Setting myself a challenge or two

For those that have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll remember I’ve set myself a few challenges. Ones that spring to mind include:

  • 875 mile running challenge 
  • Completing a Half  Ironman distance triathlon
  • Losing weight on several occasions
  • Setting up a few parkruns
  • Becoming a Coach In Running Fitness

In the last couple of years, I’ve been a little negligent in publicly announcing challenges although I’ve set myself and halfheartedly attempted a couple. 

This year, I’ve been fairly successful with a couple of challenges which have included:

  • attempting to lose weight (again),
  • teaching myself to play the piano

In addition to these, as a means of encouraging myself to challenge myself every day, I’ve been completing daily challenges. However, to help with these, I’ve got other members of my running club to take part in the imaginatively entitled ‘James’ Daily Challenges’. That won’t win any awards for creativity! These have proved to be popular and have included several 15 Day challenges to complete either a set number or set timed period of:

  • Burpees
  • Pressnups 
  • Wall sits 
  • Plank varieties
  • Mindful breathing

If you want to know more about the group, make a comment on the Facebook post for this blog post. 

And now for some background for the main challenge I’ve set myself…

I try to use my bike to commute as much as possible from April to November and work just over 5 miles from home. In the last year, I’ve cycled approx 1000 miles – almost all commuting to and from work:

I was a little late to start commuting and left it until mid/late April before I got on my bike. Since then I’ve managed to cycle almost every workday that I’ve been in the office and the only days I’ve not cycled from West End to Chillworth and back have been the days I’ve worked from home or when I’ve needed to take equipment to an event straight from work such as the Lordshill Mile events. My normal commute is about 5 miles door to door. 

This week I’d had extra cycling commutes including needing to commute twice to work and back one day and also incorporating a commute from work to my Tuesday evening S&C session. This made me realise that doubling my commute as part of a challenge was possible a few times a week. 

My ‘1350 mile bike commute challenge’ was born. 

I decided that in the next 18 weeks that by cycling every day that I would commute a minimum of 90 days x 2 journeys x 5 miles totalling approx 900 miles. It would be challenge enough to cycle everyday given days off, bad weather etc. However, I decided to make the challenge more difficult by multiplying the total distance by 1.5. That would mean that I’d have to find a longer route to work and commit to not taking the easy option daily (note that option isn’t quite so easy as it includes the full length of the uphill delight of Bassett Green Road!) It will also means cycling more in the next 4 months than I have in the last 12 months. 
I started the challenge yesterday the way I hope to go on with 2 x 11 mile commutes. That journey meant travelling north east via Allington Lane to Fair Oak then through Eastleigh, Chandlers Ford, up the hill near the Asda towards Southampton (argh!) before peeling off onto Birch Road to get to the Southampton Science Park in Chillworth. Here’s the route I took:

I won’t be able to double my commute every day hence the 1.5 factor of my direct commute distance in the challenge. 

The added benefit of the challenge should be a reduction in love handles! In the last few months, I’ve been focusing on this as a goal and it’s going well…

… finally. 

2017 is disappearing before my eyes

2017 is passing very quickly and May is fast approaching. I’ve not posted in my blog for months and it’s time for a catch up.

The year has been pretty good so far. 
Work is going really well. There have been some big project deliveries and associated pressures but all have been met and on time. What’s more, customers have been happy. The development team has grown and my role as Head of Platform Development is my favourite to date. In honesty, I am loving being part of Tonic Analytics, feel very valued, love the work environment, enjoy being part of an expanding team and look forward to every day in the office.

My coaching has also been going well. The Saturday morning sessions has stepped up a gear in terms of toughness for participants and it’s been great to introduce some new sessions. A core group of regular participants turn up to each session although there are some weeks (school holidays normally) where low availability of the group means postponing the session. It would be great to get 3 or 4 more regular participants so if you’re a Lordshiller who doesn’t mind getting up early, these sessions may be of interest. 

Tuesday evening Strength and Conditioning sessions are also going really well. It’s almost 11 months since these sessions started and I think I’ve managed to make every session unique.

