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Swimmers on the beach waiting for their wave to start

We stood on the quay side in the pre-dawn gloom watching a procession of boats heading out to sea and hoping to find ours. We thought there was a boat down there but we weren’t sure that it was ours. “Andy?”, “Yes” came the answer. I wandered over, I’d not seen the boat before but it didn’t fit the description. “Andy?”, “Yes”. Andy looked up, he looked nothing like the Andy I’d met yesterday at the briefing. “I think you are the wrong Andy”, “Well you look nothing like Dave!”. It hadn’t occurred to me that there might be more than one skipper called Andy. The phone rang. “where are you?” asked Andy. “at the left-hand side of the Quay” we replied. “My left” said Andy. We went to the other end of the Quay and loaded the boat: Towels, warm clothes, food, cameras and a crate of beer that we had won at a pub quiz a few days ago.

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Scotty contemplating the swim to come

We joined the procession of boats and headed to the start. Mary had done this before and knew what to expect. Andy had skippered many times and knew what he was doing. Scotty, one half of a duo had had a shark aborted attempt last year and had some unfinished business. Somewhere on a beach Julianne was preparing herself to get into the water, she had done this swim a few times and added many classic swims to her palmares since then. I was completely clueless and here for the experience. I covered up my inexperience by hiding behind cameras.

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Julianne and the blue arm

The waiting started. We could see the shore but had no idea what was going on over there. Every now and again the radio would announce which wave was starting and a few of the boats would move forward hoping to meet their swimmer and paddler. This was a stressful time. We had to find Julianne before she got to the sailing ship anchored out to sea. If she got there without us, she would have to wait. None of us wanted that. We stood on the edge of the boat scanning the writhing swimmers to see if we could see them. We were looking for a paddler in orange accompanying a swimmer with a blue sock on her arm. We were hoping that no one else would have this combination. After what seemed like an age Mary spotted them a little way out to our left. The tension left the air in a moment. Andy sprang into action and carefully navigated all the other boats and swimmers to pull up alongside. We were on our way.

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Our ever patient paddler

Mary was the time keeper, we’d decided beforehand that the swimmers would do forty minutes shifts. It was long enough to have a decent go at it but not so long that exhaustion would creep in. Mary gave the five minutes to go signal. It was nearly time for the first change over. Scotty was eager to get in the water. He’d had a rough lead up to the event. His training had been curtailed by a minor operation and some other personal circumstances. Originally, this was going to be a tandem solo attempt but the pair had decided that a duo relay would be better. He leapt into the water, high fived Julianne and started on his first leg of the swim.

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Julianne looking cool

Scotty veers to the right. We found this out quite quickly. We had put him on the left-hand side of the boat and that was a problem. He would slowly veer into the boat until her got far too close. At that point we all shouted at him until he got the message and corrected his course. Putting him on the other side of the boat was problematic as he would slowly get further and further away. Our paddler did her best to heard him back towards the boat with various degrees of success. We found that shouting at him worked the best.

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Scotty ploughing through the water

Passing the ten-kilometre buoy was a major lift. We had made it half way. By this time, we had settled into a well-honed routine: Get the swimmer in the boat, feed them, make sure the other swimmer was OK, check the watch every minute or two, give them the five-minute signal get the swimmer back into the water. If it was Scotty, we would give him a target of overtaking someone. That seemed to motivate him more than anything else. Out on the water our paddler was doing a wonderful job of threading our swimmers though the mass of kayaks, swimmers and boat.

Andy started looking a little concerned at the sixteen-kilometre mark. He’d been at the wheel for a long time by then and nature was shouting at him. He needed to “get in the water”. At the same time our paddler asked for some help. She’d been out there for a long time and needed a little bladder relief. The next changeover was in interesting set of logistics with three people having to get in the water within a short period of each other. The skipper of another boat watched all the shenanigans with amusement whilst standing proud and urinating over the edge of his boat.

