Filming for Carphone Warehouse

Around november last year a researcher got in touch with me to talk about how I use my smartphone. It turned out there were looking for individuals to feature in micro documentary commercials for Carphone Warehouse. Because I rarely say no to an opportunity I agreed to do it. Rather strangely in the same week another reseracher also got in touch asking if I would be interesed in a commercial for SKINS.

After a couple months of speaking to SKINS it fell through. I am still not to sure why, I don’t know if the campaign was cancelled or they went with someone else. However as the SKINS commercial fell through Carphone Warehouse got back in touch. I was still very interested in doing the commercial as my smartphone really has enabled me to do great things. In total it took around 6 months from initial talks to actual filming.

So where do these opportunities come from?

It all began with a single blog post. I began talking about what I do with smartphones and running. For the past couple of years I have continued to talk about my loss of vision, technology, running and my general life. This has meant I am ranked quite high on google for a lot of search terms. So when researchers are given a task to find an individual that meets a certain criteria I am ranked quite highly. This has the effect of me being featured on news sites and other blogs. In turn increasing the ranking on google and other serach engines. So essentially it just boils down to me talking about what I do and saying yes to every opportunity that comes along.

Filming

In order to make the commercial have a nicer “look” it was decided to shoot at multiple locations. So instead of focussing on the route I use near my house we travelled around the local area and a little beyond to feature more locations.

Day 1

The shoot began at my house in Doncaster. We had previously chatted about what apps I use on my phone to allow me to achieve daily tasks. The idea was to feature these apps in use at home. Using ColorID and the weather app we shot a few scenes of me identifying the colour of my clothes and accessing the weather forecast. While this may only take up a few seconds in the commercial this took around 4 hours.

Before heading out to film some running shots we popped into the local village for a quick bite to eat. I still had the Galaxy S4 in my running short pocket. To stop it slipping out and breaking on the floor I placed it on the table. This turned out to be a bad idea as a crew member spilt a cup of tea on the phone. So now our pre release phone had a dodgy speaker. The speaker is essential to my use of a phone, but thanks to the powers of post production all the audio could now be added later!

We then headed out to the familiar stomping ground of where I learnt to run: the closed road. We shot a number of scenes here including a time lapse of me running up and down. The idea was to show the transition of me going from the closed road to learning to run on the open road. This however presented a health and safety problem. Despite the fact I do it all the time we were not allowed to film this scene, just incase I was hit by a car.

So instead the plan was to wait for the road to be clear and use a crew vehicle to simulate traffic. This wasn’t as easy as it might sound. As the road I run on is a dual carriageway, so it was a long wait until the road was clear enough to shoot. Then finally an opportunity! so I ran down the road, the crew car passed me by and we had the shot. Except we didn’t, the crew were visible in the background. So again we waited for a break in the traffic, it took 3-4 takes to finally get the shot. That concluded the shooting for the day and the shooting in Doncaster.

Day 2

Today included shooting at the university library and Western Park (the park I walk through to get to the Psychology department). I arrived at the library in the morning and waited for the crew. No one turned up. I rang the producer and asked where everybody was, “we are at the library”, really? Whereabouts?, “just outside”, I am just outside can you see me?, “No?”. This went on for a while. We were at different libraries!

After we all ended up at the same library, the idea was to shoot the interview portion of the commercial that would provide all the audio. This took a couple of hours of sitting around and asking questions. Then we did a few walking shots in the park demonstrating me using accessibility features of the phone.

Time for lunch and a change of venue. We dropped Ascot off back at home and headed up to Whitby and the surrounding villages. We began by doing a quick shot of me running down a bridal path with a guide runner. This didn’t take too long and we moved on pretty quickly.

Heading to the beach we planned to do a few shots on the sand and also show how I get down stairs using touch. This was a great chance to run on the beach. I was running up and down the beach solo as there isn’t much to run into. I didn’t realise how energy sapping running on loose sand can be. It really sucks your feet in and depletes energy quite quickly. We spent an hour doing various bits on the beach then called it a day.

Day 3

Day 3 was the real fun day of filming. This was the day we were using the helicam. The helicam was an octocopter with a HD camera attached. We headed to the Yorkshire Dales and closed a road for me to run on. I spent a short while learning to run up and down the road alone. The road was heavily cambered so it was relatively easy to run down the middle. Or at least click on when you weren’t running down the middle!

