Lockdown life

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking of writing a blog post and I’ve finally got around to it.

This post is likely to outlive my memory of the unprecedented times in which we’re currently living, not only in the UK, but across the World.

At least 15000 people in the UK have died due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). This number only includes deaths recorded in hospitals where the patient was treated for the virus. The actual death rate is likely to be significantly higher due to unfortunate deaths in the community (care homes and other care settings or at home).

For the last 3 and a half weeks, the UK has been under lockdown where were only allowed to go out for one of four reasons:

– to buy food

– for ac medical reason

– for exercise

– for essential work where that work can’t be done at home

To reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread, those most susceptible to the virus (the elderly and those with underlying health conditions) have to self isolate for several months. The rest of the population have to socially distance themselves by keeping at least 2m away from people they don’t live with. If a household has one or more members with symptoms (continuous cold and/or fever), the house has to self isolate for 1 to 2 weeks.

The boys have not been to school for about a month and instead have been homeschooled with teachers sending with home to them. This is likely to last for most of the remaining school year. Those due to be completing their GCSEs or A levels have finished their education for the academic year and will have this grades assessed based on mocks, coursework etc.

The trainee Guide Dog we are boarding, Zeus, isn’t being trained and is living with us full time for the foreseeable future.

I’ve been working from home for 4 or 5 weeks but Denise, whose job is classed as ‘essential work’ and not something she is able to do from home is going into work everyday.

It’s definitely a challenging time. The economy is nosediving as many companies and those that are self employed are unable to do business as normal. The Government are trying to minimise the economic damage and enable the country to’ bounce back’ by allowing employees to be furloughed, offering grants and other financial support to keep companies from failing, and employees from having to lose their jobs.

From a personal perspective, I’m one of the lucky minority. My job means I can work from home and there’s plenty of work for me to do. I’ve worked from home for 15 of the last 20 years. Longer in fact. The boys are seeing few differences from everyday life aside from not going to school. Their lives are fairly virtual anyway often communicating with friends virtually rather than face-to-face.

Each day, they go out Dog Walking with Denise to get them out of the house and enjoy some fresh air. We’ve been very lucky with the weather with some lovely sunny days for most of the last month.

In terms of my physical activity, I’m trying to either run or cycle 5 or 6 times a week. Most of the runs are quite short and typically only 20-25 minutes long but enough to burn a few hundred calories. It’s my opportunity for some headspace. To blow cobwebs away.

As is normally be delivering weekly Strength and Conditioning sessions to fellow Lordshillers, these have had to stop. England Athletics has said that clubs mustn’t hold face to face training sessions until at least the end of May so for the first couple of weeks of lockdown, I was only sharing S&C session plans with the Facebook group of about 230 three times a week on a Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. These are in addition to the daily S&C challenges I’ve been providing for the last 9 months or so.

During the period of lockdown, I’ve been looking at the opportunities for offering virtual S&C sessions and broached the subject to the Facebook group. The suggestion was well received so I delivered my first virtual session on Tuesday 7th April via zoom to 40 participants.

The session wasn’t perfect (in my view at least) but was very well received. I made some improvements for the 2nd session including using an additional video camera and was much more pleased with how that went. The 2nd session had 45 participants which is almost an attendance record for the group.

My cycle rides tend to be 45-60 minutes and I stay local. The weather has certainly been cycle-friendly super from the gusty winds.

In addition, I’m trying to do dumbbell exercises most days. These tend to be hammer curls, shoulder presses and chest flues.

Finally, on the subject of physical activity, I’ve been using my eldest son’s VR headset to do an (almost) daily boxercise style session using a ‘game’ called BoxVR. The sessions tend to be 20-45 minutes long and are very good. I can certainly work up a sweat.

So far lockdown hasn’t been too much of a hardship for me. I’m not expecting restrictions to be lasted for a couple more months and I’m sure the UK post-pandemic will have many more challenges to overcome.

