Category Archives: skiing

Skiing (just), driving (lots), plus Linky, indictments and the secret of good comedy

Last Sunday we set off early for France. We’d booked a second holiday in case our sons would be able to get out there – they couldn’t (older son being on a trek to see Orangutans in Indonesia seemed to be a decent excuse) but we decided to go anyway. The chances of skiing were not good with the continuing poor snow this year – but we also had an appointment with Linky.

The drive out there was horribly wet but otherwise incident free and, thankfully, the electrician turned up bright and early on Monday morning to fit Linky.

For some time now we have been getting messages from the electricity company saying that they could not read the meter (although that never stopped them sending bills). We tried to send a reading but the screen on the meter remained uncompromisingly blank, no matter that buttons were pushed.

We were told that the old meters could be read remotely but that this had to be done from near the apartment block – the ‘Linky’ meters are being pushed mainly as they send in the readings without the company having to send anyone to get them.

So, at the root of it, it seemed to be the same as the drive to fit new meters in the UK (the Linky being the French version of our smart meters) … simply to make the electricity company’s life easier. Anyway, Linky is working well, but we wrote off Monday and rested (I read the 400+ page “Dissolution’ By CJ Sansom, cover to cover).

Of course, I was distraught at missing the usual Monday Swim Doctor session!

We fiddled about on domestic things on Tuesday but skied on Wednesday. We were nervous about what we’d find so my new skis (bought with great timing in 2019) were not risked and the same for my new jacket. The picture is of us on a lift that has an auto photo-taking facility. Yes, it’s a subtle, original, 1980’s Nevica jacket, worn with pride, if not style.

More runs were open than when we were there in January and although the snow was a bit ‘heavy’ we had a great time, with the huge bonus of there not being many people out on the slopes.

They have plenty of precipitation out there – but it’s currently too warm for it to fall as snow instead of rain. The rain on Wednesday and Thursday dissuaded us from skiing again – I read ‘The Whisper Man’ by Alex North (again in a day) and we had a very good time exploring the town and watching some DVD’s.

There is one road down the mountain from Les Carroz, which splits into two, lower down in Arâches. The road we wanted from Arâches was, of course, going to be shut for road works so we left earlier than planned on Friday to get through before it closed.

Despite a lot of heavy rain and temperatures yo-yoing between 6℃ and 14.5℃ (43℉ and 58℉) the journey back to the tunnel was good. We were put on a crossing an hour earlier than booked and then (I guess they were not overly full) were directed onto a shuttle nearly an hour earlier than that.

On the UK side, the rain was even worse and the M25 was doing its best impression of both an orbital car park and a swimming pool with a lot of standing water and significant queues. We were hugely reilieved that we were travelling away from Dover, based on the traffic going that way (see below!).

Eventually ‘Waze’ took us off the motorway and back via the M40 to avoid yet more problems and delays on the M4. We made it home by 9pm, but it was a 14 hour journey for the 715 miles (1150km).

My wife was out on Saturday (more staying power than me – but there again, I did do the driving) so I got through heaps of washing (and even some ironing). I am not a very religious person but I never come closer to recognising the existence of the devil than I do when trying to iron a fitted bottom sheet.

I thought about running on Saturday and Sunday but came no closer than that to actually doing it. I doubt that a week off will do me much harm.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Love for something makes a man blind and deaf

2. BBC News website: Storm(y) in a D cup

Former US President Donald Trump is set to appear in court next Tuesday after being indicted in New York. A payment to ex-porn star Stormy Daniels is at the heart of the case. Daniels says she had an affair with Trump in 2006, which he denies. The case is likely to revolve around how this was recorded.

Trump’s lawyer paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet before the 2016 US election. The payment may violate laws about election financing.

I am not familiar with the lady (in any way) and have gone for the ‘D cup’ just for the sake of the (almost) joke – it might be an under-estimate

3. BBC News website: Yet again, the Channel is hard to cross (officially at least)

A critical incident has been declared at Dover, as coach passengers face hours-long delays caused by bad weather and long border processing times. On Saturday morning as the Easter getaway began, around 70 coaches were waiting at the port to be processed, a port official told the BBC.

Freight and car traffic was moving steadily but coach traffic has suffered significant delays due to lengthy French border processes at Dover and sheer volume.

French authorities said an “unforeseeable technical incident” in the Channel Tunnel meant French border police were delayed into Dover. Eurotunnel rejected this, saying “The critical incident in Dover started overnight. The minor technical incident at the Channel Tunnel occurred at 07:00 BST, well after the critical incident.”