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Julianne doing her swimming thing

A little while later we saw the Irish flag on the back of a boat and the familiar style of Dr. James in the water. He was another one of our group of swimmers but he was attempting a solo. We waved and yelled and gave him the sort of encouragement that he would expect from us.

It was obvious that Scotty was getting tired. He was getting slower; his stroke rate was declining. We were near to the finish. We had a little conference; they wanted to swim the finish together so Scotty would have to get back in the water later. Julianne was happy with doing a slightly longer last session. We gave Scotty the five minutes to go sign. I doubt he realised that we had pulled him out ten minutes earlier than planned. The exhaustion showed on his face as he climbed the ladder into the boat, we had made the right decision. The usually vocal Scotty sat in the chair and silently filled himself with sugary food. We hoped that the prospect of crossing the line would revive him in time. He was returned to his normal self when we pointed out that one of the women in a team that was passing us was swimming naked.

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Julianne and Scotty together for the final part

Rottnest was now looming large on the horizon. We had done it. The boat wasn’t allowed too much further. Scotty was prepared, he leapt into the water and headed for the finish with Julianne. Our boat took us to the jetty where hopefully we would have time to unload and see our pair come across the line.

We stood on the Jetty and waited for the two to cross the line together. Scotty’s unfinished business had been completed and Julianne was happy to complete another crossing. Now was the time to celebrate.

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Finishing together

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A colourful collection of budgie smugglers waiting for the start

This was the largest open water swim in the area and walking up to the registration it was easy to believe. There were people everywhere and a significant number of them were dressed like Marylin Munro. I’d been told about this beforehand, it was something to do with raising money for charity but it was still quite strange to stumble across a very tall bearded man wearing an ill-fitting white dress and a blond wig.

There was a lot of talk amongst the swimmers that the start had been changed from last year. As I’d not been here last year it really didn’t affect me. I couldn’t see what the problem was. The start was clearly marked, as was the course. I didn’t understand why changing the start from one side of the jetty to the other caused so much consternation.

It was a hot day and everyone was trying to hide in the little shade that was available. This was accomplished by nearly everyone being under the jetty. The idea was that each group would move to the marshalling area and then to the start at their allotted times. This was made a bit more complicated by there not being a visible clock or indication of which group they had got to on the beach. There also seemed to be only four colours of hats. At one point I thought my wave was about to start only to be told that it was a different age group.

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Budgie smugglers heading to the start line

Eventually and after a lot of waiting around I got into the water and made my way to the start. It was obvious that there would be a bottleneck at the first turn buoy. It wasn’t far enough away for the field to start spreading out. I chose a place about half way along the start rope mainly because it didn’t seem to be too crowded. The man by the side of me was determined to get every advantage that he could. He stretched as far forward as he could whilst touching the rope with his foot. I felt the best thing would be to leave him to it and follow him to the first buoy, that way he could clear the way.

The dash to the first buoy was as chaotic as I had expected. There were bodies everywhere. I managed to round it unscathed and then headed down the beach, into the chop and the current. I felt that a lot of people had just raced for the first buoy and once there had slowed down as I passed a lot of people in the next few hundred meters.

Working against the chop and the current was hard. I seemed to be putting a lot of effort in and not getting anywhere. The buoys slowly creeped into view and then it took an age to get past them. Every now and then I would look up and see nothing. That worried me as the course was clearly marked so it should have been had to get lost. In reality I’d veered off course and was heading out to the ocean. Other times I would look up and there would be far too many buoys. Again, I’d veered off course and was looking across at the buoys for the return section.

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The spectators and officials sat in the shade

The turning point couldn’t have come quickly enough. It had been a struggle up to that point and I was hoping that once I was heading the other way everything would become easier. I wasn’t disappointed. The return leg seemed so much easier, the beach raced by all the way to the final buoy.

