RunMhor Half Marathon 2019 (Andrew)

For the last year, a man and a woman park their cars at the end of my street and have a canoodle underneath a railway bridge.

They usually meet on a Wednesday and a Saturday. He arrives first. She then parks in front of him and pops into his passenger seat. She’s usually wearing gym gear as if she’s either just been to the gym – or, perhaps not going at all and using it as an alibi. They then proceed and….

… read a magazine, mostly, these weeks. It’s very dull. Occasionally, they share a bag of crisps.

The rendezvous has been going on for so long now – over a year – that they’ve moved into the “I just want to meet and complete a crossword with you” phase of their relationship.

It’s very strange. Although we don’t live on a through road, so it is quiet, we do have work going on and they’re parked right next to Scottish Gas’s compound and portable toilet.

It’s not discrete. Though they think it is.

“Ah”, they think, “no one will spot us if we meet every week at the same time, in the same spot in the same way!” (Except the people who live on the street and walk their dog at the same time they meet – people like me, who, after two weeks, thought “that’s the same cars!”).

I wonder now if they’ve reached the point now where it would be just too awkward to leave their spouses.

“What do you do under the bridge?” They would demand.

And they’d have to admit that it’s mostly reading Take A Break with an occasional cheesy Wotsit.

Either way, it doesn’t appear to be one thing or another. It no longer looks like a torrid secret affair and, yet, it’s definitely not two friend’s catching up.

For some reason, this couple came to mind after running the RunMhor Half Marathon. Or MhorRun as I like to call it, just to to say Moron.

It starts in Balquhidder besides Mhor 84 Motel before running on B roads and cycle tracks loop to Strathyre and back before heading out for a shorter, steeper loop onto hill trails.

It’s both a road race and a trail run. Neither one thing or another.

The first loop is mildly undulating but largely flat. The second features a very sharp climb through switchbacks up a hill before a gentle descent to the finish.

Throughout there’s plenty of water stops and jelly babies to hand. And at the end, if you can handle it, there’s even a free pint.

I took the pint just for a photo but then switched back to water – as a pint after a half marathon would be the equivalent of a Christmas party in one plastic glass.

It’s enjoyable race, with some great scenery, very little to no traffic, and a feeling that you’re running not one race, but two. Eights miles on the road then a trail run 10k to finish. But is it a road race or is it a trail run? I don’t know.

DrinkMhor

Outdoor Swim Review: Serpentine Lido (Andrew)

Well, 25 now…

Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other. When, last week, I met a man who’s wife was a cousin of Donald Trump, I knew, because of six degrees of separation, that because I knew the man and he knew his wife (presumably, unless they’d stopped talking!) and she knew Donald Trump then I also knew Donald Trump.

This six degrees of separation connects the entire world to everyone else, which is nice as it shows that we’re all connected. Though Donald Trump would claim not to know me. Or the man. Or his cousin. And it would all be FAKE NEWS!

Six degrees of separation also means something else. It’s just six degrees which separates a Scotsman from his wetsuit because, this week, Challenge Roth posted an apology/warning. Watch out, they said, the water in the swim leg is only 16 degrees – it’s going to be a cold, cold swim!

Unless you’re Scottish – and the water temperature’s currently 10 degrees – in which case 16 degrees sounds like a warm bath. Or at least a warm bath that you’ve been sitting in for an hour and it’s starting to turn cold.

In order to test this theory that the swim would be pleasant, this week I decided to go without a wetsuit and swim in just my trunks.

I was in London for a few days and had spotted that you could swim outdoors in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Whenever I go to London I always like to try something new. This time I tried modern opera* and swimming in the Serpetine.

First, I had to buy a towel. As I was swimming after I’d checked out of my hotel, I had to find a towel to dry myself. As the Serpentine is in Knightsbridge, and I’d forgotten to buy a towel from a cheap shop before heading over, it looked like I was faced with either buying a monographed gold set from Harrods or the finest designer ostrich feather towel from Harvey Nicholls. Luckily I spotted a Laura Ashley with 50% off sign and managed to get one there. Even that though was a struggle.

“I’d like to buy a towel, please,” I said to the assistant

“What kind of towel are you looking for,” they asked.

“The cheapest!” I said

They gave me a look which said “Knightsbridge is not for you, sir!”

The Serpentine Lido is an old white building with a marked 30 metre by 100 metre bay at the edge of the Serpentine lake. While the changing rooms were small – only two changing booths – the Lido was clean and the staff pleasant.

