Monthly Archives: July 2020

Run, cycle, rooks, bang, run, run

Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire countryside – not a bad area for a ride

Finally, I’m a fully-fledged volunteer responder! After over 800 hours ‘on duty’ I got a call to pick up and deliver a prescription for an elderly lady. I’m not expecting a knighthood but good to have helped in some small way.

A day off exercise on Monday, replaced by yet another trip to the local dump as the clear-out continues. Later it was back to pointing the new walls in the garden and more preparation for the building of the next bit.

Back to the running on Tuesday – still with normal running shoes and tender feet. We all ran up the village together before my wife did her hill reps and our son and I ran laps around the old hill fort at Badbury Clump – just over 9km (5.6miles) on a glorious morning.

Mowing later and the realisation (say it quietly) that I may have overcome the rooks. For a long time, when I went to feed the chickens, I’d scare a few rooks from the chicken run. That hasn’t happened since I made the cut-out of the hawk and stuck it on a pole in the run. On Tuesday I did scare a rook away as I went to feed the chickens – and lo and behold, I saw that my hawk cut-out had fallen over. Coincidence? I think not.

The old tree stump was removed in the afternoon and we had friends over for supper which was really enjoyable.

Wednesday was more of the same on new garden walls. Realising that we have neither the regular shaped stone or the necessary skill to build dry stone walls, we are going to adopt a new strategy and build it with mortar from the outset – more like an ordinary brick wall.

On Thursday I cycled with three friends – all of us over 60 and all retired (at least in part). A little over 64km (40 miles) around Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire lanes at a reasonably gentlemanly pace with a coffee stop – a social ride and none the worse for that.

In the evening there was an explosion (well quite a loud bang) in the sitting room and the power in the whole house tripped. Everything came back on except for the internet router – which has nasty looking black marks where the cable goes into the mins plug. I assume the plug is also a transformer and it’s that has gone in a very terminal way.

We all ran on Saturday (nearly 8km – 5 miles) and I ran with my son on Sunday (13km – 8 miles), with more garden walling in between.

I write this sitting in the car, parked where I can get a signal for the free wifi we are entitled to because of the broadband package we have for the house in Bournemouth. Not ideal, and no useful browsing to find interesting stuff to include this week.

As you might have guessed, no contact at all from the broadband provider to the house here …. quite bereft without it!

Run, run, cycle training, run, run and ‘Would sir like the soles of his feet beaten with a lump hammer?’

How could anything called Puddleduck Lane lead to such pain and suffering?

Another week, another run – Monday morning’s with my son and was almost 7km (4.3m). Not pushing too hard but just enjoying running for the sake of running.

We had friends over for lunch – the first time we’ve had people in the house since the start of the lockdown in March. It felt odd having people around the dining table but not sharing serving spoons and giving ‘air kisses’ at a 2 metre distance, but it’s good to restore some sense of heading (albeit slowly) towards a bit of normality.

On Tuesday it was back to the pointing of the new walls we have been building. I am still incapable of not using my hands in addition to the trowel but at least I am now taping up various fingers before I start so I have reduced the cement-induced pain considerably.

On the plus side, nothing has yet fallen down but, equally, I don’t think there is any danger of anyone asking for the name of the person who did the walls because they are so impressed by the high standard of workmanship.

I ran with my wife on Wednesday – 6.4km (4 miles). I ran in my minimalist shoes and they were great – to a point. We ran along Puddleduck Lane which was fine, but the residential village road turns into a farm track of compacted stone – with loose stone on top (more loose stone on top than I’d realised).

When I first got the shoes I’d wondered how it would feel when landing on a stone on such a thin and unpadded sole and now I know – it really hurts. The soles of my feet feel like they have been beaten, repeatedly, with a lump hammer. The ‘trail’ shoes are great for roads and trails that are grassy paths or bare trodden earth – but they are no good at all for stoney trails.

