Turbo, turbo, swim (lake), swim (sea), run

Happily, it was a calmer sea in Bournemouth for Thursday’s swim

The week started like the previous one finished – hot. I know that I complain about the cold but at least it is possible to put on more clothes.

The results are available from the sportive. It seems that 100 riders did the 50 mile route that I did and I was fifth fastest – on only my second ride since April. Our sportive is relatively low-tech with the focus on great routes and terrific home-cooked food, so no age group results are published.

Yet more mowing during Monday and then a very hot turbo session in the late afternoon – 15.3km (9.5 miles) in 30 minutes – and back on the turbo for another unpleasant 30 minutes on an even hotter Tuesday – 14.8km (9.2 miles).

The friend I am doing the triathlon with suggested that we should join the swimming club at the lake where we’ve had our two lessons, and go for non-coached sessions to get more practice.

We signed up and booked for Wednesday – then I read the sad headline ‘Seven drown trying to cool off’ documenting deaths in lakes and rivers in England over the weekend.

Fine, I will be wearing a wetsuit, attached to a tow buoy and the lake is professionally managed with proper safety measures, but nothing has changed my view that it is scary open water (henceforward referred to as SOW). Despite that, the swim itself was very good. I have no accurate idea as to how far we swam but guess it was about 1km.

I tried some different methods of sighting. Although I (sort of) managed the instructor’s way of doing it, I prefer the simpler way suggested by the general oracle that is ‘unironedman’ (on wordpress and at unironedman.com). Sighting is a welcome skill to have a nodding acquaintance with (I will not say I have ‘mastered’ it by any means) as I appear to be totally unable to swim in a straight line in the SOW.

I seem to have improved a little at getting out of the wetsuit – one key thing is not to let it dry (on the outside) before removal.

On Thursday we drove to Bournemouth to join our older son and his girlfriend who have spent some time at the house, working and then holidaying. We had a great walk around Hengistbury Head (7.5km – 4.7 miles) and a swim in the sea in the afternoon. The water was about 16℃ (60℉) and without a wetsuit felt pretty cold. Potentially ESOW (even scarier open water) it was very enjoyable staying fairly close to shore – but I’ll stick to the lake for the time being.

Another hour of walking in the evening going to a tapas restaurant made a really good day – but tiring. Our son’s phone app registered over 23,000 steps. The tapas was very good indeed in parts – but any dish that takes three times as long to explain than it takes to eat, and involves 15 ingredients and 12 processes but produces so little, has to be questioned.

Back to Oxfordshire on Friday and croquet in the evening to finish a great couple of days. The weather broke early on Saturday and it was forecast to rain pretty much all day but I ran our usual 7.2km (4.5 mile) loop in the morning with our younger son, between showers. Later we went to the wedding of a friend that we have known for nearly 40 years.

Happily, the forecast proved over-pessimistic and the wedding was excellent – and dry at all the right times (photos, walk to the reception and pre-meal outside drinks). On Sunday the bride and groom hosted a BBQ and the poorer weather never arrived – it was a fine way to round off a very good week.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: If you offend, ask for a pardon; if offended forgive 

2. BBC News Website: Swimmers sent home from Olympics after selection mistake

Poland have sent six swimmers home from the Tokyo Olympics initially 23 athletes were picked only 17 were allowed under the world governing body qualifying rules.

Polish Swimming Federation president has apologised and said he understood the anger of those who have returned home. The majority of the Poland swimming team have signed an open letter calling for the board to resign over the incident.

3. BBC News Website: Beach Handball Championships: Norway hit with bikini fine

Norway have been fined 1,500 euros (£1,295) for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms at the European Beach Handball Championships.

The European Handball Federation (EHF) said it had imposed the fine because of a case of “improper clothing”. The issue has been debated in beach sports circles for several years as some players find the bikini both degrading and impractical.

If beach handball deserves its place in the sporting calendar, it’s has to be as a sport not some sort of titillation show.

Oh, the irony of this appearing the day after reports that UK world champion para-athlete Olivia Breen was told to wear “more appropriate” shorts after an official at the English Championships said her the briefs were “too short and revealing”. Would the shorts have been OK if she’d have been playing beach handball?

4. BBC News website: Covid-positive man boards flight disguised as his wife

A Covid-positive Indonesian man who disguised himself as his wife to board a domestic flight was caught mid-air. He wore a full-face veil and was carrying his wife’s passport and her negative Covid test result.

He may never have been caught but he changed into his regular clothes midway through the flight, causing a stewardess to raise the alarm.

Police say they will move to prosecute him as soon as his quarantine ends.

5. The Guardian (UK newspaper) headline: Tokyo Olympics 2020: Carapaz wins men’s road race, boxing, swimming and more – live!

Now, that must have been quite a day for Carapaz

Ultra aftermath, turbo, gym, swim (in the scary open water), sportive, run

Back to ‘proper’ cycling for the club’s sportive on Saturday. Proper cycling means the proper bike

A quick stock-take on Monday morning revealed no injuries from Sunday’s ultra. My muscles felt ‘well exercised’ but the only discomfort was in the quads, high in the thigh on both legs.

The biggest question marks had been around the knees and the Achilles tendons but, happily, they were working well and pain-free. The toe I blistered on Thursday was fine and the ear infection that started on Saturday was not a problem either. I was horribly under-prepared but got away with it – I was very lucky.

