Friday, 26 July 2013

Small Pants

“I have a pair of pants in my drawer that are much too small for me,” you told me quietly, with that grin on your face.

Each morning, we would cycle the 5 miles out of town for an early morning rowing session on the Thames at Radley. This particular morning, we had been discussing the state of our training kit; mine was practically able to stand up by itself and in dire need of a wash.

“When I put these pants on, I think “Ooh, small pants” and I spend the day reminded of this. I know it’s time to do some washing then.”

We knew you from then on as Small Pants. It was a silly name for such a great man, really. You went on to achieve so much. No matter what you accomplised, you always remembered us, and you never minded us calling you that.

On those bike rides, we established our mutual love of cycling. Long after I stopped rowing, and even when rowing became your job, we talked bikes before boats. We laughed at the noises our student bikes made, both contraptions we’d owned since our early teens; we coveted and congratulated each other on the upgrades over the years since; we swapped stories of accidents, adventures and ambitions on two-wheels; we shared an aspiration to complete an ironman.

You took on Ironman Nice on the hottest day of 2009. One third of the way into the bike course and halfway up the biggest climb of the day, your chain snapped. With the nearest race mechanic 10km away at the top of the next pass, they told you to DNF. Instead, you jogged until someone loaned you a tool to rejoin the chain and completed the remaining 100km on a fraction of the gears you started with. All this before running a marathon. You took this photograph of yourself at the start of the day and posted it in your Facebook album from the event; I keep it by my computer at work and cherish the caption as much as the picture itself.

"Day 3: Happy! (Whatever may be in store for me today, at least I'm not stuck behind a desk in an air-conditioned office under artificial light in front of a computer screen...)" Acer Nethercott

The day I heard the news that you were ill, I rode my bike. I rode my bike and I thought of you. I rode my bike and I worried about you. I rode my bike and I questioned why you hadn’t told us. I rode my bike and I got angry. I rode my bike until I came to the conclusion that you’d tell us directly if things were that bad. I told myself that everything would be OK; you would tell us if it wasn’t. That conversation never happened.

The fact that you kept your illness such a secret has been one of the hardest parts of grieving for you. Feelings of shock and loss, all mixed up with doubts and worries. Only after you passed away did I even begin to comprehend the privacy with which you dealt with all of it. The memories in so many of the messages left in tribute are so completely consistent with how I remember you - funny, generous, inclusive, kind, relentlessly optimistic - that I learned rationalise your choice as simply, "You just wanted us all to remember you". That’s what I will continue to do.

Tomorrow evening, I am starting what will be my longest race ever. I am utterly terrified. I am terrified that I’m unprepared. I’m terrified that I am out of my depth. I am terrified that my body won’t cope and that I won’t finish.

But I will do my very best and I will remember you throughout. I will remember how you faced your fears. I will remember how you conquered difficulties. I will remember that, when life gives you tiny pants, you put them on, smile, and remember to do some bloody washing.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Hashta la vista

I woke up early this morning, face down, wearing the t-shirt I ran in last night. My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth and my fingernails painted in four different colours. That must have been some run.

"I've got the data from our run last night" @lazygirlrunning
When Laura declared her intention to become a triathlete last year, we scratched out a deal for an exchange: I’d accompany her open water swimming in return for an invitation to one of her hash runs.

Based out of a local pub, Hash House Harriers seem to use running as a convenient method of building up a thirst for beer; ahead of the run, a “hare” lays a chalk trail for the pack to follow, shouting calls of “On on!” to indicate when the next marking has been found.

Having survived swimming around a lake in a gale in May, Laura felt she needed to go one better than just an “ordinary” hash run and invited me along to the City Hash’s annual “Last Pac-Man Standing” event in London last night.

I hadn’t felt this nervous walking into a pub since my rather competitive older brother signed me up as his dance partner for salsa lessons. I hoped this evening would end better than that did. A group of around 100 hashers in Pac-Man t-shirts were soon herded out on to the pavement and a series of questions were barked at us by the hare in charge,

“Do you know what we’re doing?”
“NO!” answered the masses.

“Do you know the rules?”
“NO!” I joined in this time.

“Did you read the instructions on the website?”
“NO!” we chorused one last time.

Pac-Mans each get a beer token. Four beer stops are located at undisclosed locations around central London. Pac-Mans run wild around London until they find beer. Pac-Mans swap beer token for beer. Pac-Mans drink beer. One of Pac-Man's fingernails gets painted to stop him returning to the same beer stop. More beer tokens are available from a man with a bag somewhere in Trafalgar Square. Pac-Mans run wild around London until they find another beer stop. Pac-Mans swap beer token for beer. Pac-Mans drink beer. And so it goes on. No boundaries. No clues. Just look out for several people dressed as ghosts who will chase you down the street and ruthlessly steal your beer tokens.

“What noise does Pac-Man make?”
“WACCA WACCA WACCA!” came the answer.

 “On on!” the hare shouted and we were off.

