Politics, Uncategorized

General Election 2017. I Still Believe In This Country, But Not Under This Current Government.

Let me begin with a disclaimer, politics is not really my thing. Yes, I take an interest in how this country is run and how, in general, the world is becoming increasingly ridiculous. I also know people who are a lot more articulate when it comes to understanding and explaining affairs of state. Most of us get our facts from the media but my patience for impartial news is wearing thin to the extent that I do not believe it exists anymore. Since a young age I have have maintained this heavy scepticism, especially when newspapers and television become our primary sources of information when election coverage ramps up.

My main concern lies in an estimated ¾ of the current mainstream media in the UK being privately owned, ergo I don’t believe most of what is being printed being anything close to objective. The Government had an opportunity to investigate the media but dropped the Leveson II Inquiry. I do not believe the media were let off the hook without a compromise, a government able to ignore unwanted facts is a prerogative of unchallenged power. Avoid headlines. Read the manifestos and make up your own mind.

Even then it can be difficult to try to find the common good amongst all the promises. I find it easier to present politics as a fairytale; good v evil, The Force v The Dark Side, government for the few v government for the many. Thomas Jefferson saw it as a battle between aristocrats and democrats. The aristocrats are ‘those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.’ The democrats ‘identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe.’ Once you realise how nepotistic the media is and concentrate on policies the picture becomes a little clearer. Judging by the recently published manifestos, it is not difficult to work out which party fits which description in this general elections and why I still believe in this country, but only if the current government was removed.

I believe in a £9 p/h minimum wage and a tax freeze promise on wages for those earning less than £80,000.

I do not believe in zero hour contracts.

I believe in eradicating rough sleeping and raising corporation tax to £26bn. I also believe in Excessive Pay Leverage, in taxing the top 5% and those earning over £80,000. I also believe in giving HMRC more teeth to go after UK companies who plough their profits into tax havens. The rich must pay their dues before a social crisis.

I believe in renationalising the trains and bringing them back under Government control. I also believe in free wifi on trains and freezing rail fare prices before reducing them gradually while investing in infrastructure. Over £100 to visit London before 9am is for the few, not the many.

I believe in renationalising Royal Mail and the National Grid.

I believe in scrapping university tuition fees, a higher education should be a right and not a privilege. However, the Tories have announced plans to fund new free schools (academies and grammar schools) by raising tuition fees. The Conservative manifesto states; “We will make it a condition for universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees to become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools”. Universities themselves are concerned, Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, said “Universities need higher tuition fees simply because the government has cut their funding by over 80 per cent. If the fees of students are used to get more academies and free schools off the ground, this would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul but it would also side-line local parents and governors who might prefer to work with other sponsors.”

Meanwhile, free school meals for children from lower income families would be scrapped despite thousands spent on kitchens. In effect, our education system is becoming a system of entitlement.  To put figures into perspective, Tories gave a £100k tax cut p/a to 13,000 millionaires while they are removing school meals from the mouths of 900,000 kids. Dickensian.

I do not believe in a new Dementia tax for the elderly. This would mean elderly people who are receiving social care to fund the entire cost until they reached the last £100,000 of assets which the state would allow them to keep. Of course, the Tories have now made a u-turn but their intention was clear; taxing the vulnerable. The u-turn itself is also telling, going back on a repugnant proposal only because going through with it would cost them votes. The Tories even bought up Google advertisements to try and hide the ‘dementia tax’ as if the blunder was all but a figment of our imagination.

I also believe in maintaining the triple lock state pension guarantee and means-testing of winter fuel payments up to £300. I believe in caring for the elderly, not stripping them.

I believe in a properly funded NHS with free car parking, not one involving private consultancies. I also believe in restoring nurses’ training bursaries. I do not believe in dismantling the NHS piece by piece. I do not believe Jeremy Hunt has a conscience.

I do not believe in the loss of Disability Living Allowance. I do not believe in the rise of food banks. I do not believe in starving the poor and the needy.

I believe in a new Minister for Mental Health.

I do not believe in Boris Johnson as a functioning adult, can you imagine him negotiating with the EU as Foreign Secretary? The alternative is Keir Starmer LLB, QC and Barrister who is Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. A man with actual experience of persuasion in a court of law. No-brainer.