The finish was on the beach, the more competitive would run out of the water but that wasn’t for me. Once the water was shallow enough, I got up and strolled to the beach. One person ran past. I looked over my shoulder to see who else was behind me. There was no one. I managed a gentle jog to the finish. I don’t do running any more.

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A fat bloke at the finish, happy with his swim

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From this Jetty…

There is something reassuring about doing an event in familiar waters. Today was one of those events. I regularly swim between the two jetties and I knew all of the landmarks. This would mean that in theory I would be able to pace myself correctly. Of course, this is only in theory, in practice I would probably end up either following someone closely and using their pacing or I would be on my own in the middle of the sea because I’d somehow got lost.

There were yellow buoys marking the course but I didn’t really need them. All I had to do was head straight to the other jetty. Straight though is relative as I am not overly good at going in an arrow straight line whilst swimming. My course usually looks like I’ve been swimming along the edge of a saw.

There was quite a current flowing, this was evident at the start line as we drifted towards the finish. It took a lot of effort just to remain stationary. The starter waited for the start wave in front of us to get far enough away before going through the usual procedures. As usual the start was a bit of a mess. It took a while for the mess to sort its self out. I’d found my clear bit of water by then and was happily in my own little world. The current was giving me no end of assistance. This was going to be a fast one.

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Did I mention that it was Australia Day?

I looked to the shore and saw the sculpture of the pelican. That was a quarter of the course done. A quick look ahead and I could see the red house that marked half way. It felt quick, it probably was quick. Sometimes I thought that I was stationary and the coast was just flying past. It was around about here that I started passing the slower swimmers in the previous start wave. I like this point as it confirms that I won’t be last. Not last is my favourite finishing position. It wasn’t long before I passed the house with the extravagant stairways. I was now three quarters of the way through. In my mind I felt that now was the time to up the pace and strike for the line. In reality this resulted in a couple of fast strokes before returning to the usual pace. I’m not one for sprinting

The jetty loomed larger and larger as I got closer. The finish mat was strapped to the side and everybody around me was aiming for the same point. I thought I saw my Loved One off to one side but then I was distracted by a super-fast swimmer on the other side who seemed intent on swimming over everyone in front of him. When I looked back there was no sign of my Loved One.

I found my Loved One on the other side of the finish line. She had just pipped me to the line. She told me that she had seem me catching up with her and that had given her the determination to dash for the line. I would have probably done the same thing. We laughed it off over chips and beer at a local pub.

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…to this Jetty

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A lovely place to have a swim

It had been a week since my first swim for a number of months and that is not enough time to get back to fitness. I doubted that the two sessions I’d done in the pool had really contributed much. Today’s race was a handicap, with slower swimmers being set off before faster swimmers. In theory, everyone should arrive at the finish at once. In practice it depends a lot on how honest people are with their times.

My partner and I arrived at the registration tent and found that I’d been given a much bigger handicap than her. She felt that this wasn’t right as I’d not been swimming for a long while. An appeal to the officials resulted in my handicap being changed to something more sensible. In reality as long as I didn’t win the accuracy of the handicap was neither here or there.

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Swimming from this Pub, or at least level with it

We lined up in little groups on the beach. The slower swimmers to the fore and the pool swimmers at the back. Every thirty seconds we stepped forward one line until our little group was standing at the waters edge. It was almost time. We were told there was ten seconds to go. Then a count down from five. The others ran to the waters edge and dived in. I took a much more leisurely approach to the water and waded in slowly before finally diving into the water and starting to swim.

The first part of the course took us out into the sea to the first buoy. I didn’t want to rush, I just wanted to get there with as little drama as possible. I was still paranoid about someone kicking me after recovering from broken ribs. I rounded the buoy and could then see all the way down the course. It looked a very long way. More disturbing was that there were a lot of yellow blobs in the distance and I couldn’t work out which one I should be aiming for. I aimed for the end of the jetty instead and hoped the blobs would become clearer as I got closer

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Turning just before this Jetty

I tend to veer to the left when I’m swimming. Even though I know this I have never worked out how to compensate for this. For this particular swim veering to the left took me out to sea. The only thing that would stop me straying into the open ocean was a line of surf life savers in boats and on paddle boards. I was quite glad that they were there.

