Monthly Archives: September 2018

Life in the sloe lane

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Sloes – the fruit of the Blackthorn bush. Inedible by themselves but transformed by gin and sugar

After entering the Rotterdam marathon on Thursday, Friday saw my regular run to the gym and back with a friend, and 30 mins weights. Only 4.7km (3 miles) but done at just under 4 hour marathon pace so some encouragement there.

I took Saturday off from exercise but went sloe picking. It looks like a great year for sloes after the hot summer and they were certainly ready, even though it’s at least a week or two earlier than I’d normally pick them.

I have about five or six places I can go for sloe picking – in a bad year I’d have to go to all of them to collect enough – but this year from just the smallest I’ve got enough to make 5 litres of sloe gin and put some in the freezer as a hedge against a poor year for sloes in 2019.

I have high hopes for the current batch which is great as a replacement for a glass of port after a meal – but, in as my late mother-in-law used to tell the children, is definitely ‘sippers, not gulpers’.

In an orgy of country pursuits, Mrs O also made huge amounts of apple chutney. Our sons are likely to account for the consumption of much of the sloe gin and the chutney.

Ironically, I’ve run less this week having signed up for the marathon than I have in recent weeks. It’s an attempt to finally sort out the ‘tendons which must not be named’ which are improving but not quite back to normal.

I’m planning to do a 20 week diy marathon training programme so I have about 6 weeks before that starts. Do I take advantage of that and start training now, or will doing too much now mean I peak too early (assuming I do actually reach anything that looks like a peak) or generally burn myself out?

Good sense says take it easy to reach the start of the 20 weeks in decent shape – both in fitness and absence of injury.

On Sunday I did a turbo session, 26km (16 miles) in 30 minutes, with a maximum speed of 80.5kph (50mph). So much for good sense.

So, this week, 14.4km (9 miles) running, 115km (71.4 miles) on the turbo and a weights session.

Congratulations to Alejandro Valverde and Anna van der Breggen on their World Road Race titles and Europe in the Ryder Cup – great sport.

 

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“This could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome”*… (but it is actually Rotterdam)

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Rotterdam – site of my next madness

After a very social weekend with an excellent supper on Saturday night with friends and a drinks party on Sunday, it was back to earth on Monday – and back to the turbo for 45.6km (28.3miles) in an hour.

Strangely, I really enjoyed it – but the fact I can still (appear to) go so fast on it must mean the magnetic resistance is waning. I should be thinking about a replacement (but I quite like the ‘vanity speed’ of the current one).

Tuesday was up to London to help a son with workmen who needed daytime access to his flat on Wednesday. Early on Wednesday I ran the 2.6miles (4km) from where I’d stayed and then back in the afternoon – which was lovely. Even with the junctions and pedestrians I managed just a few seconds outside the 4 hour marathon pace.

In the evening our sons took me on a late birthday trip on the river by the Thames Rib – a boat like the coastguard and life boat services use for inshore rescues.

From Embankment Pier we went upriver to the Houses of Parliament and then back downstream, under London Bridge and Tower Bridge, to Canary Wharf. There the normal river speed restrictions don’t apply and the driver really opened the taps and gave us a ride more like a rollercoaster with the James Bond theme playing loudly (a homage, I guess, to the film ‘The world is not enough’ which features a chase on the same stretch of the river).

A really exciting trip – followed by drinks and a brilliant falafal flatbread wrap at Gaby’s Deli between Soho and Covent Garden.

Things like that make it worth having birthdays.

I’m rather torn about London life. I get tired of the continual noise and the way everything seems to move faster (when I was working and had to go to London, I always noticed that I even walked faster as soon as I got off the train). On the other hand, I do like the convenience of being a short walk from so many amenities, the ease of transport and the chance to run or cycle around a variety of parks or along the Thames.

Like most big cities, you need money to be able to enjoy all the things that people list as the big benefits of city life. On balance, I think I’m a country boy who enjoys the quieter life but can appreciate the occasional trip to the bright lights.

Returning on Thursday I did another hour on the turbo for 43.3km (c.27miles). At the end I thought I was getting stronger – it just turns out to be (yet) another rear wheel puncture.

