Cognitive Health and Longevity

Lion’s Mane Fungus
Lion’s Mane Fungus

How often do we spend time on physical fitness without ever giving a moment’s thought to what is going on in our heads? I know I have been guilty of this in the past, which is especially heinous for me given that so much of my identity and my pride is tied up in my intellect and my cognitive capabilities.

My current audiobook on the go is Lifespan by David Sinclair. The subject is his quest to cure ageing and I can recommend this remarkable book to all and sundry. Among the many things he discusses, one such is cognitive health, and I have been inspired as a result to research this. This in turn led me to one of my favourite fellow geeks, Paul Stamets. Below he is talking to Joe Rogan about Lion’s Mane mushroom.

I have started taking this supplement as it is proven to stimulate neurogenesis and remylenate neural tissues and nerve fibres. I think that we are on the edge of a revolution in medical therapies for ageing itself and early adoption may work well for me, and anyone else getting in on the action. If you want to live a cognitively healthy existence well into your twilight years, and by god I do, then this looks to be effective.

Beauty of Malham

Yesterday’s ‘hike to tire out the kids during lockdown’ features Malham, one of the most picturesque and beautiful parts of the Yorkshire Dales. Especially the cove and the limestone pavement above:

Malham Cove:

The cove always attracts the dreaded sunny day amateur walkers, with their kids all dressed in white (whose parents give you the death stare when your dog cheerfully trots up to them, says hello and gets mud on their whites, which is obviously going to happen in the Dales), portable barbecues and six packs of lager, and who are just generally loud and mildly irritating. Lockdown clearly caused this to be amplified somewhat. It is still well worth the trip though.

It was a slight disappointment in that the two waterfalls there, Gorsdale Scar and Janet’s Foss were running at a trickle, but hey, we had a mild winter and thus far a gorgeous spring. One must not grumble. Here is a previous shot of Janet’s Foss:

I did get a lovely shot of a heron, however:

I wonder if it is the same one that I saw here. They do look very similar…

Strava

The data from this hike is a complete map but incomplete metrics as I lost 1-1.5 miles by forgetting to unpause my watch recording after stopping. For some reason the auto pause is hit and miss at the moment so I have to do it manually.

Summary

Map

Pace, Elevation, Heart Rate and Cadence

Not that it matters too much to have completely recorded the hike or not, but it is probably the best other of six miles. The map is still complete, I am never going to set any speed records, especially with children in tow, and I take a very dim view of the sort of hiker who bounces over ten fells a day with the spandex and sticks, never once stopping to take a look around. If I climb hard enough to earn the view you can bet I am going to take the time to stare.

Whernside: Confessions of a Grumpy Nine Year Old

I love the Yorkshire Three Peaks and I try to climb them individually each year, with the added bonus of one day hoping to do the Three peaks Challenge again, this time as an adult with my own children, when they are old enough. Right now there is one major spanner in the works: my youngest daughter. She is an absolute fireball of a child. She has inherited the redhead temperament from me which means that I love her attitude, sass and drive, but good god she can be a real little shitbag.

This last week I climbed Whernside and it was the toughest hike that I can recall ever having done. Aside from the fact that it is the hardest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, it was scorching hot and my little girl decided that she was going to strop ALL THE WAY. I would not change her for a nanosecond – that fire in her belly is going to serve her well in life as she kicks ass, but I really would rather have just hiked and not had to drag her every step of the climb. Still, we did it and that was great. Details and photos below.

Strava

Lovely Photos

Lockdown Lifestyle

So, here we are, a family in a semi rural town with time on our hands. Of course I have been hiking and cycling.

Climbing Ingleborough

Strava Data

Map and Splits

Pace, Heart Rate and Cadence

This was a hard slog for whatever reason, but ultimately rewarding. I am definitely not 100% healthy, my immunity is low and I feel a background malaise but still it was great to get out hiking. Isolation from the rest of the world is the thing I love about hiking the most so it is obviously fine in respect to social distancing. I think we saw perhaps three other people, two at the summit and one on his mountain bike ascending after us.

Cycling

As I previously posted, I bought myself a folding bicycle so naturally the thing to do is buy another bike also, which I did – a tourer hybrid. This means that I can now go cycling off road. It’s no good for mountains or whatever but for towpaths and dirt tracks it’s just fine. The Leeds-Liverpool canal is like an artery running through my town, linking it to almost all of the North West of England so it’s useful to be able to access it, not only for my convenience but also because it is much safer for taking the kids cycling. My daughters love it. The oldest is the cautious, cerebral one and we cycle more or less together. All the while her younger sister – the absolute little shitbag – slams the pedals hard and flies off into the distance. I love her bravery and fearlessness as much as I love her sister’s gentle, caring nature. It’s fascinating how different they can be. Anyway, below are data for a couple of rides. I have done more - you can visit my Strava if you really want to see the lot.

