Monthly Archives: October 2019

One wedding and no funerals, plus a World Cup semi-final (and gym, turbo, run)

Back to the mean streets of Little Coxwell

On Saturday we were at a delightful (very wet but who cares?) wedding – a lovely god-daughter of my wife. The venue was excellent but a bit of a way away in Somerset, so we stayed overnight.

It was a great weekend, the only downside being that I missed watching the second half of England’s magnificent win over the mighty New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final. It seems that life is conspiring against me as I missed the second half of the quarter-final win last week too.

Next Saturday is a travel-free zone as nothing is going to get in the way of watching the final against South Africa.

Back to the gym for a tough hour on Monday morning. A lighter morning as the clocks went back an hour on Saturday night, but the first frost of the autumn (happily I had already brought in the olive trees, the geraniums and the lemon trees).

I’d shaken off last week’s aches and pains but was carrying the burden of the wedding reception meal (and drink) and the best thing about staying in a hotel … the cooked breakfast. Normally I’d not eat breakfast but if someone is prepared to cook it for me it seems rude to refuse.

Another 3 hours on a second bonfire Monday afternoon – probably one more to go before I break the back of the disposal of the beech tree cuttings. True to form, I have some mild burns and the beech trees managed to trip me over twice while I was working. Happily, nothing damaged this time, other than my dignity.

I decided to let myself off the planned turbo session Monday evening – I was so tired it would have been embarrassing.

The bonfire was still going on Tuesday so I burnt some more stuff and chopped some wood – but I did get to the turbo in the evening for 30 minutes – 14.74km @ 29.48kph (9.16 miles at 18.32 mph). Breathing hard and dripping with sweat, despite the unheated conservatory. I am now sharing the conservatory with over 50 plants of one description or another, I hope they appreciate my carbon dioxide production.

A 6.1km run (3.8 miles) on Wednesday morning with my wife, complete with a bit of pain in both calf areas. It’s well above the heel on both legs but I’m now wondering if it’s (yet again) the Achilles tendons – this time just at the top of the tendon instead of being down by the heel like before. The information online seems to focus on Achilles pain being down by the heel so I’m not sure what this might be.

One to keep an eye on (and to keep stretching) but an annoyance rather than a big issue at present.

Run, gym, digging thistles and the revenge of the beech trees

Next at the cycle park is wild flower and tree planting

We were expecting a parcel Wednesday so we took turns to run and wait in. As a result, I ran a bit further and faster than usual – just over 10km (6.3 miles) at 4 hour marathon pace.

I can’t help but continually think about runs as fractions of next year’s ultra – that’s just a fifth. It wasn’t too cold, but cold enough to be the first run with hat and gloves for many months – winter is approaching.

I went into the run with a sore left buttock. I came out of the run with an additional twinge in my left knee and two painful calf muscles. At least the calf pain seems to be too high to be the troublesome Achilles tendons so it could be worse.

The sore buttock is testimony to the willpower of beech trees. After Monday’s bonfire made decent inroads into the beech tree cuttings, it was still smouldering on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the wind had turned and was blowing towards the village so I decided to put the fire out. Walking backwards pulling the long hose I tripped over a cut log and landed sitting heavily on another. The trees might be cut back but they are still fighting.

Back to the gym Thursday morning with my usual gym companion. He is still suffering with plantar fasciitis (since early April) and not sure if he will be able to attempt the ultra with me next year. It would be good to have his company – but what if we wanted to pace it differently? I’m wondering whether long distance running is essentially a selfish pursuit.

The afternoon was wet so there was little to be done beyond sloe picking. An earlier recce had suggested it was going to be a good year for sloes but although they were plentiful, they had not grown very big – it remains to be seen if they will produce good sloe gin. Happily I had some left over sloes in the freezer from last year so I have started with them.

I was up at the cycle park on Friday, digging an area to be used for a small wild flower meadow. It was extremely hard work – thank goodness I did not have a manual working career, it might have killed me. Because of that effort I gave myself an evening off the turbo, for which the still-aching calf muscles and left buttock were suitably grateful.

I tend to struggle to get beyond the simple “running is the best training for running’ and ‘cycling is the best training for cycling’ but I’m hoping all the work at the gym is going to help (besides which, I like it).

If it tunes up (or builds up) the legs I guess I will then need to build the cardio vascular system further to support them properly (better muscles need more oxygen?). Is that how it works?

The aim is to have an easier couple of weeks now and then start ramping up the cardio and the running to be in good shape to start my programme for the White Horse Challenge sportive in early February and begin the training programme for the Race to the Stones (the first week calls for 31 miles) in early March.

