Posted on

Hi!

Hi to everyone out there!

This is my site where I discuss, share ideas and write about English as a Foreign Language.

At the moment, the menu on the right of the page links to help for students with general English and exam English, as well as teaching resources and tips for teachers. I add things fairly regularly – at least once or twice a week. Take a look and feel free to comment, download, peruse and enjoy!

I hope to get to know people, students or teachers and hear about teaching and learning experiences from as many people as possible.

Above all, I hope you enjoy the site!

SimonSimon Richardson

Posted on

Weeks 26 and 27: Coming in Hot

Ultramarathae this year: 2
Ultramarathae remaining this year: More than 0, disappointingly
Days until next ridiculous activity: 25 (52 miles, 7,500 feet – but split over 2 days)
Number of black toenails: 3
Weight: 94kg

Miles from most recent run: 27.5
Incline: 5,034 feet
Time: 7h 45

It’s about 53 hours since the most recent ultra and I’m back: rising extremely gingerly like a phoenix with really tight calves. I’ll not beat around the bush though: take a look at these numbers!

I can’t even begin to explain the satisfaction that can be derived from fisting an entire large Domino’s pizza, complete with stuffed crust, right down your gullet like… I’m not even going to articulate what it was like… and STILL having 5,000 calories and 180g of fat left of your daily budget. And some vague nonsense about pride in doing a long thing with your legs and yada yada.

PIZZA. It’ not even good pizza. It’s basically the pizza equivalent of spitting on an Italian man’s mother and burning down his local church. It’s a soggy disc of shame and regret, made entirely out of Peter Andre, but then, just to make it worse, you’ve stuffed the outside of it with the bits of cheese that even cheese itself wouldn’t eat. And I ate the whole thing and I didn’t even suffer the next day. HA.

But now the pizza is gone. And here I am again, two ultras down and several more to go. Last time, I found it hard to deal with the post-euphoria comedown. This time, it’s very different. Here are my key takeaways (mmm… takeaway) from this latest one.

Motivation is hard

It is so much more difficult to do one of these when you don’t get an arbitrary medal and t-shirt at the end. All I could do for the first 6 miles and 2000 feet of incline was think about how much I didn’t want to be there. When I compare this to the first one, when I had a number awkwardly pinned to my shorts and the (unfulfilled) promise of a free half pint of Magic Rock waiting for me, I can only recall excitement, fear and energy from the first 6-10 miles back in Calderdale.

The heat is a killer

There was no shade whatsoever on the route on Saturday. It had uncomfortably surpassed 20 degrees well before we even began, and went on to rise over 30 for the rest of the day. I applied sun cream four times and still got a bit burnt. I drank 10 litres of water in under 8 hours and have still spent two days with mild heatstroke and dehydration. The run-to-walk ratio was severely affected, because we both thought we would vomit from the heat after one particularly enthusiastic four-mile stretch. This is probably a plus point; the Lakes in October will pose no such problems.

The other noticeable issue with the heat is that it slows you down. As we neared the top of Whernside, the wind suddenly hit and we sped up by several minutes a mile, despite being towards the end of a prolonged, steep incline. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do the route significantly more quickly next time, purely because of more favourable conditions. But then again, just look at the beauty when the weather’s like that….

Pen-y-ghent from a farm near Horton in Ribblesdale

View from Whernside

The summit of Ingleborough. The least impressive of the three, but, crucially, the end of the final incline!

 

Muscles adapt…

Aside from fairly tight calves, I can genuinely say that I am physically unaffected by Saturday’s jaunt. My quads, glutes and feet feel fine. My back and shoulders are stiff, but in far better shape than last time, when I had to take 8 Ibuprofen during the run itself (this time I took 2 in the pub afterwards). Had it not been for the heat, I could have comfortably managed another 5-10 miles.

…but fitness has its limits (unless you’re a mentalist)

I’m six months in to this now, and I think I’ve earned the right to make some assessments. The first one is the most brutal: I am never, ever going to be fit enough to run up the side of a mountain without stopping. I’m also never going to be fit enough to walk briskly up the side of three in a row, without it hurting a bit. Now, I could make it easier for myself by compromising heavily – no more alcohol, lose 15kg, do the Yorkshire 3 Peaks every day for a year… but I’m also never going to do these things. And that’s OK. This isn’t about pretending to be someone else. This is about being happy with myself, my capabilities and my limitations. Let’s face it: I’ve done two ultramarathons (ultramarathae) in a month – I’m not exactly unfit. I’ll leave the ridiculous sub-3-hour marathons to the experts though. I like booze. I like working out. I like spending my free time socialising with my friends.

A reminder of the challenge

HOWEVER… the fact of the matter is this. Lakes in a Day is equivalent to doing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks twice without stopping, then going up Pen-y-ghent for a third time – both in terms of distance and incline. There are now 103 days until I have to be able to do that, and I am currently some way short. So, I’m going to make the booze and fun-related sacrifices for the month before the event, and in the meantime I’ll keep plugging away. The Herriot Way at the end of the month will be an excellent next step, as it will represent an equivalent distance, albeit with less incline and with a break in the middle for sleeping. I think we’ll find a way to make each day over 26.2 miles though, just so we can say we’ve done two ultras in two days. Because, as I said before, it’s easier when there’s some kind of medal at the end – even if it’s only a conceptual one.

If you enjoy reading my rubbish, or if you feel that Yorkshire Cancer Research is a cause worth donating to, here’s the link to our page.

We’re on £490 so far – I hope we can raise another £1000. The way I see it, it’s £1000 closer to beating cancer.

 

 

 

Posted on

Week 23: Recovery, Reflection and Regrouping

Miles: Can I measure the distance from the sofa to the fridge?
Ultramarathons this year: 1
Days until next ultramarathon: 22
Weight: 95kg
Resting heart rate: 52

When I look back on my running log for the first week of January, I can scarcely believe my eyes. Following a particularly unhealthy Christmas and New Year, during which I excelled myself in gluttony, sloth and alcoholism, I struggled to finish a flat 5k at any sort of pace without feeling utterly out of breath. That first week, I managed a total of 7 miles (11km) across three days. Fast forward 22 weeks, and I have just completed a 29-mile ultra over 4,500 foot of incline. Over a period of 9 days, I ran 62.5 miles (100km). I can comfortably run 10k across any terrain whatsoever, and with a few hundred foot of incline, in under an hour, at any time of any day (or night). And, of course, I can summon up the energy to run the final mile of a 29-mile race – the longest run I’ve ever done in my life – and still muster a smile and a jump for joy. I was practically in tears at the end, but they were of relief and pride rather than pain and exhaustion. I can say in all honesty that I almost didn’t finish; there were two points during the race (miles 10-12 and miles 27-28) when I didn’t think I would, for different reasons. But I did, and now I can reflect.

Pure elation.

Lessons Learned

There are peaks, and there are troughs.

This one is a really important one. Just like life, there are highs and lows. After 10 miles, I felt spent, exhausted, like a total and utter failure. 10 miles and 2 and a half hours later, I was running a 9-minute mile and feeling fine. Stick with it, trust your training.

If you’re hungry, stop and eat.

The most important thing I learned. Don’t wait 2 miles until the aid station because it “seems pointless stopping so soon before”. Eat. Do it, you absolute tool. If you don’t, you’ll become exhausted very quickly.

Spend the money on the kit. All the money.

Running these kinds of distances is expensive. Like, high-class hooker expensive (so I’m told).

