Holiday in Cambodia…

Once the sense of achievement and aching pain of climbing and ascending 24000ft, 800 mile road trip, 24 miles of hiking/scrambling/sprawling/running and 40 hours of being awake had worn off, I felt that there was a huge void in my life which had to be immediately plugged. Coming off the buzz of the UK 3 Peaks Challenge (blog entry coming soon…) can only be described as cold turkey. OK maybe it was because the coming down part (‘turkeying’) actually started in Scotland (which coincidentally instantly gave me cravings for offal, deep fried Mars Bars and heroin) but it quickly became apparent that after the euphoria was over, something had to be penned on the calendar, else ‘fat bastardom’ awaited.

The idea of entering a Spartan Race came soon after I got back from a 3 year sabbatical in Malaysia, where it was that my love affair for running started. The demise of the Expat Lions (my beloved football team in KL) left me again piling on the pounds due to the incredible culinary delights the East had to offer. So I recall (vaguely) a party when a fellow guest suggested to a drunken me at the time to sign up for a half marathon. In Cambodia. Like you do. So I recall after the said party (and there may well be a bit of poetic licence here – I’ll let you be the judge) that I blearily logged on to the Ankor Wat Marathon website and duly signed the virtual dotted line and climbed the wooden hilltop to Bedfordshire. Sitting there unopened in my Gmail box when I awoke the next day was the confirmation email with messages of warm welcomes and good fortunes for the coming 13.2 miles.

So there I was sat on the sofa after signing up for the race (without permission from the ‘significant other’ which is a rare occurrence) thinking should I or shouldn’t I, and if I should (which I obviously did) then I needed to get some training in pretty damn quick. So after having gone to the local sports depot to buy some running shoes, vests, shorts, socks, fanny bag, rehydration powders and mixer, blister plasters, vaseline and fem fresh (it works on nads too gents) I was ready to rock. As Malaysia is not the coldest place in the world, I decided it was in my best interests to start in the gym downstairs attached to the condo. Starting off on the treads, Arctic Monkeys and QOTSA were my playlists of choice, the formers’ album being of 30 minutes in length and of great tempo (although Brainstorm being the first song was a bit on the fast side). Over the coming weeks, I slowly started to push myself and began to get in shape finishing the 5km sessions the with songs to spare on the playlist.

There obviously came a time when I knew I had to brave the tropical heat / storms and venture outside. When I did it was tough. Very tough. Luckily we had moved to a house further out from the town centre which rather nicely had a 9 hole golf course as a back garden, ideally fitted with a path I used as a running track. To keep us motivated for the big one, Tom (aforementioned Scottish party dweller and enticer of runners) and I put ourselves in for a 10km race in KL (Mizuno wave) and when the time came, as best prepared as we could be, went for it (I recall we sang 500 miles by The Proclaimers at the top of our lungs as we approached the finishing line much to the annoyance of the local iPod bearers). I didn’t break the 1 hour barrier that time (1h00m30s to be precise), but the sense of achievement on reaching the finishing line in the 35c+ heat was something to remember, forever.

