My Adobe FrameMaker journey

As a former Adobe Community Professional (ACP), I used  to post tips and tricks on various Adobe technical communication products. Mostly Adobe RoboHelp and Adobe RoboHelp Server, as I’d used them for over ten years. I’d also participated in beta releases, ensuring problems were discovered (and hopefully fixed) before release.

These days I don’t use any Adobe technical communication product, and had to forfeit  my ACP status. Three years ago I moved jobs to take on a management role, where the team use a community platform to author and host our online documentation. It’s not a perfect solution for my team or our users, but that is about to change. I’ll have more news on this early in 2019.

When I was an ACP, my job didn’t have a great need for Adobe FrameMaker, although we had a licence as part of the Adobe Technical Communication Suite. So when an opportunity came along to learn, I grabbed it with both hands. It involved a project compiling a large process and procedures document.

The initial brief was to author in Microsoft Word until I got involved, but only because they wanted PDF output and the powers that be didn’t know any better. I suggested that Adobe FrameMaker was a better fit, and once I’d explained the benefits this was accepted. I’d dabbled with Adobe FrameMaker in the past, but this gave me the opportunity to learn and use it properly.

Adobe FrameMaker was once described to me as the “Rolls Royce of authoring tools.” I’ve also heard it being called lots of other things, some of which is not repeatable here! I won’t say it’s perfect, well what application is, but a lot of the problems faced by those disgruntled users were caused by poor training or unrealistic expectations.

Part of the reason for this is their previous experience of applications like Microsoft Word. Microsoft were clever to design a product that was easy to use right out of the box. Perhaps too easy. It established a user base among folk who’d never even thought that something would replace the typewriter, let alone used a computer. All of a sudden everyone was creating documents…… badly!

That was OK so long as all they were doing was writing a letter or making notes. Even to this day, PhD students will scream and shout about how poor Microsoft Word is when writing their 300 page thesis. Whilst there are those who swear that Word templates can cope with files that size, it’s not straightforward to your average user.

Adobe FrameMaker does have a steep learning curve. I recommend new users to attend a course, or (like me) buy a good book. It’s well worth it to prevent having to reinvent your templates, and provides many a time saving tip. The Adobe FrameMaker Forums are also well worth visiting, with excellent support from real users.

Whilst I haven’t used Adobe FrameMaker in anger for awhile, I’ve kept a watching eye on its iterations. There’s another release imminent, Adobe FrameMaker 2019, and there’s a webinar planned to showcase what’ included in it. See the link below to register:

https://framemaker-2019-release.meetus.adobeevents.com/

Full details of what will be shown in the webinar is included in the Adobe TechComm blog post at:

https://blogs.adobe.com/techcomm/2018/08/framemaker-2019-release.html

In summary, the release includes:

  • A major platform update, including 64 bit architecture.
  • A new PDF generation engine that negates the need for PostScript or Adobe Distiller processing.
  • UI changes including:
    • A new better organised welcome screen.
    • The return of colour icons, with a choice to revert to monochrome.
    • Changes to make finding a colour or style easier.
  • Additional language support for German (Duden).
  • Improved image handing, including transparency.
  • Improved DITA and XML workflows.
  • Support for Microsoft SharePoint 2016 or SharePoint Online.
  • Support for Adobe Experience Manager 6.4

Todoist task formatting tips

I’m a seasoned Todoist user, an online to do list application that works across all devices and browsers. I’d hesitate to call myself a power user, but I do use it extensively both in my professional and personal life.

One of the reasons I love working in the IT sphere, is how applications you’ve used for awhile occasionally surprise you with what they can do. Todoist did that to me today when I watched one of Carl Pullein’s excellent productively YouTube videos. I’ve embedded it below for completeness.

In it Carl formats tasks so that they:

  • Don’t need a date / time scheduled.
  • Are formatted in bold. (Note: I’ve also discovered how to format in italics or both bold & italics).

It’s All About Those Asterisks

Task formatting is as easy as adding one or more asterisk. Check it out in the short video below.

