My first triathlon (iain)

On a Monday, in September 2008, I  joined the Royal Bank Of Scotland. The first day was amazing. I met my team mates, I got taken out for lunch and in the evening we all went to a bar and got drunk.

My second day wasn’t as good – the Bank collapsed!

I don’t think the financial crises was my fault but I can’t be certain. I was very drunk that night.

During the night out, the RBS project manager told me about a race he had entered – the Edinburgh New Years Day Triathlon. A 400m swim in a pool, then 3 laps on a bike of Arthurs Seat finishing with 1 lap running around Arthurs seat.

It sounded great so I signed up. I then realized I hadn’t swam since school ten years previously. I then realized that at school I hadn’t been very good at swimming.

I should therefore have practiced swimming before the event but like all men faced with a problem – I ignored it!

I’m not sure I took the event seriously. This is what I wrote on Facebook the night before the race.

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and this is what I was doing at 0300, five hours before the start of the race

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I think its fair to say my pre-race fueling strategy was flawed.

I woke up very hungover but I made it to the start.

The swim was eight laps of the pool. I used the breast stroke for all of them. I remeber thinking “this is the furthest I’ve ever swam” and that was at the end of lap 1!

The bike didn’t go any better. I had an old mountain bike. Thankfully I was not breathalyzed before hitting the road. My bike broke on lap 1. Everyone passed me as I tried to fix it. I eventually got it working and made it round slowly.

My drinking caught up with me on the run and I threw up at the start, the middle and the end of the lap.

I eventually finished last.

BUT that wasn’t the most worst part of the day. After the swim instead of going to the run transition I’d gone to the changing room to use the hairdryer. I wasn’t going to go out on New years Day in Scotland with wet hair. I’d catch a cold!

As I was blowing my hair the RBS project manager saw me. He strode over and asked “how my race had gone?” I replied that I was currently doing it. He looked appalled!

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How to chose a new mountain bike (Andrew)

Names are important. They tell you a lot about the thing you’re looking at. A road bike is bike that goes on the road. A track bike is a bike that goes on the track and a mountain bike is a bike that, well, goes on a mountain, possibly, maybe, with someone else who knows what they’re doing. I’ve never been on a mountain with a bike!

But that’s about to change.

I’ve bought a mountain bike and, after a careful search of all the models and specifications open to me, I have, after much consideration, bought…

…. an orange one.

Not an Orange one, though. There is a brand of bike called Orange. Nor indeed have I bought one made out of a citrus fruit. Instead, I’ve bought an orange one (the colour).

Now some people may say that choosing a bike is a complicated process. And it is. If it was a road bike then I’d be considering various types of position – aero or sportive; or the type of riding I wanted to do: TT, triathlon or unicycle (in case I ever decide to become a street performer) – but I don’t know the first thing about mountain bikes. So I thought I should share all I’ve learned in the last two months as I carefully considered my next bike:

Wheels

The big ones look really cool. I think they might also be comfier, like cycling on pillows, but the only thought I had was “How long does it take to blow that up?”. I already spend 10 minutes at the side of the road inflating a skinny road tyre, how long will it take to blow up two wheels that you could hang a basket off and launch it as a balloon?

So, I choose a bike with biggish wheels. Not the biggest. Not the smallest. Just biggish.

I recommend biggish.

Frame

These come in two types. Ones without cool looking suspension type thingamajigs. Or one without. I don’t know what the cool looking suspension type thingamajigs do, but I knew I wanted one so I could be cool looking too. One day I may ever tough the dial on it, but not today, I might break it.

I recommend cool-looking.

Suspension

The front of the bike will have a suspension on it. It should also look cool. Ideally with some kind of logo that people who know logos will be impressed by. I don’t know anything about logos so, for all I know, my logo could say the mountain bike equivalent of “fannybaws” – but it says “Rockshock” and that sounds cool and definitely something that might appear on screen when Batman punches a bad guy, and you don’t get cooler than that.

I recommend fannybaws.

Saddle

Unless its got a spike on it, I really don’t care. It’s a black one.

