The Road Ahead

Posted: January 23, 2017 in Fitness, Health, Uncategorized

I thought I would amalgamate a few posts I had been thinking of into this one. Basically it’s a catch up of what I have done and what I plan for the rest of the year.

It was a cold and frosty morning on Saturday but even wheelie bin covered ice patches could not deter me from completing my 17th Coventry Parkrun in, what turned out to be, my second fastest time. I had been worried my calf troubles would come back now that I have increased my running again but so far so good. The heel raises I was given by the physio along with new trainers (ASICS Patriot 8) and the purchase of some Kalenji calf sleeves (Decathlon) seem to be keeping me on track. Unfortunately it’s not such good news on the shoulder injury I got taking a slow speed tumble off my mountain bike during the Evans’ cycle Ride It cross country event on Cannock Chase at the start of October. Despite physio and implementing the exercises I was given, the shoulder is a million miles away from where it needs to be.

With this in mind it was time to start thinking about events for the year ahead. I have already ran the January Draycote 10k and have now signed up to run again in February. Let’s hope the weather is kinder to us then as it rained so much last time I may as well have swam the 10k.

Also signed up are not one but four Wolf Runs this year ( http://thewolfrun.com/ ). Last year it was my ultimate goal to complete the Autumn Wolf, which I did, and that has given me an appetite for more. If I can complete Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter I will qualify as an Alpha Wolf. This will be my main goal this year. Not bad for a totally Beta Male. For those of you unsure why anyone would want to put themselves through the torture of an obstacle race I urge you to watch Rise of The Sufferfests. A documentary into what makes people repeatedly go back for more. http://riseofthesufferfests.com/

I do intend to enter a few more events, including a return to the King of the Mytons cycling event, but that’s all that are booked so far.

My training has stepped up a gear lately so I thought I would share what an average week looks like for me. With this being winter, my distances have fallen but as lighter evenings and warmth returns I will be building back up.

Monday

3-4 mile run

Tuesday

HIIT row session 20s sprint/ 10s rest x8

Supersets of:

chest press/ seated row. 3 sets 20 reps.

Squats/ dumbbell lunge 3 sets 20 reps

Lat pull downs/ shoulder raise (forwards and to the side) 3 sets 20 reps

Leg curls/ leg extensions 3 sets 20 reps

Plank 75s

Plank push-ups 30s

Mountain climbers 30s

Swiss ball jack knives 30s

Leg raises 30s

Plank 75s

X-trainer 20 minutes on random

Followed by a repeat of the core exercises (plank etc.)

Wednesday

Rest day

Thursday 

Repeat Tuesday

Friday

Bike 10 miles +

Saturday

Run

Sunday

Repeat Tuesday

Now, that may seem like a lot but I do worry that I need to increase the cycling and, at some point, introduce swimming. Not enough hours in the day!


My online Active I.Q. Gym instructors course seems to have gone off with more of a whimper than a bang after the first online lesson was cancelled due to technical difficulties and the rescheduled lesson was during my working day so I couldn’t attend. Ascthere is no course portal or online forums yet, there is no way to collaborate with my peers on the course. This is not what I am used to from distance learning. Things can only get better I guess.

On the whole though, what is normally my most hated month, January has got off to a flying start and as we approach it’s end I hope to carry this momentum into February and beyond.

Happy training!

First Event Of The Year

Posted: January 15, 2017 in Fitness, Health, Uncategorized
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The Draycote 10k

After what seems like an eternity since my last event I am pleased to report my 2017 campaign has got off without a hitch.

The Draycote 10k is a new run to me but has been running for several years. The event is organised by The Race organiser ( http://theraceorganiser.com/index.html ) and is set around the normally picturesque Draycote Water Reservoir located in the Warwickshire countryside about 13 miles South East of Coventry. I say normally because, today, the weather was not kind to us. Low cloud, heavy rain and low temperatures greeted us as we assembled in the car park to head to the race village to claim our start numbers.

