Monthly Archives: May 2020

Too well exercised to take exercise, run, snake, run, run, run


Extraordinarily tough gardening on Monday and Tuesday, digging up brambles, nettles and taking ivy off a wall in the heat. I was too broken by honest hard labour to even consider running or cycling.


When I become supreme world dictator (it’s just a matter of time, surely) I will decree that no weed (as defined by me) is allowed roots more than one inch deep or two inches long.

However, it was a good reminder that

  • not all exercise happens wearing running shoes or cycling cleats
  • a day without running, cycling or a visit to the gym is not necessarily a ‘rest day’.

Back to the more typical exercise on Wednesday morning with a fairly gentle but lovely 9.35km (5.8miles) run in yet more surprising heat. Then back to the garden where, to our great surprise, we found a snake in the afternoon.

The grass snake, the adder and the smooth snake are the only three types of snake in the UK (four if you count a sub-class of grass snake as a separate species – I say as if I know about these things). Only the adder is poisonous. Ours was a grass snake but perhaps about 2 feet long (60cm). I don’t know how rare they are but it’s taken me nearly 65 years to see one in the UK.

By the time I’d finished gardening on Thursday (more nettles asking to be dug up) I was past the desire to do any more exercise – but I ran on Friday. It was hot – perhaps a degree or two cooler than the previous few days but the first time I’ve run in lycra shorts since the Rotterdam Marathon in April last year. Despite the heat it was a really enjoyable 10.2km (6.3miles).

Another run (5.5km – 3.4 miles) on a hot Saturday in ‘proper’ running shorts – I felt like I should have been apologising to the walkers I passed. Bramble removal later – forearms cut to shreds. The same again on Sunday but a little further – just over 6km (a bit under 4 miles) mis-recorded by the Garmin and mangled by Strava which is playing up!

With little on the sporting challenge front to keep myself occupied, I’m still thinking of challenges for later this year, or for 2021 if the cancellations continue. I have an idea for my birthday challenge and I’d like to do another triathlon – but I recognise that I’m going to have to work on my swimming if that’s going to be anything other than a sprint distance with a pool swim.

The other alternative that I’ve not really considered before is a duathlon (run, cycle, run). Sounds like fun, and with less chance of drowning.

Still waiting for the new brake assemblies for the carbon-rim blocks so I can take the bike out with the new wheels … nervous anticipation.

I need to get back on the bike as relief from the running.

Interesting things this week

1. When it rains we see that a guinea fowl has five toes.

At last, how to solve the eternal ‘How many toes has a guinea fowl?’ question.

2. BBC News website: Formula E driver Daniel Abt uses professional gamer to compete for him in esports race.

Abt is a pro-driver for Audi in Formula E, the electric engined version of Formula1. During lockdown it is running computer-based races. He said “I did not take it as seriously as I should have,”.

Or, perhaps, he took it more seriously than he should have?

He is certainly taking it seriously now – he has lost his contract with Audi.

3. BBC News website: How do you ease your dog out of lockdown?

First world problems, eh?

4. Men hired for sexual fantasy break into wrong house

A man in Australia hired two others to break into his house, armed, tie him up (in his underpants) and stroke him with a broom. Unfortunately, he moved and did not tell them so they broke into his old house …

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

16/05 – 1902 (x1.13)

23/05 – 2020 (x1.06)

30/05 – 2065 (x1.02)

Run, turbo, run, run (jackdaws and wasps)

Evidence of the other (rather smaller) inhabitants of the loft area from which I cleared the jackdaw nest. I’m pleased to say that the wasps are long gone and, now, so is the nest.

Back up into the loft space to put a temporary fix over the hole the jackdaws had used as a front door. The picture shows that (happily in the past) we’ve been hosting other wildlife.

On a pretty hot Thursday morning we ran together so my wife could set a new PB (or PR as Strava would have it) on the nearby hill segment – and then I ran few laps of the old hill fort for a total of 8.65km (about 5.4 miles).

As a non-paying member of Strava it’s a bit disappointing to lose some of the functionality – I can’t now see full segment leaderboards or compare times over repeated courses – but I’ll wait to see if I miss any of it enough to want to pay for it.

Blowy weather on Friday so turbo in the evening – an unreasonably hard 21.48km (13.3m) in 45 minutes.

I thought turbos were supposed to be an easier option but cycling outside recently has confirmed my view that my turbo gives a very tough experience. Less than two weeks ago I got on the real bike and rode two and a half times that distance, faster, and (it felt) without as much effort. I’ll try to console myself with the thought that it must be good value on the training front.