After a while I realised that I couldn’t see anyone around. I could think of a few explanations for this. It was possible that I was in the lead, I hoped that that wasn’t the case. It was possible that I was completely off course, I stopped and had a good look round it seemed roughly right. It could be that the entire race had passed me as I was swimming so slowly, I didn’t think that I’d lost that much fitness. I was very relieved when I saw another swimmer far over to the right.

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To finish at this pub

As I slowly worked my way down the course the taste of the water subtly changed. At the start it had seemed think and very salty but as I got closer to the jetty it started to taste a little fresher. Whist I was wondering why this was a small rubber safety boat chugged by and changed the taste to diesel. That was unpleasant.

After what seemed like and age of pulling myself through crystal clear water, I reached the final buoy and turned toward the finish. I was happy that there were people ahead of me but not that many. I reached the waters edge, stood up and felt the pain in my arms. Despite thinking I’d taken it easy my arms testified that I hadn’t. The chaffing under my arms was another clue. Despite that I’d enjoyed the swim and felt that some semblance of shape was returning to my swimming

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Some quality hydration and nutrition

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Got the T-Shirt and the swim hat

I felt slightly uneasy walking to the start. I was surrounded by people clad in wetsuits and I was taking part in this huge event without one. I’d had a swim the day before and the water wasn’t cold so I didn’t think I would need one. I do have a wetsuit but I have a feeling that it may have shrunk since the last time I wore it so I left it at home.

This was a massive event, there were wave starts over about two hours or so. I stood in the marshalling area surrounded by human seals all in the same colour swim hat as me. The usual nerves were doing their most to make me doubt that I should be here, this wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d not swam in earnest for a good two months owing to an accident that broke ribs and deflated a lung.

I swam slowly to the start line. I’d be advised that the fast people favoured the outside as it was a straighter line to the finish and that the slower people favour the inside as it’s the shortest to the finish. In a fog of indecision and as I felt that I didn’t fit into either group I went for the middle of the line. I picked a place where there were only a few people. I was worried that a stray foot might make contact with my recently mended rids and put me back on the recovery trail. I bobbed in the water wondering how this would go.

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Normal Rules apply: wear your oldest event t-shirt

There was no missing the start gun. It was loud, it made me jump. I watched a few of the more competitive people around me power off. They looked like the types of people who would swim over you without batting an eyelid. Once I was sure I was safe I set off. As there was no way that I would ever trouble the podium my race plan was to follow people who were hopefully going in the same direction. Doing this reduced the amount of sighting I needed to do but risked that the people in front could be swimming more erratically than I do.

After the initial chaos of the start everything settled down as everyone found their place and pace. That’s when I started to notice that there appeared to be a swimmer attached to my side. I increased the pace slightly, so did he. I slowed down a little, so did he. He was definitely drafting me and this started to get annoying. I tried swimming very close to another swimmer to use them as a knife to cleave off the parasite. For a few moments I though it had worked but within a minute he was back and glued to my side. I just had to resign myself to the fact that he’d be there to the finish.

At about the three-quarter mark I started seeing different colour caps, I’d caught up with the previous wave of swimmers, this always gives me an intense feeling of satisfaction as it means I won’t be last. Not being last is my favourite position in any race. A little further on I was passed by a different colour hat. Someone in the next wave had just passed me. It told me, as if there was any doubt, that there was no chance of me being first. All was right with the world.

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The beach approached slowly. I’d noticed from the first few waves that there was a sand bar. This gave the impression that the beach was closer than it was. The effect of the sand bar was that a few swimmers had got up and found that they still had a long way to go. I’d made a mental note to swim as far into the beach as possible. I kept swimming whilst everyone around me go up, everyone except the drafter. I was beginning to really hate him.

