Monthly Archives: December 2020

Happy New Year

What should the picture should be – something reminiscent of 2020 (do I want to be reminded) or something looking forward? Here’s a bit of both – skiing in January 2020. If we don’t ski in 2021 it’ll be my first season missed in over 35 years

It’s ironic that ’20:20 vision’ usually means either perfect or normal eyesight. With 20:20 hindsight, 2020 will be judged as anything but perfect or normal … but, like all years, it comes to an end.

Whatever 2021 holds, I hope it is happy, healthy, safe and successful for you and yours.

To use my mother-in-law’s favourite toast ‘I wish you all you would wish yourself’.

I’m not sure 2020 deserves a big end of year review (indeed, it would consist of a lot of ‘we stayed at home’, ‘we didn’t do much’ and ‘I worked in the garden’). At least one thing we were generally allowed (and encouraged) to do was exercise.

For me, just under 1200km of running for the year in 137 outings – and comfortably over 250 sessions of running, cycling or weights in the gym in 2020.

I’m not one for New Year resolutions but, beyond the obvious ‘complete the White Horse challenge sportive in April and the ultra marathon in July’, I’ll set a few targets for 2021. In no particular order, I’m aiming for at least:

  • a birthday ride of my age in miles (sadly, 66 of them) on something other than the ‘best bike’ (this year’s was on my 1955, 3 speed Elswick)
  • 10 metric century rides
  • 1000km of running by the end of June
  • 10 runs of half marathon distance
  • twice a week at the gym (when I’m here and it’s open!)

All Covid, health and fitness dependent, of course.

Roll on the vaccinations.

Take care.

One bit of ‘interesting stuff’ by way of uplifting African wise words:

A hen that scratches too deep into the ground will meet its mother’s bones

Gym, run, gym, run, Christmas, walk – enjoying the holiday in spite of everything

A sunny, crisp day – perfect for a walk. We are in the UK’s Covid tier 4 – the highest level of restrictions – but we still braved the great outdoors, pushed past the hoards of people and into the urban sprawl beyond the end of the garden …

Monday was a rather bleak day among many others this year. Travel bans, new variant Covid, Brexit trade talks deadlock, lockdowns and the ‘loss’ of the family Christmas. Roll on 2021?

As if that wasn’t enough, my expectation was that the BBC had omitted me from the Sports Personality of the Year nominees because they were going to unveil me as the surprise winner during Sunday’s live programme. They didn’t. Lewis Hamilton won.

I took refuge in the gym where I was the only person for most of my hour. I hate to think what their finances look like at the moment but I enjoyed it.

After bemoaning how the Fantasy Football league was spoiling my enjoyment of many of the matches, I appear to have won last week with a record score and taken the top position in the league. It just makes the inevitable fall all the further and all the harder when it comes.

Running on Tuesday with our younger son – the regular 10.2km (6.3 miles) with the light relief of a painful right ankle for a bit of it. If I can invent the game of ‘body hurt bingo’, I am very close to calling ‘house’.

Back to the gym again on Wednesday and a 7km (4.34 miles) run with my wife and our younger son on a cold but bright Thursday – Christmas Eve. A slightly brighter Christmas Eve than expected as the conclusion of a trade deal was announced between the UK and the European Union. A cross between the Holy Grail and a shameful sell-out if you listen to the rival politicians – no doubt time will tell that it is neither but it will be good to move on from Brexit.

Christmas day was, of course, different from usual and from what we had planned. Our older son was in London (happily not on his own as his girlfriend was with him) and my wife’s family were in Surrey and Hampshire so we had various video calls – not quite the same but surprisingly good. The food and drink were, at least, unchanged in quality and quantity.

We went into the UK’s Covid tier 4 on Boxing Day, it’s the highest level of restrictions with a basic ‘stay at home’ message. That’s the gym closed again for a while, along with non-essential shops and leisure services. The county had 8 cases of the new variant of the virus just before Christmas, all the the City of Oxford itself.

