On the 16th February 2015 I ran 2.3km in 15 minutes and 40 seconds.     

RunnerNothing special about that other than it was more than 18 years since I had put on a pair of running shoes. 2.3km was as far as I could run and I was exhausted by the effort.

I’m not sure what motivated me to run, maybe a seed was sown when I met Brendan Foster, the British Olympian and father of the Great North Run, late in 2014. His enthusiasm for running was immense as was his passion to get people running and keeping fit. “It shouldn’t cost anything other than a pair of shoes” he said!

I kept at it and by the 15th of March I could run 6.5km and I was enjoying going out two or three times a week. By the end of March my distance was up to 10km. However, now my training took on a different purpose as I’d secured a place in the Great North Run. This is the world famous half marathon with around 57,000 participants and it was taking place on 13th September 2015.

Around the same time I was having a chat with Stephen Kelly the new CEO of Sage. The outcome was an idea to see how many colleagues we could get to participate in the Great North Run as #teamsage. To make it more interesting Stephen laid down a challenge that he would donate £1 to charity for every minute that any colleague beat him. At the end of the day #teamsage would raise in excess of £70k for Cancer Research.

By the 19th April I was up to 12k but my run that day felt harder and my legs were sore the next day. Over the next couple of days the soreness wore off and I thought everything was back to normal. However, I was wrong! Around 1km into a run on the 22nd April the pain was back and my thigh went into spasm shortly afterwards. I tried to run it off, but by 3km the pain was intense and I had to stop. By the time I’d walked another 3km back to the car I was in agony and realised this was bad. I managed to drive home, but when I tried to get out of the car I couldn’t move my leg at all.

A visit to the GP the next day and a torn quadriceps in my right leg was the prognosis. I would be on crutches for two weeks and I wouldn’t run again until 31st May. My training schedule was back to square one! The highlight of the next few weeks was visits to my physio to undergo an intensive programme of physiotherapy.

Running New OrleansBy the 28th June I was back up to 10k and by the 12th July my distance had increased to 15k. The rest of July was difficult and enjoyable in equal measures as I spent three weeks, part work and part holiday in the searing heat and humidity of New Orleans and Florida where training was very hard work.

August was much better and by the 30th August I could run 20k and I felt ready for the Great North Run. Around this time I also started experimenting with diet, not to lose weight as I was already two stones lighter, but to increase performance. I was interested in understanding how nutrition might help my running. I tried eating more heathy foods and introduced myself to Peanut Butter as a great source of protein and Soreen Malt loaf as a slow release running fuel. I also stared to experiment with performance gels, which are used by many athletes to replenish energy on long runs.

I’d also invested in running technology. A Garmin 225 running watch with heart rate monitor and I was collecting a lot of data about my running. So much for it costing nothing more than a pair of shoes. A good pair of shoes cost around £100, then there’s the running kit, the watch, and of course the cost of the physio sessions and it’s all starting to mount up.

Running GNRThe big day arrived, September 13th 2015, the day of the Great North Run. I could simply say it was a fantastic day, a lifelong memory, and leave it at that, but I think it warrants a few words.

I felt excited and nervous in equal measures. Friends and colleagues had blown me away with their generosity and they had sponsored me for £1000. I felt pressure and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was going to make it to the finish line even if I had to crawl on my hands and knees.

I wasn’t alone, the #teamsage challenge would also see 204 colleagues participate in the race supported by more colleagues working behind the scenes to bring it all together. This was the largest team ever to attempt a half marathon and there was a tremendous sense of camaraderie in the weeks and months preceding the race.

I travelled to the start on the Tyne and Wear Metro which can only be described as shambolic and it would only get worse on the return journey. I’ll not say more than that as plenty has been written in the news about it. In Newcastle, I met my good friend Juan Miguel Rodriguez who had travelled from Madrid to take part. With thousands of other runners we walked to the starting pen arriving around 30 minutes before the start. The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone was raring to go. Finally it was race time and as you can imagine, with 57,000 runners, you need to be patient as it takes a while to get moving after the gun goes.

As we moved down towards the start there were some gaps in the fence and I could see lots of people taking a last minute chemical break before they crossed the start line. This was important lesson number one for me. You guessed it, as I crossed the start line I’m feeling the need to go. No doubt due to the combination of lots of prerace fluids, time waiting in the pen, and the nervous energy. The elation of crossing the start line quickly evaporated and was replaced with a critical decision. I’m only 800m into the race and should I stop, and go, or should I continue. In a split second my mind flashed back to the famous Paula Radcliffe incident and decision made, I had to stop. By this time I’d reached the central motorway underpass and thankfully well out of sight of the BBC cameras. I was in good company as hundreds of other runners had the same idea. This cost me a couple of minutes that I’d later regret. Next time I’ll be sure to go before crossing the start line.