The helicam only has a short flight time so we needed to do each scene quickly. So instead of the usual stop start of filming I ran continuously up and down the road as the helicam chased me. The helicam was a little disconcerting as I couldn’t see it but I could hear it, it sounded like a swarm of bees chasing me. The operator was able to get it close enough for the rotors to move my clothes, so it really was a little scary.

Everyone was incredibly impressed with the helicam so we headed to another road to shoot some more. Again I spent a little while learning the road before running solo. This time I had to repeatedly run up and down a steep hill. So it was a great chance to get some hill training in!

We then headed to a forest to shoot some impressive flybys. The helicam would be at one side of the tree with me at the others, and track me as I ran through the woods. At least that was the plan. We couldn’t get clearance to film. So unable to turn the cameras on we headed to a small village for lunch.

After lunch we headed to some fields and shot a few scenes of me running up a little hill. This was relatively easy to learn as there was a defined dip in the field where people had been walking. After this we headed back to the village and did a few quick runs up and down the main street of the village. With the day drawing to a close there was time for one more shot.

We found a little fjord and the director asked if I would run through it. This was a bit tough for me as I would lose all idea of where I was while running through the fjord as there wasn’t really anything underfoot for me to follow. So we decided to break it into two shots. One of me running towards the fjord, breaking, then lining me up to run through the fjord. Again the wonders of post production tidies all that up!

The fjord scene was the final shot and the commercial was wrapped.

Experience

Opportunities like this offer me an opportunity to have a retrospective and introspective look at what got me to where I am. Its something I wouldnt really sit down and do otherwise. I didn’t appreciate at the time where the decisions I was making would lead me to. Its only when I sit back and think do I realise how big an effect small decisions have had on my life. I am very thankful for these opportunities and appreciate how they have helped me examine what I have achieved.

I have attached the finished commercial below!

Prizes

As part of the commercial people are able to win prizes. If you head over to Smarter World and submit your story of how you used a smartphone you can win lots of prizes! So head over there now and claim your prize

The Cycle Begins

With my plan to compete in The Grimreaper in early August I have just officially begun a training cycle. I have been working on a little base mileage the past few weeks, peaking at the 15 mile mark on long runs. But now the long trawl of improving every week begins!

Historically I have always run splits. When I first started running I went straight to the 100 mile distance. I had never even run a 5k before. So in order to increase my mileage consistently and rapidly I decided to run splits. I would run for 25 mins and walk for 5; repeating this until I had achieved my distance. This also had the added benefit of allowing me to time my food intake. So every 25 minutes I would aim to consume something, it differed for each split but I would always eat something.

The downside of this was the fact I was terrible at anything below ultra distance. I could rack up the miles but I couldn’t achieve shorter runs at speed. As a result my half marathon and marathon times were terrible. For this training cycle I have decided to do away with splits and just run.

This is in an effort to improve my shorter distance and manage my time a little better. It has also resulted in my average pace increasing by 1mph. Which is quite a chunk at the ultra distance.

I am hoping I can maintain the lack of splits as my cycle continues. It will certainly improve my times come race day. I will however switch back to splits if training becomes too difficult. After all splits serve a great purpose and is still something I intend on using for 50+ mile races. Its just nice to get those brief recovery periods to allow you to throw down a GU!

Being Sensible

Sensible and my running training have rarely gone together, I usually go out their run till I break then do it again the next day. The problem with this is you end up with a few injuries. I was very prone to this during my last ultra cycle and picked up a few injuries that cost me a lot of money to get sorted. This time round I have vowed not to make the same mistake.

Well I say that, I only decided that while out running today. I have been attempting to play catch up on my training. I fell a little behind due to a few issues with a broken treadmill and university. I thought no worries I will just pretend I put those miles in. You may already be noticing the flaw in this thinking!

While out today I had planned on running 18 miles but I decided to be sensible and take a few steps back and only run 14. But what prompted this change in my thinking?

For the first time in a long time I made a mistake while running. Now I do usually run into objects that are placed on my route, there is nothing I can do about this I accept the fact I may run into the odd street cones, roadkill or man at work sign. But today was different I actually made a mistake.

Worrying so much about getting my mileage up was playing on my mind and I had a lapse in concentration. This isn’t an issue while on the treadmill but out and about on the open roads I can’t afford mistakes.

So I decided to take a few steps back in my training plan to make sure I stay switched on and mistake free. It won’t be a huge issue as I had a few weeks of wiggle room anyway so I will still be fighting fit for my 100 mile run next year!

