Ups and downs betwixt first and second breakfast

My hearty breakfast this morning consisted of porridge with banana & yoghurt and a glass of orange juice followed (after a short break) by two eggs on toast with fried tomatoes, a large piece of coffee & walnut cake and two cups of tea… now three. Yummy!

The short break involved a particularly enjoyable run on the Downs with Daren.

It’s fair to say that the very first words usually spoken, when we meet in the car park next to Jack & Jill windmills after a typical few months’ absence, usually involves a question: ‘Shall we go for coffee instead?, asked from the warmth of one or other car. Today, as my car window whirred quietly down and the chilly wind blowing in made me wonder if coffee really might be the better idea, Daren smugly lifted a Small Batch cup to his lips :-))

The chilly wind encouraged us not to hang around & discuss whether or not we were going to run. This was a good thing as we quickly realised that we were on better form than either of us expected. After a short uphill section we coasted easily down to Pyecombe, already deep in conversation. After Pyecombe the gradient is against us all the way to the top of Wolstonbury Hill, but the conversation carried us all the way up, almost without effort.

It was a flat grey day and not so very cold for December provided that we were out of the wind. We thus paused only very briefly at the top before coasting comfortably down the other side and into the middle of a deep valley. The route then goes directly up the other side and is steep enough that steps have thoughtfully been cut… and effort is definitely required to climb them!

We then continued to do really well all the way along through Clayton until we reached the Tank Tracks, which cover 420 vertical feet from bottom to top, in half a horizontal mile. This is always our nemesis, but it’s fair to say that I really struggled with the climb today and that, but for Daren, I would have stopped to walk. In fact, even as we neared the very top, I was feeling the pressure building to walk, like the children in the marshmallow experiment who succumbed to temptation moments before they would otherwise have earned themselves a second marshmallow. Even our engaging conversation petered out!

I’ve never before needed to sit down at the top, but today I could hardly stand. Only the biting wind drew me back to my feet to finish the 6.4 mile run in a respectable 73 minutes. This is actually much closer to the times we were running a couple of years ago and a full 11 minutes faster than the last time we ran the circuit! :-))

As with my run with Nick three weeks ago, I now need to recover ahead of a two-hour yoga session this evening… time to do some work before lunch and a mid-afternoon nap, methinks!

Revenge of the Bok

Early on Thursday morning we experienced tremors which gently shook our neighbourhood from its slumber, the source being a deep V8 throb which heralded the arrival of my friend Nick coming quietly down the road. We’d been wrapped up against the November cold for days, but Nick casually stepped out of his car in shorts and a t-shirt as if it were a summer’s day.

I had sought a coffee with Nick with a view to bringing some of my MBA students to hear about his approach to market entry and the challenges that he has experienced, but the reply I received was ‘no run, no coffee’ so I had to dust off my running legs and go hunting for my shoes. So far this year I had run only six times, the last time with Daren at the beginning of September, so I climbed aboard the machine last week for a couple of ten-minute miles to remind myself where to put my feet, and what kind of pain I might experience afterwards.

Despite Nick’s assurances I took no chances on the temperature, donning longs, a jacket, hat & gloves… though I came to realise that his analysis was correct. Part of the reason for this was the ferocious pace that he set from the start and I was gasping for breath before we got to the start of the mud.

Nick’s pseudonym is the Bok and if you’ve ever seen a springbok running, then you’ll know that it bounces effortlessly along. This is exactly how Nick runs. When I used to run 20 or 30 miles a week I was able to tag along despite his pace being uncomfortable. Having run less than 50 miles this year I stood no chance and he eventually backed off what he thought was already idling along rather than run the circuit alone.

Whilst my lungs were desperately searching for sufficient oxygen to move my muscles, he reminded me that I used to play a rotten trick on him. His heart rate monitor would give an audible beep to alert him to the fact that his heart was reaching its upper working limit. Despite already running at an uncomfortable pace, I would take this as a signal to push ahead a little faster. Being hyper-competitive, Nick would dig deep and go with the charge rather than let me get away.

