Very jazzy shoes indeed

I’m back! With the new term in full swing and a sense of routine gradually emerging I have two sports on the go. I bought some new trainers about a month ago as my lovely Merrells split along the top, which was a bit of a disappointment. The new ones are Saucony, and they’re super light, and glow in the dark. You can now see me coming quite easily as everything is hi-vis. I’ve ben doing a couple of gentle 5k runs each week, and my kilometre pace is something between 4:41 – 5:13 which is fairly comfortable. I’ve found a three-runs-per-week training plan on WalkJogRun which will suit me for the moment. It means I can do a couple of night time runs during the week and a longer one on the weekend. It’s probably not enough, but four runs are so difficult to fit in around everything else. I’m probably going to need to do this though, as the training is some early prep for a marathon for next year. I think it’s likely I’m going to either do Milton Keynes or Great Welsh Marathon. Both look fine and are around Easter, so enough time to prepare. I’m really enjoying getting back into running and fitness in general. Garmin have completely redesigned their website and it’s a joy to use now, so I’m gradually adding mroe stuff like weight tracking and might even start to think a bit about nutrition. Post-meal evening snacks and drinks might need some looking at for a start. Oh well.

So that’s the first bit of progress. I’ve also managed to do two Tae Kwon-Do training sessions. I’ve started attending the Gemini Tae Kwon-Do in Portishead, and have really enjoyed both classes so far. This is, like so many of the experiences so far, a long way outside of anything I’ve previously experienced. I was a litle bit intimidated at my first class, as the combination of ritual and precise movement was a bit scary, but yet again everyone is incredibly welcoming. In both classes, after a warm up one of the advanced members did some one-to-one coaching to introduce me to the basics. It’s seriously difficult to remember everything, and I spent most of the first week wobbling around and putting my hands in the wrong position. I did a little practise during the week but probably confused myself even more. It was however reassuring to find that this week quite a lot of it seemed to stick and I’m beginning to take it in. From what I’ve been told, the basics provide a foundation for so much of the more advanced training, so the learning curve might level off, although I suspect that’s just wishful thinking. I’m going to keep going with this and do my first grading at the very least. The rigour and discipline is wonderful, and it’s a very interesting experience.



Following on from yesterday’s stock take, I think I need to do another rationalisation of the scope of the project. The other option is to stop, and having enjoyed everything so far it would be a real shame. I think the main concern is that there is just so much to do, and realistically I don’t have the time to do it. I’m already scaling down some of the activities, such as horse riding where I’ve done a short course but won’t be riding across the open fields with my Barbour just yet. so I think the spirit of this will be more important, and that takes me back the the Gold Challenge list. This means I need to complete 30 sports, instead of my previous 88 or 96 aim. Admittedly that does look like a bit of a reduction, but it makes it more practicable. I’ve updated the events page to show this and will begin ticking things off from there from now on.


Very little action

It’s not been good. I’ve pretty much ground to a halt after the horse action in June, and haven’t really felt much like starting up again to be honest. I’ve only managed on game of cricket too, but have another set up for the end of the month at least. I’m kind of at a crossroads with this at the moment. Motivation and time have become an issue, and we’ve been trying to simplify our responsibilities recently to give us more time. The result is pretty much no sport at all. I had a brief spurt of enthusiasm after my one cricket match, but that’s about it. I did manage to do some kayaking on the Percuil River in Cornwall with the children, but as you can see, this wasn’t at a particularly high standard:

I think I’m tentatively going to count that as a bronze. We were given a brief tutorial and then let loose, but there wasn’t much in the way of rhythm, and really I did very little actual paddling, more steering and damage control as child 1 and child 2 splashed away. This footage is the best bit, really…

Oh, and here’s the horse riding:

I’m really pushing this to describe it as sport really, but I’ve had a go. Having just seen another olympic completist I feel somewhat ashamed at the level of my involvement. A 16 week course in diving sounds a little frightening. I’m still inspired by Paula Must Try Harder’s triathlon with a float though, so guess there are many levels of involvement. So with that in mind, onwards, slowly…




Country Gent Phase 3

Stables-ArenasGallery01_imageAfter completing the archery and fencing recently, my bid to become a proper gentleman continued today with my first attempt at horse riding. I seem to have succeeded: I sat on a horse and it moved.

