Friday, December 31, 2010

Interesting times.

Ho Ho Ho.

Happy New Year and all that festive chuntering to anyone out there who reads this. I realised, when someone linked to my blog from theirs, that it's been quite a while since I wrote anything here. You must all have become terribly frustrated at the lack of blethering waffle with which to fill five minutes of your day. I apologise, wholeheartedly.

Anyway, a few things are up and running. I left one job and started another - now Data Analysing once more, for the NHS. I still haven't escaped Leeds, but I'll manage it at some point. I've bought some skis and played around in snowy parks, bought a playboat and paddled it a couple of times (I'm still useless, and in answer to various people's retorts, no, I am NOT going to start paddling at Holme Pierrepont every week). I've had some amazingly beautiful snowy night runs, and some horrendously muddy trail rides, and at the moment I'm up in the Lakes having a lovely, peaceful, quiet Christmas and New Year with my family.

There's a bunch of vague plans for 2011, which include, in some semblance of order:
Janathon - Jog-Blog-Log. Read the link for an idea of what the heck it is.
The Mighty Deerstalker
The Nav4/12
Possibly the Heb2B Adventure
Maybe a trip to the Dolomites and the Sellaronda Hero
Maybe the Open Adventure C2C
After that... who knows?!

You should end up seeing lots of posts as of tomorrow as part of Janathon. Then again, if I fail catastrophically, you won't.

All the best for 2011, and see you all soon. Thanks for your continues patience at my waffling.



Friday, September 24, 2010


So, the Coast-to-Coast is done with. It didn't go as well as I'd hoped. A combination of factors, mainly physical, a little technological, maybe a bit mental as well. These are just some assorted memories from the race, good, bad and ugly, and a few thing to pick up on for the future.

Introductions, banter, catching up, the sun rising over the sea, watching dawn chasing us, having a brew by the beach and getting sorted for the off. Praying for fine weather, preparing for rain. A brave Provost greeting, the sound of the horn and away.

Stage 1 - Run, 11km. 1:11:15.
Taking it steady, knowing Phil was behind me, until he caught me again. Rewarding myself with Jelly Babies, cursing myself when I felt like I needed to walk. Pins and needles in my left foot, a blister on my right. The beautiful red sunrise off to the left, over the hay field. Up the drive of Cawdor castle, "You're going the wrong way, Pyro. The teashop's that way", into the transition, fast change, and onwards.

Stage 2 - Road bike, 55km. 2:24:19
Feeling good, down on the bars early, pushing a good gear on the flat. Turning upwards at Galcantry, running out of gears technically and physically, grinding on the up. Daviot, having to step off and stretch my back out, but through the tunnel and on, and up... Being glad Ross had warned me about the exposure on the top road, keeping going to keep warm. Head all over the place, up and down like crazy, highs and lows physically and mentally. Dropping my sweets, insidious climbs, being caught and dropped, the first Racer category rider going through. Tucked and dropping, aero-a-gogo. Descending fast but cautious to Inverfarigaig, a couple of short snotbag climbs, then the signs for the turnoff, into transition. People sitting in transition, 3 close together, other people looking worse than me. Beef wrap, drink, food, into the boat and off.

Stage 3 - Kayak, 17km. 2:35:44
Better shape than some. Fighting with the boat and what little swell there was, back end of the boat (a whitewater racer) being pushed out of line every minute or so. Constant re-correction, Houli's tape on the paddles (from him borrowing them for training) rubbing blisters. Wobbling like crazy when I stopped for food. Catching Elizabeth and someone else, feeling sorry for the latter as he pulled over and apparently got picked up by the safety boat (cramps). Loch Ness going on forever into the mist, starting to see the end looming but still a way away. Bouys coming into sight, Racer paddlers coming into sight, the end coming into sight. Out of the boat, up onto the headland, and seeing Big Chris and Trudi. Limping to the bike park, legs tight, still smiling

Stage 4 - MTB, 53km. 3:56.45
Out of transition, fast and smooth down the canal, feeling the pull in my left knee (ITB). Fast rotation, spinning away, pace but not power. Seeing Racers getting cheeky parental support not 30yds from a Marshal, onto the tarmac, onto the singletrack, off. Empty tank, struggling with the mud and the climbs, off and pushing, on and riding, off, on, off. Fantastic singletrack hairpins, roosting it down towards Invergarry, onto the tarmac again for a while. The Racer with his helmet on his rucksack (tut tut tut), off-road once more, feeling like we were going the wrong way, fire-road on and on and on, Clunes, then Bunarkaig, places I recognize at last. Knees getting worse, seizing when I stop, easing some when I spin, agony when I have to put the pressure down. Helping out the pair struggling on the road, the guy on a hire bike with the jammed chain, grovelling onwards on the road, to the Corpach road, into known territory, into Claggan...

"Sorry mate. They moved the cutoff forwards half an hour. It's twenty past four, you've missed it."
Mixed feelings. Pluses - Saves the knee, saves me from the killer trek. Minuses - my race is over, I haven't completed, I came here to complete. Frustration, food, painkillers, dry clothes. "If we'd started on time instead of 15 minutes late" - You'd still be 5 minutes out of time. Driving to Glencoe, resigned gradually. Seeing old faces and friends, cheering for the prizegiving, seeing Bruce up on the podium. Off to our 'Hobbit' for the night, Dark Island and excellent burger in the Bothan bar then sleep. G'night.

Lessons to be learnt.
It's a frustrating one. If we'd started on time and the cutoff hadn't been shifted, I would have made it in with 25mins to spare, headed out onto the hill, and probably got cutoff at the paddle start, which was what I'd said was my worst case scenario. I'd have been suffering with my knee but I'd have kept going. I won't ever blame an organiser for shifting a cutoff, but more notice, a message via the marshals further up the course for example, would have been a sign to push, instead of cruising in to preserve the knee. Starting on time would have helped as well.

I'm not one to try and blame everything on technology. The simplest improvement I could make would be to train more, get fitter, mix endurance work with speed work, spend more time doing the mileage, and lose some weight. I think the ITB problem is a symptom of pushing too far too fast, better training would alleviate that as well.

Tactically I think the race played out as I'd wanted. I didn't waste time in transitions, I stuck at paces I could continue (be they slow or otherwise), and I ate when and where I needed to. Steve, as support, was absolutely superb on getting what kit I needed, where I needed it, when I needed it. We'd prepped and planned very well, sorted the gear as we needed it, and stuck to our gameplan.

Foodwise I made a couple of mistakes, and these showed. I've never been good at eating first thing in the morning, so I need to possibly force more food down pre-start. I had a bowl of porage but maybe that's not enough. I munched a few Jelly Babies on the run, which was about all I needed, but should have eaten more on the road bike in prep for the paddle. Cumulatively, not enough went into the tank on the first 3 stages, and I started to crash out on the MTB. I ate everything Steve had prepped for me on the MTB, and was still dropping off. Food strategy is definitely something to work on.

Technologically I'd make a couple of changes. Altering the gearing on my road bike bring it in line with my MTB (and therefore my normal riding style). A triple chainset (or a compact double) would be a good start. Computers on both bikes might also be a help, although I'm undecided on this: I don't know whether being able to see pace and distance would be a boost or a frustration. I don't ride with a computer normally so something I need to get into the habit of.

