Winter training notes

The last couple of weeks of running training have felt much harder. The weather has been extremely cold, with some light snow and icy conditions. Lunchtime temperatures have struggled to get above zero degrees Celsius for most of the last week. I've always been aware that running in the cold is much harder, but for some reason I don't think I had quite appreciated how much harder until this week. I think that part of the problem is that whilst my running has been progressing well, I still haven't got anywhere near the same base level of fitness that when I was last training regularly. It's also probably been a bit colder than at any time when I've trained in recent years. In the past, I tended to train through spring and summer for an autumn half marathon and then I'd lose interest after the race and didn't really do any winter training. That old habit is another reason for setting my sights on a half marathon next year, to give me a reason for training this winter. If I had picked the Bath Half Marathon in March 2011, then right now I'd be worrying about my training and feeling under pressure to stick to a schedule with very little slack in it.

This week, my training has also felt harder because I have been developing a slight cold. Again, in the past I've not noticed the impact as much, but I was fitter (and younger). Today, I ran 6.25 miles, but found it very hard work. I just didn't have any energy and couldn't get any pace.

Even with the cold weather and my slight cold, I still managed to put together a run on Tuesday that was the fastest run I've done in over two and a half years. As seems to often be the case, the foundation was a very quick first mile, but I can't seem to hold that pace. I think I need to get better at pacing that first mile and saving time throughout the run. I also suspect that part of the issue is the ongoing need to adapt mentally too. I still have a fear of running out of energy, but really this is something I need to train through as frequently it's much more of an issue of just gritting teeth to get through the pain.

One positive about winter training is the excuse to use my Helly Hansen base layers. It's hard to really explain, but these are easily my favourite bit of running kit. Whenever I wear them I feel so much more athletic. It is a real mental boost.

Temperatures are forecast to rise to 5 or 6 degrees Celsius next week. I'm hopeful that this means that I can get some better times going again soon: health and work schedule permitting.



I have a few things that I should really be doing at the moment, but I can't quite bring myself to get started. So writing on this blog seems to be a good excuse.

England failed in its bid to host the World Cup in 2018. This seems to have come as a surprise to the British media that has spent a significant portion of the last three months trying to sabotage the bid by setting up FIFA executives with "sting" operations. The bit that really peeves me is that stings could, at best, be said to prove the possibility of wrong-doing. At worst, they are social engineering tricks that are, as far as I can see, no different to the ways that con artists can persuade otherwise well intentioned people to do odd things. This aspect of the nonsense of the way the British media have ruined our chances will go pretty well unreported. Surprise. Of course, the media will now claim that their pernicious practices shouldn't have affected the vote, but this is self-serving rubbish. Why on Earth would you bring a major sporting event to a country that doesn't appear to want it? Consider it a lesson learned given all the negative griping about the Olympics.
The best commentary that I've seen on the aftermath of the World Cup bid comes from the Blighty blog on The Economist.


90 Minute Challenge: November Time Trial

I completed my first time trial run today and I'm thrilled with the result as I am actually almost two months ahead of schedule. The November target was to complete 6.25 miles in 48:26 (7:45 mins / mile). I actually completed the run today in 45:10 (7:14 mins / mile). This is actually the best run I've done in over 2 years. That's a fantastic feeling!

I picked a beautiful day for my run. The sky was pretty clear and there was a bright winter sun. It was cold enough to encourage me to run in my oh-so-attractive running trousers. I'm glad I did. It was still fairly chilly. The wind was light, so no painful headwinds to contend with. That really helps. Especially as the course does feature a couple of really steep, albeit fairly short, climbs.

Today's pace is much, much better than I had expected at this stage. I did a couple of months of training in July and August, but before that I really hadn't done anything more than sporadic spurts of training and my base level of fitness was not there at all. I really thought that I'd be more towards the 7:45 mins / mile timing. That would have been fine. That said, I've known for the last couple of weeks that I'm ahead, so I was confident starting today that I'd do well.