Trail shoes: £120.
Road shoes: £110.
Supported socks: £12 (x2)
Leggings: £28 (x2)
Running underwear: £18 (x2)
Ankle compressions: £9 (x2)
Running tops: £10 (x8)
Accessories to meet the over-the-top kit list requirements: £47
Camel Pack: £25
Running Bag: £25

Total spend: £541

But here’s the killer. I was 109kg with my 11kg bag. That’s over 17 stone. My shoulders were in absolute agony from mile 10. I had six ibuprofen over the last 18 miles and the lady who gave me my sports massage on Tuesday gasped when she found the knots (although not as much as I did when she set upon them with her unnaturally strong elbows). I now need to buy extremely lightweight waterproofs – not the heavy hiking stuff I had to carry to meet the kit list requirements. I need a smaller bag, smaller camel pack, smaller everything. I can’t carry 11kg over the mountains in October. So, I need to buy specialist lightweight waterproofs, but ones that still have taped seams (£90 + £60), a specially designed bag (£40), a bivvy that meets specific 2018 requirements (£18) and a few other accessories and sundries (another £50), to take my total spend to just over £800, not including upcoming petrol and accommodation costs, of course. But I do need to – I must have looked like a complete idiot to the other 58 runners, all about 9 stone wet through, carrying bags that they nicked off a particularly advanced set of neighbourhood ants.

What “pocket full of cheese” will mean to me forever after bankrupting myself buying lycra and socks

Beware post-race blues

After I finished, I spent two days boozing and eating. And eating. And eating. And, so help me God, eating. But after the initial elation had subsided, and I had stopped creaking like a door out of a horror film every time I moved, I started to feel quite depressed – probably the lowest I’ve felt since starting this whole bizarre business of accelerated one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-ness. You build yourself up and then when it’s over, what is there? I’ve had to be quite mentally resilient and re-calibrate. 22 days until the next ultra. Get back to the training programme – go out, do the miles, the stretches, the sprints. The last one doesn’t mean anything now.

It’s hard – especially if you’re not exactly famous for overwhelming cheeriness. Each time you feel low, it’s an ultramarathon in itself to pull yourself back up – but one of the mind. And, as with running, there are peaks and troughs – moments that you want to give up.

I think this is the point I want to end on. It seems fitting, after the sudden and tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain this week, to remind ourselves that everyone around us is going through battles of their own. Just because you can’t see a physical hill, it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t two-thirds of the way up one, weary, and just about ready to quit. And just as I wouldn’t have made it to the end of my race without people around me, so we need to help – really help – those around us to finish their races, then pick themselves up and move on to the next ones. Because the helplines and the pictures with the ribbons – they don’t help everyone. People help.

And, for me, running helps.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

Week 22: Putting my Runny Where my Mouth Is

May’s Miles: 120
Longest Effort: 22 miles, 2,208 feet
Weight at the start of this week: 95.1kg
Weight at the end of this week: 97.8kg
State of Readiness: Is leaving the country to avoid a marathon a valid way to raise money? Asking for a friend.

Here we are then; the night before my first ultramarathon. Mind you, distance-wise it’s more a marathon plus change. The Calderdale Trail is 29 miles and 4,400 feet of incline – something which my Strava estimates will take me around 6 hours. I’ll be over the moon if we finish in under 6 hours, but I think closer to 7 is more likely, given the terrain and incline. I’ve attempted a short taper – one week rather than 3. This isn’t because I’m an idiot; it’s more that I needed to go close to the full distance quite close to the event, just to prove to myself that I could (that longest effort above was 8 days ago). I will taper more seriously for the 84km runs, but for this one I think the mental boost was more valuable than the potential physical risk. Time will tell if I’m right.

In the 152 days since the start of the year, I’ve been for 90 runs, over a total of 422 miles (or 679 kilometres). I’ve run in the snow, the rain, heat over 25 degrees, up hills (and the odd mountain), along canals and roads, and, most often, on a treadmill. I’ve had shin splints, industrial chafing, leg, ankle, foot, shoulder and lower back pain, and post-long run insomnia. I’ve lost a stone (then gained nearly half of it back in a week thanks to carb loading) and I’ve had a LOT of showers. And now, 18 hours before the start of the first major challenge, I’m pacing around the house anxiously, unable to do any work or focus on anything at all, apart from packing and re-packing my kit bag. Oh, and eating rice.

Thursday night’s meal. I ate three of the chefs too.

Doesn’t that all sound fun? I’d be lying if I said it has been. I will admit it’s been generally better than I thought it would be though. Of course, these are famous last words. Ask me again what I think when I’m on the sixth hill up towards 1200 foot, at around the 21-mile mark tomorrow. I suspect my answer will be somewhat different.

And of course…

Just as I was starting to pack yesterday, a package arrived – Yorkshire Cancer Research tops for this event, and the five subsequent ones. Here’s that link again: https://www.justgiving.com/teams/Simonrichardsontombamber

Obviously, the longest runs are yet to come – but they all very much count towards our fundraising. Here’s a picture of me, pre-tonight’s head shave, looking nervous as hell in my race top to remind you what this is all about.

Catch you on the flipside!!!

 

Posted on

Weeks Many-Not Enough: What’s That Brown Stain in my Pants?

Weeks until first ultra: 2
Weight: 95.5kg (15st 3)
Longest run: 20 miles
Mental State: Blind terror

Well. This has come around a little quicker than I had expected. Of course, I am aware that every single day usually contains 24 hours, but I am also, in a much more real way, even more painfully aware that as soon as you’re putting something off, that figure dips to around 8 seconds. Or at least, that’s how I understand tantric sex really works.

I’d better update you anyway. Last week I managed 43 miles, with a longest excursion of 20 miles. So, at least in one respect, I have achieved what I set out to do in May. In two days, I will climax (non-tantrically) with a 23.2-mile jaunt with 3500 foot of incline thrown in, before then doing something that I have read about called “tapering” for the 9 days leading up to the Calderdale ultra. From what I have read, I gather that tapering = crying and eating crisps in the basement for a week. That being the case, I will have therefore come full circle in six months, right back to where I was in January – a teary-stained, crispy blob who smells vaguely of damp – which makes me wonder what the point of the last six months has really been.

What can I say about 2018 in terms of physical health? I don’t spring out of bed in the mornings in a burst of song. I can run 10km without really breaking a sweat yet I still get disconcertingly out of breath if I run up the stairs to the toilet without giving my brain fair warning. I don’t have a stomach that you could use as a skateboard. Ok, my resting heart rate and blood pressure are both lower than they were at the start of the year, but who actually cares about that? I’ve also discovered that excessive running causes significant amounts of shoulder and lower back pain, as well as some industrial-strength chafing around the lower buttocks, inner thighs and inner arms that makes it very difficult to sleep for a couple of nights after a long run. I now run like a deranged adult baby – grimacing and waddling lop-sidedly while wearing padded underwear and enough vaseline to sustain the entire porn industry. I don’t exactly count this as physical progress.

Mentally, though, I do feel significantly less pull-your-bottom-lip-all-the-way-over-the-back-of-your-head-while-screaming-at-a-lamp-post batshit crazy. And I have to admit that I do get a sense of warm, satisfied smuggery after a run that, if I’m not very careful, almost results in the occasional good mood. So, I suppose that it’s been a good thing overall?

Ok, let’s call it evens for the moment; my left buttock has just started bleeding again.

A Wee Note to my Supporters

Before I finish, I’d like to draw your attention to a few things. Firstly, I’ve finalised my event diary for the months leading up to Lakes in a Day.

