Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Of Dipping Your Toe into Training

Now, I have just over 8 weeks to go to the Ironman 70.20 in Majorca.
I would like to state that the training is going well and is on schedule but that wouldn't be true. You see about a month ago I erected a baby gate at the top of the stairs. The following day I forgot it was there, fell clean over it and down the stairs. The injured toe was in agony and still isn't right. Anna laughed that I didn't look at that moment much like a potential Ironman and as I cursed my toe at the bottom of the stairs and I guessed she was right.

So for the last fours weeks all I have been doing is swimming. This is improving however and significantly. To improve my style and speed courtesy of a lot of Youtube videos I've learnt the following is important to do and keep doing :

# kick from your hips, relax your legs and point your toes. This instruction still feels counter intuitive. Physiologically I can't believe that it is possible to point your toes whilst relaxing your legs so at the moment I'm settling for the former in the belief that it's more important than the latter. The kick from the hips bit I do get and it does make a big difference.
# pull hard through the second part of the stroke underwater and continue pulling until your hand exits the water past your hips. This I've decided is where the power and momentum is. Get this right and your velocity increases big time.
# hand shape must be exactly right for the best pull. I'm still working on this but the angle of the hand whilst underwater is clearly critical and I need to give this some more Google and wet time.

For the past month I've been up to 50 lengths each working day doing 100 lengths on one of them only. 75 lengths is the distance for the Ironman 70.20 swim and half the distance of the full race.

I need to get on my bike and back in my jogging shoes and plan to do just this as soon as my toe morphs from black to white through the 50 shades in between and lets me walk again properly.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Of A Truly Memorable New Year's Eve

Christmas and New Year 2014 was great. Really great. It was full of special memories of family, fun, food and an awful lot of travelling.

We spent New Year's Eve in a Russian dacha or, if you're not familiar with this term, a lovely log cabin in a small village about 4 hours drive from Moscow. Thankfully we took the train and what a journey that proved to be (a story for another blog occasion be assured).

The evening was special because some dozen or more of Anna's relatives came together and put on a night of fun and feasting that make a good New Year celebration truly great. Although everyone contributed to the evening for me it clearly belonged to a fine lady who left me with a very special memory I'll treasure for a long, long time.

Anna's babushka or, if you prefer, Alicia's great babushka, sat at the head of the table. Although late in years she sat very upright, gait quite perfect, almost majestic. She talked slowly, deliberately, gently and quite beautifully.

Sat next to her was a man who understands opportunity when it comes knocking and surrounded by relatives good in both Russian and English I slowly began to probe and open up a wonderful personal history that confirmed my view that I was in the presence of a very special lady who had some stories to tell.

She told me that her mum was a member of the communist party aged just 15 and "took an active part in the Revolution". She said she remembered when she first heard that their leader was a man called Stalin and how they thought he was a man "next to God". She explained how she and others laboured hard in the fields because they wanted to serve him well. I asked her if she remembered the day Russia declared war with Germany and she replied of course she did. She said she remembered it well "we cried all day long because we knew so many Russians were going die" she added, her face looking disturbed and stressed.

As we headed towards the latter part of my interview I wanted to lead her into more positive memories in the hope she'd finish feeling good about my gentle inquisition so I asked her when she first met her husband. Before I did so I looked at her and I couldn't help but think of the Titanic movie where a once youthful lady recounts her life story at the beginning and end of a film. The lady in front of me smiled gently through a face that though now "a carefully written page" was still very beautiful.

She told me she had met her husband at a college dance and the attraction had been immediate - a statement confirmed by the fact they were married within six months. When I asked if it was love at first sight she merely replied "we both knew". I couldn't help but think about the happenstance around it all which scared me terribly. What if either of them hadn't turned up at that dance? Might there have been no him, no Tatiana and no wife and certainly no daughter?

She explained they had both worked for the first three months in one place before being posted to another much farther away. She worked on environmental matters and he in agriculture. For a good period of their early marriage he was away mapping a huge forest returning only for the weekends. But he was a family man and lived for his wife and children.

By the end of the ending everyone but she and I had peeled away and gone to bed. I thanked her for sharing her world and tremendous personal history with me and others. I hugged her and struggled to let her go.

Monday, 17 November 2014

We assailed Slieve Donard yesterday. It took us a full 5 hours to make the 10km round trip and it was worth every hard fought minute.
There was a full team in the expedition. There was baby on Papa's back with Moma following close behind for the feeding stops. Bringing up the rear were sherpas Tatiana and Vitali who carried the water, the flask of soup and the nappies.
The weather was kind to us. There was no rain or snow this time just an awful lot of fog.

We do this trip every year now. You might say it has become something of a family pilgrimage. Next year it promises to be even harder to do when Alicia could be twice as heavy and still unable to walk much of the way.
I guess her donkey called Papa had better stay in shape..

Friday, 31 October 2014

Of Pre Training Schedule Work Outs

I've spent this week experimenting trying to give myself a rough idea of just how far off an Ironman I really am.

My exercise this week looked like this :

Monday : 100 lengths of the pool (25 metres)
Tuesday : 50 lengths and 6 mile run (80 minutes)
Wednesday : 50 lengths
Thursday : rest day and work on new bike that has arrived
Friday : 100 lengths (time 75 minutes)
Saturday : the plan is to do 28 miles on the bike
Sunday : the plan is to do 14 miles bike followed by 6 mile run.

Although all of the above are slow if I repeated the distances in the Ironman and added distance at the same pace I would beat the disqualification times. This is heartening.

