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It comes to something when you need a holiday to get over the weekend, but this weekend was all worth it. I enjoyed the half marathon and managed to raise a nice little sum of cash for charity, that I had no intention of raising three weeks ago because I hadn’t entered and didn’t know if I was going to.

At least now we’re on the final week before the holiday, a week off, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for at least one day where I can catch up on a bit of sleep, although I know my chances are slim. For today though, all I could think about was my poor, stiff achey legs. I’m pretty sure I’ve run half marathons and cycled to work the day after before now, but today… nothing! My legs were far too stiff and aching to even consider pedalling today. I really wanted to, but it was never going to happen today, my legs just couldn’t take it! It was such a shame too, it was perfect cycling weather, a lovely mild and dry morning, the sort of morning that you always hope for as a cyclist! I know that tomorrow morning is set to be a very different scenario with hurricane Gonzalo drifting in from the Atlantic, threatening to cause chaos around the UK during rush hour. We may not even see much of it here in the Midlands, as it sounds like the worst of it will be restricted to coastal areas, but we just never know until it gets here, although as I type this, the rain is starting to fall outside and the trees are beginning to sway slightly in the wind! Either way, I’ll need to think about how I’m going to get into work in the morning, although it does look likely that in the interests of safety I won’t be taking the bike. For some reason Tuesdays always seem to be significantly busier than any other day, and if I am taking the car then I will need to leave much earlier to avoid the traffic problems. The bike is a much more preferable option, as no matter how busy the roads are, it never affects my journey time, but if it’s going to be as windy as they say it will, then I’d rather get there alive and late, than not at all!

This evening we had the pleasure of my friend Gareth turning up to collect his wedding photos on DVD, and it was good to catch up with him. One of life’s genuinely nice guys who I don’t get to see very often now he has changed jobs. It is one thing that does frustrate me a great deal, not being able to catch up with friends as often as I’d like to. Some people we don’t see for month after month until eventually we have to start counting it in years. We have had some lovely evenings with friends over the years , food and wine and not worrying about the time, and it’s a bit sad to know that we won’t be able to repeat some of those now, as we’ve all become parents since, and so meeting up now takes a new form, such as lunch or afternoons at the park. As fortunate as we are that we have some baby sitting options, not everybody is so lucky. Next week is going to be a strange one, as we both have time off work, and yet Olivia still has her nursery days, so on one day I’ll be on my own and on another day it’ll be just myself and Clare, and the dilemma of what to do with a whole day to ourselves? Of course, we don’t have to take her into nursery that day, but she does love it there, and we’re paying for it anyway, so we may as well make the most of it! Maybe a little Christmas shopping? Who am I kidding? All my Christmas shopping is going to be done online… “Hello Amazon, yes that’s right, I’m lazy, bring everything to my door!”.

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Race day! Its here! My training was nowhere near enough, but it was too late to worry about it now. I woke up feeling good, and had my to-do checklist to tick off, which was a pretty exclusive list as I don’t like to leave things to chance on race day, it even included what I was having for breakfast and what time I needed to eat it by, so that toilet calls don’t become an issue half way through the run. I was very prepared for the run in terms of things I needed to remember on the morning, I just wish I’d put in a bit more training. Initially I was coaching a friend of mine to complete her first half marathon, having only ever done a 10k race before, the half marathon is a very different beast. We took to my favourite haunt for running, the reservoir and practised week after week, but with a very tight deadline we were only focused on the distance, and we didn’t have any time to do much work on the speed. At the end of the day, she had exactly the same goal on her first half marathon that I did… to get to the end and finish it! So on that note, the only goal we really had to worry about was the distance anyway, as the speed work wasn’t too much of an issue. With everything ready I headed out and parked the car in a place where I wouldn’t get stuck when it was time to leave, and made the walk down Broad St towards the start line, although I did turn it into a bit of a jog to warm myself up a little. Talking of weather, the sky was blue and the sun was shining, this was all rather unexpected, as the weather app on my phone had previously been suggesting showers for today when I checked it earlier in the week, and even heavy rain at one point!

