Massage Mishaps (Andrew)

My clothes are neatly folded and I’m lying face-down wearing nothing but my pants. There is an awkward silence as a pretty young girl in immaculate make-up considers the word “groin”.

It’s at this point I regret  my choice of Bugs Bunny boxers. Her eyes flick down and I feel less than magnificent.

It’s not uncomfortable. This is not my first massage, but it is my first with a woman.

Normally, it’s Steve the Physio. Steve the Physio is practical. Steve the Physio doesn’t do small talk. “Groin?” he asks. And when I nod, he roughly pulls my legs apart and, before going to work, sternly tells me to “Cup the balls, and pull them back”.

Which is not a phrase I’ve ever had to use, not that it would fit any other social situation.

“Andrew, can you pass the English mustard?”

“First, cup the balls, and pull them back!”

“Andrew, do you have any spare change for the bus?”

“FIRST, cup the BALLS! And pull them back!”

“Andrew, is this extended flight of fantasy becoming increasingly laboured”

“CUP THE BALLS AND PULL THEM BACK!”

But Steve the Physio is on holiday, and last week I was presented with the slim and attractive Muriel, and the thought of asking her to work the groin is making me feel ever so uncomfortable. Not that it should. She’s a professional; I’m a customer; and this is NHS approved physiotherapy clinic not a cat-house (which is second only to a duck-house in dodgy MP expense claims).

I think of saying nothing. Saying nothing is okay during a massage. No one expects a running commentary or political discussion. Small talk is fine. In fact, anything is fine, except for “ooooooh!”, “aaaaaahhhh!” and “just a lit bit”.

But my inner thigh has tightened and, if I am to resume running, I need her fingers to work their magic. So, when she approaches, when she lays her gentle hands upon my back, and asks “According to Steve’s it’s normally your groin that’s the problem, is that right?”

I don’t say: “Yes, if by problem you mean it’s too big!”.

Instead I nod, glad that she has gotten the G word out of the way and I can relax safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to embarrass myself by making some well intended but sexually sounding overtone to this young girl. Everything is going to be okay.

Until she says “So, where should we start?”

And I say, without thinking: “Cup the balls and pull them back!”

Freezing Your Ballochs Off At The Clydebank to Balloch Half Marathon 2019 (Andrew)

It wasn’t a good start. I was in the back of a taxi and having to point out to the driver that he was driving away from where we need to go. “Are you sure Clydebank is not back this way”, I pointed. He took one look at the sign saying “Clydebank” behind us and said: “I don’t know that way”. I asked if he was following his satnav and he added “Never use it – it gets things wrong all the time!”.

Given I had been tracking him on an app as he approached the house and I could see he’d missed the road, done a u-turn, missed the road again, got caught in a one way system and had parked for 5 minutes in a laybay (I assume to try and work out where he was going), he maybe wasn’t one to judge others on directions. Never mind criticise the location prowess of multiple geo-stationary satellites and the software calculations of Google.

“Can you just turn round and I’ll tell you where to go?”

“We’re going the fastest way,” he said.

We weren’t.

“You won’t get there any faster,” he claimed.

We would.

“But if you insist…”

I did.

And 10 minutes later we were in Clydebank for the start of the race and not in Hamilton, which is where we would have gone because ‘that’s the way he knew!’.

On the way over, between giving directions, I could see the weather was turning. Grey clouds were turning black. A few spots of rain became a shower became a powerwash from heaven. 

By the time I left the taxi, I was soaked through just spending 30 seconds looking round for Iain.

He wasn’t there.

Hardly, anyone was there.

I phoned him.

“Are you in the car park?”

“Yes!”

“No, you’re not. I’m here and I can’t see you.”

Then he asked if I was in the right car park as the race start had moved from the old sports centre to the new one. 

“Errr…”

Turns out my taxi driver wasn’t the only one with no idea of where he was going…

The Balloch to Clydebank half marathon should be called the Clydebank to Balloch to Clydebank half marathon as you start in Clydebank, the finish line, by jumping on a bus which takes you to the start at Loch Lomond shores in Balloch.

