Dreaming of Celtman 2020 (Andrew)

IronMan UK was my one and only long distance triathlon. Never again I said. That was it. One go. Done it. Never need to do it again.

Except for Norseman.

And possibly Challenge Roth.

But the chances of getting in were so slim that IronMan UK was, I thought, the only time I’d ever swim 3.9km again, probably the only time I’d ever cycle more than 100 miles and definitely the only time I’d run a marathon as I don’t like running long distances. 

Oh, and except for Celtman too. 

Apart from those three races, I was never going to voluntarily spend an entire day racing again!

But what were the chances of getting into Norseman? Challenge Roth or Celtman? People try for years and don’t get into any of them. I applied, still with no expectation of getting in, and, straight away, I’ve got a place in Norseman.

A couple of years later and I manage to get a place in Challenge Roth too.

And now I have a place in Celtman.

I don’t know whether God likes a laugh, but he certainly enjoys a good ironic chuckle. 

While Norseman was fantastic. I’ve written about it on the blog and you can find out all about it. Roth too. And they were both ‘special’ and they have given me some great memories (along with a deep, deep fear of losing my watch while swimming – read about it here and, four months later, I’m still mentally scarred by it!), it’s Celtman which means the most to me because it was Celtman that got me interested in triathlons.

I never watched triathlons on telly. I’d never heard of IronMan or knew anything about the World Championships in Hawaii. I knew triathlons existed, I’d even tried to the New Year’s Triathlon in Edinburgh but I was like a dog playing football. It might know to chase a ball but that’s all it has in common with a footballer. I knew you needed to swim, bike and run but I didn’t know it was better to swim freestyle, that a mountain bike is not the professional triathlete’s first choice or that the run is something you race, not walk in to finish. 

Celtman changed that. I was watching the Adventure Show on BBC Scotland. Every month it reports from different events across Scotland. In 2011, it reported back from the first Celtman extreme triathlon. 3.4km swim on the west coast of Scotland, a 120 mile cycle round the Applecross penisula and then a marathon up a Munro and finish in Torridon. 

“That’s impossible,” I said, “how do they do that?” 

Every year since I’ve watched the Adventure Show and thought I would love to take part but secretly I knew that I wasn’t good enough. I don’t want to swim through jellyfish in freezing cold water. I’ve never cycled 120 miles. I’ve never run a marathon up a mountain. That’s what other people do.

But as I started to train for races in middle distance, then long distance, then Norseman and Roth, I started to think this year that maybe, with a bit more effort, I could be ready for Celtman. Because I don’t want to just complete it. I want to stand at the top of the mountain and be one of the few competitors who complete the whole course. In order to do that you need to be halfway through the run eleven hours after starting. Which means I’ll have around 8 hours to complete 120 miles on the bike, knowing that my swim time is the one thing I won’t be able to change no matter how hard I train. 

And, to make this Celtman, even better, unlike Norseman and Roth, Iain will be racing too, which will be a good incentive for both training and on the day itself. Though it has spoiled my support runner plans as he was going to run the final half with me!

Now that I’ve secured a spot I keep thinking of the first edition. I think how impossible it seemed and I think how possible it now is. I can’t wait to take part!

Book Review: There is No Map In Hell (Andrew)

In 2009, adventurer Ben Fogle and former Olympic rower James Cracknell raced across Antarctica to the South Pole. The BBC documentary ‘On Thin Ice’ showed them recruiting a third team member, Dr Ed Coats, to complete their team. But if you read their book, also called ‘On Thin Ice’ you’d only find Fogle and Cracknell’s story. Dr Ed is nowhere to be found!

While the documentary shows he wasn’t lost in the Antartic, that he was as much part of the team as the others, the book focuses on the ‘stars’ – and loses something from it.

Big adventures are rarely achieved alone. Ed Stafford, the first man to walk the length of the Amazon, and a man who can claim to have achieved it alone, makes very clear in his book that he couldn’t have done it without the help of a guide who joined him shortly after starting. And he spends just as long talking about their friendship as he does about his own achievement.

That’s why I think I found The Mountains Are Calling a struggle. It was all about the runner, all about ‘me’. And also why I found There Is No Map In Hell a far better book.

Steve Birkenshaw is a fell runner. He holds the record for completing the Wainwrights – a run across all 100+ Lake District mountain fells. This book charts his race with a brief background on his running career before a detailed review of his record breaking run.

