Tuesday, May 15, 2007

France Vs. Owen The Modern Pentathlete

...Aaaaaaaggggghhhh! An entire swimming pool worth of bureaucracy!

I'm just back from a swim at the local pool. Despite the cool waters, I feel my blood boil as I reel from yet another attack of a petty French jobsworth.

Determined to get my reduced pass for the pool this time (see my last Pentathlon post) I brought my drivers licence for my age (you have to be less than 26), my Parisian rent allowance card and a bank statement with my address (you have to live in Paris). On this, my third attempt, they finally conceded and gave me the 10 entries pass for €12.50, compared to the normal price of €21.50, so I was in reasonable form as I made my way downstairs to the changing rooms.

Despite my good intentions I hadn't made it to the morning session (7.00 - 8.30 - bizarre timetable here) and I landed smack in the middle of the busy lunch session. Nonetheless I readied myself quickly for the pool, threw my stuff in a locker and got ready to do what I could in the limited space available.

As I was moving down the pool in my resplendant new Jammers (long swimming shorts - here's a shot of me in them to the right) the two life-guards on watch stopped me and started babbling at me in French.

"You can't wear those in here, they're banned."
I looked at them utterly confused, I knew you had to wear tight swimming trunks but I had no idea why these would be a problem.
"You'll have to wear shorter ones. It's alright this but next time you'll have to have proper tiny little man-thong speedos (I may be paraphrasing there). You can't wear cycling shorts in here."
"But these are Speedos and don't use them for cycling because they are swimming trunks. That and I never cycle!"
"Well guys were coming in straight from the gym in there cycling shorts into the pool and we can't be checking the label on everyones shorts."
"So you mean I have to buy new shorts?" What I wanted to say I didn't know all the profanities for and I never could have repeated here.
"Well you can use them for cycling", chimed in David Hasselhoff's assistant.

So that put me in great form for my swim. On a positive note I already felt a massive improvement from last week. Unfortunately 50m at a time was about all I could manage not because I was too tired but because the pool was so ridiculously crowded. Rather than have the pool organised into lanes according to speed, the pool has one third left as a sort of paddling pool for grown-ups then rest divided into three lanes according to stroke. The central and one would presume slow lane for Front-crawl and back-crawl, a lane for breast-stroke and an outside "fast" lane for crawl and back-crawl. This system doesn't work at all.

I stayed for the most part in the outside fast lane which had about 10 swimmers of completely different speeds on a small 25m pool. It was an absolute disaster. The main cause of the problems was this fricking whale who was swimming at a rate of less than a length to every two of mine and somehow managed to sprawl herself across the entire fricking lane with the most hideous stroke I've ever seen. Then there was other old dears swimming slow breast stroke in the lane and yet others doing hideous back-crawl. Then the was one muppet doing only his arms on front-crawl - in the bloody fast lane!

It's so irritating but I think I need to find a new pool or a new time. I have no intention of buying new trunks because of those dickheads and I have no intention of having to go that slowly again. The problem is this pool is just so convienient for me and all the others would involve a metro journey.

I'm going to try and get to the pool for the early session once this week and see how that goes...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Owen the Modern Pentathlete - Week 1

And so I set out on my first dithering steps towards competing in a Modern Pentathlon. I decided to hit the swimming pool hard and took to the challenge like a Salmon to the 3000m... this pentathlon business was confusing.

Thursday afternoon, once some initial research had been performed and the idea had crystalised in the part of my brain reserved for ludacris ideas I made my way to the local swimming pool to see what my level was like.

As I've previously stated, I've never swam competitively and the last time I've swam on any regular basis would have been 6th class of primary school. I wasn't going to let that beat me though and I set off like a man fighting a battle against a reasonably large body of water. Two lengths (i.e. 50 metres) later, I stopped in the shallow end once again thoroughly exhausted. Crap - I'd need to slow down... significantly.

So my first hour in the pool carried on like this swimming for as long as I could and working on different variables of my front crawl - breathing, arms, pace of my legs. I found myself barely able to do 50 metres and struggling to do 75. I spent some time practicing my turns as well and was quite pleased that I could at least do them at all.

Friday I returned to the pool and to change things tried some breast stroke to warm-up. Breast Stroke had always been my preferred stroke and I found myself quite able to do 200m. Pacing myself in Front-Crawl was still causing me problems however and while I would start with a decent stroke and at a reasonable pace as I began to tire I found myself floundering and losing all semblance of a decent stroke.


