Category Archives: Fitness

Trying to Tri

I’ll set this in context before I go on. It’s January 2017, New Year’s resolutions are already falling by the wayside and I’m looking for ways to keep myself motivated and focus on something other than work. I had already completed a Triathlon and had vowed to never do one again. Nevertheless, I droned on about it and suddenly myself and 2 friends are discussing doing one.

OK, so we’re not super fit and we’d struggle to walk up the stairs, but suddenly this potential event was becoming a lot more real. We talked about bikes, transition, the best clothes to wear on the day, how to fuel up (sure we’re basically athletes, we can say that now) and what sort of times we’d be looking at. We talked ourselves into doing one, the Try-a-tri in TriAthy in Athy. It’s a 250m swim, 20km cycle and 4km run. An entry level triathlon aimed at beginners.  Between us we had a competent swimmer, a decent cyclist and a runner, so now it was just a matter of combining the 3 disciplines over the coming months.

We hit the ground, I’d love to say running, but sure we hit the ground anyway. First up was the swim training. Our competent swimmer was fine. The other 2 had a way to go yet before the open water swimming would be achievable. Next up was the bike. We all had mountain bikes at the start, but we soon realised that would be a mistake and upgraded to road bikes. Some of us borrowed bikes and some of us bought second hand ones. Then there was the running. The running was OK, tough to get out after work, but we managed as best as we could.

So we knew this wasn’t an Olympic sized event, but for the background we had this was our Everest and we were determined to climb it. We swam every week, we cycled every weekend and we tried to get out running/jogging 2 or 3 times during the week. We bought the gear, we squeezed into the wetsuits and we practiced the transition. All we had to do now was train, focus and wait.

The big day came. It was the June bank holiday weekend and we were nervous. The weather was fine, thankfully. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for our nerves. We racked our bikes in transition and set the area up for our change out of our wetsuits. Runners down, socks out, towel down, t-shirt down, snacks out, water ready, helmet ready and then check it again. Finally, the transition area was being closed; we had to face our commitment.

Standing there on the bank of the River Barrow in our wetsuits, trying to close them up over the clothes we had on underneath, reconciling ourselves with the fact that there is nothing more we can do now. Trying to turn the nerves from the enormity of what you are about to start into a focused energy. Then suddenly it’s go time. In the water, go, no waiting. Maintain your form; focus on the bridge, breath, and repeat. Keep the head and focus on getting out. People around us struggled but we supported each other before hand and we were ready. We kept our own time and focused on our task. Then it was over, we were out. Now a jog in the wetsuit to transition. Hat off, goggles off, arm out, other arm out, follow the route, find the bike, hit the floor, suit off, t-shirt on, helmet on, go.

Once you’re on the bike there’s a massive amount of comfort in having the swim done. You relax; take a gel, have a bar and hydrate. The route was 10k out and 10k back. It was a good pull at the start but then you relax and ease into it. You get your rhythm and get on with it. Before you know it you’re done and in transition. Bike up, helmet off, water taken and you’re away.

The run is tough. Your legs are like jelly and your body is sending quit signals the whole way. You think of what you’ve done and the small bit left to go. You distract yourself however you can. Count down time and look around. Stay focused on the end goal. Then you start to hear the distant sound of a loud speaker and you begin to feel the excitement of nearly finishing this mammoth undertaking. It gets closer and closer and your moral starts to lift. You start to engage with people around you and it’s almost over.

Then you get there and make a dash for the finish. Your name is called out and you pick up your medal and a wave of emotions wash over you. You’re tired, but delighted that you didn’t drown and could finish. It’s a very welcoming atmosphere and you welcome home the people who come in after you.

Would I recommend this to people? Yes. If you’re looking for a challenge or to push yourself then this is the thing for you. Can’t swim? Learn. It’s never too late. I started swimming lessons in February of 2016 and did my first triathlon in July 2016. Can’t cycle well enough? Practice. Getting out there is the only way to improve and it’s a great way to clear your lungs and head. Can’t run? Buy runners and use them. Aim for 15 minutes one day, 20 the next, 25 the next week and so on. Know nothing about triathlons? Read up about them. You’re not the first one to consider it and you won’t be the last.

Are we Ironmen yet? Not quite, but we’re stronger than when we started.

Dancing with your Shadow

Your shadow is always there, regardless of where you are. Even in a dark room you cast a shadow on something. It can be behind you, in front of you, beside you, under you and over you. It’s always there, casting itself, a constant companion.

