Sunday, 22 July 2012

'ere wiggo, 'ere wiggo, 'ere wiggo

Was there ever a more apt marriage of moronic English sporting chant and the affectionate diminutive of our latest sporting hero? Probably not. But that, along with cow bell, whistles and cheers, was pretty much all you could hear in the English enclave that was the exit of the hairpin at the top of the Champs Élysées today.

I'm not going to produce a blow by blow account of the weekend I've spent in Paris with t'eldest, and still less our day on the Champs today. Last time I was there/here was last September, celebrating my own personal and team achievement of riding from London to Paris in one piece without any terminal arguments, and today I was celebrating someone else's personal and team achievement of riding from Liege to Paris in one piece (pretty much anyway) without any terminal arguments. But then, we had to take our own pictures; today, there were hundreds, thousands of others doing it for them. And their arguments weren't about route finding or letting their drying pants drip on the bunk below (unless there's a Sky documentary exposé down the line), but who had the right to stand on top of a podium in Paris. Mr Froome will tell us there were no such arguments, but don't you just wish you were a fly on the wall of his and his girlfriend's room? And I mean that in a completely non-pervy way.

Talking of the Froomedog, as David Millar seems to have christened him, check this out (taken by aforementioned eldest) in case you missed it on Twitter:

So no, there'll be no dull narrative about our "I was there" story. You know where we were. It was fun. I had tears in my eyes at times - though slightly oddly, it was the publicity caravan that inspired that; the unalloyed joy of those on the back of the crazily swerving motorised water bottles and loaves of bread somehow captured the essence of the event even more than the racing itself.

Two last words. When the teams did their lap of honour, the British fans, who I feared were going to lapse into the kind of booze-fuelled partisanship of their footballing compatriots, heartily cheered all the teams, regardless of their nationality or levels of success. They added colour, atmosphere and laughter. Just for a day, we were the fans everybody liked.

And finally, I lapsed. I sold out. I thought I'd never do it. I bought some Sky merchandise...shame on me. But you know, when the greatest sporting show on earth (and I brook no argument on that, regardless of anything that might be happening dairn sairf next weekend for a bit), is won by an interesting and seemingly decent British fella, what can you do?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Joy

One of the main reasons I cycle and run, apart from the fact they both keep you fit-ish, provide some time for quiet contemplation, and give you that satisfying feeling of justified fatigue, is that they can produce sublime moments, perhaps lasting no more than 30 seconds, of complete and utter joy. It's a hard feeling to describe precisely - it's not the kind of ecstasy you might get from finding out you've passed a difficult and important exam, or the deep satisfaction and amusement that comes with a sociable night with a good bunch of mates, or the relief from sorting out an urgent bodily function. It's more a feeling of knowing that at those precise moments, there are no circumstances that could make you feel happier, or more alive, or anything else you'd rather be doing.

They don't come along very often, and for me they nearly always happen when I'm riding a bike or running down a hill. The best days I've ever had have been spent on a bike, ranging from going up to and down from Tourmalet in 2010 to the more quotidian riding through the Pas de Calais last year. But thankfully those moments of joy happen more often, and I've had two this weekend.

Now, nothing can compare to the thrill of hurtling down a mountain pass on two wheels, but one of the advantages of running, especially in the hills, is that you can put some music in your ears without endangering yourself or anyone else. And my two moments this weekend were probably accentuated by the iPod. The first was yesterday, when I was attempting to stay on my feet as I ran down a really steep incline. The only way I could do it was by taking baby steps at a cadence, to borrow a cycling term, of probably 200 rpm. In my ears at the time was Earthquake by Labrinth & Tinie Tempah, a recent occupant of what I believe is known as the Hit Parade, and there was just something about the combination of the music, the crazy running, and the sunshine that just made me laugh out loud. There was no-one else around bar a few bullocks to witness the madness fortunately.

And then today, as I crested a small hill by Macclesfield Forest Chapel, the countryside opened up - Cat & Fiddle road and pub to the left, Macclesfield Forest straight ahead, and the Staffordshire Moorlands just beyond and to the right. Again, for a second morning running the sun was out, but it was pretty early so no other people were, and it was just fantastic.

