Sunday, 17 December 2017

Yesterday's canal run

As my family are away for the weekend, yesterday's canal run had a few possibilities.  For one I decided to run a different part of the canal and secondly, there was no rush to meet Hannah at a set time.  I drove Marsworth on the Grand Union canal and ran south from there.  It was glorious. Here's the run in numbers:

Miles: 8.3
Pace: 9:17mins/mile
Pee/poo stops: 0
Friendly cyclists riding the towpath: 3
Friendly runners: 2 (one was super fit and over took me)
Indifferent runners: 1
Boats on the move: 3
Temperature when I set off: -3c

A few observations:
  • the canal was mostly frozen
  • the first boat through sounded and looked like it was nibbling its way through the ice
  • the ground was mostly frozen solid, with some stretches of frozen ice/snow which slowed me down a little
  • the boaters were mostly friendly, liked being photographed (below)
  • another elderly lady said "you be careful now, mind you don't slip" as she puffed on her cigarette, hacking and coughing
  • I loved it being cold once I had warmed up properly; in fact I was as "warm as toast" inside, almost over dressed
  • I felt in good shape for the rest of the day, not particularly achey or tired
  • because the scenery was new, perhaps less thinking time for myself.  I love seeing where my thoughts take me as I run on a kind of autopilot 
Here's some photos:

Monday, 11 December 2017

Running every day

I have decided to take up the challenge of running every day in December.  This builds on previous years when I have decided to do something like this during just the Christmas and New Year break.  Each time I have done something like this I have found it to be very rewarding and satisfying.

So, how's it going so far?

Mostly okay is the easy answer.  Last weekend I was at Weston-Super-Mare visiting my Mother who lives very near the sea front.  Naturally I had to have a little run each day, before breakfast, to blow the cobwebs out and ensure the day's run has been done.  I always love running along the seafront at Weston, as do quite a few other runners.

Back at work on Monday and therefore the best option was to drive home and then run before eating in the evening.  As we have been out to friends for two evenings this week, a couple of runs were short and just around the neighbourhood.  Other runs have been for three miles and along the bus way in the dark.

Once my head torch stopped working (flat battery) and running through a particularly dark and shady lane was a bit nerve wracking.  On Friday evening Hannah came with me, always an amusing if unpredictable experience.  This was pretty straight forward, thankfully.

While I was dressed as I would for freezing conditions (Craft thermal top, light windproof running jacket, gloves, hat and running tights), Hannah went out as is it was sunny day.  Sports bra (apparently) and a short sleeve technical tee shirt.  I asked her if she was cold and she said she was fine.  Flippin' 'eck I'd be frozen stiff like that!

So the last week saw me run 20 miles, which was fine.  For shorter runs, these seems to be a little easier in terms of being less stiff as I start out.  Week one has been okay.  Yesterday and today the weather has brought a cold snap with some snow.....

So off I go for today's snowy run!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Latest canal run

Yesterday was my latest canal run and although it was hard, I loved it.  Here's the run in numbers:

Miles 8.9
Average pace 9.08/mile
Time 1:21
Calories 1246
Temperature +1
Photo stops 1
Poo stops 1
Cyclists 0
Other runners 8

Grand Union canal, near Three Locks
I've done this run many times before and it's always delightful; always delightful seeing the seasons change and experiencing the run in different weather conditions.  I have experienced fog, drizzle, rain, blistering heat and, you name it, it's been there on a Saturday morning while I've plodded my way along the tow path.  I went from my daughter's kayaking club in Linslade, near Leighton Buzzard up to the Three Locks and back.  It's all flat and very easy going.

As there was a thin layer of ice, the kayakers decided to have a gym session instead of going on the water.  Apparently it only takes a little ice to cause a lot of damage to to the kayaks, plus I think falling in would be traumatic for anyone.

There weren't any boats moving on the water, hardly surprising although sometimes I have seen narrow boats pushing their way through a bit of ice.  Instead there were a number moored up and plenty of woodsmoke drifting around - making for a nice atmospheric scene.

I might look all happy in this shot, actually I was putting on a brave face.  I was finding the run really hard going.  I was fatigued, my legs seems heavy at mile 4 and I was not running at my best.  Mostly I was lovely and warm but, despite wearing gloves, my fingers were cold almost all the run.  I even got over taken by a younger couple which I consoled myself about.  They looked 20 years younger than me, so that made it okay.

Although my pace was 9:08 per mile, I have run this route much quicker before.  I am sure the high creatinine which my kidneys are spewing out has something to do with it,  I might be running slower these days but i'm not stopping!

Once I'd got back to the clubhouse the gym session was still in full swing.  They had been doing all kinds of things to have a full work out, going from tip to toe.  That's the thing about about kayakers, they need all their muscles working from their toes, legs, waist, core and so on.  When I got there the coach was asking different members, one by one, what the group should be doing next.

Some of the exercises included weights, stretching and I think a bit of pilates thrown in.  All good stuff, especially as I could have a cup of tea and an egg roll to warm me up!

From there Hannah drove me home, complete with L plates.  This was followed by a red hot shower, more lashings of hot tea and a good rest.  I certainly needed that rest and felt quite achey for the rest of the day.  This is partly due, I reckon, to this creatinine business but also through running every day - look out for my next blog post on Running Every Day in December.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Favourite run getting harder

This is my favourite run which I had been planning to run at night time with my friend Jon, who unfortunately has gone down with the dreaded flu and consequently whipped out.  I decided to still go ahead with the run, albeit in daylight.

I have run this route many times, or variations of it. Add all the variations of the basic route and I have run it hundreds of times.  I know it well and yet every time it is a little different; the seasons, the weather and how I'm running.

So on Monday morning, just a few days ago I decided to run it alone.  A nice way of starting my week's annual leave at an otherwise drab time of year.

