Saturday, 19 May 2012

Zurich Writers Workshop and Making Use of Social Media

This weekend I am currently taking part in the Zurich Writers Workshop.  I will probably write a separate post about that later, but the part I found the most relevant to this blog (so far) was the part about the use of social media to promote a book or a blog.  I was extremely impressed just how many stats the workshop instructor Diccon Bewes (author of the Bestseller "Swiss Watching") was able to provide about the traffic on his blog, courtesy of Google Analytics.

He was able to tell us how many readers he had, how many posts per session each viewer was reading (on average), how much time the reader spent on his blog (on average), even down the detailed level of which Canton in Switzerland they were logging in from.

From the basic stats on the blogger dashboard all I currently know is how many page views I get per month, which countries those views originate from and the referring URLs.  I am more interested in knowing how many readers I have than how many page views I have, as it may be that I have just a handful of readers that are reading lots of posts or it may be that I have lots of readers reading single posts.  I would also be interested in knowing which Cantons my Swiss audience comes from.

I have just installed Google Analytics and over the next few weeks I will try and make some use of the statistics it generates.  Diccon for instance noted that most of his traffic comes from either Canton Zurich or Canton Bern and that no traffic at all has come from Canton Uri.  He can use this information to try and tailor his writing to his specific audience.  There is no point in him writing tons and tons of articles about Canton Uri and nothing about Canton Zurich and Canton Bern when most of his audience comes from those cantons.

Diccon also gave us lots of useful tips on driving traffic to a blog via Twitter and Facebook.  He recommended for instance setting up a Facebook page separate to the one you use to communicate with your friends and family, so that you can retain some privacy on your normal facebook page whilst still allowing strangers to join the purpose built facebook page.

There is a competition open to all of us workshop participants to write a blog post about any topic relevant to Switzerland, and the best few will be posted on the popular "Newly Swissed" blog  I think I will write one about the great resources that Zurich makes available to runners such as Finnish tracks, Vita Parcours, numerous drinking fountains and public 400m athletic tracks.  You would be hard pushed to find all of that within easy reach of the city centre in most other world cities.

Friday, 18 May 2012

How embarrassing it can be to do a one to one Pilates lesson when you have a dodgy stomach

It does not happen all the time, but sometimes my stomach gets a little gaseous.  That does not normally present much of a problem during day to day activities, but when doing a one to one Pilates lesson where you are very close to the instructor and you are having to strain hard as you tense up your powerhouse, it can lead to embarrassing moments.  I am sure the instructor is used to it, and it probably happens very often, but still, for me it is rather embarrassing to let one rip in front of her.

This afternoon my stomach was not feeling that great.  It may have been the mix of wasabi peanuts, goats milk, carrot juice, dates and greek salad that I had for lunch.  I am not quite sure, but I was a little concerned about how the Pilates lesson this evening would go.  I made sure to go to the toilet before I started, but part way through one of the exercises I had to excuse myself rather quickly and go to powder my nose yet again.  Luckily I got through the rest of the lesson without any further problems.

In the last few minutes of the lesson I got a chance to try out the foot corrector that I mentioned in a previous post.  Martha thinks that it will help me to toughen up my feet, ready for my next ultra in August.  She said that my foot currently moves in slightly strange ways and that she will try to correct that over the coming weeks.  I know for a start that I over-pronate, as I always used to wear support shoes.

In addition to introducing the foot corrector, she also stopped using the rubber pad on the foot bar of the reformer.  That makes it slightly more uncomfortable for my feet but she said that will help to toughen them up as well.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A long hard interval session

Tonight's coached running session was the last of the current series.  For me it was my second session, as I only started going last week for the first time.  We met down at the Saalsporthalle and started the workout promptly at 7pm.

The first exercise to help us warm up involved running up and down stairs repeatedly, interspersed with longer flat sections.  After that we headed over to the sports fields and did a quick lap whilst Jeff placed some cones on the ground, ready for the next drill.

