Book Review: Full Gas (Andrew)

What’s the point of a breakaway? Every time I watch a stage of a bike race I wonder why does the peloton allow a group of riders to race ahead – break away – and then spend the rest of the race chasing them so that they can overtake them in the last few miles? Once or twice, a break away rider would win but, given the number of races in a season, it seemed an exercise in futility. Why spend all day racing ahead when you could spend all day in the main group and end up in the same place all battling to get to the finish line. This book answered my question. If you weren’t in the breakaway then those riders would never win so they take their chance that their race might be the one in one hundred chance they have of winning a stage or race.

But why race on other days? Why continue to battle even when it’s clear the peloton will overtake you. The answer to that is experience It’s about finding out information on your opponents and how they and their team react so that when you’re in a break that could matter you might have an advantage over the other riders because you know their team is slow to react or that they tend to bluff and pretend to be stronger than they are.

While ‘Full Gas’ is not a complex book. It assumes the average reader knows little about bike racing, it is one which has unexpected depths by interviewing a wide number of riders to offer an impressive range of opinions on different parts of racing – from race tactics, how teams work, winning sprints or just what each member of a team is expected to do.

I’d recommend this to anyone who’s interested in knowing more about why cycling is a team sport and who want to know more about how every race is both a mixture of team work and individual brilliance.

Celtman Training And The Coronavirus (Andrew)

My mum said that when she first went to school on the Isle of Lewis in the 1950s that there was a teacher who spoke with a posh English accent. Every day the teacher would tell the class of crofter’s children to “wash their hands”, which puzzled one boy who couldn’t understand the teacher. He turned to my mum and asked “why does the teacher always tell us to wash our hens?”

Last week I worked four days in the office and one, Friday, at home. On Thursday I had a slight cough and a feeling of tightness in my chest. I didn’t have a temperature and the cough was so infrequent it could have been a bus.

To be on the safe side, in case I was asystematic, and, as I could, if I wanted, work from home. I decided that I should keep away from work and try home working.

Mrs TwinbikeRun (Andrew) was already at home, she started on Thursday. She’s working one week in, one week out. We’d set up her desk on Wednesday night. It was beside my Wattbike. “You won’t be able to use it while I’m working,” she said.

“Maybe you won’t be able to work while I’m cycling,” I replied, “the bike did have the room first”. 

“Does the bike pay the mortgage?”

“No.”

“Exactly.”

I may need to move the bike next week…

On Saturday we popped to the supermarket. A few people wondered the aisles clutching 16 packs of toilet rolls like a shield. We’ll be okay, they say, we have bog roll!

There a gaps in the shelves, though more there to buy than expected. Pasta was empty but nachos were okay. Currys were empty, so was chicken but there was plenty of pork and steak. Also no diet coke. So, that’s panic buying logic for you, while everyone might be binging, at least they won’t get fat.

With all this going on, this has not be a week for training. Instead I wanted to preserve my strength, see what happens with the mild symptoms I do have (thankfully, they appear to be easing on Sunday so may just have been a cold) and then, once there’s a sense of routine, see what I can do. Training comes third this week. Maybe even fourth. Health and family first. Then work. Then finding Diet Coke, of course, we’re nearly out – dear God, we might have to have Coke Zero! Then training.

Glasgow Triathlon Club (Andrew)

Late last year I volunteered to become a Trustee for Glasgow Triathlon Club when it converted to become a charity. I’ve not written about it here partly because I’m still working out what’s involved and partly because I’m on the board of trustees to help provide legal advice. And if I’m proving advice I don’t want to do anything that breaches confidentiality, which I’m sure would be fine as we don’t discuss many confidential things, but I like to be cautious about anything which could get me thrown out of the Law Society..!

Yesterday, we had to make one of our hardest and easiest decisions: we had to stop all events and sessions. It was our hardest decision because we know how important it is to continue life as normal and to provide a way for people to meet and train. It was our easiest because anything that can be done to help fight the virus should be done, and it’s no sacrifice to give up sessions for a few weeks.