The costs of poor communication, and how to tackle it.

There’s a old joke about doctor’s handwriting being illegible. These days that’s less of an issue, as patient notes and prescriptions are typed, but this has highlighted a different issue.

The BBC reported today on an initiative to get doctors to communicate with their patients in plain English (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45394620). The problem is manifesting itself in patients making appointments with their GPs, just to ask them to explain what a form of treatment they’re expecting means. The problem seems to be that patients referred to hospitals are receiving appointment letters full of medical jargon they don’t understand.

Take the following excerpt from a hospital discharge report I recently saw for someone I know:

"CTPA showed bilateral segmental and subsegmental PEs. Initial Troponin 
raised (46) repeat 11."

This was supposed to inform the patient and their GP what had happened to the patient whilst in hospital, and the delivered prognosis.

The problem here is the two audience addressed by the same deliverable. The patient’s GP will understand, but the patient likely won’t.

In instances like this, it is often easier to resort to resort to jargon. It’s the doctor’s own language after all. In just the same as two Network Engineers talking about DHCP or MAC Addresses, That’s fine so long as the audience is the same as them. Try involving an outsider though, and you’re asking for trouble.

You need two separate deliverables, based on the same content. That’s something most Technical Communicators understand and deal with on a daily basis, particularly in a software environment. Whether it is end users or administrators, English or Spanish speakers, you need to have the content for each audience generated from the same source.

Mark Baker asked the question on twitter recently why Technical Communicators find it so hard to explain our profession’s importance. It solicited a fair few responses, yet none really answered the question.

It’s an interesting question. We’re good at explaining things within our own specific spheres. We can even turn our hands at different spheres, but try to explain why we’re so important to others and we seem to struggle.

Case studies like the UK doctors help us, in that a direct effect of poor communication has resulting is wasted GP appointments and frustrated patients and doctors. By correlating the time and money spent having these appointments, we can monatise the problem. Armed with that information, we can argue how us working to resolve the issue can save the organisation money.

Maybe there’s a lesson for us there.

Just a “normal” day in my life as a Technical Writer

The only usual thing about my days as a Technical Writer, is that it’s rarely usual. Today was no exception.

I manage the technical writing function, including another member of staff. Unfortunately for me, they started a week’s holiday today and I’ve just returned from two weeks away. The timing of our holidays isn’t ideal, but I’d monitored what was going on during my absence. I didn’t actually do much, but it ensured there weren’t any unpleasant surprises on my return.

My journey to work involves a 15 minute walk to the station, a train into central London, and a further 20-25 minute walk. I could get a bus or tube, but I figure that by the time I walked to the bus / tube, waited for said bus / tube to arrive, decide not to force myself onto an already crammed bus / tube, get on the next bus / tube, and walk to the office, I may as well just walk. Besides I enjoy walking.

Today I set off wearing a fleece, and soon regretted doing so. After the walk to the local station, it came off and never came close to being worn again. It was announced today that the UK had just experienced its joint hottest summer on record. The last week or two had seen a slight drop in temperatures and plenty of rain, but today demonstrated that whilst we are now in the meteorological autumn, it’s still warm enough for a short sleeved shirt commute.

Taking of surprises, whilst I was away, a desk move was announced. I knew this was happening, but unsure when. Whilst I was away it was announced it would be taking place on the Friday before my return. I’d asked my team member to ensure everything necessary was moved. This happened, but of course on arriving this morning I spent an hour ensuring everything was setup to my desired configuration.

A colleague last week had sent me a meeting request for 11am to discuss a forthcoming release. We’d completed all the updates some months ago, but the release was delayed. With the release imminent, she wanted to discuss some finer detail of what we’d provided. I went in search of her, not easy as she’d moved desks also, and managed to get the meeting moved to the afternoon. Enough time to organise myself and start trawling through my emails.

