Category Archives: Uncategorized

Run, not a run in with the rooks, and an own goal (not by a footballer)

My wife and I ran on Sunday morning, more circuits of the hill fort. Too early for the bluebells but it would normally be crowded – today just two walkers and no cars. Bravo local rule adherence.

That finished the week with three runs and three sessions on the turbo. A sensible tick-over perhaps but for now it’s more about staying fit, getting fresh air and fighting boredom.

This morning we saw two walkers, two other runners and one cyclist – all keeping a very good distance and all friendly. Sadly, the good weather has apparently been encouraging people to break guidelines and there are reports of large numbers gathering in some public places.

I fear that exercise outside the home will be under threat soon if that doesn’t stop. I must get out and measure a running track around the garden …

I’ve just realised that now my ultra has been shifted to 11th July next year, I’ll be 66 when I attempt it. Even to me, that sounds very old – but I’ve paid my entry fee and they don’t seem keen on giving refunds.

Perhaps 66 is an appropriate age to try a new Route (to get my kicks)?

It probably means that I can’t do the JPP sportive or the Marmotte next year – both of them were scheduled for 5 July this year, so they will probably clash next year too. Oh well, let’s get through 2020 first before worrying about any of that.

The afternoon was spent mowing and (nearly) battling rooks.

A few days ago we found a tile slipped from a roof. The next day we noticed twigs on the floor beneath the area of the slipped tile. Then we heard the rooks in the roof space. I was going to get into the loft space to tackle them before they laid eggs – but luckily checked the law first.

It would have been a criminal offence with a maximum of an unlimited fine or 6 months locked up! (I guess my current two weeks locked up wouldn’t have counted towards any sentence). Oh well, we have guests for the next few months.

With the absence of football, there have been few own goals to watch – until the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland lent a hand.

Last month, the Scottish government (very reasonably) issued a travel warning criticising the “irresponsible behaviour” of people with second homes and camper vans travelling to the Highlands in a bid to isolate. Yesterday, the Scottish CMO and her family were seen walking near their second home, a drive of more than an hour from their main home in Edinburgh.

Apparently, she has accepted a Police warning and has apologised “unreservedly”. That’s OK then. 

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

14/3 22

21/3 44

28/3 113

4/4 356

Generosity flourishes as normality recedes (and some irrelevant exercise)

Cancellation of sporting events is supremely unimportant just now, but to me there is an impact as they would have been a great distraction and their absence emphasises today’s lack of normality.

In the UK, our lockdown was for an initial 3 weeks. I’m sure we all knew that was just an opening bid but every sporting cancellation seems to underline the lengthening of the extreme measures.

To begin with, events in April went by the wayside. Then May, then June and now, most recently, the grass-based tennis season has been cancelled, including Queen’s (one of the main pre-Wimbledon tournaments) and Wimbledon itself. Wimbledon would have finished on 12 July.

Although the Olympics and the Euro 2020 football tournament had already been postponed by a year, the sheer scale of those events made early action a necessity – cancellation of ‘smaller’ things like Wimbledon bring it closer to home. It feels even more clear that July is not going to have seen a return to normal, although let’s hope we have, at least, moved a long way in that direction by then.

I expect the British Grand Prix and The Open to be next to go (both scheduled later in July) together with the further deferral of unfinished leagues. Will we get to the point where events such as the London Marathon, already postponed to October, are in the cancellation firing line?

Let’s keep following the rules – if we do, it may not come to that.

Not quite on the Wimbledon scale, but the ultra marathon scheduled for July has finally been put out of its misery and postponed to July next year. I’m trying to work out if the opportunity to train for another year is a benefit or a curse.

I’ve been spending a lot of time ‘on call’ as a NHS volunteer but no calls to respond to so far. I don’t expect any/many as we are in a slightly rural environment and a village that has established it’s own support service and a way of collecting medicines for those who can’t get out.

There is a lady in the village who grows a lot of plants to sell on behalf of the church – there has never been so much interest shown! I’m doing a lot of digging in my compost heaps to be able to offer some to people taking her up on the plants in a couple of weeks’ time.

