Wednesday, 16 May 2018

I have another blog

I have another blog which is at:

http://maturingwell.co.uk/index.php/blog/

Rest assured I’m not abandoning this blog at all, I have just taken a little break as you can read all about on the new site.  In fact I think I might paste a few posts to here over the coming days so you can still see what’s going on.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Overcoming Gym Intimidation

Here in the UK and undoubtedly many other places, there's a lot of people trying out their new gym or fitness club membership.  While this a hugely positive thing to do, there can be a few challenges if you don't join the right gym or have the right mindset.

With a few tips, those early concerns should melt away and before you know it, you'll be seeing great results and be a seasoned gym client.

I'm including a couple of things here.  Firstly a few tips from an old blog post which still hold true followed by a really helpful Infographic I came across from Aaptiv which captures the issue well.

  1. Ask if a personal trainer can set you a training programme to help you achieve your goals.  If you can get this as part of the deal, this is valuable.  Some personal trainers are real experts and know the answer to any query or question, plus they can help keep you motivated.  They can also show you how to use the various machines and suggest what would be the right speeds, weights, repetitions etc for you.
  2. When you start, make a note of your measurements and weight, so you can see how you improve over time!
  3. Make a commitment to yourself about how often you will go and then stick to it.  How often depends on your circumstances but I'd suggest 3 work outs a week is a good start.  They key is to stick with it.  Afterall, diets only work if people have the discipline to stick with them!  Be realistic as well: going to the gym for 3 hours a week may not make a huge difference on it's own.  Try to make other changes in your life that will bring some fitness benefits (walk, cycle more, take the stairs instead of the office lift, consider what you're eating).
  4. Always "warm up" when you arrive at the gym.  A cross trainer is ideal for this and give yourself 5 minutes on it.  This gets the blood pumping around your body and warms your muscles.  One of the most vital reasons is a way of preventing injuries to your muscles during your work-out - cold muscles, tendons or ligaments being stretched or strained can become torn and set you back for a while.  Likewise, if you have had a strenuous work-out where you have been sweating and pushing yourself hard - finish with another 5 minutes on the cross trainer to gently ease back down.  This is called "cool down" and your heart will benefit and also your muscles as you move that lactic acid on - it is not about burning more calories.
  5. Does it hurt? Some people say "no pain, no gain" or some tee shirts say "pain is your weakness coming out".  Don't be fooled.  If you're doing something which hurts you, especially if it is a sharp sudden pain, back off because you're probably going to cause yourself an injury.  Chest pains might be something more serious!
  6. Talking to your Doctor might be a good idea, especially if you have any medical issues.  Chances are your Doctor will be supportive of you taking more exercise but s/he might have some specific advice for you.  Please note I'm not a Doctor myself, you need to make that decision for yourself.
  7. Clothing. Although a personal choice, I think many people get it wrong.  Don't worry about the latest fashion as this could be unnecessarily expensive and useless.  Synthetic, moisture wicking materials are best and they work well if they are in contact with your skin.  Cotton tee shirts or cotton track suit bottoms simply absorb sweat, smell and appear unsightly; plus you are more likely to over-heat if you're working hard.  It's up to you whether you wear shorts or full length pants, long or short sleeves.  Women might find a sports bra is helpful but that's not something I have any experience of!
  8. Be mindful of hygiene and don't be afraid to point out short comings to the staff.  Remember that as other people might drip their sweat and splutter all over the equipment, you will be doing the same also.  So, take a small towel with you so you can wipe things over ready for the next person.
  9. Don't use your mobile phone anywhere in the gym.   You might get people worried you're filming them - once I got a bit concerned while I was stark naked getting dressed in the changing room and I realised someone was pointing a phone at me.  I reported it and you should do the same.  
  10. Enjoy the gym as it could be one of the best things you can do in life.  Remember you don't always need a gym or a fitness club to get yourself into shape but it can really help.
And here is the helpful Aaptiv Infographic which I mentioned:


I hope this is helpful, please feel welcome to leave a comment or suggestions that might be helpful to other readers.

