Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Where do we go from here?

Whilst I was walking into town this morning to do a few last bits of Christmas shopping I listened to one of Radio 4's many excellent programmes. This one was called 'The Long View', and today's subject was diaries through the ages, from Pepys to vlogging. One of the contributors - I forget who - suggested that blogs are just a form of diary, and a diary is just an act of ego; a projection of ourselves we want to make to the outside world. This got me thinking - do I write this for myself, or do I write it for anonymous readers? Is it an act of ego; do I want those readers - you - to think of me in a particular way?

I haven't answered those questions yet. What I do know, however, is that there are several times a year when I look back at what I've written in the past. I find it interesting, which leads me to think I write mainly for myself, and if other people ind it interesting too, well, that's a happy accident. I don't look back for a historical record of what was going on at a particular time, more to see what I was thinking at that point. More often than not of course, given the provenance of this blog, it's running or cycling-related stuff. But writing about that stuff week-in, week-out bores me, to be frank. I'm not bored of doing the events, or even the training for them, but the process of preparation and completion doesn't seem to merit a higher standing than any other number of potential topics.

So having written this time last year that 2014 would be a back-to-basics year when it came to subject matter, I'm now rescinding that promise, to myself mainly. From here on, any subject is fair game. I'm a grumpy middle-aged man for goodness sake, I need an outlet for my prejudices, views, observations and disappointments. 

So let's start with one of the aforementioned, briefly today. It's not going to be Christmas-related - that would be lazy and obvious. It's about freedom of speech, and Twitter in particular. I understand why people who make threats of violence via that medium are arrested and sometimes charged, and agree with it. But I read this afternoon that a 19 year old from Sunderland has been arrested for making an offensive 'joke' about the Glasgow bin lorry crash yesterday. I read what he wrote on Twitter yesterday. It was offensive, insensitive in the extreme, and deeply unfunny. But I completely fail to see what law he might have been breaking that would require his arrest. I worry that this is just the latest incident in the policing - official and otherwise - of what constitutes acceptable views. I fear we're going down the path of the censorship of thoughts and their expression. And from there, it's a short step to the undermining of democracy itself. Though I do wonder whether as many people believe in that idea as used to be the case.

On that happy note, it's time for a sweet sherry and to wish you a very happy Christmas.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Running With The Pack by Mark Rowlands

I said I'd be away for a couple of months.  That was 20th September.  Two months to the day later, 20th November, I'm back, but not in the usual way. In the intervening period I've read a brilliant book. I've read several brilliant books actually, but only one that would mean anything to people who do athletic endurance-type stuff (the author is a runner but it would equally apply to cyclists, walkers, climbers I suspect) in particular; the one in the title of this post.

I'm not going to justify or explain why I think it's brilliant. Instead, I'm just going to quote one passage, one of many in the book, that resonated with me. Read it as an endurance athlete and you'll get a feeling of recognition (I hope). Read it an a non-endurance athlete, and you'll get an insight as to why we do it (I hope). Here goes.

"I can say, with confidence, that the run of 26.2 miles I have just completed had nothing to do with pleasure. In fact, I can safely say that it was deeply unpleasant, especially during the second 13.1. Nor was there afterwards any compensating warm glow of satisfaction that accompanies a job well done, something that would wash away the unpleasantness.  I do remember a vague, difficult-to-pin-down, post-race sense of perplexity - a kind of 'Well, what now?' sensation - but from an experiential standpoint that was about it. Nevertheless, I would not be similarly confident in the claim that, both when running and after the race was over, I was not happy. On the contrary, I suspect I was deeply, inordinately, even disgustingly, happy. If this is correct, then it seems I am forced to conclude that not all happiness is pleasure. Sometimes happiness does not even involve pleasure.

When someone talks of 'enjoying' something, they often mean nothing more than they find it pleasurable - 'fun'. This is an age of feelings. It has to be so - feelings are distractions from a life dominated by work. And so, we have come to think, what can joy be other than an especially heightened feeling of pleasure - pleasure deepened and intensified? But what I have called joy went hand-in-hand with a rather brutal form of experiential unpleasantness. So in what sense, and with what justification, can I call this experience 'joy'?

Joy is the the other form of happiness - the variety of happiness that cannot be understood as pleasure. As pleasure, happiness is defined by the way it feels. But this is not true of happiness as joy.....Joy is the experience - the recognition - of intrinsic value in life. Joy is the recognition of the things in life that are valuable for their own sake: the things in life that are worthy of love. Pleasure distracts us from does not have intrinsic value. Joy is the recognition of what does. Pleasure is a way of feeling. But joy is a way of seeing. Joy is something that pleasure is not and can never be. It is the recognition of the places in life where all the points and purposes stop."

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Devil makes work for idle legs

This is the last post on here for a bit, for which there are a couple of reasons. First, I completed the last of this year's aims yesterday, of which more in a moment. Second, this blog (like others I suspect) sometimes achieves the opposite of the 'social' bit in the phrase 'social media' - because other people know what I'm doing they don't initiate contact with me. So time to stop broadcasting, at least for a couple of months.

Before I say au revoir though...some realisations from this year....

- I like doing athletic things with and competing against other people (it's hard to train on your own most of the time)
- events which are long for the sake of it are appealing in theory, but not loads of fun in practice. Anything longer than 10 hours or so? No thanks
- cycling in a warm place with loads of nice quiet roads make sense, running doesn't; cycling in a cold place with potholed, busy roads doesn't make sense, running does

So, my aim for the first quarter of next year is to run a sub 3 hour marathon. It'll be tough getting to that point, but not totally unrealistic. That's what the next few months will be about. Other than the usual life stuff of course.

And finally.....yesterday. The Devil's Pitchfork is not an 'official' ride in any sense; it's just one put together by Pyractif, the lovely business and people we stay with in the Pyrenees. It's basically a ride down to a town (Bagneres-de-Luchon), five 'out-and-back' climbs up sodding great mountains, and then the ride back to base from Luchon again. 112 miles in total, 14,200 feet of ascent and descent. For those that know the area or care about these things, the five climbs are Col de Portillon, Hospice de France, Superbagneres, Col de Peyresourde, and Port de Bales respectively. All different, all hard. To do it all in a day, and unsupported, as we were, is a decent effort - it was certainly a day to rival anything most Tours de France create. (Only they race 20 days out of 22; I wouldn't fancy anything competitive today).

Well, we did it, me and Mendip Rouleur. We weren't fast overall, but we had our moments on the descents. A few 55mph, straightening out the curves and hoping there wasn't anything coming in the opposite direction moments actually. There were no dramas; we ground our way up the five hills, and we hung on for dear life coming down them.

