Monthly Archives: September 2021

Turbo, run, walk, ride, walk, walk – head for the hills!

Rydal Water – probably my favourite in the Lake District

I don’t know if it’s widespread but I tend to suffer a bit with ‘post-challenge-slump’ syndrome. Generally it’s a reluctance to get out and exercise – and finding it less enjoyable when I do.

Following a significant physical challenge – like the cycle everesting or the ultra marathon – it’s easy to understand that could have a lot to do with general tiredness and the need to rest muscles. After those challenges and the ride of 550 miles out to the alps there was also an element of ‘what’s the point of a 40 mile ride or a 5k run?’.

But that doesn’t explain why I felt rather flat last week after the Blenheim triathlon. Since the triathlon was only 1hour 37 minutes of activity, and I didn’t feel any stiffness, and there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary in the distances, I guess there must be more to it than just the physical side.

Like most things to do with the mind, I guess it’s a complex issue. For me, I think there is the fact that a challenge takes up a lot of hours a day either consciously or sub-consciously mulling it over and mentally rehearsing – the absence of that must be quite significant. That slightly single-minded focus on the challenge with everything building up to the day itself must create a bit of a vacuum once the event has passed.

It’s noticeable that as soon as a challenge is finished, I start thinking about the next ones. What was interesting last week was that the exercise I found myself enjoying most was the trip to the lake for a swim – that’s the exercise that continues to provide the biggest challenge.

Having retired, I sometimes wonder if I have replaced the stretch and achievement of work with sporting challenges as a means of feeling fulfilled and ‘validated’ … oh, that’s getting a bit deep for me …

Anyway, I have some likely, significant, challenges for next year, in particular the 100km ultra and the olympic distance triathlon, so even though they are some way off I can start to think about them.

I went to the pool midday on Tuesday but it was really busy and it didn’t look like I’d get a decent swim in so I canned that and got on the turbo in the evening – 45 minutes at 29.1kph (18mph). I must try to stop slipping back into 30 minute turbo sessions. I ran with my wife of Wednesday morning – one of our usual loops for just over 7km (4.4miles).

On Thursday we drove the 4+ hours up to the Lake District for a long weekend with the friends we’d been in Bournemouth with last month. We’d all gathered there by Friday mid morning and had a short walk (just under 7km) up Black Crag later in the day.

On Saturday the three men took to the bikes and we had an excellent ride of a little under 80km (50 miles) with nearly 1300m (over 4200 feet) of climbing, heading south west from Ambleside. The trip included a circuit of Coniston Water where Donald Campbell set various speed records before sadly perishing while making another attempt in 1967. A fine ride in excellent company – but it was tough in extremely wet weather and on a relentlessly hilly route.

We all hiked on Sunday, intending to get to Red Screes but (surprise, surprise) the weather turned against us. Although there were times when it was too warm for jackets, eventually we had to turn back before we reached the intended destination as the wind got up, the rain set in and the visibility reduced.

We still walked over 13km (8 miles) climbing nearly 600 metres (almost 2000 feet) – and got completely drenched. Who would have imagined that anywhere called the Lake District could be prone to so much rain???

On Monday we walked for about 16km (10 miles) around Rydal Water and Grasmere in the usual 4 seasons of weather but in the evening we did a ‘meal deal’ at one of the two excellent vegetarian restaurants in Ambleside followed by a film. Although very much a meat eater, the restaurants are so good that I never notice the lack of meat and always enjoy the food.

Some of us chose to watch ‘The Alpinist’ which was terrific – I rarely recommend music, TV or films because everyone’s tastes are so different but the film was a rare delight.

We drove back on Tuesday – it was a great weekend with excellent company.

My one (very minor) regret was that we had taken swimming things (even wetsuits) in the hope that it might be possible to try a bit of wild swimming. It was always a long-shot and the weather and routes we took meant that it didn’t happen. We probably needed a walk to a lake where we could swim and then dry in the autumn sun but much of the time we were as wet at the side of the lake as we would have been in it.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together

2. BBC News website: Fashion house in backlash over ‘racist’ $1,190 sweatpants

High end fashion label Balenciaga is facing a backlash, after critics said that a $1,190 (£860) pair of sweatpants it sells rips off black culture.