Related:

Saturday, 13 January 2018

First run of 2018

My first run of 2018 in numbers:

Distance - 3.1miles
Pace - 8:46mins/mile
Calories - 445
Other runners - 3
Creaky ankles - 2

With all of my daily running in December, I thought I would have a little rest at the start of January.  Besides, life has not been too amenable to running.  Crap weather, cold, dark, work pressures and so on.

So with today's run in mind, I did feel strangely apprehensive.  Has my fitness gone?  Will I be able to run?  Will I ache afterwards?

The run itself was fine.  I tried to set off nice and slowly and before long got into a normal running pace.  It certainly didn't feel fast at all.  I was encouraged through seeing a few other runners who were spontaneous in giving me a nice smile. That was nice, thank you, perhaps 2018 will see some kind of camaraderie emerging on the Busway?

And afterwards?

Thoroughly enjoyed a red-hot shower once I'd come back.
My ankles ache a little now (I have put on 4lb in weight!).
Nice dose of the Runner's High afterwards - surprising for such a short run?
Spent some time stretching afterwards as I'm feeling very stiff and inflexible.
Got reminded of how lovely running really is.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Keeping up with old friends

Every year we always exchange Christmas cards complete with a few words of "hope you're keeping well, must catch up with each other soon" and then we seldom do.  Does this sound familiar?

Yesterday I looked up one of my friends, who fitted that situation perfectly.  It was definitely worth the drive and time to catch up with a long standing friend.  I reckon we have known each other for about 36 years.  Yes, THIRTY SIX YEARS!  That's over half my life.

It was nice talking about people we knew as college friends, wondering what had happened to them.  It is amazing to think how we have all gone off in different directions from those days when we were all full of ambition and optimism.  Most if us, myself included, were very idealistic in wanting to make our mark on the world, or even change the world in some small way.  Where are we now?  How many of us are on the same career pathway which we started in the early 1980s?  The answer to that is just a few, a very small minority.  I can't count myself amongst those, in fact I was one of the first to realise that career pathway wasn't for me and subsequently went off in a different direction.

I met my friend's mother, she's now 97 or 98 and still has her marbles in tact.  We shared a pot of tea, a pizza and a can of coke, just like the old days.  My friend still smokes a bit but was respectful in keeping a distance between us when he needed to have a puff.  He lives in the same house, he has the same bedroom and although the house has been renovated, it still has a good number of features which I remember from years back.  I remember staying there for a couple of nights when there was too much snow to hitchhike home, the low ceilings and all the china nick-nacks all around. There are some fir trees in the front garden; I remember when they were quite short as opposed to the lofty trees which they have grown into.  I remember his Mum's home cooking and being told I was too thin and needed plenty of Polish sausage meat to build me up.  I remember going there so often!

As I drove home, I reflected on our lives.  While we had much in common back in the 1980s, how much do we have in common nowadays?  Our lives have gone in different directions, our values, aspirations, our family life and almost everything else is very different.  We show the effects of ageing a few decades as well; the leanness of youth has almost gone, hair is thinning or going grey and our short term memory is shocking.

And yet there is still a bond of friendship that's still there.  Why?

There is something special about a long standing friendship.  My friend could remember some things which I had completely forgotten, places we'd been to, conversations we'd had and so on.  We have shared something of our lives with each other and known each other well in our early adult lives.

As the years have flowed by, I asked myself if we would be friends if we met nowadays?  Being brutally honest about this, the answer is probably negative.  No, we wouldn't strike up a friendship these days but that doesn't detract in any way from the friendship we already have.  Because we've been friends for such a long time and done all kinds of crazy things with each other, our friendship has stood the test of time.  And long may it continue!

Related: The importance of saying "thank you"




Sunday, 31 December 2017

My health during 2017

This year has been a little challenging health-wise and so I thought I'd record a few points, mostly for my own benefit as I enjoy looking back on posts a few years later.