Turning to the more mundane, on Thursday I got on the turbo for 45 minutes (with little to train for, an hour seems very unappealing). I ran through the village with my wife on Friday – she then did hills and I ran round the nearby old hill fort (continuing to protect my Achilles Tendons). Too early for the bluebells but I had a picture from a couple of years ago – something to look forward to. I rejoined my wife for her last hill rep – I managed a Strava PR.

One great thing I saw this week was Jos Buttler (the England wicket-keeper) auctioning the shirt he wore in the final of last year’s One-day Cricket World Cup (that we won after one of the game’s most extraordinary matches and a final ‘super over’ tie-break).

The money will go to charity, supporting two specialist heart and lung centres dealing with the coronavirus response – what a wonderful gesture.

As I write, bidding is standing at £65,800 – terrific, but what caught my eye is the fact that the auction asks for an additional £10 for postage! I hope the winning bidder has factored that in.

Pedant’s/grumpy old man’s corner

Things that get to me:

  1. Misuse of ‘literally’. On a baking programme this week, a contestant who did well kept saying “I’m literally over the moon” – she wasn’t, she was sitting on a stool in a big white tent.
  2. The unnecessary ‘So’ at the start of sentences: “What do you do Peter?” – “So, I work in marketing”

So, that’s me finished for now. I’m so tired I’m literally dead on my feet.

Turbo, turbo, run (and a politics-free zone, no soapbox)

With continued sad news on the global scale, it’s so far so good here although the chickens are a bit sniffy – it seems I was not sympathetic enough when they went through the avian flu outbreak.

Of course, people are not all behaving perfectly – we are told not to drive to our exercise and on Sunday I ran past two chaps getting their bikes out of a car parked in the village – but, in general, it’s not too bad here in rural Oxfordshire.

Goodness knows what comes next – more draconian restrictions on getting out, limits to the time/distance for exercise, total curfews? Let’s hope people are sensible as that’s probably the only thing which will remove the need for ‘lockdown plus’.

The supermarkets are getting back to almost normal as the panic buying slows – helped by more controls being exerted by the shops over the number of people allowed in at any time and restrictions on the number of some items that can be bought. Still shortages of sanitiser, pasta, eggs, bleach, flour and the like – but certainly bearable and the fresh fruit and vegetables are still there.

The organisers of July’s ultra have broken cover and come up with a masterly ‘highly likely to be postponed to either later in the year or into 2021’. I’m carrying on at exercise tick over – I haven’t even looked at the training plan I downloaded all those weeks ago. I assume that for now it’s keep fit (anti-virus training) and be ready to ramp it up as necessary once I know if/when the ultra is going to happen.

I used the turbo on Monday and Tuesday and ran with my wife on Wednesday (her fastest run for nearly 2 years – perhaps I’m improving as a personal trainer). I’m carrying on with the planks and also trying to get back to simple exercise regimes with press-ups, sit-ups etc.

I’m still missing sport – I haven’t yet resorted to following the Belarusian Premier League which, I believe, is the only professional football league in Europe that is continuing to play at the moment. Do they know something we don’t or is that just madness?

For no good reason other than I think I should, I’m reaffirming my commitment to this blog being non-political (party, national or international).

It comes to mind because a really nice blog I followed recently got into a bit of ‘Brit bashing’ in the comments section. Of course, we Brits (and many others) deserve a regular bashing for all sorts of things – but against that background I was really saddened by references to our virus situation. No doubt I’m being over-sensitive but it made me realise how careful I must be.

Chances are that, ironically, we are all going to get both hyper-sensitive and de-sensitised over the next few weeks.

I’m sure many people have some particular country or countries that they resent or distrust for a whole host of reasons. Let’s not forget that all countries are made up of people and the people need nothing but our best wishes.

Personally, I wish every nation a speedy return to normal (or, preferably, something much better than normal). From my point of view, that’s the most important thing and transcends politics and history, on all levels.

If I want to change any of that perhaps I’ll create the OMOS blog (Old Man On Soapbox).

What a sensitive fool I am becoming in my old age.

Turbo, run, and blowing in the wind

After running and using the turbo trainer on Thursday I gave myself a day off on Friday. I was tired and not motivated but we went for a long walk and spotted 7 deer in one of the nearby fields which was good.

