Friday, 28 March 2014

Friday Song

Now I have finally launched my Justgiving page and with it, this Blog I thought I'd better make it a bit more broad church and interactive.  Don't worry all you endurance triathletes out there looking at my training schedules, there will be plenty of that stuff as time goes on, but let's spare some time for the aesthetics of life.

One of the things that I really love is music.  Always have and I love live music.  Strangely, I never listen to it when I'm training.  The kind of Indie stuff I prefer is all minor chords and very melancholic, so more likely to make me give up than inspire me to keep going.  If I put anything upbeat on the ipod it just reinforces what a plodder I am and also has a demotivating effect.

No, for me, it is just countless hours stuck in my own head: a weird and scary place to be - a bit like being in a music fight between The Fall and the Sisters of Mercy, with Leonard Cohen as referee - but slightly darker.  Occasionally songs drift into my consciousness, and I want had 6 hours of an Ironman bike leg with an obscure Thompson Twins track looping around my brain again and again and again.  I wouldn't have minded but it wasn't even one of the Thompson Twins' best tracks (should there be such a thing). "You Take me up" for the one person out there who might be wondering what it was.

Anyway, I digress.  What I am getting on to say is that I find music inspiring and great fun.  Last year when I was training for the Relay Channel Swim I made a playlist of all tracks that had a nautical theme and would play it on my trips to Dover and the Solent.  I tried to introduce it as a once a week Facebook item for our Aspire Channel swim, but I think staff just thought I was a bit odd and it didn't take off.  But this is my very, very own Blog, so I can introduce just what the hell I like.  So each week I'll introduce a song that has some swimming/nautical element.  If I have to I may have to do the odd running/cycling/Rocky style song.  At no point will I have Keep on Running by the Spencer Davis Group, nor will I have Night Swimming by REM, perfect though they are for this theme.

First song up is as simple and wistful as they come.  "Swimming Lessons" by the Eels.  Obviously, the song has nothing to do with swimming really and is completely metaphorical.  The only link I can think of between the Eels and me is that the Mark Oliver Everett, who actually constitutes the Eels, smokes cigars.  I used to smoke them too, and by the time I stopped smoking in April 2001 I was smoking 3 packets of Hamlet a day.  15 sodding cigars every day, at a cost of £13, back then.  I had the breath of a dead dog, and looked pale and had a permanent sweaty sheen about me. So some things don't change, eh?  It was that ability to do extremes that I now apply to long distance sport.  I can't tell you how much willpower it takes to light up a cigar when your mouth is as dry as the bottom of a budgie cage.  Willpower is everything.  Don't let anyone tell you that addicts lack willpower - they have more in their little finger than you will have in a lifetime.

Sorry, back to the song.  Here it is...

And no, it isn't. For some reason every copy anywhere on the internet has been taken down.  Why, how mysterious?  Well, check it out on itunes or Spotify or whatever illegal mp3 you use.

Having waffled on I'll give you a short song that you won't know, but sums up the perfect end to a Channel Swim.  If I get to France I want Laura Marling on a cliff top, belting this little number out:

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Arch to Arc (1)

I've been prattling on to myself for a few weeks now without launching my Justgiving page or publicising this blog about what I am doing, so I think it is now time for me to at least give my take on the Arch to Arc and what it entails.

The Arch to Arc is probably the world's hardest triathlon and must be up there with the toughest organised endurance events in the world.  The challenger begins at Marble Arch and runs 87 miles down to Dover.  Within 48 hours of the beginning of the run, the challenger must then swim the English Channel, a distance of 22 miles.  On landing at Calais it is then the simple matter of a 180 mile cycle ride to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  Writing it down like that and having done a few big endurance events, it sounds manageable.  When I first heard about it my interest was captured by the big distances and the linking of capital cities.  An 87 mile run sounded a huge challenge, and 180 miles on the bike is nothing to be sniffed at.  We are talking double/triple Ironman distances and that is always something for the testosterone fuelled to get in a lather about.  Actually, the real challenge lies in the middle, in the dead ground; the real challenge is the Channel.  It is in the Channel where everyone fails...

