July Round Up: 375 km

Now I am finally past the half-way mark the miles are really starting to fly by!

After a few tough months to follow, with the Avenger and Stratford Triathlons, I managed to complete my third in a row in July, crawling up and down the Peak District hills to really test my legs and prove the others had not just been a fluke. I also managed to add some variety, with a bit of Scuba Diving at Stoney Cove to complete my Deep Diver certification, and also attended my first Spin Class (even managing to not be the only bloke there)!

As usual the majority of distance this month came on the bike (just over two thirds) but I managed a fairly even split of the rest of my training, helped out by a couple of good late evening swims in the last few days.

In terms of the Challenge, the first stop after Santiago is the world famous Valparaiso, followed by its sister Vina Del Mar just down the coast. Valparaiso is Chile’s second city, with a population of around 300,000, and is home to the Chilean Congress and even the

Valparaiso ValparaisoFun

It is a spectacular harbour city, with brightly coloured houses built at zany angles into the hillside around the bay, visited on the spectacular funiculars which those of you who have seen the excellent ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ film may recognise. It is also seen as Chile’s cultural capital, and in 2003 was made a Unesco World Heratige Site (yes, I know I sound like the tourist board but it is a pretty big thing!).

VinaVina Map

Just up the coast is Vina Del Mar, aka the Vineyard of the Sea (yes, I also speak some Spanish, just don’t ask me to translate San Diago). Although less well known than Valparaiso City due to the fact that is also the name of the whole region, Vina is actually slightly larger in population, and a place that grows substantially in the warmer months with holiday makers, due to its lush beaches.

More importantly, Vina is also our first stop on our upcoming Chilean Road Trip, which is temporarily taking over from the Chile Challenge, and I will be there in less than 72 hours from now, so keep an eye out for some more exciting pictures coming soon!

 

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Mid-Year Review

This month marks an exciting event at my workplace: the mid-year review. For those readers who might not work for a multinational company you may be unfamiliar with this concept, but it is basically a sit down with your manager to review how you are performing and whether you are ‘on-track’ or ‘off-track’ to achieving your targets for the year. As mentioned, this is a high point for all (I am going to leave it at that as I know some of my colleagues read this!)

Office Space 1

But anyway, in honour of this momentous occasion I thought I would undertake my own mid-year review for the Chile Challenge, to assess what I have done so far, how I am going against the targets I have set myself, and what I expect to do by the end of the year. And to top it off I am even going to do it in a Balanced Scorecard style, so here goes:

Performance Against Targets

  • Total of 2394 km covered against Target of 2136 km (112% of half-year goal), comprised of:
    • Swimming 124 km
    • Cycling 1755 km
    • Running 233 km
    • ‘Other’ 282 km
  • Best month was April with 447 km traveled (125% of target)
  • Funds Raised so far £695 (excluding Gift Aid and Fund Matching schemes) from 17 donors
  • Overall, a good achievement in H1 to get ahead of target at this stage of the year. This provides some headroom for a dip in training over the next month or so whilst I slow down and travel around other parts of Chile, but still allowing me to keep up my fitness and remain on track to achieve the overall target.

Effort & Commitment

  • 94 training sessions and races logged in 181 days – just over one every other day (many of them multiple activities)
    • 19 Swims
    • 45 Bike Rides
    • 24 Runs
  • ‘Other’ activities ranged from Combat & Spin Classes, to ‘extreme’ Scuba Diving & Surfing, to traditional Football, Cricket & Golf.
  • Even managed to keep up training whilst on holiday in Cornwall, Bristol & Derbyshire.
  • Triathlon / Life Balance – As those of you who partake in regular training training for long distance events (and your families) will know it involves a significant sacrifice of your personal life, ranging from early morning runs to late night swims. One of the hardest parts of this challenge has been the amount I have been away, and now I am over the hump I am going to consciously slow things down, to be able to spend more time with my family in the remainder of the year, whilst of course making sure I still complete the remainder of the challenge.

Major Events

  • The year started out with a ‘Dryathlon’ of no alcohol throughout January, to help kick off the fitness vibe.
  • May saw the first major race of the year, in the Stratford Sprint Triathlon. This proved to be a decent start to the season, with a strong swim leg in the pool, a slightly lonely bike leg around the back end of nowhere, and an unexpected trail run. My time was in line with expectations, but sadly the course itself was a bit unexciting.
  • June however, was the biggie – the Avenger Triathlon, a half-iron distance beast worthy of the name. A tough course combined with a crazy hot day made this an extra challenge, but just shy of 8 hours racing saw me complete the race. Following a similar pattern to the last one, this started well with a great swim time, but the bike course was a killer, in particularly the last 25 km or so, and the half-marathon was something else – but it was all worth it to finish such an event!

