Things you might have missed..

Trans-Cambrian MTB Sept 2017

And an excuse to post one of my favourite pictures. Trans Cambrian – Sept 2017. As wet as a man can get without drowning.

Without further ado, these are the most read posts in 2017.  Who knows why. Probably spambots.

2017- Curated

And this is the updated bike page which receives far more edits than any individual post 😉

Emperor. Missing clothes.

Running out of time

That's a foot in case you were wondering

There are a collection of noises you wish remained silent. Clustered around aural stimuli triggering involuntary gasps, cries of pain and classic anglo Saxon verbiage rhythmically assembled around the extensive use of the word ‘fuck‘.

Instant awakening to a night creak on the stair, dread comprehension of a car/immovable scenery interface and the sound of ligaments tearing themselves from their biomechanical norms.

What a noise that is. Somewhere between the creaking of a Man-of-War tortured under full sail and the snap of a door slamming. Other senses tumble in; the sharp flash of pain, the smell of the earth rising towards your stumbling frame, the view of the world going sideways.

It’s gone sideways alright. In more ways than one. And while this extends barely past a second of misjudgement, the story starts some ten days before. A happier time when an uninjured Al ran 15 kilometres at a pace that’d easily meet the goal of a sub two hour half marathon. After which the whole ridiculous enterprise, of a fifty year old man pretending there were still athletic achievements worth striving for, could be firmly shut down and never spoken of again.

Riding bikes – people who fail the risk/reward test say – must be dangerous. Well yes and no. Yes because the chance of physics and geography coming together in a bone crushing manner tends to the probable, but no as that’s mitigated by the experience of twenty years gaining adequate skill to avoid doing so.

Running though is essentially Russian roulette with no empty chambers. Metabolising diesel fumes in the traffic offers a similar level of serious injury as lying in front of it may provide. There’s a one to one correlation between my last two runs and the number of limbs seriously compromised.

Firstly that 15km had consequences; the visible one being a pathetic limp when my left knee took umbrage at ground pounding,  so striking out in a slightly different direction to the rest of the leg. I’m not a medical man but I’ll do my best to describe it. Scrape-y – each step sanding a little off the wonky bit of my patella.

A weeks recuperation based entirely on a Christmas cheese and wine diet failed to ease the abrasion, so my long suffering physio was called in to deal with this latest incident of hypochondria. The summary of that diagnosis was ‘being old but not wise enough to stretch properly‘ and a caveated green light to go and try again.

Rather than risk a further ninety minutes of asphalt percussion, I collected my proper running mate Ian and his ridiculously rapid tiny mutt in an eight legged assault of the lower slopes of Penyard woods. Woods that have been the subject of brutal logging leaving a barren landscape of ankle deep mud and fallen trees.

The latter represented my nemesis. The former merely pissed me off for the 40 minutes or so of us making slow progress* on flooded trails abruptly terminated by felled trees and trench like double track. We headed away from the arboreal carnage choosing instead some choice singletrack laced with happy two wheeled memories.

Not anymore. Now when I think of this trail it contracts my inside as synapses zap dendrites taking me right back there and THAT noise. The one following a stumble over a fallen log, a desperate attempt to stabilise a falling body, a moment of disentoriation as my head torch illuminated first the ground and then the stars, followed inevitably with my entire weight rolling my right ankle to ninety degrees.

I wasn’t going to run this off. But I had to try as the option was to give up, limp to the road and wait for Ian to fetch me back. He’d have been fine with it, I really wasn’t and the bloody dog was giving me the eye. So we jogged gently home, I grabbed a bag of ice and a box of Ibuprofen and some internet self diagnosis.

Really not required. When your frankenankle(tm) is the size of a grapefruit and you can barely get a sock over it, it’s probably reasonably to assume bad things have happened. Not quite sure what. The full horror will be revealed when my on-speedial-physio can do a proper evaluation once the swelling subsides.

Until then the best case scenario suggests 2-4 weeks. The worse case one… well let’s not go there as that suggests riding bikes in Spring might be happening to other people.

What it definitely means is no half marathon for me next week. I’m genuinely pissed off because a) I was on course to be on the course for less than 2 hours and b) I’ll have to carry on bloody risking injury to run the same race sometime in April.

I could just give up. It’s not like I don’t have form here. Not going to happen. For a few moments in the last two months I’ve genuinely enjoyed making progress by foot.  And I’ll be buggered if all the horrible bits interspersing those flashes of a runners high won’t count for something.

Whatever. That’s for later. Right now I’m reflecting on what a stupid bloody idea it was to give up drinking this month.

*that’s pretty much my running pace. Ian could easily lap me at least once but is far too good a mate to even suggest it. His bloody dog looks keen tho.

Tradition

Edd's Birthday ride - Gap in the snow

Tradition is an odd concept when you think about it. It decomposes into repeating the same things yet somehow expecting a different outcome. Which is a rather better definition for insanity.