I believe in interest-free loans for homeowners to improve property.

I do not believe in unethical arms exports to the likes of Saudi Arabia, not with their human rights record.

I believe in banning the UK ivory trade, the Tories removed that pledge from their manifesto. Horrifying.

I do not believe in borrowing over £700bn over seven years with zero investment.

I do not believe in taking the internet under government control but a toughening up of punishments for online abuse.

I do not believe in fox hunting, Theresa May does.

I believe in renewable energy and clean air, not fracking. Germany has it right, not wholesale nationalisation but letting councils decide how to supply their energy and not relying on a few providers.

Strong and stable? What about the weak and vulnerable? I believe in fairness, I shall be voting Labour.

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Film, Uncategorized

The Oscars 2016: Predictions

Granted, this isn’t exactly an original post as I did the exact same thing for 2014’s ceremony. Looking back I was miles out from the results too; I predicted Wolf of Wall Street to clean up and that Leonardo di Caprio would finally get his Best Actor nod, it seemed overdue then too.

This year’s awards are a bit more predictable, or at least it seems there are more obvious winners with a few standout performances. One element that is sadly predictable is the lack of black nominations. However, I cannot seem to recall an outstanding performance that SHOULD have garnered a nomination so it does not seem so glaring an omission. Not like David Oyelowo for Selma, now THAT was an injustice.

Anyway, onto the categories…

BEST PICTURE

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

  • I’d love to see Mad Max: Fury Road claim this simply for how wondrously high-octane and bonkers crazy that film is but they don’t give out Best Picture Oscars for that. No, they hand them out to ‘difficult watches’ like Schindler’s List hence it seems just that The Revenant should get this, if not Room.

 

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ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

  • It just has to be, doesn’t it? He fought with a bear, he endured -25c conditions and slept in a horse. What does he have to do to win one!? Anyway, Eddie Redmayne won LAST year.

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ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

  • I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen the other nominations but Larson brings such depth to her performance, such gravitas that once you see it you cannot imagine it being beaten.

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ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

  • Again, it’d be warming to see Tom Hardy get this as he arguably outshone Di Caprio. Rylance was sublime in Bridge of Spies but Stallone might edge this.

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ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

  • Fair to say I had a giddy smile every time Leigh popped up on screen during The Hateful Eight, she was such a spiteful bitch. So she won’t win and as I haven’t seen the other nominations I’d take a stab at Vikander.

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ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

  • Again, I’ve only seen the one film I’m going for but Inside Out is a heartwarming, hilarious classic. Plus it got me and Mum out of the house with smiles on our face for a bit during the worst week in July.

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CINEMATOGRAPHY

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

  • While I yearned for my days back in the huge expanse of Australian desert during Mad Max there was something beautiful captured in nearly every scene during The Revenant.Yes, the conditions were perilous but when you see the glistening landscapes of Alberta in all their snow-dipped magnificence it certainly appeared worth it.

COSTUME DESIGN

Carol

Cinderella

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

  • The battered leather, the face mask and those elegant yet daring white sarongs. They’ll probably give it to The Danish Girl though.

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DIRECTING

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

  • I know he won last year but Iñárritu’s immersive direction throws you into the midst of the film. Arrows go whizzing past and you can almost feel the -25 chill, that’s the sign of a master director at work

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DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

  • Yes, I didn’t see the other nominations but having endured her death as played out in the public eye at the time, Amy broke my heart.

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FILM EDITING

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • If there was an award for editing so a film that ran over 2 hours fails to feel even half that long, oh wait, there is. Done.

 

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MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Mad Max: Fury Road

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out

the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant

  • You try keeping up your appearance in the Australian desert when you’re NOT driving around. There’s red dust EVERYWHERE.

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MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • An original score from Ennio Morricone simply has to win, doesn’t it?

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MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey

“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction

“Simple Song #3,” Youth

“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground

“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre

  • Geeze, there must have been some slim pickings if Sam Smith’s ‘effort’ was nominated.

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PRODUCTION DESIGN

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

  • I’m aware I’m overlooking Mars but Bridge of Spies looked and felt like you would imagine Germany during the Cold War. The brooding wall, the palpably murky edginess lying around every street corner, it all looked organically authentic.

