% Peanuts
8% Apple juice, concentrate
2% Raspberries
2% Strawberries
2% Almonds
2% Walnuts
and a hint of natural flavour

This is just an example, after all there's a fairly wide range.

And the ethics?

According to the Ethical Consumer magazine, Nakd snacks (and fellow brand Trek) are amongst the very top scoring brands at 14.5.  Contributing to that score is being Vegan friendly.  Mmmmm that makes them taste even nicer!

I promised you their website link

Here it is - click here


Why not order through my Amazon Link on the right hand side?

My flu cycle

Last October I had a flu jab; courtesy of my employer who wisely regards it as a cost effective investment in keeping its workforce healthy.

Despite having a flu jab, I have gone down with it.  No amount of kidding myself that it was a bad cold can deny I have flu, not even 'man flu' but the real thing.  Here's how it has gone:

Minus 1 Day - Wednesday
See previous blog post: went for a run and knew I was pushing myself.  In retrospect a case of male denial?

Day 1 - Thursday
Coughing, completely unexplained as I felt okay otherwise

Day 2 - Friday
Cough worsens, colleague(s) start to avoid me!  Starting to feel a little achy and a bit low but outwardly in denial  "of course I'm fine but thank you for asking, cough cough cough".  Losing my appetite.  Generally feeling unwell but still within the context of a heavy cold as I now had a runny nose!  Tea starting to taste a bit weird.

Day 3 - Saturday
Quite a rough night and drinking gallons of water as I felt so hot and clammy, still shivery from time to time and now starting to admit I had flu.  Acknowledging this is quite a big step for me, never wanting to give in to anything that easily.  Felt very tired, lethargic and lifeless for most of the day with much of it in bed.  Still coughing quite a lot but not too bad.

Day 4 - Sunday
After a decent night's sleep I woke feeling just the same - achy, headache, thirsty and sweaty.  I knew my body was fighting at full strength.  Felt floppy for most of the day and lethargic too.  Watching TV would have required far too much effort so I had the radio on instead.  I like listening to Desert Island Discs whenever I get the chance but managed to fall asleep just after it had started!

Day 5 - Monday; today!
Another good night's sleep which I am sure does more good than any "cold cure" medication.  Still a little fragile, a sniffy nose and the occasional cough-ette.  A little more energised but not exactly to the point of running through the 3 inches of snow we still have outside.  Also felt incredibly hungry having completely lost my appetite, so here is my breakfast:

Lightly fried mushrooms, baked beans on home-made toasted bread

Oh, and a smoothie too - blackberries, strawberries and blackcurrants.

Called into work to say I'm off sick for the day and cancel my commitments.  I hate having to do this, I really do.  Still, as I'm starting to feel a bit better and everyone is out of the house, what can I get up to....?

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Drat, drat and double drat

I have managed to pick up a real hum-dinger of a cold and feel grounded.  I am not very happy.

After work on Wednesday I went for a run, just 5 miles, and I knew something was coming on.  Thursday at work I started coughing to the point a colleague wouldn't sit anywhere near me!  Yesterday (Friday, that is) I was coughing away very loudly and I demonstrated that to everyone who spoke to me.   Today I have a runny nose and a horrible cough.  Drat.

What's more, the photo shows what our back garden looks like.  Astonishingly it has snowed AGAIN which makes running doubly difficult.  Drat, drat and double flippin' drat.

This all means running this weekend is a write-off and it's almost a bit of deja vu as last year I fell behind with my training, bounced back and over did it.  So for this year I'll take a little more care bouncing back; I know I have a reasonable base fitness and I easily run half marathons at weekends so bridging the gap to a full marathon will hopefully be achievable.

This 'self talk' is important.  I believe there is a strong link between having a positive attitude and staying well, which ordinarily I do well.  This time my hum-dinger of a cold has got the better of me.  Actually is it a cold?  Perhaps it is.  Can't possibly be "man flu", surely....?

the meaning of "drat"

According to my Apple computer it is a mild feeling of anger or annoyance, as used by Dick Dastardly.  That just about sums it up right now!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Minimum alcohol pricing

I seldom wade into politics in my blog but this time I cannot let the issue of alcohol pass by once again.  It appears Prime Minister David Cameron is back-tracking on a commitment to increase the minimum price for alcohol.  Furthermore he is missing an opportunity to take a step towards resolving some of the misery and needless suffering caused by alcohol in our society.

