Category: race report

The Hebridean Way (Iain)

Andrew and I grew up on the Isle of Lewis. It’s the furthest north and west you can go in the UK before you get to Iceland. Although we moved away from Lewis after university, our parents still live here.

I had some vacation days to use so I decided to pop up and see them….and get some biking and running in.

The Isle of Lewis is famed for three things – Harris tweed, sheep and rocks. The stone is called Lewisian gneiss and it’s a group of rocks three billion years old. The only rock group older is The Rolling Stones.

If you want to see more rock than you’d find in a Fast & Furious film, visit the Isle of Harris. Harris is joined to Lewis and it’s only a forty minute drive from where my parents stay in Stornoway.

I’ve only ever driven around Harris – except for one disastrous half marathon attempt

The Harris half marathon is a point to point race starting in southern Harris and ending at the capital Tarbert, in the north. I got so drunk the night before the race I struggled to get to the start on time. Thankfully my dad drove me.

Before the race began I said to my dad to wait ten minutes and then drive along the course and check up on me. Due to my hangover I wasn’t confident about finishing

The race started. Everyone else started running. I started vomiting. This was going to be a long day…

I waited for the heaving to stop and then started running. I lasted five minutes and then threw up again.

I scanned the road hoping to spot my dad driving towards me. There was no sign of him, I wanted to stop. I checked my distance. 13 miles to go.

I jogged on. My head hurt and I was rough as… and I scanned the road for my dad. No sign of him. 12 miles to go

I restarted my death march. The world was spinning before my eyes and I wanted to go to bed. Still no sign of him. 11 miles to go.

No sign of him. 10 miles to go!

Where is he? 9 miles to go!

Oh God. I think I’m going to die. 8 miles to go!

What do you mean the next four miles are up hill???? 7 miles to go

This is harder than trying to climb Mount Everest without oxygen…with no shoes …in underpants! 6 miles to go.

I see him! YES! Screw this race I’m out of here….oh. That’s not him. Just a car that looks similar. Oh Lord. Make this end. 5 miles to go.

If I drink all the water at this water stop will it dilute the alcohol and make me feel better? 4 miles to go.

Downhill. Weeeeeeeee. I’m flying now. 3 miles to go.

I think I’m last. 2 miles to go!

I’ll kill my dad when I see him! 1 mile to go,

There’s a big crowd at the finish line. They spot me. They start cheering and whooping. The crowd are going wild! One man shouts “you can do it!” Wow I didnt expect such a big reaction. I raise my hand to thank them. They must be really impressed by my effort. Wait a sec. I cross the finish line but the man’s still shouting. “You can do it”. He doesn’t need to say that. I’ve done it.

I turn around, I’m not the only finisher. They weren’t cheering me. The were cheering a man behind me. An  80 year old man!

After the race I ask my Dad why he didn’t come, He said he wanted to teach me a lesson. He certainly did – I will never rely on him for a lift again!

Ironman Edinburgh 70.3 (Iain)

PRE-RACE

The IronMan Edinburgh expo had for sale IronMan branded t-shirts, IronMan branded shorts and IronMan branded socks. They have more IronMan clothes than Tony Stark’s wardrobe. And they don’t just sell clothes, they also had an IronMan branded cake tin – maybe they plan to launch a new type of triathlon – a swim, bake, run.

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Normally registration involves filling in lots of forms. But not me. I didn’t need to fill in a form as someone had already done it. Which was a shock  but not as much as discovering that the someone who’d filled in my forms was a middle aged woman from America.

I offered to sign her forms but the registration desk rejected my offer. It would have made the finish line interesting. The announcer would said to me “Congratulations…Barbara????”

Originally the swim start was to be in Gosford House – one of Scotland’s grandest homes. I’ve always wanted to visit it so I was dissapointed when the start was moved. Instead of racking my bike in a beautiful garden I did it next to a construction site and a lidl supermarket.

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I’ve never had a puncture on my race bike so guess what? Yes – my bike had punctured in the car. We’d booked accommodation near the start so once everything was setup and the tyre replaced we went a pre-race feed of nachos’s and ice cream!

 

SWIM (24:51)

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We were one of the last into the water as queuing for the toilet had taken priority over queuing to get into the water.

The swim had been shortened due to the weather. Luckily (or unluckily) my first ever sea swim race had been in horrendous weather. The swim was in Fife and, on that day, the Woman’s golf open in St Andrews had to be cancelled due to the conditions! If a land event had to be cancelled then my swim should have been to, but it went ahead anyway. This swim was choppy but it wasn’t half as bad as that day in Fife.

I enjoyed the swim and would have happily done another lap.