 

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SOUND EDITING

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • Y’know, when I’m watching a film I never, ever think ‘Oh my, they really edited that swoosh well’. But then Star Wars had lightsaber swooshes and The Millenium Falcon so…

SOUND MIXING

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • See above.

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VISUAL EFFECTS

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • The Martian recreated Mars but Star Wars recreated GALAXIES.

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WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

  • Basing this one on my wise auntie and her excellent opinion after reading the book.

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WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

  • Oh look, a black nomination. Even then I’d like to see Ex Machina nab this as it seemed so outlandish yet such a disturbingly real idea. What if you could create AI? Then to explore the idea so vividly was very impressive.

 

Feel free to agree/disagree in the comments section.

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Uncategorized

REVIEW: Courtney Barnett at the Sheffield Leadmill

You could forgive Courtney Barnett if you found her taking sanctuary in her dressing room as the clock ticked down to show-time. A lot has been written about this beguiling 25 year-old since the release of her two debut EPs, paired together in ‘The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas’. Last week her debut album ‘Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit’ piqued interest and gained rave reviews, no pressure then.

Yet instead of cowering under the weight of new-found expectancy she could be found just two deep from the front excitedly snapping away at opening support act and fellow endearing Aussie, Fraser A Gorman. This being Sheffield she was left unattended, probably best for someone who will later breezily describe how an afternoon’s gardening led to a panic attack.

The Leadmill was close to sold out, barely a surprise when you consider how much Sheffield has sound-tracked the banality of life with dry, witty, quick-fire lyrics. Consider Jarvis and Turner then you can easily slot in Barnett for deadpan delivery complete with her ever-so-cool-but-don’t-call-it-cool Melbournian drawl.

The current face and sound of slackerdom opened her set with ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party’. An unassuming, millennial anthem of meh which centres around the line ‘I wanna go out but I wanna stay home’. Thankfully, most in the room were glad they ventured out despite weather that daylight savings won’t fix.

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

There is an endearing charm to Courtney Barnett that is hard to pin down. Her patterned t-shirt, exuberant guitar licks and the way she gently disarms any loose heckling. Maybe it is the fact she quietly started her own record label, Milk Records, to take care of her and her musical chums. Maybe it is the playful sketches and homemade aesthetic that adorn her album artwork and merchandise. Maybe it is just her carefully selected points of view. Like many Australians I have met she shares her suburban status with a more far-reaching outlook. From my time in Melbourne I could picture the Swanston Street commuter captured so eloquently in ‘Elevator Operator’ catching the 96 tram. Mainly as this was my favourite route, taking in hipster Brunswick and ending at St Kilda Beach. I knew the troubles of house hunting away from all the coffee shops, even if I failed to venture as far as deceased estates in (De)Preston.

That she could then solemnly expand on the perils of big business, complete with knackered truckers and ‘taxidermied kangeroos’ on the Hume Highway was impressive enough during ‘Dead Fox’. However, in an age of distraction it was ‘Kim’s Caravan’ that showed Barnett’s real precocity and left the room floored. A tale of a dying seal and the Great Barrier Reef being dredged beyond belief set to an agonisingly heart-breaking delivery and a resounding finale. Not many slackers can show so much soul-baring concern for the environment.

That’s not to say she does not know how to have fun. While her debut album showcases a labour of love, song craftsmanship and anxiety, tonight she looked to let loose. You sense that the spotlight still offers a glimpse into her inner awkward and being Australian means she can brazenly dismiss it, jokingly renaming ‘Debbie Downer’ to ‘Debbie’s Fucking AWESOME’. At other times she seemed far more comfortable tapping a guitar pedal, turning her six-string into a weapon of mass distortion and shaking her mass of thick, brown hair, as during ‘History Eraser’. Close your eyes during ‘Pedestrian At Best’ and you could imagine the screeching guitar and snarling delivery as a female fronted Nirvana circa In Utero.

For the encore she delved into the silly love song set in a swimming pool that is ‘Aqua Profunda!’ and a whimsical cover of The Easybeats’ ‘I’ll Make You Happy’. For someone who can belt out the line, ‘put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’, she may have found an audience happy to disagree.

As this blog post is all about my opinion, and partly about my time in Australia, I am submitting it in the All About You Party. Get involved!

Mama and More

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Movember
Uncategorized

Movember. From Down Under to Over Here.

