James Henderson is on Holiday

James Henderson is on Holiday

Weight - 90kg *Alcohol units – 6 (and that’s just last night), probably 20 for the week – well, I am on holiday. Near-death incidents while cycling – 0, but obviously I haven’t been cycling this week. Injuries: a sore side to my foot, weird, never had that before, perhaps it’s the tarmac. Comments to say ‘Ooooh, you’re looking so thinnnn…’ (with the implication that this makes me a better person) - 3. Comments complimenting me on being something worthwhile - 0

Man in a Palm Tree (2).jpg

Most columnists have a stand-in for moments like this, when they go on holiday. Not me. But then training, or in my case non-training, doesn’t stop when you’re go abroad. It just takes a different form, says he, as he retreats to his hammock and a third book in three days. So I am writing with a sky blue swimming pool before me, in which inflatable pool toys move constantly and without relatable logic. Beyond it is a hazy outline of Turkey, and behind me somewhere, in the bougainvillea, a rooster is calling.

So my standard regime of cycle, swim and pretend-running has been interrupted. And instead there is, well, pretend-running and swimming in the sea. So I have been out ploughing my way across the bays of Rhodes, and then on an evening over in Halki, tangling myself in the lines holding yachts fast to the shore.

 There is fruit though, to satisfy the new regime. Our visit to the local fruit barn was a revelation – we are now weighed under with nectarines, apricots, tangerines, peaches, plums, pineapples. And the obligatory, fifteen pound watermelon that someone threw in (thump) and which will sit uneaten for the whole week. And then there are three very determined avocados. They have been sitting in the sun for three days and frankly would be more use in a cannon than on a plate.

Joe the Physio has got me gradually to reduce the walking section between the running sections, and I have gone from 50 : 50 run-walk to 75 : 25, though I am still hobbling along guarding the left Achilles. So it’s early morning down by the beach, or on the mountain road. Only a few people have given me that look which says “slacker…” as I pull up for teh regular walking sections walk, but there was a nice one this morning.

I can’t understand Greek, but it was pretty clear what a five year old boy meant as he eyed me passing, hand in hand with his grandmother on an early morning walk: “Granny, why is that old man putting himself through such evident pain, and yet he is moving so… so… slowly?” He was even willing me on with an expectant face.

Granny brought it suitably down to earth, with the Greek for: “Don’t worry, darling. He is obviously desperate. He’s a tourist but we should ignore him. He might be dangerous…”


* With apologies to Bridget Jones, though you’ll notice a deceleration of the speed in which I am shedding lard. Only one kilo this week. We’ll see.

The Vanishing Breastplate of Lard

Man in a Palm Tree (2).jpg

Weight - 91kg*.  Alcohol units – 0 (and that’s just last night), OK, probably 20 for the week. Near-death incidents while cycling – 1, on a roundabout in Richmond Park, when an old dear (well, older than me), assumed I wouldn’t be hard on the tail of a car coming from her right. Aiie! I did shout at her, though not particularly angrily, because there was nobody coming the other way and it is a little unseemly mouthing off at an 75-year old. Injuries – unexpectedly injury free


Well, that’s another 2kg gone this week. But woe, almost nothing to eat (other than nectarines, plums and flat peaches and they hardly count). I should add at this point that losing weight – while it features as something important in some other people’s lives - in my case has nothing glorious, even honourable, about it. It is merely the opposite of gluttony (reinforced by lots of exercise, obviously). But the breastplate of lard is gradually… evaporating. Or whatever typical male-pattern fat does as it disappears.

It has had other effects as well, some ‘interesting’ in a vulgar, getting rid of the detritus in your keyboard sort of a way, others just irritating. As I thin down, so my new-found lack of robustness has set off a series of muscle-pulls. They have even been playing tag around my body, stopping a righteous exerciser from getting out there and fulfilling life’s true path.

