Category Archives: Marathons

Swim, turbo, swim, gym, run – time for a taper?

Hello turbo my old friend … first session for a while

We were due a power cut on Monday from 9am, for essential maintenance work. Strangely, when the power was still on at 10.00 I felt rather cheated. How weird is that?

Eventually the power went and returned, so to celebrate I swam in the evening. The aim was to go a bit further and I managed 1.5km in 45 minutes. I’m now worried that it’s my feet/legs sinking in the water that are slowing me down … but then I’m also worried that if they aren’t sinking, what is slowing me down?

With all the swimming, running and gym, I haven’t done any cycling for a while. Tuesday afternoon I got on the turbo to start to address that. It was hot in the conservatory but I managed 30 minutes @ 32.1kph (20mph). That’s faster than normal so I’m encouraged.

Pool again on Wednesday evening for another 1km in just under the half hour. I tried breathing every two strokes instead of every three to get more oxygen in but it rather disrupted my rhythm (if I have a rhythm) and I found that I hadn’t always exhaled out fully by the time it was due to breathe in again. More practice needed – why is swimming so complicated?

Gym for an hour on Thursday morning but a day off exercise on Friday, feeling rather jaded but the morning in the bike shop was good fun.

First run of the week on Saturday morning – dull and overcast but reasonably warm. I don’t really know what running is sensible so close to the ultra but my son and I did 12.5km (a bit under 8 miles) which felt quite good at 6min/km.

In keeping with some sort of exercise taper, I took Sunday off but we drove into Oxford for lunch which was very civilised.

Coming up to decision time on the ultra. Which shoes, shirt, shorts, what to carry with me, whether to run for as long as possible or adopt walk/run from the start, etc. At least the weather looks OK – rain early in the week, drying by the weekend and a comfortable temperature for my 6am start – and not getting too hot until after I finish (I hope).

On the European Championship fantasy football league I’m clinging on in second place. I’m making great decisions in respect to my substitutions but the performance of some of the teams have, frankly, been letting me down (yes, France, Portugal, Netherlands, you know who you are). In respect of the real thing, ‘Come on England’.

Vive Le Tour de France – especially the performance of Mark Cavendish as he rolls back the years. Saturday saw a great first stage in the alps including the three category 1 climbs, all of which I’ve done over the years: Mont Saxonnex, the Col de Romme (not too long but steep with an average of 8.8%) and the Col de la Colombière (one of my favourites). Oh, how I am missing my annual cycle trip to the alps. That’s two trips missed now – roll on a virus-free 2022!

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: When a needle falls into a deep well, many people will look into the well, but few will be ready to go down after it

2. BBC News website: South African government proposes to legalise polyandry

South Africa has one of the world’s most liberal constitutions, embracing same-sex marriages for all and polygamy for men – but the proposal to legalise polyandry (when a woman has more than one husband at the same time) has been met with objections.

Businessman and TV personality Musa Mseleku – who has four wives – is among those opposed to polyandry.

“This will destroy African culture. What about the children of those people? How will they know their identity? The woman cannot now take the role of the man. It’s unheard of. Will the woman now pay lobola [bride price] for the man. Will the man be expected to take her surname?”

None of my business and not a society I am familiar with, but sauce for the goose …?

3. BBC News website: Tour de France: Police seek spectator after crash

Police have launched a criminal investigation to trace a spectator in connection with a multi-rider pile-up during the first stage of the Tour de France on 26th June.

The spectator was leaning into the path of the speeding peloton, looking at the TV cameras and not the race, holding a sign with “Go granny and granddad” written in a mixture of French and German. Tony Martin (ironically, a German rider) brushed into the sign and fell, bringing down many others. Two riders had to pull out of the Tour completely and another eight were treated for injuries.

After appealing for witnesses, as of Wednesday, the individual was in police custody but the Tour organisers have withdrawn their threat of legal action 

4. BBC News website: Man arrested for posting weather rant

A man has been arrested in Kuwait after posting a video on social media complaining about the weather. The video showed him laughing and swearing about the intense heat and dust while driving through a sandstorm.

The Interior Ministry tweeted that the man behind the “offensive” video would be subject to legal action.