I feel curiously neutral about it today. No sense of achievement really. I planned it, I trained for it, I did it. End. Perhaps because I've had a month in France, even the beauty of the Pyrenees didn't have the impact it usually does. Maybe I need some work, some discomfort, some contrast. Don't misunderstand - I'm delighted I came down and did the ride, and trained for it in the last few weeks. It's just that I'm already looking ahead to the next challenge. And when I return here in due course, it'll be the progress towards that challenge I'll be on about. In the meantime, as they say round here, a bientot et bon journee (with apologies for the absence of appropriate accents).

Friday, 12 September 2014

A Postcard From Home

I’ve been in France for 23 days now, my longest uninterrupted time outside the UK since I was a student, and the house we’ve owned for 4 years finally feels like home-home, rather than a holiday home. Which is nice – I’ve just ‘been’, rather than felt any pressure to ‘do’.
That said, plenty has happened to make worthwhile those long days in airless offices dealing with petty trivialities. In no particular order:

-        T’youngest was here for the first six days, the first time I’d spent any real time with her for many a long month

-        Friends, previously from Macc, now wandering minstrels currently bouncing between the UK and Australia, were here for another five days. I think I may even have created another road cycling enthusiast – he certainly took to thin wheels and clipless pedals as quickly as anyone I’ve ever known

-        The weather has been near perfect. We’ve had 2 days of rain, but the rest of the time it’s been uninterrupted niceness with temperatures unusually higher than even the unseasonably good ones the UK has been enjoying. I finally have a clearly defined, if not yet sufficiently developed for my liking, cyclists’/farmers’ (delete to suit) tan

-        Local life has been embraced. Half the hamlet were round for aperos (aperitifs) at 6.30 last night, which turned into ‘Breton aperos’ – i.e. they stumbled out at 11.30 after too much drink and too little food. And this weekend sees the infamous “Fete des Pommes de Terre” (Festival of the Potatoes), when the population swells by a factor of three, and delegations from Poland, Roumania and Guadeloup arrive to compliment the local Breton growers on the volume, robustness and variety of their harvest of their apples of the earth. There is much drinking, dancing and eating, nearly all of it potato-related. One of the attractions on offer is a helicopter flight over the local potato fields, an opportunity of which Mrs M and I will be availing ourselves; the money is paid, the Sunday slot is booked, our wills are in the filing cabinet

-        I’ve ridden my bicycle. Quite a lot, for me. Three longish rides and 7-8 shorter ones. Whether that’s enough to prepare me for the Pyrenean challenge I’ll face next week is debateable. It’s probably even debateable whether it’s been enough to offset the red wine and puddings that have wormed their way to the table with increasing regularity

-        I did the Icebucket Challenge, despite vowing not to. Results on F/b. I couldn’t ignore the second nomination. It’ll be Medicin Sans Frontiers who get my donation however rather than whatever American charity it was for whom the bandwagon started rolling. Nothing against them, just MSF do great work, as I’ve mentioned before. And there were no nominations for anyone else from me – give, don’t give, it’s up to you, but FFS don’t need a stunt to do it

-        There have been more animals than you can shake a shitty stick at. Aside from the regularly imported family moggy and resident dog that comes 50 yards on his summer holidays to our house, we’ve experienced mice (dead ones; live ones banished back outside to take their chances in harvest fields), sheep (keeping next doors fed and watered in their owner’s absence), donkeys (there was a Festival of them last weekend; yup, there is almost nothing the rural French won’t have a festival to celebrate), and a pair of unidentified furry beasts – lots of internet research has been inconclusive, but I think it was a type of mink we saw frolicking down by the river at dusk

-        And finally……I’ve renovated my French shed. On the outside it was washed, repainted (two coats), stripped of its old roof covering, and re-covered with membrane and sexy red asphalt. On the inside it was stripped, washed, racking added and things replaced with careful consideration. Oh the joy of a personality disorder thoroughly indulged

Right, the day is young, and I have nothing much more to do and all day to do it, blissfully. That said, I’m kind of glad there’s only another couple of weeks of planned inactivity; whether here or the UK, I’d have to start ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ after that.  

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Les vacances commencent!

Ok, so I've only done three days work in the last two weeks, but I've never been completely untethered from the laptop. So the real holidays start this week, Wednesday in fact, when I a) pick Boy up from friends in Wolverhampton following his attendance at V Festival, and deposit him, his stuff and his bicycle in Plymouth, where I then b) pick up his younger sister, and c) take a ferry to Roscoff, from where, six-and-a-half hours later, d) I drive to our house at Ploeuc-sur-Lie.  T'missus is there already, and I would be too if I'd been willing to pay double the price of Wednesday's ferry to make the crossing today. I wasn't.

Anyway, it'll be a treat to get across there, for many reasons: spending some time with youngest, feeling like I'm living in France for a bit rather than just being on holiday, the food, the wine, our village's Potato Festival, the few extra degrees of temperature, and last but not least, their roads. Oh, their traffic-lite, pothole-free, glorious roads.

French roads aren't perfect by any means - you get small sections of rough, slightly broken surfaces. But what you don't get are sunken grids or other metalwork, or sodding great potholes. I did the White Peak Grimpeur audax on Friday, and on two occasions in the second half of the ride I was reduced to bellowing some very bad words indeed after I made the mistake of looking at my route sheet or the Garmin for no more than three seconds, and in those three seconds of inattention to the road surface, clattering into a disgusting hole, of the like our Gallic cousins just don't allow.

In France, you also don't tend to get lorry drivers pulling over to the gutter aggressively when in a queue to stop cyclists coming up their inside,as happened to me in Knutsford this week. And don't tell me he was doing it for my own good so that I couldn't put myself in a position where he might squash me; it was a very stationary queue.

Anyway, I'm not going to let this descend into a moan about what's wrong with riding in the UK. Two weeks today I'll be doing a sportive in France that's cost me the princely sum of 13€ to enter. I was also on the Paris-Brest-Paris website last night - the fees for that 4 day, fully supported event were 110€ last time, and I suspect won't be a lot more next year. Contrast that with the price of UK events. Anyway, it's to that civilised world of rural France to which I'm now taking my leave. I'm also taking laptop and internet though, so I will be blogging over the next few weeks.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

In praise of the Middle Lands, and other delights

In my idle moments, of which there are going to be many in the next few weeks (more of that in a moment), I sometimes ponder what alternative existences I might have enjoyed. There's nothing wrong with my present one, quite the opposite in fact, but might a gendarme in rural France in the 1950s have enjoyed a tranquil, but not dull life? Might an English aristocrat in the early 1930s have been the ultimate in carefreeness? Has anyone ever been closer to the land than a Shropshire farmer in the 1890s?

Don't worry, I'm not going to go all PG Wodehouse or AE Houseman on your ass; these are, as I say, just things that float through my head when I'm our riding or, as per last weekend, walking. The Shropshire thing is an obvious link of course - me and The Son made our annual pilgrimage to the hills that rise either side of the A49 in the south of that county. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, no more than 10 minutes rain across the two days, and probably 20 times that of warm sunshine, which made for a load of enjoyment. As I've mentioned in years past, we take the same basic route each year, but chuck in minor variations for the sake of keeping it interesting.