It started with a pull in my right calf. Ok, nothing new in that, it must have happened a hundred times over the years, but it meant a week off when I was trying to start running again. Then a bit of a catastrophe, my left Achilles went ping. Not much running over the coming weeks, then. And it’s what this IGO event in Montana consists of principally, I understand…

So cycling is the next best option, or swimming (yes I have to do quite a bit of that). And you’d think that after 15 years of sitting in the same position on a saddle I might be reasonably robust. Oh no. The touch-tag of muscle pulls moved up to my right thigh, buried somewhere deep in there. And since then it has been on a royal progression down the other leg, via my left thigh and calf. So now tell me why I want to be thin.

And hey, there’s a strange pain on the outside of my calves. It’s not a strain, just the slight soreness of overuse. But it feels as though something is forming there. Am I about to sprout wings? Like Hermes?

Each time it happens, Physio Joe patiently looks me over, puts me flat on the couch and articulates me (sometimes I wonder if he’s experimenting with trying to fold people into a different dimension, or something – would I evaporate and appear on Planet Physio, with miraculously improved bendability?). And then he carries out those cruel stretches which pinpoint some obscure muscle and turn it to fire.

But if you can detect a touch of angry defiance at being laid low, it’s small beer to the other result of this whole thinnifer thing. People keep commenting on my appearance:

“Ooooh, you’re looking so thin…”

 With so much enthusiasm that I assume they consider me an improved human being. I might ask why. I was very happy, and generally a jolly lardy bloke, altogether. I bet they wouldn’t start to comment if I suddenly became a funnier human being, or kinder, or more imaginative. At least I’d have improved in some more admirable way.

I wondered what people find good about it. So I asked, obviously. One reckoned that it was a good thing that I was looking after myself better. Hmmm… Others that it was simply that they preferred me thin. (OK, OK, cynic me, I suspect that this is a projection of what they are or would like to be themselves, apparently what we should be.) One logical conclusion of which is that I am now more estimable in life’s essential pursuits, presumably happiness and the chase for genetic transfer. Or what’s it all for? No, let’s leave that. More shaggable? Me? I don;t think so. In the end the only person who came up with a good answer was the doctor, who looked at me with a practiced eye and said it was because I looked well. And he’d know. Ho hum.

I should probably admit, now that I carry less weight, and as I dial the effort back up to a nine again, I am probably cycling faster – well, the sport is all about weight. Have you ever looked at pro cyclists’ arms? They’re a horrible sight.

And therein lies one of the vulgarly fascinating effects of losing weight… You'll know how cyclists who want to go really quickly put their hands on the lower part of the drop handlebars. Well, for years this has been impossible for me, because, well…  the belly has been in the way. Not now. I can actually lean forward and…well… go faster. Maybe I really am sprouting wings…


*With apologies to Bridget Jones

The Montana Journals - A Literary Interlude

Man in a Palm Tree (2).jpg

Weight 93kg (that’s another 2kg this week)*.  Alcohol units – 9 (and that’s just last night). Near-death incidents while cycling – none this week, for the second week in a row, amazingly. Injuries – lower back a little ‘warm’, even when not cycling


It was while editing the stories of our six heroic ironmen - of their training to take on Challenge Roth in Bavaria** - that I realised something vital, eternal and life-affirming. Thing is, that two of them listed their reading material as Sapiens – you know, the stratospheric bestseller by Yuval Harari, his Brief History of Humankind - adding that it has taken rather a long time to get through it. It took a surge of oxygen to the brain, but a few hundred of my synapses snapped and the idea took form.

I too have been reading Sapiens. And I am now within forty pages of finishing it (check, 35 pages as of 9.30 this morning). And it is not because I have managed to get to the end that the lightbulb moment arose. It’s because I have been reading the book on the crapper.

Of course some people will balk on principle at the very thought of this. But the rest of us find the quiet and refuge of this contemplative ‘space’ an ideal place to read.

The thing I read most, in the smallest room, is science books, specifically science books that are just beyond my normal comprehension (though I should add, desperately, that Sapiens doesn’t fall into this category; actually it’s pretty easy to read – it’s just that it’s organised into sections ideally suited to the length of a bowel movement).

The key thing about reading on the crapper is the extra oxygen that flushes through the brain. Which in turn means that I can actually understand the physics. Well, that’s my theory, anyway. And hey, I have strained and - even if momentarily – understood the theory of relativity. Before it all evaporated in a fog of forgetting and I wandered off into daily life.