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The visitor centre and race village through the rain

Never one to be put of by a bit of rain, it was heartening to see how many others had decided to turn out anyway and the carpark was soon way over capacity. As were the loos with the ladies having to form a long but orderly queue which meant some had to start the race late.

As start time approached I moved up to the start with some trepidation. It had only been 9 days since I pulled my calf yet again and hadn’t run at all in that time. I had done a couple of sessions of resistance with some supported cardio on the X-Trainer and had been wearing a calf sleeve all week. To say the injury was worrying me would be an understatement. I tried to fight back the natural instinct to get swept along with the crowd at the start to try to help my leg but I was soon setting a pace in the low 8’s. The course helped. Set along the perimeter road of the reservoir, the 10k course had 2k of, mostly, downhill double back till we strode off around the course proper. Undulating around the lake, giving a fair change in elevation, the tarmacked surface was a pleasure to run on with only avoiding action for puddles breaking the flow.

 

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Elevation plan of the course

 

As it turned out the injury didn’t reappear and my pace for the first 5k was good (for me) but as I passed the 6k marker I felt that my pace had fallen right off. That said I still felt good. Running a 10k straight off in brand new trainers was probably not the sanest thing to do but even that turned out to not be a problem. Hey, I didn’t even feel the rain despite having to do jumping jacks on the start line to stop shaking in the cold.

It was with relief that I spied the red LED glow of the finish clock 1km from the finish. All my fears of my calf ending my season before it started melted away and I made a push for home. As I crossed the line a glance at the clock showed me I had finished 53.33 after the official start. Knowing that I hadn’t crossed the start line till over 1 minute after the start I knew I had put in a time far faster than I thought and one possibly a PB. After I regained my breath, a quick check on my TomTom Spark showed me that I had indeed set a new fastest 10k time of 52.11! What an awesome way to start the new year.

As I moved up to claim my goodie bag (the usual fare of protein bar, nutrient drink etc.), medal and T-shirt I caught up with one of my friends who had came home a couple of minutes before me for the usual photos and war stories. He too had enjoyed the event and vowed we should do more. Looks like 2017 will be a busy year.

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To the Victor, the spoils

 

New Year, New Goals

Posted: January 13, 2017 in Fitness, Health, Uncategorized

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Here we are, two whole weeks into 2017. Time to think about what I want to achieve this year. In all honestly last year exceeded my expectations and I will be hard pressed to match it but here goes.

First off I want to say thank you for the support I have received through the last 12 months. Going from the weight I was to being considered fit and healthy has had its own rewards but the constant encouragement I have had from friends, old and new, has got me through the tough times and there have been a few. more on that later.

I have taken the decision to rebrand both this blog and my Instagram (go give me a follow) to be more in keeping with the new direction my life is taking. Will I still play and rant about video games? You betcha. They are still a part of who I am but I am so much more.

That leads me to my main goal for this year. At the start of this journey it was all about feeling better about myself. improving my self image, feeling healthy and basically extending my life as much as I possibly could. As I made progress and started to lose weight I started getting people asking how they could do the same. I have found I have really enjoyed offering what advice I could and seeing others start their own journey and it has made me consider my career choices. I really want to help make the difference. I feel that, as I have taken the journey myself, I am well placed to help others do the same. The upshot of this is that on the 17th of January I will start studying to become a level 2 Fitness instructor with Henley College, here in Coventry. This will then give me a more in-depth knowledge of the subject helping me to give better advice. I am obviously hoping it will also lead to a career change eventually. Me? A gym coach? who would have guessed!

I am also hoping to get to 50 ParkRuns this year. So far I have 16 under my belt so this should be easy to do so long as I can get Saturdays free.

Coming up before that is the Draycote 10k on the 15th January. This is a lovely location around the perimeter of a local reservoir. I have walked around it many times but this will be my first run there. I am excited to get this year’s events under way but I am still carrying an injury that has bugged me off and on through last year and have been advised not to do it. Trouble is I really want to so I may end up walking by the end.

