Royal Parks half-marathon: just a little bit further

I had a fab run yesterday morning. I’d planned to go a little it further than last time and cast my mind back to my training runs for last year’s London Marathon. (Oh, the painful memories!)

Anyway, I wanted to have a challenging, long run an not simply go round in a loop. My most enjoyable runs last year were when I headed out with an Oyster Card, planning to get the tube home after going as far as I could in one direction.

So yesterday morning, I left Canary Wharf, headed through Shadwell, up to Old Street, then up to Angel, King’s Cross, Baker Street, Edgware Road and then down to Green Park. There, I popped into Starbucks and ordered a venti coffee, took a breather and hopped on the Jubilee Line home.

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All in all, it was 17km and I enjoyed almost every step of the way. Obviously, as soon as I got to Old Street, the heavens opened and I was caught in a downpour. ūüôĄ I got soaked through and did start to worry about blisters – whenever my trainers get wet when out running, I always seems to end up with epic blisters.

Thankfully, that never happened, though I didn’t dry off until I got to Baker Street, once the sun was out for a while. The only injury I experienced was some pretty intense chafing in the nipple region (too much information?) as a result of my wet running top. I can live with that, as I’ve not a jot of leg or foot pain (or even stiffness) this morning. And it’s partly my fault for forgetting to apply a liberal measure of Vasoline to the usual nooks and crannies. (Yes, too much information…)

I won’t forget it on race day, that’s for sure.

I was really pleased with how the run went, including the fact I kept a reasonable pace through and was only slowed down by either pedestrians or road traffic. Average pace was 5:23, which I can definitely improve in the coming weeks.¬†I’ll do this long run again, but will continue past Green Park tube and head down over the river to Waterloo. I think eventually, I’ll end up back at Tower Bridge or nearby.

My challenge in the next couple of weeks (if you can call it that) is that I have two business trips coming up. This makes training harder, but not impossible. I’m in Sitges and Barcelona next weekend and then in Jersey the following Friday. I’ll bring my gear to both, but will have to take it slightly easier in the heat of Sitges.

Anyway, in case you’ve missed the whole reason I’m training for the Royal Parks half-marathon, it’s epilepsy. I’m living with it, have done for 15 years and want to raise some money for the people behind a great resource: Epilepsy Action.

You can sponsor my run via this link. As of this morning, I’m at 78% of my fundraising target, so every single pound/euro/dollar could help me get there. Huge thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

 

Royal Parks Half-marathon: Taking it up a notch

I ran 9km over lunch yesterday, in the wonderful London sun. And despite waking up to glorious sun this morning, it seems to have evaporated and gone elsewhere. Nonetheless, I topped up my (very depleted) caffeine levels and hit the streets.

(As an aside, my running is fuelled by caffeine, not enthusiasm. Running sans cafe is invariably a slow, wheezing misery. I guess it how I’m built).

I managed a very comfortable 15km around the City, only slowed down by the copious volumes of dog shit on the pavements of Shadwell, the gaggles of tourists blocking all the routes around Tower Hill and the people chasing Pokey-men (I know!) all around Old Street roundabout.

Seriously – look where you’re walking! Sigh.

I’d aimed for 15km this morning and was really pleased with my pace (very even throughout) and how I felt afterwards – absolutely¬†brilliant.

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It left me feeling very positive about the Royal Parks half-marathon, even to the stage where I’m pretty confident I can come in under my 2:00 goal. Securing that time, injury-free, would be superb.

And it’s all in aid of Epilepsy Action. If you’d like to donate the price of a coffee to my fundraising efforts, you can do so via this link:¬†https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/RunningForEpilepsyAction. Every single pound will be much appreciated by me and the nice folks at Epilepsy Action. Snd the good news is that I’m at 71% of my fundraising target of ¬£350!

Big thanks to everyone who has donated so far. If you can’t, please consider sharing this blog post or the fundraising link to raise awareness.

 

On the run…again

We’re roughly two months out from his year’s¬†Royal Park’s Half-marathon¬†and I’m back into training with gusto. I ran almost every morning when in South Beach last month and, while it was far too hot and humid, it was great to get a few kms under my belt. Also a great way to take in South Beach’s spectacular ocean views, so it wasn’t all misery ūüėČ

I completed my longest run in a while this morning: 14km around the city. Left Canary Wharf, headed through Limehouse, across Cable Street, up past Spitalfields, round Old Street roundabout, through Moorgate, down to Bank and across Cable Street and home again.