BIKE (3:19:50)

I wish something interesting had happened on the bike as it would make this section a better read but it was thankfully uneventful!

The bike route is pretty flat. The longs climbs aren’t very steep and the steep climbs aren’t very long. The first 30 miles are the best part of the course- good road surfaces and nice views over the East Lothian countryside. The route back into Edinburgh had some ‘interesting’ sections – some cobbled roads, a farm road and some pavement.

The only issue I had was towards the end. There was a sharp left turn immediately followed by a slight rise in the road. A lot of people (including myself) misjudged which gear to be in. I heard a lot of “clanking” sounds as people tried to drop to a lower gear. Unfortunately, one of my club mates broke his chain at this point.

RUN (2:09:51)

Run

I thought I was ahead of Andrew after the bike so it was very disappointing to spot him ahead of me on the run! He shouted “What lap are you on?” as he passed. I should have said “My last!” as that would have played mind games with him.

I spent the next couple of miles trying to work out when he’d passed me on the bike but I came to the conclusion that it must have been in transition as I’d gone to the loo.

Running is my weakest discipline so my aim was to do two laps then take the last one easy.  Thankfully I caught up and passed Andrew on the second lap. If he’d kept ahead of me until the last lap then I wouldn’t have caught him.

At one point a man ran next to me. He muttered “nearly” after ever footstep. He kept this up for the mile he was alongside me. Eventually he ran off. I wonder if he kept up his muttering until the end and then did he mutter “done!”?

On the third lap Andrew was only a minute behind me so I slowed down and let him catch up. Better to walk down the finish line with him than do it on my own. Nothing what so ever to do with getting to spend the last mile gloating about beating him at all three disciplines 🙂

Although I think he’s still ahead in this year’s Todd Championship. It’s still all to play for…

OVERALL

The course was good, the event was well run and I got home in time for my dinner. What more can you ask for in a race.

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IronMan Edinburgh 70.3 (Andrew)

“Is it safe?”

In the film Marathon Man this quote is repeated as Sir Laurence Olivier performs an increasingly painful dental treatment on Dustin Hoffman.

In IronMan Edinburgh this quote is repeated by everyone on the start line as we gaze out to sea.

“Is it safe?”

Swim

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Last week we had a recce of East Lothian to check the swim start and to cycle part of the bike route.

It was windy, over 20 mph, and the water at Preston Links at Prestonpans was choppy and covered in white caps.

A woman got out of a car beside us. She was wearing an IronMan hoodie and IronMan cap. So was her father, who came out next.

“Are you racing?” We said, which was a daft question as he was clearly in his seventies. 🙂

She answered for him.

She was racing. And she was there to practice the swim. But, on looking at the water, she said: “Not today. I’m not going out in that!”

She had an English accent so we thought she wasn’t local (though, with Edinburgh so close, an English accent could be local!) and we tried to reassure her: “It won’t be like this next week – this is a one off! It’s just a bit of wind!”

Unfortunately for her we were completely wrong. It wasn’t just a bit of wind, it was the start of a week long howl that kept going all through Monday to Friday, sped up on Saturday and wasn’t due to slow down until the race was over.

On Saturday, the forecast was for winds of 15mph plus. Too strong for a calm swim. By Saturday night the organisers were predicting a shortened swim and by 6am they’d shortened it from 1900m to 950m. One lap of a course that had been rearranged to try and avoid the worst of the currents.

But not at the start. The first 100 metres would be straight into the waves and current and wind. The perfect storm.

For the first 100 metres I could see people struggling. Not only was there the shock of cold water, the tightness of my chest constricting, the shallow breaths and the constant gulps of salt water as I tried to time the waves correctly so that my mouth is, and this is crucial bit, above the waves, not below them. But there was also the need to sight the first buoy, to avoid fellow athletes and to generally survive in conditions that even blockbuster movie shark Jaws would say: “Don’t go into the water!”.

But, after the first turn, as we swam along the beach, not out to sea, the conditions improved. It was easier to breath with the waves at my side, than right in front.

Of course, being an idiot, I then decided I had to clear my goggles as they’d filled with condensation. I tried to duck under the water, remove my goggles to rinse them out, then put them back on in one smooth fluid motion.

It didn’t happen.

I ducked. I spluttered. I got salt in my eyes. I couldn’t see. I swallowed half of the Firth of Forth, I ended up swimming in the wrong direction – but I did all that in one smooth fluid motion, so at least I got something right.

For the rest of the swim I had leaky goggles, I had to keep taking them off to clear them of water, while, when they were on, I had to keep one shut to avoid the salt water seeping in. And swimming with one eye is not easy – just ask Captain Hook, if he’d had two eyes, he’d have been able to swim away from that crocodile.

