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.

What Runners Never Talk About (Andrew)

The greatest email I’ve ever recieved wasn’t sent just to me – it was sent to me and to everyone in my office. Over 250 people. It was from a new trainee. Someone who had not yet realised that “Reply To All” meant “Reply to… ALL”

Later, I discovered that he thought he’d sent a message back to his pal but, even then, I’m not sure his pal wanted the following message, because this is what he replied:

“I’ve just been to the loo. Did you know there’s two buttons. One for a pee and one for a poo…?”

Which he sent to everyone.

Not just his pal.

Everyone.

10 seconds later everyone also recieved the “Trainee@twinbikerunswork would like to recall his message” message. But, by then, it was too late. Everyone would recall this message from now until the day he died.

I’m sure, even at his funeral, his eulogy will say “Trainee may have become a Supreme Court judge and changed the world with his far reaching decisions but, I’m sure everyone can agree, his greatest achievement was accidentally telling 250 people how to flush the bog.”

I was thinking of this guy as I was running last week – because there’s a secret that runners don’t share with the world. A secret that every runner doesn’t discuss because it’s too disgusting to share.

Sometimes, when out for a run, you can’t worry about whether you’re going to use the big button or the wee button because you just don’t have time to get to a proper toilet. Sometimes, you have to improvise.

Normally, you’ve eaten too much or you’ve headed out too soon after a meal or a combination of the two.

The first few miles are okay but, the stomach growls, and you know that the only way you’re going to carry on is if, like a guilty sinner, you find some ways to unburden yourself.

I was trying to run 10 miles last week. A five mile there and back trip from the house. In the third mile, I received a warning from my gut. By mile four, the warning was raised to Defcon 5 and I had no choice but this choice: do I knock on someone’s door for an emergency stop or do I find a bush?

Now, knocking on someone’s door is something I’ve considered before. But I’ve never worked our what I would say. Hello. You don’t know me but I would love to get to know your toilet. Or help. Emergency. This desperate man would like you use your little boy’s room?”.

There was no way whatever I said was not going to sound creepy and it would be nature’s call I’d be answering it would be a call to the local police station to arrest the nutter with the crossed legs.

Instead, I searched for a park. Then, once I found a park, I searched from a spot that couldn’t be seen from any direction. I didn’t want this week’s headline to be: “Runner in park peek a poo scandal”

But as I sped away, safely, and without anyone seeing me, I started to wonder. I can’t be the only runner to have had this problem. I’m not the only runner to find themselves in the bushes when it’s not a trail race. But, no one has ever mentioned it before. What to do when you need the loo and you’re 30 minutes from home and your credit cards are in the kitchen where you left them?

So, in the spirit of openness, I’m sharing that question here. Just for you. What do you need to do when you need the loo?

And I promise I’ll keep the answer to myself.

Unless I accidentally publish this blog to everyone.

Oh, bugger, I have…

Recall! Recall! Recall!

A Boy In The Water Review (Andrew)

Last year I caught the train to London with Iain.

“Have you got the tickets?” I asked.

An innocuous question, only made less innocuous by the fact the train was pulling out of Glasgow Central.

“No,” he said, “you’ve got them”.

Which I did – or didn’t. Because, while I had them on my phone with all details teasingly shown on my Trainline app, it was just a reservation and not the tickets themselves. The tickets were still sitting unprinted in the ticket machine at Central Station.

I could have cried. But, critically, didn’t because I’m a man and men don’t cry on trains. Not unless they’ve just read “A Boy In The Water”.

“A Boy In The Water” by Tom Gregory tells the story of how he became the youngest person to swim the English Channel. It’s no spoiler to confirm he succeeds, because, unlike most sports biographies, this one doesn’t rely on peril.

There’s a trend in biographies to tease the did he/she or didn’t he/she do it. The first chapter inevitably details some element of danger as the lone cyclist tries to cross the world only to inadvertently cycle into the middle of warzone, on the very day that the local Celtic and Rangers fans are watching the Old Firm game, during a hurricane  – and they get a puncture. Oh my, I definitely need to read all of this now!

Instead, A Boy In The Water, deals with trust and faith between a boy, Tom Gregory, and his coach as he’s pushed to swim further and further. And it’s this trust which provide the tension because it’s never clear how much of the goal was driven by the boy or the coach and whether it was right for an 11 year old to even attempt such a swim.

Written from a child’s perspective, the book is simple and clear, with the relationship explored through a back and forth between the swim itself and the three years of training leading up to it. Training sessions in Dover Harbour, solo swims across Lake Windermere, and a sense of sporting success achieved through coffee mornings, battered vans and digestive biscuits as treats. And very little discussion of swimming. There’s no passages describing swimming strokes, or the goals of any training sessions, just brief powerful descriptions of the swimmers, the coaches and the music listened to on homemade mix-tapes. And, an ending, which managed to show how powerful trust and faith and belief can be and what happens when they’re gone. I may even have shed a tear on the train on the way to work this week as I read the final chapters on the way to work…

You can buy it here: Amazon

Second on Strava… Again (Andrew)

Damn you, Florent Schaal – whoever you are!

The best thing about Strava is the Strava segments. Each one is a mini race that allows you to compare your effort with everyone else. I wrote about them here a couple of weeks ago when I discussed my attempt to become the fastest person to run the tallest hill in Stornoway.

But, damn you, Florent Schaal, you’re still the champion as while, my latest attempt was four seconds faster, it was still four seconds too slow to overtake your number one spot. I’m still second on the Strava leaderboard.

