Tag Archives: 2015

2015 Review

It’s remarkable how quickly the years go by and 2015 is no exception.  Only seems like yesterday that we moved into our new house and I was starting my new job.  But what about those New Year Resolutions that I set, how well or poorly have I done?

1.  Get away with the family on at least one holiday and three short breaks.  This was number one because it was the most important to me and we managed to achieve this target.

a.  North Wales.  We managed to get away for a Long weekend in January in Deganwy, Conwy, North Wales.

b.  St Leonards.  A long weekend in May on the South Coast.

c.  Aldeburgh, Suffolk.  A lovely midweek break in December before the Christmas week was due to begin

d.  Vouliagmeni, Greece.  The family holiday in July was to a baking hot Athens.

2.  Complete ten races at any distance.  I didn’t too badly at this as I managed to get six races completed.  I did interpret this resolution a little differently as I realised getting away to run races was not easy.  I did discover virtual races from my online running twitter community.  You sign up to a race, run the distance when you can, submit your evidence and then receive your medal in the post.  As well as being able to run in your own time, the other added bonus is that between 10-20% of the entry fee goes to charity.

My running highlights included the real race of ‘Hell Down South’ a 10 miles cross country race, the POW Virtual Half Marathon in September and the Poppy Challenge in November.  I was also happy at breaking my 5k PB, although I can’t seem to be able to break the sub 20 minutes.  The down side of the year was having a serious knee incident that required x-rays, MRIs and numerous appointments with my orthopaedic consultant.  After nearly 12 weeks I was finally given the all clear to start training again, with no real answers of what was wrong with my knee in the first place!

If I look at my overall stats for 2015 they look like:

a.  Running:  510km

b.  Cycling:  1311km

If I had thought about it in January I might have set a target of completing 2015km in 2015, in the end I was only actually 194km short!

3.  Read ten books.  I failed quite miserably on this target.  I managed to read five books in total, mostly on holiday.  This is quite embarrassing really.  Just shows we do not devote enough time reading anymore.

a.  Born to Run – Christopher McDougall

b.  Under The Eagle – Simon Scarrow

c.  The Eagle’s Conquest – Simon Scarrow

d.  When The Eagle Hunts – Simon Scarrow

e.  The Eagle and The Wolves – Simon Scarrow

4.  Study and pass my Education Course.  Thankfully I did complete this and I now have a Post Graduate Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership.  This did come with the unexpected bonus of giving me the post nominals PGDip.  If I can find the time and the finances I may complete my remaining 2 years of study and get my MBA. As with everything it is finding the time and prioritising what is most important.

5.  Publish a post on my Blog on average once a week.  This was somewhat ambitious and I knew that at the time I wrote it, which is why I listed it as the last of my resolutions.  Unfortunately finding the time to write and publish a worthwhile blog is not easy, maybe little  should be the subject of a few more blogs!  Whether writing blogs makes it onto my 2016 list I am not sure, if it does then I will have to be a bit more realistic and make it a more achievable target.

So looking back not too bad, I managed to live up to two resolutions, made a good attempt at another two and failed on the fifth!  Need to ensure for 2016 that I am a little more realistic on what I put down, but then they wouldn’t be resolutions if they were simple to do!

My running self-experimentation: Progress?

It was about 3 weeks ago now when I decided to adopt a different running style. Hopefully I would increase my endurance and reduce the frequent injuries. After all if I could resolve those two issues it would mean I could enjoy my running even more.

So how am I doing?

Week 1: This was a steep learning curve. I went out for a few runs around from 6-8 miles. The first thing I learned was how much concentration is required to adopt a new running style. As soon as I switched off my technique returned to my old form. Quickly berating myself, I would start concentrating again. Mid foot strike, short quick students, keep foot, knee and head in alignment and remember to use those butt cheeks.

At the end of the first week I felt surprisingly good. No signs of and aches or pains in my shins or knees. The only issue I was suffering from was muscle ache. My calfs and butt cheeks were really aching, but then I was exercising muscles to an extent not previously used to.

Week 2: Unfortunately this was a complete write off due to work commitments and the little one being ill at home. In away this allowed my sore muscles to recover, but I was eager to continue.

Week 3: Everything was going so well. Managed to get out for an hours run early in the week, covering just over 12.5km. Felt really good, foot strike and form were going well and didn’t feel tired at all by the end. Disaster struck when I went out for my next run. I was feeling so good, apart from a little aching in my calfs and glutes, that I became ambitious and went for a HM stroll around the Great Park!