May 12th 2020

Bolton Map

This ride was very strange. Firstly I was testing out my tourer over distance. It’s not only a slow ride compared to what I would have done on my racer, but also because the last eight miles were me cycling slowly, hopelessly lost. For some reason, once I arrived near to my destination my Garmin Edge 1000 took me on an eight mile track which was basically an orbit of my actual intended destination. It was the most bizarre navigation error I have ever experienced.

In terms of features the Edge 1000 is streets ahead of the Edge 800 it replaced, but the navigation performance has been very iffy. The 800 was genuinely a fantastic addition to my gear. Every single destination I used to to reach was in there and I arrived literally at the front door every time. The 1000 has taken me on some exceptionally unusual routes. For example, when I was working in Todmorden it took me over an unbelievably difficult and hilly ride because it was around .25 miles shorter than the much flatter, faster alternative. Obviously the hills added a lot of time to the journey, and I can’t believe that the Garmin algorithm did that. Now it has taken me eight miles around my destination for no reason, and when I was plotting the route originally it struggled to find the address. The 800 always accepted the postcode and took me there. For me the jury is out right now on the 1000. I got it because the 800 has no Bluetooth or WiFi and I used to have to boot my computer and plug it in just to upload routes which drove me batty in the wireless era of technology. Right now I would happily go back rather than have the current issues I am facing. I hope that things improve quickly.

Thoughts on Foldies

In the midst of the COVID–19 outbreak I took stock of various things and realised that, since my current commute is fewer than two miles in distance, to use my carbon fibre racing bicycle to do that journey is bonkers. So, to cut a long story short, I did some research, a cost benefit analysis and as a result I now own a Holborn Challenge, 20″ wheel diameter, six geared folding bicycle.

I have ridden my foldie twice and it is a wildly different prospect to my racer, which is obviously going to be the case. Here and here is Strava data recorded using my Vivoactive HR watch from my first two rides. I forgot to press stop on my watch when I stopped for prolonged times so take the mileage numbers with a massive pinch of salt.

Foldies

  • You will never break any speed records on a foldie, but they are absolutely perfect for zipping around town, covering short distances, urban commuting and suchlike where there will be loads of turning, starting and stopping.
  • You cannot rest at speed like you would in ‘cruise control’ on a racer, where you are going fast but not putting in much effort because you are carrying momentum.
  • You can’t really bonk.
  • Going downhill means you freewheel. With six gears you just can’t go very fast before you start pedal spinning. A 20″ diameter doesn’t allow for much pace.
  • Aside from downhill freewheeling will slow you down quickly, so prepare to pedal all the time.
  • Different frame geometry means using different muscles, or the same ones in a different way and at different angles.
  • It turns on a sixpence, so be careful when signalling as it’s easy to drift into the road.
  • You look kind of funny as they are a novel design, but that’s okay really.

One day into riding a foldie and it’s nice to be able to go short distances at a leisurely pace. I don’t have to wear cleats or aerodynamic clothing. I clock rides using my watch rather my Garmin Edge 1000 as it is all just for fun really. I can’t mount my expensive Hope lights on it so I just bought a decent set on sale.

Using a foldie has reconnected me with leisure cycling. All cycling is pleasurable for me, however this does not go fast so I get to see the scenery a little. It’s just good fun instead of endorphins and adrenaline, and I don’t wear out my much more expensive bike on two and three mile rides here and there.

Expensive Shoes and Ridiculous Diagnoses

I am currently learning several bitterly painful and unpleasant lessons. My last post was a seven mile run. Sadly the day after I awoke with what I had assumed to be the most scorching case of metatarsalgia that I have ever had. Presuming that it would go away with time and rest as it always does, I recuperated for seven days, sadly to no avail. After seven days of rest I hobbled to casualty, fearing the dreaded metatarsal stress fracture. I now await an appointment with my GP for a second opinion on the most unlikely diagnosis I have ever received. I am all but teetotal, vegan, nonstop active and with zero lifestyle questioning in his differential diagnosis the hospital doctor spat out one word: gout.

GOUT.

I hate being that guy who argues with the doctor, but come on, seriously? I have zero lifestyle risk factors, I’m in shape, I’ve never drank a ton, am a vegan and when I wasn’t ate meat sparingly and he came back with gout. I just don’t buy it. Not for a nanosecond. Whatever the reality is, however, I remain injured. What do I take from this? Firstly, never assume when it comes to injury. I should have sought medical assistance immediately. Waiting just left me in pain. Secondly, doctors are rushed and there is no shame in asking for a second opinion, which I should have done at the hospital. I didn’t, however, so now I have to go to my GP to get one. In future I will get medical attention straight away and listen to my body when it hurts.

