Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 walking stats

I'm not planning on going far in the next couple of hours, in fact staying awake will be enough of a challenge! I'm not big on seeing in the new year.

Anyway, as December ends, it's time to look at the numbers once again. The bear facts are as follows:

Steps taken: 398898
Approx. mileage: 199.45

With no missed days that makes it 122 consecutive days over 10k and a grand total since 1st September of 1592575 steps. My biggest day was 18971, and there were several days over 15k.

So I quite pleased with the effort but now I need to up the intensity of I going to get any fitness benefit. 10k walking will always help keep my heart healthy, but I'm interested in improving my fitness too. Interestingly I set out today to run/walk to the gym for a swim. I actually ran almost all the way. That's about 3 miles, 4.5Km. Knee problems have stopped me running for a long time, but today it just felt okay to run. I'm not planning any long distances, but if I can begin to run 5k on a regular basis that would be great.

The only problem is that the more running I do the fewer steps I take over a given distance. At the moment I estimate I take 20% fewer steps per Km when I run compared to walking. Consequently I'd have to run about 10Km a day to do the 10k steps I do walking 8Km. Given that I ran 4.5Km is 30 minutes, 10Km would take about 66 minutes, which is still faster than I reckon it takes to walk 8Km, but that's all academic given that I can't yet run 10Km!!

What I'll probably do is continue to do my favoured interval training and then do some additional walking.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Just playing with a couple of apps

It's not easy to run two activity apps at the same time, you have to start one and then the other, but I thought it might be quite interesting to run Runkeeper and Polar Beat side-by-side this morning.

There's not a lot to say really about the two programmes. The possible value of PB is that it links to my new Polar Loop, at least I think it does. It's all a bit confusing to be honest.

Anyway, with so many ways to capture all your activity data the only thing that is probably missing is the motivation to get up and do something!!

I've had my Loop for a few days now and it is quite insightful to see how the day pans out. Long periods of sitting, punctuated by little bits of movement with the occasional bursts of frantic activity as I hurl myself around a tennis court.

The one thing Runkeeper can't do is recognise interval training. I have to set it to running or walking. But that's not really a problem. Most of these apps will work with a range of bits of kit like heart rate monitors and stride measuring devices. I think you are either the kind of person who sets them up really accurately and keeps a detailed training dairy, or like me, you just use them to keep a rough track of what you're doing and to help with motivating you to get out and get moving.

A simple pedometer works just as well, but I do love a good gadget, and my Loop is a nice gadget!

Anyway I need to get ready to go and do a job before setting off for a drive to a tennis tournament. No problems reaching my daily activity goal today! I might blog a bit more about these apps later if I'm not busy trying to run round the block to earn some stars on Everymove!!

It's been a Great Year. Really?

I've seen this a lot on dear old Facebook in the last week or so. Obviously an app of some sort that sticks a photo on a jazzy background and declares a "great year" on your behalf. Now I'm just being cynical here, but honestly can you really say it's been a great year? Have you been saying how good it's been all the way through from January to December or have you been moaning about work, money, church, family or football? Do you really need some data mining app to tell you about your year?

Perhaps the real value lies in taking time to look back over the last twelve months and asking some deeper questions about what you've experienced and how you've responded. How are things that within your control going to change next year? Or are you just going to carry on the same way and wait until Facebook or some other social media platform tells you what kind of year you've had?

The New Year is typically the time we look to make resolutions and set out some sort of plan for the coming 12 months. I know there are things I set out to do this year that I simply haven't done. I know I need to change something in order to make those things happen this year, if in fact they are that significant.

If you're planning some resolutions, and you know all about making them "smart", the perhaps you might want to add a few that go beyond the typical lose weight, get fitter, learn to river dance kind of resolutions. Maybe you could add an element of enjoying life a bit more. I don't mean going out and socialising, but taking simple pleasures in life. Taking time to see stuff when you go out for a walk, learning to be thankful for the little things people do for you, asking yourself how you can help those around you be the best that they can be. Maybe these things are a little too subjective for some and a little altruistic for others, but I fear that we are being propelled towards a self-centredness all too often and social media doesn't help.

So if you've truly had a great year, congratulations. Enjoy it, look back and give thanks. As for me, well, it's been an okay year. Not great, not terrible. Bits have been good, some bits really good. Others have have been difficult and hard, days when all I've wanted to do is slip quietly into a corner and sleep through it. Next year could go either way, but it's my intention not to let it drift along.

I'd like to do my Level 2 tennis coaching qualification and get tennis better established in South Ockendon and Chafford. I do plan to get fitter, but that gets harder as I get older! I'd like my therapy business to increase too, but that is also proving tough to do. I have other goals to think about and plans to make. I need to review my journal, a more useful thing to do that look back at my social media postings. What I write in my book is often of the "not for publication" category. One of my goals for 2015 is to recover some discipline about keeping my journal.

As for this years goals, well I didn't make it to an 8.2 but I'm only 3 wins away from that, and I didn't drop under 14st, which was another goal I had in mind. Truthfully I didn't make that much of an effort to reach that one. As for any other goals, I can't remember what they were, I'll have to look them up!

Here comes 2015!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Polar Loop

Look what I got for Christmas!

Having done quite a bit of reading about different activity trackers, I decided the one I wanted to try was the Polar Loop. I looked at the Vivofit from Garmin, Fitbit and Jawbone and would love to be one of those folk who gets asked to test and compare them all without having to pay for them!

However, not being in that position, I had to choose. First of all I eliminated the Jawbone because it isn't suitable to be worn while swimming. The others, as far as can remember, were pretty much the same. I think the Vivofit didn't have a rechargeable battery, so that fell off the list too.

Anyway, I liked the look of the Polar and having made up my mind I pointed Anne in the right direction.

Setting it up has been fairly straightforward. Like most things these day, instructions are sparse, and it's a bit trial and error working out some functions. For example, the enclosed instructions point you to a website for the purposes of setting up the device, or so it seems. When you get there and register a new account it doesn't register the device. You do that at another website once you've downloaded the Sync software.

So far I've trimmed the strap using the enclosed guide. It's a bit loose, but I'll leave it as it for a while before any further trimming.

It will be interesting to see how the Loop performs against the simple pedometer I carry and the Runkeeper app I use from time to time. It will also be interesting to see if it actually motivates me to move more and if it helps me improve my fitness over the next few months.

There's quite a detailed website (Polar Flow) that tracks your data and keeps a diary for you.  So let's see what happens in the next few weeks/months!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Obstacle runs, boot camps and other madness!

I've just caught the end of a programme about the London "Survival of the fittest" obstacle run. It's a 10K run with a difference. Running through drains, streams, over hay bales, under wires and nets. Name an obstacle and it's probably in the race.

The best part about the whole things was the obvious fun everyone was having. Even the elite competitors had big smiles of their faces. Oh to be younger, more agile and considerably fitter! I suspect I might not even make it over the first hurdle in such a race. Interestingly, this sort of outdoor exercise is probably far better than working out in the confines of a gym. Every muscle group is put through its paces and worked hard. you are constantly climbing, crawling, pushing, lifting and moving in ways that are typical human movement patterns. No isolated exercises, just all-round movement requiring to shift your own body weight, nothing more, nothing less. It reminds me of the principle espoused by Mark Sissons in his Primal blueprint stuff about walking more, running sometimes, lifting heavy things from time to time or however he describes it. The idea is simple, exercise in a way that mimics what you do normally.

Of course, if normal is sitting on the sofa watching endless drivel on the TV, then things will need to change. But let's assume we all know that being a couch potato is not what we were designed to be.

I've just finished my 100-day challenge to move the equivalent of 5 miles a day every day. I'm currently on day 104 by the way! This is a good start if your goal is simply to be healthy, to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. So now I'm beginning to think about what to do next. What to add to my routine. I'm thinking of planning my own variation of a boot camp. I've done some interval training before and I like being outside and doing primary body weight based exercise. I'm hoping I might be able to find a training partner. I think it will make some things easier, and it certainly helps with the motivation.

Watching the obstacle run made me wish I was able to do that sort of thing, but it also made me think about what I can do, or what I might be able to do. It's easy to wish away your fitness goals on the basis of what you can't do today. It's much harder to put a plan into place and get out there and do it.

So, over the next couple of weeks I'l work on a plan. I was going to say "perhaps I'll work on a plan", but that's a get out clause and is really just another way of saying I'd like to, but I know I won't.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

100 days done!

Day 100 went smoothly with no injuries and no late night walks to make sure I passed my 10k daily target. A couple of hours tennis, a walk to the bank and back and an hour coaching took me over 13k steps for the day and over 1.3 million for the 100-day period.

Statistically, comparing this time round with the first time I did the challenge, I've taken more steps and covered more miles. The difference is only about 20 miles, which is about 350 yards a day, but there are other differences. The second time around hasn't had as big an impact on my health and fitness. I'm fitter now than I was 4 years ago, but I'm also 4 years older. That probably wouldn't be significant if I was 25, but at 57 I think it's been a factor. The older you get the harder it gets to maintain and improve fitness. The first time I did the challenge, it was part of a programme to get fitter and healthier. Naturally, because I was starting from a lower point, the improvements and changes were much more obvious.

