Product Review: Mugiro Neck Protector

Posted on September 24, 2017. Filed under: mugiro neck protector, product review, swim, swimming, wetsuit, wetsuit rash |

This is only the second product review I have ever done.

I have a philosophy that if something does what it is supposed to it is basically functional. Then it is just a question of whether it’s inexpensive or expensive and I make a judgement on whether it is good value for money. Good times. But dull times.

If it doesn’t work for me, which is rare because things should just do what they are supposed to, then I’ll take a view on a product. For example, like the only other review that I have done. Which went down like a cup of cold sick. But it was honest, for me it didn’t do what it promised. Bad times.

And then, like in this case, a product arrives from nowhere and solves a problem that I thought was unsolvable. Good times.

For years I have suffered from wetsuit rash. Not only is it uncomfortable, it is also embarrassing. Having a long garrotte scar on your neck for the whole summer basically leaves you looking like you have, ahem, unusual private hobbies that you share with politicians and rockstars.

Anyway. The script goes pretty much like this – up to 2k I am fine, at 3k I am uncomfortable in the water and have a weeping sore for a couple of days, at 5k I have an open wound and at 10k it feels like someone is trying to saw through my spinal cord with a rusty hacksaw blade. As you can imagine it has an impact on performance, and leaves a stain on the pillow. Neither of which are ideal.


For the same amount of years I have sought a solution. Bodyglide, vaseline, baby oil, baby oil gel, lard, the saliva of a vietnamese pot-bellied pig. At least one of those might not be true. But better than the worse advice that I got.

One of those wannabe triathlon coaches, who incidentally led his advertising with swimming without any pedigree or demonstrable competence, suggested quite forcibly over social media having never seen me swim that the solution was to fundamentally change my stroke. I was 44. And had been a swimmer for 40 years. And a swimming coach. But never mind.

I expect he suggested that runners with blisters should change their run technique and cyclists with saddle sores should change their pedalling style. But there we were in the wild-west of triathlon coaching where confidence was no guarantee of quality.


Having ruled out going back to swimming lessons to re-learn the bubble moustache, my workable solution was pretty thick taping on my neck for swims over 5k and a liberal application of baby oil gel for shorter swims. Neither were ideal. The lubing left me slippier than a bar of imperial leather in a hot bath and the removal of the tape took as much skin off as a swim down the Thames.


And so I had given up on a good solution, I would just work around it and remain the person that was always thought of as a summer season auto-erotic asphyxiator.

That all changed in the minutes before the start of Breca Buttermere.  I was chatting to a chap and he had what the Americans would call a fanny pack. I was intrigued how it felt in the water, as I prefer to swim without any attachments, and what he was carrying. I asked and he pulled out some chocolate, ear plugs and a rubbery thing. The rubbery thing was something that he hadn’t used yet, and I had never seen before, but was a neck protector. I was all in for a new solution.

When I got back from the Lakes I searched Amazon for “a rubbery neck protector”, read a couple of overwhelmingly positive reviews, and awaited it’s arrival.

It came in a tub with instructions not to let it dry out. And it felt weird. Weird. Lets not be delicate about this, it felt like a sex thing. Vaguely reminiscent of the time that Ted, in his quest to eat everything in the world, found a fleshlight in a country lane and I had to prise it out of his mouth very much against his will. And very much against my better judgement. If you are curious, I recommend that you don’t google fleshlight unless you wish the adverts on your phone’s browser to be a perpetual shop-front for self-lovin.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s not a good look. It’s bright orange and makes me look like some kind of reverend from the church of ginger. However, it bloody well works. And it has been very well tested.

The first outing was a standard night at Lochore. About an hour and 3k, but I was slightly disappointed. While my wetsuit collar had not gnawed through my neck as usual, there was still a raw mark afterwards. No weeping, not too sore but I hadn’t got away scot-free.

I read the instructions again (yes a bright orange rubber sex something comes with brief instructions) and noticed that the neck protector was “manufactured with elastic material and vaseline” and was suitable for use with vaseline. So I lubed up.

It’s second outing was another Lochore 3k but with added lube. Perfect – not. a. single. mark.

That test swim was completed with perfect timing guarantee it’s use for the first 10k of the year at the Great Scottish Swim.  Again, absolutely no damage to the neck, no impact on my stroke, and no discomfort.

Then a more modest distance challenge with the Forth Crossing but with the new variable of salt water. I had slight chafing after the race which may have been the salt water adding in a bit of discomfort but I think more likely when I was pulling the collar over my head that most of the lube ended up in my hair. The greasy hair was not a good look although the accompanying strangle marks were modest.

The final swim of the year was another long distance epic. The Loch Earn 10k. This time, more careful, as I pulled it over my head. This time absolutely no wetsuit rash.


The <a href="http://WETSUIT NECK PROTECTOR Size L 35-40cm“>Mugiro Neck Protector has been a revelation. It does exactly what it promised to do. It’s not cool, it’s not cheap at a bawhair under £25, it feels weird but it just works. And that was all I needed it to do.

Would I recommend it? Hell yeah.


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Slaying Demons

Posted on August 30, 2015. Filed under: great scottish swim, swimming, wetsuit |

I’m not particularly demonstrative. You’ll rarely know if I’m up or down unless you know me very well and can read the signals.  So no-one really knows how traumatised I was left by a 5k swim I did in 2012.

No matter how unpleasant an event I’ve done I have almost immediately declared I want to do another – the first marathon where I was so dehydrated I picked a fight with a blind man (I WANT TO DO ANOTHER MARATHON), the first Ironman where I spent most of the bike and all of the run with a stomach like Vesuvius  (MOOOOOOAAAAAAAR), but not the 5k swim.

I won’t go into it again but it is the first event where I said, “I hated that and I will never, ever do it again.”

As time dulled the memory, it remained my bête noir but I saw it as limiting.  I wanted to do more stuff but this mental block was holding me back.  I had to MTFU and put this demon to the sword.

And today, the morning after, I find myself uncharacteristically excited. I. Can’t. Stop. Smiling.

Everything about yesterday was wrong. It should have been a horrific reaffirmation of everything I thought about a 5k swim. But it wasn’t.  It so wasn’t.

Firstly, let me set the scene. I am a swimmer.  I was a swimmer.  Whether through evolution or development I have an ideal build for swimming.  For swimming very, very short distances.  Like 50m of front crawl or butterfly. I have shoulders so wide and biceps so big that six “normal” sized triathletes can take a draft in my Bismarkesque wake.  I have evolved to swim short distances, fast. I have no business swimming very long distances.

Secondly, I may have had suboptimal preparation.  At 1am the night before I was in a taxi in a drive thru McDonalds, 180 miles from the start line.  And I was full of gin, mojito, beer, German sausage and the dronings of Spandau Ballet.

And thirdly, I haven’t swum much.  In fact I have swum 41.6km since Ironman Austria in June.  June TWENTY FOURTEEN!  Honestly, it felt like more. And half of it was done in one week.  But it was clearly not enough for big time demon slaying.

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. I love the Great Scottish Swim. I’ve done it every year from the dark days of Strathclyde Park (the blue green algae was the nicest thing in there), I did it the year it didn’t happen and it has been my favourite event, anywhere in the world, since it moved to Loch Lomond.  It seemed a fitting, if chilly, spot to kick a demon square in the balls.


Panicked by the prospect of a 3 hour drive I arrived early.  Very early.  Kinda three and a half hours early.  I bumped into a heap of people I knew including my buddy Bean, newly knighted as a half ironman and ridiculously invigorated by her mile swim.

I used my spare time wisely rehydrating and saving children. These are in fact both true. At one point the rain came on heavily and a mum grabbing for her raincoat let go of her buggy, the weight of her bag tipped the buggy, catapulting her daughter into the air.  I caught the child on the half volley and presented it to the mortified mother as she emerged from fixing her hood.

Several hours of watching pass and I start to think I should get on with it.  Twenty minutes before registration I head to changing. The clear strangle marks on my neck the target for two compeeds and thirteen litres of baby oil gel. (The strangle marks were not from some weird autoerotic asphyxiation event but a swim with Ironman Andrew in the stunning Eccleston Delph the weekend before)

At 15:01 the announcer calls “registration is now open for our last swim of the day, the half marathon swim”.  Twenty nine minutes to go.  I reach round for the zip.  It, unusually, moves freely. Then detaches from the wetsuit in three pieces.  HOLY SHITTING FUCK.

In my head the outside world falls silent.

Life goes into seriously slow motion.

There is a man standing in an Aquasphere gazebo. I walk towards him.

“Is there anything you can do to close this wetsuit”

“Sorry, that zip is completely broken

Everything slows further. Och well a bit of a waste of a drive.  Then I am offered a lifeline.

“Get over to the other tent in the main village and they will lend you one”

Twenty eight minutes to the start. Surely I can’t make it?

The outside world re-erupts in my head. The noise and the bustle escalates as I break into a barefoot sprint dodging ice cream lickers, wheelchairs, strollers and shitting dogs.  I start stripping the wetsuit.  Bean’s words from earlier reverberate in my ears “people were buying wetsuits; I can’t imagine swimming a mile in a wetsuit that was brand new”.  TRY THREE, BEAN!

