Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Running a faster 5k: 3

Last week, my lung problems started to return. I tried an easy five mile run on Friday evening, and came home out of breath and coughing. I could not do parkrun on Saturday.

However, this week my lungs improved, likely because the steroid inhaler was doing its thing. Thus, I was able to make a third attempt to improve my 5k time.

Training-wise, the week was mixed in part because of Christmas:

Mon. no running
Tues. run 6.2 miles (Richmond Park, London)
Weds. run 6.7 miles
Thurs. no running
Fri. no running
Sat. run 4.1 miles (1 mile warm-up + parkrun)
Sun. run 4 miles


The parkrun was in England, with my wife and brother-in-law. It featured two laps on tarmac, and then two muddy laps of a large field.

I wasn't really expecting to improve my 5k time on this effort, as I suspected that my lungs were not fully back after last week's decline.

The weather was good, but the mud was slick. My time was 22:22. This was 11 seconds slower than my last effort, though it is difficult to compare because the course was different.

Two positives: I was able to run this week. I finished in 15th place, out of a field of 89.


Earlier in the week we visited the National History Museum in London. My son and I particularly enjoyed the various fossilized sea reptiles mounted on the wall. Earlier this year I'd read about the discovery of these on the England coast in a excellent book entitled The Dinosaur Hunters. It's an account of how early discoveries of large bones, many made be amateur fossil collectors, challenged the views of the Earth's age and biblical accounts of creation.

When snapping this photo, I did not notice the small child who also stood in wonder at these creatures.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Do sick people think they are well?

I do.

After a series of breathing problems this summer, the GP suggested I might have asthma.

But I recovered. For three months after the summer, there were no problems. I was back to running, and racing.

During that time I took a mannitol challenge. This is a test where you inhale increasing concentrations of mannitol (a sugar like substance), until you have difficulty breathing. I inhaled up to the highest concentration without a response. This suggested that my lungs were not overly sensitive, as they are in asthma. Still, the test is not definitive.

All during those three months, I took two puffs of my steroid inhaler in the morning and in the evening. After a while, this seemed unnecessary, but I thought I'd continue until I was told to stop by the consultant. I recorded my peak flow each morning and evening, and these remained in the 500s.

I had a meeting with a lung consultant two weeks ago. I felt that this was probably superfluous, but it had taken a while for this appointment to be scheduled, so I wanted to hear what he had to say.

He asked how I was feeling and I told him I was fine.

He suggested, as I suspected, that I reduce the steroid inhaler dose to one puff in the morning and evening, and then come off of it altogether.

I asked if perhaps it really wasn't asthma, and that I'd just had bad luck with some chest infections.

He thought that was possible, but the pattern of my peak flow reading from my last bad patch looked like the an asthma response. Also, I'd responded well to steroids. Three times.

In any event, I was to see how things went with a lower dose of the inhaler, and then without it.


One puff every morning and evening went fine. Again, no problems.

And then I stopped using the inhaler altogether.


The first sign of a problem came after my track session last week.

We did a warm up, then a hard mile, 2 x 800s, and 3 x 200s on a cold, rainy night.

When I arrived home, I was coughing. My wife noticed.

Still, I felt well. On Friday night I noticed just a slight wheeze during the night. Again, because I was feeling well, I didn't think this was anything.

My parkrun on Saturday morning was fine, if a little slower than expected.

On Saturday night, I was out a bit late for the running club's Christmas dinner. That night, again, there was a little wheezing, but it had been a full night, and I'd walked home from the pub.

On Sunday night the wheezing was clear. On Monday, I recorded my lowest peak flow (450) for three months.

On Tuesday it was 430.

I called the consultant.


He listened to my symptoms. He also told me that my blood tests had come back, and that I did not have any allergies. However, my eosinophils (white blood cells) were elevated.

With the reappearance of symptoms following my cessation of the inhaler, and my elevated eosinophils, he was confident in his diagnosis: asthma.

I was to go back on the inhaler immediately.


For three months I had begun to believe that my previous breathing problems were in the past. I was well. But a few days without medication revealed that this was not the case. And I wondered if this was the case for other conditions. If you are feeling good, it is hard to believe that anything is wrong.


The days are very short now. The other morning, at 8:30, it was still largely dark outside when I took a photo of the back garden

Monday, 14 December 2015

Running a faster 5k: 2

So this week featured a second attempt to improve my 5k time.

