Saturday, 21 February 2015

I'm still buzzing...

Not only have I been somewhat busy with the tour and knighthood but I've been honing my mad scientist skills for my pupils at Carluke High School.

Over the last few months I've been building a Tesla Coil from kit from a company called OneTesla in the US.

I haven't soldered for years and this may have been why the original board failed to spark into life as it should have done... So after a wait for the board to clear customs and yet more ridiculous customs charges the new kit finally arrived. It certainly kept me occupied whilst I was in recovery mode from the knighthood attempt the day before...

Main control board

The finished article...

So, what an earth does this contraption do then? Check this out...      :-)

Beat it - Michael Jackson

Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

Mortal Kombat theme tune

The Tesla coil changes the voltage to around 250,000V which creates a plasma at the discharge tip - this super heated gas rapidly expands away creating a pressure wave which we hear as sound. By modulating the input current we can tune the output - essentially creating lightning that plays a tune. How awesome is that?!!

Update: got new software tonight which has made a big difference - the coil is no longer missing notes and is really living up to its potential (pardoning the physics pun)...

Check out ACDC's Thunderstruck - can't think of a more apt tune to demo!

Sufferlandria: A Tour and a Knighthood!

Sorry, it's been a while since I've had time to update the blog.

Far too busy cycling round the best mythical country in the world and being accepted as one of its knights... :-)

The Tour consisted of 9 days of Sufferfest videos, making sure each one was completed within the correct timezone to allow me to 'qualify' for the next stage. The sense of community online (both on Facebook and was remarkable. Over $100k was raised by fellow Sufferlandrians for the Davis-Phinney foundation which is battling against Parkinson's disease - so a really worthwhile cause. 

On Sunday 8th February (despite still being somewhat full of a snotty headlock I'd picked up on the last 2 days of the tour) I settled down in the saddle for a    L O N G    day!

Got all my kit ready in advance...

Lorna made me some tasty sticky rice cakes to help fuel the journey...


Number 2: Fight Club - I can't talk about it...

Number 3: Angels (2015)

Number 4: A Very Dark Place

Number 5: There Is No Try

Number 6: The Hunted (just after power cut midway through video - not happy!)

7 and a half hours into the quest...

Number 7: The Downward Spiral

Number 8: The Wretched

Number 9: Nine Hammers - hanging on in there... just

Number 10: The Rookie... almost there!!!

Done and dusted!

Garmin trace of workout: 11 hours and 50 minutes of suffering! 6,652 kCalories burned, average heart rate of 143 b.p.m., max heart rate of 170 b.p.m. and 56,500 pedal revolutions!!!

Arise Sir Gavin...
the 69th Sir in the UK....

Have to say that this was one of the hardest physical challenges I have ever undertaken - especially when we had two power cuts in the house during the 6th video - I was NOT starting that over again.

Many thanks to all those who provided encouragement on the day; to Wendy and John Fenemore who popped round during video 5 and to all those online who gave words of encouragement - it really made a big difference.

Together, we raised £1000 for Cancer Research UK!  So the truly epic suffering should help to kick cancer's butt in the future!

Gav's donation page for Cancer Research

The hallowed decals have now been applied to my trusty steeds...

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Since I missed out on New Years honours...

... I thought I'd try and get a Knighthood of Sufferlandria instead!

Apologies for the lack of posts, but I've been training hard over the last 10 weeks on The Sufferfest Intermediate Cycle plan to build up my bike fitness in preparation for Ironman Switzerland in July 2015.

I've raved about the excellent Sufferfest videos in previous posts so as a New Year goal I've decided to attempt the (somewhat insane) goal of the Knight of Sufferlandria (KOS) where you do 10 videos back to back with only 10 minutes rest allowed between each one.

I'm going to be spinning away on Sunday 8th February for approximately 12 hours on the bike in aid of Cancer Research UK.

You can donate online at - any and all donations will be massively appreciated!

Watch this space for pictures / videos / Trainer road profiles of each of the gruelling stages!

