Tuesday, 5 March 2013

An Indian Winter

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, particularly those I’ve written on my return from a holiday destination, you’ll know that I’m not really into those sort of holidays where you spend every day lounging about doing nothing. But for once this is pretty much what I’ve been doing over the last two weeks. That was never the intention when the holiday was booked, though I was building up my training before we went, knowing that I’d have the possibility of reduced training whilst on holiday. However as it turned out a restful holiday was about all I could do. On day one I could barely walk without pain as I wandered about the resort with the most pronounced limp I’ve ever had, so it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be running at all on this holiday. Though, ever the optimist, I had taken plenty of kit with me.

This holiday was spent in India, Kerala to be exact. Over the years I’ve travelled to a number of countries but India was never one that featured highly on the list of must do places. I don’t know why if I’m being honest but it sits with Africa in my mind, a place I’m sure would be interesting but I have other places I’d rather visit, like Iceland or Scandinavia. Of course Carole thinks differently, she has no intention of visiting countries that are likely to be colder than Scotland and loves being out in the sun. So we compromise, we go to hot countries but she pays the bills, and it works quite well for me, as long as there is somewhere I can run – which is pretty much always the case as I can create interesting and beneficial sessions almost anywhere.

This year we weren’t sure where to go so Kerala came about a bit by chance, Carole wanted to go somewhere hot and we discussed various places, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Florida and then India came up. I said it was somewhere I’ve never been but it had been highly recommended to me by a bunch of co-workers from Infosys (I’m sure there was no bias at all). I also remembered one of my running contacts, Dave Denton, has a house, in Kerala and it sounded like a nice place. So that was it, Carole went off and booked the flights and hotel.

As the holiday approached we were having our doubts, we had to have injections for all sorts of potential diseases we could pick up, rabies, hepatitis and others. We were warned that there were poisonous snakes swimming in the sea and although malaria wasn’t really a problem, dengue fever was a potential hazard. Add to this the potential to eat something dubious that could cause illness and we were wishing we’d stuck to Florida. The place Carole had chosen was described in our guide book as being a bit tired, so hardly something to look forward to.

Things didn’t get any better as we set off at 4:00am, we were advised to arrive a minimum of 3.5 hours before the flight was due, but as it turned out check in didn’t open until 3 hours before. We could easily have had an extra hour in bed and still had plenty of time to get through customs. We were flying Etihad, my first time with them, and the plane seemed quite nice, plenty of space and the main meal was pretty good. I took advantage of the entertainment system to watch movies I knew Carole wouldn’t be interested in, starting with Lincoln. Now I like my history so I was interested in seeing this film and it was interesting, but I wouldn’t say it was very entertaining. I’m glad I’ve seen it because if I had managed to persuade Carole to accompany me to the pictures it would have been a few feathers plucked out of my cap, and I was glad when it was over. Then I tried Argo, more recent history (even if it’s getting a slagging for being historically inaccurate). I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it, but I did. Whilst I watched these films I became aware of noises going on a few rows behind me. It turned out there was some kind of argument taking place, I don’t know what it was all about but it was starting to get nasty when one guy was overpowered and handcuffed. He spent the rest of the journey at the back of the plane and we were warned the plane might have to divert if there was any further trouble. That would have thrown us into complete disarray so thankfully that didn’t happen, but it is amazing what lengths people will go to in order to be first off the plane.   

The stop off in Abu Dhabi was a drag and we were crowded into a small area with only one toilet to await the connection to Thiruvananthapuram. It was thankfully only a four hour flight, and a biryani later we arrived in Kerala, at 3:30am – it had been a long day (obviously the time difference meant it wasn’t as long as it looks but it was long enough). After passport control it was all plain sailing as we were picked up and taken a 20 minute drive to the hotel. At the point we emerged out of the airport I just relaxed and started enjoying the sights and smells of India, I was amazed how many people were hanging around the airport but as I was to find out, this is India.

We were booked in at the Leela Kempinski in Kovalem, it looked nice as we walked through the door and we knew we had a beach view room, but things were about to get a little better. The hotel decided to upgrade us to ‘The Club’ which had it’s own pool, gym/spa and breakfast area overlooking the ocean. The room was really good and we had a balcony overlooking the infinity pool and the ocean beyond. Not sure why we were upgraded, maybe somebody looked us up on the internet and mistook me for Roger Alsop the artist/musician or the one who breeds buffalo or even the guy who builds boats, but who cares it was a real treat.