When it came to the Ankor Wat Race, I was in good shape. The day before the race saw us doing the tourist thing around Ton Le Sap Lake (with floating Vietnamese villages aplenty) and the Ankor complex which was a jaw-droppingly visual orgasm. After the now mandatory chicken pasta meal that night (in a restaurant which served ‘Magic Pizzas’ which we gracefully declined), we were good to go. The temperatures on the day were around 16c, so much like Bob Beaumon training at altitude before the Olympics, I felt like the extensive and exhausting session back in the KL tropics put us in good stead for the 13 miles that lay ahead. Tom quickly fell behind needing a crap (allegedly – there will be a thistle bush growing on the spot if he did) so off I went enjoying the clear blue skies, lifeless mirror-like lakes and marvelling at the ancient world in which I found myself. The best thing about the whole race for me were the kids. All the villagers young and old lined the route, with kids holding their hands up for high 5’s to which and dutifully obliged to every single one. It was a very humbling a rather emotional experience, knowing the plight of the Cambodians during the Pol Pot regime and the incredible warmth offered during my whole stay. It was the kids that kept me going. I recall after about 11 miles starting to tire, but in the distance I could see another group of kids standing with arms aloft, which spurred me on towards the finishing line. The last 2 miles were tough though. Looking in my fanny bag I still had some NutriGrain type bars, sweets, chewing gum and the likes, so as I got nearer the finishing line I started to hand them out to the kids, including my sweat bands (one soaked one which didn’t go down too well) and eventually the fanny bag itself. So I got my head down for the last mile. Looking at the watch it said around 1:53m. I thought that there was a slight chance that I could break the 2 hour barrier so summoning up the last energy reserves and went for it. As I rounded the last corner I could see the Timex clock over the finishing line which still said 1 hour something. I crossed the line in 1h59m36s shattered, but in awe of everything, the country, the people, my performance. ‘I’s feeling emotional’ as the bird from Gavin and Stacey would say. Tom and I also managed to blag our way into a secret gig behind Ankor Wat temple that evening (Tom having his big Nikon camera with him and me wearing my Smiths Meat is Murder t-shirt – pretending to journo’s) to see Placebo play an anti-Human Trafficking show, only to be turfed out by the officials just before they came on stage. Shame…

During the remainder of my stay in the East I also ran a 7k (37m30s), 12k (1h04m54s) and a 20k (1h52m08s) in KL, the best performance of all being the 20k as I was the third ‘gwi-lo’ in (translated as the white ghost). When I returned to Blighty, I completed the Asics 10k (50m12s), the Liverpool Half Marathon (in a disappointing 1h56m20s), but smashed the Liverpool 10k Tunnel Race in 47m15s arguably my best performance so far. So a rather long winded way of getting around to the origins of the Spartan Race entry I’m sure you will agree.

So then, the Spartan Race…

Work hard, party harder, broken foot…

I’ve always worked my ass off to get where I am. In the same breath, I’ve always known how to party until it’s £19.99. But there comes a time when the line has to be drawn. And I think that time has now come. 

Exactly 12 months ago and the last time I was in the oblivion zone, I decided in my infinite wisdom to run 20 miles between two English towns at 2am in the morning after a friends stag doo, without ever visited the said towns before in a direction I cannot confirm or deny was the right one. Now on reflection, there is a part of my brain when in that dark place which tries to play out the actions of the sane sober person I am most of the time, a person who looks after himself and is committed to being healthy and aiming to stay on long enough in life to see my great grand children. 

So on the night in question whilst running down a country lane in the pitch black (in hiking boots no less), do I stumble and twist my ankle. I’m sure that to make matters worse (not that I can recall) that I endeavored to carry on to complete my epic journey of man vs road even though in truth I have never ran that distance in my life. Lucky for me, an ambulance was passing and stopped to offer assistance and take me to the town of my destination (albeit the A&E department). 

In the aftermath, and to much rejoicing, I was named Loon of the Stag for the most impressive post-doo story. But on the journey home, I reflected on what a lucky escape it was and felt quite embarrassed and ashamed of my actions. Not only had I risked all that I have tried hard to achieve, I felt I had let the kids down by showing them what not to do. Not only that, but I had torn ligaments in my right foot which took over 5 months to heal properly, which also put in jeopardy my 3 Peaks Challenge. Thankfully due to some great physio, the foot was alright on the night and I’m glad to say that I completed the challenge with aplomb raising £1100 for the NSPCC which again I put at risk with my stupid actions.

