Training days

Since I signed up for a half Ironman triathlon, every day has been a training day. Even the rest day seems to be a sort of “cram in the things you should have done instead of training and get sorted for another six days of training” day.

Not that I’m complaining. My head is OK with 10 hours + exercise a week. My appetite LOVES all the extra exercise. It’s the planning that’s hard.

Like those moments where you stare into space trying to work out whether it’s best to take the running shoes home and run tonight, or, just leave them at work, swap tonight’s run for a longer cycle. Or just do a normal cycle home, do an evening swim and then cram an extra run at lunchtime next day. Or would you prefer to eat lunch? Because we like lunch, we really do.

Harder still is making sure you’ve got all the things you need with you (including food & liquids) for the sessions you want to do.

For example, I can’t go running tonight as planned as I accidentally left my running shoes at work. And this morning I forgot to pack a towel so had to use my cardigan as a substitute towel after my shower at the gym. My cardigan has quite the abrasive metal zip.

If you are (like I am) the type of person who leaves their packed lunch sitting on the kitchen work top three days out of five, yet still hopes to successfully train for an endurance event, it’s probably a good idea to double up on the things you need.

Maybe keep one bag at work and one bag at home, each with running gear and swimming gear. Or get a bigger rucksack and just keep all that stuff with you every day.

Also pack the bag(s) the night before. A 6am shout out to check if anyone has seen your left glove/token for the locker/overshoes/Tiger Balm/swim watch/the shorts without the hole in isn’t going to win over the support crew.

I’m away now to take my own advice

 

 

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A year of ups, downs, thrills and spills

2015 was quite a topsy turvy year.

First the downs. Let’s get them out the way.

We had to put our cat of 21 years down, and I still feel guilty for making that terrible trip with her to the vet.

My diet has been appalling throughout 2015. Still not sorted. But at least I’ve started taking packed lunches to work again. Making your sandwiches is a sure sign of good intentions.

That’s pretty much it. Okay, I shouted at a lot of people and one or two maybe did not deserve it.

Now the ups and the thrills!

I was rarely shouted at.

I cycled over 4,500 miles.

I am very close to being able to live without a car (unfortunately my wife lives a significant distance from that premise).

I took my boy up his first Corbett in quite terrible weather and his mother didn’t kill me. In slightly better weather,  I took him up his first Munro.

Some hill skills were acquired, as was an outdoor first aid certificate.

I cycled the islands of Cumbrae with pals, Arran solo and Islay (with pals) for work.

My wife came proper camping with me and the boy. We’re still together.

On an Explorer Scout trip to Switzerland, I learned to drive a minibus round mountain passes without screaming in terror. I managed to set foot in some dizzying cable cars without screaming in terror. And I learned to spend ludicrous sums money on everyday items in Gstad without screaming in terror.

Five days was had cycling solo in the South of France. No car. Just me and my bike. Pinch me!

And finally the spills:

Forced off the road twice to avoid being run over.

Cycled into the back of a stationary car. Must get disc brakes someday.

Cycled into a fallen tree. Must remember to charge the torch.

I fell off my bike. A lot.

So that’s it. That was 2015.

Looking to 2016, it would be great to top that 4,500 miles in the saddle, have fewer incidents, and have my boy spend a few of those miles with me.

Also, I’d like to do the West Highland Way this year, maybe taking in a few hills en route – finding the time will be tough though. The North Coast 500 would also be a great adventure. Or do some more cycling and trail running abroad.

Bagging few more Munros this year with my hiking buddy is high on my list, as is spending a bit more time hostelling and camping outdoors.

There will also be plenty of Scouting adventures.

And to make sure I’m fit enough to meet these challenges head on, I’ve signed up for my first Ironman 70.3 (a half Ironman distance triathlon). I have just 20 weeks till the start line.

There’s not a moment to lose!

 

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The challenging Bealach Mor Sportive

As a recreational cyclist, occasional hill walker, and unconvincing triathlete, I consider it my right to leave my training and organisation for an event to the very last minute.

So it was no surprise that just days before cycling the infamous 90-mile Bealach Mor Cycle Sportive, I had not yet arranged accommodation for before and after the event.

A quick bit of googling told me that accommodation near the Sportive was thin on the ground. Un-deterred I started phoning round for weekend accommodation in the north west highland village of Kinlochewe.

“Yes”, I explained to surprised B&B owner, “I do know that 500 cyclists are descending on the village this weekend. I’m one of them!”

As it became apparent that Kinlochewe was fit to bursting with cyclists that weekend, I started looking further afield for a bed. As I examined my map, a red triangle and the word “Torridon” caught my eye.

Seconds later, I was on the phone to Torridon SYHA: “I don’t suppose you have any beds left for Friday night, only I’ve left it a bit late for the Bealach Mor cycle…”

“Don’t worry, we’ll squeeze you in” came the reply.

And that was that. Or so I thought.