Running Style

For the past 2 years I have been a data driven runner. I logged everything and basically always ran with the thought in mind to beat the last bit of data I had collected. This served me well for a long time, but with everything in life I need to add a little balance.

With a constant need to run for the data, I was spending large amount of time running outdoors. With lots of runs easily hitting the 6 hour mark. As a lot of runners will know balancing running and the other elements of your life is very difficult. So after this years surgeries and my recent chest infection I decided it was time for a new approach for my runs.

My wife and I went and bought a bike and a child seat. With the idea if I was going out for an hour or so the family could come along and enjoy a bike ride. This new approach to running has brought some wonderful benefits. For the first time in 2 years I have been able to change my training route. With my wife acting as a guide on the bike I can run along side and we can go wherever we like. We have managed to cover some trails close to my house and even run around a few of the local villages.

It has been great and todays run highlighted how much fun running with the family can be. While exploring a new route my wife rang her bell twice to tell me to stop; she had found a frog! So I picked it up so Grayson could see his first real life frog. He just giggled lots as he touched the little frog, then it jumped off my hand straight into the gear section of my wife’s bike! After spraying water at the frog we managed to remove it and carry on.

It really has been a nice change of pace to my running but is very difficult to transition away from the data driven approach. I can see my pace slipping in my stats but this is due to the new routes and how many times we stop to explore. I could easily solve this if I paused my GPS but who wants to fiddle about taking your phone out of your pocket all the time. Hopefully that problem will be solved when my Pebble arrives!

But for now I am trying to ignore the data and just enjoy running in a new way. An opportunity to explore our local area as a family.

What a week

The last 7-10 days have been rough. Due to my surgeries and guide dog training I had delayed all my exams until august. Unfortunately that meant this week I had 3 exams on consecutive days.

So as well as compressing all my revision into 2 weeks I had to memorise all the information for consecutive days. So this week I used a few memory techniques to memorise around 12,000 words in essay format. Now there is now telling if I remembered the right 12,000 words but I certainly hit quantity! This resulted in the past few nights me sat rehearsing pretty much non stop, this can get a little tiresome. So I was thankful that today was the last of the consecutive exams. I still have one more exam to go but compared to the three I just had to cram for the revision should be relatively simple.

I did however get some great news this morning, I don’t really want to say too much about it yet as I am not sure it will pan out. But I will put a little pin here to say….. something great might be happening!

Races

This year was supposed to be my big year of racing. With plans to amass enough points to compete at the UTMB. However due to multiple surgeries and guide dog training that wasn’t meant to be. So I figured my 2012 racing wasn’t to be.

Until! A friend of mine Charlie told me that the Great North Run were using the commercial I shot in the emails they were sending out. This inspired me to email ASICS and ask for a slot at the GNR. ASICS granted me the slot and I will now be heading to the race and running with Charlie and a runner I met recently Bryan.

With my 2012 qualifying a wash, I decided to compete in 2013 to qualify for UTMB. Now in order to even get to the qualifying races I need to qualify for the qualifier! They don’t make this easy! So I will now also be running The Round Ripon again with Bryan. This will hopefully secure my slot at Thames Path 100 mile next year which makes up part of the Centurion Grand Slam, which in turns gives me the UTMB points. Stick with me here!

I then got an email from a runner friend of mine Neil Bacon. He said why don’t you ask ASICS to put us both in the NYC marathon. I thought, hell why not so I shot off an email. Amazingly they said yes and got us in! So I am now running the only marathon I have ever wanted to run! It has been on my list of races to run even before I started running. Its just one of those marathons that draws me in. Me and my wife have spent a fair bit of time over in NYC so I know it from back when I could see. So it will be wonderful to return there now and run the streets.

The racing doesn’t end there though. I get a lot of random invites to races all over the world. California, Andora, Africa, Cyprus basically loads of places. (If anyone out there wants to invite me to a race do it, I love to go all over the place and run). Well a few months ago I received a message on Facebook asking if I wanted to run a marathon underground in a salt mine. All I would have to do is get to Germany the rest would be sorted. So I thought, why not?

So now I have a wonderful race lineup over the next few months. My first ever half marathon and my first ever marathon. That does sound a little strange considering the distances I run, but I don’t really compete at the short distance.

(I did compete in the Sheffield Half as part of The Marathon Sandwich, but GNR will be my first straight up half!)

