Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Shame about the weather

As I was loping through the fens yesterday ... no, that sounds much too glamorous: the sheer ugliness of 99% of the fens depends on the fact that a landscape that was lacking in either pastoral charm or sublimity has been wrecked by a modicum of human intervention by humans with little or no interest in beauty reinforced by an almost theological conviction that they understand the countryside in a way you don't ... so: as I was running along the B1102 yesterday in the glorious, sweltering heat, I decided that I liked running in the sun. Sunshine has a similar mood-improving effect to running. You feel relaxed and let your arms move freely, you don't worry too much about your pace, you absorb the dusty air through your pores.

It reminded me of a run with Sean a couple of years ago in the dark days of rehabilitation (from injury, not from Sean's encouragement of late-evening-prior-to-long-run toping). At 7 am we looked out into a dreary Nottingham cloudscape and, pooh like, wondered if it would rain. Gilets on, we started the run and it started to rain. 'It's bloody started to rain,' I said, by way of making what passes for conversation between runners who don't want to be running.

'It's perfect race conditions,' he said, 'only a year ago you would have thought this was perfect.'

And he was right. When on a relaxed lope through the countryside you want to enjoy the weather and pretend all is well with the world and rack up some miles without too much boredom or suffering. And when in the monocular tunnel of training or, worse, racing, you want a slight bite in the air and a little drizzle. Look out of your door at those conditions when you just want to run, and they seem inhospitable and you try to think of some other commitment that insists on being addressed immediately and require you to take your shoes off; look out on race day, and you know that whatever time you rack up this morning, the weather will have been on your side. You won't overheat, you'll be focussed on that space floating above the road.

Runners can always find something to complain about. Or enjoy: they're happy people. The fact is, running and racing prefer antithetical weather, and that's just the way it is. It's another mental obstacle to overcome on this long road to recovery: the weather doesn't have to be great.

I look at Facebook later and see that my friend Simon was running the Milton Keynes marathon, and was crucified on the altar of the sun. It was not a good day for breaking three hours. Do not despair: one of the thieves was saved; do not presume: one of the thieves was damned. It's a fair percentage.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Pieces of a Runner

Running and runners have been on my mind for the past few weeks. I started running again. My boy was training for a half marathon, and I ran it with him. He's 16. I had a moment of pride a few weeks before that when he did a fitness test in order to get into an elite rowing programme. He did the collapse test and ran into the toilet to throw up. I felt proud. And I thought: I need to pull myself together. So we ran the Cambridge Boundary Run, and I discovered it was no effort at all. And it was a lovely day.

So I've been running, in snow, rain and sun. With and without dog. Slowly and very slowly. And then of course came Monday, and the news of the Boston Marathon. Many things went quickly through my mind – many of them about the way that news works today – but the one my mind kept returning to was: why a marathon? Of all of the events to attack in the name of God or a political ideology or whatever, why a marathon? There is nothing less divisive, less nationalist, less imperialist than marathons. The same might be true for running in general, but marathon runners seem to me to be a truly open community, and a community-minded community, one that rejects national interests, one that embraces the globe. One that recognises that you share something with everyone else who's been through miles 16-18, and especially the things that bring you to confront miles 16-18. I could tell a thousand stories, but I would be digging into memories of when I was a runner.

So this morning I set off from Lower Clapton on my fixie at 6:30 am and cycled to Greenwich. I took the towpath along the River Lee Navigation canal, turned onto the Herford Union Canal and crossed Victoria Park before heading down to the Isle of Dogs. I crossed by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which was completely deserted. An echoing, sallow artery. Outside the air was cold but bright with sun, the air that wakes your spirit. I ground the single gear north into Greenwich Park, and found the marathon route, near the start. Then I rode the marathon route.When I run I manage to miss everything, as though I have tunnel vision; and with my new-found knowledge of London topography and putting the pieces and perspectives together this was completely different. And it was fun slowly riding the cleared streets (only one jobsworth of a copper – one in 20-odd miles – told me to get off the road), and taking roads on the wrong side, recklessly following the triple blue lines, and riding the wrong way down one-way streets. And reliving those meteoric, aphasic flashbacks of joy and suffering from the four previous times I followed this route (or was it five: there might have been a fifth too painful to recall). All of that was just beautiful.

