I injured my foot back in 2010. According to the person posting to Runner’s World social media at the time, what I did wasn’t possible: I’d ruptured my plantar fascia. For 9 months I was reduced to hobbling and limping. I was signed off field work – I couldn’t drive; could barely get from my desk to the staff canteen, never mind walk far enough to do my routine work. I could just about cycle, as long as it wasn’t for more than 30 minutes.
As far as I could tell, my racing career was over. And I’d just bought a TT bike. It wasn’t cheap.
Late that year, while camping, I discovered I was just fine when barefoot. In fact, I was just fine when I was wearing a pair of neoprene booties that formed part of my wetsuit. This got me to thinking, and so, although I did seek the advice of both a private podiatrist (rubbish AND expensive) and the NHS biomechanics specialist (brilliant and FREE), what I ended up with was a set of Vibram Fivefingers.
In 2013, after spending about 2 years re-learning how to run, having suffered swine flu and ended up with exercise-induced asthma (but of course), I went back to racing.
And it has been my most successful year ever.
My first race of the year saw a PB in the run. I DNSed one, because of illness, and completed four. I’ve won prizes worth 40 quid (which isn’t a lot, but is more than I’ve won in all my previous races). In my last race, I suffered a 3D failure, fell flat on my face, and fractured my wrist (which is why the blogs have been lacking in updates of late).
So imagine my surprise when Triathlon Scotland published the rankings (MS Excel spreadsheet) for 2013 and I discovered I’d come top in my age group for the North Region Sprint series. I was more surprised to discover I had the second highest points accumulation at Sprint distance in the whole of Scotland for my age group.
I am, needless to say, chuffed to bits. In 2007 I did my first race, for a bet. In 2013, after a 3 year break for injury and illness, I won my first race. And here’s the joy of triathlon: yes, the elite racers are untouchable by most of us Age Groupers, but that’s no barrier to success. You might think you could never do a tri, that it’s too hard or you’re too unfit. Give it a go. There are plenty of events aimed at beginners, nice and short to give you a taste for it. Or, indeed, any other sport. It’s never too late, you’re never too unfit to start. Everyone starts somewhere, and everyone, ultimately, is competing against themselves. Just taking part, whatever your chosen sport, means you’ve achieved something fantastic.
You never know. You might win something. It might even be a prize.
I had my last race of the season, Huntly Sprint Triathlon, on the 22nd, almost two weeks ago. Usually the last race of the season imminently precedes a blog post about how the year went, lessons learned, successes and failures, goals for the following year etc. There’s been a bit of a gap this year.
I started racing back in 2007, and I’ve been pretty lucky, in the sense that I haven’t really had much in the way of serious injury in races or training. Other than the foot injury that saw me stop racing for three years, clearly. What I mean is, I haven’t crashed.
Well, until now.
The swim was okay. Not great — I’ve been struggling a bit with asthma recently, and the chlorine can set it off, so I couldn’t turn properly. Back before I injured my foot I was on course for a 13 minute 750m; this year I have been working my way back down from over 15 minutes. It has been hard, and progress slow, not helped by lack of easy access to a gym. I used to be doing somewhere between 12 and 16 hours of training a week. These days I’m lucky to get 6, and that’s including my cycle commute. But my time at Huntly was 14:34 (plus the run to the timing mat), which is better than it was at the start of the year, so not bad considering my eye fell out halfway through and I had to stop to put it back*. There was also a ridiculous amount of cheating going on in the swim. NO OVERTAKING IN THE LANES. It’s not hard to understand. The guy in my lane who overtook three people right down the middle (reported to me by Alibarbarella afterwards — no wonder I was getting hit in the face) should have been penalised.
The bike was a bit of a disaster. The course was beautiful, and I should have taken the Stealth, but I was on the Pinarello because I didn’t know the roads and was worried about surprise descents. I pushed too hard, knowing it was between me and another woman in my age group for the series. We’d competed in the same race in Turriff, in which she was about 3 minutes slower than me in the swim, 4 minutes faster in the run, and we were evenly matched on the bike. The conditions in Turriff were dreadful, and I was sure I could outpace her on the bike leg in Huntly.