I’m hoping that our country’s population will have used the time of restriction to be more caring, appreciative of those that provide key services during the lockdown, those that saved so many lives, provides vital services. I hope also that the population will take Covid-19 and the fact that the virus impacted those with underlying health conditions as an impetus to everyone to focus on their own health and reduce alcohol consumption, eat more healthily, stop smoking, get active. These actions not only reduce the likelihood of health conditions but in the longer term will reduce the burden on our healthcare systems. Everyone can play a part to do that.

Itchen Valley Country parkrun mudfest

In recent months, I’ve been running 2 or 3 times a week and although I decided to start parkrunning again towards the end of 2019, I couldn’t find the motivation to get up on a Saturday morning and travel to Southampton Common or Fleming Park. I much preferred a lie in and the opportunity for a run later in the day.

However, it was with great interest that I found out a couple of months ago that there was going to be a new event in the local country park, Itchen Valley Country Park. This came as quite a surprise as when I was looking for venues to replace the parkun at Lakeside in Eastleigh several years ago, Eastleigh Borough Council were not keen on opening an event at IVCP due to poor ground conditions during the winter. Instead, they offered Royal Victoria Country Park as a venue and I founded that event and then Southampton parkrun.

I contacted Sergio, the Event Director, for more information about the event and a route map and he kindly gave me more info. The route looked complicated!

Shortly after the announcement about the event opening at IVCP, there was a message on the park’s Facebook to say that the event was being delayed. In the meantime, we were regularly dog walking in the park and witnessing the very wet and muddy conditions.

Since the announcement, we’ve witnessed more rain and poor conditions and the park conditions were far from perfect for running. However, the inaugural event took place last weekend. I had wanted to go but heavy rain the day before meant that I made the decision to not attend. As many running friends posted about their attendance on Facebook, I was beginning to regret my decision to not attend. It looked like I’d missed out on some muddy fun. This led to the decision to make sure I attended the 2nd event.

In honesty, during the week leading up to the event, I started to find excuses to not attend. The main one was not wanting to run through lots of mud. It was on Friday evening that I made the decision to get up and make sure I made it to the event.

The park is a mile from home and it’s mostly a gradual downhill to get there. I decided to run/walk there to save energy for the energy-sapping mudfest. As I got to the entrance of the park, a car stopped and an Eastleigh parkrunner, Keith Whitaker, who I’ve known for years offered me a lift. I declined as I wanted to run/walk. It was very kind of him to offer. As I headed to the start area, I spotted the Run Director for the event, Luis, who I’ve also known for several years and chatted with him. It wasn’t long ‘til Carl Iszatt came over to say hello. Carl was one of the Run Directors at Southampton junior parkrun when I was Event Director there. It was great to catch up with Carl. I also say Mel Holloway (from Eastleigh Running Club) and Pat Rogers.

Over a period of about 15 minutes, a stream of people I have known from parkrun and local running clubs came over to say hello. It was lovely to see Emily and her mum, Wendy, there as well as several members of Southampton Running Sisters. Claire and Aaron who were regulars at my Saturday morning coaching sessions and my Tuesday evening S&C sessions for Lordshill Road Runners were there so I chatted briefly to them too.

As the first timer briefing started, I spotted parkrun royalty, Danny Norman, across the field. I’ve known Danny for several years and we’ve seen each other at many events over those years.

The first timer briefing was delivered by Helen Rees and it was brilliant. Very amusing and expertly delivered. Having volunteered at over 250 parkrun events, I can wholeheartedly state that it was one of the best FTB I’ve heard. Well done Helen!

Once the briefing was over, it was time for Luis to do the pre-run briefing. Again, very amusing, especially his remarks about International Womens Day!

Before we knew it, it was time to start our parkrun! I’ll not try and describe the course. Any description would simply get confusing after the first couple of directions. Just follow the person in front. Even the first straight involved several muddy puddles. I could feel them trying to suck my trail shoes off at every opportunity. The course takes you around the perimeter of all of the fields in the park as well as through several trail sections. The trail sections are certainly much nicer than some of the mud baths you have to negotiate during the run. There are a few tight turns and several opportunities to slip over. There was one fellow runner who slipped over more than once! Trail shoes are a must in these conditions. Tightly laced!