With very restricted training, the run time was not important. I didn’t look at the time once during the whole of the run and that was very liberating. Despite that, it seems I was 57th out of 175 doing the Sunday run, and first in the 60-69 men’s age group. I was over 2 hours clear of the chap in second but there were only 4 of us in the category … ‘old enough to know better’ comes to mind.

The whole thing was very well organised, the volunteers were excellent and the community spirit among competitors was also really good. There must have been around 2500 runners in all, the majority tackling the full 100k course – all credit to them.

With my eyes off the cycling for a while I had rather forgotten about the club’s sportive on Saturday 17th July. On Monday I entered the medium distance ride (50 miles – 80k) and agreed to be part of the team putting up the route arrows on Friday.

My legs were fine by Wednesday so I got on the turbo in the evening for a gentle spin to reintroduce them to movement – 15k (9.3 miles) in 30 minutes.

A gentle 50 minutes in the gym on Thursday morning with light weights and some stretching and then back to the old gravel pits in the afternoon for a second open water swimming session with the friend I’m doing the triathlon with. As we drove over there he uttered the dreaded words ‘it might be fun to do that ultra marathon next year’ … can I resist doing it with him?

The swimming session was very good. I’m getting more confident in the water, didn’t feel cold and loved the buoyancy of the wetsuit – it did help keep my legs high and speeded me up a bit. I tried to do proper sighting but it confused me totally – I may have to buy a periscope.

On Friday I did the shop session and then spent hours putting out sportive direction arrows. That’s a long job at the best of times but I went with a friend whose Land Rover Discovery suffered a major suspension failure half way round. A second friend drove out to help me complete the route but the original companion had a several hour wait for a pick-up truck.

The sportive on Saturday was a really excellent event with a record turnout and very good weather (if you like it hot – and according to Billy Wilder, some do). It was a foolish thing to be doing after the ultra, and my only other ride since April was a short and slow one leading a children’s cycle training session.

I got away at about 9.40 – one of 90 entrants on the 50 mile route on roads I know pretty well and in some lovely countryside in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. It was already fairly hot by that time and got well over 28℃ (82℉).

I cycled most of it on my own after a tandem I was cycling with (actually more ‘behind’ than ‘with’) stopped with a chain issue early on. In the first hour I rode 28k (17.7 miles) and much the same in the second hour – but the ultra was still in my legs and that (and the hills and the heat) told in the last hour when I covered 24k (15 miles).

Altogether just over 80k (50 miles) with 660m (2,165 feet) of climbing in just under 3 hours at 26.8kph (around 16.7mph). Pleasingly, 30 Strava achievements.

I ran with my wife on a hot Sunday morning (a short run, 5.5k) – strange how easily we can condition our thinking, we got to the biggest hill on the run and I wondered for a moment whether I should have been walking up it, in proper ultra style.

In the garden for much of the rest of the day, mowing, to make up for the neglect I’ve shown it recently …. there’s always a price to pay …

I say I was gardening for ‘much’ of the day as I managed to watch the conclusion of Le Tour. Bravo Tadej Pogacar, what a rider that man is. So disappointed that Mark Cavendish didn’t win and take the record for Tour victories … let’s hope he has a chance next year.

With the ultra out of the way, attention turns to the triathlon in September (more swimming, I fear).

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: A cutting word is worse than a bowstring, a cut may heal, but the cut of the tongue does not

2. BBC News website: Seoul bans speedy songs in gyms to stop sweating

Gyms in Seoul and its surrounding region have been told not to play music with a tempo higher than 120 beats per minute, in order to limit the spread of Covid-19. Treadmills will be limited to a maximum of 6km/h (3.7 mph).

Health officials say the restrictions will prevent people from breathing too fast or splashing sweat on each other.

3. BBC News website: Ship that blocked the Suez Canal finally leaves the waterway

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Egypt had demanded $550m (£397m) from the owners. The ship has been impounded for three months near the canal city of Ismailia.

As it got under way, Egyptian TV showed footage of the captain and a crew member being presented with flowers and a plaque on board the ship.

Some of the most expensive flowers ever

4. Football’s gone to Rome, it’s gone to Rome …

England’s defeat at the hands of Italy (in a penalty shoot out) on Sunday evening had a horrible whiff of inevitability about it. It’s very sad – not least for those who missed their penalties as they will have to live with those misses for the rest of their careers, such is the mentality of so many English football supporters. Congratulations to Italy.

No consolation, but I nailed second place in the fantasy football league. It’s a great local charity supporting children who are carers for others, so it’s a pleasure to donate the winnings back to the charity.

Ultra marathon – very hard, but I survived

One thing I learned from running over the years was that a marathon is ‘a very long way’. On Sunday, I learned a second useful thing – ultra marathons are, forgive the technicality, ‘even further’.

For someone who thinks that 8am is unreasonably early, the alarm at 4.35am came as a horrible shock. We were out of the house just after 5am (my wife, very nobly, drove me to the start) and after registering and being zapped to test my temperature, I got away a little before 6am.

The plan was to travel light and the decent weather held good with about 13℃ (55℉) at the start. Just a thin gilet (not used), arm warmers (used throughout), phone, small medical kit (unused), Garmin, water bottle, reading glasses, sanitiser (unused), mask (unused), card/cash (card used for a beer at the finish) and suncream (unused).

