Monday, 11 December 2017

Running every day

I have decided to take up the challenge of running every day in December.  This builds on previous years when I have decided to do something like this during just the Christmas and New Year break.  Each time I have done something like this I have found it to be very rewarding and satisfying.

So, how's it going so far?

Mostly okay is the easy answer.  Last weekend I was at Weston-Super-Mare visiting my Mother who lives very near the sea front.  Naturally I had to have a little run each day, before breakfast, to blow the cobwebs out and ensure the day's run has been done.  I always love running along the seafront at Weston, as do quite a few other runners.

Back at work on Monday and therefore the best option was to drive home and then run before eating in the evening.  As we have been out to friends for two evenings this week, a couple of runs were short and just around the neighbourhood.  Other runs have been for three miles and along the bus way in the dark.

Once my head torch stopped working (flat battery) and running through a particularly dark and shady lane was a bit nerve wracking.  On Friday evening Hannah came with me, always an amusing if unpredictable experience.  This was pretty straight forward, thankfully.

While I was dressed as I would for freezing conditions (Craft thermal top, light windproof running jacket, gloves, hat and running tights), Hannah went out as is it was sunny day.  Sports bra (apparently) and a short sleeve technical tee shirt.  I asked her if she was cold and she said she was fine.  Flippin' 'eck I'd be frozen stiff like that!

So the last week saw me run 20 miles, which was fine.  For shorter runs, these seems to be a little easier in terms of being less stiff as I start out.  Week one has been okay.  Yesterday and today the weather has brought a cold snap with some snow.....

So off I go for today's snowy run!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Latest canal run

Yesterday was my latest canal run and although it was hard, I loved it.  Here's the run in numbers:

Miles 8.9
Average pace 9.08/mile
Time 1:21
Calories 1246
Temperature +1
Photo stops 1
Poo stops 1
Cyclists 0
Other runners 8

Grand Union canal, near Three Locks
I've done this run many times before and it's always delightful; always delightful seeing the seasons change and experiencing the run in different weather conditions.  I have experienced fog, drizzle, rain, blistering heat and, you name it, it's been there on a Saturday morning while I've plodded my way along the tow path.  I went from my daughter's kayaking club in Linslade, near Leighton Buzzard up to the Three Locks and back.  It's all flat and very easy going.

As there was a thin layer of ice, the kayakers decided to have a gym session instead of going on the water.  Apparently it only takes a little ice to cause a lot of damage to to the kayaks, plus I think falling in would be traumatic for anyone.

There weren't any boats moving on the water, hardly surprising although sometimes I have seen narrow boats pushing their way through a bit of ice.  Instead there were a number moored up and plenty of woodsmoke drifting around - making for a nice atmospheric scene.

I might look all happy in this shot, actually I was putting on a brave face.  I was finding the run really hard going.  I was fatigued, my legs seems heavy at mile 4 and I was not running at my best.  Mostly I was lovely and warm but, despite wearing gloves, my fingers were cold almost all the run.  I even got over taken by a younger couple which I consoled myself about.  They looked 20 years younger than me, so that made it okay.

Although my pace was 9:08 per mile, I have run this route much quicker before.  I am sure the high creatinine which my kidneys are spewing out has something to do with it,  I might be running slower these days but i'm not stopping!

Once I'd got back to the clubhouse the gym session was still in full swing.  They had been doing all kinds of things to have a full work out, going from tip to toe.  That's the thing about about kayakers, they need all their muscles working from their toes, legs, waist, core and so on.  When I got there the coach was asking different members, one by one, what the group should be doing next.

Some of the exercises included weights, stretching and I think a bit of pilates thrown in.  All good stuff, especially as I could have a cup of tea and an egg roll to warm me up!

From there Hannah drove me home, complete with L plates.  This was followed by a red hot shower, more lashings of hot tea and a good rest.  I certainly needed that rest and felt quite achey for the rest of the day.  This is partly due, I reckon, to this creatinine business but also through running every day - look out for my next blog post on Running Every Day in December.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Favourite run getting harder

This is my favourite run which I had been planning to run at night time with my friend Jon, who unfortunately has gone down with the dreaded flu and consequently whipped out.  I decided to still go ahead with the run, albeit in daylight.

