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!)

New Pool Rules (Andrew)

I don’t know an awful lot about torture but I do know that water torture must be the worst kind of torture –  because what can be worse than swimming behind someone in the fast land as they only go and swim the bloody breast stroke… grrr! Now, that’s torture!

And, with all that water torture that goes on at Guantanamo Bay, I can only imagine it’s like an evil Butlins. I bet they don’t even water the slides and make the prisoners slide down on the hard plastic giving them all friction burns. The monsters! Damn you, George W Bush and your slow lane hogging legacy war on terror!

However, for those like me, who hate water torture but also hate asking people to move lane, I have an answer that fixes both the torture and the akward conversation. We need to rethink how we divide swimming pools. Slow, medium and fast lanes are too subjective. What is fast?  Is it someone swimming the crawl slowly or someone swimming doggy style quickly? And who even knows what medium is? Is that when you try and swim with one arm only? It’s too difficult to work out!

Instead, we need to come up with an entirely objective approach. One where we can quite happily approach strangers and tell them that there in the wrong lane without any risk of an argument.

So, howabout:

·     The little old lady lane for little old ladies who don’t like to get there hair wet.

Now, before you say I’m sexist and ageist by picking on (a) ladies; and (b) pensioners, please read on to the next lane before you make judgement. I’m also picking on men too.

So, who would be in this land. That’s an easy one. I’m picking woman who are over 60 and below 5 foot 6 inches but, crucially, always swim with their head at least 10 feet out of the water. You know the type. Gets in gingerely. Makes sure they don’t splash and then tries to slowly, slowly swim no more than two laps by not creating a single ripple.

Ladies, I salute you, and, to you, I give you your own lane.

·     The big dick, dick lane for men who not only think they’re big dicks they’re also big dicks.

This lane is for the dick who swim back and forth no matter who is in front of them. You know who they are. They’re the ones who always swim around you and into other people because it’s more important that they keep swimming and everyone else stops than it is not to be a dick.

You can usually tell the big dick in the pool because they’re also the only ones who wear Speedos in a way which cause maximum exposure of their… big gut.

·     The lane for those who like to swim, not just paddle.

This is the lane for most of us. You can tell it because it’s the lane with the swimmers in goggles, even though they don’t really need them, and the constant question of “Is it okay if I go?” when they get to the end of the lane and someone is waiting at the wall. It’s the anti-dick lane. The ‘no, you go first’ lane.

·     The ‘kids shouldn’t be here’ lane.

This is a lane for all the parents who bring their kids into the adults only time and then take a whole lane to themselves even though little Timmy is only paddling beside the wall. You’ll find this lane in the changing room beside a clock with a timetable reminding them when they can go in!

Etape Caledonia 2018 – New Route (Andrew)

A few weeks ago it was reported that the UK Government was going to scrap 1p and 2p coins because no one used them anymore and they just clogged up space in your purse or wallet.

Within a day, after front page stories attacked the idea, the Government u-turned as it announced it had no plans to scrap them at all, proving once and for all that everyone both loves and hates change.

Runners love change because change represents variety. I usually try and run different routes each time I go out so that while I might follow streets or paths I’ve run before I try and not have too much of a fixed route in my mind. That way I can change direction, pick a side road I’ve not in in a while or, my new favourite hobby, run along a back alley and find the secret routes through Glasgow hidden behind houses, offices and shops.

Running’s all about the route, not the destination.

Cyclists on the other hand hate change. When you’re on a bike, while it’s nice to explore new routes, it’s also reassuring (and safe!) to ride the roads you know well. The ones where traffic is light, where you’re not likely to meet an unexpected pothole, and you can concentrate more on the destination than the route. You have somewhere to get to, and you want to get there in the fastest possible time.

That’s why I’m disappointed to read that this year Etape Caledonia will have a new route. Not much of a change, an extra three miles to incorporate a short climb before Loch Rannoch, but a change nonetheless.

After several years of trying to get faster and aiming to beat four hours, an extra three miles means that history is lost. I can’t compare this year with previous years as we’re now riding a new route.

And while the new route will be good – any ride in Perthshire is good – it’s also bad as it means the history is lost.

So, just like the penny, change is both bad and good!

Balfron 10K (Andrew)

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I left my legs in Wanlockhead.

On Saturday, it was a beautiful day and we went to Wanlockhead – the highest village in Scotland – for a 40 mile cycle down through the Menock pass and back via Drumlanrig Castle and Elvenfoot before climbing to the top of the radar station.