I don’t like running up the beach after a swim as it causes me pain. I’d hoped that I could have just strolled up the beach at a fast walk. Drafting man put pay to that plan. After following me all the way from the start he was determined that he was going to sprint past me on the beach. I wasn’t about to let that happen. I was going to win that sprint finish no matter how much it hurt. It hurt a lot.

I hobbled back to our basecamp high on the grass bank. My arms felt that they had been wrenched out of their sockets and I was sore where my arms had rubbed against my side. I’d tried too hard and now I was paying. Slowly, our little group returned to the base camp and it started to dawn on me that I’d finished fastest. I sat on the grass and got sunburnt in a quiet air of satisfaction

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Not bad for a fat bloke with no swimming in the last few months

The Yellow Bike

Posted: December 15, 2018 in Cycling
Tags: ,

A long time ago I visited a workshop in the depths of London to spend two days playing with bamboo and sharp tools to produce a bike frame. At the end of the weekend I had something that looked like a bike frame, it just needed a little bit of finishing. I took it home, put in in the shed with the intention of doing that finishing and promptly couldn’t find the time to do the finishing as life got in the way.

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Many months and a relocation to another country later the unfinished frame emerged from a packing crate and got put into a corner for a little while. Once the dust had settled, I found that I had the time to actually get the thing finished.

The first problem was working out what finishing needed to be done. It had been a long time since I’d been told and I’d forgotten what to do. I little search on the internet and a few e-mails I had the answer: Apply car body filler over the glue-soaked hessian and them sand it down to smooth off the ragged edges. Once that was done the joints needed to be pained in a suitable colour and then finally the whole lot should be covered in a couple of coats of varnish. Once that was done the frame could be equipped. It would then be ready for the road. It all seemed very straight forward.

Back in my youth I had attempted to smooth out the bumps and dents that I had put into a very old car whilst learning to drive. I hadn’t really done a very good job as the car had gone for scrap soon after. The only knowledge I’d gained from this exercise was not to put the filler on too thickly. I completely ignored this vital piece of experience and put the filler on far too thickly. This was mainly because the filled hardened far quicker that I had expected. This left a very unsatisfactory finish that I thought would be easy to sand down.

I’d borrowed an electric sander as I felt sanding the filler by hand would take more time than I had patience for. I seemed to spend weeks and week going through a sanding followed by filling cycle. Each time I sanded the filler it would result a mainly smooth but with odd ridges finish. I’d then attempt to fill the ridges on and end up putting too much filler on. I started to get the feeling that it was an almost an impossible task to get the finish that I wanted. After several weeks of sanding, chocking on the dust, applying filler, covering myself in filler and cleaning up the mess that I’d made. I got to the point where the result was “good enough”. In reality I lacked the skill to make it any better.

Next was the painting and this presented a whole set of new problems. The first was which paint to use. I had no desire to use car spray paints, which would have been the obvious choice, as I had no desire to fill my lungs with paint after already filling them with filler dust. Then there was the colour. There are so many colours to choose from. I solved the which paint problem by chatting to a man in the paint store. He recommended using paint for rusty metal work as it didn’t require a primer. The colour took a lot longer to settle on.

I put the paint on with a brush and applied as many coats as I could. I wanted the paint work to last and I had no desire to paint the frame again. It was starting to look reasonable. Finally, I covered the entire frame in a couple of coats of varnish. I now had a finished frame. All that I needed to do now was put the components on.

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I spent a long time going through catalogues and websites to try and understand what I needed to buy to complete the bike and came to two conclusions. The first was that it seemed to be extraordinarily expensive to buy each individual component and secondly that I didn’t really have a clue about what I was doing. I needed help.

I visited a few bike shops to ask for advice. The conversation usually started with them sucking air through their teeth before launching into the compilation of some of the most expensive components around. Eventually, I found a shop where the man behind the counter seemed genuinely interested. Instead of going into the list compilation stage his first question was: can I see it. I felt that this was progress.