But the Turriff conditions, perversely, suited me. I can cope with freezing temperatures and wet, agricultural roads (albeit not on my TT bike). Huntly was baking hot and there was an insane wind in the back leg of the bike course. I swear it blew my eyelids inside out at one point. Despite doing my best to keep my hydration up, I found myself wishing I’d fitted the XLab Torpedo rig to the bike. There was also a fair bit of drafting going on, which is a personal hate of mine in amateur races where there is a no-draft rule. NEED MOAR DRAFTBUSTERS THANKYOU PLEASE.
When I came out of T2, not too shabbily considering I’m running in VFFs these days, my legs were dead. I’d blown my pacing. I couldn’t pick my feet up, I felt numb from the waist down, my posture had collapsed and I was close to tears. One of the things you learn when taking part in endurance sport is that your mood is very closely related to the state of your body. Anyone who thinks they are a being of pure consciousness riding around in a meat vehicle needs to do an overnight century ride or something. When you hit the wall and force yourself to keep going, your body protests by releasing a flood of chemicals in the biochemical equivalent of a temper tantrum. It affects people in different ways, but I’ve learned that my body makes me cry and tries to make me stop by insisting it’s not going to be able to get to the end and I’m going to have to quit eventually, so best get it over with early.
I’ve also learned to ignore it.
Then came the 3D fail. Being in possession of only one eye, I don’t see in stereo like people with two functional ones. This is generally no biggie, but there are some things that are difficult for me, and one of those things is seeing small changes in topography in the immediate vicinity. There was a bus stop with a slightly raised piece of pavement about 1.5km into the run. I failed to see the rise and I had dead legs. My foot caught the pavement and I went down. Hard.
After what felt like an eternity rolling around on the ground, while my body said, “Told you so,” in a cutting-off-its-nose-to-spite-its-face smug kind of way, I got up. I was disorientated, I had major road rash on my knees and I thought I’d probably broken my wrist. I’d lost sight of the people ahead of me and was confused about which way to go. I went back to the last sign to check I was going the right way, then carried on. It was slow and painful, I was bleeding, I was crying; but I was also furious and determined.
By the time I crossed the line, in serious pain and with blood streaming down my shins, I’d lost about 10 minutes. And the series.
My thanks to the lady competitor who paused her bike to check if I was okay and needed any help, and also to the lady in the car who stopped and got out to see if I needed to go to hospital. Your concern, whoever you are, was very much appreciated, although I’m not sure I was appropriately effusive with my gratitude at the time.
Next year? Better training. I can shave oodles of time off both swim and bike. Maybe get me a sperm hat. Lose some weight. More consistent winter training. Get back to the strength work. HILLS. But you know what? I did a PB in the run in Turriff this year, and what I wanted to do more than anything was find out if the permanent damage to my foot spelled the end of my ability to race. I came second in the series overall and was either 1st or 2nd in category in every race this year, including the Inverurie Sprint that was so badly flooded they had to cancel the bike section.
I’d call that a success. In 2014, I think I’m going to go even faster.
My wrist isn’t broken, thankfully. There’s serious soft tissue damage, possibly a hairline fracture in the radius and a little lump that needs further medical attention to find out if it’s a displaced fragment of cartilage or something. It’s still pretty painful, though, and makes typing hard, which is why you’ve had to wait for the race report.
Could have been a lot worse. At least I didn’t fall off the bike.
* No, really. It can happen. It’s why I have a black one for swimming. I don’t understand why it happened for the first time during a race — I’m careful with my goggle choice for races — but I’m guessing it was a straightforward case of This Was Not Meant To Be.
Today it’s the Autumn Equinox, although autumn arrived here in the ‘shire a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been grateful for getting our first wood delivery in early; the fire has already been in use on the cold evenings as the nights draw in. It’s remarkable how quickly things change when they get going. It’s almost as if winter has attached a big bit of elastic to the sun, and while summer clings on as long as it can, eventually the strain gets too much and it snaps back. We’re in the penduluum stage right now, with cold nights and warm days, sudden showers and oddly hot, humid lunch breaks.
