Chilean Spirit

Chile Flag

There are a number of reasons why I have picked Chile to be the subject of this epic challenge I am currently half-way through: Family connections, holiday destinations, and the fact the distance is a good fit with Chile’s length!  But there is one thing I have discovered more recently that really ties it all together – Chilean Spirit.

Now I might be slightly biased here, but I think we can all agree that Chile have been one of the most exciting teams in this year’s World Cup, playing in a style that nations such as England can only dream of. Exciting play, displays of passion, team spirit and great goals. It was well summed up by one of the commentators last week, who said “Chile don’t so much park the bus, as try to drive is straight through you”. For me the only other team who have come close are fellow Pacific coasters Colombia, who obviously share a lot of the same Latin warrior spirit.

Just take the National Anthems for example. Whilst players from some countries (no names mentioned) pretend to sing along, blatantly struggling to even remember the words, the Chileans give it their all and show genuine emotion, singing all the way through to the end of the second verse even after the music has ended. And then there are the fans, who manage to make as much noise as the home supporters, despite often finding themselves in a small group in the away stand. Yes, they have their moments. The crazy fans who knocked down a wall in order to get into the stadium for the Dutch game, but I guess this will be put down to passion. Can you imagine England fans doing this (other than perhaps to cause trouble…?)

As for results, well aside from beating the Socceroos (easier said than done), how about knocking out the current World Champions, in their biggest victory over Spain since Bernardo O’Higgins led them to Independence in 1818. Added to that, they took the hosts and 5 times winners Brazil to penalties with another inspirational display, to be able to return home with their heads held high. Had the draw been more favourable to them you would have to have backed them to go further in the tournament.

Now for some people their performance was a surprise, but having been able to watch Chile take apart England at Wembley last November, this was always on the cards. Some world class players – Sanches, Vidal, Bravo. They even manage to make a Cardiff City defender one of the players of the tournament in Gary Medel. I have a feeling there will be some serious money changing hands for some of these guys in the next transfer window.

Chile fans

 

For me the Chilean spirit is well summed up by their national motto: Por la Razon o la Fuerza: By Reason or Force. Not a million miles away from my own personal mantra: No Pain. In other words – keep going however you need to and see it through to the end!

Race Report: Avenger 70.3 Triathlon 22/6/14

Avenger Tri logo 3

Well I survived… The fact that I have taken a good few days to type this up is fairly reflective of how I felt after this race : Shattered!

The clue should have been in the event description – A tough middle distance triathlon. I guess I misunderstood this, thinking that any race this long would be tough, but oh no. They meant difficult for people used to this sort of insanity, and for the rest of us… read on and find out.

Pre-Race

Despite there only being 200 competitors, there was a pre-race briefing the day before. Again this was a useful chance to see the course, the marshals and of course the competition. Perhaps not best for confidence: I was probably the shortest bloke there, and most looked like they had done this sort of distance at least once. My race number summed it all up. 88. As in The Crazy 88 from Kill Bill! Nothing too unexpected was said during the briefing, the only potential shocker was that it was so hot that wetsuits might be banned during the swim, something I was actually in favour of given it is my best discipline and might help me get a bit more of a chance. Oh yeah, and they slipped in that due to some roadworks they had extended the bike course by 3 km. This might not seem significant on top of 90 km, but oh how it did…

Despite one of the warmest evenings I can remember, Neptune was obviously favouring the others as wetsuits were the name of the game, so my sister had to run back to the car to grab mine! The first thing I noticed was the other bikes. Now I quite like mine, but it would be fair to say it was one of, if not the cheapest one there. And at just over £250, there were some which cost at least 20 times more! Some of the wheels alone on those bad boys would have paid for my entire kit and seasons racing. But I digress..

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Transition was on the grass, which was also a new one as I had been expecting to use the car park nearby. No biggie, but it meant that towels, socks, and basically everything got covered in grass and made a mess everywhere. I was in a bit of a rush as I only realised the night before that although my wave was not until 8.30, I had to have everything set up by 7.45. Lesson learned: read your briefing earlier! Fortunately it all went fairly well, and I had some time to calm down before the start, and to watch the end of Wave 1’s Swim.

Swim – 1.9 km – Time 44.18 (mins)

First thoughts upon getting in the water – this is warm. As in:  like a bath. I was pretty amazed wetsuits were still on, but there you go. There must have been around 120 people in my wave, which was one of the larger ones I have done. I am normally one to go out wide, but clearly here so was everyone else and I somehow found myself pretty much in the middle at the front. Not a great idea, as the swim sharks then ran me down a bit to get past, but it made sure I got going! Other than that the swim was pretty uneventful, except for one moment when a guy who was built like The Rock had clearly started far too fast and burned out at the first buoy and for some reason had switched to breaststroke. Not expecting this so early I managed to take an elbow to the face for my efforts in swimming past, which was a bit disorienting, but fortunately there was far too much adrenaline to slow down.