A different boat would also make a difference. I took a whitewater racer because, frankly, it was what I could get a hold of, but it was probably one of the slowest boats there. The mechanics of steering (leaning) and the lack of rudder meant I was getting pushed out of shape by the swell, despite it being relatively small, and spent too much time fighting the boat to be able to paddle effectively. Something like a sea kayak, with a rudder or at least a skeg, would help.

One thing is for certain (he says, signing his own execution warrant)...

...I'll be back for another go.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"I may be some time..."

So, the latest batch of lunacy looms. And it's a biggie. The Nokia Coast-to-Coast, the focus of a summer's (ahem) training. 160km across Scotland, run-bike-kayak stylee. And guess what? I'm nervous.

A wise old man (or was it a doddery old goat?) often used to tell me that being nervous was natural, it showed you were taking things seriously. Well, I often try to pretend I'm not taking it seriously, but in this case, it's a definite lie. I'm taking it really, really seriously. I'm in Expert category. That's not a refection on my abilities as a racer, just that I have the skills and desire to put a long kayak section into my race. I may be the least Expert of the Experts, and there's only 40 of us.

I'm competitive, if only with myself. My only aim is to complete the course, irrespective of ranking or time. I am going for a long day out in the hills. It will hurt. I know all of this, I keep repeating all of this to myself. But the truth is thus: If this were a team event, I would be less nervous. The support and presence of others in the same boat is a big motivating factor to me. But this is a solo event. Steve is supporting me, of which I'm very, very grateful. Aside from that, I have to push myself the entire way. No helping hands, no extrinsic motivator alongside, no-one to help through their bad patches and to be helped by through mine. I don't handle solo racing as well as I do team work, and this is a big solo. Mentally, that's hard work for me. We'll see how it pans out.

What's in store for me then?
11km trail run - 55km road bike - 17km kayak - 53km mountain bike - 23km run/trek - 1.5km kayak. 
What's making me nervous is the foot work. An 11km trail run is neither here nor there, it's two-and-a-bit laps of the parkrun. It's a gentle shuffle to get me warmed up and into the race. 23km run/trek worries me more. I'd never think of entering a road half marathon. I know, theoretically, I can do the distance, but it's a long way, at the end of a day like that. That is the crux, for me. In my own head, I need to clear the cutoff at the end of the MTB leg by at least an hour, to give me a comfort margin for that trek and to see me clear of the cutoff time at the start of the final kayak. Not making that final cut, to be that close, to look across Loch Leven and be able to see the finish but to not be allowed to complete, that is the worst case scenario.

It won't be quick or pretty, but then again I'm neither. Am I prepared? Ask me at 5am on Sunday.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A day in the half life

More work to be done, more training to be done, more life to experience, more to do. Always. I've made what is for me a rather large change in giving up caffeine in the evenings. To help me to sleep better, ostensibly. Feeling less dehydrated is useful as well.

Last week was far too sedentary though. A little bimble on the mountain bike, a wee bit of walking, a toddle around on the roadie. Nothing much, nothing fast, nothing hard. Enough - a session most days - but not enough to feel like I'd done anything. Oh well. Live and learn. Sort it out and move on.

The weekend was a fun one, Timmy's stag do, up in my old stomping ground of the Dales. A nice wee ramble up Ingleborough on Saturday morning, a couple of hours up and down, including some dithering at the top in the mist. A phenomenal day of falconry and archery, including hunting with a hawk, and a nice ride around Gisburn on Sunday. No crashes this time, though, though the technical bits at Whelpstone Crag did get the better of me. I had a quick run up to the top of the Crag as well, since there's a trig pillar there.

And now we're back into the swing of things. Harewood run on Monday (map below), a beautiful summer's evening jog around a beautiful estate. Being followed by a Red Kite was a highlight, I see them most mornings on my drive to work, but to be within 30 yards of one was phenomenal. After the info we'd had on hawks and falcons hunting on Saturday I was a bit nervous, but apparently they're carrion eaters, and I wasn't quite that dead-looking. Meanwood bike loop tonight, a great ride in the sun, spinning the legs loose and riding however I felt like it.

Days like that are the type of thing that make it worthwhile. The sunset evenings, the steady sun and cool breezes, the stunning nature and little moments of niceness. They offset the bad days, the rain, the pain, the misery. Let's hope they continue!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

First ride nerves

First 'proper' ride out on the road bike today - I'm still awaiting the new rear mech for my mountain bike after Porage the other week, so there's been a few days of tweaking and a decision to get some road miles in.

I went out for a short spin on Sunday to see whether a bunch of my hopes and fears about owning a roady were right* - some were, some weren't. I can, contrary to my own belief, climb on a big double chainring. It's not necessarily the sat-down spinning I'm used to, but I can do it. I still can't, for some reason, get my head round riding on the drops (the lower bit of curly road bikes bars, for any non-riders out there). The posture just feels weird, the upper half of my body feels weighted but unsupported, and it's just not quite right. I therefore spend most of my time resting on the brake hoods - not particularly aero, but easier for me. And I still feel as if I'm perched on top of the bike, not sat in it. That might sound odd, but it's the difference between my road bike and my MTB.

So, since Sunday I've tweaked the bike around, altered seat position, bar position, tuned the gears (might still change cassette if I'm worried about climbing gearing), new saddle, new stem... a whole bunch of bits. And after all that fettling, I couldn't just sit the bike up against the wall and admire it, could I?!

The plan I've been bandying about was to save myself some cash on petrol and to half-and-half my commute. At 35 miles it's just a leeetle too long to ride the lot, but leaving my car in Wetherby gives me an undulating 30km route to the office. Fairly simple: a good ride distance, decently surfaced roads, and no horrendous climbs (but a few long gradual ones). Problem is as a non-roady, I've no idea of how long 30km will take me!

I left the warm safe comfort of bed this morning at 6:45am (a serious sacrifice for me, believe me) and drove up to Wetherby. Finding a place to park at 7:30 isn't too much of an issue, so a wee bit of faff, gear up, make sure I've remembered the essentials (netbook, deodorant, trousers etc...) and set off. I'd planned to spin the first bit and take it nice and easy to the Bridge Hotel. I reckoned an average 20kph would give me an hour-and-a-half's ride, 30kph would put me on an hour. I'd no idea which of these was more realistic and I've not got a bike computer on the roady so it was just ride and see what time I got in. A brief stop at the Bridge to tweak the saddle level - too much nose down, slipping forward on it more than is comfortable for a gentleman - and onwards.

I never ride with a computer or a watch, so speed and distance on rides are odd concepts for me to consider, things I find out after I've finished the ride. I'd worked out the distances between set landmarks on the route - the A59 junction, Boroughbridge roundabout, etc - but as I'd forgotten to print them out, my actual time taken was meaningless until I got to the office. I rode at what I felt was fast but steady, still able to speak a sentence or sing a line of a song, and rested occasionally on the slight downs. Eventually, the rise to Dishforth roundabout turned up and I knew I was about 3.5km from the office. Time to switch back to 'spin' mode and warm down a touch. Arrive at the office, slug back a bottle of nuun, couple of cereal bars, have a wash, get changed and ready for the day. Back into routine...

