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Wednesday
Sep252013

Rubies

I have this photo on the wall in my study. A photo taken 40 years and a couple of weeks ago, of my parents.

Wedding photo

Please excuse the grubby glass, it's been on my wall for a while now. Turns out I should clean it, huh?

Dad was an undergraduate at Queens' College when they met. Mum was at Homerton. Dad is 6 months older than Mum, and 2" taller. In the top photo Mum was still just 21, while Dad had reached the heady heights of 22. They'd both just started jobs in London and had to be back at work on the Monday.  

A couple of weeks ago, 40 years later to the day, they treated a select band of friends and relatives to lunch in Queens'. Clarkie took photos, I caught up with people (like my godmother) who I haven't seen for years. 

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That's a partial group, in the garden at home. 

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A posh meal, with my brother in the distance at the head of the table. That would leave me at the foot. He gave a speech and everything. 

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The latest challenge for my parents is going to be coping with both of them being retired. I'm sure they'll work it out. They have 40 years of practice now, that has to count for something. 

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Tuesday
Sep172013

August catch up

Whoops. August and early September kind of got away from me. Things are slowing up again now, so that's something. 

August started with cricket week. I don't actually play any more, so for me it's more umpiring week. This year it rather became golf week, which is a new thing for us. Clarkie decided she would like to take up golf after watching Grandad (91) handily beat his sons (61 and 56). Golf, she reasoned, looked like a game that a) you could keep playing for a long time and b) didn't need 21 other people (assuming the batting teams umpire and score). I was dubious, but she found a taster session advertised for just £4 each, and lo and behold I've got a bit hooked. 

This is fitting - cricket was my maternal grandad's game, golf is my paternal grandad's game. Seems about right to balance them both. I'm not good, but I don't suck quite as much as my only previous experience had lead me to believe I would (Aviemore, aged 15, Dad teaching). So I ended up playing 9 holes with a couple of the other non-players on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, making Clarkie rather jealous. So we went out for 9 holes on the Saturday with two of the other captains. We played at Dymock Grange, which is a nice, cheap course in Gloucestershire. Don't tell anyone though, or it might get busy. 

The Friday of cricket week is now the annual day for dressing up. This year was the first time that the captains revealed the theme a full year in advance, resulting in a distinct leap in costume quality. The theme was children's TV. 

So yes. We went as Noddy and Big Ears (thanks to Jo Beasley for the photo). The car was flat-packed and constructed on site (thanks to Shirley Taylor for the loan of the tent) from cardboard, double-sided tape and duct tape. It's built around two wine boxes, one for each of us. Click here for more photos from construction. The trousers and the two neck scarves are both made from plain yellow fabric and fabric pens. The beard, ears and my hat came as a set. The rest we already owned! Next year's theme is heroes and villains so plans are already being hatched. I have said no cars this time though.

The two weeks between cricket week and my DiGRA trip to Atlanta didn't quite work out as I'd hoped with the running. I picked up a bit of a calf strain, so ended up taking it really easy. I may pay for that, but at least the calf feels a bit better and I did cycle so the fitness shouldn't have taken too much of a hit. 

The trip to Atlanta was interesting. I couldn't afford a nice central hotel, so I had an airport hotel instead. That then left me with the challenge of getting to midtown every day. I made use of the hotel-airport shuttle, and used the MARTA train system to get in from the airport. A few people warned me of the dangers of this, but honestly, compared to the London Underground I found it to be quick, spacious and everyone was very polite. I did skip all the evening activities to avoid using it late at night though. I actually regret being too far out to go running with a couple of the other attendees more than I regret skipping the evening stuff, but there you go. I had a pretty nice room, although they could have done with double glazing for the noise of the planes and the fans/airconditioning from the restaurant outside. 

