Saturday, June 30, 2012

Just gotta get well now

The end of this week saw a heady combination of bad news and good news. To get the bad news out of the way - my current contract ended with my employer, so I am now looking for new work and even a new direction. My work colleagues were unbelieveable kind on my last day and got me a fantatic leaving card and presents. Two of my gifts were very much centred around the running and sport that I do, which was perfect.

The good news, get with the good news... the good news is that my chest x-ray came back clear and so the chest problems of the last 5-6 weeks do not appear to be anything more sinister or worrisome. From the examination I had the doctor concluded that I am improving and that potentially I have two more weeks or so before I am back to 'normal'. I had to keep giving exercise the miss until all symptoms have cleared, trust me I asked when I could get back to running (I am climbing the walls for a run!!).

Again I was asked during my examination whether I am (or was ever) a smoker. I have lost track of the number of times that I was asked that question, leaving me wondering if the doc even believed that I don't and can't smoke. Truth be told I have a huge mental wall around the subject thanks to heaps of medical knowledge and an anti-smoking message instilled in me when I was a kid, in fact I only tried twice whilst so drunk I was utterly suggestible (both times I was reduced to tears through uncontrolled coughing that it induced).

The information I offered as my current best theory for why I contracted acute bronchitis was that I'd trained for a marathon, run one in a storm (weather storm not a super amazing 'storming' time), given blood about ten days later, and gotten back to training near enough as soon as the muscle soreness subsided. At that point the doc rubbed their chin and tentatively agreed that I might have "opened the door to an infection". Here and now I buy my theory and so have taken a few important pieces to knowledge away from it. Primary amongst my personal take home notes if to watch out for signs of over-training syndrome and for signs of ill health during and very much after peroids of huge effort.

Some totally of the previous three paragraphs, I am getting better, I can't wait to go running and I hope I am now a fair bit smarter. If you are running this weekend - run well, if you are unable to - I hope you get to run real soon.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Confessions of a comfort eater

Here instead of any exercise news (or other rambling) is a short reflection on eating habits and change.

It takes some time to see things for what they are, in many cases a very very long time. Something in that slowness to appreciate particular facets of our lives is very commonly human, both good aspects as well as the bad. Thus it took a long while for me to see that comfort eating has been for me a way of dealing with certain pressures, anxieties, or periods of stress. Through reflection upon my time pursuing my PhD I noted that I would frequent the coffee shop or vending machines almost as often as you should get up and walk around during long periods at a desk. I had my favourite food stuffs that I would collect, eat in a manner close to inhalation and then return to work 'feeling' better. Now if you read or follow much in the way of food / diet literature you will know that the things going on as a result physically are not good, but of course mentally / psychologically things are perhaps worse.

"I remember one particular day I went to down to the departmental cafe almost every hour through out the working day. There was a heady combination of home and PhD work stress that left me feeling claustrophobic and unsettled. The relief was comfort food and I put away a hot cheese sandwich, a bar of chocolate and a carbonated sugary caffeinated drink at each visit.
Even as I was doing it I could see myself (almost as a stranger viewing my activity) walking the same route up and down to the source of the 'comfort'. Alarm bells were ringing in my head but it was too distracted to listen."
That I ate for comfort can be simply laid off as "oh, I have a bad diet", that mentally I ate for comfort led into a cycle of chemical rewards that my brain lapped up. It was not that my stomach was full that made me feel better, it was the neurochemical reward of having taken action that was fueling me feeling better. All too often I would be back at the vending machine less than an hour later with a full stomach seeking that neurochemical 'brain buzz' of another snack. I could make a very real effort at the science here, as I have worked with colleagues who study reward behaviour and so forth as neuroscientists, but I will step away from all of that and keep this in as plain a language as I can. So in a nutshell, as my PhD progressed I became more and more addicted to the neurochemical high related to having eaten (having rewarded myself).

