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War and peace – part 1

Having just about recovered from the Manchester to Blackpool bike ride the day earlier it was a relaxing rail journey south beyond London to meet up with my friends Paul and Chris who were traveling with me to the War and Peace Revival Festival 2014 at Folkstone Racecourse.

War & Peace Exhibitors band
War & Peace Exhibitors band

The plan was to get to their house, stop overnight and then travel to the show on the Tuesday afternoon. I did something similar last  year but rather than doing a weekend visit as a punter, this year we were part of the show.

In January 2013 Chris purchased a land rover ‘Snatch’ vehicle which dates back to the later years when the British Army were permanently deployed in Northern Ireland. There were apparently only 218 of these vehicles and like many of the decommissioned military vehicles which were still serviceable, it has been taken on as a project by enthusiasts.

Our tent with the Snatch in the foreground
Our tent with the Snatch in the foreground

So we were booked in as exhibitors and would be part of the site for the full five days.

War and Peace is the largest festival of collections of military vehicles in the world and as such attracts people from all over the globe with over 3000 vehicles being exhibited.

Oh yes, and we were camping. A tent had been purchased, but owing to it being bigger than my friends back garden, it was entirely untested. None of us had ever camped before either. So what could possibly go wrong…. :-S

I arrived in good time and we ate splendidly along with friends who were visiting the show later in the week. It was all very civilised! The Tuesday morning was spent packing. And packing. And packing. The snatch was full to the brim with everything we thought we’d need, including vast amounts of food we planned on cooking whilst away.

Due to work commitments we were late away by about six hours and finally arrived at the show where we were pitched up next to another group of land rover snatch vehicles. We then spent a comedy two hours erecting the tent for the first time relying on a YouTube video we had viewed before setting out showing how it was done.

They didn’t finish the construction in the dark. We did.

Gourmet evening meal was a bag of crisps and a fizzy drink but we didn’t care. We were at the show and we were on holiday!

Spitfires and pilots
Spitfires and pilots
American base with a distant view of some of the living history exhibition.
American base with a distant view of some of the living history exhibition.
2014-07-06 08.53.20

A bad dose of fantasy

It’s been a couple of weeks since the last update.

Life, as usual, has continued in it’s own rather ordinary way but the week itself has been less than straightforward.

Thursday morning was disturbed by some of the worst nightmares I’ve had in years. I don’t know what the trigger was and it was totally out of the blue. Mark and I had never made it to getting married, instead we split up. I went over and over what had had gone wrong whilst family events coming up were being planned around and on regardless. There was no logic to what was going on and the emotional feelings were equally uncertain.

More often than not when I dream, I begin to realise it was a dream as I start to wake up such that when I wake properly I know it was a dream. This time it wasn’t so clear cut. I woke very confused and unable to immediately establish what was real and what was imaginary and the whole thing played on my mind all day.

I got home from work to a message from Mark’s Step-Mum and having a long chat with her seemed to help settle me down again.

It’s been another dry day today and I took the camera out into the back garden:

2014-06-29 18.24.42

First post-injury race. And what a race!

On 23 March 2014 I ran my first competitive half-marathon of the year, and immediately was taken out by sciatica which derailed my plans for the year’s fund-raising work.

Thankfully through work I was able to get some intense physio which has at least got me through it. Even during that phase I managed to get out and do a few runs, although they were short and I tired very quickly.

I’d managed to talk a friend into running his first 5k at the RunWales Run Fest in Rhyl which took place today. I think he was bouncing between wanting to prove he could do it and wanting to kill me, but run it he did and raised some money for the Wales Air Ambulance Trust, which was a great result.

During all of this I had intended to run but there was the underlying fear that some injury would leap out and bite me again which I really didn’t want. Of course this is a self-perpetuating situation and one I intended to avoid. So with 3 months between races 1 and 2, I went for it.

RunFest is a wonderful idea – 4 different distances (5k, 10k, half-marathon and full-marathon) so there’s something for anyone wanting to run and it gave me the option as to how far I should push myself. Common sense was that as I’ve been generally working  towards the 10k distance, this was an ideal time to  throw caution to the wind and run a half-marathon instead.

If you’ve been reading this over a period of time, that conclusion will not be a surprise to you….

What was a surprise was that despite setting out nice and steadily, the run was fast.

Very fast. 41s away from PB fast.

