The first term of the academic year is a long one, from the end of August when our new first years start, to the end of December when we get a decent break. It’s not really a term these days, just part of a semester, so that’s old thinking on my part but I’m looking forward to the Christmas break. It feels like a tough time for the new students, who have a batch of formative exams (the scores don’t really count and the exams are to show them how they will be assessed but it can still be quite stressful) in the week before we break up and it’s a tough time for the staff after a hard summer.
We have a whole bunch of things on the go, with the deadline for this new textbook just over the horizon in 2014, a contract for a second edition of Embryology at a Glance on my table (that should be an interesting update if all goes to plan), exams being written, a new anatomist due to start in January, many things are being updated, some new things are being tried out, plans for the 2014 racing season are being laid down and a hunt for some new sponsors and adventure should start soon. On top of that Blizzard just gave me a key for the closed beta of Hearthstone; a ridiculously addictive online World of Warcraft based card game that is killing any efficiency I had. Steam had a great sale at the end of November so I already bought myself all my Christmas presents and enough gaming to keep me going for a year (Skyrim for £3.74!?)
Christmas is coming and 2014 will not be far behind it!
There we go. I said it wouldn’t take too long. I’m trail running almost every morning, discovering new routes and loving getting out in the mud and grass, and I’ve been out on my mountain bike twice a week checking out some new trails not too far from home. It doesn’t feel like training, it just feels like I’m going out and doing some fun stuff. Checking the data afterwards (I’m not looking at it when I’m out) and I’m getting some good work done while having fun.
I’ve only been in the pool a couple of times a week but I’ve been paying more attention to my backstroke and fly technique. Backstroke is getting a bit better, fly is an ugly thug. It’s great to be swimming with a club again, even if I only get out one night a week with the Swansea Masters. I’m looking forward to swimming more regularly next week and will start to lay down some metres with a bit of a focus on my weaknesses to start with to mix things up.
People comment that I get a surprising amount done, and wonder how I stay so motivated to do all the things that I have going on. Taking a break over the last couple of weeks has reminded me of a couple of things that might answer this.
Firstly, I’m not always motivated. But I have a target and I have a plan, and I know that sometimes you just have to crack on with it.
Secondly, when you do something consistently for a long time a side effect is that you can’t imagine
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, I suffer from overwhelming, crushing boredom very easily when I’m not doing something. I have to be doing something. I have been bored to tears waiting at bus stops. Thank Silicon Valley for smartphones. And bicycles.
It’s almost the end of October and I’ve been busy doing silly things. Both the Devil’s Aquathlon and the run around the Gower were fun, but this time of year is a time to cut the pressure of training and racing and to let both brain and body recover. One of the most important things for long term fitness development is wanting to do it, and after a really tough year of racing and training a period of not planning, not wanting, not training, and eating and doing whatever you feel like is crucial to regaining the love.
I’m not training. I ride to work (cycling is my main way of getting around throughout the year), I’m having a little jog every few days at whatever pace and distance I feel like, I’m swimming with the Swansea Masters because it’s a funs session and I’m having the odd splash in the pool. I took a week and a half off swimming around the time of the Gower run and it felt weird to get back in the pool, but I found that I can still swim. I’m not fussed about it. I’m avoiding making plans for next year, and I’ve got only the vaguest plans for training at the back of my brain.
I went for a run on Tuesday. It’s a run I’ve been thinking about for years, since it was mentioned to me by one of the strongest runners around. It’s a run I could only attempt at the end of a triathlon season because of the interruption in training and the risk of doing myself a mischief. Each year I’ve had a problem and have been unable to attempt it: calf tears, Achilles tendon issues, a fractured clavicle. This year I looked at the calendar and worked out a window when the tides would be right, I wouldn’t be racing, there would be enough daylight hours and what not. When that window approached the weather for Tuesday was perfect. Bizarre even, for October. A foggy start, little wind (and unusually from the east too), sun and light clouds all day. Oh bugger. It was unlikely that I’d get an opportunity like that again so I had to go for it.
What was the run? I live on the corner of the Gower peninsula, a Site of Special Scientific Interest with many National Trust bits, the new Wales Coastal Path and lots of prettiness. It’s world famous and parts of it are so well photographed that they figure in top 10 world lists. We spend a lot of time on it, running, cycling, swimming, walking, rock pooling, sand castling (that’s bound to be a verb), drinking coffee, body boarding, more coffee. We used to come here on holiday before we lived here to go rock climbing. The run is a run around the Gower. I guess you can start where you like (I started at my house) and you run around staying as wide as you can. Ish. Much of the running is on the coastal path, there are huge beaches to run along, and a lighthouse at Whitford Point to run around that you can only get to at low tide. And you have to get it right, because if you have to race the tide there you’ll lose. It’s too flat and too stony, so the tide moves fast and you move slow. Fun, eh? The route is a little variable but around 85km long. And hilly.