I have run this route many times, or variations of it. Add all the variations of the basic route and I have run it hundreds of times.  I know it well and yet every time it is a little different; the seasons, the weather and how I'm running.

So on Monday morning, just a few days ago I decided to run it alone.  A nice way of starting my week's annual leave at an otherwise drab time of year.

After a mile of running along the A5 through a particularly drab Dunstable, I headed up Beech Road and into the countryside; this being the first proper hill.  As Beech Road and the subsequent hill is about a mile from home, at this stage I am not warmed up or running at my best.  Nevertheless I confess I had to stop at the top for a breather.  It is a short, sharp hill which has always tested me and I've certainly enjoyed running up it (especially when I overtake cyclists!).

Hollicks Lane is the next hill and probably the steepest in Bedfordshire at about 1:4 (or 25% in new money).  Again it's short and steep.  Again I had to stop and catch my breath at the top which is not good news at all. There were some builders doing some work on a driveway there and they were surprised to see someone actually running up the hill which made me smile.

The route then turns right and is flat, running through the outskirts of Kensworth to Land Park Lane which I think has now been de-listed as a road.  It is gradually returning to nature and this is where the nicest part of the run starts.  I absolutely love running through the woods and eventually out onto Dunstable Downs - this is always the highlight and my pace often quickens across the Downs footpath before dropping back down into Dunstable and plodding home.

The run's main features were:

  • Hard going, especially up the hills
  • Quite a lot slower than years gone by.  My average pace was 9:26/mile. My fastest pace for this exact route was 8:35/mile and that was in 2015.
  • Muddy in the woods.  But then I quite like getting splattered with muddy water.  As for my running shoes, well they look well-used nowadays.  Even my feet were muddy when I took my socks off!
  • Missed running with Jon 
  • Uplifting, making me more thoughtful for the day
  • Gave me a nice gentle runner's high buzz for several hours after.  Not blowing my brains out this time but a nice feeling nevertheless

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Another health update – confusion!

The mysterious Serum creatinine levels

When I was in the process of getting my blood pressure under control, my Doctor told me that he was puzzled as to why I had hypertension.  After all I was doing everything right – good weight, exercise, tee total, haven’t smoked for decades, caffeine free and a vegetarian.  He ran a series of blood tests and found my serum creatinine levels were high.  The test was repeated to ensure it wasn’t an error from the lab and sure enough the readings were correct.
I have since had the tests done again along with my urea levels.  Fortunately for me, I have had a regular check up over the years and so the trend can be seen and you can spot where things went a little wayward:

Date – Creatinine mol/L – Urea mol/L

2004 – 75 – 3.1
2006 – 73 – 2.4
2010 – 79 – 2.3
2014 – 56 – x
2015 – 64 – x
2017 March – 163 and 154
2017 May 159
2017 – November – 200
My Doctor had said my pre-2017 readings were all good, showing my kidneys were working well as they should.  In fact my readings were towards the bottom of the range, even better.  He also said how being a vegetarian is beneficial on the kidneys as they don’t have to work so hard in dealing with the meat-based protein.  Those are the good bits.  He is puzzled at the rise this year asking me if something happened in my life?  Well, that’s hard to answer really.  My Dad died, I changed jobs and Brexit started; surely that can’t be linked?  What about stress?  Maybe but I’ve had this before.
So with the latest tests where my creatinine was 200, I only know the result as I phoned the Doctor’s surgery and was told the Doctor wants to see me as soon as possible.  That ‘as soon as possible’ will be 19 December according to the receptionist.  So much for ‘as soon as possible’ as that’s almost three weeks away.  I pressed the receptionist for any further comment from the Doctor.  She said the only note was the creatinine was abnormally high and the urea was high as expected.
I am none-the-wiser now.  Contrary to my previous liking for grabbing the last appointment of the day and enjoying a chatty consultation, the last time I did this he was running late and no time for chatting (grrrr).  He did say something about referring me to a specialist but I’m not sure about this (when, who, why etc).
By way of answering my questions, he suggested I “Google it” as there was so much on the web for patients nowadays.  Trouble is, I’m not sure I’m starting in the right place and this is where some denial might be creeping in.  This creatinine business points towards kidney disease (ugh) and then when I read some of the other symptoms I wonder if I should start to be worried or not.  The symptoms I experience daily are fatigue, tiredness and muscle cramps, possibly reduced urine.  Other symptoms I’m not getting at all are itchy skin or swollen feet and ankles.
So what’s going on??????

