Adventures in Coding: Slightly More Serious Adventures

I did promise I was going to tell you all about the software development course I’m doing soon! I have a place on the TechUp Skills Bootcamp in Software Development, which starts next week. I’m going to be learning Python and finding out about opportunities for moving into a tech career, which is very exciting.

Until I started making text adventures with Adventuron just over two years ago, I didn’t even consider that coding was something I could do seriously. I’d made a few simple QBASIC games as a kid but hadn’t even thought about it in years. But I have absolutely loved learning to code and create games – I find Adventuron the most intuitive as that’s how I got started, but I’ve also been enjoying dabbling in PunyInform, as well as a bit of BBC BASIC due to my nostalgia for the BBC Micro.

Learning more standard and modern programming languages is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I’m so glad I’ve got this opportunity. I can’t wait to get started.

Pixel vampire bat
A seasonal illustration from my Hallowe’en game two years ago… because I’ve got a couple more games I want to make soon as well. Naturally. Anyone got a magic ‘time stop’ button they can lend me?

Race Review: London Marathon 2021

After months of worrying about various ailments, struggling with long runs due to the hot summer, mental games, highs and lows, and readjustment to a world that contained races once more, it was finally marathon day. I accepted the place for my second London Marathon nearly two and a half years ago. That is a long time to think about a single race. I don’t really know how I’m going to adjust to NOT thinking about it.

But on Sunday, it was time to stop thinking about it and actually do it.

I had a three-goal sequence for this race, as recommended:

  • Goal A: sub-6:30
  • Goal B: beat my 2019 time of 7:13:44
  • Goal C: finish

(The idea is that if it all goes wrong and the wheels fall off, you can still hit the second or third goal and feel like you succeeded.)

Geth handled the London travel logistics on the day. This is an important part of his crewing role in these situations because it means I don’t have to waste mental energy working out tube times and so on. We got off at Maze Hill, which was the station recommended by the official app for the green start, but it would probably have been quicker getting off at Greenwich. I’m noting that here so that if either of us ever do the London Marathon again, we might have a chance of remembering!

The walk to the start was well signposted…

Warning sign
These ‘please do not pee’ signs were everywhere on the way to the start. Some people forget basic manners when it’s race day, unfortunately.

We arrived about half an hour later than the app told us to, which was quite deliberate. Most runners like to use the portaloos a couple of times before the start, so they need lots of extra time! My magic bladder is a bonus in these situations… Anyway, I didn’t want to be hanging around getting anxious for too long, so we aimed to arrive about ten minutes before my wave pen opened, which was perfect. We spent a few minutes watching some of the red start runners getting underway before I said bye to Geth and headed into my pen.

London Marathon start
I looked as nervous as I felt.

I only had to wait about ten minutes before my wave got going, which was such a contrast to 2019 when I was shivering in the queue for over an hour! It was fairly easy to find my comfortable marathon plod pace as well, as most other people in the wave were also ‘back of the pack’ runners from 2019 and lots of them were walking. This was a big improvement on my GNR start three weeks previously, when I went out far too fast for the first mile due to a surplus of adrenaline!

We quickly joined the faster runners from the blue start after a mile, which really increased the atmosphere, and mile two was just as fun as it was in 2019

The hump marshals at mile two are one of my favourite parts of the whole race. Their call-and-response warnings are endlessly imaginative.

We even had a GNR-style ‘oggy oggy oggy’ chant from the marshals at hump seven! I’m so glad I was able to switch from the red start (I’ll explain more about my pre-race logistics in a later post) as I would have missed this bit if I hadn’t been on the blue/green route.

The first quarter of the race (slight downhill into Greenwich town centre, slight uphill towards the meridian) was really just about comfortable plodding and taking it step by step, as there’s still a long way to go at that point (though I absolutely was not thinking about that. Mile at a time – that’s the only way to think during a marathon, otherwise you’ll go mad!). My foot pain showed up between miles four and seven, but I stayed calm, as I knew from training that it would go away after a while (I think this is because it eventually goes a bit numb). Better to get that out of the way in the early part of the race, rather than it being a problem in the later stages when also dealing with other issues.

Cutty Sark
The skies behind the Cutty Sark were a lot brighter than the last time I did the race!

After the Cutty Sark point at mile seven, my foot felt a lot better, and I was able to continue ticking off the miles using my practised strategy of fixed-distance walk breaks and refuelling at every mile marker. Miles eleven and twelve were recognisable because we’d walked along the same route for parkrun the day before, and I was really looking forward to the nearly-halfway point at Tower Bridge because I knew I would be able to see Geth waving from our hotel room window!

Marathon from Tower Hotel
Geth took this photo from our hotel room window. I’m on the far left.

The bit after Tower Bridge is one of the toughest, because you can see all the faster runners going through the twenty-three-mile marker when you’re only at mile thirteen! I was looking out for our friend Ed at this point but I didn’t spot him. He did apparently spot me though!