But it wouldn't have been if I'd driven up there. Writing this now my lungs hurt if I breathe in too hard. At the risk of sounding a bit Orwellian, the joy of those moments is enhanced by the labour of getting there in the first place, and I'd sure laboured to get up to nearly 1500 feet. Over the last couple of days I've run 32 miles, with 4,500 feet of ascent. That would be a fairly respectable mountain bike ride. And I've loved every single one of those miles. Not all the ascending feet necessarily, but definitely the miles

Opportunities in the next few weeks are going to be few and far between, though the bike was cleaned yesterday and I'm to get a few miles in when I'm in Brittany in a couple of weeks.

But first, Paris awaits next weekend. Barring accident, illness or any other misfortune, I'm hoping, nay expecting, to be there to see the first British winner of the event crowned. I'm just not sure of the identity of that winner yet. I'll be there with my eldest daughter - look out for us, we'll be waving...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

"I'd rather have a go and fail than be a successful moaner"

Thus spake John Bishop, comedian, ex-sales and marketing executive, and professional scouser (though aren't they all?) on Desert Island Discs last week. I'm not having a go at him, in fact quite the opposite; he spoke words that resonated with me more than any others in recent times. He was talking about his transition from deskbound salaryman to successful entertainer. He took a chance; it worked. He gave up something secure and went into something competitive and insecure. He did it because he was passionate about it. He and I are were born within a month of each other, and despite his accent he actually grew up in Winsford, Cheshire, not too far away from me. It's set me thinking....(even more)..........

But on less radical scale, it's surprisingly easy to let life get in the way of the things that really matter. What do I mean by that? Well, now I've got the freedom to exercise again, I need to be out there, hitting the trails, the roads and the forest. I've managed decent runs every weekend day for the last three weeks, but that pattern's going to be interrupted badly over the next few weekends, what with trips to London (this weekend), Paris (two weekends after), Plymouth (the weekend after that), Brittany (the weekend after), and the Shropshire hills (two weekends later). However, I fear I may have mentioned that before, so I'll move on...

Last weekend I managed a run of just under 20 miles on 500 ml of water and one energy gel. Which was good, though the step up from 13 was probably a bit too radical to be sensible. However, I've been reading one of Dean Karnazes' books (possibly the most prominent ultramarathoner of recent years), and just as when I read Ranulph Fiennes' autobiography, I was inspired. I also got out early, and it was cool, but not too cool, and still - perfect conditions. As I've mused before, and fool can run one marathon (hello...), but real fools want to do more. And why not go further? Ultramarathons start at only 50 km.

However, to do that you need to be running more than just at the weekends. Sure I do plenty of core exercises, squats and stretches during the week, but it's not the same as getting the miles in. And there's one major barrier to that - work, and the integral accompanying parts of that for me; being away from home, and long hours. Unpredictable hours and locations - it's not conducive to running. I did get a few miles in last week doing circuits of a cemetery just off junction 4 of the M4 by Heathrow, but it was like eating dry crackers and stale cheese - it served a basic physiological need, but it didn't go much further. It would be tempting at this point to link this back to the first paragraph, but it's a temptation I'm going to resist.

Instead, I shall recount another painful lesson learned. Earlier this year I bought my third consecutive pair of Saucony trainers. I bought the first two pairs from Up and Running, a specialist - you'll never guess - running shop. They were the Saucony Triumph 7 and Saucony Triumph 8 respectively. They were marvellously comfortable. So when I needed a new pair at the start of the year I decided to cut a corner, and buy a pair of Saucony Triumph 9 directly off a leading internet sports retailer, who had said articles priced most competitively, quite a lot of Wiggle-room between them and the next best price. However, those naughty product designers at Saucony had, for reasons best known to themselves, increased the size of the part of the shoe I now know to be called the front box, making them more suitable for the wider-footed gentleman, but loose fitting on a lithe beast such as myself. The consequence - on a long run, little toe blisters (that's big blisters on the little toes, rather than small blisters randomly located). So, I'm having to retire them early, probably to France for shorter runs. I've been forced to change brand - it feels like treachery - to New Balance. Which, this time, I did go to an actual shop to take advice on, try on, and do a deal on (free pair of quality socks). Lesson learnt. And that is a good place to stop.
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