Outdoor Swim Review – Carron Valley Reservoir 2020 (Andrew)

If you want to know the current state of lockdown in Scotland then you really need to know the story of Cinderella because the current Coronavirus laws have been relaxed so that:

  • Cinderella can finally leave the home she share with her evil step-sisters
  • She can leave for “recreation” and not just for “exercise”
  • She can meet one other household – her Prince
  • She doesn’t need to socially distance and keep two metres away from him
  • She can have a dance – recreation, not exercise!
  • And she can stay out as long as she wants as long as she’s back by Midnight as that’s not popping out, that’s a bunk up!

I’m paraphrasing but that’s really where the we are. There’s a whole host of non-binding guidance and talk of being out for one hour or only travelling five miles but none of that is covered by the law. Guidance is not law. (Though it’s still very sensible to listen to it).

So I must admit that I broke the guidance and travelled more than five miles to go for a swim on Saturday but I did stick to the law and I only travelled for “recreation” and I only met one other household – Iain TwinBikeRun (not a Prince) and Bonnie TwinBikeRun (a dog).

We chose Carron Valley as it’s a favourite swim stop and one that would have a reasonable amount of water despite the long dry spell. We were right. Conditions were perfect and, in fact, the water was too hot for a wetsuit. It was nearly 20 degrees!

Which was still cold for the first few minutes but after swimming in a wetsuit for 20 minutes I stripped it off to swim in trunks instead.

Iain’s previously covered where to park and where to swim here so I’ll only add that if you’re going to go swimming in the next few weeks after weeks of observing lockdown then be sure to follow the following tips:

  • Stick close to shore until you get your ‘swim arms’ back. I was swimming a few thousand metres a week before lockdown. I could barely swim 100m on Saturday. Stick close to shore so that you don’t get into trouble.
  • Remember to bring a tow float so that everyone can see you. The end of lockdown for swimmers is also the end of lockdown for fishermen and you want to be seen if someone is out on their boat. Thankfully there were no boats out on Saturday as I’d forgotten my tow float.
  • Swim with someone so that you have someone else look out for you.
  • Make sure that someone is a person and not a dog. Bonnie TwinBikeRun was enthusiastic but I’m not sure she’s a Lassie The Wonder Dog able to warn others that I’d fallen down a well while out swimming.
  • Remember water temperature is like a fireman’s pole – easier to go down than up. So while temperatures were good on Saturday always assume it will be colder than you think. It’s easy for a colder current to take you by surprise.
  • Enjoy – and be back home by midnight!

Youtube Yoga (Andrew)

I like the idea of yoga more than I like yoga itself. I’ve tried going to yoga classes and what I found was that while I can feel the benefit of stretching and contorting and balancing on one toe I absolutely hate all the omming and ahmnning and “show your body you love it” nonsense that most yoga teachers spout. The one time I tried to show my body I loved it, I was thrown out.

I went to one class in Glasgow city centre that would play whale noises for an hour while the teacher would talk about the mystical link between nature and movement. Every time she talked about how we walked taller when the sun came out I couldn’t help thinking that there is nothing mystical about it: it’s Scotland, we’re only walking taller because we’re not been doubled over by the driving rain and wind.

The same class would always end with five minutes of relaxation. This involved lying on your back while the teacher urged you to close your eyes, sink into the mat and appreciate the benefit of corpse pose. I didn’t go back. One hour of whale noises and corpses was not my idea of a fun night out. For the same reason I’ll never watch Blackfish.

I’ve tried other classes. I used to go along to a Saturday morning class ran by a very tall man who could make himself very small just by curling up. He was brilliant. He used to say “Listen to the sound of your heart, or, if that’s not your thing, the air conditioning unit.” Mysticism with a choice of reality. That was more like it. Sadly, the class was cancelled after the air conditioning packed in – we clearly weren’t listening closely enough – and I stopped going.

Now that we’re in lockdown I thought it would be good to try yoga again. My wife was trying an online class where people would video conference into the yoga teacher but my aversion to (a) paying for anything; and (b) dialling into a strangers house while we all get near naked, meant I looked at Youtube instead. Surely, Youtube would have yoga videos?

And yes, yes it does. There is yoga for everyone. Including yoga videos which, had I dialled into someone else’s cam in a similar state of dress, or undress, would have led to a divorce.

But after a few searches for yoga for cyclists, having assumed that would be less mystical and more practical I found ‘Yoga for Adriene‘. A woman who seemed just as happy pointing out the air conditioning as my previous Saturday teacher.