I get to the wetsuit stand. And let me say this now – Ricky and the guys from thetristore.com saved my race – seriously, buy a cervelo or something from them. They size me, dress me, now dripping sweat and send me on my way. My feet are killing me from the barefoot sprinting.

I see registration. Despite the sweat now flowing freely into my eyes I see the clock.  15:11.  HOW FAST DID I RUN? My fastest transition ever.

I have no time for contemplation. I show the demon no respect.  Registration. Acclimatisation. Ooooooh chilly.  Race briefing. Horn.

We go.  I slow everything down. I have no time for breathlessness.  I pass the Maid of the Loch.  I am into my stroke.  It’s all going to be ok.

I sight.  Our caps are yellow.  The marker buoys are yellow; like giant smirking minions.  I can’t distinguish between cap or 8ft tall buoy.  I follow the crowd.

The half mile comes quickly. Then the mile.  This is fun.

Half way. Still crowded. Usual bashing. You can’t take it personally.  I think the 5k was the busiest wave of the day. I feel chafing. New wetsuit, new chafe marks.

Two miles. This feels surprisingly easy. I dig in and pick up the pace.

Two and a half miles. At the big pink buoy.  I stop. I tread water. I enjoy Loch Lomond for a moment.  A unique view.  A swimmer’s view.  I push on.

The final marker buoy. The elite’s finish gantry. Shallow water.  CRAMP.


I’m done. I sit in the water. 1:37 on the watch. 5000m done.  Imagine if I’d trained.

The volunteer looks at me and extends a hand. I’m smiling. It’s infectious, he smiles back.  I try to stand but I’m laughing too much. Out loud too much fun laughing.  The announcer offers some encouragement to cross the finish line. I don’t care.

In your face 5k swim. I win.


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The Sting in the Tail of a Saturday Morning Swim

Posted on August 26, 2013. Filed under: great scottish swim, Ironman Austria, Loch Lomond, race report, race review, swim, wetsuit |

“You just swim until someone tells you to stop.”

So said prolific German marathon swimmer Alex Studzinski just before I set off for a two mile swim in Loch Lomond.  He knows a thing or two about open water swimming having won the German 25km championship a massive seven times.

And that about sums it up.  Open water swimming is not for the faint-hearted or for those that like to be distracted by scenery.  It is a tough mental grind but if you focus on your stroke and your breathing eventually someone will tell you to stop swimming.


I have been a supporter of the Great Scottish Swim since it started in 2009.  But I have not always been a fan of the organisers.  I swam it in 2009 with no cold water training or wetsuit experience and thought that my lungs were going to burst – I wanted out after 100m but I carried on anyway.  In 2010 it was cancelled due to blue green algae in the water at Strathclyde Park – but I went out and swam the distance anyway!  In 2011 it was shortened because the water was cold – cold water in Scotland in September?  No shit Sherlock!  And then last year it was cancelled because of blue green algae in Strathclyde Park – noticing a pattern here?  It is fair to say my confidence in the organisers was dented.

But this year?  WOW – these guys pulled off a magnificent event.  Changing the venue to Loch Lomond was inspired – the crowds were bigger, the location was stunning and there was a proper carnival atmosphere.  Finally, the Great Scottish Swim had the venue it deserved; I have never had a great swim at the Great Swim – would I have the swim that I didn’t really deserve?

20130824_120043 (1)2


Always one for a bit of planning; albeit always last minute planning, I had a quick look in my race pack the night before.  Yup, it was definitely at Loch Lomond.  Yup, timing chip was  there.  Yup, numbered cap was in the big envelope.  “Oh, what’s this?” I thought.  Tucked away in the envelope was an instruction book – how to get there, location of the changing and luggage marquees, a few last minute tips and………a course map.

20130823_194840Now normally, as a simple minded fella I like simple instructions.  Keep the buoys on your left, for example, works for me.  But for some reason, with time on my hands I decided to look at the course map and then thoroughly confused myself.  How would I remember where to turn, what colour of line was I following.  What colour are the turn buoys?  My head started to hurt.  How could I possibly sleep?  Quite easily it turned out.

With my swim at 0930 and check-in and acclimatisation at 0900 it was going to be an early start.  The alarm went off at 0630 and I had some cold porridge that I had made the night before.  Wee Roar was then rudely awakened for the second Saturday in a row and we were well on the way by 7am.  We paused only for a drive through Costa Coffee (how civilised is that?) and we were loch side to watch the 0830 wave start.

There is no time like the present when it comes to open water swimming so I got my ass into my rubber suit straight away, checked in and was ready to acclimatise.

Following Aberfeldy I have said out loud a couple of times that my 35min 1.9k should translate to about a 1 hour 2 mile swim.  I have no right whatsoever to make that extrapolation given that I have now had a total of 11 swims since training for Ironman Austria started and only one swim in a wetsuit in 13 months.  But, hey ho, we all need stretch targets!

The problem with having no open water experience this year is that my body isn’t toughened for icy Scottish lochs.  The great news, though, was that Loch Lomond was 16.2C compared to Loch Tay which was only 13.8C (but was still considered pretty toasty in Loch Tay terms!)  Anyway, I got into the small acclimatisation area early.  Early enough to have a “heart-warming” pee in relative privacy (I am pretty sure the 6 lifeguards knew what I was doing) and to swim lengths comfortably for 10 minutes before it got busy.


We were called out for an undignified warm up (like a hippo my grace is only evident when I am in water) and then  the horn went.  And then we swam, until someone told us to stop.

20x30-MEDB0099That really is about it – compared to Ironman, there was loads of space in the water and I never found myself in a stramash.  By the time we turned for the first time the sun had come up and was low in the sky meaning that we were swimming pretty blind in the water.  The whole thing was just an exercise in focus – left arm, right arm, exhale through nose, left arm, sight, breathe, right arm.  Over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.  Occasionally I had to stretch some cramp out of my toes but I never really had any sensation of discomfort.

I had set my vibrating alarm on my watch to go off every 15minutes so I was pretty sure that I was on 1 hour pace and as I stepped on to the beach I was delighted to see that I had finished in 59 minutes and 3 seconds.  Perfect pacing.  No effort wasted!  I’m not sure how much harder I could have pushed – but the 59 minutes was a really positive omen.  I felt I could have swum at that pace for longer which would have been a 1:10 Ironman swim – only 4 minutes slower than Regensburg in 2011.  With consistent and focussed training through to Klagenfurt it feels like “Project Sub 60 swim” is very much on.


The drama for the day, however, didn’t end there.  Oh no, I only went and booked myself into the medical tent next!

IMG_1433As the excitement was building and the ladies elite race was reaching it’s crescendo others were watching the race; kids were probably watching the TV helicopter.  I was watching both and the nasty little wasp that was persistently hovering about my can of Fanta.  Just as Keri-Anne Payne touched the finish as victor, the aforementioned nasty little fecker decided to sting me right on my lip.  Cue spitting, slapping my face and grabbing at the sting.

This was all clear to me and my fight for survival but everyone around me, who had been focussed on the race, became quite distressed at my punk like, Tourettes inspired behaviour.  Pam explained apologetically that I had been stung by a wasp and the whole crowd parted and evaporated in a cowardly act of self-preservation.  My lips meanwhile were blowing up like a particularly bad collagen enhancement.

I haven’t been bitten by anything since I started school and didn’t have a clue what to do with a wasp sting so I did the sensible thing and headed to the medical tent.  They put ice on it and that really was the end of the drama.

Bloody sore though!  I can’t recommend it.


It is unclear why the medal format has been changed from the popular "Jim'll Fix It" style for 2013 ;-)

It is unclear why the medal format has been changed from the popular “Jim’ll Fix It” style for 2013 😉

And the bling? Well, yes there was booty to be had and I proudly added the 2013 Great Scottish Swim to my other three.  Oh yes, I have the hugely rare 2010 version of which I think there is only one other in circulation.  This was the only bling for the year – the worst haul since 2009.

Well, that’s all the events for 2013.  Serious training for 2014 coming up next.

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A Perfect Highland Hell

Posted on August 20, 2013. Filed under: aberfeldy, Austria, Half ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, Kenmore, loch tay, race report, race review, Schiehalion, triathlon, wetsuit |

Scotland is not a place for softies.  And the Highlands are where the really tough guys roam.  So you can safely assume that a Middle Distance Triathlon (Half Iron distance) in the Highlands is going to present a reasonable challenge.

That, of course, may be an understatement!

I first did the Aberfeldy Middle Distance triathlon in 2010 and to this day it is probably my favourite race.  The scenery is stunning – a paddle in Loch Tay, a peddle over the shoulder of Schiehallion and around Loch Rannoch, and a joggle through glorious Perthshire countryside.  At the start of this year it seemed a perfect waypoint en route to Ironman Austria, just as it was in 2010 en route to Regensburg.

Then I broke my phalange.  Oh yes, a broken big toe completely derailed my training effort but still fancying a trip to the Highlands I adjusted my entry to a relay, recruited a speedy runner and crammed in three weeks of training.  But with no open water swimming since July last year and a couple of stone too heavy to be comfortable on the bike………..what the feck was I thinking?  Well, there was some logic to the madness.