Despite my one eye, I got to the final buoy and turned back to shore. The swim back was a relief, and with the current behind, fast too.

The swim was over. I hadn’t drowned, which in itself felt like an achievement.

Bike

Bike

The bike route started in Prestonpans and then headed out through East Lothian, through Haddington and Gifford, before turning back and heading in almost a straight line to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

But, it was only the direction that was straight. The elevation promised a course with very few flat sections and plenty of ups and downs with some short sharp climbs.

And, because it was still windy, the course also added 25 miles into the wind as we came into Edinburgh.

The crowds were out in force, at least in the villages we passed. The largest town, Haddington, had the fewest spectators. Literally, one man and his dog. A man, and his dog, standing in his driveway. I can only guess the rest of the town must have been in church. Either that or the four hour road closure on a Sunday morning wasn’t appreciated by locals who decided to protest by staying away.

The course was varied, with plenty to see, from rolling hills, to leafy hedges, to forest canopies, farmlands, and, at one point, one of my work’s housing developments (which was nice to see, though not perhaps a selling point from anyone but me).

The final few miles saw a short burst of pave, the Edinburgh cobblestones, and then a climb around the back of Arthur’s Seat. This comes as a shock after 54 miles but not as much of a shock as the sign at mile 40 that “This is the high point, it’s all downhill from here!”. Only it wasn’t. Not in the slightest.

The last mile is downhill and provides a couple of minutes to relax, stop pedalling and getting focused on the run, or, in my case, to try and swallow an energy gel but forget how fast the road falls away and get tangled between trying to eat the gel and desperately apply the brakes to slow down.

I read afterwards that some people complained the road wasn’t in great condition and that there were a lot of punctures. I didn’t see any more punctures than normal and I thought the road was no better or worse than most Scottish roads.

Run

Run

I’d seen Iain in transition after the swim but couldn’t see him in the run transition. I knew he was ahead of me so I thought he must have left so I decided to follow him out.

And, by quickly, I mean for around 500 metres. Then the climbing starts. A one mile plus climb up Arthur’s Seat.

This was going to be a long run…

The run route is deceptively hilly. Deceptive in that even the flats bit are steeper than you think. Especially on the third time around the four and a bit mile course.

The run up Arthur’s Seat was tough, but the course itself was varied and featured a long run through the Innocent Railway tunnel, which was lit by a spinning light show and soundtracked with classic rock.

It’s worth racing IronMan Edinburgh just for the tunnel. Nothing beats running through a dark tunnel with AC/DC singing Highway To Hell and disco lights spinning round.

And then you have another hill. Followed by another hill. Then another hill. Then you finally get to run back down Arthur’s Seat before you have to do it two more times.

It was tough.

Much tougher than expected and I was pleased to get round in around 2 hours 10 minutes so at least I was getting round in around 10 minutes a mile. Not great, but after the swim and bike, I was happy with it.

I finished the race with Iain. As it turned out, he’d been in the toilet so I’d missed him in transition, but he caught me up, then passed, then slowed down at the end as I caught up with him. I conceded he’d won the Todd Championship point and we finished the run together.

The finish-line

I wasn’t sure if the announcer would shout: “You Are An IronMan!” as we crossed the line. It seemed wrong, you should only get that for the full distance, but, as an IronMan event, I wondered if they’d also do it for 70.3.

They didn’t. Instead we had hardcore dance tracks. “Shake that ass! Shake that ass! Shake that ass!” it cried before the announcer quickly said “Um, maybe that’s the wrong song, let’s get something more family friendly”.

We crossed the line in around six hours. Just under for Iain, just over for me (boo!). A tough race but a fair one with some great views of Edinburgh and East Lothian. Also a race that attracted the highest proportion of female athletes than any IronMan event, with over 20%. It was great to see a less male dominated race and, perhaps next year, IronMan could rename it the IronWoman Edinburgh 70.3.

No asses were shook for the podium picture.

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Challenge Weymouth 2014 (Iain)

Next weekend we’re both racing Ironman Edinburgh. It’s three years since we last did a middle distance triathlon (1.8KM swim, 55 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). Here’s how we got on last time…

Up until 2014, the UK “Challenge” triathlon had taken place in Henley-on-Thames. A place so posh it needs hyphens. The people of Henley hated the triathlon. The closed road race would often be interrupted by a Range Rover or Aston Martin. The locals having decided that closed only meant closed to cheap cars.

In 2013, Andrew and I entered Challenge Henley, a middle distance triathlon. It was well organised and, as it was at the end of the summer, we could train for it when the weather was good rather than over the winter. We enjoyed it so much we wanted to do it again but the locals had decreed no more triathlon so the race moved to Weymouth.