Entries for the Rotterdam marathon were supposed to open early next month – but actually opened on 27 September. Both my younger son (26) and I (63) have entered!

Exciting, scary, daft (for me at least).

Two great things about it:

  • running it with one of my sons (and possibly both if the older son’s continues to improve quickly enough after his car crash in July)
  • I have a challenge to aim for (without breaking my promise to Mrs O that there would be no stupid solo challenges in 2019).

PS *Sorry if the band ‘The Beautiful South’ are not known outside the UK. If they aren’t, the title will make even less sense than normal but they do have a song ‘Rotterdam’.

Life in the slow lane

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Puddleduck Lane – one of our running routes. It comes with, of course, a ‘Jemima’ cottage. A bit twee but very English.

I don’t remember the last time I exercised for 7 consecutive days, while at home. In the end, it was 71km on the turbo, 34.2km running and a weights session in the gym – nothing too extreme but nicely consistent and really all very enjoyable.

The pace is still a bit of an issue. I ran to the gym and back alone and thought I was going quite fast but I wasn’t – I’m still a handful of seconds off 4 hour marathon pace, even for a run of just a few miles. It must be the hills, or the wind, or the temperature, or something …. not the age of the runner, of course.

The achilles’ have improved – despite the continued exercise – so I guess it was the over-enthusiastic calf raises in the gym two weeks ago that caused the problem, and not the running.

I’m now bored of writing about them (but probably not as bored as others are of reading about them). I have nobody but myself to blame for the problem anyway, so no more of that (unless I really hurt them again).

I’ve been doing some research into marathon running but am ending up confused. There is a lot of detail and different advice.

They seem to expect a lot – one 16 week plan assumes you are already running 20 miles a week at the start of the programme. Another 20 week plan goes straight in with two 4 milers, one 6 miler, a day of speed work and a day with cross-training for the first week.

However, whether they suggest a 4, 5 or 6 months programme with 4, 5 or 6 days a week of training, the things they do agree on are the importance of a long, relatively slow, run each week (that’s playing to my strengths), faster shorter runs (oh dear) and the need for some speed work/interval training (even more ‘oh dear’).

I failed to follow any programme when I ran in the late ’90s so I don’t think I’m going to start now. I’ll take the principles and see what works for me. I’ve found one plan that specifically includes a day’s cross-training each week so I’ll adopt that as a principle. Now the worst of the recent rain and wind seems to have passed, it’s back on the bike next week!

As a bit of a fair weather individual, training through the winter for a spring marathon is a real pain, but I’ve always thought that running in the cold and wet is marginally better than cycling in it. The dark is a bigger problem as there are no streetlights and almost no pavements (sidewalks) near us – happily that must be where being retired comes in handy.

Applications for the Rotterdam marathon open in early October. It’s nearly ‘money where your mouth is’ time. I just wish I could do a decent run at 4 hour marathon pace before I have to commit to it.

 

Yates and Chopin – a mighty duo

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I’m feeling that the cycling mojo is returning. I certainly lost it after the ride out to the alps. The bike has a new chain but bears the scars of battle.

Very few professional cyclists ever have a realistic chance of winning a Grand Tour. Simon Yates had the Giro leader’s jersey for 13 stages earlier this year – and then blew up spectacularly late in the race. It seemed possible that his chance had come and gone.

I think that makes his La Vuelta win even more special – rather than let the experience at the Giro crush him, he learned from it and came back stronger.

Although helped a bit by the absence of some big hitters – and the indifferent form of some others – he won with a very mature and disciplined performance. Perhaps a bit more ‘Froome control’ than ‘Pantani panache’ – but a great victory all the same.

… and even a Grand Tour winner not riding for Sky!

I don’t think any brothers have ever won Grand Tours – much less twins – so what are the prospects of a win for Adam Yates in the near future?

                                                                         ___________

Rather more prosaically, my achilles’ has continued to improve, helped by a day off on Saturday, so we ran again on Sunday morning. Normally we run for about 6km but this time Mrs O thought she should go further so we ran 9.5km (6miles). Not too fast, but a creditable distance.

Later on Sunday, along with watching Lewis Hamilton win the Singapore GP and seeing Yates safely home in Madrid, to balance out all the physical stuff we catered for our souls.

