Who gives socks as a present?
Normally, that’s the question you ask every Christmas as you open the package that felt like a Cashmere jumper only to find it’s five socks from Tesco – and the sale price has been left on.
I don’t mind though. I love getting socks as it means I’ve not had to buy socks in years. See also boxers. See also aftershave (received once, never used). See also a coffee machine (still unopened as I don’t drink coffee).
That’s why I was really excited to finish the Race The Blades half marathon, a 13.1 mile race on the tracks running through Whiteelee wind farm. At the end, along with the obligatory t-shirt and medal there was also a paid of socks in the goody bag.
If there’s one thing you want after a race it’s the ability to change into a clean paid of socks!
(Even if those socks are covered in images of wind turbines).
So, well done to the organisers and to the sponsors, Scottish Power, you gave me another chance to avoid buying socks for the foreseeable future.
If only you’d start giving away smart trousers for work or shirts then I’d never need to shop again.
(Unless they were covered in images of wind turbines)
The race itself is deceptively hilly: it lulls you into a false sense of flatness in the first six miles before throwing all the hills into the final six. Last time I ran it – see here – the race came up short, literally. It was 200 metres too short. This time it was the right length and with the summer heatwave abating for a few days it was also a pleasant morning with nice dry trail roads to run on.
It was also my last ‘official’ race this year – I’ve got nothing booked now until July 2019.
So, for the rest of the year it’s feet up (with socks on, of course!).
Scotland is one of the few countries in the world where wearing a wetsuit is not just for swimming. Autumn. Most weekdays. All weekends. Wearing a wetsuit is almost compulsory in Scotland if you don’t want to get wet. Except yesterday and except for the last few weeks, Scotland has had an outbreak of what can only be described as “the apocalypse”.
Every day the sky is blue, the sun is yellow and there’s no clouds to be seen. It’s boiling! Every night, we huddle in homes desperately trying to sleep in our fridges. It’s horrible!
How are we meant to live like that! Bring back the rain! We live in Scotland, not the Sahara!
So, while six months of training has seen a typical Scottish training programme of trying to find the few dry days where you can go out on a bike, much indoor training, and a lot of wetsuit wearing, the one thing I’d not trained for was running in the sun. How can you train for that in Scotland, it just doesn’t happen. Until this month. Until I had to pack the one thing I thought I would never need – sun cream.
Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh 2018 itself promised a calm swim, some clouds for the bike course before burning off for the run around Arthur’s Seat. And it almost fulfilled that promise as the swim was calm, the run was sunny – but so was the bike course. Unrelenting from the moment it started.
1.9 kms around Prestonpans. With no breeze, the water was very calm and the temperature was a warm-ish 14.5 degrees Celsius.
Before starting it’s worth remembering two things. One, there’s very few toilets so make sure you start queuing on Saturday and, two, the queue for the swim will take almost twenty five minutes due to the rolling start. Either way, be prepared to queue.
The swim itself had an west to east current so the first half was into the current and the second was a rocket launched very easy turbo swim back to shore. In the calm conditions it was akin to swimming in busy swimming pool. No waves made a great turnaround from last year’s tsunami like conditions.
Same course as last year. A very pleasant 56 mile ride through East Lothian with some stunning views of Edinburgh, Fife and the Pentland Hills on the second half of the course.
The main thing to remember about this part of the course is that the final climb up Arthur’s Seat is not the biggest challenge at the end. Just before you enter the park there’s a short section of Paris-Roubaix like cobbles that rattle your bones and could give you a puncture if you’re not prepared for them.
A minor change to the 13 mile run route sees the climb up the commonwealth pool dropped and a slightly longer flatter run around Arthur’s Seat. A welcome change as it makes the route cleaner with less out and back sections.
It was noon by the time I started running so the sun was out and it was a challenge to run in the hot conditions. There’s plenty of water/aid stations and the volunteers were great at keeping the water/cola/energy juice/gels and bananas going.