I actually find it remarkable that I was ever fit enough to be able to keep up with him, let alone press ahead in those moments! Although it was a fun trick, I remember a personal trainer doing something similar to me in order to help me push my aerobic limits, so did I actually think that it would be good for Nick… although I completely understand why he wants to return the, er, favour! As it was I needed to pause to recover on several occasions, with Nick waiting graciously each time for his geriatric companion to catch his breath.

Though damp (Nick called it soggy, though he might have been referring to my pace), the morning was warm enough for shorts & a t-shirt and we had a super-lovely run around a very muddy circuit.

There is a slight dispute at Strava as to how far our run was and how long it took us… Nick’s Strava claimed 5.4 miles in 53 minutes, an average of 6.11mph, whilst my Strava claimed 5.8 miles in 54 minutes, an average of 6.44mph. I’m wondering if Strava factors in the frequency of runs and creates a more encouraging result for those people who had to work harder, or have not run for a while.

After showers & breakfast Nick’s V8 briefly shook the whole town as he blipped the throttle for me on exit… music to my ears!

Postscript. As I sit here writing, three days after the fact, my legs are only just vaguely starting to work as they should, rather than like unbending stilts. However the pain has been positive and I even managed to get some potential dates for a talk to my MBA students.  So thanks to the run, the deep conversation and the ear-candy, I still have a big smile on my face 🙂

Two Daruns and a bunch of other odd things

Ahead of my more comprehensive post about Nick, it’s worth reporting that I had two runs with Daren from Jack & Jill whilst the weather was still warm and a couple of excursions in my kayak.

On 24th July we ran along to top of the Downs, past Ditchling Beacon and on the next gate before turning around and retracing our steps.  Daren kindly agreed to forgo our normal challenging circuit in favour of this more gentle run on account of my knees being painful… maybe on account of some gardening marathon or similar.  During the run we paused to marvel at a two-headed sheep that was sensibly sitting down so that it didn’t pull itself in two.  6.8 miles in 69 minutes, an average of 5.91 mph.

The 1st August saw me paddling a very dusty kayak for the first time in an age.  Daren & Charlie were feeding the other Martlet’s club members from a floating kitchen (strapped to the top of an open canoe) adjacent to the Palace Pier.  I have no pictures of this hilarious endeavour, but judging by the number of people and seagulls looking down from the boardwalk above, it was a spectacular attraction!

On the 29th August I joined Martlet’s for a second feast on the water, this time where a kitchen was hung from a tripod strapped onto two surf skis… very ingenious.  After a delicious light meal and as I finished eating a tasty piece of cake for dessert,  I vaguely heard Dai ask if anyone wanted to paddle to ‘the buoy’.  I finished my cake and chased after him and two others.  After what seemed like half an hour I was starting to get worried… I could see no buoys, only the wind farm in the distance.  They paused so that I could catch up and assured me that there was indeed a sailing buoy somewhere out there on this now glassy water.  We paddled on, maybe for another half an hour until the buoy came slowly into view.  Turning around for the paddle back, the view was stunning, with the coast from Worthing to Beachy Head arrayed in one long & narrow horizontal line, bounded top and bottom by acres of sea and sky.  As the sun slowly went down it was a magical view, though alas I didn’t dare risk taking my phone out of its waterproof bag to capture it.  That impromptu paddle is the furthest that I have been in my kayak in years… it was a really amazing workout for my shoulders, especially since I was trying to keep up with Dai & Charlie who were in sleek sea kayaks!

On 7th September Daren and I returned to our normal circuit, but at an uncommonly slow speed even for the extreme gradients… I kept my toe tucked under the accelerator pedal so that Daren could not push on faster :-).  6.5 miles took us 84 minutes, a rather pedestrian 4.64 mph!

Below are some other images I took over the summer… beware large bugs 🙂

An almost-marathon in four easy stages

Easy stages, HA!  A month of flattish one-mile runs on the machine is ‘easy stages’… four 6.4-mile runs, with a height gain between them of 4250 feet (almost 1300 metres)… well, these runs seem to be getting more difficult, that’s all I’m saying!

