Category Archives: Race to the Stones

Run (x4), swim, gym, turbo (plus life flashing before your eyes and a city of the future)

While so many things change, the pain of an hour on the turbo doesn’t

I’m not sure if it’s a permanent thing but, for the second week, Monday started with a run (partly with my wife) of a bit over 9km (5.8 miles) and finished with the evening ‘swim doctor’ session.

The session was testing, as usual. Butterfly stroke was optional – so I stuck with front crawl as I’d prefer to get closer to being proficient at that than confuse myself with something new. About 500m swum, I guess, and enjoyable in that sort of ‘my, this is incredibly hard’ way.

After Monday’s run and swim, a long run was probably not the best idea on Tuesday but I managed 22km (13.7 mIles) a bit faster than last Friday’s long run. Chilly, blustery and a few spits of rain but it was, again, strangely enjoyable. It’s great to have got the long run out of the way early as it does tend to become a bit of a millstone if still to be done later in the week.

I had a good example of the power of the mind on Tuesday’s run. I was going at around 6:15/km and feeling that was plenty fast enough and that I didn’t have a lot left. Coming into the village I was overtaken by a chap I don’t know but have seen many times – wanting to have a brief chat I fell into pace with him and, with my mind occupied with something other than my own running, my 22nd and final km was run at 5:03/km.

Friends came over for supper on Tuesday evening and I took a rest on a very cool and wet Wednesday. Back to the running on Thursday – a very decent run of just over 7km (4.4 miles), with my wife.

Gym and charity bike shop on Friday, followed by hill reps on a cold and breezy Saturday morning – 9km and 296m of ascent (5.6 miles and 970 feet).

I got on the turbo trainer on Sunday. That’s the first time for a couple of weeks but my first ‘event’ of the year is a sportive in early April so I do need to start peddling. The aim was really just time on the bike but I managed 28.1km (17.4 miles) in an hour.

For now at least, I’m sticking with my aim of pushing through 40km of running each week with one longer run. With 4 runs, a swim, a session in the gym, and one on the turbo, I’ve got to double up on one day to get a rest day. Any more sessions (I should be swimming at least twice and getting out on the bike) would mean more double exercise days. This is getting difficult and simply confirms my admiration for proper multi-sport athletes.

100k corner (an occasional place for ultra worries and plans)

The cumulative total running required in the first 2 weeks of the 20-week ultra training plan was 43km. I’ve done 96km – I think I’m on track (!) as long as I don’t do too much, too soon.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Where there is love, there is no darkness

2. BBC News website: Life may actually flash before your eyes on death

A team of scientists set out to measure the brainwaves of an 87-year-old patient who had developed epilepsy. But during the neurological recording, he suffered a fatal heart attack – offering an unexpected recording of a dying brain.

It revealed that in the 30 seconds before and after the attack, the man’s brainwaves followed the same patterns as dreaming or recalling memories.

3. BBC News website: Ultimate football irony?

The EFL cup final at Wembley Stadium was Chelsea v Liverpool and was 0-0 at the end of extra time, which meant it went to penalties. In the last few seconds of the game, Chelsea made a substitution to bring on a goalkeeper with a reputation for saving penalties.

Against all the odds, all 20 outfield players scored their penalties which meant that the two goalkeepers had to take one each. The Liverpool ‘keeper scored (meaning that the Chelsea specialist penalty saver had conceded all 11 that he faced) but he then missed his own attempt, giving Liverpool the win.

4. BBC News website: Neom – a futuristic eco-city

Neom claims to be a “blueprint for tomorrow in which humanity progresses without compromise to the health of the planet”. It will feature glow-in-the dark beaches, billions of trees, levitating trains and a fake moon.

It’s a £366bn ($500bn) project that is part of Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ plan to wean the country off oil. The plan is for a car-free, carbon-free city built in a straight line over 100 miles long in the desert.

It will cover a total area of over 26,500 sq-km (10,230 sq-miles) – larger than Kuwait or Israel – Neom will, developers claim, exist entirely outside the confines of the current Saudi judicial system, governed by an autonomous legal system that will be drafted by investors.

Swim, run (x4), gym, plus Big Jim and Chinese Friends having a chat(!)

Rather inconsequential local storm damage

Monday was Valentine’s Day. I went for broke in the cooking this year with lobster thermidor – a good choice as it just about made up for me going to the swim doctor session in the early evening.

The session was based on the breaststroke, which is of little interest to me as I really only want to swim front crawl for the purpose of triathlons. However, no matter how bad I was at the drills (and I was really bad), I enjoyed the session (I don’t know why). It’s all valuable learning – I now know that while the medial collateral ligament I hurt a couple of years ago is happy with running, cycling and crawl leg kick, it doesn’t like the sideways pressure of a breast stroke leg kick.

The lobster thermidor was a great success, despite the fact that I’d never tackled a lobster before (I bought whole lobsters and had to ‘dismantle’ them) and had little idea of what a thermidor sauce was before making one.

Last week, my usual reaction to the pool (the chlorine?) had been mild, this week, I started sneezing at 3am. Half an hour and three handkerchiefs later that stopped but I couldn’t breathe through my nose for the rest of the night – rather miserable. I’m not sure what to do about it – I could try a nose clip but I have tried one before and wasn’t keen. Perhaps there is a sinus spray I can try – I’ll research it.

The plan had been to do hill reps on Tuesday but I was tired and still unable to breathe freely – and it was cold and very wet. It didn’t take much to decide not to run but I did get out to pick up our younger son who came home for a ‘reading week’ during his PGCE (teacher training) course. He and I did a very enjoyable 10.4km (6.4 miles) in much milder – but still windy – conditions on Wednesday morning.

My running partner is, sensibly, protecting a less-than-100% ankle so our planned Ridgeway run for Thursday was postponed. With enthusiasm, I embraced the concept of a cut-back week (for long, or trail, runs at least) but that didn’t mean I was excused 8 hill reps on Thursday – which logged 8.6km with 293m of ascent (5.5 miles and 960 feet). I creaked for the rest of the day and the gym on Friday was quite difficult too but the stint in the bike shop was therapeutic.