I had to avoid Wapping and the Highway due to today’s London Triathlon. Barriers and crowds galore!

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It was really enjoyable and I ended up running further than planned due to a combination of the sunshine and the unaccountable spring in my step. Strange, given¬†yesterday’s overindulgences!

Anyway, I’m putting together a training plan to cover the next eight weeks – one that hopefully won’t result in peaking too soon or injuring myself. I have a couple of trips in the calendar between now and then – one to Sitges and one to Jersey. I’m looking forward to getting some runs in on both visits. But I know I need to get the kms in on London’s streets too.

As ever, I’m running to raise money for¬†Epilepsy Action. I¬†live with epilepsy¬†and this charity does great work to dispel myths, provide support to those living with the condition, as well as their families and carers. Every run I complete, I do¬†in the knowledge that so many others with epilepsy just couldn’t.

I’m lucky – I really am.

If you’d like to add to my sponsorship fund,¬†just click here¬†– thanks in advance for every single pound. It’s much appreciated!

Apple Watch: a few weeks in…

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I’ve been using my new Apple Watch daily for a few weeks now, so I thought it would be useful to reflect¬†how it’s been going.¬†In case anyone out there is still wondering what it’s like to use outside of an Apple Store.

If you can’t be bothered to scroll to the bottom, let me summarise here: I really, really like it and find it extremely useful. On the other hand, it’s not life-changing and is in no way a necessity. I like gadgets and I’ve used a smart watch (the Pebble) before. So I’d already decided that getting mobile notifications on my wrist is something I actually want.

Basically, the Apple Watch is¬†aimed squarely at people like me.¬†If you’re not sure what brand of mobile phone you use (or couldn’t care less), I don’t think the Apple Watch is going to be for you.

Anyway…

So far?

So I had over 6 months of life with the Pebble smart watch to get used to the idea of a watch that communicates with your phone. And my time with the Pebble (which isn’t gathering dust somewhere, by the way – it’s¬†gone to a good home) demonstrated to me that smart watches are “a good thing”.

I get so much information on my Apple Watch that my iPhone 6 plus spends more time in my bag or jacket pocket. This is helpful, due to its size, but also due to its ability to draw me in and distract me. Now,¬†I only look at the phone when I want to, so I’m less likely to get distracted by other apps.

You know what I mean? “Let me check my email. Interesting… let’s click that link. Oooh cats! I need to¬†share this on Twitter!”. Repeat ad nauseum. Now, I get a notification on my wrist and I actively decide if it’s useful or necessary to get my phone out and do something about it. Far from being an additional distractor, for me at least, the Apple Watch has proved¬†less¬†of a distraction. And my iPhone battery is lasting even longer as a result!

What else…?

Activity & Health

Many of the reviews of the Apple Watch that I’ve read go into great deal on the Activity¬†functionality. For my part, I find it really interesting. I probably use the Activity app more than any other. Up until recently, I tracked my activity (steps taken) using a Fitbit, which was faithfully attached to my trouser pocket every morning. Using the Apple Watch to track my movements (as I have such a sedentary job, this is important!) means I’ve left the Fitbit on my bedside table for the last couple of weeks.

The periodic Activity¬†reminders (hourly reminders to “Stand up and move around!” and summary updates every four hours) actually make me want to move more. Mostly because I’m competitive and want to complete the three “circles” that summarise your daily activity. I’d like to be able to compare myself to friends on this front – just like Fitbit or Nike+. Perhaps Apple will introduce this in time.

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I’ve yet to use the Workout app¬†for structured exercise. I much prefer to use Nike+ to track my runs and on this front, I’m really pleased. I like to run with my iPhone 6 plus (crazy, I know!) carried in a pouch on my arm. This isn’t just for Nike+ run-tracking, but also for safety. I want to have my phone with me in case I have an epileptic seizure while far from home.

