Wednesday, 24 December 2008

My religious education must have been lacking...

I haven't blogged recently. Despite not rowing (and instead recovering, trying to avoid being sent to Swindon next year, trying to recruit anyone vaguely suitable for work, and trying to bolster my chances of receiving, and the size of, a xmas bonus, and enjoying a new relationship), I've been busier than usual...

I'll 'fess up now to having a GCSE in Religious Studies. I got a B.  The teachers were so shocked at this under-achievement that they sent my paper back to be re-marked.

I still got a B.

It turns out my understanding of religion wasn't that fab. (This was about 14 years ago, and I'm confident I've learned nothing of religion since.)

It was therefore with some surprise that I found myself elected at a recent dinner party to perform a nativity play using only the stuffed toys normally reserved for the hostess' dogs.

Disclaimer: Any offence caused by the following hazy recollections is entirely unintentional and purely the result of drunkeness, ignorance and my heathen, communist, comprehensive education.

So, with the cameras rolling (I'm assuming this debacle will find itself onto Youtube at some point...), I set to work. Casting Jesus was easy. He was an infant during the nativity. (There are no flies on me. Jesus probably had a few, though, being born in a stable and surrounded by donkey dung.) The only juvenile stuffed toy available was a tiger. Ergo, Jesus was cast.

Mary and Joseph were similarly simple. I had available a small stuffed goose and a penguin of similar size. These being the only toys with the same number of legs as Mary and Joseph, I popped them in place behind the tiger. They looked proud parents. The penguin was Joseph. Audience members with poor eyesight could almost be persuaded that our Pingu was in fact Joe in a dinner jacket.

There was also a cow. I was more or less convinced that there were no cows at the nativity, but given that a tiger, goose and penguin were already in place, the cow played the part of a donkey.

I had a bit of difficulty with casting the lion, but then remembered that somewhere in the dusty religious tomes a lion lies down with a lamb and this is a good thing. We didn't have a lamb at our disposal, but did have an enormous stuffed sheep. The only difficulty to be resolved arose from the relative sizes of the lion and the sheep, so I put the lion on top and they spent the evening merrily lying down together.

We were still short of a few wise men. Fortunately other guests had been roaming the flat and had uncovered four plastic fish. These were offered to 'stand' in for the wise men (and reconciled to the original story as being freshly arrived leftovers from the feeding of the five thousand), though sadly they each had a pair of legs too few compared to the wise men in the story, but they did manage to turn up suitably late to the party. (The wise men did turn up late, didn't they?)

The fourth fish was given the part of a shepherd - somewhere in the dilute, alcoholic haze, I'd forgotten to cast that role.

The nativity scene was now in top gear with a full complement of players. More animals appeared out of the woodwork (or got hunted down and given to me by other guests so that I could apply my own particular brand of religious understanding to them). An ebony rhino and elephant dropped into the scene - I figured they were probably taking a holiday from the Garden of Eden and ad swung by the stable to find out what all the fuss was about and report back. A Chinese dragon then appeared. This was a little harder to rationalise - I initially thought it was there to add a bit of cultural diversity and prevent the scene from looking a bit too WASP*-ish, but on closer inspection, the fish representing Balthasar had forgotten to bring his myrrh. Remembering that the wise chaps had come from the East, I realised that the dragon was a replacement gift acquired during Bally's recent package holiday to China.

It was at about this time that my strategically-acquired glass of water was replaced by a glass of wine - another miracle represented and proof, if it were needed, that the gods were indeed smiling on our interpretation of the nativity.

Sadly, by the time the pièce de résistance Dancing Macarena Gorrilla arrived, all parts had been cast and it had to macarena to itself beyond the pale of the nativity scene...

Culturally-sensitive, diversity-embracing, festively, seasonally good wishes to you all

*White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Because, as we all know, all attendees at the nativity were WASPs...

Friday, 21 November 2008

Thursday afternoon

...or "I have a rather nice view from my desk"

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Monday Morning...

...or "Living in Hammersmith is actually OK"

All things considered, it has been a pretty good start to the week. A great sunrise and an entire day of geekery at work on Monday, and by close of business today I'm halfway through an external audit of the black magic which is the corporate quality system, confident that the auditor will wet himself with excitement on sight of the integrated electronic quality system (yup, it is exactly as exciting as it sounds...), and go away happy having recertified us compliant with a new, shiny, exciting, international quality standard.

I woke up this morning with this stuck in my head:

I can only suppose it was the thought of the impending quality audit that put me in an incredibly good mood...

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Good stuff...

Everything was beautiful as I walked over Hammersmith bridge this morning. The moon, a massive, peachy-gold orb somewhere over Chiswick, was setting in a rich and welcoming blue sky. To the other side of the bridge, the lights of the planes flying overhead reflected clearly in the river, a milky blue from the promise of day break to the East. Birdsong was perfectly audible even over the constant drone of the traffic. A tree, its turning leaves backlit by a streetlight, appeared to be dripping gold. The air was crisp and cold. Despite a day at work beckoning, I was left with the impression that, at that particular moment, life really couldn't get any better.

All that from my short jaunt over the bridge - I guess I must be in a good mood...

Friday, 7 November 2008


I'm racing on Saturday. 7km head race (time trial).

I can't quite reconcile this with having been not entirely at my best over the last couple of months.

About four weeks ago I sat in the bar at the club attempting to have a chat with the coach. Being a high-transmit sort of person and giving the impression of lacking a 'receive' button, I was limited to interjecting the odd word into his soliloquy, but nevertheless managed to convey the assertion that I would indeed be fit to race 7 km four weeks later, despite at that point having lost 4 kg in weight almost exclusively from my thighs. Obviously, it was a complete lie, and there was absolutely no way I thought I'd be in race shape a month later, but figured it was worth keeping open the option of racing, and doing so required telling the odd porky.

Remarkably, four weeks on I'm actually in excellent shape. I might have had a few small issues with producing solid sh*ts, but it doesn't seem to be impacting my cardio-vascular fitness nor having sufficient impact on my strength to be noticeable over mid/long distances. Even after being ill and coming back with a light training load, I'm outperforming the rest of the club in the gym. (At least, I'm outperforming the portion of the club who turn up to the gym.) I'm fit to race... but I'm not up for racing.


This bothers me. Four weeks ago, I figured that by now I'd be well up for the fight, but be let down my lack of physical fitness and wellness. I never imagined I'd be in good shape physically and (at best) indifferent mentally. Gee-ing myself up for a competition is not something I've ever struggled with before. True, before I took a few weeks off, I'd been finding it difficult to motivate myself to do the training, and wondered whether I was actually enjoying rowing and, if not, whether I ought to find something more enjoyable to do. Having later admitted defeat to illness, I took some time off and figured that my lack of motivation was actually due to being ill. Now I pretty much feel fine, but still am not enjoying the training.

Enough navel-gazing. I'm getting too close to the obvious conclusion that actually I'm just not enjoying rowing as much as I need to in order to justify the time commitment, and I ought to find something else to do. (I'm still holding out some hope that my lack of enjoyment is a hangover from being ill and everything will be fine once I've been fixed, or at least once I've caught up on sleep.)

I'm rather hoping that something miraculous will happen between now and the start of the race which will see me adopt my usual 'wannabe killer' attitude. It'd better happen, otherwise it's going to be a painful experience in all the wrong senses.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Digestive incompetence


It's half eight. I should be at work, or at least making my way there. Instead I'm drenched in sweat, and in bed.

I experimented on Saturday night with acting like a normal person, having a meal out, and a couple of beers. I had planned carefully, and selected a Polish restaurant (home to well-cooked vegetables, potatoes and meat). I chose a pasteurised beer. I wasn't expecting to have any issues.

Sunday morning I had some diarrhoea. Just a few bouts, and nothing too alarming. I was a bit peeved at its re-appearance after a fairly successful week of digestion, but figured it would probably settle down if I treated my guts with kid gloves for a day or so. I went easy on them at lunch with a vegetable soup, and had no immediate problems. I went easy on my guts at dinner, with boiled to death vegetables, rice and a recovery shake. I thought it'd be fine.

Overnight I've realised that something has upset the gut gods and they are showing their displeasure.

I haven't slept much. Too much running to the loo and pain from those blasted cramps that I thought I'd left behind. They are miserable things, those cramps. It feels as though my intestines are the gut gods' spaghetti, being stabbed, pulled out and then twirled on their forks. The gut gods are never in a hurry to eat. They play with their food. I wish I wasn't on the menu...

So, anyway. In between trips to the loo this morning, I've called work and explained that I have a bout of gastric incompetence. They are already aware I have the digestive age of a newborn baby - I've previously had to explain why I was slumped over my desk and clutching my guts whilst contorting my features into an expression of agony in a professionally unbecoming manner. Rather me than them, apparently.

It's a bit odd that I'm drenched in sweat. The window was open all night and the room a pleasant temperature. I shouldn't have been oozing buckets. I'd like to change the sheets but have that feeling of weak grimness which easily persuades me that changing the bedding is too much effort at this moment in time, and that turning over the pillows and duvet would be a far better (if grimmer) plan.


Sick of the symptoms.

Would like someone to be able to tell me what's up, so I have a better chance of controlling it. Right now I'd also like to turn the clock back, politely decline Saturday's social event and have another jacket spud with tuna yoghurt and a few pints of water instead. But I can't do that. I might be able to sleep, though...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

In case you missed it earlier...

...the 'King of Viagra' has been jailed for fraud.