The garment features a built-in pair of boxer shorts peeking out from the waistband, mimicking a style popularised by hip hop musicians. A TikTok post which called the pants racist was viewed 1.6m times and black culture experts have raised concerns.

I always thought that racism was about prejudice, oppression, discrimination, or antagonism based on racial differences or perceived superiority. While ‘cultural appropriation’ might be in poor taste and cause annoyance, is it racist?

3. Public Information (a repeat): How many lakes are there in the English Lake District?

Officially only one (Bassenthwaite Lake) as the other 15 are ‘Meres’ or ‘Waters’, (plus there are many other – generally smaller – bodies of water referred to as ‘tarns’).

4. BBC News website: Glastonbury Festival – Traces of drugs found in river at site

Environmentally damaging levels of MDMA and cocaine have been found in the river running through the Glastonbury Festival site. It is suspected that public urination on the site finds its way into the river. Festival goers are being urged to use the toilets provided.

Anyone reading this nonsense might recall last week’s reference to German scientists training cows to use a ‘Moo Loo.’ Perhaps festival going should be restricted to well trained cattle?

Walk, turbo, swim, gym, mechanic, turbo – but what’s the next challenge?

I should have got out on the bike while the weather permits
but I’m not sure the turbo is really an easy option.

Monday came with no aches or pains from the triathlon – I’ll take that as another small win. I really enjoyed the event, faced up to my open water nerves, and an age group 6/34 is no disgrace.

My swim was faster than I’ve done before (but still slow), T1 was a bit slow, the bike ride was pretty good, T2 was fast (thanks to the good advice to cycle in the running shoes) and the run was OK. Lots to work on, but a decent effort.

The question now arises, as it always does after an event, ‘What next by way of sporting challenge?’

I appreciate that the more sensible question might be ‘Should there be any more sporting challenges?’ but rarely have I been accused of being sensible in such matters.

I think the focus has to be on next year as we head towards the UK’s winter. I’ll carry on running and cycling on a ‘tick-over’ basis and try to get to the gym and pool regularly. I’m not hardy enough for open water swimming through the winter but I do need to try to maintain the (low) level I’ve got to this year. The pool will be the hardest bit.

Of course, lessons would help me improve but I’m stubborn and would prefer to try to improve through practice rather than tuition (what an idiot).

Assuming I stay fit and healthy, three new challenges for next year are probably the Blenheim Palace Triathlon again, this time at the end of May (I guess it was September this year because of Covid disruption), the 100km version of the 50km ultra marathon I did this year in July, and an olympic distance triathlon (twice the length of Sunday’s effort) later in the summer. Couple those with the regular sportives in the form of the White Horse Challenge and my own club’s event, it looks like a good start.

All of them should be helped by the fact that the good friend I have done the triathlon training with is retiring and is looking for challenges to train for while his wife continues to work for another year or two in a job she enjoys.

For triathlons, he’s a better runner than I am and we are pretty well matched on the bike. Currently, I have the edge in the water, ironically because he is a good at breast-stroke. That means he can swap strokes if the crawl is getting hard, whereas the breast-stroke kick tends to annoy the knee ligament I tweaked last year, so I have no viable choice other than to tough out the front crawl.

I took this week gently. No exercise on Monday but Tuesday afternoon I drove my wife up to London to see Snow Patrol. I’ve seen them 4 times with her but still not one of them has bothered to come and watch me run, cycle or swim so I decided to boycott the show to teach them a lesson. I walked quite a bit of the way back to the flat after escorting her to the theatre – a very pleasant 2 mile (3km) stroll.

Turbo on a very hot Wednesday for 30 minutes @ 29.6kph (18.4mph) and on Thursday, I visited the swimming lake for one last(?) time this year, with my triathlon partner. The fact that I agreed when he suggested it must say something about my attitude to the open water. I’m still not in love with it but the year’s lake swimming has now at least brought some familiarity – I swam for about a kilometre and enjoyed it.

I reserve the right to call rivers and the sea ‘scary’ – but lakes of a ‘domestic’ size are, officially, no longer ‘scary open water’.