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Totem Pole at Virginia Waters

By the time I had finished my knee was in agony. Having slept on the problem and waking up with little improvement in the knee pain, I wanted to analyse what went wrong. The run started fine, felt good barring the aches and I was really looking forward to it. The scenery in the park was fantastic. At the halfway point my knee was starting to show signs of soreness, I was beginning to feel tired and my muscles were aching even more. At this point I should have probably listened to my body and walked the rest of the way, however my stubbornness meant I kept on going wanting to complete my HM. Another lesson to be learned!

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HM halfway point in Virginia Waters

My conclusion was that my painful knee was a direct result of my failings at maintaining the correct running form. As my calfs and glutes ached before I even started running, my form was slightly off leading to a greater impact on my knee. Rather than a mid foot strike, which would have naturally absorbed and taken the shock away from my knee, I had resorted back to a heel strike. Coupled with fatigue I failed to identify the issue and correct the problem.

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The local wildlife came to watch my run in the Great Park

Moving forward the first thing I need to do is give my knee time to recover. Next I need to address the root cause, which was muscle soreness. If my calfs and glutes hadn’t been aching so much, my running form would not have suffered. Therefore I need to reduce my distance and allow the calf muscles and glutes to strengthen. Once I have done this I will be able to retain the correct running form.

To be continued.

My little running self-experimentation.

Like most occasional runners I pick up the odd injury here and there. Twinges in my ankles, sore shins, aching knees and even lower back ache. Thankfully not all together but at least once or twice in a year I would suffer from all of them at some point. I assumed it was just a hazard of running that you had to accept. Change your trainers often, rest, stretch and don’t over exert yourself and hopefully you keep the injuries to a minimum.

But why can some people run a 100 miles week on week and seem as if they never suffer from injuries? Has luck would have it, I stumbled on a book about running. When I finished reading all I could think about was a scene from the Matrix:

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

I felt like I had taken the red pill and my eyes opened. But let’s not get carried away here, this could just be a load of codswallop! (Love that word). Even if it were true it might not be for everyone.

Let’s do a little experiment.

First I needed to look at my own running style. That didn’t go well!  It seems like I am a heavy heel striker, I have long strides, slow cadence, I lean forward and my shoulders wobble! The good news is that I keep my head still!

What do I need to change? Pretty much everything!

  • First I need to concentrate on a forefoot or mid foot strike. A heel strike sends shockwaves from your heel bone and up through your shins and knees. Your toes and the arch of your foot are able to absorb the impact of running so that the shock wave doesn’t reverberate up your leg.
  • Next I need to shorten my stride. By over reaching your stride you are putting an incredible strain on your knee. Instead I need to shorten my stride so that my knee is directly above my foot when my foot hits the floor.
  • Because I am 6ft my stride has always been long and slow. The ideal cadence is around 180 steps per minute. To achieve anywhere near this you have to shorten your stride. This helps maintain a good posture, reduces impact levels and makes you a faster runner!
  • My posture must improve. I need to keep a straight back as this puts less pressure on the lower spine. I often get lower back pain after a long run, which I now know could be a result of me leaning forward far too much. A straight back should also stop my shoulders from wobbling.
  • The last thing I need to work on is the butt! This rather large muscle, especially in my case, needs to be utilised more during running. It will help me keep my posture and also pull my legs back like an elastic band.

So, not much to do then. Not sure how I am going to remember to do all that as well as run and breathe.

This was 2 weeks ago, so how am I getting on….

I think therefore I run: Why am I the way I am.

Where’s this book been hiding all my running life? I picked this book up because it seemed to touch on both anthropology and running.  It was fascinating that there could be a reclusive tribe in Mexico, but throw into the mix that they were elite runners had me totally hooked.  As it happened any runner, of any ability, should read this book and then sit back and see your view of running change forever.

The book tells the story about a journalist who also happens to be a runner with your typical runners injuries. He goes on a journey to try and understand why he was getting injuries and others did not, especially ultra runners who would put their bodies through unbelievable tests of endurance.  In the process he learns about the almost mythical Tarahumara tribe that live in the dreaded and remote Copper Canyons, a scorched and hilly landscape where murderers and drug runners hide out.

The author finds himself on a journey to find the elusive ‘Caballo Blanco’, a supposed American who turned his back on modern day society and went to live in the Copper Canyons and learn the secrets of the Tarahumara.  Along the way we meet other runners such as Scott Jurek, probably the greatest ever ultra runner, Barefoot Ted and Bill and Jenn the new young party going kids on the block. The journey culminates in the greatest ultra marathon the world never even knew about. The best modern runners in their high tech trainers, modern training and nutrition against the Tarahumara who are naturally gifted athletes that run in sandals.