After we made the decision I wrote this which we sent to all members:

After a meeting of the club trustees, here is our club statement:

Triathletes help each other. Everyone remembers when a dazed Jonny Brownlee was helped over the line by his brother Alistair in a dramatic end to the World Triathlon Series in 2016. Alistair gave up his chance to win in order to help his brother because that’s what triathletes do: we look out for each other.

The Covid-19 crisis is unprecedented. And while sport is insignificant in the challenges the country faces in the next weeks and months, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. For many of us, our lives are dominated by racing, training and the friendships that come from shared goals: whether that’s to learn to swim, to train to improve, or to race to win. We find meaning in routine, happiness in pushing ourselves and the comfort of know that we’re not alone.

Glasgow Triathlon Club is more than just the sessions we run or the events we hold. It’s about our members, our families and the wider community we hope to inspire to join us. We are a community – and we must look out for each other. That means taking actions now which help reduce the strain on our public services and help support the government’s desire to reduce non-essential contact. As such, we will be guided by the UK and Scottish Government and by Triathlon Scotland. Yesterday, Triathlon Scotland released the following guidance: Triathlon Scotland Covid-19 update statement and while guidance can, and is likely to, change as events demand, the Club’s trustees have, after much debate and with an emphasis on placing health and wellbeing of not just our members and coaches but also of the wider community, decided to take the following immediate actions:

Big Bobble Hats Bishopbriggs Sprint & Novice Triathlon 3 May 2020 – This will be postponed, and the race organiser will investigate whether we can rearrange for later in the year. More details will follow for all entrants, including refund arrangements.

Weekly coached sessions – All coached sessions will stop from (and including) today. This was a difficult decision, given many venues remain open, however the Trustees believe coached sessions do not fit in with the principles of social isolation and until such time that there is greater clarity it is better to take a cautious approach.


Online support – our head coaches are looking at the support they can offer members over the short term. This may include exercises we do alone, at home or online. More details will follow.


These are unknown times however we hope that everyone understands that the actions we take are with the best of intentions to ensure, even in a small way, we offer a helping hand – or elbow tap – to those who need it.

Coronavirus and CeltMan 2020 (Andrew)

Finally, a good use for a buff

No football. No golf. No tennis. Not even a professional game of tiddlywinks will be played in the next few weeks as Coronavirus has led to an almost global pause in every sport, including triathlon. This week the International Triathlon Union suspended all events until the end of April. Whether they resume in May is still to be determined. Hopefully, some normalcy will resume. However, no one knows and no one can predict what will happen when we talk about how to deal with an illness that no one can predict.

There’s no announcements yet about Celtman. It’s in June, so it’s too early to see how it could be affected but there are some clear signs as to how event organisers are reviewing races. It’s not just the risk of illness but also the impact on public services or having medical or police resources at events when they could be dealing with much more important things than whether Frank from Accounting can get round the London Marathon dressed as an African rhino.

Celtman is a smaller event. It has less than 300 starters and the race is unsupported so it’s impact on public services is minimal so I remain hopeful that it will go ahead, that the next two months will see a routine established (even if that months rather than weeks away), and that we can line up in Applecross in June just the same as any other year.

But who knows. No one. So, the only thing I do know, is that this comment on the Celtman Facebook group summed it all up perfectly. Will Celtman be cancelled?

Swimming and the Coronavirus (Andrew)

This is not medical advice. I am the last person who should be giving medical advice. Except maybe for Doctor Who, who’s neither a medical practitioner or a PHD, just a conman with a phonebox, or Dr Hannibal Lecter, who’d eat you as soon as cure you. So, when I ask, can you still train with the coronavirus, I’m being half serious.

Can you train with the coronavirus? If it was a cold or flu or a broken leg then, for most runners, the answer is “yes, just run it off!”.

Amateur athletes are notorious for training and racing while ill. We assume that any cough or headache or Ebola virus is just a sign that the training is working. Of course, I’m not well, I’ve been training!