Mon.: no running
Tues.: run 6.7 miles (with some hills)
Wed.: no running
Thurs.: swim 1450m; run ~4 miles on track (1 x 1 mile (6:21); 2 x 800; 3 x 200)
Fri. no running
Sat.: run 5 miles (1.75 mile warm-up, 5k Parkun, cool down)
Sun.: run 6.5 miles


After missing Parkrun last week, I was ready to race this week.

I ran a 1.75 mile warm-up in the woods of the park where the race is held. The park features a large woodland, and I ended up on a trail I had not seen before, and had to scurry back for the start of the race.

It was cold, about 3 degrees C (39 F), and I wore tights, a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, and a head band.

At the start, I tried to go out at an even pace. There's a graded hill in the first kilometer, but I ran steadily.

In the second kilometer, the terrain flattens out a bit as the route travels through the woods. Again, I tried to run evenly, but fast. Probably, this is a point in the race where I could cut some time.

There's a descent in the third kilometer, and I tried to open up my stride a bit.

In the fourth kilometer, there's what's locally known as "heartbreak hill". It's a steady pull of about 200m, maybe a little longer. Here a kid passed me like I was standing still.

In the end of the fourth kilometer and into the fifth, there's a steady descent. Again, I tried to open it up here again, once I regained my breath from the hill. The kid that had passed me was stopped at the side of the trail, trying to regain his breath.

I tried to kick the last 200m meters, just to shave off more time.

I cross the line in 22:11.


So, my attempt to run a faster 5k has led to a slower 5k. I was 10 seconds slower than my last attempt.

I felt good during the run though. My legs felt strong, and perhaps some of the track work is filtering through.

I'm patient, and I know that the training I do on any given week is not going to show up in that week's 5k time.

My suspicion, however, is that it is not my legs that are the problem.


I went to the lung specialist two weeks ago, and he suggested we cut back on my inhaler, and then stop using it for a bit to get a clean lung-challenge test in a few weeks. The problem being the last lung test I did I was fine, but I was still using the inhaler, so it may have masked any over-sensitivity in my lungs.

I dutifully cut back on the inhaler for 10 days, and stopped using it altogether earlier in the week.

But I've started to wheeze a bit in the evenings. And to run slower. And I know how this movie goes...


On Sunday, I climbed a local hill with my family. It was a cold, frosty morning, and the mist hung close to our town below.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Train in vain

My quest to improve my 5k time was thwarted this past week.

Training went well:

Mon.: swim 1600m
Tues.: run 1 mile warm-up, then 4 x 1000m on track
Weds.: run 5.6 miles (town loop)
Thurs.: run 5 miles (hill intervals with club)
Fri.: no running
Sat.: no running
Sun.: run 6.1 miles in woods


On Friday, I was at a meeting out of town, and my plan was to take the overnight train back to Scotland in the morning. I'd arrive in Edinburgh at 7:30 A.M., be home at 8, and then make my way home for the Parkrun 5k at 9:30.

The train left London on time, and I settled in to my small berth. It was not much more than a bunk and a shelf, but I had it to myself. There was some stopping and starting during the night, but for the most part I slept. I could hear the rain and wind lashing the train as we made our way north.

I woke fully at 6, and left my berth to get a coffee.

I ran into the host for our carriage, and she informed me that there had been problems in the night. A train had broken down in front of us, and we had switch lines. We were now going to Glasgow. Worse, we were still in England, and several hours behind schedule because of the speed restrictions now in place.

The host brought a tray with breakfast: tea and a bacon roll (sandwich). Outside it was still dark.


When the daylight came, the impact of the storm was apparent: fields were flooded with brown water, and the river that paralleled the tracks was over its banks. Some roads were under water, and the water was close to several houses. I left my berth and was looking out one of the windows when another passenger told me to look down at the adjacent rail track. The two rails served as the banks of a stream rushing down the track. Later in the day, after I'd passed, the line was closed.


The time for Parkrun came and went, but I reached Glasgow at 11 a.m., and after a number of subsequent train cancellations, arrived home at 3 p.m.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Running a faster 5K: 1

O.K., my goal is to run a faster 5k.

Specifically, I want to run a sub-20 minute 5k parkrun.

Now, realistically, this is unlikely.

My local parkrun is hilly. My best time there is 20:43. This year, my best time was 21:39. And this was prior to my lung problems.

But this is my goal.