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My target time was somewhere between 40 to 45 mins, and I actually got out of the water closer to 42 minutes, but someone obviously was having a laugh when designing the course, and put a 200 metre or so uphill slope from the lake into T1, so that accounts for the extra time. Believe me, after staggering out of a lake in a wetsuit, up a slippery grass hill, you do not run like Usain Bolt!

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T1 – 4.13

At this part of the race I was still pretty happy with my timing. The warm water meant stripping off was not too bad – my fingers actually worked on the zip rather than acting as useless ice-lollies stuck to my palms – and I even had time for a quick glug of drink. I did lose a few seconds having to nip back to get my GPS watch for the next stage, but it was well worth it to know where I was.

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Bike – 4.15.19

The first half of the bike course was still pretty good. I had some energy, and time to enjoy what was, to be fair, an absolutely stunning course around the Warwickshire & Worcestershire countryside. The only early problems were firstly my stupid bike bag, which for the second race in a row came loose and resulted in me needing to stop to tie it back on properly. I won’t be using it again in sprints (not enough time to change a tyre) but given the distances here it was needed, or a very long walk back! The second was me still getting used to the bike itself, and getting stuck going up an early hill in the wrong gear. Hard to explain to non-bikers, but basically imagine driving up a hill in 5th from a stationary start, and you get the idea. Amazingly I made it up without stopping, although it cost me a couple of places, and hurt like hell.

Course Map

The race started to go downhill just before halfway, or perhaps that should read as uphill. It turns out the extra 3 km they had kindly added meant a huge new hill at around 40 km, which was an absolute killer. About 10 seconds in I knew there was no way I would be riding it, and had to get off and start pushing. The guy about 5 yards in front took one glance and looked absolutely relieved as he stepped off to do the same. As did most of the people behind me. In fact I hardly saw anyone actually ride this beast, and this was one of the first times I have genuinely wished I had (rather than just envied those with) a full carbon bike. It was also the middle of nowhere, and whilst it was a road, I don’t remember seeing any cars or non-competing people in the whole section. I will be blunt, in that this destroyed my legs. As soon as I got back on I had cramp in my right quad, but with no chance to stop had to struggle on, and fortunately there was then a long downhill that I could freewheel on whilst the pain died down.

Steep Hill

The second loop of the course seemed a lot longer, and by that time I was getting near the back of the field. A major downside to being in the last starting wave. At around 70 km there was a drink stop in a layby. I first passed this around 30 km on the first lap, and was pretty impressed at being able to grab a bottle without stopping. Bearing in mind how hot it was though, I had now shotgunned the best part of 4 drinks bottles and 5 gels, and was basically running on empty. I decided this time it would be better to stop and take two drinks bottles, but at that exact moment got terrible cramp in my left calf, and despite frantic braking could not slow down enough, which resulted in a fantastic, slow-motion, Starsky & Hutch style crash into a box of drinks, scattering them everywhere!

Starsky Crash

Once again though, the cramp receded almost as fast as it came on, and I was able to pedal away slightly sheepishly. Unfortunately it was not long before I was back up against the same dreaded hill again, and this time it was even worse, at 80 km and with even less energy than before. It must have taken a good 10 minutes to push myself and the bike to the top, plus another few to psyche myself up for the final stretch. Somehow I did make it back, and through the gates of the hall. The final test was a 1 km climb to transition, on a single track road full of visiting cars. After 92 km I was too tired to be nice to them, but also too stubborn to get off and go on foot, so I somehow managed to keep going, riding into T2 like I had both won the lottery and been in a car crash all at the same time.

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T2 – 4.18

This was one of those times where you question your sanity in continuing. I had only ever run one half-marathon – a road race through central Birmingham – whereas this was about to be an off-road trail run, with plenty of hills… On the hottest day of the year… After the toughest bike ride of my life! For some reason I carried on, and again was amazed I did this in less than 5 minutes.

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Run – 2.46.43

What can I say about this? I was trying to think how you could recreate the conditions without having to do the first two parts of the race. Perhaps a spot of crocodile wrestling to start off with, followed by a few rounds with Mike Tyson to soften you up, a few Jager bombs to disorientate you, and an hour or two in the sauna for the dehydration. And then start a half-marathon. At least that was how I felt. About 20 yards out of transition a guy was stood with a hose, and I am with Boris on this, that there is nothing wrong with someone shooting you with a water cannon. Bliss!

