Category Archives: ultra marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run, run, run, something in the woodshed

Sunday’s run wasn’t as good as Saturday’s – but I could feel both in my legs on Monday, especially the calf muscles. Why don’t I remember to stretch before I have the problems?

I suppose the good thing is that it was the muscles and not the Achilles tendons – throughout the training for the Rotterdam Marathon in April last year, they never needed any excuse to protest loudly.

I’m wondering if I’ve been running a bit flat footed for a while in order to protect the Achilles’. Subconsciously, I must have got a bit more confident in them and am striking a bit closer to the ball of the foot (thus putting more strain on the Achilles/calf chain – oh dear).

I did a short leg loosener Monday (5.5km, about 3.4miles) in some pretty muggy heat around midday. In the afternoon I started on another bit of garden – more nettles and brambles but thistles replacing ivy, for a change. It was more ripping stuff out than digging stuff up – by the evening my hands were like claws, incapable of gripping more than a cup of coffee.

I ran with my wife on Tuesday (6.7km, 4.2m) but, after 4 consecutive days of running (for only about 30km – over 18 miles) my back ached on Wednesday so I took it as a rest day from exercise.

I bought a chainsaw to start cutting up the wood taken out of the beech trees last year. I still have a full complement of limbs and digits so it went well – but it’s going to be a three session job to get it all cut and stored for the wood burner this winter.

Session 2 log cutting on Thursday (in the rain, so no running) and the same again on Friday (in yet more rain) which finished the job and leaves us with a fully stacked woodshed (plus overflow into another shed).

As the lockdown eases, we are allowed to create a ‘support bubble’ so our younger son, furloughed from his job and having been alone in his flat in London since the start of the virus lockdown, is now at home with us. It’s great to have him here in any event – but I ran the Rotterdam Marathon with him last year so I now have another running partner and another pair of hands with the labours around the house and garden … and he plays a mean game of croquet too.

He and I had a very good run on Saturday – a bit over 10km (6.35miles) in an hour. On Sunday the three of us drove up to London for a socially distanced picnic with our other son and his girlfriend – we’ve not seen them since skiing in late January. It was great.

Rook update – the hawk cut-out appears to be having some effect (for now, at least). I’ve not seen any in the chicken run and the chicken food seems to be lasting longer – so it looks like fewer rooks (unless the chickens have put themselves on a diet).

Interesting stuff this week

1. African proverb of the week: ‘Better to meet me with a warm heart than offer me dinner.’

2. BBC News website: ‘Coronavirus and how to beat it on the sausage frontline’

When the battle lines are drawn, it tends to all come down to the sausages

3. BBC News website: ‘Australia shark encounter: Teenage siblings film ‘really scary’ escape’

As opposed to a ‘really enjoyable’ escape from a shark

4. Foolish joke of the week: I had a ticket for a gig by an emo band but it was called off. I was really sad – which is, I suppose, what they would have wanted.

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

16/05 – 1902 (x1.13)

23/05 – 2020 (x1.06)

30/05 – 2065 (x1.02)

6/06 – 2093 (x1.01)

13/06 – 2109 (x1.01)

20/06 – 2126 (x1.01)

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

Back to pounding the local roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting stuff this week

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

The fabric of UK society collapses

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

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

Three … a whole three!

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

16/05 – 1902 (x1.13)

23/05 – 2020 (x1.06)

30/05 – 2065 (x1.02)

6/06 – 2093 (x1.01)

13/06 – 2109 (x1.007)

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

Shame it just has me to push the pedals round

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

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

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

Oh the joys of a fit and active life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting things this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

16/05 – 1902 (x1.13)

23/05 – 2020 (x1.06)

30/05 – 2065 (x1.02)

6/06 – 2093 (x1.01)

Too well exercised to take exercise, run, snake, run, run, run

Before

Extraordinarily tough gardening on Monday and Tuesday, digging up brambles, nettles and taking ivy off a wall in the heat. I was too broken by honest hard labour to even consider running or cycling.