Europe, including the UK, has been hit by a couple of storms this week with very dangerous winds which, sadly, caused some fatalities. In Oxfordshire, we have been lucky to be only on the edge of the worst affected areas – we suffered little more than a short power failure, but we spent the rest of the day hunkered down in the house.

If you want a good example of how having a running companion can be a benefit and a curse, Saturday is a case in point.

I woke still feeling creaky and decided that, at most, I might get on the turbo later in the day. Then our son came down in running kit and I immediately decided to go with him. By the time I got ready, it was raining heavily – I would have canned the run but the rain was set in for the day so we went anyway. Within 2km, the rain was colder and heavier, interspersed with sleet for light relief.

The best decision we made was at the point where we either turn back to make it 10km or carry on home for 7km. In all, 7.2km @ 5.48/km, completely soaked. It was strangely enjoyable, perhaps because normally it wouldn’t have happened and perhaps because it was properly daft to have done it.

My wife has been struggling with an injury but had improved enough to try a run on Sunday so we had a gentle outing for 7.88km (4.9 miles) to finish off the week.

Interesting stuff this week

1. The big news of the week was Big Jim over at Fit Recovery smashing through the 1 million views on his website where he tackles recovery from addiction, cycling, bowling, family, life and all that sort of stuff with humour and good sense. If you don’t know the site, why not have a look (after all, we’ve got to get him to 2 million).

By tradition, the African wise words are always first in this section – but not this week

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

3. BBC News website: Chinese streaming platforms accused of censoring Friends

Friends has a massive following in China, with many crediting the show with teaching them English and introducing them to US culture but Chinese fans have complained of scenes being deleted, including those that refer to a lesbian character, and another featuring a same-sex kiss.

Incorrect subtitles were also used to downplay sexual references. In one scene, the phrase “multiple orgasms” was translated to the Chinese phrase for “women have endless gossips”.

4. BBC News website: One-word gaffe invalidates thousands of baptisms

At the centre of the controversy is a pastor’s use of the word “we” instead of “I” in the phrase “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Catholic teaching is that only Jesus Christ has the power to baptise – not the wider community or the Church.

According to the Catholic Diocese, the Pastor was reciting the words incorrectly until 17 June 2021. The Church has declared all baptisms he conducted up to that date invalid – local media has put the number of baptisms affected in the thousands.

I wonder if God is as concerned about this as the church is?

5. BBC News website: Saudi Arabia: 28,000 women apply for 30 train driver jobs

For decades, Saudi Arabia had one of the world’s lowest female workforce participation rates and this is the first time such roles have been advertised for women.

In recent years the government has made efforts to increase the number of women in work as part of a plan to diversify the oil-dependent economy. As a result of such changes, the participation of women in the workforce has almost doubled over the past five years to 33%, and more women than men entered the workforce in the first half of last year.

6. BBC News website: American ultra runner breaks 100-mile world record

Camille Herron broke her own women’s world record in winning the USA Track and Field 100-mile Championships. The 40-year-old beat her previous mark by almost a minute and a half, winning in 12 hours 41 minutes 11 seconds – averaging around 7:37 minutes per mile. She finished almost half an hour ahead of first male athlete who came home in 13:10:25.

Bravo!

7. With the storms in the news this week, I’ve decided to write a book about the high winds – I’ve started the first draft.

Sorry

Swim, run x3, gym, turbo (plus false teeth and Barry Manilow)

Happy days when there was sun coming into the gym – it was ‘see your breath’ cold this week

Monday saw my ‘swim doctor’ session. The pool turned out to be exclusively for those signing up for the lesson – just 7 of us – thus addressing my usual ‘too many people’ gripe.

There were a variety of drills – not really my sort of thing but doing them was a good discipline. I swam for about 750m but it was much tougher than 750m of ‘ordinary’ swimming and it was also hard having not swum since November. I still don’t love swimming but it has to be done with two open water triathlons signed up for this year.

It leaves me both discouraged and encouraged. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘silver bullet’ that will turn me into a much better swimmer – but nor I was consigned to the ‘no-hopers’ category. At one point the instructor said I swam well – I suspect she was being more kind than honest.

Perhaps the hardest thing is that doing drills to work on my (many) faults confirmed that I am unable to concentrate on anything new without forgetting everything else. This swimming lark is very complicated (and although the instructor was very pleasant, I don’t think she really is a doctor).

On Tuesday, my running partner and I started our weekly Ridgeway run above Wantage and headed east to where it passes under the A34 near West Ilsley in the neighbouring county of Berkshire, and back. We ran 17.4km (10.8 miles) at 6.16/km. Much harder than last week – further, hillier and the run back was into an even stronger headwind.

Over the last few weeks we’ve run a third of the whole 100km route (in fact we’ve run that third twice as all the runs have been out and back). It’s been really good but it is a bit daunting in the way it underlines the length of the ultra.

I had planned a turbo session on Wednesday but thought better of it after the tough trail run on Tuesday and my intention to do hill reps on Thursday.

I’m glad I did take Wednesday off as the 8 hill reps on a cold but dry Thursday – which logged 8.9km with 292m of ascent (5.5 miles and 960 feet) – were done on very tired legs. Despite that, I decided to see if I could do the session in less than an hour (recently it’s been stubbornly about 1:03). I did manage to break the hour – by just 18 seconds.

It was back to being ‘see your breath’ cold in the gym on Friday morning. A tough session, possibly because it followed a day with hill reps rather than the usual more gentle run? At least there is a heater in the bike shop where I did my usual stint.

On Saturday I was on the turbo, watching the first half of the Six Nations Rugby Match – France v Ireland. At 10-7 inside the first 9 minutes I was regretting my ‘random jeopardy’ approach of doing 15 revs sprint per point scored. Happily, they sorted out their defences and it was 19-7 at half time – but by then the damage had been done (to me). In all, 45 minutes @ 29.5kph (18.3mph).