I don’t know who you are, but one day, I promise, you’re going down (to number two spot)!

so close yet…

Not Swim Training (Andrew)

Every Wednesday morning at 7am I join the Glasgow Triathlon Club’s swim session at the University of Strathclyde. I’ve been going along on and off for around six months and, this week, for the first time, our coach didn’t ask me to change my stroke or the position of my head or the way I kick my legs, instead I was asked to concentrate on turning around when you get to the end of a lap.

That’s right – I’m being coached on how to turn round!

The phase “like a tanker” was used.

Tanker should never be a word used with a swimmer unless you’re saying “hey, swimmer, watch out for that tanker!”

According to our coach you need to be pushing in and then pushing off and your head should act like a schythe through the water and not a brick.

All of which made no sense to me.

You swim to the end. You turn around. You come back. How can I get that wrong?!?

For the next hour every time I got the end I became nervous, not knowing whether my hand was right to push in an push off or if my head was as light as reinforced concrete.

On one lap, I even did a tumble turn. Not deliberately, I just sunk through indecision then tried frantically to right myself up while not drowning.

I know that swimming is all about technique but when that technique involves something you’ve never thought about before it’s very hard to change what you’ve always done. Thousands of laps of the pool have always seen me turn one way. Now, I’m being asked to think again. It’s not easy.
But it is good to be challenged even if, next week, I’m sure my next lesson will be how to climb into the pool using the ladder correctly.

Either that or, having mastered coming back, the coach will say “Now, let’s talk again about how you actually swim a lap correctly…”

Second Best on Strava (Andrew)

There are many different records. Some will never be beaten. You can’t be the first person on the moon when Neil Armstrong got there first. Nor can you climb Everest when Edmund Hillary did it over sixty five years ago. Some records last.

Others are less serious. If you read the Guinness Book of World Record you’ll find a record for the world’s longest fingernails. A world record which literally doesn’t require you to lift a finger – in case you break a nail.

Or how about Etibar Elchyev, who took the title for ‘Most spoons balanced on a human body’ by balancing 50 spoons. He’d have balanced more but Sharon from accounts wanted to make a cup of tea and he ran out.

You’d think he’d have balanced more if he’d used tea spoons??!!??

Or, worse, instead of spoons. How about balancing bees? Chinese beekeeper She Ping covered his body with 330,000 bees.

Honey, I’m home!

I think I’ll stick to cutlery.

But as records become devalued – you cannot compare spoons and bees with standing on the moon – we each have the opportunity to find our own records. If you join Strava you too can be a record breaker as every route or part of routes is carefully broken down into segments to create mini record opportunities. Do you want to be the fastest person to run along your street? Then create a segment and run faster than anyone else running along it. Or, if you can’t run fast, at least walk it while carrying 330,000 bees and claim the record for fastest person to be stung to death on your street.

Despite how easy it is to claim a record, record still matter. Or at least they do to me. We want to know who’s the fastest, who’s the strongest, who’s the most likely to open a cafe and not need cutlery. And I want to know who’s the fastest at running the only hill in Stornoway: The War Memorial.

It’s not the steepest or longest or hardest climb but it does provide a few minutes of running to take you to a vantage point over the whole of Stornoway and out to the mainland.

And for the last few years I’ve been trying to be the fastest to run up it. It’s my Everest, moon and jumbo onion (another official world record).

How do you like dem onions?

And two weeks ago I almost managed it. I almost had my onion.

The weather was poor. The wind was in the wrong direction. I didn’t even think I was running hard enough to make an attempt on the record when, I got home, checked Strava, and, blimey, I was the second fastest in the world.

Which is the one record no one wants – no one wants to be second! What’s the point of having 49 spoons on your body when the man up the road has 50?!?!?

So, in two weeks, I’ll be home again and I’m going to go all out for the record. I’m going to run like 330,000 bees are chasing me. This record will be mine or I’ll cry like a man who just peeled the world’s largest onion!

How fit is fit? (Andrew)

People always say they’d like to be more fit – but what does that mean?

If you watch the Olympics you’ll see the finest athletes in the world (and shotputters). Fast athletes, strong athletes, one who can run for hours and other who get tired after sprinting 100 metres. They’re athletes. They must be fit. Yet, what is fit? Can they all be fit when they all excel in different areas?

That’s why I think there’s no right way to define fitness. One person’s idea of fitness can be completely different from someone else’s ideas. Instead, I’m sure we can all agree that there are instead many wrong ways to describe fitness and these include:

Mirror fit

This is the type of fitness that means you looks good in a mirror selfie (which isn’t a selfie – it’s a photo of a mirror!). You’re someone who doesn’t like t-shirts with sleeves. And never runs, because, if you did, you would know that the sleeve is the perfect thing to use to wipe the sweat off your face. Or a dribbly nose, when you have a cold.  Compare this with…

Frit fit

You can run, you can cycle, but no matter what, you will never ever take your top off especially when standing in front of a mirror. …

Coffee fit

This is the type of fitness that only requires you to own a hoodie, a takeaway skinny latte and to stand beside the free weights while someone else lifts them. You do your drinking in the gym but compare this with…

Cake fit

You can run, you can cycle, but not matter what you do, you eat an entire chocolate cake when you get home because that 5 minutes on the treadmill meant “you can!”

But most of us are, I suspect, are just normal. We’re not mirror fit, coffee fit or any type of fitness but “bit fit”. As in we like to do a bit and we’re… well.. a bit fit!