On Saturday morning I had a shave and, as usual, I ended by trimming my sideburns. Nothing new there yet for the rest of November I will forgo my upper lip and grow a moustache. I will not be alone, over four million across 21 countries have participated in Movember and this will be my third time, the first since returning to the UK.

So it begins

So it begins

The rules are pretty simple –

1. Start clean shaven on November 1st
2. Grow and groom a moustache for the entire month
3. Don’t fake it. No beards and no fake moustaches
4. Use the moustache to spark a conversation of men’s health
5. Conduct yourself like a true gentleman

Movember has steadily grown in popularity since 2003 and has raised over £345 million towards improving men’s health. It should not come as much of a surprise to know that the movement has its origin in hipster heavy Melbourne. In fact, the co-founders; Justin Coghlan, Travis Garone, Luke Slattery and CEO Adam Garone are all Melbournites.

Having lived in the city for a year I know full well how commonplace moustaches are in Victoria’s capital. You can walk through Brunswick or down uber-trendy Chapel Street during any other time of the year and you will see lads my age sporting facial fuzz. To that extent, growing a moustache while in Melbourne, and Australia in general, is not that daunting so now I am back in Blighty there is a worry as to what I may endure going through November.

You see, the main point of Movember is not to just raise money for men’s health but to raise awareness. As women check their breasts for lumps, men should check their balls. It is that simple yet to try and get men (especially Poms) to chat about prostate or testicular cancer and you can expect a few dropped heads and shuffled feet. Perhaps this is due to masculinity yet part of overcoming that is, as an Australian would say, “sucking it up”.

The ability to talk up is probably one of the reasons why Movember has been so successful down under. If an Australian has a problem, more often than not they will open up and confront it. Simply getting an issue into the open can go a long way to helping solve it which is a trait I have a lot of respect for. I won’t lie, having returned to Blighty I really miss that aspect of Australia where you could say something and not worry about it being taken the wrong way. There was little, if any, shirking.

Pride plays a part in all this and there is no shying away from it, for a significant proportion of men in this country growing a moustache is seen as a challenge. Beards are still en vogue yet there is a sense that a man can hide behind the beehive-esque growth on his face. Moustaches are now considered a bit camp, a little silly and thus far more daring. Think of the moustache and you think of Tom Selleck in Magnum PI, the Village People and Borat. They simply cannot be taken seriously and part of me is actively hoping for someone to look up, stare then giggle at the pathetic wisps of hair on my upper lip. Do it, I dare you.

From what I have seen so far there simply is not the clamour for Movember here as there was in Australia. Let me give you some background. Just a few weeks after arriving I had begun working for Rabobank in Sydney in October 2011. I had considered doing Movember yet needed convincing so was pleased to find a makeshift Movember board had been set up to track the progress of the entire Key Acquisitions team of which I was a part of. Around five more from around the office took part and there was a sense of safety in numbers. Photos would be pinned up every week and you could vote for your favourite MoBro then donate. I could walk around the city knowing full well that I could bump into a MoBro and feel proud that I was part of such a good cause.

Here it is markedly different. This is the first week of Movember and few in my office have heard of Movember, let alone decided to participate. Among my friends I am the only one bothering which kinda frightens me. I wonder if this is a generational thing, that for Poms my age the thought of growing a moustache is seen as far too uncouth.

One of the things that I have noticed since returning is how style-conscious lads have become here. As if blinded by fashion, I can walk down the street and see the same skinny jeans, anorak and douchebag swept haircut countless times. At least in Australia the men dared to look different, which largely meant scouring the racks in thrift shops and vintage stores. They were confident enough to pass on labels and cultivate an individual style which made Movember seem so easy to them and why I am worried about standing out next month.

Movember might not be as well known here yet that is improving. The Football League has introduced a Movember ball for the month and several celebrities have created awareness themselves. The likes of Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Clive Owen and Damian Lewis have all participated. Like me, perhaps they will all look ridiculous too but at least it is for a good cause.

Mama and More
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Training Log – 4. The Final Week Off (1 week to go)

For some reason I always run that little bit harder when I am a bit pissed off. For some reason it spurs me on, as if I am using that frustration for an extra push. With a week to go until the Great Yorkshire Run I needed some extra motivation for overtraining and I got it with a week that gradually descended into a puddle of mediocrity.