There are a number of aspects I like about this story:

  • a bad guy has been jailed;
  • a doctor has been found guilty of flogging paint-covered placebos...;
  • ... to numerous Americans, hampering their chances of procreation and limiting population growth (thus in many ways providing a valuable public service);
  • From further research, I understand the fakes were sold at £10-£15 a pop, which suggests the chap has only managed to flog in the region of 10,000 of the things, which strikes me as being a bit inept;
  • It particularly tickles me that, despite the victims being located across the globe, the proceeds of crime will benefit the UK.

The last point suggests to me that, rather than jailing this chap at the present time, it would have been far more beneficial for him to be allowed to continue his fraud, in fact, perhaps being coached in the art, making greater profits before being apprehended and reaping greater rewards for the rest of us from the proceeds of crime. Of course, none of this will actually make any difference to my tax bill (or yours, for that matter), but I (rather cynically) find it heartening to think that this chap has unwittingly brought cash into the UK economy which might keep a few consultants in work for a few more months.

Incidentally, acquaintances inform me that the public sector is spending on consultancy like there's no tomorrow. This is largely because, as far as they're concerned, there is no tomorrow and all budgets will be slashed. But meanwhile public sector consultancy is booming. Its a funny old ecomony...

In other news, I am immensely pleased to report the recent production of several solid sh*ts. I cannot begin to describe how proud I am of them. (So pleased was I, I had to restrain myself from taking pictures...)

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Small victories

To set the scene, in the last month I have:

  • lost 4kgs;
  • produced a large quantity of diarrhoea;
  • produced three solid sh7ts;
  • had perhaps two nights' uninterrupted sleep;
  • missed six training sessions;
  • missed a wedding;
  • spent a lot of time when I should have been asleep doubled up with stomach cramps; and
  • spent a lot of time when I should have been working making exceedingly good use of the spacious and capacious ladies loos.

Surprisingly, given that I've had a whole month of gastric incompetence and averaged less than 5 hrs broken sleep a night, it's been mostly OK. The last couple of weeks when I've started losing weight more quickly have been a bit of a drag. At my current rate of weight loss, I will cease to exist around the start of 2010. But even that's not as bad as it seems, as I'm assuming that before then, my digestive system will have bucked up its ideas and started behaving normally (or at least that the absolute rate of weight loss will reduce as I get lighter).

I should probably have jacked in training a bit earlier than I did, and with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps going for a run last Sunday (just because I happened to be near some decent terrain) might have been a bit of a daft idea. It was a damned nice run, though...

I got a bit desperate last week. (It was a particularly miserable week.) I had a look on eBay to see whether anyone was flogging a spare, functioning digestive system, but sadly I found none, so it looks like I'm stuck with the irritable one I've got. Irritable is probably not the right adjective. It probably was irritable before I did my best to ignore it and continue training (despite food hanging around in my bod for somewhere between 20 minutes and 7 hrs) in the hope it'd pass. It's probably now reached the stage of being really rather pissed off with me.

I guess I'm not the most caring owner my digestive system could have had (and given the amount I eat, it's probably already done an average lifetime's work). If I ever had cause to put my digestive system up for sale on eBay, I think I'd be hard pressed to find any takers. I suppose it more or less has end-to-end functionality, seems free of ulcers, and doesn't appear to have any inflammatory disease, so maybe there could be a few people out there who'd be prepared to take it. They'd be unlucky sods, though...

On the up side, courtesy of a complete lack of rowing, I've already managed to grab about 24 hrs sleep this weekend, and am about to hit the sack in search of some more. I'm counting this as a victory - the improvement has got to start somewhere, hasn't it...?

Monday, 22 September 2008


On the whiteboard which sits on the wall across from my desk at work is written the following:

"Striving for consistency in our wrongnitude"

and the eternal question:

"product dependency map" or "product dependency network"?

and the most recent addition:

What does 'methodology' define which isn't defined by 'method'?

To the best of my knowledge, the whiteboard has never had anything useful written on it.

The first statement was an attempt to define a mission for the pedants who make it their work to stifle progress by imposing endless 'controls' programme assurance function. The second is an example of the sort of question which keeps one of the afore-mentioned function awake at night. The third is a challenge posed by the latest, and quite possibly the greatest, pedant to set foot on the 20th floor. He's certainly the most entertaining.

It's a good question, though, and I may think twice before using the word 'methodology' the next time I'm bid-writing. Having said that, using the word 'method' where 'methodology' would be expected would probably sounds wrong to the recipient's ear. Can't be having that...

It has been a dull day in the office. It was the sort of day which would be more productively endured at home, with my head down in my laptop bashing out the bits of work which had to be done. Unfortunately, my customer doesn't like the idea of contractors working off-site. This is a pity. I miss having the odd work from home day.

Having said that, had I have worked from home today, I would have missed the following humdrum-breaking highlights:

  1. A woman cycling down the road holding in her left hand the left handlebar of her bicycle whilst with her right hand she supported the frame of a second bicycle over her shoulder. I assume one or other of the bicycles was a recent illegal acquisition. On possibly both. Either way, I was impressed with the balancing act. It can't be easy to cycle whilst carrying a second bike.
  2. Bearing witness to a thirty minute conversation on 'ologies', mostly centred around 'methodology', but branching out into arachnology, entomology, enigmatology, and other such 'ologies'. It may have extended beyond this period, but by this time my brain was melting and I had to excuse myself from my desk and instead have an equally inane but grace-savingly work-related conversation on the science or lack of it in applying RAGs to stakeholders (This is not as invasive as it might at first sound. It's also rather more fun as it gives me an excuse to marvel at the fact that jobs such as 'stakeholder engagement coordination administration manager' exist - a fine example of job title inflation if ever there was one...)

Yes, those were the highlights of the day...

Pedants are fascinating things. What two pedants in close proximity can find to argue over is amazing, and is certainly worthy of study. (There must be at least enough material for a good few PhD theses...). Watching the pair of them go at it today, it struck me that the encounter would stand comparison with some of the most memorable bouts in the ring, or matches on the field of play. I can't believe that they don't have to practise to get as skilled as they are... I'm rather pleased they were just arguing over a couple of words - I dread to think what might have ensued had they have been attempting literary criticism.

...and before someone points this out, I know pedantology isn't a word. It probably deserves to be. It's certainly more deserving of existence than, say, algology. Heck, I can barely believe just how much extra useless information I have assimilated today. It's almost certainly made the stagger to and from the office worthwhile.

Monday, 15 September 2008

It will be one of those days...

It's not yet 8am, and already I've tried to put soggy tea bags in the dishwasher instead of the bin, and tried to put the washing machine on before putting soggy, Thames-infused kit inside the machine. No doubt I will be using shower gels, shampoos and conditioners in the wrong places and in the wrong order, and this after getting dressed before realising I hadn't yet showered.

I expect that if I carry on in this fashion, I will be out of a job by the end of the day, having arrived late after going to the river instead of the office, then turned up to work at the wrong building, and on eventually arriving at my correct place of work asked the Director to do my admin, whilst sending reports for authorisation by the chap who usually picks up my admin and keeps me well-stocked with drinks throughout the day.

Perhaps I should go back to bed and stay there? It's a most appealing idea...

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

New Toy!

I've bought a new toy. I was feeling both the need and justification to treat myself after a trip to the Lakes got called off and I had my appraisal last week. Having found myself in London for the weekend, I went shopping, online. My new toy's actually an old toy which has been around for a couple of years (old technology, that is), and which I've been coveting from a distance until I had an excuse to get myself a present and was doing enough activity to warrant the purchase. I have as yet no idea whether a pay-rise will be in the offing following the appraisal, but on the off-chance that one is, I thought I'd spend the extra cash in next month's pay packet on a new heart rate monitor.

I do already have a heart rate monitor which I love very much. It tells me my heart rate. What it doesn't do is store the information so I can check it out at my leisure when I've finished my workout. It also won't give me my time-resolved location via GPS and tell me how far I've rowed/run, and at what speeds, and what my heart was doing at any particular moment. It doesn't make coffee, either.

My new toy does all* of these things.

It's the Garmin Forerunner 305. There's a spec-ed up model, the 405, which has better battery life and looks, but the reviews I've read haven't convinced me that the additional £100 would be money well spent, and I have a watch which I wear all day anyway, and it looks a damned sight better than the 405...

Here's some of the output on SportTracks (a very nice bit of free kit). Click images for the full geeky glory...:

And here's my first attempt at landing on the flood tide:

Perhaps that should have read "first, second, third and fourth attempts at landing".

It's going to be a useful little gadget, but I'm a bit concerned that I may be unable to stave off the need to play with the toy for long enough to recover between sessions. (It even makes running fun... I wonder whether it can work the same magic for circuit training?) I suppose I'll find out soon enough - training kicks off in earnest this weekend, leaving just three more days to enjoy pies, pizza, beer and chocolate.

Is that the time?? Must dash - the chippy will be open...

*I lied. It doesn't actually make coffee

Saturday, 23 August 2008


Since Peterborough regatta a couple of weeks ago, I have been officially 'resting'. As far as I can make out, resting seems to consist not only of not doing any weights and ergs, but also spending inordinate amounts of time on the sofa watching the Olympics, and over-consuming chocolate and alcohol.

I have tried to rest. I think I've mostly been successful. I have eaten quite a large amount of utter rubbish. I have watched bits of the Olympics. I've spent more time than usual sitting on the sofa, and far less time than usual in the gym or on the water.

I was going to do another half marathon erg over summer for a bit of fun. I haven't done a half marathon erg. I haven't even done half an hour. In fact, I haven't erged. I have gone a bit stir-crazy.

