Category Archives: Running

Wanted: safe return of running mojo

In a departure from my usual technology topics, I’m going back to my other passion today and writing a post about running. It’s a personal one, so if it’s a bit “problem page” for you then I’ll understand if you skip over it.

Last year was a pretty extraordinary one for me in that I found myself doing the one thing I said I’d never do which was run a marathon. Three times. So bitten was I by the marathon bug in fact that this year I’ve signed up for the North Dorset Village Marathon, the Bournemouth Marathon, Endure24 (as a duo) and will probably run a third marathon towards the end of the year. My focus therefore has been primarily on getting the right preparation for North Dorset which takes place in just over four weeks time.

What seems like an eternity ago (but was actually a matter of a couple of months ago) I ran a great twenty mile training run, followed by a hard and enjoyable speed work session with my running club, Hedge End. I was feeling great – fit, strong and confident. Then, I immediately got a cold. No biggie, but it disrupted my training. Just as I was coming back, I then developed a pain in my right knee, later diagnosed as anterior knee inflammation. This meant that I ran a total of about ten miles in four weeks as February turned to March. With the help of some exercises from a physio, I’ve got myself back and building my miles back up. I have a plan that will take me through to North Dorset that is achievable, the knee feels fine and so I should be on track again.

Except I’m still not feeling right.

This is my first real injury in nearly five years of running and I’m discovering that the one thing that physio can’t fix is the damage being injured does to your mind. Compared to what others have been through I’ve barely suffered at all so please excuse the whinge, but it has totally knocked the confidence out of me. I find myself chasing that good feeling of a few weeks ago, and just can’t seem to get there. My training distances and times are respectable, yet the real endurance I’m having to rediscover is between my ears. I ran a ten kilometre training run tonight, time respectable but could easily have stopped after three miles even though my legs were fine. That I managed to power through, mainly down to giving myself milestone landmarks to reach and focus, hopefully means this could be a turning point but I’m still worried that my elusive mojo might not materialise in time. The voice in my head is still posing questions like “have I trained enough?”, “have I lost all my endurance?”, “will I even finish the race?” and even knocking my physical appearance.

I’ve tried mixed training (the one good thing about the injury is it has caused me to start triathlon training), music (uplifting, memory-jogging, even amusing) and diet but just can’t yet get that good feeling back again. I’m sure this is a matter of time thing, and others have recovered from far worse than I have but I’m interested to know how people do cope with this aspect of the comeback trail or indeed hear advice that people might have.

So, for those who have experienced this phenomenon, I’m interested to know – how did you get your mojo back?

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Eastleigh 10k

A few weeks have gone by now, but I wanted to try and keep up the habit of at least recording each “proper” run that I do for posterity. For one reason or another it’s been a few weeks, but better late than never here is my write-up of the Eastleigh 10k on Sunday March 27th, 2011.

First impressions began with the arrival of the runner’s pack, which contained the chip tag that all entrants wear on the ankle. The event is sponsored by B&Q who are a major local employer and the organisation and quality of the pack contents was also noticeably higher than some others. I was number 1467.

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Getting to the run itself was the first challenge – the event is popular and the traffic around Eastleigh was very busy and parking spaces at a premium. Having finally found a space a short distance away, we wandered first round to the race HQ at Fleming Park and then on to the starting line on Passfield Avenue.

The course runs from just outside Fleming Park through Boyatt Wood and up to Allbrook before coming back down Passfield Avenue and through Eastleigh itself down Derby Road and finally back down Chestnut Avenue and back into Fleming Park itself to the finish line. The course is mainly on road, with the local roads being closed for the race and pretty flat, save the hill up to Allbrook.

Whilst I’ve grown in confidence I thought I’d made an honest assessment of my abilities and started probably about a third of the way back. When the gun went off, I realised I may have been a bit hard on myself (or indeed that others had not been hard enough) as it took me a good 500-700 metres to reach my desired running pace. The atmosphere was really good with a nice mixture of running clubs and fun runners (including some guys in Sombreros).