I had a good week of training:

Mon.: run 5.6 miles
Tues.: no running (but a 3 mile walk in the evening)
Weds.: run 1 mile + 4 x 1000m intervals on the track (speed workout)
Thurs.: swim 1300m; run 2 mile race (+ 0.5 mile warm-up and cool down)
Fri.: no running
Sat.: run 5.8 miles (parkrun + warm-up and cool-down)
Sun.: run 7.1 miles (hilly)

With a goal of running a faster 5k, I want to have some speed work, and generally increase my training volume. So my equation for a faster 5k is the following:
consistent running + some speedwork + good volume = a faster 5k

I'm not going to break 20 mins., but I'm hoping to get faster.

I also recognize that a given week's training will not be reflected in that week's 5k parkrun time.

Nonetheless, over the next few weeks, I hope the times will come down.


This week's 5K parkrun was an inauspicous start to my efforts to run a sub-20 minute 5k.

It has been 10 weeks since my last spell of lung problems.

These 10 weeks have been interrupted by travel, but I have been running when possible. So I was hoping for an improved time.

Unfortunately, the day dawned rainy, cold and windy. I tried to maintain an even pace, but felt a bit winded. I'd eaten a light breakfast before the race, but could feel it a bit in my stomach. Also, because it was cold, I was wearing long running trousers. Somehow, I had not tied the drawstring and these felt like they were sliding down during the race. It was a distraction. Eventually, on the "hearbreak hill" portion of the route, I tied the drawstings.

I crossed the line in 22:01. I was 24th out of 129 participants, my highest placing of the year.

However, I'd felt good during the run. With better conditions, this perhaps could have been in a 21 minute something 5K.


In part one of the reasons I think a sub-20 minute 5k is a stretch is my speed workout this past Weds. On the track, trying to run hard, my 1k intervals were 4:06, 4:09; 4:11, and 4:07. These were intervals with a 2 minute rest between each one.

To run a sub-20 minute 5k, I need sub-4:00 minute kilometers the whole way.


Earlier in the week, on my walk with young friends, the ruins of our local palace were illuminated.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Feeling good

This was my week:

Mon.: run 5.8 miles
Tues.: swim 800m
Weds.: run 4.4 miles
Thurs.: run 5 miles (hill)
Fri.: nothing
Sat.: run 5 miles (cross-country race)
Sun.: swim 1600m

My lungs continue to be good, and with the opportunity to run consistently, I am starting to feel fit. I want to run more.

My short-term goal is to work on my parkrun time. I want to see what I can do to it with some focus.


On my drive home from the pool today, with a haunting Vaughn Williams piece on the radio and the winter sun, I felt unaccountably good.

Friday, 13 November 2015

November rain

I've had another good week in terms of regaining fitness:

Mon.: swim 1200m
Tues.: run 4 miles
Weds.: run 5.6 miles
Thurs.: run 3.5 miles (8 x hill reps with club)
Fri.: swim 1600m (back to a mile!)
Sat.: run 3.5 (parkrun)
Sun.: run 4.4 miles


I'd like to start whittling away at my parkrun (5k) time. This week I was at 21:48. This isn't my worst time, as I ran slower times immediately after my lung problems, but it is a bit away from my best time of 20:43.

I wonder, if I focussed on this, whether I could break 20 minutes.


The fall weather pattern has set in for Scotland. This week there was rain and more rain.

On my deck, puddles formed.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Back in the hills

This was another good week, lung-wise:

Mon.: hill walk with son (~ 4 miles)
Tues.: run 4 miles in a.m.
Weds.: swim 1000m; run 3.1 miles (hill loop)
Thurs: run 4 miles (2 of which were club handicap race)
Fri.: nothing
Sat.: run 3.3 mile hill race
Sun.: nothing


I did my first race since July on Saturday. It was short, but featured a lot of elevation, and today, Sunday, my upper legs are sore. Breathing-wise I was fine, and I felt good running running in the wind and rain. This was encouraging, and I'm hoping to increase my weekly miles now.


Of course, most of those miles now, and for the next few months, will be run in the dark.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Back to health

It's now been five weeks since my last lung flare up.

I've had three good weeks of training, then a week backpacking in Shenandoah National Park, and then a week at a science conference (for work). During the latter, I was only able to run at the end of the week when I returned to the U.K., and then did only brief runs. However, I was on my feet all day at the conference and walked a great deal.

Now that I'm home, I'm hoping to get in a more settled schedule of running.


The nights have drawn in dramatically. The clocks have fallen back here in the U.K., and it is dark by 5 p.m. Today, it was rainy with low cloud, and it seemed to get dark at 4. This is what I call the "dark season", and most of my runs now will be with a torch (flashlight).


I'm just toying with the idea of a spring marathon. I like the structure it gives to the winter, and the fitness base it provides for the rest of the year. It might also be a way of building back after my various lung issues.