Just as we finished the quick lap of the sports field there was a thunderstorm and hailstones started falling from the heavens.  It was a little cold so we were keen to get moving again in order to stay warm.  Most of us were not equipped with wet weather gear as the day had seemed rather sunny and pleasant beforehand.  Luckily the thunderstorm quickly passed.

I cannot recall the name of the next drill but it basically involved laying out a course shaped like a cross or 4 spokes of a wheel.  The idea then was that we split into 4 groups, one per spoke, and for six minutes we had to sprint from the centre of the wheel out to the edge of our spoke and jog slowly back, then repeat for the next spoke (moving in a clockwise manner) and so on.  For the following six minutes we had to do the same but in reverse, so jogging slowly to the end of the spoke and then sprinting back to the centre.  After that we did the same but in reverse for a further 3 minutes, and then we reversed it again for the final 3 minutes, making a total of 18 minutes of interval running.

There were 3 of us in our group.  One guy was the same guy from last week who just beat me by a fraction of a second in the timed 1,600m run, and the other guy was by chance someone that just completed the Marathon des Sables 2012 like myself.  So we were a strong group and very competitive.  That meant it was an extremely hard interval session for all 3 of us.  After the interval session finished we all shook hands like good sporting gentlemen should.

A few minutes of rest and then it was time for another drill.  This once involved splitting into groups (and guess who I ended up in a group with) and then seeing which group was fastest to retrieve the cones placed at the ends of the spokes.  Once at the end of the spoke we each had to do 10 squats before running back with the cones.  Our spoke was uphill, so the other groups had to do 10 squats extra as a handicap.  Unfortunately we still did not win, but you cannot win them all eh.

The final part of the workout was a slingshot relay in pairs.  One of the pair had to do squats whilst the other one ran back towards the Saalsporthalle, and then when that person had had enough running they had to stop running and start doing squats.  The other partner would then stop doing squats and start running until they had passed their partner, and continue as far as they wanted, and then the process would repeat until all pairs arrived back at the Saalsporthalle.  I paired up with one of the ladies and we were the first pair back, which pleased me greatly.  I did narrowly manage to avoid getting bitten by a few off-lead dogs on the way though.  I was pretty mad that the owner let them off lead when they can see that there is a group of runners nearby, probably knowing full well that the dogs were likely to chase us.  Even if the dogs were only trying to intimidate us, that is not acceptable.  Owners of dogs that like to chase runners, I call on you to be more responsible in public areas and to keep your dogs on the lead at all times, especially when you can see that there are runners nearby.

When I finished the session I felt a little sick.  Some of the others went to a restaurant to celebrate the end of the series, but I felt like I needed to go home and rest.  I was most likely dehydrated as I had forgotten to take water along with me, and I felt much better after drinking and eating something.  It is also possible that I pushed myself a little bit too hard as well.  I am not used to doing interval sessions yet.

There is no coached session next week.  The following series will start in 2 weeks time.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dancing classes can be a fun workout

Last night was mine and Anny's first class of Kizomba, a sensual African dance originating from Angola.  There were 3 other men who attended the class and 2 other ladies, making 7 students in total plus the teacher.  Two of the men were African so I suspected that they would have good rhythm, and pick up the dance fairly easily compared to the average European.

The teacher herself is Swiss and she first encountered Kizomba whilst she was in Portugal, and has been teaching it for around 4 years.  She told us that she teaches Kizomba not in the original style, but rather in one that is adapted to European brains.  What she means by this apparently is that Europeans are very fond of fancy moves and footwork, so she is essentially teaching a jazzed up version of the original dance.

The basic steps seemed quite easy and we were able to start dancing in couples after around quarter of an hour of learning them.  The beat is also very simple and easy to follow when compared to a dance like salsa or bachata.  Sonja (the teacher) showed us the various ways to hold our partner, ranging from very close and personal to slightly more spaced apart (which she said was useful when dancing with someone who is really sweaty or whom you don't like very much).  The trick for the ladies to keep their distance when the man is trying to get closer than they are comfortable with is to use their elbow on the mans upper chest as a spacer.  With Anny I was dancing much closer than I was with the other ladies, being the angel that I am.  None of the ladies used their elbow to keep me at bay thank goodness, so I cannot be that sweaty or undesirable.