I thought there were 4 food stops en route coming every 10k – but I did some checking and discovered there were 3 and the gaps were 10, 13 and 15k (and then 12k to the finish).

I wouldn’t normally think of taking water with me for a run of 15km but with the cumulative distance it looked like it was unwise to drink only at the food stops. Everything I had read said they were very well stocked so no need to take anything by way of nourishment but I started well hydrated and with two oat bars for breakfast.

I felt good at the the first food stop so had just a couple of mouthfuls of water and two peanut bars. It hadn’t been too hilly and I’d got into a comfortable, steady, stride – about 1h10 for the first 10k.

I held that pace to the second food stop where I discovered the delights of flat coke. I had some there (together with an oat bar and a small bag of dried fruit) and took a little with me. The next 10k was a little slower (30k in about 3h 35m) but then I slowed further with a big hill (130m in under 5k) just before the last food stop (two bags of Skittles and a little more Coke, drunk there and taken with me).

I had run for the whole of the first half of the race but since then I’d adopted the ‘walk the bigger and steeper hills’ philosophy which helped me get to the finish but slowed me down (1h 16m for the last 10k).

In all, the run clocked in at just over 51k with a chip time of 6h 39m and, I think, a moving time of about 25 minutes less.

I managed my normal aims of completing the run safely and enjoying it, and if I had a time target, it was for the chip time to start with 6 hours – so I’m very happy, especially given my much compromised training. Being free of the burden of time was a real blessing – I didn’t look at the time once during the whole run.

It was hard – at one point or another just about everything hurt, particularly both thighs, left hip, both knees, my right foot and both arms (maintaining them in running position, I assume). I also had the usual ‘cramp warning’ signs in my foot and both calf muscles but happily they all came to nothing.

The weather stayed cool, no more than 15℃ (about 59℉). At one time I thought I was going to get cold and wet but that came to nothing too.

What probably hit me hardest was the number of hills (657m of climbing in 51k) and the conditions underfoot. I learned that as you run in a deep rut or along a narrow track the width of a car tyre, the neighbouring rut or track always looks better.

At 66, I guess that might be my first and last ultra. If I were to do another, I’d want to do it better and faster – but I’m not sure my knees will be up to a proper training schedule. I don’t know if all the results are in but currently I sit 57th out of more than 140 and first in my age group (of only 4!) – with just one older person ahead of me.

On balance, very happy with the run and very happy to have completed an ultra marathon. Just at the moment, my legs are a little less happy with it.

Swim, swim, run, gym, turbo, birthday and eager anticipation

Hampton Court (either they built it on a slant or I’m a poor photographer)

For some time I’ve posted on Sundays prattling on about life, challenges and the week’s running, swimming, cycling and gym. Here is a deviation from that due to tomorrow’s ultra marathon.

I’m not sure if the change is because I may be incapable of posting tomorrow, or because there should be something to say about the ultra. Perhaps its just because it’s my 66th birthday today (10th July) and if I want to post on my birthday, I can.

Winding back to the start of the week, I swam on Monday evening. I’m still struggling with swimming for very good reasons – I don’t love it, I’m not good at it, I’m not improving very quickly, who wants to leave home at 20.40 to go and swim and it really aggravates my sinuses.

However, having said all that, I swam 1.65km – further than before – in 48 minutes and there were fleeting moments when it almost felt good (but still slow). On the other hand, I sneezed continuously from 5 to 8am on Tuesday morning. Sufficiently bad that I took an antihistamine – the first medicine of any sort that has passed my lips this year.

Tuesday saw another marvellous stage win in Le Tour for Mark Cavendish – can he get the record and/or the Green Jersey?

Back to the pool on Tuesday evening. It wasn’t that I particularly wanted to swim, but I’m trying to go twice a week and I thought that if the swim was going to cause any more sinus issues, it would be better to get them out of the way early. As it was, no sinus problems. My first time swimming on successive days and it was OK – another 1km. I’m no faster but there are moments when I think it is getting a little easier.

I ran with my wife on Wednesday morning, just the 5.5km as it’s too late to try to make up for lost training. I wore the kit I plan to use for the ultra on Sunday and took the equipment I intend to carry with me. As is traditional for any run close to an event, it felt really hard and everything hurt.

In the afternoon I watched Le Tour tackle Ventoux. I love that mountain – completing the ‘Cinglés du Mont Ventoux’ (climbing it three times) is one of the two best days I’ve ever had on a bike (my ‘Everest’ being the other). More good sport on the TV in the evening as England made it to the final of the Euro Football Championships.

I did a gentle session in the gym on Thursday morning before we drove to London to the Hampton Court Garden Festival (previously the Flower Show) – which was an enjoyable trip out but not so good for the ‘stay off your feet’ advice before long runs. I managed to blister my small toe, right foot and that’s really not good.

After Hampton Court it was supper with our older son and then up to the flat for the night. Back home on Friday in time for my bike shop session and a chance to watch glorious history being made as Mark Cavendish equalled Eddie Merckx’s record of 34 Tour de France stages. Magnificent.

An easy 30 minute spin on the turbo in the evening for 15.2km, dedicated to Cavendish and Merckx (but not at their speeds) just to keep the legs moving. I managed to fit in the start of an ear infection on Friday night too – how is it that I’m not ill for months and then fray at the edges at exactly the wrong time?