This year it might also have taken you back to the start because, as we drove up, the rain turned to snow, and you could see it start to cover the pavements. When we arrived, the driver was told to wait, in case the race was cancelled.

I thought it would be cancelled. The snow was heavy and I couldn’t imagine either runners racing on it or volunteers standing outside. I didn’t think it was safe. I was wrong. And right.

I was wrong that it would be cancelled. The race went ahead but with the option for people to jump on the bus and return to the start. But I’m not sure it was safe. There’s was a lot of snow and slush on the pavements and runners moved onto the road at points to run through Bowling and Clydebank.

While the roads were quiet, there were cars and buses driving behind them and I heard a few frustrated honks from the drivers. 

The race itself was a challenge to remain warm and comfortable as the weather changed from snow to rain to dry spells to rain again. 

Knowing that it might rain I’d just worn shorts and not leggings. My theory is that leggings don’t help in the rain. They just get wet, then your legs get cold as leggings cool you down. You’re better off with just your hairy legs – nature’s leggings! – when it rains.

I don’t know if this is true though but for half the race I congratulated myself on my choice as the water dried from my legs during the dry spells, and the other half of the race cursing my choice as everyone else looked like they were running as a happy as runner with toasters strapped to their thighs.

You can’t call the race scenic. There’s a few nice spots, mostly at the start as we run along the canal from Balloch, but most of the race is through housing or industrial estates. It does though have the advantage of feeling like you’re running downhill as there’s very few climbs, or even gentle inclines, and there’s a few long stretches when you run downhill. 

But at least the finish line is scenic. If you like skips and bins. 🙂

IronMan UK 2015 (Andrew)

I found my race report for IronMan UK that I’d posted on the Glasgow Triathlon Club forum and you can tell that I wrote it within a couple of days of racing because the first line is far too emphatic. And I then broke it by entering Norseman and now, this year, Challenge Roth. Oh, if only I’d listened to Wise 2015 Andrew!

Here’s the report:

Swam a bit. Rode a bit. Ran a bit. Walked a lot. Happy to finish. Will never do it again.

I just wanted to share six AMAZING tips I learnt from the race that you won’t find in Don Fink’s training guide*.

Tip 1: Crash at least once when it’s totally not your fault. I did and I promise that you’ll forget about your legs as you spend the next 20 miles daydreaming about a bike pump, the rider who crashed into you and the elaborate torture porn of the Saw films. 

Tip 2: Your nose will run. It will never stop. Why not devise your own word for wiping your nose on your sleeve, arm, shoulder, any dry patch of jersey really. Snotting anyone? 

Tip 3: You can leave a special needs bag to pick up during the bike course. You could leave spare gels and energy bars or, you could do what I did, and leave a cheese & ham sandwich and a packet of crisps. It may take a couple of minutes to stop and eat it but, after a constant diet of gels, bars and electrolyte drinks those few minutes were the highlight of my day. Mmmm…. Cheesy Wotsits!

Tip 4: We all run our own races. That’s true. But, secretly, in our heart of hearts, we all get a boost when we see a fat bloke struggle. (This is an equal opportunities tip – remember, for the people ahead of you, you will be their ‘fat bloke’ ). 

Tip 5: Spectators will cheer you. They’ll shout “You’re doing great”, “Keep going”, “You’re running really well” etc, etc. However, sometimes, you know you’re not doing great. You’re walking. You’re crawling. You’ve given up and had a cry at the side of the road. At those times, the spectators should shout “You’re crap”, “You’ll never make it”, “The fat bloke’s beating you”. Sometimes we need a bit of humiliation and tough love from strangers. For your next Ironman, to run faster, why not wear a gimp mask?