Examples abound; this is the year we pack unstable family relationships into a tight box,  ignite the blue touch paper with alcohol and by some miracle nothing shall explode*. Further there is no possibility I shall emerge from these ten days more than 1 kg heavier despite eating my own body weight in cheese washed down with tasty toxins. Finally the fragile purity of my resolutions shall not shatter under the weight of dark, frozen January misery.

That’s pretty much covered off the joy of Christmas so let’s move onto some real food for the soul** The therapy/drinking group cleverly disguised as a loose association of mountain bike riders mark the holidays with a ride up and over a Welsh mountain.  While the route and the date never change, who actually turns up is a little more random based on availability, prevailing weather conditions, level of apathy and – in the case of one particular chap – the ability to function whilst under the spell of a crippling hangover.

We’ve been here before. Tradition dictates we shall go there again. It’s like bloody groundhog day with less amusing marsupial and more stumbling idiot.  Learning at least a little from last years debacle, my bag was fully packed and triple checked a whole day before. Ensuring my performance – while still wholly pitiful – would not be degraded due to a lack of the proper equipment.

Aside from my body. Which has the misfortune to host my brain. An organ that cannot look at a six bottle wine rack without considering it some kind of personal challenge. Although first it needs to warm up with a couple of beers, and some kind of donkey stunning cocktail, before a one man bacchanalian assault on all things liquid grape.

Not quite one man. Matt and Lauren kept me company,  but only I was able to entertain everyone in the room with a repeated stumble over an obviously placed obstacle when making room for more poison became a biological necessity.

As the world swam out of focus, some malicious bastard added gin to it. In quantities that would have transitioned that donkey from stunned to dead. Through years of rigorous practical study, I avoided any such fate instead retiring to bed at around 7pm, once I’d established which flight of stairs might be the real one.

The next morning we went riding. It was epic. A proper death march. Which considering I couldn’t operate a tooth brush at 7am is something I’m somewhat surprised I physically survived. Mentally though I’m a little tougher than I pretend so neshing out was never a remote possibility, although being violently ill in the van was my constant companion as we ascended into increasingly snowy landscapes.

Days like these aren’t about the riding. They are about the memories. The healing process kick-started by my three compatriots incessantly ripping the piss.  Then staring at the glass-still reservoir under white-dusted hills on the first climb. Noting the increasing snow depth as we climbed higher. Playing the game of riding on partially solid ice without crashing through.

And then onward through metre high snow drifts where bikes were going to be nothing more than an annoying accessory. Until they weren’t which is pretty much when the crashing started.  A 15 minute moorland yomp was transformed into a nearly an hour and a half of pathfinding, falling over in the snow, permanent laughing and wondering when it might be going dark.

The conditions didn’t improve much. They changed from deep snow to sloppy chop to hard ice. Our response was the same- ride what you can, walk the rest. Concluding in arse-sliding down the descent from the gap desperately hanging onto difficultly shaped bicycles. Even when remounting became an option, it was still mildly hairy. Especially if you were still mostly drunk.

By the time we hit the road – still with nearly 10km to go – the frozen four were suffering from ice-block feet and finger numbness. Which made the last 30 minutes chain ganging the canal path fairly unpleasant. Mainly as the path was more water than anything else so firing barely liquid moisture at sodden shoes.

What else do I remember? The aforementioned slide down a steep trail being made just a little more exciting when Haydn and – more worryingly – Hadyn’s spiky bike just failing to remove one of my vital organs. I called an impromptu meeting of the death march committee to declare it a solid 8, with a consideration for a further half point if anyone actually contacted frostbite.

No one did. I know this for sure as the four of us joined another twenty for food later. An event where drink was also served –  even to a man who had made the rash statement. some twelve hours earlier,  that he had given it up for life.

Anyway that’ll do.  Until next year, happy arbitrarily-selected temporal recalibration point***

*arguably that’s a safer bet than the whole virgin birth/sky fairy thing but we’ve been there before and I’ve nothing else to say on the matter. Other than REALLY?

**did I eat that? Probably. I ate almost everything else.

***stolen off facecloth. It’s got to be good for something.

Beat Yesterday

Done not dusted

That’s Garmin’s slogan extorting you to being a better person. Backsliding is not acceptable. Each day is an opportunity to best yourself against a virtual you who failed to meet the standard yesterday.

This it not unusual when considering how global brands are desperate to to sell you stuff. Nike could not be clearer in their messaging ; you can ‘just do it’. Adidas advance ‘impossible is nothing’ which suggests their marketing department have abandoned semantic norms and are instead merely splicing post it notes in their mood room.

Here’s the problem.  Those of us managing decline are not in a position to beat yesterday. I can’t even remember what happened yesterday.  Sure I’ve not entirely given up, abandoned trousers without elastication nor embraced that middle aged trope of patting a sloping stomach before declaring it ‘all paid for’

Even so, being faster than a younger version of myself is a bit of an ask. The research is equally narratively compelling and pretty bloody depressing.  From 50 you’re adding three kilo’s of flab per annum unless you’re rocking the spinach diet. Injuries take so much longer to heal, and based on a statistical sample of one I’m inclined to agree.