It turns out I did it in about 1:10-ish. So make that pace about 25-26kph. I've no idea if that's good, bad, respectable or damn slow, but it'll do as a benchmark. The ride back will be slower, I'm just going to take it steady. Maybe...

*Oh, and there was, of course, a trig pillar on route. Scott Hall Road in Leeds. Trig sits on the island between dual carriageways. At least that one's easy to find!

Thursday, July 29, 2010


"And so it came to pass, that the Revolving Head of Porage spaketh, and it invited the people unto Scotland and it said "Race! Run, ride and be happy." And the people heard, and ran, and rode, and raced, and were happy. And then cameth the steps..."

Okay, a slightly bizarre intro to a race report, but a slightly bizarre race to be reported upon. The Man of Porage is a bit of a strange not-quite-a-race not-quite-a-group-ride kind of thing. There's a trophy, you get invited rather than entering, the organiser changes every year, and it's quite a long way.

I've Porage'd before (see an old post for what happened last time), twice in fact, and had been last both times. I wasn't really expecting anything more this time. I knew I'd have company at the back of the peloton this time though. When the invites went out, Ross, Rachel and myself decided to ride together and make the most of it. Rachel later decided she'd rather get the nav practice by riding alone, so myself and the wee ginger one decided we'd have a nice bimble on our own.

We set off from Strathaven, starting off with a quick wee bit of street orienteering on foot, then a trio of bike CPs on the same O map, then onto the variety of scaled OS extracts towards Glassford, Quarter and Chatelherault country park. There were a series of CPs that could be gathered in any order, but there seemed to be a natural sequence to them unfortunately it involved zig-zagging back-and-forth across the wooded valley, which involved steps. Lots of them. We'd taken a different route to Rachel and assumed we were in front of her, but with the variable routes, she could have been past us without us seeing, so we kept pottering on through the park.

It's amazing what you find in these suburban woodlands and parks, and we found some steep stuff, some nice wiggly singletrack, and some steps. Lots of steps. Some ridable, some not. Them we found the M74, which was lovely. We headed underneath it for a quite round of Strathclyde counrty park, hoping for a challenge on one of the rollercoasters, but sadly not this time. A little tricky nav (car parks not quite on the map), dodging broken glass, and more fun wooded singletrack and then onto tactical tarmac!

I say tactical tarmac - our reasoning was thus: We weren't rushing, we weren't going to win, and while singletrack by the river might have been more fun, it would also take more energy. So we lapped onto the road for a while, back onto trail, back onto road. We got a bit lost around Dalzell Castle - my fault, since I was the navigator - after stopping for a bit of lunch, some suncream, and a nice conversation with a gentleman who had lost a £2,000 dog. More singletrack, more steps, more tarmac, and we got to the food stop at Crossford, and the next maps. Max and Justin were sat eating as we arrived, having already done the next stage, a figure-8 loop, so we had some food and a natter. They headed off, and Pete, Charlie and Dave arrived. Pete gave us a couple of handy hints about the trails on one half of the figure 8, then we headed out ourselves. We saw Dan on his way back as we headed out onto loop 1, then lots of climbing, lots of nettles, a fair bit of mild cursing and a lot of fun stuff later we arrived back to find Rachel sat at the give-out, so more food, more banter and another refill of bottles and we were off again. In the wrong direction, it turns out, but we sorted that out fairly quickly (Urban OS is not always the easiest to follow...)

After more woody singletrack, field edge snakey dry soil path, and some more tarmac we headed into the woods near Kirkfieldbank, following the Clyde still, towards Corra Linn, opposite New Lanark. And that was when it all went a bit wrong.

Basically, a chunk of brash, evidently wanting to pretend to be a snake, jumped up and bit me in the rear mech. My rear mech very rapidly succumbed to stick poisoning, and snapped. Being as I ride a full-suss and the stick had also managed to put a slight twist in my chain, it was quite obvious that the bike was not going to accept being singlespeeded, and was not going to be ridden any more that day. With great sadness (and possibly a little bad language) I dismantled the rear end of the gearset, taped the cable out of the way, swapped my map board onto Ross's bike and let him loose to navigate for himself* while I jogged myself and my bike out of the woods. I ran/scooted the 3km-or-so past the Falls of Clyde and onwards through the wood to the next manned CP where my race ended, after 80km, in the back of a car.

Chauffered by Martin, we headed off towards the finish at Wiston Lodge. It was a bit galling a drive, to be honest, as us short-routers were to skip the big off-road haul up and over Tinto and the last section would have just been a tarmac grind. The way I'd been riding I knew I could have completed, but it just wasn't an option. We drove on, passing Rachel and giving her some encouragement (I believe her words were "Make sure the kettle's on") and looking at the mist-shrouded hill that the long route guys would be descending off, with more than a little envy. We got back to the lodge, and I waited for Ross so we could run the last activity, a 2km orienteering leg, together.

That duly dispatched, we could shower, dine, drink and enjoy a wee camp fire to our heart's content. A bottle of Ardbeg was produced, and we made merry until not particularly late in the night, when the cumulative effects of 10hrs-or-so in the saddle made themselves known and it was time to hit the sack.

Despite the breakage and retiral, I'm really happy with the way it went. Myself and Ross rode well and had a good craic at the same time. There were a couple of shaky patches, physically and navigationally, but nothing major. We averaged about 9.5km/h for the day, which over that distance I think is respectable. I rode further than I have in 2 years (since my last Porage) and felt pretty good the majority of the way. Even just to get 75km in the legs is a good thing, to me. Ross finished in 10hrs 43min. I retired at around 8h 30min, but I'm confident I could have ridden the extra distance. It's annoying, but sometimes sh*t happens. Next time, I'll complete.

As with all things, there should be thanks. Thanks to Gary, Rich and Marty for course design and testing, Caitlin and the rest of the Tompsett clan for accomodation and food, Ross and Rachel for company, amusement, and general encouragement/abuse, Martin and Jules for marshalling, and all the other Porageers and visitors for a lovely evening out in the country.

Thanks for reading. Take it easy, and all the best to anyone else on their own adventures.


*In hindsight, this may have been a foolish option as I saw him again half an hour later, having only just worked out where he was. Numpty!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More MTB

Another longer loop around Leeds. Myself and Giles set off to do the Meanwood loop, but I took the OS map out in case I fancied a longer ride. Come the top end of the trail, Giles opted to head back and I continued North up across the fields towards Eccup reservoir, Harewood, and the Emmerdale set. Just shy of 30km in the end, about 3 and a half hours of nice steady pacing. A couple of map/food/faff stops, and a beautiful evening to be out and about.

The view across the crop fields - very pretty, although the pic from a phone camera isn't the best!

And of course, it wouldn't be complete without me trying to bag some trig pillars. Picked up the pillar north of the Adel jumps on a short out-and-back, pictured with the bike below, and the pillar embedded in the hedge at Brandon Lodge. The one at Tunnel How is still defying me - GPS tracks show I'm near it - very near! - but the new-ish plantation and a lot of undergrowth mean it isn't visible, and it will take some bushwhacking to get to it. I'll get it at some point though!!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

New toys

It's a road bike.