Before we started, we parked in the centre of the village. A smiling man with an old large rucksack approached.

“Are you here to open the shop?”

We explained we were cycling.

“Oh, my bus leaves in 10 minutes and I need to buy my licence.”

“You need a licence for the bus?”

“No, I need a licence from the land owner as I’m here to find GOLD!”

Which was not what I was expecting to hear at 9am on a Saturday morning when (a) we’re not in California; and (b) it’s not the nineteenth century!

“How do you find gold?”

He opened his rucksack and then showed me a tube that was used to collect gravel from the bottom of riverbeds. He showed me a large plastic tray with grooves where the lighter soil would be washed away but the heavier gold would be caught in the grooves. Then he showed me his pan where he gently washed the last of the gravel leaving behind the millions and millions of pounds of GOLD!

“Do you find much?”

“I usually find a few specks the size of a grain of salt.”

Really?!? I looked round to see his Rolls Royce.

“And how much is that worth?”

“Nothing really, not even a pound, but it’s FUN!”

I didn’t want to hear about fun. I wanted to hear about making millions just washing gravel. But despite, as I found out later, Wanlockhead being known as ‘God’s Treasure House in Scotland’ due to the abundance of minerals found in the area, there’s not a lot of gold in them there hills.

In fact, the licence was £5 (I checked) and if it was possible to make more money panning for gold than selling licences for £5 then you can bet the land owner wouldn’t be selling licences for £5.

Despite the small chance of striking riches, as we cycled round I began to see that all the people I’d previously thought were  fishing were actually panning for gold instead. It seems that gold fever is alive and well and can be found in Wanlockhead.

Gold though was the last thing on my mind on Sunday at the Balfron 10k. Iain’s already described the race (see here). I can only add that it was the first time that I’d taken part and I can confirm that it was hilly and that every down hill seemed to lead to an ever longer uphill.

It was either that or my legs were still tired from cycling round Wanlockhead and every kilometre felt like a struggle today.

The race though is very well organised and has a good turnout of runners. And if you’re chasing a fastest 1K time on Strava then I can recommend the first 1K. A downhill so steep it can only be described with one word: “Geronimo!”

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Know Your Place (Andrew)

Here’s an ethical question for you: is it okay to use the disabled toilet if you are not actually disabled?

Not that I would. Or did. Or do. But, if I had or was thinking of doing so, then I would know that it’s much more spacious than your average loo. It also comes with its own sink I’m guessing, not that I would know…

It’s a kind of like a special private deluxe toilet for those who want, well, a special experience. a touch of luxury, and, if they  went to the disabled toilet in my last office, a selection of toothpastes and condoms from a vending machine.

The strange thing was that the normal toilet didn’t have a vending machine. Only the disabled toilet, which was on the other side of the hall. Why the disabled toilet were offered a range of goods for ‘her pleasure’ was never explained. It was a mystery matched only by electrical wiring that meant any flick off a light switch was a lottery as to whether you had to flick up or down to switch a light on.

But not as strange as another office where, in response to transgender issues, decided the only way to sort out the toilets was to change all the disabled toilets in disabled/other, which I’m pretty sure is offensive to everyone involved.

Anyways, I was thinking about toilets because they’re one of those everyday things where we have to decide on what is the right thing to do. There is no law which says a disabled toilet has to be used by a disabled person. We all decide what is right and what is wrong and make our choices accordingly. The only thing about our choice of toilet is that it’s usually a private moment. Not something you do in public. Unless you’re Paula Radcliffe.

Runners though have a very public moment when they need to make a moral choice. At the start of every race they must everyone and position themselves to match their expected finish time.

While most people will be honest, there are some who try and move to the front and start with faster runners just so they have less people ahead of them when they start running. If anyone could enter the 100m at the Olympics I bet you now that someone would stand in front of Uisean Bolt on the basis that “Stuff him, at least I’ve got a clear view”.

This selfish view is one I don’t understand because those runners are missing out on one of the big thrills of running – and that’s running faster than other people.

I think there is a macho problem to running which makes people skip ahead. at big races there are boards boasting of the times that you’ll run. 1 hour 40 minutes. 1 hour 35 minutes. If you start next to here then you’ll be seen as a fast athlete. But start at the three hour point and you want as well say “Wait, you don’t expect me to run this, do you?!”.