Unlike other books he also has other people involved write about what they saw or what they did to help. By adding the perspectives of his wife, support crew, nurse (for some graphic description of his feet!) and support runners he’s able to show the such records are not achieved alone and that they couldn’t be achieved without teamwork. And, while he might be running, he could only run because of what other people were doing for him – whether running with him, guiding him when his mind couldn’t grasp where he was going, to preparing support stops, logistics, food or just being there to urge him on.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

Outdoor Swim Review: the Arabian Ocean (Andrew)

It’s coming to the end of the outdoor swimming season. The thought of swimming in budgie smugglers is as appealing as actually smuggling a budgie in your pants. Wetsuits have become obligatory and swim caps have been replaced by swim hoods. It’s getting colder and the only thing worse than cold water is…. hot water.

I was lucky enough to swim in the Arabian Sea last month. I had a stop over in Dubai, the hotel was next to the beach and I decided that a 42 degree day would be ideal time to swim in the ocean. I was wrong.

As soon as I got in I felt like a teabag in a cup of lukewarm tea. The water was too hot. It would have made a nice temperature for soup. Every time I ducked my head I felt like I was going to come out as red as a lobster after five minutes in the pot.

What was going on? I’d never swum in water like this before. There was no cold shock when I started to wade in. No head chill from ducking below a wave. It was almost… pleasant!

I couldn’t take it. It was just too nice!

It was then I remembered swimming in Norway two years ago in the Norseman practice swim. Competitors from around the world had travelled to a Norwegian fjord and had braced themselves for near arctic chills and icy waters. Iain and I checked the temperature, saw it was 16 degrees and warm for Scotland and jumped in without wetsuits.

“Are you mad?’ A man cried.

“No, we’re Scottish” we said.

“No, you must be SALMON!” He said firmly as he finished pulling on gloves, socks and three swim caps.

And that made me realise that everyone’s idea of extreme is different. For him, 16 degrees was as cold as a Penguin eating a Magnum while watching Frozen in the middle of the Arctic circle. While, for us, 16 degrees may as well have been as comfy as a towel straight from the tumble dryer.

But swimming in warm water is just madness. The whole point of swimming is to cool off, to feel nice and refreshed and you just can’t do that with an ocean warm enough to make Earl Grey tea.

I doff my 5 inch thick swim cap to all the warm weather swimmers. The one’s who can swim all year round and never reach that optimum temperature of 14 degrees when the water is as refreshing as a gazpacho soup. The one’s who never get the benefit of swimming with a five inch thick wetsuit so buoyant it could turn you into balloon. After swimming in the Arabian Sea I can see that all of you who swim in warm water all year round are truly the extreme swimmers!

Outdoor Swim Review: Elie Beach (Iain)

My first ever sea swim was at Elie Beach. It was a charity event that had been advertised as a 1 mile swim in a flat calm bay. Unfortunately for me the remnants of a Caribbean hurricane had raced across the Atlantic just in time for the swim start.

The wind was fierce. It was so strong the woman’s Open Golf Championship at nearby St Andrews cancelled the days play because of fears for the safety of fans and players.

Upon hearing that the golf was cancelled I fully expected my sea swim to be cancelled too. If it was too unsafe to be on land then it was definitely too unsafe to be off it!

The event was not cancelled. I stood on the beach hoping, until the last moment, the organizers would see sense and postpone the swim. They didn’t see sense. A whistle was blown and the swim began.

I ran into the water and immediately ran back out again. I’d forgotten my goggles.

I put on goggles. I ran back into the water and tried to swim freestyle. I lasted one stroke before a huge wave smashed into the side of my head knocking my googles off. I hadn’t put them on very well.

Thankfully I could stand as the sea wasn’t very deep. I stood up and put my goggles on tight. I tried free style again but this time a wave struck me in the face whilst my mouth was open. Unlike Monika Lewinsky, I swallowed. I spluttered to a stop as my lungs filled with sea water. I stood up again. I still hadn’t made it very far but at least my goggles had stayed on.

I composed myself and decided to do the only thing I could think of to get through it. I changed to breast stroke so I could see the waves coming. I could then take evasive action and duck under the wave before they hit me.