What's also very pleasing is that I can see how I can improve on today's run, even with my current level of fitness. One of the key things about running training is learning to mentally accept the discomfort of pushing yourself hard over a long period of time. I haven't really run hard enough, for long enough recently to get there. So I think I could probably have pushed a bit harder today. The fear I have, and I suspect many runners have, is that I'm going to push too hard too early and find that I've really run out of steam by the last couple of miles. It's quite a difficult prospect to be a couple of miles from home and be exhausted to the point where you have to walk or jog back. Equally, it's not that realistic, particularly over the kinds of distances I'm currently running. So, one of the things I'm going to work on over the next month is getting comfortable psychologically with this aspect of running.

So now I need to think about two things:
1) What should my goals be for the next couple of months since I'm already at my January target?
I think I'll see if I can get down to the 7:00-7:05 region in December and then try to start lengthening out the distance to 8 miles for my time trials.
2) Is 90 minutes not challenging enough?
If I'm running at this kind of pace now, then there's a good chance that I can build on this to go even lower. One key thought on this is that I wanted to set myself a challenging, but realistic goal. If I keep making that goal harder, I'm going to reach a point where it becomes unachievable and demotivating. I think I'm going to keep 90 minutes as my target and not get carried away. I still have plenty of training to do. If I find that by May next year I'm really well ahead, then maybe I can think about pushing myself that bit harder. Also, I need to remember that the target is to beat 90 minutes. So, if I'm ahead, that's great. I don't need to keep setting the target lower and lower.

My reward for achieving my goal was a blowout pizza fest from Pappa's Pizzas. Including the world's saltiest ever pizza with serrano ham and green olives. I will shrivel up like a slug overnight.


Happy Birthday Sebastian!

It's a parenting cliché, but it truly is amazing to think that, as I write this right now, one year ago H and I were just about to set off to the hospital for the first time and that Seb wasn't born. On reflection it's all the more remarkable that in about 10 hours time, I'll be able to write that it was one year ago since he was born.

It is true that the time seems to fly past. More than anything else, I can't get over how much he has changed in such a short space of time. I know that I keep mentioning that 3 months is 25% of his lifetime, but even so, the rate of change is amazing. You only have to look at the photos from this year to see the difference.

Here's to a very happy birthday for my little boy!

[The pictures are from an early birthday party with the grand parents this weekend]


The March of the Seasons

I posted a couple of photos of Bradley Stoke's autumn colours a week or so ago. A week and a few windy nights later and Bradley Stoke seems to have tilted quickly towards winter.

The changing seasons in England always make me appreciated how lucky we are with our weather. I really enjoy the different conditions. Today was grey, wet, chilly and blustery. I was still out for a lunchtime run. I do find that the darker evenings make live a little less enjoyable, but the weather itself rarely gets me down.
It feels a bit of a shame that Seb is just too young to fully appreciate the autumn / winter seasons. Next year he'll be ready to wade through the fallen leaves in his wellington boots, but this year I think he's not quite ready.


90 Minute Challenge: Time Trial Goals

In order to run a half marathon in 90 minutes, you need to be able to average 6 min 52 second per mile pace.

To measure my progress towards this goal, I'm going to run a time trial at the end of every month's training. I am not following a prescribed training guide. The goals below are based on my experience of my own running and how quickly I can expect to improve.

End November 2010: 6.25 miles in 48:26 mins (7:45 min per mile)
End December 2010: 6.25 miles in 46:53 mins (7:30 min per mile)
End January 2011: 6.25 miles in 45:19 mins (7:15 min per mile)
End Feb 2011: 6.25 miles in 43:45 mins (7:00 min per mile)
End Mar 2011: 10 miles in 73:20 mins (7:20 min per mile)
End Apr 2011: 10 miles in 71:40 mins (7:10 min per mile)
End May 2011: 10 miles in 70:00 mins (7:00 min per mile)
End June 2011: 6.25 miles in 41:09 mins (6:35 min per mile)
End July 2011: 12 miles in 83:00 mins (6:55 min per mile)
End August 2011: 12 miles in 82:00 mins (6:50 min per mile)