  • I have no idea how UNFIT I am.  So, Aberfeldy would give me a baseline for the coming 11 months and a benchmark against a fitter, lighter performance in 2010.
  • It’s a start line.  A catalyst to propel me towards the thousands of kilometres to come.
  • I enjoy it.  Packing the wetsuit, pumping the bike tyres – the little things bring great pleasure.

So, with the background out of the way, what the hell did I get up to then?

20130816_153644The weather forecast was for a wet and windy day.  But on Friday afternoon the weather was glorious in Kenmore on the edge of Loch Tay.  As I went to sleep the weather was still great and I woke several times during the night expecting to hear the kind of storm that would blow Dorothy and Toto straight out of Kansas.

The alarm went off just after 5 and I jumped out of bed and yanked the curtains open.  There was no rain, there was no debris, there was no devastation from the storm.  It was calm and sunny.  Don’t you just hate it when the weather forecast is wrong?

I speed porridged, grabbed the gear that I had packed the night before and scuttled along to the swim start just over a mile away.  As I wandered into the transition area I remained unhealthily obsessed by the weather conditions.  It was actually pleasant – perfectly still and warm at 6:30 in the morning.

photo (7)As I attempted to squeeze my fat ass into a rubber suit I met TrouserShoes, my team mate who sportingly had come to the start – presumably from a morbid curiosity to see what it looks like when 300 gimps slip into a Loch at the crack of dawn.  As the race briefing kicked off Pam and wee Roar arrived.  The wee fella looked totally bemused by being dragged out of his bed at this ungodly hour but he was already porridge loading for his own athletic adventures later in the day.  By the look of him he had decided to masquerade at the race as the Mayor of London – a bouffant do he calls the BoJo.


I got myself in a good position and I was probably about the fifth person into the water.  At the end of the pier a piper played Highland laments as the dullness of the dawn gave way to a brightness across the surface of the Loch.

My logic appeared sound, it was this…..  I haven’t swum in cold water since July last year – if i got in early I would  be ready and acclimatised for the off.  The water was a balmy 13.8C so I felt pretty comfortable in it.  Then a remarkable thing happened……

I would guess it took about 10 minutes to get everyone into the water which is a blink of an eye in the course of a day.  But during those 10 fleeting minutes the mill-pond surface of the Loch turned into a boiling cauldron and a vicious wind swept in from the West.  The course was a 1.9km anti-clockwise loop and I was at the outside of the loop – the starter’s boat was on the inside of the course, less than 50m away – but I was fecked if I could see it over the top of the white-horses that were now driving up the Loch.

Each of those yellow dots is a person.

Each of those yellow dots is a person.

The horn sounded and off we went for the first long drag across the Loch.  There felt like plenty of space compared to my last few swims and I got into a rhythm.  But then for a couple of strokes my left arm caught in the waves and it felt like my shoulder was coming out.  Having had it rebuilt I didn’t want to squander the excellent surgery right at the start of an Ironman campaign so I breast-stroked for a couple of hundred metres until I was convinced it was OK.  About 100m from the first buoy I re-engaged my enthusiasm but had already lost 100 places or so.

Then the fun started – after the turn we were swimming head on to the wind and the waves and the cats and the dogs – sighting was a futile exercise.  It was a physical struggle with the Loch – a wrestle, the odd punch of a wave hitting you in the face, then slapping you on the back of the head.  It was proper tough.  Ironman hero Cat Morrison summed it up much better than I ever could – “so bumpy – more like survival than swimming.”

After the last turn I regained my rhythm, altered my breathing (ie stopped breathing) and went head down, arse up to try and make up some ground.  It felt comfortable, relaxed and fast – who knows whether it was or not but in my opinion perception is 9/10ths of reality!


It was a long uphill transition run.  I ran for the first 30m or so until I remembered that I was the proud owner of a broken toe.  Then I stopped, pondered why I couldn’t feel my feet and caused general chaos and congestion.

While I was swimming I had decided that I would wear a cycling jersey and bib shorts but not a jacket – cos I’m tough innit?  Thereafter followed the ridiculous sight of a grown man trying to pull tight lycra over his head with tired arms, when cold and soaking wet.   I had literally bound and strangled myself with my own cycling clothing – only an orange stuffed in my mouth would have completed the scene.  I had no dignity left to lose.

Remarkably I managed to only spend 6 minutes in transition.  It truly felt like days.


photo (9)It’s fair to say that I wasn’t looking forward to this but I knew I had to do it.  The course is pretty much flat except for a massive climb that you do twice – once in each direction.  On the return it is steep enough to give an astronaut a nosebleed.

There’s not really much to say – after about 10k the heavens opened and stayed open until about 3 minutes after I finished.  The wind swirled – one minute it was in your face, then blowing you sideways and very, very rarely it was behind you.  The debris on the road was testimony to the conditions – sunglasses, water-bottles, rain jackets and uneaten food all dropped from cold, wet hands.  From very early on I had an awareness that I was soaking wet, cold but OK while I was moving and absolutely filthy.

On both climbs I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and when my heart rate hit 103% of my previously recorded maximum I took a quick breather which cleared my lungs and legs.   It was academic to call it a “stop” really as at the pace I was travelling at the difference was indistinguishable.  It was just lucky I never fell off!  On the flat sections, though, I was really pleased with the speed that I was covering ground – if I can just get my climbing ability to the same level I will be setting up nicely for Ironman Austria.

Even with the foul weather the scenery was stunning, often framed by a full rainbow.  The only time that the view ever troubled me was when I was passed by a mobile wardrobe malfunction – I warn you that you follow this link at your own peril.  And I can guarantee now that you may never fully cleanse your mind of the image.

The return to Aberfeldy is pretty much downhill, which was nice.  I hadn’t particularly been aware of the cold but on the return I realised that my hands were cramping.  This was not ideal on a very fast and wet downhill.  Just as I approached the village of Coshieville I tried to feather the brakes but my hands seized.  At just under 50kph I had a heart stopping moment as my wheels locked, ironically, on a massive “SLOW” sign painted on the road.  I remained upright, arse cheeks clenched considerably tighter as I rolled towards Aberfeldy a little more circumspect than on my daredevil descent.


As a team member I should cover the run.  TrouserShoes, my team mate, weighs about the same as a flimsy pair of cycling shorts and is probably just about old enough to leave High School.  But he can run quite fast – possibly because he has an aero hair-do and has run every day since he was 10 or something like that.  He is a real-life, baby-faced Forrest Gump.

Anyway, I passed the timing chip to him, had a shower (me not him) and before I know it he’s finished!  A half marathon in a very spectacularly competent 1:23 – 14th fastest run of the day!  Chapeau TrouserShoes!

We finished the day in 5:57, scraping under the 6 hours for a respectable finish.


So, how did it go?  Could have been worse I would say.  Swim was 35 minutes – bang on the same time as 2010; Bike was 3:50 – 21 minutes longer than 2010.  Given the conditions and my considerable additional girth I would say I am comfortable with this as a starting point for my fastest ever Ironman.

It was what it was meant to be – a fitness test in tough but stunning  scenery but with the wildest weather that the Highlands could throw at me?  Yes, at times it was hellish but, hey, it was the perfect kind of Highland hell!

I would love to have been fitter right now but I have a realistic assessment of what I need to do between now and Christmas before I start the final approach to Klagenfurt.  Morale is high, sense of humour remains and body is, broadly speaking, intact.

Next week – the Great Scottish Swim.  Loch Lomond, are you ready for me??

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My Escape from Alcatraz – some pictures

Posted on June 19, 2012. Filed under: charity, coach pedro, cold shock, cycle, escape, escape 2012, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, leanda cave, leanda cave alcatraz, leanda cave alcatraz 2012, MAF, make a wish, make a wish foundation, make a wish foundation sponsorship, race report, race review, run, san francisco, san francisco belle, sponsorship, swim, t0.5, triathlon, water world swim, wetsuit |

Okay, clearly the next post should have been the run but while I momentarily grapple with writer’s block, or perhaps just banish the traumas of the run and work through my jet lag, I thought I would post some nice pictures and videos from around the web of the Escape.  It is a beautiful city, with an iconic race, captured on the perfect kind of day where you could just about lose three layers of skin from the sun burn (or you absolutely could if you are a pasty Scotsman)!!

I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a camera with me at 5am to take pictures of the gorgeous sunrise as we arrived at the San Francisco Belle at Pier 3 but the lovely Leanda Cave, a four times winner of the Escape, a Brit no less and a great photographer apparently, did bring her camera along.  And guess what?  She kindly gave me permission to use her pictures!  I would recommend clicking through the link on Leanda’s name to her blog and read what the action looked like “up the front ” of the race.  It sounds about as tough as my race but a little quicker.  With less sunburn.  In my defence there was a lot of nice stuff to look at so I didn’t want to rush things.

Although the air temperature was a balmy 16C (well, for a pasty Scotsman that is way beyond tropical!) when we started the race, the water temperature was just under 13C.  If you can’t work that out, take it from me, it is so cold it makes you involuntarily shout “this water is effing cold” once the silent scream has passed and the panic subsides into pain.  Cold shock, incidentally, is why most people (usually fuelled by beer and bravado) drown on really hot days when they decide to jump into a river unprepared for the cold.  And now for the educational bit.  Even if you are aware of the symptoms of cold shock it is still really scary.  Trust me – having seriously thought for a large chunk of the Great Scottish Swim three years ago that a helicopter was actually stealing my breath – rational thought does not come easily as your chest is gripped by the cold.  It is really important not to treat cold water flippantly even if you are chasing Phelps for Olympic dominance.

