Monday, March 30, 2009

Back in the saddle...

I've been meaning to buy myself a new saddle for some time now. In fact, since I bought my Specialized road bike a couple of years ago I've been sitting on a razor blade which is cunningly disguised as a bike saddle thinking to myself... there must be comfier ways to travel. Anyway, I finally decided to experiment with the selle Italia brand and, having christened the little fella on an 80 mile bike ride, I can report that I'm delighted. There is, metaphorically speaking at least, a smile on my cheeks.

I know you're itching to know how my writing is going and I'm pleased to be able to report that I'm back in the saddle as regards that too. My story is finished and I'm currently engaged on a full treatment which will equate to some 20,000 words - enough for a small novella - prior to commencing the script. I'm finally at peace with my characters and the story I'm telling and I'm loving the process of adding layers to it.

It's been great to be back home after a couple of weeks working on the road. We were able to support an Afro Caribbean evening at Alice's School to support the year 12's that will soon be traveling to Malawi. Before we know it, Alice will be embarking on all that stuff... time truly flies. And to validate that fact, a couple of pics of my daughters (Erin, left 14 and Alice, right 11) who - only yesterday it seems - were being pushed by their dad on the village green's swings.

-- Sigh --

We also enjoyed a fantastic Sunday lunch at Christian's (Fiona's brother). He and Sarah have two boys, Luke and Joseph and Fiona's other sister Jane joined us with her husband Guy and their two little ones, Thomas and Emily. These are my most perfect of weekend days... lazy sundays when the training is done, with a dozen or so family around, playing cricket with the kids, laughing and joking. I think maybe I should have been Italian.

Having mentioned training... what of it? Well, it's been a very strong week - in fact a record week for excluding 'special' weeks like training camps or two days doing mad things with Tom and Helen. I'm still running out of power at mile 50 on long bike rides, though interestingly enough on my recent 80 miler, the power and strength returned by mile 65. Coach K and I are working on it and I'm enthused by my current form. But a long way to go yet and I must work on retaining a sensible and balanced pattern of training.

Last week was:

Monday 65 mins 2.5km swim session, 50 minute 6 mile recovery run
Tuesday 76 mins 3 km intensity swim
Wednesday 3 hrs 40 mins low heart rate 61 mile bike, followed by 10 minute run
Thursday 1.5 hours slow run at 75% Heart Rate. 11.5 miles with 10 mins effort in middle of session. Half hour stretching and 1km easy warm up with Team MK swim group before supervising the kids' lane
Friday 72 minutes 2.8km swim sets, 45 minutes 6 mile tempo run
Saturday Fairly brutal 82 mile bike. Strong headwinds, 4 hrs 57 minutes followed by 30 mins strong run off the bike. 7:40 miling... just under 4 miles
Sunday 45 minutes 6 mile tempo run, 30 minutes easy spin recovery turbo on Tri bike

Total time training: 17.5 hours

Swim - 9km
Bike - 157 miles
Run - 34 miles

Last week's film quote was from THE FIRM, and was spoken by TOM CRUISE as MITCH McDEERE. The connection was that both this and the previous week's movie, SUPERMAN, starred Gene Hackman.

And it's a sad goodbye to the film quotes. I don't enjoy setting them any more. And I rarely do things I don't enjoy unless it's for the benefit of folk I care about. And, care about you though I do, I don't think the blog experience lives or dies by film quotes.

In fact, I'd be far better telling you a little about the movies I see during the week. This week I saw I AM LEGEND, an inferior remake of the 1970's Charlton Heston movie THE OMEGA MAN. Frankly it was pretty poor. A great waste of the sometimes fine Will Smith. Much better was THERE WILL BE BLOOD boasting a barnstorming central performance by Daniel Day Lewis. Strangely unbalanced though I felt, unable to decide if it was a pic about the history of oil exploration in frontier land America, or a story about a man who wanted a family but had none. Ultimately, my thoughts were that it fell between two stools and I'm glad that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN won the Oscars instead of it.