Having got going at around the 4:35-4:40 mins/km mark, the first challenge was the hill up Twyford Road to Allbrook which was enough to drag on the legs but not too hard. As I said before the course is pretty flat, though coming down Woodside Avenue from the peak of the hill the decline was sufficient that I could pick up to 4:15-4:20 pace which helped offset the slow start off the line. Coming back down Passfield Avenue, lots of people were supporting from the sides of the roads which was great.

Heading up Derby Road towards Eastleigh was surprisingly hard, and probably my hardest part of the course. I think it was a combination of a slight incline (though not much) in the road, fatigue from the first half of the race and a very long straight where the next turning was not visible for a while. I noticed a few people flagging so I don’t think I was alone in finding that leg reasonably demanding. Heading back in to Fleming Park and into the funnel I ended up having a final sprint competition with a guy who had crept up on me but he had just a bit more strength left pipping me across the line. Can’t win them all.

Provided refreshments at the finish line included a bottle of water, some (nice) fruit cake and a banana.

Garmin recorded my time as 46:39, average pace 4:40 min/km. The official results recorded my chip time as 46:24 and gun time as 47:08, both of which were a PB over my Winchester time so I was more than happy with that.

Winchester 10k – first “proper” 10k

Last Sunday (20th February) I took part in my first “proper” 10k race, the Concept Sport event in Winchester. I’ve entered three road races so far in 2011, and this was the second following the Romsey 5 miles a few weeks ago. In the run up to the event I’d set myself the goal of finishing on or around the 50 minute mark, based on my training runs and the Romsey event.

The Winchester course is a single loop rather than laps that began at River Park Leisure Centre, and ended at Winchester City FC’s ground just around the corner. The main course heads clockwise north easterly out of Winchester ultimately looping round Kingsworthy and nearby Headbourne Worthy, before heading back in to the finish via Andover Road. This would be the hilliest 10km I had attempted to date, and I was looking forward to the challenge.

On arriving at River Park, it was clear that this event is popular, with runners arriving from all angles. I finally managed to track down my fellow runners Tim and May just ahead of the start. The weather was overcast but dry although the start on the mud and grass was somewhat slippery from the previous days rain. A bit like at Romsey we couldn’t easily hear the briefing and the actual start was a bit hazy but in the end we got away, beginning with a lap of a playing field. We made the mistake of starting a bit too far back in the field, and even by the end of that initial lap people were still sorting themselves out.

Coming off of the grass the course then headed uphill through the residential area of Abbotts Barton nearby and onto the B3047 (Worthy Road) up towards Kingsworthy. The initial hills up to the main road were a taste of what was to come, for although the initial leg into Kingsworthy was by and large downhill, the serious hills began as the course continued through and round towards Headbourne Worthy. In fact the course followed a continual incline between around 4.5 and 8km, all the way through Headbourne Worthy and onto the Andover Road. All the way around the route there were people by the sides of the road cheering us all on which was a great feeling, and there was additional traffic control in place to facilitate crossing would otherwise be pretty busy main roads.

I tried to keep focused on maintaining a constant rhythm – I wasn’t going to wear myself out by trying to outrun the hills, and hoped that I would make up the time on the declines that I hoped would come round the corner. By and large I tried to keep my pace between 4:30 and 4:50 minutes/km on the flat, and 5:00 to 5:15 on the inclines which I pretty much achieved.

After the long slog from Headbourne Worthy, there was a last sting in the tail of a steep incline over the railway as the course headed back in towards Abbotts Barton, and then into the final decline in towards the finish. I was starting to feel tired by this point and decided to maintain my rhythm and let the natural decline of the hill speed me up. As the route led into the football stadium, however, I felt sufficiently good that I decided to go for one last sprint to the finish, and despite the surface changing to a loose shingle, I still managed to move myself up a few places before the finish line.

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According to my Garmin, I had completed the race in 47 minutes 40 seconds. The official results listed me as 47 minutes 47 seconds, both of which I was really happy with. My finishing position was 184th out of the 419 men.

I managed to also capture some action shots of Tim and May as they made their way in.

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Then of course we had the customary group photo to commemorate another good running outing.

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Roll on the Eastleigh 10k in March, this was great fun.