Let the minds eye rove over this broken frame. Barely articulating right ankle busted on some European Alp. Feet sporting badly healed broken big toes crushed by hidden stumps,  right shoulder crunched by a poor decision followed by  a big impact, right hand ring finger articulating half the born movement after smashing it into a rock, left wrist permanently sore from missing an apex and finding a rock gully in Spain.

Thats the highlights reel. It glosses over what’s going in my head.  In 15 years I’ve often trembled at the top of scary shit and ignored the terror for the dopamine hit. Sometimes that worked out, other times not so much.   But being there is amazing, being someone you are not,  riding the trail rhythm and wondering if this is enough.

It really is. This is not about beating yesterday. This is about fusing friends, fitness, trail and outcomes ignoring the metrics of what success might feel like. I’ve been writing this shit for 15 years but  I still cannot find the words to articulate how riding bikes takes you out of wondering if you are doing the right things. If you are good enough. If you’ve made the right choices. If your little life on the planet means something.

It means something. It means this. It’s the friends with whom I’ve shared many experiences of winging it, who I’ve shivered with under darkening skies in navigational confusion, who I’ve toasted with beer on the summer solstice and who I’ve trusted to deliver me safely from a winters day silhouetted on difficult geography.

This is not about being better today. It had nothing to do with Strava segments. It doesn’t give a flying fuck about progression. It is nothing more than sliding about in winter mud while attempting to remain upright, to send the best rider out first, to laugh when that rider falls into the shrubbery, to hang onto a fish-tailing rear and wonder again if this might be enough.

It really is. We sat in the pub getting shitfaced and the conversation was mostly what we do next. My craggy faced friends and I are not about how to beat yesterday, we’re more wondering what happens next. And when you’re as old as we are that’s a petty amazing thing. How fucking terrifying might that be when it stops?

So I’m not going to compare 2016 to the dying arc of 2017. I’m not buying into metrics which may suggest one is somehow better than the other.  I’m so far done with that. My life is complicated enough without worrying if how I piss away my spare hours makes any kind of sense.

I’ve no interest in beating yesterday. I just want the opportunity to have a crack at tomorrow.

On that note Merry Xmas if the whole sky fairy thing is working for you 🙂

Nobody’s perfect

Penyard MTB - December

Perfection is a problem. Digital content assaults us from all sides. It flicks every channel to remind us how rubbish we ordinary people are. And yet we cannot escape the images propagated by our minds eye suggesting that, while we might not be perfect, awesome is respectable second place.

Reality blunts that vision. It’s the main reason I hide behind the camera to make by betters appear, well, better. Location, angles and composition intersect to enhance that flawed reality into something superior. Whenever I find myself on the wrong side of the lens, the gap between perception and electronic imprint is somewhere between a bit disappointing and deeply embarrassing.

Somehow the image in my head transposes to a bloke recently introduced to the sport of mountain biking and – further – he appears to be method acting a homage to ‘crouching badger, hidden terror‘. Over the years, I’ve reconciled myself to being the bridesmaid rather than the bride. Or – to stray into rarely considered accuracy – the drunk lying amongst the gravestones desperate for someone to notice him.

I do get noticed. For all the wrong reasons. December has been a total bastard in terms of other peoples deadlines. Normally I’m with the late, great Douglas Adams who enjoyed the sound of such things whizzing past his head as he takes cover under a desk. Not so this time around with a fading 2017 colliding with stuff that really must be done.

So I did it. Long days. Much grumpiness. Finally freed from wresting 5000 words into some kind of coherent whole, I hit send, the bottle and trails of slick mud I’d last ridden under dry November skies. I was so desperate to ride the incessant rain keeping me awake last night in no way stayed my enthusiasm.

Early signs weren’t great. Soil long distanced from dry. Forestry works scything across favourite trails. Legs reconfigured for running finding pedalling hard effort. Clouds clamped hard onto a damp landscape promising more moisture later. Still if you don’t go you don’t know.

Here’s what I didn’t know. Trails on the glass side of slippy are proper tests of the four season mountain biker. Committing a great tyre to the turn is a perfect metaphor for ‘up front for dancing, back there for partying’. Drifting on slick leaves doesn’t feel much less fun than railing hard summer dirt.

Glad to be out basically. Missed riding my bike. I wasn’t alone as four riders – line astern – giggled their way through the last few turns of a trail we’d just excited. I didn’t recognise them but that’s fine as they identified me through a DNA back-scatter of pattern recognition.

Hey Al‘ they called. ‘I’d recognise that pedalling style anywhere‘. Polite enough not to add further description but in my head I’m hearing ‘Shaved pedal mashing gibbon barely able to maintain forward momentum‘. And let’s remember these are my friends. Slings and arrow of outrageous fortune and all that.

We bantered. I accused then of abandoning their glacial sponge of the Malvern hills to ruin our mud, and they countered with a view that those hills were full of trails straight cut to A&E, and further infested with the rambling class who are oh-so-supportive of mountain bikers.