I'm planning on doing the following videos:

A Very Dark Place

Angels (2015)


Fight Club

Nine Hammers

The Downward Spiral

The Hunted

The Rookie

The Wretched

There is No Try.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Outlaw race report...

First and foremost I have to say a HUGE thanks to the entire ATHelite team; those who raced, those who supported on the day and those who cheered us on from afar. It has been said on here already but this is such a special wee club and I'm really proud to be a part of it. Seeing the ATHelite banner and the orange tops jumping up and down and shouting out encouragement was totally AMAZING and very humbling.
Apologies... the race report is almost as long as the race itself...

Race preparation had gone well but Lorna had been ill for a couple of weeks leading up to the event, so my mind was not 100% focused on the race as I packed the car for Nottingham... Have to say there wasn't much space left in the boot and I reckon I'd packed everything (including the kitchen sink).

We arrived in Nottingham around 3 p.m. on the Friday before the race after missing an enormous queue on the M6 - well done BMW sat nav!

The hotel was on the outskirts of Nottingham on their University Campus around 9 miles or so from the National Watersports Centre (NWC) where the Outlaw would be held.

We'd specifically chosen this hotel as it had air con - John had told us the year before had been insanely hot and his room at the Hilton was like a sweatbox. Just as well we did as the temperature was around 27 degrees C when we arrived, only issue was this was a 'green' hotel and the air con wouldn't get much lower than about 21C! Nice place to stay although my credit card did take a pounding!

We made our way over to registration and bought a couple of things which helped to take our minds off the impending race. Back to the hotel for one final bike check and then back again to NWC to put our bikes in transition. Row 5, mid-way along... orange bar tape, sorted!
My bike even made it into the Top 10 bikes at Outlaw in Triathlete Europe magazine:

After checking and triple checking our transition bags they were handed into the Outlaw team in the big white transition tents you can see in the picture, then back to the hotel to refuel (eat) and off to bed at 9 p.m.

Alarm rang at 3:30 a.m. and it was time for breakfast. I felt surprisingly OK as I tucked into the cereal and croissants we'd bought the day before at Tesco - there was no chance the hotel would be preparing breakfast at this time!

We jumped into the car and arrived onsite at around 4:45 a.m. Pumped up the bike tyres in transition and mooched about waiting for the race to start. It all felt strangely low key and I must confess I wasn't feeling totally pumped up for the race.

Wetsuit on and we met up with the rest of team ATHelite as the sunrise began over the lake.

At around 5:45 a.m. we were given the OK to get into the lake and wait on the starting horn... That's me in the white cap  :-)

Whilst it looked a bloody long way from land, it actually wasn't. It was even bloody longer. The gun went off at 6 a.m. and the spin cycle started. Somebody should really have tipped a container full of Persil non-bio into the lake as it was reekin' and visibility was a bit on the poor side. Strike that, forget the Persil, a couple of truckloads of Cillit Bang! would probably do the trick. I was actually under the impression that I was supposed to swim 3.8km but felt more like David Bellamy rummaging around the 'undergrowth' as I pulled through forests of weeds. Chunks of the stuff got caught up in my goggles / mouth / swimming hat and I ended up with a mossy green beard at times... aero? I wasn't even hydro-dynamic  I missed out on most of the carnage by keeping left of the field (pardoning the pun) at all times and by the turn home reckoned I was on track to finish by Sunday. 
I was about 10m from the bank but then started to catch my hands on the bottom of the lake, raking pebbles with every stroke. The water was so shallow I thought someone had accidentally pulled the plug out of the lake and a bloke in front decided he would start walking which wouldn't have brassed me off so much if I'd been able to overtake him! I started to kick a couple of hundred meters out and before too long the RAF tri volunteers were pulling me from the lake. One chap helpfully shouted out to 'watch out for the step'... what, this one I've just stuffed my big toe into? 
Out of the swim in 1:18:50 (497th fastest). A full 5 minutes slower than Austria last year, but again, still alive - so happy with that.