At the start of 2015 I turned 46. I had always been overweight bordering on obese and, according to a chart in my Doctor’s I was over 7 stone overweight at around 16.5 stone. I was having to buy 2XL tops and size 38 jeans. This from a man only 5 foot 5 in height. Having lost both my parents in their fifties my health was beginning to play on my mind. I was already having to take two types of blood pressure tablet so needed to make a change.

 

That change finally came when a friend who was walking next to me asked me if I was feeling all right because I sounded out of breath. From that day I altered my diet cutting out Crisps and Bread. The next day I dug my mountain bike out of the shed and started riding along the canal towpaths. This was around the end of September 2015 and it wasn’t until the 8th of October that I was finally brave enough to weigh myself. That day I weighed 15 stone 6.

 

I carried on riding my bike every day, getting further and further, until the start of November. I had already noticed some weight loss and didn’t want to stall over Winter. With this in mind, I went and signed up to Moat House Leisure and Neighbourhood Centre. During my induction I was shown the machines and, with the help of the Gym Instructor, worked out a fitness programme that would keep me fit for the winter and help me to keep shedding pounds.

 

As my fitness levels raised I began using the treadmill. I had never really ran before but as I started to get stronger I started running for longer and eventually hit 3 miles. At this point a friend suggested I try the local Park Run. I had never run outdoors so he offered to run with me. When I finally did it It was June and I had hit around 165 lbs. My first ever 5K run was completed in 28:46 and I ran with over 500 other people of all levels of age and fitness. I was hooked. Throughout the Summer and Autumn I competed in the Decathlon Running Series, A 50k Bike ride to raise money for Myton Hospice, A Wolf Run, Stratford’s Big 10K A 19 mile off-road cycle race and as many Park runs as I could fit in. I also raised £101 in aid of Alzheimer’s Research UK in their Running Down Dementia campaign, running 300 Kilometres over the time of the challenge.

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The Data Doesn’t lie

None of this would have been possible before I decided to take responsibility for my own health and fitness. I am now 11 stone 4 and feeling fitter and healthier than I ever have. I still have a way to go to rid myself of the last of the weight and am working on a new programme at the gym. I have found great pleasure in helping other people who want to make a similar journey and am hoping to begin training as a gym instructor myself in the new year. Change has to come from within and it takes dedication and focus but I have proved it is possible.

Darren Lissaman 1/12/16

In low orbit around Kerbin

In low orbit around Kerbin

Were you to visit my home and gaze at my bookshelves it would not take a psychological profiler to reach the conclusion that I am a bit of a science nerd. Cosmology, Astrology, Biology, Geology, they all are taking up shelf space. I even spent several years studying natural sciences at University level. Combined with this is an unhealthy interest in simulation games. The first game I really logged serious hours on was a 747 flight simulator on my Dragon 32, the cockpit displayed in all its 8 bit, 16 colour glory and the first time I had ever used an analogue joystick. I never was a platformer fan. Sonic and Mario just never appealed. Many more flight and combat sims (Microprose M1 Tank anyone?) scratched my itch over the following years

Recently, I started to hear about a simulation game that had all the things I needed, science and simulation in one package. At first I was content to hear other people’s experiences. This game was still in beta with new features being added. I thought I would wait until the build was stable, maybe even until it was ready for full release but it was there on my radar (radio, detection and ranging don’t you know).

Still the stories came in. Would be mission controllers launching their spacecraft in to orbit, exploring the solar system or crashing in flames on take-off. Everything about this game piqued my interest. So this weekend I finally caved. Early access or not, I could no longer wait.

This game, of course, is Kerbal Space Program and in just five days I have lost 38 hours and many brave Kerbals to it. I would never normally even begin to recommend a game that is still in early access. Features change and there is no way to know if the game you are playing is the one that will actually ship. This game though is so feature rich and the engine so sound that its hard to believe that there is much more to add.

