Sunday, 10 July 2011

Lost on the Grand Union Canal

As I mentioned yesterday this weekend is all about camping and like good campers we maximised our enjoyment by staying for a second night; a great decision given how great a morning we woke up to. All the sunshine did make for an early start though and with the sun rising over the valley I set off on a route that I ambitiously hoped would link up the Two Ridges Link walk with the Grand Union Canal and so create an off-road, beautiful, circular experience.

At first things went pretty much to plan - probably because I used Google Street View to preview just as much of the route as I could. What an amazing tool this is and all for free; however did we get along before Google came along and changed our lives? Anyway after a while I started crossing fields and startling sheep but that was okay as the view across the valley made up for any obstacles:

That's a long view and a half
This was rather fortunate because after a little while I startled more than a sheep while edging past what I thought was an abandoned car at the far end of a rutted track - up popped a woman who may have been relieving herself or worse. I didn't hang around to find out! This encounter put a spring in my step though and I was soon well on my way to Slapton or I would have been had the path not been diverted in a way that doesn't yet appear on the map. This thrust a rather large spanner into my mental works and I found myself jogging around an unexpected field; which meant that when I stumbled across the canal I wasn't sure which side I was on.

To cut a long story short I chose badly and ended up heading North - entirely the wrong direction - and being a bloke it took me ages to stop and ask for help. Amusingly the lucky canal dwellers I selected didn't know where they were either (how is that possible?) but we established that if I kept going I would end up in Birmingham and that didn't suit me at all. So I turned around and, more by luck than judgement, I located Ivinghoe Bridge and a way out of the nightmare:

An idyllic country scene
There was, however, a silver lining to this misadventure in that I stumbled across the Ford End watermill while stumbling along the B488 and it looked like an interesting place to visit with the kids. So that's exactly what we did after I'd recovered and we'd spent a happy couple of hours gathering fruit and veg at the local PYO farm; it's almost ironic that children are content to pick fruit in field under the boiling sun when they won't pick up their clothes from the bathroom floor! Oh how this makes us chuckle!

Distance: 11.2 miles
Time: 1h 36m 11s

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Camping in Buckinghamshire

Like a lot of people we know we've camped with the children a number of times; when you have little ones there's nothing more satisfying than being able to let them roam in safety while you relax and watch the sunset. So when we discovered that quite a few of our friends from school hadn't been camping, and certainly not with their kids, we set out to change that and show them the upside of sleeping under canvas (or nylon these days). The only caveats were that we had to eat well, the toilets had to be clean and, most importantly, a camp-fire had to be available.

With that in mind we looked around and discovered Town Farm just a little way up the M1 near to Ivinghoe (of beacon fame). We've long used Cool Camping as our pointer towards great sites and the write-up for Town Farm was enticing enough for us to get on the phone and discover that they had space for all of us on a summer's weekend. Come Friday afternoon then 4 or 5 car-loads of excitable individuals set off in glorious anticipation only to get mired in the tail-back from hell and arrive, eventually, with a gale blowing across the valley. Nevertheless we persevered while the ankle-bitters ran around and soon enough it was time to relax:
Call this a brai? I've seen bigger ones on my windshield!
In time-honoured fashion it took longer than expected to get everything cooking (such is the cost of outdoor cuisine and no reflection on the chef) and the sun slid beneath the horizon; at which point our gaggle of children melted into the darkness and we began some serious socialising. As might be expected though from a group of Muswell Hill parents the grub, when it materialised, was rather excellent and well worth the wait. Replenished we opened a few more bottles of red, popped some corn on the fire and looked around for ways to amuse ourselves. You tell me what's more entertaining than a Chinese lantern in the pitch dark?

Big kids at heart
After an evening like that I slept like the dead and even the children went against all expectations and didn't surface until a reasonable time. Result! This happy outcome meant that we could all enjoy a leisurely breakfast embracing the fruits of the land - or Waitrose at least:
Croissant or banger - too much choice!
By now well into brunch territory we all settled back to enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air. What else is one to do in the middle of such scenery?

