Great Wall Trek – 10 years on

To everyone following me by RSS who’s forgetten about it: boo!

So, yeah, I basically haven’t blogged for a year. Sorry about that. I stopped running because of weather and colds and logistic problems, and of course these days all the action is on Facebook and Twitter, so this poor place has been neglected.

HOWEVER! There are things to write about. For one thing, I’ve been running again – this time much more successfully; I’ll say more about that in another post, but for now suffice to say a more minimal approach – running with Vibram FiveFingers and without music – has proven key for me.

More pressingly, I have to start blogging again today lest I miss a great opportunity…

In November 2001, I went to China for 10 days, to walk on the Great Wall raising money for the National Star College. It was an incredible and literally life-changing experience, and while I kept a trip diary while I was out there, I’ve never published its contents.

So now’s the time. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be publishing blog posts containing my diary from 10 years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

Links to individual posts:

Google Earth KMZ file of the whole trip with (approximate) paths for the trek days.

The diary

Couch-to-5K: week 2, day 2

In the bag. That is all.

(Heading to Falmouth this weekend to see Cariadys, so I’ll have to take my shoes n ting with me I suppose…)

Couch-to-5K: week 2, day 1

Week 2 begins! I was anticipating (not with pleasure) going to the gym this morning, given yesterday’s/last night’s rain, but the morning was grey, mild, and dry so another outdoor run — how long can this luck last?

This week we alternate 90s of running with 120s of walking (with 5 mins warm-up top and tail again). I was fairly out of breath by the end of the first burst of running and worried I was going to find the whole workout hard, but the 2 mins walking compensated nicely and after that, it was fine. Just at that sweet spot of hard-ish but definitely doable.

Shins felt good; I followed Jo and Bash’s advice from Friday, and also re-inserted my meta-warmup (before stretching).

I didn’t run yesterday because I was bloody knackered from an extremely awesome weekend of climbing in the Peak District. Aches in all the right places. :-) Next run should be Thursday morning.

Couch-to-5K: week 1, day 3

Week 1 complete! Grey clouds but no rain today so another outdoor run, happily.

I shortened my warm-up for this and the previous run; instead of walking through the park, stretching, then starting the 5 minute warm-up “proper”, I called the walk through the park the warm-up, but interrupted it at the end for stretching before starting to run. Now I’m thinking I should go back to the old way, as my shins were definitely grumbling by the end of this run, and — as may be becoming clear — I am quite anxious about shin splints. One running friend told me, when asked about them, “of course I get them – I just run anyway”, but I don’t want to be running in pain, nor do I think I should be. So next week, back to what is effectively a 10 minute warm-up walk with stretches in the middle. Next week it’s 90s of running alternating with 120s of walking (up from 60s/90s this week).

On that note, can anyone recommend good stretches for holding off shin splints?

Couch-to-5K: week 1, day 2, take 2

No rain today, so I got out and did week 1, day 2 again. Some twinges in my shins towards the end, which worries me rather. And for some reason I wasn’t much enjoying the music being served up by my Shiny Device… Just one of those days, I guess.

I’m really enjoying being up and out the house early. I love being up in the morning, especially outside, but like many people, unless I have a compelling reason to leave the Warm Coccoon Of Perfect Relaxation, I won’t.

I rang the uni gym on Monday to ask about coming in for the necessary induction before being able to use it; I was told to come in any time on Tuesday. Naturally, when I turned up at 4:30 on Tuesday I was told: “Obviously, because we’re short-staffed, we can’t do it today, sorry. Come back tomorrow.” Sigh.

I’m planning to run again on Friday morning. On Friday evening I’ll be off to the Peak District with the climbing club for the weekend. I’m rather looking forward to it, particularly as I’ve never been there before. Stanage on Saturday, Castle Naze on Sunday, weather permitting.

Couch-to-5K reboot: week 1, day 1, take 2

I really hope it wasn’t caused by the cold morning run on Wednesday. I’ve been telling myself it’s just the usual October Cold which anyone working at the university gets thanks to all the filthy students coming back. Either way, by Wednesday evening I was feeling unpleasantly coldy, and after a night of exciting mucus adventures, I took Thursday and Friday off work and mainly sat in bed saying “ugh”. I watched Munich and Lord of War, both of which I enjoyed and would recommend.