Which brings me back to today, my 66th birthday. A very quiet one – I managed to convince our younger son to go on the stag weekend he’d been invited to and that made it easier to dissuade our older son from coming back here. Lunch out at a local restaurant was lovely, modest on the alcohol, and early to bed.

As for the ultra tomorrow, who knows? After damaging a knee ligament 4 weeks into the training, I had a 4 week lay-off and never felt confident enough in it to resume a proper training programme. That leaves me badly undercooked but I have a very stubborn streak and no great ambitions as to the time it might take me. I live in hope.

Fantasy Football league: Still holding on to second place, with younger son now up into third. Just the final to go and it looks really tight – do I go all out for England, for Italy or do I hedge my bets? The problem is that team news is revealed only an hour before kick off and by then I may be in a befuddled state, incapable of making sensible decisions.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand

2. BBC News Website: Covid lockdown sees man break M&M record

The world record for the tallest stack of M&M’s has been broken by a British man who managed to balance five of the chocolate sweets on top of each other. The previous record of four was jointly held by men from Italy and Australia.

You could lose yourself in such a challenge although I guess my time would be better spent cleanin’ out my closet

3. BBC News Website: Parents of children called Alexa challenge Amazon

Parents of children called Alexa say their daughters are being bullied because of its use for Amazon’s virtual assistant. Some have even changed their child’s name because they say the barrage of Alexa jokes is “relentless”.

Amazon says it is “saddened” by these accounts, and that alternative wake words are available.

Alexa, print me off a deed poll

4. BBC News Website: Nude sunbathers fined for breaching Covid rules

The men were sunbathing on a beach south of Sydney and ran into bushland after they got spooked by a deer. They were found after they called for assistance but were fined for breaching a public health order banning those in greater Sydney from travelling outside the area.

“It’s difficult to legislate against idiots,” the NSW Police Commissioner said at a press conference on Monday when speaking about the incident.

Australian police telling it like it is

5. BBC News website: Euro 2020: £36,000 raised for crying fan to go to charity

A Englishman who raised £36,000 for a young German football fan who was filmed crying as England knocked Germany out of Euro 2020, says the money will go to charity.

The girl’s family said they wanted the money to be donated to Unicef, saying “In the interests of our daughter and our family we would like to remain private, however we wish to thank everyone for your amazing support. Our daughter would like to request your generous donations go to Unicef, knowing that your kindness will do good.”

Ahhh

Swim, turbo, swim, gym, run – time for a taper?

Hello turbo my old friend … first session for a while

We were due a power cut on Monday from 9am, for essential maintenance work. Strangely, when the power was still on at 10.00 I felt rather cheated. How weird is that?

Eventually the power went and returned, so to celebrate I swam in the evening. The aim was to go a bit further and I managed 1.5km in 45 minutes. I’m now worried that it’s my feet/legs sinking in the water that are slowing me down … but then I’m also worried that if they aren’t sinking, what is slowing me down?

With all the swimming, running and gym, I haven’t done any cycling for a while. Tuesday afternoon I got on the turbo to start to address that. It was hot in the conservatory but I managed 30 minutes @ 32.1kph (20mph). That’s faster than normal so I’m encouraged.

Pool again on Wednesday evening for another 1km in just under the half hour. I tried breathing every two strokes instead of every three to get more oxygen in but it rather disrupted my rhythm (if I have a rhythm) and I found that I hadn’t always exhaled out fully by the time it was due to breathe in again. More practice needed – why is swimming so complicated?

Gym for an hour on Thursday morning but a day off exercise on Friday, feeling rather jaded but the morning in the bike shop was good fun.

First run of the week on Saturday morning – dull and overcast but reasonably warm. I don’t really know what running is sensible so close to the ultra but my son and I did 12.5km (a bit under 8 miles) which felt quite good at 6min/km.

In keeping with some sort of exercise taper, I took Sunday off but we drove into Oxford for lunch which was very civilised.

Coming up to decision time on the ultra. Which shoes, shirt, shorts, what to carry with me, whether to run for as long as possible or adopt walk/run from the start, etc. At least the weather looks OK – rain early in the week, drying by the weekend and a comfortable temperature for my 6am start – and not getting too hot until after I finish (I hope).

On the European Championship fantasy football league I’m clinging on in second place. I’m making great decisions in respect to my substitutions but the performance of some of the teams have, frankly, been letting me down (yes, France, Portugal, Netherlands, you know who you are). In respect of the real thing, ‘Come on England’.

Vive Le Tour de France – especially the performance of Mark Cavendish as he rolls back the years. Saturday saw a great first stage in the alps including the three category 1 climbs, all of which I’ve done over the years: Mont Saxonnex, the Col de Romme (not too long but steep with an average of 8.8%) and the Col de la Colombière (one of my favourites). Oh, how I am missing my annual cycle trip to the alps. That’s two trips missed now – roll on a virus-free 2022!

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: When a needle falls into a deep well, many people will look into the well, but few will be ready to go down after it

2. BBC News website: South African government proposes to legalise polyandry

South Africa has one of the world’s most liberal constitutions, embracing same-sex marriages for all and polygamy for men – but the proposal to legalise polyandry (when a woman has more than one husband at the same time) has been met with objections.

Businessman and TV personality Musa Mseleku – who has four wives – is among those opposed to polyandry.

