Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Joy of Winter Training

When I was in my youth I used to do athletics fairly seriously.  For a few years I trained up to 5 days a week, trying to build strength and speed to enable me to run faster and, in particular, jump further.

images (11)It was an exciting time for me.  I was blessed with the physical attributes to allow me to compete at the National level.  It helped me build self-confidence and it also taught me that the world (or the UK at least) isn’t that large a place.  Being the fastest runner in my school, or even my home town suddenly wasn’t such a big deal.  I was very lucky.

As I was growing throughout this period, my athletic development was also assisted by my physical development.  As a result, I was almost guaranteed to improve year on year.  If all other things had stayed equal I should improve over time because I was getting bigger and stronger.

If I had been competing continuously throughout the year it could have resulted in a slow, steady improvement requiring patience on my part.  As it was, the annual cycle of training and competition created natural breaks that generated the potential for “Step Changes” in performance.  A few months could make a big difference.

There were some key milestones during the year that were always eagerly anticipated.  They included:

  • My first competition of the season – always a highlight although it was slightly nerve-racking as my expectations were always set on the high side,
  • The major competitions / events (notably County & National Championships),
  • My final competition of the season.  The last chance to make an impact, and the start of a well earned rest.  The final effort before a few weeks off training.  Often the relaxed atmosphere produced unexpectedly good results.

Possibly the most notable, and least heralded milestone was the start of “Winter Training”.  This marked the end of the “rest” and the beginning of a long, cold and often miserable period of training that had the potential to make all the difference to performance levels for the following season.

imagesCAWG5BI0Winter training was different from the summer.  It was much more focused on strength and endurance  rather than speed and technique.  “Favoured” sessions included Circuits, Weights, Hill Runs, Fartlek Runs, 300m Repetitions.   Most of this was designed hurt, and it was often  completed in cold, miserable weather adding an extra reason not to do it.

We worked in a tight group.  Pushing each other to dig deep and push harder.  You had to believe you would reap rewards for the effort you put in, but there was also the sadistic satisfaction of completing each session.

***

Today, for the first time in twenty years, I started a Winter Training campaign.  Having returned from work and changed into my cycling kit, I left the warmth of the house and braved the chill of the garage to get on my bike.

It was a low key event, but significant.  A strong winter’s exercise will play an important role in my on-going rehabilitation.  Given my general physical neglect over the past few years I have high hopes of significant improvements in strength and stamina.  I don’t have any real points of comparison against which to measure performance, however I have a clear goal… to cycle into Brussels on 11th May 2014.

The unwelcome patron

The Barman’s Nemesis…

Over the course of the past two weeks I have realised that a tee-total, Virgin Mary drinker may well be the least welcome customer in many a Tavern around the world.  It’s fiddly drink that needs to be made to suit personal tastes and yet, as it’s predominantly tomato juice, there is little scope for price inflation.  There’s lots of value add from the Bar Staff, but little value creation from their perspective.  The simple addition of a shot of vodka would increase the cost by approximately 400%.

I like to think this explains the unwelcoming glances I receive from the Bar Staff as I approach for my early evening aperitif.  Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but I believe there is a certain reluctance as the (healthy) nibbles were handed over to accompany my drink.  The addition of an occasional Gin & Tonic goes some way to re-dressing the balance, but in itself it doesn’t appear to fully make up for my deficiencies.

Healthy nibbles… very civilised!

This holiday has been a little different from past experiences as far as the Nightlife is concerned.  Rather than being Party Animals, racking up huge Bar bills and being a safe bet to be there when Last orders are called, we have been very subdued.  Our evening entertainment has largely revolved around a nice meal and a family games of cards.

For me, a late night in the Bar loses it’s appeal somewhat without the allure of a cold beverage to help liven things up.

We have even had to resort to deceit to maintain some level of social acceptability.  Each evening we have ordered a bottle of wine with dinner… “two glasses please”.  This may seem like a strange move given I’m not drinking, but having explored the options it seemed like the path of least resistance.  My role has been to sit with a glass of wine in front of me throughout the meal, subtly switching with Louise from time to time to create the illusion of gradual consumption… the two of us sharing a nice bottle of wine, as civilised people do.

We’re pretty sure that most of the Waiters / Waitresses have cottoned on to our little deceit.  Not that it makes a huge amount of difference to them, but to “us” it feels more acceptable.  The next best option would be to order a small bottle of wine with one glass.

We’ll have a bottle of the red please.

The question is, when does it become more socially acceptable to order a large bottle than to order multiple small bottles?

