Monday 30 September 2013

Ferret Flogs on the Tyne Part 1 (Newburn to Newcastle Quayside 11.5 km)

I've had an interesting weekend, which started on Friday, when I quickly abandoned any thought of cooking supper, resorting to our local Domino's Pizza place.

I'm not sure if it says more about my clarity of speech or the quality of the staff, but somehow Verity was transposed into "Ferret" by the weasel behind the counter.

Saturday was spent between work and the police station, where my hapless detainee had allegedly assaulted someone while they were taking a dump. You can imagine the fun the detectives had with that one. (I couldn't make this up could I?)

So could Sunday top that, well with the postponement of the Tyne River swim, the Tosser's (well the truly mad ones) were planning a training swim from Newburn to the Quayside. For some reason I thought this was a good idea. I turned up at the Quayside car park with the rest of the gang and we left our cars there and car shared to Newburn Riverside Park.

I'm a stranger to the riverside north of the Scotswood Bridge and I was growing increasingly uneasy as I realised just how far this was. The water was a chilly 11ยบ and we broke into groups with a staggered start to try and keep the field compacted. Not as cold as the North Sea and I soon warmed up. The first obstacle was negotiating the rowing squads that were out on the water but we managed that pretty well and even gave a friendly wave to a tourist (I know it seems incongruous) pleasure boat.

I had been informed by Open Water Guru Sparky Walton that we were swimming on a neap tide (the reality of that i.e no down stream current, hadn't quite sunk in at the time!)

The Scotswood Bridge seemed to take a long time coming and we were passed by the Kamikaze squad of Sparky Walton and Jimmy Bridges as we approached the bend in the river just before it, they were absolutely flying and disappeared off into the distance very quickly.

Rounding the bend there was a fair degree of chop and a horrible head wind. This made the stretch of river from the Newburn Bridge to Dunstan Staithes bloody hard work, and it seemed to take forever to swim past the old BAE systems tank factory. I know this may sound really obvious but you really don't appreciate how big the bloody river is or just how much water there is in there until you're stuck in the middle of it.

I was swimming with Joe and James who very caringly stopped every 15 mins or so to let me catch up with them, (thanks guys you were immense). We were all struggling on this stretch and every time I lifted my head to try and navigate all I could see was a wall of green water coming towards me. The gels I had stuffed up my wetsuit were gratefully consumed in this section, I wished that I had also included a Snicker's bar in a ziploc bag.

By the time we reached the Staithes (which took an eternity) spirits lifted, we'd been in the water for around 4 hours at this point and still had around 30 minutes to go.

I've never ever swum non stop for 4 hours and certainly not in those conditions. My left shoulder was really beginning to hurt and each stroke was pretty painful but my resolve to finish was strengthened by the sight of the home straight.

I knew that I was going to finish and plodded on painfully as Joe and James set out on the last lap. Despite the pain in my shoulder that final stretch is just something else. I was ticking off the bridges as I swam under them, mercifully the water was much calmer here, the Redheugh, the King Edward, the Metro bridge, the High Level, the Swing and finally the Tyne. You really appreciate how big and solid they are as you swim under them as an insignificant speck.

Teenage Triathlete caught up with me on the riverside walk beside the Copthorne and shouted encouragement the last few hundred metres. I tried the odd bit of backstroke on the swim in as it seemed to ease the shoulder. I was also a little wary of missing the steps outside the law courts where we climbed out, but a bit of dog paddle and breaststroke and I made it.

I have never been so pleased to set foot on solid ground all I had to do was walk barefoot to the car in the Quayside car park. It was just a bit surreal to be wandering across the front of the law courts, and sitting on the steps of Great Coffee, rubber suited, shoeless and dripping wet while Teenage Triathlete provided me with a much needed latte. Hopefully I was unrecognisable!

So I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself having endured that, the big question remains......can I do part 2 in a fortnight's time?

Sunday 15 September 2013

Memories of Eindhoven evoked by "minging" canal smelling costume!

At 1:30 this afternoon I was expecting to be diving off the CityMarina under the shadow of the iconic Tyne Bridge and making my way under the Millenium Bridge to South Shields (a mere 10 miles).

The weather kiboshed that, gale force winds were forecast and the harbour master deemed it too dangerous for the canoe safety cover, not the swimmers mind you!

