The Naked Triathlete (Andrew)

How much breast is too much breast? A couple of years ago that was the question facing Glasgow Sheriff Court when it was asked to decide whether a flyer for a strip club banned by the licensing board was obscene.

Glasgow City Council’s licensing board presumably didn’t mean to criticise the flyer for strip club, showing a dancer wearing a pair of yellow pants and just an arm covering her breasts, as depicting the woman as “unsuitably clothed” because that could only mean she was wearing too much. What else would would be suitable clothes for a stripper except a birthday suit?  But that comment by the board meant a trip to the sheriff court to work out how much – or how little – was too little clothes for a flyer for a strip club.

This led to an interesting discussion as Sheriff Taylor said: “Only a very small part of the side of her breast is depicted in the photograph. There is certainly more breast exposed in certain daily tabloid newspapers.”

And, he added: “If one looks at adverts for perfumes and the like in magazines normally read by women, one sees more breasts exposed than in the flyer.”

In short, he said: “I can see nothing wrong in the degree of breast exposed”

And he was really looking.

I remember this debate when I was thinking about how we take stripping in public as natural. Go to any transition and you’ll see a bunch of athletes pulling off wetsuits, bearing their chests and, generally, mooning friends and family watching on from the side.

It’s like Stringfellows but with less fake tan and gold jewellery (and that was just Peter Stringfellow).

I swear one time I was in transition a man tried to stick a tenner in my pants!

Yet, we accept this as normal. Even though it’s not. And it’s Scotland and we look like we’re starring a XXX version of Avatar as the blue people strip in the open air.

But then again. Maybe it is normal. Maybe the strange thing is to feel self-conscious about it all. Why not strip in the open air? Why not let it swing free and stand there bold and proud with nothing to protect you but a well positioned bike stem? We shouldn’t be ashamed! We should be free! There’s nothing wrong with letting it all hang out!

And hopefully, the Sheriff Court will agree with me after the police arrest me…

Runner, Heal Thyself (Andrew)

When I started running at university I would run on a treadmill for 20 – 30 minutes on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Over a year it became part of my weekly routine as I was studying for my final exams. Then, one day, my knee hurt.

“That’s nothing,” I thought. “A wee run will fix that!”

I’d pop up to the university gym and, after five minutes, the pain would start to fade, and, after 20 minutes, it would be gone.

“See,” I thought, “it was just a wee niggle!”

And by the time I’d have my shower, my leg would fall off.

Not literally. I’d topple. But it might as well have as I couldn’t use it for the rest of the day. It wouldn’t bend. I couldn’t put weight on it. I would hop from gym to library to home until…

I’d wake up in the morning, my knee would hurt and I’d think:

“Really, it’s nothing, a wee run will fix this!”

And I was a cripple for a month until I realised that a ‘wee run’ will only fix this if your problem is an escaped lion and you need to get away fast. If your problem is a damaged ligament then don’t run on it!

You need to follow the RIC (Rest, Ice and Compression) program not the RIC (Run, Ignore, Crawl To Bed) program.

Yet, 20 years later I’ve learnt nothing. Last week I pulled a muscle in my abdomen. Not sure how, think it was twisting to lift something while sitting in my chair at work, however, when I noticed it was sore I thought immediately:

“It’s nothing, a wee swim will fix this!”

And I went swimming. An exercise that requires you to continuously twist and turn.

Because there’s nothing like putting out a fire like pouring more oil on it and shouting “Burn, baby, burn!”

It was stupid.

And on Tuesday I ended up in the minor injuries clinic complaining that I couldn’t turn my body to the right or pick up any weight with my right hand.

Which was also stupid because, despite being a clinic for minor injuries, the doctor listened to my story and immediately said: “We don’t do abdomens.”

Which made me think: “What do you do? Left ankles only. Just the right elbow? How can you distinguish between different parts of the body? You’re a doctor, your meant to do everything.”

He sent me to my GP who’s sole advice was “If it hurts when you twist to the right then don’t twist to the right!”

Genius.

But she was right because she was just telling me what I already knew – if you’re injured, then don’t do twice as much as you did before in the hope that more means less. Rest. Ice. Compression. And don’t go for a run.

Dream On Review (Andrew)

Last week someone recommended that I read ‘Dream On’ by John Richardson, the story of how one hopeless golfer tried to become a brilliant golfer in just 12 months.

He set himself a challenge – he would play a perfect round of golf. He’d shoot a level par round – a round of 18 holes where he equalled or bettered the course score without the help of any extra strokes. The only problem he had was that he started the year as a hopeless golfer who needed 20 extra strokes or more to get round.