I guess we are caught because of proximity to more worrying areas and because it’s simply not possible to give the restrictions enough ‘texture’ to carve out specific towns or villages. Our local authority area has had the lowest infection rate in the county – long may it stay that way.

The three of us went for a good walk on a cool, breezy but sunny Sunday – just under 4km (about 2.4 miles) around the sodden fields behind the house but a great bit of fresh air after Christmas. We saw three other people, but nobody within 100 metres.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Do not call a dog with a whip in your hand

2. BBC News website: Couple hold 10,000 guest drive-through wedding in Malaysia

The newly-weds were seated outside a grand government building while guests slowly drove past in their cars. The windows had to remain rolled up and guests only got a socially distant wave from the wedding party. The guests were treated to a dinner – but had to pick up their pre-packed food through their car window and drive on.

The report says the celebration came a day before the groom’s politician father was found guilty in a $500,000 (£370,000) corruption case and sentenced to a fine and 12 months in prison, stayed, pending an appeal.

3. BBC News website: First cases of coronavirus detected in Antarctica

The Chilean Army reported 36 personnel at its Bernardo Riquelme O’Higgins base have tested positive. Antarctica had been the last continent without a case of the virus

4, BBC News website: ‘Chris Whitty is more popular than Britney Spears’

Few people had heard of Professors Chris Whitty or Jonathan Van-Tam at the beginning of 2020. Now, after months of featuring on governmental briefings, England’s chief medical officer and his deputy are proving a hit with shoppers.

An online search reveals the faces of the two unlikely cult heroes on novelty mugs, T-shirts, beer labels, birthday cards and even prayer candles. “We have Britney Spears and Michael Jackson designs,” says the co-owner of a gift business. “Chris Whitty is outselling them all.”

5. I was reminded that Donald Trump had a cameo role in ‘Home Alone 2’, directing Macaulay Culkin ‘down the hall and to the left’. I’d have been more impressed if he’d insisted on the line being ‘down the hall and to the right’.

Happy Christmas

A short post to wish everyone a very happy and peaceful Christmas, however constrained it may be. Also, best wishes to anyone on a running streak that will include the holiday period. Bravo.

For me, it’s been Monday, gym; Tuesday, run; Wednesday, gym; and Thursday (today) run. In the next few days, I expect to eat my body weight in chocolate and undo all the good already done this week, plus much more besides.

On Boxing Day, Oxfordshire goes into the UK’s Covid ‘tier 4’ – the most restrictive tier. Harsh for a small village like ours from which the virus appears (he says with crossed fingers) to be completely absent. The nearest town, Swindon, has a significant problem with the virus – but will be in tier 3.

It will mean we can only leave home for a ‘reasonable excuse’. Non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues will shut, so goodbye to the gym for the third time this year – but we can continue to exercise as much we choose.

… but let’s look on the brighter side – vaccines are arriving and a Brexit deal appears to have been actually/almost agreed (not that we, the general public, will be in a position to judge it and it will be either a raging success or a complete sell-out, depending who you listen to).

Ho hum.

Just one bit of interesting stuff this half week

African wise words: He who toils in the sun enjoys the shade

Seemed beautifully inappropriate for winter in the northern hemisphere

Gym, run, run, ride(!), gym, walk, run (and the downside of fantasy football)

The problem with winter riding. It wasn’t pristine before I went out but it wasn’t this bad – honestly. The bottle with the cover to protect the drinking spout always feels like a good option on rides like these. No, the wheels were not a great idea.

Monday was a good deal warmer than recent days, even the gym was a decent temperature for a change – no hat or gloves were needed for an hour on the weights.

We ran on a crisp but sunny Tuesday morning (the usual 7km – 4.35 miles).

Wednesday was reasonably mild but breezy and a bit wet. I ran for 14km (8.73 miles) with the idea to push the distance out a bit (for some unknown reason). It was tough but I still managed comfortably under a 6 min/km average. With the ‘Race to the Stones’ ultra not until July I wish I could bottle the extra training for use next year but I don’t think it works like that.