At Wilmslow I was pleased to go sub-1h35m. At Rhyl today I managed 1h33m24s. My PB, set at Tatton in 2012 of 1h32m43s very much in sight!

End of RunFest 2014
End of RunFest 2014

It was designed as a PB course, there are pancakes out there with more undulation. But I’m not in that shape (fitness-wise, not pancake shaped, although that’s true as well) or at least I didn’t think I was.

It was my first race in veteran class (courtesy of the BBW) although they clearly got my age wrong as I was still classed in the OPEN class. Perhaps I’m not as old as I thought I was :-) Either way, I was 31st overall which is amazing given the 2014 season I’ve had!

So a couple of weeks to recover before the next bike ride. I’m still not sure what’s next on the running front. I’m ecstatic that the legs are working again, and a bit protective over them not going wrong again. So whilst the plan is still to tackle Chester in the autumn, I’m nervous about committing to it.

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Training software – revisited

On February 15th I wrote a quick article looking at some of the running software available online / on mobile devices. I thought it was time for an update on this to give a little bit more feedback on what I had found.

The reason for this is twofold. Firstly I think it’s often rather useful to review what one has said to confirm whether or not it remains valid. Secondly, I have started experimenting with Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) and whilst there is a lot of information out there, I struggled to find what I was looking for.

There’s potentially a third reason which is that I’ve started cycling as well, and that has impacted my choices as well.

Nike+

The Nike+ watch has been doing a sterling service with me since November 2012 when it became my method of choice to record my running (I’d previously used the android version of Endomondo on my mobile phone).

The Sportwatch was convenient because I found it a lot easier to operate whilst running and I could also see the output more clearly than on the phone screen which was strapped to my left upper arm (I hesitate to use the word bicep in case it’s classed as a trade description error!)

It was only after my last article that I discovered that heart rate monitoring was also possible with the smart watch. Unfortunately the choices were limited, seemingly to one device, the Polar wearlink (works with NIKE+) device. Both watch and HRM use an old bluetooth standard which limits their usage to this partnership. Polar have a large number of devices each of which seem to work with a variety of different devices, so it’s really a matter of checking on their website to see which one is appropriate.

The HRM is picked up as another sensor (the GPS signal and Nike+ footpod being the other two) and once connected up it all works as one would expect with the data being recorded as such.

As I mentioned previously, I’m not a great fan of the  Nike+ website and so use Smashrun and Strava to import the data and this all goes across easily. I’ll cover this below.

Nike+ SportWatch and Polar Wearlink HRM
Nike+ SportWatch and Polar Wearlink HRM

Smashrun

In my last article I noted that of the online software Smashrun ticked a lot of boxes for me due to the amount of data analysis being done. I still like it a lot although for most sports-people, they might find it a bit too dry. There is very little ‘social media’ type interaction compared to many of the alternatives where ‘friends’ are  ‘added’ with the result of tracking what each other are doing and with the possibility of friendly competition.

Smashrun is purely aimed at running, which given the title is of no great shock or surprise! It has a direct synchronise function with Nike+ which occasionally breaks when Nike+ break it, but the team work quickly to smooth out such issues. As such, Smashrun just works. No messing, press a button and the data is all there, including heart rate information, intensity and statistics.

To be honest, for a pure runner, you probably wouldn’t need anything more than Smashrun, I still like it a lot. It exists only as a website, there are no apps or specific hardware for it which makes it ideal for the Nike+ and Polar Wearlink combination.

Smashrun front screen with statistics
Smashrun front screen with statistics

Strava

When I last reviewed Strava, I think in retrospect I didn’t really grasp it’s capabilities. Since then, I’ve spent a lot more time with it (as with Smashrun I’m a premium member so have full access to all the options).

For those who haven’t used Strava, it’s very social media friendly, posting your ‘friends’ training details on your Dashboard as well as allowing ‘Segments’ of routes to be named such that any athlete who covers that segment will be entered onto a leaderboard compared to all others who have completed it. This in itself provides a level of rivalry, but across the Strava community itself rather than just the people you follow on the site.

Strava was originally a cycling app, and spawned a running app sometime later before combining them into one in version 4 of their software. The net result is that from the Segment point of view, you’ll probably struggle to find an inch of tarmac in the UK (and probably worldwide) that hasn’t been entered onto the cycling database, whereas it is much sparser from a running point of view. Yes the databases are (sensibly) totally separate for bikes and legs.