I’ll admit to walking some sections of the course. I can normally run 3, 4 or 5 miles without running. However, the mud was energy sapping and I needed a couple of walk breaks.

Before I knew it, the finish funnel was in sight. I spotted Danny Norman holding position tokens and said hello and shook his hand. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes after exiting the finish funnel that I realised I’d not collected a position token! I have no excuse! I managed to go back and collect my token that had been pocketed by Helen’s son who was handing them out.

I took the opportunity to speak with Emily and Wendy again and then made the decision to run/walk home as I had to get back home by 10am due to other commitments. My legs and trail shoes were covered in mud. Thankfully, the warm water tap in the garden and hose meant I could clean myself off before going inside.

In summary, IVCP parkrun is going to be brilliant. If you like mud, make the most of it over the next couple of months. The venue is going to be lovely when the ground conditions improve. Until then, it’s going to be a challenging event. Well worth a visit though. I’ll be back next Saturday to see if I can improve my finish time.

Chipping away towards a new parkrun PB?

So, last week I made my return to parkrun and was determined to go today. However, when I woke up and heard the rain, I almost changed my mind. Thankfully, having seen it wasn’t quite as wet as it sounded, I got my running gear on and headed for the Common.

Having followed my training plan during the week, I wasn’t sure it was going to be a good run. The training runs had consisted of:

Tuesday: 8 x 400m at target race pace

Thursday: 4 mile steady run

Both has been a challenge but I’d completed them which I was pleased about. I have had some calf tightness which I’m dealing with with a combination of stretching and strengthening. Fingers crossed that’ll work.

As I got to the parkrun start area it was clear that the weather had resulted in a smaller number of (approx 1100 vs 900) runners than the previous week. Having started too far back in the pack last week I made a conscientious effort to make sure I started near the front.

As Run Director, Gil, set us off my pace was good and it wasn’t necessary to weave through the masses.

As I started, I overlook the 26 minute pacer and thought I’d try to keep ahead of her.

Following last week’s realisation of the new course as I was running it, I mentally knew when the effort would be required and did my best to maintain pace as best I could.

I have to admit that the main ‘Climb’ felt more of a challenge and I almost walked but I kept mentally strong knowing that it was all downhill/flat to the finish. The last km is mentally tough though and thankfully Elaine J has caught up with me and kept me pushing all the way to the finish.

I crossed the line in 25:38. 56 seconds faster than the previous week. Having reviewed my Garmin stats, 40 seconds of that improvement can be attributed to my improved pace for the first km due to a better start position and a less dense pack. However I was a few seconds quicker on each subsequent km too. I must have tried harder.

Last week:

This week;

Overall, really pleased to have improved my time by so much in the space of 1 week. The training and improved start position tactics are clearly helping but stop a long way to go.

I’m not able to parkrun for the next couple of weeks but will return on the 2nd November and see how I do.

Return to parkrun

Last Saturday I made a return to Southampton pattern after over 2 years and 3 months (833 days to be exact). I posted about it on Facebook but realise that for some of my FB friends that the return may have little significance. Ignore the italic paragraph below if you’ve heard it all before!

For those of you that don’t know my parkrun back story… Over 6 years ago, I founded the Southampton parkrun event and was its first Run Director. Alongside founding several other events, I volunteered at over 250 parkruns and ran at over 130 parkruns including 50 on the Common. As well as that, I worked for parkrun for almost a year as Head of Technology. parkrun became all-consuming and I gave it a massive amount of my time. It became too much and I had to reclaim my life and my weekends. At the time, I was running at events on a Saturday and often volunteering at Southampton junior parkrun, which I also founded, on a Sunday.