Shenandoah was terrific, in a subtle way. The fall colours were great, and the skies clear and blue. One night, as we sat around a fire at an Appalachian Trail shelter, we looked up to see the Milky Way.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Opportunity is a guest who doesn't linger

My peak flow has been in the 500s all week, and thus I have been able to get back to running.

This was my week:

Mon. - run 3.25 miles
Tues. - run 4 miles with club
Weds. - run 5.6 miles (town loop)
Thurs. - swim 1100m at lunch; run 3.5 miles p.m. (2 of which were a handicap race in which I came last)
Fri. - nothing
Sat. - walk 3-4 miles (backpacking)
Sun. - walk 4-5 miles (backpacking)

Four consecutive runs might have been a bit much, but I was feeling good, and my wife was taking a few running days off, so I seized the chance to get out.


High pressure has been sitting on the U.K. for more than a week now, and this has meant clear, sunny days and crisp nights. With a good forecast for the weekend, and no real commitments, I took the opportunity for an overnight backpacking trip in the highlands with my son. The midges (small, biting insects) were out Saturday evening, so we retreated to the tent and read until it got dark. In the morning, the bugs weren't so bad, and we had a pleasant walk in the sun.

At a nice resting spot under some Scots pines, I shed my pack and enjoyed the morning light.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Starting again, again...

This week my lungs were on the mend.

On Monday my lung peak flow, as measured by the meter I blow into, was 315. Today, Saturday, I am at 500.

I had been prescribed prednisolone (a steroid) tablets to help get my lung function up last week, and completed my course of this on Thursday.


As my lung capacity has increased, I have started to return to activity. This was my week:

Mon. - swim 800m, coughing lots
Tues. - walk 4 miles (2 miles to train station at back)
Weds. - run 2.5 miles in morning before work
Thurs. - run 2.25 miles
Fri - walk 4 miles
Sat. - run 4 miles in a.m.
Sun. - swim 1300m

The reason for throwing in the walks was to get my legs underneath me a bit for an upcoming backpacking trip next month.


I'm assuming it was a side effect of finishing the steroids, but I felt drained on Friday at work. I remember feeling the same way following the completion of my two previous oral steroid courses this summer.


So now the question is whether I will crash again, lung-wise, in a few weeks. My hope is that the inhalation steroids will keep things stable
this time. But now my confidence has been shaken.


We are losing 4 and a half minutes of light a day now, and some of the maples are starting to turn red.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

A bad lung week

This was my exercise week:

Mon. - no running
Tues. - no running
Weds. - no running
Thurs. - no running
Fri. - no running
Sat. - no running
Sun. - run 2 miles. Stop to cough several times.


I've actually felt worse. The first time my lungs crapped out this summer I suffered through some broken, breathless nights.

The second time, a few weeks later, I again had a weekend feeling breathless and shattered.

The third time I fell ill, two weeks later, the cough returned, and I was wheezy at night once again. But I had an inhaler, and hitting this in the night allowed me to sleep.

This week my peak flow dropped to 150 on Thursday. My lung capacity was 26% of normal.

I went to work this week. I even brought in my swim clothes on a few days, thinking I might be able to squeeze in a few easy lengths.

But by the afternoon I would be dragging, and any possibility of greater activity was out of the question.

At home, I'd lay on the sofa, breathing. A drowsy lethargy would take over.


On Friday, I returned to the doctor, and was prescribed oral steroids once again.

Today, Sunday, I tried a short run outside the recreation center where my son was competing in a swim meet. Going up the slightest of inclines, I was winded. It was like running on Everest.


On the way back from the meet, the rain lifted, and a partial rainbow came out over the recently cut hay fields.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Blowing 220

This past week started well, but I deteriorated sharply over the weekend, lung-wise.

The pattern is becoming clear. My breathing deteriorates, I take steroids, improve, start running again, finish the steroids, and start the the decline in lung function once again.

Here was my week:

Mon. - swim 1100m
Tues. - run 4 miles
Weds. - swim 1000m
Thurs. - no running (starting to feel unwell)
Fri. - run 5 miles on track
Sat. - run 4 miles on road/trails
Sun. - no running.


My peak-flow (lung function measure) was 490 at the beginning of the week. On Sunday evening I was coughing constantly, and my peak-flow was 220. Normal peak flow for my age, gender, and height is 575.