And no, those pedals aren't staying on it. They were just so I could sort the saddle height out...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Open 12: The good, the bad and the ugly

Just had a fantastic weekend of racing up in the Dales, the Open 12, with Steve Hutton (MEng). Steve's first multisport race, and my first in a while, so a good tester for both of us! Next races are Porage and the Coast-to-Coast for me, London Rat Race for Steve.

Big thanks to Steve for putting up with me, waiting for me on foot and following me on the bikes. Thanks also to Dave, Portia and Mark for the swim safety and banter. And to Open Adventure for such good organisation and fun.

Day 1 - 7hrs - 18km trek, 1km canyon, 22km bike, pool dive.
Day 2 - 5hrs - 60m abseil, 11km trek, 600m swim, 23km bike.  

The good:
The special stages - Hell Gill canyon, Hardraw Force pool dive and abseil, and the Semer Water swim. Especially the Semer Water swim.
The scenery - jogging across stone slab footpaths through fields of clover and buttercups, the view from Wild Boar Fell. All awesome countryside
The running - a slow plod, perhaps, but run/jog/tabbing further than I have in a long time, and the legs not feeling too bad for it. And to the bloke on the fell who joined in the banter, which lifted the head quite nicely, thank you! The scene: traversing, dropping from the trig pillar down to the tarn:
CA: "Fell running will never suit me."
SH: "Me neither."
Other racer: "You're not doing too badly at it at the moment, boys"

The bad:
The midgies  - at the overnight camp. Note to self: buy a midge net.
The heat - fighting dehydration for the weekend. Thank you Nuun...

The ugly:
My legs! - the three big climbs that show just how little hill time I have in my legs: To Wild Boar Fell summit, up Mallerstang, and from Burtersett to the West Cam road.
Flats - the three punctures that cut us short on the descent from Addleborough - one more CP would have put us 4 places higher!

Anyway, it feels like a good benchmark to me, and gives me a few ideas of where my fitness is, what I need to work on, and what I can do to improve. Getting more hill time into my legs would be very beneficial, since I suffered more than I feel I could have on the climbs. Trekking poles were of some benefit but perhaps only limited, since I didn't use them on day 2. Other than that, I'm happy with how I did on foot: I'm slow, but the endurance is still there. Maybe time to get in more orienteering to help both the nav and the pace work.

Mechanical problems like the punctures are annoying but not something we could really anticipate or affect. I may go tubeless in the not-too-distant but it's dependant on money rather than need! That said, we only had one tube each, Steve running Schraeder valves and me with Prestas, so when I flatted my rear after Steve had flatted both his tubes we had to do an emergency patch job, which only just held to the finish. Something to note and watch in future races. More racing on bikes - Trailquest/MTBO/etc - could be useful, again as speedwork and nav-while-riding training.

Lastly, I can't express just how much I enjoyed the swim. I think both Steve and I were a little nervous about it, and 600m with a pack on is quite a long haul for people who don't swim train. We were glad of the bouyancy aids and I think the choice to do a steady breaststroke was a good one - saved energy and kept the head up (physically and mentally). The water was quite warm, which helped a lot, and it was good to have a craic with the Extreme Care crew as we went.

All in all, a good one, a learning experience, and a place from which to progress.



Friday, June 25, 2010


So, I'm slowly going crazy trying to get all my kit together for the Open 12. As always happens the night before a race, the kit-geek in me runs rampant: "Shall I take this? Will we need that? Ooh, that might be useful. Is that too much gear?"

D'you think I'm compensating for something?*

Anyway, race strategy is to go out and have fun. Start slow and taper off. Enjoy the sun and have a giggle. We should manage some of that, I reckon.

Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast...

*I meant my lack of fitness. Wash your mind out...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Double discipline day

So, a run and bike day, a week before the Open 12. Carrying a full race pack, as practice.

13.5km run, about 1:35. Trails are nice and dry, got the trig pillar in (keeping with my traditional mission!). A little more time on tarmac than I would have liked, but you can't really get in any distance without road running a bit, eh?

25km MTB ride, 2:25, started off as the Meanwood Loop as well, but then became a bit of a "Ooh, I wonder where that trail goes?" womble up to Eccup, Harewood, the Emmerdale set and back trying to find another trig pillar (failed - just above it, I think. Missed by yards!).

All in all, a rather pleasant day out in the sun, dry trails, a good giggle, and now sore legs to match the sore arms from Thursday. Yey!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meanwood run

GPS track of the Meanwood run route I've been doing a couple of times a week recently - well, one of the many variations on 'route'. There are so many small trails in that section of woodland that you can create as many variations of the theme of 'route' as I can on the theme of 'running'...

Run anticlockwise, the blobby bit at about 3 o'clock is a little quarry where I run short hill reps.

To also do some shameless promotion for a friend, my increase in running recently has been helped a lot by a good gait analysis and shoe advice from Stuart Hale and the team at Accelerate down in Sheffield. I'd been having big issues with blistering in my arches during runs, which is not what you need when you're wanting to up your mileage. Stuart ran the gait analysis for me, talked about my normal running style, terrain and mileage, explained (very patiently, in words of less than 3 syllables) what was causing the problem, what the possible solutions were, and then produced a stack of shoes that might help. A stint running in each one narrowed it down gradually, and I finally emerged from their shop (over an hour later) with a pair of Saucony Xodus trail shoes. The last couple of weeks running a couple of times a week has bedded them in, and I have to say, they're a great fit and I've had no further problem with blistering. Which is nice.

So - Run route above, shameless plug below. Thanks for reading this far!


Pyro and his ever-diminishing beergut.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Part inspiration, part perspiration...

...Part motivation. The last one of the three is usually the hardest to muster.

So, Bristol Rat Race marked the start of the summer season, both working- and racing-wise. A fantastic weekend was had by most, the water crew especially, who had a wonderful time kayaking at Redcliffe, pontoon-rafting by the Cottage, and paddling and abseiling at the NADC quarry at Chepstow.

Today's sermon kind of follows on from the weekend activities, and it's a tricky one. Motivation to exercise can be hard work, harder than the exercise itself when it comes down to it. There's been lots of great phrases that have come up over the years, lovely snippets and soundbites that we can all quote. We use them to make ourselves feel better, or to justify our own actions, or just to divert attention from the fact that, as smug as we are in quoting them, we haven't had much motivation ourselves. Some can become a mantra, words to get us through the bad patches. Some become a target, words to aspire to, a level of glory to attain. And some become a stick, words to whip ourselves into shape, a shadowy nemesis to mentally spar against. Whatever the processing method, if the end result is increased output and activity, all good.

I'm often short of motivation. I can find innumerable excuses not to get out for a run, not to go biking, not to get on the river and paddle. Injuries, kit to be repaired, lack of time, etc etc ad nauseaum. It's difficult to set a routine, difficult to remember to eat at the right times, difficult to squeeze in those sessions between work, food, sleep and slobbing out in front of the PC. I have targets, and they are myriad: This race, that race, to lose that much weight, to do at least one 10km a week, to ride a couple of nights a week. But the sofa is comfy, and my legs hurt, and it's raining, and I've had a bad day...