I haven't run further than five miles. I haven't even run up the stairs at work. I have run up a huge bill on my credit card through being forced to re-discover the concept of a social life, instead of spending evenings on the river or doing land training.

I haven't been completely successful at resting. See, by the time the afternoon comes around, and I haven't done much exercise for a few days, and am fidgety, and bad tempered, and the weather looks good, and I'm sitting in the office, on the 20th floor, with a view of the river... well, it's not surprising that heading out in a small boat is a pretty enticing prospect. It wouldn't have to be hard work, it'd be enough to go out for a paddle in the early evening sunshine...

I confess I have been out on the water a few times.

We took a couple of singles out last week. When my sculling buddy challenged me to a race, I succumbed. As we raced over only about 300m and, in particular, as I lost, I don't think it really counted as exercise.

We've also taken out the pair a few times. This is less like resting. For one thing, I can't really take it easy on the water if my partner isn't working equally lightly.(As we only have one blade each, we'd go round in circles if we didn't row with the same pressure). Also, as we're not yet absolutely completely fantastic, we're not doing much technical work and instead are putting in the miles until we've got the simple things right. Things like steering, getting into the boat, getting out of the boat, pushing off from the pontoon, landing back at the pontoon, spinning without capsizing, and lastly, rowing. We've quite a lot of work to do...

In the interests of getting a bit more practice at the simple things, we headed out this morning for a light paddle. It was all going absolutely to plan when we found ourselves upstream of Chiswick bridge, with a wide, flat and empty river ahead of us. The original plan for the return trip (paddling back with a few bursts of firm pressure in an otherwise light trip) got scotched as we succumbed to the urge to row the course for the Pairs Head (a time trial for doubles and pairs held in October), and test out whether I could still steer when moving with a bit of speed. We did a timed piece over the 4km course, instead of sticking with the original plan of paddling back with a few bursts of firm pressure in an otherwise light trip.

We had a lot more fun...

We rowed under Chiswick Bridge to the start of the course, reaching the dizzy heights of all of, ooh, about 26 strokes a minute. Quarter of an hour and probably the longest continuous stint of rowing we've done since March later (including a brief stoppage to avoid a double who'd put themselves in the middle of the river and on collision course with us), we'd passed under somewhere near the second lamppost on Hammersmith Bridge and finished the course. We were pretty pleased. I'd managed to steer an almost reasonable line. We'd done some decent rowing (mostly when I wasn't concentrating on not hitting other boats, occasional buoys or the ever-present banks), and we'd moved the boat at a reasonable speed. For our sixth outing as a pair, it felt like a good result, even if (as I realised about three kilometres in when various bits of body started complaining at the effort) it may not entirely have fulfilled the requirements of 'resting'...

Oh well.

It was fun...

Saturday, 16 August 2008


The season has ended, and with a good few months before I contemplate racing again, chocolate has once again entered my diet (along with beer, coffee, fry ups and biscuits (though most of these were enjoyed in a single day as I attempted to get myself through a two-day audit of our shiny new Environmental Management System with my sanity and sense of humour intact)).

My preferred 'session' chocolatier, Green and Blacks, are no doubt enjoying resurgent profits, and my waistline is blooming. It's difficult not to over-indulge slightly when there are so many delicious flavours to choose from. Maya Gold (the orange, slightly spicy one) is my favourite and, being organic and fair trade, I can kid myself it's not a hideously unethical purchase. I try not to think too hard about the food miles whilst chomping my way through a bar or two. I'm rather a fan of Green and Blacks and their butterscotch, raisin and hazelnut, cherry, almond, mint, ginger, milk, white, dark, etc. varieties of chocolate. Mind you, I was most perturbed to see a sign in the Whole Foods Market (posh food shop in Kensington) advertising a special offer on Green and Blacks Olives with Garlic.

Ugh. Olive and Garlic chocolate?? It'll never catch on, I thought, as I picked my way through the store to see in the flesh this chocolate chimera. I'm a veteran of bizarre food combinations, a victim of the so-wrong-yet-so-right mixture of free alcohol and people trying to sell delicious and flavoursome foods which is the Good Food Show. Garlic ice-cream? Yup, tried that. Grim. Not to be recommended. Garlic sausage and strawberry jam - tried that one too. (Not at the Good Food Show, I might add. This was a favourite sandwich combination of a former colleague. I forget his real name, but his nickname was Doom.) Anyhow, much searching later, I failed to find the olive and garlic Green and Blacks.

I was a little disappointed. I was rather looking forward to feeling justifiably outraged that a company I credit with having reasonable taste would generate such a foul and ultimately wrong flavour of chocolate. I therefore felt only slightly stupid to notice on my way out that the same sign stood next to a display not of chocolate, but of olives. But of course. Green and black olives with garlic.


Thursday, 31 July 2008

Spotted on a t-shirt

I don't usually have much time for haiku. I find them largely meaningless drivel and verging on the pretentious. But today, I found one sitting opposite me on the tube that sums up for me the essence of haiku, and is also readily memorable. I have reproduced it below, which probably infringes someone's intellectual property, but frankly, if you don't want to be reproduced, you shouldn't produce such work of genius and then sell it on t-shirts.

Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don't make sense

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Faster than an erging recent retiree...

We had another 2k erg test last night. In contrast to other recent efforts, I'd slept pretty well the previous night, and was feeling pretty confident that I could take a decent chunk off my time. I had a time in mind to beat and had set my sights high (or should that be low?) - knocking just under six seconds off an already reasonable time was a rather ambitious goal, but then I've never been one to make things easy for myself. Leastways, not in the gym.

I feel distinctly uneasy before test ergs. I'm not sure whether fear of the effort involved or fear of failing to beat whatever score I had in mind (whilst putting in the effort) is most responsible for this, but the hour or so before a test erg in not something I'd care to experience every day. Nor every month, come to think of it... Queasy has never been one of my favourite states of being.

We discussed goals beforehand. I mentioned I wanted 6 seconds off my time. This was dismissed for the foolish plan it was. (Excellent - this would be welcome grist for the mental mill when the last few minutes get tough.) My training buddy was aiming for the more realistic target of beating her last time. After a hearty warm up, we lined up on the ergs waiting for the call: Go!

Seven minutes, 29.1 seconds and more than a bit of hard work later, I'd knocked 6.4 seconds off my score, was feeling distinctly pleased with myself, and was rapidly gravitating towards the floor, which looked a less precarious place to recover than on the erg, which held the risk of falling off. I find that hard concrete floors never look more inviting than immediately following test ergs. I stayed there for a short while before trying to use my legs again to stagger outside and walk off the leaden feeling in my thighs.

Checking the erg world records, this means I have added to the collection of pensioners (and those of working age - I must be improving!) who I can beat on an erg the following groups:

  • Every woman over the age of 60;
  • Every lightweight woman over the age of 55.

I'm still struggling to keep up with 75 year old men, but knocking another seven seconds off my time will see that put right, and also put me within striking distance of my rather flippant assertion earlier in the season that I would be beating the club chairman on the ergs by Christmas. His 7:19 was looking a long way off a couple of weeks ago. Now... well, with just under five months to Christmas, I think my twin goals of getting under 7:20 and beating the chairman are looking less far-fetched than they did.

I'm pretty pleased.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Chez Why?

I paid a short but long-overdue visit to the parental home this weekend.

On arrival at Chez Parentals I found the spot on the driveway where I would normally park my car taken by Dr Why? The Elder's car, which appeared to be enjoying a short break from the garage whilst the sunshine was out. I was therefore forced to park on the substantially less prime real estate next to the bins, under the trees where the birds nest, sing, bathe and crap. Mostly crapping. But that didn't matter, as I planned to wash the car the following day (and add oil, screenwash, coolant and generally do all the things to the car which it's not that easy to do in the confined parking conditions which Hammersmith provides, and without the aid of a hosepipe).

Having made my way to the back garden where I suspected my folks would be enjoying the sunshine, Dr Why? The Elder greeted me with, "Hello! Are you hot? Do you need cooling off? Stand here, look, we've got a new attachment. Stand here, here." Dr Why? The Elder then turned on the tap to which a hosepipe was attached and aimed a fine (and extremely welcome) mist of water in my direction, whilst laughing delightedly. It was only after this happened that I understood the string of words which had greeted me. After four hours of sitting in a non-air-conditioned car on a stinkingly hot day (after two outings in stinking and dehydrating heat), I wasn't going to complain about a minor drenching. In fact, I had been gagging for a cold shower (or a stay in the Ice Hotel) since Heston Service station. I don't know what it was about my appearance that enabled Dr Why? The Elder to read my needs so readily, but I assume it's something to do with being genetically related. That or the profusion of sweat emanating from my pores. Even from the backs of my hands.

Following a change of clothes, I was given a couple of glasses of wine, the customary tour of the garden and was fed. I got fed a lot, and a huge amount of protein, courtesy of two barbecues in under 24 hrs. I also noticed that any surplus food was channelled in my direction to eat up. (I'm a growing girl, don't you know?). This may explain how I ended up as the substantial being that I am. I certainly don't recall ever going hungry whilst in the care of my folks...