According to schedule, I should have been running on Friday, but that was obviously not a good idea. I went to Cornwall for the weekend, to see my family and celebrate my brother’s imminent birthday (and to see him in the local am-dram company‘s production of ‘Allo ‘Allo!, as Officer Crabtree — hilarity ensues), and didn’t take my shoes (or much fancy the hilly terrain just yet), so that was week 1 out the window.

By last night I was pretty much feeling better, happily. Today is another beautiful cold clear day, so off I went for week 1, day 1, take 2. It felt good, and I was wrapped up warm, but now I’m feeling a bit coldy again… Was it too soon? We shall see. The plan is to run again on Wednesday morning. The weather might be turning wet by then, so I should probably check out the gym tomorrow if possible. The gym. Me. What is the world coming to…?

Couch-to-5K: week 1, day 2

Easier than last time!

Same route and schedule as before, but today I went before breakfast, rather than in the late afternoon. I’d planned to do day 2 yesterday, but I went climbing for the first time in years on Monday evening (which was awesome, by the way), and yesterday my legs were still rather twingey so I decided to rest another day, properly.

Unlike milk, that was a good choice: it’s a beautiful autumn day today: clear, crisp, cold, ionic. I ditched the rucksack and wore surfy shorts with pockets (I need something to hold my iPhone, and none of my Actual Running Clothes have pockets). I didn’t get too hot. I didn’t get stitch. My left shin was slightly grumbly initially but nothing came of it. I was out of breath, but it was definitely easier than Sunday, for whatever reason. In summary: felt good, and felt great afterwards.

If only every day’s weather was going to be like this…

Couch-to-5K: week 1, day 1

I’ve just got back into the house after doing week 1/day 1 of couch-to-5k, an interval training program designed to take you from “not running at all” to your first 5Km run in gentle controlled increments. I was surprised at how hard I found it, to be honest. Day 1 is ridiculously low impact — alternating 60 seconds running with 90 seconds of walking from 20 minutes, with 5 minutes’ warm-up walking at start and end — but after a couple of cycles I was getting quite out of breath, and by the by the half way point I was getting a stitch, and very happy each time the nice lady in my iPhone said “walk” not “run”. But I did it, and actually rather enjoyed it, and I certainly feel good now, afterwards — sense of satisfaction coupled with glowy-body-feeling. :-)

It’s a nine-week program, so the trick now is to keep it up; writing about it here is part of the mechanism for that, so unless I fail utterly, this ought to turn into a bit of a running blog for the next couple of months, and maybe beyond. I’ve cunningly chosen to start in mid-October, so darkness, cold, wind and rain will be my main enemies, I expect – particularly rain as I’d like to run with headphones (not earbuds as I don’t have any which stay in) but they probably shouldn’t get too wet, thus: quandry. On the subject of cold, the other thing which surprised me today was how much heat I produced; I had three (thin, technical) layers on, and my coat in my rucksack, and on the warm-up walk I was quite cold, but once I started running, whammo. So that’s good.

Route: I walked from my house down through Singleton Park to the sea front (just over 5 minutes) where I did some cursory, confused and no-doubt sloppy stretches (one of the main things worrying me has been shin splints, which I always seem to get if I run for a bus, etc.; so far, so good!) before starting the work-out proper. 5 minutes walking took me to opposite the Pub On The Pond, when I started running/walking; the half-way point was the Texaco garage at Blackpill, and the return journey had the same way-marks, so my pace must have been reasonably consistent. Because I was using Bluefin’s iPhone c25k app, I couldn’t use runkeeper to track my pace, etc., sadly: runkeeper doesn’t seem to run in the background… The Bluefin app seemed to work quite well, though.

Hiking: Craig Y Llyn to Resolven

The new academic year’s begun, so for the third or fourth time, I joined the uni’s hiking club. In a shocking break with tradition I actually went on one of their hikes with them yesterday – a 12-or-so mile stroll in the Neath Valley. It were lovely.

We started high up, at Craig Y Llyn, above the reservoir, and followed the ridge on the western side of the valley south, past the big wind farm near Glyncorrwg (this is the wind farm you can see on the horizon from Swansea on a relatively clear day, e.g. today) and the down past Melincourt Waterfall, ending up at the Farmer’s Arms for a welcome pint — of course.