I managed to do the swim. I was slow and it was deeply unpleasant but it had one positive effect. Since then I’ve not been scared of bad conditions at sea. Every swim seems gentle compared to this one.

My first time in a wet suit at Elie.

REVIEW

Ease of Access: Excellent. Elie beach can be accessed from any part of the town. Elie is in the East Neuk of Fife which is 90 minutes from Glasgow or 60 minutes from Edinburgh. Its a great spot for weekend breaks as the weather is normally better here than anywhere else. Mainly because rain predominately arrives from the west. The rest of Scotland gets wet first and the rain has run out before it gets to Elie.

Water quality:  On a good day the water is clear but mostly when I’ve been its been cloudy.

Swim Quality: Excellent – the sea was calm and there were views of the pretty town. Water temperature was 13.5C in late September. There is options to swim from one end of the beach to the other or to go further out and swim around a light on a rock.

Other People: Elie is a popular place. In summer it can be mobbed but outside school holidays its much more pleasant. Mostly folks walking their dog.

Would I go back: Yes. I swim here whenever I’m in Fife.

Worst Tip Ever (Andrew)

I was reading an article with tips for taking part in triathlons when I spotted the tip above, possibly the worst tip ever because, if everyone followed it, there would be no bike pumps to hand out!

“Excuse me, can I borrow your bike pump?”

“Sorry, I don’t have one, I thought you did.”

“Why would I have one? I was following the top tips for triathletes!”

“So was I!”

“Damn!”

“Bugger – none of us has a bike pump! Does anyone know if you can inflate a tyre by blowing in it?!”

For a sport where drafting is banned, where competing on your own is the goal, this must rank as the worst tip of the year.

The Day After (Andrew)

James Bond stands triumphant. Blofeld is dead. The nucleur missile launch has been averted and the world is safe once more. Bond is bloodied, bruised and mildly blootered after too many shaken and not stirred martinis. But he doesn’t feel it – at least not until the next day…

When he goes to Tesco and buys some milk because the milk in the fridge went off while he was trotting around the globe; when he pops into the dry cleaners to remove the lipstick from his dinner jacket after a night with Blofeld’s beautiful assistant; when he slumps in front of Homes for the Hammer and thinks “you’d think I’d have got more than one day off before I have to go back to work and sit at my desk and catch up with all the emails I haven’t answered – I don’t want to go to work tomorrow!!!”.

Of course, he could skip work. But just because you’re a commander of the British Navy and an MI6 agent with a licence to kill doesn’t mean you can take your own holidays when the rest of the department has already booked it because it’s schools week. You try not turning up for work. You won’t be handed a Walter PPK again, you’ll be handed a P45.

I love thinking about the day after. What happens next for the heroes and villains we read and watch? Did Robocop rescue a kitten from a tree the day after he brought down Omnicorp? Did Hannibal Lecter have a chicken pot noodle because he’d ran out of livers and a nice chianti? What does Darth Vadar do on his day off? Does he, like Boris Johnson, paint buses using cardboard boxes?!? What happens the day after?

No one ever talks about the day after because nothing happens the day after. The adrenalin is gone. The action is over. It’s all admin, resting, cleaning up and blocking the number of the beautiful assistant from your phone as you don’t want to accidently answer it after she betrayed you and tried to kill you with a booby trapped piranha tank.

It’s no different from triathletes. Think about the day after a race. What happens then? You might have to travel, spending hours in a car with stiff legs and a sore back. You have to empty bags and wash race gear and wetsuits. You might check times and photos and update social media with all the ones where you have your stomach stuck in because tri-suits are not at all flattering…

Then the day after that, you think. What do I do now? You can’t save the world every day, just as you can’t race every day (unless you’re the Iron Cowboy).

And without the adrenalin of a race, and without the goal of an event to train for, it’s easy to fall into a slump. Why run, if you’re not training? Why go out on the bike if not as preparation? Without a goal it becomes harder justify your actions. Swim in the morning and then run home from work? That was normal, one month ago. Now, what the blooming nora were you thinking? Two showers in one day? How did you find the time!?!?!?

So, those first days and weeks after a race are a critical time. It’s easy to forget training. (And, possibly smart to do so as you can’t keep going at same rate after a race without risking injury). It’s easy to eat cake. (It’s always easy to eat cake!). But it’s also easy to try and recreate the race high. It’s why organisers know the best time to sell next year’s race is the day after this year’s race to the people who’ve just woken up with a feeling of invibility like they’ve just saved the world.