I've signed up for my first duathlon on Sunday, the national championships at Emberton Park near Milton Keynes. It's run by my mates in the Big Cow group so should be fun. I'll report back on next week's blog.

Congratulations to 'Arps who goes from strength to strength. After experiencing some kind of epiphany whilst riding Arnold he's entered two triathlons, the second of which, The Blithfield Olympic, I'm entering too. It's three weeks after Ironman Germany so should be good fun.

Speaking of good fun... I want to have some so must leave you.


Monday, March 23, 2009

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing."

I'm sure you knew that the words above are taken from Macbeth... Act V Scene 5 to be precise. It's my favourite speech from my favourite play. I mean... seriously... can you believe that someone was able to write words of such depth and clarity over four hundred years ago. Genius doesn't begin to describe the talent.

But why am I rabbiting on about Billy Shakes and 'The Scottish Play'? Well, I'll come to that in a roundabout way.

I've had a wonderful week. Not as much training as I'd like but I've needed a quiet week and, as I've been mainly away on business, this has been it. Tuesday evening saw Erin and I go to The Milton Keynes Theatre to see a production of Waiting for Godot with Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Simon Callow.

Okay... I'm going to go off on one a bit here. But bear with me.

I studied for my degree at the esteemed Victoria University of Manchester where I took and emerged with an honours degree in Drama. All my school life prior to this I'd acted. I loved the immediacy of the theatre, the challenge of pitting your nerves against a live audience, the skill of performing under pressure and the art of forming different characters beneath your own skin. I continued to 'hone my craft' through the university years (amongst other things, of course) but somewhere between leaving Manchester and the beginning of the nineties my love of theatre waned and remained at the back of my consciousness on a kind of artistic life-support machine.

Why? Well, I think I obviously became more involved in film with my career. I also moved to London where I began to see vasty overpriced, pompous productions that played out to an audience somehow removed from the action. (I admit here that this was by my choice - there were and are plenty of more intimate productions for consumption in the capital). But I think this was part of the shaping of my experiences. For, until this week, I never really realised what it was in theatre that I loved so much.

So, back to this week. 'Godot' was perfectly fine. Standard theatrical fayre. Famous play, movie star thesps. Tickets £ 38 each. And it was... okay. Not great, not poor. Just okay. But 'Godot' shouldn't be just okay... it's a ground breaking piece that can startle and storm an audience's barricades, even at fifty years old it should still have the power to do this. But it didn't.

So I drove up to Manchester the next day for a few days work and checked into my city centre hotel (linked here as a recommendation). Wednesday afternoon after my meetings I wrote until about nine o'clock and then took in a movie at The Printworks... Bronson. It was decent enough.

Thursday I worked on my commercials and, during a nip out at lunch time to buy some Mother's Day presents, I passed The Royal Exchange Theatre. For those of you who don't know it, it's a fantastic space... ultra modern, designed like a giant space ship that simply sits inside an elderly, almost gothic, building. Inside the theatre is in the round... no stage, just a small circle in which the actors work.

And guess what was playing.


So I figured I'd risk £ 8.50 on one of the banquette seats at the front, within touching distance of the actors. And it was... I think... the best £ 8.50 I've ever spent. What a performance. Everything I loved about the theatre was brought back to me. The energy, the rawness, the power of an amazing work rendered modern and relevant by intelligent direction, a sparsity of propping and design, ingenious sound and lighting. It was as if a long lost love had returned to me and, single handedly, it has re-kindled my passion for the theatre. I will now seek out more and more work like this and, you will be pleased to know, will almost certainly never be moved to write so much about a single theatrical experience again.

Macbeth plays at The Royal Exchange in Manchester until April 11th. I'm taking Erin on a four hundred mile round trip to see it in a couple of weeks. See it if you can but know that it's bloody, dark and disturbing (as today's pic from the production demonstrates). Not for the faint of heart.

Billy Shakes would have approved.