This year, one of the variations was a visit to the very splendid Stokesay Castle, no more than 250 metres off the A49 just south of Craven Arms. It's a fortified manor house dating from the 13th century, lovingly restored over the last 100 years by locals, and now in the very safe keeping of English Heritage. The audio tour was excellent; I can't recommend a visit strongly enough, not least to all the many dozens of Lands End to John O'Groats bike riders who pass within a freewheel coast of the place.

Anyway, from the more elevated points of our work we could see deep into mid Wales in one direction, and large chunks of east Shropshire, the West Midlands and Worcestershire in the other. At this time of year, with harvest underway but not complete, the patchwork of colours across the fields and hills was a thing to behold; I know many parts of the UK are worthy of comment and admiration, but in the moment last weekend with the perfect temperature for walking and without a care in the world, it was fantastic.

Both The Son, who's going to aim for a job in Birmingham post-graduation this time next year, and Daughter No. 1, who at the time of writing looks as though she might settle on Stoke-on-Trent as a suitable residential compromise for dealing with the conundrum of her being posted to Manchester and her boyfriend to Milton Keynes by Network Rail, are continuing the family's ties to the midlands, first started by my grandfather in the immediate pre-war years when he commuted from Hereford to Wolverhampton, (Hence the title of the post). 

But I'm deviating from sport and exercise-type stuff. This week I've got a solid block of bike training in, slightly unexpectedly. I was due to keep working till 18th August, and then take a decent chunk of time off, but a long and boring story resulted in me finishing last Wednesday. For the first time since 1988 I've started a break with genuinely no idea of where, when or at what I'm going to work again. That's nice in a way, but I'm already getting a bit twitchy. Still, as I say, it's affording plenty of cycling opportunities, just as well with the Devil's Pitchfork ride next month. The training week culminated today in me opting to stay out of the rain, but re-create a hot Pyrenean day by riding hard in my shed for two hours with the doors closed and with limited water (don't try this at home kids). I was suitably dehydrated and exhausted by the time I emerged. Mrs Monmarduman puts this performance down to self-flagellation caused by eating approximately 3 gallons of Mr Whippy soft ice cream after several dozen salt-and-pepper king prawns at a 'world buffet' in Manchester last night. The truth is I haven't got many cycling miles in this year, so need to kickstart the training.

Ok, it's time to go and see how the pros are getting on at the Ride London race thingeemajig. More later from this gentleman of leisure.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

I'm not dead...

....merely haven't blogged for a while. Mainly because I haven't had anything to say. Well that's not strictly true - I've nearly always got something to say, but I haven't had anything to say about my riding or running.

And I still haven't really. I'm back in training after the mountain marathon, but it did take a couple of weeks for the body's willingness to get back into things to match that of the head. I hugely overextended myself that night. I don't regret it, partly because it was fun, and partly because of the result, but my ego definitely wrote cheques the legs took a while to honour.

Hey ho, attention now turns to the Devil's Pitchfork in the middle of September. That means I need to do some riding, and riding up hills in particular. The last couple of weeks have been really frustrating - the weather's been so good I'd have been out in the evenings if I'd been at home. But I haven't been of course, so running and my very own cycling-specific hotel room circuit training have served as an inadequate substitute.

I had hoped/expected to get a solid month off before the Pitchfork to hone my climbing legs, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen now. I'll certainly get some time to scour Brittany for something approaching a big hill, but it's likely I'm going to have to commute between France and London for the middle two weeks of the six I'd planned to not be around. It's that or lose the next three month contract, and that would make my break very expensive indeed. There's a bit of negotiating water to go under the bridge of work first though, so we'll see what happens.

In the meantime, I should get chance to get out on the bike every day tomorrow to Sunday, so that'll be a good start. I plan to watch today's Tour de France highlights on the magic box later; watching the Tourmalet and Hautacam climbs should prove inspiring, even if the speed those freaks go up them is a bit dispiriting. Why can't they get cramp half way up and weave across the roads with their tongues lolling out of their mouths like I do? Would be just as entertaining....

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Gollen 200 Audax & Midnight Mountain Marathon

It's been a busy few days off work. Spending a lot of time in central London makes me appreciate anywhere that isn't there to be honest. Don't get me wrong - London is a fabulous city stuffed with amusements and entertainments that could keep anybody happy. But at this time of year it's also overrun with tourists, and sitting in a hotel room in the evenings whilst it's sunny and warm outside is just a bit depressing. Which is why I decided to try to make the most of an impromptu 3 days off. I described in my post on Wednesday night what I wanted to do, and I'm pleased to day I did it.

So Thursday saw me do the 'permanent' version of the World's End audax, so called because the route takes in a remote area of north Wales that goes by that name. By the time I'd ridden to the start and finish, and deviated twice from the route (both, ironically, in areas that I know well; once near my old work in Chester, and once near where my father lived - shows the dangers of complacency) I covered 145 miles. I started at 6am, and finished at 5.30pm. It was a hard day - cooler than I was expecting, lots of offroad path which slowed me down, and I used my old, heavy bike, which made going up hills heavy weather. I think it might be time to restrict the use of that bike to the winter when the roads are covered in salt, and use one of the other two decent bikes that I've got for these longer summer runs.

There's not much to report from the day really. The only laugh I got was at one of the many filling stations I had to call at to pick up a receipt to prove my route. There I stood, cycling helmet on and lycra-clad, red-faced and a bit sweaty from a recent hill, buying chocolate and an isotonic drink, and the cashier looked me square in the face and said "are you paying for any fuel dear?" Er, no. Unless you count the isotonic drink. I would say 'twerp' at this point, but there's something not quite right about calling a woman a 'twerp', and I don't know what the female equivalent is. So I'll move on.

I spent quite a lot of Thursday across the border in Welsh Wales, and the same was true of yesterday too. I'd entered Brutal Events Midnight Mountain Marathon after failing to finish the Lakes 42 race in April, as a way of proving to myself I could actually complete a hilly marathon. And yesterday was the day of redemption...

My regular readers know, I hope, that I'm not shy of writing about my failures, bad decisions and poor planning on here. So I also hope that when I have a day where everything just seems to work out perfectly, you'll not think me too immodest. Yesterday was one of those days. Whilst the official results are yet to be published, the printout I was given at the end of the race says that I finished 7th (out of approximately 120 starters), in a time of 4 hours 31 minutes. That's not very quick for a marathon, but it is quite quick for a marathon that includes 4300 feet of climbing (and coming back down, which frankly hurts more), and goes to the peak of the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons, Pen-y-Fan. We also skirted Fan-y-Big on our way up. And who hasn't done that at some point.

