Category: Andrew

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)

Caledonian Etape 2017 – Part 1 (Andrew)

You could hear the school bell ring from our living room in Stornoway, that was the sign to go. We lived across the road from our primary school so could pack, leave and be in class before the bell stopped. It was brilliant.

Then we went to secondary school. It was five minutes away, less than a mile but still we said to our parents:

“We have to MOVE!”

We didn’t. We had to walk and we had to watch the clock because, now, we couldn’t hear the bell.

So, we walked. And, every time I’ve moved, whether for university or work, I’ve always walked or ran or cycled home.

In Glasgow, I’d walk around the Westend at university. At work, during two spells in London, I’d run first from the City to West Hampstead and then, after a second spell, from the City to Battersea. I would time how long it would take me to run and, every time, it was always quicker than catching the tube or the train – and, despite running six miles, it was also less sweaty.

In Glasgow, I commuted from the city centre to the Westend and to the Southside. Now, today, I work in Larbert and have cycled to and from Glasgow along the canal, a 90 – 120 minute commute depending on which way the wind’s blowing.

I love doing this. If I’m in a car, or bus, or underground train in London, I don’t get a sense of where I am. Running or cycling helps me connect everything together.

Running through London I would start in the City, surrounded by offices, run along Fleet Street with it’s mix of sleek offices and 17th century pubs, past the church in Aldwych and the Courts of Justice, still scarred from bombs dropped in World War 2, along past Trafalgar Square, Number 10 and the Houses of Parliament. Tourists, red buses, armed policeman and buildings that define London like the Thames. On the south bank, reaching home, I pass new flats overlooking the river, Battersea Park, a golden Buddha facing Chelsea townhouses owned by the super-rich, a dog pound, a sense of dislocation, and a roar of a plane overhead every 10 minutes descending on the Heathrow flightpath bringing new life, renewal, like blood returning to the heart.

Without running I’d never know how the world is connected. Not just by location but also by time. Every time I run I remember the times I’ve been there before. Running through London last year while on holiday, I wasn’t just running through the streets I knew, I was running through the times I knew them.

Running is time travel. Going forward, going back.

I get that feeling most of all when I return to the Caledonian Etape, 81 miles round Tayside, from Pitlochry round Loch Tummel, climbing over Schiehallion and back through the valley of Fortingal, Weem, Aberfeldy and Strathtay.

Not just a race. A memory.

A memory of coming to Aberfeldy for two weeks every summer on our summer holiday. The only two weeks we’d leave home on Stornoway and cross the Minch and come to the mainland.

Aberfeldy was a foreign country.

It had shops open on a Sunday, you could read a paper on a Sunday, you could go to the playground and the swings would be open, not tied up. It was not Stornoway where the Sabbath was sacred. It was as exotic as Istanbul.

And every year through school we would return, and most years after we left for university too. It was a second home. Our place in the sun(day).

So, when I started riding it was the Caledonian Etape I wanted to enter. A chance not just to ride but to ride my summer, to ride the roads where Aberfeldy was always, when we asked how long to go, “around the next corner and over the next hill!”.

The first time we entered we had no idea of what we were doing. We had the wrong bikes, the wrong gear, the wrong training programme (none) and a backpack filled with water and a packed lunch. It took us over six hours to finish. We would have been faster but there’s no quick way of having a cheese sandwich.

The second time we entered we were better. Better bikes. Better ideas. Still no training but, with more of an idea of what we had to do, we could help go faster even if by faster we only improved our time to under six hours.

The next few times so a gradual improvement. We’d join other riders to form groups. We’d train harder. We’d get faster. We get round in under five hours.

But one thing was constant. I always won.

This time we were riding for the seventh time. Iain promised a “secret weapon”. He was going all out for the win. I knew it would be tough but I also knew that this was my race. I wasn’t just riding against Iain, I was riding with a peloton of memories – and I was going to win.

To be continued…

 

 

 

Loch Leven Half Marathon 2017 (Andrew)

Have you ever run a half marathon backwards? Or any race backwards?

And by backwards I mean running the route in reverse – not running backwards yourself, looking over your shoulder and trying not to run into an oncoming car.

I have. The last time I was here.

For some reason, when we arrived at registration at Kinross in Fife, the organisers didn’t have my entry.

(I cannot comment on whether this may have something to do with me get my entry wrong in the first place and maybe not, you know, actually, kind of, maybe… entering. Though I swear I thought I had entered at the time.)

Since we were there and ready to start we thought we’d run the race anyway. But, because it wouldn’t be fair to join a race without an entry, we thought we run the route in reverse.

And everything was fine. The first few miles were quiet, the middle miles saw a flood of runners approach us, and the last few miles saw…. horrendous rain. Rain so bad that we thought it best to take a shortcut, leave the road and cut across a field to take a trail to Kinross.

Only one problem.

The trail didn’t go to Kinross.