This spiral, over the period of almost four years, could be explained away as natural by some "oh, you were so busy you didn't look out for yourself", "well a PhD is tough and took so much of your time no wonder", and so on. It was nothing more than a simple pattern that I feel into that I did not see as a problem facet of my life until quite some time after I had finished my studies. The period I am referring to coincided with the heaviest I have ever weighed, and that statement would probably not surprise anyone. That I experienced a simple self-discovery in one week that began to break the cycles might surprise one or two. In the course of one ski holiday I saw myself through my own eyes as something I didn't want to be, and in that short period knew why it had happened (I have made massive changes to my eating and body since then, much of which is somewhat articulated in this blog). I feel that I have to point that the turning point came whilst I was still comfort eating, it took several more months to gather and put together repair strategies.

So there we are I confess I was a comfort eater, ah but no no no wait... I am still a comfort eater, those feelings of reward, that sensitivity to the neurochemical buzz are still there. I 'wired' them into my brain over 4 years in my twenties, it is taking time to undo some of that handy work. That I stopped the bad habits after my epiphany phase was fantastic and perhaps created replacement 'buzzes', but I have to look at myself fairly regularly to ensure this facet of my former self is not restoring itself. Of course I have occasion to go to a vending machine or coffee shop and think "yeah, I'll grab one of those" when actually I don't need the calories, but these are fairly rare. During times of anxiety I find myself in those moments more often thinking about that 'fix' when I have already had a full meal, and I know what it is - I can see it as that mechanism to 'feeling' better. Some times I cave here or there though happily with not enough regularity to do any harm.

Time post-realisation, of course  coupled with better mechanisms of coping with stresses that appear in my life, is diminishing the desire for that buzz. I have moved in the direction that leads away from abusing comfort food (although having written that I can not deny that a food that makes you feel comforted now and then is an important part of any diet). Friends, family, and colleagues would have seen my bad period of over eating, some undoubtedly tried to push me in better directions, but it was not until I saw what I was doing that I could make changes. Reflection on our own motivations and the facets of our lives I believe are most often the biggest single piece in the "being healthy" puzzle. Without the outcomes of my own reflection I would perhaps be blogging about my life as a morbidly obese man (with all health issues that can entail) rather than a relatively healthy man engaging with sport and life where he can.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No news + no exercise = an unhappy chap

There are times when I feel bad after missing a single training run, I suppose I buy into the whole "running creates a buzz that helps your mental state" theory.

So now after missing weeks of running (or training of any kind) I am feeling pretty awful. Of course the lung infection (be it categorised as bronchitis or pneumonia - I am still waiting on a chest x-ray result) has had a direct effect, making me tired from laboured breathing and disturbed sleep, but on top of that the lack of exercise is really making me feel rotten.

Also, it is true to say that I 'use' exercise to balance out some cheeky eating habits (too much pudding, extra snacks, etc.) so a lack of exercise has left me feeling heavy and grumpy. This has spiralled a bit as I have indulged in the odd round of comfort eating too [you can actually remove the words "the odd round of" from that sentence truth be told]. At the moment there seems little to do until I see my doctor again towards the end of the week... any advice would be very gratefully received.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Four photos for Friday

Certainly it will be true to say that I will not be winning any blogging awards with the artist merits of the following four photos, but frankly I've become a bit bored with all the stock photos I keep using to add colour to my posts. So from my mobile phone camera this week come...

The dusting off of the bread maker (inspired by a shortage in the larder of shop brought bread and the lack of will to go out just for bread) to try out a new recipe. The result was very tasty indeed, thanks to the magic ingredient of honey instead of sugar.
The top was lost thanks to it expanding beyond the confines of the machine, the side was lost to our stomachs ;-)
It was a storming night for me in the kitchen as I followed up the yummy bread with a similarly yummy corned beef pie. Okay, so it was stodge night round our dinner table but it tasted so so good. The elephant shapes were courtesy of the kids cookie cutter collection, and made sure they were interested in their share ;-)
Again, like the bread, the camera was an after thought - whoops!
What follows is frankly a sad admission of where I currently keep my running medal collection. It does mean they are in view everyday, but not in a very flattering way. Worse still is the similar collection of Mrs. Taffi's on the other end of the curtain rail. Well... where do you keep yours?
This form of storage does mean a new day is greeted with a vista and a chime when the curtains are pulled
Lastly, the annual phenomena which is the Wimbledon effect... every year when the grass court season begins and around about a week before Wimbledon the local tennis court begins to see what it doesn't see for 11 months of the year (well it seems like 11 months) - actual tennis players. It is good to see and the sun is trying it's best to provide playing time though mostly on and off in classic British tennis fashion.
Worst photo of an active tennis court in the history of photography
...I will expect my artistic blogger award in the mail shortly :-D

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

'Weight' a minute!