Communications

  • Started writing (this) blog to raise awareness, and help my supporters track my progress.
  • 50 posts written in the first six months.
  • 323 posts read and 22 regular followers.
  • Plenty of information provided on Chile, with even more photos to come (most of my best pictures are of Northern Chile!)
  • Tons of ideas for the rest of the year (hopefully I will get around to actually writing them up!)
  • A critically acclaimed presentation to work colleagues, along with a unique fold and keep booklet with FAQs on the Challenge.

All in all, a decent start to the first half of the year with plenty more still to come. Highlights still to come in H2 include a fully Olympic Triathlon in Windsor, the Great Birmingham Run, and an action packed Road Trip through Chile itself. The main thing is I am still on track to achieve my target of 4260 km by New Year’s Eve, so thank you for your support so far, and I hope you keep reading for the rest of the year!

Avenger Finish Line

Sporting Heroes: August

I have realised the irony in that this challenge is geared around triathlons, yet so far none of the Sporting Heroes I have featured have actually been triathletes. Well fear not dear reader, as just like buses, after 6 months of waiting for a high profile race to seamlessly link into my blog, two have come along at once! – Update: I have also just realised I have already done July’s entry, so this has now become an early runner for August!

Of course I am talking about England’s fantastic success on the opening day of the Commonwealth Games, where after finally getting the recognition they deserve in the London Olympics, some of the top elite triathletes this country has to offer have pulled off another fantastic result.

Alistair B

I need to give particular credit to Alistair Brownlee first of all, as ultimately he was the first to really break through into the headlines. When I first started getting into triathlon in 2010 he was the reigning World Champion, and he was clearly a massive inspiration for me in stepping up from what started as a small relay race, to a full on Olympic distance and beyond.  Following this success he went on to win the Worlds again the next year, followed of course by the famous Olympic gold in 2012, and he now has the ‘full house’ of gold medals, a unique feat in the triathlon world.

His win today was by the equivalent of a country mile, and as well as picking up flags and high-fiving spectators, he probably had time for a nice cuppa before crossing the line to win gold – and being a good Yorkshire lad I would expect no less – I would know having married into a Sheffield based family myself, although that is probably about as close as I could compare myself to him!

What I loved about Alistair’s win today was how laid back about it he was. During his races his expressions generally give the impression he is about to die from exertion or worse, but a few minutes later he will seem back to normal. There was a picture of him casually cycling back to base after the race, at a time when most people would barely be able to walk! He also has a classic British attitude and humility, and during his post-win interview on the BBC today he seemed more embarrassed at the fact he was getting attention for winning than anything else. Actually, that is probably fairly similar to my own post-race discussions, although without the winning part!

When he is on form Alistair is simply unbeatable, particularly on the run leg where despite being thinner than a rake he seems to be able to maintain his pace for ever, but increasingly in all three disciplines where he continues to improve all around. He even seems to be able to take it further, having won some longer distance races in the last year or so, and bearing in mind he is still only in his 20’s, lets hope he also has a future in the Ironman world.

He is also human too, as seen back in London 2010 where he famously ‘hit the wall’ and collapsed towards the end of the run leg. Bearing in mind this was just a few months before my first ever race, just as I was getting into my training stride, this was a little intimidating, but that is just how it goes!

Brownlee BrothersBrownlee Bike

It seems harsh to talk about Ali so much without mentioning Jonny, who for most people has to carry the ‘always the bridesmaid’ type mantle. But lets not forget, this is a guy who has also won the World Championships, has an Olympic bronze medal and is one of the few guys capable of keeping pace with Alistair. They really help each other out, as shown today where they were able to take turns pushing on the bike whilst miles ahead of the main pack, whilst at the same time there is no team orders here, and they really are racing each other to get the best out of themselves.

The fact these guys are brothers is quite simply frightening, to think how each is able to inspire the other to really give it their all. As well as doing all of their training together, they actually live together, which must be one hell of a household to be around. Both Ali & Jonny are incredibly inspirational to me, and it is great to be able competing in triathlons while we are going through such a golden age for the sport.

Stimpson Holland

It is not just the men though: The first medals of today were won by our equally dominant and inspirational ladies team, led by the mighty Jodie Stimpson. Hailing from the outskirts of Birmingham just a few miles from my own base, Jodie is the person to beat this year, taking the gold medal in the women’s event and threatening to add the World Championships to her haul. As a fellow West Midlander she also talks properly which is a good thing to see on national TV. Not only did we take first place, but fellow elite and former 220 magazine columnist Vicky Holland also took a well deserved bronze, giving us a total of 4 medals in just the first two races, with the team relays still to come this weekend – Go Team England!