T1... (9:24 - 754th fastest!) dropped to 573rd overall.
I hobbled into transition and ripped off the wetsuit easily just outside the tent. It was mayhem in there - like arriving at a U.S. airport when 5 jumbos have just landed and you realise that the 3rd Aunties cousin on your grannies side doesn't qualify you for U.S. citizenship. I found my bag (next to Captain Cymru who was wearing a cape underneath his wetsuit) tipped everything on the floor and promptly began drying off, applying chamois cream, on with shorts, HR monitor, top, socks, shoes, glasses and helmet. I grabbed the wetsuit and lobbed it into the bag, checked the floor, nothing there... good to go... or was I?

Row 5, mid way along, bright orange, bring it on... Pushed through transition and a few metres beyond to avoid the carnage and off I went. Already in a nice low gear, legs started spinning and I eased past a couple of competitors. Then disaster struck...
I noticed another rider's race number flapping about in the wind and I realised I didn't have my number belt on. 'Oh bother' I thought (actually many more anglo-saxon words were used but this is a family-friendly report) and I came to a halt at the first aid station (about 300m or so into the bike). I let one of the marshals know what a muppet I'd been and his young keen assistant ran back to transition for me. There was no way I could cycle back against the tide of Outlaws-to-be so I just had to wait (and wait and wait and w a i t ) until she returned. Nope... she couldn't find it in the bag and I was likely to get a DQ for not racing with a number on. I pushed my bike as quick as I could back to transition and eventually a new number was scribbled down for me and pinned to my top. Back through transition and over the timing mat again (I bet that confused the system) and I was ready to start pedalling. That rookie mistake cost me (according to my Garmin) at least 26 minutes and 4 seconds 

Out on the bike loop and I knew I'd pretty much blown any chance I had of beating my previous p.b. I was in a very, very dark place and for an hour or so I fought the urge to chuck it and drown my sorrows with a beer ... and not the alcohol free Erdinger stuff they were giving out at the finish line....
I was holding power ok on the bike but my heart rate was a bit too high so I backed off a little. One thing starting off at the back and giving everyone else a ~30 min headstart meant I managed to pick off quite a few folks, about 180 of them according to the results base. In fact in the 6+ hours I was only overtaken by 2 people, so that (very) small victory kept me going. I must admit the flat course and headwind from hell made the bike leg feel much harder than Austria even though that was 2500m of climbing versus 640m.

Coming into one of the villages on the southern loop, I heard a huge cheer from the ATHelite team and this gave me the kick up the backside I needed. Brilliant guys and gals - you have no idea how much I needed that 

Eventually climbed off the bike in an official time of 6:46:30... or an unofficial 'I was actually only cycling for' 6:20:26. Down as 744th fastest but that includes my pitstop! Managed to overtake 163 people and climb back into 709th place.

T2... (6:55 - 493rd fastest)  climbed back into 700th place
I handed my bike to one of the helpers who almost dropped it on the floor. Now, at that point in time I didn't ever want to ride a bike again but still thought taking it home in one piece would be handy. Hilarious that you think 'Yay. I'm off the bike, thank goodness for that... now I've only got a marathon to run' I really must get my head tested once I get back from holiday... Another lovely volunteer helped unpin my new race number from my bike top and attached it to my ATHelite run top and I set out on the run. I was worried that I would miss seeing the rest of the team on the run loops but the design of the course was great and I got to see everyone at least once.

I met my lovely wife on the course and she wasn't having the best of times - I told her of my schoolboy error and was shared a hug and a kiss and headed off in different directions. I must admit I was really worried that she was about to call it a day and throw in the towel and I didn't see her on the course again... Thankfully when I did she was running across the finishing line with our kids - so, so proud 

I walked at every aid station and had a mix of zero / high 4 / water and isogels trying to avoid the stomach cramps which doubled me over last year. Luckily the stomach played along and I was able to fart with confidence, aaaaahhhhhh wind assisted chi-running 

I chatted with each and everyone of the ATHelite team and even helped John stretch out his left hammy mid-way through the course. A short burst of 'keep on running' for Graeme and conversations with both Alan and Alan where I muttered something like 'never, ever, ever, ever again'. It was brutal out there. I'm guessing only folks that have completed an ironman will really get that comment... it's a bit like women explaining childbirth to blokes - they've put up with grief for 9 months and then gone through hell to get over the finishing line and we nod and thank goodness we didn't have to do it!