There is a talented music teacher in the village and she puts on occasional concerts for her pupils, former pupils and other young musicians. This time it was Aleksei Demchenko, an award winning pianist who played pieces by Scarlatti, Schumann and Chopin.

In the same way that I have no fast-twitch muscle fibres to speak of, I do not have an artistic bone in my body – but I really appreciate it in others and the concert was wonderful.

I don’t listen to music on the bike or while running (I didn’t even take my ipod on the ride out to the alps) but if I did it would have to be classical music. Popular music can evoke many emotions but only classical music can take you completely out of this world.

                                                                           ___________

Running with Mrs O is a good way of putting some miles into my legs but ‘proper’ marathon training is going to require some longer and faster runs so I planned to do a quicker 10km on Monday morning. Unfortunately, I woke with sore achilles tendons again. They weren’t any worse than they have been over the last 10 days or so but it didn’t seem sensible to try a faster run on them. It puts me between a rock and a hard place:

  • I want to keep running to see if I can get better and prove to myself that it is worth entering the Rotterdam Marathon but
  • I need to stop to exercising to let the achilles’ recover so I can then resume running to prove that it was only the weights, and not the running, that caused the problem in the first place.

Typical compromise ‘solution’ (which, of course, means it’s not a solution at all): I’ll stretch, run gently with Mrs O and use the bike or turbo this week.

I hadn’t expected to be in ‘injury management’ mode this early.

Monday morning’s hard turbo, 26km in 30mins @52kph (16.15miles @ 32.3mph).

Tanks, bladders, lawns, running and the bike

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The bike is an ‘Eastman’ – Indian, I think. Goodness knows why anyone would have brought it back to the UK. Next year the plan is to attach a rack and a basket and fill them with flowers.

The Achilles’ have continued to niggle but, foolishly I’m sure, I’ve ignored them and kept on with some reasonably light exercise. Mrs O and I ran for 5km (3miles) on Thursday and I did my now regular run to the gym and back with a friend on Friday – with 30 minutes of weights in between.

I avoided the calf raises which I think caused the problem with the Achilles tendons last week and have been keeping up the stretches, the sit-ups, press-ups and crunches. I suppose I should have stopped the running until they were properly better, but they are improving in spite of it so I guess it’s doing no serious harm. I’m rarely accused of being sensible these days but at least I’m avoiding any longer runs until the tendons settle down again.

Friday evening I got back on the turbo for 42km (26miles) in a reasonably gentle hour (without much ankle flexing).

So, that was four runs and two cycles and a gym session in six days – nothing too extreme but enough to keep it all ticking over.

It’s turned a bit autumnal here, colder and with heavy morning dews – but I managed to get the lawns mowed. It’s a bit of a gauntlet at the moment as the willow has decided that it’s main aim in life is to sweep the ear defenders off my head as I drive the mower beneath it and I had to pick up a wheelbarrow load of fallen apples to stop them blocking the grass pick-up system. First world problems, eh?

However, it’s a relief to get it done. I know it’s strange but a newly mown lawn, an empty bladder and a full tank of fuel on a long journey are all disproportionately satisfying.

_ _ __ _ _ _ _

Bravo, Simon Yates for winning the Vuelta (subject only to some disaster on the final, largely ceremonial, stage tomorrow). Another astonishing performance by a British cyclist – and the three Grand Tours won by three different Brits in 2018!

We hadn’t won a single Grand Tour before 2012 and we have won 9 out of the 20 since – and the last five in a row. Wow!

Also, bravo Vicky Holland for winning the triathlon world title and James Cooke for winning the individual world modern pentathlon title (in what must have been one of the great finishes of recent years).

We might be going to hell in a handcart generally – but at least the sport is pretty good.

Making an ass of myself?

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Thinking about it, to compare myself to any type of horse is unfair to horses. This is closer.

If I were a racehorse I would be a ‘one-paced stayer’. Running the London Marathon in 1998 and 1999, I was lucky that my one pace was enough (just) to get me round in under 4 hours. The subsequent 20 years do not appear to have been kind in that respect.

As I remember it, running the required 9min 9sec per mile (6min 38sec per km) was OK – it never felt very fast and the real challenge then was running it for 26 miles 385 yards. Almost the whole focus then was on endurance.

