Alloa Half Marathon (Iain)

When I think about what Glasgow is famous for, I think Billy Connolly. When I think of Edinburgh, I think Edinburgh Castle. Aberdeen? Oil! Inverness? The Highlands. Dundee? The Beano! Perth? Farming.  Alloa?…..Alloa?…..ummmm….I can’t think of interesting thing about Alloa.

I looked up Wikipedia to find out what Alloa is famous for and it states “some say Alloa is where the Forth ceases to be the River Forth and becomes the Firth of Forth“

First of all, that’s a really boring thing to be famous for and secondly “some say” is a meaningless phrase. How many people say? Is it one person? One hundred people? One thousand people?

I could write “some say Iain is the greatest gift to Scotland since Mr Barr invented Irn Bru” even though no one has said it except me! Its a phrase used when no-one can think of anything true to say.

I see it allot at what I call “maybe places.” These are places, usually historical, where every fact is a “maybe” or a “some say” or a “could have been” ie a sign next to a castle might read “Maybe this was the kitchen where some say the king could have dined nightly.”

I’d rather the sign said “We don’t know what this room is for. We could take a guess but it would be no more valid an opinion than anything you might come up with.”

In fact, I’d prefer historians to make up something much more interesting when they don’t know for sure – “This castle might have been used as a home for the King’s giraffe. Maybe he called the Giraffe Tall Paul and rode around on it as a symbol of his awesomeness.”

Alloa doe shave something to be be famous for. Its half marathon. This was my fourth time running it.  Its a great event because:

  1. The course is challenging but split into three interesting sections. The first 5 miles is an undulating run through Alloa and local towns with a great one mile downhill section. The next five miles is a flat straight run with great views of the Ochill hills. The last three miles has a wee hill but then its slightly downhill back into Alloa.
  2. They have the best race t-shirts in scotland. Every year has an interesting bright color.  This year was flame red but previous years have been  neon orange, fluorescent yellow and ultramarine blue.
  3. The finish is beside Asda. I can do the race and do my weekly shopping.

This years race was held later in the year than normal. It should have been in March but was delayed due to Snow. There was a big turnout of runners but it was definitely quieter than normal. Usually the road into Alloa is very busy before the race but this time I drove straight in without having to queue once

At the start, I noticed a sign saying headphones (or similar devices) were banned due to health and safety. As I was reading the sign I noticed a commotion at the front of the race – the giant inflatable hanging above the start line had collapsed. It was lucky no one was hurt. Next year they’ll have to amend the sign to say headphones and giant inflatable start lines are banned due to health and safety.

The race much like Alloa had no points of interest. I started, I ran, I finished.

Capture

PS – I eventually found one interesting thing about Alloa.

“Part of Clackmannan’s folklore is a story about Robert the Bruce. He lost a glove there while hunting. Ever the thrifty Scot, he sent his lieutenant back to find it. “Go to a path near Clackmannan village,” he instructed him, “and look aboot ye.” The road is called Lookabootye Brae to this day”

The Almost True Story of Maurice Wilson (Andrew)

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Before Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing climbed Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain, a cross-dressing shoe salesman from Bradford reached the top before them. This is the little known* story of that salesman – Maurice Wilson – and how he swapped high heels for hiking boots and back again.

In the 1930’s, Maurice Wilson had a dream. In a world bruised and battered by the Great Depression Maurice believed a single man, with faith in the Lord, could achieve anything.

That meant, despite working in a woman’s shoe shop in Bradford, despite never visiting the Himalayas, Tibet, Nepal or even Asia, Maurice believed he could reach for the stars. Literally. He would climb the unclimbable – he would climb Mt Everest – and touch the sky itself.

But first, as a warm up, he went hill walking in Wales, which, like Mt Everest, is cold and inhospitable (especially Cardiff) but nothing to match the conditions of Everest itself.

To put his training into perspective, climbing Mt Snowden to prepare for Everest was a bit like jumping in a paddling pool to swim the Atlantic. Or closing the curtains and jumping up and down in a darkened room to walk on the moon. It was simply not enough – and Maurice knew that… so he went hiking in the Lake District too.

Nothing prepares you for sub-zero conditions like an ice cream cone on the banks of Lake Windermere.