4. BBC News website: Security is everybody’s business?

Russia has taken the presidency of the UN Security Council despite Ukraine urging members to block the move.

Each of the council’s 15 members takes up the presidency for a month, on a rotating pattern. The last time Russia had the presidency, February 2022, it launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

It means the Security Council is being led by a country whose president is subject to an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

5. BBC News website: What’s the secret of good comedy (and parole management) …. timing

Oscar Pistorius’s bid for parole collapsed in South Africa after it was revealed he had not yet served enough time to qualify for early release. The parole board met to hear evidence, including from Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp’s mother, but instead of giving a decision afterwards, embarrassed officials admitted their timings had been wrong.

Earlier, they had ignored a letter from South Africa’s top appeals court, explaining that Pistorius has to spend another year and a half in prison before being considered for parole. The confusion stems from the fact that his time in prison has been broken up by appeals and by a period of house arrest.

Gym, France, ski, chin-up challenge plus the gambling winner, ABBA, mobile phones and Romeo (again)

On Monday I gave my friend a lift in to a local hospital to have his foot x-rayed to see if he’d broken a bone while running on Sunday. Having survived the more hazardous cross country run we did together on Thursday, he put a foot in a pothole and went over on the ankle. It is a most unfair injury as he was fulfilling his club ‘run leader’ role particularly diligently, looking back to check on the others.

As Wainwright (of Lake District fell walking fame) said, always stop before turning round to look behind you (not that I ever do).

Despite all the horror stories about the state of the NHS, he got through triage, x-ray and consultation in about 2 hours. His self-diagnosis of a fractured metatarsal was confirmed – such bad luck as he’d run well on Thursday. It makes his Brighton Marathon in early April even tougher – but not impossible if the bone heals quickly and if the run itself is taken gently?

Having completed the push-up challenge on Sunday – the question is, what’s next? I’ve discovered the difference between chin-ups and pull-ups – the former is performed with palms towards you and the latter with palms facing away – and I tried them in the gym on Tuesday. I struggled with both and when attempting to do them properly (a starting position of hanging with straight arms) I wasn’t able to perform one of either. With elbows starting at 90° I could do a couple but that doesn’t count.

I don’t know if that’s pathetic or if most folks would find the same but it didn’t come as a surprise. I do the lat pull-down machine (which is basically a chin-up with the bar being pulled down instead of the body being pulled up) with 55kg against a bodyweight of about 68kg so I’m a few kg short of being able to lift my bodyweight.

I could feel even those gentle exploratory exercises in my biceps on Wednesday (and Thursday). In spite of doing a lot of regular core exercises, I could also feel the effort on my stomach muscles. To be able to do 10 ‘proper’ chin-ups looks like a suitable and hard next challenge for someone with puny runner/cyclist biceps.

We drove out to the alps on Thursday – the original plan had been to have a proper skiing holiday but the snow in most of the alps has been terrible (or completely absent) so far, so we decided on just a few days, with any skiing as a bonus. We last skied in January 2020 (just before everything shut down) and we weren’t able to ski in 2021 or 2022 for the obvious reason, so the lack of snow this year is really cruel.

On Friday the main lift from the village was open so we decided to give it a go. Although the resort runs were shut, it is linked into a much larger area and we were able to construct a few loops (having been going there for over 20 years has some advantages). The runs that were open were in surprisingly good condition and that, coupled with very few people, made for an excellent afternoon’s sport.

As we’d come out with no real skiing expectations, and are going out again in March, we were happy to call that quits, as the weekend would be busier with locals coming to ski. Walking round the village on Sunday I decided to brave the light rain and run. By the time I was thinking of changing, the rain had turned to heavy snow. I chickened out but was later put to shame as two people ran past me, in the snow, as I put the rubbish out.

Back to England on Monday. Sunday’s heavy snow had stopped and the road down the mountain was OK (let’s hear it for winter tyres). The Autoroute Blanche started out OK too as we headed West towards Geneva but then it started to rain. Then it got colder and started to snow – and then snow harder.

Very quickly the outside lane (there are only two) was white and then it was closed putting all the traffic in just one lane, moving very slowly. It carried on like that for many miles and I was calculating at what time catching our channel crossing would have to be abandoned.

There are 4 tunnels on the way out of the alps and, whistling in the dark, I developed the theory that the last of them would signal both the end of the alps and the end of the snowy microclimate. The first 3 tunnels made no difference at all – heavy snow on the way in and heavy snow on the way out but, lo and behold, we entered the last in the snow and came out into dry and pleasant weather – rather like coming through the back of the wardrobe from Narnia.