After a mile of running along the A5 through a particularly drab Dunstable, I headed up Beech Road and into the countryside; this being the first proper hill.  As Beech Road and the subsequent hill is about a mile from home, at this stage I am not warmed up or running at my best.  Nevertheless I confess I had to stop at the top for a breather.  It is a short, sharp hill which has always tested me and I've certainly enjoyed running up it (especially when I overtake cyclists!).

Hollicks Lane is the next hill and probably the steepest in Bedfordshire at about 1:4 (or 25% in new money).  Again it's short and steep.  Again I had to stop and catch my breath at the top which is not good news at all. There were some builders doing some work on a driveway there and they were surprised to see someone actually running up the hill which made me smile.

The route then turns right and is flat, running through the outskirts of Kensworth to Land Park Lane which I think has now been de-listed as a road.  It is gradually returning to nature and this is where the nicest part of the run starts.  I absolutely love running through the woods and eventually out onto Dunstable Downs - this is always the highlight and my pace often quickens across the Downs footpath before dropping back down into Dunstable and plodding home.

The run's main features were:

  • Hard going, especially up the hills
  • Quite a lot slower than years gone by.  My average pace was 9:26/mile. My fastest pace for this exact route was 8:35/mile and that was in 2015.
  • Muddy in the woods.  But then I quite like getting splattered with muddy water.  As for my running shoes, well they look well-used nowadays.  Even my feet were muddy when I took my socks off!
  • Missed running with Jon 
  • Uplifting, making me more thoughtful for the day
  • Gave me a nice gentle runner's high buzz for several hours after.  Not blowing my brains out this time but a nice feeling nevertheless

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Another health update – confusion!

The mysterious Serum creatinine levels

When I was in the process of getting my blood pressure under control, my Doctor told me that he was puzzled as to why I had hypertension.  After all I was doing everything right – good weight, exercise, tee total, haven’t smoked for decades, caffeine free and a vegetarian.  He ran a series of blood tests and found my serum creatinine levels were high.  The test was repeated to ensure it wasn’t an error from the lab and sure enough the readings were correct.
I have since had the tests done again along with my urea levels.  Fortunately for me, I have had a regular check up over the years and so the trend can be seen and you can spot where things went a little wayward:

Date – Creatinine mol/L – Urea mol/L

2004 – 75 – 3.1
2006 – 73 – 2.4
2010 – 79 – 2.3
2014 – 56 – x
2015 – 64 – x
2017 March – 163 and 154
2017 May 159
2017 – November – 200
My Doctor had said my pre-2017 readings were all good, showing my kidneys were working well as they should.  In fact my readings were towards the bottom of the range, even better.  He also said how being a vegetarian is beneficial on the kidneys as they don’t have to work so hard in dealing with the meat-based protein.  Those are the good bits.  He is puzzled at the rise this year asking me if something happened in my life?  Well, that’s hard to answer really.  My Dad died, I changed jobs and Brexit started; surely that can’t be linked?  What about stress?  Maybe but I’ve had this before.
So with the latest tests where my creatinine was 200, I only know the result as I phoned the Doctor’s surgery and was told the Doctor wants to see me as soon as possible.  That ‘as soon as possible’ will be 19 December according to the receptionist.  So much for ‘as soon as possible’ as that’s almost three weeks away.  I pressed the receptionist for any further comment from the Doctor.  She said the only note was the creatinine was abnormally high and the urea was high as expected.
I am none-the-wiser now.  Contrary to my previous liking for grabbing the last appointment of the day and enjoying a chatty consultation, the last time I did this he was running late and no time for chatting (grrrr).  He did say something about referring me to a specialist but I’m not sure about this (when, who, why etc).
By way of answering my questions, he suggested I “Google it” as there was so much on the web for patients nowadays.  Trouble is, I’m not sure I’m starting in the right place and this is where some denial might be creeping in.  This creatinine business points towards kidney disease (ugh) and then when I read some of the other symptoms I wonder if I should start to be worried or not.  The symptoms I experience daily are fatigue, tiredness and muscle cramps, possibly reduced urine.  Other symptoms I’m not getting at all are itchy skin or swollen feet and ankles.
So what’s going on??????

Blood pressure

Not much to report here, everything has settled down with the aid of the medication.  My typical readings are 120/80 which I understand is fine.  On rare occasions it might reach 130/90.  Other times, particularly within a few hours of returning from a run or a workout my blood pressure can go down to 100/70.  My pulse is normally about 60bpm.


After blogging about the dramatic improvement in my eyesight earlier this year, this has mostly held up alright.  Only recently have I noticed a deterioration but I’m not too worried about this as I know the medication is so effective and I can use this again.

All this raises bigger questions….

….such as the merits of giving up work in the foreseeable future.  Don’t know, just don’t know.  I like to work and it feels right.  Our financial plans are based around a few more years of work before I draw my pension and so on.  Or is it really worth slogging away in a stressful job in the longer term?

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The perils of treadmill running

I quite like treadmill running, it has its place in my keep-fit routine and more recently I have experimented with some of the programmes on offer.  This is where the perils of treadmill running come into play.

You see, at the leisure centre the Technogym treadmills allow you to do a number of things:
  • free running, where you control the speed, gradient and time
  • use a pre-programmed work out
  • re-run something which the treadmill has picked up from your Strava feed.  This is particularly neat as it shows the map and where you are.  The treadmill then adjusts the speed to match the real life run. At first it seemed a bit surreal. It doesn't do anything to the gradient, which is just as well as I can't imagine running down hill on a treadmill!
  • favourite treadmill runs can also be saved and re-run again and again
There are many advantages to treadmill running and I have blogged about this before.  

However, there is one main disadvantage as I discovered last week.....