Cold shock is caused by rapid skin cooling and your body trying to swiftly recycle warm blood.  It can kill within three to five minutes after a sudden dunking. On the initial dook, you gulp a huge gasp of air, followed by severe hyperventilation.  It’s not unusual for your breath rate to quadruple and experience up to 65 breaths per minute.  At this point there is no chance that you can hold your breath so best not to try.  In fact, in water below 16C (ie a really shallow, toasty Scottish loch), your breath-holding ability is reduced by 25–50 percent.  Cold shock also causes a massive increase in heart rate and blood pressure which, as you can imagine, is a precarious position to be in.  You can also experience brain freeze and sore teeth (oh yes, I have had all the symptoms!).  This intensity lasts two to three minutes and will settle down after about five minutes.  Those three minutes when you are neck deep in ice and chasing off polar bears feel like three lifetimes.  Jumping off the San Francisco Belle with 2000 other muppets unprepared for the cold is not a pastime to be taken lightly.

Now, schools out, how about some art?!

The San Jose Mercury News captured some fantastic pictures of the San Francisco Belle sitting off Alcatraz just after a scenic lap of the Rock where no-one except the sponsors were really  interested in sight-seeing.  The pictures are of the pro start before the hordes poured into the Bay.

Our hero Leanda Cave crossing the line to Escape Alcatraz and my top tip for a British lady Ironman World Champion this year.  Leanda is currently second in the Kona Pro Rankings and on target for a great performance after dominating the Escape.

These are some pictures that Coach Pedro took  from a support boat during the Escape.  It is pretty intimidating swimming as hard as you can against the current, looking at a beach and wondering how you could possibly get off it for the number of people.  Once the water drained out of my ears and the blood returned to my head the noise from the crowd was deafening.  San Franciscans treat their Alcatraz swim as Londoner’s treat their marathon.

The three conical yellow buoys in the last picture were not there when I swam the end of the race the Friday before.  They are considerably bigger than the buoys that I had got used to sighting and with Bay water sloshing about in my head, the cold numbing my toes and with my steamed up, googly eyes just about three inches above an increasingly turbulent Bay I may have got confuddled.  That confusion cost me about ten extra minutes swimming.  Hard.  Against a current! To give you some idea the current is flowing fast from left to right across the photo.  I battled in from the right and between the nearest and middle buoy.  I was proper done in when I eventually beached.

Another great blogger NadiaMac, has posted some fantastic pictures that give a great view of some of the obstacles – the first steps that we encountered on the run, the Baker Beach turnaround and the infamous Sand Ladder.  More on those when I can overcome the trauma to write up the run.

Finally, since most people ask about the crazy start, here are a couple of videos from the 2012 Escape start.  No further comment from me is required really except to say, yes it is mental, and yes I am also probably a little mental.

Remember, though, as much fun as this looks I am not just doing it for fun.  During this summer I hope to raise £4000 to grant a wish for one young person, suffering a life threatening illness, and their family.  After just three weeks we are half way towards giving that family great memories that will stay with them forever.  Please help, even a little donation has a big impact if enough of us do it so please share this link with your friends, families, colleagues, teams and anyone else that might want to help.  We are making a difference!
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The Alcatraz Test Swim

Escape Complete

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Swim

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Bike

My Escape From Alcatraz – Some Pictures

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Run

Final Thoughts on Escape

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My Escape from Alcatraz – The Swim

Posted on June 13, 2012. Filed under: coach pedro, escape, escape 2012, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, leanda cave, leanda cave alcatraz, leanda cave alcatraz 2012, race report, race review, run, san francisco, san francisco belle, swim, triathlon, water world swim, wetsuit |



OK, so let’s be clear from the start. Escaping Alcatraz ain’t like no Center Parcs. There was a darned good reason that they didn’t put a maximum security Federal penitentiary in a sub-tropical swimming paradise. No, in triathlon terms, at less than Iron distance this is as tough a race as they come. Everything about it is tough from the start time right through to the unpredictability of the weather. Two days on my body still feels battered and worn.

The pinnacle of the Escape, though, is the swim. Normally in triathlon the swim is the dullest part of the race but in the Escape everyone wants to ask questions about it – how cold was the water, did you see sharks, can you feel the currents? Well, this is the story of the swim.

My day started just after 330am when my alarm went off but I needn’t have set it as I saw every hour of the night anyway. I got up showered and started my ritual of lube and sunscreen. Every moving part gets lubed and every exposed part gets sun protection. Then on with the Tri suit and off to the kitchen to make a huge bowl of porridge. As it would be a full 4 hours from waking up until jumping off the boat I needed to make sure the tank was full. In addition a blueberry crisp Clif bar got shoved in the Tri suit pocket for good measure. Quick brush of the teeth, last application of sunscreen to the baldy napper and it was time to go.

Now, a 4am San Francisco may have seen a landlocked Pirate before but as I carried the bike down the stoop of the apartment it was probably the first sighting of one in the yella and black of the Pirate Ship of Fools. Oh yes, I was in full Pirate kit and I was off to hit the hills on the way to T1. It was a lovely ride through absolutely dead streets from Haight Ashbury, down through the Presidio to Marina Green. Race HQ was already fully alive when I got there and since no-one had thought to mention to me to take a head torch I racked my bike in the pitch darkness, laid out my transition area as best I could by feel and proceeded to the bus queue. The organisation was flawless and 15minutes later I was ready for the next step.


Arriving at Pier 3 the sun was just peaking over the horizon behind the Bay Bridge with a dusty orange colour that was starting to illuminate an indigo sky. The San Francisco Belle was lit up in all her glory and the only thing that spoiled a perfect view was the dozens of portaloos (or porta-potties as our American cousins call them). As I queued for the potty (tee hee – don’t know why I find that so funny really) the one fellow Pirate that I new to be racing came over and we chatted briefly. I raced with M.andel in Regensburg and we were very similar on swim and bike times so it was good to compare notes since he had cycled on the course and I had swum in the Bay. When we got the instruction to board at 6am we were split to go into our age group holding pens – him downstairs and me upstairs with the old duffers.


Many thanks to the lovely Leanda Cave, very deserving and emphatic winner of the ladies race, for her kind permission to use the picture of the Belle. Watch out for Leanda in Kona this year!

In the vast room on the Belle that was our holding pen I lay down and actually managed to snooze a little. It gave me a second to contemplate the Race Director’s briefing…….

“For the ‘One Way’ boat cruise out to the start of the race, you will bring/wear the items in which you will swim. Don’t put your wetsuit on too early as this will have you potentially overheated.

Last year’s exodus off the California Belle took too much time; athletes were still hesitantly jumping 10 minutes after the start of the race. This is not a time to be mentally weak, BE READY TO JUMP!!

This year the start will last approximately six to seven minutes for all 2000 participants to jump from the start boat and begin the race. When you jump from the boat into the water, it is a shock to your system. Be prepared for the cold water.

Yes there is marine life in San Francisco Bay including sharks, seals, and sea lions. The half-dozen different types of sharks San Francisco has within the Bay itself are small, three to four feet in length, and hang out well below the surface of the water.”

So, as the Belle pulled away from the wharf you could feel the anticipation rising. Over the tannoy we were reminded that we had multiple champions on board, we had 6 minutes to disembark the boat and that it was not a time to be mentally weak. The people around me talked about their sighting points, their wax earplugs, the jump. Eventually with about 15 minutes to go people started pulling their wetsuits up from their waists and starting their final preparations. The international brotherhood of triathlon overcame language barriers as we assisted each other with zips and velcro. Being on the top deck with the middle aged I managed to witness the indignities of old blokes preparing for a race. One jowly, paunchy, silver fox who was clearly not going to be worrying Andy Potts for the podium poured a litre of ice cold water into his wetsuit to get him “ready for the cold” and I saw another slapping himself and shadow boxing to “psyche myself up for the race” as he told his bemused shipmate. It was like Cocoon on speed up there.

With a couple of minutes to go the US national anthem was played and the boat went quiet, with only the engine noises of the captain positioning us for the start breaking the silence. I was out on deck at this point after a final unzip of the suit, pee and then suit back up. As everyone moved to the port side the boat noticeably listed about 5 degrees and my stomach lurched. Goggles on head, cap on with sweat trickling down my cheeks and the back of my neck as the hot early morning sun fell on the upper decks of the Belle. With a minute to go the director took over the tannoy. He started counting down from thirty seconds. “……..twelve, eleven, ten, we have clearance from the US Coastguard, seven……….”. And on one the massive horn of the California Belle sounded and must have been heard around the whole Bay Area.

Everyone on the top deck started shifting forwards and as we hit a bottle neck at the top of the stairs a discarded tub of Vaseline became the focus of attention as everyone nervously re-lubed their necks. I looked out at the vast expanse of water, alongside the Belle and there were coloured swimming caps everywhere. The currents had instantly split the field and there were swimmers spread all across the Bay. As we got to the bottom of the stairs the volunteers high 5’d everyone with a “good luck” or “race strong”. As soon as we went onto the lower deck there wasn’t even a second to take it all in. There, 3 metres in front of me were the doors and I was going soon. “1-2-3 Jump, 1-2-3 Jump” beat the pace as we ran forwards 9 at a time and then the lady in front of me hesitated so I took the position on her left. I Iooked down, tried to find a safe space to drop and went for it.

