Dreaming of Celtman 2020 (Andrew)

IronMan UK was my one and only long distance triathlon. Never again I said. That was it. One go. Done it. Never need to do it again.

Except for Norseman.

And possibly Challenge Roth.

But the chances of getting in were so slim that IronMan UK was, I thought, the only time I’d ever swim 3.9km again, probably the only time I’d ever cycle more than 100 miles and definitely the only time I’d run a marathon as I don’t like running long distances. 

Oh, and except for Celtman too. 

Apart from those three races, I was never going to voluntarily spend an entire day racing again!

But what were the chances of getting into Norseman? Challenge Roth or Celtman? People try for years and don’t get into any of them. I applied, still with no expectation of getting in, and, straight away, I’ve got a place in Norseman.

A couple of years later and I manage to get a place in Challenge Roth too.

And now I have a place in Celtman.

I don’t know whether God likes a laugh, but he certainly enjoys a good ironic chuckle. 

While Norseman was fantastic. I’ve written about it on the blog and you can find out all about it. Roth too. And they were both ‘special’ and they have given me some great memories (along with a deep, deep fear of losing my watch while swimming – read about it here and, four months later, I’m still mentally scarred by it!), it’s Celtman which means the most to me because it was Celtman that got me interested in triathlons.

I never watched triathlons on telly. I’d never heard of IronMan or knew anything about the World Championships in Hawaii. I knew triathlons existed, I’d even tried to the New Year’s Triathlon in Edinburgh but I was like a dog playing football. It might know to chase a ball but that’s all it has in common with a footballer. I knew you needed to swim, bike and run but I didn’t know it was better to swim freestyle, that a mountain bike is not the professional triathlete’s first choice or that the run is something you race, not walk in to finish. 

Celtman changed that. I was watching the Adventure Show on BBC Scotland. Every month it reports from different events across Scotland. In 2011, it reported back from the first Celtman extreme triathlon. 3.4km swim on the west coast of Scotland, a 120 mile cycle round the Applecross penisula and then a marathon up a Munro and finish in Torridon. 

“That’s impossible,” I said, “how do they do that?” 

Every year since I’ve watched the Adventure Show and thought I would love to take part but secretly I knew that I wasn’t good enough. I don’t want to swim through jellyfish in freezing cold water. I’ve never cycled 120 miles. I’ve never run a marathon up a mountain. That’s what other people do.

But as I started to train for races in middle distance, then long distance, then Norseman and Roth, I started to think this year that maybe, with a bit more effort, I could be ready for Celtman. Because I don’t want to just complete it. I want to stand at the top of the mountain and be one of the few competitors who complete the whole course. In order to do that you need to be halfway through the run eleven hours after starting. Which means I’ll have around 8 hours to complete 120 miles on the bike, knowing that my swim time is the one thing I won’t be able to change no matter how hard I train. 

And, to make this Celtman, even better, unlike Norseman and Roth, Iain will be racing too, which will be a good incentive for both training and on the day itself. Though it has spoiled my support runner plans as he was going to run the final half with me!

Now that I’ve secured a spot I keep thinking of the first edition. I think how impossible it seemed and I think how possible it now is. I can’t wait to take part!

Book review: The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee (Andrew)

When is a sports book not a sports book? There is a pattern to sporting biographies. A couple of chapters on childhood. A spark or twist that sets the athlete on their sporting journey. Then a forensic minute by minute breakdown of their greatest achievement before either a hopeful look to the future for more medals/trophies  (current athletes) or a final “what a career I had!” for those who’ve retired. 

Most sports books are predictable and only really of interest to people who really love the sport that’s been written about. No one will pick up Geraint Thomas’s tour diary who doesn’t already know they want to read about how he decided on his gear selection for every stage of the Tour De France.

The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee is different, at least for most of it. Eamonn Magee was a Northern Irish boxer who was brought up in one of the harshest areas of Belfast during the Troubles. His biography is as much a story of what it was like to live beside nationalists and unionists and see a community defined by both. It’s also a story of a man who started drinking at nine years old and made a life of alcohol, drugs, violence, prison and chasing women – and, when his trainers could control him, boxing too.