If the newspapers are correct - and this appears perfectly plausible - there seems to have been some heavy lobbying taking place from other Government Ministers and from the drinks industry to allow things to continue as they are.  Amongst those are David Davis who claims raising the minimum price of alcohol will".....hit poor people. It’ll hit people in the north. It’ll hit the pensioner having their one bottle of wine a week; it’ll hit the hard-up couple doing the same. It’s going to cost…it’s going to transfer £1billion from the public to the people who sell alcohol, and it’s not going to work".

Sure, many people will drink alcohol without any problems whatsoever.  By tradition in the UK, having a glass of wine (or whatever) is associated with celebrations, happy times, socialising and so on.  That's absolutely fine if that's what people want to do from time to time.  Then there's more ordinary routine drinking with a bottle of wine over a meal at home with friends - on the surface it could be argued there's nothing wrong with that either.  

However in the UK there are so many problems associated with alcohol and in particular the abuse of alcohol.  This will show itself amongst young adults eager for a good time on Friday or Saturday nights.  All too easily people's behaviour changes which lead to fights breaking out, people getting hurt, inhibitions dropping, risky behaviour taking place.  I once remember having a discussion with a group of offenders in Hemel Hempstead (this was in the late 1990s and I don't believe anything has changed)  They described a "good night" out as:
  • take as much money as you can, smoke some cannabis beforehand
  • meeting like-minded friends in the first town centre pub at 9.00pm for a few high speed drinks
  • then go to 2 or 3 other pubs, meeting up with other friends and becoming all the more rowdy as they went along 
  • by 11.00pm they would each have drunk about 6 to 8 pints of lager
  • for most they would also be smoking (ordinary cigarettes) and easily get through a packet of 20 during their night out
  • at closing time it was often fun to antagonise someone a bit, not too far, just enough to have a brush with the law or someone in authority 
  • a take-away meal would follow - fish & chips, kebab, Chinese etc (and probably thrown up later on)
  • enter a local night club at midnight
  • buy some drugs - amphetamines mentioned as a good choice
  • flirt with some girls, confrontation with boyfriends
  • drink a mixture of spirits (vodka mostly - a good image?) and beer
  • thrown out for rowdy behaviour which continues in the town centre streets (memory very uncertain by this stage)
  • picked up by the Police
  • wake up in a Police cell, feeling awful
  • what a great night out
Then there are the more discreet folk who drink alcohol at home, in private.  Behind those respectable-looking front doors is often a scene of complete despair as the steps of addiction take hold along with the inevitable fall out.  The 'fall out' includes diabetes and many other health conditions, the spectre of domestic abuse and violence.  The list goes on.

Will pricing solve these problems?

No, of course not, at least not on its own  Minimum pricing would, I believe, be a good positive step in the right direction.  The use and abuse of alcohol in our society is complex as indeed are the problems arising from it.  Much is to do with society's attitude towards alcohol as well as the availability.  By availability that includes pricing, supermarkets, licensing and so on.

There is, however, a number of influential people who do have a voice which is in David Cameron's earshot.  These include Dr Vivienne Nathanson of the British Medical Association who said the "tiny amount" of adding just 30p - 40p a week on the cost of alcohol would be outweighed by the benefits.  The BMA is suggesting the Prime Minister should "be courageous - this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save lives, to save the country some money.  Both good deals for him".

I heard on the radio as I was driving to work last week this issue being discussed.  I think it was Sarah Wollaston MP who said words to the effect that people will continue to die while alcohol is too cheap.  She came across as being sincere, forthright and saying clearly how wrong she thought David Cameron was.