Eyesight

Images of my retina and healing central serous retinopathy

I have been affected by a condition called Central Serous Retinopathy since 2004.  Straight lines appear wobbly and distorted.  This is caused by a tiny little leak in the retina which then no longer lies flat, hence the distorted vision.

A longer term effect is a dulling of the eye's vision, something to do with nutrients not getting through to the retina. So with my left eye, the world appears to be viewed by a mid grey lens with the very centre not being clearly defined.

A routine eye examination earlier this year at the opticians resulted in being referred to Moorfields Eye Hospital in Bedford.  To cut a long story short, I had some eye drops with the instruction to have four drops a day, instead of the normal three.  This led to a very quick improvement which was little short of being remarkable.  

The eye drops, however, are a short term fix and I probably need to start another course again soon. If squint at my screen through my left eye, I can't read a thing, even wearing glasses.  Aside from the definition being pretty hopeless, all lines are wavy - the text, the edge of the screen and the menu bars top and bottom.

At least I can still function as my right eye is pretty good.

Blood pressure

Very unexpectedly my blood pressure started to creep up in early 2017.  We have a monitor at home and from time to time I'd check my blood pressure and it has been fine over the months and years.  

However, from March 2017 it was rising further, sometimes 150/100 and so I went to the Doctor.  After various appointments I was prescribed a low dose tablet which didn't have enough effect.  The Doctor wasn't too concerned about that as it was easy to adjust the dose and get the pressure right.  The concern was about the effect of high blood pressure on my kidneys.

As I've had a general check up most years since 2004, the Doctor appreciated having an historical record of my creatinine readings.  Creatinine is some kind of protein which is filtered out by the kidneys.  The lower reading the better.  Apparently my readings from 2004 to 2015 were good and at the lower end of the scale, meaning my kidneys were working fine.  Being vegetarian is, or so I am told, kinder on the kidneys.

Date – Creatinine mol/L

2004 – 75
2006 – 73
2010 – 79
2014 – 56
2015 – 64
2017 March – 163 and 154
2017 May - 159
2017 November – 200
The latest is my Doctor is referring me to a consultant at the hospital to investigate the cause and decide what to do.  He is also concerned that the Lisinopril blood pressure medication is masking an even higher creatinine reading.  With this in mind I need to come off Lisinopril and have a further blood test two weeks later.  That is what I'm in the middle of right now. 
I mentioned to the Doctor that running and cycling is really hard work these days.  I explained, as an example, my 2015 marathon pace was quicker than my everyday runs in 2017.  He remarked on me being a couple of years older and that's bound to make a difference.  I responded by saying I don't believe it that completely accounts for my lack of performance.  He looked at his screen and checked all of the other blood tests I've had this year and said everything else was fine.  The creatinine (and urea) readings were the only abnormalities and this could not be explained by him or myself.  My kidneys, he said, would have to be in a far-worse condition before I was exhibiting the symptoms of failing kidneys.  In other words, failing kidneys only show their symptoms much later on.
Thankfully I have only rarely gone to the Doctor about anything beyond having a periodic check-up.  Before this blood pressure issue, I had had only one prescription in 25 years.  Consequently I don't know him and he doesn't know me.  Having said that there were a couple of times when I had a really good conversation with my Doctor, more than the usual quick chat and calling the next patient in as soon as possible.  We have talked about the benefits of juicing, eating raw foods and how exercise is vitally important from a physical and mental health perspective.  
I felt as if he was getting to know me, encouraging me to keep eating a good vegetarian diet, running and cycling.  He's explained in conversation how avoiding stress is important as it can diminish our immunity and that's not just for coughs and colds.  Some cancers and other serious illnesses can be triggered by stress.  

