The Hammer and the Nail

That old saying, some days you’re the hammer, and other days you’re the nail. That sums up the last few days. I was definitely the hammer on Saturday at Morecambe Prom parkrun. I’ve been training hard the last few weeks with one of Garmin’s virtual coaches with the aim of breaking under 20 minutes for a 5km. I smashed this at the weekend, finishing in 19:23, my second fastest parkrun ever, and my best ever age-graded result.

I then decided to end my 5km coached plan and start a half marathon one. I had to repeat a five-minute base run on the Sunday, which went ok, and then me and my lovely wife Helen, along with our silly old pointer Nelly went for a good long walk.

Monday morning and my new training plan had me doing an easy three-mile run. I took Nelly with me, and just after halfway I felt a pop in my Achilles. I hobbled on home.

Injuries are always frustrating, especially if you’ve been running really well. I had really enjoyed the speed work I had been doing, as well as seeing a real improvement. Hopefully my injury isn’t too bad, and I’ll be back running again before too long.

I’ve “Reached” the End

That’s it. I’ve read all of the Jack Reacher books, apart from the new one and the collection of short stories. Very easy to read and on the whole, highly enjoyable and not too predictable.

Past Tense (Book #23)

Reacher finds himself in the small town where his father was born. He’s not looking for trouble, but trouble finds him, from a couple of different sources. First up is the small-town bully followed by a motel out in the middle of nowhere. He tries to find the hamlet where his grandparents lived, but this unearths a whole can of worms, not least because he is trespassing.

A young couple break down and stay at the motel. The owners appear to be incredibly helpful, but all is not what it seems.

This book was one of the first Reacher books that I read, at the beginning of the year, and I’m struggling to remember what it was all about. I do now that if it hadn’t been very good, I wouldn’t have continued with the series.

Blue Moon (Book #24)

Reacher is on a bus, travelling who knows where. He spots an old man with a wad of cash. He spots a hoodlum also on the bus who has also noticed the old man’s wad of cash. The old man gets off the bus and is quickly followed by the thug. Reacher also follows and saves the old man from a mugging. There is a deeper story. The old man and his wife are up to their necks in debt to the local crime lord. However, there is a lot more going on in the town. There is another rival crime lord and Reacher manages to set them off against one another.

This was one of the more interesting Reacher books in that he enlists the help of a number of people, and he isn’t the main man, as it were. He comes across as an old man, one whose time is almost up. A man who might not survive to the end of the book.

This was supposed to be the last Reacher book that Lee Child was going to write, until his younger brother stepped in. The early books mention that Reacher was born in 1960, which means that he is definitely on the road towards the end.

The Sentinel (Book #25)

Reacher is minding his own business, drinking copious amounts of coffee in a local diner, when he spots a man walking into an ambush. Its four against one, and the victim has no idea what is about to happen. Reacher happens. The man he saves is the town’s IT manager, recently fired for incompetence, but has opted to stay in the town to clear his name. Obviously, this being a Jack Reacher book, there is a lot more going on in this town apart from dodgy computers.

This was the first book written by both of the Child brothers, and to be honest, the book doesn’t gel. Lee and Andrew, for want of a better phrase, don’t appear to be on the same page. There are some neat ideas. Reacher being a complete technophobe having to rely on the computer savvy accomplices. Also, Reacher feels younger than he was in Blue Moon.

Better Off Dead (Book #26)

A backwater town and an ex-army FBI agent working off the books, searching for her twin brother. Is this town the site of a terrorist bomb making facility? Who is the local crime boss? What the hell is going on?

There are some very mixed reviews for this book and a lot more negative ones. I felt that this was an improvement on The Sentinel, but the plot is fairly thin and one dimensional, without enough interesting characters. Many of the reviews are inclined to suggest that the working arrangement between the two brothers isn’t working, and that maybe the whole Reacher series might be better off dead.

In summary, 26 books in one series is a great deal of reading. There are a couple of duff books, but even the poor ones are still very readable. You never feel the need to re-read a few pages as the story never gets too complicated in any of the books. I hope that Lee and Andrew continue to write another Reacher book a year for many years to come.

