Exercising those big L muscles

It was back to Denise’s Dolphin Circuits Class tonight, with seemingly even more people than last week and certainly more whose names I knew.  Last Tuesday I sat down right next to Sharon, a lady at an event I was attending, who said that she had followed me around the circuits class the night before!

There seemed to be more activities tonight too, but there were actually 18 last week as well… it’s just that we couldn’t remember what the missing activity was (oblique curls, of course).

I almost joined the two affable guys (who turned out to be Tony & Lee) who Daryl and I had followed round last week, but at the last moment I joined Daryl and new guy (to me) Al on the basis that I could then more easily bridge the gap between the two groups and have a little fun with all four of them… it felt a little like being in the back row at school at times, so a pretty good choice then!

Kim was working her way around on the opposite side of the hall and we kept exchanging Wallace & Gromit grins through various levels of pain, while Sharon and her friends generally had more serious looks on their faces!

Overall though, thanks to the guys in the naughty corner, my laughter muscles got such a great workout that I might even find it difficult to pull a smile tomorrow!

An Almost Perfect Seal Launch

I took a drive down to my folks this morning and ran down the valley to Rottingdean and the sea, sparkling in the chilly sun.  I had already got the stitch chasing down another runner on the way down the hill and had all but run out of puff, but since it’s only a couple of miles I pushed myself on a bit.

By the Ovingdean steps, around the 3-mile mark, I really wanted to turn around but figured that it wouldn’t make much of a post (Ran to Ovingdean, got tired, turned around and ran back.  The end) so onwards I continued.

As I ran along the next section along the cliff-top to the Marina I saw five kayaks paddling on the flat calm sea towards Rottingdean.  I stopped to wave heartily just in case it was someone I knew from Martlets… I was too far away to be noticed.

I ran on and pushed myself past Penny’s to approximately the mid=point of the Lewes Crescent gardens – I recall that that’s around the 5-mile mark.

I finally started to retrace my steps towards Rottingdean, but this time along the Undercliff Walk…

…and at Ovingdean I caught the kayakers returning to their boats after a much-needed hot chocolate.  I ran over to find Nikki, Paula and Martina with two guys I didn’t recognise.

Whilst we had a quick chat one of the guys performed a perfect seal launch into the sea from high up on the single (reminding me of this clip of me a couple of years ago).  As his kayak came to a gentle rest about 15 feet out it was clear that something had gone amiss… on account of the fact that he was still standing on the beach!

The girls kindly came to the rescue and he got away without the swim that he probably deserved!

I ran on, energy continuing to escape me but not in a tired legs way… more in a burdened body & mind way… hence I was not looking forward to the run back up the hill from Rottingdean!  When I got there however, it was no worse than the rest of the run had been… though no better either, alas!

So 10.3 miles in 1.46, average 5.8mph including stopping for the mid-run chat.

I collapsed in an uncharacteristic heap at my folks’ and again when I got home and I’m only just starting to recover now… with Jackson Browne, Running on Empty, BLASTING out into an otherwise empty house!  Now THAT’s a record that should be on Stuppsy’s Desert Island Running Discs!

Conversational pace

Whilst I am generally up at 6am weekdays, I was clearly out of practice for early morning running, since Nick was gently tapping on the front door before I had even finished getting ready on Friday morning.

We took a road run around Burgess Hill that started at a pace that I had also forgotten… fast… such that I had to quickly deploy the sea anchors to slow us down to to a more conversational pace.  It was cold enough for longs, two layers and a jacket, hat and gloves… but of course the irrepressible Nick was wearing shorts!

After an enjoyable run we stopped for a brief chat before we went our seperate ways for breakfast and I then ran on back to the house.  A total of 5.2 miles in 46 minutes including our stationary chat, 6.78mph.

Going round in circles again

After last week’s re-acquaintance with circuit training, and with the whole-body aching which chased it through the days that followed, Kim and I returned for a further endorphin rush last night.