I have managed to find a way to slightly spoil my enjoyment of football (soccer to anyone to the left of the Atlantic). I’m in a small charity fantasy football league (only 74 people) but reached joint 1st place after the mid-week games. The problem is that I’m now split between my normal team allegiances and fantasy point scoring. I think I will be happier once I make the inevitable slide down to mid-table mediocrity.

I got out on the bike on a bright but cool Thursday morning – there were six of us in full Covid-compliant mode for a very good and sociable 64km (40 miles). Compression top, thermal top, winter cycling kit with long trousers, neck warmer, head band, thermal socks, gilet and ‘lobster claw’ gloves – cold weather wimp, moi?

It was a morning trip through a number of quaintly-named Oxfordshire villages, including Charney Bassett, East Hanney, Denchworth (for a good outdoor coffee) and Goosey. I enjoyed the ride, I enjoyed the company, no new pains in the legs and no need to get on the turbo in the evening. Wins all round.

Gym again on Friday, but it was very hard. Although cycling and running must use the same muscles (I don’t have any spares kept in reserve), I guess they use them slightly differently. It brought home how important it seems to be to do a variety of exercise to keep everything moving as well as possible and in the most versatile way.

Saturday was a lovely cool, clear, bright and crisp day – the first anniversary of my father’s death at nearly 96. It’s still a bit of a comfort that he would have hated the restrictions of 2020!

I changed into running kit but on the way back downstairs my knee started to hurt for no apparent reason. In a rare outbreak of good sense I decided not to run – which was probably for the best as, within half an hour, it was raining heavily. We had arranged to meet some friends for a walk and outdoor lunch so I did get outside to enjoy the day and their company.

In the afternoon came the unexpected news that ‘Christmas is cancelled’ as the Covid upsurge lead to the removal of planned relaxation of the rules over Christmas and the creation of a new ‘tier 4’ with more restrictions for some areas, mainly in and around London. I did the planned trip to collect our younger son (permissible as he’s in our ‘support bubble’) but our older son is not now allowed to join us. No doubt some people will ignore the new rules but we won’t, so he and his girlfriend have decided to stay in London. That’s miserable.

Another cool bright day on Sunday so another enjoyable run for 10.2km (6.4 miles) @5:36/km. I iced my Achilles after the run – it will be interesting to see if it makes any difference.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: A house goat does not know the value of the hunter

Does home schooling for goats need tighter regulation?

2. BBC News website: Kangaroos can ‘communicate’ with humans, study finds

Kangaroos are able to intentionally communicate with people and “ask for help”, a study has found.

I’m expecting that the next study is into whether, beyond asking for help, they think we are worth communicating with.

3. BBC News website: Unesco lists couscous as intangible cultural heritage

In a statement, Unesco says the listing is part of its efforts to encourage multinational awards in order to bring peoples and cultures closer together.


4. BBC News website: Man charged over allegedly corrupt betting on table tennis

A man has been arrested in Australia as part of an inquiry into a gambling syndicate placing allegedly corrupt bets on fixed table tennis matches in Europe, particularly in Ukraine. He is alleged to have pocketed A$500,000 (£280,000; $378,000).

I didn’t even know you could bet on table tennis matches, let alone find people who would fix them

Run, gym, gym, run, (I saw three ships not sailing by)

Back to Bournemouth. The cruise ships are still there and have become something of a tourist attraction. Luckily no parking meters in the bay

Situation normal for a Monday: jaded after running at the weekend (2x10km) and with a niggling right Achilles. I thought of using the turbo later but rolled the doubling dice and decided on a day off completely.

I drove down to Bournemouth on Tuesday morning to take delivery of a new washing machine. The old one must have had a faulty drum bearing as the machine imploded at 1400 rpm doing a wash while our older son was there during lockdown.

We would have tutted and replaced it – he went online and found that there was a recall on the machine because of (surprise, surprise) possible defects in the drum mechanism. Hence, this was a replacement courtesy of the manufacturer.

I love running at home in Oxfordshire but there is something rather special about running in London and Bournemouth (perhaps it’s just the change of scenery) so mid afternoon I went along the seafront to Boscombe Pier and back for a really good run of 8.53km (5.3 miles) at under 5:30/km.

