Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Conor Niland at Wimbledon

Picture on the front page of the Irish Times now - he won a point anyway! Presume he's a Crescent lad? I remember his sister Gina who also played tennis at a high level.

Interview here.

Monday, 20 June 2011

BIKE: Cushion for a pushin

I bought my first mountain bike in 1992 when I lived on Dublin's Northside. I bought it via buy and sell, who have since taken there eye of the ball and been passed by donedeal, but then they were the source for buying second hand goods. This American guy was going back to the states and was selling his Specialized RockHopper mountain bike. This was the first of three Specialized bikes I would buy in different continents, all used, all with many stories to tell. The sport was in its infancy and I there was nothing going on in Dublin I knew about and though I had an email address this was pre surfing. My first mountain bike proper ride was out along the Grand canal toe path and I did come back covered in mud! Since then I have stuck with American mountain bikes, moving to Marin and Sante Cruz after Specialized.

Now I found myself on a Boardman, an English made road bike, it was Sunday morning and I had come down to the Regional Sports Centre for the 10am ride. My 4 year old had insisted on breakfast in bed for fathers day and was sous chef for some strawberry and chocolate pancakes. No wonder I was rushing and came in 5 minutes after without any food and with no speedo or phone. I asked the congregated cyclists about the C group, if they had already gone. Don't think they'll turn up, most of them were in the Burren yesterday. I vaguely recalled some emails I had not taken in. I quickly applied some oil to my slight;y squeaky chain and said right I'll try and hang with ye lot for a while.

We headed off out the Galway road, passing the turn off to our new gaff. At least their was not a full on head wind like the last time I decided to go with the Bs. The pace was fast, probably just as well my speedo was not working / I needed to read the manual again. There was about 12 of us, one of the lads said had I been watching the golf. He had not found a stream and watched it the night before via text updates on a web site. I told him about myp2p.eu. All the rest of the help came in the other direction. One of the lads was talking about taking the first turn for Shannonbridge but when no one took it he didn't either. He was talking about not wanting to be shot as he was going for a swim at 6. All of a sudden I was a couple of bike lengths off the back and I could see it happening again but I dug and got back. We got to the roundabout on the outskirts of Ballinasloe I think and veered left for Shannonbridge. The lads were keeping an eye on me now, Kieran had seen what happened and told me not to go up front and keep in on the left. Every so often he got me to jump into the middle of the group.

It was a straight stretch and climbed a little, all of a sudden I had a hand on my back and was slingshot back to the group. We were riding over a bridge, was I in Portumna, no Shannonbridge of course. When we got on the other end of the short street through town I sank a little when I saw them turning down the road to Clonmacnoise, 8k there and then a savage straight long undulating road to Athlone, which I remembered only too well from my solo ride on it when I was dropped. I tried not to think about that section and kept cranking.

We were on the long section now and Dave was slingshotting me up the hills. He asked if I had brought any food and when I said no he gave me a snickers bar, when i said I can't take your food he said he had two. Another rider was getting a little similar help too. I took another swig out of my bottle, seeing the fading print of University Bicycles Boulder. I bought my 2nd Specialized in Boulder Recyclers which I still have. The headset is 1" wide and non standard for a modern fork now but still a handy bike to knock around on the beach or whatever. The mountain bike parks in Colorado were my first exposure to mountain biking proper and where I fell in love with the sport and the bike/climb-ski/board cycle that kept me there 5 years. One of the lads dropped his pump, the group slowed a little bit and he was back on in not so long. My water bottle was quarter full and not fitting the holder well, I noticed it hanging and straightened it, before long it fell. I braked. Dave said lower your gears and keep spinning, higher cadence rests the heart [muscles], lower cadence rests the lungs. Dave went back for the bottle.

Dave was back and handed me the bottle, I shoved into a back jersey it pocket not wanting it to fall again, and was cycling to fast to have time to figure anything else out. Four of us, I think, were trying to ger back to the group, not that I really knew that was what we were doing. Dave gave me a fresh bottle, it might have only been diluted orange but it had more of a kick that water. We were 150m back maybe and after a number of slingshots, we tightened up and pulled in to the group again. Damn, I never knew that could ne done like that. Now were were passing Ballnahowna and Kieran was giving me a few pushes up now. I readjusted my water bottle to the middle back pocket and that became the target for the next shoves. Dave said I've heard of a cushion for a push'in but that's brilliant.

