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.