Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday morning weigh in

A long time ago I got into the habit of weighing myself on a Sunday morning just after getting out of bed. In some way perhaps it isn't the prime time of the week to do it, but it is nice and easy to remember and has proved fairly consistent (even with occasional Saturday meal out, barbecue, food festival or something similar). Even with the Sunday weigh-ins over time I've near enough plotted each time I've gotten on the scales, which lead to a fairly hectic weigh graph. My inner geek wouldn't let me not plot every bit of information. In the last week I adopted a slightly more reductive strategy.

So now I have a graph show my weight on the first Sunday of each month. Less data points, but perhaps a clearer idea of general trends. I've put this chart onto the Weight page (see link above).

The weigh in today? Ah, well it showed a continuation of a fairly settled period, a weight of 15st 1lb (211 lb). It has been hovering around 15st 2lb for the last three weeks. I am happy with the stability of late, though I can't deny I'd prefer a downward trend. I would like to lose some before the half-marathon, not just to improve my time but moreover to go a little easier on my joints!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Please wear your cycling / bike helmet!

My training week has been disrupted somewhat this week... it's a long story (I'll try to abridge a bit). On our way home from nursery on Wednesday evening we had to avoid 'lads' cycling all over the cycle path, one threw something at me, I reacted and in the process of braking violently the bike flipped over. My two year old daughter in her chair landed on her helmet, I crunched my left leg, we were both left stunned.

I was left feeling a pretty stupid daddy for how I reacted (I can never work out the various effects adrenaline has on me), and my daughter was left feeling bemused and in pain. We made it home and reported the 'lads' to the police for what good that will do (I had no description and little detail to offer). After making the call I was left wondering how to perhaps approach the local council about this kind of situation that often arises at that point of the cycle route.

Brilliantly just after the accident some kind people stopped to help us and offered my daughter some water once we'd eased her out of her seat having first checked her neck. In the end I was very, very grateful my daughter didn't end up hospital after our bike crash. She only suffered grazes and bruises, while her bike helmet was broken in three! All in all just bl**dy glad we had helmets on, ever since I've felt like tapping non wears on the shoulder and telling them our story.

Ironically this all came barely a week after I found this video online and posted it up on facebook for my friends to think about. Please view James' appeal if you have a moment, but most of all "Please wear your cycling / bike helmet!".

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The joys of stretch

You would probably not consider that stretching is all that important or even useful, there is certainly an on ongoing debate in certain quarters about the hows, whys and whens of it. I certainly didn't think of it all that highly, and being tall it always felt like painful origami (that really just looked funny and hurt a lot!). Perhaps it is the creeping passing of age, or just a straight-forward epiphany that has lead me to change my views a smidge...

"Stretching is good", there glad I got that out. Stretching sessions can improve balance, muscle tone, and posture, quite apart from easing aches or simply getting loose before a big effort. The challenge is to keep on remembering the benefits and keeping them going. Here I have struggled in the past, and I would imagine its a common phenomena. How many get injured, go to a physiotherapist, get loads of helpful exercises to do, and then to quit them as soon as the painful phase of the injury passes? Yes, I have been in that cohort. Find some good (hopefully useful) stretches and give them a go over a prolonged period.

I have in fact a set of base stretches that I do that I first started when I lost my big weight back in 2000-2001. They came from an exercise DVD that I used to do several times a week to try and help lose the weight. I remember little of the exercises or routines (and have managed to blank out the horrific Lycra images), but have it seems committed the five minute stretch pattern to a very long term part of my memory. What I am trying to do is build new stretches into this and keep them going over a similar period. So perhaps what I am trying to suggest just here is, if you're stuck for some good ones 'borrow' an aerobics DVD and memorise its stretch / warm-up as a way into a repeatable everyday session. You can give / put the DVD back afterwards and not tell another soul if you like... it has taken me nearly ten years to confess after all!

