Sunday, 29 June 2014

Gollen 200 Audax & Midnight Mountain Marathon

It's been a busy few days off work. Spending a lot of time in central London makes me appreciate anywhere that isn't there to be honest. Don't get me wrong - London is a fabulous city stuffed with amusements and entertainments that could keep anybody happy. But at this time of year it's also overrun with tourists, and sitting in a hotel room in the evenings whilst it's sunny and warm outside is just a bit depressing. Which is why I decided to try to make the most of an impromptu 3 days off. I described in my post on Wednesday night what I wanted to do, and I'm pleased to day I did it.

So Thursday saw me do the 'permanent' version of the World's End audax, so called because the route takes in a remote area of north Wales that goes by that name. By the time I'd ridden to the start and finish, and deviated twice from the route (both, ironically, in areas that I know well; once near my old work in Chester, and once near where my father lived - shows the dangers of complacency) I covered 145 miles. I started at 6am, and finished at 5.30pm. It was a hard day - cooler than I was expecting, lots of offroad path which slowed me down, and I used my old, heavy bike, which made going up hills heavy weather. I think it might be time to restrict the use of that bike to the winter when the roads are covered in salt, and use one of the other two decent bikes that I've got for these longer summer runs.

There's not much to report from the day really. The only laugh I got was at one of the many filling stations I had to call at to pick up a receipt to prove my route. There I stood, cycling helmet on and lycra-clad, red-faced and a bit sweaty from a recent hill, buying chocolate and an isotonic drink, and the cashier looked me square in the face and said "are you paying for any fuel dear?" Er, no. Unless you count the isotonic drink. I would say 'twerp' at this point, but there's something not quite right about calling a woman a 'twerp', and I don't know what the female equivalent is. So I'll move on.

I spent quite a lot of Thursday across the border in Welsh Wales, and the same was true of yesterday too. I'd entered Brutal Events Midnight Mountain Marathon after failing to finish the Lakes 42 race in April, as a way of proving to myself I could actually complete a hilly marathon. And yesterday was the day of redemption...

My regular readers know, I hope, that I'm not shy of writing about my failures, bad decisions and poor planning on here. So I also hope that when I have a day where everything just seems to work out perfectly, you'll not think me too immodest. Yesterday was one of those days. Whilst the official results are yet to be published, the printout I was given at the end of the race says that I finished 7th (out of approximately 120 starters), in a time of 4 hours 31 minutes. That's not very quick for a marathon, but it is quite quick for a marathon that includes 4300 feet of climbing (and coming back down, which frankly hurts more), and goes to the peak of the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons, Pen-y-Fan. We also skirted Fan-y-Big on our way up. And who hasn't done that at some point.

We set off at 5.30pm, the 'Midnight' bit of the event's name coming from the fact that if you weren't home by then you wouldn't count as a finisher. It was a massed start, and I went off pretty slowly, towards the back of the group, which is where I stayed for the first mile or two. Then I realised that whenever the track turned upwards, I was going past people, slowly but surely. From being about 60th after a few miles, I was genuinely amazed to be told at the top of Pen-y-Fan that I was 6th. Well after that the adrenalin kicked in - it's a long, long time since I last a Top 10 finish in anything, and I took some pretty big risks on the initial descent try to keep that position. It would have been so easy to have turned an ankle. But I didn't, and when we got on to the more gradual descent my head drove my body to do more than it thought it wanted to do. Fair to say the body's getting its own back today.

Anyway, I did lose a place in the last couple of miles (to someone who'd got lost earlier on the course, so it was right he went past me), but I finished 7th overall, and probably 2nd or 3rd of the over-40s. I actually think (and there's no false modesty here) that I managed to get my pacing, fuelling and attitude just right on the day, either by luck or design, and on another day could easily have finished 47th rather than 7th. Though I do think the adrenalin-thing was important - I was expecting the drive home (between 11pm and 2am) to be a real struggle, and had made a flask of strong, sweet coffee to keep me going; it wasn't needed - I was as high as a kite.

So, there we are. It was a really good event for me personally, but a really good event generally. The scenery was stunning, and I thought Brutal Events did a really good job in the organisation of the race - the pre-event briefing was useful, the manning of and stuff available at the checkpoints was excellent, safety was sound but not smothering, and route signage was clear and well-positioned.

But now it's back to work in London. And the gym, instead of fresh country air. Days like the last few make that all worthwhile though.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Short post tonight....

Those vaguely acquainted with the world of triathlon will know that the ultimate one day test is the Ironman - 2.5 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, topped off with a marathon.

I don't much like swimming, so a bit by accident I've put together my own version of the Ironman, which I'm calling a Tinman, on the basis tin's the poor relation of iron. Anyway, here's my Tinman :

  • Today - taking the place of swimming was the loading into a wheelbarrow and raking out of 2 tonnes of gravel in the new garden, followed by 45 mins on the turbo trainer
  • Tomorrow - the Gollen 212km Permanent audax (plus another 10km riding to and from the start); it's  a ride across to Llangollen and back, via Chester and other points in between
  • Saturday - yes, I know I'm cheating, I'm having Friday off. However, I'm trying to compensate by doing a bugger of a marathon - the Brutal Events Midnight Mountain Marathon in the Brecon Beacons. We start at 5.30, and have got to be in by midnight to qualify as a finisher. 26.2 miles - shouldn't be too bad. 4400 feet of ascent - adds a bit of a challenge. Driving home 120 miles after I finish without falling asleep - possibly the biggest challenge.
Full report on Sunday assuming I can actually get out of bed.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Striking back

So things got worse before they got better last week. I felt dreadful Monday to Wednesday, but these days no work-y means no money-y, so I kept going, going straight back to my hotel bed after work. I went a whole week without exercise, and when I did finally re-start the two short runs I did on Thursday and Friday morning half-killed me.