On Thursday the UK had its highest day of Coronavirus deaths – 181 – taking our cumulative total to 759. It’s entirely natural to focus on your own country’s experience but, although it doesn’t alter the tragedies behind all of the UK deaths, it was sobering to realise that the cumulative total we reached on Thursday was less than the deaths in Spain on that day alone.

So sad for Spain – and very worrying if it is true that we are tracking their experience, but two weeks behind. Let’s hope that our trajectory is helped by recent measures and that Spain (and Italy which is suffering even more) can soon see signs of getting through the worst.

Still feeling rather helpless but we are part of our village’s response and have been appointed as buddies to some of our neighbours – and we have both signed up to the national voluntary service to support the NHS and vulnerable members of society.

I used my Saturday’s one-a-day outside exercise pass to deliver cards for the village buddy scheme so I did 45 minutes on the turbo later and I ran on Sunday – a ridiculously hard 13.75km (8.5miles) in a cold 40mph northeasterly wind. If I thought all runs were going to be that tough that would probably have been my last.

A decent number of people out walking but very few cars which is a good sign.

Three runs (30km) and two turbo sessions (43.5km) for the week. More of a tick-over than anything but it’s fresh air and exercise.

Although it’s a trivial and (currently at least) futile exercise, I’ve been trying to think of appropriate challenges for when this is all over (or in the first significant lull). It’s good to try to focus on better times ahead and I’d like something to celebrate survival.

The hardest things are trying to work out what sort of shape I might be in at that time – and when ‘that time’ might be.

On the assumption that the ultra marathon is postponed, it might still be possible to do it later this year or in 2021. If it’s cancelled, I will try to get up on the Ridgeway and run some of the route solo. Logistics (and likely lack of fitness) would say it will be a rather shorter run but I’ll aim at a half marathon at least – or better still 25km, to do half of the real thing.

For 2021, if timings work out, I plan to do either

  • the Marmot (174km and 5,180 metres of climbing) including the cols Telegraph and Galibier, Glandon and finishing up Alpe d’Huez. or
  • the JPP sportive that finishes in Les Carroz. The eponymous ‘JPP’ is Jean-Pierre Papin, the former French footballer who won the Ballon d’Or in 1981. The longest route is 130km with over 3500m of clmbing. The fact that the start is about 8 miles, and the finish just a matter of a few hundred metres, from the apartment would be a bonus (as would the easier – but still not easy – course).

The Marmot is notoriously tough – I’ve done the Telegraph/Galibier double climb (excellent) and the Alpe (I was a bit underwhelmed – perhaps I was expecting too much) – but not together and not with something like Glandon. Our older son was in one of the bars in Carroz last year and got talking to a Brit who recommended the JPP sportive and it’s daft not to do one that is so local (and cheaper and with a free cycling shirt).

The other thing to try is a duathlon. I’ve done a short triathlon but my swimming holds me back from trying one in open water. I will see if I can improve my swimming so I can go for a ‘proper’ triathlon, but in the meantime a duathlon looks like fun.

Has it really been less than a week of lockdown?

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

14/3 22

21/3 44

28/3 113

Le Tour de France, sans spectateurs?

Yesterday I read that the authorities in France are thinking about allowing the Tour de France to take place as planned in June/July – without spectators. Hard to believe, but could it be possible?

With the Giro already postponed, it would be a great statement in the face of the Coronavirus.

Of course, the French would love it to happen. Although football might be the country’s favourite sport, I think the tour is its favourite event and is closer to the country’s heart than any other (despite their last winner being Hinault in 1985).

I’ve seen estimates of 12m people travelling to watch it and a tv audience of 3.5 billion worldwide.

I was lucky enough to ride the Etape in 2013 and I’ve watched the race live on many occasions (London, Yorkshire, Colombiere twice, Bourg d’Oisans, Ramaz twice, Le Bettex, Domancy, Araches, Sallanches twice, Annecy, etc).

I love it – but I’ve nearly always been in a big and enthusiastic crowd which adds to the excitement and atmosphere, would it be the same without that? Although the tour doesn’t go up Alpe D’Huez this year, imagine it with an empty Dutch Corner and without the tunnel of faces lining the big climbs.

More importantly, would it be practical for the race to be run without crowds? It must be a huge drain on police resources in a normal year (although I expect that any gendarme who can ride a motorbike would kill for the job) – could they ensure that about 3000km of open roads are clear of spectators?

