Monthly Archives: October 2016

Continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità

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What is it that makes a man, defines him?

Before you run away this is not going to be some BS blog about the glories of manliness and how the great feminazi conspiracy has kept me from my rightful place as pack leader. I am a white middle class middle-aged bloke living in the South East of one of the most prosperous countries on Earth . There is no glass ceiling based on my chromosome count, more of a glass platter with some rather good cheese on…

What makes a man then or at least what traits are more likely to be evident in men than women? Two things come to mind but this blog concentrates on one – our love of numbers.

To be clear I don’t mean maths. I have two kids. One loves the subject the other abhors it but both love numbers. They love to quantify things. I still chuckle when I remember taking a group of 9 year olds to football practise a while back and listening in to an argument over ‘favorite moons’. They were all compiling verbal lists and collating a winner (Phobos since you ask, my vote for Europa roundly ignored…).

Men tend to love to quantify, to measure, to number. This maybe no more than conditioning. From an early age we look at league tables and memorize sport stats. I don’t believe or pretend this to be an exclusively male trait but it seems heightened within us or within the men and boys I know.

And within me as I am utterly driven by ‘threes’.

Nothing exists until it is repeated, done or measured three times. Once? Pointless, a single point on a curve. Pah. Twice? So what, a simple echo. Three times…..ooooooo….ding dong.

I use to think that this was an affectation of my (failed) training as a biologist. Three is the smallest number any meaningful statistics can be performed on and then only just. My doctorate, written mainly in the alcoholic afterglow from the Jabez Clegg or Mantos, was littered with data points repeated 3 to 5 times. But as I said I think the need to count, to replicate, to quantify runs deeper than that. It is a defining characteristic.

My MS wasn’t real until the third attack. I couldn’t process the spinal tumour until the third scan (which I paid for myself). I could go on.

But the same applies to my running and triathlon. I have run 5k races timed under 20 minutes only twice in my life. But I will not call myself a sub 20 minute runner until I hit it three times. I can retire from half marathons because I ran three under the target I set (90 to 99 minutes). If not, knee problems or not, I would keep trying. In my head all that the Great South Run in 69 minutes means is I now have a target. At least two more 10 mile races that have, just have to be under 70 minutes. I’ve already signed up to Salisbury in April and the Great South again. My MS and comorbidities means I push the pace a little. Get the trinity done. Move on. Tomorrow it may not be possible.

This post was to celebrate but also to explain the last 6 weeks. To fund raise for Asthma UK I set myself three challenges. The Great North, the Barca Sprint and the Great South. It hurt. It was stupid. But if it wasn’t three challenges, it wouldn’t have been a challenge at all.

That’s it till the new season. An early Season’s Greetings and see you at the starting line at Milton Keynes in March.

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Breast(stroke) is best…

It rained, it was cloudy but, by fuck, it was good.

Having changed sponsors from Garmin to Santander apparently mid-stream the organisers had made a number of changes to the triathlon this year. Normally it has been a festival of sorts, lasting three days with the race on the Sunday. But a more subdued organisation prevailed this year, opening quietly on the Saturday to pick up race packs, roads being closed late Saturday night and the dismantling of the course by mid-afternoon Sunday.

In the past they had separate racking areas for those doing the Olympic distance to those doing the Paralympic (sprint) and super sprint races. This year it was all as one which was cosy. Whether that meant that less people had signed up to it I don’t know. It felt smaller and the course slightly different. Add to that pot I couldn’t hire the bike I wanted and had to accept a heavier one and my ongoing knee injuries I approached the day a slightly diminished figure.

But there are certain things that raise a smile. For some it’s the smell of freshly baked bread. For some it’s that first cup of tea in the morning. For me it’s racking the bike (heavy or not) and heading towards the water’s edge.

 

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Second wave. Far too fast for a rusted out bag of scrawn like me. An estimated time based more on a moment of hope than experience as I entered all those months ago. Second wave, expected time between 70-80 minutes for the Paralympic distance. With my bones and based on realistic expectations, 100 minutes made more sense. This was not a moment of self-hate on the sea shore. I remembered that I can’t really swim…

Yup. My eye sight is so bad (minus 10 or so *coughs gently*)  that I have to swim with glasses. You can get prescription googles but at that strength they bend reality as well as light and the one pair I tried (custom made) leaked. Pointless for swimming over any distance. Swimming with glasses means one thing. Breast stroke. Slow, ponderous but gets you there in the end.