I tracked our progress with my iPhone, but sadly the (fully-charged) battery ran out after 9 miles or so. Here’s the result with nice elevation and pace graphs (although the duration is all wrong: it certainly wasn’t 7.5 hours to that point – more like 4.5!), and here’s a Google Earth file if anyone’s interested. (You can imagine the rest of the path easily enough: drop down by the falls, then cross under the A465 and to the pub.) I didn’t take any photos because that would have eaten the iPhone’s battery even quicker — but I’m sure some will appear on the hiking club site soon enough.

One particularly nice thing, from a personal point of view: when we got to the top of Melincourt Falls, it wasn’t at all clear where the path down to the falls (on the north side of the stream, according the the leader’s map) was, and we started down one path which led to someone’s back yard before returning to the road. Fortunately, I’d been there a month earlier with Carys, and I knew a way down on the other side – because we’d walked up it! So I led us down to the falls, only slightly worried I might not be able to find the right path. In the end it was obvious. On the down side, I left my flask (half full of coffee!) at the spot where we stopped to have lunch (not the falls). Grrr.

It was a nice group: 32 of us, all students of course, and I was probably 10+ years older than almost everyone there (a couple of exceptions, maybe). Lots of international students. Lots of German girls. A surprising amount of unsuitable footwear – but that might be because everyone’s waiting for the discount equipment night at Blacks and Millet’s tomorrow night! :-)

Next week they’re going up Pen Y Fan, and the week after to the Peak District — but I’ll miss both of those due to personal commitments. The next one I’ll make should be a walk in Pembrokeshire at the end of the month (photos of last year here).

Shiko rhythms, 27th July 2010

This post is mainly of interest to fellow drummers.

As Boyd is away for the next couple of weeks, and we’ve got performances at Drum Camp Wales coming up, and as I happened to have my laptop with me at Tuesday’s practice – here’s a round-up of what we’ve been up to, complete with some audio. The audio’s fairly poor quality (no fancy mic), but you can hear what’s going on, so hopefully it’s useful. (If you only want the audio, you can access it all here.) This is mainly focussed on the djembe parts — sorry, dundun players!

We’re currently working on 3 rhythms: Shiko, Dibon, and Lekoulee. On Tuesday we were practicing Shiko and Dibon.

Rhythm: Shiko

I didn’t record any audio for Shiko, and couldn’t find the patterns online on our site or on the Djansa site or Paul Nas’ West African Percussion Pages — if anyone knows where they are, let me know and I’ll put a link here.

Having said that, I’ve had a go at notating them myself (but might have got them wrong!) — and they all have nice simple mnemonics which are probably enough anyway:

  • Shiko part 1: B---B-T- “Chips, fish and chips”.
  • Shiko, part 2: T-T-B-B-T-T-BB-- “I like crisps and I like chocolate”.
  • Shiko, part 3: T-TT-TT-S-SS-SS- “This is how it goes, this is how it goes” (tones first time, slaps second time).

Rhythm: Dibon

Dibon comes in 2 parts, Dibon-1 and Dibon-2. Dibon-1 has 2 parts, whereas Dibon-2 has only one.

  • Dibon-1, part 1: TTSS--S-TTSSB-S- link; audio.
  • Dibon-1, part 2: S--SS-TTS-BSS-TT link (but note we’ve added a cheeky bass); audio.
  • Dibon-2, only part: SSTTs--B where s indicates a muted slap (hold down the previous tone); note that we start with the bass, on the previous beat — the link should make it clear. I use the mnemonic “I’m gonna play some bass” (where “I’m” is on the bass, and “bass” is on that muted slap, weirdly); audio.


We have 4 breaks; I don’t have notation for any of them, but I do have audio. They are:

  • Intro break: Boyd call, response x 1, Boyd call, response x 3; short-call, flam, short-call, flam; audio.
  • Beer break: “I want some beer (4 times, alternating between djembes & dunduns), Want Some Now!”; audio.
  • Deniz’ break: “BTBT BTBT BTBT clapclap foom!” (but clap silently); audio.
  • Gra’s break: the head-mashing one; audio.


I think I have audio for the dunduns playing (all together) both Dibon-1 and Dibon-2 — but I might have got that wrong.

Putting Shiko and Dibon together

This is the sequence we were practicing on Tuesday; audio.

Intro Break
Beer break
Beer break
Call (Boyd only)
Deniz’ break
Gra’s break
Gra’s break
Then on a call maybe jump back to the first Dibon-1, or stop, or have a cup of tea, or something.


If anyone fancies looking ahead, since we need to practice this over the next couple of weeks too, here’s Lekoulee. :-)

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