I had the first of my six lessons today, constituting the second part of my family Christmas/birthday present. I made my way to the Gordano Valley Riding Centre along what is possibly the most pot-holed lane in North Somerset. It’s almost worth it just for that experience, although I’m slightly concerned the suspension won’t last the remaining five lessons. The centre itself is a little rustic, but the owners are absolutely lovely, and the whole session was so well run. Given we were all beginners, and the group consisted of me and mostly six-year old girls, our instructor did an astonishing job of balancing her approach and teaching to make sure we all had a great time.


Taz – safely housed in the stable

After our hat fitting, we were assigned our horses, all carefully pre-selected based on our heights and weights given when booking. As most of the other students were under four feet tall, the paddock was full with some lovely gentle looking little ponies, and towering above them was Taz. He was a somewhat intimidating large black horse whose back topped out at about my head height. I was called forward and told how to mount using the block by my horse’s guide. First time on a horse for me since I was about four in Canada on my cousin’s farm, and that was terrifying from recollection (but he did let me drive his truck down the freeway…!). Sitting astride Taz I realised how far off the ground I was. I’m not great with heights, but once we started moving and I got use the the sensation it was fine.

My guide led me around the paddock and once we were all set up we had a few laps just to get started. Knowing someone else was really in control of the horse was very reassuring. Although he seemed quite docile, if he decided to do anything untoward I doubt I could have persuaded him to change his mind. We went through how to sit, place our feet, and hold the reins, before being shown how to start and stop. It was all quite straightforward: a slight squeeze kick to get going, and a pull on the reins to stop. So far so good, although Taz had an unnerving tendency to wave his head around violently at times. It was fine in itself but his head was connected to the reins, and the reins were connected to me. The first time he ducked his head I nearly went with him over the top.

Next came steering. Again, quite straightforward: pull the hand on the side you want to move to turn his head (the rest follows apparently) while giving a kick on the opposite side. This worked OK to begin with but I tended to over steer, almost turning him completely around on a couple of occasions. This was also in part due to the weather (really). It was bitterly cold, and I’d foolishly elected to leave my coat in the car. Shortly after the rain started, we were blitzed by an almost horizontal hail storm. At this point, all the horses took over and swung round so their rear end was facing the oncoming weather, with their head protected. Pretty smart, but led to me being drenched through to the skin.

To finish with, we did some gentle trotting. The up and down movement, combined with standing out of the saddle in rhythm with the horse’s steps, was a little bumpy and I can see why people get sore. Next week it’s definitely going to be cycling shorts under my jeans. Our instructor said I was doing this quite well. I’m sure she was just being kind, but after getting over the terror of moving a little more quickly and standing up while being bumped around, I managed to find the rhythm.

So a good start, and the normal mix of excitement at trying something new combined with a small amount of fear was apparent. If this follows the pattern of some previous sports, I expect by week 5 I’ll be shaking in my wellies. I’m not sure where I’ll get to with this, but in reality show jumping, cross country and dressage are going to be a little out of reach I expect. I’ll see where I get to, but I expect it’s going to be a very basic bronze at most for this one. It was, however, completely excellent. Can’t wait until next week.



Spring clean

I feel more motivated now that the sun has come out for at least three days in a row and I don’t need a coat. So with that in mind, I’ve been doing some planning. I’ve booked my horse riding lessons which will begin in a couple of weeks, and in the meantime I’ve started a new running programme. I’m using one of the plans on the Garmin Connect website, starting with an intermediate 10k to begin with. I’m going to stick with this until mid-June and then all being well switch to a marathon training plan with a view to doing the Bournemouth Marathon in October. Although doing London would be great, I’d need to do a lot of outdoor training over the winter, which is both a) very cold and b) my busiest time. Although summer running isn’t always ideal, I have a lot more flexibility and should be able to get to where I need to be by October. It worked well for the half-marathon last year, so hopefully that will work.