It was raining, and a Monday morning, so that probably explains why I was the only one there. Although three women in wetsuits left as I arrived, that was a coincidence – they’d already left the water when I got there! They said “You’re brave” as they saw me in my trunks. I assume they meant for swimming in the cold water and not wearing trunks when over 40.

The water was bracing but, after swimming in 10 degrees for the last few weeks, it was almost, but not quite, a warm-ish. Either way, nothing to complain about for Challenge Roth itself.

With no one else in the pond, I had the Serpentine to myself. Except for a few swans. And the lifeguard who clearly thought he was going to get to go back inside when the women got out of the water and was annoyed he had to stay when I came in. But knowing there was someone watching was reassuring in case the Swans decided to attack.

If you’re in London I’d recommend a trip to the Lido. It was fun to swim in the middle of Hyde Park and, with the pool to myself, it was quite a change from the crowds around Harrods.

*P.s. I cannot recommend modern opera. The singing was good and I got caught up a few times in the music, but the lyrics were awful. Or at least the lyrics as translated and projected above the stage as surtitles.

At one point, the hero, a man in love with a woman, spent 10 minutes singing about “the oxen in the field are looking strong”, “tonight’s a good night to pick strawberries” and “this is not the time for my plough to break” while the woman he was in love with repeatedly sand “I’m not as black as you think I am – it’s just the light!”.

Farming and mild racism.

That’s modern opera.

It wasn’t for me.

The Great British Swim Tour (Andrew)

bsh

Watching a man with a mouthful of water, blindfolded, wearing a weight belt, blasted by cold air and trying to cycle fast as fast as he can on an exercise bike was not what I expected to see on Thursday. But, as a way of showing how Ross Edgeley had to spend six hours at a time, swimming through freezing water, half drowning while waves crashed over him and unable to see during night swims, it was effective stunt to get a volunteer on stage to show how tough the Great British Swim had been.

In November 2018, Ross Edgeley became the first person to swim around mainland Great Britain. When he finished, he revealed the salt water had destroyed his tongue, so it was no surprise it’s taken another six months for him tour and speak about his achievement as, I imagine, he had to wait for it to grow back(!).

On Thursday night, Ross’s Great British Swim tour reached Glasgow and, over two hours, he passed on some of the lessons he learned and some of the stories behind the swim – from how it came about, to what it was like to swim blind in the Irish sea during night swims. He also invited some volunteers on stage to demonstrate what happened – like the man on the bike with the weight vest, blindfold and mouthful of water.

Another had to cycle while eating a lettuce to show how you can both consume and expend 30 calories at once. Folk say you need to eat your greens and they say you need to exercise more, but no one says you need to do both at once…

The one tip that stayed with me though was this one. “Be naïve enough to start, and stubborn enough to finish.”

A good quote to describe most things we enter. Enter events with enthusiasm, but without completely thinking it through… then be stubborn enough to keep going when it turns out to be more work or more time than you first thought.

Or in other words: don’t think, just do it.

Because if you do think, you’d never do it.

Triathlons? Really? Swimming then cycling and then you go back out again and run. Why would anyone enter a triathlon who had any idea what it would be like?

Or run a marathon?

Or swim around Great Britain?

Maybe naïve is the wrong word. It’s not strong enough to describe most events. Instead, now I think about it, the quote should really be: “Be dumb enough to start, and stubborn enough to finish”.

Doctor’s Orders (Andrew)

“Oh!” said the receptionist, which would have been okay if I’d been checking into a hotel, or perhaps, phoning for a restaurant booking and I was about to be informed they were full that night. But this receptionist worked for my GP and I’d just asked her if she had the results of my blood test.

“You’ll need to come in,” she said.

Which would also be okay if I was checking into a hotel and they wanted me to confirm I was happy with my room. Again, not okay, when you’re waiting for a blood test.

“Can I come in this afternoon?”

I could hear her typing and checking appointments.

“I’m afraid not,” she said, “the next appointment is…”

Tomorrow?

At worst, the day after?

“Two weeks time”.

So, for two weeks, I had a receptionist’s “Oh” ringing round my head while I waited to find out what could turn a hardened medical receptionist, someone who dealt daily with every boil, lump, weeping sore and rattling cough that came through the surgery door, into an articulate conveyor of bad news.

And I’m a hypochondriac. See this post. So, by the time of my appointment I was convinced I had the Black Death. Even though I’d only been in for a work check up.