But what was most wonderous was the logistical preparation. Thousands of volunteers. The hundred of helpers erect barriers; hundreds of schoolchildren setting up the drink tables; lorries delivering showers; bands doing soundchecks; pubs putting out tables; the marshalls standing in groups agreeing on roles; marshalls setting up the arches; technicians laying the chip readers under mats at the 5k points; hundreds of charity volunteers setting up banners to cheer the runners ruining their knees raising thousands of pounds for them; well-wrapped sexagenarians carrying their camping chairs to watch from the roadside; hard against the barriers; families with their personal banners. The race was less than an hour away and towards the end helpers were still getting things in place. And everyone – except said copper – was smiley. And I saw a couple of references to Boston, one reading "running London, thinking of Boston", and I thought: you terrorists are trying to deter the wrong people.


Monday, 6 June 2011

Constitution Hill

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Probably two thousand of mine. So here's a picture:
 Constitution Hill, Swansea. Friday 10 June.

And here are some more pictures:

Y Bwlch, north of Price Town, which is north of Bridgend. And two cyclists chilling out immediately after the above:


Friday, 22 April 2011

Even marathon runners need to nap

London is a great, mysterious city, with always a surprise, so I suppose you have to run around it every year, on a pilgrimage of self-exploration and self-abuse. It was time for the marathon again. I took the train in, finally opened the envelope with my entry documents (sitting on desk for months), read the Virgin London Marathon magazine and almost cried. Adrenaline was - at least - seeping out through my tearducts. I'd forgotten what adrenaline tasted like. Today it tasted like defeat and tomorrow's hope in a pitiful cocktail. I was trying to think of a name for this cocktail when the train pulled into King's Cross.

I dodged the crowds at the ExCel Centre exposition, went to the hotel, checked in, wandered around Carnaby Street and wondered when it had been swallowed whole by the Evil Chains. I went out for dinner at the worst pizza express on the planet (Byward Street), near All Hallows by the Tower Church. My pasta came burned black, the sauce shrivelled away. They must have lost it at the back of the oven. After a tine on my fork shattered on first contact I proposed to the waiter that he might want to bring another one (I've never done this before, honest). He looked puzzled, so I explained, perfectly nicely, that it seemed quite burned to me. He scowled and carried it away. A couple of minutes later the manager showed up. "What it is?" he said, and glared at me. I explained again. "It's because it's warmed in the over," he said. "I think perhaps it was in the oven a bit long," I said. "No, it's just that the oven is very hot at the top." He was glaring now. "Well, would it be possible for me to have another one that's a bit less burnt?" "DO you want to choose another plate?" he asked, "I can bring you another, but it'll be just the same." I had lasagna, which the manager had probably spat on, but at least it wasn't burnt through. I needed my carbohydrate. The restaurant appeared to be full of runners, all in their casual sports gear, carrying backpacks. I still think wearing cufflinks saves adrenaline.

The hotel was nice (Apex, near Tower Bridge), quiet and roomy, with a view of St Olave's church. The phone was nice, a Jensen phone. I didn't use it. The TV looked ok. I didn't use that either. The shower was excellent, and I used that. The bed was huge, and I used that. I finally got around to looking at the train timetable for the following morning, and thought I could get away with the 8:10 from London Bridge overground station. Not caring about your performance can be pleasingly relaxing. Gone are the days of tense evenings with Sean micromanaging our breakfast and checking the contents of the race bag for the twentieth time. I could barely be bothered to crumple my race number before pinning it to my shirt (for aerodynamic purposes). I slept with my feet up on a pillow and dreamed of my dog running across the fens.

The morning was overcast, but the air was humid and the clouds promised to break later. A few runners haunted the streets. Most were at the station, taking their hydration seriously, their bladders inexorably filling.

I fell asleep on the train to Blackheath. Then I made my fraudulent way to the Fast Good For Age pen. Because I had held over my place from last year, when I had obtained it by merit of being fast. But I was no longer Fast, nor even Good For Age. I am an overweight sluggard, with my best miles left behind me, spent with a bottle on the sofa. The problem with middle-age runner culture is that no one believes you, because talking your race down is universal.

I see the old crowd there, and they're still runners, proper runners. I bump into Chanti from Long Eaton. "How's it going?" I ask. "Not great, digestive problems ... I won't run flat out," he says, dismissively, meaning "I'm hoping for 2:49." Then Giulio, "oh, ok," he says, which Giacomo glosses as "sub 3 for sure".  Giacomo says "not bad", and Giulio explains that means 2:45. Then Ish, who is a new father and hasn't trained, so he's going to trot around in 3:15.