This week was a particular favourite… for me… as we were outside (due to the college being closed) and I used a bootcamp-style session structure.

Although I’d decided on the exercises and rough structure of the session before hand, it was only as I was driving to the Common that I decided to introduce some punishments and extra ‘fun’ features to the session. These included a punishment exercise (press ups, start jumps, burpees) for the whole group if:

– anyone turned up late. There were several latecomers!

– there was too much talking – there was

– Instructions weren’t followed

In my view (not necessarily shared by those attending!), these added a little fun to the session. 

Having led many sessions now (I’ve lost count but likely in the region of 80 or so) I feel confident enough to be able to make up sessions on the fly… and often do … especially on a Saturday morning. This isn’t the case so much with the S&C sessions as I normally produce laminated exercise station cards and a session overview sheet to hand out to participants. 

Having said that, at Tuesday’s session, I did neither. There were also no sweets and no music. ‘This is a Boot Camp not a holiday camp!
It’s going to be great to get the sessions outside from June and I want to introduce some new exercises and sessions structures once we do. 

The S&C sessions have been well attended with over 30 attending weekly and the number often getting close to or slightly exceeding 40! I’m told by the club’s chairman that this makes the sessions the largest solo-led sessions each week. 

One other related activity has been to set a couple of 15 day challenges to those that attend the sessions I run. So far, we’ve had the ’15 Day 30 Burpee Challenge’ and we’re nearing the end of the ’15 Day Proper Press Up Challenge’. Although only about 10 have been taking part in each challenge, I’ve enjoyed them both from the perspective of being a participant (the challenge itself, the interaction of participants and the short nature mean it’s easier to keep focused on the goal) but also leading the challenges and seeing the daily interaction and improvements made by those taking part. 

The only negatives of the S&C sessions are a lack of feedback on the sessions from regular participants via the Facebook group and the sessions being poorly attended by the male members (!) of the club. Often, the ratio is 30 females to 5 males. Having said that, what is great is that there a wide spectrum of members attending from those in groups A to G. 

One other bit of running related ‘news’ is that this year, we’ve held the first of 5 Lordshill Mile events. As usual, it went really well and attendance was good. Bizarrely, although it was very well attended by Lordshillers (thanks in part to many of the regulars from the S&C attending), the first event wasn’t as well attended by other clubs. Not sure why but hope that, given the events are fun and free, this will improve in the events for the rest of this year’s series. 

I’m not the model Lordshill Road Runners member I’m sure as, due to other commitments, I don’t get the chance to attend any other training sessions other than the ones I lead, I don’t complete in the local leagues (RR10 and CC6) and have only raced once in the last 18 months. However, I certainly contribute as a volunteer to the club. 

Having been busy at work in recent weeks, I’ve not had a lot of opportunity to run. However, what has been great is that in the last 2-3 weeks, every run I’ve done has been with Daniel. Since he joined Scouts, he’s been taking part in a physical activity challenge. His initial suggestion for this was ‘jumping’. However, I managed to persuade him to run 3 times a week instead. He started off by running for 15 minutes on the treadmill each time and then recording the distance run and his heart rate at the end of each run. After about 4 weeks, I asked Daniel whether he wanted to run with me outside and we’ve done so ever since. I let him pick the route and the pace and we head out for 20-30 minutes. Connor joined us for the first couple of runs but his interest has waned. I’m sure that he’ll rejoin us at some point in the future. Daniel and I are going to start increasing the run duration very gradually and I’ll see if he wants to incorporate some Fartlek or interval style sessions. 

I guess the only other blog-worthy news is that I’ve finally got back on my bike! I was regularly cycling to work (about 10 miles per day) until October last year but stopped for the winter. The plan had been to start cycling again at the start of April but workload, the weather but mostly lethargy got in the way. Having now cycled to work a grand total of once this year (yesterday), I’ve set myself the challenge of cycling at least 3 times a week for the next 6 months. I’m hoping that Bassett Green Road gets flatter and easier to cycle up and my saddle gets more comfortable in the coming weeks.

I’m hoping that the regular cycling, lunchtime runs and evening/weekend runs with Daniel and more regular parkrunning will help reduce my waistline between now and October when we head away for a late summer holiday in the sun.  