I suppose that if there were a few scattered spectators for the early stages, it could be argued that it wasn’t a huge risk – but wouldn’t that mean there were going to be more spectators encouraged to try their luck as the race went on? Even if it could be policed, I rather think the police might have better things to do, even in June/July.

I suppose it all depends on the view taken as to the likely behaviour of the French public – would they follow or ignore any directives that the race was happening ‘behind closed doors’ (but without the doors).

The tour is a huge event, even without the spectators. About 200 riders, mechanics, chefs, medical and related staff, police, marshals, tv and press coverage, (perhaps not the caravan as that is more for the spectators) and an apparently ridiculous number of minor officials. How could it be safe for them? I’ve seen a report that says there are 4,500 people on the tour each day – without counting spectators.

I love the idea of a peloton riding with 2m social-distancing gaps.

The idea is at least free of one potential drawback – it won’t suffer from a lack of ticket sales (other than for a few viewing stands the start and finish, perhaps). It’s a wonderful circus but I guess it’s funded by sponsors, tv and host towns – not the spectators.

I was planning to get to some of the tour as part of my annual cycling trip out to the alps. It’s really hard to imagine this happening and watching on tv wouldn’t be the same – but I’d do it, willingly.

Run, run, turbo. Louder, louder, And we'll run for our lives

Still sharing space with some less hardy plants … but closer to getting them back out in the garden

I rarely feel sorry for politicians – but (like him or not) I’ll make an exception for Boris Johnson. December, elected; March, having to remove basic freedoms like never before in peacetime.

Poor soul, when he came to power Brexit looked like the UK’s biggest issue but just weeks later nobody mentions Brexit as everything is overshadowed by coronavirus.

We now join so many nations in a lockdown – for an initial three weeks we are required to stay at home and only leave for shopping for “basic necessities”, medical reasons, to provide care, or to help a vulnerable person and travelling to and from work, if it is “absolutely necessary”. Gatherings of more than two people (excluding those who live together) are banned. Parks have remained open but people are able to go out to exercise no more than once a day.

The aim is to protect the National Health Service as much as possible by slowing the growth in severe cases that otherwise will threaten to overwhelm it’s capacity to look after those in need of intensive care. All very grim, but necessary – and harsher could still be in the pipeline if people don’t take the current rules sufficiently seriously.

On Tuesday I made use of the ability to exercise and ran for 10.4km (nearly 6.5miles). In other circumstances, it would have looked like the sort of early spring day that gets you thinking that all is well with the world. It was pretty quiet out but the walkers, runners and dog walkers were all friendly and all happy to keep proper social distancing.

I enjoyed it – but it does feel even more irrelevant than it used to, with so many people facing such severe issues at the moment. For those of us without skills that would be really useful currently, perhaps our obligations are simply to help neighbours where possible, follow the rules and maintain what normality we can.

Now many people are ‘working’ from home and allowed only one exercise session a day, I wonder whether we might see people valuing the opportunity to get out more than they would previously (‘you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’), and starting a slightly healthier lifestyle? It would be a terrible irony if the pandemic had that sort of positive spin-off (sadly, a very small positive compared to such huge, and tragic, negatives).

Wednesday I worked to submit the application for probate on my father’s estate. He’d have hated the current situation – he’d have been 96 by now and confinement to the house would have been miserable for him (he was still driving himself to Rotary club and the church every week up to his final illness in December).

Thursday it was back to some sort of exercise as I ran with my wife in the morning, had a large bonfire in the afternoon and used the turbo trainer in the evening (the run having used my ‘one outdoor exercise a day’ allowance). 6.2km running and 45 minutes on the turbo for 21.57km (appropriately watching the game show ‘Pointless’).

With April’s sportive already gone, July’s ultra shaky to say the least, our walking trip to the Lake District in April looking doomed and my annual week’s cycling in the alps under severe threat, what sporting challenge is left for 2020?

After my ‘everesting’ in 2017, the solo ride out to the alps in 2018 and the marathon last year, 2020 is looking rather sad with April’s sportive already gone, July’s ultra shaky to say the least, our trip to walk in the Lake District looking doomed and my annual week’s cycling in the alps under severe threat.

