Duelling Affletes

Recently, I have been Thunder Running across scorched earth during daylight and through the sort of quagmire unseen since the Somme in the First World War. I have been riding my bike on high days and holidays and having a whale of a time. I still think cycling is still cheating, mind. I have swum in a lake and not drowned myself while chilling the fuck out and calming down. And all of this was in preparation for the Cambridge Triathlon which took place yesterday.

Only it didn’t. Thank you, blue-green, pestilential and poisonous algae. You can bugger off. Cyanobacteria produce toxins which can kill people to death and sadly they showed up in the lake at Mepal where we were due to swim yesterday. I thought that drowning was going to be a greater hazard than poisoning and have practiced really quite a lot so that I hardly drown at all these days. The organisers took the view that losing participants to something which still has the hump at us for being out-evolved a billion years ago was not an acceptable risk so changed the event to be a duathlon of 6k/40k/6k. The organisers are always right but I do wish that the bloody algae would just let it go. Your time has passed, my little blue-green friends.

I had planned to get out of the lake not last having enjoyed a bit of a splash around, bimble the bike leg waving cheerily to the marshals maybe overtaking a couple of ladies of a certain age if they didn’t mind and have a wee jog round the run course, chatting to friends as I encountered them. That plan went out the window because I would now have to actually do some racing. I had a steady first run during which I was overtaken by a handful of competitors from the next wave back. They were flying. I timed the run at 27:49. I didn’t know exactly where the transition lines were so it doesn’t reflect my official time. I didn’t faff too much in T1. Helmet on. Shoe off, shoe on. Shoe off, shoe on. Bike off the rack and run with it across rough ground to the start of the bike course. I have no idea how all that took 2:16.

I had overtaken some of the women from the previous wave on the run course and one of these nailed me right at the start of the bike. She was off like she didn’t fancy being chased round the bike course by a skinny, middle-aged, bearded bloke with pubes poking through his trisuit. I wonder whether the Brownlees shave down there. Maybe they just wear thicker material. It was a fun ride. The course was as flat as week-old roadkill and I was catching and passing some of the women regularly enough. The quick guys came past me at astonishing velocities. I could hear the whum-whum-whum of their wheels as they came up behind me. One came by so closely and at such speed that I was momentarily blown off-course. On a few occasions, someone came past and then struggled to make headway. I would overtake them again and try to pull away. I managed that once, never to see the rider again. Once I yelled at someone much younger to try it again and make it stick this time. He did and was gone off up the road after his next victim. Finally, I duelled with a bloke between Earith and Haddenham. He finally got away from me on the only climb of the day, a short 300m or so up to a junction in Haddenham itself. I must have demoralised the one guy on a time-trial bike I overtook somewhere between Chatteris and Somersham. Chris gave me a huge lift when he came past me halfway round the bike course. I was yelling and shouting and may have whooped a bit. I dug in there and continued my race all the way to Haddenham. I timed the bike leg at 1:19:35 which gave me an average speed of 30km/h, as near as makes no bollocks. It was the target Chris gave me so I’m quite chuffed with that.

T2. Oh, T2. It’s when you find that someone has taken your legs away from you and left you Christy Brown’s instead. Unclip the right foot. Stop at the dismount line, Attempt to unclip the left foot. Go on. Fucking unclip. That’s it. Swing your leg over. No, the other leg. That’s not working. First leg again. That’s better, Jog through to the bike rack. No, walk through to the bike rack. Walk slowly to the bike rack. Smile at the supporters. No need to swear at them. They’re being nice. Where the chuffing fuck is my bag? That’s it! No, it’s not. That’s it there. Right, rack the bike. Helmet off. Drop shades. Bend to pick up shades. Ohhhhh fffffffffffffuuuuuuucck! Why does that hurt? Shades back on. Shoe off. Fuck! That’s sore. Shoe on. Wince. Shoe off. Shoe dropped, Fumble. Swear, Wince. Swear again. Shoe on. Jog to the run course. Walk a few steps. Remember you’re supposed to be a runner and just fucking run. 2:41. Worst experience of the day.