Other books to read on the crapper? The Goldilocks Enigma, by Paul Davies. This took a couple of attempts. As I sat and took it up for the second time, defiantly, knowing it was time to read and understand it, I noticed where my bookmark lay. On page 42. Which is spooky, no? For a book about science (and yes, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is much more my level of reading). And fruitily if nonetheless suitably, I have read Fred Watson’s Why is Uranus Upside Down? which is full of lovely facts, some of which need a little, er… concentration, to comprehend.

The next book on the list, or at least the one lurking on the magazine rack next to Sapiens, is by that celebrity Italian physicist, Carlo Rovelli, called Reality is not what it Seems [No, really.] The Journey to Quantum Gravity. It’s another second attempt, this (page 35 since you ask) and from what I remember of it first time around, I might have to induce a little constipation in order to get there…

By the bye, something else occurred to me, while we’re on the subject of loo reading. Lou Reed, RIP. Oh, we love his gravelly voice, and his riven face, but he must be the person we’d least want to appear while we’re…. well… loo reading. I am sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.

And whoops, clearly this entry has nothing to do with the IGO event in Montana, despite the fact that the Montana Journals are supposed to be about my training in the run up to it. But in keeping with the long tradition (nearly a year now) of journals on this website – a site devoted to sporting endeavour, after all - of  not writing about training, and writing about not training, this entry is not about not training for the event in Montana. Still, next week.


*With apologies to Bridget Jones

**You can read the account of their training (not) and the event here.

Reconstituting a Wreck, Part 2

Man in a Palm Tree (2).jpg


Weight 95kg (that’s another 2kg this week, see below).  Cigarettes – zero, of course, I’ll leave this out next time. Alcohol units – 7 (and that’s just last night). Near-death incidents while cycling – none this week, amazingly. Injuries – lower back a little ‘warm’ while cycling


This dieting thing. That’s another 2 kilogrammes gone this week. OK I did start at 99kg, so there’s plenty of it to lose, but I am bit suspicious of it, altogether. First up. Woe! Spurning all that food that I love to eat. My seven cups of coffee, plus milk and sugar? Gone. Late night bowls of cereal? Haven’t had one in three weeks. Biscuits, on which I am a specialist: right out. Instead I’m faced with a lifetime of pissy teas and fruit.

It’s like denying the call from the Cro-Magnon, which shouts from father to son, all the way down the genetic chain, with: “Eat it! You never truly know where your next meal is coming from…  So eat till you’re full….! And you can exercise tomorrow...”

And exercise is what I do (albeit dialled back to a 5 at the moment, after the Doc’s warning about not cycling home, let alone across Montana). Or at least that’s theory. Because now I have to learn to run again.


On which, it’s back to Joe the Physio. At the end of our first session, he concluded:

“Well, you’ve got a few dings in your hardware, for sure. But the software? That we can change.“

And so at the start of our second session I find myself laid out on the treatment bed while he begins to do a bit more regular sports physio work on me. Which involves some low-grade violence on my thighs and then calves. I assume he was stretching them out so that when I run they will be less er… I’m not sure what.  

While I grimace and wince on the table, Joe peppers the conversation with telling (and sometimes worrying) facts about physical life. First up: A human’s cardio peak is in their 30s. Long gone, then. I’m going to be puffing along behind all the youthful runners in Montana.

He sets me a regimen which involves half and half running and walking. Apparently I will decrease the gaps between the running bits. Meantime if anyone tuts at me for being a pansy, for giving up too easily and walking, well, I can just scowl at them and say “Physio’s orders”.

Fun fact No 2: You’re probably 15% slower in repairing yourself at your age…

He explains that the mechanics of running has changed. There should be less extension of the foot, the strike point should be beneath the body, so that the force of the impact travels vertically and is taken up by the muscles, sparing the joints (the huge cushioned heels of running shoes are right out now). And then there’s cadence… and leaning forward… and lifting my heels. And I have to try to remember to do all of this at once…

The net result is that I start to run like a cartoon figure. In place of my normal lope, I begin to move in quadruple quick time, shuffling my legs madly back and forth.

