I’ve commuted into work once or twice over the last few weeks, it feels like exercise, it gets me out and about and let’s be honest, it means I arrive at work slightly more alert than if I’ve had an hour of sitting in traffic jams.

I live 17 miles from work, so it’s a bit of a commitment – I’ve not cycled that kind of distance for ages, well, ever, so it is a bit tiring, and it also means I try to choose nice days when I can enjoy the journey.

Except today.

The weather forecast said “fog”, but I know now that this was a lie. The actual weather looked like this:


A bit dreich as you’d say if you were north of the border. I like Scotland, so dreich it is when the weather is pants. So much so that I had to keep the peak of my hat down so I could still see through my specs.

Anyway, that’s just setting the scene; I made a discovery.

I don’t like wearing waterproof trousers when I’m running, they feel a bit weird. So I got a pair of OMM Kamleika waterproof shorts a while ago, to stick in a bag and whip out to put over shorts / tights / whatever if the weather turns dreich when I’m out.

They look like this:


Only with chunkier legs sticking out of them…

I bunged them on this morning and I have to say, they kept my nethers well and dry despite the rain, mist, fog, spray, and all the wet the world could throw at me.

And you know what? They’re tiny, they weigh nothing, I’m going to keep them in my bag all the time, they’re perfect for taking care of unexpected downpours and such. Highly recommended for cycling as well as running.


That’s the fella, right there. It’s compact, it goes on your handlebars and you pack it. In short, it’s a compact handlebar pack. From Apidura. (My bike had normal brake/gear shifters that are vertical, not odd turny-out ones like the photo above).

More required?

Ok, you may have noticed I’m more of a runner than a cyclist. You might have seen me trying a sneaky triathlon the other week. What you won’t know is that I’ve always had a bike since I was wee, which I’ve used more or less frequently. A year and a bit ago, I got a new road bike through the Cycle To Work Scheme, a nice grey road bike that feels speedy even when it’s me at the pedals. It says it’s an ‘endurance’ fit, which I think means it’s a bit more compact and kinder on the joints?

The idea was to save the planet by commuting to work, as well as being  something I enjoy that fits a bit more fitness into the day. The problem is carrying stuff – I can leave most of the stuff I need at work, take a shirt, etc. when I’m in the car. But there’s always bits and pieces – a rain top, my wallet, phone and keys, a natty hat and so on; the little necessities.

When I stick ’em in a backpack it feels like a chore and extra weight, and puts me off taking things I should probably have with me (like a pump).

So, when I saw uber-bearded adventurer Sean Conway was sporting a handlebar pack that didn’t appear to need any mounting faff on his round-the-UK triathlon I looked up Apidura. And that was enough; I managed to find one and put my order in. It turned up and looked ace, from the cool grey-and-black-and-yellow colours to the simple but robust looking roll fastening.

I got the smaller Compact version, to more easily fit on my road bars, which says it fits 9 litres. It goes on the bike really well, leaving enough space between the bars and the pack and sitting in a nice position leaving good space between the bottom of the pack and my front tyre. I managed to get a jacket, some underwear, a cycling cap, my wallet, phone, keys, a couple of Cliff bars, a sketchbook, a pencil,  my work pass and a phone charger in without stressing things – I figure I could have got a fair bit more in there. 

It was a brisk morning, and overcast when I left the house, so I’d stuck a light fleece on over my cycle top. Part way through the ride the sun came out so I took the fleece off, folded it up and stuck it in the elastic webbing on the front. It fit in really well and stayed in place through the next ten miles no problem.

The only downside is that it wasn’t so easy to get into mid-ride. It may just be a case of getting familiar with it (and I’ll update after more use), but I found the easiest thing to do was take it off and then put it back on when I was done. Saying which, I’m thinking about getting the additional front pack, which looks ideal for phones / papers / wallet, etc. and has a top zip. Either that or the top tube bag, which would fit the things I need easy access to. Also, using a backpack, I’d have to stop, take that off and rummage around, so maybe I’m being picky?