In recent weeks, I’ve been running on a Saturday morning as part of training for a 10K which I DNS. I was enjoying these runs and missed the challenge of an event. The thought of returning to parkrun as a runner crossed my mind several times and I decided that I’d attend on Saturday. I’d not realised that it was parkrun’s 15th Birthday until I re-followed their FB pages a couple of days before.

Although I’ve been running a little more than usual of late, I’m far from my PB potential and set a goal of finishing in a time under 28 minutes and set up my Garmin accordingly. I’d read that as the events have promoted wider participation that the average finish time has changed from about 23 minutes to 32 minutes. I used to start towards the back 1/3rd of the pack but a check of a recent couple of results pages made it clear that I’d need to be much closer to the top third to consider not being boxed in for the first 1/4 of the run.

Having not been for so long, I’d forgotten what time I used to leave home or the best place to park! I left home at 8:10am and headed for Cemetery Road. With over 1000 participants on average, I was expecting the parkrun to be close to full but thankfully there were plenty of spaces left.

As I walked towards the Flats, I got talking to a chap from Halifax who was attending the event for the first time.

On arrival to the start area, I spotted Trevor E who’s a regular attendee at my S&C sessions and we chatted whilst setting up the cones towards the finish funnel.

The first thing I noticed was that the funnel was much further away than it used to be. I didn’t twig why that would be.

As the area began to fill up with other runners, I spotted a few familiar faces amongst the 100s and 100s I didn’t know. A wave to some, a smile to others. I chatted with Sarah S who was one of the Run Directors at Southampton junior parkrun and then spotted ex-work colleague, Teri, with a friend she was going to run with.

The briefing got under way and the pack of runners swelled as the latecomers arrived and found their positions. I was sure I was a little too far back but there was no way I’d be able to move anywhere.

The countdown began and we were off. With such a large numbers of runners, it was a slow start and my average pace on my Garmin implies that a sub-33 finish was expected. In order to meet my target time, I’d need to pick up the pace which meant weaving between packs of runners, nipping onto the verge and occasionally sprinting when I spotted a small gap.

As we got to the Bellemoor Triangle, we turned right. Huh? The course has changed. I was confused as we headed up towards the crossroads at the Showgrounds. I was even more confused when we turned right and ran down towards the Cowherds. This wasn’t like any previous run of the event and I wondered if we’d have to run up the long uphill drag from the Bellemoor Triangle to the north of the Common.

Once we’d run through the Flats again, we again turned right across the centre of the Common and we reached the crossroads again, turned left and headed to the hill heading north towards the top of the Common. The good news was that once we reached the top, it was all downhill and flat to the finish. My pace was reasonable and a sub-27 minute finish was on the cards. If I could increase the pace towards the finish final, 23:30 could be a reality.

In the final 50m, I managed to pick off a few runners and as I crossed the line I looked at my watch to see 26:34. Very happy with that.

As I was walking through the funnel to collect my finish token, I spotted two of the regular S&C participants, Sarah and Oana. Once I collected my finish token, number 400, I headed towards the queues for barcode scanning. I saw Sarah and Oana again but decided to not stop and chat as I was a sweaty mess and didn’t want to impose on them particularly whilst dripping.

Having had my barcode scanned I headed home. Happy to have made my return to parkrun and aiming to return next week with the aim of working towards getting close to my 5 year old PB of 23:34 – 3 minutes faster than my effort. I think that 12 weeks of training may just be enough.. but we’ll see.

The triathlete blog with no mention of triathlon

It hasn’t escaped my attention that this blog, Triathlete In Training, rarely covers anything to do with triathlons and the reality is that it’s unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future. I simply have little interest in participating in events at the moment other than Active Warrior and Rainbow Rampage which both Daniel and I are doing. Life is too busy for any training for any specific event and I don’t need the pressure of preparing for an event.

It’s felt like a fairly hectic first 4 months of the year.

Work continues to be busy with lots of achievements and happy customers.

I completed an excellent first aid course held by Lifeline Training (https://www.facebook.com/LifelineTrg/) with a couple of other Lordshill Road Runners.