The Burgess Hill session was fully booked so we took our custom to the Dolphin in Haywards Heath where the trainer, Denise, had assembled a veritable torture chamber of activities… 17 in all.

The warm-up alone had me gasping for air but with a group of around 37 people we were left a little to our own devices on the activities themselves, so I was able to decide my own limits.

Thankfully I was also able to copy my training partner for the evening, Daryl, otherwise I would still be working out the exercises now.

I say copy, but in fact he chose double the amount of weight than I did each time… strange that!

Overall a great workout!  Probably not as hard-core as Burgess Hill, though maybe that’s because I actually re inflated some old, forgotten muscles last week!

Five miles at a time

Joe Jaworski, son of the lawyer who indicted Nixon, suggests that by opening ourselves to the possibilities in the world around us and responding to the subtle signs we then see, we can induce predictable miracles to happen around us.  That’s how I felt this week.

Having written about the power of smiling and then the benefits of focus over the last couple of weekends, I came across a significant piece of research which links the two.  Admittedly there is research and there is research and it’s often difficult to tell which is which, but this has the appearance of the latter, with half a million data points gathered from 15,000 people over the course of more than two and a half years… thus far.

The main findings around the subject of happiness are very interesting, but there was a side bar which suggests that, on average, we allow our minds to wander half of the time.  The percentage varies between certain tasks (for example it’s only 10% during sex!), but the crucial working day mirrors the overall average at 50%. It may be worth repeating that, in case you were thinking about something else.

Our minds wander HALF of every working day!

More interesting still is the correlation between focus and happiness.  When daydreaming, we can drift onto positive, neutral or negative subjects…mostly personal concerns.  Positive daydreaming has a largely neutral effect on our happiness, but neutral and negative daydreaming cause us to be less happy and downright unhappy respectively … and this results in decreased productivity, which I suspect is likely to reinforce the effect.

It is actually when our minds are focused on a task that we are at our happiest and, er… productive too!

With all this going through my mind this morning I can’t say I had a particularly happy run (in running terms), but it was at least a pleasant day… and a fitting close to the mild-mannered Year of the Rabbit which ends today.

I followed the same route as the last couple of weeks… I suppose I should name it my thinking route.  The first five miles were relatively hard going and the thought of cutting it short did cross my mind, but at the turn point I was one minute up on last week at 44 minutes.  The second five miles were equally tough but I managed to hold a faithful pace and returned another 44 minute time.

So ten miles in 1.28, average 6.8mph.

Lots of chores to do now to get the place clean in preparation for Chinese New Year tomorrow… it’ll be a miracle if we get them all done!



Back in the time of the prosperous, when Kim and I both had London jobs and London flats and escaped to Sussex at the weekends, we each had a personal trainer too.  In fact I would go to the gym in London Bridge at least twice or three times a week and it would be fair to say that I was pretty fit.

Then I had a fairly nasty head-on skiing accident, which resulted in a broken collar bone and a major break in the gym routine, followed by a halo jump in income, which as any parachuter knows means high altitude, low opening!  Both Kim and I chose to start afresh, sell out of London and follow our genuine long-term interests rather than to work back up to the top of an industry we no longer felt passion for.

Which is why, since (before) the outset of this blog in August 2007, you will have seen very little written in these pages about any exercise other than running.

So it came as a bit of a shock to the body to go to a Circuit Training class last night!  One hour with (bluddy) Jane at the Triangle Centre pushed a fine selection of muscle groups to their absolute limit…and clearly beyond since I actually HAD to stop to rest from time to time.

It was an excellent class, broken up into a series of simple paired exercises using no more than a floor mat and a skipping rope.  Oh, and the slowly increasing weight of our own limbs.

It was so excellent, in fact, that it’s fully booked for the foreseeable future!  RATS!

However, the Endorphin drug has been re-tasted and Kim is now on a mission to find us another local activity, with a similarly diverse and good natured group of people, that can leave us feeling similarly pumped-up on a more regular basis.