And while I’d like to think I’d stumbled on some unknown Youtube teacher, after I’d checked out a few more videos I discovered she’s one of the biggest ‘stars’ of Youtube and my search for a yoga teach had basically found Robbie Williams when I thought I’d found a star in the pub.

Oh well, here’s a plug for her anyway. And if you fancy that and want to listen to a great song then Robbie Williams has a song called Angels that noone else has heard…

Run #EveryStreet – Day 9 (Andrew)

With one week to go to complete my challenge to run every street in May I’ve had my first non-block block running session. I’ve tried to be methodical and pick off ‘blocks’ of streets but this was the first time I went out to try and pick up some streets I’d missed.

It can be tricky to remember every street while you’re running them. I thought I’d done a good job but, when I check the map later, I usually find that there’s one or two sides of a block that I’ve missed. D’oh!

But the good thing about missing a street is that it does give another reason for going out. It’s been a good motivation to keep running and to pick off streets – and missing a street only gives you another reason to go out.

One week to go though – so once complete I’ll check and see how much of Glasgow I’ve managed to run in a month.

Hot Stuff (Andrew)

The world has changed. Things we thought acceptable two months ago are unacceptable today. Things like shaking hands or picking pockets – it’s the light fingered larcenists who are the real victims of the coronavirus – or just generally being anywhere remotely near another human being. We need to adjust to the ‘new normal’, a phase which instantly suggest life will be worst. No one adds ‘new’ to a word without making you think you prefer the old one. New Coke? New Mutants? New York? All worse than old Coke, the original X-Men and an ugly cathedral that’s easily flooded.

In this ‘normal’ (I’m not using ‘new’) there is one thing that we all did that seems even more abnormal now. Two months ago we would voluntarily sit in a wooden box and be sweated on by strangers. We called it a sauna, to make it sound more continental, we wore shorts, so as not to make it weird, but, when you break it down, a sauna nee sweatbox is nothing but a small room where strangers met up and dripped on each other.

Some saunas were weirder than others. The one in Stornoway was made of plastic so that it felt like you were a carrot in a steamer. To be accurate it was a steamer as it was a steam room rather than a sauna but room would suggest it was larger than a kettle pot while steam would suggest it wasn’t a molten bast of heat that shot straight-out from underneath a single seat flaying any stray ankle that happened to be in it’s way. It wasn’t an accident waiting to happen. It was an on-going disaster that required to be put out. It was Chernobyl in a sports centre.

In Glasgow, the Arlington Swimming Pool has a garden door as an entrance to its steam room. A proper white plastic fire door more commonly found in cheap extensions and infection control labs. The glass was so thick it could have a been a PE teacher. This room also featured a single furnace of heat to be avoided at all costs. But if it did hit you then you could cool off in the rivers of sweat that swept down the walls. The walls were so wet that Noah would have started building a second ark.

At my local gym the sauna is slightly more civilised. There is a pretend coal fire and you can ladle water from a bucket onto it to create steam. I don’t bother though as I’ve seen the lifeguards collect the water by scooping it from the pool. Adding it to the fake fire doesn’t create a nice steam effect, it turns the water into chlorine and the steam into mustard gas.

But the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in a sauna was a drug deal. Or at least I thought it was.

I was in a sauna with Mike Skinner of The Streets and his band. It was in a hotel in Glasgow and they must have been playing a show. One of the band started talking about the Dragon and how great it was in Leeds the previous night. I thought “Dragon, that’s clearly drug slang for heroin – don’t you chase the dragon?”

I thought I was going to get a tale of drugs and rock and roll until Mike Skinner said:

“The Dragon. Yes, lovely Chinese. I had the lemon chicken.”

Today I can only look at the sauna and think about what made us think that sitting in a room surrounded by the accumulated sweat of strangers and foot critics was ever acceptable, or fun. Hot stuff? Hot zone, more like.

What’s the Point of Singlets? (Andrew)

What’s the point of the singlet? Do sleeves slow you down? Do armpits make you run faster? Or do guys just want to look like Bruce Willis in Die Hard?

To be fair, Bruce Willis does a lot of running in that film but you can’t say that he was wearing the right clothes. He doesn’t even have shoes on. You don’t see Kopchoge lining up at the front of the London Marathon barefooted and ready to go. No, he’s wearing his Nike Cheat Boots because he knows that clothes don’t just maketh the man, they maketh the man run faster.

So, why a singlet?

I can understand why you might wear a singlet to the gym: you want to show off your arms. You want bare bulging biceps while curling large weights in front of a mirror. Then you want to lie on a bench and press even larger weights while showing the world your underarm pubic hair because you think folk are impressed by a chest that looks like it’s got armpit shrubbery. Clearly, you are a tool, and you should be covered up but I can understand why you do it. You don’t mind being a dick. But I don’t understand singlets for running because runners, at least the ones I know, aren’t dicks. So, again, why singlets?