Thursday was spent hobbling around the garden with bruises to the soles of my feet, preparing for the removal of a large tree stump. It’s a fir tree that came down in high winds a few years ago – it remained anchored in the ground and ended up suspended over the conservatory, supported by the branches that were against the ground. It was big enough that when it came down the roots broke up the concrete base of a path.

Now, with four sections of wall reasonably well advanced, a chap in the village will bring a JCB next week to pull the stump out so we can start on section 5, an ‘L’ shaped wall by a rear garden gate. We’ve exposed some hefty roots that I’ve cut with the chainsaw and have been sorting out the best stone to use (the pressure is on as this is the bit of wall most open to view).

My feet were still sore on Friday as a result of the stones on Wednesday’s run. If there is a ray of good news I suppose it is that it’s the balls of the feet that are most bruised so I guess I’m not heel striking to any great extent.

I took a (socially distanced) training session at the cycle park later in the morning and then back to excavating around the tree stump looking to unearth and cut roots that might cause damage when the stump is removed next week.

I ventured a run with my son on Saturday morning with ‘normal’ running shoes with good padding to protect my damaged, but improving, feet – nearly 8km (just under 5 miles).

We went out for lunch to a village pub a few miles away – I suppose we do feel that we should be helping local businesses back on their feet but it is a nice place with very good food so it was hardly a great sacrifice on our part. My wife and I visited some friends in the village in the evening for drinks which was great – we are bordering on having a social life again.

The three of us ran on Sunday morning, another 7km (4.35miles). Although the soles of my feet are still a bit tender if I walk around barefoot, they are OK running in normal running shoes.

Over the last couple of months we’ve taken over 30 seconds off my wife’s average km time so the personal trainer in me feels pretty happy. My own running isn’t really going anywhere – a bit under 18 miles for the week is just ticking over in the absence of any events. Nothing I do now will be of much help for the ultra marathon that’s been postponed to next July so I’ll carry on running with my wife and son for the simple pleasure of running.

Heading out for a socially-distanced garden supper with friends on Sunday evening will finish a very reasonable week.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African proverb: No matter how low a cotton tree falls, it is still taller than grass.

2. BBC website: Bolivian sex workers using raincoats to keep ‘safe’

Many sex workers in Bolivia say they’ll return to work using gloves, bleach and see-through raincoats.

My guess is that flights to Bolivia are not fully booked

3. BBC website: Repentant Nigerian bandits offered cows for AK-47s

2 cows per AK-47 is the going rate in this imaginative initiative which attempts to encourage bandits to give up crime and return to a more normal life. I can’t help but think if the chap with the AK-47 really wanted 3 cows for it, he could be quite persuasive.

4. Andean condor birds ‘flap wings just 1% of the time’

Apparently, flight recorders found one bird flew for five hours, without flapping, covering about 172km (107 miles) just using air currents.

Run, ride, run, ride, birthday, run – OAP or not OAP, that is the question

The Elswick, Dayton, Daccordi and Stablinski

I ran in London on Monday morning – pretty much the usual route to Hammersmith Bridge and then down the Thames Path and back. Breezy but otherwise good running weather and not too crowded.

Running along the Thames is always great but it was particularly enjoyable this time as I’d forgotten that we were staying there on Sunday night and I’d written off the chance of getting in a run.

I tried to see if I could run faster than my usual plod and it seems I can – just over 7km at 5m 09s per km (almost 4.4miles just inside 8m 20s per mile) according to Strava. I guess the Garmin lost its signal at some point and I’ll be very surprised if it was really quite that quick – but Strava must be obeyed (and believed) so I’ll take it.

On Tuesday morning I got out on the bike with the friend I did Ventoux and L’Eroica with – only my 5th proper ride of the year. A very good social spin around the country lanes for 60km (a bit over 37 miles). Perhaps I should have done another 5km to do my age ‘metrically’ (three days early).

Wednesday morning was a run with my son – a gentle 7km (4.3m).

Thursday was my birthday ride: 65 years, 65 miles, 65 year old bike. I’ve posted it separately but the summary is ‘hard but enjoyable’. It was a day early but it’s not the most social sort of thing to do on the day itself. It was very tough using the Elswick, mainly because of the 3 gears and its weight – but it makes me wonder if that might be useful for training purposes when I actually have something to train for.