I hadn’t eaten anything all day and had drunk just a few cups of coffee. Provided I start reasonably hydrated, for anything under 10 miles I wouldn’t think of any specific pre-run fuelling or taking fluid with me (other than in hot weather, perhaps). I don’t know if that’s wise but I read that somewhere near 2000 calories worth of energy can be stored in glycogen so the nutritional side should be fine – and it seems to work for me.

An hour in the (still very cold) gym on Wednesday morning and a session in the charity pop-up bike shop on Thursday, playing mechanic on another donated bike.

Gym again on Friday morning – it’s good to be back to it twice a week – and out running on Saturday for 11.1km (6.9 miles), followed by a return trip to London. Another minor injury to add to the list – the inside of the left thigh, just above the knee – a small pull to a muscle, I guess.

It’s all part of running’s rich tapestry and on Tuesday and Saturday I also managed to prove that the Achilles does not like a run followed by a few hours of immobility driving a car.

I planned to run with my wife on Sunday but it was wet and my Achilles was painful. Instead, I netted the chickens’ run – there is avian flu in the country so they have to be separated from wild birds. An unpleasant job in the cold and wet – and the chickens were completely unappreciative, more focused on their loss of access to the garden and the constrictions of a greatly reduced run.

A much easier week as far as exercise goes, with three rest days, having done 26 sessions in the previous 28 days. I suppose it was the equivalent of a ‘cut-back’ week in marathon training?

As I get back to a bit harder exercising next week, the (entirely trivial) issue I now have is that I’d like to stay with two gym sessions a week and three runs. That means it’s just one session on the turbo if I want to keep a rest day. With the sportive being the first challenge of 2021 I’d like to keep the two sessions on the turbo – which might mean cutting down the running or one day doubling up on the exercise?

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Don’t think there are no crocodiles just because the water is calm

2. BBC News website: Rita Ora apologises for second breach of Covid lockdown restrictions

The 30-year-old flew to Egypt for a private performance on 21 November. On her return the following day, she should have isolated for two weeks. Instead, she threw a birthday party in London, which was itself in violation of lockdown rules.

Sorry for breaking the rules, or sorry for getting caught?

3. BBC News website: German court halts Tesla factory plan over snake and lizard habitats

Tesla has been ordered again to suspend preparations for a car factory in Germany after a successful court injunction by environmentalists. The electric carmaker has been clearing forest land near Berlin, for its first European plant – opponents argue this will endanger the habitats of lizards and snakes.

I like the ironic juxtapositions – quite apart from the lizards and snakes, isn’t it weird that to build the factory for the ‘green’ car means flattening forest land

4. BBC News website: China’s aviation regulator has recommended cabin crew wear disposable nappies and avoid using the toilet to cut the risk of Covid-19 infection

This is on top of the advice for cabin crew to wear medical masks, disposable gloves, caps, goggles, disposable protective clothing and shoe coverings. Flight crew are also advised to wear a range of protective gear, but not nappies.

Such a glamorous job, cabin crew

Turbo, run, gym(!), run, gym, run, run (Australian bush fires and my – almost – world record)

Hammersmith Bridge – lovely, if you like Victorian industrial architecture (I do). Some structural issues closed it to vehicles in April 2019, and to bikes and pedestrians in August 2020. Probably not to be reopened to vehicles until 2027!

Monday was very grey. No, I haven’t read the book or seen the film and I didn’t count the shades, but there were a lot of them. It was also drizzling off and on so it looked very much like a turbo day.

That was a late afternoon effort undertaken with little enthusiasm – the only two positives that came out of it were that it ended and I stuck with it. In all 1h 04m for 30 km. I did get out to the charity’s pop-up shop during the day to collect a bike for renovation – a rather sorry specimen but let’s see what can be made of it.

Australian bushfires shake rural Oxfordshire

Some very good friends who live nearby sent us a clip of an Australian news report about bush fires at the edge of Sidney, with one house gutted by the flames. It was the house rented by their son who is working out there (and got out safely, thank goodness but with only what he was wearing). Small world!