Over recent weeks I have been pondering my training in general (along with pondering my bad luck at being ill just now - more of that in the footnote, below), I have been looking at blogs, websites, training plans and such in an effort to identify any glaringly obvious things I should do but don't do in order to get better / faster at that running stuff. I have been looking at bare foot and Pose running from an injury point of view, various training loads and patterns for speed, thinking about Yoga / Pilate's to improve form... then the bad pun hit me... 'weight' a minute!

Going back to the not too distant past (and goodness knows this blog goes back a bit) I found the obvious in one of my own posts "Real training has begun again" from New Year this year... my old friend (foe) weight. I had gotten a fair way ahead of myself with all these fabulous running articles, at 14st 4lb (my weight measured Monday morning) I am simply not going to do myself many favours with huge mileage loads, sprint intervals, stride retraining, etc. Hard fact is I need to lose over a stone (14lbs+ or 6.35kg+) in a sensible and active way to really find benefits of extra speed and endurance, with (a) a reduced injury risk and (b) a natural pace improvement basically from not carrying extra mass.

I was halfway to this 'goal' for the marathon that I completed, but over-'recovery', coupled with job stress and then illness saw that reversed to start of the year figures! So I know how it feels to run lighter, I just need to move a little more of that mass and really feel the benefit. Only then will I really, truly revisit all the fabulous articles and perhaps (who knows) even seek professional supervision to go faster still for my 40th year.

There is a training target of PB / PR at the Cardiff Half this autumn (four months away), so I have no excuses not to go get it... be 'Andy on the move'.

As a footnote to the optimistic post I prepped the other day - I am still suffering with a lung infection, acute bronchitis / query pneumonia, and am now on a new set off antibiotics awaiting a chest x-ray. It is really getting me down as I have constant cough and I am having difficulty sleeping, quite apart from the mental stress of not being able to exercise just now. Fingers-crossed that the drugs work and that the x-ray is not bad news.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Moaning Monday (plus a little 'geeking')

There are some Mondays that stand out from the crowd and one where [1] I was woken at 5:25am by a screaming (awake and wanting company) child, [2] I am still suffering hugely with bronchitis, [3] it is a work morning (when I am under the cloud of having only two weeks more paid employment), [4] I haven't done any fitness work for two weeks (and I feel it)... some Mondays you just wanna moan!

The lonely sports bottle collection, laying unused
on top of the kitchen cabinets for the foreseeable

So there we are a very moaning Monday post done (I can only apologise if you were feeling great before reading this), later I hope to read a bunch of fresh blog posts about great feats of training and racing from the weekend... vicarious fitness is the best I can manage till I crack this infection.

Sunny, scattered cloud, brisk wind.

I had to add this as an edit as something utterly geeky :- I noticed my blog had a visit from someone in Fuji in the last day or so... brilliant!... I am a quiet collector of pins in my ClustrMaps. I have 'borrowed' my current map and stuck an arrow to show the shiny new yellow pin (see below). Having just looked for the first time in a while I am pleasantly surprised by the variety of hits (pins) I have from across the globe. I know it's utterly geeky, but it brightened my day a tad :-) Who needs to travel the globe when in small fun ways the globe can come to you...
My current ClustrMap from brilliantly simple and fun I would recommend the site to any global geek!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cardiff Half 2012 - new route - whoop whoop!

Well, I have been waiting with some level of excitement and then this morning on the way to work I saw an 'exclusive' in the South Wales Echo....