  1. Calderdale Ultra – Saturday June 2nd. (30 miles)
  2. Yorkshire 3 Peaks – Saturday June 30th (24.5 miles)
  3. Ingleborough Fell Race – Saturday July 21st (6.2 miles)
  4. The Herriot Way – Saturday July 28th and Sunday July 29th (50 miles)
  5. Yorkshire 3 Peaks (again) – Saturday August 11th (24.5 miles)
  6. Lakes in a Day recce – Saturday September 15th and Sunday September 16th (TBC miles)

And then the big day on October 13th (52 miles).

Secondly, I’m not just doing this for laughs. In fact, I haven’t even laughed once. This is all for Yorkshire Cancer Research: https://yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk/

And this is my justgiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/simon-richardson-tom-bamber

I’m hoping to raise quite a bit, but you never know. Every little helps anyway.

Thanks all xxx

 

Posted on

April – Ruinous, Ruinous April

Hello again! If the frequency of my posts was to serve as a metaphor for the progress of my training, then… well. It does, really. The simple fact is that when life gets in the way, you have a choice to make. The professional athletes of this world might make a different one to mine of course, but if a professional athlete is somebody for whom the company of a lung-busting run is like one of those glorious nights when you stay awake seemingly forever, chatting about utter nonsense to your best friend, then my relationship with prolonged periods of repetitive exercise is perhaps more akin to a small child growing increasingly frustrated with one of those toys where you’re supposed to match shapes to make them fit them together. It’s a kind of unease as those around you wait with baited breath, knowing that at any point you might snap and fling everything across the room, before embarking on a screaming fit so all-consuming in nature that even inanimate objects start apologising. So then, without further ado, here are some telling stats from April.

Miles: 75
Target Miles for April: 120

Longest Run: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)
Target Longest Run: 18 miles

Body Weight: 96.5kg
Target Body Weight: 93kg

Level of Self-Shitting: Full written apology to own underwear drawer
Target Level of Self-Shitting: Minimally continent

In five weeks, I will embark on the first ultramarathon of the year. The simple act of writing that sentence alone has drained the colour from my face – my normal blotchy red hue replaced with that of a social media mogul being inanely questioned by an assortment of complete idiots on live television. The WordPress spellchecker doesn’t even recognise “ultramarathon” as a word. That’s how ridiculous it is.

“But… I thought it was only five miles.”

Now, anyone who properly knows me, knows that I will complete the race – and all the others. The simple fact is that I’m a bloody-minded, stubborn bastard. But I’m going to have to do two things over the next month, and to help me do those things, I’m going to declare them to the Internet – my particularly unwise confession booth. I tend to find that if I tell people that I’m going to do something, my own internal stubbornness ensures that I absolutely do do it. So, here goes nothing:

  1. I will run a minimum of 130 miles in May, with a longest single run of 20 miles.
  2. I will temper my expectations and understand that running an entire trail ultramarathon in 5 weeks time, no matter how hard I train from this point, is unrealistic. A good portion of the race will be, by absolute necessity, spent walking, protesting, moaning, crying and eating. But…
  3. will finish it.

Now, I should probably add that it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Yes, I went to Prague on a stag do that lasted four days and left my body looking like a scene from the Walking Dead. Yes, I had to go to yet another funeral. And yes, these things took up significant chunks of time, leaving less in which to do my work, and therefore less for training. But I have trained on hills and fells twice, including an extremely enjoyable run down Jacob’s Ladder in the Peak District (before my shoes gave in and almost came off my feet), and I have proved without doubt that I can run 10km on virtually any terrain, with plenty of incline (my 10k yesterday took in road, track and mud with a total incline of 600ft, but was completed in just under an hour), and complete a flat half marathon in under 2 hours. So there is progress in terms of fitness and performance, but now is the time to get it together and really kick on, or I’ll be feeling pretty sorry for myself come the evening of the 2nd June. Howey then!

Disclaimer: Body fat percentage and half marathon time may not accurately reflect the author’s true level of performance.

 

 

 

Posted on

Weeks 11-12: Three Months Down, Struggles and Hills

Miles: Plenty
Hills: Yes
Maximum Distance: 13 miles (21km)
Feet: Disgusting

It’s been an odd month, but I’ve certainly spent quite a lot of it on my feet, which now resemble Sloth from the Goonies’ face. I’ve managed five hill days in the Lakes, with some of the actual route thrown in. I’ve also managed to get up to the dreaded half marathon mark in terms of distance. But perhaps the most significant update is that I’ve also discovered that I have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (or exercise-induced asthma) – and in fact I’ve been needlessly battling it for years. I’ll go into a bit of detail, in case anyone reads this and realises that this could be them too.

Disclaimer: I will not be getting this tattoo

So, for a number of years I have found that during and after exercise, I have felt it hard to breathe. The best way I can describe it is that I can’t get to the top of a breath, as if something is preventing this being a possibility. My chest feels tight and I often have coughing fits after running, especially if it’s in cold air. I have always attributed this to just not being fit enough, but no amount of training seemed to extend my endurance beyond a certain point. It turns out that this is pretty common, and a salbutamol inhaler prior to a run can work wonders. And it has. I can’t believe the difference it makes! I also can’t believe that I’ve been struggling with this for as long as I have, without ever thinking about asthma. To be clear, I don’t have symptoms if vigorous exercise isn’t involved, hence the “exercise-induced” bit. Anyway, I’m now feeling confident that I will be able to continue extending my training runs and power to victory like Chris Froome (but without the probable cheating).

Does not fit well in shoes

I’ve also had a couple of people ask me about my training plan – how to get faster and run further – so here’s a quick overview of what I’m doing:

Tuesday: Steady, medium-length run
Wednesday: Speed training – short distance at maximum pace, short recovery (repeat 6 times)
Thursday: Short, race pace run
Friday: Cross trainer, long time
Sunday: Slow, long run

I haven’t put values in, because the idea is that they increase each week. For example, this week I will be doing 6 miles on Tuesday, 6 x 500m sprint + 200m recovery on Wednesday, 4 miles on Thursday, 90 mins on the cross trainer on Friday and 13 miles on Sunday. That roughly totals 32 miles, depending on how far I get on the cross trainer. If I want to up this, I add one or two miles to each regular run, and either 100m to each sprint or an extra repetition of the 500/200 set. When I was starting out, these were 350/100 sets. I have read that throwing in a speed workout each week is crucial to building up your pace, endurance and management of heart rate. Other than that, it’s pretty simple. Get used to running for a long time at a slow pace, and for shorter times at slightly quicker paces. For the big run, I’m aiming to be running at a very reserved pace (for obvious reasons) – around 10:30 per mile. My top 6 mile pace is 7.5 minutes per mile, so it’s all about control.

And that’s all I have to say at this point in time really. The Lakes recces have been really useful in terms of building up my uphill fitness and leg strength (and obviously great because the Lakes is beautiful), and I’m generally feeling OK about the whole thing. This may change in 7 weeks, when it’s only a week until my first ultramarathon of the year, of course. But that’s for Future Simon to worry about. Stupid Future Simon.

Posted on

Weeks 8-10: Variety is the Spice of Pain

Review of Recent Weeks:

Miles: 91 (best week 27 miles)
Longest Individual Run: 11.2 miles
Miles to go: Many. So, so many.
Weight: 98.5 kg
Resting Heart Rate: 56
Amount of Seafood Consumed in Barcelona: I drank so much that I now have a two-second memory, like several of the fish I consumed

I’m writing this the night before I set off on my first proper hill run of the year: The Fairfield Horseshoe. It represents a small section of the actual ultra route in October. I’ve done the Horseshoe before both in full and in smaller sections, but I’ve never run it. What kind of an idiot would do that?! At 11 miles and 3,000 feet of total incline, it represents a quarter of the distance and incline of the Lakes in a Day route, so will be a really good gauge of how I’m doing at the moment. It’s also a mere 2.5 weeks before I join up with my running partner for the first time for a training weekend – again in the Lakes. To be perfectly frank, I’ve expelled larger things than him into the toilet after a heavy weekend’s drinking, so I’m naturally concerned that my endurance levels won’t hold up. I’ve prepared well for the distance; I’ve run 11.2 miles in 1 hour 45, but since then I’ve also abused my body by eating all the octopus in the ocean and drinking too much Vermouth in Barcelona (NB: It is virtually impossible to eat octopodes out of existence; a female octopus lays 200,000 eggs in her lifetime, and, if anything, their species grows at a rate above global fishing. NB#2: The plural of octopus is octopodes. You’re bloody welcome).