I’d like to say that I love all the UK’s weather: rain, snow, sun, fog, sleet, gales … and that’s just one morning

5. My apologies for these:

a) After the Sweden v Ukraine game in the Euro Championships, the scorer of the Ukraine winner dedicated the goal to his beloved girlfriend back home. He loves his Chick in Kiev.

b) BBC radio commentary on the England v India women’s cricket test match: Talking about how the women players benefit from playing in men’s cricket when not on international duty, the comment was made that Tammy Beaumont ‘had played in the men’s leagues where she had enjoyed a lot of sex …… oh, er … success‘.

c) On Saturday rumours were going around that England’s Euro Championships match against Ukraine was going to be called off because a Ukrainian player had Covid symptoms. It was their left back Tickli Chesticov.

Hope those (the second is completely true) are not considered offensive, racist or sexist – my apologies if they are

Turbo, mechanic, run (x4 and the long run is getting longer)

I wonder how many times I’ve run along here in the last two or three years

After Saturday’s 21km run in a chilly 3℃, Spring returned Monday at 9℃ (48℉). Good running weather but my knee was whinging about the run so I used the turbo – 45 minutes @ 28.6kph (17.8mph).

Last Monday, watching Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, I managed 29.1kph. I’m pleased that I have, scientifically and irrefutably, proved that 1970s kung fu is 0.5kph faster than a modern early evening quiz show.

My knee had stopped complaining by the time we ran on Tuesday which was another lovely back-to-Spring day. In the spirit of science established by my experiment on the turbo trainer effect of kung fu v quiz shows, I wore another pair of Asics running shoes. These were the ones that irritated my Achilles’ when I first got them in 2019 – with the Achilles’ improved, this seemed like the time to give the shoes one more chance.

The shoes felt good – well cushioned but a bit heavier and surprisingly warm. If I’ve just set my Achilles’ back a few months, at least I’ll have no one but myself to blame. It was a good run – 7.2km (4.4m) @ 6:08/km – my wife is getting faster so bravo to her.

Wednesday was cold, wet and windy – but the initial results of the change of shoes was encouraging with the Achilles continuing to improve and the knee complaining less. Despite the weather we all ran, but just the shortest of our usual routes – 5.5km (3.4m).

It was very windy on Thursday which made running hard – but I ran with our son who set a quick early pace that I struggled to stay with. It helped take us through 7.1km (4.4m) at 5:29/km (8:50/m).

I unpacked a new pair of Puma “Netfit” shoes. Once on, the fit is good – but they are significantly harder to get into. The box shows 5 different lacing options being ‘Standard’, ‘Stability’, ‘Wide Foot’, ‘Narrow Foot’ and ‘Heel Support’. Interestingly, the lacing arrangement they came with isn’t any of those – which makes no sense at all.

The charity bike shop has reopened so our son and I did a stint playing shopkeeper and bike mechanic on Friday morning and I have a bike I brought back for some work on the bottom bracket which needs either adjustment or new bearings. I took the rest of the day off.

Continuing with our plan to push the weekly long run distance, I ran with my son on Saturday. At various times we had sun, rain and hailstones – but the ever-present was a very strong wind. As always, you lose more running or cycling into the wind than you ever gain with it behind you, so that made it an unreasonably hard run.

In the end we did 25km (15.5m) – half the distance of July’s ultra – at 6:19/km. I’m not sure at what point ‘proper’ nutrition comes into the equation – pre run I had a couple of cups of coffee and a two finger Kit Kat bar and we took nothing with us.

Could I have run further? Yes.

Did I feel like turning round and doing the whole run for a second time? No.

I could have run today (Sunday) but showed some rare strength of mind and didn’t – not a difficult decision as my legs were rather sore. I’ve only once had a massage of any sort – while training for my first marathon in 1998 I had ITB problems in my left knee because of knots in the quads and a massage sorted it out perfectly. I suspect that I should consider a second once lockdown rules permit.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: An intelligent enemy is better than a stupid friend

2. BBC News website: ‘Toxic bullying’ at Sellafield nuclear site

The bullying of staff cannot be condoned, but the fact that it’s toxic seems horribly appropriate for a nuclear power station

3. BBC News website: Trader got painted stones instead of $36m (£26m) of copper

About 6,000 tonnes of copper blister was loaded into containers for shipment to China in more than 300 containers on eight vessels. It was surveyed by an inspection company and seals were fixed to the containers.

However, before its journey, the containers were opened and the copper replaced with paving stones, spray-painted to resemble copper. The fraud wasn’t discovered until the ships began arriving later that month.

