Finished the 2013 Great South Run

20x30-SSSO2909 On a day of interesting weather conditions, I’m happy to have completed my second Great South Run.

A few months ago, I really doubted this was going to happen: I was still struggling with a stubborn achilles injury which meant I did not want to do any form of training, let alone step out and run ten miles. In short, in no way was I enjoying running, and even walking around was reminding me of how annoying the injury was. Thankfully, I managed to sort this out.

I was back to being able to train in August, combining it with my refereeing. I only made the decision to enter the Great South Run a few weeks before, and I know I went into it not being as fit as I was the previous year, but fully confident I would do okay. And I did! I finished with an official chip time of 1:29:10, compared to 1:24:18 the previous year. The slower time was to be expected, especially considering the strong gusts on the final two miles which really slowed me down. I got lucky in 2012 as the wind was non-existent along that straight!

Due to the achilles comeback, I used traditional running shoes (a worn-in pair of Saucony Progrid Omni 9s). It was solid throughout and afterwards. As a result, I did a training run the following week back in my usual Inov8 shoes and things remained comfortable. I’ll try and stick with them again.

Oh, here’s proof I finished:

I also raised money for the British Heart Foundation. Sponsorship is still open so certainly any further donations would be much appreciated.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

I will definitely do this again next year: The atmosphere and support from the crowds is excellent. I’m even considering doing a Half Marathon as my next running challenge, and there is a new one coming in 2014 in my area. Tempting!

Great South Run 2013 – Entered!

orig-PORP1956

I have now entered this year’s Great South Run. I did it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. The atmosphere was incredible with the streets lined with people lending their support, and in particular it was really good when running past my chosen charity’s support area!


I have left it pretty much until the last minute to enter (Just 500 places were left when I did). To be honest, in the deep throes of the troublesome achilles, I had written off the event for this year. However, in recent months it has healed up with real vigour which has also allowed me to train ‘for fun’ as well as all the usual refereeing activities. In no way am I at the same fitness levels as last year leading up to the event, but I know I can do it without too much drama.

On the serious side, my chosen charity is the British Heart Foundation. They are my standard charity primarily as my father was diagnosed with Angina, requiring support and a bypass operation! Coronary heart disease is the biggest single killer in the UK. The efforts of the BHF are really important.

There is a sponsor link below should you wish to do so. It would be appreciated.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

35mm Cats

scoosh_indoor_chair by mewcenary
scoosh_indoor_chair, a photo by mewcenary on Flickr.

My trusty Nikon D40 has been a little neglected of late. I have been mulling over getting a new body, perhaps the D7100 which would be a significant upgrade…. And a not insignificant amount of cash! So it would be a lot more sensible to get the most out of my current camera.

As a result, I picked up my first prime lens: The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G. Better optical quality and also a faster lens for use in low light. Since I last looked at this range of lenses, they have been upgraded to feature their own focus motors. This is important as my D40 doesn’t have a focusing pin!

I really like the lens, and an example ‘cat snap’ is in this post. It’s perfect for portrait-style work, given that 35mm essentially becomes 50mm on a cropped sensor like on my DSLR.

I took some more, and they can be found in the Flickr set – click forwards to see them as they are the most recent pictures.

A Visit To The National Museum Of Computing

Earlier in the year, I visited The National Museum Of Computing, which resides within the Home of the Codebreakers, Bletchley Park. It’s pretty well put together and hosted by some very hard-working and dedicated volunteers.

I took a few pictures, although I was a bit limited by not having a lens particularly suitable for indoor work. I’ve since resolved that by grabbing a 35mm prime lens and I’m looking forward to trying it out properly!

The National Museum Of Computing - SignLorenz Cypher MachineTunny Machine 1Tunny Machine 2TypewritersColossus - "Turn it off and on again" ?
Colossus

Beating Insertional Achilles Tendonitis

1359701390228It has now been one month since I turned a corner in conquering my Insertional Achilles Tendonitis. Having struggled with it since February, to the degree that it made me not want to run and certainly not enjoy it in any way if I did, I made rapid improvements within days once I started using Superfeet for extra support.


I also got some new footwear, as I felt that the running shoes and football boots I was using were a size too small. While increasing the size did reduce any pressure on the back of the heel, and probably did help in the soothing of any aggravation going on, for actually running around it just made me prone to blisters. I ended up going back to my original size and without any ill-effect.