After a wasted Friday evening I got an early night and snuck in a 2.5km lap before the 5km Park Run. Even during the run itself I was given an extra incentive when a pumped up runner ran alongside me and shouted “STRAGGLERS. MOVE TO THE LEFT.” I doubt she was referring to me but the words reverberated in my ears so a sprint finish meant I passed her and her mates.

What does bode well is the fact that I could still manage a sprint finish despite that prior lap. After catching my breath in the queue to register my time I did my final 2.5km lap at a stragglers pace, thankfully she had already gone home. With 10km done that will be my final bout of training as you are supposed to give yourself a week off to recuperate.

There is little more I can do at this stage and I feel as if I am in a good place. I feel physically strong and confident that I can cover the distance and beat my previous time. I have overtrained, resistance trained and sprint trained. All there is left to do is gain some sponsors, avoid spraining my ankle, grab a few early nights, eat enough pasta and continue stretches every morning. Bring it.

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Training Log – 3. Back to Park Run (3 weeks to go)

It is something I have done on pretty much every Park Run. On the last lap I choose a target then on the final few hundred yards I aim to overtake them at a sprint finish. I am proud to say that I usually win though this morning I had nothing left and the two lads I hoped to overtake sprinted past me. I felt weak, demoralised and angry.

This was my first Park Run since the weekend before Leeds Festival and even just a couple of weekends away left me feeling rusty. What did not help was the weather. This morning it pissed it down in Sheffield and anyone that went for a Saturday morning run deserves a bacon sarnie. Conditions were appalling, my t-shirt was sodden and I felt that my shorts were making an escape. Waiting to register my barcode I glared across at the two lads who had beaten me; they looked young, student-young. Soon enough they took their shirts off (boys of that age tend to do that in public whenever possible) and there wasn’t an ounce of fat on them. A grin broke out across my face. I wasn’t looking on enviously but rather, if I can push these lads to a sprint finish then I must be doing something right.

Turns out I was. With three weeks to go until The Great Yorkshire Run I feel good and with an official time of 25:50 I have pretty much hit my PB. There may be a few reasons for this. My core has improved, largely down to daily stomach exercises. My recovery rate has also improved and, as promised by a boxing coach, I have arrived at the point where I can recover within hours, not days. I have also introduced infused water drinks involving mint leaves, green tea, cucumber slices and wedges of grapefruit, lime and orange to reduce my appetite and keep my vitamin intake relatively high.

At some point I will look at what food I should be eating for the next few weeks and try to keep my training up to 20km per week which will be two x 7.5km runs before work then Park Run. Only, I’m finding running really boring at the moment so may look to spice it up a bit by doing a midweek boxing class. I’ve already had an offer of a running buddy for the race (a rather famous local Dad as it happens) and may even sign up for a run around Christmas to give me something else to aim for. Let’s not get carried away but it’s looking good for September 28th.

 

I’m running for Sheffield Hospitals (who need all the money they can get) so if you do want to sponsor me then the link is – http://www.justgiving.com/OmarSoliman1

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Training log – 2. Rest week (7 weeks to go)

On Saturday I reached a milestone, I broke the 26 minute mark on my ParkRun. That may not sound like much to most but to me it is a significant achievement. A few weeks ago I hit 26:06 and was exceedingly happy with myself yet getting an official recorded time of 25:57 (I set off my stopwatch when I actually begin jogging) shows that while training is going well I may have already hit peak form way too early.

ParkRun PB

ParkRun PB

I have spoken to a few runners and it seems wise to lay off for a week or so and recharge the batteries. All I have planned is a couple of 5k runs going at a leisurely pace, even if that means letting other runners past me then pick it up next week. This past month at least I have been averaging over 20k every week and last week it seemed to weigh me down. My times were still fine but the legs were heavy and each run was a hard slog.

On Saturday I gave it everything and there is great satisfaction in having pairs of running partners go past me only to pass them on the finishing strait. During those final few yards I heard one woman grunt as if exerting herself to pass me, I accelerated again and she gave up. My own pace may have been dictated by trying to catch up to a friend of a friend but even so, I have earned this rest.

UPDATE –  This morning I completed my first leisurely job which may have been one of the more tedious experiences of my life. Seriously, I found it pretty pointless and a bit embarassing.

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