Book review: The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee (Andrew)

When is a sports book not a sports book? There is a pattern to sporting biographies. A couple of chapters on childhood. A spark or twist that sets the athlete on their sporting journey. Then a forensic minute by minute breakdown of their greatest achievement before either a hopeful look to the future for more medals/trophies  (current athletes) or a final “what a career I had!” for those who’ve retired. 

Most sports books are predictable and only really of interest to people who really love the sport that’s been written about. No one will pick up Geraint Thomas’s tour diary who doesn’t already know they want to read about how he decided on his gear selection for every stage of the Tour De France.

The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee is different, at least for most of it. Eamonn Magee was a Northern Irish boxer who was brought up in one of the harshest areas of Belfast during the Troubles. His biography is as much a story of what it was like to live beside nationalists and unionists and see a community defined by both. It’s also a story of a man who started drinking at nine years old and made a life of alcohol, drugs, violence, prison and chasing women – and, when his trainers could control him, boxing too.

The first half of the book is gripping. It explores what it was like for an angry alcoholic petty criminal to grow up in Belfast in the 80s and 90s. It shows the impact that the IRA could have and how one word from one well connected member could mean fleeing your home that night to live in London for a year. It sets Eamon’s life in context and it tries to explain how one boxer came to represent Northern Ireland for a brief few years as someone who could wear the Irish tricolour but still be loved by unionist fans.

And then, in the last third of the book, it begins a detailed round by round summary of Eamonn’s career. Which if boxing is your thing then I’m sure it’s great. But, as I don’t know my uppercut from a supercut, and couldn’t tell you if the author was describing a boxing match or a barbers, this section was a bit of a slog.

However, the rest of the book is recommended and provides a glimpse defined by trouble and Troubles.

You can buy the book here: Amazon

I Beat Carl Lewis (Andrew)

The road/track of dreams

I was 14 when I broke the 100m sprint world record by sprinting home in 9.5 seconds. I could have run faster. Conditions were tricky. We didn’t have a running track at our school so all sprints had to take place on the road in front of the school gates. A teacher would stand at the end of the road and stop the traffic to give us a minute to run clear before angry drivers would start to beep their horns.

Also, I was wearing Adidas Sambas, which were perfect for playing five a side football but had, as far as I know, never been Carl Lewis’s first choice to contest the Olympics. In fact, they wouldn’t have been his second or third choice either given he was a professional athlete with access to global brands and I needed a pair of trainers that would last from birthday to Christmas because I only had one pair of shoes. Sambas were versatile. (And smelly).

I must admit it was also windy. And wet. But this was Stornoway in the Western Isles and every day is windy and wet. But that only makes us run faster because everyone knows the cure to pneumonia is to outrun it.

Unfortunately, even with these impediments, and while I broke the Olympic record, I didn’t break our school record. That stood at 9.1 seconds and had been set about 10 metres earlier because I wasn’t the first to finish that day. I wasn’t even in the top three. I was sixth. I can only guess this is how Venus Williams must feel when she looks at her trophy cabinet, one of the most decorated in tennis, and then pops round to see her sister, Serena.

I was happy though. It’s not every day you beat the world record. Unless you’re Adam Peaty swimming the 200m breastroke and every time you break the world record is every time you go for a swim. Just imagine how fast he could be if learned how to swim the crawl?!?

Unfortunately, my record didn’t last long. A formal enquiry was launched, which is an elaborate way of saying Mr Dunlop, our PE teacher, scratched his head and said “This ain’t right!”

You’d have thought he was pleased, finding a generation of natural sprinters. But he called over our two fastest runners and asked them to run again, which they did, after we stopped the 44 bus and created a tailback all the way back to the Stornoway harbour.

They lined up. Standing start, none of the blocks nonsense that the professional use. How can you run faster if you have to get up first? If you’re already standing then you’re clearly going to have an advantage over someone kneeling down!

He blew his whistle and – they smashed it. 8.9 seconds. We were witnessing history. Some people say it’ll be another hunded years and at least four generations of evolution for mankind to ever run so fast – we did it twice in five minutes.

“Well, it’s not my stopwatch.” Said Mr Dunlop.

“Maybe, we’re just really fast.” I suggested.

He took one look at my Adidas Sambas and track bottoms – as I’d forgotten to bring shorts. Also I still had my glasses on because otherwise I’d never have managed to run in a straight line. And he knew that I knew that I had never shown any athletic ability what’s so ever and could only say:

“Right, either we’ve got a generation of Ben Johnson’s or one of you wee b******ds didn’t measure the course out correctly. Who’s got the metre stick.”