Onto the final loops around the lake and the ATHelite crew were in great voice, I toyed with mugging another runner for one of the sought after wristbands to let me sneak down the finishing chute early but decided I was too knackered to start a fight (unlike Tony fists-of-steel Marlow) in the water but that's another story 

I spotted Luke, Zoƫ and Meg up in the balcony above the finish line and I dug in for the final loop.

Great to see one of my pals Iain Robertson in the crowd but I only realised it was him after he'd lowered his camera and at that moment in time I had the turning circle of an oil tanker and decided to catch him on the final loop. When I got there he'd already packed up as his wife Karen had finished in a blistering time, winning her age category - much respect!

It has to be said I had 2 sponges under my hat at this point in time!

I eventually crossed the finish line with a marathon of 4:27:54 in an official time of 12:49:53 (19 mins and 14 seconds slower than Austria)... and an incredibly un-official time of 12:23:49. I looked up and saw Luke and Zoe's faces and I will NEVER EVER forget what they looked like. At that moment, the 11 months of training, the ££££s I'd spent on gear / travel / accommodation etc. and the unrelenting slog of the day were all totally worthwhile.
My marathon was 283rd fastest on the day (top 20% I reckon) and helped me climb into 508th place overall and 132nd in my age category. Lots of room for improvement.

Would I do it all again? No bloody way. Nope, never, ever, ever again.
Well, maybe in 2016 

It's now been a couple of weeks since Outlaw and I've had a bit more time to reflect on the race after an amazing holiday in Italy.

I'd like to thank all the volunteers on the course - they were truly amazing, full of encouragement and nothing seemed to be too much trouble (like running back to transition for me or pinning on race numbers to my tops). The aid stations in particular were incredibly well organised where you just shouted out what you were after and a willing hand thrust it in your direction (apart from my 'new legs' request).

The ATHelite support was great but there was very little support out on the bike route which was flat, exposed, boring and dare I say it a little dangerous. One of our ATHelite members was knocked off his bike by a caravan which was being driven incredibly dangerously. John survived with bad road rash and kept on going to cross the finishing line as an Outlaw - the guy behind him who crashed into his bike was not so lucky and he had to pull out of the race. The same caravan missed me by about 20cm during the race...
There were several times I could have passed fellow competitors but couldn't as we were on busy A roads - I now appreciate the closed roads of IM Austria even more. This is something the Outlaw organisers will have to look at in the future.

I actually enjoyed the run route, although the loop around the lake seemed to get bigger each time I ran it. The loop out towards Nottingham Forest's ground was good and the frequent aid stations were great psychologically. Run to each aid station, walk through with juice/water/gels, run to the next.

I must admit I was disappointed with my overall finishing time of 12:49:53 (19 mins and 14 seconds slower than Austria)... although my incredibly un-official time of 12:23:49 (taking off the time I stood still waiting for a new race number) would have been almost 7 minutes faster than last year.  I'd put in a huge amount of training, followed my plan to the letter but the race didn't go as planned. Hey-ho, these things happen.

I will confess I wasn't as pumped up for this race as IM Austria last year, the atmosphere in and around Nottingham was really flat compared to Klagenfurt, hardly anyone knew about the race apart from those at the NWC or fellow competitors. In Klagenfurt the whole city grinds to a halt for the weekend for the race. Perhaps this was because it was my second IM distance race but another ATHelite member (on his 4th IM race) expressed the same feelings. 
I'd also been worried about Lorna who hadn't been well in the run up to the race (and during it) so we never got the chance to wind each other up and get excited about the race.

So, how to improve?

Get stuck in on the swim a bit more and hold a tighter line to the buoys. I'd stayed out of the stramash and in doing so swam an additional 200m+ (at least 4 minutes) and got stuck in the weeds / shallow water which really slowed me down. More focus on technique again as I have no issues with swim endurance.