So at 1:30 this afternoon I found myself diving into the Consett Masters session. The "big" swim has been tentatively rescheduled for the weekend of the 12th/13th October. Hmmh what's the temperature going to be like then I wonder? not too warm methinks, (although fortunately I have a fairly decent layer of natural insulation!)

Motivation to keep jacket on!
Now having arrived back from Binge's adventures in Eindhoven on Monday I was still bearing the war wounds of the dash down the canal last Saturday (see here); because the tattoos,(we used to call them Billy Stampers as kids) were proving rather difficult to shift off my body.

I returned to a posh business lunch, and disembarking from the ferry around 9:40am discovered I had about 2 and a half hours to get home, shower, change and travel back to Newcastle. Fortunately I'd managed by then to scrape off most of the marks from the back of my hands but didn't have the time to sort out my upper arms, so I resolved to keep my jacket on!

Thankfully by lunchtime today I'd removed most of the marks from my upper arms but I'm still working on my shoulder blades! I did however discover a further unpleasant souvenir of my trip. A foul canal smelling costume which had of course benefited from festering in the bottom of my bag for almost a week!

Dashing out for the pool this afternoon I grabbed my costume and goggles and jumped in the car. I was pretty appalled by the smell emanating from my Speedo endurance suit which hung like a cloud around me as I walked onto the poolside. I was hoping that no one would notice but it was pretty overwhelming and caused my sole companion this afternoon Clarkie (another refugee from the cancelled swim) to wrinkle his nose. Now he's a custody sergeant so trust me he has plenty of experience at dealing with the great unwashed. Fortunately the chlorine seemed to sort out the problem. (or he was just being polite!)

Evil Mutant Swim Coach gave us a choice as to whether we wanted to do his set or just a straight swim! I had had enough of straight swimming last week so we opted for the set.... and yes devotees of this column will know what's coming: It's Sunday so it's hundreds.....

400 free warm up 66 swim, 66 drill
4 x 100 @ 2 mins
3 x 100 @ 1:55
2 x 100 @ 1:50
1 x 100 @ 1:45
1 x 100 @ 1:40
2 x 100 @ 1:45
3 x 100 @ 1:50
4 x 100 @ 1:55
200 swim down
2600 metres

Binge's Adventures in Eindhoven (the 1 length dash)

The Start at Eindhoven
Final day of swimming today and the European Masters Championships ended with the open water event.

Sadly we weren't blessed with the fabulous weather we'd enjoyed all week, and as you can see from the pictures it was a little grim.

The build up to the race wasn't promising, some people take this sort of thing very seriously and had ventured downtown to have a look at the course, and the brave ones had even been in for a swim!

Tales of large patches of weed, general muckiness and oiliness abounded not to mention the Eindhoven authorities pulling a couple of old cars out of the water, and there were also some pretty ugly photos of dredging going on in the week leading up to the competition. This didn't dampen the spirits though.

Just a tad more professional than magic marker!
We were in the Netherlands and therefore somewhat predictably the race was a straight 3km down a canal. No problems with navigation there then. The organisation was fantastic, from the shuttle bus service to the start, to the provision of your race pack, containing cap, timing chips (two) and tattoos (6)

Although one downer was the provision of loos at the start. As we queued for the ladies (there's always a queue in the ladies isn't there) we had a pretty good view of the guys urinals! Unfortunately as I reached the front of the queue a German lady came out proclaiming "no paper" I decided that with a little willpower my trip to the loos wasn't going to be that essential and joined the queue for the tattooing! eventually emerging from the registration marquee with my nails checked and the number 330 (my race number) tattooed on the back of both hands, both shoulder blades and upper arms; I was ready for the off.

I did however discover that just because you are marked up like Keri-Ann Payne doesn't make you swim like her....sadly. The start was at a rowing boat dock and marked by a lane rope which you had to hold onto. It was cleverly positioned in a rather large patch of pretty prickly weeds, and after navigating through them we were off. At the 50 metre mark I realised I wasn't going to be competitive so I settled down to a pretty leisurely pace and enjoyed the rather urban scenery.

Having let most of the field bash on ahead, I found myself in a solitary and peaceful stretch of water, between the speedsters and a handful of stragglers. I was eternally grateful for this as despite being urged by the race referee to be a "good sport" there were some pretty dirty tactics going on.