Now the required pace feels very quick to me – my two 10 km runs on a sensible flattish route (running up the alp last week doesn’t qualify) have both been under an hour but have both been a little outside the required pace. Sadly, if I am going to run sub 4 hours next year, both pace and endurance are going to need to be addressed. I could easily end up looking very foolish.

Damn.

On the plus side, I’ll be going into proper training fitter than I was when I started 20 years ago – and half a stone lighter than I was when I actually ran. It’s just those 20 years that are going to be the problem.

I made the mistake of looking at the time I would have to achieve in order to enter the London marathon as ‘good for age’. It is 3 hours 45 minutes for the 60-64 category. If that is the target for regular, good standard runners, it suggests that my aim of breaking the 4 hour barrier is very optimistic, rather foolish and probably doomed already! Still, there are 7 months before the run so surprising things might happen.

I’m taking a holistic approach and have resumed the sit-ups, press-ups, lunges and crunches. More importantly, the Achilles tendons felt better so I went running with Mrs O on Sunday morning for 3.85 miles (6.2km).

We were then out for an excellent lunch at The Vineyard, a really good restaurant with a fine wine cellar, as guests at the magnificent 70th birthday celebration of a friend and ex-work colleague.

The only downside was that both my Achilles’ tightened up while I was sitting. I think I hurt them with the weights on Thursday (foolish calf raises with 170kg on the quads machine) rather than with the running – but that has aggravated the problem.

A valuable lesson learned – I am not as young as I was and cannot take too many liberties with my body. The training might turn into an exercise in injury prevention and management as much as anything else.

The Achilles’ eased during Monday so we ran again on Tuesday morning – just 4.5km (2.8miles). Then the turbo in the evening – 40 km in 50.42mins @ 47.3kph (25 miles @ 29.4mph) – hard!

It’s too early for any training schedule (and I hate them anyway as I feel guilty when I, inevitably, fail to keep to them) so for now the aim is just to cycle at least twice and run at least three times a week, body permitting.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Although I’m delighted that the American Football season has started (I’ve been a fan of the game – and the Raiders – ever since I saw Marcus Allen run 74 yards for that touchdown in Super Bowl XVIII), a word on cricketer Alastair Cook. Apologies that most people in the world will not know who he is – and are not interested in cricket (but how could anyone fail to love a game where you can play for 5 days and not end up with a winner?). Happily we did win this one, and the series.

Alastair Cook is a former captain, playing his final game for England – and yesterday scored 147 in his final England innings. He is retiring as the country’s highest run scorer, with a host of other records.

In an era when so many sports people are most notable for their on-pitch (or dare I say it, on-court!) misdemeanours, he has been a real gentleman and a proper role-model. Chapeau Alastair.

Credit too to England’s James Anderson who became the leading wicket taker, for a fast bowler, in Test cricket.

On an altogether sadder note, my very best wishes to Kristina Vogel, the German double Olympic sprint champion in the velodrome, who was involved in a crash in training and looks to be confined to a wheelchair as a result. She was fantastic to watch on the track and I hope that her determination and fighting spirit pull her through this too.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

PS Neil Matthews made a liar out of me and actually finished the Transcontinental Race on Saturday (not Friday) – just the 41 days after he started and just 32 days after the winner, making 157 finishers and 97 scratched.

Running or cycling … which, what, why, when?

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The screen shot from my run up the mountain last week. I like the simplicity.

Back from France but up to London (twice) to help out a son with some plumbing – and back to the decluttering of the sheds and garage.

I know the declutter is the right thing to do but I still find it hard. I was brought up in a less disposable age – an era when you didn’t throw things away until they no longer worked (and even then you tried to fix them first).

All these years later, it takes a real effort to get away from that upbringing.

Also, some of my hoard is stuff I helped clear from my father’s and father-in-law’s ‘collections’ – it feels a bit disrespectful simply to throw away things that they had decided were worth keeping for so many years.

I’m horribly aware of the irony that I moan about the problem of throwing away excess stuff while so many people don’t have enough of the basics – but at least I’m happy that much of what gets thrown out goes to the local charity shops.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Anyway, that aside, it was back to the turbo on Tuesday which was an enjoyable 43.9km (27.3 miles) in an hour. I’ve restarted the sit-ups, push-ups, crunches and lunges and went running with a friend to, and back from, the gym on Thursday with half an hour’s weights in between.