The instructor, Brett, was excellent and, although I hope to never need to use the skills learned, I feel confident that I could help save a life in an emergency.

Daniel, Connor and I enjoyed a great skiing holiday with the Trents in early April in La Plagne. It’s brilliant to be able to spend a week in the French Alps with my boys and for them to enjoy the experience.

Daniel has moved from skiing to snowboarding and is really good. Connor tried snowboarding but has decided that skiing is for him. In 2020, we’ll return to La Plagne 20 years after my first visit. I can’t wait.

Having worked with helicopters since my early 20s even I’m surprised that I have never flown in one. When asked for ideas for my 50th birthday in March, I therefore suggested a helicopter flight. I was very pleased to receive a 30 minute pleasure flights from Bliss Aviation at Bournemouth Airport to Corfe Castle and back in mid-April. It was a brilliant experience with some fantastic views of Mudeford, Poole Harbour, Bournemouth and the surrounding areas.

As well as all of the above, a few kayaking and canoeing visits to St Denys Boat Club, the first Lordshill Mile of the year, the weekly S&C sessions I run for LRR, the main other activity has been the family starting to board trainee guide dogs.

I’ve had dogs in my life since birth with about 17 years of later life with Labradors (Harvey and then Milly) with Denise until just under 3 years ago. With us both working full time, a few holidays booked, we can’t commit to a 24/7 pet. It simply wouldn’t be fair. About 18 months ago, we heard about Guide Dog boarding and started the application process which subsequently stalled. Fortunately that changed earlier in the year and we re-applied.

Guide Dog boarding consists of looking after a trainee guide dog overnight during the week and at weekends while they complete their training with a local mobility office. During the week (Monday to Friday), the trainee goes to school to learn how to guide its visually impaired owner.

For about the first 12 months of a Guide dog’s life it lives with a ‘puppy walker’ who provides basic training and a family environment.

The dog then attends basic training typically for about 20 weeks followed by advanced training for 10 weeks. Assuming the dog passes the training, he/she is matched to an owner and they become a fully fledged guide dog.

In order to become a guide dog boarding family, both Denise and I had to complete an application form, be interviewed, have our home checked for suitability, have references submitted and complete a day and a half of training on dog care, responsibilities, the law regarding dogs and the responsibilities of a dog owner. The course, split over 2 days also included dog behaviour, training and lots of practical experience with trainee guide dogs.

The home assessment primarily checks that the house and garden are suitable e.g. the garden is secure, the house is safe, there’s somewhere for the dog to sleep, there’s an area in the garden for the dog to go to the toilet (to ‘spend’) that’s ideally a concrete area for easily cleaning.

Having completed all of the above, we passed and within days were providing a week-long board to cover holiday of 22 month old Golden Retriever, Ludo. A week later we picked up a 14 month old Labrador/Retriever cross Yana and will be boarding her for up to 20 weeks.

Boarding works for us perfectly. As experienced dog owners, we know how to live with dogs and what makes them tick. The mobility office where training is based is in Chilworth a few minutes from where I work so I can drop off in the morning’s from 8am until 9:30am and collect between 4:30pm and 6pm as part of my daily commute. This does mean that my cycling commute has had to be restricted to the couple of days a week that Denise takes Yana to school but that’s a small price to pay for having a dog in our lives.

For all intents and purposes, the guide dog can be treated as a family pet although there are a number of rules including:

– the dog can’t go upstairs

– the dog isn’t allowed on furniture

– the dog isn’t allowed human food or titbits

– the dog must be encouraged to spend on concrete and not out on walksAlso, during the first few weeks of each board, the dog isn’t allowed to free-run (be let off the lead outside the house/garden) or be pavement-walked on its leash. Instead much of the walking is some with a freedom harness and lead (an extendible lead).

