Friday, July 27, 2012


There is not much to say about running in Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon as people still insist on calling it) that doesn't involve the traffic. I'd say this is the second least conducive place to running I have ever been in, Delhi being the reigning champion of this league of dubious merit. Having to watch your step in the most literal sense helps the time pass by while you are running but robs you of any opportunity to enjoy the surroundings.

At least in Saigon there are some pretty wide pavements or, at least that is what I thought when I plotted out my route in Garmin Connect. On the plus side there is no one walking and texting on their smart phones to avoid (unlike London) but instead you have to look out for mopeds riding up on the pavement to circumvent red traffic lights (police included). They say that you are nobody if you don't have a moped and people are very used to hearing them and getting out of the way; a runner, on the other hand, is hard to hear approaching.

I've mentioned crossing the road before. If you want to run for an hour you have to budget for an extra half an hour of road crossing. At one point I asked someone where the best place to cross the road was and he responded by escorting me across the road like a little old lady. I studied his technique and came to the conclusion that you first need to become one with the road, flowing with the traffic, and then you simply walk slowly and steadily to the other side. It felt like a Jedi test that could equally have been done with my eyes closed.

At some point I found a park and decided to cut through it. Everyone was out for their evening power walk and everyone (except me) was circling in an anti clockwise direction. Ironically, the only time I had to slow down to a walk was in a park.

Running alongside the river was noticeably cooler although the smell was quite unpleasant. It seems as though they are in the process of laying down a tow path - I say "in the process" because, in parts, I had to scramble up a mud bank. I think I managed to find the place where people go to run or jog. In fact, I was actually overtaken at one point - not that I was going particularly fast but I think the last time I was overtaken on a training run was some time last year! This guy was running in sandals.

After my unfortunate incident with the "red carpet" I decide to bin my shoes - they were on their last legs anyway. I'm now down to running in a pair of very minimalist shoes from Decathlon that only cost 10 euros.
Somehow I managed to get lost on the way back in spite of following the map on my Garmin GPS watch. I decided to get a cycle rickshaw back to the hotel (I was so sweaty I was too embarrassed to take any other form of transport). By the time I got back my family had already finished having dinner.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The red carpet treatment

Just as we were checking out we were told that we would have to pay for the carpet which, after several failed attempts to clean it, would have to be replaced in the end. They told us that it was an expensive imported carpet so I started to get nervous that they would charge us thousands of euros. Last year I got stung by the exorbitant (and unlimited) fees for using data while roaming (I should have known better) and this year, it was looking like I was going to have to pay another fortune for making a silly mistake.

As you can see from the bill, we were charged not thousands, but millions - two million, to be precise. Luckily the exchange rate is around 25,000 Vietnamese Dong to the euro, so this works out to only 80 euros - about the same as the shoes that caused the damage cost in the first place. (OK, the shoes weren't responsible, I was.) Still, if only I had been carrying a little more money while running so that I could have bought some flip flops to traipse back into the hotel in (amazingly, the only flip flops I could find were some ridiculous branded ones that cost the best part of twenty euros!).

I have to say that the hotel - the Sommerset Grand Hanoi - treated us extremely well, never once making me feel any worse for the accident than I already did and the charge was absolutely minimal. I dread to think how it would have been in another hotel in another country.

(If you look closely at the photo you can still see traces of red dye under my fingernail...)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just as well

I did get rather soaked this morning on my run, but nothing like what would have happened had I been tempted by the cooler weather to go out for an evening run. The rain was up to half a meter deep within minutes of it starting to pour. It was a miracle we managed to get back to the hotel stalling only one taxi.

Good Morning Vietnam

I think I have finally found a scenario for which my Soft Star Run Amocs are not suitable for running in.

It was so incredibly hot and humid when I set of for a run this morning around the West Lake in Hanoi that, apart from it being knackering, my feet (as well as the rest of me) got so sweaty that I was slipping around in my shoes. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem - even running on ice is quite possible as long as you don't have to make sudden changes of direction. In Vietnam the rule (if this is the appropriate word) seems to be that everyone should carry on going in the direction they are going in unless they can see that they are about to hit someone else, in which case they will stop or go around them. In cases when both parties can see each other and it is not clear who should take evasive action, there is a pecking order which appears to be based on the person who would come off worst from any collision making the first move. As a runner, this puts you above a pedestrian but below everyone else.