Kizomba music is lovely to listen to as well as dance to.  The words are sung in Portuguese though, so I have absolutely no clue what they sing about, with the only Portuguese word I know being "um beijo" (after hearing it numerous times from my colleague Chris when he is talking to his wife).  "Um beijo" literally means "a kiss".  It could be that they are singing about killing people and gangsters for all I know, but I imagine they are actually singing about love and romance and sex, which is much nicer.

The class was very enjoyable and does give a little bit of a workout.  I cannot use it as a replacement for a run however, as one of the 3 key points Sonja said to keep in mind whilst dancing Kizomba is to be lazy and conserve your energy.  It can serve as a supplement to the rest of my training regime though.  I am very much looking forward to the next class.

Do you use dance as part of your training program for another sport?  If so, I would be interested to hear about it.

UBS Bike to Work Scheme - "The Saddle Sores"

Each year UBS takes part in a scheme called Bike To Work, where they encourage their employees to get off their bottoms and cycle to work.  Here are some interesting statistics from 2011 (Source:

"During the month of June, 2011, over 1,000 UBS employees rode 150,000 km participating in the “Bike to work” campaign - despite the rather damp weather conditions. Of the 20 possible bike days in June, staff on average cycled all or part of their journey to work on 12 days, saving 24 tons of CO2 emissions compared to the emissions of commuting by car. Many participants took this opportunity to ride to work for the first time and most committed to continue as they saw the benefits to their health and the environment.

Over 50,000 people from 1,300 companies took part in this Swiss initiative. UBS recorded the second highest number of participants."

Well June is almost here again and UBS has posters up everywhere asking employees to sign up.  A few of us in IT Cash Equities decided to sign up as a team, and our team name was chosen as "The Saddle Sores".  Most of "The Saddle Sores" team members already bike to work, except for me.  The rules do allow however for one member of the team to make their way to work by another self powered means such as walking or running or skating.  This is where I come in.  On the days that count as cycling days I will be running to work instead.  It is not too far at all - somewhere around 7 kilometres, so the perfect running distance to wake me up and allow me to start the day full of energy.

As well as being a bit of fun, there are some cool prizes to be won, including a wellness week for 2 in Flims Laax Falera worth 1,800CHF and bikes worth 1,700CHF amongst others.  For me the best part is not the chance to win prizes though, but the fact that it encourages me to run to work rain or shine.  I am good at running to work when the weather is nice, but I need a little encouragement to do it when it is raining or cold.  Now I can just think to myself "Don't let the team down Paul - get out there and run".

Does your employer run, or take part in, a similar scheme?  If so, I would be interested to hear about it.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Veggie friendly cheese - two of Switzerland's biggest supermarket chains make a giant step forward in veggie friendliness

When I first moved to Switzerland back in 2003, vegetarians were not that well catered for by the major supermarket chains like Coop and Migros.  Since then things have moved on a lot, most likely driven by globalisation, and Coop and Migros have both been offering their own lines of Quorn and tofu products for a number of years now.

It is still hard to know which of the other products are veggie friendly and which are not though, and there is no commonly used system of veggie friendly labelling like there is in the UK.  For many years now, the UK supermarkets have been labelling the majority of food products as veggie friendly (if they are of course) either themselves, or by means of an official approval from the Vegetarian Society.

I noticed a few months back that Dr Oetker pizzas now have several varieties that specify they are vegetarian friendly on the packaging.  They have mushroom, mozzarella, spinach, vegetable and 4 cheese vegetarian varieties.  A fantastic start and a pat on the back for Dr Oetker.