Motivation is something else that has been different. This time around it was all about proving to myself that I could do this again and that I could motivate myself to keep going with only the simple target of hitting 100 days to aim at. Although I do feel better for it, I'm not sure I feel noticeably better or that if I'd measured my baseline fitness it would have improved over the 100 days.

Anyway, here are the comparative figures for the record.

2010: Steps-1,260,290, distance-630 miles

2014: Steps-1,301,291, distance-650 miles

So, what next? 10k steps a day is all about maintaing a healthy heart. It is not a fitness routine. If I want to improve my fitness I need to change one or more of the so-called FITT principles (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type). I was thinking of looking to maintain my 10k a day habit until the New Year, but I do need to consider doing something else too because I want to be as fit as I can be. I'd like to do some circuit training, and I'd like a training partner with whom I could do that. Mainly to keep me motivated and accountable. Walking is fine, but somehow I find the more intense training harder to keep up on my own. Maybe I could start a fitness group, train with them and make a bit of money at the same time!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Foodbanks and iPhones

Two things caught my eye this morning via social media that have caused me to stop and reflect a little. One is the staggering rise in the number of people accessing foodbanks. Up from fewer than 50,000 in 2009/10 to almost 350,000 in 2012/13. The other was a quote that read: I'm no longer accepting the things I cannot change... I'm changing the things I cannot accept.

It's easy to respond to the first statistic with cynicism and disbelief that a society such as our can actually have people in a position where food is almost a luxury. Something is wrong, fundamentally wrong if our affluent first world economy can allow that to happen. I'm not sure I have a realistic solution that will fix it. I'm not sure anyone does, but there has to be something that can be done if only government had the will and society the selflessness to do it.

Another simplistic response is to point to consumerism and wealth as the problem. Apple have just sold their four millionth iPhone, footballers get paid vast amounts of money and companies avoid tax while policy-makers chase down benefit fraud.

Whether we're cynical, disbelieving or playing the blame game, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to make change happen. I can't solve the Ebola epidemic, but I'm not sure I want to accept it either. I can't solve the poverty crisis in the UK either, but I'm not quite ready to throw up my hands in horror and say there's nothing I can do.

I actually find the statistic about foodbank usage challenging both politically and personally. Yes, it might be a depressing statistic, but we can't allow it to paralyse us in a way that makes us inactive, passive bystanders. I can buy extra food and donate it. I can help stock the bank and make a difference to someone's life right now. But I can also ask myself what it means on a bigger scale.

Next year here in the UK we have a General Election, a chance to reflect on what this government has done and what could be done in the next parliament. We can either allow ourselves to be sidetracked by arguments over Europe, immigration, the free movement of citizens, or we can force politicians to engage on topics like poverty and taxation. We can ask the tough questions about who is willing to ask the wealthy to bear more of the weight of the financial challenge of the economy than the poor. If the deficit is still high, should we really be looking to reduce the tax burden of the richest while forcing down the wages of the lowest paid? We can vote selfishly, considering only our best interests, or we can vote altruistically, putting the needs of others higher up the agenda. You may not see things is the same way I see them, you might disagree on every detail. That's fine. Just don't be passive. Give it some thought.

In church circles there a prayer that's been quoted a lot over years that goes like this: Lord, give me the patience to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

That may be a good way to approach spiritual change and growth, but it might not be the best way to look at the issues that face us in our society. Too often we've taken the "I can't change it" attitude beyond those areas to which it truly applies. In the end, if we don't change it, who will?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November Walking Stats

It's the end of another months and time to review the walking stats so far. I've now completed 91 days of my 100-day challenge. I'm beginning to wonder what to do on day 101. I'm thinking of keeping going to the end of the year if possible, but we shall see.

The numbers for November are:

Total steps: 390873

Approximate distance: 195 miles

Best day: 18374

Total steps from day 1: 1193677

Total distance from day 1: 597 miles

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Countdown to 100

The walking challenge is going well enough and barring some major interruption I should make my 100 day target on December 9th. Do I feel fitter? No. Do I feel healthier? Again, the answer is no. Odd really, but there you have it. If feeling either fitter or healthier were the goals, then I'd be somewhat disappointed at this stage, but given that neither were of great importance when I set out, I'm not underwhelmed by the outcomes!

The goal was simply a matter of being active. I'm already pretty active, playing and coaching tennis, but I wanted to make sure I was being active everyday as far as that was possible. For me, tracking the level of that activity is a great motivator to keep going. Setting a goal like my 100 consecutive day challenge means that I can't start tomorrow or miss a few days and pick it up again. It means I can't get to 8 o'clock in the evening and think I'll do the missing steps the next day. It all helps to get me in the trainers and out the door.

I guess the obvious point is that you need not only a goal but also to know what will help you achieve that goal. If, having completed my challenge, I decide the next step is to improve my fitness, I will need to do two or three things. First, I'll need to measure my current fitness somehow. This can't be some subjective thing alone like how I feel after playing tennis or walking to the gym. It will need something a little more objective than that. There are some basic fitness tests you can do that measure things like strength, flexibility and endurance. Whatever you choose as your baseline criteria probably depends on what you're trying to improve.

From a tennis playing perspective for example, you might want to try and measure explosive power by using a jump test or endurance by doing short shuttle sprints. One test I used when I first did the 100-day walking challenge was to see if I could maintain 6.5Km/hour for an hour. I'm sure you get the point.

Once you've got your goal, and you've made it realistic and achievable (remember the SMART principle), you'll need a simple plan and a way of testing your change over the period of the plan. Simply repeating whatever you did to measure your starting point is the obvious way to do that. Thirdly, to get an improvement you will need to make a change to some aspect of what you are doing. The training principle is called progressive overload. In training terms you do this through changing one or more of the FITT principles. These stand for:

  • Frequency
  • Intensity
  • Type
  • Time

To get an improvement you need to vary one or more of these aspects of your routine. If you only ever do the same thing over and over again, you won't get any training benefit. You won't get fitter or healthier. Some are easier to do that others. If you walk 3 times a week you can increase the frequency by walking 5 times a week. If it's 30 minutes, you can increase the time by making it 40. Intensity goes up by walking faster or uphill, and changing type might mean running rather than walking.

My favourite approach is to use intervals. Intervals are simply alternating periods of high and low intensity activity. These can be evenly spaced, 2 minutes fast walking, 1 minute slower walking, or randomly spaced, 5-3-4-2-6-1. Each of the FITT principles are covered doing this type of training.

With the New Year fast approaching, don't just make some bland resolution to get a bit fitter or become a bit healthier, make a definite plan. You could even start right now and beat the New Year rush. Be the person who goes out on New Year's day for your mooring walk with a smug look on your face as you pass all the folk who've just started out!

You could even put in a request for an activity monitor for Christmas as I have done! That way you'l be able to track your activity everyday!!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday, Nov. 21st

So, I finally made it home yesterday from a day in Oxford on a CPD course about the shoulder. The course was helpful and it's always good to interact with other therapists. It can be a lonely life working on your own. What wasn't so good was the traffic. It's less than 80 miles from home to the venue but it took over 3 hours to get there and almost 3 to get home again. I had set off early in the morning in order to get to Oxford in time for a walk. But that didn't work out and I had to make up the steps in the evening once I'd driven all the way home. Still, at least I made my target and I'm still on course for my 100-day challenge. The moral of the story is don't drive to Oxford unless it's unavoidable! Either that, or drive to within 4 miles and walk the rest, it's quicker. What's worse is that Oxford made the M25 look like a free-flowing road!

The other nice thing about going on a practical CPD course is that you get a bit of free treatment! My shoulder feels a lot better today than it has for sometime. A reminder too that I need to book myself in for regular treatment.

I also discovered that you can get shoulder pain from gall bladder problems and even a damaged spleen. It's all to do with dermatomes and the way the brain processes information received via the nervous system. If that sounds weird then think about how a headache can sometimes make you see bright flashing lights. If the source of the headache has something to do with pressure on the optic nerve then the signal it sends to the brain will be interpreted as visual data because that's what comes from the optic nerve. So the pain of your headache is translated into visual images.

When you start the process of learning some form of manual therapy, you begin to discover all sorts of interesting and seemingly odd connections. The more I read, learn and practice, the more complicated it all becomes. Ida Rolf, well-known in bodywork circles, said something along the lines of "Where the pain, the problem isn't". In other words, where you feel the pain is often not the true source of the pain. Sometimes pain in the shoulder can come from a dysfunction in the ankle and the knock-on effects it has up through the postural positioning of the body. Fascinating!

I'm reading a couple of interesting books too at the moment. One on the importance of the gluteal muscles and the other on Anatomy Trains.