Sunday morning was wet, cold and windy but I thought I’d found a gap in the rain and went for a run. The gap lasted nearly two minutes and then the rain resumed heavier than before. Still, the rule is that if you start a run it has to be finished and, setting out with low expectations, I surprised myself with 10.35km (6.4 miles) in 59 minutes.

I’ve lit the log burner for my wife’s eventual return from meeting up with her brothers yesterday, then it will be watching the rugby this afternoon as it continues to rain heavily. Nothing even resembling exercise, beyond a short walk up the village for what I know will be a great evening out with friends.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Confiding a secret to an unworthy person is like carrying grain in a bag with a hole

2. BBC News website: Original ending of Fight Club reinstated in China

As mentioned here, the original ending to the 1999 film Fight Club had been changed by a Chinese streaming service to show a message on screen saying the authorities won and saved the day.

The change ignited intense debate about cinematic censorship in China.

I’m too modest to claim that the news appearing in my blog made all the difference …

3. BBC News website: Lifelong fans gutted as soap faces uncertain future

The UK’s Channel 5 is dropping Australian soap ‘Neighbours” (first broadcast in 1985). The UK station has been the main place anyone in the world has watched Neighbours for several years – and that includes Australia.

One fan said he got hooked on Neighbours about a year ago because it was “very digestible”.

Ah, one of those one-year ‘lifelong fans’. I think dropping it might be good news as he can get out more

4. BBC News website: Tourist reunited with false teeth lost in Spain 11 years ago

A holidaymaker lost his false teeth 11 years ago while vomiting into a bin on a boozy night out in Benidorm. He rummaged around in vain for his dentures in the bin.

His dentures were found in a landfill and Spanish authorities used DNA records to track him down and the teeth have now been returned to his home in Manchester.

Classy .. but why would the authorities go to so much trouble, especially after 11 years?

5. BBC News website: Secret weapon against protesters – Barry Manilow

Authorities in New Zealand have been playing songs by the US singer on a 15-minute loop, along with the Spanish dance tune ‘Macarena’, in an attempt to dislodge protesters camped outside the parliament building.

Tactics used by the authorities to try and get rid of the protesters involved turning on the water sprinklers on the lawn where they were camped on Friday but they retaliated by digging trenches and building makeshift drainpipes to re-route the water.

Run x4, turbo and gym – plus troubled bridge over water

Monday morning it was back to the Ridgeway with my friend and running partner. This time we went from Sparsholt Firs heading east (and back) for a total of 14.5km @ 6m 12sec/km.

It was a good bit of the trail with a decent running surface for the most part and no really bad hills. The temperature was OK, although there was a very cool and brisk headwind on the return leg which made it a good deal harder – I’m surprised that we did it as quickly as we did. It’s a bit counter-intuitive but at some stage I need to practice running slower as (for me) that is (much) too fast for a 100km ultra.

The route of the ‘Race to the Stones’ is largely East to West but the prevailing wind is a westerly – 100km into a wind like the one we faced on Monday would be no fun at all. I like the route but a ‘Race from the Stones’, running it west to east is tempting.

Turbo on Tuesday – 45 minutes @ 29.5km (18.3mph). That was my best for nearly a month, immediately after my longest run for about 4 months. I still do not understand this exercise lark. Hill reps on Wednesday, I’m nothing if not boringly predictable consistent. Another 9 reps for 9.5km and 317m of ascent (nearly 6 miles and 1,040 feet).

On Monday the house electrics had tripped – which I diagnosed (from the depths of my general ignorance of such things) as the element in the fan oven. New element ordered on Tuesday and it was delivered and I fitted it on Wednesday. It often seems to be getting harder to get stuff delivered so credit where credit’s due.

On Thursday we did a shorter run – time off for good behaviour – just 5.6km (nearly 3.5 miles) and Friday was the inevitable gym and bike shop. In the evening I went to the cycle club’s very good winter dinner (I felt a bit of an interloper having hardly cycled recently – but I think my hours in the shop, meetings and cycle teaching justified my attendance).

I ran with my wife again on Saturday, one of our shorter runs for 7.2km (4.5miles). I nearly ran again on Sunday but thought better of it as I’d already done seven straight days with exercise and it was still very windy (winds that had, I assume, contributed to our power cut on Saturday night).

Common sense prevailed but I’ll take some comfort from the fact that I felt that I could have run. A slight shame not to have got to 50km for the week but no prizes for being in decent shape in February and then getting injured.

During the week I signed up for a ‘swim doctor’ session at the local pool. I’m not entirely sure what it is but it’s on Monday. For an investment of £3 can I expect the ‘silver bullet’ by way of advice that will double my swim speed for half the effort? I wait in eager anticipation.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Striking the ground with wood doesn’t scare away an elephant

2. BBC News website: Learner driver arrested twice on same day in same car

A learner driver was arrested twice on the same day, in the same car – for the same offence. The driver had a provisional licence and was arrested for driving without supervision on Wednesday. His car was seized and he returned later to get the car from the police pound. Officers said he was later arrested in the same car for, again, driving while unsupervised.

The driver of a car that picked up the arrested man for the second offence was also arrested for driving while disqualified.

3. BBC News website: Own goal by Europe’s football governing body

Uefa has decided not to take legal action against a German restaurant and its ‘Champignons League’ pizza.

European football’s governing body says its prestigious ‘Champions League’ competition can “happily live alongside” the mushroom pizza just a few days after sending the restaurant a letter threatening legal action over the name.

4. BBC News website: Historic bridge to be dismantled for Jeff Bezos

A record-breaking luxury yacht is being built by Dutch firm Oceanco for Mr Bezos. It is reported to be 417ft (127m) long and too tall to fit through Rotterdam’s Koningshaven Bridge which blocks its route to the sea.

Locals are not necessarily impressed and although it has been reported that the bridge will be dismantled (at Bezos’ cost) to let the yacht pass, Rotterdam’s mayor has denied that any decision has been made.

A bridge too far?

5. BBC News website: Cyclist updates

Egan Bernal is to have further surgery on his spine following his crash in his native Colombia after he hit a stationary bus while riding his time trial bike in January.

When using tri bars I am pretty cautious as I care about my ability to see properly – and I am nowhere like the position pros get into on time trial bikes.