I'd pulled out of the Ben Nevis Race a few weeks ago, when it was clear I wouldn't be able to do the necessary training. Nonetheless, I wanted to support my friend G., who was running the race. On Saturday, I took him to Ft. William, and jogged a bit up the hill to get some photos of him as he descended. It was a perfect fall day, and there was a great view of Glen Nevis from the trail.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Starting from scratch

I was on the mend this week, following a recurrence of whatever my lung problem was.

I've been given a peak flow meter to measure my lung output. It's not complicated - you blow in a tube, and it measures your peak output in liters/minute.

Peak flow varies as a function of gender, height, and age. If you want to figure out what yours should be, there's a chart that allows you to do so.

For my age and height, the normal peak flow should be 570.

When I first tested my peak flow a week ago, it was 360.

Over the week, I have done the measurement in the morning and evening. If you have untreated asthma, these values will be considerably lower in the morning than in the evening.

It's too early to discern this pattern for me at the moment, but my values have been bouncing around in the 400s this week, despite me feeling O.K. So, I haven't fully recovered from whatever I had.


This has been my week:

Mon: run 2 miles. A dog licked me at my turn-around point.
Tues: nothing
Weds: swim 800m at lunch, run 3 miles on track after work
Thurs: nothing
Fri: run 4 miles
Sat: nothing
Sun: run 5 miles in the hills with friends

So, I'm starting again. No races. It felt great to be on the track earlier this week, with a late-August cool breeze, and a few leaves clattering across the lanes.


Earlier this month we were in Arches national park, and I took a photo of the petrified sand dunes. I really wanted to walk out and follow the dunes as far as they went.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

I might have asthma

After a brief recovery from my last chest infection, I fell ill again.

I was in the States, and I had a nagging cough after a short run, and also after a short hike. When I returned to Scotland last week, it worsened. By the weekend, I was up in the middle of the night, wheezing, and sitting in a chair to try and get my breath. During the day, I needed frequently to rest by putting my head down on the nearest counter or table.

On Monday, I went to the GP. My pulse-oxygen level was good, at 97%. I wasn't running a fever.

The GP did a peak flow test, where one blows into a small tube and a measure of their flow can be made. My flow was way low (> 200?), and culminated in a coughing fit.

The GP started to wonder whether something other than a second serious chest infection was going on. It could be adult-onset asthma he speculated. He prescribe an inhaler (and a few other things), and these seemed to help quickly.

So, either I have been terrifically unlucky with back-to-back chest infections, or I might have asthma.

Running-wise, this was my last week:

Mon - no running
Tues - no running
Weds - no running
Thurs - ~ 1 mile. I stopped and had to walk back.
Fri - no running
Sat - no running
Sun - no running.

So, it is looking like racing is out for a while.


The weather is cool now, and getting back to work I noticed that there was the first signs of color in the trees.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Recovering from pneumonia

This week I wanted to start getting active again, lungs permitting. After my first run back last Sunday, where I did three miles easy with a friend, this was my week:

Mon: nothing
Tues: run 4 miles, a bit with the club, though I peeled off after a few miles
Weds: run 3.5 miles easy with some hills
Thurs:swim 1100 meters
Fri: bike 45 mins on turbo, while watching Tour de France highlights
Sat: run 4 miles on trails
Sun: run 4.5 miles, with some hills

At the back of my mind looms the Ben Nevis Race. I need to get my hill legs back over the next month.


Today, on my 4.5 mile run, I headed through the woods of our local country park. The trails were wet after yet another night of rain. It being mid-July, the trail was nearly overgrown with brush. However, the foxgloves were also out.

After the woods, I did the short climb up our local hill. There were sheep, but they weren't too disturbed by my presence.

I made it to the summit, but was more winded than usual. So, even though I am on the mend, my lung capacity is diminished.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Pneumonia diaries: days 4-7

At the GP's office again, my oxygen level hovered at 93%. So, it was still low.

I was improving, though, and my breathing was no longer laboured.

The GP wanted to check things out though, and I was sent for an x-ray at the hospital.


After the x-ray, I had an hour before I needed to pick up my children from their day-camp, so I thought I'd stop at the outdoors shop in the mall. On my way in I bumped into a friend who was also not running, in his case because of an ankle injury. We lamented our failing bodies.


In the days that followed, I have been improving. There has been some fatigue, and I don't feel I have my full breath back yet. On day 7 I went for an easy three mile run and was ok, so hopefully I can start to come back to fitness slowly.


July is passing, and we celebrated my son's 10th birthday with a cake.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Pneumonia diaries: day 3

This is a miracle drug.

I feel so much better today. Not normal, but better.