Time then to process the notes from yesterday and think about how I can use some of the techniques and tests in my own practice. There's way too much to remember in one go, but that's not unusual.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The cost of getting lean

Earlier this year I was invited to do a couple of seminars with some dance students at a local college. It was a busy day, but very interesting. One of the questions I asked the students was about their ideas of being fit and being healthy. The point I wanted to make was that the two are not synonymous. Some very fit people are actually quite unhealthy and some healthy people are very unfit.

When you start a fitness programme you need to know what your goals really are going to be. Is it about fitness or is it about health? Are you confusing getting fit with getting healthy? In the world of Personal Training you will sometimes hear a reference to the "mirror muscles". Big guns, six-pack abs, all the things you might see on the front cover of the latest men's fitness magazine.

Inside the magazine there's usually an article detailing an exercise and eating regimen that will transform your body from the flabby dough-like consistency it currently has into the chiselled and sculpted adonis that adorns the cover page. No doubt it will work for some readers, but many more will be left exhausted in a pool of sweat and seeing a rather less than finely tuned athlete staring back at them from the bathroom mirror.

The truth is that some people have a naturally lean and well-defined, muscular appearance. There's a technical term for this type of natural physique but most people just call them something Anglo-Saxon and uncomplimentary! For the rest of us we have to work with what we've got and settle for something less than perfect. You may be able to get leaner, but you won't have all those impressive muscles.

So what are the costs, the pros and cons of getting leaner or fitter or healthier? To reveal that six-pack (oh yes, you have one it's just that it might be hidden by a party-7) might actually require you to measure all your food, every meal of every day and to work out longer than you are able to sustain. In other words, it might just be too costly, both in terms of your ability to commit to the process and possibly even your overall health.

In an interesting article about the costs of different lifestyles, expressed in terms of body fat percentage, Ryan Andrews & Brian St. Pierre set out some interesting information. Personally I believe that body fat percentage is a far better measure that BMI, particularly if you are in any way athletic or playing sports regularly. If you're a 6'3" rugby forward weighing it at around 18.5 stone, then your BMI would say your obese even if your BF% is only 12.

So, as the weeks tick down to the New Year and you're getting ready to set yourself yet another lose weight/get fitter resolution, think about what you are truthfully trying to achieve, whether it's possible and what you will have to do in order to reach and maintain your goal. Me personally, I'd love to be leaner, fitter and faster, but I am also hopefully realistic about what I can commit to achieving. That doesn't mean I won't try and reach some goals that are tough, but I'm enough of a realist to settle for the possible rather than reach for the impossible.

The article mentioned above has a really interesting series of graphics that set out the benefits and trade-offs for a range of BF%'s. It's worth a read.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Passing the three-quarter mark

So, I've made it past day 75 of my walking challenge and one could almost say the end is in sight. But I'm not sure that's the best way to look at it! The thing is, if you only ever do a challenge in order to complete it, then isn't that only half a job, especially when it comes to health.

Here's my point: unless it produces a change in habit or establishes a new habit, it's only achieved part of the bigger goal. Take yesterday for example. I didn't feel much like going for a walk after I'd finessed coaching in the morning. It started to rain and the only thing that got me out of the house was knowing that it would mean mission my target. So the 100-day challenge did it's job of motivating me to hit the footpaths and pavements. But once I've reached the 100th day, what happens after that? Will I still put on the trainers and waterproofs, gloves and base layers? The answer to that question lies in whether I've formed a new habit or not.

I remember reading somewhere that it takes something like 3 months to form a new habit, but my experience is that a new habit lasts only until you break it. It's at that point that you discover how committed you are to your newly broken habit. Do you get up the next day and start again, or do you give up?

Not all habits are the same of course. Bad habits seem far easier to maintain than good ones! Establishing a good habit takes self-discipline. It's about making disciplined choices, and when you miss a day or make a poor choice, it's about getting back into the routine and not beating yourself up over it.

Even now, 77 days into my 100-day challenge I still have to drag myself out of the house some days. Once I get going it's not too bad, but there are days when even as I stride my way around my chosen route for the day that each step is a drudge. Some days I look at my pedometer and think , "Wow, I've already done 5000 steps," other days I look and think, "What? I'm only half way there!"

So even though I'm into the last 25 days (23 actually) I know how hard it is to stay motivated and to see it through and to move beyond the challenge into a new settled habit of daily exercise. After all, that's what the walking is about.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Next Delivery, but from where?

I ordered something the other day and according to the website, provided I ordered before 3:00pm, the items should be delivered the following day. It didn't happen, and I'm sure there's probably something somewhere in some small print to explain why that is, but maybe it's in the miles travelled already!

Here's a screenshot of the delivery company's tracking information:

Apparently the fastest way to deliver my goods has been to travel across Europe from Eindhoven to Brussels and then, once in the UK, to travel from Gatwick to Heathrow and back again!

So far my package has spent 15 hours going between two UK airports and 38 hours in transit from The Netherlands. So much for next day delivery then!

It's quite nice to know where the parcel is, but very frustrating to think that it gets sorted in two UK locations before it stands a chance of being sent to the local delivery office. I'm assuming it won't come straight to me from Gatwick, but will go through yet another sorting process, maybe even a couple of regional or local centres along the way.

Thank goodness I ordered it well before I needed it. And what's the betting I'll be out when they try to deliver it. Let's just hope the neighbours are home.

Oh, and by the way, at the top of the tracking page is the encouraging message:

Here’s the fastest way to check the status of your shipment. No need to call Customer Service – our online results give you real-time, detailed progress as your shipment speeds through the XXX network.

XXX in order to keep the company's name anonymous and possibly save me from getting into trouble!

I do like the idea that 38 hours is a definition of speeding through the network!

Friday, October 31, 2014

October stats

Just realised that I hadn't reset the time on my pedometer so it's clicked over tomorrow already. mind you it's 11:20pm and I'm not likely to do anymore walking today anyway! Which brings me nicely to my October stats.

I've had quite a busy final day of the month, what with 3 hours of tennis training and shopping in Tescos. Together that's made today the best day of the month with a total of over 18k steps. My lowest day was 10191. For the month I managed:

Total steps: 415496

Approx miles: 208

I've managed everyday for 61 days now and done 802804 steps since the start of September. That comes to an amazing 401 miles. No wonder my trainers are looking worn. I'm not sure how this compares with the first time I took the challenge, but it's probably fairly similar. Over the 100 days the figures were as follows:

Total steps: 1,260,290

Estimated distance: 630 miles

That puts me about 34000 steps ahead at the moment and would suggest that if I keep going at the same rate I'll do over 1.3M steps by day 100. We shall have to wait and see.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Walk, walk, walk, walk!

With only three days of October left I'm well on my way to completing my 100 day walking challenge. I've already done 58 days, so by the time I hit the mid-way point of November I'll be three quarters of the way through and maybe even past the 1 million step goal. I've had a couple of injuries in October that could have set me back, but they were fairly minor things and with a little careful rehab I managed to keep going.

It has to be said that four years on and without the incentive I had that time, It's a more difficult thing to keep going. By talking about it and blogging about it I feel somehow more accountable and therefore more committed to seeing it through. After two months it certainly doesn't feel like a habit yet, and everyday I have to motivate myself to get out and put one foot in front of the other. Some days are easy because I play tennis. Take Friday for example. This week I'll have 3 hours on court which should mean more than enough steps. But then there's today. apart from the sheer determination to do it, I have no real reason to get out the house and walk anywhere. I might take my book, walk to Lakeside and sit in a coffee shop to do some reading, but that's about it.

I find the best thing to do is to get out as early as I can and do at least 45 minutes. That usually takes me past 6k steps and I feel well on the way to achieving my daily goal. If you only think about do 10k at a time, it's a lot of steps and would typically take me 75 minutes to do. Not many people have 75 minutes a day to set aside simply to walk. But maybe two lots of 30 minutes and then the odd stroll to the shop or round the block can easily push you past the target. You'd be surprised how many steps it takes just to get to the post box and back!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that you jut have to get out and do it. Stay determined, set realistic goals, push yourself ocassionally and make it a discipline not an option. So I'm going to get my trainers on, get my stuff together and head out.

Well, maybe in a little while....

Friday, October 24, 2014

Upping my game

Okay, so you know I'm pretty passionate about playing tennis. Actually I'm rather passionate about trying to improve too. It's nice to be able to have a friendly social game, but I want to be the best player I can be. So I have to practice and train.

And here's the rub. It's really difficult to find a regular partner who also wants to do that or one who is willing to help me do it. Practice has to be purposeful and it has to be good. Just hitting balls with someone who can't hit it back isn't much use! It isn't practice that makes perfect, it's perfect practice that makes perfect.

I actually like practicing. I like trying to ingrain the proper technique and develop a better, more consistent stroke. So it was quite interesting when I got invited to hit with a group of players who train in a different environment to the one I am used to. I was nervous, who wants to embarrass themselves by being the completely outclassed from the first ball?