After

When I become supreme world dictator (it’s just a matter of time, surely) I will decree that no weed (as defined by me) is allowed roots more than one inch deep or two inches long.

However, it was a good reminder that

  • not all exercise happens wearing running shoes or cycling cleats
  • a day without running, cycling or a visit to the gym is not necessarily a ‘rest day’.

Back to the more typical exercise on Wednesday morning with a fairly gentle but lovely 9.35km (5.8miles) run in yet more surprising heat. Then back to the garden where, to our great surprise, we found a snake in the afternoon.

The grass snake, the adder and the smooth snake are the only three types of snake in the UK (four if you count a sub-class of grass snake as a separate species – I say as if I know about these things). Only the adder is poisonous. Ours was a grass snake but perhaps about 2 feet long (60cm). I don’t know how rare they are but it’s taken me nearly 65 years to see one in the UK.

By the time I’d finished gardening on Thursday (more nettles asking to be dug up) I was past the desire to do any more exercise – but I ran on Friday. It was hot – perhaps a degree or two cooler than the previous few days but the first time I’ve run in lycra shorts since the Rotterdam Marathon in April last year. Despite the heat it was a really enjoyable 10.2km (6.3miles).

Another run (5.5km – 3.4 miles) on a hot Saturday in ‘proper’ running shorts – I felt like I should have been apologising to the walkers I passed. Bramble removal later – forearms cut to shreds. The same again on Sunday but a little further – just over 6km (a bit under 4 miles) mis-recorded by the Garmin and mangled by Strava which is playing up!

With little on the sporting challenge front to keep myself occupied, I’m still thinking of challenges for later this year, or for 2021 if the cancellations continue. I have an idea for my birthday challenge and I’d like to do another triathlon – but I recognise that I’m going to have to work on my swimming if that’s going to be anything other than a sprint distance with a pool swim.

The other alternative that I’ve not really considered before is a duathlon (run, cycle, run). Sounds like fun, and with less chance of drowning.

Still waiting for the new brake assemblies for the carbon-rim blocks so I can take the bike out with the new wheels … nervous anticipation.

I need to get back on the bike as relief from the running.

Interesting things this week

1. When it rains we see that a guinea fowl has five toes.

At last, how to solve the eternal ‘How many toes has a guinea fowl?’ question.

2. BBC News website: Formula E driver Daniel Abt uses professional gamer to compete for him in esports race.

Abt is a pro-driver for Audi in Formula E, the electric engined version of Formula1. During lockdown it is running computer-based races. He said “I did not take it as seriously as I should have,”.

Or, perhaps, he took it more seriously than he should have?

He is certainly taking it seriously now – he has lost his contract with Audi.

3. BBC News website: How do you ease your dog out of lockdown?

First world problems, eh?

4. Men hired for sexual fantasy break into wrong house

A man in Australia hired two others to break into his house, armed, tie him up (in his underpants) and stroke him with a broom. Unfortunately, he moved and did not tell them so they broke into his old house …

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

16/05 – 1902 (x1.13)

23/05 – 2020 (x1.06)

30/05 – 2065 (x1.02)

Turbo, ride, run (my unholy trinity)

After running on Tuesday and Thursday, it was back to the turbo on Friday. I was pinched for time so just 30 minutes but ridden quite hard; sadly, the speed was registered at 29.9kph by Strava.

After a day in the garden I went out on the bike late on Saturday – it wasn’t a difficult decision as it was that or the turbo trainer. I rode for just over 36km (22.5 miles) in 80 minutes and managed to take it reasonably sensibly … apart from the two times I found myself behind other road cyclists who, I could tell, really wanted to be chased and overtaken.

A bit pathetic for an old man? Guilty as charged.

The big problem, of course, is that once you overtake, you then have to push on hard for the next couple of miles to avoid looking like an idiot as they, effortlessly, cruise back past you.