Fitness in my case will be as much about building running resilience as aerobic transfer. But, but…

Fact 3: Apparently my Achilles, both of them, are ‘deranged’. Hmmm. No, says Joe, it’s true, after all the abuse I have put them through, the fibres are all mucked up, facing in random directions, literally de-ranged.

I forgot. This is all about preparing me for Montana:

“It’s a nice combination of muscle groups”, he continues, which I assume is physio speak for different sports. And then it dawns on me, as Joe locates some poor, abused muscle buried somewhere in my thigh and turns it to molten iron, that the landscape of training, pain and potential injury will be multiplied by four. As well as running, there’s swimming, cycling and paddling.

A nice fact to end on, though: It’s the exercise you take in your 40s and 50s that affect your fitness in your 60s and 70s. Well, there’s some good news, at least. I’ll be standing up quickly from chairs for years to come. It’ll just take a doctor to be impressed.

Reconstituting a Wreck - A trip to Joe the Physio

Weight 97kg (after getting the hard word from the doc, that’s 2kg this week).  Cigarettes – zero. Alcohol units – 7 (and that’s just last night). Near-death incidents while cycling – 1, on the roundabout coming out of Richmond Park, where a driver felt presumably that they’d prefer not to interrupt their day by slowing down and honouring my right of way. Injuries – the same the lower back issues on exertion.

Man in a Palm Tree (2).jpg

After such a successful visit to the doctor – I still wasn’t sure how I was going to explain this away either to the guys from IGO or the Financial Times (“Sorry, but Nanny says I can’t come out and play… in Montana”) – the next part of the IGO package was a visit to a physio. Which I approached with some trepidation. Could physios ban you as well? “Sorry, mate, but you’re just too much of a wreck. We can’t risk allowing you into Montana.... It'll just be embarrassing for everyone…”

Of course IGO’s idea of a visit to a physio is to enable, to help entrants perform at the best of their physical ability, and to enjoy it rather than struggling through. That was the theory, anyway. In my case there was some remedial work to be done first…

So I was sent round to see Joe Lawrence at Beyond Health. Joe is a Kiwi, with a speciality in sports physiotherapy. I was to be given a once over and a few steers to getting fit.

“Brilliant gait analyst”, said Alex from IGO, cheerily, as I set off.

Right, I’d better front up. I’d never really been to a physio before. Well, I did once, without realising it, when I complained to the doctor about persistent pain when bending over without a heavy rucksack (yes, seems odd that bending over with a rucksack wasn’t a problem, but standard bending was). In the way of these things my back bone was connected to my, well, pelvis, which was connected to my thigh bone, and my thigh bone was connected to my leg bone, and then to my ankle bone – in other words there was one big cascade of problems and strains and guarding and compensation, for which ultimately an unbendy ankle could be blamed (well, that and my lack of interest in regular stretching).

So it was all a bit of a novelty for me. I did a few antics – some hops, jumps, touching my… well… touching my ankles in my case, there was no way I could reach my toes. And then Physio Joe asked me to go through my history of injury.

“What, all of it?”

“Anything important, yes.”

“Well, it ain’t pretty, and it’ll take a while…”

So I started at hallux rigidus (unbendy big toes) and moved upwards through every joint, muscle and most of the tendons in the body – habitual dislocator, habitual twister (of ankles, not a dancer; ok, yes, dancing the twist too), perennial bad back, every shade of tendonitis…

“Hmm…” Physio Joe scratched his chin. He did that rather a lot, in fact. “Well, you’ve managed to lean on your genetics, and a bit of bloody-mindedness, by the look of it… Let’s see how you are at running…”

We headed out into the street and I trotted up and down. I couldn’t see Physio Joe’s face as he filmed me, but I suspect it was crumpled with that near-metaphysical pain reserved for the horrified professional.

I apologised on behalf of my abused body, on behalf of all abused bodies…

“No, don’t worry. You behave a bit like a Kiwi. It’s a breath of fresh air, really…”

At this point a thing scratched at the brain stem. The well known sports journalist Ian Payne once observed, in an early piece of commentary on the school athletics track, that ‘Henderson bounces and Crookenden pumps…’ Meantime Carter scuttled and Andy Harriman – yes, that Andy Harriman, later captain of the England 7s rugby team that won the inaugural Rugby Sevens World Cup in 1993 - well, he had wings on his gangly legs.