I 100% recommend a saddle.

Brakes and gears 

Check the bike definitely has them! Mine does so that makes it a good bike.

I recommend stopping.

Colour

The most important thing of all. And one that’s a matter of personal taste so I wouldn’t presume to tell you what colour to go for (orange!) and what to avoid (neon green – it looks like radioactive boogies).

With these top tips and careful research of all the different types of mountain bike I was able to walk into the shop say to myself “that’s a good bike!” as soon as I spotted an orange one with wheels and brakes and a frame and a saddle that didn’t have a spike up the bum.

The Great Scottish Run (Iain)

Last weekend, I attended a level one triathlon coaching course. I’ll write about the course later, in a post I’ve provisionally titled: “He who can, tri’s. He who cannot, coaches”. Due to attending the course I missed this year’s Great Scottish Run but it did remind me of some of my previous attempts.

The Great Scottish Run is the first race I entered. I knew a marathon was 26 miles but I mistakenly thought a half marathon was 10 miles. I’d never been good at maths. At university I did an algebra exam. The tutor wrote on it: “This shows no knowledge of algebra whatsoever.”

You can imagine my disappointment when I got to the 10 mile point and I didn’t find the finish line. I quickly realised my mistake and calculated how far I still had to go. “Oh no,” I thought, “I still have 5 miles to go.” I told you I’m not very good at maths.

I did the race again a year later. I took a bus to the start. I put my bus ticket in the pocket of my shorts. Unfortunately the heavens opened and the rain came down. I got so wet, my ticket dissolved! I didn’t have any money so after the race I had to walk four miles home.

You’d think it would be third time lucky but I forgot my trainers and ran my third attempt in leather shoes. I gave in at the eight mile point as it was close to my house and my feet hurt.

Last year, I decided to do the 10k. Luckily the distance is in the title of the race so I knew how far it was to the finish.

The course started with a slog up a hill before flattening out. The course then winds its way through motorway underpasses and ugly streets. The race won’t trouble any “most scenic race” lists. The course is a bit slow as there are numerous pinch points where the sheer number of people force everyone to slow down.

The highlight of the race  was watching an old women run alongside her daughter. The daughter was proudly shouting at her mum encouraging and praising her. Repeatedly shouting “you can do it!”

It was so sweet to see them share this special moment across the generations.

It became even better when the mum took one look at the daughter and thanked her by shouting “Why don’t YOU just F&#K OFF!!!”.

Life: the fifth triathlon discipline (Andrew)

Some people say that triathlon is a sport of four, not three, disciplines.

You’ve got your swimming, your cycling and your running – the three sports that make up a triathlon.

But you could add a fourth. Transition. The ability to stay upright while trying to pull a wetsuit off your foot with all the grace of an alcoholic ballerina performing the dance of the swans on a stage made of butter. Transition is a sport in itself.

However, there is also a fifth discipline. One that’s more complicated than bilateral breathing and harder to master than keeping upright with tri-bars whenever the wind blows (which is every day in Scotland). And that discipline is ‘life’.

Because the one thing triathlon expects, nay demands, is that you actually find the time to run, swim, cycle, struggle with wet suits at the side of lochs, and that can be tricky. You can’t spend all your time on your bike when you’ve got to be at home or work.

And some weeks, that means you don’t get to do very much at all. And those are the toughest weeks because you might have a diary or training plan that requires you to swim 4×500 metres followed by 30 minutes of light jogging. Yet you’ve not left work. The dog needs walked and you want to be home in time for dinner.

That’s why I call life the fifth discipline. Arguably, the most important one, because you need to be just as good as balancing everything else that’s happening in your life before you can even think about going out for a run. At least if you want to avoid divorce, the sack, or a grumpy dog.

So, for the last few weeks, I’ve been concentrating on the fifth discipline. Life.

Which is definitely a thing – and just something I’ve invented to justify eating cake.

And I’ve definitely not been lazy and put my feet up for a month.

Oh, no, not me –  I’ve been hard at work.

