Monday, 28 January 2013

Mercury rising

Evening all! There are no lies or damned lies in this blog, but here are the statistics:

Distance (miles)
Time (hh:mm)
Energy (kcals)
Since last post (21 Jan 2013) 14.2 03:57 2848
Since records began (27 Dec 2012) 75.6 21:59 15532

A less-than-glorious showing compared to last week. I missed three toings and froings, accounting for about 3 miles of the shortfall. I drove straight from the airport to work on Tuesday morning after returning from Vilnius [Strike 1], and I'd left my walking shoes at home, so I couldn't walk home that evening [Strike 2]. Mrs W's laptop conked out on Wednesday, so I had to collect some replacement parts for it on Thursday evening on my way home from work, requiring another car trip [Strike 3]. Partly unavoidable, but I'll give myself a 'must try harder' on my report card nevertheless.

More significantly, I didn't make it out on Saturday due to the extreme cold: it was hovering around -10 to -12C all day. Fortunately, things thawed dramatically overnight on Saturday, so I did an extended circuit of about 6 miles on Sunday. It's amazing how balmy 0C felt after two weeks of much lower temperatures!

January gives way to February this week. I'm not doing too badly against my original plan, but it's time to step up my efforts. I'll extend my daily walks from Friday, and aim to put in a couple of longer walks during the coming month.


One thing I've been pondering as I look at the statistics is pace. Here's a bubble chart showing average speed (y) against distance (x) for all my walks so far [bubble size represents duration].

Bubble chart of distance versus speed versus duration of walks to date
Barring a few anomalies most of my average speeds are between 3 and 4 mph, with most of the longer circuits around 3.5 mph. If I could sustain 3.5 mph for 24 hours then I wouldn't quite make it round the course (84 miles to be exact); if I could manage a 4 mph average I'd get round in a very respectable 21h15m. That extra 0.5 mph makes a big difference over such a long course.

At the moment 4 mph seems pretty quick to me, but I suppose it may start feeling more sustainable as the months (and miles) roll by. Soberingly, the Top 20 finishers last year all made it round in less than 18h: an average speed of over 4.7 mph. I occasionally reach the heady heights of 4.5 mph on my short walks, but that's typically downhill with a following breeze :) I certainly can't imagine holding that kind of pace over a long race.

A question to experienced Parish Walkers who have kept fast paces in past years: how did you build your pace? Is it something you can only achieve by cultivating a proper race walking form?

Local news

The big news here this week was the presidential election; the first direct election for the post. Sadly, the Czechs had a choice between 'bad' and 'worse'... and in my humble opinion chose 'worse'. Still, President-elect Zeman has some act to follow if he is to fall short of the incumbent: all-round scumbag and notorious pen thief (see video clip below) Vaclav Klaus.

Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Thoughts from The Frozen North

Good evening from Vilnius, Lithuania!

Describing it as The Frozen North may be something of an exaggeration: I'm only about 0.2 degrees closer to the North Pole than the Point of Ayre (thanks, Google, for the handy latitude search results - Vilnius Airport and Point of Ayre). It's certainly frozen, though: currently -15C (versus 1C in the IoM and -6C in Prague). I'm not looking forward to the (mercifully short) walk from the hotel to the airport at 5.30am tomorrow!

I'll start with another stats update:

Distance (miles)
Time (hh:mm)
Energy (kcals)
Since last post (14 Jan 2013) 17.5 04:58 4018
Since records began (27 Dec 2012) 61.4 18:01 12684

I've managed to cover a bit more ground this week, despite not having clocked any miles at all today: I'm dedicated, but I draw the line at -10C, and at -15C the line is a dot! The main reason for the increased mileage is that, unlike last week, I did manage to put in two longer walks this time round. If I keep it up I should (cumulatively) pass Parish Walk distance by the end of the month. I'm still a little sceptical that I'll be able to compress the same feat into 24 continuous hours...

Photo Tour

Like fellow blogger Tony McNally I also took a few photos on my Sunday walk this week. Unfortunately my phone's got a terrible camera function, so they're a bit naff: iPhone beats BlackBerry yet again!

Snowy road to the National Monument on Vitkov Hill, Prague, Czech Republic
Road to the National Monument on Vitkov Hill. Most of the roads are kept
pretty clear when it snows, but this one's closed to most traffic
so they don't bother to clear it!

View of the snow-covered roofs of Zizkov, Prague, Czech Republic
View of the snow-covered roofs of my neighbourhood
from the foot of the National Monument.

Snow-covered path in Vitkov Park, Prague, Czech Republic
Great footpath built along the route of a former railway line. Sound familiar?

Long run of snow-covered steps in Vitkov Park, Prague, Czech Republic
I'll know I'm fit when I can run up these steps without passing out!

I'm getting rather used to walking in the snow now... which is handy, because we're in for more of the same in the coming week. If worst comes to worst I can always strap a couple of tennis rackets to my trainers :)

Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Difficult Second Post

Evening all! First, here's a stats update (courtesy of Suunto's handy website):

Distance (miles)
Time (hh:mm)
Energy (kcals)
Since last post (7 Jan 2013) 15.5 04:39 2976
Since records began (27 Dec 2012) 43.9 13:03 8666

I've stuck to my target of walking to/from work each day, come rain or snow. My pace has been quite consistent, although not especially quick: I cover the mile to work (mostly downhill) in about 18-20 mins and the mile back (mostly uphill) in about 20-22 mins. Most of the variation reflects whether the traffic lights on the main road are in my favour or not. Tonight I took nearly 25 mins, as it had snowed quite heavily during the day and I was trying my best to avoid involuntary skating practice! I expect tomorrow may be a similar story. The weather has taken a turn for the worse: it was unseasonably mild from Christmas until last Friday, but the forecast now shows sub-zero temperatures continuing at least until next Monday. Nevertheless, I'm determined to keep to my routine so that it gets ingrained as a habit.

I took one longer walk yesterday with Mrs W, but unfortunately I didn't summon up the energy to get out on a weekday evening last week as I'd planned. It felt much easier to put in longer sessions when I was on holiday over Christmas: it seems that work, like golf, can get in the way of a good walk! I'm fairly optimistic about getting back on track this week.

Blisters: to pop or not to pop?

I was careful not to go out all guns blazing with my new shoes, but I've still managed to acquire blisters on the inside edges of both heels. I understand that this is not an uncommon complaint for overpronators, and is especially common immediately after moving to shoes with stronger motion control. In a way I'm glad blisters have come up as an issue sooner rather than later so that I can work out how best to prevent and treat them before I move on to longer walks.

I've seen conflicting advice on whether or not to drain blisters. The NHS advises against it in most circumstances and never without medical supervision. I suspect that the NHS' advice may be excessively cautious to avoid being sued back into the stone age by some numpty who pops a blister with a rusty nail and cries foul when their foot falls off. The Mayo Clinic is less squeamish about advising visitors how to drain a blister safely, although it still generally advises against draining unless you have to.

So far, my blisters aren't causing any pain, so I've covered them with Compeed plasters from my friendly local chemist. My instinct is to drain them (using a sterile needle) only if they get painful or continue to swell.

To the experienced Parish Walkers out there: how did you deal with blisters during training? Also, what works best for you in preventing blisters?

A trip to The Frozen North

All being well, next week's blog will come from Vilnius in Lithuania, where the forecast predicts temperatures of -10 to -16 C. My work often takes me out and about around Central and Eastern Europe, so this will be a good test of my ability to keep up some kind of training regime despite the inevitable disruptions that travel causes.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Getting started

Good evening fellow walkers and curious bystanders! I'm David and, over the next six months, I'll be blogging about my experiences preparing for my first Parish Walk.

Who am I?

I'm a 33-year-old 'Manxie In Exile': I was born and raised on the Isle of Man, but have been living elsewhere for much of the last 15 years. I'm currently into my seventh year in Prague, having spent the previous six years in London.

My brother and others in my extended family (including Ed Walter from last year's featured blogs) have finished The Parish in past years. I've mostly watched on from afar with the help of, but I acted as a support crew for my dad during the 2011 race: his best attempt to date, retiring at Jurby.

Why am I entering?

Unfortunately my fitness level is woeful: by day a mild-mannered desk jockey and by night a couch potato! I used to walk the 3 miles to/from work fairly regularly when I lived in London, but since moving to Prague I've been more-or-less sedentary. I figure it's time for a change, and having The Parish to work towards will give me some great motivation!

What's my plan?