I’m inclined to think that at least ordering a large bottle shows you’re realistic about how much you’re likely to drink.  You don’t have to drink it all (for the record, we have taken half a bottle to our room each evening to provide sustenance during the family card game), but it’s there of you fancy another little glass.

The flip side is that you order a little bottle, and then another, and perhaps another.  Without an attentive Waitress you may end up with a collection of bottles lined up across your table… and no guarantee of anything to take back to your room for later.

We’re new to all this.  Beverage etiquette has never really been a concern in the past.  We used to work on the basis that you ordered a drink… you drank (and repeat as required).  Another “new life” experience for us all!

Born Survivor (Part II)

The hotel we’re in organises a number of bike rides of varying difficulties during the week.  Having bravely ventured out on my own yesterday, I decided to join todays “challenging” ride.  I had done it before… it was billed as being approximately 15 km, to “Epta Piges”.

Amusingly, there is another ride that I also did last week to the “Seven Springs”.  I’ve only just realised that they both mean the same thing!  Doh!

Our destination, although we had no intention of seeing any springs on this ride!

The ride took us up into the mountains, a route that I’ve now covered many times, before heading off up a very steep off-road climb.

This week’s participants appeared to all be fit males and were apparently keen cyclist – I’m not sure how much of a barometer it is, but I was the only person not to be wearing cycling gloves!

I had done the climb before an knew it was tough, so I mentally prepared myself to be satisfied with being “tail-end Charlie” as everyone else headed into the hills.  There was no way I could keep up and maintain a reasonable Heart Rate.

More cost effective than getting fit?

All was good.  We re-grouped twice as we completed the main ascent.  I had started to ride alongside another Paul, a Doctor from “Up North” (England), who had recently started doing triathlons.  He believed that when people turn 40 they either get a Sports Car, have an affair or get fit.  Originally he figured that getting fit was the cheapest option… hence the triathlons.  (He has subsequently started to re-assess as the cost of kit continues to escalate.  If you’re approaching this milestone and money is the only consideration, you might want to think seriously about a Sports Car!)

Having hit the top of the climb the terrain flattened off however the number of paths and potential routes increased dramatically.  I had done the ride once before, but I was following someone’s wheel.  This time there was no wheel to follow…

In fact, in almost no time, there weren’t any wheels, frames or any other parts of bicycles or cyclists in sight!  We were alone.

It was incumbent on me to remember the route.

We got lost.

To start with, I would describe us as “just off track”, as we followed a couple of tracks to dead ends before circling back on ourselves.

After some time we’d got ourselves lost good and proper!

We had decided to follow a maintenance access track for some electrical pylons… it seemed to be heading down, and generally in the right direction.  We followed it downwards, gaining speed and optimism as we descended.  Unfortunately it came to an abrupt end as the electrical cables spanned a ravine, connecting to a pylon on an adjacent hill some way away.

We weren’t quite as comfortable going off-road as this chap!

There was no obvious route down the steep, rugged hillside.  We could see the destination, but there was no obvious way of reaching it.

We were despondent.  We had been out for over 2 hours. The midday sun was beating down on us.  We were more off track than ever.  Water was running low.  It was almost lunchtime, and Paul had a Sailing lesson at two-thirty!!!

We did not have high hopes of being rescued by our cycling guide.  He’s not the most attentive at the best of times, and he loves a descent, so he probably wouldn’t have missed us until he’d been at the bottom of the hill, and waited for some time.  I’m sure he would have assumed (1) that I had been on the ride before and therefore was familiar with the route (2) that we’d intentionally decided to take a different route and (3) that our ride would include a trip to a bar for a drink.  As a result, I didn’t expect the alarm to be raised until darkness fell, perhaps a little sooner if our other halves noticed we were missing!

***

Bear Grylls the last time he got lost in the Rhodes wilderness

From time to time, I watch some random TV.  Just before I came away, I watched a programme featuring a number of different groups that had got lost in unfamiliar terrain:

  • While travelling on business, one guy had decided to go for a walk from his hotel in Thailand.  Targeting the top of an adjacent hill, he ended up being lost in the jungle for several days before being found (following a telephone call home, to the UK, from his mobile which fortunately worked from high ground to raise the alarm).
  • Another couple of intrepid explorers got themselves lost in a Rain Forrest in South America.  The plan had been to spend five days in the jungle before rendezvousing at a prescribed pick-up spot.  They over-shot and ended up living off their wits for many days before one of them got seriously ill and the other had to head off alone in a desperate attempt to find help.  (He succeeded).