Looking at some running forums and I find comments such as:

“it’s one of the great distinguishing marks between guys and gals who are serious about their running and the running tourists.”

Forum member: NotSoSure

Now while you should never trust a source called “NotSoSure” – that would be like trusting Jack the Ripper with his assurance that he won’t rip you too, there is something in this comment. Is the singlet just a way of showing you’re different? Does wearing the singlet suggests you are better than other people? If top runners wear a singlet then, if I wear one too, I must be a top runner. Perhaps. Or maybe there’s another answer: does wearing a singlet make you faster? Is that why the top runners wear them? They’re CheatTops.

I had to investigate. Do singlets give you a performance boost?

The only answer I can find is that wearing a singlet may have cooling effect for an athlete greater than that of a sleeved top. The open arms allow air to circulate and the heat benefit for a long race may reduce the amount you sweat and the energy used to run fast. Which, if true, leads to the question, why wear anything at all? Which question led me to the following article: Should Men Wear Shirts When Running Races?

The answer is clearly “no, a shirt is for the office, not a race!” but if they mean should men wear t-shirts or singlets then the answer is “Yes!”. And not just because a race demands decorum, not a naturist exhibition. The simpler answer is that if a man runs topless, then where does he hang his race number? From his nipples? Is that how pierced nipples were invented? Someone forgot to take the safety pin out when taking their number off?

Perhaps, we do have our answer though to the question: what’s the point of singlets? Maybe it is to help cool down elite athletes. Equally, it’s also a way for elite athlete to hang their race number without nipples, anaesthetic and a sharp needle. Which means we have our answer to the question of what’s the point of singlets? Singlets do serve a purpose: they are the minimum requirement for racing with a number.

Run #EveryStreet – Mayrathon Challenge (Andrew)

Start of the challenge: loads of streets to run!

I spotted this challenge on adventurer Alistair Humpher’s Instagram account. Can you run every street within one mile of your home?

It’s a great idea. It fits in with the spirit of lockdown by exercising locally and next to your home while also including a sense of adventure and exploring as you realise that you have never actually ran down the street right next to you.

Not sure if there’s any rules to the challenge (I was too lazy to Google it!) so I’ve invented my own.

Step 1

You’ll need to join Strava. There may be other ways to record this but this is the one I know.

Step 2

Sign up for their Summit package – which should be offering one month free.

Step 3

Remember to diary to cancel the package in 29 days!

Step 4

Go out for a run then, when you upload it to Strava, you can check “Heatmap” and it will show you where you’ve been. Every time you run, you can update the heat map and it will travel the streets you’ve run along.

Step 5

Try and run every street within one mile of your house.

And one final rule – it’s cheating to live in a small village where it is a challenge just to find another street…

Oh, and one other rule. Don’t try and run every single street unless you’re Ricky Gates who ran every single street in San Francisco. Keep it local during the lockdown! 🙂

Training for Celtman: April (Andrew)

After last month’s postponement of this year’s race… only 62 weeks to go!

This month was a short month as I still felt the effects of being ill in March. I tried a couple of rides and runs but I still wasn’t feeling right so I rested for another week before starting up again gradually. Thankfully the last few weeks have seen no reaction and I’ve been feeling stronger each time I go out. The only challenge is motivation. 62 weeks is 434 days – and that’s definitely too many days to make me think anything I do now will matter.

I enjoy training but I know there are some days where I need the extra motivation of a race to get me out the front door. A bit of rain, a cold day or just tired legs. If you have a race then you know that you need to go out in order to give a race your best shot. But when you have 434 days, you know that you don’t need to go out – well, at least not for at least another 433 days.

So, this month has been about trying to find some new ways to motivate myself. Rather than thinking about races I’ve been thinking instead about how to keep injury free over such a long time and to try some new training to help – whether that’s something simple like warming up on a bike before going on a run or, more challenging, taking part in some Yoga online. Either way, it’s been a strange month, one that should have seen training start to peak but instead saw a postponement to 2021. Oh well, with 434 days to go, I can’t complain now that I don’t have enough time to train!

Rafting the River Nile (Andrew)

A POST I WROTE BEFORE CHRISTMAS BUT DIDN’T PUBLISH AT THE TIME. NOW IT FEELS LIKE NOSTALGIA. HOLIDAYS? TRAVEL? WHAT ARE THOSE?!?