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Weymouth is a place that doesn’t need hyphens. If you love ice cream, chips and donkey rides then this is the town for you. It’s also worth a visit if you want to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper recreated as a sandcastle.

We drove down on the Friday before the race. We wanted the extra day to get ready and recover from the drive. Google maps said it would take 8 hours but it doesn’t take into account any other cars or roadworks. It was closer to 12 hours. We should have got a medal for just getting there.

There’s plenty of accommodation in the area. We stayed in an ex Ministry Of Defence building that was used to test bombs. This meant the walls were so thick, WiFi and mobile phones didn’t work.

Registration/Setup

Registration took place at the pier, which is the end point of the race. The transition areas for the swim/bike/run was about a mile and a half away along the beach. This is ok but it meant you have to work out where to park your car on race morning. Do you want a long walk to the start but be close to the finish or vice versa?

Registration takes a couple of minutes and we were given all the usual – a race number, a tattoo of the number and different colored bags to put our transition stuff in. One for the bike, one for the run and one for post event.

We went back to the hotel to sort everything out. Once we had all the stuff ready we headed over to transition. At this point my brother remembered that he had not put any his bags into the car. So it was back to the hotel…and then back to transition! As a forfeit he had to buy me dinner. I picked the expensive options.

Swim

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The hotel was open for breakfast from 3AM so I popped along at 5AM for some Weetabix. There was a few others eating. They all had Weetabix too except one man who was having a full English breakfast. I assume he was just a hungry insomniac rather than an athlete.

We choose to park nearer to the finish than the start. As we walked along the beach to transition  we noticed just how fierce the waves were. A quick check of Twitter (always a useful reference to find out whats going on) revealed the waves were so strong the course was going to be altered and the full length race was going to be shortened. Our race would be delayed by 30 minutes.

This meant a long cold wait by the sea as we watched the full distance athletes struggle in the waves. I’d swam in similar conditions last year in a charity event in fife. That day the weather was so bad the Women’s Golf open was cancelled. I hadn’t enjoyed it as it became an exercise in survival rather than fun. I wasn’t looking forward to the swim!

Luckily it calmed down slightly by the time we were due to start so we decided to give it a go. After all, whats the worse that can happen?

It was two laps out and back to a buoy. The way out was very choppy. I quickly lost my brother in the swell. Sighting was straightforward as there was so many folk around I just followed everyone else. I actually quite enjoyed it but it probably helped that I’d been swimming in the sea whilst on holiday the week before so I was used to the salt.

I finished the swim in about 45 minutes.

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Transition 

We have an agreement that we wait for each other in transition. As neither of us is going to win the race we just race each other so all we care about it the times for each section. I had a 10 minute wait for him before he turned up. He said he was delayed as he’d gone for a spin on a boat! If I knew that was an option then I’d have taken it. He had felt fine on lap 1 but, near the end of lap 2, he was sick so had to hitch a lift on the boat so he could be ill. Luckily it was just all the salt that had upset his stomach – or maybe he’d ordered a full English breakfast when I wasn’t looking.

Bike

Experts say you shouldn’t change anything before a race. I decided to ignore that advice and put aero bars on my bike and I adjusted my seating position. I’d never used aero bars and I was surprised at just how great they were! I’m going to use them all the time now. [NOTE: I wrote this in 2014. I’ve barely used them since!] The race was one lap of 55 miles into the countryside. It was fairly flat with some slight hills. I saw some riders getting off their bikes and walk up the hills. They should move to Scotland and learn what real hills are like.

Highlights of the ride was passing a Tank Museum. The speed signs on the road to it had separate speed limits for tanks and cars.

I enjoyed the bike ride and I finished it in 3hrs 10min

Transition 

I waited for about 15 minutes for my brother. He likes watching his speedometer and keeping to a steady pace whilst I don’t bother with any tech and just cycle faster when I feel good and slower when I don’t. I think this is why he is better at going up hills than me but I’m usually better on flatter courses.

Run

Annoyingly the run was 15 miles. Which I thought was a bit unfair, as it was a half marathon race not a half and a bit race. We had no choice in the matter so off we went. The course was two and a half laps of the seafront taking in a section past all the pubs called “the beer mile.”

Whilst on the run we passed a section of beach which contained just one man: one man playing the bagpipes. One man playing the bagpipes badly. It was clear why he had that part of the beach to himself. Even in one of the most southern parts of England there was still a reminder of home.

The run was good and I dropped my brother after half way as his chat was dull 🙂 I then made a fatal error! I thought I’d run for a bit with headphones on. I didn’t realise doing so is a complete no-no! I do it on all running races so I assumed it was okay here. I’d find out about it at the end when I wanted to check my result….