There I was, happily running a favourite run lasting only 15 minutes.  It is set to have a warm-up of 5 minutes at 6.5mph, then the speed gradually increases to reach a very brisk pace just before the end and the cool down period.  One of the increases in speed is a bit drastic.  This is fine providing you are looking at the screen and see it change.  I happened to be "somewhere else" in my thoughts when the speed suddenly increased and I almost went flying off the treadmill - it was only the hand rails at the side which saved me!

This was not a cool thing to do.  My sudden movement as I desperately grabbed the side rail caught the eye of other gym users.  Some looked concerned: is he alright, did he trip or something?  Is he having a heart attack? Was he going too fast and couldn't handle it? Is he a complete idiot? Others must have thought I was a newbie and not up to running on a treadmill.  Others just rolled their eyes.

So there you go.  Treadmill running does have it's real advantages but also some perils can lurk there.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Update on running and cycling

I thought it timely be useful to write a little update on running and cycling these days. Here goes...


Right now my cycling tends to be mostly short local commutes and I'm quite enjoying this.  Normally I go to a Council place in Houghton Regis once a week and from time to time I drop in for a meeting or hot design at the Council offices in Dunstable.  Journeys are just as fast by bicycle, even though I'm hardly a speed merchant these days.

I like the independence cycling brings; going from A to B under your own steam without the fuss of running a car.  Besides, I do admit to feeling a tad smug as I get places quicker by bike.  I also enjoy some traffic free routes which is pleasant and this brings added enjoyment.  Mind you, interacting with other road users can be increasingly problematic and I'll give you some examples:

Being invisible on traffic calming road humps.  These seem to be popping up everywhere in the 20mph residential areas and often narrowed, so only one car can drive over the hump at any one time.  Even when I have priority many car drivers tend to "chance it" with me and assume I'll move out of their way, even though they're in the wrong.  Whenever this happens I hold my ground and ride straight at them.  They know they haven't got a leg to stand on and simply have to stop, looking embarrassed (this should teach them a useful lesson). I don't wish to antagonise motorists but I'm certainly not going to give way if I'm in the right.  Motorists need to learn and take note!

Packs of school boys on their 29ers.  While it's great to see groups of lads cycling to school, they are a bit uncontrolled at times.  They'll ride all over the road, often pulling wheelies and wobbling about.  I tend to give them a wide birth.

Laid back and lowered blokes. These are those increasingly common young men driving around in cars with lowered suspension, often with silly lights and dark windows.  To complete the laid back look their seat backs are almost flat and they can barely see out of the windows; in fact they look like 12 year olds trying to grow beards.  While the laid back and lowered blokes are doing their best to look cool in their uncool cars, I think they miss seeing me at various junctions.  When they do see me, they often look so annoyed their fancy cars are moving so slower than yours truly simply freewheeling past them.  I love this!


I sometimes think I run more miles than I cycle these days, especially if I include treadmill miles.  Nevertheless running still brings more bangs for my bucks and I try to have a run four times a week.
Since the clocks changed back to GMT a couple of weeks ago, I have been running a few times at night.  I quite like doing this as it's something a little different and touches on my senses in a different way.  As I ran out into the countryside afterwork one day with a head torch, I was struck by how much I could smell, much more than normal - onions, damp soil, wood and so on, making it quite special.

It's a strange sensation when you come to run (or cycle) down hill and you haven't seen the change in gradient.  You simply find yourself going faster and faster without anymore effort.
Running at night isn't all plain sailing.  I have to be so careful I don't trip up and fall.  My eyesight isn't brilliant and it's easy to miss seeing the odd stone or tree root and the last thing I want is a twisted ankle or a broken arm away from help.  It is also quite hard to see the natural path to follow with so many falling leaves covering the track.

I am hoping to have a night run during the coming week with my good friend (and financial advisor) John.  Hopefully we will head over my favourite 7 mile hilly route over Dunstable Downs.  While I have run this many times before, perhaps 100s of times, I have never run it at night.  This is the kind of course which does take you off road for a couple of miles and you need company.  So I'm really looking forward to this as I've enjoyed so many night cycle rides over the years and a decent run has the makings of something very special.

I do like Strava; it brings an extra layer of interest to running and cycling.  It can be very satisfying and yet also a bit dispiriting.  Let me explain.  Two years ago I last ran a marathon and my pace was about 8:30mins/mile and I was quite pleased with that.  Nowadays my pace on much shorter runs is typically 9:15mins/mile.  It is depressingly true the blood pressure tablets I take to bring on tiredness and this might account for some of my slower times, together with being two years older.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Very dark and very, very scary

The Central Bedfordshire Council office where I work is, unusually, in the countryside and so any winter runs after work will be in the dark.  I've done a few night time runs by running down into Shefford, a nearby town or simply going to the gym and pounding the treadmill.

And so a few days ago I decided to dust off my head torch and have a run in the dark.  It was very dark and ver, very scary at times.  As I was running through the nearby Campton Plantation I was paying attention to any tree roots or anything else which could trip me up.  My running form seemed a little different in almost running on tip toes and as light as I could to avoid tripping up.  With so many leaves falling and a mediocre head torch it was at times hard to see where the path was.

I ran through the woods and out on to the other side to pick up a footpath and follows the perimeter of the Chicksands military base.  I have run this route many times before and it's about 3 miles in total.  Three miles, by the way, is about the minimum distance worth running in my book.

The run around the edge of the base was fairly uneventful.  No squaddies saying "Evening Sa!" or off road cyclists or other runners.  I did wonder where I would attract any attention from the base's security staff who might be interested in this little light bobbing around in the countryside.  Thankfully no interest at all.  In fact I have no idea who they are (Army, Airforce etc) or what goes on in there. Sometimes when I drive into the Council's offices by the base's back entrance, there are armed soldiers around which can be unsettling.

