It was an early start. I was out of bed for 2am and feeling surprisingly focused, despite only having been able to sleep for less than three hours. After a swift double espresso and breakfast, I slipped into my gorgeous pink tri-suit and rolled into the London night with the goal of getting to the Solent for 9am.
Dad trailed me in his car, lighting the road ahead with his headlights and imprinting my silhouette against the darkness. Mum had the just-as-important job of handing me drinks and nutrition. With their support was able to maintain a steady 28km/h and felt strong. Once into the Surrey the temperature dropped and my toes grew numb. As we approached Winchester however the sun began to rise along with my spirit. It was expected to be a warm day.
After six hours of cycling I cruised into Milford on Sea towards the end of bike leg at Keyhaven Yacht Club, who had kindly arranged a safety crew and RIB for the next phase. I fell to the ground and lay there, enjoying the stillness.
The reason for such an early start was the need to be in the Solent for slack-tide, which on that particular day was 10:30am – 11:30am. Fortunately the ride was trouble-free, so after a briefing with the support crew and a cup of tea, I put my trainers on and jogged to the start of the swim at Hurst Castle, positioned at the end of a 1.5 miles long shingle spit.
I was met at Hurst Castle by my family and safety support crew. As I squeezed my sweaty body into my wetsuit a man approached me. “We’re here to support you” he said, pointing to a group of eight. I couldn’t believe it. People had actually heard about the challenge. I stepped into the water with even more determination.
Reduced to arm propulsion
As soon as I dived in all of the anxious thoughts that had built up over the last months practically disappeared. I had been blessed with crystal clear water that was pristinely flat as a mirror, no wind and a blue sky. Cramp did take the use of my legs away though, so I was reduced to arm propulsion.
The tide pushing out of Colwell Bay was struggle as I approached land. When I could finally stand I must have looked like I’d won gold in the pool at the Olympics. I was ecstatic and another crowd of supporters welcomed me onto the island. The most complicated part of the challenge was over.
Next came the run. I attached my Elton John sunglasses and began the 23 km of undulating, windy country roads. The temperature was up to 27°C and I was growing fatigued. It was a hard slog. My second support car which included my sister and her husband did a fantastic job of defending me against the passing traffic and encouraging me along.
Outside Newport we somehow took a wrong turn that diverted me along the high street. The odd looks were constant. “You dressed like that for a dare” one man said jovially. “No, Make a Wish Foundation”.
Out of Newport there’s a near-continuous climb to the festival site, that seemed to go on forever. It was my 6th time in attendance, but I’d never been this excited for my arrival. I turned into the carpark, passed the main entrance, ran down the pathway and found myself faced with a view over the whole site. It was over. My sister handed me the personalised medal she had made. I felt happier at that point than any race I’d completed.
Throughout the weekend I enjoyed the praise of having been the first person to get there by my unique method. The tri-suit went down well and I hopefully encouraged a few to try the attempt themselves next year.
One week on I’ve suddenly found myself with a massive void that was filled the constant planning and training, but also a pleasing sense of achievement at completing it and raising a load of cash that’ll go towards granting magical wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.
What’s next? If anyone’s got ideas, let me know. Or of anyone want to do something similar, get in touch.
I’m finally beginning to relax now after months of planning, preparation and training. Come Wednesday afternoon I’ll have little more to think about than which acts I’ve got to see and whether to go for the pear or apple cider. Before that though I’ve got my triathlon to Bestival to get through. A total distance of 235km across land and sea.
I’ll be awake for 2am on Wednesday to slip into my beautifully pink tri-suit (manufactured by the generous people at Carvalho Custom) and on my bike by 2:30am for a 7.5hr ride to Milford on Sea, escorted for the duration by my unbelievably devoted parents. Dad will be in the driving seat, while mum will be handing me the necessary carbohydrates and liquid.