It didn’t go anywhere. It stopped beside Loch Leven.

So, we ran across another field.

A cow got mad.

We ran back.

We got lost.

We eventually ended up back at the road we’d left. Wet. Tired. No further forward.

 

We ran to the finish/start and checked our mileage – 15 miles, for a 13 mile half marathon ran in reverse.

There’s clearly a lesson here about always checking your entry before going to the start of a race. Either that or always carry a compass if you want to take a short cut.

That was around five years ago. The Caledonian Etape and Loch Leven Half Marathon moved to the same weekend and it became impossible to enter both (or not enter even).

This year the Etape has changed weekends, moved back a week and we were free to run the Loch Leven Half Marathon again.

It’s one of my favourite races. It has great views of the loch and the surrounding hills. It has some nice long descents and only a couple of longer climbs. Every few miles the view changes, starting in an industrial estate in Kinross, moving through fields, then Loch Leven, moving closer to the hills, climbing through Scotlandwell before finishing with farms, fields, rolling roads and a final couple of miles along a track back to Kinross.

It’s a great race and I’d definitely reccomend it – but I might only be saying that because I beat Iain.

I saw he was struggling. A few grimaces here and there. An inability to keep up when I tried to run faster. But I waited until mile 9 before seeing if it was just a faint.

It wasn’t. When I started to run faster, he didn’t try to keep up. I was able to run home without any competition for the final few miles, drawing the Todd Championship level with three victories each.

My only complaint was a warning at the start of the race. The marshall warned everyone not to listen to headphones: “This race is sanctioned by Scottish athletics and anyone wearing headphones may be withdrawn from the race.”

I like listening to headphones when I run, usually Podcasts, occasionally music, sometimes the radio.

I can understand that organisers want to keep runners safe. But banning headphones seems over the top. Why not just say that runners with headphones run at their own risk?

Which isn’t much, given that statistics showed that “SERIOUS ACCIDENTS TRIPLE WHEN WEARING HEADPHONES”, as one headline put it. Which does indeed sound serious, but it only involves 47 accidents a year in the United States, up from 16, eight years earlier.

Which is not to belittle the 47 accidents which occurred, but merely to point out that half of the accidents involved people struck be a train at railway stations (not somewhere you normally go for a run) and perhaps studies like these are not appropriate when judging people running on roads and trying really, really hard not be hit, especially if they’re running backwards!

Saying that, if I get hit by a car tomorrow while out for a run while listening to ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno’, please delete this post. I really, really don’t want to die an ironic death.

Or at least change my Podcast to ‘Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History’ so at least people think I was listening to something a little bit more high-brow! 🙂

Current Todd Championship Standing

Me: 3

Iain: 3

Bealach Beag 2017 (Andrew)

“When’s the worst time to get a puncture – the start or end of a race?”

We were about five miles from the finish of Bealach Beag – a 45 mile race around Applecross and over the UK’s highest road: Bealach Na Ba.

We’d just passed a rider changing a tyre at the side of the road.

“If you get a puncture at the start then that’s really annoying as you’ve just started and you have to stop. But, if you get a puncture at the end, you’re thinking that you don’t have long to go when, suddenly, you’ve got to wait and change your tyre.”

We didn’t answer the questions. We came to a short hill, a fast descent and sudden climb. I’d read the course profile and knew that the last two miles were downhill. I thought if I made a break for it now then Iain wouldn’t keep up.

I was right.

I was first over the hill. I kept going as fast as I could for two miles, looked back and knew he wasn’t in sight.

It was an easy victory.

Until I had to wait at the finish line.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Eventually, 20 minutes later, far, far longer than he should have been, Iain cycles into Sheildag.

“I got a puncture just after you left!”

He tried to claim that meant my victory was void, that professionals who get a mechanical in the last stage of a race are given the same time as the winner.

I pointed out that I was the first to climb Bealach Na Ba – a six mile, 626m climb, that takes you from sea level to mountain top and back down again. Some parts have a gradient of 20% – which is almost like doing a wheely without your bike leaving the ground!

I also pointed out that I was the first round Applecross and had waited for him.

But still he insisted he was given the same time.

So, I said: “That’s okay, you can have the same time – but you don’t see Chris Froome handing over the yellow jersey! It’s the same time not the same place! I’m still the winner!”

Same time then, but, a much needed victory in the Todd Championship to claw it back to 3 – 2 to Iain!

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The Dirty Reiver 2017 (Andrew)

The Dirty Reiver 130 (80 miles) is a gravel race along the access roads that service the vast areas of forest covering the border of Scotland and England.

A gravel race is basically an off-road race and, as such, you don’t want to use a road bike.

The clue’s in the name: Road bike for…. roads. Off-road bike for… going off the road.

It should have been obvious but, oh no, not me, I knew better. Or worse, as it turned out…

The Dirty Reiver started last year and it’s based at Keilder Castle in Northumberland, an an area of the country that I, and it turned out, the mobile network, have never been.

