Swimming Serpentine Lido (Andrew)

Well, 25 now…

Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other. When, last week, I met a man who’s wife was a cousin of Donald Trump, I knew, because of six degrees of separation, that because I knew the man and he knew his wife (presumably, unless they’d stopped talking!) and she knew Donald Trump then I also knew Donald Trump.

This six degrees of separation connects the entire world to everyone else, which is nice as it shows that we’re all connected. Though Donald Trump would claim not to know me. Or the man. Or his cousin. And it would all be FAKE NEWS!

Six degrees of separation also means something else. It’s just six degrees which separates a Scotsman from his wetsuit because, this week, Challenge Roth posted an apology/warning. Watch out, they said, the water in the swim leg is only 16 degrees – it’s going to be a cold, cold swim!

Unless you’re Scottish – and the water temperature’s currently 10 degrees – in which case 16 degrees sounds like a warm bath. Or at least a warm bath that you’ve been sitting in for an hour and it’s starting to turn cold.

In order to test this theory that the swim would be pleasant, this week I decided to go without a wetsuit and swim in just my trunks.

I was in London for a few days and had spotted that you could swim outdoors in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Whenever I go to London I always like to try something new. This time I tried modern opera* and swimming in the Serpetine.

First, I had to buy a towel. As I was swimming after I’d checked out of my hotel, I had to find a towel to dry myself. As the Serpentine is in Knightsbridge, and I’d forgotten to buy a towel from a cheap shop before heading over, it looked like I was faced with either buying a monographed gold set from Harrods or the finest designer ostrich feather towel from Harvey Nicholls. Luckily I spotted a Laura Ashley with 50% off sign and managed to get one there. Even that though was a struggle.

“I’d like to buy a towel, please,” I said to the assistant

“What kind of towel are you looking for,” they asked.

“The cheapest!” I said

They gave me a look which said “Knightsbridge is not for you, sir!”

The Serpentine Lido is an old white building with a marked 30 metre by 100 metre bay at the edge of the Serpentine lake. While the changing rooms were small – only two changing booths – the Lido was clean and the staff pleasant.

It was raining, and a Monday morning, so that probably explains why I was the only one there. Although three women in wetsuits left as I arrived, that was a coincidence – they’d already left the water when I got there! They said “You’re brave” as they saw me in my trunks. I assume they meant for swimming in the cold water and not wearing trunks when over 40.

The water was bracing but, after swimming in 10 degrees for the last few weeks, it was almost, but not quite, a warm-ish. Either way, nothing to complain about for Challenge Roth itself.

With no one else in the pond, I had the Serpentine to myself. Except for a few swans. And the lifeguard who clearly thought he was going to get to go back inside when the women got out of the water and was annoyed he had to stay when I came in. But knowing there was someone watching was reassuring in case the Swans decided to attack.

If you’re in London I’d recommend a trip to the Lido. It was fun to swim in the middle of Hyde Park and, with the pool to myself, it was quite a change from the crowds around Harrods.

*P.s. I cannot recommend modern opera. The singing was good and I got caught up a few times in the music, but the lyrics were awful. Or at least the lyrics as translated and projected above the stage as surtitles.

At one point, the hero, a man in love with a woman, spent 10 minutes singing about “the oxen in the field are looking strong”, “tonight’s a good night to pick strawberries” and “this is not the time for my plough to break” while the woman he was in love with repeatedly sand “I’m not as black as you think I am – it’s just the light!”.

Farming and mild racism.

That’s modern opera.

It wasn’t for me.

Total Immersion Swimming (Iain)

My first Job in IT was for an Internet company who supplied internet access to hundreds of thousands of users in the UK.

One of my tasks was to track down users who had done something bad. Which sounds like a great job – an internet vigilante. I thought I would be tracking down terrorists, or criminals, or gangsters but it was mostly dealing with far worse people than that – lawyers. 

The most common request would be from the lawyer of 20th Century Fox, the owner of The Simpsons, asking that I remove pictures of their characters from our web-hosting site. Homer might act stupid but he is very well informed about copyright infringement.

Occasionally I would receive a more interesting request like the time I received a letter from NASA asking me to track down a user who had tried to hack their servers.