I finished the run in 2hr 3min and then hung about for 15 minutes until my brother finished.

We both checked the distance on our watches and it had only been 13.1 miles so we were thankful it had been changed from 15. It later transpired this change meant the full distance runners didn’t do a full marathon. Their race was 4k short.

Overall

It was a good well organised race in a nice part of the world. Both myself and my brother beat our time from last year on all three disciplines so we were happy. Afterwards I went to check our times and found out

A) My brother had been DQ’d. It turns out a ride in a boat isn’t allowed

B) I was marked as “withdrawn from race” which was news to me! I then found out it was due to been spotted wearing headphones.

Luckily neither of us care about the final result other than who beat who and we still got our medal 🙂

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Escape From Alcatraz 2017 – The ‘Duathlon’ Version (Andrew)

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Have you read the Mind Chimp by Dr Steve Peters? It’s a good book, well, good chapter, about sports pyschology. I say chapter because after the first chapter explains his theory the rest of the book… explains his theory and then explains it again and again.

I can only imagine that Dr Steve Peters inner chimp wasn’t an editor.

If you’ve not read it then the basic theory goes something like this: everyone has a chimp, but not in a Michael Jackson type way. He had an actual chimp. We have an inner chimp. A voice in our head that reacts emotionally to events. The book shows how to understand how your mind works and how to ignore negative thoughts like doubt and fear.

It also tells you to ignore losing (which reminds me that I should really get a copy for Iain before next year’s Etape Caledonia) and that you should approach each event on the basis that you can only judge it on how well you trained and how well you raced and that position is not important.

Wise words for this year’s Escape From Alcatraz. After the swim was cancelled, I was disappointed, half thought of not finishing it. Why bother if it’s not the full event?

But that was my chimp talking.

Not that chimps talk. They just say OOOOK, which means “chimp wanna banana”, unless it’s Michael Jackson’s chimp talking in which case OOOOK means “get away from me ya big weirdo”.

Instead, I ignored my chimp and thought: “This is the race. There is no swim. You can only start what’s before you. You were on the boat. You were ready to dive in. You can’t do any more than what you’ve done. So, pull yourself together and get on that bike and get out and run!”

And I did.

And it was brilliant.

Even though I felt like a sausage.

Iain had loaned me a tri suit. Normally, I’d wear tri shorts and change and use a cycling top for the bike and swap t-shirts for the run. But, this time, I was going ‘full triathlete’.

But what they don’t tell you about ‘full triathlete’ is that ‘full triathlete’ involves a garment, the tri suit, which is designed to be slim, sleek, figure hugging and aerodynamic. Or, if you’re a normal body shape, designed to make you look like a strong man has just squeezed a sausage. A plump sausage.

I will not be posting any pictures from the race of anything other than my head!

Bike course

Bike

The bike course is out and back from transition to Golden Gate park. It’s closed road, which is fantastic, and his great views of the bridge, Lands End, the west coast and Ocean Beach.

The hills are relatively shallow, but I was surprised at the number of people stopping and walking up them. Maybe Scotland is better training for San Francisco than other places, but, if you are training somewhere flat, then practice for hills, the course goes up and down faster than Theresa May approval rating.

For those travelling from the UK, India, Australia, the Caribbean, Malta and Cyprus (and anywhere else that drives on the left hand side of the road), then watch out for overtaking. Americans overtake on the left, not the right. Which is more obvious when driving, the oncoming traffic being a big clue (!), but, on a closed road on a bike, it’s easy to overtake on the right, and some folk don’t like that. “Sorry!” to whoever I cut off at Cliff House, I don’t know who you are, but you certainly had a loud voice!

The final few miles are flat, and, with a windy day, gusts were hitting 35mph on Sunday, and with the wind behind, it’s a very quick finish.

Run route

Run

Let’s talk about hills. And steps. Hills are okay, you slow down, shorten your stride, switch your mind off and keep climbing. Steps on the other hand are made to be walked on. It’s automatic. See a step. Walk on it.

At least that’s my excuse for not running all of the run route. There’s two sections with steps. The first at two miles, where you climb steps up to the Golden Gate bridge and the second at 4.5 miles where you tackle the ‘sand ladder’.

I’d read about the ‘sand ladder’ before the race. I knew it involved a steep climb after a short run on a beach but I didn’t realise just how steep it was. (Ladder should have been a clue, it wasn’t called the step stairs, or the step easy incline, it was the step ladder). I didn’t even try and run it. I grabbed one of the guide ropes at the side and used that to help me climb.

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Once those two climbs are done, it’s a nice two and bit mile run back to transition on flat ground.