Did he do it? Normally in these types of books the pleasure of reading it is to find out whether the author was successful… or not…

But, spoiler alert…

The author gives the game away in the first few chapters by randomly including a sentence starting with “After I did it…”

Thanks, John or your sub-editor for that one!

Apart from that, and a minor quibble that it would have been interesting to see some of his training logs so as to see the work required, what did I learn from it and how could it apply to triathlon – it’s not about the glamour

John made the mistake for most of his training of concentrating on his first shot – the drive. He wanted to hit the ball further and faster and with a bigger THWACK than anyone else. The drive is what impresses you’re playing partners and your club mates. It’s the most visible part of being a good golfer. The big shot from the tee.

However, for over six months he didn’t practice at all at putting. The sedate cousin of driving. There’s no big swing. No THWACK. It’s a gentle motion that seemingly requires no skill even though holing a long putt is one of the main things every golf programme focuses on in their daily highlights. It’s the glamour shot no one notices.

Yet, for John, it was only when he started to concentrate on his putting that his score started to improve because isn’t just one skill, it’s multiple skills. You need to be able to drive, you need to be able to hit a long iron for your second shot, you need to pitch short shots around the green and then you need to put. Also you need to keep all your womanising quiet, but that’s just Tiger Woods.

It’s the same for triathlon. The skills bit. Not the womanising bit. Triathlon is a mix of skills. From swimming to cycling to running and the all important getting your wet suit off really quickly in transition without falling over.

Yet, in order to improve, do we spend the same amount of time on all four parts?

If you’re anything like me then you concentrate on the bits that are easy – the running and cycling – and work less on the bits that are hard – swimming faster or further. In order to improve we need to concentrate on all parts.

Which seems obvious but it’s worth repeating because it’s easy to get seduced by the quick fixes that triathlon offers. A new wet suit, a faster bike, when all that matters is concentrating on the basics. Swim technique, pedalling and moving your feet faster for long than you did before.

Oh, and not falling over when trying to pull your wetsuit of your legs.

Anyway, all this came to mind because, in other news, Iain’s bought a time trial bike and he thinks it’ll make him faster and he’ll finally beat me. Well, all I can say to that is “Dream on!”.

Wet Wet Wet Suit (Andrew)

Can you smell chlorine? Any one who has ever been to a public swimming pool will say ‘yes’ – that strong smell that hits you as soon as you walk in the pool is the smell of chlorine. Except it’s not. Chlorine doesn’t smell. What you’re smelling is the sweat and dirt and who knows what else that’s come into contact with the chlorine in the pool. A strong smell just means that the odourless chlorine has done it’s job and kept the water clean by reacting to everything in it.

Chlorine is counter intuitive. The truth is the opposite of what you think it should be. The smellier the pool, the cleaner it will be.

The same thought applies to swimming. Why do we shower before we swim? We’re just about to cover ourselves in water so why do we… cover ourselves in water before we go in. Or why do we shower afterwards? Surely, the whole point of swimming is to avoid the need for a shower?

Which reminds me, I was getting my hair cut last year when the hair dresser said, with no prompt or link to our previous conversation: “Are you a swimmer?”.

I thought he must recognise my swimming from my broad shoulders, strong biceps and v- shaped back. (Also my deluded opinion of myself).

He said: “I can tell because your hair is so damaged!”.

He then went on to tell me that the best way to protect your hair is to add some conditioner to it before you start. The conditioner will protect he hair from the chemicals in the water.

Which made me think – why don’t they just fill the pool with soap?! Why don’t they just turn it into a giant bath?

In fact, people say when they are going swimming that they are “going to the baths”.

It’s a genius idea.  And no fact or sensible claim that you can’t actually swim in soap because you’d die if you swallowed it will change my mind!

Anyways, I was thinking about all of this when I washing my wetsuit at the weekend. I thought: “Why am I washing a wetsuit? It was in water. I’ve now got it in more water. Isn’t this pointless?”

And even though I was thinking this while everything I brought back from the Carron Valley reservoir was washed through my wetsuit – from twigs and grass to at least two boats and a fisherman with rod – I thought it’s brilliant idea. From now on – no more washing my wet suit!

And even though I’m typing this covered in a red rash from head to toe why don’t you give it a go? Trust me, it’ll be as clean as a swimming pool!

 

 

 

 

 

Race the Blades Half Marathon 2018 (Andrew)

Who gives socks as a present?

Normally, that’s the question you ask every Christmas as you open the package that felt like a Cashmere jumper only to find it’s five socks from Tesco – and the sale price has been left on.