We were on a longish hill with a couple of false summit and now Dave was pushing me up rather than slingshotting. I realised I didn't have much left. We got to the Moate road and turned towards Athlone and went onto the bypass for 2 exits. It's single lane at the minute, with roadworks going on upgrading it to motorway standard, though it will remain a dual carriageway as there are too many exits to get motorway status. I found something and lead our group of three along, having just lost touch of the rest in the last 10 minutes, still they were only up the road.

Getting back to the centre I saw one of the lads heading inside and rode up to him to check the stats. 67km, average speed 30.6 kph. I could not believe it. The lads were saying to come out with them regularly now, that they all have taken help in the past and that's what they do, they are a club. Seemingly it was a fast B group as that speed is normally 26kph. There was this guy up front a few others were calling Schlech who kept us turning hard. Hmmmm, maybe I could do the 40k in the tri at a good clip if I was riding in a group...there won't be any slingshots though!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

SWIM: Coosan Charity Swim 2011

I have been toying with doing a triathlon for years. Without seeing the big picture I started my swimming preparations while living in Amsterdam in 2001. I started going swimming with my mate Colin when he got back from India - I had been sub letting his apartment near De Pipj for 4 months. We would cycle down to the pool and he would lap swim. Talking to Christine she advised to do 600m (24 lengths) each time and that's how it began.

Some times I would get very regular, e.g. when I worked in Hampshire in 06/07, I got in to a routine of going down to the centre 3 times a week at lunchtime with Ben, he worked out in the gym, I would swim 1km. I was always pressed to make the arranged meet time afterwards, not least because there frequently was this retired teacher there who I would talk sports with between lengths.

My mother had shown me a book, "Total Immersion" which she has borrowed from my brother. I read a little bit of it on visits home and learned about breathing and alternating the side you breath on every 3 strokes. I struggled with front crawl and the breathing having to mix in, my escape route, breaststroke, when my nasal congestion finally jammed my breathing, i.e. mental panic kicked in. But these regular swimming periods were bursty and everywhere I lived I asked if there was anyone I could get lessons of as I wanted to flip turn, but I could never find anyone.

Then I was made redundant. 6 months were spent setting up on my own and struggling to investigate a business idea with Enterprise Ireland money and finally a brilliant buzz of 5 weeks Java programming with a start-up with an out of the blue get out of jail job offer in Athlone in the in-tray. The very tough decision was made and we moved to Athlone in the Irish midlands, the midlands were I was born and spent the first 5 years.

I knew Athlone had a Triathlon and it turned out last year as well as the normal Triathlon it hosted the European championship and we watched some of the top triathletes in the world competing. Like many in this town I began thinking why not me. I started swimming a little bit in the Regional sport centre and after a few visits made my usual enquiries about lessons. Ah yeah, improved lane swimming lessons on a Thursday night at 9.15, starting in the autumn, give us your mobile and we'll text you. And they did. First night up I naively said I wanted to learn the flip turn. Turns out there is an awful lot to learn first and the flip turn has not come up since. It's all about the drills, breaking down the stroke where you do a drill to exaggerate one of the techniques so you improve it. Such as 3/4 catch up, where you hold alternate hands over the water for a second before breaking the water. The end result being that as a result you stretch longer in the water while you are holding and your stroke count per length goes down. I thought learning to drum, where you must drop one of the 4 limbs and keep the other 3 going the same as hard, but swimming technique is another level.

That's me in the balaclava

I had heard the Coosan Charity swim mentioned and it was coming up on Tuesday 7 June, the night of my swimming lessons at that time. Christine normally has pilates at that time and getting a baby sitter was problematic but Christine needed a rest after the mini marathon and so it was on. I had called into trizone, the triathlon shop in athlone for the first time the previous week and the lad told me they would have a stand at the event and would be letting out 25 suits for free.

I had bought my first suit the previous summer in a surf shop in Tramore. I had seen on the web that the Waterford Triathlon club met every Monday night at 6.30 at Councillors beach in Dunmore East and do a sea swim. One Monday I showed up and followed them in, it was a swim across the inlet and it was choppy, there was a jet sky flying in and out, it was s bit nuts. But the swim was ok. I came back one other night and followed them on a 1200m triangle course, they waited at each triangle point for the last swimmers to come in, I'd be last. But it was cool, the duck was broken. I showed the lad at the stand by wetsuit and he said it was more for windsurfing and then showed me a tri suit, really slick and providing no resistance in the water. They retail or €250 he says, I left my laser card with him which I would get back on return of the suit.