The weather isn’t the only thing that’s changing. In some vague effort to tidy things up and make this blog slightly less disjointed*, I have started a new blog over at ravenbait.com. I will use that to focus on my writing, leaving this blog — my home on the internet for 15 years now — for all the random stuff that fills in the gaps§. I’m not a big one for cross-posting, although I’m not saying I never do it. I doubt I’ll take all the writing away from this site as it’s such a big part of my life, but I won’t be cluttering up the writing blog with Playstation posts, recipes, triathlon, wittering about adverts, complaining about Doctor Who (unless it’s a comment on specifics of the writing), gear reviews or odes to bicycles. And Stitch. Mustn’t forget Stitch.
If you come here for the velocipedes and the wittering, carry on as you were. You won’t notice much. If you come here to read what I think about writing, specifically my writing, then take yourself over to ravenbait.com where I’m slowly building up steam.
* ‘Less disjointed’ is all relative, you understand. This is me we’re talking about.
§ And it’s a tight squeeze for a lot of it, I can assure you.
I am thrilled and delighted to announce that my science fiction story When Shepherds Dream of Electric Sheep will appear in the Looking Landwards anthology from Newcon Press. I am over the moon to share a table of contents with such well-known and exciting authors, and my thanks to Ian Whates for picking my story. The book launches in October at BristolCon, and is being produced in collaboration with the Institution of Agricultural Engineers to celebrate their 75th anniversary.
Thanks are also due to my British Science Fiction Association crit group, Orbiter 6, whose harsh on writing but supportive of writers attitude has helped me enormously in the time I’ve been with them.
On the 14th September, at the Douglas Hotel, Market Street, Aberdeen, we will launch the next Lemon Tree Writers chapbook, Point of Balance, containing 6 pieces of short and flash fiction from LTW members, including me. The cover is by Alibarbarella and we are looking into making it available for sale as a print (minus the text, obviously!) at the launch.
I can also report that my flash homage to Russell T Davies, Why Don’t You Switch Off Your Television Set And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead has been picked for performance as part of the Aberdeen Literary Festival, New Words. I will be reading this piece at the Lemon Zest event at the Peacock Visual Arts Centre on Castle Street in Aberdeen. The event starts at 19:30 on the 15th September, which is the day after our chapbook launch, so it’ll be a busy weekend. Luckily I’ve no races planned!
Speaking of races, I’m feeling particularly kick arse today as, on top of all of the above, I won my first ever race, even though the bike leg was cancelled due to flooding. I will post a full report when the final times have been released, but I can say in summary that today is made of AWESOME and WIN.
More days like today please!
Something has to be exceptional to end up reviewed on this blog. There are a number of ways to be exceptional, but most of the time I review something either because it’s very, very good or because it’s really, really bad.
Hannibal, the TV series currently showing on Sky Living in the UK, depicts Thomas Harris’s eponymous serial killer during the time prior to Red Dragon, when Jack Crawford was hunting the Chesapeake Ripper.
And it’s very, very good.
I’ve seen mixed reviews of the series, and I’d not expected to like it. Hannibal Lecter, for me, is one of the great character inventions of modern fiction. He’s a serial killer who isn’t the typical sociopath or psychopath. He’s a man of refined tastes. He eats the rude, and that, for me, is delicious. I disliked what was made of the character in Hannibal Rising — Harris took something monstrously pure and gave it a reason to be. He tried to make Lecter a sympathetic character, someone for whom we should feel pity and understanding.
I think Lecter would have despised him for that. Lecter needed no reason to be. He just was.
Bryan Fuller, who developed the series, has stated that he consciously tried to imagine what David Lynch would do with a Hannibal character. But that doesn’t mean this is Twin Peaks with a more expensive taste in wine and patisserie; this is dark, eerie, intelligent, moody and stylish.