Training – honest! 🙂

IronMan UK 2015 (Iain)

This week, I realized I have a lot of old posts from a previous blog. So that they don’t go to waste, and to save me having to write new blogs I’m going to publish some of the more interesting ones.

This is from 2015….

Bolton was home to Fred Dibnah. He climbed chimneys and became a TV star.  When he died a statue was erected in his honor. Bolton was home to Nat Lofthouse. He was one of the greatest English footballers. When he died a statue was erected in his honor. Bolton was home to Vernon Kaye. He presented the TV show which tried to drown celebrity’s – “Splash.” I hope he doesn’t get a statue for it!

If he doesn’t then he will, at least, get a mention in a remembrance book at Bolton Wanderer’s stadium. It lists all the Bolton fans that died that day….which is a bit creepy. Do they phone up the hospital and check who the recently deceased supported?

Bolton

IronMan UK which is based at Bolton’s stadium. The race is a 2.4-mile  swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and then a run of 26.2-mile.

Registration/Setup

Registration and Transition 2 are based at the stadium. It’s convenient for parking and easy to get to/from the motorway. The expo/merchandise is smaller than IronMan Frankfurt (which I’d visited a few weeks beforehand) so don’t wait until after the race to buy anything as it will most likely be gone by then.

You can request a special needs bag for the bike section but its not given out automatically.

We stayed in http://www.hiexpressleigh.co.uk/ which is next to the swim start but about 10 miles from Bolton. It was a good choice. We walked to the swim in the morning and they supplied an early breakfast and a pre-race dinner.

After registration we parked the car in a multistory next to the finish line. The car parks free at the weekend. After the race we’d only have a short walk from the finsish to the car park.  We took a bus back to Leigh and picked up a race essential – a Subway sandwich for the special needs bag. I wasn’t going to spend all day racing without eating some real food.

Unfortunately the hotel room didn’t have a fridge so I created one from ice cubes and a sink. I suspect I was the only one racing who eat a Subway.

Fridge

Our pre race rest comprised walking to the cinema to watch Ant Man. It was rubbish but watchable. I got to bed about 20:00 and set the alarm for 04:00

Swim (01:21:46)

The rain was pelting down when I got up. The start was only a short walk away so instead of getting clothes wet I wore the wet-suit from the hotel to the start line. As I walked along I passed people in wetsuits who also were also wearing rain smocks! Why??? Surely they can’t be concerned about the wet suit getting wet!

The swim is a rolling start so you queue in a line and enter the water and start swimming. Where you stand in the line represents how quick you think your swim time will be. I queued towards the back.

The swim is two laps of the course. The queue start meant there was no getting battered and bumped at the beginning of the race. The second lap was trickier as the weather was abysmal which made it tough to spot the buoys. I was surprised when I got out to do so at the exact same time as my brother. I hadn’t seen him at all on the course during either lap!finisherpix_0955_006476

Transition 

There is only one tent. Other races have two (one for male, one for female) so if you want to get naked you have to do so in a corner of the tent that’s blocked off. Its pretty pointless as it’s not very well blocked off so you can see everything. I apologize to anyone who got an eyeful. I can only claim that the water was very, very cold.

Bike (07:46:48)

It was still raining when we came out of transition. The forecast was for the sun to come out within an hour but I wore waterproofs. I’m glad I did because the weather forecast was wrong and it was mostly a cold and very windy ride.

The first section is a 14 mile urban ride to the start of a two loop circuit. The circuit has two hills on it. Neither of which is particularly difficult as we are used to Scottish hills. The support on both is excellent as a lot of people come out to cheer you on as you make your way up.  The wind never abated on the laps and it felt it was more against than for me.

Nothing much interesting happened on the ride other than a man rode into the back of Andrew at the special needs section. Luckily neither Andrew or his sandwich were hurt. At another point we took a wrong turn but we weren’t the only ones who did so and it was quickly rectified.

In terms of organisation there aren’t many toilet spots on the loop and support vehicles seemed to be few and far between. It didn’t cause us any issues but its worth noting that help might not be immediately at hand.