There is a small amount of science to the targets. There are various conversion charts that show the rough equivalence in time for running pace over various distances. The target for June 2011 is roughly equivalent to the 10 km race pace that equates to 90 mins for a half marathon. Two things are therefore important about this target. Firstly, it means I will know that I have the speed in my legs. The second is that any further endurance work I can do to run at that pace for longer gives me a better chance of meeting or exceeding my overall goal.


Living Through Music

"I've been through many times in which I thought I might lose it, the only thing that's saved me has always been music" Professor Booty, Beastie Boys
As I was driving to work this morning, I was listening to Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins. I noticed that I felt that I was hearing every drum beat, every chord, every vocal just a few moments before it was actually played. I realised that I have listened to the album so many times over so many years that I know what is coming before it arrives. But it's really more than that, the music is triggering a physical response. I explored this idea further as I drove along, listening to the music that I know so well (which did make driving a little difficult, but I think I was still safe). I began to realise that as I listen to various songs, subtle, emotional memories bubble to the surface. I recognise that different songs evoke images, feelings, senses of different times. For example, the opening few beats on the first track on Ill Communication, Sure Shot, are completely intertwined with images of Virtua Racing on the Mega Drive and memories of sitting in Danny Inglis' bedroom in Hartshill playing that game for hours on end after school. I don't know why this is particularly true, but it is.

What I also find intriguing is the fact that a quick run through of evocative songs in my head finds me thinking of songs that evoke memories of my life between the ages of around 15 to 21 and then not an awful lot outside of that. I suspect this reflects the fact that that was the period of my life in which I obtained the majority of my music.

Mostly, my memories are linked to particular songs, but occasionally it's an album that evokes a particular feeling or concept. What I thought might be an interesting thing to periodically post to my blog was a few recollections of particular pieces of music and the memories they trigger.


Autumn landing

Autumn has landed in Bradley Stoke in much the same way that a sperm whale that materialised in mid-air would.

Leaves are covering the back garden, but Helena, ever industrious, is determined to sweep them away each week. Maybe we should get some shoes on Seb and see how he gets on with the piles of leaves before they are dumped into the recycling bin.

Strangely, Bradley Stoke looks quite nice in autumnal colours. I'm not sure these photos really do it full justice. I probably either need to get better at photography or own a better a camera, or both. There is something appealing about walking amongst the houses and ducking from housing estate to nature reserve and seeing the colours and leaves all changing.


Experiments to perform with your children

Admittedly, you might want to wait until they're a bit older ...

I've got to be honest, I can't entirely remember what triggered my memory of a random high school chemistry experiment with some kind of volcanic compound, nor how I rediscovered that the relevant stuff was ammonium dichromate. But I did and the joy of the internet is that YouTube has a video of the stuff doing its magic.


Why American owners don't mix with English football clubs

Even ignoring all the nonsense going on in the Liverpool FC board room, the thing that worries me most is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that American owners are good for English football clubs. The problem is that this deal ignores critical cultural differences between American and English sports.

In America, sport is acknowledged and accepted as a business. Teams are described as "big market" or "small market" teams. Player unions are the norm and strikes are not unprecedented. Major League Baseball has had eight work stoppages, the most recent being in 1994-1995. The NFL has had a strike and there is much talk of a lockout in 2011. The NBA had a lockout as recently as 1999. [I realise that a lockout is slightly different to a work stoppage, but it's essentially the same principle with regards to the difference between English and American attitudes to sport.]
I think that it's almost impossible to imagine the players in the Premier League striking. It certainly wouldn't be accepted by the fans and media. There's enough moaning about overpaid players as it is. That's because, irrespective of the real facts, in the hearts of fans football is not a job (it's probably a privilege).