Saturday was wet and blowing a gale (literally) but I got out in the afternoon and managed to miss the rain. Despite the wind blowing at about 64kph (40mph) it was really enjoyable and I ran a bit 10km (over 6 miles) in just under an hour.

A run on Sunday morning with my wife (just over 4 miles) finished a week with 4 runs (37km – 23 miles), a session on the turbo and some hard manual labour.

The new wheels, cassette, tubes, tyres and chain all arrived. I’ve assembled everything and it looks (to my mind at least) very good. The wheels came with carbon-rim-specific brake blocks but they didn’t include the brake shoes.

I’m happy (or at least prepared) to change the brake assemblies over when I change the wheels – but that doesn’t extend to swapping over the blocks in the holders every time. That means another order for a new set of brake assemblies into which I can fit the new blocks – when that arrives I’ll give the wheels an outing.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African proverb: By scaring a jackal, one can end up drinking milk.

Unless the jackal is milking the cow, I’m really not sure about this one.

2. BBC News website: Spelling bee champions share their study tips.

Just the sort of news we need to get us through this.

3. BBC News website: Travel firms adopt the brace position.

Very sorry for those involved in such tough times for the industry, but I liked the headline.

4. BBC News website: Man makes money buying his own pizza on DoorDash app.

The app was selling his pizzas cheaper than he was, and was still paying him full price for them. (Apparently bit of a loss leader ‘demand test’ by the delivery app which had no arrangement with him but, if it got a favourable response, would have approached him hoping to get him to sign up to the app service).

Run, rooks/jackdaws (running is all in the mind – apart from the physical bit)

That is a nest?

I’ve often run with my wife thinking that, once we finished, I’d carry on to do another loop. The number of times I’ve actually done it can be counted on the fingers of one finger (yes, just the once).

I’m sure the reason is fairly simple, and all about expectations. I put a mental finishing tape by the back door of the house and once I get there the incentive to go further is very weak.

I experienced the same thing with the bike back in 2017. The group that runs everesting also offers the ‘High Rouleur’ challenge for 10,000m of climbing. I went into it intending to do an everest and perhaps go on for the further challenge if it was going OK. Once I got to the everest ‘finishing line’ I’m not even sure I thought about carrying on.

Admittedly, it was after 3am and I had been riding for 18 hours in the previous 22 – but even with the state of my backside from the carbon fibre saddle, I think I could have done it if I’d been committed to that as being the main aim of the exercise.

On Tuesday I ran with my wife, having decided that I was going to do our usual 6.2km (just under 4mile) run followed by another loop. Not putting up the mental finishing line at the house made it much easier to carry on to do a total of 12km (7.5m).

Some weeks ago I was told by a neighbour that she had seen rooks getting into one of the loft spaces in our house. We could hear the din the birds were making and on the roof there was a pile of twigs they couldn’t get through the broken tile. We weren’t too happy to host them but had resigned ourselves to their presence for a while – we wouldn’t interfere with breeding birds.

Then it all went quiet about three weeks ago and there have, clearly, been no comings or goings. We have a chap who can fix the tile so I crawled along the eaves and went into the loft space to clear out the nest. The picture shows what I found – nothing that really looked like a nest – it was more like the mountain Richard Dreyfus builds out of mashed potato in Close Encounters, but so much bigger. To give an idea of scale, the loft space has over six feet of headroom.

It took a couple of hours of hard, hot, work to clear it. That just two birds could scavenge for all those twigs (not to mention the moss and dried horse manure that was also there) is remarkable. It’s a real shame that the breeding attempt failed – I assume they know when the eggs should be laid and give up if they fail to produce any, or perhaps one of the pair was killed?

Slightly irrelevant postscript … I never saw them but I think they were jackdaws, not rooks.

I finally pressed the button on the purchase of new, deep section carbon wheels for the bike … and new tyres … and tubes (remembering to get the long valves) … and a new cassette … and a chain.

Rather pathetically, I struggled for quite a time over this – I have too many material things and this is not exactly (or at all) in line with my general approach of trying just to buy things I need, rather than getting new things that I want.

In the end I justified it (to myself anyway) on the basis that my father would have been happy to see me using a little of his money on something I was likely to get a lot of pleasure out of.

I know – it’s a pretty thin justification but it’s still quite exciting.

Interesting things so far this week

1. Police have removed a sexual assault appeal from its website and social media accounts. It asked for help to find a man who kissed a woman on the cheek to thank her for helping him when his lorry became stuck under a bridge in Matlock.