My aim in the run was to run the first of three laps then run most of the second except for the long climb up from Dynamic Earth then see how I felt on lap 3. As it happened I felt okay throughout and was able to run (very slowly!) most of each laps with breaks at water stations only.
At this point I saw Iain was at least half a lap ahead so I decided to let him win today’s race – and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh is a great race. Well organised and most of the niggles of the first year were ironed out. Especially the biggest one – the crap t-shirt at the end. Last year’s effort was very much a ‘will this do?’ effort: ill fitting, poor lettering, just stick Edinburgh on an IronMan generic t-shirt effort. This year was much better. I even wore it through Edinburgh and then back to the start at Prestonpans to collect the car because, although it was hot, cool people wear their finisher’s t-shirts in public! 🙂
Only amateur athletes will ever say “I’ll just turn up and give it a go.”
You don’t see bin men turning up at the local hospital asking if they can pop down to surgery as they once watched an episode of Casualty. Yet anyone with a pair of trainers will at some point have turned up on a start line with no idea what they’re about to do or why they are there but, what the heck, let’s give it a go anyway!
However this attitude forgets that there are there are two types of fear in the world: the fear of the unknown and the fear of the known.
The unknown fear is the fear that keeps you awake at night in case aliens sneak into your bedroom and steal your socks. You’re pretty sure that if aliens did visit the earth they’d have better things to do than raid your sock drawer – but, as you can’t be 100% sure that E.T. is not phoning home and boasting about it, you worry about it anyway.
That’s why the unknown fear is a stupid fear. It’s based on misinformation – aliens steal the last bag of crisps from the cupboard, not socks – and it usually means you end up scared of something that you shouldn’t be scared of at all.
In triathlon, we have a lot of unknown fears. The big one is swimming in open water. Until you’ve swum in the sea or in a river or loch you don’t know what to expect. There could be monsters! Or, worse, it could be cold!
The first time I swam outdoors was at Bardowie Loch, north of Glasgow. I swam with an instructor who ran a regular open session on a Sunday morning. There were about 20 of us there. Most in wetsuits, one in budgie smugglers (put it away, Iain!) and one man with a loud voice who set out the rules and offered some tips for swimming in cold water for the first time.
“Go in backwards,” he said. “Let the water hit the small of your back first, then, when you’re used to it, roll over and repeatedly dip your face in the water. It’ll help you adjust.”
I don’t know why the base of your spine controls your response to cold water, but, it seeped up my wetsuit, and then through the zip at the back, all I could say was:
I’d hate to think what I’d have said if I hadn’t ‘reversed in’.
I found out. I dipped my face in too.
However, as I started to paddle, then swim, then dipped my face again and again, the water became more tolerable. My feet were cold, my hands were cold, but my body felt fine, and, after a few minutes, I could keep my head below water and start to swim using the front crawl.
What was an unknown fear, a fear of swimming in cold water, was no longer an unknown fear. It was a quite justifiable, perfectly reasonable known fear!
Now known fears are fears of things you know are scary. Like cold water swimming. But, having practiced, and trained, and adjusted to the cold water, you can justify it to yourself: “I know this will be cold but, after a few minutes, it will be fine.”
And that’s one of the good things about training. It teaches you not just how to run, swim or cycle but it also teaches you to convert your unknown fears in known fears or, perhaps, something which isn’t ever a fear at all.
I’m not scared of swimming in lochs anymore. I know what they’re like. I know how cold they can get when it’s early Spring or Autumn. I’m happy to turn up and give it a go as it’s no longer a fear.
Swimming in the sea however…
I’m scared of swimming in the sea. There’s currents and undercurrents and waves and salt and sharks and I hear aliens nick your socks when you leave your clothes at the beach.
When I entered Norseman in 2016, it was the sea swim that scared me. It was three miles in a Norwegian Fjord, in icy water after jumping from the back of ferry.