The 4th race in 4 weekends. I was getting a bit knackered as it’s the end of the season & my fitness has been slowly dropping, & my weight slowly increasing, but I’d been looking forward to this race. I hadn’t been able to do it for the last couple of years because of a calf injury and a clavicle injury, and it’s a home race back in Cheltenham. The lido is a lovely pool to swim in, and the race is held a week after the end of the lido season. They switch the heating off and let the pool cool down, and then let us get in with wetsuits on for a 2km swim followed by a cross country run up Leckhampton Hill to the Devil’s Chimney and back. Challenging, different and lots of fun. They give you a coin (actually a locker token) to carry all the way to the Chimney to pay off the Devil and keep him underground according to local legend. (We threw them to an upturned tub rather than actually having to climb the Chimney, although that would be an interesting addition).
More racing! Last weekend I ran over at Dale in Pembrokeshire in the Pembrokeshire Tri Club’s half marathon. I love to run this race if I can, as the club’s races are all good & well organised, and this is a race I can be competitive in and actually race rather than run for a time. It’s a hilly course with some amazing views and is a punisher. Good pacing is needed with good legs. They run a 10k too if you fancy something shorter, and you can usually get an entry on the line.
This year the weather was great with a bit of wind blowing off the sea from the east. I started at the front with a few other guys and just lost a little distance to the front group of 4 before the first hill. I had a good charge up and settled into my group at the top. The pace dipped so I set off alone to try to catch the front group before the turn back into the wind. I picked up one guy that dropped back and pushed past but that was it for the rest of the race.
We raced out at Grafham Water at the weekend in my last race of the triathlon season. The end of the season is always a special time, and it always was when I was bike racing too. Maybe it explains why I like the autumn so much. Today’s race was a European Triathlon Championships Qualifier for 2014, carrying through fitness from last week’s peak race after trying to recover as best I could. The lack of a nice bath and too much crap food probably didn’t help but I felt pretty good. This was a very relaxed race, with very little stress and much fun. Yes, it’s a qualifier, but it’s also the last race of the season and there’s something particular about crossing under the finish banner of the last race of the year.
The weather out east in Cambridgeshire was fantastic, so it was also the last family camping weekend of the year. We watched the sun going down over Grafham Water as I registered for the race, then set up camp and cooked tea in the early dusk. Chilling out, a warm night and a not crazy early start. Kids bundled into the car and the usual routine of setting up transition at the race site, warming up and missing the race briefing because I lost track of time. It’s always good to read all the race information and check out the routes just in case this happens.
Did it! Finally, the age group World Triathlon Championships arrived and we got it done. Much of my fear and worry was based in just starting and completing this race. I’ve had bike problems, the roads were wet over the weekend and there had been crashes on the roads and slips and falls in transition, and there’s always the worry that you’ve forgotten something that will knock you foul of the ITU rules or that something will break or go wrong before you even start. It has a been a tough year of competition just to get to London. But all was good.
On race morning the air temperature was lower than expected and the organisers shortened the swim to 750m for all waves in the standard distance race. It was a bit of a shame, and the Serpentine itself wasn’t that cold but it wasn’t a problem from my perspective. My age group was one of the last to start the race, so I had a 5:30am start to go and set up transition and then went back to bed for a lie down rather than a snooze, to chill out before going back to the start/finish area at about 9ish.
It’s the day before race day for us standard distance age groupers, and we’ve been enjoying watching everyone else racing over the last couple of days. Watching Non Stanford run away from the best in the world, even taking a 15 second penalty, winning the female elite race and taking the points to become World Champion was fantastic. It looked like a really hard race for all, the recent wet weather making roads slippery and the air cool. Impressive stuff.
There are a lot of athletes from a lot of nations here and the spirit is very positive even with the typical British weather. Some countries have sent over some really big teams and tomorrow will be fast and treacherous. Most of my worries are around getting to the start line as usual, with no mishaps. Once I start swimming I’ll be a little happier, when I’m biking I’ll be happier still, and when I get to the run phase I should be chuffed and grinning if I stayed upright. There have been a lot of crashes.
I’m taking everyone’s good luck wishes to heart and hoping that they will all add up to some truly good luck. You need a bit in this sport.
It’s almost time to rack my bike in transition and get my kit checked. Off for a quick run first.