Category: Andrew

Ultra Iron Mega Badass Brutal Hardcore Three Legged Race (Andrew)

What’s in a name?

I’m reading ‘Iron War’, the story of the 1989 Ironman championship and the battle between two of the greatest ever triathletes – but also a history of the spot of triathlon itself as it places the race in context.

The book tells the story of how Ironman got it’s name. It referred to the iron will needed by competitors to compete the challenging conditions of Kona in Hawaii. It wasn’t the fastest who would win, or the most physically capable, the winner instead was the one with the iron willpower to compete through draining heat and strength sapping head winds.

The name fitted the course – if not female competitors, is it not time for IronWoman? And, as such, it stuck.

But it struck me that many races have followed this template. They’re named after their defining characteristic. Usually the place the race takes place. The London Marathon. The Great Scottish Run. Or they describe the worst aspects of the course. Slateman refers to the slate covered hills of Snowdonia. Brutalfest has a series of races that are, well, brutal.

It’s human nature, it seems, to concentrate on the worst that could happen. All race organisers are pessimists.

I realised this while in Iceland this week on holiday. I was checking out all the tourist spots and I was reading the guides for each place and, in every one, they seemed to tell the same story. The name of the place was always the name of a tragedy that had happened there.

In the town of Borgarne, the bay was named after a man who was stoned to death on it’s shore. The waterfalls of Hraunfosser were named after the children who fell to their death. The entire country is basically a a cross between a OS map and a graveyard.

But what about the hundreds of people who played at the beach and enjoyed it’s soft sands and sheltering dunes? What about the children who paddled in the pool at the base of the waterfall and their children and their children and their children and their children and centuries of children all of whom called the falls “the really safe and not at all dangerous falls”, yet when one child said “hey, look at me, I can balance on one leg while standing right on the edge!” all the good times are forgotten.

As I said, it’s human nature. We’re pessimists. We remember the bad, not the good. The suffering, not the finish line.

And it’s time for a change. Who wouldn’t want to enter “Flatfest” or, better yet, “The Downhill Marathon”. Why should suffering be celebrated? Bring on “The Easy Peasy Triathlon”!

The sound of silence (Andrew)

I listen to voices in my head. Not in a mental way. Not in a ‘They’re all out to get you!’ type way. I mean Podcast voices. Intelligent voices that talk about science and design, movies and sport. Voices from Radiolab and 99% Invisible. Interviews from Desert Island Discs. Voices that make you smarter.

I used to listen to the music in my head until, a few years ago, I ran the Lossiemouth half marathon while listening to Radiohead’s King of Limbs.

Music should make you run faster. You feet should follow the beat as you pound the streets in time with the music.

Unless you’re listening to Radiohead.

Unless you’re listening to Radiohead at their most experimental, which in this context means: “without any hint of a tune, melody, beat or any sense of where one song finishes and the next begins”.

I swear the first mile of the half marathon felt like I was running in ultra-slow motion. 10 years passed while I passed just one house. Another decade passed and Thom Yorke’s only just sung his first decipherable word. A century passes and, in the distance, I can just see the one mile marker.

I stopped. I had to. I wouldn’t normally take out my phone during a race but I had to change the music. It was treacle. It was the aural equivalent of queuing at the Post Office.  (Which I always thought was the worst thing to do in all the world until I realised there was one thing worse than that – working at the Post Office).

I switched to Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Fantasy’.

“HE’S A MUTHA*********ING MONNNNNNSSSSSTTTTTEEEEERR!”

It was an instant boost. I was flying. It was the aural equivalent of whatever Sir Mo Farah’s on – which, for the avoidance of doubt and for any of Sir Mo’s lawyers reading this, is only Quorn sausages and hard work.

Music matters.

But I have a problem with listening to music. I count the songs as I run. If I’m listening to an album I know that I will need to run for 50 minutes to hear it all and I don’t like thinking “Oh, that’s the first song finished, that’s three minutes done, just another 47 to go. Groan…”

I had to stop listening to music. Instead I switched to Podcasts, to speech, and not knowing how long I was listening to it.

But, this last month, I’ve been trying a new idea. I’ve been listening to… nothing.

I’ve left my phone at home.