I just completed the first interval training of this plan, and I forgot how much it hurts. I calculated my VDOT as 44 based on where I was at the end of last year after the half marathon. This is where I want to get to by the time I start the marathon training in a couple of months time. It meant running 5-minute intervals at 4:43/km. I managed 4:48, 4:47, 5:00 and 5:04, so not too bad given where I am at the moment. I did a mix of walking and jogging recoveries, so need to step that up a bit next time. Good start though and something to improve on.

I have a few other aims over the summer too. While I’m running, I’ll head down to one of the local tracks, either in Bath or Bristol, and see if I can complete some middle distance runs at 800m and 1500m, and then perhaps shorter sprints. I think I’ll need some help with hurdles and steeplechase, but making a start on the track should give me some confidence. I should be able to get some tennis in with Uncle Steve at some point too, and I’ll try some canoeing as well. If I manage all that, I should be in a much better position. I nearly restarted swimming lessons as well, but I think that’s going to be my winter challenge after the marathon. 


Je suis un sabreur

Well, that’s probably not strictly true. I’ve now had a few lessons, and I know some of the basics, even if I can’t always put them into practice, or at least at the right time, so saying I’m a fencer (with sabre) is probably getting ahead of myself quite considerably. Fencing is excellent though. I’ve really enjoyed the sessions so far, and I think this is one sport I want to investigate a little more as time goes on. The video shows me having a session with Chris at the end of our fourth week. I’m still leaning forward far too much and my footwork is letting me down, as is my parry, and I don’t keep going once committing to attack. That said, it doesn’t look too bad, although the running tights are yet again a bit scary to see (and it looks like I’m wearing a nappy).

With regards to the challenge, I think this is a silver. I’ve learnt the basics and put them into practice in a few fights with other club members. I’ve not had a go in a proper competition yet, although that’s probably a good thing as my chances of scoring a point when people aren’t giving me a chance are very low.

So, that’s another sport to tick off, but I don’t think it’s one I’ll leave behind. Like mountain biking, it’s a fun activity and one I’d like to do a bit more with.


En garde!

Olympics+Day+9+Fencing+-STycmPZfJElNew year, and a new sport. Finally managed to get going again, and what a great way to pick up the challenge once more. As a result of my birthday present, I am now having fencing lessons at the Salle Hunt-Roeder in Bristol, and tonight was my second session. Last week I met up with Kevin and Chris at a club night, and began my course of five lessons. This is becoming a theme through the challenge, but the friendly reception and real joy apparent in teaching beginners, welcoming them into a new sport is amazing. Every time I try something new, this seems to be the case. If you want to meet some lovely people, join a club for less popular sports it seems. So after a brief introduction, Kevin spent an hour and a half with me introducing footwork, some basic attacks and two of the common parries. We’re learning sabre, but briefly discussed the other two disciplines (epee and foil). The footwork was fine, and then, after donning the mask, Kevin promptly gave me a sharp whack and I nearly jumped out of my skin! He explained patiently that I will get hit, and as the evening continued this proved correct, but the equipment is so good that it doesn’t really hurt (yet…). At the end of the evening I was invited to try out some of my new moves with Chris, who it turns out was the British veteran sabre champion in 2008! He took it easy with me clearly…

I returned this week for my second session. I think I remembered most things, but you need to concentrate so much. Kevin calls it physical chess, and the way it engages both the mind and the body makes this an apt comparison. We were joined this week by another beginner, which gave us the opportunity to try out some of the attacks and parries at the end, which was very useful (although we were pretty rubbish I think!). Kevin also taught us a third parry to protect the head. I just about managed this, but it was quite tricky. I also met the club’s head coach Dennis Hunt – like Brian from table tennis, another wonderful man with a wealth of experiences and I imagine some stories to tell.