This years bike split times are much slower than last year’s. This has a good analysis of it http://www.coachcox.co.uk/2015/07/20/ironman-uk-2015-results-and-analysis/

finisherpix_0955_001229Transition 

There was only one tent so a similar system of nakedness replied. Again, I apologize for anyone who got an eyeful.

Run (05:04:09)

The weather in Bolton was nice,  the sun had come out (at last!) We had a strategy of running the flat/downhill and walking the uphill. After two minutes of leaving transition we came to the first hill. It felt strange to stop but a strategy is a strategy!

The first part of the run takes you into Bolton city centre. It’s pretty dull slog along a canal as there are no mile markers. I had to rely on a GPS watch to know how well/badly I was doing.

After this there were three loops of the city centre. The amount of supporters, or they may just be people who like to watch other suffer,  lining the streets was unbelievable. At time I was running into a wall of noise. A wall that likes shouting encouragement. Unfortunately I do better with criticism  so I just ignore the encouragement but I do appreciate the atmosphere. Without it the run would have been a struggle. One women did make me laugh as she shouted “two for the price of one” after spotting myself and Andrew.

The loop is surprisingly hilly. A steady climb out of town and steady descent back. As the hills were long I abandoned the hill strategy and replaced it with ‘the cone game’! I’ll share this wonderful game so you too can go slightly mental on a race.

It’s very simple. The course is lined with cones so pick a number of cones to run past and then a number to walk. On the way down the hill on the first lap we’d do a 4-2 strategy. 4 cones running, two cones walking. On the way back up the hill 3-3. The strategy would change depending how we felt so if we were tired we could drop to a 3 cones on 4 cones off etc

From this I learnt that Andrew has trouble counting as he’d say “was that the second cone or the third?”

I also believe I can now recognize every cone in Bolton! By the end they all had individual personalities. I might have gone loopy. It was a really good way to get through the run as we could always see where our next run or walk section was.

Their was a lack of toilets on the route but luckily neither of us had any issues on the day. We both just eat a little bit of everything in moderation and that worked fine.

The finish was excellent. Big crowds and the man saying “lain…you are an IronMan” but better than that was the free pizza in the finish tent.

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Overall (14:45:50)

A good experience that means I’ll never have do another one! I’ve always preferred shorter races and this didn’t change my opinion although I would like to know – If I did  an IronMan abroad would they say “you are an IronMan?” or would it be”eres un hombre de hierro” or  “vous êtes un homme de fer” or…

Corfu (Iain)

Last week the Bonnie Gardener (https://thebonniegardener.co.uk/ and I were on holiday in Corfu. Here’s five things we learnt.

Corfu is not known as Cor-poo

Before we left someone told us Corfu is known as Cor-pooo due to the bad smell. Thankfully, the only bad smell on holiday was my socks after a day walking about in 30C heat!

I googled this “fact” and so far I’ve found no mention of it by anyone else so I’ll call it #fakenews

What happens in Kavos stays in Kavos.

A few years ago the Daily Mail run an expose of the wild lifestyle of teenagers on holiday in Kavos. The kids were going wild – drinking, dancing and forgetting to phone home. Actually, the last one might have been a different f word,

I spotted this drink:

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If an IronMan is the ultimate achievement in triathlon then a headf*cker must be the ultimate achievement in drinking. The two are very similar. They will both leave you broken after finishing one.

 

 

It’s very easy to hire a boat

“Do you hire out boats?” I ask a woman wearing a t-shirt with “Corfu boat hire” written on it. She’s sitting in an office which has a large sign above the entrance stating “We hire boats”

I’m pretty confident she’ll say yes.

“Yes,” she replies and then adds, “do you have a boat licence?”

“I don’t but I grew up on an island. I’ve got 30 years of boating experience.” I don’t mention that my the experience is sitting on a ferry eating macaroni cheese from the cafeteria as I cross between Stornoway and Ullapool.

“In that case I can rent you a boat!” and with that I was the proud owner (for a day) of a boat!

