With the festive season over, and the (‘two for the price of one’) mince pies, (‘ten for the price of two’) Christmas puddings and (ladles) of brandy butter weighing heavy on my stomach (and waistline), there was a need for my off season switch to be turned firmly on….as it were. Now, London in the winter does have its appeal – to eskimos, ducks, polar bears or umbrella manufacturers – I am none of the above. Furthermore, whilst the turbo is a wonderful invention, I always like my relationship with it to be a loose, once-a-week kind of fling rather than a committed, everyday ride. In my mind there was only one solution: be like a goose and fly south for winter. So, at the crack on New Years Day when ordinary citizens are still nursing champagne induced hangovers, my cousin Tim and I boarded a flight to the Canary Island of Lanzarote: famed for hosting one of the world’s toughest Ironman races, for its Hawaii type volcanic landscape (and wind to match), and for not having any canaries. But it was not the bird watching that I was there for (Tim however had other ideas, and birds were high on his sightseeing list…canary or otherwise).

We decided to stay at Club La Santa (www.clublasanta.com) – the famous sports complex frequented over the years by countless legendary sportspeople: Haile Gebrselassie, Linford Christie (and his equally legendary lunchbox), Britain’s finest export (aside from Marmite) Frank Bruno – not to mention many a multisport athlete, including while I was there, the wonderful, Kona runner-up, Eneko Llannos. What better place to kick start the 2009 season and turn that off switch firmly on?!

I had last visited Lanzarote, with my family, at the tender age of 8 – back when Starship ruled the charts with their inspirational assertion that ‘Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now’ (although something obviously did stop them, as they never produced another hit); when shell-suits were (marginally) fashionable; when aluminous green was deemed to be an acceptable shade for all items of clothing; and also around the time when my mother (in her infinite wisdom) decided to dress me up as a milk bottle, Big Ears (of Noddy and Big Ears fame) and Wonder Woman at the local village fetes (I didn’t win).

I digress. All I remembered of Lanzarote from the shell suit/milk bottle era was a vast barren, black volcanic landscape where very little grew, aside from camels and their oversized humps; paella; and our rented purple beetle car (aptly named as it crawled along about as slowly as your average beetle). This 2009 trip was an altogether different experience. Beetles were replaced by running shoes. Camels and their humps, by a TT bike. And I no longer wear aluminous green anything (or at least not in public).

For those that have never been, Lanzarote is an easy 3.5hr flight from London. Club La Santa is about 30mins drive from the airport, on the north of the island – a small cluster of white, low rise buildings, with its own lagoon nestled between the complex and the ocean. Superb. It’s basically a one-stop-shop for people who love sport. Whether its swimming, biking, running, windsurfing, football, tennis, badminton, yoga, boxing, or (for the really adventurous) hardcore sunbathing – you can do it here. The apartments are pretty basic, but have everything you need: including a wonderful Spanish maid. There’s a gym, tennis courts, a ‘Wellness Centre’ (for massage and physio); a running track, an outdoor, 8-lane, 50m pool, not to mention a huge fun pool (where the Harlequins rugby team seemed to spend most of their time engaged in ‘who make the biggest splash bombing off the spring board’ competitions – an essential skill for any discerning professional rugby player I am sure). Most importantly there are four restaurants and a supermarket to ensure consumption of carbohydrates is maintained at sky high levels; and renditions of ‘Its raining men’ performed by the on site staff (fondly known as the Green Team due to their euduring love of lurid, 1980s green shell-suits) at the weekly Green Team show (Unfortunately for me it wasn’t. Raining men that is).

Off site, the running and riding is perfect. The roads are great quality, wide and pretty much traffic free – and hilly, and windy. Usually combined, and never in your favour. Of course, there’s the challenging 180km IM course loop, but so much more besides. And although much of the island is taken up with barren volcanic expanses, head west and it is a lot more vegetated, with rainbow blankets of flowers and not a camel to be seen.

For me, La Santa was the perfect location to get turned back on: escape the cold, to get into my routine, and start the season with a sunny, yet very windy, bang. You can get pretty much everything you want under one roof. And a few things you don’t – namely men with a penchant for tight aluminous lycra, upside down, legs akimbo, in a ‘stretch and relax’ class (stretching the limits of what is acceptable, but certainly not relaxing). Other than such lycra clad sights, I would highly recommend this as a training venue for amateur and professional sports people alike, so much so that I have come back for another two weeks while I wait for the bureaucrats to rubber stamp my US visa papers.

In fact, I have been awarded the honour of firing the starting gun at the Lanzarote Duathlon which takes place tomorrow. Given that I am about as competent with a semi automatic weapon as I am a gas canister, I hope that the athlete gift bag comes complete with the regulation bullet proof vest.

A huge thanks goes out to everyone at Club la Santa for all they have done to make my stay here so great – in particular, Kenneth (the face of the Lanzarote Ironman), Solveig and Isabelle. Plus the Green Team for proving that green shell suits never totally go out of fashion. Being dressed as a milk bottle, Big Ears or Wonder Woman by your mother is an altogether different matter, and should never be done….1980s or otherwise. 🙂