Though maybe this was because they were spaced out between January and June!

Runs with my pal Daren are always really special things.  For starters we follow the same route that we’ve been running for about 5 years now… though infrequently enough that I’ve not tired of it yet.  It’s also more of a perambulating conversation than it is a run per se… the run simply happens while we’re chatting.  Aside from anything else it is slightly mind-bending, since we seem to be experiencing time-travel… the other versions of ourselves are running around the same circuit at around the same speed, separated only by time.  I swear that you can hear the different versions laughing at each other on a quiet day.

For some reason most of the horizontal distance seems to be downhill (it’s just an illusion), but there are three major inclines: a relaxed 300 vertical-foot hill that you could chug up in a 4×4, barring the various gates & stiles; an anything-but relaxed 150 vertical-foot scramble that is almost impossible to crawl up when it’s slippery; and the much-vaunted tank tracks, a very steep 400 vertical-foot climb that occurs near the end of our run.  The latter is a barometer to our level of bouncy zing: we have so far always managed to run up it without needing to stop (or stop talking), though on occasion that run has been a near stagger.  However, this last time it was only Daren’s enduring positive mental attitude that helped my mind to pretend to my body that it could make it to the top… I say pretend, because I couldn’t walk for about 4 days afterwards!

I’m pretty happy though that I still managed the run at all, given the pitifully small amount of training that I’ve done over the last couple of months!

So that’s all my running for the last year accounted for… which means that the next post must be about the sedate art of gardening. 🙂

180 mile runs

It’s fair to say that I didn’t run at all between the beginning of June and the end of August last year, but by that time I was starting to suffer from the lethargy that creeps up on you when you’re not doing enough exercise.

As I was updating materials & content for new second-year students joining my Creativity in Enterprise module at Brighton Business School, it occurred to me that I could use the same approach that I was advocating to them… doing a little each day, rather than trying to do a lot once a week.

Going for a long run once a week is really lovely, but the ‘getting ready, running, recovering and writing’ process is invariably more than three hours, even for a relatively short run… or four hours if I ran to the Beacon and back.  In September 2016 I didn’t have the time or the motivation… and even five miles is a long way when you’ve not run for three months.

The sustainable alternative was to run one mile each day instead.

Obviously it helps a lot if you have a running machine in the house, which we do.  Then it’s about creating that impetus to run a short distance each day.  I achieved this by targeting myself to run at 6mph, so 10 minutes per run… knowing full well that I would otherwise compete with myself to increase the speed, which would not be good over such a short distance with no warm up.

In September I clocked up 20 miles, then monthly totals of 27, 27, 29, 23, 24 and 25, which was in March when my module came to a close for the year.  April and May were then not so impressive at 3 and 2 miles respectively, but the total was 180 miles in under 30 hours.  A worthwhile amount of exercise to have notched up, and analogous of a considerable amount of additional learning for my students.

Of course I didn’t entirely manage to remove the competitive urge.  Where I would normally run on a gradient 2, to represent the effort required to push the world round underneath me outside, I slowly suckered myself into running at gradient 3, then 4.  I even managed a week of runs at gradient 5 before I backed off again… 5 is really effortful, where what I needed was simply a little exercise!

Why stop?  You may well ask.  I normally do ‘stuff for me’ in the mornings, because this is the only part of the day that is relatively consistent.  However, the combination of some qigong stretching, 15 minutes of yoga, 15-30 minutes playing the guitar, 10 minutes running, 10 minutes cooling down in the garden, breakfast, shower etc meant that by March it was taking me 2 hours to get ready for work each day.  It’s a lot of fun (great me-time), but at that level not sustainable… something had to give.

It was the running that quietly dropped off the agenda.

My mornings are still fun, but at the moment that extra slug of lethargy-reducing exercise is coming from other interesting activities… like gardening.  But more about that in another post sometime. 🙂

Father’s Day

Last autumn my father sadly passed away, aged 91.  On this day in June, which celebrates fathers everywhere, my heart goes out to all those friends who have also lost parents, some very recently and some a very long time ago.

