What happened? I was happily looking forward to the end of the triathlon season, followed by a whopping increase in gaming time, doughnut eating, lazing around, and probably some sleep too, and then XTERRA happened. After a summer of struggling to train consistently, mental fatigue (and a whole load of physical fatigue), and thick with work I'm now keen as hell to race more XTERRA, to learn what I'm missing in my MTB XC skills, to try out tubeless, and to tweak my race bike for mud (and any other condition we might get). My legs tell me that I'm not as fit as I though I was, and that I need to do a whole bunch of different stuff so that next time I'll be better prepared. This is great! I'm keen! I'm enthusiastic! I want more! Oh wait, my last race of the season is at Bala on Sunday.
I had a lovely swim. There were no nerves before the start whatsoever, as I stood around chatting to Jamie, a graduate of our medicine programme in Swansea and now a working doctor that I hadn't seen for a while. The swim in Vachery pond in XTERRA England is always nice and relaxed for some reason. My race plan was to swim easy (which isn't really "easy" but at a pace that saves my shoulders for later work), bike smooth and then run. I.e. RUN! Like someone's chasing you. Which they were. Over large ditches, through bogs and over fallen oaks. I would also be doing some chasing. Hunting.
It's almost the end of August, the end of the summer holidays, the kids are back to school next week and we get our new first year medical students too. It's also my final (3rd?) attempt to peak my fitness for triathlon in 2015, which is probably tougher mentally than physically. I got it right the first time for the Welsh Champs, and felt like I did a pretty good job of recovering, training hard, and recovering again in the 3 week period between that race and the European Champs in Geneva. My performance there was pretty good, coming out of the swim with the winner in my age group, and biking a pretty good effort. I had a strategy to try to slow the raising of my core body temperature which turned out to be important as I picked up a bunch of places on the run. Ultimately the heat got to me and I went bang on the run with about 800m to go, but I've got some ideas of how I can prepare myself physiologically for future hot races. I wonder if I could have pushed the middle lap of the run harder, after hurting a lot on the first lap. Statistically the best part of my race was the swim. That's never happened before. Maybe I'm getting somewhere in the water at last!
Tomorrow we're off to XTERRA England in the Vachery Estate in Surrey for another camping weekend. I fixed the tent poles last night and bought some huge pegs after getting battered by winds in North Wales. XTERRA was great fun last year, for me and the family. The course is great, and it has a more relaxed feel with a big emphasis on fun. And beer. I wonder if it will be different this year, with a stronger field as it's also the European XTERRA Champs this year. My biking legs have been good, I've done hardly any swimming, and my running legs are falling off but I'll give it a good crack!
I think most athletes that have been competing at their sport for a number of years feel like they're struggling to continue to progress. You can measure progression in some areas, you feel like you're improving, but results often don't match up. Competition is like that - if we're all improving and comparing ourselves with each other, how can we really see improvement?
This year, probably for a number of reasons, most notably avoiding injury for a long period of time, my fitness and ability seem to have kicked on to another level at long last. I'm able to get skinny & still train strongly, and my running has become better than ever. My cycling seems to have followed, at least on courses that test your power to weight ratio, and even though I'm swimming less, I'm swimming better. (I still don't understand swimming). I lost the TTG Gloucester Triathlon in May by only 4 seconds to Richard Wilder (again), but I ran and swam really well. I won the Welsh Triathlon Standard Distance Championships in June with a performance that surprised me.
Have you been keeping up with the TweetyPi bird box through its Twitter account? We had some blue tits nest in it and some eggs were laid a couple of weeks ago. Today two of them hatched! Wow, they're tiny.
Follow the @tweetypibirdbox here.
I went for a run with my Pebble yesterday. Being a geek and a triathlete I collect huge amounts of data from my training and have been using Garmin & Polar devices for many years, but as I was running with my iPhone anyway (something I rarely do but needed to be contactable) I thought I'd see how the Pebble works. Short answer - it works really well but it's very simple.