All that glitters is not copper

4. BBC News website: Questions asked about missing Tanzanian president

President John Magufuli has not been seen in public for over a fortnight, as a leading Kenyan newspaper has an unconfirmed report that an African leader is in a Nairobi hospital with coronavirus.

Tanzania is one of the few countries in the world not to publish Covid data. Mr Magufuli declared Tanzania “coronavirus-free” last June but just last month seemed to accept that there is an issue although Tanzania has no plans to carry out a vaccination programme. He has previously promoted prayer and steam inhalation as a way of combatting the virus.

The government dismissed the claim saying that the President was ‘not a TV presenter or leader of a jogging club’ so he didn’t need to post selfies of himself every day, and the Prime Minister has claimed that the President is in his office, working hard.

I hope he is well and not working too hard

5. BBC News website: Brazil experts issue warning as hospitals ‘close to collapse’

Health systems in most of Brazil’s largest cities are close to collapse because of Covid-19 cases, its leading health institute warns.

Experts warn that the highly contagious variant in Brazil may have knock-on effects in the region and beyond. It has the second highest number of deaths in the world after the US and the third highest number of confirmed cases.

President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently opposed quarantine measures and expert advice on fighting coronavirus – he recently told Brazilians to ‘stop whining’ about Covid.

My very best wishes to them all

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 …

Run, run, stone-walling (dry or not), run (not dry), minimalist running?

Very much ‘work in progress’

After a hectic week and a long Sunday seeing our older son up in London, Monday was taken fairly easily but Tuesday saw the start of a new project – building a series of stone walls in the garden.

The aim is to tackle two issues at once – we have a pathway between a hedge and a row of trees which needs more ‘definition’, and we have loads of excess stone lying around that needs to be used. There are several separate sections needing walls, separated by the trees.

Helped by our younger son, I set to it, not knowing what I was doing (nothing new there, then). After a day I knew only one thing for sure – if I ever need to become a dry stone waller for a living, I will starve.

The work was very hard both technically and physically so the run I’d planned didn’t happen. I think I read that a good stone-waller handles each piece of stone just once, instinctively knowing where it will fit. I do not aspire to getting anywhere near that.

Sensibly, we ran early on Wednesday before starting day two of the task, but still aching from the effort on Tuesday. Just over 5.5km (3.4miles) but the Garmin lost the satellite connection at one point and we were credited with a 400m which was 20 seconds faster than the current world record (of course, in truth, we were just a handful of seconds outside the record).

It was a good run but afterwards I made a grave mistake by agreeing to run on Thursday evening with a young chap who sometimes rides with the cycle club. He is a proper runner – I checked on Strava and he recently did nearly 8km at better than 4:30 per km. He has promised not to kill me.

More walling on Thursday – taken fairly steadily to conserve energy, then the run at 6.30. I’m sure that when I was a boy, hot days were hottest just after midday and then cooled as the afternoon went on. It feels like hot days now just carry on getting hotter into the late afternoon. That’s how it was on Thursday – possibly the hottest day of the year and still roasting for the run.

I must admit to having been a bit nervous at the thought I might spoil his run – but we did a very enjoyable 7km (4.3miles) on the shadiest route we could find. True, he was jogging as I worked hard to keep up, but despite a few hills and quite a bit of off-road he pulled me through it as fast as I’ve run for some months.

Bournemouth off limits for now

I’d planned to go down to Bournemouth on Friday for some garden maintenance but it’s been in the news headlines for a couple of days as the good weather has brought thousands to the english beaches (especially Bournemouth which has been overwhelmed with people and traffic). It’s been madness with gridlocked roads, rubbish everywhere, and full beaches that meant social distancing was next to impossible. What is it about the sun that makes people act so recklessly?

I’ll wait for the weather to cool before I try to get down there. Sadly, that meant more walling on Friday – making progress but if I want them to stand up for more than a few days I’m going to have to abandon the ‘dry’ bit and add some mortar to glue the stones together.

All three of us ran on Saturday morning – and I then added a bit, in the rain, to take it beyond 11.5km (just over 7 miles).

A social life (but not as we knew it)

Saturday evening we hosted our usual social group of six for an excellent al fresco supper – we dodged the rain but were wearing coats by 9pm. Even as the lockdown eases, we will not be able to have an indoor supper party involving three households for a while yet.

Going barefoot/minimalist

As an aside, my wife needed new running shoes. When I ordered them I also ordered for myself (encouraged by others, thank you Adam) a pair of ‘minimalist/barefoot’ shoes (Merrell Vapor Glove 4 Trail Running Shoes to be precise).

