At my workplace, I sit next to a Dutchman. Last Friday, he
asked me what my plans for the weekend were. I told him I was going to a Wim
Hof Method workshop.
Wim is also Dutch. His nickname is The Iceman because of his
ability to endure cold conditions. He has swam under the ice at the North Pole,
he can sit in ice baths for 90 minutes and he ran a marathon in the Arctic Circle
shirtless and shoeless. I assumed he must be very famous in Holland.
My colleague looked at me and said “Wim who????”
Wim needs to work harder on his Dutch PR.
My colleague then asked what the Wim Hof Method is?
“If I knew what his method was I wouldn’t be going on the course!” I replied.
#spoileralert (Don’t read on if you don’t want the method spoiled)
The Wim Hof Method can be summed up as “remember to breathe when you go experience cold conditions. Also try to go in cold conditions regularly”.
It was a fun class and I took away a lot of information about breathing correctly. Which is more than can be said for one attendee who, when told to breath calmly and gently, exhaled his breath so violently through his nose it was like a volcanic eruption of snot and air.
Despite the instructor reminding everyone to breathe calmly,
the volcano continued his overly enthusiastic eruptions. I think he was trying
to impress his partner who was also attending the course. Like a gorilla in the
jungle marking their territory by huffing, puffing, and bashing their chest he
was making sure she knew he was the manliest breather in the room.
When it came to the exposure to the cold we had to swim in skins in the North Sea. Unsurprisingly Wim Kong – the breathing gorilla was first to run in. I hope, like a gorilla, he didn’t piss in the water to mark his territory!
Ease of Access: Portabello is close to Edinburgh. Parking near the beach can be tricky but normally a space can be found in a side street
Water quality: Murky. I was once told that it was a beach best to avoid for swimming due to nearby sewage pipers. I don’t know whether that is true or not but its always put me off.
Swim Quality: Cold. Water temperature was 12.2. I managed 10 minutes of skin swimming (without a cap) There wasn’t anywhere to swim to so I just swam aimlessly and admired the view of the town.
Other People: Even on a cold, grey, dreich day the beach was busy with walkers and dogs.
Would I go back: No. I’d rather travel a bit further and go to the beaches in East Lothian. They are sandier and more enjoyable to be at.
An episode of the channel 4 house hunting program “Location, Location, Location” featured a flat in Glasgow that was described as a desirable two bed home, in a quiet neighborhood, with stunning views across the city.
I recognized the flat because I lived around the corner from it. The flat was not at all desirable. It was next to a very busy noisy road and the only view out the window was of MacDonald’s drive in restaurant.
The flats location is on Crow Road. So when I heard cyclists say they were off to cycle Crow Road this is where I thought they were going. I couldn’t understand why they said the climb took them 30 minutes. I could walk it in 5. Maybe they stopped for a MacDonald’s McFlurry?
It was only once I got a road bike that I discovered the other Crow Road was on the outskirts of Glasgow in Lennoxtown.
The first time I saw it I didn’t think it looked too hard. Little did I know that from below I could only see half of the climb. The first section up to a car park. Then there is a big right turn over the hill.
One year I decided I was going to be the quickest man up Crow Road. Now this is quite a challenge because allot of good cyclist use the climb for training. The Scottish Tour De France Cyclist David Miller used to ride a dozen reps of it as training in preparation for the Tour.
So my choice was either train hard and smash it or be smart!
I choose to be smart. So one new years day I got up early and became the first man up the Crow that year. Which also meant I was the fastest that year….as long as I didn’t check Strava again for 12 months.
Its not a steep climb. I’d describe it as steady. Although when the wind is in the wrong direction it can be a bit of slog!
Great views on both sides of the Campsie hills. Ona clear day you can see for miles around.
Its normally a quiet road. Especially on Sunday mornings or weekday evenings.
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. Last week, I looked at planes – don’t fly! – and this week, I look at what you need to know about catching the train…
The problem with traveling by train is that the train has other people. Adults talking; babies squalling; lads drinking; mobile phones blaring; laptops glaring. It doesn’t matter what carriage you get, or how long you travel, there is one thing guaranteed: you will always be sat near a knob – and it’s time we told them to shut the hell up!
But we have a problem. We may want to tell the dick on the train* that they are being a dick, but we are scared that if we tell them to shut up we will ourselves become… the dick on the train.
Psychologically, you have become victim of a ‘double dicking’ i.e. by telling a knob to shut up you become twice as big a knob.
Double dicking in action
“Did you see what that man did, Mummy?”