“This will destroy African culture. What about the children of those people? How will they know their identity? The woman cannot now take the role of the man. It’s unheard of. Will the woman now pay lobola [bride price] for the man. Will the man be expected to take her surname?”

None of my business and not a society I am familiar with, but sauce for the goose …?

3. BBC News website: Tour de France: Police seek spectator after crash

Police have launched a criminal investigation to trace a spectator in connection with a multi-rider pile-up during the first stage of the Tour de France on 26th June.

The spectator was leaning into the path of the speeding peloton, looking at the TV cameras and not the race, holding a sign with “Go granny and granddad” written in a mixture of French and German. Tony Martin (ironically, a German rider) brushed into the sign and fell, bringing down many others. Two riders had to pull out of the Tour completely and another eight were treated for injuries.

After appealing for witnesses, as of Wednesday, the individual was in police custody but the Tour organisers have withdrawn their threat of legal action 

4. BBC News website: Man arrested for posting weather rant

A man has been arrested in Kuwait after posting a video on social media complaining about the weather. The video showed him laughing and swearing about the intense heat and dust while driving through a sandstorm.

The Interior Ministry tweeted that the man behind the “offensive” video would be subject to legal action.

I’d like to say that I love all the UK’s weather: rain, snow, sun, fog, sleet, gales … and that’s just one morning

5. My apologies for these:

a) After the Sweden v Ukraine game in the Euro Championships, the scorer of the Ukraine winner dedicated the goal to his beloved girlfriend back home. He loves his Chick in Kiev.

b) BBC radio commentary on the England v India women’s cricket test match: Talking about how the women players benefit from playing in men’s cricket when not on international duty, the comment was made that Tammy Beaumont ‘had played in the men’s leagues where she had enjoyed a lot of sex …… oh, er … success‘.

c) On Saturday rumours were going around that England’s Euro Championships match against Ukraine was going to be called off because a Ukrainian player had Covid symptoms. It was their left back Tickli Chesticov.

Hope those (the second is completely true) are not considered offensive, racist or sexist – my apologies if they are

Gym, some serious culture (Hockney, Emin and Munch), run, swim, gym, run (a long one)

Four times over this bridge on Saturday’s long run

In much the same way that the four of us running together was one of my highlights of Father’s Day last Sunday, not running was one of my wife’s highlights for her birthday on the Monday.

Accordingly, after a really enjoyable weekend of eating and drinking, it was back to the reality of the gym for an hour on Tuesday morning.

We drove up to London in the early evening for an orgy of culture at the Royal Academy on Wednesday in the form of two exhibitions. The first was of the work of David Hockney, and the second of the work of Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch (strange bedfellows those last two but apparently he is one of her great inspirations).

I like Hockney a lot – we went to see a previous exhibition of work he had done in Yorkshire – this was a series showing the passage of Spring 2020, in Normandy. I’m fascinated that he produces so much of his recent work on an i-pad.

I also liked the paintings of Edvard Munch – Tracey Emin’s work was somewhat brutal. I’d go to see exhibitions by Hockney and Munch any time – I’m pleased that I saw Tracey Emin’s work which was interesting and challenging … but not exactly to my taste.

Back home Wednesday early evening by which time I was beyond wanting to go to the pool so it was out for a 7km (4.3 mile) run on Thursday morning and to the pool for a 1km swim in the evening.

Our son and I went to the gym on Friday morning before our usual stint at the bike shop and then some very good friends came over for supper.

I’ve never trained properly for the three marathons I’ve done – but I’ve trained even less for the ultra. With at least a nod to it, I tried a longer run on Saturday. I was still full of Friday’s supper and it was about 20℃ (about 68℉). I ran a slow but extremely hard 31.2km (19.4 miles). Fortunately were were out for supper Saturday evening or I would have been asleep on a sofa by 7pm.

I think I could have run on Sunday, if it had been necessary – but luckily it wasn’t necessary and I didn’t want to, so I didn’t.

Ultra marathon update

By way of recap, I chose badly when I started a 16 week training plan in March. Almost immediately I was up towards 40 miles a week until the inevitable happened and I injured myself just four weeks into it.

After another four weeks of not running at all, I restarted but have not tried to resume ‘proper’ training. I’ve just kept running for the love of it and only once have I got up to the half marathon distance, although I had got beyond that distance twice prior to the injury.

With just two weeks to go I should be starting the taper, but I’m running so little that a taper seems rather unnecessary – it will feel more like a ‘come to a complete halt’ than a taper.

I’m going to have to rely on whatever core fitness I can muster, the benefits of the gym and the swimming and (mostly) sheer bloody-mindedness.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: There are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree

2. Euro Football Championships: Travelling 1500 miles to watch your team on TV

A group of French supporters watched on TV as their team took on Hungary 518 miles away – having bought tickets but then travelling to Bucharest (Romania) after confusing it with Budapest (Hungary).

3. BBC News website: Sir Ringo Starr drops case against sex toy manufacturer

The Beatles drummer challenged the attempt to register the ‘Ring O’ trademark for a sex toy in the US, saying it was too similar to his name and might cause confusion.

Sir Ringo, 80, had argued that his reputation would be damaged if the Ring O name was registered as a trademark with US authorities. He has now withdrawn his complaint after reaching an agreement with the manufacturers.