The first 1hr 40 minutes along the autoroute saw a 70kph average speed (44mph). The decent weather lasted less than an hour and we had heavy rain for almost all the rest of the journey – a frustrating long drive but a great few days (and yes, we made it to the tunnel in time).

1. African wise words: True love means what’s mine is yours

2. BBC News website: Are they taking the … mickey?

Media rights groups say that six journalists in South Sudan have been arrested over the circulation of footage appearing to show President wetting himself as the national anthem played at a function.

Six staff from the state broadcaster were detained this week. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is now calling for their release.

3. BBC News website: Boss of gambling firm paid more than £200m in a year

The highest paid director of Bet365 Group, believed to be founder Denise Coates, earned a salary of £213.4m in the year to March 2022. She was also entitled to at least half of £100m in dividends, despite a fall in profits.

In the year to 29 March 2022, the business turned over £2.9bn in total, an increase of 2% compared with the year before. While sales from sports betting fell, online games revenues jumped by 25% during the year.

Charitable donations of about £100m were made through the Denise Coates Foundation.

Much credit for the charitable foundation but, in general, I dislike gambling

4. BBC News website: The dangers of mobile phones on a new level

Russia has said a New Year’s Day missile attack which killed at least 89 Russian soldiers happened because troops were using their mobile phones which allowed the enemy to locate its target, officials said. An investigation has already begun.

Irrespective the rights and wrongs of the situation, this is sad

5. BBC News website: Bravo ABBA

Despite selling millions of copies over more than four decades, Abba’s 1979 hit, Chiquitita, doesn’t earn the group a penny. Written for Unicef’s Year of the Child, the copyright was given to Unicef.

Chiquitita (“Little Girl” in Spanish) – was the first song Abba recorded in Spanish, becoming a huge success across Latin America. The royalties have been used to address some of the most complex issues affecting Central America – from extreme poverty and a generational culture of machismo to domestic violence and rape. Even alcohol abuse among marginalised, indigenous communities.

6. BBC News website: Parting is such sweet sorrow (let me part you from £417m)

The stars of the Oscar-winning 1968 film Romeo and Juliet are suing Paramount Pictures for sexual abuse over a nude scene in the film. Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were teenagers when they made the movie but, now in their 70s, they claim director Franco Zeffirelli encouraged them to do nude scenes despite previous assurances that they would not have to.

The two actors are seeking damages of more than $500m (£417m), based on suffering they say they have experienced and the revenue brought in by the film since its release.

In a 2018 interview Hussey defended the nude scene. “Nobody my age had done that before,” she said, adding that Zeffirelli shot it tastefully. “It was needed for the film.”

In another interview in 2018, she said that nudity was common in European films at the time. “It wasn’t that big of a deal,” she said. “And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.”

Turbo, turbo, run, turbo, run (baby it’s cold outside)

I planned to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night but It begins late over here and I confess that I didn’t even manage to stay up to see the start. What a lightweight.

In part, that was due to an early start on Monday for a Covid-compliant ‘outing’ as our older son and his girlfriend moved house. Government lockdown guidance says that, where a removal firm cannot be used (it couldn’t as their completion came through quickly) one other household can help in the move, provided social distancing and appropriate hygiene is observed – so we helped.

It was tough, but rules are rules, so we were masked, distanced and sanitised like it was going out of fashion. It was also tough because it snowed gently throughout and a move across London means tortuous journeys. A hard 13 hours spent driving and shifting several car loads of packed boxes and bags down from their flat and into the new house.

Tuesday was equally cold so it was the turbo in the evening. No great payback for two days without a run – a hard 45 minutes @28.6kph (17.8mph). How did I ever get sufficiently cycle-fit to do the ‘everesting’?

A significant UK anniversary happened on Tuesday – but was certainly not celebrated. It was exactly a year since the arrival, in the back of an Uber, of London’s first Covid-19 patient at Lewisham Hospital. If only we’d known then what we know now …

Wednesday was (again) cold. As I was getting ready to run I remembered that nobody pays me to do it – I run for pleasure but was struggling to see what pleasure I might have got out of a run just then. Accordingly, the kit went back in the drawer and I decided that a session on the turbo in the evening was the better way to go.