For Father’s Day, I’d like to share some of my memories of my fantastic father, around three of his boundless attributes: his creativity, his patience and his energy.

The creative father.

My father had an extraordinary flair for doodling. His line drawings comprised of exuberant swoops, elegant curves and poignant points… each element neatly resolved in the context of the others, to create a pleasingly tasteful, miniature work of art. I grew up surrounded by these transitory doodles, for they adorned scraps of paper, the margins of old magazines and the family’s legendary wipe-clean-formica kitchen table.

On occasion he would render unseen versions of his drawings into a third dimension, using pieces of balsa wood or lumps of chalk to create small organic sculptures. He was a master at creating small models, from sailing boats and strings of cars pulled by electric motors, to functional ranch houses for my toy cowboys, to elegant dolls houses for his grandchildren.

In my forties and being slightly too old for a dolls house, he very kindly made me a beautifully crafted, self supporting flight of stairs complete with a handrail, one tenth scale, which he thoughtfully named Aspirations to inspire his young son.

He also worked on a larger scale, cutting holes in floorboards and walls to make the family’s labyrinthine cellar and creating a cavernous wardrobe from scratch in the master bedroom.

His love of creative swoops and curves also clearly manifested itself in his amazing garden which, though based on the paths that my elder siblings beat through the originally-untamed-undergrowth when they were young, he carefully crafted so that edges and levels resolved into one another in a most harmonious way.

I’ve come to realise that gardens are transitory, dynamic entities. Like the gardeners who create them, they are ever-changing and they actually exist in all their different states at the very same time… at least in our minds… a kind of organic pastiche of all their various forms, overlaid on top of one another.

For example, as you look down through small shrubs and across the different lawns, you can see a beautiful 30 foot cherry tree at the bottom of the garden, grown from a cherry pip by my siblings… the cherries are mouthwatering, like the raspberries, blackcurrants and apples grown in that part of the garden.

I can picture the cherry tree clearly, though it was removed to make way for a greenhouse at least 20 years ago, a structure which itself is now completely hidden from view by mature trees and shrubs.

In the same way, I can still picture my father, back then when he used to work for a living, engrossed in crafting his garden at the weekends, making stuff in his subterranean workshop, or simply creating swirling doodles on the kitchen table. I’m certain that it is this creativity that has driven my own passion for abstract art and quirky homemade furniture.

The patient father.

Twenty-five years ago, when I bought my first house, my father eyed up the garden as a blank canvas on which to grow a masterpiece, but I was too young, naive and impatient to appreciate his vision. Instead I defended the two boring patches of grass and empty patio with a metaphorical pitchfork. He just smiled and acquiesced.

Many months later he offered me some pots for my patio (amongst which I remember there was a tall bamboo and a bright yellow Mexican orange), which brought a little colour & texture to my otherwise bland, adolescent garden. More than a year later again, he casually observed that the plants had started to outgrow their pots and wondered whether I might like to plant them in the garden… and put some new, smaller plants in the original Trojan horse pots.

Over the course of fifteen years and with ongoing paternal guidance, the area of grass in the back garden diminished in size by a half and disappeared entirely in the front.

Over the same period yet another budding Foster-gardener had been patiently tended and allowed to slowly develop towards maturity, like an animated, human version of the deliciously complex wine that he created over the years and that we still look forward to drinking, on special occasions.

Much later I came to realise that gardening is as much a manifestation of patience as it is about an understanding of botany. His boundless patience is obvious from the tranquility of his garden, the sheer scale of the plants, many of which were originally grown from seeds or cuttings, and the gardens of his children, each with their own inimitable style.

As I was writing this I was curious about the effect of just one of the many, many seeds that he patiently grew in my mind… I walked out into my garden to count eight Mexican orange plants of different sizes, some huge, and twenty-five pots or clumps of bamboo, all bar two of which have been grown from that original gift in 1991… which in turn had come from a vast bamboo clump, grown by him from a small cutting that he had been given, maybe twenty years before that.

The energetic father.