One thing I have promised myself is to get the mountain bike up on the Ridgeway – good cycling, a necessary recce of the ultra marathon course and excellent cardio training all rolled in together.

Run, Gym, a Mini excitement, the rough end of a deal and a 20% crown reduction

Back from Lake District walking and cycling mid-week and then domestic stuff, including collecting my wife’s new (new to her!) car. From BMW Touring to Mini Cooper – fun wins over practicality at last.

It’s not exactly the same as the Mini I had back in the late 1970s (it’s put on weight) but it still has a playful feel to it – a sort of cross between a go-kart and a puppy.

On Saturday we drove down to Bournemouth in terrible traffic, picking up one of my brothers-in-law on the way. Since the death of her mother my wife and her two brothers have made a point of meeting up every year for a lunch in Sandbanks (where they always used to holiday as children). Happily, there is a Rick Stein restaurant there so it’s no hardship.

I did more domestic chores at the house in Bournemouth while they enjoyed some fine dining. The drive meant missing the second half of England’s triumph over Australia in the Rugby Union World Cup quarter final.

I don’t think I got the best end of the deal.

The bonus was a gentle run along the seafront on Sunday, only 4.5 km (2.75 miles) but delightful on a crisp and bright morning.

I’ve noted that in Oxfordshire runners and cyclists acknowledge each other with a friendly nod or ‘morning’ but that runners in London are a breed apart and tend to avoid eye contact completely. I’m pleased to report that Bournemouth runners and walkers are firmly in the ‘acknowledgement and greeting’ camp.

Gym on Monday morning – the first time for 11 days and it felt very hard as a result. Do the walking and cycling in the Lake District, and the run in Bournemouth count for nothing in exercise terms?

The afternoon turned out to be even tougher. One of the chores at the end of last week was getting tree surgeons in to do a 20% crown reduction on the 4 large beech trees at the end of the garden. The £1200 (nearly $1600) I saved by getting them to leave the cuttings for me to deal with seemed like a no-brainer, given the large logs I now have for the wood burner and given that that we are at the end of the village and I enjoy a good bonfire when the wind is in the right direction.

If the Buddhists are right, in a previous life I was probably an arsonist – though not a very good one judging by the way I usually manage to singe my hands and clothes.

As it was, Monday afternoon’s bonfire was a very tough one. Large heavy branches and a fire that didn’t want to get going or keep going once started. It was a problem child throughout – continually attention-seeking and not prepared to play nicely by itself – a very hard few hours. I had to remind myself of the saving made by getting the workmen to leave the cuttings to make the effort feel worth while. At least one more bonfire to come.

I was going to use the turbo trainer in the evening … but to heck with that.

Gym, gym, run, gym – and rides and walks in the Lake District

The ‘lake’ bit of the Lake District is obvious – it could just as easily be called the Hill District

After a great weekend, uninterrupted by any exercise (beyond the quad biking, lifting a glass or fork to my mouth, and some walking) it was the gym on Monday morning to start losing the extra pounds.

Same again on Wednesday for 50 minutes of weights followed by 3km on the treadmill in 15m 57sec. That’s around the pace for a 3h 45min marathon – but even on the treadmill there was no way I’d have been keeping that pace up for any great distance. I’m a long way off being able to do any decent running – happily, there is a long time before I really have to try.

Gym again on Thursday morning for 50 minutes – tough on the back of the previous day’s visit but, on the plus side, the Achilles tendons seem to be in reasonable shape after the treadmill run.

On Saturday we drove the 250 miles up to the Lake District for a weekend with the friends we hosted in France in the summer. It rains a lot up there (could that have some link to the fact that it’s the lake district?) but we were pretty lucky this year.

Our host forgot his cycling shoes so I got a call on Saturday morning to see if I had any with mountain bike cleats to take up for him. I didn’t but was able to collect the forgotten shoes from his house.

Tricked into thinking that he was going to use his mountain bike, I took mine, only to find he was using a road bike for a ride in constant rain on Sunday. It was hard: only 24.48km but with 424m of climbing (15.2 miles and nearly 1400 feet). Particularly hard on me battling (and failing) to keep pace on my 18 year old mountain bike.

On Monday we walked the Fairfield Horseshoe – according to my Garmin, we walked for 20.27km with over 1000m of climbing (12.6 miles and 3340 feet). Quite a tough hike for a non-walker but very nice views and a real feeling of success. It wasn’t deserted but there was just a trickle of people coming from the other direction (we did it anti-clockwise, starting climbing from Ambleside).