The news about Amy Pieters is not great – she is said to be stable but still in a deep coma more than a month after her crash in training.

So sad, I’m still hoping for the best

6. BBC News website: Tom Brady retires

I’m not one to go with all the GOAT stuff – to many changes over the years to compare stars of one era with another, in my opinion ….. but with Brady I’m tempted to make an exception

Turbo, run (hill reps), run, run, gym, run (plus false alarms and robots on the loose)

Bournemouth seafront, looking towards Hengistbury Head (left) and the Isle of Wight (right)

I started the week with a turbo session. Strangely, after not being able to muster the enthusiasm to use it on Saturday, I was fairly happy to mount up for 45 minutes @28.7kph (17.8mph).

It was the usual 8 hill reps on Tuesday – and this time I logged nearly 9km with 292m of ascent (5.5 miles and 960 feet). I love the way the same run records differently every time. I managed to make the last rep the fastest again but I’m now wondering if that just shows that I’m not working hard enough with the others – it feels like I’m working plenty hard enough.

I’d decided to be tough and not wear the soft shell jacket – but it hadn’t got above freezing so yet again the cold weather wimp in me won the day and the jacket got an outing as usual. I did wear my less-than-warmest running tights – what a man.

I ran, properly (and fully) attired, with my wife on Wednesday – 7.4km (4.6 miles) – still cold but the sun came out. It feels like we haven’t seen it for a while. I had thought about going for a swim in the evening but couldn’t muster the energy – I’ve decided that not swimming this month will be my version of ‘dry January’.

More running with my wife on Thursday on tired legs, it being the third run on successive days, following a turbo session. It was one of our usual routes but it measured 7.45km (4.6 miles) which is longer than normal – the world must be expanding.

Gym and bike shop, as ever, on Friday. I’m still lifting the increased weights in the gym and trying to remember to do fewer reps and more sets – it’s hard.

Later we drove down to Bournemouth. Our older son and his girlfriend have been spending some time in the house down there so we joined them for a weekend break. I’m not sure if it constituted being invited for a weekend away in your own house but it was great to get down there and see them.

We arrived late afternoon but within a couple of hours we got an intruder alert for the house back in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately, the friends who have keys and know how to operate the alarm were away so I drove nearly 2 hours back to check on it. Of course, no sign of intruders but the door to the attic was open and I’m wondering if that was moving enough to set off the movement detector as a result of a bit of a draught coming down the attic stairs.

It’s given a false alarm once before when we’ve been in Bournemouth – why can’t it go wrong when we are running within a mile from home?

I stayed overnight and drove back to Bournemouth on Saturday morning. All that put paid to a morning run but we went for a walk and then walked to a restaurant for an excellent lunch – so that was about 2.5 hours on our feet.

I wasn’t going to run on Sunday but it was a lovely day – chilly but a bright blue sky and some sunshine. It was too good to miss so I ran along the seafront to Boscombe Pier and back – 8.5km (5.3 miles) – it was delightful and despite the extra, unnecessary, driving it was a very fine weekend.

100k corner (an occasional place for ultra worries and plans)

I’ve started looking at training plans for July’s ultra. The organisers have a 20 week programme on the website – that would mean starting around the second week of February. However, the weekly distances for the first 9 weeks of the plan aren’t any bigger than I’d expect to be running anyway – although in the later weeks the longest runs are a bit further than I’d usually go.

I think 20 weeks is too long to be in a training plan so I’m ignoring it for now – I’ll pick it up in late March to make sure that I’m doing slightly longer runs by then.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight

2. BBC News website: Robot vacuum cleaner makes a break for freedom

The automated cleaner failed to stop at the front door of the hotel in Cambridge on Thursday, and was still on the loose the following day. Well-wishers on social media hoped the vacuum enjoyed its travels, as “it has no natural predators” in the wild.

It was found under a hedge in the grounds of the hotel on Friday.

3. BBC News website: Arnold Schwarzenegger involved in a car accident

The four-vehicle crash on Friday afternoon left one person with injuries, Los Angeles Police said. Images from the scene show Schwarzenegger’s large SUV on top of at least two vehicles. The actor can be seen standing nearby.

This is news? – didn’t they see his driving in The Terminator films?

4. BBC News website: Egan Bernal in intensive care

Bernal, who rides for the Ineos Grenadiers, had a crash while training in Colombia. He suffered a fractured vertebrae, a fractured right femur, a fractured right patella [knee-cap], chest trauma, a punctured lung and several fractured ribs in the crash. Doctors were able to pin his right leg and stabilise the vertebrae. He is now in intensive care where other potential injuries are being managed, as well as the body’s response to the trauma.

Bernal won Le Tour two years ago at his first attempt and won last year’s Giro. He was widely expected to contest the Tour de France this year but it is not yet clear if he will be able to take part in the Tour which begins in Copenhagen on 1 July.

Dutch cyclist Amy Pieters was injured in training with the national track team on December 23 – there seems to be a dearth of information online after she had surgery to relieve pressure on her brain and was placed in a medically-induced coma.

My very best wishes for their speedy and full recoveries. Take care out there.

5. BBC News website: China rewrites the ending to cult 1999 film Fight Club

The original ending saw Edward Norton’s narrator killing his imaginary alter-ego Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt, before bombs destroyed buildings in the climax to a subversive plot to reorder society, dubbed Project Mayhem.

For Chinese audiences, the authorities win. Before the explosions, a message now says “Through the clue provided by Tyler, the police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to lunatic asylum receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012.”

Turbo, run (hill reps), run (trail), gym, run – plus doomed hamsters and a ‘dead man walking’?

Daisy, a big girl even after losing 6kg – my brother-in-law says she’s big boned

One thing I didn’t mention in my last post was that one of my brothers-in-law came on Sunday to leave his two Basset hounds with us while he went to his daughter’s graduation ceremony.