I thought I would not be able to run at all. My back was aching. I had some intimate chafing issues because I’d forgotten to apply my chamois cream in the morning. As it turned out, I ran slowly but well. I think it was only my technique which got me through. I had little energy left and no strength at all. I turned out to be in better nick than the people I was overtaking. I kept thinking about light steps and using my arms to drive me forwards. I tell my athletes that your arms will get you home when your think your legs can’t. Drive back with your elbows not forward with your wrists and your knees will come up themselves. You’ll keep some poise and balance. There were some very, very tired boys and girls out there. I tried to encourage them as I went by. There must have been some people overtaking me too but I don’t remember any. I caught up with Clare with 2k to go and tried to encourage her to stay with me but she was completely spent. She had a stonker of a day overall though and came 4th in her category. I’ve been given a time of 13:48 in the provisional results for my second run. 31:48 would be closer since I timed it at 28:55. I made my overall time 2:21:18 which was reasonable since I would have happily have taken 2:25:00 when I set off.

Finishing isn’t the end. No. Then you have to try not to throw up over anyone important. Chris was waiting by the finish. It was a huge pleasure to see him there. There’s something about the snot you generate in course of vigorous exercise which makes it far more viscous and unpleasant than usual. I couldn’t find my inhaler because I’d left it in my car that morning along with the tissues I keep for removing mucilage. I was using the water I’d been given to dislodge the mucus which was making me gag and looking at the banana in my other hand as if I’d never seen a banana before. It was an alien object. I’d no idea whether to eat it, use it as a weapon or take it home as a pet. I saw Clare come in and then Glyn a few minutes after that. So, I beat a girl and an elderly man. Woohoo! I feel really good.

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The life lived in Lycra is quite a sweaty one, I’ve found, but it’s not as sweaty as a life in rubber. I went swimming in a lake for the first time on Friday and the first mistake I made was quite a basic one. I got into my wetsuit far too early on one of the warmest evenings of the year so far. Rubber is not breathable, famously so, Wearing black rubber on a warm, sunny evening meant I soaked up the heat like the first gecko in spring. I thought for some reason it would feel a bit like wearing a condom all over and it really, really didn’t. It felt more like being inside one of those basting bags which seal in all of the flavour, in this case the flavour of armpit and groin sweat seasoned with a soupcon of BodyGlide. Only a barest smidgeon of BodyGlide because I’d forgotten to buy a new stick. It’s on the list for next week along with talcum powder.

I buddied up with Colin and Linda who were good enough to allow me to join them and waded a few steps into the water. I was expecting it to be cold but it wasn’t too bad. In fact the top two or three inches were oddly warm which meant that my hand had the sensation of passing through the warm surface layer and down into the colder water below. After two or three doggy paddle strokes I tried putting my face into the water. I was expecting to see nothing in the murk. I fact, I could see my arms and hands through the water. When some water inevitably entered my mouth, it tasted thin somehow. Chlorinated pool water tastes thicker.

I’m used to swimming for about 20 strokes then taking a break as I push off the side of the pool. That obviously wasn’t happening this evening. I still stopped for a break and trod water or floated on my back for a few moments to get a break or find my way. I tried to concentrate on my stroke and breathing, blowing out bubbles. It didn’t always work. There were times when I couldn’t push any air out at all and I have no idea why. I tried humming but got hung up on what tune I should hum. Handel’s Water Music seemed appropriate but I couldn’t remember exactly how it went, not with my head under water. Humming at least stopped me shouting for help which would no doubt have brought instant attention from the lovely men in the canoes.

I enjoyed having the extra buoyancy of the wetsuit. I sometimes forgot to kick and it didn’t seem to matter. My legs were floating up easily. It was actually difficult to do breaststroke in the wetsuit, so very slow was it. I hardly made headway at all. I only did it for two or three strokes at a time to get my bearings. I also had problems swimming in a straight line. I’m so used to following the blue lines on the bottom of the pool at Green’s. I kept pulling to the right like the cheapest hire car at the airport. I had to make a conscious effort to keep left. Linda had to keep calling to me to swim to the left a bit more. The old adage about men drifting to the right as they get older seems to be true after all.

I’d like to upgrade my Garmin to one I can use in the water too. I like to have the time and distance logged. I also like my toys. I have a PoolMate swim watch just now which is very good for swimming indoors. Its accelerometers allow it to count the number of strokes per length that you swim. It assumes that the pauses in a set are your glides at the start of a length so it counts the lengths you swim too. It’s a clever bit of kit but it doesn’t have GPS so it can’t work outdoors. The Garmin Swim watch doesn’t have GPS but there are a couple of Forerunners which are intended for multisports but I’ll have to save up a bit before I can buy either of them.