I used to use the Map My Tracks iPhone app to allow my family to see where I was when training and to see if I ended up in any hospitals (only once so far), although we just use Find my Friends now. The Map My Tracks app was still on my phone so I started it up and dipped into the settings as I knew it had Pebble support.
I finally got round to converting the iOS Skull Osteology app (and web resource) into an Android app, test it, and get it up on the Google Play Store. It should work on Android phones but I haven't tested it on tablets.
The aim of this app is to give students the key details of the anatomy of the skull, ideally while looking at a plastic model of a skull (or a real skull in the lab, if available). Working with physical items seems to be the best way to learn anatomy and remember that information, and virtual resources like this are intended to supplement the unlabelled models with helpful information.
Go to the Google Play Store to download it.
I spent a damp morning taking photos at the Cardiff Triathletes' Try-a-Tri event today. I've been doing this for years and it never gets old. Even on an unusually rainy race day everyone seemed to be having a great time and overheard snippets of conversation at the finish line told of fun, a challenge, and personal competition. I wonder how many of these novice athletes will move on to more races, triathlon or otherwise.
Photos are up on Flickr, here.
Annabel and I got our prototype working for the bird box, and I ordered a cheap passive infra red (PIR) sensor for a couple of quid. I spent a bit of time wiring it up to the Pi's GPIO pins and used the Raspberry Pi Spy's excellent guide to work out how to trigger and respond to events. The first thing I played with was a small Python script that gave a little feedback on screen to what was happening but more importantly lit up a red LED when the PIR sensor detected motion. Its a great example of physical computing and a really good way to play with some programming. I was very pleased with myself when I made the LED light up when people walked into the room!
I bought an extra long cable for the Pi camera and tested it out. Annabel and I cut some wires the same lengths as the camera cable to wire up the sensor and LED, soldered some female breadboard type connectors to the ends and hooked them up. We covered the wires in a length of heat shrink tubing and shrank it down.
Adder by Wildlife Wanderer on Flickr.
Today we talked about the anatomy of the lymphatic vessels of the lower limb, and the mechanisms by which lymph is transferred from lower limb tissues back to the abdomen, thorax and circulatory system. We used examples of elephantiasis (and the filariasis worm), peripheral oedema, exercise recovery (after running or cycling racing) and snakebite.
As we're midway through year 2 and students are close to having covered all of the human anatomy in the medical curriculum we were all aware of the purposes of the lymphatic system and some of the fine structure, but there was no harm in reviewing some of the smaller anatomical details to help understand the relations between structure and function here. For example, lymphatic vessels begin as small, open ended vessels into which fluid from a tissue can pass. This fluid is most likely to have come from the plasma of the capillary bed that perfuses the tissue, and not all of the fluid is collected on the venous side. Normally the fluid is returned to the systemic circulation by the lymphatic system but your foot is a long way away from your heart, so how does this work? The lymphatic system is a collection of vessels that drain into larger and larger vessels, but the flow is only in one direction, there is no pump attached directly to them, and the pressure within these vessels is very, very low.
Lymphatic capillaries (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).
I bought a Printrbot Simple Metal 3D printer at work. We've got a bunch of ideas of things we'd like to do with students in anatomy, continuing with the linking virtual and physical information theme. The technology is at the stage where 3D printers can cost £500 or less, and the plastic they print with (PLA, for example, costs around £18 per kilogram). It's pretty cheap, and it produces cheap things, cheaply. It turns stuff on your computer screen into real things. And it's mesmerising to watch. And plays a tune (unintentionally) thanks to the constant movements of its 3 motors. This also fits with our idea of making technology available for all teachers to use in teaching, not just the ubergeeks.
When you have a 3D printer you realise how much you can do with it. I've been printing Christmas decorations to help improve the adhesion of the first layer of PLA to the print bed, and Kim will never have to buy another cookie cutter or mould. Just pop to Tinkercad, work through the tutorials and design some cookie cutters in any shape you want. Download, print, bake.