A bottle of bubbly to wet the head of the new hip later, the day was done. It had been a good one. I crawled into bed with a slightly spinning head and a large bottle of water to keep me company. A full bottle of tepid water, a fuzzy head and a mouth like a badger's arse welcomed me into the next day. I wandered into the kitchen and thought about getting myself some breakfast. I then thought the better of it:

On any return to the parental home, I invariably find that some of 'the rules' have changed - things such as whether or not onion skins go in the compost, or which end of the fridge door the open bottle of milk lives at. Or whether or not socks get ironed. All relatively unimportant things which nevertheless enable me to wreak havoc by putting tea bags in the wrong compost bin or poisoning the worms by feeding them peppers (or maybe the worms get the peppers and the tea bags go into the other compost...) Either way, it's sufficient to make me apologise for not having the mental flexibility to cope, and instead leaving tea bags on the kitchen counter. I know that this is also the wrong thing to do, but getting it wrong and leaving things for Dr Why? The Elder to sort out is also the lowest energy route to achieving the correct outcome. (I seem to get away with this line of argument provided I don't outstay my welcome (which is defined as the period for which it is socially acceptable for me to be excused from learning the amendments to 'the rules'.)) Making breakfast is therefore fraught with hidden dangers, for example: Perhaps the rules on egg freshness have changed and the ones to use first and now on the right of the fridge door. Or maybe one cereal is reserved for Mr Why? Senior?, being the only thing he feels like on a bad day. Bread is another minefield. Well, obviously, it's not a minefield. It's a loaf of bread. But it's enough to persuade me to wait for a few minutes to be offered breakfast by Dr Why? The Elder.

A bit of shopping later (with sufficient purchasing of bargains to justify my expenditure on diesel in getting myself up to Sheffield) there was time for a spot of lunch and a small amount of being useful (moving heavy bags of bird seed into a rat-proof bin and stabilising large chunks of tree whilst Mr Why? Senior hacked them into woodturning-sized chunks with an overgrown carving knife). It was rather lovely to see My Why? Senior in his element. Well, relatively in his element - getting around on crutches, BBQ-ing, chopping up tree trunks and making plans for woodturning and holidays. It also pleased me greatly to see Dr Why? The Elder enjoying a day off work, even if she did choose to use some of it to wash my car for me. I can think of better ways to spend a holiday. Mind you, they don't include four hours in a non-air-con'ed car in scorching heat - maybe I need to work on my holidaying style, as well...

Sunday, 20 July 2008


It has been a good week.

Mr Why? Senior has taken his first steps with his latest hip, with all the signs filtering down to the Big Smoke being extremely encouraging so far. I'm hoping to head north in the not-too-distant future to see his new-found mobility for myself.

Speaking of mobility, the programme I've been working on for the last year or so has been officially mobilised/launched/rebranded/reorganised/re-christened/baptised/etc. This required an away day at a conference centre playing buzzword bingo during listening to the morning's presentations before stepping in as a late replacement facilitator for the afternoon workshop sessions. I hate facilitating these things - it's always awkward to find oneself trying to limit the input of important people who like to talk a lot and encourage people a few rungs further down the organisational ladder to share their thoughts. Fortunately, the group I had was rather good in this respect, with it's most senior member doing a surprisingly good job of facilitating the session himself, leaving me the relatively politically safe task of writing neatly on the flipcharts. Another relief...

What else? Oh yes, I remember - training appears to be paying off. This is a relief otherwise I'd be taking a leaf out of other people's books and jacking in the notion that training improves performance. I reset my maximum weights midweek and managed to crank another 10% onto most of the weights. The next weights session will leave me in Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) agony for about 72 hours, if previous experience is anything to go by (but it's several weeks until we race again, so that's OK). This time, however, I will ensure that I move anything frequently used downstairs so that I don't find myself in the tricky situation of having to weigh the pros and cons of the pain involved in descending the stairs to get myself to the loo against the slow torture of an increasingly full bladder. (Life is full of such difficult choices...)

The last source of relief for the week is that I have now been out in a pair twice and not died/required the services of the lovely people at the RNLI. A couple of us had been toying for a while with the possibility of taking out a pair. We regularly find ourselves in the gym in the evenings when the water is beautifully calm and the skies clear and sunny, and figured learning to pair successfully would enable us to get off the ergs and onto the water a bit more often. When a suitably robust pair returned from repair, we seized the opportunity to take it out.

Somehow, I've managed to acquire the job of steering.

I now have renewed sympathy for the various coxless boats which have managed to crash into us or cause a near miss over the last few months. Steering ain't easy. It's a bit like having to learn to drive again, but without the luxury of having an instructor with dual controls. There aren't any quiet side roads, either, and instead you're forced straight onto, say, the A6. Also, boats don't have L-plates (though they perhaps should, particularly the way I've managed to steer these last couple of days...). Oh, and the other tricky things about this steering malarkey are that you're travelling backwards, and at the mercy of your crewmates to row at an even pressure. Handily, the river is fairly quiet at the moment, as my steering is not yet perfect. Far from it, in fact.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and after two reasonably uneventful outings in a pair, we've decided that it's a realistic ambition to win at whatever status we end up racing at the Pairs Head (a 4km time trial in October). We've therefore got just under three months for me to learn to steer (it's always handy to be able to steer when racing on the Tideway). This might prove a little ambitious, but it's great fun and also rather exciting to have a new project to work on, and something to keep me busy over the remainder of summer.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

How not to prepare for a regatta

We raced at Kingston yesterday - a IV and an VIII. Another regatta gone and another regatta from which we've returned empty-handed. Mind you, we were lucky to race our IV at all - only a few hours prior to being on the stake boat for our first race in the IV, it looked like we would have neither a boat nor cox - not an ideal situation to be in. But then, non-ideal preparation is pretty much what our IV has been doing for the last couple of weeks. So much so that I reckon I'm now amongst the world's leading experts in how not to prepare. To ensure others don't feel the need to try these experiments for themselves, I've put together this handy guide to how not to prepare for a regatta:

  1. Ensure that your stroke person is under pressure at work, studying for exams, stressed out and lacking the time to row;
  2. Put a hole in your boat during a minor misunderstanding with the Thames foreshore nine days before racing;
  3. Have your penultimate training session in a boat in which you know you won't be racing as another four will be racing in it ten minutes before your race starts;
  4. Fail to arrange for a cox to turn up to your final session in which you've actually managed to get out the boat in which you will be racing (and sharing with the men - thus meaning you secretly have to hope they won't get to their final, which will clash with yours);
  5. Leave the boat in which you will be racing on a trailer overnight, and find the canvas broken and holed and the boat unrowable the next morning, thus finding yourself in the position of having one river worthy four and five crews needing to row in it;
  6. Get to bed at a reasonable hour only to find that your neighbours are holding an unfeasibly loud, chattering classes party which continues until 4am when another neighbour tells them in no uncertain terms to make less noise or suffer extreme violence. Get only two hours' sleep as a result;
  7. Have a sufficiently wrecked body clock so as to be unable to breakfast in the morning before setting off to the regatta;
  8. Be on autopilot whilst driving to the regatta and continue well past the exit you should have taken, and instead head merrily toward Guildford and work. (I assume this must be something to do with associating driving whilst being too tired to reasonably do so with working for a living);
  9. Having got to the regatta and successfully borrowed a boat, find out that the bow ball is a little wobbly for the liking of the safety marshall (who recommends a large quantity of gaffer tape be added to it to aid the stiffness), at the point at which he considers failing the boat;
  10. Row in your race boat for the first time as you paddle down to the start;
  11. Discover after winning your race (and thus generating a requirement to use the boat again later in the day) that your club have unfathomably managed to turn up to a regatta without the requisite gaffer tape;
  12. Catch up on missed sleep between races by bedding down in the middle of a field, ensuring that on waking up, every body part has reached its maximum stiffness;
  13. Repeat this trick later in the day, this time in scorching sunshine to gain an extra, bonus challenge of dehydration.

Given that little lot, getting onto the water (let alone managing to win a heat) should prove quite a challenge. Somehow, we managed it. Admittedly, we could have done better in the final. Given the circumstances, though, I can't really complain at the results.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

I never could get the hang of Thursdays...

... and I've never particularly thought of myself as having a self-image problem, but it seems I do. You see, until last Thursday, I've never seen myself as the type of person who finds themselves being rescued by the RNLI. But it turns out that I am exactly the type of person who the RNLI rescue, particularly on a Thursday.

Allow me to explain...

We were out in a coxed four. There was a plan for the outing. It was complicated, but as I recall it involved doing lots of hard work. Having got down to Putney with a warm up and some technical work, we spun to head upstream against the tide and start the hard work. It was all going pretty well until we put a hole in our boat whilst being washed onto an island emerging under the ebb tide by a largish boat which was very evidently breaking the speed limit.

Now, boats tend not to float too well when they have holes in them. In fact, if our experience just upstream of Putney Bridge was anything to go by, they acquire extra water at an alarming rate. I cursed our decision to go out in the more spacious and capacious four (lacking buoyancy compartments) rather than taking the older, more tiny and altogether more knackered but ultimately more buoyant four.

We had a problem.

We rapidly donned wellies and got out of the boat into thigh-deep river. We picked up the boat and squelched through the mud onto the foreshore just upstream of Putney Bridge, with water streaming out of the hole under the bow seat.

Out of the river, and holding our boat on the foreshore, we assessed the situation. The tide was going out. This was A Very Good Thing. It gave us lots of time to work out what to do before being in trouble with a rising tide. It was also summer, and despite our soaking and the rapidly dropping sun, we seemed unlikely to develop hypothermia. It also became obvious at this stage that the little we could recall of the outing plan was largely irrelevant.