The garden at my parents house is 100 feet long, with a path that winds ever downward into the valley, like a temporal thread that sews its way through my mind and back to my earliest memories. Even the top of the garden is effectively two storeys below the sitting room and the bottom yet another two vertical storeys further down.

And yet, if my father spotted a cat in the garden, he would run from the sitting room, leap down two flights of stairs and chase the feline miscreant on down the path until it disappeared, chastened, into the undergrowth. He would then casually return to his initial elevated vantage point, having hardly broken a sweat, where he would resume drinking his tea and admiring the beautiful view.

This boundless energy was put to other uses too, such as endlessly returning my pedal car to the top of the garden so that I could delightedly whoop my way down again, or taking us on adventures to explore ancient castles, English counties and foreign countries.

No sedentary beach holidays for us… our holidays involved going places, camping out, climbing mountains, doing stuff. His energy was infectious and it flows on through his children, and clearly through his grandchildren too.

It is all too easy to be sad when someone who is really important to us passes away and this is clearly the case with my father… no more can we tap into his encyclopaedic memory of plants and gardening tips, no more will he be a conversational sparring partner, no more beaming blue-eyed smiles of delight when you turn up unannounced.

But sadness is not something that I associate with my father. Instead it is his quirky creativity, his boundless patience and his sheer energy that come to mind and live on through each of his children, in our slightly unconventional mindsets, and in the crazy ideas and endeavours that he helped us to seed.

And I like to think that he is now able to be everywhere at the same time, spending his days with each of us, and most especially when we’re outside, working in those transitory, dynamic, organic spaces that we call our gardens.

I for one am extremely grateful for having known this remarkable man and for having had such a unique and fantastic father.

To my Dad, Happy Father’s Day.

What’s 375 days between posts?

It’s been a while since I last shared my thoughts through the FosterRuns channel and a lot has happened in the intervening time.  Not only have I not been writing here, but I’ve also been running a lot less, though more about that in a separate post, or two.

One of the important lessons about strategy is that you need to choose what you are not going to do while you close the gap between yourself and your goals.  Allowing things to lapse of their own volition doesn’t count… it needs to be a more deliberate decision.

For example in 2009, at the point that I realised I had effectively lapsed in my mediocre playing of the guitar, I made a deliberate choice between giving up & gifting my guitars to a worthier home, or working hard over time to become a more accomplished guitar player.  Whilst hard work & at times frustrating, the choice of the latter has proved to be a genuine source of joy, especially on those days (like yesterday, almost eight years post-decision), when I feel that I’m actually progressing.  The key to making this decision work was about creating a sustainable habit… in this case a minimum of 5 minutes a day, 52 guitar lessons with the amazing Lucas Cook over the course of the first year (and countless pointers since), two new guitars along the way as rewards for my persistence etc.

I feel as if I am at one of those crossroads, where a choice needs to be taken, though in this case it’s a more complex recipe of choices.  The original aim of FosterRuns, back in August 2007, was to encourage me to run, whilst also encouraging me to write… exercise for the body connected to exercise for the mind in a virtuous circle.  The number of posts on the site now sits at 676, but take away the running and the impetus to write about it disappears.

I quickly figured this out with my earlier blogs, where the writing dried up for lack of a sustainable stimulus.  Even my random musings about work, which I really enjoyed to start with, petered out within five years.

It’s not that I no longer want to run… on the contrary, it’s really important to me to maintain that ability, especially as I love going out for those brilliant occasional runs with friends.  But I now allocate part of that finite ‘time’ resource to other things such as Yoga, which is a more all-encompassing workout.

It’s also not that I don’t want to write… the purpose of this journey was to give me the skills so that I could write.  You need (at the very least) to write, in order to be able to write.  My tally for this last year is a simple article (awaiting publication), one or two songs, quite a few workshops, numerous bespoke explanations for students or clients, a Fellowship application (gained 🙂 ) etc.  I had hoped to be able to say that I had finished my first book, but my internal critic still has a finger on the pause button… I am taking steps to circumvent this though!

