Weeknotes 17 July

Forgot to write weeknotes last week! I'll have to come back to em. Anyway this was a busy week. Plenty to get around to.

Elvet Striders

One of the things I neglected to write about last week was that I joined Elvet Striders, a running club in Durham. I've never been part of a running club before, but I've gotten bored and frustrated running the same routes round Wingate on my own—so here I am. I attended my first training session with them (riding down on the YBR) on Monday—an interval session on the track at Maiden Castle. Track running is... different! It's a significantly more mental game; breaking your run down into segments (the curve, the straight, the finish line, individual laps) helps you get out of your head and right into the business of spinning your legs and breathing. Keen to take what I've learned back onto the railway paths around our house.

Middlesbrough FE

On Wednesday, I attended Middlesbrough Front End, a small web development conference held in (you guessed it) Middlesbrough. Locals will tell you that Middlesbrough is rubbish but I've never had a bad experience there.

This year's conference was held in the basement of the Town Hall, in a big old iron-girder-ed single room, with the speakers at the front and assorted catering at the back. A lot of conferences of this size and cost tend towards the homegrown: local speakers presenting some kind of web-dev-adjacent case study to plug their digital marketing agencies, one-man-bands logging into their clients' admin panels to update WordPress live.

Middlesbrough Front End was categorically not this kind of experience. The MCs were genial and enthusiastic, the speakers were high-profile and came with exciting talks that I (mostly) hadn't seen before, and the conference was well-paced, with plenty of opportunity to chat with the speakers and with other attendees. The only other conference of this sort that I'd been to was State of the Browser back in 2022, and while that was a lovely trip, this had such a better sense of community and togetherness. They made the decision to re-attend next year a no-brainer.

Stray observation: the post-conference social introduced me to another one of Boro's gems: Play Brew, a craft brewery-slash-taproom in an industrial estate by the A66. I thought you only got little homegrown spots like that in big cities. Up the Boro &c &c.

Bicycle tune-up

Late last week, I brought my bike (the pedal one, the Dawes Galaxy) over to a neighbour of ours who looks after bikes to investigate a clicky bottom bracket. It turns out that the bracket itself was shot, the bearings totally worn down and bound to seize one of these days. Over the weekend he swapped those bearings out & lo & behold: no clicking. Pleased, I returned the bike to him earlier in the week for a full go-over and tune-up.

When I retrieved it on Thursday, I found that he'd not only re-torqued all of the bolts, replaced the cables, un-bent the derailleur hanger, re-indexed the shifters, trued and dished the wheels, adjusted spoke tension, and replaced a seized front brake—but that he'd taken just about every unscrewable component off the bike and put it through his parts cleaner. The bike gleamed. The chrome shimmered in the sun. The derailleur clicked back and forth with verve and alacrity. The frame (scuffs and scratches aside) looked brand-spanking. In a high gear, the chain sang. The bike oozed strength and character. I was gobsmacked. But I was well pleased, since I had ample opportunity to open it up on the road as the weekend approached.

Castle Howard triathlon

Friday afternoon we packed the bike into the car with weekend supplies and raced down to Castle Howard for an open-water swimming orientation class at Castle Howard, south of the North York Moors. A long-awaited weekend had arrived: I was participating in a triathlon.

Orientation was straightforward but helpful: a quick introduction to getting into and out of a wetsuit, acclimatisation techniques for cold-water swimming, sighting, and a tour of the transition area. The instructor was helpful but dawdled a little bit, and I had to drop off early to check into the lovely Burythorpe House for dinner and a stay the night before the race itself. A wonderful steak dinner and a couple pints of dark, room-temperature beer would prove ample pre-tri nutrition.

I struggled to get more than a light doze the night before the race. Nerves kept me half-awake, half-hallucinating race scenarios as the summer sun rose at like 5 am. I woke and scarfed a light breakfast of porridge before checking out and hurrying down to Castle Howard for registration. A thin drizzle soaked slowly through our clothes as we waited for my wave to be called (Wave 4, the last (and slowest) wave of the sprint-distance triathloners).