I've had three weeks and it's too early to say what difference it has made. They certainly hit the ball harder and more accurately than I'm used to, but that really helps me build a rhythm and develop my consistency. It's hard work too. After two hours of relentless practice I'm pretty spent, but again I actually quite like that. Having to try and maintain a consistent stroke when you're that tired is another plus.

I know I'm never going to win a ranking tournament unless I get both lucky and a lot better, but I know I can improve. I've managed to get my rating down a point and with lots of effort and hard work I'm hopeful that I can begin to make it past the first round of a tournament or two next year.

I guess it's like everything else, if you want to be good at something you have to set yourself goals and do the hard work of practice.

The tricky question about church!

From time to time I get asked the question: How's your church going? It gets asked by quite a range of people from all parts of our work and social life. To me it remains a somewhat odd question. Understandable –I know what they mean–but odd all the same.

Those of us who know about these things know that the church isn't really an organisation or a gathering of like-minded people with a shared interest. It is community. So asking, "How's church?" is like asking, "How's London?" or "How's the village?" We are so conditioned to thing institutionally that it's difficult to figure out how to ask and what to ask, and that's okay because I really do understand what I'm being asked.

So how is the church? Well nationally it's pretty much as it's been for a long time. It works for those who understand it and who fill the buildings it owns or occupies, but it doesn't work that well for the rest. It still uses language in a way that separates rather than includes and it is too often perceived int rems of what it appears to stand against rather than the things for which it truly stands. Church continues to struggle with its identity and its place in God's mission. This came home to me again in recent conversation where once again I found myself asking the question: For what purpose does the church primarily exist?

If your answer to that question is primarily about worship, that will shape your understanding about what it first on the list of priorities and what is not just as answering the question by putting mission as the focus will do too.

I belong firmly to the camp that understands mission to be the prerogative of God, its in his nature, and he calls people to himself to share with him in his mission. This can only be truly achieved through relationship and any relationship with God will naturally involve worship, discipleship, obedience and all the other things that go along with that. But they are not the primary focus, the mission of God remans the main thing.

Over the last couple of years, as we've moved out of the legacy model of church life and deeper into the missional model, we've learnt a lot. We've learnt that discerning what God is doing in our community is far harder than planning a programme and executing it. We've learnt that no matter how we explain what we are doing, there are still a lot of people who think the end result will be gathering a group of people together on a Sunday morning to sing songs and listen to a talk. We've also learnt he truth behind the old saying that God moves in mysterious ways!

At the outset of our journey, (which for the sake of argument we'll stick at the time we left the legacy model, although it started well before that), we had hopes and dreams and ideas about what we did and didn't want it to become. We were no so arrogant as to believe that we had it all sorted and that we knew exclusively what God wanted us to do. In fact far from it.

There have been times when we would love to have started a small bible study group at home or in someone's house and to be able to tell stories of people coming to faith and something tangibly church-like to show for it. That would have made it easier to show people that we'd done what we set out to do, provided of course that that was what we actually set out to do in the first place. We did not!

What we have, 30 months down the line, are some emerging relationships and opportunities to connect with our community. We still don't know where and to what it might lead. In some ways we don't really care. We're just trying to follow God in what he's doing, making ourselves as available as we can, learning to be explorers and pioneers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Coaching Tennis

Last year I did a Level 1 tennis coaching course. Level 1 is the starting point for everyone, which can be a bit frustrating if you don't really see yourself working with young children. For me, the purpose behind doing the course was to be able to work with adult beginners rather than children. But that's the way it has to be done. Once I'd qualified I then discovered that the LTA didn't recognise my first Aid qualification and I was rather frustrated by the whole thing.

A year on and I'm actually doing a bit of coaching! I have 3 juniors and 3-4 adults. I'm not making my fortune, but it's enjoyable, more so than I imagined it would be. I'm not an extrovert, and most of the coaching practice on the training course seems to require you to be one! The truth is that you have to find your own way to communicate and it does come if you make the effort to engage with those you are teaching.

Probably the most challenging parts of coaching involve working out what the student is doing and what they need to focus on to make an improvement. The second hardest thing is not showing your frustration when you ask them to do something and they don't get it!! I have an increased respect for Neil who coaches me!

Hopefully next year, once the rugby season is over, I'll be able to do my Level 2 certificate, not just in order to be "qualified" to teach adults but with some extra skills to do that. I was once told by a tennis playing friend that anyone could coach and you didn't need a qualification to do it. He's right in one way, no one tends to ask to see your credentials, but he's also quite wrong. Doing the initial course gives you so much information that helps you understand how to get started and how to coach. Something you don't just pick up along the way as a player.

What was interesting was that over the summer we ran a sports week in the village and I was heavily involved. I was able to apply the coaching skills I'd learned to another sport (bowls), not realising how transferable those skills were.

Maybe I'll look at some rugby coaching next!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Visiting the Barrier

I mentioned in a previous post that we'd visited the Thames Barrier, an amazing engineering project across the river that I remember being proposed and then completed in the early 80's as I recall (work actually began in the mid 70's). Well, although it was a rather wet day, I did take a few pictures with my recently acquired iPhone 5S and here are a couple.

 The barrier divides the river into a series of both navigable and non-navigable channels spanning some 500 plus metres.

The really clever bit is the semi-circular gate between the piers that rotates into position.

Based on the principle of a simple domestic gas valve, the large steel semi-cylinders control the flow of the water. Interestingly they are full of water when submerged, but empty as they rotate into the closed position.

The design was first proposed back in the 1950's apparently. A major flood in 1953 help focus attention on the need for better defences and the move to containerised shipping made a barrier more feasible.

The barrier is expected to be serviceable until around 2070 and there are already other ambitious proposals for a new barrier further east.

You can visit the barrier on either bank, the visitor centre on the south bank and the park and gardens on the north bank. Sadly there's no easy way to go between the two!

Monday, October 13, 2014

More rain!

I managed to escape the worst of the rain on Saturday and on Sunday too for that matter. But it's falling again this morning and I'm wondering if my tennis match at lunchtime will be possible. It's on a hard court, so provided it's not flooded we might just make it. 

We got our steps in over the weekend. A good walk around the village and then doing my pitch-side stuff at the rugby covered Saturday and tun on Sunday we had a walk through Purfleet for the RSPB place at Rainham Marshes. Apparently the marshes were the site of an ordinance store that was made to look like a lake to confuse enemy bombers. Or so I've ben told. It's now a wildlife centre that attracts birdwatchers and people like us who just like to walk by the river. 

I've no idea how wide the river is at this point, but it's certainly wide enough to make even some rather large ships look quite average. Purfleet has quite a military heritage. In the 18th century the Royal Magazine was established there. Not a glossy journal, but a storage facility for gunpowder. A garrison was also located in Purfeet to protect the magazine. There's a small museum that we've yet to visit. It's also the home to the Royal Opera House's High House Production Centre where the community chorus performed Verdi's Requiem back in July. Significant because Anne was in the chorus!

Back at the visitor's centre we had hot chocolate before setting off to visit friends for the late afternoon. The centre gives you a great view of the marshes, surrounded as they are by the industrial sights and sounds of the area. In the not too far distance the high speed gains into Kent and the Eurostar rush by along with the more sedate suburban railway. Looking eastward there's the QE2 bridge and the west, on a good day, the buildings of Canary Wharf and beyond into the city are clearly visible. If you want to, you can walk to Rainham station along the riverside. There's even a short path that takes you over the edge of the reclaimed landfill site! We've hill-walked and Fell-walked but until recently we had never landfill hill crossed!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Waiting for the rain to stop!

It's early on Saturday morning and I'm sitting here listening to the rain tapping on the window. The app on my 'phone says it should stop with the sunrise that's supposed to be taking place right now, but it doesn't sound like it's stopping anytime soon.

The reason this is significant is that at 8:00am I should be coaching my adult tennis group. We've done pretty well so far, in fact I think we've had 13 or 14 weeks without a break for the weather at all. Given the rain we've had this week, it wouldn't be a surprise that we may have to cancel today's session.

I really enjoy the coaching, possibly more than I thought I would. I'm even rather enjoying coaching the youngsters too! I now have three with whom I'm working and I'm thinking of running a tennis camp next Easter.

The rain is getting heavier by the way, so I'm guessing I should send out a text message, although I'd be surprised if anyone turned up!

Next on today's agenda is a rugby match. If the rain persists that will be a wet affair too. Looks like it's time to dig out the waterproofs and prepare for winter then! Why couldn't I get involved with a basketball club or some other indoor activity!

On the other hand, I do actually like being outdoors. I've even started some personal training with a friend of mine in the local park. It's more of a challenge to think about how to programme outdoor training as against going from one bit of kit to another in the gym, but the outdoors is so much better for you than the fluorescent tube palaces of the corporate fitness world. The only issue is the weather. My friend did ask what we would do if it rained. I simply replied, "Get wet!" I guess having grown up playing outdoor sports through the winter that you don't really think too much about the weather.