3D octopus jigsaw – 50 delicious pieces

The old weight loss has dealt me a hefty (ha!) blow too. Instead of shrinking away, my legs have instead put on substantial amounts of muscle, leading to me not so much losing weight as changing shape slightly while maintaining the same weight as before. If this continues, I will become a triangle – something which I pointedly refuse to do (sorry not sorry – couldn’t resist). I will also encounter serious issues when the mileage jumps up to marathon lengths, something about which I am already a little concerned, even though there are still…SHIT! Ok, let’s scrap the word “still”. There are 12 weeks until our first trail marathon of the year. Bugger me backwards with a barge pole! (As my mother used to say – apologies Mum – Happy Mother’s Day again by the way).

I REALLY hate Particle Man

So, how’s it been so far? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons – I’ll do five, because it will satisfy my OCD.

PRO: I can run a 10k pretty much anywhere, at any time now.
CON: This has no practical use in modern life whatsoever.

PRO: I feel like I am just about on track so far with regards to the year’s training.
CON: I have done the easy bit. Subsequent 10-week training patterns will be significantly longer and more time-consuming.

PRO: I have noticeably lost body fat.
CON: It’s somehow migrated south from my stomach, turning into extra leg muscle. I now have to wear padded cycling shorts to walk to the shops to prevent the most severe kind of chafing.

PRO: AfterI run, I feel virtuous and healthy like some kind of superhuman monk.
CON: Five Guys have just joined Just Eat.

PRO: My brain is sharper; I’m now able to recognise simple shapes and patterns.
CON: The patterns that I have thus far recognised are patterns of binge drinking.

Well, I’m not too sure that was a helpful exercise at all, but as Magnus Magnusson used to say: I’ve farted so I’ll stinish. Odd guy.

U wot M8?

 

Posted on

Weeks 6 and 7 – Stepping on Ducks

Weeks 5 and 6 Review:

Miles: 37
Longest Individual Run: 8 miles
Miles to go: 1,900
Weight: 97 kg
Resting Heart Rate: 54
Overall Mood: Violently swinging – like sadistic polyamory

Surely only those of you with the most unbelievably sharp presence of mind will have noticed that this is two posts combined into one. This is partly because it’s been a couple of busy weeks in the world of sofa-based self-employment (no webcams involved), but partly because there has been very little to say. I find this to be quite a pleasing metaphor for such a long training programme with such a steep upward curve. The fact is I don’t always make a discernible improvement every time I run. And now I’m six weeks in, I’m beginning to come to terms with this. In weeks 1, 2 and 3, not only was every single run a tangible step forward, but if it wasn’t then I would be riddled with anxiety, like a corpse at the end of a Western. I’m slowly but surely learning to temper my expectations. They are now as follows:

  1. Some days, you just feel like shit. These are not days for improvement, these are just days for mileage.
  2. I won’t be less knackered than the previous run every time. The very notion is absurd – this is not how anything in life has ever worked.
  3. I will not necessarily be able to run further every Sunday, and I can’t necessarily rigidly follow the training programme I downloaded on the Internet, because it doesn’t take into account my specific fitness, injuries, mental state or work timetable.

I intend to read these back to myself every time I start to feel anxious. Because, as fate would have it, by doing an activity that has proven to be extremely beneficial to those who suffer from anxiety, I’m now anxious about my ability to do it, and do it well. Those who have told you that suffering from anxiety is exhausting are spot on, and this paragraph is testament to the fact. I get anxious that I will have an anxiety attack, before I have had one. How utterly ridiculous the human brain really is.

Charlie Brown is fucking bob on.

So, what of the next few weeks? Well, I have a goal in mind. I would like to get to half marathon distance by March 4th. That gives me two and a half weeks. I’m not going to stipulate whether this should be outside or on the treadmill at this stage, as my shins will dictate that – and I’m not going to panic about it. I’m also not going to set a time to adhere to. I would be loosely happy with two hours, factoring in my new stride pattern and extremely restrained pace, but if I accidentally go more quickly or slowly then so be it. This is part of my resolution not to be beholden to “one size fits all” training regimes. Because LIFE IS NOT LIKE THAT.

Oh, just as an amusing aside to finish on – I did an absolutely tremendous fart while working my way up Beecroft Hill today. It must have changed pitch about seven times – more than an entire Iggy Pop album – and I swear it helped me shave three seconds off my time.  I am reliably informed that this is a pretty standard by-product of running. I now need to make sure that the next one I do takes an old lady’s hat clean off, kills a passing crow stone dead, or summons Cthulhu.

Toot-dle-oo!

PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARP!
Posted on

Week 5: Take a Deep Breath

Week 4 Review:

Miles: 20
Miles to go: 1,959
Weight: 98kg
Lower Body: Glued together with an eye-watering array of tape and supports

Here we are then! It’s time to take a deep breath and start the marathon training programme for real. It’s a spreadsheet of seemingly random words; strides, lunges, recoveries, sprints… fartlek (calm down now), and the numbers next to the days are escalating rapidly beyond the counting capacity of your average young toddler / regular at the Leeds train station Wetherspoon’s. By the time February is over, I will (in theory) be running in excess of 10k four times per week. My Sunday long runs will be as close to full marathons as halves, and I assume, I will have started to get “runner face”. Right this moment though, I’m staring at the training spreadsheet, turning it upside-down and every which way in an effort to make the numbers look less like they are trying to jump off the screen and attack me.

“But I can count to eleventy…”

I’ve made a bit of headway with my shins though… shinway? I’ve drastically reduced my stride length, which has resulted in that weird shuffly run that comes to mind when you think of liquorice-thin, middle-aged distance runners; a kind of wobbly fast walk, with floppy hands bouncing from side to side like a sped-up version of Dale Winton wandering around a shit British supermarket in 1994. I can do that for an hour without stopping now, and with pretty tolerable pain at the end, as long as I stretch for a good 10-20 minutes both before and after the run.

Convincing a generation of children that shoplifting is fine if you do it to dated music.

And I do feel fitter. My lungs feel larger, and I generally feel a bit less depressed – although this could be because January is ending, and we’ve had a few blue skies. I’m also genuinely excited about seeing if I can get myself up to a half marathon in the next four weeks. Ok, maybe “excited” is a little strong. I am far less daunted by the prospect of the rest of the year than I was two weeks ago, though. What’s the word for “slightly better than totally apathetic”? I’ll borrow from 10 Things I Hate About You; I’m whelmed. Let’s hope that I’m not adding a prefix to that by the end of the week.

Just to be clear – I think I’m trying to say that I don’t absolutely hate every single moment of this. I think. Maybe.

