Representing Age Group Team GB, but juggling isn’t for me.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say that such-and-such a person successfully juggles training for their sport with a full-time job, a partner and children. It seems to me that all the right words are there in this description, but what is usually meant is that such-and-such a person has a full-time job, a partner and children, and juggles those things in order to train for and be successful in their sport.

But that’s not for me, and here’s why: I don’t want to juggle my wife or my daughter, nor do I think they would take kindly to being juggled, and the same goes for my job (@ProfMikeWeed, for anyone interested), which I am lucky enough to enjoy, and ambitious enough to want to be successful at.

The need (or not) for this juggling act became relevant for me this year because at the RedVenom Aquathlon (triathlon without the cycling) in May, after an 18 year break from multi-sport (more of that HERE), I qualified for the World Age Group Aquathlon in London’s Hyde Park in September.  This was an achievement for me because I had set myself the target of doing it without juggling. In practice, this means I often get up to go to work at 5am so I can be home in time to spend time with my daughter Josie before I put her to bed. Working early in the mornings means my weekends are free, but I don’t waste my free weekends training, rather weekends are for Josie, her Mummy and I, and the time that all three of us get to spend together is so clearly Josie’s favourite time.  That said, Josie and I are partial to the odd buggy parkrun (more of this in “Dad-dee Weeeee!” HERE).

So my training at this time of year involves running out and back along the verge of Kent’s main arterial trunk road, the Thanet Way, in a builder’s HiViz vest because it’s the only lit option once Josie is in bed, by which time it’s dark.  Plus swimming once a week at a 9pm Masters session, and perhaps another post 8pm public session.

The outcome at Hyde Park was that I finished 52nd, and was a little disappointed – I was hoping to finish closer to the top 30.  That might seem to lack ambition as a goal, but any greater ambition would mean I’d have to start juggling and, for me, that’s too great a sacrifice for an Age Group (or Masters, or Veteran) World Championship.

But that’s not to say I wasn’t proud to represent Age Group Team GB in a World Championship: I got a real thrill wearing WEED GBR across my Team GB tri-suit, so much so that I will inevitably try to do so again. The real tingle down my spine, though, was seeing Josie and her Mummy cheering me on through transition.

So in qualifying for and representing Age Group Team GB in 2013 I feel that I succeeded in age group sport on my own terms without ever feeling that I was losing at life.  Something that, as a 40-44 Age Grouper, takes me back to my 70’s childhood, and that staple of Saturday Night TV, The Generation Game.  No matter how good (or bad) contestants were at juggling or other pointless circus tricks, Bruce Forsyth would remind us every week that Life is the Name of the Game!

By ProfMikeWeed


The story of buggy running Kent parkrun’s Longest Day.

This post is abridged from a longer Guest Blog for parkrunfans:

Midsummer’s day, or the closest Sunday to it, is the date for parkrun’s Longest Day.  Groups of local 5km parkruns around the country get together to set out a programme of runs over the course of the day.  In London, some Longest Day routes included seven runs, but given the distance between the Kent parkruns along the Kent coast, the Longest Day involved five parkruns two hours apart.  This is the story of Josie and I’s buggy-running adventure on Kent parkrun’s Longest Day.

While Whitstable parkrun has been going for some time, the other Kent parkruns are all relatively new, and so Josie and I would be first-timers at the other runs. The first run of the day, at Shorne Woods in Dartford, was too far for us, so we started our day at the Museum of Kent Life for the Maidstone parkrun at 11am.  The Maidstone parkrun on the path along the River Soar was an absolute joy to run with Josie – “Boat! Bird! Boat! Dog!” came the commentary from Josie as we made our way along the tree-lined path. It was a path that was quite narrow and so we were grateful to both other parkrunners and casual walkers who graciously made way for us as we posted 23:20 for our first 5km of the day.

Josie loved the Maidstone run, and particularly the 20 minute play on the swings she managed to fit in as we waited for the rest of the field to finish, so she was more than happy in the car, slurping on a banana and apple smoothie squeezie, as we made our way to our “home” parkrun at Whitstable. The sun came out just as we arrived (as it always seems to do for Whitstable parkun, whatever the “ambient weather”) and so we scoffed a bit more of our stash to pass the time until the 1pm start. Running along the path at the top of the beach on the outward part of the first lap, Josie switched between making light work of her Cheerios and adding her newest word to her running commentary: “Water!…, Boat!, Dog!”, then we turned back up the hill and into the wind – Ouch! And, then we had to repeat it on the second lap – Ouch again! As a result, the Whitstable leg brought a somewhat slower 5km time of 24:04, but once across the line with a still shining sun, and a little girl now gleefully tucking into the homebaked cake that was being offered, it was clear that Josie at least wasn’t ready to call a halt to our Longest Day adventure just yet.