I play a game as I run. At registration everyone has their age written on their left hamstring with a black marker. I don’t know why. Maybe the sharks in the bay want to know how old a leg is before they bite it off?

But, as I run, I check out people’s legs to see how old they are. Then when they pass I have a quick sideways look to see if they look older, younger or spot on.

It’s basically a very judgemental version of Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Card Rights. Higher! Lower! Blimey, see a doctor, you’ve had a hard life!

It’s only at the end that I realise that everyone could be doing the same for me. Except they’d add, I’d thought at his age he’d at least be trying to run the stairs?

Sorry, chickened out!

The finish line had a large crowd but one which was quite quiet. My wife was waiting and she said afterwards that people only tended to cheer athletes they knew rather than everyone as they came in. She also overheard the following conversation:

Mother: C’mon children, let’s get ready to cheer daddy!

Small child: Why?

Mother: Because he’s just finished a big race and it’s a massive achievement!

Small child: Is it?

Mother: (After a long pause) Well, he thinks it is…

I think many triathlete widows and widowers can empathise!

At the finish, I get a big medal, a big meal (pasta, soup and various barbecue options) and a great sense of achievement – I could do no more than what I did, I was ready to jump, but better to be safe than to risk your life in dangerous waters. I’d escaped Alcatraz (albeit that maybe this year, the guards had left the keys in the lock to make it slightly easier)!

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Alcatraz Top Tips

Pre-race:

Registration is very busy between 11am and the first briefing at 1pm. You will need to queue. We had to wait 30 minutes in a queue that snaked all the way around transition. However, if you arrive later, the queue is much shorter.

You can’t take your bike into registration so, if you don’t have a handy wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend/partner with you, then you’ll want to bring a lock so you can leave your bike safely while you register.

Transition has security guards so leaving bike on Saturday is perfectly safe. You can’t leave your kit, so you will still need to prepare transition on Sunday morning but at least your bike is racked.

There are lots of buses on Sunday morning to get from transition to the boat, so no need to worry about catching the bus.

You can leave a bag at a collection point outside the boat but, if you leave it on the boat, you’ll need to wait longer on Sunday to collect it.

Unlike Norseman, where there a hose of seawater to help you acclimatise, you just jump straight into the bay. I recommend the (untested) frozen water bottle trick!

I hired a bike from Blazing Saddles. You need to bring your own pedals but they provided a helmet and seat bag with pump, spare tube and puncture repair kit, which was great. The store at 550 North Point Street is less than 15 minutes from transition, easy to get to before the race and easy to return bike afterwards. Excellent service and a wide selection of bikes to choose. Though order early if you need a specific size.

Escape From Alcatraz – Swim (Andrew)

Athletes, listen, this is an important announcement! You must –

Pfffffftt. Ziiipppp. Fffffuutttt. PA broken. Silence.

I’m waiting in transition. I’m wearing a wetsuit and trainers. I should be swimming in San Francisco bay but I’m not – the 2017 Escape From Alcatraz swim has been cancelled (for the first time ever!) and I’m waiting to find out what happens next.

It was an early start, 4am alarm, but, with the time difference between UK and the US it still felt like mid-morning. I got an Uber to transition, having left my bike there yesterday, the first time they’ve let people rack up on the Saturday. I didn’t know at this point it wasn’t the only weekend ‘first’ .

At transition I have plenty of time to set up my gear (unroll towel, check bike helmet, 10 seconds, done), check bike for air (press both tyres down with my thumb, 5 seconds each) and then catch a bus to the boat which takes you out to Alcatraz (just a couple of minutes to catch the bus).

The last bus leaves at 6am but, as I wasn’t sure of queues, I’d  got to transition early and after completing my rigorous and thorough transition routine… I was on the bus by 5am, which was too early. I was on the boat by 5:30 and had two hours to wait until the swim start.

On the boat, a former sternwheeler (I Googled this), you get divided by age: over 40 onto the top deck, under 40 on the main deck. In case you forget how old you are you can check your leg: at registration they write your age in black marker on your left hamstring.

I’m under 40, and with my memory intact, I don’t even need to check when asked, so I get to sit on the main desk. As I’m there early, there’s plenty of places to sit, so I sit down.

Sorry, you can’t sit there.

The man to my left is indicating an empty space of 10 metres.

My friend’s just coming back.”

It’s okay, I’m sure we’ll both fit.

I sit down and then worry that a man with a 10 metre wide butt will sit on me. Luckily, when the friend returns, he has a normal size butt – as do the two others who later join us. Not that I was checking out butts. But how much room does one butt need?! Even Sir Mix-A-Lot, the world expert on big butts and a man who cannot lie, would have said there was room for plenty of butts on that part of the boat.