A Brief Aside - Bureaucracy on the Water, Fire in the Skies...

The pool has very irregular opening hours and only two days in the week share the same opening hours, Thursday and Friday. The pool doesn't open Monday and then opens for a morning session, a lunch session and maybe a afternoon session on the other days but at slightly different times. While checking these opening times I read the tariffs for entry and noticed there was a reduction for under 26s. So I made up my mind to ask for this reduction.

When I asked at the desk before entering the pool the woman rattled something to me in French about certain piece of identity needed. Not recognising what she was talking about I payed the full fare and decided to bring a few different IDs the next day. On Friday I rechecked the website which had the conditions of entry on it and brought my drivers licence to show I was under 26.

This time when I asked for the reduced ticket she said "<I don't speak English>" even though I was speaking French so I repeated myself and showed her the licence. She wouldn't accept it - apparently you also have to have an ID which shows you are a resident of Paris. Hopefully it will be third time lucky when I try next week.


Modern Pentathlon?

The most beautiful athletes of them all are the pentathletes - Aristotle

From a brief survey of Mordern Pentathlon websites this is the most commonly used quote to advertise their sport. That Aristotle was talking about an entirely different type of pentathlon (which no doubt involved naked Greek men rubbing oil in each other before running after 5 young boys) seems of no consequence to them. This quote then is the equivalent of fencing's "physical chess" analogy which does nothing for the sport only conjuring images of uncoordinated nerds jabbing at each other on a black and white checkered floor (It may be true but it's not the image we want to portray).

The true origins of the sport lie with Napoleon and his imagining of the perfect modern soldier who could shoot, fence, swim, ride, and run. Origins, which I would focus on ahead of the being called beautiful by some fruity greek philosopher if I was in charge of their marketing but that is a rant for another post.

All this aside, it's been on my mind for some time, since I heard about the Irish Modern Pentathlon Championships last October to be precise, to enter a Modern Pentathlon. For those who don't know what I'm talking about here's the Olympic Committee's quick overview of the sport:

"Shooting comes first. The pentathletes have 40 seconds to fire 20 shots from an air pistol at a 17cm-square target from 10 metres. Fencing follows, with a round-robin competition between each participant. Swimming is third, a freestyle race over 200 metres, with athletes seeded in heats according to their personal best times. Once they have dried off, the pentathletes head to the show jumping ring, where they have 20 minutes to get to know the horse before riding. The final event is the 3000m run, with the pentathletes set off at intervals corresponding to their points so the first person across the line wins the gold medal."

Shooting - 20 bullets, 40 seconds, 10 metre
Fencing - Epee, One-hit matches against everyone
Swimming - 200m freestyle
Show-Jumping - 350m course with 12 obstacles.
Running - 3000m, released at intervals according to performance in other events, first across the line wins.

This isn't some stark revelation that I've realised that Men's Sabre isn't for me. What this is really is a solid target which I hope will help me a achieve a higher level of fitness. Between now and October I'd hope to bring my fitness up to a level where I could be very competive in the Irish Modern Pentathlon Championships.

I've been trying to figure out the level required to win the event (what's the point in aiming for anything less?)

Shooting - 180+ points would gain first place at the highest level international Pentathlon. I've never done any pistol shooting but how hard can it be? Shooting between heart beats my arse! Standing in flat-shoes, with one hand in your pocket and your arm out straight, it doesn't sound that taxing.

Fencing - An elementary knowledge of Epee should give me an edge over most Irish Pentathletes. That being said epee is not my weapon and a one hit match is basically a lottery. Might train a bit of epee the week before in that case.

Swimming - 1:46 is the Irish record for 200m freestyle. I've never swam competitively, unless you count primary school galas (I sure my Granny still has those medals around somewhere). Breast-stroke was always my favoured stroke then and in the swimming I've done since for leisure would have remained so. I probably have never swam 200m consecutively in my life.

Show-Jumping - Absolutely no idea what is required but who has any respect for Irish show-jumping these days anyway. I'm sure the horse will know what to do anyway and just in case I'll stuff the poor thing full of anti-depressants.

3000m - The Irish record set by a dedicated athlete over that distance is 7:30. At our best when myself and Julian were running that just over that distance around the fields of UCD we were managing 11:30 and that was killing us. I've never been a runner, never seen the need to run and have never one a foot race in my life. I'm about a stone lighter than last summer at this stage but I still don't really have the build of a middle distance runner. Getting down past the 10 minute mark will be a big challenge.

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