Within 30 minutes, I’d been approached by three separate Product Managers to inform me of projects in the pipeline. Only one of them is in any way urgent, likely to be released later this month. It doesn’t contain too much additional functionality, but annoyingly does contain new icons. I made a note to inform our Education Team who produce our certified video training programmes. They just love having to update all their videos every time an icon changes! We’ve got another large project completing about the same time that we’d both been working on. I may have to look at reallocating resources to ensure both project deadlines are met, once I’ve evaluated the effort involved. That’s not for today, so an item is added to my to do list.

Up to lunch was spent on admin. As a manager, admin is an essential part of what I do. It may sound boring, but having processes and ensuring they’re followed is pivotal to ensure a smooth running team. Running reports, trawling through my Inbox to prioritise any work items, or updating our project spreadsheets with details of changes / timescales, these tasks have to be done.

Around 12:30 I down tools for a trip to the gym in the basement of our office. I’m a keen runner, but have been recovering from a serious injury since late March. Today was my first day back on the treadmill, so I planned a gentle 30 minute jog. I want to get back to doing my local Parkrun ASAP. Being a Parkrun volunteer is fun, but just doesn’t give you to same buzz. I’m not looking to get back to anything like my PB just yet, but I’ve a goal in mind.

Back in the office, and I’ve time to eat a sandwich and apple before my Rescheduled meeting. The Product Manager and I discussed some minor changes to our best practice guides. A perfect chance to do some actual technical writing. As we discussed each setting, I changed the pages on the fly.

Afterwards I finished going through my Inbox. That only left the automated emails, comments generated by users, and those sent to our team’s distribution list, each of which is sent to a separate folder. The comments were easy, as not all are related to our Knowledge Base.

By mid afternoon, my earlier plea to my colleagues to come and eat a biscuit or two I’d brought back from my holiday, seemed to having some affect. The biscuit mountain was reducing, but not enough to avoid me taking the easy route to solving the issue of having the afternoon munchies.

Late in the day and another work request came my way. Four new projects in a day. That’s a record! Once again I update our project spreadsheet with the details. It’s a useful shared resource that the team and my boss can use to see what is coming up.

As folk began to leave for home, I pondered whether to stay late and finish off those unread automated emails. I consider logging on from home this evening rather than staying in the office. As a global company, and with my manager not being based in the Uk, I’m used to occasionally working irregular hours. However as today was a US holiday, I decided I’d have some time tomorrow morning to sort those email folders out before the USA woke up.

So it was a walk to the station, sans fleece. An unusually busy train meant a less comfortable journey than normal. My wife texted me to say she’d bought some milk and bananas, so I didn’t need to visit the supermarket on my way home. Bless her, as I hate that supermarket with a passion. It’s very handy for commuters as it’s only a minute from the station, but it’s layout and poor customer service makes a visit a soul destroying experience.

Home by 7:30, I change into shorts and sandals, take the bins out for the bin men who arrive early tomorrow, and sit down to eat. Nothing fancy tonight, but that’s OK. Plain food can still be tasty.

After catching up with my wife on her day at work, I spend time catching up on what’s been going on online. I normally try to do this during my train journeys, but today I didn’t. I predominately use Twitter for professional information, and Facebook for personal stuff. After a few minutes trawling, I had the idea for this post, but before I started, I prepared my lunch for tomorrow.

As my bed beckoned, my mind turned to what I can expect tomorrow. I know what I’ve left from today, but you can bet there’ll be the odd curve ball thrown in to make life interesting. Working for a software company in a dynamic environment is never boring.

Sometimes a “staycation” is the way to go

The demise of the British seaside resort and the rise in cheap air travel abroad, has seen most Brits jet off to sunnier climbs for their summer break. You can’t blame them really, as virtually guaranteed sunshine is hard to find at home. However we shouldn’t, no mustn’t, consider a foreign holiday as a first option. There is so much on offer in the UK, and if you’re lucky you’ll get the weather too.

This year my wife and I decided to head to the Lake District. It’s an area I know a little, but my wife didn’t know at all. Situated just south of the England Scotland border, it’s an area with dramatic mountain landscapes interspersed with some of the largest lakes in the UK. It’s a mecca for walkers and cyclists, although we choose the more sedate option of driving.