I close my eyes. Listen to random conversation and think about the swim.

I’m nervous. Scared. But I have a secret weapon. Last night I left a water bottle in the fridge and I plan to pour it on my face and down my back before jumping into the bay. I think the cold water will help me acclimatise before I plunge in.

But, I never get to check that theory. At 6:30am, just as we’re due to sail to the start, a man with a loudspeaker tells us to be quiet and to listen to the PA. The PA then tells us that there’s been a “small craft advisory warning “and that the “swim is cancelled“.

There’s a loud groan. A protest. We’re asked to leave the boat and it’s still not clear why.

People talk about refunds. About ditching the whole event. One man says he can’t run or ride a bike, the only reason he was here was for the swim. Others talk in foreign languages. People travelling around he world to be here. And the swim, the iconic swim from Alcatraz back to San Francisco is cancelled.

Now I know how Al Capone must have felt – there was no escape from Alcatraz today.

Later, I find out that the wind and current was too strong even for the safety boats. The small craft warning was a warning that the kayaks and paddle boards who marshal the swim would not cope with the conditions. And if it was too dangerous for the safety boats it was too dangerous for swimmers.

I’m disappointed. I’d travelled a quarter of the world to.be here but I know safety comes first. And, after seeing the bay later, with whitecaps heading east, rather than west, and with winds hitting 35mph, it was the right call.

We queue to get back on the buses. It takes nearly two hours to get everyone back to transition. We still don’t know what’s happening but announcements say that a bike run race will take place and details will follow.

I keep warm by staying in my dry wetsuit. I thought of pouring the frozen water on my head just so I can have the Alcatraz experience but that would have been a stupid idea.

At transition, the PA gives our just as the announcement of the new race is made: “Athletes, listen, this is an important announcement – you must –

We gather at the entrance instead as a loudspeaker is found. The organisers will send us out in waves. Pros first then by number, five at a time, every 10 seconds, to ensure people are spread out along the course just as they would be if they’d completed the swim.

I finally take off my wetsuit and get ready to… ESCAPE FROM TRANSITION!

Escape From Alcatraz – Preparation (Andrew)

“Have you got the key?” My wife asked.

“Yes,” I said, closing the door to the flat.

I patted my pocket.

Nothing.

“Wait a minute…”

I tried the door. It was locked.

“When I said I had the key…”

This was not how today was meant to begin.

This is our first full day in San Francisco, having arrived yesterday after a 15 hour journey from Glasgow that involved:

  • a plane full of Celtic fans dressed in green and white hoops heading for a supporter’s convention in Las Vegas – pool party sold out, according to the Facebook page I found, tickets for Wolftones all Irish rock songs night still available.
  • A plane switching directions as fast as you can say “Theresa May flip flop” in an incident we were told was just “wake turbulence” from a plane in front of us during our approach to Heathrow but felt like the start of a 360 degree flip.
  • And a triple bill of Sing, Get Out and The Lego Batman Movie. as I turned our Transatlantic flight into a movie marathon.

So, after crashing out soon after we arrived, today was our chance to explore the city and, after waking at 2am, then 3am, then getting up at 4am due to the jet lag, we were ready to pop out at 7am and get breakfast when the nearest shop opened.

“Are you taking your phone?”

“No, I wont need it.”

“Are you taking your wallet?”

“I’ve got cash.”

“Have you got the keys?”

“Of course!”

I didn’t.

It’s 7am. We’re trapped outside our flat and the only thing to do is to sit on a children’s swing outside and wonder if the ladder in the sculptor’s studio (don’t ask) next to our flat will extend to the first floor window we’d left open.

I can see myself reaching through the window, sliding in and opening the door.

I can seem myself getting shot by a policeman for breaking and entering.

I ditch the ladder plan.

I have a better plan!

We will use the cash to get a train to the city centre to find an Apple store with free internet access and computers ready to use (they say sell, but everyone knows an Apple store is just a pretentious internet café), send an email to our landlords for the week and get spare keys from them!

It was full proof. Except we didn’t know how to get a train or get to the city centre or find an Apple store.

But that’s what true grit is all about!

Bear Grylls would be proud!

So, using all our guile, guts and ingenuity we wondered the streets until we spotted a station, then wondered the city centre until we spotted some ‘posh shops’ then narrowed down our search to a few blocks on the basis that Apple always has a shop in the posh part of town.

Bear Grylls may follow rivers to find his escape, we followed the Gucci, Tiffanys and Luis Vutton.

I should really have my own show in which I show how luxury items can be used to help survive difficult locations – which, to be honest, is no different to Bear’s shows and his secret luxury caravan but at least I’d be honest about it.

