The Royal Parks Half Marathon has a very special place in my racing calendar. I first ran this splendid event in 2016 as a 1:45 pacer, and was fortunate enough to obtain a ballot place in 2017. I was pretty unwell last year, but vowed to complete the race, doing so in a pretty disappointing time of 1:39. As a result, I really felt that I had unfinished business with this race. As luck would have it, I managed to obtain yet another ballot place for 2018! I had a rough start to the year, but managed to get things under control and got my running back to some normality by July, running a 5k in sub-18 and 10k in sub-38 later in the summer. Longer distances were/are still not up to scratch, and although my race times for shorter distances are back to normal, my legs aren’t feeling great running past 12k. I knew a PB was not on the cards (<1:23) so decided that I would go out and run at <1:30 pace and see how long the legs could hold-up for.
I first ran the Barking ELVIS back in 2016. My running was ‘okay’ back then (far from perfect, but I still managed 18:11). I had a very disappointing start to the year, dropping out of quite a few big races (The Big Half comes to mind), and then had a very frustrating time in mid-May when I couldn’t even break a sub-20 5k and got a hugely disappointing PW since 2015 of 42:00 for the Vitality 10k. I knew something had to be done, so started to focus of speed-work, going to parkrun consistency every week to push myself for a timed 5k, and waking up pre-6am before work to get some quality training in. I have also frequently been running twice/day. Weekly mileage has still been pretty low (in comparison to what I used to do a few years ago) but I was still running around 50-55km/week for the past 8-10 weeks or so. My main aim for the Barking ELVIS was to run it in sub-18.
I’ve run the Pride 10k for the past 2 years now, and it’s a firm favourite in my calendar. The run is organised by London Frontrunners, and takes place in Victoria Park every (mid) August. With a fast and flat course, it is definitely a PB course for most. I had a simple aim of getting a sub-40, as it hasn’t been the best year for races or times for me, having pulled out of a few races as well as getting a disappointing time (42:00) at the Vitality 10k. I alighted at Hackney Wick Station around 10:20am, feeling slightly stretched for time with the race due to commence at 11:00am, and as a late entrant, still had to collect my race pack.
I was slightly apprehensive about running the Vitality London 10,000 this year. I haven’t done any races since Royal Parks last October, and training has been sub-optimal this year, having only run ~560k so far. This is no humble bragging- fellow runners will agree that this is indeed low mileage! I took the 8:12 train from Woodford where I met Stuart Barton, and we picked-up a few other ELR runners en-route. We arrived in Green Park just after 9am, and Jamie Xavier also met us here (in club colours!) for a group photo before we all parted ways as we were in different waves. I also met Ilia here briefly, a fellow Strava friend from Edmonton Running Club. I then made my way over to the entrance of the blue wave and saw Mat Jiggins here, too.
Apple has finally thrown their hat into the smart home speaker ring, but with an already saturated market, do they stand a chance to make an impact? Well, this is Apple we are talking about! They are never really the first to any market. The iPod wasn’t the first portable music player. The MacBook wasn’t the first laptop. The iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet. But what Apple has done with each of these products is deliver a truly outstanding device that oozes quality and works far better than the competition, which are often less expensive devices, albeit less capable (arguably, and I’ll briefly explore this shortly). So, can the HomePod continue this trend and compete against some of the more established smart speakers on the market, which come at a much more pocket friendly price-tag?
As with all Apple products, the unboxing is simple and quick; very Apple-like indeed. Once out of the box, the HomePod is much smaller than it looks in the pictures. It measures 6.8 inches tall, just slightly taller than my iPhone X. However, it is heavy for it’s size at 2.5kg. This makes it feel like a very solid and premium product. The base has an anti-slip rubber material with an Apple logo etched the bottom, and the top has controls for basic playback. There are no physical buttons, and all controls are operated through an LED touchscreen. The layout changes based on what the speaker is doing. Furthermore, the screen also displays a Siri animation (‘waveform’) to show you when it is listening. This is all wrapped in a woven fabric material which truly does look pretty amazing and premium.
HOW GOOD IS SIRI?
Siri has always been my smart assistant of choice. I am well aware that Siri is one of the weaker links (according to reviews) of the HomePod, however, for me personally, it has always been the best of the bunch. It has met my needs and I use Siri extensively on my iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. And more recently, on my MacBook Pro. I have tested the HomePod briefly with a few tasks; to send a message, turn my lights on/off and read my iCal. So far, so good!
Now this is the main marketing point of the HomePod, and what Apple are really pushing the device as; a speaker that is “the true sound of home”. It features 7 tweeters, 6 microphones and a high-excursion subwoofer, all powered by an A8 chip. This is the same chipset used to power the iPhone 6, so should provide enough computing power to tackle anything that may be thrown at the HomePod. I am no audiophile, but do appreciate good quality music. I have the Bowers and Wilkins MM-1 speakers on my desktop set-up, which I have found to be truly exceptional over the years. The Echos are very mediocre, but have served their purpose well and are definitely ‘okay’. The HomePod, however, is in another league. The bass is much more punchy and pronounced, the treble is well balanced and I can ear each and every chord, chime and acoustic in my music playback. It almost sounds amazing coming out of such a small package.