The titular Kerbals are a race of brave if not completely competent humanoids living on the planet Kerbin. As the controller of their space program it is your job to build, develop and fly their spacecraft. There are two game modes, sandbox and career. Both are pretty much what you would expect. Sandbox gives you a set of tools and sets you loose. Career gives you some basic tools to get you going and then by completing flights and doing science you can unlock the next level of technologies. Science forms the in game currency and is redeemed by clicking on a capsule in flight to get reports or conduct experiments. This data can then either be saved to be recovered with the capsule after the mission or transmitted back to base if you have fitted the required communication antenna. As long as you do this the rest of the story you create yourself. It really is that type of game.

Once you start the game you will be presented with an overview of the space complex. From here you can choose Science and research, tracking, astronaut training, Space plane hangar, and launch site or the vehicle assembly building. It’s this last one where you need to begin. Building your craft is as simple as dragging and dropping components. As you add to your build a sequence of action commands will build up on the left hand side of the screen. It’s important to get these in the right order. A booster will be of little use is if decouples before it fires after all. These commands can be dragged and dropped and the list added too as you continue your build.

Getting ready for launch is a simple as clicking the green launch icon in the top task bar. This will take you to the launch site. This is where the list of actions comes into play. Each press of the space bar will activate the next action. Firing boosters, activating decouplers and so on, if you have the sequence right this will result in your Kerbal heading out on his first suborbital flight.

Once in space the true gem of this game shines through. Its depth is astounding. Orbital manoeuvres, trajectories and re-entry are all presented in an easy to understand way. Despite using words that are not exactly commonplace but totally true to space flight, like retrograde and prograde, the tutorial does a great job of walking you through what is needed. The best bit? No maths, just a simple arrangement of expanding circles to guide you in firing the engine. You did remember to save an engine for orbital flight didn’t you?

The fact that America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has jumped on board to joint develop a NASA missions pack to be used in education speaks volumes of how this game has been received in the science community. It never feels like its teaching you anything but all the time it is revealing the complexities of planning manned space-flight.

I am still only scratching the surface of this game. Eventually I can explore other worlds or build space planes for intercontinental flight. As previously stated this game is still in early access but for anyone with even a passing interest in space-flight I cannot recommend it highly enough. On Steam there is a demo to download and try for free so there is no excuse to not try it. In early access the game currently retails for £19.99 and I feel it is worth every penny. A typical FPS campaign is complete in under 8 hours so I have already had more than twice that at half the cost. The controls are easy to understand and not overwhelming but I do advise you go through the tutorials as it can all seem daunting. Once you get a feel for the types of construction that works it’s easy to build craft that will take you high above the world. Where you chose to go next is up to you.

Darren Lissaman

Screenshot from in-game and is used under fair-use. Rights remain with the owners.

The times, they are a changing.

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Gaming
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The above line, taken from a Bob Dylan song, is rather apt as we are about to revisit the late seventies. It was during this period that I was first introduced to home gaming. Before this I had only played video games in arcades during family holidays with Sega’s Killer Shark, a rear projected and very basic shooter, being my favourite.

During a family visit my Uncle showed us his latest acquisition. Looking like an electro-shock therapy machine the item in the photograph at the start of this post is actually one of the first home consoles.The Binatone had 6 built in games. Four versions of pong and two shooters and I loved it. Despite my pleading though it was several years before my father relented and came home one day with a ZX Spectrum. Technically my first PC, I spent hours typing in lines and lines of code, meticulously copied from enthusiast magazines, to create my own space invaders games. Once the plug was pulled and the game was lost. The spectrum also introduced me to the darker side of our hobby, piracy. Video rental was becoming a thing and, spotting a gap in the market, our local store was quick to offer Spectrum game rental for the princely sum of £1. Of course Spectrum games were based on audio cassettes and nearly everyone I knew had tape to tape recording in their stereos.

Pretty soon the cassettes were doing the rounds in the school playground. I had found my first sub-culture!