So, it seems strange to move on to matters of training but move on I must. I was feeling tired at the beginning of the week so Coach K. and I agreed on a quiet recovery week. Hence:

Monday 30 miles recovery bike, spinning in the little ring. 18.3 mph average and 70% HR. 10 minute run off the bike
Tuesday 25 mile bike (5 mile warm up, 15 miles at above 85% HR, 5 miles warm down). Short run off the bike
Wednesday 75 mins 3km swim set
Thursday 50 minutes run, 6.5 miles, 30 minutes swimming
Friday 55 minutes run 7.5 miles
Saturday 25 mile bike ride then off to Twickenham for England vs Scotland and too many ales
Sunday Rest day

Total training this week 9 hours.

Swim 4km
Bike 80 miles
Run 17 miles

I was amazed nobody got last week's film quote. It was spoken by GENE HACKMAN as LEX LUTHOR in SUPERMAN. The link with DELIVERANCE was that Ned Beatty appeared in both movies.

Here's this week's:

"Hey Ray, wouldn't it be funny if I went to Harvard, you went to Jail and we both ended up surrounded by crooks. "

Who needs congratulating this week?

Well, The Mighty Reds, for sure... for keeping their winning streak going and heaping more pressure on Manchester United. I still think United are in the box seat but at least we're fighting for it.

Tom and Helen, for two great performances at The Ballbuster Duathlon. Well done guys.

Oh yes and to me again. For not being an idiot and taking my first day off training this year. Frankly it was becoming silly!

And, of course, you, fair reader, for once again sitting through a blog that is increasingly becoming less about triathlon and more about life. Still, that can change, eh...

But it's getting late and...

"I must become a borrower of the night
For a dark hour or twain."


Monday, March 16, 2009

That was the week that was...

Frankly, weeks like this don't come along that often. I'm referring to sport as it was a remarkably unremarkable week in all other respects.

On Tuesday I took my dad to Anfield to see my Mighty Reds play Real Madrid, the most successful club in European history and - along with Manchester United - one of the two 'biggest' clubs in the world. Liverpool were fantastic, going at them from the first whistle and - ninety breathless minutes later - emerged 4-0 winners. Anfield was at its raucous and intimidating best and we both had a night to remember.

So, I wasn't holding out much hope when Liverpool played Man Utd at Old Trafford on Saturday. But, once again, we came up trumps, thrashing the phoney reds by four glorious goals to one. Needless to say, I've been inundated with mails from all my Man U supporting friends... NOT !!! I know several of you 'lurk' and read the blog (Mick in China, Roger in Kuala Lumpur...) so allow me at least a moment of triumph.

There, that's it... moment gone.

I figure lightning wouldn't strike three times when England played France on Sunday but ... bloody hell... come half time, we were 29 - 0 up and the game was won. A much improved England performance too, boding well for my trip to Twickenham on Saturday to see the England v Scotland game. I'll report back on that one.

Another revelation this week on the training front. I think I might be human after all. The weekend saw me... wait for it... tired and heavy legged. I think, simply put, that my efforts to overcome the effects of my recent operation have finally caught up with me. I rode a 55 mile bike on Saturday and felt like I was carrying a sack of coal on my back. Sunday's 30 miler wasn't much better. But I rested well and listened to my coach this morning and today's 30 mile bike ride was much better, just spinning in the small ring for an 18.3 mph average and very low heart rate. Top man, Coach K... maybe I should listen to him more often!

The week saw me working away in Manchester, producing a set of commercials for Unibond. My training is done on the fly with me running from wherever I'm staying and swimming wherever I can find a pool. On one evening I stayed with my parents and used their local village pool, a small 20 metre swimming facility full of gently breast stroking ladies (you know what I mean). Needless to say I was soon crashing up and down in full Ironman mode, swim hat and goggles giving me welcome anonymity as I knocked out my 120 lengths.

I was also coming back to running this week so was intent on running gently and getting back into some kind of rhythm.