There were 4 distances, 200m, 750, 1500 and 3000, the last 3 departing at the same time and being 1, 2 and 4 laps respectively. I had a triathlon in mind and the sprint distance did not really interest me but the coosan charity site said the 1500 was an elite swim and "swimmers for this distance will be confined to people with previous experience of this type of swim". I started queueing up and noticed that there were different tables for each distance and no one seemed to be asking questions. I moved to the 1500m line and signed up, figuring I could also drop out after a lap. The 200m finished and it was time to get into the water with the other 3 starting together. Mindful of ice cream headaches I get from cold waves I wanted to wear my wet suit hood and pulled my Coosan charity swim red hat on over it, they were colour coordinated for the 3 distances.

Not fancying the jostling or whatever at the start I stayed at the back and was one of the last to get going. I had trouble with my goggles initially with the left eye leaking and I turned on my back a couple of times to try and sort it out. Damn these suits were great, I felt confident in the water. I kept going and mixed in a far bit of breaststroke with the goggle not ideal but blanking that. I tried to look up every few strokes doing crawl but found it hard to hold a line and kept drifting right and off line. After a while I became conscious of another red hat ahead, when I did crawl I would gain on him and we met at one of the triangle points. Coming around the first lap I felt strong but was not swimming hard at all just taking it handy and seeing how it went. The 2nd lap and last triangle leg especially was tiring enough and one of the kayakers had to shout at me as I was swimming of course on the last leg. Coming in though I felt if I had to do it I could have got around another lap. An indication perhaps that I had not given it all. Coming out of the water someone told me to tell that lad my number, he said 44.11 back to me, I was like, really? I had no concept of the time but was taken by surprise not expecting that, having being timed for the first time in the pool for 750m at 19 min 52 sec in April.

2011 1500m Results

Monday, 13 June 2011

BIKE: A tale of two burgers

Winter 2000 in the southern hemisphere I found myself on the ferry to the South Island, with Bret, a good friend from my life in Colorado where I had spent nearly 5 years before going back to Ireland to take advantage of the boom as an IT contractor. I stayed 182 days and moved to New Zealand, where I had alternated periods of contracting with travel/outdoor play. In my stay to date I had done some travelling, coded utilities for a financial investment company in Wellington, spent 6 weeks climbing every day all around both islands and just come from a 6 week Delphi gig in Sydney. Now it was time for a snow boarding season. A group of my friends with roots in the States, England, Australia and Ireland were all spending some time snow boarding at treblecone in Wanaka, better known as TC. There were a number of anchor tenants and we had bought season passes, others were coming to stay for shorter periods.

It was the night of the Euro 2000 final between Italy and France. Bret is a soccer fan and actually wore my shirt after I left my co-ed team in Boulder, The Other United. So we were both keen to see the match. Driving into Christchurch after the ferry I knew what to expect, having crashed in a local climbing house for a few nights back in February when Martin and I night mountain biked in bottle forest and climbed up at Castle Rock. Christchurch is the South Islands biggest town, but it's dead quiet at night. With the match not starting until the wee hours our only option was to rent a motel room with satellite TV. But first food, we could not find an open "fush" and chippers so our only option was Burger King, we came back to watch the soccer with double bacon cheese burgers. Little did I know that it would be 11 years before I had beef again and that would be a burger too.

I was a recreational mountain biker stuck in the midland with a bit of a drive to any decent trails. Other mountain biker friends were taking to the road to mix it up as well and after training for a trip to Wales in 07 by going to a weekly spinning session and a weekend mountain bike ride I had finally realised that one needs to get the road miles in to be bike fit. The bike to work scheme and an incredible deal in Halfords for a carbon frame bike turned out to be the obvious no brainer.

The day after I picked up my bike on 5 March I went for my first ride on a road bike in 25 years was with a local club who go out for rides on Sunday mornings. My second time out I gave the B group a try. About 15 minutes into the ride going into a head wind out the Tuam road I was dropped from the peloton. I was talking to a couple of lads at the back and after a while realised I could not talk and keep cycling into this wind at 26 k/ph. It happened exactly like I have seen it on TV so many times, I could not stay with them and gradually dropped off and they were gone :-( I ended up doing a 55K loop myself, man the road from Shannonbridge to Athlone must be among the straightest in Ireland! I kept going every week and had a run of doing 40-60k 8 out of 9 weekends.