But yesterday I went swimming and I thought: “Should I be here?”. Should I be in a swimming pool that’s a coronavirus cocktail of sweat and spit and whatever else has washed off the bodies of a thousands swimmers?

What about the changing room? Do you need a hazmat suit just to change out of my birthday suit in a room filled with perspiring bodybuilders?

Or do you assume that this is no different to any other cold or flu or bug and live life normally until the government says otherwise?

It seems as if many have already started to panic. There are no toilet rolls or pasta on supermarket shelves. Personally, if I was stockpiling for two weeks I’d be stocking up chocolate biscuits and cake. Stuff fusilli pasta, if I’m coughing and hacking, I want a KitKat.

I don’t get the obsession with pasta either. After the virus started in China there were numerous people saying they wouldn’t eat Chinese food. Now the virus is in Italy, we’re eating Spaghetti Bolognese like our lives depended on it (literally).

Not to mention we’re washing our hands for 20 seconds. The Government says you should sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice. I don’t think you need a song though – just wash your hands like you’ve just killed a man and don’t want to get caught. You don’t need soap to clean hands, just pretend you have a guilty conscience.

But if water and soap is effective then all you need to do if you want to swim is pour some liquid soap in the pool. Turn it into a sink. That way 2000 metres will leave you cleaner than an Italian hypochondriac eating Kung Pow Chicken.

And if you’re adding soap then also add conditioner for your hair. I was told by a hairdresser that if you want to avoid damaging hair with chorine then apply some conditioner before you swim. Now, you’re not just training, you’re protecting yourself too. With all the soapy water, you’re immune from the coronavirus.

Possibly.

As I said, I’m not a Doctor, and this is definitely not medical advice.

But if you want proper advice then I’d point you in the direction of the Swim England guidance for swimming in swimming pools, which includes the following quote:

“Water and the chlorine within swimming pools will help to kill the virus. However, visitors to swimming pools are reminded to shower before using the pool, to shower on leaving the pool and to follow the necessary hygiene precautions when visiting public places to help reduce the risk of infection.”

You can read the full guidance here

Night Running (Andrew)

If you say “I’m not lost” then that is a sure sign that you are, in fact, lost. Not that I was lost when I said it. I knew exactly where I was – in a wood, near Elgin, at night, in the dark, surrounded by deer – but I admit I may not have known quite exactly which path to take to get back to Elgin and not end up, hours later in Inverness…

Last week, I decided to try some night time trail running. I was in Elgin and, while there is a lot of nice varied routes to run round, there is one thing missing: hills. Elgin is flat. If you dropped a slinky, it would not slink. Elgin’s completely flat. Run through town, flat. Run through Cooper Park, flat. Run to Maggot Wood (one of my favourite place names as it does make you think how many maggots must there have been to name a whole wood after them), all completely flat.

For a change, I decided to run out of Elgin and try some trails I could see through the hills on Elgin’s western edge. I brought my head torch, found a willing companion who didn’t baulk when I said “fancy going to the dark woods tonight”, and we decided to see if we could find a route through the trees. 

Problem one: we didn’t know where we were going or where any path might start.

Problem two: we didn’t know that everything looks like a path when you only have a head torch to guide you. A flat bit of grass between two trees looks like the start of a patch when you can’t see further than three metres in front of you. 

Problem three: Dear, God, what are those glowing eyes in the woods!!!! Head torches, we discovered, make every deer glancing in your direction and caught in your headlight, look like they’re possessed by the eye of Sauron. 

Problem four: sometime the darkness in front of you is not just darkness but a twenty-metre drop from the side of an old quarry. A good tip, quickly learned, was to only step where you can see the ground in front of you.

Problem five: if you hit an A road, turn back. A roads don’t have pavements and cars racing at 70mph to Inverness pass very close to you if try and venture onto the verge. 