First “proper” race — Romsey 5 miles

I passed an important milestone yesterday, running in my first ever “proper” race, the Romsey 5 miles race which takes place at Broadlands in Romsey, Hampshire. Having entered back in December, I was given number 135 and was joined by Tim and May. It was mine and Tim’s maiden race, with May being the experienced campaigner of the three of us.

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The weather was good – not too sunny as befits the time of year but not raining, and the course pretty flat as it is a looped course mainly on pavement within the grounds of Broadlands. The course consists of three laps, the first two being around 2-2.5km with the third lap having an extension to bring the course up to the full 8km distance.

The start was pretty disorganised and we didn’t get to hear a lot of the briefing, however we did manage to hear the whistle to start and we were off. I was quite pleased as I didn’t feel too nervous, and managed to get into my stride. I managed to get into a pace of around 4:45-4:50 mins/km which I tried to keep up all the way around. Terrain was okay, though one stretch of the main loop was on a looser tarmac surface which had quite a few potholes in and seemed to suck more energy out of my legs than the majority of the route.

On the third lap, the extra length of circuit was a straight length that took you out to a turning point and back the way you came which meant that for a stretch there was two-way traffic. I managed to catch a high five with Tim as he went by on the way back, and I liked the way the members of different running clubs all supported each other as they went by.

Into the final leg towards the finish, I could feel myself tiring but dug in and tried to keep the same pace to the end. There was a guy who I think must have been tracking me on the way round who made a break to overtake at the end but I managed to get a kick in to just level it on the line.

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The official results show me as the 142nd man over the finish line (out of 274 men in total) with a time of 38 minutes 37 seconds. I’ve uploaded my Garmin stats for completeness too, will add the link later.

Great day out, roll on the Winchester 10km in February.

6 months (ish) report

I remarked to Tim at Parkrun that I was kicking myself at not keeping more of a journal as I built my running habit. He came up with the excellent suggestion that all was not lost, and that I should write a 6 months (or so) report whilst I still can remember. I should add that I’m not doing this out of conceit, but for the same reason as I originally put technical articles on this blog – so I know where I can go back and find things I’d like to remember. It’s rather long so I don’t expect anyone to read it other than me, but, for my own benefit at least, here goes.

Enough is enough

I came to start running again mainly because I’d reached a point where I was so unhappy with the shape I’d gotten into over the past couple of years or so. There were a few reasons for this – having a relatively unpredictable job that involved travelling around and staying in hotels, house moves, a series of weddings and stag weekends and so on. I’d been relying on a weekly game of 5-a-side to try and keep in shape but my working routine typically meant that it was hard to find myself in the right place at the right time on a regular basis. I’d tried a few diets to knock things back into shape but nothing sustained long enough.

My finally deciding enough was enough was triggered by the cumulative effect of a few specific events:

  • Going to get a new suit fitted. My existing suit (34” waist trousers let out to 35-36”) no longer comfortably fitted so I was forced to go and get myself refitted. The suits I came away with were very nice, but boasted 38” waist trousers. Now these were fairly generous but nonetheless fitted me, and this made me feel slightly depressed and rather ashamed. At my happiest, I was wearing a 32-34” waist in trousers, 32” in jeans.
  • Seeing photos from my friend’s wedding. My wife and I went to a fabulous wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, followed by a suitably swanky reception in a restaurant nearby. I had not seen my friend for nearly five years since he and his now wife live Down Under, and so was acutely aware (especially wearing the aforementioned new suit) that I did not quite look the same as the rather slimmer version of me that he last saw. A combination of free drinks at the reception and simply being glad for the happy couple meant that it didn’t bother me too much on the day, but when the photos appeared on Facebook, I was that ashamed that I methodically went through and untagged myself from each photo.
  • Returning to a hotel that I last visited in 2001. I had cause to stay in the same hotel that I once stayed at back in 2001, when I was feeling significantly fitter and healthier. On arriving at reception I had a flashback from being there before, and of how my first question back then was where the gym was so I could keep my fitness regimen up whilst working away. Nearly ten years on, the contrast between how good I felt then and how I now was pretty stark.
  • A colleague talking about his weight loss. On the same business trip, a colleague was telling me about how he had lost a fair amount of weight and was having to buy some new clothes to fit. I remembered being in the same situation in 2001, and how good it felt relative to how I was currently feeling.