You? They all ask. I'm fat and I haven't trained, I say. They all think that means 2:59. I explain that I'd be happy with 3:59. They all think I'm talking my race down. I'm not, but not one of them believes me. Only I know how very not-pretty it's going to be.
I creep my way to the back of the Fast Good For Age starting pen, at the very front of the red start. The sides are lined with men - there are almost no women here - peeing under the barriers, away from the pen. They had a choice between peeing in the toilets, or making it to the front of the pen, a choice that was none.

We crammed in together, in a fug of testosterone and adrenaline and watery urine. There were a couple of idiots talking over the PA, which I think may have been the TV or radio coverage. 9:45 approached. There was a countdown. And nothing happened. Gradually I saw a few heads begin to move. And then it all began.

I was running without a watch. I didn't need to know how slow or fast I was: my target was to enjoy myself. It never really works as a target that (am I enjoying myself yet?). Having people run past me was a new experience. One guy asked me a question or said something - I forget what - and we fell into conversation. We hit the two mile mark and he looked at his watch. "Oh this is good," he said, "I didn't think I was going to be able to pace myself because I've no practice at doing that, but we've run the first two miles in exactly 7:20 each." Oh Christ, I think, slow down.

I run (if you can call that running). I see a lot more than usual. The sun emerges - gently at first, but soon intensely, and licks London with sparkling light. Around the water stations the roads coruscate.

Oddly enough, running a marathon slowly isn't very different from running one quickly. You go through all the same moments of apprehension and of fear that you won't finish. You worry whether that twingeing in the toe is the start of a blister. The pain is quite similar, though I did have a new one this time: the pain caused by completely worn out shoes. I'd tried to buy a new pair of shoes, but they turned out not to be quite right. So I wore a pair that were a couple of years old, with many hundreds of miles in them.

I ignored the slow people passing me, and reminded myself that I was here to enjoy it. A woman said "hello". I looked over at her. "Oh Christ," I think, "Nell McAndrew is speaking to me." A thousand reasons run through my head why Nell might want to speak to me. Actually none do. I can't think of a single one. Some of this must be legible on my face, and so Nell says: "I'm from your running club - my name's Caroline." I look down, and she is indeed wearing a Cambridge & Coleridge vest. She runs nicely and I follow her for five to eight miles before I lose her.

Tower Bridge is great, except you know that the next few miles are a bit boring. I'm still feeling pretty good. I see the leaders -- Mutai has a twenty second lead on Lel, and he looks strong and determined; you can see the resolution in his face, and I think, yes, I want to be like him. Then it is - as always, just as it is when I'm fast - in the three miles after Tower Bridge that people pass me. This time people in fancy dress. Short overweight people. Everything is in slow motion. I pray for the turn when we start to head back west.

You can't lie to the Marathon. You can't cheat it. You think you can sneak around, but 26.2 miles won't let you get away with it. When your training schedule includes a couple of thousand miles on the bike together with a couple of crashes, scars and a broken hand, one long run (26.2 miles), plus another when you got lost in the fens and ran out of water, one abandoned set of hill repeats, plus a handful of 7-mile runs, you cannot hope that a poker face is going to persuade the Marathon to let you get away with it. I keep on waiting for the hamstring to give up.

But I think I'm going to be ok.

And then the turn happens and I'm feeling pretty good, and I pick my heels up a bit. And I pass all of those people who passed me. They're slowing, some are stretching against the barriers, many are walking. And I'm feeling pretty good. I look at the clocks on the mile markers and figure out that I should make 4 hours. Then I calculate that I will make four hours even if I have to stop and walk a bit. Then I work out that 3:45 is quite plausible. I'm deeply confused because I am passed by the 3:30 pacers twice, and I have no idea - having no watch - why they should be anywhere near.

While the thirteenth mile had been the longest mile of my life - at least until the fourteenth, which only held its pre-eminence until the fifteenth - after about twenty everything speeded up. Though the markers do seem to go a bit funny for the last couple of miles, and that "800 metres to go" was an age in coming. It reminded me of my old friend Ned's complaints in 2008 when I cheerily exclaimed "that's only twice around a track"; but once I hit that the metres disappeared pretty quickly, and I bounded past a few old codgers and cripples towards the finish.

I saw Ish and Caroline, who complained about the heat, but kept on walking, and within minutes was in Trafalgar Square, sitting on the steps in front of the National Gallery.