Completely unrelated to the usual subject of the blog is another challenge I’ve set myself which is to learn to play the piano. I played briefly as a child but gave up as other distractions stole my interest. I’ve been using a brilliant iPhone app called Simply Piano by JoyTunes and have played for at least 15 minutes per day ever since the 1st of January. I often manage to play for more than that and have been known to practice 2 or 3 times a day if time permits. It’s slow but steady progress but I’m really enjoying the challenge and am able to play a variety of different songs that Denise and the boys are able to recognise. 

So, that for now, is it. Plenty going on but all good. 

Looking forward to 2017

In my last post I looked back at 2016 and how little I achieved activity-wise. In this post, I’m looking forward to next year, 2017. 

Before I go on, aside from the weight gain in the last year of over 1/2 a stone), there have been lots of positive things in my life so it’s not all ‘doom and gloom’!
It’s very easy to set multiple goals, fail to meet some and then give up which typically spirals into not achieving anything. 

Therefore, my aim for 2017 is to set a small number of goals and focus on those. 

In light of that, an ever-expanding waistline, and while fully acknowledging the other demands on my time, I have 3 goals for 2017; two of which I hope to achieve before my looming 48th birthday in exactly 3 months.  

Those are:

(a) to loose 1.5 stone by 22nd March 2017

(b) to get a PB at the Eastleigh 10K on the 19th March 2017 (e.g. a sub-50 finish)

A tentative goal which I’m not fully convinced I can achieve is:

(c) to complete the Southampton Half in under 2 hours on the 23rd April 2017

These goals will be tough. I have no doubt about that. The most challenging is likely to be (a) but hopefully that’ll make (b) and (c) easier. 

With regards my bulging love handles, I weighed 13st in March 2013 and in March 2014 but was almost 13.5 st in March 2015 and 14 st in March 2016. Losing 1.5 st would put me back to 13st and reduce my BMI from 28 (overweight) to a little over 25 (healthy). To get me into the healthy range (while acknowledging that BMI is not a great metric to focus on) would require reaching 12st 12lbs or less. That would be great but would require a little too much weekly weight loss. 

As an aside, I hit 12st in July 2014 during my training for the Weymouth Half ‘Ironman’ so 13st (or slightly under) should be an achievable weight and one where I don’t look gaunt or unhealthy. 

In terms of achieving the above, my focus will be on:

  1. Tracking calories 
  2. Eating sensibly
  3. Running 3 times a week
  4. Incorporating 1-2 cross training/S&C  sessions per week

Number 4 may require commuting to work again which will be a challenge given my (not so) recent return to driving, the weather and lighting conditions. More excuses available on demand…

Looking back at 2016

I’m the Autumn of 2015, I had big plans for 2016. Lots of races and events. However, injury, a change of job and various other things meant that I didn’t race once during the year. 

My involvement locally with parkrun declined midway through the year after helping set up Winchester junior parkrun and volunteering at my 250th parkrun. Having volunteered for parkrun for 6 years, I feel I’ve done my fair share and am enjoying being able to lie in and not feel guilty if local events are short of volunteers. 

In terms of my running and other activity, I’ve managed a whopping 430ish km of running! Hardly anything at all. 

Cycling faired a little better with 1860 km to date. That was largely due to commuting by bike 3 times a week on average. 

Swimming was something I haven’t really done with a messily 850m (yes metres!) recorded. 

More positively, I became a Coach in Running Fitness; a journey that started in March and took 6 months but, in reality, is far from over. 

During that 6+ months, I’ve held 58 coached session (31 x Saturday morning sessions and 26 x Tuesday evening S&C sessions) and I’ve enjoyed every one. I’m confident that my coaching has resulted in several PBs for others which is great news. 
As well as coaching, I helped organise and provided all the results service for the ever-successful Lordshill Mile series. 

My main focus of 2017 is to run more regularly. I’m running 2-3 times a week, mostly with work colleagues in and around Chilworth and Lordswood. 