So we headed off to Margate for the next leg at 3pm. As we were to discover all too soon, despite being relatively flat Margate parkrun has a reputation as a bit of a windy course. Week-on-week the Margate parkrun reports prophesise about the glorious day when the wind will be still and PBs will be plentiful – The Longest Day was not that day! Josie pulled her buggy blanket over her head and buckled down as we posted a slower still time for our third 5km of the day of 24:35. Ploughing into the wind along the cliffs at Margate I made up my mind that enough was enough – three buggy parkruns in a day was a pretty creditable achievement, and there would be no disgrace in Josie and I heading home after this one. Josie, though, had other ideas, and stepped out of her buggy to deliver a rejuvenating motivational speech which, together with the promise that Pegwell Bay parkrun would be both sheltered and flat, saw us continue on our way to the final leg of the Kent Longest Day.

And so we arrived about half an hour before the 5pm start at the flat and sheltered promised land of Pegwell Bay Country Park. As we killed time before the start, Josie decided that the finish funnel (which consisted of some very attractive coloured discs) wasn’t where she would like it to be, and so set about re-placing it. She hadn’t finished this task when the time came once again to take to the buggy, and so she was a little dischuffed and had her first and only grizzle of the day as we made our way to the start. The grizzle didn’t last long, though, as it became clear that, despite my aching legs, Pegwell Bay was indeed flat and fast. Early feedback on the pace was provided about 1km into the course as Josie turned to look up at me with a huge smile and giggle and squealed: “Dad-dee, weeee!”. With that, the fatigue fell from my no longer failing legs, and we pushed on to our fastest 5km time of the day (just!) of 23:19.

Despite missing the first leg of Kent’s five-run Longest Day, Josie and I proudly took our place in the commemorative group photo at the end of a brilliant day out. I really can’t recommend enough to any parkrunners with little ones the joy of buggy parkrunning, something that is made possible by the welcoming nature of the parkrunning community and the real family feel at every parkrun. This was something that was magnified four-fold on The Longest Day, and perhaps unless someone tells us differently, we can claim 20km of buggy parkrunning at an average pace of 4:45 per km in one day as a parkrun record?

By ProfMikeWeed

Never Too Early: Josie’s Splashathon

…supporting recurrent miscarriage research – click HERE.

Surely early is good?  Passing a maths A-level early at age 9 is good, isn’t it? And perhaps signing for Manchester United early at the age of 9 is good too?  But is there such a thing as “too early”? Isn’t getting up to go to work at 5am too early?… well, perhaps not in all cases given the salaries of these Chief Executives.

But what about losing a baby?  Is a miscarriage ever too early to count as a miscarriage? Some infertility specialists have suggested that a miscarriage before six weeks is neither a miscarriage, nor was there actually anything that could be called a pregnancy in the first place.  But later in the same article, other specialists suggest that such early recurrent miscarriages could be the result of an underlying infertility issue such as implantation failure, and that detecting such early miscarriages could be the first steps to identifying and addressing such issues.

Before our 20-month old daughter Josie was born, my wife and I had at least five early miscarriages.  After three, we were given a clean bill of health by the NHS.  After the fifth we sought help from the private healthcare sector, and three underlying conditions were identified and addressed that led to the birth of our lovely little girl.  So the answer is that, no, its never too early to classify a loss as a miscarriage.  If we hadn’t identified our early losses as miscarriages, the problems wouldn’t have been identified, wouldn’t have been addressed, and Josie wouldn’t be here!

Its also never too early to raise money for a good cause. Water Babies Splashathon raises money for Tommy’s, a charity that conducts research into recurrent miscarriages, and 20-month old Josie will be taking part in the 2013 Splashathon. If you feel like supporting this excellent cause, Josie’s Splashathon Virgin Giving page is HERE.

By ProfMikeWeed


The story of a sparkly black ukulele and a little girl.

So why would an almost 40 year old man with no musical aptitude, and an inability to hold a note except in harmony with next door’s cats, spend £25 on a black Mahola ukulele decorated with silvery sparkles?  Mid-life crisis, perhaps?  No, the answer was the little lump starting to show in my wife’s tummy, whose heartbeat we had first heard just a few weeks before.