That’s why I’d change the signs to the number of people you’ll run pass. Join the two hour sing and find out that you’ll run pass 200 people. Join the 1 hour 30 minutes sign and you’ll only run pass 10. If you’re looking to boast look no further than boasting about the number of people you beat.

Start at the back and you’ll enjoy your race much more than trying to stay at the start. It’s more fun. It’s easier to run. In fact, there’s no other choice, if you want a little convenience..!

Alloa Half Marathon 2018 (Andrew)

 

We were meant to run the Alloa half marathon on Sunday but it was postponed after the mini ‘Beast From The East’ brought sub-zero temperatures and more snow.

The organisers couldn’t guarantee the safety of competitors or, just as important, the safety of marshals who would have to stand for hours  in freezing conditions. It  was the right call and hopefully the race be rearranged for later in the year.

In the meantime, if you want to know what racing in sub-zero temperatures is like here’s a video of me with hypothermia trying to warm up on the Norseman bike leg in August 2016.

The Steamy Room (Andrew)

All I could see was another man’s knackers.

It was difficult to avoid them. They were staring me in the face. It was surprising to see them because, well, I was sitting in the middle of a sauna at the Emirate gym that was, crucially:

A.     Open to men and woman; and

B.     Not a nudist beach!

“Hello,” said the knackers. Or the man. It was difficult to know where to look. Kackers or man. Man or knackers.

“Hello,” I said, wondering if I should say something like “PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!”

“It’s nice here,” he said.

“It is,” I said, again wondering if I should say something like “PUT SOME CLOTHES ON NOW!!!”

“I’ve never been here before,” he said.

Clearly not.

He than sat up.

I should mention that throughout this entire conversation he’d been lying down, stretched out on his back on a raised wooden bench that encircled the sauna, while I’d just sat down on a lower bench and had turned my head and gazed straight into his knackers.

Sitting up didn’t improve anything. Now everything dangled.

And still he acted like it was perfectly normal to be sitting in the nude in the middle of a sauna open to all.

And still I didn’t tell him to put some clothes on because, well, I was just trying to be polite. I should have left. But there are strict rules about leaving saunas or steam rules. You can’t leave as soon as you get in because you’re then showing that you don’t like the people already there while you can’t leave when someone else comes in because that saying you don’t like the person who’s just arrived.

There is only a small window of opportunity to enter and leave a sauna without offending anyone else.

Also, don’t me started with the awkwardness of sitting in a sauna when someone of the opposite sex comes in and you’re the only person there. Do you stay, but then that might make them uncomfortable to be a sauna with a stranger? Or do you leave, but then that might make them think you’re leaving because you don’t like them?

It’s a minefield!

That’s why it’s best just to sit. Even if the person you’re sitting next to has their crown jewels on display. It’s just polite to stay.

But still. If you are going to a sauna can you please keep your clothes on?

Running The Dreadmill (Andrew)

I hate treadmills.

I’ve tried running on treadmills but the boredom of it makes every minute feel like an hour and every mile feel like a marathon. I’ve tried listening to music, Podcasts, watching TV, watching a graph of how high up an imaginary hill I am, even surfing the web on the latest models, and nothing shakes off a feeling of utter pointlessness.

The whole point of running is to run. The whole point of treadmills is to not fall off. They’re completely different skills!

I’ve never fallen off the back of a treadmill but I have seen someone who had – and I admit that it was really funny. There’s a split second of arms flailing, a topple, a fall, and then they’re shot backwards faster than a human cannonball. Before – tah dah! – they jump up from the ground and try and pretend it never happened.

“I meant it,” they say, blood oozing from their knees.

“I was just getting some water,” they say, a large bruise forming on their forehead.

“Please call an ambulance!” They say, collapsing.

It’s been four years since I last ran on a treadmill. We had a treadmill at work in a gym/cupboard near reception. At lunchtime, when it was raining, I’d occasionally pop in for a run. And, by occasionally, I mean once in three years. I’d sooner get soaking wet than spend any time on a machine that was a cross between a conveyor belt and a jet engine for Boeing 737. The building would shake as soon as you reached walking pace. By the time you were running, people were sheltering under doorways preparing for an earthquake.

But the bad weather last week, over a foot of snow and no chance of it shifting, meant I had to venture back to a treadmill and try and complete at least one run.

And it was…

… not bad.

I don’t know why I hated it so much.

It was almost pleasant.

For 10 seconds then I had to run for another 25 minutes and time stopped, my brain melted, dear God, please make it stop!

I hate treadmills. But at least I complete one run last week.

