Vitality London 10,000 2019 race report

So this race report is a little overdue. Owing to some personal circumstances, I haven’t blogged since last year- this race report is a good way to start again! But before we do, let’s briefly rewind back to the Vitality London 10,000 from 2018. It was my worst performance, giving me a PW of 42:00. I run this event every year, and knew I had to make up for it in 2019.

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Royal Parks Half Marathon 2018 race report

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.

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Race report for 2018 Barking ELVIS 5k

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.

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London Frontrunners Pride 10k 2018 race report

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.

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Vitality London 10,000 2018 race report

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.

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HomePod- The best smart home speaker?

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?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
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!

MUSIC PLAYBACK
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.

CONCLUSION
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.

Running on adalimumab (Humira)- First dose and experiences

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?

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Moving from the iPhone 8 to iPhone X

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.

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B&O Beoplay E8 by Bang & Olufsen – An AirPods beater?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The Beoplay E8s ship in a very nice box, and as with most modern gadgets, the contents are very simply presented and easy to unpack. Inside we have the earbuds, a set of spare adjustable silicone earpieces, charging/carry case (leather), a USB-to-micro USB charging cable, and the instructions/warranty information. Although made from plastic, the E8s are very well designed and have a solid, premium feel. I have the black version, and find that they do pick-up finger-prints very easily, though. The charging/carry case is a nice addition, yet almost essential as the earbuds can easily be misplaced. The case will also allow the earbuds to be charged whilst on the move, and increase their battery life. B&O claim that the earbuds will last up to 4 hours on a single charge, and the case can recharge them a further two times, meaning you should get up to 12 hours of music playback; more than enough for a single days use for even the most avid of users. The carry case also has a fabric lanyard, making it easier to hold.

COMFORT
At first glance, the Beoplay E8s appear to be fairly bulky. Each earpiece weighs 7.1g. For reference and in comparison, the Apple EarPods weigh 4.0g (each), making the B&Os significantly heavier. However, they are comfortable in my ears, and I have not felt them slipping. As my own preference, I do not wear these types of headphones (wireless earbuds) for running, nor would I find them comfortable for general training; I much prefer something like the PowerBeats for exercise, but I digress. Using the E8s on the train and in my daily commute, I faced no issues with them feeling out of place, even on a crowded train. I would exercise caution with any wireless earbuds, though.

PAIRING
Pairing the earbuds was a little troublesome with my iPhone 8, but we got there in the end. The entire process took around 5 minutes, but should only take less than a minute. To pair the earbuds, tap/press the right earbud to turn them on. Once on, press and hold on both the earbuds for 5 seconds and they will enter pairing mode. From there, select the device from your Bluetooth settings on your phone/tablet and they should pair. This is a one time process and when you subsequently take the earbuds out of the case and put them in your ears, they should connect to your device automatically. It took me a few attempts to initially connect them to my phone, but once connected, they functioned as expected. Simply remove the earbuds from the case, insert into your ears, and finally press the right earbud to connect to your device. A discreet audible chime will let you know that the connection was successful.

There are a few observations I have made about the way the earbuds pair. The right earbud seems to serve as the ‘main’ connection to your device, and the left earbud then connects to the right earbud as well. The earbuds must be within close range of each other to play music. For example, if I take the earbuds out of my ears and move them away from each other, music will continue to play on the right earbud, but not the left. But if I move them closer together, music will play from both again. Another important point is that playback does not stop if I remove one earbud; this is something I don’t like, particularly if I am outside and briefly need to speak with someone. I will have to manually tap the right earbud to pause music before removing it from my ear, or I will lose my place in my audiobook.

GESTURES
A unique aspect of the Beoplay E8s are the various swipe and tap gestures. These allow you to control basic music playback by pausing music, adjusting the volume, skipping between tracks and even activating your chosen voice assistant. In theory, this is a great idea! However, in practice, I found this doesn’t work too well. For example, a single tap on the right earbud is supposed to pause music, and a single tap again is required to resume. When I have tried to resume music, a single tap is not sufficient, and only a double-tap resumes playback. However, as can be seen from the tap gestures I have mentioned below, a double-tap is supposed to skip forward a track. In some cases, this does happen, and it is a little frustrating at times when these gestures don’t work as stated. On a positive note, the volume up and down presses work well.

RIGHT AIRBUD
Play/pause: Single tap
Next track: Double tap
Volume up: Touch and hold
Voice activation: x3 tap
Accept call: Single tap
Reject call: Touch and hold (5s)
End call: Double tap

LEFT AIRBUD
Previous track: Double tap
Volume down: Touch and hold
Accept call: Single tap
Reject call: Touch and hold (5s)
End call: Double tap

SOUND QUALITY
I am no audiophile, but really do appreciate good quality sound. I listen (mainly) to movie soundtracks/scores, as well as anything else that takes my liking. The sound from the Beoplay E8s is very impressive, and notably better than the Apple AirPods. My music is loud and punchy, there is no distortion at maximum volumes, and bass/treble are well balanced. The only thing I can be critical about is that the sound feels a little flat overall; definitely not a major concern and I am being a little pedantic to mention this. There is a slight amount of sound leakage, but not enough to draw unwanted attention (unless you’re in a very quiet room at maximum volume). Voice calls are also very clear, and the built-in mic allows for easy communication. I have tested the earbuds by phoning home a few times, and have not had any issues with not being heard, despite being outside with wind/noise.

CONCLUSIONS
The B&O Beoplay E8s are a very well designed, high quality, and functional set of premium earbuds. The live up to the B&O name, and the sound quality is one of the best that I have had the pleasure of testing and using in a set of wireless earbuds. Their bulky appearance may be a little off-putting at first, but once in your ears, you will realise that these are a very comfortable set of headphones. Functionally, there are a few annoyances, particularly with the gestures, but this is not enough to put me off and I take these as a bonus, as my Apple AirPods lack these all together. Conclusively, I would highly recommend the E8s, despite their premium price-tag.

Video review to follow later this week. Stay tuned and subscribe to my YouTube channel! http://www.youtube.com/andykumar

Leather Sleeve for 12‑inch MacBook – Worth it?

With the release of the iPhone X, Apple also (quietly) made a few other silent additions to it’s product line-up. I logged onto the Apple Store to order the Apple Watch Charging Cradle (review for that to follow soon!), and was pleasantly surprised to see that a leather sleeve for the 12” MacBook had been added to the store. This is an official Apple product, and looks remarkably similar to the leather sleeve for the iPad Pro, which I purchased with my 10.5” iPad Pro earlier this year. I already knew that the quality for this was top-notch, and as I often struggled to protect my 12” MacBook, felt it would be a good option to consider. However, priced at £149.99, it definitely isn’t cheap! But is it still worth it?

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