There was a split second of calm as my head went under the water and I knew I had kept my goggles on and then, as I surfaced, I remembered Coach Pedro’s advice – ” keep your head down and swim as hard as you can for the first 10 minutes”. As I surfaced I took one look for the Fontana Towers, put my head down and went for it. I’m not sure really how much time had passed but after a bit I decided to have a look. I rolled on my back and looked back at the Rock, I had hardly moved at all, the Belle was right alongside me and I couldn’t see any other caps. This wasn’t like Ironman where you were crystal clear of the route as you had people on top of you, under you and escorting you on either side. This was lonely.

I got my head down again and at this point the Bay seemed to get choppy. I would take a bearing every 10 strokes or so and then very occasionally another swimmer would rocket right across my path and I would see them through the cloudy, green, murk of the water. I know I swim as straight as a die so they must be way of course. I started to feel pretty grim around now, not because I had swallowed any sea water but, incredibly, I was suffering sea sickness. Every time I rolled to breath my brain slopped inside my head, almost tipping me over and my stomach heaved. The only solution was to stop breathing and that was a pretty short term strategy. The chop in the Bay eased and I could concentrate on the swim again.

Sighting progressed perfectly, Sutro Tower, Fort Mason, the dome, the red roof but it felt much harder work than the test swim on Friday. I could feel my neck starting to tear on the collar of my wetsuit and my arms and shoulders were starting to fill with lactate. My final sighting point was to make sure I went between the two yellow buoys on the approach to the Yacht Club. Sight, perfect, swim, sight, perfect, swim, sight, shit, I’m passed the beach. Three new buoys has been put in since Friday and I had taken far too aggressive a line and I was already past the swim exit. I could, at this point, have landed on the next beach and run back or call for support to be dragged back in. But that’s not the point of the race is it?

I got my head down and fought the famous Bay current. You can’t really feel the current while you are swimming with your head down but as soon as you look up its obvious you are going backwards. For what must have been 10 or 15 minutes I absolutely battled the current and then about 25metres from shore I burst into calm water and started to make really positive progress. With only a couple of metres to go I could wade out. I was done in, I pulled my cap and goggles off and reached for my wetsuit zip. Just in front of me a wheelchair athlete was being helped in to his chair. Now that’s a tough day out!

The run up the shore was congested as a lot of swimmers must have beached simultaneously. The short jog to T0.5 was uneventful and then the wonderful Escape volunteers stepped in to sort us out. Dizzy, cold and a little sea sick the volunteers took control by stripping our wetsuits emptying our transition bag on the ground and talking very slowly to us as they re packed the bag.

The really scary part was out of the way. I just had to face the hills now………

Thank you for reading and if you can please spare a little for the Make a Wish Foundation. It will mean a huge amount to me, to the Foundation, and to the little boy or girl whose wish we will grant.

If a picture says more than a thousand words here is some footage of this year’s start.



The Alcatraz Test Swim

Escape Complete

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Swim

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Bike

My Escape From Alcatraz – Some Pictures

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Run

Final Thoughts on Escape

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The Alcatraz test swim

Posted on June 10, 2012. Filed under: coach pedro, escape, escape 2012, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, swim, triathlon, water world swim, wetsuit |

And so it came to be, the alarm went off at 530am yesterday morning and I would meet Coach Pedro and some other mentalists that were planning an escape.

As I arrived on Jefferson Street desperate for coffee I noticed the great and the good of San Francisco and triathlon were up already. There were Proper skinny boy cyclists riding like someone was chasing them with a super size whopper meal and the most graceful runners moving like springbok on the savannah except clad in all manner of dayglo lycra. It was clear these were circles that I don’t really move in. Regardless, I made my way to McDonalds, got the biggest coffee that they sold and made my way to the meeting point just as the sun was beginning to light the Bay.


As the group formed we stripped and pulled our wetsuits on to the waist ready to board the Lovely Martha. Before we boarded, however, Coach Pedro and the Water World Swim coaches briefed us on the currents in the Bay and how we would experience them in the Escape.


Now, I try to be as candid as possible in the blog, however, the handful of us that took part in the Clinic are now sworn by an Omertà. There is a code of silence over what we learnt to ensure that we have maximum advantage in the race tomorrow. So forgive me if I keep some of the secrets of the Bay.

As we tootled out towards the Rock it is fair to say that we were subdued. It was 7am, the sun was just rising and we were about to battle with polar bears for heat when we jumped off the boat – so subdued was probably the appropriate response. Pedro was at pains to point out that the clinic would prepare us perfectly for the race and when we go out in the steamer on race day we would see a lot of very scared people. I think he has a point.


As we pulled our wetsuits on Pedro pointed out the key sighting points to ensure that we could make a safe and quick crossing on Sunday. The current is basically pulling you at the speed of s shark (unfortunately it transports them at the same speed!!) towards the west and if you don’t take a really conservative course towards the shore you will end up under the Golden Gate Bridge and off to China or somewhere like that. He also pointed out that the platform on the boat was exactly the same height as it would be on Sunday so we would practice the “jump” several times.


I really only have two fears about this race (well, technically 4 if you include the bike and the run!) which were the water temperature and the height of the jump. The time had arrived to face both of those fears. The boat stopped just off Alcatraz and we got our final instructions – hold your goggles!


Okay, being perfectly honest I would happily have waited until last to disembark, however, that would probably have resulted in an uncomfortable moment for all concerned as someone applied a boot to my arse to get my sorry paralysed rubber clad body off that platform and into the frigid depths. So I jumped on the platform about 4th and dropped. My instant reaction was that the water wasn’t too cold so I gave it a bit of welly around the back of Alcatraz and then the familiar sensation of cold shock gripped me – tight chest, hyperventilating, irrational fear of waves. I swam breastroke for about 10minutes which settled everything back down. Hopefully the morning in the water on Friday has toughened me up enough for the race morning.

After our first swim we re-boarded the boat and the simulated the start and headed towards shore. The Race Director aims to disembark 2000 people in 6 minutes tomorrow morning and the whole time the ship is drifting away from shore. In his words “this is not a time to be mentally weak”. The swim start is the most critical part, of the most critical leg of this iconic race and I think Pedro set us up perfectly for it.

We swam a hard 300m or so to see the impact of the currents on our travel and it really was quite incredible how little forward progress we made but how far we had come around in front of the Rock.

Our final swim was the finish and up on to the beach. Bizarrely the shallower water was much colder than out at Alcatraz and gave me a bit of brain freeze. What a wonderful start to the day though – it was still only 830.


Next stop for me was to pick up my trusty steed – a very pretty Trek 2.1. That passed without incident except when I bent down to get my cycling shoes out of my bag and my nose started running and didn’t stop. It dripped constantly on to the black floor leaving a large shiny puddle and all that I could say to the dozen or so other people picking up bikes was that I had been swimming in the Bay. I have since discovered that this can last for several days afterwards. I’m not sure where it goes or where it stays until it drops out of your head at a totally inappropriate moment but thats what happens.

Race registration was this morning and we enjoyed the race briefing in the most glorious sunshine while we picked through the best goodie bag that I have seen in a long time.



Anyway, it is now 930 and I need to be up at 330 to breakfast and then cycle up to Marina Green. Boat disembarks at 630 and race starts at 730. Live tracking is available at the Escape website and I am number 1256. Hopefully, the next update will be when I am an Escapee.

One last notable mention. It is 50 years on Monday since the famous Clint Eastwood escape from Alcatraz. The San Francisco Chronicle speculated on what happened on the front page today.

If you can, please help the Make a Wish Foundation.



The Alcatraz Test Swim

Escape Complete

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Swim

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Bike

My Escape From Alcatraz – Some Pictures

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Run

Final Thoughts on Escape


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The Aftermath

Posted on August 25, 2011. Filed under: baby, bike, farky, ironman, ironman regensburg, man flu, race report, race review, regensburg, Rory, run, swim, triathlon, Uncategorized, wetsuit |

The morning after the Ironman I really hadn’t slept much.  However, I got up and made a pot of coffee, washed my Ironman mug, sat down on the sofa and relived the previous 24 hours………

A few months before I went out to Germany an Ironman had advised me to take an IV drip as I crossed the line to boost recovery.  I also suspect it was a badge of honour to be recounted in war stories for years to come.  I had fully expected to be a veteran of the medical tent; I also expected to be a blubbering wreck as I crossed the finish line to end a two and a half year journey from michelin man to ironman.

As I ran down the finishing chute I high-5’d the whole right hand side of the bleachers, then the man who may or may not have shouted (and I couldn’t have cared less) “Dougie, You are an Ironman!” and finally I fell into the arms of the lady who would escort me out of the finish area.  She put the medal over my head and gave me a rather dapper gold foil blanket.  After a few steps she tried to pinch my blanket which almost got her into a lot of trouble but she explained it was just so that she could get my finishers photo.  OK then.  She then, however, crossed the line.  Admittedly I was walking on medieval, cobbled streets on feet that had blistered within an inch of being mince but I don’t think there was any need to direct this hobbling, hunchbacked shrek in the direction of the medical tent.  Oh no, I didn’t need no doctor assessing me.  In fact, as opposed to a badge of honour there was no way wild horses could have dragged me into the medical tent even if my ass had been doused in petrol and set on fire.