Race Report: Peak District Triathlon 13/7/14

Another weekend, another race completed! Not only was this a new race for me, but a new race altogether, so it was great to be involved in the inaugural Peak District Triathlon, set in the picturesque grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. One thing about racing is that whilst it is good to compete in local races, you also have the chance to enter events all over the country and explore new areas. This one happened to be 30 minutes away from my in-laws in Sheffield, meaning as well as having my wife to support me (and take loads of fantastic photos) I also had the parents in law as well, so a 3 strong squad to keep me motivated!

Of course being involved in a new race has both up and downsides to it and it would be fair to say there were a few teething issues with this one of which more later, but all in all the day went pretty well.

Chatsworth HouseChats Bike on Car

750m Swim – 16.01

I was really keen to see how this part would go, being my first ever river swim. The main benefit of this format is that you are forced to swim in a relatively straight line, so you don’t accidentally end up drifting miles of course as you can do in a lake. On the other hand, it can be a bit of a squeeze…

The route involved swimming up the river one way, then turning at a buoy and heading back towards the start. With 8 waves at 15 minute intervals and people averaging 15-20 minutes to complete the course, the packs were relatively well spread out, but typically as each group set off, the previous lot were heading back right at them. Whilst the aim was to stay to the left of the buoys, anyone who has been involved in a swim like this will know it is not easy to know exactly where you are, and watching the early starters from the bridge above, it was a bit like that level on Mario Kart where you have to drive into the oncoming traffic – a great one for head on collisions! To add to this, the first buoy at around 100 m was fairly tight, and had a funneling effect, where the groups 6 or 7 people wide had to fit into a gap for 4 or 5, inevitably leading to even more carnage as shown below.

Chatsworth Swim Group Chats Swim exit

The water itself was also pretty different to the last few races I have done. After the Avenger’s balmy 21 degrees, this one was measured at just 16 degrees (and a few marshals mentioned that was at a push). Was it noticeable? As Churchill would say, Oh Yes. I was one of the first in on my wave and t was a lot tougher treading water in the few minutes before the hooter, so something of a relief when we got going.  With most people around seeming fairly nervous I chanced my arm at starting at the front right, and it seemed to work – well I came out with all my original teeth anyway. The funnel effect was pretty noticeable as we were forced towards the bank, but at least there was no leg grabbing or any of that kind of thing, and we all made it through ok.

Chatsworth PontoonChatsworth Swim 1Chatsworth Swim 2

Around 250 metres in though I really started to feel rough, with tight ribs and some shoulder pain. I was not sure if it was the cold, or not breathing properly, but the next stretch up to the turning buoy was really painful. When I chanced a brief glance at my watch on the turn I realised why: the first digit was a 6, meaning I had really over paced myself, having expected to be more around the 8 minute mark at this stage. Whilst it was great that I was going fast, it was not a great idea with everything else to come, so I stepped off the gas a bit on the second leg and made it back to the pontoon (the far one in the above left picture) in just over 16 minutes. I later found this put me in the top third of the field for the day, so an even better result.

T1 – 6.05

Unfortunately that was not the end of it, and rather than strolling into T1, there was a 400 metre run across a gravel path and uncut grassy field. On a good day in my trainers I would be looking at a couple of minutes for this, but with bare feet, cold hands and trying to simultaneously strip off my wetsuit, it was a whole new challenge. I reckon the run took around half of the 6 minutes, and that sounds a more realistic outcome.

Given that I had just legged it over, I was practically dry by the time I got to my bike. The time could have been better, but I wanted to take on some fluids too, knowing I had quite a challenge coming up next.

20 km Bike – 54.34

Chatsworth Bike out

Given that this was taking place in the middle of the Peak District I was expecting some hills, although after the evil Avenger bike course secretly hoping they would be nice and gentle… No such luck. My first mistake came the day before when we had to register for the race, which meant driving back to base along the bike course. The fact that the hill seemed to take ages even in my car was a warning sign, and by the time I reached the top (and turning point) I had it clocked at an 8 km straight climb. This was like King of the Mountains in Le Tour! It would be fair to say I was bricking it for the rest of the evening before.

The first stage of the course however involved leaving the estate grounds and negotiating a couple of potentially tricky roundabouts in full traffic. Fortunately it all went well, although when I finished the race I noticed a guy next to me in transition had a time penalty for unsafe entry into the main road, so clearly I had got a little lucky on my timing.