Blood pressure

Not much to report here, everything has settled down with the aid of the medication.  My typical readings are 120/80 which I understand is fine.  On rare occasions it might reach 130/90.  Other times, particularly within a few hours of returning from a run or a workout my blood pressure can go down to 100/70.  My pulse is normally about 60bpm.


After blogging about the dramatic improvement in my eyesight earlier this year, this has mostly held up alright.  Only recently have I noticed a deterioration but I’m not too worried about this as I know the medication is so effective and I can use this again.

All this raises bigger questions….

….such as the merits of giving up work in the foreseeable future.  Don’t know, just don’t know.  I like to work and it feels right.  Our financial plans are based around a few more years of work before I draw my pension and so on.  Or is it really worth slogging away in a stressful job in the longer term?

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The perils of treadmill running

I quite like treadmill running, it has its place in my keep-fit routine and more recently I have experimented with some of the programmes on offer.  This is where the perils of treadmill running come into play.

You see, at the leisure centre the Technogym treadmills allow you to do a number of things:
  • free running, where you control the speed, gradient and time
  • use a pre-programmed work out
  • re-run something which the treadmill has picked up from your Strava feed.  This is particularly neat as it shows the map and where you are.  The treadmill then adjusts the speed to match the real life run. At first it seemed a bit surreal. It doesn't do anything to the gradient, which is just as well as I can't imagine running down hill on a treadmill!
  • favourite treadmill runs can also be saved and re-run again and again
There are many advantages to treadmill running and I have blogged about this before.  

However, there is one main disadvantage as I discovered last week.....

There I was, happily running a favourite run lasting only 15 minutes.  It is set to have a warm-up of 5 minutes at 6.5mph, then the speed gradually increases to reach a very brisk pace just before the end and the cool down period.  One of the increases in speed is a bit drastic.  This is fine providing you are looking at the screen and see it change.  I happened to be "somewhere else" in my thoughts when the speed suddenly increased and I almost went flying off the treadmill - it was only the hand rails at the side which saved me!

This was not a cool thing to do.  My sudden movement as I desperately grabbed the side rail caught the eye of other gym users.  Some looked concerned: is he alright, did he trip or something?  Is he having a heart attack? Was he going too fast and couldn't handle it? Is he a complete idiot? Others must have thought I was a newbie and not up to running on a treadmill.  Others just rolled their eyes.

So there you go.  Treadmill running does have it's real advantages but also some perils can lurk there.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Update on running and cycling

I thought it timely be useful to write a little update on running and cycling these days. Here goes...


Right now my cycling tends to be mostly short local commutes and I'm quite enjoying this.  Normally I go to a Council place in Houghton Regis once a week and from time to time I drop in for a meeting or hot design at the Council offices in Dunstable.  Journeys are just as fast by bicycle, even though I'm hardly a speed merchant these days.

I like the independence cycling brings; going from A to B under your own steam without the fuss of running a car.  Besides, I do admit to feeling a tad smug as I get places quicker by bike.  I also enjoy some traffic free routes which is pleasant and this brings added enjoyment.  Mind you, interacting with other road users can be increasingly problematic and I'll give you some examples:

Being invisible on traffic calming road humps.  These seem to be popping up everywhere in the 20mph residential areas and often narrowed, so only one car can drive over the hump at any one time.  Even when I have priority many car drivers tend to "chance it" with me and assume I'll move out of their way, even though they're in the wrong.  Whenever this happens I hold my ground and ride straight at them.  They know they haven't got a leg to stand on and simply have to stop, looking embarrassed (this should teach them a useful lesson). I don't wish to antagonise motorists but I'm certainly not going to give way if I'm in the right.  Motorists need to learn and take note!