So, five hours later, after a ride in a cable car and a Pain Au Chocolat in the world famous Tartine Bakery, after such hard, harsh, desperate struggles, we finally got back into our flat and I only hope that escaping from Alcatraz is easier than breaking into an AirBnB.

Etape Caledonia – Part 2 (Andrew)

The Etape Caledonia is an 81 mile closed road sportive around Tayside. It’s one of Scotland largest bike races with over 3,000 riders taking part each year. It’s not a race. The organisers make that very clear – it’s a sportive, which is French for “We Get Cheap Insurance If We Don’t Call This A Race”.

Of course, it is a race. It’s the annual test of Todd v Todd as Iain tries (and fails) to claim the triple crowns of Todd Of The Loch (the fastest Todd around Loch Tummel), Todd of The Mountain (the fastest Todd up the highest climb at Schiehallion) and, the big one, the Yellow Todd, the fastest Todd overall and first over the finish line.

Every year, I win all three. I’m not boasting. It’s a fact. Six Todd of The Loch facts. Six Todd of the Mountain facts. Six Yellow Todd facts. Eighteen definitely 100% not boasting rock solid title winning facts.

(Well, maybe I’m boasting a wee bit – but wouldn’t you with such an impressive palmarès – which is French for “Get It Right Up Ya, Losers, Look What I’ve Won!”).

This was our seventh time at the Etape and Iain was trying mind games before the race.

“I’ve got a secret weapon.” He said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?”

“If you’re secret doesn’t involve pedalling faster then it’s not going to help!”

But he had me worried. He was cycling far more than me. I’ve had to rely more on Turbo sessions than cycling outdoors. So, I thought there was a good chance he would win this year. I didn’t tell him that though instead I said:

“I don’t have a secret weapon. In fact I’m going to tell you exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to sit behind you until the very last mile then I’m going to overtake you.”

And every time he mentioned his secret weapon I’d tell him exactly the same thing except…

… I wasn’t going to do that at all. Instead I was planning to make a break as soon as the course flattened out at Loch Tummell.

In French, they call this Le Mind Game. I think. Did I mention I failed my French standard grade?

And I had a back up. I knew another rider who was starting in the same wave as us. Someone I knew was fast and who, last time they raced the Etape, completed it in just over four hours. I made sure we met him at the start and I then stuck to his wheel for the start of the race.

I had a domestique, which is French for “I Ain’t Going To Lose This So I Got Some Secret Help To Get Round”.

And the plan worked to perfection. We stuck together for the first 15 miles along gentle rolling road towards Kinloch Rannoch, before ‘dropping’ Iain just before the first feed stop.

Dropping is English for “See Ya Later, Loser!”.

After that I wanted to see how fast I could go. I had it my head that I might, with a fair wind, be able to beat four hours. In the end, my legs gave up before I did. There are two main climbs during the Etape. The first is at Schiehallion, a steady climb with some steep corners that comes as a shock to the system after 20 miles of flat roads; the second is three miles from the end, a very steep climb of less than 100 metres. My legs threw in the towel on the second climb and, after that, I knew my faint hope of getting in below four hours was over. I coasted the last few miles and rolled into Pitlochry for a time of four hours six minutes.

I then waited for Iain.

And waited.

And waited. 🙂

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(How my house might have looked that night)

Antonine Trail Race 2017 (Iain)

18527515_10155211882748162_4568199255582701328_nThe Antonine trail race is a 10K trail run on a beautiful but challenging course.

At the start line I bumped into someone I knew from the Glasgow Triathalon Club who’d done the race before.

He said to me: “Don’t start off too fast. It’s downhill to begin with but then you’ll have to come up Croy hill”

So, what did I do? I started fast. I then came to Croy hill. Fast became slow then slower then slower then…he passed me. Thankfully he resisted the urge to say “I told you so!”

The course was a great mix of hill running, forest tracks and some gravel trails. The volunteers were excellent. There was lots of encouragement and cheers from them. This was the only race briefing I’ve been to where everyone was specifically told to “high five the volunteers” I think most people did. The volunteers must have had sore hands by the end.

I was happy that I was able to run the whole course as it was very hilly. Some people walked the hills. That was a wise move as those people then passed me on the downhill sections! Note to self: practice running down hills just as much as going up.

The race is called Antonine because it passes along Antonine’s Wall. This was the furthest the Romans made it into Scotland. I prefer to recognize it from the book World War Z which is about a zombie apocalypse. The wall was the last line of defense in Great Britain against the zombies.

Thankfully I didn’t spot any on the night although my slow shuffle on Croy hill might have made people think I was one!

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