I rationalised it away as part of my aim to reduce the running and increase the cycling this month ahead of April’s sportive and the start of the ultra marathon training in March – but I know I rather wimped out (and I can live with that). I did an hour on the turbo for 28.3km (17.6m).

Thursday was very cold again but it had almost climbed to freezing (other than for the significant windchill) by the time I ran in the afternoon. It was a cold 10.3km (6.4m) at 4 hour marathon pace (5:41/km).

Hard to believe, but Friday was very cold again – not Canada or Siberia type of cold, but cold for the UK. It’s not that it was too cold to run – just that it was too cold to want to run. Warm in my virtuous glow of having run on Thursday, I decided not to repeat the feat but I retreated to the turbo in the early evening. Another hour for 28.2km (17.5m).

Sorry for the broken record but it was below freezing again on Saturday with a biting wind. Going to the shops in the morning I’d seen a runner in shorts and T shirt – my kit, just after midday, included winter running trousers, three long sleeved tops and a gilet. The same 10.3km as Thursday, but 7 secs/km faster. Surprisingly enjoyable.

The cold snap started to break on Sunday, a little less cold but still with the bitter wind and with milder and wetter weather on its way – it will be good to be able to complain about the rain rather than the cold.

It appears that Valentine’s Day is not a day of exercise so my effort is going into eating and drinking.

Signs of hope with the virus in the UK as the second (tidal) wave of infections starts to recede but the lockdown continues to have severe effects in so many ways. For us, it’s less severe than for most and we are very grateful for that.

Missing out on our usual January family ski holiday is pitifully small beer in comparison to what others are missing out on. Sadly, it doesn’t look like skiing later in the season is going to happen as cases in France appear to be heading upwards and the resorts remain closed. It will be my first skiing missed in over 25 years. Roll on the vaccinations.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: He who runs after good fortune runs away from peace

2. BBC News website: Fines for breaching lockdown after a mountain rescue volunteer seriously injured in a fall while going to their aid

One man from Liverpool and another from Leicester were camping in breach of coronavirus rules above Kirkstone Pass (in the Lake District) in the face of severe weather warnings. The volunteer suffered “significant injuries” falling 150m (500ft) responding to reports of one of the campers suffering chest pains.

I struggle to see what part of ‘Let’s break the law, increase the risk of the spread of the virus, take on dangerous weather and put voluntary rescuers at risk’ is acceptable.

3. BBC News website: Katie Boulter (British tennis player) says she can win “a lot of matches” at Grand Slam level as she prepares to launch the British bid when the Australian Open starts on Monday. The 24-year-old is the only Briton playing on day one of the delayed Grand Slam, starting at about 03:00 GMT.

My heart sank when I read this and, of course, shortly after 04:00 GMT she was out of the tournament, beaten 6-1, 6-4.

4. BBC News website: Coup in Myanmar

The leader of the coup in Myanmar, General Min Aung Hlaing, has spoken on TV, seeking to justify the action amid mass protests. He said November’s election, won in a landslide by the party of detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, had been unfair.

The general did not issue direct threats to protesters, saying only that no-one was above the law.

A very sad situation. I wonder if the bit about no-one being above the law applies to leaders of military coups?

5. BBC News website: Small digital photo gallery has pictures blocked by Facebook for containing “overtly sexual” content

The Winchester-based photographer’s banned images include:

  • a sign with the word “disco”, on the grounds that it was promoting alcohol
  • a set of tramlines in France, which went against Facebook’s ticket sales policy
  • a cow standing in a field
  • the England cricket team in a huddle
  • ripples on a pond which was said to be selling “adult products”
  • another “overtly sexual” photo, of a high-rise office building

Happy New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Covid, health and fitness dependent, of course.

Roll on the vaccinations.

Take care.

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

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

Run, mow, the Von Trapp family and ‘to train or not to train’ is that the question?

I woke on Monday morning, not feeling any less healthy than when I’d gone to bed on Sunday night – so I went for a run with my wife in the weak March sunshine. The usual 3.9 miles (just over 6km).

I don’t remember the last time the lawns were actually dry but on Monday they were just about in a state to let me undertake one of the great annual events – the first mow of the season.

Of course, it’s not a quick or easy event but, after charging the battery, pumping two tyres and a trip to fill petrol cans, in the twinkling of three hours I was ready to go.

The start of the mowing season means the renewal of hostilities with the willow tree. On Monday it twice thought it had swept the ear defenders off my head but I caught them on both occasions so that doesn’t count. 1-0 to me, I think and a happy hour or two spent self-isolating on the mower.