Anyway, starting a run and listing to a podcast at the same time has always been a faff. I’d have to start the podcast running, switch to Nike+ app and secure a GPS signal. Once that’s done, I’d start the run, frantically pack the iPhone back into the pouch and strap it to my arm, all while trying to start running. You can imagine just how stupid I looked.

Now, I leave the phone on my arm and control everything from the Apple Watch. It’s great to be able to control what I’m listening to via my watch, rather than needing either headphones with a built-in remote or to remove the iPhone from its pouch. That said, I was able to control music and podcasts via my Pebble and, in fact, its physical buttons were far easier to use than the Apple Watch’s screen. Basically, if I want to do anything even vaguely complex, I need to slow down to a walk and start tapping carefully. Which can be difficult when you’ve been running all guns blazing – shaking hands don’t cooperate with such a small screen.

My other observation using the watch while running is that the rubber strap does get sweaty. This is inevitable and not really a problem, but worth pointing out. I’m human. When I exercise, I perspire. But all the same, I’m going to invest in a spare rubber strap, so I can periodically swap them out and keep them clean. On that front, I’m glad it’s so simple to take the straps off.

Running aside, I’m finding it very interesting to have my heart rate tracked via the Apple Watch. I’ve never done this before as I’ve not seen the need for even more running equipment to wear while I’m outside. Looking back over heart rate data after a few days is especially interesting. For example, there was a very extreme spike during the voting for the Eurovision semi-final! More so than any of the runs I’ve completed in the last week.

(Either the Eurovision voting had me incredibly excited or I need to push myself more when I’m running. Probably a little of both, if I’m honest…)

Reviewing the Health app on my iPhone is also proving useful for the first time ever. It pulls in information from various sources: movement, heart rate and exercise from the Apple Watch and Nike+, diet and calories from MyFitnessPal and weight/body composition from my Fitbit scales in the bathroom.

Day to day

Fitness and health-tracking aside, day to day I’m finding the notifications useful. My advice to anyone getting an Apple Watch would be to only add notifications from the apps you’re interested in hearing from. Otherwise your watch just won’t stop beeping and/or vibrating. I only hear from my watch when I get tweeted at, get a text message, when there’s an activity reminder or a preset reminder from ToDoist. That and the regular reminders to keep moving. I also get the odd news alert from the BBC and Guardian apps.

When I consider the number of apps on my phone, I would be horrified (and then quickly bored) if each sent a notification to my wrist. Notifications would quickly lose their impact and I’d start to ignore my wrist as well as my pocket.

In terms of what others think, it took a while for the watch to be noticed by someone else. Which I was relieved about. I didn’t want to call attention to it, which partly influenced my decision to get the darkest option, with a black strap. Even I forget I’m wearing it, until I receive a notification. Which is how I want it – I don’t want it to be so heavy or uncomfortable that I’m constantly aware I have an Apple device strapped to my wrist.

One of the first people to notice it was one of the security team at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. When leaving London, I’d walked through security at London City airport with the watch on my wrist. I’d genuinely forgotten I had it on, but dutifully emptied my pockets of everything else that could conceivably set off the scanner I had to walk through. Not a thing. Only afterwards did I realise what I’d done.

On the return leg of my journey, a week later, I intentionally left the watch on when waling through the security scanner. Which, helpfully, buzzed. I got a frisking and a rescanning, after which the security guard pointed at my wrist and asked “Maybe it’s your fancy new Apple Watch?”, with more than a smirk on her face. I took it off, handed it to her and walked through the scanner again. Clean.

I tried explaining that it hadn’t set off the scanners in London, but she wasn’t interested. The reminder of the passengers at the departure gate were, however, and more than a few pointed and tried to get a closer look. I often wear my sleeves rolled up, which makes it more obvious. I was a little self-conscious at first, but it’s only really obvious to others when it’s illuminated. (Or when it’s pointed at, by an airport security official).

When someone¬†does notice it and wants to know more, I’ve found it hard to demonstrate any of the functionality. You have to manoeuvre your arm and wrist into all kinds of contortions and get pretty close. I’m not keen on handing it over for a closer look, so a few taps on the screen and some leaning in is all that gets done.

