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.




The UK Tax system explained (in beer…)

I recently picked this up on Facebook and prompted by the recent LibDem conference I thought I’d share it here on the blog…

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to £100… If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this…

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.

The fifth would pay £1.

The sixth would pay £3.

The seventh would pay £7..

The eighth would pay £12.

The ninth would pay £18.

The tenth man (the richest) would pay £59.

So, that’s what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve ball.

“Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by £20″. Drinks for the ten men would now cost just £80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free; but what about the other six men? – the paying customers.

How could they divide the £20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?

They realised that £20 divided by six is £3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by a higher percentage the poorer he was, to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using, and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay . . . and so

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% saving)

The sixth now paid £2 instead of £3 (33% saving)

The seventh now paid £5 instead of £7 (28% saving)

The eighth now paid £9 instead of £12 (25% saving)

The ninth now paid £14 instead of £18 (22% saving)

The tenth now paid £49 instead of £59 (16% saving)

Each of the six was better off than before and the first four continued to drink for free. But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.

“I only got a pound out of the £20 saving,” declared the sixth man.

He pointed to the tenth man ”but he got £10!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved a pound too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me!”

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get £10 back, when I got only £2 . . . the wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “we didn’t get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill

And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our tax system works. The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

I’ve no idea who wrote this, but I liked it.

My life with cars (Part 7) – Two Jags and the seductress

I set out to write about the cars I’ve had over the past 35 years, but 4000 words later, I ended up writing about the many fond memories I’ve had around car ownership and life in general. This is part 7, the final part.

Jaguar XFS

My first ever Jaguar was the chosen replacement and a shiny new 3.0XFS in metallic black was duly purchased. This was an oil burner (diesel) buy boy could it shift and it returned 40+ MPG on a run. Not many stories to share about the Jag XFS really. It’s a stunning car and has been voted European car of the year for the past 3 or 4 years, knocking the Germans off the coveted title that they held for the previous decade. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the driver’s seat, i.e. it was a high-sided sports seat that I found uncomfortable on my right leg. I suppose it could have been something to do with the width of my backside, but that’s nit picking an otherwise excellent car.

Jaguar XK

However, after only 18 months into Jaguar ownership and all of the good things I’ve said about the XFS, I’ve just swapped it for a Jaguar XK in liquid silver. Since its launch I’ve admired the XK but I’ve talked myself out of owning one on the rational that packing a 5.0L engine and with only 2 very small back seats it might not be entirely practical.

I don’t know whether it was the fact that I’m having a longer mid life crisis than most or that I’m just a petrol head who will never change that allowed me to be seduced by the XK. I have to say that its one of the most stunning cars I’ve ever owned it’s absolutely beautiful and its mechanically excellent. I’ve only had it for a week, but it’s already rekindled the feelings I had when I owned the TVR only the driving experience is significantly better.

So there you have it 18 cars spanning 35 years and all with their own memories and story to tell. Some people have asked me if I had names for the cars. Whilst I called them a few names that can’t be repeated here on numerous occasions, I have to admit I wasn’t one for giving my cars names.

  • Austin 1100
  • Vauxhall Viva
  • Ford Cortina (almost)
  • Ford Consul
  • Ford Capri
  • Opel Ascona
  • Vauxhall Astra
  • Vauxhall Cavalier
  • Ford Sierra
  • Vauxhall Carlton
  • Citroen ZX
  • BMW 520
  • Audi A4
  • Audi A4 Avant
  • VW Touareg
  • TVR Chimaera
  • Jaguar XFS
  • Jaguar XK

In terms of takeaways, cars have certainly come a long way in 35 years, the rust worm is a pretty much a thing of the past, self servicing is a thing of the past due to complex electronics and thankfully it’s much more difficult to steal cars these days. In terms of cost my first car depreciated at £1 per month, whereas the last but one depreciated at £1000 per month, ouch!

I’m not sure if that’s progress or not!

Thanks for reading.

Footnote: these pictures are for illustration only they are not of my cars

My life with cars (Part 6) – A story of love at first sight

I set out to write about the cars I’ve had over the past 35 years, but 4000 words later, I ended up writing about the many fond memories I’ve had around car ownership and life in general. This is part 6.

TVR Chimaera

One day I stumbled across a very nice TVR Chimaera. I’d heard of the TVR brand, more from a poor reliability perspective, but I’d never really seen one up close and I’d never driven one before. It was sitting in the sun when I arrived, it was deep metallic red with a camel leather interior and it looked fabulous. When the guy fired up the 4.0L Rover V8 engine it sounded even better than it looked and I knew there and then I had to have it.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of driving a TVR it’s like nothing else I’d driven before or since. So much power and torque and so little weight means that when you press the loud pedal it takes off like a rocket and you just hold on with a huge grin on your face. Yes it was a bit eccentric, but that just added to the appeal.

To this day, my TVR (Red V8) got more love and attention than any car I’ve ever owned. To say it was pampered would be an understatement. It was kept in a heated garage, it was washed and polished whether it was dirty or not, it only drank Shell Vpower, and it never went out in the rain or when there was salt on the road.