So besides the odd beer or two, I never really drank for the remainder of 2011 (even in the US/Philippines/Malaysia I limited myself to no more than 6 pints in one sitting). And I’ve never felt fitter. At the ripe old age of 39 – I put in my best running performance in a Manila 10K finishing 15th (of 150). And besides my rotten teeth (which hard work and dedication can’t put right only hard cash and lots of it) I am looking the best I’ve looked since being a teenager physique wise (getting back into size 32 pants – albeit mistakingly my eldest’s jeans). 

Sadly, I’m sitting here on the sofa with a Tubigrip on my left foot due to a return of the Drink Daemon. This Christmas saw me throw a superb party in the house granted, but that restraining bolt I’d fitted was out to lunch that evening as myself and a neighbor decided to climb atop my Jeep to give an impromptu Smiths reunion gig, after which I lost my footing and fell to the ground, limping back to the house. Once again though, I was commended for this crazy act and now my neighbours are friends for life, but again at the expense of my training and promotion of self health, and the fact that the kids had to help me into the house.

So the training for this years Spartan Season has not even started yet due to a sprained and blackened foot. So in a moment of clarity I have come to the conclusion that drink ain’t good for me. I am of the opinion that in the social scene, it is difficult not to drink and I do still go out a fair bit (even if sometimes I do not drink at all). The key I think is self limitation so in the event of an event, I must change my drinking patterns to that 6 drink limit, taking soft drinks or water in between each pint if it’s going to be a long one. 

So that is my real challenge for 2012: learn self control in social situations. Harder than the 3 Peaks no doubt…

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

So according to some crazed loons, 2012 (aka the dawning of the Age of Aquarius) brings this chapter of earth to a close if we are to believe in certain Mayan prophecies, Hollywoods finest E.L.E films or the crashing into earth of Planet X (not the old punk club in Liverpool).

I don’t believe too much (actually at all) in prediction or superstition, and very much live life in the fast lane these days (just in case – hedging my bets). If the 4 Horsemen (not Metallica – that would be awesome) came knocking at my door any time soon, at least I could truly sing with ‘My Way’ with venom and sincerity (if not a little self righteous).

So what will 2012 actually bring for me. Well for me, more challenges. It may sound cheesy and a bit Forrest Gump-esque (that is one of my nick names after all) but for me “life is like a football pitch without goals – pointless in the end”. There are several things I have in store for this year:

  • Work: Get that promotion I think I richly deserve.
  • Life: Compete and finish all Spartan distances (with the exception of the Death Race).
  • Balance: Spend more quality time with the kids.

I have had a lot to be proud of late. Raising my game and profile in work and getting to travel to some great places and meet some incredible people (in Poland, Philippines and Malaysia). Securing my place and performing well obviously makes me more confident in what I do and as a result a lot more adventurous, which does allow me to feel comfortable about travelling which has a knock on effect in terms of terms and conditions and raising the standard of living for the family unit as a whole. I also took part in my first Spartan Race which I adored, completed the national 3 Peaks Challenge in 24h02m raising £1100 for the NSPCC, ran a 10K in Manila in aid of a literacy charity in the Philippines.

The kids are doing just great as well. Jamie is doing good in school (with the exception of Spanish – kind of ironic really as it is still the most travelled to place Brits go to and I have still never been there) and having just passed his black belt in Taekwondo. Luke is progressing well in drama and performed recently at St Georges Hall in Liverpool, as well as securing a slot at the Liverpool Empire later this year. He has also tried his hardest to get into grammar school by cramming for his 11+, results expected in March. Keira is still only 4, but loves her weekly ballet lessons and has her first event in March which I will sadly miss being in Cape Town. And the wife has her own personal challenges as well, the best of all agreeing to do a Spartan Race with me and Jamie later in the year. 

I know that for some, 2011 was a horrendous year, but looking back I think it was probably one of the best I’ve had to date in terms of levels of personal achievement and pride gained from the kids.

I hope that I have offered some wise words of wisdom to some this year and hope they continue on their own personal voyage of rediscovery and keep on the right path.

And finally, my goal is to blog at least once a week. Let’s see how long that lasts 😀