Watch this space, but in the meantime, OMG!, I feel GOOD!

Thinking about it

I’ve been thinking.

Sure, we are all thinking about something from moment to moment, but I wonder how many people sit down to deliberately think about one thing?

In fact, since I sold out of my marketing business in 2007 and have been thinking in a more focused way about thinking, I’ve observed that relatively few people do so deliberately or on a regular basis.

There are a couple of directions that I could approach the subject from (for example brain speed) but it may be easier to look at it in terms of focus.

If you have an imaginary 100 units of focus bandwidth at any one moment and you’re thinking about two different things, for example driving and talking on a  hands-free phone (or even to someone sitting with you in the car), then your focus is split between the tasks to some extent… in this case maybe 70/30.

This may be sufficient focus on driving provided there are no abnormal considerations, but the band-width required to take that split-second action that might have averted an accident is essentially tied up doing something else… in this case listening, thinking and responding.

The same is true if I am running and thinking at the same time, something that I regularly do… with last week’s contemplation of smiling being a case in point.  There my focus was probably biased more towards the thinking, say 30/70, whilst I allowed my subconscious to keep me moving from step to step.  One of the (numerous!) reasons I eschew racing is that the training required is a different task to merely running, or in my case, running and writing a blog about it afterwards.

If I were in training (like Phil) or actually racing, then my focus would need to be more on the running and less on the other cognitive flotsam & jetsam.  Frustratingly however, the mind is easily distracted away from the task in hand and into thinking about other things, for example the past and future, or in Phil’s case, probably into thinking about music!  Take the focus away from running hard and you slow down.

Likewise to my mind, driving requires 100% bandwidth in order to moderate speed and road position according road conditions and (a conscious awareness of) potential hazards, which is why I generally drive with the radio off and never answer my phone.  The habit I have formed here is essentially not to think about anything other than the driving.  My occasional passengers will be familiar with my tendency to stop talking, even mid-sentence, in order to assess a situation ahead.

My route this afternoon (after a shameless lay-in) was exactly the same as last week, chosen in part for the ease with which I could think while I ran.  It was a glorious if somewhat chilly day and I quickly got into a reasonable pace.  The running element of my focus consisted of noticing when I had slowed down and pushing myself on a little, while my head then generally spiralled back to the more cerebral subject addressed by this blog.

I reached the halfway point in 45 minutes, exactly the same time as last week and I made a conscious decision to focus more bandwidth on the running on the way back.  I first focused on my footfall, landing on the outside of my heel and leaving from my big toe as I was taught by Andrea Wright, my super-physio.  I also focused on relaxing my upper body, where the Bok’s trick is to relax the jaw, since the rest of you then seems to relax.  Then, keeping a watching brief on these two elements, I focused mainly on my breathing, in through my nose, out through my mouth, fully and in time to the pace.

Like trying to break any other habit, this was difficult (even for me, where I am conscious about what is going on!) and I found myself back in the earlier subject more than once (my breathing becoming shallow again), but I didn’t beat myself up about it, rather just drawing the focus back into the preferred place.

In general terms I made good time, finishing ten miles in just under 90 minutes, or 6.74mph average.

Whether you are running, driving or working, we should try to be more aware of the bandwidth we are using… and if it is less than 100% (and this wasn’t a conscious decision), then we should focus more clearly on what we’re supposed to be doing.

Keep thinking… and keep smiling too!

Plenty to smile about

I was humbled that, at Christmas, my folks thanked me for my psychological support during last year.  I find it interesting that that despite being a highly evolved species, it is often the simple stuff that makes a difference to how we think and how we feel.

Take smiling for example.  It may be an automatic response to something we like or find amusing, but if you give yourself a big smile as you sit reading this, your mind will probably disregard the fact that you smiled for no apparent reason and post-rationalise that you’re feeling happy… which you will then feel.  You may even enjoy reading this post more, even though it’s a slightly obscure one.

