A 10 year cycling love affair

Today I would like to take a moment to celebrate and reflect upon a special relationship in my life.

It's been exciting but also stable, there have been ups and downs in the physical and emotional senses, and at times I have been tempted by the attentions of others. But right here, right now, I want to say loud and proud: "I love my Ribble".

My Ribble Winter Training Frame wasn't even new when it came to me and had suffered from being a wallflower as the previous owner has rapidly moved on to a younger, sleeker model. But in 2007 it became mine just in time for the Blenheim Triathlon.

We've done all sorts together. We've been slow together, we've been fast together, and we've had others question our love for each other.

"Good speed on that bike, mate," yelled an overweight and clearly overpaid muppet on a £3,000 TT bike as I scorched by him at Blenheim two years ago.

The thing is, I have never wanted to replace my Ribble; not really. I know that as a triathlete I have never reached my potential That is not down to the fact I have an 11-year-old aluminium bike, it is down to the fact that I have never trained properly for an event.

This bike has never let me down, although I can't say that I have reciprocated that reliability and loyalty. Why would I waste money and resources when I can't commit my time to improving myself?

I've heard Ribble be a bit dismissed as a brand by fellow triathletes; a bargain brand only suitable for beginners, not serious triathletes.

I can tell you that such has been the positive experience I have had that I would not hesitate to buy another, however tempting the high-end brands may be to the fashion-conscious triathlete.

Could swimming be the new running?

February is here. You know that, I am sure, but it feels significant to me because it marks the end of a swimming challenge.

Swimming has, for a long time, been a serious weakness. When I first took up triathlon it was probably my strength – I had swum a lot as a teenager and, as a result of thousands of lengths at a tender age, my technique was ok.

However, then I started getting cramp. It began with the usual calf cramp with twitches in the arch of the foot but within 12 months I was suffering full leg cramps after just 400m of pool swimming. My hamstrings and quads would cramp at the same time meaning stretching out was impossible.

That went on for four years. I had all the sage advice from clubmates at Oxford Tri – eat more salt’, ‘eat less salt’, ‘drink apple cider vinegar’ etc etc but nothing worked.

In the end, I could only really compete in Sprint Triathlons for fear of a major cramp attack if I went longer than 750m in open water or 400m in a pool. My swimming reduced to three or four times a year, including events themselves.

But last year I started to see a breakthrough. It came when I was being treated for a tight glute which was causing hamstring problems and impacting on my running.

The physio, Pete Quartly at Physio Lab in Oxfordshire, was very interested in my problems with swimming and set about working out the problem.

In his opinion, it was caused by a poor lower back flexibility which, in turn, pinched nerves and brought on the cramps. He gave me some exercises to do and I studiously carried out his instructions.

It helped. I no longer had that tightening after just a few lengths and I could suddenly swim at least a few lengths in a relaxed state.

The second revelation was brought about by Sean Nicolle, a coach at Oxford Tri. He filmed me from all imaginable angles and succinctly pointed out that as a swimmer I had the shoulder rotation of an elite swimmer and the lower back flexibility of an 80-year-old.

These two elements combined to ensure that every time I breathed I nearly flipped onto my back and had to put in two big kicks to right myself. Those kicks were inducing cramp which my lower back flexibility was exacerbating to the Nth degree.

So, my swimming started coming back last year. It is pain free, I am getting faster every week, and, most importantly, I am really enjoying it.

The challenge was to swim more in January 2017 than in the whole of 2016 and I have just managed it. I swam 35km last month, compared to 33km in 2016.

Now if only I can stay on top of the running and the cycling I might actually have a decent triathlon this year. Those are two big ‘ifs’ though as I am frequently very, very lazy.

Future dreams

When I am old

Will I still be able to take my body

To the places my mind takes me now?

Running over mountains,

Down valleys and through lush forests.

The future is always sunny;

Full of energetic promise and

Freeflowing wonder.

Now is beautiful;

Filled with football

And homework, and meandering Monopoly.

I treasure every second.

I hope that,

When the present is memories,

My body is as able as my mind is willing.

Hypocrite? Hell yeah and I love it.

Started my London Marathon training this week.