Sometimes I think James Bond must be an Ironman triathlete as only a triathlete with the Ironman bug, would think “hey, I’ve saved the world and almost killed myself, but you know what would be great – doing it all over again and again and again!”

I’m sure the next James Bond film will feature him killing twice the number of henchman, bedding four times the number of women, while saying he really, really doesn’t need a wetsuit because swimming to the underground lair in 10 degrees of water wouldn’t be extreme enough if he didn’t do it in skins.

After Challenge Roth, I knew I would feel these thoughts. The need to chase the next adventure. That I’d want to look at the next race and the next hit and not just enjoy the feeling of completing Roth itself. So, I made a promise to myself. I wouldn’t enter or commit myself to anything serious for at least two months after Roth. Only then would I think about whether I would want to train for a long distance event again.

So, amateur athletes of the world, remember this – even James Bond can’t save the world every day!

Outdoor Swim Review: St Mawes (Iain)

Whilst walking through St Mawes, looking for somewhere to get a haircut, I saw a barber shop sign that read “Hair by Rodney. A State Registered hair dresser.”

Do hair dressers need to be registered by the state? The only state register I’m aware of is one from criminals like the sex offenders register. Maybe his hair cutting is criminal and this is a warning not to get a hair cut here.

I decided it was best to avoid Rodney. Instead I went to a barber that said to me “today most of my clients have asked for a fashionable Peaky Blinders cut, its a relief to do a non fashionable cut.”

I think he meant it as a compliment….

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There are two swim areas in St Mawes. Both are small beach areas on the seafront. There is no car parking at either spot but both are only 5 minutes walk from the town car park.

There was a sign up saying any dogs found playing on the beach will be fined £1000. I’m not sure how ad dog will pay the fine. It didn’t seem to stop dogs from playing on the beach.

Water quality: Very clear. I could see fish and the bottom of the sea bed as I swam.

Swim Quality: Excellent – at high tide, the sea was calm and there were views of the pretty town. Water temperature was 17C in September so I was able to swim skins. There was a mooring in place to practice diving.

Other People: There was not a soul swimming whilst I was there. Either I scared people away or southern softies thought the water was too cold!

Would I go back: Yes if I was in St Mawes. No if I had to drive there. Its 10 hours from my house.

RIP ZipVit (Andrew)

When out riding, some people have a favourite cake stop or coffee stop or, for the hardcore and borderline alcoholics, a favourite pub stop, but, for me, I have a favourite bin stop.

I don’t like carrying the remains of energy gels around in my back pocket because the pocket just fills with leftover gels until it feels like diving into high sugar swamp every time you reach in for another. Urrghh!

That’s why I have a bin stop. Somewhere I can stop and have a gel and immediately throw it into a bin. My soggy pocket problems is solved!

My favourite bin stop is at Whitelee Windfarm, near Eaglesham. It’s the highest point of one of my usual routes and a good point to stop and have a gel before carrying on. Here it is:

You won’t believe what happened next!

Normally I wouldn’t tell anyone that I had a favourite bin stop for the same reason I wouldn’t tell you my preferred technique to cut my toe nails, how I clean my ears or the satisfaction I might get from a pick of my nose. There’s some things you just keep to yourself – and not even your nearest and dearest know that the real reason you’re smiling is that you managed to extract an entire bogey in one go with just a deft flick of an expertly judged fingernail.

But this photo is special. And tragic. In fact it should be on a clickbait internet link headed “Seconds from disaster! You won’t believe what happened next – number 8 will blow your mind!”. And, when you click on the link, there’ll be a photo of this bin and this energy gel and then a simple explanation that just after I opened this gel – a ZipVit – I got back home, went to the ZipVit website and discovered… tragically…

… they don’t make them anymore!!!!!!!

I’ve been buying Zipvit for 10 years. And I know it’s been 10 years because they sponsored the first Etape Caledonia and I had my first ZipVit at the footstop there. And this year was the tenth anniversary of the Etape. And now, umpteen ZipVits latest, boxes and boxes of the banana flavor (my favourite), it looks like they only make one flavoured gel and they’ve stopped making energy bars all together.

Noooooooo!!!!