But the only thing the Doctor could say when he saw me was: “Why are you here???”

Which was scary, as I thought he was incredulous I was still alive and I really should have died from whatever I had by then.

It turned out everything was fine. The receptionist was meant to say that no follow up was required. Why she said “Oh!”, he had no idea. I was okay. I was normal.

Which was nice to hear and put my hypochondria to rest until I saw a rat on the telly and was convinced I had passive Scabies.

Anyway, I mention this because I’ve just had my latest work check up. A series of prod, probes and pots of pee. A series of test which led to a letter and another blood test and, finally, this week, the results and…

I’m normal. Again. Thankfully, the Scabies was just a scare.

But two interesting bits of my test stood out. One, was my lung test showed a lung capacity of over 120%, when the average is 75%. Way to go, left and right ventricle!

(Clearly the training has been working over Winter and Spring).

But also my red blood count was slightly below average. A result the GP said which was not likely to mean anything (then why mention it!) but more than likely a result of “overtraining” in the week before the test.

(Or not eating enough burgers).

So, this week, I’ve done nothing, except eat burgers. Which was always my plan after the Etape. Doing nothing, not the eating burgers part, that was just a bonus.

I wanted to take a break after six months of training every week, to commemorate my first target of the year – complete the Etape in under four and half hours – and to clear up any niggly wee injuries before a final five week push before Challenge Roth.

And the good news is that I’ve got my letter and passed my medical. Now, I wonder if I can also the Doctor to send a Bradley Wiggins Jiffy bag too…

Treble Trouble (Andrew)

As Manchester City win the treble in England – Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup – it’s time to remember where it all began: their first Premier League title in 2011, and that time I punched a fan in Manchester city centre during City’s open top bus parade – and it was all caught on a perfectly timed photo.

He walked into my flag, honest

Whoops!

Etape Caledonia 2019 (Andrew)

Winner to the left, loser to the right

Last week, while walking along a neighbouring street, a man ran out his front door with a woman shouting after him. As he got in his car, she screamed at him: “I don’t know why I stay with you!” before she slammed the front door shut and he drove off.

This week there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on their house…

I tell this story because, despite the sadness of an imploding relationship, it had two bright points. One, I always liked their house, so I finally got to see inside it when the estate agent posted photos on Right Move. Two, it just goes to show that you need to follow through with actions to back up your words. There’s no point shouting about something unless you actually do something about it to.

Just like the Etape.

Every year I say I’ll beat Iain and every year I then beat Iain.

Last year was close though. To be fair, he did wait while I had a mechanical so he could have won, if he’d carried on. But he didn’t, so he didn’t. Who said good guys come last? Accurate words!

Last year was also more of a contest because Iain was training for Norseman. He was riding every day. And yet, he still couldn’t beat me. (He might have the legs, but he still had the good heart to wait).

But when we could only draw when he was at his fastest on a bike, it meant that this year I didn’t need to say anything. The contest was over before we even started. I could see the ‘runners up place’ in his eyes. He had a haunted look on the start line. He looked old. Weighed down by a history of failure.

It was BRILLIANT!

Not that I’m gloating. Much.

Anyway, with the result a foregone conclusion it was only a matter of turning up and paying attention to the course.

Pitlochry

The first 10 miles are fast, if you want them to be. As each wave leaves the high street, groups quickly find their own pace. Some sprint, some take it easier as they warm up. A few tight corners and sharp wee hills cause bunches to form but after 10 miles, the roads clear and while you’re never free from other riders, it’s easy to find some space at your own pace.

Hill

The first hill is not steep but it does have three miles of steady climbing. It’s almost a straight road so there’s no need to think about turning or any hair bends to negotiate. Just sit and grind it out.

Loch Tummell

One of my favourite sections. A 15 mile flat run around Loch Tummell. With nice flat roads, good views across to Schiehallion and across the loch, it’s a great section to find a group and make quick progress to…

Schiehallion

Which is not as bad as it appears on the profile. There’s a few steep slopes. A final drag that some will sprint for that ‘frog dancing on a hot plate cycling legs and arms akimbo climbing out of your seat’ shot from the official photographer, but the real kicker is the next mile, which continues to rise even after you’ve passed the King/Queen of the Mountain checkpoint. After that, it’s five miles downhill and a chance to enjoy some easy curves and quick times.