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After around 1 km of the race I was faced with the legendary ‘Heartbreak Hill’, a monster of a grass slope, perhaps longer than the bike one and just as tough at this point in the race. The below picture does not really do it justice. Perhaps it was how late on I was, or maybe the heat, but I could not see anyone running this part. After staggering up, and staggering down on the rutted hill, the second section involved a far longer slope, which although less steep, had probably the same overall elevation and took far longer to traverse. The third and final part of the course was the easiest loop, but no less uneven ground, making it difficult to pick up any pace at all.

Heartbreak Hill

The second lap was a total blur, the main thing I remember was wondering where the promised energy gels and food was at the drink stations. After having only eaten a bowl of porridge, a banana and some malt loaf all day, my stomach was starting to eat itself (I later found out I lost half a stone during the race). In fact I still don’t know the answer to that one. Most of the marshals I passed looked smilingly at me saying “nearly there now” and “this must be your last lap” and then quickly turned to sympathy when I murmured that I had one more to go. As I said in my last blog, I had to really stay with my mantra in this lap, with Duke reminding me over and over again – “No Pain”.

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At the start of the final lap I really felt like calling it in. Was it worth the agony for this? One of the marshals shouted to me that there was only an hour of the race left, so I needed to motor if I was going to finish in the allotted time (yet another reason why not to be in the last wave). Then a bit of magic, a marshal who I am sure had already asked me twice before if I was on my final lap managed to offer me half an energy bar. I have no idea what it was as it did not touch the sides, but it may well have been what got me through. I do have a confession here, as I was running in last place, and managed to agree with one of the other marshals to skip out a bit of the course – given I did 3 km extra on the bike I did not miss 1 km on the run – as I was unsure I had enough time to do it. After the second section I was told I had 20 minutes to finish the last couple of k’s, and somehow had to dig out the reserves to get through…

The Finish

I was literally the last person of the day to cross the line, although there were some people from earlier waves who took longer to complete the course. At that time there were still a fair few of people around, and the support through to the finish was amazing, and I even managed a sprint down the chute. Funnily enough all I can remember thinking was I wonder if that ice cream van is still open (it was not). So I managed to have an even better alternative in a big hug with my wife & sister instead. Were it not for the fact I had no fluid left in my body from the heat I may well have cried,  but as it was I was happy to just collapse and soak in the fact I had just completed a half-iron distance triathlon!

Avenger Finish Line

Build Up & Admin ***** (out of 5)

Could not fault it. This was a great race to get involved in, and since registering at the back-end of last year and joining the Facebook page, there have been regular updates on everything from photos of the course, to the sponsors and obviously the usual of self-deprecating banter from the competitors. Compared to other races I have taken part in this made for a great atmosphere and felt much more welcoming to be part of. I also managed to get down for a practice swim session with the main local tri club a few weeks earlier; again a great chance to scope out the place and meet a of the friendly competitors.

Course & Scenery ****

As mentioned this was great looking, from the perfect lake (well at least before it was filled with neoprene clad warriors) to the scenic countryside, and even the run was a great looking course, spoiled somewhat by the fact I was so tired I could barely see! If anything I have to take a star off for being too tough, as in that heat I am genuinely amazed I made it thought without a hospital visit.

Atmosphere & Support *****

For such a small event it was incredibly well organised. There must have been nearly 50 marshals, if not more, for less than 200 competitors. There was also all the families of competitors, plus the normal visitors to the hall – who must have been horrified at the bunch of sunburned, barely dressed zombies staggering their way around the luscious grounds they had come to see – but everyone joined in and cheered us on.

I do owe a particularly massive thank you to my wife and sister for supporting me. My sister Lucy came all the way from London, despite the fact I hardly managed to actually see her during the race, but giving me loads of support right to the finish. And my wife Angela, who has put up with my training for the last 6 months for this event, drove me on the day, took photos, cheered me on and generally was amazing! Thank you both so much xx

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My Performance ****                                     Total Distance 115 km. Overall time 7.54.57 placing 166 out of 191 competitors.

Might be a bit generous? Well, I considered giving myself five stars just for finishing this nightmarish course! The first half was decent, with a good time on the swim and transitions, but the bike course killed it for me. As for the run, I had little left in my legs, plus the remnants of earlier cramps, and then the heat to deal with. Apparently the run course got up to 35 degrees C during the afternoon, which quite frankly for this country is insane. But I still did it.