4. BBC News website: Devils devastate seabird population

A small number of Tasmanian devils (a carnivorous marsupial were shipped to Maria Island east of Tasmania, in 2012 in a move aimed to protect the mammals from a deadly facial cancer that had driven them towards extinction.

The devils have recovered but the project has had “a catastrophic impact on one or more bird species”, according to conservation organisation BirdLife Tasmania. Citing a government survey, BirdLife Tasmania said a population of little penguins that numbered 3,000 breeding pairs in 2012 had disappeared from the island. A paper published last year said the devils had “eliminated” a colony of shearwater.

Beware the law of unintended consequences (but they are called devils)

5. BBC News website: Casino operator opens a new resort in Las Vegas

Resorts World Las Vegas is the most expensive resort ever developed in Las Vegas. Covering almost 88 acres, the new resort has 3,500 hotel rooms and suites, a 5,000-seat theatre and one of the world’s biggest LED screens on one of its towers.

Las Vegas saw visitor numbers slump by more than 50% last year as casinos were forced to close their doors due to coronavirus restrictions. Tourists are now returning but numbers remain well below 2019 levels.

The resort is said to have cost $4.3bn (£3bn) – now that’s placing a real bet

Run, swim, run, swim, gym, run and a family weekend

Tadpole Bridge over the Thames, from the pub garden

I ran with my wife on Monday morning 7km (4.3miles). We should have got out before 9.45 as it was already 23℃ (73℉) but it confirmed I was right to take Sunday off after Saturday’s half marathon.

Despite that, it was back to the pool in the evening for more inelegant thrashing about – I may not be good at swimming but I am persistent. It continues to feel a little more natural in the water and the bilateral breathing is working reasonably well which seems to be freeing up a few grey cells to think about head position, shoulder roll and the occasional flap of the legs.

I managed 1.3km in 40 minutes but the main ‘personal best’ that I set was in starting sneezing within 5 steps of leaving the pool building.

At the open water swimming introduction we were told that we need to swim three times a week to really improve. I explained to the instructor that this would be more than twice a week – but it didn’t change his mind. I’m not sure I can/want to do that much swimming. Perhaps it’s simply the price I have to pay to get through the swim at the triathlon?

After a day of domestic chores on Tuesday we got out an hour earlier on Wednesday morning but it was still hot. We just did the short run – 5.67km (3.5 miles). Back to the pool in the evening (the last booking period of the day starts at 20.50 and seems to give a reasonable chance of a fairly empty pool) and another 1km in 26 minutes. Still slow, but a little faster.

I gave our younger son a lift to get his first Covid jab on Thursday (to which he had no reaction beyond a slightly sore arm). From there we drove down to Bournemouth to tackle the knee-high grass in the front and back lawns – which now look rather less like meadows.

Gym first thing on a very wet and cool Friday morning for an hour and then the usual session at the charity bike shop before collecting our older son from the train station in the evening as he came back for Father’s Day (Sunday) and my wife’s birthday on Monday.

The family weekend was excellent – a long walk, dining out at a pub by the Thames on Saturday (the only dry day), a 7km family run on Sunday (the first time the four of us have ever all run together) and Tomahawk steak – due to be cooked on the bbq but done in the oven due to the weather.

After the second round of games in the European Championships I’m in second place in the fantasy league table – so far so good.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Where water is the boss, there the land must obey

2. BBC News website: Fast food staff arrested for not giving police free burgers

All 19 workers at a fast food restaurant in Pakistan were were rounded up by police at 1am on Saturday and held overnight after refusing to give a group of officers free burgers the previous week.

Nine police officers involved in the incident have been suspended.

Obviously, very good burgers – but not good enough to pay for

3. BBC News website: Dog sold for record-breaking AU$35,200 (£19,228; $27,068) at a working dog auction

Eulooka Hoover, a two-year-old “all-rounder” in herding, was sold to a sheep and cattle grazier. The sale beat the previous record price for a working dog – a border collie who sold for £18,900 in the UK last year.

The dog is said to be equally skilled at herding sheep and cattle, and have a ‘cool personality’. ‘He’s just such a happy-go-lucky lad,’ said the breeder. ‘He’ll go to work eight days a week if you let him.’

Cool personality and happy-go-lucky, but unable to count to 7

4. BBC News website: Strong-Willed Pig: Animal that survived earthquake dies

A pig that became famous in China after surviving 36 days under rubble from a powerful earthquake in 2008, has died. Zhu Jianqiang, or “Strong-Willed Pig”, died of “old age and exhaustion”, according to the museum where it resided.

Following news of the pig’s death, people took to social media to pay their respects. The hashtag “Strong-Willed Pig has died” has had 430 million views on Weibo.

Ahhhhh

5. Fines for loud cockerels feather councils’ nests

English local authorities issued 6 million fines in 2020. These included fines for minor offences including cockerel-crowing, loud children, encouraging pigeons to gather, eyesore gardens and covid breaches. Parking offences accounted for 4.7 million fines and littering another quarter of a million.

In 1997 the number of fines was just 1,000.

6. BBC News website: 21st-Century tech traps killer

A 32-year-old pilot has confessed to the killing of his young British wife, having claimed three robbers had broken into the couple’s home near Athens, tied him up and suffocated his wife.

His wife’s smart watch showed that her heart was still beating at the time her husband claimed she was murdered. The activity tracker on his phone showed him moving around the house while he said he was tied up and the recorded time at which data cards were removed from the home security camera also told a different story to his version of events.