I ended up having to stay an extra couple of days after the conference ended, because the flights dropped by £600. Yes, I had to pay an extra £80 for the hotel, but I'd bought a 7-day transport pass, so it wasn't so bad. I ended up seeing the World of Coca Cola on the Friday, which I decided was a pretty good record of the popular culture around the brand as much as anything else. I even found a Berliner Bar, so my holidays all linked together nicely (cricket week is in Colwall, which also had a Malvern Water Coca Cola factory until 2010). 

On the Saturday it was time for the Dragon*Con parade. Now, I worked in a comic shop. I'd heard of Dragon*Con. And I've been to Disney, so I've seen parades. But what I got was somewhat more than I bargained for.

31 Aug 2013 20:28

Stormtroopers were what was mentioned to me before the event, and stormtroopers there were. Along with an awful lot of other things, and mashups beyond my wildest imaginings. Muppet stormtroopers? Why yes. 

31 Aug 2013 20:28

As you do. Check out the rest of my pics. That's only a tiny, tiny part of the craziness. It was like the Friday of Cricket Week on steroids. And yes, I did have a moment of wishing I had my Batgirl outfit with me...

So that's August. I think that's enough for now!

Thursday
Jul252013

Fast and slow

I had a busy running week last week. Both Clarkie and I ran the Pheonix 10k on Wednesday night. I did this race last year, on a distinctly different evening. This year it was hot and almost perfectly still. Sadly, with Clarkie running as well there were no photos (or there were, but they are of the expensive, official variety). I managed another big PB, taking 3.5 minutes off my previous best with a 51:59. I was pretty pleased, especially since I'd had to stop a few times to sort out a stitch. I think I might want to think about some kind of warm up in future, especially since I still want to go faster (of course!).

Clarkie also ran a PB by a similar amount. She was a bit worried going into the race, because she hasn't run that far since the Cambridge Half. The conditions were a bit different from the sleet! She made it in 1:02:44, so she's got the hour mark in her sights for the next one. She also kicks my arse in a sprint!

Then we headed up to Cambridge for a dual-purpose trip. We were house-sitting and wedding-attending! But since we were there, we thought we'd do Cambridge Parkrun too. Turns out a mid-week 10k may not be entirely the best preparation, so I didn't get a PB on that one. In fact, the mile pace wasn't too far off the 10k pace, wih a 25:11 time recorded. All good though.

That meant that out of the 18.5 miles I ran last week, about half were run at race pace. At the moment that's around a minute per mile faster than my gentle a-to-b pace. Seems to have left me a little tired! So I skipped Monday's run altogether, and let myself do the run into work with my camera again. I've had to change my route a little, because they are digging up the path. The first mile through the houses is the same, but then instead of heading down along here...

Path 

I get to head up here for a chunk instead.

Onwards and upwards

The path is rather different, so instead of a narrow strip of chalk with flint sticking through

Through the undergrowth

I get to run on chunky gravel and embedded rocks.

Difficult

And actually, that was a good section. That's quite testing in minimalist shoes, but I'm getting better at it. First time I did it I thought I'd bruised my foot spectacularly! I've still got some way to go before it's really comfy though. We'll see. (And ooh look! Tan!)

The route I'm using is part of the Jugg's Way between Brighton and Lewes, on the South Downs Way. It runs along a pretty exposed ridge. 

South Downs Panorama

(Might be worth clicking through to flickr for that one, see it large!)

I've run it in some pretty foul weather before, all the way to Kingston, but today was a good day. I don't follow it particuarly far either, before heading down off the ridge back towards work.

Downhill time

You can tell it's been dry and hot recently. The hills have gone that shade of yellow. 

The work I was trying to avoid has started to spill down the rest of the route - I'm not sure how much longer I can keep going this way! This is a picture of what the new path will look like. I'm actually a little underwhelmed - the surface (if this is the finished surface) is very loosely packed. It's ok to run on, but you can already see the bike tracks in it and it's not officially open yet. 

New path

Still, it will be better than what was there before. I think. The cows don't seem overly impressed...

Cows

The rest of the route (for now) is the same as previously. The other route was 3.6 miles. This one is 4.9 miles, more or less. The elevation profile is a bit different, going up higher and having more breaks between the downhill sections.