Here's a useful bit: an advanced marathoning technique Sean taught me. Take flip-flops for after the race. I haven't had a running blister in years, today the flip-flops were an exquisite relief. In Trafalgar Square the sun at last went away, giving some relief to the 4+ hour slowcoaches.

The waiter at Les Deux Salons brought me a bavette steak that was the shape of my fist, and somewhat bigger, good and bloody on the inside. Somewhere deep inside me the memory of thirty years of vegetarianism stirred, and I ate every inch. That's how to recover. Maybe I'll become a runner again one day, and I'll be able to forget this 3:34.20, and return to lighter numbers. In the heart of this bavette steak I look for inspiration for the autumn, and it's perhaps a sign of being a runner, however faint and inaudible, that the inner chorus is asking "where next?". First, however, I need a new pair of shoes.


Friday, 15 April 2011


There are things that John forgot to mention about Lazarus: the Bible is long enough, proverbially long in fact, and it was obviously never going to be possible to tie up loose ends with all minor characters. But when Lazarus was resurrected things just weren't quite the same as before. He'd been lying in the grave for a few days; and the things that had resulted in his death were still affecting him anyway. So there he was, alive, but with a body that just didn't work quite right.

It's a bit like coming back from injury. Just because my torn hamstring healed doesn't mean that I'm an athlete once again. Since the horror of being in Scotland ... this mortal coil has been patched back together and once again acquired the semblance of what might be called, at a glance and in a dark alley, a body. But it doesn't mean I can run.

Ok, let's be clear. I have lost my Mojo. If you are an endurance athlete you will know what I mean.

Since that fateful May of 2009 my comeback has been halfhearted. My hamstring healed; I damaged it again; it healed again, but only sort of. It turned out that my problems were neurological, and there was stuff going on in my spine that was generating pain without actually doing any damage (it's only pain, so that's fine). Then I tried to do the Tour Ride on 5 September 2010. The crash left me with a salad bowl of contusions. Sleep wasn't easy, but I got back on the bike and quickly overcame my fear of speedy descents. In fact a few weeks later I rode the Oxford-Cambridge bike ride, and a few days afterward that discovered that I had a broken hand. Again: it was only pain, and I could operate the shifters just fine.

But still, nothing like a training schedule: a few causal runs, no speed, no real distance, no Mojo. Soon, I said to myself, soon. Then it was March and the week of the Boundary Run. In past years that's been a training run for the London Marathon, one of five or six 20+ mile runs. This year it was my first and only long run in preparation. While others were looking at a schedule that said "This is the week to: Give your routine a check-up: As you embark on the heaviest four weeks of marathon training (the 'Monster Month') it's a great time to check over your training routine." I was asking myself: "where are my running shoes?" In fact my running shoes were worn out, so I bought a new pair. Nike had adjusted the model slightly, and I twisted my ankle. Another injury, another blow upon a bruise.

I ran it in a killer four hours, the longest time I've ever run for. Some of it was ameliorated by a rather lovely triathlete, who chatted for a while about training 'n stuff, before she took off. Her name was Rose. I never saw her again. Then I was alone. The photographs are just hideous. My legs are practically plaited. Running was clearly not the way to train for the next marathon, so last weekend I went out and cycled 133 miles around Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire in an audax event, also without training. That was surprisingly easy.

And that's my training, with London in two days' time. It's just as well I've taken up drinking, as it numbs the anxiety. My last-minute preparation plan: I'm going for a shave. And I'll probably try to get an early night. Maybe. Just me and my worn-out shoes a bottle in a hotel in London. Being back from the dead is not enough; benefitting from the Resurrection and the Life isn't enough. A man needs his Mojo. Lazarus lived on for a few years with a dodgy hamstring, a significantly reduced VO2 max, wasted muscle, an expanded waistline, and a poor attitude. Jesus was no longer his friend. Pray for me, to any god that will listen.


Sunday, 19 September 2010

No Regrets

Last week, in a fug of self pity because I have a haematoma the size of a fist on my left hip meaning I can't sleep, and because I've been cycling around with a suspected broken wrist, I read an email from my friend Dean Johnson. I was overwhelmed not only with the news but the lesson therein, so I asked him to write it up for the blog. J 

My affliction seemed as well timed as it could be.  I would go out on top.  One week before the onset of symptoms, I had my best finish ever (third fastest) in a six hour adventure race where we competed in 37 deg. C heat.  The day after symptom onset, I was in full denial mode and won my team classification in a six hour orienteering race.  At almost 52, finishing uninjured by the cut off time is a realistic goal.  Finishing near the top or winning is out of the question.