TR24 – The Story

A few months ago a friend of mine, May. Contacted me asking if I wanted to run the TR24 and could put a team together. The TR24 is a 24 hour relay race held on trails. I agreed and started looking at putting a team together.

I jumped on Twitter and just started asking for team members. Before I knew it we had a little team! Yay, team done now its time to enter. I usually end up ringing the race director of events just to discuss the fact I can’t see and if there would be any issues with the course and so on. I was warned; “it might be very difficult in sections” I fobbed this off agreed to do it and entered the team.

2 weeks from race day we lost 2 team members, injuries and work commitments meant they couldn’t make it. So quickly we had to find replacements, luckily a few days later an ultra runner who lives incredibly close by added me on twitter. I asked him if he was interested and he jumped at the chance, one slot filled. May was busy trying to fill the other slot and 3 days before she managed to find someone. Luckily they were local to the event so could even help with setting up camp.

So with our random team built and with a rather fitting name of the Twitterati we all began to descend on the course. Stuart arrived first and bagged THE best camping spot without a doubt! I arrived second with another runner Rohan, setting up camp we sat back and waited for others to arrive. Rew and Craig were the next to arrive. The plan was to chill out that night and do a track walk to get an idea of the terrain in the morning.

Predictably waking up late we didn’t have time to do a full track work we just covered around 2k of the course. The sections we had seen seemed ok and I wasn’t too worried. Heading back to base camp Bryan and Dawn were arriving. We now only needed Colin and May for a full house. They all arrived slightly later and the team was ready to race.

We put Colin at first as that man was fast! putting in great consistent times, Rohan went out second and continued to put in great times. It eventually got to my turn.

The first 2k that we had walked went reasonably well, the rest? well the rest was awful. The terrain was terrible, without a doubt the worst terrain I have ever run on. The wooded sections were so difficult and me and my guide struggled hugely. We decided that a night time run would be out of the question as the difficult in guiding would go through the roof!

Hobbling to the finish line I was struggling, not training for 2 months and my still lingering cough were taking their toll. As soon as I got back to camp I had to lay down for an hour. I was beat, physically and mentally and over such a short distance!

Thankfully the team were excellent, all putting in wonderful times and creating a fantastic atmosphere. The team quickly came up with a new plan to cope with me dropping the night section and everyone prepared themselves for night time running.

For some it was their first experience of running at night and they performed incredibly well. Dawn even went as far to say that she liked it!

With the sun rising it was time for me to head out again. I again found it tough going, the terrain basically made guiding very difficult. Now the issue with guiding on such rough terrain is the fact the guide can only tell you whats going to be underfoot not aid in dodging it. So even if they say roots, dip, rock there is no way of avoiding it you have to take the hit. This was gradually breaking me down and nearing the end of the 10k I really wanted to stop, but I aint got stop built in! So I carried on and made it to the end.

This si where I decided to call it quits, it was simply getting to risky. I wasn’t particularly healthy and the knocks I taking were beginning to have an effect. Wanting to stay healthy for a massive number of events I have coming up I decided to bow out of one more lap. This however turned out for the best!

With Bryan, Rew, Craig, Coling, Rohan, Stuart and Dawn putting in consistent times it looked ilke we may be able to play it sneaky and start out last lap just before the buzzer. With the rules stating as long as the lap has begun before 12 and finished before 1 it counts!

With Dawn putting in a great time setting up Rew for that one slog to get in under 12 minutes. Rew set off and put in a solid time that brought him back at 11:55, I had bowed out and given my slot to Rohan. Rohan did amazing putting in the final lap which resulted in us completing 25 laps! This placed us well above the middle of the table. An amazing result for a team that had only just met on the previous day!

TR24 was perhaps one of the most challenging events I have competed in. Solely because I was so unprepared for that terrain. This did however this did implant the thought I have to go back. Dropping 30 minutes on my usual 10k just due to the terrain, means I have to go back. I will master that course and put in more consistent times!

The overall experience was fantastic though. It fells like a true event, a real weekend away. When you are not running its just great to head to the eating area chill out and meet other runners. It really does have a little festival feel to it that includes a little bit of running.

The opportunity to meet a new set of people was amazing too. I already have multiple races planned with the team members. In the end that is what I see these runs as, an opportunity to meet new people and create new running buddies to compete with in the future.

TR24 was both a horrid experience and a wonderful one at the same time. I will definitely be going back!

(Also I am sure I forgot to mention loads in this post, but so much happened and no one wants to read a 10,000 word essay!)