Bakewell

SignWe’d tried to make it to the Lake District last June, but had to call a halt to our holiday after two days after a family emergency. This time we aimed a driving to Bakewell in the Peak District, before heading up to Bowness-on-Windermere. We’d stayed in nearby Matlock in June and had briefly visited Bakewell, after visiting Chatsworth House. We liked what we saw, so we decided to stay there on the way up this time.

Bakewell is home of the Bakewell Pudding, an oddity not to be confused with the Bakewell Tart that you’ll find in just about every UK supermarket and cafe. Our hotel claimed to be the place where the recipe was first conceived, but then so did at least three other establishments in the town! The hotel was also the first place I’ve cone across where they disallowed mobile devices in the restaurant, a policy that is sure to devide opinion.

We spent the day wondering around the market town, and along the banks River Wye thanks to some thoughtfully landscaped paths. Before returning to our hotel, we stopped off at a pub with outside seating overlooking the river. Ordering drinks was an experience, as you had to stand on a glass panel with the stream that originally fed the water wheel running beneath your feet. It was just about warm enough to sit outside in shirtsleeves, so two very quaffable pints later we returned to the hotel for dinner.

The Lake District

From the moment we stepped from the car and checked into our hotel, we knew we’d made a good decision coming here. I mean, just check out the view from our room!

IMG_E0387

It got better. Lake Windermere, the ten mile long lake that acts as a magnet for all visitors was little more than ten minutes walk away. From there we made good use of the ferries to Ambleside at the north end of the lake, and Lakeside in the south.

Windermere Lake
View from Bowness north towards Ambleside

Ambleside and Lakeside were VERY different. Ambleside is a busy town full of climbers, walkers, and outdoor types. It is at the heart of the Lake District, with many good walks around it. Lakeside in comparison is a small sleepy village that most people don’t even know is there. Instead they pass it by on the road towards Broughton-in-Furness. That’s a real shame, as it has stunning views and some very peaceful hotels right on the lake’s banks.

Whilst Lake Windermere acts as the major tourist draw to the area, the other lakes do their bit too. Among them are:

  • Coniston Water where Donald Campbell broke the water speed record. It is also near the Old Man of Coniston, arguably the highest peak in the Lake District.
  • Ullswater situated in the east is a popular sailing destination, and has a 20 mile walking trail nearby.
  • Derwent Water south of Keswick in the north. Keswick’s a smaller version of Ambleside, but without the charm. It does have the lack on it’s doorstep though, and that’s reason enough to visit it.

Other places that should be on your list to visit are:

  • The beautiful village of Grasmere, described by William Wordsworth as, “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found. That probably explains why he set up home there at Dove Cottage. If you’re there and fancy a meal in a Michelin Star restaurant, I’d thoroughly recommend The Dining Room at the Oak Bank Hotel.
  • The Honiston Pass, a narrow road just south of Keswick that goes through the highest point in the Lake District. It’s a road best tackled on foot or two wheels, unless you’re happy with numerous sharp bends, blind crescents, and nothing to stop you dropping a couple of hundred foot down the mountain if you’re not paying attention! It is a stunning drive, even if the weather isn’t great.

Before we left the Lake District, there was just enough time to soak in the views from the hill overlooking Lake Windermere. It was a view neither of us wanted to leave, but the journey south beckoned.

Shrewsbury

On our way home, we stopped off in Telford. Our idea was to visit the Ironbridge Gorge Bridge, but it was undergoing repairs and was completely under plastic sheets. So instead we went to nearby Shrewsbury on the banks of the River Severn.

The first thing you notice about Shrewsbury is it’s history. There are Tudor buildings everywhere and some quaint alleys and courtyards that are well worth exploring.

Shrewsbury
An example of Shrewsbury’s Tudor buildings

 

Technical Communicators: There’s hope for us yet!

“I found that exercise rather depressing”, I said having participated in an exercise at a recent training session. Unsurprisingly my slightly tongue-in-cheek comment solicited a question from the trainer. “Why’s that?” To answer that, I need to explain the exercise.

