I Love the Smell of Neoprene in the Morning...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The veins in my hands bulge as my heart works overtime trying to get the blood around my body.

There's a bit of a standing joke in our office. Many of the people there are my friends as well as my colleagues, so occasionally, when we're out and we meet strangers, the dreaded question "How do you all know each other?" comes up. What follows is the briefest possible description of our work (anything more elaborate would render the listener unconscious within seconds), followed by the additional snippet that our company is split into sectors - Gareth works in sugar, Simon deals with starch, Rob's in charge of coffee and (here comes the funny bit) John's in rubber!

You can almost feel the extra buoyancy even without getting wet.

Well, tonight, for the first time, I finally was. I can't say I enjoyed it much, to be frank. At first I was convinced they'd sent me the wrong size, but later (long after I'd taken the suit off) I read the instructions for putting it on and discovered I might not have done it quite correctly. Even so, I'm fairly sure the rapid loss of blood flow to, well, everywhere will at best only be slightly reduced by putting the thing on as per the instructions.

Given my recent weight gain, I'm surprised the table didn't collapse.

If the photographs look like they were taken in a hurry, that's because they were - if we'd hung around any longer, I may have passed out. And I'm only slightly joking.

I apologise for the recent lack of entries. I have a post in mind about just how much time this training for the triathlon is taking up, but ironically, I haven't yet found the time to write it. Suffice it to say for now that I'm getting up in the morning, cycling to work, working all day, and then either cycling, running, swimming or doing a combination of all three in the evenings. By the time I'm done, sleeping is just about all I'm good for.

Speaking of which, it's way past my bedtime.

A Sunny Day at Lords

Friday, July 15, 2005

Last Sunday, I was lucky enough to go to Lords to watch a one-day international featuring England and Australia. The cricket wasn’t up to much to be honest, but Lords on a sunny day, packed to the rafters because the Australians are in town is a special place regardless of what actually happens in the game.

As the result drifted inexorably towards the Aussies, my attention wandered and I imagined how the place would look when it plays host to the Olympic archery events in 2012. I got a little shiver of excitement thinking about it.

The reality of what had happened in London the day after the Olympic announcement was never far away. When John and I got off the train in Paddington we asked a policeman for directions to Lords. He started to tell us which Tube we should get, but I interrupted him and told him that we wanted to walk. He gave us directions and we set off. I had an urge to rush back and tell him that we wanted to walk because it was a nice day and it wasn’t far, and not because we were scared to go on the Tube. As we walked to the ground past the high screens and floral tributes at Edgeware Road, I wondered if that was entirely true.

Once we’d picked up our tickets and made it to the ground, another reminder came in the form of a long queue as every bag was searched and every body patted down. By and large no one minded missing the opening few overs in the name of keeping safe, although one big-gobbed Cockney idiot felt the need to hassle the security staff about how long it was taking. That was irritating enough, but when his stage whisper could be heard throughout the minute’s silence that we all observed from outside the North Gate, I was surprised no one took a swing at him.

After the Olympic venue announcement I was very excited by it all. After Thursday’s bombings, that excitement disappeared in the face of such grim reality. But sitting there in the sunshine at Lords on Sunday imagining Olympic archers vying for medals in 2012 brought some of that excitement back again. I suppose in a way we owe it to those who died to carry on – to get excited by the trivialities of sport, to celebrate a society that allows us the freedom to pursue such trivialities, to take the Tube or a bus.

Just by Paddington station, there is a shop that I expect Lord Coe didn’t go out of his way to let the IOC visit when they came to London. I’m not quite sure it captures the ethos of the 2012 bid.

Warning: Lycra!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Thanks to Adams and Sorrell, the Guardian's live sport coverage is back on the trail of trying to get me to change my name to Troy (see posts at 10:41 and 10:58).

In response to Tim's (frankly disturbing) pleas for photos of me in tight fitting sportswear, I give you the photos that no amount of airbrushing would have made acceptable to publish. Those of a nervous disposition should look away now.

I think it's known in the trade as a farmer's tan.

It may look like I'm pulling a funny face for the camera, but the truth is that those shorts are tighter than a photo finish.