I was scared of that jump. In the weeks before the race, I kept thinking of that jump. It was something I’d never done, something I could never prepare for – unless I wanted to start a search and rescue mission after jumping off the back of a CalMac ferry.
Without the training, my fears got the best of me. “You’ll die in those waters”. “you’ll have a heart attack, jumping from a warm boat in freezing water”. “You’ll get hypothermia.”
I ignored the voices though, got on the boat, got to the drop off point and jumped off the side.
And nothing happened. The water was warmer than expected. There were few waves. I swam round and my fear was just a fear of nothing.
I say all this because I had those same thoughts before Escape From Alcatraz 2018 triathlon and this time the fear won – but I’m okay with that.
This time my fear was based on what I knew – the swim was 2.5 miles across San Franscico bay and I hadn’t trained enough for it. A busy period at work had meant I hadn’t had time to go to the pool. My running and cycling was fine but I hadn’t swum enough for a challenging swim.
On the Saturday morning before the race I tried to swim in the bay. I swam in a sheltered spot and tried 1km to see how it felt.
It was tough. Even in the sheltered spot I didn’t feel strong in the water and it was a struggle to swim quickly against the tide.
I knew then that I couldn’t take part. The bay was going to be harder and longer. The leap from the boat was not going to be a leap to overcome an unknown fear, instead it was going to be a leap of hope that a lack of training wouldn’t matter.
And looking at the bay I thought it would be stupid of me to start. To ignore the warning in the practice and to hope that somehow swimming further and in harder conditions would somehow be easier. That wouldn’t be a smart move. Instead, I didn’t race, and I don’t regret not racing. Sometimes you have to recognise that fears are justified and that you have them for good reasons – to race again, so that with preparation and training you never need to think “I’ll just turn up and give it a go.”
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!)
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!”
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.
There are two types of runners. There are runners who park beside the start line and then there’s runners who park on Mars – to give themselves a bit more of a challenge by running 55 million kilometres as ‘warm up’.
I’m a runner who parks beside the start line. If I had a choice, I’d park on the start line. Warming up is just wasted energy after all. Why run before you need to run?!?
Now, some people – coaches, athletes and professionals – will tell you that warming up is an essential part of the whole running experience. If you don’t warm up then your muscles are cold and stiff and more likely to break. But those people – those experts – have clearly never had warm up in Scotland in January when it’s cold and wet and miserable and the thought of spending 30 seconds stretching each hamstring is as enticing as sharing a hot tub with Donald Trump.
Scotland is not a country for warming up. It’s a country for running as fast as you can out your front door until you run as fast as you can back in your front door and straight into a hot shower.
Which is what I wanted to do after Kirkintilloch 12.5K.
The Kirkintilloch 12.5 is a hilly circuit around the edge of Kirkintilloch on mostly old farm roads. It’s also one of the most exposed races with the top of every hill giving the freezing cold winds a good 50 mile standing start to breeze right through you.
It also doesn’t help that there’s very few car parking spaces near the start so, before the race, there was also a battle between the runners who like to park next to the start line to actually park next to the start line. Most failed.
We saw quite a few running a mile along the road from the centre of Kirkintilloch to the edge of the town, where the race started.
Luckily, we found a spot on a side street not far from the start as otherwise who knows what might have happened if we’d had to run before we ran. (We’d have probably run round faster as we were warmed up but that’s beside the point!)
The race itself featured a cold wind, some ice on the side of the road and a Penguin biscuit at the finish line. It also had a few sharp wee hills and a couple of longer drags. The good thing though is that the hill you race up at the start is also the hill you race down at the end. At which point we could see people cooling down.
Don’t get me started on cooling down. It’s Scotland. In Scotland, if you cool down any further you’ll turn into Frosty the Snowman.
Instead, don’t warm up, never cool, just park near the finish line, you know it makes sense.