With the Corona virus the garden might look very good this year – if gardening is the only thing I’m able to … alternatively it may look terrible if we are all confined within our own four walls for the next few months.

It’s disappointing (but not surprising) that the virus is already party-political. I hold no particular brief for our Prime Minister but I recognise that I don’t know what is the best thing to do – and nor do I expect him to know.

He is, at least, following the advice of the experts who have the key roles (and I’ve not heard it suggested that they are political appointees, or are under political pressure to come up with any particular advice) so I’m not sure I can expect much more of him at the moment. I hope the experts are as good as we need them to be.

No doubt, with hindsight, we will all be experts.

On that topic, I read that the Austrians have banned gatherings of more than 5 people. I assume that either doesn’t apply to domestic matters – or that the Von Trapps were the last Austrian family with more than 3 children.

The French have just closed all their ski resorts. I spoke to a friend out in Les Carroz, where we skied in January. He confirmed the inevitable – the snow and weather are now the best they have been all season.

At the moment there is no news on either the sportive due to be held in late April, or the ultra marathon in early July. Do I train as if both are going to go ahead or do I ease off to make sure I don’t weaken my immune defence system by training too hard?

Both events involve a decent number of contestants (about 600 for the sportive and 2000+ for the ultra?) but with both the people are spread across many miles of road/Ridgeway for most of the time. However, the starts and finishes and food stops will cause bigger groups – and will there be spare medics to make the events safe? Maybe that’s the key point – do we want stretched medical staff to be pulled away from the front line fight against the virus?

If the UK moves to cancel large gatherings in the fairly near future I guess the sportive will be off – but the ultra might be late enough to survive the cull? Hard to say but at my cycling club we are going to discuss whether we should cancel our own (smaller – about 200 riders) sportive scheduled for later in July.

One thing I think I can be sure of is that I’ll be in a worse state if I don’t train and the races are on, compared to training and then finding they are cancelled.

Looks like it’s carry on training for now, without going too mad with it. Of course, if we go the way of Spanish restrictions, it will not even be possible to go for a training run. I’m wondering whether it’s wise to give the gym a miss for a while.

So far in the UK we are just at the ‘stop non-essential contact with others and stop all unnecessary travel’ stage. Pubs, clubs, restaurants etc have not been shut but the advice is to avoid them. There’s a danger we are being treated as adults – will we live up to the challenge that poses?

‘Corona virus lockdown – lite’.

Virus locally

On Monday the news showed 24 cases of the virus in Oxfordshire (up two from Saturday) and 2 in the nearest large town, Swindon (unchanged).

All going downhill from here?

One of my favourite places – Les Carroz d’Araches, in the Haute Savoie, France

If there is a list of things not to do just after hurting a knee ligament, I expect skiing is towards the top of it. So, 4 weeks after spraining mine, I went skiing.

The drive to the Alps was trouble-free (but 13 elapsed hours which is a bit of a pain in general, and a bit ache-inducing for the knee). We could fly but we were being joined by our sons and one of their girlfriends so we drove and took a car load of our and their stuff while they were able to fly, a couple of days later, with just hand luggage.

I was reasonably sure that the knee was going to be OK to ski on – it’s just that I was equally sure that if I fell and twisted it, I was in for a very painful experience.

I considered loosening the binding on my left ski so it would come off more easily if I did fall – but it occurred to me that loosening the binding made it more likely that I might fall in the first place, so I didn’t.

Losing a ski because you fall is one thing, falling because your ski comes off feels much worse.

Of course, the falling over bit would not be a big issue for an expert skier – but nobody has ever accused me of being that. I am a reasonable skier for a 64 year-old Englishman who didn’t learn to ski until he was almost 30 – but that does not set the bar very high.

For me the conversation is more likely to go ‘why do you ski so fast?’ to which the correct answer is ‘because I’m not good enough to ski any slower’.

A good skier flows down a piste, embracing it, rather like water. Me, I rather wrestle it to death.

We took a day off on the Monday after Sunday’s dive out there and sorted out the apartment – but then had two glorious days skiing under clear blue skies. The snow was a bit thin on lower slopes but was in very good condition. We collected our sons (and a girlfriend) from Geneva on the Wednesday evening and had two more great days skiing on the Thursday and Friday. On Friday we were even the first on the slopes – although I’m not terribly keen on having to set an alarm when on holiday (or when not on holiday, come to think of it).