Swim, run, gym, gym, swim, mechanic, run (half marathon)

The week started with some good weather so I mowed and gardened on Monday but swam in the evening. I abandoned the idea of doing a ‘U’ turn before the end of each length as being too hard.

As a compromise, I tried not to stop at each end and to have a small push off so as to not lose all momentum, but without getting a big glide to start the next length. I suppose that helps (slightly) to mimic the non-stop part of open water swimming but, as ever, I am making it up as I go along.

It was still unreasonably hard. I missed the buoyancy of the wetsuit but I managed 1.1km. I don’t know what I was doing different/wrong but my back ached a bit afterwards. On a more consistent note, as always, I started sneezing soon after finishing and sneezed for over an hour.

My back improved a bit overnight so I ran with my wife on Tuesday morning in more lovely weather. We did 7.1km in 6.21min/km – she’s doing so well and getting faster.

I spent some of the afternoon causing more damage to my back. We have quite a lot of flagstones in the garden and my wife would like a(nother) seating area. I cannot lift some of the flags so laying them out to see how it might look is not easy – let alone how hard the process of finally setting them in place might be.

Gym on Wednesday morning for an hour and more gardening in the glorious weather. For an update on the garden, the new raised vegetable beds are going really well – spinach and lettuce being produced and eaten in great quantities; beetroot, cauliflower, leek, tomato, rhubarb, butternut quash, pumpkin and peas all coming on well.

Back to the gym again on Thursday morning for an hour and then a swim in the evening. Some things are getting to feel a bit more natural in the pool but I don’t seem to be getting any faster or travelling any further per stroke. I need bigger hands, webbed fingers and fat forearms (and bigger muscles to pull those through the water).

At least I did push out the distance a bit – 40 minutes for 1.25km – and only suffered second degree sneezing afterwards. While I am generally rather agnostic about swimming, my sinuses are certainly in the ‘anti’ camp.

It felt like I was in danger of overdoing the exercise – 13 sessions in 12 days, little muscle niggles and general tiredness – so I took Friday off (other than manning the bike shop in the morning and some more gardening).

With no particular distance in mind and just a cup of coffee for fuel, I ran on Saturday. It was a good but hard run – not fast (6.03min/km) but just beyond a half marathon in something over 20℃ (around 70℉).

In the late afternoon I mixed a large jug of Pimms and we played croquet – ah, such civilisation. Eventually the Pimms takes the edge off the croquet.

To Winchester on Sunday to celebrate the 21st birthday of a niece (and our own 34th wedding anniversary). Wow.

The European Football Championships have started. One of the charities we support are running a fantasy football league like they did for the domestic league season that just ended. After five matches I am top … there’s only one way to go from here.

My very best wishes to the Danish footballer, Christian Eriksen, who collapsed and was revived on the pitch during Saturday’s international against Finland. Puts it all into perspective …

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: When the shepherd comes home in peace, the milk is sweet

2. BBC News website: Germany to ship army beer home from Afghanistan

Germany has announced it will fly more than 22,500 litres of beer home from Afghanistan, as Nato forces prepare to withdraw.

Commanders had recently banned soldiers from drinking amid growing violence in Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal. Local forces were unable to sell the alcohol due to religious and cultural differences in the country.

Of all the possible logistical problems facing the troop withdrawal, I’d missed this one

3. BBC News website: Waging war on slang, jeans and foreign films

North Korea in general has no internet, no social media and only a few state controlled television channels and now has clamped down further against what is described as “reactionary thought”. Anyone caught with large amounts of media (such as CDs or DVDs) from South Korea, the United States or Japan now faces the death penalty. Those caught watching face prison camp for 15 years.

A recent letter in state media called on the country’s Youth League to crack down on “unsavoury, individualistic, anti-socialist behaviour” among young people to stop foreign speech, hairstyles and clothes described as “dangerous poisons”.

4. Statue farce makes monkey out of town

Hartlepool in the NE of England has a ‘legend/myth’ that, during the Napoleonic wars (late 18th century), a French ship was wrecked off the coast, the sole survivor being the ship’s monkey (which was dressed in uniform for the amusement of the crew).

Having seen neither a monkey nor a Frenchman, the townspeople are said to have hanged it as a French spy. Folks from Hartlepool are still sometimes referred to as ‘monkey hangers’.

A new statue of a monkey in the town’s marina has been criticised as ‘unfriendly to foreigners’ or racist. A plaque is being added to explain the significance of the monkey to Hartlepool.

Run, gym, swim, cycle training, run, mechanic, run, run

After a social and food-filled Sunday, we had little enthusiasm for exercise on Monday but my wife and I got out for a short run – down a drying Puddleduck Lane – 5.5km (3.4 miles) at 6.33 min/km.

We also managed the first croquet of 2021, on the best day of the year so far – strange, Bank Holidays are usually cold and wet.

One reason for getting out on Monday was that Tuesday was the day for the interment of my father’s ashes – just the 17 months after his death. That meant a drive north to meet up with my sister, brother-in-law and their daughters, it was just a close family affair at the crematorium where my mother’s ashes are buried.

The funeral service was a very good celebration of his life but the interment of the ashes felt like little more than a footnote to it all. At the same time, it was good to see family and to see my parents ‘reunited’ – they were married for nearly 64 years. A good day, but about 6 hours of driving.