I booked a hire car from Glasgow airport on the Friday afternoon and picked my way north up the A9 past Inverness, and promptly missed the sign for Gairloch and drove all the way to Ullapool by mistake.

By the time I realised my wrong turn, I was running dreadfully late. The kind SYHA people had phoned my wife to ask if I was having trouble getting there, and then phoned me on my mobile to let me know the hostel normally closes the doors at 10.30pm, but they’d wait up for me.

Exhausted and relieved I arrived close to 11pm, to be met by the ever-cheery Emily, who had my room key at hand.

Less than half an hour later, I was showered, had my bed set up, and was enjoying a chat in the fabulous panoramic common room with a couple of cyclists who had travelled all the way up from Yorkshire to cycle the Sportive.

Morning came quickly and I made breakfast in the kitchen alongside a couple of retired gentlemen, both veterans of the Bealach Mor sportive. A good chat and some very useful information about the sportive route was imparted by these super-vets.

That’s what I love about staying in hostels. People share things. Whether it’s a spoonful of coffee, a splash of milk, or a spot of advice, it is the done thing.

Before setting out for the Sportive starting line at Kinlochewe, I spoke to a mountain biker who was standing at the front door of the hostel surveying the magnificent range of hills in front of us. We inspected his playground for the day, and agreed it would a fine day to be on the bike.

It turned it to be just that. The sun drew a bead on the Applecross peninsula and stayed with us for the entire Sportive.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. I worked in a bunch from about 10 miles in and got dropped 30 miles into the Sportive, just before the lonely and impossible looking climb up to the Bealach. It nearly nearly broke me.

The ride round the coast that followed that leg wobbling ascent was an exercise in pain management and plausible deniability – hill after hill after hill and a North West wind to fight against too.

Greeted by the kind people of Kinlochewe, I reached the finish line after 6 hours 27 mins, with two 10 min stops en route at the feed stations.

Next time I’d like to be closer to 6 hours, but it would mean passing by the feed stations. And that would mean missing out on free home-baking. That’s a challenge in itself.

 

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Ramble on!

It’s been a while since my last post so here is some proof of life. In the true spirit of my blog, there has been blood and there have been badges. But mostly, there’s been a lot of fun. So here’s a quick run-down…

Ran, cycled and swam a sprint triathlon;
Learned to swim long distance;
Cycled 40 miles to a Tough Mudder race and completed the event;
Taken my boy on a long-ish cycle trip;
Taken my boy up a Corbett and on to summit his first Munro;
Gone to Santa Eulalia in Ibiza & done a little trail running there;
Organised and filmed a cycle trip round Islay Watch it here
Been camping on Arran with my family;
Gained an Outdoor First Aid qualification;
Finished my Scout leader training;
Spent 4 days hiking around the Lochgoilhead National Scout centre to achieving a Terrain 2 accreditation (I can now lead groups of up to six lads up to the snow line);
Went on a two week walking holiday in Switzerland;
Wore a kilt and not much else. Here are some photos…

 

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Run safe

I’ve started running again, so am re-posting this guide I wrote in 2012 to staying safe when out running. To remind myself us much as anything else.

Team up

The safest run is always going to be one that you do in company. Running with a companion means you can look out for each other. You are less likely to get lost, and, if one of you gets hurt, there is support at hand.

Like almost any outdoor activity, from cycling to hiking, you will be encouraged and feel more confident by doing it with a group – a range of skill sets, experience and physical abilities benefits everyone.

On a more serious note, you are less likely to be hassled by idiots. Your average opportunistic mugger/arsehole tends to be a bit less aggressive when 26 runners at peak physical fitness come thundering towards them.

Runner bling

The fact is drivers don’t notice runners and cyclists. Make them. The more you look like a mobile disco, the better.

That means making yourself into a beautiful eye sore. Reflective clothing works in sunlight, as well as at night. And some good lighting even in day light can be a lifesaver. Volvo drivers and motorcyclists have been doing it for years.

Things happen fast

A car on a country road can be traveling at up to 60 mph. We runners would be pushing towards the car at anywhere between 5-9mph.

So in 5 seconds, the car can cover in excess 130 metres, while we’ll cover maybe 10 metres. Not a lot of wiggle room to make a life decision. That means you must do everything you can to give yourself a good line of sight, detect erratic driving, and be able to hear traffic when you can’t see it. You should also think about your bail out options on blind bends and blind summits.

Be ahead of the curve

If you run WITH the traffic, you’ll never know what’s about to hit you. So best run into opposing traffic. It might seem scary, but on a route with no pavements, it’s better for you to be able to see what’s coming towards you.

If running though a bend to the right, move out to the left to give yourself a better view through the bend. Do the opposite when running through a bend to the left. You’ll see more of what is likely to be coming towards you!

On approaching a blind summit – listen. That means no earphones. Music and air drums won’t stop a truck.

People in cars

Never assume a car is intending to stop at a give way or red light. AND, a flash of the headlights might not be intended for you.