From then on I was into the climb, and miraculously it actually went really well. As most of my training has been either indoors on turbos and stationary bikes, or if not on fairly flat local roads, I have next to no experience on hills. As mentioned I had 4 massive hills in the Avenger which almost killed me, but to be fair in a 110 km race I felt less guilty about having to get off and push. Here in a 20 km event it was simply not an option.

Somehow thought I managed to get the bike into a decent gear and just keep pushing, with plenty of No Pain shouts from Duke in my head. Even more amazingly I actually managed to start overtaking others (bearing in mind in my last two races I barely saw anyone for 90% of the bike leg). The trip to the top of the hill took around 35 minutes, but was well worth it once up there, for some amazing views of the hills and valleys on either side. The sun even emerged for a brief few seconds, before going back into hiding.

A loop around a massive roundabout saw us commencing the descent. which might sound easy, but in a way was just as tricky as the way up. Yes there were a few lunatics zooming down like stinger missiles, but personally I was not keen on breaking my neck for this. I still went pretty quickly, and got down in under 15 minutes – less than half the time it took to go the other way. Going down also gave me a much better view of what was happening on the other side, and the other main issue with the course – traffic.

The problem is, this is the main (if not only) road between two sides of the district, so anyone needing to get around that day had to use it, and closing it was not an option. To combine that with 500+ cyclists of mixed ability is not a great combination, and you could really tell. On my way up I managed to stick close enough to the curb to allow cars past without causing too many issues, but on the way down I passed all sorts. Guys and girls literally pedaling at snail pace up the hill, followed by huge queues of cars, caravans, buses & lorries, most of whom seemed incapable of knowing how and when to overtake. This has the double effect of winding up the drivers so they take more dangerous chances, and intimidating the bikers into doing something daft like drifting over. Whilst I did not see any accidents, I would be amazed if there were none, and hopefully this will be taken into account next year.

Anyway, I managed to make it down unharmed in the end, and a few minutes of light rain was actually pretty welcome to cool me down. By the time I got back into the estate the crowd also seemed to have picked up (I assume not just for me but you never know) and it pushed me through into transition.

T2 – 2.00

Chats Trans

Half of this time was probably having to do almost a complete circuit of the transition area to get to my spot. Typically I came in at the exact same moment as the guy next to me who was doing the relay, and his partner for the running leg seemed oblivious to me rolling in a few steps behind him and unable to slow down, causing me to crash past her with my bike (this may have explained why I overtook her about 500 m later even though she was on fresh legs!).  Other than that this was basically a textbook changeover, and I was back out on the run in double quick time.

5 km Run – 31.55

After a long slog up and down the peaks, the last thing I fancied as I set off on foot was more hills. So obviously the run was exactly like the bike course, 2.5 km of pure uphill cross country running to the posh sounding ‘hunting tower’, and then back down again to the bottom. Deja vu. Naturally it involved more long grass, rabbit warrens, mud slides and miscellaneous hazards.

I am not actually sure which was tougher, going up or going down. Whilst descending sounds easier and quicker, you had to keep your eyes scanning the ground like a Terminator, as one misplaced step would likely see you on your ass. Funninly enough the thing that kept crossing my mind was John Candy’s line from Cool Runnings – “Your bones won’t break… No no no. They will shatter”. Somehow imagining myself in one of those full body casts cracked me up, and it probably scared the hell out of those on their way up to see a nutter with a maniacal grin charging at them at full pelt.

At the midway point the organisers were kind enough to provide the only snack station, decked out with a bottle of water and some Jaffa Cakes. At that point I was up for anything, having lost my energy gel from my back pocket on the way up the hill. Unfortunately these are not, for me, an ideal on the move feast. With my throat feeling like the Atacama Desert (no moisture for 100 years+) it instantly seemed to turn to dust and clog up my mouth, rendering me unable to breathe or speak for a few seconds. I then understood the drink combination, and washed it down, but I tell you this. If they had the evidence I uncovered there would have been no need for that biscuit vs cake court case all those years ago!

One thing I am really glad about is that I managed to do the whole thing, including the hills, without walking. This was a real personal achievement, and probably the thing I am most proud of from this race, as although it was short I really never thought I would be able to keep going the whole time. How I would have fared at Olympic distance I am not sure, but I like to think all the training I have put in this year has paid off.

Chatsworth FinishChatsworth Drink

Finish – 1.50.36, position 114 out of 165.

The finish chute was great, and as I was not the last to finish for a change, there were actually still people about to cheer me in, right down to the commentators doing their local radio style ad-libs. The best part though – the pint of  beer (ok non-alcoholic)  they kindly handed out on the line – the perfect way to re-hydrate. I will not be happy at future events if this is not a feature!