The other side

Largely flat for the final 20 something miles with a good mix of moorland, trees, villages and wide roads. By this stage, you’ll see less bikes but, if you’re lucky, and want to joint them, you’ll find a few groups to latch onto to get your speed up until…

The second climb

Ballincluish. And a 20 metre ladder that starts as soon as you turn off the main road. If you haven’t changed gear before you turn then you’ll be looking at a slipped chain as your ‘reward’.

After that, there’s a couple of miles of rolling hills before the final descent into Pitlochry and a short climb back to the High Street where you can get…

The Goodie Bag

Or bad. As there’s never any goods in the bag. It’s always empty. Don’t expect a banana or a biscuit or anything at all. One year, all it had in place of a treat, was a single page flyer for a new Sainsbury’s… that was opening later that year. (And, in fact, never opened at all after local protests). But while I always complain about the bag, Iain never does. Well, he is used to coming home from the Etape empty handed…

The Todd in The Water (Andrew)

The Creature from the Black Loch

The best thing you can do before swimming open water is to splash your forehead with water. The last thing you want to do before swimming open water is to splash your forehead with water because… it’s BLOODY FREEZING!!!

Or at least it is in May in Scotland. The water has only started to reach 10 degrees aka Highland Tropical. Below 10 degrees, if you’re going for a dip, you need balls of steel – and toes of steel and feet of steel and basically an entire body made from a metal that doesn’t know how to gasp. Above 10 degrees and you can start to consider a paddle, just as long as you don’t dip your head below the surface as otherwise it’s instant brainfreeze, faster than sticking an ice lolly up your nostrils.

But the thing is, you adjust to it. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s an ice lolly this week, next week it’s a three bar heater. The more you swim outside. the more your body adjusts to the tempteture until eventually your skinny dipping in Ben & Jerry’s and wondering why it’s so warm.

First, you have to go in. And the first dip is always the hardest. The water runs down your back. You’re slapped in the face with an ice cube and you lose all feeling in your feet and toes.

If you’re really unlucky, the shock of the cold, causes you body to contract and it feels like Aquaman is hugging you, and not in a good way. In a “I’m going to crush your chest coz I’m a strong superhero type” way.

However, next time, it get’s easier. And the time after that you’re Aqua-man’s equal. You’re Kettleman! The only man who can make Aqua-man disappear!

But first you’ve got to get in. So, this weekend, I went for my first open water swim of 2019. 10 minutes in a loch near Applecross. It was freezing. And it was fantastic. And by next week, not only will I have adjusted, I might also have the feelings in my feet back.

What Runners Never Talk About (Andrew)

The greatest email I’ve ever recieved wasn’t sent just to me – it was sent to me and to everyone in my office. Over 250 people. It was from a new trainee. Someone who had not yet realised that “Reply To All” meant “Reply to… ALL”

Later, I discovered that he thought he’d sent a message back to his pal but, even then, I’m not sure his pal wanted the following message, because this is what he replied:

“I’ve just been to the loo. Did you know there’s two buttons. One for a pee and one for a poo…?”

Which he sent to everyone.

Not just his pal.

Everyone.

10 seconds later everyone also recieved the “Trainee@twinbikerunswork would like to recall his message” message. But, by then, it was too late. Everyone would recall this message from now until the day he died.

I’m sure, even at his funeral, his eulogy will say “Trainee may have become a Supreme Court judge and changed the world with his far reaching decisions but, I’m sure everyone can agree, his greatest achievement was accidentally telling 250 people how to flush the bog.”

I was thinking of this guy as I was running last week – because there’s a secret that runners don’t share with the world. A secret that every runner doesn’t discuss because it’s too disgusting to share.

Sometimes, when out for a run, you can’t worry about whether you’re going to use the big button or the wee button because you just don’t have time to get to a proper toilet. Sometimes, you have to improvise.

Normally, you’ve eaten too much or you’ve headed out too soon after a meal or a combination of the two.

The first few miles are okay but, the stomach growls, and you know that the only way you’re going to carry on is if, like a guilty sinner, you find some ways to unburden yourself.

I was trying to run 10 miles last week. A five mile there and back trip from the house. In the third mile, I received a warning from my gut. By mile four, the warning was raised to Defcon 5 and I had no choice but this choice: do I knock on someone’s door for an emergency stop or do I find a bush?

Now, knocking on someone’s door is something I’ve considered before. But I’ve never worked our what I would say. Hello. You don’t know me but I would love to get to know your toilet. Or help. Emergency. This desperate man would like you use your little boy’s room?”.

