Rant #61

A nice day. A nice breeze. A nice walk, all 17 miles of it. I’m unsure why, but I also saw as many runners on the road today as I’ve seen in a long while, perhaps it was the dry but much cooler weather. I even saw two friends run past me towards the end of the afternoon, looking a bit stronger than I felt at the time. There was some light rain for a couple of short stints but that served merely as a refresher rather than a soaker. All in all, a decent afternoon’s work, if work is what walking is.

Ah, yes, rants. 61 is I think where we’re up to, from when they fizzled out a year or two ago. Given that one of my previous rants saw me lose two Facebook “friends”, both of whom I had known in “real life” – one defriended / unfriended me and the other vice versa – I approach this restart with trepidation. It was all to do with me ranting about owners saying that their dog was “only playing” when jumping at me, while if the owner had done the same, there would have been justification for a charge of assault. I have never been an animal lover, but I am not an animal hater by any means, but the two took exception to my words, sending private abusive messages as well as reporting me, causing me to receive a warning from the Facebook powers that be (my only one to date). I’ve seen far worse.

So – Rant #61. I had walked very easily and steadily for 6 miles before settling down to a peaceful coffee. Two young lads came in and sat at the table next tome, spouting rubbish (mainly) about life and football. It is hard not to eavesdrop when this happens but there is one phrase that causes my temperature, heart rate and blood pressure to rise almost uncontrollably. “It’s a no brainer”. Yes, Manchester City might win the league, but it is not a no brainer, especially in September. Thinking outside the box, drill down, blue sky thinking, annoying but just about tolerable. But, what is a no brainer? If I disagree, it means I have no brain? It is the antithesis of thoroughness in an argument. You might as well say, “This is the answer. It is impossible to disagree and if you do, you are an idiot”. Negotiating, influencing, persuading. No. Just say “it’s a no brainer” and everything is sorted. End of.

Along similar lines, I have great respect for Professor Brian Cox, his intelligence, his knowledge and his expertise. However, some time ago, he lost a massive chunk of respect from me when he responded to a question on the authenticity of the moon landings with (paraphrasing) “if you don’t think man went to the moon, then you’re a nob”. What I would have expected from a man of his background would be something along the lines of….if you look at the arguments and evidence presented by [whoever, whatever etc.] it is hard to argue against the opinion that man did go to the moon…… What ever has happened to the quest for knowledge through critical argument? Is no-one allowed to question current the scientific line? Whether or not the moon landings were real or faked is not the argument here – it is the quality of the discourse that is so impoverished. Conspiracy theorists are not going to be persuaded that, because PBC says that they’re a nob, they had now better believe that man did go to the moon. If that is really the quality of insight we are going to expect from experts, maybe that is why there are some (not me) who “are fed up of hearing from experts”. Certainly if I had a child at school who asked a question to one of their teachers, say, about whether aliens ever landed on Earth, I wouldn’t expect a response of “if you think that, then you’re a nob”. I wouldn’t be surprised if the teacher were then suspended. Let’s have proper debate. Come on. It’s a no brainer.

And……breathe……

Back to the walking. Yes, walking is supposed to free and declutter my mind. The no brainer incident drove me to some of my most aggressive spells of walking for about an hour, until I had laughed it off, and become a bit heavy-legged. The good news is that my feet are becoming more resilient again, though I was becoming very slightly weary in the last mile or two. No doubt I could have clocked up a few more miles if I’d had to. I’ll be looking to undertake at least one walk per week of about this distance or greater, through the autumn and winter. That should give me a body, lungs and feet to withstand whatever 2017 challenges throw at them. Even if I am a nob.

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The 39,000 steps

The three walks early last week did me a lot of good. The hot weather, two sore feet and other engagements (including a fantastic family get-together) saw that I was unable to do more, but the rest was needed. With a holiday away commencing tomorrow, there was just one day left in the walking window. That was today.