One of them was down on his tri-bars which made the chase harder but also made me realise that I should refit mine. I am currently cycling alone and in relatively light traffic so it would be pretty safe and why turn down the couple of free kph that they tend to offer?

On matters ‘aero’, I’m still grappling with whether I should get a pair of deep rim carbon wheels. Although I don’t cycle at an average of 20mph (32kph, the speed at which they are said to come into their own) I do spend a reasonable amount of time at that speed – so they might be a genuine benefit (to everything but my bank balance).

I know a gentleman in Michigan and another in Tasmania who would consider that decision to be a total no-brainer.

On Sunday morning I ran with my wife – she wanted to do the local Strava hill segment again (competitive juices flowing strongly). We did that and then I ran on to do some laps around Badbury Clump for a total run of 8.3km (just over 5 miles).

The car park there has been shut during the lockdown so, although the whole area itself has been open, it’s been fairly deserted and a joy to run in. The car park has now reopened and was full – but at least the people were well spread out and social distancing was not an issue.

For some reason Strava hasn’t recorded the segment we ran but I can work out a time from the maps and the route tracker – she blitzed her previous time by between 10 and 15 seconds. What a performance.

Some years ago we ran the “Town and Gown” 10km race in Oxford three years in succession. It’s a great course through the city centre and the aim was for my wife to break the hour barrier. We managed 58 minutes odd on our last attempt – I’m working on getting her to enter next year but it’s an uphill battle.

The rest of Sunday will be spent mowing and playing croquet. It’s what Sundays were made for.

Stocktake after 8 weeks of lockdown

  • weight – 68 kg (decent)
  • resting pulse – 48 bpm (fair)
  • hair – long, grey and unkempt (but at least I don’t have to worry about the roots being a different colour)
  • mental health – entirely unchanged (not sure if that is good or bad, but I tend to put it down to a sad lack of imagination on my part)
  • running – OK, I’m enjoying it a lot, but I’m not doing any great distances (perhaps it’s a good thing the ultra marathon is postponed to 2021)
  • cycling – moderate at best (how on earth did I ever get fit enough to ride out to to the alps, let alone do the ‘Everest’?)
  • Achilles tendons, fine; calf muscles, fine; left knee, not fine
  • garden – better than ever.

Interesting things this week

1. African proverb: A frog’s happiness comes with the rains.

… and who doesn’t like a happy frog?

2. The Dutch government has issued new guidance to single people seeking intimacy during the pandemic, advising them to find a ‘sex buddy’.

The National Institute for Health and the Environment said that ‘Sex with yourself or with others at a distance is possible’.

I see the Dutch in an entirely new (red) light.

3. Steve Linick: Trump fires state department inspector general

I’m starting to feel left out because the President hasn’t bothered to fire me (yet).

4. With the division’s season coming to an early end, our local football club (Swindon Town) is set to be promoted and crowned Champions. Not how anyone would have wanted it to end – but we’ll take it.

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

16/05 – 1902 (1.13)

Run, run, Strava segments, a charity quiz and training vs exercise

It’s dawned on me that with my challenges postponed to next year, I’m not ‘training’ for anything – I’m just ‘exercising’. The absence of any sort of training plan should have been a clue …

It feels like there is a real difference between the two: training has a more specific purpose and so comes with a greater obligation and urgency. Exercise has a less specific aim and the ability to be more flexible – I’m going to try to embrace the difference.

I gave the difference an introductory hug on Monday by gardening, scrubbing a crazy-paving path and seating area – but not exercising beyond that. We ran through the village together on Tuesday morning before I miscounted the laps around the old hill fort and pushed hard in getting a PB on a very nasty local hill which is a Strava segment. Nearly 7 miles in all (over 11km) and really enjoyable (except for the big effort up the hill).

