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Three Peaks

This weekend I did the Three Peaks challenge. At six o'clock on Thursday I dashed round the corner and jumped into a Ford Galaxy with three other dads from Maple School. It wasn't a clean exit as the kids came home with Joanne just as I ran out of the door. Jamie was really upset apparently as I didn't get the chance to say goodbye. Helen just missed me and she was also upset.

We flogged it up to Warrington where we stayed in a Travelodge with adjacent truck stop. We had our dinner in the self service food hall followed by a lager shandy in the truckers bar. It was pretty grim. We were the only drinkers not wearing a corporate trucking uniform and in the small minority without massive beer bellies. One of our guys was wearing sandals and another ordered a G&T. I have probably watched too many films but I did worry that the truckers might abduct us as this point to use as their playthings.

The next day our driver got us up to Glasgow where we picked up our fourth team member and de facto leader. We then made our way to Ben Nevis, stopping briefly for a very tasty burger at Loch Lomond and again for some heavy traffic. We got to Ben Nevis just before half five. We spent a few minutes preparing and then set off dead on 17:30.

It had been a cracking day weatherwise and I had worn my sunglasses at Loch Lomond. Ben Nevis doesn't work like that so as soon as we started it began to rain. We made good progress on the ascent but by the halfway mark is was very poor visibility and stinging rain. We made it to the top in two hours by which point my fingers were so numb I couldn't operate my camera. I had failed to pack a hat or gloves (it had been an uncomfortably hot week). We rushed back down the mountain with only a minor pause when I slipped and banged my knee. The pain was intense and I really thought my race was over but after a few minutes it subsided and I was able to continue. We made it back down very quickly in an hour and a half, catching the other two teams who had a half hour head start on us!

At the bottom of the mountain I had to take all my clothes off (by the side of the road) as I was soaked and then we all piled in to rush down to Scarfell Pike. It was damp and unpleasant and my knee was pretty painful. I applied ibuprofen gel, freeze spray and deep heat but it kept on waking me on the long drive to Cumbria.

We got to Scarfell about four am and found no parking spaces. Our driver stuck the car at the side of the road and we had a brief (and for my part, unpleasant) breakfast. The other Maple teams started at least ten minutes ahead of us. We then rocketed up Scarfell which was very busy and compared to Nevis, very easy. It was still cold and unpleasant on top but I never even put my waterproof jacket on. We messed around for a few minutes on the peak taking photos and then were off.

We got to the bottom about ten past eight in the morning and headed off to Snowdon in Wales. Our driver did not get a lot of sleep (if any) during these breaks. He must be a machine as his driving was calm and accurate with great navigation throughout.

We got to Snowdown about 12:30 after a delay caused by an accident which forced us onto back roads. It was quickly up the Pyg Track to the summit. The last part of the ascent on the Zig Zag was pretty exhausting and then it was straight down again via the Miners Track. I found going downhill, clambering over stones very hard going on my knees and my guts by this point. We got to the flatish section of the Miners track and from there it was easy. We romped in at 23:13:44, beating the other two Maple teams whom both came in within the twenty four hours.

It was an excellent and slightly disorientating experience that I am not sure I would rush to repeat but I am glad I did it.

I slept like a log Saturday night and then went up the Miners Track again with Helen and the kids (and a large group of others from Maple). This time the weather was fowl. We were soaked to the skin and the winds were gusting at 80mph in the valley. We made it to the second lake but were forced back. Edith and Tom were both screaming and it was impossible even to see the rain was so hard. I was still damp six hours later when we finally got home!

Ten breathtaking miles in the snow

I went for a 10 miler today in the snow. It was one of those fantastic runs that you remember for years afterwards. It was cold (sub-zero) but crisp and dry, not damp at all. The snow was pretty thick still, about 10cm off pavement. I ran one of my usual routes down to Sandridge then over the hill to Ayers End then back over the hill again to Nomansland Common and then home.

The snow was very powerdery, like icing sugar and it had been windy so the drifts were deep. The sunken lane behind Pound farm had filled up to knee height but the farmer (or somebody) had cut a narrow path through it. There were loads of hardy St Albans folk out enjoying the weather and breathtaking views in the bright sunlight. On the top overlooking Sandridge there was even a family having a picnic on a rug.

The path at the top of the hill had drifted up and there was no easy way thru. I jumped straight in. It only came up to just below my knee but the shock was incredible. It was like jumping into an ice bath. All the heat seemed to get sucked out of my calf muscles. It only lasted for about twenty metres but was a real trial to get through. I warmed pretty quickly as soon as I got out and brushed the snow off (bare legs).

I don't like to pause on runs, especially when its cold, but the views and the silence was so spellbinding several times I halted to drink it in for a few seconds.