A song lyric, from some time ago, says "Do one thing every day that scares you". At the weekend, for one of our water crew, that was doing a 62 metre abseil. For some, it was crossing the pontoon raft we rigged in Bristol harbour. For more, it was lining up on the start of their first Rat Race. For me, it's sometimes just putting on my shorts, jersey and jacket, and walking out of the door. Hesitancy can be overcome with a gentle prod, some mild verbal abuse, and the encouragement of others. Perhaps the best way to encourage motivation is a) to be scared all the time and b) to cultivate a small group of inner voices to encourage/abuse you a lot.

For me, there will always be many sets of words rushing around my head. Song lyrics, inspirational speech and mild abuse in equal parts. But to quote a good friend, and to paraphrase a large sports clothing manufacturer, perhaps the best logic is to "Jist dae it"...

Monday, May 17, 2010


"When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, it was beautiful, magical.
All the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully, watching me.

But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical, liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to feel you're acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable."

(Supertramp - The Logical Song)

Isn't growing up a joy?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Your Own Adventure

"Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." - Helen Keller

A big part of my enthusiasm for the outdoors comes from my parents. Both of them like being out and about, and have always encouraged and supported both myself and my sisters to do the stuff we wittered about wanting to do as kids. Kayaking, orienteering, mountain biking, all of it. Obviously there were limitations, but we got the chance to do as much as we could.

Something that's been on my mind recently has been something being your own adventure though, and I think that's another thing that relates back to mum and dad. Let me expand, at vague length, on what I mean...

When I was a kid, we went away orienteering a lot. Sometimes it was fantastic, and looking back now it did wonders for my navigation skills and base fitness. But I didn't always enjoy it, and I remember particular patches where I REALLY didn't enjoy going. I wanted to stay in, play computer games, play rugby etc. I sulked and kicked my legs when made to go to ANOTHER orienteering event where I would be out in the woods for HOURS because I'm not a particularly good runner and it was BORING and I wanted to do SOMETHING ELSE. The same when my folks would take me and my sisters out for a walk, whether it was up to Whinlatter, along the old Keswick-Threlkeld railway line or just from the house around the Ireby loop. I've never been a fan of just taking orders, I want to explore things my own way.

So, for someone with so much enthusiasm for the outdoors, why be reluctant to go? Because it wasn't my own adventure.

I loved going out on my mountain bike, unsuited as it was to my trips (Hi-Ten steel frame, no suspension, knackered bearings, hybrid tyres), riding along to Ireby, up onto the fell road, on to Borrowscales, over the back of Skiddaw. I probably gave my parents kittens, some of the rides I used to go out on, solo. But it was my own adventure, and so my whole heart was in it.

Doing things like Chief Scouts Challenge and Duke of Edinburgh's Award developed another side of my own adventures, the planning aspect. Coming up to an Adventure Race or a big hill trip these days, I find it really enjoyable to plot and plan, pick routes, sort kitlists, logistics, camping spots. I love doing that side as much as I do actually getting out onto the hill. It's all part of my own adventure.

So, what's brought on this outbreak of ownership and deep thinking? Last weekend, my girlfriend Hannah and some of her friends were heading out to do the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. They've been training together, getting the hills in individually, and working towards the full works. I'd said, initially, I would walk with them, a walk I've done numerous times before and love. They trained, and walked, and planned, and I did my own thing, as I tend to do. Then something occurred to me: I was so fond of my own adventure, why should I interfere with them having THEIR own adventure? I know what I'm like on the hill, in most circumstances I want to take charge, push on, and get people moving. But maybe that isn't what they want, maybe they want to take it at their own pace, enjoy the day, and not be bullied around the hills by a self-professed 'veteran'.

I dropped out of the walk, and drove up to the Dales as their support. I made sandwiches, brewed tea, consulted maps and did the shopping. I went for short walks, took binoculars, watched the fells, and tried to find sheltered places to park the car. I provided encouraging words, snippets of advice, and dry thermals. And I had a great day. I hope they did too.

Everyone should be allowed their own adventures. Whether that adventure takes you across mountain ranges or just around your own back garden is up to you. As long as the adventure is your own. If you can support someone else in theirs, one day they might come to support you in yours. And then maybe one day you'll both have your own adventures together.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pillars - pt2

Continuing tonight's 'Pillars' theme (this could go on for a while, y'know...) A second route, a Monday night run to bag another urban trig pillar. 9.1km, 59mins. Would have been quicker but for the horrendous blisters my shoes are inflicting on me, despite tape and two pairs of socks. New shoes to come in the not-too-distant future, methinks... Still, an enjoyable hour on a beautiful spring evening. Long may it last!

Pillars of wisdom

I've been trying to take some inspiration, and some motivation, from others recently. Sometimes it's nice to take a others ideas and see how you can twist them to fit yourself and your own goals and aims. Sometimes they're profitable, sometimes not, but like most things, they're usually worth a go.

The latest one is thus: The German posted an article to his blog a while back about a mission to collect trig pillars in his local area - for those who aren't familiar with these (shame on you) they're concrete pillars used by the Ordnance Survey to base their theodolites on when surveying the UK. In the days of aerial cartography they might be more-or-less redundant, but they're still around, marking what is often the end of a laborious climb, a stopping point for hillwalkers everywhere, and a convenient amusement to stand on top of and pretend to be the Statue of Liberty. Anyway, the key to Graham's little mission, and to this one of mine, is that these concrete lumps are sited on the top of hills all over the place, be that out in the wilds of Knoydart or the comfort of leafy suburbia. It may not even be that big a hill.

I'd been scanning Memory Map for some trails to ride to make a Saturday a little more entertaining. I was crashing at Dave from Extreme Care's place on the Friday night and leaving my car there, with the aim of getting a longer ride in and stretching the legs a bit. There were a multitude of options, south to Castleford and along the canal was one, north and round the ring-road another, but then Graham's post came to mind and I started looking for the little blue triangle-and-dot symbol, spotting one, then another, and another... etc. In the end, I had a likely route of 40km, mixing bridleway, byway and country road, taking in 8 pillars, ending with one right on a regular bike route (the Meanwood trail) which I'd never even noticed. There were a couple more not-too-far off-route for if I was having a really good day, and a multitude of escape routes in case of physical, mechanical or meteorological failure.

Rolling out from Sheepcoates Farm it was a fantastic day, warm and sunny, just the weather for shorts and a jersey. I'd packed my new race pack (Inov8 Race Pro 22) with gear, food and a pair of running shoes because not all of the pillars are on bridleways. I set off at a leisurely pace and soon had the first pillar bagged, next to a water tower not more than 5km from the start. I headed up through Garforth and along a familiar-ish bit of trail towards the M1. I say familiar-ish, last time I rode it it was a fun, twisty snake of woodland singletrack, whoopy territory with a large grin factor. Utterly dismayed this time round to find that it, along with another couple of favourite trail sections of mine, have had all the nice stuff JCB'd out and replaced with dull, uninspiring hardpack. Head-down mindless boogie.