When I was called, I stickered up my (gleaming) bike and made my way into transition. Changed out of jeans and hoodie and into my wetsuit and swimming cap, double-checking that my shoes and race belt (with bib attached) were easily accessible for when I made my way back up the hill after the swim, and did a couple laps of transition to try and warm up. Hands clammy and shivering faintly with nerves, I followed the rest of Wave 4 down the hill to the boathouse by the lake.

We were briefed and then it was into the lake with us, yellow swim caps bobbing in the muddy water. Afloat with 50 others, you don't see much on the water, eyes only a few centimetres above the surface. Underwater, I saw even less: a hundred bare feet had stirred up the slurry at the bottom of the lake and made even my hands ahead of me invisible through the murk.

Before I knew it they were calling fifteen seconds, and then five. Then the race was on. I swam a few strokes of head-up front crawl and tried to navigate around my competitors, but couldn't find a rhythm. Whenever I tried to get my head down I'd drift into someone or start wandering in the right direction; without a black line on the floor it's hard to swim in a straight line. I'd get my head up to sight and lose track of my breathing and start sputtering in the loose surf. I swam over a number of anonymous legs.

By the 100m buoy the pack started to thin out. Passing another swimmer, I found myself with a bit of a gap ahead, and got down to business. Before too long, I'd arrived at the turn-around point, and after a brief mixup with which buoys to swim between and which to swim around, I was on my way back to the shore. Near the shore I passed one more swimmer and caught a mouthful of dredged-up lake slurry, and then clambered through the muck onto the boardwalk and up the hill towards the transition area.

I peeled my wetsuit off as I hiked it up the hill to transition, passing a couple of competitors on the way. My kit was soaked in the strengthening drizzle, but I threw on my shoes sockless and starting running my bike towards the road. Into the saddle and legs pumping into the wind: I was off. I'd practiced the ride a few weeks earlier so knew what to expect, but my neighbour's handiwork made the bike a pleasure to ride through the windy, drizzly countryside. Shifting immaculately as the rolling hills came and went, I passed other riders on the climbs, and was re-passed on the descents. No doubt my big unaerodynamic trunk on my big upright frame was to blame.

Not much to report from the ride; it was soon over and I was out onto two laps of trails through Ray Wood. Running is probably my strongest discipline, but after 80 minutes of all-out pushing, I could barely manage a hobble for the first lap. When I came upon a bloke I'd met the night before at orientation, I couldn't help but give him a cheery "Well done!" and a bit of beta for the course ahead. Soon the two laps were over and I was trundling down the last drop towards the castle, making a right turn onto the last straight and over the line. I was garlanded with a heavy medal and directed to a tent with more gummies and bananas than I could possibly eat in a lifetime.

The event wasn't without its tragedy, however: somewhere along the course, my wedding ring came off my finger and was lost. I avail-lessly retraced my steps up the hill from the swim to transition, and scoured the transition zone. It wasn't a particularly fancy wedding ring, nor an expensive one, nor handed down through the family—it's not the physical ring I was attached to, but the fact of wearing it, that I'm proud of. Missing it from my finger makes me feel awful.

Meeting folks

I think I've met more new people in the past couple of weeks than I had in the three years leading up to COVID. I'm talking real-life people, as opposed to the faces in squares that show up on my computer screen to talk shop on a daily basis.

But I'm rediscovering the joy of chat with people about whatever's going on, or what they did on the weekend, or what they've got planned, or about common interests, like bicycles or running or web development or being nervous about doing a triathlon. This simple pleasure is probably very obvious to a lot of people, but I'd sort of lost track of it over COVID, when the only person I really had to talk to was Sam. Sam's a really wonderful person, and I'd still count myself lucky if she was the only person I could talk to for the rest of my life—but getting to know people, and just chatting, is returning to me a sort of excitement in people that I'd forgotten.

Running Conference Cycling Triathlon Middlesbrough


The Passenger