On my nightstand, the latest New Yorker magazine contained an article detailing the lack of benefit from massive intervention to advanced stage cancer.  Many medical professionals agreed that hospice care resulted in no diminishment in life remaining and certainly a far more comfortable decline.  This finding corroborated my belief that my time left, to the extent I could control it, would be marked by vibrancy and not a drug addled struggle to prolong breathing.

Admittedly, no one thought that I was going to die.  I had a disk between C4 and C5 in my cervical spine that was severely bulging into my spinal cord.  In several places, my spinal cord was compressed into ribbon.  

I am not the first person in the world with this condition, but the consulting neurosurgeon stunned me within the first 15 seconds of his entering the exam room.  He had been fully briefed by his resident and Fellow who had each evaluated my current symptoms (numbness in hands, arms, torso and back and gradual loss of fine motor skills) and closely consulted my MRI.  In the manner of a man accustomed to dealing with gruesome spinal conditions on a daily basis, he matter-of-factly stated that I was one strong  sneeze, bad cough, minor auto accident or fall away from serious spinal cord injury.  The kind of spinal cord injury that could lead to quadriplegia...

You could have pushed me over with a feather.

He reckoned that normally I would want to research procedures, doctors and medical centers, but in my place, he would not wait an instant.  He consulted his next day’s surgery schedule and offered to cancel the morning operation and substitute my case.  His canceling another neurosurgery operation forced reality on a previously surreal situation.  Medical consumerism would never outweigh the potential harm from spinal cord injury.  

Scarily enough, the precise condition that was so concerning to the neurosurgeon had already been acute for a month.  It took that long to weave my way though the US insurance-driven necessity of a GP visit, physical therapy, another GP visit, an MRI and another GP appointment.   On top of that, I had to enlist the help of a neurosurgeon friend to get a neurosurgery consultation in less than two months.  During this time, I had sneezed, coughed, driven, had kids hanging around my neck and orienteered.  Ignorance had been bliss (with a healthy chance of paralysis).

I took him up on this offer for next day surgery.  The procedure involves making an incision in the neck, moving the esophagus and trachea to the side and getting to the cervical vertebrae from the front.   The surgeon remove the bulging disk, replaces it with cadaverous bone and screws a bracket to the surrounding vertebrae to secure them while bone forms and the vertebrae fuse.  In my case, they removed two disks and bracketed three vertebrae.  One loses the flexibility of the joints, but there is still much movement available elsewhere in the cervical spine.

The physical recovery has been pain and trouble free.  The "flirting with death" part has been the larger matter.  My current work/family/leisure balance results in my physical vitality being the key to all other happiness. I crave serious exercise and have taken up endurance bike rides as my next physical challenge. 

Not only was all that extraordinary activity in danger from my impaired condition, but also I was slowly losing my fine motor skills -- like buttoning shirts, tying shoes and typing.  When the activities of daily living become a challenge, this condition risks becoming the defining event in one’s life.  The traumatic realization that I had a “near miss” with life defining quadriplegia was pretty terrifying and is only starting to fade.

I am now three weeks post surgery.  My numbness has gradually declined and fine motor skills are coming back.  While I am making progress, it has been at a slow enough rate to appreciate the unfortunate alternative.  I do not want to over dramatize, yet this is precisely the physical condition I mean when I, lightheartedly, had hypothetically balanced my quality of life versus euthanasia.

I joke with my 8 year younger wife and 42 year younger kids that they will not need to pick out a nursing home for me because I will have topped myself before moving in.  I have an agreement with a friend that if I am on a respirator, he will pull the plug when the nurse is not looking.  I promised to do the same for him.

Perhaps my life has been so worry free that I am excessively self absorbed with this close call.  Maybe.  However, my principal learning from counseling has been that my problems do not amount to a hill of beans in this world, but my problems are my problems.