Tip 6: Finally, a tip I’ve never read before. This must be a special tip reserved only for the most dedicated Ironmen and women. I call it “Recycling”. It works like this: at some point during the race, you’ll need to go to the toilet. When you do – why not eat a banana? You’re hands are free. You’ve got time. You’re not going anywhere. So why not put in what you’re… erm… putting out? 

I’ve no other explanation for the amount of food found in the portaloos: folk are chewing and pooing – and they’re heading to Kouna! This could be you (but, please God, wash your hands, you’re an athlete, not an animal!).

*tips not found in Don Fink’s book for good reason!

Glentress Trail Half Marathon (Andrew)

Last year, about a week after the Glentress Half Marathon, the Beast from the East arrived and covered Scotland in snow. There were some signs of the Beast when we ran Glentress: some small snow banks at the side of trails, in the shadows of sheltered hollows and in the patches of ice where the snow had melted and the run off and frozen over across the paths.

This year, Glentress was completely different. It was 15 degrees and my first mistake was to wear a running jacket (though it’s obligatory to carry one). I was boiling. Yet, despite that, I kept mine own even when others had discarded there’s – and their t-shirt. Around mile seven a topless man ran passed. ‘Taps aff’ in February, that’s how warm it was. But, since he was still carrying a rucksack I can only imagine it was ‘nips aff’ too as no t-shirt meant no protection from rubbing and chafing across your chest. Ouch!

He wasn’t the only one wanting people to focus on their chest. A number of runners wore t-shirts with ‘Vegan Runner’ written across it. To change an old joke, how do you know if a runner is a vegan? Just wait and they’ll show you on their chest!

For my next race, I’m going to get a t-shirt which says ‘Sausage Runner’ but, to change the same joke again. How you know if a runner loves a sausage? Just wait and look at their stomach!

I tried to be a vegetarian once. It lasted four years. Until, one day, someone told me that pepperoni was a meat and not a pepper and I realised that I’d been a vegetarian for maybe one or two weeks at a time at most. D’oh!

The Glentress Trail half marathon also doesn’t love up to it’s billing. Just as I wasn’t a vegetarian, so the Glentress Trail is not a half marathon despite it being called a half marathon. It’s just over 12.5 miles long. But, if you include vertical distance then it makes up the numbers easily because this is a long, long climb.

The first 100 metres are downhill (which is a horrible kick up on the return to the finish line) then it’s a constant climb for nearly nine miles before an undulating descent for 2 miles and a sheer arm twirling-just-let-go and run final mile.

The race is varied. With sections on the wide fire roads, others on trails sneaking through the forest, bars of light slanting from the low lying early Spring sun like lunar finish lines across the path, to mossy moorland with fantastic views across the tweed valley.

It’s a cracking race, though you do need to prepare to run nine miles uphill – and for all weather conditions, even, some times, if you’re lucky, sunshine and a warm breeze.

Watching The Tour De France at Alpe D’Huez (Andrew)

The plan was simple. We’d buy a tent and camp out on the mountain the night before the Tour arrived, only there was two problems. One, we didn’t know how to pitch a tent. The second, I’ll get to in a second.

The first problem was easy to solve. We bought a pop up tent. According to the ‘how to’ video on YouTube it was a simple to pitch as opening the cover and letting it open naturally. It took seconds, with no poles, pegs or skill required. Perfect.

The second problem was harder to solve. The day we arrived in Grenoble, the nearest city to Alpe D’Huez, it started to rain. And then the lightning started. And the thunder rolled in and we chickened out of using a tent and booked a hotel for the night instead with an aim to get up early and drive to Bourg-d Oisans, the town at the base of the climb.

And that’s what I’d recommend. We thought there would be a queue of cars, that would it would be difficult to get parked but, we left at 6am, got there for 7am and had no problem driving there or finding parking in the town. I admit, we then had eight hours before the tour passed through, but we were there, and we could explore the town to find… a bike shop run by a woman from Glasgow?!

We bought water, we bought breakfast, we bought supplies for lunch and filled our backpacks and then started to walk up Alpe D’Huez.