What surprised me was how my senses just switched over to being more aware of the smells of the countryside.  I could smell an onion crop while running a path along the edge of a field which then added into the smell of damp soil.  Coming back through the woods brought a wealth of other smells from the trees, especially from the occasional pine tree.

At one point I glanced to my left and had quite a fright!  It was the sculpture of a monk-like figure you can see in the above photo.  I've passed this many times, along with the other sculptures dotted around the woods and yet I was still spooked by it.   It seemed to be in the wrong place, or more correctly, I wasn't where I thought I was! 

So like every other run, it was worthwhile and I never regret going for a run no matter how tough going it is or however horrible the weather is.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

New infographic - metabolism

It has been a while since I have had an involvement in the development of an infographic and I was intrigued and pleased to contribute to the infographic you see below from those nice folk at Elysium Health in New York.  

The graphic was all about health tips.  Now anyone who knows me will expect me to come up with a lot and be able to happily talk about keeping in good shape for hours, so there was no shortage of health tips from my end.  

You can see below I have mentioned post-workout nutrition. This is important and something I take care to do myself.  Even after yesterday's hilly run (7.5 miles) I made sure I had a glass of cherry juice as I went to have a shower.  So there, I do practice what I preach!  I can't resist pointing out that having something nutritious after a workout, or a run, is helpful if it is rich in antioxidants which help mop-up free radicals which can go on to cause cellular damage later on.  

Speaking of cellular damage, the graphic helpfully explores some of the science behind the metabolism; an integral process within our cells.  Elysium even provides some of their own tips for maintaining good metabolic health.  Having knowledge on these things is powerful and it is always fascinating to learn more about how our bodies work.  This page on NAD+ and cell metabolism is a good place to start.

Take a look below, does it make sense, you see what they're driving at?  Check out the other contributors as well - already I have seen the blog of Michelle Maclean which looks interesting and I think I'll be visiting again.

Monday, 5 June 2017

A nostalgic run

A few days ago we had the Spring Bank holiday and, to cut a long story short, I decided I would run an old route.  I drove over there and parked my car at Preston, a pretty village on the top of a hill.

This run involved Charlton Hill Road, just outside Hitchin, Hertfordshire.  Normally I would run in an anticlockwise direction having started at Preston and this means the first couple of miles is mostly down hill as far as Gosmore.  It's then fairly flat until you turn onto Charlton Road.  This was fine as I need to take at least 20 minutes to get warmed up these days, possibly more.

I was on the road for the entire run of about six miles.  Traffic wise it was extremely quiet with only one or two cars, two motorbikes, two cyclists and one other runner.

Running along Charlton Road you're aware of the gentle gradient until you get to a wooded area where it then starts to climb (at the point of my above selfie).

I remembered how I used to do this run while I worked in Stevenage.  It involved changing into my running gear before I left work and then driving there.  This run was a wonderful way of blowing off some steam as I de-stressed and mentally relaxed myself.  It generally worked well.

It is quite a hilly run with Charlton Hill being THE climb.  At its steepest I think this is about 1:4 and this occurs when you're three quarters of the way around and probably the part nearest to West Wood in the above map.  This climb is always very testing and generally enjoyable.

Having run this a number of times I think it's good to have a little energy still in the tank for a sprint once the road starts to level out - this will enable a runner to get a good Strava time on the segment which is there.  My personal best for the "Charlton Hill Steep Bit" is 2:31 which puts me at 41 out of 262 runners.  Not bad but I can't match that right now.

The difference in performance was absolutely amazing, I was astonished.  On this run my average time per mile was a rather slow 8:50mins/mile.  My fastest time on this route, in October 2015, was a mere 6:52mins/mile - almost two minutes faster for each mile!  I toyed with some of the possible different factors.  These could include obviously being a little older, perhaps a little heavier and the effects of having high blood pressure these days.

I could easily depress myself by dwelling on this too much; it had to happen sooner or later in terms of slowing down.  Having said that I always think that the best is yet to come (as I'm a born optimist!).

By the time I was nearing the end of the run, the rain started and I thought this was utterly wonderful.   I was quite hot and the rain was wonderfully refreshing.  I spotted a friendly-looking cyclist and I held out my arms with the palms of my hands facing upward as I grinned.  He shouted back "I know exactly what you mean, it's lovely!".  Enough said.

Finally, here's a shot taken a couple of years ago with the Charlton Hill climb in the background.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The importance of saying "thank you"