We set off at 5.30pm, the 'Midnight' bit of the event's name coming from the fact that if you weren't home by then you wouldn't count as a finisher. It was a massed start, and I went off pretty slowly, towards the back of the group, which is where I stayed for the first mile or two. Then I realised that whenever the track turned upwards, I was going past people, slowly but surely. From being about 60th after a few miles, I was genuinely amazed to be told at the top of Pen-y-Fan that I was 6th. Well after that the adrenalin kicked in - it's a long, long time since I last a Top 10 finish in anything, and I took some pretty big risks on the initial descent try to keep that position. It would have been so easy to have turned an ankle. But I didn't, and when we got on to the more gradual descent my head drove my body to do more than it thought it wanted to do. Fair to say the body's getting its own back today.

Anyway, I did lose a place in the last couple of miles (to someone who'd got lost earlier on the course, so it was right he went past me), but I finished 7th overall, and probably 2nd or 3rd of the over-40s. I actually think (and there's no false modesty here) that I managed to get my pacing, fuelling and attitude just right on the day, either by luck or design, and on another day could easily have finished 47th rather than 7th. Though I do think the adrenalin-thing was important - I was expecting the drive home (between 11pm and 2am) to be a real struggle, and had made a flask of strong, sweet coffee to keep me going; it wasn't needed - I was as high as a kite.

So, there we are. It was a really good event for me personally, but a really good event generally. The scenery was stunning, and I thought Brutal Events did a really good job in the organisation of the race - the pre-event briefing was useful, the manning of and stuff available at the checkpoints was excellent, safety was sound but not smothering, and route signage was clear and well-positioned.

But now it's back to work in London. And the gym, instead of fresh country air. Days like the last few make that all worthwhile though.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Short post tonight....

Those vaguely acquainted with the world of triathlon will know that the ultimate one day test is the Ironman - 2.5 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, topped off with a marathon.

I don't much like swimming, so a bit by accident I've put together my own version of the Ironman, which I'm calling a Tinman, on the basis tin's the poor relation of iron. Anyway, here's my Tinman :

  • Today - taking the place of swimming was the loading into a wheelbarrow and raking out of 2 tonnes of gravel in the new garden, followed by 45 mins on the turbo trainer
  • Tomorrow - the Gollen 212km Permanent audax (plus another 10km riding to and from the start); it's  a ride across to Llangollen and back, via Chester and other points in between
  • Saturday - yes, I know I'm cheating, I'm having Friday off. However, I'm trying to compensate by doing a bugger of a marathon - the Brutal Events Midnight Mountain Marathon in the Brecon Beacons. We start at 5.30, and have got to be in by midnight to qualify as a finisher. 26.2 miles - shouldn't be too bad. 4400 feet of ascent - adds a bit of a challenge. Driving home 120 miles after I finish without falling asleep - possibly the biggest challenge.
Full report on Sunday assuming I can actually get out of bed.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Striking back

So things got worse before they got better last week. I felt dreadful Monday to Wednesday, but these days no work-y means no money-y, so I kept going, going straight back to my hotel bed after work. I went a whole week without exercise, and when I did finally re-start the two short runs I did on Thursday and Friday morning half-killed me.

Then I thought - it's only 2 weeks till the marathon I'm entered in, which is too late for any running-specific training to have any effect - so let's start the bike training; a bit of gentle cardio for the next 2 weeks will be ideal taper for the marathon, and provide a base for the bike training to come.

So this weekend a few things have come together to get me back on the bike:

- er, I've ridden it a couple of times first of all. Only in the garage on the trainer perhaps, but it's a start. I was going to go out on the road this morning, but there was a frustrating drizzle here all morning, and frankly I had as much fun watching a documentary on iplayer about the 1978 World Cup (the first one I remember), as I would have done bowling round the lanes of Cheshire in the mist and drecht

- I remembered there's a 'Fitness4Less' gym in Southwark, very close to where I stay during the week. And it opens at 6am, which suits me, as in the evenings I'm normally too knackered to train. Exercise bikes are no substitute for the real thing, but they're a heck of a lot better than nothing. So I've joined. First session Tuesday morning.

- my new shed arrives on Thursday. It's a very shexy Dutch Barn-type arrangement. Of course, during the summer I'm going to aim to get out into the hills as often as possible, but when the weather's rubbish or I need some specific training sessions, it's going to be my new riding home once I've had power put in it. Regrettably I may have to share it with some garden tools, but as Mrs Monmarduman is out of the country until the end of next month, I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make my own man-den.

The point of all this? Well, three reasons. First, I've got a crazy one day ride in the Pyrenees in September that I need to be proper fit for. Second, assuming I manage to sort my eyes out, I still harbour ambitions to do Paris-Brest-Paris next year. Third, well, I just like to ride my bike really. And there's nothing wrong with that is there?

Sunday, 8 June 2014

What a difference a year makes

This time last year I was about to start 5 weeks unpaid leave, much of which was to be spent cycling round France. I was a salaried employee, and hadn't done any meaningful work for nearly 6 months, as there was none to be had. Hence the unpaid leave. My under-occupation meant, however, I was fit and healthy as I started my break.

Fast forward 52 weeks. I'm writing this at 6.45 on a Sunday morning, a time when I'm normally just about to go out running. Today, however, I'm not. I'm only up at all because if I lie on my back I cough, splutter, and generally am even more unpleasant to be around than usual. I've had a summer cold since Monday, the sort I normally shrug off in 48 hours max and then get back exercising. But I'm having a devil of a job shaking this thing off, and I've decided to obey the training maxim when it comes to a cold of "if symptoms are above the neck, carry on usual, if they're below the neck, stop until they've gone" - the theory being you're doing yourself more harm than good in the latter case. I can only assume that permanent Monday to Friday hotel living, 60 hour working weeks every week, and trying to train around that, have left the old immune system a bit weaker than normal.

All of which is very frustrating. I'm supposed to do a mountain marathon 3 weeks this weekend, which therefore means I should be doing my biggest training run this weekend, the theory (again) being that 3 weeks is enough time for there to be a training effect from the run, and far enough away from the main event to allow for a decent recovery. Even more frustratingly, I can't take advantage of the light early mornings to do it in, say, 2 or 3 days time, as I will of course will be in London working again.

Which is making come over all thoughtful at this quiet time of the week. I haven't ridden a bike seriously in months, I've clung to some fitness by running - the only thing I can do during the week in central London, where I've now been working for 8 months, with no immediate sign of a break or change - but I know my fitness is gradually slipping away, particularly for the bike. If I were still a salaried employee, I'd be devastated and wanting to do something about it. But now, being self-employed (or more technically a director of my own company which hires out its services [me] to another management consultancy), the position is less clear-cut. The economics of the situation are much more favourable now compared to a year ago, through the rates I charge and the way I can structure my tax arrangements.  Favourable to the point that if I carried on like this for the couple of years through to my 50th birthday, I could certainly give myself a good 6 months a year off from that point onwards. Or maybe even jack in proper work altogether and scrape a living renting out French gites and helping Mrs M in our French import-export business.