Don’t bother bringing your bike kit

During my week in Corfu I only saw a handful of cyclists.  The roads aren’t in very good condition and there’s a lot of sharp turns on them. Other than the main routes the roads are only wide enough to allow cars to pass by each other slowly.

This means that you have to have your wits about you on a bike as you never know when a car or bus will come round a sharp corner and how close it may be to your side of the road.

Because of that reason I didn’t cycle.

Corfu is great for swimming

The swimming is excellent. The sea in September is warm and pleasant. The visibility is so clear I could have been in a swimming pool except there’s no lines on the bottom of the sea to show where to go.

I recommend Corfu if you want somewhere to go somewhere cheap with great food and friendly locals but don’t expect to do anymore than swim and drink beer 🙂

Forth Road Bridge 10k (Andrew)

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I hate flying. It’s unnatural. Even birds think so and they fly everywhere. They’re always saying “Bloody hell, how did I get up here – and how do I get back down without crashing?!”

I tried to get over my fear of flying by watching a video designed to reassure nervous flyers. It was a 10 minute video on YouTube that showed you exactly what every button did in a cockpit.

There were over a 100 buttons, flicks and switches. There were back ups of back ups. Bright lights blinked red to warn of dangers. Everything was designed to keep us safe and keep us in the air – and all I could think was: “HOW CAN ONE MAN REMEMBER ALL THESE BUTTONS?!?!?! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE! AND IT’S NOT LIKE HE CAN WATCH YOUTUBE ON THE PLANE – HE’S GOT TO SWITCH HIS PHONE OFF! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”

I hate flying.

But I loved the Forth Road Bridge 10k even though part of it made me think I was flying above North Queensferry.

The Forth Road Bridge 10k starts in North Queensferry, a town designed to have a view of the Forth Rail bridge out of your front window but not designed to have any shops or roads built without a steep slope. Personally, I’d rather have a pint of milk than a red bridge, but, if you’re a trainspotter, I assume North Queensferry is your ideal home.

The race starts at the top of North Queensferry and the first two miles are mostly downhill before you turn and cross the bridge. At this point, the land drops away beneath you and you run over the roofs of North Queensferry below.

It feels like flying. By which I mean, it feels slightly queasy and I wished I was back on solid ground again.

But as the race crosses the bridge you start to cross the Forth and you get fantastic views to your left and right of both the Forth Rail Bridge (the red one) and the new Queensferry Crossing which should really be called the new Closed Because of Lorry Overturning In High Winds Bridge, because that’s what Fife will call it as soon as winter hits.

The race sells out instantly so you need to be quick to enter but it’s well worth making the effort to secure a place. The bridge provide a different experience and finishing at the end of the bridge provide a great finish line experience.

Also they have hundreds of cakes and sandwiches to eat afterwards. Everything is better with cakes and sandwiches – except flying!

 

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Reykjavik 10k (Iain)

The genius of how Icelandic businesses make money from tourists is that they charge a small fortune to buy a drink and then, once you’ve drunk it, they charge a small fortune to use the loo. They get to charge you twice for one drink!

In one place it was £10 for a pint and £2.50 to visit the toilet.

Iceland is the first country were I quite literally pissed money up the wall !

If your not familiar with that British phrase then this might help: Wikipedia

I was in Iceland for my 40th Birthday. I was born the same day Elvis died which makes me the resurrection of Elvis.  Elvis was a twin, so am I. Elvis loved food, so do I. Elvis could play the guitar. I can play the guitar…badly. I bought a guitar 22 years ago. I still have it. It even has the same strings on it as the day I bought it and I can honesty say it sounds the same now as then – bloody awful!

My birthday coincided with the Reykjavik Marathon weekend. There were three races – a marathon, half marathon and 10k. After a week of eating birthday cake and drinking beer all I could manage was the 10k.

I registered the day before the race at the marathon expo. The process was quick and easy. I was in and out in 10 minutes. The expo looked good but the exchange rate meant even the most heavily discounted sale item was more expensive than the UK equivalent.