On Tuesday the three men rode (all on mountain bikes and largely off-road) to meet our wives at the start of a walk up Holme Fell, and back again after it. Over 28km and 660 metres of climbing by bike (over 17.5 miles and 2200 feet) and a short walk of about 4.3km with 202m of ascent (2.7 miles and 660 feet) sandwiched in between. This off-road mountain biking stuff is seriously tough. The legs weren’t too bad thanks to the gym (I guess) but the cardio vascular bit was rather lacking.

It was a terrific few days with great friends and excellent hospitality, in a magnificent part of the country.

I’ve got to get up on the Ridgeway to make sure it is not anything like the fell walking. If it is, I’m in trouble for the trail ultra marathon up there next year.

Ultra marathon? – all sorted (oh, apart from starting training and actually running it)

Rotterdam – site of this year’s marathon, and blessedly flat

For my 3 marathons so far, ‘run all the way’ has been target No3, just behind ‘get round safely’ and ‘try to enjoy it’. Having now signed up for an off-road ultra, early research suggests I need a rethink.

Although I’m sure there are many great athletes who run ultra marathons from start to finish, it seems that, for a mere mortal like me, a run/walk approach is recommended. I’ve seen claims that incorporating, say, a minute of walking for every 10 minutes of running can perhaps double an individual’s effective range.

Instinctively, i’m the sort of person who would prefer to run until I could run no more, and then walk the rest. Apparently, that doesn’t work well for an ultra as the walking miles are likely to be something of a death march – the benefit of recovery while walking needs to be taken regularly and before it is too late.

I’ll need to practice the run/walk to see how it works for me but perhaps the walk bit could be used for the steeper uphill sections?

I don’t mean to underestimate the challenge but I can’t help but think that as my ultra is ‘only’ another 8km (5 miles) more than a marathon, I could keep with ‘run all the way’ and just do normal marathon training (plus a bit). However, my occasional lucid moments tell me that those who have completed ultras know much better than me, and I’ll find that ‘just’ those 5 miles, the hills and the absence of a good road surface will make a huge difference.

So, being too far away to start any specific training i’ve been doing the next best thing – researching on the internet. Recognising that internet research is a dangerous thing if I have not been able to separate the wheat from the chaff, more key learning from my reading so far:

  • losing weight is a good idea (well, how did they think that one up)
  • hydration and nutrition are vital (ditto)
  • don’t get injured – who, me?
  • there are 4 feed stations on the route – only 10 km between them so it looks like carrying one bottle will be enough, unless it is very hot
  • that might mean just a running belt to hold the bottle and some snacks?
  • I need to run on the Ridgeway in training – partly for familiarisation, partly for the training benefit and partly it will help decide on appropriate footwear (will running shoes be enough?)
  • I can keep cycling (good cardio exercise and easier on the body than running)
  • I can keep up with the gym (especially good for the core)
  • the 16 week training schedule I found that started with a 31 mile week is not by any means out of the ordinary! Damn
  • back to back long runs seem to be a vital part of the training. Double damn.

It’s just possible that next year could be a bit tough. The training now won’t help with the cardio aspects but I can carry on because I enjoy it – and any strengthening of my core and legs will be a bonus if taken through into the early spring.

How hard can it be …

Alarm-alarm, quad bikes, craft beers, tapas and Glastonbury – not just another weekend

Back to Bournemouth and Hengistbury Head, it was a great weekend

I appreciate the horrible irony that, when so many don’t have the basics, I feel that I have too many things – but as a result, our sons give me ‘experiences’ for birthday and Christmas presents.

On Friday we drove down to Bournemouth for my birthday present. We all gathered in the evening (plus the older boy’s girlfriend) in readiness for the experience on the Saturday afternoon. After a great family meal in the evening, I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep in preparation – but the phone rang just before 6.30 with a message from the alarm company to the effect that power had been lost to the alarm at home in Oxfordshire.

Although heartened by the fact that it wasn’t an intruder alert, something had to be done, and it was a bit early to contact any neighbours.

The result, of course, was that before 7am I was in the car to drive the 100 miles back home. As I got into the village I could see some lights on – but the house had no power. It was simply the trip switch that had (presumably) been activated by a power surge some time after 5am.

Resetting it took about 5 seconds, followed by the 100 mile drive back to Bournemouth. What a great way to start a day.

In the afternoon we drove to Blandford Forum for quad biking. We watched the group ahead of us and got a bit worried as they seemed to be confined to some tracks around a hillside right by the farm – perfectly good tracks, with some very good flooded sections, but for an hour in the same place?

We didn’t know whether we’d be put with others to make up a group – but we weren’t. With just the three of us (sons and me) the first instruction ‘no overtaking’ wasn’t such a disappointment, but it did occur to me that we might not have the most exciting hour ahead of us.