Death’s End by Liu Cixin

Death’s End is the third book in the science fiction series, Remembrance of Earth’s Past by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin. My review of the first two books can be read here.

I’ll start by giving you a quick recap on the first two books. In the first book, Earth discovers that a race of aliens who inhabit a world with three suns are on their way to Earth to take it over, and that there is a secret organisation trying to help them with the invasion.

The second book is all about finding a way to stop the invasion, even though it will not occur for another two centuries. Near to the end of the book the dark forest theory is discovered, whereby any civilization will be destroyed simply for existing, just in case they possess the technology to destroy other civilizations first. Quite a bleak idea. However, at the end of the book the invaders decide to help Earth when they find out that we have the technology to highlight their home world to the rest of the universe, and therefore bring about its destruction.

The third book, Death’s End, mostly follows the life of Cheng Xin as she pops in and out of long-term hibernation. The start of the book looks at how to send someone to meet with the incoming aliens. In the end, only a frozen brain is sent, hoping that the aliens possess the technology to revive the brain.

Earth then loses its ability to fight off the incoming invaders, who have also discovered how to travel at light speed. They will arrive in four years and everyone on Earth has to relocate to Australia, leaving the rest of the planet for them. Earth manages to highlight the Earth to the universe, meaning that it will be destroyed by some other alien race at some point, maybe in 50- or 100-years’ time. The invaders opt to find another planet to conquer. Most of Earth then relocates to space cities hidden behind the gas giants of Jupiter and Neptune, with the aim that if our sun is destroyed, these cities will be safe in the shadow.

I don’t want to mention any further, as it would give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say, it was good.

The three books are written in an unusual style, which might be due to the translation. The books are also quite long and do drag in places, however, all three books have some amazing ideas and at times completely blow you away. Each book mostly follows one character, and while they do appear in the other books, the story running through each book is larger, in that it is really about Earth’s survival. The books are full of complicated science, and the idea behind the dark forest is one I find to be very disturbing. I would like to think that we might meet some friendly aliens, and that the universe isn’t just millions of different worlds looking at ways to destroy everyone else first, even if it means mutual destruction.

The third book is the best one so far, and even though I only gave it four stars, the average score on Goodreads is 4.4, which is more accurate. A long but rewarding read, even if it is a little bleak.

Watergrove Parkrun

Another week and another tourist parkrun, and once again I was ticking off my NENDY (Nearest Event Not Done Yet). Watergrove is a fairly well-established parkrun, with today’s event being number 354. However, it isn’t a particular popular one as the average number of finishers is only 59.

Watergrove is located to the north of Rochdale, so to reach there from Lancaster it is a bit of a dog leg, heading south towards Manchester and then along the M62. Warning, the last section of road is cobbled, so I would suggest leaving your Ferrari at home. There is also limited parking, not a problem for me as I arrived with plenty of time to spare. Finally, there are no toilets.

The parkrun is named because the route is adjacent to the Watergrove Reservoir, which wasn’t very full.

Turning around 180 degrees and there was a fabulous view across the fells and all the way to Manchester, although my photo is mostly of the carpark.

At the first timers briefing the volunteer told us that the route was hilly, and with plenty of cobbles and had been judged to be in the top ten hardest parkruns in the country. I can attest that it is one of the toughest that I’d done.

The route is a wobbly V, with two out and back sections, both of them up hill. I set off at a good pace along the track with follows the reservoir, before turning sharply up a cobbled hill. The leader was soon completely out of sight, and when he passed me in the other direction after the first out and back, he was a long way ahead.

I tried to stay with the following group, but they soon pulled away from me, leaving me chasing the man directly in front of me. I caught up with him on the final flat section, but he had a quick sprint finish and pipped me by a second.

I managed to finish in 5th place but was 3rd in my age group. The man directly in front of me was in the 65-69 category. Wow! Overall, there were only 51 finishers.