Happily, he had just finished doing a wash when the fire started and, having been able to get back into the shell, found that he at least has some clean clothes still in the machine.

… back to the more mundane …

Tuesday was colder but bright and dry. We got out for the usual 7km run which was every bit as enjoyable as Monday’s turbo session wasn’t.

The gym reopened on Wednesday and I was there at the crack of dawn 8am. It was extremely good to be back but it was ‘see your breath’ cold.

My abs ached a bit on Thursday. It would have been easy to do sit-ups at home during the lockdown but, rather pathetically, I never managed to make them part of any routine. My legs were also generally cranky.

It was also cold and raining steadily but I got out for a run, despite my general bad-weather wimpishness (or perhaps to confront it). After all that it was an enjoyable, if rather wet, run – 10.2km (6.33 miles) at 5:39/km.

I did a session in the pop-up shop in the afternoon, playing bike mechanic – breathing life into the rather sad specimen I took in on Monday.

Back to the gym for another hard hour on Friday morning, with some fairly unhappy muscles. Bitterly cold again – I wore a compression top, a long-sleeved top, running tights beneath track suit bottoms, a hat and gloves. They have to keep the doors and windows open for ventilation as no air conditioning is allowed, and so the heating is off for economic and ‘green’ reasons, no doubt.

We went up to London in the afternoon – just for a short break and managed to see our younger son which was good. On Saturday morning I had the delight of a run to Hammersmith Bridge and then down the Thames Path to Barnes Bridge, and back.

The Garmin went crazy. It shows me having run from Luton to London (Luton is about 50 miles north). Despite that, the Garmin recorded it as being 21 km (just 13 miles). At least it got the time right (54 minutes 42 seconds) but for the 21km that’s a world half marathon record.

Not surprisingly, Strava had some doubts about it all …. the run was actually 10km in the 54m 42sec.

Back home, for some reason I decided to run on a very cold Sunday. Look on the bright side – the Garmin worked properly and it got a little warmer when it started to rain. Another 10.2km (6.33 miles) at 5:50/km.

That was an exercise session every day in the week, 9 days in a row and 26 sessions in the last 28 days. I don’t know what I’m trying to prove or to whom – but it’s a bit too much.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: A group of ants can drag a gecko away

I can’t get the latter bit of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ out of my mind when I read this. If you’ve read it, you’ll know why.

2. BBC news website: US ends era of emotional support animals on planes

US airlines will no longer be required to transport emotional support animals after passengers insisted on bringing on board their horses, pigs, peacocks and turkeys for psychological reasons.

The rule change now says only dogs qualify as service animals. The agency said unusual animals on flights had “eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals”.

If you need to bring a pig on a plane with you for emotional support, you have probably proved your need for emotional support?

3. BBC News website: Nasa to pay company $1 to collect rocks from moon

The fee is not the motivation for the company (you don’t say). There are expected to be many scientific benefits to the mission such as allowing firms to practice extracting resources from the lunar surface.

The fee will be paid in a three-step process. A total of 10% of the funds at the time of the award, 10% when the company launches its collection spacecraft, and 80% when Nasa verifies the company collected the material.

You wouldn’t want to have to pay all that in one go, of course

4. BBC News website: Kenyan man ‘who woke up in a morgue dies’

A mortuary attendant was preparing the “body” last week when the man woke up and started screaming before passing out. Peter Kigen, 32, who had been suffering from a chronic disease, was then taken to hospital for treatment and was discharged later.

He told Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper last Thursday that he was happy to be alive. “This is the work of God,” he told the paper.

On Thursday, a family spokesman confirmed that “Kigen was pronounced dead upon arrival at Kericho County Hospital where he was being taken for further treatment and management”.

5. Disappointingly, I failed to make the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year shortlist (again). They seem to have been rather blinkered in their thinking and largely gone for world champions like Hamilton (F1), O’Sullivan (snooker) and Fury (boxing). Apparently an old bloke doing a bit of running, cycling and weight training doesn’t cut the mustard. Speechless.