Now I’m running over the Tyne Bridge as the feeling as the Red Arrows flew overhead was fantastic. I’m into a steady pace and running with a smile on my face as I pass all manner of costumed runners and cartoon characters. I remember passing a runner in a huge foam Minion costume at 6k and thought how on earth did he get ahead of me. Needless to say the Minion wouldn’t be the last.

Feeling good at 8k and time to take my first energy boost gel. The race is pretty much flat for the next 8k running is easy and the atmosphere is great with the crowd are shouting and giving high 5’s. Comedy moment alert! I’m running past a lady with her hand out which I high 5’d only to discover she was St Johns ambulance and I now had a hand full of Vaseline. Wonderful!

At around 16k its time for another gel in preparation for the infamous John Reid road. A long uphill section of the course. I’m feeling good and still running comfortably but as I reach the 18k marker the heart rate alarm on my watch start going ballistic. Whoa! Now I’m thinking this isn’t the time to be a hero so I slow down.

I’ve reached the final hill on the course and it’s already littered with casualties. Sirens are sounding and the ambulance teams seem pretty busy. Now feeling even more paranoid I’m hoping everyone is okay and I’m glad I slowed down. As I run past the 19k marker I’m feeling it. Then I hear someone shout out my name, I think it was my Physio of all people, and I feel instantly better.

This is it the last mile, a long straight run down to the finish. I’m alongside this elderly lady called Eileen and the crowd are singing come on Eileen. I speak to her and she tells me it happens all the time. Corny I know, but I couldn’t help saying come on Eileen to her myself!

Liz is waiting for me at the finish and I’m looking to find her. It’s impossible as the crowd is 10 deep and the noise has the hair standing up on the back of my neck. All feelings of tiredness have disappeared and running has never felt better. As I near the finish I overtake two guys dressed as Bill and Ben the flowerpot men and cross the line at the same time as three other guys dressed only in leopard skin trunks.

I’m over the line, I’ve done it, and the feeling is immense if not a little emotional. Juan Miguel is right behind me and we share the moment and congratulate one another. I collect my medal and meet up with Liz. She was at the finish but didn’t see me, although she did see the three guys in the leopard skin trunks. Funny that!

My goal was to try and complete the run in under 2 hours. I actually did it in 2hrs and 1 minute. The chemical break, whilst essential, was costly and hence the regret earlier. I’ll know better next time. What about the heart rate alarm? Turns out that was due to the caffeine in the gels. Only caffeine free gels from now on.

As I said right at the start a fantastic day and a brilliant experience.

Running Parkrun3During 2015 I also discovered the wonderful Saturday morning past time of Park Running. These are brilliant and very well organised. Sign up for free and get a bar code. Turn up on a Saturday morning. Run a 5k and have your code scanned at the end to register your time. I go to the Whitley Bay Park run and around 400 people participate every week. October, November and December 2015 were pretty quiet albeit I kept running. There was a special charity Park Run on Boxing Day which was great to be part of.

The wet and windy weather washed out January 2016 and the trusty old treadmill was once again commissioned.

My goal for 2016 is to go seven better and take part in 4 x half marathons and 4 x 10k races. Starting in Barcelona and ending with the Great North Run.

Runnin BarcalonaIt’s now 16th February 2016 and looking back it’s hard to believe that a year has passed. Two days ago on Valentine ’s Day I finally achieved my ambition to break 2 hours. I ran the Barcelona half marathon in 1:50:40 a time that I would have thought impossible one year before and I loved every minute of it.

On the 16th February 2015 I ran 2.3km in 15 minutes and 40 seconds.

 

 

 

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Is the P5 the best car Rover ever made?

Rover P5 Gets my vote !!!

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A 20000 day old wannabe runner!

GNRUnlike the well published ranks of people who joined the January 2015 Dryathalon, I decided to join the ranks of people who decided to get healthier in 2015.

In February this year I will have been on the planet for 20,000 days and I thought it was time to do some preventative maintenance to keep the machine running a few years longer, so I decided I would run.

I used to run a bit 20 or so years ago, my proudest moment being part of a team of four people who ran the 140 mile Coast to Coast from Whitehaven in Cumbria to South Shields in Tyne and Wear. However, having tried to get back into running a number of times over the years I’ve always lost interest and given it up again, possibly because I used to try and push myself to hard too quickly.

So this time I thought I’d try something different. A few weeks ago whilst browsing the web I landed on the www.greatrun.org website and created myself an online training programme.

After the first couple of sessions I wanted to set myself a target so I half seriously thought I’d enter for the Great North Run ballot. Bizarrely, being a native of the North East and having been a runner for many years, I’ve never participated in the Great North Run and yet it’s one of my bucket list items. So you can imagine my delight mixed with a bit of trepidation a few days later when I received an email telling me that my application had been successful.