“Yes, dear, he tried to stop those nice young lads chanting a catchy song about their rival football team’s sexuality, that we were all secretly rather enjoying.”
“What a dick!”
“Exactly, dear, let’s glower at him to show our disapproval!”
What can we do?
We need an anonymous way to inform the dick on the train that we are watching them – and we don’t approve!
We need… a dicklight!
It’s simple. Every seat will have a large blue light. Every other seat will have the power to switch on that light remotely from a special keypad.
This may be expensive to install in every seat but, trust me, it’ll be worth it.
Once the dicklight is installed, if you act like a dick in seat 45, the passenger in seat 78 can just just switch on your dicklight and the spotlight of shame will shine upon you!
Dicklight version 2.0
But, what if the dick doesn’t know why they are being a dick? What if you just want to tell them to nip to the loo and have a wash under theirs arms to get rid of their bad B.O.? Sometimes dicks smell.
Simple – along with the dicklight we have dick text – an anonymous inter seat texting service. Shine a light and send them a message: “You smell!”
And, if you see a pretty lady, why not try dickflirt?
The only thing trains won’t have is dick flashing, because that sounds dirty, and children will just giggle.
A true story
Now, if Scotrail had introduced the dicklight two weeks ago, I would not have had to suffer silently when I saw, through a gap in the seats in front of me, a middle aged man watching pornography on his laptop. Sweaty hardcore pornography.
I could have switched on his dicklight! I could have sent him a dicktext! Because just as I caught a glimpse of a XXX double dicking, he switched it off!
And then he put on Mrs Brown’s Boys!
What a dick.
Don’t leave your house!
*The dick on the train is a distant cousin of Jasper Carrot’s nutter on the bus
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 have plane, train our automobile it. Over the next three weeks I’m going to share my thoughts on travel...
I used to be scared of flying. Really scared. The kind of fear that makes you think twice about going to the airport. It was irrational. It was stupid. And I needed to find a cure so I checked out a website which explained in forensic detail the purpose of every single knob, button, indicator and screen in the cockpit. Knowledge is power.
The website was meant to reassure the nervous flyer. Failsafes knobs catching failsafes buttons catching failsafe indicators showing on failsafe screens. A pilot would need to be dead, dumb and blind not to know something was going wrong – and every button would have to fail before you ran out of buttons that could save you.
And, as yet another failsafe, you can be confident that your pilot is alive and is not dead, dumb and blind because they definitely test for that in pilot school. In fact, pretty much every airline insists on all of their pilots having eyes, mouths and ears. It’s not the law though, so, just as a precaution, before boarding a Ryanair flight, I’d check if the cockpit contains a kennel, just in case the pilot needs a spot for their dog.
And with this basic check complete, you can be confident that there are over 200 knobs, buttons, indicators and screens making sure we don’t fall from the sky. Who couldn’t be impressed by all the measures in place to ensure we can fly safety while eating a free bag of nuts? It was a revelation. It cured my fear of flying because, after checking out the site I realised one simple thing – NO MAN CAN REMEMBER ALL THOSE BUTTONS! THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THEM?!!! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE. HE’D NEED TO BE MR MEMORY! AND WHAT IF HE CAN’T GET THE INTERNET WHEN HE’S FLYING THE PLANE? IN FACT, HE SHOULDN’T BE CHECKING THE INTERNET WHEN FLYING! HIS PHONE SHOULD BE ON FLIGHT SAFE MODE!!!! OH GOD, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!
And that’s why I no longer fear flying because under no circumstances will I ever get on a plane again.
This was the fourth edition of the Hebridean Triathlon – the most remote triathlon in the UK. It’s as far north and west as you can go in the UK before you reach Canada.
It’s also the best value race as it’s only £30 to enter. £10 for each event is a bargain.
The swim course was two laps of a triangular course. Each side of the triangle was approximately 250m.
I was glad I’d gone to check the course the previous day because it was in a different loch than where I thought.
There were three large buoys in the loch the day before but only two on the day. One had run away during the night, nobody was sure how it had managed to come loose but thankfully it was found, in a local field.
The water was warm (19C) and there was no wind. It was perfect conditions for a swim.
I have done a lot of swimming this year so I was confident of a decent time. The race started. I headed straight to the first marker but about half way to it I looked left and spotted a number of swimmers. They seemed to be taking a scenic indirect route or I was lost.
I like to think that one of my outdoor swimming strengths is my sighting. I usually manage to swim in straight line but I started to doubt my line as I watched so many of them do a Jermey Corbyn – embrace the left wing!
I stopped, I took off my goggles and double checked I was actually heading to the correct marker. I believed that I was so I continued in a straight line. Afterwards a few also mentioned this scenic route swimming but nobody had an explanation why it had happened.