Because I have this idea, that I’ve been concentrating on the wrong thing. I’ve been concentrating on the latest scientific news, the six songs you’d choose on your desert island, but I’ve not been concentrating on running. I don’t think about form or technique or anything other than what I’ve been listening to.

So, instead, I’ve tried to run without headphones. An experiment, now three weeks old, and one I’ll report back on in a few weeks – and you’ll be the first to hear how I’ve got on.

(But not while you’re running, obviously).

Extreme to the max to the edge to the limit!!! (Andrew)

I want to walk on the moon.

I want to follow in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin because… moon men are fannys!

I’ll show them how a real man walks on the moon!

Take Neil Armstrong. He could have said anything when he opened that door and stepped out onto the lunar surface. He wanted to talk about what a giant leap it was for mankind. Me, I’d have said “Does anyone smell cheese? Because this moon is made from chedder!”

That joke, copyright me, aged 7.

Instead, he went for the safe route, the boring route, the route of the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. Why was he called Buzz? Because he was NASA’s B man….

That joke, copyright me, aged 39.

No-one remember Buzz because he was the man holding the camera, not the one posing in front of it. Buzz was an intergalactic skivvy whose sole job was to avoid getting his thumb on the lens and to make sure he’d didn’t cut off Neil Armstrong’s head when he planted the flag.

Of course, today, Buzz would have been in the shot because he’d have taken a ‘moon selfie’ and he and Neil would have trout pouted on the surface before taking an artfully lit photo of their space rations and captioned it “Trying to open your breakfast while wearing space gloves 🙂 #firstmoonproblems #yolo #blessed.”

But, if Buzz had been smart, he could have been more famous than Neil Armstrong. I don’t know about you, but when I’m driving, I always need to go to the toilet. It’s something about the rhythm, the bumpiness of the journey, but within five miles I’m desperate for the loo. Imagine doing that for three days. Cooped up in lunar module. The door opens. What do you do? I know, what I’d do. I’d have a pish in the nearest crater. That’s if I could wait that long. Neil would be half through his speech when –

“It’s a small step for man, it’s a giant – PENIS. MY GOD, MAN, PUT IT AWAY.”

I tell you what I don’t get. Why the push to be the biggest, best, furthest, fastest? It’s always extremes. But there are two sides. Fast must have slow. Best has worst. When skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from space, I wanted to show the world instead the shortest skydive in history: me, lying down on the floor and not moving for twenty seconds.

While Usain Bolt breaks record books I’d take part in the 100 metres by having a picnic on the Olympic track. I’d be munching on a plum tomato and not making any move to move even an inch. The stadium could go home. I’d go home. I’d get a good nights kip and, in the morning, or maybe the afternoon, or maybe even the next day, or year, I’d come back and I’d cross the line. F*ck it, I might never cross it because I’m the world’s slowest man.

And I was thinking about this because I read this letter in the latest issue of 220 Triathlon.

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And part of me thought: “When did Triathlon progression become a race to Iron distance?” Progression is not just about going longer and longer until you’re running, swimming and cycling all day? You progress by getting faster, or getting better at a part of the race, or by just enjoying it more no matter what speed you go.

So, part of me rebels and says “I don’t want to go to the moon”.

At least not yet.

At least not first.

It wouldn’t be special. I’d wait until everyone else has gone. My mum, my dad, the folk I went to school with, even Steven Hawking in his wheelchair, and when, and only when, everyone else in the world has been will I go. Me, Andrew Todd, the last man on the moon!

Use As Directed (Andrew)

“Stick it where the sun don’t shine!” is a threat, not an instruction. Top tip: do not confuse the two – you will regret it!

Let me explain.

Around 10 years ago I was taking part in the Caledonian Challenge, a 54 mile walking challenge from Fort William to Loch Lomond and following the West Highland Way.

I was walking with three team mates. It was our first challenge of this type and we had no idea what we were doing.

We’d barely trained. We’d walked 20 miles along the Fife coastal path and, while using walking poles to help us get used to using them in action, we were spotted by a local gang in Kirkcaldy. “Oi, yous!” They shouted, “‘ave yous lost yer skis?”.

Which was very funny – if you’re not the prat trying to keep his dignity while walking with walking poles outside a chip shop in Kirkcaldy.

After that, we let training slide and we thought we could just turn up at Fort William and wing it.

Big mistake.

But not our biggest.