After the Spectrum I moved on. First came a Dragon 32 and then a massive leap to an Amiga 500. Games had moved on so far from the humble Pong. Games like Dune and The Secret of Monkey Island were cutting edge and kept my entertained for hours. I had also toyed with a Sega Master System and Megadrive but, and I know this is heresy, I can’t stand platformers. The cutesy graphics of Mario and Sonic just didn’t fire me up in the way a good point and click or action game like Golden Axe did.

And then my first child arrived. Gaming was put on hold for a few years. As my son was getting older I purchased a Sega Saturn for him to play. Games like Sega rally held his interest for hours.    Eventually a neighbour, spying my aging Amiga offered to build me a PC. A lowly 486 but it ran Wing Commander III, and Discworld the game. Pretty soon I had been swept in to the nuclear arms race of PC gaming. Upgrades so I could play Medal of Honor: Allied Assult and F22 Raptor were almost constant. It was around this time that my daughter joined the family and wild expenditure of PC frills had to stop.

Again a few years passed until the dawn of the Wii, a fun, family console that allowed for true co-operative play. I didn’t play much on it to be honest.  As previously stated the games didn’t strike a chord with me.  But then, whilst absconding to Game while my wife did the shopping I found it, the game that dragged me back. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare reflex edition. I picked it up, took it home and I never looked back.

I had always had happy memories of playing Medal of Honor all those years ago and this game was so much more.  I couldn’t wait to get to work and share what I had found. Of course I was so far behind the curve. My work mate said, “ahh yes but of course you realise that isn’t the proper game?” What could he mean? Not the proper game! It was a shooter. Yes I was using motion controls but what could be different?

I stood my ground until Treyarch released Call of Duty Black Ops. I also bought this on Wii but the doubts were placed. There could be no other choice. I had to get an Xbox 360 and I realised then what I had been missing. There were missing levels, improved graphics and better mechanics. Using the controller was a joy.

Since getting the 360 I have had my eyes opened to a whole new world. That sub-culture that I found back in the eighties is thriving. Podcasts, forums, bloggers, gaming is a lifestyle choice with as much credibility now as any other. Huge, big money, tournaments are held as often as the big sporting events and draw an equally big crowd. I now am the proud owner of a PlayStation 3, Vita and a mid-spec gaming PC and am spoilt for choice for games to play. I have tired of the first person shooter that drew me back but that’s ok. Gaming now has stories. While not quite up there with the best Hollywood has to offer it’s easy to see that that’s where we are heading. Games are now events? Don’t agree? I refer you to the latest generation console launches. Microsoft sold 2 million consoles from launch till the end of December while Sony sold 4.2. That’s 6.2 million consoles shipped to customers in a little over a month. Steam, the PC based gaming store, had 7.5 million consecutive users over the Christmas holiday. Even if we assume that some people have access to all three platforms that is still millions of people enjoying gaming. With services like playstation + and Xbox live gaming has never been more social. No longer the image of the spotty teen hiding in their bedroom, afraid to face the world, gaming is, well, hip.

It is hard to predict where gaming will be when my children reach my age. So much has changed since the late seventies that I can barely believe it despite living through it. All I know is I will be there for as long as I can.

Gamer till I die.

The best thing about Aliens: Colonial Marines.

The best thing about Aliens: Colonial Marines.

I love Alien. I mean I really love Alien.

I remember walking past our local Odeon cinema back in 1979 (I was 10) and seeing that greenish looking egg on a black back ground and reading the immortal tag line “In space, no one can hear you scream” and being mesmerised. As soon as I possibly could I watched Ridley Scott’s imagining of a haunted house in space and loved it.

7 years passed until James Cameron returned us to the world of Ellen Ripley vs the Xenomorphs with an action twist. Another fantastic movie and, for many, the peak of the franchise which cast Ripley in the role of unwilling advisor to a bunch of gung-ho, over confident marines.

However, from that point on, with two lacklustre sequels (and an eventual cash-cowing of the franchise by melding it with Predator for two more lacklustre outings) and the inevitable games, all I have wanted to do is scream.