PS. no, I am not putting an image of me stretching in this post... you'll have to make do with the internet stock photo instead.

Training table - week beginning Mon 25th July

Slow start to the week now my long run has moved to Sundays, should pick up as the week goes on...

Thurs.2.5mi walk.....
Week beginning Mon 25th July.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Non-stop weekend

Between TV sports coverage and actual activity in our house it was a non-stop weekend indeed. Saturday for me was the more peaceful of the two days, though entertaining two youngsters makes the word peaceful not quite the right choice of word perhaps. Our house is in full half-marathon training mode, a long run of almost two hours for my wife on Saturday, and then on Sunday my turn. Interspersed with this endeavour was the German Grand Prix and the final two days of the 2011 edition of the Tour de France (the later admittedly my addiction not really anyone else's).

Sunday's 11mile run took place nice and early in the morning. This was great as I could wear my long sleeve compression vest for a change - it is far, far more comfortable than the cropped version on a long run (though both serve to prevent joggers nipple their main purpose). The run was built of an hour and a half easy, then 20mins at simulated half-marathon pace. The easy pace phase was well, ahem, relatively easy... though the 20mins faster was very hard. Going faster wasn't helped by course selection on my part, it took in a very sharp steep climb! Still the Garmin GPS gave great feedback about the consistency of the easy section so all was good. It took 1hr 54min, though ironically I seem to have avoided the usual post-run pains. 

Avoided the post run pains? Indeed, I have taken to cold showering my legs after a long session which helps a lot with the aches and stiffness. The other reason, two hours of gardening straight afterwards! I think the gardening could here be an example of 'active' recovery, which is suggested to ease the pains that otherwise creep up on you as you lie on the crouch thinking "that was a good run, now for my good rest!". Though I got my rest late in the day watching to see if Mark Cavendish would Manx Missile his way to the green jersey win on the Champs Elysees in the Tour de France climax. Happily he did, though the UK will undoubtedly carry on ignoring one of its most successful athletes of recent times.

All of my on the move activity meant that this weeks training table was pretty healthy. I ran over thirty miles in a week which I have never done before in my life. Albeit I ran further in seven days because I was moving my long run from Monday night to Sunday morning. Altogether a fabulous weekend.

PS. the Greyhound image is really just because I found it at and fancied using it somewhere ;-)  It is a fabulously composed image.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The running week

This week has seen the third week of really good solid running endeavour. It has been great, and I even have a feeling the addiction level is creeping up too. The increase in enjoyment probably because I am following a plan, getting out regularly, feeling benefits, and feeding the whole thing with bits of tech here and there (borrowing my wife's garmin GPS, writing about training on blogger, etc.).

The two runs this week started with a monster, 10.1 miles with a burst of 15 mins at quicker pace inserted part way round. I took the first run as the opportunity to really try out my wife's garmin watch. It was extremely helpful, especially as I find it is quite easy to loose pace and even perspective of time on a long run.

The graph on the left shows my half mile split times, the one on the right some way point markers (the middle bar of the five is my pace burst).

It was fabulous to see that I had succeeded in lifting the pace as the plan had instructed. Although it was very tough when I slowed down, I find big pace changes pretty awkward. I think I change my running form to much at pace changes which leads to some of the discomfort. Happily most of the way I continued to feeling my wind improving, the breathing seemingly better each run at the moment.

The second run was an 'easy' run which is to say I wasn't supposed to tax myself too much. Running at chatting pace, without huge efforts. I did manage to reign myself back for most of the 5.7 miles and finished it in a bit over 58 mins. There were a couple of times where I had to hold onto the plan a bit, the temptation to run on a bit was very strong. I did in fact give in to a pace increase for a short while, but I can blame that on the fact that that stretch was downhill, honest!