And there was probably some truth in it too. Crookenden had taken some lessons in how to, well…. run. In profile he looked like one of those Athenian sprinters. And now here was I, nearly forty years later, still bouncing. You know that you’re neolithic when a thing as basic as running style has changed since your youth.

“I’m afraid that’ll have to change…”, intoned Joe the Physio.

So I adopted the position of the post-modern runner – leaning forward slightly, lifting my heels slightly and thirdly a quicker cadence - and trotted up and down the road.

“By Jove, he’s got it”, said Physio Joe in a Rex Harrison moment. “Makes my job a lot easier…”

And mine, because running was to be a good proportion of the event in Montana. (Oh, and didn’t I just moan about it when the article was published, as you can see here).

But Physio Joe warned me that relearning running was a six month, possibly a year’s job. As it turned out it still isn’t quite finished more than a year later. Because as fast as I manage to shed the breastplate of lard, I keep pulling muscles (for more on this rather unpleasant-sounding idea, see another journal entry The Lardbucket's Lament). Still, one day… I’ll get there.

So I was all set, then… Er, no, that was a quarter of the issues dealt with. Next we’d be moving on to the swimming, mountain biking and the paddling that I also needed to train for...


Joe the Physio, really Joe Lawrence, is at Beyond Health in Fulham, London, see Beyond Health. You can see the details of IGO's Montana W114 Challenge here.



The Cheery Destroyer - a trip to the IGO Doctor

Weight 99kg**.  Cigarettes – zero (that’s easy because I don’t smoke…). Alcohol units – 7 (and that’s just last night). Near-death incidents while cycling – 1, some bloke who turned across me; he could see me at the head of a line of traffic but couldn’t be bothered to wait. Injuries – pretty much injury-free, oddly, just the usual lower back issues.

Man in a Palm Tree (2).jpg

 And so it was, after a very jolly evening – a chorizo and chicken dish, rice suppurating in animal fat and spices, with lots of red wine and rumbustious chat – that I toddled off to the doctor… a certain Dr Coyne on the New King’s Road – to be signed off for IGO Montana.

I should introduce myself, something you might guess by my 99kg, as a jolly and unrepentant fattie. I take plenty of exercise but carry classic male breastplate of lard. Robust, shall we say. But even as I do another circuit of Richmond Park, 30kg heavier than the whippets around me, I know that I shall not lose weight. Thing is though, I don’t really care. There's no more man-scaping for me (not that I'd ever have done anything so sily) and frankly the bulk has now slid to my midriff. But I am a jovial fattie and the rest of the world can accept me or retreat in its own self-induced dyspepsia.

The neat, pastel sign at the surgery made me wonder if a gastro-pub might hide behind the frosted glass, an impression briefly enforced when I was asked if I would prefer still or sparkling water while waiting. I was ushered in to see Dr Coyne. Tall and dapper. Hugh.

It was all very genteel and polite, and in a journalistic sense interesting to chat, to find out what the point of the visit was. Oh, he would check a few vital signs and then make recommendations for getting fit, to give IGO entrants the confidence to get the best out of the event. And after a chat – antropometrics, erythrocyte sediment rate, core saggital control, that sort of thing - we began a series of flexibility and muscle tests. I squatted with a bar, I stood on tip toes and stepped with one foot on a box.

It was a surprise to hear how doctors test some people in their 50s. "Often we just ask them to stand up..."


"The speed with which people stand indicates muscle strength. And the stronger their muscles, the longer they are likely to survive..."

It continued in a further miasma of doctory words - hypotrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, bio-mechanical impediments, atrial arrhythmia in athletes in their 50s - none of which I had. And then sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia?  Apparently it is the loss of muscle mass through increasing age. And it can start in your mid-30s, which to anyone but a writer - they can still be young writers into their mid-30s - is simply cruel. But you use it or lose it, and... see above, if you keep your muscle, you survive. More to the point though, and concept combining the words sarcastic and penis is enough to terrify any man, whatever his age.