Problem six: if you turn back, remember where you have come from as, when you finally meet three mountain bikers out cycling with powerful beams you don’t have to say “I’m not lost but, do we turn left or right here to get back to Elgin?”.

Apart from that, night running is fun, just remember to keep safe though when out!

Training For Celtman: February (Andrew)

February Goals

More cycling. I’ve been restricted to indoor cycling and I’d like to get at least one 50 mile ride outdoors, weather depending.

Did I achieve it?

In a word: no. But it wasn’t through a lack of effort, more a lack of opportunity as February was, according to the Met Office, the wettest month ever recorded. 

Every weekend we saw a different storm hit the UK. For three of the weekends, we were hit by named storms, including Storm Jorge, who had been named by Spanish weather authorities when it developed in the Atlantic on the basis that it was due to head south and not north. When it started moving towards the UK not even a Brexit passport and an Australian style immigration system could stop this storm exercising its right of free movement. 

I don’t understand why we name storms. In Stornoway, the crofters will name their sheep, but only before they slaughter them. Maybe, it’s similar thought. If it’s going to hurt then you need to make it personal. Let’s name the storm. 

Maybe it’s to make the weather more approachable? Storms sound less dangerous if they are called Kitty (a genuine name from this year’s list). But to that I say: “I don’t want to be friends with the weather!”

It’s also pointless naming the weather when the weather is happening every weekend. In Scotland we already have name for the weather: it’s called Winter and it lasts from September to May.

With Storm Winter brining strong winds, heavy rain, near freezing conditions and even some thundersnow, a 50 mile bike ride was out of the question. I did manage one ride outdoors for 90 minutes in the middle of a dry spell during the first storm but my goal for March will definitely be to ride more outside. Instead, I concentrated on some hillier rides on Zwift including a couple of sessions including the lower slopes of Alpe Du Zwift.

In general, a weaker month than I would have liked but with some business trips, my Dad spending two weeks in Glasgow for medical tests and, generally, February living up to its annual claim to be one of the busiest months of the year at work, I’m pleased to have at least been consistent, if not as long as I would have liked. I did manage my first race and achieved a personal best. I’m taking confidence that my run training must be heading in the right direction.

Also, swimming was weaker this month after I missed two training sessions because of work trips but, as one of the sessions was a 2500 metre session, I was glad to miss out! 

March’s Goals

Keep swimming at least one 2k session a week, keep running at least 10 miles most weekends and ride at least 50 miles outside (weather permitting!).

Learning to swim outdoors (Andrew)

Coll Beach

One summer, when we were 10, our auntie Margaret hired a caravan on Coll beach, just outside of Stornoway and near our granny’s house. It was a typical Lewis summer. Grey sky. Cold wind. Rain likely. So, perfect weather to go paddling in the sea. We lasted 30 seconds.

I’d brought my trunks to the caravan, wrapped in a towel, of course.  We changed there and ran down to the water’s edge. By the time we got there we’d invented Avatar, 25 years before James Cameron thought of his race of blue skinned people. The water was even colder. 

Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrggghh!

We ran back to the caravan.

And that was my outdoor swimming experience. One dip. Barely up to waist. And that was it. 

Today, people say it’s invigorating. Soul clearing. But when you’re 10 the only thought you have, when the waves reach your crotch, is “Eeeeeeeek! I can’t feel my balls!

I didn’t venture back to the sea until I was 25. I was on holiday in the United States, I was driving from New York to New Orlean via a book called “Roadside Attraction of America”. Every night I’d decide a different attraction – the house shaped like a shoe, the dinosaur park – and drive there while generally heading to New Orleans. Yes, it was a boy’s trip. What gave it away…?

We’d reached Florida and was staying near the oldest town in the United States, Augustine, which was settled in 1500s then comprehensively rebuilt by to be a Walt Disney version of a historic town. If you like your McDonald driv-thrus to be housed in a replica Spanish villa that looks like it was just built by a Spanish conquistador, then Augustine is the place for you.