Whatever. I’d pay good money to be tagged by my riding peers for superb downhill posture, a cornering masterclass or a jumping guru. Unlikely since every time a picture paints a thousand words, those words would suggest a man who is somewhat beyond mildly perturbed, possibly due to the distraction of interacting with a bicycle in what appears to be a first time meeting or a fight.

I blame my gibbon like proportions. Others less kind would suggest a demonstrable lack of technique, a stance favouring the back wheel or an expression suggesting one may have just followed through. I’ve seen the photos and it’s hard to argue with almost any of that.

Even so. Being identified by your wonky pedalling style feels akin to placing third in a knobbly knees contest, or winning the right to be considered the best thing to come out of Lancashire. Faint praise to be damned with.

With dignity being a thing that happens to other people,  I was able to internalise the ignominy and crack on building a belief system around the awesomeness of my front tyre. Which worked brilliantly right up to the point of dropping into a mud gully, making aspirational assumptions around the grip of polished roots and ending up lying upside down under my bike.

That is what I consider my ‘best side’.  I’m easily identifiable when lying supine wondering aloud if some kind of mud-bunny has wrested traction from my front wheel. It’s not a new experience, so I was happy to milk it before slithering darkly down the remainder of the trail.

Which was nothing less than fabulous. It’s a whole lot slower than summer but no less engaging. Sure I’ll be sick of it come March, but right now having not ridden much in the last month reminds me why I need to ride a whole lot more in the next two.

You’ll find me pedalling wonkily with a big grin on my face.

Hello future. I’ve not really been expecting you.

As a nation, we’re increasingly shunted onto the global railroad towards autonomous cars. I find myself pretty much unconcerned about that as an end goal, but my personal crossings are flashing orange at the interim states considering a marketed future and the chaos of right now.

Much of this is a recognition that I am not a good driver. See what I did there? Admitting a deficit in a capability which is normally grouped with ‘being great in bed’ and basically ‘operating as a proper bloke’. Shielding that truth is for younger fellas; I’m far too aggressive, make poor decisions under pressure, have fists of ham when it comes to understanding handling and balance, and really can’t park for shit.

Technology may rescue me. Handing over a suitcase of cash for the ‘Bavarian Bomber’ triggered a couple of things; firstly, being blindsided by the salesman who’d secured his commission, then receiving all sorts of media based introductions to our new car.

One of which was a 25-minute video on operating a mechanical contrivance of which I’ve driven derivatives around a million miles in the last 30 years. The first 90 seconds helped the educationally troubled unlock the vehicle, while the remainder attempted to resolve a juxtaposition of mechanical savagery versus a number of computer systems which thought they may now better.

Most of which were controlled by what I’m calling the ‘Wheel of Fortune’.  A bonus of such definitional amusement was how it upset the product guy in the passenger seat, who’d been on all the training courses while missing out on how fucking annoying the old bloke might be. Ignoring his exhortation that it’s important to follow a terribly German process, I was more your dialling, flipping and random selection of options seemingly mostly marked ‘self destruct’

Things happen when such digital anarchy prevails. Probably not the things you want to happen or things without unforeseen consequences but certainly things. It is kind of intuitive though, so I fully expect to learn it fully on the exact day the car is due to go back.

There’s much more, but that’s missing due to my inability to click on options for which BMW charge you an arm and leg, before demanding a deposit of the rest of your body at a very reasonable rate of interest. What’s left is an app attempting to insinuate itself in your life worryingly similar to HAL logically explaining ‘I can’t do that Dave’*

An app for a car? Oh yes. Confirming things that your mark one eyeball does for free. Are the windows closed? Did I lock the car? Have I had my tea? Oh fuck off. Shall I warm the car up for you before you have to leave? Shall I send your life story via the onboard SIM so I can market the shit out of your for evermore?

We’re deep into decadence being served up by technology while worrying if our privacy is being violated for the privilege.  As a data guy, this worried me a bit until I realised that ship had long sailed with Facebook, twitter and the Apple ecosystem.

So instead let’s focus on the shiny; a satnav that is almost sentient, a needy interface which grabs your phone before striving to do way more pipe the audio through hidden speakers. There’s even a CD Player allowing me to burn all my rubbish 80 rock onto the internal hard drive. Hidden further behind many clicks are further pointless apps built entirely because BMW took an insane decision to write their own code for news, places of interest etc. You’re never going to view those while you’re driving,  and once you’re stopped then a useful smaller device connected to the whole web resting happily in the centre console. So Meh.

What else? A start button. Really? Is this some kind of pointless fucking F1 trickle down? In the Skoda there’s a handy receptacle to usefully hang keys from the steering column. Now I’m wasting time and space attempting to find a repository for the loaf sized key that’d ruin the line of even the cheapest suit. This doesn’t feel like any kind of upgrade.

There’s a final technology solution which you can’t even see. It’s a network of sensors and cameras monitoring the space around the car to perform threat analysis. Meaning if a pedestrian randomly stumbles into the road, the car will brake at about half a G before you’ve even had time to utter a ‘where the fuck did you come from?’