Got back to St Albans feeling pretty good. Managed to do it at nine and a half minute mile rate which is nothing clever but the going was tough.
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Another great day off

I have had quite a few days off recently and the common theme seems to be mostly how rubbish they are. Today is a good example. So far my day off has consisted of leaving home at 6:30am and cycling, in the rain, to work, with a slow puncture. I had to go into work as something important overan so I need to go in to finish it off. Six hours later I left work and cycled home. As soon as I got in Helen went for a nap. There wasn't much in the house for lunch so I made a mess of my diet by having jam sandwich followed by chocolate biscuits. Very healthy. Then I read some email. It's 14:48 now. Tom needs to be woken up and Jamie will be finished at school in twenty minutes. Sigh. Before you know it, it will be time for bed.
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Chef Edith

Edith loves helping in the kitchen and has helped with the Sunday roast for the last few weeks. She keeps on telling me what to do and likes me to ask her permission and say 'Yes, Chef Edith' lots.

This Sunday when we got the meal on the table Helen congratulated 'Chef Edith' on an excellent dinner only to have Edith correct her "I'm not Chef Edith now, mummy, I'm Eater Edith". She then proceeded to consume her own body weight in roast potatoes, chicken and sausages.

Jamie has a habit of prefixing every statement with 'Actually'. Edith has picked up on this and got a bit confused so now every time we have Yorkshire Puddings with the dinner she thinks they are called 'actual-puddings'. If you try and correct her then you get a quizzical look then she will keep on calling them 'actual-puddings'. It is sending Jamie mad "because ice cream and jelly is an actual pudding, not these". This might well explain why she keeps doing it.

Obi-Wan's time was up

Jamie got the original Star Wars trilogy for his birthday yesterday. He has watched all of the clone wars cartoons so Obi-Wan, R2D2 are all familiar friends. Today we watched Star Wars. The stream of questions was unceasing. "Why are the goodies (Storm Troopers) on the bad team now?", "Why is Obi-Wan so old?". We got to the fight scene between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan and Jamie couldn't quite believe that Obi-Wan got killed. He was a little upset and sat there quietly for a few minutes until I thought he was just watching the film when suddenly he announced "Obi-Wan was quite old.". I asked why this was significant, was it that an old Obi-Wan being cut down by Darth Vader's light sabre was okay? "Yes, he was old so he would have died soon anyway.". He perked up after that.
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Finally completed a long run as planned

I finally made it round a 20 mile training route. Five weeks from now (unless there are yet more problems) I will be recovered after running 26.2 miles in the Leicester Marathon. Every other time I have run a marathon I would have run three or four 20 milers by this point. I should be starting my taper in two bloody weeks! It's been a non-stop litany of illness, work commitments, family stresses and obligations and just about everything else. We went to a party last night and I had  to abstain from drinking so that I could make it out this morning.
The good news is that I made it round in one piece, felt pretty good during and was fine afterwards (no puking or crippling aches). I did two gels, one at 1:15 and another at 2:15 and ran with a bladder pack so I had plenty to drink. I am contemplating running the race with the pack. The only reason I can think not do so is that I look stupid. This doesn't sound like a good reason for not doing something beneficial, especially as I will look pretty stupid anyway...

Laptop shame

Every time I take my laptop out in public I attract derision and contempt! These Mac lovers can't understand that a laptop can still be useful even if it weighs more than the desk its sitting on (never, never attempt to rest it on a human lap - injury will follow) and is as visually appealing as a monkey's arse. I did get some kudos for running Ubuntu and doing my presentations from OpenOffice (I didn't admit I installed Ubuntu because the previous windows install had slowed to a crawl and I didn't have the disks to rebuild it).

Dada is the new mama

Helen went away for the weekend leaving me with Tom and Edith. Tom has being saying Dada for a little while now and I was a bit nonplussed when I visited my mum's cousin and he started calling me mama. I just thought he had given up using dada for a while until Helen got back. He was very pleased to see her (ear to ear grin) but he insisted on hugs from me and still called me mama and didn't seem to call Helen anything. I couldn't work out if he associates 'mama' with whomever is supplying food and hugs today or whether he was punishing Helen for abandoning him.

Tom was poorly all weekend with a high temperature. He hit 38.8c on Saturday night. I was taking it all in my stride until I used the fancy thermometer Helen bought and it started screaming and flashing red danger high temperature. Its funny how having some figures can totally change your perception of a situation, correctly or otherwise. I rang the on call doctors to check out how I was supposed to double up Calpol and Neurofen and spent all of Saturday night getting up and administering more medicine. He was still hot on Monday morning but Helen reported him much better by that evening.