My own view on this

  • there is so much needless misery caused by alcohol, I believe the overall balance is heavily against alcohol.  This applies to people claiming red wine is good for you.  I'm not sure about this and I still think red wine does more harm than good; that's why I'd go for grape juice and without any alcohol
  • the misery includes fights, irresponsible behaviour, risky behaviour, criminal records, health problems which can show themselves in the medium and long term
  • arguably the biggest misery is addiction: I remember talking with someone who was dependent on alcohol and was crying, sobbing in front of me wanting to be freed from the terrible addiction.  Addiction comes about over time, gradually creeping up on people and overcoming it can be very difficult 
  • examples of the Government influencing public spending does work (to a point) and examples include cigarettes, car road tax, VAT levels etc
  • alcohol should be regarded as a treat for special occasions, not something consumed every day
  • through example and leadership, society's attitude should change - binge drinking cannot be socially acceptable (i.e. consider how society has changed it's view on drink driving)
  • the minimum price rise should be achieved by taxation - the Government needs as much money as it can.  The extra revenue could be used, as an example, to invest further into public health
  • very strong lagers and beers should be additionally taxed to make them become unbelievably expensive.  As it is, some are as strong as wine and I question how many people would as for "a pint of your best wine please"
  • the Government, David Cameron in particular, must be prepared to act in a way that shows strong leadership.  While it is appropriate for a Prime Minister to change his or her mind in the light of new information or advice, a clear direction is a feature of a strong Government which also avoids being influenced all the time by public opinion.  The Government must act in the best interests of the country as a whole, not just as a way of keeping people happy and then gain popularity
  • MPs and other public figures should not underestimate the influence they can have and to use it for the benefit of those they represent.  Occasionally rising above public opinion can have a cost at the ballot box but some issues are a matter of conscience
  • I have blogged about this before - why I'm tee total

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Training run, not so long

Today's run in numbers

Miles - 13
Time - 1 hour 45 minutes
Other runners - none
Cyclists - none
Inconsiderate 4x4 drivers - 8
Sore nipples - 2
Useless MapMyRun experience - 1

In more detail

Saturday morning, 5.30am and waking up.  Rain lashing against the window.  Thoughts of turning over for a further snooze were very tempting.  We had our morning cup of tea, chatted and "put the world to rights" and I had to make a move at 6.45am.  

As ever, it's always hard to know what to wear - will I be too hot, too cold, too......? Decisions decisions.  The Beeb's weather page said 6C which sounded fairly warm so definitely wearing shorts.  Decision made - shorts plus a base layer and my Montane jacket which I am still having a love/hate relationship with (right now things aren't good between us).  Woolly hat and gloves.  I was off!

Light rain as I left the house and ran through a housing estate to the bottom of a hill with a track taking me to the top of an escarpment.  I have run up and down this track dozens and dozens of times but this was the hardest as I got to the top - it was so windy!  Then once at the top and trying to run into the wind and rain was like running into a fireman's hose pipe.  That carried on for half a mile (seemed like it was a million miles) and I branched off, back onto roads for the rest of the run.  The rest of the run was constant rain, rain, rain with easy terrain and gently undulating hills.

The 4x4 drivers

Sorry, I just don't understand why 4x4 drivers need to drive the way they do.  They seem to barge around very quickly making hardly any account for me.  Yes me in my bright yellow jacket; you must have seen me?  Perhaps your blacked out windows figure as your excuse or maybe you just don't care? Today I clocked a Range Rover, a BMW and a few others I didn't recognise.  Please take a look at this blog post which shows you are not all mean drivers (although many of you seem to be).  Feel free to comment.


Forgive me for getting a bit personal but this is something new to me.  With the constant rain and my (not very water proof) Montane jacket I was a bit wet.  Unbeknown to me that was causing my top to rub against my nips.  How did I find out?  Simple: back home and when I turned up the shower to and stepped in.  "Flippin 'eck" I thought.  To say it took me my surprise is an understatement.

Vaseline and / or plasters applied before a run seems to be a popular line of defence for male long distance runners.