I'll admit that I've been cheating at hometime and running along the flat into town rather than up and home again. That gives me a combined total of 9.1 miles for the day, which is more than enough for now! It means that at the moment I'm doing more miles but less elevation, so that's a mixed thing. Maybe eventually I'll do both ways. We'll see. 

People occasionally ask me what I'm training for, and at the moment I'm not really on any sort of training plan. What I'm actually doing is training in preparation for my marathon training plan! I'm hoping that by slowly increasing my weekly mileage now, the jump in mileage for the plan won't be so much of a strain. It is still going to be a jump I think, but we'll see. June I ran four weeks increasing from 14.8 miles to 16.5 miles. This month I've been increasing from 18 miles and aiming to hit 20 miles before cricket week. Then a couple of weeks higher than that, before DiGRA at the end of August. And a couple more big (for me) weeks in September before the training plan kicks in. 

I should point out that these are still not impressive distances - most beginner plans reckon on 30-40 miles per week for marathon training, something I have never achieved. But it is a more consistently high mileage than I've ever managed before, and I'm managing better speeds than I've managed in the past. I'm really hoping this will mean marathon training goes more smoothly and puts less strain on my body this time around. 

Well, a girl can dream!

Sunday
Jun302013

Ripstop

Last week I had to get a new phone. I know a lot of people change their phones a lot, but one of the things that happened after I got my iPad was that I went back to a very old school phone. I decided that I wasn't using my phone much, certainly not enough to warrant a £20-per-month contract, and went for a £30 Nokia in pay-as-you-go. It's worked really well for me. I don't phone many people (and never have), and it's probably cut down a bit on my random tweeting (which is no great loss to humanity). The only thing I miss a bit is maps, but I just have to be a little more prepared before I go somewhere new.

So I had a cheap Nokia, and really didn't take care of it. It's been slung in outside pockets of bags then rained on, waist pouches and sweated on, just about any random pocket I could find. And last week, sadly, that came back to bite me. The backlight stopped working, which makes the screen impossible to read. I did google some fixes, but they involved a soldering iron and various components, so I wussed out. I went and bought a £9.99 Nokia to replace it. This time I vowed to take better care of it, so I've made it a cover.

Old Skool Nokia

The cover is made with some ripstop off cuts I got during my first masters in 2000. I investigated the aerodynamics of power kites, and got some of the material to play with. I'm not expecting it to be waterproof, but it should provide an extra layer of water resistance, giving me time to rescue the phone from the worst of the wet!

Phone case

Clarkie says it looks like a Breakaway Bar. The closure rolls twice, and then the elastic wraps round to hold it in place. It's not perfect, it's just a little fiddly, but it works well enough for now. I had to handsew the whole thing because it's not very big, so excuse the wobbly stitches.

While I had the ripstop out, I decided to knock up a shoe bag too. I end up slinging pairs of trainers in bags quite often, so I thought a nice, lightweight bag would be just the ticket.

Homemade ripstop shoe bag

Same principle, based on some instructions i found for sewing a stuff sack (the link seems to have died! Thank goodness I saved it to Evernote). I changed the closure though. The instructions include a drawstring, this one features Velcro instead of elastic. I machine-stitched this one, which was fiddly in places. I used my walking foot because the ripstop is quite slippery, and it worked well.

Homemade ripstop shoe bag

The hook part is on the back of the bag, so that when it's doubled over it shouldn't catch on anything (like my jumper). The different orientation of the hook section to the loop section allows me to be less precise with the closure, and gives me a little leeway on the length of thing I put in there (although I don't see my feet changing size too much!). The white Velcro isn't all that aesthetically pleasing and there is probably room for improvement in the closure mechanism, but it's only a shoe bag.

Homemade ripstop shoe bag

That's where I normally end up carrying shoes. Doesn't work so well if they are muddy, but this will definitely help with that.