The first half of the book is gripping. It explores what it was like for an angry alcoholic petty criminal to grow up in Belfast in the 80s and 90s. It shows the impact that the IRA could have and how one word from one well connected member could mean fleeing your home that night to live in London for a year. It sets Eamon’s life in context and it tries to explain how one boxer came to represent Northern Ireland for a brief few years as someone who could wear the Irish tricolour but still be loved by unionist fans.

And then, in the last third of the book, it begins a detailed round by round summary of Eamonn’s career. Which if boxing is your thing then I’m sure it’s great. But, as I don’t know my uppercut from a supercut, and couldn’t tell you if the author was describing a boxing match or a barbers, this section was a bit of a slog.

However, the rest of the book is recommended and provides a glimpse defined by trouble and Troubles.

You can buy the book here: Amazon

I Beat Carl Lewis (Andrew)

The road/track of dreams

I was 14 when I broke the 100m sprint world record by sprinting home in 9.5 seconds. I could have run faster. Conditions were tricky. We didn’t have a running track at our school so all sprints had to take place on the road in front of the school gates. A teacher would stand at the end of the road and stop the traffic to give us a minute to run clear before angry drivers would start to beep their horns.

Also, I was wearing Adidas Sambas, which were perfect for playing five a side football but had, as far as I know, never been Carl Lewis’s first choice to contest the Olympics. In fact, they wouldn’t have been his second or third choice either given he was a professional athlete with access to global brands and I needed a pair of trainers that would last from birthday to Christmas because I only had one pair of shoes. Sambas were versatile. (And smelly).

I must admit it was also windy. And wet. But this was Stornoway in the Western Isles and every day is windy and wet. But that only makes us run faster because everyone knows the cure to pneumonia is to outrun it.

Unfortunately, even with these impediments, and while I broke the Olympic record, I didn’t break our school record. That stood at 9.1 seconds and had been set about 10 metres earlier because I wasn’t the first to finish that day. I wasn’t even in the top three. I was sixth. I can only guess this is how Venus Williams must feel when she looks at her trophy cabinet, one of the most decorated in tennis, and then pops round to see her sister, Serena.

I was happy though. It’s not every day you beat the world record. Unless you’re Adam Peaty swimming the 200m breastroke and every time you break the world record is every time you go for a swim. Just imagine how fast he could be if learned how to swim the crawl?!?

Unfortunately, my record didn’t last long. A formal enquiry was launched, which is an elaborate way of saying Mr Dunlop, our PE teacher, scratched his head and said “This ain’t right!”

You’d have thought he was pleased, finding a generation of natural sprinters. But he called over our two fastest runners and asked them to run again, which they did, after we stopped the 44 bus and created a tailback all the way back to the Stornoway harbour.

They lined up. Standing start, none of the blocks nonsense that the professional use. How can you run faster if you have to get up first? If you’re already standing then you’re clearly going to have an advantage over someone kneeling down!

He blew his whistle and – they smashed it. 8.9 seconds. We were witnessing history. Some people say it’ll be another hunded years and at least four generations of evolution for mankind to ever run so fast – we did it twice in five minutes.

“Well, it’s not my stopwatch.” Said Mr Dunlop.

“Maybe, we’re just really fast.” I suggested.

He took one look at my Adidas Sambas and track bottoms – as I’d forgotten to bring shorts. Also I still had my glasses on because otherwise I’d never have managed to run in a straight line. And he knew that I knew that I had never shown any athletic ability what’s so ever and could only say:

“Right, either we’ve got a generation of Ben Johnson’s or one of you wee b******ds didn’t measure the course out correctly. Who’s got the metre stick.”

And with that grabbed the metre stick and meticulously laid it end to end 100 times along the road – only stopping four times to avoid being run over by passing traffic.

He came back.

“It’s only 80m – you can all run again!”

And that’s how I lost the world record after just five minutes. It turned out I never had it in the first place. But, for five minutes, I was ever so briefly, the fastest man on the planet, except for the five ahead of me, but they cheated so they don’t count.

Antonine Trail Race 2019 (Andrew)

This is the third time we’ve entered the Antonine Trail Race. You can read the previous reports, including race description, here (2017) and here (2018).

This year the challenge was to run faster and try and best two hours, a challenge made much harder by forgetting my watch. D’oh! It’s very hard to race against the clock when you forget the clock!