As the sun rose, it was a warm climb but not a difficult one. There was food and drinks for sale as you climbed and every corner was covered in flags, people and RV’s who’d booked there spot a week before and had set up home with barbecues and satellite dishes on their roof feeding live coverage of the day’s race.

As we climbed we got higher, as did the spectators. Corner 7 – Dutch Corner – was loud techno music, orange t-shirts, smoke and booze. The party had started and even the thunder & lightning hadn’t stopped it.

We found a spot overlooking corner 7 and had a cracking view of the spectators including one man who tried to run up to the summit while wearing a Borat mankini. He was last seen, buttocks jiggling, breath heaving on his way to corner 6. I hope he made it. It would have a tale to make his grandchildren proud. As long as he didn’t show them any photos…

As you wait for the tour, the excitement builds. You can see helicopters in the distance, the publicity caravan comes through around an hour before, throwing Bic pens and sweets from cars disguised as chickens or baguettes. Then security comes through. Cars get faster. Helicopters louder. Flares are fired. Smoke drifts. You can hear the cheering roll up the mountain before the road gets mobbed in an orange mass and the first rider breaks through. It’s half war film, half circus performance.

And the best bit is that unlike most days in the tour, it carries on for around 40 minutes as different riders take different times to climb to the summit. The GC contenders are first, the main peloton next and then a steady stream of spent domestiques and burly sprinters just about holding on at the back.

Once done, you can walk back down the mountain using a trail to cut the corners and to walk almost straight down rather than back and forth from corner to corner. You could use it to climb up, but, that would mean missing out on walking the same route as the riders climb.

Watching the Tour at Alpe D’Huez is a fantastic experience. One I would recommend if you’re thinking of going to watch the Tour.

Zwift Racing (Andrew)

It’s the end of January and I’ve already raced three times without leaving my house once. Every Saturday morning I’ve entered the Norseman Race Series on Zwift.

Racing on Zwift is a great way to keep your motivation up when training indoors. Not only do you get all the normal race feelings of “I’ve not prepared for this”, “why is everyone faster than me” and “Dear God, why did I enter this?” but it’s warm, so you don’t mind (as much!).

The Norseman Race Series is 12 week series of races over Zwift’s biggest climbs including, Alpe Du Zwift, the digital version of Alpe Du Huez.

I’ve been to Alpe Du Huez. I saw the Tour De France three years ago and walked from the base of the climb to corner 7 so I think I know exactly what it’s like to go very slowly up a very big climb. 🙂

And, though I’m basing this on memories of a hot French day three years ago, the climb in Zwift seems to be a very faithful version of the real climb, even down to the Scotsman at the side of the road walking up and wondering if he’s brought enough water for five hours on the side of a mountain. (This last bit may not be true).

The climb is not normally open for all Zwift riders. You have to be level 12 and above. Which I didn’t know, because I didn’t know that the experience points you collect had any bearing in game. So, if you want to try the climb then you need to enter a race unless you’ve already reached level 12.

If so, having others racing up the mountain is a great way to get to the top yourself. You can’t help but pedal harder when someone overtakes you, and you can’t help but pedal faster when you get near the finish and see someone just ahead of you and you decide that they are “going down!”.

Some tips for racing on Zwift:

  • Warm your legs up at the start and make sure you’re ready when the flag drops. I started one race 10 seconds before the start and, by the time I’d started spinning my legs, everyone else had blasted off.
  • Don’t use power ups. That’s cheating. Even if it’s allowed in the race, it’s still cheating – it’s digital doping! Don’t do it!
  • Do use real life power ups. If you’d have a gel in the real world and you’re racing for an hour or longer, have a gel with you too. It’s not doping if you can actually eat it and get a power up (unless what you’re eating is on the WADA banned list, then don’t do it either!).
  • Make sure to enter the right race. I’ve also tried some shorter races and these are categorised by power so that people race with others of the same ability. Races are graded A – E with A to D being increasing power and E being everyone. Of course, I entered a D. And got left behind…

Entering races on Zwift is fun and does give a sense of achievement missing from a normal session – unless your normal session finishes with a lap round the house, arms aloft and shouting “Championee!” in which case, well done you! 🙂

My First Triathlon – The London Triathlon (Andrew)

Gordon Ramsay tried to kill me. Not once, not twice, but three times.