The choice might look simple therefore: accept that something that matters a lot to me (being fit, doing events) is going to take a clear second place for the first time in years to something that also matters quite a lot to me - creating the possibility of having a leisurely time in my 50s. It's not that simple though. Being self-employed means the work could stop tomorrow. So the choice I make can only ever be valid in the short term, which makes it harder. Sacrificing training and events now does not guarantee semi-retirement in 3 years time. 

Just to be clear, this is not me complaining. Writing this 2 days after the D-Day commemorations, which the Monmarduman household spent a lot of time watching and reflecting on, it's a dilemma I'm privileged to have. But sometimes you have to write things down to help get your thinking straight, and so, for this edition at least, this blog has been more for my benefit that its readers. I'm not sure I'm any clearer, but thanks for listening anyway.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Let me sleep

The next item on the 2014 sporting agenda is the Midnight Mountain Marathon in Wales (near Brecon) on 28th June. So that's meant getting back on my feet after the 316km audax a couple of weeks ago.

And that's where things have got tough. I expected a week of reduced power and enthusiasm after the audax, but that's turned into two weeks now. I've still been doing the runs and the miles, but yesterday's moderately hilly 18 miler has left me wiped out, with sore muscles of the like I haven't had for months.

I'm putting this down to a few things: work, lack of sleep, and lack of hills. Work's been even more full-on than usual in the last couple of weeks - the usual combination of living in a hotel and long hours being supplemented by a 'big' presentation and mediating between multiple warring parties; just exhausting. I've compounded that by trying to get by on 6 hours sleep a night, and whilst that might be fine for some people, it's not for me; to function efficiently mentally and physically, I need 8. As for the lack of hills, running up them (and down them for that matter) is hugely different to riding up them - the impact on your joints and muscles is huge - and I just haven't done enough of them in the last few weeks - last weekend's runs in the sunshine were fantastic, but the canal towpath is, by its nature, pretty flat.

So this long weekend has been a blessing, and I extended it from 3 to 4 days by taking much of Friday off to do a few things, including make a rather nice Cambodian curry for Mrs M's birthday (if I do say so myself). The day off also enabled me to have a thorough check over at the opticians about the temporary blindness I suffered at the end of the audax a couple of weeks ago, which was quite reassuring - it turns out I've got "excessively dry corneas", and there's a range of things I can do sort it out, cod liver oil featuring quite highly. It's interesting that most of things that have stopped me running or riding in recent years (sciatica in the leg, bad back, and now the eyes {as a result of being in air conditioned rooms staring at a screen whilst wearing contact lenses}) have all been caused by sitting at a desk and using a computer, rather than actual exercise. There can only be one solution...

I've also caught up with sleep this weekend - 8 hours the last 2 nights, and another 2 hours yesterday afternoon, and 3 this afternoon. Lovely; I can feel things beginning to come back into balance. With a bit of luck I'll actually feel like doing some training tomorrow instead of it feeling like a form of torture. All I need now is to be able to run up some hills without it hurting...

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Old Roads 300 Audax

Let's start with the facts, because there are many to get out of the way. Yesterday, I and great mate Mendip Rouleur rode the Old Roads 300 Audax. (Those who don't know what an audax is - do keep up; it's a pre-fixed route that you self-navigate round, collecting stamps on a brevet card or shop receipts to prove you completed that route. It's not a race, but it is timed). Through a combination of choice and ineptitude we ended up covering 316km, or 198 miles. We started at 6am, and arrived back at our starting point (Honiton in Devon) at 11.36pm, i.e. 17 hours 36 mins later. We ascended 3800 metres, or 12000 feet. Our route took us on a clockwise tour of Devon and Somerset, calling at Okehampton, Barnstaple, South Molton, Wiveliscombe, Bridgwater, Cheddar, Ilminster and Chard amongst other places. We cycled roads across the Somerset levels that 3 months ago were under 6 feet of water.  It was wet and windy during the day, at times very wet, at other times very windy, and other times still both very wet and very windy.

Now for the interesting stuff. First, did I enjoy it? I'm still not sure to be honest. I'd never previously ridden more than 152 miles in a day, and the final 50 miles from Cheddar back to Honiton felt like a slog to be honest. Then again, there are two explanations for that - we had a headwind of varying strength for most of that time, and my eyesight was getting progressively worse. When I've done 200km rides in the past the vision in my left eye has occasionally gone cloudy - like you imagine having a cataract to be - but yesterday was something else. For the last 90 mins I could see virtually nothing out of either eye, and hung on to Guy's rear light like my life depended on it, which in some ways it did. It was really disconcerting riding on unlit country lanes with vision that poor.

Still, it meant that after our midnight veg stew and bread and butter at the organiser's house, there was absolutely no chance of me driving. Fortunately, I'd taken a sleeping bag with me, and I have an estate car, so my filthy bike occupied one half of the boot between 12.30am and 5am, and me tucked up in my sleeping bag occupied the other half. I had to answer the call of nature at 3.26am - I crawled out of the car and stood barefooted on the council car park doing what I had to at the back of the car. It was only when I got up at 5am did I realise that I'd dropped some clothes at the back of the car when I was blindly loading it at midnight....well, you can guess the rest. Oh the glamour, the glamour....

So I didn't enjoy the end of the ride, but the rest of it was good, despite the weather. The route is so called because it uses in several places the old version of a new road where the latter's been built to accommodate greater amounts of traffic, so those roads tend to be fast and quiet, which is good. We also got some nice  views of Exmoor and from the Black Down hills. To my great relief and slight astonishment nothing particularly hurt, despite the fact I've done almost no cycling in recent months. Neck, shoulders, back, undercarriage - all the bits that are vulnerable on a long ride - seem to have survived pretty much intact. So's the stomach, despite the vast volume of - let's face it - high carb crap it was forced to endure yesterday. We probably expended close on 10,000 calories yesterday, and that's a fair amount of fuel to have to take in and digest. Apart from a few nighttime thunderclaps my digestive system's been fine; the same cannot be said of my riding companion however...

...for about 40 minutes before we finished he did the bicycle equivalent of an emergency stop, and just as I was about to berate him for his bike handling ineptitude, there was an urgent shout of "hold that, I need to vomit". It seemed a bit churlish to carry on with the original complaint under the circumstances (those circumstances being the peace and quiet of a moonlight Devon night being broken by the sound of a middle-aged man dry retching), particularly as it was my turn to bellow "Stop!" a few minutes later to fix a mechanical - a day of rough roads had caused one of the bolts holding a water bottle cage in place had worked its way loose, the thing had gone sideways and I was pedalling into it.