Having arrived in the early hours of the morning it was straight to bed for us. With breakfast being served until 10:30 we were able to get a few hours shut-eye before experiencing India for real. Ok it wasn’t really for real, posh breakfast followed by a quick look around the hotel and the rest of the morning spent lounging by the pool. I was actually really grateful for the rest as it was painful limping along and I was concerned that too much walking would increase my recovery time. At lunchtime we needed to head into Kovalem proper, you aren’t supposed to take rupees into India so we needed to change some money and thought we’d suss out the local restaurants at the same time. It’s not a long walk into town but limping the way I was made it quite strenuous, still we were rewarded with a nice promenade, full of restaurants, and a lovely beach. The guide book’s description of Kovalem being a bit tired was maybe a bit over the top, I could see what they were getting at but I’ve been to many places that could do with being this awake. It’s an interesting place with busy shops and restaurants on the promenade and quiet narrow alleyways in the hinterland. As a resort it was a great place to be, yes there were travelling salesmen trying to sell their wares on the promenade and shouting across at you when you were eating in the restaurants, but that’s no different to Spain and at least here they didn’t come to your table to try to sell to you. All in all it was a casual sell, yes they pushed for the sale but they never bothered us. A few people got a bit wound up with it but I think that was down to them being a bit uptight. Of course it was much busier at the weekend when the townies travelled down, so it was nice to be able to escape back to the hotel.

After lunch it was back to the hotel and then down the other side of the hill to the private beach. Now I’m not a beach person, I like my shade and you don’t generally get good shade on a beach, I’m also not a confident swimmer so don’t like to go too far out into the sea and I have a thing about sand. So generally, when we’re on holiday, I tend to avoid the beaches. But here the beach was great, the water was shallow for some considerable way out, there was shade aplenty and I just learnt to deal with my sand phobia. The doctor’s warning about sea snakes was probably a little over the top or maybe we and the other hundreds of swimmers were just lucky.

That sort of set the pattern for the rest of the holiday. Gym, breakfast, pool, into Kovalem for lunch, beach, drinks on the balcony, into Kovalem for dinner. The food was really good, and cheap. We ate in the hotel a couple of nights, it was also good, but not cheap (only in relative terms). One morning we were eating breakfast when a few dolphins turned up, rounding up fish in the ocean below, a bit more interesting than watching crows fighting in the back garden.

The two tours we took were to Neyyar Dam, which included an elephant ride and a boat ride to a safari park, and a trip into Tamil Nadu, to the southernmost point of India, Kanyakumari, where there was a big statue on a rock, on the way visiting Padmanabhapuram Palace and Suchindram Temple. They were both long days so we were happy to just chill for the rest of the holiday. Also one day we had an ayurveda massage, which was a bit odd for me, quite relaxing and I came away smelling of treacle toffee but I’m used to sports massages, which made this particular massage feel like someone running a feather over your body. Mind you I never had to get naked for those massages with Cath Ferry, although I don’t think she minds if you feel the urge to do that as you’re lying on her table.

On the last day we had to vacate our room by 14:00 but our flight wasn’t until 04:15 the next morning. We made the most of the pool for the afternoon but any chance at catching a kip before our flight was ruined by the infestation of flying things that bite in the night, I did slaughter Carole at chess though. At least there were no fights on the flight home and I managed to watch Alex Cross and Skyfall in peace.

As far as exercise was concerned I clearly wasn’t able to run, I still can’t, but my limp improved daily and I’m now almost pain free. I started doing some light gym work and after a few days managed to do some work on the stationary bike but with no idea how long I’d be off running it was difficult to put any major emphasis on exercise, particularly when it was such a nice setting to relax in. In fact I was so relaxed I hardly ever thought about my life back home, that’s never happened before.

Now we’re home it’s back to my clients and I’ve stepped up the cycling a little. I’m hopeful I’ll be running soon, though not sure if it’ll be this or next week. It’ll be a slow start, 5 minutes on day one and then increase it by 5 minutes each time, until I feel confident to start training properly. So race wise I’m out of action for the time being, I don’t anticipate being able to race in March but hopefully I’ll be back to racing during April, albeit a lot slower and a lot further back to what I’ve become accustomed.

I’m aware this blog looks more like a holiday blog than a fitness blog, but they do say rest is an important part of training and what better way to rest than the holiday I’ve just been on. Carlsberg don’t do holidays, but Kingfisher do.

Written by Roger Alsop

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