Well, the sun is up and the rain is still falling. I've just had a text from one of the group and sent a return message to the others to cancel this morning's session. I may still need to don the waterproofs and go for a walk, but I'll leave that a while and see if the promised sunny spells arrive in the next hour or so.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chipping Away at my target

Well, today marks day 40 of the 100-day challenge. Having made it through September, we're now well on the way to the halfway point. I've even been looking a little further ahead to Christmas as the next target.

This last week I've had a companion for most of the walking. Anne's been on holiday and we've walked together. Sometimes it's just been around the village, but we've also had a couple of walk along the river. On Tuesday we visited the Thames Barrier and then walked through the Woolwich foot tunnel under the river. As far as I know there are only the two foot tunnels on this side of the city, and we've used both of them now! I don't know what it is about walking under the river, but I quite enjoy it.

The Greenwich tunnel is 1,215 feet (370.2 m) long and 50 feet (15.2 m) deep. It's cast iron, lined with concrete and tiled. At Woolwich the tunnel is 504m long. Quite how deep it is and how it's constructed I don't know, but it's very similar to the Greenwich tunnel from the inside. The Woolwich tunnel is the less well used of the two, probably because of the ferry service that's available. As a pedestrian it's possibly quicker to cross by foot than by ferry, but I'd have to go and try it to be sure! It would certainly be true when there's only one ferry working! I believe there are around 110 steps at either end of both tunnels, and if you want to test your fitness you can race the lift up. I managed to make it to the top just as the lift arrived. Impressive for a man of my advancing years!

Anyway, what with tunnels and wandering along the river, we managed to make our 10000 target each day and with some tennis thrown in on Monday I think I had my best day with over 27600 steps taken.

Some days are obviously easier than others, but overall, just by walking a bit farther, taking the stairs rather than the lift or escalator, or leaving the car at home, it's possible to get those healthy steps into your schedule.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday 3rd Oct. 14

With so much going on in the world it's difficult to know where to start. Watching the events in and around Iraq unfold, one can't help wondering if air strikes by western military forces are a solution or fuel to the fire. We're back to Bill Clinton's question about why they hate us so much. Is this an intractable ideology that has only one agenda and that's the subjugation of all humanity under one paradigm? And, if it's an ideology, can you really bomb it out of existence?

As the Prime Minister announces two more Tornado jets are being sent into action, there's talk of withdrawal from the European convention on human rights. Too much interference from Europe might placate those who see Europe as a threat to our sovereignty, but is it the wisest way forward or is it just an attempt to halt the progress of UKIP? We do seem to have a political system based on emotive arguments, self-interest and soundbites these days. Perhaps it has always been so, we've just not seen it. On the other hand, if it ushers in a proper bill of rights and a new constitution by which we become citizens rather than subjects, then that would be a good thing surely.

Personally, I'm not looking forward to next year's general election at all. Mainly because I would feel guilty if I didn't vote but in realty I'm rather disinclined to do so. Not voting is not a sign of apathy, at least not for me. It would be a signal of dissatisfaction with the system. But the system we have is the only one we have! Catch 22. Vote and make no difference, or don't vote and still make no difference! Maybe I've just become rather too cynical about it all. I'd like to think that people would sit down and think through what they believe and vote accordingly, seeking to find the party or manifesto that best represents those views. Instead I fear we mostly vote for what suits us best, or more likely we vote against something.

The first time I voted it was a rather special occasion. I remember going to the polling station but alas I can't remember the reason! Maybe it wasn't that special after all. I turned 18 in October 1975, the first General Election in which I could vote would have been 1979 when the ailing Labour government of the day was replaced by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party. But my memory tells me that I voted in something before then, perhaps not long after my birthday in '75. Anyway, apart from one election when I completely forgot that I hadn't been to the polls ( how I did that I can't imagine), I've voted at every opportunity since. In all that time I think I can safely say that my vote made a difference twice, maybe three times because I got to vote on devolution in Wales the first around in the 70's. By this I mean that my vote, along with many others, changed the MP or directly affected a decision. But just because my vote generally speaking hasn't done that, does that make it a pointless exercise?

Come next year I will have to decide what to do. I'm caught between the idea of protesting by not voting and realising that by not voting my vote, albeit a "not vote", won't count for anything because we determine the winner by a majority of votes cast not by gaining a majority of the votes that could be cast. I could, by not voting, actually contribute to the election of a candidate I wouldn't want to represent me! Woe is me!

At least it's been a good week for tennis. I played my first match of the new round of league matches and managed to grind out a win in three sets that took 2.5 hours to play. The other players all look strong so it was good to make a positive start to what promises to be a challenging group of matches. At least there are no politics in tennis....

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

September Walking Stats

So, the first month of my walking challenge is completed. A back injury threatened to scupper my attempt to complete 100 days just at the end of the month, but I got through that and hit my 10k steps a day target every day.

The bare numbers for September are:

Total steps: 387303

Approx. miles: 194

Average per day: 12910

Last time I did the challenge my average by the end of September was around 12500, but that wasn't just September. I'd have to open up the old spreadsheet to do a direct comparison, and that's not something I'm going to do right now, maybe later.

I'm not sure my schedule is any more of a help or hindrance to achieving my goal. I may not have the walk to the station and back that made hitting 10k easier on the days I didn't get set to go walking, but then again I have more opportunities to include walking and running in my daily activities. So it's back to that simple principle of making disciplined choices day to day. And that's key. The pedometer resets everyday, so you can't just accumulate steps on good days and offset them against the bad days. Everyday you have to go out and reach your goal.

What will be interesting is seeing what sort of impact doing the challenge has on my health and fitness this time around. Last time I was starting from a fairly low point with a lot of weight to lose and distinct lack of fitness. This time I'm much fitter and healthier, so maybe the impact will be less obvious and in turn less motivating. We shall have to see.

By the end of October, if everything goes to plan, I'll be 61 days into the challenge, well over half way and possibly considering how far past 100 days I might go. Will I break the 104 day record from the first time around, will I decided to have a day off to avoid becoming overly obsessed with it all? Who knows? As far as Anne's concerned I'm already obsessed anyway, so why not just keep going!!

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Well here it is, my certificate that declares me a winner!

Even though I say so myself I had a pretty impressive run. As they in sport you can only play what's in front of you and I managed to come through with four wins out of four with no dropped sets!

Two of the others in the group I'd played before and won, the other two were new to me. My first match was a nervy two set affair that I eventually won 6-3, 6-1. The next day I played what would turn out to be the deciding match of the round. The first set was a topsy-turvy affair swapping breaks and reaching 6-6 to set up a tie-break. Suddenly I got some momentum and won the tie-break 7-1 and then made a fast start to the second set winning that 6-1. 

So two matches down and two matches won. 

After a couple of cancellations we finally got the third match arranged and I won that quite comfortably 6-0, 6-0. My final match was against a good friend, which always makes it a little more difficult although there is the added bonus of being able to have some fun too. The score, just for completion was 6-0, 6-1. Winning that meant for the first time ever I could say I'd won a tournament, and with quite an impressive record too. 8 sets, only 1 tie-break, only 12 games lost, half in one set!

Now it might not a very high level tournament, you might not even think of it as a tournament at all if you're that way inclined, but for me it was quite a moment. In the next round I will probably be playing in the top group and I'm sure that will be more difficult. I might be back to counting points and games won rather than matches, but for now I have certificate and a prize to celebrate. Pass me a mother Coke Zero and an Eccles cake please!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Our continuing journey

I hesitate to talk about "our missional journey", partly because missional has become a somewhat overused buzz word and partly because our journey might not look that missional by some standards. But a missional journey it is all the same. Our particular journey may not be as intentional as some, but it is moving along. Sometimes we don't see the movement, it just seems to happen around us. Perhaps that's a good thing. When people ask us what we are doing, I usually reply that we are learning to live in the community as ordinary people and that we're trying to see what God is doing and join in with him.

We've never tried to define that with any sense of accuracy or precision. On the other hand, we've always known that it has a lot to do with building friendships that are not predicated on an evangelistic goal. We are friends because we are friends and not because we're looking for an outreach project. Somehow we have to balance that with a sense of intentionality, the idea that we want to share our faith with the folk we've come to know, but never as the sole goal of being friends. As I've said, we are friends because we are friends.

So it is that we find ourselves doing things we might never have imagined doing 5 or 10 years ago. I coach tennis and I look after a rugby team doing therapy and pitch-side first aid. We'd never have thought that this is how our journey would take shape. And even if we did imagine it, it's interesting how it's grown through others and not ourselves. I was asked to get involved with the rugby club through a contact made through my time volunteering as a student therapist at another club. I tried to start some adult tennis on my terms, but that didn't work and then along came someone else asking about courts and lessons and here we are.