We were given a scenario. We’re in a large city with a transport problem. There isn’t enough of it for those who want to travel. The answer is possibly hot air balloons! As the Head of Transportation, we’d one hour to research whether they really are the answer to all your problems. In order to do this, we had four options:

  1. Read the blueprints and instruction booklet?
  2. Watch other hot air balloonists and devise a plan?
  3. Meet with a subject matter expert and ask them questions?
  4. Just buy a balloon and try it out our self?

In our group only I went for option 1. Five went for option 2, with one other going for options 3 and 4.

Now do you see why I said what I said? As a Technical Communicator, I design how best to present the blueprint, and I write the instruction booklet. If no one but me would choose to even look at them if they’re in a hurry, what is the point in my profession?

OK so we’ve managed to buy another hour’s research time. What other research method of the three remaining choices would you choose? Six went for option 3, with one each for options 1 and 2.learning_styles

With eight people, it’s hardly a scientific sample, but it did raise some interesting insights into the different learning styles people have. According to Peter Honey and Alan Mumford, these are:

  • Option 1 = Theorist
  • Option 2 = Reflector
  • Option 3 = Pragmatist
  • Option 4 = Activist

As a follow up exercise, our group completed a questionnaire that aimed to demonstrate which of the four learning styles we best fitted. Guess what? The person who’d said they’d immediately just buy a balloon and learn from their mistakes, found they’d actually a high theorist score.

Ha! You can deny it as much as you like, but well designed and written technical documentation will always be needed. Especially for those who say they don’t read it.

Boris, Burqas, and Ambition

I’m not a fan of our former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. In some people’s eyes he fits the “lovable rouge” category, but in my eyes he’s a conniving individual who’ll do pretty much anything to achieve what he wants.

So what does he want? It’s pretty clear to anyone with a brain cell, that he wants the ultimate job in UK politics. He won’t admit it of course, but if you’re in doubt, listen to this interview with the BBC’s Eddie Mair from a few years ago. He was the London Mayor back then, but was jostling for position to be elected as a candidate in the next General Election.

Boris Johnson’s recent remarks about Muslim women wearing burqas or jiqabs, are a perfect example of how he undermines those who he’s supposed to be supporting. His “light blue touch paper and retire” communication style, is designed to raise his profile with those that matter.

Writing in his Daily Telegraph column, he says Burqa and Niqab wearers look like bank robbers or letter boxes. Such words are provocative, and directed solely at Muslim women. But to then disappear on holiday whilst all the media talk about his remarks, is classic Boris.

This past week the media have reported how various members of the Conservative party want Boris to apologise. This won’t happen of course, mainly because he’s gone into radio silence mode, and he has a line of fellow Conservative party members to support what he wrote.

With all the talk about Boris, you’d be forgiven for forgetting what the real issue was. Should we allow a person’s face to be covered in public?

There are over half a dozen European and African countries that have banned the burqa and niqab. Many more have partial bans. Most countries, like France, Switzerland, Austria, Chad, and Cameroon, specifically mention the various forms of head dress worn by Muslim women. Denmark’s ban is different, banning all clothing that covers a person’s face. The law is designed to be non-discriminatory by not targeting religions or gender. For example, balaclavas as well as burqas are illegal. Presumably so would the vendetta masks favoured at many a demonstration.

There are other examples of countries imposing a dress code on its citizens. Many Middle East countries require women to dress modestly. Barcelona in Spain has laws banning swimwear away from the beach. Thailand suggests men not wear shorts, or women short skirts, except in beach locations. Many Christian countries ask men and women to cover legs and shoulders when visiting churches.

So if these laws and traditions exist, is it right to discuss whether a person is allowed to cover their face? In short, yes! If you think I’m wrong, think of organisations like the Klu Klux Klan. However the discussion should be about whether we want this country to be open and inclusive, not whether Boris Johnson would make a good Prime Minister.