Other notable features of the ride included:

- kamikaze birds: a blackbird and a (I think) a pigeon both flew dangerously close to the front wheel of Guy, risking both decapitation and hearing my Mr T impression ("crazy, bicycle-bothering, bird fool!"), whilst a generously-proportioned pheasant mistimed his takeoff attempt in front of me, meaning I felt the air of frantically flapping wings as he and I had another near-miss;

- the fact that despite there were only 12 starters for the event, and 2 of those packed somewhere along the line, we constantly kept seeing each other during the day; the time spread of our arrivals in Honiton was remarkably small;

 - nobody seemed to get a p**cture; remarkable, given the state of the roads.

So a couple of thanks to end. First, to Mrs Monmarduman, for exhausting the domestic baking supplies (and I suspect those of at least one medium sized supermarket) to create a fine array of cake and pasties. Much of the cake has been consumed, but not so many of the pasties yet, mainly because my saddlebag is only 15 inches wide, which is way too small to accommodate them.

And second, to Mendip Rouleur, without whom I'd have had to sleep in a hedge until my eyesight had returned to normal, and who was his usual pleasingly cussed and cantankerous self. He's also an indefatigable rider who matches his levels of moaning and faffing with sheer, bloody determination to carry on, come what may, which I very much like. I'm wondering if he and I need to ride a tandem together, me stoking at the back and providing a bit of climbing power, whilst he drives and route finds at the front. The only drawback of the plan I foresee is the proximity of my nose and his backside it would entail. And on that enriching note, here endeth today's lecture on what it's like to ride a bicycle practically 200 hilly miles between dawn and (just after; ok 3 hours after) dusk.

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Fear

This Saturday I shall attempt to rode the Old Roads 300 Audax. The number 300 is significant, if inaccurate; the route is actually 308km, or 192 miles in old money. And it's round Devon, where it's quite hilly, and Somerset, which despite the famous levels has some chunky hills too.

So I'm afraid, very afraid, for a number of reasons...

First, I've hardly done any riding so far this year. Running - yes, riding - no. So there'll be no worries with basic fitness, but I'm anticipating the back starting to complain after about 2 hours, the backside after 3, and the shoulders after 4. I'm not particularly worried about pain in itself, but I just hope it doesn't get unpleasantly bad. Which it might, when the previous furthest I've ever ridden in a single day is 152 miles.

Second, there are no bailout options, no shortcuts, no broom wagon. Once we're out there, we've got to be self-sufficient. 

Third, the weather forecast; it's looking showery and breezy at this point, though there's scope for that to improve or deteriorate yet; I'm obviously hoping it'll be the former.

Fourth, as well as a lack of riding, I'm not convinced that a marathon (literally) training run last weekend, and a few two wheeled pootles this weekend represents the best preparation. I managed 3,500 feet of ascent both on the run and today's ride, but nevertheless it's all a bit feast or famine. It's part of the problem of working away during the week - it doesn't allow the kind of consistent midweek training that builds a good base for these mega-events. Ho hum, it is what it is. 

Finally, however, by far the biggest reason I'm worried is the fear of failure. At the start of February I didn't manage to finish a mountain ultra-marathon in the Lakes, and I'd hate to DNF two consecutive events. Fortunately, I'm riding this Saturday with Mendip Rouleur; he and I have achieved some great things (for us) together on two wheels, so I'm hoping we'll spur each on this weekend. Wish us luck. I'll report back on what happens next time.


Monday, 21 April 2014

Easter Tidings

All is well with the world, so I bid thee Happy Easter, a day late truth be told. My jolly outlook has been brought on my several things, which follow below in no particular order....

- it's dry, warm and sunny, and has been for 3 of the 4 Easter days hereabouts. Not only has this precipitated much power washing of decking and fencing, but two good, long, decent, enjoyable runs. More on those below

- we found someone to re-model our garden, which will include a paved work area sadly lacking at the moment. This has meant that, uncharacteristically, I've not been washing my bikes after the few road rides I've done on them, which in turn has meant that I've been reluctant to go out on them. Time for that to change.  The work will also enable at least one bike to live in an outside store, which will mean that the Rourke can finally (after 7 months) leave its nest that is the spare bedroom

- sometimes I run with music, sometimes I don't. Today I didn't, and I was mightily rewarded by my journey over hills, across moors and through forests. The sun shone, the birds sung. I can identify regrettably few birds from their song, but everyone knows the cuckoo's call, and I was treated to one in Macclesfield Forest this morning. Even better, I was running on quite a high ridge at the time, and when I looked down not only could I hear said cuckoo, but I could see it too. Which was nice

- I saw a sheep with a bucket stuck on its head. To post the picture I took would replace the image you've now got in your head, so I'm not going to. But it was as funny as it sounds

So there we are. A couple of bike turbo trainer sessions and two 16 mile runs over Easter, one flat one down the canal towpath on Saturday, and one (very) hilly one today. I've got a 300km bike ride in 19 days time, which is slightly sobering - the furthest I've ever ridden in one day, with virtually no bike training done so far and little realistic prospect of much in the next two weekends. The report on that piece of folly may well be the next post.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Lakes 42: DNF

Yesterday I started, but did not complete the Lakes 42 mountain ultra-marathon. It was my choice to withdraw just after the halfway point, without pressure on anyone else's part or regret on mine today. What follows, therefore, is not excuse-making nor justification; it's just explanation.

So let's deal straightaway with why I chose to drop out. It wasn't, contrary to what I half expected before I started, due to problems navigating - there were plenty of people out there who knew their way round, and the paths in any case were reasonably obvious; you just had to choose the right one. It also wasn't because I was struggling physically - at the point I stopped (22 miles and 4000 feet of ascent completed out of 42 and 9000 respectively) I was lying 25th out of 85 starters. It WAS, however, because I was concerned for my safety, and that of anyone who might have to give me assistance.

Let me explain that - the weather was awful in the Lake District yesterday. At 'normal' level that manifested itself in constant rain and a temperature of 7c. Up in the mountains, the temperature was 2c before windchill, -5/6c after windchill, and that was in the context of the rain being of a temperature and ferocity it felt like you were taking a cold shower. I'd been over High Street (the highest point in the eastern Lakes) in those conditions, and it was kind of ok. However, by the time I got to Wythburn church, the 5th checkpoint out of 10, I was getting quite cold. Wythburn is the start point of the ascent up Helvellyn, and one of the organisers arrived at the checkpoint when I was there to provide an update on conditions. It wasn't pretty - the wind was strong, the rain was as reported, visibility was no more than 5 metres, and there was a dangerous cornice very near the route - a formation of snow that overhangs the mountain, meaning if you step on it you're in for a big fall.

Two things struck me at this point. First, compared to the majority of the other participants I was a novice - I'm not a seasoned fell runner or climber. Second, I'd skimped on mountain-specific kit in my preparation - sure I had everything warm with me that I owned, but a rainjacket that's suitable for a bike just doesn't cut it in those conditions. I'd gambled on the weather being kind-of-ok, and it most definitely wasn't. Now, even that might have been ok had I been able to change a few strategic bits of clothing (base layer, socks) from wet versions to dry versions, but even that wasn't possible because I'd arrived at Wythburn 50 minutes ahead of when Mrs M and I had agreed she'd turn up there, such was my progress at that point.