I have a lot of work to do if I’m even going to finish the swim at the Cambridge Triathlon in a scant few weeks but it was a good first session. I need to be less of a wuss about swimming crawl in murky, cool water. I did enjoy the session. I think I swam between 700 and 800m.I intend to build up to swimming an entire lap of the lake – about 1.4k – by the time of my big race. It’s a little shorter than my race distance but good practice.

My thanks to Linda and Colin for swimming with me and to the rest of my new clubmates at BRJ Run and Tri for laying on such a wonderful evening’s swimming. I’ll be back at the lake next Friday, lubed up, talced up, rubbered up and raring to go. I might even remember not to be quite so keen to get into my wetsuit.

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Of Punishment Beatings, Kettlebells and Magic Rubber Pants. With Additional Christopher Biggins.

I ache this week. I’m also bone tired. I haven’t felt this tired since… Let me think. Oh, that’s right. I haven’t felt this tired since last January when I was in marathon training. I’m not doing a marathon this year and I’m certainly not doing one in April or May.

So why do my legs feel as if they’ve been used as practice pieces for apprentices on the Provisional IRA’s Introduction to Punishment Beatings course?

“Declan, Declan! You’re doin’ it wrong again, ye feckin’ eejit. Knees first, then ankles.”

“Sorry, sir. He just won’t lie still, like. An’ he keeps goin’ on about refuellin’ strategies for a half marathon being completely feckin’ useless. I think he’s a bit mad.”

Now there’s a City and Guilds course specification I’d like to see.


One of the reasons everything hurts quite as badly as it does is probably the kettlebells class I had with Will of Cambridge Kettlebells on Wednesday night. A little bit of history here. Well, I say history, but I’m going to make most of it up. History isn’t just the story of the past, it’s the stories we tell each other to learn from the past. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the Russian army was a brutal place for its young recruits. One of the punishments meted out to to these poor sods was carrying cannonballs around the place. When cannonballs became scarce because of the introduction of newer forms of artillery which used different ammunition, one of the brighter NCOs started to hoard the old ones at his dacha just outside Yaroslavl. He welded handles to them because he thought he would be able to abuse recruits more efficiently if more of them could hold onto 20-kilo pieces of shot without dropping them onto their own feet or lobbing them at the back of the head of the poor sod in front of them and the kettlebell was born.

One day, he defected from the Russian army to a fitness studio in New York where he found that he no longer received complaints from people when he tried to punish them with his little cannonballs. Instead, they called him a fitness guru. His classes were filled for months ahead of time with people eager to be given the sort of punishment he used to dole out to someone found molesting the regimental horse. He was confused and slightly saddened but soon perked up when he was given a large pile of cash for his stash of ratty cannonballs.

Will isn’t a Russian army NCO. I could detect no sociopathic tendencies. I was surprised to be the only other bloke there. Kettlebells seem a little macho but I was as wrong in this as I am in my historical research. Will warmed us up, showed us how to lift a kettlebell safely then started to run through some basic exercises. We did double-handed swings. If you do it right, all the power you need to move the kettlebell comes from what Will called a “hip snap.” I thought immediately about the hip thrust in Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of course you can’t get the swing right if you bring your knees in tight.

We did some squats and sumo squats and single-arm swings and changed from one single-arm swing to the other and at the end of the hour I was completely wiped. I did love it and I can’t wait to go back next week but it was harder work than I’d expected.

Anne Christmas present for me arrived this week. It’s not every day that a man is happy to receive rubber pants from his wife. Mine are made by Zone3 and they’re buoyancy shorts, made from wetsuit neoprene and intended to give swimmers a little extra help to float nice and flat in the water. Aside from feeling slightly kinky wearing black rubber in public for the first time, I enjoyed using them. I took them to the pool after the kettlebell session. They’re not as buoyant as a pull-buoy so I’m slower in them over 50m than I am with the pull-buoy but much quicker than I am with no aids at all so they do work. I was too knackered to do more than a handful of lengths on Wednesday but I’ll use them again when I go to the pool later today and for tomorrow’s swim.

What I’m not going to do under any circumstances ever is wear them while doing the Time Warp. Oh no. Not me.

NB There’s a gratuitous Christopher Biggins sausage appreciation shot in that clip. You have been warned.


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