Lecter is portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen (who narrowly pipped David Tennant for the role) with admirable restraint and good-natured, predatory grace. Although initially doubtful, having previously seen him as the unnamed warrior in Valhalla Rising, I was won over within a couple of episodes. His accent is going to make it difficult for him to speak perfect Tuscan when he finally gets his job in Florence, but it’s perfect for this series. He has a poise and presence that make him eminently believable as the psychiatrist whose solution to dodgy flute playing is fine dining.
Will Graham, the FBI profiler with the empathy disorder, is played with beautiful sensitivity by Hugh Dancy — who, it must be said, would make a fine Doctor on the back of this performance. His performance was one of the factors that hooked me in the first episode. Over the course of the series — we’re up to episode 11, with a further 2 to go in this season — his portrayal of deterioration has been believable and moving.
The other cast members also do a good job. Will’s doctor friend, Alan Bloom, for this series has become Alanna Bloom, played with forthright conviction by Caroline Dhavernas. Freddie Lounds, the Tattler reporter who loses his lips to the Tooth Fairy in Red Dragon, is also played by a woman in this version, which should make the reinvention of that scene, when it comes, very interesting indeed.
Best of all is the writing. There is a very strong team here, including (huzzah) a woman writer — Jennifer Shuur. (She might be the only one so far, but that’s one more than Doctor Who, at least.) There is nothing in the storytelling that is wasted. There are no plot elements there purely for the sake of being there. This isn’t one of those series where there’s a different story every week with some meta-arc crowbarred into the plot, punctuated with a Hulk smash double episode just to make sure. Every single element of every episode is related, in some way, to the overall arc. Everything — everything — is about Will and Hannibal, which makes it all the more remarkable that it’s not immediately obvious exactly how the relationship is playing out, and yet, once it’s clear, the clues have been there all along. In everything. This is what I call fractal storytelling, and it gives me goosebumps. Exposition, the technique of stating everything explicitly, just to make sure the audience understands, is a strange attractor. Everything weaves and twines around it without ever touching it. I’ve not seen a television series do this comprehensively in a very long time; nor one to place such trust in the intelligence of the audience.
It’s not perfect. I’d be worried if it were. In the last couple of episodes the depiction of real medical conditions has been slightly haphazard and the writers have cherry-picked symptoms to fit the story (a particular bugbear of mine). This is, however, my only complaint to date, and the number of people who will be familiar enough with obscure conditions like Cotard’s and Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis to pick up on where artistic licence has come into play is probably small.
Bryan Fuller has done a fantastic job and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do with the rest of the material.
I hadn’t heard about the Lynx Apollo mission. Now that I have, I can feel a full-on rage attack coming on.
Because of course, the tagline “LEAVE A MAN, COME BACK A HERO” isn’t sexist at all. Neither, clearly, is the poster.
So I’m now rooting for Kate Arkless Gray, @spacekate, who’s not only passionate about getting into space, but also about keeping sexism out of space. Thanks to her efforts, Unilever was obliged to revise competition rules in countries such as Russia, Mexico and the Ukraine, which previously had explicitly banned women from entering.
She’s competing against 249 people for one of 4 spots this weekend. Unfortunately, it looks like the competition is rigged to favour men after all. With the best will in the world, as a competing athlete myself, I know that in a strictly physical competition that isn’t ultra-endurance, the best men will always beat the best women.
There are ways around this, of course, the simplest of which is to take 2 men and 2 women and take the best 2 of each. But will they do that?
Take another look at the poster, at the ad campaign, at the fact they had to be shamed into not excluding women from the competition in some countries. What do you think?
I’m going to a wedding this weekend and I’m super-excited because the person getting married is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Who happens to live in Toulouse. It occurred to me, as things do on occasion, that if I can go to the effort of buying and wearing a dress for Her Majesty the Queen, I can definitely go to the effort of a dress for someone far more important to me.
Thing is, I’m not much of a dressy woman. I work in a job that is either office smart or manky grubby, and when I’m not at work I’m either in sports kit comprising varying degrees of lycra, or slobbing around the house in jeans. Add to this the fact I hate shopping with a passion, and it should be clear that shopping for a dress is something I would only do for a very special occasion. (Next time I might ask people to sponsor me on behalf of the RNLI).