The race is well organised with a good t-shirt, an environmentally friendly water policy (bring your own bottle), decent grub at the finish and a route that provides a decent off road challenge along with some cracking views along the front of the Campsies. And, for those that love mud, it provides more mud than a tabloid journalist. Though I have to confess that most of that mud might have come from an unexpected detour.

“Do you know where we’re going?” I asked Iain.

“Yes,” he said, “there’s another runner up ahead.”

The only runner I could see was off to one side, through a bank of trees and running along what appeared to be a nice dry path. We were running in the middle of a field that could had so much water it could only be used to grow rice.

My foot disappears into the earth. Euuugh!

“Who are you following?” I ask.

“Him,” says Iain, pointing at man in the wood.

“That what are we doing running across a field!?”

“He must have taken the wrong way!”

Someone took the wrong way, and I don’t think it was the man in the wood!

A couple of miles later we see another man with a number on his chest run towards us.

“I went the wrong way,” he said, “took a little detour!”

Which just goes to show it can happen to anyone, and we weren’t the only ones to end up in the wrong place, however it was ever so slightly dispiriting to find that even with his detour he then overtook us and ran over the horizon. Lapped by someone going the wrong way, that’s a new first.

Despite that, we finished in under two hours and I was happy to finish with a new personal best.

Book Review: There is No Map In Hell (Andrew)

In 2009, adventurer Ben Fogle and former Olympic rower James Cracknell raced across Antarctica to the South Pole. The BBC documentary ‘On Thin Ice’ showed them recruiting a third team member, Dr Ed Coats, to complete their team. But if you read their book, also called ‘On Thin Ice’ you’d only find Fogle and Cracknell’s story. Dr Ed is nowhere to be found!

While the documentary shows he wasn’t lost in the Antartic, that he was as much part of the team as the others, the book focuses on the ‘stars’ – and loses something from it.

Big adventures are rarely achieved alone. Ed Stafford, the first man to walk the length of the Amazon, and a man who can claim to have achieved it alone, makes very clear in his book that he couldn’t have done it without the help of a guide who joined him shortly after starting. And he spends just as long talking about their friendship as he does about his own achievement.

That’s why I think I found The Mountains Are Calling a struggle. It was all about the runner, all about ‘me’. And also why I found There Is No Map In Hell a far better book.

Steve Birkenshaw is a fell runner. He holds the record for completing the Wainwrights – a run across all 100+ Lake District mountain fells. This book charts his race with a brief background on his running career before a detailed review of his record breaking run.

Unlike other books he also has other people involved write about what they saw or what they did to help. By adding the perspectives of his wife, support crew, nurse (for some graphic description of his feet!) and support runners he’s able to show the such records are not achieved alone and that they couldn’t be achieved without teamwork. And, while he might be running, he could only run because of what other people were doing for him – whether running with him, guiding him when his mind couldn’t grasp where he was going, to preparing support stops, logistics, food or just being there to urge him on.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

The Holiday Mile (Andrew)

I always take my trainers with me on holiday. I have this idea that I’ll go for a run when I’m away. That it’ll be a chance to explore a new city or town and get a fresh perspective of where I am. Yet, every time I come home, I find my trainers have reminded firmly in a well wrapped bag.

(The bag has to be well wrapped as trainers, well, there’s no,other way to say this, STINK. And the very last thing you want to do is place your trainers tightly in with all your fresh holiday clothes in a closed bag because soon everything will smell of your feet…eugh!)

This year I decided that there was no point planning a holiday run. I was going to be away for two weeks, I had to bring hiking boots and taking a pair of trainers too felt like I’d be using too much space for footwear I would only use for a few hours, if that.

And, if I didn’t take my trainers, I wouldn’t feel guilty about not going for a run. You can’t feel guilty if you can’t actually do something. Just like I don’t feel guilty about not going to the moon, painting a stunning landscape or eating beatroot (it’s purple – only bruises and dinosaurs are purple!).

But, when I started to pack I realised I would have space for trainers if I wore my hiking boots onto the plane. If I didn’t pack,them, but wore them instead, I’d free up both space and weight. And then I thought, why not take my trainers but instead of thinking I should go for a run I would only aim to cover a mile instead: The Holiday Mile. A simple goal, less than 10 minutes and it would meet my goal of seeing more than just a hotel in wherever we stayed but would also be short enough that it didn’t feel like an imposition during the holiday. It would be over and done before breakfast.