So, training this week was as follows:

Mon 75 minutes 3.3km endurance swim sets
Tues 45 minutes recovery run, 45 minutes 1.6km swim drills
Weds 40 minutes easy run, 1 hour swim 5 x 400 m sets
Thurs 1 hour 6 x 400 m swim sets
Fri 45 mins easy 10k run
Sat 3 hrs 10 mins, 55 miles bike below 80% heart rate. 17.6mph average and 74% of Max HR average. 20 minute run off the bike at 7:54 min miles
Sun 1 hr 39 mins, 30 miles bike at below 80% of HR. 18mph average and 70% of Max HR. 25 minute run at 7:54 min miling and 78% of HR.

Total training time this week: 12 hours

Swim: 9.3 km
Bike: 85 miles
Run: 23 miles

All in all a good week training considering business took me away. I'm pleased with the 'feel' of my swimming so far although the proof of the pudding will be when I'm in a lake in the wetsuit. My running feels smooth and easy again which is terrific after the operation. The only think slightly down this week is cycling but I can live with that as I've made mucho progresso this year.

Last week's quote was tricky for you. It was uttered by BURT REYNOLDS as LEWIS in DELIVERANCE - a fantastic movie from 1972, directed by John Boorman (father of Charlie, the heir apparent to Michael Palin's 'globetrotting TV nice-guy' crown). The connection was that Reynolds starred in both Boogie Nights, from the previous week, and Deliverance.

So, here's one:

"Do you know why the number two hundred is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It's your weight and my I.Q."

Come on... you have to get that one.

Any congratulations this week?

Well, to Liverpool, of course. And to me, maybe, for winning a Best Improved Ironman Time award at the annual Team MK awards.

Modesty almost stopped me from mentioning it.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Say Hello to 'Arps and Arnold...

This is my best mate Keith. Actually, only I call him Keith. And his clients. To everyone else he's known on as 'Arper or variants thereof. So let's call him 'Arps.

We've known each other since we were eleven and have many things to thank each other for but more recently it was 'Arps that started me on my second life in sport. Following a relatively sedentary decade after rugby, I was looking for a new challenge when 'Arps announced he was going to run a marathon. The lure was too great for me and I signed up for the Shakespeare marathon in Stratford upon Avon. It would have been 2004 or 2005... to be honest, I don't really remember. All I do know is that since then we've kept each other up to speed on our pursuits, 'Arps following his running career and I moving into triathlon via Ironman. When we go to see the 'Arps family or the 'Arps family come to see us, we usually run together. When our families holiday together, we take our running shoes.

So it's not been great to witness the injuries that have been plaguing the poor fellah. Planto this and strained that. The lord only knows, it's enough to drive a man to taking the weight of his feet. And, this week, that's exactly what he did. After having me blather on about cycling for the past few years, your friend and mine went out and purchased a shiny new steed - a Ridley to be exact (which is a Belgian variety of two wheeled travel) - with lovely Shimano 105 components and lots of nice carbon bits. He's up and running. Or, more accurately, up and cycling, already. Good luck mate and I can't wait for our first ride together.

The bike, needless to say, is Arnold.

Strangely enough it seems as if the world and his mum are turning to triathlon. Many of my friends in the village are about to dip their toe in the proverbial (and literal) water. Some are doing a relay event at Dorney Lake, another is doing a sprint, another is undertaking a London to Paris bike ride. It's a hotbed of new sporting activity in the sleepy village of Edlesborough - and, if 'Arps is anything to go by, villages and towns all around the country. Long may it continue.

My leg continues with its remarkable recovery. Stiff and sore but no more than that. The scars are pretty much healed and the bruising on the leg has all but disappeared. If you'd have told me that two weeks after a general anaesthetic operation on my right leg I'd have been on a 60 mile, 3000 feet of climb, ride, followed by a two mile run off of the bike, I would have called you a 'flipping fibber' or something very similar.