I struggle here – unwanted sexual contact or approaches are, clearly, wrong and unacceptable… but a kiss on the cheek to say thank you? Not great social distancing – but a sexual assault?

2. Stilton sales plunge 30% amid pandemic

I wonder why Stilton particularly. Personally, I think blue cheese is the work of the devil, but I’d still be sorry to see a traditional UK product threatened.

3. The top-flight South Korean football side, FC Seoul, has apologised after fans accused it of using sex dolls to populate some of the stands in the empty stadium. The club insisted they were “premium mannequins” rather than sex dolls – but did admit they came from a supplier that produces sex toys.

Turbo, ride, run (my unholy trinity)

After running on Tuesday and Thursday, it was back to the turbo on Friday. I was pinched for time so just 30 minutes but ridden quite hard; sadly, the speed was registered at 29.9kph by Strava.

After a day in the garden I went out on the bike late on Saturday – it wasn’t a difficult decision as it was that or the turbo trainer. I rode for just over 36km (22.5 miles) in 80 minutes and managed to take it reasonably sensibly … apart from the two times I found myself behind other road cyclists who, I could tell, really wanted to be chased and overtaken.

A bit pathetic for an old man? Guilty as charged.

The big problem, of course, is that once you overtake, you then have to push on hard for the next couple of miles to avoid looking like an idiot as they, effortlessly, cruise back past you.

One of them was down on his tri-bars which made the chase harder but also made me realise that I should refit mine. I am currently cycling alone and in relatively light traffic so it would be pretty safe and why turn down the couple of free kph that they tend to offer?

On matters ‘aero’, I’m still grappling with whether I should get a pair of deep rim carbon wheels. Although I don’t cycle at an average of 20mph (32kph, the speed at which they are said to come into their own) I do spend a reasonable amount of time at that speed – so they might be a genuine benefit (to everything but my bank balance).

I know a gentleman in Michigan and another in Tasmania who would consider that decision to be a total no-brainer.

On Sunday morning I ran with my wife – she wanted to do the local Strava hill segment again (competitive juices flowing strongly). We did that and then I ran on to do some laps around Badbury Clump for a total run of 8.3km (just over 5 miles).

The car park there has been shut during the lockdown so, although the whole area itself has been open, it’s been fairly deserted and a joy to run in. The car park has now reopened and was full – but at least the people were well spread out and social distancing was not an issue.

For some reason Strava hasn’t recorded the segment we ran but I can work out a time from the maps and the route tracker – she blitzed her previous time by between 10 and 15 seconds. What a performance.

Some years ago we ran the “Town and Gown” 10km race in Oxford three years in succession. It’s a great course through the city centre and the aim was for my wife to break the hour barrier. We managed 58 minutes odd on our last attempt – I’m working on getting her to enter next year but it’s an uphill battle.

The rest of Sunday will be spent mowing and playing croquet. It’s what Sundays were made for.

Stocktake after 8 weeks of lockdown

  • weight – 68 kg (decent)
  • resting pulse – 48 bpm (fair)
  • hair – long, grey and unkempt (but at least I don’t have to worry about the roots being a different colour)
  • mental health – entirely unchanged (not sure if that is good or bad, but I tend to put it down to a sad lack of imagination on my part)
  • running – OK, I’m enjoying it a lot, but I’m not doing any great distances (perhaps it’s a good thing the ultra marathon is postponed to 2021)
  • cycling – moderate at best (how on earth did I ever get fit enough to ride out to to the alps, let alone do the ‘Everest’?)
  • Achilles tendons, fine; calf muscles, fine; left knee, not fine
  • garden – better than ever.

Interesting things this week

1. African proverb: A frog’s happiness comes with the rains.

… and who doesn’t like a happy frog?

2. The Dutch government has issued new guidance to single people seeking intimacy during the pandemic, advising them to find a ‘sex buddy’.

The National Institute for Health and the Environment said that ‘Sex with yourself or with others at a distance is possible’.

I see the Dutch in an entirely new (red) light.

3. Steve Linick: Trump fires state department inspector general

I’m starting to feel left out because the President hasn’t bothered to fire me (yet).

4. With the division’s season coming to an early end, our local football club (Swindon Town) is set to be promoted and crowned Champions. Not how anyone would have wanted it to end – but we’ll take it.

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

16/05 – 1902 (1.13)

Run, run, Strava segments, a charity quiz and training vs exercise

It’s dawned on me that with my challenges postponed to next year, I’m not ‘training’ for anything – I’m just ‘exercising’. The absence of any sort of training plan should have been a clue …

It feels like there is a real difference between the two: training has a more specific purpose and so comes with a greater obligation and urgency. Exercise has a less specific aim and the ability to be more flexible – I’m going to try to embrace the difference.

