Monday, 26 October 2009

Peak oil and limestone wetsuits

A few people have been asking me what the scoop is on limestone wetsuits - understandably, as it's a slight difficult concept to get your head around.

Essentially, the deal is this. Most wetsuits are made of neoprene, a petroleum-based substance. So like a lot of stuff, it's made of oil.

Neoprene brings several problems with disposal, as it's a pretty hazardous substance, and very difficult to recycle. But the most significant environmental issue is the sourcing of the oil. Dwindling supplies mean we're getting close to (and many commentators say we've gone past) the point where new production of oil is outweighed by growth in demand. This is the point we call peak oil (thanks Wikipedia).

As this happens, we start to seek new oil with greater and greater desperation - a notable example being the efforts to exploit the Alberta tar sands in Canada. All oil is bad. But this stuff is mad. Because of emissions incurred in production, tar sands oil is responsible for 3 times as many emissions as normal oil. Not only that, but the tar sands are often in areas of ancient boreal forest. This sort of thing is just BAD news - on all counts. Greenpeace haven't even had to use their usual tactics; they've published the report above on the financial risks BP and Shell are putting their shareholders through instead!

What all that means is that anything we can do to move away from petroleum-based products is seriously good news. So ask for geoprene when you buy your wetsuit!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Making (small!) waves in triathlon world...

Feeling quite pleased with myself today, as it seems the concept of eco triathlon is starting to make a bit more of an impact where it can really make a difference - among triathletes.

An article is running on, and I'm talking to tzero-tri about the possibility of writing a 'how to' guide to eco triathlon for them. I'm really hoping this can be the beginning of something - I'd love to think that triathlon could be the next surfing, the next sport to really understand the relevance of the environment to the sport we love. It feels like it makes sense...

That said, I'm almost as excited about another little development. My deskmate at work has just entered her first 10k run, having never really been interested before. She started jogging in the park near her house after feeling 'shamed' by me!

From small acorns?

Friday, 16 October 2009

The next project?

Thinking about taking this on... three marathons in three days along the Dorset coast path. Might be a good way to begin the barefoot running career...!

Monday, 12 October 2009

The numbers are in...

So we've run the numbers - as best we can - on the impact of the Ironman. It's proven difficult to look in too much detail at the products themselves, as none have undertaken full carbon footprinting as yet, which should be another call to action to the industry.
But what we can look at is the impact of travel and diet, and the numbers from these are even bigger than I was expecting. Based on these two variables alone, my footprint for a 6 month training plan of 5000 calories a day, and travel to training camp and the race by train, comes to 0.56 tonnes. To put that in context, the carbon footprint per person per year in Malawi is 0.7 tonnes according to a Norwegian study reported here. So even doing an Eco Ironman, only counting food and transport, I'm creating almost as many emissions in 6 months as the average Malawian in a year.
But that's nothing compared to the average Ironman, which is almost SEVEN times higher at 3.48 tonnes!
To me, this proves the point that we as athletes really need to think about what we're doing. All humans depend on the natural environment to thrive - but we should have good reason to be more conscious of that fact. And to do something about it.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

So... was it worth it?

Ironically, this pic will probably be the most enduring of my memories of Challenge Barcelona. Jane took it in our hotel room, an hour or so after I finished - it was pretty much the moment when I started to be able to see the funny side of how I was feeling. My body temperature was rocketing all over the shop, and after a couple of random hot sweats I'd suddenly started feeling utterly freezing. So instead of going down to the course to pick up my kit, I wrapped myself in both the blankets from our bed and waited to feel normal again. This picture was taken when that beautiful moment finally came about.

Funny in retrospect, but presumably there was some fairly fundamental anger on the part of my body at what I'd put it through. So was it worth it? Was it worth not just this physical condition, but also all the time in training, the weekends sacrificed, and so on?

The answer has to be yes.

I can't pretend that I've made a massive difference to the psychology of all sportsmen, and in one hit lit the fire of a new generation of eco-athletes... but I have found better ways to align my values with my sport for myself; I have had conversations that I wouldn't have had otherwise, and found companies and individuals that are doing amazing things in pursuit of a similar goal; and I have developed ideas for what comes next that could continue this work. So something has been started.

I also can't claim to have inspired whole cohorts of city dwellers to find more space for nature in their day-to-day lives. But again, perhaps you don't always see the impact of what you're doing immediately. And what I have definitely done is raised almost a third of what the Wilderness Foundation need to formalise the TurnAround Project in 2010.

And of course I've done something I'll always be proud of. So that can't be bad.