The day itself was uneventful, and I was able to do a little work on the computer. In the late afternoon, I picked up the children from their day camp, and cooked dinner. They are 11 and 10 now, and it feels good to see them eat enthusiastically after a full day of activities.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Pneumonia diaries: day 2

At the doctor's office this morning, for my second visit, I leafed through the magazines in the waiting room. A 2014 issue of Cyclist was there, and it was packed with advertisements for impressive, £2,000 + ($3,000 +) bikes.

I wondered what it would be like to have such a bike. Just once. Unfortunately, I don't do enough riding to justify such an outlay. But recently, the equation between doing things and waiting to do them someday has started to shift. Someday is kind of now.

And maybe, I thought, once I'm well, I could try triathlon again. I could shoot for a half ironman someplace nice, like Lake Tahoe.

These idle thoughts were interrupted when the GP called my name.


The GP listened again to my chest while I took deep breaths.

My oxygen levels, measured again with the pulse oximeter, were discouraging. They hovered around 90 or 91%, and occasionally dropped to 89%.

My breathing seemed less wheezy than yesterday, but otherwise things were much the same.

The GP again floated the idea of going to the hospital to get oxygen and potentially intravenous antibiotics. He thought the oxygen my help start to break up the junk in my lungs.

I said that I didn't feel that terrible if I was just sitting down, and that resting at home was fine. Inwardly, I didn't fancy the thought of intravenous anything. I'd only had my antibiotics and steroids for one day, so the GP thought it would be good to give them another few days to kick in. I was to return in two days.


I read and rested in the afternoon, and picked up my children from their day camp. In the evening, the sun peaked out at around 9:20 p.m. (the days are still quite long here), and cast a glow on the trees by our deck.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Pneumonia diaries: day 1

It started with a crappy parkrun (a regular 5k race every Saturday morning) just over a week ago. I felt fit after a good couple of weeks of training, but I ran a personal worst of 21:38. Effort-wise, I felt like I ran hard, but I also felt like I had a cold. The next day, I wanted to do 10 miles on the trail, but was feeling beat, and didn't want to worsen my cold, so cut it to 7.5 miles.

On that Tuesday, I went for a run with my local running club, and struggled a bit to keep up.

Over the next few days, my cough worsened. I was at work, and getting things done, but felt grotty.

I went out for an easy four mile run on Friday after work, and experienced some tightness in my chest.

On Saturday, I woke with a headache after a broken nights sleep. I'd been up several times in the night coughing, and had moved to our spare bedroom, so that I would not disturb my wife.

Saturday night's sleep was also broken, and I was starting to wheeze.

Sunday night felt a little better, but in the morning I was somewhat breathless. My wife insisted that I see the doctor, and made an appointment for me.


I parked my car in the lot behind the health centre, and as I was a bit early, went across the street to donate some books to the nearby charity shop. This is probably a distance of 200 meters all in, but I had to sit down on a bench to catch my breath. In the shop the guy at the cashier couldn't quite understand my question ("Do you take donations?") because of my wheezing.

It was a sunny day, and outside the health centre a fairly overweight guy with tatoos sat on the bench with his shirt off.

It was warm in the waiting room, and I ran into the mother of one of my daughter's friend. She too had experienced a chest infection a few months ago.


The GP (general practitioner) asked me about my symptoms, and listened to my chest with his stethoscope.

He measured my blood oxygenation with a pulse oximeter that clips over ones finger.

Normal blood oxygenation levels are 96-98%.

My reading was around 91%, and dipped below this at times.

The GP seemed concerned. He indicated that I had a deep chest infection that was likely bacterial. In short, I had pneumonia.

Apparently, my oxygenation levels were on the border of requiring oxygen at the hospital. He prescribed antibiotics to fight the infection and a steroid to reduce the inflammation in my lungs. I was to come and see him the next day.


I went next door to the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions. The older woman behind the counter looked at my prescription and said "We'll take care of you love, you just sit down". Did I look that bad?

The mother I'd seen in the waiting room was also in the pharmacy, and asked if I needed a ride home. I thanked her, and indicated that my car was out back.


At home, I sat on a chair facing our back garden. I opened one of the sliding doors a bit, then sat and breathed the cool breeze.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Running in Scotland

It has been a hectic few months, so I've included just a few photos of what I've been up to...

It has been a cold spring, where warm and sunny days have been the exception. Earlier this week, I went for a morning run, as my day was full otherwise. It is light very early here - before 4 a.m. - so by the time I ran past our local castle ruins at 7 a.m., the sun was fully up.