It snowed Friday afternoon and evening, which made Saturday’s skiing spectacular – although the weekend was rather chilly and a bit busier. After years of the misery of fitting snow chains I got winter tyres for the new car. Although they weren’t needed all the time, they worked fine when they were.

Older son and girlfriend also skied on Monday morning and then we took the three of them back to the airport for afternoon flights. For them, 4 and a half days skiing for just 3 days off work – an efficient use of their holiday entitlements.

We drove home on the following Saturday, after a few more excellent days on the slopes.

I skied reasonably sensibly and managed to have no falls – they say if you don’t fall, you’re not skiing hard enough, but I can live with that.

The knee worked OK and must have been helped by the knee brace but ached on and off throughout the holiday – especially if I tried to be more aggressive on the slopes – but without ever really hurting. One good thing about wearing a knee brace – it introduces a new highlight of the day ….. taking it off when you finish.

So, now back to training for this year’s cycling and running, injury permitting – but from what sort of fitness base will I be starting?

Another four books read during the holiday:

The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan (a fairly simple but entirely charming book, well worth a read)

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummings (an enjoyable crime/murder/thriller)

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (a very enjoyable and different novel with some fascinating insights)

Dark Water – Robert Bryndza (a pretty decent thriller, in my opinion)

Injury – staying positive (or making the best of a bad job) and keeping it all in perspective

So many shoes, so little chance to use them

When you’re injured it’s easy to obsess about what you can’t do. Having tweaked a knee ligament running on Sunday, I decided to spend some of Monday finding out what I can still do.

I can still do quite a lot. Press ups and sit ups and crunches all seem OK, once in position. Calf raises and even the plank routine look possible, although I’ll give the ‘right leg raised’ plank a miss for the time being and take it easy on the side planks.

None of those involve any great movement in the knee and my right leg can take more than its fair share of any ‘posture’ work that is necessary.

Equally, upper body exercises are OK so I can still bench press, bicep and tricep curl (with my usual rather puny runner/cyclist weights, of course).

Putting it another way, although I think I could do them all, I am not going to try running, cycling, rowing, lunges, squats, leg curls and extensions. That’s a bit of a downer for someone who likes to run and cycle but it could be worse.

I might even try a bit of swimming front crawl, with minimal leg kick?

The knee improved even during Monday and I slept well Monday night. Tuesday, more improvement.

Looking on the bright side:

  • the injury could have been a lot worse, especially as I was stupid enough to finish the run with it;
  • I can do more than I’d expected, despite the injury. It’s very minor and no medical intervention is necessary;
  • the timing could have been much worse – it’s well before training starts for the White Horse Challenge sportive or the ultra marathon (and I’m happy that I’ve done nothing that prejudices the skiing early next year); and
  • the achilles tendons and calf muscles are playing nicely at the moment – the break should see them right for when I get back to the running and cycling in the new year.

Back to Wigan on Wednesday to visit my father in hospital again, grateful that the new car is an automatic (but setting a new personal worst of over 8 hours of driving).

Saddest possible post script. My father died peacefully on the Thursday morning, within a month of his 96th birthday. I’m so pleased both our sons saw him in good health and fine spirits in the last couple of months, and that my wife and I went up on Saturday when he was alert and so happy to see us. He was a fine man. It puts everything into perspective. RIP.

Marathon training week 11/20: Ski, ski, run. Snow and Snow Patrol – but not enough running.

As the cars in the car park behind the apartment slowly sink beneath the snow …

We were back out on the slopes Monday and Tuesday – then it was packing up on Wednesday to drive back to the UK on Thursday.

It snowed solidly and, clearly, it was snow chains for the trip down the mountain. That wasn’t too bad as I could put them on in the underground garage – taking them off in the snow in the valley was another matter entirely.

We had about 550 miles to drive through France – and nearly all of it with a good covering of snow either side of the road. Despite that, the roads were excellent and clear. It began to snow as we got west of London and driving along the M4 at about 9pm it started to settle.

We saw one gritting lorry near Ashford (Kent) and not another for the whole 166 mile journey, despite constant claims that gritting was in process. At one point it seemed that we might be using the snow chains again but the snow eased and only started more heavily again as we got home.

A great holiday – 16 days, 1780 miles, a lot of skiing and the advantage of having both sons join us.

Three falls: one while standing still and tripping over my own ski pole (very cool); one on a black mogul field (very expected); and one entirely by surprise (but my wife says someone skied over the back of my skis which might explain it). I went over onto my left shoulder – after 5 days I don’t yet have full movement back.

Three falls is probably OK – too many falls would be depressing: no falls would suggest I’m not pushing hard enough.