In 2005 I entered the Plymouth to Dakar Rally. This was a rally from Plymouth to Dakar (the rally was well named!) in which I had to drive a car bought for less than £100.
I was raising money for Save the Children and, in our 1982 American Town and Country Station Wagon, we had pens and pencils, notepads and first aid kits to hand out to the villages on our route.
And, in the back, in a sealed case, we had filthy dirty erotica.
If we got into trouble, or were stopped by border guards, the organisers’s rules were quite clear, we weren’t to use cash to escape – we were to use porn!
Border guards were lonely guards….
So, for the first time in my life, I had to go into a shop and buy a girly magazine.
I didn’t know what to do.
I’m looking at all these different images: big jugs; bouncy butts; but all I can think is “What would Abdul likes as a kinky backhander?”
Cause it wasn’t like I was buying it for myself. It was a gift. I couldn’t give Abdul the border guard any old book. What would he like in his lonely Saharan outpost?
So, I asked for help.
That was a big mistake.
Don’t get me wrong, I now know that asking for help could come across as a little bit weird, but tell me this, what’s weird – me, asking for recommendations or the guy at the counter exclaiming in delight “I thought you’d never ask!”
I should have been shocked but all I could think was: “Cool, my pornography is bespoke!”
Sadly, for Abdul, he never saw his adult gifts. Although I was buying erotica like my life depended on it – because my life did actually depend on it – we crashed our station wagon near Paris and the car was wrecked. Our rally was over.
Luckily, the French scrappy who examined the wreckage offered to find a home for our pens and pencils at the local orphanage. Our charitable endeavours would not go to waste. It was only when he was gone that we remembered that not all of our gifts were meant for children….
But, I think the orphans were secretly happy when they discovered our secret stash. When you’re 13 you’re not looking for a pen or a pencil – all you really want to get is your very own dirty book.
The Marcothon is a 31 day challenge to run 5km or 25 minutes every day in December.
Bugger. I forgot today was day one. I’m sitting on my turbo trainer halfway through a 45 minute session when I remember that today’s the first day of December and I was going to attempt the Marcothon. Bugger.
I debate for 25 minutes whether I should go for a run after I finish the bike. It’s dark. It’s cold. I don’t want to but…
… isn’t that the point?
You have to go out no matter what, even if you’ve stupidly started riding when you could have been running.
I go out. It’s dark. It’s cold. I plod round a circle of street round the house until my watch says I’ve run 3 miles then I stop.
Then I remember I promised to go mountain biking in the morning. Bugger.
After two hours of mountain biking round Whitelee wind farm I debate going for a run straight after or leaving it to later in the day when I’ll be at Turnberry for the night. Having checked out Google maps I can see there’s a nice 1.5 mile run to the Turnberry lighthouse which means an out and back run will at least give me something to aim at as, while it’ll be dark, you can’t miss a bright white lighthouse.
My legs are heavy but running in the dark keeps me distracted as I look out for cars driving on the main road, then look out for potholes in the ground while running on a closed road to the lighthouse. There’s a Land Rover outside the lighthouse and lights in the house below. It’s only the next day I find out that you can hire the lighthouse and I was standing outside, breathing heavily, sweating profusely, trying to stare in the windows…. at hotel guests who were not expecting a red-faced stranger to be standing outside!
Run in the morning? Yes. Definitely. Back to the lighthouse! But first, a spa! Then breakfast! A buffet? Don’t mind if I do? Run now? No chance…
Back to Glasgow. Run at lunchtime? Definitely. Wait. Is that Rangers v Aberdeen? I should watch that first…
Run after the game? Okay. Wait. The dog needs walked.
Run after the walk. Legs heavy. Body sore after yesterday’s ride and run. Still thinking of breakfast. Okay! But it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pleasant.
Day three done.
Stress injury in left foot. Bit of a niggle but I decide that the Marcothon is a stupid idea. Day off.
Marcothon done – I can now enjoy the rest of the month! 🙂