So, I was wet, cold, and without the right kit for tackling Helvellyn in bad conditions. My running shoes, in addition, are great for trails, but not so great for mountains - I'd already fallen over (mainly on grass thank God) half a dozen times by that point. The last thing I wanted was to fall over or otherwise injure myself (exposure would have been another contender for that), and cause the local mountain rescue people to have to come out. Maybe that's defeatist, maybe it's not obeying Rule 5, but to me, yesterday, it felt sensible. Pain may be temporary and glory may last forever, but death is permanent. OK, that's a little melodramatic, but you catch my drift.

Anyway, those are the circumstances of my abandonment. I had, at that point and as I mentioned above, still covered 22 miles of Lake District mountains and hills over the course of 5 hours 20 minutes, which is comfortably more exertion that a standard marathon, so what of the event till that point?

Well, it was a 6am start, which meant being out of bed at 4.15am to prepare, travel the 12 miles to the start at Askham, register, be briefed and leave. It was as we were being briefed I realised I'd made another error - I had the largest, seemingly heaviest backpack of any other starter. There's a 'compulsory' kitlist for the event, that includes survival blanket, headtorch, spare batteries, whistle, first aid kit, etc etc., and you had to sign to say you had all those things. It was clear to me that most people had nothing like the full kit - there rucksacks were far too small - but I guess the organisers are happy as long as you sign to say you've got everything, as that absolves them of blame if anything goes wrong. Not only did I have the full kit (again, a novice's error I suspect), but I'd supplemented it with 2 litres of water in a bladder (volume unnecessary, bladder too bulky), spare clothes that proved to be useless, a loaf's worth of sandwiches and 24 gels/jellies/energy bars - again, more than necessary. My pack was pretty heavy for walking on the flat, let alone running up mountains with. D'oh.

Anyway, the half of the route I did took us south-west from Askham and up to High Street. At relatively low levels the views were brilliant, but by 6.30 we couldn't see anything beyond 15 metres, and that's the way it stayed until we descended from High Street into Patterdale via Angle Tarn (which is beautiful). Back up through Grisedale Forest was where the weather really closed in, and after the descent from Grisedale Tarn we reached Wythburn, which is where the story above unfolds.

I enjoyed what I did - but in retrospect I just wasn't  prepared for the combination of conditions that came together yesterday. Doffed chapeaus to those who finished. I'm not downcast in any way; apart from it still feeling sensible, I'm also telling myself this was my Mo Farah London marathon moment (he did half of it last year as a recce for doing the full event this year). However, who knows? It does feel like there's unfinished business though.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Never let it be said that sheep are thick. Ok, they may tend to mindlessly follow each other when they're panicked, but stupid? I think not. This is what happened today.

I ran up the same steep hill six times, a couple of minutes up it, three of four minutes back round a little loop to the base again. Hill repeats; painful, boring, necessary. And at the bottom of the hill was a field full of pregnant sheep, which I naturally passed each time.

Ascent 1: sheep lying down, dozing, the odd eye opened in my general direction
Ascent 2: sheep think "hang on, you're a man, and we haven't had our breakfast yet". Cue some standing up, and a bit more interest
Ascent 3: nearly up the sheep standing up and quite a lot of baa-ing
Ascent 4: all the sheep standing up, all at the fence, manic baa-ing, mainly along the lines of "YOU'RE A MAN, GIVE US OUR BLOODY BREAKFAST!"
Ascent 5: "You're not going us our breakfast are you?" Much less baa-ing, wandering away from the fence
Ascent 6 : all sheep lying down again, nearly all with their backs turned, the only ones that weren't with looks on their faces that definitely said "ok, you can stop taking the p*** now".

So, sorry to the Sutton Lane Ends flock, I didn't mean to taunt you. I should also apologise to my Achilles too, for it was tough on them. I've decided to blame my achy Achilles on this winter's weather. You see, normally I intersperse the hill running with some nice flat runs, but all the flat routes have been pretty much waterlogged for the last couple of months, so nearly everything has been vertiginous - to the detriment of my lower legs. Still, not many running weeks left now. And then it's back on the bike, which I have to say I'm quite looking forward to...

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Strassburg Sock

After last year's too-small smalls (emergency pants bought in a French supermarket), another in my series of irregular articles on cruel and unusual punishments masquerading as underwear. This time it's the Strassburg Sock, and it singlehandedly (though that should possibly be singlefootedly) is responsible for four nights - and counting - of broken sleep. Here's the offending item:

Sexy little beast, isn't it? And yes, that really is a strip of material connecting the toe to a band that runs round the calf, pulling the toes up into a permanent 45 degree angle.

As intimated above, it's nightwear. But why oh why are you inflicting this upon yourself, do I hear you cry? No? I'll tell you anyway. It, apparently, is an effective and natural remedy for heel pain, including the Achilles, from which I have been suffering in recent times. And I have to say I'm noticing an immediate difference.  I ran two hilly half-marathons on Saturday and yesterday, and contrary to recent experience after such exertions, my first few steps this morning were not sanctioned by the Ministry of Silly Walks.

The theory of the thing of course is that it very gradually stretches out the calf and Achilles whilst you sleep, which is supposed to accelerate healing. When I bought the thing of the interweb this time last week I naively assumed that as the thing had "sock" in its title, it would come as a pair. Wrong. Just the one appeared. I have to say I wasn't tempted to buy a second - the thing is absurdly expensive for what it is - but even if I had been there would have been no need.  The night before last I was so uncomfortable in it at 3.23am I switched it from my right leg to left leg, and that seems an ideal arrangement - both Achilles feel better.

Tis a good job Mrs Monmarduman is now in France for five weeks however, for there is much thrutching (Cheshire word I believe) and a rustling of a night-time when I swap legs, undoing and redoing two velcro straps.

So there we are. I'm managing to manage the pain while carrying on running, and hopefully there's even a recovery brewing. Anyway, it's nearly time to don the thing for another night of joy, so I'll take my leave.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Book of Revelations

Yesterday was a day of revelations, though none biblical as it happens. Only the recent rain is that. Anyway, yesterday's were, in chronological order as the day unfolded:

- Mrs Monmarduman can get up early at the weekend for something other than a car boot sale. When I announced last week that I was going to have to leave home at 7am (on a Sunday) to get to Keswick in time to start my mountain running skills course at 10am (it doesn't take that long, but I had to add contingency and the faff factor on to journey time), I completely expected to be going alone. However, the good lady wife announced she too fancied a day out in the Lake District. So darn me if she wasn't out of bed voluntarily and with no incentives or threats at 6.30am. What a nice surprise it was too.