On the assumption that there will at least be a lull in the crisis (and that I will still be fit and healthy by then) I’ve started to think what I might try to do later in the year by way of challenge and celebration of being able to take one on.

On a happier note to all the gloom around at the moment, the garden is full of birds from rooks, jackdaws and the regular woodpeckers (heard but not yet seen), down to the robins, innumerable LBJs* and – best of all – the wrens are back.

*’Little Brown Jobs’ (several species of small similar looking birds that a non-ornithologist like me cannot tell apart).

Run, run (and reflections)

Goodbye gym, it was fun while it lasted

I ran on Friday – not necessary as one of the challenges I set for this year has already gone by the wayside (and the other will), but I’m sure it’s going to be important to stay as fit and active as possible.

I did my usual 10.2km route (a little over 6.3 miles) at just under 6 minutes a km in cool and breezy conditions.

The fact that some old bloke in Oxfordshire, England went for a run has always been (rightly) irrelevant to the world at the best of times but I think I’m going to carry on doing it, and recording it, for the sake of a bit of normality (for me at least).

We had the weekend up in London checking the flat. We managed to meet one of our sons and I had a really good walk with him along the Thames Path – but we were very surprised at the number of people out and walked back by various back streets to practice better social distancing.

The number of people out helped me decide that I was not going to run the route on the Sunday – in fact, the social distancing advice became firmer overnight so we left the flat and came back to Oxfordshire. I did a run in the afternoon – the same 10+km as Friday but faster, to my surprise.

That made it one session on the turbo, one in the gym and three runs (for a total of just over 16 miles – 28km) in the week.

That was supposed to be the first of the 16 week training plan for the ultra in July. Oh well.

The gym is now shut too. Having been there on Thursday, it actually felt very safe – almost empty and very good for sprays and wipes for the machines. However, I appreciate that these things need to be bans for all or none – there isn’t any scope for arguing a case for an individual gym (!) so, sadly, it has gone for the time being.

If you like irony, on the day all the gyms were told to shut, I got a letter from mine telling me they were increasing the monthly fee.

One trivial thing is that I am reminded how much I love sport. I don’t see loads of it live on TV (I object to satellite stations pricing the terrestrial ones out of so many of the markets so won’t subscribe), but I have the BBC sports page open throughout the day and follow football, rugby and cricket (and many others) on the internet. Now the BBC sports page changes very little, and even then usually for updates that are gloomy, pointless or trivial (or all three). The fact that I miss it is a very small matter – but just one of the things that emphasises the absence of much normality.

Although I am not going to live in a hut in the woods and go off grid, all this makes me wonder whether society (western, first world, society at least) has got too complicated and wasteful (and perhaps indulgent). As a very simple example, I saw the CEO of a supermarket chain saying they had cut the number of product lines they carried to ensure good supplies of essentials. He said that they had carried 60 types of sausage.

Just for fun I also went on a well-known UK sports website. I tapped in ‘mens running shoes’ and it came up with just over 1,600 options (and that just includes model of shoe, nothing about different sizes).

At a supermarket this week, next to empty shelves where the pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, (yes, and toilet rolls) should have been, they had fresh pineapples. It struck me as a telling juxtaposition. I’m not anti-pineapple (I like them a lot) but I seem to remember the excitement, when I was a boy, when the shops got in the new seasonal fruit and vegetables. Now we are horrified if we don’t have kiwi fruit and bananas in December.

I don’t have a rose tinted view of the past and I’m not anti-progress either but we are very wasteful with the built-in obsolescence and non-repairability of much of what we buy and the ridiculous lack of any standardisation in so many areas – I wonder how many different types of car headlamp bulb there are.

I’m not linking the current circumstances to consumerism, or progress (or government covert science experimentation, or the roll out of 5G, etc) but perhaps we will start to value what we have, above what we want but don’t need?

Of course, I know it’s horribly complicated and our money helps the third world farmers, etc – I don’t have a solution and nor am I bright enough to understand the whole problem, I expect.

I will now shut my laptop, put my mobile phone in my pocket and drive my car to the supermarket to get some floor cleaner. I fear I’m a hypocrite – but perhaps I might not be beyond making some modest, sensible, changes.