Keilder is home to Europe’s largest man-made lake, though why there’s a lake in the middle of Northumberland is not something that’s mentioned in any of the leaflets I checked at the castle. It’s certainly not there because it’s easy to get to because Keilder is in the middle of a large moor crossed by single track roads then large forests crossed by slow winding b-roads.

It’s beautiful but it’s the kind of beauty that demands patience – and an ability to ignore the tractor blocking the way in front of you.

We drove down on Friday and registered on Friday night, though you can register before the race too. We stayed in the town of Bellingham, which was on 30 minutes from the start, though an early start of 5:40 was needed as the race started at 7am.

Normally, bike races start early to avoid traffic – so I wasn’t sure why a race with no traffic needed to start so early. But, I also thought I could use a road bike, and I wasn’t any better at predicting timings.

“Maybe six hours?” I said to Iain.

Nowhere close.

Race day had ideal weather. Sunny-ish. Not too warm. A very light breeze and, as it had been dry all week, the trail was dusty rather than muddy.

It was cold to start but nothing that an emergency use of the Glasgow Tri Club buff couldn’t fix, after I realised that I’d forgotten to bring gloves.

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Did I tell you how well prepared I was for this race…?

The race started in waves of around 20-25 bikes with a sharp drop from the castle then straight into the forest. The first couple of miles were… okayish. A steady climb. A dirt track then…

Ouch!

The first descent.

Crickey!

Another stone.

Blimey!

And another.

Jings!

And another.

And I’d only gone one metre.

100 metres of a descent later and I feel like Godzilla has kicked me in the baws then grabbed my arms, shaken me about, and punched me in the back.

And only another 78 miles to go.

It was horrendous. Every bump, stone, rock and pepple went straight through my bike and into me. I had to pull on my brakes through any descent just to keep some control.

I was going slower downhill than I was going uphill.

It was HORRIBLE.

And I knew then that my six hour estimate was completely wrong.

The first hour followed a pattern of grinding up a hill, with slate and pebbles sliding away beneath my wheels, to trying to go down hills as slowly as possible so as not to go over my handlebars or become an involuntary eunuch.

I hated every minute of it.

And, to make things worse, Iain was on a mountain bike and making the whole thing look easy as, every hill, he was picked up by Godzilla and given a soothing massage through the magic of suspension and fat tyres.

Not that I didn’t have the right tyres. The organisers had recommended 33 inch tyres as a minimum and that’s what I had. But I needed more than the minimum, I needed big knobbly tyres and shock absorbers. Instead I got BATTERED.

The route itself was spectacular with the scenery changing every 10 miles as you go through forest, moors, farmland, dirt track, walking trails and, thankfully, blessedly, a five mile stretch of smooth, smooth tarmac.

There’s even a river crossing.

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But it was tough and my lack of a ‘granny gear’ meant every hill was a challenge and my lack of springs in my bum meant I’ll never sit down again.

After eight hours we finally got back to Keilder castle. I had to:

  • Stop once to reattach my back wheel after all the shaking shaked it loose from the frame!
  • Stop twice to stop my nose bleeding after all the shaking  shaked it loose from my brain!
  • And stop umpteen times to just stop shaking!

I’m glad I took part. I now know what it’s like to race a gravel race and to race off-road but I don’t think I’ll be signing up for another anytime soon. Not without a mountain bike – and not without a doctor’s note that I can still father children.

Oh, my poor baws!

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Open Water Swimming (Andrew)

Home to the Western Isles for Easter and a chance to join the Hebridean Triathlon Club’s open water swim on Saturday morning. I say club but, as it’s only just started, it’s mostly a nice man called Colin who was happy for us to join him on his weekly swim at Coll beach.

He was prepared. He had an orange buoy to help with sighting, emergencies and generally keeping safe in the water. We had wetsuits and serious doubts we’d last more than five minutes in the water.

It was FREEZING!

“Six and half degrees,” said Colin.

And then 30 second later.

“Good news, it’s now seven!”

I couldn’t feel my feet. I’d not worn swim socks as I find them uncomfortable. They’re like two heavy bags strapped to your feet.

Not that I knew if I had feet. I couldn’t feel anything below my knees as I waded in.

“Dip your face in,” said Iain.

I did.

Like The Weeknd, I couldn’t feel my face.

So, that’s what that song is about. It’s not about cocaine at all, it’s about open water swimming.

I can’t feel my face when I’m with you!”

I tried swimming breaststroke for 10 minutes keeping my head carefully out of the water. Then, once I’d acclimatised, I tried some freestyle. (Or free(zing)style.)

I couldn’t feel my ears.

I was noticing a pattern.

Cold water is, well, cold.

But the sun was out. The swimming was good and it was great to be swimming again in more extreme conditions than a heated pool.