The other piece of good news from all of this is that although I was tired after each bit of exercise I wasn't dead beat. As I approach the weekend I don't feel any more tired than if I had done nothing at all. In fact I think I feel a good bit better. I've noticed your day feels so much better if you began it on top of a decent aerobic work out.

My weight is under control now too. I now weigh 13.5 stones or 86 kilos. That's a full half stone lighter than I was 3 months ago.

The next project is to sort out the bike. I need to make sure the cleats on the pedals fit well and that I fit the bike.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Of 7 Months to Uberman

It's officially game on!

I entered the Mallorca 2015 Ironman last week. In so doing I applied to do an event that requires you to swim 2.4 miles, then cycle 112 miles then run 26.2 miles all in under 17 hours.
The race is in May of next year which gives me 7 months to train for it and I think I'll need everyone one of them. Last Friday I ran 6 miles in over 1 hour and I was exhausted after it.

I have been contemplating doing this event for a number of years and as I'm 50 next year it seemed a good time to finally stop contemplating and move through the gears to planning, training and then completing.

I have to confess to being quite nervous about it already but when I thought about it closely there was just too much to lose by not doing this. The benefits in giving this a rattle are huge and include :

# Achieving a level of fitness superior to anything I have ever experienced in my life at any age;
# Understanding how my body works and how to get the most out of it;
# Learning about food, diet and nutrition and how to "fuel up" properly;
# Achieving a greater level of mental strength and discipline than ever before
# Sharing a platform for at least a day with some really focused and driven people.

I'm lucky enough to live very close to a great swimming pool, in amongst some fabulous countryside which makes for ideal jogging territory.. I live opposite the "7 Mile Straight" a perfect cycling track . So I've no excuses to hand as to why I can't train for this.

The next 7 months promise to be hard. Very hard. Game on.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Of Wise Words and Lyrics

Recently, at a Black Tie Dinner at the Waterfront I sat next to a very wise man who was great company for the evening. He noted that my wife was pregnant soon parenthood so came into the conversation. When I asked him for one piece of parenting advice for a novice like me he thought for a while and then replied "Love them unconditionally". It was great advice which I've reflected upon many times afterwards.

At the end of the evening we swapped business cards. Last week I popped him an email with news about Alicia. He replied as follows :

I like the singer Marc Cohn's words

"The Things We've Handed Down" (Marc Cohn) Don't know much about you Don't know who you are ...
We've been doing fine without you
But, we could only go so far
Don't know why you chose us
Were you watching from above
Is there someone there that knows us
Said we'd give you all our love

Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man
Will some things skip a generation
Like I've heard they often can
Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we've handed down

I wonder who you'll look like
Will your hair fall down and curl
Will you be a mama's pet
Or daddy's little girl
Will you be a sad reminder
Of what's been lost along the way
Maybe you can help me find her
In the things you do and say

And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we've handed down

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Of Russian and the ABC of Learning a Language

Hey! I've just found out I've got a grade B in GCSE "O" level Russian!

What follows is a brief account of how I managed it and what I've learnt in doing so aside from an awful lot of Russian.

First of all, it's perhaps worth noting 16 months ago that I was advised against entering for a GCSE Russian exam so quickly. Students who do Russian at school do a four year course I was informed by one language teacher and only the most academic of pupils do it to start with. They are the kind that do Mandarin and Greek as extra curricula "fun" topics she assured me.

When contemplating the challenge of a Russian GCSE there was a lot to put me off straight away. My track record learning foreign languages is not good. In truth, it's really lousy. I was chucked out of my O' Level French class at school as a no hope prospect and the school refused to enter me for the exam unless I paid for it which received a firm Non merci from me. But since my school days I've realised that what happened then is largely irrelevant to what you're capable of now and that one of the first and most important things is to keep reminding yourself of this.

So 16 months ago I drew up a quick plus/delta analysis of the pros and cons of me getting Russian GCSE in little over 12 months and it went far more in my favour than I was expecting.
It looked like this :


# My track record in learning a language
# My limited amount of time for study
# My lack of knowledge of a language close to Russian
# The language itself. It's a tough one. Many experts seem to rate it in the top three languages in the world hardest to crack


# I understand now that what happened at school is irrelevant to my chances of learning and succeeding now
# I know myself really well in terms of how I best learn, when to study and how etc
# I'm brutally self disciplined. Tell myself that I have an hour of study to do every day and I'll do 80 minutes at least. This is a key factor in my favour.
# It's much easier to learn a language nowadays. Thanks to my Iphone I can plug in and do vocab work whilst travelling by train, jogging or shopping in Tesco.

What was critical for me was belief. If you believe you can do something you've a much better chance of succeeding than if you head into it convinced you'll fail. It's an obvious truth but one that you may have to work on before your mind is working for you and not against you. What convinced me was seeing Turkish and Egyptian traders also speaking good Russian within two years of Russian tourists arriving in any great numbers to their respective countries. Meaning no disrespect to these traders but their formal education at school was most likely a lot shorter than mine. Surely if that could do it so could I?

Of all the language lessons available and there are many good ones the star performer for me was Michele Thomas's Russian language course. This beats everything else in terms of getting a complete novice into a language and chucking out useful phrases in a very short space of time.

Finally, it's worth putting on record that however good the lessons are and however easy they are to access learning a language requires a lot of hard work. Russian GCSE had me out of bed most week day mornings at 5a.m. studying for an hour before getting ready for the working day.

What is Russian for "No Pain. No Gain" I wonder? I guess I might learn that for the A level...