On Friday, I did the usual session in the gym, followed by the charity cycle shop and, in the evening, a very enjoyable visit to a pop-up pub in the village. Saturday was largely taken up with preparations for a dinner party in the evening but I did get on the turbo again on Sunday. I eased off from the usual pace but went a little longer and included some sprints and it was a hard 45 minutes @ 26.8kph (16.6mph).

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Only a stupid cat challenges a lion because they look alike

I like cats but a cat that thinks it looks like a lion probably deserves all it gets

2. BBC News Website: Cows toilet trained to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Researchers in Germany attempted to teach 16 cows to use the toilet by being rewarded with food for urinating in the ‘MooLoo’. After this, they were then placed in an area next to the MooLoo and rewarded for walking into the pen and urinating. Those who urinated outside of the MooLoo were sprayed with water for three seconds.

By the end of the 10 training sessions, researchers found that 11 of the animals were successfully toilet trained so that the urine could be collected and treated, to stop it mixing with soil and turning into the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

Getting them to wash their hooves afterwards is probably harder

3. BBC News Website: The place where it is 2014 and a year has 13 months

The Ethiopian calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Western calendar, making Saturday the start of 2014. This is because the Catholic Church amended its calculation of the birth of Christ in 500 AD, but the Ethiopian Orthodox Church did not. The Ethiopian new year falls on 11 September in the Western calendar (12 September in leap years).

There is no need for Ethiopian children to learn rhymes to remember how many days each month has because 12 of their months each has 30 days and the 13th – the last of the year – has five or six days, depending on whether it’s a leap year.

4. BBC News Website: President and top officials negligent in tackling air pollution

Jakarta’s particulate pollution levels are six times the WHO’s guideline level and air pollution is said to be reducing residents’ life expectancy by 5.5 years. In a landmark decision in a lawsuit filed by residents in 2019, an Indonesian court has ordered monitoring stations and other measures to improve the capital’s air.

Meanwhile, the President is pressing ahead with plans to move the capital out of Jakarta to the island of Borneo, nearly 1,300km (800 miles) away. He has been quoted as saying that officials would benefit from the fresh air and the green environment there. 

Blenheim Palace Triathlon – race report (Sept 2021)

Today was the Blenheim triathlon – I did the sprint (750m swim, 19.8km bike, 5.4km run). The bike and run were likely to be OK – but my open water swim struggles have been well documented.

I got to Blenheim Palace a bit before 9, registered, stuck numbers on the bike and helmet, strapped the timing chip to my ankle and met up with my friend who had also taken on the triathlon challenge. We were in the same starting wave at 10.20 so set up in the transition zone in the courtyard in front of the palace and headed to the lake.

Covid meant the swim used a ‘time trial’ start – we were arranged in two lines and set off in a constant stream of pairs. As a barely competent swimmer, I had already decided to hang back at the start to avoid the scrum of flying elbows and feet so the start suited me quite well – apart from the fact that there was no place to acclimatise for the water temperature. Luckily, the water was not very cold but (thank goodness) was cool enough for wetsuits to be compulsory as I need all the extra buoyancy I can get.

The swim was about 500m straight (which looks a dauntingly long way from the start) and then just one sharp left turn. I set off as best I could and did a mix of sighting for myself and following others on the assumption that they knew what they were doing.

I was really grateful that our swim training had not adopted the marathon approach of not doing the full race distance beforehand. I know that 750m is no great swim for most people but the fact that I’d already done 1km in open water twice was a great comfort.

As expected, I was behind the average swimmer pace and was overtaken by more than I overtook but It went better than I could have expected at 18 minutes for the 750m. I got out of the water to be greeted by a 0.4km run, uphill, to transition. It always feels that I put in a disproportionate amount of effort into the swimming compared to the speed I achieve so the run to transition was surprisingly hard.

I managed to find my place in transition pretty quickly and peeled off my wetsuit a bit faster than usual. I am right in the middle of all the size and weight ranges they recommend for the size of suit I have but it is thick and tight so I do struggle with it. The key is peeling it off while it is still wet on the outside – and in a triathlon that’s very likely to be the case. I was wearing a tri-suit underneath, so I slipped into my running shoes and put on my number belt, remembering to put on my helmet before touching the bike.

