Calm within the storm

I’ve been unable to post for a couple of weeks. Call it a ‘dark cloud’ or just plain ‘depression’ it’s all the same thing and it is debilitating and thoroughly exhausting.

The blog was always designed as an outlet for me to express the stuff that is plaguing my head, just to liberate it from my sub-conscience  but as time has gone on it has become less practical to say all that I would like to say. I’m always very particular about what I write, tending to allow the really bad episodes to pass so that when I try to piece together what is going on, it’s with a clear head. Even with that said, I undertake a healthy dose of self-censorship as I’m aware that what is being said is very public. I neither want to come across as moaning about every facet of my life, nor do I want to distress anyone as to the meaning of the words that appear here.

But the initial purpose of the blog, at least once it got going, was a kind of therapy for me, to act as a sounding board. I did try to write down a post last week to do this; it was a post that was never intended to be published, and it never will. Not that it made particularly interesting reading, but it really was an exercise in off-loading, or at least trying to offload.

I guess the main question is ‘why is all of this happening’ or at least, ‘what has triggered such an intensely negative episode this time’?

It’s safe to say there are a number of triggers which are likely however as per the above comments, will remain in the unpublished realm. However perhaps the most significant is that I have spent a lot of time in Mark’s bedroom in recent weeks and I’m going to share that journey with the blog.

It all started out with the project to replace the ageing boiler and as part of that the radiator in Mark’s room came off the wall so I could improve the insulation. The room itself has never worked that well, with a huge bed filling most of the space but not in a good way. Due to the storage in the room, the bed could only fit in one way and pretty well became an obstacle to navigate, rather than being a place of general tranquillity. Having a plasterer fighting his way around the room to try to get to the area needing skimming was probably the catalyst.

The reality is that room hasn’t changed in any way since Mark was last in it. And the risk was that it would remain that way, a physical and a psychological barrier.

During the boiler sorting out, I’d decided that the room would be patched back up and left as it was. But the dawning feeling of groundhog day in that room was becoming a reality.

In many ways, I acted on impulse. I dismantled the bed. And sold it days later. Physical obstacle gone. Link with the past gone. It felt strange to see it being collected and taken away but it was also a good feeling. The object which had become a stumbling block (both words literal) was starting a new life with a new person without the history. Both people and the object in question are in a better place. A Win.

I was bordering on obsessive whilst cleaning the room. I had barely been touched in the last 2.5 years so was very dusty, something that the building work in there had only exacerbated. It was the only room with the original carpet remaining from when I bought the house, and it had never been changed because, well, change in that room had become too difficult. Slicing the carpet into strips with a blade so I could take that away felt good.

But despite all this good feeling going on, it was constantly and completely offset by a deep sadness. I was getting rid of furniture that knew Mark. The grim reality that within the carpet would be molecules of him, in the dust and I was removing this from the house. It’s a totally pointless and irrational thought, but actually hurt like hell.

The room had always felt dark to me, I think because when Mark was here he tended not to open the curtains. So with the re-birth of the room light was a big part to me. Actually the curtains were a casualty in the changes to help further the transformation. The walls are white now, there is new furniture in there, a new light fitting. The whole room has moved on. Even the awkward corner at the end of the wardrobes has been turned into a shelving unit for bedding. And a few hats.

I still need to put the pictures back up, but to be honest, that’s the story in much of the house. Since I had all the alterations done in late 2012, few of the rooms have anything on the walls as I’ve not managed to do this yet. It all takes time, and I want it to be right.

The newly decorated front room
The newly decorated front room

I’m hoping that now Mark’s room is all but re-done, that things will settle. I have had some of the worst nightmares I’ve had in years in the last week, all graphically violent and unspeakably unpleasant. But I’m dealing with it, it’s territory I’ve come through before and intend to come through again.

So that’s it, that’s where my life has been these past few weeks. I’m getting there, I have the support I need and I see it still as part of a very long healing process.

I have a few races booked over the next few weeks, so you can be sure that they will feature in the forthcoming updates. Running is my escape when I can leave the complicated stuff behind me and live in the moment, even if it is only for 13.1 miles. I guess it’s always going to be a challenge whilst the weather isn’t great and I can’t get out and do the same amount of running that I can in the summer and coupled with the darker days and generally grimmer weather (accepting that Manchester does grim weather with gusto at any time of the year!) there are a lot of reasons to not be a fan of the winter.

I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’m feeling that I’m going in the right direction.

A bit more campanology

I’ve not had much of a chance to put a blog post together for the past few days. Hopefully that will be rectified over the weekend if I can catch up with myself. And have something to say of course!