As a prelude to repainting my house, I spent last Sunday washing the gutters and soffit boards… this post is similarly preparing the ground for a next step, in this case a decision about whether or not this blog forms part of my forward strategy.  Keep your eyes peeled for a few more posts in the near future before I finally take that decision. 🙂

Old pastures

After a week of chilly weather, such that I wished I’d put the wood burner on Friday night, this morning was a spectacular return to summer.

Having sat in the tea-house to sup my way through two quadspressos, I felt that I had to get out for a run… especially as I didn’t feel up to a run last weekend.

I started off in the normal direction, but then a path caught my eye that I’d not run down for an age and I followed it. Unfortunately the first section was full of stinging nettles and my legs took a real hit! But then it led me across the fields to old Wivelsfield and an old corner of Burgess Hill that looks as if it is still delightfully rooted in the ‘fifties.

I crossed Rocky Lane (perilous!) and ran up through Bedelands Farm nature reserve, then crossed back across onto Theobalds Lane and ran round the back of where I used to live. I’m always curious about old neighbourhoods so I paused outside the house to take a quick look. The front garden landscaping that I designed has really stood the test of time, although the plants have been allowed to grow huge… I guess that it is almost eleven years ago now!

Overall Strava estimated that the run was 7.2 miles in 70 minutes… circa 6.15 mph.

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May two two run

Yesterday I ran the same route that I ran three weeks ago, but Strava deemed it a shorter run and slower.  6.9 miles in 71 minutes, only 5.8 mph average.  Not wholly surprising… well, the time at least.

A fortnight ago I spent a really enjoyable week working in Denver, but flew both Sundays and so missed the opportunity to run.  As soon as I got back last week I managed to catch a horrible cold, which I only managed to shake off this weekend… the two nights where I managed to sleep a full ten hours probably helped a lot!

It was the first ‘proper warm’ run of the year, which was lovely, but it much more of a struggle than I’ve been used to for a while. In fact I’m really feeling the effects today… although that might also have had something to do with the mammoth gardening session that I did afterwards: repotting four large bamboo plants & finding them new homes in the garden, repotting Kim’s Japanese cherry, emptying out the compost that has accumulated in bags over the winter, cutting the grass front & back, trimming the front hedge and then, for good measure, cutting an elderly neighbour’s grass to help him keep on top of it.

Talking of grass cutting, I have to mention the local communal grass that is (apparently) looked after by West Sussex County Council.  Aside from the fact that it is almost three feet tall in places, as you can see from the enclosed photos, I noticed something interesting about the kerb edges.

Five or six years ago (prompted by the local council asking how they could support the business community, with no budget) I started an ad hoc experiment regarding grass verges, with four hypothesises.

  • H1: If the grass verge is neat, then the owners of adjacent houses will tend to look after their front gardens.  Kerb appeal suggests that house prices are likely to be positively affected by this, whilst ‘broken windows theory’ suggests that residents of these areas are likely to feel happier and more responsible for their neighbourhood.
  • H2: If the verges are edged then grass will not grow out to destabilise the adjacent road or pavement, slowing the need for expenditure in this area.
  • H3: If the grass is cut more frequently (say every two weeks as opposed the the council’s 6-8 weeks), then the grass cuttings form a mulch that decomposes easily on the lawn, rather than choking the grass and sitting at the edges where it speeds up the egress of grass onto adjacent tarmac surfaces.
  • H4: If residents feel pride and responsibility for their neighbourhood, then they will take this positivity into their workplace and be more engaged, thus achieving the original aim.

I didn’t get to test my hypotheses empirically, but there is a good degree of support for them based on what I hear from neighbours (I’ve been looking after the grass areas adjacent to us for this extended period) and see with my own eyes.

For example, to add weight to H2, I carefully edged the kerbside of one of the verges in the two photos below, but not the other one (on the other side of the junction).  Bearing in mind how long ago I did it, the differences are palpable… the other non-edged sides of the green have spread across the pavement by up to a couple of feet, destabilising it in the process.

Coenagrion puella, the Azure Damselfly, described and named by Linne in 1758. (Thank you Michael & Jenny:-)

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