I got out of transition after what seemed like a very long time and managed to get my feet into the toe clips on the pedals. I swapped out my clipless pedals to avoid another shoe change and running the bike in and out of transition, in cleats.

It was three laps on the bike – I can count up to three quite reliably but was a bit worried about the counting in the heat of battle. The course was most certainly ‘undulating’ (I saw some people walking up the steepest hill) but quite picturesque as it circled the part of the lake we’d just swam in and crossed the famous early 18C Grand Bridge built by Vanburgh.

People seemed to be quite well behaved about not drafting and I enjoyed myself – the bike is more familiar territory than the water. I found myself counting and by my reckoning I passed 121 people while being passed by only 17.

Heading back into transition 2, I racked the bike, removed my helmet and spun the belt to put the number at the front. That did all feel fairly quick and I headed out for two laps of the run course on jelly legs. Almost immediately, I missed the turn onto the running lap and found myself heading towards the finish. A slightly embarrassing about turn and I was off in the right direction. Again, it was undulating but quite picturesque as it circled another part of the lake and, again, crossed the famous bridge.

I tried to remember the mantra ‘if it’s not hurting, you’re not trying hard enough’ but found little difficulty in making it hurt – even though I wasn’t running very fast. I probably didn’t think enough about pacing and put too much into the ride – but I did manage to overtake a few more people than those who overtook me.

I won’t deny I was happy to see the finish line – the ride and the run were short but coming after the swim made them a bit harder than I’d expected and I pushed myself on the cycle leg as I was having fun.

I cleared my stuff out of transition and spent some time being a spectator watching other competitors ‘enjoying’ their own challenges.

Of course, a sprint triathlon is no big deal for most, but for me it was largely about taking on the open water swim, so completing it was great. Total time 1h 37m 37s.

My splits were:

Swim (750m): 18 minutes

T1: 6:04 minutes (including the run to get there)

Ride (19.8km): 40.39 @29.24kph

T2: 1:49 minutes

Run (5.4km): 31:06 @ 5.45m/km

I was 13 seconds per 100m slower than the average of all swimmers, 2 seconds/km ahead of the average run speed, but 3.48kph ahead of the average bike speed.

Overall, I was in the top third of competitors (out of nearly 4000), and the top 45% of men (out of 2286).

In my 65-69 age group, I was 6th out of 34, particularly thanks to my ride pulling back time lost to others on the swim.

It was certainly enjoyable, but hard – although I suppose I made it that way by trying to make up on the bike and the run what I was going to lose in the water, recognising that my swim speed ‘is what it is’.

My triathlon partner had a really successful race too. Like me, he swam faster than he’d have expected, had a fine ride and, in particular, he had a great run.

A very well organised event. Not exactly ‘personal’ given the scale of it, although the marshals were friendly and efficient (apart from the efficiency of the one who sent me in the opposite direction when I asked about the exit from transition). It felt like a really good introduction to triathlons with an open water swim and with the advantage of the whole thing being in the Palace grounds.

Considering where we both came from (in terms of the swimming in particular, where not being able to do it at all was a real possibility), I think we have every reason to be pleased … in a very modest way, of course.

Ride/run, run, award ceremony, Bournemouth, swim (SOW), gym – ready for the triathlon(?)

I was in two minds over swimming on Monday – but I resolved the dilemma by deciding not to. If only all problems could be solved so easily.

I had some chores to do by way of checking the bike and changing the pedals. This followed some good advice from the unironedman that I shouldn’t use the normal clip-in pedals and cycle shoes with cleats, as they would mean two changes of footwear and a certain amount of awkward running in them out of, and back into, transition.

That’s all the more sensible as my cycle shoes have a ratchet fastening so I couldn’t really leave them clipped into the pedals like the pros do with pure velcro-fastening shoes. It’s a short ride so I’m guessing the benefits will outweigh any minor loss of pedal power compared to what I would have got using the cleats. Simplification is good.