A shadow is more than simply an area you darken; it’s something you carry with you for life. It got me thinking when I saw the (adorable) video of a little girl who was scared to death of her own shadow. A shadow for me is a reminder of what’s there. I have started to think of the whole area of mental health as a shadow of sorts. The shadow is the part you don’t pay much attention to most of the time.

A shadow for me symbolises our low points and our high points and being able to live with it and accept it is important, vitally important. Things will not always be sunny and the sun won’t always be in your face and that’s ok. Sometimes you’ll be gazing down at a long and enduring shadow as it refuses to leave you and sometimes it will be behind you and out of mind.
In my case my shadow is an anxious one. It shouts up ominous words at me and sometimes envelops me in its grip, stifling my every thought. It can be withdrawn, it can be out of sorts and it can be downright rude. On the flip side it can also be loving, happy and carefree. It can also be just ok, getting by and middling the road, nothing too fancy. It all happens and that’s ok.

When I saw that little girl I did briefly consider how ridiculous the whole concept was, I mean, scared of a shadow. But then I stopped being an ass and thought about it. We all have our shadows to fear. The hard part is realising that we control the shadow and what it thinks. Yes, ok, some people will try and get in on it, but you choose how to let them in. Some people will be nasty, they’ll try and bring you down and they’ll try and keep you down. You control their influence. You control how you much you let them interact with you in that manner. On the other side of it you have the people who will feed your shadow with healthy thoughts. They’ll hug it, they’ll embrace it and if you’re lucky enough they’ll even love it. Let the good people in, it’ll be worth it in the end.

The important thing is to not deny your shadow. Don’t pretend it’s not there. If you’re going to accept the laughing and dancing then you have to be willing to accept the crying and the curled up in a ball under a duvet pretending the world doesn’t exist. It exists and you do have to deal with it. Here’s the trick though. Your happy and laughing shadow will usually come with the help of others, but you’re muggy and head wrecking shadow may only go with the help of others.

So what do you do? Well, my advice would be to stop, breath and talk. Go to someone you trust. Go to your partner, go to a friend, go to a family member, go for a walk, go for a shower, go for a cycle, go for a hike, go to a counsellor, do something! It may not shake itself. It’s ok to need help every now and then. We all need a little TLC at times and accepting that can be the hardest thing to do. It’s not shameful or weak. It’s hard and it’s brave.

Accept it, own it and carry on.

Eating Outdoors

I’m an outdoors kinda guy so it will come as no big surprise that I like to eat outside, have a coffee outside or have a pint outside. However, I find that leads to a problem for me, I hate smoking. I don’t try to shove that opinion in peoples faces but there it is, I hate smoking.

Smoking is peoples own business, if they wanna smoke, do it, it’s fine. It’s insane to me, I don’t understand how anyone sees any sense in it but fair enough. What I am seeing now though is a cultural shift against smoking.

It’s no longer all that acceptable in daily life. Even Leo the lion is getting smokers off government property. One employer even said he does not hire smokers and neither would I in his position. I even think we’re finally getting to the stage where one of the most addictive substances humankind willingly ingests is coming to an end.

My questions; are restaurants, pubs, cafes etcetera going to follow suit? Are the outdoors areas forever going to be refuges of smokers? Who is going to introduce non smoking outdoors areas?

Some people complain that all the new rules regarding smoking and the social stigma attached make it harder for them to enjoy their habit. Good! It’s not a habit, it’s not a treat, it’s not a pleasure, it’s an addiction. It’s a filthy, dirty and expensive addiction. Plain and simple. I feel sorry for smokers, sorry that they’re caught in the grasp of one of the most addictive legal drugs available.

I’ve never smoked, I will never fully understand it, that’s true. All I’ve ever seen of it is the damage it does to people I care about. When people tell me they had the power to quit I genuinely congratulate them, that must be extremely tough.

Maybe it’s time that smoking is pushed to the fringes of society. Not the smokers but smoking. Make it a chore to smoke. The chore may push people over the edge of quitting. It might make them sick of going out of their way to bring their chemical balance back up towards normal. That’s all it does by the way, it doesn’t give you a high it just levels you out so you’re on the same level as a non smoker, for a little while anyway.

So, people who sell booze, food and coffee, please have a non smoking area outside, that would be great.