In a rare outbreak of common sense I postponed a planned run on Friday morning because of slightly sore Achilles tendons. Annoying, but a timely reminder that I need to do some stretching with all the exercise.

It’s got me thinking about cycling vs running, and their respective merits.

Of course, there is a lot of material on the topic on the internet but my take so far is:

1 Muscle use

It’s often said that running and cycling use different muscles. My legs have too few muscles in them to have different sets for the two activities – so the truth is simply that they use the same muscles in different ways.

I can certainly testify to that as, although I think I’m reasonably ‘cycle fit’, after the run up the alp last week my quads ached for three days. OK, they were not helped by having a run the following day, followed by 13 hours in the car back to England, but they did hurt quite a bit.

I get no muscle pains at all following rides up to 100 miles – and although I ached a bit after the rather more extreme days cycling through France, that never lasted beyond half an hour of movement in the mornings.

Both activities will help with muscle development below the waist (probably cycling more so) but running may be a slightly better all-round workout because of the need to maintain more posture on a run?

2 Calorie burning

Of course it depends on the terrain, the speed and effort put in, the weight of the individual, etc, etc but it seems clear that running generally burns more calories per hour than ‘comparable’ cycling, not least because it is weight-bearing. It appears that the differential narrows for fast cycling. On the other hand, for most people, it’s easier to cycle for longer than it is to run so ‘calories per session’ might be rather different.

3 Cost

Acquiring all the necessary kit for cycling is rather more expensive (!). However, assuming you can avoid all those tempting upgrades and extras, once you have the kit, ongoing costs for a year can be relatively small compared to the need to replace expensive trainers every, say, 300-500 miles.

4 Ease

It is easier to pull on some kit and get out running. Of course, that ignores the pleasure of the pre and post-ride fettling with the bike.

5 Health

Both are good for musculature and the cardio-vascular system. In moderation, the impact from running can help bone density (particularly beneficial for women as they get older). Both are also good for one’s mental health – as is pretty much any sensible exercise.

6 Pleasure

A difficult one but cycling wins for me as it’s easier to actually get somewhere interesting – running has a more limited range and so I tend to do it on similar, repetitious, routes. Running also hurts more and tends to carry higher muscle injury risks (but fewer fall and traffic risks).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The main thing is that I enjoy both. I’m not particularly doing either as training for the other – I’m doing both on their merits and for the benefit that variety brings.

The extra pain from running is compensated by it’s ease and the sense of satisfaction after a good run. If I’m going to do the Rotterdam Marathon next year, I will have no choice but to do quite a lot of it. I have no problem with having aching muscles after serious training – more importantly, and happily, so far no knee issues.

I know that my love of cycling will overcome the post-event lull I’ve been in – and I’ve not finished with cycling challenges so there will also be more to be done in the future by way of training for those.

In fact, thinking about it, I’ve realised that what really motivates me is having a challenge. It’s the challenge that provides the focus, motivates the training and ultimately gives me satisfaction and the way of measuring whether or not I’m ‘winning’. How ridiculous is that for a man of 63!

2019 looks to be a fallow year for cycling challenges (and any big solo challenges), but a marathon is certainly on the cards (Rotterdam or elsewhere). I’m also wondering if I could run from Les Carroz to the top of the Col de la Pierre Carrée next year (weather and traffic permitting, probably more likely in the summer than while skiing). It would be just over a half marathon with the first half of the run straight uphill at over 6%.

For 2020 I’m starting to think about:

  • the Normandicat (a range of solo, unsupported treks between checkpoints across Normandy),
  • the Galérien du Mont-Ventoux (four times up in a day – including once by the off-road forest route),
  • the Bicinglette du Mont-Ventoux (six times up in a day) and
  • the High Rouleur challenge (10,000m of climbing in a single ride).

Getting to 65 will have to be marked somehow, won’t it?

 

Transcontinental Race update: Neil Matthews, the last rider, should finish in Greece today, 40 days after he started in Belgium! Just 173km to go as I write.