As the old people say, “If you have your health, you have everything.”  More germane to vibrant souls like ours is not to waste a day, an hour, or a minute.  Shorten your time horizon.  Take that day off, do that bike ride, do an extra push up because you can and for heaven’s sake, take nothing, not a walk, a jump, a ride, a lift, even shoe tying, for granted.  God forbid the "time coming," but at least you will have no regrets.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

a blow upon a bruise

The drive down was nice, as was breakfast. I listened to John Lee Anderson's biography of Che Guevara, and I thought about many things. In the afternoon sun, and with the roof down, I found my way to the hotel in Dunster, a couple of miles from Minehead, where the Tour Ride started. There I bumped into Matt and Ned and John unloading the gear from their car. Ned, who had produced some utterly implausible excuse for being unable to ride his own, crap bike, happened to have borrowed a brand-new Pinarello from an importer ... unridden and worth six or seven grand. It was a thing of great beauty. Who'd have thunk that the notorious scrounger would have somehow found himself riding a carbon-fibre jet?

I nonchalantly threw the wheels on my bianchi, checked the shifting, and we cycled into Minehead. There we met the crew, Team Real Peloton, and recorded material for a podcast which should go out sometime this week (ignore my undistinguished comments on why Contador should have waited for Schleck). There were some good people there and we drank some. Minehead was full of wired eyes, expectant, tremulous hands holding the saddles of yellow bikes.

I slept appallingly and woke to rain. I hate it when it rains on a Sunday morning. It reminds me of almost drowning in Istanbul and of those mornings when I can't get out of bed because I know my jacket is only water-resistant, not waterproof. I oiled my chain, checked the brakes, loaded my pockets with flapjacks, my water bottles with electrolyte, and put my brand new jacket in my back pocket. Ned, Matt and John were in the breakfast room, wearing the Real Peloton team shirts (above) that Matt had had brought over from Columbia, and of which we were duly proud. At seven, ready for the unknown we mounted our bikes in the pouring rain and headed out.

It wasn't going to go well. Over wet tarmac we hammered our way to the start, where we were going to meet the team. Ready for mountains, I forgot that it was the start of the day and hugged someone's wheel close. For some unseen reason up front brakes were applied, my wheel caught, and I went bouncing over the tarmac.

After sitting by the side of the road and a few exclamations of 'F**k', 'f**k', 'f**k' - I suppose I could have called out that bit about waking on the burning lake, poetry never seems to work in these circumstances - I climbed back on the bike. But my left brake head was almost broken off, I couldn't do anything with my right hand, and there was blood running down both legs and blood on the handlebar tape. I couldn't see my chin, though Ned pointed out that my rain jacket was torn across the front. It looked like a bullethole. 'Was there anywhere you didn't land on?' he asked.

I started with the team, rode the first couple of miles, and then headed straight into the hotel where I showered (they still had about 105 miles to go at that point). But not before I'd been displayed to Ned's motorbike camera crew: the event will feature in the ITV4 coverage of Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain on September 14. As I watched the blood run down the plughole I decided I had done the right thing.

And that was my ride. I drove to the finish, in Teignmouth, and saw a paramedic, who patched me off and showed the worst of the bruising to his assistant, thinking she might find it instructive. I had bruising and cuts on the front and back of my right knee, grazing on my right shoulder, a big graze on my chin, a knock on my forehead where my helmet had protected me, bruising on both wrists, an inoperable right thumb, a big cut and swelling on my left ankle,grazes on the inside and outside of my left knee, a swelling the size of a golfball on my left elbow, grazes and a swelling the size of half a cricket ball on my right shoulder, and something indescribable on my right hip.

So I missed all the fun. I missed seeing Ned fly up the first mountain, and then have the freewheel on his brand new Pinarello bike freeze. It was an hour and a half before it was fixed. I missed Rob's rear derailleur snap (he also had to abandon). I missed crashes. I missed watching Matt pushing his bike up hills. I missed eight plus hours of cycling and several of standing around. Instead I limped to a bar and had a roast dinner and some wine and re-read a PhD thesis. It was all about how spirit is inseparable from matter, which seemed self-evident at that point. Then I went to the finish and saw individual members of team Real Peloton finish in better-than-respectable times. And finally I saw the Lanternes Rouge roll up -- Ned, Matt, team captain Steve Trice and Chris with the supportive girlfriend -- and finish side by side at the end of an honest days work slogging over the unforgiving hills and through the uncompromising winds of Somerset and Devon, navigating the incommunicable chemistry of camaraderie and isolation that is cycling.

We went out drinking in Torquay. This is how some of it looked the next day (don't look if you're faint at heart). As my friend Sarah said: so much for cycling being easier on the body.