But the big question is would I do it again? I had even wondered before this race if I could one day do a full on Ironman. To be honest I am not sure now, and whilst I would wholly recommend this event for the above mentioned reasons, if I do another 70.3 it will be something different. A distinct memory I have now is from the middle leg of the run, when all I could hear in my head was Apolo’s voice at the end of Rocky saying “Ain’t gonna be no rematch”, and Rocky saying “Don’t want one”. And given that I won this race that leaves me as the Avenger, and no one can take that away from me now.

Music of the Month: June

Silence

The Sounds of Silence…

No, I won’t be banging my drum about how soothing it can be to warm down to the dulcet tones of Simon & Garfunkel – although Hazy Shade of Winter is actually pretty decent to keep pace to!  This month is all about training ‘au naturele’. To clarify, this is not some form of topless gardening, but competing in long distance events, with nothing to listen to but the sounds of nature.

When I speak to a lot of people about triathlons, they often say one of the hardest things for them would be the fact you cannot listen to music along the way, and they can only run when listening to music. In fact I believe is it against International Triathlon Rules to have any sort of music player during a race, which could lead to disqualification. I guess the main reason is safety, although it does not apply to all races.

I was nearly caught out during the Birmingham Half Marathon last year, assuming music was as outlawed as an arrow wielding East Midlander, but stood in the queue to get off the line realised most people had earphones in. Fortunately I had an old iPod shuffle in my pocked I had been using to warm up, although with no screen or playlist prepared it was a bit hit and miss. My unexpected highlight was puzzling over the intro to one particular track was until about 30 seconds in when I realised it was the theme tune to Birmingham-based 90s TV show Gladiators, which was actually perfect and is now a permanent feature for on the list!

But back to triathlons. Whilst on a shorter distance race such as a sprint you don’t really notice its absence, once you are off for a number of hours it can be strange. I tend to have particular playlists for training – hence the music of the month blogs – but also try and work out without anything to get used to it, so when plunged into a 4 hour solo bike ride with no one to speak to except to shout to the jokers zooming past in their aero-helmets, you do not end up going crazy. This is part of the reason I end up writing so many of these blogs!

Top triathletes such as Chrissie Wellington often talk about their ‘mantras’ they use to keep them motivated on even the longest distances. These could be sayings, poems, or lyrics, repeated in their heads (or probably out loud if there is space). Given that full Iron distance races can take up to 18 hours you need something to stop going crazy. Chrissie’s for example is the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, which she writes on her water bottles as a reminder in difficult times.

I am going to let you into a bit of an open secret. I have my own mantra, probably about as simple as it gets, but it has worked every time so far for me. It is simply two words that Rocky’s trainer Duke repeats during the montages in Russia: ‘No Pain’. As soon as I think that, it takes me straight to the Rocky theme tune and images of success, strength and achievement. It even helps get through actual pain, after all if you look what Sly goes through than anything seems possible, although Sunday’s race will really put this to the test.

To paraphrase Andy in Shawshank: “That’s the beauty of music. It’s in your head, and they can’t take that away from you”. No Pain.

Duke

Jungle Training

A different sort of workout to write about today. Rather than our usual desk job, a group of us were fortunate enough to be able to spend today helping out on a clean up op on the Birmingham canals. Whilst this might not sound the most glamorous of jobs, it was actually a great chance to do something different and even useful for the local area. Obviously a further benefit was some good old fashioned hard work to add to the Chile Challenge!

Preadator Jungle

And hard work it was. My unit of five brave adventurers were tasked with clearing a path through what I can only describe as dense jungle. I am talking about the sort of orders that even Arnie’s special forces team from Predator might have thought twice about, particularly without their equipment. So for a job which would have been best done using those massive jungle cutting tanks that Indy fights in the Crystal Skull, we instead used our bare hands. Well with gloves, but nothing else. Bear Grylls would have been proud!

In true US style, we split the day into three quarters, each of around 90 minutes, so all in all we probably worked for a good four hours. Definitely more than the average person manages in a day at my place. Most of the work involved pulling up some sort of bamboo style weeds, and after a morning of clearing a tree canopy covered area, the afternoon was al fresco, working in a more open field and covering a good 50 x 10 yard area. Fortunately after a fairly cloudy start to the day, the sun was out for our later adventures which was nice, although I fully expect to find myself with a proper red neck tomorrow.

To be honest, I have been trying to taper my training this week – what with the massive race on Sunday – so my main concern for the day was not nobbling myself. This was particularly important after my last work based event, the football match I reported on earlier this month, which despite being billed as a ‘friendly’ saw me limping a week later from overstretching and generally enthusiast defending.