In terms of my performance, I can’t really compare it to the last Sprint Tri i did in Stratford, given that that had a shorter pool-swim, and flat bike and run courses. I was a lot happier with my place though, coming 114 out of 165 competitors, which is probably my best ever finish!

Good Bad &Weird

I have decided to use a slightly different rating scale this time (this is my blog!) as I wanted to highlight some of the best (and worst) things about this new race – who knows, they might even read this and take it on board.

The Good

  • First up: the location. Chatsworth is a fantastic looking place, with immaculate buildings and grounds. We were fortunate enough to visit the day before to register on a really sunny day, and there are great looking fountains, lovely plants and all the decor and gold bling you would expect to see in somewhere occupied by a family who are not far of the front in line for the throne.
  • There was also great support for the event, as not only were there all the normal family and friends who would come to a normal race, but all the curious visitors for the day too, many of whom had probably never seen anything like this. The bridge over the river meant there was good support for the swim, something which otherwise does not make for the most exciting viewing, and by the time I got to the run and finish there were loads of people cheering us on.
  • My other pick is the goody bag! This is usually a disappointing pack of flyers with a token gel, but for this race there were all sorts of interesting samples, a really good quality technical t-shirt (compared to the usual wear once and throw away ones) and rather than a medal they have given free access to the professional photos, which you usually get charged around £5 each. The best bit though, as mentioned, was the pint on the finish line – I have seen pictures of people with these before but this was a first for me, and a perfect way to end the race. Nice work Xtra Mile!
The Bad
  • This is meant more as constructive criticism more than being too negative, but some areas could be improved. This was a new race, but the admin could have been better. We only received the final race details a week before the race (compared to at least a month in most others I have done) which made preparation a bit difficult. When we came to register the day before we had to pay £3 to park. Fair enough if we wanted to stay, but we were only there around 30 minutes…
  • Also after the finish line the timing chips did not seem to have worked – unless I really did a 7 second 5 km –  and there was a huge queue of people moaning to change theirs, and as I had timed myself I was not that bothered about hanging around to get mine fixed. Fortunately this must have been fixed and the online results are correct, but I guess I would have been more annoyed if I was in the running for a podium and prize.
  • Finally, there was the hills! Not a lot to be done in this part of the world granted, but I am not sure the course was really suitable for novices as they prominently said in the advertising. This was a really major road, and at points it was dangerous for me, let alone people who had never done anything like this.
The Weird
  • Long Grass: This seems really picky, but I really can’t understand why they could not cut the grass into a path from the swim into T1 I am sure the sheep would have coped with the other 1000 acres on either side. It was at points almost knee deep, which is not really appropriate to run on with wet bare feet. Likewise parts of the run course had disguised rabbit holes and other traps, which as mentioned must have done a few people in on the way.
  • Then there was the wetsuit dip. For some reason the estate insisted that all wetsuits had to be disinfected before anyone did the swim. The organisers seemed a bit embarrassed that this clearly came to them at the last minute, so everyone had to wash their suits in a wheelie bin filled with some cleaning fluid. Now particularly as a scuba diver, I am obsessive in keeping my kit clean – if you pay a lot for it you hardly leave it lying about – and I am sure I am not alone here. It might have been ok, if when we got in the river it had seemed clean, but it was pretty horrible, and if anything my wetsuit needed disinfecting afterwards!
  • I have never done a race with temporary tattoos. It has always been stickers or just a permanent marker, but this one had them in. To be fair they went on fine, but you could not see them under your kit anyway, and they then seemed impossible to get off. Forget an Ironman tattoo, it looked like I would be number 522 for ever! More embarrassingly I forgot about them and then felt like a right twat when I went for a swim two days later and still had part of them on (although by then it looked more like 51 and a half!)
Anyway, rant over. To summarise, this was a fun new event, which I think will get even better as the years go on. Although I took longer than other sprints, I was really happy with my time and finish position, and will take a lot away from the day. Here’s to the next race!

Sporting Heroes: July

I had been wondering who would fill this column for July, as there are a few major sporting events going on at the moment. As I type this, Roger & Novak are tearing up Centre Court at Wimbledon, and this time next week we will be closing in on the World Cup Final. Later on in July we also have a mouthwatering test series between England & India, and whilst that gets underway we have the Commonwealth Games to look forward to, which should see plenty of our elite athletes having their chance to shine.

Hamilton

But watching the British GP today I felt I had to award this one to Lewis Hamilton, after a fantastic second home victory at the home of racing: Silverstone.  As British sports fans know, we need to make the most of victories like this, as you never know when the next one will come around again! After starting the season with a flyer, Lewis has trailed behind Nico after some technical problems, but despite this has been the fastest driver in nearly every race.