I didn’t really know the distance I was going to achieve but I set out with a minimum 15 miles in mind. I swapped the insoles from my trainers to my walking boots and that undoubtedly helped. A coffee break after about 6 miles really did the trick. I read in FourFourTwo magazine recently how “a pre-match caffeine binge could be the difference between success and failure………a very high dose of caffeine improved muscle power and endurance by six per cent”. The research (led by Dr Rob James at Coventry University) also said that “6mg of caffeine per 2.2lbs of body weight – the equivalent of two cups of coffee for an 11-stone male – just before exercise will do the trick”. Ok, I am not 11 stone, not quite, but two and a bit cups, shall we say. This is not that recent research but it does support my feeling that I perk up after drinking a large skinny latte, not before I start, but during a walking session. Of course, it may just be psychosomatic. I am not about to do a controlled experiment with a placebo version – that might put, er, the mochas on it – but it works for me.

Can A Cup (Or Two) Of Coffee Improve Performance?

Feeling positive enough to rack up the miles, I took the road to Lee on Solent and walked the length of the promenade. It was beautiful today – not too hot, in fact, sufficiently cool for me to wear a thin hoodie but there were plenty of people around enjoying the temperate weather of September. I far prefer this 15-17 degrees than the high 20s / low 30s that we have experienced on occasions recently. Keeping on a nice wide path around the coast toward Gosport, I did put on a brisker stride and was in the zone.

A police car did appear to slow and the passenger policeman peered at me but then it just accelerated off. It was a trifle weird. In the film of my life, which would be in a Hitchcockian style, no doubt I would have been apprehended and bundled into the car, handcuffed together with a beautiful blonde in the back seat. While the coppers nipped out to get a cup of tea and a sandwich, we would escape and be fugitives in the barren outposts of Gosport (and that doesn’t narrow it down much), sought by Scotland Yard and anyone covered by “the authorities”. We would somehow survive, handcuffed, seeing Wanted posters in the newspapers before evading the chasing police and proving our innocence. Getting carried away, perhaps, and so back to reality and the trudge and traipse up to Fareham.

Not that much else to report except that I reached home after just about 20 miles. Around half of those had been in the rain, and I had no waterproof garments with me. Not to worry because, as forecast, it was light rain at most and often merely drizzle. It wouldn’t have been heavy enough for me to put my hood up anyway, with virtually every set of car wipers on intermediate, if at all. My cap kept my head dry – well, it would have done if I wasn’t absolutely soaked in sweat, all over. It feels as if today was fantastic – a great distance and some fitness coming now. 20 miles = 2,200 calories = 40,000 steps (perhaps 39,000 steps, given the previous paragraph). Sounds good any way you say it. My right foot has complied and is fine; my left foot has a sore sole and one blister, but the only way forward is to keep walking. If I were to patch it up, the skin wouldn’t harden and it would never be possible to reach those longer distances that I need.

Been thinking a lot about challenges for 2017 and this blog has mused a number of times on the subject. The Monopoly Trail will be a mini-challenge lasting 3 or 4 days in London, taking in each square / property in turn, which will be around 60 miles or just under. I will do that in the spring and, fitness and health permitting, look to do two challenges – the Thames Path Challenge in September looks more definite, and I am considering the Cotswold Way Challenge at the start of July. Both are 100 km or thereabouts. I will have actually walked some of the Cotswold route already as part of the Lands End – John O’Groats thing in early 2014. Yes, it really is two and a half years ago.

Calling time

It’s not the time for heroics. The temperature down on the south coast is a rather unseasonal high twenties Celsius, touching 30 degrees at times in the last two days. The plan was to walk for four of the first five days this week, starting Sunday, but it is not worth it just to say that I’ve done it. So I am calling time gentlemen please, taking what might be called an Agile approach and sitting on my laurels for the rest of the week.

My feet have felt it. The hot weather makes for greater sweating and thus is much more risky for blistering. I could plaster up three areas on my feet where I can feel embryonic / pregnant blisters building, knowing that another 15 miles today would simply induce them. I have walked about 49 miles in three stints this week and will now protect the appendages with whom I require compliance in the future. Now if it had been an Ultra Challenge and I had about 15 miles to the finish, I would definitely continue, willing to bear whatever foot pain was kicked in my direction. My feet have been in much worse condition than this, in the past, for sure. But there seems no point in doing that today. See what I can do on Sunday but let’s hope it’s a bit cooler by then.