Being realistic

As I am almost 56 I suppose I shouldn't be surprised in having one or two health issues, although I'd prefer to have none.  Raised blood pressure and eyesight issues aren't too bad in the grand scheme of things. As I am naturally a "half full" and optimistic I would like to think there is a good solution to these issues, or perhaps there is a lesson for me to learn.  While it is true I am pretty healthy and fit, I am not immortal. I should be learning to be gracious about this, to accept it and be thankful for the good health I enjoy and the things I can do.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Comfyballs review

I got a pair of these Comfyballs pants from Wiggle just before Christmas.  I bought them almost on impulse as a 'make weight' on an order I had placed.  The motivation was the dissatisfaction of wearing ordinary underwear underneath running tights or Ron Hill's Tracksters.

The credentials looked good on the website with enticing text such as:

Comfyballs Performance Sports/High Intensity Boxer is the flagship of the Comfyballs range and the ultimate high-performance underwear.

Plus the reviews were good and included a few fell runners saying positive things, for example"

"Have really enjoyed using this product. It can be so difficult to find the right underwear as a runner, but these are about the best I have tried. Super-comfortable, zero-chafing and great support where it's needed the most! Have been wearing them under my running shorts for training runs and races on fells and trails for the last few months now. Very impressed!"

So with those recommendations how could I refuse?  Even the extremely steep £30 price tag seemed worth it for a great piece of kit, if only that were the case.  Sorry.  I am not impressed.

I have worn these once for running and continued to wear them for a few hours afterwards, under my jeans.  Sure there's a nice smooth fit and the seams are indeed unobtrusive.  And yet it is the "front package" I have the problem with.  You will need to excuse me for my language, I'll try to tone it down as I do like to be polite as I write.

The "front package" is, as the name suggests, for your balls.  I have always thought of myself as being pretty average in that department but it seems I might be wrong.  I consulted my wife who doesn't see what the problem is.  The front package is where your balls, your wedding tackle, manhood and so on is housed.  It is FAR TOO LOOSE!

You might think I bought the wrong size but I don't believe this is the case.  My waist is 32" and that is perfect for the medium size as it covers the 30-32" for 76-81cm waist size.

When I say FAR TOO LOOSE what I mean is my genitals were bouncing around, all free and easy while I was running, feeling nice and cool and unrestrained.  I wasn't used to that feeling and much prefer a slightly snugger fit, where everything is kept neatly in place.

So sorry, I don't like them and I'm sending them back.  In all seriousness Wiggle are always great when it comes to returning unwanted, wrong size items so I'm not anticipating any problems.

The question raised by this is, however, what is the ideal underwear for running.  In the slightly warmer months I wear running shorts with a mesh liner and my favourite ones are by Ron Hill and Salomon are also very good.  These are great, no need to have any other underwear but in these winter months I do need something else.  I like the idea of a bamboo fabric and I'm sure I have seen some at a show somewhere but I can't remember where or when.

If you have giant genitals and fancy investing £30, here's the link http://www.wiggle.co.uk/comfyballs-performance-sports-high-intensity/


Friday, 29 December 2017

Yesterday's reflective run

Luton Dunstable Busway, December 2017
Thoroughly enjoyed yesterday's reflective run, although no PBs were achieved. I hoped it would be one of those runs where there is space to think things through.  Certainly I anticipate this will be the first of a handful of runs where I look back on the year and where I find tremendous solace.

Before I get into reflecting on my thoughts, here's a little scene setting.  It was cold, below freezing and at dusk.  Thankfully the Busway was quiet, only one or two people around.  My pace was a gentle 9:30minutes/mile which is the norm for me nowadays. I ran a little over three miles and this is a typical run during this December.

I thought through some of the highs and lows of my job.  I'm just approaching the second anniversary of moving from my long standing career in Probation across to my local authority.   This second year has been harder than my first and, to be honest, it still feels like a pretty steep learning curve at times. The low point was hitting a particularly stressful patch in the spring time.