In short, to prepare for a climb that many thought impossible, Maurice did two of the three peaks in the ‘Three Peaks Challenge’. But he didn’t do them in 24 hours. Nor did he climb Ben Nevis, presumably because it was too big and far away.

But, despite being outclimbed by Dave from IT and Maureen from Accounting in your office’s annual fundraising challenge, Maurice could not be stopped. He would climb Mt Everest!

Because Maurice had a plan. A cunning plan. He would climb Mt Everest by… NOT climbing Mt Everest!

Instead he’d fly a plane and crash into the top of Everest,  pop out of the wreck, jog to the summit and claim the mountain for Blighty!

Genius.

Except for one small problem: he didn’t know how to fly.

Undeterred, he took flying lessons. Big mistake. His instructors refused to pass Maurice as they thought his flying was so bad he would kill himself during take off.

But that didn’t stop Maurice. Maurice had a dream, and he believed that dreams were there to be followed.

So, in 1933 he took off for Everest. And the take off was a success, if success is judged by escaping with his life after he immediately crashed. It was not a success. However, a second attempt followed…

Three weeks later, Maurice took off again. And this time, he travelled across Europe and the Middle East in a tiny Tiger Moth plane he christened ‘Ever Wrest’.

Despite the British Government’s efforts to either hinder him (by contacting airports to ask them to refuse to give Maurice fuel) or save him from himself, Maurice made it to Nepal, who immediately hailed our intrepid hero, wished him all the best, and, while his back was turned, confiscated his plane to stop him crashing into their holy mountain.

But Maurice could not be stopped. Despite guards barring his way, and despite not having a plane, he and two Sherpas sneaked into Nepal disguised as Buddhist monks.

According to his diary, Maurice, reached Everest one month later. Also, according to his diary, he would have got there faster, but he kept getting lost on the way.

History does not record whether Maurice had ever learnt to use a compass.

On May 15 1934, Maurice arrived at Everest. It was, as he suspected, remarkably like Snowden. Except 10 times bigger, 10 times colder, and without a steam train that takes pensioners all the way to the top.

But without a plane it was time for Plan B. Maurice would climb Everest singlehandedly.

This was not a success.

With no experience of climbing, no equipment, no clue what he was letting himself into, Maurice lasted five days before he had to turn back to base camp. In his diary Maurice wrote:

It’s the weather that’s beaten me – what damned bad luck!

But that didn’t stop Maurice. He tried a second time, and this time he made his way through faith, prayer and fasting almost all the way to the top until he was stopped by an ice wall that he couldn’t climb because, despite all his preparation, he had never learnt to use a rope.

And there he died. In a lonely tent at the foot of the wall, overcome by the cold, having failed to conquer Everest.

Or that’s what most folk think.

Here’s the thing.

A couple of years ago, a Chinese expedition reported finding, just below the summit of Everest, a single high heeled women’s shoe. No-one could explain it. Chris Bonnington’s not known for his fondness for a patent leather pump, unless that pump inflated a belay bed at 30,000 feet.

Maurice on the other hand (or other foot) was different. It turned out that some nights former shoe salesman Maurice liked to be known as Maureen. And Maureen liked ladies shoes. And in his/her bag, in his/her tent at the base of the wall, Maureen nee Maurice had packed a floral dress.

So, how did the shoe get to the top of Everest? Could Maurice have reached the tip of the world in his high heels and floral dress? Did he use his stilettos as make shift ice axes to climb the Hilary step? Could he have reached the summit twenty years before any other man and have died on the way back down, and not on the way up, as many believe?

I’d like to think so.

One day, when temperatures rise and the top melts, we’ll find that shoe’s twin. A single high heel planted on the summit confirming that the first man on Everest with a woman’s name was not Hilary but… Maureen.

*And possibly, almost, nearly true. Kind of.

It’s a game of two sick parrots (Andrew)

“Does anyone want to play football? Eleven a-side. You don’t need to play, you just need to be able to run.”

My first thought was “No!” and my second thought was “Hell NO!!!” because full fat football, the eleven a-side version, is horrible.