Packs of school boys on their 29ers.  While it's great to see groups of lads cycling to school, they are a bit uncontrolled at times.  They'll ride all over the road, often pulling wheelies and wobbling about.  I tend to give them a wide birth.

Laid back and lowered blokes. These are those increasingly common young men driving around in cars with lowered suspension, often with silly lights and dark windows.  To complete the laid back look their seat backs are almost flat and they can barely see out of the windows; in fact they look like 12 year olds trying to grow beards.  While the laid back and lowered blokes are doing their best to look cool in their uncool cars, I think they miss seeing me at various junctions.  When they do see me, they often look so annoyed their fancy cars are moving so slower than yours truly simply freewheeling past them.  I love this!


I sometimes think I run more miles than I cycle these days, especially if I include treadmill miles.  Nevertheless running still brings more bangs for my bucks and I try to have a run four times a week.
Since the clocks changed back to GMT a couple of weeks ago, I have been running a few times at night.  I quite like doing this as it's something a little different and touches on my senses in a different way.  As I ran out into the countryside afterwork one day with a head torch, I was struck by how much I could smell, much more than normal - onions, damp soil, wood and so on, making it quite special.

It's a strange sensation when you come to run (or cycle) down hill and you haven't seen the change in gradient.  You simply find yourself going faster and faster without anymore effort.
Running at night isn't all plain sailing.  I have to be so careful I don't trip up and fall.  My eyesight isn't brilliant and it's easy to miss seeing the odd stone or tree root and the last thing I want is a twisted ankle or a broken arm away from help.  It is also quite hard to see the natural path to follow with so many falling leaves covering the track.

I am hoping to have a night run during the coming week with my good friend (and financial advisor) John.  Hopefully we will head over my favourite 7 mile hilly route over Dunstable Downs.  While I have run this many times before, perhaps 100s of times, I have never run it at night.  This is the kind of course which does take you off road for a couple of miles and you need company.  So I'm really looking forward to this as I've enjoyed so many night cycle rides over the years and a decent run has the makings of something very special.

I do like Strava; it brings an extra layer of interest to running and cycling.  It can be very satisfying and yet also a bit dispiriting.  Let me explain.  Two years ago I last ran a marathon and my pace was about 8:30mins/mile and I was quite pleased with that.  Nowadays my pace on much shorter runs is typically 9:15mins/mile.  It is depressingly true the blood pressure tablets I take to bring on tiredness and this might account for some of my slower times, together with being two years older.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Very dark and very, very scary

The Central Bedfordshire Council office where I work is, unusually, in the countryside and so any winter runs after work will be in the dark.  I've done a few night time runs by running down into Shefford, a nearby town or simply going to the gym and pounding the treadmill.

And so a few days ago I decided to dust off my head torch and have a run in the dark.  It was very dark and ver, very scary at times.  As I was running through the nearby Campton Plantation I was paying attention to any tree roots or anything else which could trip me up.  My running form seemed a little different in almost running on tip toes and as light as I could to avoid tripping up.  With so many leaves falling and a mediocre head torch it was at times hard to see where the path was.

I ran through the woods and out on to the other side to pick up a footpath and follows the perimeter of the Chicksands military base.  I have run this route many times before and it's about 3 miles in total.  Three miles, by the way, is about the minimum distance worth running in my book.

The run around the edge of the base was fairly uneventful.  No squaddies saying "Evening Sa!" or off road cyclists or other runners.  I did wonder where I would attract any attention from the base's security staff who might be interested in this little light bobbing around in the countryside.  Thankfully no interest at all.  In fact I have no idea who they are (Army, Airforce etc) or what goes on in there. Sometimes when I drive into the Council's offices by the base's back entrance, there are armed soldiers around which can be unsettling.

What surprised me was how my senses just switched over to being more aware of the smells of the countryside.  I could smell an onion crop while running a path along the edge of a field which then added into the smell of damp soil.  Coming back through the woods brought a wealth of other smells from the trees, especially from the occasional pine tree.