Arms aching, we looked for somewhere to stash the stricken boat temporarily whilst we formulated a plan. We'd normally carry out this manoeuvre up at the club, where we have reasonably-designed trestles to put boats on whilst we faff. But there aren't many trestles on the foreshore. However, there is an ample supply of mud and rock, so we piled some rocks up and plonked the boat down whilst we faffed some more, with the first priority being to empty our wellies of excess river water.

Freed from the need to hold the boat, we explored possible escape routes. Fortunately, we'd managed to run aground in a rather handy location, just a few tens of metres from an easy means of escape - a flight of steps up to the embankment. Getting ourselves safe was therefore easy. Getting the boat back to decent racking via that route would have been more of a challenge. Not only were the steps reasonably steep, but Mother Nature had chosen precisely that flight of steps to demonstrate her ability to triumph over any environment by growing a large and leafy tree in the middle of a load of concrete. Satisfied that it would be several hours before we need to concern ourselves with life an limb, we returned to the problem of how to get our boat and kit off the foreshore and to somewhere it could be repaired.

It was at about this point that a constable and PCSO peered over the wall to ask if we needed any help. Now, despite my natural instinct to deny any need for help whatsoever, even I was forced to admit that a couple of cops with radios and colleagues might be handy at that point.

After a sizable amount of additional faffing, we asked the police to get in touch with our club to try to get someone to come down in a launch bringing some tape for emergency repairs so we could tow the boat back to the club. It was a solid enough plan, but unfortunately, there was no answer at the club. They tried the club again. No answer. They then got concerned that we might die of hypothermia and offered us space blankets. As we were beginning to get cold with the sun dropping and the wind picking up, we made our way up to the embankment and shared two foil blankets between five of us. This evidently wasn't sufficient, so the nice constable radioed for colleagues to bring additional space blankets for five girls in minimal clothing who'd got a bit wet and shivery.

I was feeling somewhat embarrassed. I work with cops and Specials. I didn't fancy one of my colleagues turning up to 'rescue' me.

We must still have looked cold even with sharing foil blankets, personal space and body heat, as the first cop tried in vain to get us indoors to a local cafe. We all insisted we were fine. (I was cold. I insisted I was fine. Why do I do this?) After a while, he gave up trying to get us into the cafe and instead went to appeal to the better nature of the cafe owner, who provided free tea for us all. This was most welcome.

A few minutes later, three uniforms, two space blankets and car answered the call. I was relieved to not recognise any of my colleagues, and also to have my own space blanket and no longer have to spoon one of my crewmates.

At some point, one of our rowing buddies hurtled past on a training run. We flagged her down, explained the situation, and she hurtled home to get a mobile phone to call a contact at another club to get a launch out for us. Unfortunately, it being Henley week, no bugger was around. We were beginning to despair of anyone with a boat turning up before the tide turned, when a four from one of the Putney clubs sliced into view. Our cox recognised the blades and hailed the club. Their coach very kindly made his way over to the Fulham bank to see what he could do.

He didn't have any tape, so taping up and towing to his club wasn't an option. He did however take our blades and cox up the river to hunt down our launch (out with the novices) to bring the necessary kit (a launch and some tape).

Unbeknown to us, the first cop had evidently got sufficiently bored of the situation that he'd got colleagues to call RNLI. They turned up with a pleasingly large rigid inflatable thing, with blue flashing lights and three sturdy-looking chaps, just as help arrived from the club (launch, coach and tape). It was at about this point that I realised the whole thing was descending into farce, and the chaps from the RNLI were serious about rescuing us.

We piled into their boat, leaving a couple of the RNLI chaps to move our damaged four. We then got sufficiently concerned for the welfare of the boat (being left in non-rowing hands), that two of us jumped out again into the waist-deep water to give them a hand lifting and carrying. I ended up back in the Thames, chest-deep and grateful for my height, supporting our four at head-height whilst it was strapped to one side of the inflatable. I clambered back into the boat. I was wet. It was cold. Did I want a nice, warm, ambulance blanket? No thanks, I was fine.


There was a rather nice sunset on the journey home, which seemed unfeasibly long (probably because I was cold and having a rather large sense of humour failure, because everything was now fine and I could safely indulge in wanton self-pity.) I was therefore enormously grateful to arrive back at the club, thank and bid farewell to our 'rescuers', be ordered into the showers, informed that there were plenty of the novices around to deal with our boat and launch etc., and that my job was to get clean and warm and up to the bar to drink tea and eat free sandwiches. For the first time that evening, I wasn't going to refuse the offer of help.

A week on, I resolutely blame the whole sorry affair on it being a Thursday...

Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Day Off

I've had a day off. A real, proper day off. By this, I mean I had a whole day when not only did I not go to work, but I also didn't go rowing (or running, or erging, or doing weights, etc.). As far as I can recall, Friday was the first time this year that I have achieved both not working and not rowing without also either visiting relatives in hospital, or having dysentery. Consequently, I have very low expectations of days off.

My day off had an inauspicious start. I woke up in the Harlow Travelodge at about 1am. (This narrowly beats having dysentery, but hardly constitutes advanced holidaying behaviour.) I resolved to go back to sleep and try again.

By 8am, I was ready to give the day a second chance. Having made our morning ablutions, Dr Why? the Elder and I made our way to the station to get breakfast and a train to The Big Smoke.

A short trek from Liverpool Street lie some Turkish baths. I'd endeavoured to book a session at The Sanctuary for Dr Why? the Elder and I, but was sadly out of luck. Searching for alternatives, I stumbled across these baths. A session in a spa had been a brainwave I had whilst studying the training plan for the week. Alongside running, cycling, yoga and pilates, Friday contained the option of swimming, which I immediately seized upon as the only option in which my mother would voluntarily accompany me and which not only be sociable, but also earn me brownie points. Having eliminated all possibilities for Thursday's session aside from weights (and the non-option of a day off), I figured that a swim the following day (and ideally a spot of sauna-ing) would be a good plan. Having failed to book the Sanctuary, and having happened across this place with its 30m pool and extra bonus Turkish baths, it seemed I'd found my ideal training session.

Having made our way on foot to the baths, we descended into the cellar to steam, sauna, plunge and be pummelled into relaxation.

The first thing which struck me as being a little remarkable was that the changing rooms were pretty much non-existent. There were lockers, there was a bench, and they were located in a corridor behind a room full of beds. At the end of the corridor was a water fountain, beyond which lay the baths. A heavy mist hung in the air. Having followed the handy instructions on how to take a Turkish bath (Step 1: get undressed) and stashed our stuff in the lockers, we headed into the baths.

The second remarkable thing was the seemingly overwhelming number of showers. They appeared to be everywhere. One was occupied by a rotund pensioner taking a vigorous shower. After exchanging pleasantries and establishing from her apparel that clothing was in fact strictly optional, we discovered she was a regular, having been using the baths each week for 30 years, and was only too happy to point out the facilities to any newcomers. The plunge pool was round the corner. A steam room lay at the end, three connected saunas of increasing heat in the middle, and the plunge pool at the far end. There were no Koi Carp here, just terracotta tiles, the odd marble slab and much wooden benching.

The steam room was hot and contained several people in varying amounts of swimwear. Having ascertained from the afore-mentioned pensioner that clothing was indeed optional, I didn't delay in stripping off and enjoying the heat permeating my sore, post-weights-session muscles. I could feel the tension in my back lessening by the second. It was more than welcome, it was verging on heavenly. (Coming from an atheist, this is high praise...) It didn't matter that the wooden benching was verging on the slimy, or that the room had a faint musty smell. If anything, it added to the old worlde charm of the place and its unapologetic, almost brutal, functionalism.

A quick shower and a plunge later, we headed for the sauna. After the small steam room, the size of the hot rooms gave a misleading sensation of coolness, causing us to head to the hottest of the three rooms. After cooking ourselves at 80 degrees for as long as it took us to notice the temperature gauge, the plunge pool again beckoned and the cycle started again.

We'd earlier booked massages, and as Dr Why? The Elder disappeared to have her shoulders realigned with human anatomy, I sweated buckets in the sauna. Later, and a few pails of perspiration lighter, it was my turn to have my shoulders pulled, pushed, twisted, and pressed back to shape, my lower back encouraged to move again, and my iliotibial bands massaged to excruciating effect. The benefits of all this were that I got to talk about rowing a lot (always a bonus...), have discovered a range of motion in my shoulders I had forgotten was possible, and I got to borrow the Concise Book of Muscles to read whilst I recovered from my pummeling. It also enabled me to later surf at my leisure and discover some ingenius stretches for my rather over-worked (and over-squatted) ITBs.

A bit of swimming later, training for the day was over, and a spot of lunch was in order. Thanks to the miracle of mobile phones, we made our way to a pub half a mile away to find my brother (Mr Why? Junior) seated at an upstairs window. A group of people wearing fluorescent yellow gas masks and CBRN suits were strutting their stuff on the street below. (That sort of thing doesn't happen in Harlow.) Perhaps they were demonstrating, or perhaps they just like wearing yellow CBRN suits. It's hard to tell with some people...

A short jaunt underground to London Bridge preceded shopping for very lovely foods at Borough Market. As with all trips to Borough Market, I came away the happy owner of some expensive and very yummy sun-blushed tomatoes, and with some very exciting sausages. Dr Why? the Elder came away with less cash in her purse than she started with.

Having returned to the Why? flat and briefly rested market-weary legs, we packed a picnic of the best sort (a bottle of red and antipasti) and wandered along the river to The River Cafe. It's currently being refurbished, and the only way to eat there at the moment is to bring your own food and make use of the outdoor furniture.