During his victory speech today, Lewis echoed one of my own phrases I have used in my other blogs, such as after the Avenger. He had previously had a tough qualifying day, after pulling out of his qualifying lap despite being on course to take pole, meaning he had to start from the third row: “This weekend shows you never give up”, he said, a motto that we all should live by.

Lewis has an amazing record for a guy of 29, with hopefully years more to compete in him. Let’s look at the facts: He was one of the youngest world champions ever, after an unbelievable victory in the 2008 season. He has now won the second most races of all British drivers, and most people would expect him to be overtaking Nigel Mansell and his moustache by the end of this season to be number one. He also has the most Pole starts of all UK drivers, 4th on the all time list.

Whilst F1 gets a fair bit of criticism from fans saying it can be boring, predictable, etc – and over the previous seasons I have been one of them – whenever Lewis is involved this can never be the case. Yes, there is some home support bias here, but he is a genuinely exciting guy to support. Sometimes this means incredible speed, daring and skill, but almost as often it can mean unpredictability and controversy. One minute he might be pulling off incredible overtaking maneuvers, the next he will be saying something daft in a press conference or online. It is all part of the fun!

One thing this does make me realise is how it can be strange to be older than some of your sporting heroes. Most of the people I have here have been folks I grew up watching and idolising on TV or film, but in this case I am actually a few years older than Lewis, which is kind of a strange feeling. Yes, I am also older than most of the kids playing in the Premier League, and it can be a bit upsetting when people refer to guys like Fernando Alonso & Roger Federer as ‘old & past it’ when they are the same age as me… but I guess that is all part of maturity. So it must be good to have some heroes you can look upon as perhaps a successful younger brother – at least I will always be able to give the ‘it was even harder back in my day’ speech to them!

Ange silverstone

Although I had to watch today’s race on TV (unlike my sister Lucy who was actually there!) I did manage to get to Silverstone a month or so ago. And instead of Lewis in the picture above, it is actually my wife Ange, fulfilling one of their lifetime dreams to be able to drive a Ferrari, and on the Grand Prix circuit no less! I am not sure what the speedo was doing at that point in her lap, but U expect it was more than enough to give the Red Bull team a run for their money…

I will add a mention here for Lewis’ ex-team mate and rival, who is amazingly the most experienced driver in the current field, Jenson Button. As well as a great driver, and also former world champ, Jenson is a massive triathlon fan, to the point where he even has his own race! Sadly I will be unable to make it this year due to being in Chile, but perhaps one for the future. In the meantime, here is to the second half of this F1 season continuing to be as exciting as it has been so far.

Underwater Adventures

After the intensity of completing an 8 hour triathlon, the last few Saturdays have involved something  much more relaxed: Diving.

It is not really a surprise I enjoy scuba. Ever since I was younger I have loves all water based sports, spending my summers swimming in the sea, kayaking at a local lake and surfing on holiday down in Cornwall. I got back into swimming in my second year at uni, partly out of boredom to vary my days, and also to stay in shape after retiring from rugby and spending the subsequent months drinking too much beer and playing too much Halo with my best mate Stewart. I ended up really enjoying it, and I remember one particular lunchtime running into a lady-friend of mine who seemed quite impressed I was working out regularly. Ange is now my wife, and I am not sure how pleased she is I still spend most of my free time training, but there you go!

My first proper job while at school and uni was as a part-time lifeguard (funnily enough with Stewart as well) which admittedly meant spending time out of the water. I did manage to save one person once – the other lifeguard I was working with –  but that is a story for another day! This was also the first time I probably came across scuba divers, who would come in on a Thursday evening from a local club to practice. To be honest they were a pain in the arse from a lifeguard point of view, as you could not really do much to help them, and swimmers would often crash into them as they distractedly wondered what was going on.

Scuba

Fast forward about 5 or 6 years, and my Mum got my wife & I a try dive session as a birthday present. It was only in a tiny, but 3m deep, pool near where we lived, and I loved it, and managed to go again when in holiday in Greece. Unfortunately after growing up by the coast, and going to school with the nearest beach literally around the corner, I now live in Birmingham, which is about as far from the beach as you can get in the UK . So when I finally got around to completing my open water course, it was in the exotic location of Dostill, just north of the city.

For those who have never experienced UK inland diving, it could not be more different to exotic locations such as the Caribbean or Red Sea. For starters it is cold, so you are likely to be in a dry suit, something of an oxymoron of a name as I always seem to end up with half the river in my undersuit. Then there is the visibility, which on a good day can be around somewhere between 5-10 metres, but often less if the bottom has been kicked up by your fellow adventurers. In terms of things to see, it is not exactly the great barrier reef, but it is not all shopping trolleys either, there can be some interesting bits, but more on that later.