Incredible service – ordered online Friday morning and arrived Saturday morning. They are very light – most of my running shoes weigh about 300g each (10.58oz) – these are 342g (12oz) for the pair! I was thinking of trying them on Sunday but I ached a bit so am looking forward to playing with them by way of experiment next week – and I’ve got to get back on the bike.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African proverb: If the owner of a calabash calls it a worthless calabash, others will join him to use it to pack rubbish.

Yes. I had to look it up – it’s a hollowed-out gourd

2. Palm Beach County commissioners proposed mandatory wearing of masks in public. They were harangued by residents who accused them of obeying the devil, imposing a communist dictatorship and dishonouring the American flag.

One resident was quoted as saying ‘they want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out of the door’.

I must have misunderstood – I thought masks supplemented the lungs rather than replaced them.

I hope the lady doesn’t take any medicine as, by her reasoning, medicines throw out God’s wonderful bodily health system …

3. Brothels reopen in Austria on 1 July. The Greeks were a little ahead of them – rules brought in by the Greek government include card-only payments, a time limit of 15 minutes per customer, compulsory face masks and workers taking a list of clients’ contact details in case they need to be traced.

Presumably, no social distancing rule?

4. Headline: United Nations chief ‘shocked and disturbed’ by video of car sex act in Israel

There is footage of an apparent sex act on the back seat of an official and marked UN car in Israel. Presumably the UN is going to adopt the slogan ‘Make love, not war’

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)

6/06 – 2093 (x1.01)

13/06 – 2109 (x1.01)

20/06 – 2123 (x1.01)

27/06 – 2128 (x1.00)

Run, stream, bonfires, run, run, rook-scarer-in-chief (failed)

Back to pounding the local roads

On Tuesday I ran with my wife and did an extra bit to make it 11.6km (7.2miles). The mental trick of setting out to run further, rather than ‘I might do an extra bit after she finishes’ does work.

I was thinking that I should increase the length of my longest run each week but Thursday marked the ’13 months until the postponed ultra marathon’ day. What would be the purpose of doing longer runs now, unless I was likely to do a long race later in the year? Of course, there might not be any – and I don’t see myself doing one, even if there are.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent clearing the stream at the end of the garden – what a surprise, more brambles, nettles and ivy.

We live at the end of the village but the prevailing wind would share our bonfire smoke with everyone else. On Friday, the stars aligned (or, more accurately, the wind direction changed) so I lit the two huge bonfires that bore testament to all the recent days spent ripping ivy off walls and removing nettles and brambles.

It was hard physical work keeping both tended, while adding some scorch marks to the bramble damage to my forearms. I decided that gave me an exemption from the run I had intended.

My wife’s parents used to live next door to us and my father-in-law was a great one for bonfires. I could pretty much guarantee that, within 10 minutes of me lighting one, he’d be coming out to join me – cigarette in one hand and garden fork in the other.

He’s been dead for 10 years now but I still expect to see him walking over as the smoke starts to rise.

Saturday was our 33rd Wedding Anniversary – where in earth did all those years go?

I had an anniversary run to celebrate – a little over 10km (6.35miles) in just under the hour. It felt really good, despite the return of the heat, and I could (for once) have gone faster. I fear that this might find out if the Achilles are really ‘cured’ or if their tendency to get injured is waiting to make a comeback.

On Sunday I could feel the run in my legs (to say nothing of feeling the previous evening’s ‘Ottolenghi’ slow cooked lamb shoulder in my stomach) but such is the duty of the unpaid personal trainer that I ran with my wife – just over 7km, a little over 4.5 miles.

With lockdown, my hair is now into my eyes so I run in my ‘Galibier’ headband. I’ve had it for years but at least I feel entitled to wear it now after doing the Telegraph/Galibier climb last year.

For a while now I’ve been convinced that I’m feeding most of the rooks in the area. They have found our chickens’ run and are eating the pellets at a rate the chickens could only dream of. Sadly, the chickens are either cowards or rook lovers as they show no sign of making any effort to repel the raiders.

I decided to act so I rigged up some strings with silver foil tied to them so that the movement of the shiny bits would scare them away. As far as I could tell the rooks were not at all impressed and took no notice.

Next I set up a rudimentary scarecrow (scare-rook). Another failure – in fact, I suspect that the rooks put the word out that all the birds for a 10 mile radius should come over to laugh at the old bloke’s pitiful attempts at bird scaring.