This is my friend Geoff.  We have known each other since the last century when I lived in Hereford and I recently paid him, his wife Lorraine and his collection of bicycles, a visit.  I had wanted to do this for quite some time but it was hearing a radio programme which made me do it for sure.
The radio programme was Saturday Live and it's broadcast each Saturday morning on Radio 4 (and I do like Radio 4!) and presented by the smooth talking Rev Richard Coles and Aasmah Mir.  It is a kind of chatty magazine programme which includes a section where listeners can phone in to say "thank you" to someone.  Often these are people wanting to express their appreciation for something which happened many years ago.  As they say on Saturday Live "it's never too late to thank someone".
The "thank you" which caught my attention was someone calling to thank a Dr Ivor Chance (yes really, this was his name).  The woman calling in said that she was only alive through the work of Dr Chance.  Apparently her mother was in Uganda, pregnant with her and went into a difficult labour, fortunately she was able to find her way to a remote mission hospital where Dr Chance was able to deliver her.  The labour was very difficult and the mother lost a lot of blood, so Dr Chance donated some of his own and therefore saved the life of the mother and the newborn baby.  Rolling forward many decades, it was time to say "thank you" to Dr Chance for saving her life as a newborn baby and her mother.
The remarkable thing about the story was [the late] Dr Chance's daughter was listening to the radio programme and was stunned to hear of her father being talked about on the radio.  So she contacted the Saturday Live programme and explained, the following week, how much she had been moved by hearing the account of her father.  It had also spurred her on to make a point of saying "thank you" to a number of people in her own life who had made some kind of impact or long lasting impression through friendship.
So that's why I decided to thank my friend Geoff for his friendship over the years.
The bonus was also being able to have a poke around his garage at his collection of bicycles, many of which I could remember.  You see, Geoff, appreciates nice bicycles and cars (he has restored the old Ford Anglia in the above photograph to a high standard).
I love the Moultons he has.  There's a couple which date back to the 1960s and what I think of as being a modern contemporary version which actually dates back to the 1980s - this could be an AM7 or 9 - this is my favourite.  There's also some Curly Stay Hetchins, a curious Flying Gate which I hadn't seen before and apparently the first one made by the frame builder.  A nice Dawes Galaxy, a titanium Raleigh MTB and the list goes on.  All lovingly restored and cherished.
I love hearing all the anecdotes about each of these projects; the stories in acquiring the bicycles (and cars) followed by the research and steps taken to restore them.  Sometimes it's a case of restoring something to the original factory condition, other times it can be appropriate to update or improve the original specification.  Each time this is done, there's always quite a bit of thought taking place to ensure it would be honouring to the original design and concept.
So, old friends rightfully thanked for their friendship; to admire the handiwork, to be nostalgic and reflect on where we've been in life.  As the years tick by, it's good to reflect on the lives that have touched my life for the good - right from long standing friends to fleeting acquaintances - these are all cherished and valued.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Chatting to an elderly runner at Weston

Last weekend I visited my Mother in Weston-Super-Mare.  As she lives near the sea front I generally have a run along the promenade or perhaps the beach.  I have done this many times before and normally the other runners are friendly enough.

So on the Sunday morning run I ran past a runner who looked quite elderly.  He was about my height and a little slimmer, grey hair.  As I went passed him I noticed he was quite elderly.

I was thinking about him as I continued and couldn't help but wonder how old he was.  Perhaps in his 70s?  He certainly looked in pretty good shape and I couldn't get him out of my mind; curiosity about his age was bugging me.  So I simply decided to go back and ask him.

I turned around, took a few strides back and then ran alongside him.  We said "good morning" to each other and exchanged a little small talk.  Then I decided I had to ask, doing my best to ask in a pleasant friendly way.

"Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?"

He looked a little wary and so I quickly followed it up by asking "I was wondering how old you are, I hope you don't mind me asking".

He explained he was 81.  I said something about being seriously impressed with the hopes that I can still be running when I'm his age.

"Have you always been a runner?"

"No, not always.  In fact I've always been a cyclist until I had an accident a few years ago".

He went onto explain he's had an accident with a pedestrian stepping out in front of him in town.  He fell off his bike and shortly afterwards had a brain haemorrhage.  This caused his wife to say he shouldn't cycle anymore.  She was worried for him.

So instead he started walking around as a way of getting some exercise.  This wasn't enough so before long he started jogging and then running with regularity.  He certainly looked good.

I said "I hope I'm still running when I'm 81" and then I needed to peel off as I was nearly back to my Mother's road, just off the sea front.

Many times I've thought about him since.  I really did admire him as he was very unassuming, modest and in such good shape.  He was in exceptionally good condition and, to be honest, would put many a thirty year old to shame.  Certainly hope I remain in good shape for the next thirty years!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Checking your running shoes

If ever we need to be reminded on why its important to check your running shoes, this is it.

Recently on a run I could feel something unfordable with the heel in my left shoe.  At first I thought it was a small piece of grit that would come and go, I hadn't made the connection between the terrain and what I could feel.

As the thorn had pierced the sole of my running shoe in a recessed part, I could only feel it if I ran over rough ground where it would push against that part of the sole.  When I tried to find the grit, nothing was there, instead I was very surprised to find a thorn poking through into the inside and even more amazed at its size - and how tough it was!

So I really must resume the habit of checking over my shoes from time to time.  When I have done this in the past, I have spotted damage and areas where I need to keep an eye on.

Having said all that, this thorn was amazingly sharp and strong, quite difficult to extract and quite freaky.

Besides, I can feel a future post coming on - runners with piercings.

Check your running shoes
Are my running shoes worn out?
Two pairs of running shoes?

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Moulton at Waitrose, Ampthill

A Moulton bicycle at Waitrose, Ampthill

I spotted this Moulton bicycle outside Waitrose, Ampthill, Central Bedfordshire.  It caught my eye as I have arranged to visit my friend Geoff in Hereford next weekend and he knows a thing or two about these bikes.
For myself, I'm not too well informed about these bikes, although I think they have probably been underestimated over the years.
This particular Moulton seems quite an eclectic mixture.  The frame looks as if it could be from the original 1960s stable with its straight tubes and made in an uncomplicated way.  The suspension appears based around a piece rubber.  This might seem basic by today's standards but I reckon it was way ahead of its time.  The frame has almost certainly been resprayed.
The components appear to be more up to date.  The wheels look fairly fast with the radial spoking and slick tyres, although I'm not so sure about the hub gears and what could be in there.  Quite a few weight-saving aluminimum components are there also; the seat post, handlebar etc.
All in all, quite an interesting looking bike.  But who could ride it?  What kind of a cyclist could it belong to?  My guess, and I could be totally wrong is....
  • someone fairly tall
  • fairly affluent (parked outside Waitrose)
  • perhaps a London bound commuter (not sure about that!)
  • likes stylish things but probably driven by practicalities over appearance
  • has more than one bicycle
If you know about this bicycle, please put me straight!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