First, you have to have a position. A position that says where you should be, who you should mark, when you should run and when you should defend. Which sound easy. If you’re a left side defender you should be on the left side of pitch. However, you might think that’s where you should be, everyone else in your team will shout “FFS! You’re out of position again!” To everyone else, you couldn’t be more out of position if you were a dyslexic reading the Karma Sutra.

Because here’s the thing. In every eleven a-side game there’s at least one, if not half a dozen players, who think they have the motivational skills of Sir Alex Ferguson. Not in the inspire you to victory and to give your all until the very last minute type way. More in a “I will *****ing kill you, you *****ing **** if you ******ing don’t get *****ing back in *****ing position” type motivational speech way.

Playing eleven a-side football turns some people into tyrants. Usually Dave from IT, the one you least suspect of Hulking out as he never says a word to anyone, just sends email that you delete without reading because you know he’ll be talking about the server again.

It could be worse though. You could volunteer to play and you hear language that no one should ever hear. Words that would terrify Rambo and make The Rock cower in fear. Those words: “Barry’s not turned up, can you go in goals?”

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Made Up Movie Monkeys (Andrew)

Hello. My name is Andrew Todd and I’m a hypochondriac.

Some people have a cough. I don’t. I have lung cancer.

Some people have a twitch. I don’t. I have sclerosis, sclerosis, sclerosis, scleroris, also called multiple scleroris.

Some people have nothing at all. I don’t. I always have something. I’ve even had Motaba, the fictional disease from the film Outbreak, because I’m a hypochondriac, and I don’t let fiction stop me catching a made up disease from a made up movie monkey.

Hypochondria messes with your mind. Not just in the obvious ways. The thinking you’re ill when you’re not type ways. Hypochondria makes me jealous of those who are genuinely ill – at least they know what they have. I don’t. Not until I’ve checked NHS Direct, WebMD and the ‘TellItToMeStraightDocAmIDying?’ internet forum where GPBobaFett357 confirms that “Yes, tiredness and heavy eyelids immediately after waking up first thing in the morning is definitely caused by… sleep tumours. Deadly, deadly sleep tumours!”.

It’s ridiculous.

I even feel jealous of people who are genuinely ill because at least they know they can be cured. There’s no cure for hypochondria. Even if there was, I’d just catch something else. Like the Black Death, which I’ve also had. It’s remarkably similar to the common cold. If only Dark Age doctors had prescribed two paracetamol, a cup of Lemsip and a Netflix subscription, they could have avoided a global pandemic. It worked for me, it would have worked for them.

Every headache’s a brain tumour. Every tremor a sign of Parkinsons. My nose bleeds will never end. I know my response is neither rational nor sane, I know that. But, while everyone is aware, on some level, of their body clock counting down the days, my body clock is bloody Big Ben. Every hour on the hour: “DOOM! DOOM! DOOM! DOOM!”.

DOOM! That brown mole is… the start of skin cancer! DOOM! That white spot is… a leprous pox! DOOM! That red itch… is viral meningitis!

I should see a doctor. But I don’t trust doctors. How can you trust someone who gave dyslexics such a hard word to spell? Or stutterers and stammerers such hard words to say?

Doctors don’t even know any medicine anymore. Last time I went to my doctor, all he did was check Google. To book a holiday. Do you know how much that hurt? To be ignored by a man who has sworn the Hippocratic oath. Especially when I had cerebral palsy. Again!

Hypochondria’s not even a cool mental illness. We don’t get to wear a black bin bag and get off with her-from-The-Hunger-Games like Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook. Ironically, for an illness that’s all about being ill, we don’t even consider it a proper illness. Hypochondria’s other name is ‘Man Up Syndrome’.

“I think I might have bird flu because a seagull shat on my head.”

“Man up!”

“I think I might have brain parasites because I fell asleep watching Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan and they crawl in your ear while you sleep you know.”

“Man up!”

“I think I might have scurvy because I don’t like bananas.”

“MAN UP!”

But I can’t help it. I can’t choose my mental illness. I can’t pick nymphomania, kleptomania,  Wrestlemania or Romania (research note to self – double check these last two are proper manias).

If I had a choice I’d choose nice mental illnesses. Something like Foreign Accent Syndrome – “I am lookin’ for ze Madonna wiv ze big boobies!” or the Cotard Delusion, also called the Zombie Delusion – “I’m a zombie and I want BRAINS!” – or, my favourite, Tourette’s Syndrome, which is 50% genuine mental illness and, I believe, 50% opportunistic heckling.

