Saturday, 3 December 2016

Scilly Exercise

I do love the Scilly Isles. And it's not just the birding. It's the scenery, the atmosphere, everything; it's just a beautifully tranquil place to be. But of course our visits are always bird-oriented, and timed to coincide with a decent chance of a vagrant or two, in other words spring or autumn. Never summer. Until this year, that is...

Our younger son got married in July, an event which saw the Haig clan descend from far and wide. My sister Karen and her husband Mark flew in from Sydney, and as we hadn't seen them for years we arranged to go away for a few days together after the wedding. They both enjoy walking but had never been to Scilly, so choosing the destination was easy.

Scilly in late July is a very different place. There are no birds at all. None. So you have to find other amusements. Walking is clearly an option. You know, the same as what you would do if there were birds, but without the lengthy pauses by this hedge or that gateway. But there are other, perhaps less obvious pleasure possibilities. For example, you could rent a bike...

Rental beast-bike at Porthloo. See? No birds.

The same spot at Porthloo, looking towards the harbour at Hugh Town. And again, complete lack of birds.

Some 20-odd years ago I remember hiring bikes for myself and the boys one day during a family holiday, a fuzzy memory that holds images only of carefree delight. Well, my motive this time was different. I was not intent upon some joyous, two-wheeled frolic around St Mary's. No, I wanted the bike more as a means of exercise than sightseeing. So, early one morning I headed out into the familiar lanes...

I admit I have been spoiled these recent years. My bikes are relatively lightweight machines, their componentry slick and efficient. In other words, a pleasure to suffer on. Well, this beast was hideous in the extreme. Its monstrous weight was not the problem - that's called 'resistance training' - no, it was the little orchestra of squeaks, clicks and clunks! And the horribly untrustworthy gear-changing! And that saddle! My backside has never endured a more uncomfortable saddle. Yes, I know, it looks all big and soft and squashy, but that's exactly why it's so painful. It is perhaps paradoxical that the most comfy bike saddles are almost bereft of padding, but it's true. Anyway, I was quite relieved to get my wincing posterior off the thing for a quick photo-shoot at Porthloo.

Lesson learned. Next time I'll take my own bike over.

My brother-in-law Mark is a good runner. In fact in his youth he was a completely mad runner. He completed the South Downs 80 (yes, eighty) for example. Twice. Twenty five years ago he and my sister lived on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and several times we ran together up into the Pentland Hills from their home. Well, the last time I went for an actual proper run was in 1993, so I'm not quite sure what I was doing asking Mark if he fancied going out for a little jog round St Mary's...

We followed the road to Old Town - quite slowly - and then headed out to Peninnis on the footpath. I was doing okay, even looking forward to the climb up to the lighthouse, when suddenly Mark pulled up, limping; he'd twisted an ankle on the gnarly path. So that was that. We jogged/limped/walked back to our digs by the shortest route possible. We'd been out maybe 20 minutes, and I was thinking to myself, "Hmmm, not too bad. I'd quite like to do that again..."

What a fool.

Strolling along Porthloo Lane one day we spotted this...

Mark and Karen would be gone by the Sunday, but Mrs NQS and I had a few more days. Worthy cause, I thought. Five kilometres isn't too far, I thought. Why not? I thought.

Sunday July 24th dawned wet and dull. Perfect conditions, said the veteran runner within, as he peered out the window and nodded knowingly. I lined up, paid my fiver and received a number and some pins. Wow. I hadn't pinned a number on since...ooh...must have been that fateful Harrow Marathon when I knackered my knee. Anyway, at 11.00 we were off...

Alway, always, always, at the start of a race there's someone on the front who really shouldn't be there! There I am, sensibly (and conspicuously!) towards the back of the field. I was fiercely determined to hold on to this position.
Yes, lots of fun to watch before going for a coffee and huge cake. You can just make me out, level with the back of the bus. Notice how lots of very young girls are well ahead of me? That's how it remained.

By about 4k I was struggling. Bike-fit is not running-fit, and my poor old legs were looking for muscle groups they didn't have. A little twinge in my left calf got me worried for a moment, but that quickly eased, so as we climbed the slope past the school I was looking forward to going for it a bit on the descent past the dairy and along the Strand towards the Finish. However, topping the rise I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my right calf which almost stopped me dead...but I kept going, limping pathetically to the line. In the next five minutes my calf seized up completely. Mrs NQS was very quiet, but there are a million ways to say "I told you" that don't involve words. I heard all of them.

I was limping badly for a couple more days, and the muscle didn't heal completely for at least a fortnight. Another lesson learned.

Still, I got a nice medal...

It's the one on the left, obviously. The one on the right is another story...


  1. That bike looks horrendous Gav. Only thing it lacked was a wicker basket on the front.
    You did well to take on the race. At least the knees held up.
    Some have taken on marathons off less training.

    1. Thanks Ric, that poor old bike had certainly been used and abused. It was a rental bike after all, so I'm probably being a bit hard on it there! The 5K reminded me that running is definitely one of those sports where 'too much, too soon' usually results in injury. My own stupid fault really...

  2. Good one Gavin. Since moving away from birding into entomology, I have often thought of returning to the Scillies "off season". The same reason, I just feel content being there.

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment. Many years ago we toyed with the idea of moving to Scilly. I am so glad we didn't. We love it for reasons that would not survive the harsh environment of real life. Instead it has become the ideal holiday destination, at once novel and familiar. Perfect.