There was plenty of opportunity for twisting ankles (might not sound much but try doing a half marathon with one!), getting hit in the face by stray branches, or any number of miscellaneous injuries available. Fortunately we came out alive, victorious and unscathed, with just the scars of nettle stings on exposed parts of the body – which actually do hurt a lot more than I remember from when I was younger…

So, another day down, something useful contributed to society, and just four more to go now until the Avenger!

Avengers Assemble

Alright, I will admit it, I have been waiting all year to be able to use this title! But I am finally there, with less than a week until the biggest race of my life: The Avenger Triathlon. Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you on the sign below and for those of you who prefer the metric system this will be a 1.9 km swim, followed by 90 km bike and then 21 km half-marathon!

Avenger Tri logo 3

I am still not exactly sure how I ended up entering this event. Part of me wants to see just how far I can go. Tired as I was when I crossed the line in my first Olympic distance race, I thought I had some more left in the tank, and ever since have been pushing my limits. Technically this is called a ‘middle distance’ race, which makes it sound a bit lightweight, but in my mind that is like saying that Santiago is in the middle of Chile – it is still a bloody long way from one end to the other! Whilst I have covered the elements of this race individually enough times – a long practice swim in the lake last week for example, the Birmingham half marathon in October, and perhaps less excitingly my 100 km stationary bike in the gym in April – combining them all back to back with no breaks for the first time could lead to anything!

Perhaps it could be the location? I have been thinking of racing this distance for a while now, but it can be difficult to find the right event, and given that this is taking place at Ragley Hall, just a 20 minute drive from my house, it stood out to me. And after scoping the place out the venue it does look perfect: The lake tucked away in a corner, surrounded on one side by a wood and the other with a grassy slope which I assume leads up to transition;  the bike leg covers a quiet but picturesque part of Warwickshire, hopefully also reasonably flat and car-free; and the run is around the spectacular grounds, where my wife and sister will be cheering me on from the sidelines whilst having a massive picnic.

Another reason could be to raise funds for charity. After 4 or 5 years of doing ever longer races – swims, sprint & Olympic triathlons, half-marathons – I was running out of new things do to persuade people to part with their cash. In case you somehow missed it, I am raising money this year for a Bowel Cancer charity. Although there is no formal target it will all go to a really good cause, and if you have been considering sponsoring me for anything ever, this is the one!

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/jamesuren

Those are all good reasons, but who am I kidding really. I am doing this as it is called the Avenger and I am far too geeky to miss out on the chance to actually be Iron Man myself! It may well be that this is me in the picture below (with thanks to Esquire magazine) perhaps more likely with the guys behind about to lap me on the run leg. The main thing for me will be finishing, but how will I do – we will see on Sunday!

Iron Man In Triathlon

Dad

Those of you who are regular readers (I am not sure I actually have anyone who would consider themselves a ‘regular reader’ but basically if you have read this before) will know I usually stay on the lighter side with this blog, with shockingly bad puns and ill-timed one liners.

Dad Golf

But today I thought I would write something more serious for two reasons. Firstly it is just a week now until the biggest race of my life, my half-iron distance triathlon – so if anyone had been considering of sponsoring me now would be a great time. And secondly it is Father’s day, so I thought I would write a bit more about why I am doing this in the first place. I am not great at this sort of thing, but here goes…

Most people have known someone with cancer at some point in their lives, many of whom have not been fortunate enough to make it through. I still remember the time a few years ago when I heard my Dad had bowel cancer, and I am not sure I have known anything like it. When I came down to visit I had never seen him that unwell, and it really hit me how close things were. Speaking on the phone the night before his main operation was probably the only time I remember both of us being that emotional together.

But whilst my Dad was one of the lucky ones to have been identified early enough and make a full recovery, this does not happen to everyone. In literally the same week he was diagnosed, a colleague and friend of mine, Gywn was found to be at the later stages of bowel cancer, and at that point there was unfortunately little which could be done, and just a few months later he was gone. Similarly, the man in whose name the charity I am competing for was also diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1993. Described by none other than Pele as “the greatest defender I ever played against” and being the only Englishman to ever captain a world cup winning side, Bobby Moore is pretty much the definition of national hero. So when I was looking for a charity to fund-raise for a few years ago this was really a no brainer.

But for me, my hero is my Dad. When I was growing up my sister & I used to play a lot of sport pretty much every weekend – cricket, rugby, football, etc – and at the time I never  really appreciated or said at the time how grateful I was to my Dad and Mum for all the time they would put in to come and watch us.