With the Superfeet in use, I have been able to gradually build up my running with zero achilles pain. The difference is remarkable. Prior to using them, I could not even run about in the garden with my daughter without the achilles playing up in an annoying and sore way. Very quickly, I was able to do a full football match with the achilles not even being noticeable. However, because of my lack of training over recent months, everything else hurt!

I have had a lot of fitness to build up again. I’m not back at pre-injury levels yet but am noticing strong gains all the time. However, I don’t really mind that, as I can run around and enjoy it with a smile on my face again! I think a strong indicator of being over an injury is when you just look forward to getting out there and training again, and the idea does not worry you.

Now, while using the support of the Superfeet to get over the injury has been great, I don’t want to become reliant on them forever. I have therefore been transitioning to removing them over time. As an example, doing one half of a football match without them, then doing the second half with them in. When they are not in use, I ‘feel’ my achilles more, so it is a case of being careful.

This has gone really well. For the last two days in a row, I did two 5k training runs in minimalist (inov-8) footwear and without the Superfeet. The achilles was noticeable but not painful. More importantly, after the run and the next morning it was absolutely fine. I have had to build up to this point and may now go back to using the Superfeet for a few sessions just to avoid doing Too Much Too Soon.

My key learning points to being successful in dealing with this horrifically stubborn injury are:

  1. SEE A SPECIALIST, GET A SCAN: In my case, nothing scary was revealed by getting this done. I feel a scan is important to rule out any complicating factors which could be present. Perhaps it is bursitis, and not the achilles? Is there a severe tear that needs immobilisation and/or surgery?
  2. REST: This is important to a degree. Certainly rest is required until any obvious acute pain is gone, and you should NOT RUN THROUGH PAIN. You know the difference between pain and soreness. Don’t be stupid. Rest on its own did not help me though: I took 3-4 weeks off running and when I went back to it, it was just the same as before. The problem is that you are not truly resting the achilles anyway if you are still walking around. Which leads me to…
  3. SORT OUT PAIN ON WALKING: This was the key for me. If the achilles is sore as you are walking around, it is not getting the chance to heal. This is where the Superfeet added enough support for comfort during the day, and gave the achilles that chance! Heel raises, orthotics… find out what you need. Some specialists may immobilise the achilles for a week or two to force this issue.
  4. CHECK FOOTWEAR: In my case, I went up a size, even if on a temporary basis. This added extra space around the heel so there was no tightness causing aggravation of the heel area. Those new shoes were not suitable for running and led to blisters, but for walking around during the day, they were absolutely perfect. If you can get away with ultra-cushioned running shoes at work then even better. Yes, such cushioning is a crutch, but that’s fine because you are injured!
  5. TAKE YOUR TIME: Depending on the extent of our lay-off, you will have lost fitness. Both in terms of cardio but also muscle strength and stability. Come back slowly. Take rest days as you need them. Enjoy the runs you are having pain-free and remember that you want to preserve that. There is no rush! Avoid hill running and sprint training to begin with and introduce over time as your confidence comes back.
  6. REMOVE TEMPORARY SOLUTIONS WHEN READY: As stated earlier in this article, I do not believe in using orthotics long-term. For helping an injury heal, sure, and I feel the same way about heel-raises, lots of cushioning and so on. Once everything is feeling good, work on removing those temporary fixes. Again, take your time. Mix it up a bit.

I hope you find this guide helpful, and please let me know your own stories!

Game Review: ‘Gone Home’

gonehome_1600x900 I’m not really into games that take gazillions of hours to complete. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to sessions, and when I come back I have lost track a bit of where I was and in some extremes how to even play the game. As an aside on that, it was interesting to stumble across a site dedicated to telling you just how long it takes to beat various games.

Some stumbling around checking out what was new on Steam for Mac led me to find ‘Gone Home’.

From the site:

June 7, 1995. 1:15 AM.

You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something’s not right. Where is everyone? And what’s happened here?

Gone home is an interactive exploration simulator. Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there. Open any drawer and door. Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues. Uncover the events of one family’s lives by investigating what they’ve left behind.

Go home again.

The trailer gives more of a flavour:

In short, you play Kaitlin, the elder sister of the family. You arrive home from a year-long trip abroad, and get back a bit earlier than planned. There’s a big storm. And no-one is home. Your parents are gone, and so is your sister (Sam). More ominously, there is a note from Sam pleading with you not to go looking for answers as to where she is. The answer phone messages upon entering the house don’t exactly help with the sensation of feeling ill at ease.