One minor project I have taken on is to add a number of pages relating to bell ringing performances – it’s as dry a subject matter as it sounds. You see I had all the information up to date on a past website, yet following a conversation with my brother about a performance we were both in, I discovered it was nowhere to be found. Worse still, many of the records I’d assembled seem to have joined it in the abyss.

And whilst much of the recent recording can be found in various corners of the interweb, head before 2005 and it seems the world was monochrome and only in paper format. So researching what I need to find really will be old-school magazine scouring, rather than than modern day wikipedia scan for all of your needs.

I know which I’d prefer…….

Still the page header for this project, should you wish to have a look at data which is even more arbitrary and incomprehensible than the running data I regularly post, you can find it at the top-right of the site, or by clicking this forthcoming link…….

Realisation, Virtualisation and Muffins

Winter has finally arrived in Manchester. As is pretty normal, Winter waits to get Christmas out of the way before striking in January.

To be fair, I ought to use a small letter for winter – we’ve had about 3mm of snow here in the last week and the temperature has dropped to about -2C at it’s coldest. So there’s no likelihood of an epidemic of polar bears breaking out anytime soon.

Some of the snow which didn’t contribute to the 3mm (by dint of the fact it melted immediately) was thrown at me during my last run almost a week ago. Actually that evening it did seem bitterly cold – Smashrun claims it was +2C with a windchill of -3C although I don’t remember it being windy, except for when it was depositing snow. Going for the ‘no gloves approach’ I soon regretted that mistake although despite painfully numb hands and a few slippery pavements, it was a nice evening to run 13.1 miles. So that has maintained the run of at least one half-marathon distance per month since June 2014 when I recovered from the sciatica.

A random statistic I discovered once I’d warmed up and plugged the details into the computer was that despite the half-marathon distance being my most regularly run distance, with 22 races completed, that evening’s run was only the 5th time I’ve run that distance in training. It seems I prefer to go for shorter distances (23x 10-13 milers) or longer (13x 14+ milers).

So there you go. Stats even when stats weren’t going to be mentioned…….

Earlier that day, my gas engineer had taken some final measurements for radiators in preparation for the new boiler. Whilst much of my house has been redecorated and improved, one of the bedrooms has lacked insulation with the net result of the radiator merrily heating up the neighbourhood rather than the bedroom. So he removed the radiator for me to rip down the wall behind it and fill it with insulating foam, with the intention that when he comes with shiny new boiler, the radiator can be reconnected and lots of heating goodness will remain in that room and be generally a lot more efficient.

That's why the room is cold - just tiles on the back of the felting!
That’s why the room is cold – just tiles on the back of the felting!

I’m not very practically minded, but even I managed to demolish the plasterboards and cut 32 square feet of solid insulation into enough pieces to fit into the gaps. Reattaching the new boards was complicated by complete ineptitude but I got there in the end. Just need to get it re-skimmed and the radiator rehung now.

Despite the success (ish) of this project, I won’t be giving up my day job anytime soon to pursue a career in plasterboard bashing.

Whilst in a creative mood last night, the baking utensils came out and muffins were born. Chocolate & Orange flavoured muffins to be exact. They weren’t going to have the orange in them until I remembered I had bought the fruit a couple of days earlier, but rather than digging out my existing recipe for this rather nice cake, I improvised. On the negative side, they didn’t rise as much as they should have, but the silver lining was that the batter made 15 muffins rather than 12, and they tasted superb.

2015-01-20 21.20.34

It was only having taken a photograph of said muffins to put on here that I realised there was a computing problem; dropbox proudly announced there was no room to save the photo.

Now I don’t use computers for that much and the drive is quite big for me (160GB I think, which would take a lot of images of kittens downloaded from the internet to fill). But full it was (darn you kittens!) and I started to poke around to see what was taking up the space. I usually run Linux Mint (Debian Edition) which despite the suggestion it is complicated, is a really clear and easy system for me to use as I have very few programs which require Windows to operate. However as there are some programs in this latter category, mostly relating to my fitness equipment, I need a Windows installation on the disk as well, for just that need.

It seems that when you don’t look at a Windows installation, it expands like foam. Rapidly filling every crack of space. With the programs, music and photos stored elsewhere, Windows was inexplicably taking up 45GB of space! Not ideal given it’s only there for the occasional use. Even after deleting a load of programs installed into it, it took over 35GB.

My workaround is slightly unusual, but it works for me. Virtualisation. You see there is a piece of software called VirtualBox which you can run on your computer as a program but what it does is provides an ecosystem which from the inside, looks like a real computer. First I wiped off the Windows installation, which to be fair was running slower than I do after 25 miles. Then I’ve created a ‘virtual disk’ of fixed size within my computer and on this, I’ve reinstalled the Windows system I deleted from my hard disk.