But what do I do now? I’ve used the same bars and gels for 10 years. I have one halfway through a bike ride. I have a bar after swimming on a Wednesday morning. If I had any more ZipVit, I’d turn into one. Which would be doubly tragic as I’d propably eat myself because I was so tasty.

Instead, I’ll need to find a new gel that I can eat and eat and eat and know that it won’t be too sweet or too sour or too thin or too thick or to chalky or to smooth. Where do I turn now?

And then I remember, I’ve written about ZipVit before. I know who can help me. I can write to Sam! And if you don’t know who Sam is then she’s definitely a real person and she definitely does exist as I’ve written about her before: Sam The ZipVit Packer.

So, phew, crisis averted. Sam will help!

Outdoor Swim Review: Findhorn Beach (Andrew)

Findhorn is a small village in Moray famous for it’s eco-living and for the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community. It’s also has one of the nicest beaches on the Moray Firth.

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There’s plenty of parking beside the beach although a sign does warn that parking costs £1. However, as there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to actually pay a pound, I’ve never paid it and I’ve not seen anyone else pay either.

There’s plenty of grass beside the car park and it’s easy to walk to the beach, even barefooted.

Water quality: Very clear when I was there at end of July. There’s also plenty of room to swim before the beach starts to drop away. You can easily move away from shore and still, not only see the bottom, but also find places to stand and keep your head above water. The water temperature was c15 degrees.

Swim Quality: Excellent – at high tide, the sea was calm and there were views straight across the Moray Firth. Watch out for the estuary though – it looked too calm to be natural so I assumed that it was full of undercurrents. Afterwards someone else told me it also had a “whopping great whirlpool”, not sure if that’s true but I’d definitely avoid swimming near it and head east instead along the beach only.

Other People: Findhorn Beach is popular but, at more than five miles long there’s plenty of quiet spots away from entrance to the car park.

Would I go back: Yes. Though I would like to see it on windier day to see how conditions compare.

Book Review: The Mountains Are Calling (Andrew)

I think it was Rod Stewart, rock star, famous Celtic fan, and a man who now asks “Do You Think I’m sexy?” as a rhetorical question, who passed on this tip when you go to the pub. Always buy the first round, said Rod, that way everyone will remember you’ve bought a round as, once the drinking starts, no one will remember who bought the second or third round. And, because you bought the first round, no one will ask you again because you’re the only one they’re sure has had a turn. 

The same thought applies to the Ramsay Round. A hill climb of 24 Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) in 24 hours that starts or finishes with Ben Nevis – depending on whether you run it clockwise or anti-clockwise.

It’s named after the first person to run it successfully. And, after Ramsay’s Round, only a further 159 have managed to successfully run it again. Of those, only a handful have managed to complete it in Winter rather than Summer, when crampons and ice axes are as essential to any runner as a pair of trainers.

Yet, despite it challenge, despite the brave stories of those who’ve managed to run it, I struggle to name any runner’s round after Ramsay. And that’s despite reading about – what feels like! – all of them in Jonny Muir’s ‘The Mountain’s Are Calling’.

The Mountain’s Are Calling is a comprehensive and detailed history/biography of the hill running in Scotland and the Ramsay Round, in particular. It’s well written, extensively researched and contains many first hand interviews with the most successful hill runners of the last 20 years including Finlay Wild, the undisputed king of the Ben Nevis Race, and Jasmine Paris, who, until recently held the record for the Ramsay Round. Yet…

Yet…

It’s just too much!

The mountains, the people, detail upon detail obscure the joy of running in the hills. And it seems ironic that a book which celebrates the hill runners who eschew gadgets, Garmin, records to run as natural as possible and a book which celebrates the “doing something, not the achievement of something being done”, should be so baggy.

While individual chapters, most dedicated to one athlete or one race, are complete in themselves, each chapter taken together becomes a slog. Much like the Ramsay Round. No sooner have you completed one hill then another presents itself and then another – and another. 

A particular low point is the chapter covering in page after page the detail not just of a race but watching Twitter updates about that race. 

While the book does make me want to try more hill racing – and I’ve marked the entry dates to try and get a spot in the Abernety 5 in my diary – largely it succeeds in showing you how much of a slog an actual 24 hour challenge would be. Which was maybe the point. There’s a good reason only 160 people have completed the Ramsay Round.

You can buy the book here: Amazon