Some of you may be asking how mozzarella pizzas can be non-vegetarian friendly.  After all a pizza is just dough and cheese and tomato isn't it?  Well you are correct that lacto-ovo vegetarians are free to eat cheese, but that cheese should be vegetarian friendly.  To make cheese you need to use rennet.  Rennet can come from one of two sources: animal or plant.  Animal rennet is derived from the stomach tissue of a slaughtered calf, which is clearly not vegetarian.  Vegetarian cheese must therefore be made using plant rennet.

Until very recently I could not find any cheeses in Coop or Migros that specified they were vegetarian friendly.  That all changed a few months back when I noticed that both Coop and Migros have started selling Cathedral City Cheddar.

I was so happy when I saw this, and have been buying it ever since.  I used to buy other cheeses from time to time, but as a lacto-ovo vegetarian of more than 20 years, I always felt a little pang of guilt eating them and not knowing whether or not they were veggie friendly.  Now I don't need to feel any sense of guilt and can eat as much damn cheese as I want.  To top it all off I simply adore cheddar, and it was impossible to find it in the big supermarket chains before this breakthrough.

You may find it strange that I am writing about cheese on what is predominantly a training blog, but this blog is also about other aspects of my personal life too, and one of those is being a vegetarian.  Cheese is a great source of protein, which until now in Switzerland I had largely avoided.  I no longer have any need to do so.  Three cheers for Coop and Migros, and may the veggie friendly movement in Switzerland continue.

If any of you in Switzerland have made similar discoveries of new veggie friendly products entering the Coop and Migros product range (such as the Dr Oetker pizzas or the Cathedral City cheddar cheese), please let me know about it.

Having a shared hobby can strengthen your relationship

It is really great that Anny and I can enjoy running together, and now that she has followed my lead and bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers it is even more fun.  I have now gone one step further and started running completely barefoot from time to time, and whether she will ever follow this lead I don't know, but at least she can enjoy some of the great sensations (of feeling the ground beneath her feet) that I am getting.

Today was the first time she has been out in her VFFs.  She wanted to start using them gradually, so we went running for 5km first, with her in normal running shoes and me in my VFFs, and then we stopped and changed, with her slipping into her VFFs and me going completely barefoot.  She decided to wear Injinji toe socks inside her VFFs as she had her nails painted recently and wanted to protect them.  It took her quite a while to get her feet into the shoes, and I reassured her that it will become easier the more times she does it.  It is probably easier to get them on when you are not wearing socks, as there is slightly more room and your feet can glide over the fabric.

Before Anny set off I gave her a few words of advice regarding the difference between running in normal shoes and in minimalistic shoes like VFFs.  I told her to try to land on the ball of her foot and to focus on small, light, quick steps rather than bounding.  I didn't want to spoil her fun of trying them out though, so after those few words I left it to her to experiment for herself.  Also I am by no means an expert.  Quite the opposite in fact.

The barefoot section of our run was on the Finnenbahn in Irchelpark, and I really like running barefoot there.  It is now my second time running round it completely barefoot.  Today was slightly more comfortable than the first time, and I think my feet will toughen up very quickly if I continue like this.

I asked Anny what she thought of running in the VFFs compared to running in normal shoes.  She said that she enjoyed the sensation of feeling the ground beneath her feet and she felt the muscles in her toes were being engaged as the two main upsides.  When I asked her if there were any downsides she said not at present.  The key for her to continue enjoying the experience in my opinion is for her to go step by step.  Running in her VFFs on asphalt would not be as enjoyable for her as running on wood chips and also would be harder on her knees.  So I think that for the time being she should stick to the wood chips and increase the distance bit by bit.  I will keep you updated on her progress.

As well as running together, we are also going to start dance classes together as from tomorrow.  We have chosen to do a course of Kizomba, which is a dance originating from Angola.  It is meant to be a sensual dance that is easier to learn than tango.  If you are interested in knowing more about it, as I had never heard of it until recently, here is some more info  Dancing is of course a very enjoyable workout.

Finally in closing I would like to say that if any of you have recently took up barefoot running or minimalistic running I would be interested to hear how you are finding it.  What are the pros?  What are the cons?  Do you share it in common with your partner?  Has it made your relationship more enjoyable?