What’s your Fuel?

I drive two cars regularly, one an unleaded family wagon and one a diesel hatchback with its routes stretching back to people wagons of old (the less said about that the better, don’t mention the war and all).

Everytime I fill them up I’m fairly fastidious to not mix up the ingredients. For a diesel engine putting unleaded in may not be the end of the world, but the other way another would be a system killing disaster. I’m careful with that. As any good vehicle owner is. I have seen people mess this very basic thing up and for them I wonder how they put their socks on by themselves.

The other day I had a can of red bull and I found myself wondering what the flip (I have a kid now, I can’t curse, well not openly anyway) I was doing. I mean yeah, I was tired, but then I thought about it. Why not just get tea or coffee? Why put that heart palpation causing crap eh, stuff, into my body. I’m careful with my cars, but not myself, that seems sorta stupid really.

Now I’m no Chuck Norris but it seems that since my daughter came along I am way more concerned about what happens to myself. So that’s what got me thinking about that. Realistically an engine is only going to run as smoothly as it can with the right fuel. If you really need proof then fill up with the wrong fuel at the garage the next time you’re in, see how that goes.

So, what does all this mean and what the flip am I, eh, pooping on about? Well I’m going to try something over the next month and the wife will say I’m stealing her ideas. No fast food. No fizzy drinks. No processed meals. Lots of water. Lots of proper home cooking. One coffee a day.

I’m going to see how that goes and I’m going to judge it’s effects by the following areas;

  1. How do I feel?
  2. How do I look?
  3. How much money did I save?

That alone should be a fairly good indication of the effects of giving in to the marketing and buying the red bull.

I invite anyone who reads this to try the same thing and let me know how you get on in the comments below.

Good luck!

The Sugar Loaf

Like hill walking and hiking but haven’t got a full day to throw at it? Then The Sugar Loaf in County Wicklow is ideal for you (If you live nearby that is).

The Sugar Loaf is a quick climb, not necessarily easy, but quick. It suits all fitness levels. Beginners, intermediates and advanced climbers all enjoy this hike and the views it offers from the peak. Don’t forget to pack a camera and a bit of lunch for the top.

Another benefit of The Sugar Loaf is that you can try out your gear in a controlled environment where you’re not stuck in the wilds of nature. For instance, if you’ve bought a new jacket/pants/boots and you want to check out if they will actually protect you against the elements then this kind of hike may be the place to see if they actually can keep the wind and rain out.

There are many places from where you can start your climb. However, if you are looking to get in a quick hike then I would recommend parking at the car park on the L1031 just off the R755 road to Glendalough. As per usual, don’t leave anything in the car. During peak times (weekends, school holidays etc) the car park will fill up, so try and get there early. If it’s full then exercise patience, there is a good rotation of hill walkers and a space will open up quickly.

There are a few different routes you can take up to the top. Up the front is full of loose shale, so is more challenging. The sides are more hands on and full of rocks to get over.

Where to park and where to climb.
Where to park and where to climb.

The left route as you’re walking up is more straightforward, while the route to your right offers a bit more of a challenge. Whichever route you choose just watch your step. Plenty of bones have been broken on this climb when people stopped paying attention. Yes, it’s a small hike, but that doesn’t mean the wind, the elements or the rocks won’t knock you on your ass.

Once you get to the top all the effort is worth it. The views stretching up and down the coast are breathtaking. You’ll also get to see Dublin and Wicklow from an outstanding perspective. On a good day you may even see down to Wexford and as far as Meath. Look away from the Irish Sea and you’ll see the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, your next step.

Hiking Tips

I like the auld bit of hiking. The whole thing of getting outdoors and pushing yourself. It’s a great mix of nature and exercise. When you’re doing it you’ll often see other hill-walkers and climbers and you’ll exchange a pleasant hello and maybe a bit of banter. Then you encounter the people who don’t do it as much and you’d almost have to pay them to talk to you.