There was no way whatever I said was not going to sound creepy and it would be nature’s call I’d be answering it would be a call to the local police station to arrest the nutter with the crossed legs.

Instead, I searched for a park. Then, once I found a park, I searched from a spot that couldn’t be seen from any direction. I didn’t want this week’s headline to be: “Runner in park peek a poo scandal”

But as I sped away, safely, and without anyone seeing me, I started to wonder. I can’t be the only runner to have had this problem. I’m not the only runner to find themselves in the bushes when it’s not a trail race. But, no one has ever mentioned it before. What to do when you need the loo and you’re 30 minutes from home and your credit cards are in the kitchen where you left them?

So, in the spirit of openness, I’m sharing that question here. Just for you. What do you need to do when you need the loo?

And I promise I’ll keep the answer to myself.

Unless I accidentally publish this blog to everyone.

Oh, bugger, I have…

Recall! Recall! Recall!

A Boy In The Water Review (Andrew)

Last year I caught the train to London with Iain.

“Have you got the tickets?” I asked.

An innocuous question, only made less innocuous by the fact the train was pulling out of Glasgow Central.

“No,” he said, “you’ve got them”.

Which I did – or didn’t. Because, while I had them on my phone with all details teasingly shown on my Trainline app, it was just a reservation and not the tickets themselves. The tickets were still sitting unprinted in the ticket machine at Central Station.

I could have cried. But, critically, didn’t because I’m a man and men don’t cry on trains. Not unless they’ve just read “A Boy In The Water”.

“A Boy In The Water” by Tom Gregory tells the story of how he became the youngest person to swim the English Channel. It’s no spoiler to confirm he succeeds, because, unlike most sports biographies, this one doesn’t rely on peril.

There’s a trend in biographies to tease the did he/she or didn’t he/she do it. The first chapter inevitably details some element of danger as the lone cyclist tries to cross the world only to inadvertently cycle into the middle of warzone, on the very day that the local Celtic and Rangers fans are watching the Old Firm game, during a hurricane  – and they get a puncture. Oh my, I definitely need to read all of this now!

Instead, A Boy In The Water, deals with trust and faith between a boy, Tom Gregory, and his coach as he’s pushed to swim further and further. And it’s this trust which provide the tension because it’s never clear how much of the goal was driven by the boy or the coach and whether it was right for an 11 year old to even attempt such a swim.

Written from a child’s perspective, the book is simple and clear, with the relationship explored through a back and forth between the swim itself and the three years of training leading up to it. Training sessions in Dover Harbour, solo swims across Lake Windermere, and a sense of sporting success achieved through coffee mornings, battered vans and digestive biscuits as treats. And very little discussion of swimming. There’s no passages describing swimming strokes, or the goals of any training sessions, just brief powerful descriptions of the swimmers, the coaches and the music listened to on homemade mix-tapes. And, an ending, which managed to show how powerful trust and faith and belief can be and what happens when they’re gone. I may even have shed a tear on the train on the way to work this week as I read the final chapters on the way to work…

You can buy it here: Amazon

Not Swim Training (Andrew)

Every Wednesday morning at 7am I join the Glasgow Triathlon Club’s swim session at the University of Strathclyde. I’ve been going along on and off for around six months and, this week, for the first time, our coach didn’t ask me to change my stroke or the position of my head or the way I kick my legs, instead I was asked to concentrate on turning around when you get to the end of a lap.

That’s right – I’m being coached on how to turn round!

The phase “like a tanker” was used.

Tanker should never be a word used with a swimmer unless you’re saying “hey, swimmer, watch out for that tanker!”

According to our coach you need to be pushing in and then pushing off and your head should act like a schythe through the water and not a brick.

All of which made no sense to me.

You swim to the end. You turn around. You come back. How can I get that wrong?!?

For the next hour every time I got the end I became nervous, not knowing whether my hand was right to push in an push off or if my head was as light as reinforced concrete.

On one lap, I even did a tumble turn. Not deliberately, I just sunk through indecision then tried frantically to right myself up while not drowning.

I know that swimming is all about technique but when that technique involves something you’ve never thought about before it’s very hard to change what you’ve always done. Thousands of laps of the pool have always seen me turn one way. Now, I’m being asked to think again. It’s not easy.
But it is good to be challenged even if, next week, I’m sure my next lesson will be how to climb into the pool using the ladder correctly.

Either that or, having mastered coming back, the coach will say “Now, let’s talk again about how you actually swim a lap correctly…”