 

 

Glentress Trail 21K (Andrew)

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“Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance” is referred to by the British Army as the ‘seven P’s’.

Let me add another P. Prior Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

You might say ‘prior’ is implied by ‘proper’ but, after the Glentress Trail Half Marathon, I want to emphasise how important it is to plan things in advance.

Not that I’m very good at that. I change route and distance mid-run depending on how I feel and whether I ran down a particular street before or “Oh, what’s that over there?”. Which makes runs more interesting but it doesn’t help me prepare for races where running a route is part of the whole challenge.

Perhaps I should take up orienteering but, the only time I met an orienteer, he patiently (and in depth) explained why and how he adjusted the stitching of his shoes to craft a pair of trainers that were better suited to run on an incline. No sport should require a detailed knowledge of cross stitching. Orienteering is just fast rambling with embroidery.

I thought I’d prepared for Glentress. I’d checked the weather – a perfect dry, if cold, day after a week of dry cold days guaranteeing a mud free run – and I’d checked the pre-race information for recommended kit and brought it all with me in case there was an inspection.

I even checked Iain’s Strava profile for the race from November. And, from that, I worked out that it would be six miles of climbing and six miles of descending. The profile almost looked like a pyramid.

So, mile 1, with ankles stiff and complaining as they failed to warm up while running up hill, I started to count the miles in my head as my Garmin beeped them off.

Mile 1 done. Okay, only five miles of climbing to go.

Mile 2. Some flats. Free speed. Only four miles to go.

By mile 10, when I was thinking, “What another false summit?!?”, Iain finally admitted something he’d suspected from mile 2. It was a different route!

Instead of six miles up and six miles down it was over 10 miles up (with some flats) and then a legs flailing, almost falling two mile descent back to the start.

Of course, if I was a soldier, the seven P’s would have told me to read the website course and not rely on Iain’s previous route. If I’d checked the website I’d have spotted it was a different course.

That’s why I add the eighth P. There’ no point figuring out where you went wrong halfway up a hill on mile 10 –  checking is essential!

The race itself is tough – did I mention the 10 miles of climbing? – but an excellent and varied route through the mountain bike trails of Glentress. There’s also a 10k and a marathon option (twice round) if you fancy a different challenge.

Sweet tooth (Andrew)

Sunday lunch in Yorkshire a couple of months ago: a warm inn on a dreich day as I tuck into a hot plate filled with slices of roast beef, vegetable and pudding – the identifier Yorkshire being unnecessary in this plain speaking Shire.

“Yorkshire puddin’? It’s jus’ puddin’ round these parts! There ain’ no other kind o’puddin’!”

And, for pudding itself (the sweet kind, not the suet kind, thus proving there is more than one type of pudding) I choose a selection of cheeses, because I am a triathlete and trying to be good.

(Also all the puddings had nuts and I can’t eat nuts because of a mild allergy, but I told myself I was being strong for races).

“Do you have any biscuits to go with the cheese?” I ask, not unreasonably

“Of course”, says the waiter, and then, unexpectedly, he pulls out a large flat drawer from a cabinet against the wall to my left, and places it with a flourish in the centre of the table; not batting an eyelid or pan lid at this impromptu act of dismantling dining room furniture.

“Enjoy”, says the waiter, leaving the large drawer on the table; which I now see is filled with open packets of water biscuits, oatcakes and crumbly digestives.

How strange.

I can’t help but wait until the waiter’s back is turned before I peek into more drawers –  just to check if they contain a similar surprise hoard of savoury snacks. I want to find a pork chop in a folio desk; a cabinet stuffed with nothing but carrots; or condiments in the cupboard, saucy and secret. But, sadly, they are empty.

I wonder if this is what Ann Summers means by ‘edible drawers’ but I don’t want to go into one of her shops to find out.

But why are all the biscuits contained in this drawer? And why bring the drawer out and not just the biscuits?

Perhaps I was witnessing the act of a snack-aholic. Hiding biscuits away in unusual locations so that no one knows exactly how bad their snacking has become. A real crack(er) addict.

Or perhaps the drawer was just a marketing gimmick, a unique way of making you remember the meal long after the taste has long been forgotten.

Remember that restaurant in Yorkshire, you’ll say.

What restaurant?

The one with a drawer filled full of biscuits!

Oh, that one! How delightful and quaint! A meal that was – *groan* – truly top drawer!

Anyways, I tell this story for one reason only – watch out for savoury snacks, even when you’re trying to be good, always order a proper pudding!