Still, at least mine are in tact, unlike a bloke I remember seeing in the gym and sporting a couple of very conspicuous piercings.  Well, they looked miniature like door knockers which I bet that would have been an eye watering experience to say the least.  Just imagine running along like that.  Talk about sore.  Eeeeck.

Another great run - and never turn back

I felt great afterwards, no huge "high" as it was a steady pace with no sprints or hint of interval training today; just a constant relaxed pace.  I'm well used to this distance; I just need to increase it further over the next month.  I should say I had intended a longer run but I needed to be home and take Becky for her tap dancing lesson.  

That's the thing about running; no two runs are exactly the same and I do believe each one is doing me some good.  During the week I had two 5 mile runs after work.  I did these on my own as my running colleague was a little unwell.  Same course each time (cycle tracks and a huge park) which I did in 40 minutes exactly each time.  The second occasion was a day of some snow showers and a short-lived blizzard which I experienced.  Wow that was something - suddenly I could hardly see where I was going, everything was white!

In all the time I have been running I have never turned back early.  That is partly through good fortune and other times through knowing I often struggle in the first couple of miles.  That seems to be paying off and perhaps an important life lesson for me.

And you?

Are you a big 4x4 driver?  Surely there must be some more decent 4x4 drivers out there?
Are you training for the MK Marathon?  How's it going?
Do you use MapMyRun?  Hope you make it work better than I can!
Do you suffer from sore nipples?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Making comments on my blog

I really welcome your comments on my blog posts and rambles.  It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with me; I don't mind that.  I like the encouragements I get, the suggestions, comments and some of the funny things people say sometimes.

What I am struggling with is the daily increase in spam comments which are becoming rather annoying.

So I have added the word verification feature which will hopefully solve this problem for me.  For genuine people leaving comments, I know this might be a bit of a pain-in-the-neck but please don't let it put you off.

Growing hit rate

As the daily page view count continues to grow, this must be fuelled by spam to a certain extent.  But I'm still heartened by the number of page views each day, many more than I could have asked for.   Any feedback on what you find most or least interesting will be really helpful.

Just leave me a comment and please don't get put off by the word verification step (here's hoping it works!).

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Running and dealing with work issues (again!)

Although it's only a couple of days since I last ran, I really miss running!

I woke up at 3.30am, much earlier than normal.  I was wide awake: so I tried plugging my ear phones in and listening to the World Service on the Beeb - this is sometimes a nice way of drifting back off to sleep but alas it wasn't going to work so I "unplugged" myself.  As I lay there I could hear the flaps on our bathroom extractor fan ticking and the sound was travelling through the silent house - we've recently had it fitted and we're getting used to these new things.  The fan is ticking because it's so windy outside, as well as being so cold and dark.

I have things on my mind about work.  I can't go into the details here or really to tell you how I feel about things but I know a good run would help.  I reckon you know that as well, especially if you're a runner.

If it were summer time, the dawn might be breaking through and I could sneak out and run silently through the deserted streets and into the countryside.  I'd be the first to run through patches of cool air in the woods, the first to break through the cobwebs and leave some footprints in the dew.  I would run as silently as I could and all you'd hear would be gentle fleeting footsteps wafting by.  I'd be breathing in a nice rhythm, a steady pattern with ample in reserve.  My heart would be pumping away steadily at around 150bpm, again with more capacity in reserve but you'd never know.  I would jump over the patches of long grass, landing softly and hardly disturbing anything around me.

The sunrise would be a beautiful masterpiece in the sky; it would grow and develop in all it's glory, unfolding ahead of the new day.  I would work through these issues on my mind.  I'd run up a chalky, grass hill panting by the time I reached the top and it would all start to become clear. My thoughts would be straight, I'd have a solution - I would know what to say and to who.  I would know the counter arguments and deal with those, one by one.

And yet it is March.  It is cold, below freezing, very windy, dark and unpleasant outside.  I get up, sneak as quietly as I can to have a hot shower and get dressed.  I have turned the heating on and brewed some nice coffee - feels comforting but not the same as a good run.