I like animals (we had dogs and cats for years as our sons grew up) but other people’s dogs are harder work. They come with pre-conceived ideas of what is allowed and it isn’t right to try to impose our own views on them in just a few days. For example, we subscribe to the ‘dogs keep 4 feet on the ground’ principle – no jumping up at people and no getting up on sofas and chairs uninvited. By no means were Daisy and Otto bad dogs, they were just behaving as they were brought up (he got them as rescue dogs so has had little chance of breaking their sofa habit).

Sunday passed by safely and on Monday we were still in ‘dog monitor mode’ as they settled in unfamiliar surroundings. I was up before 7 on Tuesday – early for someone who wouldn’t usually rise much before 8 – to see to them, and they were collected later in the day. They were very well-natured and a reason for some very good walks – and we were really pleased to help my brother-in-law out. I hope they write.

Turbo on Tuesday – 45 minutes @ 28.3kph (17.6mph) and back to the hill reps on Wednesday – 8 reps and this time it measured 8.5km with 286m of ascent (5.3 miles and 938 feet).

I’ve been fairly pleased how the exercise has been going – I don’t want to be too badly off the pace for a run I have scheduled with my friend and running partner for next week … or so I thought. He appeared at the door on Thursday which exposed the fact that I had the run in the diary for the right day – but the wrong week.

After I quickly donned running kit we went back up on the Ridgeway and ran a bit more of July’s ultra course – it was a hard 10km with just under 200m of ascent. His ill fortune in hurting ribs in a recent fall has been my good fortune in it slowing him down a little.

We must have looked like we were running in different continents – me in compression top, long sleeve running top, soft shell jacket, hat, gloves, buff and warmer running tights (it was hovering just above freezing) and him in a short sleeved shirt and shorts.

The usual Friday morning routine saw me in the gym and then bike shop. Later I planted some hedging and we went for a slightly early and ‘alternative’ Burns Night supper with friends (cue another negative lateral flow test each) – it was excellent.

I had planned to get on the turbo on Saturday but couldn’t work up the enthusiasm. I did get out on Sunday for 8 laps of the site of the old hill fort and two hill reps added on just for good measure – 10.5km and 174m of ascent (6.5 miles and 570 feet).

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Seeing is different than being told

2. BBC News website: Czech folk singer dies after deliberately catching Covid

Hana Horka got infected on purpose when her husband and son had the virus, so she could have a recovery pass to get access to certain venues.

Although she was unvaccinated, her son stressed that she did not believe in some of the more bizarre conspiracy theories about Covid vaccines, “Her philosophy was that she was more OK with the idea of catching Covid than getting vaccinated. Not that we would get microchipped or anything like that,” he said.

3. BBC News website: Anticipated ‘Most expensive property ever’ attracts no bids

The Roman villa had a starting price of €471m (£394m – $535m) – another attempt to sell it is expected in April, with the price cut by 20%.

The highlight of the six-storey villa’s many treasures is the world’s only surviving mural by Caravaggio. Painted in 1597, itself estimated to be worth €310m (£259m – $421m).

4. BBC News website: Hong Kong hamster cull

A Covid outbreak has been linked to hamsters at a pet shop. Negative results were received for other animals there such as rabbits and chinchillas but as a “preventative measure”, 2,000 hamsters and other small mammals in the city will be killed. Families who bought a hamster from the store since 22 December have been told to hand over their pet for euthanasia.

A telephone hamster hotline is being set up and the advice to hamster owners in particular is “keep them at home”.

… but a) how do the hamsters use the hotline and b) think of all those poor hamsters being deprived of their daily walks

5. BBC News website: Inquiry after ‘dead man’ taken into post office

On Friday, a man called in to the post office in Carlow, Ireland, and asked to collect a pension on behalf of an elderly man. That request was refused as staff told him the pensioner had to be present in order to release the money.

A short time later, two men arrived, propping up a third man between them. When a member of staff enquired as to the health of the man they were propping up, they fled, dropping the body at the scene. When staff went to check on the elderly man they were shocked to discover he was dead. Detectives are now investigating if the man was already dead when he was brought in.

Run, turbo, run (hill reps), gym, run, run plus bees, mobiles and honours gone

Longer runs mean a bit of different scenery

The big world news on Monday was that I was tired after Sunday’s hill reps. Interestingly, somewhere towards my right hip felt sore – and that’s a new injury. Sensibly, I took a rest day.

In other (minor) news, Monday saw the overturning of the Australian decision to bar Djovokic from entering the country. An excellent tennis player, but this episode isn’t likely to help in his struggle to be ‘loved’ in the same way as Federer and Nadal.

I appreciate that different societies have different accepted norms, but I’m surprised we haven’t seen more made of the way he, apparently, got the positive PCR result on 16th December, but disregarded Serbian regulations that require self-isolation for 14 days.

Catching Covid when he did was incredibly lucky. There he was with the Australian Open approaching and no way of getting into the country (I assume). Then he’s fortunate enough to catch Covid at just the right time – that’s championship form.

The other sporting news was that the Raiders made it to the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years. I’ve followed them since I watched Marcus Allen run 74 yards for a TD in Super Bowl XVIII (1984). Nervy stuff I wonder how many teams with a 10-7 record post a -65 points difference over the regular season. I don’t expect them to go further.

Tuesday was dreary – grey and with a light but relentless drizzle. I went for a slightly longer, uninspired, run – 10.3km (6.4 miles) in 1h 01m. I’m not sure if the niggle around the right hip is muscular or the joint itself – one to watch.

On Wednesday, more was being made of Djokovic’s isolation breaches and whole affair seemed to be murkier all the time. What a mess – rather sad all round. Out to lunch with friends in the village, then a lacklustre 45 minutes on the turbo – @28kph (17.4 mph).

Hill reps on a brighter Thursday. I did 9 of the usual hill – 9.5km and 314m of ascent (nearly 6 miles and 1,030 feet). When will it get easier?

As normal on Friday, a stint manning the charity bike shop after a trip to the gym. I put up the weights on almost everything, reduced the reps, increased the sets and went for ‘explosive’. All very interesting but I’m less of a firecracker and more of a damp squib.

Oh yes, Djokovic had his visa revoked. By my reading of the figures, the previous three days had accounted for about 30% of all Australia’s Covid cases.