The reason for setting off at such an ungodly hour is because high-tide in the solent on the day is at 11:37am, meaning that the preceding hour is slack tide and of lesser current strength. A strength that I’ll at least be able to tolerate in my sleep deprived state. I’ve been trying to get used to the early start with moderate success.
Keyhaven Yacht Club very has very kindly stepped in to escort me between Hurst Castle and Colwell Bay on the Isle of Wight. For safety they have provided two RIBS, piloted by locally sourced experienced sailors. The local coastguards are also aware in case of an emergency. Hopefully my serpentine swim training will pay off.
Once on Colwell Bay I’ll don my trainers and begin the steady uphill climb to the centre of the island, in the company of my sister and her husband. They’ll be attending the festival too, so no doubt the car will be blaring out the beats. It’s a half-marathon of a run, so factoring in the ascent and my fatigued state, I reckon that I’ll take up to 2 hours to get to the finish line at the festival site.
Until I get out of the water I’ll be racing against the clock. If I miss the slack tide window it’ll be game over. If all goes to plan however and I don’t use up the allocated trouble time, I’ll complete the 235 km’s in under 12 hours. Make a Wish Foundation will then have a big wad of cash to spend on children who need a bit of happiness.
Along the way to this point the generosity of some people has been overwhelming and I’m steadily getting closer to my target of £2,500. My next post will hopefully be written in the recovery of a successful journey and the likely result of a weekend of partying. In the meantime please take the step to donate.
In my training calendar I’ve labeled it as the A race and worked backwards through the year, positioning two other middle distance events Swashbuckler (June 2nd) and Cowman (July 14th). With both of those completed, I can now allow myself to gradually peak in time for the actual event in September.
I’m a member of Tri London and generally aim to swim in the pool with them at least twice per week. On Wednesdays we do tough bike intervals around Regents Park and at lunchtimes I run around it a couple of times. Occasionally I’ll throw in a brick session to imitate races.
With the basics in training covered, the interesting part comes in getting used to the differences that the challenge involves. I’ve had to schedule specific weekend sessions adapted to deal to them.
This isn’t quite a normal triathlon
To build up the confidence to face the concerns mentioned in myprevious post, I’ve been spending a lot more time in the sea. Like most city slickers; I’m not very accustomed to waves, currents and the taste of salt water. My first experience down in Brighton was met with the reality of how slowly 1.5km of swimming can pass.
To make things worse; my sea swim in the challenge comes after a 120 mile bike ride from London, so one of my scheduled rides to Brighton is followed by a sixty minute swim in the sea.
Additionally, running after a swim in a triathlon is usually limited to a short distance into T1. My run after emerging onto the shores of the Isle of Wight however will be a half marathon – largely uphill. Swims in Hampstead Heath ponds followed by runs up the hills are what’s needed to train for that.
The final big push in the training will come in the form on what Joe Friel calls a “Big Day”. I’ll bike for three hours, swim for 1 hour and then run for 1 hour, each leg separated by a 1.5 hour rest. If that doesn’t prep me for the challenge, nothing will.
Of course there’s never enough training in the diary for a triathlete. The truth is, however, I’ve got to leave time aside to actually continue organising the logistics of the day.
Published on 220 Triathlon, 7th July 2013
The fancy dress theme for this years Bestival is ‘nautical’, so it’s fitting that I’m having to learn a lot about sea navigation. As I mentioned in myprevious post, the biggest obstacle in the completion of Tri for Bestivalis the successful crossing of one of Europe’s busiest shipping lanes – the Solent – which separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland. It’s also the aspect that people always question – usually with the words “are you crazy?”
I plan to launch from Hurst Castle which sits at the end of a spit sticking into the strait. A few weeks ago I visited the site and discovered that it’s a stoney 30 minute walk to the end of the spit, so I’ll have to arrange for a pair of running shoes or a mountain bike to await me when I complete the bike leg.
When I reached the proposed launching point I was taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the current sweeping west out into the channel. If I could walk on water it would be like standing on a conveyer belt.