It makes me think of one of John Kramp's "laws of lostology" from his book Out of their faces and into their shoes. Over time I've probably adjusted his original intention, but a quick look at my blog post about the book reminds me that what we are currently trying to do is to be involved in the search (Law 23). Simply by being out there, wherever "there" might be, in our case it's a tennis court or a rugby pitch, we're putting ourselves where people can meet us and we can meet them. Conversations happen, friendships form, relationships build. Always praying and hoping that an opportunity will arise to share something of our faith that will nudge people towards the kingdom.

Is that enough? For some it isn't. That's okay, I can live with that, I can give thanks for the difference. I'm not one for measuring my missional effectiveness only by how many times I get to share the story of Jesus, important as it is. I want people to hear, the understand and to know they have a choice to make. But I'm also convinced that we are often only part of one person's journey and leaving them ready for the next step is a crucial part of our responsibility.

So we will continue to take a slow approach. We won't try to pouch things along any faster than they are able to go. Sometimes that will probably mean that we won't push hard enough, but rather that than push too hard too often. It's a learning curve anyway.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cracking on!

Well, so far I've managed 18 consecutive days of my 10k steps a day challenge. And all without resorting to wandering around the house late at night in a desperate bid to pass the target! It's very interesting both physically and mentally to engage in a challenge. There's the obsessive side of things where you find yourself checking your pedometer every so often through the day to see how you're doing, and the frustration of discovering you haven't gone nearly as far as you thought. Then there's the knowledge phase where you've figured out how many steps it take to do the weekly supermarket shop and factored that into you Friday plan (we shop on Fridays). You also get to know that it's 750 steps to the postbox or that an hour on the tennis court might give you 7k or even 8k if you have to run a lot. You might even become familiar with how many steps there to the bottom of the garden and back.

One of the biggest factors in any challenge is the motivation to keep going. There are ups and downs, highs and lows that catch you unaware from time to time. Just when you think you've got it cracked and that getting up, slipping into your trainers and pounding the streets has become part of your routine an injury or illness looks to stop in your tracks. Then you realise just how hard it is to motivate yourself to either keep going or get going once your back to fitness or health.

I remember the first time I did the challenge I suffered an injury to my calf. Determined not to miss a day, I iced it, elevated it, compressed it and fortunately got back out the very next day with no significant ill effects. I don't recall how far through the 100 days I was at that point, I just remember thinking I needed to keep going. Then we had the snow and the ice that followed, making walking quite difficult. But by then I was well into the challenge and I persevered.

Any of these things could have set me back and caused me to give up, but they didn't. I think that was because the walking challenge was part of a health and fitness programme I was committed to at the time. Both Anne and I wanted to lose some weight and get healthier for our daughter's wedding the following year, so that in itself was a motivating factor.

This time around it's mostly about doing the challenge. Hopefully I'll improve my fitness too, but I want to see if I can achieve the goal just for the sake of the goal. It's a bit like walking coast to coast just because you can. Maybe one day we'll do that too.

I don't know if anyone else has taken up the challenge to do 100 days that I suggested at the beginning of September, but you can start anytime, and even if you have to make two or three restarts it doesn't really matter.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday 12th Sept

The only mention yesterday of it being September 11th came at out Thursday morning social tennis. I can't recall anything in the news, but then again I may have missed it. Perhaps 13 years on it's time that a day many of us won't forget finds its resting place in history. No TV specials about what really happened, no drama documentaries, just a simple acknowledgement that the world changed and the impact of that change continues to reverberate today.

We had just move to Bedford and I was wandering in the garden when our new neighbour asked me if I'd seen the breaking news. I went back inside and put the TV on to see the events continue to unfold through that afternoon. Hastily we arranged to open the church. No big fanfare, just making sure we were there if anyone wanted a space to think, to pray. Some did.

At the time I wondered whether world leaders missed a chance to declare peace rather than war, but that time has passed and we find ourselves facing yet more difficult times and challenges as militancy rises across increasingly unsettled parts of our world. Some will see evidence of eschatological fulfilment, others simply the turmoil of the times. Bill Clinton, after his final term as president, came to the UK and spoke at the Labour Party Conference. He suggested that one of the things we desperately needed to do was to ask the question: "Why do they hate us so much" Not as some introspective search for our own guilt, but as a realistic, honest enquiry about our relationship with those who choose to attack us. We may think we know, but do we really know the answer to such a question? Perhaps we'd discover that the situation is as intractable as it appears, perhaps not. Sadly we cannot go back and try another solution.

The same is true for the impending vote on independence for Scotland. They too will not be able to run the clock forwards or backwards to see if the decision made in the poll is the best choice or not. I still think remaining a union is the right choice, and then within that union deciding how best to live and work alongside each other as nations within a nation. All the talk from both sides seems to be peppered with its fair amount of accusations and scaremongering. I hope that no matter what choice is made that we will be supportive of each other through whatever changes need to be made. I hope too that independence isn't just a reaction to some centuries old bitterness.

A Grand Night Out

So, last night we went to see Art Garfunkel at the Royal Festival Hall. When we booked the tickets back in March, the event was billed as an "intimate evening with Art Garfunkel". I'm not sure you could describe the Festival Hall as intimate, but it was a great evening and a real pleasure to listen to him sing live. You get a true sense of the nature of the voice when it's not polished through a studio production.

He sang, he told stories, he read prose and poetry. The audience was both attentive and appreciative. Accompanied by a solo acoustic guitar he gave us his interpretations of Kathy's song, The Sound of Silence, The Boxer, and a host of other songs from five decades of music. His poetry was funny, sensitive and thoughtful.

We both really enjoyed the whole thing and it's great to have now heard both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel live in the past two years.

We don't go out very often, and always wonder why when we live in such close proximity to so much. But that's probably true of many others. After the concert we walked back over the river to Temple tube station to make our way back to Fenchurch Street for the train home. Crossing the river at night is quite a delight. The lights along the river and along the Embankment give you a whole new view of the city. Standing on the terrace of the Festival Hall you can see what we assumed was Charing Cross Station. It took us a little while to work it out, we don't usually see it from the above ground and from the south bank at that!

Years ago stations were mostly just stations. Bleak, uninteresting places through which you passed on your journey from one place to another. Rarely did you enjoy spending any time in them, but now they are hives of activity with shopping centres and restaurants that serve something far more appetising than curled edged sandwiches and questionable sausage rolls. I certainly feel no wave of nostalgia for the hours spent at St Pancras waiting for the train north to Nottingham. These days I could happily while away a couple of hours in a coffee shop or bookshop, even the champagne if pushed! Railway stations are not what they used to be and thank goodness for that!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

2000 to go!

I know it's only been a week and a day, but I'm beginning to get back into a routine of doing my 10k steps each day. Getting through the weekend was a key this time around because of my new weekend routine of tennis and rugby. If I were simply playing tennis, then I'd probably notch up 10k quite easily, but because I'm coaching it's not quite so easy. And rugby takes up the whole afternoon but doesn't involve me in a lot of exercise. So I was quite pleased to have managed to hit my target both days.

Today I have about 2,000 steps left to do and that shouldn't be a problem. In fact I might go out for a stroll when I've finished this post. Tomorrow marks day 10 of the challenge, which was the initial target set to get me into a routine. My next target will be 25 consecutive days.

I had a quick look at the first time I did this 10k challenge. The statistics ares till quite impressive. Over the course of the year I kept a record I managed a total of 4,565,972 steps, which is about 2,283 miles. That's  about the length of Britain twice or the equivalent of walking from Seattle to Chicago by the looks of it on the map. Given it was only just over 6 miles a day, that suggests a coast to coast walk across America could be done in maybe 100 days? An interesting thought!

In the September of my challenge back in 2010 I managed to do 10k everyday, averaging 12,510. So far I'm ahead of that figure, but it is only the 9th! Still, it will be interesting to see how it goes.

It's not too late to join the challenge. It's good to have company, even if it's only virtual, and we can encourage one another to keep going when the rain and wind and cold and dark closes in on us. I remember days when I watched the rain and in the end had to pull on the waterproofs and just get out there. Then there were the days when the snow had come and then refrozen to create an ice-rink, but somehow I managed to stay upright most of the time and hit my stride each day.

So although you might have missed out on 10 consecutive days by the 14th (I think that's what I suggested), there's still plenty of time to get out and get moving. Of course you might want to include a bit of running now we know we actually does burn more calories, or maybe you could just breathe a bit harder when you walk!

Move more!

As a follow up to yesterday's post about energy consumption (runners are probably still rejoicing over the news), I remembered something I read in one of Mark Sisson's books about his approach to health and fitness. If you don't know of Mark he is the author of The Primal Blueprint and writes regularly on his blog Mark's Daily Apple. I don't remember the exact quote, but the principle could be expressed as move more, run sometimes. I think it was more like move slowly, run sometimes, I'd have to look it up to get it absolutely precise.