"Nice day... probably rain."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I was in London last Thursday to meet the guy from the publishing house who had expressed an interest in what I’m doing. Needless to say, other events that day took over somewhat from both the exciting news of London getting the 2012 games and of me meeting a publisher. Simon Barnes in the Times put it well:

“Sport requires a certain innocence. Without innocence, the glorious inconsequentialities of sport could not exist. We demand that people take part in sport as if it were a life-and-death matter, and yet all of us, participants and audience both, know that it is all most frightfully silly. It’s only that without the assumption of seriousness, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

And it’s hard to be serious about silly things when there are serious things going on all around you. Most Londoners set off to work euphoric on Thursday morning after the events in Singapore on Wednesday – in Britain, hope and joy are things that we tend to be reluctant to let ourselves indulge in, but Thursday morning felt good. The games are coming to London; it felt like the world had given us a vote of confidence. Not even the most miserable stereotype of a Briton would have dared suggest the extreme to which we could be whisked in less than 24 hours.

Statue John directed me to a blog he had read with a first-hand account of one of the bombs going off on a Tube train. Stuck in a carriage rapidly filling up with smoke the writer observes:

Once again, calm-down-guy managed to get everyone to do just that. Silence decended on the carriage apart from people choking and coughing, then someone near me quipped, “Well, at least we got the Olympics!”

There’s always one. And yet, at the same time, I understand that urge – the need to normalise it all with a joke – even if the joke betrays your most fervent wish to turn the clock back five minutes to when you were talking about sport and not staring your own death in the face.

I was going to blog about my whole day – about the meeting with Chrysalis; about waiting in the Hilton for the buses to start up again; about the woman sat near me telling her friend how she had hailed the number 30 bus but the driver hadn’t stopped because she had a pram; about finally getting back to Oxford and going for drinks with the Plants cricket team in the evening and seeing again that look of excitement and interest that certain types of people get when they hear about my challenge for the first time; about Stevo the Kiwi drinking enough lemon beer to suggest that he could try and do all the events from the winter Olympics so that between us we’d have the full set; about leaving my keys in the office and having to sleep in Neil’s living room – but in the end, it was hard to see that any of it mattered.

Simon Barnes finished his article, and I’ll finish this post, with something quite apposite:

”Sport is, above all, a celebration of being alive. Those people who willingly and frivolously turn it into a festival of being dead are bastards. Their eagerness to spoil the world’s innocent frivolities spells out the eternal truth about terrorism. It is this: terrorism is not about achieving things; terrorism is an end in itself.”

London get the 2012 Olympics

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

"I bet it didn't take you so long to open the envelope with the bribe in it, did it, Jacques?"

I didn’t think I was all that bothered – London and Paris (and it had looked likely to be one of those two for quite some time) are both pretty close by – either way, I’ll be attending the Olympic games in seven years.

Perhaps it was the brilliantly staged, tension-building show the IOC staged to announce the winner, although that’s unlikely, as I only got to a TV two minutes before the announcement, and even then, it was a TV in Dixons surrounded by other TV’s showing music videos.

Perhaps it was the accidental tension that arose when it seemed Jacques Rogge had forgotten how to open an envelope (did it ever take anyone so long? And why even bother? The vote was finalised an hour beforehand – he knew what was in the envelope already – why didn’t he just tell us?).

Perhaps it was the big sweaty man next to me in the shop who muttered “Get on with it!” just loud enough for everyone to hear – something in his urgent desire to know (one way or the other) spread throughout the thirty lunchtime shoppers who were by then staring at the screen.

Perhaps it was because I still remember the addled nonsense that was spouted by the drunken heckler at Stephen Martin’s presentation in February, and in a way I still hoped that London would get the games just to spite her.

Whatever the reason, as I stood there watching the head of the IOC fumble with the envelope, I found myself violently gnawing a fingernail and willing him to say the word “London”

And so he did. The little crowd in Dixons cheered, in that slightly self-conscious way that a ‘crowd’ of less than fifty people tends to, before breaking into a terribly English round of applause. I joined in, with both the cheer and the clapping. The news has cheered me up.

It’s easy to be cynical – about Live8, about the Olympic bid, about anything really – a well-timed cynical comment gets a laugh every time. But, for all their failings, these things have benefits, even if those benefits sometimes aren’t as identifiable or quantifiable as their costs. I’m going to set cynicism aside for a minute and say that I’m delighted London got the 2012 games.