A local chap fishing for sea bass explained that we were witnessing what was close to low-tide, when it’s at it’s fastest. He went on to explain that at high-tide the water is practically motionless and will be like that for approximately two hours. By googling “solent tides” I later discovered that on Tuesday 2nd September 2013, the day that I plan to do Tri for Bestival; high-tide will be at 11:04. Essentially then; I’ll have a two hour window to complete the swim leg and clamber out of the water near Yarmouth.
Interestingly there’s no official procedure or permit for crossing the Solent. As a safety precaution and out of courtesy, I’ve been advised to notify the four local coastguards. Hopefully I won’t be calling on their services. Two kayaks will be with me guiding my crossing and I hope to have a speedboat with me for visibility to large vessels.
Taking all of this into account; the crossing is completely achievable and relatively safe. If I fail for whatever reason to get across, I’ll attempt the whole journey again the following day with the high tide at 11:37.
The only question that remains is what “nautical” fancy dress costume I’ll be wearing.
I came up with the idea back in 2009 as I was crossing the Solent from Lymington to Yarmouth for a weekend of partying at my favoured Bestival. At the time I’d recently gotten into triathlon and found myself planning how I was going to progress through the distances until I would eventually be capable of completing an Ironman.
Standing at the bow of the ferry I thought to myself; why don’t I swim this crossing next year for fun? Actually; why not take it even further and turn the whole journey to the festival into a triathlon? I could cycle from London to south coast, swim across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and then run to Bestival. What a great way to combine two of my biggest passions – sport and music. I laughed it off and put it down the beer.
As the next couple of years passed and I grew more confident in my endurance abilities the idea began to resurface. Still, come 2012, as I was training for my first Ironman I couldn’t imagine putting myself through the challenge. Not only because of the distance, but more because of the fact that to do it I’d be responsible for the organising of it. To name a few of the daunting undertakings; I’d have to work out the route, organise a support crew and work with the coastguards to ensure a safe crossing of the Solent (a major shipping route for passengers, freight and military vessels). Above all else I’d have to deal with the fact that the whole enterprise could fail.
With the Ironman done I didn’t know what to do next. Of course I could work to improve my time, but I felt like I needed to do something different. Something that would be my own and give me an opportunity to put myself to real use. A triathlon to Bestival was what I needed and I had to prove to myself that it could work.
So in May I launched Tri for Bestival to raise money for Make a Wish Foundation UK, who grant wishes to children and young people suffering from life-threatening illnesses. It’s a great charity and it felt apt for me to associate it with a festival.
One month in and the plans are gradually coming together. Donations aren’t streaming in as well as I hoped, but I expect it to pick-up closer to the date with the support of some decent PR.
Throughout the remaining months I’ll be charting my training, the planning progress and my general learnings from the experience.
To donate please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/triforbestival
To get in contact, email me with email@example.com
Trip through history and explore the people and technology that contributed to the iPhone becoming what it is today.
The Future of Web Apps conference rolled into London this week promising to explore what the title suggests. Held at the Brewery, it hosted a range of speakers from developers to entrepreneurs and the combination of the two specialities was too exciting to miss.
The proceedings were kicked off by Christian Heilmann of Mozilla, who led a passionate rallying cry to developers to “get excited and build things” for the Web. With the flexibility of HTML5 and the power of the devices on which it can run, now is the time for web apps to take an advantage over native apps. The fact that the the Financial Times web app now has more users that it’s native equivalent is a promising start.
Eric Wahlforss, one of the guys who founded SoundCloud explained the principles behind their extensive API (Appliction Programming Interface). At the very centre is a clear desire to empower people to expand their platform in whichever way they want, resulting in such great apps as ThinkLink and OneSheet.
The highlight of the day for me was a presentation by ‘serial entrepreneur’ Dan Martel, a leading advocate for the Lean Start-up movement. He emphasised the importance of listening to your audience in the development of applications and allowing them to dictate what goes in. If 25% of your users would be disappointed if the app disappeared, you’ve got a product.