The Arch to Arc has a very high failure rate because too many people look at it the way I did and sign up to do the event : they are blinded by distances and big numbers.  Being predominately triathletes the sport has a great deal of emphasis on running and cycling, with the swim section an irritating add precursor to the main event.  With the Arch to Arc this is all turned on its head.  Forget fancy numbers - the 22 miles of the Channel is what will stop me.

Having said that, the run is vitally important.  Running 87 miles is no mean feat and can seriously deplete an athlete.  Therefore, it's important to put enough training into the run to ensure that you are not so depleted by the distance that your Channel swim is derailed by fatigue/cramp/ general misery.

If you follow my training I am putting everything into swimming, but I am having the occasional long run.  As I get closer to the event I will need to create a balance between maintaining the importance of the swim, with ensuring that I have enough psychological mileage to not live in fear of the road to Dover.

As a footnote I had intended to put virtually no cycle training into my programme.  That all changed when I smashed up the car and found myself cycling the thirty miles into and back from work each day.  That worked out at 150 miles a week.  Now the wet, wet winter is receding it seems a no-brainer to bin the car and use my commute as part of my training.  Tomorrow I'm going to be running it, although doing that every day is a bit much.

If you want to find out more about the event itself click on the link below for all the information you might ever need about long distance stupidity:

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Disguising Failure?

You know how you sometimes set out to do something and don't quite finish the job, so sort of pretend the unfinished job is actually the finished job, and "hey, didn't I do well" is how you sum up the sort-of-end result?

On Friday night a small group of us Arch 2 Arcers, Jo, Grantley, Neil, Dave set off from Marble Arch to head out to Dover.  One guy, Dave Kershaw wanted to run the whole 87 miles to Dover.  Me and my friend Rob ( a man I despise because of his natural ability to run short and long distances fast and with apparent ease.  I am doing all I can to undermine him, but he continues to be brilliant.  Even more annoyingly is the fact that he is a really nice guy and has supported me in everything I do. I am convinced he is patronising me, but that is more about my fucked up thinking that reality.)  Where was I? Oh yes, Rob and me had half a mind to go all the way to Dover, whereas the more sane A2A hopefuls had decided on stopping at Maidstone and then having a swim at Folkestone, as you do.

So off we trotted.  I managed to get us lost coming out of London and even the ultra nice Eddie Ette, our support was seeing his patience stretching.  This combined with a deliriously slow first 14 miles had everyone a little tense. I think we were too busy chatting and getting to know one another. Lots of stops in dangerous service stations in South London also slowed us down. Oh, and the mortally pissed guy who was so astonished by our running at 1am that he had to step out into a busy road to create a photo montage of us in our lycra and high-vis jackets.

Eventually we stepped into a steadier pace and experienced the privilege of a night run.  The roads quieten, all becomes still, and there is nothing to hear but the breathing of runners.  It feels like darkness will last forever, but time moves and suddenly you notice the light tingeing the inky sky.  Very quickly light returns and the body, deprived of sleep, receives a new boost.

We hit Maidstone, 41 miles in at about 6.30am.  At this point the sensible crew peeled off to do their swimming.  Dave wanted to pick the pace up and I knew Rob would feel comfortable with that.  It just left me, who was feeling the effects of 40 miles in my legs having to decide if I could maintain that pace.  It took me about, oh, I don't know, a third of a second to decide that I would go for a swim in Dover instead. So off I went with Grantley and Neil Kapoor (both scarily good runners) to Folkestone.  Very nice it was too.  30 minutes in the water, 90 minutes shaking with cold was a bracing end to a fairly intense piece of exercise by anyone's standard.

But as I sat in the train heading North to London I spotted parts of the run route down to Dover and my mind began to play its games with me.  Why did I stop?  I would be much more complete and satisfied as an athlete if I had run on.  And so on. When I saw the boys had reached Dover at 7 that evening I had that pang of jealousy - see text in parantheses about Rob, above....

This is the danger of endurance running.  You can always go further.  You can always finish.  I know that had I carried on I would have got further and further behind.  I would have caused a huge headache for Eddie in support as he would be split between us, and he was being employed as Dave's support.  It would have put pressure on Rob and Dave, because they would have been wondering if they should wait for me which would slow them down and detract from their enjoyment.  As it is, 3 days later I have trained constantly and easily with no aches and pains and I feel tremendously fit as opposed to bed ridden.

But still, but still, I feel like I failed.  I don't know.....time to call my therapist.