First really long run

After a week where I was seriously considering throwing in the towel for my autumn marathon I actually managed a long Sunday run! I was hoping to do twenty miles but only managed eighteen in the end. It was hot and I ran out of water which didn't help so I walk the last two miles rather than push myself and spend the rest of the day puking.

It was a glorious morning at first, not too hot or cold and no wind or rain for a change. I stopped (naughty but what the hell) for a few moments when a flight of three large civilian helicopters came over and again to watch to largish brown hawks chasing each other through the trees in the woods. The hawks were making very odd keening sounds and I was able to watch them for a minute or so. I am not sure what they were. Too small for buzzards I think and they looked too large for Sparrowhawks though I think the female Sparrowhawk is pretty chunky.

Going along the disused railway alongside the river Lea (which looked beautiful and was full of big fish) I came across a large tree that had come down in the recent storms and had blocked the path. A family was cycling the other way so I did my good dead for the day and helped the dad get the bikes over.

I did quite a hilly route and as I was climbing the steep hill coming out of Wheathampstead I caught up with a group of cyclists. I had been running for two and a half hours and covered fifteen miles at this point but the temptation was too great so I pushed that little but harder and passed the stragglers on the hill. Joy! One of the tail enders took exception and started working up thru his gears and putting a real effort in. He managed to draw level with me briefly before dropping well behind. Come the brow of the hill even the crappest came whizzing past. I even had the breath to swap pleasantries with the guy I had past. If they had hung around they would have had the last laugh though. I only managed another few hundred metres before the effort caught up with me and I started to feel much worse for ear with stomach cramps and jelly for legs. It was all downhill (performance wise) from there.

No real damage afterwards other than a nasty sun / dehydration headache which lasted until Monday. I feel asleep for half an hour after the run and that was enough to ruin my nights sleep (along with visits from Jamie and Edith). I felt like shit the next morning. I wasn't too stiff though and managed an okay 43 minute run in to work on Tuesday but a pitiful 44 (six minutes slower than the previous week) minute run back in the evening.

Edith's beauty regime

I got back from a run on Friday to find Helen just finishing up a major cleaning exercise. Edith, who was supposed to be asleep, had suddenly started howling. Helen went to see what the cause of this major meltdown was and found Edith sitting in bed with her legs plastered in sudocrem. Sudocrem is a thick white creme which you can use to stopping babies getting chaffed bottoms etc. Clag it on your legs and its not going to do much good. Helen enquired why Edith was sitting in bed with now filthy sheets and legs covered in several millimetres of gloop. "I wanted to make my legs lovely" she wailed. Apparently it took ages to get the muck off in the shower and she still looked distinctly pasty.

Nanny interview

Big changes ahead. Helen is going back to work in October four days a week so we need a nanny. I always thought of nannies as something out the 1920s that only the very rich could possibly afford. It was quite a surprise to discover that a nanny from 07:30 to 18:30 is actually the same price as sending the kids to nursery...
We interviewed our first candidate today. I thought she was pretty great. Smart, pragmatic and very capable.

Marathon training starts here

I started marathon training this week. I have chosen to run the Leicester Marathon which is just over 15 weeks away so a good target for the standard length training plan. I hacked together my plan based on the FIRST reduced mileage schedule. It will needs lots of refinement but is a good starting point.
Off to a good start. I ran 16 miles on Sunday. Unfortunatly since it was a very hot day I got back and puked. I was feeling sick then Edith jumped on me, twice. I then retreated to the bathroom for safety and was greeted at the door by a cheerful Jamie who announced that he had 'Just done a great big poo.'. The stench was more than I could take and I lost my lunch.
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Jamie's new pet

Helen let Jamie choose a plant at the garden centre. He chose a Venus Fly Trap. When I got back he and Edith were running round the garden trying to catch flies with it. Every few minutes there would be squeals of "There's a fly, quick, quick". Helen convinced them to put the plant down and let it go about its business unaided. Just then a big house fly buzzed past into the kitchen. I was holding a tea towel and managed to flick it in mid air. It dropped like a stone very satisfyingly. Jamie scooped it up in a tea spoon and fed it to his new pet. How sweet.
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Down the ditch

Jamie, Tom (in the backpack) and I went for an explore in Beeches Bottom, a prehistoric (50 B.C) earth work that runs from St Albans to Wheathampsted. You can't see it from the road so even though its in a pretty built up area you would never know it was there. It is massive. It must be about 15m deep with sheer sides. You can really imagine it being a pretty effective defensive again invaders. Nobody seems to go down there which is why we surprised a bunch of teenagers who seemed like they were pretty off their heads on some drug. Ooops. They seemed quite posh and they didn't seem to notice us so we pretended not to notice them. We then climbed down the earthwork and walked along the bottom. This was a bit of a mistake since its very overgrown with nettles and brambles. We all (even Tom) got multiple stings wounds. My legs were still throbbing hours later. Jamie was very brave and Tom seemed pretty chirpy through the whole thing. We then had to find our way out. It looks pretty impressive from the top. It looks bloody impossible to climb from the bottom. We finally made it out on the other side, hanging on to tree roots etc. only to find a massive fence blocking our way. We then had to go back down and scale the other side. Exciting stuff. We walked along a little further and I noted that there is a ramp at the end for ease of access....