So, although I’m only 6 sessions into the programme, I’m finding it to be very good and it seems to be working for me. I plan to follow it to the letter, I’m also trying to stick to a healthier diet, and I have to say whilst its very early days I’m feeling better for it.

Only another 122 sessions to go before I can tick another item off my bucket list and hopefully get a little bit healthier along the way.

Oh, and like the majority of the other 47,000 runners, I will be running for a charitable cause. I plan to run in aid of the Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing charity “Young Minds” http://www.youngminds.org.uk/

Wish me luck!

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I Love Agile

AgileA month or so ago someone told me that they wanted to introduce Agile development but they had heard that I didn’t like Agile. I have to say that I was shocked by this as it isn’t true, I love Agile.

I love Agile for its flexibility, I love Agile as it brings the customer into the development process, I love Agile for the visibility it brings to projects, I love Agile for delivering better speed to market, I love Agile for the way it empowers the team and enables collaboration, and most of all I love Agile as a mindset.

What I don’t love is when Agile isn’t used properly, when people abuse Agile, when teams invent their own version of Agile, or when Agile is used as an excuse for lack of transparency, non-delivery or poor discipline.

Development teams that adopt Agile in a consistent way and share best practice deliver a step change for their organisation. However, to turn the step change into a giant leap, add the commercial teams into the mix and get everyone using Agile. You’ll be amazed with the results.

I love Agile (when it is done properly!)

Thanks for reading, whats your take on Agile?

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You need to hire for Innovation

More important now than ever before…

Technology Matters

Innovation is a topic very close to my heart and a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an excellent workshop delivered by Dr Anne Stevens the VP of Design at Kone elevators.

The session was hugely insightful and very educational… and whilst I’m not going to share the details verbatim, I thought I would share some of the very thought provoking statements like:

“The same old thinking gets the same old results … you need new thinking to get new results”

“Creativity must be present at every level of every technical part of the organisation”

“Even a mature innovative team need a coach otherwise it’s easy to innovate badly”

“A common mistake is to just let people loose with innovation”

“No great website is conceived by more than three people”

“Passionate creatures do not follow scripts”

Towards the end of the session Anne went on to share…

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The World’s Favorite Airline – Not Today!

BA5I’ve travelled with British Airways a lot with business and pleasure over the years and I have to say my experience has generally been positive … until yesterday!

I’m off to New York on a short break with the family and my story begins upon receipt of the email from BA that check in is now open, yay!

Now, the trip involves two flights, one from NCL to LHR and then a second from LHR to JFK. I check into the LHR flight just fine, selecting new seats and printing boarding passes, great. I then check into the JFK flight, select new seats so the kids can have window seats, but is time I can’t print boarding passes, and I get an error message saying I have to go to the check in desk at the airport. This is odd as it’s never happened to me before so I pick up the phone to BA and this is where my poor experience begins…

I have to say that I found the BA IVR experience very poor… as someone who runs a large call centre telephony platform I appreciate the need for IVR, but I also know you need to put a lot of work into making them work well. It’s very obvious that the BA contact model is to push you to their digital channels and they don’t want you to ring them. Again I can appreciate that they are trying to manage costs and people manning telephony lines are very expensive.

However, support lines are very busy estimating a 50 minute wait so I give up. Instead I speculatively ask a question on twitter as to what the error message means. I’m really impressed with the speed of their response, this confirms to me the power of digital and social channels over traditional methods of contact…

BA1

I send them my flight number, but then they start to concern me with their next tweet.

BA3

So I do just that and contact my booking agent ‘Trailfinders’ who check everything out from their end and it looks just fine, no problems. I tweet back BA that the booking agent can’t see anything wrong at their end… again BA come back quickly with the even more worrying response of…

BA2

Now I’m thinking I’ll not be going to New York and so I ring back the booking agent who told me they would ring BA on my behalf… A little later the booking agent rings me back in a pretty annoyed state to tell me that they got through to BA after 45 minutes wait only for the BA agent to tell them they only speak to customers and promptly put the phone down on them. However, the booking agent then told me that they were ringing them back to complain about the hanging up and to escalate the call.

I sent another tweet to BA ask for more information but no reply this time…😦

Whist this is going on I try again to print the boarding passes and I find that I can print one of the passes but not the others. So I log out and log back in again and this time I can print a couple of the other passes, log off and on again and then I can print the final pass. However, I’m still a little confused as the travel itinerary hasn’t updated with seat numbers etc.

Trailfinders ring back to say that they have finally spoken to someone at BA who would listen to them, and that they confirmed we were listed on the JFK flight. That brings us to the end of Saturday and I’m pretty confident we’ve done all we could to give us the peace of mind we were after.

Sunday morning arrives and low and behold I have a text waiting on my phone to say the LHR flight has been cancelled. Now, this is a huge disappointment but not really a surprise as BA have a tendency in my experience to pull the NCL-LHR flights all too often.