I don’t mind though. I love getting socks as it means I’ve not had to buy socks in years. See also boxers. See also aftershave (received once, never used). See also a coffee machine (still unopened as I don’t drink coffee).

That’s why I was really excited to finish the Race The Blades half marathon, a 13.1 mile race on the tracks running through Whiteelee wind farm. At the end, along with the obligatory t-shirt and medal there was also a paid of socks in the goody bag.

Brilliant!

If there’s one thing you want after a race it’s the ability to change into a clean paid of socks!

(Even if those socks are covered in images of wind turbines).

So, well done to the organisers and to the sponsors, Scottish Power, you gave me another chance to avoid buying socks for the foreseeable future.

If only you’d start giving away smart trousers for work or shirts then I’d never need to shop again.

(Unless they were covered in images of wind turbines)

The race itself is deceptively hilly: it lulls you into a false sense of flatness in the first six miles before throwing all the hills into the final six. Last time I ran it – see here – the race came up short, literally. It was 200 metres too short. This time it was the right length and with the summer heatwave abating for a few days it was also a pleasant morning with nice dry trail roads to run on.

It was also my last ‘official’ race this year – I’ve got nothing booked now until July 2019.

So, for the rest of the year it’s feet up (with socks on, of course!).

IronMan Edinburgh 70.3 2018 (Andrew)

 

IMG_4653Scotland is one of the few countries in the world where wearing a wetsuit is not just for swimming. Autumn. Most weekdays. All weekends. Wearing a wetsuit is almost compulsory in Scotland if you don’t want to get wet. Except yesterday and except for the last few weeks, Scotland has had an outbreak of what can only be described as “the apocalypse”.

Every day the sky is blue, the sun is yellow and there’s no clouds to be seen. It’s boiling! Every night, we huddle in homes desperately trying to sleep in our fridges. It’s horrible!

How are we meant to live like that! Bring back the rain! We live in Scotland, not the Sahara!

So, while six months of training has seen a typical Scottish training programme of trying to find the few dry days where you can go out on a bike, much indoor training, and a lot of wetsuit wearing, the one thing I’d not trained for was running in the sun. How can you train for that in Scotland, it just doesn’t happen. Until this month. Until I had to pack the one thing I thought I would never need – sun cream.

Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh 2018 itself promised a calm swim, some clouds for the bike course before burning off for the run around Arthur’s Seat. And it almost fulfilled that promise as the swim was calm, the run was sunny – but so was the bike course. Unrelenting from the moment it started.

Swim 

swim

1.9 kms around Prestonpans. With no breeze, the water was very calm and the temperature was a warm-ish 14.5 degrees Celsius.

Before starting it’s worth remembering two things. One, there’s very few toilets so make sure you start queuing on Saturday and, two, the queue for the swim will take almost twenty five minutes due to the rolling start. Either way, be prepared to queue.

The swim itself had an west to east current so the first half was into the current and the second was a rocket launched very easy turbo swim back to shore. In the calm conditions it was akin to swimming in busy swimming pool. No waves made a great turnaround from last year’s tsunami like conditions.

IMG_4658

Bike 

Same course as last year. A very pleasant 56 mile ride through East Lothian with some stunning views of Edinburgh, Fife and the Pentland Hills on the second half of the course.

The main thing to remember about this part of the course is that the final climb up Arthur’s Seat is not the biggest challenge at the end. Just before you enter the park there’s a short section of Paris-Roubaix like cobbles that rattle your bones and could give you a puncture if you’re not prepared for them.

Run

A minor change to the 13 mile run route sees the climb up the commonwealth pool dropped and a slightly longer flatter run around Arthur’s Seat. A welcome change as it makes the route cleaner with less out and back sections.

It was noon by the time I started running so the sun was out and it was a challenge to run in the hot conditions. There’s plenty of water/aid stations and the volunteers were great at keeping the water/cola/energy juice/gels and bananas going.

My aim in the run was to run the first of three laps then run most of the second except for the long climb up from Dynamic Earth then see how I felt on lap 3. As it happened I felt okay throughout and was able to run (very slowly!) most of each laps with breaks at water stations only.

At this point I saw Iain was at least half a lap ahead so I decided to let him win today’s race – and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Overall

Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh is a great race. Well organised and most of the niggles of the first year were ironed out. Especially the biggest one – the crap t-shirt at the end. Last year’s effort was very much a ‘will this do?’ effort: ill fitting, poor lettering, just stick Edinburgh on an IronMan generic t-shirt effort. This year was much better. I even wore it through Edinburgh and then back to the start at Prestonpans to collect the car because, although it was hot,  cool people wear their finisher’s t-shirts in public! 🙂

Me

Cheat Runs (Andrew)

Every runner has a ‘cheat run’.