So I’m completely hooked. I have three more lessons, and will then need to decide on my next move. It;s so tempting to continue, but let’s see where it takes me and then decide. At one point tonight Kevin was saying how fencing was a relatively safe sport, and that only horse riding, in his view, was really dangerous. Hmm…so perhaps my Christmas present was not such a good idea….

That’s not me in the picture.



Oh dear

At first it was needing a bit of time to recover after doing a half marathon, then I was busy at work, then I thought I’d have a rest, and then I’d stopped. It’s not surprising I’ve had some motivation issues at this time of year, but now it’s time to do something about it, and having a December birthday and Christmas has provided the catalyst. My lovely family have organised some lessons for me in two sports I never thought I’d do before starting this challenge: fencing and horse riding. I feel I need to do some shooting too just to be a real country gent (and complete modern pentathlon), and I am very excited about this. The fencing won’t start until February as the club in Bristol have a competition in January apparently, and I’ll book the six horse riding lessons in March once the weather starts to improve a little. So, off again it seems, but in the meantime Uncle Steve and I are going to arrange some tennis. No running for a while though. Trying to do some sports which involve very little cardio. After the last couple of days though, I need to do some exercise….


London Marathon

I am so naive. I was vaguely thinking I’d look at doing the London Marathon next year, having just completed a half. But I was talking to some neighbours last week and they gave me a bit of a reality check as apparently the registration opens the day after the previous year’s event and oversubscribes almost immediately. So that’s not going to happen. I can try to go for a charity place (which would either be for MS or epilepsy as my dad suffered from both late in life), or look for another race. Of course this doesn’t sound like a dilemma – why wouldn’t you want to raise money for charity? – and in many ways it is not. I’ve been thinking about this a lot though after seeing so many charity runners during the Bristol Half and being inspired by the dual nature of their efforts. I’ve also been checked by an ongoing discussion on my favourite podcast, the wonderful Answer Me This, which has questioned the motivation for charity fundraising where the task being sponsored is not a genuine chore. The point is that for lots of people they want to do the activity, and the charity aspect is a kind of validation, or in the case of some events, a way to gain access. This is of course not to disparage anyone who does the necessary training and raises so much money for incredibly important causes, but the point is a compelling one. On that basis, I think it would be disingenuous of me to enter as a charity runner given the ballot entry has closed. This leaves me with two options I think. Firstly, to find a race where I just pay to run. I could do the run in an objective way, just because it is part of my personal challenge, and because I want to, which I do. Or secondly, I could think more about how and why I want to raise money for a charity, and work out how to square the two positions. I know which charities I’d work for – that’s straightforward for me – but I have to think how best to do it. I need to discuss this with others.


off track

I’m ashamed to say that since the Bristol Half-Marathon on 15 September I’ve only run once. In two months. This is not really going to help me complete my challenge. So today I added sorting out the challenge to my to do list, ended up having a conversation about it at work, and received an email from Paula Must Try Harder asking how I was getting on. This feels like things are conspiring to give me a bit of a push. I think the break has been caused by completing a significant event – albeit not actually an Olympic distance – and a very busy time at work. So I’m sitting down now and thinking about what to do next.

Paula’s advice was to do something which looks like a fun sport, or one I could do easily, and I think this makes sense. With that in mind I texted my brother-in-law Uncle Steve (he’s not my uncle obviously as…er…no I can’t get my head around why that’s not a good thing). I want to play tennis, and after a quick exchange it turns out he has the rackets, played a bit at school, and can locate some facilities for us to use. At the moment, this is all I know, other than that we are both very excited about this. My initial idea was to try to do all of this properly, which probably means buying special kit and looking like I know what I’m doing, but actually the two of us hammering five sets at the local courts (if such a thing even exist any more) is perfectly fine. I’m now motivated as this is a potential box tick with very little trouble or expense. I think I need to do a few of these to make some quick progress. So perhaps some football and family table tennis doubles might be worth a go. Tennis first though.