I’ve signed up for the Eastleigh 10K (and Southampton Half) in 2017. I’m not committing to anything more than that for now. I will also focus on delivering and enjoying coached sessions with Saturday morning sessions restarting on the 7th January 2017.

Coach in Running Fitness Assessment Day

Today was the assessment day for the Coach in Running Fitness course that I started way back in March

With 3 days of training and 6 months of sessions under my belt (almost 50 hours of coached sessions and many more hours of session planning, building mesocycles and Internet trawling), I was quietly confident that I’d get through the assessment without too many issues. 

Many of my Saturday morning sessions have been witnessed by my excellent Support Coach Carol who has provided invaluable feedback on how to improve content and delivery and I’ve done my best to take that advise on board. 
Even with all that prep and the technical exam successfully completed, I didn’t sleep well last night and woke feeling far from rested. With the assessment being held at the Ageas Bowl in Hedge End, at least I didn’t have a long journey ahead. 

I arrived early but fortunately wasn’t the only one as two of the course tutors, Ana and Simon had also just arrived. It was good to chat with them and that helped settle my nerves which had started to build. 

Over the following 30 minutes, the two other assessors arrived as well as the remaining 14 training coaches. 

The day was divided into 2 halves. The first half would focus on the delivery of a 20 minute unit from a pre-prepared session plan. Our performance were compared to a 2-page checklist with the assessors having to witness and document how we performed against 20 or so criteria. These were essentially the key points from the ‘On Track’ cards which I’d handily typed onto one page for quick review. 

The afternoon would then be used to get an opportunity to deliver another unit from the session plan in order to cover any assessed elements that weren’t successfully witnessed by the assessors in the morning. We’d then have to discuss the mesocycle (8 week plan) we’d devised for an athlete, how that training had gone, any issues along the way and next steps we’d taken or had planned with the athlete. Finally, we’d discuss our future as a coach and build an action plan for ourselves with the assessor before finding out whether we’d passed or failed. 

The 15 trainee coaches were divided into 3 groups of 5 and we then headed out to start delivering our sessions with our assessor. As trainees, we’d only met 2 of the 4 assessors and it was a little scary to find out that our assessors was new to us. However, Paul turned out to be very friendly and positive. It also transpired later that Paul Moseley was in charge of all the coaching education and courses for England Athletics and had led the team devising and delivering the CiRF course. He was the Head Honcho! Eek!

I was in a group with fellow Lordshillers trainee Martin who I’d worked with closely during the 6 months; helping review his session plans and mesocycle. 

The other members of the group were Clive, Deena and myself. 

Clive was up first and my unit was 3rd while Martin was 5th. 

I won’t go into much detail about that others’ units but I will say that we almost all chose ‘arm drive’ as the technical skill to focus on. This was a good choice IMO as any discrepancies from the desired ‘positive backward arm drive’ are easy to spot and address. Although with experience, we all develop of ‘coaching eye’, confidently spotting issue with foot landing or CoM is more of a challenge. 

My plan followed my normal Saturday morning ‘recipe’ of a warmup, tech skills, S&C circuit and then cooldown and stretches. 

As I was delivering my ’20 minutes of a session’ midway through the group, I chose to deliver the tech skills bit of my plan focusing on, you guessed it, a technical skill of positive backward arm drive (as well as tall posture and relaxed shoulders). This involved some visualisation, silent demos (which I find impossible), some group participation and then a short pyramid session followed by an intervention and then a longer pyramid. 
All went well and I was happy with how I delivered the session and the fact that I delivered the whole unit without referring to my session plan. I’d had enough practice. 

We were given feedback immediately after delivering the unit and my assessor had passed me on every element apart from one. He guided me to try and establish the one issue I’d not resolved during the unit but I couldn’t think what it was. Fortunately, Paul happily let me know that I’d had the group facing the sun which made it difficult for them to concentrate during part of the demoing. D’oh. 

As each trainee was participating in the other trainee’s sessions, we all had quite a workout during the morning. I was shattered by lunch! I don’t think I was the only one. I was just glad that I didn’t need to run my pyramid session!