And with that grabbed the metre stick and meticulously laid it end to end 100 times along the road – only stopping four times to avoid being run over by passing traffic.

He came back.

“It’s only 80m – you can all run again!”

And that’s how I lost the world record after just five minutes. It turned out I never had it in the first place. But, for five minutes, I was ever so briefly, the fastest man on the planet, except for the five ahead of me, but they cheated so they don’t count.

Third Best on Strava (Iain)

In a previous blog titled “Second Best On Strava” Andrew wrote about a Strava segment in Stornoway where he was the second fastest person in the world.

It’s not the steepest or longest or hardest climb but it does provide a few minutes of running to take you to a vantage point over the whole of Stornoway and out to the mainland.

And for the last few years I’ve been trying to be the fastest to run up it. 

https://twinbikerun.com/2019/04/11/second-best-on-stava-andrew/

His ambition is to be the fastest in the world on that segment.

I was at home a few weeks ago. I ran the segment. A Todd is now the fastest in the world but it is not Andrew.

I told Andrew the good news. I’m now waiting for his blog titled “Third Best On Strava.”

Antonine Trail Race 2019 (Andrew)

This is the third time we’ve entered the Antonine Trail Race. You can read the previous reports, including race description, here (2017) and here (2018).

This year the challenge was to run faster and try and best two hours, a challenge made much harder by forgetting my watch. D’oh! It’s very hard to race against the clock when you forget the clock!

The race is well organised with a good t-shirt, an environmentally friendly water policy (bring your own bottle), decent grub at the finish and a route that provides a decent off road challenge along with some cracking views along the front of the Campsies. And, for those that love mud, it provides more mud than a tabloid journalist. Though I have to confess that most of that mud might have come from an unexpected detour.

“Do you know where we’re going?” I asked Iain.

“Yes,” he said, “there’s another runner up ahead.”

The only runner I could see was off to one side, through a bank of trees and running along what appeared to be a nice dry path. We were running in the middle of a field that could had so much water it could only be used to grow rice.

My foot disappears into the earth. Euuugh!

“Who are you following?” I ask.

“Him,” says Iain, pointing at man in the wood.

“That what are we doing running across a field!?”

“He must have taken the wrong way!”

Someone took the wrong way, and I don’t think it was the man in the wood!

A couple of miles later we see another man with a number on his chest run towards us.

“I went the wrong way,” he said, “took a little detour!”

Which just goes to show it can happen to anyone, and we weren’t the only ones to end up in the wrong place, however it was ever so slightly dispiriting to find that even with his detour he then overtook us and ran over the horizon. Lapped by someone going the wrong way, that’s a new first.

Despite that, we finished in under two hours and I was happy to finish with a new personal best.

Hebridean Way – Barra (Iain)

Barra is so beautiful it has the nickname Barradise. Unfortunately, today the weather was much like a Remainer’s view of the UK’s economic prospects after Brexit – bleak. Rain was battering the window and the wind was gusting to 40mph.

This was not good news for the cyclists. My wife’s sister does not like to ride a bike if the wind is gusting stronger than 30mph. When I saw her, she asked how windy it was. I did what any caring support crewmember would do. I lied. I told her it was windy but only 10 mph. I then added – it looks nice outside. It did not. It looked like the scene in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s house was blown away.

Wild Weather


The start point of the Hebridean Way is in Vattersay. Which is six miles from Castlebay along a one way road. Traffic can go both ways but I call it one-way because the only way back is the one-way I came.

Thankfully, the rain had stopped by the time we gathered outside the B & B to start the adventure. I took some photos to mark the occasion. My wife and her sister started cycling. The rain immediately restarted. The first 10 minutes of riding was so wet Noah would have taken it as a sign to gather animals on to his boat two by two. I could have ridden with them but instead I choose the warmth and comfort of my car.

It took 45 minutes to bike to the start. Only 15 minutes by warm dry car. I thought it would be busy at the start considering all the cyclists we had seen on the boat but there was no one there, except for one German man. He was standing at the start looking a little lost. I said hello but he ran away.

I took some more photos to mark the occasion. As you can see from the picture. I wore a wetsuit for the occasion. Which meant I was the only one suitably attired for the Hebridean rain. 

They headed off whilst I drove to the ferry terminal that would take us to the next island – Eriskay.

I had an hour to kill once I got there so I was able to ride my bike until they turned up.