What I waned to be able to do was to play the banjo like Ricky Tomlinson in The Royle Family, but with a quick surf of the web I soon learned that the cost of even the cheapest banjo was measured in three figures, and that seemed a lot to cough up for something I might simply find impossible to play.  But I’d also seen Frank Skinner play ukulele on a TV chat show, and it looked so simple, and ukuleles could be had on Amazon for less than the cost of a Friday night round of drinks.  So, mumbling to my wife, who wasn’t really listening, that I was going to buy a ukulele, I shelled out my £25.

Three days later my wife and I returned from work to find a triangular parcel behind the post box.  “What’s that”, she said.   “A ukulele”, I replied, “I told you I was…”.  My wife never heard the end of the sentence, as she collapsed into howls of uncontrollable laughter that continued with the odd resurgent giggle into the evening.  Laughter that was magnified tenfold when she saw the silvery sparkles on the front of the ukulele, an embellishment that I have to say I hadn’t noticed when I ordered it.

That was two years ago!  Now I remain the proud owner of a £25 sparkly black ukulele, albeit upgraded with Aquila Nylgut strings.  What’s more, after four months or so of internet-informed self-teaching, I was confident enough to shell out just over £100 on a Collins Tenor Banjo, on which I can now play “I Wanna Girl” and “Grandad’s Flanelette Nightshirt”, two Ricky Tomlinson favourites, wth confidence and gusto.

A month after the arrival of my banjo, though, came an infinitely more important arrival, the birth of our lovely daughter, Josie.  And my reward for hours, days and weeks scouring the web trying to learn how to play, and then doing the same trying to improve my playing… my reward for enduring my wife’s initial howls of laughter?  My reward?…   A 20 month old little girl running into the room, pointing at my sparkly black ukulele and saying, “Daddy, play!”

By ProfMikeWeed


Some questions I answered for parkrun Whitstable nine months or so ago…

When did you start running?

I started out as a swimmer, and was marginally decent, then took up triathlon where I could be in the top group out of the swim, hold my own on the bike, but would then go backwards on the run.  Basically, I started running so I could do triathlon.  Back then I got my PB for 10k down to just under 40mins, but that’s a lot easier when you weigh about ten and a half stone, have the time to train twice a day, and are 18 years younger.

Why did you start running?

Last summer, 18 years on, I had swollen to just under 15 stone and my wife and I were looking forward to the birth of our daughter (Josephine Grace Maria) who was born in late October.  Josie was our first child, and as I was already over 40 (just) when she was born, I didn’t want to be a lumbering, overweight father who struggled to run and play with his daughter.  So I went on a diet and decided to take up running again because it was less time intensive than swimming or cycling.  My first Whitstable Parkrun, which I don’t count because it was on the faster reverse course, was at the end of November.  My second, at the start of December, was in 27:27.  In February, I dipped under 25mins, and jokingly suggested that this improvement rate of a minute a month would get me under 20mins by the end of July.  My brother, a former GB triathlete (“former” because he’s now weighs about what I did when I started last year… and has a two week old baby of his own) reacted with an incredulous “no way!”.  So then the challenge, accepted on Facebook for all to see, was sub-20mins by the end of July.  On 28th July I ran my current PB of 20:28 [Update: DONE IT – 25th August 2013, 19min30 at Pegwell Bay parkrun!]

What is your longest distance?

Way back when, I ran a half marathon as part of a Half Ironman triathlon (1.2mile swim, 56mile bike and 13mile run).  But now, being focused on 5k is good.

Have you encountered any problems whilst running?

Yes… I actually don’t really like running very much! I do like running fast training times, I do like improving my PB, and I do like the feeling of satisfaction they each give me.  I also like that running has made me a much healthier father.

What are your aspirations for the future?

Well, I could say to “learn to like running more”, but unless I reach some sort of uber fit state where breaking PBs is effortless, that’s not going to happen.  That said, there is another challenge on the horizon, but that’ll have to remain a mystery until those last pesky 28 seconds have been dealt with!

What do you like/dislike about parkrun?

LIKE: I like how easy parkrun makes it to keep running.  Whatever the weather or the state of my hangover, I never entertain the thought of not turning up at 9am!
DISLIKE: …parkrun involves running!  😉

By ProfMikeWeed