Mrs. Taffi has been going great guns with her half-marathon training too, she is progressing really well. Better in fact than she often gives herself credit for, I think she is going to enjoy her first ever half-marathon. She is preparing well, checking out energy gels, planning new routes every week, running with a good friend for some runs, and generally being brilliantly organised. It is her efforts and progress that has in many ways fuelled my renaissance in the last few weeks - "Thank you".
It has been good to keep my training table rolling along, and include some re-measured cycle commuting route distances. Three days a week I do the nursery run, which is proving good resistance training especially as every week the cargo seems heavier! It is good to be 'on the move', even if it is mostly 'on the run' just now.

PS. weight update on Sunday should be interesting this week after three weeks of training.

PS. apparently blogger says this month already there have been blog visitors from Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States - Hope you are all happy and 'on the move', and if you happen to pop back leave me a comment to let me know if you are :-)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"The Little Drummer Girl" - John le Carre

Carrying on my occasional non-sporting thread, here is another book review...

"The Little Drummer Girl" - John le Carre

"If you ever want to read excellent writing then pick this up.  It is exquisite in its detail, character, plot, understanding, and its subject.  Forget that it is of another time, you will soon be pulled into the old world.
The writing is of a detail that expands your imagination, and introduces you to the characters so that you believe you regard them exactly as the author imagined / designed them.  Smooth seamless prose on another level to most fiction authors I pick up.
I was consumed by the richness of the writing in a way that few books have come close to.  "The Little Drummer Girl" was recommended by my father-in-law as a great read.  Having never considered reading the author before, I will certainly now look out for more of his considerable catalogue of books on the shelves of other relatives."
Basically seeing as I had been waxing lyrical (or not) about the books I'd read on LivingSocial's facebook app I thought may as well re-publish my opinion for anyone who finds my blog.

PS. these reviews aren't posted in the order that I read them chronologically, this is the last of my old reviews - I have new ones to write and more books to read which will be in the 'right' order.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Training table - week beginning Mon 18th July

I want to put this table at the bottom of the blogger page somewhere but still haven't found a format that does screw the whole page layout up completely! Anyway....

Week beginning Mon 18th July.

Post number 350

Well, well, well I have made it all the way to post 350. "Whoop!" and indeed I'd even go with a "Whoop, whoop!". It has been a long and varied road. What to do to celebrate another odd landmark in blogging? Why refer you to apparently my most read / visited post - ironically, also about a random landmark and blogging in general - Post number 260.

Strong winds, showers, heavy clouds,... some chance of training later.

Hope Monday is good where you are.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ooooooooh, new shoe?

There are many that say "look after you teeth and your feet and the rest of your health will look after itself". Sadly, I don't know entirely what this thinking is based upon (logical common sense I assume), but anyway I do take my feet seriously and do try and get the right running shoes. When I first started running I went to a specialist shoe store keen not to destroy my legs running on unsound shoes. They recommended a very strong pair of shoes, I weighed the best part of a stone more than I do now at the time, and they promised that I would need these to keep my knees healthy.

Since that 'diagnosis' I stuck with those large strong trainers, I think I've been through at least five pairs. I hadn't given any consideration to the fact that as I got lighter and fitter the type of suitable shoe might change. Last week Mrs. Taffi and I went to a different specialist store that has video gait analysis in store. The experience was very illuminating, we both came out with new shoes. The biggest single benefit I could instantly see was that my new runners are lighter than my old ones. I had felt that at the end of a long run I was lugging my shoes along on tired legs / ankles. I just weighed the shoes and my old pair weighed 1kg, my new pair 0.88kg... I am suspecting this might make a very real difference at the end of a half marathon.

I have only run on the new pair once so I can't say all that much about the difference in support or comfort between the two. I guess time and aches (or lack of aches) will tell. Hopefully I will continue having happy healthy feet.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Physio magic, and signs of progress

This week I got myself along to see the physio, because I had been feeling 'twisted' while I was running. Over the last couple of weeks while I have been running it has been feeling like I had more power in one leg and more flexibility in the other. It was difficult to describe but after going through a few stretches the genius physio diagnosed a few things, areas of tightness across my back and in my upper thigh / groin on one side. A further set of stretches later everything was feeling much better, I have tried to commit all the stretches to memory (I even wrote as much as could remember down later just in case).