Our prospective dinner… catch me if you can!

I also have the tips and tricks gained from many episodes of “Born Survivor” to fall back on if necessary.  We had already spotted wild sage and thyme that might go well with one of the not so wild goats that we had seen further up the hillside.  We weren’t quite there yet, but it was reassuring to have this in-depth survival knowledge to rely on if things became that desperate.

Most of the “almost disaster” TV shows I’ve seen feature a couple of bad decisions.  Faced with the final Electricity Pylon, Paul made a good one.  We decided to turn around and head back the way we’d come.  It felt like the track back up would be long and tiring (and I was already getting weary), but it was a sensible call.  We’d avoid more dead-ends, reduce the chances of hurting ourselves, and, with a bit of luck, we might get back to being “just off track” again.

We dug deep.

Having made it back up the track, we made our next good decision… we asked someone for directions.  To be fair to us, the “someone” (a goat herd who appeared to have made the ascent in a Fiat Punto) wasn’t there when we’d passed the same spot earlier (at least not obviously anyway), so it wasn’t like we’d ignored the earlier opportunity… but if he had have been we probably would have done!

All lonely European goat herds are not made the same!

It turned out that we had missed the start of our descent by about 30 metres.  It was hidden from view by an unassuming olive tree in the middle of a clearing.  We had cycled straight past and onto the maintenance track.  I vaguely remembered the clearing, but not the olive tree!

Our relief was palpable.

We descended and headed home, tired and grateful (and having covered over 25 km).

To be fair to the guide, he passed us in a car as we approached the resort.  Apparently they had waited for us for some time, shouting and whistling (Plan A).  He had headed back up to the top of the hill to try and find us (Plan B).  I’m not sure what his Plan C was, but I’m glad it wasn’t put into action… it could have been highly embarrassing all round.  At least this way no-one will hear about it!

Born Survivor (Part I)

The Rhodes countryside is full of contradictions; it’s a mixture of farms and dry scrubland, rough hills and beautiful bays, luxury resorts and poor farmer’s shacks.  I’ve been doing a bit of “exploring” over the past couple of days… some of it intentional… some not so much!

Yesterday was the first day of a new week at the resort so a new bunch of guests were finding their bearings.  The organised rides weren’t particularly exciting, so I decided to head off in a different direction, to see if I could make it to Faliraki.

I had no huge desire to actually make it there… but it is the next town up the coast, and could offer an interesting challenge.  A couple of headlands stood in my way, and the main route is via a dual carriageway, all of which needed to be avoided.  My directions were severely limited, so I was very much on my own.

Place of Interest #1: Olympic-Sized Swimming Pool
I hope they checked the Changing Rooms were empty before boarding it up!

Tarmac was quickly replaced by gravel.  At times, the terrain was extremely rough, real off-road (although to be fair, these were the times when it turned out I had gone wrong!).

I’m not the best at looking around when I’m cycling, preferring instead to keep my eyes on the road in front of me, however the search for a route forced me to raise my head from time to time.

I happened across a few places of “interest”… post-apocalyptic scenes of developments, abandoned long ago by civilisation and now frequented only by pigeons and graffiti artists.  I also found a gun turret from a tank, apparently discarded on a hillside, an improvised children’s attraction perhaps?

Places of Interest #2: Gun Turret
Fun for all the family!

I found myself in a few places in which I was extra careful not to have an accident, the sorts of places that it felt like I wouldn’t be found for days.  Places I’d be competing with feral cats and stray dogs for food… there appeared to be plenty of competition!

Anthony Quinn Bay

Places of Interest #3: Anthony Quinn Bay
Looks better on the way down than the way up!

I didn’t make it to Faliraki.  Instead I stopped at Anthony Quinn Bay, a beautiful spot that seems out of place with its surroundings.

I made it back safely, and much more efficiently once I knew the route.  As it turned out, I was a day early with my concerns of getting lost and fending for myself…

(Inside and Outside) My comfort zone

Inside…

I suspect our Time Trial would have been a little more serious than this!

The official organised ride today was a “Time Trial”, an organised race along the sea front.  To the victor, a certificate and the honour of being the “Fastest cyclist to have turned up and competed in the Time Trial”, to the other participants, humiliation.

We all declined to participate.

This is probably the worst type of cycling for me.  At home my legs and my heart seem to be in an eternal episode of “The Weakest Link”.  In warmer climes my Heart Rate seems to be about 10 beats per minute higher.  As a result, I generally have some extra strength in my legs, but my Heart Rate is bouncing around at or above my limit.