I guess it’s more of a town bike than a tourer – I wonder if it’s ever been on a ride of that length. Were riders much stronger in the old days – or were the roads much flatter?

I’ve realised that I have the Dayton Hawk in the garage. I built it up for L’Eroica back in 2013 on a 1946 frame. Perhaps I should be celebrating its birthday next year: 75 miles on the 75 year old bike. Undoubtedly it would be easier than 65 miles on the Elswick – cable brakes that work, 5 gears, a proper riding position and a lot lighter.

OAP or no OAP?

I’m trying to work out if I’m now an Old Age Pensioner. The age of 65 was the UK male state pension age for many years but it is being shifted further out in view of increasing longevity. I don’t get mine until next year – am I an OAP before I get the pension?

I’ve decided that the ‘OAP’ status attaches to the receipt of the pension and not the age of 65 so I’m not yet an OAP – I feel younger already.

Someone told me that I’ve been entitled to free prescription medicines since I was 60. The fact that I didn’t know that makes me grateful that I enjoy good health and haven’t needed a prescription medicine for a good deal more than 5 years.

A great tapas birthday lunch on Friday at a local pub by the river and a fine evening meal cooked by my wife and younger son, It doesn’t get much better. Even the chickens had saved up and bought me an egg.

More pointing of new stone walls and mowing on Saturday together with my first haircut since February or March, followed by croquet on the newly mown lawn. I think that counts as a big day for someone of my age.

It’s been some weeks since the willow tree has assaulted me while mowing but it managed to remove my ear defenders this time. I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security and outfoxed (again) by a tree.

I ran with my son on a glorious Sunday morning – just the 7.5km (4.7m).

A very fine week was rounded off by a loss to the West Indies in the cricket. I couldn’t have expected everything to go my way, could I?

Interesting stuff this week

1. African proverb: An elephant never tires of carrying its tusks

2. Barbados PM invites us all to ‘work at home’ there

Having been there on holiday last year, I can think of so many worse places …. if only I still worked

3. ‘Cheese is milk’s leap to immortality’

I’ll go along with that provided it’s not blue cheese

4. Cricket has restarted with a test match between England and the West Indies, played behind closed doors. We batted badly in the first innings, prompting one observation that it was good to see the English batsmen implementing proper social distancing between bat and ball.

Birthday ride – with a twist: 65 years, 65 miles, 65 year old bike

Poor quality picture (hides the rust)

People often ride their age in miles to mark birthdays. I think that a better approach would be to use a formula like: 2(100 – age). At least that would give a decreasing yearly ride and only 2 miles at age 99.

However, I joined in this year (a day early) going with conventional wisdom, but with a slight difference – 65th birthday, 65 miles, 65 year old bike.

The bike is an Elswick (possibly an Elswick Hopper) – the rear hub (original) is dated 1954 but the chap I bought the bike from bought it new in 1955. It comes with the benefit of a fairly comfortable and well-sprung saddle but the more major disadvantages of:

  • rod brakes (which, in the entire history of cycling, never worked very well)
  • just three of Sturmey Archer’s finest gears (quaintly marked L, N and H)
  • a riding position with all the aerodynamics of a brick, and
  • a ‘robust’ 41.2 pounds (18.7kg) that’s 2.6 times my ‘best’ bike.

Based on all of that, I make no apology for having chosen a relatively flat route around the Oxfordshire countryside.

I set off just before 9am feeling that having a Garmin on the bike looked a bit odd – and that wearing a ‘Galibier’ headband was probably even stranger (but I’ve not managed to get my hair cut post-lockdown yet – it is rather long and needs to be controlled). I’ve ridden up Télégraphe and Galibier, but would not fancy them on this bike.