The two shorter walks (13 and 14.5 miles) both felt like 20-25 miles in normal weather, whatever that might mean in England. I much prefer the winter for building up fitness. It is obviously cooler and I don’t mind donning three or four layers for a longer distance and time. Not such a need to protect myself from the sun – the neck and even the sides of my face can feel the effects – and I do burn easily, I will still wear something on my head, whether it be a cap or the woolly hat. There is also less need for constant fluid intake, which can be difficult in hot weather. 

But this week has been worth it. I feel fitter if somewhat achy this morning. I need to supplement my walking with a bit more consideration of general health – nutrition and other exercise. I do love fruit and have sufficient in daily breakfast smoothies, but my sugar intake between meals is just too high; anyone doing as much walking as I do should be seeing the weight drop off, rather than gently yo-yo between walks around roughly the same level. The odd gym session wouldn’t go amiss, either. Is this what’s called a more holistic approach, I guess so. 

Sticky

A very hot day saw me do something that I like to do every now and again. I drove down to Portsmouth, the place I class as my home city. I haven’t lived there since 1989, but it was the backdrop to my formative years and I just love it. It is fair to say that Portsmouth has its rough edges, it has a sort of siege mentality, parochial as many island populations are, but with immense character. I live within walking distance of the city (haha – that’s about 14 miles, or at least that is the walking distance to Fratton Park from Sarisbury) and I still do visit fairly regularly, though not as often as in my twenties and thirties, when missing a Portsmouth home match was a notable event.

So I just take a route around Portsmouth – a bit of a cliché to say that it is a trip down memory lane, but memories can come flooding back at some moments. I parked up in Livingstone Road, one of the few places that does not have limited time parking, and made my way down Elm Grove. This was the route that I used to take from my house to Portsmouth Polytechnic for my Maths degree course, and turned down St Pauls Road to allow a view of the not very salubrious Mercantile House. It was a rickety old building even back in the 1980s and I remember the stairs being closed due to flooding – we were on the 6th floor. Today it looked just like it did in the old days, only with a ton of scaffolding.

I passed back towards the Wig and Pen, an old haunt of mine which now looks like a café,  continuing south and to the Cathedral, which defines Portsmouth as a city. A cathedral – that’s what a settlement used to have to have, to have the status of a city. I guess I will visit Southampton Cathedral soon. What? Oh, ok…. On to the statue of Nelson, who is a massive figure in Portsmouth’s history. nelson

 

I always walk the length of the promenade when I do a Pompey walk. Today it is very hot and the sea breeze is a fresh relief, but for the most part the weather is very sticky. I see Southsea Common and then the Canoe Lake, both places where I played an immense amount of cricket and football as a youngster. That boiling summer of 1976 – I think I played cricket every day of the 6 week break, unless I was watching the Tony Greig ‘Grovel’ series against the West Indies on TV, or at the old Portsmouth week – which had two County Championship matches and one Sunday game. Those were the days my friend, when summers seemed to go on for ever.

Past Eastney and around the corner through Bransbury Park (loads of footie games there in the old days) and though the extension to Locksway Road is cut off as you make tracks on the footpath around the edge of Portsea Island, I simply double back and walk further north and around the edge of Fratton Park. Blimey, the memories I have in that place. The rest of the walk, on a very warm afternoon, is padding out a few miles, going up to Copnor past the Graham Arms, looking good for an old lady, forcing my way past loads of schoolchildren and parents from George Street school – not sure if that is infants or juniors (!). The Graham, along with the Wig and Pen and the Jameson Arms, were where I played lots of darts as a young adult, getting to a good but not exceptional standard – in hindsight, I took it too obsessively seriously to be really really good.

Despite a distance only just in double figures by this time, I’m feeling quite tired but determined enough not to turn south or west just yet. Eventually, coming back down London Road, Fratton Road and Fawcett Road, here is my old school. There will be no teachers remaining from my time there; in fact many of the current teachers would not have been born at that time. Fawcett Road has changed loads but hardly changed at all in some ways. I always feel a bit sad when I see our old house. My parents ran a shop for about 9 years but it became less financially viable before it shut. It affected them for a number of years after and it wasn’t until they moved out of Portsmouth that I think they found their lives again. The shop is long gone and was reconverted by the new buyer. All the other shops in that row, the shoe shop, the photographers and another one (I cannot remember what it was) are all now private houses.