I'm trying out a 20 week training plan based on the principal that I have the speed (ish) but lack the stamina at the full distance. The sight of me 'running' the last three miles of Abingdon and London marathons looking like I was carrying an elephant on my back probably illustrates that perfectly.

So, three days in and that's one steady run, one long run and one rest day. Nice to have a rest day so early on - I might even start with one next time.

Why does this training this make me a hypocrite? Well, back in March I wrote a break up letter to Marathon training. It all got a bit hard and a bit sore and bit repetitive and I stomped off like a hormonal teenager worried that his girlfriend is too good for him.

But then I did London. Not well, I'll grant you, and not without pain either but I enjoyed it. So I had the summer off, focusing on some fun triathlons (a mere holiday fling compared to the commitment of a runners' relationship with their sport) and I ran purely for enjoyment.

Now I'm ready to scrap again. So goals for this year:

1) More stamina - get those miles in

2) More strength and conditioning (for which you can read *some* Strength and Conditioning)

3) No junk miles - just four or five quality runs backed up with big rides on my bike

Allardyce: brought down by good journalism not entrapment

I'm as gutted as anyone to see the manager of England - a man who I wanted to see in the job - lose the role after 67 days and just one game in charge.

Sam Allardyce never seemed to get the credit he deserved during his long club management career, and this summer Portugal showed that a pragmatic approach to football could bring success, so it seemed like he was to be given his chance.

But that chance has gone. Disappeared in a puff of greed.

I have noticed that some, not least 'Big Sam' himself, are pointing fingers at the journalism that took him down. They are calling it entrapment and claiming that journalists were out to make him look bad.

Poppycock, balderdash and buffoonery. The investigation by the Daily Telegraph has uncovered serious wrong-doing across the sport and the journalists and newspaper must be applauded for its tenacity.

I have been deeply critical of undercover 'entrapment-style' journalism in the past. The Fake Sheikh, Mazher Mahmood, was an appalling example of journalistic entrapment. His method was to get C list celebs in a room, offer them oodles of cash and then enquire if they knew where he could get drugs and could they help him get some.

Of course, not wanting to lose the cash or the opportunity to star in films, they mostly said 'yes' and then found themselves splashed all over the front pages of now defunct News of The World.

But, if there is a genuine need for investigation and the 'sting' is only part of a wider journalistic strategy, there is a place for this style of journalism.

So does the Daily Telegraph investigation pass my test?

Well, anyone who hasn't had their head in the sand for the past few years knows that there is a problem with corruption and dubious practice in football - the downfall of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini are clear evidence of this.

Allardyce has previously been implicated in dubious practice as part of a BBC Panorama investigation into dealings with his son, Craig - a football agent. No charges were brought but the 2007 Stevens report into football corruption stated:
″The inquiry remains concerned at the conflict of interest that it believes existed between Craig Allardyce, his father Sam Allardyce – the then manager at Bolton – and the club itself."
Whether the sting is part of a wider journalism strategy or not is less clear. The follow-up revelations today that eight Premier League managers have taken 'bungs' was also filmed undercover in 'sting' style.

I feel this too is justified. The Daily Telegraph investigations team - the same one that did such a great job on MPs expenses - is not targeting an individual in the manner of Mahmood but conducting an institution-wide inquiry into corporation, amoral activity and greed within football.

Big Sam is no starry-eyed, 20-something C lister. He is one of the most experienced football managers in the game, was on a massive £3m salary, and at the peak of his profession.

In short, he had no business doing another job at all, let alone one which may have enabled people to circumvent rules established to protect the game.

It is not that long since the sting was turned on tabloid journalists with great effect by Chris Atkins as part of the excellent film Starsuckers. In that he exposed wrongdoing within journalism by dangling carrots such as confidential medical information in front of journalists.

Not long after that Nick Davies and the Guardian exposed the level of corruption and criminality within journalism with the hacking scandal which sent many senior journalists to jail.

The Sting should never be a fishing trip where you hope to uncover a juicy titbit but, as a targeted tactic of an undercover investigation, it is vital in this age of super-injunctions and secrecy.

All power to the Daily Telegraph I say.

Aaarghh. Dog owners!

I’m not one to rant. Really, I’m not.