After lunch we headed back outside to deliver a 10 minute unit from our session plan which provided the opportunity to showcase any skills we’d not been able or hadn’t used in the morning. For me that meant making sure the group weren’t facing the sun. 

Again I was the 3rd to deliver and chose to include the S&C unit. I was pretty confident about that given both using S&C in my Saturday morning sessions and the dedicated weekly S&C sessions I deliver to club members. 
Again, that unit went well and I was happy with how I’d delivered the unit. That just left the conversation about my delivered mesocycle and discussing an action plan. 

Although I’ve build mesocycles for a few athletes, I chose the one I’d built for Jonathan Smith that had gone really well and the outcome of which had exceeded both of our expectations in that Jon had smashed his parkrun PB. That discussion went well and a short time later, Paul let me know I’d passed my assessment and was now a Coach in Running Fitness. He’d also commented on how I had a very natural coaching style and that it was clear that I enjoyed coaching. Can’t really ask for more than that. 

So, 6 months of hard work is over and I can now carry on coaching. Phew! As I’ve mentioned many times, I really enjoy coaching and am confident that I’ll continue to improve both my knowledge and delivery of sessions in the coming weeks, months and years. Many thanks to Carol and all the Lordshill Road Runners I’ve coached to date. I’m looking forward to building more interesting sessions and seeing more LRR members benefit from the technical skills I help teach them and the S&C sessions I deliver. This journey has only just started. Who knows where it’ll take me. 

10 things you probably already know about me – updated for 2017

In middle-age, for many, there are often fewer opportunities for people to make new friends and for past generations, many people’s circle of friends contracts rather than expands once reaching one’s 40s, 50s and beyond. I get to meet new people regularly. Mostly, the expansion of my circle-of-friends has been via the running club I’m a member of, Lordshill Road Runners, or parkrun. These friendship start with a ‘hello’ or an introduction. Before long, we’re seeing each other more regularly at training sessions, parkrun or other events… just about remembering each other’s names, discussing recent achievements and slowly learning a little about each other.

One opportunity to get to know me better is to read my (infrequent) blog posts right here where I post about my running and triathlon-related experiences. Most of it is dull I’m sure but my aim is to keep track of what I’ve done in the hope that when I’m old(er) and grey(er) and my memory has diminished (more) that I can remind myself, and maybe others, what I’ve done and achieved since getting off my rapidly-expanding derriere, deciding to start running at the grand old age of 39.
However, to ease the introduction and to provide a summary of a little about me (mostly related to running, triathlon or similar activities) for recently acquired friends, here are 10 things you may (or may not) know about me.

a) I’m rapidly approaching 50 (!!!) and hit this milestone in 2019 and have been married for 17 years to Denise and we have two boys – Daniel aged 11 and Connor aged 8.

b) Until early 2015, I was the Technical Director for an online florist where I’d worked for about 12 years. I was very lucky to be able to work from home and  had few reasons to leave the house due to this. The positive side of this was that until recently I was able to spend a lot of time with the boys and get then ready for school, wave then off and greet then when they returned.

In early 2015, I worked as Head of Technology for parkrun Global in what felt, for a time, like a dream job. I guess it was on occasion  but mostly it was quite a toxic environment. Due to this and a decision to outsource technology meant that I left (along with all of ‘my’ team) to pursue other interests in December 2015. Ultimately, not working at parkrun and my subsequent role (detailed below) has had a massive positive impact on my life.

Since early 2016, I’ve been working as ‘Head of Platform Development’ for a new startup in Southampton. The startup was ‘started up’ by friends I’d worked with 16 years ago. It’s a great team, really positive and with a positive outlook on technology and who value my experience technically as well as an experienced team leader and project manager.  As our offices are at the University of Southampton Science Park,  I get to run in Lordswood a few times a week.

c) In 2009, the fact that I rarely left the house, increasingly more mobile children and feeling less and less active meant that I took up running to train for a charity 10K (it was also the first 10K event that Di Mattingly did)

d) I found out about parkrun in late 2009 and attended my first parkrun event 7 years ago at Eastleigh parkrun’s 3rd event in May 2010 (also Lewis Chalk’s first parkrun – Lewis was first across the line)

e) I took over as Event Director (ED) at Eastleigh parkrun in late 2010 and then went on to set up, and become ED, at Netley Abbey parkrun and Southampton parkrun before passing on the reins to others once the events established. Along the way, I helped with setting up other local parkruns including Winchester and Brockenhurst’s events.