The first pedals I fitted rubbed the crank arm. I fashioned a spacer and then found that the shape of the pedals did not fit comfortably with my running shoes. The second pedals worked well enough so I decided on a small ‘brick’ session to test them out and to see how my legs reacted to a run straight off the bike. I had a 27km (17miles) ride @29kph (18mph) and then a 1km run.

This got dangerously close to proper triathlon training but my legs made it very clear that they did not like the experience one little bit.

I ran with my wife on a hot Tuesday morning 6.7km (4.2miles) and we then went for lunch with some friends who have just returned to the UK after some years out in Singapore. They have a house on the Cotswold Water Park which is built around some old gravel pits … including the one which has been developed as the lake where I do my open water swimming. I can’t get away from it.

We went straight from there to the presentation, by the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, of the Queen’s Award for Volunteering to the cycle group. My wife and I (and our younger son, in absentia) were presented with badges in recognition for our efforts. Quite an achievement for a group that started as a few middle-aged Saturday cyclists.

Bournemouth on Wednesday to mow and fit various bathroom accessories, and hooks to the back of doors. We’ve only owned the place for 17 years – everything gets done in its own good time.

Thursday was the last open water swimming session before the triathlon. We both did the 1km that we set ourselves – last time was with 2 laps of the shorter course, this time it was one lap of the (significantly) more intimidating long course. I had thoughts of trying to go a little faster than before, but I have to accept that my swimming is not good enough to have much more than one speed.

I don’t know if this makes sense but it feels like my poor technique means I can’t swim faster just by putting in more effort – to go faster, I think I’d have to become a better swimmer. I have now come to terms with the fact that I swim just about as well as fish ride bicycles.

Friday was the usual gym session, followed by the cycle shop. I planned a gentle run with my wife on Saturday morning but wimped out as my knee felt a bit cranky.

I can now start to fret about the kit needed for the triathlon on Sunday. I have a check list of over 20 items (including the confirmation of the required clear lateral flow covid test performed on Friday).

I have already done the most important piece of preparation in fitting elastic laces (that a friend kindly gave me) to my running shoes. With only one pair of quick-fit shoes I can already feel my transition times come down to under an hour.

The bike and run courses are not flat, and cumulative tiredness and the transitions are unknowns, so getting round safely and enjoying it are the orders of the day – no time targets. I am told that the swim-to-ride transition involves a sharp uphill run of about 0.4km – oh joy.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: He who refuses to obey cannot command

2. BBC News website: Brazil v Argentina game stopped after 10 mins

The Brazil v Argentina football world cup qualifier was stopped on Sunday as health officials and police came onto the pitch and, according to commentator, detained the 4 UK based Argentina players for not quarantining on their arrival in Brazil.

The Brazilian authorities said “[The four players] were directed to remain isolated while awaiting deportation, but they did not comply.”

The Argentinian manager said that “At no time were we notified that they couldn’t play the match.”

Hmmm … hard to see how they can both be right

3. I always use my games of snooker to help with exam revision.

When I use the chalk, I ask myself a maths problem. When I play the blue, I ask myself a question on science. Pink is biology, black is geography … and the rest is history.

4. BBC News website: Climate change: Animals shapeshifting to stay cool

Scientists say warm-blooded species are evolving to have larger beaks, legs and ears to regulate body temperature as the planet warms up.

Wood mice are evolving to have longer tails, masked shrews are getting longer tails and legs, and bats in warm climates have bigger wings.

Several species of Australian parrot have shown a 4-10% increase in bill size since 1871, which correlates with the rising summer temperatures over the years, the study says.

The parrots have got off lightly – since Brexit, it feels like many of our bills have gone up more, and much faster

Run (x4), swim (SOW), mechanic, turbo – a week of big ups and downs on the flat

Back to the running – back to Puddleduck Lane

The family gathering on Sunday was good but surprisingly exhausting. Who would have thought that BBQing burgers, sausages, chicken and skewers of halloumi and courgette could be so tiring.

Monday was a Bank Holiday – we did very little but waved goodbye to our older son and his girlfriend in the afternoon. I drove our younger son back to London on Tuesday. Post lockdown, he’s been spending more time back there and was finally moving back to start a post-graduate teaching course. It’s been a real treat to have him – but it’s right that he gets back to London life.