- I met the winner of the Nicest and Politest Man in the UK 2014 competition. His name was Dunna, a Dubliner resident in Glasgow, and was the only other participant on the course, there having been two dropouts during the week. He arrived late, apologising profusely for his tardiness, though he should have been also sorry for the dilemma he's placed me in, namely whether I can reinforce national/racial stereotyping by revealing the reason he was late. Oh sod it. We were supposed to meet in the car park at Booths supermarket in Keswick. His Celtic ear however meant that he turned up at Boots, and wondered why no one was there. It was hard not to laugh, to be sure. He was however, as I say, the most delightful and considerate running partner through the day; one of life's genuine nice guys.

- I'm not as crap at map reading as I thought I was. Though I can now take proper bearings and navigate by compass alone. Which is nice. And necessary, as it turns out that's what I'll have to do on the mountain marathon at the start of April.

- talking of which, navigational skills will probably be just as important as fitness in determining the time I manage in that event. This is quite a scary prospect, not least because I'll be doing the event alone rather than with a partner, which is how a lot of people do it apparently.

- back to Mrs Monmarduman: she walked nearly as far as we ran during the day. Whilst the miles we did were fairly extreme, being off marked paths for much of the time in bogs and on rocky fells, and were done in a screaming, freezing wind, we didn't do that many of them; 7-8 perhaps. Mrs M managed to resist the temptations of the Keswick Pencil Museum (I sh*t you not); she does have a heart condition after all, and that level of excitement could have been dangerous, so she took to the countryside too, knocking off a good few miles of walking herself. She had roses in her cheeks, as they used to say in the 1950s, when we met back up in the afternoon.

- finally, and a bit boringly, clothes matter. I had 6 layers on yesterday and was shaking with the cold at times, and was certainly colder than the other two, who each had 3/4 better quality layers on. Might have to spend some money.

So there we are. I haven't covered the stuff I learned, though contours are indeed king, and DDTT isn't a type of explosive, but it was a good day. Just need to do some more training now, of both the running and navigating kind.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Such a cliché...

...that all this running has found my Achilles heel. Literally, in this case - both of them. Yup, for the last couple of weeks after runs the right Achilles has been sore, as has the underside of the left heel, which, it seems, is just a different manifestation of an Achilles problem.

So I consulted my favourite doctor (that'd be Dr. W. W. Web), who said that Achilles pain can be brought on by any one of the following:

- front foot-landing running (that's what I do; saves lots of other problems)
- speed work (check; lots of sprints round Regent's Park recently)
- hill running (I only run in the hills at the weekend)
- not doing enough stretching of the lower legs, calves in particular (erm, yes again; oops)

So I'm now doing a new set of exercises three times a day to try to get the soreness out of the damn things. I'm still running, which perhaps isn't wise, but the discomfort is at its peak in the first couple of hundred yards of a run, and then it settles down. So whilst that's the case, I'll keep going. Which is just as well, as I'm off to Keswick this Sunday for my mountain running skills course; it's a practical course, so there'll be plenty of time on my feet.

And that's not unlike the next couple of days....I'm in London, as per usual, and there's a Tube strike over the next 48 hours, so there's four walks of two and a bit miles coming up. I don't mind actually, but I hope the weather turns out a bit kinder than the forecast.

Back to the running. Training at the moment consists of a few short runs in London during the week, and a couple of long-ish hill runs at the week. Marathon training suggests that you gradually increase the distance of your weekly run till you reach 75% of marathon distance. Training for an ultra-marathon is different. If you do 75% of an ultra, you're basically going to be knackered for several weeks afterwards, leading to reduced training that's not going to move you on; so that's to be avoided. Instead, you do two medium to long back-to-back runs at some point in the week, the theory being that on the second you've got some residual tiredness from the first. So that's what I'm doing. We'll see how successful it is in due course - but it's leading to a few Sunday afternoon snoozes at the moment, and the consumption of quite a lot of porridge - which, I've discovered, is a lot more interesting with a splash of Jack Daniel's over the top. And on that happy thought, enough for now.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Running wild

As promised, I'm going to resist the temptation to recount the busy and incident-filled week I've just had, and restrict myself to sport stuff...

...Where my main news is that I've entered one of the two big targets I've set myself for the year: a mountain ultra-marathon. It's at the start of the April, in the Lake District, an unmarked 42 mile trail that goes over the top of Helvellyn amongst other places. Am I going to have done enough miles by then to be confident of getting round? Hell no. Am I confIdent of my navigation abilities? Double hell no. Am I a little fazed at the thought of doing it and then having to drive home down the M6? Oh yes. But, you know, whatever.

I am taking one precaution however. Two weeks on Sunday I'm doing a 'Mountain Running Skills' course near Penrith, which will, I hope, help me avoid the more obvious schoolboy errors you can make. The challenge however will be remembering what you've learned when it's 7 weeks later, you're dead on your feet and lost in the mist. 

So I need to get some miles in my legs, some of them uphill ones. That's why I'm blogging on a Friday night; Saturday and Sunday will be taken up with running, sleeping and doing all the pit stop boring things (washing, ironing, blah..) between working weeks in London. Oh, and a night out involving Tiger Prawns that should be rather good...

Friday, 3 January 2014

2014: Back to Basics

This blog wandered all over the place in 2013 in terms of subject matter. I think it might be time to strip away all the superfluous stuff and get back to running and cycling. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I'm planning on actually doing a couple of interesting things this year that will be worth writing about. And second, I'm planning on doing them in unusual ways. By that I don't mean that I'm going to do the rides on a unicycle, or the runs backwards, or anything similarly wacky, but the training and preparation may not be orthodox.

I'll say more about both the events and the training approaches I plan to use for them in the next few posts as the plans turn more concrete. Just a bit on the latter right now though. Part of the this is borne of necessity - for the next 4 weeks at a minimum I'll only be able to do short training runs during the week; certainly nothing like the 100 miles of running (plus) that ultrarunners are supposed to put in. But I don't intend that to stop me doing my first 'proper' ultra, i.e. something of 40 miles or more. I may fail of course; but I like the idea of constructing my own plan that others might be able to use in future. There will also be some dietary changes as part of that, inspired at least in part by a book I've been reading written by ultrarunner Scott Jurek.

So I intend to describe those changes, the effects they have, the events I do, and how successful I am. There may be references to other stuff that's going on, there may be fewer posts, but I'm looking forward to getting back to where this blog started 3 years ago; sporty stuff.

And just to finish on that note...amidst the crud on the telly over Christmas there have been a couple of gems. One was Clarkson's programme last night on the North Atlantic Convoys of WW2 (and one in particular), whilst another was the Guy Martin Channel 4 programme on his attempt to break the speed record for riding a regular bicycle on the flat. I won't tell you what happened in case you haven't seen it and want to (and you should; it's good), but he did it on a Rourke bike, made by Jason Rourke, who both featured in the programme, and made my bike in 2013. I think I might now have some of the explanation of why it was late. It was worth it though...
Tweets by @skinsalive