As I approached the finish, I was becoming increasingly concerned that I would be run down by the wave behind me, (who started 15 minutes after us.)

Sure enough about 10 metres from the finish line the 60-64 year old guys came charging through and boy was that physical! Funky Trunks Riach was being bounced all over the course and was knocked off his line for the finish by the ultimate winner, an Italian with pretty scary eyes who looked like a Bond villain. You really didn't want to mess with him.

There was a great atmosphere at the presentation area and a last chance to buy EMSC 2013 merchandise. The site included the obligatory chip van (I have come to the conclusion that the Dutch national dish is chips!) Not to mention the beer vendor just to make sure that such finely tuned athletes could properly refuel.

The Brits had probably their most successful open water event with 11 medals so there was plenty to cheer about. Including fellow Tosser Nick Parkes who flew in just to swim the 3k and in a close finish out sprinted a German to win the 50 years age group. He was buzzing having come back to swimming 12 months ago focussing on thisl! A great way to end a brilliant week.

3000 metres

Monday 9 September 2013

Binge's Adventures in Eindhoven Day 7 (and the quest for a disposable barbecue.)

The Leisure Pool
Final day of the pool swimming today and Area 51 was celebrating Sumo's second gold of the meet in the 200 breaststroke, although with the greatest of respect to his performance the excitement in the pool centred around the appearance of Inge de Bruin in the 40 years 50m freestyle.

The Dutch heroine from Sydney went 26.64 to set a new European record, it was awesome to watch, although not quite fast enough to grab Dara Torres's world record.

On a more mundane level, Area 51 and the Ren 96 crew decided to combine forces to celebrate the end of the pool competition.

A barbecue was suggested and the Funky Trunks pair and Binge were dispatched to a local supermarket to lay in the provisions. The moral of this story is don't buy a fortunes worth of barbecue food without checking that you can buy a disposable barbecue first.

This led to a rather frantic chase around the suburbs of Eindhoven in a bid to locate this rather essential piece of kit! Success in a the Dutch equivalent of "downstairs at John Lewis" known as "Blokker" The evening degenerated from there on in, way too much red wine led to an attempt to eat a "Super Dickman" without using your hands. There are some very ugly photographs!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the delights of Dutch cuisine, a super dickman is a cross between a walnut whip (without the walnut) and one of those chocolate snowballs you used to eat when you were a kid.

The pool swimming ended and Jane Asher and Geoff Stokes were part of the closing ceremony and received the symbolic handing on of a flag as the next European Championships will be held in London. So all of you ex swimmers there's no excuse you've got about 30 months to get yourself back into shape.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Binge's Adventures in Eindhoven Day 6 ( the competitive debut of Funky Trunks)

There was clearly a limit to the amount of domestic godessness that could exist in Area 51; and we had clearly reached it this evening (Thursday).

After a second glorious day spent sunbathing under a water slide, the occupants of Area 51 had frazzled any culinary brain cells and we were reduced to take out pizza and left-overs.

Which I have to say were actually pretty good and included muscles in white wine sauce, not that I've ever cooked them before but with a little imagination garlic paste, onions and white wine and Bob's your uncle, we had a pretty tasty starter.

So moving smoothly on from muscles in white wine sauce to muscles in Funky Trunks although I'm not sure if these two amount to a tasty starter; the unveiling of the Funky Trunk as modelled here by Fast Eddie and Sumo, caused great excitement on the pool side (allegedly).

It was a relay day today and these trunks made their debut on the REN 96 team. The team concluded that they did exactly what it said on the tin (expressed to be NOT racing trunks). Trust me it was not a pretty sight. Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened today was the opening up of the water-slides at 5pm, which created a welcome diversion from the competition.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Binge's Adventures in Eindhoven Day 5 (Area 51 medal glut)

Swimmer's chill out area and leisure pool
For the three readers who have been following this recent binge of blogging you may have gleaned that  my endeavours in the pool came to an end with the 50 breast yesterday. I spent the day back at Area 51 catching up on a bit of blogging and writing a short report on the first couple of days for the comic. (The Swimming Times for the aficionados of you out there)

Now ordinarily I would've at some point trundled up to the pool to support my team mates, but the IT surrounding this meet is absolutely terrific. I was able to sit in Area 51 working and watching the live feed of the meet. I watched Judo, McClean the keen and Sumo all win European titles whilst eating my breakfast...fantastic. 