After the first marker I was mostly by myself but occasionally I’d see another man. He was a good swimmer but his sighting was very erratic. One minute I’d spot him way off to my left and the next he’d be way off to my right.
Despite his wayward route we finished at the same time. I checked Strava afterwards. He swam 250m further than I did. Which shows what a difference bad sighting makes.
The bike route is an out and back undulating route to the Callanish Stones. Normally a fierce wind either blows you there or back. One year it took 60 minutes to do the out but only 30 minutes to do the back.
I haven’t done much biking recently so I took my TT bike to the race. My thinking was that I might be slow but at least it won’t be the bikes fault.
Within a mile of starting I was passed by a man on an old battered bike. As he passed he said “I don’t think my gears work!”
Which shows you don’t need a good bike when you’re a good biker. He raced off away from me.
Towards the end of the bike leg I spotted a man with a puncture. I thought about keeping going, as stopping would effect my finishing position, but I decided that would be bad karma. I’d hate to be stuck on the side off the road and have people bike by me.
We tried to fix his puncture but, unfortunately we weren’t able to do it, despite using three different inner tubes and having more than one person try to fix it.
After the third tube exploded I called it a day and continued on. Despite losing positions Andrew hadn’t passed. I was happy to carry on knowing I was ahead of him.
The run starts by going straight up a small hill. I started running and immediately felt very heavy. My first thought was I must have eaten too much whilst spending the previous week at my parents home eating my mum’s baking.
I then realised it was because my back pockets were full of the spare parts from the puncture repair. Broken tubes! CO2 canisters and tools. D’OH!
I had to run a mile before I spotted a bin I could put it all in.
I’d ran a lot during the week, which meant my running motivation/energy was very low. I aimed to run 5K and then evaluate from there how fast/slow to do the last 5k.
The course was tough – hilly and wet. The rain had started just after I’d left transition. After 5k I decided my legs didn’t have anything in them so I walked a little bit on the way back.
I kept an eye out behind me to ensure Andrew wouldn’t catch up.
I collected my medal and a change of clothes and headed to the changing rooms. I was happy to be ‘Top Todd’. I opened the door to the changing rooms and Andrew was there! Already changed!
Feck. He’d gone past me when I was changing the tyre but I hadn’t seen him.
He was happy because he was fourth.
Double feck. If I hadn’t stopped I’d have been fourth!
I wanted to wear the shirt of shame. Iain’s Norseman run top from last year, the run I didn’t manage to complete myself two year’s earlier. It would remind me to keep going. To complete this.
But first I needed to ask someone the time.
After a quick change in transition, as one volunteer takes your bike and racks it, another volunteer helps you find your bag and help you unpack your run kit and pack it again with your cycle kit.
As soon as I left transition I asked another competitor if they had the time. 1540, they said. Excellent, I thought, I had been aiming to start between 4 and 5pm so this was a bonus to be out so early.
I also felt good. Legs were fine and I didn’t have any of the feeling of trying to adjust from cycling fast to plodding along and wondering why I was no longer moving as fast as I’d been 10 minutes earlier.
My plan was to run to 10k, then walk a bit then run as much as I could until the half way point.
(Also my plan was to work out how many kilometres there were in a marathon as I’d been relying on my watch to tell me and I’d never checked the metric equivalent of 26 miles – for half the race I thought I was running 44 kilometres as I’d miscounted).
My plan didn’t last long though – it lasted until 2km when I saw Iain. He had a Twix. I almost gave in. I almost ate it but I thought – be good, keep going, you don’t need this!
Then 2 km down the road as we started to run down the canal I thought. “I want a Twix!!!!”
On the canal, you run south for around 4 kilometres, then north by around 10 kilometres then back south again by 6 kilometres. A long straight flat course along the banks of the canal and over white, light, dirt trails.
Every kilometre is signposted. Every two kilometres, if not sooner, has a feed station. At this point I switched to a run/walk strategy.
I played the Dariusz Dziekanowski* game. Along the bank are green and white poles and I would run between them and then walk for a minute then run to the next pole again.
(A Polish Celtic player. Geddit?)
I would also stop at every feedstop and have a bite of something and a cup of something. At first, just water, electrolyte drinks and a pretzel, then, as the feed stops got more elaborate, a choice of:
Cups of salt water
Slices of bread with liver pate!!!
This was less of food stop and more a Continental cafe.
To keep us going on the canal, there was a band playing rock covers. Stripped to the waist, the middle aged singer was belting out Highway To Hell…
Who said the Germans don’t like a laugh?!