 

 

Posted on

Week 4: Derailed? Not a Bit of It

Week 3 Review:

Miles: 18.5
Miles to go: 1,979
Weight: 99kg
VO2 Max: 46
Emotional State:

It’s been a tough week. You can set out to do things with the best of intentions, but ultimately if something more important comes along, then your intentions have to be shelved. This week, unfortunately, that something was the sudden death of my grandfather. There isn’t much to say about this – we all loved him, he led an incredible, inspiring life, and his four children in particular are understandably devastated. So, I’m going to depart from the usual pattern of petty, sweary humour that is my “level” of intellect for just a second to post a nice photo of him – if you’ll indulge me.

My grandfather David and his wife Jean, with my brother James, and me – 1987

And I’m back in the room. As Flanders and Swann would say: Pee, Po, Belly, Bum, Drawers!

I’ll tell you what, though. He wouldn’t have been impressed that I departed from my running routine so that I could be sad. Oh no. And he certainly wouldn’t condone the kind of moping that would stop me from completing my training program, and the upcoming races. You see, when it comes to the stubbornness (and pedantry) that has worked its way through my entire family, David was patient zero. He was the Uber-pedant. King Stubborn. I have tried – believe me, I have tried very hard – but I still feel as if I can only aspire to hit the heights of the great man. Like so many runners will do over the next 9 months, he has left me trailing in his wake.

So, as the training gets tougher, and my shins become more swollen, I am going to use David as my inspiration. He was unbelievably tough, resilient and unwilling to admit any kind of defeat in life, and I will attempt to follow up the hills, along the paths and through the mud, all in his footsteps. And every time I feel like giving up, instead of summoning up extra courage from within myself, I’ll just imagine him giving me a look that says “Don’t even think about it”. That ought to do it. He’d probably have done all the runs in a better time too – just to prove that he could.

Anyway, this week is the final week of my “ramp-up” training. Next week, the proper marathon programme starts and I’ll be relying on him to help me keep going back to the gym when I’m in pain, or I’m tired, or I simply can’t be arsed. But then, he never let anyone down in life, so I know he won’t let me down now, even in death.

And nor I him.

In Memoriam – April 24th 1928-January 20th 2018

Posted on

Week 3 – Shin Splints and Sadistic Fantasies

Week 2 Review:

Miles: 17.5
Miles to go: 1,988
Weight: 98.5kg
VO2 Max: 46
Shin Splints: OUCH

I feel a little bit like Icarus. Well, except for the Greek bit. And my Dad didn’t create a massive labyrinth. And I didn’t try and build wings – who even does that? And I haven’t drowned. But other than that, I feel a little bit… no, exactly like Icarus. Or at least I thought shin splints were like Icarus, in that they were a myth. And now I’m drowning in a sea of pain, choking on the hubris that has led to the only set of wings in my line of sight being those of Nemesis. Woe is me, death befalls us all…

Alright, this may be a slight exaggeration. It fucking hurts though. Like, well bad, innit? It’s like the kind of pain that loan sharks inflict upon you when you don’t pay up. A writhing, baseball-batty kind of a feeling. I’m now on a diet of weird stretches and hobbling, but it also means compression socks, a return to the dreaded treadmill (the dreadmill) and the looming spectre of something even more disturbing emerging from the tarry pit of doom that is any reputable gym; the cross-trainer.

“I will cut you, bitch.”

Anyway, this week I have been alternating between slower and faster runs. I’ve found a decent treadmill pace that I feel I could run at forever (for the purposes of this post, forever = anywhere between 1 and 15 hours), and I actually enjoyed the final two runs of the week, despite one of them being the day after an extremely important staple in any Dry January disciple’s calendar: the accidental-on-purpose beer festival.

I have two more weeks of increasing my workout duration in stages, although some of my mileage will have to be completed on the cross trainer due to the aforementioned shins (not The Shins – they are far less palatable). It’s all about cardio at this stage though – building up a level of endurance and being used to breathing heavily for longer and longer periods of time, like a really persistent stalker. Today, for instance, I’m taking my phone, headphones and some duck / duct tape to the gym. This final ingredient is key; I don’t want anyone thinking I’m not a dangerous kidnapper, and that it’s therefore acceptable to use the machinery directly adjacent to me (note to Interpol, A.K.A my most frequent blog visitors – duct tape will actually be used to secure my phone to the screen of the cross trainer so I can watch Netflix – an hour on the cross trainer is roughly as dull as being locked in a room with Tim Henman, but the walls are all padded, thus removing the most logical route to the sweet release of death, meaning that you are forced to commit suicide by repeatedly lacerating your own temples against his giant teeth).

“…and KILL”

My “run buddy” and I are training separately until March, so I can’t be entirely sure if he is experiencing any similar issues. My brain has taken over though, and I find myself passing my running time imagining him skipping blissfully over mountains and rivers, singing “Fa la la la la” and “Hey Nonny” and suchlike while all the woodland creatures of the world dance along merrily behind him. He isn’t sweating. Oh no. The only moisture that touches his face is but the gentle morning dew of a crisp spring day as his mind serenades him with the greatest symphonies known to man. I imagine jealously stabbing him in his stupid little trim midget body, but then I realise that instead he’s waltzing off into the distance and I’m sitting naked in a puddle, hitting a nearby plant with a butter knife.

Still, it’s all good fun, eh?

 

Posted on

Week 2 – Why Am I Not Yet Mo Farah?

Week 1 Review

Miles: 13
Miles to go: 2,005
Weight: 100kg
VO2 Max: 48
Desire to eat so much cheese that I turn yellow: Ever-rising

Well, here we are. I’d like to thank my fans around the world, all the Kenyans whose achievements I have far outstripped in under a week and, of course, my Mum. Only 2,005 miles to go! And I thought it’d be hard…

I’ve done five short runs this week at a slow pace – I’m trying to focus on the kind of pace I might be able to maintain for the best part of an entire day. Obviously, this requires a carefully calculated, scientific approach, so I tried running with an open, 90%-full flask of whisky for a bit, to see how quickly I could do this without spilling most of it all over myself. It turns out that the answer is roughly a 9-9.5-minute mile, in case, you know, you’d like to “ask for a friend”.

I’ve also been very cautious with my glass knees. I will be doing three of my five weekly runs on the treadmill all month, and two longer, slower runs on relatively flat, forgiving paths alongside canals. I’ve already had to upgrade my weight loss plan by an extra (circa) seventy-three kilos to compensate for the weight of the ludicrous assortment of neoprene supports that will cover various parts of my lower body, the further I run.

Incomprehensibly though, when I looked in the mirror this morning, I was still staring back at myself. I wasn’t Mo Farah yet – this has come as an enormous shock to me, so I haven’t done any running today. On a slightly less stupid level, my resting heart rate has gone up, and I have been sleeping less well. I’m assuming that this is because 13 miles is pretty insignificant, and I’m therefore still just suffering from the same insomnia as before. Or maybe running is bad for us all, and I should instead attempt to kill 2,018 Germans on Call of Duty (NB Object of Call of Duty may or may not be to kill Germans – can not confirm) in one year. Or eat 2,018 steaks. You’d all sponsor me to eat 2 tonnes of meat and write about it, right?

Anyway, on to this week and the rest of January. Each week for the remainder of the month will be the same in terms of structure, but with an extra mile per run each time that day come around again – except for Saturdays, which always stay the same. To be clear:

This week: Tues, 3 miles, Weds 4 miles, Thurs 3 miles, Sat 3 miles, Sun 4.5 miles
Next week: Tues 4 miles, Weds 5 miles, Thurs 4 miles, Sat 3 miles, Sun 5.5 miles

And so on and so forth. The idea is that I will then be running the amount of miles per week required to start proper marathon training come the first week of February, which coincides with it being 16 weeks until the Calderdale Marathon. This also means that I can eat roughly 400 grams more cheese each week without putting on weight. This equates to – roughly – 14 slices of cheese on toast, or two per day. Alternatively, I could carry the one, subtract the number I first thought of, and eat about 97 wheels of Laughing Cow (other fake cheeses also available). Either way, if my calculations are correct, I should be at “CHEESE LEVEL: FRENCHMAN” by January 31st.