The ferry to Eriskay takes 40 minutes. There was a nice café in the ferry terminal. I had a fruit scone. A dog jumped up and tried to scoff it. I shouted “NO!” to try to deter the beast but it didn’t stop. The dog’s owner turned to me and said “The dog won’t hear you. He’s deaf”

“How do you know he’s deaf?” I replied.

“I sneak up behind him and shout but the dog doesn’t notice.”. Which seems a harsh test. Imagine sneaking up behind people and shouting loudly. Anyone not deaf will die of fright!

On the ferry journey we spotted some dolphins. Which made me think that if Africa has the big five then the Hebrides should too. My suggestion is

  1. Dolphins
  2. Golden Eagle
  3. Eriskay Ponies
  4. Otters
  5. Seals

You would think there is less chance of death from meeting them than meeting the African big five but you would be wrong.

My wife crashed her bike when she spotted what she thought was a Golden Eagle. It wasn’t. She spent the rest of that day muttering about her sore leg and the face that “it was only a buzzard!”

Golden eagles are hard to spot. I know this because I once visited a RSPB hut. (Yes – I realise that last sentence is not very rock and roll but I am cool. Honest!)

In the hut bird-spotter’s record, in a book, what they have seen. One person had written “Golden Eagle” but next to it, someone else had written, “No you fucking didn’t”

Which proves Golden Eagles are hard to spot.

The Holiday Mile (Andrew)

I always take my trainers with me on holiday. I have this idea that I’ll go for a run when I’m away. That it’ll be a chance to explore a new city or town and get a fresh perspective of where I am. Yet, every time I come home, I find my trainers have reminded firmly in a well wrapped bag.

(The bag has to be well wrapped as trainers, well, there’s no,other way to say this, STINK. And the very last thing you want to do is place your trainers tightly in with all your fresh holiday clothes in a closed bag because soon everything will smell of your feet…eugh!)

This year I decided that there was no point planning a holiday run. I was going to be away for two weeks, I had to bring hiking boots and taking a pair of trainers too felt like I’d be using too much space for footwear I would only use for a few hours, if that.

And, if I didn’t take my trainers, I wouldn’t feel guilty about not going for a run. You can’t feel guilty if you can’t actually do something. Just like I don’t feel guilty about not going to the moon, painting a stunning landscape or eating beatroot (it’s purple – only bruises and dinosaurs are purple!).

But, when I started to pack I realised I would have space for trainers if I wore my hiking boots onto the plane. If I didn’t pack,them, but wore them instead, I’d free up both space and weight. And then I thought, why not take my trainers but instead of thinking I should go for a run I would only aim to cover a mile instead: The Holiday Mile. A simple goal, less than 10 minutes and it would meet my goal of seeing more than just a hotel in wherever we stayed but would also be short enough that it didn’t feel like an imposition during the holiday. It would be over and done before breakfast.

And, as it turned out, if I went out for that first mile, I would also carry on if I was enjoying it.

Perfect

So, here then are my Holiday Miles for Dubai and Uganda.

Dubai

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And all I can say is…

Don’t do it! I mean really, really don’t do it. I tried my holiday mile at the end of September when the temperature was 42 degrees and it was horrible. That’s not running, that’s cooking.

Also, I ran on the beach so I didn’t even use my trainers.

But apart from that, I was happy the Holiday Mile worked. I got out, I ran, And if I can do it on what felt like the surface of a barbecue then it can be done anywhere. Places like…

Kampala

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One worry when running abroad is what happens if you get lost. It’s easy to do, you don’t know the area and signs may either be in other languages, other alphabets or non-existant. You might decide not run just because you don’t know where you are. What if you’re ina bad area of town?

That was my worry in Kampala, in Uganda. It was my first time in Central Africa and I didn’t know where one neighbourhood starts and another ends. Each road was either dirt track or basic tarmac and we were staying next to Lake Victoria and open ground. Luckily, I’d brought my Garmin watch with me and was keen to try out a new feature – Trackback, which would give you directions back to the start of your run.

I hoped not to use it. I thought I’d have a good sense of direction and was marking street corners in my head as I ran but, when I turned round, I managed to miss two turnings and ended up at the top of a hill next to a school and with no memory of seeing it before. I knew I was lost. This wasn’t the way I had come. But I had Trackback.

I switched it on, my watch showed a small map of the route I’d ran and an arrow point telling which direction to go. It then beeped when I ran passed a road I should have ran down and it warned me every time I ran in the wrong direction. It was brilliant. And I’ll forgive Garmin their dodgy straps – see Challenge Roth Swim – just for this function.