What I do love about this book is the tangents it goes off at times. Much like my mind tends to do on a daily basis.  But when you look back you actually realise the tangents make perfect sense in trying to understand our own bodies when it comes to running. The chapters on modern day trainers is an eye opener and suddenly makes you stop and question why do we buy expensive trainers? Why do we insist on having multiple pairs that we rotate through? Why do we change them after 500 miles or so? When the shocking truth emerges that running injuries have not really declined with the introduction of modern day air/gel cushioned trainers, why then do we insist on having them?  What benefits do we draw from them to justify the rather high prices we pay?

The most intriguing chapter for me was when the author in his quest to understand his own running injuries looked at the human body and what did it evolve into actually doing. To me, if you explore the purpose of the human body and what certain parts of the body were obviously designed to do, you then get that almost eureka moment.  I do think the author made a slight mistake in this section.  What I think he meant to say was that humans can take multiple strides to one breath, rather than what he actually said which was multiple breaths to one stride.  The former is correct running practice, the latter would feel like you are hyperventilating and have collapsing on the ground in minutes.

I will leave the exact details as a surprise when you read the book, but as you gather from this books title we evolved and were born to run but not how you may think.

The book culminates in the almost mythical race which is a perfect way of ending the book. Who wins? Well you will just have to read the book and by the time you get to the end you will realise that it isn’t really important who wins, it’s about running. The last person in is cheered and celebrated just as much as the first person to finish.

The race was back in 2006 and the book was published in 2009 so I had a quick look to see what has happened to some of the people mentioned in this book. The elusive Caballo Blanco died whilst out running in 2012, which you’ll understand from this book is how he would have wanted to go.  Out in the wilderness doing what he loved.

Barefoot Ted is still out there running all over the world, in bare feet and you can keep track of his adventures at www.barefootted.com or @BarefootTed.

Billy ‘Bonehead’ Barnett lives a quiet life in Hawaii, where he surfs and still runs on occasions. He publishes poetry and photographs on his blog from time to time, www.billybarnett.blogspot.com

The Brujita, Jenn Shelton, still trail runs but now has other priorities in life. @SheltonJenn.

Scott Jurek is still a phenomenal ultra runner and you can follow him at www.scottjurek.com or @ScottJurek.

Finally the Tarahumara continue to be a shy and reclusive people, but the race that Cabello Blanco started still continues and was renamed in his honour to the Ultramarathon Cabello Blanco. It is still dangerous to run, the 2015 race was cancelled due to drug related gang violence in the area. But then the people and the location is what makes this the ultimate race.

General Election 2015

It has been a while since I last wrote something, unfortunately work took me overseas for about 4 weeks.

I was around for the General Election and we all stopped at our polling station as we headed off for a long weekend break. My son is still a few years off being able to vote, but he had his photo taken outside. He may only be a year old but it is never too early to learn about democracy and our free right to vote.

I spent the first night of our break watching the news and like the majority of people, I was shocked to see the exit poll at 10pm. None of the pre election polls were giving the Tories such a commanding lead. If I had been at home I would have stayed up all night, but alas we were on holiday and we had a fun day arranged for tomorrow.

Waking up in the morning at 6am because the little guy was wide awake, meant I could check the news. Flabbergasted to see what the projection was, not only a Tory win but with a majority. Where did that come from? I thought there would be some silent Tory voters, and swing voters who would wobble and change their mind to Tory whilst stood in the ballot box. I never thought it would be to this degree.

As it turned out Labour ended up 99 seats behind, almost thrown out of Scotland and the Liberal Democrats were severely, and I would say, harshly punished. I wasn’t surprised to see how well the SNP did in Scotland, but their grip over Westminster has been greatly diminished now the Tories have a majority.

So, five more years of the Conservatives and what’s more, with a majority. Labour seem to be in meltdown and they are going to be a very weak opposition for the next couple of years. Let’s see who the new leader is going to be! They must select someone young, personable and leaning to the centre! Gordon Brown followed by Ed Miliband has done major damage to Labour and if they are going to recover and regain their support, they must change, move to the centre and get a strong leader that is not associated with Brown or Miliband! I fear they will choose someone the same and then the party will wallow on the edge of the abyss. That will only be bad for British politics.