I remember someone from our church saying we can worship God in all we do.  He explained "all we do" could mean while we do the most mundane things and we could seek that inspiration and to hear God's words in our hearts.  At the time I didn't take it in until one day, early one summer day I was running hard across an escarpment with far views across the rolling English countryside, I could feel those words and closeness.

These are all good reminders for me on why I started running in the first place and why it remains such a brilliant thing to do.  Never mind all those Action Learning Sets we have at work; running is a brilliant way of working through those issues and solving those problems!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Does yoga help you become a better runner?

Back in January I remember our friend Rachel (Is being vegan healthy?) mentioning yoga while we was discussing vegan issues.  Rachel mentioned that there are some runners amongst her clientele who, although they are often fit, sometimes they can be a bit on the 'tight' side.  From the smallest of glimpses, there is certainly more to yoga than meets the eye.

Other times I am sure people must be asking "can yoga help me lose weight" or "can yoga help me look younger, taller, more attractive, more....?"

I think I know what she means with my calf muscles right now as they feel a bit tight when I run.  Then I came across an interesting article by Hilary Gibson (click here) in which she, as a runner, has previously taken the "burn calories now, deal with it later" approach which I guess many people can end up seriously regretting.  She argues that yes, yoga can help runners and she states "not only has my yoga practice kept my Achilles tendon free from strain, but my entire perspective on running has also changed".

Hilary Gibson touches on being more in-tune with her body, more aware of how she is moving, breathing and how its working.  Assessing the mental approach seems significant as well.

This has got me thinking.  It's got me wondering about yoga.  The flip side is that I don't think yoga devotees would claim that only they can be in-tune with their bodies but from my looking around it is clear they are in-tune.   I have really experienced that connection when I have been running - being so aware of my breathing, my heart rate, feeling my muscles, joints and tendons all working with each other in a balanced way.  Sometimes cycling brings that as well - after an hour or so.  And yet, I don't always feel like that.  Most of the time, in fact, I just run and hopefully get the opportunity to become totally out of breath running up a hill or a bit of interval training in the middle of the run.   Good though that is, it's not necessarily being in-tune with my body, that happens much less often.  So maybe yoga devotees have a point.

Being "fit enough" to run X miles is fine but the question of whether that is bringing the rewards that are there to be had.  What use is running a marathon in a good time if you're eating the wrong foods, or if someone smokes?   Or perhaps if someone drinks too much, uses illicit drugs, weighs too much or too little, or..... the list goes on.

Easy for some to get worried about all of this - and there maybe genuine concerns - but also easy to get swept along with fads or fashions.  For me, I wish I had time to explore yoga or Pilates, I really do.  Maybe someday I will.  For all of us we can only do what we have time to do and, of course, it is right to keep the correct balance in life.  What use is taking up X and neglecting Y (especially if Y represents your family, faith or profession)?

One day.....

Sunday, 10 March 2013

MK marathon training run

An interesting and challenging run today...

Distance: 14.01 miles
Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Elevation: 535 feet
Significant hills: 2
Other runners seen: 3
Cyclists seen: 2 (Barry and Angela!)
Number of flat iPhone batteries: 1

I had been looking forward to yesterday's run all week and I was really pleased that nothing had thwarted me.  I did my usual faffing around at home checking the BBC weather page and even stepping outside to see what the temperature was like.  I also borrowed Rachel's iPhone as I'd wanted to check the actual mile because I'm not wanting to fool myself with the marathon approaching.

the Loser

We got Edomondo installed first of all as I was curious for a few stats (Endomondo being one of those smart phone training Apps).  As it turns out, he's a complete loser, a scoundrel, bastard and totally unreliable, just as Rachel said he was.  Once I was in the countryside, every now and again I could hear a voice which had me puzzled first of all.  Sounded like a distant radio or something and yet there was nobody else around; then I realised it must be telling me how well I was doing, perhaps even giving me some encouraging and motivational words.

After 8 miles, Endomondo couldn't stand the pace.  He gave up but I couldn't have cared less as I was having a good run.  Back home they were trying to track me, seeing where I was and what my pace was until, that is, Endomondo had deserted me which led them to wonder if I'd been abducted.  They concluded it must have been a flat battery and continued snoozing.