Instead, with clear presence of mind and an inexplicably recovered digestive system I headed straight for the first food tent and inhaled two salami rolls.  A volunteer then gave me my white bag and I had instant recall that in it was a soggy pair of shorts, no flip flops, no towel and no underwear.  I hobbled to the shower block with another salami sandwich and a bit of cake and proceeded to take off my filthy, cold wet tri suit and socks and put on clean, cold, wet shorts and put my bare blistered feet back into my trainers that I had just run 26.2 uncomfortable miles in.  I just kept telling myself I was now an Ironman and I could handle it.  I also had my mobile in my white bag so I made contact with the sherpas.  They wanted to know where I was – “I’m getting another salami roll”.  Then – we are at the food tent – oh, I’m at the medal engravers.  Then – we’re at the engravers – I’m getting my finishers t-shirts. We are at the t-shirts – I seem to be on a shuttle bus.  To where?  I’m not really sure.

The Sherpas eventually track me down at the beer tent

It turned out that the shuttle bus was going to T2 and the beer tent.  My next update caused general concern – “I’m just having a beer, a sausage and a bit of cake”.   It made perfect sense to me to have a beer – I had barely drunk in 6 months, I was in Germany and I was a brand new Ironman.  With hindsight I can see why it may not have been an obvious choice as a recovery drink if you hadn’t been thinking about that beer for over two years.

I chatted to Pam and the Farkies for 10minutes before they headed off to the appartment to get the kids to bed and then Grant would come back for me and my kit.  With half an hour to kill I did the only thing I could think of – wrapped myself in my foil blanket, got another beer and sausage and watched the Ironman world go by.  I sat on the end of a long beer hall type bench and saw an Italian lady that I had seen earlier in the day – she had been a spectator but she had been running alongside her boyfriend who had been in particularly bad nick.  I could only assume that the prone lump under the foil blanket was her boyfriend and I watched as she pulled little bits off a piece of bread and put them into his mouth as if he was a baby sparrow.  Looking at the state of him I was devastated until I saw the unmistakeable flash of bling and it all became clear  – he was an Ironman and he would be fine.

After I finished my beer I went and got my transition bags and made my way to the bike racks.  As I went through security there was a girl in her foil blanket sitting in the road who looked like she sat down for a rest and then fell asleep.  When I found my bike it took me about 10 minutes to work out how to get it off the rack – it wasn’t difficult, I just wasn’t that bright.  I wrestled my bike back and bags to the beer tent, got another beer and settled down until Farkie got back.  For the first time, again huddled in my foil blanket, I think the magnitude of what I had achieved and what I had put my body through hit me and I had a quiet moment to myself.    At this point, probably about an hour afteer I finished, I thought I had better let a few special people that had been on the journey with me know that the mission had been accomplished and I had survived.  It was only over the next couple of days I really appreciated the number of people that had followed my progress hour by hour and the sheer volume of messages of support that I had received.  That Ironman Live collapsed when I only had 700m to go seems to have spoiled a few Sunday evenings and filled Pam’s inbox for days to come.

Farkie collected me and when we got back to the appartment asked if my bike would be safe in the car.  My genuine, and totally honest response – “If I ever see that effing bike again it will be too effing soon”.   Once I had bounded up three flights of stairs I cracked open another beer, had a giant bag of crisps and bored everyone else to sleep.  And then I slept the sleep of a brand new Ironman.  That means that between adrenaline, caffeine, sunburn, blisters and muscle pain I slept for an uncomfortable acccumulation of about 8 minutes.

A quiet moment with Ironbaby

The morning after I did a short blog update that I signed off “At the moment I hurt and the memories of the low spots are still fresh in the mind.  The mental scars will fade and the physical scars will be covered by the the late summer sun but I will always be an Ironman.” And that remains so true – I still have a few contact scars, my feet and back are not in the best of nick and my current outbreak of either manflu or ebola (only time will tell but my money is on ebola because my nose was bleeding) may mean that my immune system is shot but I still get a bit choked in quiet moments when I think about what I have achieved.  Back to the words that originally inspired me in Becoming an Ironman – this was my own challenge, it wasn’t to prove anything to anyone else but I have become my own hero.

The Pirates abandon yeller and black to go incognito

The afternoon saw the Pirate Party and that reminded me why I became a Pirate.  Your own drive, resilience and sheer bloody mindedness can get you so far but in the really dark moments when you get an “AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRR” or a “Go Pirate” you get a massive tailwind that takes you a long way forwards or just makes you smile.

Back into the realms of TMI but when I thought about it afterwards despite drinking litres of water and beer across both the Sunday and the Monday I didn’t actually pee from the time I took my wetsuit off at 8:06 on Sunday until late on Monday afternoon.  Now thats dehydration!

And eventually after 4 months of waiting, two days after the Ironman I got to take my wee boy for a swim. I may be biased but I would say he is a natural.

Yes dad, you have told me the story about the day you became an Ironman




Sleepless Night


The Longest Day

One Guy, 5 Stone, Two and a Half Years and Two Races

The Swim – Froth, Speedos and Bulging Eyeballs

The Bike – Rain, Rain, Hill, Rain, Rain, Hill, Ouch

The Run – 42.2km of Hanging In There

The Aftermath


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The Swim – Froth, Speedos and Bulging Eyeballs

Posted on August 13, 2011. Filed under: baby, farky, ironman, ironman regensburg, race report, race review, Referee, regensburg, Rory, run, swim, triathlon, wetsuit |

I am not totally a control freak but I do prefer if people would just do what I tell them to.  So, with more than a little pleasure we were all sitting in the car outside the apartment by 515am as requested.  The satnav was programmed for Neutrabling and off we set to find the 5000 space car park that I had failed to spot the day before.  Probably the key difference that made it easier was that at 530 there was pretty much a traffic jam on the autobahn in one direction and there were now Ironman motorway signs up so we just followed the crowd.

530am, half a bottle of sunscreen and then it rains….

As soon as we parked I jumped out, grabbed my wetsuit and made my way to the shuttle bus.  Upon seeing that there were about 20 people in the queue already my patience snapped and my need to keep moving overwhelmed me so I decided just to walk to the lake.  With 140.6 miles to cover, what difference was another mile and a bit going to make?  And then after a few minutes the heavens opened.

T1 was pretty chaotic as people grabbed the giant plastic bike bags and put them over their heads and passed them over the fence to their Sherpas; so being a newbie I did the same thing.  I guess as it was hosing down people started putting on their wetsuits before 6 am so, being a newbie, I did the same thing.  They were also doing stuff with their transition bags but that is where my imitation had to end as I’d already forgotten what had been explained at length at the race briefing.  I found some friendly nearby Pirates – Happy Chap, Toucs and Ironwolf – and they pointed me in the right direction. Clothes for after into the lorry, blue bag next to the bike and chuck your wetsuit in when you finish – simples.

I was by now soaked to the skin and the flaws in my plan were starting to become more apparent.  With economy of packing in mind I had only brought one pair of shorts so at the end of the race I was going to be slipping into some sodden shorts. And to make that a little more uncomfortable after 112miles on a bike and 26.2miles running I had forgotten my undies. And I had forgotten to pack a towel so showering was going to be interesting. And worst of all, I had launched my White bag into the lorry with some gusto, walked back to my bike and then pondered why I still had my flip-flops on.  This meant that after the race I was going to be wearing my trainers until I eventually got to bed. Mmmmmm, going commando in cold, wet shorts with the same shoes I had run a marathon in and no massage because I would be absolutely stinking and salt encrusted as I’d had no shower.  With hindsight, the finish didn’t look like the nirvana it once had so may explain why I spent so many hours loitering out on the course rather than just getting finished.

I’m just about the middle in a black suit and blue hat

The swim warm up was really calm justas the sun was rising.  The rain had eased, the air was really still and there was a general hush across the millpond as the mist lay low on the water. With 10minutes to go we were pulled out of the water, did a bit of hand clapping, Mexican waving and mumbled along to the German national anthem.  Out of 2100 rubber suited characters I found myself next to one of the Pirates – Wild Will – who gave me the best advice I got all day – “Don’t take anything personally in the swim”. Given my short fuse that was very sage advice as time and time again my patience was tested.

Did this pair not get the dress code email?

Bizarrely, I had expected the start to be an emotional experience but I found I actually became very calm and task focussed and through the whole day never really thought much further than the next milestone and never thought about the finish until I was about 3k to go in the last lap.  Eventually, we got the one minute to go signal and I knew that the start was now at any point in the next 60 seconds.  After what seemed like an eternity I saw the lead canoeist instruct his brood to get themselves the heck out of Dodge, the signal went and the maelstrom began.  After about 3 paces into the water, the bottom disappeared and we were swimming.  Well, swimming after a fashion – the water was white, there were feet, hands, heads everywhere and the punches and kicks rained down.  After about 20 strokes I found myself in about 8 meters of clear water and breathed easy.  After about another 10 strokes my dream of a simple swim in my own wee bubble was shattered when all hell seemed to collide right on top of me.  And at that point had someone offered me a way out of the water and back to my bed I would have grasped it with both hands.