It became so dangerous to run in my shoes that I decided I would run home barefoot. You can imagine that one of the few ways to attract attention as a foreigner running barefoot around Hanoi is to be a foreigner running barefoot with bright red feet. This is the drawback of using natural dyes to give the shoes their distinctive red colour.

It is always important to study local customs beforehand and I was aware that spitting in public (as runners sometimes do) was considered to be antisocial, so I imagined that peeing in public wouldn't go down too well either. I found a park where, for some strange reason no one was walking and I very discretely let it out. I was just putting things away when I heard a whistle and saw a policemen waving frantically at me so I started running again (don't they say that this is a sure sign of guilt?) but he kept on blowing his whistle. It turned out that there was no one else around because no one was supposed to walk on the lawn in front of Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. Given that many Vietnamese people queue up to see him (there was already a sizable queue at 7:30 am) and that he is considered something of a national hero having fended off the French and then the Americans, I could have ended up in a serious spot of bother had the policemen seen my indiscretion.

When I got back to the hotel I was faced with the dilemma of entering barefoot - which being a five star hotel, I didn't think would be appreciated - or to don my drenched shoes and hope they didn't make too much of a mess. Unfortunately, they did. If you ever find yourself in a hotel room with red footprints on the carpet, you'll know where they came from.

I just overheard one of the hotel guests saying to a friend, "Man, you should have seen it this morning. I got in the lift around 8 o clock this morning and there was all this blood everywhere. It was like a horror movie." I decided not to spoil his anecdote but he may have spotted my red feet in the swimming pool and put two and two together.

I just hope they manage to get the stains out of the carpet. I already admitted my guilt although it would have been hard to avoid it as I am literally red handed (and footed).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Going viral

Today 576 people visited my blog - if you are reading this soon after I post it, you can see the peak in traffic in the "total pageviews" graphic below - normally i get around 100-150 "hits" a day. As far as I can tell, the sudden interest is nothing more than tapping into a steady stream of people searching for "a map of Spain" which I happened to include in a recent post. If it is really that simple to increase traffic to a blog then I must be doing something wrong (not that I care too much about traffic, but it is nice to know that someone other than myself finds my ramblings interesting). Unfortunately I think that the "traffic" is coming from people using the image search feature of Google, so they probably don't even notice that they are robbing the picture (just as I did) from such an informative blog.

End of term

I had my last swimming lesson before the summer recess, when the pool at work is closed for maintenance (which is just as well because it's starting to smell of farts I noticed today).

Now we are really down to details. Of course all the usual culprits are still there - the dropped left elbow, the uncoordinated and shallow kick, the too-deep catch and so on - but they are getting better every time. For my own benefit more than anything else, I'm noting down the two faults Luis pointed out to me today.

The first is that I initiate the catch on my left side while I am still breathing with my head to the right. This means that my left shoulder starts off too deep in the water and the body rotation is excessive, making it harder to cleanly extract my left arm at the end of the stroke. By just holding my left arm out a tad longer and making sure my head is already looking down when my right hand enters the water seemed to correct this.

The second fault is to do with the position of my hands as they enter the water. They tend to be quite tense and are tilted slightly downwards so that the thumbs stick up. This makes it harder to have a high elbow (and Early Vertical Forearm) during the catch.

After the summer we will work on other strokes like breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly (gulp): apparently it has been more than demonstrated that mastering various swimming styles improves overall sensitivity to the water, the importance of which I have begun to grasp lately. In the meantime I will keep practising crawl and will hopefully get a chance to do a couple of open water swims on holiday...

...Which brings me to the fact that I will be away for two weeks in Vietnam from this Friday! I've already plotted out some runs around Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately it will be very hot and humid so running won't be much fun unless I can manage to get out of the door nice and early and, even then, I've read that the traffic and pollution are not particularly conducive either. Maybe I will hire a bike...

Monday, July 16, 2012

New commute route

I recently discovered a new route to work thanks to Wikiloc. I'd always thought it must be possible to go round the other way, via the Casa de Campo, but the chance of running into a fence and having to retrace my steps had put me off trying. I'd also been looking for a way to get from my house to the Casa de Campo (so I could go with my son) via bike lanes and paths and this route also solved that little problem for me.