2013 arrived and I was full of hope. Ridley Scott was back at the helm and a (sort of but not quite) Alien prequel was slated for release. Not only this but Gearbox Software, creators of the amazingly good Borderlands franchise, were bringing us, what was billed as, a true sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens. It was to feature locations from the film along with the vocal talents of some of the original cast. I couldn’t have been happier. all my Christmasses come at once. The ten year old, gazing longingly at that poster, could never have been more excited than I was at the start of that year.

Oh dear. Whilst I was one of the few that didn’t hate Prometheus, it certainly didn’t live up to the hopes I had. The long, drawn out saga of Aliens: Colonial Marines is documented else where. Developers quickly passing the buck like the proverbial hot potato. It was, and after numerous patches still is, a turd. Not even a well polished one at that. The A.I. is laughable, the graphics wouldn’t trouble a PS2 never mind a top end P.C. I have seen Xenos dancing a jig, walking through walls, even dying and floating in mid air. This, by no stretch of the imagination, is not a good game.

So, here we are. a whole new year ahead of us. The first trade show of the year was the chance for Sega to introduce us to the next stage in the Alien franchise that so many, myself included, thought was now deader than a marine exploded by an exiting chest burster. Alien: Isolation by Creative Assembly, The team behind the R.T.S. Total War series, will see us in the space boots of Amanda, Ellen Ripley’s daughter as she goes in search of her missing parent. Promising to return us to the classic survival horror of the first movie, the team are focused on a single Alien Nemesis. This, they say, will show the intelligence that the previous games xenomorphs have been lacking. There will be no weapons, except those you craft yourself, and the Alien will be all but indestructible. Interesting if they can actually pull it off. Stealthing around a nine foot tall ball of death and destruction could be amazing for a few hours but can it carry a whole game?

After last year’s disappointments, I swore I was done. no more would I be laying down my hard earned cash just because there was a new Alien something. My first reaction when the news broke was please just let it float off in to space much the way Ripley did at the finale to Alien. Just like a misguided Scully though, I want to believe! Will this finally be the game they promise? will it give me the sense of terror that must have ran through Ripley’s very soul?

I will let you know because, you guessed it, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in and I will be first in the queue.

Will I never learn?

I’m old, there I said it. I have lived for four decades, have seen great advancements in the human condition and vast political changes and lived through some of the most exciting events of human history. However, sat here now I am wondering if humanity has any direction to its future.

What prompts this bleak view? Let me explain.

A few days ago, I was sat with my son discussing the Apollo missions. I was showing him clips on YouTube of Saturn V launches, golf on the moon, lunar rovers and while I was watching along side him I started to feel sad.

I was born three months before Neil Armstrong uttered the immortal words “One small step for man” and while I was too young to remember it first time round, I do remember the latter missions, the docking with souyz and the trails and tribulations of Sky Lab. Apollo was mine! I was fascinated by space flight then and remain so to this day. Shuttle was a fantastic piece of engineering and served well in its role but it wasn’t a moon shot. Building the ISS is a wonderful achievement but its just Skylab with bits docked to it.

Where is the inspiration coming from for my son’s generation? Robotic exploration is a necessary and positive first step but its not going to capture the imagination like manned spaceflight will. Yes, putting humans in space is dangerous but in seven years it will be half a century since Armstrong stepped off that ladder. Half a century! It took less time to go from the Wright brothers to Apollo.

Even robotic exploration is set to suffer. A nation that thinks nothing of spending billions on machines of destruction is reducing what it spends of machines of exploration. It is damaging not only its own projects but those of other nations. It can no longer even get its own astronauts into space and now it is threatening the possibility of the European Space Agency’s Exomars mission ever getting off the ground.

One bright piece of news in all this is the press release from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, saying that they intend a manned mission to the Moon by 2020. However, with their recent history.. of launch problems and mission failures not to mention political instability I will believe it when I see it.

Posted: February 10, 2012 in Uncategorized
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