All posts by Andy Todd

Fear of a Blue Planet (Andrew)

“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink…”

… because I can see a shopping trolley, a thin layer of green slime and an alkie having a piss behind a bin.

The River Clyde that splits Glasgow in half like a razor through a throat is not a river you swim in, not unless you have a radiation suit, a snorkel and bath of hydrochloric acid to scrub yourself clean. The River Dee splits Chester apart like a blue ribbon. It’s clean, genteel and demands that you dip more than your toes into it. It’s a proper river. Not like the Clyde, which, to Glaswegians, is less a river and more a naturally occurring accessory to murder.

Until three years ago I would never have thought of swimming in any river. I could barely swim in a swimming pool. But, after accepting Iain’s challenge to take part in Challenge Henley Middle Distance Triathlon and swim 1.9 miles in the River Thames, I knew I would have to learn to swim ‘proper’ as I only knew the breaststroke.

They say that before you walk you should learn to crawl, but, for swimming, before you crawl, you need to learn how to drown. Repeatedly. I spent three months just learning to breath out of the side of my mouth without swallowing half of the pool. It was slow going but I kept practicing and followed my coach’s instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, that letter was W for “wrong”, my couch was Iain and while he should have been teaching me my ABC’s he missed out the basics and had me working on a swim shape that made me look an epileptic squid. You’re meant to glide through the water. I sunk.

Lesson: don’t appoint a ‘coach’ who only learnt to swim the week before you.

By July, I’d started to feel more comfortable swimming and had entered the Deva Triathlon in Chester which involved a 1.5km swim in the River Dee. I was nervous. It was my first time swimming in a river and I wasn’t sure what would happen. Would I be able to swim in a straight line? What if someone kicked me in the face during the mass start? And, most importantly, would the water be as warm as a bath or as cold as a shower when the hot water switches off (which everyone knows is the coldest feeling in the world)?

I shouldn’t have worried. I started at the back, so avoided the fight for the front. I swam in a straight line, which was brilliant, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t always the right line…. and the water was warm. Well, warmish. Well, not cold. Well, okay, it was cold, but I soon adjusted.

The Deva Triathlon was the first time that I thought I would actually complete Challenge Henley. I’d survived the swim. The bike race was fantastic, with a trip to Wales, smooth roads, and largely open and traffic free roads, and the run was a very pleasant three laps round the river, a park and a suspension bridge.

In one go, it became one of my favorite races – and I’m looking forward to returning this Sunday for another go. This time, I know how to swim (not like Iain taught me), I know more about racing and I’m out for revenge. I lost to Iain last weekend at the Stirling Sprint Triathlon and this is my chance to even the score.

This Sunday, it’s Todd v Todd.

Chalk & Cheese at the Radar Ride (Andrew)

You can buy a synthetic gel that tastes like a banana. You can buy a bar made of nuts and grains that tastes like a chocolate cake. You can’t buy a banana that tastes like a chocolate cake, but, with advances in sports nutrition, it won’t be long before you can. Because sports gel and bars are all about disguising what you’re actually eating.

Who wants a gel that’s a Bakewell tart or a bar that’s pretending to be a strawberry cheesecake? Manufacturers should be honest and describe things accurately. I’d much rather choose between “Chalk”, “Superglue” and “Smell Like Boak”. At least then I’d know what I was buying.

That’s why I loved the Rader Ride 2016. Instead of the usual selection of gels and bars it had read food at its feed stations. It had everything: cheese rolls, ham rolls, cheese and ham rolls. You name it (as long it involved cheese and/or ham), it had it. It had also home baking with flapjacks and banana bread and great treat like Jaffa cakes and jelly beans. And, for those that wanted a banana that tasted like a banana it had a banana.

This buffet was my downfall.

At the end of the Radar Ride, you cycle a service road to a radar station above Wanlockhead. It’s 2.5 miles of pure climbing culminating in a stunning view of Dumfries and the Borders. But, at the bottom, they had a food stop – and I couldn’t resist it. I just had to have another cheese roll. I stopped. Iain stopped. We shared a roll and then, with the road immediately ramping up, I was in the wrong gear. I had to push off a number of times to get enough speed to turn the wheel and change my gear but It was too late. Iain was already 100m up the road. He might as well have been at the top of the hill. I couldn’t catch up.

But I’d had cheese, so I was happy.


Twinning the Etape Caledonia (Andrew)

Last year at the Caledonian Etape Iain tried a break away at mile 70. We were heading to Aberfeldy, on a long flat stretch, he had his brand new aero bike, he turned round, took one look at me and started pumping his legs as fast as he could. He was off.

For the next three miles he didn’t look round. He kept his head down and his speed up. I sat on his wheel, waiting.

At Taymouth he finally looked round, I knew in his mind he was thinking “my job’s done, I’ve dropped him” but that’s when I picked up speed, went straight passed him and didn’t look back.