If I were Prime Minister for a day

We had a funny conversation while driving along. It was if I were Prime Minister for a day - what would I do.  I thought it could be fun to mention here.  Here goes.
Sugar tax
Yep, I'd bring this in properly and not just for fizzy drinks.  I'd include all kinds of chocolate, sweets and the like.  While I'm at it, I'd have a good look at McDonalds, KFC and so on.  Why?  Because KFC = Keep Fat & Chubby.  Feeding such crap to your kids could be described as child abuse.
The Government has previously missed a trick with not introducing minimum alcohol pricing, although perhaps Scotland might have had the foresight to do this.  Considering the immense harm to people's physical and mental health through excessive alcohol, there is a strong case for this.  Add the misery caused by drunk people getting into fights, domestic abuse and general rowdiness, I think a significant hike in price is valid.  Although I am loathed to agree very much with David Cameron, I think he was right in wanting to create a cafe culture to replace a pub culture.
You can probably predict what I'm going to say here.  Double the tax on cigarettes now.
Transforming Rehabilitation
I would order the Ministry of Justice to undo all of the harm Chris Graying has done to the justice system and probably sack him by the time I have my morning coffee break.  I think also I'd look to change sentencing policy so the prison population can come down and invest the money saved in rehabilitation.
While I'm at it, I would transfer much of Whitehall out into the regions i.e. moving the power from central London closer to where it is needed.  So sorry Sir Humphrey, your days are numbered.
Freedom of speech, political correctness
It saddens me when I hear of street preachers getting into trouble for preaching.  This has to change.
The unborn children
Far too many babies are aborted for very dubious reasons.  There is a fine line between medical need and murder.  Apparently in 2015 there were 185,000 abortions in England and Wales.  Something has to be done about it.
Range Rovers and other high performance cars
Sorry folks, your days are also numbered unless you're willing to pay through the nose for your gas guzzlers and status symbols.  While you're doing this everyone will think you have more money than sense. I think I'd do this through VAT in purchasing the car in the first place and then the annual road tax.  If it costs £500 a year to keep a Range Rover taxed, well I'd make it £5,000.  As for cars with blacked out windows, you have it coming as well.
Private education
As someone who has put his own children through a private school, you might be surprised to know I would charge VAT on the fees but introduce it over a period of years.
It will come as little surprise that I'd spend more money on making life easier for the cyclist who, in the UK, puts up with a lot.  Dreadful roads, poor junction layouts, potholes, few cycle lanes and the list goes on.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Honor Cycles; a conversation

So you’ve started a new bike servicing business.  Tell me the basics - what’s it called and where do you operate?
Honor Cycles is (and I like to call it) a social enterprise. We provide on-demand bicycle repair services for both individuals and companies. As a mobile bike service, we go and collect bicycles for the repairs, and deliver the bikes back after our job is done.

Since we don’t actually have a high-street bike shop, we have significantly lower operating costs. That allows us to, among other things, pay our bicycle mechanics more than the living wage standard and support various local, bike-related social causes. We’re based in London, currently covering areas in Islington, Camden and Hackney Boroughs.
What services do you offer?
In terms of actual ‘mechanicing’ services, we offer everything a standard bike shop does, although we can also go the extra mile and do professional bike cleaning.
The main thing we offer our cyclists, though, is time saved. By picking-up and re-delivering the bikes, people don’t have to take time out of their days or weekends to go to a bike shop and wait in the darn queue.
Now, this may seem like a small thing at first, but you’d be surprised by how many people stop cycling altogether simply because their bike has broken down and they didn’t have the time to get it down to a bike shop. Life’s a busy place, and bikes are not high priority for most people.

There must be loads of places where people can have their bikes serviced.  What makes Honor Cycles stand out?
For cyclists, it’s rarely a great experience to visit a traditional bike shop. First of all, the quality of the bike shops varies wildly. These days, you’re lucky to find a bike shop you can really trust. For many reasons (low wages included) many bike shops don’t pay full attention to their service, or might not be completely transparent about their fees.
Secondly, cyclists usually go to bike shops before or after work. If you’re there during peak time, you need to wait to get served or even just to get a booking. As I mentioned, life’s what happens while you’re making cycling plans. If your bike breaks down and you don’t have half a day to take it to and from the shop, you’re that much more likely not to get it fixed in the first place. And that sucks.
We’re a group of young guys. Bike mechanics, techies, entrepreneurs. We’ve seen how technology changed nearly every service industry over the last 10 years or so. There’s on-demand laundry services now, delivery services, quasi-taxi services and so on. We want to apply that same basic model to bicycle repair services. Why should we be stuck with a 20th-century business model?
What a minute, why doesn’t Honor have a letter ‘u’ in the spelling?
Ah. I wish there was a really clever answer to this. Something about wanting to grow the business and eventually taking it overseas, transforming the entire US cycling industry. The truth is, we really just preferred how the logo looked without the ‘u’. But I’ll definitely try to come up with a better story for future use.
What’s this about being ethical?
I think that in terms of social responsibility, cyclists tend to think pretty highly of themselves. Some of that has merit, of course, (bikes > cars), but the truth is that our industry is still ripe with unethical (or otherwise irresponsible) practices.
Josh, my co-founder and I started Honor Cycles to support bicycle mechanics. In a nutshell, we think they’re the unsung heroes of the bicycle world. Most of them are so passionate about cycling, but only the very few get treated fairly. Most of the bike shops in our service area actually pay them less than the London living wage. Needless to say, that’s not nearly enough to get by.
So our mission is to pay all of our mechanics fairly. One of the reasons we’re able to do that is that our ‘unconventional’ business setup allows us to avoid high rent. In return, we can use that excess money to pay our workers what they actually deserve.
Also, for an industry priding themselves on eco-friendliness, we sure use lots of unsanitary tools. So we make sure all of our oils, de-greasers and service vehicles are environmentally sound. I like this planet, so I’m trying my best to keep it healthy.
We also want to give back to the community at large, so we pledged to donate 5% of our labor time on bicycle-related causes for the communities in need. There are lots of great cycling causes in London - we’re getting in touch with some of them as well as trying to do our part alone. I’ve seen firsthand how transformative to one’s life cycling can be, so I want to try and help as many people as possible discover their passion for cycling.
What’s the most unusual or exotic bike you’ve worked on so far?
I've worked on so many bikes that it’s hard to pick the strangest. Out of all of the custom one-off designs and bike shed projects, I have to go with a low-pro style bamboo & hemp single-speed bike that had 80mm deep section carbon wheels.
I wish I’d taken a photo of it at the time because you really have to see it to understand just how off this thing looked. It was like some sort of aesthetic mash-up of Tron and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It had quite a good back story too - the owner had been an expat in China for a while and built the frame himself, using bamboo and hemp local to where he was staying. The frame he was riding around in London was one of many iterative prototypes, and he was mighty proud of it.
How do people get in touch with you?
Most people get in touch via our website ( that has all the services we offer (and pricing) clearly outlined. A few people call in when they're not entirely sure what might be wrong with their bike, and need some help choosing the right service.
Is there anything else which you were wanting to tell me about?
Bikes are the most intimate vehicles, I really cannot think of any other vehicle that compares. People say that what car you drive says a lot about you, but the bike you ride says so much more. The time you spend in the saddle wearing down components and adjusting things to your liking makes even the most mass-produced bike unique to you, your body's geometry, your riding style and where you ride.
As a mechanic you can really see the rider's character when working on their bike, so it’s important to respect that and treat it as you would your own bike, putting things back exactly where they were. In a way it can feel a bit strange when handing a bike back to the customer because you feel like you know them a little, you almost can't help but want to have a little chat. For me that is the sign of a true mechanic: skills are good, but caring is king.
Thanks to Simon in Honour Cycles for the conversation.  I wish him all the best with this interesting and very worthwhile enterprise.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fossilised brain?