What else? In my experience, the functionality that allows you to¬†share¬†your heart beat with another Apple Watch users seems to be a bit of a gimmick. I think I’ve done it twice. Or maybe I’m just not romantic? Maybe the next iteration of the OS will introduce something useful in this space.

Battery life

The battery on the Apple Watch is exceeding my expectations. I have to say that it was one of my main worries when it arrived. I still take it off each evening to charge and I’d love to get 48 hours out of it to before another charge.

From what I can tell, using the watch to track exercise seems to drain the battery much faster. But what i usually do is pop it on the charger while I’m showering after a run anyway. And despite what i’ve read online, the watch definitely doesn’t come into the shower with me. But in general, I’m going to bed with about 70% of the charge left.

That said, I bring a charging cable with me when I have to travel. I definitely wouldn’t get more than 24 hours out of it and so I’ll stick to the nightly charging habit. It’s no chore and actually gives me peace of mind.

All in all?

All in all, I like it a lot. It’s become part of my routine and has been truly helpful on more than one occasion. It has made me more mindful of daily exercise. It has helped me be more mindful of how I use my iPhone. And it’s a nice piece of kit – definitely more solid and well designed than the pebble. It looks more like a grown-up’s watch and less¬†something you wear while engaging in sport.

It is, all the same, a luxury. But in the same way an iPhone is a luxury. Even if you¬†need a mobile phone, do you really need a smartphone? And does it have to be from Apple? I have both of these out of choice, because I like them. I’m clean on the benefits I’m getting from each and don’t really think everyone else out there should have one.

If you have a clear idea of what you might get from an Apple Watch, I’d say go for it. As long as the price doesn’t mean you’ll miss any important bills or go without food. If you’ve previously had a smart watch (e.g. the Pebble), then you’ll know what I’m talking about when I describe the utility of on-write notifications.

I don’t¬†need an Apple Watch, but I’m very glad I got one.

A post-Xmas recovery run

I flew back from Scotland yesterday morning, having spent a few days absorbing calories from the very air around me.

It was a typical post-Xmas scenario: in just the three days spent in Scotland, it was meal after meal, battling the Scottish cold and damp and eating more to feel better. This included meals out, a trip to an Xmas market and the requisite roast pork bap, a visit to Yo! Sushi and ingestion of my own body weight in Cadbury’s Roses.

I also got very little exercise. While I managed a cross-country run while in the Netherlands, my running gear was left unpacked while I was in Scotland. So after an early morning flight back from Edinburgh, I was keen to get unpacked and hit the streets for a run.

I was so very lucky.

While it was freezing outside (literally – I came across ice on the streets and floating ice in various docks and canals) the sun was blazing in the sky, making London look stunning – the Thames in particular. Even with the sun, I was glad of my gloves and new running tights. There was a riverside wind that could cut you in two!

And I wasn’t alone dashing through the streets: it seemed that half of London had decided to get out for a run too. It was a mix of slightly disdainful-looking pros and obviously new runners, trying out the running kit they got for Christmas.

But company is company, as I had plenty of people to pace myself against and, together, we battle the various obstacles along our way: toddlers, dogs, buggies and tourists, especially near the Tower of London.

The run was enjoyable, but I broke one of my own running rules by stopping a few times to take some photos. Thankfully, Nike+ now automatically pauses when it senses you’ve stopped, so these brief stops to capture the moment didn’t have a negative impact on my overall timing. But not a good habit to get into while I’m training for a marathon!

Here are some of the pics I took along the way:

I managed just over 10km in a little under an hour and felt very comfortable all the way around. I once again sought out variety and made my way along the Thames as far as Tower Hill. I then nipped into the City and ran through the deserted streets before looping back and running home via Tower Bridge and the throngs of tourists.

That definitely slowed me down. It broke my rhythm and was not the smartest move. I’ll be avoiding that particular route from now on, unless it’s very early in the morning.

I felt great after it and was pleased that I was so keen to run again after days of inactivity and festive sloth.

Looking at the next four months, my main challenge is going to be keeping to my running schedule while on many and varied trips for business. Running in Singapore and Malaysia is going to be interesting, considering the temperature differences to London!

But it’s all in a good cause: an enjoyable, faster and injury-free London Marathon, raising funds for Epilepsy Action. If you’d like to support my run, you can drop me a few pounds/dollars/euros via my JustGiving page here.