Anyway, the thing I want you to pick up is that you don't have to run all the time. If you're only just thinking about getting fitter, a little more healthy, and you either don't want to run or know you'd really struggle, then this simple mantra of moving more and sometimes moving a little faster might just be what you ned to get started. It's akin to what is called interval training in the fitness world. Forget going to the sports shop for some nice tight lycra running clothing and trying to choose form the bewildering array of trainers. Forget wondering about whether you're a pronator, supinator, or whether you should go barefoot or five- fingered. Just get something in which you can walk comfortably and maybe run a bit when you feel the urge, and hopefully you will feel the urge at some point!

Then set yourself an achievable target. You know I like the 10k steps a day challenge. As part of that challenge I like to try and do at least half in one hit as continuous exercise. Sometimes that will just be about walking, but sometimes I will run. Not very far. Maybe I'll alternate walking and jogging between lampposts. Sometimes I'll sprint! There's a nice row of posts on a path not too far from home, sometimes I start at one end and run from the first to third post, then walk to the next one and run the next two until I get to the end. Then I'll walk around the road in a half circle until I get to the start again and repeat the cycle. Other times I'll run for a couple of minutes and walk for a minute.

Whatever you do, make it fun and vary it when you can. There's nothing as dull as doing the same thing over and over again. What's worse is that your body gets used to it and you get less benefit, from a fitness point of view, as a result.

So go on, give it a try: Move more, run sometimes, have fun!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Running or walking?

According to simple physics, running a mile or walking a mile should require the same amount of energy, and by implication that means it should make no difference to the number of calories you use whether you run or walk. But the problem with that argument, and it's one we've almost all subscribed to over the years, is that it doesn't really take into account the differences between the way the body works when you run and when you walk.

I haven't done a lot of reading around this at the moment, but I did come across some interesting research that has been done that suggests that we will have to concede that running does in fact burn more calories than walking.  While simple physics might tell you that if you move a fixed mass over a fixed distance you will require the same amount of energy no matter how fast you move it, the physiology of our bodies means that we work (as in use energy) differently when we run compared to when we walk. We use more oxygen when we run and consuming oxygen requires energy which in turn raises our metabolic rate. One study found the overall difference in energy consumption to be around 100 Kj or about 25 Kcal (1 Kcal is what we would usually use as a dietary calorie).

So, if you can run, you will burn more calories over a given distance than you would walking it, but of course the point is that whether you run or walk, exercise is good for you. If by running you can only run say 3 days out of 7, but by walking you could walk 6 out of 7, then maybe, over the course of a week, you'd be better off walking.

The other thing that I want to look at, but I'm not sure I'll get the time or have the deep desire to do it, is the way some of the apps you can use measure the calorie burn of exercise. I use two apps, one for exercise, and one for food. The tow are linked and often report quite different results, probably because of the maths they use to make the calculations. That's okay, measuring my energy use is neither a high priority nor an exact science and certainly not the reason for using these particular apps. No, the algorithms aren't the issue, it's whether they take into consideration how much energy is being used above my basal metabolic rate.

So, yes we have probably got to concede that runners burn more calories than walkers over the same distance, but just because you're not a runner doesn't mean it's time to hang up your trainers. You might just have to go a bit further instead!!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Friday, Sept. 5th

Last night we watched the BBC drama about the development of radar through the work of Robert Watson-Watt and his team. How accurate the dramatisation was I don't know, that's a job for the historians. What I liked about the story was the portrayal of the creative process. Perhaps you have to be wired up a certain way to appreciate the way ideas developed as they sought solve the challenges they faced. For example, the problem of power. Solved not by sitting at a desk with a slide rule and sheet of paper, but by playing cricket on the beach.

This is the thing about creative thinkers, they have the imagination to connect dots into patterns that most people cannot see. But are they the only ones? Is it possible that we all have some ability to think outside the box, it's just that it's either been educated out of us or we've become to frightened of the consequences of failure to try it anymore? It's probably a bit of both, and it's rather.

Radar didn't just drop form the sky in a moment of absolute inspiration. It grew out of a project exploring the use of radio waves to detect storm clouds and thereby give pilots advance warning. But I still think the step forward marks Watson-Watt and his colleagues as giants upon whose shoulders we have the privilege of standing. Had he not conceived of the idea, would anyone else have done it?

It make me wonder whether some of the solutions to some of our problems, from the mundane to the world changing, are simply waiting for us to have the imagination of them. Maybe we need someone to start writing some inspirational science fiction that paints a picture of the future which is not about a burning, uninhabitable or inhospitable world, or a world fraught with technological or biological danger due to "science gone mad", and not some utopian dream gone right or wrong. Just a picture of a future full of possibilities that might stir our imagination and create some new solutions.

Okay, maybe that's a bit too prosaic for a Friday, but what about the challenges you face right now? If you could set your imagination free then perhaps you too could dream a solution that has so far eluded you. You just never know!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Taking up the walking challenge again!

I can't believe that it's 4 years since I set myself the challenge to walk a million steps in one hundred days. It all started with a challenge to walk 200,000 steps in August 2010. From there I started walking every day and kept a record of steps for the next year. I remember purposely choosing not to walk my daily target of 10k steps around day 105 to try and avoid becoming overly obsessive about it all, but continuing to record and challenge myself over the course of the following year. In August 2011 I set myself the target of walking 500,000 steps in a single month.

Well I think it's high time I took up the challenge again, so I've started to load up my pocket with my trusty pedometer and hit the streets. When it comes to being achievable, targets have to realistic. I'd like to do the 100 days again, and I think I can do it but it's more challenging this time than it was 4 years ago. Back in 2010 I could easily hit my target by walking up to the station and back twice a day. I'd get up and walk with Anne, call in at the office or just walk home again and then later in the day walk back into town or wait until the evening and walk up to the station to accompany Anne home. Now the station is only 8 minutes away, about half a mile, and so I have to make a plan to go and walk each day rather than simply incorporating into my schedule.

We're back to the discipline thing again, something I discovered last time and often talked about when asked how I managed to keep to the plan. So discipline it is. Actually, the last couple of days have been interesting because I've had a cold and not really felt like exercising. So instead of seeing my walk as exercise, I've simply gone out to get some fresh air. I've wandered more than walked purposefully and the steps have accumulated. I find getting a good 30-40 minutes done in one hit is great. It makes a good dent in the numbers game and rather than looking at the pedometer in the afternoon to discover I've only done 1,000 steps I might look and see that I only have another 2,500 to go to hit the 10k marker.

So how about joining me in this challenge? Let's make the first target to achieve 10k steps on 10 consecutive days over the next 2 weeks. That give you 14 days to do it and the chance for a couple of restarts if something should get in the way. I might even offer prizes to those who are nearby enough to not need me to post them!! Or maybe you can offer yourself your own prize. It doesn't have to be extravagant, a water bottle for example might be all you need, or if I'm giving out prizes, all you will get!

The rules will be simple enough: I'll trust you to be honest about what you actually do and the only criteria is that you manage 10 consecutive days. If you don't have a pedometer then I'd recommend the one I use. It's an Omron Walking Style II. It's been replaced I think by the mark III version, but I've seen the MkII still available in a few places. I like it because it seems to work quite well and you can stick it in a pocket rather than having to strap it to your hip like you have to with some devices. You can of course get an app for it with some devices I'm sure.

If you don't have a pedometer or can't wait for delivery to get started, then why not use a mapping app to measure the distance of your walk to the station or the office. For the purposes of this challenge we'll assume that 5 miles (8Km) is equivalent to 10K steps. Or you could use something like Runkeeper or Map my Run on the iPhone to measure a walk.

So that's it. 10 days is the first marker. If you don't quite make it first time around, keep going. when I first started in August 2010 I spent the first month working out was normal for me. That's not a bad idea, there will be plenty of time for you to pick up the challenge, it's never too late to have a go. It might be that hitting 5K will be a big step up for you personally and that 10K is just a step too far (puns intended and apologised for too!)

I hope to get fitter and healthier as a result because in the end just being able to say I've done 100 days again isn't really the point.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday, 29th August 2014

It's been one of those weeks where the weather has had quite an influence on my diary! Mostly because I was due to play in a gras court tennis tournament, but the rain washed out the first two days and I decided that time had run out and I needed to withdraw.The decision was helped by having commitments later in the week and the likely probability that the courts are so wet that I'm not sure they'll dry out much before the weekend anyway.

Fortunately the weekend wasn't so bad. In fact Sunday morning was really nice and rather interesting. I"d been asked if I'd coach the child of one of the adults who plays on a Saturday morning in our little social tennis group that's come together at the local recreation ground. In the process of preparing I met another parent with their daughter who was interested in joining and then two more and finally another parent came to me to ask if I would consider coaching their son. Now until they sign up and pay the money it's just a possibility, and by next weekend it might all have come to nothing, but you never know.

Just around three years ago we were in the final throes of our time as local church leaders. Things were pretty clear that how we wanted to pursue ministry didn't fit with the model the local church wanted. To be honest, we knew right from the start that it was going to be tough, but it turned out to so much harder than even I imagined. Anyway, that situation precipitated our buying a home of own and a change of direction. After two and a bit years in our new community we've begun to see signs of things opening. Working with the community, learning to be in the community, we're taking small steps through sport to engage with people.