I tracked down who it was. I called them up. A man answered. I confirmed they were the person I was after and then explained they were in serious trouble. NASA was threatening to report them to the police. The man burst into tears and screamed “MUM!!! I don’t want to go to jail”

When checking the user details I had forgotten to check the user’s age. He wasn’t a man he was a 12-year-old boy. His mum came on the phone and shouted at me for making her son cry.

One day a man joined my team. I passed the task of hunting down Simpson fans to him. I explained how to do it:

  1. Get the IP address of the user
  2. Get the time and date they were online
  3. Run a DB script using that info.
  4. Get the username
  5. Check the user database to get their address and telephone number
  6. Contact the user.
  7. Tel them to stop it (whatever it was they were accused of doing)

I showed him how to do the task. I got him to do it again. I got him to do the steps repeatedly until he knew exactly how to do it.

The next day I came to work there was a request from a lawyer. I asked the man to look at it. He said, “What do I do with it?” I said “The task I showed you how to do yesterday” He replied “What task?” He had forgotten all the steps I had showed him the previous day.

Which is a valuable lesson. Doing the same thing again and again is not learning! If you do not understand what you are doing then repeating a task won’t make you any better at it.

Which is why I bought a book on Total Immersion Swimming. The book believes that repeatedly swimming back and forth is the wrong way to get better at swimming because all  I am doing is repeating mistakes without learning anything new.

Instead the book recommends if I stop concentrating on laps and instead concentrate on the how and why of swimming then I’ll get faster quicker and easier.

I’m interested in seeing whether this is true. I’ll report back once I’ve given it a try.

The Great British Swim Tour (Andrew)

bsh

Watching a man with a mouthful of water, blindfolded, wearing a weight belt, blasted by cold air and trying to cycle fast as fast as he can on an exercise bike was not what I expected to see on Thursday. But, as a way of showing how Ross Edgeley had to spend six hours at a time, swimming through freezing water, half drowning while waves crashed over him and unable to see during night swims, it was effective stunt to get a volunteer on stage to show how tough the Great British Swim had been.

In November 2018, Ross Edgeley became the first person to swim around mainland Great Britain. When he finished, he revealed the salt water had destroyed his tongue, so it was no surprise it’s taken another six months for him tour and speak about his achievement as, I imagine, he had to wait for it to grow back(!).

On Thursday night, Ross’s Great British Swim tour reached Glasgow and, over two hours, he passed on some of the lessons he learned and some of the stories behind the swim – from how it came about, to what it was like to swim blind in the Irish sea during night swims. He also invited some volunteers on stage to demonstrate what happened – like the man on the bike with the weight vest, blindfold and mouthful of water.

Another had to cycle while eating a lettuce to show how you can both consume and expend 30 calories at once. Folk say you need to eat your greens and they say you need to exercise more, but no one says you need to do both at once…

The one tip that stayed with me though was this one. “Be naïve enough to start, and stubborn enough to finish.”

A good quote to describe most things we enter. Enter events with enthusiasm, but without completely thinking it through… then be stubborn enough to keep going when it turns out to be more work or more time than you first thought.

Or in other words: don’t think, just do it.

Because if you do think, you’d never do it.

Triathlons? Really? Swimming then cycling and then you go back out again and run. Why would anyone enter a triathlon who had any idea what it would be like?

Or run a marathon?

Or swim around Great Britain?

Maybe naïve is the wrong word. It’s not strong enough to describe most events. Instead, now I think about it, the quote should really be: “Be dumb enough to start, and stubborn enough to finish”.

Doctor’s Orders (Andrew)

“Oh!” said the receptionist, which would have been okay if I’d been checking into a hotel, or perhaps, phoning for a restaurant booking and I was about to be informed they were full that night. But this receptionist worked for my GP and I’d just asked her if she had the results of my blood test.

“You’ll need to come in,” she said.

Which would also be okay if I was checking into a hotel and they wanted me to confirm I was happy with my room. Again, not okay, when you’re waiting for a blood test.

“Can I come in this afternoon?”

I could hear her typing and checking appointments.