And don’t forget: moral support is most welcome too! So please share the link on your social media channels if you think others would like to support me. Thanks!

Regent’s Canal Run

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I popped out for a¬†lunchtime run as I’m working from home today. Looking at the clouds overhead, I was in two minds, but I’m glad I made the effort. I retraced my steps and travelled a little way up Regent’s Canal.

Other runners, cyclists and random toddlers aside, the biggest obstacles to a quick run were the frankly aggressive geese and swans along the canal. At several points, everyone human was having to veer up onto the bank from the path, just to avoid them. They were gathered like teenage hoodlums, staking their territory and daring any of us to get in their way. Big fellas.

I felt sorry for one woman who had decided to come down and feed the ducks. The geese soon made short work of the ducks, sending them off in a flurry of wings, splashes and squawks. They then slowly and menacingly bore down on the woman with the bread, who handed it over like she was being mugged.

Geese.

The new ASBO targets of East London.

A good run, faster than my last. I’m hoping for another couple of 8km runs, then it’s up to 10km. I don’t want to up my distance too much, too quickly. All working towards October 12th and the Royal Parks half-marathon, which I’m running for Epilepsy Action. If you’re so inclined, you can sponsor me here.

One foot in front of the other

Since my knee surgery back in November, I’ve had one over-riding goal in mind: to get back running. Last week, I enjoyed two short runs out on the streets of London and finished pain-free. Slight stiffness the following day, but nothing awful.

It felt fantastic.

I’ve been slowly building up a plan to increase distance and pace every so slightly over the next few weeks. I’ve had a couple of great 5k runs along the river to begin with and did 6.2k yesterday afternoon.

My plan for completion of the Royal Parks half-marathon in October sees me increasing this over the weeks without any sudden changes. Recovery from last year’s surgery has left me wanting to avoid any more knee injuries. I don’t think I could handle the aftermath of more surgery like that.

Looks worse than it was. I think!
Looks worse than it was. I think!

Considering it was minor and the pain wasn’t too bad at all (in hindsight), it was the extended recovery that bothered me. My job made it hard to stick to the physio exercises properly and doing daft things like flying to Edinburgh and presenting at a conference just two weeks later explains some of the additional hobbling around.

Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy.

But now, I’m being really careful to avoid any more similar knee hassle – taking it slowly and enjoying each run. Races aside, I really do like running. It shouldn’t feel like “work”, but should be challenging. For me, just getting back out there and getting past my injury worries has been the challenge.

I know I can run – I know I can run fast. I now need to work on running carefully. Mindfully, if you like. So I’m in excellent shape for the Royal Parks half and enjoy it. And in terms of targets, no I’m not out to beat my BP. I’d like to finish injury-free, having enjoyed a trot around London’s beautiful parks.

A quick run in the sun

I hopped out for a quick run this morning before it got too hot. Last time I trained over here in Mallorca I was hitting 15kms before breakfast.

Easy.

But owing to a distinct lack of exercise in recent months, I just managed a more leisurely 5 and a bit kilometres.

Even that left me gasping. It was well over 20C when I got back and hopped into a nice cool shower. And it’s even warmer now. Perfect lying down weather – not so fantastic for an out of shape runner.

Still…Every little helps. Hoping to do the same tomorrow morning.

 

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Coaching with Nike+

kb_20971_1An update to Nike+ apparently adds a virtual coach to the app – it looks interesting and, for some people at least, will provide a manageable and sensible schedule to prepare for that next race. While running *looks* easy – one foot in front of the other – knowing how to get ready for any race can be difficult, especially if you compare yourself to more advanced runner.

That way lies madness, tears and injury.

If this provides realistic plans for distance, scheduling and speeds, then I’m all for it.

Especially as I’ll essentially be starting from scratch once I begin to run again in a couple of months. I’ll have had at least 4 months off due to my knee injury and subsequent surgery. I’m itching to get back into it, but have another two months to wait until it’s safe. So it’s just swimming and cycling for me until then.

I’ll definitely try Nike+ out on my first runs and, if the coaching functionality is any good, use it to prepare for my first half-marathon of 2014.

Whenever that is…