Dad Rugby

Like most lads I wanted to be like my Dad in any way I could, and there are loads of things I followed him in, from drinking black coffee and Harveys Ale, playing off a slightly suspicious golf handicap, listening to audiobooks in the car, subscribing to the same newspaper and even playing in the front row in rugby (although I am not sure how much choice we had on that one, maybe it was more genetic!). Some say we even look just like each other, but I will leave you to be the judge of that…

I still remember probably my proudest sporting memory of my youth was leading out the school rugby team as captain, in a home game on our main pitch in front of a fairly sizable crowd for those days, which most importantly contained my Dad right at the front supporting me. We went on to win that day and it was probably the peak of my team sport achievements. Since then, he has continued to support me, traveling fair distances to watch my triathlons and cheer me on.

He is also a hugely generous man. We tend to play a game in our family called ‘who can pay for a round of drinks’ as it is virtually impossible to be able to stop him getting in first (this is in a family which typically has up to a dozen of us when we are all together). Equally he is incredibly clever, getting a First at Uni and hugely important career, and a fantastically articulate public speaker – as my brothers-in-law and I know only too well from having the tough job of following him at our weddings! Although now retired he still continues to work harder than most people I know (well me at least) and is involved in just about everything there is to do in his village, from am-dram to traditional English dancing.

Growing up in a house with four sisters, Dad & I were the only men, so when we are together we tend to be more father & son, bloke to bloke (e.g. backslapping man-hugs, sharing a pint, etc) and we rarely go in for the emotional stuff, but I want to round off here by saying a huge Thank You Dad, I really appreciate everything you have always done for me, and I am proud to be able to do this for you!

Summer of Sporting Heroes

As an armchair sports fan there are so many massive events going on at the moment it is almost embarrassing: From the much hyped Brazilian World Cup which kicked off last night, to England’s Rugby tour of the mighty All Blacks, which has gone almost under the radar for such a great event. You then have Test Cricket at Lords, Lewis flying along in the F1, Rory in with a shout at the US Open, Boxing at Wembley, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and of course Wimbledon at the end of June. If I did not have to put in so much training for the Chile Challenge I could probably get away with never leaving the house!

Whenever we have big events like these they always take me back to memories of watching them when growing up, so in celebration of the Summer of Sport we have coming up, I am writing a special edition of Heroes, based on those who were most inspirational to me growing up.

Gazza

As far as football goes, and in particular World Cups, this should be pretty much a no brainer for anyone of my generation. The first tournament I remember really watching properly was Italy ’90, and Gazza was by some distance the stand-out for England. An exciting young guy he was brilliantly skilled on the pitch and a a real character. At 8 years old I remember crying my eyes out during the Germany match when he got that card, again along with probably everyone else in the country watching. After the tournament he continued to play an important role for me, pretty much single-handedly turning me into a Spurs supporter (ok maybe Lineker too) and helping us win the cup 12 months later with the greatest free kick ever in the semis. Of course it is a shame to see what has happened since, but the fact is everyone loves him so much he will always have support, and hopefully manage to make it through.

Wilko

The first time I remember seeing Jonny must have been in the Six Nations around 1998 or 99, one of the times we managed to find a pub in the Croydon area that had the important features of allowing us to watch when we were still sixth formers, and not being so rough we had a chance of getting out alive afterwards. It must have been one of his early games, and someone mentioned he was only a year or two older than us, which seemed ridiculous for a kid to be playing full international rugby. And not only was he in the team, but it became obvious pretty quickly he was one of the best, with an incredible all round game: kicking, tacking, tactics, he had it all. Most people of course will remember Jonny for the drop goal which won us the World Cup in 2003, and whilst fans will know it was a team effort there, his contribution to get us to that point is undoubted. Whilst off the pitch he was a polar opposite from someone like Gazza, coming across as shy and serious, it only added to his role model status for us rugby fans. If it was not for injuries who knows how many points he could have racked up and extended his record by. It is amazing to think that Jonny has recently played his last ever matches,  but going out on a high by adding the French top 14 and Heineken Cup to his many trophies and records.

Warnie

Yes, I know it may be controversial as an English Cricket Fan to have an Aussie in here, but when I was growing up Shane was basically cricket to me. After bursting onto the scene with the Ball of the Century in 1993, he continued to blow teams away for well over a decade, at points winning Ashes matches almost at will. Consistently looking like he has just stumbled onto the pitch from the nearest beach, you would never have expected him to become the highest wicket taker of all time. At the age of 11 and having just started playing cricket at school I immediately decided I wanted to be a leg spinner, and would spend hours working on my technique to try and emulate his deliveries, and some of them even worked. I always remember my own ball of the century in an under 13’s match, bowling someone around their legs with a wide ball that they had left; whether it was more luck or skill I will never know or care! Whilst we of course have had a few characters of our own since – Tuffers, Dazzler, Freddy, KP and so on – Warnie for me will always be the original boyhood hero.