Given my tendency to compete, I would have found it very difficult to stick to my Heart Rate limit in a competitive situation.  Not competing was the only safe option for me.

Fortunately, no-one else was particularly bothered about participating in this prestigious event either.

Instead, we headed up into the mountains for a leisurely climb, beverage and descent.  Approx. 26 km (with a climb of ~200m) in total, but done at a relatively sedate pace with frequent stops (mostly to get my Heart Rate under control!).

As is customary with these events, the conclusion of the outbound leg was marked with a refreshing beverage  🙂

A refreshing stop after a climb into the mountains!

Outside…

For some reason, every time I come on an “activity” holiday I experience the need to remind myself that I’m not a sailor.  This holiday is no different.

It was a beautiful, calm day. What could possibly go wrong?

Despite the fact that I wasn’t particularly comfortable that the temperature of the Mediterranean fell within “reasonable” limits, and that a sudden submersion may be “shocking” to the system, I had reluctantly agreed to have a sailing lesson with Daughter #2… it would be “a nice thing to do together”.

Our instructor was called Emily.  She appeared to have recently joined the Waterfront Crew and was learning the ropes, presumably to get some experience before doing a full season next year.

By the time we started to think about getting on the water the weather had become “blustery” (not sure if this is a nautical term, but it’s a more polite version of the thoughts that were going through my mind as we prepared to launch!).

The intention was to avoid shocks by staying upright and dry.  This wasn’t a sound plan!  Due to the waves hitting the shore, I was required to do a “fast launch” from the beach.  Daughter #2 would accompany Emily in another boat and we would practice our tacks and reaches.  It all sounded so simple in theory!

Emily:  “Sail towards the buoy and we’ll catch you up”
Me:  “OK.”
I headed off towards a buoy, and a bunch of other boats.
A few minutes passed…
No Emily.
Guy in Safety Boat:  “The start line is just over there.”
Me:  “Thanks, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
It turned out that there was also a race for the Sailors.  (Another race I’d decline to participate in).
Still no Emily.
I decided to tack to see if I could find Emily (& Daughter #2), resulting in…
Capsize #1.

As time passed the wind seemed to be getting more blustery.  The race started, but appeared to descend into chaos as boats capsized left, right and centre.

I learned that if you do a jibe, and you aren’t watching, you get hit on the head by the boom.  Hard!  (Fortunately I was wearing a helmet).  I wasn’t supposed to be doing a jibe.  I didn’t know I was doing a jibe.  I capsized again… and again!

I was not in control.  I am not a sailor.

Eventually Emily decided the wind was not appropriate for an introduction to sailing lesson.  She decided to drop Daughter #2 off on the beach and then return to assist me in getting to shore:

Emily:  “OK.  I’m going to drop Daughter #2 off.  I’ll be back.”
Me:  “OK.”
Emily:  “If you feel scared, I can go and get someone to sit in with you.”
I may have been completely out of my comfort zone, but I was not about to respond in the affirmative to this.  What was the worst thing that could happen?  I had already been beaten around the head, and de-boated on multiple occasions.  I was more than capable of sitting in a boat and waiting for a few minutes… wasn’t I?

When Emily did return, the master plan was for me to head towards the beach and shout to people to let them know that I didn’t know what I was doing.

Emily:  “Tell them you don’t know what you’re doing.  Someone will help you.”
Me:  “OK.”

Eventually I got the attention of one of the safety boats.  Purely the fact that I was upright meant that I was 3rd in line for assistance.

Me:  “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Guy in the Safety Boat:  “OK, but we need to deal with them…” (pointing to an upturned boat) “then them… then it’s your turn.”
Me:  “OK.”

I didn’t need the safety boat.  My next capsize proved to be fatal.  We abandoned the boat and I joined Emily in hers for the final trip to shore, slightly battered and bruised but relieved, I have to say!.  That’s what you call quality family time!

It turned out to be a beautiful evening with a cracking moon!

Post Script:  Apparently my rudder wasn’t locking into place.  This would have created an obstacle to effective steering or control.  This sailing experience may not have been a complete success but perhaps all hope isn’t lost!

Rain stops play

I am not good at patience.

An all too familiar scene!

I have always known that there are some professions that just aren’t for me.  I would struggle to be a Cricket Umpire, for example, not only because my eye-sight is rubbish, and getting worse, but because I would find it impossible to make decisions on when to stop / start playing because of weather… with me in charge, bad light would not be a factor, and only the heaviest of downpours would warrant a break for rain.