Over the last couple of years we've often been asked how the new church is going, have we got a building yet, what have we been doing? Many of these questions presuppose a particular expression of mission and ministry that produces some gathered group in a building somewhere on a Sunday morning as a sign that we're succeeding in mission. For good or ill we've fought against that. Not that meeting together is unimportant or that gathering a group for worship and discipleship is irrelevant. It's just that we didn't want to be be defined by a model too soon, and we didn't want simply to reproduce what many others are already doing in our community.

So, instead of describing what church is and then trying to fit that into what we are doing, or worse still trying to fit what we are doing into a prescribed definition of church, we're simply trying to see what God is up to and how we can be part of that, building relationships as we go. We've talked about what else we can do if the Sunday morning coaching grows. About how we could open up the Pavilion for tea and coffee during the colder months, maybe have the Sunday papers out.

The pattern is simple, it is about responding to what we see around us, the opportunities that arise from just being amongst ordinary people doing ordinary things. We haven't cracked it by any means, and we're not celebrating some sort of breakthrough in mission. It may all come to very little. It may all disappear as quickly as it appeared. The council might ban us! Who knows.

What is exciting is that we don't know. There are no predictable outcomes, no established measures. When I was training as a therapist we were constantly told that we must learn to see through our sense of touch. We even spent one training session working with blindfolds on. Living a missional life is, in many ways, a process of learning to see without using your church-conditioned eyes. It's about setting aside the filters through which we always used to see things.

Measuring missional success is a tricky business. For some, the measure will always remain pretty much as it was in the legacy model of church. For others the measure may drift too far from the intentional outcomes of the kingdom. When I get worried about outcomes I remind myself of something I tell myself constantly while I play tennis. Process not outcome. Between points, especial when I mess up a shot or make an error, I flick my wristband and say to myself, "Process, not outcome." It's a simple reminder that if I focus on the process, the outcome will take of itself. On the other hand, if I focus solely on the outcome, the process invariably gets messed up.

When it comes to the kingdom, God does the saving, he takes care of the outcome because that's his job not mine. If I pay attention to the process, the being there for people,  making relationships, forming friendships, sharing stories and hearing stories, then I believe the outcome will take care of itself because it's in God's hands and not mine. This, I believe, is being intentional without being gladiatorial in mission.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What was it with king Saul?

Every time I read through the story of Saul I find myself wondering what went wrong with Saul. If you fall into the trap of comparing sin, then you might come to the conclusion that his offences were no worse than David's or even that David's sin was the more serious. But we know that such a comparison is pointless because all sin is sin from a Biblical perspective (Jas. 2:10). So what went wrong for Saul?

It seems to start with hiding in the luggage. It would be rather odd, to my mind at least, to suggest that God chose Saul because he knew he would fail and that would prove a point about how worn the nation had been for asking for a king. It's pretty obvious that God was displeased with heir demand to be like the other nations, but I do not believe that God is so petty that he would do such a thing. No, I'd rather look more positively at the way God would use the monarchy to continue to work out his plan and purpose.

So Saul was not chosen to fail. He had all the potential to be a great king, a good leader of the people. But he became driven. His call became lost in the need to hold on to power. Dare one suggest that this might even be true for one or two of the high profile church leaders of our own day? Rapidly growing a church from nothing to thousands seems to come at a price. When churches become corporations it must be very hard not to become the king of your own empire. Peter Parker's uncle had it right when he spoke of great responsibility being associated with great power.

When he first became king, Saul was greeted with scepticism that soon turned to adulation when he won his first battle. But within only a few chapters the king who had led thousands had only a few hundred with him. What was more important was that he was becoming less and less connected, making every more rash decisions and vows.

Did Saul confess his mistakes, did he repent of his sin? Is this what makes him different to David? Saul was not described as a man after God's own heart, but then neither were a number of good kings either. David was not a "special one", but clearly something was different.

I once caused a minor tremor when I wondered aloud about what set Peter apart from Judas? Both had betrayed Jesus to some extent, Peter through his denial, Judas directly. But once again you can't weight their actions and say one comes up worse than the other. No, the thing that seems to distinguish these two is that one of them dealt with it through confession and therefore found forgiveness and the other chose to deal with their sin on their own. One judged himself, the other trusted the judgement of God. Could this have been Saul's problem too? Did he become so selfish, so driven that he paid the price for his own sin and never put himself in the hands of God? I'll keep reading and I'll keep trying to make sense of it all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Of ice buckets and challenges

Social media is awash with videos of people doing the ice-bucket challenge. I haven't looked up the origin of this movement, and quite honestly I'm not that interested. I'm not saying I don't care about ALS (or Motor Neurone Disease as it is more commonly known here in the UK). I'm just not that interested in how it all began.

What is fascinating is the way peer pressure and social media seem to be working. I haven't been nominated, and there's no point nominating me anyway because I'd probably just ignore the whole thing. Again, not because I'm some sort of callous uncaring individual but because I'm an individual who makes their own decisions and choices. And who's to say whether I have or have not made a donation anyway.

As I understand it, the basic idea of the challenge is to drench yourself in ice water or make a donation to the charity. I'm rather hoping that everyone who soaks themselves also chooses to make a donation and not just a soggy nomination of three other people. If you've yet to see Patrick Stewart's challenge yet, then find it, watch it and think about it. Without words he makes the point wonderfully well.

Then read some of the comments. You won't get too far before you come across those who miss the point entirely. Perhaps we need a few more silent videos of people writing cheques to remind people that this isn't just about getting wet, but there's a serous side to it all as well. In the meantime, if pouring ice cold water over yourself is something you want to try, then make sure you put plenty of ice in the water first. Just using cold water is surely cheating!

You can donate to the Motor Neurone Disease Association in the UK through their website

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday, 22nd Aug 2014

It almost feels as if I ought not to reflect on the things I'm going to share just in case I somehow jinx them and they come to nothing. Ah well, here goes!

It's been an interesting few weeks when it comes to opportunities to live out this missional life. Defining missional remains challenging and the more it becomes a buzz word the more undefined it seems to become. Something doesn't become missional just because you attach the tag missional to it.

Anyway, to the things we've been doing. I mentioned last week the sports event we ran in the village for junior aged children. We didn't have great numbers of kids turning up, but those who did had a good time and I got to meet some people (parents, passers-by, local authority representatives) and share some ideas and vision for the park with them. Is this missional? I suspect the answer could be both yes and no. What was interesting was that everyone with whom I spoke was very positive about what we were doing. I don't know how many of these people would have come had it been a church based event. Not because it was in church, but because it would probably have been run totally internally and not have engaged with organisations and authorities beyond the church. It was a community run project and that made the difference.

Perhaps, in the process of sharing a vision for the park and the story of how we got to where we are at this moment in time is one component of our missional journey as we seek to be part of the community. The gospel after all demands incarnation and where better to live it out than amongst the people Jesus misses most? We've been living in our new community for just over two years now and slowly we are beginning to make connections. It is a slow process, but hopefully slow will also mean deep rather than shallow.

Other things have begun to take shape include some tennis activities in the park and my new role as club therapist at May and Baker RFC. The tennis has taken shape through connections made via Streetlife, a social media platform about community life. We now have a small group of 5 adults playing on a Saturday morning and I do a bit of coaching with them. I've also been asked to provide a bit of coaching on a more formal basis. With a couple of the adults who are playing regularly we're talking about how we can access some school tennis courts where we might be able to start a local club, which would be really interesting.

And then there's the therapy stuff with the rugby club. That's an interesting challenge too in so many ways.

So it seems that finally, after two and half years, that things are beginning to emerge and take a little bit of shape. It's not what you'd describe as runaway success and it certainly won't mean a book deal and lots of invitations to speak at conferences, although I did get an invitation to write an article for a journal that was only going to cost me £400 to take part. And I thought they paid you for writing!! Still we don't do this for fame and fortune, and when you look at what happens to those we raise up onto pedestals, then who would want that anyway.

Which bring me to my final thought this Friday. Reading some of the evangelical news this week, we are once again reminded that success, whatever that looks like, is no guarantee of continued faithfulness and integrity. It's tough, I assume, to remain humble and spiritually grounded when your getting the applause and praise and the criticism that come along too. The latter sometimes out of jealously, sometimes out of genuine concern. We seem to expect so much from those we admire, and even in church circles we haven't learnt much at all from the cult of celebrity that pervades our modern culture. I even heard on the breakfast news one morning this week the newsreader describe President Obama as a celebrity, the biggest one of all no less. The man is President, he a politician, a world leader, He is surely not a celebrity.

When it comes to church leaders we would do well not to create a cult of evangelical celebrity around them. It doesn't help them and it doesn't help us. There are no superstars in the life of the church. Pedestals are for vases and works of art, not servants.