Strava the website will take data directly from the mobile app and I think this is probably the way a lot of people will use it and it is seamless. Alternatively it will import GPX files and synchronise with a number of devices, although not with Nike+. To get the data out of Nike+ requires a workaround extraction of the data such as Matt Stuehler’s simple to use website.

Strava (app) was traditionally compatible with only a few HRM devices e.g. Zephyr however this all changed with version 4 when it became compatible with Bluetooth v4.0 Low Energy devices which is basically the modern standard.

Strava's summary details of a ride with all stats available
Strava’s summary details of a ride with all stats available
Heart rate analysis on Strava
Heart rate analysis on Strava

And now it gets messy

I have a collection of different hardware devices for different circumstances. Whilst I could, in theory, measure my bike rides with the Nike+ Sportwatch and Wearlink HRM, Nike+ itself does not cater for cycling at all, and whilst it would probably track the data, it isn’t guaranteed and would definitely not be able to separate out this from the running which messes up all the stats that are generated by the software, and one of the big reasons for doing it in the first place!

However, the Wearlink is Bluetooth v2 which is incompatible with the modern devices including android-based mobile phones.

So I had the decision as to whether to purchase new hardware, and if so, what. One alternative was to splash out on a multi-sport watch (all the big players make them, Polar, Garmin, Timex etc) but we’re talking several hundred GBP to get one and the appropriate HRM.

After a lot of website reviewing I decided what I would rather do was spend a lot less money and get a second HRM which I could use for the bike rides with Strava. The approach feels immensely clunky having different hardware doing basically the same thing,  But it works.

Polar Wearlink (above) and Wahoo TICKR (below)
Polar Wearlink (above) and Wahoo TICKR (below)

Wahoo TICKR

So in the end I plumped for a Wahoo TICKR HRM at a cost of about £50 which was far less than the multi-sport watch equivalent. There was an ulterior motive too which is covered below…..!) This works with Strava on Android 4.3 and gives a good output. It will hopefully remain compatible for the reasonable future, although with the speed that technology changes, that point is ‘anyone’s guess’. The low HR is likely to be due to the signal being triggered from my finger-tips and thus being less reliable.

Strava (android app) picking up a signal from the Wahoo TICKR HRM
Strava (android app) picking up a signal from the Wahoo TICKR HRM

Polar Loop

From my teenage years I’ve always had a weakness for technology, and with the work trail-blazed by Apple under the direction of Steve Jobs, technology now is served in a way which is fashionable and much more than just a box of tricks.

Which is why when I saw my first Polar Loop whilst away in Scotland I realised I really wanted one.

I don’t need excuses when it comes to technology purchases, but my old watch had given up and the Loop was a very good looking device (in my eyes at least) with a watch function. Oh and it tracks steps and, along with HRM can track training as well.  You can probably hear the sound of ringing cash tills in the words I am typing!!

Now although there is some possible overlap, with the training software itself, the reality is the loop itself fills a nice gap which is the time when I’m not training but needing the motivation to get up and do stuff. Step counters have been around for a long time, but something which you’re wearing day to day which does this, as well as track an activity target for the day is very useful for putting down the car keys and walking to the local shop instead of driving.

The Polar website highlights its H6 and H7 HRMs but as it happens the Wahoo TICKR talks to the loop quite happily.

Whilst I’ve experimented with the Wahoo and Loop with running and cycling, without the GPS being available it is unable to do what the Nike+ watch and Strava can do. However, work out in the gym, Spin classes etc where the GPS is irrelevant then the Loop comes into its own.

And did I mention it did some (admittedly basic) sleep analysis?

The loop will synchronise directly with the mobile app via bluetooth as well as direct to the website when it’s in it’s charging dock. As usual it’s all windows-only (I guess Mac too)  unfortunately.

In summary

I like my tech and my gadgets, but like everyone else has a limited supply of money. Therefore it’s a matter of balancing want and need whilst  getting the most I can out of the kit I’ve already got. Sure, I’d love one device that tracked running, cycling, gym which talked to the internet, got all the routes, all the stats and put them into a nice format that gave me all the details I craved. But really, does that device exist and if so, would I really benefit from spending the money on it, compared to an admittedly piecemeal, but otherwise working solution?

2014-06-16 22.18.16

The rest of the BBW

Well the Big Birthday Weekend was a busy and fun one. And one that held no regard for remaining in the constraints of a two-day weekend.