I ran on a cold Saturday – including two pairs of socks, shorts, warmer running tights, compression top, warmer running shirt, soft shell jacket, gloves, buff and hat. My wife usually does the 7km loop but joined me for the 10.4km run (6.5 miles) so bravo to her.

Sunday I woke to the confirmation of Raiders’ expected exit from the race to the Super Bowl and Djokovic’s defeat in Court that means he won’t play on court. He says he accepts the Court’s decision, which is good of him.

I ran for just over 12km (7.5 miles).

Six sessions of exercise in each of the last two weeks but last week felt tough and most sessions left me wrecked. This week was better with 42km running (26 miles) with hills, plus the gym and a turbo session … and an improvement in terms of how I felt after the sessions – some progress, perhaps.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Once you carry your own water, you’ll remember every drop

2. BBC News website: Evergrande suspends shares in Hong Kong

Chinese real estate giant Evergrande has suspended trade in its shares in Hong Kong as investors await news on its restructuring plan. Evergrande is said to have more than $300bn (£222bn) of debt and is working to raise cash by selling assets and shares to repay suppliers and creditors.

I know nothing of Evergrande or its assets, but the sheer scale of the debt is eye-watering

3. BBC News website: Police stung as beekeepers protest in Chile

Four beekeepers have been detained in Chile following a protest outside the presidential palace, calling for government support for their industry.

To highlight their cause, the beekeepers set up some 60 hives containing around 10,000 bees in front of the palace. Seven police officers were stung as they tried to remove the beehives.

4. BBC News website: People devote third of waking time to mobile apps

People are spending an average of 4.8 hours a day on their mobile phones, according to an app monitoring firm. The calculation was made across ten markets, including India, Turkey, the US, Japan, Mexico, Singapore and Canada. Users in Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea surpassed five hours per day.

The research indicates that apps were downloaded 230 billion times in 2021, with $170bn (£125bn) being spent. TikTok was the most downloaded app worldwide, with users spending 90% more time there compared to 2020.

One thing that I struggle to understand is 4 people sitting at a cafe or restaurant table, all going through social media on their phones

5. BBC News website: Prince Andrew loses military titles and use of HRH

Prince Andrew will stop using the title ‘His Royal Highness’ in any official capacity and loses several military titles as he faces a civil case in the US over claims (which he denies) that he sexually assaulted a woman when she was 17.

The UK military titles he loses are: Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, Honorary air commodore of RAF Lossiemouth, Colonel-in-chief of the Royal Irish Regiment, Colonel-in-chief of the Small Arms School Corps, Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm, Royal colonel of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, Deputy colonel-in-chief of The Royal Lancers (Queen Elizabeths’ Own), Royal colonel of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Of course, I’m sure he richly deserved them all.

I guess if you are a Prince – but not the son who will inherit ‘the big one’ (ie you are the ‘spare’ and not the ‘heir’) you might feel hard done by (no matter how privileged you are). That could make you attracted to the mega-rich with them being attracted to you for the reflected kudos of having a Prince in tow.

Says Prince Omil, Colonel-in-Chief of nothing at all, but looking for a rich patron.

Turbo (x3, one with random jeopardy), run, gym, run (hill reps) and when lawnmowers attack

Three turbo session in a week – the weather must have been bad

After having our sons back for the week over Christmas, followed by an excellent New Year dinner party with 6 good friends, the first few days of January felt a bit flat (and a little bit fat).

I decided to go with the flow and didn’t exercise, instead we did a difficult jigsaw and took down the decorations and stored them back in the attic (it’s a rock and roll lifestyle). I accompanied my wife to an informal school reunion (more negative lateral flow testing), proof-read some college work for our younger son and took the minutes for a cycling club directors’ meeting.

By Tuesday I knew I should get back to some sort of exercise (if only to address just over 2 kgs – 5 pounds – of excess ballast acquired over the holiday) but it was cold, wet and windy. Rather short of motivation, I turned to the turbo trainer – at least the extra weight was going to be less of a penalty.

I planned to go (even) slower than usual but for an hour. As it was, youthful exuberance took over and I went faster than intended so I gave myself 15 minutes off for good behaviour – 45 minutes @ 30.3kph (18.8mph).

I ran with my wife on a cold Wednesday – one of those days when you know you can’t get the clothing right but I was grateful – as ever – for my D2T buff/neck warmer. We ran one of our usual routes for 7.2km (4.5 miles).

Cold and wet again on Thursday but I did manage a slower session on the turbo – I’d like to say it was all self-restraint but, in truth, I’m not sure I had any more speed in me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do the full hour but discovered that the best technique is to cycle for 45 minutes and then push the pedals round for another 15.

I went to the gym, before the usual bike shop stint, on Friday morning – it was cold (not quite ‘see your breath cold’ but close) and hard. I appreciate that a ‘proper’ gym session is not supposed to be easy but I am only doing all this for pleasure – I need to manage the difficulty to make sure it doesn’t put me off going. I researched it and the advice seems to be: heavy weights; fewer reps; more sets; explosive lifting. Oh dear.

Our local side were televised live in the FA Cup (and lost 4-1) on Friday. No disgrace in a 4th tier side losing to the team well clear at the top of the Premier League. Saturday was wet so I did an hour’s turbo session watching another match – 28.5km (17.7 miles). For added jeopardy I did 100 revs sprinting per goal and 30 per corner (3 goals, 10 corners). For the last 15 minutes I watched a quiz – 15 revs sprint per right answer.

Cold but brighter on Sunday and I did not really want to run but, happily, my wife and I encouraged each other to get out and I did hill reps – 8 of the usual hill but horribly hard. This time it measured 8.9km with 282m of ascent (5.5 miles and 925 feet).

That is me (very) finished for the week.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: However long the night, the dawn will break

2. BBC News website: Antarctic outpost hit by Covid-19 outbreak

Since 14 December, at least 16 of the 25 workers at the Belgian Polar Station have caught the virus. The first positive test was in a team that arrived seven days earlier.

Last year, a number of Chilean military personnel at an Antarctic research station were infected after sailors on a supply ship tested positive for the virus.