Swimmer Soup

The first length was 1k down to a giant yellow Powerbar bottle on the far beach and I can safely say that through the fists, feet, splashing and darkness I didn’t see it until I was right on it.  Other than the general stramash the first length was un-noteworthy, however, at the turn things got interesting again as the field converged. By this point I had gathered my nerve and my old water polo instincts came into play and I gave as good as I got with sharp elbows and pointy toes.  I was swimming stroke for stroke at the same pace as a chap in a red suit (I don’t think he was Santa so he has some fashion questions that need to be answered) who had an absolute aversion to swimming straight.  One minute he would be next to me, the next he would be right across my face.  As getting way from him was the only solution I took a very long route to the outside of the field for the first return up the lake.  At this point something quite awful happened.  I literally came face to face with a pair of speedos and a hairy, beer enhanced belly.  I might as well have spotted Jaws underwater for the speed that my face recoiled and popped back above the surface.  I resisted the temptation to barf, again swam away from the offending obstacle and carried on.  Only later on the bike did I again come in contact with the speedos.

Pam and Rory are brave for the camera

The next turn was uneventful, however, for 5 or 6 minutes I presumed I had to be leading the race as I couldn’t see anyone else. Then it turned out that we were swimming in a channel that was about 50metres wide and I was at the wrong side of it. So completely disregarding Pythagoras (and I did actually think about it given the loneliness of long distance swimming) I swam diagonally for pretty much the whole length adding a huge amount of distance in the process and eventually finding all of the swimmers that were beating me who I had momentarily lost. The good thing about the extra distance was that it delayed the final turn.  This turned out, for some reason, to be where the roughest boys and girls played.  Normally I breathe every 4th stroke unless I need a breath sooner for any reason so when I took a punch square on the right goggle lens, I breathed on the very next stroke and by complete chance took another punch. After 4 punches I stopped believing in coincidences and I stuck my head under the water and kicked like I was being chased by the speedo man to get out of trouble.  It worked – I was out of trouble – however, my right eye was now squished right into my goggle lens and it was more than a little uncomfortable. So with great reluctance I stopped for a second to release my Marty Feldman eye and then got back on my way.


I honestly had no concept of pace given the general physicality of the swim. I had given Pam and the Farkies an anticipated time of 1:15 to 1:20 primarily because every swim I have done this year was exactly on 1:15 pace. As I exited the water I was cramping a little in my feet and stumbled on the beach but I could see the Pirate Orca just getting her wetsuit off her shoulders a few metres ahead. I had problems with my Garmin all day and when I looked down and saw 1:06 I assumed it was just another problem. I only got confirmation from Pam out on the run that it had been 1:06. It is safe to say that I was delighted with the time and if I had got the amount of training time that I should have in the water in advance I am confident I could go well under the hour.  The sherpas it seems were less impressed with my speedy swim as they almost missed me – bless them.

T1 was less of a blur than usual for me and completely out of character I actually managed to find my bike on my own. I had had a long run out of the water which meant that I would have a short run with the bike. This was good as I run with a bike in hand with as much elegance as a cow walking downstairs.  I passed my Sherpa shouting party now armed with cowbells on the way out of T1 and then it was time to face the bike. Like it or not I was now clad just in a helmet and sleeveless Lycra for the next 180km.

Thanks to Sherpa Les Farky for the photography.



Sleepless Night


The Longest Day

One Guy, 5 Stone, Two and a Half Years and Two Races

The Swim – Froth, Speedos and Bulging Eyeballs

The Bike – Rain, Rain, Hill, Rain, Rain, Hill, Ouch

The Run – 42.2km of Hanging In There

The Aftermath


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Half Iron Shakey

Posted on July 26, 2011. Filed under: bike, cycle, farky, great scottish swim, Half ironman, Half marathon, ironman, ironman regensburg, knockburn, knockburn middle distance, Pentlands, Referee, regensburg, run, shakey, swim, Threipmuir, triathlon, wetsuit |

Sometimes we have people that come into our life for a reason.  Sometimes they are special, really, really special.  Three weeks after completing our Half Ironman Shakey has eventually managed to type a race report using both of her thumbs and her nose to operate the space bar.  It is understandable that she took so long as English isn’t her first language (or second or third either for that matter) and she views the world through a particularly odd lens. Last year the guest spot in the blog was pretty common with Pam’s monologue on ducks and tirade at Arse and Shakey’s Great Weegie Dook race report being particularly memorable examples.  To be clear at the outset, this isn’t one of the classics as the girl is clearly getting older and less sharp witted but if you hold on to the end I’ll make an offer you can’t refuse.

PARENTAL WARNING – Shakey is from abroad.  Apparently if foreigners say “feck” in front of their Ma it is not a swear word.

January 2010

Stumpy – “I’m signing up for an ironman”

Shakey – “hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha”

Stumpy – “I’m serious”

Shakey – “hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha”

Stumpy – “I’ve bought all the books and lycra so I know I can do it”

Shakey – “hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha – now you’ve made me snort tea all over my computer, tell you what if you survive then sign me up for next year –  hahahahahaha”

January 2011 –

Stumpy – “Here’s your half ironman training programme. You’ve got twenty six weeks.”

Shakey – “……………….Feck”

And so it began, six months floundering in swimming pools and lochs (and the bath on those days when I couldn’t face the shame of armbanded toddlers going faster than me), pedalling a bike (trying to either (a) dodge a bus, or a truck, or a pimped up micra or (b) keep my legs in time to the rocky theme tune as a spin instructor shouted at me), and legging it around Edinburgh and Fife doing my finest Forest Gump impression. Oh and all this while clad in varying forms of lycra and rubber……

When we received the news two weeks before the event that the good folk at Aberdeenshire council had opted for a weekend of covering themselves in mud and drinking in a field (the Knockburn Half Ironman coincided with T in the Park) instead of staging their first Half Ironman, I’d be lying if I didn’t give a little woop woop of joy.  Alright that’s an understatement I was running round my flat delirious with relief that I wouldn’t have to go through with the insanity.  I’d been saved!!!! Woooooohhhhhooooooo!! But then the phone rang……

Stumpy – “It’s been cancelled”

Shakey – “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha……….yyyyyeeeeeeeehhhhaaaaaawwww”

Stumpy – “But we’re still doing it.”

Shakey – “………………………….Feck.”

So at 6am on Saturday 9th July I was rudely awakened by my alarm and the day i became a half ironman began.  Generally when you sign up for any race event you focus on just crossing the finish line and hope for good bling/goody bag/free tshirt.  What you don’t think about is the seedier side of things, i.e the dawn rising to choke down a bowl of porridge and some precautionary/Imodium/ibuprofen/paracetomol or whatever other tablet you can get your hands on – thank god the drug testers were still in bed.

The plan was a 7.30am rendezvous at Threipmuir for an 8am start in the water.   Now as this was not an official Half Ironman event, we were denied the usual glamour of a triathlon, i.e. portaloos, safety canoes, lifeguards, coastguards, ambulance services, road closures, cheering crowds etc etc.  However thanks to my pal Nicole Hatch we did have a race director/race marshal/someone to call 999 in case I needed fished out of the loch and slightly bemused onlooker all rolled into one.  Oh and she also gave me a lift to the start line as I had written off my car, or more accurately an Audi A5 had, the week before the race.  (As a word of warning to anyone travelling down Leith Walk you do not have right of way when turning onto Duke Street).   Needless to say it was a leisurely stroll to the water’s edge from the car park as even loonies aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to hop into a Baltic loch at 8am on a Saturday morning.  As much as it pains me to admit it Stumpy is a faster swimmer than me so I was first into the water (although to be fair he’s got about 60 years more experience in the water than me and swam for Scotland, and water-skied for Great Britain….. or something like that, I tend to switch off when he starts to regale stories of past athletic glories…).   Not to completely lose out on all the structure of a well organised event we did have a prerace briefing…

Stumpy – “OK, swim down there to the rock jutting out, swim straight across the loch to the opposite side, come back down this way until you’re parallel with the boathouse and then into the shore”

Shakey – “Can I put my feet down?”

Stumpy – “Only if you want to drown.  Now man up and get in”

And in I went.  I think everyone is pretty clear of how one heats oneself up when plunged into 10 degree waters in nothing but a rubber suit and hat, don’t judge me but let’s just say I took care of business and set off.  Propelled by a fear of hypothermia/drowning/something nibbling on my feet (and not the type of fish that they keep in those tanks that appear to be all the rage in beauty salons now…. What are they all about by the way?!!?).  I cranked up the pace and made some good progress in the water. My game plan was to stick fairly close to the edge of the loch as, I’ll be honest, my confidence in open water swimming generally errs towards slim to none when there are none of the aforementioned lifeguards, safety canoes or coastguards within a 100m radius.   However as I scraped my knee on some rocks I realised this was going to be a long day if I didn’t just “man up” and get in the depths.  Surprisingly my arms, legs, lungs all held up ok and before I knew it I was on the home stretch.  My elation was short lived when I looked up and saw what I thought was a white cap ahead of me in the water. “How the feck did that happen?? Surely the old man hasn’t passed me out?? He must have taken a short cut?? And he could have at least stopped to say hello??” and so on i ranted to myself.  As I came into the shore, fizzing at this stage partly at the injustice of being overtaken but mainly because he hadn’t stopped to offer me some of his usual words of wisdom, it dawned on me that the white cap was in fact a swan and Stumpy was still swimming.  Oh dear maybe I’ve bonked/hit the wall already…. Or maybe I should just invest in some new contact lenses.  By some miracle (or really just to avoid him moaning at me) I had hit the target time set for me by Stumpy 6 months ago and I crawled out of the water in about 45 mins.  Not exactly Olympic qualification times but for someone who 18 months previously refused to get her hair wet let alone put her face in the water and swim, not a bad effort.