As the canal section finished, and the second half of the race began, I knew that there was still one thing missing. Luckily, I saw Iain again and he had…
The second half of the course is hillier, I walked more, and you could see my time per kilometre drop by minutes from the start of the run. I didn’t mind. I’d never trained to run a marathon, I trained to run a half marathon and then take however long it might take to complete the rest.
The second half takes you back through Roth and along the main streets. Pubs blared music – more AC/DC – people cheered and the atmosphere is fantastic.
Until you get to 10 kilometres to go and you realise there’s a long, long hill to climb before you return to the finish line.
I didn’t run at all on the hill. Instead, I’d picked up my phone from Iain, along with the Twix, and listened to a Podcast interview with the comedian Lee Mack. Headphones are allowed on the run course at Roth so this was a welcome change after hours with no conversation.
At the end of the hill, there’s a great turning point around a pond, with flags and posters designed by school kids. One of the last posters was of the Scottish flag so I tapped it for good luck and began the final plod back to the finish. This time, going downhill. I could start running again, and I was able to keep a good pace back round to the finish where I met Iain. He said that he could run in with me, which was great, as I didn’t know you could be accompanied.
I now had a second wind (or fourteenth wind after hours of swimming, cycling and running) and was able to jog to the finish line.
The stadium was noisy, chaotic and, while I kept thinking I needed to make sure I had a decent finishing photo I also now had my time and saw that I could finish below 14 hours if I could finish within the next few minutes.
Across the line, a medal and then a quick trip to the finisher’s tent to get changed and back out to meet everyone else. On my way out I checked my final time and found out, without my watch, I’d got my times completely wrong, I hadn’t been running to finish within 14 hours, instead it was 12 hours 53 minutes.
I didn’t mind losing my watch for that! Well, almost!
According to Strava it has 1900 metres of climbing, which is not flat, but…
If you cycle in Scotland, and around Glasgow in particular, then 1900 metres is not particularly hilly over 112 miles. In fact, apart from the two named climbs, I struggled to think of anything else I would consider to be a hill. Some slopes, yes, but hills? Something requiring your lowest gears? No.
Instead, there a long stretch on perfect flat roads or gentle up or down gradients. Plenty of time to try and work out a good position on the tri-bars (something I maybe should have worked out beforehand…) and plenty of time to see the spectacular German…. tarmac. With so many kilometres in the tribars it was hard to look up and see anything but road.
And I was trying to look up because, without a watch, I was riding with no idea what time it was, how far I’d gone, or how fast (or slow) as I was going.
I had to cycle by feel. Never flat out, fast enough to keep moving, and with plenty to eat and drink to keep fuelled.
Luckily, the food stops are regular and often, with plenty to chose from – water, sports drink, gels, fruit, rice cakes and plenty of volunteers so if you missed one chance to take something you had another chance 10 meters up the road.
By this stage, the weather was perfect, warm-ish but with 100% cloud cover to keep the worst of the sun away. There was barely any wind, with it only picking up on the second loop.
With closed roads, people out in every town we passed through, and a strict policy of breaking up anyone drafting – I saw one Marshall shout at a pair of cyclists riding too close – it felt like a true race. You vs the course.
And to make it feel more like a race, there was the Solarberg.
First, you can hear cheering. Then music. Then the drumming of a thousand clapper balloons. Then folk gather at the side of the hill screaming at you to go higher, climb faster, keep going – and then you realise that this is just a slope before the solarberg. There are two climbs. One as you come into town. Then once you pass it, swing right and see the actual climb you can’t hear a thing because of the noice of five thousand Germans screaming just for you.
It felt emotional riding through it. This is what I’d been training for over the last ninth months. This moment. And I wanted to savour it. I rode slower. Sat up. High fived a spectator. And enjoyed it.
After that it was back to the start, another loop and still no idea what time it was or how fast I was going.
But, a thought had started to percolate, maybe losing the watch was a good thing. If I had the watch would I have been checking times and speed and distances and thinking about how far I had to go? Instead, riding on feel I was comfortable, I wasn’t counting down miles and, on the second lap I was able to pick spots from the first lap and count them off instead: a clown dancing in a lay-by; an Isreali flag flying beside a field; the Greding hill climb to signify the bottom of the course; the Solarberg again before the sign returning us to Roth and a last few miles of downhill before transition 2.
I rode into transition 2, happy, elated, and with no idea how long I would have to finish the run…
Solarberg: A Warning
If the Solarberg is Hogmany in a hill climb then the second time you go round it’s New Year’s Day. The party’s over. A few folk remain but most have moved to Roth to get ready for the finish.