Brexit and The Irish Border

If there is one political story that is rarely off the front pages, it’s Brexit. It’s everywhere. It’s the first question on every political show, and rightly so. After all it’s outcome will affect us all for decades to come. “OK”, I hear you say. “How do you know this when we don’t know the detail of what is on offer?” True enough, we don’t know what the deal will be, or even if there’ll be a deal. Here’s the thing though. Regardless of whether we have a deal with the European Union or not, the political landscape will be significantly different for better or worse.

A year ago, the topic of conversation over Brexit coffee tables was the three main problem areas of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. Namely:

  • The rights of citizens of European Union countries who already live in the UK to remain here.
  • Trade negotiations.
  • The Irish border.

The first was fairly easily resolved. There was never any real desire from anyone to throw people out of the country that were legally here. It is undeniable that immigration played a part in the Brexit vote, but that was about reducing the number coming here, not exporting those already here.

Trade negotiations is a little more difficult. Will we still be part of the customs union and have a tariff free agreement? Or will we follow the Norway model of being part of the European single market. This would allow us to have broadly the same tariffs as the custom union, but also allow us to negotiate our own trade agreements with non-EU countries. Lastly there’s the no deal option, where we’d have to negotiate all trade agreements under World Trade Organisation rules.

If there’s no deal on trade, it could well be because of the final issue. There’s been a border in Ireland since the formation of the Irish Free State in 1920. What was later to become what is now known as Ireland, consists of 26 counties. It’s a separate independent country. The other six counties make up Northern Ireland, which form part of the United Kingdom.

So trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a big issue if there are different rules between the two constituent parts. The problem would be made worse by the total lack of any border controls. When “The Troubles” were at their height, there were border points, mainly manned by the military, on major transport routes. This was mainly aimed at ensuring would be terrorists couldn’t get in to the north from the south, and to prevent them from escaping to the south once they’d committed an atrocity.

There were also customs checks back in the day. Cross border smuggling was big business with petrol, booze, and cigarettes being top of the list of items smuggled. The problem was the border goes across some of the remotest parts of Ireland. There are hundreds of crossings, some little more than thin dirt tracks, making it virtually impossible to control. Logistically things haven’t changed. The military border points may have gone, but the myriad of border crossing remain. Should there be different trade rules between the two constituent parts of Ireland, it will equally difficult to police and enforce.

You can understand why all the talk is about trade, but there’s one aspect of the Irish border issue that gets very little coverage. Whisper this quietly; it’s the possibility of a united Ireland. This gets little media coverage because it’s a bigger problem than post Brexit border trade. The two topics are inextricably linked. If we want to remain part of the customs union, the European Union say we must be part of their club. Therefore if we want to leave, different trade rules apply. Neither Ireland or the UK want that.

No matter how unlikely that may seem, a united Ireland of 32 counties would solve the trade issue at one fell swoop. It would create a plethora of other seemingly intractable issues though. Logistical issues like what flag the country would use, or what national anthem they’d sing. The Irish government has stated that should a united Ireland ever come into existence, that nothing would be ruled out. Perhaps that’s more of a politician’s  answer, as they know that such small scale decisions are fraught with historical and jingoistic significance.

Agreeing to a united Ireland may be the easy part. Deciding on changing the wording of the Irish national anthem, agreeing on the colours and design of a flag, now there’s a discussion bound to bring out all the old arguments.

Hindsight: the Photoshop of history

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It provides colour and clarity to what at the time seemed colourful and clear, but was in fact sepia toned and fuzzy. Think of it as the Photoshop of history. Knowing all the facts allows you to edit out all the blemishes to deliver an accurate statement of fact.

In my last post I described my athlethic annus horribilis.  In it I described my “Strike Three”, which saw me suffering what I though were side effects of taking antihistamine tablets I’d been suffering from shortness of breath and a stiff calf muscle.

t turns out they were fine and I was suffering from another more serious illness. As the calf muscle got stiffer, I sought medical advice. Straight away my GP told me to go to hospital where I spent a whole week after being admitted.

The stiff calf and breathlessness had been caused by a blood clot in my leg, some of which had broken off and made its way to my lungs. Thankfully the clot hadn’t made it into one of my pulmonary arteries, or else I may not be typing this today! Instead it was a case of resting and taking anti-coagulation drugs for awhile.