Because of these conditions, this means there is a huge similarity between scuba diving and triathlon: the amount of kit you need. That’s right, I seem to have managed to pick what may well be the two hobbies that involve more equipment than any others. I have already blogged on some of my tri stuff, and the main thing with that is that whilst there are a few essentials – swimsuit, bike, helmet, trainers – the other bits are basically all there to make you go faster and / or look good. With diving however, the kit is there for a more important reason: to keep you alive! Whilst you can hire bits from your local centre, it is of course best to own and get to know your own, to ensure it fits well and most importantly works for you.

Fortunately my local club (Aquasport International) is great, and has some really good equipment and instructors, but I have still ended up collecting loads over the years. My typical kit list for a day’s diving includes: Mask & snorkel, fins, undersuit, gloves, hood, Suunto dive computer, weight belt, torch, knife, reel & SMB. On top of that I hire the bigger and more expensive bits from the club: Dry suit, BCD, regs & cylinder, but I have no doubt that I will end up being persuaded to invest in these in years to come as it is rare that I manage to visit the shop without parting with any money I have left on me.

After completing my first qualification I have ended up doing various other Padi specialisms and now have the following:

  • Open Water Diver
  • Advanced Open Water
  • Peak Performance Buoyancy
  • Enriched Air (Nitrox) Diver
  • Equipment Specialist
  • National Geographic Diver
  • Search & Recovery Diver
  • Deep Diver

I had been supposed to do a nice, laid back Underwater Photography course this weekend, but it was cancelled at the last minute, so I ended up switching to the last on this list – Deep Diver. To be fair it was one I had been planning on doing this at some point anyway after a taste of going that bit deeper in my advanced course which qualified me to 30 metres. This course certified me to 40 metres, the maximum depth for ‘recreational’ divers before entering into the crazy (and even more expensive) world of technical diving, involving even more equipment and air-mixes.

Stoney Cove

The better thing about the course though, was it took place at Stoney Cove, something of a legend and possibly the most famous inland dive site in the UK. One of the Divemasters today mentioned they used to go there back in the 1960s! It is about twice the size of our usual haunt of Dostill, and there is a lot more to see underwater, ranging from boats, to cars, to flying machines.

Deep diving is of course fairly dangerous, as the further you descent, the more the pressure is, and we were about twice as deep as you would go on a normal open water dive. This means it is very cold, dark, and you breathe through your air twice as fast too. Most of this course was therefore around the safety implications and how to deal with potential problems associated ranging from as decompression sickness (aka the bends) to freeflows (where your regulator packs in due to the cold & depth). Fortunately none of these happened to any of us, but of course it is good to know what to do if you need.

For divers though, one of the big things about going deep, is what is known as getting ‘narked’. Now this has nothing to do with some kind of underwater anti-drug squad, but refers to nitrogen narcosis, which is something you experience when breathing air at depths which are typically below 30 metres. Without boring the pants of people with the science, it is basically a feeling you get, which you could best describe as like being drunk. This affects people differently, and I did notice it a bit on our last dive down to 36 m, in that for me I felt a lot more confident and did not pay as much attention to my timers as I normally would. Time also flew by, and the activity we had to do at the bottom involving putting toy shapes into a box took us all over twice as long down there as at the surface.

Of course we had a great instructor keeping an eye on us and I had enough control for it not to be dangerous, but clearly it is one to be careful of. The divemaster I was buddying with told me he still has a photo of him at one dive where he took his regulator out to pose for it but he has no memory of doing it at all. There are even rumors of people hallucinating and seeing mermaids… The strange about being narked is that as soon as you ascent a bit it wears off, and you can get on with the rest of your dive with only some hazy memories of what happened: a bit like sobering up from a big night out in fast forward.

Stoney NautilusStoney Cove stan

 

The rest of the dives were great, and we explored a number of artificial wrecks on the quarry bed ranging from a helicopter with no rotors, to a 10 m submarine with a massive propeller, to the mighty Stanegarth, an 18 m tug boat in great condition to examine. Whilst these are of course purpose sunk to practice on, they are the most exciting thing I have seen yet underwater, and it is amazing how much more interesting something as simple as a cockpit becomes in this situation compared to wandering around on land. There was also a fair bit of marine life, and whilst you could not describe it as tropical, even our instructor looked really excited at the sight of a crayfish, beckoning us to look whilst doing the pincer hand sign to explain what it was!

For those of you wondering I have managed to count this towards my training. Although the dives have only been 30-45 mins each, there is a lot of intensity in the build up (just lugging around 40 kg of kit to the water’s edge in the sun is a serious effort!). So each dive has counted as a 5 km swim, making a total of 20 km in the swim column for two days work, which sounds reasonable to me. Hopefully I will get back in again later this year, and if I manage to do the underwater photography then I will include some of my own pictures on here next time. Until then, stay safe!