Our biggest was not reading the instructions. If we had, we’d have spotted that long distance walkers wear tight fitting cycle shorts and not, I repeat NOT, ordinary boxers.

Why?

Let’s just say one word – friction – and leave it at that.

Or, if that doesn’t help, let’s just say one phrase – don’t let Tarzan swing free – and leave it at that.

Okay, okay, let’s just spell it out. If you don’t have tight fitting shorts then there’s a whole lotta rubbing going on down there in a 54 mile walk. The kind of rubbing that a boy scout could use to start a fire.

By mile 40 we’d realised our mistake. We were the bow-legged walkers. If you’d seen us you’d have shouted “Oi, lads, ‘ave yous lost yer horses?”. We looked like cowboys, felt like pillocks – until one of us had an idea.

“We’ve got sun-cream!” He said.

“So?”

“It’s a lubricant, isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“Well, it’s wet.”

And, with that rigorous debate over, three of the four us were hiding behind a bush, trousers round our ankles and applying sun-cream to areas that frankly the sun had only ever shined out of.

Five minutes later, no longer bow-legged: “This is BRILLIANT!”

And it was.

For five more minutes. Then the first cry went up.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH”

The second cry went up.

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK”

The third cry went up.

“JAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYZZZZZZZZZZZUUUUUUSSSSCCCCCCHHHHHRRRIIISSSSTTTTT!”

Then we all fell down.

It was agony. It turns out sun cream is not a lubricant at all. It was chilli oil. There was heat and pain in places that only a Mexican who’s followed on a red hot burrito will ever experience.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH”

But, it wasn’t the worst thing to happen that day.

It turns out one of us had an even smarter (dumber) idea. He’d said he didn’t need to use the cream however it was only after the race that we found out why.

He’d wrapped zinc oxide tape around his toes to prevent chafing and blistering. Then, in a move that only the Darwin Awards can truly appreciate, he’d decided he should use the leftover tape on other parts of his body that might be subject to chafing.

He, and, well, let me be delicate about it, had wrapped, um, Tarzan’s hanging baskets in tape.

And it worked. He didn’t feel a thing for the entire race.

He was very smug… until he got home.

Then he realised that the only way to take the tape off was to rip it off.

And when it was ripped off, it took everything with it. Every little and not so little hair.

He spent three hours in the bath hoping the tape would soak and fall off naturally.

It didn’t.

He had no choice. He had to let it rip.

He had smooth toes.

And Tarzan was bald.

“AAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!”

He never used zinc oxide again.

IronMan Edinburgh 70.3 (Andrew)

“Is it safe?”

In the film Marathon Man this quote is repeated as Sir Laurence Olivier performs an increasingly painful dental treatment on Dustin Hoffman.

In IronMan Edinburgh this quote is repeated by everyone on the start line as we gaze out to sea.

“Is it safe?”

Swim

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Last week we had a recce of East Lothian to check the swim start and to cycle part of the bike route.

It was windy, over 20 mph, and the water at Preston Links at Prestonpans was choppy and covered in white caps.

A woman got out of a car beside us. She was wearing an IronMan hoodie and IronMan cap. So was her father, who came out next.

“Are you racing?” We said, which was a daft question as he was clearly in his seventies. 🙂

She answered for him.

She was racing. And she was there to practice the swim. But, on looking at the water, she said: “Not today. I’m not going out in that!”

She had an English accent so we thought she wasn’t local (though, with Edinburgh so close, an English accent could be local!) and we tried to reassure her: “It won’t be like this next week – this is a one off! It’s just a bit of wind!”

Unfortunately for her we were completely wrong. It wasn’t just a bit of wind, it was the start of a week long howl that kept going all through Monday to Friday, sped up on Saturday and wasn’t due to slow down until the race was over.

On Saturday, the forecast was for winds of 15mph plus. Too strong for a calm swim. By Saturday night the organisers were predicting a shortened swim and by 6am they’d shortened it from 1900m to 950m. One lap of a course that had been rearranged to try and avoid the worst of the currents.

But not at the start. The first 100 metres would be straight into the waves and current and wind. The perfect storm.

For the first 100 metres I could see people struggling. Not only was there the shock of cold water, the tightness of my chest constricting, the shallow breaths and the constant gulps of salt water as I tried to time the waves correctly so that my mouth is, and this is crucial bit, above the waves, not below them. But there was also the need to sight the first buoy, to avoid fellow athletes and to generally survive in conditions that even blockbuster movie shark Jaws would say: “Don’t go into the water!”.