Happily, I was very wrong. The instructor explained that we would start on the nearby hillside but, depending how we got on, there were more tracks he could take us to a few fields away.

We were on the first hill for only about 15 minutes and we must have convinced him that we weren’t complete no-hopers and he took us to the further field where there were some more difficult tracks.

‘Gnarly’ would be the word in mountain biking circles, I think.

That seemed really good and it was enormous fun. With the three of us the no overtaking was not an issue – the track was sufficiently demanding by itself.

After a while he led us off again and I was thinking that the time had gone incredibly quickly but instead of returning to the farm, he took us to a third site. My wife had been talking to one of the other instructors who explained there was a third site that they rarely took people to because it was very difficult – apparently that’s where we were.

I thought we’d already hit lucky on the fun stakes – but the third site was even better. In and out of some trees, up some very steep hills with drops that fell away so sharply that you couldn’t see the track beneath you as you come over the top, deep ruts, adverse cambers and sharp bends in front of rather solid-looking trees. It was very hard but such a buzz.

In the early evening we went to a local micro-brewery and sampled some really excellent craft beers. After that it was off to a tapas restaurant for some terrific food (after a slightly long wait for our table – with they handled very well, with a sincere apology and a free round of drinks – all credit to them).

On the Sunday morning the older son and his girlfriend were devoted to applying for tickets for the 2020 Glastonbury music festival. To get better internet reception we went to a local cafe/bistro on the seafront where they set up a row of four laptops and two mobile phones on the wall outside (the cafe not quite being open yet).

By chance, the Bournemouth half and full marathons were taking place, passing right in front of the cafe. I suspect that many runners though they were passing either a timing checkpoint or a press centre – certainly several waved and posed for non-existent cameras. Sorry, it was just an attempt at a ticket application.

In fact, their attempts failed to get through the queues to the ticket purchase stage – but friends who were also applying did get tickets for them all so it ended well.

After a brunch and a walk around the Hengistbury Head area, everyone headed back home in the afternoon – us to Oxfordshire and the boys to London. What a great weekend – and not a run, a cycle or the gym in sight. No exercise for three days, unless I can include the quad biking (I did ache a bit on the Sunday morning), or clapping the Bournemouth runners – congratulations to all of them.

I was thinking of the Bournemouth marathon as an event for late 2020 but the route winds back on itself several times in different places (would that mess with the mind?) and although I like running along the promenade, on Sunday there was a nasty little headwind blowing west to east along the Channel. I need to think about this …

Run, cycle training, gym, gym, run, gym

Back to hitting the mean streets of Little Coxwell

The training continues – I’ve been to the gym, run or used the turbo trainer on 11 of the last 12 days – but with no challenges until next year, I wonder about its use. I think it’s just ‘enjoy it for what it is’.

It rained heavily through Saturday night but we ran on Sunday morning – 6.2km (a bit under 4 miles). The light rain at the start was very pleasant but we ended in rather heavier rain which was a bit less so.

Later we went to the cycle path to do some more training – despite the weather we had a lot of children on the balance bikes, some more of whom, I think, will be cycling properly next week.

A bit of the afternoon was spent watching the men’s road race at the world championships in Yorkshire. The weather was foul and led to a shortening of the route; they cut out the Buttertubs and Grinton Moor climbs that I remember so fondly from our visit to Yorkshire for the early stages of Le Tour back in 2014. It was a seriously tough day for riding a bike – with 75km still to go, more than half the field had abandoned in the pouring rain and with temperatures down around 12℃ (low 50’s℉).

On Monday morning it was back to the gym for an hour. I’ve increased some of the weights again. I tend to do 3 sets of 12 reps until that gets comfortable, then I increase the weights and reduce the reps to 3 sets of 8 (if I can) , before building them back up again. I’ve no idea whether that’s a good way to do it …

I’m now on the machines’ maximum weights for leg press (200kg), abductors and adductors (both 60kg). On the leg curl and leg extension machines I’m at 55kg … again, no idea if that’s good, bad or indifferent – but it really doesn’t matter, I’m enjoying it.

I had planned on running on Tuesday but it was raining heavily so I went to the gym again and I ran with my wife on Wednesday morning – just under 4 miles on a cool, clear and crisp morning – and faster than we have run together for a year. I know that the gym is no replacement for running or cycling but I’m looking forward to a ‘proper’ run or cycle to see how I shape up at the moment.

Gym on Thursday and a day off on Friday to rest the tired muscles – and a very good weekend in prospect.

Congratulations to Katarina Johnson-Thompson for gold in the world heptathlon. Great athletics – dismal crowds in the stadium.