There was no particular noise from the pack while riding, which was a pleasant surprise – I did hear my keys rattling, but that was down to my poor packing. When I had a pack with a handlebar mount a few years ago it rattled every time you went over the slightest lump. It also means I don’t need to leave mounts on my bike.

If I were a richer person and was ever likely to get the opportunity for full-on bike packing then I’d have the lot – the seat post bag looks like you could fit a towel and used clothes in to take home and probably a spare elephant too, it seems cleverly designed to use the available space. The frame bag makes me immediately think “tent poles” and then we’re into bike camping, eh?

In summary, the Apidura Compact Handlebar Bag fits well into a daily commute, and holds a Tardis-like amount of stuff. It felt so much easier not having a pack on my back, and I could keep an eye on my stuff as I went. Being able to stuff a top into the webbing was a handy extra to keep up to speed with the weather.

The pack costs £70 from http://www.apidura.com where you can also find some ace stories of people bike packing all over the world.

I done a triathlon

Posted: 17/04/2016 in Uncategorized

Seriously, I did. Swim, cycle, run with the transitionary bits in between. 

And it was fab. 

Difficult though, getting out of that lovely warm, pool and plodding into the cool morning air, it was chilly. Onto the bike and my chest felt like it was burning, which I think means it was really, really cold. Up the mega hill at the end and my lungs were aiming to jettison in an escape pod, only to discover my body doesn’t come with escape pods.

  
Off the bike and tried to run into transition, but the old thighs weren’t having any of it, so I walked instead. Change into my running shoes and off I went – three laps with a hill at the start that left me gasping.

Finally into the end and I missed it already, it was a great experience. Castle Tri did a fab job of organising and marshalling and made my first triathlon a song. I came in 24th, in 45:58, which feels like a canny time.

I was hoping to get into Weardale Tri, but it’s full – if I can get some swim and open water training arranged then I might just have a go t the Spanish City Tri in August…

I’m only a bloomin’ triathlete now – on to the Kintyre Ultra next. 

Tri-suit terror

Posted: 03/04/2016 in Uncategorized

With two weeks to go until my first triathlon, I bit the bullet and bought a tri suit. I’d toyed with the idea of going with shorts for swimming and a top for cycling/running, but tri shorts cost the same as a suit, and would involve less struggling at the change over (that’d be ‘transition’ in tri lingo).

I got the one that’s the best fit for most of me and while I’m not about to put up a picture, I can give you a mental image you’ll struggle to forget. 

Imagine you took a sausage skin (a vegan one, of course), and pushed (soya) sauasage mix into it. Eventually, you get to the point where it’s chock-a-block with filling. So, keep going, and it will start to bulge in places where the amount of filling is more than the fabric of the outside can control. Paint it blue (it’s a blue tri suit), stick some unruly hair on the top and it looks not unlike me in my tri-suit. 

I think I need to cut the calories a little…

I read on someone’s blog once that most people read race reports to see how long it took.

5:18

If that was all you came for, then job done. But just in case anyone came for more detail I’m going to plough on with things.

To begin with, I got lucky number 7! I’ve lived in a few houses that were number 7, never on purpose, but it does seem to follow me around a bit. It was’t number 1, which is good – I had number 1 at the very first Trail Outlaws event, the Pieces of Eight at Penshaw Monument, and it felt like a lot to live up to*.

I got my t-shirt, which was pretty exciting – if you read my last post then you know that I doodled the doodle on the front, and to see it in actual real life on actual people was fantastic.


It really was ‘a dark and stormy night’. That much is true. Storm Kate kicked off about half an hour before the race started and tried new and interesting combinations of ‘wet’, ‘extra wet’, ‘windy’ and ‘chilly’ all the way round.