“I’m afraid not,” she said, “the next appointment is…”

Tomorrow?

At worst, the day after?

“Two weeks time”.

So, for two weeks, I had a receptionist’s “Oh” ringing round my head while I waited to find out what could turn a hardened medical receptionist, someone who dealt daily with every boil, lump, weeping sore and rattling cough that came through the surgery door, into an articulate conveyor of bad news.

And I’m a hypochondriac. See this post. So, by the time of my appointment I was convinced I had the Black Death. Even though I’d only been in for a work check up.

But the only thing the Doctor could say when he saw me was: “Why are you here???”

Which was scary, as I thought he was incredulous I was still alive and I really should have died from whatever I had by then.

It turned out everything was fine. The receptionist was meant to say that no follow up was required. Why she said “Oh!”, he had no idea. I was okay. I was normal.

Which was nice to hear and put my hypochondria to rest until I saw a rat on the telly and was convinced I had passive Scabies.

Anyway, I mention this because I’ve just had my latest work check up. A series of prod, probes and pots of pee. A series of test which led to a letter and another blood test and, finally, this week, the results and…

I’m normal. Again. Thankfully, the Scabies was just a scare.

But two interesting bits of my test stood out. One, was my lung test showed a lung capacity of over 120%, when the average is 75%. Way to go, left and right ventricle!

(Clearly the training has been working over Winter and Spring).

But also my red blood count was slightly below average. A result the GP said which was not likely to mean anything (then why mention it!) but more than likely a result of “overtraining” in the week before the test.

(Or not eating enough burgers).

So, this week, I’ve done nothing, except eat burgers. Which was always my plan after the Etape. Doing nothing, not the eating burgers part, that was just a bonus.

I wanted to take a break after six months of training every week, to commemorate my first target of the year – complete the Etape in under four and half hours – and to clear up any niggly wee injuries before a final five week push before Challenge Roth.

And the good news is that I’ve got my letter and passed my medical. Now, I wonder if I can also the Doctor to send a Bradley Wiggins Jiffy bag too…

Stornoway Half Marathon 2019 (Iain)

I like running. I like music. I like running whilst listening to music.

Whilst running I tend to fixate on one lyric of a song. The lyric repeats in my mind as I run. It becomes a mantra.

Repeating this mantra becomes a distraction from running and helps me get through tough sections of a race. Usually climbs or sections where I’m tired and sore.

Yesterday at the Stornoway Half Marathon I was listening to Scottish DJ Calvin Harris and his song I Feel So Close To You Right Now.

As I got to a hill I stared repeating the chorus in my mind.

“I feel so close to you right now….I feel so close to you right now…I feel so…”

Each time I repeated the lyric I powered further up the hill. I feel so close to you right now….I feel so close to you right now…I feel so…”

About half way up the hill I passed a female runner. She looked at me. I looked at her. She looked horrified. I realised that I hadn’t been repeating the mantra in my mind. I’d actually been saying it out loud!

No wonder she was horrified. She didn’t wants a big sweaty heavy breathing man running after her declaring how close he felt.

I ran away. Very fast.

My next mike split was my fastest in the race as I ran repeating the mantra “I feel so embarrassed next to you right now!”.

The race itself was cold and damp. I wanted to use it as an ultramarathon training run so I added a couple of miles to the start and end of the race so I could get to 18 miles.

I started off with the intention of running at a slow ultramarathon pace but my ego soon got the better of me. Every time someone passed me it would go “Why are you letting them beat you? You’re faster than them!”

I gave in to my ego and sped up.

I need to work harder to ignore my ego! If not the irony of writing that whilst simultaneously writing a blog about myself…

Treble Trouble (Andrew)

As Manchester City win the treble in England – Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup – it’s time to remember where it all began: their first Premier League title in 2011, and that time I punched a fan in Manchester city centre during City’s open top bus parade – and it was all caught on a perfectly timed photo.

He walked into my flag, honest

Whoops!

Etape Caledonia 2019 (Andrew)

Winner to the left, loser to the right

Last week, while walking along a neighbouring street, a man ran out his front door with a woman shouting after him. As he got in his car, she screamed at him: “I don’t know why I stay with you!” before she slammed the front door shut and he drove off.