So in summary, I was at something of a personal nadir health and fitness wise and felt I needed to do something. I was not in the mood for a quick fix either, I wanted to do something that would both do me good and would also give me a stimulating pursuit and a way of unwinding outside the office. A few years ago I got into the habit of running for enjoyment but had stopped because I had a bad ankle injury. I always enjoyed the running aspect of 5-a-side though, and felt that running would also provide me with the flexibility that it could fit in with my routine and any business travel since you can do it on your own and just need some kit and trainers.

Getting started

A big part of my thinking was how to stay motivated and make sure I kept at it. I adopted a two-pronged strategy: 1) social 2) financial. To accomplish the first, I had a search for an online running community, in the end plumping for dailymile.com. My rationale was that if I was public enough about what I was doing, enough people would get to know (via the Facebook integration, for example) that it would make it hard for me to stop. I am not sure I would have been able to bear telling people that I’d given up. The second part of my strategy was simply to by decent enough kit that in financial terms I would have to make use of it to justify the expense to the household. To this end my new pursuit began with the purchase of some New Balance 850 trainers, expertly fitted by those good people at Just Run in Eastleigh.

I didn’t worry too much about other kit at this stage, since I’d actually feel very self conscious having the proper clothing whilst I still didn’t feel good about myself, and also before I’d got myself going. I opted for my 5-a-side garb of Saints shorts and polo shirt – familiar and baggy enough to hide the multitude of sins underneath.

In terms of a running route, we are fortunate that we actually live on a suitably sized loop of around 3.5km, long enough to be worth doing but not too intimidating, just the sort of thing to get me off and going. And so it came to pass that on Monday 28th June 2010 I took my new trainers out on their first run.

First time out, my expectations weren’t hugely high but I was gutted to find I couldn’t finish the lap, needing to walk for 30 or 40 yards before carrying on. That said, I felt I’d accomplished something by starting and actually not being able to run the whole way around at least gave me something to bite on in terms of progress – I knew I would see progress quickly, and knowing how good that would feel kept me going. I started out with a routine of two days on, one off and I did indeed see results straight away since I went straight round on my second lap.

Two other important milestones came along quickly after in that within a week or so of starting running, I had two business trips that caused me to stay away overnight which would be a good test both of my own application and the flexibility of my routine. The first was a trip to the Cotswolds to the pretty village of Minster Lovell on a course with work. Before heading up I worked out a route, packed my kit and pledged to go on the first night. This I did, on a beautiful summer’s evening, and I felt fantastic afterwards both for the run itself, and for the fact I’d proven I could keep going when travelling with work. The second business trip was to London and I followed the same approach, this time pledging to run first thing in the morning before work on the second day. Again despite a working evening out the previous night, I set my alarm and got up a 6:15am and ran along the South Bank in the early morning sun. As the working day wore on, I felt tired from the late night and early start but had the now familiar fresh feeling of having exercised and enjoyed it.

A further milestone came along a little later, when once again I drew up a route and packed my kit when away for the weekend attending a colleague’s wedding. I ran the morning of the wedding in the Lancashire countryside and once again felt great when I came back to get ready.

Joining the Hursley Parkrunners

As my routine developed, it came to the attention of friends on Facebook who encouraged me to attend the weekly Parkrun 5km event in nearby Eastleigh, as a number of them were regulars. Whilst initially I was not sufficiently confident either in my running ability (I was not timing myself at this stage) or to run in front of others, it gave me the motivation to edge my distance up from my regular 3.5km to a 5km distance such that I could target a Parkrun when I was feeling more confident. To this end, I extended my regular route, and set about practising and building up my comfort with the longer distance.

Again a couple of things happened to finally give me the confidence to sign up. First of all, I had been noticing that clothes were fitting better than they did and I was generally feeling healthier. The second thing was that on leaving the house for a run, I had started to glance at the clock (on the microwave, very scientific) as I left so I had a very rough idea of how long it was taking me to do my new longer route. By this rudimentary approach, and being deliberately conservative, I reckoned on a time of around 27 minutes for a 5km route. Checking out the times on the Parkrun site, it struck me that this would be respectable enough. So, on 21st August 2010, I gave it a go, clocking 25:41 and feeling very pleased indeed.