Zut alors!

Posted on

Trough Physical Condition – the Start of a Long Journey

The Ruins of 2017

What a pleasant, positive post title to start 2018! And with that I’d like to welcome you to the “Ultramarathon 2018” section of my blog. Excuse the stench; I’m covered in a very specific sweat – one that smells of maple cured ham, seventeen different types of booze and an assortment of chocolate. That’s right, we’ve just had Christmas and New Year, and I’ve obviously treated my body like a wheelie bin round the back of a kebab shop. What better time than now then, to start 10 months of training that will see me complete a hill marathon, the Yorkshire three peaks and the Lakes in a Day ultramarathon, by which time I will have run 2,018 miles in 2018, with two months to spare. This is the equivalent of running from Leeds to Ankara (excluding the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam).

28275276734_6d1a818bbc_b.jpg

This seems like a good point to put this into context; I’m not currently unfit. I can currently run 5km in 20-25 minutes depending on terrain, and 10km in under 50. I could walk 50 miles tomorrow if you told me I had to. However, I haven’t run further than 12km in 2 years, and my gym trips have been mostly HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and weights. I love rugby, and have played on and off for 26 out of the 33.9 years I have been on this planet, so most of my training has revolved around keeping in shape for this. Because of the nature of the sport, I’m 5″10 and 15.8 stone (100kg). This is great for smashing people to smithereens, but not so good when you have to lug that extra weight across hills and mountains for 50 miles. As a result, I think it’s safe to say that I need to do two things:

1) Lay off the weights, give up rugby and lose 10-15kg in weight. This one is easy; my knees were recently described as “held together only by the will of the Gods”. In rugby terms, I’m old and battered. It’s time to accept my fate. Also, losing weight is going to be a given when I sneak up behind my contented stomach and metaphorically yell “SURPRISE!!!” by relentlessly running four or five times a week.

2) Significantly improve my endurance. Interval fitness is totally different. I can get my heart rate up to 200 for several minutes and go all guns blazing at the weights or the sprinting. But then I need a minute off before I do it again. This is not conducive to running for the best part of a day without stopping.

Actually, three things.

3) Stop eating pizza and drinking beer all the time (MyFitnessPal informed me that in 2017 my two most logged “foods” were wine and beer). Mmmmm… wine and beer. Not completely, mind. This isn’t a blog about going vegan or teetotal or anything else that I would genuinely rather die than do – more one that will document the struggles of running between 30 and 70 miles a week, non-stop for the next 10 months, and how it ends up affecting me both physically and mentally.

Again, a little context. Like so many people I know – and more people in the world than perhaps we all realise – I suffer from anxiety – panic attacks, insomnia, mood swings and low self-esteem. I have done so for many years, and at its worst it’s like living in a nightmare. Except not, because I can’t have nightmares if I don’t sleep. A daymare? Anyway, I can’t deny that the post-exercise feeling is a good one, and that exercise helps me sleep and feel better about myself. So absurd amounts of exercise should make me feel absurdly great, right? RIGHT? Well, I owe it to the people in my life, and to myself, to give it a go. Part of the reason for keeping a weekly blog is so that I can look back in ten months time and (hopefully) see a change for the better. I also hope that people will read this blog – other runners, people like me who want to run more and further, or who suffer from problems with anxiety.

The Charity

Over 50% of my motivation is self-improvement for sure – I’d be lying if I said otherwise – but some of it comes from the desire to do some good old-fashioned fundraising. I’m doing this with a friend of mine – he will be going through the same hell as me, at least according to our Excel training programme. Together, we’re raising money for Yorkshire Cancer Research. I doubt I could name a single person who isn’t either related to, or doesn’t know someone who has suffered or died because of cancer. It’s a horrible disease, and one that I firmly believe can be beaten. I’ve gone for YCR as opposed to Cancer Research UK partly because Yorkshire is my home, and partly because smaller, more local charities often struggle for funding, but shouldn’t be overlooked. I’d love us to raise £3000 together – after all, we’ve got a year. But who knows? Every little helps. Here are the links to my JustGiving team page and personal page if you’d like to donate / heckle us.

ycr

First Stop – January

Shit, I’ve actually got to do this now. Words come more easily than steps, weirdly. Fortunately, January is a build-up month – I’m just getting used to running further and further over the course of the month before starting a proper 16-week marathon training programme in February (16 weeks before the Calderdale marathon). Oh, and Monday is always a rest day – I’m thankful for this as I spent all of Monday January 1st feeling like I had been turned inside out by an evil robot monster made entirely out of vodka.

Here it is: WEEK 1: Tuesday 2 miles slow, Wednesday 3 miles steady, Thursday 2 miles slow, Saturday Park Run, Sunday 6 miles slow. Week total: 16 miles.

Current weight: 100kg. Resting heart rate: 58bpm. 2 miles slow: 19 minutes. Fear level for rest of year: Q*£&£YT%*W&£TY£W(TR*U!!!!O£)R*UCMC

It’s now Tuesday evening, and I’ve done my first two miles of 2018. It felt like running after consecutive days of drinking huge amounts of alcohol always feels – fucking horrible. 19 minutes of beer demons punching me in the chest. But hey! That’s two down, 2016 to go. I’ll be in Ankara before you know it (Disclaimer: this may not be remotely true in any way, shape or form).

Bring it on.

16390470334_3b9a16c8c4_b.jpg

 

Posted on

Preparing for an EFL Interview

It’s nearly the end of an incredibly busy summer. Summer schools are a number of things – enjoyable, full of energy, manic, full-throttle, but above all, extremely hard work. In peak week this year, I was overseeing a summer school of 9 classes and 130 students in conjunction with an adult school of 17 classes and 208 students across three buildings. So, 26 teachers made it through the interview stage to join the team and me for up to 7 weeks of mayhem. Now it’s fair to say that, with such a large organisation, staffing is difficult and certain concessions have to be made simply to ensure that we have enough staff. Employing a teacher on a short-term contract for a summer school is far less about selecting the technical cream of the crop, so to speak, than it is about making sure that said teacher is likely to be able to cope with the craziness and go in to class every day, smiling and enthusiastic. Because of this, I’ll start generically and then divide parts of this post in to two sections: Summer school and… let’s call it “Normal” school, because summer school is many things, but it certainly isn’t normal! I’m not going to name any names or even years – in nearly three years as a Director of Studies, I’ve worked out that I’ve employed over 100 teachers, conducted over 200 interviews, and unfortunately sacked three people. Suffice to say, I’ve seen some things in applications and interviews. Not all were good…

Applications

Application forms are a real pain. Mostly, they require you to copy information from your CV in a slightly different way. They are a complete waste of time, but seem to be a staple HR requirement. What they do do though is weed out people who are just clicking around and applying for every job under the sun. The assumption is that if you spent an hour on the application form, then you are genuinely interested. This is completely negated if you do a half-arsed job! Fill it in!

CVs

I have witnessed CVs get worse and worse. I’m not sure if the UK secondary education has stopped providing guidance or if the guidance they are providing is just simply bad, but writing a sensible CV is so easy!