This week there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on their house…

I tell this story because, despite the sadness of an imploding relationship, it had two bright points. One, I always liked their house, so I finally got to see inside it when the estate agent posted photos on Right Move. Two, it just goes to show that you need to follow through with actions to back up your words. There’s no point shouting about something unless you actually do something about it to.

Just like the Etape.

Every year I say I’ll beat Iain and every year I then beat Iain.

Last year was close though. To be fair, he did wait while I had a mechanical so he could have won, if he’d carried on. But he didn’t, so he didn’t. Who said good guys come last? Accurate words!

Last year was also more of a contest because Iain was training for Norseman. He was riding every day. And yet, he still couldn’t beat me. (He might have the legs, but he still had the good heart to wait).

But when we could only draw when he was at his fastest on a bike, it meant that this year I didn’t need to say anything. The contest was over before we even started. I could see the ‘runners up place’ in his eyes. He had a haunted look on the start line. He looked old. Weighed down by a history of failure.

It was BRILLIANT!

Not that I’m gloating. Much.

Anyway, with the result a foregone conclusion it was only a matter of turning up and paying attention to the course.

Pitlochry

The first 10 miles are fast, if you want them to be. As each wave leaves the high street, groups quickly find their own pace. Some sprint, some take it easier as they warm up. A few tight corners and sharp wee hills cause bunches to form but after 10 miles, the roads clear and while you’re never free from other riders, it’s easy to find some space at your own pace.

Hill

The first hill is not steep but it does have three miles of steady climbing. It’s almost a straight road so there’s no need to think about turning or any hair bends to negotiate. Just sit and grind it out.

Loch Tummell

One of my favourite sections. A 15 mile flat run around Loch Tummell. With nice flat roads, good views across to Schiehallion and across the loch, it’s a great section to find a group and make quick progress to…

Schiehallion

Which is not as bad as it appears on the profile. There’s a few steep slopes. A final drag that some will sprint for that ‘frog dancing on a hot plate cycling legs and arms akimbo climbing out of your seat’ shot from the official photographer, but the real kicker is the next mile, which continues to rise even after you’ve passed the King/Queen of the Mountain checkpoint. After that, it’s five miles downhill and a chance to enjoy some easy curves and quick times.

The other side

Largely flat for the final 20 something miles with a good mix of moorland, trees, villages and wide roads. By this stage, you’ll see less bikes but, if you’re lucky, and want to joint them, you’ll find a few groups to latch onto to get your speed up until…

The second climb

Ballincluish. And a 20 metre ladder that starts as soon as you turn off the main road. If you haven’t changed gear before you turn then you’ll be looking at a slipped chain as your ‘reward’.

After that, there’s a couple of miles of rolling hills before the final descent into Pitlochry and a short climb back to the High Street where you can get…

The Goodie Bag

Or bad. As there’s never any goods in the bag. It’s always empty. Don’t expect a banana or a biscuit or anything at all. One year, all it had in place of a treat, was a single page flyer for a new Sainsbury’s… that was opening later that year. (And, in fact, never opened at all after local protests). But while I always complain about the bag, Iain never does. Well, he is used to coming home from the Etape empty handed…

The Todd in The Water (Andrew)

The Creature from the Black Loch

The best thing you can do before swimming open water is to splash your forehead with water. The last thing you want to do before swimming open water is to splash your forehead with water because… it’s BLOODY FREEZING!!!

Or at least it is in May in Scotland. The water has only started to reach 10 degrees aka Highland Tropical. Below 10 degrees, if you’re going for a dip, you need balls of steel – and toes of steel and feet of steel and basically an entire body made from a metal that doesn’t know how to gasp. Above 10 degrees and you can start to consider a paddle, just as long as you don’t dip your head below the surface as otherwise it’s instant brainfreeze, faster than sticking an ice lolly up your nostrils.

But the thing is, you adjust to it. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s an ice lolly this week, next week it’s a three bar heater. The more you swim outside. the more your body adjusts to the tempteture until eventually your skinny dipping in Ben & Jerry’s and wondering why it’s so warm.