We sat down to our picnic as what appeared to be a minor hurricane swept through Hammersmith. I've never picnic-ed during an extreme weather event before, and wasn't entirely sure what protocol was. I did however assume that this was some variation of the law of nature which states that the probability of rain occurring on any given day is directly proportional to the square of the number of barbeques planned for that day. After sinking a bracing half bottle, we repaired home to finish off the rest in more windproof surroundings, and to continue putting the world to rights (always a popular activity after a bottle of wine).

At some point in the process of getting increasingly sozzled, it became evident that a meal was called for. Having had only one decent meal from a restaurant within walking distance for a tired and sozzled rower and her slightly merry mother, the local Somali restaurant was patronised. I was slightly surprised to discover that amongst Dr Why? The Elder's many talents (including tap-dancing, knitting, prolific cake production, elementary butchery and an ability to keep Mr Why? Senior alive and with a realistic stretch target of him being able to kick with his right leg in the near future), she has an embryonic command of Somali. My mother's myriad talents never cease to amaze me. I hoped they would extend to getting her home safely following the earlier imbibation.

A tasty meal and a full stomach later, it was high time for an early night in preparation for returning to the rowing grindstone on Saturday morning. It must have been at least 8:30pm...

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Summer solstice silliness

Yesterday was the summer solstice here. To mark the occasion, some bright spark on the other side of the erging pond thought they'd come up with a challenge for the longest day: a 21km erg race. I'd put the date in my diary a few months ago when it was sufficiently far into the future as to seem like a good idea.

After Saturday morning's arm-beasting outing and a session in the gym squatting some reasonably heavy weights, we repaired to a local cafe for 'breakfast'. It was by then about midday. I was declared mad by the rest of the crew for contemplating returning to the club for what was likely to be more than an hour and a half of constant erging.

I wasn't too concerned by the distance, though I supposed my butt might be a bit sore by the end, and that I'd need to be diligent about rehydrating during the session and for the rest of the day (no more tea or coffee). 21km is just under twice the distance I've been rowing regularly in training, so I figured I could managed that without too much trauma, with maybe a few drinks breaks along the way to get some carbs and fluid in.

At about half three in the afternoon I started erging.

I finished shortly after 5pm, having got through a litre and half of carbohydrate drink, acquired a blister on my right heel, sweat rather a lot, and developed (as I had suspected) rather sore buttocks. Having said that, all things considered it was rather less strenuous than I thought it would be.

I didn't feel too bad this morning - I had a little soreness in my quads, but it was no worse than I would have anticipated following the squats from yesterday. If anything, I suspected I was rather less sore for having followed up with a long erg and a satisfying session of stretching afterwards. I'd also been relatively good at making sure I refuelled with plenty carbs and protein (thanks in no small part to a double outing the following morning and Tuesday's 2km test erg being at the back of my mind).

This morning's outings were hard. The water was frenzied, and we were rowing into a silly-stiff headwind at times. Having recently changed sides, rowing on stroke side is proving mentally exhausting per se in the absence of testing conditions. With the wind trying to rip my blade from my fatigued grip with every stroke, and yesterday's half-marathon efforts making themselves felt in my thighs, I don't think I could have been concentrating harder on my technique if my life depended on it.

And I rowed pretty well.

I've always liked a challenge, but until today I hadn't realised how much easier I find it to switch on and concentrate when I perceive things to be tough. Properly tough, such as having four bow-siders in the same four with two rowing on their disfavoured side, in rubbish water, with a silly headwind, and with my hands shredded from yesterday's stroke-side exploits. I can concentrate pretty well under those conditions.

It was hard work, though.

It's 7pm now, and there's no way I can write off the stiffness that has lodged itself firmly in my thighs as being wholly due to the squats I did yesterday. The erg and some tough outings have caught up with me, and brought with them much pain. It hurts a lot. Climbing stairs is tough. Descending them is nigh-on impossible.

It's two days until the next test erg, and I hope I'm recovered in time. If not, it's going to be tough. Mind you, perhaps (given today's realisation) that would be for the best...

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Impending weights

I have somehow managed to get through the last few months doing remarkably little work with weights. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • I placed a higher priority of getting rid of the lard that had insulated me whilst living in the unheated glass box in Guildford than on building extra bonus thigh and bicep;
  • I didn't trust myself not to be over-ambitious with the weight and damage myself before I'd at least built up some rudimentary muscle between my joints;
  • My lack of cardiovascular (CV) fitness was a much bigger problem than my lack of strength;
  • I seem to recall from my college days that the approved way to build muscle was to row in the 1st VIII and be fed subsidised steak with a couple of pints of semi-skimmed, a small mountain of salad and a correspondingly-sized portion of chips. The Steak Table was pretty much compulsory for 1st VIII rowers. Weights weren't. It may not be as effective in building muscle, but being fed steak is far, far easier than lifting heavy weights and is a far more appealing thing to be doing at dinner time.

Unfortunately, having shed some of the spare lard I'd laid down to see me through winter, grown a bit of muscle, and made progress with my CV fitness, I'm running out of excuses not to do weights.

Ugh. I'd rather be eating steak.

And, anyway, I'm hardly a waif as it is. The last six months of training has already had sufficient effect to grow my neck to the point where it is possible for me to strangle myself by wearing my own clothes. I discovered this on Tuesday, when upon adding extra layers following my evening's workout before stepping out into the cool evening for the walk home, I was deeply disturbed to find that my neck has grown to a sufficient diameter for me to be strangled by my own Helly Hansen short-sleeved Lifa top. Could there be a more embarrassing way to die? I can see the headstone, now: Here lies But Why?. Born an Essex girl, tragically strangled at the age of 28 by her own tech top. The best that can be hoped for is that the tragedy of the dispatch would draw attention away from my unfortunate birth location...

Really. I think I might re-organise my wardrobe according to neck circumference so I can risk-assess my likelihood of death from asphyxiation from wearing each garment. And the danger doesn't stop only at asphyxiation - there's also the hazard of cutting off the blood supply to my limbs.

I dislike weights with a passion previously reserved only for brussel sprouts. Mind you, I grew to like those. Perhaps I could learn to love weights? I think it's unlikely. I have good reasons for hating weights:
  • They are heavy;
  • They hurt;
  • They are quite, quite boring;
  • Doing weights makes my normally gangly, simian frame becomes increasingly gorilla-like. This is A Look Which Is Not Good;
  • They are expensive. (On previous occasions when I have done regular weights sessions, I found I had to replace my wardrobe over a period of about four months as one by one all my clothes became too small to enable my thighs, shoulders, chest or arms to fit into them.)
Against that background, I suppose it's not surprizing that my heart sank a little to read the latest issue of the social life replacement scheme (aka the training plan for the week) and find it featured a new weights regime (aka Gorilla Plan).

My pre-gorilla plan measurements:
  • My (morning) height: 5' 11 1/2"
  • My (pre-erg) weight: 12 st 7 lb ish
  • My neck circumference: 15 1/2"
  • Upper arm (left) circumference: 11 3/4"
  • Upper arm (right) circumference: 12"
  • Thigh (left) circumference: 23 3/4"
  • Thigh (right) circumference: 24"
  • Chest circumference: (inhaled) 38 1/4"; exhaled 35 1/4"
  • Waist: 34"
  • Forearm (right) circumference: 10 3/8"
  • Forearm (left) circumference: 10 1/4"
Sum total of measurements = Not A Waif (though I am cheating in many of these measurements by including lard contribution in the measurement.)

My transformation into a relatively hair-free gorilla begins this evening. Heck. Not again. (I had enough of scraping my knuckles on the floor as teenager.) This time, though, I'm making plans in advance. I shall be ensuring that any clothes I buy in future contain sufficient lycra to stretch to fit. I wonder whether I could ditch the concept of wearing a suit to work and instead get a range of lycra unisuits made up with a variety of sombre-coloured pinstripe and check designs, and hope that no-one notices the difference.

Weights. Ugh.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Happy days

Yesterday was A Good Day.

Work was in many ways very rubbish - it was already becoming apparent that I have too much to do to deliver something of the quality I'd be happy with by my end-of-the-month deadline (assuming I continue my endeavours to keep myself healthy through eating and sleeping and training), then following a meeting I'd prompted, it transpired that a colleague is in near dire need of a lot of support to get him through to the end of Thursday if the large workshop we're holding is not to appear a badly-organised amateurish affair (which would be A Very Bad Thing). Luckily this takes priority - not getting this right by Thursday will be embarrassing and damage our reputation, whereas my delivery of draft material will be a minor inconvenience. It thus will take some of the sting out of my late/draft delivery (if and only if we get Thursday right). Organising workshops being neither one of my core competencies nor a task in which I have much (any?) experience, it makes for an interesting change. I still have a lot of work on for the customer, but with Thursday's event and an exciting away day coming up the following week, the slog through to the end of the month seems tractable.

Meanwhile, The Mother Ship (aka my employer) continues to provide a steady stream of overhead and administrative work which has been keeping me busy in the evenings. This should taper off towards the end of the month and last night I'd crossed enough off my To-Do list to make my current batch of work look tractable and (dare I suggest such a thing?) on target.

By 8pm (and for a 12 hour working day) the day was going so surprizingly well that things really couldn't get much better. I took the time to check my email and found the training schedule for the week had winged its way to my inbox. It convinced me to down tools for the day and head to the gym for a long erg. On the way, I passed one of my crewmates heading home from her session. We exchanged a few words - it transpired another crewmate was pleased to have beaten my score from last week. This was motivation enough to persuade me that a serious sweating was called for.