It’s official, nowhere is safe!

3. BBC News website: French car-burning returns for New Year’s Eve

A total of 874 cars were set alight during New Year’s Eve celebrations in France. The interior ministry said the number was much lower than in 2019. Car burning has effectively become an annual event in French suburbs since riots in 2005 in several cities.

The local “I live in Faringdon” Facebook page was ablaze with outrage at fireworks being set off to celebrate New Year – thank goodness the town hasn’t yet turned its attention to cars …

4. BBC News website: Thousands injured in household accidents

The 2020/21 figures for England showed that accidents fell in many categories as people spent more time indoors, however:

  • more than 5,300 people were admitted to hospital after falls from playground equipment such as swings and slides, including eight people over the age of 90
  • more than 5,600 required hospital attention after coming into contact with an electric hand tool and another 2,700 people sought medical attention after an accident with a non-powered hand tool
  • 349 were admitted to hospital with injuries inflicted by lawnmowers
  • 2,243 people needed attention after hot drink, food, fats and cooking oil injuries
  • 7,386 people were admitted to English hospitals after being bitten or struck by a dog, while 60 others sought assistance after encounters with venomous spiders
  • the number of people needing assistance after being struck by lightning rose from three cases in 2019/20 to 18 in 2020/21.

It’s a miracle that the human race survives

5. BBC News website: Taiwan buys 20,000 bottles of rum destined for China

Taiwan is sharing tips with the public on how to drink and cook with rum after the state-run media said Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp purchased the rum after learning that it could be blocked from entering China.

It comes after Lithuania established a de facto embassy in Taiwan, a potential sign of growing ties between them, after which, just days later, China downgraded its diplomatic relations with Lithuania.

Locals were urged to buy rum at the end of January, when the shipment would be on sale and the National Development Council shared recipes for a Dark ‘n’ Stormy cocktail, and rum-infused French toast, steak and hot chocolate.

A state sponsoring drinking alcohol is not the typical way things go

6. BBC News website: Teacher locks son in car boot as he tests positive for Covid

A US teacher has been arrested after allegedly locking her Covid-positive son in a car boot (trunk) to protect herself from exposure to the virus as she drove him to a testing site. She is reported to have been charged with endangering a child.

Run, run (hill reps), gym and a Happy New Year to everyone

A sign off to 2021 at the gym – and not a piece of tinsel in sight

I’m not clear if the Chinese ‘may you live in interesting times’ is a blessing or a curse. 2021 qualified as ‘interesting’ – but may your 2022 be less interesting in some respects and much better in all respects.

I ran on Monday – 7.1km (4.4miles) – enjoyable but gentle and wet. I had a sore calf muscle – while exercising it in the gym on Friday someone started speaking to me about cycling and I lost count of the left leg calf raises but just kept doing them. As I get older, the dividing line between good exercise and overdoing it is getting ever more thin.

Christmas itself was great, the boys were back with us and we used most of the house – with just the two of us here normally we shrink our occupation of it but with champagne and stocking opening (at 9.30am) in the drawing room (pretentious, moi?), presents in the breakfast room, lunch in the dining room and a film in the snug, it felt like we got the best out of it.

We walked on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and probably clocked up something like 16km (10 miles) but on Wednesday the boys went back to their homes before the older son and his girlfriend decided (not unreasonably) that the house in Bournemouth would be a good place to see in the New Year. Here the house feels rather emptier but it was a great week we had with them.

We should be thinking about packing for skiing now but that is not going to happen with terrible Covid rates both here and in France – and we Brits are effectively banned from France anyway. The only thing that softens the loss of the holiday is the realisation that we are not missing out on skiing at its best – it would be a compromised holiday because of the restrictions we’d be operating under.

It was always going to be a light week for exercise so I ran hill reps on Thursday on the basis that they probably represent the biggest bang for the buck in exercise benefit (?) – 8 reps of the usual hill for 8.5km with 286m of ascent (5.3 miles and 938 feet).

Friday morning was the gym (the bike shop is still closed for the holidays). I calculate that before I increased the weights and reduced the reps, I was lifting nearly 19,000 kg in a session at the gym – about 18.5 imperial tons and nearer to 21 US tons. I have no idea if that’s good, bad, indifferent or just irrelevant.

Much of Thursday and Friday was taken up preparing for a dinner party for New Year’s Eve. I’m no big fan of New Year (to me it feels like the passage of just one more day rather than another year) but I do like a good dinner party and we had some excellent friends coming. We tested ourselves for Covid (thankfully, both negative) as did all our guests. We had a terrific evening – in a ventilated room – may that be a sign of good things to come in 2022.

2021 exercise round-up:

Runs: 130 Distance: 1,236km (768miles) – with nearly 14,000m of ascent it felt further

Rides: 68 Distance: 1,620km (1,006miles) – pretty poor, most on the turbo trainer

Swims: 30 Distance: 29km (18miles) – a mixture of open water and pool

Gym: 37 times – it was shut for some months

I didn’t set any targets for exercise in 2021 but that’s well over 240 hours in the year, my first ultra marathon completed and a triathlon done with a swim in the (previously) scary open water.

For next year it’s a 100km ultra, some sportives and two triathlons, one of which is over the Olympic distance. Exciting and daunting in equal measure. Dare I think about a return of the annual cycling holiday in the alps?

Interesting things this week

1. African wise words: Even the lion protects himself against flies

2. BBC News website: “Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea”*

Sri Lanka plans to send $5m (£3.8m) worth of tea to Iran each month to clear the $251m debt for past oil imports. Sri Lanka is experiencing a severe debt and foreign exchange crisis, which has been made worse by the loss of tourist income during the coronavirus pandemic.

*Lyrics, The Beverley Hillbillies theme tune (1962-71)

3. BBC News website: Ecuador to make Covid vaccination mandatory

The health ministry said there were enough doses to “immunise the entire population”. The under 5s and those with a medical justification will be exempt.

The ministry said vaccines were a “shield of protection” against the virus, helping to prevent serious illness, hospitalisations and deaths and the decision was based in the country’s constitution, in which the right to health must be guaranteed by the state.