That said, as I crossed the bridge over the motorway, I could see the grey-white lump of the next pillar, so a quick spin alongside the fence, then a short dash up a field edge and number 2 in the bag. A little more fun to come, descending the farm tracks I've night ridden so many times with Team Dogger, and up the hill alongside the woods, scene of a first proper night ride so many years ago. A quick dash over the field and that's three! I'd been riding gently for a couple of hours, the sun was out, and it was a near-perfect day. If I could just stop my blinking saddle creaking, it would be perfect...

Sadly, the creaking saddle put a premature end to my day. I'd continued, through Barwick-in-Elmet, up across the A64 and up the edge of Whittle Carr wood to nip across the fields once more (up a footpath this time) and grab number four, half way in terms of pillars, but just shy in distance. I headed back out onto the bridleway, onto the road again and stopped in Thorner to have a wee bit of food and a look at that seatpost. Looks like the clamp's a wee bit loose. I'll just nip the bolt up a touch. Nip, nip... Boink.

Sadly, the bolt was more seized than it first appeared, and those two little nips sheared it. 19-and-a-bit km in and it was completely shot. Dammit.

Since I ride a relatively small frame, with a severely sloping top tube, there would be absolutely no way to ride this one back. Standing for the distance I still had to go was going to brutalise my thighs beyond comparison. The nearest station was still a long way away and buses won't take bikes. I called for reinforcements, strapped on the running shoes and pushed to the Red Bus Cafe on the A64 to await uplift.

Looking on the bright side, despite the premature end to it I had a great days solo riding, and I've got another loop to concoct to get in the other four of this one, before I start plotting the next batch (okay, too late, I've already started, but you get the idea.) And a little ticking of pillars could go along way towards some of my aims...

Thursday, April 08, 2010


"Don't argue amongst yourselves
Because of the loss of me
I'm sitting amongst yourselves
Don't think you can see me"

I'd written out a nice cheerful blog, about how I've lost weight, caught up with old friends and sorted some bits of my life out over the Easter weekend. I'm not going to post it because, frankly, right at the moment it seems like the wrong thing to do.

Why? Because on Tuesday I got a call to tell me that one of the girls from the Leeds Uni Canoe club, with whom I and many others had paddled, drunk and partied, had been involved in an incident on the River Coe in Scotland, and had sadly passed away.

I'm not going to go into details, there's no need. It's a tragedy whenever someone young dies, and made more so when it's someone you know, someone who was popular, ever-cheerful, and full of potential. She was a very promising paddler and loved pushing herself and others to fulfil their aims and ideals. Amongst the club, her family and her friends, there are a lot of people now torn apart and trying to deal with a person-shaped void which will not go away, but given time and support, will hopefully begin to heal. 'Sorely missed' is a chronic understatement.

Rest in peace Emily.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Le Cerf Noir

The grainy sepia-toned picture resolves itself. A man, sat hunched at his desk, typing away on a computer. The bowl of soup in front of him says it's lunch time. He clicks around the screen, flicking from site-to-site, link-to-link. The shot changes and his face is shown, illuminated in the glare of his monitor. His grizzled, bearded visage bears the thousand-yard stare and faintly disturbing grin of the exhausted but happy.

A crackly voiceover crackles its crackly way through the speakers, a voice like an old sleuth chewing on a fat Havana.

"Monday morning and I'm shot through. This weekend just about finished me off. First, some crazy dame and her old man turn up, bundle me into their car and escort my ass way-the-hell north, to some one-horse town in Scotland. Then, they dress me up in all this lycra and send me out to run myself ragged. The Mighty Deerstalker, they called it. Like an invite to a duel, but I'm an old hand, I've run that race many times before. Nothing was gonna stop me taking a personal best, not the water, not the scree, not even the 1500 other people. Nothing"

The screen flickers, a picture of a website, the race results displayed, a time marked off: 2:29:04. The voiceover pauses. A sipping sound, like a man in a homburg with a Jack Daniels on the rocks, then a consumptive sounding cough. The screen changes again, pictures of runners by the busload. A sharp inhalation of breath, then the voice continues...

"I said to them "Where's the hotel?", but they just laughed. We slept the night in a crowded tent. The air was so cold it froze my socks off, but we'd stocked up on knockout juice on the way, so a few drinks and it was goodnight Vienna. The old man said he had something to celebrate, so we celebrated some, then we celebrated some more. We slept like babies, but without the crying and nappy changes."

Another pause, the monitor flicks through a series of labels: Traquair Bear ale; Gaymers cider; Rhymney Dark ale; Jameson's Irish whiskey; Tetley tea; a small tent and three slumbering bodies; a small pile of recycled dinner; a clear sky, the constellations open for all to behold above the frosty ground. Then to a sunrise; a boiling kettle on an aging Trangia; three bikes; a wooded hill.

"The next morning we stumbled out of bed like tramps on Buckfast, and they said "Let's ride". I ain't no cowboy, so they handed me a bike and pointed me down the road. A place by the name of Glentress. They said the trail started there, so we wandered down to meet up with their partners in grime; DB, The Dane, and a redhead by the name of Rossco. I looked around for a clue and saw a sign from above. It said 'Trailhead' so I knew this was the place to start. "The only way is up", I said, so we climbed. And climbed. And climbed some more. The crazy dame led the way, and we climbed until it all got too spooky. Then we stopped."

The screen flickers again, another website. A series of pictures, people on bikes, the sun in the sky, sucking down energy food, and climbing, always climbing.

"We stuck down some chow, then it was time to move on. I looked around again, and said "The only way is down", so we dropped. It took all the strength I had just to keep on the right track and keep my nose clean. Some fool had dropped dirt and rocks all over the trail. I guess they must have been trying to slow us down, but the chase was on. Things got less spooky, and got faster and swoopier. All at once our thoughts turned to food. Mushroom pies, macaroni cheese, and baked potatoes. We rode like the wind, 'til we couldn't ride no more, and we tumbled out of the woods back where we came from. It looked like it was time to call it a day, and I’d have called it a hell of a day. But for now, it was time to eat..."

The images flick past. Tea. Flapjack. Nachos. Pasta. An empty plate where a baked potato should be. More tea. Costa Coffee.M&Ms

"Pretty soon we knew it was time to leave, so we said our goodbyes and headed south. The rain started as we passed Carlisle. The crazy dame and her old man threw me out of the car as we passed my house, but as I lay in the gutter counting my limbs, the only thought in my head was "we have to do that again sometime"

The screen changes once more. A vertical down-shot of an aching man, sitting in the bath with a cup of tea in hand. Strategically placed bubbles obscure certain parts of the view. The man sits back, with a sigh and a broad grin to camera. The image flickers one last time, to words on a screen, before it fades to black, and the credits roll:

Le Cerf Noir: Carrick 'Pyro' Armer
The Crazy Dame: Rebecca West
The Old Man: Tim Stevenson
DB: Davy Broni
The Dane: Lars Hyllested
Rossco: Ross Hendry
Extras: Elise Armer, Jon Reich, Joe Faulkner, Dan Gates, Lizzie Rose, Philip Price
Collective Masochism: A cast of thousands
Organised Sadism: Detail Events
Happy Trails: The Forestry Commission
Catering: Eventually...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lights out

Well, the Rodeo went well, the Safety and Rescue team working hard for the entire weekend, but a very satisfying time all-in-all.