For 140 years, treasure hunters scoured the coast of Georgia in the United States for the SS Republic, a paddlewheel steamship that sank in 1865 in a hurricane with a reported $400,000 in gold and silver coins on board. In 2003 the ship was located and more than 50,000 precious coins, worth an estimated $75 million was discovered.
While the Challenge Roth canal may not contain millions of pounds of lost confederate gold, if there are any treasure hunters looking for a fortune then they need look no further than 50 metres from the start line – as that’s where my £500 Garmin 945 now lies.
It was a stupid mistake. One I’d even predicted. I’d bought the Garmin a few weeks ago so that I could play music at the end of the run. I’d changed the wrist bands to quick release straps and, during a race simulation at a training swim, Iain had pulled the watch accidentally as he tried to swim in front of me and it had fallen off.
I’ll be clever I thought. I’ll put the wetsuit over it and that way it’ll be safe.
I was wrong.
Just after the start, just as everyone was jostling for position, someone accidentally caught my arm with their stroke and ran their hand along my arm catching the watch.
Which was more than I could do. As I felt it slip, tried to catch it, but only managed to grab hold of the straps. The watch was gone! And with it my only way to know the time, my speed and how far I’d gone as I was relying on the watch to last all day. I had no back up.
And now no choice. I had to complete Challenge Roth entirely on feel.
Saturday was nearly 30 degrees with clear blue skies but the weather forecast for the race was for the heatwave to end and for rain to clear the air. We woke at 430 a.m. with the intention of collecting another athlete (a former member of Glasgow Tri Club) at 5 a.m. That left 30 minutes to dress, eat something and try not to think about the fact it was actually 3:30 am in UK time.
The drive to the start involved a missed junction, which wasn’t a problem for me but for Iain it meant we’d have to take the next junction and a car park which would be shut until 11am while the bike course was closed.
Getting round was okay though. Iain dropped us off at transition and then went to park while we checked the bikes and dropped off the swim and race bags. The swim bags needed to be dropped off by 6:15 but other than that we were free to enter and leave transition, even after the race had started.
A cannon signals the start of each wave with the rain stopping just as the professionals started. There were thousands of people around the canal, more than I’d seen at any other race.
Every five minutes another wave would set off and another blast of the cannon would sound.
I was swimming at 8am, the second last wave, and it was easy to get lined up. Swimmers could wait near the start and when your wave was called you were directed into a pen as volunteers checked your swim cap to make sure the time printed on the side of it matched your start time.
Once everyone was in the pen, the previous wave would start and you were allowed to enter the canal and line up.
I stayed near the centre, as it was quieter, and hung back so as not to be swum over by the faster swimmers. I thought I had it sussed. I would avoid a melee and be able to find my own pace. But we all know how well that went…
The race started. There was the usual flurry of legs and limbs but no fighting for position, just the accidental crossing over of a few hundred swimmers in a few short metres.
And the less said about the next five minutes the better…
The water was warm. Almost 25 degrees, and just shy of banning wetsuits all together, but it was calm and swimming was as easy as swimming in a swimming pool.
Sighting was easy too. There was very little need to look forward as you could always judge if you were swimming in a straight line by looking at the side of the canal. Provided you could see the bank, the people and the trees, you always knew if you were getting closer or further away.
Because of that, I swam most of the way in the centre of the canal. The side is reportedly easier but it was quieter in the centre and it gave me free reign to carry on at my own pace and just count out the strokes. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe.
You swim around 1500 metres to the next bridge, then around 1700 back to the bridge overlooking the start before swimming under it and doing a u-turn back to transition.
I felt strong throughout, and the fact you’re always swimming to something – bridge, then bridge, then under bridge, meant the swim was broken up and didn’t feel like one long slog.
There are also metre signs on the bank but I didn’t look out for them. I prefer not to know how far I’ve swum when swimming. And, thanks to my accident at the start, I would also find out what it was like to cycle and run without knowing how far I’ve gone either. Damn!
This was the bit I was looking forward too. I’d read that the volunteers in transition will help you get out of your wetsuit – something I always struggle with as I can never get the wetsuit off my legs. Prisoners in shackles have more chance of getting free than I do with rubber wrapped around my ankles.
And it was true. As soon as you grab your bag from the ground as you go into the tent – each bag is laid out in numerical order – a volunteer starts to help you strip, empties your bag and hands you everything you need.
Except a watch.
Sadly, they didn’t have a spare Garmin.
I changed into full cycle gear and eight minutes later (a new record for me) l was on my bike and away.