That was my fifth victory in a row.

This year, I thought it would be closer. I was wrong. I picked up speed at mile 20 as I thought we’d entered a sprint section. In previous years this section was just a mile long. This time it was 10 miles. I thought Iain was with me and we’d have a race towards the finish but, as the miles passed and I realised that I’d miscalculated I also realised Iain had not kept up. I was on my own.

I was feeling good. Despite a cold during the week I was breathing okay and not coughing too much. I kept going, setting small goals for myself. Keep up with this group. Join this chain. Pass these people on Schiehalion. Use the drops on the way to Taymouth.

I know the course so well. We would go on summer holiday to Aberfeldy and I’ve cycled parts of the route many times. It makes such a difference to know the course. You know when to push, when to relax and how long it takes between places.

With every mile I still felt fresh so I just kept going. I had some gels in my pocket so didn’t need to stop so I wondered how fast I could go. I’d hoped to finish in under 4hrs 30 mins. In the end I finished in 4 hours 11 minutes, 18 minutes faster than my previous personal best.

The twinner* again.

*twin + winner = twinner (trademark pending)

Holiday Flu’s (Andrew)

I’m on holiday this week. A week at home to catch up with some DIY, some writing for work and, what I thought would be a chance to catch up with my swimming after a poor month of getting to the pool.

The swimming started fine. I went to Tollcross on Tuesday and swam 2k and could have swam more. “I’ll do 2.5k” on Thursday I told myself. In the meantime, I started each day with an hour on the turbo to get my legs spinning before the Etape Caledonia on Sunday.

And then Wednesday happened. A sore throat. The beginnings of a head cold and, today, Thursday, I’m not at the pool. Or on the bike. I’m looking out the window at an almost blue sky and wishing that I was out on the bike. Instead, I have a head cold.

It’s frustrating to be off work and to have the time to enjoy swimming, running and cycling without trying to fit them around the rest of the day. But I know there’s nothing I can do. It’s a head cold. Possibly chronic. Definitely terminal. At least for today.

I’ll be better tomorrow. And this is a good reminder that training is not just about what you planned. It’s what happens when you’re planning.

Last year I was ill for a week six weeks before Iron Man UK. I should have been going on my final long rides and runs. Instead I had to take it easy. There’s no point pushing it, it’ll only make things worse.

So, instead, I ripped apart a plastic shed and carried old paint pots back and forth from the house to the car to the skip. But I didn’t run. Or cycle. Or swim. So, that’s okay then.

JK Rowling’s Driveway (Andrew)

Iain and I met JK Rowling two years ago. It was at a drinks reception at the Kings Theatre in Edinburgh and, because badgering her for Emma Watson’s phone number is not cool, we asked her what she thought about the Etape Caledonia bike race closing the road in front of her house in Aberfeldy.

Because talking about bikes is cool.


However, it turned out Iain didn’t want to talk about roads, or whether she was the mystery figure who threw tacks in front of the riders (she wasn’t, we asked and she denied it) he actually wanted to ask if she knew what happened in her driveway during the race.

“There’s no loos,” he begun.

JK’s not sure where this going…

“And by the time you’ve cycled for four hours you really need to go to the toilet.”

I knew where this was going. But there was no stopping Iain.

“And all the driveway’s make ideal places to stop…”

JK Rowling now knows where this going too…

“… all the bikes pull over, and, you know…”

She does.

I do. I have to change subject: “Have you got Emma Watson’s phone number?” I ask.

She doesn’t.

Funny that.

The joy of turning left (Andrew)

Last week, I turned left. It wasn’t deliberate, it just happened. I’d started running my normal route from the office when, five minutes into the run, someone had locked a gate and blocked access to a short woodland trail through Glenbervie. I had no choice. Instead of turning right I had to turn left.

In my head, I’m grumbling. All my thoughts of where to run and how far to go have been blocked. How could I run six miles if I couldn’t run the first mile? Where would I go?

But, as I ran, a thought took hold. Why not turn left again? Why not try and run randomly. Every time I would get to a junction I would ask myself “which road do I know the least?” and that’s the way I’d go.

In the process, I discovered a new trail, a new park, a new golf course and new interest in running. I wasn’t running, I was exploring.

While there’s joy in running the same routes, the comfort of knowing where you’re going, what you’ll see and the calmness that comes from not thinking about anything at all. There’s no spark. The same roads, the same streets, the same pavements, the same beat. No one ever said “You know what I find fun, doing exactly the same thing as yesterday and the day before and the year before that!”

Last week, I turned left. And while there’s fear in getting lost, or finding a route that worse than the one you’d planned, that’s a pessimistic view. You might find crocodiles, mud or, worse, a long straight road (is there anything more boring than not turning?) you might also find a hill with an escalator (I can but dream).

So, this week, try turning left.

p.s. Remember to turn right at least once too. If you don’t, you’ve just run in a circle.