The main gripe people have had with the HomePod is that it can only playback music from iTunes and Apple Music. No Spotify seems to be a deal breaker for many. I don’t have Spotify, but I also don’t use Apple Music either. The HomePod can however be used to stream music from your iOS device using AirPlay, but there is no bluetooth playback from other devices. I am very content with this, as iTunes is my main source of music playback, and I purchase a great deal of my digital content there with everything available on my iPhone/iPad.
HOMEPOD VS AMAZON ECHO
I have been using the Amazon Echo smart speakers since they launched in the UK in October 2016. I own 2 Echos, 1 Echo Show and an Echo Dot. This made me think long and hard before getting a HomePod, but this was always the plan (kind of). I have had quite a few frustrations, particularly with the Echo Show, were I just doesn’t pick-up my voice well. Many times have I had to say “computer” (my wake-word) repeatedly to get a response. I have also found Alexa to mis-hear what I say, despite speaking very clearly. Siri is much more responsive, and can respond to me from distances from which Echo cannot. I also have to speak much louder to get Echo to hear me, whereas the HomePod responds even when I speak at a more normal me. However, I have had no problems with the HomePod and Siri, despute speakng in a somehwat normal register.
LOCKED INTO THE APPLE ECO-SYSTEM
This is where the HomePod has picked-up the most criticism. It will come as no surprise that the HomePod is definitely built with the Apple consumer in-mind. For me personally, this is not at all a problem. Quite the opposite, in fact. I use a MacBook, iPad, iPhone, AirPods, etc. Everything works harmoniously together, and the HomePod is a welcome addition the this eco-system. Having Siri narrate/reply to my messages, add iCal entries and perform a number of other hands-free tasks I usually require my phone for is a huge convenience, particularly when I am unable to reach my phone.
I can see why there is some scepticism surrounding the HomePod. There are cheaper alternatives on the market that can essentially perform the same tasks you would expect from a smart home assistant, such as turning the lights on, asking for the weather, etc. The HomePod also lacks some of the “skills” from a lot of 3rd parties that the Echo offers, and you need to decide how important these are to you. I personally am fully integrated within the Apple Eco-system. I use an iPhone, iPad, MacBook and have an iCloud account. With all of this, it is natural to lean toward Siri as my personal assistant of choice. Furthermore, the sound quality of the HomePod is truly exceptional. I did have some doubts about spending £319 on a HomePod. In comparison, I spent a total of £360 of the four Echo devices I own, so not a lot more! (I purchased most of these on offer). The HomePod really is a great device, but probably only if you’re well integrated into the Apple ecosystem, and if you are, will probably be prepared to pay the premiun price-tag.
So yesterday I started a new drug called adalimumab (Humira). I’ve been struggling to induce remission with my ulcerative colitis since 2015, with the past few months being particularly turbulent. I was put on another biological drug last January (2017) called vedlizumab, with infusions every 8 weeks. Unfortunately, this failed and being on a high dose of steroids (prednisolone) for some time now, my GI suggested moving treatment to Humira.
As you may know from previous blog posts, this has had a detrimental effect on my running. I struggled with the Royal Parks Half in October, and things are not much better now. Being back on 40mg of prednisolone and the overall nature of the disease has left me feeling exhausted, but the motivation to get out there and run is always present. Okay, so my pace has been hampered- maintaining 8-minute miles (slower than my marathon pace) feels very tough right now, even for a 5k, so I’m hoping that the Humira works wonders… and quickly! So, what is this drug all about?
In September 2017, Apple unveiled (with much anticipation) the new iPhone X. Alongside it, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were also announced. The 8 models were available to buy shortly after, shipping on the 23rd of September, but the X model was still a few months away, to be released on the 3rd of November. Not being much of a phone enthusiast (I use my iPad Pro for a lot of my iOS related tasks), and in an almost desperate need to upgrade my ageing (and somewhat failing) iPhone 6 Plus from 2014, I decided to purchase the iPhone 8. It was available ‘now’, and a worthy upgrade with a new A11 Bionic chip, wireless charging, a 4k camera and Touch ID 2, to name a few of the upgrades. Once the iPhone X was released, I was still fairly content with my iPhone 8. However, I felt that I was ‘missing out’ on the iPhone X hype. Take that for what it’s worth. I went to the Lakeside Apple Store and had a brief play with the X, but truth be told my mind was already made up. The very next morning, I logged onto the Apple Store’s website at 6am and (luckily?) managed to reserve a Space Grey 64GB iPhone X at Covent Garden for same-day pick-up. Not many stores had availability, and suffice to say, stock was gone within a few minutes.