My body, as far as I’m concerned, is primarily for making bikes go faster, getting me around, lifting things, moving through water with speed and efficiency, walking up mountains, taking me to places where I can spoffle sea creatures, and providing the conduit between the contents of my brain and the outside world. What it’s not is a clothes hanger, or an object that exists for other people to admire (or not, as the case may be). Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying I don’t care what I look like. I do, in as much as I don’t want to look awful. It’s more that I don’t think about it much. I don’t exactly have body confidence so much as when it’s doing what I expect it to do — ride bikes, run, swim, compete in triathlon, walk around, open jam jars, carry bags etc etc etc — then functionality outweighs any physical appearance. When I don my tri suit I may have a moment of relief that I still fit into it after 3 years of being injured out of training, but I don’t worry about what my arse looks like. Not at the time, anyway. I save that for the photos afterwards.
A number of years ago I was very ill, and for a while there was a strong chance I was going to end up in a wheelchair. That was something of a priority check. As long as my body is working, and not threatening to break down again, we’re on pretty good terms. I exercise it, feed it nice food, make sure it gets plenty of fresh air and generally take care of it as best I can.
It has never expressed an interest in fashion.
Shopping is hard. I don’t have a personal style. I don’t know what works for my body shape or type. It’s not on my agenda, most of the time. On the very rare occasion I buy clothes that are not for work or sport, I find something at a price that doesn’t make me faint, in a colour that doesn’t taste horrible, check that it fits and doesn’t look disastrous, and that’s about as much as I can bring myself to care.
Today I needed to buy a dress. I had an hour or so after work, which is my limit for time spent on shopping. I was distracted by the lady in the perfume shop (perfume being the one conventionally feminine thing about which I have strong opinions), where I had gone for a travel pump for my current favoured scent. We chatted. It was fun.
I went to a clothes shop. Everything was in triple figures. I went to another shop, which carried clothes for ladies with curves. Some nice things, but they were expensive and all the colours tasted horrid. I went to another and another, by which point my patience was thin. The fifth shop (fifth!) was quite large, open plan, and had no indication of what all the different sections were. I was a bit lost, and wandered around for a few minutes, hoping for that synaesthetic hit telling me there was at least something in the right colour.
This guy came up to me. He was a little taller than me, thin, and had horrible beard shaved within an inch of its life (I wondered what was the point in having it at all), a posture straight out of the Ministry for Silly Walks, and a staff badge.
“Were you looking for anything in particular?”
“No. I guess I’ll know when I see it.”
“What sort of thing do you want?”
“Long, light, preferably green.”
He looked me up and down as if I were a laboratory specimen, or one of those masochistic creatures who subject themselves to the horror of America’s Next Top Model, then gestured vaguely towards the other side of the shop.
“I suggest you try looking over there, dear,” he said, withering. “You’re a bit on the big side for this section.”
I was so shocked I just smiled vaguely and let my feet start meandering in the indicated direction.
I’m not a delicate flower by any stretch of the imagination. I have been described as ‘one solid piece of muscle’. I will never be petite, never be elegant, never be graceful and sinuous. But I can muscle my 70″ fixed up a 12% incline, swim 3km in an hour and open my own damn jam jars. I’m not huge, either. I’m somewhere between a UK size 8 and 12 (US 4-8), depending on brand.
I shouldn’t be bothered by this inconsiderate idiot’s comment. but I was shopping for a dress, to look nice for my friend’s big day, and I felt this man had just told me there was no point in looking at any of the things I liked because I was huge and horrible and far too ungainly to wear beautiful.
This particular shop will never have my custom. Ever. Maybe I was in the petite section. Maybe that was the section for teenagers. I don’t know. I don’t especially care. He could have directed me to a more appropriate part of the shop in a friendly, nice, helpful way. He said it in a way that implied I had no business being there.
And in doing so lost my business permanently.
I spent my money somewhere else, where the shop assistants were helpful, pleasant, and didn’t judge me as if I were a piece of meat and they were looking for something to feed to a fat-shy fashionista.