You’ve got to admire his determination.

We’d booked Sunday lunch at his then three Michelin star restaurant at Claridges. When we booked it, I said “no nuts – I’m allergic”. When we arrived, the Maître D asked if I had any allergies. I said, “yes, nuts.” He said, “we’ll make sure there’s no nuts on the plate.”

And then served me hazelnuts as part of my starter. Then more nuts from my main. And then, despite twice saying, “I don’t eat nuts!”, I was served a desert with some crunchy bits artistically scattered over the top. “Are those nuts,” I asked. The waiter said, “no”, then looked at them again. “I’ll ask the chef” and he took away the plate – and came back without the crunchy ‘nutty’ bits…

Afterwards I wrote to Gordon Ramsay to complain. The big man himself wrote back. “I’m very sorry that…” and then the letter went blank for half page before “yours sincerely, signed Gordon Ramsay”.

And all I could think was how many complaints does he get that he doesn’t even read the complaints letters to check what he’s apologizing for? But it did give me the perfect space to write my own apology in the space.

“I’m very sorry that I am a big twat, yours sincerely, signed Gordon Ramsay”

Thanks, Gordon!

Which was a bit harsh as I do like Gordon Ramsay because he got me into triathlons because he was competing in the first triathlon I tried.  In fact, he was only a couple of bikes away in transition.  And I remember reading that he used to get up at 5am to train and I thought, “well, if he can do it at 5am then it’ll be easy for me as I can run during the day!”.

I was so, so wrong…

I was working in London at the time and I’d entered the London Triathlon. I’d entered as a team and I agreed to run while my friend, Graham, would swim and a girl we knew from work, Sally, would cycle. It seems simple. He’d swim. She’d ride. I’d run. What could go wrong?

First, Graham had never swum outside. He was a strong swimmer. Had swum for his university but only ever in a pool. He borrowed a wet-suit and was near the front when he came out of the water. Then a man told him, “you need to take your wet-suit off”.

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“You need to strip out your wet-suit and carry it to transition”.

“But I don’t have any trunks on!”

It hadn’t occurred to him that he might want to wear swim trunks. He thought a wet suit was enough.

“But you were borrowing it,” I said later. “Did you not want to wear trunks for a borrowed wet-suit?”

“I never thought about it,” he said.

“Clearly!”

I was watching in transition as he went from first to near last arguing with the race marshal about how much of the wet-suit he could keep on while not disqualifying himself from the race. Eventually, with legs pulled up and top pulled down and waddling towards us in what now looked like the Michelin man’s rubber pants, we started the bike race – and Sally admitted she’d never ridden a bike before in the UK.

She was South African, so that was okay, she knew how to ride on the left hand side of the road. But she’d been in the UK for four years so was actually admitting that she hadn’t trained at all. Not even to sit on her bike. A ladies bike. With side saddle and all.

We went from near last, to last.

And then I ran. The easy part. Though by this point Gordon Ramsay had gone home hours before.

And I ran. And I ran. And I kept going faster thinking “I can catch up with the man in second last place”.

And then I cam back to transition and thought: “that was quick and I’m glad this is over”.

Only to find that I was running laps and had three more laps to run.

D’oh!

I hadn’t checked the course at all.

Needless to say, we didn’t rise up the ranks, I started last and finished last.

Then, to cap it all, we found out the London Underground wouldn’t let bikes on the tube and I had to cycle Sally’s bike all the way back from Canary Wharf to West Hampstead because Sally swore never to ride again.

And I got lost and ended up in Wembley.