That is the ‘halfway’ sign in the background. Mixed feelings here certainly – it had already felt like a long day out at that point.

I knew the bit around the Isle of Dogs (roughly miles fifteen to nineteen) would also be tough, because it’s a fairly depressing area and there’s not as much crowd support. However, there were enough people around me that there was still a good atmosphere (something that was not the case in 2019), and while I was getting very tired, none of the issues that had plagued me in training were acting up. I was really pleased to get through Canary Wharf and past the twenty-mile marker, though I did have a bit of a mental stumble at that point, as six point two miles is roughly 10k and so it sort of felt like there was still a whole long race to go! I really had to focus in order to keep hold of my ‘one mile at a time’ thoughts.

I was also starting to feel really nauseous by mile twenty-one, for a couple of reasons. In the run-up, the London Marathon organisers had encouraged runners to carry their own water so that people would use fewer water bottles at the stations, and so I wore my hydration vest for the race as I had done in training. However, because it was such a long day out, I was getting more and more bloated from the water intake, and so the straps on my pack were getting very tight (though I didn’t realise this till later!). I was also taking a lot of energy gels – eight in total, as I take them every three miles – and I’d only taken five maximum during training runs. All of this extra gel was really upsetting my stomach.

Due to feeling a bit sick and faint, I took an extended unscheduled walk break for parts of miles twenty-four and twenty-five. I was really, really tired by this point, and the only thing that got me running again close to the twenty-five mile marker was the knowledge that if I ran the rest of the way, I would be able to get the sub-6:30 time I wanted!

Big Ben
I was disappointed in 2019 to find that Big Ben was covered in scaffolding, but even more disappointed in 2021 to find that this situation hadn’t changed in 889 days!

Big Ben was the last photo stop. After that, I ran. I ran past all the phone boxes I’d photographed in 2019, and I ran past Geth cheering me on from St James’ Park, and I ran past Buckingham Palace without taking a picture (still don’t have a picture of that! One day when I’m not on the finish straight of a marathon, maybe…). I’d expected to speed up a lot at the finish, but I just didn’t have much of a sprint in me. That’s a good sign, to be honest – it means I gave it my all during the race.

I finished in 6:26:41, smashing my A goal and beating my 2019 time by 47 minutes and 3 seconds. I know I can build on that in the future and keep getting my times down, but I am so, so thrilled with that time for this race, especially as I had such a tough training block this time round.

Edinburgh Marathon is the next big one, and I will start training for that in January. But first, I am going to have three very well-deserved months off from marathon training. I have two 10k races left in 2021 (neither of which will be PB attempts, just keeping the race legs ticking over) and that is more than enough.

Gamebook Wednesday: Asterix: Alea Jacta Est! #1, ‘The Meeting of the Chieftains’

This is another selection from my childhood collection. My brother Malcolm and I absolutely loved Asterix as kids and had tons of the comics, as well as several gamebooks. I didn’t play this one from the Alea Jacta Est! series nearly as often as the more-tactile Asterix Adventure Books we also had (they’ll be replayed soon!), so it was a treat to be able to replay it recently without remembering much about the story.

Asterix: Alea Jacta Est! #1 The Meeting of the Chieftains

In this gamebook you play as Justforkix, a character from the comic book Asterix and the Normans. Justforkix is the nephew of village chief Vitalstatistix and is tasked with the mission of retrieving his uncle from a spa visit so that the latter can return to the village and attend an important meeting with a rival chief. It sounds a bit pedestrian, but in typical Asterix style it’s a fun romp along the roads of ancient Gaul, either avoiding or getting into fights with Romans as per your preferred play style.

The book comes with a play aid sheet for keeping track of scores and inventory (I had to rub out a lot of decades-old pencil marks). You also need a six-sided die, which was fine. I am obsessed with dice and have a special dice bag full of them. Part of this is due to the too-shiny dice displays always catching my eye when I go to the UK Games Expo.

Game aid

Some of the choices in the book are a bit odd (at one point you bump into Asterix and Obelix and they ask if you want them to accompany you; if you’re a fan of the stories, then the natural choice would be to say yes, but in this book it results in a game over as Asterix decides you’re clearly not up to the task if you want them to help!). However, it’s mostly fairly intuitive – you’re rewarded later in the game for gathering information in the village early on, and there’s a fun maze section where you need to find your way out while getting into as few fights with Romans as possible.

Once you’re out of the spa town, it’s a fairly straightforward journey home and a slightly abrupt ending, though it is fairly satisfying story-wise. The game was meaty enough to take me a few evenings to get through, which felt like just the right length.

This is the only one I have in this subseries, but as mentioned above I am really looking forward to replaying my Asterix Adventure Books soon.

Useful link: listing at Demian’s Gamebook Web Page.