When the glaxon finally went off and it was time to cross the start line, everyone shoots off at great speed and there is an instinct to keep up with them, and get swept away in the excitement. I knew to hold back, and knew that I’d be seeing some of these people again very soon as I passed them walking or hobbling along a little further down the road… which I did! The runners started to thin out a bit and it all became a little easier then, when you aren’t tripping over the person in front of you. I was still warming up by mile 2 and by mile 3 I could feel that I was getting into a bit more of a rhythm. although at mile 4 they had adjusted the course slightly and added a new hill to it… you know, just in case it wasn’t hilly or challenging enough already! We reached Cadbury World and went around it to head back down the Pershore Rd passing the 7 mile marker on the way and feeling good that I was over halfway. I could feel the legs starting to get a little tired by this point. We passed through Cannon Hill Park and were onto mile 9 by this point, this is where I started to really struggle last year, but this time around I was feeling hugely motivated by the fact that there was only 4 miles left! Before I knew it we were at mile 10 and the uphill stretch started here, it was only a slight uphill, but it felt like everest, and we still had what is known amongst runners as “cardiac hill” to get up yet, this lasts for over a mile and will break any runner who doesnt have a a will of steel to survive! Finally the roads started to level out and I was at mile 12, spurred on hugely by the encouragement of the crowd. They really were a fantastic bunch of people, handing out Jelly Babies (great for a sugar boost when you need it!), handing out water and putting on music, either live or in a band, as well as churches opening up their doors so people could use the toilets if they needed to. The crowd really were wonderful and to have a stranger call you by name (as its on the front of your shirt!) and shout encouraging words with big smiles and maybe a little fist pump, it feels great! Even the kids were getting into it high fiving the runners on the way past. Just brilliant! I wanted to make a dash for the finish line at mile 12, I’d done it before and knew it was possible, but my legs were empty, they had nothing left in them, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other and keep going! Crossing that finish line was a fantastic feeling, although I did feel especially sorry for the people who hadn’t made it, and were being seen by medics, sat down on the floor, on the final stretch, and one poor girl who was literally being dragged across the line by her two partners, I caught her face and she literally looked like she was about to die, there and then, on the spot. I picked up my winners bag, including the all important tshirt and medal, then set off for home, where I was greeted by the biggest hug ever from my daughter, it was fantastic. The wife had put an amazing dinner together and then we sat down to rest a little and enjoy a quiet evening together.

Man, I am ready for my bed now!! Damn you Monday morning for sitting there and taunting me, yes I know the weekend is over!

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The pre-race day is here and its time to make sure that I am all ready for tomorrow mornings half marathon. Today and yesterday were about one thing, resting, which is equally as important as the training I have put in. I need to make sure the muscles in my legs are storing as much energy as possible. I even had a really good nights sleep last night, even though I went to bed a little later than I’d planned and probably should have only had the two beers instead of the four, but thankfully it looks like Olivia has got back into the habit of sleeping through again, and even slept until 8am which is a very rare treat for us, so I felt pretty good when I got up this morning!

An early morning text meant my assistance was required on the allotment today, and I couldn’t really say no as it was something me and my friend Dave had taken on together, but that he ends up doing most of the work on, although this is primarily because the allotment actually backs onto the bottom of his garden. He frequently pops over for 20 minutes here and there during the week, whereas I have to arrange to meet him there at the weekend as I don’t have a key to get into it. He doesn’t mind, its all worked pretty well so far, except that I keep saying I need to commit more time over there, and I do fully intend to, but it doesn’t always work out that way, with so many other things eating away at my time. Dave is currently doing the Sober For October thing, and so we’ll soon be heading back to the pub once that is over to sit down and plan what we’re going to be doing on the allotment next year. We have tended to wing it so far with a lot of things, and had some success here and there, but I think that with a bit more structure and a bit of a plan, we can actually get more out of it.

