Stepping stones


I’ve run back to Laura. I went looking for information about how essential the 5-minute walking warmup is (no other running training I’ve come across uses it, it always seems to start with a (more or less) light jog). I have yet to find the answer to that (comments welcome), but did stumble upon some podcasts designed for Couch to 5k “graduates” looking to improve their speed. As I’ve at best not progressed in this respect, I figured I’d give them a go. I’ve done three runs with the Stepping Stone podcast so far – I’m still no faster and find it much more unpleasant than running with my own music, but it does contain some good tips such as checking your posture. My sins: tense upper limbs, slouching, looking down rather than ahead. Speed one next. I’ve also run back to Sports Tracker (and given up on the European Cycling Challenge) after finding Endomondo lacking after all. Turns out Sports Tracker does voice feedback too. At least Eastville Park is teeming with baby birds who make me smile as I go past – new ducklings, almost-adolescent-already goslings and now cygnets too!


As usual, I had all manners of ideas and ambitions for the monthly theme set by work’s photography staff club – “Time”, and didn’t achieve very much. My main attempt involved photos of the same flowers in my garden on consecutive days, with the intention to do “something” linking them in post-processing. The first one I picked, a red and yellow tulip, had lost all its petals by day three. As for my plan B, a bunch of dandelions at various stages of development, I found that my experimental system of markers and body positioning for preserving angle and composition had been severely flawed . One of these days I will have to get over my dislike of tripods.

Composite photo of tulip on three consecutive days

Badly merged photos of same tulip from same angle on three consecutive days.

My main photography mission right now is getting things ready for the Easton Arts Trail. This has so far involved me purchasing Photobox credit while they were having a 70% off sale, and now fiddling with my selected images to make them fit the canvas proportions – mostly adding bits to wrap round the sides. If there turns out to be an interest in my products, I may need to get into the habit of judging quickly if a photo would look good on canvas so I can take a wider angle shot. Then again, a visit to my dentist’s today included finding that people with white walls don’t mind photographic canvases with white edges.

The main area of improvement highlighted by this process has been, unsurprisingly, my monitors. They are cheap and nasty and I haven’t got my head round how to calibrate them or use colour profiles. As a result, there is a marked difference in the test prints I’ve had done of selected pictures depending on whether they were good SOOC (straight out of camera) or needed some adjustments. The latter don’t look right, because I essentially can’t see them or what I’m doing to them properly. I’ll need to look into investing in at least one better one (I work with two), and possibly some serious training. I know there’s a lot more I could do with Photoshop than my current self-taught dabblings.


I coincidentally attended two talks by Guardian writers last week. The first, by Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang, titled ‘The Role of Economics in Public Life, and the second, organised by the Bristol Cable, by journalist John Henley, titled ‘Using social media for citizen journalism’. There were some common themes between the two, the main one being that people formerly known as audiences should challenge those who have so far been considered the custodians of knowledge and information, be they experts or journalists. Henley pointed out that audiences have always known more than journalists and are now able to make this known; Chang, that economists have somehow convinced the public that their subject is far too complex for the common person to understand, when in reality it is no more so than, say, international relations, which people don’t seem to need a degree in to have an opinion on the Iraq war. Chang was a very engaging speaker with his heart in the right place (he opened his talk by deploring the current ambience of only valuing things that make money, reminding us that we “cannot live by bread alone“). I was particularly taken by his exhortations to challenge, listen and cross-pollinate, as I frequently despair of the opinionated’s tunnel vision and cherry-picking (whether we are on the same or opposed sides) and of how difficult it seems to be for most people to see beyond the status quo (re. the latter see also Ruth Levitas on utopia). There was much more, I took copious notes and this really would deserve a post of its own – for now I will just say that I’d certainly like to read his books if I can ever find the time.

As for Henley, he told us about how the internet has radically changed what it means to be a journalist and pushed back the limits previously imposed on the “audience”. He used as illustrations two impressive Guardian projects of his involving Twitter and other interactive online resources: Greece on the Breadline (which essentially involved him requesting stories of hardship and solidarity on Twitter and weaving a series of blog posts, videos, interactive maps etc from the responses) and Firestorm (a multi-media online presentation covering catastrophic fires in Australia last year from a variety of angles, from home footage by an affected family to explaining how global warming has caused these events to become uncontrollable). His advice to would be citizen journalists was to aim for the same higher ideals that a good old-fashioned journalist would, and if at all possible learn to code.