Having enjoyed my first Parkrun so much, I was hooked, both on the camaraderie but surprisingly on the competitive element, and proceeded to attend regularly. Having some good friends along from work helped a lot and I appreciated their support and encouragement hugely.

I am by no means fast but you find your level, and coming into the home straight I found that on a few weeks I would have a good natured sprint to the end with a fellow runner around my level.

They have a photographer there each week, and this was the first photo that I didn’t feel embarrassed about (a few weeks in) so I’ve included it here for posterity.

Getting some proper gear

One thing taking up running has done is provide a very good theme for birthday and Christmas gift buying. My first piece of “gear” was an armband that I bought for myself to hold the iPod, since I rapidly began to tire of holding the thing in one hand whilst trying to run.

For my birthday, the real kit started to arrive in the form of gifts. No more timing off the microwave, as a Nike+iPod kit duly arrived. Nike+ gave me a much better guide as to my progress and timings.

Apple MA365ZM/D - Nike + iPod Sport Kit

I’d never realised how much difference having proper running clothing makes. A cotton polo and nylon football shorts soon become uncomfortable. My core running kit began to develop with some Nike running shorts and a Nike Dri-FIT running top.

I’ve since augmented this with additional shorts and tops – I’ve become something of a Nike fan, some pretty much most of what I have is Nike Dri-FIT of some kind. The most recent major purchase I’ve made clothing-wise is a Nike Storm Fly jacket, both breathable and warm for the winter weather.

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The difference I felt was amazing, much more than I’d expected. It was also a significant self-confidence hurdle to overcome, since proper running gear is closely fitting and in the case of shorts gripping lycra. The first time I wore all my new garb to Parkrun was a significant milestone for me personally. I’m fully togged out in the picture taken at Parkrun above.

The onset of the recent bad weather (including snow) highlighted how I needed something with more grip to cope with the difficult conditions. I managed a few runs in my standard road trainers (somehow), but finally invested in a pair of Brooks Cascadia trail shoes.

Increasing my distance and developing my pace

I was inspired by friends training for the Great South Run (10 miles) that I set myself the target of improving my distance from the 5km of Parkrun, to something a bit more demanding. I first increased my local run distance from 3.5km to 7km, simply by adding an additional lap to the same circuit, and developing various extensions to add variety. To make things more interesting still, I decided to make a bigger jump and attempt a 10km run, and successfully completed this milestone by running from Owslebury back to home, doing so in around 54 minutes. I was really surprised how natural this distance felt, and encouraged by the time I achieved, especially having not been running for very long. This again increased my confidence further.

Since that point, I was determined not to lose momentum and increased my regular running distance from around the 7km to 10km and then on to 11km. I have one eye on both the Great South Run and a half-marathon before 2011 is out, and so I am determined to keep chipping away at my distance.

One thing I have begun to work on is developing a “long distance” pace as well as a “short distance pace”. As I increased my distance, it became clear that I was hitting a wall blasting around at runs in excess of 10km at my 5km pace. A friend shared with me an anecdote to the effect that most beginners attempt their short runs to slowly and their long runs too fast. I have recently been attempting my longest runs so far (13km) at a pace of around 5:30 per km, with shorter runs (e.g. a Parkrun) at around 4:45-5:00 per km. I’m currently trying to mix longer with shorter as a part of my weekly routine, and gradually increase my longer run to nearer the 17km (10 mile) mark over the coming months.

My goal for 2011 is to regularly have a long run a week of around 17km, thereby comfortable enough with the Great South Run distance, and close enough to half-marathon length.

As of today, my personal best for a 5km Parkrun is 23:38 (in Basingstoke), and 1:09:29 for a 13km long run.

Entering organised runs

At the time of writing this, I have just passed another milestone in that I have entered an organised event in the form of the Romsey 5 mile event which takes place on Sunday 23rd January. I have also now submitted entry forms for the Eastleigh and Winchester 10km events.

All in all

Taking up running has been a revelation these past months. The enjoyment of the exercise and simply feeling fitter and healthier is very rewarding, but also the social aspect of running with friends and the camaraderie and support from others has been hugely inspiring too.