I’m being mansplained by a man, which is unusual because mansplaining is what happens when a man tells a woman something she already knows. When a man does it to another man it should be called splaining to show it’s not sexist, it’s just really, really annoying. Especially when it continues for the next four hours floating down the River Nile. This is what happens when you say hello to strangers…

We’re in Jinja in Uganda, the original source of the Nile and a spot famous for white water rafting. Apparently, Prince William has rafted here – along with Geri Halliwell aka Ginger Spice or Jinja Spice, as she should have been called. We read about it before coming to Uganda and thought it would be fun to try rafting on the Nile. We signed up for the intermediate package. Big mistake.

“Should we take the beginner’s package? We’ve been rafting once before so we know the basics.”

We were told that the beginners package was only for complete beginners and we’d be fine. We should have realised that complete beginners also included us. Three hours on a river is the average amount of time a Cambridge student takes to learn how to punt. Three hours on a river does not make you a Royal Marine Commando ready to storm a beach.

The second warning was when we arrived at the start and saw the number of boats required to take us down the river. A safety boat. Three kayaks. And our personal photographer and videographer – a nice touch, I thought until I realised they were probably just filming our last moments for insurance purposes.

“Look! He really didn’t know what he was doing! He should never have signed up for the intermediate trip! He’s so bad he’d even drown in a puddle!”

On the positive side, at least Iain would have a good montage to show at my funeral. And a funeral was a distinct possibility because the instructor said we’d be staring with a level five rapid.

Rapids have six categories. The first five are progressively harder from one to five. The sixth is reserved for those on suicide watch or need to invade an enemy camp under the cover of darkness. Either way, five was the hardest we could try outside of a war zone.

But level five wasn’t going to be our toughest challenge. That was our fellow rower – Karl – a man from Eastern Europe who’d ridden 10 hours on a bus across Uganda in order to take part in this adventure. And Karl had perfect English. Or as he would say; “No, I don’t have perfect English, my English is 100%!”

Because Karl contradicted everything I said. Even if it was to confirm what I just said.

“I don’t like Dubai,” I said.

“You’re wrong – Dubai is a hellhole!” He’d say with absolute conviction and then he’d stare me down to dare to contradict him, even though he was agreeing with me.

And then he’d spend five minutes explaining what Dubai was like as if I’d never been even though the only reason I mentioned it was because I said that we’d just been there. I quickly wanted to throw him off the boat.

Which was lucky, as by starting with a level five rapid, there was a good chance we were all going to be thrown off the boat as the only thing you need to know is that you hold on and hope. And that’s it. I can honestly say I had no control over what happened in that whirlpool. Sprayed with surf, rocked by waves, spun by currents before the raft was chucked out like a frisbee. And then our guide shouted “And now a level four!”.

And Karl shouted to me “this is one less than a level five” – like I didn’t know how to count.

And this time to add to the spray, the rocking, the spinning and the escape we also had a 90 degree flip when the raft almost toppled over in the middle of the rapid.

However I have to admit that despite my fears I always felt completely safe. The instructor had prepared us with a safety briefing. The kayaks and safety boats went ahead of us to catch anyone falling off the boat and the instructor talked us through the whole rapids explaining what was happening and what would happen next -which Karl would then repeat to me. Thanks, Karl.

The rafting lasted four hours and involved 11 rapids over 20 kilometres of river. At various points we could jump in the Nile and swim beside the boat. The water was warm and with a life jacket it was easy just to float and let the current take us down stream until we finished with another level five and level four. This time the guide said we could jump out in the middle of the level four.

“Are there any crocodiles?” I asked

“We’ve not seen a crocodile in twenty years,” reassured the guide.

“So,” I said, “you’re telling me that you have seen a crocodile..?”

It was nerve wracking to jump into the churning water. It was disorientating to jump in and resurface 20 metres away having been pulled instantly along by the current – but reassuring that falling in wasn’t dangerous, as long as you had the life jacket and helmet than you just let the river take you to the calm waters beyond the rapid. Calm waters where I could see Karl, who’d also jumped in. He was grinning. And I was grinning and I thought I should forgive him and we should celebrate overcoming our fears by finishing the rafting and jumping into the swirling waters. I shouted “High five!” And raised my hand from the water only for Karl to say:

“No, Andrew!” Said Karl “Fist bump!”

I loved rafting, but I really, really hated Karl.

Skill required: None. The raft had guides taking control when in the high rapids.

Strength required: Some, you will need to paddle between rapids and while it’s not hard work it can tiring to paddle for a kilometre or more, even with the help of a current.

Safety: Loads. Life jackets and helmet checked before each rapids.