I joined the TVR car club and enjoyed some excellent Sunday outings with 30 or so other TVR owners in the country roads of Northumberland and Yorkshire. These were planned with military precision and the routes were a closely guarded secret, as it had been known for the boys in blue to have mobile speed traps out waiting for us. Not that we ever exceeded the speed limit I hasten to add (cough).

It didn’t live up to the billing of me getting the tools out again though. Yes I did some cosmetic jobs and I even reconditioned the chassis but I had the main dealer, before TVR went out of business, service it. My first service cost me something like £1200 and every year after that the annual service cost me the thick end of £1000, just as well I loved it then.

The Touareg was reaching its third birthday and the TVR was being polished more and more but being driven less and less so I decided to sell both of them and buy something which had great performance but was more practical than the TVR.

Thanks for reading, read part 7 here

Footnote: these pictures are for illustration only they are not of my cars

My life with cars (Part 5) – Snotty salesmen, regrets, and the monster

I set out to write about the cars I’ve had over the past 35 years, but 4000 words later, I ended up writing about the many fond memories I’ve had around car ownership and life in general. This is part 5.

Audi A4

I’m 40 and as a treat to myself I decide to buy my first brand new car. I had been really happy with the beemer so I tootled along to my local BMW dealer intent on buying a new car there and then. What happened next put me off BMW and to this day I’ve never had another. Upon arriving at the dealership I was looking around the cars and found it difficult to attract the attention of a salesperson. When I finally found someone to talk to, I found the chap to be arrogant and snotty and disinterested. Yes I may have been wearing scruffy jeans and a T shirt and may not have looked like your stereotypical BMW owner but I didn’t expect to be dressed for a wedding to buy a car and I didn’t appreciate his arrogance. I don’t buy from people like that so I went to the dealer over the road and bought a brand new Audi A4 instead. Who knows how much this one person cost BMW as I may still be driving a BMW today if it had not been for him.

The Audi A4 was a 1.8 saloon in silver, and it was very smart. However, when I was buying it I really had a hankering for the estate, but I bottled it at the last minute on the reckoning that an estate was an old mans car. A few months later I was regretting not going for the estate following a conversation with some of my work colleagues from Germany who told me that estate cars are the first choice of the young in Germany as they are perfect for lugging around surf boards, sports gear, camping gear and what not.

Audi A4 Avant

I lived with this regret for 3 years until I finally replaced the A4 saloon with an A4 Avant (sounds much better than estate). It was a spanking new 2.4 V6 Sport Model in dolphin gray and it was absolutely fantastic. The only issue I had during 3 years of ownership was when I cracked the front windscreen carrying a piece of decking back from B&Q. It was just too long to fit into the car with one end against the front window and the other end against the back window, so I had to bow it slightly. This worked until I drove into our street and the first speed bump I went over sent a crack right across the windscreen. I phoned up my insurance and a chap came and put me in a new one. He had to complete the paperwork and ask me how it happened for insurance purposes and being an honest soul I felt obliged to tell him my embarrassing story. He replied with “the insurance won’t cover that so lets call it a stone chip shall we”… there are some nice people in the world after all.

Volkswagen Touareg

Mid life crisis is biting hard and I’m thinking what would I like to own that I’d not had before. I decided I needed a 4×4 and I started to look at what options were available. I’ll probably upset a few people by saying this but I really don’t like Range Rovers, too old fashioned and country gentleman for my tastes and I ruled them out early on. I ended up buying another German machine a VW Touareg 3.0 TDI SE in pearlescent black. I say German but I later found out that these are made in Bratislava at the Skoda factory.

That aside it was an excellent piece of machinery. I had the good fortune to go on an off road and racing circuit driving experience and the car was phenomenal. Being a speed junkie I was really looking forward to the track experience, but I came back having enjoyed the off road experience better. For such a big car it was fantastic on the track, which may be down to the fact it shared its heritage, technology and chassis design with the Porsche Cayenne, but off road it was unstoppable, the terrain we covered and the hills it got up and down were simply unbelievable. The car defied the laws of physics, and gravity in some cases, and to this day I still can’t believe how it did this. The Touareg would pull anything and I still think it holds the world record for the heaviest weight towed in the shape of a Jumbo Jet. I kept the Touareg for 3 years and despite being heavy on fuel at 24MPG, it never ever let me down.

I have to admit thought that it didn’t solve the mid life crisis and I decided I also needed and open top sports car. I used to live next to a guy who owned an MGB and another guy who owned and Triumph TR6. I’d always wanted one but could never rationalise owning one for the 4 sunny days we get each year up north. I started searching for something interesting with the idea that I’d get the tools out again, get my hands dirty and treat it as a hobby.

Thanks for reading, read part 6 here

Footnote: these pictures are for illustration only they are not of my cars

My life with cars (Part 4) – One of my best, one of my worst, and a poltergeist

I set out to write about the cars I’ve had over the past 35 years, but 4000 words later, I ended up writing about the many fond memories I’ve had around car ownership and life in general. This is part 4.