Aside from being pleased that a series of stretches can make such a difference it was very gratifying that I wasn't imagining anything or suffering anything more bizarre. I will try to make the stretches routine, and look again at posture while I'm out running. Apparently I lean forward while I am running, in something he described as common among triathletes (no I am not a closet triathlete) when they run after working hard on a bike for a period. I suppose I'd thought lean was good, but perhaps I was overdoing it as well as being tight in the hip muscles.

Most happily I was given a clean bill of health for my healed toe. Mechanically things were equal across my feet and all was well. Great news seeing as I have a lot of work to do before the half marathon. After some improving runs (see this weeks training table, earlier in my blog roll), a good session with the physio and having gotten a training plan on track I am really really excited about trying to make some good progress.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Give blood

On Monday passing a building on my back to work from an appointment I noticed a give blood session. I dropped in because it had been a little while, and happily they had a slot available towards the end of the afternoon. So happily I tripped back to the session at my now allotted time. I have given blood a number of times now, though I always forget how many. I had a little card sent to me a little while back telling me I had passed the 10 donations mark, so I'm not doing too badly at remembering to find a session.

Oddly, the nurse I had my health check and line inserted by was planning to run the Cardiff half this year too, and was probably off for a run after work. Perhaps having 'connected' with a fellow half marathoner he was feeling especially nice as the needle mark is perhaps the neatest I ever remember having.

Go on give blood if you can, it always gives me a lovely altruistic buzz afterwards, and the thought of contributing to the rescue of a life is a good one too. Go have a look at if you are in the U.K. or use your favourite search engine to find your local equivalent :o)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Slam" - Nick Hornby

Carrying on my occasional non-sporting thread, here is another book review...

Image: Paul /

"Slam" - Nick Hornby
"Very good read, it got to the point where I could not put it down.  The narrative is cleverly put together, although at points I could not help but notice it seemed tailored to a movie.  Perhaps that was the intended style, it certainly worked well for this well crafted and thoughtful story."

Basically seeing as I had been waxing lyrical (or not) about the books I'd read on LivingSocial's facebook app I thought may as well re-publish my opinion for anyone who finds my blog.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tracking and obsessing? - In which the blogger remembers his inner child

I find that now and then, okay with some regularity, I find myself looking at the blogger stats page as I go through log in. Only it sometimes isn't as satisfying as I might hope, like anyone I hope perhaps someone stopped by for a read or a browse. Often times it is a 'bot' that dropped in did its thing for a search engine (be it a mainstream or unheard of one) then leaves ticking a visit on my count that really doesn't count to me. That said there didn't used to be a stat button that showed visits 'real' or otherwise, so in that sense it does satisfy my curiosity at least.

In terms of tracking and quality obsessing the ClustrMap that I added a long time ago delivers (it's over on the right bar near the bottom). Happily like blogger it too has evolved in recent times so the experience is actually very good. I get no real sense whether it counts are  'real' or otherwise, that information isn't shown. The interface still remains simple - pins in a big map of the world (the bigger the pin the more hits in that location). Where ClustrMaps neatly evolved (and bare in mind I subscribe to the free version) was to show a second colour of pin for recent views, and lists of locations with numbers. This it seems is all my inner geek really craves, lists of locations and numbers. It must appeal to the little lad in me that used to collect stamps, and the same boy that once had a rather large collection of car registration plate numbers. It isn't really the when anyone visited, what browser they used, what link or search brought them (all in the blogger stats). No, oh no, it is that they stopped by, and that those little pin points pop up all round the map.

Training table for a new week

After a good week of being 'on the move' last week, here goes this weeks training table. Two weeks in a row, almost a habit... I'll be filling it in through my 'Andy on the move' week...