When I've been through stressful times in the past, there's always something positive that's come out of it.  Before it has been getting promoted, trading areas of responsibility and indeed making the decision to get fit all those years ago.  I asked myself what has been the positive outcome of this year's stressful episode.  The answer is not yet tangible but I think I know where it's going.  Thankfully we are positioned reasonably well financially and I would like to explore different ways of stepping back from work (easier said than done).  Unfortunately there's no immediate prospect of being made redundant which is rather ironic having dodged it a number of times and now it would be quite welcome!

I thought of my family and my Dad who passed away most unexpectedly on 31 December 2015 (just before I started my new job).  I still look back at that turbulent time, remembering it very well.  My daughters are growing into two young ladies, aged 17 and 19.  They're both very different from each other; one very academic and at university, the other is more practical and at college.  I love them so much.  I think of the challenges of the world they're growing into and the amazing opportunities that lie ahead for them.  I think of Rachel, my wife.  I am so thankful for her always being there, always so faithful and loyal.  Always willing to consider other ways of doing things and always so reassuring.  At times when I've been tempted to quit my job, she's always been there saying our health and well being over the decades ahead is more important than our bank balance and career status.  I am so blessed.

The year ahead

I am sure I'll come back to this in another run, another blog post.  For now I am, as always, optimistic about the year ahead.  None of us know what lies ahead and yet it is so compelling to see the weeks and months unfold.

Thoughts of what I could do as an alternative to my full time job flash across my mind from time to time.  We touch on this issue quite often at home and, for now, there's no clear answer.  Some ingredients are:

  • I like people
  • Like the idea of being self employed
  • I'm quite a good communicator 
  • I fancy doing something completely different
Slightly connected to all this is a blog I follow by Sam Murphy.  It's called The Crazy Thing and, in her own words "Life is a bit routine.  You sense there’s more out there – more to learn, attempt, explore and experience..... The urge to DO something. A Crazy Thing. What Crazy Thing? At first, you don’t know, but you start to talk about it. (All the time)".  Check it out.  At the very least it's an entertaining read.  It's nice to know others are out there with similar dilemmas.

Luton Dunstable Busway, December 2017



Thursday, 28 December 2017

Running every day in December - update

Taken last Saturday on a longer 7 mile run

I am quite enjoying this "running every day in December" lark although I must confess I have missed a couple of days, more about that in a minute.

Perhaps I mentioned before how I wanted to give myself a little target, something to aim for.  I wanted to do something that would keep me moving at the coldest and most drab time of the year.  In previous years I have run every day during my Christmas holiday, say from the 22nd December through to New Year's Day.   That's been okay but I've wanted to do something a little different.

It's flippin' cold!

The obstacle which I have faced is snow and ice.  Some days the roads and pavements have been like an ice rink and running would have almost guaranteed a fall together with a broken arm, wrist or worse. So because of the ice I have missed two days, perhaps three.  Other times I have managed only a tiny run, perhaps half a mile.  On those occasions it didn't seem worth getting changed into my running clothes, although I did of course put my running shoes on.  My daughters were quite amused by the thought of me running around the neighbourhood in my smart office clothes.

Many of my runs have seen me venture out onto the Busway, or to be more accurate, the gritty path which runs alongside the guided busway.  This is ideal in many ways - quiet, traffic free, flat, impossible to get lost and because of the gritty, rough surface it is good in these freezing conditions.

Most of the runs during December seem to have been in the evenings, with the cold and darkness being the main feature.  It has been the weather which, in some ways, has shaped each run and how I've felt about it afterwards.  In misty or low cloud conditions, it has been a little scary in the dark.  My head torch simply illuminates all of the tiny water droplets in front of my face and offers little help in seeing the ground or where I'm running, so it gets turned off.

Ghostly figures

Ghostly figures sometimes appear out of the mist, sometimes one or two at a time, dressed in dark featureless coats, faces hiding under hoods.  At first I try to determine if they are actually people, as opposed to tree trunks.  Are they moving?  Which way?  Towards me?  Who are they?  Are they up to no good?  Should I say anything as I run past them?