But, after the first turn, as we swam along the beach, not out to sea, the conditions improved. It was easier to breath with the waves at my side, than right in front.

Of course, being an idiot, I then decided I had to clear my goggles as they’d filled with condensation. I tried to duck under the water, remove my goggles to rinse them out, then put them back on in one smooth fluid motion.

It didn’t happen.

I ducked. I spluttered. I got salt in my eyes. I couldn’t see. I swallowed half of the Firth of Forth, I ended up swimming in the wrong direction – but I did all that in one smooth fluid motion, so at least I got something right.

For the rest of the swim I had leaky goggles, I had to keep taking them off to clear them of water, while, when they were on, I had to keep one shut to avoid the salt water seeping in. And swimming with one eye is not easy – just ask Captain Hook, if he’d had two eyes, he’d have been able to swim away from that crocodile.

Despite my one eye, I got to the final buoy and turned back to shore. The swim back was a relief, and with the current behind, fast too.

The swim was over. I hadn’t drowned, which in itself felt like an achievement.

Bike

Bike

The bike route started in Prestonpans and then headed out through East Lothian, through Haddington and Gifford, before turning back and heading in almost a straight line to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

But, it was only the direction that was straight. The elevation promised a course with very few flat sections and plenty of ups and downs with some short sharp climbs.

And, because it was still windy, the course also added 25 miles into the wind as we came into Edinburgh.

The crowds were out in force, at least in the villages we passed. The largest town, Haddington, had the fewest spectators. Literally, one man and his dog. A man, and his dog, standing in his driveway. I can only guess the rest of the town must have been in church. Either that or the four hour road closure on a Sunday morning wasn’t appreciated by locals who decided to protest by staying away.

The course was varied, with plenty to see, from rolling hills, to leafy hedges, to forest canopies, farmlands, and, at one point, one of my work’s housing developments (which was nice to see, though not perhaps a selling point from anyone but me).

The final few miles saw a short burst of pave, the Edinburgh cobblestones, and then a climb around the back of Arthur’s Seat. This comes as a shock after 54 miles but not as much of a shock as the sign at mile 40 that “This is the high point, it’s all downhill from here!”. Only it wasn’t. Not in the slightest.

The last mile is downhill and provides a couple of minutes to relax, stop pedalling and getting focused on the run, or, in my case, to try and swallow an energy gel but forget how fast the road falls away and get tangled between trying to eat the gel and desperately apply the brakes to slow down.

I read afterwards that some people complained the road wasn’t in great condition and that there were a lot of punctures. I didn’t see any more punctures than normal and I thought the road was no better or worse than most Scottish roads.

Run

Run

I’d seen Iain in transition after the swim but couldn’t see him in the run transition. I knew he was ahead of me so I thought he must have left so I decided to follow him out.

And, by quickly, I mean for around 500 metres. Then the climbing starts. A one mile plus climb up Arthur’s Seat.

This was going to be a long run…

The run route is deceptively hilly. Deceptive in that even the flats bit are steeper than you think. Especially on the third time around the four and a bit mile course.

The run up Arthur’s Seat was tough, but the course itself was varied and featured a long run through the Innocent Railway tunnel, which was lit by a spinning light show and soundtracked with classic rock.

It’s worth racing IronMan Edinburgh just for the tunnel. Nothing beats running through a dark tunnel with AC/DC singing Highway To Hell and disco lights spinning round.

And then you have another hill. Followed by another hill. Then another hill. Then you finally get to run back down Arthur’s Seat before you have to do it two more times.

It was tough.

Much tougher than expected and I was pleased to get round in around 2 hours 10 minutes so at least I was getting round in around 10 minutes a mile. Not great, but after the swim and bike, I was happy with it.

I finished the race with Iain. As it turned out, he’d been in the toilet so I’d missed him in transition, but he caught me up, then passed, then slowed down at the end as I caught up with him. I conceded he’d won the Todd Championship point and we finished the run together.

The finish-line

I wasn’t sure if the announcer would shout: “You Are An IronMan!” as we crossed the line. It seemed wrong, you should only get that for the full distance, but, as an IronMan event, I wondered if they’d also do it for 70.3.