A quick turn into Campbell Road and I’m just about back at the car, almost blocked in, and it’s a bit of an effort to manoeuvre it out, while watched by two young children. I’m too courteous to tell them to go away, or maybe too scared of a parent turning up and kicking my car if I’m rude to their little darlings. Total mileage is around 14.5 miles, but I feel like it’s much more than that. My feet, or at least certain points on my feet, are not handling this week very well. I will assess the situation tomorrow morning.

 

I’ll give you Snodgrass for your Ward-Prowse

I know the measure of my fitness is not to be able to reel off 20 miles in a day, it’s to be able to do 15 the next. Well, I’m not quite there and my feet were complaining a bit near the end of today’s 13 mile walk. Everything else, the legs, knees, ankles and lungs were just about fine so I simply need to build up some hard skin on those feet to avoid blister problems. Not the most attractive thing to think about, particularly if you are having your tea at this moment. But if you are, why aren’t you concentrating on eating and talking about your day with whoever you are with, rather than poking your tablet or phone? And don’t talk with your mouth full!

It wasn’t an incident-packed walk today. Sometimes that’s just the way it happens, or doesn’t. In mid-afternoon, I walked through Bitterne precinct and was certain I saw two young lads, about 13 or 14, exchanging drugs, until I got a bit closer and distinctly heard one say, “I’ll give you Snodgrass for your Ward-Prowse” – ah, Panini football stickers, though it’s not beyond all possibility that ‘Snodgrass’ is some code word for an extra strength marijuana. To show my own naivety, let me say I had four goes at spelling marijuana in this blog until I had to google it to get it right. All in all, I made a bit of a hash of the matter. I expect a ‘Ward-Prowse’ is a code for some substance that looks very good and promises much but actually has no effect whatsoever 90 per cent of the time.

A couple more walks later this week and that will see me in a bit better shape. Yesterday I felt as fit as an unfit person ever has, and all in all, I did ok today without pulling up any trees. Because that would be both stupid and damaging to the environment. Mind you, I need a few sessions in the gym for upper body strength before trying that one.

Just while I’m here, I must admit to being fascinated by the views I get for my blogs. The numbers for any one post vary from about 8 to about 60, but I’m not so bothered that I will stop writing if no-one is reading it, because it now feels part of the walking ritual. The title of the post is the first thing that people see and if it is suggestive, it is clear that I get a few odd views from people searching the web for something quite different. What is more intriguing is the country of the viewer – just recently I have had a spate of American viewers for three or four posts and I do get the odd one from what seem random European countries. Of course, in the old days, in early 2014, I was routinely getting 200-300 views a day, building to a crescendo of 555 on 29 April. Later in the year, I noticed the highest number of views for any one day was 562, for the said April Tuesday, presumably when the clocks went back, confirmed when it reverted to 555 come late March. Yep, not very interesting but I am a statistician, fascinated by meaningless meaning of numbers. Conversation starter it ain’t, but conversation ender…………..

 

 

21 miles and 12 zebras later

So today is the start of two weeks off and the first week at least is going to see a decent amount of walking. Looks at the moment like five days out of eight, the other three days having what are often euphemistically termed ‘domestic duties’ – though in my case they are – just the things that never seem to be sorted out in the weekends between weeks of work. I have really been looking forward to this, by which I mean the walking rather than the domestics. I have been as unfit as I have been for five years and that is just the thing to make me a trifle grumpy and more susceptible to getting irritated by anything and everything that doesn’t go my way. I never quite get to the ‘toys out of the pram’ point but it did get close in the last week, I can tell you – and since I can tell you, I will tell you.

Everybody occasionally puts their foot in it when saying or writing something, interpreted in a way that they didn’t really mean. This week I made an art form of it and upset at least four people that I would consider friends – and I got upset because I upset them. If you’re reading this, you know who you are, and I won’t say more than that. Hopefully, you can see in the previous three sentences how I feel, and I hope that we can see beyond this (and remain friends!).