Linford

Hard as it is to imagine now, but before the days of Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake we actually used to win sprint medals fairly often. Back in the early 90’s Roger Black, Sally Gunnel, Colin Jackson and co saw us smashing records and going into events with expectations of a podium. But the daddy of them all, in the biggest race of all, was of course Linford Christie. Ok so he was born in Jamaica, but he competed for us! And the greatest moment for me growing up was him taking Gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a feat it looks unlikely we will be able to repeat for a long time again now!

Reflections of an Open Water Swimmer

Firstly, I need to point out the title of this entry. Get it, eh? Come on. I was quite proud of thinking this one up,  although I fully acknowledge it probably my most pretentious blog name to date. I am also not sure I can class myself as a really serious open water swimmer, for example I don’t go finding isolated rivers in the Welsh mountains to swim naked at midnight, and have not yet traversed a Scottish lock in December or anything crazy like that.

But I do manage a little bit, and had a great session this morning in the lake at Ragley Hall, scoping out the venue for my next adventure which is now just two weeks ago today. Open water (OW) swimming in a new location can be daunting, especially in a race situation, and I find it makes a huge difference if you have been there before and know the entry & exit points, water clarity, depths and so on to take the sting out of things on the big day. I managed to swim for just over an hour before the session ended, completing 7 laps of the 400 metre course, although due to a bit if wayward drifting on some of the back straights I probably covered around 3 km in all.

Ragley LakeOpen Water Madness2

As usual I had plenty of time to think during the swim, so without further ado here are my top 10 reflections today:

  1. My body was still a little stiff from Thursday’s football (see last blog)  but fortunately did not seem to affect my swimming, nor did the large steak and bottle of wine last night, which was good news. That said, I am not planning on repeating this ahead of the next race just to be on the safe side.
  2. My clear OW goggles worked perfectly with no leakage or fogging throughout the entire session. Unlike my tinted ones which I used in my Cornish sea session which needed emptying every few minutes or so. Lets hope it is not too bright on race day!
  3. Although mine still fits, I had a bit of wetsuit envy today. My wetsuit is actually my oldest piece of proper triathlon equipment (my goggles don’t count as I used them for pool swimming), and is coming up for 5 years old now. At the time is cost nearly £100 online, which seemed a lot back then. Oh how little I knew about how expensive this hobby would turn out to be – bike, trainers, clothing, etc – and funnily enough it is now one of the cheaper things I own!
  4. People should not wear pink swim caps when there are pink buoys. OW sighting can be tricky enough as it is, without wondering why your turning marker is gradually drifting further away from you the more you swim. The mind plays tricks!
  5. My pool swim style is different, as I tend to do ‘bilateral breathing’, which means coming up for air on alternate sides, usually every three strokes, which is the most balanced way of swimming crawl. For some reason in OW I tend to breathe only on my left side every other stroke, which could be down to comfort, exertion, or simply needing to breath more often with the effort. Whilst it gets me more oxygen to keep going, the side effect it a tenancy to drift off line, so have to correct every few sets to ensure I swim as straight (and short distance) as possible.
  6. The marshals always mark you with a permanent pen for safety reasons, which is fully understandable (see my report on the Stratford Tri). This is ok it is when out of sight, on say your ankle, but I now have a huge number  63 on back of my hand which may well last until next weekend and raise a few questions at work tomorrow.
  7. Training could not be more different from racing, and is a lot like rugby in this sense. People apologise and sometimes even stop if they accidentally tap your leg when swimming alongside you in training or get in your way. In races, it is the opposite case, where some even seem to deliberately elbow or dunk you to get past without a second glance. See above for examples of before and during pictures. Wetsuits and matching swim caps make it particularly difficult to recognise them later on to try and get your own back…
  8. Nutrition plays an interesting role in tri swims. There are loads of strategies as to how much fluid to take on during the bike leg and when, what sort of gels to use, etc. But there is not really much you can do in the water, unless you are on one of the crazy 10 km swims, or doing the channel or something. I read an interesting story about legendary coach Brett Sutton not allowing his students to drink during swim training, on the basis they can’t do it during a race, so it is best not to get used to it. And if the guy who has coached most of the Kona winners in recent years says so, I guess it is a reasonable philosophy.
  9. Swimming really is for all ages, and triathlon even more so. I would go as far as to say I was one of the youngest there today, one of only a few in my age group of U35, possibly even U40, which gives me some hope that I have a while left in this game. I am not sure how this reflects on me now though. I felt a bit like Manny in Modern Family at one point: old before my time!
  10. One always seem to come across suspiciously warm patches in what is otherwise a cold lake. That is all on this point…

World Cup Warm Up

Whilst most people are still waiting for the start of next week’s World Cup, a lucky few we have already had a taster of the level of bedazzlement and wonder the next few weeks are set to offer. Goals from all over the park, athletic mid-aid saves, controversial decisions and of course plenty of crunching tackles.