And, even better, I’d actually run two miles. A double Holiday Mile.

Why not try the Holiday Mile the next time you go away?

A Triathlete’s Travel Guide – Automobiles (Andrew)

Whenever you enter a race you will need to travel. Unless you live by the ocean or a loch with enough space for a transition area then you’re going to plane, train our automobile it. Previously, I looked at planes – don’t fly! – and trains – don’t catch them! – and this week, the worst of them all… automobiles!

Some people may think a bike is the most important vehicle you need for a triathlon. But those people have, clearly, never tried to get a bike box into a hire car with umpteen suitcases and a boot that’s guaranteed to be one centimetre short of the length of your bike box – and the boot door won’t shut no matter how hard you press it down!!!

I collected one hire car from Geneva airpor. On the way to the rental car park, I had to get a minibus. Three other men were on it. Two friends from England, who were excitedly talking about all the Cols they were about to cycle, and Sir Clive Woodward, the former English World Cup winning manager.

The two guys got very excited when they spotted Sir Clive. They started asking him about the World Cup and then, once they ran out of stories about how they watched the final, they asked him for tips for improving their cycling. What could Sir Clive teach them about a winning mentality?

I didn’t ask anything. I have no interest in rugby so, apart from knowing vaguely who he was, I couldn’t think of anything to say to Sir Clive except “is a rugby ball just a squashed football or is it more complicated than that?!”

Once we left the mini-bus I thought I wouldn’t see the guys again but, as I collected my car, they were collecting their car in the next parking bay. Unfortunately, Sir Clive wasn’t there to help them as they hadn’t asked him the most important question of all about winning: how do you get two bike boxes into a tiny Renault Clio? Clearly, neither had thought to compare the bike box with the very small car they’d hired.

I thought of them again in Norway last year. We’d hired an estate for Norseman. Unfortunately, we also had three people to fit in the car too – and hadn’t thought to check how the third person would sit in the car if the back seat had to come down to fit the bike box.

A game of vehicular Tetris developed as we tried umpteen different angles to try and rotate and fit a bike box, three suitcases, three bags and three people into the estate while still keeping one seat up so that we didn’t have to crouch in the boot for a five hour drive to Eidfjord from Oslo.

In Roth, we came up with a better idea: we’d dismantle the bikes, as we tried to fit two bikes and four people into an SUV. This worked well until, after the race, we came back to the car and then had to spend the next hour on a dark street, using mobile phone torches for light, to pull together an impromptu workshop. It worked, everything fitted, but if you want to avoid any travel problems there’s really only one answer – always race at home!

So, I did.

Next week, the Hebridean Triathlon!

Devil O’ The Highlands – Part 3 (Iain)

67577532_2583083361736825_5999390484340932608_nThe number 666 is commonly associated with the Devil but did you know the number 33 is associated with God?

The reason why is because:

  • AMEN in numeric form is 1+13+5+14=33.33 degrees latitude and 33 degrees longitude is where angels are supposed to have fallen to earth. and 33 Celsius was the temperature on Saturday that caused me to shout “OH MY GOD! It is so hot!” 

This year The Devil O’The Highlands was aptly named because it was hot as hell.

Glencoe (CP3) to Kinlochleven (CP4)

Up until CP3 the the conditions were warm but bearable but as soon as I left Glencoe the clouds parted and the sun broke through. It got hotter and hotter as I approached the Devils Staircase. There was no wind to cool me down which made the climb tougher than usual.  At the top I was greeted there was a Devil handing out Jelly Babies. I took one. I may have sold my soul in the process. I’m not sure. I didn’t have a chance to check the terms and conditions for taking a sweetie. 67503001_2582997831745378_4241893929856794624_nFrom the top it was mostly downhill to Kinlcohleven. I enjoyed this section as the views were great and the running was easy although towards the end of the run I felt a slight pain in my left leg. I ignored it and hoped it would clear up once I was on flatter terrain. Just before the finish I heard someone sing “Woah, we’re half way there!” which worried me as i was sure we were two thirds of the way there. They than sang “Woah, livin’ on a prayer!”. Thankfully it wasn’t a runner proclaiming the distance but a walker playing Bon Jovi very loudly from a stereo strapped to his rucksack. He was walking with a few other folk who I hope all loved Bon Jovi too. 67922300_10156299200341196_6121587084210733056_nI reached Kinlchleven about twenty minutes slower than planned but I was happy to have got this far in good time.Only 15 miles to go!