I’ve summarised this technology for you. It takes far to long to get to this point, and that point is when you’ll need to abandon the motherlode of the dealer. Which involves pressing this, tapping that, ignoring the other so aligning multiple computers allowing you to start the car.

And when it does, it’s quite the thing. Our current Yeti is probably the best car I’ve ever owned but this one has 55% more horsepower and 60% more torque in exchange for a small weight increase. Diesel is demonised now but this is a brilliantly muscular engine paired to a seamless 8 speed auto box. I did drive the nutter version accessorised with a hyperspace button and a donor card. Decided it wasn’t for me.

It’s also two foot and change longer than the Yeti. And re: previous comment on parking I’m bloody glad it has amazing sensors visually and audibly warning you that yes indeed you cant park there. The really posh ones have auto parking which would have been a) great and b) financially aligned with buying a space shuttle which the computing power allegedly matches**

There is one thing I really don’t like. A driving mode which essentially critiques your ability to anticipate events beyond the edge of the bonnet. It chides you for braking late or accelerating early. Icons flash and carefully modulated tones direct you towards being a safer, more economical driver. While I’ve fine with friends and Carol – especially Carol as that poor woman has endured 25 years of my lack of special awareness while riding shotgun- telling me I’m not a great driver, I draw the line at a 4 wheeled iPhone with the smugness package installed.

So I’ll put a bit of tape over that switch. That’s my kind of fix to a technology solution for which I’m struggling to find a problem. I’m feeling increasingly analogue in a digital world. Maybe I’ll get some kind of tin foil hat.

BMW branded of course 🙂

*if I have to explain this, you’re wasting your time here. Stanley Kubrick is your man and he’s both a) dead and b) far more worthy of your eyeballs.

** and the price. I’m massively disappointed it won’t launch itself into orbit

Done and clustered*

Does it come with a matching suit and optional coffin?

It’s close to that time of year when we reflect on the past twelve months, critically examine the decisions we’ve made and paths we’ve chosen. We may wearily raise our heads from whatever desk currently represents our vocational speciality, and wonder aloud if ‘ I want to be doing this same shit next year?

Well opportunity may indeed be knocking. If you’ve considered a sideways move into the amusingly unregulated sector of double glazing, but feel their salespeople are just a little too constrained by ethical concerns, you may be ready for a shot at the big time.

Get yourself a branded suit, an edgy haircut, a book full of ‘oh fuck me are we still in the 70s’ sales techniques, and start lying so hard you’ll forget the discombobulated individual melting under the furnace like glow of your self belief is something other than a scratch on the commission bedpost.

It may be clear from my opening remarks that I’ve not much enjoyed the car buying experience. That’s not entirely accurate – I’ve really fucking hated it, from start to bloody finish with only a couple of mild highlights preventing me going full-arson on every twat populated glass shrine to shafting the customer in all of Herefordshire.

Let’s consider that for a minute. In at attempt to wrest some kind of control back from a small child charmingly suit-clad in some kind of bring your precocious cock-infant to work day, I developed a half decent statistical model to unpick a number of manufacturers discount structures. Regardless of the name emblazoned above the door, they correlate around floor price and entropy.

Essentially this is a direct sales model with limited latitude for each franchised dealer to shift volume. And that is all they care about. Oh sure you’ll get the full tedium of something termed long term relationship neither of you believe, and some additional bollocks trumpeting the qualitative cosiness of a local buyer, but it’s all just shit added to the heap marked ‘there’s one born every minute’

This one was born some 50 years ago. And in a perfect storm of year end targets, a plunge in diesel values and a stroppy, stubborn northerner my customer classification was apparently ‘price sensitive and rational’. Clearly they were referring to Carol , who I dragged into every showroom and, unleashed once Mr Special Relationship started talking real cash.

I don’t blame the dealer. I really don’t. In a world of sharks, there’s no room for a nice friendly seal. Lawyers pretty much are the wikipedia citation for that. I blame myself for feeling guilty when saying ‘no I’m sorry but paying list price for something of which there are many and yours is no different makes me a little uncomfortable. Could you reduce it by a whole pound?

Light dawned deep in the night when my wide awake mind stopped circling around the problem and started devising a better strategy.  Morning saw me furiously tapping this keyboard demanding best and final offers from anyone with an internet presence. Such was the level of horse trading, I sort of lost track of it and at one point the informational tornado overloading my inbox suggested I had indeed bought a horse.

The result of which was being one minute from buying a car from a man I’ve never met 200 miles away at a discount which negated these things being an issue. In between ending that call and checking figures, the local dealer lit up my phone with some kind of phony butt-hurt that I’d somehow let him down.

Oh-fucking-contraire. I don’t bloody thing so. You’ve attempted to sell me everything in your showroom up to and including the coffee machine through manipulation, blatant lies and – it has to be said – breathtaking chutzpah. I even began to admire his tenacity in the face of Carol’s stonewalling and my pained expression.