  • No photos unless specifically requested. They encourage negative judgement. If you are asked for a photo, make sure you are dressed sensibly – work clothes, with a neutral background, perhaps some study materials visible. Certainly not like one CV I received – pint in hand!
  • You could start with a few sentences that sum you up, but I advise against it – it almost always sounds cheesy and false. Certainly don’t do what one candidate did, and annotate your “key skills” with stickmen!
  • Start with personal details – Name, address, phone number, email address, LinkedIn. NOT Facebook, Snapchat or Tinder (yes, really!) Also, make sure your email address isn’t absurd and / or childish.
  • Education and Qualifications is the next section – A-levels and above only, most recent first! Nobody cares about your class exams from year 8!
  • Time for the work experience section – dates (from / to), company name and a bullet-pointed list of key responsibilities. No waffle, no long paragraphs and no meaningless jargon. Here’s an example (this wouldn’t be in a table on your CV – it’s just so you can see it clearly here:
Date – Date, Teacher of English, Company Name
·         Teaching General English (A1-C1) and IELTS classes to mono- and multi-lingual classes of 8-15 students
·         Designing assessment materials for General English
·         Invigilating IELTS mock exams
·         Using (name of system) online student maintenance system
·         Mentoring new starters
·         Attended CPD sessions on Task-Based Learning, Flipped Classrooms and CLIL

 

That’s it! Turning up every day, planning your lessons and wearing a shirt are NOT key responsibilities!

  • Other skills – Microsoft Office, playing instruments, typing speed, sports etc. Keep these sensible and short!
  • “References available on request” – make sure you have contacted these referees and they are willing to provide you with references. You won’t be able to start at a new job until references have been received. Remember, one must be your current employer. Try and choose referees in the field, and your father is not a referee!

Finally, remember that this is a job for an English teacher. If your CV contains typos or spelling mistakes, it will go in the bin. Check your work. Also, keep it to two pages – 2.5 at most. I once received an 8-page CV. It went straight in the bin.

The Interview

You’ve made it to interview. You’ve either got a good CV / application, or the school in question is utterly desperate because it forecasted for 100 fewer students than are turning up in three weeks’ time! Either way, you must treat an interview with respect and do some proper preparation even if this job is only for the summer.

Interview – Summer Schools

A large part of a summer school interview is going to be based around pastoral care / supervision of under-18s. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Young learners need supervising inside the classroom and out. Supervision ratios are typically 1 adult to 15 students under the age of 16
  • There are certain topics you will have to avoid in class – think about this
  • Groups of young learners will usually have afternoon activities – sports, projects, trips. Showing interest in getting involved will win you brownie points
  • Young learner classes are different from adult classes. Juniors are there temporarily, and for a fun holiday. You will need to use lots of games with shorter, more interactive / physical activities and minimal grammar input. Have examples of these
  • Young learners need discipline – be prepared to answer questions about how to deal with bad behaviour. Generally, a class contract is a good thing to establish, with clear boundaries and rules in place BUT never shout at them!
  • You may be asked about professional boundaries. Think about the importance of maintaining the role of a teacher, and having a policy of not being alone with individual students, especially if you are a male teacher
  • Think about the challenges associated with teaching students of different ages. You might have classes with 13 and 16 year-olds together.

Interview – “Normal” schools

The feel of a year-round school is different, as a proportion of the students will be studying for a longer period of time. Some may be sponsored and have progression requirements imposed upon them. As a result of this, they may be stressed. There will be other students who are only coming for short periods of time, and the needs of both these sets of students will need to be carefully managed and monitored inside the classroom.

  • What’s your approach to teaching? You can talk about the communicative classroom, task-based learning, blended learning… have a think and do some research
  • Example lesson structures – you may be asked to bring a lesson plan or you may be asked on the spot to go through stages of a lesson. This kind of question is designed to see that you know how to follow a structure correctly. If it’s a reading lesson, have you gone through prediction / gist / detail stages? Does your lesson finish with a communicative activity? If it’s a systems lesson, have you got a controlled practice stage?
  • If you’re asked to come prepared to do some demo language focus work, PREPARE IT! This summer, I asked for teachers to come prepared to go through Meaning, Pron and Form of 5 items of vocab of their choice on the whiteboard. Some of it was almost embarrassingly bad, or worse, unprepared. If you can’t do the most basic, staple EFL task in an interview, how do you expect a Director of Studies to employ you?! If you spell “messy” with one “s”, you are asking for trouble (again, yes, really!)
  • You will be asked a grammar and / or vocab knowledge question! This shouldn’t come as a surprise! Do some revision! The most common grammar questions centre around the differences between one thing and another, e.g. present perfect and past simple.
  • Don’t waffle – your answers should be concise. On the other hand, one-word answers don’t help an interviewer at all.
  • Look at the school website. All of them tell you what they teach. Don’t ask at the end “So, what classes do you offer?” Instead say “I’ve seen on the website that you offer X… how do you….?” – this makes it obvious that you have done some preparation.
  • Have some intelligent questions ready for the end – don’t ask about salary!

 

Finally, and this applies to both schools, come dressed smartly, shake hands, be polite, DON’T call the interview “mate” and DON’T turn up to the interview late or pissed! Again… yes, really!

 

Simon

 

Posted on

Product Writing – A Report (Useful for student feedback!)

Who is this post for?

  • Students looking at writing skills – especially writing a report for FCE / CAE
  • Teachers looking at lesson structures
  • Teachers / Managers looking at effective ways to get honest feedback

Teachers

The thing I love the most about a product writing lesson is that it’s surprisingly multi-level. Because you structure the class around a model text and language from that model, (as long as you grade the model and the target language accurately) you can use this kind of lesson with classes from A1-C2. Students have the support they need because they can see a model, and when they finally produce their own work, they can rely on this model to different degrees depending on confidence and competence. Obviously, student output will vary wildly, but once you are at the written output stage of a product writing class, the pressure is off both the teacher and the student in that the traditional “teaching” part of the class is over, as is the stage at which students openly exhibit what they do and don’t know in front of the whole class.

Sample lesson / structure

Have a look at the material here (from New English File Advanced) Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

  1. Start students off with a discussion in small groups about the positives / negatives of their school, or things they would like to see in their perfect school. You could produce a form for them to make notes in.
  2. Get group feedback
  3. Students read the report on P.80 – ask some comprehension questions and get feedback on the structure / language used (How is it paragraphed? Is the language formal or informal?)
  4. Start looking at the controlled practice activities – P. 80 b, P. 81 c / d. Remember to get some of this language on the board – look sideways at the sentences (What comes after “advisable to” / “strongly recommend”?) – and go through meaning / form / pronunciation.
  5. Organisation stage – students look at how they will structure their report (ordering) – they can do this in a group
  6. Individual writing stage – the output stage. They’re trying to write their own report about the school, using some of the target language.

They can finish this for homework, and then you can either use some of their mistakes for another lesson, or provide feedback in a different way.

Adaptation

You could use this lesson with any level. I would even say that you wouldn’t need to adapt the model text for Intermediate / Upper-Intermediate students; grade the task, not the text. So, perhaps you would only focus on exercises c and d with an Int class (P.80 ex. b might be a bit tricky). For Elem / Pre-Int, you would need to simplify the text a bit, and perhaps your language focus would focus on something like “Ways to give opinions” (I believe / In my opinion / I think) or “Reporting using past simple”. You’d then need to prepare controlled practice activities around the model text, but this wouldn’t be too time-consuming, as a lot of the adaptation would be exactly that: adapting rather than rewriting.