After passing the castle - it's actually a palace build in the 1500s - I turned onto a farm road, and continued my loop. Despite the recent coolness, everything is a riot of green.


Last month, I took place in the Isle of Jura Hill race. This is a 16-mile loop over the "Paps" of Jura. The Paps are three steep hills that look like breasts. The race takes these in, plus four other hills.

To get to the Isle of Jura, I took a two-hour ferry from the mainland (which was incredibly cheap - £13 ($19) round trip) to the Isle of Islay, and then a short ferry from there to Jura. Then I rode 8 miles on my back, while wearing a large backpack, to Craighouse, a small village where the race starts.

I arrived after 9 p.m. on Friday night, have come from work, and pitched my tent with the other runners in a field across from the hotel in the village.

The next morning, in the distance, I could see the enormity of the task I faced.

Long-story short: I suffered. The route lead through energy-sapping bogs, over trackless, incredibly steep hills, and down scree slopes that were like piles of small bowling balls.

I had heard that the Paps were difficult, but it was only when I returned home that I read that this was one of the most difficult hill races in the country. I should say, hill-runners are given to understatement. When they describe a route has being "a little soft" they mean that you will be wading through knee-deep bogs. If a route has "a little up-and-down", you will be climbing hills that will make your eyes pop out.

So, when they say that a race is "tough" they mean, staggeringly difficult.

I seriously considered retiring from the race after the third hill. I'd eaten most of the food I carried - why oh why did I leave that extra Snickers bar in the tent? - and my legs had nothing in them.*

But at each summit, I reasoned that I now had a downhill.

I ran the last few hours of the race in a bit of an internal fog. I just kept moving. After the hills, there was a river crossing, another boggy trial - and this was the so-called "runnable" section of the route - and then 3+ miles on the road back to the start.

On the road I was able to run, and even picked off another runner.

After a beer in the pub, I collapsed in my tent at 8:30 p.m.


In the immediate aftermath of the race, my thought was "never again". But now, a few weeks out, I think I could really cut off some time off this year's finish with a bit more work.

* I had nothing in my legs, potentially, because I'd walked across Scotland the week before. I'll cover this in a seperate post.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A run in the hills

I have a long hill race next month, and will be away early in the month, and so needed to get some distance in now to prepare. High pressure has been sitting on Scotland all week, and this made for perfect conditions for a much-needed longer run in the hills.

I drove to the small town of Tillicoutry, and parked on a street that bordered a small creek.

Facing the other direction, the hills awaited.

After adjusting my running pack, returning to the car to get my headband and gloves, I started the climb. I was hoping to do 12 miles or so, and wasn't worried about pace. I just wanted to get some hills in my legs, even if that meant some walking.

I quickly warmed and shed a long sleeve shirt.

Nearing the top of the first hill, I could look back down to Tillicoutry and the surrounding countryside.

I headed deeper into the hills. I stopped to chat with an older walker who was heading over a few of the hill tops, and then carried on. Because of the dry spell, the ground was mostly firm, with just the occasional boggy bit. I headed up and down, and finally descended near Glendevon resevoir. I was six miles in, and hungry. I polished off my Snickers bar, and wished I'd had something more to eat.

I start to head back, and took a road that led through a wind farm. Up close, the windmills were huge.

After the windmills, I took a track to the top of the hills, and then followed a good path to the summit of Ben Cleuch - the highest hill in this group. Looking towards the north, I could just make out the remnants of snow in the highland mountains.

And then there was a long descent. I was feeling my lack of energy at the end, but had a coke and a breakfast bar when I reached my car.

My race next month will be about 18 miles, but this 12 mile run gave me a some cause for optimism in my improving fitness.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Marathon BQ review

The first time I tried to qualify for Boston, I failed.

The second time, I did better.

The race itself, however, was a struggle. As I neared mile 25, my paced dropped to a dead-man's shuffle. I pushed on to Kenmore Square, and to the finish, and then had a much need lie down under a tree in the Boston Gardens. Still, I was there. I'd finished perhaps the best marathon in the world.

But how do you get to Boston? Like me, you can try to guess what type of training you need to do run a qualifying time. Or you can pick Chris Russell's new book Marathon BQ: How to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 14 weeks.

Chris Russell is the host of the superb Run Run Live podcast. He's an experienced marathoner, who has qualified for Boston several times. More importantly, he is a clear communicator, and his book provides a focused approach to running a qualifying time for Boston.