I hope the next six months are as enjoyable.

Basingstoke Parkrun

Before Christmas I was running at the weekly Eastleigh Parkrun 5k event pretty regularly until the really bad weather set in and the course got too muddy (or snowy) to keep one’s feet. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to have one last push but unable to for lack of traction in the mud. Eastleigh have now set up an alternative course for the winter, but in the interests of variety, I thought I would check out the Basingstoke Parkrun event as an alternative as well on the recommendation of Tim and May.

Basingstoke Parkrun

The Basingstoke Parkrun course is run in The War Memorial Park in Basingstoke which is pretty easy to find, pretty close to both the town centre, the A30 and the M3. First thing to note is that car parking is not as extensive as at Eastleigh – we shared a car between four of us and got parked but it could get tight if arriving late.

Terrain-wise, the course itself is a mix of concrete pavement with some grass where the course cuts across alongside football pitches and some gravel pathway. I wasn’t 100% sure whether to run in road or trail shoes, opting for road shoes in the end. With hindsight, trail shoes probably are a better bet on balance since there is enough slippy stuff to make it worthwhile having the extra grip. Will definitely don the trail shoes next time.

Rather like Eastleigh the course consists of laps of a loop, with the full 5k comprising roughly 2.5 laps rather than the 2 laps at Eastleigh. Scenery-wise, the Basingstoke course is in a park on the edge of town rather than the country park setting at Eastleigh. I personally quite like the country setting as its nice to get away from roads, buildings etc but that said Basingstoke was pleasant enough. Not too many other runners, walkers or dogs on the course either which was good, nor is there the railway track to negotiate that there is in Eastleigh which could be a good or bad thing depending on your taste. The course mainly follows pavement and gravel pathways and where it deviates across grass white plastic cones and markers form lanes to keep you on track. I noticed they also used the same markers to make sure runners didn’t fork off the path at the wrong time!

It may just have been this particularly day but the start seemed a little more ragged than at Eastleigh, for example I didn’t hear the brief or start very clearly. Not a huge deal but when you’re tracking your time on a Garmin or such like it is nice to try and synchronise your start with the official start if possible. The starting point is quite nicely placed on a gentle slope down to get some momentum before coming round a bend to a tight slope upwards past the ultimate finishing point. You then pass over the brow of a hill, past some buildings and the car park and then switch terrain to grass as you go past the football pitches. This was the point I wished I’d run in trail shoes as this got a bit slippy in road trainers. The course then bends around to the right and back onto pavement where it runs parallel to the Ringway South (see map). As you head towards the roundabout end of the Ringway, this leg of the run has a sneaky incline to it that both Tim and I commented on at the finish. In fact it was only at the finish that we stopped and looked and could actually see the gentle incline in the path. At this point you link up back where you started and you’re into the next lap.

On completing the first loop the striking thing is that the course seems much more undulating than that at Eastleigh. There are a quite few tight slopes and hills that pull on the legs, quite rapid drops and inclines around bends which gives a nice workout, as well as the longer slope alongside the Ringway. Eastleigh is much flatter by comparison, and so on balance I felt in this respect Basingstoke probably gave me a better workout. The added dynamic of 2.5 laps of the course adds to the effect too. I uploaded my GPS map so you can compare Eastleigh with Basingstoke on dailymile.com to check out the differences in elevation.

At the end of the race I was personally quite pleased as I have been trying to manage my pace better, and pick the right pace for the short and distance runs. The funnel is set up at the top of quite a tight incline so if you’re planning a sprint finish make sure to allow for the slope. One thing to note is a slight query on the distance. On stopping the Garmin, I had clocked a distance of 4.94k, and May and Tim both reported under-measurement on their respective GPS systems too. We’re not talking about huge margins here (and I am an hobbyist not a pro!) but we all commented on it. I’ve not done Eastleigh since I had the Garmin but I’ve heard it’s pretty accurate. I’ve uploaded the GPS map and statistics from my own run to Garmin Connect as well for completeness.

As you might expect from Parkrun, atmosphere was good with a nice mixture of ages and friendly people collecting barcodes at the end.

All in all a really fun morning, good company, nice change of scenery and worth getting up the extra half-an-hour for on a Saturday.