As to what caused the clots, they can’t say. It was probably connected to the broken pelvis I described in “Strike One”, but they can’t be sure. So it goes down as as idiopathic deep vein thrombosis. Cue lots of idiotic gags!

My athletic “annus horribilis”

I’m a fit and healthy individual. I’m competitive, without having outstanding sporting talent. I love exercising, but have never quite made the grade from being an enthusiastic amateur.

This year has been a real test, both physically and mentally. You see I’ve experienced a series of setbacks, some fairly major.

Strike One

Last March I went for a run near my office. It had been raining slightly, and as I went around a sharp corner, my foot slipped on a metal drain cover. I fell heavily on my left hand side. Picking myself off the ground, I found I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. I’d fractured my pelvis (ischium).

Deep joy. Three days in hospital whilst my consultant decided if I needed an operation. Thankfully I didn’t, but I received differing quotes of when I would be able to run again. This tended to vary between when I could run run again, to when it would be safe to do so. Anything up to six months of doing nothing, and during the time of year when it is great being outdoors running around your local park.

Strike Two

Two months into my recovery I decided to do a local Park Run. I’d done it the week before by walking around the course. This time I decided to see if I could jog slowly around part of the course. I joined the back of the 350+ runners. As I jogged around, it felt good. So much so, that at the half way point I continued running.

I finished in a little under 36 minutes. Not my fastest time by some margin, but I was more than happy with my fitness. I’d suppressed the urge to end quickly as people sprinted past me in the last few hundred meters.

Later that day I felt really tired. In fact I felt utterly drained. Weird as I hadn’t felt like I’d put in a lot of effort earlier in the day. The following day I developed a rash around my neck and left ear. Shingles! Deep joy. A week of antibiotics, followed by several weeks of letting the virus work though my system. Even now two months later, I’m still not 100%.

Strike Three

Throughout all these issues, I’ve changed my exercise routine to do what I can. I’ve used a cross trainer instead of running. I’ve adapted my gym sessions to include more weights and flexibility work. Trouble is life can still leap up to bite you when you least expect it.

I’ve always been very mildly asthmatic. It is something I don’t tend to notice except in the summer months. For a month or two each year I notice a drop in my breathing efficiency. It doesn’t amount to very much, but it is noticeable, especially during prolonged physical exercise.

This year the English summer has been very warm and dry. My part of London hasn’t experienced any rain, not one drop, since mid May. It’s lovely summer weather and I’m not complaining, but it has created an issue for me. As well as the seasonal shortness of breath, I’ve had a ticklely dry cough, runny nose, and dry mouth.

In an effort to overcome these annoying symptoms, I took some over the counter allergy tablets containing cetirizine hydrocloride. Big mistake. Why?

  • On day one of taking them, I was unable to walk more than a few hundred meters without having to sit down to catch my breath. It’s a common side effect, but if I’d have known it was going to be that bad I wouldn’t have started taking them.
  • On day two I started getting a stiff calf muscle. Even having stopped taking the tablets, my calf became so still and sore, I could be found hobbling around. Yes you’ve guessed it, oedema (swelling due to water retention) is a side effect that affects around one in a thousand people. How lucky I am!

Down but not out

Here I am four months into my six month recovery, and it’s been far from straightforward. I’m getting there, but it is frustrating. Some workouts have gone better than others, but that’s normal. Even when 100% fit, you sometimes have sessions when it’s an effort to put one foot in front of the other.

The worst part of the last few months, is that earlier this year I was approaching a level of fitness I hadn’t seen in many a year. My personal best running times may not have been at the levels they were in my mid 20s, but they were coming down. Sometimes by a far margin.

Before all these setbacks, I’d set myself an ambitious 10k target time, and was hoping to run my first half marathon in over 25 years. I was close to meeting the 10k time, and had earmarked a half marathon. I’m not giving up. Those targets still exist, and I can’t wait to get back on the road and smash them.