But I have to get something off my chest. What is it with dog owners in this world of ours?

As a runner you spend a goodly amount of time outside so you come into contact with this most selfish of species on a regular basis and O to the M. to the flipping G does it open your eyes.

I was out for a nice run – a planned interval session in a beautifully maintained bridleway. It should have been idyllic, but as I turned a corner I heard a bark, a growl and then saw a black labrador hurtling towards me at top speed.

It’s owner haplessly begged her dog to ‘heel’ and ‘calm down’ but it was having none of it and snapped at my heels with its hackles raised. Having three children I can be fairly authoritative at times and bellowed “Hey. Stop that!”.

Not my best constructed sentence but I was jammin’ in a crisis situation. The dog paused in its fury and a few seconds later its owner managed to bring it under control.

No-one was hurt in the making of this rant. However, I suggested to the dog’s owner – who seemed perfectly pleasant and I am sure is kind to kittens, gives to charity and would never vote Brexit – that if she was unable to control her dog, perhaps she shouldn’t have it off the lead?

Her response? “He would never actually hurt anyone.”

I jogged on trying not to react as my heart rate slowed from hummingbird levels and my buttocks unclenched from their rock-like state.

But I have two questions:
  1. Is that the point? Does it matter that I wasn’t injured, just scared witless for a measly 30 seconds? I would argue that no, it does not.
  2. What if I had been with my children? I can guarantee that one of them would have tried to flee in terror, and how would the dog have reacted then?
I have been bitten twice by dogs while out running. On the first occasion the owner was deeply apologetic and no longer allowed their dog to roam free in their garden (it escaped as I ran past), on the second the owner said it ‘wasn’t really biting me but it didn’t have hands so how else was it going to hold on during its game’?

I have also been a journalist for 20 years – mostly in local newspapers and I have covered a fair few dog attacks. The owners’ responses always escalate in the same manner:
  1.          He/she would never bite anyone
  2.          I don’t know how that happened, he/she is not usually a biter
  3.          He/she only bites when she/he’s scared
  4.          I can usually control him/her
  5.          I can’t believe my gorgeous Rex savaged that child.
Dogs are beautiful, loyal creatures. Dog owners need to accept that they are responsible for the dog’s behaviour at all times and not just make excuses when their pets threaten people.

Rant over. For now - you have been warned.

The danger of entering events in a state of drunken euphoria

It is with a growing sense of trepidation that I await the coming of a triathlon this weekend.

The Half X is Set in the glorious Lake District it features a 1.9km swim in Windermere, followed by a quad-burning 90km bike ascending 2,800m (9186 ft) over the big three Lakeland passes, Kirkstone via the 'Struggle', Wrynose and Hardnott, in both directions and concluded with a 21km run around the stunning Fairfield Horseshoe ascending over 800 m (2,600ft).

Organisers claim it to be the steepest and most gruelling 'Half Iron' Bike section anywhere in the world. 

I entered after a few glasses of wine following a half-decent performance at Abingdon Marathon last year. I was, in my mind, invincible having thought I had finally broken the cycle of being a lazy bloke claiming to be an athlete.

But now my trepidation is not around the horrific physical challenge of the event but the mental challenge in knowing that once again I have failed to live up to a promise I have made myself.

You see, I pulled out of the event two weeks ago. I finally accepted that I am probably not fit enough to complete the event, or if I do, will seriously putting my body through the mill.

I am not a good swimmer – cramp has laid me low for too many years – but I am also a very average cyclist even when comfortable on the flat roads of Oxfordshire. Some friends from Oxford Tri scoped the route and, despite being among the strongest cyclists in the club, came back with horrific reports of their struggle up The Struggle and its pals.

I'm a decent runner and the trot around the horseshoes was appealing but realistically, after completing that bike course, my quads are likely to be as useful as a chocolate fireguard.

So I bottled it. I realised six months ago I needed to put in some mega training with reps of Blowing Stone and maybe a trip over the Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire. But, as is the norm with me, I didn’t follow through with my plan.

So my trepidation is that I must look myself in the mirror and face the reality that after 10 years of triathlon I have barely improved and failed to challenge myself significantly.

Where’s that wine….