They didn’t. Instead we had hardcore dance tracks. “Shake that ass! Shake that ass! Shake that ass!” it cried before the announcer quickly said “Um, maybe that’s the wrong song, let’s get something more family friendly”.

We crossed the line in around six hours. Just under for Iain, just over for me (boo!). A tough race but a fair one with some great views of Edinburgh and East Lothian. Also a race that attracted the highest proportion of female athletes than any IronMan event, with over 20%. It was great to see a less male dominated race and, perhaps next year, IronMan could rename it the IronWoman Edinburgh 70.3.

No asses were shook for the podium picture.

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Escape From Alcatraz 2017 – The ‘Duathlon’ Version (Andrew)

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Have you read the Mind Chimp by Dr Steve Peters? It’s a good book, well, good chapter, about sports pyschology. I say chapter because after the first chapter explains his theory the rest of the book… explains his theory and then explains it again and again.

I can only imagine that Dr Steve Peters inner chimp wasn’t an editor.

If you’ve not read it then the basic theory goes something like this: everyone has a chimp, but not in a Michael Jackson type way. He had an actual chimp. We have an inner chimp. A voice in our head that reacts emotionally to events. The book shows how to understand how your mind works and how to ignore negative thoughts like doubt and fear.

It also tells you to ignore losing (which reminds me that I should really get a copy for Iain before next year’s Etape Caledonia) and that you should approach each event on the basis that you can only judge it on how well you trained and how well you raced and that position is not important.

Wise words for this year’s Escape From Alcatraz. After the swim was cancelled, I was disappointed, half thought of not finishing it. Why bother if it’s not the full event?

But that was my chimp talking.

Not that chimps talk. They just say OOOOK, which means “chimp wanna banana”, unless it’s Michael Jackson’s chimp talking in which case OOOOK means “get away from me ya big weirdo”.

Instead, I ignored my chimp and thought: “This is the race. There is no swim. You can only start what’s before you. You were on the boat. You were ready to dive in. You can’t do any more than what you’ve done. So, pull yourself together and get on that bike and get out and run!”

And I did.

And it was brilliant.

Even though I felt like a sausage.

Iain had loaned me a tri suit. Normally, I’d wear tri shorts and change and use a cycling top for the bike and swap t-shirts for the run. But, this time, I was going ‘full triathlete’.

But what they don’t tell you about ‘full triathlete’ is that ‘full triathlete’ involves a garment, the tri suit, which is designed to be slim, sleek, figure hugging and aerodynamic. Or, if you’re a normal body shape, designed to make you look like a strong man has just squeezed a sausage. A plump sausage.

I will not be posting any pictures from the race of anything other than my head!

Bike course

Bike

The bike course is out and back from transition to Golden Gate park. It’s closed road, which is fantastic, and his great views of the bridge, Lands End, the west coast and Ocean Beach.

The hills are relatively shallow, but I was surprised at the number of people stopping and walking up them. Maybe Scotland is better training for San Francisco than other places, but, if you are training somewhere flat, then practice for hills, the course goes up and down faster than Theresa May approval rating.

For those travelling from the UK, India, Australia, the Caribbean, Malta and Cyprus (and anywhere else that drives on the left hand side of the road), then watch out for overtaking. Americans overtake on the left, not the right. Which is more obvious when driving, the oncoming traffic being a big clue (!), but, on a closed road on a bike, it’s easy to overtake on the right, and some folk don’t like that. “Sorry!” to whoever I cut off at Cliff House, I don’t know who you are, but you certainly had a loud voice!

The final few miles are flat, and, with a windy day, gusts were hitting 35mph on Sunday, and with the wind behind, it’s a very quick finish.

Run route

Run

Let’s talk about hills. And steps. Hills are okay, you slow down, shorten your stride, switch your mind off and keep climbing. Steps on the other hand are made to be walked on. It’s automatic. See a step. Walk on it.

At least that’s my excuse for not running all of the run route. There’s two sections with steps. The first at two miles, where you climb steps up to the Golden Gate bridge and the second at 4.5 miles where you tackle the ‘sand ladder’.

I’d read about the ‘sand ladder’ before the race. I knew it involved a steep climb after a short run on a beach but I didn’t realise just how steep it was. (Ladder should have been a clue, it wasn’t called the step stairs, or the step easy incline, it was the step ladder). I didn’t even try and run it. I grabbed one of the guide ropes at the side and used that to help me climb.