A few days later I brought my pride and joy into the shop for his appraisal. The news wasn’t good. The distance between the dropouts at the back was “non-standard”. This may have been caused by the back of the frame being slightly twisted. In his opinion, in its current state, it would wear tyres excessively and even worse, potentially break axles as the back axle would not be parallel with the road. He felt that the metal dropouts could be modified to fix the situation but there were no guarantees. He suggested that I leave it with him so that he could see if he could make some adjustments. I left the shop feeling a little down.

I went back a few weeks later to get the verdict. It wasn’t good. In his words “You might as well chop it up for firewood”.

And so ended my bamboo bike dream.

Game Over (Again)

Posted: November 24, 2018 in Cycling, Running, Swimming
Tags: , ,

It had taken me a long time to recover from the broken hand. One week in a plaster cast and another seven in a splint took their toll. There was no way that I could swim, I just went for long walks along the beach whilst the others in the group enjoyed the cool sea water. Cycling was a slightly different matter. Twice a week I got onto the bike trainer and worked up a sweat in the hope that my legs would not wither away to nothing. I’d stopped running for a while before the accident due to tendon issues but that didn’t stop me missing it.

I had plenty of time during my enforced retirement to think about what I wanted to do once I was recovered and in my usual way, I made many completely impossible plans. I whittled the plans down to a handful of possible and then picked a couple that seemed almost possible.

The splint couldn’t come off soon enough but the injury still lingered. It would ache after a decent length swim and after a cycle ride. It reminded me not to push on too quickly and break things. I slowly worked my way back to fitness. The cycling didn’t take two long thanks to the two days on the trainer but the swimming took longer.

I’d whittled down my massive list of things to two: a long swim and a long ride. The long ride was the one I really wanted to concentrate on as it was a qualifier for an even longer ride, one that I’d read about and fantasised about taking part in for a very long time. The swim was one of the classics and involved organising some logistics beforehand. I failed to get all that sorted so that objective dropped by the wayside and got replaced by swimming a few ten-kilometre swims.

After a month or so I felt that I was finally back in to the swing of things. I’d managed to get into a swimming and cycling routine that fitted in with the rest of my life and would take me to the level of fitness I needed, all was right with the world.

I was cycling back from the swimming pool after doing a very pleasing long slow swim. I had my “pool bag” over my shoulder. My pool bag is a large bag that I’d found in the back of the cupboard and filled with all the necessities for a pool swim, I had another bag for sea swimming. I’d used my fixed wheel bike to get to the pool today as I’d not ridden it for a long time. I came home the back way so I didn’t have to cross the main road twice and because it was just a much more pleasant ride.

I’d left the bike path by the river and climbed the small steep slope, I was now on the road no more that a few hundred meters from home. The sky was blue and I was thinking happy thoughts. Then it all went wrong. I don’t know exactly what happened but I lost control of the bike. A fixie is unforgiving when that happens. It threw me over the handlebars.

I felt my helmet hit the ground, quickly followed by my left shoulder, back and leg. I lay on the road and did a mental inventory. Breathing was tricky. I was sort of winded. I was making a strange sound when I breathed out. I assumed I was winded. I didn’t feel like getting off the road, lying there was just fine.

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Sore and battered legs

I heard voices behind me. A woman said that the cyclist on the ground needed help, then I heard a car speed off. A tradesman came over with a first aid kit and helped me off the road. Someone came out from their house and offered me a glass of water. Once patched up I pushed my bike home before sitting on the sofa and feeling ill.

I tried to sleep that night, I tried to convince myself that I was just winded. It was obvious the next day that I wasn’t. A trip to the hospital confirmed it. I had broken ribs and a deflated lung. They filled me full of painkillers and sent me home. I sat on the sofa feeling sore and lightheaded and realised that all my plans for the next season had just been dashed

Game over, again