Tues7miwalk 3miY....
Wed5miwalk 2mi.....
Thurs5mi5.6mi Run, 4mi walkx2....
Fri6mi2mi walkY....
Sun.walk 2miY....
Week beginning Mon 11th July :o)

Mondays 9.3 mile run took me 1hr 35min, it was supposed to be an out and back run (45mins each way). I over did the outward leg, and suffered all the way home. The main issue for me was that I realised I wasn't adequately hydrated! I hadn't drunk enough through the afternoon before my evening run, and after a few miles I knew about it. I hope to remember not to do that again any time soon.

Thursdays 5.6 miler took me 55min 32s, and was far more comfortable thanks to the physio straightening me out. Still no breathing rhythm, which made it a bit laboured. Breathing is where I'll look to really focus during upcoming runs.

Saturdays 6 mile run was great (57min 35s), it was raining, but that seemed to help as it was cooler than it has been of late. I started off quite quickly and then decided to try and maintain it. Earlier in the week I had gotten some new running shoes, and I had thought to go easy in them. The new shoes felt great with no rubbing or discomfort, so I felt more than happy to push along. My body tells me that I did push it a bit too much for this stage in the half marathon training program that I am following, but it was good fun.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Cardiff Half-Marathon route - all new for 2011

The Cardiff Half route for 2011 has been released

Quite the route, which gives the gut reaction of being a little tougher than the previous one. Indeed it is quite different from last year, with what look like a lot of major road closures round Cardiff to boot (not that I'll care to much as I'll be running and not in my car). There is a large out and back loop at one point which I assume uses two sides of a dual carriageway with roundabout junctions at each end. It could prove a mental challenge around that section, dual carriageways can be soulless and out and backs on any race course I personally find draining.

Aside from my personal niggles (which are insignificant in the grand scheme of things), the organisers have done very well again in designing a course that shows off the City of Cardiff to runners from near or far. Being wider, with less street furniture, and with still a pretty flat course the race will continue to grow as a 'big' UK half marathon. Perhaps building a further reputation even further from these shores?

By the way, I am running this year in the hope of raising money for two charities,the Huntington's Disease Association, and also Tenovus (the Cancer Charity). See the Upcoming Challenges page (or follow the link in the nav bar above) for details.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

New training table for this week

The new blogger interface and I have had a falling out over my training tables. I used to keep the in progress version at the bottom of my page out of the way and post it when it was complete. I can't now seem to house it in the new template, all sorts of weird things occur, including very, very long gaps before a broken table appears. So I have had to go 'old skool' and using the simplest html I can muster build a table that works (see below). Whenever I try and do fancy things to the table in 'compose' mode it all goes badly wrong again. There must be something I am doing wrong to cause a conflict, but I can't see what.

Anyway, the training table, I find it useful to see how I have done week by week and where I am not getting on the move. The current table (which I will have to edit through the week in this post - see above), features no rowing related activity - simple reason I haven't enough hours in the day at the moment to divide between running training and rowing training. As I have signed up to run a 'competition' with running that is the basket I've popped all my eggs into. Fingers-crossed though I might get out on the water once a week starting sometime soon weekends permitting (ah, and weather permitting - summer has turned very strange here just now).

Sat.Walk 2miY....
Sun.Walk 1mi.....
I am improving the look of this as I figure out what I was doing wrong. Any advice gratefully received :o)

Happy as I am that the activity is again 'on the move', my weight is resolutely sticking where it is (around 15st 5lb currently (215lbs)). This is a little disheartening as I can really feel the baggage when I am running. A loss of half a stone would make my joints a lot happier, this would be roughly where I was last time I tackled the half marathon distance. Like the fitness I know it will come, but it does mean I am going to have to work on staying patient.