The first group are grand. They’re friendly and welcoming and usually share the same interests. Mainly being the love of getting out. They’ll also have a common look about them. They’ve got the gear and they genuinely look happy about being out. If you’re planning on getting into hill-walking or climbing the bigger mountains there are a couple of things you should put on a checklist;

  • Clothing: Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions. Head to any of the many outdoors shops around Ireland and you’re sure to pick up proper pants, t-shirts, jumpers, jackets and socks. They’ll make a big difference to your morale and indeed your safety. In winter time and in cooler weather warm and appropriate clothing could be the difference between a successful climb and an accident. Hats, gloves, scarves should all be in your bag. Bring spares as well. Spare socks and tops are the big ones, but try fit some spare pants in there too.
  • Footwear: Invest in decent boots. Decent boots will pay dividends in protecting your feet and keeping you steady on the rocks. Don’t just buy the cheapest or indeed the most expensive pair. Try them on, see if they support your ankle and the sole of your foot. These two things will be most likely to bother you on a hike. Also, try and make sure they’re waterproof. Mountains and hills tend to have rivers, bogs, large ponds. Soggy socks will ruin your day. Gators are handy too.
  • Equipment: Walking poles are extremely handy. Especially on windy days and on longer hikes. They are very effective in helping you climb and keep your balance. Know how to use them. When you should keep them shorter and when they should be longer. They’ll also make for handy splints if you or one of your party hurts something in a fall or slip. Bring a compass and map and do your best to keep orientated on your hike. Electronic GPS devices are cool and all but can be absolutely useless. Try and do a bit of research on your route as well. Do not rely on your phone for anything but calling for help.
  • First Aid: Bring a basic first aid kit. Plasters, scissors, bandages, that kind of thing. You may not need them but somebody else who is injured may need them. They weigh very little so why not bring them.
  • Supplies: Food and water are the big ones, especially the liquids part. For the longer hikes you will sweat and need hydration so try bring between 1.5 and 3 litres of water. Some lucozade can also be a good pick me up. Soft drinks though are mostly useless and work against your energy levels and hydration. Brings snacks and a main snack for when you reach your peak. Fruit, sandwiches, tins of tuna are all good choices. A hot drink in a flask can also boost you on the trip. Toilet paper. Bring toilet paper. You never know when you’ll need it, but surely it’s one of those things you’d rather not miss having.
  • Talk: Tell people where you’re going and roughly how long you’ll be. That way if you get injured or stranded you shouldn’t be missing for too long. If you’re driving try not to hide your car when you park it, that way people will have a good indication as to where you started.
  • Bag: why bring all that nice dry stuff and then bring a bag that will soak up the water like a sponge. A good waterproof bag will cost you between €30-€50 and will come with a cover for when (WHEN) it rains. Try go for a 33/35 litre bag, they’re the perfect size. Lots of places to put all your stuff.
  • The Weather: The weather rules, you will not beat it. Look at the forecast. If it’s not too bad you’re good to go. If it’s to be particularly poor then maybe choose a different hike or less challenging route.
  • Plan: Have a plan (at least a rough one). Know where you’re going, what to expect, when the sun goes down, the basics really. Plan to bring what you need. Don’t go crazy though, there’s no point lugging a massive pack around if you’re only out for a relaxing hike.

The last time I went hiking with a small group there was a wind warning in effect and on a mountain or a hill you really feel that. I was fine. I was snug in my ski pants, jacket and 2 layers underneath with my hat, gloves and scarf. I was astounded and shocked by the people I saw coming up as I headed back down, the second group of people you encounter on days out. There was one group of ladies with no jacket between them all wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants with flat runners. It was a recipe for disaster and on the way down I could hear it in them.

One lady complained that she couldn’t feel her hands and nearly started crying. I don’t blame her. As she was saying that her friends where leaving her there. Which was in particularly poor form as the one lady with a small bottle of water had passed me already. They were clearly not prepared for the day that was in it and the climb ahead. I also once encountered two hikers who had relied on their GPS, which failed them. They went a long way in the wrong direction. Luckily for them it wasn’t too late to correct their mistake.

In not preparing in even the slightest way they were putting themselves at risk. In doing that they were putting others in harms way. If we’ve seen anything over the past few months it is that there is a network of brave volunteers out there who are prepared and ready to go rescue and help people who get stuck or injured. Yes, sometimes the shit just hits the fan and you need to get help. However, I can’t help but get the feeling that they wouldn’t have to go out so much if people just got the basics right.

So…KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Plan ahead and try avoid the hassle of making the news. Try not to go beyond your abilities. Over time you will be able to do more, but take it easy. Most importantly, get out there and enjoy yourself. Take in the fresh air, the sights and the relaxing feeling that comes with putting your boots on the ground.

Please do share your own tips in the comments below. What would you add in?