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Once those two climbs are done, it’s a nice two and bit mile run back to transition on flat ground.

I play a game as I run. At registration everyone has their age written on their left hamstring with a black marker. I don’t know why. Maybe the sharks in the bay want to know how old a leg is before they bite it off?

But, as I run, I check out people’s legs to see how old they are. Then when they pass I have a quick sideways look to see if they look older, younger or spot on.

It’s basically a very judgemental version of Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Card Rights. Higher! Lower! Blimey, see a doctor, you’ve had a hard life!

It’s only at the end that I realise that everyone could be doing the same for me. Except they’d add, I’d thought at his age he’d at least be trying to run the stairs?

Sorry, chickened out!

The finish line had a large crowd but one which was quite quiet. My wife was waiting and she said afterwards that people only tended to cheer athletes they knew rather than everyone as they came in. She also overheard the following conversation:

Mother: C’mon children, let’s get ready to cheer daddy!

Small child: Why?

Mother: Because he’s just finished a big race and it’s a massive achievement!

Small child: Is it?

Mother: (After a long pause) Well, he thinks it is…

I think many triathlete widows and widowers can empathise!

At the finish, I get a big medal, a big meal (pasta, soup and various barbecue options) and a great sense of achievement – I could do no more than what I did, I was ready to jump, but better to be safe than to risk your life in dangerous waters. I’d escaped Alcatraz (albeit that maybe this year, the guards had left the keys in the lock to make it slightly easier)!

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Alcatraz Top Tips

Pre-race:

Registration is very busy between 11am and the first briefing at 1pm. You will need to queue. We had to wait 30 minutes in a queue that snaked all the way around transition. However, if you arrive later, the queue is much shorter.

You can’t take your bike into registration so, if you don’t have a handy wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend/partner with you, then you’ll want to bring a lock so you can leave your bike safely while you register.

Transition has security guards so leaving bike on Saturday is perfectly safe. You can’t leave your kit, so you will still need to prepare transition on Sunday morning but at least your bike is racked.

There are lots of buses on Sunday morning to get from transition to the boat, so no need to worry about catching the bus.

You can leave a bag at a collection point outside the boat but, if you leave it on the boat, you’ll need to wait longer on Sunday to collect it.

Unlike Norseman, where there a hose of seawater to help you acclimatise, you just jump straight into the bay. I recommend the (untested) frozen water bottle trick!

I hired a bike from Blazing Saddles. You need to bring your own pedals but they provided a helmet and seat bag with pump, spare tube and puncture repair kit, which was great. The store at 550 North Point Street is less than 15 minutes from transition, easy to get to before the race and easy to return bike afterwards. Excellent service and a wide selection of bikes to choose. Though order early if you need a specific size.

Escape From Alcatraz – Swim (Andrew)

Athletes, listen, this is an important announcement! You must –

Pfffffftt. Ziiipppp. Fffffuutttt. PA broken. Silence.

I’m waiting in transition. I’m wearing a wetsuit and trainers. I should be swimming in San Francisco bay but I’m not – the 2017 Escape From Alcatraz swim has been cancelled (for the first time ever!) and I’m waiting to find out what happens next.

It was an early start, 4am alarm, but, with the time difference between UK and the US it still felt like mid-morning. I got an Uber to transition, having left my bike there yesterday, the first time they’ve let people rack up on the Saturday. I didn’t know at this point it wasn’t the only weekend ‘first’ .

At transition I have plenty of time to set up my gear (unroll towel, check bike helmet, 10 seconds, done), check bike for air (press both tyres down with my thumb, 5 seconds each) and then catch a bus to the boat which takes you out to Alcatraz (just a couple of minutes to catch the bus).

The last bus leaves at 6am but, as I wasn’t sure of queues, I’d  got to transition early and after completing my rigorous and thorough transition routine… I was on the bus by 5am, which was too early. I was on the boat by 5:30 and had two hours to wait until the swim start.

On the boat, a former sternwheeler (I Googled this), you get divided by age: over 40 onto the top deck, under 40 on the main deck. In case you forget how old you are you can check your leg: at registration they write your age in black marker on your left hamstring.