Just as long as it doesn’t mean I have to listen to Heather Small singing that bloody song every five minutes for the next seven years.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Earworms – not my latest injury, but the neat way to describe songs that get stuck in your head during the course of a day. On his blog, Swiss Toni hosts a guest spot every Friday in which he gets a loyal reader to submit their earworms from the week. Inspired by that, I thought I’d list my top five earworms-to-exercise-by. So, in no particular order:

All These Things That I’ve Done – The Killers
This sums up my whole challenge in a way, from its plaintive cries for someone to “help me out” to the spookily-apt-in-my-case line: “I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand” As I’m running along, I imagine a BBC montage of my exploits set to this song. Every time I hear it, that montage gets a bit more elaborate. At the moment, the long, thumping build-up where the singer chants, “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” features me standing on a 10-metre diving board looking terrified. As it reaches a crescendo, I take off in slow motion and perform an intricate series of twists and turns on my way to a perfect, splash-free entry, drawing gasps from the crowd and a perfect score from the judges. Something tells me that if the montage ever happens it’s more likely to feature an agonising belly-flop set to the music from the Benny Hill Show.

Square One – Coldplay
I suppose the lyrics are quite apt in this song too (“you just want somebody listening to what you say”), but it’s the rhythm I like it for when I’m running. Every time it comes on the iPod I have the same thought: ‘I should seek out other songs with the same time signature to help me run’, but I never do. I had a similar song when I played golf (Moanin’ by Ray Charles) that always got me swinging at a good tempo if I could make it stick in my head, but that’s a hard thing to do. No matter how many times I listened to it on the way to the course, it was always easily dislodged, not least because it doesn’t have any lyrics. I’ve had more than one promising round ruined by a playing partner telling himself to “Wake up!” after a bad shot – you try getting rid of the Boo Radleys when you’re two under after five and trying to hold it together.

Meantime – The Futureheads
This is more a warning to anyone out there who jogs but has a weak heart – don’t ever run and listen to the Futureheads at the same time. Swiss Toni’s description of them as “A new wave barbershop quartet with thick Sunderland accents” doesn’t do justice to the Jam-inspired tempo at which their two-minute songs race to a finish. I found myself utterly out of breath for the first time in a long time last week and wondering why until I realised that while one Coldplay song will get me round a lap, or even a lap and a half of the park, the Futureheads had knocked out half their album by the time I’d made it round the first time, and I was foolishly trying to keep up with them.

Tame – The Pixies
As with the Futureheads, training to the Pixies is fraught with danger. Both bands will probably be useful for sprint training when the time comes, but I suspect that neither of them is doing my triathlon prospects much good. Nirvana were lauded for their ‘revolutionary’ song writing style involving the combination of slower, softer melodious interludes with frantic, neurotic and very, very loud spells of angst ridden guitar thrashing. But they never tried to claim they’d done anything new and freely admitted having copied the Pixies in this respect. So it is that a casual dog walker in the park may have been privy on occasion to the not entirely pretty sight of me suddenly bursting into a bit of a sprint for no apparent reason in the middle of a fairly gentle jog – little does he know that in my mind I’m being chased by an axe-wielding Frank Black who is screeching “Tame!”

Beautiful Day – U2
This song has it all – a good tempo, an uplifting melody, a chorus that makes you want to sing along (which I would advise against whilst running – for one thing, singing when you’ve got headphones on and can’t hear yourself is something to do in the privacy of your own home, but, more importantly, breathing is a key part of both endeavours and trying to do both at once is a bit like trying to talk on the phone while you’re playing the bassoon). Of course, when ITV used this song as their football show theme tune a few years ago, the sporting connection was sealed. On that note, another word of caution – listening to this song whilst running in the park can lead to you embarrassingly trying to join in with children’s football games as though they’re hearing the music too. They aren’t – and if their watching parents get even a little bit nervous about just how tight your Lycra running tights are, you could be looking at a seven stretch.


Inspired by the above tracks, triathlon training is still going well, even if I have been focusing rather too heavily on the running in recent weeks. I finally ordered my wetsuit and my triathlon outfit (very camp) yesterday. When said items arrive I will of course do my best to match Tim’s startling efforts to land a catalogue modelling deal before hopping on my bike and cycling to the swimming pool, or maybe even a swimming lake!