Did you know that Ecuador is the original home of the Panama hat?

4. BBC News website: Netlicks? ‘The TV screen you can taste’

A prototype “lickable” TV screen which can mimic food flavours has been developed by a Japanese professor. Ten canisters spray flavour onto a “hygienic film” which is rolled over the screen for the viewer to lick.

It is suggested that it could be used to train cooks or sommeliers remotely. If made commercially, the TV would cost an estimated $875 (£735).

5. BBC News website: Alexa challenge

Amazon has updated its Alexa voice assistant after it “challenged” a 10-year-old girl to touch a coin to the prongs of a half-inserted plug.

The dangerous activity, known as “the penny challenge”, began circulating on TikTok and other social media websites about a year ago.

‘Alexa, self-destruct in 10 seconds’

6. BBC News website: Woman self-isolates in plane toilet mid-flight

A US schoolteacher spent five hours in voluntary self-isolation in a plane’s toilet after testing positive for Covid-19 mid-flight.

Her throat started to hurt while travelling from Chicago to Reykjavik and she performed a rapid test with a kit she had brought with her. She remained in the toilet for the rest of the trip with a flight attendant providing her with food and drinks.

If you’ve not been, think about putting Iceland on the list of places to visit (conventional travel advised)

Turbo, run (hill reps), run, gym and Happy Christmas

An earlier post this week – exercise finished, family all back home and I now expect to devote myself to eating my body weight in chocolate. I wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

Back home on Sunday night after the Covid-tested get-together with my wife’s brothers and (some of their) families. It was a cold Monday but I managed 45 minutes on the turbo for 22.35km @30kph.

Very high volumes of new UK Covid cases continue – for now no tighter restrictions are being put in place, but nor have they been ruled out. I wasn’t exactly feeling the joy of running on a cold Tuesday morning but managed to haul myself out for 8 reps of the usual hill – this time Strava made it 8.5km with 286m of ascent (5.3 miles and 938 feet).

Later I got in the car and drove to London to pick up our younger son. He’s been very careful and fortunate (and long may he stay so) and has stayed clear of the virus, despite being in a shared London flat where one flatmate recently had it, and working on placement in a London school for the last few months.

Wednesday was cold and frosty so our younger son and I canned the intended run but in the evening I drove to pick up our older son who had come out of Covid quarantine having tested negative for a few days. He was not able to join us last year because of last minute Covid restrictions so it’s great to all be here this year.

I drove to Bournemouth on Thursday to check on the house and an internet provider change – all is well. It was supposed to be mild and dry but it rained all the way down there. Happily, it cleared long enough for me to get a run down the seafront to Boscombe Pier and back – just over 8.5km (5.3 miles) and a negative split thanks to the headwind on the way out.

Gym on Friday morning for an hour, sticking with the increased weights.

100k corner (an occasional place for ultra worries and plans)

I hate to tempt fate but (at a fairly low level of intensity) so far so good. The knee and Achilles tendons that have been problems for a couple of years are behaving reasonably well (right hip slightly less so) and the hill reps that they stopped me doing for all that time seem to be working well. I can do three or four runs a week for 30+km (20+ miles) but the true test will be when it all ramps up as proper training starts in a couple of months.

The frustrating thing is that I’d give a lot to be in this sort of shape in the early Spring rather than in December. I think the sensible approach is to keep doing as much as I feel able to without (I hope) risking injury. Easy, eh? With the triathlon in May, what I should be doing is improving my swimming – but it’s dark and cold so that will have to wait.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: The axe forgets but the tree remembers

2. BBC News website: ‘Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie’*

An ambitious plan to eradicate mice from an island in the South Atlantic appears to have failed as a camera trap on Gough Island (roughly halfway between Africa and South America and home to one of the world’s largest seabird colonies) showed that at least one mouse had survived. The presumption is that where there is one mouse there are likely to be more.

Mice are thought to have been introduced to the island by sailors in the 19th century and have been feeding on the chicks and eggs of seabirds. The entire project costed more than £9million (about $12m) and the aim was that it would be a “one off”, to turn the clock back and eliminate the mice once and for all.

*’To a mouse’ by Robert Burns

3. BBC News website: South Korean dairy giant, Seoul Milk, apologises for advert

The clip starts with a man with a camera wandering through the countryside who then, hidden in bushes, films a group of women drinking from a stream and doing yoga. When he steps on a twig it startles the women who suddenly turn into cows.

The advert has sparked a national debate over sexism and gender sensitivity issues but some also voiced concerns about the man surreptitiously filming the group of women, with spy cam crimes in South Korea having risen over the past few years.

OK marketing department, who thought that could possibly be a good idea?

4. BBC News website: Brazil wildfires killed an estimated 17 million animals

Wildfires burned in the Brazilian Pantanal wetlands between January and November 2020. Scientists attempted to count the animals killed by huge wildfires and estimate that as many as 17 million vertebrates – including reptiles, birds and primates – died.

22,000 separate fires recorded during the year destroyed about 30% of the world’s largest tropical wetland.

So sad. It’s hard to comprehend the scale of the destruction

5. BBC News website: Money manager disappears with $313m

A company that was once one of China’s biggest property developers says it has “lost contact” with a British Virgin Islands-registered wealth manager, that has $313m (£235m) of its money.

Fortune Land said it had expected the investment through China Create Capital to generate annual interest of 7% to 10% until the agreement was due to expire at the end of 2022 but it is now unable to contact the money manager.

I assume China Create Capital thinks it’s managed that money rather well

6. BBC News website: Chip shortage in Japan

For once it’s not a lack of semiconductors that is causing the problem but McDonald’s is suffering a potato shortage in Japan due to the global supply chain crisis. As a result it will only sell small portions of its French fries in Japan from Friday until 30 December.

McDonald’s said it usually imports the potatoes it uses from a port near Vancouver in Canada but ships have faced delays due to flood damage and the impact of the pandemic on the global supply chain. It will now turn to alternative measures, including flying supplies to Japan.

Forget Covid – this is the end of civilisation as we know it