I gave the difference an introductory hug on Monday by gardening, scrubbing a crazy-paving path and seating area – but not exercising beyond that. We ran through the village together on Tuesday morning before I miscounted the laps around the old hill fort and pushed hard in getting a PB on a very nasty local hill which is a Strava segment. Nearly 7 miles in all (over 11km) and really enjoyable (except for the big effort up the hill).

I decided that two days of quite hard manual work in the garden exempted me from other exercise on Wednesday but back to it on Thursday running with my wife – 7.5km (4.7 miles). I ran with her so she could record a time for the local hill Strava segment on my Garmin – and what a good time it was (in the top half out of nearly 70, and just two seconds behind a running friend of mine … should I tell him?).

Quizzing for charity

I’m part of a group of about a dozen old work mates who go on a ‘gentleman’s sporting weekend’ each year. We’ve been far and wide in the UK, mainland Europe (from Lisbon in Portugal to Budapest in Hungary) and North America (including Boston, New York and Toronto).

On Thursday we had a Zoom-based quiz for charity – the winner to decide where the money went. Modesty forbids mentioning who won, but I chose a local Young Carers group helping children who find themselves in the role of main carer for parents or other family members. It’s a great cause.

Interesting stuff so far this week

1. The authorities in Nigeria’s southern Rivers state have demolished two hotels for allegedly violating lockdown rules introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Beats a small fine or a police warning as a disincentive to breaking the law

2. Even if you dance in the water, your enemies will accuse you of causing dust.

Love these African proverbs

3. Coronavirus: Tui urges opening up tourism to safer countries

Tui is a travel company, based in Germany. The idea is that safer countries are identified and opened up as holiday destinations (so they soon stop being safer countries??)

4. Coronavirus: New Zealand reopens with midnight barbers queues

I admit to not being a style icon when it comes to grooming (or indeed anything else) but I can’t image any circumstances that would have me queueing for a haircut at midnight.

Run, scrub, scrub, run, turbo, ride, run (a better balance?)

Quite a lot ached on Monday morning – due more to the driveway scrubbing than the cycling or the running, I suppose. Nevertheless, I ran in the morning with my wife – a gentle 6km.

It finally dawned on me that, with the cumulative wear and tear from continuing driveway cleaning, I was probably overdoing it with training sessions on top. I took Tuesday and Wednesday off while upping the driveway schedule.

It was our younger son’s 28th birthday on Wednesday – spent with him locked down in London. He said he didn’t mind being alone for his birthday as much as he minded being 28. We certainly minded not seeing him but we managed an extended family Zoom chat in the evening.

Thursday we finally finished cleaning the drive (it took about 10 days of pretty hard effort and four worn away wire brushes). I mowed for a couple of hours – but managed a late afternoon 10k run in just under an hour.

Having mowed, the croquet resumed on Friday (with an honourable draw), together with gardening and a session on the turbo trainer. I made the mistake of increasing the distance to 23km and struggled horribly right from the start – but stuck with it, taking a painful 49m 41s.

Undeterred by the tough turbo experience I got out on the bike on a lovely warm Saturday. The aim was for just a gentle spin – I even chose a different route from normal so I wouldn’t be tempted to compare times.

The route was great (Clanfield, Bampton, Aston, Ducklington, Curbridge, Lechlade, Faringdon) but within a couple of miles the competitive juices got going and I rode the 53.44km at 29.2kph (33.2miles at over 18mph).

We ran just over 4 miles on Sunday morning – one of our usual routes, plus a bit to deliver a card for the 65th birthday of the friend I did the Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux with back in 2015 to mark our 60th birthdays. Hard to believe that was nearly five years ago.

With no remaining 2020 challenges, and my 65th birthday just two months away, I’ve decided to look for a way to mark that with a challenge. It has to be one that I can take on with just about any version of likely lock-down measures that might be in force at the time, and I think I’ve found it.

I’m going to have to get some proper cycling in at some stage.

Interesting things this week

1. BBC: News: Dealing with curly hair during lockdown

More insightful journalism getting to the heart of matters of national importance.

2. African saying: The goat complains that its master’s sickness bothers it. If its master survives, there will be a feast. If he dies, there will be a burial. Either way, its life is at stake.

Who’d want to be a goat?

3. New Zealand had a very strict virus lockdown, during which a group of thieves went to work on a yard full of rental vehicles, all lined up, unlocked and with the keys inside. Over a long weekend, a total of 97 vehicles were stolen.