I had a generally meandering route (Clanfield, Lechlade, Carterton, Bampton, Standlake, Pusey, Hatford, Fernham) taking a few deliberate long ways round to clock up the miles. It worked well – the first 20 went quickly and the next 20 fairly happily too. I have great respect for cyclists of 60 years ago considering what they managed with the equipment available to them but the Elswick is no racer and the last 25 miles were seriously hard work – not made easier by a fairly heavy downpour that was not forecast until hours later.

I wonder if, in its 65 years, the bike has ever had a longer ride?

In all, 66.5miles with almost 1500 feet of climbing (107km and 455m). I didn’t stop other than for answering the phone but the 4 hours 40 minutes it took were the hardest I’ve had in the saddle for many a moon.

It’s not a bike I’d want to use to recreate my ‘everest’ or my ride to the alps – but I did find myself wondering if I could get it up Ventoux (but not to recreate the Cinglés – perhaps just once by the Sault route?).

I hadn’t weighed myself for a while but I did before I left for the ride – spookily I clocked in at 65 kilos (65.8 to be precise – 145lbs). I wonder how often a cyclist finds himself riding an ordinary bike that is getting on towards 30% of his own body weight.

I’m happy I did it – but it was tough. Next year? A birthday ride? Probably – but only on the Elswick if I can incorporate lunch at a good pub on the way round. Otherwise, it’s carbon for me.

Run, run, walling, Bournemouth, run, London

After Monday and Tuesday’s ‘barefoot’ runs, I rested on Wednesday in case I was putting tendons and muscles under new or increased stresses that might cause problems.

My younger son and I checked the dry stone walls and decided that they had to be ‘glued together’ with mortar so we set about some pointing. I know that mortar needs to be applied by trowel (and have two perfectly useable ones) but within minutes I was using bare hands – simply because my trowel skills leave so much to be desired.

Our first morning session of exposure to the cement left me with nothing worse than fingers wrinkled like I’d had a 3 hour bath. Sadly, the second mortar session in the afternoon saw me with three cut fingertips – and getting cement into cuts is an altogether different proposition.

On Thursday we drove down to Bournemouth for some more gardening ahead of our older son and his girlfriend going down there at the weekend. It is the first time since the lockdown started that they will be allowed to spend a night away from the London flat they share – and have both also been working in. I really hope they enjoy the space (inside and outside) and being outside London.

I resisted taking my running kit. I love running along the seafront but the promenade is a bit narrow for social distancing and it was a flying visit. We got back to the walling on Friday, I was unable to do any more mortar sessions (because of the damage done to my hands on Wednesday) but our younger son and I managed a bit more wall building.

I ran with my son in ‘normal’ shoes on Saturday – 7km (just over 4.3miles) at a little better than 6min/km, which seems to be my standard pace at the moment.

We had a friendly sprint to the finish where the Garmin recorded 4.04min/km for a few fleeting moments. With nothing specific to train for, that’s plenty good enough for me. It felt good after three days off running and the legs were fine but I think I’d benefit from a stretching regime.

What is sobering is the realisation that my finishing sprint was over a minute slower than Kipchoge’s average for the marathon. Intellectually, I know the sub 2 hour marathon was a spectacular achievement but that just underlines how wonderful it was.

In the afternoon we drove up to London so our son could check his flat and I could do some work in ours, fitting a dishwasher (unexpected complications – only part 1 of the job was achieved). It is said that the ‘R’ number in London might have crept back over 1 – country folk like us are a bit nervous about that so it, and a sore knee, meant I didn’t run. A good trip but happy to get back to Oxfordshire.

Big(gish) news – next week will involve some cycling!

Interesting stuff this week

1. Boris Johnson’s newt-counting claim questioned

Investigative journalism at its best, fact-checking the Prime Minister’s claim that wildlife investigations hold up planning applications

2. Peas are a big hit with tadpoles

A wildlife photographer turn his lens to the garden during lockdown to address yet more key issues of the day

3. Coronavirus: PM urges people to be sensible as England lockdown eased

Fingers crossed that people listen – but I fear, with some, he might as well be urging the grass not to be green

4. Outrage as Indian judge calls alleged rape victim ‘unbecoming’

The judge said “The explanation offered by her that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep is unbecoming of an Indian woman,” the judge said, adding that it was “not the way our women react when they are ravished”.