Time to ring the call centre, fight my way through the IVR (option 5 then option 1 is what you need in this instance), and speak to a very helpful chap who re-lists us on a later flight albeit much tighter for the connection, but promises us that BA will re-list us for a later NY flight should we miss the connection. He also says we need to go and check in for the re listed flight as this wouldn’t be done automatically.

A few minutes later I log onto BA.COM and I see the new flight, but it won’t let me check in! So I ring BA again… (option 5 and option 1) and I speak to another helpful agent who tells me we can’t check in online as he’d have to drop us off both flights in order for us to check in to the LHR flight and there would be a chance that we would lose our seat reservations on the JFK flight and the best thing to do would be to arrive at the airport check in desk where they have more options to check us iThat’s the story bang up to date… booking this holiday seemed like a good idea at the time, but I have to say our initial joy and excitement of looking forward to this break for quite some time has turned into quite a stressful experience and we haven’t even left the house yet!

I do hope this is the last you’ll hear about this particular journey!

Updated … A much better experience from arrival at the airport onwards. Check in staff were excellent, everything was sorted out swiftly, we made the connection to JFK and were delighted to discover we had been upgraded.

 

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Global technology company supporting the North East technology revolution

imageThis is a copy of a great article that one of my guys had published today.

Sage, the only FTSE 100 technology company is now 32 years old, and with over six million customers is the third largest business software company worldwide. In 1981 it was just another North East tech start-up with a feverish ambition to explore new ideas and innovate.

Whilst the company is now much bigger the ambition remains. “We’re always driving forwards,” says Graeme Fletcher, Head of Enterprise Technology & Development.  “Whilst we continue to develop the highly successful on premise products that our customers love, we’ve also embraced modern technology and moved into the world of cloud-computing.  For example, SageOne, our new proposition for start-up and small business, is delivered entirely online. Sage 200, our proven financial software for growing medium-size businesses, is now available in the cloud as well as being available as an ‘on premise’ version to give our customers more choice.”

Despite its huge success and global growth, the UK &Ireland, and Global headquarters remain in the North East.  The strikingly modern, glass-and-steel offices in Gosforth’s Great Park is home to over 1300 employees working in an atmosphere of relaxed but purposeful intent.

Apart from a pride in its roots, there are two main reasons why Sage continues to support the North East. The first is the quality of the workforce. “The capability is here, so why move?” shrugs Graeme. “Our people are highly skilled, and we can draw talent direct from the universities and the local rich talent pool”.

Sage has structured graduate and apprenticeship schemes and is eager to strengthen its links with the region’s universities and schools. For example, Sage mentors North East students for the annual international Microsoft Imagine Cup Challenge, which is open to students worldwide to create innovative and original software applications.  Mark Thompson, Development Team Leader, who mentored students for this year’s Challenge said: “It was fantastic to see the ideas the students came up with and their passion for software development.  The experience connected Sage to some of the brightest up and coming minds in the North East and offered some great examples of true innovation.”

Sage’s three-year apprenticeship scheme is possibly one of the most challenging, and exciting in the industry.  In the first year alone, apprentices are expected to make group presentations, participate in meetings, deliver work to deadlines, as well as get to grips with a wide range of technologies and methodologies, from testing applications to coding, from web development to data modelling.  “I gained an incredible amount of experience, skills and knowledge of the IT world during my first year,” says Ryan Burness, aged 19, of his first year as an apprentice.  “I worked with many teams within the development function which allowed me to gain so many new technical skills; an opportunity that not many people in the IT industry have the chance to experience.”

The second reason why Sage continues to support the North East is that the region is now a powerful and growing technology hub.  “It ranges from the large employers like us, to literally hundreds of small technology companies and start-ups,” says Graeme.  “and we are actively supporting the local technology industry”.

In the last few weeks, he points out, Sage has sponsored two local events: the fourth annual DIBI (Design It: Build It) conference at Gateshead’s BALTIC; and DDD North (Developer! Developer! Developer!North) at the University of Sunderland.  The latter attracted hundreds of technologists from around the UK and abroad to listen share and connect.  “It was a fantastic knowledge-sharing and networking forum with many different experts giving talks on varied topics, all voluntarily.” says Graeme “which we were very happy to support.”

But those North East roots are more than just skin – or soil – deep.  They permeate far into the region’s communities.  What many people may not realise is that every Sage member of staff is given two paid charity volunteering days a year, in addition to their holidays, and the activities undertaken vary widely.

Join Sage and, history shows, you may not want to leave.  “If you have the ability, you can go where you want,” promises Graeme.  “A lot of our senior leadership team have worked their way up through the organisation, where we support talent from within, and supplement with talent from outside.”

If I didn’t already work there I’d be sending in my application…

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