Last year’s Dark Skies was lovely and clear, with sunset, stars and all the stuff you’d have come to a dark skies park for. No so last night. I could have stood in the shower with the lights off in my running gear to fairly accurately experience it**.

image

I managed to impress myself by running the first half or thereabouts without resorting to a sneaky walk – good going for me at Kielder, where the only bits that aren’t uphill or downhill are the bits that separate one from the other.

I’ve got a decent idea of the route as far as the dam in my head now, so I kind of knew where I was, I was’t caught out by the hidden one-mile-inlet where you can see the route to the dam in front of you, turn a corner and realise there’s another two miles to go before you get there.

The bit from the dam back to Hawkhirst was a hurt-fest of tired legs, tired brain and cold winds – it’s the second time I’ve ever thought I might be getting hypothermia while out running. I think it was because I walked a little to long on one bit, and my core must have cooled down – breaking into a shuffle-trot seemed to do the trick.

I had gone a bit tech-crazy, and as well as my Fitbit heart monitor I also had my Garmin on the other wrist, but I resisted the urge to look at either. I started playing ‘how many miles is this’ and irritated myself at my inability to figure it out. My phone alarm went off at 9pm, and I apologised to the people around me at that point – no-one wants to be shocked by Big Ben when they’re part way round a reservoir in Northumberland.

I made it through to Leaplish and then the final mile and a bit to Hawkhirst saw me summon up a slightly swifter*** stumble along to the finish line. I could hear someone behind me trying for a sprint finish, and briefly wished they’d explode in flames – after 26.5 miles it’s a bit rich to try and pick up a position or two in the final straight**** – they never quite caught up and I doddered into the finish hut, had my picture taken (I think) just as my glasses steamed up and I lost all vision. I found the finish desk, then a cup of coffee and then a bit of a sit down*****.

image

All in all a fabulous run – the marshals should get an award for standing around in the rain. The organisation was grand, the people were cool. The medal was a cracking black number with the Plough picked out in tiny crystals – they go right through, so I reckon you can shine a light through. Genius.

To top it all off, five minutes after I got in the car and started heading home the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the moon came out. Really beautiful, and a few hours later than would have been nice.

I GOT MY PICTURE ON A RACE T-SHIRT – DID I MENTION THAT?

image

*I managed to fight that urge and come nowhere near the front.

**I would have also needed someone pointing a wind machine in through the door, but that would be silly, right?

***It’s relative, OK, I think I was clocking 14 minute miles just before and got a 13 minute final mile.

****Other views on sprint finishes at the end of trail marathons in storms are available. But they are wrong.

*****An inherently dangerous thing to do after a long run – there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to get back up.

 

I done a t-shirt

Posted: 27/02/2016 in Uncategorized

Well, I did the picture bit on the front. It’s the t-shirt for the upcoming Trail Outlaws Dark Skies Marathon (and a bit) around Kielder Reservoir.

The t-shirt looks like this:

IMG_0736

Groovy, eh? The design was a collaborative effort between Trail Outlaws and the good folk of their Facebook page, including me. I sent in a pic, and they thought that was good enough to put on the front, so with a slight change to the constellation (I’m a big fan of Orion, personally), a tweak to a more human-looking runner (I’m not so good at people) and the addition of the iconic plug-hole building from Kielder (I like drawing buildings, they’re not people, but I’m bad at knowing what they’re called, just like with people) and floomp*, the job was done. The Outlaws logo of course, and the Francis Bacon quote, “In order for the light to shine so brightly, darkness must be present” is excellent, the “You’re following a Trail Outlaw” message is exactly the sort of thing to sport at your local Parkrun, and with the race sponsor’s logo and we’re away!

The actual pic, if you haven’t got micro-scoop-eyes looks like this:

woodsoutiiinvert

So all the messing about with pens and pencils hasn’t been entirely a waste of time.

But what’s better, is that I’m actually running the Dark Skies Marathon (and a bit) as well, so I’ll get to wear a shirt with me own picture on it – how cool is that? You can tell I’m a bit excited, perhaps?