He offered me a final car – from the rambling pantheon of when the fuck did this one just turn up then? – with options I didn’t want and wheels that were clearly stupid. At least it wasn’t white. I’d already rejected about 900 of those.  It was however cheap, for a given value of cheap, having been pre-registered to hit some spurious target a couple of months previously.

I cracked and schlepped over the Hereford one more time. Drove it. Sat down exhausted opposite the grand inquisitor as he talked numbers. Brilliantly he and the sales manager then had a pretty much stand up argument on what those numbers might be. I exchanged a non-plussed glance with Carol before sitting back to enjoy the show.

Result of which we ended up in a place where they continued to lie about how much money they were losing, and we screwed them into the ground over every detail. I’m not entirely lacking lucidity tho – at no point in the transaction did I think we’re coming out anywhere close to on top.

Still 25% off a new car isn’t a bad place to end up. Even when knowing waiting a little longer would have increased the discount. That however would have brought my continuing sanity into play. So when, on collecting the car, his parting shot was ‘well at least we had fun’ I couldn’t agree.

Maybe you fella. Not me. Not a bit of it. The car tho? It’s really very nice. In all sorts of ways. I might be back to that. Right now tho, I’m just bloody delighted not to voluntarily enter another car showroom for three years.

And I’m still not sure about those wheels.

*fucked. Obviously. Might as well warm you up to this post being quite sweary.

 

This is just getting ridiculous…

Are we there yet?

….. which best summarises my thoughts on viewing video of my tragic middle aged jogging.  Third time I’d been ejected from the treadmill into the orbit of a lovely fella, who promised the application of running technology – and a splash of cash – could magically upgrade my running style to something beyond its current incarnation as an ‘amateur pantomime hack milking the scene where he’d just been shot in the back’

We were lucky to get this far. Well I was certainly after peering through the product festooned window of the local running shop with dread in my heart. Sure any vestige of dignity was exhausted many years ago, but it still required an effort of will and a muttered ‘fuck it, it’s just a shop’ to get me through the door. I mean someone was going to start laughing very soon and it probably wasn’t going to be me.

No danger of that as the amusingly shonky treadmill accelerated from 0 to 8 MPH  at a velocity that’d shame a mid sized sports car. Thirty seconds later my flailing limbs faced the opposite challenge of a stop sequence best thought of as smashing head first into a wall.

All of which was more dignified than viewing the video of my gait. ‘Ah what you have here sir is a classic case of over-pronation‘ soothed the man knee deep in expensive running slippers. He’s the expert, but to me it appeared a triumph of biomechanics not to have catastrophically tripped over my own feet. Each stride ignored any forward motion- instead converting that effort into kicking myself in the opposite butt cheek.

It wasn’t pretty. Three pairs of increasingly othopedic footwear sabilised the image past the point of me caring how much the bloody things cost. Just don’t put me back on that rocket powered treadmill or present another video of my big arse. We parted happily – him with a chunk of cash, me with a pair of something that may once have been called shoes before the marketing thugs beat up on it.

They have DNA’*, blown foam** and a 10mm midsole drop apparently all in the pursuit of responsive cushioning, quick transitions and the ability to launch into low earth orbit. Only one of those things isn’t true. Well not written down on the instructions accompaning the shoe. Yes indeed we live in a world where shoes need instructions, What a time to be alive.

Clearly all total marketing bollocks. I was especially keen to prove that hypothesis after their sniffy response to my current choice of running footwear. There was much blowing through hipster beards, some pointing, the occasional pointed question mostly answered ‘I like the colour’ and ‘they were bloody cheap’,

What we need here is a race. Marketing V Me. Emperor wearing no clothes V me wrapped tight in appropriate gear to repel the 40 KMH winds and fat rain joining us for a run. Which greeted my proper running mate Ian and I as we tacked away from his front door.

I can deal with the fact Ian is a way better runner than me. He’s younger, way more athletic, has actually run some proper races, and has insufficient body fat to allow his fatter mate to get a decent draft. What I struggled with was his tiny dog clearly modelled on a mouldy bog brush, with barely finger long legs, also showing me a clean pair of heels.

Splashing through a wild night*** Ian was comfortably maintaining a decent pace and an untroubled conversation, while I was acting as a human turbine sucking in wet gusts and blowing them out of my arse.

The remaining 51 minutes and 42 seconds are mostly lost to middle aged memory and expensive therapy, other than the encouragement of my fellow lunatic and that bloody dog giving me a ‘is that all you’ve got fatboy? Man that’s lame‘ look every time I staggered dangerously.

Lame is nearly where I ended up after some fucked up atmospheric mechanics matched that headwind to our every turn. The last 2km were particularly unpleasant where my conversational contributions were mostly grunts interspersed with ‘fucking hell, is this ever going to end?

It ended eventually. Some 2 minutes faster than I’ve ever run 10km before. 5 minutes in I’d forgotten the shoes, but after a brief lie down in Ian’s kitchen I recalled my scepticism to the bullshit psuedo-science and suddenly didn’t feel quite so sure.