I reckon I need more time on my TT bike to get more comfortable and powerful in the TT position. I held the position for the majority of the race but the incessant headwind and lack of spectators just turned the 180+km into a grind. So, more biking required!

My run was ok (4:27:54) but I'd hoped to do sub 4 hours to be honest. I really didn't push that hard and spent quite a lot of time chatting with my fellow ATHelite team members on the course. I suspect if I'd been in the zone I'd have pushed much harder - especially if I was chasing down my teammates!!

During the race, I'd said never, ever, ever again but after a couple of weeks on holiday (missing the buzz of training) I've decided to give IM another shot. I must be mad!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Almost there!

Well, time has flown by unbelievably quickly and we're getting ready to head down to The Outlaw. Just 3 more sleeps and we'll be lining up at the start line on Sunday 27th waiting for the gun to go off at 6 a.m. for the swim start.

I took the kids along to watch the pros do their thing at the Commonwealth Games Triathlon at Strathclyde Country Park today. What a day, amazing weather, fantastic racing and an incredible atmosphere. There was never any doubt that Glasgow (and Scotland as a whole) would rise to the challenge and after day 1 it's safe to say these games will be a total hit.

It was brilliant to get so close to the athletes - just cm away as they flew by on their bikes or stormed past like gazelles up the hill... 

Check these out...

The Brownlees whizzing by

... and this time without their bikes!

Awesome to see Nicola's boyfriends taking gold and silver too   ;-)

The nerves are beginning to kicking in now and it all seems VERY real when you lay out all the kit you need for the race. We're going on the idea that we can stuff everything in the car and that if we suddenly remember that do-hicky we need, we'll have it in the boot... hopefully it will actually fit ;-)

The training is all done, I've stuck to the plan that Gary at Dig Deep has developed and now I've *just* got to put it into action on the day.... eek

So, for you stat lovers, the scores on the doors are...

Since the start of training on 1st August 2013;

622 sessions
covering 8,725.5 km
elevation of 50,154m
exercised for 559 hours, 51 minutes and 51 seconds
burned 334,749 kCalories.

This breaks down as:

Swim: 82 sessions, 180.3km, 63 hours, 33 mins, 37 seconds

Bike: 176 sessions, 7208.7km, 263 hours, 54 mins and 9 seconds

Run: 163 sessions, 1325km, 157 hours, 45 mins and 36 seconds

Weights / stretches: 199 sessions, 70 hours, 7 minutes and 31 seconds.

A number of people have asked whether or not I'm raising for charity this year. I decided after last year when everyone was incredibly generous that I'd not come round shaking the collection tin.

If, however, you think this madness is deserving of a small donation to a worthy cause, you could donate to the UNICEF appeal launched yesterday at The Commonwealth Games opening ceremony:

Simply text FIRST to 70333 to donate £5 via your phone - simples!

So, I'll sign off for now and update you next week after *hopefully* a successful race at The Outlaw.

You can track me and the rest of the ATHelite team online on the Outlaw website on Sunday 27th July.

Tracking numbers for Team ATHelite: Gav (625), Lorna (141), Alan Stirling (363), Alan Robertson (510), John McManus (715), John Young (1010), Derek Boyd (1028), Graeme Scott (1098), Tony Marlow (1132)

Monday, 14 July 2014

It's all in the numbers...

It's been a couple of weeks since I've updated so this is likely to be a long post... get a coffee / tea and some biscuits and sit in an uncomfortable chair...

Well, less than 2 weeks to go and I'm beginning to get excited / nervous about the race. I've now completed the peak phase of my training and I'm now officially in taper :-)

The last 2 weeks have been pretty full on and I'm looking forward to the reduced workload in the run up to the race.

The first week of July was my biggest training week to date: 21 hours 48 minutes, covering 332km and burning 10,729 kCalories. Last week was less intense, only 15 hours and 55 minutes, covering 177km burning 9,044 kCalories in the process. This week I'll cut down to 11 hours or so and only 5 in the week running up to the Outlaw. All this time on my hands, what will I get up to?! (N6 Physics - woohoo)

We've been using Pinkston Watersports centre in central Glasgow for our open water swimming sessions. It's a 140m x 28m bowl, around 1.7m deep with really clean water just minutes off junction 16 of the M8 - i.e. really easy to get to.