However, I have learned a bitter lesson in regard to thrift. There is an old saying that one should always pay attention to what lies between one’s body and the earth. Therefore one should have excellent bedsheets, tyres and shoes. I did not. I have historically bought whatever I thought I could get away with. I wasn’t cheap, just infused with the financial sensibility of a working class male. I always get air soles but I haven’t put a great deal of thought into my shoes and once I found what I thought was my line, I would spend the least I could. So here I am, for the third time with an inflamed ball joint in the same foot as soon as I started to hit serious distance running.

Ultimately I have been dumb, albeit with the caveat that my perspective was skewed. I prioritised financial health over my physical wellbeing and I now get to think about that long and hard whilst I wait for my foot to stop throbbing and I can finally walk properly again.

Thus ends the tale of this sad, sorry blog post. Don’t do what I did folks. If you go cheap you will be going to hospital. A LOT. Don’t buy cheap shoes. Don’t buy the most expensive shoes. Buy the right shoes. Get them fitted properly and replace them before they wear out.

And don’t take a doctor’s word as infallible truth. They’re just human beings after all. It might be gout, but it would be a remarkable case. Lack of questioning in a rushed department during a coronavirus outbreak reeks of rushed thinking and taking the path of least resistance.

I am now going shoe shopping.

Weathering the Storm

So, here in northern England it has not only been three storms in a row but it is also so cold that the arthritis in my toe is painful even when I am just sitting around. Not to be undone, however, I managed to improvise. During storm Dennis I couldn’t run distance in such high winds, so I decided to run a mile as quickly as I could, with a pathetic time of 9:32, as you can see below.

Posting detailed Garmin metrics for this is pointless, but you see the point, that I am a painfully slow runner. I always have been, but I am pushing for endurance rather than speed. I would like both of course and I hope that as I keep stretching myself I can pick up speed. It will be genuinely fascinating to see the difference in pace when I run on a flat course though. Right now I have in mind to run from where I live to the city of Preston. This is mostly a flattish course that will clock in at around 24 miles, so clearly I have some training to do yet to hit that. The point is that I want to see what difference the course makes to my average speed. Right now I run locally as I am not passing 10 mile distances yet, which means I do some moderate climbing. This is because where I live it is more or less uphill in every direction. The exception is down into the town centre but obviously I won’t run there, so that leaves courses that always have a substantive elevation gain. I bet that when I am fit enough I will run to Preston and the pace will be better than my local running. This has certainly been the truth for cycling where I have found cycling great distances insanely easy when on a flat course. This brings to mind the time I did the inaugural Wiggo Sportive race and a bunch of Londoners couldn’t finish it because they cycled distance but not hills. Slackers.

So, yesterday I pushed up to six miles and it was a hard run. My muscles were achy, it was absolutely freezing cold, thus I was sluggish and my muscles needed to contract constantly. Data below.

Data Summary

Splits

Graph Data

In addition to thinking about how courses might affect my times and pace, hopefully just the change in the weather as it gets warmer should give me better times. I’m pretty pleased at how my distances are improving quickly in difficult, cold weather conditions and also I hope that my arthritis calms down, because that is very painful, right in the ball joint of the big toe I broke as a wee nipper. That can be very unpleasant, I can tell you. I hope that in roughly two weeks I will have pushed through ten mile distance running, heading towards my personal best distance of 15 miles by the end of April. That puts me on course, presuming I have no health issues, injuries or otherwise unforeseen events, to hit marathon distances by the summer holidays.

The other positive side of things is my health, my clothes are starting to hang off me! This is a great problem to have but I also have to start replacing my wardrobe. My waist diameter is down two inches already. After the horrible summer I had last year this is exceedingly gratifying. I feel like I am striking back at the challenges of life and hitting it harder than it hits me. I hate being cooped up inside the house so to have had to endure months of it was dreadful, but what is past is prologue. If I can hit marathon distances in time for winter then the great lost summer of 2019 will be nothing but a distant memory.

Hormesis Redux: Electric Boogaloo

Hot on the heels of my learning about hormesis I have decided to go, as they say among the bros, balls deep. If stressing the body is the way forward then I will stress the ass out of mine.

Today I ran five miles, one more than last time, in a fasted state and I started the run with a long, hard 400 metre (approximately) 2.5 mile climb. My extensive cycling experience has taught me that if you want to get strong and get fit, and do so quickly, then god damn it, climb. Just find a hill and run up it. It doesn’t matter how much you climb, how steep it is, or how quickly you can do the run, just find a hill and leg it up there, and no matter how hard it gets, don’t stop until you get to the top. Trust me when I tell you that the reward of running downhill after having done that successfully is superb.

