Wednesday, August 22, 2012

30 days to go..

£1,645 raised so far for Cancer Research

Dealing with grief has made me selfish with my time and careful about whose company I choose. I like to hang out with my friends but I have absolutely zero tolerance for making small talk in the pub with work colleagues. This is not because I don’t like the people I work with, far from it, but the trivial banter that I normally find entertaining with the right crowd requires an immense effort, my heart is just not in it, and relative to the big recent event in my life it just seems so, well, trivial. Luckily, I always have my triathlon training as an out. Or the myriad elements of life administration that have sprung up like a geyser and are now raining down on me in an Excel monsoon.
            My brain is trying to cope with the enormity of what has happened and activities that keep me focussed and present are the best at helping me do that. Exercise is an excellent tool that I am using to chip away at the monumental sadness that looms over everything. The release of endorphins that accompanies a big session in the pool, a long ride, or a hard run, doesn’t make me forget, nor do I want to forget, but it gives me the boost I need to focus and carry on. Because life doesn’t stop. No matter where you are emotionally or mentally, no matter what awful event has just befallen you, the number 83 keeps on rolling down the road, and the taxi driver will still be shouting at the cyclist:

“Excuse me mate! – I know you just dangerously cut me up in heavy traffic while cycling along wearing huge Dr Dre cans on your head and failing to observe any of the hazards around you, but more importantly, did you hear about Olly’s….Yeah, I know, terrible. Anyway, you go ahead, and have a good day!”

The breath – an automatic action, a bodily necessity. A vital function for life but one we don’t think about unless we are struggling for it, or focussing on it and practicing it. In yoga, drawing attention to the breath helps to direct the consciousness to a point and still the mind of chatter. During sport, control of the breath is key to performance. Now I am training for a triathlon my breathing is of constant interest to me. It is sometimes regular and controlled when running at a steady pace; two steps on the in-breath, two steps on the out-breath. Or there is the unpleasant feeling of claustrophobia when swimming; a snatched breath with the head rotated to the side followed by the constant exhalation underwater. Or, the fast shallow pant when out of the saddle pounding up a hill. Each time I am aware of my breath I think of mum and her fight for air. Each inhalation was a fight, a battle to get enough oxygen into the body to keep in functioning. In the end, she lost that fight. But I am going to take more than my share, for her. Great, gulping gasps to fill my lungs as I charge at full tilt to the top of Muswell Hill. Ignoring the burning, muscles using the gas fuel faster than I can supply it. Sucking, swallowing, slurping, fumes and dust. Dirty London air, keep my body running.

Last Friday I planned to go for a 2 hour and 20 minute cycle before work. Which would mean getting up at 5 am. Why would I consider doing this? Because my training timetable told me to. And that piece of A4 paper, printed from the internet, and taped to my bedroom wall, is the most revered deity in my life right now. I don’t have to think about which exercise I need to do on a particular day, because someone else, far more practiced at this regimented lifestyle than I, has typed it all into a grid and made it available to download. So, I am now programmed to build my days around blocks of exercise – 7 sessions a week, squeezed into 5 days, with Tuesday and Saturday off. Luckily, I have retained enough autonomy to make sensible adjustments. So, I cycled 40 miles to, and around, Richmond Park on Friday evening instead. And this is one of the marvellous things about London; in under an hour, one can be cycling in a huge beautiful park, full of deer, watching the last sun of the day glint off the steel and glass towers in the distance. Cheers. And then, I felt incredibly self-righteous as I powered past the Shoreditch drunks on my way home.

The next day, I did it all again, to go and buy a wetsuit at Sigma Sport in Kingston. It was not nearly as unpleasant, or peppered with comedy moments, as I hoped it would be. But I got one, and plenty more semi-erotic sportswear that leaves nothing to the imagination. Practical? Yes. But it doesn’t make you go any faster. Commuters travelling 5 kilometres to work please note – you don’t need a £120 cycling jersey or a£2,000 Bianchi. If you’re being overtaken by an old lady on a Boris Bike, you need to go back to the drawing board.

Brain malfunction - I cycle to work everyday. I don't consider this part of my training because my office is only ten minutes down the road, and I prefer to take a measured pace in order to avoid looking like I've just come out of a sauna, wrapped in cling-film. But the daily commute on my velocipede, through London's streets, has hard-wired my brain with certain habits. So much so, that when walking home yesterday, on foot because I was suited and booted for a client meeting, I felt an urge to stick my left arm out as I turned off the main road and onto my street. Worrying. Imagine if everyone did this? Limbs flung out violently to the side, belting nearby pedestrians in the face in order to indicate that you intend to step off the street and into Primark. There would be chaos in the streets. We would all be wearing helmets, however, so injuries would be few, and bells for walkers would be mandatory. Which leads me to ask; do bells for runners exist? A little chime, strapped to the forehead, or some other convenient location, would work wonders to warn families, walking Reservoir Dogs style down the road, dominating the pavement, to disperse immediately or prepare to be quietly tutted. 

Sunday run. This is the training run I did on Sunday. It was delightful at 30 degrees Celsius. I had to stop half way to buy water in a corner shop near Canary Wharf, and apologise to the worried looking shopkeeper as litres of sweat ran down my body and onto his floor. I have an old Garmin Forerunner 350 (now selling for £180 on Ebay!), which sits like a shed on my wrist, but still works well and communicates with the excellent website, Even if on closer inspection the device reports long meandering diversions from the canal tow path and across the water itself, I am a sucker for this type of geeky performance monitoring. 

Diet report - maintaining a healthy diet has not been difficult and I am enjoying huge amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables. But, last night I went to the Bull and Last, near Kentish Town in London, for a family birthday. Most people would call it a pub, and technically that is correct, but I prefer to think of it as a Bacchanalian paradise of delightful excess. This place is too good resist, and it's practically impossible to eat anything that isn't rich here anyway, so I piled in up to the elbows:

To start: crispy pig cheek with pickled watermelon, toasted sesame and basil.
Followed by:  Deadham Vale onglet with triple-cooked chips and bearnaise sauce.
Rounded off with: salty sweet churros, dulce de leche and yoghurt sorbet.

Welcome, to a magical place I call Decadencia. You will enjoy your stay. This one meal alone contains more calories than the entire Sky racing team burns during the course of the Tour de France, but that's okay because I drank it liquidised through a straw while running on a treadmill, strapped to a heart monitor. 

I am going to Wales tomorrow with my sister, to stay in a cabin in the woods with no electricity or phone reception. We have booked a canoe trip, and horse riding, and I’m going to test out my wetsuit in the River Wye. Goodbye, London. Get me to the wilderness immediately.


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  1. Great blog Olly. Very well written, moving and entertaining as well... will sponsor you! Rachel x

    1. Thank you Rachel, very nice of you to say so. And thanks for the sponsorship too! x