Once Stumpy had emerged from the depths we sauntered back to T-1 (thats triathlon talk for the car park) to get lycra’d up for the bikes (the one advantage of this being an unofficial event was that there was no running deliriously up to a field filled with what appear to be identical looking tricycles trying to look out your own while trying to claw yourself out of a rubber suit).

Now when Stumpy first told me he was joining the pirates (an online group of like minded nut jobs who are not affiliated with any triathlon clubs but do them all the same) I chuckled at visions of him rocking up to start lines with an eye patch and parrot strapped to his shoulder.  Unsurprisingly the reality of what the pirate uniform looks like is very different….. And oh my, it is so much better than I could ever imagine and so worth getting up at the crack of dawn to see.  Dragging my sorry ass out of bed at 6am on a Saturday suddenly became one of the best moves I’ve made all year as suddenly i was faced with stumpy sporting this (actually he didn’t look as good at the start as these guys did at the end of an Ironman!).  Boys and girls going to Regensburg you are in for a special treat!!!

After a few minutes of hysterics I managed to pick myself up off the ground and calm myself to get kitted up for what would turn out to be a 96km instead of 90km cycle (Despite allegedly being an accountant, stumpy can’t count).  A quick visit to the facilities (yes I did previously say that there was no portaloos so use your imagination and don’t judge me – it was going to be a long day) and we were off.  Thankfully the sun appeared about 10 mins in and stuck with us for almost the entire cycle, so needless to say I regretted my decision to forgo the sun cream and I finished the day with some interesting tan (sunburn) lines.   Now as a foreigner (or economic refugee as I now like to be called) my geography of anywhere outside a 2 mile radius of Leith walk (where I live) or Dunfermline (where I work) is fairly poor so for the cycle I was reliant on the old boy for directions.  Little did I realise that he is in fact some sort of middle-aged Evil Knievel wannabe and so our entire route was on back roads where wee boys were drag racing their ma and da’s beamers – there was a particularly close shave with a 3 series outside Winchburgh where stumpy almost lost an ear! For the most part of the cycle we stuck together and as Stumpy had kindly loaded up the Temptress with energy bars/gels/drinks for us he was in charge of nutrition and hydration.  About 60km in I fear I did “bonk” and my legs slowed down as my mind started to wander….. I’d like to report I was lost in deep meaningful thoughts but I wasn’t.  All I could think about was chips.  A quick stop for Stumpy to fix my brakes (which worryingly kept coming loose despite his repairs) and get some energy stuff on board sorted me out.  As marathons have been the longest endurance event I’ve taken part in my mindset on eating when competing has always been that you don’t.  The main concern when running is getting plenty of fluids on board and avoiding the trots but this wee blip on the bike has made me realise that water/powerade/lucozade is just not enough for the serious stuff.

As we crossed the Kincardine Bridge it felt like we were almost there.  We’d gotten over and survived the hump of it so all we had to do now was get back to Stumpy’s pad in one piece, ditch the bikes and run 21.1km.  All sounds easy on paper eh? Throw in though an irrational, angry blue van man, two cyclists and a banana and you’ve almost got a disaster on your hands. For details see Stumpy’s account of the incident but I can testify that the man was indeed a tw@t.

We carried on through Fife and finally we hit 90km…… but something odd occurred….. we didn’t stop, we didn’t even slow down, in fact if anything we sped up.  My oh my was I witnessing a first, had stumpy in fact got something wrong??!  Unfortunately my glee at this was somewhat eroded by the fact that I had appeared to have lost feeling in my feet and as I was now on main roads dicing with motorists this could be a problem.

Shakey -“Are we there yet?”

Stumpy – “No.”

Shakey – “Are we there yet?”

Stumpy – “No”

Shakey – “Are we there yet?”

Stumpy – ………..silence

I wore him down and eventually we stopped.  A quick change into running gear, thankfully Stumpy decided to put a t-shirt over his swashbuckling one-piece and save us from being arrested for public indecency in Dunfermline town centre and we were once again off.  For the first time all day, apart from when I was dreaming of french fries and chunky chips and wedges, there was a deafening silence.  Running a half marathon is bad enough , but try to do one after a 2km swim and 90 (96!!) km cycle and you’ve got a very special type of torture.   The realisation about 5 mins in that we had no water or money did nothing to raise spirits and so we plodded on for the first 3/4 km deep in thought… me focussed on finding the nearest loo, Stumpy focussed on how he could make it over the fence onto the motorway to end it all.  A quick pit stop in McDonalds and we started to get a new lease of life.  Before we knew it we had hit Costa and Subway for cups of water and we were almost 10km in… Half way….wooohoooo!!  Unfortunately the chat restarted but fatigue and dehydration was having an impact on the quality and we shared some deep and dark secrets….

Stumpy- “You had those new Galaxy Counter sweets yet”

Shakey – “oh yeah the ones that are like naked minstrels? They’re brilliant”

Stumpy – “Pam and I ate a whole bag last night. But I still think I prefer maltesers”

Shakey – “Me too. I like to pop 2 or 3 at a time and crunch them”

Stumpy – “Nah, too quick, I go for one and try to suck all the chocolate off…….”

You get the picture.  Thankfully the rain/thunder/lightening kicked off then and drowned us out.  As we approached the bridge (big shout out to the 4×4 who decided to drive on the hard shoulder to make sure he got us with a proper tidal wave) I spotted our race director/race marshal sheltering in a bus stop.  Nicole had been trying to catch us all day but as Stumpy had spectacularly confused miles and kilometres in the race briefing she kept missing us.  We mugged her for water and Lucozade, shouted we had only 2km left to go and headed straight into the rain and mist that shrouded the bridge.  The legs were starting to ache now and the last 2km suddenly felt as long as 20km. We kept at it though and we were at our turning point and heading downhill to the finish line before we knew it.  At around 4.30 we finally crossed the finish line to the rapturous applause of Nicole, John, Pam, Rory and Allistair.

Stumpy now goes on to the madness of Regensburg (if only he’d had a normal mid life crisis and bought an aston martin) but I shall retire to Malta for a week to even out the questionable tan lines acquired in my first ever half ironman.

As much as I cherished the company, I was doing all of this for another reason.  In December of last year, Linda Hunter, a former colleague and friend of ours at Sky passed away suddenly.  When we heard that at age 46 she had suffered from a stroke we were all stunned. In our naivety many of us had thought strokes were something that affected only older people. And so in Linda’s memory I’m hoping my endeavors can raise some funding for the Stroke Association.  It isn’t just about the one event though, the whole painful schedule looks like this…..

19th June – Lochore Open Water Sprint Triathlon

9th July – DIY Middle Distance Triathlon (Half Ironman)

17th Sept – Dublin Half Marathon

22nd Sept – Great Scottish Swim (2km open water)

2nd Oct – Great Edinburgh Run (10km – this is really just to boost my ego after having the inevitable beating it will have take in all of the previous events)

22nd Apr – London Marathon 2012 (That is of course if they organisers decide to give me a place!!)

If you can spare anything at all I have a justgiving page here.  http://www.justgiving.com/vjacob/



And there it is – three weeks worth of Shakey’s work.  I can safely say that the last 6km of the ride felt like they lasted 10 lifetimes.  What she didn’t say in the race report was that her feet were sore or maybe she did – I just blank it out now.  It was no coincidence that she speeded up in the last stretch as I was trying to get away from her to escape the earache.  Now on return from her holidays she has gone all maternal on me – are you eating well, drink loads of water, I know you’re not very good at sleep but your  body will be really needing it etc.  Despite all that it is fair to say that Shakey now lives by the HalfIron mantra “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever”.

Anyway, as most of you know I decided not to raise money for charity after putting heart and soul into it last year so that I could focus on Project Regensburg,  However, having lost Linda far too soon this is very close to my heart and I will make a magnanimous offer which can only really end in tears for me.  As it stands tonight Shakey has raised £1080 with her efforts so far – if the total were to be £1250 by the time I blog on Sunday night then I will reluctantly post the one photo  in existence of me in my one piece Pirate suit.  And who knows, pictures of Shakey in a rubber suit could be added to the gallery if demand is high enough!  Having already appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News in glorious technicolour sporting her trademark dodgy fake tan lines she is already way beyond public humiliation.

From a guest  authors point of view I am going to deliver technical training to Pam and the Farkies to update the blog during the Ironman to keep you up to speed with progress and maybe even post photos and videos if I go slow enough for them to capture me.  But I’ll be warning you now I’ll be in the Pirate suit.

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