For South African Sergio Motsoeneng it was the Comrades Marathon in 1999.

Sergio finished eighth however another runner complained to organisers that he hadn’t seen Sergio pass him during the race. An investigation checked photos of the race at various stages which showed not just a scar mysteriously appearing and disappearing from Sergio’s shin but also his watch jumping back and forth between his left and right wrist. Further investigation discovered the Sergio had a twin and that twin, Fika, had a scar on his shin. Under questioning, Sergio admitted that he’d swapped places with his twin throughout the race when one would run into a toilet and hide while the other would run out and join the race.

Sergio was banned from races for five years and when he was released he swore that he would never cheat again. But he must have swapped places with Fika when making this promise as, no sooner was Sergio free to race, when he failed a drugs test. He didn’t race again.

While I have never swapped places with Iain during a run, except in an official relay in primary school, I too have a cheat run. Just not on the scale of Sergio and Fika.

My cheat run is when I want to run 10 miles but want to do so in the easiest way possible. All I do is start beside the Whitelee Windfarm, near Eaglesham, and then run to Shawlands. A route which, apart from the first 100 metres, is entirely downhill.

Windfarm

It’s a cheat run.

I can run this even when I can’t run 10 miles on the flat. Yet, it still makes me think “wow, I can run 10 miles in training!” Of course it would be easier if I could just pop into the toilet after five miles and for Iain to take over but, in the absence of genetic based cheating, I’ll settle for running downhill all the way home.

Or a skateboard. Now that would be the easy way home!

 

Escape (Non-attempt) From Alcatraz 2018 (Andrew)

Only amateur athletes will ever say “I’ll just turn up and give it a go.”

You don’t see bin men turning up at the local hospital asking if they can pop down to surgery as they once watched an episode of Casualty. Yet anyone with a pair of trainers will at some point have turned up on a start line with no idea what they’re about to do or why they are there but, what the heck, let’s give it a go anyway!

However this attitude forgets that there are there are two types of fear in the world: the fear of the unknown and the fear of the known.

The unknown fear is the fear that keeps you awake at night in case aliens sneak into your bedroom and steal your socks. You’re pretty sure that if aliens did visit the earth they’d have better things to do than raid your sock drawer – but, as you can’t be 100% sure that E.T. is not phoning home and boasting about it, you worry about it anyway.

That’s why the unknown fear is a stupid fear. It’s based on misinformation – aliens steal the last bag of crisps from the cupboard, not socks – and it usually means you end up scared of something that you shouldn’t be scared of at all.

In triathlon, we have a lot of unknown fears. The big one is swimming in open water. Until you’ve swum in the sea or in a river or loch you don’t know what to expect. There could be monsters! Or, worse, it could be cold!

The first time I swam outdoors was at Bardowie Loch, north of Glasgow. I swam with an instructor who ran a regular open session on a Sunday morning. There were about 20 of us there. Most in wetsuits, one in budgie smugglers (put it away, Iain!) and one man with a loud voice who set out the rules and offered some tips for swimming in cold water for the first time.

“Go in backwards,” he said. “Let the water hit the small of your back first, then, when you’re used to it, roll over and repeatedly dip your face in the water. It’ll help you adjust.”

I don’t know why the base of your spine controls your response to cold water, but, it seeped up my wetsuit, and then through the zip at the back, all I could say was:

“AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKrrrrrrrrrrrrGGGGGGGGhhhhhhhHHHHH!”

I’d hate to think what I’d have said if I hadn’t ‘reversed in’.

I found out. I dipped my face in too.

“AAAAAAAAFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU************************* GGGGGGGGGhhhhHHHH!”

However, as I started to paddle, then swim, then dipped my face again and again, the water became more tolerable. My feet were cold, my hands were cold, but my body felt fine, and, after a few minutes, I could keep my head below water and start to swim using the front crawl.

What was an unknown fear, a fear of swimming in cold water, was no longer an unknown fear. It was a quite justifiable, perfectly reasonable known fear!

Now known fears are fears of things you know are scary. Like cold water swimming. But, having practiced, and trained, and adjusted to the cold water, you can justify it to yourself: “I know this will be cold but, after a few minutes, it will be fine.”

And that’s one of the good things about training. It teaches you not just how to run, swim or cycle but it also teaches you to convert your unknown fears in known fears or, perhaps, something which isn’t ever a fear at all.

I’m not scared of swimming in lochs anymore. I know what they’re like. I know how cold they can get when it’s early Spring or Autumn. I’m happy to turn up and give it a go as it’s no longer a fear.