 

And the strange thing about hypochondria is how predictable it is. There are tens of thousands of illnesses yet hypochondria acts like there’s just three. The big three. Cancer. Cardiac Arrest. Athlete’s foot. Imagine going to a garage that acted like every emergency was the worst possible thing that could happen to you.

“Hi, I’ve think I’ve got a flat tyre – can you take a look at it?”

“No need. I can see the problem from here.”

“Oh, is it the tyre,  it looks lower than the other three?”

“No. It’s definitely exhaust pipe AIDS.”

“Are you sure? The exhaust pipe isn’t connected to the wheels.”

“Sorry mate, and your tyres have athletes foot. If I were you I would just curl up in a ball and cry yourself to sleep just like you do every single night.”

“Oh, imaginary mechanic, you know me so well!”

It’s the lack of variety in hypochondria that makes me watch every medical drama on telly. Many hypochondriacs avoid all medical information because it makes them more anxious. “Got that! Got that! Got that too! Oh God, I’m going to die!”

But, when my Big Ben strikes DOOM I don’t want what everyone else had, I want to be unique, I want to be the world’s first hypochondriac hipster.

DOOM!

“Is this brown mole skin cancer? No, it’s malignant hyperpigmentation – it’s the next big thing!”

DOOM!

“This white spot? Leprosy? Do I look like Jesus? Yes, I know I’m wearing sandals, I am a hipster, but that spot is clearly Denghe Fever which I caught after watching a Discovery Channel programme about rafting in the Congo.”

If hypochondria is all in my head, then I want my head to be bloody brilliant at picking fictional diseases.

But’s that’s the problem, isn’t it? It all in our heads.

Hypochondria is something that no one can see. People think I must be making it up. It’s a mental illness and we’re not good with mental illness. We don’t even have it in the Paralympics – and they’ve got blind people playing basketball: how mental is that?!

I have this theory. In the hierarchy of illnesses you get one point for a losing a limb, two points for a coma and three points from any disease that would actually get people to respond to an office wide email for a charity challenge. The mentally ill get minus one point. Hypochondria minus two.

We don’t get sympathy. All the mentally ill get is a straight jacket and a padded cell because, you know, it really help the mentally ill to have their arms strapped together so they can’t protect their delicate brains when they ricochet off the walls in an all-white padded bouncy castle/loony bin. Yes, we protect the mentally ill by making it impossible for them to protect their brains. I told you, Doctors are pricks.

Well, I say fek that. It’s time for me to “Man up!”. Yes, “MAN UP!”

My hypochondria’s an illness: as destructive as cancer, as strong as AIDS, as difficult to cure as athletes foot. I’ve don’t need to be ashamed. I have a big boy sickness. A proper disease. Just like Spanish flu, syphilis, scarlet fever and, my current illness, the all consuming rage virus from 21 Days Later*. Which I’ve also had, because, as I told you, I don’t let fiction stop me catching a made up disease from made up movie monkeys!

Say it loud. Say it with me. Say it proud “My name is Andrew Todd and I am a hypochondriac

*Though I might just have had the cold and that’s why I wasn’t training last week.

 

Tenerife (Iain)

In front of me a large man, with a massive beer belly, is rubbing sun tan lotion onto his naked upper body and face. I can barely see his skin due to how thick the white lotion is covering him.

This is a weird day.

I’m sitting on a fake concrete beach in a water park in Tenerife. A giant plastic elephant is staring at me and five minutes previously I’d screamed my way down a water slide at 80 km per hour. Quite frankly, the day couldn’t get any weirder. It did.

The fat fake albino turns to a young child, who I assume is his son. The dad raises both hands up and does a a grasping motion whilst shouting loudly “Grrrrrrrrrrr! Grrrrrrrr! Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

The dad then stomps around in a circle.

“Son – What am I?”

A mentalist? I thought.

The son stares blankly at the dad. The dad opens and closes his hands. He shouts louder “GRRRR! Grrrrrrr! GrrrrrrRRr! Son – What am I?”

The dads big fake white belly, fake white arms and fake white face where all starting to drip whiteness all over the floor.