It also provides a healthy dose of motivation:

When I was 34 years old, I decided to qualify for Boston. I was a chubby, recreational runner with a young family and a fulltime job that required extensive travel. I started training to qualify early one summer. In the process of training that summer I became a different man.... I learned I was capable of inifinitely more than I ever realised.(pg. 10)

What is Russell's plan? Put simply, it's about speed. To qualify, you must run fast, and to do so, you must train at speed. The book lays out how this fits in with a balanced plan that fits in both speed and the necessary long runs.

Even though I am not training for a marathon at the moment, I have taken on some of Russell's workouts. I want to increase my speed for the half distance, and now I know what to do.

Overall, this is an excellent read, and if you are think about Boston, this book will help you get there.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A slow start to spring

It's nearly April, but it certainly doesn't feel like spring here. The skies are dark. The trees are barren. There were snow squalls today. Above is a picture of our local palace (which is a ruin) that I took yesterday.

March has been a reasonable month running-wise.

I was able to get 3-5 runs in every week, plus at least one swim.

One of my goals for the year was to break 1:30 in the half marathon, but I fell short of this at the Alloa Half Marathon earlier in the month. On a perfect day for running (cold; tailwind), I did 1:34:20. I gave it all I had, but there just weren't enough training miles in my legs to run stronger.

My next goal is a long hill race, so I need to get on the trails.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Complete Book of Running

Just after New Years, I was finishing some errands in town, and went into a charity shop. These are the British equivalent of a GoodWill of Salvation Army store, with donated clothes, books, old records, etc. I was travelling the next week, and thought I'd see if there were any paperbacks that might be good to take along.

In the shop I found James Fixx's The Complete Book of Running. I was aware of this book - which heralded the first running boom in the 1970s (the second boom being today) - but had never read it. I only had some change on me, but at 50 pence ($0.75), it was mine.

The title of the book's forward is captivating: On the subversive nature of the this book. It recounts Fixx's introduction to running. He was an overweight smokers in his mid-30s, and he realised that he was going downhill when he injured himself in a game of tennis with a friend. He's shocked that his body has betrayed him.

So he starts running. He enters a local 5-mile race, and is surprised by the pace at the start. Fixx drifts back through the crowd, and eventually finishes last.

But he sticks with it, and starts running every day. And a transformation occurs:

...what I found even more interesting were the changes that had begun to take place in my mind. I was calmer and less anxious. I could concentrate more easily and for longer periods. I felt more in control of my life. I was less easily rattled by unexpected frustrations.

The book draws you in. Obviously, much more is known about the health consequences of running now, but Fixx has chapters on longevity, weight, running over 40, women, and injury.

The book is old school, but I found it engaging. Fixx has a special interest in the Boston marathon, and even goes for a run with Bill Rodgers.

In "The scientists of sport" chapter, he presents data from David Costill on how to train. Costill's arguement is that it takes several days to recover the glycogen store depleted by longer miles, and so the focus should be more on monthly, as opposed to weekly, miles. In his view, the way to build distance is to alternate weeks with higher miles and lower miles, and overall increase. (I've been doing something different in the build up to my half marathon - increasing miles each week - but it's something I'll consider).

In his conclusion, Fixx argues that running provides a link with our primal selves:

My suspicion is that the effects of running are not extraordinary at all, but quite ordinary. It is the other states, all other feelings that are peculiar, for they are an abnegation of the way you and I are intended to feel. As runners, I think we reach directly back along the endless chain of history. We experience what we would have felt had we lived ten thousand years ago, eating fruits, nuts and vegetables and keeping our hearts and lungs and muscles fit by constant movement.

James Fixx died of a heart attack at age 52, after a run. For some this may undermine the message of the book, however Fixx's father had a heart attack at 35, and died 8 years later, so genetic factors may be at play.

Overall, the book has survived well. It's clear, engaging, and still has the power to motivate.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Trying to get back to consistent running

The past few weeks have felt inconsistent, running-wise.

Total miles:

First week Jan.: 3 (but skiing every day)
Second week Jan.: 20 with cross country race at end
Third week Jan.: 10 no running during weekdays, flu early in week
Fourth week Jan.: 22.8 trying to get strength back

First week Feb. 29 miles much more like it!

I'm doing a half-marathon in March, and was hoping to run a good time. The flu knocked me back a bit, and even after the fever passed (I didn't run for six days), I felt weak. In the midst of the flu, as I shuffled around the house with my head down, I wondered if this is how it felt to be old.


The days are getting longer here in Scotland, and the sun has some warmth during the day. We've had some snow in our back yard for the past few weeks, and it is still hanging on.