Big doesn’t mean unhealthy. Thin doesn’t mean fit. Size is so far down on the list of reasons to judge a person I can’t see it with a telescope. I’d rather be fit, healthy, strong and mobile than I would a fashionable size 6 any day.
This was my first ever experience of being judged too big for anything. Should it ever happen again…
Well. It had better not.
I love living in Scotland. I missed it terribly while I was down south and experienced a profound sense of relief when I came back. I spent the best part of twenty years in England, and the only way I can think to describe the difference is to imagine what it feels like to be on a crowded train, where you can’t move without bumping into someone. Then imagine what it’s like to be walking on a hillside with only a few other people around and none of them especially close. The difference is one of expansion, but then that might be the synaesthesia talking.
Then again, in Scotland we have places like this:
So it’s an odd thing for me to experience, as I do today, the sudden urge to pack up and go to another country. I have an itch to revisit Bavaria, or the Austrian Tyrol; to spend some time in Scandinavia or acquaint myself with the Basque country; to explore the hinterlands of Russia or hike the Caucasus. The other tell-tale and oh-so-familiar sign of restlessness is the ready distraction of my collection of recipe books, as RB2 declares dissatisfaction with everything on our current menu list and demands NEW FOOD.
I have no idea what has brought this on. It’s as sudden and unpredictable as a summer squall and, while familiar, not something that has happened in two or three years. In a couple of weeks, I’m visiting Toulouse for the wedding of a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in too long to mention, and perhaps that will satisfy the itchy feet.
Tomorrow there is Knockburn Loch sprint triathlon, and today I’m chained to my desk with deadlines glowering at me over the temporal near horizon. If that doesn’t serve to distract me, it may be time to start planning a roadtrip.
With Powers’s books I’m used to reading stories that make me feel the author knows his protagonists far better than anyone else who has ever written about them. They are mythic, mythical and full of iconography and symbolism. I read Declare and felt that the Cold War had been completely misinterpreted by historians the world over. I knew it hadn’t been, but that wasn’t the point. I felt that it had. I’m used to coming to the end of his books with a view of the world set slightly askew from the one I had when I started.
Sadly, Hide Me Among the Graves didn’t do that for me. Perhaps because there were both too many and not enough similarities to the London of The Anubis Gates, or perhaps because Christina Rosetti (familiar to more in these days of Doctor Who from the lines of “Goblin Fruit” quoted in the episode Midnight) as a character didn’t come through as the passionate, emotional, fey woman who wrote:
Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago!
There’s always a danger, when using historical figures, that their depiction the work of fiction is not quite true to the reader’s idea of that person. It’s possible to wave away any differences by pointing out that this is a fictional work, and the universe of the story is not our universe. However, for me Powers’s magic as a storyteller has always been to make me believe, for the period in which I am reading, that it is our universe; and for ever after wonder if there are elements of his universe in this one and I just haven’t noticed.
I didn’t come away from this one feeling our universe might be slightly more magical than for which I’d previously given it credit. There was something missing, some spark that should have melded everything into a cohesive whole. For me it was rather like one of those dishes on Masterchef in which each component is beautifully cooked but the dish doesn’t quite work.
This is an accomplished work, but I’m used to being astonished by Powers, my perspective forever slightly changed. This was a very good story, well-written and entertaining. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s simply testament to Powers’s skill as a writer that previous exposure to his work left me disappointed with this one.
May.18, 2013, filed under Writing
Hot on the heels of Fish coming out in print, this afternoon I will be the guest on the Literature Show on Schmu FM. I’ll be chatting about writing, synaesthesia, and music with Mark Pithie and Ian Anderson.
You can listen in on 99.8MHz if you’re in the Aberdeen area, or on the website from anywhere at all. The show starts at 18:00 BST (6pm, or 17:00 Zulu: here’s a handy converter). The facebook event page is here, and I think you can add any questions or comments there and they may end up in the show.
If you can’t make the live show, you can listen in later from the archive.
I’ve not been on radio before, so this is quite exciting. It should be fun!