We have a motel beside a beach and we decided it would be fun to swim in the sea, despite the fact I’d not swum since school and I didn’t have any trunks or, naturally, any goggles. 

It’ll be okay,” I thought, “I’ll soon get used to it!”, remember my school days in halcyon terms and not the chlorine induced acid eyeball bath they actually were.

Waves were crashing on the shore as I waded out. The water was warm, which was the first shock. Water could be warm? The ocean could be a bath? The second shock was when I ducked under a wave. Salt! What the effing eff was salty water doing to my eye. It was like Tom Cruise had taken my acid eyeball bath and placed it in a mixer with a cheese grater and was recreating his finest tricks and flicks from Cocktail.

Disorientated, eye shut, frantically trying to clear the water from them, I swam out further and further until I thought I should really turn back. Except I couldn’t. 

I couldn’t understand it. The waves were going towards the shore. They were big and powerful and heading in the direction I wanted to go but why, when I swam towards the shore, was I not going forward? 

I tried to swim faster by kicking harder, the only way I knew how to swim faster because my arms were as much good to me when swimming as Douglas Bader’s legs. 

I went backwards.

Damn.

I thought of shouting, there were some people on shore, when I had another idea. There were surfers up the beach. They were further out but they were making it back in. And the only difference between them and me was that they had a board. So, I should pretend to be a surfboard and I’ll surf back in. Genius.

Next wave. I lay as stiff as I could and kicked forward just a s the crest of the wave passed through me. I did the same again with the next wave, and the next until I reached the shore, thankful and ecstatic that I’d discovered the secret to not drowning. Don’t swim.

So, I didn’t. Not for another 10 years. And during those 10 years I can confirm that I didn’t drown once. 

Kirkintilloch 12.5k 2020 Race Report (Andrew)

It’s winter, it’s windy, but that’s weather. Or at least it was until last year when the Met Office started to name its storms. Now, it’s not weather, it’s an event. And this year’s Kirkintilloch 12.5k had a hell of a lot of event…

The Kirkintilloch 12.5k has been our first race for a few years now – you can read some of the previous reports here and here. It’s longer than a 10k, so feels more of a challenge, and it has more ups and downs than a 90s raver, including almost a mile uphill to start, which is a shock first thing in the morning. Races should start downhill, or at worst, a flat. Running uphill to start is just cruel. If you start uphill then you should call your race an ultra, even if the rest is flat. It’s fair warning.

Along with the race conditions there’s the challenge of finding a car parking space as the start line is next to a main road into Kirkintilloch and there’s not a lot of room on the streets nearby to park. Saying that, it’s always a busy race with many club runners (resplendent in their new singlets) and just-get-rounders sharing the start line, so everyone must come by the Kirkintilloch canal to get there.

This year, there was a new challenge: the weather. The race was held right in the middle of Storm Dennis and 50mph winds swept the course. I don’t mind running in bad weather, if you’re wet, you’re wet. You can’t get wetter than wet no matter what Bon Jovi might sing. And wind is okay, as long as it’s behind you. If it’s behind you, you can fly. Unfortunately, we were running a loop so not only were we flying, we were also being pushed back so hard we ended up in Ireland.

Overall…

Course:

Race route: First mile is uphill, the next three are up and down until you reach Woodilee village where you turn and then run up a slope steeper than the north face of the Eiger, before taking another road home until the final 2 km when you reverse the climb back to the start and finish with a nice one mile downhill race to the finish.

Finishing bag: It was the 15th anniversary of the race and there was a special commemorative mini towel (as shown above) instead of a medal. A chocolate biscuit and a bottle of water were also handed out at the finis.

I’m not sure of a towel as a commemoration. It was the 50th anniversary of the the creation of heavy metal last week but no one gave Ozzy Osbourne a soft plump towel to commemorate the first Black Sabbath album. Towels are for beaches and pretending to be Roman. In a race, a towel is what you thrown in disappointment when you quit during it, not what you get at the end when you should be celebrating.