I decided that two days of quite hard manual work in the garden exempted me from other exercise on Wednesday but back to it on Thursday running with my wife – 7.5km (4.7 miles). I ran with her so she could record a time for the local hill Strava segment on my Garmin – and what a good time it was (in the top half out of nearly 70, and just two seconds behind a running friend of mine … should I tell him?).

Quizzing for charity

I’m part of a group of about a dozen old work mates who go on a ‘gentleman’s sporting weekend’ each year. We’ve been far and wide in the UK, mainland Europe (from Lisbon in Portugal to Budapest in Hungary) and North America (including Boston, New York and Toronto).

On Thursday we had a Zoom-based quiz for charity – the winner to decide where the money went. Modesty forbids mentioning who won, but I chose a local Young Carers group helping children who find themselves in the role of main carer for parents or other family members. It’s a great cause.

Interesting stuff so far this week

1. The authorities in Nigeria’s southern Rivers state have demolished two hotels for allegedly violating lockdown rules introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Beats a small fine or a police warning as a disincentive to breaking the law

2. Even if you dance in the water, your enemies will accuse you of causing dust.

Love these African proverbs

3. Coronavirus: Tui urges opening up tourism to safer countries

Tui is a travel company, based in Germany. The idea is that safer countries are identified and opened up as holiday destinations (so they soon stop being safer countries??)

4. Coronavirus: New Zealand reopens with midnight barbers queues

I admit to not being a style icon when it comes to grooming (or indeed anything else) but I can’t image any circumstances that would have me queueing for a haircut at midnight.

Run, scrub, scrub, run, turbo, ride, run (a better balance?)

Quite a lot ached on Monday morning – due more to the driveway scrubbing than the cycling or the running, I suppose. Nevertheless, I ran in the morning with my wife – a gentle 6km.

It finally dawned on me that, with the cumulative wear and tear from continuing driveway cleaning, I was probably overdoing it with training sessions on top. I took Tuesday and Wednesday off while upping the driveway schedule.

It was our younger son’s 28th birthday on Wednesday – spent with him locked down in London. He said he didn’t mind being alone for his birthday as much as he minded being 28. We certainly minded not seeing him but we managed an extended family Zoom chat in the evening.

Thursday we finally finished cleaning the drive (it took about 10 days of pretty hard effort and four worn away wire brushes). I mowed for a couple of hours – but managed a late afternoon 10k run in just under an hour.

Having mowed, the croquet resumed on Friday (with an honourable draw), together with gardening and a session on the turbo trainer. I made the mistake of increasing the distance to 23km and struggled horribly right from the start – but stuck with it, taking a painful 49m 41s.

Undeterred by the tough turbo experience I got out on the bike on a lovely warm Saturday. The aim was for just a gentle spin – I even chose a different route from normal so I wouldn’t be tempted to compare times.

The route was great (Clanfield, Bampton, Aston, Ducklington, Curbridge, Lechlade, Faringdon) but within a couple of miles the competitive juices got going and I rode the 53.44km at 29.2kph (33.2miles at over 18mph).

We ran just over 4 miles on Sunday morning – one of our usual routes, plus a bit to deliver a card for the 65th birthday of the friend I did the Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux with back in 2015 to mark our 60th birthdays. Hard to believe that was nearly five years ago.

With no remaining 2020 challenges, and my 65th birthday just two months away, I’ve decided to look for a way to mark that with a challenge. It has to be one that I can take on with just about any version of likely lock-down measures that might be in force at the time, and I think I’ve found it.

I’m going to have to get some proper cycling in at some stage.

Interesting things this week

1. BBC: News: Dealing with curly hair during lockdown

More insightful journalism getting to the heart of matters of national importance.

2. African saying: The goat complains that its master’s sickness bothers it. If its master survives, there will be a feast. If he dies, there will be a burial. Either way, its life is at stake.

Who’d want to be a goat?

3. New Zealand had a very strict virus lockdown, during which a group of thieves went to work on a yard full of rental vehicles, all lined up, unlocked and with the keys inside. Over a long weekend, a total of 97 vehicles were stolen.