From the Garmin GPS trace it looks like I spent most of the time crawling around the edges of the centre rather than in the water... I know my technique isn't that great but I promise I spent all the time in the water! Hopefully the overall distance I covered was pretty close to the real value - if so I may be able to shave a little time off last year's swim time...

Had a couple of good long runs last week, covering 29km in 2:31:15 on one occasion, having covered 30km in 3:01:00 the week before... oh to be able to hold that pace for a marathon!

The Tour de France came to Yorkshire and the first 2 days were spectacular. Amazing crowds, great scenery and excellent racing. Unfortunately Cav dislocated his shoulder on the final sprint on Stage 1 so no fairytale ending for him. Jens Voigt won the King of the Mountains stage - not bad for a 42 year old (there may be hope for me yet!). I watched the first stage on my turbo trainer, pedalling away for 150 minutes - less than half the time the pros were riding and easily less than half the power they produce.

I spent Sunday 6th as my last long ride, around 4.5 hours battering into headwinds and dealing with the changeable weather conditions (horizontal rain / sun splitting sky) that is the Scottish summer. It's so much easier cycling with other people and that is one of the great reasons to be part of the ATHelite team but there's no drafting in the Outlaw so I rode on my own to build up mental stamina as well as physical. Most folk would say I'm mental enough already...

Boil in the bag wet weather gear... just as the sun splits the sky!

At the base of Tinto hill

I've been struggling for comfort on my new TT bike - unable to hold the aero position for any longer than 5 minutes before my neck and shoulders seized up. Sam (from Sam's massage therapy - 07818 477858) has been doing a great job keeping my muscles from knotting like a kitten with a ball of wool, but given the race is going to be in excess of 5 hours I knew I needed a second opinion on the bike fit.

I booked in to see John Dargie at Dales Cycles for a Specialized Body Geometry fit session.  Now, I've had a couple of RETUL fits previously and I know what a difference a good bike fit can make. This was the best fitting session to date. The first hour was spent looking at physiological testing i.e. my flexibility and strength and then this provided the data for my bike fit to be truly personalised. I've changed saddle which has stopped my hips rocking - a cause of lower back and hip flexor pain and sorted out a couple of issues with my shoes. It turned out that my aero bars were way too close together, causing the pain in my shoulders and deltoids. The good news was Zipp make extenders to move the bars apart - the bad news was the lead-time was 90 days!

After much searching on t'internet I managed to buy a second hand pair on eBay. Now fitted and the bike is a total revelation! I tried these out yesterday on a long cycle and they were great - no shoulder pain and much easier to hold aero position (= less air resistance = more speed for the same power). Unfortunately I had 2 punctures in the front wheel (and only one spare tubular tyre) so my ride was cut short and I had a taxi ride home from East Kilbride! As long as this doesn't happen in the race I'm happy. Michael has pointed me towards some (hopefully) indestructible tyres that I'll fit prior to race day to minimise the risk of puncturing - although I'll still probably carry everything (including the kitchen sink) to fix any mechanicals on the day.

Moving the bars out an additional 20mm meant bike has moved from an instrument of torture to a speed weapon!

On the 9th of July I found out my Outlaw number: 625

Now, I'm in no way superstitious and I don't normally get overly excited about numbers but it turns out that 625 was my Dad's squadron during WW2. He was a navigator in Lancaster bombers and was in 625 before moving to 550 squadron late in 1944. I performed a quick Google search and found this photo of him (second from the left) that I'd never seen before:

Amazing what you can find online these days.  :-)

One of my friends came up with a lovely idea to draw a wee RAF roundel on my hand so I could use it for an energy boost during the race - thanks Angela!  I've already added a roundel to my bike name tag:

Hopefully I'll be flying on this on race day. :-)

The Outlaw medal this year is especially cool... I'm looking forward to the first beer opened after finishing with this...

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