As a footnote I find it strange that I have only just 'discovered' the draft function in the posting list, some 300+ posts later (I know, I can be a simpleton). See, apparently even humans learn! This is meaning that I pop a bunch of stuff on in the evenings and that log in and quickly post around mid-day when allegedly people might be looking for various blog musings to entertain them.

Monday, July 04, 2011

'Caffeine-free' – In which the blogger tries to avoid a pious essayist style

I started to draft this post and discovered it was turning into an essay on caffeine and “why I don’t ‘use’ it any more”, then realised it was turning into one of horrible those pious health diatribes that often pop up in the media. So instead of turning myself into one of those pseudo-science bleating diet banner wavers, here are a list of simple things that I found / discovered that may or may not be of use…

Since the end of 2010 I have stopped drinking caffeine containing beverages (coffee, tea, cola, etc.).  It was something I had considered relatively briefly, my decision was only really firmed up after I had already ‘quit’ and I felt the benefit of my choice.

I gave up overnight, ‘cold-turkey’ as it is known, not because I especially intended to I just found it simpler to say “no” and adjust knowing that I might feel weird at times for a few days. Luckily I recognised what was happening when my head went fuzzy or groggy and went easy on myself to compensate.

Positive effects I found of being ‘caffeine-free’
1. Increased quality of sleep – I discovered that without it I could fall asleep far more rapidly, and enjoy a fuller night of rest (I have only suffered a couple of poor nights in over six months).
2. Faster 0-60mph time – I found that I am able to awake up and get going far more rapidly and smoothly (unless I have limited my hours of sleep badly by staying up very late for some reason).
3. Smoother mood throughout the day – there are no peaks or troughs pre- or post- intake. I feel calmer and find focus easier to find (and maintain). Interestingly I've realised in the last few days that it seems feeling calmer and less anxious has ended a long running nail chewing habit (an unexpected bonus).
4. Extremely regular bowel habit – never been a problem, but I noticed things were ‘neater’ and super regular (I am being British here and trying to preserve a little reserve, sorry).
5. I feel richer – no actually richer – I believe I am spending less in a given week. Through not buying takeaway coffees, caffeinated cola cans / bottles, and not having to replace very expensive jars of coffee in the cupboard (or office).

There are two caveats to add –
Firstly, I was a regular consumer, but not in as far as taking a fixed number of cups a day. People who have one cup each morning to get them going often report no issues. On top of a morning cup and regularly further drinks, I was perhaps taking on extra cups at particular phases of the week as I felt I ‘needed’ them.
Secondly, here is the only really science element to this post, we all respond to the actions of caffeine and caffeine containing drinks differently based on a range of physiological factors. So what I find you may or may not also be true for others.

Summary – I feel great for my choice, I was a little surprised at the difference I have to admit, and have to say I won’t be ‘going back’ for a cuppa any time soon.

Friday, July 01, 2011

A is for...

'A' is for a few things today...

App - I am going to be using an App for my half marathon training plan - Half Marathon Coach. Found by my wife, and it looks nice and straight-forward to use.

App - installed the Official 2011 Tour de France application powered by ┼áKODA in readiness for the big event starting this weekend. It looks pretty slick, but then the race has not started yet.

App - The complete National Cycle Network app found via sustrans charity pages. Though I am yet to think of what to do with it really, as currently most all of my cycling is commuting.

Artwork - inspired by wonderfully produced blogs heralded on the blogger 'blogs of note' list. There is some awesome looking stuff out there Matty Spencer Illustration, We Love to Illustrate, delight by design - it's not that I want to start an art / design blog I feel I should at least try to include a few more of bloggers own photos on here.

Andy Murray - an Andy that appears very much to be "on the move" at the Wimbledon Championships again this year.

Addiction - I have been reflecting on the nature of diets and diet changes. Specifically the changes in physiological balance when diets are changed that must be very like those experienced in (or at least described by) the processes of addiction. [this deserves a separate fuller post in the near future]