To say much much more on the plot would make this review a little bit spoiler-ridden. The beauty of the game is really not knowing what to expect when exploring the house. It’s old and creepy, and as you explore you find out much more about the family, both the history and clues as to what has actually happened. The exploration triggers audio logs from Sam’s journal and it is the quite frankly exceptional voice acting which adds real atmosphere and power to the story being told.

This is not a game that is difficult, but that’s not really the point. It’s billed as a ‘story exploration game’ and that’s exactly what it is. You gain access to additional areas of the house as the game goes on in a somewhat linear fashion. There are no puzzles as such in the game – it’s just a case of finding the information you need each time to progress.

There’s a ‘teenage story’ at the core of this game (although there are multiple sub-stories being told), brought to life by the voice journals. The setting of the game in 1995 works well to draw empathy from the player. The house is full of VHS tapes, binders, filing cabinets, old typewriters, vinyl records and so on, all invoking the time period. There’s a great amount of attention to detail to the art direction, music and feel to the house going on.

It’s a short game. It will only take a few hours to get through it. However, it’s less of a game, and more of an emotional story-telling experience. The ending, and the events leading up to it, are told excellently. Again, I’m not going to say much more on that: You need to experience it for yourself.

Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux.
Developer: The Fullbright Company.

Adding Instance Storage after upgrading a Micro instance on Amazon EC2

Cloud-Storage I recently upgraded a Micro (t1.micro) instance to a Small (m1.small) version on Amazon EC2. This was performed with no real trouble at all (Stop, Change Instance Type, Start). However, I noticed upon boot that I did not have any of the promised Instance Storage available to me. On the m1.small, 160 gigabytes is mentioned. Where was it?

It turns out that for EBS-backed AMIs (including Amazon Linux, the OS in use for this example) , the instance storage is not automatically baked in. It is possible to ensure it is added when starting a new VM, but I was never given an option to do this due to going down the upgrade path. It turns out it is not possible to add it to an instance that is already in operation. So, what to do?

Firstly, the official Amazon documentation: Adding Instance Store Volumes to an AMI.

These are the steps I needed to take, which I accomplished via the AWS Console rather than via the command line.

  1. Stop the Instance. You don’t have to do this prior to the next step, but for consistency, it is best you do.
  2. Create a Snapshot.
  3. Create a new AMI from the Snapshot (This is where the steps in the official guide linked above come into play). For the m1.small, I added two Instance Store Volumes (as you get a ‘swap’ partition as well).
  4. Create a new instance using your new AMI as the source.
  5. If relevant, re-assign any Elastic IP Address to the new instance.
  6. Start the new instance.
  7. You’re done!

Upon boot, Amazon Linux auto-detects the new available partitions.

The main storage partition:

$ df -h
Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/xvda1            7.9G  2.3G  5.6G  30% /
tmpfs                 829M     0  829M   0% /dev/shm
/dev/xvdb             147G  188M  140G   1% /media/ephemeral0

… and the swap partition:

[  169.078672] Adding 917500k swap on /dev/xvda3.  Priority:-1 extents:1 across:917500k SS

Easy!

Note that by default, Amazon Linux formatted the storage partition as ext3. You may well want to convert it to ext4 (I just reformat it here, so don’t do it this way if you’ve put data there!)

$ sudo umount /dev/xvdb
$ sudo mke2fs -t ext4 /dev/xvdb
mke2fs 1.42.3 (14-May-2012)
Filesystem label=
OS type: Linux
Block size=4096 (log=2)
Fragment size=4096 (log=2)
Stride=0 blocks, Stripe width=0 blocks
9773056 inodes, 39088128 blocks
1954406 blocks (5.00%) reserved for the super user
First data block=0
Maximum filesystem blocks=4294967296
1193 block groups
32768 blocks per group, 32768 fragments per group
8192 inodes per group
Superblock backups stored on blocks: 
	32768, 98304, 163840, 229376, 294912, 819200, 884736, 1605632, 2654208, 
	4096000, 7962624, 11239424, 20480000, 23887872
 
Allocating group tables: done                            
Writing inode tables: done                            
Creating journal (32768 blocks): done
Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done     
 
$ sudo mount /media/ephemeral0

One final and standard warning regarding Instance Storage on EC2: It will be erased upon your instance Terminating, which could include a failure condition. As a result, never use it for data you rely on (use EBS instead).