Vauxhall Carlton

Next up is one of my most favorite cars a Vauxhall Carlton 2.0 in metallic brown. I bought it from the auction and took a risk on it as whilst it looked clean and the engine sounded good the front wheel bearing was seized solid so it couldn’t be driven. However, the risk paid off, as once I’d replaced the wheel bearings it was a wonderful car that was great to own and drive and fully loaded with gadgets. I ran it for a good few years until one night it exploded in a fireball right outside the Police station in Sunderland. Whilst I was driving along the road the engine cut out and so I pulled in. I turned the ignition key to try and restart. There was a loud bang and enormous flames shot out of the front wheel arches. As you would expect I made a swift exit from the car to see what was going on and the whole front of the car was ablaze. I went back opened the boot and saved my wedding photos that had only been delivered that day. I know this was stupid and I have no idea why I did it but it seemed like an important thing to do at the time. Anyway, by this time policemen were pouring out of the station only this time they weren’t asking “What’s a young lad like you doing in a big car like this and can you tell me the registration please?” they were closing off one of the major routes into the city. The fire station was just around the corner and the fire brigade arrived two minutes later, but it was two minutes too late as the car was a gonner. It turned out that the petrol pipe to the injectors was the wrong type and had perforated spraying a fine petrol mist onto the exhaust manifold that resulted in the explosion.

Citroen ZX

In need of another new car I went back to the car auction and I’m not really sure what possessed me to buy my first diesel car a Citroen ZX in black. Yes it was low mileage and I liked the colour, but a Citroen really??? Maybe I was still mourning the loss of my Carlton or maybe this was a period in my life where the car was a functional A to B thing and not an object of desire or pleasure, who knows?

By now I’m no longer servicing cars myself and on the first service the dealer tells me the cylinder head gasket need replacing (at considerable cost). I found this really odd, as I’d had cylinder head gaskets fail before and you get symptoms such as high temperature, coolant loss or sludge in the coolant. Anyway, being a cynic, I chose to ignore their advice and I was right to do so as the car was problem free and served me well until I sold it about two years later.

BMW 520

Next up was something with a bit more soul, one of Germanys finest, a BMW 520 in dark blue. Compared to the Citroen this was luxury (compared to the Citroen anything was luxury) and it may have been the car that rekindled my passion for cars. It was the first six-cylinder car that I’d owned and I remember how it always sounded like it was revving too high, when really it was just firing six times instead of four.  The beemer lasted me for a few years until it was possessed by a poltergeist. It would strike at the most inopportune time and manifest itself in all of the instruments just going dead for a few minutes whilst the car kept going. Not ideal when you’re driving through a speed camera infested zone and you have absolutely no idea how fast you’re going. I did consider exorcism but decided to sell up instead.

Thanks for reading, read part 5 here

Footnote: these pictures are for illustration only they are not of my cars

My life with cars (Part 3) – You can steal one of those with a lollipop stick.

I set out to write about the cars I’ve had over the past 35 years, but 4000 words later, I ended up writing about the many fond memories I’ve had around car ownership and life in general. This is part 3.

Opel Ascona

Exit the Capri and welcome the Opel Ascona 1.9 Berlinetta in metallic green (the German equivalent of the Vauxhall Cavalier). Apart from having a persistent problem with condensation forming on the inside of the windows this was a nice car and very quick too for its time. I don’t really have much to say about this car as for the first time I didn’t have to spend every other weekend lying underneath it or hunched over it. That said, it was plagued with a carburetor problem in that it would just stop after driving around 150 miles, give it 10 minutes and it would go another 150 miles and pack in again. I eventually traced the problem to a sliver of metal that had come off one of the bolts inside the carburetor and would occasionally find its way into the jet. I can’t remember how we went our separate ways, I must have sold it I guess and moved onto the next chapter.

Vauxhall Astra Mk2

Next up was a Vauxhall Astra Mk2 in red. A very clean and tidy car that had perfect bodywork and was mechanically solid. It must have been much younger than any of my previous cars as I don’t think I ever had to do anything to it mechanically. However, it wasn’t a good car because it wasn’t reliable, i.e. I couldn’t rely on it being where I left it the night before. For some reason it attracted thieves like nobody’s business and it must have been stolen about four times before I finally got rid of it. A policeman once told me that he could get into an Astra with a lollipop stick, very reassuring. Bizarrely though, other than the door lock being punched into the door, it never suffered any real damage, but I needed something more reliable and so it had to go.

Vauxhall Cavalier

I replaced the Astra with a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 in metallic blue. I think the Mk2 was voted car of the year when they were launched and rightly so in my opinion. A great car, stylish, good engine, good to drive and the hatchback meant you could lug all sorts around in the back. I have fond memories of this car and I enjoyed every minute of ownership. I sold it onto a good friend who kept it going for years afterwards.

Ford Sierra

I only parted company with the Cavalier because I changed jobs and got a company car as part of the new job. It was a Ford Sierra 1.8 in red and if I’m completely honest I found this a very bland and boring car after the Cavalier and as such I never really grew to like it. My displeasure with the Sierra didn’t last long though as after about a year I chose to leave the company and the car with it.

Thanks for reading, read part 4 here

Footnote: these pictures are for illustration only they are not of my cars