Homemade ripstop shoe bag

Added bonus: it folds up really small. This means that on the days when I run in and already have shoes at work it won't be a problem to squeeze this into my pack for later.

Not perfect, but pretty useful. I'll keep thinking about closures, because I haven't solved that problem here. Room for improvement yet.

Sunday
Jun232013

Freet Footwear Review

I like shoes. I really do. Which, given that I now only like minimalist shoes, gives me something of a conundrum. (Ignoring the no-buying thing, which is even more of a conundrum for a shoe-lover!)

For me, a minimalist shoe needs to be zero-drop, wide in the toe box, preferably no toe spring, and a thin, flexible sole. Ideally, the shape should mimic the shape of my foot, which is actually pretty straight up to the end of the big toe. 

My current running shoes have 400+ miles on now, but do (if I'm being really picky) fall down in a couple of those areas: they don't really have the same shape as my feet, and the thicker, 5mm trail sole is really a little too thick for me. A third issue is that really, I ought to face up to the fact that even after beating them on a broom handle they are too small. This has kind of shown up in some pain in the joint in the big toe on my slightly-larger left foot.

I need to find a pair to both train and run in for the WDW marathon next January. While I love the look of the Soft Star Moc3s, the shipping and import duty really bumps the price up. So when I saw the Freet Footwear 4+1 Barefoot shoe advertised (at a very reasonable price, I might add), I couldn't wait to try them. 

Freet Footwear 4+1

I was dead excited when they arrived. They are a really nicely made shoe, light, good strong-feeling upper. The velcro makes them easy to get on and off, and only having a separate big toe makes them significantly faster to get on than Five-fingers.

Freet Footwear 4+1

And look! They do mimic the shape of my foot pretty well. I mean, other than that big old gap between my big toe and the rest.

Freet Footwear 4+1

A lovely, grippy sole that would make your footprints look like a gorilla. What's not to love?

I really wanted to love these shoes. I really did. But there were, for me, a couple of things that meant these went back into the box and got sent back to Yorkshire.

They clearly do have a slight issue with size. I consider myself to be a UK size 5, which would be a European 38. I am questioning that slightly, as I've had to order a 39 in a few shoes now, but still, I have never been larger than a 39. So I ordered a 39. Before they shipped, I got a lovely email confirming the size that I'd ordered, and telling me they run a size small. I said thank you, and that I had already added a size. Sadly, it seems I should have ordered 2 sizes higher. The big toe fitted pretty well. A little snug width-wise, but I have pretty wide big toes and the material would have given a little with time. The problem was the second toe, which was wedged up against the end of the shoe. 

How could that be? My second toe is no longer than my big toe, and the 4 toe pocket starts out no shorter than the big toe pocket! I think it's that big old gap. My second toe sits further to the outside of the shoe than expected, and comes up against the end where the third toe ought to be.

That's not a deal-breaker. I'm not a size 40 shoe in any other make I have ever found, but it's just a number so I could have been. But the deal-breaker for me was the toe spring.

Freet Footwear 4 1

(Forgive the fuzziness - it's surprisingly hard to take a photo of a gap.)

When I'm standing around barefoot, my toes do not curl slightly upwards. I don't think yours will either. I'm not quite sure why shoe manufacturers like to include this little bit of upward curl in their shoes - I'm sure there's a reason, I just don't know it. For me, it means I will spend the vast proportion of the time I spend in these shoes when I'm not running pushing my toes against that spring. I will drive myself loopy trying to get my foot flat. As I was rather hoping that the next pair of shoes I bought could also be worn with jeans before or after a run, this meant these were a no-go. 

I had fabulous customer service from them, and as I said, I really really wanted to like the shoes. Sadly, they just weren't for me. If you are less picky about the toe spring, and like Fivefingers other than putting them on, these are definitely worth a look. Just heed the warning about the size!

For me, I've gone back to Vivobarefoot. "The One" apparently. In a 39, because that's what size my Evos were.

"The one"

Guess what? They are slightly too big...