It didn’t really end there because today there were hill sprints which I’ll not dignify with a description other than bloody hateful, and an extended visit to my sports physio who declared I have the hamstrings of a 9 year old. In length, rather than flexibility.

57 days to the race. As ever I’m being pointlessly melodramatic. No change there. More worryingly I’m starting to relish the challenge.  I’ve dumped beer in the week and salad into my pie’n’wine diet. I’m not massively missing night rides in the mud. My plan is to go full cold turkey Jan 1, so to just run myself into some kind of 2 hour form before the 21st.

After which I’m going to get properly shitfaced. The consequence of which is likely to be a very expensive bonfire of the stuff required to every consider contemplating anything so bloody stupid every again.  I hope so anyway as there’s a nagging worry this running stuff may become become habitual.

We can’t have that. It’s even worse than being a roadie.

*Crick and Watson are rolling in their graves. Probably in the arc of a double helix if the universe has any sense of humour.

**Don’t google that. Not if you’re at work anyway.

*** Which triggered another expense. A bonkers clever light that comes with it’s own app. No really it does. I’ve no idea why either.

Is this a marathon or a sprint?

That's me. Except with snow on

An oft asked question which, in the netherworld of work, is generally met with groans, passive-aggressive tuts and a weary request from the allegedly knowledgeable old bloke to declare the meeting over as we’re merely bayonetting the dead.

Back in the real world, I’ve mostly been about the marathon. Many reasons – a lack of athleticism being the root of most of them.  But as a weedy asthmatic at school, cross country running was happening to the similarly untalented leaving me to play football* with the gifted kids.

So running – other than chasing down pub closing hours – has been a fairly desultory activity subsumed to the proper sport of Mountain Biking. While arguments may rage over whether riding round in muddy circles is a sport, it bloody well qualifies when compared to my middle aged jogging.

And it is in this middle age that running has been downgraded from ‘utterly hateful‘ to merely ‘bloody hard work’. Into this window of apathetic acceptance, I have chucked an entry to the Gloucester half marathon (not a proper marathon, sure I’m an idiot but not completely bloody nuts) a mere terrifying two months away.

Other events are available. Ones not likely to be materially affected by snow, ice, freezing winds, hypothermia or possible be-nightment. However, none of these would in any appreciable way mitigate my bacchanalian approach to the lauding of the sky fairy. 4 additional kilograms of anything marked high cholesterol or fortified wine is about standard for that two week period, where I only leave the house if we’re running dangerously low on Stilton.

Never run 13 miles**. Never run more than about 8 if I’m absolutely honest. After which various members of my family were wondering if to call an ambulance or a mortician, as I lay face down and unmoving in a flowerbed. No point worrying about that now, so reverting to type I’ve ignored any kind of actual training and have instead gone shopping.

First order of business – running slippers.   Who knew there are at least four shoe types in a million variations accessorised by miracle material promising to shave literally microseconds off your piss poor performance? For which deranged individuals are prepared to be fleeced well over a hundred quid for.

Clearly that’s ridiculous. When did running get this complicated? Back in the day a pair of plimsolls*** and a flappy t-shirt passed muster as race kit. All of which led me going on a bit about how gullible those runners must be to get caught up in such shallow marketing nonsense. At which point I was quietly reminded a similar MTB related search returns around 500 different mountain bike tyres.

Yes but that’s different. Look it just is. Anyway I too have become a believer-  almost booking into something called a ‘gait analysis‘, before imaging the horror and sympathy of staff and customers alike as a man apparently only recently introduced to a pair of legs falls off the treadmill.

It’s hardly going to be a dignified spectacle is it?

Instead I’ve downloaded a training plan. It appears to require bending of space-time in at least two directions, one to halve my age and the other to add six months to the training duration. So I’ve deleted it and instead installed blind optimism supported by my almost sentient Garmin which tells me my mean SPM is 173, my vertical oscillation a majestic 8.3cm and my ground contact time averaging out at a spectacular 256ms. On those stats alone, I think we’re good to go.

Except one thing, apparently it’s almost a religious observance to have some kind of target. Hard metrics seem to be very important, finish under two hours,  maintain a consistent pace, achieve perfect form and some kind of bloody karmic balance all while not sacrificing an efficient stride length****.

I’m not interested in any of that shit – instead I’ve set myself just two targets. 1) finish on my feet not in an ambulance and  2) never attempt anything so stupid again. Obviously with it being Gloucester, an implicit goal based on location is ‘don’t be mugged or eaten‘ by the locals for only having five digits on a single hand.

On reflection, a further target should be actually turning up at all. I don’t have an unblemished history of appearing on the start line of races when faced with the potential of cold/damp/occasionally difficult. I expect the prospect of eternal self loathing shall probably get me out of bed, plus the companionship of other hardy individuals. Who I am desperately hoping suffer a similar temporary bout of insanity to sign up, so keeping me company/being available to administer the last rites.

Currently I’m torn between ‘how hard can it be?’ and ‘hold my beer and watch this’. Mostly tho I’m working out how best to go long on cheating and short on training.

Best go out for a jog, I do my best thinking there.