f) I founded Southampton junior parkrun in November 2013 and was the Event Director for about 18 months. I was also a parkrun Ambassador for junior parkruns in Hampshire (helping existing events as well as helping teams establish new events) and a parkrun Event Adjudicator for a while. To date I’ve volunteered at over 250 parkrun events undertaking over 400 roles (including being Run Director at over 55 events). Of the 4 events I’ve set up and ED’d, now almost 2000 runners participate every weekend.

My volunteering efforts resulted in me carrying the Queens Baton for the 2014 Commonwealth Games Queens Baton Relay with Iwan Thomas.

g) I’m a proud member of Lordshill Road Runners, a club I joined about 4-years ago. I became Vice Chairman for the club in September 2013 and held that role for 2 years. I also help organise the popular LRR Mile Series and have been Run Director for several of the club’s races (10 Mile 2013, 10K 2014 and 10K 2015).

I was active as a Run Leader on Monday night sessions with LRR for over a year before starting to train as a Coach in Running Fitness. I currently delivery two sessions a week; a technique and strength and conditioning session on a Saturday morning and a S&C session on a Tuesday evening. These sessions have been running for about 15 and 12 months respectively. I love delivering these sessions and hope they’re enjoyed by those that attend.

h) As well as enjoying running, I’m a keen, yet currently lapsed, triathlete (although not particularly good!) and have completed several since my first in June 2013. The longest triathlon I’ve completed to date is the Challenge Weymouth Half Distance Triathlon in September 2013. I do have ambitions of doing a full Iron distance event one day!

i) I like organising things (as should be apparent from the above) and am fairly good at time management in order to juggle the things I do, training, work and hectic family life.

j) I enjoy challenges. I know lots of people who don’t appear to set themselves any other challenge other than living from day to day. I did that for many years just plodding through each day, week and year. However, my life is now made up of multiple challenges and they give a great focus and reasons for living.

So, there you go. That’s a little about me!

Coached sessions – places available

The following is for Lordshill Road Runners. 

As many regular readers of my blog will know, for the last 6 months or so, I’ve been holding a coached session for Lordshill Road Runners members on a Saturday morning from 7:30am until 8:30am.

I’m currently a few weeks into an 8-week block of sessions that will finish at the end of October and am seeking participants for the next block starting in November 2016. 

I thought I’d use my blog to try to entice you to considering joining these sessions. 

The sessions are for runners of all Lordshill Members of all ages and abilities and the session block is designed to help improve running form for:

  • Endurance running
  • Running uphill
  • Running downhill
  • Max velocity running
  • Running over obstacles
  • Running off road

as well as get you fitter and stronger. 

The sessions comprise of a number of parts including:

  • Introduction
  • Warmup
  • Technical skills work
  • Strength & conditioning
  • Cooldown
  • Stretches

Here’s just a sample of the feedback received for previous sessions:

“I enjoyed the mix of running and S&C and it was good to learn about uphill running technique, as some of the information was new to me. I’m looking forward to being able to put it into practice!”

“Really well run session, well explained and well balanced.”

“I really enjoyed this morning’s session. It was fun and I definitely felt like I’d had a good workout afterwards.”

“I thought today’s session was great, thank you. I really enjoyed it.”

“Your sessions are great James. You put lots of different parts to your sessions. I love the way you mix it up.”

“This was definitely my favourite session so far! The ‘play your cards right’ theme and obstacle run made the session really enjoyable…it was good to do something a bit different.”

The sessions are fun, free and are for Lordshill Road Runners only. 

I’m sure you’ll be concerned that a session before parkrun will impact your ability to PB. Evidence shows this isn’t the case with many of the participants of previous groups smashing their parkrun PBs. 

If you’re interested in joining the current or a future block of these sessions, please let me know.