Gym on Wednesday for an hour and then some time up at the Cycle Park where publicity activities were taking place about the club winning the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2021. We got a good deal of coverage by local press and radio and TV cameras were up there filming for the evening news, so we needed to ensure a decent turn-out in club shirts.

Back to the pool in the evening where I decided to follow the advice of the open water instructor and make the ‘already hard’ into ‘even harder’.

For me, the three big extra challenges presented by open water swimming are temperature, navigation and, especially, the absence of pool ends to cling onto and gasp for breath. The instructor’s advice was to swim in a ‘U’ just before reaching the end of the pool so there is no gliding into the end, no holding on and no push off from the end.

I found the ‘U turn’ pretty impossible in a fairly narrow lane so I ended up stopping and treading water while I turned and then starting from stationary, with no push off. It does indeed make pool swimming much harder (as if it wasn’t hard enough already). I managed the new approach for only 10 lengths but I guess that was even harder than swimming a straight 250m, because of the stopping and starting. In total, 1km.

On Thursday morning I was in charge of a session of cycle training giving road safety experience to children who are more confident at riding. We went for a ride of about 10km round the town and through the Town Centre, reporting back with a full complement of (quite tired) children but no falls or injuries.

I managed to squeeze in a short run with my wife on Friday morning (5.5km – 3.4 miles) before the usual session manning the charity bike shop.

Saturday was pleasantly warm – my first run in lycra shorts and a short sleeved running shirt for at least 8 months. One of our usual runs for 7km (4.3 miles). Croquet in the afternoon and evening

Sunday was cooler but in the morning I got out and ran further than I have run since hurting my knee. It was a very enjoyable (but hard and hot) 17km (10.6 miles). The first time beyond 10km since hurting my knee – hardly ultra marathon training distances but I’m still playing it safe. A cycle club social gathering

Sunday was cooler but in the morning I got out and ran further than I have run since hurting my knee. It was a very enjoyable (but hard and hot) 17km (10.6 miles). The first time beyond 10km since hurting my knee – hardly ultra marathon training distances but I’m still playing it safe. A cycle club social gathering to look forward to in the afternoon to finish a pretty good – but hard – week.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: The young bird does not crow until it hears the old ones

2. BBC News website: Claimant awarded £2,000 damages – and ordered to pay £500,000 interim costs

The claimant sought £3.7m in damages. The defendant had made two good offers to settle the claim (both way in excess of the £2000 ultimately awarded) but both were declined. That put the claimant at risk of having to pay costs from the date of the offer if he failed to beat it in court.

However, the court heard that the defendant had received a ‘completely factually inaccurate’ answer to a request for information and that the claim from this point on was advanced through a ‘plainly untruthful case’ on a major point in the litigation. That opened the claimant up to the award of full costs against him.

I wonder if the claimant can spell ‘pyrrhic victory’

3. BBC News website: Tanzanian MPs demand apology for ‘tight’ trousers incident

Female MPs in Tanzania have called for an apology to an MP who was ordered to leave parliament because of her trousers.

A male MP said the way some women dressed invited ridicule to parliament. “Mr Speaker, an example there is my sister seated on my right with a yellow shirt. Look at the trousers she has worn, Mr Speaker!” Hussein Amar said in parliament on Tuesday.

Mr Amar did not elaborate on what he found wrong with Ms Sichwale’s outfit, but quoted the parliamentary rules which allow women to wear trousers but stipulate that clothes should not be tight-fitting.

4. BBC News website: Chilean own goal over drone spying fear

Chile and Argentina have a fierce football rivalry and when Chile’s national team saw a drone hovering above a training session, it suspected its rival of spying ahead of their World Cup qualifier.

The team sent up its own drone which swiftly brought down the “spy-cam” but rather than being a devious Argentine device, the drone turned out to be from a Chilean energy company.

5. BBC News website: Magawa the hero rat retires from job detecting landmines

In a five-year career, the rodent sniffed out 71 landmines and dozens more unexploded items in Cambodia.

While he is far larger than many other rat species, he is still small and light enough that he does not trigger mines if he walks over them. The rats are trained to detect a chemical compound within the explosives, meaning they ignore scrap metal and can search for mines more quickly. Once they find an explosive, they scratch the top to alert their human co-workers.

Co-workers hadn’t really come into the dictionary before I retired. Rarely do I fail to read it at first glance as cow orkers

We win a national award!

The cycle park opening. We now have trees planted, exercise machines a cycle tool station, off road routes and more coming

I know I tend to go on about my local cycle club – how we set up a company, became a charity, built a cycle park, run cycle training for children and adults and set up a shop to repair and recycle bikes.

Farcycles (‘Faringdon cycles’, from where we are based and pronounced as ‘farcicals’) was set up purely as an informal cycling club more that 12 yers ago. It has always had a social conscience and sense of community and over the years it has become more than just a group of cyclists enjoying the sport.

We think it’s something to be proud of (in a very modest way, of course) but it’s great when someone else agrees. The news is now free of its embargo: we are winners of ‘The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2021’.

Although I haven’t spotted Her Majesty cycling at the park, or buying from the shop, it’s a great honour for everyone involved – and we wouldn’t disagree that it’s really good to have the efforts of so many people recognised.

The moral? With a few people with ideas, commitment and drive – and many more willing supporters, it’s surprising what can be achieved.