And, as it turned out, if I went out for that first mile, I would also carry on if I was enjoying it.

Perfect

So, here then are my Holiday Miles for Dubai and Uganda.

Dubai

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And all I can say is…

Don’t do it! I mean really, really don’t do it. I tried my holiday mile at the end of September when the temperature was 42 degrees and it was horrible. That’s not running, that’s cooking.

Also, I ran on the beach so I didn’t even use my trainers.

But apart from that, I was happy the Holiday Mile worked. I got out, I ran, And if I can do it on what felt like the surface of a barbecue then it can be done anywhere. Places like…

Kampala

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One worry when running abroad is what happens if you get lost. It’s easy to do, you don’t know the area and signs may either be in other languages, other alphabets or non-existant. You might decide not run just because you don’t know where you are. What if you’re ina bad area of town?

That was my worry in Kampala, in Uganda. It was my first time in Central Africa and I didn’t know where one neighbourhood starts and another ends. Each road was either dirt track or basic tarmac and we were staying next to Lake Victoria and open ground. Luckily, I’d brought my Garmin watch with me and was keen to try out a new feature – Trackback, which would give you directions back to the start of your run.

I hoped not to use it. I thought I’d have a good sense of direction and was marking street corners in my head as I ran but, when I turned round, I managed to miss two turnings and ended up at the top of a hill next to a school and with no memory of seeing it before. I knew I was lost. This wasn’t the way I had come. But I had Trackback.

I switched it on, my watch showed a small map of the route I’d ran and an arrow point telling which direction to go. It then beeped when I ran passed a road I should have ran down and it warned me every time I ran in the wrong direction. It was brilliant. And I’ll forgive Garmin their dodgy straps – see Challenge Roth Swim – just for this function.

And, even better, I’d actually run two miles. A double Holiday Mile.

Why not try the Holiday Mile the next time you go away?

Outdoor Swim Review: the Arabian Ocean (Andrew)

It’s coming to the end of the outdoor swimming season. The thought of swimming in budgie smugglers is as appealing as actually smuggling a budgie in your pants. Wetsuits have become obligatory and swim caps have been replaced by swim hoods. It’s getting colder and the only thing worse than cold water is…. hot water.

I was lucky enough to swim in the Arabian Sea last month. I had a stop over in Dubai, the hotel was next to the beach and I decided that a 42 degree day would be ideal time to swim in the ocean. I was wrong.

As soon as I got in I felt like a teabag in a cup of lukewarm tea. The water was too hot. It would have made a nice temperature for soup. Every time I ducked my head I felt like I was going to come out as red as a lobster after five minutes in the pot.

What was going on? I’d never swum in water like this before. There was no cold shock when I started to wade in. No head chill from ducking below a wave. It was almost… pleasant!

I couldn’t take it. It was just too nice!

It was then I remembered swimming in Norway two years ago in the Norseman practice swim. Competitors from around the world had travelled to a Norwegian fjord and had braced themselves for near arctic chills and icy waters. Iain and I checked the temperature, saw it was 16 degrees and warm for Scotland and jumped in without wetsuits.

“Are you mad?’ A man cried.

“No, we’re Scottish” we said.

“No, you must be SALMON!” He said firmly as he finished pulling on gloves, socks and three swim caps.

And that made me realise that everyone’s idea of extreme is different. For him, 16 degrees was as cold as a Penguin eating a Magnum while watching Frozen in the middle of the Arctic circle. While, for us, 16 degrees may as well have been as comfy as a towel straight from the tumble dryer.

But swimming in warm water is just madness. The whole point of swimming is to cool off, to feel nice and refreshed and you just can’t do that with an ocean warm enough to make Earl Grey tea.

I doff my 5 inch thick swim cap to all the warm weather swimmers. The one’s who can swim all year round and never reach that optimum temperature of 14 degrees when the water is as refreshing as a gazpacho soup. The one’s who never get the benefit of swimming with a five inch thick wetsuit so buoyant it could turn you into balloon. After swimming in the Arabian Sea I can see that all of you who swim in warm water all year round are truly the extreme swimmers!