I have some lovely colleagues in the Council, including some who are not inhibited in speaking their mind.  One of my colleagues who is managing to survive on a slice of cucumber for lunch (and looking increasing like a stick insect) happened to give my executive lunch box the once over.
She has my best interests at heart as she peers in, commenting on this and that.  She thinks I'm a real heathen for having peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches , let alone having three fruits each day.  Then I often have a little plastic pot with a few nuts and seeds (healthy eh?) to make sure I get some of those really good omega oils.
However it was the dried fig which caught her eye the most.  She reacted in a way like she's never seen a dried fig and asked what it was.  I explained I like to have these from time to time and they do have quite a few nutrients tucked away in them.  This includes being a useful source of magnesium, manganese, potassium and so on.  All of these minerals survive the drying process and bring their own health benefits.
"But they look revolting!  How can you possibly eat something like that?".
"Simple, it's no problem.  THey're a little chewy but actually they taste quite nice, fancy trying one?".  I offered her the little pot with a fig left in it.
"Yuck that looks disgusting! Actually it looks totally inedible, like a stone or something"
The rant continued as she ate a thin slice of cucumber.  She said she couldn't possibly contemplate eating something which looked like a cross between a rock and the brain of a dead animal.  But then, she knows of the terminology we use at home in describing some of the food I eat, so we'' just have to add figs to the list.....
  • Muesli = gravel
  • Watercress = pond weed
  • Salad = compost
  • Ground coffee = mud, soil, dirt
  • Dried fig = fossilised brain

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Feeling so smug

There are times when I'm feeling so smug on my bicycle.  This includes the times when I go from A to B faster on a bike than people in cars.  Naturally this will infuriate some motorists and I'm pretty unrepentant with this.
Perhaps the time when I'm feeling the most smug is at our local Sainsbury's.  I quite often do some of our shopping there by bike and normally I'm fairly good at judging how much shopping will fit in my pannier bags.  Last Saturday I slightly underestimated how much I had and had difficulty in squeezing everything in.
As you can see, luck was on my side as I discovered Innocent smoothie bottles are a perfect fit for the standard water bottle cage.  How thoughtful of Innocent to do this, especially as it fits so perfectly and this particular smoothie even looks good against the colour of my blue frame.
It's true I had some funny looks from other shoppers.  These were shoppers pushing their heavy trolleys towards their cars and they looked sorry for me loading my shopping into my pannier bags, probably thinking I couldn't afford a car or possibly lost my licence.  I just don't care!  And yes, I did feel so very smug as I passed them all getting out of the car park and into the congested town centre roads.
Definitely feeling so smug.  Perhaps this could be the 51st reason to be a cyclist?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Health issues continue