Other people sometimes wear reflective patches or stripes.  These can be spotted well in advance and are kind of reassuring as you can easily tell if it's someone walking or maybe cycling.  Surely if they're up to no good, they wouldn't be wearing reflective clothing, would they?

Having said that you see hardly anyone on the Busway after dark.  Occasionally I pass someone and glide past in silence.  On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day I found myself cheerfully saying "Merry Christmas!" as I ran past them.  Most responded in a similar way, some grunted and one or two remained silent.  One man started talking to me, not that I really heard much so I turned around, paced back a few yards and said "sorry I didn't catch that".

Although he was out walking, he said he was a runner himself and, fair play, he looked like a runner (probably more than me).  He commented on the Busway as being a brilliant place to run and why running was such a good thing to do.  For now, he explained, he was just getting a bit of fresh air and having a quiet break from the Christmas festivities.  He said he sometimes ran out around the Edlesborough area, which is certainly a good run from Dunstable.  We parted in a friendly way.

Getting lost in my thoughts

Some of the runs have seemed quite hard going.  Hard going in the physical sense when my legs feel heavy and I'm almost dragging my feet along.  Once it was raining hard, with the rain flying almost horizontally which was hard going on the homeward stretch.  On one level I didn't mind at all, remembering some previous runs when work has been troubling me a hard run has seemed such a good cure.  Almost a way of refusing to be beaten, not giving in and pressing on regardless.  One such run springs to mind (click here) when I worked in Stevenage a few years ago when I almost wished it was an even harder run.  I love it when I get lost in my thoughts, almost running on autopilot where the miles drift by almost unnoticed.

Running with my daughters

Myself and Becky
My two daughters are, at long lost, getting the running bug.  Hannah has been impressive by running almost every day and clocking up 30 miles a week lately.  A couple of times we have run with each other but she prefers to run in silence.  We don't talk, just run alongside each other.  Could be a profound father-daughter thing here.  Becky, at 19, is the older sister and has a different build.  She's light, nimble and very chatty.  Moreover she's quite caring when we run by pointing out frozen puddles and other possible hazards.  These are times to be savoured, full of precious, tender memories.

Just a few days left....

So now on 28 December, there are only a few runs left to do.  I am feeling positive about these through now being on holiday again (I had to work yesterday).  It means I have more choice about where and when I run, how far and so on.  Today's run will be at dusk, in about an hour's time.  Already the temperature is freezing or perhaps a little lower.  How far?  Where?  Where will my thoughts take me?

I happened to stumble across another runner's blog who has also been running through December: The Unfinished Sentence

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Yesterday's canal run

As my family are away for the weekend, yesterday's canal run had a few possibilities.  For one I decided to run a different part of the canal and secondly, there was no rush to meet Hannah at a set time.  I drove Marsworth on the Grand Union canal and ran south from there.  It was glorious. Here's the run in numbers:

Miles: 8.3
Pace: 9:17mins/mile
Pee/poo stops: 0
Friendly cyclists riding the towpath: 3
Friendly runners: 2 (one was super fit and over took me)
Indifferent runners: 1
Boats on the move: 3
Temperature when I set off: -3c


A few observations:
  • the canal was mostly frozen
  • the first boat through sounded and looked like it was nibbling its way through the ice
  • the ground was mostly frozen solid, with some stretches of frozen ice/snow which slowed me down a little
  • the boaters were mostly friendly, liked being photographed (below)
  • another elderly lady said "you be careful now, mind you don't slip" as she puffed on her cigarette, hacking and coughing
  • I loved it being cold once I had warmed up properly; in fact I was as "warm as toast" inside, almost over dressed
  • I felt in good shape for the rest of the day, not particularly achey or tired
  • because the scenery was new, perhaps less thinking time for myself.  I love seeing where my thoughts take me as I run on a kind of autopilot 
Here's some photos: