Friday, 3 March 2017

Fitness Is Relative

Ironically this was mostly written when I was Reasonably Fit. Currently I'm Reasonably Fat but attempting to reverse the tide!


Questions

These are meant to be very un-specific questions

How do you consider yourself to be compared to your friends?
How fit do you consider yourself to be compared to the general population?


Self Deprecating Fitness

I'm not Very Fit. Reasonably Fit perhaps, but not Very Fit. Really Fit is another country and getting a passport involves a lot of hard work. Mr/Mrs Really Fit does an Ironman triathlon in under 12 hours.

Some of this is typical British self-deprecation where blowing ones own trumpet is considered crass and generally bad manners. Any American style self promotion is generally viewed to be in "poor taste" and may be subject to a raised eyebrow or eye roll.

Exhibit A: Excerpt from a chat with a colleague who is a Cat 2 cyclist and races cyclocross, regularly placing well in the Three Peaks CX race. He is Very Fit.
him: "You'll be getting good at the cycling then?"
me: "Well I'm getting better but I'm not as fit as you."
him: "Me? I'm not that fit."
me: "Yes you are."
him: "Yeah but there are lots of people fitter than me."
[This is all part of the deal. I know him to be fitter than me and through this exchange we establish this order informally, using the playing down of our own abilities as acknowledgement of each others skills as an exchange of friendship. Anthropologists and psychologists have probably written many papers on such things. I'm neither so we'll leave it there.]

The last line is key, "...there are lots of people fitter than me." Fitness is relative.


It's everyone else's fault I'm so unfit

At the risk of violating the above principle of self-deprecation, taking the population of the UK as a reference, I'm most likely of above average fitness. I average about 5 hours of exercise a week with the cycle commute, general bike riding and a spot of fell jogging (not really running - self deprecation again). I've completed the Fellsman, a couple of 45 mile walks, a 6h 30m on the Yorkshire 3 peaks, occasional adventure racing, a triathlon, mountain marathons, etc. But I still don't think of myself as being Very Fit.

A big part of this is the company we keep. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances through running and climbing and cycling. If I was to judge my own fitness against theirs, I'd have to say I was average. Maybe I should start hanging out down at the local McDonalds to feel fitter?


There's more to it than just running up hills

What about the mental side of fitness? The part that keeps us pushing on when we'd much rather call it a day and sit down next to the fire with a slice of cake and a pint of tea?

Endurance events seem to have more than their fair share of people in the V40 and above category. There could be a number of explanations to this, but it still remains that you can still cut it, indeed get better, as you get older. I'm certainly hoping that this is the case as it means I haven't hit my prime yet!

I've certainly found myself to be more determined of mindset as I've got older. Some things that used to be important aren't as much and I am much more confident in myself and self reliant. I have a better appreciation of the signals that my body sends me and what they mean, where my limits are and the experience to know that a short bad spell will be over in a bit and then it will be business as usual.

Life toughens you up?

As we get older we are more aware of the finite time we have and, hopefully, we are encouraged more to enjoy it to the full. Are our forties the magic decade? Our children are less reliant on us, our careers are generally more settled, do we have less pressure than before?

I'm not there yet but I'll let you know what it's like when I do. I'd be interested to hear from my friends who are there about what they think.

My physio has, stencilled on the wall in their reception area, the motto "Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever". Set against the scale of our lives, a little suffering during a fell race is a mere blip.

This is helped by the human brain's incapacity for remembering time. We can remember discrete events in a run for example, a rock, sweat, a view, out of breath, a good bit of trail but we can't relive the whole thing in real time when we remember it. It's a safety mechanism to enable us to actually function and not be stuck in loops of memories and remembering memories ad inifnitum in real time.

Similarly we can't remember pain. We can remember being in pain but we can't bring back that specific sensation. Bloody good job! Add some rose tinted spectacles and even the most horrific, Type 3 suffer fest has good memories associated with it. We can fool ourselves that it was actually fun!




Mapping and Navigation "Stuff Wot I Like"

I keep getting asked about mapping and navigation tools I use on both my phone and computer. None are a total substitute for a map and compass and knowing how to navigate but they certainly make life easier sometimes!


Mapping

** Star Pick**: Maverick

OS mapping with offline cache, GPS, compass, route planning, GPX upload and download. If you have an Android phone and like being outdoors... GET IT.


Where's The Path

This is my go-to route planning tool. Side by side maps for which you can select different map bases like OS 50k, OSM, Google Earth etc. Route planning, elevation, GPX import and export. Really good.


Bing Maps

Freely available OS maps down to 25k. Limited exporting and no route planning but a good starting point for a browse.


Mapometer

Good for road cycle route planning.


Google Maps

Now that some of the 3D Google Earth functionality has been integrated into Google Maps it makes for a great experience. Look at any high rise city in 3D mode and it's like flying over it like a bird. Fantastic.


Grid Reference

For Android. Gives you a grid reference. and a compass reading. Simple and effective!


Make Panorama

Good for answering the question "what hills can you see from the top of Rum Doodle". See also this site.


Weather aside

https://www.windytv.com - global weather and forecasting, wind speed, temperature, cloud base, wave height, ocean currents with an intuitive interface. Fascinating and you can lose hours to watching typhoons rolling around the Pacific.




Review: Alpkit Tau Rear Bike Light


I got fed up of swapping my Cateye TL-LD1100 between bikes as I only had one bracket. For the price of a new seatpost bracket it wasn't much more to buy another new light. I'd seen the Alpkit Tau rear lights available so thought I'd give one a go.

Tau Rear Light (image from Alpkit website)


Construction and Mounting

The light unit seems very well put together. No creaking or flexing when pressure is applied. You certainly feel like it could be dropped from a great height and survive.

It's smaller width is good, as the large width is my only complaint about my Cateye light; sometimes my thigh nudges it or presses the button depending on where it's mounted on my seatpost. The Tau has no such problems, tucking in nicely underneath the saddle. It is very unobtrusive.

The soft rubber back is grippy, reducing the risk of the light bouncing around meaning a lighter elastic band weight can be used. The rubber bands go on easily enough with their big pull tags. The quality of the rubber will be the determining factor in how long this light lasts I think. I'm tempted to take a needle file to the points on the side clips that the rubber band engages with to prevent any sharp edges from fretting the rubber bands.

Charging is achieved via a Micro USB port hidden behind a rubber flap. This seems to engage OK and would be held in place and partly shielded by the bike frame or seatpost it is mounted to so I'm not too concerned about water ingress. I'd take it off the bike if I was washing it but I'd do that for any of my lights.

As the owner of a Koala seat pack, I would have preferred a method of mounting the Tau to a webbing strap, maybe a clip or some slots in the body of the light, to enable easy mounting to bike packing luggage. The small elastic band doesn't seem to hold the light steadily on a strap and I worry a bit about it falling off.is a bit small for it. More thought required, perhaps there is a way and I just haven't come across it yet. In the meantime I'll keep the Tau mounted to my seat stay, even though the angle isn't perfect.


Weight

I think its a good job it is so light given that the length of the charging cable supplied means that it invariably dangles in mid air from whatever charging port you are using on your PC or adaptor. However, Micro USB adaptors are now the standard for charging phones so everyone is bound to have a lead already plugged into a charger lying spare.


Light Output and Modes

Performance of the Chip On Board (COB) LED module is good with very little observable change in brightness over a 90ยบ arc. One complaint I have with some rear lights is the focusing of the beam with a lens results in a high peak brightness but out of angle it isn't so good. The Tau overcomes this well. The spread of light is such that I can easily check that the light is still on just with a brief glance down at where it is mounted. No more holding my hand in front of the light to see the reflected glow! I think this would be an excellent light for urban commutes with traffic coming from all angles being able to see you.

Brightness is OK on low but on high it is really very bright. The stated 3 hour runtime in this mode would put me off using it unless conditions were bad or traffic particularly heavy. The "pulse flashing" mode is more of a steady throb and doesn't immediately catch the eye. Unlike the 6Hz flashing mode which is really eye catching and is my preference for the road. Especially good considering the quoted 18 hour runtime - that's enough for a couple of weeks of commuting and a long ride.


Charging

It has a micro USB, charges from my phone charger in hardly any time at all (note I haven't timed it). That's it!


Out and About

As mentioned above it is very bright and with a good arc of light and seems to last a long time which will be good as the Li-Ion battery capacity decays with time as they always do. I've recommended the Tau to a couple friends looking for bike lights.


Overall

Brightness, viewing angle and build quality are good.
At £12 including postage I think it represents a very good value rear bike light.


Additional

I bought a couple of the front lights which are excellent as "see me!" lights and have now fitted a front and a rear to all the bikes in the fleet.






Saturday, 31 December 2016

In with the old and out with the new... er... wait....

TL;DR

Lost fitness but got married and had a great honeymoon. Overall an excellent year.
New career challenges await!

2016 positives (vaguely chronological)

Lots of winter climbing, fantastic ice and good times
Good run out at the Marmot Dark Mountains with Emma
Fun mini bike packing trip with friends
Got married! Upgraded Louise to Mrs. Pawson, I now have a lovely wife :)
Mini-moon in the Lakes with some walking and biking
Had a great honeymoon in Japan (rest of trip report to follow)

2016 negatives

General global politics, stuff that I can't change or do owt about so I'm going to ignore it and live in my happy bubble
Fitness has suffered due to longer hours at t'werk

2016 Goals Check

From earlier this year

Done!
Get married
See friends more
Winter mountaineering
Bikepacking
Dales MTB

Not done
General mileage targets
3PCX
100 mile bike ride
Wainwrights
Hardmoors 26.2
Unspecified long distance walk
OMM / Saunders / LAMM

Running and long distance stuff has suffered this year with a variety of time consuming factors. The challenge for 2017 is going to be finding time to get better on my feet and recover some fitness.


Goals for 2017

  • Marmot Dark Mountains again hopefully, I just want to finish not last!
  • Have fun in the Cairngorms this Feb
  • Running. I miss running. More running please. Aim for one off road marathon distance race this year.
  • Make the time for a longer cycle tour
  • Keep up with friends - seeing so many people at our wedding made us realise how many fabulous people we know and how little we see them!


Biggest of all for me, there is going to be a significant career change this year. I can't say too much about it at this stage as things are still gestalt but watch this space!



Sunday, 30 October 2016

Japan Part 1 - Tokyo

This is the first part of our honeymoon travelogue (travelblogue?) of our Japan adventures. Thank you so much to everyone for your overly generous wedding present contributions to our Japan fund, you helped make it a truly memorable experience. Read on...


I don't mind long haul flights too much. When you subscribe to the provided passivation of in flight movies, a couple of glasses of red wine and surprisingly nice airline food it does ease the transition between time zones. It was slightly thwarted on this journey due to a problem with the central entertainment computer having a hissy fit and only having four films available, three of which were the new Star Trek reboot. Since I'd seen most of these before I elected for headphones, Dreadzone, book and sleep. Louise ploughed through them with the occasional "hang on, haven't we watched this one before? Isn't this the one with whats-his-name in?"

That other staple of plane travel is the gust of air that meets you as you exit the fuselage that gives an indication of what lies ahead. In this case, going from an air conditioned plane to 25C and humid was a shot across the bows.


First order of business was to pick up the best bit of paper of the holiday, our three week JR Pass allowing us almost unrestricted travel on the national rail network - only the super super express bullet trains were off limits. This wasn't too bad as we found the normal ones more than quick enough!

We certainly picked the best way to get from Haneda aiport into the centre of Tokyo... altogether now "Monorail, Monorail, MONORAIL!"


"In Japan when you are on a train you can sit at the front well not at the very front but right behind the driver and you can see all the way down the track and if you have a hat like me you can pretend you are the driver too and make the train noises and I want to be a train driver when I grow up." - James Pawson, age 36 3/4.


Not surprisingly you've got to be quick to bag the very front seat as the hardcore tourists and train fans get there first. The views are great as you approach Hammamatsucho train station with the track passing over bridges over bits of the bay and winding its way between skyscrapers. A good way to break you in gently.

Engineering aside: the monorail track itself is made from cast concrete sections joined together with what looks like partly flexible steel joints, perhaps for earthquake resistance. They've even implemented points systems by increasing the articulation of the joints over certain sections and bolting some beefy hydraulics to them.

Feeling a bit spaced out,we found ourselves a small department store cafe overlooking Yurachuko station for a coffee and sat for a while watching the Shinkansen trains coming and going - they are huge. It was so warm that we hardly noticed the drizzle when we were outside.



Our hotel was in Ginza, one of the major shopping districts in Tokyo. We took a wander around the Mitsukoshi department store, an amazing feat of endurance walking around the cookware section without buying one of the beautiful steel knives or copper pans.

That night we met up with Louise's friend Yoko for dinner. They knew each other from meeting in New Zealand during Louise's travels several year's previously. She surprised us with some lovely presents including an onsen towel each which came in handy several times during the trip. I especially like the koi carp design on mine and shall certainly treasure it.

The restaurant was fab, with lots of small private rooms that had a low lintelled sliding door and tatami matting floor - a shoes off job. Specialising in yuba and tofu we had a really good course menu dinner. Welcome since we hadn't eaten for a while! The table had a large box of soya milk heating in the middle which slowly skinned over. This firm skin (yuba) was picked out using chopsticks and eaten with soy sauce - tasty!



We were pretty bushed so didn't stay out too late. Nevertheless it was great to meet Yoko and talk about her and our travels. We'll have to try and spend longer together next time we meet.

No rest for the wicked. To abuse our body clocks even further we set our alarms for 4am to try and get down to the Tsukiji fish market in time for the daily tuna auction. However it had already finished by the time we got there! We pottered around the market itself enjoying the cooler morning air and watching everyone set up their stalls and shops before heading back to the hotel for a bit more shut eye.


Up and about and a breakfast of minced pork filled steamed buns (drooling at the memory) and off to Ueno to have a wander around the Tokyo National Museum. With so much history to go at it is hard to select representative objects for display but there were many Important Cultural Properties on show. The art on show was impressive as was the samurai armour. No photos in the many of the galleries unfortunately.


Side note - umbrellas. Everyone in Tokyo seems to own an umbrella, to the extent that large public buildings have umbrella racks outside, with each slot having a numbered key so you can lock your brolly up like a bike. More clever thinking!

The subway to Asakusa was delayed due to a power cut so we investigated the bustling Ueno market instead. Refreshed by market stall pineapple against the heat and humidity we caught the now running subway to Asakusa.



Asakusa is famous for the Senso-ji temple with it's large paper lantern equipped gate on the approach, the Kaminarimon. There's also a large market selling bits of street food and lots of tourist bits and bats. We were also "interviewed" by several groups of Japanese schoolchildren from Nagano who were there on a practising-their-English field trip. They gave us some origami birds to say thank you :)





We were also interviewed by a proper camera crew who were making a TV show about what Tokyo and Japan need to do to improve the city for the Olympics. About the only suggestion that we could think to make was a few more litter bins; they are like rocking horse poo and yet there is pretty much zero litter as everyone takes their rubbish home with them. Lousie did a good piece to camera about how safe it felt in Tokyo. No idea if we made the cut or not.



Sitting around at the temple in the twilight was most pleasant, with the hordes of schoolchildren being rounded up (very well behaved) and the stallholders pulling the shutters down. It made for a nice contrast against the crazy busy previous couple of hours and became peaceful and reflective instead.


We were a bit fried with jet lag again at this point so we had an emergency coffee before heading back to the hotel via the convenience store for some take out tea. I managed to ask where the chopsticks were in Japanese so all the language CD listening was worth it ;) Even the corner shop take out food is well prepared and blooming tasty.

Wednesday came and we headed out on the train to Harajuku on the other side of Tokyo to see the Meiji Jingu shrine where the soul of the Emperor Meiji and his consort are interred. Meiji reigned from 1867 when the Shogun was deposed to 1912 and oversaw a great deal of the modernisation of Japan including the opening up to Western trade. Befitting the soul of the Emperor it is an impressive building, however much of it was closed as it was being re-roofed. The torii gates are made from huge tree trunks and tower over the path with many offerings of bound sake barrels, wine and written prayers from the many visitors.







Next, to the reputedly hedonistic Shinjuku. It proved to be very calm (and mostly closed) on a weekday lunchtime. So we headed back to Asakusa to explore some more of the area, including the Asahi beer tower and golden... whatever it is on the building next to it.



The Beer Tower even looks like a pint in the daylight with its gold windows. Thankfully it is not all show and it houses a bar on the 24th floor with a rather good view and an excellent glass of Asahi Black.




Shibuya, famous for the "crazy crossing", the intersection where everyone crosses in all directions at once is just as nuts on the ground as the videos suggest. With all the neon and clear umbrellas it felt like we were in Bladerunner.



Most amusing incident of the evening went to the 6 guys who pulled up at the crossing all driving go-karts and dressed as the characters from Super Mario. They drove off too quickly for us to get a photo and thankfully no one dropped a banana skin otherwise it would have been chaos. A restorative pasty and juice later and we were back at the hotel, packing for the next leg of our adventures.


Tokyo is too big to cover in a couple of days, even a few weeks, but we certainly experienced a good range from crazy busy to peaceful, from new and shiny-shiny to old and traditional.




* dramatic voice *

Next time on the Japanese adventures of James and Louise in Japan.... Miyajima and Hiroshima





Monday, 19 September 2016

Gig Report: Beehoover @ Chunk, Leeds

or "Dad goes to a noisy metal gig"

Beehoover, a 2 piece German rock outfit, are one of my favourite bands at the moment with powerful riffs, great drumming, intelligent and surreal lyrics. As soon as I saw they were on a 10 day UK tour including Leeds I booked my ticket (only a fiver!) without a moment wasted. I knew Ben would be up for it as he shares an eclectic musical taste although his headbanging was restricted by virtue of a neck brace from a cycling accident.

Chunk is a fairly new Leeds music venue (by the sounds of it) with a DIY collective ethic. Sitting in an unassuming building next to a petrol station on Meanwood Road the room for the gig was fairly small. A slow cooker full of chilli and some not expensive tins of beer in the mini fridge in the corner reinforced the DIY side of things. Everyone was very friendly and there was a good atmosphere.

Bronzed

First band on were Bronzed, noisy, pretty tight, enthusiastic, shouty and with a drummer who gave it his all. A short set but one which you needed to draw breath after.

Girl Sweat

Next, after much setting up, plugging in and turning knobs was Girl Sweat. Very chaotic, a bit too loud (muchos compression) and powered by Buckfast tonic wine. A slow build up with densely layered sounds reaching a quite cacophonous peak. Will check out some of his other stuff but I would very much like to control the volume! 

Got chatting to a guy outside the venue, Chris, who put us on to a band called Bilge Pump, another noisy Leeds outfit who I'm going to have to check out. He also mentioned a singer called Karen Dalton who has also gone on the list. There was some quality Stoner Rock being played between the acts on tonight.

Unwave

Starting off sounding almost slightly discordant, Unwave quickly turned out to be really good with the lead guitarist rocking a 12 string for the entire set. Not sure who they reminded me of but a really good set.

Main event time.

Beehoover

Charging straight out of the blocks with the first track from their latest album Primitive Powers everyone was getting into the swing of things quickly. Thankfully, they played my favourite track "Stanislav Petrov" (after the Russian military officer who thoughtfully avoided all out nuclear war) and I may have danced quite a lot, looking like some loony dad who's got a pass out for the night. "Embers" from the new album was another highlight, it's soft intro putting you 

For a two piece band (bass/vocals, drums) they produce a veritable wall of sound. Ingmar rocks forwards (don't cockle! I can hear my mum saying) on his beer crate seat, throwing his arms at the FX pedals and Claus' arms seem to move in a blur around the drums.

It was a (too) short a set, I'd have loved for them to play for twice as long. I really need to go to more gigs, and will keep an ear out for what's happening at Chunk.

We chatted to Ingmar and Claus afterwards, they were both really cool guys. Claus spent a year at Huddersfield uni on the Mech Eng course whilst I was studying electronics there. I talked to Ingmar about why he wrote lyrics in English rather than German - "I think I'd piss myself if I read some of the lyrics in German!". Beehoover is a "hobby band" according to Ingmar, they both have full time jobs and live in different parts of Germany meeting in the studio for occasional rehearsals and communicating over the internet with ideas flying backwards and forwards. "It wouldn't be as true if it was full time, there would be too much pressure to perform" he said. I'm glad they have that artistic integrity, especially if they keep turning out such great music.

Tired and on a schoolnight, I took my leave from them and, with ringing ears and a sore back from too much grade 2 Dad-headbanging, I wound my way home through country lanes with their latest album on the car stereo.

Quietly.






Further Listening

Heavy Zooo - includes Stanislav Petrov


Primitive Powers - the new album, really good

All their stuff is available on Bandcamp







Saturday, 3 September 2016

Married :)

It's been quiet on the blog front mainly because it has been a busy few months. Most notably, Louise and I tied the knot in June, a wonderful day in the presence of our dear friends.






A couple of months later, we had a big celebration garden party for friends and family. Much hog roast was eaten and many drinks were drunk. Appropriately, we had a wonderful cheese wedding cake.



I'm a very lucky man :)