Luckily I had made the right choice on route, though it was a little make-it-up-as-you-go-along.  Two significant hills, one of these was a real lung buster and good to do but I know it slowed me down a bit.  Talking of me being slowed down, let me tell you about the mud.  Yes, the mud.  I encountered quite a mixture today with sloppy, slushy and slippery kinds.  The slippery kinds are the worst and can send me flying all over the place.  The sloppy kind can suck your shoes off and the slushy kind is just good fun - great arriving back home splattered in mud!

the Losers on wheels

Probably worth saying something about my fellow road users.  Really great to see Barry and Angela out on their shiny new bikes.  Angela was on a Trek (women's specific design, complete with girly colours) and I couldn't quite work out what Barry was using.  Both certainly looked the part and nice to see them out on the roads!  Barry and Angela aren't losers but I was less keen on the BMW drivers today, in particular those driving those huge living room sized petrol guzzlers and where they were more concerned with avoiding puddles than avoiding me (after all, I'm just a runner and do not matter at all?).

I can feel a tightness in my calf muscles in both legs.  Roughly speaking we all have three muscles running from our knees towards are feet and one of these is protesting a bit.  Last year I think I over stretched a little so this year I have not stretched at all, so probably somewhere in between is about right.


Can I say something about my kit as it's is all working well?  My Sauconys remain superb and the best running shoes I've had.  My Montane jacket has won me over in spite of its shortcomings.  I wore shorts as it felt the right thing to do (I like to feel 'free' when I'm running) and gloves.  Oh and of course, I had a base layer too.  All came together; not too hot, not too cold, just right.  I haven't bought anything for running for absolutely ages and it goes to show what a cost-effective sport running is.

All in all, a good training run and already looking forward to the next long run, next weekend.  I love these long runs, especially before breakfast when the rest of the day is before me.  It goes without saying my reward was a red hot shower and a good dose of the Runner's High (which I could feel for several hours!).  A chance also to think, to be inspired, to work through those problems, to rise above those things that can drag me down.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

It feels like Spring is now coming!

I know Spring is coming because:

  1. I see more runners every day.  This encourages me when I'm out running myself and I hope I can might be some kind of an encouragement to others, simply through being out there in my Sauconys.  Mind you, you get a mixed bunch pounding the streets at this time of year.  You get keen runners like me.  We eye each other up and exchange nods as we pass each other.  Then you get the nooooobie runners looking a bit conspicuous.  I could, of course, be scornful and poke a bit of fun at them.  After all, I could say it is in the interest of an entertaining read.  But I won't; I can see myself in them at what seems like last week - nervously jogging and wobbling in my clean white trainers.  "Good luck" I think to myself as we exchange a smile.
  2. The weather is warmer.  On Monday and Tuesday I ran after work, just for 45 minutes and a pleasant 5 or 6 miles or so.  Warm enough for a single layer and even shorts!  Wow that caused a stir in the office after I'd got changed as I had forgotten to announce a knobbly knee warning beforehand.  What made it worse was waiting for a colleague who was coming with me one day.  He took ages and ages to get changed so there I was sitting at my desk in my short shorts, muddy Sauconys etc with all kinds of odd comments from colleagues escaping from the office.  You'd think they'd know by now.  Yep wearing shorts is great for running; I loathe wearing Tracksters unless it is seriously sub zero.
  3. The weather is very changeable.  Following on from pleasant spring-like sunshine and lunch time temperatures of 15C, today it is grey, raining and 5C.  There's talk of a little more snow.  Grrrrr.
  4. I feel so optimistic!  Not much to add other than I am feeling hopeful about a whole load of things and having a good run serves to boost those positive feelings.  Right now in my corner of Justice and the Public Sector things are looking a bit gloomy and we're collectively wondering how long we'll have our jobs for.  One of my colleagues is leaving today, "jumping ship" so to speak and nobody would blame him.  Me, well in spite of all the challenges I cannot help but feel optimistic but where and how things will pan out is something I have no real idea about!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Saturday's long run

The quietness of the English countryside in Winter

I must tell you about my run on Saturday - t'was brilliant!

