Love Steals Us From Loneliness

((Quick note: Yes, I changed the title, because I found out that I’d already used Happy Returns and it wasn’t even my birthday at the time but I still used it and that makes me sad. So I changed it.))

2016, I have no idea how to parse you.

The last time I posted on this blog, I was sat outside a service station somewhere in the vicinity of… Hamm? Dortmund? Münster? August seems so far away now, something I did, not have done. I’d spent hours of the preceding week in Stockholm sat in trendy coffee shops, on boats with tragically steep stairs and in swanky sky bars reflecting on 10 hours, 28 minutes and 44 seconds that defined my year. I had accomplished what I had set out to do: earned the right in sweat and toil to call myself an Ironman. Written a well-received, at times fulfilling, at times painful account of what the previous year had done and meant to me in the context of every one before that. Done something that felt like part payment on a debt I owe to a charity that probably can’t ever be repaired, though they’d argue the point. Much success. So proud.

It all went to shit after that.

Okay, of course I’m over-exaggerating slightly. It definitely did not go to shit – actually, a lot of exciting stuff has happened in the few months of my absence. Enough exciting stuff to prompt me to be sat in front of a laptop for a few hours again.

At the time, I thought things were going to shit. Maybe proper race training for those whom don’t live, breath and make a livelihood of it should include something about how the hell you go about returning to regular life in the weeks after the fact – tapering yourself back into a world that’s all of a sudden twenty hours a week longer than you’re used to. With the end of my Ironman training, and the end of this blog, I had a helluva lot of free time on my hands – something I struggle with. Chuck in a body clock that says 5am every day, all the time, and a mind that’s all too ready to cast guilt over the smallest of things and I ended up in a very strange purgatory for a couple of months. Anything I tried to fill the time just seemed a little bit grey in comparison to the life I’d forced myself into.

The plan was always to end the blog after the Ironman – you might have noticed this, not sure – it was all part of one unifed project. I put in some spells of writing through autumn, but very sporadically and never directly auto-biographically. I returned to a couple of old projects; most notably, a near-future sci-fi conspiracy thriller about the political perils of an over-populated planet, where, incredibly depressingly, I discovered that I’d, erm… I’d predicted Brexit. Shit.

“2016: EU begins to collapse after significant member state withdrawals due to economic/migration fears”

An excerpt from the calendar of the next 25 years or so, written in 2014. Sorry about that guys, dropped the ball on that one. Obviously I then had to go and see what else we’ve got in store, so here goes: move to far-east Asia, specifically the pacific countries. They’ve got it good. Don’t go to central America. That’s all I’m saying.

This used to be my thing; overly intricate bizarre political schemes; fantasy worlds with a growing lexicon of five different languages I’d made up, complete with own grammar which is really fucking hard; some kind of dark musing on suicide and how the hell you find an identity when you’ve tried to erase your own, not-quite me but close enough to draw parallels. That’s what I used to write. There’s a lot of hours in the day when you’re unemployed, and that’s how I managed to distract myself. It doesn’t work so much anymore.

So I turned my hand to more constructive matters: learning Swedish, properly, in a class. Allegedly I speak Swedish with a Stockholm accent, which I don’t think is bad going considering I was there for all of five days and spoke nearly no Swedish; sum total being trying to impress the barmaid in my hotel – she saw right through me – and one short conversation I managed to hold in a shop without having any clue what the other party was saying. Fascinating. Learning a second language is just one of those general life-goals that gets touted about, and while I picked up a lot of words from a year’s worth of Duolingo, grammar and structure were a bit harder to get to grips with. Also the bloody ‘sj’ pronunciation that sounds kinda like the noise you’d make if someone unexpectedly lamped you in the stomach and winded you. Yes, the possibility exists that I’m not doing it right.

It still wasn’t enough. Evening classes after work became a bit of a drag – not so much the class itself, but getting about London itself, the amount of time spend aimlessly on public transport (God forbid I’d turn up to Swedish in the customary sweaty Lycra, there were adults in attendance). Besides, I had it hanging over my head that it could only be a temporary thing, a one term job while I killed time. You can’t learn a language in a term. Sort of killed the enjoyment a bit.

And then, of course, there were the races. I couldn’t allow myself to train regularly for fear of burnout, which I’d already diagnosed the first signs of at about the same time as I did a victory dance in full view of my neighbours at the conclusion of my last solid training session in August. But I still had a few odd duties to fulfil as the Chaser’s London League captain, and I got back to doing the odd Parkrun, and this is where things take a bit of an upswing again.

I done won a thing!

My plan to win (I don’t care, it’s a race) a Parkrun hadn’t quite come through before Ironman training kicked off and I put a temporary halt to taking part in any, so being that I quite enjoy a good ol’ Parkrun I’d decided that one of the first things I’d do when back is go and zip around some park or the other at 9am on a Saturday. Waking up on the first weekend since I’d returned from Sweden, I couldn’t make my mind up whether to do Brockwell or Tooting. So I made the sensible snap decision to nip over to Peckham Rye; one of my favourite courses, site of my old Primary school sports day sometime towards the tail end of the previous millennium when I hadn’t yet moved to Cornwall, and the closest Parkrun to the house that I was born in. Clearly, it was fate.