Of course, I was dehydrated, my waist to hip ratio was way off beam, and my BMI was clearly... well, bouncy, but I nearly blew the end off the spirometer. Still robust then.

And hey, I even planked. Supported myself on an elbow and kept a rigid body. It went on for a while, as the Doc told me of a personal trainer off to a marathon, who lasted a minute…. ‘No slacking now. Keep it straight…’ The Doc kept looking at his watch, but in the end I think he was worried about his next patient. And there was I thinking I might fit in a cup of tea, at a 30 degree angle. We compromised at 2 minutes. No problem.

But then… then… the Doc took my blood pressure. He shook his head and took it again, shook his head again and wandered off to find another monitor, a dusty, antique, but evidently reliable thing (the type you pump up yourself and apply a stethoscope to the inner side of the elbow as you let the air out).


It was epic, apparently. Almost as extreme as the event itself.

As I sat there, a touch florid, possibly glistening, he leaned in, like a very polite assassin, and intoned, quietly:

“Frankly, Mr Henderson, I don’t think I can advise you to cycle home. Let alone cycle across Montana…”

The warning had finally come then, after 55 years. If I went on like this I could expect massive coronary failure half way around Richmond Park. And I would no longer be there to be a taxi driver to my children.

And that was the moment that the new regimen began. A life of pissy teas and pills. I had to dial back the cycling effort from a 9 to a 6.  And to eat almost exclusively fruit. And to cut out the sugar in my seven daily cups of instant coffee – and reduce the coffee to one, maybe two, proper cups a day. And to hydrate fully. And to sleep properly, and… woe… I would have to cut - in half – my usual volume of food.

Otherwise I wouldn’t be going to Montana…


**You might wonder on earth I am doing recording silly sounding details like this, but it is a nod to Bridget Jones. And her obsession with weight loss… 

Montana or Bust

Being the story of an old fat-knacker who decides to take on a challenge, like he used to 20 years ago


The background to How to Spend it magazine’s article Ain’t No Montana High Enough, published on 2nd June 2018.

Man in a Palm Tree (2).jpg

Likely as not you came to this ‘Training Journal’ about IGO in Montana via an article in the FT’s glossy magazine How to Spend it. If not, you can see it at the link above. However, the seamless experience of reading a crafted piece of writing gives very little inkling of how much scurrying around there is to get ready for an event like this. Nor how often you feel like the village idiot in doing so… And that’s before any fitness training has even begun.

But it happened, as the article can attest. IGO Montana 2017, a four day challenge, with four to eight hours of exertion each day, held in the backwoods of Montana, in the hills and forests around Glacier National Park. Sports included running, swimming, mountain-biking and paddling. It was an escape to the wilderness, full of physical endeavour, exploration, survival… well, not really, because although the sporting activity is as demanding as you care to make it, the down time at IGO events is rather comfortable. It’s one of their key characteristics. There was even beer and wine, on an honour system.

Challenges like these start with a dream of course, whether you’re up for the adventure itself, or in my case what seems like a cool piece of work (yes, it’s unfeasible, I know, but I call trundling along in pursuit of youth, occasionally ahead of them, in this sort of event work). But they hover on the horizon of the mind these events, unfocused but intensely alluring, urging you on - a modern-day call of the wild.  And eventually you say ‘Ok, I’ll do that’. Or at least in my case, an editor eventually says ‘Ok, you do that’ (though the commissioning process can be pretty tortuous, altogether), and I start to put the whole thing in train. And then, given the usual time-scale, of a few weeks left to get in shape for a massive physical endeavour, I panic about fitness.

Turns out, with IGO there is a bit more of a system (and an even longer time-scale) than for most events. The organisers feel that today’s potential adventurer wants to prepare themselves a bit more thoroughly than an old knacker like me ever did back in the day, so they have a series of steps to help you get ready for the challenge – they recommend a visit to a doctor, a physio specialising in bio-mechanics (running, basically), a swim coach if you want one, even a performance coach. And so, to understand how it all works, I underwent the full programme.

Which I shall describe over the coming weeks. Including how I learned to run again, in post-modern style and, by the bye, finally grew up, and turned from jovial fattie to a lean and hungry machine (not).