I have to say that while this was one of the toughest parkruns that I’ve done, it was also great fun with the cobbled hills making it very different. I ran in road shoes, and I think I only just managed it. If it had been a little wetter, then trail shoes would be a must.

A final word of thanks to the volunteers who keep a small parkrun going, and have been keeping it going since July 2014, especially as there are another ten parkruns within a 13-mile radius.

My new NENDY is all the way towards Liverpool in Crosby, which will take less time to drive to than Watergrove.

Garmin Coach Update

I’ve been training with Garmin’s virtual coach Amy for four weeks now, and I have to say that it is going really well. As I said in my previous post, coach Jeff didn’t really suit me, but Amy seems to have a good combination of speed work and easy runs.

As my aim is to run a sub-20-minute 5km, and the fastest training plan available is 22 minutes, I have to run a little quicker on the tempo runs and the speed repeats. It is the speed repeats that have make me feel much stronger, even after such a relatively short space of time. Gradually, each week, the speed repeats are getting longer. The first week, Amy was telling me to run 9 x 30 seconds with 30 seconds rest between each one. This week it was upped to 6 x 90 seconds and next week it will be 5 x 120 seconds, all of them at a sub 4 min/km pace. I am finding the speed repeats to be hard, but also perversely good fun.

Last Saturday I ran Worsley Woods parkrun, completing a 5km run before as a warmup. I finished the parkrun in under 21 minutes, without ever feeling like I was pushing myself. I am fairly confident that I can break 20 minutes before the end of the year.

Negatives: You can’t go back and look at the overview of any completed runs, which is a little frustrating if you want to know if the sessions are getting harder each week. One Saturday Amy had wanted me to do hill repeats with a one-mile warmup. When my lovely wife had done something similar with coach Gregg, she was instructed to press the lap button when she was ready to start the hill repeats. I wasn’t given that option from Amy, meaning that I would have had to make sure that I was at the bottom of a hill when my warmup was completed. Also, I measure my runs in km, and Amy likes miles, so my warmup might be 1.61km or my tempo run could be 6.44km.

One last negative point is that I struggle to read the smaller digits on my Garmin and have to rely on the beeps and buzzes. However, it will beep to say that I’m going too quick, which is fine, but it will also beep to let me know that I’ve finished the repeat that I’m on, which can get a little confusing. The first week when I was doing 30 second repeats, I stopped on the first one after 20 seconds as I thought the deep to say I was going too fast was the beep to tell me to stop.

These a very minor quibbles and on the whole, I am amazed at just how good the Garmin virtual coaches are. I expect that I will end Amy’s 5km training plan soon and try out her half marathon training plan instead.

High Cup Nick

When the weather is as unseasonably warm as it has been, the only option is to go on a mini adventure. My lovely wife, Helen, had bought me the latest edition of Trail magazine. There was an article all about staying in Ravenstonedale for four days and completing a walk in the Howgills one day, the next day in the lakes, another day in the Yorkshire Dales and the last day in the Pennines. The walk in the Pennines was up High Cup Nick, which is part of the Pennine Way.

We drove out to the small village of Dufton and found the Pennine Way without any trouble. The first mile was on tarmac, but as we went through a gate, we began climbing up on a well-trodden path. The views going up were amazing, and we hardly saw another person all day, although we did hear a lot of shooting across the valley.

About halfway up we encountered an older man walking his dogs, one of which was remarkable. Apparently, it was a Russian Wolf Hound and was very distinctive.

We went through a couple more gates and allowed Nelly off her lead as there weren’t any sheep. And then suddenly we could see High Cup Nick.

The photos don’t do this amazing feature justice as the three sides of the steep valley drop away.

We sat down on a handy rock to enjoy the panoramic view.

We then ambled our way back down to the car. It might have been only an eight-mile walk, but it was one of the most stunning walks we had ever been on. It also made us realise just how amazing the Pennine Way is, and while we might not want to walk it, there are plenty of long-distance footpaths that do appeal to us. One possibility that does appeal to us is the West Highland Way.