‘Barefoot’ in the park – first experiences of minimalist/ barefoot running

Minimalist v normal running shoe. Less is more … or perhaps less is less? They have a sort of camouflage colour scheme – but so far I’ve been able to find them OK.

I have to admit that buying the minimalist running shoes was, quite possibly, a bit of badly-judged nonsense. I’m not sure I can explain it – but it felt something of a necessary rite of passage.

My achilles tendons hurt every day for more than four months training for the Rotterdam Marathon last year and one of the things that is prescribed in such a case is a running shoe with a bigger drop from the heel to the toe, to reduce stress on the tendons.

The minimalist shoes have pretty much zero drop (perhaps 1mm?) so they do not appear to be very Achilles-friendly and do not seem to be a wise choice. However, when was I likely to be sensible when it come to this sort of stuff?

Beyond that, they are against almost everything we know about running shoes … no gel inserts to cushion the shock, no multi-layer, multi-density foams to maximise energy return, no need for gait analysis to decide whether you under or over pronate so you can buy the necessary corrective shoes or supportive arches …

Well, perhaps it’s wrong to say minimalist/barefoot shoes are against what we know about running shoes – perhaps it would be more accurate to say they are against everything the running industry tells us is important in running shoes. The industry wants to differentiate and sell products so can we always take the claims on face value?

On the other hand, if the products don’t work as they should, we will find out so the manufacturers should be kept honest by that. If the gels and foams (and, dare I say it, carbon-infused launchpads) were just Emperor’s new clothes, wouldn’t we know it?

It’s all very confusing – and if you like interesting questions, could Kipchoge have run his sub 2 hour marathon without his Nike Vaporflys?

Anyway, back to the minimal. It might sound weird but when you put them on they make your feet feel a bit over-exposed and vulnerable – the biggest reservation I had was how the seemingly thin sole and the absence of any cushioning will protect my feet when landing on a sharp stone. I think the issue would be pain and bruising rather than penetration through the sole (but I’d not want to walk on a nail in them).

The shoes I have are supposed to be trail shoes (I take the fact that they are called ‘Merrell Vapor Glove 4 Trail Running Shoes’ as a clue) but that just emphasises the stone point.

Being from the east of the Atlantic, I would prefer ‘vapor’ to be spelt correctly – but I may be able to forgive Merrell the missing ‘u’ if the shoes are good.

Monday saw the start of the minimalist experiment. The morning’s physical stocktake revealed a slightly tender left calf and Achilles (addressed by heel drops) and the usual cranky left knee. I wore the shoes for a fairly short run on the road – just under 7km (about 4.2 miles). They felt great – light and comfortable and the run felt easy and pretty fast (for me).

I may just be deluding myself by feeling that the run was easy – I could just be thinking that to justify my purchase of the shoes but I guessed the proof of the pudding would be when I woke up the following day and saw how the legs were. The rest of Monday was spent out in the garden tackling an overgrown hedge (and removing nettles, brambles and ivy – again). It was very windy and we had a power cut in the afternoon which lasted until about 10.30pm.

On Tuesday the physical stocktake was just the same as Monday’s – no new aches or pains and nothing worse than usual. I’ll take that as a victory.

Accordingly, I ran in them again on Tuesday – tame trail running doing laps of Badbury Clump (about 7.7km – 4.75miles). Yes, you can feel stones and sticks through the sole of the shoe but no problems so far and they were a joy to run in.

On Wednesday morning both calf/achilles combos were a little tight and the knee was as cranky as usual. It could just be two consecutive days of running, it could be the shoes or it could be nothing much at all – but it will be a day without a run.

I think I’ll go back to the old shoes for the rest of the week – I doubt the new ones need ‘running-in’ but if they put extra (or different) strains on my muscles/joints/tendons/ligaments/psyche I guess that it’s me that might need to be a bit cautious in attuning to them.

So far so good – I like them a lot but it remains to be seen if they like me …