“Dad – I don’t know!”

The dad continues stomping round in a circle. “Grrr! Grrrrrr!” The dad opens and closes his hands in a animistic grasping motion.

“SON! What am I?”

The son is nearly in tears “Dad! I don’t know….I don’t know!”

The huge white belly busting beast stops stomping around. He lowers his hands.

“For fucks sake son. I’m a polar bear. A frigging polar bear!”

The son looked at his dad. He though for a second and said “Polar bears live in the Arctic. It’s cold there. The bear wouldn’t go grrrrrrr it would go brrrrrr!”

I admired his logic!

Training on Christmas Day (Andrew)

If you’re buying a Christmas present then people say it’s the thought that counts. Which is true,  unless that thought is “this’ll do!” – then you need to think again.

A couple of years ago, at the office Christmas party I was given a book called “Hitler: His Rise To Power” as a Secret Santa present. Given I had neither expressed any previous interest in history, World War 2 or proclaimed to my colleagues that I was going to extend my desk by annexing a break out room I could only think this was some kind of message.

I started wondering if I’d displayed any Hitler like tendencies in the office and I had to admit that after some considerable soul searching and reflection of my despotic moments  I WAS NOTHING LIKE HITLER!!!! 🙂

It was only later I found out the book had come from someone who’d heard I liked reading and they had a book on their bookshelf they’d never read because THEY DIDN’T LIKE HITLER TOO!

Top tip for Christmas – if giving Hitler as a gift please make sure the recipient really, really likes Hitler first. You might be surprised at how many people don’t want Hitler as a Christmas present. (Most of them).

But Christmas isn’t just about presents. It’s also about training because nothing says “I’m a serious athlete” than training on Christmas Day! And nothing says I’m not a serious athlete than eating your weight in chocolate because “I’ve been for a run, you know!”.

Going for a run on Christmas Day is the worst day for going for a run. The 200 calories are then quashed by the 20000 calories consumed as eating’s not cheating when you’ve been sprinting!

Despite it’s lack of any physical benefits, the Christmas Day run is a good mental boost. For the last 15 years I’ve been running on Christmas Day because I remembered a quote from Daley Thomson, the Olympic gold medal winning decathlete. He said he would always train on Christmas Day because he knew his main rivals would all take the day off. He was one day better than anyone else.

So, I’d run on Christmas Day and would then be one day better than everyone else.

But, in researching this post (yes, there’s research!), I found the actual quote from Daley Thomson and it turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong. He actually said:

“Train twice on Christmas Day. Your competitors may only train once…!

Nooooooo!!!!!

Not only  have I not been better than any competitor I’ve been worse because I had two boxes of Quality Street too!

Nooooooo!!!!

No wonder I’ve never the Olympics!

 

Burness Gran Fondo (Andrew)

I’m not competitive. I don’t feel the need to win nor do I hate losing. I like ‘taking part’.

But…

Sometimes…

I just can’t help myself.

I have to win!

But never do.

(‘Cause I’m not very good.)

Earlier this month I was taking part in a corporate bike ride. A cycle round Aberfoyle and Loch Katrine in the Trossachs. It’s a cracking route and it was a good crisp clear September day.

This wasn’t a race. Everyone taking part was separated into groups of 12 and each group rode as one with a ‘pro’ leading it to keep everyone together and safe.

It was a good set up and promised to be a good day when, after five miles, we started to climb the Dukes Pass – a steep sharp twisting climb of a mile and half. And the ‘pro’ said “Just go at your own pace”.

So I did. And it was faster than the group I was with, and faster than the group in front, and then my competitive instinct kicked in and I thought “I’ll be the first up this hill!”.

Except I wasn’t.

Because when your competitive instinct kicks in there’s also something else that happens: somebody else’s competitive instinct kicks in too! It’s contagious – and deadly. At least for me because, as I said, I’m not that good.

200 metres from the summit the first man passed me. 100 metres from the summit the second man passed me. I wasn’t first. I wasn’t second. I was third to the summit in a race that probably consisted of three men because everyone else, quite sensibly, was just enjoying the ride and going up at their own pace. I was therefore last to the summit.

But, later, first to the café stop. Now that’s a competition worth winning!

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