Then I thought - it's only 2 weeks till the marathon I'm entered in, which is too late for any running-specific training to have any effect - so let's start the bike training; a bit of gentle cardio for the next 2 weeks will be ideal taper for the marathon, and provide a base for the bike training to come.

So this weekend a few things have come together to get me back on the bike:

- er, I've ridden it a couple of times first of all. Only in the garage on the trainer perhaps, but it's a start. I was going to go out on the road this morning, but there was a frustrating drizzle here all morning, and frankly I had as much fun watching a documentary on iplayer about the 1978 World Cup (the first one I remember), as I would have done bowling round the lanes of Cheshire in the mist and drecht

- I remembered there's a 'Fitness4Less' gym in Southwark, very close to where I stay during the week. And it opens at 6am, which suits me, as in the evenings I'm normally too knackered to train. Exercise bikes are no substitute for the real thing, but they're a heck of a lot better than nothing. So I've joined. First session Tuesday morning.

- my new shed arrives on Thursday. It's a very shexy Dutch Barn-type arrangement. Of course, during the summer I'm going to aim to get out into the hills as often as possible, but when the weather's rubbish or I need some specific training sessions, it's going to be my new riding home once I've had power put in it. Regrettably I may have to share it with some garden tools, but as Mrs Monmarduman is out of the country until the end of next month, I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make my own man-den.

The point of all this? Well, three reasons. First, I've got a crazy one day ride in the Pyrenees in September that I need to be proper fit for. Second, assuming I manage to sort my eyes out, I still harbour ambitions to do Paris-Brest-Paris next year. Third, well, I just like to ride my bike really. And there's nothing wrong with that is there?

Sunday, 8 June 2014

What a difference a year makes

This time last year I was about to start 5 weeks unpaid leave, much of which was to be spent cycling round France. I was a salaried employee, and hadn't done any meaningful work for nearly 6 months, as there was none to be had. Hence the unpaid leave. My under-occupation meant, however, I was fit and healthy as I started my break.

Fast forward 52 weeks. I'm writing this at 6.45 on a Sunday morning, a time when I'm normally just about to go out running. Today, however, I'm not. I'm only up at all because if I lie on my back I cough, splutter, and generally am even more unpleasant to be around than usual. I've had a summer cold since Monday, the sort I normally shrug off in 48 hours max and then get back exercising. But I'm having a devil of a job shaking this thing off, and I've decided to obey the training maxim when it comes to a cold of "if symptoms are above the neck, carry on usual, if they're below the neck, stop until they've gone" - the theory being you're doing yourself more harm than good in the latter case. I can only assume that permanent Monday to Friday hotel living, 60 hour working weeks every week, and trying to train around that, have left the old immune system a bit weaker than normal.

All of which is very frustrating. I'm supposed to do a mountain marathon 3 weeks this weekend, which therefore means I should be doing my biggest training run this weekend, the theory (again) being that 3 weeks is enough time for there to be a training effect from the run, and far enough away from the main event to allow for a decent recovery. Even more frustratingly, I can't take advantage of the light early mornings to do it in, say, 2 or 3 days time, as I will of course will be in London working again.

Which is making come over all thoughtful at this quiet time of the week. I haven't ridden a bike seriously in months, I've clung to some fitness by running - the only thing I can do during the week in central London, where I've now been working for 8 months, with no immediate sign of a break or change - but I know my fitness is gradually slipping away, particularly for the bike. If I were still a salaried employee, I'd be devastated and wanting to do something about it. But now, being self-employed (or more technically a director of my own company which hires out its services [me] to another management consultancy), the position is less clear-cut. The economics of the situation are much more favourable now compared to a year ago, through the rates I charge and the way I can structure my tax arrangements.  Favourable to the point that if I carried on like this for the couple of years through to my 50th birthday, I could certainly give myself a good 6 months a year off from that point onwards. Or maybe even jack in proper work altogether and scrape a living renting out French gites and helping Mrs M in our French import-export business.

The choice might look simple therefore: accept that something that matters a lot to me (being fit, doing events) is going to take a clear second place for the first time in years to something that also matters quite a lot to me - creating the possibility of having a leisurely time in my 50s. It's not that simple though. Being self-employed means the work could stop tomorrow. So the choice I make can only ever be valid in the short term, which makes it harder. Sacrificing training and events now does not guarantee semi-retirement in 3 years time. 

Just to be clear, this is not me complaining. Writing this 2 days after the D-Day commemorations, which the Monmarduman household spent a lot of time watching and reflecting on, it's a dilemma I'm privileged to have. But sometimes you have to write things down to help get your thinking straight, and so, for this edition at least, this blog has been more for my benefit that its readers. I'm not sure I'm any clearer, but thanks for listening anyway.

Tweets by @skinsalive