Feeling terrible - electrolyte imbalance?

I have been feeling terrible for over a week now. My head spins when I stand up, I am exhausted all of the time except after dinner my heart rate seems to be higher than normal and my vision is blurred sometimes. I was searching the web and one of the causes of dizzyness and the other symptoms is dehydration. No chance of that. In order to counter my general bad habits in staying hydrated in the summer and my dry skin I have been drinking two litres (at least) of water a day. One of the other causes is an electrolyte imbalance. I am pretty sure you can get an electrolyte imbalance by drinking too much... Oops. My symptoms certainly started pretty much the day after I started with the water. I probably havent helped matters by cutting all meat (lots of fish though) out of  my diet suddenly.

Tooooo full

Helen has gone into London to see a show with her sister and mum leaving me to look after the kids. (She was out on the razz last night as well, the bligher). I am pretty exhausted and quick to anger. Tom and Jamie both played up (Tom was missing mummy, Jamie was being Jamie). To make up for the shitness of it all I had a thai takeaway which I shared with Jamie. As per usual, I know feel far too full, fat and generally unwell. When will I learn?

Cobblers children and all that at the IEEE

From the IEEE document submission system:

1) For users of non-Windows-based systems: We have tested the online submission process and we find that, in most instances,  authors who use a Windows-based system do receive notification of successful paper transmissions. Your mileage with other systems may vary but please feel free to try.

I guess what they mean is:

1) We only tested this on my PC. It worked some of the time. If you're not using my PC, I don't know what will happen. I don't really get this whole 'web' thing. See ya.


We went down to the nature reserve and saw buzzard, dartford warbler and avocet. We heard what we were reliably informed was Cettis' Warbler. A great morning in the still of the heathland beside the sea. No wind, not too hot, not too cold.
After getting back to the holiday cottage Jamie, Tom and I went exploring in the woods and fields around about. We watched an Apache helicopter from the nearby airbase orbit round a few times. They seem to fly all day and well into the evening. We found some spotted orchids growing in a damp shady patch at the top of a field. The cottage owner told us there were some in flower in the area.
After Tom and Edith were safely in bed Jamie and I went into Framlingham to buy a chinese takeaway. Twelve hours later I can still feel the leaden ball in my belly that is king prawn curry and salt and pepper chicken. I must have drunk five glasses of water overnight I was so thirsty afterwards.
I went outside about 2:30am. Nothing particulary interesting in the sky apart from a planet to the west and an owl calling in the woods.

Windy day in suffolk

Our fourth day on holiday in suffolk. We went to Orford which has a cool castle keep that you can go around (for a small fortune). The castle is so well preserved that it feels cosy inside! You can see all the various rooms which were the bedrooms (King Henry II stayed in one), kitches, store rooms etc. It was slighltly frustrating as I had a sense of 'so near yet so far'. I was standing in the bedrooms and bathrooms of a medieval castle, looking through the windows that knights and kings had looked out of but I didn't feel much empathy. Maybe it was the eleven month old strapped to my back, the other vistors, our self-imposed pace or the spartanness of the rooms which made it difficult to imagine how it must have felt.

From the roof you can see Orford Ness. This is a spit which is several miles long between the tidal river and the sea. It has been there for millenia which suprised me as I always thought of such things, especially on such a dynamic coastline, as being transient. You could made out several odd looking concreate structures. These were the top secret test ranges for the UK atomic weapns programme. No nuclear material made it to these ranges, they used to to develop the bomb casing and detonation mechanims.

We had another excellent pub lunch before a brief walk in the very blustery wind. We then went to Thorpness to fly the kite on the beach but the wind was so strong by this point the kites line broke every time we launched it. After repairing it four or five times we gave up, had a look round the windmill and the house in the sky and went home.

Kamikazee KIds

We got up and were trying to get everybody ready. Jamie was bursting with energy and getting under our feet so since the weather was nice we sent him outside to play. Two minutes later he was back after running round in the gardens. "I'm, tired.", he announced. Before anybody had a chance to respond, "Maybe not.", he chirped and sprinted across the room, into the kitchen and slipped banging his backside and ending up in a moaning pile in the corner.
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