It was late when I dragged myself from bed this morning and I played my guitar whilst supping my way through two quadspressos… before finally pushing myself out the front door at around twenty to midday.  I have a sense that Michael Apter’s fascinating Reversal Theory applies to my runs as well since, unlike last week, I had no desire to get muddy whatsoever.  In fact I was definitely in a telic (task-focused) mode rather than a playful para-telic!

I opted for my ten-mile pavement route on the basis that I could turn around early if required… the cough that I had all through Christmas is still lingering around, which is why I reluctantly turned down the offer of a run with Mark Johnson yesterday.

You may think that running alongside the road would be somewhat tedious, but I happen to be passionate about cars and motorbikes and it didn’t take long before I found myself smiling inanely at a Kawasaki as it rumbled past.  I smiled at more cars, some without thinking and some deliberately.  A Morgan with the top down, a Boxster, a 911, some MX5s… each time getting a little rush of happiness to ease the physical effort of running.

I smiled at neat new fences and tidy gardens and even at the thought that had clearly gone into the design of a new property on the southern outskirts of Hassocks.  I especially smiled as I acknowledged the people I passed along the route… some of them clearly needed a little extra happiness in their lives, whilst others were as Larry as me!

I reached the 5-mile turn point in 45 minutes… I smiled about that too, since it had felt like hard going.

The return leg was slower and definitely harder work and I was glad that I wasn’t trying to keep up with Mark, but the smiles kept coming.  A new red 911 4S convertible (BIG smile!), an old 911S, a neat new Jag convertible, a Ducati , more people (including some that I passed for a second time), more houses and gardens.

It’s curious how easily we can make life more interesting and less stressful: deciding not to get irritated at groups of people taking up the whole pavement, giving a nervous motorist extra time at a junction without adding to their stress, thanking someone who let us out or sorry to someone we have inconvenienced, saying good morning to elderly neighbours (one of whom stopped to give me a lift to the station as I jogged to catch my train, even though she probably has no idea where I live) or even just giving ourselves a little more time to get to work in the morning, or more space to the car in front of us.

Those of you familiar with my work and my England Garden Gang concept probably realise my wider belief that there are plenty of simple ways to make a difference in our organisations and in society too, with a little additional effort but no great sacrifice… for example keeping our neighbourhoods neat rather than assuming it’s the responsibility of someone else.  There’s plenty of stuff to smile about!

Towards the end of my run I passed several curry houses with their delicious aromas hanging in the stillness of the flat grey day, but rather than smiling this just made me feel hungry… such that I announced an urgent requirement for minestrone soup and toast when I eventually dragged myself back through the front door, quickly to be followed by two cups of tea and two hot cross buns.

10 miles in 1.33, 6.45mph and though my legs are already heavy, I can’t help smiling at the positive effect my run will probably have on my body and soul.

Despite whatever aches you might have, feel free to join me in a BIG smile as you wake up tomorrow morning if you want to improve your chances of having an excellent day!

SportsBallShop competition winners

I received a lot of verbal comments from readers about the Sports Ball Shop competition (pictured above) in November/December… in the main from friends professing weakly to have too little time to write a few short sentences on a running theme!

But two people did submit stories and so, by default, they each win a voucher for £40 at either sportsballshop.co.uk, sportsbras.co.uk or etoyszone.co.uk.

And the winners are: Nigel Foster and Clifford Dargonne. Voucher codes will follow from me by email in due course guys… just as soon as Ben sends them through.

Since SportsBallShop offered three vouchers (and I have the casting vote), I have arranged for the third voucher to go to: Warden Park School in Cuckfield, via Dai Thomas who teaches there.

I worked as a Young Enterprise Business Advisor to an excellent team of students at Warden Park last academic year, whilst Dai was kindly instrumental in helping me set up FosterRuns.com in 2007.

A big thank you to everyone at SportsBallShop.co.uk (and especially Shannon and Ben) for their sponsorship!  This kind of initiative really sets these guys apart from their competitors!