Mind you the live feed froze with Sumo 5 metres off the finish having chased down a fast starting opponent and I had an anxious few moments trying to confirm the result. No worries though a Gold Medal and European Record to boot, brilliant swimming. Judy and Janet's gold rush came in the 200 fly (yes they are both certifiable firstly to even contemplate this distance fly and secondly for getting up at some stupid o clock to ensure they had a proper warm up!)

Binge's adventures in Eindhoven Day 4 (accreditation where it's due!)

Andreas Prayer Competitor's Steward par excellence
Now I've been doing these meets for long enough now that you would think I'd have the marshalling down to a fine art.

Obviously not, my second event the 50 breaststroke comes around and I took my bag down to find a spot to leave it while I swum. Andy Gristwood kindly offered to play bag monitor for half an hour, as I made my way to the call area.

My heat was called by the adorable Andreas Prayer who always greets you with a smile. I made it through two rows of chairs and was sitting in the marshalling area in the corridor (didn't you used to dream of sitting in a corridor?) when one of the officials started to check our accreditation.

Uh oh no accreditation, I had very cunningly left it in my bag. I tried the usual Binge blagging technique to try and wangle my way out of this but it rapidly became apparent that "no accreditation no swim". So I had to dash out of marshalling and fight my way through the scrum of people waiting to get into marshalling smashing my toes on the foot of the railings, to locate my bag and my accreditation.

On returning my heat had made it to the back of the blocks so not long to compose myself and dive in. Swimming in lane 8 I couldn't really see anyone else but I knew speed merchant Hayley Bettinson would be in the mix on the other side of the pool. I finished second in my heat (to Hayley) and 9th overall. A big improvement on the Plymouth time but still pretty rubbish.

Now what do I expect after not training for about 3-4 months!

Binge's Adventures in Eindhoven Day 3 (Sandbagger Binge?)

Monday 2nd September: Okay you've noticed I'm playing a bit of catch up here with the blogging as after yesterday's exertions in the warm up pool we returned to the twilight zone and spent the rest of the afternoon in the leisure pool (which brings to mind the phrase "Busman's holiday")

The water slides and white water ride were great fun, although I discovered the Dutch aren't big on health and safety as I suffered a rather nasty scrape to my ankle when it came into contact with a strategically placed concrete block inside a shipwreck as I dived down to look at the sharks. (oh for goodness sake grow up I hear you say)

So day 2 of the meet and the competition opens for me with a 400 free. I had carried out the half hearted theme even into my entries so rather than do the usual 5 pool swims I chose to enter only 2. I was surprisingly mindful when filling in the entry form that my usual events the 100 and 200 breaststroke can be exquisitely painful at the best of times and excruciatingly painful when unfit.

I had also made a minor miscalculation in my entry time. I figured that my Plymouth swim was awful and with no further preparation I adopted a very scientific approach by simply adding 4 seconds onto it (that's a second for every 100 if you hadn't guessed) Sadly I didn't check what time I had swum at Plymouth and wrongly assumed it had been a 6:36 so I entered a 6:40 (it was actually a 6:16). I found myself in an early heat keeping 70 year old sprint specialist Jean Howard Jones company oops.

I was sitting in the cafe area enjoying the sunshine and the craic when I realised that heat 5 were in the water, (I was in heat 8) a bit of an adrenalin rush and a dash to the loos where I (amongst other things) struggled to drag on the suit. Made it into marshalling with time to spare, just as we were released onto the pool side.

I was in lane 0 at the far end of the pool and I sauntered across to my lane to discover there was somebody else in it! In my blind panic I hadn't noticed the cleverly hidden penultimate line of marshalling chairs just to the right of the pool side entrance. After all of that my swim definitely  exceeded expectations. Not quite sure where it came from and it's still a rubbish time but whilst it's sadly not, as the announcer said "a new personal record by 38 seconds" it is a 14 second improvement over Plymouth and I'll take that. I celebrated with a 200 metre swim down!

Binge's adventures in Eindhoven Day 2 (Area 51 and the squawking parrots)

The irony that we had by chance landed in Cabin 51 dawned on me when Janet McLean (the pain)'s mobile phone ring tone of eerie extra terrestrial sounds spread throughout our cabin.