I remember being at school and looking out of the window, hoping and praying that the weather would improve so that we could compete in whichever sport was lined up for that afternoon / evening.  Whether it was the frost releasing its hold on the Rugby pitch, or the clouds dissipating so we could do athletics, there would often be doubt, and all too often, disappointment.

How the America’s Cup Race Director was able to make the calls he did is beyond me… wind too strong, wind too weak, wind in the wrong direction, even a perfectly reasonable race taking too long.  I know he had strict rules that he was enforcing, but they didn’t always feel like they were in the spirit of the event, particularly for the spectators.

For me, if there are two teams present and ready to compete, that’s exactly what they should do!

This would be a handy device for today’s conditions!  Unfortunately I didn’t pack mine!

Today is one of those “rain stops play” days.  A storm has blown in from Africa and thrown a spanner in the works of the resort we’re in.  Water sports have been suspended.  Even the cycling has been abandoned due to risk of being blown off or being struck by lightning.  To be fair, the weather is fairly severe; strong, gusty winds, heavy rain, thunder and lightning.  Safety first!

Today is therefore going to be a different day.  All activities have been moved inside.  There is significant competition for stations in the gym and in the indoor pool.  There seem to be groups of children in every nook and cranny around the hotel.  Everyone seems to be having fun!

I need to take a deep breath, wait patiently for my opportunity to do some exercise…

Wait a moment… it looks like there’s a break in the clouds… maybe, just maybe, I can get out for a ride, even if it is a quick one!!!

An ice cold beer

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Officially my most craved after meal. I eat lots of fish, but not like this!

Since I’ve been “being good”, people have asked me on a regular basis whether I enjoy my new regime.  The best way I can describe it is that it is like moving overseas to live in a new country… it is new and exciting but there are aspects of my old life that I miss.  This can take various forms but often revolves around food and drink; the passing smell of some fine, forbidden food, the craving for something salty, an indulgent dessert, a hit of caffeine, the crispy surface and fluffy centre of a well-cooked chip, or an ice cold beer on a hot sunny day.

untitled (47)The physical environment obviously has a major influence on my cravings, as do associations with the “old life”.  Ice cold beer has tended to be a major feature of most of my foreign holidays; a pool-side treat to help pass the day, a pre-dinner tipple to start the evening off, or a refreshing late night pick-me-up.  In fact, ice cold beer seems to feature quite highly in many of my holiday memories!  Not this one!

I have now gone 122 days without alcohol passing my lips (not that I’m counting!).  I suspect I had enough in the preceding 122 days for my average still to be on the high side of the healthy limit.  My abstinence has definitely helped me to lose weight and get fit.  While I appreciate there is medical evidence that supports the fact that drinking some alcohol is better for you than drinking none, I still don’t feel like I’m quite ready for moderation… yet.  I’m still an “all or nothing” kind of guy, even in my new life.

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The destination for today’s ride… a chapel famed for its fertility assistance. Enter at your peril!

I’ve been cycling regularly since we’ve been in Rhodes.  There is a small group that gathers every morning for an organised Mountain Bike ride.  The typical ride tends to head into the mountains to visit places of “interest”.  We ride on a combination of road (tarmac) and off-road (dirt / rocks), and the terrain is generally flat with the occasional steep incline (tough on the way up, treacherous on the way down).  It’s a bit different to the road biking back home!

Depending on the difficulty and duration of the route, the main group may splinter, creating a break-away group as we look for some more continuous cycling.  Given it’s my main source of exercise each day, I’m keen to make the most of it so a longer, steady ride is just the ticket for me.  There have been a couple of really good sessions that have been physically challenging (mostly within the limits my Heart Monitor allows!) and enjoyable.

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Nothing fancy… just ice cold!

Refreshment is a key feature of these break-aways.  Identifying a target destination with an appropriate watering hole is an essential part of each ride.  For most of the party an ice cold beer is the beverage of choice.  For me, I’ve been adventurous enough to have a Fanta Limon.  I have to admit, the beers do look incredibly tempting.

I know there’s nothing really stopping me from having one (other than the distinct possibility that I wouldn’t be able to cycle any further!), but I really am trying to be good.  Yes, I may be being too hard on myself, but I’m determined to stick to the regime.

I will however set myself a goal… when I cross the line having completed my London – Amsterdam – Brussels cycle next May I will have a beer.  I will make sure it is ice cold, served in a glass straight from the freezer, and I will enjoy it.  A lot!