So what is the advantage? For me it’s two-fold. Firstly I’ve got some control back on the machine in terms of the space taken up. Secondly and more usefully, I don’t have to switch systems if I need to use Windows, I literally open a window up with Windows in it. Here it is, installing updates, as it has been for over 12 hours now. Gotta love Windows…..

VirtualBox program shown on the right; Windows 7 running on the left, inside a virtual machine.
VirtualBox program shown on the right; Windows 7 running on the left, inside a virtual machine.

VirtualBox is a great bit of kit and is available for Windows too. So if you were wanting to try out a different system (or several systems) but wanted to leave your existing set-up intact, you can install VirtualBox and plonk each system into it’s own little independent world inside your own computer. Best of all, it’s free :-)

A bit more running maths

** Fluff warning – this is a statistics-based article and does not contain any pictures of, or any references to kittens **

I guess it’s as much to do with the time of year as anything else. One goes to the supermarket and where there were Christmas goodies on the shelves there are now diet products in their place and the world is worrying about how to shed the excesses that the festive period brought with it.

Despite my regular running and trying to keep in shape, I have an unhealthy ability to destroy a box of chocolates or biscuits in a time that would probably feature in the Guinness Book Of World Records, at least it would were I not too embarrassed to admit to the record.

Anyway, after the trail race last weekend I have at least managed to get out training again. No major distances admittedly, the old-faithful 8 mile loop through Marple village during the week and today a new 10 mile route taking in the Middlewood Way, which is a long-departed rail route now used as a bridleway between Marple and Macclesfield. The pace has actually been quite good although neither route is hilly – mild undulation at best.

After each run I do, I always check the data in Smashrun and Strava. This allows me to work out what went well and what wasn’t quite so hot. There are rarely any surprises doing this. I mean, it was me running the route so I tend to know how it went at the time, and the analysis is immediately after cleaning myself up afterwards, normally whilst consuming copious amounts of tea.

(There was an incident after Thursday’s run when I ran out of tea which nearly required diplomatic assistance, but we got there. New tea in cupboard, all is well again.)

I have always been interested in the numbers, as is quite apparent from previous postings. When one is racing, there is always the question “am I performing at my best”, “is it consistent”, and “can I do it any better”.

I guess my interest also stems from the ‘race predictor’ on my Fenix 2 watch. Over the 2 months I’ve been using this kit it’s begun to learn about my pacing over different distances and it is using a model (I’m not sure if it is Purdy or another) to come up with results. I’ve only started using this watch since the Chester Marathon, so it’s not had the wide range of distances that my old Nike+ watch was exposed to over the 3 years I used it (although it was far too simple a device to make any sense of the data).

Race Prediction times from my Garmin Fenix 2
Race Prediction times from my Garmin Fenix 2

I found it interesting that my recent running has seen my VO2 max prediction drop slightly back to 51 (it was 52). VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in millilitres per kilogramme of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). This site gives a lot more detail about VO2 max including the ranges one might expect a person to be capable of, which is graded dependent on age and sex. Obviously an accurate test involves an intrusive analysis of the oxygen in the blood whilst undertaking exercise and as such, a number appearing on a sports watch which is only able to measure this via heart rate can only be considered as a guide.

But the upshot is that having stuffed myself with Thorntons chocolates throughout Christmas rather than going running, my body is slightly less efficient in how it processes oxygen.

I’ve put my best result at the distance next to it as a comparison:

DISTANCE

RACE PREDICTION

MY BEST EFFORT

5k 20.24 20.50
10k 42.19 41.04
Half-Marathon 1.33.41 1.32.43
Full-Marathon 3.15.07 3.30.07

So actually with the exception of the full marathon distance, the results are very close. I would suspect it’s a matter of interpolation of data being the issue here. With no data points between 13.1 and 26.2 miles there’s a vast area of unknown going on there. And apart from that, I’ve run the half-marathon distance at least 30 times and I’ve done 2 marathons. Hence the experience and the stamina at long distance simply isn’t there.

It got me thinking about what computer model the watch was actually using to make these predictions. In digging around the internet I discovered  ‘Purdy Points‘ which appears to be one of the original models for such predictions. In short it is a model whereby knowing the number of ‘points’ accrued for a particular distance, which in itself relates to a time to complete the distance, one can predict the time to complete a different distance.

Of course these models are always going to be an estimate; there is an implicit assumption that the routes will be comparable i.e. if the 5k route is mostly flat with a hill of a particular height in the middle, then the 10k route would also have this profile. Apart from that, one would expect the runner to be physically used to running the other distances i.e. one couldn’t decide tomorrow they were going to run a 100k route and seriously expect to get a result in keeping with that predicted from their 1500m Purdy Points and having never run more than 13 miles etc.