Cardiff Half Marathon takes the centre-fold spread in today's South Wales Echo - a very cool way to find out the good news looks great, and will have plenty of variety. It looks pretty flat, though there is one section I need to have a look at (or in other words, take a training run out to have dash along). The potential for lots spectators towards the last third of the course will be fantastic, often the last couple of miles feature the (near enough) spectator free Cardiff Bay barrage section. Fingers-crossed I shake the chest infection I'm suffering to get into some good training soon... I'm getting kind of super-charged about the race just now.

The lake at the top of the picture is where I used to run around and around when I first took up running seriously training for my first ever half marathon, so I am really looking forward to running that section in a big event.

After a quick search it seems the article / route can also be read online at

[Added 19-6-2012] The route can be viewed on the official website 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wittering on Wednesday

Thanks to being under par over the last week and more I seem to have come across at least some wittering material...

Really, who knew? 200+ hits on one post...
My blog post and moreover it's cartoon image - "Circuit Dizziness!?!?!" - has had 200+ visits. This is easily  more than twice the visits of any other page or post on my humble 'ickle blog! I can only hope that everyone who finds it likes it, and maybe if they 'borrow' it are proper enough to credit the author / artist ;-)

Funny that the oddest things you 'do' in a blog get noticed, and the more profound stuff that you might write with some sort of audience in mind sails off into web land never to be clicked again. Just goes to show you never can tell.

Sports viewing philosophy?...
My two punts for finalists at Roland Garros went south, both Andy Murray (losing to David Ferrer 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2) and Sam Stosur (losing to Sara Errani 7-5, 1-6, 6-3) went out before the final (quarter and semi stages respectively). Darn it, I shouldn't have watched the matches... classic viewers curse - if a sporting event takes place in a forest and is around to watch it does anyone actually lose?

It is notable as another example that my football team always seem to score when I leave the sofa for a comfort break. Perhaps team GB should facilitate me to not view (i.e. pay me not to watch) the upcoming Olympics so that they can convert all those medal opportunities they keep telling us about?

It's all in a name...
Last Thursday evening I watched the Diamond League Athletics meet on BBC TV and very much enjoyed that fast bloke running like a Bolt over 100m, but couldn't help but notice another perhaps not so aptly named athlete - Chaunte Lowe the 'high' jumper (I bet no ones ever pointed that out to her before, ahem!).

And finally...
In the course of being ill I have read the odd blog more than normal and listened to an extra podcast (and watched some tennis - ahem, see above) here and there I have come across three separate 'articles' about forefoot running, it's mechanics, benefits and so forth. Awareness of the subject has gotten to a threshold in my brain where I might begin to entertain giving it a go when I get running again. Oh the power of repeated information! I wonder just how easy the conversion really is?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday I got Friday on my mind

This phrase popped into my head today "Monday I got Friday on my mind" and aside from the fact that I remembered its a title and lyric of a 60's song by The Easybeats, it summed up the start of my week.

I begin my week very much with head in last week, these days the weeks are rolling into each other mentally. Work really is not a happy place for me just now. Although a change is on the horizon I have no idea where this will go, at the moment my contract will expire and then I'll be unemployed! It is a long and painful story.

Moreover the cough / chest infection is still with me making last week feel like this, and Friday feel like Monday. A trip to the doctors has left me with the diagnosis of acute bronchitis, and my ears ringing with how many times I was asked if I smoked (I absolutely never have, save one extremely brief moment at Uni that left me a ridiculous coughing mess - as I couldn't 'do it'). It seems the fact that I have developed this kind of infection has left the doctor slightly perplexed. I have antibiotics, more as a precautionary thing I think, and strict instructions to return should things either not improve or get worse! No exercise for me then... especially as taking the three flights of stairs in work this morning left me a coughing mess for the best part of half an hour :-(

Hopefully the week will lift itself, and things will brighten...

Overcast, showers, humid, moderate breeze.

Friday, June 08, 2012


Friday... again? Good grief it comes around fast, but hey it was a three day week thanks to the double Jubilee Bank Holiday. Would be nice to round off the week with a nice fat healthy weekly exercise activity report, but the chest infection has sunk that completely... perhaps I am labouring the illness thing a bit too much, sorry. I'm only miffed because I had high hopes of getting some speed work started this week - and anyway why does cough syrup taste as awful as it did thirty years ago??