Added to that, events conspired in three areas of my work where the outcome was me being irritated beyond the normal random noise of irritation. It is amazing how many demands are placed on you the week or two before you go on leave, including even requests to attend a meeting during the leave period. But I know that a decent amount of walking works for me, just in a similar way that I imagine others find going to the gym, doing weights, punching a punch bag or anything else strenuous, works for them. I started off today giving myself the task of thinking of everything irritating within the first hour.

It didn’t take me long as the theme for the day soon took hold. The standard of driving, cycling, motorcycling and road behaviour, more generally, was appalling. It was as if Sunday had been designated an amnesty for idiots on the road. I really had to keep my wits about me as indicators had gone out of fashion and only a sixth sense made me turn my head to see a cyclist turning left directly into my path. Sixth Sense – “I see dead people” – well it wasn’t beyond question today. Thankfully for me, most of the rest of the day consisted merely of others without danger of my involvement, except in a witness capacity. The exception was me moving out of the way on an uphill stretch as a cyclist careered downhill on the path (despite the existence of a cycle lane), no hands on the handlebars, intent on his mobile phone, oblivious of the pedestrian, it appeared.

As with more recent walks, it took a while to build up momentum, though my spirits were pretty decent with the news of Katie (my colleague from both Isle of Wight Challenge and London2Brighton) storming the 100 km Thames Path Challenge in an astonishing 24 hours 10 minutes 22 seconds. I bet she regrets those 10 minutes 23 seconds at one rest stop pondering whether to go to her house which was just 5 minutes off the route. Well done for resisting what must have been irresistible! It is a flat course but fairly tough on the feet, it sounds, especially as I gather Katie had only done about as much walking as I had since the London2Brighton event at the end of May. But……you never lose it…..by that I mean the determination and will to succeed that she and her sister Emily have. I wish I had half of that.

So, I was preoccupied with moaning to myself about stuff today, but I really strode over Itchen Bridge and completed 7 miles in exactly 2 hours before a coffee stop. Unfortunately, the only newspaper available was Sunday Express and so I stuck to the sports section, once my eyes had had time to come to terms with small print. My eyesight is not quite what it was. I can still read signposts from (not quite literally) miles away, but reading print media can be a struggle and it can take 2 or 3 minutes for my eyes to adjust before I can make out the words. Yes, one of the domestic duties is to have a check up for my eyes – I rarely take my glasses with me on a walk, incidentally. Later in the day, as I bought a couple of bottles of drink, I was asked “would you like a free Sun on Sunday with that?” I was delighted to refuse, to the apparent surprise of the girl serving me.

By this time, I had walked through Southampton City Centre, encountering 12 zebra and one bare zebra plinth, probably due to a person ignoring the notice not to climb on the zebra. These are part of a trail of a much larger number of zebras (198, I believe I was told?) http://zanyzebras.org.uk/ with various garish colours. One was reminiscent of Norwich City’s third kit (right) and another reminded me of the Wycombe goalkeeper yesterday (left). Acknowledgement to Lee Freeman from the All Things Pompey Facebook page for the latter!

14202582_1740614709522966_4192187204825667239_n norwich-city-16-17-third-kit-banner

Just realised how long this blog post is already, and so I should conclude soon. I really got into it today, and it is remarkable how much one can push oneself if one has the enthusiasm or motivation. I walked the length of Shirley High Street, and turning right onto the Winchester Road and later up The Avenue to Bassett Green, and this is a long stretch that is all either uphill or feels uphill. None of it is especially steep, but it was a good test. Through Swaythling, and the route home had some more decent climbs. But I felt pretty decent myself by the end, with only the soles of my feet complaining as I sit writing this post, 21 miles to the good.