I raced terribly: went out far too fast, got progressively slower throughout, had to stop and wait for second place to catch up so I could ask him for directions and then ran off again which is just the most dickish thing to do. I got that first finisher token and a 1 second PB, and managed to put one long-niggling voice to bed.

We're an attractive bunch.

The remaining three London League fixtures came and went, a couple of Aquathlons that were a good laugh, and then the Jekyll & Hyde Duathlon which is a bit of a staple fixture for the Chasers. I’ve got to say, that was the most fun I’ve had at a race this year. Chasers just do it in style. I think it was summed up best by Sean who turned up to race for the Chasers for the first time, and said at the social that evening that “other clubs looked like they turned up to race, but the Chasers looked like they turned up to have fun – and still beat them” (something along those lines, I was drunk and it was a month or two ago).

League superstar

When the dust had settled, I had managed to sneak into second in my age group for the league! Not within touching distance of the guy that won it – yet – but I am still pretty chuffed to bits; first time I’ve ever won a sporting award. Now I’ve just got to make that a habit. Not only did I do well on a personal level, but the Chasers were competitive in every one of the team competitions and won the Mob Match category by a ridiculous margin – not a clean sweep of the team trophies as I’d initially hoped for, but still, it speaks volumes about the club and the enthusiasm and calibre of the guys and gals I was lucky enough to be herding. It also makes my new trophy shelf look busier, which can only be a boost.

All of which is a fantastic setup for the next thing.

The glassware of champions.

Most Improved Male Triathlete? That in itself, for a club with hundreds of active triathletes, is fucking awesome. I worked damn hard, and so did so many others. Chaser of the Year, for a club with a membership hovering at around the four figure mark, is phenomenal. You could have shut your eyes and thrown a shoe into the crowd that night and hit several people at once who’d all deserve it. I can’t really find a way in words to properly express how much this recognition meant to me.

Don’t worry, it gets sillier! After Coach Dan has had to step away from coaching the Chaser’s brick sessions, something that I am very passionate about, I proposed that the Chasers send me on a British Triathlon coaching course and in turn I could take over these sessions once qualified. The only trouble was that to coach a session by myself I’d have to go straight in for the level 2 qualification, which meant negotiating an incredibly nerve-wracking 50-minute phone interview with someone from Brit Tri where I was quizzed on various coaching theories and triathlon-specific technical questions. It wasn’t just the £50 non-refundable direct entry fee that was at stake here, it was my pride, dammit. I can’t say I felt for sure that I had the necessary knowledge of qualifications to get it right, but somehow (through lots of visual prompts in my bedroom) I did enough to earn a reasonable pass. All things going well, I’ll be qualified as a triathlon coach by July, about two and a half years after taking up the sport. That’s bizarre.

Still not the strangest thing though, oh no! I did say above that a LOT of exciting stuff had happened, right? So, I had an inkling that it was on the cards from a few vague chats I’d had with people, but as it turns out the most recent development on this crazy train is that I have had to relinquish my post as London League captain… because I’ve now taken over the Chasers committee post for Head of Triathlon. An actual sporting entity is registered in my name. The power hasn’t quite gone to my head yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Look down on my works, ye Mighty.

I think that it was probably decided with the Chaser’s anniversary do, but enough happened and enough people asked the question that I have sat down on my birthday (no longer 26 and full of plans, now 27 and eligible to join the club) and finally gotten around to bringing back the blog that was finished, in the hope that it goes more along the lines of The Jesus and Mary Chain and less Guns’n’Roses. I’m sure everyone was just aching to hear about where I escaped to for the last few months, well, you’re welcome.

I can promise it won’t be quite as regular as it was last year, largely because I think I had a story to tell but that’s concluded. This will be a little less narrative. But also partly because last year, it could be a bit of a grind sometimes (think how many times it got posted about 24 hours late, for instance). After a heavy training week, having to sit down for the rest of the weekend to bash out a slightly ludicrous amount of words on a weekly basis can get wearing, and I’d rather not have that to distract me quite so often this week, because there are bigger things to muse on. Which will be addressed next time I sit down to write. Which will be at an indeterminate time but maybe next month. I dunno yet.

So going back to the opening line of this new drive: what the hell can I make of 2016?

The common consensus is that 2016, frankly, was a bit of a shitter. Everyone famous either died or is dying. Brexit happened, or is trying to happen, or might not be happening; it’s all very confusing and everyone is very angry about it. Trump happened. Less said on that the better, I don’t want to get in a feud with the majority of the USA. A number of worldwide atrocities, and a number of people I know on a personal level who have had a shit time of it for a variety of reasons that it’s not my place to discuss. A thoroughly miserable 365 days.

For me personally though, how can I be disappointed? 2016 was the best year of a previous unfulfilling life. It had its challenges, and by and large I met and conquered them. I’ve never accomplished shit like this before, or even tried. It’s not just a one-off, either; I’ve laid plans that extend well into 2017, maybe even further if I play my cards right. I’m still trying to reconcile this with everything that’s been going on in the world around me.

2016, sort your shit out.

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