First, you have to go in. And the first dip is always the hardest. The water runs down your back. You’re slapped in the face with an ice cube and you lose all feeling in your feet and toes.

If you’re really unlucky, the shock of the cold, causes you body to contract and it feels like Aquaman is hugging you, and not in a good way. In a “I’m going to crush your chest coz I’m a strong superhero type” way.

However, next time, it get’s easier. And the time after that you’re Aqua-man’s equal. You’re Kettleman! The only man who can make Aqua-man disappear!

But first you’ve got to get in. So, this weekend, I went for my first open water swim of 2019. 10 minutes in a loch near Applecross. It was freezing. And it was fantastic. And by next week, not only will I have adjusted, I might also have the feelings in my feet back.

Bealach Beag (Iain)

Is the winner of a race the person who crosses the finish line first or the person with the fastest time?

You might think that these two statements are mutually consistent but….

At the weekend, Andrew and I headed to the north west of Scotland to take part in the Bealach Beag sportive – a 72km race that includes the UK’s biggest road climb. An ascent of 626m from sea level in just 10km.

I’ve done the race four times. Andrew has done it three times. He has beaten me every time.

Race 1 – I did it on a mountain bike. Not because I am an amazing biker but because I did not know any better. I quit half round because I was knackered.  

Race 2 – The first year Andrew did it too. We both did the long version of the race. I had learnt my lesson from my experience with the mountain bike. I brought a hybrid bike instead. Andrew brought a road bike. He won.

Race 3 – We both used road bikes. The temperature was unseasonably warm. It was nearly 30C during the climb. Andrew was wearing shorts bib shorts and a light cycling top. I was wearing winter gear. I felt I was biking in a vertical sauna. He won.

Year 4 (this year) – I had been training for the last four weeks and I hoped that was enough to beat Andrew’s five months of Challenge Roth training. Just in case it was not enough, I had taken radical weight saving action to eek out the best performance from my bike. I removed the bell

I also had a cunning plan….

At the start of the race we were both given a time dibber. We had to dib in at the start and dib in at the finish to record our time. At the start line, I let Andrew dib in first. I then deliberately waited 10s before I dibbed in.

At the finish, we both raced for the line. Andrew thought he had just pipped me as he dibbed in first. What he didn’t realise was that I had a 10s buffer on him. We received the paper results and it shows quite clearly I’m the winner or am i?

If you look at our Strava times it clearly shows Andrew beat me by 5 minutes because he did the climb 5 minutes faster than me and then paused his Strava at the top until I appeared. He then restarted it and we continued on the course.

So… is the winner of a race the person who crosses the finish line first or the person with the fastest time? All I’ll say is that on paper I’m the fastest Todd.

Number 1!

Glasgow Bridge Run (Iain)

When people talk about favourite bridges they might pick the Forth Rail Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge but neither is my favourite. I like Jeff Bridges. He’s the only one of the three that has won an Oscar!

Jeff as the Dude in The Big Lewbowski

Glasgow has 21 non Oscar winning bridges.

A couple of weekend ago I decided run to across as many of the bridges as possible. I invited some members of my triathlon club along. The rules for the run was very simple – every time we get to a bridge, cross the bridge. Let me repeat that – get to a bridge, cross the bridge.

We got to the first bridge. People ran past it. I shouted at them to come back. “Get to a bridge. Cross the bridge!” I repeated. “oh – I understand now.” they said. We got to the second bridge. They ran past it again. Its a really simple rule – “GET TO THE F’ING BRIDGE, CROSS THE F’ING BRIDGE!” Sometimes I despair.

Happy runners after been reminded to cross the bridge.

We started at Dalmarnock and ran East to West. We could have done it the other way but East to West meant starting at a McDonald’s restaurant next to a scrap year before finishing at two Glasgow landmarks – the Armadillo and the Science Tower. West to East would have meant starting at the landmarks but finishing with a big mac and a Mcflurry. I choose the scenic rather unhealthy option.

The finish line.

It was a fun route. You can find the GPX for it here

https://strathcloud.sharefile.eu/d-s5657a381cc44b9da

and its on Strava here

and here’s some photo proof