Health

Ever since my last surgery I have had problems with being ill. I was never able to bounce back from surgery for some reason. The first surgery went great, I was literally running ready a little over 18 hours later.

I have had a cough now for nearly 2 months and I just can’t shake it. It has really been affecting my training and I noticed it on the run up to TR24. Out with Sian I was unable to cover 2 miles as I just couldn’t breathe. I figured at TR24 with it being race day I could up my game and all would be fine.

I did manage to do my laps but then needed to lay down straight away to try and recover. It was horrid and I certainly can’t do events like that while ill!

So the plan is to try and get healthy, I have been and had a chest x ray to see if there is anything underlying that is causing a cough to last this long. Hopefully it will all clear up soon and I will be training ready.

It just seems so annoying, this entire year I haven’t been healthy for long enough to get any real training in.

So in an effort to try and sort it once and for all I am hitting all the factors I think it could be. So diet and rest are high on the list, reducing stress and introducing working out back slowly.

I only did this post as I feel I am at a turning point now. So I want to track my progress for now and see how long it takes to get back on track!

Post Surgery: A New Chapter

I have just recently had my last eye surgery, this time it was on my right eye. While the surgery was successful I am still unsure whether there is an improvement in my eye. I think it will take time to settle down and hopefully improve.

However these past 4 months have been difficult the number of things I have delayed for surgery and guide dog training has just grew larger. It is like my life has been on hold the past few months and I was hoping at the end there would be an instant improvement. Now surgery has come and gone its time to start working on everything I have delayed.

The amount of revision I have to get through is astounding, I have no idea if I will manage to attain the result I want. I just have to comfort myself with the fact that year 1 grades don’t count, its just there to get you through to year 2. There is of course a chance I can still come out of year one with a first, however that is quite unlikely with only a few days to do months of revision.

I also missed out on the run I had been training for. The past 6 months had been building up to one race that I had to bow out of. This was a difficult decision to make and one I didn’t commit to until the last possible moment.

I have decided to take a more relaxed approach to my training and go as minimalist as I possibly can. I will still rely on a lot of tech but simply reduce the rate in which I track and monitor in real time. So gone are the splits and the calorie counts per hour. In are the just running and nibbling when hungry. I think this new relexed approach will pay dividends. I have already been out for a gentle run with my wife while she rode her bike. Not concerned about the distance or pace just going out to spend some time together doing something healthy.

So a new more relexed year is planned, with lots of running and lots of studying!

A Call for A SmartTreadmill

I currently own a NordicTrack T14 treadmill. What makes this treadmill so special is its iFit Live system. The iFit live system allows a route to be plotted online through google maps that is then sent to the treadmill. So any inclines that appear on the plotted route are automatically changed by the treadmill. It basically allows you to practice running the inclines of any given route.

This really is a nice system, you can even hook up a TV and navigate to the iFit website and it will display the google street view of your current location. However after using this treadmill for a while I can see a number of areas it could be improved to make a truly great treadmill.

The Smart Treadmill as I envisage it would be controlled by an iPad this is for a number of reasons.

1. Reduced cost for developing the console. The consoles are usually terrible on low to mid level treadmills. With the high end treadmills simply gaining features such as television. Utilising an iPad for a console would give great access to technology.

2. Unique features of the iPad, there is already a music player built in, movies built in, web browser and a never ending list of applications.

3. Brilliant touch screen technology. Lets face it Apple’s touch screens are just beautiful compared to the competitors.

4. New revenue streams for the manufacturer. Currently the manufacturer creates the treadmill then sells it. Revenue stream over. However make the iPad the console and you have now created a market place. A market place where you can sell workout packs, map packs and a whole host of other products that could produce revenue years after the sale of the treadmill.

5. Accessibility. It is simply not financially viable for current manufacturers to create an accessible treadmill for the blind. Make a treadmill that has an iPad for a console and this problem is solved. With VoiceOver built into the iPad all information that is on the screen can be read out. How amazing would that be an accessible treadmill!

I would really love this treadmill to exist. The feature list could be huge, with an easy updateable system this feature list can be expanded over time.

Plotting routes via a mapping system would be incredibly easy with the iPad controlling the treadmill. Also utilising a system like google street view would also be easy. Hell without the need to create an embedded control system the development time would be far quicker.

So please treadmill manufactures make this treadmill! Oh and if you do please send me one for suggesting it in the first place!