But you weren't fibbing and I was on that ride. Amongst other things which looked like this:

Monday 70 mins easy 2.8km endurance swim, 30 mins, 3.6 mile easy run (soft ground)
Tuesday 50 mins 14 mile bike including my first Bison Hill this year
Wednesday 3 hrs 45 mins 61.25 mile bike ride, 2 mile run off the bike
Thursday 30 mins easy running, 1 hour Team MK swim set
Friday 1 hour swim drills, 30 mins easy run
Saturday 2 hours 50 mins 50 mile solo bike ride at 18.3 mph avg, 3.16 mile run off the bike at 7:40 miles
Sunday 5.62 mile run (concrete) at 7:30 min miles, 20 mins core and weight training

Total training time this week: 13.72 hours

Swim 6.6 km
Bike 125 miles
Run 21 miles

I'm away on business this week so have some time to regain my running mojo which is returning slowly. I'll need to work on the musculature of my lower right leg but - touch wood - everything seems to be in good shape.

Gabriel - if you're reading this, I have some tightness in what appears to be the tendon on the medial ligament running from groin to knee. I'm assuming this is just a reaction to the disappearance of the vein? Icing and Brufen seem to help. Let me know via the comments if possible.

The rest of you - please forgive the above paragraph... I'm a bit of a tart when it comes to recovery advice.

So... to what else this week? Well, family things first. Erin has chosen her options and will be taking GCSEs in English Language, English Literature, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, French, Drama, History, Business Studies and PSHE (for all you like me out there, that last one is the compulsory Personal, Social and Health Education). We had a great chat with her, reminding her that anything is possible in life, that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to and that there is no pressure right now to decide on what the rest of her life holds. I've always embraced the fact that my chilren grow older. It's pointless doing anything else. Get over the fact that they won't be sitting on your knee forever and help them develop and enjoy their lives as best you can as they move through it. That's my (our) mantra anyway.

Congratulations also to my dad, Michael - a long standing supporter of my Ironman activities and support crew on both so far as well as the upcoming Ironman Germany. He sings with Bolton's Cotton Town Barbershop Chorus; current UK champions and who, at the weekend in Amsterdam, added a European Silver Medal to their haul.

Big up to my training buddy Graham who PB'd his half marathon at the weekend. 96 mins is a great place to be Graham... five minutes faster than last year is some going.

Well done to Tom and H for sailing through another epic trip to Lanzarote and hammering the bike. Looking forward to having you down here for a training day when we can fix it up, guys.

A recommend from this week's movies is JUNO which is a treat - warm, witty and touching with a light touch that leaves you wanting more. Hong Kong's MAD DETECTIVE was disappointing and SHOOTER, with the below mentioned Mark Whalberg, was passable Hollywood fayre.

Speaking of Gabriel (which I was, a couple of paragraphs previously), the languid one correctly identified last week's film quote as being spoken by MARK WAHLBERG as DIRK DIGGLER in BOOGIE KNIGHTS. The link was that both that movie and the previous week's (MAGNOLIA) were directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

What about this?

"Now you listen, Ed. Damn it, we can get out of this thing, without any questions asked. We get connected up with that body, and the law, this thing's gonna be hangin' over us the rest of our lives. We've gotta get rid of that guy."

One thing I can tell you... 'Arps won't get it...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Isn't Technology Brilliant...

... I'm often minded of the bloke from 'The Fast Show' who used to wander around proclaiming the simplest things in life were 'brilliant'. There I was on Friday, writing at my desk, early morning, headphones on and a bit of Neil Young waking me up for the day. I figured I'd heard the six or so albums I have so many times I could do with some more so off I toddled to the itunes store, selected three more, downloaded them and - five minutes later - I'm listening to new music. I've never really thought much about the technological advancement that has allowed us to do this (and that we now all take for granted) but, in the words of Paul Whitehouse...

... isn't technology brilliant!

Speaking of things moving on apace, we went to Erin's GCSE Option evening earlier in the week. They have six core subjects to take and need to take another five as options. Not much different to the system that was in place when I was at school really. The head teacher, Alan Rosen, gave an excellent presentation highlighting the importance of making sound choices and part of his communique was that many of the most popular jobs now available to school leavers and graduates didn't exist five years ago. So, the schools have the job of educating our children for jobs that don't yet exist in a world where technology is moving so quickly that predicting what it will be like when they leave sixth form or university is a near impossible task. They have to be on their toes and quick to change.

As I think, do we all, both in business and in our training.