But it gets even better than that, no it does – you can be part of it too! You can sponsor me to run a marathon (and a bit) with a shirt with a picture that I drew on it. I know, talk about adding value.

I’m raising money for the Dr Hadwen Trust, an organisation that finds ways to carry out medical testing that doesn’t involve testing on animals. Even if you love bacon and meatballs, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t think that’s a good thing to aim for? Anyway, I’ve set up a JustGiving page at the link below, and if you want to donate a pound, ten or five hundred, then I’d be massively grateful, as will all the mice, beagles, horses, porcupines, unicorns, squids, bears, narwhals, beetles, polar bears, kittens and puppies that are not getting their parts cut up because someone figured out a more humane way to tell whether paracetamol is any good for receding hair.

The link to JustGiving

It’s perfectly OK to click on it (hi mum!) there’s even a photo of me looking too colourful for my own good so you can tell it’s my page.

Did I mention I was on the telly? I was on the telly. Not for this, for something else, I’ll come back to that when I figure if I can upload video…

*Nothing wrong with floomp, perfectly good word that, good northern term.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


That’s the fella.

It’s a while since I bought much new kit – I’ve got shoes, socks, tights, shorts, tops, wind-proof tops, waterproof tops, a hat, a torch, bags and so on, and to be honest I’m kind of used to it, so don’t feel the need to go out replacing stuff.

However, for a while now, I’ve wanted an insulated best of gilet – partly for running, but also to bolster the warmth of my not-quite-four-season jacket when I’m out and about.

I’ve hummed and hahed, and not found one that was right, but kept running across the OMM Rotor Vest. I tried on the smock (same thing but with arms) a while ago, but it had an odd cut and there seemed to be too much body and not enough arm length for me.

Saying that, I came across the vest version at the same time, and thought it looked canny. So when I found I could get one at a discount when my local running/outdoor shop was looking to reduce stock ahead of refurbishment, I parted with my pounds to find out it would work out.

The first thing to note is that the extra-long zip on the front is not an extra-long zip, it’s a split zip. The top is a fairly normal zip, the bottom is the entry to a tiny pocket, which doubles as a stuff sack. The join looks to be a thick line of stitching, and I ended up getting the XL rather than the L simply because it was a tight fit over my head on the L and I figured that line wouldn’t last long. On the XL, the zip opening was just longer enough to fit without getting taut.

I could have got away with the body fit on the L, though it was pretty snug, the XL had a bit of room to move. I can’t imagine I’ll be wearing more than a base layer below, so I don’t know I’ll need much more space.

This afternoon, I headed out for a check – it was cold, windy and I had a long sleeve base, tights and the Rotor on for. Bit of warmth and wind protection. The outer material is Point Zero, which feels silky to the touch and which is wind proof. The fill is Primaloft Gold.

The little lower zip opens providing venting if needed – pretty good for me as I get hot around the exact spot. I had it open some of the time closed other and with a it of judicious top-zip action I never overheated. The bottom of the vest has an elastic aged draw cord, which would be pretty useful in colder conditions, though I didn’t feel the need – there were a couple of times in the gusto we parts of the run where I got a blast of chilly air up the back or through the arms, but they were few and far between and I didn’t stay cold for more than a second. Overall, the Point Zero did the job and I didn’t feel the wind penetrating the material at all.

I tend to find my forearms are like radiators – they need to be kept able to breath or they just sweat the heat away, and for me the vest is a great design, and teamed with a waterproof for rain I think it would work well in anything up to a proper freeze. The Primaloft Gold gave just the right level of heat retention for a run on a chilly, gusty February afternoon.

One run in and I’m impressed, it fills a hole between a wind-proof top and a long-sleeve insulated top like my Inov-8 insulated top. Once I’ve had more of a play with it I’ll try and update this capsule review, but so far it’s a nice piece of kit.