World Cup

Of course I am talking about Thursday’s epic clash between North vs South, Manchester vs Birmingham, the Reds vs the Blues.  This was a rivalry not seen since the days of Oasis vs Blur (well, Ocean Colour Scene in this part of the world). I could even stretch to an Alan Partridge reference: imagine John the Manc builder against Dante Infernos’ Piet (‘What part of Birmingham are you from?’). Yes, this was the long awaited five a side match between Five Ways office and our ‘colleagues’ in Salford.

The venue for such an almighty clash of the titans? None other than ‘Star City’, which sounds an appropriate enough arena, although unfortunately is the slightly less glamorous rooftop of multistory car park next to a casino. We even had three excitable spectators who kindly came along to cheer us on. So actually not that different from most Championship matches…

star city pitc

The contenders? Six brave warriors from each office, some with slightly more football experience than others, ranging from an ex-pro goalie to school lunch-break layabouts . As for fitness levels? After the best part of half a year of solid triathlon training and with a half iron distance race just a few weeks away, I assumed that an hour of football would be quite literally a jog in the park. As Arnie says in Commando – Wrong! About 5 minutes after kick off, the majority of us we all over the place, and with only one rolling sub per team even our teammate on the Sean T ‘insanity’ workout was competing against me to just have a five minute breather on the sidelines.

Did I mention the violence? You might have thought with the questionable fitness levels and office based nature of our jobs, the tackling might have been fairly laid back. Oh no. Some of the scenes witnessed on that pitch haven’t been seen since the mid-90’s when Vinnie Jones, Speedball 2 & Wolf from Gladiators were making headlines. One of the team reckons part of them is still left behind in the wall. I won’t name names here, but I think one of the opposition may have actually been the Wolverine…

Vinnie Jones foul

There was actually a result, although I think by then most of us were too tired to notice. Unfortunately, after turning a 0-2 deficit into a 4-2 lead by half time, we then squandered our chances to slip to 4-6 at the final whistle, meaning they managed to hold onto the trophy for another 6 months. I scored one, although it was even more of a tap-in than Rooney’s against Ecuador the night before. But let’s be honest, the actual result is inconsequential. We had a great time, with beers & curry after, which is what it is all about.

JCVD

The main thing for the purposes of this report of course was how it has affected the Chile Challenge. I did spend some time considering how I could account for the mileage, given that the match lasted about an hour, but two days later my leg muscles are still unable to train properly! At one point I may have even done a wider set of splits than the great JCVD above, or at least that is how it feels today. Not to mention the carpet burn on my knees from the astroturf…  In the end I have gone for a 10 km run, as although it was fairly stop start (closer to interval training) I probably covered a similar distance all in. So here’s to the rematch after the summer, and we can see if the trophy can be come home to the Midlands.

May Round Up: 360 km

In much the same way Partridge would describe The Archers, May was something of a mixed bag for the Chile Challenge.

On one hand I exceeded my target, achieving a football style 101% of the goal; I chalked up my first event of the year in the Stratford-upon-Avon Triathlon; and had a solid mix of activities, including some great trail & beach runs and a fantastic sea swim.

On the other I could have covered a lot more but lost about a week of training with a pulled hamstring after the race, leading to a frustrating and slightly worrying few days as to how long it would last. Thankfully it seems to have passed, and things now seem back to normal and ready for the huge events coming up, but more on them later…

Wine 1Wine 4

Returning to the Chile Challenge, I have now covered just under 2000 kilometers (or 1200 miles), which puts me well into the beautiful wine regions that lie around the waist line of the country. Chile has a fantastic climate for wine, with warm summers, good soil a long coastline and reasonable amount of rain. Apparently… at least that is what I have read. I will be honest I am no wine expert, but having visited the beautiful Santa Rita vineyard south of Santiago and sampled some of the local grape I can only agree that it is excellent, particularly the Carmenere which is unique to the area. My wife also feels the same (as evidenced below!)

Wine 3Wine 2

At this point I am getting close to halfway through the country, and should be hitting the capital in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks, with a full review of the first half of the year.