I'll be dead on my feet by Monday...


Monday, February 15, 2010

Team ‘Respectable Cycle Ride’

The ranks are expanding! The regular Tuesday night Team Dogger (or 'Respectable Cycle Ride', according to the canoe club sweary-filter) Meanwood expeditions have swung up to a massive 7 riders of an evening, which fortunately means I don’t get suspicious looks for wandering around in the dark with a Frenchman any more.
Last Tuesday night was a normal ride. Meanwood was pretty wet, so we figure-eighted the loop to try and avoid some of the soggier patches, with varying degrees of success. One comedy snakebite, a couple of comedy crashes, slips and slides, new boy Charley missing a turn and leading some of the others astray and quite a lot of giggles and muffled swearing. All in all, a bit of fun.
I finally got round to sat-tracking the ride using the rather spiffy Nokia Sport Tracker software on my phone, so there’s a map of the route below. Meanwood has so many little trails and interlinked bits of singletrack there’s a pretty limitless variety of rides you can do, and each ride is a bit different. Keeps it interesting!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Safety First

Just had a cracking weekend with the crew from Extreme Care, the guys I do Water Safety & Rescue and First Aid work with. With the 2010 event season starting soon with probably our most intense event of the year, the National Student Rodeo, we were keen to get everybody up to date on the latest doctrine in First Aid. Dave was updating his assessors’ qualification as well, so he put on a 3-day First Aid at Work course for us, with both him and us being assessed. Of course, with us working as a rescue team, that means the 'at work' part is generally a riverbank and the level of First Aid we might have to do is a wee bit higher than the normal office based scenarios. So, out with the sticking plasters and ‘there there’ commentary, and in with the drowning victims, C-spine immobilisation and head injuries. Excellent...
We ran the course over two weekends, with plenty of time in between for revision. Well, sort of. Okay, I might have glanced at my notes once in a week. But anyway. The first weekend of the course was a pretty intense two days covering all the major stuff, bleeds, breaks, bandages, resuscitation and all the blood and gore you can handle. But of course it can't be all work and no play, so on the second Saturday we had a day off and hauled it up to Sleningford for a paddle down the Ure.

We headed to the get-in above Hack Falls, and ran from there down to Sleningford Mill itself (mapped below), stopping to play on the weirs at Mickley and Sleningford as well - something I'm not keen on doing normally but I need all the technique practice I can get. The water level was good, no really scrapey stuff, and a fine, if a little cold, day. The section itself isn't a hard one - mainly G2 with a couple of 3/3+ sections - but that's the kind of river I need at the moment. As I've said previously, my confidence in boating isn't great at the moment, but running easier stuff, working on technique, and just learning to enjoy boating again is where I want to be. Scaring the hell out of myself on G4/4+, frankly, can wait a while...

So, after a fun day’s grace, some dinner and maybe a glass of wine or two, we were back to the grindstone on Sunday morning, and into the individual assessments for the FAW course, a multi-choice paper and two one-to-one practical assessments, one on resuscitation and one on trauma. Dave's teaching had been excellent, a good balance of classroom theory and discussion with practical examples and a fun-if-slightly-nerve-wracking set of outdoor scenarios. Every tried treating a concussed Gibrobian rafter who doesn't speak English? Neither have I, because I was playing one. Still, the assessments were to be a surprise, and while we didn’t think they’ve be anything too heinous, you never know what you’ll find when you walk in the door. Could be a straightforward cut or break, maybe with a side order of shock, or it could be a drunkard epileptic with a concussion and three broken legs.

Thankfully, we all passed with flying colours, so we’re ready for the mass “fish ‘em out and ship ‘em out” that is the Rodeo. Good news for all the little swimmers. Bad news for me for the weekend was that my car radiator has given up the ghost and sprung a leak... Joys.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Disclaimer: Anything contained herewith may be a complete pile of cobblers and may not be the opinion of anyone, even the author. Apologies to whoever does the Shimano Corporation's marketing.

"Your will to say 'yes' is only as strong as your ability to say 'no'."

I'd love to claim that phrase was a bit of self-professed modern philosophy, or a lightbulb-lighting lightning bolt of raw intellect from some new-found guru of deep-thinking, but it's actually a piece of marketing spiel from Shimano for one of their new disc brakes. Still, I'm sure they paid someone a lot of money to come up with that, and as commercial philosophy goes it isn't bad. Good, original, semi-mystical gibberish is hard to come by these days.

I read it once and went "Hmmm. That's interesting", scrolled down and read about the brakes. They’re very shiny. I scrolled back up the page to read the spiel again, read over it a few times, and went "Wait. What?" All may not be as shiny as first assumed...

It's a strange phrase when you think about it at more than face value. It proposes, to me, the idea that saying 'yes' is a default state, and that saying 'no' is something you have to put effort into. In terms of a selling you the latest disc braking system that's perfect, the idea that it's as easy to stop as it is to go. Getting started (at least when you’re pointed downhill) is pretty easy, picking up speed is easy also, but stopping can be quite hard. Pretty much what you want in a disc brake is the ability to stop easily, quickly and with as little "ohshitI'mflyingoverthehandlebars" as possible. So far, so good.

The whole of that proposition depends on us, metaphorically, being in the fortuitous position to be going downhill. In descent, we are aided and abetted by a bunch of external forces, gravity being the biggy. Turn that hill around and give us a nice uphill gradient and Sensei Shimano’s homespun homily falls apart. In that situation, getting started is quite hard, keeping going can be even harder, and stopping is frighteningly easy. If we imagine 'ease' as a mass, and ‘start’ and ‘stop’ as the two sides of a set of scales, we're never going to get the damn thing to balance properly. A physicist would tell us, in words of more than two syllables, that they will always be off on a wonk somewhere. He (or she) probably wouldn’t use the term ‘off on a wonk’. He (or she) would use words like ‘momentum’ and ‘inertia’, like ‘resistance’ and ‘modulus’. There may even be a ‘paradox’ or a ‘quantum’ in there, if we’re lucky. But in the context of me, of this, and of current-events-in-the-little-world-of-Pyro, we don’t have to consult science, just think a little and then waffle for a while.

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is getting yourself going - getting up early to go for a run is bloody difficult, and if do surmount the myriad obstacles stopping you getting to the front door with your running shoes on (eg: the clinging duvet, the comfy couch, the beckoning kettle, the cloyingly mindless breakfast TV), it's still frighteningly easy to take a short-cut, to walk 'just a little bit', to head back 'because you can feel a blister coming on'. The idea that you can just switch your brain off and your body will keep running is a load of gubbins too. I have to think really hard about running. Running hurts, and the body’s reaction to pain is “does it hurt when you do this? Well stop doing it then.” I spend my running time having to consciously over-ride the urge to stop. The fail, you see, is strong in this one.