In England, we expect the owners of our clubs to bankroll success. We do not expect them to make a profit out of their ownership. Football isn't a business, it's a passion. The ideal club owner doesn't care whether they've plowed 100 million pounds into the club as long as it has brought success. A lot of the cynicism that greeted Roman Abramovich's arrival at Chelsea was coloured with jealousy that he wasn't about to buy success for other clubs. Whatever you thought about Deadly Doug Ellis, he wasn't just about the money at Aston Villa. American sports have family owned franchises and passionate owners (consider the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been owned by the Rooney family ever since they were founded in 1933), but this doesn't hide the fact that sports teams are franchises, i.e. business ventures.

Transferring ownership away from the Gillett/Hicks catastrophe can only be good at Liverpool. However, I don't think that the owners of the Boston Red Sox will be an awful lot better. Liverpool needs owners that understand the way football is run in the UK. Treating the club as a business venture as nakedly as one would in the US will not wash. The tension with fans and media will be ruinous. It will be worse because it will not be explicit conflict, but will be rooted in two misaligned paradigms.

Overdue video updates

It's been a long while since I posted some updated videos of Seb. So, in true doting parenting style, here are a couple of embedded YouTube clips.

The first clip is Seb fully mobile and crawling. He's been doing this for a while. This video was taken when Seb was about 8 months old. Many of our videos of Seb end the same way. I feel it needs some kind of Japanese cartoon style "Aieeeeeeee!" at the end.

And this clip is a bit more recent from Bill and Kate Austen's wedding at The Grange in Ellesmere. Seb is playing with Vicki and Mike's puppy - Spangles. He had so much fun. We're still not getting a dog though.



Parenting bore ahoy! Seb's latest party trick (well, OK his dad's latest essentially vicarious party trick) is that he can now roll from his back to his front.

It's impressively slick and quick now. Often, as soon as he's popped down on his back, he lifts his legs in the air and just rolls over to his left.

So far, he hasn't worked out how to reliably get back again. Occasionally, when he has a real paddy, he manages to flip himself over. This usually results in a slightly confused look.

Once he's flipped onto his front, his legs start going like crazy. I have this vague image of him suddenly working out how to crawl and shooting off at 50 miles an hour and splatting into something, with the inevitable shocked bawling.


Up close and personal

There's actually something kind of weird about this video. Whilst it's very cute, it's perhaps not quite right! It might also make a bit more sense to look at the earlier video, where Seb is just getting acquainted with his reflection.
It's got a pretty good resolution available, so as long as your connection speed is up to it, it's probably worth watching it full screen.

Who's that person in the mirror?

I really like the way Seb is focusing on his reflection in the mirror. I can't quite tell whether he realises it's himself yet. I think he probably just thinks it's another baby. It's quite funny to watch him getting closer and closer to the baby. I think he just wants to play!


Let the moving commence ...

We have finally started packing for our move to Colerne. The first boxes of books, CDs, DVDs and games have been filled. It's a strange feeling.

Five years ago this would have been unthinkable. An empty CD rack would have meant an empty life. Fortunately, MP3s take up a lot less space.

Sebastian's first Ellesmere Working Weekend

Ellesmere Working Weekend
A few photos from the Working Weekend at The Grange, Ellesemere. Sebastian managed to get involved with a bit of tractor riding, but there is plenty of photographic evidence to prove that mostly he was sleeping on the job. If only he'd slept at night ...


My original favourite Dilbert

This is the cartoon that first introduced me to the genius of Dilbert. At the time, I was working on a business process re-engineering programme at Boots. There was a lot of political weaseling required. And, this being Boots, many meetings. The cartoon appeared on Tony Nice's desk calendar at just the most appropriate time. From then on, it became almost a catchphrase. And started my habit of collecting cartoons for the most egregious examples of corporate silliness, so that I could produce them as warnings, a bit like yellow cards.

Dilbert key words: premeeting, meeting

Dilbert - It's not in the budget!