*only not really. The only coaching advice I ever received was basically ‘tackle anyone heading towards our goal and then pass it to someone wearing our strip who is a proper footballer‘.

**well I have. But it was so long ago I’m fairly sure I was racing against real dinosaurs not ‘characters‘ in suits 😉

***or if you were a proper Yorkshire, bare feet. While chewing on a coal nugget.

**** I wish I were kidding. A single browse of ‘Runners World’ has made it absolutely clear it isn’t mine.

Are we there yet?

I can see you all nodding

Conversations. Marvellous things. A triumph of sentient behaviour. Except not really –  as the recipient has no truck for considering the loquaciousness of the speaker, because they’re far too busy spooling up far more important stuff waiting for clear air to broadcast*

Car salespeople are like this. They’ve ignored the two hour ‘listening to customers’ seminar on induction to whatever shiny brand they are  pedalling. Instead they embark on the questionable strategy of ignoring everything the pointless old bloke offering real cash may consider important.

Even if this irritating individual refuses to be swayed by prepared speeches on brand values and unique selling features, instead opening a small notebook and stabbing repeatedly at stuff that has the power to keep him right here.  As opposed to option b) which involves beating that salesperson to death with the glossy brochure before flouncing off with a ‘I’ve done the gene pool a favour‘ thrown over an insouciant shoulder.

Fuck me I’m bored of this. As are the salespeople, but that’s their job. Rather than adopting a confrontational strategy of striding into the showroom demanding an interaction with ‘someone old enough to shave as long as no obvious beard grooming is evidenced, and absolutely no waistcoats, I want to buy a car not a fucking country house‘, I’m all about guerrilla tactics.

Mostly this involves turning up in the cheapest clothes I can find**, poke about in expensive cars with a tape measure, wonder out loud if a mountain bike wheel would fit in there, prod, poke and scratch expensive fabrics until an individual from the candy crush generation wanders over and asks what I’m interested in.

At which point I gleefully awaken the kraken of requirements carefully recorded  in a notebook until boredom overwhelms them and they offer me a test drive. This activates phase two where I insist on pairing my phone with the i-think-you’ll-find-sir-this-infotamenet-system-is-class-leading before unleashing my dreadfully uncool play-list.

Not because I’m even peripherally interested in the quality of the audio system. No, I just want to see them squirm as a track 1 of ‘a 100 hits of the 80s‘ blasts out of 10 speakers. God I cherish that moment, but they soon get their revenge explaining virtual cockpit this and four wheels steering that which are essentially narrowing pathways to me signing my life away for Coke can with an ego problem.

Once the test drive is done, we move onto numbers. An area I’ve had about 30 years experience which is 29 more than the beard oil postulating bollocks opposite.  He offers averages, I counter with standard deviation and regression to the mean. Not for any other reason than I’ve lost control of any possible transaction on walking into a 26 million ‘brand facility‘ which clearly this conversation may end up paying for.

I’ve also become increasingly suspicious of my motives. For all my ‘oh fuck off, really it’s just  a car‘, I could easily buy something for half the price that’d be better than functional and nowhere near as financially destructive.  Driving breaks down like this; 15% running the kids around on a daily basis, about the same transporting me and mucky bikes to places Matt’s van isn’t going with the remaining 70% navigating to end points of our wonderfully diverse higher education sector.

For that you need a car that’ll reliably get you there, not make you look like a dick if you’re offering a lift, not mirror my fiscal insanity when considering mountain bikes, take one of those inside in an emergency and act as a family transport when I remember that’s my tribe.

Rationally I’m all in with that argument. The problem – possibly unsurprisingly to regular readers – is indeed mountain bikes. I have so many of those whose form trumps their function, and even that’s not something I’m pushing at the edge of.  So much as my amusement when confronted with  ‘advanced ride dynamics‘ has led to many awkward moments when one person looks shocked and the other is doubled over pissing themselves laughing, the guilty truth is I’m almost as much a tart for cars as I am for bikes.

If the car after this will be electric, I might as well have one last fling raging against the light. Due diligence sprouts many spreadsheets with pivot tables. Graphs are prominent. Statistical hypothesis inerpret the raw data. Which tells me everything and pretty much nothing.

But I need to do something. The Yeti is accelerating towards the contract hire event horizon. They really want it back. I really not want to give it back. Only one person is gong to win that argument, so Ive decided to avoid having to step into another of those matrix-style showrooms instead putting all our money in a bucket and inviting those wearing the suits of shiny to bring their trinkets for review.

It’s not going to work of course. But it’ll work better than hiding under the duvet thinking dark thoughts about one sales-dick who was keen to explain that ‘buying one of our cars sir will certainly make you look quite a lot more important’.

I don’t feel important. Manipulated possibly. Confused definitely. Enthused not at all. I am genuinely concerned if and when we need to move house I may have to renew my shotgun license.

*for those at least tangentially aware of social norms. Those lacking an iota of self awareness are pretty much in permanent transmit mode.

**Or as I like to think of it my ‘everyday wardrobe’