Some people think I am mad. 21 miles, all on my own. Don’t I get bored? In a word, no. I nearly always find myself capable of either deep thought or trivial thought while walking. I think that is why it is so great for me. Certainly I can rid myself of negativity over a number of hours and feel good about what I can achieve. That said, some of the best times on my very long walk came when I walked with others, for however short a time. If anyone does feel brave enough to come for a walk with me, for say 15 miles (it can be shorter or longer) on a weekend, more likely Sunday, then that would just be different for me and welcome company. The only provisos are that there is no talk about work, and that there could be periods of silence between periods of talking. Not quite a private ad but it does sound as if I’m desperate for “company”. Dear Deirdre, why doesn’t anyone want to be with me? Well dear, the right person is out there. Ignore all your “friends” who say they’ve done this, done that, they probably haven’t (and they’re as desperate as you) – just wait for the right one to come along.

Ain’t that the truth.

Looking forward to tomorrow – let’s see how much my feet like that…..

 

 

The Iceland Ring Road Challenge

Looking around for a challenge for next year, I became aware of the Iceland Challenge, which I gather is a two day walk, with around marathon distance on each. http://www.theicelandchallenge.com/ I am not seriously thinking about doing that but it is intriguing. I know with my current level of fitness that I simply need something to aim for.

It got me thinking. I didn’t realise that Iceland is that big and did a bit of investigating, finding that there is a ring road 826 miles long. The distance is less than I achieved a couple of years ago, and I reasoned that I could knock that off in about 8 weeks or so. I did a bit of Google Earthing and Street Viewing and the road looks ok, but there were parts where it appeared similar to a dual carriageway with a hard shoulder. I wasn’t certain that walking along those was even legal.

Route1(iceland)

A few narrow bridges looked tricky but this seemed really exciting. I am not sure whether I was thinking that this was even feasible but I emailed the Hit Iceland contact with a very prospective request for information.

 

Hello

I am a long distance walker and a friend alerted me to the Hit Iceland website. {NB this was actually a lie, I have no friends who would do that!} I saw the Ring Road runs right round the island and is around 826 miles long. Having undertaken a similar long distance challenge (over 1,000 miles) I was intrigued at the possibility of walking the Road – it would obviously take me a bit of time – around 8 weeks. I would like to check whether this is possible – some of the roads that I have seen have two lanes with an extra hard shoulder – is it legal to walk on all parts of the Ring Road?

Many thanks. I am serious – I may sound like a crank caller but I do undertake these strange challenges!

Kind regards

Keith

I received a very quick reply, even though it was a Bank Holiday weekend. Actually, it wasn’t a Bank Holiday in Iceland. Having thought that this would be a unique challenge, I was surprised that the reply made it sound an absolutely normal thing for people to do.
Hi Keith
It is absolutely possible to walk the Ring Road in Iceland.  The whole road as presented in our Ring Road article has two lanes and most if not all have extra hard shoulders. It is legal to walk the road and has often been done by Icelanders as well as visitors.  It is also quite popular to cycle the road.  Although you can walk the road all year round the months of May to September are much better than the winter months as winter weather can be severer. The only thing that might not be legal is sleeping in your tent anywhere along the way.  This is often done on the other hand an no one would bother you.  But there are many good camp sites along the way in all the many towns and villages on the road.
Best regards and thank you for viewing hiticeland.com
Einar
I was amused that an Iceland tourism site was pretty much encouraging me to break the law, never a clever thing to do when abroad (or at home, come to think of it). But what an interesting walk this would be. Due to temperatures, it could only realistically be walked between May and August. I have already seen some of the sights just from a few minutes on Google Maps and the scenery from the Ring Road is stunning in parts.

Not for the first time, I come back to reality when I realise how much this would cost me, as well as nine weeks off work (which are difficult to negotiate at any time), and it would be highly unlikely for me to stay with relatives or have any visits from friends or relatives that helped so much to keep up my spirits two years ago. I can’t see myself camping, despite the obvious financial savings. I suppose I could get some corporate sponsorship that would give some company decent publicity. Iceland – I’m sure I would be a more acceptable face than Kerry Katona???

Ok, it’s nice to dream. Very nice to dream but it’s time to think of another one. I have the Monopoly Trail, about 60 miles, that I will do as a training thing, rather than a special challenge. I guess I need to think of something a bit more realistic for 2017 than the Iceland Ring Road Challenge.