Having missed a bunch of weekend rides with life ramping up I heard at swimming that the group I had been doing the Sunday rides with, the C-specials were planning a Thursday night ride, meeting at the usual recreational centre at 6. I was still sore after the adventure run the night before, but the day was an absolute cracker and the girls were of visiting til about 8, perfect time for a 40K ride. Conscious I had no supplies, I asked a couple of riders if they had a spar banana but no. It was a brilliant evening to be out and the plan was to do 2 laps of a hill the lads call piss-off hill around Mount Temple. I had been up it once before but did not remember how it broke down really. I hung at the back and when I recognised the top was closer than I thought I pushed a bit for the top, well behind a handful of others. It was just a superb evening to be out on the bike, heading around the country roads, talking to Gerry, I was saying I think the best way to get up to the top was to stick with Sarah all the way. Gerry said go at your own pace not to worry.

I was in the mood for notching it up and bayed by Gerry's words I jumped off front, eased into a drop and took it up a gear but steady. I did not look back. I had in my head that at the end of a long stretch of road there was a right turn that lead onto piss-off hill. I was sipping a bit from my single bottle missing my mountain biking camelbak. When I got to the part of the road, that from a distance I thought was where the turn was located, I realised it wasn't the turn. And indeed it would not be a right turn anyway as we were coming at it from a different direction this time, having come in from Athlone the first time! There my powers of deduction stopped. Looking back for the first time since I popped off maybe 10 minutes previous there was of course no one else to be seen. I took the right turn anyway, there was a brown sign for some cross but the road petered out in a farmyard after climbing up a little. I had no water now but did not think about that.

Back at the main road there was a left turn not making quiet a crossroads, which I took. This started to climb a bit and I started to feel the no fuel on board since lunch time business. It was not long before I had completely bonked. Having had a couple of sort of out of body experiences climbing before it was a feeling I remembered. I passed a house gate and saw a lad, puling out of the pedals I spread eagled the bike over to where this lad was welding something. I turned around and inside the gate there was a huge artic truck parked, The window was rolled down and there was a little boy in the passenger seat. I noticed a hat on the ground under the window and he said my hat fell. I turned back to the man and said do you have an outside tap where I can fill my bottle please. He said no bother, turned off the welder and took the bottle off me to fill. I said thanks I could not see straight. I did not think to ask where I was. Trying to not drain the bottle, knowing I should conserve, I only drank 2/3 of it, I had to.

A while later, finally there was someone out, a lad working in the garden. I asked him where I was. Left at the turn will take you back down the hill to Athlone via Moydrum industrial estate. Right, will....and if you go up that road over there....and there's anther handy hill around that way. I was a little less confused that before I asked him. I cycled on and turned left, it seemed the fastest way home. As I sped down what I think now must have been piss off hill I started thinking that the route back to the car park went by fox's garage and I needed to stop there. I thought Athlone was mean to be close. Shortly afterwards I started thinking that Fox's also housed a supermac. It was not long after that I started thinking about a burger, a real burger.

It was a long road and finally the wee hill up to the service station. Parking the bike outside the door I went straight to the fridges and grabbed a bottle of lucozade sport which I necked straight. I went over to the supermac counter, looked at the menu and ordered a smokey bacon burger meal. Over to the chocolate and which one do you pick when you need the chocolate, it was no contest. I grabbed a dairymilk and got in line for the till. A minute later I was handing the girl my empty bottle and wrapper and asking her if she would mind disposing of them. As I waited at the supermacs counter I said to the lad whose face I knew from an occasional veggie burger, believe it or not this will be my first beef in 11 years.

Slumping in the fading sun outside, the burger was enjoyable, more satisfying that the 3 Christmas dinners I have had as my only meet in those 11 years. The fries were nasty, a quick duck back into the shop for ketchup little help. How do you celebrate your first beef in over a decade, clearly one then orders a 99, which I scoffed walking down the hill before rolling back to the car park at 20.45.

Friday, 10 June 2011

RUN: fishing for hubcaps

The other night I was reminded you don't have to venture too far from home to have an adventure. I had been doing my weekly swimming lessons and weekly bike ride and then around Easter time, life kicked in, multiple house moves and funerals and sick kids and long work days and all of a sudden the Athlone triathlon was only weeks away and Christine was asking was I doing it or what. She was talking about going for a run last Wednesday night and when she decided not to go I said well I better get my first run since last August in Kerry.

