Wrapped in cotton wool

When we are kids, we know no fear. We climb trees, jump over things on our bikes
and just generally do things that are insanely hazardous.
My son is only two, and I can only imagine the heart failures he will cause me as he gets older and more rebellious.
The older we get, the more we move away from this fearlessness.

Obviously, this is in some ways necessary.
Risk taking is fun, but as we age and as our responsibilities grow,
we cant afford to take as many risks.
People depend on us.
We’ve got families and jobs.
However, so often people go to the opposite extreme.

They wrap themselves in cotton wool.
They get set in their routines.
Scared of change.
Afraid to do anything new.
So often, their lives become sheltered and closed.
Their perpectives shift, their minds narrow
And they become accustomed to the soft warm comfort of the easy and the familiar.

I find it frustrating when I subconsciously do this myself.
I see it in others.
And I will be quick to criticise.
But of course, I do it too.

Our society encourages this wrapping in cotton wool.
Health and safety laws and regulations discourage risk.
I spoke to a guy who was into fell running and I asked him what the appeal was.
At this point I had just discovered a love for running.
But this crazy mountain running stuff sounded a bit nuts to me.
His reason was that for many it was a stike back against the “nanny state” we live in.
His words, not mine.
Nanny state.
I like that.

I haven’t started running up mountains
But I think this aversion to the nanny state and to wrapping oneself in cotton wool
Is one of the many reasons I have embraced training.
I actually have taken pleasure in donning a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and going running in snow.
Last night I went out and did speed work on a really windy night, with heavy rain.
It felt GOOD.

I love the fact that when I travel on business,
I no longer just see airport -> hotel -> meeting room -> hotel -> airport
I get to go out and see something of the places I visit.
This year so far,
I’ve run across the golden gate bridge.
I’ve run through a forest in Stockholm
I’ve run through Boston city centre and down by the harbour
I’ve cycled along the California coastline from San Fran to Corte Madera via Sausalito.
I’ve run in the worst snow in a decade in London.
And the beautiful heat of San Diego by Mission Beach.
Ive soaked up the natural beauty of greenlake park in Seattle
And the grim surroundings of a massive industrial estate in south-east England.
I’ve got mildly lost running through the streets of Frankfurt, Germany,
And All of this interspersed with my normal training in the less than scenic Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland.
Where despite the unexciting surroundings Ive been happiest by far,
because all those runs and bike rides end up with me going back home to my family.

Ive done all of this with a busy schedule by simply getting up a bit earlier, or going to bed a bit later and by just having the balls to get up and get out.

By not succumbing to the temptation
of the sofa
of the glass of wine
of the TV.
And by recognising the wrapping myself in cotton wool does nothing good.

The sofa, TV and wine are all much better AFTER a training session.


First Tri

I’ve chatted with a few people about triathlon in relation to what makes a person a triathlete. It seems that the consensus is that once you’ve done a triathlon, you become a triathlete. So I am proud to say that I am now a triathlete.

On Sunday I did my first triathlon. It was a sprint distance triathlon in Lisburn, a small town in Northern Ireland.
I had been looking forward to the event for quite a while. I hadn’t been training for the triathlon. This year my “A-race” is the Amsterdam marathon in October. So really I’ve been very much running focussed and have been doing some cycling (once or twice a week at best) more as cross training than anything else.
Swimming… well, let’s just say my main goal on the day for the swim was not to drown.

Coming up to the day, I had been hoping to have bought myself a road bike. However, circumstances had conspired against me on this and that hadn’t quite happened. My current bike is, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a heap of junk. It’s made by Reebok. It says on the frame that it’s made from steel… but I’m pretty sure some of the components are made from dark matter. There was no way I was racing on this thing. So luckily a good friend of mine is off sailing across the Ocean from Canada to Ireland at the moment, so I borrowed his half decent mountain bike. I went out for one training ride on it and it’s a lot lighter and easier to ride than mine so that was a bonus.

The morning of the race I got up at 6am to find that there was rain of biblical proportions and high winds. I had some breakfast and tried to work out whether I was going to need a bike, or an Ark.

The race briefing was at 8:30 am so I arrived in good time and collected my race pack and got myself inked with my number. I chatted to a few people here and there and everyone was very friendly. Most of those that I spoke to were first timers like me, which was a real relief.

As I set up in transition, I noticed a lot of NICE bikes, but was again relieved to see that there were other mountain bikes (I actually saw two others).

I was in the second swim wave, so I hung out and watched the first wave. There were four waves altogether and obviously it was working from slowest to fastest to get everyone off the road as early as possible. The first wave seemed to be really slow, and I noticed that most of the people were doing the breast stroke. Again, this made me feel a little better about my weak swimming. Once I got in the pool myself, once more I found everyone to be really friendly, and I positioned myself to go off fourth of the 6 in my wave. We all had a friendly agreement that if you wanted to pass you tapped the person in front on the foot and we would switch at the wall.

The swim set off and while it was tough going, I was happy enough considering my lack of training. I moved up from 4th to second and was second out of the pool in my lane. The guy ahead of me was about a length ahead of me and the rest of the pack were about a length behind me.

I ran out to T1 and made a last minute decision to wear socks. I had been planning on going sockless to save transition time, but had put some socks in my fancy transition bag just in case (my fancy transition bag was a trash bag). I decided to wear the socks as my heart rate was pretty high after the swim and I figured a few seconds break would be a good call.

I jumped on the bike and off I went. The ride felt good and the two lap course was nice. No steep hills and I managed to keep an average speed of around 18mph. Way better than any of my training rides and a speed I was very happy with considering I was on a mountain bike with standard platform pedals without any cages. I did pass two people on mountain bikes and am proud to say I passed a good four or five people on road bikes, a few of which even had tri/ profile bars.

Finally I came to the run. My T2 time was good as all had to do was park my bike and put a cap on. The run started well and my legs felt good but my heart rate was unusually high. I did the first mile at a decent pace but then had to slow for the second mile to get my heart rate down. For the third mile I managed to speed up again and finished well.

Overall I LOVED it. It was a fantastic experience and I genuinely enjoyed all of it. Going into the race I had 6 goals

1. Swim goal: Don’t drown
2. Bike goal: Don’t get hit by a car
3. Run goal: run it as strong as you can
4. Finish
5. Finish smiling
6. Finish smiling in under an hour and a half

As you can see, I wasn’t aiming tremendously high! I’m happy to say that I hit all of my goals. My final times and splits were as follows.

Swim: 17:12
T1: 1:37
Bike: 40:51
T2: 00:30
Run: 23:05

Final time: 1:23:13

I’m definitely happy with it. The guy who won the race did it in about 55 minutes. I came in 80th out of about 160… so again, I’m happy with that. Now I have some targets to beat! I know that with training I can shave a few minutes off the swim. On a decent bike and with training I should easily knock five or six minutes off the bike. Ideally I would like my run time to get under 20 minutes. That’s probably the most ambitious improvement though.

While doing the race I was already looking forward to the next one, which is September the 7th in my local area. I’m just about to mail off my application form!