General Election 2015: Is anyone going to win?

The 2015 General Election is literally just around the corner with only 10 days to go.  I was interested to know exactly how close it is going to be.  I have always been cautious when looking at the Polls because they never seem to tell the full story.  It always amazes me how there can be such big swings between different polls, basically proving the point that you cannot take any single one as the truth.  However they are a good indicator of roughly assessing the mood of the nation.

Another issue I have with polls is that they are not necessarily indicative of how people will actually vote on the day.  People may be feel altruistic prior to voting, convincing themselves that this time they are going to vote for an Independent, the Green Party or some other small party. But when that moment comes as you stand in the ballot box, you just can’t help but vote how you always have done before.  This is of course not true for everyone, but if it were true for even a small percentage of people then it could have a huge impact on the results and potentially change the overall outcome of the election.

It was good to see Nate Silver’s assessment of the General Election, a US statistician who has no bias and is only interested in the numbers.  Even he believes this election is too close to call.

So how close are we looking at?  Well the magic number for a government is 326 and the current assessment sees the result on May 7 looking something like this:

PartyPrediction2% Swing4% Swing
Conservatives286291297
Labour267263259
SNP484848
Liberal Democrats242321
DUP999
Sinn Fein555
Plaid Cymru444
SDLP222
Greens111
UKIP111
UUP111
Other222

This means that no single party is anywhere near getting a majority. I do think there will be a swing to the Conservatives but I believe a 4% swing that some are predicating is highly unlikely.  I do believe there will be a swing due the ‘shy tory vote’ effect, but I think this will be closer to a 2% swing.  We are therefore looking at either a grand coalition or a minority government propped up by some of the smaller parties.

The Liberal Democrats have said they would support the party with the most seats. As progressive parties the SNP, Plaid and Greens will only back Labour with UKIP backing the Conservatives as the only party to offer a referendum. The Northern Ireland parties could be split with DUP and UUP with Conservative, SDLP with Labour and Sinn Fein abstaining from Westminster.  This only leaves two independents.

So what do the Coalition numbers look like at with a 2% swing? If you take Sinn Fein out of the numbers a government would need 323 seats.  A coalition of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the DUP would give 323.  Labour in a coalition with everyone else (exc Sinn Fein) would only give them 322.

At the moment the bookies are predicting a minority government with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister.  However I cannot see how Labour could maintain an effective working government as they would need the support of the SNP and that just doesn’t sit very well with the rest of the UK.  Even a Labour / Liberal Democrat coalition would still put them behind the Conservatives.

Therefore as we stand at the moment my money is going to be on David Cameron as Prime Minister with another Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition with the help of the DUP on a vote by vote basis when needed.  Everyone seems to think the SNP hold the balance of power in this General Election, whereas I think it could actually be the 9 seats of the DUP.

This is going to go down to the wire with a number of constituencies having to conduct recounts. I am still not ruling out the possibility that no government can form and we have to have a second General Election. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

New Year Resolutions?

new-year-resolutions-2015I have been thinking what, if any, my New Year Resolutions should be.  In the past I have never really set myself any, however I do believe they are a good way of setting out your good intentions for the forthcoming year.  According to the NHS website though only one in ten of us will achieve our goal.

It seems to me that there are a couple of reasons for this failure:

1.  Unattainable goals.  Some people set themselves targets that  they are never really going to achieve.  I have witnessed people saying they are going to quit smoking and actually only last a couple of hours before they start again.  It would have been wiser to say they were going to give up within the year and then have a workable plan in partnership with the NHS or their local GP.  This then brings me on to my next point.

2.  Lack of support.  People will always improve their chances of success if they have a support network to boost their morale and give them encouragement.  This could be through family, friends, community groups or even social media groups such as FB or Twitter.

So thinking all about this what are my New Year Resolutions going to be? I am certainly not a Mark Zuckerberg so I don’t think I can read a cultural book every other week for a year, simply too many things going on at home to have that amount of free time.

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So would any of the most popular resolutions (left) be any good for me? Most of them seem reasonable but I think your New Year Resolutions need to be bespoke to the individual and they also need to be quantifiable so that you can at least have some measure of success.  So here are mine:

Goals for 2015

  1. Get away with the family on at least one holiday and three short breaks.
  2. Complete ten races at any distance.
  3. Read ten books.
  4. Study and pass my Education Course.
  5. Publish a Post on my blog on average once a week.

Well there you go, those are my five aims for this year. Lets see how I progress.