Christine had been doing some training for the mini marathon and recommended a lane beside us which was 1km long and suggested doing a couple of up and downs. I headed out, not sure what I was thing but something along the lines of if I can't run 10k tonight then I might as well forget about the tri. Across the road there was a little footpath disappearing in the trees I had noticed in driving past, where did it go. It just joined the turn which has the sign for the pet farm which Christine said is down a ways. Sure I'll head up there. I just had got a replacement phone from insurance after the other giving up the ghost, I had loaded up endomondo on it the night before and set it in motion. I didn't have headphones but heard the generated voice tell me as I ran up and down the small hills, lap time 5.37, time 11.09. At 3km my lap time was up to 6.19, then I saw a right turn with a brown sign indicating a megalithic tomb and took the small lane. I'll go to 4km, then do the lane near home when I get back. Lap time 6.12, more like it son.

Then I saw the motorway, the M6, a bridge ahead of me crossed it. Sure I'll just go to the to of the bridge and then turn. At the top of the bridge the gravel road the far side of the motorway which went of into the distance up the hill parallel to the motorway came more into focus. I had seen this driving the M6 back from mountain biking in Portumna and wondered where it went. The big blue sign indicated exit 13, which our new place was off, was 2km away. Could I do a loop? Always more preferable. Going up the hill there were a few gates and it was clear a farmer had done a deal with the government land purchasers. But down the hill I could see the gravel track coming to an end at a gate. It did not make sense to reverse now.

I climbed the gate and skirted around the large field pulling away from the motorway. 5 or 6 horses 200m ahead moved around nervously and seconds later as I lightly jogged the uneven ground took off at pace. The fence turned back towards the motorway and there were the horses again ahead and off the took once more. This time the fence turned again and it soon became obvious why, there was a stream, not big but not jumpable. I followed it towards the motorway, not possible to jog now. I noticed one of those big pipes near the edge of the motorway mound. If I crossed over that fence and jumped that small bit of water I cold cross over the pipe and then be over the stream. Once there it made sense to climb another fence and continue on the compulsory purchase land. I was still a good 30m from the motorway. How come they bought such a wide tract, there could be a great jogging/cycling trail put in here. I half jogged along the top of the mound, skipping right as the bush thickened, down to the right was a little stream, after, the bank climbed up to meet the motorway.

The vegetation carried me down to the stream bank and there it was, sticking out of the water, clear as day to me, a shinny VW hub cap which I knew instantly would match my car. Not something I would typically know, but I had replaced a few in the last couple of years so knew the look of them. I got my toe wet before dropping to my belly and stretching into the water to retrieve my prize. Back jogging along I had this image of myself driving along and seeing a guy dressed in running gear with #28 on the back carrying a hub cap and wanting to complete the picture for the driver as I heard a car approaching I lifted the hub cap over my head in triumph. Yes, I had come back to the scene and retrieved my hub cap.

I started to see a motorway bridge ahead and then I ran into it a full on river. I followed to the right and there was a track on both sides under the motorway. A perfect place for someone without a house to camp out, but it was not a city. A killer place for a party/rave, but someone would drown, the paths were only 2m wide. Under and over to the other side, for a microsecond I thought about wading/swimming and then I saw it 100 off to the right, a railway bridge. No turning back now.

A little tributary went off to the left, muddy sides to jump across but not too bad. Bushes and trees covered the other side in the slope up to the track, I couldn't see a way. I cut back on myself a bit and scrambled up though some tress and it was possible to pull up onto the track. Track stretched straight in both directions. Lap time 15.43. I still had light and figured I better not stay on the track too long, not exactly legal right. I crossed the bridge quick enough and it stretched off, The fence on ether side was high now and not scalable. If a train came there was enough room to hang down to the side but they would definitely see me and call it in. I kept jogging trying to pace with the sleepers. A while later, the high fence was ending by some trees up to the right. I saw house tops to the left but went right to the gap. I squeezed through and saw a little gravel road down below. I started to go left and then heard some traffic to the right and saw a truck off to the distance. I changed direction and was somewhat surprised when I popped out and the roundabout 500m from my new estate. 8km lap time kicked in. I passed the little lane near the house barely over walking pace and the thought of running up and down that was a non event. Christine listened to my story and said did I know anything about training!
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