In normal life I tend to shy away from potatoes, bread and cheese but those are the main staples of the Haute Savoie diet. Indeed, the wonderful dish ‘Tartiflette’ was actually created to promote sales of the local reblochon cheese. We ate and drank well but I came back still under 70kg which I will treat as a victory.

Some very enjoyable reading too – I managed to finish

  • ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (good but a bit weird in places, almost cartoonish). The cover quoted Salman Rushdie calling it ‘The greatest novel in any language of the last 50 years’ (I certainly couldn’t agree with that)
  • ‘Red Azalea’ by Anchee Min (very interesting, set in the time of the cultural revolution and well worth a read)
  • ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles (generally excellent but, to a pedantic Brit, having a Russian Count in the 1930s use the word ‘gotten’ sticks out like a sore thumb).

We were supposed to be up to London for a Snow Patrol concert at the Wembley Arena on Saturday and that looked a bit unlikely to be happening as the snow fell for much of Friday – something like 8 inches of the stuff.

If we’d had to head to London then, I doubt we’d have gone, as the UK was again proving incapable of dealing with fairly modest snowfalls. Luckily, by Saturday things had settled a bit and we were just on the edge of the worst of the snow, which was mainly south and west of us.

We decided to give London a go so took the front wheel drive car. The biggest issue was (as ever) getting out of the village but we made it – just – and the rest of the trip was OK, taken cautiously. The rear wheel drive car would not have got out of the village.

Snow Patrol were excellent, but they had set the bar supremely high at the more ‘intimate’ concert we went to last November.

Luckily, in snow terms, London was much clearer than Oxfordshire so I took my running kit but only just managed to force myself out on Sunday morning – my first run for three weeks because of the skiing.

It was hovering just above freezing but was bright and clear I ran from West Kensington around the Serpentine (the lake in Hyde Park) and back. Altogether 11.4 km in under 1 hour 3 minutes at 5.30 min/km (7.1 miles @ about 8:52 per mile), despite the road junctions and the sore left shoulder. To my surprise, inside 4 hour marathon pace and it felt pretty good. Clearly, I should be doing more skiing and less running in my training ….

It will be interesting to see how the Achilles tendons react – they had better behave as there is a lot of running to be done between now and the Rotterdam marathon on 7th April (once the snow clears).

So, the training week ended with some skiing but only one run – a fairly dismal effort over the last 4 weeks as life has got in the way of the training. If someone were paying me to do the running perhaps I’d adjust the priorities but I can’t help but think that life first and running second is the right way round for a – very – amateur runner like me.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km) 62.68m (100.86km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.55km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (24.97km)   12.00
10 (Skiing)     12.00
11 (Skiing) 7.1m (11.4km)   6.00
‘Running’ totals 137.3m  (221.1km) 178.2m (286.3km)    47:00

Marathon training week 10/20: Ski, ski, long walk, ski, ski. Am I supposed to do some running?

Lots of snow but not as much in some parts of the world – stay safe people

I took our older son and his girlfriend back to Geneva airport on Monday 21st January (after skiing in the day) and collected our younger son, Alex, who arrived a couple of hours later. The three of us skied on Tuesday (still terrific conditions) but I had to drop out on Wednesday and Thursday feeling very rough with a cold/flu bug. On Thursday Alex and I went for a long walk around the village in the snow – he missed skiing last year so was pleased to catch up with developments in a place he’s known for most of his life.

Friday and Saturday were spent skiing again, before taking Alex back to the airport for a Saturday afternoon flight back to the UK.

Both our sons ski extremely well. We started them at 4 and they cannot remember not being able to ski. I started just before I was 30 and I think that the later you start caps how good you can get (or, at least that’s my excuse).

I get by reasonably well but tend to do ‘proper’ English skiing: stylish on blue runs, competent on red runs, significant collapse of technique on black runs. I put that to good effect skiing with Alex on the Friday.

There is a black run in the resort which used to be beneath a chairlift so it was possible to see how difficult it looked before deciding whether to tackle it. In recent years that chairlift has been replaced with another starting from a different place so now only the top part of the run is visible.

Foolishly I agreed to ski it with him – the top bit was tough, as expected, but the bulk of it that had been out of sight was just a large and steep mogul field – very much at the extreme edge of my abilities. I only fell once which I regard as a minor victory but it was tough and I was happy to escape intact.

Sadly, we could not fit in a run during the week because the pavements were not clear enough of snow to provide a safe footing. That was a particular shame as Alex is the son with whom I’ll be running the marathon in April.