Not too easy to get rid of them on an island nation of under 5 million inhabitants – 85 vehicles recovered within days.

4. The local Costa Coffee reopened for drive through orders only. Apparently the queue caused some traffic chaos.

The Liberal in me is pleased that an element of normality and choice has been restored but part of me is sad that so many think a Costa Coffee is a necessity.

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

9/5 – 1688 (x1.09)

Turbo, turbo, turbo, turbo, run, ride (a different turbo challenge but 4 sessions is plenty)

A new week of lockdown started with a new approach to the turbo trainer. I’ve been stuck in the ’45 minute session’ rut for a while now so it seemed time to try something a bit different.

Although I would always push myself pretty hard, there wasn’t any reward for working harder. I’ve now decided to shake it up a bit and sometimes go for distance rather than time. I’ll increase the distance bit by bit but the big carrot is going to be the thought that I can shorten the session by going faster. A proper and tangible benefit for increased effort, and a way of breaking out of the 45 minute rut.

I realised that in the last 12 turbo sessions of 45 minutes, I’d only got to 22km 3 times and to 22.5km only once, so that was the distance I set myself to start with.

On Monday I cycled faster than all but one of those previous 12 sessions and the 22.5km took 45m 50s. I suppose that makes it a good idea in as far as pushing me to work harder is concerned – but a bad idea if I wanted an easy life.

The spell of really good weather broke on Tuesday – cool and pretty wet. The croquet was postponed (which fitted neatly with just about all the other sport around the globe) and the major project of tackling the driveway was put on hold. It’s a block paved drive which, over more than 25 years, has acquired some weeds in the joints and moss on the shaded bits, which are now getting addressed with wire brushes, brooms, weed killer and a large amount of elbow grease.

I almost wimped out of the turbo Tuesday evening as I was feeling very tired but I forced myself and managed the 22.5km in 45 minutes and 1 second, which was surprising as I was struggling before I’d done 10km.

Wednesday started out dry which enabled resumption of the driveway clearance – luckily it did rain later which put a stop to it. After three consecutive days of running and then two with turbo sessions I took a rest day.

Thursday was back to the drive and the turbo. I’d decided that I was going to go easy on the turbo but it felt OK once I started so I pushed on and got to the 22.5km target in 44m 09s – 1m 41s faster than Monday.

Forgetting that the whole idea was to have a bit of a shorter session if I hit the 22.5km early, I carried on to complete the 45 minutes for just over 23km (at 30.7kph – 19mph). The biggest problem is working out how this fits in with my previous decision to reduce the length and intensity of my exercise sessions.

Drive and turbo yet again on Friday. The aim was to run but the hailstones put paid to that. I really did not want to use the turbo again and it made me realise how much I miss the gym – if only for some welcome variety. A gentle recovery spin – 47 minutes for only 20km, but it felt so much harder.

I ran laps around Badbury Clump on Saturday – a bit over 9km (5.6 miles). It was lovely, but not being the turbo by itself would have been enough to have made it really enjoyable.

Sunday was back to the driveway – after a few more hours on hands and knees, it’s over half done and have completely worn away two wire brushes. To celebrate I went for a gentle ride later in the afternoon, just over 40km.

A week with nearly 130km (80 miles) on static and proper bikes and just the one run. If last week told me my knee doesn’t want the running overdone (remember that for next year’s postponed ultra marathon), this week told me that 4 turbo sessions is plenty.

The rooks in the loft space have suddenly gone very quiet. Any eggs should have hatched by now so I’m wondering if there has been a ‘domestic’ dispute or some other failure of matrimonial bliss.

Interesting things this week

1. Sudanese proverb. ‘A snake that has a locust in its mouth does not bite.’

So true.

2. Argentina has banned ticket sales for commercial flights to, from, or within Argentina until 1 September.

With ‘only’ 4,000 confirmed infections and 192 deaths at the time, whether it’s right or wrong, that’s decisive government.