I’m under 40, and with my memory intact, I don’t even need to check when asked, so I get to sit on the main desk. As I’m there early, there’s plenty of places to sit, so I sit down.

Sorry, you can’t sit there.

The man to my left is indicating an empty space of 10 metres.

My friend’s just coming back.”

It’s okay, I’m sure we’ll both fit.

I sit down and then worry that a man with a 10 metre wide butt will sit on me. Luckily, when the friend returns, he has a normal size butt – as do the two others who later join us. Not that I was checking out butts. But how much room does one butt need?! Even Sir Mix-A-Lot, the world expert on big butts and a man who cannot lie, would have said there was room for plenty of butts on that part of the boat.

I close my eyes. Listen to random conversation and think about the swim.

I’m nervous. Scared. But I have a secret weapon. Last night I left a water bottle in the fridge and I plan to pour it on my face and down my back before jumping into the bay. I think the cold water will help me acclimatise before I plunge in.

But, I never get to check that theory. At 6:30am, just as we’re due to sail to the start, a man with a loudspeaker tells us to be quiet and to listen to the PA. The PA then tells us that there’s been a “small craft advisory warning “and that the “swim is cancelled“.

There’s a loud groan. A protest. We’re asked to leave the boat and it’s still not clear why.

People talk about refunds. About ditching the whole event. One man says he can’t run or ride a bike, the only reason he was here was for the swim. Others talk in foreign languages. People travelling around he world to be here. And the swim, the iconic swim from Alcatraz back to San Francisco is cancelled.

Now I know how Al Capone must have felt – there was no escape from Alcatraz today.

Later, I find out that the wind and current was too strong even for the safety boats. The small craft warning was a warning that the kayaks and paddle boards who marshal the swim would not cope with the conditions. And if it was too dangerous for the safety boats it was too dangerous for swimmers.

I’m disappointed. I’d travelled a quarter of the world to.be here but I know safety comes first. And, after seeing the bay later, with whitecaps heading east, rather than west, and with winds hitting 35mph, it was the right call.

We queue to get back on the buses. It takes nearly two hours to get everyone back to transition. We still don’t know what’s happening but announcements say that a bike run race will take place and details will follow.

I keep warm by staying in my dry wetsuit. I thought of pouring the frozen water on my head just so I can have the Alcatraz experience but that would have been a stupid idea.

At transition, the PA gives our just as the announcement of the new race is made: “Athletes, listen, this is an important announcement – you must –

We gather at the entrance instead as a loudspeaker is found. The organisers will send us out in waves. Pros first then by number, five at a time, every 10 seconds, to ensure people are spread out along the course just as they would be if they’d completed the swim.

I finally take off my wetsuit and get ready to… ESCAPE FROM TRANSITION!

Escape From Alcatraz – Preparation (Andrew)

“Have you got the key?” My wife asked.

“Yes,” I said, closing the door to the flat.

I patted my pocket.

Nothing.

“Wait a minute…”

I tried the door. It was locked.

“When I said I had the key…”

This was not how today was meant to begin.

This is our first full day in San Francisco, having arrived yesterday after a 15 hour journey from Glasgow that involved:

  • a plane full of Celtic fans dressed in green and white hoops heading for a supporter’s convention in Las Vegas – pool party sold out, according to the Facebook page I found, tickets for Wolftones all Irish rock songs night still available.
  • A plane switching directions as fast as you can say “Theresa May flip flop” in an incident we were told was just “wake turbulence” from a plane in front of us during our approach to Heathrow but felt like the start of a 360 degree flip.
  • And a triple bill of Sing, Get Out and The Lego Batman Movie. as I turned our Transatlantic flight into a movie marathon.

So, after crashing out soon after we arrived, today was our chance to explore the city and, after waking at 2am, then 3am, then getting up at 4am due to the jet lag, we were ready to pop out at 7am and get breakfast when the nearest shop opened.

“Are you taking your phone?”

“No, I wont need it.”

“Are you taking your wallet?”

“I’ve got cash.”

“Have you got the keys?”

“Of course!”

I didn’t.

It’s 7am. We’re trapped outside our flat and the only thing to do is to sit on a children’s swing outside and wonder if the ladder in the sculptor’s studio (don’t ask) next to our flat will extend to the first floor window we’d left open.

I can see myself reaching through the window, sliding in and opening the door.