It’s a quandary, and always will be. I have two simple mantras at the moment: ‘eat better’ and ‘exercise more’. The first is proving not-too-difficult, and isn’t anywhere near as expensive as I feared. The latter is much harder. The holier-than-thou bystanders and backroom philosophers will tell you that it only takes two weeks for something to become a habit. That may stand true for crack, heroin and other illicit substances, but exercise? More than two weeks, I assure you. It’s a habit that’s hard to get started on and hard to keep going. When you’re fit, it’s easy to get it together, because it doesn’t hurt the same. You don’t puff around two laps of the park feeling like you’re falling out of your own posterior. You don’t bonk a mile from home on the first night-ride of the season. When you’re not, all you think is ‘This is going to hurt This is hard work, Can I stop now please?’. It’s easier to stay at home in the warm, safe, fluffy environment of the living room where nothing hurts (until that pending heart attack) than it is to step out into the frosty air and do something about it.

The stupidest part is that once you’re out of the door, after the ten toxic minutes of warming up and settling down, it usually turns out to be quite enjoyable. Crisp night air, a bit of banter, comedy crashes and mudpool floundering, brushes with bushes and childish lights-out pranks. So, Mr Shimano and your marketing crew, I’m sorry to denigrate your promotion and your memetics, and while I half agree with you, I also half don’t. It’s not the actual churning out the miles on the bike that takes willpower, it’s the getting out the door and getting on the damn thing in the first place.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Out to play

So, as part of Operation Lardarse, we need to establish a routine. I know, routine is boring and saps your life away, “variety is the spice of life" etc etc. But I'm not going to try to living on spices alone, so there has to be some routine somewhere, and it may as well be here.

Tuesdays are, and have been for some time, biking night. The good, the bad and the ugly of 'Team Dogger' (see this post for an explanation of that one) head out for a night ride, usually on trails we all know quite well, either the Meanwood loop from Headingley or one of the loops out around Temple Newsam/Kippax/Aberford area from Laurent (the Frenchman)'s house.

Usually a couple of hours riding at least, with the odd stop for gossip. Over the winter I've dodged these on the basis of not getting back from work until after the others have set off - well, that's been my excuse anyway. Mainly I've wimped out of them. If I make sure my bike's in the car on a Tuesday morning, my lights are charged, and I've got a bit of extra food for the day, I've no excuse.

Last Tuesday was my first proper ride of the new year. There were 5 of us; myself, the Frenchman, Martin L, Giles and Gareth. We set off from Laurents just after 6:30, heading out into the cold dry air and soggy, wet ground. I'd changed the normal all-conditions tyres for my pair of Mud-X's in the hope of getting a bit more grip, and they certainly worked on the soggy grassy bits of the trail. However, this being a winter ride Laurent opted to avoid the wettest bits, so I felt like I was dragging a dead badger on the hardpack. Oh well...

The route's on the picture below, we rode anticlockwise. Myself, Martin and Gareth got misplaced for a little while (note - none of us actually carry a map. Martin happened to have mapping functions on his phone. This comes in handy sometimes, like when Giles and the Frenchman wander off and you need to know how to get home). We were out, including stopping to look at the waves on the river (kayakers, eh?), for about 2 and a half hours. I, personally, was a bit broken by the end of it. Combinations of lack of food, overheating, and very draggy tyres could be blamed, but mainly I place the responsibility firmly on the rather good pace and my lack of fitness.

In other news, I've got a new-ish programme (Nokia SportTracker) on my shiny new phone (Nokia N86) which will satellite track my routes, so expect more maps and updates as the Operation proceeds. Okay, it's geeky as hell, but it keeps me amused.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Battle of the Bulge

So, it's that time of year again, the time for resolutions, 'never agains', maybe a hangover or three, sir? Well, if you don't mind... Ahem. Time to throw out old bad habits and replace them with new bad habits. Time to forget last year's regrets and set out to get yourself some new ones. And lots of time for looking downwards wondering what the large squidgy thing overhanging your jeans and blocking the traditional view of your toes is.

The excesses of the festive period have been, well, excessive, which isn't normally a problem, but unfortunately my normal counter-attack on the waistline - the paddling of numerous cold rivers - fell at the first when the rivers were all either empty or frozen. This, as you can imagine, poses a rather insurmountable defense, so we went sledging in the boats instead. I towed my kayak 2km along snowy trails like a pulk. We drank well, ate well, and slid down snow-covered hills in kayaks. Very good fun, but not what you'd call an intensive week of exercise.

So, now, in the cold light of January, I am left with two things: An extra couple of stone in weight, and the ever-more concentrated desire to get shot of them. I started 2009 at about 13 stone, with the admirable-if-a-little-vague aim of losing a bit and getting down to 12. I failed quite impressively, due to (amongst other half-arsed excuses) lack of time, too much work, utter lack of motivation and, to a small degree, lack of confidence. I've alluded to the latter of those in previous witterings, but they've all played their part. My exercise regime has generally been average to above-average, until the past 6 months where it had withered significantly.

I have, in broader terms, gone soft. This thought annoys me.

I've never before had to think so much about my diet. I've never really been in the position where I NEED to lose weight. Even at 13 stone it's always been a case of "well I could do, but...". However, I've known for some time that my diet is somewhat low in certain elements (fruit and veg) and overly high in others (pizza), and have been gradually working on it.

So, I’m annoyed. But that annoyance might just be something to cherish and to utilise, to make me get out for 3hr muddy grinding night rides where I end up on a minor bonk, to make me walk the three-quarters of an hour to town rather than get the bus, to make me go for a Saturday morning shuffle (to say 'run' would be very much an overstatement) instead of cowering under the duvet for another two hours. It's what I need to get me back into the swing of exercise, into the mindset of the Adventure Racer, into the position of actually wanting to do stuff.

A quick conference with Mr Gary Vallance, purveyor of things health and fitness, produced some advice considerably more helpful than the normal 'eat less, exercise more' adage that's trotted out on such occasions, normally by those who only have half the story. The wider picture is not eat just less but more eat better, and the exercise more is being flattened out to "how much more? and how?" The aim is for 6 sessions a week of at least 45 minutes, one per day with one rest day a week. The 'how' was the most constructive: Exercise is anything that raises your heart rate. That doesn't have to be a balls-out, tongue hanging, panting like a dog, blast, it can be a brisk walk around the block. So, for a couple of sessions a week there's our solution. A nice, 7km walk round the block.

Without direction, however, there is no velocity, and therefore no acceleration. Either that, or there is just well meaning aimless pottering. I'm not old enough for the latter, so to add to this particular physics problem we need a direction, a bearing, and a target.

It just so happens that in November, whilst on a jolly out in Portugal, a number of race concepts and bases were discussed. Mr James Thurlow, purveyor of fine Adventure Races, was talking about a new venture for 2010, the Adidas Terrex AR. This is to be a four day, 400km expedition race, in the Lake District, at the end of August. Home territory, suitably distant date for some quality training time, suitable length for a good swing, long enough to hurt but not a World Champs-scale epic. Hmmm.

That would appear to be a target, then. Okay.

Missile lock achieved. Commence Operation Lardarse...