Swimming in the sea however…

I’m scared of swimming in the sea. There’s currents and undercurrents and waves and salt and sharks and I hear aliens nick your socks when you leave your clothes at the beach.

When I entered Norseman in 2016, it was the sea swim that scared me. It was three miles in a Norwegian Fjord, in icy water after jumping from the back of ferry.

I was scared of that jump. In the weeks before the race, I kept thinking of that jump. It was something I’d never done, something I could never prepare for – unless I wanted to start a search and rescue mission after jumping off the back of a CalMac ferry.

Without the training, my fears got the best of me. “You’ll die in those waters”. “you’ll have a heart attack, jumping from a warm boat in freezing water”. “You’ll get hypothermia.”

I ignored the voices though, got on the boat, got to the drop off point and jumped off the side.

And nothing happened. The water was warmer than expected. There were few waves. I swam round and my fear was just a fear of nothing.

I say all this because I had those same thoughts before Escape From Alcatraz 2018 triathlon and this time the fear won – but I’m okay with that.

This time my fear was based on what I knew – the swim was 2.5 miles across San Franscico bay and I hadn’t trained enough for it. A busy period at work had meant I hadn’t had time to go to the pool. My running and cycling was fine but I hadn’t swum enough for a challenging swim.

On the Saturday morning before the race I tried to swim in the bay. I swam in a sheltered spot and tried 1km to see how it felt.

It was tough. Even in the sheltered spot I didn’t feel strong in the water and it was a struggle to swim quickly against the tide.

I knew then that I couldn’t take part. The bay was going to be harder and longer. The leap from the boat was not going to be a leap to overcome an unknown fear, instead it was going to be a leap of hope that a lack of training wouldn’t matter.

And looking at the bay I thought it would be stupid of me to start. To ignore the warning in the practice and to hope that somehow swimming further and in harder conditions would somehow be easier. That wouldn’t be a smart move. Instead, I didn’t race, and I don’t regret not racing. Sometimes you have to recognise that fears are justified and that you have them for good reasons – to race again, so that with preparation and training you never need to think “I’ll just turn up and give it a go.”

Etape Caledonia 2018 (Andrew)

Recovery

It’s not often you see someone carrying a spare tyre when they’re out riding. A tube, yes. A tyre, not so much.

What are the chances you’ll need a spare tyre in the middle of a race? Or worse, in the middle of a race that you ‘d be planning to race for six months? Or worse, 10 miles into that race, you need a tyre and you don’t even get the sense you’d even started it.

What are the chances? Pretty high actually, if you’re me. I had a tyre explode 10 miles into the Etape Du Tour – a race which follows a stage of the Tour De France.

A rip in the tyre wall meant a wait at the side of the road for a motorbike support.  And then another wait as the support checked if they had any spare wheels they could give me before I was finally told “the only wheels you’ll see are the four on the bus that’s coming to pick you up!”.

I remembered this horrible memory on Sunday as I waited at the side of the road, this time just after the five mile point, for motorbike support. I was taking part in the Etape Caledonia and had selected the wrong gear before climbing a short sharp hill. I tried to change gear. My chain slipped. It became caught in the crank and it became so twisted and knotted even Alexander The great would have said “I may have conquered the world – but, fek’s sake, even that knot’s beyond me!”

But, as I waited for the inevitable conversation with the mechanic that would lead to the sweep up truck, he said:

“Wait, is that a quick release link?”

Before he pressed the chain, split it in half, threaded it through and released the knot in 30 seconds. He then threaded the chain back, linked it together and said: “You’re good to go!”

And I had a second flashback. I remembered in January I’d tried to change the chain, failed miserably at removing the pins, destroying the chain tool in the process, before I’d replaced the chain again with quick release links.

Thank you, January Andrew! You’re a star! (Even if you didn’t know what you were doing and was just following the first YouTube mechanic video you could find).

So, despite starting again near the back of field, as every one had passed as the bike was fixed, at least I was starting again this time

As for the race, a new three mile loop adds an interesting challenge to the first half and some cracking views of Schiehallion. A rebrand gives some cracking looking jerseys. And, despite a heatwave on Saturday and forecast of a dry day with more to come, there was still a couple of spots of rain as we passed Loch Tummell. The Caledonian Etape – never knowingly dry no matter what the forecast!

The highlight of the race however came as I reached the 70 mile point. I saw a man with a spare tyre tied onto the panniers on the back of his bike, I didn’t think “Ha! He won’t need that!”. Instead,  I thought: “Well played, sir, well played indeed!”

(Oh, and Iain claims he won – but the official time shows a dead heat, so I’m still the undisputed heavy weight champion of the Etape Caledonia!)