Sports Tracker

Sports Tracker has been working better for me than Strava did, as it doesn’t lose time. However, a bug stops it communicating with the outside world (can’t share stats from my phone and others report the same problem on Google Play). In case you’d like to know, last three half-hour runs (+warm-up/warm-down walks): 6k, 4k (after a week’s break due to feeling rubbish), 5.9k today.

Another one of the app’s glitches is more endearing: a misplaced decimal point in the maximum speed figure. I doubt I reached 245.9 km/h today.

Maybe I should download Endomondo after all and attempt to take part in the European Cycling Challenge. So far it’s seemed like too much admin as my wheezy budget phone has a “one in, one out” policy for apps, and logging every bike journey feels like one faff too far.

And in related news, Faith No More’s “Digging the Grave” is particularly aptly named when used to run to.

30 Days of Biking #18 and First “Solo” Run

Mental note: give street-cleaning vehicles a wide berth and hold breath while passing them *coughs* *splutters*.  Talking of breath issues, Eastville Park now poses a real risk of inhaling midges. Much as I love sunsets on that lake,  it may be time to seriously consider other running locations.

Wednesday was my last Couch to 5k Run, so yesterday I had a look at a few ideas stumbled upon or suggested to me so far for what to do next (the NHS 10k programme not being one, as my priorities are increasing speed and running while carrying extra weight rather than increasing distance or duration):

  1. Good gym: I like the idea of doing something useful (I’ve never really liked the idea of “exercise for the sake of it”, though I’ve come to accept it’s the only way to get the shape I want). I didn’t see any immediately attractive activity to latch onto (though am considering the bike ride next week-end). I’m also not sure running with others is for me (yet), after a rather unpleasant experience at an event last month that made me feel like the nerdy fat girl in PE all over again. I’ve joined their Facebook page though, and am keeping an eye on their activities.
  2. Zombies, run!: sounds like fun but falls foul of my current “only free things” rule. Not by much, so may try it if I get really bored, or when I’m working full time again.
  3. Parkrun: aside from suffering from the same “other people (runners!)” drawback of the Good Gym, these runs (at least the ones nearest to me) happen a 9:00 on Saturday morning, which is a bad thing in a variety of ways.

For yesterday I went with the simplest option: my own music overlayed with a free timer app to keep track of progress (are we nearly there yet?). A mixed bag of an experience, and not just because I didn’t have another human’s voice guiding and encouraging me any more.

On the one hand, I have much better musical taste than the NHS’ Laura; there may even have been some actual enjoyment in there thanks to the magic of music (and some naive leisurely walkers looking at me like I was some badass athlete – maybe it’s the cycling mitts).  On the other, there was faff and guesswork involved due to a poorly planned tracklist and relying on an interval training app for timing that stopped working twice (‘HIIT interval training timer’ by Giorgio Regni).  Will aim to do better on both counts next time – next app up for review is ‘Workout Timer’
by MedNotesMP.

30 Days of Biking #16 – Face off

Pretty pleasant bike-to-run today. I thought I’d take the main road and try Veronica’s recommendation to treat the pedestrian crossing towards Eastville Park from Fishponds Road as I would any right turn, rather than awkwardly stop at a green light and wait. The light was red when I got to it though – too easy.

The park smelled delightfully sweet with undertones of cut grass. Even the cycle path I took on the way back wasn’t as pongy as it had been of late.

Just one awkward incident, another cyclist heading straight towards me on the island between the pedestrian crossings outside the park. We were both going very slowly and I thought I was doing the sensible thing by veering left a bit to avoid her, but she veered the same way. A nervous newbie panicking, an entitled madam expecting me to adapt my course to hers, or have I just not been informed that cyclist should pass each other according to the Continental Highway Code? Or perhaps she couldn’t take her eyes off me and as Veronica said, your body and your bikes go where you look.

Running selfie

Multitasking to the max – cycling to my run and doing some of my photography homework (theme: focus) on the move. Busy old week.