Park de Kempervennen; A twilight zone all of our own; well apart from a couple of thousand other swimmers we keep bumping into around the place.

We came in from the drinks party and with a distinct lack of imagination decided to test out the Pizza and Pasta place adjoining Area 51 for dinner last night. It seems that the lack of imagination is a common trait amongst swimmers as the place was crammed with them. The food was pretty adequate, but we were a little underwhelmed by the entertainment in an adjoining bar which we could overhear from our seats.

In fact it wasn't so much the entertainment but a bunch of squawking parrots which felt obliged to join in with "the turn".

The din was unbelievable, but I now realise why Month Python wrote about dead parrots cos honestly if they'd got within striking range of me I could quite cheerfully have shuffled off one or two of their mortal coils.

There was a team decision to test out the shuttle service to the pool, and try out the warm up facilities. Not that I had any intention of doing a warm up electing to use Binge Swim Tactics 101 (especially tried, tested and honed to perfection here.) But it seemed to me to be a good opportunity to add a few yards to my total for the year so I tagged along.

Now the first day of these events is 800 day, which means it's pretty low key, well can you imagine 50 heats of 800 freestyle, it's mind numbing and the phrase watching paint dry comes to mind, unless you have a  team mate swimming in one of them then it can get quite exciting (or frustrating depending on your team mates performance.)

Despite the gentle pace of the competition pool, the 4 lane 50m warm up pool was fairly busy. I spent a few moments contemplating which lane to swim in, trying to weigh up the relative speed of each lane. The Dutch had helpfully placed one sign on the end lane which said "snell bahn". Now sadly the translation app on my phone doesn't do Dutch so I was left to puzzle out what that meant.

My fear was that the word was pretty close to the German for schnell and at my level of unfitness the last thing I wanted to try was mixing it with a load of speedsters; but, looking at the quality of swimmers it seemed to me that it could also mean a rather unpolitically correct but quite accurate "snail lane". This seemed tailor made for me so I dropped in and worked my way through a whole 800 metres just fine tuning myself for the 400 tomorrow.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Team Binge Voyage to Eindhoven Day 1

Now if swimming the British Masters Championships on no training was a little ill advised, then abandoning work, England, Bob and TT for almost 10 days to compete in the European Masters Championships on even less time in the water is little short of suicidal.

Truthfully I had adopted a rather half hearted and somewhat indecisive approach to whether or not I would do the European Championships this year following my big fail in my 2013 Binge Challenge.

However. as an after thought I sent off a limited entry the day before the meet's closing date and didn't really give it much more thought until Sumo rang me last week to discuss the travel arrangements. Easy really just get myself to the Strawberry Farm on the A69 near Hexham around about 3pm on Friday and we'd be off, via the North Sea ferry.

There was the usual compete and utter panic about trying to clear up from work to get away,  and given my ultimate destination the phrase about sticking fingers in dykes could never be more appropriate.

We arrived at North Shields Port and drove onto the ferry, any good intentions of being sensible through the week, were dispelled as we came out of our cabin and wandering on deck discovered a very sunny Mermaid Bar.

Leaning against the railing with a beer in your hand on a sunny late summer afternoon is quite a civilised way to do a preliminary recce of the closing leg of the Tyne swim (although there must be a serious question as to whether or not I'll make it this far downstream).

We decided that as we were stuck on this boat until 9am the next morning we'd better make the most of it and we joined the various hen and stag parties bedecked in fluorescent day-glo splendour and embarked on a pub crawl around the various bars on board before sitting down to dinner.

A rather fitful night's sleep in a bunk, a couple of hours drive at the other end, (as we only went wrong once I decided that our navigational skills had improved immensely and we've obviously cracked the navigate by iPad after last year's efforts see here ) and we arrived at our new home for the next 10 days...Center Parcs Dutch style.

The pre meet arrival ritual of find the pool, collect accreditation, test the pool out, (a mere 400m as I didn't want to over do it,) then off to find the venue for the British Drinks reception, (better get there early because the bill was going to land on my credit card) I managed to persuade one of the shuttle bus drivers to drop me off outside the hotel, an unscheduled stop but saved my legs for the challenge of 400 free on Monday.

400 metres