In pool triathlons I end up starting way back on the list as, for the uninitiated, pool triathlons have staggered starts with competitors ranked by estimated swim speed and separated by 20 second intervals. Not a problem. I know my place…

But my optimism when I entered the triathlon earlier in the year was coming into sharp relief standing in the sand. Second wave (out of eight I think); would I even finish the sea swim before the last wave?

The sea is a cruel Mistress someone once said (God, I’m eloquent….) but she is also a great leveller. Freestyle may be faster in a flat pool or calm lake but many of the Catalan triathletes ended up attempting to swim through the water whilst end (up to a point) skimmed. I can’t swim, I really can’t but I wasn’t last to get the shore from my wave and only one or two from the wave behind caught me. I actually passed a couple from the first! I fell onto the shore and with little breath and less composure managed to make it into the stadium and pick up the bike.

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I realised two things. Firstly my knees were holding up. Secondly I hadn’t adjusted the bike straps for my trainers making me Dr Twat, Head of Twatology, Cretin University. Having wasted a minute (crucial in a sprint) trying to adjust the pedals with cold non-functioning hands (thank you multiple sclerosis for removing working opposable thumbs when cold) I legged it with the bike to the next stage and pedalled as fast I could without the extra power and speed strapping would have allowed.

Twenty uneventful kilometres later (save for a drafting argument in a language I don’t speak over a rule that makes little sense for this tri) I was off on the final sprint. And, as per normal, passing many of those ‘better’ swimmers earlier. Paced by a young Catalan lad (thank you 1984 your time is most definitely not up) I crossed the finishing line in a personal best of 82 minutes and 15 seconds. With this body, riven with an angry immune system and uncertain spine let alone aged knees this was an excellent result.

 

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What threw me (and still does) was my run time. 5k in 19.47minutes. Formally timed and perfectly formed, only the second time I have run 5k in under 20 minutes in an official race. Maybe I am more second wave than I thought.

Next stop the Great South in under two weeks. Will my knees hold?

Watch this space…

Barcelona or Bust.

On Thursday I go back to Barcelona for the second part of my fundraising for Asthma UK but also to say hello again to a city that has become as much as my psyche as Liverpool, Amsterdam and Boston. There are many triathlons but only one Barcelona, a city that starts with a waterfront and ends with a mountain. A place that hosted my closest friend’s stag weekend and the airport where I sat nursing a beer before returning to bury my father and close that chapter of my life forever. 

Over two years ago, after pulling my back the day before, I ‘stood’ on the beach caught up in the entire stupidity of it all. Dosed up on dicloflex, I gingerly entered the Mediterranean and swam for my own lost cause before somehow getting on a bike and limping over a finishing line so far behind everyone else it was laughable. Well it would have been but I was slightly out of my tree. Dicloflex on an empty stomach….*giggles*

Last year, recognised as that fuckwit English man who fell into the sea, I got it right. A little local knowledge, a lot of proper training and not pulling your back makes all the difference. I sprinted from my multiple sclerosis and passed the finish line. I live I live I live 🙂

And this year? October the 9th? Well I start with one advantage and one problem. I am fitter than I have been since I was 16. I am lighter than a 16 year old too. The problem is I have pushed myself too far and done too much. A wonderful (and for me fast) Great North Run has knackered my knees adding a different element of pain to my life. Not overwhelming by any rational standards and nothing in comparison to so many in my MS tribe but I’ve gone from running half marathons to be limited to 5 miles max. The fun has (temporarily) gone.

I will get round Barca. The crowds will be their normal generous and loud selves. I hope to come back no further diminished and with fun reinstated if not through the triathlon then because of the finest selection of non alcoholic lagers outside Madeira. Oh and a meeting with some clinical researchers at the marvellously named UNIBAPS.

But that is a story for another time. 😕

Wish my knees luck.