A Classy Gentleman

Ron Burgundy

I have to admit, I do get a bit carried away thinking about ideas for this blog whilst I am training, and on occasions it can actually become take over what I am actually doing, whether swimming lap after lap on auto-pilot, or head down cycling for hours on end. One aspect I tend to think about the most are the titles, and I had a number of ideas for today, ranging from the more obvious “Spinning Around”  to the tenuous “Keep it like the Kaiser” (as in RHCP Give it Away and a type of indoor bike). In the end I settled for the Ron Burgundy-esque moniker above. I guess I had better explain what I have actually been up to for this to make sense…

So to paraphrase the guy from the Fast Show, this week I have been mostly partaking in gym classes. This is not totally unusual for me, as I have been attending a Body Combat class on most Mondays over the last 4 or 5 years, mainly as it is the only way I can get my wife to train alongside me! Although it is a bit cheesy (happy hardcore music not heard since the mid-90s, faux karate air punches, terrifying women with ‘rip his head off’ looks in their eyes…) it does have some real benefits, such as increased flexibility, cardio variety, and some great fun Muay Thai and Capoera moves.

But the real story here is the class I did tonight: Keiser Cycling. Given that I have done well over 1000 miles on the bike this year it might surprise people that I have never done this before. Well it is not through lack of trying. There have been a number of Saturdays when I have remembered the class is on too late, and it has been too full to get in. But tonight, I had a chance.

It all started with my wife going to a school disco. Don’t panic, there is nothing sinister here, she is a teacher and had gone to crash the end of term party with her colleagues. As a result I had a while evening free to myself. I did consider my options – a GTA 5 marathon, back-to-back Rocky films – but ultimately it had to be a good old 3 hour gym session. So I headed up straight after work, and settled in at the bike around 6.00 to lay down some miles. Funnily enough the class itself was unplanned. About 10 minutes in I realised there were people hanging about in the room next door, and I realised it was a cycling class that actually had spaces, and as a bonus it was being run by our combat instructor. So, like any good investigative reporter such as Fletch, I thought it would by my duty to give it a go.

Bridget J

Funnily enough it was tougher than I thought, Not impossible as some would have you believe, but no walk in the park either. First up, the bikes (Keisers) are a bit different to other indoor bikes. For starters they have fairly decent pedals, with cages on one side, and cleats on the other, so next time I will aim to bring my tri-shoes to clip in. They also have a fancy digital gear system on the stem, which you hold up to go up a gear, and vice versa, which make changing on the move a lot easier.

Watching through the window bike classes do look pretty odd, as to try and inject a bit of variety to what would otherwise be ‘cycle fast, cycle slow’ commands, they have some strange special moves. For example there is a sort of ‘plank’ where you lean forwards on your forearms to use different leg muscles, and another one where you bounce up and down in the seat and that does something else, I guess. There is also a fair bit of climbing in high gears, which was actually very useful, and would have helped a lot with the hills in the Avenger the other week. A few more of these before my next race I think!

As for the music. Well, some of the cheese from Combat has clearly been carried forward, but it did work, and whilst it would not be the stuff I would normally listen to, it was well matched to the pacing and kept you going. The other notable thing was that even with the fan and air con at full blast it was ludicrously hot. And this was with only a dozen or so in the room (it has space for more than double that) so I dead to imagine it when it’s full.

I guess I should say a few words on how I did: I was pretty happy considering it was my first time doing this. Yes I have put a lot of long distance rides in, but this is very different involving lots of short sprints and climbs, which is good as in reality these are the areas it is harder to get around to practicing on your own. Despite the fact it is non-competitive, it seemed pretty obvious that a few wanted to out-do each other, and at points it felt like an unofficial peacock fight for who could get the fastest RPM or ride in the higher gear. Obviously being British no one actually said anything to each other…

Keiser

Anyway, it was all over in 45 minutes, so I wandered back out to finish the other half of my session. Some of the rest of the class did give me some strange looks, possibly confused as to what sort of nutter comes out of a fairly tough class and basically does it all over again, but the second half of my session was pretty chilled. So 50 minutes or so later, and another 25 km completed I warmed down and hit the sauna. Job done!

The big questions are of course, was it any good and would I do it again? Well yes and yes. Whilst the short but intense session is a welcome addition and variety to my training, I certainly won’t be doing it every week as I want to keep up mylong steady rides, but it is good to know it is there and available when I need it. As Arnie would say: I’ll be back.