My third attempt has been to cut out the silhouette of a hawk (as viewed from above) from a sheet of plywood and put that on a pole so that approaching rooks would see the potential predator and make themselves scarce. The jury is out on this attempt.

With only two remaining, elderly, chickens I’m not inclined to go much further but I think I do have some netting which I might be able to rig up as a roof to the run – if I reduced the size of the run. I’ll give it some thought.

Interesting stuff this week

1. BBC News website: The days of queuing for fish and chips are gone

The fabric of UK society collapses

2. My African proverb of the week: If you cry for rain don’t complain about the mud.

3. BBC News website: Coronavirus: Three firms still positive despite the virus crisis

Three … a whole three!

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)

6/06 – 2093 (x1.01)

13/06 – 2109 (x1.007)

Run, run, run, RIDE (plus toad venom and a rare trip out)

Shame it just has me to push the pedals round

After Sunday’s gardening, Monday started with a sore back, and forearms lacerated by brambles and still tingling from the nettles. The pains went well with the knee I skinned tripping over a tree root on Sunday’s run.

Yes, I could (should) have worn long sleeves for the nettles and brambles but it was very hot and I was very careful (… to begin with).

I did more rough gardening on Monday wearing shorts, successfully adding ripped legs to the forearms. I won’t claim that as a personal best for stupidity – but it’s right up there. I look like I went three rounds with a roll of barbed wire, and lost badly.

Oh the joys of a fit and active life.

Bournemouth on Tuesday. With the lockdown we haven’t been there for a couple of months and, although some neighbours have been kind enough to keep an eye on the house, they haven’t, of course, done any gardening. The grass was knee high with specimen thistles at waist height in the lawns. After a few hard hours in yet more gloriously hot weather, they looked rather more like meadows rather than lawns – but at least reasonably tended meadows.

The weather broke a bit on Wednesday, cooler and a few showers but I had a short leg-loosener run (5.5km – 3.5miles). Much the same again on Thursday, but a bit further – 10.2km (6.3 miles). Two really enjoyable runs, not fast but steady, consistent and they felt fairly easy.

The (slightly) relaxed lockdown in England now allows for up to 6 people to meet, socially-distanced and outdoors. On Friday evening we had our first social event for about 10 weeks as we and another couple from the village walked in to Faringdon for an al fresco supper in the garden of some mutual friends. It was a great evening – but a slightly sad reminder of what we’ve been missing.

I’d driven a car over earlier so we all had our own crockery and cutlery and warm clothing and I ran a roundabout way there to pick it up on Saturday morning – 6.5km (4miles).

When I started this blog it was mostly about the pleasures of cycling – including my ‘everest’ in 2017 and the solo ride out to the alps in 2018.

The Rotterdam Marathon in 2019 rather got in the way of the cycling – and it re-kindled my liking for running that has continued since. While my body permits, I’ll keep running (the ultra marathon has only been postponed to 2021) … but it feels about time to get back to my roots and pick up the road cycling again – especially as the pandemic has messed up my annual trip to the alps this summer.

The new carbon fibre wheels have arrived (50mm deep and only weighing 1400 grams) and the necessary carbon-rim-specific brake blocks are now in place. Out of interest, before I set off for a ride on Sunday, I weighed the bike – as in the photo with pedals and bottle and Garmin mounts it came out at 7.2kg. It deserves more than just me riding it.

I did a 36km spin over a route I’d done about three weeks ago. Then I averaged 26.9kph (16.7mph) – this time I averaged 30.4kph (18.9mph).

The bike felt so much faster, even without the tri-bars (I’ll put them on once I’ve got used to the wheels’ characteristics). Not exactly a laboratory-controlled experiment, but encouraging.

I’m not sure if the difference is due to aerodynamics or witchcraft but I don’t think I care too much.

Interesting things this week

1. African proverb of the week: The offspring of a hawk is bound to steal chicken.

2. Porn star Nacho Vidal held in Spain after man dies in toad-venom ritual.

I’m reluctant to include this (from BBC News website) on the basis that, subsequently, everything else will look pretty ordinary.

3. Foolish joke of the week: A farmer asked me to help him round up 19 sheep. I said of course, that’s 20 sheep.

4. ‘Prince William reveals he is secret helpline volunteer’

Thus demonstrating that he’s not quite grasped the concept of ‘secret’.

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)

6/06 – 2093 (x1.01)

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.