Teachers / Managers

I watched a fairly inexperienced teacher do a great job with this product lesson from New English File the other week – they used P.80 and then c / d from P.81, missing out the brainstorm etc. stages after that, because they would be more applicable to a process writing task instead (see more on product /  process writing structures here http://wp.me/p2RmnE-sj ). The thing that makes this lesson interesting for students, teachers and managers, is that the output stage gives students a chance to reflect privately on what they believe the strengths / weaknesses of their school are. This is perhaps more revealing than focus groups, as students are often reluctant to voice their issues directly to a manager, or in front of other students. The timing of this class supported this theory; we had a focus group the week before and much of what was raised on the written reports from this lesson hadn’t been mentioned! I’ve since arranged for all classes to do this lesson at some point this term, so that we can get some really good feedback to work from.

Students

Have a look at the material in this file. Here are a few things to consider if you’re preparing for Cambridge Exams.

  1. The structure is based on a series of titles
  2. The introduction clearly states the aim of the report
  3. The conclusion is very generalised
  4. There are a lot of examples of the passive being used, as well as language for generalising – eg. “It is generally thought…”
  5. Precision is an important part of the test. Why say “making classes smaller” when you could say “reducing class size”? The words do  / make / get are often used because a student doesn’t know the exact verb that a native would use. When you start to write one of these verbs, think: is there a better word I could use?

Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

As always, if you want to send your attempts to me, I’d be happy to receive them! 🙂

 

Simon

Posted on

A look at writing lesson structures

It can be difficult to adjust your mindset from systems to skills in the language classroom. “Traditional” General English and its course books revolve around grammar and vocabulary over skills teaching. Not only this, but the CELTA and other pre-service training programmes provide the opportunity for trainees to run through systems lessons exclusively, meaning that skills teaching is an almost completely un-encountered mystery until a teacher gets extra training, or decides to take on a higher-level qualification. Therefore, when you’re presented with a skills-only class, like an elective or an exam class, it can be difficult to know what to do differently. What I’ve found in my experience, is that this results in teachers doing the dreaded AAA (activity, activity, activity…) lesson structure!

What I’ve done here is outline a few different structures for a writing skills class. This could be IELTS, general English or ESP. The four structures are product, process, process genre (kind of a mixture of the first two) and then a task-based learning lesson structure. Obviously, the first three are specifically for writing classes, but TBL can be used for any skills class. I’ve also put a couple of benefits / drawbacks at the end of each structure. In the next couple of days, I’ll be posting a lesson plan for a product writing, and I’ll follow suit with the others over the coming month. As always, feel free to comment on or query anything.

Here’s the link to the word document:

Writing Lesson Structures

 

Simon

 

 

Posted on

Teaching Pronunciation in the Classroom

I’ve attached the powerpoint slides of a CPD I delivered at school this week. I’ll say a few brief things about it.

Firstly, I think it’s a real shame that there is this fear of dealing with pronunciation in depth in the classroom. In my experience, students respond really well. It increases confidence, builds bonds and really develops not just the ability to discriminate between sounds and improve production, but the ability to listen more accurately; the area that I think is most improved upon when we teach pronunciation.

You may find a few terms / suggestions in these slides that you aren’t familiar with. As always, message me or add a comment if you aren’t sure and would like to use some of these ideas in class / deliver this as a CPD in your own school. I hope you find it valuable in some way.

Teaching Pronunciation

Simon

Posted on

Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 2)

Every year several languages die out. Some people think that this is not important because life will be easier if there are fewer languages in the world.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

With globalisation comes an almost inevitable joining together of cultures, experiences and languages. One of the consequences of this is that a great many lesser-spoken languages are dying, as they are no longer required in the context of the modern world. This could be either be seen as a positive or a negative, depending on whether a business or a cultural view is taken.

From a business perspective, moving towards a singular international language is not only sensible, but has in fact already begun. International trade and diplomatic relations are just two key areas that are made easier without a language barrier, and English has already positioned itself as the world’s leading language in these areas. The potential for misunderstanding and misrepresentation is dramatically lowered, and this extends to the public in general, with holidays and wider social communication made all the more possible by a singular, shared language.

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language. To lose one’s national tongue could be seen as losing one’s identity. If this happens, it could cause no small amount of resentment, in particular towards nations which speak the chosen international language as their first. This could actually lead to diplomatic issues rather than solutions, which is precisely what globalisation is seeking to reduce.

In conclusion, while I am entirely in favour or closer diplomatic relations between countries, I strongly believe that it is extremely important that traditional values and cultures are upheld. Seeing as I am convinced that language and culture are inseparable, I disagree with the idea that life would be better with fewer languages in the world.

(269 words)

A few points:

  1. You don’t need to start with “nowadays” or something that means the same thing!
  2. I don’t think you should put your opinion in the introduction, unless you know you won’t finish in time. Be neutral, acknowledging both sides to the argument, in the introduction, and then present your view in the conclusion.
  3. Remember, if you are running out of time, you must write a conclusion. A good thing to do is to make your second body paragraph in to a list of bullet points, like this:

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language.

  • Lose language = lose identity
  • Resentment towards some nations
  • Lead to diplomatic issues

Now, write the conclusion and spend some time on it!

You will lose fewer marks for doing this than you will for writing complete body paragraphs without a conclusion!

Posted on

Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 1)

Test 4 Task 1

The line graph outlines energy consumption in the USA from 1980 to the present day, with further projections up until 2030. Use is recorded in quadrillion units and is divided in to six categories, almost all of which display a general increase over time.

For the entirety of the period covered, petrol and oil usage is the highest. In 1980, 35 quadrillion units were used, and this dipped a little initially before rising steadily to a projected peak of 50 quadrillion units by 2030. This rate of increase is matched by that of coal, whose usage climbs from around 16 quadrillion units to just over 30 quadrillion units over the same period of time. This means that, by 2030, it is expected to be the second-most used fuel, whereas in 1980 natural gas usage was higher, at 20 quadrillion units. However, usage of this fuel is expected to remain at 25 quadrillion units from 2015 until 2030.

At the other end of the spectrum, nuclear fuel and solar / wind fuel usage is not predicted to change drastically, with increases from 3 to 8 and 3 to 6 quadrillion units respectively. In slight contrast, usage of hydropower, which was also 3 quadrillion units in 1980, dropped very slightly to approximately 2.5 quadrillion units in 2011, and it is not expected that this level of usage will change in the future.

(205 words)

A few points.

  1. In the introduction, explain what the X and Y axes display – time and quadrillion units.
  2. If there are any trends that are the same, make reference to that – coal / petrol and oil increase at a very similar rate.
  3. Similarly, highlight contrasts. Coal and Natural Gas change places between 1980 and 2030.
  4. Decide how to group your information. Here, I’ve decided to group three high and three low together in paragraphs.
Posted on

100 up!

It’s taken a little longer than I thought it would – just under 3 years in fact – but I’ve finally reached 100 posts. I started off not really knowing what would end up on my site, whether it would be a blog, a resource site for teachers, a site for students, an academic site or nothing in particular. I think it’s ended up as a more student-centred site, with a focus on IELTS – 40% of my posts are about IELTS or are model answers. Perhaps this reflects the situation in English language learning in the UK, and student needs. Interestingly, about 40% of students in my current school are IELTS-focussed students, so perhaps I’m subconsciously responding to the needs of my own students – not a bad thing.

I hope I will continue to post more General English / Teacher Training / General Blog posts, because they bring me (at least) a lot of enjoyment. But I fully expect the IELTS section of the site to continue to grow and grow. I also hope that in the next 100 posts I can write a bit more of what my readers want – I’m happy to listen to and write about what my students, ex-students and peers would find useful. As always, you can contact me by clicking the tab at the top of the page, or just by commenting on this or any other thread.

Anyway, I’m really proud that I have kept going and am now averaging well over 1000 views a month. Thank you to everyone for reading, commenting, following, liking and sharing. Long may it continue! 🙂

Simon