Looks uncannily like a map of Spain
I did this route on Sunday - basically a big loop starting from my house and passing by my work- 45 km at an average of 20 kph. Going round in an anti-clockwise direction, the first section down to the bottom left hand corner is my original route to work; the alternative is the right hand semicircle, although I would probably shave a few kilometres off it in practice.

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed mountain biking.

Monday, July 9, 2012

An expensive hobby

I've been trying to cut down significantly on tri related purchases this year - in relative terms I am doing fantastically well but this is largely because I spent an absurd amount last year. In absolute terms, there is a lot of room for improvement still. The main culprit has been the need to replace my sunglasses that I must have left somewhere during a ride I did a few weeks ago. These were the sunglasses I used in the Ironman and had those photosensitive lenses that made them especially suitable for a race which started at dawn and finished at dusk. They were also very useful for commuting as I have found that wearing eye protection stops my eyes from watering and reduces the need to fire snot rockets.
If there was one "complaint" I had about the previous glasses it was that I would end up looking over the top of the glasses whenever I was in the aero position. It makes a huge difference not having to crane your neck - in fact I think this is the main reason that I am able to stay in the aero position for longer during competitions where you have free reign of the whole road and you don't need to look so much where you are going. So this time I decided to go for the biggest lenses - almost a visor - even if they do look a bit dorky. The lenses are photosensitive and red, supposedly giving better contrast (I would have gone for clear ones if they had existed).

A quick lunchtime run at work

Friday, July 6, 2012

Blog envy

I've been a little quiet on the blogging front lately. This week it has been due to the discovery of a cycling blog that has somehow managed to pass me by until now. I'm talking about the Bike Snob NYC blog which specializes in mercilessly ribbing anyone who takes bikes or cycling too seriously and that, of course, includes triathletes ("Tridorks" or "NĂ¼ Freds" as he refers to them). He has a particular penchant for ridiculing  fixed gear "hipsters", especially those who refuse to have brakes or handlebar tape or other such paraphernalia for fashion reasons. I'm delighted to have discovered this hidden oasis of American satire (an oxymoron if ever I heard one). This is the blog I wish I could have written myself.

While browsing through some of the back issues (I just happened to get into this blog in the very week he is on holiday) I came across an interview a friend of mine from university did with him for his weekly radio show, "The Bike Show" on Resonance FM (London). Even though I have had a regular (music) radio show myself in the past, I have never really been one to actually listen to the radio, much less over the internet, but I finally got around to listening to my friend's show as a result. This was a very interesting episode which also includes the director of British Cycling talking about how they managed to get such a haul of medals in the Beijing Olympics.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sunday jaunt

Whenever we go to visit the in-laws in Cuidad Real, I try to take a bike with me because the roads are very well suited to cycling and, more importantly, are relatively flat. This time I took the triathlon bike with racing wheels to see just how fast I could go while pedalling at Half Ironman intensity. Cuidad Real is a bit of a sleepy town where people seem to fall into two categories: those who drive extremely slowly and their frustrated offspring who drive very fast in their "tuned" cars. The town planners have gone overboard with the number of traffic lights so I decided I would ignore them as, most of the time, no-one was crossing anyway. What I forgot to factor in was the chance that I might get spotted by the Police..

I set off in the direction of Toledo (pronounced "Tol-eh-do" not "Tol-ee-do"). As usual, I wasn't able to gauge whether there was a strong headwind and even the bend of the flowers and trees by the roadside gave little away. I became convinced that I was going up a long, slow hill because I was having to work quite hard to go at 32 kph. After 45 minutes going out I decided to turn around (after all, I didn't want to spend too much time away from the family and it was a reasonably intense workout) and I checked the altitude on my Garmin - 650 metres above sea level. I had confused the fact that Ciudad Real is quite flat with the misconception that it was at sea level and managed to convince myself that the way back was downhill all the way; in fact there was no downhill. Maybe there was a headwind after all because I averaged 38 kph all the way back.

Other than the final of the Eurocopa I was also very keen to find out how my friend Juan had fared in his first Ironman in Klagenfurt, Austria. From intermittent coverage by a friend of his on Facebook, it looks as though he finished which is the main thing but I am still waiting for confirmation.