I can seem myself getting shot by a policeman for breaking and entering.

I ditch the ladder plan.

I have a better plan!

We will use the cash to get a train to the city centre to find an Apple store with free internet access and computers ready to use (they say sell, but everyone knows an Apple store is just a pretentious internet café), send an email to our landlords for the week and get spare keys from them!

It was full proof. Except we didn’t know how to get a train or get to the city centre or find an Apple store.

But that’s what true grit is all about!

Bear Grylls would be proud!

So, using all our guile, guts and ingenuity we wondered the streets until we spotted a station, then wondered the city centre until we spotted some ‘posh shops’ then narrowed down our search to a few blocks on the basis that Apple always has a shop in the posh part of town.

Bear Grylls may follow rivers to find his escape, we followed the Gucci, Tiffanys and Luis Vutton.

I should really have my own show in which I show how luxury items can be used to help survive difficult locations – which, to be honest, is no different to Bear’s shows and his secret luxury caravan but at least I’d be honest about it.

So, five hours later, after a ride in a cable car and a Pain Au Chocolat in the world famous Tartine Bakery, after such hard, harsh, desperate struggles, we finally got back into our flat and I only hope that escaping from Alcatraz is easier than breaking into an AirBnB.

Etape Caledonia – Part 2 (Andrew)

The Etape Caledonia is an 81 mile closed road sportive around Tayside. It’s one of Scotland largest bike races with over 3,000 riders taking part each year. It’s not a race. The organisers make that very clear – it’s a sportive, which is French for “We Get Cheap Insurance If We Don’t Call This A Race”.

Of course, it is a race. It’s the annual test of Todd v Todd as Iain tries (and fails) to claim the triple crowns of Todd Of The Loch (the fastest Todd around Loch Tummel), Todd of The Mountain (the fastest Todd up the highest climb at Schiehallion) and, the big one, the Yellow Todd, the fastest Todd overall and first over the finish line.

Every year, I win all three. I’m not boasting. It’s a fact. Six Todd of The Loch facts. Six Todd of the Mountain facts. Six Yellow Todd facts. Eighteen definitely 100% not boasting rock solid title winning facts.

(Well, maybe I’m boasting a wee bit – but wouldn’t you with such an impressive palmarès – which is French for “Get It Right Up Ya, Losers, Look What I’ve Won!”).

This was our seventh time at the Etape and Iain was trying mind games before the race.

“I’ve got a secret weapon.” He said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?”

“If you’re secret doesn’t involve pedalling faster then it’s not going to help!”

But he had me worried. He was cycling far more than me. I’ve had to rely more on Turbo sessions than cycling outdoors. So, I thought there was a good chance he would win this year. I didn’t tell him that though instead I said:

“I don’t have a secret weapon. In fact I’m going to tell you exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to sit behind you until the very last mile then I’m going to overtake you.”

And every time he mentioned his secret weapon I’d tell him exactly the same thing except…

… I wasn’t going to do that at all. Instead I was planning to make a break as soon as the course flattened out at Loch Tummell.

In French, they call this Le Mind Game. I think. Did I mention I failed my French standard grade?

And I had a back up. I knew another rider who was starting in the same wave as us. Someone I knew was fast and who, last time they raced the Etape, completed it in just over four hours. I made sure we met him at the start and I then stuck to his wheel for the start of the race.

I had a domestique, which is French for “I Ain’t Going To Lose This So I Got Some Secret Help To Get Round”.

And the plan worked to perfection. We stuck together for the first 15 miles along gentle rolling road towards Kinloch Rannoch, before ‘dropping’ Iain just before the first feed stop.

Dropping is English for “See Ya Later, Loser!”.

After that I wanted to see how fast I could go. I had it my head that I might, with a fair wind, be able to beat four hours. In the end, my legs gave up before I did. There are two main climbs during the Etape. The first is at Schiehallion, a steady climb with some steep corners that comes as a shock to the system after 20 miles of flat roads; the second is three miles from the end, a very steep climb of less than 100 metres. My legs threw in the towel on the second climb and, after that, I knew my faint hope of getting in below four hours was over. I coasted the last few miles and rolled into Pitlochry for a time of four hours six minutes.

I then waited for Iain.

And waited.

And waited. 🙂

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(How my house might have looked that night)