Overall: If Ginger Spice can do it, anyone can. If they can get to Uganda anytime soon…

Lockdown and Out The Door (Andrew)

There was a trade unionist in the Clyde shipyards who once said that among his men he had a Wimbledon champion – even though none of them had ever lifted a racquet. Now, until Andy Murray becomes a welder on a new Royal Navy frigate, that trade unionist is talking about potential. He wanted to show that everyone had the potential to do something, and perhaps even be the best in the world, if they only had the opportunity.

Today, we’re putting that theory to the test. You can’t go outside (responsibly and for essential travel only!) to find yourself surrounded by people running and cycling.

This time last year the only time you heard about other people running was when Bob from Accounts tried to badger you for sponsorship money to run the London marathon. The absence of which this year is a fortunate side effect of the lockdown. Not that I’m against giving money to charity, I’m just against feeling obliged to do it because Bob is nice when you talk to him in the kitchen and you’d feel guilty about not giving him money. It’s not for the cause, it’s so that he doesn’t “forget” to bring you a cup of tea.

However, with everyone outside today, think about a year from now. The rest of Europe is in lockdown. You can’t go out in Spain or France. Yet the UK is still running and training and building up the biggest relay squad the world has ever seen. We’ll be unstoppable – and we may also have a world champion.

Maybe Pete the Postie is the world’s greatest steeple jumper? Maybe Mary from Margate can run the 100m faster than Uiseen Bolt can blink?

Think about it. We could have the greatest Olympic squad the world has ever seen!

And not just that. With the number of Tiktok dance videos, next year’s Greatest Dancer is going to be epic. And only 30 seconds long per dance. So a bit repetitive but, boy, will those dancers know how to move!

And it’s not just physical activities that will benefit. Right now we have a entire nation of under 16 year old training 20 hours a day on Fortnite, FIFA and Call of Duty. Esport will need to be renamed UKSports as no other nation will be able to compete against us.

The only downside to all this exercise and potential fulfilled is that next year, once this is all over, we are going to be faced with so many emails asking for sponsorship for Derek’s first marathon and Carol from Marketing’s first 10k… Olympic final.

Training For Celtman: March (Andrew)

When working from home with your spouse it’s important to establish some Spotify ground rules. And, according to my wife, rule number one is that it’s entirely reasonable to listen to One Direction’s album ‘Made In The AM’ five times in a row.

I added a second rule this month. It’s entirely reasonable to watch Celtman’s 2019 official video ten times in a row until I stopped crying…

It’s over. Celtman is postponed. The organisers have made the sensible and correct decision to cancel this year’s race and offer everyone the opportunity to take part in 2021.

It’s the right call. My parents live in the Western Isles and I know how stretched support can be for people looking for medical treatment. The islands struggle to recruit doctors, patients are flown to the mainland for complex operations, and even consultation takes place via videolink with staff on the mainland. They don’t need tourists increasing the demands placed on them and they don’t need visitors increasing the risk of bringing infection to the island. 

Applecross is no different. The peninsula is remote and has an older population. It wouldn’t be fair to race until the only public safety issue is whether you might get run over by a cyclist on a time trial bike failing to look up. While the risk of the virus is significant, no one should be using the Highlands and Islands for ‘fun’.

I’m disappointed. I can’t deny that. I started training in November 2018. I’d entered Challenge Roth and November 2018 was the first month where I went out with a thought that this was ‘training’ and not just ‘fun’, even if the only difference was in attitude rather than how far or fast I would run. At the back of my mind though was another thought, a distant dream, one as out of reach as Applecross should be now, I would use Challenge Roth as the springboard for Celtman. If I could get fit enough for Roth then I would carry on and work towards Celtman in 2020.

I’m 42. I know that taking part in long distance triathlon’s requires time and commitment. As I get older I have family and work commitments. I know that training for long distance is optional. I don’t have to do it. And I taking time away from others to concentrate on myself. It’s inherently selfish, which is good that Iain does it too, as it means that we’re both being selfish, but selfish together, which kind of cancels it out… 🙂

That’s why I thought this would be my final chance to race Celtman. Life would get in the way. And it has, just not in the way I expected. 

Celtman has been cancelled. But it’s not been cancelled because of the threat of death, the fear of an unknown virus, it’s been cancelled by the possibility that cancelling it could help save and protect people. 

That’s why, although I’m disappointed, I’m also happy. The decision was right. It was taken to protect people. A triathlon will never save a life but if cancelling one can, then it should be cancelled.

So, here’s to 2021. I’ll be there and I hope, with the actions of Celtman and others and through the actions of the government and of other countries, everyone else will be there too.  

Monthly Stats

No stats this month. A dose of lurgy (not sure if Coronavirus but some minor lurgy or other got the best of me) meant I was out of action for a couple of weeks.