I stayed over the allotment longer than I had planned, although Dave’s wife did kindly bring us a McDonalds lunch halfway through. I felt a bit guilty eating a burger, as its probably the kind of food I should stay away from the day before a big run, but I was still very grateful for it! I walked home and in letting Clare know that I was on the way, as its only a five minute walk between the two houses, I was greeted by a wonderful beaming smile from Olivia who was standing at the window waiting for me. There is no better way to come home than to a treat like that. Our little girl is growing so fast, and has no proved to us that most things are no longer “out of reach” for her, as she demonstrated by pulling the remote controls down from their previous safe spot on top of the fire place, and also found my wallet, which proved to be a source of great interest to her!
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She has also shown us that she no longer needs us to give her a bottle of milk any more. Apparently mommy and daddy are surplus to requirements now!
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That was our last little link to her being a baby, the need to be given a bottle before her morning nap and before bed in the evening. Now she just gives herself the bottle. Its a very new thing, and if we even touch the bottle because she’s not getting any milk out of it, then she lets go and it becomes our problem again! But yes, we are seeing so many changes, on an almost daily basis now, it both excites me and makes me a bit sad inside all at the same time that our girl is no longer a baby. I can’t help but think what the next month will bring, and then what will she be doing by christmas, what will be happening in 12 months time? I still can’t help but look at her and wonder what she’ll look like as an adult. I see adults now, look at their baby photos and you can always see the likeness, but I can’t even begin to imagine what our little girl will look like as a teenager, or an adult. I just hope we instil all the right ideals and principles in her to make her a good person when she’s older. This parenting malarky is fairly easy at first, all you have to do is feed them, keep them clean, and generally don’t drop them. As they get older you start to consider the bigger implications of what lies ahead, and the seeds that you are planting… planting unwittingly just by the things you say and the things they see you do. For example, I have suddenly become acutely aware of the amount of time I spend on my phone while I am around her. While she is awake and in the room, she should be my primary focus of attention. I don’t want her looking at me, and wondering when I am going to put my phone down and give her some attention. I also want to be talking to her as much as I can, encouraging that communication, learning new words and attempting them by copying what I am saying, which generally wouldn’t be much if I had my face illuminated by the glow of a smart phone. I also want her to be using iPads as little as possible growing up, I can’t tell her no if I have one in my hand myself. I want her learning to be from books, from pens and paper, from putting a paint brush on paper and actual puzzles, there is so much more to learn that way. When you commit a pen to paper to draw a picture, there is no “undo” button if you make a mistake, and I also believe in proper grammar and punctuation, and there is no better way than to write it down and have it marked with a red pen by a teacher. An exercise book won’t let you use a spell check or put everything in Times New Roman size 12 for you, an exercise book will make you practise your handwriting and learn how to spell words and know when to use them correctly. Call it old fashioned, and yes maybe I do consider myself the grammar police, but nothing drives me more mental than kids who have already spent years at school and apparently learnt nothing. If they can’t understand basic grammar and spelling by 15, then what have they learnt? Its these sort of skills that can’t be learnt so easily as an adult and will have people judging you at interviews, or in fact any time at all when you have to pick up a pen. Plus I think there is joy in writing, I used to love writing stories as a child, and drawing too, I never consider myself much more than okay at drawing, but I used to get such pleasure from it. When I was growing up I would sometimes combine the two and create my own little cartoon segments with made up characters. If only I could find one of those sketch books now! So yeah, the iPad can stay switched off for a while, there is a lot for my little lady to learn as she grows up, and staring at a touch screen just can’t replace some of the fun that lies ahead for her!

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Over half way through October now, and I think officially we can talk about Christmas without people rolling their eyes, tutting, and telling you it’s “too early”. Not that I especially wanted to talk about Christmas, it’s just that time of year, the mornings are cool and crisp, and the evenings are getting dark significantly early now, and with the clocks going back at the end if the month, that will only get worse! I do love autumn though, as I know many people do, the leaves changing colours, wrapping up in scarves, and kicking leaves on the pavement. I’m already excited about the Christmas celebrations ahead and looking back on what a lovely year we’ve had, especially with this blog where we can actually see what we did with all our time and look at the years worth of photos to remind us. I’m still keen to get a photo book made of Olivia’s first year, from birth up to her first birthday, she changed a lot, and still continues to change, hell I may even make this book and annual tradition, It’ll certainly be a fun thing to pull out on her 18th birthday! Thankfully we have a whole lot of time ahead of us before we have to worry about that, we could even have a brother or sister for her to have to include as well, who knows?! We already had news that one of the couples from our antenatal group is expecting their second child, which we’re all really excited about. I’ve managed to organise a dads night out as the moms from our antenatal group meet up all the time, and so it’s only fair us dads get the odd evening here and there to catch up over a couple of beers!

The one good thing about Friday, apart from it being the start of the weekend, is that I get to leave work a little earlier, and get home earlier to see Olivia. It was a pleasant afternoon out, so I decided we’d go for a little walk over the park, just to get out of the house and get a bit of fresh air together. Olivia loves watching things around her, the birds flying, the dogs barking and running around, the trees blowing in the wind, she is so inquisitive! I think its really good for her to get out and see all these things and learn about her environment, and its great that everything interests her. There is so much more to learn than being sat indoors in front of a tv, or even just playing with the same toys again. As soon as she is walking, I’d love to get out more and let her explore properly, walks in the country, and around local woods. There really is no better playground for a child than being out in nature, and I think autumn is a fantastic time to be out as well.