You can check out the details of the elevation gain in the Garmin graphs below, but today I made sure that I did the climbing first, the ran downhill back home followed by a detour into the trail I ran last time I was out running in order to get wet, dirty and exposed to cold. It worked too. I arrived home filthy, cold, wet and absolutely pumped and full of energy. Of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do something dumb, so the data below is slightly lacking in detail because I accidentally recorded this as a bike ride! Thankfully you can edit Garmin data so it’s all alright.

Garmin Data

Splits

Graphs

Hormesis: If it Doesn’t Kill You…

Lately I have been listening to the work of an incredible scientist, Dr David Sinclair, Harvard geneticist. His most recent book, Lifespan is essentially a document detailing his quest to cure ageing. One concept he introduced to me in this audiobook is hormesis, the notion that stressing yourself will do you good, aka the popular aphorism, ‘whatever does not kill you simply makes you stronger’. Having given this some thought recently I found a way to put it into action this morning on my run. The details are below. This was a starved run and thus hard work. If you are interested in the book but not sure then Sinclair was recently on the Joe Rogan and Rich Roll podcasts so you can try before you buy.

Garmin Data

Data Summary

Mile Splits

Graphs

Now, with the summary above done I can detail what I learned on this run. Firstly, I really ought to pay better attention to the pavement as I went over on my ankle twice, albeit not badly so thankfully there was no injury but it could have been worse. Secondly, I learned to stress myself. In his work Sinclair details several different stressors that can be hugely beneficial to humans: endurance sports, fasting and cold exposure. The first two I am working on already but the third had never occurred to me previously. Serendipity allowed me to improvise today, however. Running along the Leeds-Liverpool canal I came to a railway bridge on my regular route which was being repaired and thus the pathway was closed, so I had to improvise. This meant taking an adjacent path which either continues as tarmac, or, crucially, there is a short trail. I took the trail and got absolutely drenched, both from the rain and also the muddy filth and freezing cold water that was flowing liberally on the trail.

What I discovered was not only that running in crap conditions is great fun and feels amazing afterwards, but also that I need to get better shoes. I have to be honest and say that I haven’t done as much running as I would like over the last fortnight because here in the U.K. we have had some pretty severe storms and it’s genuinely dangerous to be out in the countryside in such conditions. Where I live you can’t go anywhere for more than twenty minutes before you end up in rural surroundings, and I try to avoid pounding road too much because it is hard on my 6’1, 16 stone frame. I’m a pretty big guy so softer ground is good. I also live in a place where, should I run distances, I end up on country roads where people drive like dickheads. Add that to storm weather and it can be pretty difficult.

That all being said, however, Sinclair’s work and influence has shifted my perspective. I have to start stressing my body more. If I am to run ultra distances as I previously committed to doing then risk is inherent to that, both of injury and some generalised danger. Also, when I thought about it I realised that people are far more likely to endanger me on my bike due to the bizarre cyclist hatred that exists in England and that never stopped me cycling so I think it’s time to start to really hammer myself to get good at serious endurance again. I’ve cycled over 100 miles on a good few occasions, so I can run it for sure.

This means that I can’t fast 5 days out of 7 though. I just can’t see how that is possible, so I have a plan. I will fast on non-running days, meaning that when I do run my fast will commence at 2000 that evening and I fast through to lunch the next day. There is no way I can run endurance distances without eating. That’s crazy and, whilst I am no nutritionist, it can’t be good or healthy for me.

When faced with a closed pathway I took the trail, got myself covered in crap, soaking wet and freezing, but it felt amazing. It didn’t kill me so it must have made me stronger. I then finished up the morning by cooking myself this delicious brunch consisting of savoury pancakes stuffed with potatoes fried in garlic, chilli, ginger and turmeric followed by a fruit salad. Yum!

Past is Prologue – The Future Belongs to Gods!

Today’s post is a line in the sand, followed by the data from today’s swim.

My best distance run is 15 miles. I have had ambitions to do a marathon for years, ambitions I upgraded to an Iron Man. Sadly when I was working at this I got hit by cars three times in two years whilst cycling. End of Iron Man. I recovered a while ago but had children and real life took over. Now I am feeling ambitious again. My kids are old enough that I have renewed independence and so I have committed myself mentally to pushing into major endurance running. Quite simply, I would like to be an ultra runner. Lofty ideas I know, but you have to believe right?

So, that is my plan. As the summer arrives and the nights get long I am going to push for serious distance, and hopefully by the time autumn is in view I will be hitting ultra distances. I mean, really, how hard can it be?

I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek of course but there is a part of me that genuinely believes in my ability right now. After all, a marathon is just an arbitrary distance. It’s not any kind of universal limit on human endurance. So, with the obvious caveat that it’s going to be hard, how hard can it be? I guess I will soon learn!

Today’s Swim

Here is the day’s swim data. Pushed up to 1250 metres in drills of eight laps. The extra 50 is because I did a ten lap drill by mistake.

Summary

Interval Splits

Graphs