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.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The importance of saying "thank you"

This is my friend Geoff.  We have known each other since the last century when I lived in Hereford and I recently paid him, his wife Lorraine and his collection of bicycles, a visit.  I had wanted to do this for quite some time but it was hearing a radio programme which made me do it for sure.
The radio programme was Saturday Live and it's broadcast each Saturday morning on Radio 4 (and I do like Radio 4!) and presented by the smooth talking Rev Richard Coles and Aasmah Mir.  It is a kind of chatty magazine programme which includes a section where listeners can phone in to say "thank you" to someone.  Often these are people wanting to express their appreciation for something which happened many years ago.  As they say on Saturday Live "it's never too late to thank someone".
The "thank you" which caught my attention was someone calling to thank a Dr Ivor Chance (yes really, this was his name).  The woman calling in said that she was only alive through the work of Dr Chance.  Apparently her mother was in Uganda, pregnant with her and went into a difficult labour, fortunately she was able to find her way to a remote mission hospital where Dr Chance was able to deliver her.  The labour was very difficult and the mother lost a lot of blood, so Dr Chance donated some of his own and therefore saved the life of the mother and the newborn baby.  Rolling forward many decades, it was time to say "thank you" to Dr Chance for saving her life as a newborn baby and her mother.
The remarkable thing about the story was [the late] Dr Chance's daughter was listening to the radio programme and was stunned to hear of her father being talked about on the radio.  So she contacted the Saturday Live programme and explained, the following week, how much she had been moved by hearing the account of her father.  It had also spurred her on to make a point of saying "thank you" to a number of people in her own life who had made some kind of impact or long lasting impression through friendship.
So that's why I decided to thank my friend Geoff for his friendship over the years.
The bonus was also being able to have a poke around his garage at his collection of bicycles, many of which I could remember.  You see, Geoff, appreciates nice bicycles and cars (he has restored the old Ford Anglia in the above photograph to a high standard).
I love the Moultons he has.  There's a couple which date back to the 1960s and what I think of as being a modern contemporary version which actually dates back to the 1980s - this could be an AM7 or 9 - this is my favourite.  There's also some Curly Stay Hetchins, a curious Flying Gate which I hadn't seen before and apparently the first one made by the frame builder.  A nice Dawes Galaxy, a titanium Raleigh MTB and the list goes on.  All lovingly restored and cherished.
I love hearing all the anecdotes about each of these projects; the stories in acquiring the bicycles (and cars) followed by the research and steps taken to restore them.  Sometimes it's a case of restoring something to the original factory condition, other times it can be appropriate to update or improve the original specification.  Each time this is done, there's always quite a bit of thought taking place to ensure it would be honouring to the original design and concept.
So, old friends rightfully thanked for their friendship; to admire the handiwork, to be nostalgic and reflect on where we've been in life.  As the years tick by, it's good to reflect on the lives that have touched my life for the good - right from long standing friends to fleeting acquaintances - these are all cherished and valued.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Chatting to an elderly runner at Weston

Last weekend I visited my Mother in Weston-Super-Mare.  As she lives near the sea front I generally have a run along the promenade or perhaps the beach.  I have done this many times before and normally the other runners are friendly enough.

So on the Sunday morning run I ran past a runner who looked quite elderly.  He was about my height and a little slimmer, grey hair.  As I went passed him I noticed he was quite elderly.

I was thinking about him as I continued and couldn't help but wonder how old he was.  Perhaps in his 70s?  He certainly looked in pretty good shape and I couldn't get him out of my mind; curiosity about his age was bugging me.  So I simply decided to go back and ask him.

I turned around, took a few strides back and then ran alongside him.  We said "good morning" to each other and exchanged a little small talk.  Then I decided I had to ask, doing my best to ask in a pleasant friendly way.

"Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?"

He looked a little wary and so I quickly followed it up by asking "I was wondering how old you are, I hope you don't mind me asking".

He explained he was 81.  I said something about being seriously impressed with the hopes that I can still be running when I'm his age.

"Have you always been a runner?"

"No, not always.  In fact I've always been a cyclist until I had an accident a few years ago".

He went onto explain he's had an accident with a pedestrian stepping out in front of him in town.  He fell off his bike and shortly afterwards had a brain haemorrhage.  This caused his wife to say he shouldn't cycle anymore.  She was worried for him.

So instead he started walking around as a way of getting some exercise.  This wasn't enough so before long he started jogging and then running with regularity.  He certainly looked good.

I said "I hope I'm still running when I'm 81" and then I needed to peel off as I was nearly back to my Mother's road, just off the sea front.

Many times I've thought about him since.  I really did admire him as he was very unassuming, modest and in such good shape.  He was in exceptionally good condition and, to be honest, would put many a thirty year old to shame.  Certainly hope I remain in good shape for the next thirty years!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Checking your running shoes

If ever we need to be reminded on why its important to check your running shoes, this is it.