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So, Friday evening finally, a nice night in with the wife, as the little lady who on a rare occasion, skipped her afternoon nap is finally sleeps upstairs, and our only dilemma now is what to watch tonight? Clare suggested put a film on, but I’d actually seen what I wanted to watch on tv, and its a rare thing for me to even watch tv at all, so I was quite keen to stick this on. Channel 4 had put on an entire evening of fund raising shows called “Stand Up To Cancer” with a huge list of celebrities and an amazing array of testimonials from people still fighting the good fight, those who had fought and won, and those who had fought and are sadly no longer with us. It has really been an emotional evening… with over four hours of crying and laughing, but I’ll be honest, mostly crying. Its on until about 2am, although I won’t be staying up that late to watch it, its already around 11:30pm and they have so far raised a mind-blowing £10.5M which is just incredible!! Watching some of the testimonials brings back memories of when my step dad passed away 18 years ago, which coincidentally it happens to be the anniversary of tomorrow. 18 years, I don’t know where that time has gone. I’d never known anyone die from cancer before, and didn’t really fully understand the gravity of the situation at the time, or how I was supposed to cope with it. Sure I was 20 years old and thought I was mature, but with so little life experience at that age, how can you be? In more recent years, I have lost a good friend at work and my aunt, both to this terrible disease, and I know of friends who have lost their husbands and wives to it. I have raised money for cancer research several times in the past on runs and wish I could do the same again on Sunday, but Cystic Fibrosis is just as important to me and my friends at the moment, with their little boy having it, and so I want to try and make a difference for them too!

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The weekend inches closer and tonight may be the last chance to treat myself to a glass of wine or a beer, I need to hold back on any alcohol from tomorrow until after I’ve completed the half marathon. Today will also be the last day I cycle this week as I’ll be taking the car to work tomorrow to make sure I rest my legs for a couple of days. Regarding the bike, it actually seems a little ironic that I stayed up late last night fitting my new mud guards onto my bike and so far today not only has there been no rain, but there is also some blue sky and sunshine out there! Just typical!! I get soaked three days in a row, and today, not a drop!!

It really has been a day of not getting much done today, after getting home from work and cursing the lack of rain on my now redundant mud guards, I was quickly changed and back out the door to collect Olivia from nursery. I love the way her little face lights up when I walk into the room and her arms go up waiting for me to pick her up and the little legs start wiggling in excitement. Its such a nice feeling after the harsh reality of cycling amongst the busy traffic heading out of town who really don’t want me sharing the same piece of road as them! As has become habit, I pushed Olivia’s buggy back while carrying her in the other arm. Its only a 5 minute walk, and she is getting heavier by the day, so while maybe I am spoiling her a little, in my defence she hasn’t seen either of us all day and you really can’t beat a good cuddle from mommy or daddy. I don’t like the idea of her getting excited about seeing us, being picked up then being dumped straight back down in her buggy where she can’t even see me on the walk home!

After Olivia went to bed and our quick and simple dinner, it was time to relax and take it easy for a change, even taking in a bit of tv. Its the little things in life that make a difference at the moment. Today has been a good day. A quiet non-eventful day, and that is a good thing. There is plenty of time to be busy and active and productive with my time, but there is also a time to stop and rest and remember why you do all these things. The next couple of weeks are going to require the use of my diary to stay on top of things, and I am so glad I buy myself one each year, although never has it been quite so crucial as this year!

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What a day, and it’s not even over yet! Work has been challenging, but then sometimes I forget how difficult the day can actually be given the nature of the kids I work with. It is a special school after all, and I did sustain several more injuries today, mostly scratches and a close call with a biting situation, but its all good, its not a job I do for the money, I do it because I do enjoy it, and the rewards are worth putting up with the rough days! I came home feeling very tired after last nights unnecessary late night, but also feeling somewhat deflated, probably just because I am tired, and I also think its just that time of year, the shorter days and the lack of sunlight, they don’t help I’m sure! I was also a little fed up of the rain… yes, I know I am completely unprepared for the poor weather after numerous things failed on me in the summer and needed to be replaced, but they are on order and I am done with being soaked through to the skin on a daily basis! Thankfully, one of the items I ordered arrived today, my brand new mudguards! They don’t look very cool on a road bike, but for winter they are absolutely essential, and having rode with them for so long to suddenly having to ride without them, the difference is clear! Riding in the rain is one thing, but the spray from the surface water is something else! I have spent almost an hour and a half fitting them, as the “easy fit” claim on the packaging is frequently misleading, in fact I would like to see the people who make these claims actually come and fit them and show me how fast they expect me to do it!