A stranger in London, I follow Laura across Leicester Square, trying to keep up as best I can. Among the usual crowds of people enjoying a warm, summer evening, we spot one of our gang with a cup. “On on!” shouts Laura and several hashers follow us.

We eventually find two people hidden in Whitehall Gardens with a flask containing some concoction: grapefruit-based, undisclosed spirit mixed in. Refreshed, we wind our way back up to Trafalgar Square to recharge our tokens and sniff out the next stop.

“Ghost!” Laura yells and we find ourselves belting up The Strand. Even my most determined sprint isn’t enough to escape the tenacious ghoul and he steals my beer token. Back to Trafalgar Square we go again, shouting, sprinting, stopping occasionally to recover from a fit of the giggles.

I'm wondering if, perhaps, the secret to running quicker might be to train with a man dressed as a ghost going “Whoooooooo!” behind me.

There is such as a thing as too much fun though and Hashers should be careful on a run. Misdemeanours of any kind are noted and used against you back at the pub when the run is complete. It looks like I've chosen the right night to try my first hash: the “virgins” are spared and only the more established hashers seemed to be penalised in the “down-downs” tonight. Instead, I'm simply left to enjoy an evening playing, chatting, and belly-laughing in London.

Thanks very much to Laura and the City Hash House Harriers for my first introduction to hashing.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Saddle up!

"Winter miles make summer smiles," say cyclists through the bleakest months of the year. When our winter seems to last 10 months, that's easier said than done though; I know I was pretty late to the pedal party this year. July is here now and, with the Tour de France on and temperature's rising, there's no better time to be venturing out on two wheels and giving yourself a break from the hot, sticky run sessions. The Ride London 100 is just around the corner and I know a few runners taking up the challenge. The distance seems to be something on the minds of many so here are my tips* for upping your mileage in training:

*Disclaimer: as ever, my training tips are generally based on loose anecdotal evidence and learning from minor calamities. Expecting any physiological benefits by following them is optimistic to say the least.

Dress up

Being comfortable with the uncomfortable is something runners are generally accustomed to; however, on a bike, there are parts of the body that should never have to learn this. So prioritise the comfort and condition of your bike-lady interface with a proper pair of cycling shorts. They might feel uncomfortable off the bike, but spend more than 2 hours in the saddle without them and you'll need more than a puncture repair kit to sort out your flat tyre. On the top, a cycling jersey with a couple of pockets in the back will allow you to carry essentials such as a map, food, phone, money and spare inner tube. Head over to Lazy Girl Running to read more about the joys of cycling shorts and remember: it never pays to be a chamois dodger.

Buddy up

I've never liked the phrase “misery loves company”; however, I do believe that “mileage loves company”. Cyclists hunts in packs, largely because the wind is our worst enemy and any shelter given by the rider in front can be sweet relief from a relentless breeze. Cycling with company has many other benefits too, not least someone to hold on to your bike while you go for a wee behind a hedge.

If you're feeling really keen, contact a local club and ask to join them on a club ride. Group riding is a great skill to learn, not to mention way more fun, and some clubs will offer a beginners' ride with a leader to take care of the navigating. Cycling with cyclists is a great way to improve bike handling, up your mileage, and generally soak up the sport by osmosis.

Fuel up

Just like a long run, nutrition is something to consider carefully on a long bike ride. Cycling has a distinct advantage over running though: the ability to eat solids. Fig rolls, the well-known food of all sporting champions, make excellent bitesize snacks that you can easily retrieve from your jersey pocket. Just be careful not to start munching at the bottom of an incline or you may never breathe again.

If you're heading out for a long day, why not take in a café stop? The elite may frown upon this but it's not cheating if it means you ride for longer than without; I would certainly never judge anyone stopping for a coffee and you can log some valuable Chamois Time in the process. 

Move up

Make the most of a long bike ride by thinking of it as an adventure; anything that takes you away from your usual routes can be considered such and I like to find opportunities to cycle somewhere new. A holiday with your bike is a fairly committed way of doing this: my friend cycled from vineyard to vineyard in France as part of her ironman training last summer, which struck me as an excellent interpretation of the training/life balance. A weekend away closer to home can also be an opportunity to explore new roads. You could take this one step further and even consider cycling there. I've arrived at hen weekends by bike, carrying a dress and a toothbrush in my little rucksack; this does take some level of understanding on the part of the bride-to-be, and friends who are prepared to share their willy straws with you, so choose your occasion wisely.

Burn it up

Bike rides don't always have to be long. Just like running, a short, fast session has its own benefits and many believe that, in cycling, this may outweigh the benefits of really long, slow bike rides; I have no physiological data to back this up, of course, but I do know that a fast 15 mile bike ride is much easier to fit into a working week. Save the long rides for trying out new cafés with friends at the weekend and clocking up the Chamois Time.

I'd love to hear how your training is going so please feel free to leave your own tips in the comments. Stay safe out there and enjoy your cycling.
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