At one point I glanced to my left and had quite a fright!  It was the sculpture of a monk-like figure you can see in the above photo.  I've passed this many times, along with the other sculptures dotted around the woods and yet I was still spooked by it.   It seemed to be in the wrong place, or more correctly, I wasn't where I thought I was! 

So like every other run, it was worthwhile and I never regret going for a run no matter how tough going it is or however horrible the weather is.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

New infographic - metabolism

It has been a while since I have had an involvement in the development of an infographic and I was intrigued and pleased to contribute to the infographic you see below from those nice folk at Elysium Health in New York.  

The graphic was all about health tips.  Now anyone who knows me will expect me to come up with a lot and be able to happily talk about keeping in good shape for hours, so there was no shortage of health tips from my end.  

You can see below I have mentioned post-workout nutrition. This is important and something I take care to do myself.  Even after yesterday's hilly run (7.5 miles) I made sure I had a glass of cherry juice as I went to have a shower.  So there, I do practice what I preach!  I can't resist pointing out that having something nutritious after a workout, or a run, is helpful if it is rich in antioxidants which help mop-up free radicals which can go on to cause cellular damage later on.  

Speaking of cellular damage, the graphic helpfully explores some of the science behind the metabolism; an integral process within our cells.  Elysium even provides some of their own tips for maintaining good metabolic health.  Having knowledge on these things is powerful and it is always fascinating to learn more about how our bodies work.  This page on NAD+ and cell metabolism is a good place to start.

Take a look below, does it make sense, you see what they're driving at?  Check out the other contributors as well - already I have seen the blog of Michelle Maclean which looks interesting and I think I'll be visiting again.

Monday, 5 June 2017

A nostalgic run

A few days ago we had the Spring Bank holiday and, to cut a long story short, I decided I would run an old route.  I drove over there and parked my car at Preston, a pretty village on the top of a hill.

This run involved Charlton Hill Road, just outside Hitchin, Hertfordshire.  Normally I would run in an anticlockwise direction having started at Preston and this means the first couple of miles is mostly down hill as far as Gosmore.  It's then fairly flat until you turn onto Charlton Road.  This was fine as I need to take at least 20 minutes to get warmed up these days, possibly more.

I was on the road for the entire run of about six miles.  Traffic wise it was extremely quiet with only one or two cars, two motorbikes, two cyclists and one other runner.

Running along Charlton Road you're aware of the gentle gradient until you get to a wooded area where it then starts to climb (at the point of my above selfie).

I remembered how I used to do this run while I worked in Stevenage.  It involved changing into my running gear before I left work and then driving there.  This run was a wonderful way of blowing off some steam as I de-stressed and mentally relaxed myself.  It generally worked well.

It is quite a hilly run with Charlton Hill being THE climb.  At its steepest I think this is about 1:4 and this occurs when you're three quarters of the way around and probably the part nearest to West Wood in the above map.  This climb is always very testing and generally enjoyable.

Having run this a number of times I think it's good to have a little energy still in the tank for a sprint once the road starts to level out - this will enable a runner to get a good Strava time on the segment which is there.  My personal best for the "Charlton Hill Steep Bit" is 2:31 which puts me at 41 out of 262 runners.  Not bad but I can't match that right now.

The difference in performance was absolutely amazing, I was astonished.  On this run my average time per mile was a rather slow 8:50mins/mile.  My fastest time on this route, in October 2015, was a mere 6:52mins/mile - almost two minutes faster for each mile!  I toyed with some of the possible different factors.  These could include obviously being a little older, perhaps a little heavier and the effects of having high blood pressure these days.

I could easily depress myself by dwelling on this too much; it had to happen sooner or later in terms of slowing down.  Having said that I always think that the best is yet to come (as I'm a born optimist!).

By the time I was nearing the end of the run, the rain started and I thought this was utterly wonderful.   I was quite hot and the rain was wonderfully refreshing.  I spotted a friendly-looking cyclist and I held out my arms with the palms of my hands facing upward as I grinned.  He shouted back "I know exactly what you mean, it's lovely!".  Enough said.

Finally, here's a shot taken a couple of years ago with the Charlton Hill climb in the background.