Although it’s early days, Guide Dog boarding is working brilliantly for us for many reasons:

– we have a well-trained, well-mannered dog to look after without having to provide that training as a puppy

– we don’t have to worry about the dog being left while we are at work as they are at ‘school’

– we don’t have to worry about kennelling the dog during holidays as other Boarders can provide holiday cover

– we don’t have to pay for food or vet bills as the mobility office provide that

At the end of the boarding period, it’s going to be tough to say goodbye but we’ll know that we’ve helped do something positive for a very worthwhile charity and helped provide a warm family environment during its training and a well trained dog to a visually impaired owner once training is successfully completed.

Getting back on track

In my last blog post, I shared the news of my bad back and how it was impacting my goal of being fit when I reached the grand ol’ age of 50. The good news is that after 3 weeks of inactivity, this week I’ve been able to get active again.

In fact, the previous week I was able to start the ramp up by walking regularly both during lunchtime walks as well as in the treadmill.

This Monday, I got back in my adventure bike and commutes to and from work. I felt my lower back aching a little in the evening so decided to alternate my cycle commute days by cycling Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday and Friday, I drove to work and then went for 30 minute runs. Tuesday’s was a little too early with a pre-6am alarm and a run that started while it was still dark.

As well as that, I decided that I’d try to walk around 2 miles a day. There are lots of health benefits of regular walking and this also acted as a great way to take a break from the office and a recovery from the cycling/running.

On Thursday morning’s run, I made the decision to complete 2600 miles of exercise this year through a combination of running, walking and cycling. That means 50 miles per week. I’m likely to achieve that with 30 miles of cycling, 10 miles of walking and 10 miles of running.

As well as that challenge, I decided to join my wife on Saturday for a swim. As mentioned in a recent post, I swam once last year. That amounted to less than 1 mile in distance – a far cry from the 100 miles I covered 5 years ago when I was training for triathlons.

Having zero swim fitness, I was pleased to complete 40 lengths of the pool.

With today to complete (a run is planned), it’s been a good week with Garmin summarising my activities below:

So far, so good.

So, my rough plan for the coming weeks will be something like:

Monday – cycle and walk

Tuesday – run and walk

Wednesday – cycle and walk

Thursday – run and walk

Friday – cycle and walk

Saturday – Swim

Sunday – run

Secret ’fit at fifty’ operation under threat

Late last year I set myself a secret operation to be as fit as possible when I reached 50. It’s now 7 weeks until the big day and my plans have been derailed considerably by back pain and the consequential lack of mobility.

Almost 2 weeks ago, I spent a weekend doing a combination of a couple of sessions out on the water kayaking and stoopping over a bike doing bike maintenance. Although the latter left a dull ache, it wasn’t until the Monday morning that suddenly my back seized and the discomfort began.

I had hoped that a combination of regular doses of paracetamol, ibuprofen, stretching, foam rolling, heat therapy and rest would help and I’d be able to get back on with my reasonably active life but recovery has been slow.

That’s meant limited sleep, no cycle commutes to and from work, no running or on-the-water activities and a struggle to get out of chairs and bed.

Although I appreciate that ‘it’s only a bad back’ and it was self-inflicted through inadequate care (likely caused by not warming up before kayaking and poor form/technique whilst paddling and not raising my bike up in its maintenance stand for the hour or so that I was working on it), the impact has been frustrating.

I am focused (for the umpteenth time) on losing weight as part of my ‘fit at fifty’ operation and not cycling each day has meant not having 500-700 calorie bonus due to the exercise calorie burn each work day.

As well as the benefit of burning calories, my regular exercise does make me happier. The lack of exercise and pain has meant being grumpy and fed up. Thankfully, I’ve had a few things to take my mind off the negatives including an exciting project at work and the preparation of the yearly accounts for the Beavers/Cubs/Scout group I’m the treasurer for.

The positive news is that I’m being good, tracking calories and working hard to not exceed my target calorie goal each day and that appears to be working in my favour. I’m also hoping that I’m setting a habit of consuming less ‘bad stuff’ each day and that habit may just ‘stick’ for a while once I’m back to regular exercise.

I have my fingers crossed that a weekend of rest, trying to keep mobile and self care will allow me to get back to cycling next week.