I was given a race t-shirt. I don’t know if Icelandic people have small heads but both myself and my partner had trouble getting our heads into our t-shirts. The size of the t-shirt was fine but it had a very small head opening…or maybe we have abnormally large heads!

The race was great as the weather was amazingly hot and sunny. The course is reasonably scenic. There’s a nice long section along the water front but the majority was through streets of houses/offices.

The support along the course was amazing. Lots of people cheering, people playing musical instruments and even a boyband performing on the back of a lorry.

They had a couple of water/Gatorade stations but it was in cups. I prefer a bottle so I can carry it. I have to stop to use a cup as otherwise the liquid falls out before I can drink it.

I’d recommend the event if you plan to combine it with a holiday but it’s not worth going for just the race unless you win the lottery as Iceland is so, so expensive. If you’re trying to calculate how much it’ll cost then think about how much you’d like to spend then double it. That’ll be closer to the correct figure!

Ultra Iron Mega Badass Brutal Hardcore Three Legged Race (Andrew)

What’s in a name?

I’m reading ‘Iron War’, the story of the 1989 Ironman championship and the battle between two of the greatest ever triathletes – but also a history of the spot of triathlon itself as it places the race in context.

The book tells the story of how Ironman got it’s name. It referred to the iron will needed by competitors to compete the challenging conditions of Kona in Hawaii. It wasn’t the fastest who would win, or the most physically capable, the winner instead was the one with the iron willpower to compete through draining heat and strength sapping head winds.

The name fitted the course – if not female competitors, is it not time for IronWoman? And, as such, it stuck.

But it struck me that many races have followed this template. They’re named after their defining characteristic. Usually the place the race takes place. The London Marathon. The Great Scottish Run. Or they describe the worst aspects of the course. Slateman refers to the slate covered hills of Snowdonia. Brutalfest has a series of races that are, well, brutal.

It’s human nature, it seems, to concentrate on the worst that could happen. All race organisers are pessimists.

I realised this while in Iceland this week on holiday. I was checking out all the tourist spots and I was reading the guides for each place and, in every one, they seemed to tell the same story. The name of the place was always the name of a tragedy that had happened there.

In the town of Borgarne, the bay was named after a man who was stoned to death on it’s shore. The waterfalls of Hraunfosser were named after the children who fell to their death. The entire country is basically a a cross between a OS map and a graveyard.

But what about the hundreds of people who played at the beach and enjoyed it’s soft sands and sheltering dunes? What about the children who paddled in the pool at the base of the waterfall and their children and their children and their children and their children and centuries of children all of whom called the falls “the really safe and not at all dangerous falls”, yet when one child said “hey, look at me, I can balance on one leg while standing right on the edge!” all the good times are forgotten.

As I said, it’s human nature. We’re pessimists. We remember the bad, not the good. The suffering, not the finish line.

And it’s time for a change. Who wouldn’t want to enter “Flatfest” or, better yet, “The Downhill Marathon”. Why should suffering be celebrated? Bring on “The Easy Peasy Triathlon”!

Whats your best time? (Iain)

A few years ago, I did an acting course where I performed a scene in front of an audience at the Citizen’s theatre in Glasgow.

The  scene was a conversation between a serial killer and the landlady of a bed and breakfast. I was the serial killer. The acting tutor said I was perfect for the part. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing!

The other actor was an older woman. The first thing she asked me at rehearsal was: “What accent are you going to use?”

“My own,” I replied, “but louder so the people at the back can hear me.”

On the night of the show it seemed to go well. I was myself but louder and she performed the scene with a perfect Yorkshire accent

Afterwards, the tutor said to her:  “You were amazing! You transformed yourself and inhibited that character. You could easily work in theatre.”

He then turned to me.

“As long as you enjoyed yourself.”

I did enjoy myself. I was a terrible actor but I’d set myself the challenge of acting in front of an audience and I’d achieved it.

So, recently, when asked by a fellow triathlete what my best time for a race was, I replied: “I don’t know my best time but I can tell you the race I enjoyed the most”

Because enjoyment should always come before performance.