Not too easy to get rid of them on an island nation of under 5 million inhabitants – 85 vehicles recovered within days.

4. The local Costa Coffee reopened for drive through orders only. Apparently the queue caused some traffic chaos.

The Liberal in me is pleased that an element of normality and choice has been restored but part of me is sad that so many think a Costa Coffee is a necessity.

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

Turbo, turbo, turbo, turbo, run, ride (a different turbo challenge but 4 sessions is plenty)

A new week of lockdown started with a new approach to the turbo trainer. I’ve been stuck in the ’45 minute session’ rut for a while now so it seemed time to try something a bit different.

Although I would always push myself pretty hard, there wasn’t any reward for working harder. I’ve now decided to shake it up a bit and sometimes go for distance rather than time. I’ll increase the distance bit by bit but the big carrot is going to be the thought that I can shorten the session by going faster. A proper and tangible benefit for increased effort, and a way of breaking out of the 45 minute rut.

I realised that in the last 12 turbo sessions of 45 minutes, I’d only got to 22km 3 times and to 22.5km only once, so that was the distance I set myself to start with.

On Monday I cycled faster than all but one of those previous 12 sessions and the 22.5km took 45m 50s. I suppose that makes it a good idea in as far as pushing me to work harder is concerned – but a bad idea if I wanted an easy life.

The spell of really good weather broke on Tuesday – cool and pretty wet. The croquet was postponed (which fitted neatly with just about all the other sport around the globe) and the major project of tackling the driveway was put on hold. It’s a block paved drive which, over more than 25 years, has acquired some weeds in the joints and moss on the shaded bits, which are now getting addressed with wire brushes, brooms, weed killer and a large amount of elbow grease.

I almost wimped out of the turbo Tuesday evening as I was feeling very tired but I forced myself and managed the 22.5km in 45 minutes and 1 second, which was surprising as I was struggling before I’d done 10km.

Wednesday started out dry which enabled resumption of the driveway clearance – luckily it did rain later which put a stop to it. After three consecutive days of running and then two with turbo sessions I took a rest day.

Thursday was back to the drive and the turbo. I’d decided that I was going to go easy on the turbo but it felt OK once I started so I pushed on and got to the 22.5km target in 44m 09s – 1m 41s faster than Monday.

Forgetting that the whole idea was to have a bit of a shorter session if I hit the 22.5km early, I carried on to complete the 45 minutes for just over 23km (at 30.7kph – 19mph). The biggest problem is working out how this fits in with my previous decision to reduce the length and intensity of my exercise sessions.

Drive and turbo yet again on Friday. The aim was to run but the hailstones put paid to that. I really did not want to use the turbo again and it made me realise how much I miss the gym – if only for some welcome variety. A gentle recovery spin – 47 minutes for only 20km, but it felt so much harder.

I ran laps around Badbury Clump on Saturday – a bit over 9km (5.6 miles). It was lovely, but not being the turbo by itself would have been enough to have made it really enjoyable.

Sunday was back to the driveway – after a few more hours on hands and knees, it’s over half done and have completely worn away two wire brushes. To celebrate I went for a gentle ride later in the afternoon, just over 40km.

A week with nearly 130km (80 miles) on static and proper bikes and just the one run. If last week told me my knee doesn’t want the running overdone (remember that for next year’s postponed ultra marathon), this week told me that 4 turbo sessions is plenty.

The rooks in the loft space have suddenly gone very quiet. Any eggs should have hatched by now so I’m wondering if there has been a ‘domestic’ dispute or some other failure of matrimonial bliss.

Interesting things this week

1. Sudanese proverb. ‘A snake that has a locust in its mouth does not bite.’

So true.

2. Argentina has banned ticket sales for commercial flights to, from, or within Argentina until 1 September.

With ‘only’ 4,000 confirmed infections and 192 deaths at the time, whether it’s right or wrong, that’s decisive government.

3. BBC News: ‘I returned my suits and spent £100 on joggers’

London based lawyer sends back her sober corporate gear back, and spends £100 on comfy loungewear instead. Now she admits she is pretty much living in casual clothes suitable for relaxing at home, be it hoodies, joggers or pyjamas. “I’ve found myself saying to my housemates if I’m going for a walk, ‘oh it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s lockdown.’

How on earth does this rank as ‘news’?

4. Most expensive tweet ever?

Tesla’s founder Elon Musk wiped $14bn off the carmaker’s value after tweeting that its share price was too high.

Now that, Mr President, is a real tweet!

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)