Well this raised blood pressure lark isn't really going to plan and I'm a bit perplexed, so these health issues continue somewhat.
In spite of taking one of the tablets each day, as per prescription, I have not noticed any difference at all and it has been over a week now - my blood pressure is STILL around 150/100.
What's more, I have been having a dose each day of BeetActive which I acquired as a free sample at the London Bike Show.  Having become a real genuine fan of the company's CheeryActive drink I guess I was naturally assuming the BeetActive would do the trick in a similar way.  It hasn't as yet, or perhaps I'm not being as disciplined about it as I should be.
You see I take the medication at night and then have a glass of BeetActive in the morning, just after I have taken my blood pressure reading.  I think there's a chance I'm not giving it much of a chance because:
  • some "treatments" take time to take effect and are more accumulative over a period of time.  We're not talking about simple headache pills here - I only take a paracetamol once a year, if that, and then I'm completely better in 20 minutes.  Seems different now.
  • the effect might only be short-lived.  If I have a glass of BeetActive, it could well reduce my blood pressure for a while but not for a steady 24/7 period
For once I'm actually looking forward to returning to the Doctor.  Not just because I might be lucky and have another easy-going conversation about juicing but because I seriously want to get this solved.  As a reminder there are no real drivers for my blood pressure to be on the high side - vegetarian, enough exercise, good weight, teetotal, smoke free, caffeine free and so on.   There are a couple of possible drivers which haven't really been considered much by either me or my Doctor:
  • salt intake.  Although I hardly ever add any salt to a meal, salt can lead to raised blood pressure and there does seem to be quite a bit of salt in the foods I enjoy.  These include peanut butter and bread.
  • me.  I do wonder if I'm a bit highly strung and simply winding up by blood pressure because that's who I am.  By that I mean I'm a bit of a Type A personality and rather critical of myself
I did find this article on BeetActive as a way of lowering blood pressure.  It's no panacea but according to the article it does have a part to play.  Otherwise beetroots are certainly a healthy addition to the diet which I do like in any event.
As for the BeetActive itself, I'm sorry I don't care for th e taste too much, perhaps a personal thing.  I wouldn't drink it out of choice and therefore I tend to mix up a glass and drink it all in one go and as quickly as I can.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Health issues 2

Health issues 2.
I hadn't even sat down in the Doctor's waiting room before I got called in.  It was a different Doctor this time who was tall, lean, possibly foreign and seemed to have a gentle manner about him.  This, I thought, was looking promising.
"How can I help you today?"
"Your colleague has asked for some blood tests as I appear to have high blood pressure"
"Ah yes I see [reading the computer screen] they are indeed high.  And I see this might be having an impact on your kidney function.  There's no need to worry, we can get this sorted out and it's good you've come to us in plenty of time about this, some men ignore any symptoms until things are serious".
A conversation took place about my lifestyle.  Keeping fit, teetotal, vegetarian, smoke free, good weight and so on.  My cholesterol was a really good score apparently along with a number of other measurements.  He went onto say my cholesterol reading would be the envy of many of his colleagues.  He was perplexed: "I don't really understand why your blood pressure is raised as you appear to be doing everything right.  Nevertheless we have to deal with it and I'll prescribed some tablets to make your blood vessels a little softer and more flexible to allow the pressure to come down".
"Thank you" I said "that's fine but I wish there was a way of dealing with this issue without taking tablets".
"Sorry, what do you mean?"
"I've made it this far without having to be treated for anything and I'd like to continue this way if I can.  If only it was as simple as having an extra apple each day". I mentioned my eyesight problems which he was understanding about.
Then a lengthy conversation took place which I was, in hindsight, amazed at.  The Doctor started talking about the benefits of being vegetarian as apparently it is kinder on our kidneys and other things.  He went onto say beetroot can help with blood pressure, in particular beetroot juice.
"Actually if you're interested, you can get some pretty good juicers these days and I've bought one myself!"
The Doctor then explained the different between different machines.  Some are brilliant and extremely efficient at extracting the juice from vegetables and fruit.  Others are less good and extracting the juice but are a lot easier to clean and are cheaper - this is the type he bought recently - a Bosch model.
The conversation was concluded by:
  • start taking the tablets. One a day, 5mg.  Avoid grapefruit.
  • go and look into juicing, especially beetroot.
  • carry on running, cycling, doing weights in the gym.
  • keep my heart rate to about 150bpm when doing cardio.  Any further blasts to be done sparingly and limited in time as he doesn't want me to have a stroke.
  • see me again in a month.
I thought that was a pretty amazingly consultation with my Doctor.  Must have been a maximum of 5 minutes going through the results and deciding what medication to prescribe (standard stuff I guess).  This was followed by at least 10 minutes talking about the benefits of juicing, being a vegetarian and being a runner.
This Doctor was cool and I like him!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Prudential RideLondon - a great cause

It is always a pleasure to consider guest blog posts.  Here's a very worthy one, connected to the important work of Refuge, a long standing charity working to support women who are victims of domestic abuse.  This provides an opportunity to enter the Prudential RideLondon for a great cause.  It's by Lucy, who explains....
I work as a GP and a researcher, I often have women come to see me who are experiencing domestic violence or have done in the past. I’ve realized how common it is and how devastating its effects can be. I do the best I can to provide support to the woman at the time but recognize that there is a huge amount of crucial work that is provided by charities such as Refuge in providing ongoing emotional and safety support, emergency accommodation and much more. With difficult government cuts to these services, charitable money in this field feels even more vital now. 
I started cycling as a commuter a few years ago; it was purely a means of getting about. Over time I began to realise the freedom and joy it gave me- it was exercise, it enabled me to travel longer distances, challenge myself and explore the wider area around me.  I had heard that the RideLondon 100 was a great event, but to be honest I was really daunted about the idea of 100 miles and getting it done quick enough that I didn’t get cleared off the road! 
I decided to go for it- having signed up and shared my sponsorship page I had some really kind donations and it absolutely gave me the kick up the bum to just get on and do some training. A few days before the event I had a rush of a few more donations that pushed me well and above my sponsorship target. I felt pretty overwhelmed by how much had been raised and how much good it could do. 
I was really nervous on the morning of the ride- full of excitement in my belly (and porridge) I navigated the buzz of thousands of cyclists to my start point. Everyone was really friendly and excited too. The ride was absolutely fantastic, with closed roads there was no stopping for traffic lights or cars and it just felt like I was flying through London with thousands of other people who were also conquering personal challenges for good causes. It was tough but actually it didn’t really feel like it on the day, it was a really incredible feeling and I honestly loved it.
Like Lucy, you too can help change and saves lives. By riding for Refuge in the Prudential RideLondon Surrey 100, you’ll be taking a stand against domestic violence and cycling for the thousands of women and children we support every day. Sign up to join #TeamRefuge today