After a great time with our sons (and a girlfriend), and having dispatched them back to the UK, we took Sunday off skiing – not a bad decision as it snowed heavily. That is one of the great things about going skiing for a couple of weeks – you don’t feel guilty at taking a day off like you would if you were just out there for a week.

So, half way through the training for Rotterdam and three compromised weeks because of the trips to the Lakes and the Alps. On the plus side, I’ve still been physically active and have got in the long runs in all except the one for this week.

People say that if you cannot train for three weeks because of illness or injury, you should consider postponing the marathon. As my weeks have not been complete failures, I don’t intend to take that route but I’d better get back to the programme soon.

But (Sunday 27 January) I’m still in the Alps as I write this …

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km) 62.68m (100.86km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.55km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (24.97km)   12.00
10 (skiing)     14.00
‘Running’ totals 130.2m  (209.7km) 178.2m (286.3km)  43:00

Marathon training week 9/20: run, ski, ski, ski, ski. Heading downhill

Snow and interesting cloud formations – Haute Savoie, France

Having got back from the Lakes on Sunday I went out for the long slow run on Monday 14th January – knowing that the rest of the week was going to be a major training failure.

It was the third long run in 10 days so perhaps not too surprising that it felt hard, but I kept going and did 15.51 miles (24.97km) against a training programme target of 14 miles.

It was slower than my usual long slow runs – not particularly because I planned it that way, I’m just not sure I had much more in me. Pace is still a worry but perhaps better rested runs will be faster – and there are still 11 weeks until the marathon. Either that or I’ll be re-setting my targets and aiming to beat 4h 30.

I wasn’t ever more than a few miles away from home and so had to do a number of loops to make up the distance (six times along one bit of road). That felt mentally tough so I think I’ll have to look for a longer ‘out and back’ route for the remaining long runs.

The rest of Monday was spent hobbling about, as usual, and the same continued Tuesday morning as we left very early to get the Shuttle and drive to the Alps. No real problem with the Achilles tendons while driving but when we stopped I was certainly back to doing my impression of an 80 year old. It’s a depressing thought that I can do that for real in less than 17 years.

Although the drive is a bit gruelling – just over 12 hours door to door – I enjoyed it as it brought back happy memories of cycling the 550 miles (880km) out there, solo and unsupported, last summer. Although the route I took by bike was very different, save for the last 100 miles or so, I was surprised how much it brought it back.

Perhaps it’s just that Les Carroz d’Araches is such a special place for me – we’ve skied here for 20 years and I’ve cycled here for perhaps 10 , including my ‘everest’ in 2017: here

Last year’s ride out to the alps is covered back in July, starting here:

I like to think of the trip as altitude training – but suppose others would simply call it a skiing holiday. To be honest they would be right as our resort is at only 1150 metres and the highest skiing is at 2500 m.

We had a domestic day on Wednesday and then collected our older son and his girlfriend from Geneva airport. With Germany and Austria having had dangerous levels of snow, it seems that France had just the right amount. The skiing (and the holiday in general) was spectacularly good for the next 4 days to complete my training week, with just the one long run.

It had snowed on Thursday so it was on with the snow chains on Friday morning. I was surprised just how we struggled to get up to the lift station with them on – only to discover that one had fallen off. I ran back, retracing our drive, only to find the offending chain just metres from the apartment block’s garage. I don’t think I will ever get tired of telling people how much I dislike snow chains – truly the devil’s own work.

Apparently two wheel drive with winter tyres is more capable in the snow than four wheel drive with non-winter tyres. Of course, our rear wheel drive car with ordinary tyres is completely useless in the snow, so it looks like a change of car before next ski season.

Sadly, while I’m not sure if fell walking had any significant benefits for marathon training, I’m even more doubtful about alpine skiing. The only really beneficial bit would be the going uphill – and that is very much the province of the chairlift. However, it must have some effect as, despite having fairly fit legs from cycling and running, I was able to get a proper thigh burn when pushing hard to ski the resort from top to bottom.

I’ll clock it as a discounted 12 hours of cross-training, without much confidence in its value.

Perhaps I can console myself that the Achilles tendons are getting a bit of a rest.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.3km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
725.6m (41.1km)62.7m (100.9km) 3:00
8 (Lakes) 14.6m (23.6km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing)15.5m (25km)   12.00
‘Running’ totals 130.2m (209.7km) 178.2m (286.3km) 29:00