After chores in the morning, I ran on Wednesday afternoon – my first run for nearly 2 weeks. I did just over 11km (nearly 7 miles) at no great pace but it was good to be back out running.

On a grey and breezy Thursday my triathlon friend and I drove over to the lake and swam in the scary open water. The aim was to do a test swim of the triathlon’s full distance, in the open water and without stopping. I appreciated that not being able to do it would be a bit of a disaster – but it seemed worth the gamble.

It was hard going from the first stroke and well before I got half way I was sure that the gamble had failed. I seemed to be moving very slowly, with no rhythm and was unable to get my breathing right. At that point it was clear that the triathlon was not going to happen for me because I was not able to do a 750m open water swim. No exaggeration for effect, it was completely dispiriting.

If I had been near the bank, or had a buoy to cling on to, I’m fairly sure I would have stopped and accepted that I could not do the triathlon’s swim. Only bloody mindedness and the fact that I was stuck out in the lake made me carry on.

However, bit by bit it didn’t seem to be getting any worse and by half way I thought I might as well try for a little further. Slowly, it started to improve and then came a glorious moment when I realised I could do it. In all, I swam a little over 1km (the triathlon swim is 750m) in about 27 minutes – a bit faster than I do it in the pool.

Interestingly, my friend also completed the swim but he too went through exactly the same feeling of despair that he was not going to be able to do it. I have no idea what was going on – perhaps it just hit us as we went beyond the distance we had previously swum without stopping? Whatever it was, I’m glad I experienced it then and not at the triathlon itself.

I still find the lake a ‘testing’ environment, but might it become the NQS SOW (not quite so scary open water)? My sighting in the water has improved but I need to do it more often as I am still largely unable to swim in a straight line outside the pool.

Another bit of good news – the water temperature of the lake was 18℃ (just over 64℉). Wetsuits are allowed up to 22℃ (71℉) so, if the lakes are similar, the triathlon swim will be in a wetsuit. Thumbs up for buoyancy and warmth – thumbs down for getting out of it in a hurry. Better weather is coming next week but it couldn’t raise the water temperature by 4℃ in just 8 days … could it …

Announcement – no sinuses were hurt in the making of this swim.

I ran with my wife on Friday morning. A gentle 6km (3.7miles) as she gets back into it after a manic August – that was followed by my regular session at the bike shop.

We ran the same route on Saturday morning, a bit faster in a good deal warmer weather and the same again on a cooler Sunday morning, a bit faster still. After that I mowed and got on the turbo in the afternoon – just the 30 minutes @ 30.6kph (19mph).

Quite a week in its own way – highs and lows with the swimming (happily not in that order) and back to the running. Roll on the triathlon.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: No-one gets wealthy by throwing away what they have acquired

2. BBC News website: Paris speed limit falls to 30km/h

A speed limit of 30km/h (18mph) has come into force across Paris in a drive to improve the environment. The aim is to cut accidents, and reduce noise and pollution.

The number of street parking bays is being halved and most vehicles are expected to be banned from the city centre next year. Cycle lanes have increased and streets are being redesigned to make districts more pedestrian friendly.

There appears to be a majority in support of the measures and although there are opponents, others point out that the average speed in Paris is already less than 16km/h.

3. BBC News website: Does feeding garden birds do more harm than good?

Evidence has been building recently that supplementary feeding could disrupt a delicate ecological balance beyond our windowsills and gardens and now a research paper has posed the question of whether it might do more harm than good.

According to the research, there are a few species that are now habitual feeder users – familiar garden visitors including great tits and blue tits. They appear to be receiving a boost from feeding and this could be at the expense of other “subordinate” birds.

4. BBC News website: French police car crashes after passenger fires Taser in the direction of the driver

Six officers were in the vehicle when the driver lost control and hit a parked car in Roubaix, near Lille, on Saturday. The police car left the scene without stopping. “They were having fun amongst themselves and act like idiots,” said the lawyer for the officer who fired the Taser.

The officer who discharged the Taser will be prosecuted for intentional violence with a weapon and endangering the lives of others. Two off her colleagues are accused of hit-and-run and aiding and abetting a hit-and-run.

Les mots me manquent