Dave McClure founder of angel investors 500 Startups very kindly revealed his 10 tips on how to pitch to an investor. In summary “keep it simple stupid” and hope to the heavens that you’re interrupted during the pitch. Being interrupted means you’re being listened to.
Quite worryingly however was that when he asked the audience of around 2000 people how many people currently owned or ran a functioning business website no more than eight people raised their hands. British entrepreneurialism certainly didn’t feel palpable. The fact that none of the speakers that I observed were from Britain didn’t bode well either.
We all looked forward to the panel session comprising of representatives of the leading browsers from Microsoft, Opera, Google and Mozilla who took the stage to answer Tweet questions from the audience. There was noticeable frustration towards Giorgio Sardo of Microsoft, who under pressure even went so far – in good humour – to say that all IE6 users should leave the room. I doubt that this request would be welcomed by our clients though.
It’s an interesting time in application development. After three years of Apple’s control over what appears on the iPhone coming to an end – thanks to stronger competition from Andriod and the introduction of HTML5 – the future of web apps is looking bright. We should just hope that the entrepreneurialism of taking them to market picks up drive in the UK.
My mindmap notes from the conference are available here.
As a brand it’s relatively easy to acquire a Facebook fanbase. Submit a few details into the Facebook form, add a profile picture, put a link on a bit of business stationary, link to it from the company website or if you’ve got a media budget buy some Facebook ads. Soon enough you’ll start picking up the fans.
There are little tricks to maximise the conversion rate from visitor to fan. The main one is by adding a welcome page that non-fans see when they visit the page. Explain a bit about the brand and what they can get out of them by being a fan and you’re twice as likely to convert them into fans.
Building the fan base is all great for maintaining corporate pride, but statistically 50% of fans never return to the Facebook page again and 28% of them will eventually just hide wall posts after a couple of months. To these users, although they are signed up, the brand has absolutely no connection with them.
What this means is that it’s not about quality of fanbase (as it was in the days of direct marketing), but about the quality of fans. Having 200,000 fans is great, but if the majority are not engaged with the brand, they’re worthless. What’s more important is to engage with a selection of core brand ambassadors, who are listening to the brand and then sharing the content with their Facebook friends.
The best way to connect to these ambassadors is by giving them the opportunity to interact with the brand. When they ask questions or comment on wall posts, responses should be provided shortly with as much brand personality as possible. In turn, friends of the ambassadors will notice the their relationship with the brand and potentially get involved themselves.
To take things further; fans should be invited to feel part of the brand, as if they have influence over their products and services. Skittles is the best example of this with they’re weird questions and competitions to make adverts for them (wall posts from them often generate tens of thousands of Likes). Also name a ‘Rainbro’ of the week whose user picture they use in their brand profile image.
I talked about this approach in a presentation that I did in April. In writing the deck with a colleague I was looking for an analogy to the level of engagement that Skittles are renowned for when I remembered an amazing show that I saw last year at Bestival.
The Flaming Lips are an American psychedelic rock band who have been going since the early eighties, releasing hit albums over the decades. What separates them from other bands however, is their live shows. Random members of the audience are often invited onto the stage to join the band and dressed in animal costumes. The animal-dressed fans are free to dance around on stage for the rest of the show.
Even more brilliant is singer Wayne Coyne‘s signature man-sized plastic bubble, in which he traverses the audience, letting the fans pass him around. Suddenly the audience is in control of the show with the band, not just the band commanding the show.
The band could just go on stage like every other band on tour and play their songs in a 5 to many relationship, but what they’ve realised is that they and the audience can get so much more out of blurring the conventional boundaries. In 2002, Q magazine named The Flaming Lips one of the “50 Bands to See Before You Die”.
There’s a lot for brands to learn from bands like the Flaming Lips. This kind of interaction is just what brands need to be using social media for in order to achieve a meaningful experience with their fanbase.
Get amongst the fans. Let the fans be part of the show. Let them throw your brand around.