But, because Gordon Ramsay was doing it, we swore (no pun intended!) to come back the following year and do it right because “if that twat off the telly can do it, then we can do it too!”

Ice Skating For Dafties (Andrew)

What is the point of ice skating?

Apparently, ice skating started back when cavemen decided to cross a frozen expanse by gliding across it by strapping bones to their feet – and that’s where it should have ended.

First Caveman: Dave – what are ya doing, mate?
Second Caveman: I’m using the bones of a woolly mammoth to reduce the friction between the sole of my feet and the ice of this here expanse.
First Caveman: Aye, Dave, I can see how you might want to reduce the friction in order to move faster by achieving an optimal glide but…
Second Caveman: What, Sebastian?
First Caveman: YER STRAPPING A BONE TO YER FOOT YA CREEPY WEIRDO!!!!

Yet they all joined in and didn’t stop, not even when Dave went out in the ice and fell through into the icy water.

Which is why I hesitate with ice skating. No sport should involve possible death-traps!

Unless…

Torvil and Dean may have got a perfect score for shoogling about on ice, but how much better would it be, if, two minutes into Bolero, instead of standing up, Jayne Torvill caught a sea trout with her mouth after falling through the rink?

Which isn’t to say I don’t like ice skating. I can see how strong and athletic you have to be to leap into the air, spin three times and then land on one leg while simultaneously doing the Floss. I can see that. But…

I hate ice skating. Or, to be specific, I hate me ice skating. Other people doing it is okay. It’s just not for me.

First, I can’t ice skate. Or skate. Or even stand. I fall over. A lot. So much, that spectators start to ask if I’m okay as I try and make my way round the ring, clutching the side and with an expression of pure terror.

I don’t get it. I know there’s a technique to skating but, whatever it is, I don’t have it. I just fall. And fall. And fall again.

And, what worse, knowing that I’ll fall, I went ice skating at the weekend and spent the whole time thinking “don’t fall on your left knee, that’s a bit sore, try and protect it. Just don’t fall!”

And I didn’t.

Well, fall on my left knee.

I fell on my right.

CRACK.

And now I not only hate ice skating, I have a massive bruise on my right knee.

And now, not only can I still not skate, I can’t run either.

I hate ice skating.

New Year’s Resolution (Andrew)

Goals are meant to be SMART.

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Which is where most new year resolution’s fail. Resolutions are never SMART or smart. My resolutions involve

  • scoring a hat tick in the Scottish Cup final.
  • winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
  • do the floss.

Since I’m too old now for any of these to actually happen I’ve already failed my new year resolutions. They were DUM goals.

  • Daft
  • Unrealistic
  • Mad

But aren’t DUM goals the best kind? Who knows what you can do unless you set yourself a completely unrealistic, definitely daft, probably mad goal? Columbus wouldn’t have crossed the ocean, Neil Armstrong wouldn’t have stood on the moon unless someone somewhere had said to themselves “you know what, I can do this!”.

And most of the times you fail. But in the failing you’ll probably do much more than you ever would have done with a SMART goal because realistic goals are boring. That’s why, for this year, my goal is to WIN Challenge Roth.

Now, the last time I tried an Ironman distance race I completed it in 15 hours. Now the winning time at Challenge Roth might be half that at 7 hours 46 minutes, but that only means I need to go twice as fast. And, last time I did an Ironman, I stopped for a sandwich halfway through the bike course. That’s already 15 minutes saved, if I eat it on the bike.

And I’m not very good at getting out of my wetsuit. I really struggle with getting my legs out once the wet suit bunches up around my ankles. At Challenge Roth, they have wetsuit assistants who help you get changed. That’s an extra five minutes.

Now, I just need to find another 7 hours and 20 minutes and I’ll be on the podium!

So, this year I have set myself the challenge of winning Challenge Roth. And while I know the chances of me winning are quite small, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Because I have a goal. A DUMB goal. And that’s the best goal of all!