Having just about recovered from the bike ride on Sunday I discovered the photos were already available for purchase. I found three I liked and this is probably the favourite (about 30 minutes from the finish line)

Etape Eryri Bach Sportive
Etape Eryri Bach Sportive

Although you cannot see much of the scenery you can get a feeling for the grand-ness of the location and the  quality of the weather on the day.

I’m looking forward to the next Bike challenge in a month’s time!

The evening’s entertainment was in Blackpool, my first visit of 2014! Rather than running or cycling around it, this time was purely entertainment, seeing Pet Shop Boys live in concert, for the first time for me in 23 years!

And it was good. Very good. The songs speak for themselves but the laser/lighting display was top notch and really made for a quality evening. It amused me that I was going to a pop concert where

  • There was a bar
  • It was in a ballroom
  • The average age was about 40 so I didn’t feel like a creepy parent at a kid’s show!

There were some differences to the last time I went to see what one might call a ‘popular’ act live. For a start, last time, there were no mobile phones being waved in the air – trying to do that in the 1990s would lead to hernias and ruptured muscles and probably result in several people being flattened under a house-brick-sized handset.

I struggle to understand why people try to record the gig on their mobile; surely it cannot be as much fun to be there and really, are you going to watch it in small screen on your computer afterwards? And is it likely to have any of the impact seeing the gig first-hand (when you were recording it)?

A strange world. In fact, if you want to see some of the photos from the gig, the local newspaper has done a handy slideshow here!

Helpfully since the gig I’ve discovered they’ve done a nice promo video themselves which can be found here:

And today really was a day of not doing much. I didn’t even bake anything, although I did go for a run and I did wipe all the software off my own mobile phone. Just because I can! I did some pilates too but it wasn’t very exciting!

Beaumaris front

A trip to Snowdonia

Well after a very downbeat week, I had a weekend planned to lift me again.

It’s the Big Birthday Weekend. Woohoo!

Whilst most people would probably go out and have a drink or 10, I reverted to type and did a physical challenge instead. At least that way, hangovers are rare.

I traveled into North Wales on Saturday afternoon in glorious weather. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when the weather is good, I can’t think of many places more stunning to visit, made all the better being only a couple of hours away.

My challenge was the Etape Eryri Sportive on Sunday morning. A 47 mile bike ride through the Snowdonia National Park. Never going to be easy but always going to be spectacular, assuming the weather is good of course (that’s the Achilles Heel of the place, but also why it’s so lush and green!)

Due to a lack of organisation I didn’t book a hotel until the week before I went and the nearest I could get to Caenarfon was about 30 minutes drive away onto Anglesey. A big shame, I don’t think!

Anglesey has it’s own weather system and merrily does what it pleases regardless of the rest of the country (I’m imagining a BBC4 series called ‘Renegade Islands’).

In the quest to fill myself with pasta ahead of the ride on Sunday I went out foraging. It seems fish & chips is as good as it gets!

Still, I had a great drive around. First stop, the spiritual home of all those people with ridiculously long names:

Less a Selfie, more a dismembered head in front of a railway building
Less a Selfie, more a dismembered head in front of a railway building

I then decided to revisit the route of the Anglesey Half Marathon I ran last year and headed into Beaumaris.

On the way there was a great view of the Menai Bridge which I lamented the failure of me bringing a camera with me, and had to rely on my mobile which, to be fair, did an OK job. It was unable to cause the tide to come in though, hence this is the bridge at low tide!

Menai Suspension Bridge
Menai Suspension Bridge

I parked up in Beaumaris and had a pleasant walk around. I’ve not explored the town since I was there with family about 25 years ago, not that it’s probably changed much. Of course I ran along the front and past the castle last year, so it was nice to revisit these places to as a tourist, rather than as a nice backdrop to a race!

 

My hotel was totally fine, food and room excellent, hallway smelling a bit of dog, but for £40 including breakfast and at the last minute, I wasn’t going to complain.

I collected my bike on Sunday morning and headed into Caenarfon for the ride.

Which was AMAZING.

Here’s a route map and the hill profile though. A couple of hard work climbs but rewarded with  breathtaking scenery of the Snowdonia National Park.

Cycle Route 15/6/14
Cycle Route 15/6/14

The photos from the ride are not yet available and they’ll follow once I have them.

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