Finally, we've still got the carbon footprint calculations to finalise, so hopefully one or two last interesting titbits to come from there before this blog signs off for good!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Mostly ow

So I´m alive, just about. Time of 11h32, which I have to say I´m pretty chuffed with. Swim was a total dream, did it in 1.06 which is way quicker than anticipated, and really enjoyed it - particularly the tunes on the music system just before the start, ´Let´s Get It Started´ and ´Crazy´, fairly appropriate! Bike was pretty good too, though the heat really started to tell towards the end, and I was beginning to be a bit scared before the run even began... and I was right to. Absolutely screwed by about 5km in, but managed to run between aid stations (every 2.5km), and was pretty chuffed to keep the marathon time respectable at 4.14. I genuinely can´t imagine having been in much more pain than I was by the end though - knees went numb at about 20km, and I´m really not sure how I did it from there. You meet a fairly unpleasant version of yourself when you get in that kind of condition!
Think the most lasting memory will be of sitting in the finish area with my head between my knees, concentrating extremely hard on not vomiting, and trying to look grateful to the German woman beside me who kept offering me peanuts and beer (admittedly alcohol free, but still not exactly what I was wanting to put into my system at the time). I was, if you´ll forgive my Catalan, properly bu88ered.
Hopefully my brain will kick in sufficiently to reflect slightly more intelligently over the next day or so, but in the meantime, thanks to everyone who´s sponsored me so far, and I´ll write more soon!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Bring it on...

Jesus. I´m about to do a 140 mile race in a day. That´s a stupidly long way.

It´s funny how these things only occur to you when it´s a little bit too late!

Calella is an odd sort of place, bit of a dive of the Costa Brava really, but out of season not bad at all, and the beach is beautiful. The clientele around the pool at our hotel are an amusing mix of fat Brits and Germans, draping their copious guts across their flag towels in the sun, and hardcore athletes of all nationalities, talking nervously in clusters of 2 and 3 in the shade. It´s a slightly uncomfortable mix, but quite entertaining to look down on from a balcony. Humans are an odd species, in many ways!

Biggest prospective concern is the heat. It´s looking like being about 25-27 degrees tomorrow, which is about 10 degrees hotter than my ginger complexion is particularly keen on. But I suppose an unseasonably cold day would have been mildly inappropriate given I´m doing this partly to raise awareness of climate change among athletes...

Well, I suppose this is it pre-race! I´ll update as soon as I physically can - I start at 8.40am local time, so with a following wind will aim to be done by 9pm (arrghh - 12 hours!!!!). Thanks to everyone who´s texted, emailed etc to wish me luck, and thanks hugely to everyone who´s sponsored me so far. Given I´m now as machine-like in physical fitness as I´ll ever be, I´ll leave the final words to the mighty Arnie.

Hasta la vista... baby.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Train travel - one last pleasure before the pain!

Looking forward to this afternoon - Eurostar have very kindly upgraded me and my girlfriend for the trip to Paris, which means she at least can sip champagne as we speed under the sea...
Have to say, though, I find train travel a real pleasure regardless of class of travel. It's been one of the easiest changes to make in lifestyle as I've tried to go greener; only when you stop flying do you realise quite how miserable it was in the first place, and how much it detracts from your authentic experience of a place to arrive in the cultural sterility of an airport! So much more real to travel through a landscape, seeing it change around you, than to parachute into greyness.

I also have a bit of a beef both with those who say it's expensive and those who say it takes too long, which are the most obvious arguments against train travel.

Money-wise there are a couple of factors. First up, if you book in advance, train travel is dead reasonable. Eurostar from £59 return all in (so no credit card or carry on bag fees, or transfers to and from city centres - no bl**dy Stansted 'Express'!), and the overnight from Barcelona cost 50-odd euros first class!Then there's the fact that we are simply not paying the true cost of flying at the moment - in many countries, airline fuel is subsidised while train is not. What you have to remember is that flying is both fundamentally unnecessary (particularly domestic and short-haul European) AND carbon intensive. Not exactly a winning combination in the present day. Can't believe they are trying to get away with a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050. Ridiculous.

Especially when you consider the time thing properly. Now, I'm leaving work at 2pm to go to Barcelona. I'll go to St Pancras, do a bit more work on the way to Paris, have dinner, get on the train and wake up in Barca at 7am after a lovely long sleep. Nice.

Or I could travel an hour out of town to get to an airport, check in by 4pm, get on a flight for 5pm, arrive at Barca airport by 9pm (with time difference), and get into actual real-life Barcelona after getting bags and so on for about 10.30pm if I'm really lucky, absolutely knackered and having been unable to do anything useful since 2pm. I generally don't sleep well after flying, so I'll still feel shoddy the next day, and I'll have generated 10 times more carbon emissions.

But yes, green living is all about sacrifices...