Stationary vehicles are potential hazards. Quite often you can’t see if anyone is on the inside of a parked car. A door might be about to open or the driver may have forgotten to signal that they are pulling out.

TOP TIP: watch the front wheels on a stationary car as you get closer. Are they beginning to turn out? Drivers often start steering before they begin to move.

If a moving vehicle starts to drift a little to the side and correct the line a little sharply, this is bad news. Any driver who can’t hold a straight line is distracted and high risk to runners and cyclists. Put as much space between you and that vehicle as you can.

Solo safety

Running on dark roads alone? The young crowd hanging about under the bridge you need to run past, looking a bit intimidating? You could turn back, or carry an alarm. Here’s what I do:

  • The earphones come out immediately.  I want to know what’s happening once I pass them.
  • I square my shoulders, and tell myself I can outpace any of them.
  • If I can I’ll cross the road.
  • If I have to pass them on my side, I let them know I am coming. A confident “On your right lads” usually works.
  • Do not stop to answer questions. If someone asks me for the time or a light, a polite “Sorry pal, can’t help you there,” can be issued mid stride.

Despite all the potential hazards, for many of us, the solitude of running solo is what we enjoy best. But even the toughest runner can get an injury. So tell someone where you are going and how long you reckon you expect to away. Especially if your run takes you into the wilds. And on that note… a phone, whistle and compass isn’t a bad shout.

And finally, my grandfather once told me: “When you’re on your own, your best friend is a five bob note”. I’ve adapted that advice and run with a £5 note in a ziplock bag. You’d be surprised how bloomin useful that turns out.

Happy running!

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Strava struck

I LOVE Strava. Of all the apps I have on my phone, it’s the only one which I would lose sleep over if it disappeared.

Once you have Strava downloaded to your iPhone or Android device, all you have to do is switch it on when you go for a cycle. It takes care of everything else.

‘Everything else’ happens when you press the stop button. It displays your speed and pace, the route you took, the elevation, and how much time you spent in movement. And as a bonus, it chops up the route into segments that have been christened by earlier Strava pioneers. You can even create your own segment of road or trail and name it for yourself.

When you travel along a segment for, say, the second time, Strava then tells you if you were faster or slower than the previous “attempt”. And it gives you access to how many other cyclists have been faster on that particular segment. You can view the list of fastest cyclists on any segment by year, age grouping or any number of ways. Those at the top of the list get a trophy – a little digital crown which proves they are the fastest EVER for that segment.

Strava-hierarchy-of-awards

This is a problem if you live anywhere near Chris Froome, as he will have ALL the Trophies or KOMS (King of Mountain) on the routes you cycle. But if you live further away from Mr Froome, there is a chance that with a bit of wind assistance, plus a reasonable level of cycling fitness, you might just catch a Trophy.

It’s while chasing these trophies for a particular segment, that you realise EVERY piece of tarmac is a segment. So you tend not to hang about once you are in the saddle. And every time you drop the pace, your inner Strava voice says, “Seriously? Pick it up”.

You begin to compete hard against your previous efforts, and Strava encourages you to increase the speed and the mileage. And with all that competition, you get faster and stronger.

And just when you are feeling pleased at gaining a trophy, Strava will send you an alert to let you know that some 23 year-old Sports Science graduate with 5% body fat has just taken your trophy away by beating your segment-winning time by a whole 30 seconds.

Two minutes later, you and the graduate are following each other on Strava. You now have access to all his stats and cycling routes and realise the reason he’s kicking your arse is because he’s doing at least 60 miles of hill climbs every weekend with his cycling club.

So you start doing hill climbs. And you join a cycling club. Most of the guys in your club are on Strava. You used to have one random Strava follower. You now have dozens. And your cycling horizons expand. You lose a little weight, and you gain “Kudos” – little thumbs up from other Strava users, as means of congratulating a good effort.

Your confidence grows, and you might chase down a distant cyclist out on an evening wander. You might buddy up for a while, have a chat, get home, check the Strava playback, follow each other and give each other Kudos. His name will be Dez, and it will all be rather sociable.

Right up until you check Strava on Saturday morning and realise Dez has been out on his bike and stolen your long-standing KOM for a segment that is on your daily commute to work. Why’s he even on that road? Nobody cycles that segment unless they have to? What a dingbat!

It’s 8am on Saturday. You don’t cycle on Saturday. But there you are, sitting in your cycling shorts, checking the weather on the laptop, praying for a tail wind.

You are in luck! A strong tailwind is blowing along that segment you used to be king of, before Dingbat Dez hunted it down and selfishly poached it. Woohoo, let’s get the good bike out and take back that Trophy!

Half an hour later,  you are the insanely proud re-owner of the KOM trophy for a generic Strava segment on a dull pot-hole ridden carriageway that you would only usually cycle on because it is your route to work.

Your legs are like jelly, and your chest is thumping so hard it’s best not to think too much about it. But, haha, in your face Dez. IN YOUR DINGBAT FACE! That Trophy icon is yours, and rightly so.

Congratulations, you have been Strava’d.

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