Anyway, if you’re ever in the north Pennines, we can recommend the walk up to High Cup Nick from the village of Dufton.

Worsley Woods Parkrun

After last week’s speedy run at Morecambe parkrun, it was time for another tourist run. Slowly, as I tick off different parkruns, they get further and further away. My NENDY is well over an hour’s drive. However, there are parkruns quicker to get to than Watergrove, which was one of the reasons for picking Worsley Woods.

I arrived nice and early so that I could do a run beforehand. I hadn’t yet completely the monthly Strava 10km challenge, and there was a Garmin 10km challenge on this weekend as well. My route would also tick off three Veloviewer tiles, increasing my cluster by five tiles, as well as completing three streets on City Strides.

Anyway, after almost 5km I lined up near to the start. There was a simple briefing for those of us who hadn’t done the parkrun before, and then we all headed to the start. The start was fairly narrow and even though I was near to the front I still had to weave in and out of runners in the first half a mile. The route was fairly simple, one mile out along an old railway line, followed by one mile through the woods and one mile back. The woods included two short flights of steps, which always take it out of me. The weather had been dry most of this week, but I expect that the wood section can become very wet and muddy in the winter. Out of the woods and I overtook a few people on the long straight back to the start/finish.

The last few weeks I had been feeling quite strong, which I put down to the better training I’ve been doing, curtesy of Garmin’s virtual coach Amy, so I was surprised to see that my finishing time was 20:43 in 26th place overall and 2nd in my age group with almost 350 finishers. One of the busier parkruns that I’ve done. The first woman finished in an incredibly fast 18 minutes. I expect that to be in the top ten fastest parkruns of the week.

One of the most pleasant parkrun routes that I’ve done, which got me thinking. Do all of the good parks already have a parkrun?

On top of all this, at the start I bumped into a man with a Pointer. Slightly different look to our Pointer and from a different breeder, but still very friendly and wanting to know if I had any snacks.

You’re Olympic, You Are

That was shouted to me yesterday morning as I was running some speed repeats. My Garmin virtual coach had me doing 7 x 1-minute repeats at 3:52 – 4:05 per km pace, with one minute jog between each one. Fairly speedy, but definitely not Olympic pace, despite what the cyclist shouted to me as he passed.

However, it did get me thinking about how fast Olympians are? I had a look at the three classic longer distances, the 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon. The Olympic records for these distances respectively are, 12:57, 27:01 and 2 hours 6:32.

Those records are fast, and I will never run that fast, but how fast are they over 400m. Could I manage one lap of a track at their record pace?

For 5,000m it works out at 62 seconds for each lap, 10,000m is 65 seconds and a Marathon would be 72 seconds.

At some point I will head over to our local athletics track and run a flying lap to see just how much slower I am.

Can I run 400m at the pace of Olympic champions, even though they are running much further?

A pb at Parkrun

I very rarely manage a pb at parkrun, mostly because I’m slowing down, but today I did. My lovely wife, Helen, is at a wedding today and was using the car. This meant that my options were either Lancaster or Morecambe parkruns. I fixed the puncture on my touring bike yesterday, so I was all set to ride to Morecambe. I took Nelly, our old Pointer, out for an early walk before heading off on my own. Nelly doesn’t really enjoy parkruns anymore.

The weather has been fairly grim, but the rain held off long enough for me to cycle to Morecambe, run the parkrun and then cycle home without getting wet. Very impressive.

Anyway, my virtual Garmin coach had me running an out and back session today, where I was to warm up for two minutes, run 8 minutes at 5min/km pace, then 7 minutes at 4:45/km, with two minutes cool down. I completely ignored that and went for it, managing to average 4:01/km pace, almost finishing in under 20 minutes.

However, my finishing time of 20:05 was good enough for me to finish 12th overall and first in my age group. It was also my quickest finishing time at Morecambe. Very pleased with that result.

As I have only been using a Garmin coach for two weeks, I’m fairly confident that it won’t be too long before I complete a flat parkrun in under the illusive 20-minute barrier.