1. Use 'commitment devices' to keep myself honest

It's pretty cheap to say at this time of year 'I'm going to do The Parish this summer'. It's also pretty easy to let the intervening months go by with little or no preparation and then conveniently forget about it: no harm done. Instead, I'm trying to make it more expensive/difficult/painful/embarrassing for me to back out through the use of various commitment devices. A few examples:

  • I'm writing this blog, which makes me accountable to 'the internet' :) More seriously, by making my commitment public I'm staking my reputation on keeping to my plan.
  • I've entered already: rather than leaving it until 23:59 on 12 May 2013 I entered on 22 December. It's not just the loss of £30 that'll hurt... in fact, that's secondary. Primarily, it's another way of publicly signalling my commitment.
  • I've forked out for some kit already: new shoes and a training watch. In this case, the waste of money if I don't use them is probably the biggest factor, but I wouldn't discount the guilt induced by shoes sitting unused in the hall or using a fancy multi-functional training watch only for something as mundane as telling the time.
  • I've already booked our flights over for June. Again, not cheap (thanks, flymaybe!) and, although it's always great to be home, it won't feel right if I'm not fulfilling the intended purpose of the trip.
  • Through my fervour to participate this year I've inadvertently managed to convince my wife to enter, so now it's a matter of family honour!

2. Build up gradually

A couple of years ago I thought I might do The Parish, and decided the best way to test my mettle would be a 12 mile odyssey out to the edge of Prague. After two and a half hours slog, mostly uphill and in a cold drizzle, I was not only knackered but damaged, and hobbled around for most of the following week. I'm not sure if my heart was really in it that year, but the experience certainly put me off.

Learning from my mistake, this time my plan is to start gradually: building fitness in the early part of the year before moving on to some longer and higher intensity walks. Roughly speaking, my intended programme is as follows:

  • January - daily very short walks (to/from work: about 1 mile each way) with a couple of moderate walks (4-8 miles) each week.
  • February - daily short walks (more circuitous routes to/from work: about 2 miles each way) with a couple of moderate walks each week and a couple of long walks (10-15 miles) during the month.
  • March - maintain daily walks at February level; at least one moderate and one long walk each week.
  • April - maintain daily walks at March level; at least one moderate and one long walk each week; one very long walk (20-25 miles) during the month.
  • May - maintain daily walks at April level; at least two long walks each week and one very long walk during the month.
  • June - maintain daily walks at May level; reduce length of weekly walks, especially towards the race. If there's one thing I've learned from reading past blogs it's that 'tapering' is important!

So far, I'm keeping to the plan for January with no ill effects, but I'll keep it in review: the worst thing to do would be to push myself too far and cause an injury.

3. Lay off the pies

One thing that will certainly help my performance is reducing the amount of excess baggage that I need to carry around the course.

In Autumn 2011 I was tipping the scale at a whopping 97kg (15st 4lb). By chance, I heard an interview with Gary Taubes and subsequently read his book and was converted to the benefits of a zero/low-carb diet for weight loss. I managed to lose about 17kg (2st 9lb) in a little over four months. Unfortunately, in the latter half of 2012 I relaxed my eating habits and, together with the usual Christmas excesses, I'm back up to a less-than-svelte 87kg (13st 9lb).

Clearly, I won't be able to go zero carb while exercising, but I'll be cutting back a bit and monitoring things closely over the next few weeks. My aim is to get down to 77kg (12st 2lb) by June.

4. Don't leave equipment to the last minute

Another thing I've picked up on from reading past blogs and talking to others is that it's a bad idea to leave equipment until the last minute. Keeping with the theme of building up gradually I don't intend to get everything I might possibly need straight away, but I've focussed on two things initially.

Firstly, some suitable shoes. While I was over on the Island for Christmas I made a trip to the helpful guys at Up & Running. I was recommended some Brooks shoes that would help with the overpronation shown by the gait analysis they did. So far I've been very happy with them: if all's well after a couple of months I may get another pair, as I know that I should have spares worn in for the race.

Secondly, a training watch. I thought it would be good to keep a detailed record of my training, and being a techie by trade and inclination I don't need much excuse to get a new gadget! After checking out the various options I finally went for a Suunto Ambit. Again, so far so good: it's been helping me keep to an appropriate pace, and checking out the stats provides me with hours of amusement when I get home. (Sad, I know!)

The end of the beginning

Congratulations and thanks for reaching the end of this epic first post! Sorry for the novel: I wanted to set out some background before settling down into a regular format.

I'll aim to write a new post every week, although you'll be relieved to hear that they should be much shorter in future, including an general update on progress since my last post and some more focused observations on a particular aspect of my preparation.

I'd welcome comments from both fellow novices and experienced Parish Walkers: encouragement, discouragement, questions, tips and tricks will all be gratefully received :)

Have a good week!