I've continued to make great progress this week, sticking by my goal of not having any days off following my operation. It's important to me to get back on top of my game as soon as possible. Others have different ways of doing it and I have mine. So far, I feel good about it. Although, in the spirit of being quick to change... I had a nasty run experience on Monday when I went out for my first strong run since the op. Seeing as it was less than five days since the knife, a 10km at a steady 8 min mile pace should possibly have rung an alarm bell. Anyway, it didn't and I don't mind saying that I got it wrong. My leg was in agony from half way round the loop and it took a good 24 hours to settle down. I went swimming the next day though and was really pleased to come through that with no ill effects, managing an easy 1.6km (albeit wearing my 'Skins' compression tights to avoid inflicting the mess that is my leg on the pool). I've knocked out another brief session with Team MK swimming and a 5 x 400m session on Saturday. So... swimming is back on the agenda. The real victory this week though has been on the bike. My form has been strong so far this year and I was determined not to let a bit of discomfort turn that form to rust. I've been out four times this week for rides of 17 miles, 33 miles, 22 miles and 35 miles. Now I'm ready to ramp up the distance a bit more this week I think and I've instructed Coach K to prepare a week of swim and bike.

Coach K, by the way, is naturally a little concerned by my fairly full throttle approach. He wants my leg to 'recover' and I can see his point. But how can I best explain? Let me try this - one of the key things I've learned in my brief time doing Ironman is that the battle is between mind and body. One must never outreach the other. You have to know EXACTLY what your body is capable of and have the strength of mind to pull back the moment you feel you are 'red-lining'. Likewise and slightly conversely, I believe you have to trust your body to perform at times, allowing it the freedom to see how it can do. It might just surprise you. But, the moment you feel any of the tell tale signs - often difficult to sense due to the presence of testosterone and adrenaline coursing through your system during exercise - you have to check back and get the balance right again. So that's what I've been doing. I feel its as valid a part of Ironman training - this mental game we play with our bodies - as the simple physicality of training and, frankly, it's been a valuable experience for me.

So, last week's training looked like this:

Mon 45 mins 10km run
Tues 1 hour easy bike with Peter and Dave
Weds 30 mins easy 1.6km swim
Thurs 1 hour 48 mins strong hilly bike. 33.5 miles at 18.6mph avg
Fri 1 hour 15 mins bike. 22 miles at 18 mph avg
Sat 1 hour 2km swim session. 5 x 400m including drills
Sun 2 hour 36 mile bike at 18.1 mph

Total time training this week... 9 hours

Swim - 4.6km
Bike - 108.5 miles
Run - 6 miles

Today's pic is of my good mate Dave Jones who came a cropper on a relaxed bike ride I took with him and other friend Pete earlier this week. Dave would be the first to say he's not the most experienced cyclist and this, combined with gazing around whilst Pete and I were braking, resulted in the crumpled wreck you see in the pic. And his £ 50 ebay Peugot bike wasn't in good nick either.

The previous week's film quote was a bit tricky. It came from MAGNOLIA, was spoken by TOM CRUISE as FRANK T.J. MACKEY and the link with The Usual Suspects was that 'Suspects' was written by Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote Tom Cruise's latest movie VALKYRIE.

How about this:

"I am a star. I'm a star, I'm a star, I'm a star. I am a big, bright, shining star. That's right."

Name the movie, who said it and what links it to the previous quote...

Huge thanks this week to Ray at Snugg Wetsuits, who fixed up a massive rip in the neck of my wetsuit for £ 25 including postage. Suberb, personal service and I'm now thinking of getting a top range Slipstream wetsuit from them rather than the 2XU or Blue Seventy. (I've heard that most of the pro's that get the latter suits send them to Snugg for custom fitting anyway). You make your own decision but consider this small, bespoke British company if you're looking for a new wetsuit this year.

Strangely enough a light week of movies, catching only one last week, which was THE BIG LEBOWSKI. I've seen it before, of course, but it was the perfect movie for an Old Thatch Cinema Society evening where the boys descend with beer and popcorn and ten of us or so screen a movie in the cinema.

The Dude abides...