I identified that speed work is the missing link in my training, I run everything essentially at the same pace. Happily the pace has improved over time, but very slowly by small increments. Lately I have wondered if my times would benefit from some speed burst session generated oomph! It looks like I'll try to do one long run, one shorter one and an interval (speed) session each week as I can reliably make these fit into the to'ing and fro'ing of a busy family week.

Very windy, heavy cloud with frequently heavy rain bursts - a storm front arrived apparently.
The weather is so bad I'm even forced to wear boots, not trainers!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

I might begin to believe I ran today

It is probably because I am unwell, but I really really need a run! I am feeling heavy and sluggish, and want to get on the move but my lungs would not thank me. As it is it is probably this bad because I ran a couple of times while it was developing. I am feeling groggy and tired thanks to the infection, but my legs feel like they need a run... I am trapped for the time being and very frustrated. At this rate I will start signing up for future mass runs as a kind of proxy thing.

I have had to read a whole stack of running / tri blogs to get myself in the sporting frame of mind... if I read enough I might begin to believe I ran today?!?!? Gibber!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Poorly poorly boy

Image courtesy of
"Malaise" by graur razvan ionut
I have a chest infection / cough / cold that won't shift, it has left me grumpy and tired (not too different from normal in the opinion of some perhaps!). My training buddy and I did 8 miles on Sunday, but my lungs were not happy at any point really. The rest of the weekend was busy, busy, busy,... though I did catch my fair share of the Jubilee and French Open tennis on TV ;-)

The rest of this week looks like a fitness write off, thanks to the lurgy. I hope to get out on a run this weekend, as I have conceded to buy cough syrup despite my reservations about the stuff. Fingers-crossed though it will do something and get me back on track.

By the way if you want to read a more intelligent and considered post today I can strongly recommend someone else's blog post... Top 3 reasons running is bad for you (or not) written by a super blogger in the blog "Shut up + Run".

PS. cough medicine update - I feel worse already having taken some an hour ago... I am not a good patient :-S

Friday, June 01, 2012

May Review & the long Bank Holiday weekend

May Review
All in all May was a quiet phase 'on the move' wise, madness in other respects, but that's for another time maybe. Running wise I ticked over after a couple of very light weeks after the marathon exertions. In fact most of the month training wise could be summed up in that same sentence. I don't have numbers on the month but I reckon something like 12 miles running a week.

I now believe I will run another marathon, but for now I have my target is set on the best possible half-marathon time I can muster this autumn. Training started this week, and dreaded 'speed-work' gets included from next :-S
Thanks to some genuine ambitions for our allotment this year I have been pretty busy, digging, planting, watering and so on on our patch too. With the weather being so very hot in the UK of late some session have been pretty heavy work - good outdoor training! The only form of competition in May came from a family pumpkin growing contest, which we hope will be followed by a pumpkin carving contest in the autumn :-)

Cycling has re-entered my 'on the move' portfolio, thanks to commuting with the kids to nursery / work to save a few pennies (well it works out at more than a few). It has been fantastic though it is clear that my bike needs some tender lovin' care as the gears are not terribly happy with the abuse I given them this last week or so.

So May was good for moving, let's see what June brings...

The long Bank Holiday weekend - 'on the move'

In the true style (if indeed there is a style) of 'on the move', a long weekend is ahead with quite a few things planned to make and do over the Bank Holiday Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee celebration weekend. Four days off!

There will be running with my training buddy, a long run where we will undoubtedly set the world to rights. A family bike ride to test out the new chariot for the kids commute (so potential one of us gets to try and take both to nursery on any given day!?!?). Family swimming - more lessons for the kids, and more bad singing by me in the parent and toddler session (I am certain my son will disown me one session soon, hahaha!). On top of that still more work at the allotment as I have seedlings to put out into the big bad allotment, bean wig-wams to erect, and lots of digging to do.

Of course along with all that, and having helped put up the bunting, we are all out in our street for a Jubilee street party. We are looking forward to a fun day out with the neighbours, and lots of red, white and blue cakes (I will not eat too many.... honest!).