Recently on a run I could feel something unfordable with the heel in my left shoe.  At first I thought it was a small piece of grit that would come and go, I hadn't made the connection between the terrain and what I could feel.

As the thorn had pierced the sole of my running shoe in a recessed part, I could only feel it if I ran over rough ground where it would push against that part of the sole.  When I tried to find the grit, nothing was there, instead I was very surprised to find a thorn poking through into the inside and even more amazed at its size - and how tough it was!

So I really must resume the habit of checking over my shoes from time to time.  When I have done this in the past, I have spotted damage and areas where I need to keep an eye on.

Having said all that, this thorn was amazingly sharp and strong, quite difficult to extract and quite freaky.

Besides, I can feel a future post coming on - runners with piercings.

Check your running shoes
Are my running shoes worn out?
Two pairs of running shoes?

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Moulton at Waitrose, Ampthill

A Moulton bicycle at Waitrose, Ampthill

I spotted this Moulton bicycle outside Waitrose, Ampthill, Central Bedfordshire.  It caught my eye as I have arranged to visit my friend Geoff in Hereford next weekend and he knows a thing or two about these bikes.
For myself, I'm not too well informed about these bikes, although I think they have probably been underestimated over the years.
This particular Moulton seems quite an eclectic mixture.  The frame looks as if it could be from the original 1960s stable with its straight tubes and made in an uncomplicated way.  The suspension appears based around a piece rubber.  This might seem basic by today's standards but I reckon it was way ahead of its time.  The frame has almost certainly been resprayed.
The components appear to be more up to date.  The wheels look fairly fast with the radial spoking and slick tyres, although I'm not so sure about the hub gears and what could be in there.  Quite a few weight-saving aluminimum components are there also; the seat post, handlebar etc.
All in all, quite an interesting looking bike.  But who could ride it?  What kind of a cyclist could it belong to?  My guess, and I could be totally wrong is....
  • someone fairly tall
  • fairly affluent (parked outside Waitrose)
  • perhaps a London bound commuter (not sure about that!)
  • likes stylish things but probably driven by practicalities over appearance
  • has more than one bicycle
If you know about this bicycle, please put me straight!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

If I were Prime Minister for a day

We had a funny conversation while driving along. It was if I were Prime Minister for a day - what would I do.  I thought it could be fun to mention here.  Here goes.
Sugar tax
Yep, I'd bring this in properly and not just for fizzy drinks.  I'd include all kinds of chocolate, sweets and the like.  While I'm at it, I'd have a good look at McDonalds, KFC and so on.  Why?  Because KFC = Keep Fat & Chubby.  Feeding such crap to your kids could be described as child abuse.
The Government has previously missed a trick with not introducing minimum alcohol pricing, although perhaps Scotland might have had the foresight to do this.  Considering the immense harm to people's physical and mental health through excessive alcohol, there is a strong case for this.  Add the misery caused by drunk people getting into fights, domestic abuse and general rowdiness, I think a significant hike in price is valid.  Although I am loathed to agree very much with David Cameron, I think he was right in wanting to create a cafe culture to replace a pub culture.
You can probably predict what I'm going to say here.  Double the tax on cigarettes now.
Transforming Rehabilitation
I would order the Ministry of Justice to undo all of the harm Chris Graying has done to the justice system and probably sack him by the time I have my morning coffee break.  I think also I'd look to change sentencing policy so the prison population can come down and invest the money saved in rehabilitation.
While I'm at it, I would transfer much of Whitehall out into the regions i.e. moving the power from central London closer to where it is needed.  So sorry Sir Humphrey, your days are numbered.
Freedom of speech, political correctness
It saddens me when I hear of street preachers getting into trouble for preaching.  This has to change.
The unborn children
Far too many babies are aborted for very dubious reasons.  There is a fine line between medical need and murder.  Apparently in 2015 there were 185,000 abortions in England and Wales.  Something has to be done about it.
Range Rovers and other high performance cars
Sorry folks, your days are also numbered unless you're willing to pay through the nose for your gas guzzlers and status symbols.  While you're doing this everyone will think you have more money than sense. I think I'd do this through VAT in purchasing the car in the first place and then the annual road tax.  If it costs £500 a year to keep a Range Rover taxed, well I'd make it £5,000.  As for cars with blacked out windows, you have it coming as well.
Private education
As someone who has put his own children through a private school, you might be surprised to know I would charge VAT on the fees but introduce it over a period of years.
It will come as little surprise that I'd spend more money on making life easier for the cyclist who, in the UK, puts up with a lot.  Dreadful roads, poor junction layouts, potholes, few cycle lanes and the list goes on.