I found this website which is interesting because not only does it consider the Purdy model but also VO2 max, Cameron and Riegel models which it then takes an average result. This link gives a brief description of each of these models.

Again it would appear all four models need a single starting point of data i.e. a distance and a time taken. I decided that by using my half-marathon timings this would give me the most accurate guesstimate (that’s all it can be on a single data-point). as that’s the distance I have run the most.

I also ran the experiment using my 2014 benchmark pace of a 1h35m half-marathon alongside my 2013 figure which was more like 1h38m, just to see what the difference in the results would be.

DISTANCE

PREDICTION (1.35)

PREDICTION (1.38)

BEST EFFORT

5k 20.34 21.12 20.50
10k 42.55 44.16 41.04
10 Mile 1.11.14 1.13.28 1.11.38
Half-Marathon 1.35.04 1.38.04 1.32.43
Full-Marathon 3.19.45 3.26.03 3.30.07

Again, the results for half-marathon and below are pretty consistent (accepting that my best effort at the distance is sub both of these control times, but that I’ve only gone that quick on two occasions). I find the marathon result very interesting, especially in the light of what the Fenix 2 has assumed based upon it’s local knowledge of what my ticker is (and isn’t) capable of.

So what can I draw from all of this? I guess ultimately what the numbers are telling me is that for my current / recent levels of fitness, I’m actually performing at a level that would be anticipated for all long distances up to the Half-Marathon distance. Beyond that, I simply don’t have the experience in my legs and as such my actual performance is way off where it would be predicted to be.

There is, of course, the question as to whether I actually want to gain more experience at the 26.2 mile point. It all sounds great in principle, but after 22+ miles both body and mind get distinctly less interested and instead long for a hot bath.

And chocolate. Lots of chocolate…….

Of trail-runs, gym-balls and light-bulbs

Happy New Year if you’re reading this. The decorations are down, there is mass consumption of excess chocolate and devout promises to  deal with the Christmas excesses. And that’s just me!

It took until 4th January before I managed to get out and do any sort of run. It just happened to be a race.

A Trail Race in fact. Despite having discovered running as a fun pastime 9 years ago, this is the first time I’ve intentionally strayed off tarmac. True I’ve stumbled off on numerous occasions, but this was a voyage into the unknown. Also known as Reddish Vale Park. But we’ll stick with ‘unknown’ for the time being.

There were decisions to make. I’ve only ever had road shoes. Which are fine on roads, but on the uneven and slippery muddy trails, such smooth features would only end face-down in the mud. And whilst I like a photograph of me running, that’s one I’d happily avoid!

So Sunday morning was a rapid get-up and go. I considered the ‘stay in bed and run on roads later’ option but rather feared that I’d do the first bit but not the second. But anyway, it was a gloriously sunny day and perfect for running around a muddy park. And so I joined 267 other runners and had a jolly fine time. Only a short distance, but with the new conditions to me, still satisfyingly exhausting.

Hit The Trail finisher's coaster
Hit The Trail finisher’s coaster

Getting home at lunchtime, I soon felt the need to go out again as it was such a nice day. The camera came out with me this time around as I went hunting for some natural world pictures (or at least something akin to this in Stockport) before the sun went down.

Bridge over the Goyt River, Werneth
Bridge over the Goyt River, Werneth

After I returned from my major physio session last June, I acquired a gym-ball from eBay in order to continue with the stretching and pilates I was intending to do. Unfortunately the gym-ball I ordered turned out to be smaller than advertised but as it would cost more for me to return, it’s been sat in the kitchen ever since. So I was pleased to pick up a new one in town, significantly larger and more appropriate. So I was happy. The cat, on the other hand, took one look at this large grey ball sat in the lounge, and turned a similar colour to it before running off upstairs.

Gym Balls - big and small!
Gym Balls – big and small!

I’ve never worked out what happens inside the cat’s muddled brain, but this odd-looking predator perhaps roamed the ancient lands where pre-domesticated pussy-cats lived……….

It seems to work for my back though, so the cat will just have to adapt!

Over the Christmas period I seemed to have a catastrophe of oddly-shaped lightbulbs biting the dust. The sort that nowhere local seems to stock. Whilst going out and replacing the entire light was becoming a possible idea, common-sense prevailed and I got them online. All arrived today and so my lounge is bathed in lightness again. Hopefully, with the new (to me) LED technology, I’ll not need to be putting another order in for a few years yet. But in the meantime, I’ll hold on to the receipt, just in case………

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