It was a run that I had needed for a number of different reasons.  Firstly (and from the most practical point of view) I needed to have a long run to carry on gradually increasing the length of my long runs.  Just two months before the 2013 MK Marathon!  I can feel myself falling into the same situation as I did last year - during February I fell back with my training and it nearly cost me the race.  Last year it was "life" that distracted me away from running.  This year the main issue was prolonged snow and ice at the wrong time, plus I'm no longer a member of the fitness club so I can't use a treadmill as an alternative to the great outdoors.

The second reason for needing the long run was to ease all my worries.  Forgive me for not going into the details but I can say I've got a few things on my mind concerning work and, for those who know me well, there's nothing new in that.  Running is a great way of putting things in order, kind of tidying up the filing in my mind, sorting out which things are worth worrying about and which things aren't.  Well, my medicine of a long run certainly did the trick in lifting many of those dark swirling clouds.

what, where, when

Another deliberately hilly run and a route I've not done since last winter.  About 10 miles taking 1.5 hours.  One huge lung busting hill, some gentle trails, country lanes and getting out and back into the town with a bit of National Trust land thrown in for good measure.  Once out of the town it was gently undulating with a few more 'technical' stretches because of the uneven ground, slimy mud gravel, tree roots; all of which tested my balance and the strength of the muscles in my foot and lower leg.  I could almost imagine, as I was running along, the marvellous workings of those muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones all working with each other, step by step.  We are, indeed, an incredible design.

Need to tell you about the weather.  When I left home at 8.00am there was a sleet shower with dark leaden skies.  During the run I encountered mist, sunshine, gloom and more sunshine - can you believe it!?!  All very good but what do you wear?  How do you stop yourself freezing, boiling etc?  Short of taking a rucksack with different clothes I just had to take the weather as it came.  So that meant when I was plodding myself up a 1 : 2 climb (impossible to run) I was getting really hot and sweaty and then TALK ABOUT WIND CHILL! You get the drift, all interesting stuff.

Pushing myself

I knew at times my heart rate must have been 'off the scale' during the last 30 seconds of getting to the top of some of those hills and I was panting at top speed.  I think this is good to do in short bursts as it does expand the aerobic abilities of the body but also, it should be stressed, is not completely without risk and that's why short bursts are okay for me.  Any suggestion of dizziness, chest pains, feeling light headed are all warning signs to stop and rest.  I never experienced those at all so I pressed on, sweating like crazy, grinning like a cheshire cat.  Flippin' brilliant!

In the zone

Yep there was a stretch where the run was undemanding, perhaps a mile or so with a gentle slope down hill and a chance to relax into the pace a little.  It's at times like this you can just run on a kind of auto pilot with little effort.  I've had times like this before when several miles can pass by without you even noticing other than an awareness of running well with good form at a reasonable pace.  

These runs are important

We shouldn't under estimate the value of a good long run.  It brings so many benefits in terms of upholding physical and mental health.  As exercise goes, it is brilliant in terms of getting more "bang for your bucks" with a good workout and about 1200 or 1300 calories being burnt.  Gently stressing those ankle and knee joints and knowing they'll repair themselves in a day or two to become even stronger.  Reflecting on life, those niggles and worries, keeping things in perspective; all good reasons why these long runs are my favourites above some of those shorter blasts.

The rule of thumb, when training for a marathon, is to increase the distance of the weekly long runs by a mile each week.  Knowing the MK marathon is only eight weeks away, I'm going to have to push that a little further.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Really looking forward to tomorrow's run!

Quick post here.

Difficult week, work tricky.

Had two runs after work, straight from the office.

One on my own and the other with a colleague.

Ran around an urban area with cycle tracks, underpasses, drug dealers and graffiti.

So much looking forward to my long run, first thing tomorrow morning.

Planning to take a different route, away from the norm.  Different expectations from the rural landscape.    Wanting space to run tomorrow morning and think things through, to bathe in fresh inspirations, to work through things in my mind.