3. BBC News: ‘I returned my suits and spent £100 on joggers’

London based lawyer sends back her sober corporate gear back, and spends £100 on comfy loungewear instead. Now she admits she is pretty much living in casual clothes suitable for relaxing at home, be it hoodies, joggers or pyjamas. “I’ve found myself saying to my housemates if I’m going for a walk, ‘oh it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s lockdown.’

How on earth does this rank as ‘news’?

4. Most expensive tweet ever?

Tesla’s founder Elon Musk wiped $14bn off the carmaker’s value after tweeting that its share price was too high.

Now that, Mr President, is a real tweet!

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44 (x2 from previous week)

28/3 – 113 (x2.5)

4/4 – 356 (x3.2)

11/4 – 653 (x1.8)

18/4 – 1070 (x1.6)

25/4 – 1336 (x1.25)

2/5 – 1540 (x1.15)

Run, turbo, run, turbo, run, turbo – rooks and rabbits

Keep calm and play croquet

We ran on Monday morning, without any great enthusiasm on the part of my knee. A short run (3 miles) in a biting wind which came as a nasty surprise after the good weather of the previous days.

Croquet again on Tuesday afternoon: we might be up the creek without a paddle, but we’re British – stiff upper lip and all that. I won’t record the results so far, not through false modesty but because I’m taking a beating.

On the subject of croquet, out of (possible) interest, the full name of All England Club which hosts the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, is actually the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Originally (1868) it was founded as the All England Croquet Club – tennis was introduced later.

I’ve decided to keep going with the exercise five or six times a week (I seem to be able to fit it into my busy schedule) but ease off on the intensity/duration. After 5 successive days with some sort of exercise session, I took Tuesday as a rest day but put in 45 minutes on the turbo on Wednesday.

I don’t know if the rest day was the difference but I did 23.38km @31.2kph (14.5miles @19.4mph) – much better than recent efforts. For some reason I was able to push a larger gear than has been the case lately, for the whole of the time.

Thursday morning was another run with my wife – about 4 miles in more decent weather – and another 45 minutes on the turbo on a wet and chilly Friday evening. Harder than Wednesday but not as fast. I really don’t understand this exercise lark.

Saturday morning it rained – a nice break from having to water the pots out in the garden but otherwise rather dreary, even after the rain stopped. I ran in the afternoon, just over 10.4km (about 6.5 miles). It was enjoyable except for the delinquent toe launching another attack on its neighbour.

My knee wasn’t too happy and I also tweaked my left calf on the run which meant that Sunday was another 45 minutes on the turbo. Sadly, that put an end to the possibility that I could do a training sequence of “run, turbo, run, turbo, run, run, run” in homage to Flanagan and Allen.

Big local news of the week, the dozen catmint plants I put out in a couple of the flower beds have survived the first few days – last year they were repeatedly dug up and destroyed by rabbits, although the catmint by the side of the driveway was left alone.

The rooks nesting in one of the loft spaces have made themselves very much at home. From the sound of it, they are holding line dancing sessions for the entire rookery. There is also a pair nesting above the garages – at times it’s like a scene from ‘The Birds’.

It’s easy to lose perspective at the moment. Quite rightly, coronavirus dominates the news but I saw a headline that, in the UK, one in five deaths is linked to the virus. Of course, one is too many but without actually thinking about it, I’d assumed that the virus was the main source of deaths at the moment.

I was astonished to read that it would be normal for there to be about 10,000 deaths a week in the UK at this time of year (around 500,000 – 600,000 pa). As we head into another three weeks of lockdown, it’s very sobering that while life seems to be on hold, death, sadly, is not.

Stay safe out there.

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus for Oxfordshire: population c. 690,000

14/3 – 22

21/3 – 44

28/3 – 113

4/4 – 356

11/4 – 653

18/4 – 1070