Worst Tip Ever (Andrew)

I was reading an article with tips for taking part in triathlons when I spotted the tip above, possibly the worst tip ever because, if everyone followed it, there would be no bike pumps to hand out!

“Excuse me, can I borrow your bike pump?”

“Sorry, I don’t have one, I thought you did.”

“Why would I have one? I was following the top tips for triathletes!”

“So was I!”

“Damn!”

“Bugger – none of us has a bike pump! Does anyone know if you can inflate a tyre by blowing in it?!”

For a sport where drafting is banned, where competing on your own is the goal, this must rank as the worst tip of the year.

The Day After (Andrew)

James Bond stands triumphant. Blofeld is dead. The nucleur missile launch has been averted and the world is safe once more. Bond is bloodied, bruised and mildly blootered after too many shaken and not stirred martinis. But he doesn’t feel it – at least not until the next day…

When he goes to Tesco and buys some milk because the milk in the fridge went off while he was trotting around the globe; when he pops into the dry cleaners to remove the lipstick from his dinner jacket after a night with Blofeld’s beautiful assistant; when he slumps in front of Homes for the Hammer and thinks “you’d think I’d have got more than one day off before I have to go back to work and sit at my desk and catch up with all the emails I haven’t answered – I don’t want to go to work tomorrow!!!”.

Of course, he could skip work. But just because you’re a commander of the British Navy and an MI6 agent with a licence to kill doesn’t mean you can take your own holidays when the rest of the department has already booked it because it’s schools week. You try not turning up for work. You won’t be handed a Walter PPK again, you’ll be handed a P45.

I love thinking about the day after. What happens next for the heroes and villains we read and watch? Did Robocop rescue a kitten from a tree the day after he brought down Omnicorp? Did Hannibal Lecter have a chicken pot noodle because he’d ran out of livers and a nice chianti? What does Darth Vadar do on his day off? Does he, like Boris Johnson, paint buses using cardboard boxes?!? What happens the day after?

No one ever talks about the day after because nothing happens the day after. The adrenalin is gone. The action is over. It’s all admin, resting, cleaning up and blocking the number of the beautiful assistant from your phone as you don’t want to accidently answer it after she betrayed you and tried to kill you with a booby trapped piranha tank.

It’s no different from triathletes. Think about the day after a race. What happens then? You might have to travel, spending hours in a car with stiff legs and a sore back. You have to empty bags and wash race gear and wetsuits. You might check times and photos and update social media with all the ones where you have your stomach stuck in because tri-suits are not at all flattering…

Then the day after that, you think. What do I do now? You can’t save the world every day, just as you can’t race every day (unless you’re the Iron Cowboy).

And without the adrenalin of a race, and without the goal of an event to train for, it’s easy to fall into a slump. Why run, if you’re not training? Why go out on the bike if not as preparation? Without a goal it becomes harder justify your actions. Swim in the morning and then run home from work? That was normal, one month ago. Now, what the blooming nora were you thinking? Two showers in one day? How did you find the time!?!?!?

So, those first days and weeks after a race are a critical time. It’s easy to forget training. (And, possibly smart to do so as you can’t keep going at same rate after a race without risking injury). It’s easy to eat cake. (It’s always easy to eat cake!). But it’s also easy to try and recreate the race high. It’s why organisers know the best time to sell next year’s race is the day after this year’s race to the people who’ve just woken up with a feeling of invibility like they’ve just saved the world.

Sometimes I think James Bond must be an Ironman triathlete as only a triathlete with the Ironman bug, would think “hey, I’ve saved the world and almost killed myself, but you know what would be great – doing it all over again and again and again!”

I’m sure the next James Bond film will feature him killing twice the number of henchman, bedding four times the number of women, while saying he really, really doesn’t need a wetsuit because swimming to the underground lair in 10 degrees of water wouldn’t be extreme enough if he didn’t do it in skins.

After Challenge Roth, I knew I would feel these thoughts. The need to chase the next adventure. That I’d want to look at the next race and the next hit and not just enjoy the feeling of completing Roth itself. So, I made a promise to myself. I wouldn’t enter or commit myself to anything serious for at least two months after Roth. Only then would I think about whether I would want to train for a long distance event again.

So, amateur athletes of the world, remember this – even James Bond can’t save the world every day!