So yet again I am late to bed, way later than I wanted, but I have a legitimate excuse this time, the mudguards being fitted were completely necessary and then I had to prepare the bread machine to get a fresh loaf ready for in the morning. I have now ticked both of those off, although I could have done them far earlier, but it is wednesday and its the once chance I get to spend and hour catching up with my friends. These days we no longer commit an entire evening to it, and end up leaving around midnight after watching action films, the early call for work and babies tends to put rest to that idea. But still, its good to see them, especially if I don’t get as much chance to go out at the weekends as I used to. I’d rather catch up in the week over a hot drink, than not at all!

Right, with my checklist ticked off, its time for me to hit the hay and hope that little madam stays asleep all night. We had such a good baby from just 9 weeks old who has recently got into a habit of waking up during the night, except for the odd occasion where she sleeps through. I am just hoping she soon slips back into her old ways!

Night all!

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Tuesday is generally my busiest day of the week, mostly so because of the evening being taken up by my jujitsu class, and the travelling to and from it. I’ll pick Olivia up from nursery at 5:30pm and Clare will be home by 6pm, and after seeing them both very briefly I will have to leave by no later than 6:15pm to make it to training on time, giving me very little time with my family this evening, as I won’t be back until about 8:45pm long after Olivia will have gone to bed. It’s a weekly thing, but it’s starting to bother me. I just don’t seem to have the same passion for the martial arts training I used to, and I know it’s probably mostly because of the travelling. Clare has even suggested I find a nearer class to home so that I’m not spending as much time in the car, but it wouldn’t be the same, I actually like the group I train with. I’m just feeling like I have too many things demanding my time, and right now nothing is more important than time with my daughter! She is growing up too fast and changing every single day, and I want to be there to not only see it, but be a part of it, to be the one to teach her things, to encourage her. I’ll go to my class tonight, and I know I’ll enjoy it while I’m there, but my heart isn’t in it at the moment.

In other more positive news, in four weeks time the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market will have just opened. This inevitably generates a variety of responses, from the typical “oh shut up about christmas, it’s too soon!“, to the indifferent “the German Market is rubbish, it’s always the same overpriced tat… and what’s German about it anyway?“, to the more optimistic “yay! Christmas is almost here!“. I will always fall into the latter category, Christmas can’t start soon enough for me, and as expensive as the German market can be, a) it’s a great meeting place for people and a fun afternoon out, and I’ll definitely be meeting several friends there over the Christmas period, b) as soon as you go you instantly start to feel more festive, the music, the mulled wine, everyone wrapped up in scarves and gloves, plus c) it generates a lot of trade for Birmingham, as people travel from miles around to come and see it. Our only consideration will be how we’re going to get Olivia around. It’ll be too busy for a buggy, and I think she’s now too big for the chest harness, I may just have to carry her!? Not ideal, but its that or I think I am just going to have to brave the crowds with a buggy and accept that its going to be a bit tricky. With only four weeks to go though, I really can’t wait!

The first thing Birmingham needs to prepare for, ahead of the german market though, is the imminent road closures this weekend for Sunday’s half marathon, as yet again its that time of year. Yes, the road closures are a pain in the neck, but they raise so much money for so many good causes, literally hundreds of thousands of pounds! I have been training each week for several months, and now I’m ready to tackle the 13.1 miles of Birmingham’s streets, so don’t forget to sponsor me ** http://www.justgiving.com/andrew-vokes1 ** The money I raise this year will be going to Cystic Fibrosis to help fund much needed research into this awful genetic condition that my best friends little boy was born with. The extent of his complications may not be fully known for a few more years yet, but at the moment he is just starting school and to think that he has so much to contend with as he gets older, and in an unknown quantity, is quite worrying. So please, even if you’re reading this and haven’t actually met me, dig deep and spare a little cash anyway, its for a great cause.

Todays photo? Well, without a photo for the day, this was literally the last thing I had to do before bed, make lunch for tomorrow. It may only be the humble sandwich, but it is still made with home made fresh bread, none of the nasty supermarket rubbish, and best of all, we have a new loaf, our own version of the 50/50 loaf, much to the delight of my wife. The white bread was lovely, my favourite, and the wholemeal was surprisingly good too, although a little heavy for the wife, so we mixed it and made our 50% white and 50% wholemeal loaf, and the wife gives it a big thumbs up! I’ve decided to treat myself to a bit of chicken and stuffing for tomorrow in case you were interested… I’m sure you’re not, but I’m still looking forward to it all the same! Its a bit of a tough one lunch is, I can’t go a day without it, yet it gets so little thought, unlike the evening meal which we plan for, shop for and then spend our time cooking. Why does lunch get so overlooked? Why am I even worrying about it at such a stupid hour? Why is anyone still reading when I am going on about my lunch? Oh so many questions! Time for bed I think!