Getting some rays, man, getting some rays
Oh yes, I remember, we should have been heading out on a bracing, pre-lunch hike through the glorious English countryside. So we did. Up Ivinghoe Beacon, along the Ridgeway and then down around Incombe Hole. The views from high up were tremendous, to say the least, and reminded me of just how blessed we are in this country. Even the nippers seemed to enjoy themselves taking the opportunity to rush ahead, en masse, and forge a path for the lackadaisical adults left behind.

After this all that remained was to eat that which could be eaten, take down anything that could be taken down and generally escape back to a hot bath and Egyptian cotton sheets. Still if the tired but happy faces of our cherubs were anything to go by the weekend camping trip was a great success - and a whole lot easier than hosting a camping party in your own home! As for next year - watch this space.

(Album photos:

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

JPMorgan Corporate Chase Challenge 2011

Ever since I joined my current employer, Financial Risk Management, back in 2004 there's been one event on the company calendar that I've looked forward to even more than the Christmas Party (although there have been some great festive feasts too!) - the annual running of the JPMorgan Corporate Chase Challenge. If you haven't heard of this great 'little' event (which started in 1977) the gist is that the organisation arranges a whole series of races around the world where each race is exactly the same length - 5.6km. So everyone's times are directly comparable and the fastest finishers get to run in a championship race.

We're ready to go!
Sadly I'm not quite in that elite category - here you're talking about racing snakes getting around the 5.6km in 16 or 17 minutes (so in the ballpark of 15 minutes for 5K!). On the other hand I have consistently been the fastest FRM finisher and that ain't too bad! In the years that we've entered my results have come out like this:

2005: 21:00 (81/2641)
2006: 22:08 (218/6933)
2010: 20:45 (158/17678)
2011: 21:29 (325/19872)

Not to shabby really with me placing in the top 3% in the early years and even reaching the top 1% in recent times - although part of that placing just reflects how the series has mushroomed in popularity and now you have, literally, tens of thousands of entrants. Anyway this year I wasn't too sure how things would go given my erratic form so far this season and at the start line I had one simple goal - not to go out as fast as I did at the Regents Park 10K last week and blow up spectacularly. If I managed that then the race would be a success!

When the start gun went then a huge wave of runners charged past me as if they were fleeing from an angry rhino! Good luck I thought and stuck to my plan; sure enough after the first kilometre these middle-management heroes began easing up and I had plenty of traffic to weave through. Fortunately Battersea Park provides some fairly wide paths and the jams aren't too severe - and you do get a nice straight run alongside the river. After this though the course gets a bit wiggly to the extent that at about the 5K mark you run past the finish and onto a 600m loop around a field - very disheartening!

All the finishers - in 2010
Overall though I was very pleased with managing to hold a steady pace (3:44-3:45 min/km) all of the way round, with a strong second-half, even if I was beaten into second place by one of our contractors this year. Not too much of a surprise given that he's a sub-3 hour marathoner and currently running around 60-70 miles a week! I can live with that; the only question is whether I'll be able to re-kindle this form next year. I certainly hope so as the finishing T-shirts are real quality and great for training!

Distance: 8.0 miles
Time: 1h 02m 12s

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Regents Park 10K - July

This morning dawned with a bright blue sky, whether I liked it or not, and so today's race was destined to be a warm one! Preparations were relaxed and I felt reasonably confident given that I definitely haven't been over-training lately and my various niggles and injuries are in abeyance. So I tripped on down to the start and jogged easily around the course for a warm-up lap; conditions were nigh on perfect with barely a breeze to ruffle the hair. Even better I bumped into Mac, from the running school, at the start and enjoyed the benefit of my very own photographer and cheer-leader:

Confident and relaxed I like to think
Buoyed and encouraged, perhaps, and with last month's 7th place in mind I decided to set off at the front and do my best to keep up. For the first kilometre this plan seemed to be working and I settled in at about 10th place; in retrospect this was definitely the high point of my race! As the first lap unfolded I began to realise, from my heavy breathing, that I had over-extended myself but at the same time I didn't want to drop off the pace. So I persevered and still didn't look too bad:

Running strongly up the hill
However this honeymoon period wasn't to last. As the second lap rolled around I was in trouble and my legs knew all about it; already the pain was emanating from deep inside my muscles and there was a long way to go yet. In fact from this point on things only got uglier as every fibre of my being joined in the chorus of Stop! Stop! Oh how I wanted to as I struggled for air but what choice did I have? Each step took me closer to the finish but with each step I could feel my speed draining away and my pursuers drawing near. In their one's and two's they spanked me; only in the final kilometre was I able to dredge up even a slight defence but it was too little, too late. My splits tell the story just as eloquently:

There is real pain in every one of these bars!
When, eventually, the finish arrived and I could stagger to a stop all I felt was exhaustion and relief; as a result of my stupidity I suffered like a dog today and, frankly, I deserved to suffer. And yet for all of that I still managed to hold onto 17th place out of 548 runners (with a time of 39:09) and also the 2nd V40 place. In fact I appear to have done enough in the 10K series to have won the V40 overall prize despite there still being two races to go! This is great news, obviously, since this is one my goals for the year; I just hope that the maths doesn't lie!

Distance: 11.3 miles
Time: 1h 22m 18s

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting

If Carlsberg made parenting courses....
Earlier this year I came across an article that mentioned a parenting class, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, which sounded kind of interesting. So I went to the UK website and discovered that they put on free introductory talks and that one of these, Bringing Out the Best In Boys, sounded exactly like what we were looking for! Even better the talk was being given just down the road in West Hampstead and so we signed up and high-tailed it down there on the evening in question. What a great decision - one of the best that we have ever made. The talk made so much sense that we immediately bought Noël Janis-Norton's series of foundation skills CDs and put them on play at the earliest opportunity.

What a revelation! The obvious but non-intuitive techniques of Descriptive Praise and Reflective Listening made so much sense that we just had to put them into practice directly; right there in the car while we were driving along! After that came Preparing For Success, which removed so many of the pitfalls of a day at the beach, and Never Ask Twice - an infallible method for ensuring that your child follows your instructions. Finally we moved on to Rewards & Consequences That Work which was funny since initially we thought that all we were looking for were some consequences that actually worked! After a period though we realised that that while the CDs were powerful tools we were too clumsy to get the best out of them; so we signed up for the seven-week Parenting Skills Course with Noël.

Now, in a way, this is ancient history because we began the course back in May and completed it on Tuesday - along with all of the parents and couples who had signed up to this particular course. What an amazing, eye-opening and intensely draining journey though! Week by week Noël, along with her experienced support staff, took us through the elements of parenting and the concrete, practical application of the skills that she talks about in her parenting CDs. At every session we brought with us the questions and concerns of a week's full-on parenting and looked to her for guidance, enlightenment and encouragement. We were not disappointed!

The curious part is that parenting is a lot like making a long journey into the mountains; all of the way along you think that the peak in sight is the end, the summit, and yet when you get there you realise that just beyond it is yet another climb. Similarly with the parenting course we realised, towards the end, that we could only complete the circle with a family session - by coming to see Noël with Joshua or Christina and then observing exactly how she applied her skills with our children (and with what results). The first of these took place today with Joshua and it threw into focus a couple of important points; just how far we have travelled as a family (and how much Joshua has developed in that time) and how the fine detail of these parenting skills makes all of the difference.

In a way then it is still early days for us, as a family, but there's no doubt in my mind that Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting has kicked-off a fundamental and utterly beneficial reform of the way in which we parent our children. The crazy thing is that our home life wasn't all that bad to begin with (certainly we had none of the violence or argument that other parents have to contend with) but even so our lives have been improved out of all recognition. So if you ever feel that you can't see the wood for the trees with your kids then I know what course I'd recommend (and we've been on a few) and of course you can always borrow our CDs.....