30 days of biking #13 – Easton Way

Yesterday I had to do my weekly shop in two goes for Reasons, and as the second round (Lidl) was lighter and closer to home, I thought I’d take the opportunity to try a bike route I had been scared to so far – via Easton Way. Not much shorter than the quieter roads, but potentially much faster as more straightforward, which is my usual choice.

I have to say it wasn’t my favourite ride ever. Stapleton Road is narrow for the amount of traffic on it, it’s always busy, including buses, poor/inconsiderate driving and lots of more or less erratic pedestrians. I don’t even like driving along it. Easton Way, on the other hand, is lovely and simple, with a brand new surface and a clear, generous cycle lane, so although it’s a 40MPH road on which people drive very fast, it didn’t feel all that dangerous – except for the bit that turns left into Easton Road. There, I felt I could very easily be mowed down by an overconfident, patience-free driver turning without slowing. Then, there’s Lawrence Hill Roundabout – one of those uncertain bits before you rejoin a cycle lane once you exit.

The way back was worse – first of all, it pretty much starts with the unpleasant roundabout. I was the only cyclist there. Even as a regular on St James Barton*, I felt so out of place, like a little kid having accidentally wandered into the big kids’ playground, I actually wondered whether I was doing something illegal and looked for a way out, but there wasn’t one. So forward I went. Sure enough, there was a nice cycle lane on the other side of Easton Way as well, but I had to leave this one early to turn right – at least to go the way I know. There may have been a bike-specific way, but at that point I just wanted to go home the quickest possible way and as there weren’t too many cars, right I went. The bike advanced box at the right-turn light once more reassured me that I had not done anything unexpected or disallowed, but I might ask my Life Cycle instructor for an opinion when I have my next lesson.

photo of Poorly pannier

Poorly pannier

How often I’ll cycle this journey remains to be seen (it seems rude not to, given it’s only 5-10 minutes). Some excuses I currently have to avoid shopping by bike are:

  • the sorry state of my panniers (which I can’t currently afford to replace)
  • still not feeling like I want to increase the risk of losing my balance by adding a lot of weight to my bike if I can avoid it.

*I looked for a picture to link to and rather alarmingly, the one I picked, which was the second Google image result, came from an article in the Times called Cyclists’ Horror stories. Odd really, as I don’t particularly mind it, as I mentioned yesterday. A similar thing happened yesterday when I looked for a photo of the Bristol to Bath Railway Path…. And then, while researching Strava issues as the app disagreed with Laura again on Couch to 5k Week 9 #2 (claiming I had spent 34.5 and 27 minutes moving when it was 40 both times), the third result, which caught my eye, was an article about antisocial cycling mentioning the above path. I believe this is what they call the “filter bubble”; me and Google are now on a break and I’m seeing other search engines.

30 Days of Biking #11 and Couch to 5k Week 8 #3

Photo of old inner tube used as bungee cords on pannier rack

Cunning use of old inner tube as permanent bungee replacement. Not sure what the derelict carrier bag is in aid of.

Short and not so sweet biking today – another day of much to do at home and nowhere to go, so another attempt at bike-to-run. Only, halfway to the park, I realised I’d left my bike locks keys at home. The reason for that was taking my spare house keys rather than my usual bunch, as that had knocked against my leg unpleasantly during my previous run. I turned back and, as I was running out of daylight, just ran there and back rather than try to find another key solution. Please accept this photo of bike admin cunningness spotted the other day as compensation for lack of my own.

Looking back at the previous run, I really hated it, and not just because of the keys. Maybe because I didn’t have a proper rest the day before. Zumba had been great fun as usual though – wish that was the only exercise I needed to get the shape I’m after and that I could afford to do more of it. Still, unpleasant as it is, running is visibly improving my body, and if I keep doing it I may even one day have buns so tight* I will no longer feel the need to hide them under a jacket tied around my waist with keys in its pocket knocking against my by-then rock-hard thighs*. That’s the plan anyway.

*Yes, I realise this will probably require lots of squats, lunges and star jumps too.


P.S. Couch to 5k Week 9 #1 went well though, see yesterday’s status.