45 minutes of erging later, I'd stuck just over 400 metres on my score from last week, and in the process notched up a best for the season (and drenched myself in thoroughly justified sweat). This was turning into an unlikely but Very Good Day. When I take another three seconds off my steady state 500m split time or, equivalently, add another 362m to my 45 min distance, I might have a beer to celebrate. (Incidentally, I think the last time I had a beer was the "Did I ever tell you" night. Evidently the occasion was sufficiently traumatic to persuade me that repeat performances were not called for. (Postscript: I am of course talking rubbish. My last beer was of course on the Circle line. Just another beer forgotten in the alcoholic haze of time...)

I wandered home in a state of extreme post-erg brain-mush, taking in the stillness of the river, the reflection of Hammersmith Bridge on its glass-like surface, and the last of the fading light to the west.

I wonder what today will bring?

Saturday, 14 June 2008


We took a quad out on Thursday evening for our first outing after last weekend's regatta.

I have a fear of quads. Years of rowing in eights has convinced me that the correct way to arrange eight blades is staggered over a distance of some ten or so metres. Certainly not arranged in claustrophobic pairs with the spoons encroaching on my personal space in the boat.

I have a keen sense of the amount of space which it is right and proper for me to occupy, and rowing boats are most definitely in scope of this sense. Most of the club's eights are spacious and capacious, leaving adequate room for me to do my blade work. A single is neither spacious nor capacious, but I don't have to share that small space with three other people and six sculls beyond my control. Given that my sculling leaves a huge amount to be desired and that I still have difficulty in getting my two hands to do something reasonably similar at the same time, the prospect of an outing in a scratch crew in a quad was not immediately appealing. The excessive inboard length of the sculls served to make me feel even more like a poorly-coordinated orangutan, accentuating the awkwardness of the stroke.

The first few minutes were telling. Spoons dragged on the water. Even with one pair sitting the boat, stabilising it with their blades, the boat lurched from side to side. The short jaunt to Chiswick would seem terribly protracted.

My doubts dissolved as we returned under Barnes bridge. The strokes were strong, the timing secure, and the evening turning into one of those glorious summer moments when there is nothing I'd rather be doing than being in a boat. The sun was low in the sky, casting an increasingly orange streak across the river. The puddles from our blades reflected the turquoise sky, starkly contrasting with the orange glimmers from the setting sun. It was perfect. For a couple of strokes, the sculling was sweet, and the light was divine.

A duff stroke focused my attention on technique. I closed my eyes to concentrate on the tensions and forces in my body, the pull across my shoulders at the catch, holding my core during the drive, anchoring my finish. I love the sensation of sculling when singling, being in sole control of the motion of the boat. Reining in my indulgence in that sensation to scull together to the rhythm of a crew is for me like being in a warm sea and not being able to go swimming. I itch, I yearn for that freedom to take the rate down, stretch out and draw through long strokes in my own time.

But I can't do that. I have to concentrate. But it's so beautiful an evening. I want to indulge. I want to soak up the poetry of the motion, the light, the peace of the river amidst the city's activity. No doubt this would change the moment competing in a quad was on the cards, but at the moment, it's an opportunity to improve balance and blade work, and my sensitivity to boat feel. The setting is just making this a little more difficult than it needs to be.

A push on my wrist as my bow side scull hesitates in the water for a brief moment at the finish persuades me to concentrate on sculling rather than mentally composing the blog post I'll write later. It's agony. Such beauty, such poetry - crying out for appreciation. I have to ignore it, else I scull like a monkey. I close my eyes again to concentrate on the sensation, and open them to see only the back of the head of the woman in front.

A sculler's sunset

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Post-erg brain mush

I am useless after long ergs.

Well, useless at anything which might be considered useful. I'm relatively stretchy after a long session on the machine, and able to drink impressive volumes of fluid, but also unable to walk straight, formulate a coherent argument, or finish a train of thought.

Despite this (or perhaps because of it) I am usually extremely content following long ergs. Content, de-stressed, at peace with myself, and without inclination to do anything. Even the need to eat seems a monsterous imposition on my otherwise wantless state.

I erged earlier.

I could quite happily live in the post-erg state. It's so very, very untroubled, though I did trouble myself to eat. I'm good at making myself eat even though I may not want to.

I am useless after ergs.

I can't formulate coherent anythings.

I don't mind.

It is not important to formulate coherent things. Not now.

I am content.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The last round

From today, drinking alcohol and carrying open containers of alcohol on the tube is banned.

Last night, The Law of Unintended Consequences swung into play, ushering something which really wasn't a problem towards being one: a party had been loosely organised via various social networking sites to mark the occasion. The rules of engagement were generally thus:

  1. Turn up with alcohol in the last carriage of a Circle Line train from 9pm onwards.
  2. Party.

I was travelling home from Whitechapel on the District Line at 7pm, and thought I'd pick up a beer to mark the occasion before submerging myself in the London Underground. I may have been the only person drinking, but I was indulging my right to look like a somewhat addicted billy-no-mates which, as of this morning, I can no longer do in this way. I shouldn't have been surprised to be the sole drinker - I've been in London six months now, and I can't recall ever seeing more than a few sparsely distributed  groups of people drinking on the tube in any one carriage. Despite not yet being on the Circle Line, and the party apparently not starting until 9pm, I was a little disappointed. I had hoped that the spirit of telling Boris what he could do with his flimsy and knee-jerk ban would at least have ensured the occasional commuter would be carrying a can and exchanging knowing sentiments with other drinkers. But no. Nothing.

At Tower Hill, curiousity got the better of me and I hopped over to the Circle Line to do a bit of research. As the train drew up, I headed to the final carriage where parties were supposed to be, and bumped into a few people carrying likely looking cans of booze and bags of spare alcohol. Keen to find out why other people were doing this, I rapidly introduced myself by waving my open container of alcohol in their direction, and asked the question: why?

It turned out they were mostly booze-on-tube first-timers, drinking because they could today and couldn't tomorrow. And, because, well, why not?

At the next stop, people from a carriage further up jumped on to join the last carriage party. They had got organised. They had party banners, streamers, plastic wine glasses. This looked like a good crowd to hook up with for a jaunt around the circle line. One bunch met the other bunch, clinked glasses and cans and got on with the party.

We'd just pulled into Monument when a cheer rose from the other platform. A larger crowd had gathered there, and looked like they were well organised. It was time to follow the gravity of the pack, abandon the original plan, and travel in the opposite direction.

We were by now maybe fifty people, standing on a platform, armed with nothing more than a few drinks and good humour, waiting for a Circle Line train.

A District Line train pulled up. "Boooooo!". Ten minutes later, another train. District Line, again. "Boooooo!". A few minutes later, another District Line train. "Boooooo!". And then, looming out of the tunnel, the one we'd been waiting for. The Circle Line train. A cheer rose from the platform. They were in good voice.

The last carriage was already half full of party-goers. We all piled on, made acquaintances, and carried on meeting, talking, and drinking. A couple of stops later a chap with his 25th birthday party entourage got on, bringing with them much-needed music. They also brought beer, and offered to exchange my empty can for a full one. I accepted, but this would be my last - the train was filling rapidly, the party spreading several carriages up the train, and the space to dance being swallowed up as at every station more people squeezed onto the train. In fact, the party was very quickly resembling rush hour, but with people in far better humour, and the smell of sweat masked by the general beery aroma. Many were asking the question: Why did we wait for drinking on tubes to be banned before organising this?

By the time we'd got round to High Street Kensington, I'd drained my can, though it was becoming an increasingly difficult battle with the ever-swelling numbers packed into our party carriage to reunite my can with my mouth. Partying in confined spaces not being one of my favourite things, and with more than half a mind on the morning's double outing, I bowed out and watched the party depart to continue on its subterranean circuit. It was about half eight. It was something of a relief to get off the train, and the party wasn't due to start for another half hour. It was going to get messy.

I watched a few more trains go past as I waited for one which would take me in a homeward direction. Every Circle Line train now had several carriages full of increasingly loud parties, with more people and alcohol pouring into each train. The commuters who'd found themselves caught up had mostly relocated to the front carriages and seemed largely untroubled, which suggested to me that, rather than banning alcohol from tubes, perhaps the last carriage on all trains should be a designated drinking carriage, with music to help encourage sozzled drinkers to gravitate towards it?

Sadly, it was with little surprise that I woke up this morning to hear that seventeen arrests had been made, and that train drivers and station staff had been assaulted.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Saturday of Eights

I was in Oxford yesterday to watch one of my favourite events of the year.

No, not Eurovision.

Yesterday was Saturday of Eights - the final day of a four-day bumps racing event for eights, which is competed between Oxford colleges. Bumps racing developed as a way in which crews could race each other on a river too narrow to permit side-by-side racing. Instead, boats line up along the length of the river, separated by a fixed number of boat lengths at the start, and all start at the same time. The aim is to catch the boat ahead and achieve a 'bump' on that boat by doing one of the following:

  • any part of your boat, blades or crew making physical contact with any of the boat ahead's boat, blades or crew;
  • the cox of the boat ahead raising their arm to concede that a bump is inevitable (hopefully done in time to prevent damage to boat or crew);
  • rowing past the boat ahead, such that the stern of your boat has fully passed the bows of the boat which started ahead (usually achieved by the boat ahead crashing into the bank in the lower divisions).