The topic of scope creep came up at work today and I remembered that there is a Dilbert cartoon for every occasion.

Dilbert keywords: budget, troll, scope


Capturing Smiles

It's actually quite hard to get a video of Seb smiling. Not least because you get so wrapped in him smiling that you forget to grab your camera.


Walking in a Hatton wonderland

I love Ricky Hatton, I even namechecked him in my wedding speech, but this just can't be a good thing. http://ping.fm/FjczD


Freedom of speech?

I can't help but feel that the decision to ban Islam4UK is a fundamentally flawed one. I haven't seen much evidence that any direct violence was planned. Beyond that, aren't we stepping dangerously into territory where the government is making decisions on what can and can't be said?
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Voltaire


Fun with photos

I really like this photo of Seb. I really like the way that you can see his reflection in the mirror. I wish I could say that I had planned it, but it was much more by accident.
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Start 'em early

Seb appears to be taking a keen interest in the Internet already. Might still be a bit early to try him on CoD: Modern Warfare 2 though.


Fixing emerging problems

The main reason I find Linux interesting is that it tends to give some good practice in problem solving. In fact, sometimes, it really tests your ability to even identify that there is a problem. I've been vaguely uneasy that ever since I upgraded gcc to allow me to install a newer version of GoogleEarth, something would be wrong. The Gentoo upgrade guide for gcc was pretty helpful, but I found myself getting stuck when I ran:
emerge -eav system
I did rather put this down to just usual slightly random Gentoo-ness. However, I've never truly had any unresolvable problems with Gentoo, because I'm generally not trying to do anything unusual or cutting edge. Anyway, emerge was failing for package m4. What led me to just leave it alone for a bit was the fact that this was the 28th out of 150 packages in the system emerge and
emerge -avuD world
was fine..
emerge -avuD world
Now this is a bit more worrying. If I can't keep things up to date, it's all going to get messy quickly. Well, more accurately, when I finally need to do an update, it will be horrible. So, time to investigate.
I could see from the build log that the failure was similar to the one I'd had with my emerge system problems. Some reference to an old 4.1.2 version of gcc was loitering alongside trying to unpack something with lzma. This isn't really anything I know much about. My first stop was the Gentoo upgrade guide for gcc. This suggested
emerge --resume --skipfirst
if I encountered any repeated failures. I normally avoid this, because it feels like a bit of a hack and bound to leave a problem behind. Anyway, worth trying. What was interesting was the next package also failed with same error message:
lzma: /usr/lib/gcc/i486-pc-linux-gnu/4.1.2/libstdc++.so.6: version `GLIBCXX_3.4.9' not found (required by lzma)
Definitely suspicious. Hitting the forums with emerge failures for either of the specific packages wasn't helping much. So I did a bit more digging. The magic phrase was
"failure unpacking"
This brought up a few forum posts and one in particular that dealt with problems unpacking lzma. Running
find /etc/env.d/ -name \*486*
revealed half a dozen files that were referencing the wrong gcc version. I moved these to a temporary directory (I was too wimpy to just go ahead and delete them as per the forum post). Running
env-update && source /etc/profile
and then
ldd /usr/bin/lzma
 suggested things were definitely going in the right direction. As an aside, the idea of ldd /usr/bin/lzma came from a googled discussion on emerge problems.

So, as I type, I'm about 122 packages through my 150 package emerge -eav system. It may be a bit pre-emptive, but I do feel that I've made a lot of progress now. Even if the problem isn't fully solved, I'm past the blocker in emerging system against a new version of gcc. Next up is another empty tree re-emerge of world and see what happens. This will take time (it includes open office), so I'm hoping I can at least start it before I head to bed (given how noisy Seb is, I suspect this is likely). Then I can see whether it also has the result of fixing the bug I've filed re: lastfmplayer. This is failing with a different error, but if something wasn't right with my system, it's definitely up to me to double check. And doubtless find a whole new set of problems to investigate!