Bumps racing is excellent fun, and I have fond memories of rowing in an excellent crew in Summer Eights, which is still now probably the best crew I have rowed in (or at least the best crew over the thirty or forty strokes it would take us to bump the boat ahead). I have an illuminated, trophy blade from my efforts in a crew a good few years ago who achieved a bump on each of the four days of racing, and thus 'won blades'. We also won a 'Bump Supper' - a free four course meal for the rest of the college to celebrate the achievement (and thus became instantly very popular).

Saturday of Eights brings boaties back to college. I knew full well the usual suspects from my university days would be gathering at the boathouse to cheer on the crews yesterday, and catch up over a Pimms or two. Unfortunately, in the event, I was too busy catching up over a few pints of Pimms to watch much of the racing or take any pictures, so here're a few pictures from 2006 to give a flavour of the day:

Saturday of Eights - Lots of People, Lots of Pimms

One of the old guard in the college boathouse - trophy blades on the wall behind

Women's 1st VIIIs paddling down to the start

...And did I mention the Pimms?

After racing - the fast way to cool off

Well... racing is thirsty work...

Did I ever tell you...

... This rumbles on.

In a further update, I am still trying to work out whether I feel appalled by the DR, sorry for her lack of awareness, or just privileged to have been privy to such a ludicrous situation. Or all of the above.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Low tide

The Thames is different at low tide.

Far from the bloated monster that stalks the city, at low tide the river becomes a fragile ribbon, a thin sheet of water draped between the muddy banks.

As I walked back from the boathouse following a session on the ergs, I noticed an eight and accompanying coaching launch slicing into the flat, charcoal water, leaving in their wakes a rippled surface, shimmering with the reflection of the pale sky. I would have liked to have had my camera on me.

The waterfowl make good use of low tide. Cormorants perch along the water's edge drying their wings. Ducks waddle around the foreshore, seeking out tasty tidbits - a far cry from their behaviour at high water when they gather speculatively around anyone lingering by the river, waiting for the regular dispensation of half a loaf of thick-sliced white. Starlings scurry over the mud, hunting down the occasional worm. They're not sociable, the birds. They don't appear to seek out company. Neither are they fighting. It is peaceful enough.

There is a family of bicycles which appears at low tide. Four of them, upright, wedged firmly in the mud. Two of them look to be adult sizes, two are child-sized. A stool is similarly unveiled, but lies on its side, forlorn, half-covered in water. The waterfowl ignore the bikes and stool.

I'd hung over the railings for a few minutes, lingering in the moment, enjoying the cool air on my arms and legs, being refreshing after the recent warm weather.

"What are you drinking?"

What a strange question... I turned round. A small child wanted to know what the liquid in my bottle was, from which I'd been conscientiously swigging.

"This? Orange juice."

It was true. It had some added sugar and a little salt, nothing stronger than that. I omitted this information in my answer. It didn't seem important.


The child didn't seem to believe me. It occurred to me that this was terribly sad.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Happy Cake Day

Today, 12th May, is Cake Day. Cake Day marks the anniversary of the last occasion on which one of my dearest friends cut herself. It's been seven years.

This is the medal I collected at the end of the Lincoln 10k, which I ran with her a few weeks ago.

I am ridiculously proud of this medal. Not for my achievement, but for having been present when this same friend who celebrated cake day today finished the 10k back at the end of March. For much of the last twelve or so years, between the booze and the fags and the self harm (and accidental self-conflagration), she's not exactly been a picture of physical or mental health. So I was thrilled for her when she said she was running the Lincoln 10k. Through choice.

I'd asked if I could run with her, too. I didn't want to impose myself, and knew she'd feel she couldn't say "no", and also knew that she'd probably feel under pressure to complete the run if someone else was going to run with her. I therefore felt a bit of a heel for doing this, which I convinced myself I was doing with the best of intentions, but really I wanted to be there to encourage her when it got tough and, despite the fact that it would be physically uncomfortable, to get through the race to the finish without walking. To have Done It.

Come March, despite preparations not being fantastic, we pitched up in Lincoln for the run. She'd been ill for the last few weeks and hadn't trained for a while, but still made it to the start line. It would be a tough hour or so.

A couple of other friends were running the race, too, but we left them nearer the start line queue in the sub 50:00 block and sub 1:00:00 block, and made our way towards the back of the gathering masses. (Having run a few road races, I'm of the opinion that unless you're one of the elite runners and can get away quickly, starting towards the back makes running far easier than tripping over the heels of tightly bunched runners.)

After a delay at the start for the police to shift a few cars parked on the course, the first couple of kilometers passed uneventfully. We'd barely made it into an unhindered stride as we passed the first marker, and were just beginning to settle into the same pace as those around at the second. 2km down, and 15 minutes had gone. I'd thought before the race that a 1hr 15min time would be a good pace to aim for, and it was with some satisfaction that I checked my watch to find us on pace. It was at this point that my friend decided to tell me she'd never run further than 2.5km.

I reassessed.

"OK, no worries. You're moving nicely - how're you feeling? Does this feel sustainable?" Heck. I was sure she'd mentioned doing 4 miles previously. I guess that must have been a run/walk. Nevertheless, she seemed in reasonable form, she assured me the pace felt fine (how would she know...? We were going to run another three times further than she'd ever done in her life.) Time to put on the smilers:

"Cool, let's get to 3km, feel proud of the achievement, assess how you're feeling, and plan from there.

3 km was a welcome sign. Already in uncharted territory, in many ways, there would be nothing new now until the finish, increasing fatigue, increasing pain, slower speed. But we were still moving nicely. Our pace had slowed once the runners had thinned out and some of the early adrenalin dissipated. Still, I assumed we'd be walking before the end of the race, but not before 5 km if I could help it - at least she'd have a 5 km time to beat in future races, and could take pride in running that distance. She agreed to the plan. 4 km came and went - 4 down, one more to go, and then there would be water, a 5 km time and a re-assessment of the race plan as our rewards.

Halfway. 5 km in 39 minutes and 35 seconds. Twice as far as she'd ever run before. This was time for her to feel proud. I think she was. I know I was. Actually, "amazed" would better sum up my feelings, and my disbelief that I was halfway through a 10k with my friend running alongside. Wow.

Collection of water bottles and an overdue re-lacing later, we were back to a steady jog. The water had evidently done some good as I noticed with some relief that the pace had picked up again to a point where I could lengthen my stride. Spirits had lifted - the talk became more positive, with mention of a half marathon before the end of the year, and an aim to complete this course without any walking.

6 km somehow disappeared without trace. There undoubtedly was a marker, we undoubtedly celebrated having trampled down another km. 7 km was nearly three times further than she'd ever run before, and 8km was time to feel absolutely bloody proud of the achievement, if also a bit knackered and on the verge of breaking.

After about 8km, she said: "Do... hssss...hsss... you think.....hhsss... pouring... hsss... water on... hss... my head... hsss.... like they... hsss..... do... hss.... on telly... hsss.... would... hsss.... help... hssss?" There followed the emptying of a good half bottle of water over her head. "Oh god... hsss... that feels good.... hsss..."

I loved her next comment about now knowing how the marathon runners feel. I had never even considered that I might see the day on which she'd identify with elite marathon runners. Previously, she'd thought they were nutters for pouring water over themselves instead of drinking it. Now she knew the feeling of relief and refreshment first-hand. That was another "Wow" moment. I was notching up quite a few of them that day. I think, and I hope,  she was, too.

Somewhere inbetween 8 and 9 km, her competitive spirit rose to the surface - I'd never known she had one. She'd spotted a couple of victims people ahead of us. A few minutes later, we'd reeled them in, jogging past with an ease that'd disappeared three or four kilometres ago. "C'mon!" For once, it wasn't me saying that. I almost exploded with happiness.

The final kilometre was a very long, long way. I was certain every corner we rounded would yield sight of the finish. But it didn't. Just another corner. She was suffering, and not for the first time I felt like a complete heel for trying to press the pace a little, just enough for me to take longer strides and relieve some of the tightness in my calves, which had done a lot of work in keeping me bouncing along whilst taking very short strides, and also because we were being overtaken by people who were walking. I wasn't having that. I don't mind being overtaken by race walkers on a mision, but I wasn't going to contemplate my friend, who'd run the whole thing (with the except of a few short paces and a re-lacing at 5 km), finishing behind people who'd jacked in the running and were going to walk across the line. "C'mon - they've given up. You haven't. Show them your pride." Crap - for the first time in the race, as we rounded the corner and caught sight of the finish,  I was having to run. Actually running. Moving with speed.

We had a huge, sweaty hug at the finish. She was in tears. I'd felt that recently, as well. I'd cried after finishing a race in January, racing after having had the norovirus. I felt empty, drained, stripped of any chattels of identity, broken and completely naked. But I'd got through something I thought I wouldn't, thought I couldn't. I'd put doubts aside and proved to myself that the strength of my will was greater than the weakness of my body. When, after finishing, the will disappears, redundant, only the weakness remains. That's why I blubbed my way back to the boathouse, and why she was in a heap, propped up on my shoulders. Empty, drained, and overwhelmed with achievement.

Later on, having collected our medals, T-shirts and thoughts, we found our friends somewhere amongst the gathered masses and made our way to a nearby pub for celebratory shandies and cokes. Our other friends who had run were pleased with their times or with getting round in one piece. I had run well within myself, and was torn between my lack of exuberance at not really having done anything, and my unbridled pride for my friend, who'd just got her first medal for anything, ever, made a massive leap of mindset from "I can't" to "I can", and was looking forward to taking her richly deserved medal into work the next day to show the guy who runs marathons for fun.

I just wish I could adequately describe how proud I am to have been a small part in that.